Apple Watch Guy Overseeing Apple Car Kevin Lynch

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Image: Marc Newson

What do smartwatches and cars have in common? Aside from the fact Apple is trying to make both, I’m not sure. The tech giant’s wearable software lead is taking the reins of its turbulent car project. In other news, Tesla is skirting New Mexico’s anti-direct sales laws by building a store on tribal land, and there’s actually a new Dodge for what feels like the first time in a lifetime. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, September 10, 2021.

1st Gear: Every Apple Exec Does The Car Thing Eventually

With previous lead Doug Field leaving for Ford, Apple’s Project Titan is changing hands once again. Kevin Lynch, who’d started at the company heading up its watchOS software and migrated to the automotive team earlier this year, will now reportedly manage the entire operation, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman:

The executive first started working on the project earlier this year when he took over teams handling the underlying software. Now he is overseeing the whole group, which also includes hardware engineering and work on self-driving car sensors, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the move isn’t public.

Whether Lynch is filling this role in an interim capacity or he’ll be the permanent lead remains to be seen:

It’s unclear if the company will eventually tap a different leader for its car effort — known internally as Project Titan — if it advances far enough for Apple to have confidence in launching a full self-driving vehicle. Field’s departure for Ford was seen as a sign that an Apple car wasn’t coming in the near future. Work on the product remains early, with employees inside Apple anticipating that it won’t launch for many years.

The Apple Car has been years away for many years now. One minute, the company is poaching former Tesla employees left and right; the next, it’s getting spurned by major automakers who don’t want to subjugate their brand to the Apple cult of personality. I’m sure Apple will eventually ingratiate itself in cars in some kind of software capacity, because everyone in the tech sector is doing that these days. But the prospect of a fully built car is looking murkier and murkier with each personnel change.

2nd Gear: Huawei Panic Finally Reaches Auto Chips

Speaking of tech companies becoming car companies, remember Huawei? The Chinese telecom giant that was effectively blacklisted from the U.S. market out of fear its hardware could undermine national security? Now it’s establishing an automotive components arm, and American lawmakers are worried about that, too. A group of 13 Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee penned a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking if he, too, is concerned. From Reuters:

The Republicans, led by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the United States “must not surrender to China and its efforts to dominate our high-tech sectors, including (autonomous vehicles).”

The letter asked Buttigieg if he believes “Huawei intends to do with the automotive sector what it did to the communications equipment sector?”

Huawei told Reuters in August it was “positioning ourselves as a new component provider for intelligent connected vehicles” and to help automakers “build better vehicles.”

The trade blacklist against Huawei that the Trump administration put into effect in 2019 is still in place, and the Biden administration doesn’t appear to be interested in walking it back. Ultimately, if the company already can’t do business with automakers who sell cars here, I’m not sure what additional action the committee could reasonably expect. The U.S. government can’t banish Huawei out of existence, as much as some of its members clearly want to; it can only deny Huawei a foothold in one of the world’s biggest markets, which it already has.

3rd Gear: Tesla Just Exploited The Weirdest Loophole To Get Away With Direct Sales In New Mexico

There is now a Tesla sales and service center north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It resides in a building that used to be casino. Tesla’s retail establishments have been forbidden in the state, but this one’s getting by because it resides on land that belongs to the Nambé Pueblo tribal nation. Seriously. From the Albuquerque Journal:

Nambé Pueblo leaders on Thursday joined U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján to highlight the partnership and promote electric vehicles as part of a broader strategy to address climate change.

The new Tesla sales and service center is the first in New Mexico. It’s also the first Tesla facility, officials said, on Native American land in the United States.

“This truly represents a historic moment,” Nambé Pueblo Gov. Phillip Perez told a crowed gathered for the event Thursday.

The pueblo location is critical.

New Mexico law prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling directly to consumers rather than through a franchise dealership, and efforts to allow Tesla storefronts and service centers have repeatedly failed in the Legislature, often amid tense debate.

But the Tesla store sits within the boundaries of a tribal nation, not subject to the state law.

For what it’s worth, Nambé Pueblo Gov. Phillip Perez spoke encouragingly about the opportunity:

Perez, the pueblo governor, said Tesla will support tutors and scholarships for Nambé Pueblo students. He delivered some of his remarks in Tewa, a native language, as he welcomed visitors to the site along U.S. Highway 285.

The company’s values, Perez said, match the pueblo’s commitment to environmental protection.

4th Gear: Toyota’s Manufacturing Woes Continue

Toyota staved off production setbacks early in the pandemic, thanks to a stockpile of semiconductors. Stockpiles don’t last forever though, and so the supply chain disruptions recently caught up with it over the last several months. Now the automaker is scaling back its annual production target by 300,000, according to Reuters, but not primarily because of material bottlenecks:

“It’s a combination of the coronavirus and semiconductors, but at the moment it is the coronavirus that is having the overwhelming impact,” Kazunari Kumakura, an executive at the world’s biggest car maker, said after the company revised its production target.

Toyota’s projected operating profit remains the same, but its planned overall output has slid:

Toyota now expects to build 9 million vehicles in the year to March 31, rather than 9.3 million. It did not revise its 2.5 trillion yen ($22.7 billion) operating profit forecast for the business year.

5th Gear: The New Dodge

Dodge has been coasting on the same handful of cars for damn near a decade at this point, while regularly culling the oldest nameplates in the roster. With the Journey gone, it now has just three cars in its repertoire: the Charger, Challenger and Durango. A plug-in hybrid and eventually an electric muscle car is on the way, but the latter is still a few years out.

South of the border, though, there will be a new Dodge much sooner than that. The Stellantis Mexico Twitter account recently teased it.

The thing is, this new crossover looks to be a badge-engineered version of the GS5, an SUV made by Chinese automaker GAC Motor that is offered in some parts of Latin America. It’s an easy lift, then, for Dodge to just make some branding tweaks for a car that’s already cleared for sale in the region. Dodge’s lineup for Mexico looks much like it does here, except it offers its own version of the Mitsubishi Mirage G4 sedan called the Attitude. This unnamed new crossover could serve as an adequate replacement for the Journey in a pinch.

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