WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is holding talks with General Motors on the automaker's petition to deploy a limited number of self-driving vehicles on American roads without steering wheels or other human controls, the head of the agency said on Friday.

Acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens said his agency aims to make a decision soon on GM's January 2018 petition as well as a request by Softbank Corp-backed driverless delivery startup Nuro to deploy a limited number of low-speed, highly automated delivery vehicles without human occupants.

The agency's review comes at a time of heightened concerns about the safety of automated piloting systems in vehicles and aircraft, a potential revolution in ground and air transportation.

"I expect we're going to be able to move forward with these petitions soon — as soon as we can," Owens told Reuters, adding action "definitely" would come next year.

"This will be a big deal because this will be the first such action that will be taken," Owens said.

GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, confirmed it has been in talks with NHTSA about the petition. Nuro also confirmed it is in talks with NHTSA.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week met and discussed the petition at a high level, officials said, but significant work remains at the technical level. Owens said NHTSA officials are "crawling through these petitions because we want to make sure" they are at least as safe as cars on the roads.

"There's a lot of back and forth between us and the companies," Owens said during a Reuters interview that also included Chao and other Transportation Department officials. "We're sharing with them thoughts and ideas and concerns. They come back to us with additional information."

Chao said it is important that the NHTSA take its time in reviewing the GM petition. Chao suggested that some auto industry officials and analysts were too optimistic about the timing for deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.

"I think the complexity was far greater than what a lot of very optimistic advocates were thinking," Chao said.

In GM's petition, NHTSA is for the first time looking at a vehicle in which all driving decisions are made by a computer rather than a human driver. Nuro, which partnered with Kroger last year to deliver groceries, seeks approval not to include a windshield in the vehicle.

The petitions — formal applications for action by the agency — seek exemptions from U.S. vehicle safety rules largely written decades ago that assumed human drivers would be in control of a vehicle. The petitions are for up to 2,500 vehicles per manufacturer.

GM initially said it hoped to win approval to deploy the vehicles by the end of this year. But in July its self-driving unit, Cruise, said it was delaying commercial deployment of cars as more testing of the vehicles was required without specifying a new target date.

Alphabet Inc's Waymo unit this year began offering some rides with no human driver in its limited autonomous ride-hailing service in Arizona, but with steering wheels and employees watching remote feeds of the vehicles' cameras.

"We're in communication with them about how they are ensuring the safe operation of the vehicle," Owens said. "We will continue having a back and forth with them."

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NEW YORK -- Five of the world's largest tech companies, including electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc., have been accused of being complicit in the death of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo forced to mine cobalt, a metal used to make telephones and computers, in a landmark lawsuit.

The legal complaint on behalf of 14 families from Congo was filed on Sunday by International Rights Advocates, a U.S.-based human rights non-profit, against Tesla, Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Technologies Inc..

The companies were part of a system of forced labor that the families claimed led to the death and serious injury of their children, it said.

It marked the first time the tech industry jointly has faced legal action over the source of its cobalt.

Images in the court documents, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, showed children with disfigured or missing limbs.

Six of the 14 children in the case were killed in tunnel collapses, and the others suffered life-altering injuries, including paralysis, it said.

"These companies -- the richest companies in the world, these fancy gadget-making companies -- have allowed children to be maimed and killed to get their cheap cobalt," Terrence Collingsworth, an attorney representing the families, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Cobalt is essential in making rechargeable lithium batteries used in millions of products sold by the tech industry.

More than half of the world's cobalt is produced in Congo.

Global demand for the metal is expected to increase at 7 percent to 13 percent annually over the next decade, according to a 2018 study by the European Commission.

The lawsuit said the children, some as young as 6 years old, were forced by their families' extreme poverty to leave school and work in cobalt mining owned by the British mining company Glencore. Glencore has previously been accused of using child labor.

Some children were paid as little as $1.50 per day, working 6 days a week, it said.

In response to a request for comment, Dell said in an email that it has "never knowingly sourced operations" using child labor and has launched an investigation into the allegations.

A spokesperson for Glencore said: "Glencore notes the allegations contained in a U.S. lawsuit filed on 15th December 2019.

"Glencore’s production of cobalt in the DRC is a by-product of our industrial copper production. Glencore’s operations in the DRC do not purchase or process any artisanally mined ore.

"Glencore does not tolerate any form of child, forced, or compulsory labor."

Tesla, Apple, Google, Microsoft did not immediately respond for comment.

The legal complaint argued that the companies all have the ability to overhaul their cobalt supply chains to ensure safer conditions.

"I've never encountered or documented a more severe asymmetry in the allocation of income between the top of the supply chain and the bottom," said Siddharth Kara, a researcher on modern slavery who is an expert witness in the case.

