Fiat Chrysler execs, salaried employees taking pay cuts during coronavirus pandemic

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ top executives and salaried workers around the globe will take pay cuts in an act of “shared sacrifice” brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered the automaker’s plants in Europe and North America, according to a company memo seen by Reuters.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley said in the memo he will take a 50 percent pay cut for three months starting April 1, while Chairman John Elkann and FCA’s board of directors will forego the remainder of their 2020 compensation. FCA said most global salaried employees will be asked to take a temporary 20 percent pay cut.

“Protecting the financial health of the company is everyone’s responsibility and naturally starts with myself and the leadership of FCA,” Manley wrote.

Members of the automaker’s group executive council will also take a 30 percent pay cut, according to the memo.

Last week, No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors said it planned to keep its plants closed indefinitely and was reducing the pay of salaried employees and executives and suspending some future product programs to conserve cash.

GM’s chief executive and chief financial officer issued a stark warning to company employees in an internal video, saying that “significant austerity measures” were needed to preserve the company’s long-term viability. Ford also said it was temporarily cutting top executives’ salaries.


Ford to produce tens of thousands of ventilators in coronavirus fight

Ford on Monday said it has struck a deal with GE Healthcare to begin manufacturing ventilators designed by a Florida company at a Blue Oval components plant in Michigan. Ford said it would build 50,000 units within 100 days and eventually scale up to 30,000 per month to help health care providers treat coronavirus patients.

Production will start the week of April 20 from its Rawsonville Plant, near Ann Arbor, of the Model A-E ventilator made by Airon Corp., which GE Healthcare is licensing and brought to Ford’s attention as part of a previously announced partnership to increase ventilator production. Ford said it will use more than 500 volunteer UAW workers who will receive full pay to make the units.

The Model A-E is said to be a less complicated version of a ventilator, a medical device that experts say is in critically short supply to help patients who have respiratory failure and need help to breathe because of the coronavirus. The unit operates on air pressure without the need for electricity and meets the needs of most coronavirus patients.

Ford last week announced plans to partner with GE Healthcare and 3M to make medical equipment including ventilators to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. Ford and GE Healthcare say progress is being made on efforts to have Ford manufacture a simplified form of the latter’s existing ventilator. GM on Friday announced it was partnering with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems to increase production of the latter’s ventilator from a GM plant in Indiana following a bizarre series of events in which President Trump attacked the company and its CEO, Mary Barra, and authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to require it to start manufacturing the devices.

GE Healthcare says it has already doubled production capacity for its ventilators at its assembly facility in Madison, Wis., during the first quarter and aims to double it again in the second quarter. Ford engineers and manufacturing employees have been working onsite there to help GE Healthcare ramp production more quickly.

Ford says it will employ a number of tactics to help keep the UAW workers at Rawsonville safe and mitigate the risk of infection, including enforcing social distancing, pre-screening workers before they enter the building, using barrier shields and plastic face shields that a Ford subsidiary is making in suburban Detroit. The first crews will undergo training with the Ford engineering team that is currently developing the production process. Second and third shifts will eventually be added, Ford said.

Ford said the same protections would be in place for all workers once factories are re-opened. The company declined to say Monday whether it was still planning to reopen its facilities April 14. Michigan is currently experiencing a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with more than 1,000 new confirmed cases reported statewide since Sunday and 52 deaths.


Man arrested after teaching his dog to drive a Buick 100 mph

A Washington state man riding shotgun in an old Buick was arrested after fleeing a hit-and-run incident and leading police on a high-speed chase on an Interstate freeway. Meanwhile, the driver, his pet pit bull, got off scot-free.

Such was the scene Sunday near Seattle, where police arrested a 51-year-old man from Lakewood, Wash., who told them he was teaching his dog how to drive. The man was apparently steering the car from the passenger seat.

Reports say the man, whose name was not released, was driving his 1996 Buick on Interstate 5 when he allegedly struck two vehicles in South Seattle near the Boeing Access Road and then fled north on I-5. The car was spotted on the interstate near the Snohomish River in Everett, and officials told KOMO-TV the vehicle was driving more than 100 miles per hour when they began pursuit. The vehicle left the freeway near the Stanwood exit — 57 miles north of the hit-and-run — and then drove onto the nearby Centennial Trail, a rails-to-trail bike path. The chase finally ended after police were able to deploy spike strips.

Police found the man seated in the passenger seat and his dog behind the wheel. The man appeared to have been steering for the canine.

The man was arrested on suspicion of DUI, reckless driving and hit-and-run feeling eluding.


Red Bull Racing adviser pushed for coronavirus ‘camp’ to infect drivers

Red Bull Racing adviser and former racing driver Helmut Marko pushed for a “Corona Camp” to infect (and therefore inoculate) drivers as the team waited out downtime stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Marko planned to gather all of Red Bull Racing’s Formula 1 and junior series drivers (approximately 15 personnel) together to guarantee contact. With the illness out of the way, he suggested, the team would then have been ready to tackle the remainder of F1’s truncated season without fear of infection-related complications. 

