When will Chinese carmakers follow the Japanese, and Korean example, and take over the world? If it happens, who will it be? Sitting at a desk overlooking a glitzy Shanghai skyline that can put Manhattan, or downtown Tokyo to shame, I predict that scrappy Geely will be at the vanguard of Chinese automakers to take on the world. I write this after having seen Geely’s R&D center in Hangzhou, after having talked to its production engineers in Geely’s hometown some three hours south of Shanghai, and after having been granted a rare glimpse behind the closed doors of the company’s design studios in Shanghai. I am rarely impressed, but I am.
“Tesla is cooking with gas while Renault-Nissan has dropped the ball,” told me a media colleague the other day. His name shall remain unmentioned, not only due to his use of inappropriately mixed metaphors. His comment made me dig up some numbers, and the result of the digging is that the Renault-Nissan Alliance remains the world’s EV leader, selling more than double the number of electric cars the allegedly gas-cooking Tesla could move.
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.