By on June 22, 2017

us-capitol, public domain

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday there was no definitive timeline for completing NAFTA trade renegotiations. Discussions haven’t even begun between the United States, Canada, and Mexico but legislators and executives have already warned prolonged negotiations would likely be detrimental to their interests.

The automotive industry is mainly seeking a swift and unambiguous update that doesn’t rock the boat too severely. Every day there is no consensus on the trade agreement is another day it has to postpone large investments. Ideally, the U.S. wants the redrawn NAFTA to prioritize its workforce and industry, while the Trump administration aims to tax imports and force companies to do more business within its borders. But, with nothing finalized, many automakers are in a holding pattern. Volkswagen, for example, is putting off decisions on major U.S. investments until it becomes clearer what course NAFTA will take.  (Read More…)

By on June 21, 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Image: TechCrunch/Flickr

Uber’s founder is stepping away from the company — not for the summer, as originally planned, but for good. CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned after a relentless string of controversies caused the company to lose face for all of 2017 thus far.

On Tuesday, five of Uber’s largest investors demanded that the chief executive resign. This was followed by Kalanick’s official confirmation and a posting from the company’s head of U.S. operations outlining a 180 day strategy to turn things around. While the plan made no mention of Travis’ departure, the resignation certainly seems to jibe with its objectives.

Other more official aspects of Uber’s cleverly named “180” include trials for driver tipping in several major cities and a surcharge for teenagers because everyone hates them. The ride-hailing firm is also adding Driver Injury Protection Insurance and a way to bill passengers for making them wait. None of these changes appear to be all-inclusive, however. Uber has also made it fairly vague as to when and where some of these changes will occur.  (Read More…)

By on June 20, 2017

ford focus st, Image: Ford Motor Co.

There’s a good chance the next Ford Focus you purchase will have arrived via a slow boat from China. Despite abandoning assembly plans in Mexico earlier this year, Ford Motor Company has decided the next-generation model will remain an import, now by way of Asia.

Current Focus production in Wayne, Michigan will be eliminated in the middle of next year to make way for Ford’s upcoming Ranger pickup (in late 2018) and Bronco (in 2020). The automaker assures hourly workers they won’t suffer from layoffs resulting from the changeover, but admits to prioritizing its U.S. assembly plants for trucks and SUVs — vehicles Americans will actually buy. (Read More…)

By on June 20, 2017

Carlos Ghosn

Since acquiring Mitsubishi in 2016, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has found itself in the midst of Volkswagen and Toyota’s struggle for the title of World’s Largest Automaker.

At the end of 2016, VW was still on top but momentarily ceded ground as Toyota amped up volume in early 2017. Compared to last year, the Germans saw sales fall a half-percent in the first quarter of 2017 as the Japanese companies recorded more stable growth. But CEO extraordinaire Carlos Ghosn believes Renault-Nissan has what it takes to fill the top spot before the end of the summer.

While it would be a privilege to tell you that Ghosn entered a darkened room illuminated by a single spotlight to announce the time for the Alliance to crush its enemies was now, the reality was far more tame. The shareholders meeting was adequately lit and Carlos stated, without malice, that becoming the world’s largest automotive superpower is more of an inevitable accident than an intentional conquest. (Read More…)

By on June 15, 2017

Drone, Public Domain

Now that automakers have more or less mastered the ability to assemble competent transportation for the masses, the quest to build a better car has branched out into strange places. Connectivity is one of the burgeoning frontiers of automotive achievement and its threshold for greatness continues to be raised. With navigation and phone integration handled, manufacturers have begun seeking other ways to interconnect vehicles with all manner of devices. Occupants can now benefit from onboard GPS, Wi-Fi, and — more recently — smart home devices like Amazon’s Echo.

Drones could be next.

While it sounds almost comically implausible, several automakers and suppliers have begun toying with the idea of equipping specific models with drones. Last September, Mercedes-Benz introduced the idea that its delivery vans should have the option of being equipped with package-toting quadcopters as part of a five-year-plan to terrify suburbia. FCA designed a concept Wrangler for the Easter Jeep Safari that included a roof-mounted landing pad for a recreational drone. Mitsubishi Electric is showcasing its new FLEXConnect.AI infotainment platform with drone functionality.  (Read More…)

By on June 14, 2017

fairfax line assembly factory general motors, Image: General Motors

If your current employment involves building a sedan for a domestic automaker, there’s both good and bad news awaiting you. General Motors is extending summer breaks at certain assembly plants and there may be an opportunity for some workers to extend that time off indefinitely, resulting in the least welcome vacations imaginable.

