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Volkswagen America Can Finally Do Things Its Own Way

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Volkswagen finally has the trust and money to run a successful car business in this country, Stellantis is resurrecting the straight six, and Tesla’s got another recall on its hands. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for March 25, 2022.

1st Gear: Volkswagen’s American Looking Future Is Looking Bright

VW had a great 2021 in the U.S. buoyed by a lineup shift to the sort of vehicles Americans want to drive and have always wanted to drive, but the company has historically refused to sell. It’s finally reaping the rewards of that good performance, per Automotive News, which reports that the American arm of the brand will receive a sizable $7.1 billion investment over the next five years to basically do things its way:

“It allows us to be faster,” explained Scott Keogh, now into his fourth year as CEO of Volkswagen of America. “I think that’s a lot about what the $7.1 billion [investment] is about. It will also allow us to make the decisions that are right for the market.”

What might those decisions be? For starters, one might be bringing a long-speculated VW electric compact pickup to the U.S., or it might mean building a larger American version of the ID Buzz here alongside ID4 compact crossovers. Regardless of what they are, the decisions have to make business sense, Keogh said — but they are largely now his decisions to make.

As for how Volkswagen of America achieved this trust and support from Wolfsburg:

After years of losing money, and after the disastrous diesel emissions scandal, VW of America had “an $800 million swing” to the good in 2021, Keogh said. Its network of 638 dealerships averaged a 4.5 percent return last year — about triple their historic industry-lagging profit margin. U.S. sales climbed 15 percent in 2021 to just more than 375,000 vehicles, 73 percent of which were more profitable crossovers instead of less profitable sedans, as had been the case in years past. U.S. market share for the VW brand was 2.5 percent, and it is likely to climb higher as production in North America increases because of microchips being diverted from Europe.

Keogh called Volkswagen’s American operations in the past historically a “simplistic import business.” When you consider the kinds of products they’ve remained committed to sell on this side of the pond while also hoping to grow sales volume, that view sort of makes sense. The strategy, or lack thereof, always made that goal seem like a longshot. And then, you know — Dieselgate happened.

The $7.1 billion will bolster Volkswagen’s plan for 55 percent of its sales in the region to be purely electric by 2030. It’s also contingent on the construction of a U.S. battery manufacturing facility, either owned in whole or part by the automaker.

2nd Gear: Meanwhile, VW’s ID.5 Launch Has Hit A Snag

Blame the shortage of wire harnesses out of Ukraine, which we discussed in Thursday’s Morning Shift. That’s pushed the ID.5’s planned early April launch back by a month, to May 6, according to Automobilwoche via Automotive News:

The lack of supply meant that the automaker was unable to produce enough exhibition and demonstration vehicles for all its dealerships, according to a letter to dealerships seen by Automotive News sister publication Automobilwoche.

The car will now launch on May 6, assuming VW can provide the necessary exhibition or demonstration cars by then, Automobilwoche reported.

The ID5 is built at VW’s factory in Zwickau, Germany. VW had been forced to pause production at the plant due to supply bottlenecks caused by the war in Ukraine but output is due to resume next week.

If you don’t have your Volkswagen EV lineup card handy, the ID.5 is basically the ID.4 with a coupe-like roofline. We’re not due to get it here in the States at the moment, but that could certainly change down the line. This is the company that gave us the Atlas Cross Sport, after all.

3rd Gear: Baby, You’ve Got A Big Storm Comin’

Specifically a Hurricane — Stellantis’ new inline six destined for front-engine, real-wheel-drive Jeep, Ram and Dodge models. Displacing three liters and twin-turbocharged, the Hurricane is designed to fit into Stellantis’ products that already allow longitudinally-mounted engines.

It’s billed as a replacement for the Pentastar V6, though part of me wonders if the Hurricane will also begin a shift away from Hemis to reduce the legacy Chryslers brands’ fleet emissions, even if Stellantis refuses to say as much now. From Automotive News, once again:

The standard-output six is expected to produce more than 400 hp, while the high-output version will make more than 500 hp. The torque ratings are 450 pound-feet for the standard engine and 475 pound-feet for the high output motor. Those ratings surpass those of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 offered in various Jeep and Ram vehicles. That motor makes 357 hp and 390 pound-feet of torque. The V-6 engine is rated at 293 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque.

The V-8-like power of the new sixes is derived in part from a slew of high-tech features. Each turbo, for instance, powers three cylinders, increasing response. The twin overhead cams have phasers that adjust the opening times of the 24 valves, and a direct fuel injection system blasts fuel into each cylinder at more than 5,000 pounds per square inch.

The engine uses spray-in cylinder liners to reduce weight and enhance durability — the same process Nissan uses on the GT-R.

Stellantis says the Hurricane engines don’t replace the venerable Hemi V-8 but will be offered along with it. One engine the Hurricane might replace, however, is the light-duty 3.0-liter V-6 diesel, which makes 260 hp and 480 pound-feet of torque and is used in the Jeep Wrangler and Ram trucks. The Hurricane offers comparable power but would be less expensive to produce than the diesel.

