Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s daily morning roundup of what matters in cars and transportation. Today we’re talking about Tesla’s rush to reopen, how Toyota’s faring in the downturn and what the new “normal” looks like at global factories.
Where Tesla’s At Today
Today’s newspaper front pages are not splayed with photos of Elon Musk in handcuffs, getting hauled off the Tesla assembly line by Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies. Though the CEO announced he would risk arrest to defy a California county safety order and restart his car factory, today it appears that county officials and the electric automaker are working to reach some kind of agreement instead. (When you’re rich enough, you get to negotiate the law, unlike other people.)
A county statement issued last night indicated the county and Tesla are discussing “an agreed-upon safety plan for reopening beyond Minimum Basic Operations” that may include health screening and feedback from employees as to their safety concerns. I don’t want to say Alameda County—which told Tesla it could not reopen, even as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders permitted other counties to start up manufacturing again—backed down here, but it’s also not bringing the hammer down on Musk.
Not that Musk cares, of course. As The Verge reported yesterday, Tesla already recalled furloughed workers and completed around 200 Model Y and Model 3 vehicles over the weekend.
But what still doesn’t make sense to me is timing. Apparently Tesla was working with county officials to reopen on May 18, the same as much of the rest of the North American auto industry, but then Musk decided to start a fight over the weekend to do it early. From that Verge story:
Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty told The New York Times over the weekend that health officials and Tesla had been close to an agreement to reopen the plant on May 18th before Musk lashed out on Saturday.
“We were working on a lot of policies and procedures to help operate that plant and quite frankly, I think Tesla did a pretty good job, and that’s why I had it to the point where on May 18, Tesla would have opened,” Haggerty said. “I know Elon knew that. But he wanted it this week.”
What difference would a week really make, even as Musk is likely eager to get that $750 million payday? Was it all a publicity stunt? Leverage for some sort of incentives to keep his factory in California? An investment play? Muskian Exceptionalism? Drop your theories in the comments, because I’m out of ideas on this one.
Even The World’s Biggest Automaker Isn’t Safe
We’ve looked at the Q1 finances for the Big 2.5 American automakers (Ford and Fiat Chrysler: bad, General Motors: okay but just barely), so now’s a good time to turn our eyes to the world’s biggest automaker, Toyota. But even it isn’t safe from this downturn. Why wouldn’t it be? If people aren’t buying cars, there’s no real way to weather this.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Toyota’s holding the line largely thanks to sales in the Japanese home market, but that things are tanking in its biggest market, North America. Toyota warned of an 80 percent operating profit decline for the fiscal year ending next March. Though Toyota is quite global and very diversified in terms of its product portfolio, everyone’s taking a hit on this.
The New Normal At Job Sites
Having said all that, a restart of the North American auto industry is coming next week. What remains to be seen is how much it will put workers at risk, and potentially cause a spike in infections and a need for more factory shutdowns and quarantines. We can “restart” all we want, but that may put us back to where we were in March.
Lacking a vaccine, the answer is going to have to be aggressive safety measures for manufacturing workers. The New York Times examines what’s happened at China’s factories and says that’s going to be the new normal going forward:
Major companies are asking workers to change their daily personal habits as well as their workplace conduct. BMW workers take their own temperature three times a day. Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant that makes iPhones and other Western-branded gear in vast Chinese factories, has advised employees in a handout to avoid public transportation and walk, bike or drive instead.
Many employers have embraced government-endorsed health code functions recently built into some of China’s most popular smartphone apps, like Alipay and WeChat. One of the first services built to gauge a person’s infection risk, the health code function tracks users’ travel to see whether they have been to areas with high infections, though the creators and the Chinese government have not disclosed full details about how it works. When prompted by health workers, police officers or security personnel, a person would display a code colored red, yellow or green.
What’s clear is that there’s really no going back to the way we did things in the Before Times. Not for a long while, at the very least.
On Our Radar
Why the Economic Recovery Will Be More of a ‘Swoosh’ Than V-Shaped (Wall Street Journal)
Hertz reports ‘going concern’ doubts amid swifter cash burn (Automotive News)
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Dave Grohl: The Day the Live Concert Returns (The Atlantic)
I have given you a magic crystal ball that lets you see inside the head of Elon Musk. Get past all the anime catgirls and dank memes; what do you see in there about this big push to restart Tesla a week early, and why it merited such a giant public fight?