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: ‘Lotus Resurrection’ Is Also My Band’s Name
Lotus, a car company that somehow still exists and which I unabashedly love, has not been great at being a car company. For the past few years it’s just churned out increasingly more special editions of already special cars, and it looked like it was going to do that until either a global nuclear holocaust or its own inevitable death. Either one was pretty likely.
But then Lotus got bought by the bottomless pockets of Geely, and it started talking big. Real big. Like “oh yeah, we’re TOTALLY gonna take on Porsche” big. Really just crazy talk. And now, thanks to an interview that CEO Jean-Marc Gales gave to Automotive News, we know how:
Lotus has revealed plans for two new sports cars that are set to arrive in 2020. They are the first models announced since the U.K. automaker was bought by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group last year.
Lotus has also started work on its first SUV, CEO Jean-Marc Gales told Automotive News Europe. He said the SUV would arrive one to two years after the sports cars.
Oh sure, two sports cars and and SUV, all in the next four years. That makes sense. (For those keeping score, that was me, over here, being a snarky blogger. Three new cars in four years? For Lotus? That’s crazy talk!!!!!!!) But maybe it isn’t crazy talk, what with Geely’s bottomless pockets and all. That magic ingredient has done wonders for Volvo.
Where it gets really crazy, though, is the car Lotus plans on building as one of those two sports cars:
This car is likely be positioned above the Evora and will be aimed at customers wanting a more extreme driving experience. Gales said it will be closest to the 3-11, but road legal.
“It will be something similar but much more civilized, because the 3-11 is pretty raw,” he said.
The Lotus 3-Eleven, which you can see above, isn’t just “pretty raw.” It’s a track-day special that lets you cover up where a passenger is supposed to sit. It has no roof. It’s wonderful and awesome and good, and that (and the fact that it’s not road legal in the US) is why you’ve never seen one in person. Because no one wants it.
It knows how to “come original”, that is for sure!
So it’s absurd that Lotus wants to beat Porsche in part by building a car that’s “similar” to the 3-Eleven, even if it is for people who are slightly more human.
But Gales went on to say that that Lotus is planning on hiring 300 people, that the company was cash-flow positive in 2017 and is expected to be profitable in 2018, with revenues up 24 percent, and sales up 13 percent. So what the hell do I know?
2nd Gear: Now Bosch Employees Are Being Investigated Over Dieselgate
Dieselgate has been incredibly complicated, and its effects aren’t just being felt at Volkswagen. Investigations have spread to other automakers, including Fiat Chrysler, and now, they’re going to individual employees at suppliers, Reuters reports:
The Stuttgart prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday two employees of auto supplier Robert Bosch were being investigated on suspicion of aiding fraud, as part of a wider probe into Chrysler diesel emissions in the United States.
The Chrysler Grand Cherokee 3.0 L and the Chrysler Dodge Ram 1500, which have been on sale in the United States since 2014, had shown signs of reduced effectiveness of emissions control systems without technical justification, the office said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January 2017 accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI) of using hidden software to allow excessive diesel emissions to go undetected, leaving FCA facing a maximum fine of around $4.6 billion.
“Reduced effectiveness of emissions control systems without technical justification” is the most possibly German way to describe “cheating on tests.”
3rd Gear: Ford Starts To Feel The Slow Sales Burn
Everyone thinks that car sales will be slow in 2018, including Ford. And that means that the first cuts are being felt, starting with the possibility of Ford’s credit rating getting dinged, Bloomberg says:
Moody’s changed its rating outlook on Ford to negative from stable, citing “a more challenging operating environment” as new Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett seeks to get the 114-year-old automaker back in shape. Dubbed a “fitness redesign,” the turnaround plan includes cutting $14 billion in costs, curbing lower-margin car models and investing $11 billion in an expansive portfolio of electric-powered vehicles.
Ford will probably be fine in the long run.
4th Gear: What Slow Sales?
Okay, so sales didn’t quite grow in January, but they weren’t catastrophically bad, AN says:
U.S. new-vehicle sales this month, fueled by higher incentives, are expected to roughly match the levels of January 2017, but the selling rate is projected to decline as the industry prepares for a second straight year of lower volume.
Forecasts from Cox Automotive and LMC/J.D. Power call for sales to rise about 1 percent year over year, while Edmunds projects a 1.4 percent decline.
I suspect the real culprit here is the enormous amount of Japanese bubble cars slowly becoming available to import instead of buying new American cars. Screw shiny new pickup trucks. Everyone wants a Minica Lettuce.
5th Gear: We’re Going To Talk About Politics Now
Last night was President Donald Trump’s first-ever State of the Union address. And while it was mostly just long and boring—low energy, some might say—as most political speeches tend to be, Trump did briefly mention the car industry. This is what he said:
Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan; Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama.
Soon, plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing — for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are coming back.
But, as Bloomberg points out, this is a blatant lie. Car companies have been building and expanding plants in the United States for decades now. Lots of them. Volkswagen, Honda, Subaru, Toyota, the list goes on and on. All of them have built factories in the U.S. in the last two decades, and it wasn’t just during the 1990s boom years. Car manufacturing “coming back” is literally nothing new:
Carmakers announced about $46 billion in American auto
factory investment during the eight years Barack Obama was
president, according to the Center for Automotive Research. That
runs counter to Trump’s claim Tuesday that Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles NV, Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. are
among the first to spend on U.S. vehicle manufacturing in years.
Indeed, Mazda—which since the Ford divorce has had no manufacturing base in the U.S., something it desperately needs to avoid being the constant victim of currency fluctuations and/or tariffs—had been planning this plant for some time, well before the president probably even started running.
Donald Trump, as always, has bad car takes.
Reverse: Happy Birthday Buddy Rice
He won the Indianapolis 500, which is a race.
Neutral: Can Lotus Come Back?
Is Gales’ plan a solid one, or does Lotus need to go even more mainstream somehow?