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: The Germans Can Now Ban The Diesels
Germany, a country which can claim the inventor of the diesel engine, has just seen its highest court rule that German towns and cities can ban diesels outright. From the Washington Post:
A senior German court ruled Tuesday that the country’s towns and cities can ban diesel vehicles in the interests of promoting cleaner air, a decision with vast potential implications for the automotive industry, the car-owning public and the environment.
The ruling, by Germany’s top administrative court, clears the way for local authorities to prohibit millions of cars now on German roadways from entering congested areas where residents choke on air that routinely exceeds the legal limits. It does not, however, mandate such bans.
Okay I’m about to spit some heresy, so just brace yourselves. I just got back from a bit of European vacation (Belgium, London, it was good, yes I had a waffle, no I didn’t meet the Queen (she asked but I said no, USA USA), I’m tired), and I noticed the overwhelming smell of the continent wasn’t so much food or people or, really anything, besides diesel.
Lots of diesel.
Small cars spewing out fumes, big trucks spewing out fumes. And they weren’t, by and large, the diesels that we Jalops love. They weren’t the big, torquey, lairy diesels we pine for. They were wheezy little things built for efficiency only, and frankly, they stunk. I can see why some people want them gone.
In the meantime, bring back the Nucleon.
2nd Gear: Aston Wants To Sell A Chunk
Aston Martin has had a pretty good run as of late, launching a slew of new cars including the DB11 and Valkyrie, breaking ground on a new factory, and generally building the good cars. It even managed to post a profit, Bloomberg reports, and that all seems to be a setup towards selling a chunk of the company (emphasis mine):
“We are making a new kind of a company, a company that can survive on 7,000 to 14,000 very highly priced, very profitable cars a year, but it can survive because of its partnerships,” [Aston Martin CEO Andy] Palmer said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “It can be very profitable on that 7,000 to 14,000 cars a year but only by having a big brother that can help it out.”The company said Monday pretax profit swung to 87 million pounds ($121 million) last year from a loss of 163 million pounds in 2016. The profit was the first since 2010, according to a spokesman, spurred by sales of its latest sportscar model the DB11.
The results help cement Palmer’s turnaround of the iconic brand, while sales of its newest models will give the company a boost ahead of any sale of shares. Bloomberg reported last month that the carmaker is eyeing a valuation of as much as 5 billion pounds in an IPO.
So what’s it going to be for Aston, a big sale for the whole shebang? Just a chunk for a little extra cash? An initial public offering? A weird mix of both?
In the first case, a big company just buys Aston outright. In the second, a big company buys a chunk of Aston, throwing some money its way and getting expertise, prestige, equity, and know-how in return. In the third, you, the aspiring tycoon, get to buy as few or as many shares as you can stomach. In the last, who the hell knows.
Bloomberg makes the point that most other automakers of Aston’s size already have some financial intertwining, to varying degrees, with parent companies. There’s the interlacing of Fiat Chrysler with Ferrari; Volkswagen ownership of Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti; and BMW owns Rolls-Royce.
Plus, Mercedes-Benz already owns a five percent stake in Aston, and supplies some engines to the company.
My money (which I am not investing in any car company because I am both a broke blogger and, more importantly, a broke CAR blogger with some GODDAMN standards) is on Benz upping its stake and an IPO a little further down the line. I’m not a financial advisor or anything nor do I have any inside knowledge though, so please do not listen to my dumb prognostications.
3rd Gear: GM And Korean Unions Are Getting Down To Brass Tacks
Just a few weeks ago it looked like GM was pulling out of Korean production entirely, due to a few different factors. But in an effort to save a couple of thousand jobs, it looks like the company and its workers have accelerated things, Reuters says:
The union, which has been holding protest rallies, had previously asserted that talks were unlikely to resume before mid-March unless its demands were met.
“The union is unlikely to go militant. If they don’t make concessions, this could put other factories at risk,” said Lee Hang-koo, a senior research fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade.
GM is proposing a base wage freeze and no bonuses this year along with a suspension of some benefits such as tuition for employees’ children and gold medals for long-serving workers.
“We hope to make meaningful progress in future negotiations with our labor union ... We see this as a positive signal,” a GM Korea spokesman said of the resumption of talks.
Best of luck to everyone in Korea.
4th Gear: Porsche Still Wants Diesel, However
Porsche, which is owned by Volkswagen, which has had its fair share of diesel issues, still wants to make diesels despite all the headwinds, however. And that’s because it now makes a bunch of family cars, one of its execs told Automotive News:
Porsche expects to launch a diesel version of the new-generation Cayenne SUV this year and may offer the powertrain in the smaller Macan crossover as well, a top executive said, denying reports that the automaker plans to abandon the technology.
“We’re not saying that we are exiting [diesel],” Porsche sales chief Detlev von Platen told Automotive News Europe and sister publication Automobilwoche here last week. “Presently, the planning process foresees one for the Cayenne and probably for the Macan, too. For the SUV models, it [diesel] makes sense where customers want range and torque.”
At one point I was really against something like a diesel 911, but mow I just want to see it as a curiosity. Yes, I know that conflicts with my “I get why you’d want to ban diesels from your quaint German village” take, but I contain multitudes.
5th Gear: The German Government Is Getting Paranoid About Chinese Investment
The head of Geely is investing a whole bunch of money in Mercedes, and that’s brought about a bunch of corporate shuffling in regards to Geely’s ownership of Volvo. But that might not be enough to satisfy German regulators, who are concerned about an exchange of technology that might result, Reuters reports:
On Wednesday, a German parliamentary committee will question government officials on whether Geely has violated disclosure rules and whether loopholes in securities trading law need to be closed, the Stuttgarter Zeitung and Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Germany tightened its rules on foreign takeovers last year, the first European Union country to do so, after a series of deals saw China gain access to high-tech know-how, while attempts by German companies to buy full control of Chinese rivals remains prohibited.
Although under German law, the government can only intervene if a threshold of 25 percent is exceeded, investors must abide by market rules, Zypries said in interviews with Daimler’s home-town newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung and Handelsblatt newspaper.
As long as people keep making good cars.
Reverse: Happy Birthday
On this day in 1934, the auto safety advocate and activist Ralph Nader, whose 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed” criticized the auto industry for poor safety standards and ultimately led to various reforms, is born in Winsted, Connecticut.
Neutral: Would You Ban Diesels From Your Town?
I wouldn’t. But then again, I’m not a German villager.