UAW scandal roils Nissan union election

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
Published 8:16 p.m. ET Aug. 2, 2017

The brewing scandal involving an alleged multi-million-dollar conspiracy to divert worker training funds within the top ranks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and the United Auto Workers has the potential to hurt the union’s chances of representing workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

Workers at the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant will vote Thursday and Friday on whether to be represented by the labor union. The election follows two previous failures by the UAW to represent workers at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. After other rejections in the union’s quest to represent workers employed by foreign automakers with factories in the South, it has been seen as the best chance for the UAW to gain a foothold there.

The last days of the campaign were being conducted against a backdrop of last week’s indictment of Monica Morgan-Holiefield, 54, of Harrison Township, and Fiat Chrysler Vice President for Employee Relations Alphons Iacobelli, 57, of Rochester Hills, for siphoning money that was meant for employee training to pay for personal expenses and travel in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act.

Morgan-Holiefield, who was married to the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield, is charged with participating in a multi-year enrichment scheme that allegedly included paying off her $262,000 mortgage and $30,000 in airline tickets, using money that was supposed to benefit blue-collar FCA workers. Iacobelli, a former top labor negotiator at Fiat Chrysler, is accused of pocketing employee training funds to pay for a $350,000 Ferrari 458 Spider, two solid-gold Mont Blanc pens costing $37,500 each, a swimming pool and more.

On Nissan’s local employee website and Facebook page, the Japanese automaker has posted news stories about the indictments and talked about the union’s legal troubles in presentations to workers.

“Voters have the right to know the company’s perspective on what we believe is in the best interest of our team and our plant, as well as important information about the UAW and about union representation,” Nissan said when asked about the latest twist in its “vote no” campaign. “The UAW has only ever wanted employees to hear one side of the story — the union’s side. The company has the right, and we believe the obligation, to provide employees with full information as they prepare to make this important decision, and we will continue to do so.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer and director of the union’s transnational department, dismissed the idea that the allegations against its former leaders would harm the union’s chances of winning the Mississippi election.

“This was an isolated incident involving a rogue individual in our organization and a rogue individual in the corporation,” he said in a statement. “No union funds or dues were involved. Regardless, we dealt with it swiftly and decisively, and we have fully cooperated with authorities.”

Casteel added: “Nissan is trying desperately to make hay over this as part of their scorched-earth anti-union campaign, but we don’t believe it’s getting traction among employees. We remain focused on helping the workers in Mississippi to realize their goal of meaningful employee representation — and pushing back against Nissan, which seems determined to deny workers’ rights and civil rights.”

Art Wheaton, a labor expert at Cornell University, said the allegations of financial mismanagement come at a “less than perfect time. ”

“It gives a relatively poor impression of the joint labor-management program they had at FCA,” he said, added that the UAW was already facing an uphill battle in trying to organize workers in a region that is typically hostile to unions. “They’re trying to organize in a right-to-work state, which is extremely difficult,” Wheaton said.

Mississippi law prohibits agreements between employees and labor unions that mandate all employees pay union dues. Michigan passed such a measure in late 2012 that went into effect in March 2013.

Workers in Canton say the revelations about the alleged improprieties between the UAW and FCA have reverberated in the plant as both sides make their final pitches in the contentious organizing election.

Washad Catchings, a Nissan employee who has worked at the company’s Canton plant since it opened in 2003, said he heard about the indictments from co-workers.

Catchings said the news has not changed his thoughts about the necessity for Nissan workers to join the union. “You have scandals in church, but you don’t stop going to praise the Lord or whatever you do,” he said.

Mickey Fugitt, a tool-and-die technician who said he was a member of the Teamsters union at a previous job, offered a different take on the allegations.

“I’m not surprised. The union I was involved with, the president was under investigation for the same thing,” he added, referring to the 2014 indictment of former Teamsters Local 783 President Jerry Thomas Vincent Jr. in Louisville, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to multiple charges of embezzling labor union funds.

Fugitt said the latest news has not changed his feelings about joining the UAW: “I don’t think we need it. I’m fighting hard to get the word out.”

The UAW has sought to distance itself from the accusations in the run-up to the Mississippi election.

“This is certainly one of the toughest moments our union has faced in years,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a letter to members that was released Tuesday.

