Image: Volkswagen
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?   

A Volkswagen van, Elon reportedly ripping into the UAW, bicycles, and how your emissions regulation sausage is made. This is The Morning Shift for September 25, 2018.

1st Gear: I Don’t See Why Not

Barring inevitable economic collapse that willy surely barrel into us at any moment, Volkswagen is saying that its splendid electric car van, the I.D. Buzz Cargo, could go into production as early as 2021, according to a Volkswagen press release:

With the world premiere of the new I.D. BUZZ CARGO, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is showing how an electrically powered and completely redeveloped Transporter might change the world of LCVs. This innovative zero-emissions panel van could be launched as early as 2021. Meanwhile, the concept vehicle offers a glimpse into the middle of the next decade with its alternative, fully-automated “I.D. Pilot” driving mode (Level 4).

“Level 4" autonomy, for those following along, is the capability of the car to drive around autonomously, if there’s a person there to take over just in case, and if the weather is nice, and if Venus is in retrograde, and if you’re not in a major urban zone where these vans will primarily operate. Autonomous cars will never happen though, so don’t worry about that.

What you should be concerned with is this little electric van! As we noted a few days back, it looks extremely good and we’re big fans already. There are no real dedicated mass-market electric-platform panel vans on the market yet, and this isn’t just “a step” in the right direction, it is the right direction. For small city-bound panel vans, that is. No one is out here singing the praises of the engine in a Ford Transit Connect or whatever.

We were first clued into the expected production date by Automotive News, and while this might not be life-changing for those in the industry, I decided to make it the lead story today because it makes me happy and, you know what? Sometimes we all need a little happiness in life. It’s just good for everyone.

Advertisement

2nd Gear: Did You Know Elon Doesn’t Like The UAW?

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, have gotten into plenty of hot water over plenty of things, but one of the things its gotten into especially hot water over is the issue of unionization. The National Labor Relations Board, an American government agency tasked with enforcing labor law, has already ruled that Musk and Tesla violated the law when Musk tweeted that employees could “give up stock options” if they unionized. There’s also been a bunch of other weird things going on, like the UAW saying Tesla has “interrogated” employees over their unionization efforts, and the UAW claiming that Tesla has engaged in mass-firing specifically to hurt unionization efforts.

Now, before we continue, let me just make the mandatory note that the UAW has a dog in this fight, and it’s got a long history of being not-quite-above-board itself. But! That doesn’t mean the UAW isn’t correct. Just something to bear in mind.

Advertisement

Weirdly, however, a Tesla employee testifying in front of a judge in an NLRB case says that the argument that Musk & Co. have presented isn’t really against the UAW, but to our eyes it appears to be about unionization in general, which is in keeping with Silicon Valley stereotypes about its workers. From Bloomberg:

During the meeting, he said, Musk told [Tesla employee Jose] Moran and a co-worker Moran had brought along as a witness that with the United Auto Workers union, “you don’t really have a voice” and “the UAW is the only one that has a voice, and not the workers.” Moran said Tesla’s then-human resources head Gaby Toledano then told them “that the majority of the workers at Tesla don’t want a union, and why do we want to pay union dues?”After Moran replied that he had the right to organize, and his co-worker said they were trying to improve the company by unionizing, Toledano and Musk suggested that Moran could start participating in safety committee meetings to address his concerns, according to Moran. Then, he testified, Musk “said, ‘If these safety committee meetings don’t work out, then we’ll give you your union.’”In a June 2018 filing, NLRB prosecutors alleged that in the 2017 meeting, Musk “impliedly promised to remedy their safety complaints if they refrained from their union organizational activity.”

A Tesla spokesperson told Bloomberg that all of the allegations were “false,” which, okay.

Advertisement

Regardless, these are all absurd anti-union arguments. The only real way for workers to have a voice is to have a union. The union is made up of the workers. Paying union dues is never a problem because the union always gets you more than enough money to cover the dues, that’s the whole point. And companies don’t “give” workers a union, workers give themselves a union.

If this all sounds like a lot of paternalistic hooey to you, you are correct. Attack the UAW for having a history of corruption, sure. But everything else is just silly.

3rd Gear: How Your Emissions Regulation Sausage Is Made

The Trump administration desperately wants to roll back vital emissions regulations, but as much as President Trump wants to, he can’t just snap his fingers and then they’re gone. There’s a whole process involved. A big part of the process is holding public hearings about its dumb and bad plans, and though real input from the public encompassing massive and overwhelming opposition to its ideas has never stopped the Trump administration before, it still wants to game the system as much as possible.

