Automotive

Union Vote at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant Could Be Historic


Volkswagen Chattanooga starts series production of the 2018 Atlas.
Volkswagen Chattanooga starts series production of the 2018 Atlas.
Photo: VW
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Volkswagen workers are possibly unionizing, back seat seatbelt chatter and a death wobble class-action lawsuit. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, June 14, 2019.

1st Gear: To Unionize or Not?

The United Auto Workers union has significant influence in Detroit, representing workers at General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford. But with foreign automakers, not so much. Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant might soon change that.

This week, the workers will vote on whether to unionize. If the vote for unionization goes through, they will be the first plant to do so with the UAW in the South, reports Reuters, and the first in the U.S. outside of the Big Three. Mercedes, Toyota, BMW, and Nissan have all resisted attempts to unionize their plants in the South, aided by anti-union right-to-work laws. (Jalopnik is proudly a union shop; we and our sister sites are represented by the Writers Guild of America East.)

The Volkswagen plant—which currently produces the Passat and the Atlas—will see 1,700 workers who will vote. In 2014, workers voted against unionizing, though by a “small margin,” Reuters reports; any success this time would be the biggest UAW win in years.

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Those in support of unionization say that there is “lax health and safety procedures, of quality of life issues such as constant last-minute changes in scheduling, insufficient vacation time and small bonuses.”

Those who oppose it say it’s because of the UAW’s federal corruption investigation. Which is a fair concern!

“Corruption has been a problem for the UAW,” said Menendez, a team leader on the line making $23.50 an hour. “They’re more interested in their own business than caring for people.”

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Voting started on Wednesday and will end tonight.

2nd Gear: Avoid the Back Seat If You Can

For a very long time, the back seat of a car has been considered safer than the front. We put our children there. The elderly. Babies. But now, a new study reveals that the back seat might not be the safest place anymore.

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This difference comes down to the seatbelts. Advances in seatbelt technology are well underway, but haven’t always made it to the backseat seatbelts, reports the New York Times. From the story:

If belts with this better technology aren’t available in the back seat, people 55 and older should sit in the front of newer vehicles with those more sophisticated belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Researchers say seatbelts in most rear seats lack these so-called load limiters, which means they can’t loosen up. So, in a frontal crash, the belt itself can cause chest, abdominal or spinal injuries, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Researchers investigated frontal crashes that killed or seriously injured 117 rear-seat occupants between 6 and 92 years old.

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This is especially important when it comes to ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, where people generally sit in the back. The IIHS says that it hopes to have a back seat crash test by 2022, as there currently isn’t one. Once that happens, it might spur automakers to focus more on back seat safety.

The Times notes that the back seat “did not get more dangerous. The front seats just kept getting safer.” Hop on over to the piece of see which current models have load limiters and pre-tensioners for the back seats.

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3rd Gear: Death Wobble

You have heard of death wobble, yes? It’s a phenomenon that happens typically in solid axle cars like Jeeps, a “brutal and unmanageable oscillation of the front wheels, usually initiated by a bump or, in some cases, by a hard stomp on the brake pedal,” as our own Jeepspert David Tracy wrote some time ago. It’s pretty well-known in the Jeep community and now FCA is facing a class-action lawsuit over it. Good.

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The suit involves 2015 to 2018 Jeep Wranglers and was filed on Wednesday in Detroit’s U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, according to the Detroit News. It alleges that:

Fiat Chrysler had knowledge of the issue: “Rather than address it — or disclose its possibility and/or warn drivers at the point of sale — FCA simply claims in a news article that the ‘Death Wobble’ is not a ‘safety issue’ and that it ‘can happen with any vehicle that has a solid front axle (rather than an independent front suspension), such as the Wrangler.’”

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Claire Reynolds, a New Jersey resident who owns a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4 x 4, accuses the company of offering drivers a “Band-Aid fix” in the form of replacing the steering damper if the vehicle is under warranty.

