Now that 2020 is calendrically, if not thematically, behind us, we can take a final accounting of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the automotive industry last year. Year-end sales numbers showed auto sales down by around 15 percent compared to 2019. That decline is right in line with predictions made by IHS Markit in March, and marks the worst year of sales since 2012.This Week in SheetmetalThe new Jeep Grand Cherokee L, a three-row, luxury-oriented version of the next generation Grand Cherokee, marks the first significant launch of the new year. In a true sign of the times, it will be available as a plug-in hybrid.
Mazda promised us that its adorable MX-30 will come to the US market. The small crossover will be available as an electric vehicle or as a plug-in hybrid with a rotary range-extender engine.One thing we missed in the holiday break: spy shots of the N variant of the Hyundai Kona testing at the Nürburgring. Will the Kona N have a manual transmission? A ripping exhaust note? Only time will tell.We’ve also spotted a heavily camo’d Honda HR-V testing, though sadly not at the ‘Ring. This marks the HR-V’s first full redesign, but don’t get too excited: the new HR-V likely won’t be on U.S. dealer lots until late this year or early next.Not sheetmetal, but a new logo for GM seems worth a note. The letters are lowercase, and in one version, the colors fade from light blue to a darker blue in a way GM (gm?) says suggests “the clean skies of a zero-emissions future and the energy of the Ultium platform.”Screen Time
Instead of showing a car this week, Mercedes-Benz showed us a disembodied 56-inch long infotainment display, which it calls Hyperscreen. The display is technically made up of three separate screens, but it presents as a single unit that will run all the way across the dash of whatever car it appears in (EQS is up first). We spotted a similar setup in spy photos of the next Ford Fusion. That screen doesn’t look as swank as the Mercedes setup, but it’s still probably more visual real estate than your first TV had. Supply Chain WoesFord, Honda, and Nissan all idled factories this week due to a shortage of semiconductors—chips that are used for a variety of functions in cars, including management of a vehicle’s computers and automated safety systems. FCA is facing the same problem, and had to delay the reopening of its Toluca, Mexico, plant after the holiday break. Volkswagen is cutting production in China, Europe, and North America during the first quarter of the year as a result of the shortage. As cars add more tech (like the giant screens mentioned above) demand for these semiconductors will only increase, so the problem is likely to be ongoing.
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This Week in Elon The first full week of the year offered yet more proof that it’s Elon Musk’s world and we’re just living in it. Tesla reached a record market capitalization of more than $800 billion, making Musk the richest person on Earth. The Model Y made news with a new budget-friendlier variant and an optional third row. And NHTSA said good old pedal misapplication and not a manufacturing defect was at fault in incidents of unintended acceleration in the Model 3. Plus, Tesla released a new farting horn feature as part of a firmware update at the end of last year. And we know how Elon Musk likes a fart joke. But one question remains: what do you do when you’re the richest person alive and you’ve already got a space empire?Further ReadingOur best recommendation for weekend reading is that you back away from the screen and the scrolling feeds and just enjoy some fresh air for once. But if you absolutely refuse, there’s always the New York Times’ take on the problem of ever-enlarging grilles. Or our review of a year in traffic safety data. Or this prediction from the Wall Street Journal that the persistence of Zoom meetings will contribute to a long-term decrease in car sales. But really, we think you should just go outside.
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