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Semi-Autonomous Teslas Were Involved In 10 More Fatalities This Year



Image for article titled Semi-Autonomous Teslas Were Involved In 10 More Fatalities This Year

Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

The government is still keeping an eye on Tesla crashes, President Biden will release some oil from the national reserve, and the U.S. is central to the Polestar’s 3 future. All that and more in this Wednesday edition of The Morning Shift for October 19, 2022.

1st Gear: The NHTSA Continues To Watch Tesla

At least ten people died in crashes between May and September of this year where automated driving systems played a factor, according to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Four of the accidents involved motorcycles, and all of them involved a Tesla. In the previous reported period from July 2021 through May, there were six deaths and five serious injuries — in five of those deaths, a Tesla was involved.

As such, Tesla is getting the bulk of the attention here though, in fairness to the company, it is the only automaker that self-reports accidents in real-time with onboard telematics, according to the NHTSA. As for other manufacturers, “their crash reports may emerge more slowly or may not be reported at all,” the department says, by way of the Associated Press and U.S. News and World Report.

The National Transportation Safety Board has one idea to lessen the dangers of Autopilot, Full Self-Driving, and similar systems, but the NHTSA is taking its sweet time, while simultaneously admonishing Tesla on the regular. From the article:

The National Transportation Safety Board, which also has investigated some of the Tesla crashes dating to 2016, has recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit Autopilot’s use to areas where it can safely operate. The NTSB also recommended that NHTSA require Tesla to improve its systems to ensure that drivers are paying attention. NHTSA has yet to act on the recommendations. (The NTSB can make only recommendations to other federal agencies.)

Of course, if you ask Elon Musk about this, he’ll tell you that the existence of Tesla’s driver-assist functions has lessened the overall number of roadway tragedies that would’ve otherwise transpired, and that he would in fact be morally remiss not to deploy it:

Messages were left Tuesday seeking comment from Tesla. At the company’s artificial intelligence day in September, CEO Elon Musk asserted that, based on the rate of crashes and total miles driven, Tesla’s automated systems were safer than human drivers — a notion that some safety experts dispute.

“At the point of which you believe that adding autonomy reduces injury and death, I think you have a moral obligation to deploy it,” Musk said. “Even though you’re going to get sued and blamed by a lot of people. Because the people whose lives you saved don’t know that their lives were saved. And the people who do occasionally die or get injured, they definitely know, or their state does, that it was, whatever, there was a problem with Autopilot.”

Teslas with automated systems have driven more than 3 million vehicles on the road, Musk said.

“That’s a lot of miles driven every day. And it’s not going to be perfect. But what matters is that it is very clearly safer than not deploying it.”

Musk has been beating this drum for a while, and his evidence tends to compare the number of miles driven for every accident by Tesla vehicles with Autopilot active versus those without. That glosses over lots of particulars and variables, like where Autopilot is typically used (highways) and where car crashes typically occur (public roads), as Electrek’s Fred Lambert noted. The CEO’s math is reductive, though if the NHTSA really feels this strongly about Teslas posing such a danger to other motorists, they should probably do something, anything, with all that monitoring.

2nd Gear: 15 Million Barrels

President Joe Biden is expected to announce the release of 15 million more barrels of oil from the U.S.’s reserve later today, per the Associated Press:

Biden will deliver remarks Wednesday to announce the drawdown from the strategic reserve, senior administration officials said Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to outline Biden’s plans. It completes the release of 180 million barrels authorized by Biden in March that was initially supposed to occur over six months. That has sent the strategic reserve to its lowest level since 1984 in what the administration called a “bridge” until domestic production could be increased. The reserve now contains roughly 400 million barrels of oil.

Biden will also open the door to additional releases this winter in an effort to keep prices down. But administration officials would not detail how much the president would be willing to tap, nor how much they want domestic and production to increase by to end the withdrawals.

