This is The Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:30 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: A Skyline By Any Other Name...
About 24 years ago, Nissan launched a luxury brad in the U.S. by the name of Infiniti (with an "i" instead of a "y" for some reason). They got a British guy to talk it up so we'd all think of it as European luxury, even though they were Japanese cars built for American audiences.
Fast forward a generation and Infinti is making a global push, which means trying to bring their cars home to Japan, despite hiring a German luxury car exec and moving the company's headquarters to Hong Kong.
What moving to Japan actually entails, as HANS Greimel explains, is taking the Nissan Skyline sedan they typically sell in Japan (known here as the G-Series and now as the Q50-series) and merely calling it the Skyline, by Nissan Motor Company.
Also, they're taking the Infiniti badge and putting it on the car.
"We have a huge ambition for the Infiniti brand," Palmer said. "We have to treat Infiniti, if you will, in the same [way]that Volkswagen treats Audi. It's not a Nissan-plus. Infiniti has to stand head-to-head with any of those German competitors."
So, Infiniti won't just be rebadged Nissans, although in this case it'll be exactly a rebadged Nissan.
2nd Gear: Gotta Good Job? You Getta Car
We've written about the subprime car loan business before, because a decent portion of car buyers fall into the "imperfect" credit category.
Just how much of the market is this? Per Bloomberg:
While surging light-vehicle sales have been one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy, it's increasingly being fueled by borrowers with imperfect credit. Such car buyers account for more than 27 percent of loans for new vehicles, the highest proportion since Experian Automotive started tracking the data in 2007. That compares with 25 percent last year and 18 percent in 2009, as lenders pulled back during the recession.
A car dealer in Houston, Alan Helfman*, explains why:
A year ago, with a credit ranking in the bottom eighth percentile, "I would've told her don't even bother coming in," said Helfman, who owns River Oaks Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, where sales rose about 20 percent this year. "But she had a good job, so I told her to bring a phone bill, a light bill, your last couple of paycheck stubs and bring me some down payment."
Makes sense. If the economy stays afloat and unemployment doesn't significantly rise, we might just get away with this round of subprime loans. Plus, as Helfman points out, if she sees out her loan then her credit will go up and she'll get a better rate next time.
(*For reasons I don't entirely understand, Houston car dealer Alan Helfman is the go-to dealer if you're an automotive reporter and need a quote. Is he just friendly with the press? Good PR guy? Mouthpiece for the industry? Someone please explain to me how a guy who owns one of the few normal-sized dealerships in Houston shows up in EVERY DAMN ARTICLE!)
3rd Gear: Meet The Guy With The Most Important Job At Ford
Sure, Jim Farley and Alan Mulally and Mark Fields are all integral to the success of Ford, but the company's large profits have always been based on their world-beating F-Series truck line. You may prefer a Ram or a Sierra, but no one does trucks smarter than Ford, and they've held the crown as best-selling truckmaker as long as I've been alive.
That makes Doug Scott's job kind of important, even if no one knows who he is. So go read this story in the Wall Street Journal to understand him, a bit. Here's probably his best move (other than being involved with the Raptor):
In 2009, as the recession was in full force, Mr. Scott championed a low-cost F-150 for struggling craftsmen and landscapers. The STX costs just $26,345, well below the F-150's average $39,000 for a large pickup. The model was designed for customers leery of spending top dollar during the slump. But it has remote keyless entry and aluminum 17-inch wheels so it doesn't flash "cheap."
Now just bring us the Ranger, please.
Specifically, the tie-rod ends might have been screwed up on installation from "technicians misinterpreting instructions," which could lead to a steering failure. If you were Gymkhana-ing the truck in an oil refinery you could risk… fiery death (although only two injures have been reported).
Chrysler says if you have such a truck it should go in for a quick look, although they expect only about 1-in-3 will need any kind of repair.
5th Gear: TRAINS!
It's obvious by now that many of us here love train travel (Full Disclosure: Many years ago I worked for a firm that handled lobbying and communications for the non-profit advocacy group The Midwest High Speed Rail Association. I got to ride in trains!). Fewer drivers on the road means more room for us.
The Free Press reports that ridership in the U.S. jumped to a record 31.6 million riders over the last year, in line with the 41% increase they've had over the last decade.
Has train service gotten much better? A little. Federal and state investment has led to more routes, shorter trips, and perks like wifi on trains in certain regions. Delays are still common, though, and none of the lines are profitable.
Yet, train service may be one of the few forms of long-distance transit that hasn't gotten worse. We're looking at you airlines.
Reverse: Them Duke Boys
On this day in 1978, a stuntman on the Georgia set of "The Dukes of Hazzard" launches the show's iconic automobile, a 1969 Dodge Charger named the General Lee, off a makeshift dirt ramp and over a police car. That jump, 16 feet high and 82 feet long (its landing totaled the car), made TV history. Although more than 300 different General Lees appeared in the series, which ran on CBS from 1979 until 1985, this first one was the only one to play a part in every episode: That jump over the squad car ran every week at the end of the show's opening credits.
Neutral: How Does Infiniti Become A Global Brand? Between F1 racing and moving to Hong King, Infiniti thinks it has what's necessary to be a global luxury player. Johann De Nysschen did it at Audi, how does he do it with Infiniti?
Photo Credit: Getty Images