“We are heartbroken and horrified to learn a man we knew, trusted and loved was involved in these alleged misdeeds,” Williams continued, noting, “UAW leadership knew nothing of General Holiefield’s illegal activities until the U.S. Attorney’s Office contacted us in January of last year.”

The UAW and its supporters have accused Nissan of seeking to block efforts to unionize by its workers in Mississippi, in violation of federal labor protections. They cite allegations from employees about receiving pressure from supervisors to vote “no” on unionization since the petition for the election was filed July 11.

Nissan, which builds Altimas, Frontiers, Muranos, Titans and NV commercial vans in Canton, has denied allegations of intimidating its workers there, and said the factory has a safety record “significantly better” than the national average. The company has argued there is not sufficient interest among its workforce in joining the UAW, pointing out that efforts to unionize at its Smyrna plant failed in 1989 and 2001.

The automaker says 6,400 are employed at the Canton plant. The UAW says Nissan workers there earn $26 per hour, while former temporary workers who are brought into the company through Nissan’s “Pathways” program earn $20 after five years. Temporary workers who have not been classified as full-time start at around $13 per hour, the union said.

Wages for UAW members at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler NV plants start at $17 per hour for new “second-tier” hires, but can go as high as $29 after eight years on the job.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2017/08/02/uaw-scandal-roils-nissan-union-election/104242442/

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House advances bill to clear road for self-driving cars

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
Published 1:08 p.m. ET July 27, 2017 | Updated 1:08 p.m. ET July 27, 2017

Washington — Automakers each would be allowed to test up to 100,000 self-driving cars per year on U.S. roads, and states would be prevented from passing laws to prevent them from doing so under a bill advanced Thursday by a panel in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measure, unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would allow the Secretary of Transportation to grant exemptions to federal motor vehicle rules that require cars to have human operators for 25,000 cars per automaker initially if automakers can prove they meet existing safety standards for traditional cars. After a 12-month period, the number of exemptions per manufacturer would increase to 50,000, and it would go up to 100,000 in the third and fourth years.

The current limit for such exemptions to federal auto standards is 2,500 cars for two years at a time. Under the bill approved Thursday, exemptions to federal auto standards would be limited to three years at a time.

The measure was approved after a week of backroom negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the panel over issues involving the number of test vehicles that would be exempt from federal safety standards requiring a human to be in control of the car and the length of time those exemptions would be good for.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the compromise legislation represented a rare bipartisan consensus in a typically bitterly-divided Washington.

“Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight – as safety must be the chief priority,” the panel’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.

 

“It’s bipartisan. This preserves the ability of states to act like they already are,” added U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, noting that most states do not have the capacity or desire to regulate auto safety instead of focusing on licensing and registration.

The version of the bill that was approved Thursday requires the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule requiring automakers to submit a safety assessment certification for their self-driving cars within two years of passage of the measure.

In the interim, the legislation directs carmakers to submit letters to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that mirror a set of 15 guidelines that were recommended by the Obama administration in 2016 that called for automakers and technology companies to voluntarily report on testing and safety to federal regulators before autonomous cars are sold to the public. Under Obama’s proposal, automakers would have been required to report how they were tested, how the systems work and what happens if those systems fail before self-driving cars are allowed to roll on U.S. roads.

Democrats on the panel had sought to greatly reduce the number of exemptions that would allow automakers to put thousands of self-driving cars on the road in the immediate future, but they said they could live with the compromise that calls for gradually increasing the number over several years.

“I would have preferred no pre-exemptions period, but we were able to narrow it,” U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said.

Automakers praised lawmakers for moving the bill to increase the number of self-driving cars that they can test on U.S. roads. The Washington, D.C.-based Association of Global Automakers, which represents foreign-owned manufacturers, said the unanimous vote “is a critical step towards saving lives on America’s roadways.”

Safety groups have complained the exemptions give automakers too much freedom to test self-driving cars on roads with other drivers.

“Pre-empting the states’ ability to fill the gap left by federal inaction on safety standards leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all,” John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director, said in a statement.

The new proposed legislation prohibits states and other local jurisdictions from adopting regulations related to cars’ design, construction, software or communication. States still would be allowed to regulate registration, licensing, liability, education and training, insurance or traffic laws.

Michigan had already taken steps to position itself as a haven for self-driving car testing: The state Legislature passed into law last year a measure that allows robotic cars to be operated on any Michigan road without a driver behind the wheel.

