By on October 17, 2017

FCA Brampton Assembly Line Challenger & 300 - Image: FCA

As the fifth round of NAFTA talks come to a close, Mexico and Canada continue to reject the United States’ demands regarding automobiles, diary, dispute panels, government procurement and the sunset clause. Among the more recent automotive proposals kicking up dirt is the U.S.’s wish to include steel in NAFTA’s tracing list and increase the mandatory local content of every car built in North America. The attempt has annoyed foreign officials and left the industry fretting about increased production costs and complexity.

The increasingly tense nature of the talks has left many wondering if President Trump will make good on his earlier threat to leave NAFTA. However, plenty of analysts are of the mind that a deal will eventually be reached between the three countries. (Read More…)

By on October 8, 2017

renaissance center Detroit

Promoting a future for wide electrification appears to be the Achilles’ heel for bearish investors. Despite some bad publicity last week, Tesla Motors’ already sky-high share price resumed its relentless upward trend after a brief September slump. However, Tesla isn’t the only domestic company benefiting from electrification. Both General Motors and Ford have also seen marked improvements on Wall Street following tech-forward corporate announcements.

For General Motors, that meant the promise of widespread electrification. CEO Mary Barra pressed the issue by reaffirming GM’s three-tiered policy of, “Zero Crashes. Zero Emissions. Zero Congestion.” On a LinkedIn posting, Barra elaborated on the company’s vision where technology minimizes accidents via driver’s aids and autonomous hardware, nullifies emissions through alternative powertrains, and reduces congestion using inter-vehicle connectivity.

In addition to GM’s proposal to launch 20 new electric or fuel cell vehicles by 2023, the company has seen its share price jump twice in the same week. But Ford saw similar, although more modest, improvements in value following it’s own announcement of a tech-driven future.  (Read More…)

By on October 5, 2017

The Audi Q7 virtual cockpit

Automobiles are more tech-laden than ever and, according to a recent study, those interactive bells and whistles contribute heavily to distracted driving.

With connected cars ready to shoot off assembly lines and into driveways at an accelerated pace, the danger of someone flicking through their dashboard menus when they should be looking at the road is only going to grow. Many states prohibit phone usage while driving, yet there is no law against setting your radio pre-tunes or customizing your digital dashboard while hurtling down the expressway — not that there necessarily should be.

However, the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned researchers from the University of Utah to examine the physical and mental demand required to complete various tasks using the infotainment systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. The conclusion was that the growing cavalcade of buttons, screens, and technology does an incredibly good job at keeping you from minding the road ahead.  (Read More…)

By on October 4, 2017

South Korea Chevy Malibu 2015

Officials from the United States and South Korea held a special session in Washington on Wednesday as part of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s request to consider amending the two countries’ trade agreement. The joint talks serve to reassess the countries’ five-year pact, with the Trump administration aiming to diminish America’s growing trade deficit with South Korea.

One of the largest issues concerns the automotive industry. Korean rules stipulate a cap on the number of vehicles U.S. automakers can bring into the country each year that adhere to the country of origin’s safety standards. Presently, that quota sits at 25,000 vehicles per manufacturer. However, no U.S. company has ever made full use of the quota. General Motors, which is the most popular U.S. brand in South Korea, only sold 13,150 domestically built units in 2016.  (Read More…)

By on October 4, 2017

tesla factory fremont, Image: Tesla Motors

Yesterday, we mentioned how Tesla was behind schedule with its everyman Model 3 — delivering only 220 units to the half-million reservation holders since the start of production in late July. While we knew it would get off to a slow start, CEO Elon Musk previously assured the public that production would increase exponentially through the end of the year by way of a “production hell” trial by fire.

Musk claimed there should be “zero concern” about Tesla achieving a production rate of 10,000 cars a week before the end of next year. But many wondered if that was even possible. Despite Tesla making serious strides to increase production volume this year, we remained dubious that the proposed numbers were even feasible for a fledgeling automaker.

As it turns out, they weren’t — and the company knew it.  (Read More…)

By on October 4, 2017

Ford Escape Titanium badge logo, Image: Ford Motor Company

After much speculation, Ford CEO Jim Hackett has finally outlined where his company’s dollars will be spent in the foreseeable future. Hackett spent his summer performing what Ford called a “four-month deep dive” into the company’s strategy and business operations to see what changes needed to be made. His conclusions? This may surprise a few readers, but Ford will continue building and selling automobiles.

