Georgian College Auto Show a unique experience

For many of the students enrolled at the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian College in Barrie, the Georgian College Auto Show represents one of the high points in their academic year.

At this annual event, more than 150 students lend their talents and expertise to serve as brand ambassadors for the two dozen automakers that showcase their vehicles. This opportunity to volunteer adds a valuable dimension to the students’ education.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to many of the participating students from the automotive degree and diploma programs at ABSC. Some of these students have served on the show’s organizing committee, while others have served as brand ambassadors.

All of these students spoke highly about their auto show experience, where, for three days, they get to interact with representatives from the major automakers and with the public, in a sales-free environment. This ‘hands-on’ involvement gives participating students the chance to apply their skills and network with auto industry people.

The Georgian College Auto Show is billed as the largest outdoor, student-run auto show in North America, and the planning and organizing requires almost a full year. Between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors attend the show from across southern and central Ontario.

For participating automakers, the Georgian College Auto Show is a perfect venue to showcase the latest models after the major city auto shows each winter. It allows them to meet and interact with the next generation of automotive workers.

This year’s auto show marks the 32nd year that Georgian College automotive students have organized this much-anticipated event. From the show’s earliest years to the present, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association has been a strong supporter; again this year, the TADA is involved as a major sponsor and will have a presence in all of the show’s advance marketing.

The show’s marketing and media relations department will promote the show on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat), on its website, and through livestreaming. Local radio stations and newspapers will also be utilized.

Students from the Automotive Business School of Canada greet visitors at the Georgian College Auto Show last year.

This year’s theme is ‘Experience Innovation,’ which will focus on innovations in safety technologies, fuel advancements and the connected car experience. The show will feature in-depth demonstrations presented by the students based on their extensive product training; a more interactive KidZone; a redesigned Pfaff track, Saturday and Sunday Show and Shine for customers to display vehicles; and a new show layout.

In addition to new vehicles, the show will feature a live auction with terrific donated merchandise. A portion of the proceeds will go toward automotive student scholarships.

The Pfaff Autocross Track will provide visitors with an exhilarating off-road experience. For a minimum donation of $5, you can have your own escorted test drive on a dry track. All donations will go toward a local charity.

There is also an expanded KidZone, a Plug’n Drive — where visitors can test-drive an electric vehicle — and guest speakers.

The Georgian College Auto Show Committee is proud to support Spinal Cord Injury of Ontario. SCI Ontario will have a full complement of accessible vehicles on site for viewing.

The auto show hours are Friday, June 2 (noon to 6 p.m.), Saturday, June 3 and Sunday, June 4 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Daily admission is $5 in advance, $7 at the door for adults, and kids under 12 are free, plus parking is free. For more information and detailed times on all the events, visit www.georgiancollegeautoshow.ca.

I encourage all car enthusiasts to check out the Georgian College Auto Show this year. These automotive students do themselves, their school and the automobile industry proud with their commitment to producing an outstanding event.

This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to president@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.

Nissan stages an Attack at the Buenos Aires Auto Show

The automakers of the Renault-Nissan Alliance are never shy about experimenting with new pickup truck concepts in South America, as we’ve seen recently like the Renault Alaskan and Dacia Oroch. Now Nissan comes out with its headlights blazing, revealing the monster-truck inspired Frontier Attack at the Buenos Aires Auto Show. The ruggedized pickup brings bigger attitude and physical stature.

Nissan’s Rio de Janeiro design center looked to the wilds of Latin America and the world of monster trucks in developing the latest Frontier Attack design. With those inspiration points, it’s not surprising to see a downright feral iteration of the NP300 Frontier.

The new concept starts with large Yokohama Geolandar A/T tires and a 1.6-in (40-mm) lift lending an imposing look and feel. Running boards and collision bars add to the tough, dirt-ready look, and bold red paint with plenty of chrome black creates the perfectly tailored suit that owns the room the minute it steps in. The concept also includes a luggage rack and black-mask headlights.

“Those who knew nothing about the project and had never heard of the Frontier Attack named it ‘the beast’ when they saw it the first time, a name that the design team soon adopted,” says Robert Bauer, chief designer with the Rio de Janeiro design team. “With its aggressive design inspired by off-road fans in Latin America and imposing ‘monster trucks,’ the Attack is ready to overcome any barrier placed in front of it.”

