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Nissan workers vote against unionisation

Workers at Nissan Motor Company in Canton, Mississippi have voted against union representation.

The vote took place nearing the end of a campaign to organise an automaker’s plant in the south of the United States.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) is about to approach contract negotiations with Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz and BMW (the Detroit Three) which could be weakened thanks to the recent vote. 

The votes totalled at 2,244 against unionisation to 1,307 in favour.

“They have rejected the UAW and chosen to self-represent, continuing the direct relationship they enjoy with the company,” a Nissan representative said in a statement.

The National Labor Review Board (NLRB) has charged Nissan with threatening workers to vote against the union. If it is concluded that this has happened, and Nissan has broken the law, another election could take place within six months

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US sales fall

US sales of cars and light trucks fell for the fifth month in a row, as major car makers continue to cut rental fleet sales.

Sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.69 million, down 4.9 per cent from last year’s annual record of 17.55 million.

GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan and Hyundai all said they sharply reduced rental car sales in July, choosing to put profit ahead of sales volume, Reuters reports.

As vehicle stock continues to increase in the US, car makers have sold excess cars to rental fleets at a low margin in a bid to avoid factory shutdowns.

Combined sales of large pickup trucks fell four per cent, according to Reuters, and sales of large SUVs declined 20 per cent.

The Ford F-Series (which includes the Ranger in New Zealand) was the only major truck model to see an improvement, with July sales up 5.8 per cent compared to 2016.

Sales of the Toyota RAV4 had the highest increase among the 20 top-selling vehicle models, up 31 per cent.

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Kia Motors tops consumer quality survey

The Kia Sorento was the top-ranking midsized SUV

Kia Motors has topped the JD Power Quality Study of new vehicles sold in the US, based on owner responses, for the second year in a row.

Hyundai Motors’ Genesis marque came second in the survey, followed by Porsche.

The RAM nameplate and the Ford brand shared fourth place.

At the bottom were Fiat, Jaguar and Volvo.

The most improved brand was the British-made MINI, with fewer problems reported by owners than in 2016.

The survey also included ranking of vehicles by category. The Kia Sorento took out best midsize SUV, the Kia Niro best small SUV, the Toyota Camry best midsized car, the Chevrolet Sonic best small car, and the MINI Cooper was ranked best compact sporty car.

The survey was conducted by consulting firm JD Power and questioned 80,000 US owners of 2017 vehicle models about the problems they had in the first 90 days of ownership. Vehicles across 32 different makes were ranked on nine quality factors, including body and mechanical, powertrain, design, and features and accessories.

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US car sales mixed in May

General Motors reported a decline in sales for May, down one per cent to 237,364 units. Sales of the GMC Sierra ute fell 8.2 per cent to 16,200 and sales of the GMC Canyon were down 26.3 per cent to 2,477 units.

US sales also dropped one per cent for Fiat Chrysler, down to 193,040 units, with Jeep sales down 15 per cent.

Ford, however, reported an increase in sales, up 2.3 per cent to 240,050 units, with its F-Series ute up 12.8 per cent.

Sales were mixed for the Japanese car makers. Toyota saw a 0.5 per cent drop to 218,248 units, driven by a 17.3 per cent decrease in Toyota and Lexus-branded cars.

But Nissan reported a three per cent sales increase in may to 137,471 units, which the car maker attributed to rising demand for crossovers and SUVs. Sales for Honda grew 0.9 per cent to 148,414 vehicles.

Sales have typically been strong for SUVs on the back of low oil prices and growing economic optimism. In April, however, the segment fell for the first time in 11 months, and remained soft in May.

The Wall Street Journal reports that seasonally-adjusted annual sales in the US ending May 2017 is expected to fall to approximately 16.5 million, well down on the 17.3 million sales in the year ending May 2016.

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US car sales slump continues

Sales dropped by 4.7 per cent in the United States in the month of April, as the top three automakers posted sales slumps.

April was the fourth month in a row where sales decreased in the US.  This is the longest period of time that sales have stayed at a slump in eight years.

