So. Here we are: the end of the second week of the ninth month of the weirdest year any of us can remember. It seems as good a time as any to start taking stock by introducing a weekly round-up. There’s no shortage of such things, so why add our iron to the fire? Well, you may have noticed that a lot of the news these days is bad. But here in car world, good things still happen sometimes. Actually, they happen kind of a lot. So here it is, your Sunday slice of the week in cars. We’ll be back with more next week.
General Motors unveiled its Ultium Drive EV powertrain system this week, after announcing electric-focused partnerships with Honda and EV startup Nikola earlier this month. Ultium is a modular array of electric motors, single-speed transmissions, and batteries that can be set up in a variety of ways to suit different types of vehicles. Up first: the GMC Hummer EV and the Nikola Badger EV pickup, both expected in 2022. Up next: flying taxis, maybe?
GM CEO Mary Barra said at an RBC Capital Markets conference this week that she thinks the Ultium powertrain opens doors for GM to explore a number of new technologies, including air taxis. GM spox Stuart Fowle declined to elaborate but told Reuters that air taxis are an idea that GM is “excited about.” Aren't we all?
Not to be outdone, Ford and Kia announced EV news of their own this week. Truthfully, Kia’s news is more statement of intent than anything else. But be warned: it intends for 25 percent of its global sales to be EVs by 2029, and says it will launch 11 new EVs between now and then. Ford’s news came in the form of updates about the F-150 EV, planned for 2022, which it says will be more powerful and quicker than any current F-150. We also got our first look at the EV F-150’s front end and headlights, which look like they will be blinding.
We got more than just promises about electric cars this week. Hyundai released the first images of the next generation Tucson and, get this, people were excited about it. We called the redesign stunning, but stunning is in the eye of the beholder, so behold for yourself. Volkswagen announced a new small crossover for the US market, the Taos. It’ll be about Jeep Compass-sized and should start in the low twenties. We also got our first look at the next Nissan Z, in the form of a violently yellow concept (heavy air quotes) that looks a little like a 90s-video-game version of an Aston Martin. When the Z makes landfall next year, it’ll have a twin-turbo V-6 and—swoon—a six-speed manual.
Now The Bad News*
Look, we didn’t say it was all good news. We’ll make this quick: the Wall Street Journal reports that the average transaction price (ATP) for new vehicles was up again in August to a record high of $35,420. Sound like good news? Followers of the church of Kai Ryssdal will be familiar with the idea that the stock market is not the economy. We present a corollary: ATP is not the car market. Because even though people are spending more on cars now than ever before, many, many fewer people are spending money on cars at all. Sales are still down 20 percent in August year-over-year, and more buyers are turning to longer-term loans to finance their cars, a strategy that can help people afford more expensive vehicles but also carries a much higher risk of ending up underwater on a loan for a rapidly-depreciating vehicle.
The Long Read
The week is over and now this retrospective is, too. Find yourself with a Sunday afternoon still stretching out before you, empty but for the opportunity to contemplate the void? Try contemplating online car-buying instead. The way we're buying cars is finally changing, and all it took was a pandemic. We’ve put together a package on the practice, which ranges from a guide to buying from Carvana to a profiles of online buying experiences. One was good. The other? Not so much. Read up. The void will still be there next weekend.
*This bad news is actually from last week, but we make the rules around here and we say it counts.
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