Photo: Ram
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Ram keeps dominating, Tesla shares are up, and Rivian. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 3, 2019.

1st Gear: Ram Is Ramming

Ram? Ram!

It was only a few weeks ago when we noted that the Chevy Silverado wasn’t doing so great. The latest sales numbers confirm that trend and also portend a dark future for Silverado, but an extremely bright one for Ram, which is now firmly number two behind the F-150, which has been number one for over four decades.

From Bloomberg:

Ram’s pickup model deliveries soared 56% to 68,098 units, approaching the level of monthly sales typically reached only by Ford Motor Co.’s F-Series, the top-selling vehicle line in America for almost four decades. Ram powered a 1.9% increase in total deliveries for Fiat Chrysler, the only major automaker to boost sales and beat estimates.

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The change has been stark, as the Silverado used to ship more than 150,000 more units than the Ram, and now it’s down over 20,000. Typically, buyers of said trucks tend to stick with whatever brand they bought last time. We all have been forced into conversations with people wanting to talk about the virtues of Ford vs Chevy vs Ram vs Toyota vs Nissan. (Just kidding, usually it’s just Ford vs Chevy.)

But that conversation has actually shifted in recent times, beyond the boring debates over styling or perceived toughness.

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From The Detroit Free Press:

“I’ve had more people call me looking at Ram for the 12-inch infotainment screen or looking at GMC for the MultiPro tailgate,” said Gilchrist, dealer operator of Gilchrist Automotive in Dallas-Fort Worth. “It’s the most I’ve seen people willing to jump from brand to brand and it’s for these unique features rather than the payload and towing ability.”

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What’s going on here? Here’s Bloomberg again:

The story behind the Ram pickup’s emergence is more than just 12-inch touch screens and fancier leather seats. Fiat Chrysler has been flooring it with a two-pronged approach to winning market share. First, it’s continuing to manufacture the cheaper Ram Classic — a bare-bones version of its truck built on an older platform — through at least the end of this year, in tandem with the 2019 model year pickups decked out with higher-tech touches.

And Fiat Chrysler has been heaping healthy discounts on both models. It switched from offering a fixed rebate amount to a percentage discount off sticker prices in June, Burch said.

“You have a discounted Ram Classic and a very competitive Ram,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive. “I anticipated a big month, but not this big.”

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The discounts are key, but make no mistake, this is all very bad for Chevy.

2nd Gear: BMW Is Beating Mercedes in the US Handily

And the margins keep widening. Like Ram and Silverado, this is a changing of the guard. BMW, I think, has been slightly savvier about marketing its products here, with a lineup that is somewhat more varied than Mercedes and a bit easier to understand for the non-connoisseur.

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Per Bloomberg:

Deliveries jumped 7.5% last month to 31,627, paced by the diminutive X3 crossover and three-row X7 sport utility vehicle. While BMW sales dipped 1.1% at the half-year mark, the brand built a lead over Mercedes of more than 9,000 units.

Sales for Mercedes, which held the luxury crown the past three years, were little changed in June from a year ago at 26,196 units, leaving the Daimler division down 7.2% in the first half. Deliveries plunged more than 30% for both the C-Class sedan and GLS crossover.

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Choosing between the two, from a consumer perspective, is mostly splitting hairs, though I’m sure Mercedes, like Chevy, are having emergency meetings at this very moment.

3rd Gear: Rivian

The electric truck maker has attracted investments from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Ford, but has not actually produced a vehicle yet. It hopes to do so by 2020, and the perfunctory New York Times profile of its (slightly weirdo) founder has been published. That would be R.J. Scaringe, who has an engineering doctorate from MIT.

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His company—first called Mainstream Motors and launched in 2009—was in the beginning a failure.

Mr. Scaringe and a small team worked for two and a half years to create a fuel-efficient sports car, but he ultimately pulled the plug in 2011. “In my heart and soul, I knew I wasn’t answering the fundamental question of why the world needs this company to be successful,” he said.

It was a painful moment. At one point, the team had worked through four nights in a row, said Roman Mistiuk, now a senior interior designer at Rivian. “When the vehicle was done, R.J. said we’re switching.”

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Instead they are now building an SUV and a truck, both electric. Much like Tesla, these cars will be aimed at a certain audience.

Rivian’s R1S S.U.V. bears a resemblance to a Range Rover, while the flatbed in its R1T pickup is shorter than the best-selling Ford F-150’s. “Rivian’s products are not really meant to be work trucks,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst with IHS. “They aim to be lifestyle products, capable but meant for recreational use.”

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You should read the whole profile, though, and, don’t sleep on the details.

Much like what he is building, Mr. Scaringe is in constant motion, splitting his time between the company’s engineering headquarters in Plymouth, the factory in Normal and two other offices in Irvine and San Jose in California.

That leaves little time for him to spend with his wife and three sons, the oldest of whom is 3. “Rivian is 100 percent minus family,” Mr. Scaringe said, estimating that his wife and children get 5 percent of his time.

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4th Gear: French Police Search Renault’s Headquarters

This is all, of course, related to the continued fallout from the apparent whacking of former Renault and Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn. This latest development is related to Ghosn’s use of Versailles for his 2016 wedding.

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Per Reuters:

L’Express magazine reported earlier on Wednesday that the search was being carried out in relation to Ghosn, who faces charges of misconduct. Ghosn has denied any wrongdoing and has been released on bail.

L’Express added that French authorities were probing a wedding reception party held at the Chateau de Versailles in 2016 to mark the wedding of Ghosn to his second wife Carole, and a judicial source confirmed those elements to Reuters.

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If you’re rich, maybe just try to lie low.

5th Gear: Tesla Stock Rises After Deliveries Beat Expectations

Tesla delivered 95,200 cars in the second quarter of this year, a record for them. Its stock is now up as a result.

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From Bloomberg:

Tesla shares jumped as much as 7.1% during U.S. pre-market hours. The stock had fallen 33% for the year through the end of regular trading in New York on Tuesday, in part due to demand concerns that the company’s billionaire chief executive officer has repeatedly disputed.

While the results go a long way toward contradicting Tesla’s doubters, it remains to be seen whether this level of demand is sustainable — or profitable. The $3,750 U.S. federal tax credit buyers were eligible for was cut by half beginning July 1, and deliveries tailed off the last time the incentive shrank. Musk also has said the company will post a loss for the quarter, then report positive earnings in the second half.

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Short-term stock rises like this rarely mean anything, and Tesla still has a lot of problems it needs to solve in the long-term, so take this news for what it’s worth.

Reverse: Sebastian Vettel Was Born!

Who doesn’t love the four-time Formula One champion? How could you ever forget this:

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Or this:

Neutral: What Got You to Switch Brands?

If you are a brand loyalist, that is. I have a certain kind of respect for brand loyalty but also firmly believe that variety is the spice of life, etc.