IT’S BEEN A BAD YEAR FOR... 2018

Top Gear (UK) - - SPORTS CAR - WORDS: PAUL HORRELL

It was as if Levi’s had given up on denim. In 2018, Ford an­nounced that it would even­tu­ally stop sell­ing any sa­loons and hatch­backs in Amer­ica. Sur­vivors will be the Mus­tang, crossovers, SUVs and trucks. Be­cause those are what Ford can sell right now. This from the com­pany that put the world on wheels with the Model T. A bad year for cars, then.

Bad news for Ford fans in

Bri­tain too. If its bril­liant hot Fi­es­tas and Fo­cuses won’t be re­placed in the US, will it be worth Ford’s while to engi­neer them so well if it’s only for over here? Oh, and no more

Mon­deo, be­cause its US twin, the Fu­sion, is soon ex­tinct. The Ford rep­mo­bile – once a mo­tor­way totem, now a dodo. When will the

global SUV craze end? We ask that ev­ery year. The same an­swer echoes back: not any time soon.

An­other cease­less pre­oc­cu­pa­tion is Brexit. What­ever your hopes for its boost­ing long-term trade else­where, half the cars made in Bri­tain go to the rest of the EU. Short-term, the bosses of al­most all UK car fac­to­ries have con­cluded that the rea­son­able, con­sid­ered and ap­pro­pri­ate strat­egy is blind panic.

Tar­iffs are only a part of it. The night­mare is com­po­nents be­ing held up at the bor­der. So Mini

Ox­ford will build no cars for a month from Brexit day, and Toy­ota and Vaux­hall have threat­ened tem­po­rary shut­downs if there’s a no-deal de­par­ture. As­ton Martin is talk­ing of fly­ing in stock­piles of com­po­nents. Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralf Speth has said it could cost thou­sands of jobs if the fi­nal Brexit deal isn’t go­ing to work for UK au­to­mo­tive.

JLR has had a lousy 2018 any­way. In the UK, both LR and Jaguar are su­perde­pen­dent on diesel. In Bri­tain we buy half the num­ber of diesels as petrols now; once they were roughly equal. In China JLR is do­ing badly for rea­sons no one quite un­der­stands. Like Mercedes, BMW and Audi, it builds in China, and those other three are do­ing fine there. So JLR plants here are run­ning part-time, and Speth has slashed £2.5bn from fu­ture in­vest­ment. It wasn’t just Brexit in the trade news. Don­ald Trump’s trade war against China, Mex­ico and Europe is an­noy­ing car bosses ev­ery­where, even those in the US. The Pres­i­dent raged against “trade bar­ri­ers” put up by Europe against Amer­i­can cars. Yet we all know the Detroit three fail here be­cause they don’t make suitable ve­hi­cles. Ev­ery year BMW sells hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­can-built X mod­els into Europe. ‘Trade bar­ri­ers’ aren’t enough to stop them. Per­sonal tragedy struck at Fiat Chrysler. Ser­gio Mar­chionne, the bril­liant, pug­na­cious, au­da­cious and of­ten ex­tremely en­ter­tain­ing boss who’d pulled off the merger that res­cued Chrysler, and re­launched Alfa and Jeep, was com­ing to the end of his ten­ure when he rapidly fell ill and died. He’d worked ev­ery hour for years, and now the gen­tler re­tire­ment with fam­ily was snatched from him and them.

Audi also lost its CEO. Ru­pert

Stadler is in cus­tody, un­able to get bail be­cause the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties fear that if he’d been free, he could have in­ter­fered with ev­i­dence over Diesel­gate. Par­ent VW has been fined an­other €1bn in Ger­many over the scan­dal. But its to­tal global pun­ish­ment is still less than the prof­its it made from the years of sell­ing bent cars.

Dur­ing stu­pen­dous tri­umph at Tesla, CEO Elon Musk se­ri­ally shot him­self in the foot. His griz­zly al­le­ga­tions around a heroic res­cue in Thai­land and his in­tem­per­ate drugs ref­er­ences could, gen­er­ously, be put down to stressed-out late-night fit­ful­ness. But he also got him­self charged with fraud by the high­est fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors, the SEC. He tweeted he’d take the firm pri­vate us­ing funds he’d se­cured. He hadn’t, said the SEC. To set­tle, he and Tesla are each pay­ing $20 mil­lion to com­pen­sate the in­vestors he mis­led, plus he’s been re­moved as chair of the board. Dude, kill your Twit­ter ac­count.

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