The “beast” is powered by the Frontier’s standard 187 hp/332 lb-ft 2.3-liter diesel engine, along with a six-speed manual and push-button 4WD. Nissan’s vehicle dynamic control system monitors steering and braking, detects over/under-steering, and reduces engine speed and brakes at specific wheels when necessary to maintain traction and prevent skidding, overturning or loss of control. The multi-link rear suspension, hill start assist and hill descent control further enhance the ride, on and off road.

Inside, Nissan’s 6.2-in touchscreen Multi-App infotainment system with navigation serves as a centerpiece, and black leather comes to life with help from vivid red highlights and chrome trim.

In 2018, an Argentinian plant will join existing manufacturing facilities in Thailand, Mexico and Spain in building NP300 pickups. Whether something close to as vicious as the new Attack concept starts rolling out of that production facility will be in part up to those attending and watching the Buenos Aires show. Nissan will gauge reactions in deciding whether or not to pursue a production model based on the concept.

Super Formula plans faster new car for 2019

The organisers of Japan’s flagship Super Formula series plan to introduce a new car for 2019 that is even faster than the current one.

Super Formula’s existing Dallara SF14 car is currently in its fourth season, and it is understood that promoter JRP is presently discussing plans for a new SF19 with the teams.

This would almost certainly be an evolution by Dallara of the SF14, and the project will go ahead subject to the teams’ approval.

JRP president Akira Kurashita told Motorsport.com: “It’s possible that we may release the SF19 in 2019.

“Just as we have a very good car with the SF14, we plan to use the SF19 to make the series even better and make it more interesting.

“It’s not set in stone that the car will be released then, but that’s what we’re planning on now – we would like to build up the Super Formula brand and grow it to make it more popular.”

Super Formula plans faster new car for 2019

Prime and option tyres

Super Formula organisers are hoping to address the category’s biggest problem, a lack of overtaking.

The existing Yokohama tyres are viewed by some as too durable – a point raised by championship leader Andre Lotterer at the recent Okayama round – as many drivers set their fastest laps right at the end of the races after long stints on the rubber.

Yokohama is to be asked to look into providing a second compound to not only make laptimes faster but also increase degradation, and to provide strategic variation by having ‘prime’ and ‘option’ tyres available.

The company did this on a one-off experimental basis for last year’s Motegi round, but the two different compounds had a similar lifespan.

Super Formula looks likely to stick with the IndyCar-style push-to-pass system.

Shiro Matsunaga of Le Mans Company, the country’s Dallara importer, said: “We are considering DRS, but some say this makes overtaking too easy.”

What’s the Best New-Car Deal for June 2017?

Cars.com photo by Kelsey Mays
CARS.COM — Whatever the occasion — graduation, Father’s Day or your old car finally bit the dust — June is a good time to kick the tires on a new ride. This month has signaled the start of a summer ramp-up in new-car discounts for each of the past three years, according to Autodata Corp., and if certain cars we highlighted in past months are any indication, automakers appear ready to follow suit for 2017. Automotive News reports Jeep has thrown up to $4,000 on the hood of the 2017 Cherokee SUV. Ford is offering up to $4,150 off the 2017 Fusion, while Hyundai’s cash rebates on the 2017 Sonata go as high as $6,000. Get shopping.

Related: Off-Lease Car Glut Might Mean Used-Car Buyer’s Market

Which deals are worth a gander? Read on.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

How much can I save? Lots. Until July 5, cash rebates on the 2017 Santa Fe Sport go as high as $3,750. Hyundai posted an additional $1,500 off select versions of the SUV in every region we searched, but those could be needle-in-a-haystack examples depending on your dealer’s inventory. But the lesser discounts are still steep, and they come as sales for the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport plunged 33.2 percent in May. Granted, that’s versus a gangbusters year-ago period, but the Sport still averaged 81 days to sell last month — notably more than the 70-day average for all 2017 models.

What about discount financing? Qualified borrowers can get rates as low as 0.9 percent.

Any deals on the non-sport Santa Fe? Some, but not as much. Cash discounts on the Santa Fe Sport’s three-row sibling range from $2,000 to $2,500, according to Automotive News.

