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 that are your air, that you need to know to live.
1st Gear: At Least They Know How To Wrench On These
Harley-Davidson has been struggling for years trying to reach the youth market beyond its bored dentist clientele base. And by “struggling,” I mean “continuously tripping over its own shoelaces, like when it bought up Buell only to kill it.”
In any case, the company’s pushes for nostalgia haven’t been working, so the company decided it’s time for something different: even older nostalgia. H-D is going back to bicycles of its past, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
Harley-Davidson Inc. is unveiling a new bike, but it’s powered by pedals, not a rumbling V-Twin engine.
The olive-green cruiser is a tribute to a bicycle sold by Harley in 1917. It’s the first of 10 hand-built bicycles the Harley-Davidson Museum will offer for sale this summer for approximately $4,200 each.
Harley was in the bicycle business for a short time, from 1917 through 1922, with a line of about six models each year.
The bicycles were intended to introduce young riders to the Harley-Davidson brand and were styled to look like the company’s motorcycles.
Heritage Bicycles will be making the machines and the only change to the design is that the frame is now larger. Well, I guess your average Harley buyer isn’t as spry as they were in the days of the flu pandemic.
2nd Gear: We’re In The Golden Age Of Horsepower And Have Environmental Regulations To Thank
We’ve been saying for years that the EPA is the biggest unsung hero of automotive performance.
Regulations that have demanded cleaner emissions and better fuel economy have been answered by automakers with more efficient engines. More efficient means more powerful. Quite a bit more powerful, as Bloomberg noted in an article earlier this week:
Sometime in the next year or so, the U.S. auto industry will cross a once-unimaginable threshold: Average horsepower for the entire fleet will reach 300. (At the moment, it is tuned up to 296.)
It is an absurd number—the stuff of drag-racing dreams. It’s also, almost entirely, a happy accident. The engineers tuning up the industry’s average sedans and dad-jeans SUVs have spent the past decade trying to lower emissions; speed was an unintended byproduct.
Bloomberg reached out to Ivan Drury of Edmunds and got two choice quotes:
“We’re in the golden age of horsepower,” said Ivan Drury, senior manager of data strategy at Edmunds. “The only thing I’m nostalgic about—that I know is going to die—is the manual transmission.”
“You can get the best of both worlds,” Drury said. “If you really want it, the power is there.”
This is, of course, only half true. The Bloomberg piece notes how carmakers in the U.S. are focusing on downsizing. That means replacing big engines with smaller ones and making up for the loss of power with turbochargers. This, of course, works better in theory (and in the lab environments of emissions tests) and less so in the real world.
Still! Big power. Can’t complain about that.
3rd Gear: Volvo Inaugurates $1.1 Billion South Carolina Plant
There’s a new Volvo S60 sedan debuting today and where will this beacon of Swedish design be built? Nowhere else but that bastion of modernism and Scandinavian simplicity: South Carolina. Because nothing says minimalist design quite like Cracker Barrel.
In any case, this is a $1.1 billion new plant for the auto industry of the South, set to make the S60 sedan alone at the moment. That output is slightly surprising, as Automotive News reports:
The new plant can produce 150,000 cars a year at full capacity. Volvo will add output of the next-generation XC90 premium large SUV at the factory in 2021.
Starting the new factory with a sedan instead of an SUV was a surprise to IHS Markit Principal Analyst Tim Urquhart, especially since premium rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all produce crossovers in North America.
“Premium sedans are still ‘a thing’ in the U.S. market so there is a rationale in terms ‘build where you sell’,” Urquhart said in an email.
4th Gear: Audi CEO Dieselgate Arrest: Looks Like It’s The Coverup, Not The Crime
Audi boss Rupert Stadler was arrested the other day and the reason for it seems to be less about what he did and more about what he hoped others wouldn’t find out about, as Bloomberg reports in an article today “Audi’s Stadler Said to Have Pushed for Putting Witness on Leave.” Here’s the key part:
Audi’s suspended Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler was arrested this week because prosecutors suspect he tried to put an employee on leave who was providing evidence in the diesel-cheating investigation, a person familiar with the situation said.
Stadler was named a suspect last week because he allegedly prevented Audi’s internal diesel task force from interviewing the engineers involved in writing the illegal software, the person said, declining to be named because the information isn’t public. Prosecutors raided his house and tapped his phone.
As ever, looks like it’s the coverup, not the crime. Stay smart, execs.
5th Gear: John Deere Is Starting A Legal Fight Over Automated Farm Equipment
If you haven’t been keeping an eye on it, the world of farm equipment is absolutely fascinating. John Deere was at the center of the debate over whether or not you own the software in the things you buy when farmers were turning to overseas hackers to get control over their equipment.
Now John Deere is in the news again, suing a rival over tech involved in automated farming, which Bloomberg describes as a future $240 billion industry in a comprehensive report today:
Deere & Co., the world’s biggest tractor maker, is suing rival AGCO Corp.over gadgets like seed meters and hoppers that attach to planting machines. Such devices are integral to a projected $240 billion market for so-called precision agriculture, which harnesses big data to automate operations and boost productivity.
What makes this case interesting is that there are swirling allegations that not everything is as earnest as it might seem, centering on John Deere trying, at one point, to buy up the rival that it’s now suing:
“Deere is now suing AGCO over the Precision Planting technology that AGCO acquired that, in the first place, John Deere wanted to acquire,” said Dennis Buckmaster, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. “There must be sufficient difference in the technology, or else Deere wouldn’t have wanted to acquire it in the first place.”
John Deere, meanwhile, says that the two things are totally unrelated, while AGCO is arguing the opposite. In any case, watch this space, as the future of automation and tech is being plotted in the fields outside your town.
Reverse: First They Get Goons To Beat You Up, Then They Sign Your Contract
Neutral: Will Performance Cars Ever Change Away From Big Power?
So, with average fleet horsepower coming up on 300, it seems like now would be the time that sports car companies would pivot away from big power figures and towards lightweight design and handling.
But we’ve been hearing that expectation for the better part of a decade now, and still performance cars are more powerful than ever. Lotus is still a tiny player in the world sports car scene.
If nothing has really changed, will it ever? Or am I totally misreading things? What’s your take?