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: If You're Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands
The Associated Press reports that consumer confidence rose to a seven-month high in September, and that is very good news for the auto industry. (All together now: jobs, housing, consumer confidence.) The Conference Board says the rate is the highest since February, when many economists thought the country was on the verge of a recovery. It's not all good news, naturally. The consumer confidence rate is 70.3, and 90 indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn't been that high since December 2007.
Confidence may be going up for a couple of reasons. First, consumers are more optimistic about the job market. Second, it looks like interest rates are going to stay low. Third, President Obama's speech at the Democratic convention might have cheered people up (with an assist from President Clinton). Pessimists would say the increase isn't to be trusted: the consumer confidence rate can go up and down like a yo-yo. But up is always better for car sales than down.
2nd Gear: Chryslers Sara Importato Da Italia
Reuters says it's official. Fiat will use plants in Italy to build cars for other parts of the world, particularly the United States. That most likely means Chryslers and Jeeps will be imported from Italy for sale here, and possibly other Fiat company brands as well. (Good thing Chrysler just put some employees in downtown Detroit to offset what's certain to cause some talk.) Speaking to union members in Turin, CEO Sergio Marchionne said Fiat had to change the way it deployed its Italian plants, in light of the country's devastating recession. "We can and we must think of the car sector in Italy in a different way, refocus it, so that it becomes an important production centre for exports outside Europe," he said. "In our case, that means above all the United States."
To put this in context, it would be as if Mercedes-Benz' plants in Germany had been used to build vehicles for Chrysler to sell in the U.S. In a global world, this is not a surprising move, and certainly Detroit car companies have built vehicles in their overseas plants and sold them in the U.S. The Fiat action, however, is likely to mean a rethinking of what it will build in Italy and where it can be sent. That has to be unsettling for Italian union members, and Marchionne touched on the nervousness. He said he was aware that his frequent trips to the U.S. might have created fear among Fiat's 20,000 Italian employees that they were being "abandoned." But Marchionne insisted his commitment toward Fiat remained unchanged, and told Fiat employees to ignore critics who have accused the company of disengaging from its home country.
3rd Gear: Two New 7-Series Coming From BMW?
Bimmer Today says there's a lot of speculation BMW will add two new versions of the 7-series to its lineup next March. They'll be called the 728i and M750i, the rumored M version of the 7-series that's been in the works. That model is aimed at buyers who want a luxury sedan with an aggressive stance and sporty ride. Bimmer Today says the car could get a 4.4-liter, V8 twin turbo with 450 horsepower. It also could be available with xDrive. On the other end of the scale, the 728i might be equipped with a four-cylinder engine. It might be assisted with a small electric motor, similar to the way Audi powers its hybrid, and would help with fuel economy and emissions. For now, Bimmer Today says the two cars are just rumors, so no need to rush down to your dealer with a deposit.
4th Gear: Go Farther, Ford Says To European Staff
The Associated Press is reporting that Ford is offering buyouts to several hundred European staff members. The voluntary programs are being set up in Germany, Britain, and the rest of Europe. The buyouts come as Ford is wrestling with ways to turn its European operations around. It lost $404 million there this spring, and expects a billion-dollar loss for Europe in 2012. Ford says it's also looking at possible plant closings and other cost cutting measures, and it's using its North American turnaround as a template. But as GM, Fiat, Peugeot, and pretty much every one across the pond can tell them, European turnarounds are not easy or quick to happen.
5th Gear: Autonomous Cars Are Legal In California
Our mates at Gizmodo are now reporting that driverless cars are completely legal in the state thanks to a law signed late last night by Governor Jerry Brown. According to Google's Sergey Brin, "You can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this." Hopefully, this vote won't come back to haunt Brown. There are some good arguments to be made for driverless cars even if we don't like them, but more on that later today...
Reverse: Acting Loses Its Most Famous Driver
It's hard to believe it, but Paul Newman died four years ago today. Newman was a standout actor, part of a legendary Hollywood couple and a philanthropist in his later years. What he really loved, though, was racing. After playing a professional race car driver in 1969's "Winning," he became passionate about the sport and competed many races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at which he took second place in 1979. In 1983, he co-founded a racing team with Carl Haas, then called Newman/Haas Racing (now Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing). We only saw him up close once, at the New York International Auto Show, and he was short, but it mattered not one whit. He was Paul Newman. His appearances on Letterman were legendary, so enjoy this one. [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 whether BMW should expand the 7-series lineup. We know Audi wants to rule the luxury market, and Mercedes is putting on a big push. Should BMW keep growing, or does it have enough on the market? Remember there's no right answer or wrong answer. It's Neutral.