This is The Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place every weekday morning. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: Santa Cruz! Santa Cruz!
The Hyundai Santa Cruz was the car at this year's Detroit Auto Show I most wanted to see built. Combining what consumers love about compact crossovers with a truck bed seems like a great idea to us and we've told anyone who would listen how cool it is.
Hyundai appears to have listened, at least to our enthusiasm. Here's a blip from Reuters:
Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) is considering producing pick-up trucks, an executive told reporters on Tuesday, saying its Santa Cruz crossover truck concept got "good response" at the Detroit auto show in January.
However, Park Byung-cheol, a director at Hyundai's R&D division, added that there were "hurdles" to the production, without elaborating further.
He also said there was no current plan to manufacture its Tucson crossovers in the United States.
Let's try to break this story down.
- Hyundai is considering a pickup and we've encouraged them with our response. That's good news, although Hyundai is always considering a pickup.
- Building it isn't as easy as slapping on bed on a Tucson which, again, we knew.
- Tucson production isn't going to the U.S. Hmm...
My issue is with that last part. It seems to not be a random inclusion but a nod to a problem we have with the Santa Cruz. Most people seem to think the concept is intended to be a Tucson underneath, which means you'd want to build it next to the Tucson.
Unfortunately, to hit the price point that makes this interesting you'd have to avoid the 25% Chicken Tax and it would therefore likely need to be made in the United States (unless Hyundai has some other way around this).
Figure it out Hyundai! We want this thing.
2nd Gear: European Car Sales Are Up Up Up!
Europe's economy continues to crawl out from the gutter and car sales, aided by lower fuel prices, are leading the charge with a february that was up 7% year-over-year.
Most of this is good news, although there a few caveats that Bloomberg brings up we should talk about.
- Spain is the fastest growing market and it still has a lot of pent up demand and is in the middle of a cash-for-clunkers like problem.
- Ze Germans, in particular Volkswagen, are heavily discounting and cutting into profits.
- We've got a lot of new models coming onto the market, and that includes the popular Jeep Renegade.
Still, it's mostly good news.
3rd Gear: It's Tough To Touch Ze Germans (And Lexus)
Automotive News makes the point, and I buy it, that there are two tiers of luxury carmakers in the United States: Ze Germans + Lexus and E'r'body else.
The truth for aspiring brands on the outside looking in is that the rising luxury tide is not lifting all ships equally. Luxury brand sales, up 6.4 percent in 2014, grew faster than the mass market, but the top three brands plus Audi enjoyed the lion's share of the gains.
Combined, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus accounted for more than half of all U.S. luxury brand sales last year. With luxury sales projected by IHS Automotive to grow from 11.4 percent of the market last year to 12.7 percent in 2016, the stakes for aspiring brands are high.
At one point Mitsubishi was the fastest growing Japanese brand in America and Acura looked unstoppable. Tastes change. Car brands figure it out. It won't be like this forever.
Although, here's a hella awesome Johan De Nysschen quote:
"Something has got to be wrong when a brand as iconic as Cadillac, and part of the fabric of American culture, has one crossover and one SUV. The Germans have so many we can't even keep track," he said during a presentation to Wall Street analysts in November.
It's true. I lose track all the time.
4th Gear: Toyota Raises Wages On Back Of Abenomics
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's 'Abenomics' economic stimulus plan has been a boon for exporters like Toyota, who have been able to benefit greatly from a cheap yen.
As such, Toyota will offer unionized workers their biggest pay lift in 13 years, which is about 3.2% on average or $32.94 a month. Not a huge amount, but it's a big deal for Japanese companies. This is good for Abe, who needs personal wealth to grow along with corporate wealth to spur domestic consumption. Toyota has benefited as much as anyone in Japan from this programs, if not more so, which explains why they're doing their part.
As the WSJ reports, not all small companies are as export heavy and are thus having to deal with a weak currency and little upside to themselves and are therefore not offering huge raises to their employees.
It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.
5th Gear: NHTSA To Crack Down On Drowsy Drivers
Every NHTSA administrator and Transpo secretary has a hard on for some kind of public safety campaign. In the past it was drunk driving and, more recently, it was distracted cell phone/texting driving. The cause of the moment for new NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind appears to be drowsy driving.
“We’re going to develop strategies specifically targeting populations especially vulnerable to drowsy driving,” Rosekind said, according to a copy of his remarks distributed by his office. “And we’re going to comprehensively examine the role that driver aids, in the car and outside of it, can play — everything from high-tech solutions like computer algorithms that detect when you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel, to old standbys like rumble strips on the road.”
He said NHTSA is going to begin developing and testing public awareness campaign techniques.
NHTSA said in a 2011 study that drowsy driving was involved in 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent of total fatal crashes from 2005-2009 — or at least 1,000 deaths a year on average. At least 72,000 drowsy crashes involving injuries or property damage were reported annually.
We've dogged on NHTSA and DOT fairly hard in the past for their random priorities, but this is a reasonable thing to try and address as there doesn't seem to be a great deal of public consciousness about the dangers.
Reverse: Wasn't He Just Born?
Gottlieb Daimler, who in 1890 founded an engine and car company bearing his name, is born in Schorndorf, Germany, on this day in 1834.
Neutral: Hyundai Santa Cruz: Would You Buy One?
If so, why? If no, why not?
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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