How exactly the group would have been exposed to the virus initially was not detailed in the report.

Marko described the concept to Austrian TV station ORF as “… a camp where we could bridge this mentally and physically somewhat dead time. And that would be the ideal time for the infection to come,” reports.

“These are all strong young men in really good health. That way they would be prepared whenever the action starts. And you can be ready for what will probably be a very tough championship once it starts,” Marko continued.

The proposal, which had all the hallmarks of a chickenpox play date, was nixed by Red Bull, for reasons which probably do not need to be explained.

“Let’s put it this way: it has not been well received,” Marko said.

F1 is currently running a virtual season, allowing drivers (and fans) to compete online in digitized replicas of world Grand Prix circuits. The first race was held March 22; more are expected to be added to the calendar, coinciding with each canceled real-life race. 

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The story behind GM’s scramble to build ventilators for coronavirus patients

The global automotive industry has mobilized its collective manufacturing to address the coronavirus pandemic. General Motors was the first to step up with a manufacturing plan, which the Trump administration tacitly approved when it invoked the Defense Production Act, but not before being criticized by the president for its initial efforts. 

GM has now been authorized to build ventilators, but was that a result of Trump’s prodding, or in spite of it? 

The New York Times describes the efforts undertaken by GM and Ventec to come up with a viable solution: “While much of the U.S. economy has ground to a halt because of the coronavirus outbreak, several dozen workers in orange vests and hard hats were hauling heavy equipment on Sunday at a General Motors plant in Kokomo, Ind.”

“The crew was part of a crash effort to make tens of thousands of ventilators, the lifesaving machines that keep critically ill patients breathing. The machines are in desperate demand as hospitals face the prospect of dire shortages. New York State alone may need 30,000 or more,” the article said.

After GM briefed the administration on its plans, Trump criticized them for being too costly and limited in scope. Some General Motors public relations representatives, normally quiet when it comes to matters of politics, expressed frustration with the administration and pride in the company’s efforts to contribute during the crisis. 

One employee, calling Trump’s Twitter rant about the company’s proposal “a fib,” said, “Never been more proud of my company & the commitment to co-create ventilators in order to save lives.”

And while GM’s plans never changed, Trump reversed his criticism Monday, and even said that GM is “doing a fantastic job” of preparing to build ventilators for patients who are unable to breathe on their own.

The full feature is available on the NYT website for free, as the publication has suspended subscription charges for pandemic-related news; we encourage you to read it and draw your own conclusions.

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2021 Genesis G80 powertrain and technology details revealed

While we already got a look at the 2021 Genesis G80’s styling earlier this month, only now has the company revealed details on the car’s powertrains and technology. It picks up most of its parts from the also recently revealed Genesis GV80 crossover, but that’s not a bad thing.

Under the hood will be one of three different engines, only two of which will probably appear in America. The first of those is a new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, which is slightly less power and slightly more torque than the current naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 offered in America’s base G80. The second is a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 making 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, making it more powerful and torqueier than the current turbo 3.3-liter V6. Both of these are shoe-ins for the U.S., and they’re also shared with the GV80. The third engine option is a turbocharged 2.2-liter diesel four-cylinder that is likely only for overseas markets. It makes 210 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The current G80’s optional 5.0-liter V8 will go away with this generation. Each powertrain will be available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and they will probably be mated exclusively with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Genesis didn’t just upgrade engines, though. The company has made the car substantially lighter, in part to additional use of aluminum. Comparing the current lightest V6 to the new four-cylinder, the car weighs over 250 pounds less. Genesis also says it has improved the car’s sound insulation, door seals and wheel design to make it quieter.

The car can be stuffed with technology, too, with adaptive suspension that adjusts based on what it sees in the road. Standard is advanced cruise control that manages speed, steering, lane-centering, and will execute lane changes when prompted. Unsurprisingly, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring are standard. It also has the highly publicized Smart Park system like in the Hyundai Sonata. Inside, the G80 is available with a 12.3-inch 3D instrument screen and a 14.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Important to note is the fact the 3D display can also switch to a 2D mode for anyone uncomfortable with the 3D effect. Connectivity to smart home assistants and over-the-air updates are also a part of the G80’s suite of technology features.

The G80 will go on sale in the second half of this year. Pricing has not been announced yet. We expect it will start near the current model’s $43,575 base price.

