Sales pace slowing as dealerships run dry

U.S. light-vehicle sales slowed in June from the booming pace of April and May, as shortages of many popular vehicles kept consumers on the sidelines, forecasters said. Second-quarter sales are still expected to reach the highest level since at least 2018, but analysts anticipate declining volume in the months ahead.

Cox Automotive expects total sales of 4.5 million in the second quarter, up 1.3 percent from 2019 and up 53 percent from the same period of 2020, in the early months of the pandemic.

For June, Cox estimates that the seasonally adjusted, annualized light-vehicle selling rate fell to 16.4 million from 17 million in May and more than 18 million in April. LMC Automotive and J.D. Power project a SAAR of 15.8 million.

Most automakers plan to report June and second-quarter sales Thursday.

“It is unlikely the industry can maintain the sales pace any longer because inventory is getting extremely tight. If shoppers can’t find the product they want, a sale can’t be made,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox. “A green spring is going to be followed by a summer drought.”

Cox forecasts full-year volume of 16.5 million, up from 14.5 million in 2020 but short of the 17 million vehicles sold in 2019.

Sales for the first half of the year are expected to be flat with the first half of 2019, but the global microchip shortage that has disrupted production at many assembly plants is expected to keep 2021 below the pace of 2019 in the second half, Chesbrough said.

Chip-related assembly line shutdowns and slowdowns have cut production by about 4.6 million vehicles globally, according to AutoForecast Solutions, which projects the crisis to result in a total loss of 5.8 million vehicles.

“The market could be stronger if not for the lack of available supply,” Chesbrough said. “Concern about the supply situation really cannot be overstated, as we are in untested territory for the market.”

Second-quarter sales were off to an exceptionally strong start in April as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights.

“Unfortunately, the chipset and inventory shortages really came to a head and outstripped supply in June,” she said. “This isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon, but the silver lining for automakers and dealers in the meantime is that consumer demand continues to run high and shoppers are clearly willing to pay inflated prices for the vehicles that they want.”

Today, dealers have 1.3 million fewer vehicles on their lots than in the middle of 2020 and more than 2 million fewer than in mid-2019, according to Cox. Average days’ supply has plummeted more than 60 percent from January through May. The impact varies by brand. Chevrolet, for example, had less than 40 percent of the total it started with in January, while Ram still had 80 percent.

The lack of inventory pushed the industry’s average new-vehicle transation price to a record $40,206 in June, according to J.D. Power. That’s nearly $1,700 more than the previous record set only a month ago. Meanwhile, average incentive spending per unit in June fell an estimated 43 percent from a year ago to $2,492.

But many would-be shoppers are simply sitting things out until availability improves.

“The effect of fewer vehicles in inventory at dealerships is finally starting to have a material effect on aggregate industry sales volumes, as eager buyers struggle to find their desired new vehicle,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power.

June fleet sales are expected to fall 40 percent from 2019, even though demand from fleet buyers is on the rebound, King said. On a retail basis, LMC and J.D. Power project that the annualized sales pace fell to 13.6 million in June, which would be down from 15 million in May and even with June 2019.

2022 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT First Look: Prepare Thyselves, Purists

2022 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT First Look: Prepare Thyselves, Purists

At first glance, the Cayenne Turbo GT looks much like its lesser Turbo stablemate. Those with sharp eyes, however, will note a number of small styling enhancements, such as a distinct front fascia with bigger side air intakes and a more prominent front lip, black fender arches, a set of gorgeous 22-inch gold wheels, and updates to the SUV’s rear wings, with the upper-hatch-mounted unit welcoming carbon-fiber side plates and the larger adaptive spoiler (that resides just below the rear window glass) adding a two-inch-tall Gurney flap. Additionally, the Turbo GT sits approximately 0.7 inch lower than the run-of-the-mill Cayenne Turbo Coupe.

Powerful Porsche

Porsche’s performance tweaks to the Cayenne Turbo GT extend beyond its ride-height reduction. Notably, the German brand thoroughly reworked its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 for Turbo GT duty, fitting the big engine with the likes of a trim-specific crankshaft, timing chain, pistons, and connecting rods. As a result, the flagship Cayenne model packs a 631-hp punch—90 more than the standard Cayenne Turbo, but 39 fewer horses than the gasoline-electric Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid. 