Stagnating sales and a bloated inventory is forcing GM to lengthen its traditional two-week summer shutdown to as many as five weeks for two U.S. factories, according to union officials. The affected plants are Lordstown Assembly, located in Ohio, and Kansas City’s Fairfax Assembly. Lordstown assembles the Chevrolet Cruze while Fairfax is responsible for the midsize Malibu, which has had a horrendous 2017. The Malibu had plenty of company in the doldrums, too. Through May, U.S. car sales were down 11 percent while truck and SUV sales rose by nearly 5 percent, forcing automakers to play favorites(Read More…)

By on June 13, 2017

uber volvo

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive and all-star pariah, will take a leave of absence from the ride-hailing company, according to an internal memo sent to employees. The only question this raises is: why did it take him this long? Uber has been the subject of so much negative publicity in 2017, much of it circulating around Kalanick himself, that the CEO had dozens of primo opportunities to step down. Why wait until the fun-in-the-sun summer months to go on break?

The company email stated Kalanick needed time to grieve for his recently deceased mother, who passed away in May. It’s also been an ugly year for the CEO from a business perspective, who previously stated he would “get help” to become a better boss.

While Travis is on his somber vacation, sweeping corporate changes are taking place inside Uber. After being outed for its toxic workplace environment, problems with discrimination, and rampant allegations of sexual harassment, a change had to be made. However, some of them are downright laughable.  (Read More…)

By on June 11, 2017

ces-asia hyundai, Image: CES Asia

Automakers continue to snub mainstream automotive trade shows for CES, which is swiftly becoming one. Compared to Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show, Asia’s nascent tech expo is exceptionally small but that hasn’t prevented automakers from taking an interest. Only in its third year, CES Asia hosted General Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and Volvo.

In fact, several of the event’s large rooms housed nothing but products stemming from automotive manufacturers — underlining how automakers need to be perceived in 2017. China’s massive population is churning out heaps of new drivers everyday, making it the primary growth market for many global brands. Combine that with the country’s aggressive push into green cars — with a public that is perpetually hungry for tech-laden vehicles — and CES Asia attendance was compulsory for many. (Read More…)

By on June 9, 2017

facebook mobile phone, public domain

Facebook isn’t just a hotbed of meaningless virtue signaling, thinly veiled racism, political rants, and overly serious arguments with people you haven’t seen in several years. It’s also a great place for advertisers to spend their money — at least, that’s what the platform wants automobile manufacturers to believe. The social media site is trying to establish closer ties with the industry, and went so far as to send COO Sheryl Sandberg to Detroit to host the first Facebook Automotive Summit in five years.

However, if you’re anything like me, your feed is probably already clogged up with car ads. This morning’s limited browsing yielded placements for Jaguar and Genesis before asking me when I last drove a Hyundai. Facebook thinks it can do more, targeting the subset of its 2 billion users which could benefit automakers the most. While the website has stepped up its game, future ad investments will still suffer from runoff to zero-engagement click farms in countries like India, Egypt, and Brazil.

A large company might deem those losses acceptable, but does it really matter when so few people buy new cars online?  (Read More…)

By on June 8, 2017

VW logo, Image: Volkswagen

Earlier this week, former Hyundai executive Derrick Hatami appeared to be a corporate sacrificial lamb — slaughtered by the Korean automaker to appease the angry sales gods. His abrupt departure from the company seemed to be an under-the-rug firing. However, his former employer quickly reached to us to explain Hatami had left on his own accord, wishing him well. While that’s often the boilerplate explanation when an executive is forcibly ousted from a large company, Hyundai wasn’t lying.

