By on October 5, 2020

North America has changed immensely under the pandemic. The government tested what it could get away with under the premise of health-and-safety-related lockdowns; countless small businesses have gone belly up while larger entities seem to be thriving. Meanwhile, we’ve been informed that nature is returning to urban environments as humanity forced itself to stay indoors. Waters cleared, the air was purified, and animals ventured deeper into our territories while we sheltered in place. It was if Homo Sapiens had finally been demolished, providing Mother Earth a prime opportunity to patch herself up.

For a time, there was even a period where you could enjoy open, nearly enforcement-free roadways. Some cities, including mine, saw traffic declines in excess of 40 percent during the opening weeks of the virus response. While this ended when New York City brought in those temporary (and wildly unpopular) quarantine checkpoints at major crossings and attempted to open up for commerce, it still seems like far fewer individuals are driving overall.

That’s because there are. People just don’t need to venture out of their homes as much in 2020 and it is not just the lockdowns contributing to this change. Ordering items online has played a major factor, as does the increased reliance on at-home entertainment. In fact, a new study has suggested Americans may never drive as much as they did just a decade ago. This seems especially likely with so many companies encouraging office-based employees to continue working from home indefinitely, flushing millions of daily commutes down the proverbial toilet.

(Read More…)

By on September 24, 2020

2020 Hyundai Palisade - Image: Hyundai

Gauging economic health during the latter stages of 2020 is proving remarkably challenging. On the one hand, there’s grievous unemployment caused by COVID-19 shutdowns; on the other hand, bicycle sales are booming and backyard pool installations skyrocketed. Contrast the fact that the Dow Jones isn’t far from its six-month high with a 32 percent U.S. GDP loss in Q2.

The same sort of diametrically opposed outcomes are visible in the U.S. auto industry, as well. Only a handful of automakers still report monthly sales figures – Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo – yet within those brands there were remarkably different results coming out as we exit the summer. We wanted to find the vehicles that destroyed reasonable recovery rates in August with significant year-over-year improvements. But we didn’t expect them all to originate from the same two automakers.

(Read More…)

By on September 21, 2020

Whiter at NAIAS. Credit: NAIAS

The North American International Auto Show, aka the Detroit Auto Show, is moving. Again.

It never even had a chance to take place in summer, due to COVID. Now, it will be moving to September.

That’s right – assuming the pandemic is under control enough to allow for large gatherings by then, the NAIAS will take place just over one year from now, starting on September 28, 2021. The show will conclude on October 9.

(Read More…)

By on September 4, 2020

vw

It’s not so much a program as it is a trend. In Spain, which is currently enduring a second blow from a very resilient coronavirus, people are shunning public transit like their life depends on it. It very well could.

What to do? Simple — search classifieds and backyard sheds for any old heap that’s still roadworthy and drive the hell out of it. (Read More…)

By on September 2, 2020

2017 Jaguar lineup

Amid ongoing trade show cancellations that now stretch into the next calendar year, the L.A. Auto Show remains stubbornly fixed, apparently still a go for this November.

No one believes this will come to pass. Not with the current coronavirus situation, not with winter (and a feared second wave) approaching, and not without the appearance of a vaccine or some sort of breakthrough therapeutic drug. So it’s not surprising to hear that organizers might punt the event to late spring. (Read More…)

By on September 1, 2020

It hasn’t been a normal year, and all the plans you and I and even Subaru had for 2020 have more or less fallen flat. This year will not see the Japanese automaker grow its volume over 2019 levels. Targets set in the Before Times will not be met.

So why worry? Celebrate what you got.

That’s what Subaru did after tabulating its August sales tally, noting that the figure — representing a year-over-year loss of 17 percent — was actually its best showing so far this year. And once again, Subaru brass north of the border didn’t have to pretend. (Read More…)

By on August 28, 2020

PhotoStock10/Shutterstock.com. Track

The news lately seems to be all doom and gloom. The jokes and memes about 2020 continue to fly around the Interwebs. And much of the usual entertainment distractions available to us are on hiatus or heavily restricted, due to the pandemic.

All this makes me want to take a drive to clear my head sometimes. And while testing new cars for a living gives me an excuse to do just that, I think I need more than a relaxed freeway cruise or a blast down a back road to really relieve the stress.

I need to get my ass to the track.

(Read More…)

By on August 26, 2020

General Motors and Ford Motor Company are about to conclude their prolonged stint of ventilator production. In case you were unaware, these businesses typically manufacturer automobiles (cars, for the layperson) and have allocated a portion of their factory space to build medical equipment that was assumed to be useful during the pandemic. However, the United States now has more ventilators than it knows what to do with, and most of them seem like they won’t be required — so it’s mission accomplished, unless COVID-19 suddenly becomes a much more vicious illness.

Either way, GM and Ford both plan to re-prioritize vehicle production. The Blue Oval moved core staff off ventilator lines and back to their normal places of assembly months ago. Some of the remaining temporary workers hired to assist with the medical equipment are said to have an opportunity building the new Ford Bronco. Meanwhile, GM says it wants to move ventilator production to a facility in Kokomo, Indiana, next month, where it will hand operations over to Ventec Life Systems as it regains the union employs allocated for the project. Temporary hires will be absorbed by Ventec. (Read More…)

By on August 24, 2020

AutoNation’s collision parts division is scheduled to be eliminated by the end of 2020, freeing up some cash after the two-year endeavor proved less than profitable.

