Intel has big plans for Ohio, lawmakers want to know what Tesla’s plans are in one of China’s most embattled regions and Renault is ditching the old plan. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for January 21, 2022.
The chipmaking giant has announced the construction of two fabrication plants on a 1,000-acre site in New Albany, Ohio, outside Columbus. (Columbus does have some automotive industry to call its own; Honda’s big American factory complex is there.) It’s not saying what sorts of industries the factories will be dedicated producing for, but it’s also not saying cars won’t be a priority, per Automotive News:
“At this early stage, we aren’t specifying which particular products will be made in our Ohio factories,” Intel spokesman Jason Gorss said in an email to Automotive News. “That said, automotive is a very important market to us.”
Whatever Intel does intend to make there, the company’s CEO Pat Gelsinger is bullish about it:
“We helped to establish the Silicon Valley,” Gelsinger told Time magazine in an interview. “Now we’re going to do the Silicon Heartland.”
You can just see him — I don’t know what he looks like, but that’s not important — saying that while holding one of those oversized scissors cutting an oversized ribbon in front of an insignificant part of the perimeter of a gigantic plot of mud.
In any case, the company is right about one thing — new fabs need to exist to meet global demand, especially for industries like automotive that have highly specialized needs. Make no mistake, though — this is about political posturing and feelin’ good about America just as much as bolstering supply. In fact, maybe more so, as this illuminating block of text from Time explains:
Of course, some of the urgency of having more chip manufacturers in the U.S. is purely political. Locating a chip factory in the United States doesn’t necessarily insure against further supply chain disruptions; Intel’s chips will still be sent to Asia for assembly, packaging, and testing. Chips cross borders dozens of times before they make their way to consumers in phones, computers, and cars, said Dan Hutcheson, vice chair at TechInsights, which follows the semiconductor industry. Three-quarters of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing capability is within the flight path of the Chinese Air Force, Hutcheson said, which could be problematic in an era of growing geopolitical tensions.
The “Silicon Heartland” really still resides in China, regardless of what happens with this plant. Also, it won’t be up and running until 2025 at the earliest.
Tesla recently opened a showroom in Xinjiang, China. This is something that has garnered a lot of attention from American lawmakers because Xinjiang is where the Chinese government has detained more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in camps, subjecting them to arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced sterilization, coerced abortions, rape and torture among other grave atrocities, according to the U.S. State Department. From Reuters:
“Your misguided expansion into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region sets a poor example and further empowers the (Chinese government),” Democrats Bill Pascrell and Earl Blumenauer, who head two House of Representatives Ways and Means subcommittees, wrote in a joint letter to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk.
As of December 23 the U.S. government has banned imports moving through Xinjiang, where the Chinese government also operates forced labor. That’s prompted the subcommittee to ask Tesla why it’s there and what other reasons it may have for being there. Again, Reuters:
Pascrell and Blumenauer in the letter asked Musk whether Tesla sources any goods made or manufactured in Xinjiang and, if so, to identify them. They also asked whether Tesla has any financial relationships with companies connected to Xinjiang and whether Tesla plans to expand into other regions in China.
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to comment according to the article, likely because it doesn’t have a public relations department. Normally that’s inconvenient or annoying when the topic is, say, Cybertruck production, but in situations like this it’s a teensy bit more reprehensible.
Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi came up with a plan two years ago where each brand would take the lead in the markets where they were strongest. Here, that’s obviously Nissan. In Europe, it’s Renault. In Southeast Asia, it’s Mitsubishi.
The problem with that kind of strategy is it sort of leaves the less popular brands to wither and die. That’s exactly why Renault CEO Luca de Meo has had enough of it. From Bloomberg:
The plan assigned Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. core geographies where they would serve as a reference to the others to enhance competitiveness and share resources. But in setting out to turn things around in China, Renault CEO Luca de Meo has looked outside the alliance for help, pursuing a partnership with Geely Holding Group that includes selling hybrid cars in the world’s biggest auto market.
“Renault’s whole strategy in China was wrong,” de Meo told Bloomberg News on the sidelines of a media event last week. “It’s not Nissan’s fault. They may be leader in China, but they aren’t there to be charitable.”
What’s more, Renault did this without checking in with Nissan first, which probably wouldn’t have flown under previous leadership. Now, though, times are different:
Renault didn’t involve Nissan in its discussions with Geely that yielded a preliminary agreement in August, according to people familiar with the matter. While the two used to cooperate in areas including research and human resources, collaboration and communication has dwindled, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations aren’t public.
4th Gear: At Least Five Automakers Will Try To Get You To Pay Attention To Their EVs This Super Bowl
One of them will be BMW, per AdAge, which reports that the German brand’s first big game spot in seven years will join those of General Motors, Kia, Nissan and Toyota on February 13.
BMW hasn’t disclosed which of its many scowls will grace the small screen that Sunday, but I reckon the iX is a safe bet.
Those five manufacturers could be all we get for Super Bowl car commercials this year. Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are confirmed no-shows according to AdAge, while Stellantis apparently has a habit of throwing something together at the last minute, if it does at all. Which seems on brand.
So far, Sony has built two EV “Vision” prototypes with a factory in Austria owned by Canadian auto parts maker Magna International, which also makes cars for firms including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp.
Other members of its Europe-based project include German auto parts maker Bosch, French automotive technology company Valeo SE and Hungarian autonomous vehicle start-up AImotive.
Like a lot of formerly non-car companies now trying to become car companies, Sony’s rationale is that it can’t afford to miss out on the emerging opportunity for profit:
“We see the risk of ignoring EVs as greater than the challenge they pose,” Izumi Kawanishi, the senior general manager who will manage a new Sony Mobility business, said in an interview. The coming transformation of cars was in some ways similar to how information technology turned phones into smartphones, he added.
I know the car-smartphone association will ruffle a lot of feathers, especially considering Sony’s expertise has always been stuffing chips behind screens. What it hasn’t perfected, historically, is a 4,000-pound vehicle carrying humans at speed with wheels underneath it. That said, the company has already made it seemingly a hell of a lot further than Apple, so maybe it’s a bit better suited to do this than your average tech sector hotshot.
The very first production DMC-12 left DeLorean’s factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland on January 21, 1981, 40 years ago. That was five years after the first prototype was shown in 1976, called the DSV for “DeLorean Safety Vehicle.” It’s interesting to note how the concept’s exterior differs from the DMC-12's — the narrower nose, the sliding mechanism of the side windows, the lack of louvers out back and, of course, those magnificent, period-perfect wheels.
I like how tech-less my car is — all I really need is CarPlay, and it’s got that. What it doesn’t have is a backup camera, which I could have benefitted from before I reversed off a high curb blanketed in snow the other day. The side skirt still looks fine — the curb just jostled the part of it immediately ahead of the driver-side rear wheel free of its adhesive, so I’ll glue it back on when the season’s over. Ugh. How has the winter left battle scars on your vehicle(s)?