Supporters of the measure moving now in Congress anticipate a full vote of the House will come in the fall.

Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have said they also are working on a bipartisan bill to regulate self-driving cars. They have released a set of principles that call for prioritizing safety, promoting innovation and strengthening cybersecurity, but have not agreed on specific language.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/mobility/2017/07/27/house-bill-self-driving-cars/104045768/

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Congress urged to pump the brakes on self-driving bills

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
Published 3:08 p.m. ET June 27, 2017

Washington — Automakers would have too much leeway to test self-driving cars under a package of bills being considered in the U.S. House, safety advocates complained to lawmakers Tuesday.

The measures, which were the subject of House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, would prevent states from passing their own laws on the testing or design of self-driving cars.

Safety advocates complained the measures would allow the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to designate up to 100,000 cars annually that would be exempt from the existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which did not contemplate the development of self-driving cars. The current limit is 2,500 cars per year.

“There would be less safety and more pre-emption, and it’s all in the name of technological advances, which is wholly unnecessary to (fulfill) testing,” Alan Morrison, Lerner Family associate dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at the George Washington University Law School, said of the proposed bills.

“These exemptions are not necessary for testing, they are necessary for deployment,” he continued. “Let me tell how broad this exemption is: It would go from 2,500 vehicles a year to 10,000 vehicles in a 12-month period for every single manufacturer of these vehicles, and I believe there are 30-something companies. If my math is right, you multiply 30 times 100,000 per year and you get a idea of how much this exemption is going to allow these vehicles to be on the road with no NHTSA supervision whatsoever.”

Supporters of the proposed self-driving legislation argued it’s necessary to lift the cap on the number of autonomous vehicles that can be declared exempt from federal standards in order to ensure that there is adequate testing for self-driving cars before they are released for mass consumption.

“There are lot of different people that are working on it. We need to make sure that those are developing the technology have the opportunity to test it on-road,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, told reporters after the hearing. “The (automakers) are doing a lot of work, but so are a lot of other companies and we want to make sure that everybody who wants to be part of this innovation and technology is able to test it and contribute.”

The panel’s proposed self-driving measures, which would represent a big win for carmakers, are a stark departure from the Obama administration’s recommendation that called for automakers and technology companies to voluntarily report information about their self-driving testing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before the cars are used by the public.

Under the Obama administration’s proposed rules, which were nonbinding, automakers and technology companies would have had to meet a set of 15 guidelines before they could place self-driving cars on public roads. Automakers complained that reporting on their self-driving test could delve in proprietary information that would normally be shielded from their competitors view. The new proposal from Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee would require information related to highly automated vehicles to be treated as “confidential business information.”

Mitch Bainwol, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said increasing the number of vehicles eligible for temporary exemption is necessary to stimulate “the generation of data that’s necessary” for new motor vehicle standards.

“We think it’s a really good start,” he said of the proposed self-driving legislation. “It provides the market incentive to drive the investment in this research that ultimately will save so many lives and it enhances U.S. competitiveness in this space.”

Bainwol said it will be years before self-driving cars are commonplace on U.S. roadways, but he said it is important for lawmakers to take action now to make sure they are developed domestically.

“This is a journey we’re going to be on for awhile. Moody’s projects that AVs will not be ubiquitous until 2055,” he said. “The question is ultimately will the technology be developed here in the US or will it be imported.”

Bainwol’s group represents Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA in Washington.

Lawmakers on the panel seemed to embrace the idea that self-driving cars are a fait accompli for U.S. drivers. “I believe future generations will look back and say what a bunch of barbarians. You drove yourself? And how did you text?” U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.

Democrats on the committee lamented that NHTSA will be charged with enacting regulations for self-driving cars and states will barred from acting on their own under the proposed legislation, noting that President Donald Trump has not yet appointed a NHTSA administrator or a deputy chief for the agency.

“The agency doesn’t even have an employee who could testify today on major legislation that affects it,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said.

The chairman of the panel that met Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio, said he hopes to have the self-driving legislation ready for the full House Energy and Commerce Committee to consider by July so it can move toward a potential vote of the full chamber.

“We’ve got to keep moving, because again this technology is moving with it,” he told reporters after the hearing. “The industry is doing so much now, so we would like to see this moving forward in the next month and getting this out so we can have this bill.

