The Spartan Podcast

 

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“There’s never been a bigger show if you’re a fan of new pickup trucks,” Detroit Free Press automotive critic Mark Phelan tells Kirk Heinze about the 2018 North American International Auto Show. “We have new ones from Chevy, RAM, and the rebirth of the Ford Ranger. We have production and concept SUVs coming out of our ears, too, because that’s the direction the market is moving toward.

“And there are a lot of driver assistance and safety features on these vehicles that are getting us closer to the eventual autonomy of vehicles.”

Phelan adds that there’s a lot of work going on to enhance cyber security in our vehicles, which are becoming more connected by the day.

“Technology and automobiles are inextricably intertwined these days.” And underscoring those linkages is the ever-growing number of technology company exhibits at the auto show, including first-timers Intel Corp. and Blackberry.

Phelan talks about the industry’s evolving relationship with the Trump administration and how the auto makers are more concerned with trade policy than scaling back fuel economy standards. Because the industry wants to continue to expand international market share, the commitment to more eco-friendly cars is firm, he says. Automakers have the expertise and resources to further increase fuel economy, but they cannot control trade policy—hence the concern over renegotiating trade agreements like NAFTA.

And Phelan offers his choices for car, utility vehicle, and truck of the year.

He also talks about his time at MSU’s School of Journalism and discusses the state of the news and journalism industry. He describes the industry as a “conundrum” because of the changing business model caused by the internet.

“The business side is challenged, but there’s a greater thirst for information than there ever was at any time before.” And he says that “fake news” has reminded people of the importance of trusted news brands. He says the key skills for young, aspiring journalists to hone are to learn to tell a good story, ask critical questions and listen.

Phelan expects auto sales in 2018 to be down 2 to 3 percent from 2017. “And we’ll continue to see the shift away from traditional sedans to SUVs or vehicles that look like SUVs even though they are mechanically quite similar to the sedans.”

He adds that the market share for pure electric vehicles will continue on a slow growth path due to battery and infrastructure challenges.

“However, hybrids and hybrid technology are going to be absolutely ubiquitous.”

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