But the Santa Fe Sport fared poorly in Cars.com’s last mid-size SUV comparison, no? It placed fourth out of five as judges noted poor visibility, thin seats and a peaky turbo engine. That said, this list is about money, not merits. And Hyundai is slashing a lot.

Get 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport DetailsFind a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Near You
2017 Nissan Frontier
2017 Nissan Frontier
Manufacturer image

Nissan Frontier

How much can I save? If you can do with the four-cylinder instead of the V-6, a lot. Automotive News says Nissan is offering $500 to $3,750 on the Frontier until July 5, though most deals we found were isolated to the four-cylinder Frontier SV — a configuration that accounts for about 15 percent of 2017 Frontier inventory on Cars.com. Sales ebbed a modest 2.3 percent last month versus a monster year-ago month, but the mid-size pickup truck still averaged a worse-than-average 77 days on dealer lots for the extended cab (84 days for the crew cab).

What about discount financing? Automotive News didn’t list any financing offers, so you’ll have to negotiate on regular rates.

But I hear even Frontier owners don’t like their purchases. That seems the case, per Consumer Reports. But it’s hard to expect much else, given the Frontier enters its 13th model year without a full redesign. That’s an eternity. You know how Kevin Spacey impersonated Johnny Carson during Sunday’s Tony Awards? Well, when Nissan unveiled this generation of the Frontier in early 2004, Johnny Carson was still around. It’s one ancient truck, but this list is about incentives. The Frontier has big ones.

Get 2017 Nissan Frontier DetailsFind a 2017 Nissan Frontier Near You
2017 Ford Escape
2017 Ford Escape
Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

Ford Escape

How much can I save? A ton. The Escape averaged a brisk 57 days on dealer lots in May, but sales still fell 9.8 percent. Ford has piled on the incentives, with cash discounts on the Escape as high as $5,000 this month. Most regions we checked had discounts from $3,000 to $4,000, but that’s still nothing to sneeze at — especially since Ford offers them across many trim levels. The deals expire June 21 in some markets, so hurry.

What about discount financing? Cut-rate financing on the Escape is as low as 2.9 percent.

Is the Escape bad, too? On the contrary, Ford’s popular compact SUV topped its rivals in a Cars.com comparison last year as judges raved about its intuitive dashboard touchscreen, comfortable ride and easy child-safety seat accommodations. We’d report discounts like this regardless, but in the Escape’s case, it’s a win-win.

Get 2017 Ford Escape DetailsFind a 2017 Ford Escape Near You

The Returnees

We focus on cars new to the list or ones we haven’t highlighted in the past few months. But many cars from recent months still have high discounts in June:

  • Ford Focus
  • Ford Fusion
  • Ford Mustang
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Jeep Patriot
  • Jeep Renegade
  • Toyota Corolla, Corolla iM

How We Look For Deals

To look for June deals, we considered sales in May among the top 100 best-selling cars, specifically eyeing models whose sales underperformed the market. We also looked at days-to-turn data from May, which measures how long it takes on average for dealers to sell a given car. Both factors illustrate May’s slow sellers, cars on which dealers could be more willing to cut a deal.

Finally, we looked at factory cash discounts and low-interest-rate financing offers that are especially high for the price of the car. (After all, $2,000 is a lot more on a Ford Focus than a Ford Explorer.)

Sales and incentives data come from Automotive News and automakers’ websites, while days-to-turn data come from J.D. Power and Associates. Remember, our numbers are national in scope and reflect advertised customer discounts, not unadvertised factory-to-dealer cash. Discount financing typically requires qualifying credit, too, and incentives may vary by region and trim level. In sum: Your discounts may vary, so check with your local dealer for specifics.

Post Falls High School student gets new car for GPA, attendance

School’s out for summer and for seniors graduating high school the next chapter of their life is about to begin.

To help make that transition a little easier, some seniors who maintained a 3.5 GPA and had perfect attendance competed for a new car.

The winner was Robyn Robinson from Post Falls High School.

Image result for Tesla’s Original Designer Created a New Car and It Charges in Just 9 Minutes

Findlay Nissan in Post Falls held a reverse drawing, meaning they would draw names until one person had not been picked.

Robyn told KHQ she was surprised she won.

