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America Refuses To Break Up With Car Dealerships

The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

The lamest lawsuit in the car world just sided with the boring guys, GM is refusing to shut down a plant seeing case after case of coronavirus, and we still aren’t buying many cars online. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, June 12, 2020.

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1st Gear: You’d Think We’d Be Buying Cars Online But No

If there was any time that America would switch over to buying cars online, you’d think it’d be now. This is our moment! But no, as Bloomberg reports in a new article, “Americans Return to Car Dealers, Thwarting Expected Shift Online.” Thwarted! What a great word.

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In any case, Bloomberg breaks it down:

In the middle of California’s lockdown, Mike Sullivan sold 160 cars in a week by delivering online orders to customers’ doorsteps.

Even though that total meant sales plummeted about 75% at his 12 dealerships in the Los Angeles area, Sullivan had reasons to be encouraged. He hustled to set up e-commerce after the state ordered the closure of many retailers, including car lots, and customers liked the new model.

But since California loosened its coronavirus restrictions in May, shoppers have come back to Sullivan’s showrooms. Not even recent protests over police brutality and looting, which hit three of his stores, kept them away.

Bloomberg explains in the article that while we had a brief period where people were looking into buying cars off the Internet, the moment we have a chance to wander around a parking lot and consider if we’re an “LE” family or an “XSE” family, we come running.

2nd Gear: GM Refuses To Shut Down Coronavirus-Stricken Plant

GM cares about the health of its workers. GM is concerned about coronavirus. But GM is not listening to the UAW, which is asking for the company to pause one of its plants for cleaning as it racks up more and more coronavirus cases since its restart.

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The Freep has the story:

“Five to 10 cases (of coronavirus) is a yellow light, 10 to 20 cases is a red light,” Kage told the Free Press on Thursday. “In my opinion, 20 is too many. That’s the number.”

Local 2250 represents workers at the plant, located about 40 miles west of St. Louis. The union has already asked GM to shutter the facility for 14 days and do a deep cleaning after five people tested positive for coronavirus. But the automaker declined.

Instead, GM made some changes to improve safety protocols to protect workers and trace whether there has been any spread of coronavirus, Kage said. A GM spokesman said the automaker evaluates each plant on a case-by-case basis, but that GM will always do what’s medically necessary to keep people safe.

“They’re trying to do what’s right, but this virus is hard to attack, hard to trace and hard to contain,” Kage said. “If we see a large outbreak in one area, then we need to have a serious conversation about what to do to protect our members.”

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I might advise GM that a “serious conversation” doesn’t stop people from getting sick. Cleaning their workplace and making sure that they are safe does.

3rd Gear: We Don’t Want To ‘Get Back To Normal’

I don’t know how many times I will be reporting on car companies pushing workers to the breaking point on coronavirus conditions. There were the Basque workers who shut down a Mercedes plant. There was how the Big Three pushed Mexico to reopen its economy early. It’s everywhere. Profits and production over the health of the workers. This is how it is, this is how it always has been.

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And that is what’s in mind when I read the new article by the Detroit News “Auto industry recovery from COVID-19 could take years, signaling slow climb back.” It quotes Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, offering a “bleak economic forecast,” and that we may be a long way from getting back to how things were. From the article:

“We all want to get back to normal,” Powell said in a news conference, “but a full recovery is unlikely to occur until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.”

That includes buying cars and trucks. The global vehicle sales decline, according to Bank of America Corp.’s annual “Cars Wars” forecast, “is a massive number and really harkens back to the idea that the crisis we’re all sitting in the middle of is everywhere and anywhere, which is a lot different than what the industry has gone through in the past 20 or 30 years where it has been localized,” said John Murphy, the bank’s senior automotive analyst.

A growing consensus is taking shape that expects a years-long recovery for the U.S. auto industry and the economy. Bank of America predicts 12.8 million new vehicles will be sold this year, a 25% decline. It could take into the mid-2020s before sales return to more than 16 million, which still is less than the nearly 17.1 million vehicles sold in 2019.

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Here’s the thing: “normal” got us here. “Normal” keeps seeing more coronavirus cases springing up. We very much do not want to go back to “normal.” I’m sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

4th Gear: Fiat Chrysler Wins Case Against Mahindra’s Lovable Not-A-Jeep

One of the bright spots in the American automotive market was Mahindra selling a wonderful little offroad-only mini Jeep called the Roxor. Mahindra was entrusted to build Jeeps under license in India ages ago, and it was a pleasure to see a new, teeny not-Willys sold here.

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Jeep, however, was not enthused about Mahindra selling a vehicle that didn’t even compete with anything Jeep sells. (Jeep sells street-legal vehicles. Here Mahindra does not.)

