‘Inside Out 2’ arrives in theaters and could hit a 100-day run. Here’s why that’s increasingly rare

In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust meet new emotions.

Disney | Pixar

Disney is looking to bring a little joy to theaters with its upcoming release of Pixar’s “Inside Out 2.”

Current expectations see the animated sequel easily topping $85 million during its domestic opening this weekend, which would make it the highest debut of any film released in the United States and Canada in 2024. Some are even forecasting the film could secure more than $100 million in ticket sales, a feat not seen since July 2023 when Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” waltzed into cinemas.

Already “Inside Out 2” has tallied $13 million from Thursday night preview showings in North America. For comparison, 2019’s “Toy Story 4” generated $12 million on its Thursday previews and snared $120.9 million for its opening weekend.

Any opening figure north of $50 million would be a boon for Pixar, which has struggled to regain its foothold at the box office in the wake of the pandemic. However, Disney seems confident in “Inside Out 2,” as the film is expected to have a 100-day theatrical run, a nearly unheard-of stint nowadays for animated features and non-blockbuster action flicks.

While most consumers are agnostic about theatrical release windows — the period of weeks or months that a film is shown exclusively in theaters before it hits streaming or other on-demand options — for cinema operators and box office analysts, a commitment to more than three months of exclusivity on the big screen is a big deal.

Before the pandemic, industry standard was what’s known as the 90-day theatrical window (though the average was actually closer to about 75 days in reality, according to market research firm The Numbers).

Only a rare few films would extend beyond that date — usually massive franchise films or blockbuster hits. After that time frame, a film could move into the home video space, which included digital downloads, DVD and Blu-Ray discs and availability on streaming sites. Films would still play in theaters after that date, but would then compete with home-market sales.

When the pandemic hit, and theaters were forced to close, studios had to decide if they were going to hold off on releasing their films until cinemas reopened or place them on streaming or video-on-demand during the interim.

Disney was one of the companies that opted to make a number of its animated offerings available in the at-home market during that time.

As theaters began to reopen, studios renegotiated the amount of time that films were required to remain on the big screen before they could go to the home market. After all, new Covid variants and a not-yet widely available vaccine had led many moviegoers to stay home. The result has been a widely variable time frame of exclusivity, as each studio negotiated its own deal with the major cinema chains.

For example, Universal and Focus Features inked a deal in which movies had to play in cinemas for at least three weekends, or 17 days, before those films could transition to the premium video on-demand platforms.

“Ninety-day windows were always going to be unsustainable,” said Jeff Kaufman, senior vice president of film and marketing at Malco Theaters. “The pandemic sort of accelerated that.”

The shifting theatrical windows has left studios and cinemas with a complex equation.

A shorter window

Studios had been pushing to slim down the window prior to the pandemic in order to cut down on marketing expenses, explained Daniel Loria, senior vice president of content strategy and editorial director at the Box Office Company.

Studios were paying a significant amount to market films for their theatrical release and then months later had to drum up buzz again for a film’s transition to the home market. With shorter windows, studios don’t need to spend as much to refamiliarize audiences with a film as it’s likely still fresh in their minds from its debut.

“My impression of films going to [premium video on-demand] early is usually a decision to not double dip on the marketing spend,” Loria said.

Last year, the average run of a widely released film was 39 days, according to The Numbers. So far in 2024, the average run is 29 days. Of course, as bigger blockbuster titles roll out in the summer months, that figure is expected to grow.

Average theatrical window by major Hollywood studio in 2023

  • Focus Features — 28 days
  • Lionsgate — 30 days
  • Universal — 30.8 days
  • Warner Bros. — 30.9 days
  • Paramount — 42.5 days
  • Sony — 47.75 days
  • 20th Century Fox — 60 days
  • Searchlight — 60 days
  • Disney — 62 days

Source: The Numbers

There are cases where studios have extended their runs well beyond the typical theatrical window. In 2022, for example, Paramount and Skydance’s “Top Gun: Maverick” played for more than 200 days in cinemas before heading to the home market.

And, these figures only refer to when a film becomes available in the home market for rent. Typically, the wait before films are available as part of subscription streaming services, often considered “free” by those subscribers, is much longer.

The Numbers reported the average time span between theatrical release and streaming subscription launch was 108 days in 2023.

Early on there were experiments with day-and-date releases, meaning films would hit cinemas and streaming at the same time. But that faded as studios realized these simultaneous releases cannibalized sales and led to increased piracy rates.

There’s also the consideration that many actors and directors have contract stipulations that award them a percentage of theatrical gains. In 2021, actress Scarlet Johannson sued Disney for releasing the 2020 Marvel film “Black Widow” on streaming and in theaters at the same time. She claimed that her agreement with the company guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for her solo film, and her salary was based, in large part, on the box office performance. Johannson and Disney later settled for an undisclosed monetary sum.

Still, Universal has dabbled with the day-and-date model for horror movie fare around Halloween, opting most recently to release “Five Nights at Freddy’s” in theaters and on streamer Peacock at the same time. While the film had a stellar opening weekend, topping $80 million at the domestic box office, ticket sales shrunk more than 76% in the second weekend, reaching just $19 million.

Of course, shorter exclusivity and lower ticket sales can be bad for theater chains, which are still struggling to rebound operations after Covid. But some argue that getting the window wrong can be bad for the movie, too.

“A sufficient window is important not only to exhibitors, but also to our studio partners, as it’s necessary to deliver the full promotional and financial benefits of a film’s theatrical release, which continue to meaningfully enhance a film’s lifetime value across all distribution channels, including streaming,” said Sean Gamble, president and CEO of Cinemark.

Disney’s dilemma

It’s a lesson that Disney learned in the wake of the pandemic.

Both Walt Disney Animation and Pixar struggled to regain a foothold at the box office after pandemic restrictions lessened and audiences returned to theaters. Much of this was due to the fact that Disney opted to debut a handful of animated features directly on streaming service Disney+ during theatrical closures and even once cinemas had reopened.

The company sought to pad the company’s fledgling streaming service with content, stretching its creative teams thin and sending theatrical movies straight to digital.

That dynamic trained parents to seek out new Disney titles on streaming, not in theaters, even when Disney opted to return its films to the big screen.

As a result of that and other challenges, no Disney animated feature from Pixar or Walt Disney Animation has generated more than $480 million at the global box office since 2019. For comparison, just before the pandemic, “Coco” generated $796 million globally, while “Incredibles 2″ tallied $1.24 billion globally, and “Toy Story 4” snared $1.07 billion globally.

Box office experts are looking to “Inside Out 2” as a barometer for the health of Pixar and its future. If the film can capture attention from audiences and perform well over its opening weekend and beyond, the animation studios will regain goodwill from audiences and the industry.

Recent Pixar domestic opening weekend results

  • “Elemental” (2023) — $29.6 million
  • “Lightyear” (2022) — $50.5 million
  • “Turning Red” (2022) — streaming release
  • “Luca” (2021) — streaming release
  • “Soul” (2020) — streaming release
  • “Onward” (2020)* — $39.1 million
  • “Toy Story 4” (2019) — $120.9 million
  • “The Incredibles 2” (2018) — $182.6 million

* “Onward” was released just as Covid cases spiked in the U.S. and theaters began closing.

Source: The Numbers

A 100-day window for “Inside Out 2” may be the key.

Disney is one of the only studios that doesn’t have a traditional premium video on-demand window, according to Sebastian Gomez, a research and data analyst at The Numbers. Meaning, that once that theatrical window is up it will go to Disney+ where subscribers can watch it for free, rather than an intermediate rental option.

By delaying its at-home release, Disney is signaling to audiences that its latest Pixar release is a “must see” on the big screen.

The first “Inside Out” film, which hit theaters in 2015, generated $90.4 million during its opening weekend and tallied more than $850 million at the global box office.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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See inside Ford’s new tech campus, a century-old Detroit train station restored for $950 million

Ford Motor is turning an abandoned train station used for decades as an infamous symbol of Detroit’s downfall and blight into a new technology campus for the automaker and mixed-use property for the city.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – Ford’s latest project out of the Motor City is the restoration and reopening of an abandoned train station, for decades a symbol of Detroit’s downfall and now the automaker’s new technology campus.