Of course, the timing of this has everything to do with midterm elections, and while gas prices are not as high in this moment as they’ve been at other times this year, they’re a smidge higher than they were in September, on average. Refinery output is weak because the economy is, and also oil companies don’t want to relinquish the profits they’re accustomed to. The New York Times added:

Mr. Biden is expected to announce the plan on Wednesday. Officials said he would also call on refining companies not to gouge prices and to pass lower energy costs resulting from the oil releases onto consumers.

Shaming big oil always works!

3rd Gear: Back to Tesla…

…which is still rolling, as the Wall Street Journal tells us, and on the brink of breaking records again for quarterly profit:

Elon Musk’s electric-vehicle maker so far has brushed off worries about weakening demand. Strong vehicle pricing is forecast to have helped Tesla generate around $3.2 billion in quarterly profit for the three months ended in September, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet, up from $1.6 billion a year earlier. That would be just shy of the company’s record quarterly profit of $3.3 billion, set in the first quarter.

Tesla, after the market’s close on Wednesday, is expected to report quarterly revenue topping $22 billion, its highest ever, up from around $13.8 billion in last year’s third quarter, according to FactSet.

However, in the face of rising interest rates and recession fears, Wall Street has grown more pessimistic about Tesla’s ability to deliver the more than 1.4 million vehicles it needs to hit its 2022 target of boosting output by 50%.

It’s not looking good for Tesla to hit that projection. Here’s what it’d have to do:

To meet that goal, Tesla would have to deliver nearly a half million EVs to customers in the final three months of the year. That would mark a 42% increase from the third quarter, when Tesla put nearly 344,000 vehicles in customers’ hands, a company record. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

As usual, Tesla and Musk have plenty to be pleased with, even if their targets prove just out of reach. They set unrealistic expectations because that’s what Wall Street responds to.

4th Gear: Germany Gets an Infrastructure Boost

The German government plans to spend $6.1 billion on building out charging infrastructure over three years, per Reuters:

The plan envisages a 14-fold increase in the number of charging stations, climbing to 1 million by 2030 from around 70,000 now. It would focus on building them in local municipalities which are currently undersupplied.

It also aims to have 15 million electric vehicles on German roads by 2030 from around 1.5 million now. Other measures in the government’s plan include speeding up state approvals to build charging points.

“Our goal: to accelerate the expansion of charging infrastructure, simplify the charging process and thus make it easier for people to switch,” said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing in a statement.

Germany has moved with less haste than its European Union peers in the shift to electrification, fighting the 2035 ban on new internal-combustion cars and holding onto the promise of synthetic fuels as a viable alternative. It still needs to prepare at some level for the inevitability, though.

5th Gear: A Polestar of Our Own

The Polestar 3 is an electric SUV built for Americans, and, eventually, it will be built by Americans. This is something Polestar has teased itself, most recently around the 3’s reveal last week. But Automotive News has more details on the company’s plan for U.S. production:

The Ridgeville [South Carolina] operation, which opened four years ago and is still underutilized, currently builds just one vehicle — the low-volume Volvo S60 sedan. Late next year, it will begin assembling the EX90 large crossover, AutoForecast said.

Supplying most of the world from a single factory will improve the economies of scale, AutoForecast Solutions Vice President Sam Fiorani said.

“Volvo needs to raise output above 80 percent of capacity in Charleston to make production profitable,” Fiorani said. “The addition of the Volvo EX90 alone won’t get it there.”

U.S. sourcing will give Polestar a competitive geopolitical advantage. By producing the crossover in America, Polestar will avoid a roughly 25 percent China import tariff, which would have tipped its starting price above $100,000.

Domestic production also makes for more manageable logistics.

The U.S. will be the midsize Polestar 3’s largest market, accounting for a third of its sales. Midsize premium crossovers were the largest premium crossover segment in the U.S. for the first nine months of this year, with nearly 100,000 more sales than compact premium crossovers, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center.

I haven’t seen a ton of Polestar 2s on the road in my neck of the woods, and I think that may change once the 3 enters production.

Reverse: Would You Buy a Used Car From Him?

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