San Francisco is bracing itself for Tesla’s update to its never fully self-driving Full Self Driving feature, Volkswagen may have done a bad thing again, and Carlos Ghosn wants everyone to know he has no skin in Nissan’s game anymore. All this and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for September 24, 2021.
1st Gear: Nobody Likes The Name
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in rebuking the branding of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” Level 2 driver-assist system on Thursday.
Last week, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the upcoming FSD Beta 10.1 update would roll out today, September 24. This release is expected to expand FSD Beta usage to city streets, in addition to the highways FSD already works on. From Reuters:
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) also disputed the name of the system, “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) saying it is an advanced driver assistance program, not an autonomous vehicle system.
Tilly Chang, Executive Director of the SFCTA, said in a statement to Reuters that a human driver should “continuously monitor” Tesla’s FSD system.
“We are concerned about the safety record of this service and the name of the service as it could be confusing for consumers, and hope DMV, FTC and NHTSA continue to monitor and analyse this issue to protect consumers and the travelling public,” she said.
In effect, the SFCTA is taking the same issue with the FSD name as the NHTSA, saying the feature doesn’t do what it says it does on the tin, and therefore poses a danger to motorists who believe it does and everyone around them. In a surprising about face, Tesla responded swiftly to these mounting criticisms and announced a name change on Friday morning.
Nah, just kidding. Tesla didn’t do that. Instead, the company’s solution for the moment is to only let drivers that its software considers safe use the feature:
Tesla (TSLA.O) was not immediately available for comment. Last week, Chief Executive Elon Musk said Tesla drivers would be able to request a “beta” version of its “Full Self-Driving (FSD)“ software starting Friday. Those rated “good drivers” by Tesla’s insurance calculator would be able to use the system.
2nd Gear: Oh, Volkswagen
A European Union court advisor has called software in Volkswagen cars that increases nitrogen oxide emissions outside a specified temperature range illegal. From Reuters:
The case, brought by consumers in Austria, centres on software controlling a valve that recirculates exhaust gases from the engine outlet. This reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which can cause respiratory problems in humans.
The software shuts off the valve at temperatures outside the range of 15-33 Celsius (59-91 F) and at altitudes above 1,000 metres (3,280 feet), increasing NOx emissions. The consumers contend this is a prohibited defeat device, for which they should be compensated.
Volkswagen contended that shutting off this valve protects the engine, but Athanasios Rantos of the Court of Justice of the European Union didn’t buy that. Partially because it gets much colder than 59 degrees Fahrenheit in Austria and Germany:
In his legal opinion, CJEU advocate general Athanasios Rantos noted the court ruled last December that emissions-rigging software was illegal, even if it contributed to preventing ageing or clogging up of the engine.
Rantos said the temperature window was not representative of real driving conditions in Austria and neighbouring Germany, as the average temperature was significantly lower than 15 C. Vehicles would also often be driven above 1,000 metres.
The software was a “defeat device”, he said, and could only be justified if a malfunctioning of the valve had a sudden impact on the engine, such as a power failure while being driven, even if the vehicle undergoes regular maintenance.
Rantos said it was ultimately up to Austrian courts to determine whether Volkswagen’s use of the software is defensible or not. However, one court apparently called that “impossible to do,” so it might be a little while before we get any movement on this one.
3rd Gear: A Battery Partnership Of Equals
Daimler and Stellantis (well, at least the American part of it) used to be an item. It didn’t go well. Now, these two estranged parties are joining forces once again, this time in the name of battery production. The German manufacturer has taken a 33 per cent stake in Automotive Cells Company, the battery maker founded by Stellantis and Total, according to Automotive News:
The purpose of the partnership is to develop cells and battery modules and “help ensure that Europe remains at the heart of the auto industry — even in an electric era,” Daimler CEO Ola Kaellenius said in a statement on Friday.
ACC will supply Mercedes-Benz with battery technology from the middle of the decade, Daimler said.
As part of the deal, Daimler will invest a mid-three-digit million euro sum in the project next year. The automaker said its overall investment was expected to stay below 1 billion euros ($US1.2 ($2) billion).