The $950 million project encompasses the 18-story former train station called Michigan Central Station – once the state’s marquee transit building – an adjacent 270,000-square-foot building and other, supporting facilities.

The 30-acre “Michigan Central” campus and station was initially announced in 2018 and slated to open by 2022. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the extensive work needed to renovate the station delayed its reopening. Ford is celebrating the restoration of the century-old train station on Thursday.

Following the event Thursday, the ground floor of the train station building will be open to the public through June 16, before the first commercial occupants begin moving in this fall.

The new campus comes at a precarious time for Ford investors as the company continues to restructure its business. It also comes as many companies attempt to downsize office space and fill their current buildings with employees who grew accustomed to working from home during the pandemic.

A photo of Michigan Central’s main concourse prior to its renovation sits in the newly restored room toward the back of the building.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Specifically in Detroit, a stark juxtaposition has emerged: In April, Ford’s crosstown rival General Motors announced it would be downsizing from its towering Renaissance Center headquarters along the city’s riverfront to two floors in a nearby building that’s under construction.

Yet Ford Chair Bill Ford said he believes the investment made in the historic train station is a crucial part of the automaker’s future, including in aspects of talent acquisition and retention.

“We’re in a war for talent, our industry and our company,” Ford, who spearheaded the project, told CNBC. “And you need to give talent two things: You need to give them, first, really interesting problems to solve, and then you have to give them a great place to work. With Michigan Central, we checked both those boxes.”

Bill Ford decided to purchase the dilapidated building after years of trips to Silicon Valley for his Fontinalis venture capital firm and during his tenure as a member of the eBay board of directors. He’s long been outspoken about the need for the traditional automotive industry to compete with newer tech companies in both product and talent acquisition.

Ford Motor released this image of Chair Bill Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, when the automaker announced it would be purchasing Michigan Central Station in June 2018.

Ford

Ford said attracting top talent to Detroit is “getting better” but noted that “it’s a tall order” to convince workers from California or the East Coast to relocate to Detroit and work for Ford.

“If you can show them a place like Michigan Central, not just in its beauty, which alone is incredible, but then talk about the kind of things that will be going on there, then it becomes, I think, a really valuable resource for the company going forward,” he said.

Train station campus

The Michigan Central campus is located southwest of Detroit’s main business district in a trendy neighborhood known as Corktown. It’s about 10 miles down the road from Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Michigan Central campus in total spans 1.2 million square feet of commercial space, including retail, restaurants and hospitality. It was awarded $300 million in state, local and historic rehabilitation tax incentives, according to officials.

The restored grand waiting room inside Ford’s Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Ford officials went to great lengths to restore the station to its original glory after decades of vandalism and decay. The project involved 3D-scanning the rooms, matching materials and referencing historical photos to recreate parts of the building.

This was especially true for the first floor of the train station, where a grand room features massive windows, an arcade and a large concourse full of marble and terrazzo flooring, Mankato stone and other unique materials.

Architects and designers opted to leave some graffiti on walls to represent the station’s dormant years after closing in 1988.

As one measure of Ford’s determination, officials traced the facility’s original limestone to a quarry in Indiana only to find out it had since closed. Michigan Central worked with the owners to reopen the quarry.

Some graffiti from when Michigan Central sat dormant for more than 30 years was purposely preserved to represent that part of the station’s history.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

“It has been painstakingly and lovingly restored to, wherever possible, to its original condition,” said Josh Sirefman, Michigan Central CEO, during a tour of the project. “Before we start activating it with lots of things, it’s probably in its most pristine condition.”

Amid national commercial real estate challenges, about two-thirds of the tower has scheduled tenants or planned use cases, officials said. That includes an unnamed restaurant and hotel, pending rezoning approval.

The adjacent building, known as the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, already houses more than 600 employees from nearly 100 startup companies.

“It really is the beginning of the ecosystem that I want to create,” Bill Ford said. “There’s going to be a lot of experimentation taking place down there.”

Ford plans to house at least 2,500 employees in the building, primarily members of the company’s electric vehicle and connected services teams. Roughly 1,000 of those employees are expected to move into the station’s tower by the end of this year, Ford said.

Other building occupants could include local universities, other businesses and a restaurant. However, officials declined to release a full list of expected tenants. Google, a founding partner of the project, runs its “Code Next” program, which teaches students how to code, from the Book Depository building.

Ford said he expects future automaker employees to be able to collaborate with other occupants of the station’s tower as well as the startups occupying the Book Depository building.  

A photo of Michigan Central’s arcade prior to its renovation sits in the newly restored room toward the east end of the building.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

‘Legacy project’

Resurrecting the train station and surrounding campus is the latest project Bill Ford, a great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, has undertaken in the Motor City.

He was instrumental in moving the Ford family-owned Detroit Lions from suburban Pontiac to a new stadium, appropriately named Ford Field, in downtown Detroit in 2002. He also was part of the team that brought the Super Bowl to the city in 2006.

And he redeveloped the company’s River Rouge Assembly plant into a “green” production facility amid calls to close it. It’s now a tourist destination for the production of the Ford F-150 full-size pickup.

Ford, who served as CEO of the automaker from 2001 to 2006, described Michigan Central as a continuation of such projects. He called the effort a “legacy project” for himself as well as for those who have been able to work on it.

“I’m very proud of both of those [prior projects], but I think this is going to kind of put an exclamation point on it because this will be a wonderful place to work but it will also be a wonderful place for the public to come,” Ford said.

The renovated “reading room” off of the grand waiting room at Ford’s Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

Michael Waylans / CNBC

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Why Walmart, Walgreens, CVS retail health clinic experiment is struggling

Bobbi Radford showed up at the CVS MinuteClinic in Batavia, Ohio, last Thanksgiving because she had pain in her arm.

“I waited an hour and then was told to go to the [emergency room].,” Radford said. Filling the staffer in on her history of congestive heart failure, she was directed to go to the ER. But Radford says after she did that, it was determined at the ER that she had a case of tennis elbow.

“It was a waste of my time, and I still had to go to my family doctor,” Radford said.

Despite their early promise of convenience and accessibility, in-store clinics haven’t been the golden egg-laying goose many retailers originally envisioned. That’s why Walmart recently announced it would shutter its 51 in-store full-service health-care centers. Another symptom of the ailing market is Walgreens, which announced the closing of 160 VillageMD locations (Walgreens owns a 53% stake in VillageMD, which also operates free-standing clinics). CVS’s MinuteClinic, the largest in-store clinic with over 1,100 locations, has announced dozens of clinic closings this year in Southern California and New England.

Not all patient experiences are negative. Karla Lemon of Conway, South Carolina, says she uses CVS’s MinuteClinic for vaccines or sinus infections. “I’ve had a pretty good experience with them,” said Lemon.

But the business experience in the retail health clinic space has largely disappointed. That’s not a huge surprise to Timothy Hoff, professor of management health-care systems at Northeastern University. Hoff has researched retail health clinics and how they deliver primary care and says that the margins can be thin to non-existent, and that the many other challenges have hindered their success. What was not too long ago viewed as the “2.0” version of primary health care is now being left behind in the wake of closed in-store clinics.

“1.0 was the rise of urgent care centers. Those were places 20 or 30 years ago that gave people alternatives to primary care doctors,” Hoff said. But about 15 years ago, Hoff says, the space began moving into heavily trafficked stores like groceries and department stores with health care attempting to meet people where they were. But this presented challenges that many retailers, and even some providers, weren’t familiar with.

“Some of these organizations grew this part of their business too quickly and didn’t realize the cost model in sustaining these,” Hoff said. Insurance reimbursements at these clinics are low, but the expenses have gone way up. “I just don’t think the math works for many places now to have many of these. Some of these large organizations are retrenching and pulling back,” Hoff added.

