When former Porsche chief Matthias Müller took over as CEO of Volkswagen from disgraced Martin Winterkorn, the jovial Bavarian was welcomed as a new start for Volkswagen. Now, the past has caught up with him. A close confidante and engine computer specialist, supposedly dispatched by Müller to get to the bottom of the dieselgate morass, was involved in the defeat device development from the early get-go, documents cited by Germany’s BILD [German, paywall] suggest. Meanwhile, the only VW top executive indicted in the U.S. sued the Volkswagen at home for an unpaid $1.5 million performance bonus, while Volkswagen fired the law firm it hired to “relentlessly” investigate its emissions scandal.
Imagine you are handed a car guy’s dream job. You will be responsible for the complete product range of a big global automaker with a hundred-year long history. Like many automakers, this one had its scandals, and it was in financial doo-doo a few times. Infused with fresh capital and technology, the company is good to go. Your job starts in two weeks. What will you do?
This is what I ask Vincent Cobee.
At Volkswagen, last week was one of those weeks one would rather forget. On Wednesday, German police and prosecutors rained on the parade of numbers at Audi’s annual results conference. Offices and homes of leading Volkswagen AG managers all over Germany were raided. The timing was sheer happenstance, prosecutors claimed. A day later, Volkswagen managers were shown what could happen to them: Their colleague Oliver Schmidt was brought into a Detroit court in handcuffs and a fluorescent orange prison jumpsuit, only to be told that he would have to sit in jail until a January 2018 court date, and most likely long beyond. Meanwhile in Germany, prominent voices called Schmidt a sacrificial lamb, offered-up to distract from the truly guilty.
If you are on the Tokyo car beat, you are used to it: Americans get all the hot Japanese cars first. Lexus’ fancy new LC (as in “Luxury Coupe”) was first rolled-out to the oohs & ahhs of the Detroit Auto Show, and it has been critiqued already in justabout any American blog from Jalopnik (“Most badass since the LFA”) all the way to Architectural Digest (“Is it the Japanese Aston Martin?”). Well, if you had to ask. Months later, the Lexus LC finally came home to its Japanese birthplace today.
It has taken a while, but Volkswagen finally shows the effects of hospital-grade doses of humble pie. At today’s annual results conference in Wolfsburg, reporters witnessed a less arrogant, less egomaniac, more down-to-earth Volkswagen. It’s what one would expect from a Volkswagen that, after its Friday admission of guilt in a Detroit courthouse, can officially be called a felon, as Automotive News just did. VW’s new-found modesty still is a surprise for this reporter, who, over many decades, has seen Volkswagen go from humble to hyper.
Commercial vehicles are the decidedly unglamorous side of the auto business. Their only sexy part is the money they are making. From Ford to Toyota, work trucks provide the bread and butter to an industry that serves exciting sports cars as an appetizer. Today’s Renault-Nissan announcement is about the bread and butter part.
Tesla’s high-flying image, which had been moving from strength to strength since early 2013, hit its biggest speed bump last year when its Autopilot semi-autonomous/Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) came under scrutiny in the wake of Joshua Brown’s death. Suddenly Tesla’s pioneering Autopilot system went from being one of the company’s key strengths to being a serious liability that raised troubling questions about the company’s safety culture. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tried to swat away these concerns with what proved to be a set of highly misleading statistics about Autopilot safety, but the issue was not laid to rest until NHTSA closed its investigation with a report that seemed to exonerate Autopilot as a safety risk. With a single sentence, NHTSA shut down the most dangerous PR problem in Tesla’s history:
The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.
Because NHTSA is the federal authority on automotive safety, with unparalleled resources to assess and investigate safety risks, this single sentence effectively shut down public concerns about Autopilot’s safety. In a terse statement on its company blog, Tesla noted
we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion
But how thorough was NHTSA’s investigation, and how accurate was its conclusion? As it turns out, the questions around Autopilot’s safety may not be as settled as Tesla and NHTSA would have you believe.
A long article appeared yesterday on the stock-picker site Seeking Alpha, suggesting a Chinese ménage a trois of some sort between California carmaker Tesla, Chinese carmaker Geely, and Kandi, Chinese maker of the Kandi EV small electric city car. Masterfully squeezing all pertinent search words into one headline, the article claims that the “autonomous Tesla Model 3 is the most likely EV to be produced at the new Kandi Hainan factory.” Nice, but the trouble is: The story is pure baloney.