Image Credit: Chevrolet

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: Why Ford Isn’t Using GM’s Nine-Speed Automatic

Back in April of 2013, GM and Ford announced that they’d be working together to develop nine and 10-speed automatic transmissions. And while the 10-speed has made it into both companies’ rear-wheel drive products, the nine-speed will remain only a GM offering, Automotive News reports.

According to the news site, the deal was for Ford to take point on developing the rear-drive 10-speed, and GM to focus on the front-drive nine-speed. This way, both companies could save money; It would be “two new transmissions for the price of one,” as Automotive News puts it.

But now it appears that Ford isn’t going to use GM’s nine-speed; at least, not without significant modifications. The news site reports:

But Ford didn’t get quite the result it anticipated from the arrangement, signed five years ago this month. It has elected not to use GM’s nine-speed transmission out of the box, opting instead for a series of new eight-speed transmissions on vehicles such as the Ford Edge, Ford Transit Connect and Lincoln Nautilus.

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One of those eight-speeds is based off the nine-speed, but deletes some hardware that Ford decided it did not need. Automotive News quotes Ford representative Mike Levine, who said the extra gear just didn’t offer sufficient efficiency gains. Levine told the news site:

The small efficiency benefit did not justify the added weight and cost of an extra clutch and gear.

This change in hardware seems to counter one of the main goals of the collaboration between the two companies, with Ford’s Chief Engineer for driveline components Craig Renneker having said this about the agreement back in April of 2013:

The goal is to keep hardware identical in the Ford and GM transmissions. This will maximize parts commonality and give both companies economy of scale.

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Automotive News mentions that GM’s nine-speed transmission—which the company claims offers “smoother shifts” and a better driving experience—doesn’t appear to have yielded much fuel economy gain in GM products, with the face-lifted, nine-speed 2019 Buick Envision actually scoring 1 MPG less than the 2018 model with a 6-speed, and the new generation Malibu only managing 1 MPG better on the highway despite having an extra gear over the last-gen.

So it seems like more gears isn’t necessarily better in all applications, which is why Ford isn’t just taking GM’s trans and running with it.

2nd Gear: GM Korea Decides Not To File For Bankruptcy

GM’s Korean operations have been in peril for months now, with bankruptcy seeming at times like an inevitability. But today, Reuters reports, GM Korea decided to forgo entering bankruptcy thanks to major union concessions, with the news site writing:

General Motors Co’s (GM) South Korean unit dropped a plan to consider filing for bankruptcy after winning concessions on pay, bonuses and benefits from its labor union in a tentative deal reached on Monday.

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This comes after GM shut down a major plant in Gunsan, workers held a protest, some GM Korea employees destroyed the CEO’s office after being told they wouldn’t receive bonuses, and South Korea offered The General lots of cash to stay in the country.

The union’s concessions include a freeze to base wages, no bonuses this year and trimmed benefits, Reuters reports. The news site goes on describing the agreement, saying:

Future base wage increases and performance pay “will be dependent upon the company regaining profitability”, while the base wage rises will not exceed inflation, it said.

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As for the workers at the shut-down Gunsan factory, there may still be hope:

Regarding its 680 remaining workers at the Gunsan factory, which is scheduled to be shuttered in May, the company will “implement options including a voluntary redundancy program and transfers” to other plants to avoid layoffs.

It seems like GM Korea is continuing to hold on. But whether the organization remains long-term will depend on if it can make a turnaround to profitability. And considering that GM Korea’s bread and butter is small cars in a time when trucks and SUVs are hot, this may be a tall task.

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3rd Gear: Nissan Wants To Renovate Most Of Its Dealerships

Nissan, a brand that used to build exciting cars but whose cars now stand firmly in the “beigemobile” category, recently announced at a press event in Japan that it would build eight electrified cars by 2022, and that it’d overhaul its dealership network.

That “overhaul,” Automotive News reports, involves renovating 9,000 dealerships around the world in the next half-decade; according to the news site, that represents 90 percent of the automaker’s dealership network. The news site describes the changes, which had already been announced for the U.S. market, writing:

The design standards, which include more prominent signage, enhanced customer-handling procedures and broad, open showrooms and service departments, have not been required unless a dealership is new construction or a store renovation is already planned.

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According to Automotive News, Nissan says it’ll be up to the dealers to decide how or whether they’ll implement the dealership alterations, but apparently 400 stores have already been remodeled under the program. Some U.S. dealers even told the news site that the changes have yielded “increases in both sales and service business.”

I myself would be interested in seeing a new-and-improved Nissan dealership, just as soon as the brand builds an interesting enthusiast’s car that’s not based on an ancient platform.

4th Gear: Michigan And The United Kingdom To Work Together On Self-Driving Cars

Michigan, home of Motor City and all the engineering expertise that comes with it, is partnering with self-driving car experts in the United Kingdom to help bring the technology to fruition. The Financial Times writes:

Under a memorandum of understanding signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and UK business minister Richard Harrington, agencies and businesses from Detroit and parts of the UK such as Warwick and London will share technology and ideas for the future.

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Part of that agreement involves the two parties devising rules for self-driving automobiles and sharing expertise on “smart motorways” (which, I assume is a reference to Vehicle To Infrastructure communication).

The news site quotes Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, who described the importance of the memorandum, saying:

“We need to embrace a broader network...The technology itself is being developed in many different places...Britain is a place of core competency in this field.”

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Autonomous driving has a lot of obstacles between its current state and actually becoming a market reality, so speeding up development through partnerships like this one seems like a necessity.

5th Gear: German Diesel Bans May Be Unavoidable Unless Automakers Implement Hardware Changes

Even after the “Emergency Diesel Summit” last summer, Germany continues to struggle to keep its cities from banning diesel automobiles, which have contributed markedly to air pollution (and which also prop up the German auto industry). While automakers and politicians at the aforementioned Diesel Summit agreed on software changes to 5 million diesel vehicles in Germany, some think expensive hardware changes are the only real solution.

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Among those people is Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Minister For The Environment, who—according to Reuters—told newspaper Tagesspiegel she thinks cities will ban diesel cars unless automakers actually change out components. She told the German newspaper:

I fear that in cities where the limits have been far exceeded - Munich, Stuttgart and others - software updates alone will not suffice.

She went on, saying that hardware changes are “the only realistic way to avoid driving bans,” and that automakers should be expected to pay for the fixes as “they are the ones who have caused this.”

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Diesel is doomed. At least in small cars in Europe.

Reverse: Chrysler Buys Lamborghini Because K-Cars Aren’t Sexy

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Neutral: How Many Gears Is Enough?

Based on Ford’s decision to change GM’s transmission to an eight-speed, it appears that more gears isn’t always better. I myself have drive a nine-speed transmission (in the Jeep Cherokee KL), and found the top gear to be useless. What has been your experience with these many-gear transmissions?