The retail clinics depend on volume selling. “If you can’t pump through a lot of patients, it doesn’t work,” Hoff said. Staffing was also a struggle. “They ended up being more expensive to run than they thought, combined with a workforce shortage, they just didn’t work.”

There is also the issue of cross-selling. A lot of retail chains use clinics as loss leaders to steer customers to other products and services they sell: lure customers in, in the hope they buy other stuff. But the model didn’t materialize. If someone is sick enough to seek care, they probably won’t be in the mood to purchase a pint of ice cream or socks while they are out. Likewise, “people coming in for groceries won’t necessarily hop over to the clinic,” Hoff said.

A retail reality check for MinuteClinic

Colleen Sanders, a family nurse practitioner in Washington, D.C., who now works in health-care education, worked a two-year stint at MinuteClinic. She pointed to margin and staffing issues she witnessed.

“Health care is a business in the USA; while we look at the giant numbers of how many billions are generated, it doesn’t mean there will be big margins. I think retailers have realized that they will not be making millions and millions of dollars,” said Sanders. “Margins are small.”

Staffing costs, meanwhile, slicing into already thin margins, meant that when Sanders worked at MinuteClinic, she did everything from checking people in, to billing and cleaning the clinic at the end of the day, and any support staff was undertrained, at best, she said. “That was the model to ensure they could do it so they didn’t have to add staff. But with volume, you need ancillary staff so the professional can dedicate time to patient care, because that is where you can bill insurance and revenue comes in.”

The 15 minutes that she was allotted to see a patient often just wasn’t enough for the complex ailments people sometimes have. For some patients, service simply wasn’t fast enough: Sanders recalled a 7-year-old she was treating remark that treatment was taking more than a minute. Ultimately, Americans’ “want-it-now” culture doesn’t mesh with medicine, and that is what the retail clinic closures are signaling. “The pace at which we want health care to work isn’t congruent with actually providing the level of service we should be providing, coupled with the cost of having support staff,” Sanders said. “If we wanted to make a dent in retail health care, then we would staff with registered nurses instead of medical assistants, but that would cost too much.”

CVS wouldn’t comment directly on the closings, but a spokesperson described the latest strategy as a combination of care delivery capabilities — a blend of virtual, in-store, and in-home services — that delivers a “more convenient experience.”

Walmart and the problem of volume vs. price

In 2019, Walmart announced a bold initiative to open in-store health clinics — according to one press report, its board approved a total of 4,000 to be added over a decade through 2029. Publicly, Walmart had only said it planned to develop a cost-efficient model and scale it appropriately, and disputed that specific number. The plans ended with the recent closing of the 51 clinics it had opened.

“Primary health care is a low margin business,” said Arielle Trzcinski, a principal analyst covering health care at research firm. Forrester. “Compared to what they see in traditional retail, health care is a fundamentally different business,” Trzcinski said, citing the challenges of navigating insurance companies and administrative burdens that health care brings.

Retailers can’t recoup money from offering primary care as a loss leader in the same way other health care organizations can.

“Primary care is a feeder for patients that need higher acuity services, such as surgery or specialists. Hospitals make money on the back end and Walmart or Walgreens didn’t have that,” Trzcinski said. CVS fares better because of its merger with health insurer Aetna that now allows for upselling of other services, including mental health.

“Walmart ultimately thought they were solving an important issue,” Trzcinski said, but she added that Walmart never really put its full marketing muscle behind the effort or created relationships with other employers to make a pathway into the clinic. “They set out to make health care more affordable and convenient for their customers. But to do that you need volume. … It takes volume or a different pricing structure, to make it work, and Walmart, in the end, had neither calibrated correctly.” 

A missed opportunity for rural America

Sanders says the business model’s constraints have even undermined one of the retail clinic concept’s great promises: health-care delivery to rural areas.

“Walmart tried to go into rural areas where providers were scarce and to meet a community need; I think it is a great idea because everyone knows where the local Walmart is. But getting providers to go to rural areas and work is really challenging. The quality of life and the things people can do in a small town are not as appealing as urban centers, so they pay providers a premium to work there,” Sanders said, and that is one more thing that eats into revenue. 

Retailers will continue to experiment with the model.

Dollar General, for example, has attempted a “workaround” by offering mobile clinics that visit some of its rural locations, and offer a variety of minor medical services.

Amazon’s recent launch of One Medical, which features a $9-a-month subscription charge for existing Prime members, offers another way to make money.

“They get your cash whether you end up using the service or not, and it is a good price if you need the care,” said Virgil Bretz, CEO of Washington-based fintech health platform MacroHealth. The care is virtual, but you can walk in if you are near a One Medical facility. Unlike most models that make money when patients come, “Amazon makes more money if you don’t show up. So there is something a little different about this retail model,” Bretz said.

In-store health clinics can be profitable and viable, and retailers are experimenting with piecemeal approaches tailored to the local market. Walgreens recently announced the opening of a handful of in-store health clinics in Connecticut, which will be run by Hartford HealthCare, with the clinics being called  “Hartford HealthCare at Walgreens.” Patients will be able to go beyond typical small-scale clinic services and tap into Hartford’s larger network of specialists and care options. 

And in Phoenix, a Be Well Health Clinic operates in a Walgreens near the campus of Arizona State University, catering just to sexual health issues.

“The common thread is it is a locally-based partnership with a local provider with the shared goal of offering convenience and access,” said a Walgreens spokesperson.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Little Clinics, which operate inside Kroger, is shifting services to focus on senior care.

Walmart and Kroger did not respond to requests for comment.

This is all part of what Hoff calls “health care 3.0,” a continuing disruption and evolution of primary care delivery based on market and customer needs, and including retail clinics. New models will emerge, and not every model will work.

Every several years, there is a run of outsiders trying to make changes to health care, good and bad,” Bretz said. Inevitably, they “hit the brick wall of the reality of just how complex health care can be.”

Corrections: Walgreens has a 53% stake in VillageMD, which was reduced as part of a reorganization. Walmart disputes press reports indicating it planned to open 4,000 clinics over a decade. Separately, Virgil Bretz is CEO of MacroHealth.

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It was a strong week for retail earnings. That doesn’t spell a consumer comeback

A Foot Locker, Inc. store. 

Courtesy of: Foot Locker, Inc.

Retail’s biggest winners during first-quarter earnings aren’t thriving because consumers are suddenly spending more on discretionary goods — it’s because they’re executing well and cash-strapped shoppers are choosing them over competitors. 

If there’s one takeaway from results posted by the largest U.S. retailers over the last few weeks, it’s that shoppers are still spending — but being far more selective about where.

Feeling the brunt of sticky inflation, high interest rates and an economy that feels tougher than it may actually be, consumers are prioritizing purchases that have the right combination of value, convenience and fun.

Companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, TJX Companies and Gap impressed Wall Street with their results, while others like Kohl’s, American Eagle and Target disappointed.

Take Gap and Foot Locker — two unlikely winners that posted results on Thursday. Both retailers are in the midst of ambitious turnaround plans and are performing better than expected because of new strategies they’ve implemented. 

Gap posted positive comparable sales for all four of its brands — Athleta, Old Navy, Banana Republic and its namesake banner — for the first time in “many years,” beating Wall Street’s expectations across the board, the company said. 

For years, Gap had been losing market share to buzzy competitors. But under new CEO Richard Dickson, the marketing guru credited with reviving the Barbie franchise, the apparel chain has focused on financial rigor, brand storytelling and product development. In under a year, Gap’s sales and profits have meaningfully improved, and its brands are beginning to be part of the cultural conversation again.

A few weeks ago, actor Anne Hathaway went to a Bulgari party wearing a white Gap shirt dress that had been designed by the company’s new creative director, Zac Posen. Critically, Gap dropped the $158 dress to consumers, and it sold out within hours. This combination of marketing and exclusive product drops is what Gap had long been lacking, and what competitors had already been doing. 

