IIHS Says That Every Semi-Autonomous Car On The Market Is Not Good Enough

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Tesla’s worldwide expansion has some hiccups, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety isn’t impressed with driver assistance systems, and Tesla. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 20, 2022.

1st Gear: IIHS Has A New Ratings System For Semi-Autonomous Cars, And The Bad News Is That Every Car On The Market Now Isn’t Up To Snuff

This is not surprising for anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few years. In its release, IIHS pointedly mentioned a deadly Tesla Model X crash in California in 2018.

From IIHS, emphasis mine:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is developing a new ratings program that evaluates the safeguards that vehicles with partial automation employ to help drivers stay focused on the road.

The safeguards will be rated good, acceptable, marginal or poor. To earn a good rating, systems will need to ensure that the driver’s eyes are directed at the road and their hands are either on the wheel or ready to grab it at all times. Escalating alerts and appropriate emergency procedures when the driver does not meet those conditions will also be required.

[…]

Despite misleading messaging from some manufacturers, for now, at least, self-driving cars are not available to consumers. What many vehicles on the market do have is partial automation. The human driver must still handle many routine driving tasks that the systems aren’t designed to do. The driver also has to monitor how well the automation is performing its tasks and always be ready to take over if anything goes wrong. While most partial automation systems have some safeguards in place to help ensure drivers are focused and ready, none of them meets all the pending IIHS criteria.

Today’s partial automation systems — which are marketed under various names, such as Autopilot, Pilot Assist and Super Cruise — use cameras, radar or other sensors to “see” the road. The ones currently on the market combine adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane centering with various other driver assistance features. ACC maintains a driver-selected speed but will automatically slow to keep a set following distance from a slower moving vehicle ahead and then accelerate when the way is clear. Lane centering continuously adjusts the steering to help the driver keep the vehicle centered in the travel lane. Automated lane changing is also becoming more common.

So far, even the most advanced systems require active supervision by the driver. However, some manufacturers have oversold the capabilities of their systems, prompting drivers to treat the systems as if they can drive the car on their own. In egregious cases, drivers have been documented watching videos or playing games on their cellphones or even taking naps while speeding down the expressway.

IIHS said it will issue its first ratings later this year, in part because it has had trouble getting cars to test because of the chip shortage. I’m sure Tesla will do just great.

2nd Gear: GM Is Doing Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tech For Generators To Power EVs

GM is doing EVs, too, of course, but it is also making investments in other alternative power technologies, like hydrogen fuel cell. And while most car companies have eschewed hydrogen fuel cell tech in favor of battery electric, it appears that GM, like Toyota, still sees a hydrogen future.

From Automotive News:

General Motors plans to launch power generators for multiple uses, including EV charging, powered by its Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell technology, the automaker said Wednesday.

The power generators are designed to enable fast-charging capability for electric vehicles without permanent charge points, the addition of affordable DC fast charging at gas stations without expanding the grid and mobile energy at military bases.

GM’s partner for the generators, Renewable Innovations, plans to install 500 Empower rapid chargers at gas stations and in popular travel corridors across the country by the end of 2025.

The generators could replace gasoline- and diesel-burning generators at worksites, buildings, movie sets, data centers and outdoor concerts and festivals, GM said.

The generators could also act as a backup energy source during a blackout in residential communities.

The power generators are the next phase in GM’s strategy to extend its Hydrotec technology to adjacent industries. The automaker is also deploying Hydrotec technology in the aerospace, locomotive and heavy-duty truck industries.

Say what you will about GM, but, in the past year, it has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to future tech.

3rd Gear: Tesla’s India Troubles

Tesla is going to India, or at least it wants to. Except India is apparently not rolling over in its demand that Tesla make Teslas in India. Now, things are at a bit of a standstill.

From Reuters:

Talks between India and Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) over potential tax benefits are deadlocked as the government is not keen to give the company any breaks without a commitment to manufacture locally, people familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

Tesla is desperate to import and sell its electric vehicles in India and has for nearly a year lobbied officials in New Delhi to reduce tariffs, which the company’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk says are among the highest in the world.

But Indian official sources said they have been unconvinced by Tesla’s lobbying as the company has not yet shared any firm plan to invest in the country, something that would be in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” vision to boost local manufacturing and create jobs.

A third person with direct knowledge of Tesla’s thinking said the discussions with the Indian government have reached a “weird stalemate situation”.

I wonder how Tesla CEO Elon Musk would rank the countries where his companies have plants; my guess would be China at the top by some distance, followed by the U.S. and Germany. I suppose you could argue, in any case, that Germany, too, is still in weird stalemate mode, speaking of which…

4th Gear: Tesla’s German Factory Will Elect Its Works Council

Tesla is still trying to get its plant up and running in Germany, where federal laws are much more friendly to unions. Part of that is getting the works council — basically a union local — set up, elections for which will happen on the last day of February, according to Reuters. This is good because unions are good and we know that because Elon hates them.

Anyway, IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, which represents Tesla workers in addition to millions of other industrial workers, is still fretting a bit, because they say that, because the full complement of workers at Tesla’s Germany plant have not been hired yet, the works council might be elected with too many from management.

Only one in six of the roughly 12,000 workers expected at the plant have been hired so far, in part because Tesla is still awaiting final approval from local authorities to begin production. The council will consist of 19 members.

[…]

The results of the election will be valid regardless of what proportion of the workforce votes, and a new election can only be called after two years if the workforce has grown by more than 50%.

“Those hired so far do not represent the workforce as it will look when production begins or reaches full capacity,” said Birgit Dietze, head of IG Metall’s regional office for Berlin-Brandenburg-Saxony, where Tesla’s factory is located.

5th Gear: Toyota Pauses Production

This is because of COVID, as the omicron variant spreads. This is far from the first time for Toyota and probably won’t be the last, either.

From Bloomberg:

Toyota Motor Corp. expanded automobile production halts as rising Covid-19 cases impact its suppliers and operations in Japan, adding to disruptions over in China where a key factory has been shut for more than a week to comply with the country’s mass testing efforts.

All combined, production halts will reduce the automaker’s output for January by around 47,000 vehicles, a spokeswoman said in a statement Thursday. The latest suspensions — caused by Covid-impacted suppliers and semicondcutor shortages — will hit as many as 21 assembly lines at 11 factories over a span of three days this month, according to the company.

A shift on a second production line is also being halted at Toyota’s Tsutsumi plant Thursday. That’s on top of another shift on a different line at the central Japan plant that’s been halted from Wednesday, causing a cut to output of around 1,500 vehicles. Toyota’s popular Camry sedan is among the models manufactured at the factory in Aichi Prefecture.

Reverse: RIP Fireball Roberts

Roberts, a stock car racer, was born on this day in 1929, and died in 1964 after a wreck. Roberts is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which calls him “perhaps the greatest driver never to win a NASCAR title.”

During his career, Roberts often came up big in the biggest events, winning the Daytona 500 in 1962 and the Southern 500 in 1958 and 1963. Overall, he won seven races at Daytona International Speedway, starting with the Firecracker 250 in the summer of 1959—the year the speedway opened.

Roberts was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998; 40 years before that, he demonstrated a burst of greatness that is hard to fathom. He ran only 10 races in 1958 but won six of them—finishing 11th in the final NASCAR premier series standings.

Neutral: How Are You?

I got an email from the City of New York yesterday saying that they were suspending alternate side parking regulations for today, always a good sign. The weather, though, hasn’t really shown up.

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