This JD Power Report On American Cars Having Weak Tech Is Bunk

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Photo: RAM

A new sun awakens the day and JD Power publishes some more bullshit. All that and more in The Morning Shift for August 20, 2020.


1st Gear: This Report On American Car Tech Is Annoying Me

The American auto industry runs a wide spectrum at the moment. On one side you have Dodge, which would be jamming carbureted big blocks in Chargers if it could, and you have upstarts like Tesla that are pushing the boundaries on what you can get away with putting on the road, for better or for worse. You have the intentionally old school, and you have the willfully new school.

Maybe that’s why I am so annoyed by a new report from The Detroit News “Detroit carmakers come up short in JD Power U.S. tech rankings”:

It was disappointing overall showing for Detroit’s automakers, who only had two brands that performed better than the overall industry’s average score, which is based on a calculation of how effectively each automaker brings new technologies to market, measured on a 1,000-point scale. The measurement takes into account both the level of adoption of new technologies for each brand and the excellence in execution.


Among U.S. brands, RAM checked in at No. 14 and Chevrolet came in at No. 16. GMC clocked in at No. 17, while Ford ranked 18th. Buick ranked 20th and Dodge came in 22nd, while Chrysler placed 26th and Jeep placed 29th.

Tesla did not qualify because it did not meet the study criteria, but it would have ranked second overall. The Silicon Valley automaker’s rankings were considered unofficial because it did not grant permission for J.D. Power to interview Tesla owners in 15 states where it would have been required. Based on interviews with new owners in 35 states, Tesla received a Innovation Index score of 593, second only to Volvo’s 617.

This whole thing gets me because Tesla is excluded, the one mainstream American automaker that does focus on tech—Cadillac—shows very well, and the ones that are “disappointing” are, like RAM. Who wants new tech in a truck? The whole point of a truck is to be sturdy and reliable. “Dependable Dodge” as my mom would always say.

I don’t know, I shouldn’t get mad at a report, but JD Power is a weird op anyway and it always catches my eye.


2nd Gear: COVID Should Have Been The Time To Fix America’s Roads But Guess What They’re Getting Worse

The infrastructure opportunities of COVID-19 seem to be short-lived, as Bloomberg notes in a new report, “America’s Streets Are Getting Rougher:”

When it comes to road conditions, drivers in some areas of the U.S. have it far rougher than others. Pandemic-punched budget holes may mean they won’t get smoothed out anytime soon.

Many cities have used lockdown-induced empty streets as an opportunity to make repairs without disrupting traffic. But more than 700 U.S. cities have said they may cut infrastructure spending because of budget shortfalls, and more states are pushing off construction projects. Funding sources for roads vary by state.


I still remember the early days of quarantine here in NYC when streets were deserted, and it felt like you owned the whole town on your bicycle. This did not last long, as everyone quickly got back in the safety pods that were their cars, and started driving everywhere. Oh well.

3rd Gear: Please Enjoy This Incredibly Boring Report On Subaru Buying Hands-Free Driving Tech

Alright, back to car tech. I also remember when Tesla’s ability to follow lane lines and steer for you felt revolutionary. Life-changing! Now, it seems painfully mundane, as you can grasp from this Japan Times report on humble Subaru buying the tech:

Xilinx Inc. and Subaru Corp. on Wednesday said the Japanese automaker would use one of the Silicon Valley firm’s chips to power a new driver-assistance system that will let drivers go hands-free during traffic jams, among other new features.

The companies said Subaru’s forthcoming Levorg, a midsize hatchback vehicle, will use one of Xilinx’s Zynq chips in a new version of its EyeSight driver-assistance system.


The system will also be capable of hands-free driving during traffic jams at speeds below about 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour, as an add-on option. The feature will only be available in Japan on the Levorg, and will require the vehicle to be loaded with high-resolution mapping data.


4th Gear: Japan’s Mini-Vehicle Ownership Rate Falls For First Time In 44 Years

I have always loved Japan’s tiny kei cars and other mini-vehicles, from minute vans to sports cars. I could always count on the Japanese auto industry to come out with something small and interesting. But that trend seems to be changing, according to the Japan Times:

Japan’s minivehicle ownership rate fell at the end of 2019 from a year before, marking the first drop in 44 years, according to industry data.

Consumers’ move to replace their cars with smaller ones has apparently come to an end, said an official of the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association, which released the data on Monday.


The number of households grew particularly in metropolitan areas, including Tokyo and Osaka, where the ownership rate is relatively low.

Minivehicles, or vehicles with engine displacements of up to 660 cc, are still popular thanks to their maneuverability and enhanced safety features.

But the ownership rate is “expected to continue falling,” an official at a major Japanese automaker said, citing a high pace of growth in the number of households.


I suppose this means, generally, that urban Japanese households aren’t getting cars at all, not that they’re all suddenly buying Supras.

5th Gear: I Have No Idea Why This Report On Toyota Pulling Out Of The Subcompact Market Is Still Around But It Does Still Make Me Sad

This is a strange one, as it was almost two months ago that we started seeing reports that the Yaris is dead in America. And yet today, there’s another report from the Japan Times reiterating “Toyota to withdraw from U.S. subcompact car market,” citing the death of the Yaris:

Toyota Motor Corp. will withdraw from the U.S. subcompact car market, it was learned Thursday.

Currently, the Yaris is the only subcompact car sold by the automaker in the United States. Toyota will stop selling the model once stock runs out, according to informed sources.


Toyota outsources the production of the Yaris to a Mexican plant of Japanese partner Mazda Motor Corp. The model’s production for the U.S. market ended in June.

The plant, which also manufactures the Yaris for shipment to Canada and Puerto Rico, will cease production in August and November, respectively.


This shouldn’t feel new, this shouldn’t feel like another blow, but it does.

Reverse: Transportation History Is Social History

Via History:

On August 20, 1619, “20 and odd” Angolans, kidnapped by the Portuguese, arrive in the British colony of Virginia and are then bought by English colonists. The arrival of the enslaved Africans in the New World marks a beginning of two and a half centuries of slavery in North America.


Neutral: What Was The Highest Tech Pickup Truck Anyway?

America wasn’t always a kind of low-tech outpost in the car world, but we’re pretty truck-oriented these days, and I’m trying to think what was the most advanced pickup we made, given the standards of the time?



2nd Gear: COVID Should Have Been The Time To Fix America’s Roads But Guess What They’re Getting Worse

You clearly have no clue how infrastructure projects actually work apparently. It’s not just “Hey let’s fix these roads today since people are staying home!” It doesn’t work that way. There’s a lot of planning that needs to go into it - securing equipment, materials and personnel. Infrastructure projects like these are planned years in advance, not days.