Uber is back on the roads with its self-driving tech after one of its cars killed a person earlier this year, Amtrak is kind of screwed, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn is also probably screwed, and more await you in The Morning Shift for Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.
1st Gear: Uber’s Computers Are Back Behind The Wheel
Today will be the first day Uber sends out a self-driving car on public roads for testing since the death of Elaine Herzberg, who died after a self-driving Volvo XC90 owned by Uber and equipped with self-driving sensors and computers hit her while she crossed the street at the night.
Uber said it received the all-clear from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation this week. The self-driving car program has been suspended as the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the pedestrian fatality in Tempe, Arizona, and as state officials reviewed Uber’s authorization.
This is the first time Uber is returning autonomous vehicles to public roads since the accident. In order to collect data, Uber had previously deployed some autonomous vehicles in manual mode, meaning that human drivers were operating them at all times. On Thursday, Uber will also deploy cars in San Francisco and Toronto in the manual, human-driven mode.
While the self-driving program was halted, Uber continued to test its cars in manual mode with a person in full control and collected driving data to apply to its programs and algorithms. The company will continue to do so in San Francisco and Toronto, Bloomberg reports.
Here’s hoping Uber’s technology has come a long way in the last nine months.
2nd Gear: Amtrak Is Literally Sinking
Jokes about Amtrak’s reputation not being the greatest aside, climate change is real and it’s coming straight for the the train line’s Northeast corridor route.
According to Amtrak, the Northeast corridor line running from Washington D.C. up to Boston is at high risk of being washed out by rising water levels in the next 30 years, mostly due to the proximity of two rivers, the Delaware and Christina. Here’s more from the Bloomberg report:
By the middle of this century, climate change is likely to punch a hole through the busiest stretch of rail in North America. Parts of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route, which carries 12 million people each year between Boston and Washington, face “continual inundation.” Flooding, rising seas, and storm surge threaten to erode the track bed and knock out the signals that direct train traffic. The poles that provide electricity for trains are at risk of collapse, even as power substations succumb to floodwaters. “If one of the segments of track shuts down, it will shut down this segment of the NEC,” warned members of Amtrak’s planning staff. “There is not an alternate route that can be used as a detour.”
One particular section of the track in Wilmington, Delaware sits right next to the Delaware River, and is already suffering from frequent flooding. The flooding is projected to occur at least twice a month going forward, and will only get worse. The proposed solution is to put walls costing $24 million per mile of track through the section, which would take about a month to construct.
The study was completed last year and Bloomberg reports that Amtrak has since backed away from publicly pushing the threat of climate change to its railways. And that has to do with money, according to Amtrak themselves:
Christina Leeds, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said in an email: “Elevation or relocation of the infrastructure is likely to be expensive, disruptive, or impractical, and given the current levels of federal and state funding for Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor, well beyond our means.” She added that the company already faces “$40 billion worth of pressing—largely still unfunded—basic state-of-good-repair risks.”
The increased flooding over the coming decades would not only disrupt transit for an approximate 12 million travelers, but also risk wiping out Amtrak’s National Operations Center, a training center, and a major train maintenance yard. What are they going to do, launch a GoFundMe for $100 billion?
3rd Gear: Documents Show Nissan and Renault Were Indeed Trying to Pay Carlos Ghosn Off The Books
As Tokyo prosecutors appeal a judge’s decision to release Carlos Ghosn pending a trial for allegedly misreporting his incomes, Reuters is reporting it’s seen documents outlining ways in which both Renault and Nissan, which were joined in an alliance under Ghosn, attempted to find ways of compensating him beyond his standard income off the books.
Here’s more from Reuters:
Executives, including Renault’s general secretary Mouna Sepehri, worked on a proposed 2010 plan to create an additional source of compensation for Ghosn through the alliance’s Renault-Nissan BV (RNBV) Dutch holding, according to an internal email seen by Reuters.
In the April 22, 2010, email to Sepehri and one other recipient identified only as Scott, Kelly wrote: “I greatly appreciate the work you have done to analyze whether part of the CEO’s compensation can be paid by RNBV without disclosing it publicly.”
