We’re finally to lay eyes on the GM Cruise self-driving car, Tesla calls BS on the unintended acceleration claims and a look at Subaru’s big emissions-reduction plan. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
1st Gear: The GM Self-Driving Car Is Finally Upon Us
In 2016, General Motors bought self-driving tech startup Cruise for “more than $1 billion.” The intent was clear: to implement the company’s autonomous technology into a production car. Despite a hiccup last July, where the commercial launch of the two companies’ self-driving car was delayed past its 2019 target (no doubt because the prototypes were reportedly “riddled with technical glitches and safety concerns”), we’ll be able to see the first car of the partnership today.
Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reports the first GM Cruise self-driving car will be unveiled in San Francisco later today. Per GM’s previous claims, it won’t have a steering wheel or pedals. It will be a:
purpose-built electric, autonomous model designed to be more spacious and passenger-friendly than a conventional, human-driven car. It lacks traditional controls like pedals and a steering wheel, freeing up room for commuters who will share rides.
You might be familiar with the GM Cruise self-driving program in the form of the autonomous Chevy Bolt test vehicles. At the beginning of 2018, a motorcyclist sued GM, claiming a car that was involved in a self-driving testing program hit him. Six months later, GM settled.
2nd Gear: Tesla Blames The Shorts
Last week, we reported the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was reviewing a petition that asked it to formally investigate half a million Teslas over “unintended acceleration reports.” Since then, Tesla has responded.
Yesterday, the automaker said there is “no unintended acceleration” in its cars, reports Reuters. In fact, the automaker went a step further and said the petition was “‘completely false’ and… brought forward by a short-seller.”
“Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla said in a blog post here
A spokesman for NHTSA on Monday declined to comment on Tesla’s statement. The agency said last week it “will carefully review the petition and relevant data.”
It’s true Tesla loves to complain about “the shorts,” but in this case, we were skeptical last week as well. Michael Ballaban wrote,
But I’m enormously skeptical of “unintended acceleration” claims in general. Most everyone remembers the “controversy” involving Toyota and the issue, which despite tons of attention, was mostly shown to be cases of elderly drivers confusing pedals.
And when it comes to Teslas and “unintended acceleration,” I’m even more skeptical. Teslas own systems have redundancies built-in, and when a failure occurs, the way the throttle system is designed would pretty much only allow the car to not move at all, not launch forward with sudden, unplanned vigor, as we wrote about when investigating one such case back in 2017.
Nothing will probably come of this. As you were.
3rd Gear: Subaru’s Big EV Goal
Subaru said yesterday it’s really committing to a greener and carbon-free future. The automaker announced its intention to shift at least 40 percent of its global sales over to hybrid or electric cars by 2030.
Subaru has plans for a “strong hybrid” car that uses Toyota technology that will launch later this decade, reports Reuters. “It is also developing an all-battery electric car with Toyota for release around the same time,” the outlet continues. “Subaru said that by 2030 at least 40% of its cars sold worldwide will comprise battery electric vehicles or hybrids.”
There is some frustration, though.
Subaru boss Tomomi Nakamura told the Wall Street Journal “he didn’t see much evidence Americans want electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids” and was frustrated with “navigating between environmental regulations and consumer demand.” He claims the only EVs that have any commercial success are Teslas.
If and when the shift does come, obviously the company wants to be ready for it. Subaru just doesn’t appear to think the demand will be there. Chief technology officer Tetsuo Onuki said, “To be honest, we don’t expect the market is going to turn into all electric vehicles in 2030. They’re going to be quite expensive.”
Hybrids are good! The technology has come quite far. And I have my bet on the upcoming Toyota RAV4 Prime selling OUT when it launches. So we’ll see who is right.
4th Gear: Michael Bloomberg Also Has EV Plans
While we’re on the topic of big, ambitious EV plans, let’s talk about Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg for just a second.
On Friday, Bloomberg announced a plan that was dramatically reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by making electric cars more accessible to low-income families and bettering access to public transportation, reports Reuters. It all sounds great, but also too good to be true?
From the story:
Bloomberg’s plan calls for all new U.S. cars to be electric by 2035, reductions of diesel pollution with electric trucks and buses, improved access to public transit, and the building of high-speed rail.
He wants to offer low and moderate-income communities a “Clean Cars for All” program with rebates for trading in old cars for electric ones.
“We’re looking to turn over the polluting stock faster,” a campaign aide said on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s unveiling. The aide said Bloomberg wants to help taxi and ride-share programs to electrify their fleets before 2035.
His plan does not specify where rare earth minerals would come from for the new vehicles.
Bloomberg aims to slash U.S. emissions linked to climate change by 50% by 2030 if he wins the November vote. Cutting emissions from the power sector and buildings are the other major planks of his clean economy plan.
Aggressive but okay! This also all seems extremely expensive and Bloomberg did not ballpark a budget figure for his ideas. So we’ll see if this helps him at the polls at all.
5th Gear: Nissan Dealers Are Pissed
It isn’t merely the enthusiast crowd that’s mad at Nissan, dealers are feeling frustrated, too. Newly appointed CEO Makoto Uchida recently paid a visit to Nissan’s North America headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, to talk with retailers. They apparently gave it to him.
Nine retailers gathered to speak with Uchida, reports Automotive News. They asked for “faster product updates and greater marketing and incentive support.”
They also expressed their frustration with “slumping residual values and profitability at the Nissan brand” and wanted to hear some assurance from Nissan regarding lifting its reputation here in the United States. The current perception, as some retailers described it, is of a “bargain-basement brand.” Ouch.
This is the kind of stuff Uchida reportedly wanted to hear, anyway. He wanted to “know all the negatives,” one dealer quoted.
Though it doesn’t seem Uchida has an immediate solution, dealers appear to feel slightly more optimistic after talking to him. They appreciated him listening to them and wanting to hear the difficult news.
After Carlos Ghosn’s firing, it hasn’t been easy for Nissan. Maybe this is the jump-start the company needed to get itself back into shape.
Reverse: It’s Official!
Neutral: Do You Have A Hybrid Car?
Why or why not? If not, are you considering one?