Mass. AG warns consumers of complaints of inaccurate advertising, pricing by dealers

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey warned car buyers Wednesday to be aware of dealers who may not accurately advertise vehicle prices or honor those prices.

Healey’s office issued an advisory in response to an uptick in consumer complaints that allege deceptive pricing practices by dealers. About 74 such complaints were filed in the past year.

The office said it received reports of some dealerships advertising specific prices online but denying them once interested car buyers got to the store. In some cases, dealers had confirmed the advertised price in an email, the complaints said. Other car buyers reported dealers not honoring buyout provisions in lease agreements.

“Purchasing a vehicle is a significant financial investment for many individuals and families,” Healey said in a statement. “After a surge in complaints to my office, we’re making sure consumers are aware of their rights under the law, and that auto dealerships know our office will take action against these deceptive sales tactics.”

A supply shortage of new and used cars paired with high demand has driven up prices over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healey’s office said this has created an environment ripe for auto advertising and pricing violations.

Dealerships can’t refuse to sell a vehicle for the price advertised and they “must clearly and conspicuously disclose all included and excluded charges” in advertised prices, plus expiration dates of those prices, the attorney general’s office said in a release.

Car buyers who think a dealership has violated auto advertising, pricing and leasing laws can file a complaint with the state attorney general’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division. A help hotline is also available at 617-727-8400.

GM to revamp customer experience with Ultifi platform in 2023

DETROIT — General Motors plans to launch Ultifi, an in-vehicle customer experience platform, in 2023, aiming to make its vehicles smarter and more personalized, the automaker said Wednesday.

The platform is a critical part of GM’s plan to develop a wider profit net through technology and software and subscription-based services that extend beyond the vehicle purchase. GM and other traditional automakers could boost their revenue as much as 30 to 40 percent with service businesses in the next five to 10 years, analysts told Automotive News in March.

“Today, cars are enabled by software. With Ultifi, they are going to be defined by it,” Scott Miller, GM vice president, software-defined vehicle, told reporters Wednesday.

Ultifi will deliver features, apps and services to customers via over-the-air updates. The system builds on GM’s electric vehicle architecture, called the Vehicle Intelligence Platform. It will be available on new electric and gasoline-powered vehicles.

Customers will receive regular enhancements to their vehicles, similar to smartphone updates, and will be able to choose specific upgrades, personalization options and new apps.

“GM has decades of experience writing vehicle software, creating a solid foundation to build on,” Mark Reuss, GM president, said in a statement. “Now with Ultifi, we will be able to improve our software continuously, and deliver new features and apps to customers in a fraction of the time.”

GM announced the software platform last year, saying it would combine the purchase, onboarding and ownership experience. The platform has evolved since then with a stronger focus on technology, connectivity and personalization, a spokesman told Automotive News.

The automaker will continue to improve the Ultifi technology for new use cases. For example, in the future, internal cameras could be used for facial recognition to start the vehicle. The vehicle could also close the sunroof in a parked car if rain is in the forecast or automatically turn on child locks when children are sensed in the back seats.

The connectivity could also improve vehicle communication with other connected devices and infrastructure, alerting drivers to hazards or changing road conditions, such as ice, GM said.

“The safety parts of this are profound,” Miller said.

Ineos opens orders for Grenadier

Ineos Group, the British chemical company bringing the rugged BMW-powered Grenadier SUV to North America in spring 2023, will open its order books on Thursday.

The company says 63,000 hand-raisers have expressed an interest in the boxy off-road vehicle globally, with 12,000 of those in North America. Now the company wants to see who’s serious about buying a retro-looking utility vehicle that is aimed at fans of stripped-down, classic SUVs such as the original version of Land Rover Defender.

Those hand-raisers will be given a two-week opportunity to place a $450 deposit on a vehicle. After that, reservations will open to all customers, Ineos’ North American Executive Vice President Greg Clark told Automotive News.

