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 Lawsuits Roll On
In terms of public image, General Motors has largely put the deadly ignition switch fiasco in its past, but hundreds of battles remain to be fought in courtrooms. So far though, GM has been largely successful in that venue—the automaker won the first two cases that went to trial, and other cases have been dismissed or settled.
In one recent video deposition shown at a Texas trial, jurors witnessed a previously unseen deposition from CEO Mary Barra on the safety defect, reports Bloomberg:
GM engineers in 2004 and 2005 “misdiagnosed it as a customer satisfaction issue and not a safety issue,” Barra said in the video deposition given last year and played at trial Monday by lawyers for the plaintiff.
“A series of mistakes were made over a period of time that caused the ignition-switch defect,’’ Barra testified. “This had tragic consequences.’’
Barra’s video testimony, clipped from a previously unseen deposition taken for multiple lawsuits, is the CEO’s first to jurors weighing the company’s liability to accident victims allegedly harmed by faulty ignition switches GM knowingly put in cars for years. The deposition wasn’t played in either of the first two trials over the switch, both won by GM.
That trial involves a Houston man charged with manslaughter for the death of the another driver in a crash his family blames on the ignition switch defect. GM’s lawyers claim the defect had nothing to do with that crash.
2nd Gear: But GM Keeps Winning
Also in Texas, just last week a judge dismissed another switch lawsuit, reports Reuters:
The Aug. 13 order from Judge Robert Schaffer in Harris County, Texas, came in a 2013 case brought by Gloria Alexander that the automaker had selected as the second test trial amid 20 similar cases in that state court over the ignition switch.
[...] GM had argued that Alexander’s case had no expert testimony to support allegations the defective switch caused her 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt to veer out of control and strike a concrete barrier before being hit by a pickup truck.
A lawyer for Alexander, Angel Hagmaier, called the decision disappointing. She noted that GM previously admitted as part of an agreement to end a U.S. criminal investigation that some of its employees knew about problems with the ignition switch for more than a decade before taking action.
3rd Gear: VW Wins In China
Speaking of GM, the automaker just got surpassed by the Volkswagen Group brands in the highly competitive Chinese market, reports Automotive News:
Volkswagen Group outsold General Motors in July as well as in the first seven months of the year to reclaim its position as China’s largest automaker.
VW Group delivered 285,900 vehicles in China last month, an increase of 16 percent from a year earlier.
The growth was led by the VW brand, which recorded sales of 210,500 vehicles, a rise of 17 percent from the same month last year.
In July, Skoda volume advanced 16 percent year on year to 21,400 vehicles while Audi deliveries rose 9.9 percent to 45,454 vehicles.
4th Gear: Hyundai Can’t Go It Alone
Increasingly, automakers are teaming up with Silicon Valley startups and other tech companies for ride-hailing, ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles. So far we haven’t seen much of that from Hyundai.
Described as an “insular” company that relies on its massive industrial diversity, at least one exec is pushing for more team-ups with outsiders, reports Bloomberg:
Yet these days fast-moving technologies are transforming the auto world at a blistering pace. And a go-it-alone strategy won’t cut it anymore, according to Hwang, Hyundai Motor’s executive vice president of information technology development. He thinks the world’s fifth-biggest carmaker needs to be far more open to tie-ups with tech upstarts and Silicon Valley giants to remain competitive in the race to dominate the coming era of connected cars and autonomous driving.
“As the systems get more and more complex, we cannot deal with everything,” Hwang said in an interview. “For some areas that we need to fill the gap, we need collaborations of our partners.”
Hwang, 60, is a rare bird at the insular Korean company, whose top brass is dominated by lifers. He joined Hyundai two years ago from Samsung Electronics Co., where he led work semiconductor development. Before that, he spent a decade at Silicon Valley startup Silicon Image, where he helped develop high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI), a technology that improved the audio and video quality of computer monitors and TVs.
5th Gear: It Doesn’t Matter
“But will the Infiniti QX30 somehow undercut the Mercedes-Benz GLA upon which it is based?”, obsessive car industry watchers have asked. Putting aside how boring the small crossover market is anyway, the answer is that buyers probably don’t know or care, reports Wards Autos:
What matters to them is the monthly payment, the color and whether it provides reliable transportation. If they ever look under the hood, they might not even notice the words “Mercedes-Benz” on the oil cap.
Infiniti aspires someday to have the swagger of Mercedes, so potential customers who do their homework might be perfectly fine to get German DNA at Infiniti prices.
[...] The most expensive AWD Premium QX30, with in-dash navigation, moonroof, LED headlamp package, technology package and Café Teak interior trim, stickers for $44,500. The tech package includes blindspot warning, emergency braking, lane-departure warning, intelligent cruise control, high-beam assist, intelligent part-assist and around-view monitor. By comparison, Mercedes GLA pricing begins at $32,850, and the top-line GLA45 AMG model easily will top $50,000 with options.
That is probably true.
Reverse: Go John Z.
Neutral: Do Customers Care That Their Cars Are Re-skins?
There’s a couple examples of this now, like the Fiat 124 Spider and the Scion iA that’s really a Mazda. Does that matter to buyers at all?