Trump is talking about phone calls, Cadillac is talking about reinventing itself. You’re not in the late ‘80s, you’re reading The Morning Shift for Tuesday, August 27, 2019.
1st Gear: The More You Look At Cadillac, The Worse Things Seem
The New York Times ran a new story on Cadillac today and, well, it all sounds worryingly familiar to anyone who has followed Cadillac since... I don’t know. The mid-2010s? The ‘00s? The late ‘80s? Read this quote from the NYT story and tell me I’m wrong:
G.M. embarked on the latest turnaround a year ago, when it moved the headquarters back to Detroit and named a new Cadillac president: Steve Carlisle, a Canadian engineer who has been with G.M. since 1982.
“It takes several things to come together to be able to revitalize the brand,” Mr. Carlisle said while at the wheel of a CT6 sedan zipping along Interstate 96 near Detroit. “If you’ve been off people’s radar screens, which we were, they move on to other manufacturers. We have to get back on their screens.”
That quote might as well have been given from a Cadillac Allanté. Hell, it could have been given by Johan de Nysschen in 2012. What has Cadillac been doing for the past decade? What happened, man?
Some problems, from that story, and an explanation of the new future, which is “electric cars”:
The challenges are daunting. Cadillac is now in the midst of another reboot at a time when Tesla’s products and other electric cars are becoming the standard for luxury vehicles.
In some ways, Cadillac doesn’t really compete with other luxury brands. Cadillac buyers most often trade in Chevys and Fords; rarely do they trade in German makes. Almost 40 percent of Cadillac buyers are over 65, compared with 20 percent for Audi, according to Cox Automotive.
Mark Reuss, G.M.’s president, has said Cadillac had one last chance to pull off a comeback. And under Mr. Carlisle, it is betting on technology, something that distinguished Cadillac in its glory days. Under his predecessor, G.M. spent heavily to develop engines to be used only in Cadillacs. One of them, a 550-horsepower V8, became available this year — at a time when electric vehicles are captivating luxury-car buyers. Now Cadillac is planning to phase out combustion engines in favor of electric models. Within six to 10 years, Mr. Carlisle said, Cadillac’s entire line will be electric.
So instead of being the “American version of BMW,” as the story says, this time Cadillac will be GM’s version of Tesla. Maybe this reboot will take, who knows.
2nd Gear: China’s Car Market Is Rough Enough To Loosen Infamous Restrictions
One of the biggest developments of the past year in the car world is that China’s legendarily strong car market, the largest in the world, has faltered. I always thought the strength of China’s car market was interesting given the incredibly tight restrictions the Chinese government puts on buying a car. Many cities only give out license plates by lottery, and additional costs and fees balloon prices.
Now that is beginning to change, as Bloomberg notes in a wire report:
China rolled out a series of guidelines to encourage consumption, led by support for the flagging auto market.
The measures include exploring ways to gradually loosen or remove car purchase limits and support new-energy vehicle purchases in some areas, the State Council, or cabinet, said on its website on Tuesday. Other steps include incentives to build more gas stations in rural areas and removing hurdles to invest in fuel wholesale and storage businesses.
For automakers, the move provides some relief with the industry reeling from a slump that’s dragged on for more than a year. More broadly, China is stepping up targeted stimulus measures to support the economy, which has been slowing due to the effects of weak domestic demand and a worsening dispute over trade with the U.S.
We’ll see if this pulls sales out of their slump. I hope so, if only for Lotus’ sake. That company recently got scooped up by the Chinese automaker Geely, when that company was on a real tear while the market had been good.
3rd Gear: China Not Sure What Phone Call Trump Is Talking About
This is a double-barreled news item. The first is that Trump announced he’d raise existing tariffs on Chinese goods to 30 percent, as the New York Times reports. I will quote from that article, but spare you having to read Trump’s caps-lock tweets about it:
Twelve hours after China said it would retaliate against Mr. Trump’s next round of tariffs by raising taxes on American goods, Mr. Trump said he would bolster existing tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to 30 percent from 25 percent on Oct. 1.
And he said the United States would tax an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese imports at a 15 percent rate, rather than the 10 percent he had initially planned. Those levies go into effect on Sept. 1.
Now, the second part is what really casts this into light as a Trumpian affair. Bloomberg published its own article “After 24 Hours, China Still Unaware of Calls Mentioned by Trump,” detailing that Trump claimed he’d been working things out over the phone:
China declined to confirm phone calls with the U.S. that President Donald Trump claimed happened over the weekend, during which Trump said China indicated it wanted to work toward a trade deal.
“I’m not aware of that,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “Regretfully the U.S. has announced its decision to add new tariffs on Chinese products. Such maximum pressure will hurt both sides and is not constructive at all.”
I am sure this will all get worked out smoothly.
4th Gear: Trump Not Into Tariffs With Japan, At Least
Trump worked things out with fellow super nationalist Shinzo Abe
yesterday, which was a fun watch in that Abe quickly attempted to make clear that Japan did not concede too much to America this time. But it’s this wonderful bit of deal making that gets me from Trump, immediately after making a deal to stave off tariffs with Japan. From a Reuters report:
At a press conference during a global summit in Biarritz, France, Trump was asked if he was still considering the levies, which he can institute under U.S. trade law if his administration finds the imports threaten national security.
“Not at this moment, no, not at this moment,” Trump said. “It’s something I could do at a later date if I wanted to but we’re not looking at that.”
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an agreement on the core principles of a limited trade deal on Sunday, with Tokyo making concessions on agriculture and Washington maintaining its current auto tariffs of 2.5% on passenger vehicles and 25% on pickup trucks instead of raising them as Trump has threatened to do.
Wow. I feel more stable and secure already.
5th Gear: Amazon Now Also Blaming Fires On Tesla SolarCity Panels
Tesla is a very good company at designing minivans with weird doors, or electric sedans that don’t look like penalty boxes. Tesla is perhaps slightly less good at keeping its name out of the news with relation to Tesla-associated products catching on fire.
From a Bloomberg wire report:
Walmart Inc. isn’t the only corporation that has seen its Tesla Inc. solar panels catch fire.
On Friday, Amazon.com Inc. said a June 2018 blaze on the roof of one of its warehouses in Redlands, California, involved a solar system that Tesla’s SolarCity division installed. The Seattle-based retail giant said by email that it has since taken steps to protect its facilities and has no plans to install more Tesla systems.
News of the Amazon fire comes days after Walmart sued Tesla, accusing it of shoddy panel installations that led to fires at more than a half-dozen stores. The claims threaten to further erode Tesla’s solar business as the company is fighting to gain back market share.
Tesla’s official response to this story, as Bloomberg notes, has been to blame a supplier for a faulty component.
I missed the start of this news cycle, and hopping into it in the middle is just outstanding.
A.J. Foyt drives the Oldsmobile Aerotech to a new closed-course speed record of 257.123 mph on the oval test track at Fort Stockton, Texas, USA (1987).
Neutral: Why Has Cadillac Never Made A V-Series Escalade?
The only vehicle that Cadillac produces that really exudes feeling like a Cadillac is the Escalade, as it has been for as long as the Escalade has been around.
There’s been a lot wrong with Cadillac strategy over the years, but I think a single question that pins things down is why has the operation never made a big power version of the giganto SUV? Does Cadillac management hate success, or does it hate the Escalade for some other reason?