As first reported by Reuters on April 22, Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) had recently released drafts of an amendment that would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to exempt 15,000 self-driving vehicles per manufacturer from safety standards that were written for human drivers. Within three years, that figure would rise to 80,000, and after four years, manufacturers could ask NHTSA to increase exemptions beyond 80,000 vehicles. At this time, NHTSA only allows exemptions of up to 2,500 vehicles per manufacturer.

In a statement, Sen. Peters said the amendment would “ensure that the innovation and testing around autonomous vehicles can continue happening safely under the watchful eye of the Department of Transportation.” The Senators had planned to attach the amendment to “The AI Scholarship-for-Service Act,” a bill providing $100 billion for science and technology research and development with the aim of maintaining U.S. competitiveness with China. Continue Reading Proposed Amendment to Advance Self-Driving Cars is Postponed Amidst Rising Safety Concerns

The recent Tesla fire in Houston reportedly took four-plus hours to extinguish completely because of continued flareups. This highlights some of the challenges faced by auto manufacturers (and fire departments) as electric vehicles start to take over the roads, including unique issues related to lithium-ion fires.  Dykema attorneys Deron Wade, Jeff Cox and Rebekah Hudgins recently presented a litigation update addressing: “How Going All Electric May Impact the Future of Fire Litigation” (PowerPoint Slides – starting on Slide 21). The first portion of the update addressed: “A Discussion of Jury Selection and Juror Attitudes in the Post-COVID World.” Continue Reading Hot Topics in Electric Vehicles: Battery Fires

In December 2020, NHTSA posted a significant Notice of Interpretation with important ramifications for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. The Notice Regarding the Applicability of NHTSA FMVSS Test Procedures to Certifying Manufacturers updates the Agency’s position taken in a 2016 letter to Google on the relationship between FMVSS and AVs with novel designs lacking traditional controls, e.g. a steering wheel, brake pedal, etc.

Traditionally, under NHTSAs self-certification process, manufacturers were not required to test a vehicle’s performance under the specific conditions of a particular FMVSS. Instead, generally speaking, they were permitted to self-certify using simulations or engineering analysis. But despite alternatives to certification through testing by the manufacturer, the FMVSS themselves still provided a means for actually testing vehicles against defined performance criteria. The issue in this recent notice, however, “regards the situation where NHTSA is not able to test a vehicle in accordance with the FMVSS test conditions and procedures due to its design.” As with the previous 2016 Google interpretation, this is particularly significant for vehicles designed without manual controls like a steering wheel or brake pedal. Continue Reading NHTSA Makes a U-Turn on AV Regulation in Latest Notice of Interpretation

As ADAS technologies proliferate in a largely unregulated environment, human factors scientists are studying consumer adoption to a wide array of manufacturers’ offerings. Recently, in collaboration with human factors scientists from Exponent, Dykema Member Michael Carey examined the current state of ADAS availability in new vehicles with discussion of various regulatory and litigation considerations. Click here to read the article “Safety and Regulatory Considerations of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS),” published in the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section Newsletter.

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On November 19, 2020, NHTSA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) asking interested parties and the public to provide the agency with information intended to help NHTSA devise a “Framework for Automated Driving Safety” that will allow the agency to implement safety standards for the operation and performance of automated driving systems. Comments are due 60 days after the ANPRM is published in the Federal Register. NHTSA last addressed AV in March, when it issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing occupant safety and crashworthiness for AVs that do not have typical seating configurations. This notice addresses operation of the automated systems in SAE Level 4 and 5 vehicles.  Continue Reading NHTSA Releases Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking For Automated Driving System Safety

Despite the Cataclysm of COVID-19 Shutdowns, Automotive Operations Had Successful Reopenings

The abrupt shutdown of U.S. automotive industry in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued stay-at-home orders through April led to fears that the pandemic would prevent resumption of industry operations for the foreseeable future. A survey of automotive industry executives conducted last month by Dykema, MICHAuto and The Right Place confirmed that 84% of the automotive company respondents were required to shut down their U.S. operations. About 50% of such respondents reported a required shut-down of operations in Mexico as well.

