Annnnd we’re…high? AutoInfluence back with all your automotive news for the week of May 24th even though work is being done in our studios, using some strong-scented chemicals. So bear with us, even if it means listening to Dan giggle indiscriminately while he works around us. Either way, we’re getting a head start on Memorial Day Weekend festivities. So with that in mind, we’d like to ask our stateside listeners to please join us taking a moment to recognize all of the selfless men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice during times of war, protecting and preserving the ideals of American freedom, both here and on foreign shores.
Thank you. Now, let’s get down to it…
Two years after the announcement of their “Smart Redesign” plan, designed to create $11.5 billion in savings, Ford had announced this week that they would be cutting 7,000 white-collar positions as part of a strategy to remove 9-14 layers of management by August of this year, saving $600 million per year. Despite the intent create a more streamlined infrastructure, there have been no blue-collar cuts included as-of-yet. This is, of course, a stark contrast to GM layoffs which nearly doubled those of Ford, and affected a large number of assembly line workers. The full realization of “Smart Redesign” of course, remains to be seen. According to Ford CEO Jim Hackett, “We still have a lot of work to do in the coming months.”
But this week, Ford also unveiled their newly redesigned UAW-Ford Technical Training Center in Dearborn MI, which is “designed to provide state-of-the-art technology training to hourly employees from Ford manufacturing plants.” First established in 1941, approximately 30,000 skilled tradesmen and women have matriculated through the training program. This latest overhaul, which cost approximately $35 million, draws further attention to the fact that Ford employs more hourly workers than any other U.S. automaker, and indicates that there’s no intention to relinquish that title any time soon.
General Motors / Chevy / GMC / Cadillac
Now, in recent weeks, we’ve made casual mention of some slow news weeks over at GM. And while we’d never assume that a pile of headlines were just sitting on the desk of some incompetent intern in their PR and Media Department, we can’t help but wonder if that’s the case, since they’re inevitably going to be making up for some lost time. That said, here are some of the noteworthy highlights that have popped up in the last week.
CEO Mary Barra was recently put on the spot by a Barclays Capital analyst, who inquired as to a perceived lack of desirability, when viewing GM products in comparison to those of rivals. Addressing the eternal debate of form v. function, the question wrapped things up with,
“So, how are you thinking about the state of design overall at GM? Is it an important differentiator? Or do you think it’s more important to get capable vehicles out there and kind of play it more on the profit and cost game? And if it is more important, what [are] you trying to do to kind of move it to the next level?”
And while the response offered by Barra was political, at best, her candid reply did address the question as follows:
“I think it’s incredibly important. You have to do everything to win in this market. And design is a very important piece of it. I think we have a very disciplined process where we clinic data and understand the customers in segment and what they’re looking for, how they view products. Full-size truck is different than a Cadillac is different than a compact SUV like the Chevrolet Equinox. And so, we have a very rigorous process on how we develop and really focus on putting the customer at the center as we do those designs.”
That said, it’ll be interesting to see how designs play out in the years to come.
But GM has announced that a new electronic architecture will be rolled out globally by 2023, one that they equate to a “digital nervous system” improving connectivity and data processing. Used to regulate EV powertrains, autonomous driving systems, enhanced safety systems and new infotainment features the system is the first wave of aggressive changes planned at GM over the next five to ten years.
But the Q&A that we had just mentioned takes on a new light when we talk about existing products. Sales of course were down significantly in Q1, with even the iconic Silverado being pushed out by RAM for the #2 truck spot. And now, it’s been determined that only small changes will be made to the 2020 Colorado – a questionable choice considering fresh competition from the likes of the Ford Ranger, the soon-to-be refreshed Nissan Frontier and, of course, the Jeep Gladiator.
And Chevy has announced a $3,000 discount on the 2019 Tahoe for the month of May, following a 12 percent drop in sales for Q1. Fueled by aggressive competition from both the Expedition and Armada, decreasing sales might also be influenced by the promise of the all-new Tahoe in 2021.
And after a 25 percent drop in Q1 sales, Chevy is also discounting the Suburban by $7,500. Once again, there is a new model coming for 2021. But with so many GM products discounted in recent weeks, it feels less about clearing slow moving inventory, and more about a lack of widespread appeal. But let’s move on…
And the EPA has released fuel economy numbers for the three-row 2020 Cadillac XT6. Coming in around 25 highway and 18 city mpg, these estimates align it closely with the more diminutive XT5 that rates 26 and 19 mpg respectively. That said, selection of the all-wheel drive version of the XT6 will drop those numbers down by a point (as one would expect).
FCA / Dodge / RAM / Jeep
Over in Detroit, FCA has finally receiving final approval on their plans for the city’s first new assembly plant in three decades thanks to a 6-3 vote by the Detroit City Council. The $2.5 billion construction project makes use of 215 acres, and includes $107.6 million of revenue to be split between the city and state. In the long-term the project is expected to generate up to 5,000 new jobs, with $13.8 million in workforce training to be implemented. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan refers to the finalization of the deal as “the greatest day in [his] term as mayor”. Detroit residents interested in applying for jobs can look forward to doing so through the city’s ‘Detroit at Work’ program, and can pre-register for notification of the four-week application window, which has yet to be announced.
The 2019 RAM 1500 Rebel has been named by the Texas Motor Press Association as the “Texas Off-Road Truck of the Year” at the inaugural Texas Off-road Invitational, which took placed in Huntsville, TX. As summarized by Mike Herzing, President of the TxMPA, “Although well-mannered for on-road, the Rebel also offers great capability, encourages spirited off-road driving and is a great-looking pickup that thrilled the Texas Motor Press Association jurors.”
