China Might Have To Rethink Electric Cars

Chinese EV startup Nio in brighter days back in 2017
Chinese EV startup Nio in brighter days back in 2017
Photo: Stef Schrader/Jalopnik

America has been leading the world in the development of luxury electric vehicles, but the world of affordable ones centers around China. And in that field, things are looking hectic. All that and more in the Morning Shift for February 20, 2020.


1st Gear: EV Sales Still Down And Subsidies May Be Coming Back

China’s EV market has long been supported by very, very aggressive government subsidies. Anyone who has followed the auto industry for any length of time will see that as a bit of a red flag, as government programs come and go. In China, we have recently seen a bit of a “go” period, with sales in a resulting slump, as Bloomberg reports. The “come” part may be returning, though, per B’berg:

China may extend subsidies for EV purchases beyond this year in an effort to revive sales in the world’s biggest market, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Policy makers have been discussing the possibility after China’s first annual decline in sales of new energy vehicles, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The falloff in demand came after the government trimmed subsidies for buyers last July to help streamline the industry and make it less reliant on state support. Though the talks predate the emergence of the coronavirus as a global threat, the outbreak has piled more pressure on the auto industry by causing production halts and keeping people away from showrooms.

Talks are at a preliminary stage and there is no guarantee the subsidies will be extended, the people said. As things stand, they are still set to be phased out at the end of 2020.

I still think of China as the world leader for affordable EVs, but the more that this stuff happens, the more vulnerable it is to getting outpaced. Not that the U.S. government seems eager to promote our industry to take its spot.

2nd Gear: GM Somehow Finds New Way To Eat Shit In China

The big story in the car world all last year (at least how I see it) was that the Chinese auto market faced its first major decline.


That hasn’t exactly gone away, and the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t helped.


Is this hitting all car companies in China equally? Of course not! GM has found some way to do even worse than the next guy, as Automotive News reports sales are down a good 40 percent, versus the general 20 percent downturn for the rest of the market. Per AN:

General Motors lost ground in China last month as its two joint ventures both underperformed the overall market.

Sales at SAIC-GM, GM’s car joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp., slipped 30 percent to 125,464 in January, according to figures SAIC disclosed last week.

Deliveries at SAIC-GM-Wuling, the Detroit automaker’s light-vehicle partnership with SAIC, plummeted 51 percent to 78,240.

In January, total sales at the two joint ventures slumped 40 percent to 203,704.

By contrast, new light-vehicle deliveries across China fell 20 percent to 1.61 million during the month due to the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday and the coronavirus epidemic that spread from the central China city of Wuhan at the end of the month.


Never forget in your life that things could be worse. You could be the General!

3rd Gear: GM Gets Tax Break For New Factory Next To Factory It Shut Down

There’s some line about history and being doomed to repeat it, can’t remember exactly, but it came to mind when reading this story about GM getting government support to build a new factory directly next to the one it had just shut down. The Detroit News reports:

General Motors Co. will receive a tax break to build a new electric battery cell factory in Ohio next to the site of a much larger assembly plant it shut down last year.

Village leaders in Lordstown approved a 75% tax abatement that will extend over 15 years and allow the company to move forward with the plant.

“What we had to get done and needed to get done for General Motors, we did,” Mayor Arno Hill said after the vote Tuesday.


What’s good for GM is good for America, or at least for Lordstown, sometimes, probably, what could go wrong.

4th Gear: Head Of American Honda Steps Down After Not Even Three Years

Honda didn’t give any clear explanation why the top position of its American ops is shifting around, but I have to assume it’s because we’re not getting the Honda E or even the new Fit here. Per Automotive News:

Henio Arcangeli Jr., senior vice president of the automobile division at American Honda Motor Co., is stepping down at the end of the month after spending fewer than three years at the automaker.

Honda on Wednesday said that Shinji Aoyama, president and CEO of American Honda Motor Co. and Honda North America Inc., will concurrently serve as head of the auto sales business unit.

A company spokesman said Arcangeli resigned and planned to spend more time with family.


Honda sales haven’t been awful, as AN notes, with figures in the U.S. being relatively flat since Arcangeli took over.

5th Gear: Nissan Can’t Catch A Break

I’m gearing up to write the news report “Nissan HQ hit by meteorite” or “Nissan boardroom swallowed by sinkhole” or “Nissan accidentally deletes all of its files for the new Z car instead of backing them up” at this point. Nothing seems to be going right for what was once a genuine rival to Toyota as the king of the Japanese auto industry.


In any case, what’s new today is a nice report in Bloomberg on how coronavirus production woes in Hubei are causing production problems all across Nissan’s global operations:

The Japanese carmaker procures more than 800 parts from factories in the outbreak epicenter of Hubei to make cars worldwide and is concerned that most of those components ranging from brake hoses to air conditioning controllers will run out if plants in the province stay idled beyond Feb. 21, when the government has signaled that production could resume for most companies, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter.

The shortage could lead to some Nissan car output in Japan to be suspended as soon as Feb. 23, followed by Malaysia soon after, the person said. Further delays could mean plants in the U.S., U.K., India, Mexico, Russia and Spain also have to stop production, the person said.


This is not a problem that Nissan alone faces, but it’s an illuminating example for how interconnected supply chains are for the auto industry.

Reverse: There’s Actually Some Nice History Of Highway Adoption In Here


Neutral: What If... No Subsidies?

The way I’d like to see governments treat subsidies for EVs would be to... ditch them all and more heavily tax ICE cars instead. But what’s your take on the situation? Has an EV credit ever convinced anyone you know to scoop up a Leaf, Bolt, or whatever?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.


Shane Morris

For the past three days, I have been driving a Nissan Rogue rental.

If you don’t understand why Nissan is failing, just drive one of these things. Compared to Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia... man, I’m willing to bet there are Chinese Knockoff BNW Xx5's with better built quality.

The materials feel cheap, like a date with Pete’s mom. The cloth interior has the tactile feel of county jail issued long underwear. The transmission is this bizarre CVT that feels more sluggish than giving it to yourself with a Fleshlight filled with cold molasses.

You’re probably thinking, “Oh Shane, you’re just being hyperbolic. It can’t be that bad.” It is. It’s a 2020 model. There are 900 miles on the damn thing. I truly don’t understand how Nissan slid this far from God’s light — because I used to be the world’s biggest Nissan fanboy. Now I’m wondering if Nissan is just doomed, because they might be able to salvage the Titan and... uhm... maybe the Maxima? I don’t know. The rest of their lineup is just awful.

I get that Nissan’s core market is people with credit challenges, but man... have some dignity about it.

I will say, there’s one upside. With the seats folded, this thing is spacious. You can probably hold about $11,000 in negative equity in the Rogue.