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: Ford Wants To Be The 'Fast' Brand
As carmakers increasingly benchmark one another, we've seen vehicles that are increasingly difficult to tell apart. What is the philosophical difference behind the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata, for instance?
That's a compliment to Hyundai, by the way, that they can build something that can be mentioned in the same breath as the world crushing Camry. It's also a warning to all carmakers: If you can build a great car so, eventually, can someone else.
This is where creating a brand based on an identifiably different ethos – think Subaru and AWD performance – is a benefit. It also explains where Ford is going.
What is Ford? They're attractive products, almost universally. They're market conquering trucks. With EcoBoost I suppose they're a little have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too. There's no coherence in any of this, though.
Thus we've seen Ford push out a fleet of powerful, performance-oriented cars that we can't help but lose our shit over. There's the Ford Focus RS, the Ford Shelby GT350R, the Ford GT, and the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor... and those are just the cars they showed at Detroit.
You're going to see a lot more use of the racetrack as our laboratory and test bed," Dave Pericak, head of Ford Performance, told Automotive News last month here at the global launch of the new division's Focus RS hatchback.
Ford Performance was formed at the end of last year by combining Ford's Special Vehicle Team in North America, Team RS in Europe and global Ford Racing operation.
"We were confusing customers," Pericak said. "By putting them all under one umbrella, we're going to be much more efficient."
That is the best kind of efficiency.
High-powered special vehicles have a long history at Ford but this time it's different, said Ford of Europe chief Jim Farley.
"Performance is a more complete idea," he told Automotive News at the RS unveiling. "People will think about Ford differently than just a commodity. We are not a commodity brand."
They go on to say that some of this technology – in particular the AWD/Ecoboost package – is going to end up on other cars. Fusion RS anyone?
2nd Gear: India Gets Its Own Chicken Tax
Truckmakers do not like having to deal with foreign competition, thus we ended up with the infamous 'Chicken Tax' here in the United States and we're seeing something similar in India.
The effective levy on imported commercial vehicles will be raised to 20 percent from 10 percent, according to the federal budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to parliament today. Shares of Tata Motors Ltd. and Ashok Leyland Ltd., India’s biggest and second-biggest truck makers, rose in Mumbai.
While the number of trucks and buses being imported into the South Asian country is small, India’s automobile manufacturers’ group said there had been concern that the prevailing low tariff could encourage manufacturers to bring in vehicles from China. Domestic commercial vehicles sales declined 4.6 percent in the 10 months ended January, on track for the third consecutive annual drop.
All I know is iI want a cheap Mahindra Thar here in the United States.
3rd Gear: How You Know We're In Late Era Capitalism
A modern economy always sparkles before it explodes, with a veneer of excess that draws everyone closer to the ticking time bomb just underneath the surface. While I don't imagine we're going to see another great recession, many are waiting for a market "readjustment" that brings some logic to the value of brands that make no profits and have no identifiable future.
Until then, hyper luxury cars are the way to go and I gotta give Rolls-Royce North America president Eric Shepherd credit for nailing it in this Bloomberg story:
"We're evolving," says Eric Shepherd, president of Rolls- Royce North America, about the shift into a sportier model. "Take a 22-year-old guy who just sold his app company for $22 million. When he gets behind the wheel of a Wraith, he's hooked."
While not every Wraith or Mulsanne Speed buyer is going to be the person behind the next Snapchat, it underscores the idea that old money (or people who want to imitate old money) buys what it always buys and new money wants something new.
No judgment. Some of the new cars are fascinating.
4th Gear: The Poignancy Of A Global Jeep
Jeep remains one of the most valuable non luxury brands in the world, with seemingly nothing but upside and a huge following and acceptance in almost every market.
Why? While Ford and Chevy have become global brands, the idea of Jeep as "American" remains intact.
Why? My theory, and it's just a theory, is that Jeeps were exported by the U.S. military to outposts around the globe from WWII all the way through Vietnam. Around the same time, licensed copies sprung up in Asia, Europe and South America. The world knows Jeep.
Here's the proof, via Brent Snavely:
A factory in Italy began making the new Jeep Renegade late last year, a factory in Brazil began making the Renegade earlier this year, and the automaker hopes to begin production of the Cherokee in China by the end of this year. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also plans to begin reassembling the Jeeps in India this year from kits produced elsewhere as the brand is launched in the world's sixth-largest car market.
Jeep's annual production capacity will increase by 590,000 in a span of just 18 months. It's likely to take several years to build sales and its dealer networks enough to justify full production, but the company's foundation is set for reaching its annual sales target of 1.9 million.
That's a lot of Jeeps.
5th Gear: Hyundai Recalling 200K Cars For Steering Issue
I like the Elantra. If someone wants a cheap, relatively efficient and safe compact sedan I'll tell them to test drive the little Hyundai and see if they can get a good deal (they almost always can).
If someone wants a car that has responsive steering then I tell them to get almost anything else. Thus the recent Hyundai Elantra recall for cars that might suddenly revert to manual steering has me wondering if that isn't an improvement.
"Steering control can be maintained; however, the vehicle will revert to a manual steering mode, requiring greater driver effort, particularly at low speeds. This could result in an increased risk of a crash," Hyundai wrote in its report.
The sudden part is bad, admittedly, but I still think this solves the problem of not being able to feel the wheels.
Reverse: Like A Sporty Jeep Renegade
On this day in 1966, in Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company celebrates the production of its 1 millionth Mustang, a white convertible. The sporty, affordable vehicle was officially launched two years earlier, on April 17, 1964, at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. That same day, the new car debuted in Ford showrooms across America; almost immediately, buyers snapped up nearly 22,000 of them. More than 400,000 Mustangs were sold within that first year, exceeding sales expectations.
Neutral: Are You Buying Ford's Performance Message?
Is it resonating with you?
Photo Credit: Getty Images