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Tesla is more valuable than Boeing, Ford is rethinking its Europe strategy, and the guy behind the Chevy Volt got a new job at BMW. All of that and more in The Morning Shift for Thursday, March 12, 2020.

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1st Gear: Tesla Stock Is Down A Bit From Its Recent Tear But

It is still trading very highly, giving it a market capitalization of $107 billion as of this morning, or about $15 billion more than Boeing, which had been America’s most valuable industrial company.

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This story is more about Boeing falling rather than Tesla rising, though, since in addition to the deadly 737 MAX ordeal investors are also worried that Boeing will take a hit long-term as coronavirus makes global travel less appealing or, in many cases, simply not allowed.

From Bloomberg:

Tesla shares have surged 52% this year following two straight quarters of better-than-expected earnings. The company surpassed Volkswagen AG by market value for the first time in January to become the No. 2 automaker in the world by that measure, trailing only Toyota Motor Corp.

Boeing is meanwhile struggling with dwindling cash, a battered reputation and government probes of the Max debacle. The manufacturer is planning to draw down the full amount of a $13.8 billion loan as early as Friday as it grapples with worldwide travel disruptions springing from the virus, people familiar with the matter said.

CEO Dave Calhoun’s efforts to emerge from one of the worst crises in Boeing’s history sustained a fresh blow Wednesday when Air Canada reduced an order for the Max by 18%, or by 11 jets. The grounding of the plane will reach the one-year mark on March 13.

People who trade stocks are making both short- and long-term plays here, as always. One play, of course, is that this whole situation will get markedly worse and it holds that global travel really tanks and airlines stop buying jets from Boeing. But for now, this feels a bit reactionary since it seems unlikely that the majority of us will stop flying places on any kind of permanent basis.

Still! It’s a strange new world.

2nd Gear: Ford Is Closing Down A Lot Of Dealers In Europe

Dozens (maybe hundreds?) will be shuttered to boost the company’s profitability there, according to Automotive News. A lot of the closed ones are in the United Kingdom.

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In the process, it appears that Ford has discovered what we call “the internet,” or “the world wide web,” or also “cyberspace,” though Ford Europe might be more familiar with the term “infobahn.”

Anyway, here’s Automotive News:

The overhaul of Ford’s European distribution network will include an accelerated shift toward online sales in reaction to changes in consumer demand.

“The retail world is changing,” [Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley] said. “We think over time we will have fewer [dealer] owners and fewer physical sites.”

The roll out of Ford’s online sales system in Europe will coincide with the launch of the Mustang Mach-E electric crossover, which arrives later this year.

“All of us now expect to transact much more online,” Rowley said. “Customers want to be able to order their vehicle online. They want to pay for it online. They want a single interface.”

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In all seriousness, this is smart, though I’m surprised it’s 2020 and Ford hasn’t done this sooner. I don’t know anyone, personally, who has ever walked into a dealership and said, “I’ll take one car please,” though that has always been on my bucket list.

3rd Gear: The Chevy Volt Guy Got A Promotion At BMW

Frank Weber was the global chief engineer over the Volt project while he was at GM, eventually rising to become a vice president at Opel. That career trajectory does not sound as if at the end of it you might find yourself on the board of BMW, but nothing really makes sense anymore.

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Weber made it to BMW all the way back in 2011, but has now moved up, as Automotive News reports:

BMW Group has appointed Frank Weber, a German engineer who oversaw the development of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, to its management board, where he will be responsible for research and development.

Weber, 53, will start in his new post on July 1, replacing Klaus Froehlich, who is due to retire as he will reach the age of 60, the cutoff limit for top executives at the company, BMW said.

The move to appoint Weber highlights BMW’s push into electromobility. By 2023, the company wants to have 25 electrified vehicles in its range, more than half of which will be fully electric.

Weber, a native of Wiesbaden who received his university diploma in mechanical engineering, is the third new board member at BMW Group since Oliver Zipse became CEO in August.

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BMW’s big electrification push will be interesting to watch, since a large part of it is driven by European emissions regulations. How many of these cars will be ... good?

4th Gear: American Auto Sales Could Tank This Year

An analyst at Morgan Stanley predicted Wednesday that about 15.5 million cars will be sold in the U.S. in 2020, or 1.5 million lower than the 17 million that sold in the U.S. last year, according to Bloomberg.

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Most people had already expected sales to dip, but a dip below 16 million would be significant, if not terribly surprising given that automakers are phasing out cheaper, higher-volume cars in favor of expensive trucks and SUVs that many consumers simply can’t afford, in addition to everything else going on.

“Lower consumer sentiment will mean consumers may put off the purchase of expensive consumer discretionary purchases such as a ~$35k new car,” [analyst Adam Jonas] wrote.

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5th Gear: We’ll Probably Get Our First Look At A Post-Coronavirus World In China

Car factories in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first reported, are expected to reopen this week, though Reuters says they may not have raw materials to work with. Or even workers.

“In some cities, one worker gets infected, the whole factory where he works needs to be shut down,” said one official at Honda Motor Co, which has a manufacturing hub and more than 100 suppliers in Wuhan and the surrounding area.

“In Wuhan, that has not been clarified,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to your factory until you report an infection case to authorities. It’s hard to live with that kind of uncertainty when you’re running a massive factory.”

[...]

Honda is expecting to reopen its Wuhan hub this week, after the lockdown is lifted or whenever authorities allow it. Together, Honda’s two China hubs have the capacity to produce 1.2 million vehicles a year, or more than 20% of the company’s total global production.

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The plant reopenings in China will probably give us a preview as to how things will look elsewhere in the world after coronavirus cancellations stop and things start to get going again. And that preview seems to be more chaos, if a bit more informed version.

Reverse: Happy Birthday Johnny Rutherford

Here’s a delightful story about him after he won his first of three Indy 500s in 1974.

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Neutral: Coronavirus?

Nevermind, I’m tired of hearing and talking about coronavirus. But stay safe out there! Our own office is in Times Square, I’m sure that’s not a dangerous place to be amidst a global pandemic at all.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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