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0:08 Honda Starts New Company with Sony To Make EVs
1:16 VW Slashes Time to Develop EVs
2:37 Rivian Backpedals on Price Hike
4:16 Kia Robot Plugs in Your EV
5:17 Panasonic 4860 Giga-Factory Headed to USA
6:04 Audi Q4 e-tron Gets More Range
6:36 Acura Surrenders in China
7:47 Why U.S. Car Sales Are Slowing
8:42 Ford F-150 Lightning Plays in The Snow
9:18 Alpine Teases New Sports Car
This is Autoline Daily, the show dedicated to enthusiasts of the global automotive industry.
HONDA STARTS NEW COMPANY WITH SONY TO MAKE EVs
What a pivotal week it’s been for the automotive industry. First, Stellantis unleashed a mega-plan to come out with 75 EVs and double the revenue of the company by the end of the decade. Then Hyundai announced a mega-investment plan for EVs, AVs and digital mobility. Then Ford dropped a bombshell that it’s going to split off its EV operations. And now it’s Honda’s turn. It’s going to form a joint venture with Sony to make electric cars. The separate company will design, engineer and sell EVs, but it will not own any manufacturing facilities. Instead, the cars will be built in Honda’s existing plants. They’re also going to get into mobility services, which sure sounds like robotaxis. This is all still in the planning stages but Honda and Sony want to launch the new company this year, with the first EVs going on sale in 2025. That’s pretty quick. But you’ll remember that Sony showed off its concept for an EV two months ago, so a lot of the basic development work may already be done.
VW SLASHES TIME TO DEVELOP EVs
The reason why Ford split off its EV operations is that it knows it has to move a lot faster. So does Volkswagen. In fact, Volkswagen is completely redesigning its product development process. And the goal is to slash development time by 25%. Specifically, VW wants to take more than a year out of the time it takes to develop a clean-sheet car. Today, it takes VW 54 months, and it wants to get that down to 40 months. The key is to develop the software and vehicle functions before developing the hardware and components. VW is applying this to its new, fully connected, BEV platform, called the Scalable Systems Platform or SSP for short. It comes out in 2026 and the current MEB platform and the PPE platform, which is for larger electric vehicles, will be merged into it. Volkswagen is going to house this in an 800 million euro ‘ultra-modern’ development center. The site will also come up with new manufacturing processes and it’s aiming for a production time of 10 labor-hours per vehicle. That will require roughly 4,000 employees to be re-skilled and another 6-8,000 to be up-skilled as well.
RIVIAN BACKPEDALS ON PRICE HIKE
Rivian couldn’t handle the heat. When it announced it was raising prices by as much as twelve to fourteen grand per vehicle, the backlash was intense. Those price hikes even applied to customers who already ordered their trucks and SUVs, and it sounds like a good many of them just canceled their orders altogether. So, Rivian retreated. It promised owners who already ordered their vehicles before March 1 that it will honor the original price. And anyone who canceled their order can reinstate it at the original price. But any new customers will have to pay the higher price. Rivian blamed parts shortages and inflation for the price hikes. But that’s a weak excuse. All automakers face the same problem and you don’t see them making massive price hikes. Sounds to us like there could be bigger problems at the company. In a letter to owners Rivian CEO, RJ Scaringe apologized to customers saying “…it was wrong and we broke your trust…” and he said they’re “… committed to rebuilding your trust.” But let us know what you think. Has the damage already been done?
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KIA ROBOT PLUGS IN YOUR EV
The Hyundai Group is going ga-ga over robots and there were some interesting tid-bits in Kia’s Investor Day presentation that we didn’t cover in yesterday’s show. Kia sees four main areas to use robots: industrial, medical, mobility and services. Robotic exoskeletons are being used to assist humans at manufacturing sites and have similar uses in the medical field as well. In terms of mobility, Kia showed how a small platform could deliver packages or help with a workout. Kia is also working on charging robots that automatically plug in your EV for you. It says it expects to commercialize these in the near future. As you know, the Hyundai Group bought Boston Dynamics, so it’s finding jobs for Spot the robot dog–like doing safety checks at manufacturing sites. Or, when equipped with a vision system, they could be used to do quality inspections on a body-in-white, then return to its base to charge up again.
PANASONIC 4860 GIGA-FACTORY HEADED TO USA
Earlier this week, Panasonic announced plans to start mass producing 4680 battery cells in 2024 at a plant in Japan. Now Japan’s NHK reports that Panasonic will build a battery plant in the U.S. to do the same thing. The plant, which is expected to cost several billion dollars, will be located in Oklahoma or Kansas, which is near Tesla’s plant in Texas. 4680 refers to the width–46 millimeters–and height–80 millimeters. The batteries are about 5 times larger than the current batteries Panasonic supplies to Tesla. They provide more energy density, which will improve range and cut costs because fewer cells are needed to fill a pack.
AUDI Q4 E-TRON GETS MORE RANGE
Late last month we reported that VW upgraded the ID.4 and Skoda ENYAQ iV. And now the Audi Q4 e-tron gets upgraded too. That includes new software to control the battery’s thermal management system and provides higher charging power of 135 kW. The improvements increase range by about 20 kilometers and reduce DC fast charging time. But they only apply to new models. No over-the-air-updates for vehicles that are already on the road.
ACURA SURRENDERS IN CHINA
Honda is giving up on selling Acura’s in China. Gasgoo reports Acura will stop selling vehicles there in June. No surprise here. Acura only sells two models in China, both SUVs. And sales stink, Last year it only sold about 6,500 vehicles, half of what it sold in 2020, which in itself was a lousy number. Analysts blame Acura’s lack of marketing strategy and branding for its failure to catch on in the Chinese market. But it sounds to us like it was DOA on Day 1.
WHY U.S. CAR SALES ARE SLOWING
Inflation in the U.S. is running at its highest rate in years. Gasoline prices are shooting up. And interest rates are going to go higher. That’s a bad combination when it comes to selling new cars. And that may explain why we saw such a dramatic drop in the SAAR last month. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate takes the latest monthly sales and predicts what the total sales for the year will be if they continue at that rate. Last month the SAAR was only 14 million vehicles, which would be a really lousy year. In January, the SAAR was 15 million–not great, but not lousy. And a year ago February it was nearly 16 million, which is at the low end of decent. The chip shortage and tight inventory partly explain why sales fell, but it’s starting to look like those other economic factors are dragging the market down.
FORD F-150 LIGHTNING PLAYS IN THE SNOW
The public is concerned about how EVs perform in winter weather. So Ford posted this video of the F-150 Lightning frolicking in the snow up in Alaska. Ford engineers spent two weeks there in minus 30-degree temperatures with six pre-production Lightnings. They drove the truck on loose snow, packed-groomed snow, and icy surfaces, to test how the powertrain adjusts power to the wheels on slippery surfaces. Naturally Ford said everything went well. And it doesn’t want you to worry how its electric truck performs in winter weather.
ALPINE TEASES NEW SPORTS CAR
Iconic sports car maker Alpine is going to reveal a new concept car on the 18th. Called the A4810, it’s a 2-seat supercar with a hydrogen powertrain. We don’t know if that means a fuel cell, but we don’t think so. Renault, which owns Alpine, also teased a concept that will feature a hydrogen engine. The VW Group, especially Porsche, has been going after synthetic fuel as a way to extend the life of the internal combustion engine. But it looks like Toyota and Renault see a future for the ICE with power coming from hydrogen fuel.
But that’s all for today, have a great weekend.
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Seamus and Sean McElroy cover the latest news in the automotive industry for Autoline Daily.