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The new Chevrolet Blazer is under fire over where it’s built, Aston Martin’s stock is plunging, and BMW and Audi are skipping the Tokyo Motor Show. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

1st Gear: The Chevy Blazer Is Already a Headache for GM

The Chevy Blazer, the 4x4 that everyone’s uncle drove, is back, as we know, as disappointing as it has been. Besides the fact that it’s gone from tough truck to soft crossover, there’s a lot of controversy over how it’s not made with American labor anymore.

The old one was made in Janesville, Wisconsin, but that plant has long been shuttered (Update: The plant was demolished last year). The new one is made in Mexico, which has already led to some awkwardness for General Motors, after it displayed a Mexican-made Blazer at Detroit’s Comerica Park earlier this year, pissing a bunch of locals off.

It’s only a matter of time, Bloomberg says, before it becomes a bigger headache for GM.

To the union, “the Blazer is emblematic of everything that is wrong with the world,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research.

Although the Blazer has so far escaped the wrath of President Donald Trump and his Democratic challengers for the White House, the same can’t be said of GM’s layoffs of American workers. The dismissals have become a lightening rod for criticism by politicians of all stripes.

The Detroit-based automaker’s labor relations may take center stage on Tuesday and Wednesday when the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination face off for a debate across town from GM’s headquarters. Michigan and neighboring Wisconsin are both key swing states that traditionally vote for Democrats in presidential elections, but opted for Trump in 2016.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said the decision to build the Blazer in Mexico and the preparation work to assemble it started several years ago, when the automaker’s Lordstown, Ohio, factory was cranking out Chevy Cruze compact cars on three shifts. Sales then slumped, and the company ceased production earlier this year.

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The car industry wasn’t mentioned a whole lot in last night’s debate, though we still have tonight to look forward to. And President Trump could at any moment fire off a tweet about the Blazer, of course, though the returns for him there are ever diminishing.

The more cynical part of all of this is that GM—like a lot of other automakers—is trading on nostalgia by relaunching an old model, but don’t seem capable of acknowledging that that nostalgia isn’t just about the car. It’s also about a time when more cars were made here.

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2nd Gear: Aston Martin Is in Bad Shape

Brexit is not going to be kind to the British automakers, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

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Aston Martin’s stock has plunged to its lowest level ever, according to Reuters. The company went public last year. The company posted a $96 million loss for the first six months of 2019 amid falling sales across the industry.

But its shares have since fallen by around three quarters from their 19 pounds float price to below 5 pounds, hit most recently by the group’s weak performance in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where half-year demand fell by nearly a fifth.

The group posted a pretax loss of 78.8 million pounds ($96 million) in the six months through June from a 20.8 million pound profit in the first half of 2018.

Its shares were down 17% at 4.71 pounds by 0748 GMT.

“We are disappointed that our projections for wholesales have fallen short or our original targets, impacted by weakness in two of our key markets as well as continued macro-economic uncertainty,” [CEO Andy Palmer] said.

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Will Aston still be around in 20 years? They’re all about branding these days, and licensing the Aston Martin name to make them money, which, not unlike companies like Harley-Davidson, is usually a sign that things are getting a bit desperate.

3rd Gear: Audi’s Former CEO Has Been Criminally Charged by German Prosecutors

Rupert Stadler led Audi during Dieselgate, which you may have heard a thing or two about. The fallout from it has been endless. Now he too faces criminal charges in Germany.

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Via Reuters:

The public prosecutor’s office in Munich said Stadler and three other defendants are being charged with false certification and criminal advertising practices.

The three other defendants are accused of having developed engines used by Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche brand cars that included emissions-cheating devices, it added.

“Defendant Stadler is accused of having been aware of the manipulations since the end of September 2015, at the latest, but he did not prevent the sale of affected Audi and VW vehicles thereafter,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

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I imagine in 30 years Germany will still be finding new ways to flagellate itself over this.

4th Gear: BMW and Audi Aren’t Bothering With the Tokyo Motor Show

Automakers have increasingly been opting out of car shows, in favor of doing their own events or online reveals. And so it isn’t much of a surprise that Mercedes will be the only major foreign automaker at Tokyo this year, though Renault and Alpina are also going, according to Bloomberg.

