IT’S BEEN A BAD YEAR FOR... 2018
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.