Ford Motor CO and American Honda both fell by approximately seven per cent, while Fiat-Chrysler fell by 6.8 per cent and General Motors posted a decrease in sales of 5.8 per cent. Meanwhile Toyota’s sales fell by 4.4 per and the company’s luxury Lexus brand posted an 11.1 percent slide.

Volkswagen was the only manufacturer to post an increase in profits with a 1.6 per cent profit. The overall sales figure of 27,577 units was still low in comparison to other manufacturers, however the business is still recovering from it’s recent emissions cheating scandal, where the company was fined $2.8 billion.

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Third recall for Ford in a week

Ford announced a recall of 52,600 F250 utes sold in North America on the weekend, citing an issue with the park function.

Vehicles may roll forward after the driver moves the automatic transmission into park. The recall affects the 6.2-litre F250 ute, which is available in New Zealand through some importers with a converted left-hand driving configuration.

It’s the third recall Ford announced in less than a week. On Thursday morning, the company recalled 211,000 vehicles in North America due to faulty door latches, including Fiesta models produced in 2013 and Fusion models produced in 2013 and 2014.

A day later, a further 230,000 vehicles were recalled due to a fire risk in the engine compartment. The engine may overheat due to a lack of coolant circulation, which could cause a crack in the cylinder head, according to a statement from Ford. Leaking oil may hit a hot surface and cause a fire.

Affected vehicles include the Escape SUV produced from 2013 onwards, the Fiesta ST made between 2013 and 2015, the Fusion produced between 2013 and 2013, the 2012 through 2014 Transit Connect and the 2009 through 2014 C-Max hybrid and Focus.

All the vehicles contain 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines, with 29 fires reported in the United States and Canada so far.

A 1 News investigation found an instance of a Ford vehicle catching fire in New Zealand in February. On Thursday, Ford announced a New Zealand recall of over 900 Ford Kugas made between 2012 and 2014, and 69 Ford Fiesta STs made between 2013 and 2015. Both vehicles also contain 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines.

Ford will contact owners directly to arrange a replacement, and advise concerned owners to check their vehicle identification number on the company website. 

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VW settles with 10 more US states

German car maker Volkswagen announced in a statement that it has agreed to settle environmental claims from 10 US states over its illegal excess diesel emissions for $224 million in an effort to move past the ongoing scandal.

The settlement covers mainly eastern states, including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and also covers some consumer claims.

“The agreement avoids further prolonged and costly litigation as Volkswagen continues to work to earn back the trust of its customers, regulators and the public,” The car maker said in its statement on the matter.

This brings the total bill for VW up to $35.75 billion in the United States alone, resolving claims and buying back affected vehicles from owners, states, dealerships and environmental regulators.

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Chinese firm takes chunk of Tesla stock

Chinese investment firm Tencent Holding Companies has purchased a five per cent stake in car maker Tesla Inc for $2.5 billion in a bid to enter the lucrative EV and autonomous vehicle market.

The purchase makes Tencent the fifth-largest shareholder in the company, behind CEO and founder Elon Musk, who has a 21 per cent stake, and investment companies Fidelity, Baillie Giffold and T. Rowe Price.

The investment will be welcome for Tesla, who recently raised almost $1.8 billion to cover the production and launch costs of its entry-level Model 3, which has over half a million pre-orders that will take over a year to deliver.

Shares in Tesla rose 2.7 per cent to (US)$277.45 at the news, leaving the car maker poised to overtake Ford as the second-most valuable auto company behind General Motors.   

Musk said he was “glad to have Tencent as an investor and advisor to Tesla” on social media, and declined to elaborate further on his statement. He also noted that Tesla had “very few” Model 3 orders from China, suggesting the partnership with Tencent could be a foothold into the Chinese market.

The Tesla Model 3 is set to go on sale in New Zealand next year, with the upmarket Model S already on sale. 

With the EV market in New Zealand largely comprised of second-hand, entry-level vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, a market expansion and increased production of the Model 3 could eventually mean a larger market for local vehicle importers. Vehicle imports from China, however, are currently modest.   

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Uber resumes AV road tests

Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV


Uber have cleared its self-driving cars and resumed its pilot programme three days after one of its vehicles was involved in a crash in Tempe, Arizona.

