Guess Which Car Brand Isn’t At Record-Low Inventory

Technically, it's two sister brands, but you'll see why.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove

There’s some good news if you’re one of the few Americans looking for a new Alfa Romeo or Fiat. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 19, 2021.


1st Gear: New Car Inventory At Record Low...

The waves of new car demand continue to crash on the rocks of supply shortages and production halts within the car industry. That leaves us with record lows for cars sitting on dealership lots, as Automotive News reports:

Inventory levels continued to decline in June — down about 70 percent from where they were at the same point in 2019 — as production interruptions from supply shortages combined with strong retail demand continued to empty dealership lots.

Dealers had just 1.13 million vehicles on hand or in transit to start July, according to data compiled by Cox Automotive subsidiary vAuto. That represented what Cox said was a record-low 25-day supply, based on the selling rate from the previous 30 days. It also was about 650,000 vehicles lower than where the industry was a month earlier, when dealers had access to a 35-day supply.

The premium brands with the least inventory are Lexus and Land Rover, the article continues, and Toyota and Kia are also super low, under the 25-day mark.

2nd Gear: ... Except For Fiat And Alfa

That same article continues with a humorous aside:

On the other end of the spectrum, Stellantis’ Alfa Romeo and Fiat brands had the best available remaining inventories on a days’ supply basis.

I guess none of y’all are running after 500Xs these days.

3rd Gear: Semi-Autonomous Driving Tech Is Doing Great If You Pretend Nobody’s Died

Here is a weird article in the Financial Times that takes a relatively rosy view on the development of driver-assistance tech and autonomy:

Since Google launched its self-driving car project in 2009, the biggest challenge has been one of technology: can it be safe enough to deploy at scale?

That dispute is over. Google’s project, now branded Waymo, has experienced only minor incidents — about once every 210,000 miles — since 2019 when it began operating a driverless service in Phoenix, Arizona. Cruise, its GM-backed rival, received a permit last month to begin commercial operations in its home city, San Francisco. Both groups are valued at more than $30bn by the most reputable names in venture capital and tech.

What these rivals are not doing, however, is conquering one metropolis after another the way Uber deployed in 100 cities within four years of launch. The costs are just too exorbitant, the testing hours too prolonged and it remains unclear whether there is really a business case for shared “robotaxis”. 


Not included in the report is the time a self-driving Uber killed a woman. That was even in the Southwest, a kind of best-case situation for autonomous car development in terms of both weather and clean, car-friendly infrastructure.

Also bizarre is that the article goes on to laud Tesla, again making no mention of any fatal crashes under Autopilot:

Yet the likelihood that driver-assistance systems do keep moving forward, tortoise-like, is high, because as more cars are equipped with the tech, the faster the systems learn. This is where Tesla currently leads: more than a million of its vehicles are equipped with its AutoPilot system that is always on, in “shadow mode”, ready to upload snapshots to Tesla servers whenever the human driver makes decisions different from its own.

Tesla is, in effect, outsourcing its real world testing to owners who pay for the privilege. It is a stunningly more efficient model than most Level 4 groups, which bankroll hundreds of engineers to sit behind the wheel of robotic test fleets.

Willard Tu, senior director of automotive at US chipmaker Xilinx, says it’s only a matter of time before all the bigger automotive groups are performing similar feats. “Every company that’s doing ADAS is now trying to leverage, and create, machine-learning databases,” he says. “Just like Tesla . . . they are learning to manage troves and troves of data.” 


In the words of the great sages of our time, the Bodega Boys, facts don’t matter.

4th Gear: Toyota’s Not Bothering To Run Ads On Its Olympics

Toyota is a top sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, which kind of makes sense. It’s the biggest carmaker in the country, cars still operating as a kind of export stand-in for a national product. The problem is nobody likes the Olympics this year, what with the whole global pandemic thing putting a bit of an exploitative overtone to the proceedings. Now Toyota isn’t going to run TV ads over the coverage, as the Japan Times reports:

The decision by Toyota, one of the top sponsors of the Olympics, may reflect the major automaker’s attempt to prevent its brand image from being damaged, as the Games are going ahead despite strong public opposition and fears of a further spread of the coronavirus.

Toyota had prepared a TV ad featuring some of the athletes taking part in the Games. But during an online briefing, Toyota Chief Communication Officer Jun Nagata suggested that the Tokyo Olympics are shaping up to be an event for which it is harder to garner support for “various reasons.”

“We will fully support the athletes and contribute to the Games by providing vehicles and through other means,” Nagata said.


“Various reasons” is a fun description of everything that’s been in the news about the Games, including a U.S. gymnast just testing positive for Covid.

5th Gear: Right To Repair Battle Is Going Federal

Keep an eye on the news for more on the right-to-repair fight going up to the federal level. From Automotive News:

President Joe Biden’s executive order to promote competition in the U.S. economy rachets up the pressure on the Federal Trade Commission to take action on “right to repair,” an issue that has often pitted automakers against independent repair shops and aftermarket parts retailers.

The order signed this month by the president urges the FTC to issue rules on repair restrictions imposed by manufacturers, potentially tipping the scale in favor of independent shops and consumers and forcing automakers to settle their grievances on the long, drawn-out battle over access to vehicle repair information and parts.

Biden’s directive comes as major automakers continue to challenge a 2020 amendment to Massachusetts’ right to repair law in federal court, with a decision by the judge expected in August.


It is in carmakers’ best interest to have their vehicles enjoy healthy resale values and to live as long as possible. It just might not be as profitable as making them totally disposable.

Reverse: Nobody Gets Lost Anymore, Right? Right?

Via GPS World:

Working well after midnight on July 19, 1977, a Rockwell Collins engineer named David Van Dusseldorp sat on the rooftop of a company building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, adjusting an antenna every five minutes to receive a signal from the world’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, known as NTS-2.

Within a small window of time, the satellite was turned on and the message was successfully received and decoded by the team working the GPS receiver below.


Neutral: How Are You?

A comparatively cool and breezy New York has welcomed me back from Florida by suspending alternate-side parking. Eid Mubarak!



3rd Gear: Semi-Autonomous Driving Tech Is Doing Great If You Pretend Nobody’s Died

It sounds like you’re setting the bar needlessly high on this. Driving is fucking dangerous. Think about it: you’re flying around in a big metal box which also operates within close proximity to pedestrians on occasion. As long as there are cars, there will be people killed by cars. Even if we get self-driving cars to be perfect, people involved with manufacture, distribution, and repair of self-driving cars are also at risk of death. Accidents happen.

Setting the threshold for safety to zero deaths is effectively the same as supporting a ban on all driving, because it’s impossible to ensure nobody ever dies because of cars.

The best thing to do is work towards continuous improvement.  Study accidents and figure out how to prevent them or reduce their lethality.