In a somewhat surprising move Ford has ousted CEO Mark Fields after only three years, a period in which he oversaw the company losing 40% of its market value and being overtaken by Tesla in market capitalization terms. His replacement, Jim Hackett, comes from within Ford and has recently headed Ford’s Smart Mobility division, in charge of developing the blue oval’s autonomous car technology and ride-sharing business models.
March 2017 was a record month for European car sales, with 1,92 million units it was only 100.000 sales behind China, the world’s largest single car market. Helped by strong UK volume, March is traditionally the biggest selling month of the year, with about 11,5% of full year sales, so records are usually set this month. If the market as a whole sets a new volume record, a number of individual brands are naturally bound to do the same. And indeed, no less than 26 brands break their monthly volume record, which is half of all the brands currently on sale. I guess that may be a record by itself, although I didn’t check it. Especially luxury and exotic brands had a blockbuster month, with 17 record breakers out of 24 brands, compared to 9 new sales records out of 28 mainstream brands. [Read more…]
President Donald Trump has offended the Mexicans in more than one way, and building even a virtual wall between the US and Mexico will affect trade between the two powers in a negative way, which would greatly affect the automotive industry, perhaps more than any other. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a great number of carmakers have set up manufacturing facilities south of the Rio Grande to benefit from more than just lower wages to produce their lowest-margin vehicles. Any disturbance in the free trade agreement, most likely import duties, would increase costs for these manufacturers and have a negative impact on consumer prices in the US. Ford has already withdrawn plans to build a new US$1.6 billion plant in central Mexico’s San Luis Potosi in January in favor of a US$700 million upgrade to its Flat Rock, Michigan plant and others may think twice before becoming the target of one of Trump’s Twitter rages. However, as the US is shunning Mexico, the Chinese are more than happy to step in and invest in the growing market.
The success of Mexico
But first we need to look at what made Mexico such a phenomenal automotive production hub, and why automakers from outside North America have invested more than US$13.3 billion in Mexico since 2010, which is more than half of the US$24 billion invested in total. Ironically, Mexico’s low wages make up only a small portion of the explanation, as the biggest reason to build in Mexico is that the country has freer trade with the rest of the world than the US does: Mexican-made cars can be exported duty-free to 44 countries compared to just 20 for US-made cars, which make up only 9% of global car sales. [Read more…]
This week it became apparent that PSA Peugeot-Citroën and General Motors are having talks about the possible takeover of GM’s European division by the French automaker. This includes the Opel and Vauxhall brands, which have been a decade-long money drain on General Motors. The two automakers have been working together closely on the development of a handful of models and are looking for opportunities to boost each company’s profitability, which includes a sale of the two brands. GM has had a stake in PSA until 2013 when it became apparent that projected savings from their cooperation and platform sharing would fall short of expectations. After this breakup, the French company had to be bailed out by the French government and its Chinese partner Dongfeng Motor, which each control 14% of the shares.
Would a new, more intense cooperation bring the promised synergies? And does this mark the start of a much-needed wave of consolidations in the European car market? Or will it only cause PSA to lose focus on its own financial recovery and resurrection of its brands? Let’s look a the pros and cons for both parties involved:
With production of the Chrysler 200 midsized sedan set to end next December, the illustrious brand will be down to just two models: the now almost elderly 300 large sedan, which shares its platform with the Dodge Charger and Challenger, and the brand new minivan Pacifica. That means the two namesake brands of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are also its weakest volume brands in the North American market. And considering Chrysler cars are sold almost exclusively in the US and Canada, the brand doesn’t seem all that relevant anymore. That’s unfortunate for a brand which used to be one of America’s most innovative brands with a number of important technological breakthroughs to its name and which of course is credited with the creation of the minivan. However, for the past decades Chrysler has let its image crumble by selling mediocre cars and ongoing financial uncertainty under multiple owners as it has gone through a number of (near-)bankruptcies.
After the Chinese government exposed a large-scale fraude with its subsidies for New Energy Vehicles, Beijing has now developed and proposed two new system to stimulate manufacturers to produce and sell EVs and PHEVs in the world’s largest car market. China surpassed the US as the largest market for electric cars in 2015 and has set a target of 3 million new-energy vehicle sales by 2025. To encourage manufacturers to step into this market, central and local governments have already spent 15 billion yuan (€ 2 billion / US$ 2.25 billion) on subsidies since 2009, but plans to phase them out after 2020. The carrot will be replaced by a stick: the first proposal features a carbon credit scheme which should be introduced in the next two years, with strict enforcement from 2018. A second proposal puts a cap on average fleet fuel consumption, with extra credits for New Energy Vehicles. To enforce this limit, this new scheme will require any automaker to sell EVs and PHEVs in China if they want to keep selling gasoline-powered cars in the country, similar to California’s system. This means foreign automakers, for whom the subsidies provided too little incentive to launch electrified cars in China until now, will have to get into the New Energy Vehicle market as well. [Read more…]
Last February, I wrote an article about the consequences of a (then potential) Brexit for the auto makers who produce cars in the UK. Now that the British people have actually voted to leave the European Union, let’s see how the result of the upcoming break-up may influence the sales rankings in the European car market in the second half of 2016. I’ll first start with clarifying that even when the split-up is completed, which is expected to take at least 2 years, we at Left-Lane.com will continue to include UK car sales data within our EU reports, as these include the countries with which the EU has a free trade agreement (p.e. Switzerland and Norway), and we’ll have to assume that such an agreement will be struck with the UK as well. Of course, with the vote taking place June 23rd, the effects won’t be fully visible yet in the June sales figures, not in the least because there’s always a delay of a few weeks between a customer order and the actual delivery (and registration of a “sale”) of a car. However, the uncertainty preceding the actual vote may have caused private buyers to at least postpone their purchase, as the UK market, which grew by 3,2% in the first half of the year, stabilized at -0,8% in June and +0,1% in July.