Foot Locker had declined over the last couple of years, but with the right combination of new strategies and a little bit of luck, its turnaround is showing signs of life

Under CEO Mary Dillon, Foot Locker has worked to change its stores, where it does more than 80% of its sales. It has tried to create not only a better shopping experience for consumers but also a better place for its critical brand partners.

Instead of two walls of shoes with competing brands mixed together, Foot Locker is changing its fleet so the brands have their own unique displays. Its new “store of the future” concept at a New Jersey mall that brings that strategy to life has become its best performing store in North America in just a few weeks, Dillon told CNBC, adding that brands are thrilled with the new design. 

The shift couldn’t have come at a better time. Years into Nike’s strategy to cut out wholesalers and sell directly to consumers, the retailer is realizing it went too far and is now changing course.

With refreshed stores and better product displays, consumers are converting more, too, and paying full price — even Foot Locker’s lower-income shopper. 

“Our consumer … this is a category that is very important to them. So when people have discretionary income, it may be limited, but you’re gonna prioritize where you spend it, right?” said Dillon. “We’re proving that people are willing to spend full price, but you have to have the right products and serve it up in a way that makes it enticing, right? So that’s where the whole customer experience really matters.” 

Elsewhere, Dick’s Sporting Goods posted a solid first-quarter report Wednesday, as executives said average selling prices and transactions rose and that they saw no signs of consumers trading down for cheaper options. That may not mean shoppers are spending more broadly, though: Dick’s has long been considered a best-in-class operator that offers a solid shopping experience, meaning it can win even when consumers are picky with their spending.

Denim wars

Two retailers that didn’t have great quarters — American Eagle and Kohl’s — tell a story of executing poorly or missing out on trends. 

American Eagle handily beat earnings estimates thanks to a new strategy designed to boost profitable growth, but it fell short on revenue and issued cautious guidance that was slightly below Wall Street’s expectations. 

American Eagle president and executive creative director Jennifer Foyle told CNBC that the brand is working to cut out items that aren’t landing with shoppers and dig down into the ones that are. She said the retailer was overly focused on jeggings in the past but now, low-rise, baggy fits are in. 

During a store visit at the American Dream mall in New Jersey on Thursday, an associate told CNBC that the location didn’t have the low-rise, baggy fit in-stores, and they were only available online. Meanwhile, there was a wall of jeggings. Still, denim was a strong performer for the company during the quarter, and it had a variety of other styles that resonated with customers at the location, the company said.

Denim is having a moment with shoppers. Search levels for denim are hitting peaks in a 20-year data set, particularly for categories like tops and dresses, according to a Morgan Stanley research note. 

Kohl’s is missing the mark in a far more meaningful way. The retailer posted dismal numbers on Thursday, as both earnings and revenue fell well short of expectations. It cut its full-year forecast and its shares plunged more than 20%, the stock’s biggest single-day percentage decline ever.

The weak results illustrated a challenge the retailer is still contending with: Keeping up with trends and staying relevant. 

CEO Tom Kingsbury told CNBC he expects the “head-to-toe” denim trend to play a role in the back half of the year, but it could already be out of style by the time Kohl’s gets around to adding the clothing items to its shelves.

“Denim is OK business for us. I mean it’s really not the most important time for denim,” said Kingsbury. “We’re selling shorts and tees. And more, you know, warm weather product.” 

Gap, one of the longtime denim leaders, didn’t seem to be concerned about denim going out of favor because the weather is warmer. CEO Dickson said the company is getting ready to launch its “exclusive lightweight denim fabric” dubbed “Ultra Soft” in time for the summer.

Failing to chase trends has been an ongoing issue for the aging department store Kohl’s. Kingsbury told CNBC in March that Kohl’s used to buy product for the juniors department catering to teen girls — one of the most trend-driven areas of its stores — 12 to 14 months in advance. When the apparel hit the sales floor, it was “dead on arrival.”

In an age where viral TikTok videos dictate the life and death of trends, it’s more important than ever for retailers to stay on top of what’s working with customers and what isn’t. They’re not just competing with legacy players, they’re also vying for customers with innovative yet controversial upstarts like Chinese-linked Shein, which can go from an idea to an online product in a matter of weeks.

That’s a far cry from the lead times at Under Armour, where it currently takes about 18 months to get a product from an idea to a showroom floor. During an earnings call with analysts on May 16, CEO Kevin Plank called the system “just plain uncompetitive in the 2024 landscape” as he laid out a plan to streamline the process

Meanwhile, Abercrombie & Fitch posted another stellar set of results, even as it begins to lap tougher comparisons. It has posted torrid growth in part because the company is responsive to its customers and a has nimble supply chain that has allowed it to chase trends quickly and efficiently. 

It posted its strongest first quarter in history, and now expects sales to grow 10% in fiscal 2024, up from previous guidance of between 4% and 6%. 

CEO Fran Horowitz told CNBC that low-rise, baggy jeans are also uber-popular with its customers. During a recent visit by CNBC to its Hollister store just a short walk from American Eagle’s outpost, plenty of those style of jeans were on display for shoppers as soon as they walked into the store.

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Jeep reveals all-electric Wagoneer S in EV offensive, starting at $72,000

2024 Jeep Wagoneer S EV

Jeep

NEW YORK – The first all-electric Jeep SUV for the U.S. will be the 2024 Wagoneer S, starting at about $72,000 when it’s scheduled to go on sale this fall.

The Stellantis-owned brand revealed the vehicle and pricing Thursday, portraying it as a “new chapter” for the quintessential American SUV brand that has struggled with domestic sales in recent years.

“This represents a lot. It is the first global [all-electric vehicle] built in North America, designed in the U.S. … for the world,” Jeep CEO Antonio Filosa told CNBC during an interview after revealing the vehicle. “It is a milestone in our history.”

Filosa, who started leading Jeep in December, said the brand is in “fantastic shape” but it’s in the midst of a “transition like all the automotive brands nowadays” involving electrification.

Despite a slower than expected adoption of EVs in the U.S., Filosa said the brand is not worried about consumer adoption because its additive to the Jeep’s lineup, which will continue to offer traditional gas-powered SUVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and “extended-range” electric vehicles starting next year.

Jeep Wagoneer S EV concept

Michael Wayland / CNBC

A “Launch Edition” of the Wagoneer S will initially be available with a 400-volt, 100-kilowatt-hour battery pack capable of more than 300 miles on a single charge, 600 horsepower and 617 pound-feet of torque for a 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.4 seconds. It is capable of charging from 20%-80% in 23 minutes using a DC Fast charger, according to the company.

Jeep also revealed a Trailhawk off-road performance concept of the EV, which Filosa said “hopefully soon will become a product.”

Filosa said less expensive models of the Wagoneer S will start being released roughly six months after the Launch Edition.

The $71,995 starting price of the Wagoneer S EV sits between gas-powered versions of the Wagoneer, starting at about $63,000, and more luxurious Grand Wagoneer, starting at roughly $92,000.

Jeep also will introduce a new unnamed midsize SUV next year to replace its discontinued Cherokee, Filosa said.

2024 Jeep Wagoneer S EV

Jeep

He also said the company will release electric, extended-range versions of the traditional gas-powered Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in 2025. The technology, which uses an engine as a gas-powered generator in addition to EV batteries, is expected to debut on the upcoming Ram Ramcharger pickup truck.

U.S. EV offensive

The Wagoneer S is the beginning of what Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares this week called the automaker’s EV offensive for the U.S., including six to eight all-electric vehicles this year.

“There is a huge amount of opportunities here in the U.S. We are just starting the offensive of our electrification,” Tavares said Wednesday during a Bernstein investor conference.

For Jeep, the Wagoneer S is expected to be followed by a Wrangler-inspired off-road vehicle called the Recon later this year and a new roughly $25,000 EV “very soon,” Tavares said Wednesday without disclosing additional details.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares holds a news conference after meeting with unions, in Turin, Italy, March 31, 2022.

