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: Thank God, Finally
Like you all, I spend most of my free evenings at the local Wal-Mart, browsing its wares, eating at the McDonald’s within, carefully comparing tire prices, and communing with my fellow patriots. But there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do there: buy a car. It was impossible, the Wal-Mart people told me. We do not sell the cars at the Wal-Mart.
Until now! Car buying is coming to the Wal-Mart via CarSaver, a new online auto retail platform. It’s setting up car-buying kiosks at 25 Wal-Mart superstores in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Oklahoma City, reports Automotive News.
While it won’t be, say, a traditional dealership at the Wal-Mart with cars you can buy on-site, the CarSaver program lets people go through the entire process via a computer. From the story:
CarSaver’s digital platform allows car shoppers to select, finance and insure a vehicle through its website or on a touch-screen kiosk, backed by bilingual auto advisers available by phone. Staffers at CarSaver Centers — set up inside Wal-Mart stores across from checkout lanes and alongside other services, such as vision centers and nail salons — will explain the car-buying program to Wal-Mart customers.
Customers will be able to select a new, used or certified pre-owned vehicle and apply for financing and auto insurance on the kiosk at the CarSaver Center, on their mobile device via CarSaver’s website or by calling an 800 number.
CarSaver then will connect customers with a local, certified dealer and schedule an appointment to visit the dealership. If a shopper doesn’t contact the dealership, an auto adviser reconnects with that shopper.
The dealerships pay CarSaver a $350 “success fee” in most states if a sale goes through. It partners with AutoNation and other dealers.
2nd Gear: China Gives Cadillac Some Flexibility
Cadillac currently has its best product lineup in decades, but clawing into the U.S. luxury market dominated by the Germans and Lexus has been incredibly tough. But they have a bit of breathing room in the form of crazy strong Chinese sales, reports Automotive News:
The contrast between Cadillac’s performance in its two primary markets last year was stark. U.S. sales fell 3 percent, while deliveries in China rose 46 percent, pushing global volume to a 30-year high.
The U.S. still accounts for just more than half of the brand’s global volume, but Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said China, where its annual sales have surpassed 100,000 vehicles, could become its top market within three years.
“We are moving Cadillac from having this very strong U.S.-centric focus to having a global focus,” de Nysschen said in an interview. “The time will come when we will sell more Cadillacs in China than here.”
“A more global focus” used to mean I’d call for more diesel wagons in the U.S., but that ain’t happening now.
3rd Gear: But It Will Do A Big Marketing Push
At the same time, after a year that saw the deployment of the CT6 sedan and XT5 crossover, it will be a while before we get new Cadillacs. In the meantime the brand will focus on marketing what it has. Via Advertising Age:
That’s the situation Cadillac Chief Marketing Officer Uwe Ellinghaus faces this year as he awaits a replenished new-product pipeline in 2018. But he is not pressing the brakes on advertising.
“I have a launch pause for a new car, but it’s a great opportunity for me to send brand messages,” he said in an interview at the Detroit auto show. “From a creative point of view, the agency loves the idea that they don’t have to launch a new car and feature it prominently because the creative degree of freedom is so much bigger than they now have,” he added. Cadillac’s lead agency is Publicis New York.
The GM brand will once again have a healthy ad buy in the Oscars, with at least three spots continuing Cadillac’s “Dare Greatly” theme. In an unusual move, the ads will feature a concept car called the Escala that will never be sold. “There are dealers who say, why are you advertising a car you cannot buy?” Mr. Ellinghaus acknowledged. But the Escala, which is Spanish for “scale,” “has immense appeal for me to be used in communication because it outlines the future design direction of Cadillac,” he added. “It just shows that we are evolving.”
4th Gear: Safety Is Bipartisan
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration we have today is a very different (and much tougher) one than it was when it was effectively caught sleeping on the job with the General Motors ignition switch defect mess.
Now as agency administrator Mark Rosekind departs his job, he hopes the Trump administration will continue that legacy. From a Q&A in The Detroit News:
Q: What were your biggest accomplishments?
A: The pivot from being reactive to a proactive safety culture. The road-to-zero fatalities initiative and the autonomous vehicle guidelines. We’re working toward 100 percent recall completion, better reporting of safety defects, data sharing. Autonomous vehicles can lead to zero fatalities. It really is totally unacceptable that society accepts the carnage on roads. We have to deal with the near-term crisis and have a long-term plan to get us to zero.
Q: Are you worried that the Trump administration could undo those changes?
A: You know my biggest fear is that it doesn’t continue. The new administration is going to have its own priorities. Safety is bipartisan. The more effective and successful programs are, anyone who is going to care about saving those lives is going to want to see them solidified or expanded. Everything’s vulnerable.
5th Gear: The Truth Is Also Bipartisan
In that same vein, while the new president has been heavy on alternative facts lately about U.S. auto industry jobs being shipped to Mexico and elsewhere, here are some real, actual facts from The Detroit Free Press. This is a good breakdown worth a read in full:
Statement: Ford cancelled a plant in Mexico and brought the work back to America.
Reality: Ford cancelled plans to build a new assembly plant in Mexico. Bad news for Mexico, but not good news for the United States. The Focus compact car Ford was moving from Michigan to the new plant will now move to another Mexican plant Ford opened in 1986, during the Ronald Reagan Administration, seven years before NAFTA was passed.
Statement: The U.S. doesn’t export vehicles; we’re losers in the global market
Reality: U.S auto exports hit a record 2.7 million in 2016, says John McElroy of TV’s “Autoline This Week.” We ship vehicles to 150 countries around the world. Wards Auto reports our largest trading partners are Canada: 969,000; China, 266,000; Mexico, 225,000; and Germany, 176,000.
American-based companies build millions more vehicles around the world, the great majority of which they sell in the markets where they build ‘em.
Reverse: Did YOU Kill The Electric Car?
Neutral: Will You Buy Cars At The Wal-Mart?
Is this really more convenient than the traditional method of buying cars? And is it a prelude to what car companies probably really want but are afraid to challenge dealers on: online sales?