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: The Machines Come To Pittsburgh
Ride-hailing service Uber dreams of a day when it won’t have to pay pesky humans to shuttle college kids around, and so it’s making one of the biggest pushes into autonomous commercial transportation we’ve seen yet.
That starts today in Pittsburgh with a fleet of four Ford Fusions equipped with GPS, 3D cameras, and LIDAR to drive around autonomously, although they have human minders who intervene in various situations. For now. Soon, a fleet of Volvo XC90s will be added as well.
Here’s Reuters’ take after a ride-along:
The cars do drive themselves, but during Reuters’ ride-along, the Uber driver in the front seat took control, according to company protocol, to allow pedestrians to cross the street, maneuver through a construction zone and make a left turn across traffic at an intersection. An Uber engineer sat in the passenger seat, occasionally adjusting the speed of the car, which mostly drove slowly.
[...] Pittsburgh in particular poses challenges. The city is full of steep and narrow streets, potholes, tunnels and more than 440 bridges. It has snow and ice in the winter, blossoming trees that can hide street signs and traffic signals in the spring, blinding sun in the summer and a slippery ground cover of fallen leaves in the autumn.
“We really feel that Pittsburgh is the double black diamond of driving,” said Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center.
This will be the first introduction to self-driving cars that many people have, the news wire reports.
Hey, Pittsburgh people: if any of you catch a ride in one of these Ubers, email us and tell us what it was like at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2nd Gear: Volkswagen May Not Bring Back Diesels At All
Since the diesel cheating scandal broke almost a year ago, Volkswagen hasn’t been permitted to sell its oil-burners in the U.S. While a settlement with owners is underway, we still don’t know what the “fix” is yet. Presumably those unsold cars will get fixed so they can be moved off dealer lots.
After that, well, this could be the end of diesel from VW in America entirely, reports the Wall Street Journal:
The head of Volkswagen AG’s North American operations indicated the German auto maker is uncertain when or if it will bring diesel engines back to the U.S. car and light-truck market.
Hinrich Woebcken said on Monday U.S. emissions regulations are tightening, making it more difficult for light-vehicle diesel engines to legally meet requirements. For now, the company will focus on gasoline-powered vehicles and a gradual roll out of hybrid-electric and all electric cars.
The company isn’t selling diesel-powered vehicles in the wake of its high-profile emissions scandal, which became public nearly a year ago. Mr. Woebcken said sales of non-diesels have exceeded Volkswagen’s expectations, even though it has lost U.S. market share due to the company’s reliance on diesels that are no longer sold here.
He said the company will evaluate the potential for a return of its diesel vehicles to the U.S. on a “product by product and package by package” basis. The technology, which requires extensive and costly treatment to meet emissions standards, remains popular in Europe, he said.
None of that is surprising.
3rd Gear: We’ll Finally See The Panamera Wagon Next Year
In 2012, Porsche unveiled the Panamera Sport Turismo Concept, which was the Panamera wagon we all dream about when we go to sleep at night. Despite looking about 1000 percent better than the last-gen Panamera sedan, it never materialized. And we were sad.
But now! Porsche has said repeatedly that this new Panamera will get a wagon variant, and that it will come to the U.S., and that it will debut at the Geneva Motor Show next spring. We are truly blessed. Via Bloomberg:
The Panamera wagon would compete with the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake to appeal to a rare breed of buyer seeking a mix of luxury and practicality. The new Porsche is set to be based partly on the Sport Turismo design concept that the Volkswagen AG unit showed at the Paris motor show in 2012. Porsche declined to comment.
The brand, which nearly went bust in the 1990s, has been enjoying record demand in recent years based on a strategy of building off the cache of the 911 with models more suited to everyday driving. Broadening the Panamera’s appeal is part of an expansion plan that also includes Porsche’s first all-electric sports car by 2020. The sporty marque’s profit is vital for Volkswagen as it retools to absorb the roughly 18 billion euros ($20 billion) in costs for the emissions-cheating scandal.
Will it sell?
It’s questionable to what extent a wagon version will help. The body style is mainly popular in Europe, while in the U.S. and China, Porsche’s biggest markets, customers who want space and luxury tend to opt for upscale sport utility vehicles, such as Porsche’s Cayenne and Macan. Still, the costs to develop such a derivative are moderate, and Mercedes has enjoyed success by reeling in new buyers with the wagon version of the CLS.
I cannot wait to buy it used in 25 years.
4th Gear: Preparing For The Future Is Expensive
Ford said it expects profits to decline somewhat next year as it prepares to rebound in 2018. Part of this is retooling for upcoming costs, like self-driving car technology, which Ford officials say will make up 20 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030. Ambitious or crazy? Via The Detroit News:
The Dearborn automaker believes autonomy will play a key role in its future, but in the short term, it expects financial results will drop in 2017 before rising again in 2018 as it continues to invest in new opportunities.
“As we expand to be an auto and a mobility company, we’re not moving from an ‘old’ business to a ‘new’ business. We’re moving to a bigger business,” President and CEO Mark Fields said in a statement. “The world is moving from simply owning vehicles to owning and sharing them. That’s why we are expanding to sell more vehicles and provide transportation services at the same time.”
Ford stock closed Tuesday at $12.38 a share and in pre-market trading was down about 1.2 percent Wednesday.
5th Gear: GM Beats Tesla On Scale
The 238-mile electric Chevrolet Bolt is getting a lot of attention lately (FYI, Jalopnik was not invited to drive it because Chevy is still mad I stuffed that Camaro into a wall last year) and a lot of speculation on whether it could “beat” Tesla. It’s a very different product for sure, but when it comes to mass production of affordable EVs, as Tesla wants to do with the Model 3, General Motors has some clear advantages in terms of scale. Via The New York Times:
Most of G.M.’s advantages come down to size and operational efficiency. Tesla has had to build a huge factory to produce the Model 3’s batteries at scale. G.M. batteries are being outsourced to the electronics giant LG Chem. Tesla has had to retool a car-making facility in Fremont, Calif., for its own purposes, while G.M. is tapping into its existing production system.
At the company’s Orion Assembly plant outside of Detroit, I saw Bolts on the same line as gas-powered Chevy Sonics and Buick Veranos. Robots and workers seamlessly shifted between the Bolt and more traditional cars as if nothing was different.
Finally, G.M. enjoys the regulatory advantage of producing a fleet. Because the high-mileage, zero-emission Bolt helps the company stay under the federal government’s fuel-economy standards, it perversely allows G.M. to keep selling more profitable, gas-guzzling cars, like the Tahoe S.U.V. As a result, G.M. could lose money on each Bolt and still find the overall project valuable to its bottom line.
That story is worth a read in full.
Reverse: Affectations Can Be Dangerous
Neutral: Ride-Hailing Or Consumer Cars?
Which deployment of autonomous technology will catch on first: ride-hailing vehicles, or putting them on cars people can buy?