Advertisement

The administration is required to hold at least three public hearings, so for the first hearing it’s tried to go to the friendliest venue possible, according to Bloomberg:

To test how Americans feel about its plan for rolling back car and truck pollution standards, the Trump administration kicked off an initial public hearing on Monday in Fresno, California, a place where it might reasonably expect a friendly response.

Fresno lies in the Central Valley, California’s farm belt, where people drive pickups more out of necessity than fashion and where, according to the California New Car Dealers Association, the share of zero-emission and hybrid new-vehicle sales account for less than half what they do in San Francisco. Fresno is also represented in Washington by Congressman Devin Nunes, a Donald Trump loyalist who once described climate change as nonsense.

“The Central Valley supported Trump over Hillary Clinton and its auto dealers have been plaintiffs in cases challenging California’s emissions standards,” said Ann Carlson, a University of California at Los Angeles law professor. “This is ironic because the auto standards Trump wants to repeal would go along way toward cleaning up the valley’s air pollution.”

Advertisement

If you want something to go your way, make sure that you do everything you think is possible for it to go your way.

4th Gear: Sometimes, The Sausage, It Doesn’t Taste So Good

Oops. It turns out that trying to game the system doesn’t always work, because cars are good and people can drive them to wherever the hell you decide to hold your hearing. They don’t care if the venue is supposed to be friendly. From the Associated Press:

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols were among several state officials on the first panel to testify.

Nichols said the administration’s claims that the rollback would improve safety were absurd.

“We will not sit idly by as you propose to flatline our efforts,” she said. “We must continue to insist on cars that produce fewer emissions, including millions more zero-emission vehicles.”

Becerra said California could not afford to retreat in the fight against climate change, noting the wildfires that have ravaged the state over the last several years.

“My message to the federal government: ‘Do your job. Withdraw this proposal,’” Becerra said. The audience applauded Becerra and Nichols’ comments.

Environmentalists protested outside the hall where the hearing took place, hoisting signs that read “Clean cars = Clean air” and “Clean cars now.”

Advertisement

This is all stupid and dumb and unnecessary fight. Everyone, including automakers, already agreed to these rules. This whole dumb process also costs taxpayers money. Stop wasting it.

5th Gear: Bicycles Also Bad

I have long maintained that bicycles are fine as a way to waste a day and get some exercise, but for real transportation they could be improved if they had two more tires and were surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel and all of that is really heavy so they should probably have an engine, too. Because cars are better.

Advertisement

But a big reason that bicycles are so unsafe isn’t because people are spontaneously flopping over on them, it’s because of cars and the people that drive them. It turns out that when a car hits a bicyclist, the bicyclist is usually severely injured, or worse. And Florida’s got the worst of it, the Wall Street Journal reports:

While cyclist death rates have risen in many states since 2010, the three with the most fatalities since then—Florida, California and Texas—account for about 40% of all cyclist deaths, according to NHTSA, despite having 27% of the nation’s population.

Florida’s numbers are bad even when compared with other warm-weather states. Its recent 10-year cyclist fatality rate was 6.2 deaths per 100,000 residents; that is 59% higher than the rate in Louisiana, the state with the second-highest level.

Florida’s population is older and more densely packed, and the state gets a steady influx of tourists unfamiliar with local roads, said transportation-safety consultant Pam Fischer, who wrote last year’s GHSA report, which examined bike-safety issues nationwide. “You kind of mush it all together, and it helps us explain as best we can what’s going on out there,” she said.

Advertisement

It all adds up to a damning indictment of Florida drivers more than anything else. Texting while driving and driving under the influence don’t help, either. Nor does it help that most of Florida’s development has been since World War II, when big suburbs were created that heavily favored cars to the detriment of other forms of transportation.

There’s no real easy answer to this, other than “spend trillions upon trillions of dollars uprooting our existing infrastructure system that’s better for everyone, including drivers, who the hell wouldn’t love a place where bicyclists don’t get killed and also our highways are awesome and have no speed limits?”

But that’s sort of what needs to happen.

Reverse: Happy Birthday, Henri

It’s four-time Le Mans winner Henri Pescarolo’s birthday. Neat.

Neutral: How Will You Spec Out Your Futuristic Panel Van?

You can’t take shag carpeting. It’s my idea! I’ve already claimed it!