Alright, that isn’t a bombshell, but the brand is trying to frame itself as the Ford you’ve always trusted while also letting everyone know it’s still a “mobility company” with its eyes fixed on tomorrow. Without the public relations veneer, that plan translates into a reduced number of production models and trims, more money for electrification R&D, less for internal combustion engines, and a significant reduction in material costs.

Hackett’s address also served to reassure the nervous shareholders who ousted his predecessor, Mark Fields. Ford’s stock declined more than 30 percent during Fields’ tenure and many complained that his vision of transitioning from a traditional automaker to a Silicon Valley look-alike was partly to blame. Hackett did everything in his power to ease those fears.

“We’re going to be in the vehicle business moving both people and goods. Some myth about not being in the car business is gone,” Hackett told Wall Street. (Read More…)

By on October 2, 2017

magneti-marelli

Fiat Chrysler is trying to work some financial magic to make itself look more appetizing to prospective investors. However, few buyers are likely to be interested in the whole of FCA. Its North American half has proven adept at assembling sport utility vehicles and Jeep would be a tasty morsel for any company hoping to expand its portfolio. But the Italian arm’s focus on smaller automobiles could get in the way of a potential deal — especially if the buyer already has their own.

CEO Sergio Marchionne wants the company to be purchased by an established automaker, but there are precious few that would want everything it has to offer. One possible solution is to separate subsidiaries from the core group. Marchionne says that might be the best solution for dealing with component supplier Magneti Marelli.

FCA has been of the mind that streamlining the business is the best way to attract investors without harming subsidiaries. After all, it worked well enough for Ferrari. The brand was spun off from FCA in late 2015, and its stock valuation embarked upon a rocket ride to the moon the following month.  (Read More…)

By on September 29, 2017

nissan emblem badge logo

The United Auto Workers has accused Nissan Motor Company of tracking and rating employees based on their union sentiments at the same Mississippi assembly plant where workers recently voted down union representation.

In early August, factory employees voted against joining by an almost 2-to-1 margin. At the time, the UAW claimed intimidation tactics and censorship crippled its attempt to reach workers. Now it’s saying Nissan also surveilled its entire staff and employed a comprehensive ratings system that documented each individual’s behavior regarding potential unionization.

The formal complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, alleges Nissan “has maintained and continues to maintain an employee surveillance, data collection and rating system that records employee union activity and rates workers according to their perceived support for or opposition to the UAW.” (Read More…)

By on September 29, 2017

nafta-secretariat

President Donald Trump entered into office threatening to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement if the United States was not given a better deal immediately. But, after negotiations began, it looked as if his ultimatum would be unnecessary.

Now, U.S. officials involved in NAFTA negotiations are being accused of making proposals on issues Mexico and Canada have said they would never agree to. Are these bold negotiation tactics being used to place the U.S. in a better position for future issues, or are trade arbitrators intentionally trying to sabotage talks so Trump can make good on his promise to leave the agreement?   (Read More…)

By on September 28, 2017

CarMax Dealer

Over 25 percent of the used vehicles sold through eight CarMax locations in the United States had recall defects that were not addressed, according to a recent safety report.

The 2017 study, conducted by the Center For Auto Safety, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation and the MASSPIRG Education Fund, noted that vehicles with unresolved safety recalls  had more than doubled since 2015 at the five locations surveyed in both years. That is worthy of a raised eyebrow or two.

Questions remain, however. While the review cites numerous locations selling vehicles with what many would consider unacceptable issues, we don’t definitively know if this is indicative of CarMax as a whole. But lets face it, there were 64 million vehicles recalled for safety problems last year — exceeding the total for the previous three years combined. (Read More…)

By on September 27, 2017

eq concept mercedes-benz

Daimler has fired back after Telsa CEO Elon Musk returned to Twitter to speak his mind on the company’s decision to drop $1 billion into its Alabama plant. The investment is intended to aid production of a forthcoming electric SUV but, earlier this week, Musk said that wasn’t “a lot of money for a giant like Daimler/Mercedes. Wish they’d do more. Off by a zero.”

