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 Bolt Is A Big Deal
Electric cars have been a tough sell this year, what with gas being so cheap and all. But the Chevrolet Bolt is more than just a Nissan Leaf fighter with better range: it’s now a testbed for everything General Motors wants to do with the future of cars, including autonomy.
With Michigan going all-in on autonomous car testing, GM will be doing a lot more with the Bolt, including trials for self-driving tech and loans to Lyft, which the automaker bought a stake in last year. Via Automotive News:
The moves, made in response to new laws that give Michigan the nation’s most liberal autonomous-vehicle regulations, represent a significant expansion of GM’s work to validate the technology. GM plans to roll out autonomous Bolts to Lyft, the ride-hailing company it invested $500 million in last winter, within several years; officials declined last week to give a more specific time frame.
“We have the opportunity and the responsibility to create a new model of personal transportation,” Barra said. “We’re ensuring that our [autonomous vehicles] can operate safely across a full range of road, weather and climate conditions.”
GM is in the early stages of ramping up production of the Bolt at its plant in Orion Township, Mich. It’s building about 100 Bolts a day intermixed with the Chevy Sonic subcompact car.
Jalopnik should be testing one of these next month and I can say I’m quite excited to see what it can do.
2nd Gear: The Malibu Weathers The Storm
And speaking of Chevrolet, even in the midst of the sedanocalypse, the redesigned Malibu is doing relatively well. Sales are actually up year over year, unlike much of the rest of this sad, declining segment, eviscerated by SUVs and crossovers. Via Automotive News:
In just the first 11 months of the year, Chevy had sold more Malibus to retail customers than in any year since General Motors revived the nameplate in 1996. It has displaced the Chevy Cruze as GM’s top-selling car for the first time since the Cruze arrived in 2010.
[...] Though the Malibu will never be as important to GM’s profits as pickups and SUVs, midsize cars play an outsize role in forming consumers’ perceptions of an automaker. “It’s the heart of what people think of a brand,” Reuss said last year.
And even though sedan sales are falling quickly, midsize sedans still account for more than 2 million units a year, or about 12 percent of the U.S. industry.
“There’s such high sales volumes in this segment that it’s important to get this right,” said Fisher, of Consumer Reports. “If you put out a poor entry in such a high-volume segment, what can you get right?”
3rd Gear: Google Is Not A Car Company, Says Google
As Google, er, Waymo, unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan prototype, its boss John Krafcik is very clear that Google is not and will not be an automaker. Via The Detroit News:
The partnership was announced in May. Aside from the announcement, neither side has discussed the deal or addressed a recent report that the minivans will be used in a ride-sharing service.
The production completion comes a week after Krafcik announced Google was spinning off its self-driving car project into an independent company Waymo. The company remains under the tech giant’s Alphabet Inc. parent company.
He described the new company as “a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.” He stressed that Waymo is “not a car company.”
“We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” he said.
I assume by better drivers he means better robots, because I don’t see Google ponying up to send people to Skip Barber.
4th Gear: Nissan Bribes NACTOY Jurors With Fruitcake
Car awards are dumb and bad, but automakers are desperate for some reason to get the coveted North American Car and Truck of the Year award, joining the ranks of famous vehicles worthy of the label like the Range Rover Evoque and Hyundai Elantra. Nissan wants it so bad it’s sending everyone’s most-loathed dish to critics, reports The Detroit Free Press:
Automakers frequently send press kits, lists of awards and product highlights making the case for their vehicles to jurors for the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.
Nissan public relations served a slice of humor in their campaign for the new Titan by comparing their pickup’s longevity to the nearly indestructible dessert dish.
The cake’s label read:
“Holiday fruitcake: Then one food that might last longer than the 2017 Nissan Titan’s industry leading 5 year/100,000 mile warranty.
“Recent Titan buyers will be covered until December, 2021…
“We can’t guarantee the fruitcake.”
5th Gear: Refiners On The Death Of Diesel: Meh
The writing is on the wall for diesel passenger cars, in both the U.S. thanks to Volkswagen and in Europe and other markets as countries enact ever stringent air quality laws. So what do the world’s fuel refiners think? Meh. Via Reuters:
The unfolding crisis that kicked off when Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) falsified U.S. car emissions has spurred a litany of changes at vehicle manufacturers, which are now putting their cash behind electric cars, or back to gasoline engines.
“I’m not concerned for refineries,” said Steve Sawyer, head of refining with consultants FGE. “Diesel for passenger cars is just one part of the demand pool.”
Although oil refiners disagree over how quickly the global market will turn its back on fossil-fuel-powered cars, the shipping industry is set to turn to low-sulfur diesel in droves due to new regulations.
In Europe, the stronghold of diesel engines thanks to decades of favorable government treatment, that portion is significant. Passenger cars account for 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) of the continent’s diesel consumption of 4.1 million bpd, according to FGE data.
But worldwide, diesel cars make up only about 12 percent of the car fleet, according to Swiss bank UBS.
Good to know they’ll be fine.
Reverse: Bullitt Would Have Been Better With At Least One Saab