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Fathers Day, ’Death Wobbles’ and Tariffs Dodged

Lexus RC F as featured in Men in Black International and this week's current auto news.

Annnnd we’re back.

AutoInfluence here with all of your automotive news going into Fathers Day Weekend. But before we get to the individual headlines, a quick follow-up on last week’s threat of tariffs being placed on Mexican manufacturing – a story which all but moved forward mere minutes after we had posted the previous episode of this podcast.

With the Mexican government boosting national guard presence at the (largely unguarded) Guatemalan border and enforce the arrest of illegal migrants, there is now a 90 Day review period in effect before next steps are taken. Checking politics at the door, there are certainly pros and cons, as well as discussion as to how much of these actions were directly reactionary to the threat, as opposed to being already in progress, but it seems that certain US automakers can breathe a little bit easier — at least for a moment, while the news shifts its focus to what Chinese tariffs.

But, moving on, let’s talk quickly about this week’s released breakdown of the most valuable car brands – focusing on the Top 10 List.

Counting down from 10 to 1, we have:

10. Porsche $5.82B

  9. Volkswagen $6.71B

  8. Audi $8.56B

  7. Tesla $9.29B

  6. Nissan $10.55B

  5. Ford $11.021B

  4. Honda $11.75B

  3. BMW $23.33B

  2. Mercedes $23.36B

  1. Toyota $29.15B

And it’s worth noting that only three automaker brands were included in the annual breakdown of the Top 100 Global Brands by BrandZ. Of course, Toyota made that list (falling in at #41, with Mercedes-Benz and BMW coming in at #54 and #55, respectively). And with that out of the way, let’s get on with the headlines.

Ford

Ford announced this week that it would be recalling 1.2 million Explorers, produced between 2011-17 due to the potential of a fracture in the rear suspension toe link. With the risk of steering control loss and potential crash, approximately 1.2 million US vehicles are affected along with the balance of Explorers in both Canada and Mexico. A similar recall was issued for 12,000 Canadian vehicles, consisting of Lincoln MKS produced between 2009-15, Ford Flex produced between 2009-17 and Ford Taurus produced between 2010-17. Only one crash, with minor injuries, has been reported.

And, while it’s been a relatively slow news week in Ford-land, talks of mergers and partnerships have been all-the-rage as of late, so stay tuned because – in a few minutes – we’ll be discussing the Ford / Volkswagen deal, which seems to be moving forward.

GM / Chevrolet / GMC

And while Ford has spent the better part of a year preparing us for the introduction of an electrified F-150, GM President Mark Reuss communicated a far more conservative estimate for the introduction of a GM-branded equivalent. Noting the importance of ‘no compromises’ (in terms of performance, towing and hauling) in order to create value for the consumer, he also emphasized the lack of infrastructure to support such vehicles – both at the GM manufacturing level, and publicly in terms of charging stations, etc. Not that GM is shying away from EV development. In fact, they are working with Bechtel to create a nationwide charging infrastructure, designed to support their BEV3 platform, designed to build profitable electric cars at a increased volume.

And just after last month’s announcement by GM that they’d be investing up to $24M in their Fort Wayne, Indiana assembly plant to support increased demand of their Silverado and GMC 1500 – the automaker has announced they’ll be investing $150M in into Flint, Michigan to support production of their Heavy-Duty offerings. Offering a 52% increase in towing capacity, and upgraded powertrains (including the pairing of a 6.6-liter diesel with a 10-speed Allison automatic transmission) things might be looking up for GM trucks, following some Q1 disappointments.

FCA / Dodge / Jeep

While FCA will never be the first automaker you think of when it comes to EV offerings, a $10B investment promised last year is seeing some forward motion, when it comes to the introduction of their five-year plan; a plan which will launch both hybrid and EV offerings across all regions. That said, FCA has inked a deal with European utility companies Engie and Enel to establish a network of EV charging stations in Europe.

