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: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Now we know the amount the U.S. government is seeking in its civil lawsuit against Volkswagen over the cheating diesel engines: up to $48 billion, according to Reuters. Even for the world’s second-largest automaker, that’s a lot, even though the settlement (which is what’s likely to happen here) will probably be less—Toyota only paid $34 million in a $58 billion environmental lawsuit in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, VW brand chief Herbert Diess said at CES during the unveiling of the electric Microbus concept that the company is indeed sticking with diesels, for now. Via Automotive News:
Volkswagen’s brand chief isn’t giving up on diesels in the U.S. market despite the company’s emissions scandal that has undermined the eco-friendly credentials of the niche powertrain.
Herbert Diess says that diesels will continue to have a role in Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup because, with the latest emissions technologies, diesels can be clean. He also touted the long range and high torque of diesel engines.
“I wouldn’t give up diesel, even in the U.S.,” Diess told reporters on the sidelines of VW’s CES keynote here Tuesday night.
They just need to figure out how to fix them first.
2nd Gear: Everything Is Awesome
A few notable things: BMW is still the top-selling U.S. luxury brand, and Lexus surged to send Mercedes-Benz into third place; poor Volkswagen was down 9 percent in December; people are buying lots of Toyota and Lexus trucks and SUVs; Hyundai, Kia, Honda and Nissan all had record years; and even slow-selling Cadillac was up as it attempts to unload all its SRX crossovers before the XT5 replacement comes out.
3rd Gear: Buick’s Detroit Surprise
Buick won’t have a press conference at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, but it apparently does have a surprise reveal the night before the show in the Motor City. And it’s not just the new Chinese-built Envision crossover, it’s something else. Via The Detroit News:
For the second straight year, Buick will use the Sunday ahead of press days for the North American International Auto Show for a big premiere.
The entry-level premium brand will use the Eastern Market in Detroit to show journalists from across the globe the Chinese-built Buick Envision compact SUV for the U.S. market and another surprise car. Representatives of the General Motors Co. brand are mum on what that is, but some analysts predict it could be a latest version of the Verano small car or a small-car concept based off an Opel Astra or Adam — or possibly an all-new large car, or the latest Enclave SUV or Regal sedan.
“We have a very special program, and we had a surprise last year, so we’ll see if we can do something this year as well,” Duncan Aldred, U.S. vice president of Buick, said in a recent interview.
Re-badged Opel hot hatch, please?
4th Gear: Who Has The Most Car Tech Patents?
Who’s really the leader on new car technology—established automakers or Silicon Valley? If the number of filed patents is any indicator, it’s actually the car companies and their suppliers. Via Reuters:
Toyota is, far and away, the global leader in the number of self-driving car patents, the report found. Toyota is followed by Germany’s Robert Bosch GmbH [ROBG.UL], Japan’s Denso Corp (6902.T), Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) and General Motors Co (GM.N). The tech company with the most autonomous-driving patents, Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, ranks 26th on the list.
The report from the Thomson Reuters unit comes as auto and technology industry executives are gathering at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where alliances to advance autonomous driving and connected vehicles will be central topics.
GM said on Monday it will invest $500 million in Lyft Inc as it forges a Detroit-Silicon Valley partnership with the ride-sharing service to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars.
5th Gear: A Car Built For Ride-Sharing
Thanks to an apparent screw-up at CNET, the Chevrolet Bolt EV dropped a bit sooner than expected. We’ll learn more about its specs today, but bearing in mind GM’s new partnership with Lyft, the car has a very interesting potential role in mind. From The Detroit Free Press:
But it’s the test-fleet project that seems custom-tailored to the Bolt, which will sell for $30,000 and federal rebates and has a 200-mile battery range. Although it is a compact crossover, the vehicle features a range of touches that make it better-suited than many small cars for ride-sharing duty, says Pamela Fletcher, GM’s chief engineer for electric vehicles.
“This really is the first car purposely built for ride sharing,” says Fletcher. She highlights an exterior “that seems shrink-wrapped around the interior” which provides rear-seat passengers with ample room for three; large door openings and flat floors, which make entering and exiting the car easier; and onboard cameras that, on command, project an image of a wide field behind the car onto the car’s rearview mirror, which helps with safety when dropping off or picking up passengers in city traffic.
Not a bad idea.
6th Gears: CES!
The Consumer Electronics Show enters its second day today, and we’ll be there with all of the car-centric news. There’s a lot this year. Here’s everything we had from yesterday’s show:
Reverse: Happy 90th, John Z.