Massimo Pinca | Reuters

For years, Tavares has been outspoken about the company being forced to produce EVs, which cost 40% more, due to regulatory requirements and not consumer demand. On Wednesday, he described EVs as a “cost-cutting exercise” to ensure the vehicles are profitable.

The EVs are a shift for Jeep in the U.S., where the brand has been focusing on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, such as its Wrangler and Grand Cherokee SUVs. The plug-in vehicles accounted for 17.5% of Jeep’s sales this year.

Filosa said Jeep, which is currently No. 1 in PHEVs in the U.S., expects to continue growing sales of those vehicles in addition to the upcoming EVs.

“Electrification to us so far has been working very, very well. Basically,” he said during the reveal event, “we built the PHEV industry. We own this part of the market.

 Jeep Wagoneer S Trailhawk EV concept

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Stellantis’ total PHEV U.S. sales last year was nearly 143,000, up 124% compared to 2022. Leading the way was Jeep, including 67,429 Jeep Wrangler and 45,684 Jeep Grand Cherokee “4xe” SUVs.

Jeep is using 4xe badging as a play on the brand’s off-road reputation combined with electrification, including EVs and PHEVs.

Wagoneer S

2024 Jeep Wagoneer S EV “R-Wing”

Jeep

Despite sharing the “Wagoneer” name with Jeep’s current gas-powered model, the five-passenger, two-row EV shares little with its three-row traditional internal combustion engine counterpart other than some Jeep styling.

The most notable difference on the exterior is a more modern interpretation of the brand’s iconic seven-slotted grille, which the EV doesn’t actually need for cooling. It’s indented and the slots are solid and interconnected with one another compared to seven separate slots.

“We reinvented the traditional seven-slot grille,” said Ralph Gilles, Stellantis head of design. “I am so damn proud of this.”

The Wagoneer S also features a large “R-Wing,” an open spoiler on the back of the SUV. Gilles said the goal was to not make a “jellybean” like many EVs with good aerodynamics currently being sold in the U.S.

The Wagoneer S is far less boxy that the gasoline model, assisting in it in being the most aerodynamic Jeep ever produced by the brand, the company said.

Stellantis design chief Ralph Gilles during the unveiling of the Jeep Wagoneer S EV on May 30, 2024 in New York City.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Gilles said the Wagoneer name is more representative of the luxuriousness of the vehicle rather than a singular design.

Inside the vehicle more than 45 inches of screens, including a 12.3-inch center display, and a mix of metal, fake leather and other sustainable materials.

Gilles, a longtime renowned car designer with the company, said wood was banned from the interior of the vehicle. It also doesn’t feature any chrome on the exterior of the SUV. Those decisions were made following input from younger designers to make the vehicle more sustainable and attractive for more youthful buyers.

“If this is going to be a green vehicle, we had to rethink the materials inside,” Gilles said. “There was a huge push for sustainable materials everywhere.”

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Shaking seats and piped-in fog: How 4DX is carving out a niche moviegoing market

Chris Hemsworth stars as the villainous Dementus in Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.”

Warner Bros. Discovery

In George Miller’s new Mad Max film “Furiosa,” a red paint flare explodes and casts the theater screen in a saturated crimson cloud.

Feet away, among the rows of gyroscopic 4DX chairs, plumes of fog roll in, catching the red hue from the screen as if the flare somehow transcended the fourth wall and infiltrated the cinema. The fog parts, Chris Hemsworth as Dementus comes into focus and grins at the audience.

This is the 4DX viewing experience. It’s one of many multi-sensory moments programmed for “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” which opened in theaters Friday, in order to immerse audiences in Miller’s latest visit to the vast Wasteland. And it amounts to a key value proposition at a time when cinemas are desperate to lure back moviegoers, particularly those in the younger demographics.

“We make movies different,” said Duncan Macdonald, head of worldwide marketing and theatre development for CJ 4DPlex Americas. “We are so different out there, with our motion capabilities and our environmental effects.”

In the wake of the pandemic, audiences grew used to shorter theatrical windows and having access to more content at home. At the same time, pandemic-related shutdowns and production stalls from two Hollywood strikes greatly limited the amount of content hitting theaters. As a result, consumers fell out of the habit of going to cinemas.

Moviegoers who have returned are seeking premium experiences — higher-quality picture and sound — and are willing to pay more for those tickets. 4DX is one option in the premium large format market alongside the likes of IMAX and Dolby Cinema. CJ 4DPlex also owns the ScreenX format.

“Premium movie theatre experiences are key to the health of the industry and with fewer films in the marketplace on average than in past years, the importance and essential nature of a company like 4DX comes into sharp focus,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

4DX utilizes motion seats, practical effects and sensory elements to immerse viewers in a movie. For Warner Bros.’ “Wonka,” the company piped in the smell of chocolate during screenings.

CJ 4DPlex Americas CEO Don Savant says the experience is “complementary” to routine moviegoing experiences, noting that 4DX cinemas attract younger consumers, predominantly in the 10-to-30 age range, who are seeking more experiential viewing.

4DX is a 4D film presentation system developed by CJ 4DPlex, a subsidiary of South Korean cinema chain CJ CGV. It allows films to be augmented with various practical effects, including motion-seats, wind, strobe lights, simulated-snow, and scents.

CJ 4DPlex

For consumers, the 4DX experience costs an average of $8 more than traditional ticket prices, meaning a ticket can range from $20 to $30 each. But the extra cost doesn’t seem to be detering audiences.

Last year, 4DX’s domestic locations tallied $53.4 million in ticket sales.

“Notably, the higher price for premium movie tickets is not a barrier to their success but rather seen as representing a solid value proposition for fans in pursuit of the best possible big screen experience,” Dergarabedian said. “This is good news for theater owners who, facing fewer wide release films in the marketplace, can boost revenues on a per-ticket basis while giving their patrons a great experience that will have them returning to the multiplex more often.” 

And, for major blockbuster titles, 4DX is proving to be even more popular. Ticket sales for Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” topped $83.6 million from 4DX screens, or about 3.6% of the film’s total box office haul. It is currently the highest-grossing film for the screen format, Savant said.

“We want to give customers an easy excuse to leave their homes and visit a local Regal theater,” said CEO Eduardo Acuna of Regal Cinemas. “Premium formats like 4DX offer a movie-watching experience that cannot be replicated by any home theater setup. Each premium format serves a different purpose for storytelling, and each increases the enjoyment of watching a movie in a different and immersive way.”

Acuna noted that 4DX auditoriums are “a strong box office performer” for Regal.

Regal is the largest operator of 4DX screens domestically, with 50 of the 62 locations found in the U.S. and Canada. Globally, there are nearly 750 4DX screens with numerous theatrical partners. The highest volume is in Asia and Europe.

Savant said 4DX is adding around 25 to 30 screens per year worldwide, but is looking to push that figure up to 50 to 60 screens a year. The company is seeking to have around 1,200 4DX locations in the next five years. On average, each theater has around 140 seats.

Moviegoers who venture away from their couches and into a 4DX theater to see Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa” will feel from their seat the rev of motorcycles racing through the desert, smell gunpowder in the air during epic gun battles and even get hit with a soft spray of water as it’s flicked in the face of a character on the screen.

Last year, 4DX programmed more than 100 films for the souped-up viewing experience. Around 40 to 45 of those were major Hollywood titles, Savant said. Others included concert content, musical singalongs, anniversary titles and local language films.

Typically, the 4DX programmers, who are based in Seoul, have two to three weeks to craft the motion and special effects, although Savant said they can turn around a film in a week if the need arises. 4DX can program three titles at a time.

Both Macdonald and Savant referred to 4DX’s programmers as “artists,” describing the process — from the subwoofers in the seats to the fog machines — as different brushstrokes in a work of art.

“Every film is different,” said Macdonald. “So we look at the nuances of the different films that we have and how those are programmed.”

In some cases filmmakers will get involved, offering suggestions for when certain effects should be used and how subtle or bombastic they should feel or look.

“It’s the most dynamic way to see [a film],” Savant said.

