Illustration for article titled The SUVs Have Completed Market Domination
Photo: Kristen Lee (Jalopnik)
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

The SUVs came for and conquered all our asses, Carlos Ghosn’s escape might be catching up with those who aided him, and Nissan’s going into cost-cutting mode. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.

1st Gear: Big Sigh Because Big Cars Sell

Despite overall plummeting car sales in 2019, the SUV segment stayed strong and robust last year. This is me heaving a big sigh. People really can’t get enough of the things, can they?

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SUVs could very well have made up the majority of United States car purchases for the first time at the end of last year. Bloomberg goes as far as calling them “a force.” It estimates automakers to have sold over 17 million new cars for the fifth consecutive year, with final results expected to be released later today.

B’berg also pointed out that Edmunds predicts SUVs accounted for over 50 percent of the market in the last quarter, while the pickup truck market share hit 19 percent for the first time since the pre-Recession days of 2005. Further insights include:

  • Automakers dialed up year-end promotional deals, though the strong demand for costlier SUVs and trucks gave them legroom to discount. J.D. Power estimates that records were set last month both for average transaction prices ($34,602 per vehicle, up $673 from a year ago) and incentive spending ($4,600 per unit, up $296).
  • Toyota Motor Corp. took much of the excitement out of the sometimes-dramatic races for segment bragging rights by building sizable leads with its RAV4 SUV and Camry sedan. The two models will probably beat out Honda Motor Co.’s CR-V and Accord by more than 50,000 and 60,000 units, respectively, for the year, according to TrueCar.

Then there’s this sad bit about Nissan:

  • Nissan Motor Co. probably stumbled its way over the finish line of its first full year without longtime leader Carlos Ghosn. If analysts’ average estimate for a 22% December decline proves accurate, it’ll be the steepest monthly drop for the company since its former chairman was arrested in late 2018.
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As we head into 2020, I’m wondering if anything will stop Americans’ seemingly insatiable need for large vehicles. Perhaps a spike in gas prices? A carbon tax? Sudden desire for a minimalist and space-conscience existence? I can only hope.

2nd Gear: Illegal Jets

My current favorite rich-guy-attempting-to-dodge-legal-repercussions story concerns one Carlos Ghosn who, if you haven’t heard, fled to Lebanon after being placed under house arrest in Japan after being accused of doing some alleged financial crimes in 2018. The latest are accusations that Ghosn illegally used jets from a Turkish private jet operator in his escape.

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One day after Turkish authorities detained seven people, which included four pilots, MNG Jet filed a criminal complaint regarding the incident, reports Reuters. The Turkish police are investigating “Ghosn’s passage through Istanbul en route to Lebanon.”

The complaint sounds wild. There are claims of an unnamed employee “falsifying lease records.” From the story:

MNG Jet said in its statement it leased two jets to two different clients in agreements that “were seemingly not connected to each other.” One plane flew from Osaka to Istanbul, the other from Istanbul to Beirut.

“The name of Mr Ghosn did not appear in the official documentation of any of the flights,” it said.

“After having learnt through the media that the leasing was benefiting Mr. Ghosn and not the officially declared passengers, MNG Jet launched an internal inquiry and filed a criminal complaint in Turkey,” it added.

An employee admitted to falsifying the records and confirmed he “acted in his individual capacity,” the company said.

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Ghosn said he’ll talk publicly about the escape on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

I, for one, cannot. Freaking. Wait. I just finished season two of You on Netflix and I need something else to watch. Meanwhile, who’s making this movie?

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3rd Gear: Nissan’s Cutting Costs

If you are a regular reader of The Morning Shift, then you’ll know yesterday’s Fourth Gear didn’t include particularly good news about Nissan. (Renault and Nissan were the worst-performing car stocks of last year.) On top of that, the automaker is facing executive turnover. So, it’s going to try to cut costs.

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Don’t worry; this shouldn’t affect buyers such as you or me, or the dealers. This is intended to be more along the lines of internal cost cutting, reports Car and Driver. From the story:

Changes in the executive structure came with some new rules for the company. Most notably, Nissan Japan told managers at the end of December that they needed to slash nonessential spending and cut back on things like vehicle sales incentives and promotional events.

Changes in Japan also affect Nissan North America, which is in a “period of transition,” according to Chris Keeffe, Nissan North America’s director of corporate communications. Keeffe told Car and Driver that Nissan North America has already announced the actions it would take to improve business performance by reducing expenses through March 2020. “Cost savings will come from a 50 percent reduction in travel and two down days following the New Year’s holiday,” he said.

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Perhaps this will halt the SUPER MEGA NISSAN PRESIDENT’S DAY BLOWOUT SALE WOWOWOWOW, which is a sale I made up just now if only because I can’t be bothered to actually google what sketchy sales Nissan has actually cooked up through the volume-over-everything Ghosn years. It still seems entirely plausible.

Buried at the end of Car and Driver’s story is also a quote from Keeffe that states the Japanese automaker is “pursuing a full product-launch calendar that will involve ‘10 launches in 20 months, refreshing the Nissan portfolio by 70 percent.’”

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If this isn’t a new Z car I am going to lose it.

4th Gear: Bosch And Self-Driving Car Sensors

The Consumer Electronics Show is just around the corner and we can expect to see some new self-driving tech from German automotive mega-supplier Bosch.

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The company says it’s internally developed a lidar sensor that will allow cars to “see” the road in three dimensions, which could bring down the cost of self-driving tech and accelerate autonomous vehicle development, according to Reuters. The sensor “will cover both long and close ranges on highways and in the city and will work in conjunction with the company’s camera and radar technologies.”

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Currently, lidar technology is still pretty young and too expensive for the mass-market. But, as Reuters reasons, “if a cheaper lidar sensor were widely adopted, it could provide more depth data that would allow self-driving cars to detect the distance to other road users like pedestrians.”

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It’s unclear whether Bosch has secured any automakers as clients for its technology. It’s also unclear what the supplier’s timeline, pricing or technology details are. We’ll find out more at CES.

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5th Gear: Norway And Tesla

Norway has been an extremely enthusiastic adapter to electric cars, thanks in part to very generous tax exemptions. The country closes this year with a record in new registrations for electric cars. This is nice to hear.

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Battery electric cars made up for nearly half of all new cars sales in Norway in 2019, as Bloomberg notes in an as-yet-not-online wire report. From the story:

Battery electric cars accounted for 42% of new car sales in Norway last year, up from 31% in 2018, the Norwegian Road Federation said on Friday. Tesla sold a record 18,798 cars, led by a flow of its new Model 3 in the first half of the year.

Volkswagen remained the best-selling brand in 2019, but edged Tesla by only about 150 cars, Oyvind Solberg Thorsen, the head of the Road Federation, said in a webcast presentation. Both brands accounted for about 13% of the total new-car sales of 142,381.

The share of EVs could reach about 50% in 2020, Solberg Thorsen said during the presentation

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Noway was Tesla’s third-biggest market by sales from January to September, the outlet continues. Norway also happens to be western Europe’s largest gas and oil producer, but has an aggressive goal of making all new cars sold by 2025 emissions-free.

Reverse: Spirit Makes A Safe Landing

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Neutral: What Will It Take To Stop The SUVs?

I really don’t have a problem with SUVs on their own. If you absolutely need the utility, then you go ahead. Mostly, I don’t like the U.S. culture of normalizing excess. Buying what you don’t need. Getting the extra-large size. What needs to happen in order for this to stop, if at all?

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.

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