Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Ultimately nothing matters because we’ll all be dead eventually, but until then, stave off the inevitable with the most important auto-related stories of the day.
1st Gear: You Can Have Any Model 3 You Want, As Long As It’s...
What is true luxury? I wouldn’t know, since I largely only drive beater cars, but my dear friend Fancy Kristen informs me it’s two things: having the right kind of police in your upstate New York village who will kindly ignore your traffic infractions in exchange for generous under the table donations, and being able to customize your vehicle in any manner you see fit. Think of what Bentley and Aston Martin and, to a degree, even Tesla allow with their cars: tons of options.
The upcoming Tesla Model 3 will not be like that. In addition to being a mass-market car where volume sales are absolutely critical to Tesla’s future success, it seems early versions of the Model 3 will be pretty limited on options so Tesla can just get the damn thing out and into your driveways. So sayeth Elon Musk himself, according to Reuters:
“You just need to decide what color you want and what size wheels, at least for the initial production,” Musk told shareholders at an annual meeting in Silicon Valley.
Hundreds of thousands of potential buyers put down refundable deposits on the Model 3. Buyers will be able to configure vehicles next month, Musk said.
Additional choices will become available, but he did not say when.
By comparison, the Model S sedan offers numerous battery sizes, an optional sunroof, various interiors and several upgrades including sound systems and limited self-driving.
In addition, the Model 3 will only be rear-wheel drive at first; an all-wheel drive variant will come later.
I fully expect fancier options will come with time, but for now, the Model 3 is a big dose of reality for Tesla when compared to, say, the Model X’s extravagant—but costly—Falcon Doors.
2nd Gear: It’s Hard Out There For Hyundai
Hyundai currently makes cars that are excellent in almost every way, save for performance, and are certainly the best they have ever made. But since Hyundai lacks a selection of massive, hulking, environment destroying SUVs and opulent pickup trucks, its sales are struggling at the moment. This was a big reason Hyundai’s U.S. CEO was ousted in December.
Now Hyundai’s U.S. sales chief, Derrick Hatami, is out too, reports Automotive News:
Hatami’s decision to depart follows the December 2016 firing of Hyundai’s U.S. CEO, Dave Zuchowski, and comes on the heels of a tough May for the South Korean automaker, in which Hyundai brand sales dropped 18 percent to 58,259 units. For the year, sales are down 7.5 percent to 283,547 units. The brand’s U.S. light-vehicle sales have dropped six straight months year over year. Those numbers exclude the new Genesis luxury division, which has sold 8,306 units this year.
Hatami, 44, oversaw both the Hyundai and Genesis brands.
Hyundai’s numbers have been hampered by a shift away from fleet sales, without an offsetting boost in incentive or marketing spending. Also weighing down Hyundai is a car-heavy product mix and tight production capacity for the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport crossovers.
It may be time for Hyundai to jump on that crazy incentive bandwagon.
3rd Gear: Carlos Ghosn Needs Someone To Take Up His Mantle
Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has much to be proud of. He built one of the most successful partnerships in the automotive world, rescued Nissan from the brink through an unprecedented cost-cutting beigeification process, and added Mitsubishi to the family, for some reason.
But he’s 63 now. He’s not getting any younger. Slowing down in his advancing age. He can’t do this forever. Like Batman, he needs a Robin, or I guess a Nightwing; a second-in-command to be his eventual successor that will further the alliance’s goals. Via Reuters:
Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is recruiting a new operational second-in-command for the carmaking alliance, company sources told Reuters, in a move designed to prepare his own succession and advance the companies’ integration.
Under the plan, the currently separate chief competitive officer (CCO) roles at Renault (RENA.PA) and Nissan (7201.T) would be fused into a single position at the 18-year-old alliance’s helm, the sources said.
Nissan Chief Performance Officer Jose Munoz and CCO Yasuhiro Yamauchi are seen internally as strong contenders, they said, along with Stefan Mueller, Munoz’s counterpart at Renault.
Ghosn, 63, aims to fill the new post later this year, backed by further steps to combine Renault and Nissan manufacturing, research and development and other key activities.
“He’s already preparing the next stage,” one of the people said. “The process is underway.”
Who will take up Carlos’ battle? Will it be... you?
I hope so. I have always believed in you.
4th Gear: Turns Out Volkswagen Needs More Babysitters
One of the terms of Volkswagen’s settlement with the feds over the diesel cheating was that the automaker get an external watchdog for three years to ensure there’s no more emissions tomfoolery, hijinks, fuckery and/or shenanigans. Someone has to be there to make sure VW doesn’t do something bad again.
Now it turns out the court-appointed monitor needs some extra help in that regard. Three times as much help, in fact, reports Bloomberg:
Volkswagen Group’s U.S. court-appointed monitor might triple the number of experts supervising the car manufacturer to 60 staffers as investigations into its diesel-emissions scandal weigh on the company almost two years after the cheating emerged.
The overseer’s office will work full-time on reviewing documents and conducting employee interviews to get an overview of VW’s sprawling industrial operations and its compliance systems, said Larry Thompson, the monitor.
[...] Thompson’s monitoring will stretch across all 12 auto brands, but that might eventually be narrowed down, he said at the press briefing after attending a gathering of VW Wolfsburg car plant workers and an earlier, five-day “boot camp” with managers to gain an overview of the company.
It makes sense. The VW Group is a huge conglomerate with more than 600,000 employees. Any one of them could start cheating emissions at any time!
5th Gear: Barra Gets A Win With Shareholders
Plummeting stock prices over at Ford cost CEO Mark Fields his job. General Motors has similar problems with Wall Street, but in this case, the automaker’s shareholders have confidence in CEO Mary Barra to the point of staving off a move from an activist investor aimed at boosting stock prices, reports The Detroit Free Press:
GM’s stockholders sent a clear message on Tuesday that they have faith in the leadership of CEO Mary Barra as they cast 91% of their votes against a shareholder proposal from activist investor David Einhorn and resoundingly voted against his nominees for the company’s board of directors.
The overwhelming defeat came after an aggressive two-month campaign waged by Einhorn and Greenlight Capital, the firm he co-founded. When votes from Greenlight Capital are removed, the tally was more than 96%.
Also, all 11 of GM’s board nominees were elected by wide margins, with each one winning by a range of 84% to 99% of the votes cast, the company said.
Einhorn tried to convince shareholders the company needed to do more to boost its stock price. He wanted to split GM’s stock into two classes — one designed for big dividend returns and another designed to reward shareholders if the automaker’s profits and stock price grow.
It’s a win for Barra, who has consistently proven to be one of GM’s best CEOs ever (although the bar for that is almost comically low), but even she acknowledges the difficulties of proving to Wall Street—and shareholders—that GM is prepared for the future or the next industry disaster.
“We do believe that GM stock is undervalued, and we are taking decisive actions to address this,” Barra said. “We’re deploying resources in higher return opportunities, we’re delivering great new cars, trucks and crossovers all around the world, we’re continually working to make our business more efficient and to remove costs. We’re working to lead the transformation of personal mobility.”
Reverse: I Didn’t Know The Swiss Invented That
Neutral: Will Limited Options Be Enough For The Model 3?
Musk has also taken great pains to say the Model 3 won’t be “better” than the Model S, because apparently a lot of people seem to think that because it’s the new car it’s the superior one. It isn’t. Based on everything we’ve heard so far, will the Model 3 impress?