Nissan to Discontinue Pickup Sales

For years, Nissan has been vowing to change the American full-size pickup market with a vehicle that challenges Ford, Ram and Chevrolet.  However, Nissan told its U.S. dealers last week that it will discontinue sales of the Titan XD and other Titan configurations such as single-cab models.

Nissan planners and executives said Nissan’s first-generation Titan in 2003 was a low-volume affair because the nameplate lacked key variations for serious truck buyers.  Without options like V-8 diesel, Nissan would not be a contender for pickup cross-shopping.

In the United States, pickup sales have been growing.  For the past six months, the Titan only took 1.5% share of the full size pickup segment, with 18,026 sales. That is a decline of over 23 percent from last year. Ford however, sold 448,398 full-size pickups entering June.

There is a perception that full-size pickup buyers typically buy American brands. In a letter last week to Nissan retailers obtained, Nissan Division Vice President Billy Hayes said Nissan remains committed to the full-size pickup market.

“We are simplifying the Titan lineup to focus our efforts on models that maximize opportunities to attract retail customers in the market for a full-size truck,” Hayes said. “With a stronger, more focused lineup, we can maximize the impact of the investment we are making.”

He told retailers Nissan will unveil “a dramatically refreshed Titan” at the Texas state fair in September and reveal “a new Titan XD” later in the fall.

Volkswagen and General Motors Rid Their Line of Hybrid Vehicles, Toyota and Ford Plan to Keep Hybrids

For over two decades, auto makers have used hybrid vehicles as a means to help them comply with regulations on fuel consumption and give customers green buying options. Now, Volkswagen and General Motors say they see no future for hybrids in their U.S. lineups.  Both companies are changing the majority of their future investment to fully electric cars rather than hybrids fueled by a gasoline engine and an electric motor.  The companies feel the hybrid is only a “stopgap” to meeting upcoming tailpipe-emissions requirements in Europe and China.

General Motors plans to launch over twenty fully electric vehicles world-wide in the next four years, including several plug-in models in the United States, specifically for Cadillac and Chevy brands. Volkswagen has also committed to producing more battery-powered models, including a small plug-in SUV and an electric version of its minibus in 2022.

“If I had a dollar more to invest, would I spend it on a hybrid? Or would I spend it on the answer that we all know is going to happen, and get there faster and better than anybody else?” GM President Mark Reuss said in an interview.

Toyota and Ford are continuing their work on hybrids, rather than fully electric vehicles.  Last week, Continental AG , one of the world’s biggest car-parts makers, said it would cut investment in conventional engine parts because of a faster-than-expected fall in demand. Both Ford and Toyota have made hybrids a core party of their future plans for all markets.

Ford announced that they even have plans to add hybrid versions of popular models such as the F-150 pickup truck and the Ford Explorer in an effort to increase fuel economy in the near-term, while developing fully electric vehicles in the long-term. However, many auto companies typically lose money on each electric car they sell due to the high cost of lithium-ion batteries.  Lack of places to plug-in as well as battery range have both bee concerns of buyers considering electric vehicles.  Many analysts have reported that those two factors have made all-electric cars a risky investment and strategy for automakers.

Mercedes X-Class Pick Up To Be Discontinued

The Mercedes-Benz X-class pickup will soon be dropped as a Mercedes-Benz offering by the parent company, Daimler this year. The company is looking to reduce costs amid profit warnings.

Mercedes launched the vehicle in 2017, in an attempt to diversify the line and increase sales by entering the marketplace of midsize pick up trucks.  However, only 16,700 vehicles were sold last year in Australia, South Africa and Europe.  The United States was left out of sales as a market due to an increase in consumers looking for midsize pickups.  The pricing for the X-class started at 37,294 euros in Germany, which was too high for the vehicle due to ongoing competition between Mercedes and other brands.

The vehicle also experienced several recalls due to a footwell light that came loose, jamming under the brake pedal.  As part of Daimler’s industrial cooperation with Renault-Nissan, the X-class uses the same frame as the Nissan Navara and the Renault Alaskan. The vehicle is actually built in Nissan’s Barcelona factory.  In February, Mercedes opted not to manufacture the vehicle at a Renault-Nissan plant in Argentina, which would tap into the South American market.

Daimler cut its profit forecast for a fourth time in 13 months, and set aside even more money for regulatory compliance with diesel emissions and vehicle recalls related to Takata airbags.

