Hyundai gets off its ass, finally, on pickup trucks, Mini gets off its ass, finally, on electric vehicles, the UAW gears up for slower times and are women turned off by Elon Musk? You will get these stories and so much more on The Morning Shift of July 9, 2019.
1st Gear: Hyundai’s Still Doing It
It was nearly five years ago when the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup truck concept hit the auto show circuit to nearly universal critical acclaim. We were so young back then, so full of optimism. “Build it!”, we screamed at Hyundai. “Yeah, maybe!” they screamed in return.
This is a shame because the pickup truck market is kind of out of control in the United States. The trucks are too damn expensive. And even the “small” ones like the Toyota Tacoma and new Ford Ranger are pretty large and impractical for many buyers, especially ones in urban areas. The Santa Cruz concept was compact and featured an extending bed for extra versatility.
So it’s good news that Hyundai VP Michael O’Brien told Bloomberg the truck is still on, “an American-made vehicle aimed at luring buyers who aren’t traditional truck owners.” From that story:
“It’ll be a very versatile vehicle,” Michael O’Brien, vice president of product, corporate and digital planning for Hyundai’s U.S. unit, said in an interview. “That has the promise of creating a whole new class of buyers.”
The South Korean automaker won’t say when it will roll out a pickup or provide details on its specifications. But Hyundai first provided clues of what it will look like 4 1/2 years ago, when it debuted a truck concept called Santa Cruz at the Detroit auto show. The snug five-seater was a crossover-type vehicle featuring a 2-liter turbo diesel engine and a tailgate with a sliding extension. The model will target city-dwelling millennials who can’t fit full-size pickups in tighter parking spots.
As we’ve said many times before, this final product could be a nice antidote to how huge, expensive and margin-driven the truck market has become, and I also think it’d be successful in finding buyers.
No details yet, just another “soon,” but that’s better than the alternative.
2nd Gear: Mini’s Electric Gets Mixed Reception
The all-electric Mini Cooper SE is here, and it arrives at a time when Mini and parent company BMW need some help. Mini’s sales have been in the tank in recent years as the market has shifted toward SUVs and trucks, and as we’ve all read by now, BMW’s current CEO is out for, among other things, moving too slowly on a fully electric strategy.
The Cooper SE looks like a lot of fun. But what you won’t get here is Tesla-like electric range. U.S. figures haven’t been released yet, but it’s looking at something like 115 to 160 miles, solidifying its status as a city car.
It’s also built on the existing Mini Cooper chassis and body, which has been around for years now. Out of the gate, it’s already being met with skepticism from Automotive News:
If Mini is seeking salvation, it’s unlikely to find it in the new three-door Cooper SE. The EV, available in three trims, is a coupling of two existing models.
It shares the body style and proportions of the current two-door Mini Hardtop, last redesigned in 2014.
“The Mini Cooper SE is a model that would have been quite competitive and impactful to the brand…five years ago,” said Ed Kim, analyst with AutoPacific. “At that time, the third generation Mini hardtop body style was all-new.”
Rather than build the SE on a new platform, similar to what Jaguar did with the iPace and Chevrolet with the Bolt, BMW used the same powertrain as its battery electric i3s subcompact. BMW is developing its fifth-generation electric powertrain that will debut on the new iX3 electric crossover expected to go into production next year.
[...] “The Cooper SE’s short range leaves very little in the way of USPs [unique selling point] in its favor, and its short range will have most EV shoppers simply skip the Mini dealership altogether without even exploring the car further,” Kim said.
As a fan of Minis I’m eager to drive this thing, but I’m wondering if the built-from-the-ground-up (and rear-wheel drive!) Honda E is the superior EV city car. But unlike the Honda, the Mini is actually coming to America.
3rd Gear: The UAW Negotiates Ahead of a Likely Downturn
Members of the United Auto Workers union head back to the negotiating table next week to bargain a new contract with U.S. automakers. But while the past few years have been marked by record new car sales, that trend is rapidly falling off a cliff as many experts predict an even bigger dropoff and possibly another economic downturn. Which sucks, because remember all the fun we didn’t have the last time that happened?
This changes the equation somewhat as UAW members negotiate, reports The Detroit News:
“The next four years are not likely to be like the past four years,” Kristen Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research, said Monday. “A large portion of the workforce has not been through a downturn before. We all know bad is on the horizon.”
Among the burning questions: Which plants are likely secure a vehicle to sustain jobs and profit-sharing payouts through the life of the next contract? Will future product allocation decisions favor UAW-represented plants in the States and not cheaper, if politically fraught, operations in Mexico? How will union bargainers reckon with the production implications of battery-electric vehicles or the continuing rotation toward trucks and SUVs from traditional cars?
Even though the automakers are turning record profits and sales are still good even as they slow down, plenty of American workers have seen their jobs disappear as the companies they work for chase profits and shore up for the next downturn. Plus, there’s the looming electric and autonomous revolution, and that’s something that will require major adaptation at many plants:
Ask the folks who manned the assembly line at GM’ s Lordstown Assembly Plant. In less than the life of their current contract, their sprawling plant in northeast Ohio went from running three shifts building the Chevrolet Cruze compact to none, effectively idled now and awaiting closure.
Ask the folks at Ford’s Michigan Assembly in Wayne whose Focus-building days are over, replaced by a new Ranger pickup and, soon, a revived Bronco SUV. Ask the folks who’ll be building hybrid variants of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs in Detroit, a bid by parent FCA to join the electrification push transforming the global auto industry and injecting more uncertainty into labor’s future.
