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Nutson's Auto News Weekly Wrap Up - January 10-16, 2021


Below are the past week's important, relevant, semi-secret, or snappy automotive news, opinions and insider back stories presented as expertly crafted easy to digest news nuggets.


AUTO CENTRAL CHICAGO January 17, 2021; Every Sunday Larry Nutson, The Chicago Car Guy and Executive Producer, with able assistance from senior editor Thom Cannell from The Auto Channel Michigan Bureau, compile The Auto Channel's "take" on this past week's automotive news, condensed into easy to digest news Nuggets.

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Nutson's Automotive News Wrap-up - Week Ending January 16, 2021;

* The 2021 North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Award winners were announced during a virtual event. The 2021 winners are: Car of the Year: Hyundai Elantra; Truck of the Year: Ford F-150; Utility Vehicle of the Year: Ford Mustang Mach-E. Editorial note: all three offer or have an electrified power train.

* In the wake of the attack on the Capitol and the insurrection in support of President Trump many U.S. businesses are suspending or entirely eliminating political spending. Automakers GM, Ford and Toyota have stopped or are rethinking their PAC contributions. Others, don't even make political contributions. The NADA is also on the fence. The National Association of Manufacturers, long one of the more conservative business lobbying groups, has been particularly harsh

* Honda ranks as the most fuel-efficient full-line automaker in America in a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Honda has the highest fleet average fuel economy and lowest CO2 emissions of any full-line automaker for the 2019 model year, the latest year for which full data is available, forming the basis of the report. The 2020 EPA Automotive Trends Report ranked Honda first among full-line automakers and second overall with a U.S. fleet average “real world” fuel economy of 28.9 miles per gallon (mpg), a five-year improvement of 1.9 mpg, and 4 mpg higher than the industry average for MY2019. Similarly, Honda’s fleet average CO2 emissions was 307 grams/mile, an improvement of 22 grams/mile from 2014 results and 49 grams/mile lower (better) than the industry average for the 2019 model year.

* U.S. greenhouse gas emissions plunged in 2020 because of the pandemic. Emissions plunged more than 10 percent. In the years ahead, United States emissions are widely expected to bounce back once the pandemic recedes and the economy rumbles back to life — unless policymakers take stronger action to clean up the country’s power plants, factories, cars and trucks. Transportation, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases, saw a 14.7 percent decline in emissions in 2020 as millions of people stopped driving to work and airlines canceled flights. Will "zoom meetings" continue, at least to some extent, to replace traveling to in-person meetings?

* The Trump administration agreed to delay a costly increase in civil penalties for automakers who fail to meet fuel economy standards, according to a rule released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Under the new rule, increased fines will not be applied through model year 2022 and the agency is determining whether it will apply the changes to the 2023 model year. The decision comes shortly before President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn in next week. Industry analysts expect he will make "green" auto industry policy a priority, including potential changes to Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. In 2015, Congress and the Obama administration passed a law that required federal agencies to raise penalties to catch up with inflation. The decision prompted a near-tripling of the non-compliance fine from $5.50 to $14 for each 0.1 mile per gallon consumed beyond the standards beginning with model year 2015. Thanks to the Detroit Free Press for this news story.

* Joe White writing for Reuters reports a global shortage of certain computer chips forced Ford, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Subaru and Nissan to cut production, following earlier moves by Honda. So far, it looks like automakers are able to focus production cuts on less popular, lower margin vehicles conserving chips for money-makers like pickup trucks. One potential reason for the chip supply chain problems could be the decision by the U.S. government to blacklist China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., China's largest contract semiconductor manufacturer.

* Also from Reuters: South Korean media reported tantalizing details about a potential Apple-Hyundai alliance, including speculation that Apple could use Hyundai affiliate Kia's SUV/Sedan assembly plant in Georgia to assemble an Apple-branded electric car. The reports said a deal could be agreed as soon as March. Hyundai did not say more about its discussions, beyond its statement Friday that it was talking with various companies about collaborating on autonomous EVs.

* Lordstown Motors, the upstart electric vehicle maker, said it had 100,000 orders (and is awaiting a Big EPA loan) for its new pickup truck. Lordstown Motors plans to begin production of its Endurance all-electric pickup in the former GM assembly plant in September.

