The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) is proposing a national strategy for the United States it claims will help keep the country competitive. However, the AAI represents automakers, parts suppliers, and technology firms around the globe — making this more of a plea to U.S. policymakers and the industry to remain laser-focused on electrification, connectivity, and vehicular automation. It’s pitching its preferred global strategy, not some custom strategy for helping the U.S. achieve dominance because it’s telling the European Union and Asia the exact same story.
Elsewhere, the eight-part plan is being touted as an invaluable tool to help guide America back toward automotive relevance. But here, we remain skeptical.
Nissan’s planned corporate governance reforms were teetering on the brink of disaster after alliance partner Renault indicated it might abstain from voting on them. The French automaker’s concerns were varied, focusing primarily on a lack of representation from Europe. But some believed Renault was feeling vengeful after Nissan failed to support a merger proposal with Fiat Chrysler and found the Japanese brand’s push for autonomy unsavory. Fortunately, for Nissan, Renault played ball and the reforms passed.
Hiroto Saikawa will likewise retain his position as CEO, despite previous indications that he would step down and claims that he might be too close to Carlos Ghosn to hold the job. Ultimately, Nissan shareholders voted for his reappointment and he promised to carry them boldly into the future while taking some responsibility for the brand’s recent bout of industrial scandals. However Saikawa’s time with the company may be short lived, as he’s already discussing his replacement.
Cox Automotive, in conjunction with Automotive News, just released its Retail Brand Scorecards Study for 2018. The survey is interesting in that it ranks the perceived value of automakers by assessing how desirable they are to dealerships via an A-through-F grading system. Though, as engaging as it might be to look at these traits from a highly specific viewpoint (how dealerships see you in relation to specific manufacturers), we’re not sure how useful the average consumer will find them. Dealers and industry geeks, however, may want to take notice.
“This study represents a comprehensive review of brands from a unique perspective — how well they support the success of dealers,” said Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. “As we assembled the data and began to see how the brands performed differently, we started looking at the results as grades in high school, where the most well-rounded and high-achieving students are those who perform well across a wide range of disciplines. With that scorecard framework, we found a clear set of brands that are honor-roll worthy, as they are in essence the hardest-working, most successful students.”
Automotive News has published the results of a survey it commissioned this spring concerning sexism experienced by women working in the automotive industry.
It’s a coincidence, of course, but it’s interesting timing in the wake of the sexual harassment conversation taking place in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. One refrain I’ve seen banded about is something like “this doesn’t just happen with powerful people in Hollywood, but in every industry.”
This survey would appear to indicate that the automotive industry is not immune, and personal observational experience from my time in the industry — especially my time in the dealer world — backs that up.
After the reveal of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Dodge Demon at the New York Auto Show, I thought all the hooplah would be over. We all did. Little did I know Automotive News’ editorial board would pen a screed calling for the Demon’s banishment from American roads, which then caused others to cry foul at the bylineless editorial, and subsequently triggered Larry Vellequette — the author of the original piece — to double down on his thoughts, name attached.
In the last piece, Mr. Vellequette claims, “It is still a stupid idea for Fiat Chrysler to outfit the Dodge Demon as a high-performance drag racer and then sell it to the motoring public in a form that makes it inherently more dangerous off the track.”
He’s not wrong. Drag radials come fitted to the Demon from the factory, and he claims they’re “prone to lose traction in even a light morning mist under that much torque — regardless of electronic intervention.” I won’t argue with that.
But I will argue with the logic upon which Mr. Vellequette bases his call for exorcising this Demon from America’s roads, and who he thinks should do something about it.
Update: We’ve redacted a sentence from this editorial. You can find an explanation here.
Jay-Z and Beyonce got nothing on the marketing people from Dodge. The last low-volume vehicle to get this kind of publicity and raise this kind of ruckus was probably the LaFerrari, which was definitely not based on a $29.99/day rental car. (Trust me, I’ve driven the LaFerrari.) It will also toss, by my back-of-envelope estimation, somewhere between $100m and $200m into the company coffers, even if you don’t take into account all the lower-spec Challengers — even Hellcats — the Demon will sell just by drawing traffic into dealers.
The media response to the Demon has been half predictable and half rather refreshing.
The predictable part is the Motor Trend-style cheerleading, which in this case has spread far beyond MT because — let’s face it — anybody can get excited over a nine-second street car. (By contrast, it takes a seasoned hack, erm, a real pro to get excited about the Bolt.) The refreshing half of the commentary has come from the half of the media that likes to style itself as an un-elected and un-appointed fiscal watchdog of the industry. These are the people who whine a certain car “won’t sell” or “doesn’t make money” as if they are major shareholders of GM instead of underwater-basketweaving-degree-holders sitting in rent-controlled apartments on a mountain of student debt.
Normally, these people would be up in arms that an automaker has taken time off from the critical business of building suppository-shaped RX300 clones to briefly indulge in a bout of misguided enthusiasm about automobiles. In this case, however, the Demon is so obviously going to be wildly profitable that they’ve been forced to shut up and/or join the chorus of approbation. Except, that is, for one crusty old relic of the legacy media who’s found a new tune to play.
My goodness, when isn’t former General Motors exec Bob Lutz just the best? The former GM chief recently appeared on an Automotive News panel and boy that guy has vision and the rest of us have bifocals.
Car and Driver correctly points out that Lutz makes good points regarding a merger between GM and Chrysler, but the sage’s wisdom doesn’t stop at the following quote:
“The knowledge that one is to be hanged in the morning focuses the mind wonderfully.”
It appears that I am a few days behind Matt in cruising westbound down Route 66 in New Mexico. We checked into the legendary Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari last night and discovered that our room came equipped with the December 24, 1956 issue of Automotive News, unearthed from a long-closed dealership down the street. Some of the articles in the trade rag proved that today’s car biz is indeed, in the words of Yankee great Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again”…
Something I’ve long maintained (and that has been backed up by many of the B&B) is that young people still like cars and do care about them. The issue of falling car ownership among young people is largely an economic one. The cost of living is going up while wages are stagnating. Gasoline is expensive. Student debt, smartphones and rent are more important obligations than car payments, insurance and fuel. All of that can be quantified with data.
What hasn’t been so easily demonstrable was that young people still like cars, despite the wishful thinking of many who cheer for the end to the automobile era. Now we finally have some good research that backs up my gut feeling.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if you want proof that Ford’s water-walking CEO doesn’t “get” automotive branding, look at Lincoln. The Blue Oval Boyz’ upmarket marque is in total disarray. Lincoln lacks anything approaching an effective brand proposition; it’s burning through tag lines almost as quickly and ineffectively as the industry standard for pitiful performance (Buick). Does it even matter? Lincoln’s line of lackluster products simply aren’t good enough to make it in The Bigs. And then there’s the Medusa-class disaster known as the MKT: a poorly-built, misbegotten machine constructed on Big Al’s watch. Automotive News [sub] deployed no less than three writers to talk to Mulally about languid old Lincoln, AND they spotted him the lazy journalist’s and persnickety PR person’s best friend: the Q&A format. Even so, the result is an extraordinary non-outburst from an executive who believes that combining Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers is a good thing. Check out this exchange: