General Motors says it’s cool with LG — no, really. Also, some new F-150s have seatbelt problems and Daimler has won today’s “who’s cutting production?” roulette. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for August 27, 2021.
GM tried to fix the Chevrolet Bolt’s battery issues with software, and that didn’t work. It’s now recalling every single one for battery replacement, a move that will cost itself and/or LG a total of $1.8 billion. It’s the sort of thing that might strain a working relationship, though GM Mary Barra is adamant that the two companies are still partners. Partially because GM doesn’t really need LG, actually! From Bloomberg:
“With our joint venture with LG, who is a valued partner, we’re going to be able to combine their expertise with our expertise, so I have a lot of confidence in our Ultium platform,” Barra said. At the same time, she stressed the automaker isn’t wedded to one battery chemistry or design on future models.
“We have multiple pathways with battery technology to make sure we’re going to have a leadership position,” Barra said. “The flexibility that’s been designed into the Ultium platform is many different chemistries can be introduced.”
Barra highlighted GM’s work with SES, a battery startup focused on lithium metal cells, and the automaker’s own internal battery research lab. The company is in the process of building a battery manufacturing lab as well.
Part of me believes LG’s manufacturing errors could’ve just as easily befallen another supplier, and that these missteps are going to become increasingly common across the industry as EV production ramps up. Another part of me can’t shake the fact that this is LG, and LG was at the center of a very similar issue pertaining to Hyundai’s Kona Electric. In that instance, the battery supplier reportedly bore 70 percent of the estimated $900 million in costs pertaining to the recall.
Barra’s mantra that Ultium has been designed in such a way as to cover LG’s screw-ups seems a little suspect. Any LG customer can source the same cells GM will use for Ultium, Car And Driver has noted. The suggestion that GM has “multiple pathways” to success is also vague; maybe it’s a nice way of saying the company is thinking long and hard about diversifying its suppliers.
Ford is recalling 16,140 2021 F-150 SuberCabs manufactured between January 2 and May 27 of this year for a potential defect with the front seatbelts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report pins the problem on the belt webbing having been routed “only through the rubber trim sleeve” instead of properly through the anchor.
The defect could result in inadequate tensioning in the case of a crash or abrupt stop. Ford says it’s not aware of this issue leading to injury as of yet, and it will send instructions to owners on how to determine whether their truck is one of the affected vehicles. From Automotive News:
Vehicle owners will be notified starting Sept. 27. The notification will include instructions on how to check the seat belts for improper assembly on both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle.
Dealers also will inspect the seat belts to verify they are routed correctly through the anchor’s metal eyelet and anchored to the pretensioner assembly, NHTSA said. If the inspection fails, the dealer will replace the affected parts.
The F-150 SuperCab’s belt assembly is manufactured by a company called Joyson. This is not the first time in recent months Joyson’s belts have come under scrutiny. In June, it discovered falsified testing data originating from factories it acquired from Takata. That Takata. It always comes back to Takata.
GM has been collecting data of its employees’ vaccination status from those who voluntarily choose to share it. Now the company will require its salaried workers to disclose that information, Detroit Free Press reports.
“In an effort to improve our data collection, we took the first step with our U.S. salaried employees to put a process in place for mandatory reporting,” [GM spokeswoman Maria] Raynal said. “We will maintain the voluntary reporting of vaccine status and encourage our hourly employees to continue to report in the voluntary system.”
GM sent the “confidential online reporting tool” to employees earlier this month and required them to respond by Monday. GM required those employees who said they were fully vaccinated to submit proof of their status. The story was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
GM is also still considering a mandatory vaccination requirement, like Ford. However, it can’t force the issue for hourly personnel without negotiating with the United Auto Workers first.
If GM or another automaker wanted to mandate vaccination for the hourly workforce, it would be subject to negotiation with the union, [UAW President Ray] Curry said.
“We’ve not had an employer reach out to us to have a mandated vaccine process,” Curry said. “We would be willing to sit down with the respective bargainers and employers at each location to have that discussion — but we have not engaged in any mandate … all our discussions have been around voluntary vaccinations.”
It’s interesting to hear automakers publicly say they’re weighing every option and considering requiring their employees to be vaccinated, only to hear the union president say “well, nobody’s brought it up to us.” Kind of makes you wonder how much of this is merely posturing.
Every day another automaker is halting production, or extending its pauses. Today, that automaker is Daimler. From Automotive News:
Daimler will halt production next week at its German factories in Bremen and Rastatt and in Kecskemet, Hungary, the German News Agency (dpa) reported on Friday.
Output will be reduced at the automaker’s home plant in Sindelfingen, Germany.
More than 12,000 people are employed at the Bremen plant, about 6,500 in Rastatt, about 4,700 in Kecskemet and 25,000 in Sindelfingen.
The C-Class and the GLC SUV are built in Bremen, the B-Class in Kecskemet and the A-Class in Rastatt. Sindelfingen produces the S-Class sedan, E-Class and EQS full-electric sedan.
Production at the four locations had been subject to repeated stops in recent months due to problems with the supply of electronic chips.
This will never end.
Geely owns many brands. Many of them are young, and two of them — Lynk & Co. and Zeekr — have recently sprouted up just to sell EVs. Their cars also look almost exactly the same, but supposedly the Zeekr versions are a little nicer. Anyway, Zeekr just raised $500 million from a group including Intel and CATL. From Reuters:
Zeekr said investors would jointly hold a 5.6% stake in the company, valuing it at around $9 billion.
The company makes the Zeekr 001 model in the eastern city of Ningbo and is expected to start delivering them later this year. It aims to sell 650,000 vehicles a year by 2025.
Investors also included Cathy Fortune Corporation, which invests in mining companies, and private-equity firm Boyu Capital that additionally signed long-term investment partnerships with Zeekr, the carmaker said in a statement.
The Zeekr 001 entered production this past April, and is reportedly on track to debut in Europe sometime next year. Part of me wonders if multiple Geely brands offering similar products will confuse consumers. Then again, we all put up with the Big Three’s rampant badge engineering for decades and never batted an eye.
On August 27, 1987, the Ed Welburn-designed Oldsmobile Aerotech set a closed-course speed record of 257.123 MPH. The dude at the wheel was none other than A.J. Foyt. Foyt actually recorded an even faster run one day earlier at 267.88 MPH, but that was in a long-tail chassis over two runs in either direction of the flying mile. This was 34 years ago; I’d have hoped modern cars would look more like the Aerotech by now. Sigh.
I got a speeding ticket this week on a long drive back from an event. It’s the third I’ve gotten in 11 years of driving. Even still, getting one today stresses me the hell out, especially because they’re always more expensive than I expect them to be and can have pretty serious consequences even if (I think) the transgression wasn’t all that egregious. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s legitimately depressed me for the last half of a week. Anyone else get low-grade panic over this stuff? How do you cope with it?