But that’s not how a judge saw it, as Bloomberg reports:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles won its bid for an order to block U.S. imports of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.’s Roxor off-road vehicle that it said copies the look of its iconic Jeep Wrangler, the International Trade Commission said in a notice posted on the agency’s website.

The commission upheld, with modifications, a judge’s finding that Mahindra’s off-road vehicle is a copy of the Jeep. The Trump administration can veto the ban on public policy grounds, though that rarely happens.

Fiat Chrysler claimed that the Roxor is a “nearly identical copy” of its Jeep, particularly the “boxy body shape with flat-appearing vertical sides and rear body ending at about the same height as the hood.”

Trade Judge Cameron Elliot in November found that the Roxor would infringe the trade dress of the Jeep as defined by six specific design elements, but not the registered trademarks for the Jeep’s front grille. He recommended that the commission block imports of the Roxor kits and components, saying Mahindra is purposefully trying to evoke the Jeep image, which would erode the value of the Wrangler.

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How the Roxor erodes the value of the Wrangler I do not know. The Wrangler is a comfortable, road-legal car. The Roxor is an open box on wheels that you have to take with you on a trailer. But hey, I’m not a lawyer. I’m just bummed.

5th Gear: Here’s Some Dumb Shit

Everyone understands that a modern car company has to invest in electric vehicles because, oh right, the planet is melting, and we can’t keep running around in billions of gas-burning cars unless we want that to keep happening. But the car industry is conservative, and the experts in the room will tell you that EVs are unwise.

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That’s the word from a new a Bank of America Global Research report, as Automotive News explains:

GM’s $20 billion investment in electric models and self-driving technology over the next five years makes it one of the most aggressive automakers when it comes to rolling out plug-in models, along with Germany’s Volkswagen Group. But the Detroit-based company plans to refresh only about 65 percent of its current sales volume with revamped vehicles, which is third-to-last among major manufacturers. VW is just ahead of GM at 66 percent.

Fewer updates for popular gasoline-powered models may hurt market share, underscoring the quandary the industry faces as companies try to fund an electric-focused future. The billions spent on plug-in vehicles that typically lose money — and that no one besides Tesla Inc. has sold in large numbers — takes investment dollars away from their bread-and-butter vehicles at a time when the global pandemic has hurt sales.

“The very active shift GM is making shows the confidence that they have to move where the market is going,” BofA analyst John Murphy said on a conference call. “It may result in lost market share.”

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So sapping money away from gas-burning pickups and such to fund EVs will hurt GM sales, this analyst is saying. I don’t buy it. GM already screws up its trucks and everything else on its won, EVs or no EVs. Look at the Silverado’s face! Why keep up the status quo?

Reverse: London Gets Crosswalks

Via 365 Days of Motoring:

Tuesday, 12th June, 1934

Sixty pedestrians crossings were introduced in London in a bid to cut road deaths. The experimental crossings were all sited at places where the traffic was controlled by traffic lights or the police. The Ministry of Transport official stated that, “Pedestrians must not obstruct a vehicle proceeding in the general line of traffic movement, ie straight ahead, but vehicles turning at right angles must give way to pedestrians using the marked crossings”. Pedestrians in breach of these rules were liable for a fine of 5 shillings.

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Neutral: What Would We Do With The Dealerships Themselves?

All right, so let’s imagine that instead of marching down to the dealership lot, America booted up their metaphorical AOL CDs and started buying all their cars online. What would we do with the dealerships? Like, what would we do with all of these giant parking lots and vast, open, glass-walled buildings on the frontage roads leading out of every town? I think they’d make great go-kart courses. Or plant nurseries.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

nightcheez
carter [road salt disliker]

I don’t think people like going to dealerships. But they do like shopping. And I agree with them. Being able to look at, touch, and drive the car (or cars) you’re shopping for is pretty important, as long as you’re not the kind of person who just “buys the gray Camry”.

The rest of the experience, the dealership part, with the predatory sales people, the “process”. People don’t want that. That shit sucks.

But the shopping part is still important, and maybe even a little fun.

What I’d like to see is a model where you go to “brand experience locations”. These would be places absent salesmen or financial transactions. You can browse cars, have someone who actually likes and knows things about cars show you all the features, and maybe even offer something like “extended test drives” for a nominal fee. I would gladly pay $200 to borrow a car for a couple days just to see what it’s like to live with it. A 10 minute test drive with a sales guy in the seat next to you really isn’t enough information to make an expensive decision.

Give your customers a less stressful, more helpful shopping experience.