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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited High Altitude takes the 4×4 further upmarket

The Jeep Wangler Unlimited Sahara exists as the calmer, road-oriented Wrangler trim to contrast with the deep woods, rock-bashing Rubicon that headlines Jeep’s reputation. As more buyers flock to America’s 4×4, many want an even more plush Jeep experience, and Jeep’s been delivering. Last year the brand introduced the Sahara Altitude cosmetic package that added a host of gloss black trim pieces, from black 18-inch wheels and fuel filler door to the black leather interior and gloss-black gauge bezels. The Altitude costs $2,255 more than the standard Sahara. This year the trim takes an even bigger step up in equipment and price with the Unlimited High Altitude Package that Jeep gave a low-key debut at the Chicago Motor Show. Mopar Insiders broke down the extra features that start with the Sahara Unlimited and take the Wrangler into uncharted territory.  

Some of the kit is already found on the Sahara Altitude, such as body-colored hardtop and fender flares. High Altitude expands those with body-colored front and rear bumpers, body-colored door handles and side mirrors, and a body-colored tailgate handle instead of the black units. That sounds like it could get lurid when painted in a vibrant color, but there are no bright hues in the six-strong color palette of Billet Silver, Black, Bright White, Granite Crystal and Ocean Blue, with Snazzberry coming with late availability. The Sahara Altitude can be had in Firecracker Red, but Jeep knew better with the High Altitude. The package also fits LED lighting, side steps, and a matte black Trail Rated badge. The shocker outside is the sight of a Wrangler on 20-inch gloss black wheels from the factory, those wheels hung on axles with a slightly wider track and a rear Dana 44 with a revised final gear ratio. 

The interior comes in either black or Steel Grey, the latter option for late availability. Accents come in the Nappa leather-wrapped steering wheel “with Quilting and Caramel Stitching,” another two features never seen inside a Jeep from the factory, and leather-wrapped instrument panel mid-bolsters with more caramel thread. Because technology’s a necessary part of luxury nowadays, the 8.4-inch Uconnect with Premium Audio joins the Safety Group with ParkSense and blind-spot detection, and remote keyless entry.

High living won’t come cheap, Mopar Insiders quoting the High Altitude Package at $9,105 more than the Sahara. With the 2020 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara going for $40,140 after destination, that would make the Unlimited High Altitude $49,245 after destination. If that’s how it hits the market, the new trim becomes the most expensive Wrangler in the lineup, $870 more than the Wrangler Rubicon Recon. Even so, that High Altitude MSRP represents a discount compared to optioning a Sahara with the same gear, the a la carte selections totaling $9,570 before those 20-inch wheels that can’t be optioned.

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Hawaii’s farm-to-car drive-thrus skip the trip to the grocery store

Drive-thrus are often associated with unhealthy fast food, but a new vision in Hawaii imagines a drive-thru that pedals that freshest food available. Thanks to a new plan called farm-to-car announced by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell this week, residents on the island of Oahu will be able to order groceries online and pick them up straight from local farms. The pilot program runs through the Hawaii Farm Bureau (HFB) with hopes that it will continue on in the future.

Many of the popular farmers’ markets in Hawaii have been shut down due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 sickness caused by the coronavirus, but the HFB is determined to continue serving fresh meat and produce to its customers. So they created a pilot program that cuts out the middleman and allows people to go straight to the source.

Starting on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, customers will be able to place orders on a dedicated HFB website, according to the Honolulu Star Advisor. If the products are in stock, the order will be available for pickup at the parking lot of the Blaisdell Center community event space for two hours on Wednesdays.

The service, which comes at no extra cost to the farmers, allows residents to continue social distancing while under the stay-at-home and work-from-home orders set down by local officials. If the program is successful, the HFB hopes to expand on the service and open more pickup locations. There are no pickup fees or handling fees, but 100% of the proceeds will go into the pockets of the sellers.

“The Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Farmers Markets are a key resource for Oahu communities, connecting local growers to consumers,” the website says. “With the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, continuing to supply families with fresh produce while supporting our hardworking farmers, is essential for the community.” 

Watch Mayor Caldwell discuss the program above. 

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Junkyard Gem: 1972 Ford Courier Flatbed

Small pickups sold like crazy in North America through the 1970s and well into the 1980s, and the Detroit Big Three used the magic of badge engineering to get into that game without the expense of developing their own little trucks from scratch. GM had the Isuzu-sourced LUV, Chrysler had the Mitsubishi-made Plymouth Arrow/Dodge Ram 50, and the folks from Dearborn turned to their friends at the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company and applied the old Courier name to the Mazda Proceed pickup. These sturdy little trucks were available here for the 1972 through 1982 model years, but most rusted to nothingness and/or got worked to death decades ago and I’ve had a hard time finding them as I travel the Junkyard Highway around the country. On a recent trip to Arizona, though, I spotted this battered but unoxidized first-model-year flatbed Courier in Phoenix.

