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: How Honda Got Her Groove Back
After a decade in the wilderness thanks to a global recession, a devastating earthquake in Japan, massive recalls and uninspiring products, Honda Motor Company has a new CEO who wants to do things differently. According to Automotive News, CEO Takahiro Hachigo aims to “reboot” the company with more exciting cars, more global products, and less of a focus on chasing raw sales numbers.
“I plan to create a new Honda,” Hachigo told reporters at the company’s global headquarters, adding that he will not revive his predecessor’s goal of chasing annual sales to 6 million vehicles globally in the year ending March 2017. “Rather than focusing on numbers, it is important to come up with products that carry dreams and satisfy our customers,” he said. “We will focus on the development of innovative products.”
[...] A veteran product-development engineer with extensive overseas experience, Hachigo, 56, said his years spent working in regions such as North America, Europe and China gives him unique understanding of Honda’s needs in key growth markets. “I have always been working on the front lines,” Hachigo said. “That is the significance of my becoming president.”
Hachigo wants the automaker to make its products more globalized, which we’ll see with the next Civic, set to be a true “world car” for the first time (and the reason we’re finally getting a Type R in America.)
I like what I’m hearing from Hachigo so far. There’s no question Honda has lost its mojo over the past few years, both in mainstream products and the ones enthusiasts care about. He sounds like a smart, veteran engineer who has the potential to put Honda back on track.
2nd Gear: But He’s Not Helping Takata Out
At that same news conference where he announced his plans, Hachigo said he has no plans at the moment to provide financial aid to Takata, the beleaguered airbag parts supplier at the center of approximately eleventy billion recalled cars. From Reuters:
Honda Motor Co’s (7267.T) new chief executive said the Japanese automaker has no plans for now to provide financial aid to Takata Corp (7312.T), the air bag supplier at the center of a costly global safety recall that has dented Honda’s public image as well as its earnings.
Speaking at his first news conference since taking the helm in June, Takahiro Hachigo said on Monday Honda has now set aside enough this year to cover the cost of recalling over 2 million cars with potentially faulty air bag parts made by Takata. The automaker recently restated last year’s earnings to account for additional costs.
I doubt anyone has much sympathy for Takata at this point. And don’t forget that Honda knew about these problems for years before ordering proper recalls too, so they’re hardly blameless here.
3rd Gear: Chevy Takes Aim At Aluminum And The F-150
The new Ford F-150’s aluminum body has been controversial, to say the least. While it’s lighter and thus better with fuel economy, Ford has shied away from questions about higher repair costs and whether the material is tough enough for truck duty.
So their rivals at Chevrolet are set to pounce on that with a new media campaign, reports Automotive News.
Chevrolet plans to escalate the always-hot pickup wars this week with a social media campaign that takes a swipe at Ford’s aluminum-body F-150. In a commercial slated for online and possible TV play, focus group members are asked which cage they would use for refuge when a grizzly bear lumbers into the room: one made of aluminum or another made of high-strength steel. Most scurry wide-eyed to the steel cage.
[...] Sandor Piszar, director of marketing for Chevy trucks, says the video will be included in a social media campaign launching this week. Some content will include head-to-head comparisons of the Silverado and F-150. Other pieces, such as the grizzly bear spot, are “more whimsical and focus on customer perceptions of different materials that are used to build vehicles.”
“Our trucks are built with high-strength steel. We think that’s a tactical advantage and an important differentiator,” Piszar said. He added: “We have a pretty healthy sense of humor about it.”
It’s true! Truck buyers love whimsy, and hate bears!
4th Gear: A Bigger, More Mainstream Mini
I’m intrigued by the new six-door Mini Clubman wagon, as it seems a smart evolution for that quirky yet practical car. According to the Detroit Free Press, it’s a preview of where the brand itself is going: larger, more mainstream, and aimed at bringing in new buyers. They kind of have to.
Its sales this year are down 27% from the first half of 2013, despite the fact that the overall market has risen consistently since then, and Mini’s introduction of a fine new version of its signature hardtop model last year. That car — available with four doors for the first time — began Mini’s evolution to a more practical brand that offers vehicles suitable for everyday use, Duncan said.
“Mini has to do something. The brand is struggling,” Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. “It’s possible that all the people who wanted one already got one,” because the brand’s small model line did not offer much variety.
They’re also set to get more expensive to compete with the Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA, which start relatively cheap-ish but can easily hit $50,000 with options. Longtime fans, the Free Press, can expect some “sticker shock.”
That’s all well and good, and the newer Minis are impressive cars, but I wish they’d make at least one truly small car again.
5th Gear: Nothing New On The Merger Nobody Wants But Sergio
Hey, what’s happening with the merger of Fiat Chrysler and General Motors that FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne (and no one else) wants?
Nothing, according to Reuters:
Asked if there was anything new to report on FCA’s appetite for a link-up with GM, he said there was not.
Reverse: Who’s That Driving That Fancy Car? Fangio, Juan Fangio
The great Argentine race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio, winner of five Formula One driver’s world championships, competes in his last Grand Prix race–the French Grand Prix held outside Reims, France–on this day in 1958.
Neutral: How Does Honda Get Back In The Game?
And not just with S2000s and sport sedans, either. How can they get back to their glory days across the entire lineup? Is that even possible?
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