Photo credit: Ford
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JD Power study shows cars with fewest infotainment-related complaints, Renault-Nissan goes all-in on Android, BMW is working with mining companies to reduce battery costs, and a look at Hurricane Florence’s impact on the local auto industry. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

1st Gear: These Are the Cars With the Least Frustrating Infotainment Systems According to JD Power Study

Lately, most car reliability complaints have had to do with fussy technology, especially infotainment systems. Over the past decade or so, screens have gotten bigger, software has gotten more capable and complex, and in some cases, user interfaces have become less intuitive.

The good news is that JD Power, a company known for studying and writing reports on product quality and customer satisfaction, says that its recent 2018 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study (which is based on its annual Vehicle Quality Survey) showed the number of reported issues with infotainment systems actually dropped for the third year in a row. This is great news, even if voice recognition remains the number one customer complaint for the sixth consecutive year.

JD power says its study “measures the experiences and opinions of vehicle owners regarding the quality, design and features of their [in-car audio, communication, entertainment and navigation] system in the first 90 days of ownership.”

The company’s results show the following vehicles as leaders in their segments with the fewest problems per 100 vehicles:

  • Small Mass Market: Kia Rio
  • Compact Mass Market: Kia Forte
  • Midsize Mass Market: Ford Mustang
  • Large Mass Market: Ford Taurus
  • Small Premium: BMW 2 Series
  • Compact Premium: Porsche 718
  • Midsize Premium: Lincoln Continental
  • Large Premium: BMW 7 Series

Of these, the Ford Mustang’s 7.3 problems per 100 vehicles was the lowest of all. So, kudos to Ford, because I myself have spent far too much time yelling at screens, and I think I speak for all when I say I’m tired of doing it.

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2nd Gear: Renault-Nissan Partners with Google To Give Android Control of Infotainment

Speaking of infotainment, Bloomberg reports that Renault-Nissan is partnering with Google to give Android full access to a vehicle’s infotainment system, to the point where a cellphone won’t even be needed for things like navigation, infotainment, and other apps installed directly on the car to function.

This, Bloomberg points out, is a novel concept, as the system used on many new vehicles, Android Auto, just allows passengers to plug in their smartphones, and have apps projected onto the infotainment screen:

Most carmakers have tried to keep Google and Apple at arm’s length, hoping to keep control of such valuable data as a driver’s whereabouts, driving patterns, shopping preferences and infotainment use. Automakers have also sought to forge their own commercial partnerships to sell connected services, rather than let tech players like Google cash in.

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This is incredibly bad news for Dutch digital mapping company TomTom, which had been hoping to make a bid for in-car maps as well. But the prospect of competing with Google wiped out a quarter of its value, reports Reuters:

TomTom made its name in the beginning of the 2000s with the introduction of popular personal navigation devices, but has seen the market falter in recent years with the advent of smartphones.

A large part of its 1.5 billion euro market cap is now based on hopes the company can strike deals with carmakers to supply them with maps for their built-in navigation devices. These licensing deals formed a third of TomTom’s revenue last year.

“This is a huge blow for TomTom,” InsingerGilissen analyst Jos Versteeg told Reuters.

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Ouch.

I’ve mostly been satisfied with Android Auto, but a more complete Android experience in a car could be a step in the right direction for those JD Power Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Studies. And if it prevents me from bashing in my screen in a fit of frustrated rage, I’m all for it.

3rd Gear: BMW Hopes To Reduce Battery Costs By Dealing Directly With Mining Companies

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In a chat with Reuters, Klaus Froehlich—a member of BMW’s management board—discussed how the Bavarian company plans to keep EV costs down, telling the news site “In electromobility, you have to be a cost leader... If you are not a cost leader you will not survive.”

So here’s the plan:

On batteries, Froehlich said, BMW is pursuing a strategy aimed at securing lower-cost batteries than rivals, in part by controlling the supply of raw materials for its battery-making partners.

“We will have agreements with mining companies,” Froehlich said. “We have one agreement. There will be more.” A key issue, he said, is securing cobalt from mines that do not exploit workers or employ children.

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The news site points out that BMW has worked with Samsung and Chinese battery supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology Co, with each providing the Bavarian brand with a “proprietary” BMW-designed batteries.

Clearly BMW wants to step up its EV game, and to do that means figuring out how to partner with the right players in the battery industry to keep battery prices—a major inhibitor to the technology’s mass adoption, along with infrastructure—down.

I anticipate seeing these types of partnerships becoming more and more commonplace as the auto industry shifts deeper and deeper into EVs.

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4th Gear: How Hurricane Florence’s Affected the Local Auto Industry

Hurricane Florence dumped buckets of water, and blew strong gusts of wind through the Carolinas this past weekend, affecting thousands of inhabitants—a number of news sites report a death toll of over 30.

Now Automotive News takes a look at the aftermath as it relates to automotive operations. First the good news. The Mercedes vans plant in the Charleston, South Carolina area is up and running like normal after closing on Tuesday. A company spokesperson told Automotive News that the storm had a “minimal” impact on the plant.

Volvo’s new plant in the same area also made it through the storm unscathed, and is apparently back up and running after stopping last week in anticipation of the storm.

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BMW’s operations at the Port of Charleston, where the company ships out its X-series crossovers, closed on Thursday and Friday last week, but it’s apparently “operating a normal schedule” according to Automotive News.

As for dealerships, the news site reports that a number of stores made it out just fine or with only minor damage, though there are some did not fare so well, with the new site talking with a sales manager at Riverside Ford, which sits next to a creek that flooded over:

“Currently, the Riverside Ford location is counting their inventory loss, but if I had to guess how much they lost, I would say up to half of our inventory.”

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The story also mentions a Cadillac dealership in New Bern, where a sign at the front of the store fell down and damaged some vehicles, as shown in this video:

In addition, Automotive News mentions that shipping is likely also facing delays as major highways remain closed off.

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5th Gear: VW’s Final Dieselgate Reckoning Will Have To Wait A Bit

As we wrote earlier this month, Volkswagen’s final Dieselgate tab is getting called soon, with investors seeking roughly $10.7 billion because VW allegedly didn’t disclose the true scope of the issue prior to the EPA’s notice of violation.

But it looks like that reckoning is going to have to wait after a judge ruled that proceeding would continue in late November. Reuters writes:

Certain claims that have been excluded from the proceedings so far will then be considered, and the basis of calculation for possible compensation payments will be decided by then, presiding judge Christian Jaede said on Monday.

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When will this saga truly end? Perhaps never.

Reverse: Canada Mall Gets Record For Biggest Parking Lot in 1981

Via History:

On this day, the 20,000-car parking lot at Canada’s West Edmonton Mall makes the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest parking lot in the world...

Whether it deserves it or not, the West Edmonton Mall’s parking-lot record will soon be broken. In Dubai, a 40,000-space parking lot is under construction at a shopping center, and the lot at that nation’s new Al Maktoum International Airport will have room for almost 100,000 cars.

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Neutral: What Are Your Thoughts On Current Car Infotainment Systems?

How often do you find yourself yelling at a screen, or just generally confused by your infotainment system? Do you think things have gotten better over the past few years?