U.S. automakers eye China’s pickup market

Any vehicle is a tough sell in China these days, given the lingering COVID-19 pandemic there. But pickups are weathering the storm better than most, as Chinese automakers draw from the American playbook.

Great Wall Motor Co., by far China’s top pickup manufacturer, is booking big orders for its new P pickup, thanks to a strategy of pitching it as a vehicle for families.

Great Wall has been averaging 6,000 sales of the P a month since launching the pickup in October, notes Alan Kang, a senior market analyst at LMC Automotive. The P, called the Pao in Chinese, comes in three grades: a standard comfort-oriented passenger setup, an off-road version and a commercial variant. The passenger offering gets a softer ride, comfy interior and high-tech gadgetry.

“It is the first-ever pickup from a Chinese brand to be classed as a passenger vehicle and is positioned at the upper end of the market,” Kang wrote in a report this month that looked at the likelihood of Chinese customers embracing pickups for daily transportation like American drivers.

The P plays a critical role in expanding Great Wall’s domestic market share, and the upgraded design is part of the Chinese truckmaker’s hope of capturing a bigger slice of overseas sales.

But greater acceptance of pickups in China could also signal big opportunity for U.S. brands in a segment that they dominate and excel in at home.

Ford has been selling its F-150 Raptor in China for several years, and Chevrolet followed with exports of its Silverado and Colorado pickups. But those U.S. entrants are still perceived as luxury toys in China.

If China’s domestic producers make inroads, it could spur wider interest in U.S. pickups as well.

“I think there should be more opportunity for them in China,” Kang said of U.S. pickups. “Comfort is now a top priority among consumers. And the driving experience is very close to that of a passenger car.”

Most pickups in China are utilitarian workhorses, staying in their lane with diesel engines and manual transmissions. Great Wall’s P, offered under a newly created Pao subbrand, breaks the mold by offering a 2.0-liter turbo gasoline engine and automatic eight-speed transmission, for starters. Great Wall tops off the P’s appeal with an elegant design and plush cabin. The pickup comes in two- and four-wheel-drive versions, selling for the equivalent of about $18,000 to $22,500.

But China’s pickup volumes have a long way to go before they reach U.S. levels. U.S. pickup sales climbed 6 percent last year to 3.1 million, accounting for 18.2 percent of all new vehicles sold. In comparison, China pickup sales decreased 4.7 percent to around 452,000, in an overall market down 8.2 percent for its second-straight year of contraction.

Kang forecasts China pickup sales to decline to 390,847 in 2020, due partly to the pandemic.

Pickup sales are supported by a gradual loosening of restrictions on driving the trucks in cities. Regulators have eased up, partly in an effort to fan sales amid the market slump. Demand is considered still largely untapped and primed for long-term growth.

Other big domestic players include Jiangling Motors Corp., Jiangxi Isuzu Motors Co., Zhengzhou Nissan Automobile Co. and Jianghuai Automobile Co. But late last year, Ford told Reuters it might consider local production of pickups, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said it planned to someday sell the Jeep Gladiator in China.

So far, Nissan Motor Co. is the only foreign automaker that has localized pickup production. It makes the Nissan Navara gasoline pickup at its joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Group.

If U.S. brands dig deeper into the Chinese pickup market, they may have to downsize a bit. While full-size pickups are booming business in the U.S., Chinese customers demand something smaller. The Great Wall P, for instance, is closer in size to the Ford Ranger midsize pickup.

In introducing the P, Great Wall said it will go to “markets worldwide and compete with international mainstream pickup brands.”

The company’s ultimate target, it says, is to become one of the world’s top three pickup brands.

The truck’s new assembly plant boasts an advanced digital logistics network, complete automation of its welding workshop, an army of robots in the paint shop and a fleet of automated guided vehicles to deliver parts for final assembly. Great Wall said the factory “will support the globalization strategy of Great Wall Motors based on its industry-leading intelligent manufacturing level and promote ‘Chinese power’ to change the world.”

Tesla begins wide release of Autopilot Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control

Tesla begins wide release of Autopilot Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control

Tesla has begun the wide release of Software Update 2020.12.6 within the United States, which includes the highly-anticipated Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control for Autopilot.

The update is available for Tesla owners under the latest hardware 3 that have also purchased the Full Self-Driving suite.

The new update will enable vehicles to automatically react to traffic lights and stop signs when using Traffic-Aware Cruise Control or Autosteer as part of Navigate on Autopilot. In the initial Beta rollout, drivers will be prompted to initiate confirmation of vehicle safety when navigating through an intersection by pressing the gear stalk, or by briefly touching the accelerator pedal.

Tesla released Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control to members of its Early Access Program on April 16. Its wide release, only a week later, indicates the software has high enough confidence for a wider release outside of EAP members while keeping to a relatively cautious messaging. Tesla notes in the release that its nature is conservative and the feature will “control more naturally” over time as the company’s Neural Network continues to train.

CEO Elon Musk provided insight into the developments of the Traffic Light/Stop Sign recognition in early April. Musk stated that the wide release would be rolled out “in a few weeks,” and has made right on his promise.

First Look at Tesla Autopilot Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control in action

The new FSD detail will not be available in international markets until at least Q3 2020, Musk said. Tesla needs to spend additional time refining the software for each country as traffic rules vary in different locations. This refinement will be critical in establishing the FSD suite across the world, as the safety of passengers is the utmost priority to Tesla. “Very important to make sure this is done right,” Musk said.

