Traffic Deaths Soared Despite Pandemic Lockdowns

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Traffic deaths were up in the first nine months of 2020 in the U.S., Subaru needs semiconductors, and Nikola. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 14, 2020.

1st Gear: Traffic Deaths Up In The U.S.

Autoblog’s subhead is bleak: “More speeding, more drinking, more drugs, less enforcement.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has sounded the alarm before.


From the Associated Press:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 28,190 people died in traffic crashes from January through September of last year, up from 26,941 in the same period of 2019. Final statistics for the full year won’t come out until fall.

Authorities blamed the increase on risky driving behavior that developed when there were few vehicles on the road early in the pandemic.

“Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes,” the safety agency said in a letter addressed to the nation’s drivers.

Traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first-quarter of 2020, but they fell 1.1% in the second quarter as coronavirus lockdowns restricted movement. Fatalities spiked 13.1% from July through September, the agency said.

“We think the big culprit is speeding,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Early in the pandemic, drivers found open roads and drove faster. The behavior continued even as traffic volumes recovered, Adkins said.


Anecdotally, this rings true. Open roads and lots of speeders I’ve seen with my own eyes; I get the reluctance from cops to pull people over. Be careful out there.

2nd Gear: Subaru Will Cut Production Because Of A Semiconductor Shortage

There is a global chip shortage that is, in recent days, really causing headaches for the auto industry. Subaru is the latest to cry uncle.


From Reuters:

Subaru Corp. will cut output by “several thousand” vehicles this month in Japan and the United States, it said Thursday, citing a global shortage of semiconductors.

Subaru will adjust production and reduce output at factories in Gunma, Japan, a company spokesman said without specifying exactly how many fewer cars will be made.

The company later said that factories in Gunma will be halted temporarily for two days starting Friday because of supply constraints.

Subaru will also reduce output at its Indiana plant, the spokesman said, adding that the company is examining whether further production cuts will be needed in February.


It’s not talked about enough how dependent automakers are on suppliers.

3rd Gear: Lotus And Alpine Are Collaborating

Name two cooler automakers. I’ll wait. The announcement is ahead of Renault rebranding as Alpine in Formula One next season.


Via Lotus:

The Alpine and Lotus teams will conduct a comprehensive feasibility study for the joint engineering, design and development of an EV sportscar by leveraging the resources, expertise and facilities of the respective entities in both France and the UK.

Alpine and Lotus will also explore the development of a joint services offer combining their engineering expertise. A collaboration to leverage Alpine’s motorsport platform covering Formula One to Formula E and Endurance is also under study.


If Renault sold the A110 here I would be first in line. If Volkswagen sold the Up GTI here I would also be first in line. If Honda sold the Honda E here I would be forced to buy that car as well. Maybe it’s a good thing all of these cars remain overseas.

4th Gear: Elon Musk And China

Bloomberg had a long read yesterday about Elon Musk’s relationship with China. The tl;dr is that the relationship is good. The tl;dr is also that that good relationship may not last.

In its first week after resuming production, with Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG, and other foreign carmakers still unable to fully reopen, Tesla Shanghai made about 1,000 cars. By March it was up to 3,000 a week, a higher rate than before the shutdown. Around that time, according to people familiar with the conversation, an executive remarked in an internal discussion that Tesla didn’t just have a green light from the government to get back to work—it had a flashing-sirens police escort. (In an email, a company representative said that “no Tesla executive has ever made such a statement.”)

Tesla’s rapid return to normal was consistent with the relationship the electric vehicle maker has enjoyed with the Chinese state since 2018, when it announced plans to build the Shanghai plant. Again and again, it has extracted perks other international companies have struggled to obtain, including tax breaks, cheap loans, permission to wholly own its domestic operations, and assistance constructing a vast facility at astonishing speed. Support from the government has helped Tesla turn China into its most important market outside the U.S. The Model 3 is now among the bestselling EVs in the world’s most populous country, and in Tesla’s most recent earnings report, China accounted for about a fifth of revenue—a performance that helped make Elon Musk the world’s richest man this month. Perhaps most crucially, the company is moving closer to the heart of the frenetic Chinese technology sector than almost any foreign rival. Tesla China is more than a branch plant; it’s intended to do original research and development work, allowing it to hire some of the country’s brightest technical minds and keep them away from potential competitors.

In turn, Tesla and its chief executive officer have done all the right things as far as Beijing is concerned. Musk, who didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed for this story, has effusively endorsed China’s talent pool and its ambitious plans for EVs, remarks that go a long way in a country whose leaders are intensely sensitive to foreign judgments. Tesla’s local unit has also aligned itself explicitly with President Xi Jinping’s economic policy goals and forced China’s vast array of EV manufacturers to up their game, a crucial step in the government’s efforts to dominate the age of electric mobility.

As Tesla’s presence has grown, it’s been fair to wonder if Musk has become Xi’s favorite foreign capitalist. But though Musk’s is a privileged position, it’s also an awkward one. U.S.-China relations are at their lowest point since at least the early 1990s, a trend intensified by President Trump but almost certain to continue beyond his term, with President-elect Joe Biden increasingly skeptical of China and hawkish attitudes commonplace among legislators from both parties. Stung by years of protectionism and intellectual-property theft, and mindful that China has been accused of large-scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, few American CEOs are willing to publicly praise it anymore. Even fewer would say, as Musk did on a podcast over the summer, that “China rocks.”


I recommend reading the whole story in full.

5th Gear: Nikola Probably Doesn’t Have Much Of A Future

The startup worth billions with a founder that liked to get mad online but is now gone faces a daunting future.


Bloomberg takes stock:

Believe it or not, the truly hard stuff is still ahead: building a real business selling large fuel cell trucks that turn hydrogen into electricity. [Founder Trevor Milton] may be gone, but the SEC’s attention has had a chilling effect on Nikola’s efforts to forge partnerships that would help develop its business faster. GM in late November said it wouldn’t take a $2 billion equity stake and open its vast purchasing and manufacturing resources to speed the upstart’s trucks to market, deciding instead to just sell Nikola its hydrogen fuel cell system. The government probe also played a role in scaring off BP Plc, which would have helped the startup build a network of hydrogen filling stations.

That network is a big piece in Nikola’s future ambitions. The company plans to boost its profits selling hydrogen to the fleet customers who’d also buy its hydrogen-powered semis. Without the cash and resources of BP or another major energy company—and with its own share price falling more than 75% off its high last June—Nikola faces the daunting task of building that network on its own. The company declined to comment on the status of its relationship with BP, or of the SEC investigation’s impact on its ability to attract partners.


Reverse: Dodge? Dodge!

Dodge used to be a proud automaker, I swear.


Neutral: How Are You?

I think the current consternation about the vaccine will be much like how last March it was really hard to find a mask, and then before long masks were ubiquitous and you could find them everywhere. I expect the US to be swimming in vaccine sooner or later.