THE BIG PIC­TURE Big change: Are Amer­ica’s au­tomak­ers ready?


Motor Trend (USA) - - Contents - An­gus Macken­zie

We used to call them the Big Three be­cause, well, they were the three big­gest au­tomak­ers in the world. For much of the 20th cen­tury, GM, Ford, and Chrysler each made more cars—and more money—than any­one else in the auto biz. They made Detroit the au­to­mo­tive cap­i­tal of the world by the 1920s and one of the wealth­i­est cities in Amer­ica by the 1950s. Back then, the masters of the uni­verse cruised Wood­ward Av­enue, not Wall Street.

A lot has changed.

For a start, the Big Three aren’t so big any­more. Ac­cord­ing to global sales fig­ures from in­dus­try an­a­lyst JATO, GM now lan­guishes in fourth spot, be­hind Volk­swa­gen, Toy­ota, and Hyundai, fifth if you fac­tor in the new Re­nault­nis­san-mit­subishi al­liance. Ford, for decades the world’s No. 2 au­tomaker, is now merely the sixth largest. And 20 years af­ter be­ing swal­lowed by Daim­ler—and sub­se­quently spat out be­fore be­ing merged with Fiat in 2014— Chrysler barely makes the top 10.

But that’s not all. Just two years af­ter Toy­ota ended GM’S eight-decade reign as the world’s largest au­tomaker in 2008, China be­came the world’s big­gest sin­gle auto mar­ket, top­pling the United States from the lead­er­ship po­si­tion it had held for more than a cen­tury. The Chi­nese mar­ket has since grown to be about 60 per­cent larger than Amer­ica’s, with Chi­nese con­sumers buy­ing more than 28 mil­lion ve­hi­cles last year.

A new world or­der is here. So what now for Amer­ica’s au­tomak­ers? The 2018 Geneva show ad­dressed that ques­tion.

Jaguar beat its Ger­man ri­vals to the punch at Geneva with the launch of the I-pace, the first car to chal­lenge Tesla’s hege­mony in the pre­mium elec­tric ve­hi­cle seg­ment. (A cou­ple weeks later, Jaguar and Waymo promised a Level 5 I-pace EV in test­ing this year, with 20,000 built by 2020.) Mean­while, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, and BMW were all talk­ing in de­tail about the swarm of BEVS they’ll have on the road start­ing in 2019. Brands as di­verse as Nis­san and As­ton Martin showed BEV con­cepts tout­ing Level 4 au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­ity and fold­away steer­ing wheels; the VW I.D. Vizzion con­cept had no steer­ing wheel at all.

Geneva 2018 was one of those rare auto shows—tokyo 1989 was an­other—where the fu­ture felt real. Yet … there was not a sin­gle GM car on dis­play, the Ford stand was a perfunctory af­fair high­light­ing the retro-hip Mus­tang Bul­litt, and FCA’S star turn was the Jeep Wran­gler, a ve­hi­cle whose roots go back to the 1940s. Amer­ica, the na­tion that put the world on wheels, that shaped the 20th cen­tury, seemed cu­ri­ously AWOL from the ex­is­ten­tial nar­ra­tive reimag­in­ing the 21st at Geneva.

GM’S ab­sence from Geneva re­flected the com­pany’s pivot away from Europe to China, the na­tion that’s now dic­tat­ing the types of ve­hi­cles the world’s au­tomak­ers must build. We may love our pick­ups and V-8s, but China is de­mand­ing BEVS and au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­ity, and when au­tomak­ers con­tem­plate a mar­ket that could be twice the size of Amer­ica’s within the next decade, they’re go­ing to fol­low the money.

In that context, GM ap­pears to be well po­si­tioned. GM global prod­uct chief Mark Reuss has con­firmed two BEV crossovers based on the Chevy Bolt plat­form will ap­pear in the next 18 months. At least a fur­ther seven Bevs—and pos­si­bly as many as 18—will be built on a new mo­du­lar ve­hi­cle ar­chi­tec­ture and carry a 300-mile range as soon as 2023. And as we’ve seen with Cadil­lac’s Super Cruise, GM is ag­gres­sively pur­su­ing au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­ity.

The jury is out on Ford and FCA, though. Ford has con­firmed just one BEV by 2020, an all-wheel-drive SUV it claims will have a 300-mile range, and FCA’S Ser­gio Mar­chionne says a pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the Chrysler Por­tal BEV mini­van con­cept will go into pro­duc­tion some time af­ter 2018. Both com­pa­nies are also work­ing on au­ton­o­mous drive: Ford is test­ing a fleet of self-driv­ing Fu­sions as a pre­lude to launch­ing a fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle by 2021, and FCA is part­ner­ing with BMW and In­tel to de­velop an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle plat­form.

But is it too lit­tle, too late? The elec­tric re­al­i­ties of Geneva sug­gest it might be. n

Jaguar beat its Ger­man ri­vals to the punch with the I-pace.

GET IN OR GET LEFT BE­HIND Jaguar’s I-pace seeks to un­seat Tesla’s stran­gle­hold on the pre­mium EV mar­ket.

ALL ELEC­TRIC The Jaguar I-pace has an e-mo­tor at each axle.

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