"It's that disconnect that makes this perhaps the worst injustice of slavery and child exploitation that I've seen in my two decades research," Kara said.

More than 40 million people have been estimated to be captive in modern slavery, which includes forced labor and forced marriage, according to Walk Free and the International Labour Organization.

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Junior Johnson, the former moonshiner turned hard-charging race car driver who won 50 NASCAR races in the 1950s and '60s before becoming a team owner, has died at the age of 88, NASCAR said on Friday.

Johnson, who rose from humble beginnings as the son of a North Carolina bootlegger to become one of the country's best known drivers, mentioned even in a Bruce Springsteen song, had been in declining health, NASCAR said.

"The Last American Hero. What a Legend. Rest easy Junior," two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of the late Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, said on Twitter.

Roy Cooper, governor of North Carolina, offered condolences and said he had been in touch with the family.

"North Carolina has lost a giant with the death of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson," Cooper wrote on Twitter.

Born Robert Glenn Johnson, Jr. in 1931, the fourth of seven children, he famously honed his driving skills while hauling illegal liquor through the back roads of the Carolinas, one step ahead of the authorities.

Johnson put those skills to work as a professional stock-car driver beginning in the mid-1950s, winning his first race at the Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina on May 7, 1955, according to NASCAR.

He was convicted of moonshining in 1956, but President Ronald Reagan would pardon him in 1986, a few years after Springsteen recalled him "runnin' through the woods of Carolina" in his song "Cadillac Ranch."

He would go on to win 50 races before retiring as a driver a decade later at age 35, hailed by Tom Wolfe as the "Last American Hero" in an Esquire magazine that was later used as the basis for a feature film starring Jeff Bridges.

But Johnson remained close to the track as a team owner, his cars ultimately winning more than 130 races.

"We have lost one of NASCAR’s true pioneers, innovators, competitors and an incredible mechanical and business mind. And personally, I have lost one of my dearest friends,” Winston Kelley, the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s executive director, said in a written statement.

"While we will miss Junior mightily, his legacy and memory will forever be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and in the hearts and minds of race fans around the world," Kelley said.

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    If you think you've been seeing more of those dark-gray Amazon delivery vans on the roads recently, you're not wrong. But they're delivering more than packages. As the vans head out, they're also delivering for the auto industry. After all, someone had to buy the vans in the first place.

    It's no surprise that the 13th-largest company in the world (as calculated by Fortune) needs a way to get your packages to you. Today, Amazon's transportation fleet is made up of 30,000 Amazon-branded delivery vehicles and 20,000 branded trailers, and those numbers are only going to grow. For example, Amazon has ordered 100,000 new electric delivery vehicles from Rivian, the startup automaker in which Amazon has invested $700 million, and this order is the largest ever for electric delivery vehicles.

    While those Rivian orders will obviously help Rivian's bottom line, the 30,000 delivery vehicles Amazon uses today that have already helped other automakers that sell vans to the retail giant, in particular Daimler's Mercedes-Benz (Sprinter), Fiat Chrysler (Ram ProMaster), and Ford (Transit).

    Automotive News says sales of all three of these vans are up this year, with the Sprinter up almost 3 percent year over year in 2019, Ram's ProMaster up 25 percent from 2018, and the Transit having a record third quarter. In fact, it's likely going to be a record year for fleet sales in general, according to Automotive News. It's not just Amazon: other companies, rental-car agencies, and governments have already purchased 2.6 million units for their fleets through November, the paper says, citing Cox Automotive data.

    Daimler would not specify how many vans it has sold to Amazon or its delivery partners, sending Car and Driver the same statement it sent to Bloomberg: "We are in constant contact with our customers as we work to fulfill our commitments to them. We kindly ask for your understanding regarding our policy not to comment in detail to third parties on our customer relationships. In general, units only appear in our sales figures upon delivery."

    Amazon says that its last-mile delivery network is going to end up delivering 3.5 billion customer packages around the world this year. In the U.S., those packages get sent out from 150 domestic delivery stations that employ more than 90,000 people. On top of this, Amazon says there are more than 800 Amazon Delivery Service Partners in its last-mile network, which employ an additional 75,000 drivers in the United States. After all, somebody's got to deliver all those holiday gifts you ordered at the last minute.


    Michael SimariCar and Driver

      General Motors is recalling more than 700,000 pickup trucks in the U.S. for software errors that can disable critical safety functions and, separately, for glue on battery cables that can cause fires, according to filings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

      On 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 models, a fault in a brake ECU can disable both the anti-lock brakes and the stability control without warning, and without any warning light or message to indicate that these systems are completely off. Fewer than 1000 Cadillac CT6 sedans from the 2019 model year with the four-cylinder and V-8 engines are also included. A total of 463,995 vehicles are affected.