ACC, which has also received 1.3 billion euros in French and German funding, is budgeted to require seven billion euros in equity, debt and subsidies to reach its desired capacity of 120 Gigawatt hours (GWh) by the end of the decade.
Mercedes will become an equal shareholder of ACC, along with Stellantis and TotalEnergies.
Daimler will hold two of six supervisory board seats for the battery maker. The companies will work together on battery technology development, including high silicon anode and solid-state batteries.
This kind of consolidation in battery development is going to have to happen if automakers plan to get the yields they require closer to the end of the decade, so get used to this kind of story. We’re going to see it a lot.
4th Gear: The U.S. Government Wants Car Companies To Tell Them Everything They Know About Chips
The Biden administration is once again threatening to invoke the Defence Production Act to get automakers and their suppliers to give the government all the data it’s seeking about the ongoing chip shortage, Bloomberg reported on Thursday:
[Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s] team for months has sought clarity into how companies allocate their semiconductor supply. But previous meetings that convened firms from different industrial sectors haven’t led to increased transparency and many companies have refused to hand over business data to the government.
The Commerce Department is now asking companies to fill out questionnaires within 45 days providing supply chain information. The request is voluntary but Raimondo said she warned industry representatives that she might invoke the Defence Production Act or other tools to force their hands if they don’t respond.
The Defence Production Act was recently invoked to spur manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. “It allows the president, largely through executive order, to direct private companies to prioritise orders from the federal government,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Raimondo said that a lack of trust along the supply chain has proved a roadblock to addressing the problem:
“There’s allegations of certain consuming companies buying two or three times what they need and stockpiling,” Raimondo said. “So suppliers say, ‘We can’t get a handle on an accurate demand signal because consumers are stockpiling, so we don’t know what the accurate demand is.’ Some consumers are saying ‘We can’t get straight answers from suppliers, how come I was told I could have X and now I’m being told I can only have half of X?’”
I’m not sure if more information will be all that helpful to mitigate the global shortage of a good that the U.S. is far from a leader in producing, but I’ll take anything at this rate.
5th Gear: Carlos Ghosn Just Wants To Sell His Shares
Carlos Ghosn’s name has been coming up quite a lot this week — he’s got a new book coming out, and I’ve seen a number of headlines about his belief that Nissan’s best days are behind it.
In case you had any doubt in the strength of that belief, the former CEO told Bloomberg this week that he no longer holds shares in the Japanese automaker. However, he’s still got a stake in Renault, with whom Nissan is partnered, because of an ongoing tax investigation. He really wants to get rid of that, too!
“I am not anymore a shareholder of Nissan, thank god,” Ghosn said Wednesday in a video interview from Beirut. He’s lived there since fleeing Japan in late 2019 to avoid trial over various charges of financial impropriety.
The Renault-Nissan alliance — forged when Ghosn was dispatched in 1999 to save the then-nearly bankrupt Japanese carmaker — is “doomed” due to lingering power struggles, its former chairman said. He still has claim to a stake in Renault via shares the French government seized as part of an ongoing tax-residency investigation.
“It’s not because I trust management — I do not,” Ghosn said. “It’s because I have no choice.”
The man doesn’t mince words, and I can sort of see why. Renault lost $US9.7 ($13) billion last year.
Reverse: The Coolest Racetrack
Berlin’s AVUS loop — which stands for Automobile Traffic And Training Road — was christened a racing circuit on this day in 1921, exactly a century ago. The first race was held there on September 24, and it was won by Fritz Von Opel driving, you guessed it, an Opel. AVUS was defined by two very, very long straights, joined at either end at certain points in its history by two large banked turns. Upon its inception, a lap of the track was 12 miles. By its final races in the ’90s, it was just 3 km long.
Neutral: I Get It Now
Look, I’m not going to say I never saw the appeal of a Miata — they always seemed like delightful cars to me. But last weekend I got to spend some quality time with one on a long drive, for the first time in my life. It was a new RF. Yes, all the nice things everyone says about them are true. What’s a car you never thought about much until you had a chance to finally get behind the wheel?