If you’re going to make a company with the sole mission of dodging regulations and exploiting workers, at least dump some of your ill-gotten gains into something entertaining. All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 9, 2020.
Uber gave up on its self-driving car program this week. I can’t stress how huge a deal that is for the central lie behind Uber. The company’s grand thesis of exploiting workers now was to fund replacing them with robots later. Nope! Gave up. Prop 22 won, and the mask is off.
Now Uber is ditching its more whimsical flying car operation as well, as the New York Times reports:
A day after Uber handed its autonomous car project to a Silicon Valley start-up, the company is doing the same with an ambitious and money-intensive effort to build flying cars.
Uber is handing its flying car project, Uber Elevate, to the air taxi start-up Joby Aviation, the two companies said on Tuesday. Uber will also invest $75 million in Joby’s effort to build a flying taxi, while agreeing to become partners with the start-up when the flying car reaches the market.
By taking the two technology projects off the books, Uber management, under pressure to make the company profitable, is dumping initiatives that critics said were money pits while focusing on the company’s core ride-hailing service and one of the few bright spots in the pandemic: a fast-growing delivery service. Uber recently completed the acquisition of its competitor Postmates, allowing the company to double down on deliveries.
I am floored. I am bummed. What’s the point of dodging regulations and destroying the profitable and sustainable career of taxi driving if it’s not going to fund some quixotic pursuit? All of Uber’s money is going to, what, just build extravagant modernist mansions for its executives? Pay for their private jets? None of that gets me any closer to the Jetsons. Lame.
Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, did have a somewhat charming use for his money. He’s started up a company making knockoffs of old Land Rover Defenders and was going to make it in Wales. It was going to be something of a job-creator program, and while that’s not exactly how I would spend my billions, it’s noble enough and dumb enough for it to be a net positive for humanity as far as I can tell.
Nope again! Ratcliffe has been a prominent Brexiteer, but now he’s announced that his company Ineos will be taking its proposed 500 Welsh factory jobs away and dumping them into an old Daimler factory that made Smarts. Reuters reports:
Prominent Brexit supporter Ratcliffe’s petrochemicals company said in September 2019 it would build the Grenadier off-roader in Wales, creating up to 500 jobs, with a new plant in Portugal supplying the body and chassis.
But in July it announced it was reviewing the investments due to the pandemic presenting “opportunities in terms of existing manufacturing capacity that were not previously available to us.”
On Tuesday, Ineos confirmed it would take over Hambach, a Daimler facility close to the border with Germany.
“Hambach presented us with a unique opportunity that we simply could not ignore: to buy a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce,” Ratcliffe, who is Ineos group chairman, said in a statement.
Not only did he pull potential jobs from Wales, he implied they were anything but a “world-class workforce.” Rude! Here at Jalopnik we support the proud Welsh people and their brave commitment to getting rained on all the time.
Brexit has caused huge jams at Britain’s ports, which have in turn screwed up supply chains enough to force Honda to close a plant, as the Financial Times reports:
Honda is drawing up emergency plans to fly components into the UK to bypass a port logjam that caused the Japanese carmaker to shut its Swindon plant on Wednesday.
Production at the site was cancelled after the plant ran short of key parts that were due to arrive on long-haul ships.
Port operators have warned of chaos at waterfront terminals after the Brexit transition period ends on January 1 as customs paperwork holds up deliveries, leading to long delays.
Once again I am annoyed that Brexit is giving the world all kinds of economic headaches without anything fun in return.
Speaking of the charity of the rich, the gazillionaires of Morgan-Stanley recognized that the coffee cart vendors they all used to go to when they commuted before COVID-19 are struggling, and it was their responsibility to take care of them if the state wasn’t going to do anything beyond a few bucks of stimulus.
How much money did Morgan-Stanley kick to these transportation workers building a life in America? Nothing more than $2 million, as Bloomberg reports:
As Morgan Stanley’s bankers scattered from Manhattan’s Times Square to their home offices during the pandemic, some asked: How are the coffee-cart vendors doing?
The answer: terribly. Earnings for New York’s iconic street vendors have plunged as much as 90% during the coronavirus outbreak. So the bank is giving $2 million to 2,000 vendors in coordination with the Robin Hood foundation, which is contributing $375,000 more and helping distribute the cash.
The funds are aimed at helping the largely minority- and immigrant-run businesses that have been left out of government stimulus programs because they don’t qualify for employee or small-business relief. There are about 20,000 vendors selling food and merchandise on sidewalks throughout New York who embody the city’s image in films and on television.
The charity of the rich didn’t save us in the Great Depression, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to do us much good this winter.
Toyota’s new fuel-cell Mirai is out, and it looks great. On the back of its release, Toyota is planning some more hydrogen testing to make the whole hydrogen ecosystem a bit more robust. The iconic convenience store chains of 7-11, Lawson, and Family Mart will be trying out some fuel-cell trucks, as the Japan Times reports:
Toyota Motor Corp. and three major convenience store operators said Tuesday they will carry out trials of fuel-cell electric delivery trucks in 2021.
Fuel-cell vehicles use hydrogen to generate electricity and do not emit carbon dioxide. The envisioned tests by Toyota, its subsidiary Hino Motors Ltd. and the convenience store operators — Seven-Eleven Japan Co., FamilyMart Co. and Lawson Inc. — will use light-duty trucks with a maximum payload of 3 tons being developed by the two automakers.
The five companies plan to examine whether the use of such light-duty trucks is practical and viable for transporting merchandise between distribution centers and convenience stores. They will also identify challenges in cost efficiency and establishing the necessary infrastructure.
A sufficient cruising range, load capacity and fast refueling are among the major requirements for delivery trucks that transport products, including precooked meals, to multiple convenience stores. Toyota and Hino are aiming for a cruising range of about 400 kilometers on one tank of hydrogen.
Despite their appeal as a green alternative to conventional gasoline cars, fuel cell vehicles still face infrastructure and other technical hurdles, including establishing compressed hydrogen refueling stations. Toyota, which in 2014 rolled out the world’s first mass-produced FCV, the Mirai, is among nearly 90 companies that set up an association on Monday to promote greater use of hydrogen in Japan.
Modern EVs spent many years in a similar kind of role, often being tried out in corporate vehicle fleets before Tesla shook the world and offered an electric car people wanted to buy and built a large charging network for them to use. When will hydrogen get the same treatment?
A personal favorite exploit of the idle rich was the time a bunch of 19th Century tycoons caused the deadliest flood in American history, all caused by stupid engineering they did for a fishing retreat they made upstream of Pennsylvania’s South Fork Dam. That’s not exactly the joyous acts of one exploitative company in specific, though. What works of wonder are in your town from a horrible old benefactor?