Welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s morning roundup of what matters most in the world of transportation. Thankfully, it’s Friday. I’m just going to keep telling myself that until the actual weekend happens. It’ll make me feel better.

Are Car Salespeople ‘Essential Workers’ In A Crisis?

Even as the coronavirus outbreak surges across the United States, not everyone has the luxury of working at home. Many people have been deemed “essential workers”—grocery store employees, first responders, health care professionals, municipal workers, people critical to the supply chain and so on—but even those who aren’t can’t all just do their jobs from their couches. Furthermore, there’s a great deal of confusion over who’s “essential” and not pretty much across the board, and it seems to vary from state to state and even city to city.

Car dealers are among those left wondering whether they should be working right now. Sales have plummeted as buyers stay away from dealerships and are suddenly wary of getting a new car in an uncertain economy, but dealership work is hard to do from home. (It doesn’t help that most dealers’ old-school tactics make it hard to sell in situations like this one.) 

From Automotive News, we have a briefing on how confused dealers are right now:

In many cases the orders have deemed auto service and repair as an essential business and dealerships are able to maintain service operations. But not all executive orders are the same, anduncertainty led some dealerships to shut entire locations in some areas of the country.

On Sunday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay-at-homeorder for all Ohioians. It goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday and runs through April 6. Ohio’s order lists “automobile supplies [including dealers, parts, supplies, repair and maintenance] among essential businesses that can remain open.”

The Ohio Automobile Dealers Association said on its website that it “believes that this order permits dealers to be open for sales and service functions. However, if dealers have any questions regarding the scope of what services they may continue to offer, please contact your legal counsel for additional guidance.”

As a result, a coalition of trade groups is actually asking the White House whether dealership work, including maintenance, is essential or not:

In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, the group — consisting of the National Automobile Dealers Association, American International Automobile Dealers Association, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and American Truck Dealers — expressed its appreciation for federal guidance on March 19 that listed vehicle manufacturing, supply manufacturing, maintenance and repair facilities as essential services.

However, “The guidance made no reference to vehicle sales and lease operations that are typically conducted by franchised new-car and -truck dealers in conjunction with their service and maintenance operations,” the letter said. “As a result, some states and other jurisdictions have prohibited vehicle sales by dealerships.”

Sales are one thing, but people are going to have to keep their cars running properly, even now. I could see service departments being deemed essential, but salespeople being told to stay at home for now. We’ll update if we learn more on what the states and the feds decide to do. 

Ford Partners With 3M, GE To Make Masks

During World War II, the automakers were the Arsenal of Democracy. Now they’re being called the “Arsenal of Health” as they’re called on to use their extensive manufacturing infrastructure to make the things medical professionals and first responders need to fight the virus. Here’s CNN Business:

Ford announced Tuesday that it’s working with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce medical equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers to help address shortages in the fight against the coronavirus.

Ford said it will work with 3M to produce a new kind of Powered Air-Purifying Respirator for healthcare workers, while also helping to increase production of 3M’s current respirator device. A PAPR has a clear mask that fits over the face. Air is drawn in through a tube connected to a pump that filters the air. The PAPR will be made using parts from both Ford and 3M, the automaker said, including fans used in the Ford F-150’s optional ventilated seats.

[…] The automaker also said it will work with the United Auto Workers Union to assemble clear plastic face shields that protect people from possibly infectious bodily fluids. The Ford-designed masks are being tested at Detroit-area hospitals. They could be used by healthcare workers, but also others, such as store clerks, who must regularly deal with the public.

Godspeed.

A Move To More Car-Free Cities After The Outbreak Ends?

Though I’m a car enthusiast—or perhaps because of it—in recent years I’ve become a big advocate for adding car-free zones to areas of our cities. There’s a time and a place where driving is ideal, and Midtown Manhattan isn’t it. I’m a big believer in achieving a strong balance between public transit, biking, walking and driving when it’s best to do so.

And if you go into parts of many big cities right now, the streets are pretty empty. But they’re still primarily reserved for cars. When you see all that wasted space, you start to realize how silly that setup is. So here’s The Verge on how opening up streets right now could aid in social distancing, and maybe even smarter city design once the outbreak subsides:

With public transportation ridership cratering, demand for Uber and other ride-hailing services fizzling, and people everywhere looking to get the hell off their couches and feel a little bit of breeze on their skin, the time for cities to take a bold stand against cars and parking is undeniably now.

Rapidly building out a network of protected bike lanes would let residents — especially those under “shelter in place” rules — use their bikes for necessary trips to the drugstore or supermarket, while also avoiding public transportation. Closing certain streets to car traffic can also help promote social distancing, since it’s undeniably easier to maintain six feet of recommended distance from someone else when you’re not confined to a narrow sidewalk. People are pouring into parks to get exercise and get some fresh air, making it more difficult for cities to control large gatherings and adhere to social distancing. Why not let them walk in the street?

[…] Many of these measures are temporary, meaning they can easily be removed as soon as the pandemic subsides. This would be a mistake. The coronavirus pandemic has already changed many of our personal habits related to work and social interaction. It’s an opportunity for a different way of thinking about urban design and planning as well.

Worth a read in full.

On Our Radar

Toyota, NTT team on smart city business (Automotive News)

Asian stocks surge on push from Fed (Nikkei)

Trump eyes a back-to-work plan despite coronavirus (Axios)

Read These To Seem Smart And Interesting

The Coronavirus Is A Media Extinction Event (BuzzFeed News)

How ‘The Office’ Became the Internet’s Favorite Show (The Ringer)

People Are Looping Videos to Fake Paying Attention in Zoom Meetings (Vice)

Kenny Rogers: The Complete 2013 Texas Monthly Interview (Texas Monthly)

Your Turn

Do you work at a dealership right now, or with one? What’s been your experience during the pandemic?

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