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: Be Afraid, Tesla. Be Very Afraid.
Having seen all of its diesel efforts completely explode in its face, Volkswagen is shifting to electric cars instead. And being Volkswagen, one of the largest car companies in the world (if not the largest, depending on the day), it’s shoving massive, virtually infinite resources into the effort. The initial result will be not just one, but four cars to battle the Tesla Model 3, Bloomberg reports:
Volkswagen AG’s namesake brand is gearing up to take on Tesla Inc. with plans to roll out four affordable electric vehicles in the coming years.
The German company has made “huge progress” in reducing production costs of its all-electricvehicles, Christian Senger, head of the VW marque’s electric-car project, told reporters Tuesday in Shanghai, where the nameplate is unveiling its first battery-powered crossover. The models, to be sold under the I.D. sub-brand, will be partly developed in China and also include a mid-size sport utility vehicle, a hatchback and a sedan.
All that said, Tesla is not sitting still, and there’s a good chance it’ll eat Volkswagen’s lunch with an electric pickup and a semi-truck launching before VW can plug its first electric production car in.
The real deciding factor in whether or not any of this is successful may just be Volkswagen’s fast-charging station plan to battle Tesla’s Supercharger network.
The Supercharger is what makes electric cars work, otherwise they (like the Chevy Bolt) would be about as useful as a gasoline-powered car that you could only re-fuel at your house. Volkswagen’s planning 450 of its fast-charging sites, thanks to a Dieselgate settlement, which sounds like a lot but still nowhere near the 828 stations (and counting) that Tesla has.
But if VW is really serious about getting into electric cars, this is just the beginning.
2nd Gear: China And The Push For Electrics
Beijing has mandated that 12 percent of cars sold in China must be “new energy vehicles” by 2020, and that’s a difficult ask as Chinese consumers seem to just want gas-guzzling SUVs, the AP reports:
The industry is rattled by Beijing’s proposal to require that electric cars make up 8 percent of every brand’s production as early as next year. Consumers are steering the other way: First-quarter SUV sales soared 21 percent from a year earlier to 2.4 million, while electric vehicle purchases sank 4.4 percent to just 55,929.
“It’s tough for someone with an EV to come and take away market share from SUVs,” said Ben Cavender of China Market Research Group.
Obviously, this is a completely silly game. There is no zero-sum game between electric cars and SUVs. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Electric cars can also be SUVs.
Crazy, I know. But I drove one. They exist, I promise. The one I drove I would even call spectacular. As we’ve already noted today, the real barrier to electric car adoption is a network of fast charging stations. People aren’t addicted to huffing gasoline, they just need viable transportation options of at least 250 mile range and the aforementioned network.
Stop pretending otherwise.
The Chinese government at least seems to be on board with the plan:
To ease such “range anxiety,” the Cabinet has ordered the state-owned power industry to step up installation of charging stations.
Government plans call for China to have 100,000 public charging stations and 800,000 private stations by next year, up from a total of 50,000 at the start of 2016. Longer term, the government wants a network that can support 5 million vehicles by 2020.
The government also is trying to nudge buyers toward electrics by exempting them from sales taxes and from license plate fees and lotteries imposed by Beijing, Shanghai and some other cities to curb congestion.
Those 900,000 charging stations better be fast-charging ones or so help me I will start boosting hydrogen.
3rd Gear: Uber Self-Driving Exec Just Quit
Uber’s plan to survive involves self-driving cars, which would enable it to eliminate those pesky drivers it has so many problems with. Well, that’s the plan, anyway, because one of its chief self-driving car executives just quit, Automotive News reports:
Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle programs at Uber, left his post at the ride-hailing company on Monday.
Marakby, who joined Uber in April 2016 after a 25-year career at Ford Motor Co., helped the tech company launch its self-driving ride-hailing pilot program in Pittsburgh.
Maybe Uber should just lose someone else?
4th Gear: Used Cars Are About To Get Cheap
We’ve been living in a bit of a used car bubble for a few years now, partially driven by the Cash for Clunkers program which decreased the supply of used cars, and partially driven by absurd amounts of subprime auto loans. But that bubble may be about to burst, and one of the first signs comes from rental car companies, Bloomberg notes:
Debt issued by Hertz Global Holdings Inc. and Avis Budget Group Inc., which had traded at or above par in recent years, tumbled to new lows earlier this month amid signs that used- vehicle prices are dropping twice as much as expected. That’s bad news for companies that collectively have to dispose of about 400,000 vehicles a year, and especially for Hertz, whose junk-rated debt is teetering close to a downgrade. “Historically the biggest problem that has hit the industry is when they get over-fleeted and bought too many cars; that isn’t the case this time,” said Bruce Clark, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “Prices are coming down and they’re coming down faster than they had anticipated.”
Get ready for a What Car Should You Buy? bonanza.
5th Gear: Boeing To Cut Hundreds Of Jobs
Reverse: Old Man Does Thing
On this day in 2009, driver Mark Martin wins the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona, and becomes the first 50-year-old to claim victory at a National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Sprint Cup race since Morgan Shepherd did so at a race in Atlanta in 1993. Besides Martin and Shepherd, only two other drivers age 50 or older have won Sprint Cup events.
Neutral: Tesla Or VW?
Or a Chevy Bolt or a Nissan Leaf or whatever. It’s your life. You get to make your own decisions.