“Well I don’t have very good luck I’m still in shock,” Robinson said, “and it’s kind of surprising but I was going to have my piano teacher come with me and she was sick this morning so she said I hope you win.”

Robinson says she plans on going to North Idaho College for two years and then transferring to the University of Idaho to pursue a degree in advertising.

 

Tesla’s Original Designer Created a New Car and It Charges in Just 9 Minutes

Fisker Inc. has released details concerning their first electric car, the EMotion. The EV is set to be a game changer in the electric car market due to its impressive milage, high top speed, and fast charging time.

If competition drives innovation, a crowded electric vehicle (EV) market may be the best way to save the environment. One of the latest competitors to enter, Henrik Fisker, just announced a new electric car that may instigate an innovation war that leads to the next wave of cool, high-performing — and most importantly — climate friendly EVs.

The EMotion — the luxurious sibling to the as-yet-unannounced mass market design — ostensibly has a range of 643 kilometers (400 miles), a not insignificant improvement on the 563 kilometer (350 mile) range of Tesla’s Model S. With a top speed of 259 km/h (161 mph) and a nine-minute charging time, the EV lays down a serious benchmark for Tesla.

Fisker is best known for designing some of the most iconic luxury car models in history, including ones that were used in James Bond films. The EMotion is the first car to be produced by his EV company, Fisker Inc.

Although details concerning the vehicle’s price, launch date, and autonomous capabilities have not yet been revealed, the EMotion’s announcement is a welcome update for the people who have been waiting with baited breath to see what the car would look like and how it would compare to Musk’s designs.

The Fisker EMotion. Image Credit: Fisker Inc.
The Fisker EMotion. Image Credit: Fisker Inc.

Electric cars are a pivotal part of the global fight against climate change, and the efforts of several car manufacturers — including Toyota and Porsche — to make them faster, sleeker, and more luxurious are helping EVs break into the supercar sector of the automotive market. Once there is an EV to meet the taste and desires of every driver, we can start to really phase out the vehicles’ gas-guzzling counterparts.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to Take Leave of Absence

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Uber has also released the recommendations of an internal investigation
  • Among other things, they called for reducing Kalanick’s authority
  • The recommendations were unanimously adopted by the Uber board on Sunday

Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick told employees on Tuesday he will take time away from the company he helped to found, one of a series of measures the ride-hailing company is taking to claw its way out from under a mountain of controversies.

Kalanick’s move comes after a months-long investigation led former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who was hired by Uber to look into its culture and workplace practices after a female former employee publicly accused the company of what she described as brazen sexual harassment.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to Take Leave of Absence

Uber on Tuesday released the recommendations from that report, which include reducing Kalanick’s sweeping authority and instituting more controls over spending, human resources and the behavior of managers.

Kalanick’s departure, even if it is temporary, is a thunderclap for the Silicon Valley startup world, where company founders in recent years have enjoyed great autonomy and often become synonymous with their firms.

It also marks a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has been largely defined by Kalanick’s brash approach.

Kalanick, 40, said he needed the time away to grieve for his recently deceased mother and to work on his leadership skills, according to a staff email seen by Reuters. He did not say how long he would be away.

“If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve,” Kalanick wrote in his email. “During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company.”

According to a source familiar with the matter, Kalanick can return to the company whenever he would like.

More oversight needed
The company on Tuesday shared with its staff 47 recommendations for management and policy changes that were unanimously adopted by the board on Sunday. Kalanick was not at the meeting, said a source who was present.

The meeting was marred by private equity executive David Bonderman making a sexist remark about women talking too much. He later resigned from the board of directors, calling his comment “careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable.”

The recommendations from Holder’s firm, Covington and Burling, include adding an independent director to the board and considering an independent chair; mandated manager training; and a bigger and more independent audit committee to oversee spending and management.

“I would now suggest to any startup, here are the Covington rules, and when you get passed 100 people, put these in place,” said Steve Blank, a startup founder and mentor and adjunct professor at Stanford University.

Other recommendations prohibit romances between bosses and their subordinates and create clearer guidelines on the use of drugs and alcohol.

 

“I think it paints a picture of a company pretty out of control with no oversight from the board or basic controls,” said Elizabeth Ames, senior vice president at the Anita Borg Institute, which advocates for women in technology.

