Alfa Romeo Exec Blames Software For All These Problems

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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: It’s The Software

Most everyone agrees: the new Alfa Romeo Giulia, the brand’s big comeback car, is awesome to drive and breaks down a lot.


The reason? Software, says Alfa.

After Road & Track editor-at-large Sam Smith published a damning critique of the car, saying it couldn’t even make it through one lap on Southwest Michigan’s Gingerman Raceway, the company contacted Smith to apologize. (Jalopnik’s test car broke down too, but they didn’t say anything to us.)


The vehicle “is not even recognizable as the Alfa Romeo Guilia that I’ve come to know,” global head of Alfa and Maserati Reid Bigland told Smith, gently boasting the 70 awards the car has won and positive feedback from journalists.

“That’s the car I’m familiar with, not the one that couldn’t seem to make it one lap around Gingerman,” Bigland told R&T. “I genuinely believe we’re a lot better than that.” Here’s the problem:

The executive explained that our test car, which had roughly 300 miles on the odometer when it was delivered to us, was shipped from the factory directly to the racetrack for our evaluation. Thus, Bigland said, the car bypassed the normal dealer inspection process. Alfa Romeo has identified some software issues with the Giulia, normally remedied through software reflashes. Our car, Bigland says, seems to have missed these software updates, potentially explaining the malfunction lights and unusual behavior we experienced in our testing.

Bigland says the mechanical underpinnings of the Giulia are “incredibly solid—it’s just the software interfaces that have cropped up.” Even the sunroof issues mentioned in our original post, Bigland said, can be traced back to software issues that have since been resolved.

The Alfa exec admits that software is “where we’ve experienced some challenges” with the Giulia, and expressed frustration that a missed flash could “overshadow the goodness of the car.”


As we’ve said before, it’s one thing to have reliability issues with a Ferrari or a Maserati, but if Alfa Romeo wants to steal sales from Lexus, it’s going to need to do better—starting with the cars it sends to high-profile journalists.


2nd Gear: Germany Aims To Save Diesels

German politicians and automakers plan to use software updates to clean up diesel vehicles, which would mean an end to the country’s desired ban of diesel engines in certain cities to cut air pollution.


The software update rescue plan would cost under 2 billion euros ($2.33 billion) for cars in Germany, with the auto industry shouldering the expensive of 100 euros per car, according to sources at Reuters:

Diesel cars from all domestic and foreign car brands that conform to the latest emissions standards, Euro-6 and Euro-5, will be updated, the sources said. The plan is set to be presented at the beginning of August.

With the software updates, the auto industry is able to cut nitrogen oxide pollution by about 20 percent, the sources said.


Audi announced it will recall up to 850,000 diesel cars to update vehicle software controlling emissions, affecting cars with six-cylinder and eight-cylinder Euro 5 and Euro 6 diesel engines.

Since the U.S. revealed Volkswagen cheated on emissions regulations through producing more oxides of nitrogen—known to cause respiratory disease—lawfully permitted, Germany’s been desperately attempting to restore confidence in the auto industry. In addition to plans of banning internal combustion engines, Germany raided suspected auto offices and proposed randomized, unannounced emissions tests for all manufacturers.


We’ll see if this software update is enough to stop city driving bans.

3rd Gear: UAW “Confident” Nissan Workers Will Get Representation

United Auto Workers president Dennis Williams told journalists Thursday he feels strongly that Nissan workers in Mississippi will vote in favor of union representation, according to Automotive News:

Williams said ultimately it’s all up to the workers, and if they can get over their “fears,” including those about repercussions from the company.

Nissan has said that it does not believe UAW representation “is in the best interest” of the plant, which the UAW estimates has 3,500-3,800 production and skilled trades workers eligible to be part of a local bargaining unit.

The Japanese automaker has adamantly denied any intimidation, which Williams compared to “having a gun to your head” when voting in an election.

“Those allegations are absolutely false,” Rodney Francis, HR director at the plant, told Automotive News during a phone interview following the roundtable. “We’re not intimidating any of our workers down here. We’re simply supplying them with information.”


If workers agree to unionization, UAW would win big, as it has so far failed to gain support for full representation at an assembly plant in the South owned by a transplant automaker.

4th Gear: More Ford Shakeups

Ford plans to shake up its design team to shorten product development cycles, an effort to enable designers to work more collaboratively at its Michigan headquarters.


The company will move its director of Ford of Europe design, Joel Piaskowki, to the states as the U.S. global director of design overseeing cars and car crossovers. Chris Svensson, former design director of the Americas, will now serve as global director of design overseeing trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles.

Ford vice president of design Moray Callum told Auto News the changes are meant to enhance the team’s thinking. Though Callum said the changes were in the works before new CEO Jim Hackett took over, the design team changes follow a series of internal restructuring since Hackett arrived at the helm.


5the Gear: UAW, GM ‘Talking’ About Slumping Car Sales

UAW president said the union and General Motors are discussing how dwindling car sales may impact jobs in the U.S., Reuters reported:

GM has cut shifts at several U.S. plants this year as inventories of unsold cars have ballooned. Industry analysts said more jobs could be at risk as the automaker wrestles with permanently shrinking production of small and midsized sedans.

GM is reviewing whether to cancel at least six passenger cars in the U.S. market after 2020, including the Chevrolet Volt hybrid, which could be replaced in 2022 with a new gasoline-electric crossover model, Reuters has learned from people familiar with the plans.

Some analysts have singled out GM’s Hamtramck plant in Detroit as one of the most vulnerable because of plummeting car sales.


Reverse: Germany Passes Controversial “Volkswagen Law” 

On this day in 1960, the German government passes the “Law Concerning the Transfer of the Share Rights in Volkswagenwerk Limited Liability Company into Private Hands,” known informally as the “Volkswagen Law.”

Founded in 1937 and originally under the control of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party, Volkswagen would eventually grow into Europe’s largest car manufacturer and a symbol of Germany’s economic recovery after the devastation of World War II.

The Volkswagen Law, passed in July 1960, changed the company to a joint stock corporation, with 20 percent held each by Germany and Lower Saxony, the region in which Volkswagen is still headquartered. By limiting the share of any other stockholder to 20 percent, regardless of how many shares owned, the law effectively protected the company from any attempt at a hostile takeover.


Neutral: Are driving bans still on the horizon?

The move could severely undercut the country’s auto industry—are software updates enough to convince German officials that the industries changed for good?