By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- December 3, 2015 -- Welcome to another weekly look at the weird, the funny and the just plain bizarre from the world of cars.
- The auto industry has finally caught on to this whole Black Friday thing. Sales in malls and at consumer goods stores may have been down this year but the auto industry did better than ever. The auto companies were offering better deals than ever on cars. GM knocked 20 percent off some vehicles. The company took $7,000 off the popular Chevy Tahoe SUV. Auto Data Corp. estimates incentives in October crept above $3,000 to the highest level in more than four years.
- North American auto sales are on pace for a record-setting year. But is this business cycle already beginning to turn? There are many who assume the US Federal Reserve is going to begin to raise interest rates in December. This would take rates off the rock bottom lows now occurring and make financing vehicles more expensive. If this happens the super-low price of vehicle financing begins to rise. The record sales begin to taper. The pessimists also point out that there has been almost no growth in wages of jobs, so consumers don't have much new money to spend. Increased incentive spending is also going to be tough to sustain. Either manufacturers or dealers accept lower profit margins by offering unnaturally low vehicle prices, or else “economic fundamentals warrant a downturn” according to a recent report. The National Automobile Dealers Association predicts auto sales will peak next year as a result.
- Toyota Motor Corp. remains the world's top-selling automaker. Volkswagen was absolutely crushed in November, with the German company posting a 25 percent sales decline as the emissions scandal plays out. - Remember Ralph Nader? He wants the auto industry to "hit the brakes" on self-driving cars. Nader first made a name for himself when he published a report, Unsafe at Any Speed, that criticized the cost-benefit analysis that goes into the thinking of car companies when it comes to recalls and safety improvements. On the fiftieth anniversary of that work, he warns that the automakers are rushing to push automated features in vehicles that will deprive drivers of control. "There are definite benefits of collision avoidance systems. But the problem is once the auto companies get on to something, they don't know when to stop," said Nader to a reporter. “And so they are turning the automobile into an ever more complicated computer on wheels. Which means that the driver is losing control to the software, and the more the driver loses control to the software, the less the driver is going to be able to control the car down the road."
- According to AutoVentures, money is flooding into the new auto-tech industry growing around Silicon Valley. The most recent data suggests that there have been 33 major equity transactions and investments worth $35 billion in automotive retail over the last 18 months. The first half of 2015 saw over $105 million of venture capital investment in Bay Area firms that are targeting the automotive industry. Companies with names like Flexdrive, Dealertrack, Beepi and Vroom are attracting the capital. The "hot" markets right now are Mobility On-Demand (MoD) and data centric automotive offerings. Beepi and Vroom are hoping to simplify the $36.5 billion used car industry by enabling consumers to “surf, finance, and arrange delivery of a used car via their smart phones or other online device.” Car sales could be in for a revolution. Tesla is challenging the traditional retail dealership model with direct sales and no franchise stores. BMW has just launched a new online service to allow their customers to buy a new car wherever and whenever they want to, dubbed Retail Online. Is dickering over the sticker price on its way out?
- The most high-end garage in the world? It might be the one run by the “flamboyant heir” to Italy's auto royalty, the Agnelli family. Giovanni Agnelli, of course, was head of the northern Italian industrial family that started Fiat. According to Wikipedia Giovanni once controlled “4.4 percent of Italy's GDP, 3.1 percent of its industrial workforce, and 16.5 percent of its industrial investment in research” and was the richest man in “modern Italian history.” Agnelli was “also known worldwide for his impeccable, slightly eccentric fashion sense, which has influenced both Italian and international men’s fashion.” Following in these footsteps is the son who is trying to make a comeback after checking into the same rehab clinic Kate Moss went to. The young Agnelli has bought a vintage 1950s-era gas station in Milan. The gas station will be the base of his new company, Garage Italia Customs, which will specialize in personalizing everything from, “Ferraris to yachts to helicopters.” He intends to expand his venture by opening similar "garages" in Miami and Dubai.
- In another link between the autobody world and the world's elite artists, a major art project called “Auto Body” will be staged in a local garage in Miami this fall during the annual Art Basel Miami. Each year at this time, insanely rich people pilot their private jets to Miami for what has become the world's biggest art event. Starving artists from around the world show up with works they hope to sell. A week long party commences. This year the art group Auto Body is getting a lot of attention for their show, which is being presented in a former collision repair facility. The Auto Body show features only videos and performances, many of which focus on the human body.
- Also in the world of autobody and art, f you have some extra money lying around and you want to contribute to the making of a film on custom car culture, here is your chance. Flake and Flames: OVERDRIVE is being crowd funded right now. You can check it out at indiegogo.com/projects/flake-flames-overdrive-kustom-kulture-galore.