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: They Can Do Better Than Better-Than-Mediocre
Over the long term, I think the mid-size sedan market will shrink relative to the market for compact and mid-size crossovers, but it’ll still be a big part of any major automaker’s bottom line for the next few years.
And yet, no Chevy Malibu has been the best car in its class since Elliot Gould was considered a sex symbol. So why has Chevy continually sucked ass when it comes to building a mid-sizer?
I think the reason goes back to a company with a seriously broken process for building cars. From listening to some former (and a couple of current) engineers and product planners at GM, there was just too much conservatism and group-think to allow the company to design something truly exciting.
The Ford Taurus was exciting when it came out in a way that GM nor Chrysler could duplicate, even if they lost the plot. Would anyone at GM have ever approved the new face on the Fusion? Could they have built a car as nice as a Honda Accord? With as obvious value as the Sonata?
I say that Chevy is doomed if they can’t build a good Malibu and I don’t say that because of sales, although Reuters is reporting that their goal is 250,000 cars a year, which is a huge lift of sales, especially because they’re expecting $1,500 more in profit for each vehicle.
Those are big goals, but I say they’re doomed because a mid-size sedan is the most delicate balancing act in the automotive space and being able to pull it off requires building something that’s attractive, efficient, tech-forward, and capable of persuading people to skip a bunch of other great cars to at least check them out.
Not easy. If they can build a great car – even one that doesn’t hit their ambitious sales targets – it’ll be a sign that GM’s whole process has improved. If not...
2nd Gear: GM’s Bankruptcy Shield Might Collapse
GM has long claimed that the GM that did all those bad things that resulted in people dying is not the GM they are today, and thus not the GM that can be sued. Initially, the main U.S. Bankruptcy Judge at the center of all of this agreed.
Now... maybe not.
“It’s rare for a judge to admit he might have made an error,” said Chip Bowles, a bankruptcy lawyer at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP who isn’t involved in any GM cases. At least 74 people were killed when GM cars suddenly turned off after the ignition was jostled.
More than 2.59 million vehicles have been recalled for just one type of switch defect. Affected car owners who weren’t injured sued Detroit-based GM, seeking compensation for their vehicles’ loss in value.
If Gerber rules bankruptcy doesn’t protect GM from such value claims for cars made before 2009, GM may face as much as $10 billion in potential liability over the scandal, plaintiff lawyers have said. One analyst said costs could reach a more conservative $7 billion.
This could be a disaster for GM, either way, opening it up to numerous lawsuits and a flood of bad press just as they were getting the whole thing behind them. Even worse, GM has made plans to engage in share buybacks that will cut into the company’s cash reserves. WELL TIMED.
3rd Gear: Tesla Still Working To Pick Up States
Good news for Tesla in Georgia, where a bill to allow Tesla to open up five stories in the state passed the Georgia Senate and is now on the governor’s desk. As the bill was a result of negotiations between dealers and Tesla I’d expect the governor to sign it, but who knows for sure?
As Automotive News reports, West Virginia has rejected a plan to add stores to the state. Why West Virginia?
Tesla tried but failed to establish stores in West Virginia, which would have put its outlets on the borders of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky.
LOL. Kind of brilliant.
4th Gear: Now We Know Why Fiat Is Giving Away 500 EVs
If you’re in California you should just lease a Fiat 500e. What could possibly go wrong?
Also, the fact that Fiat is almost literally giving away cars probably has something to do with Fiat buying up greenhouse emissions credits from Tesla. Maybe?
David Shepardson noticed something weird that I’m now very curious about:
Fiat Chrysler didn’t need to acquire the Tesla credits to remain compliant, but the automaker may want to use them in future years. Fiat Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne declined to say how much the company paid or discuss its strategy.
Anyone have any theories as for what’s going on here? Is Chrysler going to stop leasing the Fiat 500e and is stockpiling credits?
5th Gear: Rich People Like Racing, Even Rich Nerds
I thought Farhad Manjoo ending up at the WSJ was kind of strange, and he’s apparently on the “what rich folks do” beat. No hate, it looks like he maybe got a trip to Daytona out of it.
There’s actually a nice story in here about Kevin Buckler of T.R.G.-A.M.R., a kind of fascinating character who has made a great business out of racing Aston Martins and selling wine and it’s worth reading just for that.
However, I definitely have a favorite part of the article and it’s this:
At some point during every conversation I had with a tech guy who is interested in racing, there would come an awkward moment in which he would ask me not to paint him as an extravagant, sexist cretin. Mr. Schachter told me, “Try to tone down the rich guy hobby thing.”
Mr. Bonforte said that many of his friends preferred to stay silent about racing because “the things that make us smell like the 1 percent, we’re very nervous about.” He added that while he has invited several women to come to the track, none had accepted his offer. The rise of a new boys’ club in Silicon Valley — one that was apparently leading to new deals and other business prizes — was “a totally valid concern,” he said, though he did not have any obvious ideas for addressing it. Mr. Buckler, meanwhile, believes that there’s nothing about racing that should put women off. He has hired a woman, Christina Nielsen, for his professional team, and he argued that as the sport grew in popularity, more women would become interested.
Motorsports, compared to other forms of sport, has been fairly open to women.
Reverse: His Company Is Still Going Strong
Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation, which in 2008 surpassed America’s General Motors as the world’s largest automaker, dies at the age of 57 in Japan on this day 1952.
Neutral: How Can GM Make The Malibu Good?
What do you want to see?
Photo Credit: Getty Images