Chinese Auto Sales Hit 4-Year Low

Chinese auto sales hit a 4-year low when they fell for the 12th consecutive month in June.  Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are among the manufacturers that are seeing losses, as well three recorded the worst first-half sales in several years.

Chinese auto sales declined 9.6% each year to 2.06 million in June.  The decrease in the January-June period was from 12.4% to 12.32 million units according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.  Sales of 26.29 million vehicles in the 12 months to June were down 11.3% on the year before, and were the lowest for the period since 2015-16.

Chinese electric-vehicles sales however did remain strong. That part of auto sales rose by 50% from the January to June period, accounting for 617,000 units and 5% of the total auto sales, according to data.

General Motors reported a 15% sales drop in China in the first half of the year, while Ford sales were down by another 27%.  Sales of Fiat Chrysler-owned Jeep were down by 41% in the first five months of 2019 as well.

Big Changes Ahead From Aston Martin’s CEO

The increase in mass market vehicles is one of the biggest changes coming to the automotive industry, according to Andy Palmer- CEO for Aston Martin.  He says mass-market cars will resemble pods as autonomous-driving technology continues to expand.  At some point, the vehicles will require little human involvement, and that will happen once cars reach level-4 autonomy.

 
When it comes to a brand such as Aston Martin, the executive says “If you’re an entirely rational brand, then you’ve got to compete on price,” Palmer said. “In the car business, the margins are really, really, fine, if not zero.”  However, he states that luxury vehicles have an emotional appeal that allows them to charge higher prices and collected bigger profits.  Palmer says that “there’s nothing rational about buying an Aston Martin. You’re appealing to the heart, and the margins in that business are much greater.”

Under Palmer’s direction,  the brand has expanded into high-end condominiums and luxury yachts. He states that he thinks Level-4 autonomy, which

Toyota Using Sun Power to Fuel Prius

Toyota is experimenting with sun power to fuel the Prius, making its bestselling green car even “greener.”  The automaker is experimenting with top cover solar panels to run the vehicle almost exclusively on solar power. The trial is part of an ongoing goal by Toyota, starting in Japan.  The system generates enough power to drive the Prius PHV for approximately 35 miles.

 
The company is running the trial on public roads through February in conjunction with solar cell maker Sharp Crop. Under a Japanese-government backed initiative called the “New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.”

Toyota has already manufactured a Prius with solar panels, but the technology is offered only in Japan as an option for the PHV model.  The vehicle is available in the United States as a plug-in vehicle known as the Prius Prime.

The new vehicle significantly affects performance.  The new vehicle allows to charge while the car is parked or being driven.

The current Prius PHV generates approximately 180W of electricity while the car is parked, which is enough to power less than 4 miles of battery-only driving.  The new system delivers 860W, nearly 5 times the energy it currently allows for.  That makes for about 28 miles if the car is charged while parked, or 35 miles if charged while driving.

Toyota is experimenting with more efficient solar cells, but that may require using more panels.  The roof, hood and rear window are layered with black solar cells that are very thin.  Because they are so thin, they can be form-fitted to the body of the vehicle and curved.

Toyota said that the test will help to determine how much solar energy will boost the driving range and fuel efficiency of electric vehicles.

Amazon Expands Reach into Automotive Industry

Amazon plans to move its way into the automotive industry with its Alexa voice assistant.  Amazon is expected to grow its Alexa-enabled offerings in the coming months to include a significant expansion into the embedded software systems of vehicles.

By brining Alexa into vehicles, Amazon is able to expand their business portfolio into the automotive market.  Amazon recently made a substantial investment into a electric-vehicle start up called “Rivian.”  In 2016, Amazon began partnering with automakers to have basic tasks such as checking fuel levels remotely.  Through Alexa, Amazon can be enabled through a vehicle’s sound system on an app, which requires automotive accessories with Alexa built-in.

“The real North Star for us is to be embedded with all the cars,” said Ned Curic, vice president of Amazon Alexa Automotive. “That’s where we want to get. We’re working very hard to get there because we believe that is the best experience.”

It’s not clear how many automakers Amazon is in discussions with about embedding Alexa into their vehicles, but Amazon has said that “consumers should expect a significant number of vehicles having access to Alexa in the coming years.”  Audi, BMW and Mini have already begun installing Alexa into their vehicle software systems.