      GM said it discovered the issue from the brake ECU's supplier, ZF TRW, last month. Dealers will update the software starting in late January.

      Another 350,371 Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 trucks from both 2019 and 2020 may have excess glue on the positive terminals connecting the alternator to the main battery. This glue can cause an "intermittent electrical connection" that may lead to warnings on the instrument panel that say "Service Battery" or "Battery Saver." The poor connection can also cause a heat buildup that can soften the bolt attaching the terminal and unthread it, causing a stall. Or an electrical arc might occur and melt other parts in the engine bay and start a fire. GM's Canadian division first reported the issue in August after a 2019 Sierra 1500 stalled due to a missing nut. Dealers will inspect for any excess glue and replace any damaged components starting in late January.

      There have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to these defects. Due to the overlap in production dates cited in these two recalls, it is highly likely that some of the 2019 trucks—by our estimate, more than 90,000—have both defects instead of just one. Our estimated total above reduces the potential double-counting of the total affected trucks.

      WASHINGTON — One day after its historic impeachment votes, the Democratic-led House gave President Donald Trump an overwhelming bipartisan victory Thursday on a renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

      By a 385-41 vote, the House approved a bill that puts in place terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

      The legislation passed after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her colleagues won key concessions from an administration anxious to pass the trade deal before next year’s election season makes that task more difficult.

      The deal is projected to have only a modest impact on the economy. But it gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners anxious to move past the months of trade tensions that have complicated spending and hiring decisions.

      The International Trade Commission projected in April that the agreement would boost the economy by $68 billion and add 176,000 jobs six years after taking effect.

      Some of the biggest impacts would be felt in the U.S. automotive industry. The agreement aims to see more cars produced where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour.

      The commission found that the new agreement would create 30,000 jobs in American auto parts plants. On the down side, the commission found the pact would increase the cost of pickup trucks and cars, largely because of $3 billion in new tariffs that automakers stand to pay and pass along to consumers. That would hurt demand and reduce the number of jobs in factories that assemble cars by about 1,500.

      Business and farm groups had been hitting the airwaves and the halls of Congress to get lawmakers to support the pact, putting pressure on Democrats to work with the administration even as labor unions remained wary that the new deal represented much of an improvement from NAFTA.

      The GOP-controlled Senate probably will take up the legislation when members return to Washington after the holidays and after dealing with impeachment.

      Trump made tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of his presidential run in 2016 as he tried to win over working-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

      “Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen. Another promise made, another promise kept,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

      Some said the agreement did not do enough to prevent U.S. jobs from relocating to Mexico, but it won praise from Democrats who have routinely voted against prior trade agreements.

      “Twenty-six years ago, I opposed NAFTA with every bone in my body," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “I never thought the day would come when we would have the opportunity to right some of the wrongs in that agreement."

      Pelosi said the agreement was “light years" ahead of what the administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico. “We knew we could do better," Pelosi said.

      The original NAFTA phased out nearly all tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America. It was extraordinary because it linked two wealthy, developed countries with a poor, developing country. Since then, trade with Canada and Mexico has increased more rapidly than trade with most other countries.

      Democrats for years have charged that NAFTA led to massive losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as companies moved production to low-wage Mexico. Trump distinguished himself from free-trade Republicans in the presidential primary with his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric, and his administration got Canada and Mexico to negotiate a rewrite.

      Trump, at times, seemed resigned to the assessment that the two sides would never reach a compromise. “She's incapable of moving it,” Trump said a few weeks ago about Pelosi.

      Behind the scenes, Trump’s lead negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, was working with House Democrats on changes to address their concerns. The agreement includes a process that could lead to inspections of factories and facilities in Mexico that are not living up to labor obligations.

      It also secures more than $600 million for environmental problems in the NAFTA region. It scrapped giving pharmaceutical companies 10 years' protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are used to fight such illnesses as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

      In the end, the AFL-CIO endorsed the pact, as did the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other major business groups.

      Critics said they understood the renegotiated trade deal was an improvement over NAFTA, but they said it wasn’t enough.

      “American jobs will still flow to other countries,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

      The deal gave Democrats a chance to show constituents they weren’t focused solely on impeachment, particularly first-term lawmakers such as Reps. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., and Joe Cunningham, D-S.C. They represent districts won by Trump in 2016.

      “I promised the people of the low country I’d come to Washington to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the White House and anyone else necessary to find bipartisan, common-sense solutions to issues impacting our district,” Cunningham said during debate. He said the bills' passage ``is a major step in that direction.”

