Photo credit: Ford

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: Jim Hackett Will Replace Mark Fields As Ford CEO

Ford confirmed reports Jim Hackett will replace current CEO Mark Fields in a press release this morning:

Ford Motor Company today named Jim Hackett as its new president and CEO and announced key global leadership changes designed to further strengthen its core automotive business and accelerate a strategic shift to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Hackett, 62, has a long track record of innovation and business success as CEO of Steelcase, Interim Athletic Director at the University of Michigan and executive chairman of Ford Smart Mobility LLC since March 2016.

Reporting to Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Hackett will lead Ford’s worldwide operations and 202,000 employees globally. He succeeds Mark Fields, 56, who has elected to retire from Ford after a successful 28-year career with the company.

Hackett is a relative outsider, having been there only a little over a year as opposed to the 28 years Fields spent at the company, according to the Detroit Free Press. He was widely credited with completely turning around office furniture maker Steelcase as CEO there, however, where he spent nearly two decades as CEO.

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Hackett will be moving up from helming Ford’s mobility arm and underlines a big push to catch up with autonomous and electric vehicles and other new technologies, such as ride-hailing and ride-sharing services, notes Reuters.

While Ford says Fields is “retiring,” Hackett’s priorities listed in today’s press release suggest why. Hackett will focus on whipping underperforming parts of the company into shape, improving operational efficiency, modernizing Ford’s business using new technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, and ensuring the company is ready to handle changing consumer needs in the future.

Of course, there’s a more obvious reason Ford would be looking for a shake-up: Reuters notes that Ford stock dropped 37 percent in since Fields took over in 2014. The company announced a press conference for 9:45 a.m. ET today, presumably about these big changes.

2nd Gear: But Wait, There’s More At Ford

Fields’ departure isn’t the only big switcheroo at Ford. Jim Farley is moving up from overseeing Ford of Europe, Middle East and Africa to become the company’s new executive vice president and president of Global Markets. Additionally, he’ll head up Lincoln Motor Company and global Marketing Sales and Service.

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Crucially, this puts a guy who understands us over all of Ford’s international business. Farley isn’t just a car guy with a classic car—he’s refreshingly aggressive, infamously saying “Fuck GM” in a rant about how Ford simply needed to do better than its main competitor. He reads Jalopnik. 

Joe Hinrichs, current head of the Americas, will also take over as executive vice president and president of global operations, where he’ll oversee how Ford gets things done, including product development, labor relations, sustainability, manufacturing, and Ford’s business model as a whole.

Marcy Klevorn, Ford’s current information technology and CIO, will be back-filling new CEO Hackett’s old role as executive vice president and president of Mobility. Mark Truby will move up from his current role over Ford communications in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa to be their new vice president of Communications globally.

Last but not least, Ford named Paul Ballew its new Global Chief Data and Analytics Officer after he’s led the company’s global data and analytics teams since 2014. Ballew should have his hands full with the new push for autonomous and possibly shared Fords.

3rd Gear: The Bolt’s Been A Jolt To EV Sales

Electric vehicle sales have risen 91 percent in the first quarter of 2017 in California thanks to the Chevrolet Bolt and cars from Tesla, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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Analysts told the Times that they believe the Bolt is filling a niche that wasn’t previously filled by an EV:

The Bolt brings a “new element” to the electric car market, said Rebecca Lindblad, a Kelley Blue Book analyst, with its hatchback, mid-market price and range around 240 miles.

Over three months, Chevy sold 2,735 Bolt EVs in California.

Electrics were still only 13,804 cars out of the 506,745 sold in California, accounting for a 2.7 percent market share. But for a smog-choked state looking to boost zero-emissions car sales to 15 percent of the market by 2025, the Bolt bump is a step in the right direction.

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Plug-in hybrids got another big bump—up 54 percent—while regular non-plug-in hybrid sales actually declined by 9.2 percent. This gives analysts some worry that new EV sales are coming from people trading in the most efficient non-EV cars on the market.

4th Gear: Daimler Invests Big In Big Batteries

Daimler breaks ground this week on a $543 million plant near Berlin to manufacture lithium-ion storage units for its cars, Automotive News writes:

The factory marks the arrival of battery-making gigafactories in Europe that will challenge Tesla, which is building at a plant in Nevada, and opens the way for a quicker shift toward green power for both cars and utilities.

Energy storage is crucial to developing the kinds of electric cars that can it to Tesla, so this is a much-needed step in the right direction in order to meet EV targets, not to mention a step towards lower-cost batteries.

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Automotive News says that it’s just the start when it comes to the electrification of European cars, too:

Global battery-making capacity is set to more than double by 2021, reaching 278 gigawatt-hours, up from about 103 gigawatt-hours now, according to BNEF. Europe’s market share is expected to almost double over that time from 2.5 percent.

Large-scale factories planned in Sweden, Hungary and Poland, as well as Daimler’s battery assembly plant in Germany, are expected to feed demand from automakers such as Volkswagen Group and Renault. That will cut the cost of lithium ion packs by 43 percent and make electric cars a mainstream reality, the researcher estimates.

Now that once-prized fuel-efficient diesel cars have become a PR nightmare, the push towards electrics is full steam ahead.

5th Gear: America Opens Probe Into Hyundai and Kia Engine Defects

The United States would like to know more about the engine defects pointed out by whistleblower Kim Gwang-ho—and if South Korea’s automakers have been on the up-and-up in the U.S., too, reports Reuters:

U.S. safety regulators have opened a formal investigation into the recall of nearly 1.7 million vehicles by Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) and affiliate Kia Motor Corp (000270.KS) over engine defects, according to filings published Saturday.

A South Korean whistleblower reported concerns last year to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which will probe the timeliness of three recalls carried out in the United States and whether they covered enough vehicles.

Fines could be imposed on the automakers if the NHTSA determines the recalls were not conducted properly. The agency did not immediately comment on the probe.

Gwang-ho flew to Washington in August 2016 to tell the NHTSA that a 2015 recall of 470,000 Hyundai Sonata sedans was inadequate. Defects in the engine could lead the Sonata to stall. Kia models which shared the same Theta II engine were not part of the recall.

Reverse: All Paul Newman Does Is Win

Neutral: Will Ford’s Musical Chairs Matter In The Long Run?

Will Ford ever be able to go head-to-head with future-focused startups like Tesla? Or is Ford in a better place for the long haul as a long-established automaker?

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