“I think we all know what we have to get done here, because these vehicles are going to be out there,” he concluded.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2017/06/27/congress-self-driving-legislation/103234562/

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Bill would block state laws on self-driving cars

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
3:39 p.m. ET June 16, 2017

Washington – States would prevented from passing their own laws on the testing or design of self-driving cars under a proposed bill being drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measure, which would represent a big win for carmakers, is a stark departure from the Obama administration’s recommendation that called for automakers and technology companies to voluntarily report information about their self-driving testing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before the cars are used by the public.

Under the Obama administration’s proposed rules, which were nonbinding, automakers and technology companies would have had to meet a set of 15 guidelines before they could place self-driving cars on public roads. Automakers complained that reporting on their self-driving test could delve in proprietary information that would normally be shielded from their competitors view.

The new proposal from Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee would require information related to highly automated vehicles to be treated as “confidential business information,” according to a draft of the legislation obtained by The Detroit News.

The proposed legislation prohibits states and other local jurisdictions from adopting regulations related to cars’ design, construction, software or communication. States still would be allowed to regulate registration, licensing, liability, education and training, insurance or traffic laws.

The bill would also allow the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to designate up to 100,000 cars that would be exempt from the existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which did not contemplate the development of self-driving cars; the current limit is 2,500 cars. The measure would also increase the number of years that a manufacturer can maintain an exemption from federal motor vehicle standards from two years to five years.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said lawmakers in both parties are working closely together to make sure the self-driving bill is bipartisan.

“We haven’t been going for the headlines, but we’ve trying to bring everybody together to make sure that we remain at the forefront of innovation,” Dingell, who is a member of the panel, said in an interview with The Detroit News. “We can’t let India and China get ahead of us on this.”

Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate also are working on a bipartisan bill to regulate self-driving cars. U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., all members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, released on Tuesday a set of “bipartisan principles” that call for prioritizing safety, promoting innovation, reinforcing separate federal and state roles, strengthening cybersecurity and educating the public on self-driving cars. The lawmakers said they have not agreed to specific legislation language.

Self-driving car advocates have been pushing federal regulators to adopt a national set of rules for autonomous driving testing because states like Michigan and California are beginning to craft their own regulations.

A bill that would allow self-driving cars to be operated on any of the Michigan’s 122,000 miles of roads and eliminate the need for a driver to be behind the wheel was passed into law last year.

California initially took the opposite tack by requiring a licensed driver — and a steering wheel — to be in the car at all times. But the state later relented with a proposal to allow car companies to request permits for robotic car testing. Automakers grumbled the steering wheel requirement would limit testing in California.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an advocacy group representing 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers, praised lawmakers for increasing the number of cars that can be exempted from federal requirements. “We support increasing the number of vehicles that can be tested, and we look forward to working with the committee to move legislation forward,” she said in a email.

John Simpson, privacy project director at the Santa Monica, California-based Consumer Watchdog group, complained that the House’s proposed self-driving legislation is “all about pre-emption of state regulations (and) expanding exemptions.

“There is no serious thought given to any kind of creation of meaningful, enforceable federal motor vehicle safety standards,” he said. “That is what we need right now.”

Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said the proposed legislative language is big a win for carmakers who have been seeking wide latitude to test self-driving cars and have pushed regulators to adopt national standards.

“In a victory for autonomous vehicle developers, a new Republican plan seeks to clarify where state and federal jurisdiction begins and ends regarding self-driving cars…,” Lindland said.

“The federal government will regulate specific aspects of development and systems, while state or political subdivisions can regulate registration, licensing, and other local concerns,” she continued. “This prevents a patchwork of standards while still providing geographical customization.”

Lindland added the proposal to expand the number of vehicles that are exempt from current safety standards and increase the length of the exemption term “further facilitates real world testing of the technology,” which she said is “key to socializing self-driving vehicles.”

Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, agreed.

“There are three major components of making self-driving cars a reality: technology, hardware and regulations,” Brauer said. “The technology and hardware are rapidly evolving at various companies, but neither will matter if the regulatory element takes forever to get resolved.”

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/mobility/2017/06/16/self-driving-bill-proposal/102926406/

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U.S. pressed to regulate self-driving cars

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
4:12 p.m. ET June 14, 2017

Washington — The federal government will have to find ways to regulate self-driving cars that don’t stifle innovation among auto manufacturers and technology companies, lawmakers and industry groups agreed during a hearing that took place hours after a shooting rocked Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Proceeding with business as usual after a brief acknowledgment of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., during practice for an annual Congressional baseball game, members of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee described the delicate tightrope walk that regulators face with self-driving autos.

