Today on The Morning Shift of Thursday, July 25, 2019: Everything is bad. Well, almost everything.
1st Gear: Nissan in Trouble
Most of the latest quarterly reports are out for the automakers now, and in signs of what’s likely to be a downturn just around the corner (we’ll get to that later) everyone is posting bad news. At the top of the list is probably Nissan, which at this point is a car company in a full-blown crisis.
There’s the obvious stuff, like the ouster and criminal trial of former boss Carlos Ghosn, who faces charges of financial improprieties in Japan. But this is more than just a management issue—Nissan’s Q1 operating profit plunged 99 percent, the company has announced it’ll cut 12,500 jobs globally instead of the aforementioned 10,000, and it’s also reducing production capacity by 10 percent while struggling to replace an aging car lineup.
Here’s Automotive News:
Operating profit was nearly wiped out, tumbling to 1.6 billion yen ($14.8 million) in fiscal first quarter ended June 30, the company announced Thursday in its quarterly results. Operating profit margin shriveled to a 0.1 percent, compared with 4.0 percent a year earlier.
Net income dropped 95 percent to 6.4 billion ($59.3 million) in the April-June period. Nissan’s revenue slid 13 percent to 2.37 trillion yen ($21.97 billion) in the three months, as global retail volume declined 6.0 percent to 1.23 million vehicles.
“The results were really more negative than we expected,” Saikawa said in a briefing here at Nissan’s global headquarters. “We thought the situation would be challenging. But the actual retail performance was slightly under what we expected. We have to admit that.”
And as Bloomberg notes, this situation gives flagging Nissan less clout with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi, and you know things are bad when you don’t have clout with Mitsubishi.
The wire service’s report gives more context in a story that’s not yet online:
“This is really a crisis,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co. “Management is chaotic, there is a lot of restructuring pressure, and the most important thing here is to downsize.”
Saddled by aging car models such as the Juke and Murano, Nissan sold 6% fewer cars in the latest quarter, a total of 1.23 million units.
Nissan is planning to refresh all core models, introduce 20-plus new products and focus on American retail sales over the next three years.
For Nissan and every other automaker, sales are down in both China and the U.S., the two largest car markets in the world, in that order. But I want to turn to a Reuters story we had in yesterday’s Morning Shift briefly because I think it has an important note, emphasis mine:
Nissan is struggling to improve weak profit margins in the United States, a key market where Ghosn for years pushed to aggressively grow market share during his time as chief executive.
“Deteriorating performance in the United States is a big issue that we’re facing,” Motoo Nagai, chairman of the automaker’s newly formed audit committee, said on Wednesday.
“For a long time we were concerned with increasing volume (sold in the market). We were chasing numbers. Now it’s time to enhance the brand,” he said.
I don’t want to say “I told you so,” but that’s been our criticism of Nissan as of late: a focus on market share and volume that meant rental cars, fleet sales, incentives and cash-on-hood deals, all of which leaves buyers wondering what the Nissan brand really means or stands for.
The new guard blames Ghosn for that. Now it needs to mount a comeback.
2nd Gear: Ford Works to Turn it Around Too
It doesn’t seem nearly as severe, but Ford has some similar problems: trying to replace an older lineup as it invests in future technologies, and diminished sales in China.
Ford’s annual profit forecast is described by Bloomberg as “a disappointment to investors”:
Adjusted earnings will range from $1.20 to $1.35 a share, Ford said Wednesday, below analysts’ average estimate for $1.39. The second-largest U.S. automaker also missed projections for second-quarter profit, and its shares slumped in after-hours trading.
Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett is leading an $11 billion overhaul aimed at reversing Ford’s fortunes by cutting thousands of jobs, reviving an aging line of SUVs and pickups and ditching slow-selling sedans. The company is losing money and market share in China, where the car market is contracting for the first time in a generation.
“The guidance was a disappointment, as Ford had previously signaled opportunity to improve in its most important regions — North America, Europe, and China,” Dan Levy, an analyst for Credit Suisse, wrote in a note to investors. The second-quarter results are “a reminder that the path to improvement may be bumpy.”
