Yves here. To a significant degree, this article describes how supply chain problems, primarily due to scare chips, are crapifying cars, particular the premium class. NC readers, being (depending on your point of view) either Luddites or practical. Some even drive standard! In any event, this cohort points out that there’s less value in all these gee-whiz features than the carmakers want to believe. But their absence, and/or the not-so-hot workarounds, have produced declining auto quality ratings, particularly for the elite marks.
Now arguably, the way around this, as readers exhort, is simpler cars. But as they like to say in Maine, “You can’t get there from here.” First, a redesign is a big deal and costs money. American industry and its generally-stylistically-emulating foreign competitors do not like to invest. They like to bleed what they have as long as possible. Second, less feature-bloated cars ought to sell at lower prices. Wall Street would not like that.
Third, the auto companies may have contracted for the chip or the sub-components they are in on a long-term basis and don’t want to take the hit of a writeoff. A cancellation could also poison relationships with important suppliers. Yes, you could get away with it, but they will not do you any favors if you ever get in a pinch.
By Ag Metal Miner. Originally published at OilPrice
- The ongoing microchip shortage is taking a toll on the automotive market.
- Automakers are also facing declining demand due to surging inflation.
- In addition to supply and demand concerns, “premium” car companies are facing increasing scrutiny over quality issues.
The Automotive MMI (Monthly Metals Index) dropped by 6.32% this past month, a downward trend it has been maintaining since May. The drop comes despite valiant efforts to put out some of the fires plaguing the car manufacturing industry. But with the microchip shortage, surging inflation, and issues with both supply and demand, the automotive market can’t seem to catch a break.
J.D. Power Quality Study Puts “Premium Vehicles” on Blast
In an automotive market this tight, the industry does not need bad press. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when leading market research firm J.D. Power published its latest report this past weekend. The 2022 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) took the time to highlight the issues currently afflicting the industry. However, they also called out “premium” car companies for their extensive quality issues.
How bad? Apparently, this proved the highest number of vehicle problems reported in the 36-year history of the study. In fact, J.D. Power charted an 11% increase in “problems per 100 vehicles” compared with 2021. The report also stated that vehicle quality has declined across the board since the pandemic, pricier models had more quality issues than more affordable cars.
This largely has to do with cars having so many more “bells and whistles.” After all, many of these high-end features require increasingly rare components. You might remember hearing how BMW now offers its heated seat function on a subscription basis. While this may not become the norm, it shows a symptom of a very large problem.
According to J.D. Power’s Director of Global Automotive, David Amodeo, “automakers continue to launch vehicles that are more and more technologically complex in an era in which there have been many shortages of critical components to support them.” He also added that “given the challenges automakers and their dealers had to face in the past year, it’s somewhat surprising that initial quality didn’t fall even more dramatically.”
Car Manufacturing Experts Are at a Loss
This weekend, Automotive News published an article detailing the difficulty of forecasting the car manufacturing industry. The crux of the argument being that there are so many problems at work that analysts can’t account for all the different variables.
It’s rare for analysts to throw up their hands and say, “we simply don’t know,” but not completely unheard of. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean we can stop listening to experts. In fact, it might be smart to think of this as a “call to attention.” That is, those investors who previously followed just one or two forecasting sites would do well to get a second, third, and fourth opinion.
Fortunately, numbers are still numbers. For instance, LMC Automotive found that U.S. new light vehicles (NLV) sales were just 6.78 million from January to June. However, the National Auto Dealers Association found that NLV sales for July had actually gone up by 2.5%. It’s good news, sure. However, it’s important to remember that those figures are still down 8.9% from 2021.
And while those numbers are all factual, they don’t paint as clear a picture as they would in a normal market. Until some of these extenuating factors are mitigated, it will be hard for investors and buyers to find solid footing in the car manufacturing industry.
UK Experts Feel They’re Falling Behind the EV Car Manufacturing Curve
A recent editorial in The Guardian gave voice to many UK residents who feel their government isn’t taking steps to meet electric vehicle demand. It’s true that the country is dealing with a lot. Their Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently resigned, inflation recently clocked in at 9.4%, and the cost of living soared.
But there are also other concerns. For instance, the UK produces a wide range of automobiles, including Jaguars, Minis, and Land Rovers. The UK also saw a huge rise in the demand for electric vehicles. However, many feel that the UK fell behind other European nations. This isn’t just in terms of EV production but in terms of component production as well.
EV batteries contain lithium, cobalt, and nickel, supplies which are hard to shore up – especially now. And while the rest of Europe is building some 35 batter Gigafactories at the moment, the UK so far has one. To make matters worse, little action was taken on behalf of manufacturers to get the ball rolling on more.
Jaguar / Land Rover, for instance, has expressed interest in moving its EV production to Slovakia. Meanwhile, a proposed gigafactory in Coventry has been tied up in debate for months. And while the current Sunderland factory may expand in the future, experts estimate the country will need at least six more factories to meet future demand.
In short: the country isn’t where it needs to be, and there’s no plan in place to get it there. Though they certainly have “bigger fish to fry” at the moment. The UK cannot ignore its automotive market.
There is undoubtedly a market for simpler, more reliable cars. The huge success of Dacia in Europe shows this – Dacia is owned by Renault, their cars being usually a mix of well proven hand-me-downs from the French company with modern compact petrol engines. Their simplicity and toughness is much appreciated by farmers here. Its also significant I think that their residual values remain very high – often higher than prestige brands.
I think a key reason for all the big brands going for ever more complicated designs is their fear that cheap simple modular EV’s could undermine the entire car market. Everyone wants to be the Apple of cars, nobody wants to be the equivalent of the minor brand smartphone, sold with miniscule margins.
From what I can see from anecdote and the JD Power tables, in Europe the French automakers seem to be getting a lot more reliable relative to the German and Asian brands, and this could be related to their belief that simpler, less software dependent cars may be the right niche for them. There is a long history of super reliable and robust Peugeots and Renaults (the less said about Citroens the better), and it may be that this could be an alternative direction for some smaller makers.
