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: Dieselgate, The American Remake
Diesel cheating—it’s not just for Golfs and Jettas anymore! Since Volkswagen’s epic screw-up, U.S. regulators have cracked down hard on emissions violators in the automotive space, and a year ago they revealed they believed recent diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and Ram 1500 pickups had “defeat devices” for emissions tests.
Bloomberg, in a story I can’t find online quite yet, has some details of the settlement being worked on between Fiat Chrysler and the government, though much remains to be worked out. Some of the terms may end up similar to what Volkswagen had to do, including a fine, a recall for repairs and being forced to invest in green energy projects:
Both sides have acknowledged that any settlement will need to include a monetary penalty, a plan to recall and fix about 104,000 diesel pickups and SUVs and some effort to repair environmental harm caused by the vehicles’ excess pollution, according to a Jan. 27 letter from Justice Department lawyers to Fiat Chrysler attorneys obtained by Bloomberg News.
Fiat Chrysler acknowledged the need for those three pillars in a term sheet the company submitted earlier to government lawyers, the letter said. The automaker’s term sheet also “appears to propose” reducing the size of the monetary penalty based on the funding it would commit to projects aimed at promoting low- or zero-emission “mobility projects,” the letter said. The Justice Department said regulators would be willing to consider such projects.
Vehicles affected by this are the V6 diesel Jeep and Ram vehicles made between 2014 and 2016.
2nd Gear: About That Ram Ad
Ram’s in a bit of hot water for another reason this morning after running a Super Bowl ad with narration from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech that many blasted as tasteless. So how’d it happen, especially since The King Center and the reverend’s own daughter decried it on Twitter? Ad Age has more:
Ram approached the King estate about using his voice in the commercial, Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licensor of the estate, according to The New York Times.
“Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” Tidwell said in a statement to the Times on Sunday. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”
As that story notes, maybe it wasn’t the best speech to sell cars with anyway:
Adding to the disconnect for some viewers, the speech, delivered 50 years ago on Feb 4, 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, touched on the danger of overspending on goods such as cars and openly suggested why American consumers “are so often taken by advertisers.”
The Super Bowl ad didn’t include the part from King’s sermon, an adaptation of the 1952 homily ‘‘Drum-Major Instincts’’ by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher, where he warns against the dangers of spending too much when buying a car and not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
“Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford,” King said in the sermon. “But it feeds a repressed ego. You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of $5,000, your car shouldn’t cost more than about $2,500. That’s just good economics.”
Google is your friend.
3rd Gear: Investors Want More Details Out Of Ford
Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett is meant to be a turnaround artist, and while the company is healthy and selling well, it has a ways to go to make shareholders happy. Ford’s shares are down and its credit rating soon could be downgraded as well.
So far Hackett has been cagey on details for how he’s going to fix these things and, specifically, how to prepare for our electro-mobility-buzzword future at the automaker that came out of the 2000s recession in much better shape than Chrysler and General Motors. Here’s a rundown from Automotive News:
“We may need to wait 18-24 months before the Ford story is exciting again,” Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote Jan. 25, after Ford posted a $2.4 billion fourth-quarter profit but lowered its earnings projections for 2018.
Hackett, on a conference call to discuss the earnings, declined to elaborate on six recently implemented fitness initiatives, which irked Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas.
“You’re clearly not wanting to talk about them,” Jonas said. “That’s a problem, Jim. How long do we have to wait?”
Hackett promised Ford would reveal more details this year, but not before communicating them to Ford employees. “He’s been there for eight months now,” Kudla said. “Maybe the jury’s still out, but he’s got to get moving.”
Helping Ford’s cause will be the introduction this year of 23 new or freshened vehicles globally, more than twice as many as in 2017. Those include 11 vehicles in North America.
It’s important to note, Brinley said, that Ford — which in 2012 reclaimed its Blue Oval logo and other assets it had mortgaged to obtain a lifesaving credit line in 2006 — is still in a good position relative to its last round of trouble. Ford’s per-share guidance for 2018 translates to earnings of $8 billion to $9.2 billion, according to Barclays, down from an initial forecast of $9.9 billion.
“You’re not looking at a company that’s about to start losing money,” Brinley said. “It’s just a question of what those profit margins are.”
Profit margins! That’s what the investors want, and so far they’re not getting it.
4th Gear: Just Don’t Call Them Wagons
As America’s thirst for crossovers eclipses even our need for food and water, wagons are back, sort of. But as we noted recently with the Buick Regal TourX, brands are going out of their way not to call them wagons and it goes beyond just General Motors and Buick. From The Detroit News:
“We call it a TourX. It’s a crossover vehicle with car-like driving characteristics,” Doug Osterhoff, Buick chief of marketing for cars, said at the vehicle’s media launch here.
Audi, a pioneer in the crossover-wagon space dating back to the 1999 Allroad Quattro, calls its latest Allroad (introduced at the 2016 Detroit auto show) a “luxury wagon” with an “adventurous spirit.” Volvo dubs its Cross Country models, first seen in Detroit last year, “sport wagons.” And VW calls its Golf Alltrack, which debuted on dealer lots in 2017, the “ultimate vehicle for adventure seekers.”
In a consumer marketplace that covets five-door utility, the resurgent wagon hopes to capitalize on its own practical utility. The TourX’s 73.5 cubic feet of cargo space rivals some three-row SUVs, while offering better looks and more dynamic handling.
“SUVs are a generational thing,” says Osterhoff. “If you have three kids, you’re in a mid-size SUV. Kids who grew up in SUVs are looking for something different than they grew up in. Young millennials are open to vehicles like (the TourX) because they are active, and they have no preconceptions about wagons.”
I have preconceptions about wagons! I want them!
5th Gear: GM Wants You To Order Crap From Your Car
General Motors is making a big deal about its new in-car Marketplace app, which lets you engage with and order from your favorite brands in the car. You can order and/or get directions to Dunkin’ Donuts, as a specific example, or book hotels and flights. Some safety advocates have blasted the system, but even so, it’s another sign of the smartphone-ification of our cars. Via a test in The Detroit Free Press:
The app is a big deal not because GM expects doughnut sales and waistlines to grow dramatically, but because of other services Marketplace offers now and will add. Starbucks will be available soon, and you can already get directions to Shell or ExxonMobil stations. The app can automatically provide directions to your preferred fuel brand when you get a “low fuel” alert.
The next step comes when gas stations equip their pumps so you can pay for gas and get loyalty discounts without without putting your credit card in the pump.
“It becomes much more useful when you can pay for gas,” Fisher said. “The potential convenience will improve over time.”
A Priceline app checks rates and gets directions to nearby hotels. You can only use that when the car is stationary, because the info on price and room is too much to process in a glance while driving.
GM is working on voice activation for Marketplace. That, and quicker loading times, could make the app irreplaceable. Picture yourself at the end of a long day’s drive: “Find me hotel rooms and rates in Hattiesburg, Miss. Reserve a table at TGI Fridays.”
You need a reservation for TGI Fridays? See, you do get news on The Morning Shift.
Reverse: Andre Citroën!
Neutral: Is GM’s Marketplace The Future, Or Is It Dumb?
Will people actually use this service, or just stick to their smartphones, which probably work better anyway?