Mercedes Is Back On Top

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Mercedes is once again the top-selling luxury car brand in the U.S., Tesla is mad at the government in Germany, and the Alfa Romeo Tonale. All that and more in The Morning Shift for April 8, 2021.


1st Gear: Mercedes Beat BMW, Audi, And Lexus In The First-Quarter In The U.S.

The increasingly complicated battle for U.S. luxury car sales had a clear winner last year, which was BMW. In the first quarter of 2021, though, Mercedes has found itself on top, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. This is somewhat of a return to form, as Mercedes led for the latter half of the 2010s, though BMW has worn the crown the past two years.

For now, in the first quarter, BMW is third, with Lexus second, and with Audi in a distant fourth with a lot of catching up to do, per Bloomberg:

Mercedes sold 78,256 vehicles in the first three months of 2021, up 16% from a year earlier, led by the GLE sport-utility vehicle and its more-compact sibling, the GLC. Toyota Motor Corp’s luxury Lexus brand outsold BMW for the No. 2 spot, with a 32% jump to 74,253 for the quarter. The Lexus RX and NX SUVs made up more than a third of those sales.

BMW’s sales rose 20% to 71,433 in the first quarter, led by the X3 crossover, which was up 41%.


Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand grew sales 33% to 54,840 vehicles. The Audi Q5 was a top seller, with more than 14,000 sold. The electric e-tron, the German luxury brand’s response to Tesla Inc., more than doubled sales to 3,474.

I’m wondering if Tesla will ever break out its U.S. sales numbers — it currently only gives a global figure — to say, “Actually, we’re the number one luxury brand in the U.S.” For all we know, Tesla might already be on top anyway.

2nd Gear: Tesla Still Can’t Play Nice With Government

Tesla’s attitude has always been “move fast and break things,” a Silicon Valley mantra that is the opposite of my life mantra, which is “move slow and try not to break anything.” You can see Tesla’s approach most clearly when it comes to Tesla’s dealings with the government, like when Tesla defied public health orders early on in the pandemic.


The latest example is how Tesla is getting along in Germany, where it is building a factory to make cars, a factory Tesla hopes to get up and running this year. Except now Tesla is mad that certain approvals are taking so long.

From Bloomberg:

Tesla Inc. slammed Germany’s lengthy approval process for the car factory it’s building near Berlin, saying the country should cut red tape to speed up projects that help fight climate change.

It’s “particularly irritating” that there’s still no clear timeline for final approval of the plant 16 months after Tesla filed its application, the company said in a letter obtained by Bloomberg News. Tesla has almost finished constructing the facility and aims to start production in July.

Tesla has “learned firsthand that obstacles in Germany’s approval processes are slowing down the necessary industrial transformation,” the company said in the letter addressed to a regional court in Berlin. “This discourages necessary investments in clean-energy projects and infrastructure and makes it practically impossible for Germany to achieve its climate goals.”

The government for the state where the plant is being built pushed back against Tesla’s criticism. Authorities aren’t legally allowed to differentiate between seemingly climate-friendly projects and those that may be polluting, a spokeswoman for Brandenburg’s chancellery said by email. The state government has set up a task force to support Tesla’s approval process, she said.


The lack of specifics here makes it a little hard to determine what Tesla’s beef is, but anyone who shouts about government “red tape” is a beat away from being that uncle you avoid at family gatherings.

3rd Gear: Toyota Going Semi-Autonomous In Japan

Toyota has a new Level 2 system there that will be optional in the Lexus LS and the Toyota Mirai in Japan. Toyota has been a bit behind competitors like GM and Tesla, with their Super Cruise and Autopilot systems. To Toyota’s credit, at least its version doesn’t have a stupid or dangerous name.


From Reuters:

The Japanese carmaker’s new driving assist technology, or Advanced Drive, features a level 2 autonomous system that helps driving, such as limiting the car in its lane, maintaining the distance from other vehicles and changing lanes under the driver’s supervision on expressways or other motor-vehicle only roads.

The luxury sedan Lexus LS will be on sale from Thursday, costing between about 16.3 million yen ($148,627.70) and 17.9 million yen, while the second-generation Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car will be offered on April 12 at between 8.4 million and 8.6 million yen.

The new models are Toyota’s first products brought to the market that provide over-the-air updates and utilise AI technology centred on deep learning, said Toyota executive James Kuffner, who is also the head of Toyota’s research unit Woven Planet.


These systems are probably at their best in stop-and-go traffic, since stop-and-go driving is driving at its most tedious and there is little risk of injury if something goes awry since you are going at low speeds. I often wonder why automakers don’t push this aspect of it more.

4th Gear: Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Reportedly Includes $100 Billion In EV Subsidies

President Joe Biden’s vast infrastructure plan, which for now is still just a plan and not law, doesn’t have a whole lot of specifics yet, except in broad strokes. Reuters has seen an email, however, that does include one specific: It will include $100 billion to fund electric car subsidies.

The Biden administration’s $174 billion proposal to boost electric vehicles calls for $100 billion in new consumer rebates and $15 billion to build 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations, according to a Transportation Department email sent to congressional staff and seen by Reuters.

The new EV rebates, part of a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal, would be a potential big boost to U.S. automakers, especially General Motors and Tesla Inc, which no longer qualify for $7,500 rebates after they sold more than 200,000 zero-emission models.


This is interesting in part because it would seemingly bring GM and Tesla back into the mix. A base Tesla Model 3 could soon be under $30,000 should the Biden plan come to be. Really the plan isn’t about specific models or brands but simply getting more EVs on the road. Much more exciting, in this respect, is the proposed charging network.

5th Gear: The Alfa Romeo Tonale Is Delayed

This is apparently because Alfa’s CEO is demanding more power out of the plug-in hybrid electric, which is a very old-school automaker executive demand. The Tonale debuted almost two years ago as a concept, with this website declaring that it “actually looks pretty good.” (It looks fine.)


From Autocar:

The Alfa Romeo Tonale won’t enter production until early in 2022, with its planned launch later this year pushed back by several months.

A report from Automotive News Europe suggests the delay is the result of new CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato demanding better performance from the plug-in hybrid version of the new small SUV.

The Frenchman was put in charge of the brand in January this year following the merger of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) with the PSA Group, creating the new multinational Stellantis.


Reverse: Pirates


I hadn’t realized it had been almost two centuries since an American ship had been captured by pirates. Anyway, Captain Phillips, the movie, is good.

Neutral: How Are You?

It’s strange how we’ve been through over a year of this and yet the final couple of months feels forever.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.


Richard Dawson's Ghost

2nd Gear: I’m sure the German authorities are going to be absolutely thrilled with Tesla low-key threatening them via press release. I’m sure they’ll jump right on expediting that process for King Elon.