Current projections though are for there to be more new electric bikes than new cars on European roads by 2030. They are already displacing the ‘city car’ in Europe, they make far more sense for most urban journeys. It may be that the humble bike will beat the car in the long term.
basic and simple would: a. fail fuel economy standards and/or fail EuroNCAP collision safety standards.
electronics is the only way to meet fuel economy mandates and have collision safety.
It’s the world we live in now.
As an architect, whenever I have a client tell me they want to build a simple building, I tell them it’s against the law.
The regulations all exist to address real issues, the venue for regulation needs to be moved closer to the people doing the actual work with enforcement agents also near by and motivated by “public goods” rather than the current bribed legislators and thumb licking bureaucrats.
Given crash worthiness and EPA standards, there’s still a lot of headroom left for simplification and durability.
The manual transmission is all but abandoned in favor of go-kart belt drive CVT automatics. Does anyone actually think that crapification decision was made for the consumer?
Will anyone be capable of backing up a car using a rear view mirror? The backup camera is a cram-down to adjust for incompetence.
Automatic headlights? Power windows? Power locks? Remote (vs. mechanical) keys? LCD touch screen dashboards? Automatic climate control? Cell phone integration?
I can buy a motorcycle or scooter any day of the week, but why can’t I knowingly buy a car without ABS and ‘smart’ braking?
Extraneous ‘hedonistic quality improvement’ add-ons do nothing but accelerate the demise of otherwise well cared for, mechanically fine vehicles for us people who live in road salted climates.
I’ve personally had to deal with costly fixes for multitudes of ancillary problems due to corrosion, I can see why people just throw them away and put out another $30k+ of W2 wage slave earnings. Hardly what I’d call a win for consumers.
LCD touch screen dashboards are an enhanced risk for drivers. Less so with knobs that one can properly feel.
I will never, ever buy a car with a CVT! Every one I have driven including my son’s Suburu and my mother-in-laws’ Honda are infuriatingly slow to respond when power is needed, and in variable speed driving always seem to be confused as to what “gear” they should be in.
Now I’m spoiled as my car is a manual sports sedan, so this may not be a fair comparison, but we specifically ordered my wife’s subcompact Honda with a manual to avoid the CVT and it’s a joy to drive and quite responsive for what it is.
You mean…with clutch?
Yes, both my wife and I are “Shifty” People. Not sure you can get either car with a manual/clutch anymore though my wife’s is only about 5 years old and Audi doesn’t currently make a version of mine, at least for the states.
early Nissan CVTs were bad.
CVTs are much better.
key is one must change the CVT fluid regularly per the manual, (arguably even more often than what the manual says)
Thanks for that, Louis.
Holds true for maxi scooters also?
I don’t think consumers are demanding manual transmission, except for niche product like Subaru WRX and Mazda Miata
Gonna have to disagree on this one. Manual transmission sucks, always has. You can call it crapification if you want, but automatic transmissions are absolutely an advancement. Good riddance to the old nonsense. Literally it’s only redeeming value is that operating it looks cool in movies.
When your battery dies, you can use the clutch and first gear for a rolling start.
I have an external battery pack with cables that connect to the battery terminals that can jumpstart the car so long as the battery pack is at least ~30% charged. Very handy thing to keep in the car, having made use of it a few times. No clutch necessary.
and for sportscars at the lower end of the market where manuals are 1) cheaper 2) have a strong nostalgia/hipster/purist appeal
the limits of back-in-my-dayism
Re the appropriate tech-ers’ dissent here, because there are more than one I can’t thank each commenter. For the astuteness and beauty of these words!
Like many others, this problem is systemic. People believe that bigness is a given. With surfboard racks I remember strapping some big items on top…on top the little Renaults. Anyway, there was some PIRG group that designed a safe car without a ton of electronics, wasn’t there?
It’s what you say about the automakers but here in the US many of the complicated addons are government requirements like airbags, tire pressure sensors, the entire suite of pollution controls. At this point there’s no going back from electronics to the ’57 Chevy. And that’s a good thing because most of the electronics are genuine value add and boosts to the environment while at the same time adding to the cost of the car and the risk of parts shortages.
Perhaps the government, the source of the above requirements, should make sure such cars can be built instead of disrupting the supply chain.
I think there are multiple layers to this debate.
You have the stuff that has been added to meet regulations, like engine management to reduce emissions.
Then you have the layer above, that is there to make assembling the cars easier. That is why for example your electric windows are now controlled by a circuit board hooked to the CAN bus, because they no longer have to run 10+ wires to the driver side door.
And then then you have the straight up frivolous stuff that i think most here are complaining about, like the touch screen entertainment units.
That seemingly useless center screen is needed for the backup camera which is also, I believe, a Federal requirement. My car does have extras like night time courtesy lights everywhere and Sirius capable radio and these I could do without. I also am very much opposed to pushbutton starting rather than the key version. A British car magazine editor talked about how his Lexus was stolen via radio wave hacking. I don’t have that. But most of my bells and whistles are useful and logical.
I and my son have been working on a 2006 Honda Civic. Complete 4 wheel brake job. Disc front, drum rear. 270,00 miles always Oil changed. Michigan vehicle. Corrosion has issues with drums, and teaching my son how to first remove a drum with a star tool, replace bleeders and the cylinders to which they are attached, bend brake lines and how to stretch springs to make drums work really stretched his patience. I guess we could have gone to the Field of Dreams. I am bragging, and trying to get his ear to listen to a clutch.
Speaking as someone who worked for one of the US big 3 and 2 tier 1 suppliers, I think that the most likely outcome at this point is that China dominates the EV battery manufacturing market and likely the hydrogen car component market in the future.
As far as computer chips, most computer chips are on older nodes and this is causing some tensions as suppliers like TSMC are pressuring car companies to move to newer nodes.
For the automotive industry, doing this is quite expensive because of all of the expensive validation and other testing processes. The exception may be Tesla which tends to skip these validation processes (full disclosure: both suppliers I worked at were suppliers for Tesla, 1 as a Tier 1 and the other as as Tier 2).