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The 10 books the rich will be reading this summer

A version of this article first appeared in CNBC’s Inside Wealth newsletter with Robert Frank, a weekly guide to the high net worth investor and consumer. Sign up to receive future editions, straight to your inbox.

Today’s workaholic wealthy rarely have time to sit back and read a good book — except maybe for a few weeks in August. That’s why J.P. Morgan Private Bank, every May, releases its summer reading list, often serving as a book club for billionaires.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the list, now called the J.P. Morgan Summer Reading List. The 10 books are carefully curated to match the tastes and preoccupations of J.P. Morgan’s wealthy clients. This year’s list includes books on effective communication, artificial intelligence, Formula One, whiskey, hidden vacation spots and the art collection of Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

J.P. Morgan creates the list by surveying its more than 35,000 client advisors and employees globally and asking about the topics clients are talking and thinking about the most. This year, the advisors sent in more than 700 recommended book titles, which a committee whittled down based on timeliness and appeal.

“Our clients run the gamut from business owners and entrepreneurs to philanthropists and art collectors,” said Darin Oduyoye, chief communications officer of J.P. Morgan Asset and Wealth Management, who has spearheaded the list since its founding. “There are books to match up to each of those groups.”

Clients get an elegant J.P. Morgan-branded box with a book or two from the list, recommended specifically by their client advisor. The advisor also includes a handwritten note and a commemorative bookmark.

The list helps advisors connect with clients during the slow summer months. It also helps with client events, since authors on the list often agree to do special dinners or speaking events for J.P. Morgan clients.

Authors love being on the list as well since J.P. Morgan buys thousands of books to hand out and since clients often refer the books to others.

“The list is something that both clients and colleagues, and our communities, look forward to,” Oduyoye said.

This year’s 25th anniversary edition features a special “Anniversary Spotlight” highlighting Water.org, the charity founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, and their book “The Worth of Water.”

Here is J.P. Morgan’s 25th Annual Summer Reading List, along with summaries of the books, provided by the bank:

“Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection” by Charles Duhigg

Sharing the latest research on what makes conversations effective, Charles Duhigg reveals how we can level up our communications and make stronger connections. Whether it’s a divided jury room or the way a CIA officer recruits a foreign agent, Duhigg uses examples to illustrate how we can deliver effective messages by recognizing and tapping into the three layers of every conversation—practical, emotional and social. Taking us from the writers’ room of one of television’s most successful sitcoms to the couches of in-demand marriage counselors, Duhigg shows us that we all have supercommunicators inside of us.

“The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness” by Jonathan Haidt

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt lays out urgent facts—and issues a clear call to action—to focus attention on the global epidemic of teen mental illness. Haidt identifies the pervasive use of smartphones and over a dozen other mechanisms as having contributed to the “great rewiring of childhood.” Arguing that these technologies have had a profound negative effect on children’s social and neurological development, he explores what can be done to reverse the significant rise in sleep deprivation, fragmented attention, loneliness, addiction and social comparison. Importantly, Haidt calls for collective action and outlines steps that we all must take to end this epidemic.

Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys” published by Phaidon

Celebrating selections from the world-class art collection of musical and cultural icons Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz (Kasseem Dean), “Giants” highlights 100 works by nearly 40 multigenerational Black American, African and African diasporic artists. Curated by the Brooklyn Museum for its first-ever major exhibition, the Dean Collection features works by legendary—as well as emerging—artists including Gordon Parks, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, Odili Donald Odita and Kennedy Yanko. “Giants” also includes exclusive conversations between Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and curator Kimberli Gant, in addition to interviews with 10 of the renowned artists featured.

“Brave New Words: How AI Will Revolutionize Education (and Why That’s a Good Thing)” by Salman Khan

Salman Khan, the visionary behind the nonprofit Khan Academy, explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform learning both in education and the workplace. Demonstrating how AI will not replace human interaction but rather enhance it with tools to encourage creativity and problem solving, he shows how AI can adapt to each student’s individual pace while identifying strengths and areas of improvement. Outlining how emerging technologies can create a more accessible education system, Khan offers practical implications for administrators, counselors and hiring managers, as well as thoughtful insights on how we all can use AI in an increasingly digital world.

“Love & Whiskey: The Remarkable True Story of Jack Daniel, His Master Distiller Nearest Green, and the Improbable Rise of Uncle Nearest” by Fawn Weaver

Entrepreneur Fawn Weaver reveals the untold story of one of America’s most iconic whiskey brands. Set in Lynchburg, Tennessee, “Love & Whiskey” follows Weaver’s quest to discover the life of Nearest Green, a 19th-century African American distiller who played a pivotal role in developing Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Navigating through layers of history to unlock the truth about Green’s contributions to the spirits industry and his friendship with Daniels, Weaver uncovers a story that connects generations. Her findings inspire a new path forward, with Weaver spearheading the creation of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey as a way to honor and celebrate Green’s legacy for generations to come.

“The Formula: How Rogues, Geniuses, and Speed Freaks Reengineered F1 into the World’s Fastest-Growing Sport” by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg

In “The Formula,” Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg from The Wall Street Journal tell the riveting story of how Formula 1’s fearless reinvention led to its breakthrough in America. With fast cars, engineering geniuses, driver rivalries and glamorous settings, “The Formula” details how F1’s “sudden” arrival in the United States was actually decades in the making. With unfettered access to F1’s most legendary teams and icons from Ferrari to Mercedes, Robinson and Clegg give readers a thrilling look inside the drivers, corporations, cars and risks that have defined the world’s fastest-growing sport.

“Secret Stays: Pioneering Hosts of the New Chic” by Melinda Stevens, Issy von Simson and Tabitha Joyce

A fascinating exploration curated by Melinda Stevens, Issy von Simson and Tabitha Joyce, “Secret Stays” introduces 22 hidden gems that reflect the dynamic evolution of modern travel. Highlighting captivating properties and the people who own them—from a secluded Croatian monastery to a Japanese machiya townhome—this coffee table book from Assouline, the luxury brand on culture, reveals one-of-a-kind experiences that stem from a revived belief in genuine, bespoke hospitality. Through stunning photographs and compelling narratives, “Secret Stays” takes a fresh look at the diverse and ever-evolving face of travel today.

Finding Fortunato: How a Peruvian Adventure Inspired the Sweet Success of a Family Chocolate Business” by Adam Pearson

In “Finding Fortunato,” Adam Pearson takes us on a journey into the northern Peruvian jungle with the inspirational story of the entrepreneurial family who struck gold and discovered the legendary Nacional white cacao bean—previously thought to be extinct. Realizing their success was predicated on disrupting a traditional, unethical supply chain to instead trade directly with local Peruvian farmers, the family pioneered Fortunato Chocolate, a company that would come to be described as “the Rolex of chocolate.”

“Uptime: A Practical Guide to Personal Productivity and Wellbeing” by Laura Mae Martin

Every day, tens of thousands of Google employees, from interns to C-suite executives, rely on an executive productivity advisor—Laura Mae Martin—to make the most of their time. In “Uptime,” Martin provides easy-to-follow steps to boost productivity, prevent burnout and achieve a better work-life balance. Whether you face an avalanche of emails, an overloaded calendar or a difficult meeting to lead, Martin’s strategic approach lays out concrete steps to help you manage time efficiently, focus on priorities, and maintain effective systems and routines.

“The Secret Society of Aunts & Uncles” by Jake Gyllenhaal and Greta Caruso

A whimsical and heartwarming picture book by Academy Award and Tony Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and his childhood best friend Greta Caruso, “The Secret Society of Aunts & Uncles” celebrates the unique, fun-filled role aunts and uncles play in children’s lives. Humorously exploring the call to adventure that being an aunt or uncle can bring—from flexible bedtimes to activities with a “healthy dose of danger”—this book paints a loving portrait of these special relationships.

