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: Paul Ryan Tries To Pin Janesville On Obama And Everyone Jumps On Him
Usually, when politicians mislead people about the auto industry, the audience vaguely nods and forgets about it. That didn't happen last night. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan attempted to blame President Obama for failing to support the General Motors plant in his hometown, Janesville, WI. Except that the plant, for all intents and purposes, closed in December 2008, before Obama was inaugurated, and GM made the plant closing announcement in June 2008, before Obama was officially his party's nominee. And Ryan got handed his hat for it by every political fact checker in the country (including Fox News).
In his address to the Republican National Convention, Ryan zeroed in on an Obama speech from February, 2008, when Obama was still neck and neck with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. At the time, Obama said that if the government could support the auto industry, the plant "will be here for another 100 years." Ryan said, "Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day." Yes, it is, and it's legitimate to ask, why didn't Ryan himself do more to save it? Back in 2003, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and one-time presidential candidate managed to convince Ford to spare a plant suburban St. Louis. You have to figure Michigan's John Dingell went to bat numerous times to keep car plants open. And by the way, it was Senate Republicans who kept GM and Chrysler from getting a Congressional bailout in 2008, which is why both the Bush and Obama administrations stepped up with aid to the auto industry. Couldn't Ryan have used his dairyland charm to change some Senate votes?
The most puzzling thing about Ryan's effort to blame Obama for Janesville is that it's so easy to check. That plant was on the bubble for YEARS before it closed, basically because it made SUVs in a market that had turned away from SUVs. It's quite possible Ryan couldn't have convinced GM to close it no matter what he'd done. But rewriting history, when so many people were around to document what really happened, is probably not a good idea. As Ryan now knows.
2nd Gear: Dodge Dart Stalls At The Starting Line
The Wall Street Journal (sub. required) says the Dodge Dart is getting off to a slow start, potentially causing problems for the company's plans to gain market share. The Journal says Chrysler only sold 974 Darts in June and July, which is about what Honda sells of the Civic on a typical weekend. One reason might be that Chrysler hasn't shipped a more-fuel efficient version of the Dart, called Aero, which is supposed to get 41 mpg. Originally, Chrysler said the Aero would be available this summer; now it expects to begin production and sales this fall. Another issue is that Chrysler launched production with manual transmissions, even though most Americans buy automatics.
Chrysler officials don't think there's anything to see here, so move along. They say they started with stick shifts in order to get production ramped up quickly, but they've now added automatics to the mix. Meanwhile, Chrysler says sales have picked up and it expects to sell 3,000 Darts this month. The company plans to step up Dart advertising during NFL games this fall.
3rd Gear: Lots Of Rubles For The Russian Car Market
Reuters reports that Volkswagen plans to pour $1.3 billion more into the Russian car market, where it expects its sales to grow by 30 percent this year. General Motors also reiterated its plans to invest $1 billion in Russia over the next five years. Both companies' comments came on the eve of the Moscow Auto Show. Meanwhile, Renault sees Russia challenging Brazil to become one of the world's biggest car markets.
Why are the car companies gaga over Russia? According to Reuters, they hope pent up demand for new cars will sweep Russia to higher sales. As with China, many people don't own cars and will be in the market for the first time, and those who are lucky enough to have cars are driving clunkers. Basically, Russia seems to be the one place on the European continent that has a prayer of showing growth, and since the auto companies are already sunk into Europe, it's fairly easy for them to invest there and set up supply networks.
4th Gear: The French Mercedes May Be Headed Our Way
Car and Driver says the first vehicle from the Mercedes-Renault partnership is making its way to European dealerships, and there's a chance it could wind up in the U.S. The vehicle is the Mercedes Citan, which is essentially a rebadged version of the Renault Kangoo van. The Citan is built along side the Kangoo at Renault's plant in Maubeuge, France, and it sells for about $18,400, which is a premium to the Kangoo. If you're familiar with the Mercedes Sprinter, the Citan (a combination of "city" and "titan") is a little smaller. Although there's nothing official about Citan crossing the pond, Mercedes Vans chief Volcker Mornhinweg "has his eye on the American market," according to a press release. The Citan is already the butt of some joking in Europe. This Youtube clip shows two German construction workers watching the Citan go by. "Kalle and his Mercedes," one of the workers remarks, clearly underwhelmed.
5th Gear: In Toyota City, You Can Keep Them Down On The Farm
Kyodo News says that as Toyota workers are retiring, Toyota City is putting them to work as farmers. More than 250 former auto workers have gone through a city-run agricultural program. The city has three practice farms and will help locals if they decide they want to become full-time farmers. According to Kyodo News, the program solves two problems: it finds work for the Toyota retirees, and also finds people to tend farm land and rice paddies that are being abandoned as young people leave town. One such new farmer is Kenji Nakahara, 71, who joined Toyota at age 23, worked on the line until the compulsory retirement age of 60, and then spent another five years as a temporary worker. "But every day was dull and boring," Nakahara said. He started from scratch in the agricultural program, and within two years was growing 15 kinds of vegetables. His farm now turns a profit, a good thing because "I don't get any pocket money from my wife."
Reverse: The Magnificent Bronson Makes His Final Escape On this day in 2003, Charles Bronson died at age 81. Bronson appeared in movie after movie that featured car chases, often without Bronson saying a word. There's Mr. Majestyk, Cold Sweat, The Evil That Men Do, and others. You can read a list of Bronson classics here. As far as his best acting role, most people would probably chose Once Upon A Time In The West. But The Mechanic has to be up there, too. [History]
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 know what you think about the auto industry's push into Russia. Should the companies go after a market that's likely to grow? Or are you wary of them dropping more rubles into a place where corruption seems to be standard practice? If not Russia, is there someplace else where the car companies should invest? Remember there's no right answer or wrong answer. It's Neutral.