Dealers are raking it in, Elon Musk sold billions in Tesla stock, and Mary Barra. All that and more in The Morning Shift for November 11, 2021.
Everyone’s least favorite cogs in the automotive world are dealers, unless you want to tell me that actually they are insurance companies instead, which I would buy. Anyway: Dealers may be hated, but because of state franchise laws they still exist, and because the car market has gone nuts for nearly two years thanks to new car shortages and strong demand, dealers have really made out. Automotive News says they are on track to have record profits this year.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average U.S. dealership recorded net pretax profit of $3 million through September. That was more than double the $1.3 million in net pretax profit reported for the first nine months of 2020. And it’s already well above the $2.1 million in net pretax profit recorded for the average dealership for all of 2020, which itself was an all-time record annual profit.
The average dealership’s operating profit more than quintupled through the first nine months of the year to $1.8 million. Net pretax profit includes operating profit and the automaker incentive money paid out to dealerships for complying with certain performance targets.
NADA has tracked dealership financial data in its current form since 2009. [NADA Chief Economist Patrick Manzi] noted in a February interview that there could have been years in decades past when net pretax profit would have exceeded 2020's $2.1 million when adjusted for inflation.
Manzi said in February that he expected the high profit levels to cool this year and go back to “more of a return to normal,” but so far that hasn’t happened. New vehicles have remained relatively scarce this year. And the latest figures from NADA show an increase in both volume and per-vehicle gross profits for new and used cars and trucks.
I think the profits are also largely due to the cars that dealers are selling, which are the expensive ones that have pushed the average price of new cars to over $45,000. That’s good for everyone except consumers.
The move comes after a dumb Twitter poll in which Elon asked his followers whether he should sell ten percent of his Tesla holdings, itself coming after he said he planned to sell shares back in September.
From The Wall Street Journal:
The Tesla chief executive first exercised just over 2 million stock options Monday that were valued at roughly $2.5 billion at the day’s close, paying around $13.4 million in exercise costs.
He sold many of those shares the same day to cover tax withholding obligations, according to the filings.
After selling less than 1% of his holdings Monday, he sold about 2% over the subsequent two days, the regulatory notices show. He sold around 4.5 million shares in total over the three days, shrinking the size of his stockholdings in Tesla even after exercising the options.
Monday’s option exercise and sales were made under a preset trading plan Mr. Musk established on Sept. 14, according to regulatory filings, almost two months before he raised the idea of a sale on Twitter. Such trading arrangements, dubbed 10b5-1 plans, are designed to enable company insiders to sell based on a set schedule, price triggers or other factors without running afoul of insider trading rules.
The Wall Street Journal also discusses various scenarios in which Musk may or may not be paying this tax or that tax, depending on how long he held the stock and when he sold. With billionaires I think it’s safe to assume they are paying as few taxes as possible. We’ll know for sure in a decade when someone leaks Elon’s tax returns to ProPublica.
Rivian went public yesterday and was an instant hit, with its stock price climbing over 30 percent. It’s valued at more than GM and Ford for now. Automotive News says that Rivian now has around $16 billion in cash to play with, and around $12 billion of that thanks to the initial public offering. Still, it is just getting started, with a lot of that money already spoken for.
Here, according to Rivian, are some of the biggest expenditures it’s facing through 2025:
- New factory: Rivian’s plant in Normal, Ill., has a capacity of 150,000 vehicles, not enough to enable profitable high-volume production of the company’s first three models. Over the summer, Rivian disclosed it is scouting locations for a second plant, referred to internally as Project Tera. As envisioned, that plant will also include battery pack production. It would require at least 2,000 acres, and company plans call for it to be opened sometime in 2023. Price tag: $5 billion.
- Expanded lineup: Rivian trademarked the names R3S, R4S, R5S, R3T, R4T and R5T for what are believed to be smaller electric pickups and SUVs, some tailored specifically for overseas markets, such as China and Europe. The new vehicles will require a different platform from that currently used for the R1T and R1S. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates it costs automakers at least $1 billion for each new EV architecture.
- Service centers: This year, Rivian began opening service centers in what it believes will be its biggest markets, 120 in all. Additionally, the company is building a fleet of 1,000 service vans for company technicians to bring service to the customer. Cost: unknown.
- Rivian Adventure Network: The company is building a dedicated DC fast-charging network, some 600 locations with a total of 3,500 chargers, for exclusive use by Rivian customers. The company also is planning to build a network of 10,000 Level 2 chargers across the U.S. and Canada. No estimated cost from Rivian is available. But the charging network will be a major expenditure. According to one source, a two-plug commercial Level 2 charger costs about $7,200. And, according to the California Energy Commission, one DC fast charger with four plugs costs an average of $103,027. Using that math, the Adventure Network and the Level 2 chargers could cost Rivian around $430 million.
