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.
Was your weekend all right? Mine was fine, I think. My team (the Browns) lost, but they usually do. Fuck the Browns.
1st Gear: Audi And The Self-Driving Car Problem
Audi is operating under a black cloud thanks to Dieselgate, but one thing the Volkswagen Group’s luxury division does have going for it is ambitions for self-driving cars, which they have been out in front on. Still, like many other aspirants, Audi faces a big problem, mainly that self-driving cars aren’t street-legal in a lot of places. More than that, it isn’t clear how consumers will use those features—or if they even will.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show we saw a lot of Audi cars, both in concept and production form, that aggressively push semi-autonomous tech. Some of these are ahead of even Tesla. But the tech may be ahead of its time.
At the Frankfurt car show, Audi paraded the A8 which can drive itself under certain conditions, decide when to change lanes and does not require drivers to monitor the road - though they must be ready to intervene at the sound of an alarm.
On a scale where zero is a fully manual car and five a fully autonomous one, the A8 is a level three, putting it ahead of level two features offered by Tesla and General Motors (GM).
But with special approval still required almost everywhere to drive such a car, and question marks over how quickly the driver has to take back control - and who is responsible during handover - some rivals are skeptical the market is ready.
“Who will accept to pay for something that they can use only in extremely limited conditions?” asked Didier Leroy, European chairman of Japanese carmaker Toyota.
Good luck, Audi.
2nd Gear: What Is The Future Of Car Dealerships?
Car dealerships have persisted as local fiefdoms for decades, often owned by someone who slaps their name on the sign and becomes, locally, somewhat of an institution—everyone knows the nearest one, usually thanks to wall-to-wall advertising. But one dealership owner in South Carolina, Bill McDaniels of the McDaniels Automotive Group, sees a dark future for local dealerships, in an interview he gave to Automotive News:
I see the future of the car industry being controlled by maybe a dozen companies like the Penskes, the Asbury group, the big groups. I see them actually owning everything in the car industry. I also see that down the road, once the dust settles, the car business will become an Amazon.com. That’s where you order the cars exactly the way you want them. They send it to a service facility and you go there and pick [up] your car. There will not be a salesperson.
But Mr. Customer, I hate to tell you, there’s no negotiation either on that. Because they are going to control the pricing once they monopolize the market.
And I’ve got some news for the manufacturer: These groups that control that market, they’re going to tell you what kind of car to build and how to build it. So it’s just like the Walmarts, like the Lowe’s, like Home Depot. They have destroyed the small business person in the market. Because Home Depot or Lowe’s, they never pay for anything on their shelves until they sell it.
In addition, it’s hard to see a world where internet car sales won’t become a thing, a la Tesla. And manufacturers may not even see a need for franchised dealers in that system at all. Do you feel bad for dealers?
3rd Gear: Ford’s New Partnership In India
It makes sense that American automakers would be interested in India, which is the world’s sixth-largest car market, and, Automotive News says, about to become the third-largest. Ford has now struck up an agreement with Indian automaker Mahindra, maker of this cool-ass car, among others.
From Automotive News:
The companies said in a joint statement on Monday the areas of potential cooperation include connected cars, mobility programs, electric vehicles and sourcing among other areas.
“The agreement of intent between the two companies will allow each to leverage their mutual strengths during a period of unprecedented transformation in the global automotive industry,” the two companies said.
The development is an about face for Ford after previous CEO Mark Fields had put the company’s business in India under review. Jim Hackett, who became CEO after Ford’s board ousted Fields in May, has now found a way to stay in India while sharing costs with Mahindra on product development and sourcing. In May, GM announced it was stopping sales in the Indian market.
The India plan is one of the most significant Ford has made in the first four months under Hackett, who had said he would conduct a 100-day review of Ford’s business. The former CEO of office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. is scheduled to lay out his strategy to investors on Oct. 3 in New York.
4th Gear: Dodge’s Endless Hype About The 840-Horsepower Demon Is Paying Off
The Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, a mostly dumb exercise in excess which Dodge first teased in January, has not actually been bought all that much but Dodge is claiming a victory nonetheless because of what they say has been a halo effect, owing to all the good p.r. the brand has received thanks to the Demon (which amounts to, basically, a starring role in The Fate of the Furious).
