Automotive News Digest; Week Ending January 5, 2019 - Compiled By Executive Producer Larry Nutson
* 2018 ended with auto sales holding steady, despite earlier predictions. The industry sold 17.3 million vehicles, up 1% from 2017. For the year most all automakers reported flat sales volumes with little change over 2017. Except, Fiat Chrysler is up 9% and Nissan is down 6%. Auto industry executives remain wary of the U.S. market with rising interest rates and high new-vehicle prices. Predictions for 2019 are at 16.8 million.
* Two iconic brands, Dodge//SRT and LEGO are working together on a marketing campaign for a new building set aimed to please speed enthusiasts and master builders. A 30-second television commercial “Metamorphosis” features NHRA drag racing champion Leah Pritchett along with a new LEGO® Speed Champions building set featuring the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. https://youtu.be/D100lDTJC2s
* General Motors Co. hit 200,000 total electric vehicles sold in the United States by the end of 2018, reaching a threshold that triggers a phase-out of a $7,500 federal tax credit over the next 15 months. Tesla hit the figure back in July 2018.
* Tesla reported a record quarter with 63,150 Model 3 sedans sold in the fourth quarter, 13 percent more than in the third quarter. However, that gain fell short of some analysts’ expectations. While the fourth quarter brought overall sales of 90,000 for the first time, the company said that it was cutting prices of all models by $2,000 per car. It said the move was meant to partly absorb the reduction of a federal electric-vehicle tax credit for Tesla buyers.
* When Waymo started vehicle testing in Chandler, Ariz., in 2016, the company most likely expected some friction with the community. Turns out the backlash has been significant — and violent — with people sabotaging the test vehicles and endangering the safety of the cars' human backup drivers. Nearly two dozen attacks on driverless vehicles over the past two years in Chandler, a city near Phoenix, have included slashed tires, rock throwing and attempts to run them off the road.
* Half of the 25,000 consumers surveyed globally by Deloitte said they didn’t believe autonomous vehicles would be safe, up slightly from 47 percent a year ago. Just 39 percent of them trust automakers to bring the technology to market. Most surprising: Only 12 percent of U.S. consumers reported using services such as Uber and Lyft once a week, half the rate of a year ago.
* The Takata airbag saga continues as Ford recalls over 953,000 vehicles worldwide as a result of potentially defective airbag inflators. About 782,000 of those are in the U.S. Among affected vehicles are Edge, MKX, Ranger, Fusion, MkZ, Milan and Mustang. Ford said they are not aware of any injuries related to the recall. Fifty million vehicles are already under a Takata airbag recall and about 2/3 of the defective systems have been fixed.
* Mark Reuss was named on Thursday as GM’s new president, replacing Dan Ammann who left the post to lead the GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle unit. Reuss, a 35-year GM veteran, is son of former GM president Lloyd Reuss. Mark Reuss is known as a car guy, a racing and performance product enthusiast. With his background in engineering, product planning and development he is expected to more product-focused than Mr. Ammann.
* We learned this week Audi will be promoting its first full-electric vehicle with ads during the Super Bowl next month. The company revealed to the media some teaser images of the featured e-tron along with an e-tron concept vehicle and another vehicle yet to be identified. The 2019 e-tron will have a 95-kWh battery pack good for around 250 miles. Costs start in the neighborhood of $76,000.
* The Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest tech show has been garnering more and more attention from automakers in recent years and is now a major venue for introducing new products - both vehicles and technology. CES begins next week and we know Ford, Nissan and Hyundai will all have a presence there. Just as important are the myriad of new products destined to be part of our cars, particularly autonomous and electric versions.
* Speaking of automobiles at CES, we just learned Toyota will reveal a new automated test vehicle that will begin testing in Las Vegas soon. Based on the latest version of the company’s largest, most luxurious sedan - the LS Hybrid. It will be developing a fully-autonomous system called Chauffeur where a human driver is not required under most circumstances. Computing as sensing power comes from the hybrid battery pack rather than from the 12-volt backup battery.
* The Drive Home IV launched this week from Houston on an 9-day road trip to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A promotional event created by the LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA and the NAIAS, The Drive Home involves a bunch of driving enthusiasts proving that a group of old, Detroit-built cars can still make an extended, dead-of-winter drive. This year’s vehicles are all pickups: a ’55 Chevy, ’57 Ford Ranchero, a ’62 International Travelall and a ’66 Ford F-150.
* From our friends at AutoWeek: Former Chevrolet general manager Jim Perkins SEE ALSO: Conversation With Jim https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7VGO8W72lU, the wily, free-speaking, cowboy boot-wearing Texan who helped launch Lexus and then returned to Chevrolet and saved the Chevrolet Corvette from being axed in the 1990s, died December 28 in Charlotte, N.C. He was 83. As head of Chevrolet, Perkins oversaw GM Racing, which won five NASCAR manufacturer championships and dominated all classes of open-wheel racing during his seven-year tenure.