Given the widespread impact of the pandemic on the industry, plans for a re-start of regular operations were threatened by anticipated supply chain disruptions, incorporation of new worker safety procedures and favorable reception by employees, and intermittent shutdowns caused by positive COVID-19 cases. Although these obstacles may have stymied the endeavor, they did not prevent the automotive company respondents from successful reopenings. Despite certain well-publicized exceptions, survey results showed that the re-start of automotive operations went smoothly. Only 20% of automotive company respondents reported having to suspend operations after reopening for COVID-19 related issues, with only 5% having to suspend in Mexico or Europe.

“The smooth restart is a testament to the strength of Michigan’s automotive industry. OEMs and suppliers were not only able to pivot to manufacturing PPE equipment in the face of a global pandemic, but that the re-opening was organized, thoughtful, and implemented almost seamlessly,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and the vice president of Automotive and Mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “In order for automotive to stay open and continue operations, we need other industries to follow suit in employing critical and smart safety measures, both at work and at play. That is what will drive a path to recovery.”

Use the links below to see all insights from respondents on how COVID-19 affected the U.S. economy and the automotive industry.

Flash Survey Results and Summary

Flash Survey Infographic

Dykema, MICHauto and The Right Place will host a webinar on August 13 at 11:00 a.m. ET to review the survey results and discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the future of the automotive industry. Click here to register. Should you have any questions or if you would like more information, please contact your Dykema attorney or any member of Dykema’s Automotive Industry Group.

The automotive industry is a critical component of the U.S. economy connecting a wide range of industries, from part and raw material suppliers to providers needed for the day-to-day sale and operation of vehicles. In July 2020, Dykema, MICHauto and The Right Place canvassed automotive executives, professionals and service providers to gauge their perspectives on the U.S. economy and the automotive industry and, particularly, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click on the links below for insights regarding how respondents feel COVID-19 affected the U.S. economy and the automotive industry. Continue Reading Results Are In! Dykema, MICHauto and The Right Place COVID-19 Automotive Outlook Flash Survey

Partnering with MICHauto and The Right Place, Dykema developed a five-minute flash survey to evaluate the current state of the automotive industry. Please click here to participate in the survey. The results will be analyzed to provide insight regarding the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses in the automotive industry. Dykema will also share feedback received regarding how operations could change moving forward. Your response to this short survey is anonymous.

Click here to share your input.

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What Do You Do When Your Contract Does Not Contain A Force Majeure Clause?

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread rapidly throughout the United States—and the world—commercial relationships are being thrown into disarray, resulting in the disruption of supply chains, cancellations of events, and closures of restaurants and other businesses. Several states have declared a state of emergency (including banning large group gatherings and mandating that certain business shutter for the time being). Many companies are requiring that their employees work remotely. As a result of the substantial impact on “business as usual” operations, companies are facing decisions about what to do when COVID-19 circumstances make it difficult (if not impossible) to comply with certain contractual obligations. Will COVID-19 provide your company with a legal defense excusing performance?

If you are operating under a contract governed by United States law, the first place to look for the answer is within the four corners of the contract document itself. Specifically, check your contracts to determine whether there are force majeure or other impossibility of performance-type clauses. If not, are you out of luck? The answer differs depending on the subject matter of the contract. Continue Reading Is Your Contract Virus-Proof? [Part II]

Michigan Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-77 today, permitting manufacturing workers to resume work as part of the MI Safe Start Plan. Manufacturing workers, including workers in the automotive industry, are allowed to resume work on May 11, 2020, one week ahead of the planned restart date of certain Michigan automakers. See Executive Order No. 2020-77, Section 10(k).

However, this resumption of work is subject to stringent precautionary measures and safeguards identified in the Order, including detailed requirements outlined in Section 11(k). These requirements include, among several other requirements: Continue Reading Automotive Manufacturing Workers Allowed to Resume Work Next Week in Michigan