Anniversary Spotlight: “The Worth of Water: Our Story of Chasing Solutions to the World’s Greatest Challenge” by Gary White and Matt Damon

In celebration of the 225th anniversary of JPMorgan Chase’s earliest predecessor—the Manhattan Company, which was founded as a water works company—we are proud to spotlight “The Worth of Water” by Gary White and Matt Damon. These two unlikely allies, with a shared mission to end the global water crisis, take readers on a journey to empower communities and families with tools to address their potable water shortages. Outlining their trial-and-error approach to finding a workable solution, White and Damon demonstrate how the water crisis is solvable through collective action.

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GM all-electric Chevy Equinox goes on sale as the latest test for EV production and demand

GM’s 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV during a media launch event for the vehicle on May 16, 2024 in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT — The Chevrolet Equinox has been a crucial part of General Motors’ lineup for two decades. The vehicle is a quintessential family hauler and a go-to car for people seeking an economical compact crossover for everyday driving.

GM is hoping the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV can do the same for its growing all-electric vehicle portfolio as it begins shipping the crossover to dealers amid slower-than-expected demand for EVs. The rollout marks the latest test for mass-market adoption as well as the company’s production of new “Ultium” EV technologies.

“It’s very important to us but, more importantly, it’s very important to customers and people who want affordability and electric vehicles,” GM President Mark Reuss told CNBC last week. “This is about $27,500 [including up to $7,500 in federal incentives] for an over 300-mile range car, which is right in the heart of everything.”

Offering a new EV for around $25,000 has long been a target for automakers such as GM, Tesla and others. The importance of such a vehicle has grown more apparent as Chinese automakers like BYD and Nio grow their sales of less expensive EVs outside of China.

The Equinox EV is launching with higher-priced models that start at roughly $43,000 to $51,100 (without any incentives). The entry-level Equinox LT model, starting at about $35,000, is expected later this year.

“The Equinox EV is the vehicle that’s really going to make a difference for a lot of customers that maybe previously haven’t been interested or looked at EVs,” Kathleen Murawski, marketing and advertising manager for gas-powered and Equinox EVs and Chevy Blazer EVs, told CNBC.

GM sells hundreds of thousands of gas-powered Equinox crossovers annually, including 212,701 last year. The crossover is typically one of GM’s bestselling vehicles and top five in sales for its segment, according to Autopacific.

Testing GM

The Equinox EV is GM’s new entry point for all-electric vehicles in the U.S. after the automaker discontinued the Chevy Bolt last year. It’s expected to be GM’s top-selling EV.

With such lofty sales expectations, it also will test the legacy automaker’s ability to successfully mass produce an Ultium-based EV following pricier vehicles such as the $110,000 GMC Hummer EV, $60,000 Cadillac Lyriq and a botched launch of the Blazer EV, starting at roughly $55,000, due to software issues.

“We’ve got the launch on this vehicle right. We’ve got the quality of this vehicle right. We’ve got the software of this vehicle right. We’re just super excited to see now where it goes,” GM President of Global Markets Rory Harvey told CNBC. “We think we’ve got a product that’s out there to win.”

The Equinox EV is arriving to market following the Blazer EV and alongside GM’s more than $96,000 Silverado EV RST. The company has already launched a work truck version of the Silverado EV.

The production ramp-up of GM’s new EV vehicles — using what the automaker calls its “Ultium” platform, batteries and other technologies — has been slower than the company and investors had expected. The Equinox will change that, according to GM North America President Marissa West.

“We’ve eliminated the production constraints, and now it’s about meeting the customer demand with the most affordable, longest-range vehicle on the market in the heart of our Chevrolet lineup, which is … the heart and soul of General Motors,” West said during an interview Monday.

Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis at AutoPacific, agrees. He called the Equinox a critical product for GM’s EV plans as well as a potential redemption opportunity for the company following its disappointing ramp-up of current Ultium-based products.

“GM is going to start to see real volume in their EV portfolio,” Waatti said. “It was a slow start, but now they’re going to have the big volume players in the mix. It’s really a turning point for GM.”

“[The Equinox is] undoubtedly the most significant Ultium launch for GM yet,” he added. “It might just be the most compelling EV on the market right now.”

Equinox EV

All of that being said, the Equinox EV is an Equinox in name only. It shares little to nothing with the traditional gas-powered vehicle, which the company redesigned to look more rugged for the 2025 model year.

The Equinox EV is wider and lower than the traditional crossover. It’s a result of GM’s Ultium EV platform, aerodynamics and other targeted features for the vehicle, including an up to EPA-estimated 319 miles of range on a single charge.

A standard front-wheel-drive Equinox EV has a 213 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque, according to company estimates. GM says optional all-wheel-drive models have an estimated 288-horsepower and 333 foot-pounds of torque.

Outside of the U.S., the Equinox EV will be sold in Canada, Mexico, the Middle East and some South American markets such as Brazil.

GM’s 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV (right) next to a gas-powered Chevy Equinox on May 16, 2024 in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Brad Franz, director of Chevy car and crossover marketing, said retaining the familiar names for the EVs was a “strategic decision” to leverage names people know and trust.

“The Chevy proposition here is these can make your life easier. Not only easier, but better,” he said Thursday during a media event. “How are we going to tackle that? We’ll start with just leveraging our brand reputation.”

Keeping the same names also aligns with the company’s target to exclusively offer EVs to consumers by 2035. While the automaker hasn’t shifted that goalpost in light of slower-than-expected sales of EVs, it has recently shifted its messaging to note the transition will be based on customer demand.

GM ranked fourth in U.S. market share of all-electric vehicles during the first quarter, representing 6.1% of new EVs sold, according to data provided by Motor Intelligence. Tesla, at 52.3%, is by far the leader in estimated U.S. EV sales, followed by Hyundai, including Kia, at 9.3% and Ford Motor at 7.5%.

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First Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting without Charlie Munger: What to expect from Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett walks the floor and meets with Berkshire Hathaway shareholders ahead of their annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska on May 3rd, 2024. 

David A. Grogan

When Warren Buffett kicks off Berkshire Hathaway‘s annual shareholder meeting on Saturday, the absence of Charlie Munger will be on everyone’s mind.

Some 30,000 rapt shareholders are descending on Omaha for what’s been called “Woodstock for Capitalists.” Pandemic lockdown apart, it will be the first without Munger, Buffett’s longtime partner who passed away in November about a month shy of his 100th birthday.

“The meeting will only have one comedian up there” this year, said David Kass, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and a Berkshire shareholder, who has attended more than 20 annual meetings. “There’ll be, let’s say, a more serious, less humorous background.”

The annual meeting will be exclusively broadcast on CNBC and livestreamed on CNBC.com. Our special coverage will begin Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET. For the first time, Berkshire will broadcast its annual meeting movie that had previously always been reserved only for those in attendance in Omaha. Many speculate this year’s will be a tear-jerker tribute to Munger.

Vice Chairman of Non-Insurance Operations Greg Abel, Buffett’s designated successor, will fill Munger’s seat in the afternoon session, helping answer shareholder questions. Vice Chairman of Insurance Operations Ajit Jain will join Buffett, the CEO, and Abel in the morning session. Buffett has said they expect to field about 40 to 60 questions Saturday.

“The tone of the meeting is certainly going to be a lot different without Charlie,” said Steve Check, CEO of Check Capital Management and a longtime Berkshire shareholder. “He was the one that really made it funny. It’s getting closer and closer to the transition, so it’s good to see Ajit and Greg on the stage.”

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at a press conference during the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting, April 30, 2022.

CNBC

Munger’s investment philosophy rubbed off on Buffett early on, giving rise to the sprawling conglomerate worth $860 billion that Berkshire is today. Generations of investors also appreciated Munger’s trademark bluntness and humor, rare to come by on Wall Street.

If anything, the sea of Buffett admirers will cherish his folksy wisdom even more as the “Oracle of Omaha” turns 94 in less than four months.

