How Serious Is Tesla About Russia?

Illustration for article titled How Serious Is Tesla About Russia?
Image: Guus Schoonewille/AFP/Jalopnik (Getty Images)

Tesla wants another new frontier, everyone’s favorite ex-CEO-turned-fugitive just lost a case against his former employer and a Corvette plant is going to be a little quiet next week. All this and more in today’s Friday edition of The Morning Shift for May 21, 2021.

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1st Gear: Elon’s Looking At Russia. Or Is He?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke via video chat at an event in Russia for students on Friday, at the invitation of Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov. Musk covered a wide range of topics according to Bloomberg, from “hiring practices to artificial intelligence and the future of human consciousness.” One in particular stood out:

“I think we’re close to establishing a Tesla presence in Russia, and I think that would be great,” Musk said Friday. “Over time, we will look to have factories in other parts of the world, potentially Russia at some point.”

You know how Norway is kind of like EV haven? Well Russia is pretty much the complete opposite of that. Last year, sales of plug-in light-duty electric vehicles totaled 296,000 in the U.S., according to S&P Global. In Russia, that number was 687.

Now, that’s reportedly 95 percent more EVs sold in the country than in 2019, but that hardly makes it a leading market for the sector. Only 10,836 EVs were registered in the whole of Russia at the end of 2020, and Tesla was said to lead market share with 32 percent. Still, Musk spoke highly of the potential there:

“There’s a lot of talent and energy and Russia,” Musk said. “Hopefully that energy continues into the future, and I would just like to strongly encourage people to strive to make the future better than the past and to be optimistic about the future.”

For what it’s worth, Tesla is planning to build a few Supercharger locations in Russia in the near future. As for a factory, if I were a Russian politician I wouldn’t put too much stock into anything the old Technoking is saying there.

2nd Gear: Car Companies Are Battery Companies Now

Ford and SK Innovation have agreed to form a joint venture to manufacture batteries together in the U.S. by the middle of the decade, both companies announced Thursday.

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The plan hasn’t been formalized yet, but may involve the construction of two plants under the name BlueOvalSK. That’s in addition to SK’s own two factories going up in Georgia, which were under threat of collapsing when the firm was nearly barred from doing business in the U.S. for stealing trade secrets from rival LG.

But that’s all in SK’s rearview mirror now. The company is free to form a long and prosperous relationship with Ford, which is ideal for Ford. Like all car manufacturers, it’s having to make the critical transition from battery buyer to battery maker. Via TechCrunch:

“Initially with just a Mustang Mach-E, we felt like it was most efficient for us to purchase the batteries from the supply base, but as we start to move up that adoption curve, and move from just the early adopters to the early majority [. . .] we now have sufficient volume to justify this level of investment and this is why we’re pursuing this partnership,” Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang said Thursday.

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Between the Mach-E, the E-Transit and of course the F-150 Lightning, Ford’s reaching a point where taking battery production in house makes sense. It echoes General Motors’ move to form joint battery plants with LG. This kind of vertical integration is going to be the norm.

3rd Gear: Let’s Check In With Carlos

Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn will have to pay his old employer $6.1 million after losing a case against them in Dutch court. Nissan and Mitsubishi’s joint venture is actually incorporated in the Netherlands, and Ghosn said the company violated labor laws there by dismissing him. He was seeking “missed wages and severance payments,” according to Reuters.

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As you’d expect, there was much rejoicing from the Nissan and Mitsubishi camps:

Both Nissan and Mitsubishi said they were glad that their allegations were supported by the court.

“We are pleased that the court has dismissed Carlos Ghosn’s unfounded claims against NMBV and ordered Mr Ghosn to repay the significant sums he appropriated unlawfully,” Nissan said in a statement.

The court found that Ghosn had wrongfully determined his own salary and sign-on bonus at NMBV, and that the board member who had signed his employment contract at the joint venture on behalf of the car companies did not have the power to do so.

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4th Gear: Corvette Plant Goes Dark, But Not For The Reason You Think

Amazingly, this one has nothing to do with semiconductors! Corvettes will momentarily stop rolling out of GM’s factory in Kentucky next week due to a shortage of parts, and those parts aren’t made of silicon, The Detroit News reports:

“Our supply chain, manufacturing and engineering teams are working closely with our supply base to mitigate any further impact on production, and we expect the plant to resume normal operations on Tuesday, June 1,” GM spokesman Dan Flores said in a statement to The Detroit News.

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This actually isn’t the first setback Corvette production has seen this year; in February and March, the Kentucky plant suffered some downtime in relation to a scarcity of transmission-related components.

5th Gear: Cars Could Be Huawei’s Solution To All Its Problems

Chinese tech giant Huawei can’t really make phones anymore to sell internationally — or at least phones anyone wants to buy. That’s because it’s forbidden from working with U.S. companies like Google and Qualcomm. However, the simultaneous rise of EVs in China coupled with the global semiconductor shortage is giving the company a new opportunity: pivoting to cars.

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To that end, Huawei is reportedly launching a joint venture with leading state-owned Chinese automaker Chongqing Changan Automobile. From Reuters:

The two companies, which unveiled their smart car tie-up in November, have been working together informally on chips for the last few months, two of the sources said. A third source said they might soon form a joint venture for chip development.

[...]

In addition to the deal with Changan to develop smart cars under a joint as-yet-unnamed brand, Huawei is also planning EVs under its own marque and is in talks to take control of a small domestic automaker’s EV unit, sources have said.

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Lots of tech companies are going hard into EVs and cars in general because they see untapped potential. Huawei might be doing it because it has few other options, at least if it wants to stay a consumer-facing brand.

Reverse: A Legend Is Born On The Shores Of Monaco

On May 21, 1950, Juan Manuel Fangio won the first Formula 1 race of his career, driving for Alfa Romeo in where else but Monaco. Incidentally, Fangio managed to escape a massive first-lap pile up due to a wave that had flooded Tabac corner, taking out nine drivers in the field of 19. The Argentinian driver would go on to claim a total of five championships, 24 race wins, and one kidnapping before retiring from the sport in 1958.

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Neutral: Who Wants To Go To A Track?

Historically I’ve never gone to a ton of races every season, but having not been able to attend one for more than a year at this point, I really miss it. The closest circuit to me that sees major events is probably Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, where I’ve seen IMSA race a handful of times. I absolutely love that track, and the drive up there from Pennsylvania is really nice, too. What’s a track you’re looking forward to visiting again?

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

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4th Gear: Corvette Plant Goes Dark, But Not For The Reason You Think

There are less parts in a transmission with a clutch pedal.  Just sayin.