Be careful about relying on JD Power – they tend to not weigh their problems – to give an example, an infotainment system is considered a problem just like a powertrain issue. The data is closely scrutinized in the industry (even at the plant level), but it does have its limitations. As the article hints, the issue is that they tend to weigh infotainment like powertrain, which I don’t consider a very good methodology at all. They have 2 systems, an Initial Quality and a Vehicle Dependability Study (which is a 3 year cadence because that is industry standard for leases).
If I were to make a weighing system, I’d weigh by severity and risk to owner, something I don’t think JD Power does very well (or frankly at all). In my opinion, the VDS is more important than the IQS, as the VDS is more of a 3 year mid-term reliability as opposed to the IQS which are first impressions. Even so, the VDS is not something you should rely too much on. I think Consumer Reports has a better methodology overall, but even it is not perfect.
Internally all automotive plants have their own PPM studies and coordinate closely with the dealers for their initial problems.
As far as building in the UK, one big question is what advantage do they offer? Right now I’m not sure what they offer – it’s not like they have superior quality, supply chains, cheaper energy (important as many manufacturing processes are energy intensive), etc. Brexit has also complicated things and I don’t know how well the UK will access the EU market, which is important for export. Keep in mind plants are typically focused on 1-2 platforms so demand for that platform is crucial.
The only real way (and I think the Guardian article is calling for this) is for the UK to give very generous subsidies. The UK may have domestic demand, but that can be filled either by imports or manufacturing locally – the question is why manufacture in the UK?
I should mention that mainstream cars are mostly focused on a handful of platforms – production of luxury vehicles is different due to lower unit volumes.
In a recent Radio War Nerd episode, the guest claimed that Russian car manufacture would go back two generations due to chip shortages. Well, that is only good because those cars were repairable with gaffer tape and steel wires by even technical fools. Would last for ages too.
All wins I say
Well, there’s a lot of truth to that. A 1969 Chevy C10 pickup with a stick shift and an in-line 6 cyl 250 ticker is infinitely more repairable and maintainable than a 1991 Chevy Silverado. There will be zero possibility of keeping my current 2008 vehicle alive for another 5 years, never mind decades.
My 2008 vehicle has 140,000 miles and is good for the same again. It depends not only on the date but on the vehicle, its maintenance, and its trappings – in this case a manual trans 4 cyl Toyota.
That was Ben Aris I think?
By a presidential order the Russians are figuring out the whole car industry ecosystem anew as we speak. While they are figuring out how to get all kinds of parts made, they can figure out the chips, too. Cars are not phones, so they can use 20 year old tech, there’s enough power and room available for a bigger and hungrier chip.
Anyway, the next step seems to be assembling Chinese cars in old Renault factories in Moscow. When that works, they will start replacing parts with Russian ones until most of the car is assembled from Russian parts.
When the ecosystem is eventually build and in operation, then Russians will start producing their own models. I believe the brands “Moskvitch” and “Volga” are already re-registered.
I’d be good with a brand new 1960-ish Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant. Also the Slant 6 lasted forever. As Wolf Richter says, alas there are no ‘used car factories’. Let the kids keep driving their chippy I-phones.
I drove a taxi for 8 months with that Slant 6. Ran great with over 350,000 miles, never broke down.
The 60’s Falcon’s were pieces of sh&t. No power and ugly. A friend had one and it couldn’t go over 55 miles an hour on a flat road and that was before “I can’t drive 55”. It was thankfully easy to work on as it was constantly breaking down.
Another friend had a 68 Valiant that he replaced the drive train with a Chevy 327 cubic inch 350 horsepower engine and 4 speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter. mid-12 seconds in the quarter mile but looked like a grandma car. He won many street races too.
I had a 61 Ford Galaxy 500 2 door hardtop with a factory 390 cubic inch engine and factory headers with a 3 speed manual transmission and over drive. 13.01 best time at the strip 1/4 mile.
Spent a lot of time working on 60s Falcon/Comet and Fairlane. Due to Mustang popularity, just about any part you want is available. But many Falcons have been rodded out so getting an original is tough. The 175 six is OK, but mated to the Fordo-matic 2-speed, not so much. Of course the money is in 235/260/289 small block V-8s. The thing about cars in that vintage is there are a lot of mechanical pivot points, and when they wear everything gets sloppy.
Unless you’re a race driver, power is not something you actually need in a car. Big, loud cars are a peculiarly American obsession. I’ll take better gas mileage, and being less likely to kill myself, thanks.
Johnson and the Tories paid literally no heed to the fears of the UK car industry in the run-up to final Brexit. The industry, which includes PSA (now Stellantis), Toyota, Nissan, BMW (MINI) and the dreamers at JLR, consistently warned of likely boondoggles in the supply chain from the Continent due to Customs nonsense when Brexit finally happened. None of their warnings and pleadings were listened to. The aristo land owner, rentier and financial types couldn’t be bothered with the whinings of people with dirt under their fingernails — actual manufacturing companies. The obvious conclusion was the FIRE types didn’t give much of a damn about the people working real jobs such as assembly line workers. Britain would muddle through as usual was no doubt their thinking.
The attitude of management in the company I worked for in engineering as far back as the 1980s was that, hey, engineering was the easy stuff. They’d always come through in the past after the usual grumbling, so why not in the future? You’d get financial oafs quoting Moore’s Law, which applies mostly to how many transistors you can cram on a chip and the resultant drop in cost for each “device”, and say stupid things like if Rolls Royce followed Moore’s Law, why, they’d only cost $8.64 each. When I’d pipe up that they’d also be the size of the head of a pin and unsuitable for human occupancy, it would take some of these dolts quite some time to grasp my point. Now imagine an entire country led by Tory buffoons of this intellectual calibre. Exactly. Sheer bloody nonsense from one end to the other, which is what the UK has become.
The rise of Tesla has been equally misinterpreted by Wall Street. Its stock evaluation seems to be based on 90% foam, 10% liquid — much like the first pint pulled from a new keg of ale. Since the illusory price of Tesla stock got the Wall St numbskulls all excited by the froth and not the liquid, well, sure enough Ford and GM started touting their “electronic” sides, “mobility solutions” and other assorted “leading edge” bullcrap in order to interest the Wallahs into bidding up their share prices as well. The whole damn thing is as near fake as you can make it, much like the intrinsic value of the US dollar. Wall Street fantasists chase thin air in a bid to give it value and sell each other vast amounts of nothing. But the stock prices rise and they make money on the foundation of nothing but aerated foam.
