Uber Reportedly Promised To Cover Former Google Engineer's ‘Bad Acts’ In Contract

Image credit: Eric Risberg/AP
Image credit: Eric Risberg/AP
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Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are some auto stories that are fun and happy and uplifting in these dark days.

1st Gear: We Gotchu, Fam

Details in the Google vs. Uber stolen tech case are emerging at lightning speed. Just yesterday, we learned that after ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick learned that ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski had stolen thousands of autonomous tech files from his former employer, he said that he didn’t want the files at Uber. The files were allegedly destroyed.


Uber has denied that the files ever made it to the company.

Today, Bloomberg and The Washington Post report that hidden in Levandowski’s executive employee contract was a promise to “cover the costs of legal actions against him over information stored in his head from his previous job at Waymo.” That is a crazy bit of fine print!

From the story:

Jim Pooley, a lawyer at Orrick in Menlo Park, California, said he’s never seen a written agreement that makes overt reference to “bad acts” like Levandowski’s contract with Uber.

The document, dated April 11, 2016, references “Pre-Signing Bad Acts,” which covers behavior including fraud and trade-secrets theft, as well as “Post-Signing Specified Bad Acts.” Misconduct in the latter time period wouldn’t be indemnified, “with the exception of retaining confidential information solely in the memory of an employee.”

Pooley said such a “vague and potentially very broad exception” looks “very troublesome” for Uber as the case heads toward trial because the company basically told Levandowski: Don’t worry about what’s in your head.


Pooley said that the document could be “very powerful” evidence that Uber either knew or suspected Levandowski would be stealing secrets from Google.

Considering how Uber seems to like to wallow in its own pig-shittery, are you surprised? Still, this is not a good look.


2nd Gear: Training Wheels Off

Three years ago, it was revealed that General Motors fucked up royally over faulty ignition switches. Ultimately, the defect led to 124 deaths of hundreds of injuries.


In 2014, the company was subject to a three-year consent order which both helped resolve claims related to the ignition switch recalls and required regular and open discussion between GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding recalls and other safety issues.

That order has now concluded and GM is working on transitioning to a voluntary model for overseeing safety with the agency, the automaker said in a statement yesterday.


GM vice president for Global Vehicle Safety Jeff Boyer said,

“Over the past three years, we have taken significant strides toward our goal of setting a new standard for customer safety. For example, we took the important step of creating a new product safety structure, which has enabled us to be significantly more innovative with our safety oversight. We have also fielded and responded to hundreds of product safety concerns raised by our employees though our Speak Up For Safety initiative.”


NHSTA is on board. According to The Detroit News, the agency responded,

“GM’s actions under the consent order have been productive and effective in advancing safety, which is DOT and NHTSA’s top focus. The company’s voluntary proposal demonstrates its commitment to transparency on safety issues. NHTSA is encouraged by these future steps GM is taking.”


Looks like GM is out of the doghouse.

Sure, everything looks nice and friendly on the surface: GM has behaved well, which pleased the NHTSA gods, and now GM is going to keep up safety relations because that’s the right thing to do. But, you know, maybe if GM didn’t screw up so badly in the first place, we wouldn’t even need to be here at all.


3rd Gear: VW Buybacks In Europe

The great Volkswagen diesel buyback is well underway here in the United States. Folks in Europe aren’t so lucky, as VW asserts that different legislation in Europe means it doesn’t have to do so.


There are exceptions, though. Autocar reports after waiving its rights to appeal in Arnsberg and Bayreuth, in west and south-east Germany, VW will buy back the cars in those two locations.

From the story:

It will maintain this stance and has penned the cases as exceptions due to the low values of the implicated cars, and does not expect it to be the start of a domino-effect of buybacks across Europe.


Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. You really think so, Volkswagen? You don’t think this buyback will set a precedent for anyone else? Ooookay. We’ll see.

4th Gear: Future Lotuses Could Be Built In... China?

Man, remember the day that Lotus was saved? That was a good day.


A benevolent god in the form of Geely swooped in and acquired a majority share of Lotus. And now it says that it’s considering building the cars in China, reports Bloomberg.

From the story:

Chinese billionaire Li Shufu said his Zhejiang Geely Holding Group said the priority will be to make Proton and Lotus profitable and to sustain growth while embracing new technology trends of electrification, vehicle lightweighting and artificial intelligence. Geely, which bought Sweden’s Volvo Cars in 2010, said the acquisition will help the automaker to be a major player in Southeast Asia and achieve a sales target of 3 million units by 2020.

“The deep regional knowledge we gain from Proton and Lotus through this transformative partnership, coupled with our technological expertise and leadership in innovation, opens the door for Zhejiang Geely to become a major player in the Asean market,” Li said in the statement. “We will work together to make the most of our respective strengths.”


A Chinese-built Lotus? A Chinese-built electric Lotus? A Chinese-built electric AI-driven Lotus? What a time to be alive.

5th Gear: Big Ford Recall In South Africa

Fire. It’s because of fire risk.

Reuters reports that Ford is recalling nearly 16,000 Ikon and Figo models, built between 2004 and 2012. In a statement, Ford said,

“A power steering fluid leak could result in fumes being emitted from the engine compartment It may also be possible for power steering fluid to come into contact with the vehicle’s exhaust system components, creating the potential for smoke and, in extreme cases, fire.”


Fire, bad. No fire, good.

Reverse: Oh, Hello Mercedes


Neutral: Do you think after all the fines, executive departures and NHTSA-nannying that GM has recompensed for what it did? Or do you think it should have paid more?

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.

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Teh Penguin of Doom

That’s what happens when non-lawyers have the power to edit and sign the final employment contract. I would bet Torchinsky’s one remaining nipple that the contract didn’t come from Uber’s lawyers with that provision, but it was edited-in during final wooing and signing, likely after the lawyers had already gone home. Normally this kind of provision is the sort of thing that is verbally promised but the employer would never put in writing and would never actually follow through on doing. AL was smart or stupid enough to get it in writing.