The waning interest comes in spite of imported-car sales rising in Japan. They climbed 4.3% last year and more than 30% in the past decade, according to JAMA figures. But Japan has long been losing appeal for carmakers, especially since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. U.S. car companies such as Ford Motor Co. haven’t returned since, according to JAMA.

A Volkswagen representative said the group has no new models to showcase for the Japanese market and this year’s absence doesn’t mean that it will continue to skip the event. A BMW representative said the company plans to hold its own event.

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5th Gear: An Auto Theft Ring Was Busted in Canada and Dealers Have Been Put on Notice

The theft itself isn’t particularly interesting—thieves applied for financing for luxury cars using fake identities, then took the VIN numbers off those cars and gave them a new color—but the operation wasn’t small.

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Via Automotive News:

Project Baijin — a joint effort between a trio of police departments and the Canada Border Services Agency — seized 28 high-end vehicles worth about C$2.5 million ($1.9 million USD) and destined for China and Europe.

The project began back in April.

Peel Regional Police wouldn’t discuss with Automotive News Canada what prompted the investigation, but at a news conference last week the department said it started with a phone call from a concerned citizen.

Police eventually seized six high-priced vehicles from a “chop shop” in Mississauga, Ont., on April 10. Police say they found a 2015 Jeep Wrangler, a 2016 Mercedes GLE350, a 2018 Mercedes C300, a 2018 Audi A7, a 2018 Dodge Ram and a 2019 Range Rover at the shop.

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One interesting thing is that some of the cars weren’t repainted but instead wrapped in vinyl.

Police said some of the vehicles they seized were also wrapped in vinyl in what officers said was an attempt to temporarily change their colors and avoid detection.

“Our investigators have encountered this on numerous occasions,” [Peel Regional Police spokesman Const. Akhil Mooken] said. “It is a cheaper alternative and is less labor intensive than re-painting a vehicle.”

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And do Canadian car dealers have access to the internet? Someone should give them access, tell them about a website called Google. Emphasis mine:

“We encourage all employees at dealerships to be vigilant and ensure they complete a thorough background check to ensure that the information provided, such as employment, banking information and addresses are correct,” Mooken said. “Investigators were able to use open source tools such as internet search engines and determine that the employment and addresses provided were false.”

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Reverse: Space

On this day in 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts rode the lunar rover for the first time. It was an electric car, of course.

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Via NASA:

The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was an electric vehicle designed to operate in the low-gravity vacuum of the Moon and to be capable of traversing the lunar surface, allowing the Apollo astronauts to extend the range of their surface extravehicular activities. Three LRVs were driven on the Moon, one on Apollo 15 by astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin, one on Apollo 16 by John Young and Charles Duke, and one on Apollo 17 by Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. Each rover was used on three traverses, one per day over the three day course of each mission. On Apollo 15 the LRV was driven a total of 27.8 km in 3 hours, 2 minutes of driving time. The longest single traverse was 12.5 km and the maximum range from the LM was 5.0 km. On Apollo 16 the vehicle traversed 26.7 km in 3 hours 26 minutes of driving. The longest traverse was 11.6 km and the LRV reached a distance of 4.5 km from the LM. On Apollo 17 the rover went 35.9 km in 4 hours 26 minutes total drive time. The longest traverse was 20.1 km and the greatest range from the LM was 7.6 km.

The Lunar Roving Vehicle had a mass of 210 kg and was designed to hold a payload of an additional 490 kg on the lunar surface. The frame was 3.1 meters long with a wheelbase of 2.3 meters. The maximum height was 1.14 meters. The frame was made of aluminum alloy 2219 tubing welded assemblies and consisted of a 3 part chassis which was hinged in the center so it could be folded up and hung in the Lunar Module quad 1 bay. It had two side-by-side foldable seats made of tubular aluminum with nylon webbing and aluminum floor panels. An armrest was mounted between the seats, and each seat had adjustable footrests and a velcro seatbelt. A large mesh dish antenna was mounted on a mast on the front center of the rover. The suspension consisted of a double horizontal wishbone with upper and lower torsion bars and a damper unit between the chassis and upper wishbone. Fully loaded the LRV had a ground clearance of 36 cm.

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Neutral: How Much Does It Matter to You Where a Car Is Built?

Lots and lots of foreign automakers make their cars in America these days, and likewise lots of American companies make their cars abroad. The lines are very, very blurry.