“Current federal motor vehicle safety standards do not address automated technologies, and in some cases directly conflict with them,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is chairman of the panel. “We are looking for ways to address these conflicts in dated rules without weakening the important vehicle safety protections they provide.”

Thune quickly added: “We also must be careful to avoid picking winners and losers in this space… It is important for Congress not to favor one path before the market figures out what really works best.”

Thune, along with Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., all members of the Senate Commerce Committee, released on Tuesday “bipartisan principles” to guide legislation on self-driving cars.

Thune, who said he rode in an Audi A7 that had self-driving features last week, said the advent of autonomous cars will require drastic changes for both automakers and regulators.

“Government needs to challenge itself to overcome the traditional 20th-century conception – and regulation – of a car and a human driver,” he said. “AVs (autonomous vehicles) will – over time – bring changes to jobs, insurance, law enforcement, infrastructure and many other things we cannot yet foresee. Similar to when the car was first invented, these challenges are not insurmountable.”

Democrats on the panel agreed, talking up the potential safety and economic benefits of self-driving cars.

“This technology is without question one of the most transformative technologies to come out of the auto industry probably since the first car came off of the assembly line,” Peters said. “Certainly we know what happened when that first automobile came off of the assembly line, it literally transformed America. It created the American middle class.”

Peters touted Michigan’s role in the development of self-driving cars, arguing that the state is “leading the way” in innovation in the arena of autonomous vehicles.

Auto industry groups pushed lawmakers to act fast in creating regulations for self-driving cars, arguing that they are closer to appearing on U.S. roads than many people think.

“The key question this committee must ask is how to use public policy to optimize the safe deployment of these vehicles and their promise of social good, while continuing to let innovation spur economic growth,” said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for automakers in Washington.

Bainwol said driver-assist systems that have become popular in recent years like adaptive cruise control and active lane keep have “accelerated significantly” the move toward autonomy in the automotive sector.

“The more consumers experience driver-assist systems, the more they are favorable toward full automation,” Bainwol said.

Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said self-driving cars hold the promise to reduce the number of car crashes that involve inebriated drivers, noting that her 18-year-old son was killed in a 2004 crash that involved a driver who was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

“Technology will ultimately be the way we eliminate drunk driving,” she said. “Autonomous vehicles are vital in helping us achieve our goal.”

Other safety groups complained that they did not have a seat at the table in Wednesday’s hearing, however, noting that MADD’s agenda is narrowly focused on eliminating drunk driving.

“A spokesman for MADD has the laudable, but narrow, agenda of combating drunk driving,” Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog wrote in a letter to leaders of the Senate panel. “This is an industry-dominated panel with no representatives of auto safety or consumer protection organizations.”

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/mobility/2017/06/14/self-driving-regulation/102858810/

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Senators crafting ‘bipartisan principles’ for robo-cars

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
5:38 p.m. ET June 13, 2017

Washington — The day before a Senate panel is to discuss federal regulations for self-driving cars, three senators released “principles” to guide that legislation.

U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D.; Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township; and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., all members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on Tuesday released “bipartisan principles” to guide legislation on self-driving cars. The panel will hold a hearing Wednesday about the “hurdles for testing and deployment” of robotic cars.

The lawmakers said the guidelines would ensure the safety of the cars and reduce regulatory conflicts about autonomous vehicles that most major carmakers are testing.

The senators said the principles call for prioritizing safety, promoting innovation, reinforcing separate federal and state roles, strengthening cybersecurity and educating the public.

“Working on a bipartisan basis, we continue to make progress in writing what we expect will become the first-ever changes in federal law helping usher in this new transportation era,” panel chairman Thune said in a statement.

Peters said the principles are an important step in ensuring the U.S. “remains the world leader in transportation innovation.”

Prior to Tuesday, the federal government’s effort to craft new guidelines for self-driving cars appeared to be stuck in neutral at a time when automakers are actively testing them in Michigan and other states.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had begun working on a set of nonbinding guidelines at the end of the Obama administration, but the agency has been silent about self-driving cars and most other regulations involving automakers since President Donald Trump took office in January.