The suit claims the problem will ultimately return and can only be remedied by substantial revisions and repair to the suspension. Reynolds claims the damper was replaced three times in six months and the Jeep’s front end still shook.

The lawsuit seeks damages for affected drivers in the form of a buyback program that requires FCA to pay drivers for defective vehicles and compensation for the loss of value to the vehicles. It also wants drivers to be provided with replacement vehicles while their repairs are pending.

The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages “for FCA’s knowing fraud that put drivers and members of the public nationwide at risk;” calls for regulators to order the company to issue a recall.

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FCA told the outlet that it hadn’t been served with the suit and therefore could not comment on the allegations, but did note that “any manufacturer vehicle equipped with a solid axle can experience steering system vibration and, if experienced, it is routinely corrected.”

4th Gear: Boredom

From the little that I have experienced while behind the assisted wheel of Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, one of the problems is boredom. Once the initial novelty wears off, you find yourself sort of bored at the wheel, since most of what you need to be doing (steering, braking, gassing on and gassing off) isn’t really necessary anymore. That boredom is just going to get more widespread as autonomy advances and becomes more widespread.

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So, to keep drivers and other passengers in the car entertained, Nissan, Audi and others want to use virtual reality experiences and talking cartoon characters, according to Reuters. I’m not quite sure how to feel about this yet, but my gut tells me that maybe it’s not such a good idea!

From the story:

“Once customers do not need to drive anymore…then the question is what kind of things can we offer to customers inside this car,” Boris Meiners, senior director of Audi China’s Digital Business and Customer Experience, told Reuters on the sidelines of the CES Asia technology tradeshow in Shanghai this week.

Startup holoride, co-founded by an Audi subsidiary, for example, demonstrated at the show how it wants to turn road trips into virtual reality (VR) experiences, allowing passengers to swim with whales or through sunken ships in the deep sea while on a drive.

As the car accelerates or steers sideways, the movements are logged by a computer installed in the car’s trunk which adjusts the passenger’s view in the VR goggles accordingly. It also prevents the passenger from experiencing motion sickness.

Japanese car maker Nissan showcased a set of goggles for drivers and passengers which could deliver real-time information and project a talking cartoon character which communicates with the wearer.

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Sure, that all sounds fun, but we are nowhere close enough to getting fully autonomous cars on the road for this to be a concern. And even after that happens, how long will it take for the public to trust the cars enough to immerse themselves in some VR world while being shuttled around?

The companies say they recognize this, but also that they “need to start investing in anticipation that the vehicles would eventually catch on.” Probably to stay ahead of the curve or something? I don’t know.

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If this in-car VR world eventually does happen, you can bet that it’ll come with ads and commercials. Because that’s the kind of hellish, consumer-driven reality that we live in.

5th Gear: Volkswagen Trucks

Volvo has Volvo Trucks and Volkswagen has Traton. The latter said today that it wants to offer 10 percent of its truck unit in an IPO, according to Reuters, which would be worth up to €1.9 billion (approximately $2.1 billion).

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From the story:

The German carmaker said in a statement that the offering would be priced at 27-33 euros per share, which Jefferies analysts said valued Traton at a slight discount to industry peers but at a premium to Swedish competitor Volvo.

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VW plans to invest the money it makes from this in growing its electric car portfolio. Just earlier this week, we reported that we can expect some autonomous cars from the VW-Ford partnership.

Volkswagen is really adamant about the whole EV thing. I wonder why.

Reverse: RIP John Woolfe

Famously, the 24 Hours of Le Mans races began with a standing “Le Mans” start (where drivers ran to their cars after the start of the race). But that changed after the 1969 Le Mans on June 14 when driver John Woolfe crashed and died moments after the cars took off because he didn’t fasten his seatbelt.

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The 1970 Le Mans started with drivers already in their cars.

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Neutral: We’re Throwing a Party This Weekend!

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