At Tuesday’s employee meeting, human resources chief Liane Hornsey thanked the former employee who wrote about harassment, Susan Fowler, for being a catalyst for the changes. She received applause from employees, according to the source at the meeting.

Holder’s recommendations stressed the importance of a new chief operating officer. The company has been searching for a No.2 executive for more than three months and is also looking for a chief financial officer.

A number of senior Uber managers left in recent weeks as the Holder investigation and a parallel probe focused strictly on sexual harassment and other employee complaints, conducted by the law firm Perkins Coie, moved forward.

The most recent departing executives included Emil Michael, head of business and Kalanick’s closest confidant, and Eric Alexander, who ran the Asia Pacific region.

Uber said last week it had hired two women to fill top roles: Harvard Business School management professor Frances Frei will serve as an executive coach and Apple marketing executive Bozoma Saint John was hired to mend Uber’s brand. Uber also added a second woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice president at Nestle, to serve as an independent director.

There are 14 people at Uber who report directly to Kalanick and who will likely take on more responsibility in his absence. They include Ryan Graves, head of operations and one-time chief executive at Uber.

Founder power
Uber grew to a valuation of $68 billion in seven years amid non-stop controversy. It has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries and changed the transportation landscape, but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.

Uber has suffered a series of damaging setbacks in recent months, including a federal probe into the company’s use of technology to evade regulators in certain cities and a trade secrets lawsuit filed by Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit, Waymo.

Some venture capitalists say Uber’s challenges should serve as a warning that the Silicon Valley ethos of leaving founders in control of companies, even after they grow into big corporations, can be a dangerous proposition.

“Inevitably, this will help drive the pendulum back toward better governance inside an organization,” said Robert Siegel, a lecturer at Stanford University and venture capitalist at XSeed Capital. “Sometimes we conflate great business leaders with strong personalities with great governance.”

Uber Director Bonderman Resigns After Making Joke About Women at Company Meeting on Sexual Harassment

HIGHLIGHTS

  • David Bonderman has quit Uber after he made inappropriate comments
  • The comments were targeted towards women working at Uber
  • He later sent an apology along with his resignation

Billionaire businessman David Bonderman, a member of Uber’s board, resigned Tuesday after making what he called an “inappropriate” comment about women at a company-wide meeting that was aimed at addressing the harassment of women and other unprofessional conduct within the company.

The comment came as an interruption of fellow board member Arianna Huffington, who was explaining the benefits of having more female representation on Uber’s board.

Uber Director Bonderman Resigns After Making Joke About Women at Company Meeting on Sexual Harassment

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” said Huffington, according to several people who heard the remarks.

“Actually,” Bonderman interjected, “what it shows is, it’s much likely there’ll be more talking.”

“Oh, come on, David,” Huffington said, in between awkward laughs. Addressing the crowd, she added, “Don’t worry, David will have a lot of talking to do, as well.”

In an email that was sent later to company employees, Bonderman said, “I want to apologize to my fellow board member for a disrespectful comment,” calling it “inappropriate.”

Bonderman, the 74-year-old co-founder of a private equity firm, also apologised personally to Huffington.

“David has apologized to all Uber employees for a remark that was totally inappropriate and against the new culture we are building at Uber,” Huffington said in a statement.

A few hours later, Bonderman resigned and released this statement: “Uber is examining the issues with its culture, and making significant changes and working to right what has been done wrong, which is extremely important for the future of the company. I do not want my comments to create distraction as Uber works to build a culture of which we can be proud. I need to hold myself to the same standards that we’re asking Uber to adopt.”

Huffington also issued a statement praising Bonderman for his decision, “I appreciate David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company.”

The incident came as Uber sought to move past a leadership crisis that has led to the departure this week of chief executive Travis Kalanick for a leave of absence and the exit of his close ally and confidant Emil Michael, a senior vice president at Uber.

Kalanick’s return date was not specified, and his responsibilities will undergo “review” to possibly shift some duties to other executives. He also faces the likelihood of reduced clout on the board, which is adding new “independent” members and creating an oversight committee to monitor efforts to improve corporate ethics and diversity.

 

“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” Kalanick wrote in an email to employees. “There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

In describing reasons for the leave, Kalanick also cited the death of his mother and serious injury of his father in a boating accident last month, saying, “I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.”