Ford was also hurt by a dropoff in production of the new Explorer, which along with F-Series trucks is how it makes all its money.
3rd Gear: It’s Even Worse at Jaguar Land Rover
Those key problems—diminished demand in the world’s two biggest car markets and the need to invest in autonomy and electrification—are hitting Jaguar Land Rover especially hard, because it must also contend with the uncertainty of Brexit and what that means for its entire supply chain.
And Indian parent company Tata is suffering because of it. Here’s Bloomberg:
The loss of 37 billion rupees ($536 million) for the three months ended June 30 compares with a deficit of 19 billion rupees a year earlier. Analysts on average expected a loss of 20.36 billion rupees at Tata Motors, part of salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group of India.
The persistent losses underscore an intensifying struggle by the iconic British automaker to deal with slumping demand in China and an industrywide shift toward cleaner fuels, which is hitting Jaguar Land Rover particularly hard.
Adding to the challenges is renewed uncertainty in the U.K., where new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to deliver Brexit in less than 100 days, even if that means exiting the European Union without a divorce deal.
Yes, thank God Boris Johnson is on the case.
Anyway. How bad would a no-deal Brexit be for JLR?
A hard Brexit could cost U.K.’s auto industry $63,750 every minute, as friction at the border will leave plants starved of parts.
I’m no fancy, big-city MBA, but that sounds bad.
4th Gear: Musk Presses On
Tesla’s Q2 report yesterday was a mixed bag. As one might expect, production and delivery is stabilizing, and the electric automaker even broke another record for both. That’s good news. On the downside, it was not a profitable quarter, but rather one marked with bigger-than-expected losses.
In the earnings call, Musk said the company’s aiming for a profitable Q3, but for now “continuous volume growth, capacity expansion and cash generation” are the goals.
Also, Tesla announced the departure of one longtime executive given a lot of credit for its success today. Via Automotive News:
In a surprise announcement, Musk said veteran Tesla executive J.B. Straubel would hand off his chief technology officer role to a protégé and become a senior adviser. Straubel is the engineer behind Tesla’s battery and has been at Tesla since its founding.
In 2003, he had lunch with Musk and the two discussed advances in consumer electronics and lithium-ion batteries. A fire was lit.
“That was the premise Elon and I discussed over that first lunch: that batteries have come much further than anyone expects, certainly than the auto industry expects,” Straubel told Bloomberg 10 years later.
“If we hadn’t had lunch in 2003, Tesla wouldn’t exist, basically,” Musk said on the call.
Straubel insisted he’s “not going anywhere” and expressed full confidence in Drew Baglino, with whom he also had a fateful lunch in 2003 when Baglino was finishing college and seeking direction.
Musk also promised the second half of 2020 “will be incredible” as it launches the Model Y crossover. We shall see.
5th Gear: A Nice Rebound for Volkswagen
At least the Volkswagen Group is doing solidly okay at the moment—something you definitely couldn’t have said a couple years ago—on the strength of its crossover sales across the board. Via Automotive News:
Volkswagen Group said its second-quarter operating profit rose 30 percent despite lower vehicle sales, helped by VW brand’s higher-margin utility vehicles and rising volumes at Porsche and Skoda.
Operating profit rose to 5.13 billion euros ($5.71 billion), up from 3.94 billion ($4.4 billion) in the second quarter last year, the automaker said in a statement on Thursday. Vehicle sales fell 1.8 percent.
The operating profit jump was magnified by the absence of a diesel charge that VW booked in the year-earlier period.
VW reiterated it expects vehicle deliveries in 2019 to exceed a prior-year figure and for revenues in the passenger cars and commercial vehicles divisions to grow at least 5 percent.
When you can cover every part of the market, from Skoda to Bentley, I’m sure something is bound to hit.
Reverse: The First Train Wreck
Neutral: What Does 2020 Look Like?
I can’t single out any one gear here; generally, the auto business isn’t looking great across the board. Between diminished sales and an uncertain future, it feels like a pile of sticks soaked in gasoline just waiting for a match. I don’t know what that match is—maybe a hard Brexit for some or a trade war with China for others, or some other global economic downturn.
So where do you see the car business a year from now?