The release notes for Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (Beta) state:

“Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control is designed to recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs, slowing your car to a stop when using Traffic-Aware Cruise Control or Autosteer. This feature will slow the car for all detected traffic lights, including green, blinking yellow, and off lights. As your car approaches an intersection, your car will indicate the intention to slow down via a notification, slow down, and stop at the red line shown on the driving visualization.

To continue through the stop line, push down the gear selector once or briefly press the accelerator pedal to confirm that it is safe to proceed. As with all Autopilot features, you must continue to pay attention and be ready to take immediate action, including braking because this feature may not stop for all traffic controls. This feature will be conservative, slowdown often at first, and will not attempt to turn through intersections. Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally.

To enable, shift your car into PARK and tap Controls > Autopilot > Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (Beta).”

Among the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, Tesla included a wide release of the Dashcam Viewer, allowing for in-car viewing of recorded clips from Sentry Mode and Dashcam. Notification of Out of Order Supercharger Stalls is also included with the software. These features were also released to EAP members on April 3 and are now available to any Tesla owner who updates their vehicle.

Tesla begins wide release of Autopilot Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control

USMCA to enter into force July 1, Lighthizer says

USMCA — the trade deal replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement — will enter into force July 1, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Friday.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress that Canada and Mexico “have taken measures necessary to comply with their commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.”

“The crisis and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that now, more than ever, the United States should strive to increase manufacturing capacity and investment in North America,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “The USMCA’s entry into force is a landmark achievement in that effort.”

The announcement comes after reports last month that the Trump administration was considering a June 1 start date, stirring concern among automakers, parts suppliers and trade groups that said the deadline could disrupt a smooth transition from NAFTA to the new trade deal, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The groups — the American Automotive Policy Council, Here for America, National Automobile Dealers Association, American International Automobile Dealers Association and Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association — issued a statement March 13 urging the administration to reconsider, citing unanswered questions on how to interpret the new rules, including uniform automotive rules-of-origin regulation.

Mexico’s government, in early April, also had asked the U.S. and Canada for extra time to adjust its supply chains to comply with the new requirements.

New rules under USMCA require 75 percent of auto content for passenger vehicles and light trucks be made in North America, compared with NAFTA’s 62.5 percent. It also establishes a labor content rule requiring 40-45 percent of auto content be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour.

Is The Tesla Model 3 Long Range The One To Buy?

While it is the Tesla Model 3 Performance that’s got all the hype since the brand’s entry-level EV hit the market, the all-wheel drive Model 3 Long Range is also an impressive performer.

Autogefühl recently had the opportunity to put it through its paces in Germany. Much like the flagship Model 3 Performance, the Long Range variant features two electric motors, one at the front and one at the rear.

This results in a total of 346 hp and 376 lb-ft (510 Nm) of torque, down from the 450 hp and 471 lb-ft (639 Nm) offered up by the Performance.

Watch Also: Amazingly, Destroyed Tesla Model 3 Still Drives, And It’s Up For Sale; Would You Buy It?

However, that’s doesn’t mean this version is slow. In fact, the reviewer performs a host of acceleration runs in the EV and it builds speed with impressive pace. Independent testing has shown the car can hit 60 mph (96 km/h) in a brisk 4.0 seconds, roughly 0.8-seconds slower than the Performance.

As the name implies, the Long Range offers better range, albeit not by that much. In the U.S., its EPA city, highway, and combined ranges are actually identical to the Model 3 Performance. Elsewhere, it is good for 348 miles (560 km) on the WLTP cycle compared to the 329 miles (530 km) of the Performance. Under NEDC testing, the range sits at 385 miles (620 km).

Premium cars in Germany need to be capable of long jaunts down the Autobahn so much of this review focuses on seeing how the Tesla performs in these conditions.

FCA to resume work on Jeep plug-in hybrids at Melfi plant on Monday

MILAN — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles wants a portion of its workforce to return to its factory in Melfi, southern Italy, starting Monday.

They will prepare the facility for the final development of the new plug-in hybrid versions of the Jeep Compass and Renegade, a union representative said on Friday.

Marco Lomio, of the UILM union, said the automaker had informed unions that workers would have to complete cars left unfinished on Melfi’s assembly lines when the plant was shut in mid-March following rules imposed by Rome to stem the coronavirus spread.

“We will start with 500 people on Monday and we will peak on Wednesday with about 1,000 workers,” Lomio said.

This would then allow FCA to have lines free to build prototypes of new variants of the Compass and Renegade, he said.

An FCA spokesman declined to comment.

The partial restart of operations at Melfi, which normally employs 7,400 workers, adds to FCA’s plan to resume van production in Atessa, central Italy, a week before a national lockdown imposed by the Rome government is officially due to end.

About 6,000 Atessa workers out of a total of 6,500 are expected to be back to work on Monday, according to a source.

Like it did for the Atessa factory, FCA has sought a green light to restart the Melfi plant from local authorities, relying on their tacit consent, as it makes use of a provision in Italy’s lockdown laws that allows companies with activity that can be linked to “essential” sectors to reopen, Lomio said.

Building prototypes of new hybrid cars is considered part of R&D activities, deemed essential by the government.
Lomio said FCA would probably restart developing those prototypes starting on May 4.

He added that, following production stoppages linked to the virus emergency, FCA likely would not be able to start selling the hybrid versions of the Compass and Renegade until September. The automaker’s plan prior to the outbreak was to start in July.