Happy Friday! I'm glad to be home after three weeks of traveling.
Today's newsletter is 1,561 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Two arms of the Trump administration are facing off over radio airwaves long set aside so that cars can eventually communicate with one another as well as with roadside devices, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and I write.
What's happening: The Transportation Department is pouring money into potentially life-saving connected-car technology that would ride on these mostly unused airwaves. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission is moving to reallocate most of the same spectrum to expand WiFi capacity.
Why it matters: DOT argues that if the FCC prevails — and it's currently in the driver's seat — lives will be lost and America will fall behind in the development of self-driving cars.
The standoff is growing increasingly hostile.
What to watch: The FCC is an independent agency, and its bipartisan members voted 5-0 to proceed with the reallocation — a reality not lost on DOT officials.
Where it stands: Companies, and even the DOT, continue to invest in new and legacy technologies on the narrower spectrum.
The bottom line: Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will have to hope for a public uproar against the FCC's plan — or else expend some of her substantial political capital — to keep road safety tech from losing out to the push for faster internet speeds.
Cruise Origin, a shared, self-driving electric vehicle. Photo: Courtesy of Cruise
General Motors-backed Cruise is firing up the rhetoric around self-driving cars with the debut of Origin, an automated electric shuttle it claims represents the future of transportation.
Why it matters: Autonomous vehicles reached peak hype in 2017, but since then most of the leading developers — including Cruise — have been trying to keep expectations in check.
Details: Hundreds of Cruise employees cheered as Ammann pulled back the curtain on the toaster-shaped Origin, a roomy, six-passenger electric vehicle with no steering wheel, pedals or other tools human drivers need.
Yes but: Cruise execs skipped over many details about the tech and their ride-sharing business model, making it difficult to separate hype from reality. Some examples:
What else they're saying:
Reality check: With no steering wheel or pedals, the Origin doesn't meet current vehicle safety rules. Nor does Cruise have state or federal regulatory approval to drive it on public roads.
What to watch: Cruise and GM say they're working with California and federal officials to find a regulatory path to commercialization.
NHTSA recalled 56 million defective airbags. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Four years after the federal government recalled tens of millions of Takata airbags for dangerous defects, about 28% of those vehicles remain unrepaired.
Why it matters: The Takata airbag recall is the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history, with roughly 56 million defective airbags recalled in approximately 41.6 million vehicles.
By the numbers: In an update posted this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said more than 7 million airbags were fixed over the past year, bringing the total repaired so far to 36 million.
Yes, but: Approximately 15.9 million defective airbags remain unrepaired.
To find out if your car's airbag is affected, go to www.AirbagRecall.com or download the free Airbag Recall app.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Amazon, AT&T and IKEA are a few members of a new corporate alliance launched this week that's aimed at deploying more electric vehicles in corporate fleets, Axios' Ben Geman writes.
Why it matters: The players in the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance are big. And corporate fleets are seen as ripe for more EV adoption, given the advantages of centralized charging, bulk purchases and more.
Motorcade: Uber is bringing its testing of self-driving vehicles to D.C. streets (Michael Laris — The Washington Post)
Obsession: The Tesla skeptics who bet against Elon Musk (Dana Hull — Bloomberg Businessweek)
Breakthrough: Tesla clears road for Rivian, others to sell EVs without dealers (Gabriella Coppola — Bloomberg)
2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Ecodiesel. Photo: Courtesy of Jeep
When the ice and snow hit Michigan last weekend, I was fortunate to be testing a 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Ecodiesel.
Why it matters: If you're going to be tackling rough roads, any Jeep is handy, especially the capable 4x4 Wrangler. But with 442 pound-feet of torque from the new diesel power plant, you can drive over just about anything.
The big picture: This is the first diesel-powered Wrangler, joining the standard 3.6-liter V-6 and 2.0-liter hybrid turbo-4. It's as much about fuel economy as it is about extra torque and driving performance.
My thought bubble: The raw and rough-riding Wrangler is not the SUV you want for a daily driver (even though it seems half the youth in my neighborhood are tooling around in one). It'll rattle your teeth and toss you around.