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: LOL Yeah It Was
Say what you want about car infotainment systems: they’ve gotten better than they were five years ago. And screens and computers in our vehicles definitely aren’t going anywhere. But back during the early days—after BMW’s original iDrive, of course—Ford’s deeply laggy and problematic Sync and MyTouch was kind of the poster boy for shitty technology in cars.
And Ford knew it! This story from The Detroit News reveals, via documents from a class-action lawsuit, that SYNC once left Bill Ford Jr. stranded by the side of the road and caused now-CEO Mark Fields “to break his touchscreen in frustration.” (And he seems like such a nice guy!)
Court documents from a 2013 class-action lawsuit filed in California show Ford engineers were worried about the “unsaleable” system from the outset of its 2010 launch, and described a subsequently flawed upgrade as a “polished turd.” A U.S. District Court judge last week certified classes of consumers from nine states in the lawsuit filed against the Dearborn automaker; a trial is expected in April 2017.
Ford’s current Sync 3 system is well-received, but Ford’s first attempt at an infotainment system was riddled with flaws. Consumer Reports blasted the technology for years, issuing scathing reports like “Why the MyFord Touch control system stinks,”and third-party agencies such as J.D. Power gave the Blue Oval pathetically low quality scores. The court documents, first reported by Forbes, detail some internal company strife during those early years.
The problems were many: screens would freeze or go blank; the system would generate error messages that couldn’t be cleared; it failed to pair with cellphones; the voice recognition and navigation wouldn’t work; and it was slow to respond to commands, documents show. Many Ford engineers saw the problems coming.
In an email exchange shortly before its release, one engineer, “suggested that a photo of Ford’s Oakville Assembly Plant should be used as a background photo on MyFord Touch; his colleague suggested it would be more appropriate if it was altered to Photoshop in above the doorway ‘abandon hope all ye who enter here.’ ”
Sync got better over the years, and the all-new Sync 3 is much better. But it’s good to know even Ford’s people realized it sucked too.
2nd Gear: Price War On Trucks
To hold a slowing market at bay, carmakers in the U.S. are offering the biggest incentives on full-sized pickups since December 2008, when the country was mired in recession and the auto industry was collapsing. Last month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’s Ram raised its average incentive on the trucks to $7,082, up 29 percent from a year earlier, according to J.D. Power data obtained by Bloomberg.
A price war on pickups has been simmering for a while. Last year, Ford cut prices by more than $10,000 on some models as it rolled out a new aluminum-bodied F-150. This summer, General Motors offered 20 percent off on its trucks. Ram is also continuing to offer a 20 percent discount on its oldest models.
Ram’s recent deal was its most generous in at least three years, and sales rose 29 percent in September. The company was the No. 2 seller in the U.S. truck market for the month, knocking off Chevrolet Silverado for the first time since at least 2010. Silverado sales fell 16 percent in the same period, and Ford’s F-Series, which has been the top selling pickup for almost 40 years, dropped 2.6 percent.
That’s a lot of money off sticker. If you’re buying new right now, get yourself a good deal.
3rd Gear: Hurricane Matthew Looms
Humor about brave-stupid kitesurfers aside, Hurricane Matthew Hardigree looks like it could be devastating for the southeast’s residents and businesses. From Automotive News, here is how car dealers are bracing for the storm:
AutoNation Inc., the nation’s largest new-vehicle retailer, on Wednesday shut down its Fort Lauderdale headquarters and closed 44 stores in the Broward, Palm Beach, Orlando and Jacksonville areas of Florida.
AutoNation said late Thursday it has also closed 3 stores in the Savannah, Ga., area. “We are hunkered down,” AutoNation Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon said. “It was a marathon effort yesterday.”
More than 6,000 vehicles were moved off dealership lots to protected space in the dealerships’ hurricane-proof service departments, the parking tower at company headquarters and at nearby parking facilities where AutoNation has pre-existing storage arrangements.
“The storm is big, it’s huge, it’s scary, and south Florida is shut down tight,” Cannon said.
A skeleton crew of six to 12 key executives including Cannon and CFO Cheryl Miller will spend tonight at AutoNation’s command center — a secured interior room with a generator and satellite phones inside its office tower, Cannon said. Some will bring family members and even pets.
If you’re in the path of the storm, please take care of yourself.
4th Gear: VW Won’t Sell Brands
Some speculated that in the wake of Dieselgate, Volkswagen would be tempted to sell some of its more outlandish brands like Lamborghini, Ducati or even Bentley to raise cash. That is not happening now, reports Reuters:
“The Volkswagen group is financially solid and has many options for financing,” Poetsch said in the interview published on Friday.
“And that is without extraordinary measures such as a capital increase. That is not being considered at this time. We are also not thinking of selling parts of our brands,” he added.
Volkswagen has set aside 17.8 billion euros ($19.8 billion) to pay for costs related to the global emissions cheating scandal. The company faces civil litigation and potential fines from government regulators in the EU and other markets.
That’s disappointing, Jalopnik planned to bid for Lamborghini. Jason Torchinsky had some interesting and ambitious plans.
5th Gear: Ford’s Ride-Hailing Van Service Comes To Austin
Here’s a smart move from Ford: the company’s ride-hailing van service, Chariot, will begin service in Austin, Texas next week. As a resident, I can tell you it’s a great place to try that out: since our referendum on background checks caused Uber and Lyft to throw a tantrum and leave a few months ago (long story) there’s been a real dearth of mobility options in this city, the drunk driving capital of the universe and one with middling transit options.
Unlike Uber and Lyft, ride-hailing services that rely primarily on drivers who drive their own vehicles as independent contractors, Chariot is a more local service that uses Ford Transit vans driven by people employed by Chariot, or now Ford. The service in San Francisco moves riders in about 100 Transit vans along 28 routes.
Ford has said Chariot will be serving at least five cities by late 2017.
Service in Austin, the state capital and home of the University of Texas, will begin in the 6th Street Market District and initially serve employees at Whole Foods Market, which is headquartered in Austin, and GSD&M, an advertising agency.
“This is exactly the kind of tech-enabled transportation option that’s going to give Austinites more ways to get around town in a way that will address traffic congestion,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement.
Austin is now the only other city to have Chariot besides San Francisco. It’s a small start, but I’m eager to see if it does well here.
Reverse: Get Your Kicks