What happened to Apple’s car?
Mar 8, 2024
Episode 1114

What happened to Apple’s car?

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Plus, we'll talk all things gardening and plants.

Apple has abandoned its effort to make an autonomous electric vehicle. We’ll get into why the company’s venture flopped and what it says about the supply chain for electric vehicle parts. Then, we’ll explain how a Texas federal judge’s ruling is upending race-based aid for businesses. And, guest host Sabri Ben-Achour tells us how he created a flower. Plus, we’ll play a round of Half Full/Half Empty!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

We love to hear from you. Send your questions and comments to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart March 8, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams 

Hello everyone. I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense. It is Friday March the eighth. Kai is out today, but joining me is the plant king himself, Sabri Ben-Achour.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Hi, Kimberly. Hi everybody. It’s good to be back. Thanks for joining us on the podcast and on the YouTube live stream. It is Friday, which means it is time for our weekly happy hour episode.

Kimberly Adams 

Right. And for those listening on the podcast and not looking at the YouTube live stream, I say this, because every time Sabri comes on the show, you can see that he has an entire wall of plants behind him. And those who get to hang out with Sabri in the New York bureau know that he has quite the plant family there. And he has attempted to help me rescue my indoor plants on more than one occasion as well. So, I was asking you before the show if you’ve moved your plants outside yet, and you haven’t.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

No, it’s too cold to have them outside. They are still inside. This is just some of them. I don’t know if you can see. It’s kind of you can’t really. Yeah, they’re here with me and the grow lights. I was mentioning earlier, I’ve had to start subsidizing my roommates’ electricity bills during the winter because the lights have taken up so much electricity. So, they’re here for now.

Kimberly Adams 

Do you know how many plants you have?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

I don’t know. But I know that it’s probably like, if you count the outdoor plants, it’s like 200 probably.

Kimberly Adams 

Wow. Yeah, I have gotten all of my seeds in the ground on my patio. You know, I’m more of a vegetable, herb, fruit person, and so, I overdid it a little bit last year and tried to grow like I think 68 different things on my patio, which is not large. And this year, I’ve scaled it down to like 40 something different types of things that will be growing and they’re all like labeled and have little tags and it’s pretty wild.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Do you cook with the stuff that you grow?

Kimberly Adams 

At first, and then I get tired of it and then I just start handing it off to my neighbors and now everybody calls me Farmer Kimberly. Some of it I freeze and or like dry like, I’m still using like dried peppers that I harvested last year. I’m still using dried rosemary from last year and basil from like two years ago but as one does. Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about drinks because we’re going to do some news. We’re going to take a break. We’re going to do Half Full/Half Empty. So first of all, what are you drinking? And if it’s those frozen chicken cubes again pureed into a drink, I don’t want to know because that burnt into my memory.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

I didn’t have time to make a smoothie. I’m just drinking tea. Ginseng tea for energy. I know that’s so boring cup.

Kimberly Adams 

That’s such a cute little cup. It’s not boring. It’s very healthy.

Sabri Ben-Achour

What are you drinking?

Kimberly Adams

I’m drinking a Manhattan because I haven’t had one in a while, and I wanted to use my pretty glass that I got from Goodwill. And you know, I had the stuff for it. So, Manhattan. Easy enough. But let’s see what everybody watching is drinking, hopping over to the YouTube chat. Steve Zahler with the home brewed Vienna Lager. Okay. Danielle Roma’s Avery Brewing Clear Horizons IPA. Mighty unlikely as all these flavored seltzers. Let’s see. Someone drinking fresh squeezed orange juice. Love that. And, what else is everybody drinking? Lemonade with gin. The devil. Yes. Davis Dancing. Gin is the devil.

Sabri Ben-Achour

Oh, that’s so good.

Kimberly Adams

Oh, you like lemonade with gin?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Yeah, well, I like anything with gin in it. I like a kind of piney burn taste.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, and I don’t do gin. Deborah has a duck fart inspired by Kimberly, and I was inspired by the zine that we had in our Make Me Smart newsletter. We had all these state cocktails and the Alaska one is a duck fart. So, I made that last week last week and so you know, whatever works.

Sabri Ben-Achour

Was it good?