Speaking of the $450 deposit, Clark said: “We definitely want an expression of real interest, and we feel with small amounts you can get lots and lots of speculation.”

Ineos is different from most other startups. Money is not a concern for the company; it is one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers.

“This is not an exercise in crowdfunding by any stretch of the imagination,” Clark said.

He has been moving at warp speed to build out a service and parts network and to select retailers for the U.S., Canada and Mexico and have them up and ready for business in time for launch.

The company said Tuesday that its U.S. headquarters will be in Raleigh, N.C. Clark said that Raleigh is within close proximity to ports and off-road terrain that can be used to demonstrate the vehicle’s capabilities, and it also is in an appealing geographic location, which should make recruiting employees experienced in importing vehicles easier.

With the first deliveries about 20 months away, Clark has been interviewing dealers, working on the details of what Ineos’ showrooms will look like and setting up a nationwide service network.

Here are Ineos’ plans for North America, according to Clark.

  • Dealers: In the U.S. and Canada, Ineos will award franchises to individual dealers or to dealership groups with strong regional footprints. It’s possible, Clark said, that the company could award certain territories to large national dealership chains. But the goal is to keep the number of dealers and regional distributors small and manageable. The company is looking for around 40 points at launch.
  • Showrooms: Clark estimates that dealers will need to invest in the “low six figures” for an Ineos showroom that can accommodate between one and three vehicles to start and possibly as many as six when the company adds new models.

“What we’ve learned so far is that customers are not impressed by palace showrooms. They want to be able to speak one-to-one with people who are as enthusiastic and passionate about 4x4s and the lifestyle as they are,” Clark said. “I want them [dealers] investing their money in great people, in great training to deliver a great customer experience.”

  • Service and parts: Ineos is working with Bosch to add factory-authorized service points in areas where there are no dealerships. Bosch has a nationwide network of independent service centers. It’s also possible that dealership groups with BMW franchises will be able to service the Grenadier. Clark says Ineos is in talks with BMW on the matter. The company aims to deliver parts to service centers anywhere in the U.S. within 24 hours.
  • Mexico: Ineos likely will appoint one or two distributors who will be responsible for all aspects of the Grenadier’s sales, marketing and service.

About 4,000 potential customers have ridden in early versions of the SUV, and the company has logged about 1.2 million test miles. A former Daimler plant on the French-German border where the Grenadier will be built is now being run by Ineos.

The vehicle will launch late next year in Europe and then North American exports will begin. The Grenadier likely will be covered by a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, Clark said. “We absolutely believe in this vehicle,” he added, “and stand behind it.”

Ford’s Tenn., Ky. battery plants are only the start

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The $11.4 billion that Ford Motor Co. and a partner are investing in two new manufacturing campuses in Tennessee and Kentucky show that the automaker is committed to electrifying its vehicle lineup, but it likely will need even more battery plants than that to meet its goals, Executive Chair Bill Ford said Tuesday.

Ford said the company spoke with “virtually every state east of the Mississippi” to locate the electric pickup plant and three new battery plants it’s planning to open, and that it intends to continue investing in the U.S.

The sites will create nearly 11,000 jobs by 2026, Ford said. Ford is committing $7 billion toward the projects, with $4.4 billion coming from Korean battery maker SK Innovation.

“Will we need future sites as we develop this industry? Probably,” Ford told reporters after the company detailed plans for a 3,600-acre complex called Blue Oval City in western Tennessee. “In fact, I would say almost for sure.”

Ford has vowed to spend $30 billion on electrification through 2025, and says that by 2030, 40 to 50 percent of its global fleet will be fully electric. The Tennessee and Kentucky sites will be able to supply batteries for roughly 1 million vehicles a year, or about half of what Ford would need to reach its 2030 target based on current sales volume.