As I write this, I’m trying to work out who actually wrote this blog article ( is it Ag Metal Miner? ), as it’s a once over lightly essay for those with only a passing interest in the automotive sector. Hit the highlights, don’t bother with much analysis sort of writing. Which is why I felt the need to comment.
The US, which once led the way in codifying standards of all kinds like building regulations and the electrical code and on and on, has done nothing whatsoever about standards for automotive sensor systems. Your blind-spot warning, radar cruise, emergency pedestrian braking, and so on have been left by neoliberal dogma of the free market to the individual car companies. Thus, there are huge discrepancies in the performance of these systems between car brands. And it is these radar and camera sensor technologies which underlie the push to autonomous driving. The sensors provide input to the driving computer. But with actual performance all over the place depending on brand, and with no unifying minimum standards to meet, everyone has hopped on their own horse and galloped off in whatever direction they believe is best. It’s quite ridiculous. And unfocused. Thus dangerous. I’m in no mood to subject myself to hordes of zombie drivers in Teslas and the like using their utterly useless Mark 1 autonomous driving “suites” to whistle down roads taking no notice of their surroundings, while letting some useless program direct the proceedings based on shaky sensor inputs.
The current chip shortage, mainly of really quite basic performance units as used in the automotive sector for window lift and seat heater switches, has led to the inability of car companies to manufacture as many vehicles as they would like. So they concentrate on upscale models to maximize their profit. Full to bursting with half-assed electronic “systems” of unproven beta quality, “glass” dashboards with no physical switches to control important functions without requiring eyes removed from driving properly as one taps wretched icons in sub-menus like a four-year old on Mommy’s IPhone, we have reached a point of almost ubiquitous imbecility. The drive behind this appears to be to appear so electronically savvy, the Wall Street know-nothings go “Ooh, these guys are leading edge!” and thus stock prices go up.
Meanwhile, the driver of these creations who only wanted to pop out for lunch has to cope with ludicrously poorly-designed controls and “operating systems” just to get the damned vehicle to move. Ergonomics? What’s that? Gear selectors from the minds of idiots? No wonder the owners of these “modern” vehicles complain in J D Power surveys. They are beset with inexplicably awkward to operate expensive crap “designed” by people without much of a clue about the basics. The disconnect between what is really needed and what is utter froth and of little value is so blurred by poor design hierarchy of control functions on touch screens and menus, no wonder people get frustrated with the illogical nonsense foisted on them. That’s if it all works properly anyway.
On the automotive production front, currently the world is being scoured for lithium and cobalt for batteries and electric motor magnets for the brave new world of electric vehicles. And now the deep hunt is also really on for more nickel and copper for the EV trade as well. Those topics have been covered on NC. But when the planet is being used up at a rate of 1.8 times its capacity to regenerate purely on a biological basis from the Sun, let alone the mining of various irreplaceable metals, one has to be rather fatalistic about future prospects. The various governmental national debts amount to a claim on future production from Earthly resources which is by no means assured.
Since I have no doubt bored people to death, I’ll close by mentioning that JLR is a pipsqueak on the automotive scene, and not really representative of the British automotive sector. The other companies I mention above who assemble cars in the UK are collectively far more important to the UK economy than JLR. But manufacturing real things, and more importantly, selling them to people with enough money to buy them is far from the British Tory mind. It’s an alien world to those jokers, so they simply ignore what really provides the butter on their bread. Work out the rest and the ultimate consequences for yourselves.
Thank you for your substantive comment. Very informative.
I spent a lot of time driving growing up in the Midwest then re-located to the Northeast years ago. My last car was a 1997 Chevy Cavalier with manual windows and locks with an aftermarket CD player. On the odd year that I end up driving a rental car for a trip, I find myself astonished at how things get increasingly electrified, less tactile, more toggle switches removed with their functions relocated behind a wall of menus on a lousy dash touchscreen.
I may be purchasing a car soon and I’m dreading it. I might look for something old on purpose for no other reason than my aversion to modern automotive design principles.
If you are not a “car person”, start your research with the Toyota Corolla, Camry, RAV4 or Honda Civic, Accord, CRV.
these days, all mainstream cars have relatively the same amount of electronics. for those cars, any problems are well-known, easy accessibility to parts.
any competent mechanic can maintain and/or repair an out-of-warranty problem
Honda has gone exclusively CVT (go-kart and snowmobile belt drive) transmission, a non-starter for someone like myself who demands they last for at least 15 years. But Corolla can still be had with a stick shift, although they’ve incorporated some weird electronic magic with engine rev matching. And Camry does still use their legacy automatic transmission design. Two car models you’ll never go wrong with, sorry USA big 3.
I’d avoid CVT…
My mid model Hyundai from several years ago is the last one to have 6 speed automatic (one reason I went used). Allegedly it is maintenance free by the owner past 100k miles. For the earlier CVT used by Nissan and others the rep was that they are good for 60k miles and then the car dealers often simply replace the whole thing. And do remember that back in the old days the Sears Catalog would sell rebuilt car engines because mechanics back then would often do the same kind of swap out for engines that might not last past 100k. The good old days were not that great. Safety and pollution and US car build quality were big issues.
Not a car person, but love my mazda. I was able to purchase a base model with very little unnecessary electronics and a manual shift a few years ago. It appears they do not use CVT.
Bill: please continue to point this out. I think this is a, maybe the, core problem with our Western economies, esp. U.S.
No wages, no customers, no production, no rent extraction. Not complicated.
The other big challenge is to find something that pays good wages and creates enough value to keep the workers engaged in the economy. I assert that productivity, mostly tech and progressively more efficient production processes are factoring out labor faster than new industries / uses for that labor are being created.
As an engineer, close to major production systems, would you please affirm or reject that assertion above (e.g. automation removing workers faster than new industries taking them up).
Thank you, Bill.