And self-driving software company Aurora has been named as another new partner for FCA, as their strategic relationship with VW -first announced at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show – came to a close. No real details of the Aurora / FCA deal have been disclosed, but the partnership will be based around the development of autonomous platforms.

And over in Jeep-Land, FCA finds themselves facing a class-action lawsuit over the alleged (yet all-too-commonly experienced) “Death Wobble” caused because of the solid front axle’s inability to absorb bounces, vibrations and bumps as efficiently as an independent front suspension. The lawsuit is three-fold (i) seeking damages, in the form of a buyback program, demanding that FCA compensates owners for loss of value (ii) demanding replacement vehicles during repairs, and (iii) seeking punitive damages, claiming that FCA knowingly introduced a safety risk.

Toyota / Lexus

This week, Toyota announced that 2020 model year offerings will introduce two new features: ‘Automatic Engine Shut Off’ and ‘Automatic Park’. The former will prevent extended idling, an evolution of the two-step alert that Toyota has offered since 2003. The latter will shift the vehicle into the park position automatically if the driver fails to do so, prior to exiting the vehicle.

And Lexus has been keeping the lid on the convertible LC it had debuted at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, but it appears that it will be making a real world debut in less than a month. Expected to boast the same 5.0-liter V8 as the base LC 500 coupe, the droptop will channel somewhere in the neighborhood of 471 horse and up to 539 lb-ft of torque, with a 4.4 second sprint to 60. That said, no hard details have been released, but the vehicle will be on-hand in the UK on July 4th, as part of the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed.

And a quick footnote before we move on, today marks the release of Men in Black: International which features the 2020 Lexus RC F, albeit one that morphs into the Lexus QZ 618 Galactic Enforcer jet. While it might be unreasonable to expect 122mpg from a real-world vehicle, it’s a fun exercise to visit pressroom.lexus.com and check out the breakdown of features so thoughtfully crafted by one of the more creative people on Lexus’ marketing team.

Honda / Acura

The 2019 Honda Passport is the recipient of a 5-Star Overall Vehicle score from the NHTSA, when assessed based on its New Car Assessment Program. Honda has been praised for both their Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure “a network of front-frame structures designed to absorb and deflect the energy from a frontal collision” as well as the Honda Sensing suite  of advanced safety and driver-assistive features – the latter comes standard in around 85% of Honda vehicles sold in 2019.

And while the Honda E might not see a stateside release any time soon, range and charging numbers were released this week for the highly-anticipated offering. In terms of all-electric range, the Honda E maxes out at the 125 mile mark — and can reach an 80% charge within about thirty minutes. To-date, Honda has secured about 31,000 reservations across Europe.

And finally, Acura has released pricing and EPA ratings on the 2019 Acura NSX – for the interest of any enthusiasts with $160,000 or more burning a hole in their pocket. That’s right, with a starting MSRP of $157,500 the NSX has about a dozen additional optionals ranging from $500 to $11,000 in cost – all designed to enhance the overall experience. With 21 mpg combined, the NSX might never be accused of being sensible but, based on these kind of numbers, that’s just par for the course.

Hyundai / Kia

Hyundai has released their own round of info on the 2020 Palisade, breaking down trims, powertrains and pricing for the all-new three-row SUV. A total of six trims will be offered beginning with the (base) SE priced to start at $31,550 MSRP and ending with the line-topping Limited with a beginning price point of $46,400. With both Front and All-Wheel Drive options, the Palisade will be powered by a 3.8-liter V6 mater to an 8-speed automatic transmission across all trim levels.

