This is The Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place every weekday morning. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: Or Why Honda Is Going To Lose Out To Nissan
There's been a lot of chatter lately about the glut of sub-prime, long-term loans that we've seen in the auto industry and now, right at the top, there's comments from Honda's head of U.S. sales John Mendel talking about the 73-to-84-month loans we've seen.
Automakers are increasingly selling vehicles with 84-month loans that reduce monthly payments while making it tougher to repay faster than cars lose value, John Mendel, Honda’s U.S. sales chief, said in an interview. The Tokyo-based company will avoid longer-term loans even as Nissan Motor Co. (7201) tries to supplant it as the fifth-biggest automaker in the U.S., he said.
“You’re ringing the bell on a new-car sale, but that customer is saddled — they’re stretched so thin,” Mendel said at the North American International Auto Show last week. Extended-term loans are “stupid not just for us, but for the industry.”
I'm not going to get too deeply into Honda's motivation for saying this (other than, you know, look at Nissan crawling up their asses), and no one thinks these loans are anywhere close to ideal, but let's look at some reasons why the panic is likely overblown at this point.
- Buyers Have Income But Don't Have Credit Or Savings - When we think of the housing market crash we think of people buying assets way outsized when compared to their earnings. It's not apparent that this not happening here. Cars are generally cheaper assets and we're looking at buyers with some sort of income who maybe don't have great credit or huge savings because of the recession.
- The Terms Are Great - Interest rates are low and you could argue that many buyers are doing a somewhat logical thing by lowering their overall monthly payment so they can build up credit and savings. This doesn't work if they're buying a vehicle wildly out of proportion to their income, but I haven't seen evidence that it's mostly minimum wage workers going out and buying S-Class coupes.
- Cars Don't Immediately Fall Apart Anymore - The era of planned obsolescence is over. Cars are getting older every year and are sold with increasingly better warranties. While this does create a negative equity situation for much of the loan (cars depreciate quickly), a seven-year loan matched with a seven-year warranty with a car that can probably last seven years isn't a recipe for disaster like it once was.
This doesn't mean there aren't risks. If the economy collapsed in the next two years and unemployment surged again then many of these loans would probably be defaulted on.
Additionally, there is a risk that people are taking these loans who otherwise would have waited to buy cars, and thus we're just shifting new car sales to the present and we're going to be screwed in the future when we've run out of buyers, rates go up, and people can't afford to make a trade-in.
2nd Gear: Toyota Is Still The World's Largest Automaker
Toyota sold 10.23 million cars worldwide last year, which is a record, beating out a strong Volkswagen (with 10.14 million cars) and a mediocre GM (9.98 million).
Toyota said its sales were up 3 percent worldwide, including a 5 percent increase in sales in its Daihatsu unit and 4 perecnt in Hino sales. Its Toyota brand unit, including Lexus and other vehicles, was up just 2 percent to 9.15 million. Toyota said it expected worldwide sales in 2015 to slip 1 percent to 10.15 million as it said Daihtasu will fall 9 percent. It said its Toyota brand sales will fall 0.4 percent to 9.18 million.
Being the largest automaker in the world is a stupid goal to chase, I'd much rather have the world's most profitable automaker. Of course, Volkswagen could plausibly do both rather soon.
3rd Gear: GM Has 108 More Faulty Ignition Switch Claims To Process
Fun fact, a large chunk of those faulty vehicles that are hanging around GM's neck as it tries to move forward came from an era when it was the biggest automaker in the world. Think they'd have subtracted those sales to not have to deal with this bullshit? I think so.
Through Friday, GM received 311 claims for death, 207 for catastrophic injuries and 2,300 for less-serious injuries requiring hospitalization, according to the report from lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, hired by GM to administer the program.
We're #1, We're #1!
4th Gear: Volvo Is Mixing Shit Up Again
Volvo is yet again shuffling top management in the U.S. as it tries to put itself in a position to succeed as new, better product hits the market.
Specifically, current head Tony Nicolosi is moving to take over Volvo's financing arm and the company's head of product, Lex Kerssemakers, will take over the North and South American markets.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Kerssemakers said his immediate goal will be sparking the auto maker’s poor performance in North America. Bolstered by low gas prices and a stable economy, U.S. auto sales have boomed. But Volvo has fallen behind, with sales slipping 8% to 56,000 deliveries in 2014.
Volvo’s goal is to sell 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. by 2018, according to an internal report authored by McKinsey & Co. and viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Its marketing budget will be boosted by hundreds of millions over the next couple of years, according to McKinsey, which should give Mr. Kerssemakers more resources to engineer a comeback in a U.S. market clamoring for luxury vehicles.
They also report that Geely-owned Volvo will build a plant in the United States.
5th Gear: NO SUPER BOWL FOR YOU!
After a number of big Super Bowl hits, Audi will join other big automakers and sitting out the big game.
“We were the first brand to advance the social media conversation by [bringing] a # tag. All of these efforts have led Audi to substantial increases in market share against other imported luxury brands. While the NFL remains an important platform for reaching our consumers, we won’t be investing in the game this year.”
GM sat out the Super Bowl before it was cool.
Reverse: Who Cares?
After more than seven decades as the world's largest automaker, General Motors (GM) officially loses the title on January 21, 2009, when it announces worldwide sales of 8.36 million cars and trucks in 2008, compared with Toyota's 8.97 million vehicle sales that same year. However, the news wasn't all rosy for the Japanese auto giant, which later in 2009 posted its first-ever loss as a public company.
Neutral: Subprime Loans, Should We Panic? Panic a lot? Panic a little?
Photo Credit: AP Images