Which brings us to the Family Car Challenge, which was hosted by the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association in (of all places) Auburn Hills, Michigan – meaning there was a hell of a commute. All jokes aside, winners of association accolades were the 2020 Jeep Gladiator for ‘Best Family Pickup Truck’, the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid for ‘Best Family Car’ and a 4th consecutive win for FCA as the automaker producing the best options for families.
And while there hasn’t been any formal confirmation of Jeep’s intention to offer an EcoDiesel variant of the Wrangler JL, spy shots captured this week seem to indicate that some road testing is in the works. Expecting a boost in terms of both horse and low-end torque, the next-gen EcoDiesel is expected to find a home in both the RAM 1500 and Jeep Gladiator beginning in 2020. Heavy speculation is that it be announced for the Wrangler, sometime later this year.
In the wake of the ‘WH Proclamation on 232’, Toyota issued a bold and detailed statement criticizing the measure as a “major set-back for American consumers, workers and the auto industry” while affirming that they “remain hopeful that the upcoming negotiations on trade can be resolved quickly”. For those unfamiliar with the proclamation issued by President Trump, it calls for trade negotiation on the imports of steel, automobiles and certain automobile parts which are interpreted as a threat to the American automobile industry. Despite their naturalized stateside presence, Toyota’s Japanese roots places them in a precarious position, and is clearly affected by the demand for renegotiations. Those negotiations are being conducted over a 180-day period, before any next steps are taken.
Honda issued a recall for the 2019 CR-V follows the report of six occurrences of unexpected air bag deployment while cars were in motion. This issue has been credited to issues with the steering wheel wire harnesses, supplemental restraint cable reels and (in some cases) metal burrs in the steering wheel’s interior surface. Despite some injuries reported, there were fortunately no crashes. That said the recall of the CR-V encompasses 137,000 vehicles in total.
Which takes a little bit of steam away from Car and Driver’s announcement that the CR-V had beaten Toyota’s RAV-4 in a head-to-head competition. Praising it for providing “a better value”, and for being “more distinctive in appearance” and “more tech forward” Car and Driver summarized the 2019 CR-V as “a winning formula as much today as it was when the CR-V first hit the scene more than 20 years ago.”
Nissan / Infiniti
Just as most every automaker toy with massive restructuring of their lineups to accommodate increased crossover demand and dwindling interest in sedans, Nissan published some interesting data this week. Indicating that sedans might actually be the preference of both younger millennial and Gen-Z car buyers, the report claims that 86% of those 18-34 years old who don’t own a sedan would consider buying one now or in the future. The report also states the same results for 81% of older millennials and Generation X’ers aged 35-50. Whether this is simply pro-sedan propaganda by Nissan, or implies that the reports of crossover popularity is skewed to achieve a desired result, the results are interesting. Ron Warren, Nissan North American’s Chief Marketing Officer states, “We see great opportunity in the sedan segment, which is why we’re continuing to launch all-new and refreshed productions” “so as our competitors exit the category, they’re creating even more prospects for Nissan”.
Over at Infiniti, the 2019 QX50 has earned a 5-star safety rating overall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as part of their New Car Assessment Program. Recognizing both the Intelligent All-Wheel drive and front-wheel drive versions of the QX50, the ProPILOT Assist features presented themselves as stand-out safety components in the eyes of the NHTSA.
Hyundai’s Executive Vice President recently participated in a fireside chat with The Carlyle Group, emphasizing a desire to realign the company’s focus to be more consumer-centric, stating “Customers have always been our priority, but I question whether we are really thinking of our customers in our services and products. I want everyone at our company to think about how they can make the customer happy.” Other areas of reinvigorated focus are in the automakers commitment to quality and efficiency, even with evolving technologies – and to innovative R&D.
Tesla shares jumped 1.4% following the release of an email from Elon Musk to all employees, declaring that the production of 900 Model 3 vehicles per day, has them nearly aligned with target production for the quarter, which would make it the best quarter to date. The email read as follows:
As of yesterday we had over 50,000 net new orders for this quarter. Based on current trends, we have a good chance of exceeding the record 90,700 deliveries of Q4 last year and making this the highest deliveries/sales quarter in Tesla history!
In order to achieve this, we need sustained output of 1,000 Model 3′s per day. Almost all parts of the Model 3 production system have exceeded 1,000 units on multiple days (congratulations!) and we’ve averaged about 900/day this week, so we’re only about 10% away from 7,000/week.
If we rally hard, we can do it!
Thanks for your hard work
That said, Tesla has sat at the bottom of the Nasdaq 100 for 2019, showing a 41% loss. While that glimmer of hope is certainly a positive one, it feels like the exception as opposed to the norm, as Tesla continues to search for solid footing.
But despite Tesla’s commitment to innovation, Consumer Reports has shared some concern regarding the Tesla Navigate Autopilot system. Served up as an optional software update on certain models, the feature allows for lane-change without driver intervention. Intended to improve efficiency, Consumer Reports voiced their concern that the system “lagged far behind a human driver’s skill set” claiming that it was “incredibly nearsighted” and lacked the ability to react and anticipate in the manner a human driver would, creating safety issues.
VW Group / Audi
And it would appear, based on the past week’s headlines that the VW Group is intent to replace the damage caused by Diesel-gate, at least in terms of perception, with many of their brands celebrating eco-friendly momentum – even in unexpected ways. And Audi ranks at the top of that list.
The Audi Environmental Foundation, for launched the we4bee research project which “aims to connect intelligent beehives (equipped with sensors) with the cloud in order to carry out long-term analysis of been colonies and environmental data”. This is in addition to the 42 acres that the automaker has established as habitat, housing 112 plant species as well as 90 species of wild bees.
And that wraps it up for us this week, leading into a three-day holiday weekend for many of you listening stateside. Have fun. Be safe. And say hi to your mom for me…