“…. currently the world is being scoured for lithium and cobalt for batteries and electric motor magnets for the brave new world of electric vehicles. And now the deep hunt is also really on for more nickel and copper for the EV trade as well. Those topics have been covered on NC. But when the planet is being used up at a rate of 1.8 times its capacity to regenerate purely on a biological basis from the Sun, let alone the mining of various irreplaceable metals, one has to be rather fatalistic about future prospects.”
We need to think of these ‘scoured’ places and the peoples, mostly poor and/or indigenous, whose only fault is living in a place that holds resources that capitalists want, before we buy our EV’s as a panacea for carbon pollution.
And then I read “Flooding in the Sacrifice Zone,” in today’s Links. Talk about ‘scoured.’ By the strip mining perpetrated by the coal industry over many decades.
“First of all, the Kentucky River watershed had been subjected to many decades of strip mining, which decreases the soil’s ability to retain water. So, when the rains came, the water was funneled into creeks—and peoples’ homes. There’s a reason Knott County has had the highest number of flooding fatalities: its narrow valleys created virtual traps in the face of rushing water, pinning people to the ground at the exact moment they needed to be anywhere but.”
This did not happen to the homes of the wealthy. ” … this is one of the poorest watersheds in the United States.”
One of the big issues for the automotive industry is that platform consolidation erased the difference between common and luxury vehicle brands. For example, your VW has the same engine as your Audi or Porsche, same mechanical components, etc. This is why luxury brands are where all the profit is, margins are much higher on luxury vehicles, so selling 1 luxury vehicle brings as much profit as 3-5 common vehicles.
So the differentiator has become interior design, infotainment system and above all brand status. Apple syndrome has taken over the interior, where form is preferred over function, and features are put in to appeal to a small subset of customers. That small subset of customers is important to establish the brand status, as most people who drive these vehicles will do so as a status symbol, not because they like the way it handles or has better engine performance.
You can see this in the shift in the automotive advertising. It used to be that commercials highlighted “best in class performance”, horsepower, towing, etc. Now most commercials are celebrity driven and there is a whole social media culture of showing off “your” car.
Brilliant, thank you for this.
Great comment, not boring at all! Thanks
Willow run airport was, once upon a time, a ford plant; then it was the place where the B24 bomber was built; then it housed GM’s transmission plant (it still may, don’t know). Now it is a freight airport and storage site for chinless vehicles. It’s absolutely packed with Ford F-150s and even Broncos. Soon some of those vehicles will be two model years old. What they’ll do with them is anyone’s guess.
On simpler cars, my wife ordered a Bronco in late April and was told 6-9 months (if she was lucky). But she ordered the literal base model because it was what she wanted. It will be ready on 8/22. It’s also relatively inexpensive for a new vehicle at $31K. Simple is better but the automakers don’t like selling simple or small cars because the margin is small. The options are like more memory in a new phone in terms of relative cost to the manufacturer and the purchaser.
I’ve had an order for a hybrid Ford Maverick since last November. Very spare on options, purposefully, and I think total cost down around $21k. Ford really struck a vein of demand with that model and the Bronco but then, facing resource constraints, found they didn’t really want to prioritize those sales! Though there may also be hybrid specific QC/availability issues, from what I can gather.
Ford F-150 EV prices are going up by $7,000 due to input costs. Maverick costs will rise by $1000+.
shameas tne batteries in 1 Tesla or F150 EV can be put into 50 Mavericks
Hybrid Maverick likely eldest daughter’s next vehicle. She is completing a master’s in Ed Psych (means more salary) and driving a Certified Toyota 2015 Prius C – so base it doesn’t even have cruise! She moved to Tacoma to be with her boyfriend who is completing his PhD in plant genetics.
They are not car people in the slightest, but his 10+ year old Subaru is nearing retirement and her Prius doesn’t like the hills of Seattle/Tacoma. So while they couldn’t care less about the Maverick’s pickup utility, they ARE rabid campers/hikers/rock climbers and want hybrid MPG and ‘green’-ness… as well as an affordable purchase price.
Ford seems to be on point lately; hope they sell plenty of these!
Wife was ready to drop the Bronco for the Maverick, but the wait time on the latter is excessive right now. I don’t think it is hybrid specific. Ford has said they won’t even take any more Maverick orders unless for 2023 model year now. They did, and the low cost comes from it sharing underpinnings with the new Escape and the Bronco Sport so the most important bits are very high volume. It’s a handsome truck, actually small and ticks all the practicality boxes. I think that a Lariat still comes in under $30K. Add hybrid mileage and it’s a no-brainer in terms of value. (I drive one of the earliest new Rangers. It is not a small truck but it is much narrower than the F150 and that significantly improves city driveability.)
“chinless vehicles” … do you mean chipless vehicles?
I did but I like the imagery of chinless better.
I took it as written.
The quest to be less dependent on unreliable products/services has become a driving need — at least for this Luddite. It’s not just in cars that the quality of products/services disappoint. It’s everything. The only thing I am consuming more of these days are the Youtube Do-It-Yourself instructional videos. I like the simpler appliances, the simpler old-fashioned doorbell, and so many other simpler things precisely b/c I can understand and fix these things myself. Assistance is unreliable, unneccessarily costly, and sometimes outright corrupt. I can’t afford the staff to keep up with the Jones.
Great comment. I echo this perspective. I maintain a lot of systems, all levels of complexity. I buy a lot of materials, small machines, tools, appliances. I am continually amazed at how bad these products are, how quickly they fail, how expensive (impossible, economically) they are to repair.
Mine, transport, manufacture, transport, retail, transport, use for a little while, transport, trash.
That is really, really stupid. The economy is optimized for rent extraction, not for utility to consumer.
I repair old guitar amps. That’s what I tell customers. If it’s 50 years old I can keep it running until the sun goes dark.
If it’s 2 years old, forget it. Of course, that’s not true if it is something brain dead and mechanical, like the IEC input AC jack. But if it’s on the circuit board. No chance.
Fender makes DSP models of their famous old tube amps. By all accounts, very good replicas. But as soon as those DSP chips aren’t made anymore, throw the whole thing away.