Kimberly Adams

Yeah, it actually was. It was. Shannon P, Topo Chico with a twist of lime. Ben Wilbanks with water and Crumbl Cookies. Okay. Oh, okay. I see there’s a lot of gin supporters in the chat. I’m going to let you all do that over there by yourself very quickly. Okay, let us do some news. Oh, by the way, if you want to look at the cocktails that we had in our zine, you can sign up for the newsletter and makemesmart.org/smarter. If you want in on the cocktail magic. Okay, so, Sabrina, what is your news?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Okay, so my news. The news news part of it is a little old now. It’s Apple shutting down its Apple car thing. But Bloomberg had a really good sort of in-depth look behind-the-scenes look at what went wrong. And you know, a lot of things went wrong. But one thing, I mean, I think the big idea was basically a lot of indecision at the top, is what they came down on, and they bit off like a little more than they could chew. But one line caught my interest in that story. It was that they “eventually shuttered Apple’s work on batteries for the EVs and other components they felt Apple could just buy off the shelf.” Now, that is interesting to me, because it speaks to the supply chain of electric vehicles. And that includes everything from mining, to batteries, to cars, right? And in the US, clearly, except for Tesla, the focus is, “we don’t need to worry about batteries, we’re just going to do the car.” The problem is that as China has demonstrated, the profit margins are higher in the mining part in the other upstream parts. And that is why. So, I’m reading this book. It’s called “The War Below” by Ernest Scheyder. It’s really good. It basically costs. Yes, and lithium and all that stuff. So, because China’s production of EVs is so vertically integrated, it costs them, for example in this book, 10,000 euros less to make an EV in China than in Europe. And, you know, people talk about subsidies and have that debate. But what we’re kind of missing here, and what Apple missed here, was the importance of vertical integration of the supply chain. And that is part of the reason why the Chinese electric vehicles cost so much less but are just as good as the EVs that the US is making. , I just, you know, put that in your industrial pipe, and smoke it is my suggestion to the electric car makers of the US.

Kimberly Adams 

Hmm, maybe I should be asking which plants exactly that you’re growing in there, Sabri.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

No fun ones, believe me.

Kimberly Adams 

No fun ones. I was actually just thinking. Oh, by the way, it’s funny because I am such a plant person. Everyone always asks me if I’m growing weed here because you can in DC grow several plants. I don’t because apparently, it’s a very finicky plant. And my strategy on plants in general is its survival of the fittest in here. It’s like, if you survive, great. If not, you will never be planted again. But anyway, when you’re telling me. That’s not true, Sabri. You have the most finicky plants.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Well, I guess I should say, if they are finicky for me, then they really are just being dramatic. And they can just, they can just die. Like, it’s only ever happening with one plant.

Kimberly Adams 

Okay, I have a thought on your news story. But first, I want to take this moment for you to tell everyone how you created a flower.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Oh, it was, I thought it was so much bigger than it was. I have two species of plants, okay. And they’re not, according to the ID that I had, they were in different families, not just different species. And I’ve had them for like nine years, and they never flower at the same time. Never, ever, ever, ever. But like two, three years ago by miracle, they bloomed at the same time. So, I took the pollen from one and put the exactly same on the other and produce all these seeds, all of which died, except for one, which I reared like absolute helicopter mom, tiger mom for two years, and then it finally bloomed. And so, it’s this hybrid of two different species. I thought that maybe it was like a revolutionary hybrid between two families that hadn’t been hybridized before. I checked with some experts, and it is not, but it is still a unique hybrid. And it’s my hybrid and it’s like my little child. So.

