Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are all the stories that everyone else will be talking about over the tire-balancing machine.
1st Gear: This Could Get Bad
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now looking into another fatal airbag problem, and this time it doesn’t have anything to do with Takata, per The Associated Press. Airbags didn’t inflate in half a dozen crashes, according to NHTSA, and it’s a a problem that could affect not quite half a million cars:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s investigating problems that affect an estimated 425,000 cars made by the Korean automakers. The agency also is looking into whether the same problem could happen in vehicles made by other companies.
In documents posted on its website Saturday , the safety agency says the probe covers 2011 Hyundai Sonata midsize cars and 2012 and 2013 Kia Forte compacts. The agency says it has reports of six front-end crashes with significant damage to the cars. Four people died and six were injured.
The problem has been traced to electrical circuit shorts in air bag control computers made by parts supplier ZF-TRW. NHTSA now wants to know if other automakers used the same computer.
Hyundai and Kia have both acknowledged a problem, and while Kia has not yet issued a recall on the issue, Hyundai has. It called back some 155,000 Sonatas in February, and has given some other details on the problem:
Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor says the problem occurred in rare high-speed head-on collisions that were offset from the center of the vehicles. “It’s very unusual to have that kind of collision,” he said Saturday.
We’ll keep an eye on this one. It doesn’t look great to me.
2nd Gear: German Court Rules Diesel VW Owner Is Entitled To New Car
The owner of a cheater-diesel VW Tiguan is entitled to a new car from Volkswagen, according to news reports from Germany’s NDR and Der Speigel. I’m not going to blockquote a bunch of German, so the long and short of it is that a guy in Germany had a VW Tiguan with a cheating diesel, he got it retrofitted with new software, but his district court ruled that he is entitled to more: The guy is entitled to an entirely new car. The logic was that even the “fixed” car could wear out unduly quickly, and the guy has a right to a perfectly working new car from the get-go.
It will be interesting to see what kind of precedent this sets.
3rd Gear: Please Take Lotus’ CEO As Your Morning Inspiration
Every day I wake up, light a candle in my shrine to Colin Chapman, and say a little prayer that Lotus will live to see another day. Thankfully, it looks like my prayers and burnt offerings are paying off, at least if you take Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales’s word for it. Automotive News Europe interviewed him and the guy seemed remarkably chipper for someone who has been refreshing the same basic cars for the past 900 years.
The key things seem to be that Lotus is getting lots of new money from Geely (which has done wonders for Volvo), and that Lotus is mostly focused on making an SUV to turn the company around. Read the full interview here.
4th Gear: Uber Rival Gets Profiled In The New York Times Then Promptly Goes On Strike
Look, I’m not saying that Indian Uber rival Ola going on strike is directly linked to Ola getting a big profile in the New York Times. I’m just saying it’s really funny that it all timed out like that.
Here’s the NYT’s profile of how Ola is an upstart rival taking on Uber in Australia, backed principally on better pay for drivers:
Ola is mostly trying to win drivers over with a better deal.
The company takes only 7.5 percent of drivers’ fares, with plans to increase that figure to 15 percent. Uber collects 20 to 25 percent. Drivers said that with Ola they could make 50 Australian dollars, or $39, an hour compared with only $30 Australian an hour with Uber.
“It’s a dramatic difference,” said Cheri Gristwood, an Uber driver in Perth, who was an early adopter of Ola. “I work my butt off, and with Ola I come home with a lot more.”
And guess what news breaks the following day? Yep, Ola drivers are striking together with Uber drivers for better pay, as Reuters reports. The strike is across India and indefinite, spurred by the companies greatly increasing the number of cabs:
“Drivers are in huge debt, but the firms are favouring those driving company-owned vehicles,” Sanjay Naik, president of the MNS transport wing told a press conference on Saturday.
Drivers were making a fraction of what was promised to them when they partnered with the companies, he added.
If this is a response to ride-sharing companies trying to keep tighter control of their whole system, including vehicles as well as the app itself, this doesn’t look good for the whole business model.
5th Gear: Mercedes Plans Subscription Service In The U.S.
First Cadillac did it and now it looks like Mercedes will offer a kind of subscription service, where you get to drive up to 12 different Mercedes over the course of a year, paying a monthly rate for the whole thing, as Automotive News reports.
What’s interesting is that the push seems to come from dealers, according to M-B’s global head of sales Britta Seeger:
Dealers “pushed us” to offer the service, [Seeger] added. “They said, ‘We want a test. We want to try. We want to have this as one additional offer for customers who are looking for this.’ “
Some U.S. dealers offer their own subscription services, which Seeger doesn’t see as a problem.
Dealers “were moving because we were not moving,” she said. “Therefore, we said, ‘C’mon, we do one offer with our financial services as a corporation.’ And this is the program and you just have to offer this to the customers.
A pilot program has already started at Germany’s two biggest Mercedes dealers, and Seeger announced that it should have something ready for Americans “within this year.”
On this day in 2005, John DeLorean, an innovative auto industry executive and founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, dies at the age of 80 in New Jersey. In the early 1980s, the DeLorean Motor Company produced just one model, the DMC-12, a sleek sports car with gull-wing doors that opened upward, before going bankrupt. John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking in an effort to raise funds for his struggling company.
Reverse: Does The Phrase “There Are No Bad Cars Anymore” Bother You, Too?
A lot of automotive journalists hold by the adage that there aren’t really any “bad” cars anymore. The idea is that even the dinkiest car you can buy is no match for, say, a Chevrolet Celebrity. But for some reason that idea bugs me, and with each gigantic recall story I find in the news, it bugs me even more. Am I crazy here?