Photo: AP
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Nissan intrigue is the gift that keeps on giving, price cuts in China, and Volkswagen is whining about – get this – emissions. This is the Morning Shift for December 18, 2018.

1st Gear: Sacrificed On The Altar Of The Star-Spangled Banner?

Speculating why now-former Nissan-Renault Alliance boss Carlos Ghosn was really arrested is really the best thing we’ve got now that Game of Thrones has been off the air so long we’ve all forgotten about it. Was he whacked because he tried to fully merge Nissan and Renault? Is it just because Nissan, a good company full of nothing but ethicists, caught him taking money out of the till?

Or was it because Ghosn was guilty of the simple crime of loving America too much?

A report from the Wall Street Journal says that Nissan was miffed about huge investments in the United States, without enough investment in Nissan’s home market of Japan:

“The investment in the Japanese market was very weak because there was too much power concentrated in one individual who decided that the Japanese market was less important, and we spent too much money on the U.S.,” Mr. Saikawa said, according to the transcript of a town hall meeting at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, on Nov. 26, days after Mr. Ghosn’s arrest.

“He felt that there was no point investing in Japan where the population was stagnating,” [Nissan CEO Hiroto] Saikawa said based on the transcript, adding that he was now setting about correcting what he described as Mr. Ghosn’s mistakes.

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In fairness to Ghosn, Nissan sales have gone up 75 percent in the U.S. since 2010, as the WSJ points out. And the U.S. is a larger, inherently more lucrative market than Japan is.

But in fairness to Saikawa, the WSJ also points out that a not-insignificant portion of that was helped by Nissan’s incentives and fleet sales. And a lot of Nissans are boring now—they feel more common as rental cars than anything you’d actually want. And what is its brand identity beyond deals and sales advertised during football games?

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So if your next rental car is a sad Nissan Sentra with cloth seats, you can thank Mr. Ghosn for that. And if you want it to go back to being a sad Chevy Malibu with cloth seats, you can send good vibes to Mr. Saikawa, somehow.

Why you want your rental car to be a sad Chevy Malibu, I have no idea. But you live your life.

2nd Gear: This Whole Renault-Nissan Thing Is Getting Really Weird

So, the way the Renault-Nissan alliance works is, Renault has a huge and powerful stake in Nissan, and Nissan has a small and weak stake in Renault, and the power dynamics of that aside for a second, you’d expect everyone to at least publicly act like they’re all chums and it’s a normal business that functions, well, normally.

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You don’t expect, for instance, that the Nissan CEO would be publicly pleading with the board of Renault to please, PLEASE, listen to him about why Nissan got Carlos Ghosn arrested.

But here we are.

From Reuters:

Nissan Motor’s CEO called on directors at alliance partner Renault to heed its reasons for sacking former Chairman Carlos Ghosn over alleged financial misconduct amid tensions over how to handle the fallout from his arrest.

[...]

“We hope the board will listen to our explanation,” Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told reporters after a board meeting of the Japanese carmaker at which it confirmed plans to strengthen corporate governance following the Ghosn crisis.

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Just a normal company doing normal business things.

3rd Gear: The Trade War Isn’t Over But At Least It’s Making Cars In China Cheaper

President Donald Trump’s trade war with China definitely isn’t over, with Trump boasting just yesterday about yet more government handouts to people who are suffering as a result of his policies, but it is resulting in slightly cheaper American-built cars for Chinese consumers (again, from Reuters):

China will temporarily suspend additional 25 percent tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts starting January 1, the finance ministry said on Friday, following a truce in a trade war between China and the United States.

Tesla said on Friday it had cut prices on its Model S and Model X vehicles in China after China’s tariff reduction.

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Mercedes has cut prices on its American-built SUVs in China by about $5,000, the Reuters report says, and BMW’s American-built SUVs will also be getting a slight price cut.

In a few months we’ll find out if that actually results in any increase in sales in China, and whether or not that will actually help American factory workers.

In the meantime, government cheese for those who live in rural areas will presumably continue.

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4th Gear: Volkswagen Is Whining About Emissions Standards, Again

Volkswagen, the company with the least leg to stand on in the entire world to complain about emissions standards, is complaining about emissions standards. The European Union has come out with a bunch of new rules governing how much stuff comes out of a car’s tailpipe, and the rules are simply TOO MUCH, Volkswagen said in a statement to the Financial Times:

New emission targets from the European Union will be so difficult to meet that Volkswagen, the world’s largest maker of cars, said its €30bn effort to roll out electric vehicles in the next five years will not be sufficient.

The German parent of Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and other brands said it will have to accelerate its shift into electric vehicles and may even need to end certain combustion models to meet the targets agreed in Brussels on Monday night.

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I am not crying for Volkswagen. You should not cry for Volkswagen. No car company has ever been driven entirely out of business by a dental plan for its workers, nor by progressively tighter emissions standards. Car companies are only driven out of business by inflexibility, corporate mismanagement and the occasional economic downturn.

Volkswagen will meet the targets, and it will be fine. In a few years it will also be complaining about the even newer and even tighter emissions regulations.

You can ignore those complaints, too.

5th Gear: NUNCHUCKS NOW LEGAL IN NEW YORK

Okay, I will freely admit that this has absolutely nothing to do with cars, but the end of the year is slow news for cars. And for some reason I suspect the demographic of the readership of this website strongly overlaps with the demographic of the people interested in this sort of news from the Washington Post:

Back in 1974, New York state decided to ban the possession of nunchucks as lawmakers feared they were becoming enticing tools of violence among hooligan children and street criminals who were exposed to the weapons on TV. They were so dangerous, lawmakers believed, that not even karate teachers could keep them in a locker at home.

But while being dangerous might have been a good enough reason then, it doesn’t cut it anymore, as a federal judge ruled Friday.

In a 32-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen struck down New York’s nunchuck ban as unconstitutional, finding that nunchucks are protected under the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

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Everyone who lives in New York should now celebrate by running to New Jersey, grabbing a sweet, sweet pair of nunchucks off the wall of the nearest dojo, and running back to New York for some sick nunchuck action.

Just like the plaintiff in the case would want you to:

James Maloney, who is also a lawyer, had been arrested for possessing nunchucks at home in 2000. Since 2003, while representing himself, he has argued that the law prevented him from teaching his children specialized karate moves that he invented, involving use of the nunchucks. He called his style “Shafan Ha Lavan.”

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I, too, will teach my children special karate moves, that I have invented, using nunchucks.

Reverse: The First-Ever Land Speed Record

We love to talk about the land speed record now, but there had to be a first one. The first benchmark. The first speed record, before all the other speed records.

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That one was set 120 years ago today, in an electric car made by Jeantaud. The Jeantaud went 39 mph.

Neutral: What Other Company Loves A Specific Country Too Much?

I would say BMW, which loves Germany too much. Or rather, it loves German roads too much. A lot of BMWs nowadays have this huge wheels and skinny little run-flat tires, which leads to many a flat and broken rim from our horrible American roads. Bring back big sidewalls.