Kimberly Adams 

You made a flower. That’s great. Okay, so back to your story about lithium and all that stuff. It actually makes me think of Martha Stewart. Apple needs to hire Martha Stewart because she sort of embodied and created this idea of like, vertical integration so long before anybody else was doing it. She could have warned them that this wasn’t going to work unless they controlled every part of it. I’m convinced that Martha Stewart would have known. So, that was my only take. Okay, my news story. Yeah, so this happened earlier in the week. It did not get a ton of attention because you know, when the world is on fire, it’s hard to pay attention to everything. But there is this agency here in Washington called the Minority Business Development Agency, which is, “dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises.” This week, a judge in Texas said that the Minority Business Development Agencies, and I’m reading from the Houston Chronicle here, “the Minority Business Development Agency statutory presumption about race and ethnicity is unconstitutional. The agency created by the Nixon administration was tasked with helping minority-owned businesses access capital and government contracts through a network of business centers across the country.” So basically, what happened is three business owners, a contractor in Florida, an architect in Wisconsin, and an entrepreneur in Texas who owns this chain of sexual wellness centers, say they all sought assistance from the MBDA and basically got stopped at the beginning because they were white. And because it has a drop down that says, you know, you need to specify your ethnicity. And the court is basically like, no, the Minority Business Development Agency needs to open its services to white people specifically. I’m going to read a little bit from the judge’s decision. “If courts mean what they say when they ascribe supreme importance to constitutional rights, the federal government may not flagrantly violate such rights with impunity. The MBDA has done so for years. Time’s up.” This is the latest round of a very coordinated effort to basically make any kind of preferential treatment for minorities or underrepresented groups in this economy illegal. The Harvard, you know, case about student enrollment, and you know, whether or not you could have preferential racial preferences and admissions in Harvard. That case was cited many, many times here. And the groups that are behind these efforts are very clear that they want to make sure that there is no preferential treatment by government or even they’ve gone after VC groups that tried to fund like women, Black women owned businesses. They are saying that they want to get rid of race-based scholarships, like the scholarships that are like for, you know, Black students in STEM and things like that. And they are steadily but you know, surely whittling away at this infrastructure, which, you know, depending on how you view it is a good or a bad thing. But from an economic perspective, this idea that there are no longer meaningful economic barriers to communities of color in this economy is not true. But whether or not they will have preferences, and, you know, sort of programs that have been put in place to try to overcome some of those disadvantages, that seems to be deeply, deeply at risk. And I just had been following all these different stories, and it didn’t get a lot of attention, because, you know, may or may not have a government shutdown. We had the State of the Union address. We had, you know, Super Tuesday and lots of stuff going on. But this is important. So.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a slow process. I feel like it’s been going on for a couple decades and has accelerated in the past, you know, year or two. But it does raise the question of how do you address, you know, systemic problems, you know? If you can’t address them directly, what are you supposed to do about them?

Kimberly Adams 

There’s a couple of folks in the chat saying you know, it needs to be focused on merit and not DEI. Adam Pierce is saying, “You need to base such things on socioeconomic status, parent background, etc”. That’s one of the arguments that the judge was making. He said, you know, under the standard, Oprah Winfrey would be eligible for assistance, but somebody from a, you know, lower income background who is white would not be eligible for assistance. And so, you know, it’s happening. So.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

So, that is it for the news. We will take a quick break. When we return to play around Half Full/Half Empty. And we’ll be right back.

Kimberly Adams 

Okay, now we are back, and it is time for our game, Half Full/Half Empty hosted by our very own Drew Jostad. Drew, take it away.

Drew Jostad 

All right. First topic. In their efforts to compete with Amazon Prime, Target is launching a subscription service in April, and Walmart is adding a faster delivery option to their subscription service. Are you half full or half empty on the rise of retail subscription services?

Kimberly Adams 

It’s Tarjay, Drew. Tarjay.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

When we say. Yeah, Tarjay and Amazon. How are you supposed to? Or okay, what is it mean? First of all, the subscription to, like how do you subscribe? What does that mean?

Kimberly Adams 

Basically, the way you have Amazon Prime, you can sign up for a Target or Walmart service that gives you like, faster delivery or reduced-price delivery or something like that and other perks. And the story that we had on it on Marketplace, basically was talking about how they’re trying to compete with Amazon Prime basically and give people incentives to shop there and not go to Amazon because they’re going to Amazon for the faster delivery. But when you get Amazon Prime, you can also get like video and audio and all these other things, where as Target and Walmart don’t necessarily have as much, kind of they can bundle with the services. But people do love them some Target and Walmart, I don’t know, man. So, half full or half empty?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

In theory, I’m half full. But in practice, I’m half empty, because the only way they’re going to be able to compete really with Amazon is going to be on price, which they could well do. Like if you ever tried to find the low, the best bargain on Amazon, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll and take notes. You can’t just like sort by price or just like easily find the rock bottom best deal. So, maybe if they did something like that that would work. But I kind of doubt that they will. So, that’s why I’m half empty.

Kimberly Adams 

I’m half full, but just like barely half as several people are pointing out in the chat like, the subscription overload is real. But I’m all for more competition. And since there are so few companies that can meaningfully compete with Amazon and Walmart and Target are some of the few, I’m here for it. So.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Yeah, that’s a good point.

