Good morning! It’s Friday, December 8, 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: The Cybertruck’s Design Will Hurt You
The angular design and stiff stainless-steel exoskeleton of the Tesla Cybertruck are raising concerns from safety experts that the truck could hurt pedestrians and cyclists and cause a lot of damage to other vehicles on the road.
Reuters spoke with half a dozen safety professors and officials who have viewed the Cybertruck’s crash tests conducted by Tesla. Those videos were streamed during Tesla’s November 30 Cybertruck delivery event. From Reuters:
“The big problem there is if they really make the skin of the vehicle very stiff by using thick stainless steel, then when people hit their heads on it, it’s going to cause more damage to them,” said Adrian Lund, the former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), whose vehicle crash tests are an industry standard.
Tesla touted the structures of the truck that absorb impact during the crash. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a social media post on Tuesday that he was “highly confident” Cybertruck will be safer than other trucks for occupants and pedestrians.
The vehicle designed with flat planes and long, linear edges is visually distinct. It is the first car with a stainless-steel exterior since the launch of the DeLorean car which was featured in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future.” The material has even broken the stamping machine that forms the panels, Musk said, touting the vehicle’s toughness.
During the launch event at the factory in Austin, Texas, Tesla said cold-rolled, stainless body panels are designed to absorb impact during a crash.
The front and rear structures have energy-absorbing ribs that help dissipate energy, and during a side impact the skin of the door carried a majority of the crash load, it said.
Aamer Hamdar, an auto safety professor at George Washington University (go Colonials!) raised concerns about limited crumple zones built into the Cybertruck. He did say that other features might make up for that.
“There might be a possibility of shock-absorbent mechanism that will limit the fact that you have a limited crumple zone,” Hamdar said.
Musk has said of the Cybertruck, “If you have an argument with another car, you will win.” That may sound good to a guy like Elon, but “winning” a car crash can be disastrous for other people.
David Friedman, the former acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, described the effect for the loser of the crash: “If you’re in a crash with another vehicle that has a crumple zone and your car is more stiff, then their cars are going to crush and yours is resistant,” he said.
Julia Griswold, director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research Center, said she was “alarmed” by the crash test videos Tesla posted. She said the heavy weight of the trucks and their high acceleration “raise red flags for non-occupants.”
U.S. regulators rely on vehicle makers to self-test and certify their adherence to safety standards. Musk said in a recent interview with auto consultant Sandy Munro that the Cybertruck had passed regulatory review.
Everything should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt, though. Experts say they still need crash test data to confirm their lack-of-safety concerns. All I know is that I do not want to be on the wrong side of a Cybertruck crash, but it shouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, Tesla is barely building them.
2nd Gear: Stellantis Cuts Jobs At Two Plants
Stellantis is planning to cut shifts at two assembly plants, potentially laying off thousands of workers because it needs to build fewer SUVS so it can meet sticker emissions standards. From Automotive News:
The company’s plant in Toledo, Ohio, which builds the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, and one of two Jeep Grand Cherokee plants in Detroit will move from three shifts of workers to two, Stellantis said.
The changes, effective as soon as Feb. 5, “will result in job losses,” the automaker said in an emailed statement, without providing specific numbers. Together, the plants employ more than 10,000 workers. Media reports in Toledo said up to 1,200 people could be laid off at that plant.
Stellantis said the plants are each losing a shift “in part becuase of the need to manage sales of the vehicles they produce to comply with California emissions regulations that are measured on a state-by-state basis.” In June, the company said it was no longer sending gasoline vehicles to dealerships in 14 states that follow the California regulations unless customers had ordered them.
By moving the Detroit plant to two shifts, Stellantis said it can “focus its attention on improving the operational performance and throughput at the plant in the event that a change in the regulations or marketplace allows for an increase in volume.”
Stellantis said it filed notices about impending job losses Thursday to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires a 60-day warning of mass layoffs. But it said the number of employees affected at either plant ultimately could be less than the 500 that the act considers a mass layoff.
Workers at the Toledo plant were among the first to go on strike in September when the United Auto Workers union was negotiating with the Big Three automakers.