Hatami appeared, as if by magic, on Volkswagen of America roster less than 48 hours after news of his exodus broke. The current assumption is that his apparent firing from Hyundai was, in fact, a poaching maneuver undertaken by VW. Otherwise, this man has the most incredible interviewing skills on planet Earth.  (Read More…)

By on June 5, 2017

2017 Ram 1500 Rebel Blue Streak, Image: FCA

Ford’s F-Series is the undisputed king of the domestic pickup market. It’s high atop the mountain, looking down upon its rivals as they savagely bludgeon each other with gnarled branches. For years, the majority of that abuse fell on Ram. Then, all of a sudden, 2017 came and Chevrolet ended up with a broken nose. In the primeval battle of truck sales superiority, Chevy’s Silverado no longer occupies the second place position for full-size pickups. Ram does.

Alright, it isn’t quite that dramatic. General Motors’ truck offerings aren’t exclusive to the Silverado and the automaker still outsold Fiat Chrysler when factoring in pickup deliveries from its GMC division. However, we’re counting this as a victory for Ram because FCA needs one — and overtaking Chevy sales isn’t exactly small potatoes. This is a major leap forward for a brand that seemed perpetually in last place.  (Read More…)

By on June 4, 2017

oil change, Image: Yonkers Honda

Robots may be able to assemble your car, but they aren’t going to be servicing it anytime soon. Automation has made many industrial occupations irrelevant over the last few decades. Machines have even begun entering the fast-food industry and proven themselves adept line cooks. So then why aren’t they changing your oil?

The technology is available but implementing it is too damned expensive and slow. No machine yet qualifies as a “full-service” device, so centers would have to purchase multiple rigs and keep someone on staff to operate them — not exactly cost-effective. However, as those machines come down in price and gain in number, we’ll begin seeing them put into use more and more. Eventually, you’ll be returning to the servicing department to complain about a robot ruining your car instead of an inexperienced mechanic. But when? (Read More…)

By on June 2, 2017

Donald Trump, public domain

On Thursday, President Trump made the decision to ditch the Paris climate accord and the entire internet seemingly spent the next twelve hours calling it a misstep. Either the president possesses a hidden wisdom on the subject that nobody else can seem to fathom, or he has severely misjudged the public’s position on environmental issues. Calling the accord “unfair at the highest level to the United States,” Trump suggested the deal was detrimental to the country’s manufacturing efforts and gave other nations a financial advantage.

However, the instant feedback from the automotive industry did not appear to share his viewpoint. With nearly 200 other countries still adhering to the nonbinding Paris agreement, it’s almost as if Trump had forgotten car companies operate on a global stage. Both General Motors and Ford Motor Company issued statements in opposition to Trump’s decision.

“We believe climate change is real, and remain deeply committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our vehicles and our facilities,” announced Ford. “Our commitment to sustainability is why we’re investing so heavily in electrification and adding 13 new electrified vehicles to our lineup.” (Read More…)

By on May 31, 2017

Automobility LA, Image: Automobility LA

The Los Angeles Auto Show is once again hosting the Top Ten Automotive Startups competition and has opened the door for entrants. If you’ve ever wanted to troll a major automotive trade show with your worst ideas or promote your extremely flimsy business model, this is your opportunity.

Of course, the application process also works if you have a legitimate business you’re looking to showcase. Thanks to the LA Auto Show’s decision to rebrand itself as “AutoMobility LA,” the bar for entry is fairly low. Your automotive startup could involve a drone that finds your keys or a mobile app where people rank the visual appeal of various tire tread patterns. It really only needs to be vaguely auto related. Think we’re kidding? Previously selected winners include Elio Motors, Urb-e scooters, and HopSkipDrive — a ride hailing application aimed specifically at children.  (Read More…)

By on May 31, 2017

Anthony Levandowski at MCE 2016, Image: Transport Topics/Flickr

Uber Technologies Inc. has fired Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the center of the company’s legal battle with Google and Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo. The company confirmed the departure Tuesday, after weeks of Levandowski remaining silent as the court attempted to make sense of what had taken place between the two companies (as well as Uber’s own internal investigation).

The Waymo’s lawsuit alleges Levandowski stole proprietary information relating to their self-driving vehicles, which he then handed to Uber. In May, U.S. District Judge William Alsup stated that he believed there was evidence to suggest Uber had gained trade secrets belonging to Google and that Levandowski should be removed from his lead engineering role. However, the ride-sharing firm claims he was taken off autonomous development in April.  (Read More…)

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