Tuesday marked the release of recommendations from a report by former US attorney general Eric Holder Jr. on Uber’s workplace culture. Holder had been hired by Uber to address mounting criticism of the company. The full report is being withheld from the public and the bulk of the company’s 14,000 employees worldwide.

The 47 recommendations, which are sweeping and touch virtually every aspect of company management, were released at an employee meeting at the company’s San Francisco headquarters Tuesday after being accepted by the board at a marathon meeting Sunday.

Under the proposals, senior managers will undergo mandatory leadership training and Uber’s current position of head of diversity will be renamed as the “chief diversity and inclusion officer” and report directly to the chief executive or chief operating officer. Uber also will adopt the equivalent of the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” requiring that when the company is filling a key job, at least one woman and one minority candidate be interviewed before the hire can go forward.

The report called for employee complaints to be handled using a comprehensive process and for upgrades to employee benefits, including equal family leave time for male and female workers. There also is a newly imposed ban on sexual relationships between employees at different levels of the staff hierarchy, and there are new limits on the consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs during the workday and at company events.

Uber also announced Monday that it was adding a new member, Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello, to one of several empty seats on the board. She is expected to bring financial expertise while representing another high-profile female addition to a company criticized as exemplifying Silicon Valley’s male-dominated “bro” culture.

“This is a hugely significant event,” said Michael Useem, a management professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said of the corporate overhaul.

The list of recommendations reads like a textbook from “Leadership and Management 101” and, if implemented effectively, could serve as a model for other Silicon Valley companies grappling with diversity and harassment issues, Useem said.

The public mood toward Uber began to turn when Kalanick joined an advisory board for President Trump and appeared to undermine a New York taxi strike related to the president’s controversial effort to impose a travel ban, sparking the #DeleteUber movement.

A scathing blog post in February by former engineer Susan Fowler, who reported that an unwanted sexual advance by her boss was ignored by company management, triggered a wave of denunciations of the corporate culture at Uber.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google refused to disclose the gender pay disparities
  • 69% of the company’s global employees are male and 31% females
  • But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men

For the second year in a row, shareholders of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, voted down a proposal asking the tech giant to publish a report on possible pay disparities between its male and female employees. The vote comes at a time when the company is grappling with a federal lawsuit tied to this very issue and as the tech industry faces heightened scrutiny over gender pay, a lack of diversity, and dysfunctional work environments.

Under the proposal, the company would measure and disclose how much its female employees make as a percentage of their male counterparts. The plan, put forward by Arjuna Capital, an investment firm, and other co-filers also called for the company to design a policy to tackle any gender pay disparity.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

“Gender pay disparity is not only one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, it poses a risk to companies’ performance, brand, and investor returns,” said Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, at the shareholder meeting. “This issue is particularly salient to the technology industry, which struggles to attract, retain, and move women into positions of leadership,” she said.

The board of directors told shareholders that approving the proposal would not be in the best interest of the company or its investors, according to Alphabet’s 2017 statement to stockholders. Management pointed to Google’s existing diversity reports and internal evaluations as sufficient measures to ensure pay equity among its staff. “Our board of directors does not believe that the proposal would enhance Alphabet’s existing commitment to fostering a fair and inclusive culture,” read the statement.

Like many of its peers in the tech industry, Google produces an annual report outlining the gender and ethnic makeup of its employees. A vast majority of Alphabet’s employees work for Google. But the report doesn’t outline gender pay disparities. Sixty-nine percent of the company’s global employees are male and 31 percent are female, according to Google’ 2016 diversity report, which captured data from the year prior. But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men.

Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have each reported on their gender pay disparity, with each company claiming a discrepancy near zero. Lamb described Alphabet as a laggard, compared to its peers, when it comes to transparency over gender pay.

Alphabet declined to comment.

 

Arjuna Capital’s push for Alphabet to release its gender pay information is part of a broader campaign to address enduring gender discrimination in the American workplace. Within Silicon Valley, which generally views itself as a meritocracy, calls for improving diversity have only grown louder as yearly employment reports continue to show leadership teams being dominated by men.

