The Power Struggle At The Top Of Volkswagen Is Over For Now

Illustration for article titled The Power Struggle At The Top Of Volkswagen Is Over For Now
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Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess is probably feeling a bit better about his job security, the Nissan Rogue is as important as ever to Nissan’s future, and Genesis. All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 15, 2020.

1st Gear: Volkswagen’s CEO Drama Seems Over For Now

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has been chatty as of late, in an apparent bid to consolidate power when it seemed for a second like his term atop the biggest carmaker in the world may have been wavering. But the drama’s all done for now, according to Reuters, with VW’s board showing support for Diess this week. Per Reuters:

Volkswagen’s supervisory board provided unanimous support for the 62-year old CEO in a statement on Monday, as well as backing key appointments he had requested, including Arno Antlitz taking over as finance chief from Frank Witter in June.

“The decisive factor is that he (Diess) was able to assert himself on the points that were important in terms of content,” Ingo Speich, head of sustainability and corporate governance at savings fund company Deka Investment, said.

Diess, who became CEO in 2018, dropped his demand for an early extension of his contract, which runs until 2023, people close to the supervisory board said, in what was seen as a partial victory for [Bernd Osterloh, Volkswagen’s labor boss].

“Diess is strengthened because he has largely pushed through his demands when it comes to appointments to the board,” Frank Schwope, an analyst at Norddeutsche Landesbank, said.

“Whether his contract is extended today or in a year’s time is irrelevant.”

The big struggle has been over Diess’s direction with VW, which has seen the company dive head-first into electric. That strategy seems smart, with China and Europe (and the U.S. eventually, too) going electric, but it makes the people at VW who really cherish Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ducati really quake. It also makes labor leaders uneasy, since EVs are expected to require fewer workers.

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How this all shakes out in the coming years is anyone’s guess; the only thing I am 100 percent sure of is that the Volkswagen ID.4 will be a complete flop in the U.S.

2nd Gear: The Rogue Is A Welcome Bright Spot For Nissan

Nissan has been down and out as of late. You can chalk that up to the hilarious disaster that was Carlos Ghosn, but also to a strategy of committing to volume when global demand wasn’t quite matched up.

There is some good news for Nissan after all that: Rogue sales in the U.S. have been good, following the introduction of the third generation this year.

From Bloomberg:

Sales of Nissan Motor Co.’s new Rogue are charting higher in the U.S. since the compact SUV debuted in October by attracting higher-income customers, a sign that the Japanese automaker is making progress in shedding its incentive-led expansion strategy.

Buyers of the new Rogue have an average household income that is about $10,000 higher than the previous model’s buyers’, according to Mike Colleran, Nissan North America’s senior vice president in charge of U.S. marketing and sales. Colleran declined to comment on specifics of the sales incentives provided for the new Rogue, but said the carmaker expects the SUV’s overall transaction price to rise. “That’s a powerful statement,” he said.

[...]

“The overwhelming view is that Nissan’s performance will recover as it launches new models,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at automotive consultancy firm Carnorama. Future performance depends on how well the slew of new vehicles sell, but the first cars of the 12-model push have “exceeded sales expectations,” he said.

Rogue retail sales rose 20% in November from the previous month, Nissan’s Colleran said, adding that he is “very happy” with the increase given that November was a short sales month in the U.S. Nissan’s new models are attracting a different buyer that is looking less at a car’s price and more at its technology and overall looks, he says. Other models set to go on sale in the U.S. in the coming months include Nissan’s new Ariya electric vehicle.

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There’s also an update on Ghosn: In a separate report, Bloomberg says that France is now investigating him for tax evasion. Per B’berg:

Auto executive-turned-fugitive Carlos Ghosn is under investigation in France for possible tax evasion during his last three years heading Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co., according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ghosn and French tax authorities have been discussing since the middle of last year whether the former CEO should have been considered a French resident during 2016, 2017 and 2018, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. Ghosn declared in 2012 that he had moved to the Netherlands and was subsequently treated as a non-resident, the person said.

The newspaper Liberation reported Monday that a French judge allowed authorities to seize almost 13 million euros ($16 million) in assets from Ghosn and his wife, Carole, pending the outcome of the probe. Authorities are preparing a “major” tax adjustment, the paper said.

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3rd Gear: Automakers And Climate Goals

Bloomberg has an interesting feature tracking how various companies did on their climate goals. The results are predictably mixed, with some winners (Sony, Levi Strauss, Target) and some losers (Staples???). Among automakers, Honda and BMW did so-so, Volvo did fine and GM was a bit all over the place.

