The Week That Was
By: Graeme Roberts
Deputy/news editor Graeme Roberts' Friday wrap on the important automotive news from the week just ending.
There was more automaker consolidation in the news this week as Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors agreed a strategic alliance that will see the former take a 34% stake in the latter and become the biggest shareholder with nominating dibs on the new board chairman. MMC has been struggling with yet another major product quality cover-up scandal in recent weeks, this time because it has overstated the fuel-efficiency of its vehicles for over two decades. Many of those were built on an OEM basis for Nissan. The company's share price has fallen by around 50% since the scandal first came to light last month and orders for new vehicles have dropped sharply since it admitted falsifying fuel-efficiency tests.
News that Geely-owned Volvo Cars had made first quarter earnings gains thanks to strong sales of its recently launched, and high margin, XC90 luxury SUV drew a lot of just-auto reader eyeballs this week. Thus proving my long-held theory that new product, and lots of it, usually leads to profits. Volvo has continued the new model roll with the S90/V90 and there's more to come - I'm off to Sweden next week to learn more about the products we can expect on the new CMA architecture co-developed with Geely.
News from Ford of Europe of a brand-new, Euro VI-compliant diesel engine line drew most eyeballs of all just-auto stories this week.
The biggest news this week - announced only around beer o'clock last night, UK time, was Volkswagen AG and the US Justice Department reaching a deal "in principle" to sort out the little problem of excess emissions in nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles sold Over There. On the face of it, with much more detail yet to come, it seems like a sensible agreement - Judge Charles Breyer said the settlement was expected to include a buyback offer for nearly 500,000 two-litre vehicles and a possible fix if 'regulators' - we're talking Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) here - agree on it. The settlement would include an environmental remediation fund and additional compensation to owners to sell back or have vehicles fixed. The government and Volkswagen have until late June to complete a final "consent decree" and, this is interesting, that will face public comment before taking effect.
Our in-depth look at the redesigned Volkswagen Tiguan compact SUV attracted a lot of reader interest this week. Only seemed it had been out a few years but, of course, it's been part of the auto landscape since 2007 and sold over 2.8m copies - I thought I was seeing a few about.
These are interesting times for PSA Peugeot Citroën or, as it now wants to be known, PSA Groupe.
Where on earth did the first quarter of 2016 go? Time to disappear soon under the usual avalanche of financial results - first quarter for most of the Americans and Europeans; fiscal full year for most Japanese and Indian companies. In the meantime, Matthew Beecham's Q&A with Bosch on the Internet of Things (aka IoT), connectivity, sensors and cameras drew a lot of eyes this week, second only to Ford's announcement music streaming app Spotify is to joins McDonald's, 7-Eleven and BP as a partner in the FordPass membership service that the automaker is pitching to its customers and potential future customers.
Last week, I enjoyed an entertaining trip to BMW's annual AGM and plant 'show 'n' tell' (links here in last week's TWTW column) and, as threatened, this week I've published a yarn about some of the worker-assist innovations they've come up for the Munich and other factories. My favourites: the Exoskeleton 'chairless chair' pilot project at Plant Munich, the ProGlove laser-embedded smart glove and, not least because I got to Have A Go, the gesture-controlled lightweight robot. The ingenuity of plant engineers - and the line and logistics workers who often suggest ideas and help the engineers with development - never cease to amaze me.
You gotta love the way buzzwords and jargon spread like a Californian wildfire around the auto industry. I'd heard 'the Internet of Things' mentioned with ever-growing frequency in the months before hearing it in almost every presentation during my fascinating, week-long look at the [buzzwords alert] Connected Car sector in Ontario late last year.
Our coverage of an address to 20,000 Volkswagen employees at Wolfsburg this week, during which VW Group CEO Matthias Müller appealed for unity as the company seeks to recover from its current crisis, attracted a lot of reader interest. As did the departure of VW's US division's CEO, Michael Horn. He was expected by some observers to emerge as a management casualty at VW as the dieselgate crisis unfolded in the US last year but appeared to weather the initial storm and stayed in position.
A fair number of interesting stories came out of Geneva this week. We learned, for example, that Jeep almost got yanked from the UK market in 2012. And has apparently been saved by the (Fiat-built) Renegade. Volkswagen's little diesel difficulty isn't worrying GM Europe - Opel's boss wants to increase the diesel mix as he also adds a little electrification to the bowl. Even better, after years of losses and not a little restructuring pain (RIP Bochum and Antwerp plants), breakeven is on the cards this year.
I have to admit to being a little surprised at how much interest a new pickup truck attracted on just-auto this week. OK, a new segment for the automaker, Fiat, a little ingenuity in the barn-door, flexible configuration tailgate but, initially, only for South America. Perhaps the fact the name Chrysler is also appended to the word Fiat these days? And, given that South America is from where VW lobs the Amarok to the world, and the Renault-Nissan-Mercedes-anyone else want a rebadged LCV-alliance is working on several variations of the Japanese partner's Navara/Frontier truck for the globe, with some production in Argentina, I'd not be suprised to see this new Toro on sale, also in RHD, pretty much worldwide at some point. Fiat Brazil has exported light commercials widely before, including neatly packaged van and pick-up versions of the Uno it kept in production for decades.
Recall news attracted many readers on just-auto this week as yet another Takata potentially-disintegrating-airbag-inflator call-back was announced - 2.3m-odd, depending on who's counting - this time, German brands. GM also had to recall some old Saab and Saturn (remember them?) models for the same reason. (Our full Takata coverage to date is here if you've just joined us from Mars.) Meanwhile Toyota, with memories of the 2010 sudden acceleration recall debacle in the US still probably causing execs over there to shudder, has discovered that a seat frame in 2.7m RAV4 SUVs potentially could slice through a rear seat belt in a crash so back they'll come, eventually, to dealers for 2.7m small plastic parts to be fitted to said offending frames. No word yet on how much all that will cost.
This week's most-read story on just-auto may well have rattled US auto workers and it looks like Ford's plan is to rattle Toyota - building a rival for the Prius, just redesigned, in a new factory south of the border, down Mexico way.
The two top-read stories on just-auto this week were both on subjects I get no joy from publishing - axing of a brand and (so far, voluntary) axing of people in a region proving troublesome to automakers.
- THE WEEK THAT WAS - platforms to go to
- General Motors' platform strategy decoded
- INTERVIEW - Geely/Volvo architecture cooperation b
- Delphi Powertrain VP on compliance - Q&A
- Dayco on building aftermarket brand identity - Q&A
- Volvo previews 2017 40 series on CMA platform
- Nissan spells out autonomous drive timeline
- Storm causes Toyota to halt output at Texas plant
- Ford claims captured CO2 first
- Peugeot reveals revamped 3008 compact SUV