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 Party's Almost Over In Japan
Bloomberg reports that federal subsidies meant to boost car sales in Japan are about to run out, and analysts expect fourth-quarter sales to plunge unless the subsidies are restocked. It's been swell while it lasted. Industry sales are up 53 percent this year thanks to the incentives, which have sent consumers rushing to showrooms. The government set aside $3.8 billion in breaks for consumers who buy energy-efficient vehicles, and about 88 percent is gone. (Think the Cash for Clunkers program from 2009.) Analysts say that if the incentives go away, industry sales will drop by about 20 percent. There's reason to worry, since Japan is once again Toyota's biggest market. Bloomberg says it will probably stay in first place among the world's carmakers, even if the subsidies go away. But all the automakers would really like their sales at home to be stable, given what happened to the market last year after the earthquake and tsunami.
2nd Gear: GM Wants To Short Week The Germans
The Wall Street Journal (sub. required) reports that GM and its German unions are getting close to a deal that would let GM operate shortened work weeks at two of its plants. If they can agree this week, the proposal could be implemented Sept. 1. GM basically wants the ability to adjust shifts at its Russelsheim and Kaiserslauten plants. Union reps say that's a better option than layoffs. The agreement would let GM run shortened hours at its plants when demand is lower, and run longer hours when demand is higher. The German government would make up any shortage in pay during the weeks when GM cuts shifts, according to the Journal. GM is under a lot of pressure to come up with a rescue plan for Opel, which has been its biggest financial headache this year.
3rd Gear: BMW Goes Low With the X3
Autocar reports that BMW is going downscale with a version of the X3, and will offer it for the first time in rear-wheel drive, not just all-wheel drive. The BMW X3 sDrive18d is set to go on sale in October in the UK. It is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder TwinPower turbo diesel, which gets 55.4 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The car over there comes with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, and Autocar says an eight-speed auto is available as an option.
4th Gear: Robots Will Make You Irrelevant
The New York Times says there's a new generation of adept robots that can do far more delicate tasks than their clunky predecessors. These robots aren't just welding or moving sheet metal from one side of the aisle to the other.
They're assembling things like electric shavers and basically threatening to eliminate even more jobs than they already have. "With these machines, we can make any consumer device in the world," said Binne Visser, an electrical engineer who manages the Philips assembly line in Drachten, in The Netherlands. Of course, robots can't get on the phone to a supervisor, nor can they diagnose themselves when they make a mistake. There will be plenty of need for trained technicians to dive into a cell when the red light flashes on the control board.