The Week That Was
By: Graeme Roberts
Deputy/news editor Graeme Roberts' Friday wrap on the important automotive news from the week just ending.
Although Britain's actual departure from the European Union is still at least two years off and the exit procedure won't be triggered till we have a new prime minister, 'Brexit' is still a key talking point and we've been on it.
As I very much expected, cooler heads started to bubble to the top after last week's shock 'Brexit' vote by over half of the citizenry of this United Kingdom to reign in excessive control of our country by unelected Europeans - minor details like capping immigration to sustainable levels, letting our judges make court rulings that can't be overruled in Brussels, fish what we want out of our own seas, that sort of thing. Despite the doomsayers, the sun still rose and set, the country continued to make components and cars and the 'summer' continued to be rubbish. Meanwhile, the FTSE recovered what it lost, if not the pound, Obama's threat to put us in the back of a queue for a US trade deal was largely quietly countermanded by officials with more sense and even certain EU voices were heard to utter that access to the single market (which the auto industry wants, of course) might even be possible with concessions on immigration and other matters that led to the majority Brexit vote.
It would be fair to say that fear and trepidation abounds here in the UK this day as, after the polls were proved wrong (again), we learned in the early hours of Friday (24 June) just over half of those who turned out to vote yesterday opted to 'leave the EU' starting a process dubbed 'Brexit' that will take several years and has already taken the (voluntary) scalp of our prime minister. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth, hyperactive round the clock TV coverage, pundit soundbites galore and much social media hissy-fit throwing (most of the latter from the 'Remain' camp). So, let us soothe the fevered brow a little.
Barely had our business/components/supply chain editor Simon Warburton, liberally fuelled by glutinous rice balls he helped make, touched back down in Blighty, after a week covering the 2016 Global Automotive Forum in Chongqing, China, and it was time for us to sling him back onto a plane, this one bound for the 'Detroit of Russia', St Petersburg.
Like almost every other aspect of the autobiz, the retailing and service side is changing. Tesla has gone to war in the US to end the cosy manufacturer/dealer relationships and sell direct to the end user. Extensive consolidation into massive dealer groups has taken place worldwide (RIP most 'mom 'n' pop' shops) and almost all outlets these days - even in my small town - seem to be big, smart, glass and chrome edifices populated by sales staff toting tablets and electronics-savvy 'technicians' in place of the grease-stained 'mechanic' of yore. Handover of the new car has also changed - how about a virtual reality presentation?
Volkswagen is obviously not having the best of times right now - the brand or the group.
Need help with General Motors' future platform strategy? We have you covered with this handy, pocket, go-to guide that was a smash hit with just-auto readers this week. Speaking of platforms, Volvo this week revealed a couple of concept cars that hint at what it is doing with its version of the new CMA architecture being developed jointly with Chinese parent Geely. And we got the inside view about how that cooperation is working out from the chief of R&D.
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.
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