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: Mazda VS. The Giants

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Some days it seems like Mazda is like that really great TV show that struggles for ratings because nobody’s watching it, even though they should be, kind of like The Wire back in the day. The small Japanese automaker makes some of the best and best-looking cars on the market, but it continually struggles against larger, more mass-market companies.

The first modern revamp of post-Ford Mazda came in 2012 with the SkyActiv cars. Now it continues with a slew of new products, starting with the new CX-5.

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In an interview with Automotive News, CEO Masamichi Kogai said the plan is to hold the line on incentives to boost transaction prices, emphasize design, interior quality and handling, and make Mazda more of a premium brand than it’s been historically. But here are the big challenges, which also include being bad at retaining customers:

Through November, Mazda’s U.S. sales dropped 7.2 percent in a market that was flat. And many forecasters believe U.S. auto sales have peaked and are poised to slow even further. In that environment, Mazda will be trying to lift its prices as rivals slash theirs amid a possible price war.

The company’s brand metrics also have a way to go.

Mazda ranked below the industry average this year in three closely watched J.D. Power studies — those gauging vehicle dependability, initial quality and customer satisfaction with service.

But Mazda is studying two benchmark brands that Kogai says have done what he wants to do: propel the brand upward through two successive generations of vehicles. He declines to identify the brands Mazda is studying.

They “actually repeated the same kind of success twice,” Kogai said. “We have had only one leap so far, from the [previous] generation of products to the [current] generation that we introduced starting in 2012. We really need to achieve a similarly big leap from the [current] generation to [next] generation.”

Can Mazda manage in a world that favors big players and increasingly revolutionary powertrain technologies?

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2nd Gear: All The Gears

How many gears does your car need? Increasingly it’s eight, nine, 10 or more! General Motors is about to go big on its new nine-speed autobox, co-developed with Ford, for the volume-selling Chevrolet models, reports The Detroit News:

General Motors Co. plans to introduce 10 models with its new 9-speed transmission by the end of 2017, including four for its Chevrolet brand.

The Detroit-based automaker is touting the transmission, which was co-developed with crosstown rival Ford Motor Co., as a solution to increase fuel economy up to 2 percent and enhance performance over the 6-speed transmission it is based on.

For Chevrolet, the transmission debuted on the top-line 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier with 2.0-liter turbo engine, followed next year by the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze diesel with the 1.6-liter diesel engine and 2018 Chevrolet Equinox with available 2.0-liter turbo.

“This product is not aimed at niche vehicles,” said Chris Meagher, executive director of transmission and electrification hardware engineering. “It’s a high-volume plan.”

And the 10-speed gearbox, also developed with Ford, could see duty in both the Mustang and Camaro someday. Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc.

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3rd Gear: Paris Bans Cars, Again

Citing a pollution emergency, Paris is again banning cars in city streets and making public transit free today, reports the AP:

Facing red-alert levels of pollution since Nov. 30, Paris City Hall said the situation poses a significant risk to residents’ health. Authorities say pollution is due to weather conditions and a heavy dependence on diesel fuel.

To tackle what City Hall describes as an “exceptionally serious” crisis, Paris’s Velib bike-share and Autolib electric cars were made free Tuesday, as well as the Paris metro and bus services. In addition, only cars with even-numbered plates were allowed to drive Tuesday in the French capital and its close suburbs.

City officials say it’s the ninth time this year that Paris is facing a pollution peak.

4th Gear: BMW Slammed For Bad Financing In Australia

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Bad BMW! Getting people into loans they couldn’t afford. Via Reuters:

Australia’s corporate regulator said on Tuesday that German carmaker BMW (BMWG.DE) has to pay A$77 million ($57 million) to compensate customers who received loans they could not afford, in what is Australia’s largest ever consumer credit remediation program.

The payments will compensate at least 15,000 customers who may have suffered hardship between January 2011 and August 2016 due to loans received from local financing unit BMW Australia Finance Limited, the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) said in a statement on its website.

The lion’s share of the sum, at A$50 million, will go toward the write-off of loans.

5th Gear: Infiniti On Track For Record Year

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After years of struggling to find its place in the tough luxury market and its brand identity, Infiniti is on pace to have a great sales year and probably its strongest portfolio ever, reports Reuters:

Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s (7201.T) premium Infiniti brand will likely end 2016 with record sales well beyond the 215,000 vehicles it sold worldwide last year, the Japanese brand’s global chief told Reuters.

Infiniti on Tuesday said global sales reached 20,050 cars in November, a rise of 5 percent from the same period a year prior. Sales totaled about 204,000 in January-November, up 6 percent.

“We don’t give forecasts, but you can do the math and figure out we have a record year in the making,” Infiniti global head Roland Krueger said in a telephone interview the same day.

Krueger said Infiniti’s business around the world is gaining momentum chiefly from new models including the Q60 midsize sedan and QX30 compact crossover sport-utility vehicle (SUV).

“What we will see next year is the full availability of models we launched one-by-one in separate markets this year. It’s very important for us that we have a full portfolio available in all markets, and that’s going to give us some opportunity (to grow vehicle sales numbers),” Krueger said.

Bring back the M30 convertible! Four-speed auto and all. Why not, things are good.


Reverse: Kitty O’Neal

Neutral: How Does Mazda Make It?

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I’ve asked this before on Morning Shift, but this is a good rundown of Mazda’s challenges. Can it succeed as such a small company or is a merger inevitable?