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Ford has bungled just about every major launch for the past… too long, and everyone feared the same for the critical 2021 Ford F-150. Now there is some stuff happening that, well, looks a little unusual. All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 29, 2020.
1st Gear: The 2021 Ford F-150 Launch Is Going As You’d Expect
After borking the Explorer and Covid delaying the Broncos, Ford has known it can’t screw up the launch of its ultra-critical F-150. Or maybe it can! It certainly looks like we’ll find out, if this report from the Detroit Free Press is anything to go by. The Freep begins by saying that 2021 F-150s are showing up in an amusement park parking lot:
Ford needs to install seat belts and conduct software checks on early-production F-150 pickups parked in lots around the Kansas City Assembly Plant, as well as thousands in lots around metro Detroit, while some dealers await deliveries of America’s bestselling truck, Ford confirmed to the Free Press on Monday.
“As part of our commitment to delivering high-quality vehicles, we are conducting final quality inspections on trucks built before dealer shipments started last month to ensure they meet the quality expectations of our customers,” said Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager.
The Freep continues, explaining that Ford is doing anything and everything it can to get F-150s to dealers on time, including using nonunion workers. The Freep also includes this worrying tidbit:
Ford factory employees at the Dearborn Truck Plant and Kansas City Assembly have been working to meet an insatiable demand for the 2021 F-150. That meant Ford had to build trucks while the prototypes were still being driven as test models.
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You can take this one of two ways. Either this digression from normal operating procedures shows that Ford is going above and beyond to ensure that the F-150 gets out the door quickly and perfectly, or that Ford is rushing and its lack of adherence to best practices implies problems to come.
2nd Gear: Toyota Doesn’t Know How To Break The News About The Land Cruiser
As you can see, getting the message right about a car is important — maybe as important — as getting the car itself right. With that in mind, I have been charmed at how hard of a time Toyota has been having making news about the Land Cruiser in America make any sense. By the looks of it, there’s going to be a gap between the end of the current 200 series and the start of the next 300 series. Is Toyota telling you that? Not really.
Here’s Road & Track reporting “The Toyota Land Cruiser Is Dead in America After 2021″ with a statement from Toyota:
“The Toyota Land Cruiser has been a legendary name for more than 60 years,” Toyota said in a statement. “While it will be discontinued in the United States after the 2021 model year, we remain committed to the large SUV segment and will continue to explore future products that celebrate the Land Cruiser’s rich off-road history. We encourage loyal enthusiasts and intrepid adventurers to stay tuned for future developments.”
Car and Driver’s rather grim story “Toyota Land Cruiser Is Dead for 2022” got a car dealer to give a bit more background:
But now we’ve spoken with a partner in a large dealer franchise who confirmed that 2021 is the end of the trail for Toyota’s iconic SUV. But, thankfully, maybe not for long.
“It’s gone for 2022, but I think it’ll be back soon, and way more modern and luxurious,” he told us. The current Land Cruiser—the 200-series, in Cruiser parlance—dates to the 2008 model year and is (over)due for major improvements, especially on the fuel-economy front, where its 14 mpg EPA combined rating is doing Toyota’s fleet average no favors. Toyota also has a habit of dropping nameplates and reviving them later on, and not always at multi-decade intervals like the Supra. The Venza went on a walkabout in 2015 and returned for 2021, and we’d suspect that the Land Cruiser won’t be gone for six years.
We’ve known for some time that Toyota has been facing emissions issues for the big Land Cruiser, with news coming out of Australia that they’d lose the SUV’s V8 for a hybrid. That was a year and a half ago.
This is all to say that Toyota seems to be having a hard time figuring out how to make money off of this iconic vehicle here in the States, and a hard time making sure it fits into an emissions-compliant lineup. I can sort of see why the messaging about the thing is a little confused.
3rd Gear: Germany’s EV Bonus Rises Sixfold Now That Germany Makes EVs
It’s not fair to say that Germany only now makes electric cars. There was the i3! The difference is now EVs are coming out of Volkswagen. Not luxury car stuff. Normal people car stuff.
That’s a real change, and wow, for some reason the German government has also started kicking a lot more federal funding at EV ownership, as Der Spiegel reports:
The amount of funding for cars with alternative drives rose sharply in Germany in the past year. According to figures from the Federal Office for Economics and Export Control (Bafa), the amount of funding paid out grew from a good 98 million euros in 2019 to 652 million euros this year, as reported by the Rheinische Post. This is an increase of six and a half times.