Nevertheless, the all-wheel-drive Turbo GT’s 626 lb-ft of torque (59 lb-ft more than the Turbo) and—even quicker shifting—eight-speed automatic transmission allow this powerful Porsche to push its way from 0-60 mph in a manufacturer-estimated 3.1 seconds, or 0.6- and 0.5-second quicker than its Turbo and Turbo S E-Hybrid siblings. Given we managed to hit the mile-a-minute mark in a Cayenne Turbo Coupe in 3.2 seconds, we wager the Turbo GT ought to trot to 60 mph in well under 3.0 seconds in our hands. Keep flat-footing the Turbo GT’s right pedal and Porsche claims its sportiest Cayenne model crosses the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds.

A water-cooled transfer case ensures the Turbo GT’s drivetrain remains reasonably cool, even with a hot shoe at the helm, while a specially developed center-mounted titanium exhaust system provides the quickest Cayenne model with a distinct growl.

Of course, taking the record in the “SUV, off-road vehicle, van, pick-up” category at the Nürburgring Nordschleife requires more than a powerful powertrain, which is why Porsche also fiddled with the Cayenne Coupe’s lateral dynamics to make it worthy of the Turbo GT nomenclature. Retuned dampers, steering bits (including the SUV’s rear-axle unit), and an air suspension that’s up to 15 percent stiffer relative to that of the Cayenne Turbo complement the likes of a tweaked torque-vectoring rear end, 1.0-inch-wider front wheels, and increased negative camber to make the most of the Turbo GT’s Pirelli P Zero Corsas’ available grip. Stopping power, meanwhile, comes courtesy of 17.3-inch front and 16.1-inch rear rotors. Standard yellow-painted calipers denote the fact the Turbo GT’s brakes are of the carbon-ceramic variety, although Porsche notes black-painted binders are also available.

Spicy Inside

Like its exterior, the Turbo GT’s interior subtly separates itself from the typical Cayenne herd. Both the front buckets and two-across rear bench sport a Turbo GT-specific seat pattern, as well as faux-suede padding at the center on the seats’ backs and bottoms, contrasting gold or gray stitching, and embossed headrests. A yellow marker at the top of the steering wheel’s rims further distinguishes the Turbo GT’s cabin.

With a starting price of $182,150, the 2022 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT Coupe stickers for $47,300 more than its respective Cayenne Turbo Coupe kin (and $13,000 more than a Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupe). Then again, no one buys one of Porsche’s GT-badged models to save a few bucks. Instead, buyers drop the extra coin to relish in the sheer joy of driving such a focused machine. No doubt, the Cayenne Turbo GT will maintain the behind-the-wheel thrills of other Porsche GT models when it reaches our shores in early 2022. Whether or not purists take to the first-ever GT SUV is almost beside the point. Fast SUVs are fast becoming a thing, and Porsche is smart to chase the market there while showing its performance prowess. 

Mexico looks at improving contract votes after GM dispute

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is looking at new ways to carry out the worker contract votes that are required under a recent labor reform, officials said on Tuesday, after a disputed vote at a General Motors plant drew U.S. scrutiny over possible worker rights violations.

Mexican authorities found “serious irregularities” in the April vote at GM’s pickup plant in Silao, in which workers voted on whether to keep their current collective contract.

In an effort to avoid a repeat scenario, Mexico is looking at giving inspectors more power to monitor, part of several changes being considered amid pressure from the Biden administration.

“Without a doubt, the experience we had with the General Motors Silao case showed the need to keep strengthening this instrument and adding others,” said Esteban Martinez, a Mexican labor ministry official, at an online panel with trade and labor officials from the United States and Canada.

Mexico’s labor ministry plans to allow inspectors to not only silently observe the vote, but also “assume a proactive role,” including suspending the process if they detect irregularities or potentially illegal acts.

As well, the ministry is establishing a requirement for results to be valid only if a majority of workers cast ballots, Martinez said.

He noted that some unions may choose not to hold a vote at all and let their collective contracts expire because they do not expect to rally sufficient worker support.

A key goal of Mexico’s labor reform, which underpins the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is to do away with so-called “protection contracts” that prioritize business interests over worker rights, and are signed behind their backs between companies and unions.

The U.S. government last month asked Mexico to review the GM case, flagging potential worker rights abuses that could violate the USMCA.

Mexico’s labor ministry has begun talks with U.S. counterparts on a remediation plan under the trade pact’s enforcement mechanism and has ordered the GM union to re-do the vote before Aug. 20.

SpaceX Super Heavy booster reaches full height as Elon Musk talks orbit

SpaceX Super Heavy booster reaches full height as Elon Musk talks orbit

Just a few days after CEO Elon Musk said that SpaceX’s first true Super Heavy prototype was “almost done,” the booster has been stacked to its full height.