Curic, a former executive with Toyota Motor North America, said starting with luxury brands was important because of their commitment to connectivity, including the ability to remotely update Alexa’s software.

“We update our experiences constantly on a weekly basis, and that’s not something the auto industry is used to,” he said. “When we have embedded experience, it’s quite important that experience is really solid, and obviously there will always be need to improve. We’re working closely with them.”

Audi plans to use Alexa across all vehicles,  and even launched Alexa on the E-Tron crossover in 2018.  Audi plans to launch this in the Q3 in 2020.

The partnership between BMW and Amazon is supposed to provide a seamless integrated experience for users between their home devices and their vehicles. The goal is to connect home and vehicle for those with a busy lifestyle. The Amazon Alexa would allow drivers remote access to the technology in their car, making for a safer and easier driving experience.  Users can simply place phone calls or change the radio station through Alexa.

Automotive Industry Seeks First Sales Gain for 2019

U.S. new light-vehicle sales are expected to be on a downward trend for the sixth consecutive month according to automakers reports from June.  The results will be released June 2nd, 2019- making this the second time in three years that the automotive industry failed to achieve a single month increase from January into June. Although showroom traffic hasn’t necessarily slowed, dealerships simply aren’t offering large incentives to increase their monthly numbers.  Higher interest rates and rising vehicle prices are also a factor.

Some automakers have experienced changes that will be important to watch.  Ram recently had a 22% increase, making it the nation’s number two ranked pick-up truck five months into the year, threatening the Silverado that has come in first on an annual basis.  Chevy says it plans to increase sales to commercial and other fleet customers after focusing on its retail business. For Subaru, May marked the 90th consecutive year-over-year sales gain for the brand.

Although light-vehicle sales were down 2.4% through May, light trucks will likely top 12 million in sales for the first time.  Manufacturers had never sold over 10 million trucks in a year until 2016.  Meanwhile, cars are down 11% in the first five months of the year, the lowest since 1958.

Interest rates have also played a huge role in the sales process.  An increase in interest rates has consumers spending less on upgrades, and holding back on overall buying.

Auto Industry Decides First Safety Rules for Self-Driving Cars

A number of automotive companies have teamed up to create new guidelines for autonomous vehicles.  The paper, titled “Safety First Automated Driving” was made with the intent to establish framework on universal safety principles that all self-driving cars should have to follow.  The standards deal with how the industry should monitor and report safety standards when building and operating the autonomous cars.

Aptiv, Audi, Baidu, BMW, Continental, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Here Technologies, Infineon and Volkswagen were all involved in crafting the paper.  The paper further outlines 12 rules and principles for the vehicles that includes items such as safe operation, operational design domain, vehicle operator-initiated handover, security, user responsibility, vehicle-initiated handover, interdependency between the vehicle operator and the automated system, safety assessment, data recording, passive safety, behavior in traffic and safe layer.  The paper is over 100 pages, and contains details on each topic listed above.

Establi8shing guidelines comes at a time when self-driving cars my be facing additional governmental concerns.  The US Department of Transportation has been working on its own set of rules at the federal level, while states are working on their rules as well- some more detailed than others.

Tesla Shaping Up Well for Green Car Industry

Tesla experienced a record quarter for deliveries, showing the market for green vehicles in the United States is expanding.  Contrary to some reports, it seems that Tesla does not have demand issues- according to a former executive for Chrysler and Toyota.

Tesla shared jumped more than 7% in extended trading after announcing 95,200 vehicle deliveries in the second quarter.  The analyst expectation was 91,000.  The company delivered 63,000 in its first quarter, as the company had a number of production issues.  The lower number had analysts predicting that Tesla had a demand issue. Tesla was said to have had many unfilled orders outside of the United States.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been stressing to his investors that there is a healthy appetite for the vehicles, telling them “there is not a demand problem.”  The most popular model was the Model 3, which was responsible for 77,550 of the deliveries.  Analysts predicted that the Model 3 would have 74,100 deliveries.  Tesla has not provided a regional break down by location, but they do expect to see more competition from other manufacturers itching to gain favor in the green market.

Gene Munster, a venture capitalist and Tesla bull, said Tuesday that  the electric auto maker’s deliveries show it is taking a “powerful step forward” after being plagued by production issues and executive departures.

Munster said the company appears to be working through its manufacturing problems, and in fact may not have a manufacturing problem.