Who is going to work at Ford Motor Company’s parts warehouses if the United Auto Workers union goes on strike? If you are currently reading this post in an office in Dearborn on your Ford-issued laptop, which you secretly use to talk shit about Chevrolet in The Autopian’s comments, I have exciting news: you are!
Welcome to Friday, Autopians. The majority of the crew is still at Pebble Beach, sipping champagne and stuffing hors d’oeuvres into their blazer pockets while hearing about how the average Infiniti owner is on an upward arc.
I, however, am here and will deliver unto you the news. We have the latest on the UAW’s ongoing negotiations, plus some EV-related stories out of China and New York City. Let’s hit it.
Ford May Turn To White-Collar Employees To Make The Cars If The UAW Strikes
The UAW’s clearly not messing around when it comes to its various labor demands with the Big Three automakers. Those include wage increases, guarantees for jobs in the electric future and ending Great Recession-era concessions around pensions and more. One analyst we cited earlier this week put the strike odds at 50-50, but I think they’re higher than that.
If a strike happens, Ford’s got a plan to avoid the interruption of parts to car dealers, the Detroit Free Press reports: train up engineers and other white-collar salaried workers to fill in by driving forklifts and doing other tasks usually assigned to blue-collar workers.
Over the past month, Ford has held meetings with salaried workers, including engineers, to explain that the company wants to protect the flow of parts to car dealers in support of customers. This means Ford is planning to take actions that include sending white-collar workers into parts warehouses to run forklifts, according to meeting attendees.
If operations are disrupted and factory production is shut down, Ford is planning to deploy salaried workers to 20 sites in 15 states with Ford parts depots.
The automaker asked salaried workers to complete online surveys to rank their top three preferred sites in California, Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, based on an audio recording made by a person attending one of the meetings and additional documentation obtained by the Free Press.
“We are working hard to reach a new deal. But, like we do for any scenario where customer service could be interrupted, we need to plan for the possibility of a UAW strike. Our customers and dealers are counting on us to ship parts so we can keep Ford vehicles on the road,” a Ford manager said on the recording, who also told those in attendance that a script had been provided by labor affairs.
Parts shortages could be a particularly painful aspect of a strike, given how hard-hit that side of things has been hit by the pandemic. And the automakers need to stockpile parts if a strike goes on for a while. Ford didn’t want this tactic to become public knowledge because it’s not a great look:
Salaried workers who attended confidential meetings were told not to discuss the plans with any colleagues or family members. Ford told its employees that they would have to tell family and friends that they were traveling on business and not disclose any other detail.
“You’re sworn to secrecy,” salaried workers were told. “We’re aiming to keep you close to home,” the Ford manager told salaried workers. “You will still have the opportunity to identify your preference … in case you have the interest to travel elsewhere during this time. These preferences will be accommodated wherever possible.”
Clearly, that didn’t work, seeing as how it’s in the Detroit Free Press and all. As that story notes, two years ago a salaried worker filling in for a factory worker crashed a tractor during the John Deere strike, and that company also allegedly sought to bury accident reports from the time.
Maybe Ford’s employees don’t want to cross a picket line; maybe they just don’t want to be sent to a parts warehouse in Florida, or something. But this was clearly not a popular move with everyone.
Meanwhile, according to the Detroit News, the newly militant UAW under President Shawn Fain has a vastly more direct tactic than we’ve seen before: publicly calling out elected officials, including typical allies like President Joe Biden, to muster support instead of working behind the scenes. Emphasis mine below:
Fain has held multiple meetings on Capitol Hill to rally support from lawmakers, even as he publicly criticizes the lack of protections in the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill many Democrats consider their marquee accomplishment.
[…] Some Democrats say the shift in tone and approach initially came as a surprise to the White House. “I would say they were not necessarily anticipating that kind of hardball,” said Rep. Hillary Scholten, D-Grand Rapids. “Obviously, I don’t work in the White House, I don’t have a direct channel. But I know it caught a number of us by surprise, and I heard that the White House was like, ‘What is happening here?’”
Public rebuke from a key constituency is a challenge to the White House in its own right. But a strike across all three Detroit automakers (which many experts predict is possible, if not likely, come September) could have sweeping effects for the United States economy and, by extension, Biden’s reelection campaign.
A UAW strike across all three automakers (which is the likely scenario if a strike happens, instead of against just one) could cost the U.S. economy $5 billion if it lasts even 10 days, according to one report. So, yeah, Biden has a very fine line to walk here.
Monterey Car Week Goes Electric
Let’s go a bit less heavy for a moment, shall we? I personally wonder about the relevance of fancy events like Monterey Car Week as this industry increasingly becomes driven by batteries and software. But a few brands are using it as a reason to show off their top-shelf electric stuff to an affluent audience.
Tech website Inverse has a roundup of some notable examples, including the Acura ZDX we saw yesterday, a special-edition Kia EV6 and some other entries from Leuxs and Pininfarina. And InsideEVs highlights this other EV sports car from Acura that looks an awful lot like an NSX:
This is the Electric Vision Design Study, and it bears a striking resemblance to the now-discontinued NSX sports car. Sculpted alongside the ZDX at the Acura Design Studio in Los Angeles, the front is equipped with slim vertical headlights that nearly mimic the look of Acura’s IMSA Prototype racer. There’s a corresponding light bar that extends across the slightly pointed nose as well, and an illuminated Acura badge on the hood – all in a fluorescent green color.
“Our Acura design team in Los Angeles is dreaming up the future of Acura Precision Crafted Performance in the EV era,” notes Dave Marek, Acura’s executive creative director. “This latest expression of an all-electric high-performance model is inspiring everyone in our design studio to push the boundaries ad we wanted to share the fun with our Acura fans.”
