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: How Bad In China?
Real bad. Even as automakers slash prices like crazy — leading some smart buyers to wait and see how low prices will go — Chinese car sales are now at a 17-month low. Via Bloomberg:
Retail deliveries fell 2.5 percent to 1.3 million units, the lowest level since February 2014, according to the China Passenger Car Association. A separate set of figures from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed passenger-vehicle sales declined 6.6 percent, also to a 17-month low.
Foreign automakers are facing slumping demand in China because of a slowing economy and resurgent competition from lower-priced local offerings. China’s move today to devalue its currency by the most in two decades adds to the challenges by reducing the value of repatriated profits for multinational carmakers.
Oof. But the weakened currency is actually good news for the Chinese automakers who export their vehicles to other countries. From that same story:
A weaker yuan helps made-in-China vehicle exports, which have shrunk in the last two years and are down 14 percent in the first seven months.
Chery Automobile Co., China’s biggest vehicle exporter, said the move to weaken the yuan will help its sales overseas and predicted shipments will rise by 20 percent this year.
“The weakening yuan is good for us,” Yin Tongyue, chairman of Chery Auto, said in an interview in Beijing. “We support it.”
2nd Gear: Jaguar Land Rover Dumps North America For Slovakia
It seemed as though Jag Land Rover was considering a site in North America for a new factory, which would churn out 300,000 vehicles by 2025. Not the case anymore. The reborn luxury automaker has signed a letter of intent saying they’ll build it in Slovakia instead. Via Automotive News:
Slovakia has already attracted other carmakers. Volkswagen builds a range of models there including its Touareg and Audi Q7 flagship SUVs at its Bratislava plant, South Korea’s Kia produced more than 300,000 vehicles in the country last year while PSA/Peugeot-Citroen’s Slovak unit made more than 255,000 vehicles last year.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said he was committed to boosting the country’s premium car sector and would work closely with Jaguar Land Rover to ensure the plant is built in Slovakia.
3rd Gear: But We Do Have Mercedes!
While Jaguar Land Rover has decided they’re TOO GOOD FOR AMERICA, the AM General plant in Indiana has begun building Mercedes-Benz SUVs under contract. From the Associated Press:
Company and state officials on Tuesday will mark the deal under which Mercedes’ SUVs will be manufactured in the same Mishawaka factory where AM General built the Hummer H2, which it made for General Motors until 2009.
AM General is building the seven-seat R-Class SUV that’s now sold exclusively in China.
R-Class production moved there to make room for the upcoming GLE crossover at their Alabama plant. The GLE replaces the old ML-Class, which has always been built in Alabama.
4th Gear: Maserati Not Worried About Maserati
It may not seem like Maserati, an increasingly important brand for parent Fiat Chrysler, has much to offer at the moment. But they’re on track to have their second-best year ever and profit margins remain healthy, plus they’re hoping the Levante crossover will set the world on fire. Who’s not worried? Maserati CEO Harald J. Wester. Via The Detroit News:
But 2015 is not a cause for concern, company officials insist. Profit margins remain healthy and sales this year are on pace to be Maserati’s second-best ever (only behind 2014) for Fiat Chrysler, as Maserati awaits the arrival of its highly anticipated Levante crossover SUV in 2016 — a first for the brand. The U.S. will be a critical component of its sales: In 2014, 39 percent of Maserati sales were here.
“We are doing well,” Maserati CEO Harald J. Wester said in a phone interview from Italy, birthplace of Maserati. “The revitalization of Maserati doesn’t lack steam or power or performance. There is no weakness directly connected to what we are doing.”
Gotta get those luxury SUVs out to the public that craves them!
5th Gear: GM Death Fund Comes To An End
After a year of reviewing cases submitted by people claiming to be involved in crashes tied to the General Motors ignition switch defect, or their families, the independent fund set up by the automaker is preparing to close up shop. Just one injury claim remains. In total, 124 deaths were officially tied to the defect. From The Detroit News:
The fund’s administrator, Washington lawyer Ken Feinberg, said in a report Monday that the fund is still reviewing just one of the 4,342 claims filed. Last week, the fund said it had approved 124 death claims — nearly 10 times more than the 13 deaths GM executives reported as the controversy unfolded in 2014. The fund plans to release a final report detailing more about the claims approved and rejected later this week.
In total, the fund has approved 274 injury claims — 17 of them serious.
While the fund has reviewed the 4,343 claims filed against GM — rejecting 92 percent of them — it has not yet determined the value of some of the deaths and injuries, or made offers to the victims or their survivors, said Camille Biros, the fund’s deputy administrator, last week. Among the 3,944 rejected claims, 350 were for deaths.
Not surprisingly, the Center for Auto Safety was critical of the fund’s operations, saying it put too much burden on the consumer to prove injury or a family member’s death.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said the “burden of proof on the individual consumer was always too high,” and that some may not have pursued claims because they didn’t have supporting documents.
“The entire program was designed to get help get Congress and the Justice Department off GM’s back,” Ditlow said. “The one thing is clear that we will never know how many people were killed or injured because it goes back so far.”
The company still faces “hundreds of lawsuits” over the switch defect, the News reports, including claims over lost vehicle value.
Reverse: American Graffiti
On this day in 1973, “American Graffiti,” a nostalgic coming-of-age tale set on the streets and steeped in the car-centric culture of suburban California, is released in theaters across the United States. The movie went on to become a sleeper hit.
Neutral: Who Will Benefit From The China Slump?
Chinese automakers exporting cars, for one. Who else?
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