- Legal costs: As of Sept. 30, Rivian could sell its vehicles in only 22 states. Rivian is fighting efforts that prevent sales in the other 28 states, a likely long and protracted legal battle. The company’s strategy is outlined in its stock prospectus: “We intend to actively fight any such efforts to limit our ability to operate, as well as proactively undertake efforts to open states currently closed to our business model. In fact, in 2020 we succeeded in a two-year long effort to open up the state of Colorado to direct sales and service by manufacturers that produce only EVs and have not entered into the franchise dealer system. In 2021, we similarly succeeded in a legislative effort to confirm the permissibility of our sales and service model in the state of Vermont in a bill that was signed into law earlier this year. In 2021, we also successfully fended off attacks in the states of Florida, Idaho and Oklahoma to limit or restrict our ability to conduct sales or service.” Cost: unknown.
Rivian is the first major player to emerge among the car startups since Tesla, though it still seems a little premature to be calling it that, given how long a way it has to go. Still, it’s got a lot of money, the backing of successful companies like Amazon and Ford, and a good product to work with. Time will tell!
Toyota has been behind on going electric, in embarrassing style, mostly because, it seems, Toyota prefers to stick with what it knows. That is fine, and what’s made Toyota the biggest car company in the world. I would prefer that Toyota also be honest about that, instead of offering weak excuses as to why it isn’t more in on electric.
On Thursday, it offered one of its weakest excuses yet. Toyota didn’t sign a pledge to stop making fossil-fuel-powered cars by 2040 because it said that parts of the world aren’t ready.
A spokesperson for Toyota told Reuters that where the energy and charging infrastructure, economics and customer readiness exist, “we are ready to accelerate and help support with appropriate zero-emission vehicles.”
“However, in many areas of the world such as Asia, Africa, Middle East ... an environment suitable for promoting full zero emission transport has not yet been established,” the spokesperson said. “We think it will take more time to make progress...; thus, it is difficult for us to commit to the joint statement at this stage.”
This is both true and an evasion, as that fact has not stopped plenty of other automakers from going all in on EVs. Toyota should just admit that it plans to be part of the problem for the foreseeable future.
GM CEO Mary Barra told a New York Times reporter at a recent conference that she drives a Chevy Bolt, though it’s not clear if her Bolt — under recall because of fire risk, like every Chevy Bolt — has been fixed or not yet, a GM spokesman told the Detroit Free Press. The other cars Barra’s family owns or wants to own include a predictable set of choices.
The Bolt that Barra is driving is a company car, but she told [NYT reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin] she owns “a handful of cars” as well and is waiting for a GMC Hummer EV pickup she ordered to be built. GM is now just starting to build the Hummer EVs at its retooled Factory ZERO plant in Detroit and Hamtramck.
“My husband and son are Camaro and Firebird enthusiasts,” Barra said. “We do own a Corvette as well and we’ll soon own a Hummer. I got my name on the list along with 200,000 other hand- raisers for the Lyriq.”
The 2023 Cadillac Lyriq all-electric SUV will be built in Spring Hill Assembly in Spring Hill, Tennessee, starting next year.
Sorkin asked her, “What number are you on the list?”
“Well I try to be fair,” Barra said. “I think it’s important for me to demonstrate our product, but I signed up like everyone else for the Hummer. When we started the Hummer, we overloaded the internet, so I was texting the head of GMC Buick and I managed to get on the list.”
I don’t know why Barra feels the need to “be fair,” when it comes to buying (or “buying”) her company’s own products. Silly me, thinking that part of the point of being the CEO is that you get to be first in line.
Because practically every one of the General Lee’s stunts ended up wrecking the car, the show’s prop masters bought every 1969 Dodge Charger they could find (and there were plenty: the Chrysler Corporation sold about 85,000 in all). Then they outfitted each one for action, adding a roll cage to the inside, a protective push bar to the nose and heavy-duty shock absorbers and springs to the suspension. The prop masters also tampered with the brakes to make it easier to do the 180-degree “Bootleggers’ Turn” that so often helped the Duke boys evade Boss Hogg. Cars used for jumps also got trunks full of concrete or lead ballast to keep them from flipping over in midair.
The weather has been unseasonably warm in New York the past few days, though the days are shorter and it won’t be long before winter. I’m hoping for a snowy one.