Car Sales Are Somehow Down 97 Percent In The UK

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Photo: Vauxhall

Everyone is ready for a redemption narrative about car sales, the economy, and coronavirus. But these stories are far from universal. Also, FCA announced that it lost a whopping $1.84 billion in the first quarter. All that and more in The Morning Shift for May 5, 2020.

1st Gear: I’m Sure That Coronavirus Recovery Is Just Around The Corner

Everyone in America is aware of coronavirus’ impact on car sales. I’ll put that in some kind of perspective from the UK: car sales there were down an almost unbelievable 97 percent last month, as the Financial Times reports:

A mere 4,321 cars were registered in April, the lowest monthly number since 1946, according to figures released on Tuesday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. The previous April, 161,064 vehicles were sold.

The sales drop mirrors sharp declines in Spain and Italy, which like other European countries have been thumped by the closure of dealerships and factories, and consumers remaining at home under the Covid-19 lockdown.

UK car sales for the year are now expected to be 1.68m, making 2020 the worst year since 1992, and down from the 2.3m sales figure for 2019.

The SMMT said dealerships should be among the first services to reopen to spur economic recovery after the lockdown and protect hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by the sector. 


I will say that I am now even more impressed by Americans’ ability to, even in the worst of times, reliably buy tons and tons of pickup trucks.

2nd Gear: FCA Had $1.84 Billion To Lose?

I feel bad for Fiat Chrysler. Today it announced that it had a net loss of $1.84 billion in Q1. I had sort of hoped that it might be the number one most losing carmaker of the Big Three. I had forgotten, though, that Ford had somehow lost a good $2 billion, meaning that FCA can’t even be the best worst.

In any case, here are the details of FCA’s coronavirus problems, via the Detroit News:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV expects to begin restarting most plants in North America the week of May 18 after reporting a net loss of $1.84 billion in the first three months of the year.

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down all of the Italian American automaker’s plants from China to South America, contributing to a 16% year-over-year decrease in revenue to $22.3 billion. Adjusted pre-tax earnings were $56.3 million, down 95%. The results illustrate the crippling nature of the outbreak on automakers’ bottom lines, despite the production suspension in North America lasting less than two weeks of the first quarter.


The Detroit News goes on to discuss how FCA is adamant that it will get back up and running the week of May 18th. I’m sure FCA only has the best interests of its workers in mind in that decision, and not the whole “losing $1.84 billion” thing.

3rd Gear: U.S. Auto Industry Restart Depends On Mexico

Over at the Freep, there’s a good article on how restarting the American auto industry is entirely dependent on Mexico restarting as well. This seems like a somewhat, I don’t know, precarious plan as the Freep explains:

With about 40% of imported auto parts coming from south of the border, and parts made in the United States that are exported to Mexico for vehicle production there, the interdependency between the two countries cannot be overstated.

The challenge lies in the fact that the Detroit Three have reportedly targeted a restart for their U.S. assembly plants in mid-May. But Mexico is on lockdown, with nonessential businesses — which include auto parts — closed, and movement restrictions in place until May 30.


But the underlying buzz across the U.S. auto industry is that the Mexican government has indicated that if the U.S. and Canada are going to reopen, it will allow the automotive industry in Mexico to reopen. At least that’s what everyone believes will be the case, provided the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t worsen south of the border.


Seeing industrial fortunes bet on “provided the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t worsen” makes me happy I am not in charge of any of this shit.

4th Gear: AirFrance Bailout Comes With Catch: Drop Domestic Flights For Trains

In the alternate universe America that is France, the government is bailing out the national airline with a charming condition: ditch the small domestic flights and let trains take their place.


Germany’s Der Spiegel reports, via Google Translate, because I do not feel like translating this one myself this morning:

While government aid to Lufthansa in the corona crisis is becoming more likely, the French government has already announced a seven billion euro aid package for Air France . Finance minister Le Maire, however, tied the aid to one condition: Air France had to become the airline that “respects the environment most,” the minister told France-Inter radio station .

The requirements have a concrete impact on the flight schedule: domestic flights are to be canceled if the route can be covered in less than 2.5 hours by train, said Le Maire. Flying such routes is “not justified”.


If you’re wondering what a plan like this would look like in the U.S. even with the best of intentions, read my coworker Jason Torchinsky’s rather depressing journey home from Detroit to Chapel Hill.


5th Gear: The New Drive-Ins Are Parking Lots With WiFi

This is an interesting one detailed in the New York Times, explaining how people now unable to get internet in cafes, schools, and libraries are instead getting that same internet in their parking lots, sitting in their cars. Here’s the opener:

As the sun set on a recent evening in Rutherfordton, N.C., the author Beth Revis drove her green S.U.V. into the parking lot of a closed elementary school and connected to the building’s free Wi-Fi. Then, for the third time since the coronavirus pandemic had taken hold, she taught a two-hour writing class from her driver’s seat.Ms. Revis, 38, held a flashlight to her face with one hand. In the other, she held a selfie stick with her smartphone attached, looking at the device to speak to her students.Getting the internet in her area, about 70 miles west of Charlotte, had always been a headache, Ms. Revis said. “But during the pandemic,” she said, “it has turned from a mild inconvenience to a near impossibility.”For Ms. Revis and many others across the country, parking lots have been a digital lifeline during the pandemic. Instead of spending hours in restaurants, libraries and cafes, people without fast internet access at home are sitting in lots near schools, libraries and stores that have kept their signals on.


You should read the whole article in full, and remember that all of our environment around us is the product of conscious decisions, many of which replace public space for people with public space for cars. Our society is built around the automobile, and it’s hard for us to even make the first steps to changing it.

Reverse: Our First! Not The First But Who’s Counting?

May 5, 1961. Just 23 days after Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first person in space, NASA launched astronaut Alan Shepard aboard the Freedom 7 capsule powered by a Redstone booster to become the first American in space. His historic flight began from Cape Canaveral in Florida and lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds, before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.


Neutral: What Car Spaces Could You Hope To Reclaim?

In NYC, I would love to see many, many more streets taken away from cars and given to pedestrians and bikes instead. What about in your town or neighborhood?