      Republicans made clear that they weren’t going to allow for an easy pivot.

      “The bipartisan nature of this deal that we are here discussing today cannot cover up what happened on this floor last night,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

      Some Republicans also grumbled that Democrats took too long to get the agreement across the finish line, but many were quite happy with the result.

      Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said the pact reminded him of when he would write a letter to Santa, and it would be answered with most of the presents he wanted on Christmas morning.

      “This is certainly one of those times when the letter to Santa Claus actually got answered,” Kelly said. ___ AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

      We don't yet know which NFL teams will be playing in Super Bowl LIV in Miami in February, but the field of automotive advertising competitors has grown by one: Toyota.

      The Japanese brand said it has purchased airtime for a 60-second commercial to kick off the marketing campaign for its redesigned 2020 Highlander three-row crossover. Toyota dealers began receiving 2020 Highlanders this week, and a hybrid version is expected to be in dealerships in February. Toyota says the Highlander's marketing campaign is expected to run from the game through mid-July.

      "We're excited to feature the all-new 2020 Highlander in our spot in the Big Game," Ed Laukes, group vice president, Toyota Marketing, Toyota Motor North America, said in a written statement. "There's no better way to kick off the marketing campaign for the fourth generation of this benchmark SUV than during the most-watched television event of the year."

      In the first three quarters of the year, the Highlander was the best-selling large crossover in the U.S., according to the Automotive News Data Center. Through November, Toyota sold 218,989 units, a 1.1 percent decrease compared with same period last year.

      Last year, Toyota used the Super Bowl to promote the 2019 RAV4 and the return of the Supra to its lineup.

      The commercial will be produced by Saatchi & Saatchi, part of Toyota's cross-agency marketing model in collaboration with Burrell Communications, Conill Advertising and Intertrend, with Zenith Media responsible for TV and Outdoor media buying.

      So far, Audi, Hyundai, Kia and Porsche have announced they will run ads during next year's Super Bowl.

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      The high-end racing efforts executed by the partnership between Ford and Carroll Shelby were recently highlighted in "Ford v Ferrari," but the Ford GT40 Le Mans winner and its progeny weren't the only cars born of that relationship. 

      In 1965, famed GT40 racing and development driver Ken Miles competed in a different fast Ford — a 1965 Mustang GT350 fastback. To celebrate the 55th anniversary of that nascent partnership, Ford will offer the Shelby GT350 and GT350 R in a limited Heritage Edition featuring the same racing livery as Miles' racing coupe. 

      Like the race car that inspired them, both are finished in Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue stripes with "GT350" rocker lettering on the flanks. Not only do these pay homage to Miles' race car, but blue and white also happen to be the long-recognized racing colors of the United States. 

      “Looking back on it, what Ford and Carroll Shelby created back in the mid-‘60s was so important to Mustang,” said Jim Owens, Mustang marketing manager. “With their authentic exterior livery and unique appointments and performance Ken could have only dreamed of, the Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R Heritage Edition Package vehicles are a meaningful way to pay tribute.”

      Mechanically, the 2020 GT350 and GT350R Heritage Editions are identical to the cars on which they are based. They're motivated by Ford's 5.2-liter, cross-plane crank V8 which produces 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque and screams to an 8,250-rpm redline. 

      The GT350 received a host of updates for 2019, including suspension geometry and tuning changes, aerodynamic upgrades and some other tweaks and adjustments. All of this was timed perfectly to coincide with the introduction of the burly, supercharged GT500.

      In yet another nod to Miles' race car and the 55th anniversary of Mustang racing, the Heritage Edition package will cost $1,965 to add on to either GT350 variant, and Ford says the order banks are open now. 

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        One thing that was left out in Ford v Ferrari was Carroll Shelby's first Shelbified Ford Mustang: the 1965 GT350 fastback. Not to worry, Ford has found its own way of honoring the car, the one Ken Miles drove to victory a year before he set lap records at Le Mans: with a limited run of Heritage Edition 2020 GT350 and GT350Rs.

        Like the livery on the original Shelby Mustang, the new Heritage Edition is finished in Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue side and racing stripes. The limited-edition Shelbys will also be distinguished by Guardsman Blue front and rear Cobra badges as well as a blue badge on the dashboard and all-black seats with red stitching.

        The GT350 recently received an array of updates that made the already spicy naturally aspirated muscle car even spicier. The track-focused GT350R received a longer-trail steering geometry, the same used in the GT500, along with revised anti-lock braking and MagneRide tuning.

        Pricing starts at $60,440 for the GT350 and $73,435 for the GT350R. The Heritage Edition package Shelbys will arrive in spring 2020 and will cost an additional $1965—get it?