Midwesterners Wait Longer For Cars Because They Have No Choice

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You may be more willing to wait for your next car depending on where you live, the U.S. Commerce Secretary says the government harbors no hard feelings toward Tesla, and BMW is conservative about ending internal combustion engine production. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for February 4, 2022. Congratulations — we made it.

1st Gear: Location, Location, Location

In times like these it helps to be patient, provided you can afford to be. A recent survey found that Midwesterners are willing to wait the longest for new cars. Northeasterners were found to be the least willing. From Automotive News, via analytics firm Growth from Knowledge:

Over 17,000 consumers who were aware of the chip shortage were surveyed, and 33 percent said they would change their purchasing plan because of the shortage. Almost half of those people said they would wait until their exact model arrived.

Of the people willing to wait, those from the Midwest were most likely to wait more than 12 months, with 43 percent saying they would do so. Northeast consumers were the least likely to wait that long, with only 30 percent willing to do so.

Julie Kenar, GfK’s senior vice president of mobility consulting, said the difference is most likely due to the high number of auto workers living in the Midwest.

“That is where the bulk of employee sales are happening, and clearly people who are using an employee discount are much more aware of the chip shortage and better understand the impact,” she told Automotive News.

Kenar also theorizes Northeasterners’ lack of patience might have something to do with a flight from urban centers to the suburbs. Perhaps, but it’s also true that dealerships in the middle of the country are feeling the inventory squeeze more dramatically than their coastal counterparts. Waiting is less of a choice in Indiana than New York.

Other findings from the survey are less surprising. As in, not at all:

Beyond finding that Midwesterners will wait the longest, GfK found that those over 45 will wait the longest as well.

Those with the lowest household income are also willing to wait the longest, while of those making over $150,000, only 29 percent would wait over 12 months.

Patience is a luxury.

2nd Gear: The Government Says It Wants To Hear Elon Musk’s Whole Brain Of Ideas

The Tesla CEO just wants President Biden to notice him, and his fans want Biden to “acknowledge Tesla’s EV leadership.” How exactly, I’m not sure — the petition doesn’t give specifics. I would assume a parade.

Regardless of what Biden has or hasn’t said, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Thursday that her department really has no beef with Musk or his company, and that they’re willing to work with him if he has any ideas on how to best navigate the semiconductor shortage. From Bloomberg:

“None of this is personal,” Raimondo said in an interview Thursday with CNBC. “These issues are way too important for anyone to have, you know, feelings hurt. Like – let’s just do the work. And as I said, anyone who has good ideas or is willing to help us, absolutely we want the help.”

Raimondo said that she believed Tesla had better navigated the chip shortage that has badly impacted auto manufacturing because of its origins as a technology company, while traditional Detroit automakers were still “learning quickly” about how to manage semiconductor supply chains.

The Commerce Secretary also downplayed animosity between Biden and Musk, saying she did not know of a policy within the administration that would preclude her from soliciting advice from Tesla.

As we know, plenty of this comes down to unions and each party’s stance on them. Musk doesn’t like them. The President, on the other hand, professes to like unions a lot. I may not have a career as a mediator, but I know that if you want someone to like and respect you, it’s generally a good idea to appeal to their sensibilities. At least make the attempt.

I haven’t found lobbing passive aggressive tweets about how great you are into an echochamber to be as effective a strategy, but it seems to be the one Musk has committed to.

3rd Gear: Ford’s Doing Swell, But It’s Never Enough

The $12.3 billion profit Ford posted in the fourth quarter of 2021 capped its best financial year since 2016. Rivian played a part in it, too. From Automotive News:

Ford’s fourth-quarter net income, up from a $2.8 billion loss a year earlier, included a $8.2 billion gain from the automaker’s investment in Rivian, the EV maker that went public in November, though Ford was in the black for the quarter even without that and other one-time items.

