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: The GM Plant That Refused To Die
The Truth About Cars reports on Friday afternoon's Tesla S ceremony, where excited owners drove their cars out the door in Fremont, Calif. Here at Jalopnik, Matt put together a helpful compilation of all the Tesla S reviews. I was struck by the place where those cars are being built. The Tesla factory is a GM plant that simply refuses to die — even though it was once considered one of the worst auto factories on the face of the earth.
I took a look at Fremont's history for Forbes, and my friend Frank Langfitt did a wonderful hour on the factory for This American Life. Simply put, the Fremont plant should have been like all those other plants that GM shut down (some of which the Racer Trust is trying to sell). It was too far away from the center of the GM universe. Its workers allegedly used drugs and drank on the job and put Coke bottles in door panels so the rattling would bug customers. In fact, GM closed Fremont in 1982, only to have it reopen in 1984 as the home of New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., its joint venture with Toyota.
NUMMI lasted a quarter-century before GM pulled out in 2009, and Toyota closed Fremont down in 2010. But just a month after it shut, Akio Toyoda agreed to buy a stake in Tesla for $50 million. There was a big federal loan and a tax break from California. And now, Fremont has come back to life as part of the Tesla saga. (Actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted this photo from inside the plant.) Sure, it has a lot fewer workers, and who knows what Tesla will actually do as a manufacturer. But, the Fremont plant can claim a notable spot in automotive history.
2nd Gear: The Only Time Mercedes SL and Kia Rio Will Be In the Same Headline
Forbes reports on the 15 hardest cars to buy right now, based on the number of days they spend on dealer lots according to TrueCar. The list has both luxury cars, like the Mercedes SL, Lincoln MKS and Lexus RX 350 (both of those are the 2013 versions) and fuel efficient models, like the Toyota Prius C, Subaru Impreza and Kia Rio. We'll see what happens to supplies of the latter as gasoline prices drop (it's still $3.60 a gallon around Ann Arbor, but there are predictions that it's going to drop to around $3 a gallon by the end of the summer). The story advises anyone who's going shopping for one of these in-demand models to wait a few months, to give demand a chance to subside.
3rd Gear: Dealership Leaks Details Of The 2013 Accord
The Detroit Bureau says a dealer in Tuscon leaked a bunch of details about the upcoming Honda Accord. Honda hasn't officially shown what the car actually looks like, except for a concept coupe that it showed at NAIAS. According to a press release from Chapman Honda, the car will have "niceties' such as Bluetooth, SMS audio text capability, Pandora Radio with an iPhone interface 'all bundled together in a Multi-Information Display." And, the Chapman folks say the car will feature lane departure warning, forward collision warning and LaneWatch blind spot alert while a backup camera will now become standard on all new Accord models.
Whatever Honda puts on the Accord, it really needs the car to be a hit. Honda faces a stiff challenge now from the Nissan Altima, and the new version of the Toyota Camry is better than the old one. Honda is really trying to get its mojo back over the next few years, so there are enormous expectations for the new Accord.
4th Gear: French Cars Coming To The U.S., Except They're From Toyota
Toyota says in a press release that it will begin shipping Yaris cars to North America from its plant in Valenciennes, France, instead of exporting them from Japan. It's the first time Toyota has supplied the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico with a car that's made in Europe. Toyota is going to send about 25,000 Euro Yarises annually starting in May 2013. Toyota is going to sink an additional 8 million Euro into the factory, and the American-bound Yaris will get a a 1.5 liter gas engine, an automatic transmissions and other things the car needs to meet regulations.
I visited the Valenciennes plant a few years ago, and it's an interesting place. Valenciennes (they call it Toyota Motor Manufacturing France or TMMF) was the second factory Toyota built in Europe, after its plant in Britain. France was pretty desperate to get the plant, because unemployment was 20 percent in the area when it opened (sort of Le Rust Belt of the country). Exporting the Yaris from there instead of Japan will also guarantee some production at a time when the European market is feeling shaky.
5th Gear: GM Spending A Ton Of Rubles
The Detroit News reports that GM is pouring another $1 billion into its Russian operations over the next five years. That includes doubling the production at its plant in St. Petersburg, which is known as GM Auto. It will grow from 98,000 cars a year to 230,000 by 2015, and employment will go from 2,500 workers to 4,000.
The investment reflects a couple of things. One, GM is betting that the Russian market will be stable enough to merit the spending. Two, GM wants to expand in a market where its sales are growing. But Russia has been a long, tough battle for a lot of carmakers. GM has been there since 1992, and it sold 243,000 vehicles there last year, good for 9 percent of the market, and it will probably exceed that this year. That might seem like pretty modest volume. But there are a limited number of places where carmakers can go and the Russian market is one of those "we'd better be there" kind of places.
6th Gear: Gas Prices Down, But Gloom Continues
The Wall Street Journal (sub. required) reports that the price of gasoline is dropping rapidly across the country. The Energy Department says the average was $3.53 for the week ended June 18, while a daily AAA tracking survey put it at $3.42 on Sunday. Gas has dropped for 11 straight weeks: Energy measured it at $3.94 a gallon in early April. Normally, that would boost consumer confidence, but the University of Michigan's measurement of consumer sentiment fell in May for the first time in 10 months. Why do we care? Remember those three factors that go into car sales: jobs, housing and consumer confidence. And, gas prices don't mean better days ahead. The Journal notes that gas prices dropped significantly in 2008, just before the country fell into its deep recession. Stay tuned for more on what these prices will mean.
BMW Reaps The Benefit Of Web Buzz [The Detroit News]
VW Shakes Up Chattanooga Plant Management [Nooga]
UAW Backs Pride Flag In Fort Wayne [UAW]
How To Cover The Auto Beat [Business Journalism]
Drug Kingpin? Nope, Car Salesman [BBC]
Canadian Parts Makers Recovering [Automotive News, sub. required]
Today in Automotive History
On this day in history in 1956, the last Packard rolled off the line in Detroit. Although Packard had been a formidable luxury brand before the Depression, it never recovered when production resumed after World War II. With sales dwindling, Packard merged with Studebaker in the hope of cutting its costs. The new Packard-Studebaker became the fourth largest manufacturer of cars in the nation. Studebaker was struggling as well, however, and eventually dropped all its own big cars as well as the Packard. In 1956, Packard-Studebaker's then-president, James Nance, made the decision to suspend Packard's manufacturing operations in Detroit, though the company would continue to manufacture cars in South Bend, Ind., until 1958. There's still time to see the decaying plant site before the remains are torn down.