The calls also come as accounts of workplace harassment continue to surface. In February, former Uber employee Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging episodes of sexual harassment that she said took place while she worked as an engineer at the company. Since her writing, Uber initiated several internal investigations to examine what Fowler and others described as a toxic work culture. But Uber’s sexual harassment controversy is viewed by some not as an outlier, but just the latest, prominent example of women facing discrimination at work in Silicon Valley.

The Mountain View, California, company is currently facing a lawsuit from the Labor Department related to unfair gender pay. The Labor Department filed the lawsuit against Google in January after the company refused to turn over compensation data as part of a “routine compliance evaluation,” according to a Labor Department statement released in the same month. Labor Department lawyers have accused Alphabet of underpaying women, finding evidence of “extreme” gender pay discrimination. Google has denied those accusations. In a hearing last month, Alphabet said that it couldn’t turn over internal wage data that the department requested because that would cost too much – $100,000 (roughly Rs. 64 lakhs) – and require hundreds of hours of work, according to the Guardian.

Alphabet is the third major tech company since 2016 to fall under Labor Department scrutiny. Palantir was accused of discriminating against Asian job applicants, and Oracle was sued for engaging in pay discrimination against women employees, as well as Asian and black workers, according to the Guardian.

At the -shareholder meeting, Lamb also presented a shareholder proposal for Google to analyse its role in the spread of misleading and fabricated news stories, so-called fake news. With management’s blessing, that proposal failed.

Another plan presented by NorthStars Asset Management would have given stockholders equal voting power.

That was defeated as well.

 

Millions of Kids Are Being Shaped by Know-It-All Voice Assistants

Kids adore their new robot siblings.

As millions of American families buy robotic voice assistants to turn off lights, order pizzas and fetch movie times, children are eagerly co-opting the gadgets to settle dinner table disputes, answer homework questions and entertain friends at sleepover parties.

Many parents have been startled and intrigued by the way these disembodied, know-it-all voices – Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana – are impacting their kids’ behavior, making them more curious but also, at times, far less polite.

In just two years, the promise of the technology has already exceeded the marketing come-ons. The disabled are using voice assistants to control their homes, order groceries and listen to books. Caregivers to the elderly say the devices help with dementia, reminding users what day it is or when to take medicine.

For children, the potential for transformative interactions are just as dramatic – at home and in classrooms. But psychologists, technologists and linguists are only beginning to ponder the possible perils of surrounding kids with artificial intelligence, particularly as they traverse important stages of social and language development.

Millions of Kids Are Being Shaped by Know-It-All Voice Assistants

“How they react and treat this nonhuman entity is, to me, the biggest question,” said Sandra Calvert, a Georgetown University psychologist and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center. “And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interactions with other people?”

With an estimated 25 million voice assistants expected to sell this year at $40 to $180 – up from 1.7 million in 2015 – there are even ramifications for the diaper crowd.

Toy giant Mattel recently announced the birth of Aristotle, a home baby monitor launching this summer that “comforts, teaches and entertains” using AI from Microsoft. As children get older, they can ask or answer questions. The company says, “Aristotle was specifically designed to grow up with a child.”

Boosters of the technology say kids typically learn to acquire information using the prevailing technology of the moment – from the library card catalogue, to Google, to brief conversations with friendly, all-knowing voices. But what if these gadgets lead children, whose faces are already glued to screens, further away from situations where they learn important interpersonal skills?

It’s unclear whether any of the companies involved are even paying attention to this issue.

Amazon did not return a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Partnership for AI, a new organization that includes Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies working on voice assistants, said nobody was available to answer questions.

“These devices don’t have emotional intelligence,” said Allison Druin, a University of Maryland professor who studies how children use technology. “They have factual intelligence.”

Children certainly enjoy their company, referring to Alexa like just another family member.

“We like to ask her a lot of really random things,” said Emerson Labovich, a fifth-grader in Bethesda, Md., who pesters Alexa with her older brother Asher.

This winter, Emerson asked her almost every day help counting down the days until a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida.

“She can also rap and rhyme,” Emerson said.

Today’s children will be shaped by AI much like their grandparents were shaped by new devices called television. But you couldn’t talk with a TV.

Ken Yarmosh, a 36-year-old Northern Virginia app developer and founder of Savvy Apps has multiple voice assistants in his family’s home, including those made by Google and Amazon. (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, whose middle name is Preston, according to Alexa.)

