The Ford Bronco is trying to compete with Jeep Wrangler on accessories, a Volkswagen employee was found dead in a burned-out car, and airlines are withholding billions in refunds. All that and more in The Morning Shift for August 13, 2020.
This will be a rivalry we’re going to hear about for years, for better or worse. This week, Ford held an event for media in Michigan to check out the new Bronco, and one of the big things Ford was trying to establish was that the Bronco would be as accessorizable as the Wrangler.
That included things like a bottle opener, a rack for fishing poles, an interior bike rack, and tube doors. This would all be sort of tedious if not for the legions of Bronco and Jeep stans following every development. Aftermarket mods are also very much available but Ford is playing the “factory-backed” game.
From the Detroit Free Press:
Ford said the Bronco can claim more than 200 “factory-backed” accessories for the two-and four-door models and more than 100 for the Sport model.
That’s not as hefty as Jeep, which, through Mopar, “includes more than 500 factory-engineered, quality-tested off-road performance parts and accessories,” according to an FCA spokesman, but it does show that Ford has a plan.
Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst with IHS Markit, said Jeep’s connection to accessories is one of the things that differentiates the brand from others.
The company acknowledged that it has a vision of roping in some newbies. Among the “adventure-inspired” Bronco concepts were a four-door Outer Banks Fishing Guide version, a couple of different trail rigs and a Bronco Sport Off-Roadeo Adventure Patrol.
That last concept is designed to highlight an outdoor playground idea opening next summer, with the first one planned for Austin, Texas, for owners of the Bronco two- and four-door Bronco Sport Badlands series.
My sense is that this is all just marketing, though it will still be interesting to watch this rivalry play out. Many have hyped the Bronco as some kind of Wrangler killer, but I’m not so sure. Ford said it had over 165,000 reservations for the Bronco, which is a healthy number in a pandemic, while Jeep sold 228,032 Wranglers last year. The sales race will be tight.
Mustang sales are up there compared to the first half of last year, while Explorer sales are flat in the same period. That’s still a positive figure given the pandemic.
After years of shipping Michigan-made Mustangs to Europe, Ford has been rounding out its portfolio of imported products, including with the recently launched plug-in hybrid Explorer SUV. In 2021, it will launch the all-electric Mustang Mach-E.
“It’s one of our pillars, and we do intend to build on it,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said of the automaker’s import business during a JPMorgan auto conference. “It’s going to be a niche business for us — it’s relatively low volume — but I think it can be a very brand-enhancing and, importantly, profitable business.”
In the first half Ford of Europe sold 3,331 Mustangs, up from 2,179 during the same period last year, while Explorer sales were flat at 464, according to company figures.
Ford still lost $664 million in Europe in the second quarter, however. Any port in the storm I guess.
This is a weird one!
Local newspaper Helmstedter Nachrichten, citing people familiar with the matter, said the dead person was a Volkswagen employee who had done business with [Bosnian supplier group Prevent], who was also being probed for potentially illegal recordings of conversations.
A spokesman for police in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, Germany, where Volkswagen is based, confirmed a body had been found in Rottorf, Helmstedt, but referred further queries to the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office.
The Braunschweig prosecutor’s office declined to comment on whether the dead person was a Volkswagen employee, adding that it had not yet been possible to formally confirm the identity of the deceased.
The Braunschweig prosecutor’s office, however, said its staff were now looking at whether the death was linked to the employee at the center of the VW eavesdropping probe, and whether there were links to an arson attack on the VW staff member’s house in May.
Preliminary findings by forensic staff, who examined the body Tuesday, had shown no obvious signs of “outside interference” which may have caused the death, the prosecutor’s office said.
Volkswagen and Prevent have been in a dispute over pricing for years, according to Reuters. This is the sort of thing that would otherwise be a plotline in a B movie.
This was all to be expected, though the company somehow also projects that it will be profitable by the end of next year. Still, the second quarter wasn’t as bad as many analysts feared.
Lyft reported a 61 percent decline in revenue to $339 million, just beating an average of analysts’ estimates of $335 million for the quarter that ended in June. The loss excluding tax, interest and other costs widened 37 percent to $280 million. That was also better than analysts’ tempered expectations.
Lyft and Uber said they will appeal a court decision in California this week ordering them to treat their employees like humans. That story is really the one to watch.
If you had to cancel a flight because of the pandemic and tried to get a refund, well, it sounds like that process hasn’t gone that smoothly. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that airlines are withholding “billions” in refunds, for reasons.
Instead of refunds, many have issued vouchers, per the WSJ:
The U.S. Transportation Department warned that any airline operating in the U.S., foreign or domestic, had to refund tickets for flights the airline canceled and couldn’t offer an alternative without a “substantial” schedule change. But many international carriers have offered only vouchers. Some forced consumers into accepting vouchers before the airline officially removed flights from its schedule. Some have delayed paying refunds while waiting for government bailouts or new investment.
Worse, some have tried duplicitous methods to pocket expensive tickets, offering nothing in return. Italian carrier Alitalia, for example, told Ellen Schiller that her family of five were considered no-shows for a March 8 Boston-to-Rome flight and therefore ineligible for both refund and voucher. They spent more than $3,000 on the tickets.
Ms. Schiller says she called Alitalia twice before the departure to cancel the trip, but the airline suggested not canceling in hopes the flight would be canceled—the only way they’d be eligible for a refund. She says she made it clear they were canceling because it was obvious Italy was closing down. The March 8 flight took off. On March 9 Italy imposed a national quarantine.
As with pretty much any story in The Wall Street Journal, each anecdote is often a mini-tale of a privileged person getting owned. This is, of course, one of the main pleasures of reading The Wall Street Journal.
Stuart Krawll of St. Louis spent more than $10,000 on American Airlines tickets for a family trip to St. Thomas for 14 people. He paid for all the tickets. Any refund would go back to his credit card. But with vouchers, each passenger gets the credit, regardless of who paid. Only the ticketed passenger can fly on that voucher.
Mr. Krawll’s seven grandchildren—the youngest between 3 and 7—each have a voucher. The family trip likely won’t be rescheduled anytime soon because of the complexity of getting schedules lined up. Instead, Mr. Krawll and his wife have several overseas trips planned for 2021 and 2022 for which they’d like to use the vouchers.
“Airlines should let the voucher credits flow back to whoever paid for the tickets,” Mr. Krawll says. Flexibility in this case, he notes, “costs them nothing.”
You know what I miss the most this summer? Softball! I would give anything for our game to be able to get going again.