The VW ID concept, to be the first of its bespoke EVs next year. Photo: VW
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?   

Nobody quite wants to commit in the world of EVs, car sales are going loopy, and there’s a giant recall going on at Toyota right now. All this and more in The Morning Shift.

1st Gear: VW, BMW and Mercedes Are Taking Different Paths

The central question of making electric cars at the moment is: Do you develop a bespoke platform for your new EVs or do you modify existing gas-powered cars to accept batteries and electric motors? The German auto industry is split on the issue, as the Financial Times reports.

VW is going with bespoke EV platforms, BMW thinks it can’t afford to do so and is keeping things mixed between gas and EVs and Daimler is making bespoke platforms, but they’re going to be for both battery-powered EVs and some theoretical hydrogen cars.

Here’s the FT on VW:

As VW executives see it, the problem is that the company has been producing electric cars with an “assembly toolkit” tailored for petrol and diesel vehicles. The e-Golf and the e-Up, introduced in 2013, were in effect existing models stuffed with batteries but, even today, the best versions have a top range of 300km.

“To make it a fully fledged electric car, you need to start with a battery pack between the wheels and then you build up the car,” Herbert Diess, chief executive of the VW Group, told the FT at the Geneva car show in April. “Then you have an effective battery system, the range, and you get a lot of freedom for the design of the car, to make more interior space with the same footprint.”

Advertisement

Here’s BMW’s situation:

While VW is focusing on “bespoke architecture” to create electric cars, the Munich-based luxury carmaker touts the merits of “flexible architecture” that can accommodate conventional, hybrid or electric engines. BMW’s plan is to enable customers from 2021 to order any BMW and specify what sort of engine they want.

“We can’t afford having two factories standing still,” says chief executive Harald Krueger.

Advertisement

And here’s Benz:

Daimler, which is spending €10bn to launch more than 10 electric models by 2022, is taking a third approach: Like VW, the Mercedes parent is designing purpose-built architecture for its EQ marque of electric cars. However, like BMW, its production plants are being set up to accommodate all types of powertrains, including hydrogen fuel cell cars.

“We have hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars and maybe robo-taxis tomorrow,” says Daimler production chief Markus Schaefer. “It’s hard to predict volumes for the best way in an uncertain world, so this is the most efficient approach to supply the market.”

Advertisement

Tesla, of course, started with a non-bespoke platform with the Roadster but didn’t really become what it is today until it started production of the Model S on its own architecture. But we don’t know how long anybody in this game is going to survive. Everyone seems at risk.

2nd Gear: Toyota Recalls 1 Million Cars For Fire Risk, Prius Included

This all comes down to the cars’ wiring harness sparking out, per the Financial Times:

The Japanese carmaker said the fire risk is caused when an engine wire harness that is connected to the power control unit wears over time, triggering a short circuit and a fire if enough heat is generated.

[…]

Toyota said it became aware of the fire risk in February of this year following one incident in Japan of a vehicle emitting smoke. No injuries were reported.

To fix the issue, the company said it will replace and put a protective sleeve over the engine wire harness if the wire core is exposed.

Advertisement

The recall hits the Prius, Prius plug-in hybrid and C-HR models built between June 2015 and May 2018. It only affects about 200,000 cars here in America, as CNN reports. Most of the cars hit by this are in Japan.

3rd Gear: U.S. Auto Sales Higher Than Expected Given, You Know, Everything

This is an entertaining report, again from the Financial Times, which reminds me that the business world makes no sense. The article is titled “U.S. auto sales mixed in August as tariff worries loom” and here’s the key part:

Big global automakers reported mixed US new vehicle sales for August, with Ford sales climbing well above expectations but Toyota, the second-largest US automaker in August, reporting an unexpected sales drop.

[…]

The US auto industry has seen sales at higher than expected levels so far this year, despite higher petrol prices and interest rates, and concerns about a trade war that largely targets autos. But analysts predict major automakers may encounter headwinds in the second half of 2018, especially if the US imposes tariffs on vehicles imported from the EU and if a new Nafta agreement leads to upward pressure on vehicle prices.

Advertisement

I stand firm in my belief that anyone who claims to be a surefire analyst is trying to make money off of you.

4th Gear: Germany Is Dumping Cars Before Regulations Ban Them

Car sales in Germany are way up at the moment, but the reason for it is a bit more, uh, devious. Or canny. Or well, anyway, German carmakers will soon have to deal with tighter emissions testing. Many of their current cars won’t pass these regs. And now they’re selling off those cars for cheap, as Automotive News Europe reports:

German registrations increased 25 percent last month as Volkswagen and other brands flooded the market to reduce stocks ahead of the introduction of the new WLTP testing regime on Sept. 1.

New-car sales jumped to 316,405, the KBA motor vehicle authority said on Tuesday.

Since the start of this month, automakers in EU markets have only been allowed to sell vehicles that have been certified under the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure, or WLTP, with few exceptions.

The change to the WLTP contributed to the August growth, Reinhard Zirpel, head of the VDIK vehicle importers association, said in a statement.

Advertisement

The good times are presumably already over and we’ll almost certainly see that reflected in September’s numbers.

5th Gear: VW Will Force Managers to Drive EVs

VW has had some trouble getting its EV push going, and it has a charmingly “old GM” kind of approach to the issue: Make VW execs drive electric cars. From Der Spiegel:

In future, Volkswagen will increasingly order its managers to use electric cars as company cars. For this purpose, CEO Herbert Diess wants to change the company car regime for the VW brand, as “Welt am Sonntag” reported.

Currently, according to the report, the share of electric cars and hybrid models in Volkswagen’s company car fleet is in the per thousand range. But already in the coming year, every tenth of the 20,000 company cars of the VW brand in Germany should be a car with electric drive.

[...]

The new company car rule would make VW managers “ambassadors of e-mobility,” said Volkswagen HR board Gunnar Kilian. The executives should carry the fascination of this technology into society . In the middle or end of 2019, the revised regulations will come into force.

Advertisement

I love this idea like it would magically force EVs to be good. I swear GM or Ford used to do this with division chiefs, but I can’t find an article that backs me up.

Reverse: And So Began 100,000 Facebook Galleries About Road Trips

Advertisement

Neutral: What’s The Right Way To EV?

Do you put the money down for bespoke, or do you stay normal? Should a “futuristic” car be built futuristic? Should it even look futuristic? Or should it be as normal as possible?