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: Das Kaput
Volkswagen, both the brand and the Group, are in crisis as Dieselgate rages on into 2016. As such officials at the company are planning a big image makeover, and the quirky, long-running, decidedly German “Das Auto” is reportedly an “early casualty,” according to Reuters:
According to a manager who was there, Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess described the Winterkorn-era slogan - which could suggest that VW alone can define the modern motor car - as absolutist.
Such an image of regal arrogance ill fits the reality of VW today: a company facing huge costs from recalling and modifying cars to meet emissions regulations, plus likely regulatory fines and a welter of lawsuits.
Volkswagen needed to show humility, the manager said, and the slogan ‘Das Auto’ was pretentious. The old slogan also failed to convey VW’s technological ambitions in areas such as electrically-powered vehicles, the manager said, requesting anonymity.
At this company, “German engineering” doesn’t quite mean what it used to.
But things are changing at VW! They had a pre-Christmas conference where the male staff were encouraged not to wear ties! Talk about redefining your corporate culture.
2nd Gear: Big Moves From Ford And Google
We reported on Google’s self-driving car venture with Ford last night, but it bears repeating here because it’s such a huge deal. Ford has been one of the most progressive automakers when it comes to autonomous tech, and its teaming up with Google—which recently decided to make its self-driving car unit a standalone company—could represent a big shakeup. Here’s Automotive News on how CEO Mark Fields has been dropping hints for some time:
A Ford deal with Google would fit within the strategy laid out by Fields, who last January launched a plan called “Ford Smart Mobility” to bolster the company’s expertise in car sharing and other new business models for transportation.
Ford executives have been dropping hints all year that it could work with Google, Apple or another tech giant to accelerate its quest to bring self-driving cars to market.
“It’s not only about what are the things that are going to be core to us but who are we going to partner with, in some cases,” Fields said in a Dec. 11 interview. “Because I don’t think we can just be so arrogant to think that we’re going to do everything on our own and we’re going to do something better than maybe a company that does that 24/7. For us, partnerships are really important.”
3rd Gear: The Lawyers Always Win
And if the market shifts heavily to autonomous cars, expect it to be a big win for the lawyers of the world, reports Bloomberg:
Imagine a robot car with no one behind the wheel hitting another driverless car. Who’s at fault?
The answer: No one knows. But plaintiff’s lawyers are salivating at the prospects for big paydays from such accidents. If computers routinely crash, they say, then so will cars operated by them. And with no one behind the wheel, lawyers say they can go after almost anyone even remotely involved.
“You’re going to get a whole host of new defendants,” said Kevin Dean, who is suing General Motors Co. over its faulty ignition switches and Takata Corp. over air-bag failures. “Computer programmers, computer companies, designers of algorithms, Google, mapping companies, even states. It’s going to be very fertile ground for lawyers.”
Good, it’s about time someone started looking out for the lawyers.
4th Gear: Will Suppliers Die Or Evolve?
People often forget that the auto industry isn’t just carmakers: it’s also backed by a massive global network of parts suppliers. And with the advent of driverless cars looming, suppliers like Japan’s Jtekt fear for the future. One more from Bloomberg:
A Japanese company that once revolutionized the auto industry by inventing electric power-steering now finds itself on the wrong side of the latest technology innovation: driverless cars.
Jtekt Corp.’s innovation almost three decades ago outperformed the traditional hydraulic technology and allowed the company to become one of the biggest suppliers to Toyota Motor Corp. and other carmakers. It’s now made more than 100 million of the units and claims a quarter of the global market.
Tetsuo Agata, president of the Osaka-based company, is afraid that if his company doesn’t come up with a product for cars with no steering wheel it could end up supplying no one.
“We’re going to lose the foundation of our business,” Agata, 62, said in an interview in Nagoya City. “We’re going to go under if we fail to catch up. I have a strong sense of crisis.”
5th Gear: Honda’s Powertrain Overhaul
Lighter, smaller, more turbocharged. That’s the plan Honda is finally implementing, one the automaker announced way back in 2012. Here’s an interview with Keiji Ohtsu, chief technology strategy officer at Honda’s automobile R&D center, in Wards Auto to that effect:
Ohtsu: We have three new gasoline engines – 1.0L, 1.5L and 2.0L – which are being adapted to regional needs in North America, Europe and China, all markets where emissions regulations are becoming increasingly stringent. China offers the added incentive of a tax break for smaller-displacement engines, further encouraging downsizing.
In addition, we are focusing on weight reduction, changing V-6 to inline-4 engines and inline 4s to 3-cyls.
[...] WardsAuto: What plans do you have for your 2.4L naturally aspirated engine?
Ohtsu: Where possible, we hope to replace it with the downsized 1.5L unit.
WardsAuto: Will you discontinue it?
Ohtsu: No. We currently produce five naturally aspirated gasoline engines, including the 2.4L unit, two downsized turbocharged engines and two diesels. A 1.0L gasoline turbo is still under development.
Depending on the market and region, but particularly in Asia and other emerging markets, we will continue offering our naturally aspirated lineup which tend to be less costly.
Reverse: Just Mercedes, No Benz
Neutral: How Should VW Revamp Its Image?
Fixing all the diesels is a good start, but after that, what’s a marketing campaign that can save their bacon?
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