Reminds me of a guitarist friend of mine, that had a tube amp he cherished.
Kept a few spares rattling around inside it, that were apparently made back when USSR was still a thing.
Bikes and houses ditto. Houses made of waferboard with a brick facing — a stonemason friend calls them ‘kleenex houses’.
As it costs so much to design and build the platform for each new model car, maybe the way forward is to manufacture a great looking car but it would be a basic model with only the minimal bells and whistles. But it would be adaptable and be designed for upgrading. So if a customer wanted something a bit more fancier and had the money to spend, it would go into a center, have the appropriate components slapped in, and the car’s basic software would get upgraded to “recognize” the new components. It would be kinda like plugging in new components for computers but would be easier for the cars as you wouldn’t have the different variations screwing things up. In fact, a customer would be able to mix and match what components went into the upgrading of their car. The key point is that the car would have to be designed so that it was not a matter of a major job to install any component but would be a matter of slapping one in, hooking it up, and them upgrading the system
You’ve just designed the F-35.
Gawd! The only saving grace is that the customer can always walk away if so whereas Uncle Sugar will never be allowed to dump that turkey.
1. lots of the need for electronics are driven by fuel economy mandates—to govern the powertrain.
2. there isn’t (at least in the US, likely Europe too) a market for simple cars. The top selling US models are all stuffed with electronics while the only “simple” models are the entry level models.
The average US new car sells for ~$48,000 right now (average EV $67,000). Contrast that with the average US car on the road being >12 years old.
The average new car buyer wants (in no order) performance, safety, fuel economy, smartphone connectivity, reliability—-all of those functions need some type of semiconductor.
Semiconductors aren’t just CPUs—semiconductors in shortage include power regulators. Power regulators are essential for diagnostics, EVs, infotainment systems, and comply with fuel economy regulations.
I 100% am a fan of keep it simple. But there are many practical benefits to the incorporation of electronics: automatic braking, better traction, better fuel economy, more safety, easier diagnostics, navigation.
There are relatively few superfluous use of electronics: air suspension is one, arguably people can be just as well off with hydraulic steering versus electric, arguably keyless start is superfluous. remote start/phone-app is superfluous unless one lives in Minnesota in January or Texas in July.
that said the automakers dug their own hole re. electronics. They were the ones who screwed up procurement during the pandemic, and somehow the automobile shortage became an “act of god”
Your second point reminds me of a similar claim made about smartphones.
And i feel it is hogwash in both instances.
The market is there, but it goes unfulfilled because companies do not want to fulfill it.
So instead customers will buy the all singing, all dancing, models because they need working unit today.
This in turn because modern society takes it for granted that you own a car and own a mobile phone (more and more a smartphone that run various apps, because even web sites fit for mobile use is being retired).
All in all businesses has manufactured their own demand ever since Bernays first applied the theories of his uncle Freud to selling post-WW1 surplus output.
Here’s another explanation of why there’s a chip shortage cribbed from the Institution of Engineering and Technology
Temporary staffing problems, shift in demand for work-from-home, trade war.
First two are temporary spikes down in supply, up in demand. Trade war is probably the durable impact. Here’s an article (jan 2021, Reuters) explaining the auto industry troubles with semi-conductors. Key point is that demand for auto semis expanded unexpectedly by 50% while supply hiccups happened.
I’m having a little difficulty with the unexpected 50% increase in demand from the very mature auto industry. Not passing the sniff test, but that’s the rhetoric.
Not only mature, but who was driving anywhere? I doubt there were that many people pouring their stimmies into new vehicles. I suspect the MIC is banking parts on the down low, based on Western states’ unusual interest in TSMC’s business processes and production figures.
As i recall, there were also at least one fab fire around the start of COVID that complicated matters further.
Maybe we should use our energy to create a sustainable socioeconomic system. Automobiles kill and maim people, animals, and the environment. Maybe we should be working to make them obsolete instead of worshipping them. They really are the Golden Calf.
I drove a yellow ‘72 Continental for many years. Schwinn that is.
And one way to accomplish this is to develop some good ways of making a living without having to commute. And it’s not all that easy for most people to pull that off.
I wish there was a book somewhere entitled “100 great ways to make a living from your own home”…and it was actually a good, well-grounded, credible list. I would buy 10 copies and donate them to the public library.
Whenever I’m out on the road, I occasionally glance over at the other drivers, to get a sense of what they’re thinking.
I note that people spend an awful lot of time in cars looking as if they’re stressed, unhappy, and wishing they were doing something else.
Maybe we should, in fact, do something else.
Lovely metaphor, Mr. Harrison. I shall steal it.
I recently heard that car dealers are facing ever-increasing numbers of loan defaults, to the effect that they are nearly flooded with repossessed inventory. This leads to a quandary for the banks and other lenders; they are unlikely to regain their investment if all these cars are resold at once, hence you may well start to notice few cars on the front lots of dealers while their back lots are crammed with vehicles they want to portion out slowly to get maximum return from them. It’s unclear how long they can stockpile these cars until the cost of storage and the loss of revenue outweighs a more immediate write down in value.
Interesting times indeed…
Spelling mistake on the main page for this article: preimum
Platform sharing has been done for ages in the auto industry and it was GM that raised it to an art form across its brand divisions. GM originally started out with the A, B and C bodies on which Alfred Sloans’s “product for every purse” were built. This allowed them to spread high fixed costs across all divisions and to use lower variable costs by the individual divisions to differentiate the products. GM was also highly vertically integrated. GM produced almost every part that went into their vehicles by various subsidiary divisions unlike outsourcing the production of components and subassemblies to OEM suppliers from all over the world like today.
The most amazing example of vertical integration was Ford’s giant Rouge complex in Dearborn that manufactured everything on site from the steel to the glass. Ford had determined at one point that a Great Lakes iron ore freighter, which they owned a fleet of, would unload it’s cargo at the Rouge and 27 hours later a car drove out of the factory. When Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation, came to the US after WWII the place he wanted to visit was Ford’s Rouge complex.
