Deadly VinFast Crash Probed By Safety Regulators

Photo: Adam Berry (Getty Images)
Photo: Adam Berry (Getty Images)

Good morning! It’s Chewsday, May 21, 2024, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: VinFast Crash That Killed Four Sparks Probe

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation into a VinFast VF8 crash in Pleasanton, California that left four members of a family dead back on April 24. NHTSA says the investigation will look into the crash’s circumstances and the ensuing fire.

A complaint filed with the U.S. safety regulators five days later said the steering may have been an issue in the crash that killed a couple along with their 13 and 9-year-old children. From Reuters:


Pleasanton Police said the driver in the single-vehicle accident appeared to have lost control and collided with a large oak tree and that speed may have been a factor.


The Pleasanton Weekly earlier this month quoted a VinFast spokesperson as saying the automaker was aware of the accident, adding: “The authorities are currently investigating the cause of the accident and will share their findings when their work is completed.”

The agency typically opens more than 100 special crash investigations annually into emerging technologies and other potential auto safety issues.

The complaint filed with NHTSA on April 29 by a coworker of the driver in the fatal crash said that in a separate incident the steering wheel automatically maneuvered to the right but the coworker was able to regain control of the steering wheel and was concerned the steering issue had reoccurred in the fatal crash.

Police have apparently said the family did not own the car.

This is just the latest blow for the Vietnamese automaker that has struggled mightily to gain any sort of foothold in the United States.

2nd Gear: Another Fire Breaks Out At Tesla’s Fremont Plant

Another fire broke out at Tesla’s Fremont, California assembly plant on May 20. Luckily, there were no reported injuries between employees and responding firefighters. From CNBC:

An undisclosed number of fire fighters had responded to the fire, which broke out before 5:00 p.m., at the Tesla facility at 45500 Fremont Boulevard. The incident was described as a two-alarm, commercial structure fire in a two-story building.

The fire apparently originated in an oven used in vehicle manufacturing operations, the department said, adding that cause of the fire was “under investigation” as of Monday evening.

The fire was “knocked down” in a matter of hours, the department said, and the fire-fighting crew had been released from the scene as of around 8 p.m.

The Fremont factory is incredibly important for Tesla. It builds the Model 3, Model Y, Model S and Model X. In fact, just a few days ago, on May 17, the Austin, Texas-based automaker celebrated a milestone at the factory, saying it had surpassed 3 million vehicles produced.

Unfortunately for Tesla and CEO Elon Musk, the Fremont factory has a bit of a troubled history when it comes to fires.

For example, several fire incidents occurred at the factory from 2014 to 2018, including a mix of indoor and outdoor fires in 2018 alone, with more still in 2019 and 2021.

Fires at the Fremont factory in the past have sometimes necessitated a pause in production.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District recently accused Tesla of allowing “unabated emissions” at the Fremont plant, adding that much or the toxic air pollution there should have been prevented. They told CNBC they’re “aware of the fire and assessing” the situation.

3rd Gear: Nissan Switches Up Its U.S. EV Plans

Nissan is pausing production plans for its next generation of electric vehicles in the U.S. That means it is putting a $500 million investment on hold at its plant in Canton, Mississippi that has been described as “underutilized.” From Automotive News:

In a memo to suppliers obtained by Automotive News, Nissan said it has adjusted the “development schedule” of a pair of battery-powered sedans “to enhance product competitiveness.”

“Please stop all development activities related to [the EV sedan] project until further notice,” Nissan instructed suppliers in the letter, dated May 17.

Nissan had planned to begin production of the electric sedans in June 2026. The schedule has been delayed twice, with the most recent start date pushed to November of that year.

The Japanese automaker did not provide a new production start date but said it will update suppliers in mid-June.

“I think it’s going to be at least six or eight more months before [Nissan] returns with a new plan,’ according to a supplier, who requested not to be identified.

The memo to suppliers wasn’t all bad news though. Nissan will apparently be expanding the number of battery-electric vehicles produced in Canton, adding a fifth vehicle.

According to GlobalData Automotive, that model — codenamed PZ1L — is expected to be a compact Rogue Sport-size crossover.

Meanwhile, Nissan will switch the EV production sequence — beginning with two crossover models instead of the sedans.

It’s a very strange time in the world of electric vehicles right now, and it doesn’t look like any one automaker has a perfect grasp on exactly where the industry is heading. Some are expanding EV plans, and others are shrinking them down. It’s weird out there, man.

4th Gear: Toyota Investing Over Half A Billion Into Texas Truck Plant

Toyota is looking for a bit of a tax break for the potential $531.7 million expansion of its body-on-frame assembly plant near San Antonio, Texas. The proposed project would allow the Japanese automaker to manufacture components for vehicle lines at the complex, and it would add about 411 jobs to the plant.

Currently, Toyota builds the Tundra pickup truck and Sequoia SUV at the plant in Bexar County, Texas. From Automotive News:

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas opened in 2006 and employs more than 3,800 people. More than 20 on-site suppliers employ an additional 5,600 workers, according to the Japanese automaker.

Asked about the report, a spokesperson for Toyota sent the following statement confirming the details of the automaker’s request and said Toyota had no further details to share at this time:

“As stated in the public notice, TMMTX is seeking tax abatements for a potential project totaling $531,720,000, located on our property. We are constantly evaluating our competitiveness and making decisions to support the potential for continued investments across our North American operations, helping to ensure our promise of long-term employment stability. We are always looking for ways to better meet our customers’ needs and produce where we sell. We have nothing to announce at this time.”

Back in 2019, Toyota invested nearly $400 million at the plant to prepare for the redesigned Tundra and Sequoia.

In a nice break for Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, Bexar County is apparently offering incentives including a 10-year 100 percent tax abatement worth $14.7 million and a quarter million dollar skills development grant based on 250 jobs that pay at least $34.55 an hour or $71,864 annually. Phew, I was worried Toyota wouldn’t be able to afford this otherwise.

Reverse: Robert Oppenheimer Is Quaking

Neutral: A Truly Impressive Little Truck

On The Radio: Sean Kingston “Beautiful Girls”

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