DETROIT (Dec. 29, 2015) — Oh, the good life. Or was it really? Depends on whom you're asking. Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business, has put together a Top-10 list of the big auto industry stories of the year.
U.S. light-vehicle sales climbed for the sixth straight year in 2015 — a run of success unmatched in the American car business since that giddy stretch from 1921-26. We all remember those days, right?
Once again we're living high on the hog.
Stiiiiill, the automotive landscape was blighted this year by another “you-gotta-be-kidding-me” scandal. So even though sales will exceed 17 million in 2015 — and may set a record — Automotive News staffers couldn't get beyond Volkswagen A.G.'s diesel test-rigging humiliation when voting on the most important stories of the year.
In an eventful year, the VW screw-up was a clear No. 1.
But there were lots of other headline-grabbing stories in 2015: Sergio Marchionne tried to prod General Motors Co. into merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA); Mark Rosekind arrived as a hard-nosed enforcer at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); and the industry is waking up to the reality of autonomous vehicles.
Here's our list of the 10 biggest stories of the year in the auto industry.
1. VW's ‘clean diesels' were dirty — and the cleanup will be messy
Volkswagen and Audi's “clean diesel” vehicles provided a sweet niche in the U.S. for the two Volkswagen brands, combining driveability and clean emissions — or so it seemed. Then the news broke that VW had cheated on emissions tests with a defeat device, software that turned on emissions controls during testing and turned them off afterward. The auto maker faces the continuing wrath of government regulators as it tries to cope with the problem. It cost CEO Martin Winterkorn his job, as well as those of Audi R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg and others. Settlement costs are expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars. VW Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch has admitted that engineers devised the “defeat” software because they couldn't meet strict U.S. diesel limits otherwise. That dent in VW's reputation for technical prowess hints at what likely will be the company's biggest long-term problem — a tarnished image in the minds of its customers.