Photo: AP

Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: This Would’ve Been Helpful Some Time Ago, Bob

Diesel is in trouble. We can primarily thank Volkswagen’s global cheating scandal for this, but more and more automakers look like they were greasing emissions tests or just running up against regulations in some way or another. As a result demand for diesel is dropping off, even in its strongest traditional markets like Europe. On top of that, cities are cracking down on the fuel by proposing outright diesel bans within urban centers. It’s no wonder the car companies are rushing toward electrics instead.

But a lot of jobs depend on diesel, and in the case of the Volkswagen Group, losing the fuel entirely would mean sacrificing significant investments. So VW must be thrilled that supplier Robert Bosch GmbH—yes, the one tied to its own emissions scandal, and often the common denominator in the other ones—says it has the tech that can save diesel.

Via Bloomberg:

“This breakthrough offers the opportunity to shift the heated debate over diesel into new territory and, hopefully, bring it to a close,” Bosch Chief Executive Officer Volkmar Denner said Wednesday at a press conference outside Stuttgart.

[...] Bosch’s new process optimizes thermal management of exhaust temperatures, slashing nitrogen oxide emissions to one-tenth of the legally permitted limit, and doesn’t require new hardware, Denner said. The system keeps emissions stable even at cold temperatures, he said.

“With this new exhaust technology, blanket driving bans in the centers of the world’s major cities will no longer be an issue. Why? Because we now have the technology to resolve the problem of nitrogen oxides in road traffic,” Denner said.

He said the company is prohibiting technology that recognizes test cycles and its products aren’t allowed to be optimized for test situations any more. Regulators have stepped up efforts to narrow the gap between official emission labels based on lab tests and real driving emissions.

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Great, cool. We can all agree efficiency and innovation are good. But I wonder if it’s too little, too late for diesel. VW’s stopped selling entirely in the U.S., as has Mercedes, and even the Europeans are opting for gasoline cars more and more instead.

Hey, diesel’s had a great run. But it may be time for automakers and suppliers to look to the electric future instead.

2nd Gear: A ‘Horse To Cars’ Moment In China

We are on the precipice of great transformation in the automotive industry, tied to electrification and autonomy—and driven not by the United States but the world’s largest and most important car market, China. That’s from one of the smarter guys in this industry, Aston Martin’s Andy Palmer. Here’s him at the ongoing Beijing Auto Show about how Aston keeps up with that, via Bloomberg:

“This whole show is revolving around what they call new energy vehicles, but Chinese policy is very much driving the move towards electric cars and certainly Aston has to go with that flow,” Palmer told Bloomberg Television in an interview at the Beijing auto show on Wednesday. “We’re probably in the biggest change in the automotive industry since we moved from horse to car.”

President Xi Jinping’s administration is implementing production quotas for new-energy vehicles, targeting a seven-fold increase in NEV sales and considering a ban on gas guzzlers as China tries to reduce emission in smog-choked cities and cut its reliance on imported oil. Conventional manufacturing giants from Volkswagen AG to General Motors Co. are scrambling to gain a lead in the race for the future, competing with a slew of small startups.

China also plans to ease a 50 percent limit on investment by foreign automaker in what has become the world’s biggest car market, paving the way for more partnerships and deals, even as domestic makers eye the European and U.S. markets.

China is “also changing the tax structure and significantly reducing what they call a luxury tax on expensive cars, and that will drive growth,” Palmer said. “That saving gets passed on to the customer and that means their cars become more affordable.”

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What matters now is how the rest of the world will follow.

3rd Gear: Going Four-Door May Have Saved The Jeep Wrangler

It is hard to imagine a world where the Jeep Wrangler doesn’t exist, but its current sales success and status as a cash cow for Fiat Chrysler was greatly helped by a decision made with the last-generation JK Wrangler—the addition of a four-door model.

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It wasn’t always that way, though. As the last-ever JK Wrangler roll off the assembly line this week—its replacement is already on sale—Automotive News recounts the story of its birth, and what the four-door model meant:

It’s also remarkable to recall that when the 2007 Wrangler Unlimited arrived, its popularity was about half that of the traditional two-door, short-wheelbase Wrangler. Early on, assembly workers here built a pair of two-doors for every four-door produced. Now production of the four-door versions outnumber the two-doors by more than 2-to-1.

Before the arrival of the JK, the Wrangler — and the CJs before it — sloshed around in kind of a fixed sales range year to year, not really venturing too far from 70,000 units a year. Though it had the longest pedigree of any Jeep, its heavy off-road niche limited Wrangler’s usefulness to a narrow consumer demographic. Adding the two extra doors, as well as other long-overdue product improvements, made the Wrangler a passable daily driver for a whole new range of potential customers, and thrust a plant intended to produce a maximum of 160,000 units a year into overdrive, cranking out 230,000 units a year or more just to keep up with domestic demand and largely without incentives.

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But those new customers also wanted something a bit more refined, or at least not as miserable to drive at highway speeds. That led to some of the improvements we see on the new one. Rest in power, JK Wrangler.

4th Gear: The Lexus ES Is In Midlife Crisis Mode

Like that time your dad brought a Harley-Davidson or a Corvette home without telling your mom, the staid Lexus ES has decided it wants to be cool, man. It was to be awesome and rad. So the all-new one is billed as having a new focus on “performance”, probably in part because it’s also replacing the rear-wheel drive GS sedan. From Automotive News:

Lexus unveiled the 2019 Lexus ES, which goes on sale in September, at the Beijing auto show Wednesday. Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury marque said the car’s latest iteration will be lower, wider, longer than the outgoing version to “reflect newfound performance capabilities.”

Lexus aims to stoke enthusiasm for the nameplate by offering an F Sport edition equipped with a rear spoiler, adaptive variable suspension, an additional performance-geared drive mode and sound enhancement for a more spirited engine rumble.

The ES F Sport also gets special badging and new metallic cabin trim.

Uh-huh. We’ll take one to the track and see.

5th Gear: Feds Widen Probe Into Braking And Airbag Problems

Via The Detroit Free Press:

The U.S. government’s highway safety agency is expanding three investigations for brake and air bag troubles that could affect more than 2.3 million vehicles from Ford, Volkswagen and Nissan.

The expansions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were announced Monday and over the weekend on the agency’s website after investigators found more consumer complaints about the problems.

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The cars include Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln MKZ, eight Volkswagen models and the Nissan Murano. If you own these cars, you may want to get them checked out.

History: RIP Alboreto

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Reverse: Let Diesel Die Or Nah?

Is it too little, too late for diesel? Or is it worth it for Bosch, and probably VW, to give this a shot?