In Renaults statement to Reuters concerning the email, the automaker’s spokesperson claimed the additional compensation would have ultimately still been reported publicly in France if it had gone through. Here’s the other attempt from 2017:
Renault-Nissan bankers developed plans to pay millions of euros in undisclosed bonuses to Ghosn and other alliance managers via a Dutch service company. On June 13, 2017, Reuters reported details of the plan contained in an eight-page document. Two days later at Renault’s shareholder meeting, Ghosn denied that such a plan existed.
“There is no truth in any of this,” Ghosn told shareholders at the meeting, as Renault deputy CEO Thierry Bollore and Sepehri looked on. “I can tell you that every week we get proposals from consultants and banks at my level.”
The plan was scrapped soon after that, invoices and emails show.
The discussions and emails were discovered through Nissan’s internal investigation of its Chairman, and while neither plan seems to have come to fruition, it’s a thick cloud of smoke signaling the allegations of misconduct elsewhere could be true.
Can you imagine typing out “thank you for not disclosing this shady money talk publicly” to someone? It’s just begging to be framed and displayed in a court room.
4th Gear: Daimler and BMW Are Looking To Share
Daimler and BMW, two of the biggest German automakers, are looking to shack up for shared parts, Automotive News reports, as both companies have seemed either flustered or slightly indifferent to fully committing to electric cars and self-driving technology.
Here’s more detail from AutoNews:
The German manufacturers are exploring options such as joint vehicle platforms, batteries and autonomous-car technology, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Collaboration would be restricted to technology that’s not brand-specific, but deliberations are in their early stages and the timing of any decisions are unclear, the people said. Daimler and BMW declined to comment.
AutoNews also cites increasing trade tensions, as both companies have scaled back profit targets for this year. The two companies have already both invested in a digital mapping company alongside fellow German automaker Volkswagen, and recently combined the car-sharing platforms they own.
Pretty soon half of the luxury car market is going to have Mercedes buttons littered throughout.
5th Gear: The Founder of StreetScooter Is Going For Tesla With a New EV
Guenther Schuh, who successfully sold the electric van company StreetScooter he started to Deutsche Post AG back in 2014, is now turning to selling regular electric cars to regular people, Bloomberg reports:
While Tesla is focusing on upscale buyers and offering sports car-like performance, e.GO is taking a utilitarian tack. Its first model, the Life, is a simple urban runabout that looks like a boxy version of the Fiat 500. The four-seater boasts a cheap price for an electric car, but not much else. So far, e.GO has 3,200 pre-orders and isn’t taking more. Deliveries will begin in April, and the plan is to produce 100,000 vehicles annually by 2022 — on par with Tesla’s output last year.
The e.GO life is targeting a starting price of $18,000 with a range of 75 miles and top speed of 72 mph, or a more expensive model at $22,500 which can go up to 114 miles with a top speed of 94 mph.
The only problem is nobody is really sure the novelty of being a super cheap EV will pay off. Not even Schuh:
Despite the grand ambitions, e.GO’s success ultimately depends on making money on an electric car cheap enough to offset the drawbacks of limited driving ranges and long charging times (as much as 9.8 hours for the Life). Schuh is aware that he’s entering uncharted waters.
“I don’t know any carmaker that makes money in this vehicle category,” the lanky, bespectacled professor said. “Especially not if they’re electric.”
Reverse: But Things Only Got Better For Flint...Right?
On this day in 1989 Roger and Me, Michael Moore’s scathing documentary about General Motors’ effect on the people of his home town, Flint, MI, opened in theaters.
Neutral: Should Uber’s Self-Driving Program Still Be On Any Roads?
Not to be too alarmist or aggressive toward Uber, but their technologies and policy, or lack thereof, directly resulted in the death of a woman earlier this year. It seems like we may have all moved on too quickly from that fact. Should they be back to testing so soon? Or at all? Would you get in a self-driving Uber at this point?