Apr 10, 2020

Axios Navigate

Welcome back! And happy Friday! But who can tell what day it is anymore? I hope you and yours are healthy and safe.

  • If you have tips or ideas, or just want to say hi, email me at joann.muller@axios.com.
  • Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,418 words, a 5-minute read.
1 big thing: Back-to-work playbook for a pandemic

Magna employees adjust to the new normal at work. Photos: Magna

The auto industry is sharing detailed return-to-work guidelines on how to shield employees from the coronavirus as it prepares to reopen its own factories in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: We might not shake hands again, but sooner or later, most of us will return to our jobs, whether in a factory, office or public venue within close proximity of others.

  • Reestablishing an environment where employees feel comfortable and can remain healthy will be a daunting challenge for every employer.

What's happening: Drawing lessons from China, where production has already resumed, automakers and their suppliers are plotting a coordinated effort to reopen North American factories, perhaps as early as May.

  • To prepare, they are creating lengthy playbooks containing step-by-step guidelines and best practices for when it's safe to return — and publishing them online for other businesses to adapt.

Case study: A 51-page "Safe Work Playbook" from Lear Corp., a maker of seats and vehicle technology, is a good example of what many companies will need to do.

  • The free document outlines how to implement everything from advanced social-distancing practices to on-site health screening and employee training.
  • Companies should be getting organized now, while stay-at-home orders are in place, by setting up a "pandemic prevention team" and ordering supplies like soap, sanitizer, paper towels and thermometers, as well as personal protective gear like masks, face shields and gloves.
  • Before anyone returns to work, they recommend companies disinfect everything from computer screens and keyboards to bathrooms and vending machines.

Details: Everything employees touch is subject to contamination, so Lear says companies will need to frequently disinfect items like tables, chairs and microwaves in break rooms and other common areas.

  • Even punching in to a time clock can be risky. Lear suggests stationing an employee nearby to disinfect the time clock between workers if needed.
  • And those waiting to enter the building should space themselves out, Lear notes. "When you talk to someone in line make sure you do not point your head directly at them."
  • Workers should be at least three feet apart, and when that's not possible, they should wear masks or face shields, or be separated by barriers.
  • Shift arrival times should be staggered to reduce congestion and meetings should be limited to fewer than 10 people.
  • Workers should take staggered lunch breaks and only sit on one side of the table to avoid face-to-face contact, Lear suggests. Consider assigning half the workforce to eat lunch outside or in their vehicle.

In China, a government-sponsored mobile app tracks employees' health and location, but such tactics won't fly in North America, says Jim Tobin, Asia president of Magna International, one of the world's largest auto suppliers, which has a big presence in China and has been through this drill before.

The bottom line: Gathering around the water cooler is likely off-limits for the foreseeable future. Welcome to the new normal at work.

Go deeper: Read the full story

2. Nuro's big moment stalled by social distancing

Nuro's R2 driverless delivery vehicle. Photo: Nuro

This week, Nuro received a permit to test its driverless delivery vehicles in Silicon Valley where customers could really use the service right now.

  • But the humans who would need to set the vehicles in motion can't do so because of coronavirus restrictions.

The big picture: Autonomous delivery seems made for the pandemic we're facing now. Home delivery has exploded as people hunker down across the country, and contactless delivery only makes more sense at a time when people are supposed to be avoiding one another.

Driving the news: Nuro's driverless testing permit is only the second one issued by California's Department of Motor Vehicles, after Waymo.

  • It allows Nuro to test real goods deliveries for its partners like Walmart and Kroger, though it may not charge a delivery fee until it receives a statewide commercial permit for fully driverless operation.
  • For now, its operating domain is limited to San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and the number of driverless vehicles is capped at just two.

The catch: Nuro is close to finishing up development work on its new R2 low-speed driverless delivery van, which just got the green light from the federal government. But that work is on hold during California's shelter-in-place order.

  • And Nuro's original R1 driverless test shuttles are also out of commission because they require monitoring by engineers in a chase car.
  • "We have to consider the safety of all those workers," says David Estrada, Nuro's chief legal and policy officer.

The bottom line: Nuro will have to wait for the crisis to pass to try to demonstrate its value. In the meantime, it can still offer deliveries with a human-driven Toyota Prius.

