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- Tesla Motors has halted production of its Model 3 electric car as CEO Elon Musk tries to sort out assembly line problems plaguing the company
- War in Yemen is world’s largest humanitarian disaster, says UN, but peace talks still likely weeks away
- The famously drug-tolerant Netherlands is cracking down on pot users, at least in The Hague
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Man vs. machine
Tesla Motors has halted production of its troubled Model 3 electric car as the company looks for a way to use fewer machines — and more humans — in their assembly.
The temporary shutdown of the assembly line at the company’s massive plant in Fremont, Calif., comes just a few days after founder and CEO Elon Musk suggested that his attempts to create the world’s most technologically advanced car plant had been ill thought out.
Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.—@elonmusk
The Model 3 — a mid-range sedan with a base price of $35,000 US — is supposed to be Tesla’s mass-market breakthrough. More than 500,000 people have put down $1,000 deposits on the car.
But the company has repeatedly missed its current production target of 2,500 vehicles a week, and shows little sign of being able to ramp up to its next goal of 5,000 a week by the beginning of July.
In an attempt to turn things around, Musk personally took control of the factory floor in early April and has been more or less living there, sleeping on a couch in an adjacent conference room.
But that has created more problems than it has solved.
In an interview and factory tour with CBS News last week, Musk admitted that the situation at the plant was “worse than I thought.”
“We put too much new tech in the Model 3 all at once,” he said, citing a “crazy, complex” network of conveyor belts in the factory.
But he expressed confidence that the issues will soon be resolved.
“At this point I feel like I have a clear understanding of the path out of hell.”
According to one report, workers have been told to take vacation during this four-to-five day shutdown, or treat it as unpaid leave.
And recently, there have been complaints that safety is being sacrificed in the drive for efficiencies. Last year, Tesla recorded 722 injuries at the plant, with workers cut by machinery, run over by forklifts, electrocuted, and burned in various incidents.
A report by the Center for Investigative Journalism found that the plant’s rate of serious injuries was 30 per cent worse than the industry average in past years, and raised questions about whether a recent improvement was in fact due to less diligent tracking.
The Center said that workers blame Musk for creating an unsafe culture, suggesting that safety features like beeping forklifts, yellow caution tape, and warning signs, had been removed because the CEO doesn’t like them.
If Musk tires of nosy media and worker complaints, he does have another option.
Today the Chinese government announced that it is lifting foreign ownership restrictions on automobile plants.
The change is widely perceived as being a direct result of lobbying by Musk, and there is an expectation that Tesla will open a new Chinese plant by the end of this year.
Tonight on The National:It’s been a rough ride for Tesla recently, with issues ranging from production problems to a shareholder lawsuit. The company is burning through cash and piling up debt, but Tesla’s true believers remain undaunted. CBC’s Aaron Saltzman looks at whether that faith is misguided.
Faint hope for Yemen
With Yemen in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United Nations says it is almost ready to begin talking about bringing an end to the four-year-long civil war.
In an appearance before the Security Council this morning, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s new special envoy for Yemen, said he plans to unveil a framework for peace negotiations within the next two months.
“Our concern is that any of these developments may, in a stroke, take peace off the table. I am convinced that there is a real danger of this,” the former British diplomat told the Security Council.
The war in Yemen has left 22 million people — almost 80 per cent of the population — in need of daily food aid.
Yemen is also enduring the largest cholera outbreak in modern history, with up to 1 million suspected cases. The UN says a child under five dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes.
Earlier this month, donor nations pledged $2 billion US in relief for Yemen, but it remains unclear how that aid will be delivered.
The last round of UN-sponsored peace talks collapsed in August 2016.
More than 10,000 civilians are believed to have been killed since 2015.
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Pot crackdown in the Netherlands
The famously drug-tolerant Netherlands is cracking down on pot users.
This week, The Hague became the first Dutch city to ban marijuana smoking in its downtown public spaces.
The new city bylaw covers 13 locations in the core, including the train station and major shopping areas, following complaints from local residents. The pilot ban, set to last two years, mirrors an existing prohibition on public drinking in the same areas.
Then there will be a two-week grace period in which police will warn violators and ask them to stub out. And finally fines — with the amount to be set by public prosecutors.
Both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have banned drug consumption near schools and playgrounds. But pot smoking is accepted pretty much everywhere else, under what the Dutch call gedoogbeleid (tolerance policy.)
The compromise, forged in the 1970s, allows cafes to sell the drugs and their patrons to consume them.
The Hague’s smoking ban is just the latest indication that Dutch tolerance may have hit its limit. In 2012, the government passed a law banning the sale of pot to tourists (although an exemption was made for visitors to Amsterdam.) And this past November, the former owner of a coffee shop in the city of Terneuzen was found guilty of running a criminal enterprise, following a 2009 police raid that seized 200 kilograms of pot — 400 times more than the 500 grams such shops are legally allowed to keep on hand.
Earlier this month, after much debate, the government introduced framework legislation that will eventually see six to 10 cities allowed to legally produce and sell recreational pot for a four-year period. (The details will be ironed out before the bill goes to vote this summer.)
The money at stake is significant. In the United States, where 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, pot is already a $10 billion US a year business. Dutch companies have a significant piece of that market, supplying hydroponic equipment for licensed producers, including some in Canada.
In late March, a well-known cannabis activist attempted suicide during a legalization debate, attaching a rope to a balcony in the parliament in the Hague and trying to hang himself by leaping into the chamber.
The 65-year-old survived and has resumed his place outside parliament, where he has been protesting since the beginning of the year.
Quote of the moment
“There seems to be a certain European civil war: national selfishness and negativity seems to take precedence over what brings us together. There is a fascination with the illiberal, and that is growing all the time.”
– French President Emmanuel Macron issues a dire warning about the future of Europe in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg today.
What The National is reading
- Britain says it will take months to clean up nerve agent used to poison Skripals (CBC)
- Sharp drop in number of North Korean defectors reaching safety in South (Telegraph)
- France’s Macron warns of a ‘European civil war’ (BBC)
- Ottawa ditches mediation talks in $27 million Abdelrazik suit (CBC)
- Puerto Rico’s blackout now second-longest in history (CNN)
- Sandy Hook parents file defamation suits against Infowars host (Daily Beast)
- German boy unearths King Bluetooth’s treasure (AFP)
- Turkmenistan bans bikini imports (Radio Free Europe)
Today in history
April 17, 1982: Pierre Trudeau brings home the Canadian Constitution
“We now have a Charter which defines the kind of country in which we wish to live and guarantees the basic rights and freedoms which each of us will enjoy as a citizen of Canada,” Pierre Trudeau proclaims to a flag-waving crowd on Parliament Hill — shortly after the Queen appears to heave a massive sigh. Quebec’s government wasn’t there, of course. And then Premier René Lévesque marked the repatriation by ordering flags to fly at half-mast in his province.
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