Hello and welcome back! We're already halfway through April, folks!
Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,565 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
The coronavirus is changing how people buy cars and get them serviced — behaviors likely to last long after the pandemic is over.
Why it matters: Confined by stay-at-home orders, people have discovered that getting a new car delivered is as easy as ordering groceries or takeout. Experts say they may never visit a showroom again, with consequences that will reverberate on every Main Street in America.
The big picture: It's already happening in China, where car sales are rebounding and dealers are reporting a sharp rise in virtual-showroom visits, writes ZoZoGo consultant Michael Dunne in Automotive News.
How it works: In the U.S., consumers already do much of their car-buying research online.
Car dealers have been cautiously exploring online sales for years, but the economic toll from the health crisis has abruptly shoved them into the digital age.
"If there's a silver lining to this crisis, it is the rapid adoption of digital tools and processes" to modernize the car-buying process, says dealer strategy expert Dale Pollak, senior vice president at Cox Automotive.
Yes, but: Not all dealerships will be able to adjust quickly, which will likely lead to consolidation.
Passenger air travel has plummeted more than 90% as airlines slash flights amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
Congress' $50 billion rescue package for U.S. airlines will help keep the carriers alive — and their employees on the payroll — until the end of September. After that, the outlook is grim.
What's happening: The airline industry is reeling, with air travel down as much as 95% since the coronavirus stopped Americans in their places in mid-March. Even as a hopeful President Trump begins to prepare for the reopening of the U.S. economy, it will likely be years before airlines bounce back to pre-crisis levels.
Look at what happened after 9/11, notes the Wall Street Journal.
Now, economists say we're in for a deep recession, far worse than 9/11 or 2008-2009.
Driving the news: Earlier this week 10 U.S. airlines agreed to terms with the U.S. Treasury to distribute $25 billion in payroll assistance as part of Congress' $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package.
The government lifeline comes with other strings, too: airlines must maintain service to all of the markets they served before the crisis, even though there are hardly any passengers.
United offered a sobering assessment this week in a letter to employees from CEO Oscar Munoz and President J. Scott Kirby.
What's next: When demand does start to improve, it likely will not bounce back quickly, they said.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The next round of economic stimulus could include money to rebuild the nation's roads and bridges, similar to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that put millions of people to work building U.S. interstates.
Why it matters: America's crumbling bridges are in desperate need of repair, it's true. But this is also an opportunity to make sure we have the necessary infrastructure to support tomorrow's transportation needs.
What's needed: In a note to clients, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas suggests "10 things we gotta get right" in any potential infrastructure-related stimulus plan.
My thought bubble: We'll be lucky to get even a few of those done. Let's focus on EV charging and vehicle connectivity to start.
Photo: Virgin Hyperloop One
Speaking of hyperloop, a new research report says the high-speed travel concept is at least 20 years away from commercialization.
The big picture: Climate change has fueled interest in finding low-carbon alternatives to conventional rail and air travel. Electric hyperloop is one solution, because it operates in a vacuum system that reduces aerodynamic drag, enabling higher speeds and greater energy efficiency.
Yes, but: A new report from Lux Research says while the concept is technically feasible, it will require significant development to become cost-effective.
The bottom line, via Lux Research: the first passenger-carrying high-speed hyperloop systems won't begin operation before 2040 at the earliest.
The Family Drive-In movie theater in Stephens City, Virginia. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Long seen as a mid-century relic, drive-ins are now one of the only public places left to watch movies, my Axios colleague Bryan Walsh writes.
The big picture: Stay-at-home orders are threatening to destroy the already wobbly movie theater business. But the natural social distancing provided by a car has opened an opportunity for America's estimated 300 drive-ins.
With conventional cinemas almost entirely shut because of lockdown orders, movie tickets sales fell by more than 25% in the first quarter compared to 2019. But a handful of drive-in theaters are still open in Texas, Florida and Georgia, and owners report doing strong business catering to customers suffering from cabin fever.
My thought bubble: The stay-at-home orders will eventually be lifted, but social distancing might still be necessary. Come summer, a drive-in movie could be just the ticket.
Social distance: Ford Is Testing Buzzing Wristbands to Keep Workers Apart (Keith Naughton — Bloomberg)
Commute time: Rolling through the pandemic (John Eligon — New York Times)
Voyage ahead: Driverless vehicles in the age of novel coronavirus (Megan Rose Dickey — Techcrunch)
The Lexus RX 350L comes with third-row seating. Photo: Lexus
This week I'm driving the Lexus RX 350L, a stretch version of the luxury carmaker's best-selling RX crossover utility.
Why it matters: Lexus needed to add a third row to the RX to keep up with competitors, but it's probably best to park little kids back there, not grandma or teenagers.
What's new: The 2020 RXL gets rid of Lexus' annoying mouse-like Remote Touch controller on the center console and replaces it with a slightly less awkward touchpad. At least the infotainment system now has touchscreen capability. None of the interfaces are ideal, which is true in most cars today.
Many assisted driving features are standard in the RXL, including more sensitive camera and radar systems that can detect daytime bicyclists as well as pedestrians even in low light.
I had a little more trouble with Lexus' "lane tracing assist" technology, which is designed to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane while using dynamic cruise control.
My thought bubble: This is why drivers turn off driver-assistance technology that doesn't inspire confidence, defeating its potentially life-saving benefits.