Carmakers have said they cannot put self-driving cars into production until federal regulators sort out issues involving accident liability and split-second decision-making in life-or-death situations.

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford told a Washington, D.C., audience recently that “no one manufacturer is going to be able to program in one ethical equation that is different than the others,” so the federal government will likely have to step in.

As an example, he posed the question on whether a car should decide in an emergency situation to save the life of the driver or save 10 pedestrians: “Those all have to be thought through and no one manufacturer is going to be able to program in one ethical equation that is different than the others. I mean, that would be chaos. And imagine the fun the trial lawyers would have with that, too.”

Ford has said it plans to build fully autonomous cars — without a steering wheel or brake or accelerator pedals — for use in ride-hailing or ride-sharing services by 2021. Other automakers have also called for federal guidance as they ramp up self-driving car testing too.

General Motors Co. will work with regulators to update the guidelines proposed by the Obama administration, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra told reporters Tuesday at an event at its Orion Assembly Plant where the company said 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs had been completed for testing.

“I think as we continue, as this technology is moving at such a rapid pace, as we continue to develop, we’re going to work in partnership with our regulators to make sure we have the right standards because it’s so important for this technology to be rolled out safely,” she said.

Brad Stertz, Audi’s director of government affairs, said his company hopes to get certainty about what’s going to be required for autonomous vehicles as it ramps up testing of a prototype Audi A7 that’s capable of driving autonomously at highway speeds up to 70 mph.

Audi says its self-driving prototype is capable of initiating lane changes and passing, braking automatically and adapting its speed based on posted limits and surrounding vehicles. Stertz said the company is leery about allowing the car to go faster than posted speed limits without federal guidance on how fast is acceptable to keep up with traffic.

“Our position is the car will be programmed to follow the law,” he said. “It may be the slowest car on the interstate, but if you want to go faster, you will just have to drive yourself.”

The Obama administration’s proposed rules focused on 15 guidelines that called for automakers and technology companies to voluntarily report on testing and safety to federal regulators before autonomous cars are sold to the public. Before self-driving cars are allowed to roll on U.S. roads, automakers would have been required to report how they were tested, how the systems work and what happens if those systems fail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the proposed rules. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said recently the Trump administration was planning to update the rules soon.

Safety advocates have said the Trump administration is moving too slowly.

“The Trump administration’s delay on autonomous vehicle policy is outrageous and could ultimately put drivers at risk,” said John Simpson, privacy project director at the Santa Monica, California-based Consumer Watchdog group. “Developers of automated vehicles are rushing to test them and are now turning to states like Arizona were there are new rules in place.”

He noted that no automakers have filed out the proposed 15-point assessment in the original proposal. Although he considers those rules inadequate, “it at least would have indicated that developers had considered critical issues raised by robot cars and would have explained how they intended to deal with those issues.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for U.S. automakers in Washington, said its members expected the Trump administration to tinker with those proposed rules.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of public affairs at the alliance, said, “We expect this living document will be modified and improved with appropriate industry collaboration as technology advances.” She said the alliance supports federal leadership to avoid a network of differing state and local laws.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/mobility/2017/06/13/senators-framework-self-driving/102825986/

Staff writer Melissa Burden contributed to this report.

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Public assets could be sold under Trump road plan

Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
12:02 a.m. ET June 8, 2017

Washington — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that his administration’s efforts to create a more business-friendly regulatory environment in the U.S. will encourage private companies to invest in construction of public assets such as airports, bridges and highways.

Trump is calling for federal spending of $200 billion over 10 years that administration officials say can be used to “incentivize” up to $800 billion in private, state and local spending on infrastructure. At the plan’s core is the assumption that private companies would enter into “public-private” partnerships with local and state governments.

The president said during a speech on Wednesday in Cincinnati that businesses “are ready to invest in creating jobs, but we’ve been waiting for a responsible partner in the federal government,” although he did not identify specific projects that will receive private money.

“We will work directly with state and local governments to give them the freedom and flexibility they need to revitalize our nation’s infrastructure,” Trump said. “Working with states, local governments and private industry, we will ensure that these new federal funds are matched by significant additional dollars for maximum efficiency and accountability.”

Critics say Trump’s privatization of public assets could lead to increased use of tolls and other mechanisms that will allow private companies to generate profits in exchange for financing projects. They cite examples of companies that have entered into agreements with state and local governments and later gone bankrupt or charged higher than expected tolls for the use of roads and bridges.

