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: Another Takata Death
As automakers scramble to recall a seemingly endless slew of potentially lethal defective airbags made by supplier Takata, another airbag-related death has been reported in Texas. This is the 10th U.S. death linked to the airbag, which can rupture and send shrapnel into the cars’ occupants.
The latest death took place on March 31 in Fort Bend County, Texas. Honda said the owner had been mailed multiple recall notices about the five-year-old recall effort, but repairs were never made.
The victim, a high school senior from Richmond, Texas, ran into the back of a Honda CR-V that was waiting for traffic to clear to make a left turn, said Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Beckwith. The driver was not excessively speeding and was wearing her seat belt, he said, saying the crash resulted in moderate damage to her car.
“Everybody should have walked away from this,” Beckwith said in an interview. He said shrapnel punctured the air bag and sliced the young woman’s neck and carotid artery. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
It’s not clear why the repairs were never made despite the notices.
2nd Gear: Nope, It Was Only Volkswagen
Since Dieselgate began, the big question on everyone’s minds (well, one of several) has been: Who else was cheating? But according to a report by the German government, while other diesel cars showed some irregularities with emissions, only Volkswagen was using a system designed explicitly to cheat. Here’s Reuters via Automotive News:
Other cars showed irregularities during on-road testing of emissions levels, but these were within legal limits, the paper cited sources as saying.
The paper said the full report by the KBA, part of the German transport ministry, would be released in late April.
“The final results will be published after the end of the investigation,” the paper cited a spokesman for the transport ministry as saying.
3rd Gear: Welcome To Phoenix
On the autonomous car front, Google is about to expand testing of its self-driving vehicle to Phoenix, Arizona. The southwestern city is now the fourth city to test such vehicles; expanding testing out of California will be increasingly common since that state passed stringent rules on those vehicles. Once again via Reuters:
Most of Google’s 1.5 million miles of autonomous vehicle testing has taken place in California. But it has publicly sparred with the state since December when California proposed rules requiring a steering wheel, brake pedals and a licensed driver in all robot test vehicles on the road.
“Arizona is known as a place where research and development is welcome, innovation can thrive, and companies can set up roots,” said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the Google Self-Driving Car project. “The Phoenix area has distinct desert conditions, which will help us better understand how our sensors and cars handle extreme temperatures and dust in the air.”
Google said its test drivers recently began driving four Lexus RX450h SUVs around the Phoenix area to create a detailed map of streets, lane markers, traffic signals and curb heights.
4th Gear: Is The Sports Car Dying?
Big sedans aren’t the only victim of the crossover takeover. For decades if you wanted a fun, fast car that handled well, a true sports car was your only option, but in today’s world of absurdly fast and decent-handling SUVs like the BMW X6 M, the traditional sports car—hell, even the traditional sports coupe—is having a hard time finding its footing.
As buyers migrate to trucks and SUVs with gas so cheap, smaller and more impractical vehicles are lagging hard in sales, even if their driving dynamics are clearly superior. Bloomberg examines this depressing trend:
Swanky sports cars are losing momentum in the U.S. of late. Sales in the segment have declined for the past six quarters. Last year, nearly one-third of premium sports car purchases vanished, according to Edmunds.com. The trend is only accelerating this year. There was a 52 percent drop in sales during the first quarter of 2016.
“I think there’s a significant change in the desire for driving—I think there’s a significant slowdown in that,” said Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO of consultancy Vivaldi Partners Group, which advises carmakers.
Bloomberg cites three factors: SUV mania, fast non-sports car models like the Tesla Model S, and the fact that less-expensive sports coupes like the Mazda Miata, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang can offer performance and thrills on par with or even better than vastly more expensive models these days.
5th Gear: ‘We Produce Entertainment’
To follow on that thread, the high-end supercar market is changing too, thanks to autonomous driving, hybridization and other technology. It’s not just about big engines and big numbers anymore. Via Bloomberg:
The appeal of a supercar used to be relatively straightforward: aggressive styling, a growling engine, and racetrack-ready handling, garnished with an exotic name.
The time-honored formula is being tested as customers demand more than just acceleration and a gawking public. Supercars are starting to feature wireless connectivity, electric-engine options, and even apps to open the doors. Take Bugatti’s latest monster, the Chiron: It comes with an infotainment system that fades to invisibility on the cockpit screens as the car’s speed increases, specs that were absent from its predecessor, the Veyron. Over at McLaren Automotive Ltd., makers of the 866,000-pound ($1.24 million) P1 hybrid, one question on Chief Executive Officer Mike Flewitt’s mind is how to make an electric engine vibrate.
“These are the questions we need to answer for us to be relevant and exciting in the future,” Flewitt said in an interview. “We don’t produce transportation, we produce entertainment.”
Reverse: RIP Henry Ford
Neutral: How Does The Sports Car Stay Relevant?
And not to people like us, either. To normal, car-buying people. Is the sports car doomed eventually?