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: Is This The Beginning Of Not The End?
Harley-Davidson has been on the skids for a while now, as the Youths generally don’t like things that are entirely associated with their parents. Also the internet is at least entertaining enough to the point where you’re not so bored that you feel like jumping on a motorcycle that will inevitably kill you. Harley’s gotten increasingly desperate as the downward slide continued, to the point where it just sort of threw up its hands and gave its interns free bikes.
But the strategy may be working, kind of. Harley’s shipments might be down from its heyday, but at least they’re not getting worse, Reuters says:
Harley-Davidson Inc (HOG.N) stood by its full-year motorcycle shipments forecast and beat quarterly profit estimates on Tuesday, offering a glimmer of hope to a business struggling with an aging customer base.
The company’s shares rose 6 percent in premarket trading on Tuesday. The stock has fallen nearly 20 percent this year.
But will it be enough? Who knows. It’ll probably be a couple of years, anyway.
2nd Gear: Volvo Trucks Can’t Find Enough Drivers In Japan
Back in MY DAY, we believed in Capitalism. If you couldn’t find anyone good to hire, you raised the wages you were offering until you could. That’s how a little thing that I definitely invented called “supply and demand” is supposed to work.
But faced with a dwindling supply of truck drivers in Japan, Volvo Trucks’ Japanese subsidiary UD Trucks has decided to eliminate the pesky supply issue entirely, Bloomberg says:
“There are many reasons why autonomous driving will be important in Japan, but I would say it’s more critical here than in other countries because of the aging society,” Douglas Nakano, senior vice president of UD Trucks, said in an interview. “The purpose of autonomous driving is not only to remove the drivers, it’s also to support drivers to make it safer and easier to drive.”
The plan by UD Trucks follows those by global rivals such as Daimler AG and startups including China’s Tusimple Inc. to develop self-driving trucks to cope with a tight labor market and cut logistics costs. Japan will be short of 240,000 truck drivers by 2027, Boston Consulting Group estimates.
They don’t know it yet, but robots will eventually replace corporate executives as well.
3rd Gear: Electric Buses Will Save The World
Everyone thought that it would be electric cars that saved the world, but no. It’s going to be electric buses instead. The things are becoming so popular, in fact, that they’re beginning to put a small-but-significant dent in global oil consumption. And it’s in large part due to China, naturally. From Bloomberg:
The numbers are staggering. China had about 99 percent of the 385,000 electric buses on the roads worldwide in 2017, accounting for 17 percent of the country’s entire fleet. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters—the equivalent of London’s entire working fleet, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
All this is starting to make an observable reduction in fuel demand. And because they consume 30 times more fuel than average sized cars, their impact on energy use so far has become much greater than the than the passenger sedans produced companies from Tesla Inc. to Toyota Motor Corp.
Electric motors make a huge amount of sense for city buses. Not only do city buses constantly start and stop, which is ideal for the way electric motors work, but they’re also silent and don’t emit any noxious fumes in confined city quarters like diesels normally do. Electricity is also a hell of a lot cheaper than diesel, making them a smart investment for budget-conscious municipalities. And since buses spend a lot of time sitting in yards overnight when there’s less demand, there’s plenty of time to charge. Plus, buses don’t normally drive thousands of miles a day, so range is less of a concern. But even if range was a concern, a bus is sort of the ideal vehicle to mollify the problem. Most vehicles designed for electric propulsion from the ground up line their floors with batteries. More floor equals more batteries, and buses that are huge and long have tons of space for energy storage.
In short, what was once a silly idea is instead extremely brilliant, and will save us all.
Maybe all of the out-of-work oil workers can become bus drivers.
4th Gear: Car Designer To Design Airplanes
Frank Stephenson, the brilliant man behind cars like the Maserati MC12 and the McLaren P1 (and also a friend of the site), was just hired by an airplane startup to design airplanes, Automotive News says:
Lilium, a German startup with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to put electric “flying taxis” in the air next decade, has hired Frank Stephenson, the designer behind iconic cars such as the modern Mini, Fiat 500 and McLaren P1.
Lilium is developing a lightweight aircraft powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted on its wings. It aims to travel at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour, with a range of about the same 186 miles on a single charge, the firm has said.
Stephenson is going to be in charge of all aspects of design at the company, the report says, which aims to build an electric airplane that will make short aerial hops as cheap as taking a normal taxi.
Can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
5th Gear: Volkswagen Ain’t Going It Alone In China
China has bizarre rules for foreign companies that want to manufacture things over there. If Volkswagen wants to build a factory, for instance, the factory must be at least a 50-50 joint venture with a local Chinese company. China is making some rumbles about changing that policy due to international pressure, but VW CEO Herbert Deiss told CNBC that it still doesn’t want to go it alone entirely:
The new CEO of Volkswagen said Tuesday that the company has no plans yet to go it alone in China, but he sees investment opportunities afoot as Asia’s largest economy prepares to open up its market to automakers.
“The car industry is not only 50-50 joint ventures,” Herbert Diess told CNBC’s Nancy Hungerford at Auto China 2018 in Beijing, adding that the world’s largest automaker was open to new partnerships.
“We need to partner with the local tech enterprises. There is a lot to do, but there might be one or other investment opportunities. Investment is always an option,” said Diess.
Businesses generally like when everyone plays nice.
Reverse: RIP Rolf
On this day in 1983, Rolf Stommelen, a four-time 24 Hours of Daytona champ as well as a Formula One driver, is killed at the age of 39 in a crash at California’s Riverside International Raceway.
Neutral: What Would It Take To Get You To Ride A Harley-Davidson?
I kind of want a Triumph Scrambler instead.