* GM is starting a new vehicle brand to sell electric delivery vans in the United States and Canada beginning in 2021. Called BrightDrop, the new brand has been working with FedEx to test the new delivery system, and FedEx Express will be its first customer. In addition to the vans, BrightDrop will also offer a motorized electric pallet, controlled by a courier, that will carry packages from the trucks to front doors. The electric motorized pallets, called the EP1, will be delivered to FedEx early this year and the first 500 vans, called the EV600, will be be delivered late this year, GM said. The automaker expects to start delivering vans to customers other than FedEx early in 2022.

* The deal is done. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. and Peugeot S.A. have officially merged. The two are now one,. called Stellantis N.V. Chrysler is now only a car brand. On June 6, 1925 Walter P. Chrysler founded Chrysler Corp. Now it's gone as a part of the corporate name.

* The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urged automakers to improve electric vehicle emergency response guides that lack clear information and hamper efforts to extinguish lithium-ion battery fires. The recommendations follow a series of NTSB investigations into four Tesla electric vehicle battery fires on U.S. roads in 2017 and 2018, including three high-speed crashes in which the lithium-ion battery reignited after firefighters extinguished fires. NTSB said "most manufacturers’ emergency response guides for fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires lack necessary, vehicle-specific details on suppressing the fires."

* Deaths on U.S. highways jumped to the highest rate since 2005 in the quarter ended Sept. 30, a period that coincided with the easing of coronavirus lockdowns and summer travel. The absolute numbers of deaths rose 13% from the same period in 2019, and the death rate per 100 million miles traveled rose. The abrupt reversal of a longer term decline in deaths and death rates occurred even though overall miles driven fell by 14.5%. Expect more studies to figure out what caused this and what can be done. The analysis put forward by NHTSA and other agencies is that more drivers were speeding and driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol - reinforcing anecdotal stories throughout 2020 of extreme driving on emptied roads.

* Toyota will pay $180 million to settle U.S. government allegations that it failed to report and fix pollution control defects in its vehicles. The company was accused of of delays in filing 78 emissions defects reports between 2005 and 2015 as required by the Clean Air Act. The company itself reported the problem to EPA five years ago after finding a "process gap" that led to there failure.

* The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Tesla Inc to recall 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles over media control unit (MCU) failures that could pose safety risks by leading to touchscreen displays not working. After an investigation NHTSA concluded the 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles “contain a defect related to motor vehicle safety.” It is unusual for the agency to formally demand a recall. Automakers typically voluntarily agree to a recall if sought in discussions by regulators.

* The Trump Administration issued final rules that will allow self-driving vehicle manufacturers to skip certain federal crash safety requirements in vehicles that aren't designed to carry people. It marks the first major update to existing federal safety standards to accommodate innovations in driverless technology. While no fully autonomous vehicles are for sale for consumers now, industry experts expect that market share for self-driving cars and trucks will expand in the coming decade.

* After years spent trying to reinvent itself as an indoor-outdoor event that would fill downtown Detroit with new cars and automotive festivities, the North American International Auto Show is folding its tent for 2021, relocating to M1 Concourse, a small development made up of a race track surrounded by luxury garages in Pontiac, Michigan. The new show, renamed Motor Bella, will be “a bridge to the future” of the auto show, according to a statement by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which runs the auto show. Motor Bella will have an abbreviated run Sept. 21-26, considerably less than the original plan for events in downtown Detroit from Sept. 24-Oct. 9. The name “Motor Bella” was going to be used for a street fair featuring Italian and English luxury and performance models near Detroit’s stadium district. Thanks to the Detroit Free Press for this story.

* The St. Louis Auto Show, traditionally held each year in January at the America’s Center, has been postponed until April 8-11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers said. The event, which is touted as one of the largest Midwest-based auto shows that brings about 90,000 people to downtown St. Louis, previews the latest vehicles and automotive technology with about 500 new cars, trucks, SUVs and powersports vehicles from more than 35 manufacturers.

* In response to the latest surge in the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has restricted large gatherings to no more than 50 people. As a result, has canceled its 2021 Future Collector Car Show, which had been scheduled for April 11 at High Street in Phoenix. This would have been the sixth edition of the annual event which last year drew 125 entries and more than 12,000 spectators.

* Dakar Rally organizers have confirmed that amateur rider Pierre Cherpin has passed away following his crash last Sunday. The Frenchman, 52, crashed 178 kilometers into Sunday's seventh stage. The rally has concluded Friday with its 12th and final stage.

* A closing thought. Reports are that GM is mulling a bigger Corvette lineup with an EV crossover. Ford has the Mustang Mach-e utility-like high roof 4-door. Should Ram bring back the Viper as a battery powered sports car?

Stay safe. Be Well.