Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.
1st Gear: The Apple Car Is No More
Building cars is hard. Tesla knows that. Google learned it the hard way too. And the latest tech giant to discover limits to its car-building ambitions is Apple, which according to Bloomberg, has given up on making its own car.
Granted, I’ve always thought that Apple’s ultimate aim was to develop software or technology it could use to partner with existing automakers, rather than its own vehicle, but now that definitely seems to be the case. Now Apple is focused on creating autonomous systems for other companies. From the story:
New leadership of the initiative, known internally as Project Titan, has re-focused on developing an autonomous driving system that gives Apple flexibility to either partner with existing carmakers, or return to designing its own vehicle in the future, the people also said. Apple has kept staff numbers in the team steady by hiring people to help with the new focus, according to another person.
Apple executives have given the car team a deadline of late next year to prove the feasibility of the self-driving system and decide on a final direction, two of the people said. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment.
The deadline, albeit a seemingly arbitrary one, is new. And so are some more details about what a mess the project was all along:
Apple started Titan in 2014 with grand ambitions to make a dent in an auto industry that consultant McKinsey & Co. estimates will be worth $6.7 trillion by 2030. The iPhone maker embarked upon an aggressive hiring spree, and an Apple-designed vehicle was targeted by the early 2020s. The hope was to revolutionize cars in the way the iPhone upended the mobile industry in 2007.
By the end of 2015, the project was blighted by internal strife. Managers battled about the project’s direction, according to people with knowledge of the operations.
“It was an incredible failure of leadership,” one of the people said. In early 2016, project head Steve Zadesky, a former Ford Motor Co. engineer and early iPod designer, left Titan. Zadesky, who remains at Apple, declined to comment.
By May, project leaders said they were moving “from building an outright competitor to Tesla” to creating a self-driving platform. Hundreds of engineers left or were laid off. Those left are working on “autonomous programs, vision sensors, and simulators for testing the platform in real-world environments,” the story said.
What makes them think they can pull it off now?
2nd Gear: The Next Generation Of Imports
The American auto market has almost never been this crowded with brands, except probably before the recession, which took down quite a few of them.
But record sales numbers (even if those are slowing down a bit) and high average transaction prices are luring more and more foreign competitors into the U.S. market, from Europe, Korea and even China. Via Automotive News:
Peugeot, the popular French brand that abandoned the U.S. market in 1991, is strategizing a full-scale return — maybe even with its sibling brand, Citroen. Carlos Tavares, CEO of parent company PSA Group, told reporters at the Paris auto show last month that PSA will return to North America first with mobility services, such as car sharing. In time, the automaker will return with an as-yet-undefined retail approach.
“We will take a step-by-step approach by first offering mobility services to learn about consumers’ expectations so that one day, we will produce our own cars for fleets there,” Tavares said of North America. “The last step will be to sell our own brands there using a distribution model we will adopt at a certain time, because by then, many things will have changed.”
Executives at Europe’s Skoda tell Automotive News that they could make a decision about entering the U.S. market in 2017. The 121-year-old Czech manufacturer, long a subsidiary of Volkswagen, has been outgrowing its old role as VW’s European entry brand and now is selling cars in 102 countries.
Ssangyong Motor Co., the South Korean maker of crossovers and off-road vehicles, will enter the U.S. in 2020, CEO Choi Johng-sik says. He says Ssangyong will come up with new models.
And then there’s Lynk & Co., Geely’s mysterious new brand, which is also set to debut in the U.S. Our new car choices are about to get more interesting.
3rd Gear: Hackers, What DO They Want?
Car hacking—the true remote kind—conjures images of ISIS-affiliated teens on laptops throwing our cities into chaos as they seize control of our cars from afar and cause massive pile-ups. But realistically, car hacking will have more of a financial motive, Automotive News reports:
“Attackers will try to find exploits that provide a financial incentive, and it seems that safety-critical attacks don’t provide any obvious monetary return,” Weimerskirch wrote in an email to Automotive News.
Here’s what hackers could do for money, according to Weimerskirch:
• Remotely unlock a vehicle and steal it.
• Charge drivers ransom in exchange for regaining control of their car.
• Crack into cellphones connected via USB ports and steal credit card information, or use location data and apps to break into the driver’s home.
Vehicle connectivity also can help hackers locate police cars or listen to conversations via Bluetooth microphone, Smith said.
“Conversations in the back of a limo can hold a lot of value,” he wrote. “That’s much more interesting for an attacker.”
4th Gear: FCA Secures A Deal With Unifor
Negotiations between the Big Three and Unifor, Canada’s auto workers union, are ongoing, but they just ratified a new four-year contract with Fiat Chrysler. Here are some highlights, via Automotive News:
The contract includes wage increases for veteran workers and new hires, in addition to investments in two of FCA’s three Canadian plants. Most notably, it includes a $325 million Canadian investment in the Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant’s aging paint shop.
FCA could assign new vehicles to the Brampton plant as early as 2020 if the Canadian and Ontario governments provide financial support for the project.
“The company commits to a next generation product or alternative product which could include an existing platform or entirely new vehicle architecture,” according to the summary of the contract distributed to workers.
FCA builds the rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans, and the Dodge Challenger coupe, at the Brampton plant. The union said the ongoing success of the three models points to secure production for the duration of the new agreement but that time is approaching to make investments decisions on future products.
5th Gear: GM Avoids A Fight With Trump While It Invests In Mexico
All the U.S. automakers are investing in Mexico, but so far only Ford has been a target of GOP candidate Donald Trump—though not accurately—as American Death Spiral 2016 continues on. General Motors would like to keep it that way, reports The Detroit News:
GM is advancing on an $800 million investment for its global small-car lineup that includes a factory retooling in San Luis Potosi state. That plant and another facility in Mexico will also build the all-new Chevy Equinox sport-utility vehicle next year, people familiar with the matter said.
The automaker has only said that the new Equinox will be built in a factory in Canada and two other sites, keeping mum about Mexico and avoiding both attention from Trump and the chance that the news might have roiled labor talks in Canada last month, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
Taking a lower profile has kept GM out of Trump’s cross-hairs and helped the Detroit-based company reach an agreement with its Canadian union, even as the Republican candidate singled out Ford’s latest Mexican factory plan as “an absolute disgrace.” For Mexico, GM’s tight-lipped approach hints at how U.S. companies might operate if Trump wins the election after campaigning against the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Big American companies are being cautious, they don’t want to have issues with the presidential candidates,” Mario Chacon, head of global business promotion at Mexico’s foreign investment agency, said in an interview. “They’re feeling repressed because anything they say can be used against them.”
Reverse: Oil Diplomacy