Kimberly Adams

What’s next?

Drew Jostad 

Okay, are you half full or half empty on IRS direct file, which is the free tax filing programming, free tax filing program piloting now in 12 states?

Kimberly Adams 

I am all the way full on this.

Sabri Ben-Achour

Me too.

Kimberly Adams

Go ahead, Sabri. Tell me why.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

No, go, go, go. No, go.

Kimberly Adams 

Well, it’s just, this has been such a long running issue where these companies, these tax filing companies lobbied Congress to make it impossible for the IRS to have a meaningful way for people to file their taxes with the IRS. You know, digitally at least, and they would said they had this free file servers. They put the free file servers behind paywalls or hid it from search results or you would go to the website and think you were signing up for something for free, but get shunted around to something that cost you money. And the vast majority of Americans, apparently, according to the folks I’ve talked to, do not need to pay to file their taxes. They’re simple enough to where they should be able to file for free. And the IRS doing this is sort of a first step to getting there. Yes, it’s only in certain places, and only for people with a very simple tax, you know, returns, but I’m full on this. I hope the pilot goes well, and you know, do what you do.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Yeah, amen. 100%. And I was definitely caught up in that TurboTax thing. I signed up for the free file. And I think I got it for free once and then somehow got, like, thrown through the waterslide and popped out into this now I have to pay situation. I remember this was many, many, many years ago. Also, it’s crazy. Why would there not be just like, a website to file your taxes? Like, I don’t know. Do I need to pay someone else? Yeah.

Kimberly Adams 

It was illegal, like these companies effectively lobbied for Congress to prevent the IRS from having a competitor to their own services. And the way that they did that was to promise that they were going to have a free file option. But the free file option was almost impossible to use. Shoutout to ProPublica for their investigation into this and really revealing how bad it was. And I think there was another group that was working on this as well. And maybe it was The Markup, I forget. But there has been a lot of great reporting on this, like literally hiding it from search results. And so that inspired Congress to sort of put this in, I believe it was in the Inflation Reduction Act to allow the IRS to pilot this. Craig Hinton in the chat said something very interesting, which I had not heard of. He says, “I plan to use TurboTax, but then fill out the paper forms.” So, what is that? You’d like, go through the process in TurboTax then you print it out and mail it in? I’m curious about that.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Yeah, maybe he’s using TurboTax to just fill out the paperwork and print it and then not pay? I don’t know.

Kimberly Adams 

So, are you half full or half empty? You said full?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Oh, yeah. Full. No, that’s literally like as if you like, the National Park Service could not let you into Yellowstone and you had to pay some sort of outside business to open the gate for you. I mean like, that’s crazy. I’m all for it.

Kimberly Adams 

Okay, what’s next, Drew.

Drew Jostad 

Next up. Are you half full or half empty on Oscars watch parties. Long, long, long pause.

Kimberly Adams 

I just. I kind of lost faith in award shows a long time ago. And like I don’t really watch them. You know, you had, I’ve seen so many just like obvious snubs and then the racism and then the politics got involved with it and everything. And as somebody else, as Davis points out in the chat, “there’s just so many of them.” So, for people who are into it, you know, I’m all for it. You do your thing. Hall full. Have fun. Do your theme. As everyone knows, I love a good theme. So, I’ll go half full on that regard, but it’s not for me. What about you?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

I will say half full. Just any excuse for a party. Basically, I’m good with that.

Kimberly Adams 

Diana White said, “I would rather watch Jasper.” Me too, Diana. Me too. Is this the one for the poll now Drew?

Drew Jostad 

I got two left.

Kimberly Adams

Two left. Okay, let’s do it.

Drew Jostad

I don’t know if you caught this story on Marketplace yesterday. I can explain what this is. If not, but are you half full or half empty on skijoring?

Kimberly Adams 

I did catch this story. But I do want to hear you describe it, Drew. Just for entertainment.

Drew Jostad 

Well, I watched some videos. Basically, they make like, they make like, a slalom ski course with jumps, but it’s not on a downhill. It’s on a flat. And then in order to get the skiers moving, they tie you to a horse. You hold on to a rope that’s attached to a horse and the rider rides the horse and you get pulled in.

Kimberly Adams 

Cowboys, Drew. Cowboys.

