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: Japan's Power Crisis Forces Toyota to Make Its Own Electricity
The Asahi Shinbun reports Japan is entering its second summer of power shortages following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Only one of Japan's 50 nuclear power plants is operating, and there's public resistance to starting up more, due to the crisis triggered by TEPCO in Fukushima. So, power sharing measures are in place all over the country, like turning off escalators, opening windows, handing out paper fans to employees, setting air conditioning thermostats at 82 degrees, and shunning suits and ties for short-sleeved shirts and khakis.
Toyota is implementing its own ways to deal with the crisis, including installing eight new gas-powered generators at its factories and other operations. The upshot is that Toyota is now producing 30 percent of its own electricity. Compared with 1996, Toyota says it used 45 percent less electricity this past year. And it hopes to be using 53 percent less electricity over the coming year, versus what it used back then.
2nd Gear: Parking Brakes On Chevy Captiva Sport May Not Work
The Detroit News reports Chevrolet is recalling some 2012 Captiva Sport crossovers to fix faulty parking brakes. There are 2,000 vehicles involved in the recall. GM said some brakes don't meet federal performance requirements because the brake cable could separate from a connector. If that happens, the brakes won't work and the cars could crash into a fireworks stand and then... fiery death. GM discovered the problem at its Ramoz, Mexico assembly plant, and found 15 vehicles with the separated brake cables there. It's implementing a fix later this month. The 2,000 vehicles in the recall were built between April 26 and May 17. In the first half of the year, GM sold nearly 18,000 Captiva Sports.
3rd Gear: Mercedes C-Class Gets A Tune Up
Auto Motor Und Sport has shots of what it says is the new version of the Mercedes C-Class. The current Baby Benz last received a facelift in 2011, but the folks at Auto Spies think it looks a little dated compared with the recent do-over on the BMW 3-series and the refreshed Audi A4 for 2013. Although cladding hides a lot of what may be new on the car, Auto Spies points out that the new C-Class will get a more-sweeping front fascia. The rest of the car looks pretty similar to the current model, however, it says.
4th Gear: Here's The Fiat 500 Crossover You've Been Waiting For
Indian Cars Bikes spotted something interesting in a promotional video for the Fiat 500: a crossover vehicle. (Press pause because the car is only on screen for a few seconds.) It's called the Fiat 500X and it's meant as Fiat's answer to the Mini Countryman. Indian Cars Bikes says it will be sold by Fiat around the world, and is expected to make its debut in Paris this fall. At 13.7 feet long, it would be the largest of the Fiat 500 iterations, and feature all-wheel drive, meant to bolster its crossover cred. Styling elements have been carried over straight from the 500, from the round headlamps to the front grille. Production could begin as soon as December 2013, although it could happen earlier. Given how the Fiat 500 has done in the U.S., is there really demand for a crossover? Or would a larger 500 solve some of the space issues that have kept potential buyers away from the basic 500?
5th Gear: Best VW Sales Since This Guy Was President
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports that Volkswagen is on track for its best American sales since 1973. Back then, Richard Nixon was in the White House, George Steinbrenner paid $10 million for the New York Yankees, and a little delivery company that came to be known as Federal Express was founded in Memphis. If VW's first-half sales continue apace, it will wind up selling more than 400,000 cars this year in the U.S. The sales surge is being led by the Chattanooga-built Passat, the more-manly looking Beetle and the Jetta, always a VW volume seller. For the year, VW sales are up 35.4 percent. The company is cranking out 600 vehicles a day in Tennessee, and it plans to bring on a third shift of workers at the end of the month.
6th Gear: 15 Places Where The Big Line Moves
Automobile Magazine dove into some data from Automotive News and came up with a list of the 15 highest-volume factories in the United States for 2011. To plant geeks, the list is fascinating, especially since some of the companies on the list weren't here 20 years ago. The top two spots go to Ford, whose Kansas City Assembly Plant and Dearborn Truck Plant rank first and second. General Motors has three plants in the top 10 — Fort Wayne, Ind., Lordstown, Ohio, and Fairfax, Kansas.The other five spots among the top 10 go to foreign automakers Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Kia. Spots 11 through 15 are taken by two GM plants and one apiece for BMW, Ford, and Honda.
The plant list makes something clear: the days of half-million volume factories are over. Ford's Kansas City plant is the only one that cracked 400,000, and only six of the plants built more than 300,000 cars or trucks last year. From No. 7 on down, the companies built between 200,000 and 300,000 vehicles. That's a sharp contrast to the thinking of two decades ago, when auto companies aimed for high volume, figuring they would be best off to spread costs over a large number of vehicles. Now, the focus is on being lean and aiming to be profitable on every single vehicle. That's much healthier than the old boom and bust days, and the new thinking has to be easier on managers, who don't have as many fires to put out.
GM Sees Better Days Ahead In Brazil [Reuters]
Will Neo-Muscle Cars Repeat History? [Wall Street Journal, sub. required]
Mazda To Build More CX-5 Crossovers [Mazda]
Germans Keeping A Close Eye On The Opel-Peugeot Deal [Reuters]
Legal Dealings Underway In Suzuki-VW Divorce [Automotive News Europe, sub. required]
Drunk Quebec Dad Crashes Car With 8-Month-Old In Back [CBC Montreal]
VW To Pay $5.6 Billion For Rest Of Porsche In End To Saga [Bloomberg]
In keeping with our new discussion system, here's a place for you to own the floor. We're asking each day what you think about an issue that comes up in TMS.
Today, we'd like to ask about the big comeback by Volkswagen in the U.S. Do you think it can be a mass-market brand again here? Or is there something too niche-y about the VW lineup? Where does VW lead and where can it improve? Remember there's no right answer, or wrong answer. It's Neutral.