Former CEO Cheryl Miller had made it clear that one of her main goals for the company was to ramp up services in an attempt to enhance revenue and diversify the business. But this tactic has proven perilous for the automotive industry at large, often offsetting opportunities to make money with sizable financial risks.

Mobility is probably the best example of this, as its broad enough to encompass everything from self-driving vehicles to subscription models and relies on the market maturing into something that will presumably see returns on investment years down the line. However, AutoNation’s diversification was far more traditional. It seemed like a sure thing, since the collision parts business was forecast to grow over the next five years. In fact, despite being the the largest automotive retailer in the United States, the company actually owes 46 percent of its gross profit to parts and service. Selling cars (both new and used) only accounts for 24 percent — with the rest coming from finance and insurance. (Read More…)

By on August 21, 2020

The 2021 Washington, D.C. Auto Show has been postponed to buy organizers time to prepare for a virus everyone has known about since the start of 2020.

“We believe this scheduling change is in the best interests of our attendees, our partnering auto manufacturers, and the District of Columbia,” Washington, D.C. Auto Show CEO John O’Donnell said in a release on Friday. “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of all involved in this show, and we believe strongly that a two-month delay will better allow us to produce the type of well-rounded and immersive show that our attendees are accustomed to.”

Originally scheduled to open on January 29th, the motor show will now take place between March 26th and April 4th. That’s assuming the event isn’t outright cancelled, anyway. That’s been the trend for automotive trade shows and most major events since we decided “15 Days to Slow the Spread” would just reset at the end of the second week and COVID-19 became Schrödinger’s Virus thanks to some of the least consistent reporting in modern history. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2020

Ever since the first major oil fields were discovered at the start of the 20th century, the world has been on a never-ending hunt to see where else black gold might be hiding. Monetizing seepage areas goes back even further. But with global oil demand having dissipated on account of the pandemic, there’s little reason to spend cash on additional procurement.

Combine that with the green movement doing everything it can to convince governments there’s only one ethical way to handle energy, and we’re likely to be moving into an era where fossil fuels sell for less but cost more to harvest/utilize thanks to carbon emission regulations.

This has left oil companies pondering the true value of seeking new sources of oil, with some having already decided there’s no point. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2020

Image: JLR

Following a failed bid to secure a helping hand from the UK government, rumors arose that Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Group was considering selling its controlling stake in the British automaker.

The so-called rescue package didn’t see the light of day because the government felt Tata wasn’t exactly in dire financial straits. If it wanted to rustle up some dough, it would have to look elsewhere. On Monday, Tata made it clear: Jaguar Land Rover will not become an orphan again. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2020

2020 Nissan Versa sedan - Image: Nissan

No Yaris. No Fiesta. No Sonic. No Mazda2. No Fit.

America’s subcompact car segment is decimated. According to Tyson Jominy, the vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, 40 percent of last year’s subcompact sales are gone. Jominy doesn’t mean “fewer sales.” He means that the nameplates responsible for 40 percent of the sales are gone.

And is it any wonder? As recently as 2014, subcompact cars produced 3.8 percent of all U.S. auto sales. Collectively, the few remaining subcompact cars now account for just 1.4 percent of the American light vehicle market.

At the current rate of decline, fewer than 1 percent of the vehicles sold in America in 2022 will be subcompact cars. But we all know the current rate of decline is hardly an accurate harbinger. If subcompacts own 1 percent of the market in 2021, we’d be surprised.  (Read More…)

By on August 14, 2020

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid - Image: Toyota Canada

Consumer spending and confidence are not hitting record highs. Go figure. As the pandemic rages and a vast swath of formerly gainfully employed Americans find their financial future much hazier then before, new car sales are suffering. It doesn’t bode well for sales volume during the remainder of the year.

Of course, that pain is not spread evenly among all automakers, but let’s set the OEMs’ concerns aside for a moment. What are actual buyers and doing — and thinking? (Read More…)

By on August 13, 2020

General Motors said it plans to share some of the safety technology it developed as a countermeasure to the coronavirus pandemic this week. These include a thermal scanning kiosk that uses infrared imaging to take temperatures of people as they stream into facilities, as well as a touchless printer app designed to keep staff from repeatedly touching the control panel. However, it’s the third item, GM’s contact-tracing software, that’s the most novel and controversial.

Practically every company in the world is working on ways to better track people, and their efforts have only accelerated during the pandemic. The presumption here is that by knowing every person someone has come into contact with, you can effectively track the progress of a virus. Despite sounding terrifyingly dystopian just a few years earlier, the notion has become a favorite among tech giants  most of whom are working on their own version.

GM’s involves a wristband, integrated into iOS and Android devices, that keeps tabs on how close employees are to each other. The company has since added support for Bluetooth beacons.

“We believe our application advances the state of the art when it comes to mobile apps for contact tracing, which is the subject of massive software development efforts across multiple industries today,” Tony Bolton, GM’s chief information officer of Global Telecommunications and End-User Services, said in a release. (Read More…)

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