These automotive headlines shook up the world in 2018

The highs and lows of the past year
by Niky Tamayo | Jan 3, 2019
PHOTO: Nissan

1) The arrest of Carlos Ghosn

The arrest of former Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi boss Carlos Ghosn for under-reporting income came as a shock to the industry. Nissan itself blew the whistle on its own boss. Ghosn asserts innocence, claiming that the declaration was for unreceived income that didn’t need to be reported until it became, um, received income.

Whether guilty as sin or an unwitting scapegoat, Carlos Ghosn is taking the heat as Nissan is coming under increased scrutiny by the Japanese government, and this move is widely seen as a power play to assert autonomy under Renault. The French automaker, meanwhile, is seething at the embarrassment and is demanding answers that aren’t exactly forthcoming. The Alliance was the biggest ‘automaker’ of 2017, but it remains to be seen what will happen to it in 2019.

2) The Trump trade war

US President Donald Trump is not one to shy away from playing hardball. And he’s taken the hardnosed, winner-take-all tactics he’s put to good use in the real estate business to the presidency with him, taking on not only rival superpowers like China but also erstwhile allies like Germany, Canada, and Mexico. This has taken a big toll on automakers. Chinese steel tariffs alone have added billions in absorbed costs to US-made automobiles, impacting US makers and buyers, while NAFTA jitters have caused many multi-year plans to be aborted or modified.

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Ironically, as Trump targeted German automakers, BMW has had to shift production of its hot-selling SUVs from Spartanburg in the US to other factories to avoid retaliatory tariffs by other countries. GM and Ford have shuttered several plants and laid off thousands of workers. Makers as far afield as Tesla and Volvo have also been badly hit by the trade war, and it doesn’t look like it will be ending soon.

3) Elon Musk versus the world

Whether you think he’s a shifty conman or a visionary futurist—or a little bit of both, there’s no denying Elon Musk is one of the most colorful characters in the industry. He spent his year fighting with the press, joking about smoking pot, making glib claims about taking the company private—which prompted an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission—and generally making a million tweets a minute.

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In the same time, he managed to make Tesla profitable for the first time in years, with the Model 3 becoming one of the best-selling luxury cars in the US. Meanwhile, The Boring Company, his new transport venture combining electric cars and subways, has managed to land a huge contract to build a new transport system in Chicago.

4) The Tesla killers

Not to be outdone, more major manufacturers are now keen to get in on the electric action. Porsche is following up its plug-in hybrid Cayenne with the Mission E and the Taycan. Hyundai’s new Ioniq and Kona are setting efficiency records for mass-market EVs. And even the Chinese are starting to look outside their own market, with manufacturers like BYD, Great Wall and JAC looking to get a leg up in the electric vehicle market. It’s taken nearly a decade, but it looks like EVs are finally taking off.

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5) The death of Sergio Marchionne

In a better world, we’d be talking about Marchionne’s announced retirement, but alas, due to complications from shoulder surgery, he passed away months before his official departure from the company. The Italian-Canadian businessman is famous for his dramatic turnaround of an ailing Fiat and Chrysler. He helmed the merger of the two into Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, a conglomerate covering several other brands, including Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Jeep, and Dodge.

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PHOTO: Nissan
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