The following day, the Daimler responded over social media, suggesting Musk was “absolutely right” and pointed out that it’s actually investing over $10 billion, with only the first billion going into the assembly plant.

Whether you’re interested in electric vehicles or not, you have to admit these inter-automotive squabbles make the entire happening a lot more interesting. While cars themselves can be exciting, the corporate environment that facilitates their production is usually much less so. There’s also a chance that this type of good-natured clashing might result in a more competitive spirit — something we definitely would not mind seeing more of.  (Read More…)

By on September 22, 2017

faraday future groundbreak

The honeymoon is over before it even began. The State of Nevada is ending its relationship with automaker Faraday Future, which once promised to build a vast and glorious manufacturing facility within its borders — in exchange for tax incentives.

Eschewing construction of its $1 billion promise in North Las Vegas due to financial woes, Faraday was insistent that it was going to begin construction on a smaller assembly plant before tackling the rest of the build site. According to the company, a bijou factory was to be the first phase of a multi-stage approach intended to bring the FF 91 swiftly to market.

In July, Faraday Future announced it would be placing that project on hold as well, but remained committed to using the Nevada site for long-term vehicle manufacturing. Until then, it said it would shift its business strategy “to position the company as the leader in user-ship personal mobility — a vehicle usage model that reimagines the way users access mobility.” If anyone knows what that gibberish means, we’d love to know. It’s been several months and we still can’t decipher that sentence into useful information.  (Read More…)

By on September 21, 2017

hyundai-sonata-eco-grille logo

Snubbed by both the Germans and the Chinese, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is continuing its journey to find the automaker that will sweep it off its feet and say, “Let’s build a factory together.” However, if CEO Sergio Marchionne maintains that FCA will be bought by an established automaker, he’s running out of options. The automotive dating pool isn’t particularly deep.

While there was some stirrings of vague Korean interest when news broke of talks between FCA and Chinese automakers, those rumors dissipated quickly. But reports of a possible business deal between Hyundai and the Italian-American company surfaced recently after Great Wall Motors shrugged off its proposed bid for Jeep. FCA later said it had not received any offer from the Chinese manufacturer.

Presumably, Great Wall would have used FCA to supplement its sport utility sales and begin making moves on North America. Another brand that might be interested in bolstering its supply of SUVs is Hyundai — something the South Korean press has been buzzing about all week.  (Read More…)

By on September 20, 2017

earthquake damaged car (public domain)

Automakers spent Wednesday surveying factory sites in Central Mexico after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake ravaged the region Tuesday evening. However, after some momentary shutdowns, it’s looking like business as usual for most manufacturers. Despite countless injuries, over 200 fatalities, and widespread damage yet to be fully assessed, the automotive industry emerged from the quake largely unscathed.

Arguably the hardest hit, Volkswagen Group’s Puebla plant temporarily halted assembly so workers could inspect buildings for damage. Finding no significant structural harm, factory employees resumed third-shift production of the Jetta and Golf.

Audi’s crossover plant, also in the state of Puebla, sustained no obvious damage. It’s second shift was halted early on Tuesday as well. The company said third-shift production was canceled so that employees could attend to their loved ones after the quake. (Read More…)

By on September 19, 2017

Fictional Autonomous Ford in Super Bowl Commercial

There’s nothing that will convince me that the first wave of autonomous taxis will be anything other than mobile biohazards, providing a slightly less convenient solution to paying a man to let you ride in the back of his Toyota Camry for a few miles. However, I will give them a shot once they arrive — mainly out of curiosity, which puts me in the minority.

Gartner Inc., an American research and advisory firm that works specifically within the realm of advanced technologies, recently completed a survey where over half of its respondents said there was no way in hell they’d get into the back of a fully autonomous vehicle. Its findings echo an American-based MIT study from earlier this year, as well as a global survey from Deloitte. The consensus: most of the population doesn’t feel particularly good about self-driving cars.

Not to be a defender of unproven technology, but there’s also nothing stopping a human cab driver from driving you to the wrong destination before trying to murder you with an axe. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility. Likewise, autonomous cabs pose some element of risk no matter how good a job manufacturers do with those early models. But you’re not likely to be the occupant of the one that does goes haywire. It’s a problem of perception more than anything else.  (Read More…)

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