I’m sure this is a total coincidence — that Germany’s support of EVs is out of the goodness of its heart and its commitment to the environment — and not its industrial connections.
4th Gear: VW’s Tesla Lite Strategy Now Includes Robot Charging Vaporware
For reasons beyond my understanding, the enormous and successful auto manufacturing empire that is Volkswagen has not been content being, well, an enormous and successful auto manufacturing empire. Instead it must be that and also Tesla, somehow. VW’s nervous boss Herbert Diess has been going on and on about how VW will be Tesla this and Tesla that.
But the connection is only now real. I don’t mean that the company is committed to producing electric cars. I mean that it’s now shuffling out total vaporware ideas to seem like it’s forwarding some narrative about the future, not just making cars that have big batteries in them. Please enjoy the follow up to Tesla’s charging snake, VW’s happy-face charging robot.
From VW’s press release:
The charging robot – started via an app or Car-to-X communication – operates totally autonomously. It independently steers the vehicle to be charged and communicates with it: from opening the charging socket flap to connecting the plug and decoupling it. The entire charging process takes place without any human involvement whatsoever. To charge several vehicles at the same time, the mobile robot moves a trailer, essentially a mobile energy storage unit, to the vehicle, connects it up and then uses this energy storage unit to charge the battery of the electric vehicle. The energy storage unit stays with the vehicle during the charging process. In the meantime, the robot charges other electric vehicles. Once the charging service has ended, the robot independently collects the mobile energy storage unit and takes it back to the central charging station.
VW calls this thing a prototype, and I look forward to seeing it never.
5th Gear: Reminder: Brexit Is Going To Screw Up The Auto Industry
Brexit has already been screwing with European auto manufacturers, but the Japanese carmakers that made beachheads in the UK in the face of the punitive import restrictions of the 1980s are also getting it, as Bloomberg reports in the Japan Times:
The auto industry dodged disaster when the U.K. and European Union sealed a post-Brexit trade accord, but not before carmakers announced factory closures and called off plans to make several new vehicles in the country.
More damage may still be done even with last week’s deal. Automakers including Nissan Motor Co. might struggle to qualify some U.K.-assembled models for tariff-free export to the EU as they evaluate whether they source enough of their components locally. Costs associated with having to switch suppliers and the burdens of customs declarations, certifications and audits could still leave car companies convinced they’re better off investing elsewhere.
“This is still a thin deal with major implications and costs for automotive,” said David Bailey, a business economics professor at Birmingham Business School in England. “Much will depend on the degree of flexibility allowed and the degree of phasing in.”
Reverse: This Was The Peak Of The Bubble Era
We remember the Bubble Era for the incredible cars that it gave us, and the almost unthinkable ones it didn’t. Today marks the all-time high of the Nikkei 225, and the apex of the Japanese bubble economy. Per the WSJ:
A quarter-century ago on Dec. 29, 1989, Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average finished the year at an all-time high of 38916, more than twice its current level. In retrospect, it’s clear the market was at bursting point, but at the time the mood was still confident, with some analysts predicting a surge beyond 45,000 by the end of 1990.
“Japan’s stock market spawns two kinds of investors: believers and skeptics. The believers are getting rich. The skeptics are getting sore,” Marcus W. Brauchli, then a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, wrote in an article published Jan. 2, 1990. “Just when the market seems top-heavy, it heads even higher,” he said.
The confidence in the market stemmed from the continued strength in shares in 1989, despite it being a relatively bad year for the Japanese economy, with the introduction of a nationwide 3% sales tax. That year, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, passed away in January and Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita stepped down in June over a financial scandal. His successor, Sosuke Uno, only lasted two months in the post, adding to the political uncertainty. Overseas factors that were a source of concern included the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Neutral: What Was The Best F-Number?
I would say F-150, but that would exclude a number of lovely F-100s and F-1s, and all the Dutys, super and otherwise. I myself have a particular soft spot for the Twin I-Beam cars, but my only real experience with Ford trucks is hearing about how my buddy’s dad kept crawling up the Sierras in his diesel Super Duty because some ducting for the turbo kept blowing off.