Drew Jostad 

And it’s a race, and it’s a thing that they do in Wyoming as far as I can tell.

Kimberly Adams 

I’m so full on this. I’m sad that as the story said, you know, climate change makes it so that there’s not enough snow to do it for real as much anymore. But I am so glad to know that this exists. That brought me great joy, so all the way full.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Ditto sounds so fun. Yeah, sounds super fun.

Kimberly Adams 

Dangerous as all get out having tried ski and horseback riding, like putting those two things together seems incredibly dangerous. But I’m a little bit of a thrill seeker, so why not.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

So, I guess this is our last one. The final topic. So, then folks in the YouTube chat can get ready to weigh. Prepare yourselves to weigh in.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes, vote, vote, vote.

Drew Jostad 

Are you half full or half empty on banning TikTok in the US?

Kimberly Adams 

That was some breath control. That was a very long controlled breath out. It’s still going too. Wow. You man must meditate and like to be so peaceful. I’m sure that somebody said. Jin Peck said, “My phone is ready.” But like Maya, I think, I feel like my swiping, scrolling thumb would probably be grateful if TikTok were banned in the United States. But boy, so you know, the backstory on this is that most national security people think that TikTok is a big threat.

Sabri Ben-Achour

Is not? Is or is not?

Kimberly Adams

Is a national security threat. That it is basically an opening for spying and stealing all your data. TikTok of course claims that is not true, and that they are not under the control of their parent company in China and that everything is fine. People here in Washington worry about it, the mental health impacts on children, as well as its sort of addictive nature, which I can personally attest to. And they’ve already banned TikTok from government devices. But as we’ve discussed on the show, there are plenty of public officials, including the President of the United States, as cited in that very weird Republican response to the State of the Union last night. The President of United States, his presidential campaign has their own TikTok account, and it is definitely where you reach the youth vote, but it’s got all sorts of issues. So, let’s see what people say. Chuck Klein says, “There are far worse threats. Medical records being held hostage anyone?” Yes, we’ve talked about that on the show. That’s pretty bad. Adam Fierce says, “Is it more risky for China or Elon to have your data?” Hmm hmm. Very good question. Armgill empty “Facebook, Instagram and the other social medias do the same thing, and yet they’re fine,” and arguably just because not based in China. All right. Let’s look at these poll results. We have half empty 55%, half full 44%. I guess. You know, people love their TikTok, and we fear the things we love, don’t we? We fear the things we love.

Sabri Ben-Achour

Sometimes.

Kimberly Adams

Oh, what’s yours? Are you half full or half empty? We have to, I guess, weigh in on this.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

Oh, I am half empty on it. And I mean, I am under absolutely zero illusions as to the tight, murky, and interwoven relationship between Chinese commercial entities and the government there. It’s just that, I would have to learn more about what exactly what type of data they would be getting from TikTok aside from like, who likes which skijoring videos, you know?

Kimberly Adams 

That’s valuable data to know like sort of what the American populace is thinking, you know? If you’re trying to wage a misinformation campaign, or you’re trying to figure out, maybe you hack into somebody who is a public official, and you find that they’re watching things on TikTok that might be embarrassing for them if people knew about it. Those are the kinds of things that are risky. So, half full, half empty?

Sabri Ben-Achour 

I’m very undecided about this one. I think I’m half empty, but I could certainly be convinced. I’m sorry. I think I’m half full, but I could certainly be convinced to be half empty.

Kimberly Adams 

I’m barely half full just because the security implications of it are serious. But I also know that there are many people in the United States who will let you pry TikTok from their cold dead, technologically savvy hands. So, good luck with that. All right, there we go. All right. That is it for us today. Kai is going to be back on Monday. In the meantime, if you’ve got a question or comment you want to share with us you can leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART. You can also email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org You have to bounce to the song, Sabri. There you go. Take any excuse for a party. Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Today’s episode was engineered by Jayk Cherry. Our intern is Thalia Menchaca.

Sabri Ben-Achour 

The team behind our Friday game is Emily Macune and Antoinette Brock. Marissa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. And Francesca Levy is the executive director of Digital and On-Demand.

Kimberly Adams 

Thank you. Kai never bounces with me. Well, actually. He does on occasion. But that was a really good party bounce.

Sabri Ben-Achour

I try. I still know how to party.

Kimberly Adams

Yes, we both had good party years.

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