Thanks for reading. I hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy during these uncertain times.
📺 In this week's must see "Axios on HBO", we dive into how the coronavirus pandemic is upending politics, business and global affairs, including a rare interview, with China's ambassador to the U.S., the CEO of Carnival on its response to the Diamond Princess outbreak, Microsoft's CEO on the remote work surge and more.
Smart Brevity count: 1,225 words, a 5-minute read.
Intensive care room with ventilator (right). Photo: Ronald Bonß/picture alliance via Getty Images
Automakers and their parts suppliers are offering to produce desperately needed ventilators to keep coronavirus patients alive, but quickly retooling industrial factories to make precision medical equipment might not be feasible, despite the good intentions.
Why it matters: The U.S. faces a critical shortage of medical equipment to fight the disease, including ventilators that help patients breathe as well as protective gear, such as masks, gloves and gowns, for health care workers.
The big picture: The auto industry has virtually shut down in North America for deep factory cleanings, and if and when they'll resume production isn't clear.
Driving the news: In a call Wednesday to inform the Trump administration of the shutdown, GM CEO Mary Barra told White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow that GM wanted to help and was studying how it could potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators.
What's happening: The Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association is enlisting tool and die companies and parts suppliers to adapt their manufacturing plants on both sides of the border to produce medical supplies.
Yes, but: Pivoting to wartime footing for ventilators is not like churning out tanks, planes and ships for World War II, says Sandy Munro, CEO of Munro & Associates, an expert in lean manufacturing who has intimate knowledge of both the auto and medical device industries.
One of the biggest challenges is securing components, especially the disposable, single-use tubes and masks made of highly specialized medical-grade materials, experts say.
What to watch: The federal government could clear many of these hurdles, especially if it activates the Defense Production Act, which would mobilize private industry to assist in "national defense."
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
There's a nugget of good news amid all the dire forecasts for plunging U.S. auto sales in the age of the coronavirus: almost one-third of new cars are leased, and 1.8 million of those leases are due to expire between now and June.
Why it matters: Car owners will need to turn in their car, buy out the lease, or get a new one in the next few months. With air traffic and public transit at a near standstill and car-sharing sounding risky to many people, having a personal car is an advantage.
The big picture: The auto industry's 10-year boom is coming to an abrupt end. Economists are slashing their U.S. sales forecasts, modeling them after the steep declines in China and Europe as the virus spread across the globe.
It won't get that bad in the U.S. because leasing will provide a cushion, says Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics consulting at J.D. Power.
What to watch: Automakers and the National Auto Dealers Association are asking President Trump to designate vehicle repair, maintenance, and sales facilities as "essential operations" in the midst of government-imposed restrictions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week proposed sweeping changes to U.S. safety requirements to allow the deployment of self-driving vehicles without familiar features like steering wheels or pedals.
Why it matters: It's an important step toward the driverless era, and comes about six weeks after NHTSA granted an exemption from existing regulations to Silicon Valley-based Nuro, a manufacturer of self-driving delivery vans.
Details: The agency said it is proposing to rewrite 11 safety standards "by revising the requirements and test procedures to account for the removal of manually-operated driving controls," reports Reuters.
Yes, but: Jason Levine, who heads the Center for Auto Safety, told Reuters NHTSA should not "remove regulatory safeguards for technology even DOT acknowledges has not been proven and may in fact be unsafe."
Boxy: Driverless cars have arrived, and they all look like loaves of bread (Chester Dawson and David Welch — Bloomberg)
Plea: Ex-Uber engineer pleads guilty to trade secret theft from Google (Kia Kokalitcheva — Axios)
Pedals: A surge in biking to avoid crowded trains in NYC (Winnie Hu — The New York Times)
2020 Toyota Prius hybrid. Photo: Toyota
This week I'm driving the 2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e hybrid-electric sedan.
The big picture: The Prius has always been synonymous with hybrids, and more than 4.4 million have been sold worldwide since the model's introduction two decades ago.
Yes, but: Sales have been sliding for years as new hybrids hit the market, touting their sporty, premium characteristics over the Prius' traditional tree-hugger image.
What's new: For 2020, the Prius gets a larger touchscreen, Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay, plus Toyota's Safety Connect, which offers automatic emergency response.
Pricing: The Prius starts at $25,155, and my XLE AWD-e is $31,757, which includes power heated seats and heated steering wheel, among other features.
The good: It gets up to 56 mpg (in the most efficient ECO model) and is among the few hybrids that offer optional all-wheel drive. Plus, it's a Toyota, so you know it's reliable.
The bad: Its styling is unattractive and driving dynamics are anything but performance-oriented.
The bottom line: The Prius' best days are over, but Toyota has a full lineup of more inspiring hybrids.