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: Lamborghini’s New Boss Came From Ferrari
Italian man Stefano Domenicali was just named the new CEO of Lamborghini, replacing German man and former Lamborghini head Stephan Winkellmann. Winkellman returns to the Audi mothership, Automotive News reports:
Domenicali, who has been vice president for “new business initiatives” at Lamborghini’s parent Audi since November 2014, will succeed Winkelmann on March 15.
Winkelmann, 51, will on March 15 become head of Audi’s high-performance car division quattro GmbH, which builds Audi’s top-end R sports car.
But who the hell is Stefano Domenicali? Well, in true Italian automotive industry tradition, he’s someone who left Ferrari to do his own thing. And when we say “left Ferrari,” we mean, well, “left” Ferrari. Domenicali was a Ferrari lifer, joining the company right out of school, and staying with the company for 23 years. And while he started as but a lowly bean counter, he eventually rose to the top of Ferrari’s Formula One team. But, as we noted when he was forced out in 2014, it didn’t exactly end well for him:
Ferrari’s official announcement is that Domenicali resigned in order to “shake things up” and that this was a “difficult and very painful decision.” It was painful because it was difficult, definitely not because Luca Di Montezemolo had applied so much pressure to Domenicali that he was about to break in half.
This is normal for F1. If a team is underperforming, especially one with the reputation of Ferrari, the team principal has to leave. Domenicali really had no choice.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. If you can’t be the boss of Ferrari’s F1 team, being the head matador at the bull stable ain’t too bad at all.
2nd Gear: Mercedes Going Electric?
For years, it seemed like the Mercedes of the future was going to be some sort of hydrogen fuel cell contraption. But now, Mercedes CEO and ambulatory mustache Dieter Zetsche is making noises to the contrary to German newspaper Euro am Sonntag (via Reuters):
Batteries have won a slight edge over hydrogen fuel cells in the race to develop environmentally friendly cars, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told a German newspaper.
Daimler is cooperating with partners in both areas and Zetsche said it was, however, still unclear which of the two competing technologies would be more successful in playing a leading role in the sector.
“But one has to recognize: batteries have become more attractive in recent years. It has become more likely that they could prevail,” Zetsche told Euro am Sonntag in an interview, adding that batteries had shown progress in two key areas - range and charging time.
Zetsche went on to say that ranges of a little over 300 miles and fast charging times are within reach, while no one is yet stepping up to build out a hydrogen infrastructure.
But with both hydrogen and electric, we’ve got a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Tesla’s stepping up with its Supercharging stations, but if anyone wants anything done, someone else is going to have to step up, too.
Now we just need to get carmakers to stop leaving it to “someone else.”
3rd Gear: Volkswagen’s Changing Culture
Matthias Muller got promoted from Porsche to helm the wayward ship that is Volkswagen, and already he’s shaking up things, like the carpet, theWall Street Journal reports:
Soon after Matthias Müller took the helm at Volkswagen AG in the wake of its emissions-cheating scandal, he walked into a factory here to address 20,000 workers gathered before a makeshift stage carpeted in the company’s trademark silver color.
“I’d like to rip this carpet out,” he barked, according to two people present. The new chief executive didn’t want to be treated like royalty, he said, because Volkswagen managers are businessmen, not rock stars.
He’s also doing other things, like not closing his door, and picking up his telephone. You know, things that people do, but that CEOs apparently don’t normally do once they have superseded this Earthly plane.
But is it enough, or is it just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic? Who knows! Wait a few years, and we’ll find out.
4th Gear: Ford’s Going Big Or Going Home On Autonomous Vehicles
Everyone is getting into the autonomous vehicle game, and for a while, Ford was oddly silent on the issue as everyone from Google to Nissan to Tesla made a big stink about their own programs. Ford CEO Mark Fields wants to change that, so he’s tripling the company’s investment into robo-cars, the Detroit Free Press reports. He didn’t specify a dollar figure, probably because that’s the sort of thing Googles and Nissans and Teslas of the world would love to find out, but the company is bringing its fleet of autonomous Fusions from 10 vehicles to 30.
It’s not much, but it’s a start.
5th Gear: Cadillac Wants To Transform The Dealership Experience Into A Website Experience
I know it can be hard to remember sometimes, but Cadillac is a legacy brand of General Motors. And because of that, it gets stuck with a lot of legacy GM weirdness, like dealers who primarily sell Chevys and Buicks but on rare occasions might sell a Cadillac. Rather than closing those down and building dedicated Cadillac dealerships in their stead, however, Automotive News reports that Caddy has a different idea – touchscreens:
adillac is encouraging more than 400 of its lowest-volume U.S. dealerships — mostly dual Chevrolet or Buick-GMC stores that sell 50 or fewer new Cadillacs a year — to voluntarily adopt “virtual showrooms.” Those dealerships would not stock Cadillac vehicles on their lots. Instead, sold orders would be expedited from regional inventory centers, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said.
The stores would use a concierge-style approach to selling Cadillacs: Salespeople would routinely visit prospective buyers at their homes or workplaces, armed with slick touch-screen vehicle configurators or virtual-reality units supplied by Cadillac.
I guess that’s one way to lower the average age of your buyers.
On this day in 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels.
Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was released unharmed several hours after the race. The kidnapping was intended to bring international embarrassment to Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, whose government Castro would overthrow on January 1, 1959.
Neutral: Who Else Seems Weirdly Slow?
Ford seems to be lagging behind on autonomous vehicles, especially compared to a company like Google, which normally doesn’t make cars at all. Who else seems oddly behind on the technology?