I present the above in order to provide some background in making some points about previous comments. In a that was then this is now way, there are virtually no cars and trucks “manufactured” in the US but there are assembly plants. This has led to the crisis in production. An example that comes to mind in a sort of for “lack of a nail”, the UAW shut down GM a number of years back by striking the plant which made brake linings. Much has been said here on NC about the fragility that has been built into just in time production operations in the drive for efficiency.
Concerning platform sharing and some comments regarding the Ford Maverick and Bronco. Here it is important to distinguish between the Bronco offroad vehicle and the Bronco Sport. Both the Maverick pickup and the Bronco Sport are built on Ford’s Global C platform which was developed by Ford’s European operations where C class vehicles are the biggest sellers. The most common model is the Focus which is no longer available in the US. This platform is among the best platforms there are. In the US it also is the foundation for the Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair.
I have loved cars as far back as I can remember and have a large collection of cars going back to 1954 and up to present. My daily driver is a 2015 Ford C-Max hybrid which uses the Global C platform. I can speak to the changes that have occurred over this time span and speak to their complexity and repairability as I take care of them myself. The C-Max is from almost all objective measures the best car I own and have owned. It is also the most complex car I’ve owned. Hybrids are the most complex vehicles out there by virtue of the fact that they have both a BEV drivetrain and an ICE one during which a bevy of microprocessors determine seamless transitions between the two. The Maverick pickup hybrid is not simple. I tell people all the time that they have no idea what is going on under the hood of a car and that it is rocket science. There is no going back. The C-Max has everything from rain sensing wipers to the ability to parallel park all of which has been reliable which given its complexity is amazing. I have this thought process to try to decide if I were to keep one of my cars which one would it be. It comes down to two because of two criteria, they must have a manual transmission and a gas/throttle pedal with a mechanical linkage. I bet you didn’t know that the pedal you step on has no direct linkage to the engine but is an electronic sensor hooked to the drivetrain computer.
One last thing about hybrids and it goes to the use of OEM suppliers. The hybrid drivetrain used by Toyota in the Prius was developed by a Japanese company named Aisin. Aisin was originally created as a joint company Warner Aisin. Warner being Borg Warner, a US company that supplied automatic transmissions to Ford. Much new technology incorporated into modern vehicles is developed by the supplier base. They then approach the auto companies to buy their development. The Aisin hybrid system was purchased by Toyota and Volvo. Ford came into possession of it when they purchased Volvo.
“In a that was then this is now way, there are virtually no cars and trucks “manufactured” in the US but there are assembly plants.”
Makes me think of how back when the Chinese special economic zones first started, the product would be 99% done in China, and then shipped into Hong Kong for the final screws and such to be added. Then it could be badged and sold to the world as “made in Hong Kong”.
I’m now contentedly bored with cars. And “What I need” comes in many forms.
Cheap to buy.
I buy three year-old cars from Hertz or Avis. They get the base models, keep them for 2-3 years and usually sell them at 40,000 miles with a complete safety inspection because they want to avoid being sued. In 2020 I got a 2017 Hertz Toyota Corolla with an unusual 84,000 miles (it was leased to a customer) for less than $11,000 . Now it would be $15,000 or with 40,000 miles about $18,000.
Why a white Corolla? Black cars get hot. Corollas last forever and have a timing chain not a timing belt that needs replacing every 100,000 miles. In the computer world there used to be a term “A toaster” for a peripheral device that you could plug into the computer and it would just work. A car for me now (after fifty years of often exotic and wonderful cars) is just a toaster. My Toyota now has 125,000 miles on it. I’ve replaced the tires with 90K Michelin radials and got a new battery. On a recent 1,500 mile trip with a heavy load it got 35 mpg. Now in DC beltway driving I get 40+.
My odd and often old cars were cop magnets. Today the stops are pretty rare; a Toyota is almost invisible. When the police stop me they say “License and registration” and add “Sir.” The last time I was stopped was in Georgia on I-85 when the cop saw my TX plates and assumed it was a rental car and I was a drug courier (you can’t make this stuff up).
Back in my younger days I had a VW bus which was always stopped… until I put “Drugs. Mainline to the Grave” and “Have you Discovered Jesus?” stickers on the back window. When I was stopped, I’d roll down the window, hand the policeman my license and registration along with a brochure and ask about his relationship with God. I only got a ticket when I deserved it.
Countermeasures section was just brilliant. Imagination delivers yet again.
There are really three issues here. Reliability, usability, and manufacturability.
Supply chain issues are going to affect manufacturability. If you can’t get the parts to manufacture the car then you can’t build and sell the car. This has nothing in particular to do with how complex or simple the car is, or how easy or hard it is to use, or how reliable it is once you get it. It’s a logistical and supply chain problem. There are certainly ways to design a product so that it is more manufacturable, but this may or may not have an impact depending on how good your guesses are about what parts you can get several years from now.
My impression is that cars have been getting much harder to use in the last decade or two. A lot of this has to do with moving functionality on to touch screens, which is really a terrible idea in a car since by definition you have to take your eyes off the road to use it. There has also just been a lot of creeping featuritis as a result of this smartphone-like interface. Even if you only want to use a few features of the car, you have to figure out how to navigate a complex and usually poorly designed interface to do it.
I’m not sure why reliability statistics are taking a hit. Electronics are generally very reliable compared to mechanical systems. Cars in general seem to have been getting much more reliable in the last few decades, with service intervals going up and visits to the dealer for a new car going way down. Perhaps if people can’t figure out how to use the thing, perhaps that gets reported as a “defect” rather than a design issue.
I am all for making cars much simpler to use, not only for convenience, but also for safety reasons. Car manufacturers, even those that are very good at designing cars, seem to be terrible at designing electronic user interfaces. In any case, cars should be designed for a 20 or 30 year lifetime, however flat screens and other things are going to last nowhere near this long.
I’d add the additional aspect / issue of artistry.
Not just style, but the fusion of beauty and functionality. This is something great tools have, and skillfully created silverware, and other things of great utility which are also quite thrilling to look at, to hold, and to admire the genius that could create such a thing.
It’s been some time since I’ve felt this way about a product that I’ve just purchased, although it has happened.
