Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive's daily roundup of news from the world of cars and transportation. Today we're talking about tensions within Ford over the production of police vehicles, Mercedes-Benz's lead in the luxury race still means layoffs and Elon Musk is saying some stuff.
Ford's Employees Question Police Vehicle Production
The protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers led to a reckoning over racism that's touched every facet of American life in recent months. Now, that moment has come to the auto industry as well—specifically at Ford, where employees have questioned whether the company should be in the cop car business.
A report from Jalopnik revealed that Black and white employees alike within Ford penned a letter to company leadership asking to stop making police vehicles. Ford confirmed the letter's authenticity, as well as the discussion that followed within the company, where CEO Jim Hackett dashed the idea.
The letter cites not only the Ford Police Interceptor's presence beside Floyd as he was killed, but also how Police Interceptor vehicles were seen driving into protesters in several cities. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was the editor of Jalopnik for many years, and that story's author, Aaron Foley, is a friend.) From the employee letter:
Throughout our history, the vehicles that Ford employees design and build have been used as accessories to police brutality and oppression. We know that while many join, support, or supply law enforcement with good intentions, these racist policing practices that plague our society are historic and systemic—a history and system perpetuated by Ford for over 70 years—ever since Ford introduced the first-ever police package in 1950. As an undeniable part of that history and system, we are long overdue to “think and act differently” on our role in racism.
The story is worth a read in full.
Ford has sold about 30,000 Police Interceptor vehicles annually in recent years. Company officials have called the discussion healthy and respectful, but while Hackett reaffirmed support for Black Lives Matter, he quashed the idea of discontinuing police car production and said "smarter Ford vehicles can be used to not only improve officers’ ability to protect and serve but also provide data that can make police safer and more accountable."
This isn't the first time that makers of police equipment have had their roles questioned in recent months. Bicycle manufacturer Trek faced similar pressure to stop making police bikes, as have other companies. But with Ford being far and away the largest provider of police vehicles in the U.S., a discontinuation of the Police Interceptor seems unlikely.
Mercedes Leads In The Luxury Race, But It's Not Enough
The only real sales "winners" in the pandemic economy have been large pickup trucks, helped along by aggressive deals and incentives and a desire by Americans to do Truck Things, like drive up into the mountains and live there forever. (Lord knows I'm tempted to do the same.) The luxury car segment saw double-digit sales declines in Q2, and this summer may not be any better.
Still, the current leader is Mercedes-Benz, which for the year is more than 16,000 U.S. vehicles ahead of BMW. It's down just 22 percent to BMW's 39 percent decline. That's how bad things are—even "good" is still bad right now. From Automotive News:
Mercedes delivered 59,461 vehicles, excluding commercial vans, in the second quarter, down 22 percent from a year ago. The GLE crossover led totals with 9,500 sales, followed by the flagship GLC SUV with sales of 9,461.
"From April to June, the effects of coronavirus had a strong impact on our deliveries in Europe and North America," Mercedes-Benz global marketing chief Britta Seeger said in a statement Wednesday.
But that's obviously not enough to stave off this bad situation. According to Reuters, Benz's parent company Daimler will move ahead with deeper cost cuts, including losing 10,000 employees and slashing $1.6 billion by 2022. Another 10,000 could be on the way after that. The automaker was facing profit warnings even before the pandemic hit, with one investor calling 2019 "a lost year" for Daimler. Can't wait to hear what they say about this one.
Musk Says Thing
Elon Musk says a lot of things, from his support for future President Kanye West (later withdrawn) to claims that the coronavirus would be gone from America by the end of April. He's said a lot before, too, on things ranging from swappable car batteries to rockets on the new Tesla Roadster.
The latest thing he has said, according to Reuters, is that Tesla is "very close" to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology. That would mean full car automation that does not require human attention or intervention. While Autopilot is a formidable leader in the autonomy space (GM's Super Cruise is considered safer at present) that would be a considerable step forward for the still mishap-prone system. From the story:
“I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said in remarks made via a video message at the opening of Shanghai’s annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC).
“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy complete this year.”
Even if that's true, and I am extremely skeptical there, there's a big leap between "basic functionality" and "safe, foolproof and deployable on customer cars." I look forward to seeing if Musk can make good on this claim.
On Our Radar
GM: Head of Cadillac to lead GM North America (The Detroit News)
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Brooks Brothers’ Problems Began Before the Coronavirus (Intelligencer)
Graffiti Is Back in Virus-Worn New York (NY Times)
Since it's unlikely Ford will stop making Police Interceptors entirely, what responsibility does the automaker have to make sure its vehicles are used responsibly by law enforcement? If Ford is committed to equality and justice, does it have a responsibility not to sell to abusive departments?