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.
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.
California carmaker Tesla is sitting on, at last count, 373,000 pre-orders for its more affordably priced Model 3 sedan. A confidential study conducted for a major automaker shows that Tesla’s Model 3 has changed the market long before its release, legitimizing electric vehicles as a mass market choice.
The typical aspiring Model 3 buyer drives a Toyota, not a BMW, the study says. Those customers are looking to switch because they think they can finally afford cutting-edge technology previously limited to the rich and famous. Tesla, however, may be ill able to afford the customers it’s attracting in droves: Toyota owners are among the most demanding, and they will be confronted with a brand notorious for its lack of reliability. Sound the collision alarm.