This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parcel it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear:Toyota updated its profit forecasts for the fiscal year ending in March 2012, and they're about as bad as one might expect for Japan's largest manufacturer. Profits are expected to fall 31% from last year's total to about $3.2 billion — even assuming Toyota restores production on schedule. While Toyota has made quick work of bringing back suppliers, the ongoing recovery from Japan's quake and tsunami poses other hurdles, like Japanese government requests to cut power use by 15% this summer. It's likely Toyota will be passed by General Motors and Volkswagen in the race for world's largest automaker.
2nd Gear:This year's 24 Hours of Le Mans could be one for the ages, if the competition in qualifying rounds Thursday holds for the rest of the weekend. Audi swept the front row of the race again this year, with the R18 diesel lapping the course in 3:25.738, but only five-tenths of a second separates the six Audi and Peugeot prototypes at the front of the grid, and the Peugeots were matching the Audis second by second for much of the day. Nissan/Oreca, BMW and Ferrari paced the other three classes.
3rd Gear:Surprise: The top U.S. auto safety regulator isn't a fan of mixing social media and driving. "I'm just putting everyone on notice. A car is not a mobile device," said David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during a forum in suburban Detroit with companies who want to add more Internet apps to vehicles. "I'm not in the business of helping people tweet better. I'm not in the business of helping people post on Facebook better." (Where did I see these comments first? Twitter.) How Strickland and his boss, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, might turn their opposition to connected vehicles into rules isn't known.
4th Gear:Proving that not all Japanese automakers are forsaking sports cars, Subaru put British Rally Driver Mark Higgins in a near-stock WRX STi and turned him loose on the Isle of Man course with no practice. The result? A record time for a four-wheel-vehicle on the course of 19:56.7 — some two minutes faster than the previous record set in 1990, with a top speed of 162 mph. The only changes to the Subie were tougher springs, a rollcage and a louder exhaust to warn Isle residents, who one might suspect would be used to such things by now.
5th Gear:Chevy announced this morning that the rest of America can now order 2012 Chevrolet Volts, after limiting the 2011 roll-out to seven states and the District of Columbia. And the expansion also brings a $1,000 price cut, with a base Volt now retailing for $39,995, although new options mean a loaded Volt can sticker at $46,265, before the $7,500 federal tax credit. Now that its available from Tuscaloosa to Tacoma, it's only a matter of time before someone begins the ill-considered customizing. The nation's scissor-door kit builders are standing by.
6th Gear:Ford will roll out its latest relaunch of the Lincoln brand late this year, according to the Wall Street Journal, showing off an updated MKS sedan and MKT sport-utility vehicle, part of a seven-model onslaught with more techy features through next year. The money quote from Ford product chief Derrick Kuzak: "You think of BMW as engaging to drive; you can think of Lexus as refined. Bring them together and it is a new experience no customer has ever had." One thing missing from the Journal story: Any indication that Ford is spending the necessary money to make Lincoln mechanically distinct from the Fords that they typically share a showroom with so shoppers might have a compelling reason beyond a marketer's fever dream to actually buy them.
⏎How not to import a stainless steel jeep from the Phillipines (or anywhere, really). [Autoweek]
⏎Ally Financial delays its IPO [Detroit News]
⏎Ken Block is in Montreal for some kind of announcement. I didn't know he speaks French? [Facebook]
⏎Five Detroit-area gas stations owners accused of price fixing, or in layman's terms, "running gas stations." [Freep]
⏎With Ford all up in "American Idol," Chevy will sponsor Simon Cowell's new "The X Factor." America, world's leading producer of televised talent competitions. [AdAge]
⏎The Daily Hoon goes to Lime Rock for Memorial Day. [Daily Hoon]
Today in Automotive History:
Paul Newman finishes second in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, the biggest win of his race driving career. There's still no one quite like him.