Standing more than 65 meters (~215 ft) tall, Super Heavy Booster 3 (B3) assembly is now just a few major welds away from completion after SpaceX teams mated the final two sections of its propellant tanks and structure. Assembled separately out of approximately 12 barrel sections each made up of 2-4 steel rings, Booster 3’s methane tank (13 rings) and oxygen tank (23 rings) were stacked together on June 29th, just over six weeks after the process began.

Earlier the same day, speaking at the 2021 Mobile World Congress, Musk confirmed what was now fairly clear to most observers, stating that SpaceX is “going to do its best” to complete Starship’s first orbital (or, at least, space) launch attempt “in the next few months.” In other words, a several-month-old launch target of no later than July 2021 is most likely out of reach despite a strong effort from SpaceX.

The most significant technical hurdles still in the way involve a few incremental Starship milestones and, more importantly, the qualification of the largest and most powerful rocket booster ever built. Standing almost as tall as an entire two-stage Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, Super Heavy is expected to weigh more than 3500 tons (~7.7 million lbs) and produce at least ~5000 tons (~11 million lbf) of thrust at liftoff – more than any other rocket booster in history, liquid or solid.

Borrowing heavily from Starship, Super Heavy is mostly built with the same techniques out of the same steel rings, stringers, and structures, save for a few booster-specific components. However, Super Heavy is also designed to use 29-32 Raptor engines while the most SpaceX has ever simultaneously installed, tested, or flown is three. In other words, while Super Heavy is in many ways simpler than Starship, it will still be treading plenty of new ground when it heads to the launch pad for the first time.

Booster 3 is sporting a mysterious and sturdy bracket-like structure holding a pressure vessel and some kind of plumbing. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Former Starship Suborbital Mount A has been modified for booster testing. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Plenty of final integration tasks remain before Super Heavy B3 will be ready to start qualification testing but SpaceX could feasibly be ready to roll the booster to the launch site within the next week or two. Once installed on a former Starship launch mount that’s been customized for booster testing, Super Heavy will likely be put through its first cryogenic proof and static fire test(s) to verify that the massive rocket is performing as expected. The static fire process could be fairly lengthy if SpaceX decides to incrementally increase the number of Raptor engines installed.

In the likely event that Booster 3 begins testing without engines installed, SpaceX will also have to go through the process of installing up to 29 Raptors while Super Heavy is sitting out in the elements on a launch mount. Based on experience with Starship, installing that many engines in situ could take at least several days – and maybe longer. All told, the fun is only just beginning.

SpaceX Super Heavy booster reaches full height as Elon Musk talks orbit

We Drive The 2022 VW Golf GTI Mk8 And 2021 Golf GTI Mk7 Back-To-Back To See What’s New

We Drive The 2022 VW Golf GTI Mk8 And 2021 Golf GTI Mk7 Back-To-Back To See What’s New

Like it or not, hatchbacks are a dying breed in America as consumers have embraced crossovers with a cult-like fervor.

One of the biggest blows came in January when Volkswagen announced the standard Golf was being dropped after nearly five decades. However, it wasn’t all bad news as the company confirmed the redesigned performance Golf GTI and Golf R would be coming stateside this fall.

The move is the ultimate fan service to enthusiasts and we recently got a glimpse of what to expect as we track tested a Euro-spec Golf GTI Mk8 against its Mk7 predecessor. This back-to-back comparison is probably the best way to experience the new model as the Mk8 features small, evolutionary changes that add up to be a big improvement.

A Sleeker, Sportier Hatch

While the pandemic has eroded our sense of time, more than a year has passed since Volkswagen introduced the redesigned Golf GTI. That being said, it’s as handsome as ever as the model features a sportier and more modern design.

The front end is dominated by a wide honeycomb mesh intake, which features integrated fog lights that form the shape of an X. Above them are slimmer LED headlights and a minimalist grille featuring a familiar red line as well as an all-new LED light bar.

The sides and rear are more evolutionary, but the Mk8 features sleeker bodywork and a more pronounced shoulder line. The model has also been equipped with slimmer taillights, a bespoke rear spoiler, and a dual exhaust system that is separated by a minimalist diffuser.

The changes look good and the car’s drag coefficient drops from 0.3 to 0.275. This is partially achieved thanks to aerodynamically optimized mirrors, extensive underbody paneling and new wheel arch linings.

It’s All New And High Tech Inside

While the exterior features an evolutionary design, the same can’t be said about the cabin. Going from a Mk7 to a Mk8 is a radical change as the latter adopts a modern interior with plenty of new technology.