Ford said the automaker is better positioned now to lead in the EV era than earlier in the decade when it invested heavily in regulatory-driven products such as the Focus Electric and C-Max hybrid that are no longer in production. Its Mustang Mach-E electric crossover has taken share from Tesla, and it plans to sell the battery-powered F-150 Lightning starting next year.

The Tennessee site will build a next-generation electric version of Ford’s F-Series pickups, the nation’s top-selling nameplate.

“Technology has progressed to the point where mass adoption is going to be very likely,” Ford said. “It’s really a confluence of technology and also customer awareness. There’s great pull from Mach-E and Lightning from customers. Are there lots of questions we’re going to have to answer along the way? Of course, but it’s a huge stake in the ground for what we believe will be the future, and we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that future.”

Ford to spend $7B on EV campuses in Ky., Tenn.

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co., in what it says is the largest single manufacturing investment in its 118-year history, on Monday said it would spend $7 billion and create nearly 11,000 jobs to build electric vehicles and batteries in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The investment, meant to vault Ford among the leaders in EV output, will include a 3,600-acre “mega campus” northeast of Memphis called Blue Oval City that will include Ford’s first new vehicle assembly plant in more than 50 years. The site — three times the size of the automaker’s sprawling Rouge Complex in Michigan — will hire about 6,000 people to assemble next-generation electric F-Series pickups and include battery cell production and a supplier park, Ford said. It’s expected to open in 2025.

South of Louisville, Ford will build a 1,500-acre battery park under its BlueOvalSK joint venture with battery supplier SK Innovation. The site will comprise two battery plants making advanced lithium ion batteries, with one opening in 2025 and the other in 2026. Ford said the Kentucky site will create 5,000 jobs.

SK Innovation is committing $4.4 billion on the projects, bringing the total investment to $11.4 billion, Ford said. Ford formed a partnership with SK Innovation in May after CEO Jim Farley reversed plans by his predecessor to buy batteries from outside suppliers, choosing to instead produce them in-house.

Ford said the two campuses will have annual battery production capacity of 129 gigawatt hours, which is enough to power 1 million EVs. The Tennessee battery plant will be dedicated to the next-generation F-Series, while the twin plants in Kentucky will make batteries for numerous Ford and Lincoln vehicles, the company said.

“This is a transformative moment where Ford will lead America’s transition to electric vehicles and usher in a new era of clean, carbon-neutral manufacturing,” Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford said in a statement. “With this investment and a spirit of innovation, we can achieve goals once thought mutually exclusive – protect our planet, build great electric vehicles Americans will love and contribute to our nation’s prosperity.”

The latest outlay is part of the $30 billion that Ford has pledged to spend on electrification through 2025. Additionally, Ford said it’s investing $525 million, including $90 million in Texas, to train dealership technicians in how to service EVs.

Ford says it expects 40 percent to 50 percent of its global sales to be full EVs by 2030.

“It’s a huge deal for us,” Lisa Drake, Ford’s North America COO, told Automotive News. “We’ve been working on this, frankly, for about a year. To see it all come together the way it has is just beyond exciting.”

Blue Oval City in Tennessee, a $5.6 billion project, will spread out over six square miles. Ford said the site would be vertically integrated similar to the Rouge Complex.

The assembly plant, which is Ford’s first new greenfield plant since Kentucky Truck opened in 1969, will be carbon-neutral and built with the potential to use geothermal, solar and wind power, Ford said.

“This is intended to be an incredibly efficient ecosystem,” Drake said. “It doesn’t matter much if you build an EV if you’re not as conscious about how you’re building it. The whole site layout and environment is just as important as the product we’re building.”

Officials declined to say whether the trucks built there starting in 2025 would be F-150s or Super Duty pickups, but they said it will allow the company to “reach new customers with an expanded electric truck lineup.” It will feature the company’s new, dedicated EV architecture unveiled in May.

The automaker plans to begin selling an electric F-150 next year, although its architecture will largely mimic the current gasoline-powered pickup. The company has taken 150,000 reservations for the truck in the form of refundable deposits.

