Welcome to a special Friday edition of Speed Lines, The Drive's daily news roundup of what's important in the automotive and mobility sectors. It's special because it's Friday, and Friday is always special. Today we're talking about reliable new cars and the coronavirus outbreak.
Porsche Up, Mitsubishi And Fiat Down
We all know the real reason you want to buy a Porsche: reliability. Yes, that must be it.
The German performance brand topped Consumer Reports' 2020 ranking of the best and most reliable automakers, with Korean newcomer Genesis taking a surprise second-place finish. Third place went to Subaru, with Mazda right below that.
At the bottom? The Fiat Chrysler brands and Jaguar Land Rover, as usual. From the report:
CR recommends all the Porsche, Genesis, and Mazda (another top brand) models we’ve tested. Subaru falls just short of that distinction because of the below-average predicted reliability of its WRX sedan. Tesla was the biggest gainer, climbing eight positions because of the improved reliability of the Model 3 and Model S sedans.
The bottom brands are also an unchanged club, with Fiat, Mitsubishi, Jeep, Land Rover, Cadillac, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, and GMC again falling short. We tested a total of 36 models from those brands, and we recommend only one, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The report is worth a read in full. One interesting takeaway is Tesla, which has moved up the list as CR's "latest reliability data shows a marked improvement in the Model 3 and Model S," senior director of automotive testing Jake Fisher told Automotive News. Tesla's quality control has been a persistent problem, but signs point to it getting much better.
Geely Goes Online
We've devoted a lot of internet ink to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on China's auto industry and parts supply chain because it's proving to be a protracted and devastating mess for all involved. More than 2,200 people in China have died from the disease, which continues to spread aggressively across Asia and other parts of the world. Factories have shut down, dealerships are empty and people are afraid to travel.
In response—at least, according to Reuters—automaker Geely (whose parent company also owns Volvo and Lotus) has started allowing buyers to spec, order, finance and purchase cars entirely online. Geely will even arrange for a representative to come to someone's home for a test drive.
Though I suspect this move had to have been at least somewhat in the works before the virus outbreak, it gives Geely a chance to sell cars to a nation weary of going out in public in large groups right now. Here's more from Geely spokesman Ash Sutcliffe on Twitter:
And more on the virus' impact on the local car market from Reuters:
Sales of passenger cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, plunged 92% in the first 16 days of February compared with the same period a year earlier, data from one industry group showed.
[...] Nationwide car sales are likely slide [SIC] more than 10% in the first half of the year due to the outbreak, and around 5% for the whole year, provided the epidemic is effectively contained before April, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) told Reuters last week.
In the U.S. market, the car dealership lobby is incredibly strong, and protectionist franchise laws have largely kept us from being able to fully buy cars online (save for some new automakers like Tesla, and that company has had numerous fights at the state level to even do that.) Coronavirus crisis aside, we wonder when American buyers will truly be able to order and pay for cars that aren't just Teslas completely on the internet as well.
China May Have To Boost EV Subsidies
A big reason every automaker is going electric is China, the world's biggest car market and a place where the government is pushing EVs hard over smog concerns. If Ford and Porsche and Volvo and everyone else wants to compete there, they have to be big on EVs.
But new car sales have been in decline in China over the past year, and as you can see above, the coronavirus outbreak has caused an even greater slump. Homegrown brands have been especially affected, but no car company has escaped this trend.
As such, Bloomberg reports the Chinese government may need to extend EV subsidies for buyers, which were due to be phased out this year:
Prolonging the handouts would be beneficial to local EV makers such as BYD Co., BAIC BluePark New Energy Technology Co. and NIO Inc. as well as the likes of Tesla Inc., which last month started deliveries from its new Shanghai factory, its first outside the U.S.
[...] China introduced EV subsidies a decade ago and they played a key role in turning the country into the top market globally. They initially lopped as much as 60,000 yuan ($8,700) from a vehicle’s price tag, not including any extra sometimes provided by municipal governments. Subsidies now lower a vehicle’s cost by as much as 25,000 yuan, depending on the driving range.
The government set a timetable about four years ago to phase out subsidies by the end of this year. It also introduced a credit system that essentially required all carmakers -- international and domestic -- to produce at least some EVs. NEV sales accounted for about 8% of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.’s total last year.
This may not feel like a big deal across the pond, but "the most severe downturn on record for EVs in China" could have lasting effects on product strategy for every car company.
Tesla Is Back To Cutting Down Trees
A court decision to halt construction of Tesla's German Gigafactory over environmental concerns was a setback for the electric automaker, but now it's proving to be a temporary one. While environmental groups made legal moves to stop deforestation to build the plant in Gruenheide, a court on Thursday finally rejected their injunction, and the ruling cannot be appealed.
“Tree clearance is proceeding in an orderly manner,” Tesla said on Friday. There were no environmentalists holding up the process, Tesla’s spokeswoman Kathrin Schira said in a statement.
The U.S. electric carmaker last November said it will build a factory in Gruenheide in the eastern state of Brandenburg near Berlin, creating up to 12,000 jobs, a decision that was initially lauded as a vote of confidence in Germany.
Tesla wants to start production in 2021, but environmentalists have exploited legal loopholes in the planning process to halt felling of trees until an environmental audit is finalised to gauge whether any rare species could be endangered.
I suppose it's kind of an ironic image for Tesla, which is happy to play up its earth-friendly image. But I don't know how you build any kind of car plant without some kind of environmental disruption.
On Our Radar
Nissan, Honda delay restart of some China plants over coronavirus (Automotive News)
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A Stench In The Nostrils of God (The Outline)
Do you buy cars based on any reliability rankings? Do those surveys matter to you?