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But that was just among the companies that self-report, since a lot of them don’t.

Bloomberg Green analyzed 187 different climate pledges meant to be voluntarily fulfilled by 2020 or earlier. The good news is that most of these pledges—138, so far—have already been met or appear on track by year-end, in part because many companies set modest goals.

More concerning is that for a tenth of these goals, the businesses would not provide data on their progress. Thousands of the biggest global companies still don’t reliably publish data on climate risks or set targets to reduce them.

None of the companies who made five-year pledges could have predicted a once-in-a-century pandemic. The economic fallout from Covid-19 may put some shorter-term emissions goals in reach as cities shut down and factories stop churning, but the worldwide dip in carbon emissions will be temporary. Data collected for this project were mostly drawn from 2019, which doesn’t reflect the pandemic’s impact. The analysis excludes targets that have been revised significantly since 2015.

With fewer visitors to Las Vegas, for instance, MGM Resorts International has significantly reduced energy consumption at the largest casino and hotel complex on the city’s famous strip. Corporate travel has essentially ground to a halt, which will help biotech company Genentech far exceed its modest goal of reducing transport emissions by 10% from 2010 and professional-services firm KPMG surpass its target for reducing emissions per employee in its U.S. unit.

That measure had been rising sharply before the pandemic—up 56% since 2015—putting the company on track to miss its goal. But because of global travel restrictions, the company estimates it will now exceed its target. KPMG said it is “looking to lock in many of the sustainability gains we’ve made as a result of the pandemic,” which will move it closer to a commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.

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Saving the planet will never get done with individual companies making their own climate goals according to their own assessments of what needs to be done, because that is mostly marketing. Instead, we’ll need broad and swift action on the governmental level. You know, good old-fashioned regulations.

4th Gear: Genesis’s Boss Gets A Promotion

Jaehoon Chang, executive vice president of Genesis, will now be CEO of Hyundai, the company said today. Genesis sales haven’t been spectacular, but its cars are good.

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Automotive News has some background:

The announcement is part of several personnel changes aimed at strengthening the Hyundai Motor Group as it expands into new areas of autonomous driving, robotics and urban air mobility.

The move follows Hyundai’s recent purchase of a controlling stake in U.S. robotics firm Boston Dynamics for $1.1 billion and its creation of a new hydrogen fuel cell brand.

Aside from heading the Genesis premium marque, Chang also leads the automaker’s Korea Business Division and its so-called People & Business Operation Support Division.

In that role, he has been reforming Hyundai’s business culture to make it less top-down and more dynamic, agile and creative to stay ahead of rapidly changing industry trends.

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5th Gear: Baidu Maybe Wants In On Electric Cars

Baidu is a Chinese internet company that runs one of the biggest search engines in the world. But it has lots of other businesses, and maybe soon that list will include electric cars.

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Reuters reports:

China’s Baidu Inc is considering making its own electric vehicles and has held talks with automakers about the possibility, three people with knowledge of the matter said, the latest move in a race among tech firms to develop smart cars.

The search-engine leader, which also develops autonomous driving technology and internet connectivity infrastructure, is considering contract manufacturing, one of the people said, or creating a majority-owned venture with automakers.

The initiative would be a step up from internet peers such as Tencent Holdings Ltd, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc, which have also developed auto-related technology or invested in smart-car startups.

Baidu has held preliminary talks - without reaching any decisions - with automakers including Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (GAC) and China FAW Group Corp Ltd’s Hongqi, on a possible venture, the people said.

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The electric-car scene in China really feels like the internal combustion engine car scene here a century ago. Lots of contenders, lots of pretenders, lots of people just throwing stabs in the dark. Most of them, of course, won’t make it.

Reverse: Getty

I can’t recommend All The Money In The World highly enough, though I am a Ridley Scott stan through and through.

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Neutral: How Are You?

I recently topped off the air on my spare tire, which was satisfying. Whatever happened to spare tires? They were a good idea. Now we have run-flats and goo, neither particularly great.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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DISCUSSION

the only thing I am one hundred percent sure of is that the Volkswagen ID.4 will be a complete flop in the US.

You mean the best priced, best value compact EV SUV on the market? There is no better car set up to get mainstream appeal of EVs, which Jalopnik has pushed for years, and you’re willing it to be a failure without providing any evidence or rationale. Great “news” coverage.