The price of a tank of gas has been falling since it reached record levels in June, BMW saw its sales drop in the first half of the year, and one European nation experiments with free public transport. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 8, 2022.
1st: Fuel Prices Keep Falling
Remember when we all watched in horror as Gas prices rose beyond $5 a gallon in many states last month? Well now, the Wall Street Journal reports that since prices peaked, we’ve had more than three weeks of consecutive price drops at the pump.
According to the WSJ, the average cost of a gallon of gas here in the US has fallen from $5.02 on June 14th down to $4.75 as of July 7th. This drop, it says, is down to dwindling demand for fuel at gas stations, as well as a 16% drop in the cost of crude oil. Per the WSJ:
“Gasoline sales leading up to Independence Day trailed previous years. Same-store gasoline demand by volume fell about 7% for the week ending July 2, compared with the same period last year, according to OPIS data. Demand that week was down about 13% compared with the same period in 2019. In mid-to-late May, gasoline demand fell to its lowest levels in nearly a decade, according to government data.”
The falling fuel costs were tracked in a AAA report, which was released earlier this week. The paper added that if demand for fuel continues to fall then prices could follow suit.
But, AAA warned that the relief could be short-lived. The WSJ adds:
“However, ‘July is typically the heaviest month for demand as more Americans hit the road, so this trend of easing prices could be short-lived,’ AAA spokesman Andrew Gross said in a statement.”
What’s more, the lowered price of gas could help demand pick up once again. This, in turn, might force prices up once more. It really is a vicious cycle.
2nd: Chip Shortages Hit BMW Sales
Chip shortages and Covid-19-related lockdowns are still wreaking havoc in the auto industry. If it isn’t a cut in car features or delays to production, it’s a drop in sales. And that’s exactly what BMW witnessed in the first half of 2022.
Reuters reports that the German carmaker sold 13% fewer cars in the first six months of 2022 than it did in the same period last year. The firm reportedly sold 1.16 million BMWs, Mini and Rolls-Royce cars at the start of this year, which was considerably down on its figures for 2021 – “the strongest sales period in the company’s history,” according to Reuters.
BMW’s sales were hit particularly badly in the second quarter, between April and June 2022, when it saw a 20% drop in deliveries for vehicles across its portfolio. The firm attributed this decline in sales to “chip shortages and intermittent lockdowns in China.”
But it wasn’t all bad news for the brand, as it did see its sales of electric cars rise by 110% during the period. This meant that in the first half of 2022 it sold nearly 76,000 electric BMW and Mini cars.
3rd: Argo AI Lays Off Dozens
Self-driving cars might be the future, but their development has been hit with countless problems over the years. If it’s not police officers trying to pull over a self-driving taxi then it’s a Tesla failing to recognize signs and cyclists. But the big problem for autonomous car startup Argo AI seems to be staffing.
In a statement seen by Automotive News, the firm announced it was laying off nearly 150 employees from different areas of the company as it eyes further growth in the future. According to Automotive News:
“An Argo spokesperson said the layoffs were part of “prudent adjustments to our business plan” as the company plotted for future growth.
“Former Argo employees who worked in the company’s human resources, recruiting, technical sourcing and communications divisions shared news of their layoffs on their respective LinkedIn profiles.”
The Pittsburgh-based self-driving car maker had appeared to be on a bit of a roll in recent months. The firm received investment from Ford and was helping improve the Blue Oval’s autonomous abilities. It was also testing out its own self-driving systems with test rides in Miami.
Despite the staffing cuts, Argo AI says it still has more than 2,000 employees around the world, and it will continue to run test drives in Florida, where it is no longer required to run with a safety driver behind the wheel.
4th: This is Beyond a Yoke
If you believe some people, then the steering wheel is on the way out. Instead, we’ll all soon be driving around with a fighter jet-style yoke up front that controls the directions our wheels point. but while Tesla has been rolling out such an input in recent months with varying success, it sounds like Lexus might actually be about to reinvent the wheel.
Automotive News reports that the firm is developing a new “ultra-precise steer-by-wire system” that will premiere in its upcoming RZ all-electric crossover. The system replaces the mechanical connection between the yoke and the front wheels, instead sending the signals from the yoke to the wheels electronically. The report says:
“The setup allows the Lexus yoke to deliver a steering angle of 150 degrees between the right and left lock positions. The driver doesn’t have to rotate the yoke all the way or change grips while doing maneuvers such as U-turns or garage parking.”
This reduction in the angle you turn the wheel also means that controls such as indicators and wipers can remain on the wheel and will move as you turn it. Automotive News adds that the controls for these have been shortened so you don’t accidentally hit them with your legs.
With Lexus intent on bringing its yoke to the US, how does all this engineering behind the design make you feel? Is it refreshing to see someone try to reinvent the wheel, or were things fine the way they are?
5th: Free Ticket to Ride
People don’t get the train because they say it’s unreliable, expensive and, at times, a bit gross. But what if I told you there was a magical place where this wasn’t the case. A place where trains ran on schedule, didn’t cost the earth and were meticulously maintained? That place is called Europe.
And while most of mainland Europe has developed a pretty formidable and affordable rail network, one state in the bloc has taken things a step further by running a trial of free public transport for everyone. According to Bloombergthe country of Luxembourg has been offering free rides on trains and buses for residents since 2020.
The state isn’t a place that’s particularly anti-car, in fact it has the highest vehicle density in the continent, with 696 cars per 1,000 people. But the population is rising, and lawmakers worry that its infrastructure might not be able to support a rise in traffic that matches this growth. So they tried free public transport to get people off the road and into buses and trains. According to Bloomberg:
“On Feb. 29, 2020, it became the first nation in the world to make all public transit entirely free at point of use. With the exception of (not especially popular) first-class tickets, no one has paid a cent to ride a bus, tram or train within Luxembourg’s borders ever since.”
The policy has proven so far popular with travelers in the country, but Bloomberg found that free transit on its own wasn’t quite enough to tempt people to take the train. The site says:
“To wean people off unsustainable levels of car dependency, you have to make driving more costly and difficult — something that Luxembourg’s center-left coalition government has been so far wary of doing.”
As such, traffic levels in the country remain similar to that of 2019. And experts suggested that the free transport offer was more likely to be adopted by people who would have walked or cycled, rather than those who usually drive.
Reverse: On Strike
Neutral: What Should I Be Listening to?
I feel like my music listening habits have stagnated recently. As well as the traditional onslaught of Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys, I’ve had a nice week listening to Jack White and Christine and the Queens. So if you have any suggestions for great bands I should check out, I’m all ears.