Ford reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of $2 billion before interest and taxes, a 19 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.Revenue in the quarter rose 5 percent to $37.7 billion.For the full year, the automaker reported net income of $17.9 billion, up from the $1.3 billion loss it incurred in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. It posted adjusted EBIT for 2021 of $10 billion, roughly four times its 2020 earnings on that basis and in line with its estimates after it reclassified a first-quarter Rivian investment gain. Coupled with an EBIT margin of 7.3 percent, CFO John Lawler said it was Ford’s strongest performance since 2016.

That good news didn’t keep the company’s shares from dropping on Thursday, because Wall Street is a fantasy land where people believe the global supply chain logjam that every single person has been talking about every single day for the last year and a half shouldn’t impact a company’s production volume.

Ford’s shares slipped 4.5 percent to $18.99 in after-hours trading.

[Ford CFO John] Lawler attributed the tepid Wall Street response to a disappointment its volumes weren’t higher.

“Some thought we could do much better on the volumes,” he said. “But due to the supply constraints we realized due to omicron and semiconductor shortages, we weren’t able to exceed the volumes we had guided.”

You know what Wall Street likes? Hertz contracts — even better if they’re not finalized yet. Investors eat those up.

4th Gear: BMW Is Taking It Slow

Audi — via Volkswagen, of course — has been very bullish about its timeframe to sunset ICE production and concentrate entirely on electric vehicles. Mercedes-Benz initially wasn’t, then suddenly decided it was. Both companies have gravitated toward the aggressive strategy not because it’s especially good for consumers, but because it boosts their shares.

BMW, still a 50-percent family-owned company that is less dependent on the stock market, has been more conservative, even though it was also the first of the trio to sell a mass-market EV. Oliver Zipse, the brand’s CEO, cautioned against killing ICE too quickly to Germany’s Automobilwoche. Translated via Google:

“But the largest market segment in absolute terms is by far the combustion engine in Germany, but also in Europe and worldwide. Before you simply switch off something like this within eight or ten years, you have to know what you’re doing there.”

If you try to ban this technology in Germany and Europe, but the world market is not that far along, you will lose this technology on the world market, said Zipse. “Therefore, we also warn against doing this too early and not giving the transformation a chance to develop with the markets.” It would be harmful if you simply gave up a technology in which you have a world market position without need – “and then others just went into this market segment,” said the BMW boss. “I think that doesn’t help the climate or anyone else.”

Zipse has a point, and it’s one the company’s been making for a few years now — it can grab headlines, or it can be realistic about what sells where and what customers actually need, while still working toward full electrification in the long game.

5th Gear: Selling Smart’s Rebirth

The next generation of Smart cars will be built as part of a joint venture between Mercedes and Geely. Smart hasn’t been culturally relevant in what feels like 20 years, but the German automaker might actually try and spur a reinvention by selling a sizable minority stake in the joint venture, Bloomberg reported earlier this week.

Smart could seek about $500 million to $1 billion in fresh funds by selling a minority stake in the venture, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. A private fundraising deal for Smart, which is currently valued at roughly $5 billion, could attract interest from other carmakers and strategic investment funds, the people said.

The venture will use the proceeds to boost its brand as an electric-vehicle maker, the people said. Plans for Smart’s global lineup to go all-electric were announced in 2018, after having made the switch already in North America.

I don’t know if Smart will ever be a thing again, or if it could ever be in North America at least. Then again, Smart never had to be enormously successful or garner word of mouth to justify its existence — it just had to put a dent in Mercedes’ fleetwide fuel economy average.

Reverse: One Of The Best Motorsports Is Born

Or, at least televised for the very first time. It was on this day 55 years ago — February 4, 1963 — that the U.K.’s ITV first aired rallycross during its World Of Sport program. The action took place at Lydden Hill, which rallycross fans know still operates to this day. So when the track markets itself as “The Home Of Rallycross” you should know it actually, verifiably is. It’s not one of those unprovable claims, like how Parmesan considers itself “the king of cheeses.”

Neutral: What Races Are You Going To This Year?

My goal is to see a lot more on-track action in 2022 and share my findings with you lovely bunch. I’ll hopefully be at MotoGP in Austin for one, if all goes according to plan. What motorsports are you planning to see this year?

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