Drake said Ford viewed the future vehicle production at the Tennessee assembly plant as incremental to the internal combustion F-150s currently built in Missouri and Michigan, as well as the electric F-150 Lightning, which also will be made in Michigan.

“We believe we have room to grow the F-Series franchise,” Drake said. “This investment is all about growth. It’s a fantastic thing for those employees in Kansas City and Dearborn because it just reinforces how strong the F-Series franchise is.”

The Blue Oval City campus will include room for Redwood Materials, a battery-recycling company created by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel. Ford this month announced a partnership with Redwood to recycle EV battery components and eventually use recycled parts in future products.

Drake said Ford plans to begin hiring for salaried positions in Kentucky and Tennessee immediately and will begin to fill hourly positions closer to the plants’ openings.

Because the Kentucky battery plants will be part of a joint venture, she said it will be up to that entity and its workers to determine whether the plant is unionized. Drake said she expected the automaker’s strong relationship with the UAW to continue in Tennessee.

“We do need to modernize some of our agreements, but we’re looking forward to a really successful relationship with them in Tennessee,” Drake said. “At the end of the day, the employees in the facility will have to choose how they want to organize.”

UAW President Ray Curry, in a statement, echoed Drake’s comments.

“The UAW has always taken a lead in manufacturing innovation with our employer partners,” he said. “We look forward to reaching out and helping develop this new workforce to build these world class vehicles and battery components.”

Mark Del Rosso is out as Genesis CEO after leave; Marquez named COO

LOS ANGELES — Genesis Motor North America CEO Mark Del Rosso is leaving the automaker after a three-month absence for a personal matter.

Genesis informed Automotive News about Del Rosso’s departure Monday in an e-mailed statement.

At the same time, Genesis is reviving the position of chief operating officer and has named Hyundai Motor Mexico CEO Claudia Marquez to the new post. Marquez will lead the strategy and execution of sales, after sales, marketing and growth strategies for Genesis, the company said in a separate statement.

Marquez will report to Hyundai Motor North America CEO Jose Muñoz, who has been serving as interim Genesis CEO and will continue to hold that title.

The changes are effective Oct. 1, Genesis said.

“Claudia is a strong leader that has implemented effective strategies for growing automotive brands throughout her career,” Muñoz said in the release. “As an ambitious brand with a bold vision, we are pleased to have Claudia onboard to lead Genesis through its next phase of growth.”

Del Rosso took a leave of absence beginning July 1 during a time of rapid expansion for the upstart luxury automaker, which has introduced new models and tripled sales in August compared to the previous year.

“Under Mark’s leadership, Genesis achieved all-time record sales and elevated levels of customer satisfaction,” Genesis said in the separate statement. “We thank Mark for his leadership in building the Genesis Brand and wish him well.”

When Del Rosso joined Genesis in October 2019, the Korean automaker touted his experience in the luxury market with such brands as Audi, Bentley and Lexus. Earlier that year, Del Rosso had stepped down as president of Audio of America less than six months into the job.

Marquez also has extensive experience in the luxury market at BMW Group Mexico, where she held several positions over a 12-year period. Prior to joining Hyundai in November 2019, Marquez had executive positions at Nissan North America, including at the Infiniti brand. Her tenure at Nissan overlapped with Muñoz, who was a top Nissan North America executive.

“Genesis is an ambitious brand, putting the customer at the forefront of everything we do,” Marquez said in a statement. “With our growing product lineup, our foray into electrification, and a growing network of retailers and standalone facilities in communities across the region, there is no better time to be joining the Genesis brand.”

Genesis previously had a COO position with Erwin Raphael, who held the posts of executive director Genesis Motor America from 2016 to 2019 and then COO from early 2019 to early 2020.

Marquez was honored in the 2020 edition of Automotive News‘ Leading Women awards program. She told Automotive News that her years as a student at a German-language school led her to BMW as they established operations in Mexico more than 20 years ago.