Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.
1st Gear: Uber Got Some More Money
Uber was valued at $68 billion, which is a lot of money for a money-losing taxi service to be valued at, but yesterday Softbank, the Japanese telecommunications giant, said that it would spend $7.7 billion to buy a 15 percent stake in Uber. The math (Softbank paid a slight premium) works out to a new valuation of $48 billion for Uber.
It’s a sign that, for whatever reason—former CEO Travis Kalanick, the fact that the company still doesn’t make money, the fact that the company has faced some resistance in its relentless expansion, the fact that the company remains a bit of a disaster, cultural issues and more—Uber is in for a rough stretch ahead of an expected public offering in 2019.
Still! All that money is good news for at least one group of people. From The New York Times:
The deal, part of a tender offer process initiated by SoftBank last month, will allow some of Uber’s earliest shareholders, including employees and venture capital firms like Benchmark and First Round, to cash out and receive what will prove to be a large payday.
But it’s also the turning of a page.
The deal will also benefit Uber’s employees, drivers and riders, said Chris Sacca, founder and head of Lowercase Capital, a major Uber shareholder that did not sell shares in SoftBank’s tender offer. “It locks in new rules to ensure that Uber’s old leadership regime can’t come back to power,” Mr. Sacca said. “Plus it brings in fresh capital for Dara to build Uber 2.0.”
It is unclear, however, if any company bylaws would prevent Mr. Kalanick from returning to Uber’s executive ranks.
Uber has been one of the more fascinating tech operas running, and it won’t be ending anytime soon.
2nd Gear: The 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Is Reasonably Priced
The Hyundai Ioniq, Hyundai’s ambitious foray into the electric and hybrid market, is now the cheapest plug-in hybrid on the market, according to Car And Driver. You can get one for as little as $25,835, which is over $1,000 cheaper than a Toyota Prius plug-in, by comparison. The plug-in version of the Ioniq is just one of a few versions of the car, though.
From Car And Driver:
That attractive base price includes a generous load of standard equipment, including proximity key entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. A Limited trim level is also offered for $29,185, adding leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, and blind-spot monitoring. Add $3750 for the Limited Ultimate package that pulls out all the stops, including features such as a sunroof, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a premium Infinity audio system.
Key differences between the Ioniq plug-in hybrid and the Ioniq hybrid include a larger, 8.9-kWh battery pack (versus 1.6 kWh in the hybrid) and—as the name implies—the ability to plug in and charge up said battery pack. Charging from empty on a 240-volt Level 2 charger is estimated to take just over two hours. The EPA says that the Ioniq plug-in will go 29 electric-only miles on a charge, and that it will achieve 52 mpg combined when running in hybrid mode once the batteries are depleted. The plug-in hybrid’s electric motor also is slightly more powerful than the hybrid’s, enabling electric-only driving at up to 75 mph. The plug-in hybrid shares the same 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four engine and six-speed dual-clutch transmission as the hybrid.
We liked the Ioniq when we drove it earlier this year, though its name, I think, remains a little weird.
3rd Gear: GM’s Path Through Ignition-Switch Litigation Just Got A Little Easier
Not that General Motors needed the help. To recap: 124 deaths have been linked to bad ignition switches in GM cars, and the U.S.’s biggest automaker has already paid out $2.6 billion in a combination of penalties and lawsuit settlements. On Thursday, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled in GM’s favor in two of the six “bellwether” cases.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said the plaintiffs in two bellwether cases, involving accidents where airbags had deployed, could not introduce expert testimony to show how defective ignition switches might have played a role in the crashes.
The plaintiffs said their GM ignition switches might have rotated from “run” at the moment of impact to “accessory” or “off,” causing the accidents or making them worse, and then back to “run” before the airbags deployed.
But Furman, who oversees multi-district litigation (“MDL”) over the ignition switches, including 213 cases where airbags deployed, called the expert testimony “unreliable” because there was no evidence that “double switch rotation” occurred anywhere.
“The court recognizes that these conclusions may have a significant impact on a swath of cases now pending in the MDL and, thus, does not reach them lightly,” the judge wrote.
GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles over the issue, which was uncovered in early 2014. For the litigation, though, there’s still no end in sight.
4th Gear: On A Completely Different Note, GM Has Received A Patent For An Airbag That Would Protect Pedestrians
The patent is designed to protect pedestrians not from the initial impact of getting hit by a car, but from the next impact—when your head slams into metal after you’ve been thrown onto the hood, for example. Neat! Though it’s not going to be implemented any time soon.
From The Detroit Free Press:
GM filed extensive paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that included dozens of pages of description, optional applications and 90 technical sketches. The focus is an airbag mounted in a “fender region” adjacent the vehicle’s hood and before the side door “to provide protection to a pedestrian from impacting the frontal area of a vehicle structure.”
The company declined to discuss specifics of how the technology might change injury risks, saying a competitive research and development landscape requires discretion.
GM did not include how potential collisions would be detected to trigger airbag deployment. Use of cameras and sensors in the industry is established and growing. GM Global Technology Operations LLC applied in April 2014 for the patent on a “fender located pedestrian protection airbag.”
“It’s a promising technology but we have no specific production plans at this time,” noted GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey.
5th Gear: VW Wants To Get Rid Of A Special Auditor Investigating Dieselgate
It really just never ends for car companies that fuck up in a major way. Dieselgate, if you remember, started way back in September 2015, and has been a serious headache for Volkswagen ever since, leading to investigations and resignations and prison sentences. In Germany, it has also led to a special auditor, appointed in November to see if VW executives manipulated markets by withholding Dieselgate-related information. Now, shockingly, VW wants that auditor gone.
The court in the town of Celle ruled that VW could not appeal [the audit], which the auto maker views as a violation of its fundamental rights, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in a report released in advance of publication on Friday.
The car maker will try to get the work of the auditor suspended before the constitutional court hearing, said the newspaper, which researched the report together with public TV channels NDR and WDR.
A company spokesman confirmed that VW would go to the constitutional court but did not elaborate. It was not immediately clear whether or when the constitutional court would take up the case.
Reverse: Christian Slater Arrested For Drunk Driving
The actor has had his problems with substances over the years, though it feels a little random for History to be pointing out this particular problem today. Still, they use it as a peg to dive into some interesting bits about the history of drunk driving detection.
People have been driving drunk for almost as long as they have been driving cars: The first drunk-driving arrest took place in London in September 1897. In 1931, a toxicologist at Indiana University named Rolla Harger came up with a way to prove that someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it–a device he called the Drunkometer. It was simple: all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon. The tester then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid (potassium permanganate and sulfuric acid) and released its air into the tube. Alcohol on a person’s breath changed the color of the fluid from purple to yellow; the quicker the change, the drunker the person.
The Drunkometer was effective but cumbersome, and it required a certain amount of scientific calculation to determine just how much alcohol a person had consumed. In 1954, another Indianan named Robert Borkenstein invented a device that was more portable and easier to use. Borkenstein’s machine, the Breathalyzer, worked much like Harger’s did–it measured the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath–but it did the necessary calculations automatically and thus could not be foiled or tampered with. (One tipsy Canadian famously ate his underwear while waiting to take a Breathalyzer test because he believed that the cotton would somehow absorb the alcohol in his system. It did not.) The Breathalyzer soon became standard equipment in every police car in the nation.
Don’t drive drunk!
Neutral: Will Uber Be Around In 10 Years?
I’m going to say yes, but there’s a good chance it’ll be owned by someone else entirely. Or the automakers will have ride-hailing services to beat Uber at its own game.