Lexus Is Hitting Reset

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Lexus is reimagining itself, Ferrari needs a new CEO, and Elon Musk. All that and more in The Morning Shift for February 1, 2021.

1st Gear: Lexus

Lexus sales — especially its sedans — were down big last year. A lot of that can be chalked up to the pandemic, but Lexus is taking the opportunity to change up its brand. Yes, it’s probably going full electric.


From Automotive News:

Lexus will unveil an overhauled “brand vision” this spring, underpinning a new model that arrives later in the year and kicks off the premium brand’s “next generation” of product.

Lexus offered a peek at the new look with a teaser photo of a concept vehicle that will also debut this spring. The vehicle, obscured in shadow, is shot from either the front or rear, with the brand name printed in all caps across the width of the car, replacing the oval L-badge.


Toyota’s premium brand offered scant details about the upcoming makeover.

“This spring, we will unveil our new brand vision, along with a new concept, which illustrates our intentions for the future and marking the beginning of the next generation of Lexus,” Lexus said in a statement on Monday. “Furthermore, we will launch the first model under our new vision within this year, and we will continue to introduce new models next year and beyond.”


Lexus’s lineup is a bit retrograde, lots of V8s and V6s up in there, along with some hybrids. Lexus has been as late to battery-electric cars as its parent Toyota, in other words. This also probably foretells a new Lexus electric SUV.

2nd Gear: Ferrari Still Searching For Its Next CEO

And the search is intensifying, after the surprise resignation of Louis Camilleri in December. Ferrari’s new CEO could come from the ranks of the fashion world, because that is in large part what Ferrari is in 2021.


From Bloomberg:

Ferrari Chairman and Agnelli family scion John Elkann may reveal the type of person he thinks should lead the supercar maker on Tuesday.

Elkann — who as interim CEO will unveil Ferrari’s full-year results — is likely to provide details on the ideal profile for the permanent CEO and discuss timing of when the job will be filled, people familiar with the matter said.

Headhunters have started to assemble a preliminary list of luxury industry heavyweights including Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri, although no one is excluding auto-industry entries, said the people, who asked not to be named since the process is not public. The company has not started interviewing candidates yet, the people said.


It may be months before a new CEO takes over, people familiar with the search said. A Ferrari spokesman declined to comment on the recruitment process or potential candidates.


Ferrari recently declared that it would never go 100 percent electric. Even though that struck me as braggadocio, the next decade will be very interesting for the paragon of Italian manufacturing.

3rd Gear: Dealerships Had A Fantastic 2020

It was a bit in doubt early on just how bad 2020 would be for dealers, but in the end they emerged as winners, according to Automotive News. For many, it was the most profitable year ever.

“Everything you worked for your whole life to become an owner was at risk. And then, all of a sudden, business took off — in spite of the handcuffs we were wearing,” said David Ferraez, a dealer who has three stores in New Jersey. “We started selling our cars and making more gross per vehicle than we had averaged in 20 years prior.”

Indeed, dealership data collected by the National Automobile Dealers Association shows that 2020 set a new bar for profits. Through the first 11 months of 2020 — December data is not yet available — the average U.S. dealership had net pretax profit of $1,786,149, up 33 percent from the comparable period in 2019. That 11-month 2020 figure is already higher than the previous full-year record of $1,503,432 reported by NADA for 2015.

Automotive News’ 2021 Dealer Outlook Survey of 183 dealership executives in January further illustrates 2020's profit boon.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said their dealerships made more money in 2020 than in 2019 — even with the disruptions of the pandemic. And with vehicle margins still high, they entered 2021 with optimism. Just more than half of respondents said they expect this year to be even more profitable than 2020.


Dealers, for context, are Automotive News’ core demographic.

4th Gear: Elon Musk And A Monkey And Video Games

Tesla’s CEO has been on about monkeys and video games, specifically about one of his companies wiring up a monkey’s brain and it playing video games.


From Bloomberg:

Elon Musk says one of his startups has a monkey with wires going into its brain that’s able to play video games.

“He’s a happy monkey,” said Musk, the chief executive officer of electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc. and backer of numerous other futuristic projects, including Neuralink Corp., a startup focused on developing a brain-computer interface. He said videos of the plugged-in simians would be released soon, perhaps in around a month.

Musk was speaking on Clubhouse, a private social app where users host off-the-cuff, informal conversations. Although Clubhouse seems like nothing more than an app to hop onto various conference calls, it has become a popular platform for an estimated 5 million users, a jump from 3 million 10 days earlier.


“We have a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull with tiny wires who can play video games with his mind,” Musk told several thousand listeners in a Clubhouse chatroom. “You can’t see where the implant is and he’s a happy monkey. We have the nicest monkey facilities in the world. We want them to play mind-Pong with each other.”


This is the richest guy in the world.

5th Gear: The Carlos Ghosn Story Will Never End

The New York Times offered an article yesterday about Hari Nada, a Nissan executive who seemingly dodged a bullet amid former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s downfall.


I recommend you read the article in full but here’s the opening anecdote:

It was the fall of 2018, and Hari Nada, a high-powered Nissan executive, was afraid he might be headed to jail.

Japanese prosecutors, he wrote in a note, were “seriously considering a criminal charge” against him as part of an investigation that would soon lead to the indictment of Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s larger-than-life leader.

Mr. Nada had been instrumental in carrying out the financial maneuvers under investigation. He had also been instrumental in taking evidence of those maneuvers to the authorities in a secret effort to oust Mr. Ghosn.

Now, Mr. Nada worried he would be ensnared in his own trap. His best defense, he wrote in the note summarizing the investigation’s status, was arguing that his cooperation had earned him legal immunity.

The gambit worked. Mr. Nada struck a plea deal, escaping prosecution for his role in one of the biggest corporate scandals in years. He remains an influential executive at Nissan, surviving a shake-up that destroyed other top executives’ careers and rocked a globe-spanning auto alliance.


Reverse: Submarines Are Cars, Too


Neutral: How Are You?

I watched the first two episodes of the HBO documentary about Elizabeth Carmichael last night. I couldn’t recommend it more.