The company that became Mazda dropped the “Cork” part of its name in the 1920s, but the official company name remained Toyo Kogyo until the 1980s. North Americans could buy these trucks with Mazda badges all along (including some with Wankel engines, because the powerful hallucinogenic drugs of the era made a no-torque pickup seem like a fine idea), but nearly all of them were sold by Ford as Couriers. For the 1983 model year, Ford developed the Ranger and dropped the Courier. This also happened around the same time with GM and the LUV versus the S-10, but Chrysler continued selling Mitsubishi-built small pickups all the way through 1994 (though the Omnirizon-based front-wheel-drive Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp competed against the Dodge-badged Mitsubishi Mighty Maxes for a while during the 1980s).

The interior of this truck got toasted in comprehensive fashion by the fierce Arizona climate, but that didn’t stop this truck from putting in many decades of hard work.

Not only did this truck not have air conditioning (considered a sign of weakness by small-truck buyers in the early 1970s, even those in Arizona), the entire heater/vent-control panel has been blocked off with duct tape. The USB jack on the crappy aftermarket stereo below the dash tells us that this truck was still in service within the last decade or so.

The curse of the five-digit odometer is our inability to figure out how many total miles went onto workhorse vehicles such as this one. I think 516,987 miles is likely here.

Now that most pickups serve as commuter vehicles, one with a rattly and cramped cab with four-on-the-floor manual transmission seems as outdated today as a Model T pickup seemed in 1972. In theory, American buyers could get a Courier with an automatic transmission, but I have yet to see one in person.

This truck has a nicely-made flatbed setup and a fairly modern toolbox. Why is it here? Perhaps the lack of towing capacity doomed it, or maybe the engine finally blew up.

The engine must have looked good to some junkyard shopper, though, because it’s gone. It would have been a 1.8-liter Mazda VB rated at 74 horsepower; later Couriers could be had with a Ford 2.3-liter “Pinto” engine or a 59-horse Perkins diesel (if anyone sees a diesel American-market Courier in the wild, let us know).

The gutsy little Courier has got it all together.

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BMW may be first automaker to get Apple CarKey feature

In February, 9to5Mac discovered code in a beta version of Apple’s iOS 13.4 software referring to an API for something called “CarKey.” After finding more extensive code for CarKey in the second beta version of the same iOS, 9to5Mac believes CarKey will be functionality allowing a car owner to lock, unlock, and start their car with their iPhone or Apple Watch. The vehicle would need to be equipped with Near-Field Communications (NFC), the same protocol Hyundai uses for its Digital Key and Tesla uses for its Model 3 keycards. Further CarKey development in a beta version of iOS 14, which included screenshots, points to BMW being the first carmaker to get access to the feature. This sounds reasonable given BMW was the first to introduce wireless Apple CarPlay. When 9to5Mac asked the German automaker about CarKey, a spokesperson responded with, “Please understand that at this point we cannot confirm your request nor give you further details. We would like to refer you to our press release.”

CarKey screenshots show several potential ways to implement and use the feature. After pairing the phone with the car’s NFC transmitter through Apple Wallet, all permissions are controlled through the wallet. A backup pairing method uses a PIN if the automatic process doesn’t work. To unlock, the phone only need be near the vehicle, not removed from a pocket or bag. Prototype screenshots from iOS 14 show three levels of permissions, either Trunk Access, Access Only, or Access and Drive. A CarKey owner can request the app be authenticated through Touch ID or Face ID before use, or enable ‘express’ use that doesn’t ask for proof. The digital key can be loaned to others permanently or temporarily, and be shared through iMessage with individuals but not groups. When the key is shared through an iMessage, the recipient receives the notification, “[Vehicle Owner] invited you to use their [Vehicle Model] with unlock & drive access. This allows you to use your ‌iPhone‌ and ‌Apple Watch‌ to unlock/lock the car, start the engine and drive.” 

The press release BMW referenced was issued in December, speaking to the carmaker’s work on digital keys for phones and watches. It read, in part, “Providing customers with simple, connected and ‘keyless’ access to their vehicles has been a key area of innovation. Today, it is already possible to lock and unlock the vehicle, start the engine and share the key with others using the BMW Digital Key (pictured) as part of BMW Connected on the smartphone. But this is only the first step in a global technological transformation being shaped and led by the BMW Group.” The automaker is a charter member of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) that released its NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 protocol last November. Version 3.0 is on the way, bringing compatibility with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra Wideband (UWB), the latter protocol said to open up “passive location-aware keyless access” at the same time as providing “maximum anti-theft protection [to] enable precise localisation between the device and the vehicle.”

The Apple iPhone 11 family already supports UWB, so far used for increased AirDrop functionality. The tech firm applied in 2018 to patent technology allowing an iPhone to manage vehicle features, another patent application from last November laying out a system using Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband to locate a device and then exchange a digital key. The question now is when Apple will debut CarKey. The feature could be rolled out during the online-only Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

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