And it could lead to increased use of tolls and other mechanisms that will allow private companies to generate profits in exchange for financing projects.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, is skeptical of such privatization plans.

“There is a difference between government and private industry,” she said in an interview with The Detroit News. “One exists to make a profit and one exists to ensure the quality of life for its citizens. We had a glaring example of looking at just profit when we looked at Flint.”

Trump advisers have said private companies may be able to operate infrastructure more efficiency than federal, state and local governments can. They said that to entice state and local governments to sell some of their assets, the administration is considering paying them a bonus. Proceeds of the sales would then go to other infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure was expected to be one area where Trump could work with Democrats in Congress to achieve a bipartisan legislative victory, but the idea of privatizing public assets is anathema to many members of the minority party.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in our infrastructure. Are we just going to give it away?” Lawrence asked, adding that private investment could come at a steep price. “If a private company comes in and says ‘We’re going to invest in your port,’ they’re going to want a return on their investment. That’s the business way.”

The traditional source for U.S. transportation funding has been revenue collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal government usually spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion. The gas tax has not been raised since 1993, and there is little appetite in Washington for taking a vote to do so now. Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the infrastructure funding gap, most recently transferring $70 billion to help cover five years worth of transportation spending that will run out in 2020.

Critics say the Trump administration’s plan relies too heavily on the idea that private companies will be willing to finance the nation’s construction projects.

“The idea that the private sector is going to provide a charitable donation to states to build roads is not how it works,” said Beth Osborne, senior policy adviser at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Smart Growth America, which advocates for “responsible transportation and community development practices” in U.S. cities. “Policymakers are trying to find easy solutions for problems were there are none.”

Partnership debate

In southeast Michigan, Detroit’s half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was sold in 2013 to Syncora Guarantee, a Bermuda-based insurance company, during the city’s bankruptcy. Windsor still owns its half of the tunnel, which forced Detroit officials to include their Canadian counterparts in negotiations over the sale. More recently, the new QLine streetcar was built in part with federal money, but it is owned and operated by a nonprofit organization known as M-1 Rail that is separate from the city. Then there is the contentious private ownership of Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River that has prompted plans for a publicly owned span between Detroit and Windsor.

The success in other states of most so-called “public-private partnerships,” or P3s, is up for debate.

In 2006, Indiana signed a 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian consortium for $3.8 billion. Eight years later, the private company filed for bankruptcy. Supporters have said it was better for taxpayers that a private company absorbed the losses that led to the bankruptcy, while others questioned whether lower-than-estimated usage of the toll road showed the investment that sparked the deal was unsound to begin with.

“In Indiana, they called it successful that the P3 went bankrupt because it didn’t fall on the state,” Osborne said. “But maybe it was not a wise investment to begin with.”

Robert Puentes, president and CEO of the independent Washington-based Eno Center for Transportation think tank, said Indiana ended up being very well protected. “They got the improvements to the road,” he said. “They got that up front and they got the road back when the company went bankrupt and they can bid that thing back out.”

The toll road was then purchased by an Australian company. Tolls went up this year after a state subsidy that was paid by the Indiana government to prevent toll hikes ended.

Virginia has been touted as model of the potential for public-private partnership since its successful launch of high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 495 in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in northern Virginia, which cost $925 million and $2 billion to build respectively. Drivers there have complained about high “on-demand” rush-hour toll rates are set by another private op private operator based on traffic conditions. Tolls at peak times have occasionally reached as high as $20.

Private partnership ‘supplemental’

Ed Mortimer, executive director of Transportation Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said public-private partnerships are likely to always to part of the transportation funding solution, but he said only a small number of projects in densely populated areas can work as public-private partnerships. “There are only about 10 percent of transportation projects that would be even be amenable to P3s,” he said.

Mortimer said the Trump administration has looked into the possibility of selling the value of current assets to private firms to allow them to capture any return on investment through a process called “asset recycling.”

“It’s not something that we have done in the U.S., but it’s something the administration and members of Congress are looking very closely at,” he said.

He said the U.S. business community sees public-private partnerships as “supplemental, not a replacement for increased federal investment.”

“We think the best thing we can do is sure up the Highway Trust Fund to gives states and local governments some predictability,” Mortimer said.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/08/public-assets-sold-trump-road-plan/102605464/

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