When Automakers Imagine Cars As 'Smartphones On Wheels'

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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: Fiat Chrysler, UAW Strike A Deal Without Striking

Well, that was relatively quick. Mere days after they had been “targeted” by the United Auto Workers to lead this round of contract negotiations for hourly workers, Fiat Chrysler struck a tentative deal with the union last night.

Exact details haven’t been released until the membership can discuss it, but the agreement does address the tiered system everyone hates. From The Detroit News:

Marchionne did say the contract addresses the issue of the tier-one/tier-two pay disparity under which newer workers are paid a lower hourly rate. He said it will go away “over time,” but would not elaborate if the system will be eliminated under the tentative deal.

One of the most radical changes in the new deal could be a health care co-op pool that Marchionne said “will benefit the much larger population in terms of purchasing capability ... ”

“I think it’s embedded in the spirit of the agreement and I sincerely hope that it gets implemented,” Marchionne said without providing any details.

Now UAW leadership and then local Fiat Chrysler union members must approve the plan, which could take about two weeks.

2nd Gear: Volkswagen To “Reinvent” Itself As A Maker Of “Smartphones On Wheels”

“Smartphones on wheels.” That’s how Volkswagen described their future products at the Frankfurt Motor Show this week. You probably noticed a bunch of electrified and high-tech concepts coming from the Group as a whole, and that’s no coincidence. VW says they want to focus on high-tech cars and alternative powertrains in the coming years. Via Bloomberg:

“We are in the process of reinventing Europe’s largest automaker,” Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said ahead of the Frankfurt International Motor Show that starts this week. “By 2020, we will have transformed all of our new cars into smartphones on wheels.”

Pushed by potential threats from Apple Inc. and Google Inc. and the success of electric vehicles made by Tesla Motors Inc. in the U.S., German carmakers in particular are seeking to maintain their edge, developing fuel-efficient models that provide more media connectivity for the wired lifestyle of modern consumers.


I hate that Winterkorn uses the descriptor “smartphones on wheels”, but he’s pretty accurate about where cars are going in terms of connectivity, tech, and increasing autonomy.

3rd Gear: BMW CEO Reportedly OK After Collapse

BMW’s new CEO Harald Krueger had a scary moment at the auto show on Tuesday, collapsing on stage during a press conference. According to Automotive News today, he’s doing fine and is taking some time off to recover. He faces no other long-term health concerns.


4th Gear: BMW To Jump Big Into The Business Of Autonomous Cars

VW isn’t the only automaker starting to wake up to the idea that cars themselves could have radically different purposes than they do now in the decades to come. BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer said the company is “preparing to rethink its products, design and business models for the advent of driverless cars”, according to Reuters. That includes having the logistics for BMWs on demand:

“If it is going to be within three minutes, then I need a certain volume of cars to make that happen. Whether BMW owns these fleets our outsources the business is an open question,” Schwarzenbauer said.

“New mobility concepts will emerge with autonomous vehicles, which are robot cars. Fleet management will become a much more significant business,” he said.

The onset of smartphones has fundamentally changed customer expectations. Rather than buying and owning a car, customers can use phones to hail a limousine or find a car-sharing vehicle, Ian Robertson, BMW’s board member for marketing and sales said.

“The ability to use a car, and then walk away is a serious business,” Robertson said, adding that it was still a long way to go in regulatory and legal terms to resolve liability questions before ride sharing models will use driverless cars.


The future is coming.

5th Gear: Frankfurt Roundup

Here’s what happened at Germany’s big auto show, Day Two:


History: General Motors Formed By High-School Dropout Who Hated Cars


Neutral: How Far Into The Future Should Automakers Look?

Two product cycles? Twenty years? Fifty years?

Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.


Margin Of Error

Neutral: How Far Into The Future Should Automakers Look?

They should look 30 years in the past and stop looking in the god damned future.