From The Detroit News:
Calling the factory dragster the “most-powerful, street-legal production car ever,” [Dodge] released 13 slickly produced video teasers [in January]. Dodge then unveiled the Demon in a Vegas-style spectacle ahead of April’s New York auto show. The street-legal dragster was Vin Diesel’s ride in “Fate of the Furious,” and it made cameos in rap videos.
All for a car that Dodge planned to make only 3,000 copies of. But, then, the purpose of all the hype was never to sell $85,000 Demons. It was to sell less-expensive showroom versions of Dodge’s Challenger and Charger performance cars — and it’s working.
In August, a full seven months after the first PR move, Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands at FCA, offered an unequivocal answer.
“We haven’t built the first one yet, but people have been talking about this car since January,” he said. “So the hype has been building and selling other Challengers. Our Challenger sales are through the roof. We’re having an all-time record year to date.”
Sales figures for August back up Kuniskis’ take.
I think the Demon has a cool name and looks cool but 840-horsepower is too much for regular humans, and, also, you could go on a very, very long vacation for $85,000.
5th Gear: GMC Is Trying To Add More Luxury To Its Vehicles
GMC makes pickups and SUVs which, are intended to be “nicer
than Chevrolet’s pickups and SUVs, though it’s not clear if consumers actually know that.
I, for one, have always thought of GMC as fairly anonymous, something that GMC’s ad campaign about being “professional grade” has only reinforced. But my feelings don’t really matter, and, according to the Detroit Free Press, the brand is very profitable and only getting stronger amid the current truck and SUV sales boom.
So expect more from GMC moving forward, and attempts to make it even more profitable by going more upscale. From the Freep:
“We have huge ambitions for the brand,” Duncan Aldred, the executive who runs the GMC and Buick brands, said at dinner in a restaurant overlooking downtown Pittsburgh the night before I tested the new 2018 GMC Terrain compact SUV.
That means new vehicles on the horizon with luxury touches and features to strengthen GMC’s image.
“We have a clear understanding of what this brand needs to do going forward,” said Phil Brook, Buick GMC vice president for sales and marketing. “We’re in a good spot, but there’s more to do.”
The plan for that is coming into focus. GMC’s new Terrain compact SUV shares its basic engineering with the Chevrolet Equinox, but the pair look nothing alike and the GMC has unique features such as an innovative new shifter design, real aluminum trim and automatic parking.
In addition, the brands’ advertising and marketing approaches will aim for different audiences. GMC is adding a new message to its long-running “Professional Grade” slogan with a new “Like a Pro” campaign that humanizes the brand and moves it from shots of construction work sites to family settings.
“We’re going to give professional grade a stronger meaning,” Brook said. “Move from telling people what a vehicle is about to who the vehicle is for.”
“Like a Pro” is better, indeed. Everyone likes to think that they are pros.
Reverse: The World’s Largest Parking Lot Opens
What is your parking lot strategy? I take the first spot I see and then walk but a lot of people seem to circle and circle until they find something close, which seems insane. In the 1990s, when everyone was trying to lose weight, I remember weight-loss gurus telling people to park as far away from the door as possible, so, you know, you can get exercises on your way in and out of the supermarket. (This is dumb advice.)
On this day, the 20,000-car parking lot at Canada’s West Edmonton Mall makes the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest parking lot in the world. The mall has held other records, too: At one time or another it’s been the World’s Largest Shopping Mall (5.2 million square feet, or about 48 city blocks), the World’s Largest Indoor Amusement Park and the World’s Largest Indoor Water Park (which includes the World’s Largest Indoor Lake and the World’s Largest Indoor Wave Pool).
Neutral: Will People Really Use Autonomous Tech When It’s Ready?
Even you, enthusiast reader, might, if it’s a big benefit on longer road trips and brutal traffic. But most people can’t even figure out how to use the existing tech on their cars. Is AD technology a bridge too far?