We're About To Start Putting Crash Test Dummies In The Back Seat Thanks To Uber

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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 the important stories you need to know.


1st Gear: The Back Seat Moves To The Forefront

Believe it or not, regulators and organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety generally do not put crash test dummies in the rear seats of cars during crash tests. In fact, much of car safety to date has focused on the front occupants instead of the ones in the back.

That may be changing soon. Bloomberg says America’s auto safety regulators will start putting dummies in the back in a few years too.

Why? In part because so many people are riding in Ubers and Lyfts these days:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to test dummies in back seats in new models as part of its 5-Star Safety Ratings Program beginning in 2019. The program, started in 1978, has so far only measured safety for drivers and front-seat passengers.

“People assume a 5-star rating extends to all seating locations, but it doesn’t,” said Kristy Arbogast, engineering director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The back seat hasn’t kept up.”

Advocates say automakers should make greater use of airbags in the back, improve seat belts so they work more like the ones in front that tighten during abrupt speed changes, and conduct education campaigns to encourage buckling up in the rear.

Also, I’ll leave you with this nice image to start your day:

In emergency rooms in New York and other major U.S. cities, doctors have a nickname for another type of head injury: partition face. It’s what happens when a back-seat passenger riding in a cab doesn’t bother to wear a seat belt. In a rear-end collision, his head is thrust into the Plexiglas barrier. That can lead to a concussion, stitches or a fractured eye socket.


Wear your goddamn seat belts in the back, people.

2nd Gear: Fixing Mitsubishi’s R&D Problem

Nissan is set to take over Mitsubishi Motors soon, and Mitsuhiko Yamashita, a Nissan senior technology adviser at Nissan, will take over Mitsu’s R&D department. That change and more come as Mitsubishi has to revise its fiscal year 2015 results, reports Reuters:

Mitsubishi Motors Chairman and CEO Osamu Masuko will also be president, taking over that role from Tetsuro Aikawa, who will leave the company.

Sources told Reuters that Masuko called on Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn for help after acknowledging Mitsubishi cheated on fuel economy tests, and admitted to the need to reform Mitsubishi’s insular technology department based 250 km (155 miles) from the firm’s Tokyo headquarters.

“There was an understanding that R&D had a big problem, so we asked Nissan for help. As a result we have welcomed Mr. Yamashita,” Masuko told reporters on Wednesday.

Masuko also said he did not plan to stay in his role after Nissan takes control later this year.

Mitsubishi, Japan’s sixth-largest automaker, also announced a special loss of 19.1 billion yen ($174 million) for the year that ended in March related to its manipulation of fuel economy data.


3rd Gear: A VW Deal Is Coming, Really, For Real This Time

And now here’s a thing we’ve been hearing since about February, I think: a “final deal” between Volkswagen and U.S. regulators is apparently coming next month, Reuters reports. Then owners will know how their cars will be affected by whatever fixes need to be made to the cheating diesels.


Then again, there’s a lot more VW itself will have to deal with after the fix is made:

Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) has made substantial progress toward reaching a final settlement next month with car owners and the U.S. government over the German automaker’s cheating on diesel emissions tests, a federal judge said on Tuesday.

But major issues remain, including how much the world’s No. 2 automaker may have to pay in fines, which could run in the billions of dollars, to federal and state regulators for violating U.S. clean air rules, as well as an ongoing U.S. Justice Department criminal probe.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco reiterated that a settlement will include substantial monetary compensation for U.S. owners of 482,000 polluting vehicles that emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution.


4th Gear: Begun, The Ride-Hailing Wars Have

Toyota’s investment in and partnership with Uber should make for an interesting battle between them, General Motors and Lyft, and Volkswagen and Gett, reports Bloomberg (via Automotive News):

In the nearer term, Toyota’s investment in Uber may help Toyota guard against GM’s ambitions to use its partnership with Lyft to bolster sales in urban areas. GM is reliant on SUV and truck sales in rural markets and saw an opportunity to boost its market share in cities, Lyft CEO Logan Green said last month at a tech conference in Tokyo.

“The automakers see a threat and an opportunity,” said Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst in suburban Detroit. “If all they’re doing is selling vehicles and don’t see the customer again for years, then that’s a problem. If they can find a way to generate ongoing income, then that’s what they want to do.”

Among its global competitors, Uber has a strong position in congested urban centers where ride-sharing is taking root first, Baum said. Toyota and other automakers want to jump on the ride-sharing bandwagon partly because investors are pushing them to do so, he said.


5th Gear: It’s That Darn Software

Software glitches! They’re the big problem with new cars, reports USA Today, and ranking at the top of the glitch list is Jaguar and Tesla:

Software glitches are increasingly bedeviling automakers, according to a new J.D. Power gauge that concludes luxury auto companies Tesla Motors and Jaguar Land Rover are among the manufacturers with the highest rate of defects.

Consumer complaints about vehicle software problems filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jumped 22% in 2015, compared to a year earlier, according to the new J.D. Power Safety IQ study, which analyzes NHTSA records and J.D. Power data together.

[...] The brands with the lowest rate of software complaints were General Motors’ Chevrolet and GMC, Fiat Chrysler’s Ram, Toyota, Mazda and Subaru.

“Consumer complaints are the canaries in the coalmine for automobile manufacturers when it comes to anticipating future recalls and longer-term customer satisfaction,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power, in a statement. “Software-related problems have become much more prevalent and, if not addressed, could begin to erode consumer trust in new automotive technology.”


Reverse: Bury Me With My Corvette


Neutral: How Can The Back Seat Be Safer?

It makes sense that this is the next big arena for car safety. So what can automakers and regulators do to improve safety back there?


Ash78, voting early and often

Neutral: I highly doubt Uber and Lyft have enough market sway to alter tests, since most people using them would already have been using a cab or a designated driver, anyway. But that aside, I believe the driver is the “Captain” of the car and everyone else must listen to him/her before we go anywhere. I am very firm but polite about this, with both kids and adults, including everyone in the rear using seat belts. I have sardonically heard things like "I'm glad you're so concerned for my safety" but it's far more selfish than that — I just don't need a 200-lb man crashing into my seatback at 60g. My seatbelt and airbag suddenly don't matter as much. Yes, please wear your damned seat belts.