And the Hyundai Kona continues to rack up the accolades, this time from the New England Motor Press Association who named the Kona ‘Best-in-Class’ among all subcompact SUVs. The second time the Kona has been recognized by the NEMPA as part of their Winter Vehicle Awards, the Kona was described as “setting the benchmark” in terms of “outstanding efficiency”, “cutting-edge connectivity” and “class-leading available safety features” as well as for its winter-friendly amenities and confident handling. Having already been named ‘North American Utility of the Year’, ‘Crossover of the Year’ by Texas Motor Press Association, ‘Best Compact for the Money’ by U.S. News & World Reprot and one of Car and Driver’s ‘10Best’ — it’s safe to say that 2019 has been a great year for the Kona.

And another headline in what appears to be a week of partnership announcements, Hyundai and Kia will be investing in Aurora Innovation Inc. to further their opportunities in autonomy. The partnership, first founded last year, has helped to make a reality of the NEXO, Hyundai’s flagship fuel cell vehicle. With plans to commercialize Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021, Aurora will inevitably play a major role in Hyundai’s strategy, both in the short and long term.

Nissan / Infiniti / Mitsubishi

And while Nissan and Infiniti seem to be enjoying a brief pause in the wake of failed mergers, it’s worth noting that Mitsubishi might be positioning itself to challenge the likes of the Ford Raptor (albeit outside of North America). It was easier this year when Mitsubishi first unveiled the Triton Absolute concept, a beefed-up, aggressive version of its stalwart pickup. And while there are no hard details, it appears that Australian trademark filings might support Mitsubishi’s intent to make the Absolute a reality. Since Mitsubishi is touring the concept vehicle, likely to be gauging interest, it will be interesting to see if they throw their unlikely hat into the ring of hi-po’d offroaders.

Mazda

The Mazda6 stands as another winner in the eyes of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning one of their top picks. The Mazda6 boasts strong ratings in all six crashworthiness evaluations, and has been praised for its i-Activsense safety features, which come standard on every model sold. It also aligns the 2019 Mazda6 alongside the Mazda3 sedan and Hatch, CX-3 and CX-9, while the CX-5 enjoys the distinction of the top-tier Top Safety Pick+ award. Strong showings across the board, from Mazda.

Volkswagen

At the beginning of today’s podcast, we’d touched on the breakdown of most valuable car brands. And regarding VW, it’s worth noting that they were the only brand in the Top 10 who saw their valuation improve, when compared to last year’s numbers. In fact, that growth was a notable 12% indicating that they – at least in the minds of consumers – are taking the right steps to heal the scars of Dieselgate.

So it’s no surprise that VW has announced a $1B investment in battery production, partnering with Swedish startup Northvolt in the same manner that rival Tesla has partnered with Panasonic. Gaining 20% stake in Northvolt, in addition European funding, the intention is to build an EV battery production facility in Northern Sweden. With Dieselgate costing the automakers somewhere around $34 billion, it’s clear that VW needs these kind of aggressive moves to rebrand themselves and  shake emissions regulators.

A few months back, we had reported on the proposed partnership between Volkswagen and Ford noting that an agreement had all but been reached, although the details were vague at best. Now it seems that we might see negotiations finalized and an announcement made as early as next month. The agreement, believed to include a VW investment into Argo AI (Ford’s autonomous technology partner) could position Argo as a legitimate rival to the likes of GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo. But on top of that, Ford would benefit by an enhanced valuation and VW would gain a stronger foothold in the American market (which it currently lacks in). The two would also streamline their strategies, regarding electrification, which is likely to see VW’s MEB platform at the heart of those strategies. We’ll continue to report on this potential deal, as news develops.

But it’s hard not to see a connection with VW’s decision to unload approximately 10% of its Traton trucks unit, in the interest of raising just over $2B. Since truck stocks hold a premium over traditional auto shares, VW is making a smart play – plus it’s not unreasonable to think that  VW’s potential access to Ford truck tech might inspire some restructuring of their truck interests in the years to come.

And that about wraps things up for this week’s automotive news headlines. Join us next week for yet another update and – in the meantime – Happy Fathers Day to all of you deserving guys out there. And – since all the dads will be getting all the love this weekend – say hi to your mom for me.

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