Contrastingly, while the rest of Europe was in a sales crisis, the UK has been one of the strongest markets in Europe in recent years, breaking sales records year after year as a result of low interest, a booming housing market and carmakers willing to offer good deals in one of the very few markets with an actual demand. However, the financial uncertainty of the coming few years during the break-up with the EU, combined with a depreciating British Pound are likely to stall that growth in the short and mid-terms, and analysts expect a decline of the British car market this year and next. In contrast, Southern European car markets had been hit exceptionally hard with a huge drop in sales after the global financial crisis since 2008, and they’ve only just started to accelerate their recovery from their rock-bottom crisis levels. Italy, Spain and France have been among the fastest growing countries in Europe in recent months, showing double digit gains over 2015 volumes. But the Brexit vote is also expected to temper those recoveries, as analysts have lowered their predictions of growth for the second half of 2016 for all of Europe, as the decline in the UK will not only influence the figure for the entire market, being the second-largest of the continent, but the uncertainty that comes with the break-up will also slow down growth in the rest of Europe. [Read more…]
It shouldn’t really surprise anybody that Mitsubishi finally got taken over by a larger auto maker, the brand was simply too small and too irrelevant in the world’s most important markets to survive on its own. But the way Nissan played its cards was a stroke of genius, whether intentional from the get-go or just improvising on the opportunity at hand. Mitsubishi has supplied its bigger rival with Japanese market minicars (“Kei” cars, as described in my article on the Japanese auto culture) since 2011 and when Nissan was testing the pre-production next generation cars they found some irregularities with the reported fuel economy figures. This led to a public scandal in which Mitsubishi had to admit some of its engineers had been using a trick with tire pressures for the past 25 years to overstate fuel economy of its Japanese market cars (and perhaps some cars sold outside of Japan), causing Mitsubishi’s share prices on the stock market to almost halve. Nissan then scooped up 34% of these shares at the heavily discounted price for a controlling stake to become Mitsubishi’s largest single shareholder. It’ll take a few months to complete the takeover, and there are still quite a few issues to be handled before the deal will be finalized, but looking ahead: what will Nissan do with Mitsubishi? [Read more…]
The future of mobility looks quite different from how we know it today, and most automakers are hedging their bets to make sure they’re part of that future, where they may no longer be called automakers but mobility providers. Autonomous driving, car-to-car communication sharing information like traffic conditions and a (at least partial) shift from ownership to a shared economy are among the most likely developments to become mainstream as soon as the next decade. And it’s not only the established automakers that are trying to establish their place in the future, it’s no secret that Apple and Google are aiming for a piece of the mobility pie as well. Although Google is testing with their own Google car, as well as with autonomous versions of existing models, their ultimate goal is not to produce their own cars and become a full-blown auto maker, competing with the likes of Ford, General Motors or Toyota, but rather to become a technology supplier and a mobility supplier, offering self-driving cars that would rival Uber in the ride-sharing business.
However, to test and eventually showcase its capabilities in autonomous driving, Google will have to forge a cooperation with an existing automaker and get its system built into one or more of that company’s cars. Such a tie-up would combine Google’s experience from millions of miles of autonomous driving by its fleet of a few dozen self-driving cars with the manufacturing and development capabilities of a large automaker. [Read more…]
After revealing the Tesla Model 3 last Thursday, Elon Musk tweeted the company had received 276.000 pre-orders by the end of Saturday. (UPDATE: THE FIRST-WEEK TOTAL NOW STANDS AT 325.000). That would translate to more than $10 billion in revenue if all of those orders end up being delivered. In less than 72 hours, it also almost fulfills the company’s full-year goal of 300.000 Model 3 sales, in a total of half a million annual Tesla sales by 2020. Filling the order base this quickly for a model for which not a lot of specs have been released so far and which won’t start deliveries for at least another year-and-a-half is an amazing performance from the start-up manufacturer by any measure. And if the rebound of its stock price continues, Tesla’s market capitalization will close in on that of General Motors again. However, FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne has been quoted last year that car makers need to sell at least 5,5 to 6 million cars per year in order to survive in the long run. And despite its quick rise out of nowhere as a challenger of the establishment, Tesla is still a long way from selling that kind of volume worldwide, and to reach it would require vast investment in additional models and in expansion of the distribution channel. So assuming Marchionne is right, what’s Elon Musk’s strategy for building Tesla into a long-term viable auto maker?
Let’s just drop the bomb right here: I don’t think he has such a strategy, because I believe he thinks of himself more as the boss of a tech company that happens to produce cars than as the boss of a car company in the traditional sense, like General Motors or Ford. For tech companies, making money in their first few years is much less relevant than achieving a certain network size and scale so their new technology can claim to have set the standard for others in that market to follow. Elon Musk’s vision for Tesla therefore is probably to set the technology standard upon which all future electric cars can be built, using his batteries and perhaps even his platform. That vision is reflected in the structure of the company, the design of the cars, the size of their battery factory, their decision to give away the patents to their technology and their Supercharger network and in their ability to do over-the-air software upgrades on their cars. [Read more…]