An Uber spokeswoman told Reuters the trials will resume in Tempe, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The programme was suspended last Saturday.

The incident occurred after another car – driven by a human – failed to give way to the turning autonomous vehicle. At the time, the Uber car was in self-driving mode, and a driver and engineer were in the front seats.

“The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” a spokeswoman for the Tempe police department, Josie Montenegro, said in an email to journalists. “There were no serious injuries.”

The Uber Volvo SUV was deemed to be not at fault in the collision. No other such incidents have been reported in Uber’s self-driving pilot programme.

Although some other accidents have been reported in global trials, experts insist that AVs are ultimately safer than human-driven vehicles, and note that the majority of such AV crashes are very minor and down to human error.

 “Driverless cars keep getting better the more they drive, whereas humans have a roughly constant safety record over the years,” Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering and roboticist at Columbia University, told Reuters.

He estimated there were about 23,000 traffic fatalities per week globally.

So far, one person has been killed driving an AV in autopilot mode – 40-year-old Joshua Brown, when his Tesla Model S crashed into a truck on an American highway last May. Prosecutors decided not to charge Tesla earlier this year.

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Ford expects lower first-quarter profit

Ford CFO Bob Shanks has told investors that the company expects a lower earnings share and pre-tax profit in the first quarter, due to higher spending on commodities, investments and warranties, and a drop in sales volumes, particularly fleet sales.

Shares in Ford were down nearly one per cent at the news to (US)$11.66.

“We think we can do more with trucks, we think we can do more with utility vehicles, we can do more with performance and we’ve got plans in place to do that,” Shanks said at the presentation, which was live-streamed worldwide.

Shanks said U.S. sales should drop slightly to 17.7 million units, down from a record 17.9 million in 2016. Sales are expected to slip further in 2018 to 17.5 million.

Sales in China are also expected to dip from 27.5 million in 2016 to approximately 27.2 million.

Its pre-tax profit forecast for 2017 is unchanged at $12.8 billion, compared to $14.8 billion in 2016. Profits are expected to improve in 2018.

“We believe Ford’s announcement today is the initial confirmation of our investment thesis that pricing is deteriorating in North America and in select international markets, particularly China,” Buckingham Research Group analyst Joseph Amaturo said, according to Reuters.

This will “cause earnings and cash flow for Ford and GM GM.M to deteriorate and fall short of investor expectations and more importantly company guidance,” he added.

Sales of new Ford vehicles in New Zealand in the last three months have wavered, partially due to seasonal changes. Sales of commercial vehicles dropped 12.3 per cent and passenger cars dropped 2.73 in December.

In January, however, commercial sales were up 12.7 per cent and passenger sales grew 4.4 per cent compared to the previous year. Growth continued in February, which saw a 16 per cent rise in commercial sales and a 1.2 per cent increase in passenger sales.

Commercial figures are buoyed by the ongoing popularity of the Ford Ranger, which has a 19 per cent market share of commercial sales so far this year. The Rav4 and Escape SUVs –  the market segment coveted by Shanks – were the highest-performing passenger vehicles for Ford showing the taste for larger vehicles is extending beyond the U.S.

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EPA will review 2025 fuel laws

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed it will reopen a review into whether the current 2022-2025 emission rules are feasible for car makers.

The EPA has said it will reach a decision by April 2018 after the previous Obama administration locked in the current legislation in January. Executives for the auto industry have been aggressively lobbying for the Trump administration to reopen the review.

“These standards are costly for automakers and the American people,” said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement. “We will work with our partners at DOT [Department of Transportation] to take a fresh look to determine if this approach is realistic.”

Current legislation rules that the fleet’s average fuel efficiency is to reach 4.7 litres per 100km in 2025, almost double the average 8.6 litres per 100km in 2010.

One EPA analysis said the current 2025 rules would results in savings of between $2,070 and $2,300 over the lifetime of a standard vehicle.

The review was ordered by President Donald Trump while visiting vehicle manufacturing plants in Detroit. “The assault on the American auto industry is over,” he said in a speech, which was attended by over 1000 industry workers, including executives from GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

Trump added he plans “a very big announcement next week” regarding the auto industry, but refused to elaborate.

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