Don’t be scared by fake auto-industry emails

People out there are getting scared by reports that the government is secretly causing the current vehicle shortage, to try to force everyone to drive cars they can control with secret kill switches and computer overrides. The story claims that the government will be able to track you by your car.

The story is spread partly by spam, partly by social media and forum posts, and partly by talk radio.  If you don’t have a good spam filter, you may see “reports” like this.

What is actually happening, as most associated with the auto industry know, is that there are real shortages of parts, particularly those using semiconductors, because during the first year of COVID numerous factories had to shut down, partly to avoid killing plant workers (this is what happens when they don’t). The timing was poor because a freeze in Texas and various other issues killed semiconductor production at facilities around the world.

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While the parts shortages are apparently going to ease up, demand for pretty much every product has skyrocketed, causing logjams at ports seeing two or more times as much traffic than they were designed for.

What Ford has done—what every automaker has done, to some degree—was to build thousands of pickups without certain key parts, with the intent of going back in and adding those parts later. The government is not forcing Ford to do this. The trucks can’t be sold as is. Chrysler did something similar when they built Jeep Cherokees while working on a firmware upgrade which was needed before they could be sold. Indeed, reports out of Windsor claim that minivans were built and stored because they didn’t have a large enough supply of programmable keys.

2021 Ford F-150 RaptorFord Raptor pickup 

The kill switch story is more inane; it’s a conflation of paranoia with a real law that insists new cars be made, five years from now, with driving-while-drunk detection. That won’t let the cars be started if the driver is seen as being drunk by the car’s computer. The wisdom of that law can be debated, but it’s certainly not a remote kill switch and the government will not have access to your own car’s systems. Likewise, if the government wants to track you, they can do what any mafia don or insane person can do: buy your location data from your friendly local phone company, or plant an AirPod on you and hope you have an Android phone which won’t pick it up (unless you have Apple’s free “anti AirPod tracking” app installed).

These stories are believed by otherwise intelligent people, and may seem reasonable, but they take a small grain of reality and wrap a huge ecosystem of paranoid nonsense around it. Chances are, in six months, you will be able to visit a local car dealership and see their usual overly sized inventory, and may even be able to buy a car for list price or below. In the meantime, those Ford pickups will have been given their missing parts and sold—if that hasn’t already happened by the time you read this.

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