Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s morning roundup of what matters in transportation, cars, tech, and more. Today we’re talking about Tesla, the United Auto Workers, ride-hailing and—can you believe it, folks?—global pandemic. I can’t wait for this very weird week to be over.
Elon’s Got Takes And They Are Hot, Hot, Hot
With pretty much any other CEO at the helm, yesterday’s first-quarter Tesla earnings call should’ve been a win. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the automaker announced more cars produced and delivered than any previous Q1, the rollout of the new Model Y and even a $16-million profit. (As several outlets have pointed out since, that was thanks in part to $354 million in regulatory credits sold to competitors, but hey, them’s the rules. If Tesla can do it, it should.) Worthy accomplishments all, especially compared to the mess bigger competitors like Ford and Nissan are in.
But that’s not what’s getting headlines this morning, because during that call, CEO Elon Musk decided to say some extremely cool and normal things about the stay-at-home orders related to the pandemic:
So the extension of the shelter in place or, frankly, I would call it, forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights, that in my opinion, and breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong is not why people came to America or built this country, what the fuck? Excuse me. But outrage — it’s an outrage. So — but it will cause great harm, not just to Tesla, but to many companies. And while Tesla will weather the storm, there are many small companies that will not. And all peoples — everything people have worked for their whole life is going to get — is being destroyed in real-time. And we’re going to have many suppliers — or have many suppliers that are having super hard times, especially the small ones, and it’s causing a lot of strife to a lot of people. Yes.
So this is the time to think about the future and also to ask, is it right to infringe upon people’s rights, as what is happening right now. I think the people are going to be very angry about this and are very angry, because somebody should really — if somebody wants to stay in their house, that’s great. They should be allowed to stay in the house, and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house, and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom.
Initially, this was in response to a question about the company’s liquidity at the end of this month. Later yesterday evening, Musk decided to keep tweeting through it:
Tesla shares were still up 9 percent in pre-market trading today, so obviously Wall Street doesn’t care much. But he has been persistently wrong on the coronavirus since the beginning, coming out swinging for the largely discredited hydroxychloroquine treatments for COVID-19 and tweeting the U.S. would have no new cases by the end of April. And his shipments of “ventilators” are something of a joke.
Tesla also hasn’t exactly had the strongest record on worker safety even before this, so while Musk clearly wants to get his factories—and what would have normally been a very successful financial year—back on track, he has to consider the greater cost of him being wrong here. Not to mention, the giant public microphone he has.
Everyone wants the economy back. And I certainly get that if you’re not in New York City or Detroit or Italy or Spain that it’s difficult to really know what this feels like. It’s just hard to square the desire to move fast against stories like this one until widespread testing, tracking and a vaccine are in place.
Lyft Plans Big Layoffs
But the stay-at-home orders—though they are tepidly being lifted in some parts of America—continue to hammer every sector of the economy. That includes the ride-hailing business. Both Uber and Lyft have seen huge declines, and for Lyft, that means a substantive portion of its workforce will be laid off. Here’s Ars Technica:
Lyft is laying off 982 people, the company said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday. That represents 17 percent of the company’s official workforce (the company considers its thousands of drivers to be independent contractors).
An additional 288 employees will be furloughed, Lyft said. Most of the remaining salaried employees will take 10 percent pay cuts, while executives will face pay cuts of 20 to 30 percent.
The cuts reflect the dire state of Lyft’s business during the coronavirus lockdown. Demand for on-demand passenger rides has plummeted. Lyft didn’t disclose booking figures in its filing, but The Information’s Amir Efrati reported last week that Uber’s global bookings for ride hailing were down 80 percent. Lyft has presumably suffered similarly large losses.
As that story notes, Uber, at least, has its Uber Eats food delivery service as a backup. But I think the end result of this situation will be a serious blow to the entire idea of the “sharing economy”; so-called gig workers have had it extremely bad in this downturn.
Union Corruption Probe Moves To GM
Over the past few years, federal prosecutors have sent several former Fiat Chrysler and United Auto Workers executives to prison over a graft scandal involving that automaker’s union member training center. FCA spent money intended for the training center on lavish gifts like pens and cars and Disney theme park tickets to keep union leaders “fat, dumb and happy.”
Now, as the Wall Street Journal reports, that probe widens to GM as well:
Federal investigators probing corruption at the United Auto Workers union have also been looking at General Motors Co.’s dealings with UAW officials, reflecting a newer front in the yearslong criminal investigation.
Agents have interviewed both current and former GM employees within the company’s labor relations department and raised questions about interactions between GM’s top bargainers and their counterparts at the UAW, say people with knowledge of the inquiry.
Investigators have also subpoenaed records from the company’s now-closing employee training center, an entity GM had jointly operated with the UAW for decades, according to a training center email sent to staff in February and people familiar with the matter.
The probe stretches from 2005 to 2019, the newspaper reports, so the feds are definitely not messing around here.
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What’s your take on Musk’s takes?