Personally, I’m just happy we’re getting a new straight six in 2022.

4th Gear: Nissan Is Done With Pure ICE Cars In Europe

The Japanese automaker has announced it won’t introduce any purely internal combustion-powered cars in the region past 2023. That’s because the brand didn’t develop any new ICE engines to comply with the forthcoming Euro 7 regulations, so to meet them, it’ll need to electrify the otherwise non-compliant hardware it already has.

As for how this will shake out in terms of the models on offer, six electrified models will lead the charge, including the Townstar battery-electric light commercial van. From Automotive News Europe:

Nissan’s commitment to offer 100 percent electrified vehicles – meaning either EVs or hybrids — after 2030 is similar to the approach taken by fellow Japanese automaker Toyota, which has said it will offer “at least 50 percent” zero emissions vehicles in Europe by 2030

Nissan is launching three hybrid models this year: the Qashqai compact SUV e-Power, the Juke hybrid small SUV and the X-trail e-Power midsize SUV.

Nissan’s e-Power technology is an alternative hybrid drivetrain to that used by rivals including Toyota and alliance partner Renault in that the 1.5-liter combustion engine does not directly link to the driven wheels. Instead, the powertrain directly charges an on-board battery which powers a motor that drives the wheels. This is known as a ‘series’ set-up in which the engine does not directly power the wheels.

Nissan says the technology delivers a driving experience more akin to that of a pure electric vehicle.

The Juke hybrid meanwhile uses a more conventional hybrid drivetrain shared with the Renault Captur E-Tech. Renault is one of many mainstream car makers to have made a pledge to drop combustion engines by 2030.

In short, Nissan’s through with exclusively ICE-powered cars, but isn’t quite ready to go full EV yet. That’s probably the most rational compromise in terms of offering customers choices, even if it sort of makes the brand look behind the curve. This is the company that gave the world the Leaf, after all. It’s strange that the first major carmaker to offer an affordable, practical EV long before everybody else is sketched out about going all-in on electricity.

5th Gear: Tesla Recall

This one covers just under 1,000 vehicles in the U.S., and concerns the rearview camera feed not immediately displaying up-to-date visuals after shifting into reverse. Thankfully this doesn’t involve newer Teslas that shift themselves into reverse, because the company has decided that’s a level of complexity drivers shouldn’t need to deal with or have control over. From Reuters:

The automaker told the NHTSA the recall covers some 2018-2019 Model S, Model X, and 2017-2020 Model 3 vehicles equipped with Autopilot Computer 2.5 and operating certain firmware releases. The vehicles do not comply with a federal safety standard on rear visibility. Tesla will perform an over-the-air software update to address the issue.

NHTSA said a delayed rearview camera image reduces the driver’s rear view and increases the risk of a crash. This is the latest in a series of recalls Tesla has conducted for software issues in recent months.

Tesla on Dec. 19 began deploying firmware to a limited number of vehicles and its fleet monitoring tool soon “identified an abnormal frequency of computer resets among Model 3 vehicles” with that update, according to the recall notice dated March 18 but made public on Friday.

Tesla said “over the following week, an engineering investigation into the condition identified a software error as a potential cause for further assessment.”

Starting Feb. 9 after talks between Tesla and NHTSA to review consumer complaints that alleged delayed or unavailable rearview image displays, more than a dozen tests were conducted.

Tesla said that “despite not finding a noncompliance in the tests that Tesla conducted, a recall determination was made out of an abundance of caution to recognize the potential presence of a noncompliance in affected vehicles.”

To be clear, this isn’t just a camera feed failing to present to the driver; the information it gives is laggy and delayed by freezes, making it very easy to hit something because the car is closer to an object than it may look on the infotainment screen, which is showing out-of-date visuals. So it’s really important that Tesla figures this out quickly for those with affected vehicles, but stamping out the issue has proven tricky since late last year.

Reverse: A Star Is Born

Well, not born, but maybe noticed on the world stage for the first time. Ayrton Senna made his Formula 1 debut on March 25, 1984 at his home Grand Prix in Brazil — the first round of the season that year and four days after his 24th birthday. Senna qualified 16 in his Toleman but marked the first retirement of the race on Lap 8 due to a turbo issue. Thankfully, this inauspicious start didn’t foreshadow the rest of his career.

Neutral: How’d Your Predictions Work Out?

I know this is very late, but after a busy week I only watched the Bahrain Grand Prix in full last night. I’m curious to know what team and driver predictions people made before the first race — and hell, let’s include testing too, because that makes it too easy — and how the outcome compared. I feel like I was wrong across the board, because while I anticipated Ferrari to take a step forward, I never expected Mercedes to take quite so dramatic a step back, for Haas to suddenly be competitive in the midfield and for McLaren to suddenly, tragically return to its 2018 form.


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