Here are some of the big topics shareholders want Buffett to discuss:

  • Inflation: Price pressures have proved sticky lately. What impact is inflation having on Berkshire’s businesses? Which businesses are being hurt (and helped) the most?
  • Apple: Why did Berkshire trim its Apple stake in the fourth quarter? Investors will look for Buffett’s outlook on the tech stock given its challenges in China and recent news of a giant, $110-billion stock buyback.
  • Secret stock pick: Berkshire has been buying a financial stock for two quarters straight. What is it?
  • Record cash: Does Buffett plan to put his record level of cash to work?
  • A slowdown in buybacks: With Berkshire shares outperforming this year, will Buffett continue to slow down his own buyback program?
  • Life after Buffett: More details on Berkshire’s succession plan.

Macro commentary

The annual meeting comes at a tricky time for markets as a pickup in inflation puts the brakes on the Federal Reserve’s plan to cut interest rates this year. While the Berkshire CEO doesn’t make investment decisions based on daily headlines, investors still are eager to hear any market commentary and guidance from the protege of the father of value investing, Ben Graham.

“They don’t time their investments,” Kass said of Berkshire. “The economy goes through cycles. They totally ignore cycles. They invest for a long run, and they really ignore what pretty much what the Federal Reserve is doing. I believe that will be his answer.”

Apple

Shareholders may seek an explanation as to why Berkshire sold about 10 million Apple shares (1% of its massive stake) in the fourth quarter. At the end of 2023, Berkshire owned 905,560,000 shares of the iPhone maker, worth more than $174 billion and taking up more than 40% of the portfolio.

The move came as a surprise to many because Apple has been Buffett’s favorite stock for years, and he even called the tech giant his second-most important business after Berkshire’s cluster of insurers. What’s more, the last time Buffett trimmed this bet, he admitted it was “probably a mistake.’

Shares of the iPhone maker got a big boost Friday after the firm announced that its board had authorized $110 billion in share repurchases, the largest in company history. However, Apple posted a decline in overall sales and in iPhone sales.

Secret holding

There’s a small chance that Buffett will reveal the identity of the mystery bank stock that Berkshire has been buying for two quarters straight.

In the third and fourth quarters of 2023, Berkshire requested that the Securities and Exchange Commission keep the details of one or more of its stock holdings confidential. Many speculated that the secret purchase could be a bank stock as the conglomerate’s cost basis for “banks, insurance, and finance” equity holdings jumped by around $2.37 billion.

“He will comment as late as possible…. Charlie would be the only one that would let it slip once in a while. It’s not going to happen with Warren,” Check said.

Succession

Berkshire’s succession could be front and center at this meeting after Munger’s passing. Abel, became known as Buffett’s heir apparent in 2021 after Munger inadvertently made the revelation.

Abel has been overseeing a major portion of Berkshire’s sprawling empire, including energy, railroad and retail. Buffett revealed previously that Abel’s taken on most of the responsibilities at Berkshire.

Still, some questions remain as to who will be helping allocate capital at Berkshire, and the roles of Buffett’s investing managers Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, who is also the CEO of Geico.

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Ulta CEO says e-commerce sites can do more to stop the sale of stolen goods

Read CNBC’s full investigation into the alleged organized theft groups that police say are stealing and reselling items from retailers including Ulta Beauty, T.J. Maxx and Walgreens.

Faced with sophisticated organized retail crime rings that investigators say have targeted his company, Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimbell is laying some blame on e-commerce sites.

In the first in-depth interview given by a retail CEO about organized theft, Kimbell responded to a monthslong CNBC investigation that showed how police broke up what they say is a professional network of thieves who used Amazon to resell millions in cosmetics stolen from Ulta stores and other retailers across the U.S.

While Kimbell wouldn’t comment directly about Amazon, he said online marketplaces are “part of the problem.”

“[Online marketplaces] give more scale and more opportunity for people to liquidate this product,” Kimbell told CNBC in an on-camera interview. “You used to have to sell stolen goods at flea markets or out of the trunk of your car, or maybe just locally. Now, you have more sophisticated tools to have a broader reach across the country or even internationally.”

As part of an investigation into retail crime rings and the actions companies and law enforcement are taking to crack down on the problem, CNBC followed a case that involved Michelle Mack, a San Diego woman whom prosecutors accuse of using her Amazon digital storefront to resell goods stolen from stores.

The 53-year-old mother of three and her husband, Kenneth Mack, were charged with conspiracy to commit organized retail theft, grand theft and receipt of stolen property in connection with the alleged crime ring. During a raid at her California mansion in December, California Highway Patrol and Homeland Security agents say they found $387,000 in suspected stolen goods, most of which had come from Ulta. Investigators say her crime ring brought in millions of dollars over more than a decade. Both Michelle Mack and Kenneth Mack have pleaded not guilty. 

For Kimbell, the scale of such an operation wasn’t surprising.

“Unfortunately, I’m not that shocked because we’ve seen it in other parts of the country,” said Kimbell. “The magnitude of this one is significant. But this is what’s happening, and this is the environment in which we’re operating.”

Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimbell said online marketplaces need to do more to prevent the sale of stolen goods.

CNBC

Kimbell said he doesn’t think the onus is on consumers to evaluate whether a product they are buying from an online marketplace is stolen. Many shoppers may not even consider that the products could be stolen from one retailer and sold by another, he said, adding it’s a largely online phenomenon.

“That doesn’t happen in brick-and-mortar [stores]. You wouldn’t come into a retailer and see somebody [at] a table in front [selling] stolen goods,” Kimbell said. “We shouldn’t have an environment where it’s possible to steal from one retailer and [have it] end up on any other platform, any other large-scale, mainstream platform.”

Anyone who sells products online “should be committed to ensuring that nothing that they sell is stolen goods,” Kimbell said.

“I can tell you with 100% certainty, nothing that we sell at Ulta.com or any online platform is product that’s been stolen from another retailer,” he said. “There are tools, there’s data, there’s analytics, there’s capabilities that we collectively have that we could try to take even more action.”

Amazon declined CNBC’s request for an interview but said in a statement the e-commerce giant has “zero tolerance for the sale of stolen goods.” An Amazon spokesperson said the company invests $1 billion annually and employs “thousands of people” to combat fraud, including detection and prevention tools.

The spokesperson said Amazon works with law enforcement and other retailers to “stop bad actors and hold them accountable.”

In the Mack case, Amazon said it did not receive signals that would have indicated the seller was offloading stolen goods. Mack’s page was taken down after her arrest.

How bad is organized retail crime?

It’s unclear exactly how big of a problem organized retail crime is. The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association say not every instance is reported, tracked or tallied.

According to the most recent NRF survey on shrink — the industry term for lost inventory from damage, theft or other sources — the total value of goods stolen in external theft instances totaled $40.5 billion in 2022, representing 36.15% of total shrink, compared with 37% in 2021.

Ulta Beauty is one of a number of retailers that have started to discuss retail crime as a problem but haven’t quantified how it is affecting their businesses. Ulta Beauty Chief Financial Officer Scott Settersten and Chief Operating Officer Kecia Steelman have discussed theft or organized retail crime specifically on earnings calls or at investor conferences. 

Ulta Beauty said it aims to have all of its fragrances locked up in stores in the first few months of this year. Fragrance has been one of the hardest-hit categories for the retailer because of its high value and the relative ease of reselling it, Kimbell said.

The CEO didn’t quantify the rise of organized retail crime his company has seen, but he said “it has definitely gotten worse.”

“Retail crime has been part of the retail industry forever … but what we’ve seen over the last few years, really the last couple of years, is a significant elevation,” he said.

Retail executives are increasingly worried about a rise in violence associated with theft, according to the NRF survey, with 81% reporting an increase in violence and 28% reporting that their company has closed a specific location because of crime. Ulta said it has not yet closed a store because of crime.

Kimbell said he is particularly concerned about how the rise in crime affects Ulta’s 50,000 employees across 1,400 stores around the country.

“These situations … they’re not fun … they’re threatening; they’re intimidating,” Kimbell said. “They can be traumatic.”

– Additional reporting by Ali McCadden.

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