Welcome to The Morning Dump, bite-sized stories corralled into a single article for your morning perusal. If your morning coffee’s working a little too well, pull up a throne and have a gander at the best of the rest of yesterday.
Volkswagen Sharpens Its Axe
Over the course of the pandemic, automakers seemed to have rediscovered trading on margin rather than volume. Profits went up, production went down, and everyone on executive boards was generally happy with the financial results. After a long and brand-diluting push to be the biggest automaker in the world, Volkswagen’s decided to refocus. The German automaker’s new plan is to cut 60 percent of its combustion model range by the end of the decade to focus on profits and quality. We all knew this was coming, right?
Honestly, I’m not entirely opposed to this plan. Returning to the rich interior materials of the B5 Passat and preventing major mistakes like the ID.4’s infotainment system from entering production sounds like an ideal situation. Volkswagen Group should still be churning out plenty of electric cars, so market positioning should remain roughly the same. Still, slicing 60 percent of combustion model range by the end of the decade leaves VAG fans with some uncomfortable questions: Will the Mk. 8 GTI be the last GTI as we know it? How many fast Audis will be left? What repercussions will this have for the used market? I’m afraid that only time will tell.
After years of watching competitors roll out weird steering wheels, Lexus has decided to get in on the action. Not content with the hexagonal steering wheel in the BMW iX or the six-spoke steering wheel available in the new S-Class, the Japanese automaker is bringing a yoke to its new RZ electric crossover. Different in nature from the much-derided Tesla yoke, the RZ’s yoke promises to be a completely different kind of terrible. Assuming this electric crossover rides on the same platform as the Toyota bZ4X, the yoke will be attached to a steer-by-wire system.
I know that Toyota crossovers aren’t exactly bastions of steering feel, but speed-dependent steering ratios always feel a bit screwy. Just ask anyone who’s driven a specced-up Infiniti Q50 or Q60. Hopefully customers will have the option of choosing or puff-puff-passing on the RZ’s yoke as the production version debuts on 4/20. I wish I was making this up.
Still, the rest of the interior actually looks really nice and the near-production model shown in December sports a fairly handsome design. I have fairly high hopes for the RZ, electric crossovers generally tend to be really good everyday transportation and the new Lexus infotainment system fixes the most loathed part of the brand’s interiors.
My Neck, Maybach
The late designer Virgil Abloh’s Mercedes-Maybach concept is absolutely brilliant, and now a slice of that design is coming to market. Dubbed the 2023 Mercedes-Maybach S 680 by Virgil Abloh, it takes the standard car up a notch with a rugged colorway and some brilliant little details. Let’s start with the paint, a two-tone scheme with Obsidian Black on top and a bespoke tan on the bottom. Complementing this two-tone finish is blacked-out greenhouse trim and a set of tan colour-matched monoblock wheels that just look so damn right.
Concave faces and serious visual heft fill out this Maybach’s arches perfectly and add an old-school AMG-inspired twist. The tan continues on the inside, with Nappa leather adorning just about every surface and tan accents on metallic trim bits, in the infotainment system and in the digital gauge cluster. It’s exceptionally rare for a manufacturer to re-work parts of the user experience for special edition models, but it really does fit here.
After all, Virgil was one of the most iconic designers of the 21st century, from founding Off-White to becoming Artistic Director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
Capping off this special edition is a serialized console plaque, a set of bespoke leather pillows, a special car cover, a carabiner and a 1:18 scale model of the car. Limited to 150 units, this designer-spec V12 über-limo certainly won’t be cheap. Figure a starting price well north of $200,000.
Hey Siri, remind me in 15 years to search Copart for Virgil Abloh Maybachs.
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Charging Network
Much to the surprise of absolutely nobody who’s ever tried to charge an EV in public, we’re not doing so well on the charging network front. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on Tuesday that the federal government only has about one percent of the EV chargers it needs to support widespread EV use. Yikes. While 1,100 federally-owned EV charging stations is a start, it isn’t anywhere close to the more than 100,000 federally-owned EV charging stations the GAO says we need.
In addition to falling short on charging network needs, the government is also taking its sweet time ramping up its light-duty zero-emission vehicle acquisition plans. The General Services Administration (GSA) was able to blag some 2021 Chevrolet Bolts at around $10,000 under market pricing, but only 1,854 new ZEVs have been ordered for federal use since the GSA’s last report. Not exactly rapid and assured action, yeah? Especially considering the federal goal of 100 percent of federal light-duty vehicle fleet purchases to be ZEVs by 2027.
While Joe Biden’s $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill definitely has the funding to support this, the feds better hurry up on using that cash to its full potential.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on this edition of The Morning Dump. While the Mercedes-Maybach S 680 by Virgil Abloh definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, designer editions of cars have a long and illustrious history. Models like the Bill Blass Designer Edition Lincoln Continental Mark V, the Gucci edition Fiat 500 and the Lamborghini Murcielago Versace Edition blended high-fashion with high-octane for the few who dared to order them.
If you could get any carmaker and any brand to collaborate on a limited edition, what would your ideal end result be? I certainly wouldn’t mind a Jägermeister Edition 718 GT4 RS for a touch of racing heritage.
Top photo credit: Volkswagen