Not Even A Pandemic Will Stop American Demand For Trucks

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Photo: Ram

America’s heartland needs all the trucks, a Ford plant is getting a visitor, and Ultra Cruise. All that and more in The Morning Shift for May 21, 2020.

1st Gear: We Need The Trucks

It could make sense for some people to swap out whatever they are driving now with an expensive new truck, especially if they are resigned to car payments forever and, thanks to pandemic-related deals and discounts, they can get something new and their payment will stay largely the same.


That said! Middle America’s insatiable need for big trucks remains kind of nuts.

Via Reuters:

Still, far from the lockdowns of states like New York, Michigan or Ohio, dealerships like Stew Hansen have provided FCA and Detroit rivals General Motors Co (GM.N) and Ford Motor Co (F.N) a rare bright spot: strong sales of pickup trucks in America’s heartland.

Overall U.S. sales of cars and light trucks crashed to the weakest pace in 50 years last month. But sales of big Detroit brand pickups, particularly in southern and western states less affected by the outbreak, significantly outperformed the market, industry executives and analysts said.


Demand for large pickups “is running incredibly strong,” Ford U.S. sales and marketing chief Mark LaNeve said. Large pickups accounted for 21% of all U.S. vehicle sales in April, up from an average monthly proportion of 13% to 14%.

At Stew Hansen in Urbandale, Jerry Bill said thanks to discounts, customers have been able to get a $55,000 Ram truck for $44,000. That has encouraged some to switch out of SUVs or cars into newer truck models kitted out more like luxury vehicles than the workhorse trucks of old.


Dealers quoted in this story are, at this point, worried more about replenishing inventory than having overstock. Nature is healing, etc.

2nd Gear: Bad Time For Ford!

Workers already tested positive for COVID-19 at two different plants on the week of the Big Three going back to work, shutting down its Dearborn Truck Plant and Chicago Assembly Plant. In news that isn’t completely surprising, Ford’s protocols for getting back to work didn’t initially catch the workers’ cases.


From Automotive News:

The affected employees in Chicago worked at the SHO Center, named for the Taurus SHO performance sedan that used to be built in Chicago, which sits about a mile from the main plant. Workers there sequence the parts that go into the Explorer and Aviator crossovers.

The Chicago and Dearborn employees had made it through Ford’s temperature scanner and daily health survey screening process. It was not immediately clear how Ford became aware they were sick or where they were tested for the virus.

In both cases, Ford notified people known to have interacted or been in close contact with the infected individuals and asked them to self-quarantine for 14 days. The company deep-cleaned the Chicago employees’ work stations and equipment and will do the same in Dearborn Truck.


The work stoppage in Chicago was also related to a parts shortage, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The work stoppage came after a Lear Corp. LEA -0.08% factory in nearby Hammond, Ind., that makes seats for the Ford factory idled its assembly lines, people familiar with the matter said.


3rd Gear: It’s A Good Thing Ford Has No Other Distractions In This Trying Time

It would be a bad time, for example, for our president to pay a visit. What would that accomplish anyway, except a photo op for the White House? The guy doesn’t even wear a mask, making himself a danger to everyone surrounding him. Surely Ford has better things to do than welcome a potential walking pathogen into one of its factories. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, as Automotive News notes:

Ford issued a statement Sunday saying the White House had asked to tour its plant and that it would welcome Trump as part of its “longstanding history of hosting sitting presidents.” On Tuesday, it backed off from insisting that all visitors wear a mask, saying it will let Trump and his staff decide what they want to do.

Trump’s [visit on Thursday] to Ford’s factory in Ypsilanti, Mich., less than 40 miles southwest of Detroit, follows trips to an Arizona respirator-making plant and Pennsylvania medical-equipment facility. He went mask-less during visits to both of the electoral battleground states.



4th Gear: Meanwhile, At Tesla

The company told workers they could stay home until May 31 if they were worried about getting coronavirus. Are they getting paid for this time at home? Nope! That’s... perhaps not the strongest incentive to look after your health.


From a Bloomberg wire report, not yet online that I can see:

Tesla Inc. will give workers at its U.S. car and battery plants the ability to take unpaid leave through the end of the month if they’re wary of returning to work, according to an internal memo.

The electric-vehicle maker announced the provision along with plans to reinstate its attendance policy starting Friday. Employees who are concerned they might expose an at-risk member of their household can sign and submit a document to take leave until May 31, Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla’s head of North American human resources, wrote in the memo viewed by Bloomberg News.


This is, as the story says, unpaid leave, so let’s not pretend this policy is in any way worker-friendly. It is merely a guarantee that you will have a job at the end of your leave, which is about the least Tesla can do.

5th Gear: Ultra Cruise!

GM is planning to fight Tesla’s Autopilot with something called Ultra Cruise, which is like Super Cruise but more ultra, according to The Detroit News.

[Global product development chief Doug Parks] says Ultra Cruise — an internal GM name for now — aims to expand Super Cruise’s highway autonomy to all roads.

“Super Cruise is about all highways all the time and increased capability. The downside is when you get off the (highway) you don’t have it,” Park told the symposium. “What Ultra Cruise (is) trying to do is take that same capability off the highway. So Ultra Cruise would be all the Super Cruise plus neighborhoods, cities, subdivisions. We’re not saying Ultra Cruise will be fully autonomous 100% of the time, although that could be one of the end games.”


The year 2023 seems to be the vague date attached to when we can expect this, though I would think of that as extremely tentative. And Ultra Cruise is an internal name for now, though I hope GM sticks with it, so reminiscent of Nintendo as it is.

Reverse: [Fist Emoji]


Neutral: Are You In The Market For A Brand-New Truck Right Now?

If so, why? Genuine question!