Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. This is going to be a Trumpian edition today, so please prepare for a lot of nonsense.
Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. (better known as the evocative GAC) had a massive display at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, filled with cars and SUVs that looked ready for American showrooms and driveways.
And GAC came with a promise to sell cars here by 2019, which, thanks to that display, was a lot more believable than when GAC said it would come over here in 2017 a few years ago, announced from a tiny stand on the edge of the Detroit Auto Show. I personally remember GAC from its tweeter and sackbut days.
But while GAC may be ready for America, America’s government may not be ready for GAC. Washington is pissed, as Reuters reports:
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, cited GAC’s plans announced in Detroit on the Senate floor Wednesday and argued that Chinese automotive trade rules are “manifestly unfair, and a typically unfortunate example of China’s rapacious trading policies.”
Chinese-built cars shipped to the United States face just a 2.5 percent tariff, while U.S.-built cars sent to China are hit with a 25 percent tariff.
Trump himself also talked down on Chinese tariffs to American cars, so it’s fair to expect more conflict about this down the road. Whether or not GAC can sway Trump with its remarkably Trumpian brand name, “Trumpchi,” is yet to be seen.
It was not long ago that Peugeot was possibly the dowdiest automotive brand worldwide, with a range of uninspiring, bland, beige, tepid, limp, oatmeal-like middle class sedans selling to Europeans who could not be less interested in middle class sedans.
But there’s a new plan and it’s reasonably bold: Every model gets an electric version by 2025, as The Financial Times reports:
Peugeot owner PSA will offer all of its models with an electric option by 2025 and plans to install partial self-driving technology in most of its cars by 2030.
The company, which also owns the Citroën, DS, Opel and Vauxhall brands, is embarking on a technology drive, and will launch 40 new “electrified models”, chief executive Carlos Tavares told an audience on the fringes of the Detroit Motor Show.
This would be a worldwide effort, one that would include the United States. The goal is ambitious, but targeted. “We want to become the most efficient carmaker ... not the largest,” Tavares said, as reported in Automotive News.
The only way this doesn’t end up being radical is if a bunch of other carmakers beat Pug to the punch.
A few years back, the only news in the auto industry that anyone seemed to care about was which company claimed the title of the world’s largest carmaker, with the honor flipping around between Toyota, GM and the Icarus-like VW. Well, now Renault-Nissan claims it has the number one spot, as Reuters reports:
“The [Renault-Nissan] alliance, with more than 10.6 million light private and commercial vehicles sold in 2017, is the premier global automobile group,” [Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn] told a parliamentary committee hearing in Paris on Wednesday
“That has just been confirmed after Volkswagen this morning announced its sales of 10.74 million, including 200,000 heavy trucks, which we do not include in our statistics,” Ghosn said. “There can be no further discussion” on who is now top, he said.
What’s interesting is that Ghosn claimed that VW’s figure was artificially high, that it counted MAN and Scania heavy trucks that shouldn’t be included. I love how the top of the automotive pecking order is so disputed, and so petty.
Debatable loss of the world’s largest automaker title or no, the VW empire did at least get one narrow victory: Audi is apparently the top-selling luxury carmaker in China now, as Automotive News reports:
Last year, Audi sold 597,866 vehicles in China, up 1.1 percent from 2016, narrowly edging BMW Group, which sold 594,388 BMWs and Minis, up 15 percent. Daimler remained third although sales of Mercedes and Smart vehicles soared 26 percent to 587,868.
Audi is recovering from a boycott by dealers who protested its plans to open a second distribution channel in China. Sales plunged until Audi killed its proposal in May.
Bloomberg has quite a profile on “The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought,” and it includes a lot of insight into what went on behind closed doors at Uber while the company entered a seemingly endless spiral of bad news and worse reactions to it. (For reference: Uber Is Doomed.) You should read Bloomberg’s article in full, but one piece stuck out to me as particularly wild:
Even in top-level conversations where Kalanick appeared to be absent, other executives and board members suspected that Huffington was serving as his proxy. The founder of the Huffington Post was a constant presence at Uber’s offices, making suggestions that seemed to promote her new wellness company, Thrive Global Holdings LLC. For example, she wanted to put “nap pods” at driver hubs and give drivers meditation wristbands.
Huffington’s company apparently charged $50 million in consulting fees for this wisdom, which Huffington gave back after everyone realized how bad it all looked, as Bloomberg reports.
In any case, it’s a good view of what the atmosphere was like inside Uber when nap pods were a solution to one of the more exploitative and failed systems in a modern economy.
If the history of the global auto industry is anything to go by, Chinese cars are going to be mainstream in America in not too long. It all seems inevitable. Are you concerned with how that influx is going to happen? What would your plans be, were you to find yourself in Washington?