Acura says that the Electric Vision Design Study provides a sneak peek at a potential sporty EV. But the company isn’t confirming whether or not this concept will reach production, nor does the Electric Vision Design Study have any real power or performance figures to report.
I wish we could see more than the dark silhouette with neon streaks, but I’m glad Acura’s finding ways to (maybe) keep the supercar alive in the future.
Inside China’s ‘EV Graveyards’
I see photos of this going around social media a lot, and maybe you do too: fields of abandoned EVs in China, usually framed as examples of how this technology has “failed” and nobody “wants them.” The truth, according to the video above and this story from Bloomberg, is more complicated but no less distressing. They’re from ride-hailing companies that went kaput.
Why didn’t anyone buy them? Because these kinds of small, cheap, low-quality EVs, though ideal for rideshare, aren’t what Chinese buyers want anymore. Not after Tesla started producing EVs there in 2020 and forced everyone to up their game:
This time, the cars were likely deserted after the ride-hailing companies that owned them failed, or because they were about to become obsolete as automakers rolled out EV after EV with better features and longer driving ranges. They’re a striking representation of the excess and waste that can happen when capital floods into a burgeoning industry, and perhaps also an odd monument to the seismic progress in electric transportation over the last few years.
About a decade ago, encouraged by government subsidies, hundreds of automakers across China, both established players and startups, waded into electric-car manufacturing. They churned out huge numbers of early-stage EVs — relatively no-frills cars whose batteries in some instances could only run for around 100 kilometers (62 miles) on a charge.
Those vehicles were mostly bought by ride-hailing companies that leased them to drivers. “At the beginning of China’s EV market, delivery numbers were driven by car-sharing fleets,” said Young Huang, a senior analyst with JSC Automotive, a consultancy with offices in Shanghai and Stuttgart. “Only a few private customers chose to buy them.”
Try and “scale” too fast and this is what happens. And yes, they are an absolute mess to deal with:
The graveyards are a troubling consequence of that consolidation. Not only are the sites an eyesore, getting rid of EVs so quickly reduces their climate benefit considering they’re more emissions-intensive to build and only produce an advantage over combustion cars after a few years. Each of the vehicles’ spent batteries also contain precious ingredients like nickel, lithium and cobalt — metals that could be recycled to make China’s EV industry more environmentally friendly.
According to local media reports, the government of Hangzhou has vowed to dispose of the cars, which started to accumulate in 2019. But when Bloomberg News visited late last month, reporters uncovered several sites filled with abandoned EVs in the city’s Yuhang and West Lake districts after scouring satellite images and hacking through overgrown dirt paths.
So now you have a fuller picture of what really happened. Maybe they’ll end up as makeshift armored vehicles in Ukraine.
NYC Proposes Taxis, Ride-Hail Vehicles To Go Zero Emission By 2030
This one’s a bit more of a local story for folks like Matt and me, but trust me, it’s interesting. And it has broader implications for cities and the auto market.
This week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced an aggressive plan to make all NYC taxi and livery cars—including ride-hail vehicles from Uber and Lyft—either wheelchair-accessible or zero-emission by 2030. Unless hydrogen stations pop up everywhere in Brooklyn and Toyota Mirai sales somehow blow up as a result, we can assume that means EVs.
From SI Live, here’s the proposed phase-in process:
Those benchmarks would increase on the following schedule:
- 2025: 15% zero-emission or wheelchair-accessible vehicles
- 2026: 25% zero-emission or wheelchair-accessible vehicles
- 2027: 45% zero-emission or wheelchair accessible vehicles
- 2028: 65% zero-emission or wheelchair-accessible vehicles
- 2029: 85% zero-emission or wheelchair-accessible vehicles
- 2030: 100% zero-emission or wheelchair-accessible vehicles
Uber and Lyft actually support this, as does Revel, another ride-hail company that already operates on an all-EV basis with Teslas and some Kias. The plan isn’t finalized yet and will depend on public comments and the usual process.
Now, unless you live here or visit for business or pleasure often, why do you care? Because this speaks to an issue we cover here a lot—EV affordability. And as great as this idea is, I’m wondering where the hell all these EVs are supposed to come from. It’s the perfect example of why we need more affordable EVs and soon. (Another issue is wheelchair-accessible vehicles, which can be expensive, clunky, difficult-to-maintain conversion jobs that are rarely “green.”)
There are a couple of reasons that NYC’s taxi landscape is overwhelmingly dominated by previous-generation Camrys and RAV4s, often hybrids. They’re tough as nails, for one, but they’re also already ubiquitous. I’m not sure there are any EVs for sale in America I’d describe that way; the Tesla Model Y and Model 3 come closest but they’re not exactly Toyota-reliable.
From what I understand, the EV taxi plan here does depend on more of those cars entering the used market in the next few years. But the city is gonna need a lot of them to pull this off. It’s another reason GM was smart to un-cancel the Chevrolet Bolt; the world will need smaller, more affordable fleet-friendly EVs in the coming years. And the Equinox EV could probably use the backup. That, or the NYC taxi of the future—a lofty and iconic position held by the Checker cabs, Chevy Caprice, Ford Crown Victoria and now the Toyotas—will be a Tesla.
I dunno how I feel about that.
If anyone asks, my ideal outcome is NYC runs nothing but Hyundai Ioniq 5 and 6 cabs like they have in Seoul right now. I’d never get sick of seeing those rad-looking cars everywhere. The city can really lean into the Blade Runner vibes then, especially since we have the climate for it now.
Where do you think the next great affordable EV will come from? Who’s going to make that a reality?