3rd Gear: GM Must Pay Up To 800 UAW Members
The United Auto Workers union said about 800 of its members who work at General Motors will get to share in nearly $8 million in back pay because of an arbitration ruling that found GM violated the union’s 2015 contract when it closed three plants back in 2019.
The three plants were Lordstown Assembly in Ohio and two transmission plants in Baltimore, Maryland and Warren, Ohio. The announcement came from Mike Booth, the UAW’s VP for the union’s GM Department. From the Detroit Free Press:
“This is a remedy to the negative effects of management closing facilities, uprooting people’s lives and forcing them to relocate to other markets to keep their GM jobs,” Booth told the Free Press Thursday. “This payout can be life-changing to the members and their families impacted by GM’s decision.”
In the letter, Booth told union members they will receive payments for lost overtime, 401(k) and pension contributions and performance bonuses, as well as cumulative interest of nearly $800,000.
“The arbitrator awarded nearly everything the UAW sought as a remedy for GM’s breach,” Booth wrote. “The union is pushing the company to implement the award as soon as possible.”
The ruling did not resolve an issue with mutually satisfactory retirement, a plan that allows workers with at least 10 years on the job who have reached age 50 to begin benefits. The arbitrator found the issue not to be subject to arbitration, according to Booth’s letter. But Booth said the union will continue to fight for that benefit for all eligible members.
GM spokesman Kevin Kelly said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press: “GM is pleased with the arbitrator’s decision related to the mutually satisfactory retirement benefits. We plan no further legal action regarding the arbitrator’s ruling on Doc 13.”
The ruling comes about a year and a half after the arbitrator first said that GM breached a provision of its 2015 UAW contract and workers deserved to be compensated because of it. The provision said GM couldn’t “close, idle … partially or wholly sell, spin-off, split-off, consolidate or otherwise dispose any plants during the term of the agreement, which ran through mid-September 2019.”
GM shut down the three plants between March and August of 2019, and the union struck GM for 40 days starting that December.
For those of you who are bad at math, it works out to about $10,000 per employee. Not too shabby.
4th Gear: Nio Is Going Through It
Chinese EV maker Nio is having a tough time right now, and it’s about to get even tougher as it plans further job cuts to reduce costs. Keep in mind, this news comes just a few weeks after the company said it would be eliminating 10 percent of its workforce. From Bloomberg:
Some departments were asked to prepare reserve lay-off lists, which may widen the original dismissals to 20% to 30% within the unit, some of the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are ongoing and aren’t public.
Any cuts would mainly apply to non-core businesses or those requiring heavy investment that won’t generate quick returns, the people said, adding that other more central parts of Nio’s business, like sales, are still hiring.
Once considered one of the brightest rising stars in China’s electric vehicle market, Nio has been falling badly short of its sales targets and continues to post losses. There were 26,763 full-time staff at the company at the end of 2022, according to its latest annual report. In addition to EVs, its businesses include battery and semiconductor manufacturing, and mobile phones.
Some international expansion plans, including entering the US market, have also been delayed or suspended, one of the people said, noting those changes took place earlier this year. Nio on Tuesday forecast revenue for the fourth quarter of up to 16.7 billion yuan ($2.3 billion), short of the 21.4 billion yuan average estimate from analysts.
Despite this, a representative for Nio said there haven’t been any additional job cuts and said the company will continue to make “dynamic adjustments” in the markets it sells vehicles.
Nio’s gross margin dropped to as low as 1% in the second quarter however recovered to 8% in the three months through Sept. 30. The company had a goal of shipping 250,000 EVs this year, but through November had only shipped 142,026.
In a letter to staff explaining the earlier jobs cuts, Nio’s founder and Chief Executive Officer William Li said the move was “a tough but necessary decision against fierce competition.”
He also detailed plans to improve organizational and resource efficiency, such as consolidating duplicate departments and roles, eliminating some positions, and deferring or cutting investments in projects that won’t contribute to the company’s financial performance within the next three years.
Who really knows how much longer Nio will be around? All I know is that it’s going to be a slow burn on the way out.
Reverse: Al Kahn: Architectural Genius
Neutral: I Just Watched “Band Of Brothers”
I don’t think I have what it takes to go to war, but I do like that they’re all buddies.