3. Finding a ride for essential workers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wundermobility is teaming up with the World Economic Forum and others to launch a new global mobility initiative to help essential workers get where they need to go during the coronavirus crisis. The goal is to reduce dependency on public transit, where there's potentially higher risk of infection.

Why it matters: Transportation options have been sharply curtailed during the epidemic as public transit systems reduce service and ride-hailing drivers shift to delivering food. But essential employees like health care and grocery workers still need to get to work.

  • In San Francisco, for example, transit services have been drastically scaled back. BART, which saw a 90% drop in ridership since the coronavirus outbreak hit the city, is reducing hours.
  • The city's busy subway and light rail system, Muni Metro, has been shut down indefinitely, and all bus lines except the 17 busiest have been closed, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

What's happening: #WeAllMove pulls all the available options together in a free, one-stop digital tool that givers these workers and hospitals a better view of the mobility landscape so they can connect with local providers that are still up and running.

  • For now, it features 22 operators in more than 15 countries, offering discounts and free rides in some cases.

What to watch: The service was aggregated to deal with a short-term transportation crisis, but it highlights the value in having a digital bird's eye view of an integrated, multi-modal transportation system.

Go deeper: Public transit's death spiral

4. Electric vehicle sales to tumble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This was supposed to be the year that electric vehicles begin to take off, but instead, global EV sales are projected to drop by 43%, according to the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Why it matters: Wood Mackenzie cites a series of overlapping problems — including the coronavirus outbreak, lower oil prices and consumers' wait-and-see approach — for the expected decline, reports my colleague Ben Geman.

  • They see worldwide sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrids falling to 1.3 million vehicles this year, from 2.2 million last year.

What to watch: EVs remain a niche market, and the Wood Mackenzie report shows they now face even more speed bumps to adoption.

  • But the long-term trend remains upward amid a corporate shift toward sustainability, says Wood Mackenzie analyst Ram Chandrasekaran.
  • "Uncertainty caused by the oil price war and global catastrophes will only serve to strengthen that resolve, not deter it."
5. Driving the conversation

Spread out: Airlines are blocking off the middle seat as social distancing becomes a priority in the skies (Drew Jones — The Washington Post)

  • The big picture: The coronavirus has devastated the airline industry, which is still negotiating with the federal government about the terms of a $58 billion relief package. With air traffic down about 95%, there's probably not much demand for those middle seats anyway.

On hold: Electric truck startup Rivian pushes launch back to 2021 as COVID-19 delays Normal factory retooling (Robert Channick — Chicago Tribune)

  • Why it matters: The well-funded startup is still paying its 300 employees while it waits for the all-clear to continue retooling the former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois in preparation for its electric truck launches.

Pit stops: Food lifeline runs via truckers who can't find bathrooms, meals (Courtney Rozen — Bloomberg Government)

  • Why it matters: Truck drivers are winning praise for putting in extra hours (with the government's blessing) to help restock store shelves picked clean by panicked coronavirus shoppers. But their heroics are being hindered by two of the most basic human needs: food and bathrooms.
6. What I'm driving

Mazda CX-30. Photo: Mazda

I've developed a new pattern during this stay-at-home monotony: On Wednesdays, around mid-day, I go for a drive and try to find takeout food to support one of our Detroit-area restaurants.

This week my daughter and I took a red 2020 Mazda CX-30 for an hour-long spin and came home with delicious Middle Eastern food.

The big picture: The CX-30 is a new five-seat crossover that slots between the subcompact Mazda CX-3 and compact CX-5. Mazda says it's made for a wide range of fans, especially young people who are approaching significant life transitions.

My thought bubble: I'm a big fan of Mazdas, and I really love this little SUV.

  • It's not much bigger than a Mazda 3 hatchback, but its stance is more like an SUV, which is what people want.
  • It's sporty and fun to drive like the 3, and the premium cabin has the feel of a more expensive car.
  • Its 186-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine gets up to 33 mph in highway driving.
  • Pricing starts at $21,900 and ranges up to $29,600.

Safety technology: The CX-30 comes with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning, and automated emergency braking, among other features.

The bottom line: The CX-30 is another great Mazda.