This is immediately apparent after sliding behind the flat-bottom steering wheel as drivers are greeted by a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, which makes the old analog gauges feel hopelessly dated. The cluster is customizable and drivers can press a new button on the steering wheel to pull up a display of a central rev counter that is flanked by reconfigurable gauges. Drivers can also pull up a full-size map to make navigating a little easier.

To the right is a minimalist dashboard, which is topped by a 10-inch infotainment system. We didn’t have much time to play around with it, but the cabin largely eschews traditional switchgear. In particular, there are new “touch sliders” that are used for adjusting the audio volume and climate control system. They’re pretty slick and blend into the dash.

Elsewhere, drivers will find new sport seats which feature classic tartan upholstery as well as red contrast stitching. Other highlights include a pulsating start button and a 30 color ambient lighting system.

While we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Mk8, our initial impressions are promising as the seats are comfortable and offer plenty of support for track use. There’s also plenty of room up front as this 6’ 2” reviewer didn’t have any problems getting comfortable behind the wheel even while wearing a helmet.

Furthermore, the interior looks good although a few hard plastics cheapen the experience. It’s also worth noting the minimalist design has tradeoffs and fans of physical switchgear will be disappointed.

A More Powerful Turbocharged Four

The latest Golf GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 242 hp (180 kW / 245 PS) and 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) of torque. That’s a modest increase over its predecessor, which had 228 hp (170 kW / 231 PS) and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque. However, we’ll repeat here that these numbers represent the European-specification model that VW brought to the States, and we may (or may not) see some minor differences by the time it goes on sale here.

While the difference is small, it’s noticeable as we were able to hit higher speeds on straight sections of Michigan’s M1 Concourse.  The extra power also helps when accelerating out of corners and Volkswagen noted the GTI Mk8 lapped their Ehra-Lessien test track nearly four seconds faster than its predecessor.

The engine is connected to a standard six-speed manual transmission, which works well and is pretty forgiving. However, most drivers will probably opt for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox which offers fast and smooth shifts. It’s also worth noting the automatic comes with a minimalist shifter, which echoes the one found on the Porsche 911 and has a separate park button.

The Golf GTI Mk8 Is “All About The Chassis”

While the latest GTI rides on the familiar MQB platform, there’s an assortment of changes to increase grip and improve driving dynamics.

Starting up front, there’s stiffer springs, new wishbone bearings and revised dampers. Engineers also gave the car a new aluminum subframe, which is nearly 7 lbs (3.2 kg) lighter than the one used in the Mk7.

The multilink rear suspension echoes the front as it features new wheel mounts and wishbone bearings as well as revised springs that are 15 percent stiffer than before. There are also reconfigured auxiliary springs as well as revised dampers.

Sticking with the performance theme, the US-spec model will come standard with an electronically controlled torque sensing limited-slip differential and an available adaptive chassis control system with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual modes. The steering has also been improved thanks to a more direct ratio as well as new software and algorithms.

One of the biggest changes is the addition of a new Vehicle Dynamics Manager, which “centrally coordinates all electromechanical running gear functions.” It’s a bit hard to explain, but think of it as the GTI’s ‘secret sauce.’

The VDM coordinates and activates the cars various functions – including the electronic stability control, the electronic XDS differential lock and the adaptive damping system – and gets them to work together. As the brains of the operation, the system helps to minimize understeer, maximize grip and deliver neutral handling.

While the system can probably be best explained by someone with a thick German accent, the results are apparent on the track as the GTI feels balanced and offers impressive levels of grip. This is clear when driving the Mk7 and Mk8 back-to-back as the newer hatch provides more traction and this helps to build driver confidence.  This, in turn, inspires you to take corners harder and faster, and even then the car feels completely secure.

The hatch also handles well and the steering feels spot on.  The brakes also provide plenty of stopping power and the model is actually more fun than some rear-wheel drive coupes. That’s a notable accomplishment and while the Golf GTI might not set any lap records, at least you’ll come away with a smile on your face.

A Fan Favorite Improved

We’ll learn more about the US-spec Golf GTI closer to launch, but a quick spin in the European model has us excited about the future. Its predecessor was a favorite with enthusiasts and Volkswagen seemingly took everything they loved about the car and made it better.

While we still have to see how the model handles the rigors of everyday life, the car certainly looks promising as it features sportier styling and a more high-tech interior. Throw in a more powerful engine and a new Vehicle Dynamics Manager, and it’s clear the Golf GTI should continue to build on its hot hatch legacy.

more photos…

Live picture credits: Michael Gauthier for CarScoops