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Driverless Cars ‘Unsafe And Untenable’ As Calls For Industry-Wide Investigation Increases

Good morning! It’s Friday, November 10, 2023, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: Driverless Cars In ‘Dire Need Of Federal Regulation’

After pausing its operations in California, driverless car startup Cruise recalled its self-driving cars and suspended production of its self-driving van following a crash in San Francisco that killed a pedestrian. The company is now facing an investigation by regulators and industry experts are calling for the probe to include every self-driving car operator in America.

As well as the ongoing Cruise investigation, unions across America are now calling for “an industry-wide probe” into autonomous vehicles operating across the country, including those managed by Waymo and Zoox, reports Reuters. Unions calling for the immediate investigation include the United Auto Workers, the Transportation Trades Department and Transport Workers Union of America. As Reuters explains:

Driverless vehicles “are unsafe and untenable in their current form. This industry is in dire need of federal regulation and leadership to restore a modicum of safety and establish a realistic path for these vehicles to operate without threatening other road users,” they said in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Ann Carlson, acting administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The letter also said workers are facing safety issues from robotaxis.

As such, the unions have demanded that NHTSA opens an “industry-wide investigation” to uncover any “safety failures” that may be happening behind the scenes at these autonomous tech companies.

So far, federal regulators have confirmed that a probe has been opened into General Motors-backed Cruise after one of its cars hit a pedestrian and then stopped, pinning her underneath the vehicle until firefighters were able to lift the Cruise off of the woman.

NHTSA also previously launched an investigation into Amazon-backed Zoox, which relates to the processes it uses to certify that its cars were safe to operate on America’s roads.

2nd Gear: Biden Backs Calls For Toyota And Tesla Unions

Unions are riding high right now after the UAW secured deals for workers at Stellantis, GM and Ford plants here in America. Now, calls are coming in for other auto plants across the U.S. to offer their workers the same kinds of conditions, which has naturally led many to ask when everyone else will unionize?

One such person asking that very question is president Joe Biden, who was speaking at a rally packed with UAW members, according to CNBC News. during his talk, Biden branded the UAW teams “game changers” and said they had successfully set a “new standard” for blue-collar workers in America. CNBC News reports:

“I’m a little selfish, I want this type of contract for all autoworkers,” Biden said during a visit with UAW President Shawn Fain in Belvidere, Illinois. “And I have a feeling the UAW has a plan for that.”

Biden’s comments about contracts for all automakers echoed [Shawn] Fain’s recent remarks about how the UAW’s next move is to organize non-union auto plants, which it has failed to do for decades.

It’s no secret that the UAW would like to add Tesla workers to its roster one day soon. However, it faces a harsh critic in the form of Tesla boss Elon Musk, who has a long history of pushing back against unionization at his plants.

But this won’t stop the UAW from trying, and UAW president Fain recently claimed that the next time his union went to the bargaining table it would be up against the “Big Five or Big Six.”

3rd Gear: Polestar Skirts Tariffs With Korea Plant

Swedish electric car maker Polestar is set to begin building its cars in South Carolina next summer, but the company is already eyeing another factory to supply its new electric SUVs to American buyers. Currently, the Geely-owned EV maker builds its Polestar 2 cars at a plant in China, but from next year it could offer cars assembled in the U.S. and Korea to avoid excessive import tariffs.

The Swedish automaker is planning to build its new Polestar 3 SUV here in the U.S. and the upcoming Polestar 4 will be assembled in South Korea, reports Bloomberg. Both cars will be sold in the U.S. but unlike the Polestar 2 that is currently on sale here, they won’t be subject to the same strict import tariffs the U.S. imposes on Chinese made vehicles. As Bloomberg explains:

“Polestar 2 definitely is in a much different and, let’s face it, much tougher situation,” Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar’s chief executive officer, said in an interview Thursday.

Ingenlath reaffirmed plans for the start of production of the Polestar 3 SUV at a Volvo Car factory near Charleston, South Carolina, next summer. The Polestar 4 SUV will be manufactured from late 2025 at a Renault SA plant in South Korea, with some of those vehicles earmarked for export to the US, the company said Thursday.

By assembling the new Polestar 4 in South Korea, the Swedish company will avoid the 27.5 percent tariff that the U.S. imposes on Chinese-made cars. However, once import costs drop on its new models, Polestar isn’t thinking about wading into the EV price war that Tesla has started.

Instead, Ingenlath told Bloomberg that his company certainly “aren’t going into a price war with Tesla.” Instead, he admitted that the company has “expensive cars,” but said they remained “competitive at those prices.”

4th Gear: A Cheap VW EV Is Coming… One Day

For buyers in Europe, Volkswagen offers the neat little ID.3 for anyone looking for a more budget-friendly EV. That car sadly isn’t available stateside, so the cheapest electric model VW offers is the $38,999 ID.4 SUV. However, the company says that could be about to change.

Volkswagen has reaffirmed its commitment to a cheaper EV offering in America, claiming that the sub-$35,000 EV is coming in “four to five years,” reports Automotive News. The company will launch the ID.7 sedan next year and the ID.Buzz minivan will follow shortly after, but neither is expected to be offered at the budget end. Now, executives at the automaker told a conference that a cheaper model is coming, as Automotive News explains:

Speaking at the Reuters Events Automotive USA 2023 conference in Detroit, Fischer said VW plans to build the under-$35,000 EV in the U.S. or Mexico.

Options include VW plants in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Puebla, Mexico, as well as a new South Carolina assembly plant planned for VW subsidiary Scout.

Steps to help bring EV costs down include assembling battery packs for future models here in America, so the cars can qualify for tax breaks in the Inflation Reduction Act. However, its commitment to offer budget EVs still doesn’t look to involve offering the ID.3 here in America. If you want a small electric city car from VW, you might have to wait until 2045 when you can import one from Europe.

Reverse: The Worst Wreck In The Great Lakes


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