Photo: Toyota
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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: Now Or Never Or Maybe Eventually

Toyota is keenly aware that it’s behind competitors on the electric vehicle market, with everyone from General Motors to Nissan to Tesla pushing out $30,000 range cars that carry enough battery power for most drivers. To put it not-so-lightly, the Japanese automakerwhich doesn’t have a single EV nameplatehas taken to calling it a “now or never” moment.

So, on Monday, Toyota finally stepped up with a vision of its own for the future: under a plan unveiled Monday in Japan, Toyota says it’ll start making more than 10 EVs worldwide by the early 2020s, according to Automotive News. The vehicles will be introduced first in China, then Japan, and eventually India, the U.S. and Europe.

Here’s more from Automotive News:

Under the plan unveiled Monday in Japan, Toyota said it will sell more than 10 BEVs (battery-powered models) worldwide by the early 2020s and electrified versions of every model in the Toyota and Lexus lineups by 2025, with plans to sell some 5.5 million traditional gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2030.

By then, Toyota said it expects to sell 1 million EVs or fuel cell vehicles alone a year.

The bold goals mark a major departure for Japan’s biggest automaker, which has long favored its trademark gasoline-electric hybrid technology over purely battery-powered systems.

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Now, this wasn’t exactly a surprise; Toyota announced a battery breakthrough of sorts over the summer, so it seemed like it was only a matter of time before it threw its weight behind electric vehicles. This just shows the automaker’s clearly over being views as an EV skeptic. If I had to guess, with another automaker in the ring with the ability to scale like Toyota, I can’t imagine this is good news for players like Tesla.

2nd Gear: Did You Know Americans Like Pickup Trucks

The way this year has gone, you’d expect every auto show in the coming months would be dominated by chatter about electric cars and autonomous ridesbut not in Detroit. At this year’s North American International Auto Show, pickup trucks are going to reign supreme. Again.

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Oil prices haven’t skyrocketed yet, so the peak in sales of pickupsand larger vehicles all togetherhasn’t relented. So Detroit automakers are sticking to them at this year’s NAIAS, reports the Detroit Free Press:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is expected to take the wraps off the 2019 Ram 1500 at next month’s North American International Auto Show, while General Motors is dropping hints it will at least talk about the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado.

Analysts, journalists and other industry pundits have warned for nearly two years about the peak in pickup sales. Still, there is no evidence that the boom will end.

“Short of an oil shock, and that would mean an international crisis of some kind, I don’t see any dark clouds on the horizon for these trucks,” said Jerry Hirsch, editor at Trucks.com, a website that covers a wide spectrum of trucks, from pickups to delivery vans to semis and tractor-trailers.

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Sources with Chevy told the newspaper that the new Silverado may include a carbon-fiber reinforced bed, but other than that, few details are known about what’s going to be shown. This just confirms one thing for me: automakers know they need to sell regular cars for a long time coming if they want to support their ambitious electric and autonomous plans.

3rd Gear: New Nissan Design Chief Is About The Tech Stuff

Last March, Nissan’s top design head, Shiro Nakamura, stepped down from the company, after running the automaker’s design department for nearly two decades. In his stead comes Alfonso Albaisa, and according to Automotive News, he’s planning big changes at Nissan and Infiniti.

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“We’re moving into a new generation,” he told the news publication.

One particular focus is the shape of the cars. Here’s what he told Automotive News about that:

Nissan also is updating its design process to focus more on what it calls user experience and user interface, or how drivers and passengers interact with the vehicles. This will open a new world of digital arts. Nissan used to hire predominantly from industrial design or fashion schools, but it now increasingly seeks graduates versed in filmmaking and software design. Those are the skills needed to keep humans emotionally invested in the digital cars of tomorrow, Albaisa said.

The rush of new technology soon will start translating into new looks for the company’s cars.

Electrification and autonomous driving will do away with cumbersome engines, driveshafts and steering columns, clearing the way for human-centered vehicle proportions.

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The story has more nuts and bolts about Albaisa’s thought process, but changes to the physical appearance of the car, he said, should be noticeable by the early 2020s.

4th Gear: Aston Martin Reportedly Planning A Sale

The owners of Aston Martin are reportedly planning to list the company on the stock market or sell it outright. Reuters reported that Aston Martin’s chief owners are hoping to “cash in on a recovery of sales and are in the initial stages of a strategic review.”:

They have hired investment bank Lazard to work on a preliminary plan and could either opt for an initial public offering (IPO) in the third or fourth quarter of 2018 or a trade sale, two of the sources said on Friday.

A deal could value the maker of the sportscar driven by Britain’s Prince William on his wedding day at between 2 and 3 billion pounds ($4 billion), one of the sources said, adding a listing was the most likely option.

However, no final decision had been taken and the investors could decide to retain control, the sources added.

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No word on if future Astons would continue looking like old James Bond cars.

5th Gear: Auto Dealer Showdown

There’s a fascinating tit-for-tat unfolding between one of the largest auto dealership owners in the U.S. and a former partner. Terry Taylor, who owns anywhere from 120-150 dalers in the country, is being accused by a former partner of inflating expenses and withholding revenue that should’ve been shared, reports Automotive News.

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That claim comes in a new lawsuit filed after Taylor filed a lawsuit of his own in September against the minority partner, Michael Petrello, whom Taylor accuses of violating a noncompete clause in his work contract.

But it’s the allegations against Taylor that are standing out. Petrello accuses Taylor and his company, Automotive Management Services Inc., of “fattening his wallet” at the expense of minority partners, Automotive News reports.

Here’s more from the news outlet:

Two aspects of the suit are drawing attention from minority partners in Taylor’s other dealerships. First is the allegation that Taylor and AMSI overcharged for rent and services rendered, thus watering down the store profits that partners such as Petrello can share. Second is an accusation that Taylor hid millions of dollars in reinsurance profits from premiums paid on finance and insurance products sold at Taylor’s stores.

“I’m not a vindictive person, and I think Mr. Taylor is a smart person,” Petrello told Automotive News. But he contends in his countersuit that “Taylor had the fraudulent intent to divest the Company of its expected gross revenues thereby causing the Company to pay less dividend payments to its shareholders.”

Petrello’s lawyer declined to comment in detail, saying the lawsuits are active litigation.

But Cameron, Taylor’s lawyer, wrote, “Mr. Petrello worked at the dealership for almost a full year prior to becoming a shareholder and should have had a complete understanding of the rent, the sale of warranty products and the benefits received from the many services provided by AMSI.” In addition, “It is unfortunate that Mr. Petrello is now, only after he was terminated, raising questions about the written agreements he made and confirmed over and over that he fully understood,” Cameron wrote.

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Of course, both sides deny the allegations being lobbed by one another. But with millions at stake, it’s certainly a case to watch.

Reverse: Remember This?

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Neutral: Toyota’s EV Gameplan

If I had to guess, I’d bet Toyota could seriously alter the landscape for electric vehicles, I’m just wondering if they’re a little late to the punch here.