BMW Is Looking To Mimic Tesla's Robot Workers

Photo: Tesla
Photo: Tesla

Happy Thursday! It’s January 18, 2024, and this is The Morning Shift — your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, all in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: BMW Wants To Compete With Tesla’s Robot, For Some Reason

Remember when Elon Musk promised to build robot catgirls that would /fill the hole Grimes left in his heart/ replace human workers in Tesla factories? Well, for some reason, BMW looked at that plan and decided it was just too smart not to try — so now BMW is working on it too, with a bit of outside robotics help. From Reuters:


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2nd Gear: GM Is Recalling 66 BrightDrop Vans After Fires

Rivian’s Amazon vans are a popular sight on New York streets, but there’s another all-electric delivery option in direct competition: GM’s BrightDrop Zevo line. After a series of fires, however, it seems that latter option may need a bit of work before returning to the streets. From the Detroit Free Press:

General Motors is recalling several dozen BrightDrop all-electric delivery vans after the front drive units, known as the powertrain, on at least two of them caught fire late last year.

In paperwork filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dated Jan. 11, GM said it is recalling 66 of the 2022 model year EV600 (which GM now calls the Zevo 600) BrightDrop delivery trucks.

GM said in the NHTSA filing it is still investigating the root cause of the problem, which it believes was limited to its large EV600 vehicles built between Nov. 24, 2021 and May 24, 2022. BrightDrop also offers a smaller Zevo 400 delivery van.

GM seems to have narrowed the issue down to an oil leak under the hood, for which the company blames a manufacturing defect in a small number of vans. So long as it’s not a design flaw, we’ll likely see these vans back on the road soon enough.

3rd Gear: Automakers Might Have To Keep Spending Money On Their Own Business Expenses :’(

Did you know that running a business costs money? Turns out there are all sorts of costs associated with being a company, from salaries to equipment to restocking the Chobani yogurts in the office kitchen. Businesses, of course, hate this — they’ll go to any imaginable length to save a few cents. Automakers are no exception, and they’re now lobbying Congress to allow deductions for their entire research and development budgets. From Automotive News:

WASHINGTON — Industry groups representing automakers and suppliers are urging Congress to restore a federal tax break that would allow for the “full and immediate” expensing of domestic R&D investments.

In a letter sent Wednesday to House and Senate leadership, five trade associations — the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, American Automotive Policy Council, Autos Drive America, MEMA and the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association — argue it is critical for Congress to “act as soon as possible” to restore full R&D expensing, which expired in 2021.

Since 2022, companies have had to deduct U.S-based R&D costs over a five-year period, as required under a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed during the Trump administration.

The industry groups argue the five-year requirement has made R&D “exponentially more costly to conduct in the U.S.” and are urging Congress to pass legislation that would include a fix, according to the letter.

OpenAI recently tried a similar defense, that the company’s business model would just be too costly to succeed if it had to actually pay for all the copyrighted material it used. What happened to the whole “invisible hand of the market,” where businesses whose costs outstrip their profits simply flounder and die? Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

4th Gear: VinFast, Incredibly, Didn’t Meet 2023 Delivery Goals

If you can believe it, VinFast’s 2023 didn’t go quite as planned. With offerings like the VF8, with its turn signals that work most of the time, I truly thought the company would be a massive disruptor to the incredibly competitive North American passenger car market. Well, there’s always next year. From Reuters:

HANOI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Vietnamese electric vehicle (EV) maker VinFast on Thursday said it delivered nearly 35,000 cars in 2023, below its target of at least 40,000 units, blaming slow EV adoption in some regions, tough competition and uncertain economy.

The deliveries in the last three months of 2023, however, increased 35% against the third quarter to 13,513 units, the company said.

VinFast, which started to deliver its sport utility vehicle (SUV) VF 8 in California last March, earlier this month flagged a plan to set up manufacturing and battery facilities in India. It also aims to expand in more markets in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, including Indonesia.

To hear that VinFast sold fewer cars in 2023 than Toyota sold Rav4s in December alone is a real shock. You’re telling me consumers don’t want bad products, when good alternatives exist? I’m stunned. I gotta lie down.

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