Rivian Workers Warn UAW of Unsafe Conditions

A photo of a Rivian logo on the side of a building.
A photo of a Rivian logo on the side of a building.

Workers at Rivian’s plant in Illinois have warned about unsafe conditions at the site, California is investing a further $1 billion in electric vehicle infrastructure and VW has closed a factory that makes manual gearboxes. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, November 21, 2022.

1st Gear: Workers at Rivian’s Illinois Plant Aren’t Happy With Safety

It’s tough being an electric vehicle startup. You’ve got to come up with the designs, fund the development, open a factory and then face allegations of poor working conditions. The same happened at Tesla back in the day, and things sounded frantic at Lucid while it was starting to build the Air sedan. Now, workers at Rivian’s Illinois plant have spoken about unsafe working conditions at the facility.

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According to Automotive News, “at least a dozen employees” at the Amazon-backed electric truck maker have spoken out about conditions at the plant. According to complaints filed with regulators in conjunction with the United Autoworkers Union, employees at the site expected “safety to be a little more prioritized.”

Automotive News reports:

“The complaints allege the company ignored known hazards and deprioritized safety resources, leaving some workers to share respirators needed during the manufacturing process. They also detail a range of injuries, including a crushed hand, a broken foot, a sliced ear and broken ribs. One Rivian employee said management fished damaged electrical cables out of the garbage and told employees to use them.

“Together, the filings depict an automaker that cut corners as it scaled rapidly to keep pace in the competitive EV space. Some employees described safety protocols that faded as production pressures grew on its trademark plug-in pickup.”

In response to the allegations, Rivian says its safety “performance is better than its industrial peers.” The company added that the “dozen complainants” received by the UAW represent “just 0.2 percent of the 6,700 employees” at the Illinois plant.

2nd Gear: California’s $1 Billion EV Investment

Whether they’re built at Rivian’s Illinois plant or elsewhere around the world, EVs are probably the future. So, it’s time we made some serious investments in the infrastructure needed to support them. And, there’s good news for prospective EV buyers in California as the state will invest an additional $1 billion to bolster its vehicle-charging network.

According to Bloomberg, the state will plow the additional funds into the “infrastructure needed to phase out gas-powered trucks and cars.”

“The five-year program will allocate 70% of the funding for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging, with the balance for light-duty equipment at or near multi-unit dwellings, according to a California Public Utilities Commission statement Thursday.

“California’s new charging program will be funded by the state’s investor-owned utilities, with rebates to be offered starting in 2025 for customer investments in businesses, factories and apartments, the commission said. Higher rebates will be provided for projects in low-income and tribal communities.”

The investment is all part of the state’s aim to ban the sale of gas-powered cars in 2035. The new round of funding is part of California’s $1.8 billion in ratepayer funding for the electrification of transport infrastructure over the past six years.

3rd Gear: VW Will Stop Making Most Manuals… In China

What was the last manual car you drove? Did you love it and feel more connected to the experience of driving, or did you hate all that extra faff? It sounds like drivers in China are more inclined to feel like the latter, as a plant that build manual gearboxes there has shuttered its doors.

According to Reuters, German automaker Volkswagen has closed a plant that builds manual gearboxes in conjunction with SAIC Motors. The site, which had the capacity to create 500,000 manual gearboxes a year, produced just 50,000 in recent years. Reuters reports:

“The news was communicated to staff this week in a letter published in local media, marking the latest step in the joint venture’s winding down of production of manual cars because Chinese customers favor automatic vehicles.

“About 250 staff are affected and will be offered various support measures, a spokesperson said, without providing details and adding that did not necessarily mean a new position.”

VW cited falling consumer demand for manual cars in China as the reason behind the plant’s closure. The move doesn’t mark the end of the manual in China, though, and the automaker will continue to build manual gearboxes through its joint venture with FAW in the northeastern city of Changchun.

4th Gear: GM Plows $45 Million Into EV Truck Plants

While VW is closing plants, General Motors is doing the opposite and expanding its sites here in America. According to Automotive News, GM will invest $45 million in its Indiana casting plant to aid production of its Silverado EV and Sierra EV pickup trucks.

The investment in the aluminum casting plant is all about the firm bracing for the expected demand of the two trucks, which will begin rolling off the production line in 2023. Automotive News reports:

“The latest expansion follows an investment there of more than $51 million in 2021, which was used to support production of drive unit castings for the Silverado EV and other applications. The Bedford plant also produces electric drive unit castings for the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup.”

The investment in GM’s Indiana plant brings the company’s spending at the site up to $456 million since 2011. The site, which opened in 1942 will begin assembling the Silverado EV in 2023 and the Sierra EV will be built in 2024.

5th Gear: Nuro Self-Driving Cuts 20 Percent of Jobs

After years of expansion, self-driving car startup Nuro is hitting tough times and has announced its cutting staff. The Silicon Valley-based startup is laying off “about” 20 percent of its workforce and admitted that “rapid hiring in the past year was a mistake.”

Reuters reports that the Google-backed startup has faced a “number of economic challenges” throughout 2022. The company cited the “impending U.S. recession and energy crises” as the reason it was forced to cut costs.

Nuro founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu told Reuters: “We doubled the size of our team in less than two years and significantly increased our operating expenses, assuming the funding environment would remain strong.

“We made this call and take full responsibility for today’s circumstances.”

Reuters reports that the layoffs will affect “about 300 employees.” Workers who lose their jobs during the layoffs will be offered three months severance pay and other benefits, according to an email shared with employees on Friday.

Reverse: Oh No, Not Again

Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic, sinks in Aegean Sea

Neutral: Danke Seb

It was four-time F1 Champion Sebastian Vettel’s last race yesterday. He managed to finish in the points after some questionable strategy calls from his Aston Martin team, but despite all the pomp and ceremony it was a bit anti-climactic. Much like his move to the Ferrari from Red Bull, and then the switch to Aston Martin.

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