Yarmosh’s 2-year-old son has been so enthralled by Alexa that he tries to speak with coasters and other cylindrical objects that look like Amazon’s device. Meanwhile, Yarmosh’s now 5-year-old son, in comparing his two assistants, came to believe Google knew him better.

“Alexa isn’t smart enough for me,” he’d say, asking random questions that his parents couldn’t answer, like how many miles it is to China. (“China is 7,248 miles away, ” Google Home says, “as the crow flies.”)

In talking that way about a device plugged into a wall, Yarmosh’s son was anthropomorphizing it – which means to “ascribe human features to something,” Alexa happily explains. Humans do this a lot, Calvert said. We do it with dogs, dressing them in costumes on Halloween. We name boats. And when we encounter robots, we – especially children – treat them as near equals.

In 2012, University of Washington researchers published results of a study involving 90 children interacting with a life-size robot named Robovie. Most kids thought Robovie had “mental states” and was a “social being.” When Robovie was shoved into a closet, more than half felt it wasn’t fair. A similar emotional connection is taking hold with Alexa and other assistants – even for parents.

 

“It’s definitely become part of our lives,” said Emerson’s mother, Laura Labovich, who then quickly corrected herself: “She’s definitely part of our lives.”

The problem, Druin said, is that this emotional connection sets up expectations for children that devices can’t or weren’t designed to meet, causing confusion, frustration and even changes in the way kids talk or interact with adults.

Yarmosh’s son thought Alexa couldn’t understand him, but it was the algorithms that couldn’t grasp the pitch in his voice or the way children formulate questions. Educators introducing these devices into classrooms and school libraries have encountered the same issue.

“If Alexa doesn’t understand the question, is it Alexa’s fault or might it be the question’s fault?” said Gwyneth Jones, a librarian who uses Amazon’s device at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Md. “People are not always going to get what they are saying, so it’s important that they learn how to ask good questions.”

Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication, is among those who wonder whether the devices, even as they get smarter, will push children to value simplistic language – and simplistic inquiries – over nuance and complex questions.

Asking Alexa, “How do you ask a good question?” produces this answer: “I wasn’t able to understand the question I heard.” But she is able to answer a simple derivative: “What is a question?”

“A linguistic expression used to make a request for information,” she says.

And then there is the potential rewiring of adult-child communication.

Although Mattel’s new assistant will have a setting forcing children to say “please” when asking for information, the assistants made by Google, Amazon and others are designed so users can quickly – and bluntly – ask questions. Parents are noticing some not-so-subtle changes in their children.

In a blog post last year, a California venture capitalist wrote that his 4-year-old daughter thought Alexa was the best speller in the house. “But I fear it’s also turning our daughter into a raging a——,” Hunter Walk wrote. “Because Alexa tolerates poor manners.”

To ask her a question, all you need to do is say her name, followed by the query. No “please.” And no “thank you” before asking a follow-up.

“Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person,” Walk wrote. “At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.”

Jones, the librarian, has witnessed the digital equivalent of everybody asking a question at the same time.

“You all are being really pushy,” she’ll say, as Alexa declares over and over that she doesn’t understand. “You’re confusing her. One at a time, just like a person.”

The personal yet transactional nature of the relationship is appealing to children and teenagers. Parents (including this reporter) have noticed that queries previously made to adults are shifting to assistants, particularly for homework – spelling words, simple math, historical facts.

Or take the weather, particularly in winter. Instead of asking Mom or Dad the temperature that day, children just go to the device, treating the answer as gospel.

Upside: No more fights over what the temperature will really be and what’s appropriate to wear. Downside: Kids will go to their parents less, with both sides losing out on timeworn interactions.

“There can be a lot of unintended consequences to interactions with these devices that mimic conversation,” said Kate Darling, an MIT professor who studies how humans interact with robots. “We don’t know what all of them are yet.”

But most researchers, educators and parents – even some kids – already agree that these devices need to be put in their place, just like a know-it-all sibling.

Jones, the librarian, puts Alexa away for a couple of weeks at a time, so her students don’t rely on her too much. Yarmosh, who recently launched a project curating online videos for kids, is keeping the assistants out of his children’s rooms. Emerson and her brother take a school playground approach.

“Alexa,” they’ll say, “you’re such a butt.”