I own a Makita driver – it’s sort of a very strong, light, battery-powered drill that can be fitted with a screw-driver bit to drive screws. It’s made in Japan, a country that values quality and artistry in its creations. It is exceptionally good at its job, it looks cool in a Truckin’ Man sort of ethic, it’s made of indestructible materials, and it’s lasted so far 10 years with no issues whatsoever.
Every time I pick it up, I say “glad I bought this. Nice move, boy!”.
Same with my Kubota tractor. Also made in Japan.
And my cat. Bad-ass, jungle-predator slinky cat, who pounces on me, attacks me from behind chairs, and reminds one what the word “wild” means.
A very cool cat. He’s of local manufacture. No brand, just stripes. Vertical stripes, like a tiger, and a baleful, distant stare when he’s cranky. He’s a phenomenal athlete.
Now _there_ is a product that is thrilling to own and even more thrilling to survive encounters with.
Aside from info-tainment systems, cars are way easier to drive than in the “old days”.
I remember when it took some skill to even start a car. Hit the gas just right while cranking the engine. Not too long or too hard or you might flood it. Now, you press a button. I bet most people who never drove a car with a carburetor would have a hard time starting one.
Next is steering and handling… back in the day, the majority of US cars had terrible play in their steering. Again, you had to pay attention and constantly correct course to keep the car within the lane. You had to be careful going too fast around corners because the suspensions were so soft and crappy. Now, a family sedan like an Accord or Camry drives better than the “sports cars” of the 80s. You barely need to move wheel and most cars drive straight all by themselves.
All this before we get to actually advanced features like back up cameras which are way easier than mirrors. Blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, automatic braking, cross traffic monitoring, etc.
In my mind, cars are too easy to drive today so people get bored and do stupid things.
Just a few random thoughts:
As a family we have way too many cars.
They date from ’94 to ’09. All but one are standards, Two are Jetta diesels. Those two have no chips, or even need power to run. They will survive EM disturbances – whether from the sun or from enemy action, are fixable – even with some excessively clever German engineering – I mean, how do use-only-once bolts make any real sense – but it hurts every time I see one drive off down the block spewing carbon (no, not carbon dioxide but real unburned carbon, soot) for the first while before it warms up.
The others have more electronics, and we’ve retrofitted infotainment systems into some. As has already been pointed out, the basic electronics help keep them running efficiently, brake more safely, and minimize pollution, whether carbon dioxide or actual carbon. When integrated with our phones we have hands-off calling, larger screen GPS guidance, podcasts, audio books, voice commands, and so on. In these cases we are more making use of the chips in our phones than chips in the car.
Beyond that, what I wouldn’t mind is backup sensors and/or cameras, especially in an environment with toddlers around, but I’m not sure if there’s much more that I would want. I rented one car that automatically unlocked when you got near it with your fob. My habit has always been to lock a car and then pull on the handle to confirm it; this became a habit I had to break while I had the car.
I consider touch-screen controls an abomination and a safety hazard; luckily voice control works well; I simply ask my passenger to adjust something.
I can’t really disagree with David B Harrison, but baby steps. Neither our cities nor our intercities work without cars and trucks. One of my kids designs streets with an eye to reducing accidents between vehicles, and between vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists. As our family also has way too many bicycles this is not just work but personal. I often bike half an hour to deliver garden stuff to family, even in the evening, but although we have biked 2+ hours to visit family, that time and distance is a daylight activity and not a delivery service. The car is still important.
In purely automotive terms the EV drivetrain is so much simpler than is possible in an IC vehicle that I can only love it. Nonetheless, there are still-unresolved global issues: battery building and the concomitant resource extraction, power grid build-out, battery recycling; and local issues, getting stuck in some out-of-the-way spot without being able to hitchhike to get a can of fuel, for example.
Certainly as the automotive world gets more electric, as “features” competition goes on, and more specifically as sensors, safety features, and the move towards self-driving cards becomes more real, electronics and chips become more and more important, both at basic power control levels and and at leading edge AI levels.
Of course, I feel that these trends make us less human. We are tool makers and users. As we use them our consciousness expands to include the tools we use, our effectively our body sense expands to include the tool. Heck, otherwise our ancestors would have mashed their fingers while pounding leather into suppleness.
This requires feedback. What we sense, what we interpret, informs what we do. What we do it with becomes a part of us while we are doing it.
When we ride a horse, human and horse become one, a superorganism, where the human predicts what the horse does, the horse predicts what the human does, and together they can have a greater effect than either separately.
When I drive one of our cars on the highway I barely move the steering wheel.. Feedback from the wheel, sight, sound, the feeling of acceleration or deceleration makes the car an extension of my body and I only make micro adjustments. When I first drove our automatic I tended to wander a bit more. In addition to it being an automatic, it had no feedback on the steering wheel. Eventually sight, peripheral vision became more important as feedback and I compensated.
Ian Bogost, in The Atlantic, laments the passing of the manual transmission, and more. With more chips, more “intelligence,” feedback will decrease. In fact, if your car steers back into the lane you are wandering from, this is anti-feedback, feedback that you have to learn to ignore.
In this, and in many other cases, our tools are doing more for us, but independent of us. As a result, we no longer practice becoming greater. Perhaps in time our ability to become part of superorganisms will become crippled in general – we will be weaker families, friends, teams, and so on.
Luckily kids will always play, if we let them, with each other and the sticks to poke each other with, and as long as we give them sharp knives so that they can start helping in the kitchen as soon as they can stand safely on stools, we should still be ok as a species.
Battery run time is the major concern in these new cars. Also, the idea of any mechanic can fix your car is attractive but this is not the case for the advanced vehicles that increases the cost worries. Then, you read a post like this and that worries multiplies.
This is manufacturer mythology. It is much easier and cheaper to replace a blown driver transistor than a worn piston ring.
Super-copyright-based lockout systems and a lack of technical documentation are a far more significant obstacle for the shade-tree mechanic. John Deere and GM are famous for requiring a manufacturer scan tool to pair newly installed components to the system, leveraging EPA regulations against “tampering” with emission control devices as an excuse for digital security against the driver (who, admittedly, may not be the car’s owner).