Detroit and its foreign rivals should buckle up: Electric vehicles have fewer parts. They need fewer workers to assemble. And they last longer than the internal-combustion engine models that have defined the industry’s first 100 years — all of which could have profound implications for union members and the communities where they live and work.
I’ll close this gear with the News’ own kicker because it’s such a good summary of what’s going on:
And none more than this year, where the challenge isn’t so much ensuring survival; it’s building a mechanism to survive transformation, negotiate lean years ahead and deliver a prosperous future. It won’t be easy.
It is true that many jobs, and many companies, may not survive the next economic slowdown and the radical changes to come in the future.
4th Gear: The UAW Takes on the Opioid Crisis
Also on the UAW’s bargaining agenda: addressing America’s opioid addiction epidemic, something that has affected the auto industry directly.
It is a tragic and all-too-common cycle: workers get injured on the job. They get prescribed, or often over-prescribed, pain pills. Then they get hooked on said pain pills, and then that may transform into a full-blown heroin addiction. This is especially common in states that have a heavy manufacturing presence, including auto plants.
Here’s Automotive News:
They’re dying across the country — an average of more than 130 people a day amid the deadliest U.S. drug epidemic in the modern era. But the fast-spreading opioid crisis has taken an especially large toll in Kentucky, where Ford Motor Co. has nearly 14,000 workers at two of its biggest assembly plants.
It’s just a matter of statistics, UAW Local 862 President Todd Dunn says, that the casualties include some of those workers and their families.
“When you look at the Kentucky Truck Plant, you basically have two aircraft carriers’ worth of people,” Dunn told Automotive News. “There’s not one person that’s not touched in some way or another from opioid use, opioid death, suicide or overdose.”
More help preventing and treating opioid misuse is high on the UAW’s agenda for this year’s contract negotiations with the Detroit 3.
So what is to be done? Among other things, addiction help and an approach that isn’t based on worker punishment:
The union is seeking an expansion of employer-funded, union-administered assistance programs aimed at preventing the use of prescription painkillers from turning into harmful, long-term dependence.
It also wants to ensure that workers can seek help without fear of retribution by their employer so they would be less likely to hide an addiction to maintain their paycheck.
[...] “If one or all three of [the automakers] would invest — not only in recovery; they need to have treatment first — but invest in the detox treatment and then a recovery community where they can live and work and receive that long-term care — that’s a model that should be created in the state,” Feinberg-Rivkin said. “Many workers that we have could benefit from having that whole continuum of care.”
Automakers and the UAW may be open to experimental recovery efforts such as the Lenus Freedom device but will have to weigh the costs of further investments. In the give-and-take of negotiations, getting more funding to treat opioid misuse can mean the UAW would have to give up something in return.
That story is worth a read in full.
5th Gear: Do EVs Have a Women Problem?
Let me say right out of the gate I’m pretty skeptical of this USA Today story, which says that women car buyers—known to be more practical and, let’s face it, on the whole smarter than men—are much more reluctant to get into electric vehicles over concerns about range and practicality. And on the Tesla side of things, apparently Elon Musk’s antics are turning off women too.
Worries about the practicality of electric cars – notably the fact that they can run out of a charge and carry a higher sticker price – and a distaste for the macho image projected by Tesla CEO Elon Musk are among the reasons why the company is struggling to sell vehicles to women, analysts said.
“I think Tesla, in general, has a problem appealing to women,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with car-buying research site Edmunds. “Having vehicles that attract more women buyers is something they’re going to have to do as they roll out into the mainstream market.”
As that story notes, while some trends are probably accurate, it’s dumb to treat “women”—literally half the population!—as some monolith with identical needs and values. It’s why I’m always suspicious of trend stories about female buyers. But Tesla has a lower registration rate among women than its luxury brand competitors:
In the first quarter of 2019, 69% of Tesla vehicles were registered by men, while 31% were registered by women, according to Edmunds.
Among luxury auto brands, Tesla’s breakdown compares with 51% men-49% women for Lexus, 54%-46% for Acura, 56%-44% for Lincoln, 57%-43% for Mercedes-Benz, 58%-42% for Cadillac and 60%-40% for BMW, according to Edmunds.
Only two luxury brands performed worse than Tesla among women – Porsche at 72%-28% and Genesis at 74%-26% – and those are niche lineups.
Maybe. But that is true of EVs in general:
Indeed, the most popular non-Tesla electric cars also have a similar problem in appealing to women: The Chevrolet Bolt’s registrations split is 69% men-31% women, while the Nissan Leaf’s is 66% men-34% women.
Also this part is just kind of funny:
And given how tightly Tesla has tied its brand to Musk’s personality, love of Musk often equates to love of Tesla.
“There is an idolization that a lot of people feel,” Caldwell said. “That idolization is probably more apt for men than women.”
Reed, the Indianapolis resident, said men are more likely to be attracted to Musk’s swagger than women.
“I think Elon Musk is a brilliant man, no doubt there,” she said. But “there’s an aloofness – there’s something there that I don’t trust.”
Is the Tesla a car for bros? Musk Bros? I don’t know, I see tons of women driving Model 3s, especially here in New York. It’s also not clear how those registrations may be tied to different people driving the “family” car. And how many families use something like a Leaf or a Bolt as a second or third vehicle, a city runabout as opposed to the main road-trip-capable car?
Either way, you can expect this divide to normalize as high-range EVs become more common in the marketplace.
Neutral: Are EVs For Bros?
What do you think of this data?