McLaren has finally mapped out a foundation for going all-electric within a decade despite signaling that it had some wild ideas just a few months ago, and Tesla, Ford and more are going after their chip suppliers. That’s not all in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
1st Gear: Biofuel Out? Electricity In
Back in April, McLaren seemingly randomly announced that it had high hopes for the development of biofuel, particularly for motorsport and performance car applications. I think it was an attempt at encouraging some promise for the future of the combustion engine, as companies like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and more all begin to pivot toward pure electrification.
The only problem is, biofuel hardly gets a fraction of the attention and investment of electric vehicle technologies. The likelihood that anyone would pour those resources into the new tech is very slim now that it appears EVs are the winning wave in the next few years.
McLaren is a company very much in need of resources, too. So with that in mind, McLaren has decided to announce a plan for electrification. From the Financial Times:
McLaren, the UK supercar maker, will stop developing petrol engines within a decade as it plots a long-term shift towards electric vehicles. The company will focus on hybrid supercars for the next ten years, with a plan to source more components in the UK, but expects to cease any traditional engine development by 2030, chief executive Mike Flewitt told the Financial Times.
“We will be developing engines for the next ten years, selling for the next 15 years, but we expect a lot of the world to be aligning around the 2035 date [for a full shift to electric cars],” he said.
The first hybrid model is planned to launch next year. It’ll be a plug-in with only about 30 miles of electric-only range. The company also teased its next-generation central monocoque carbon-fiber tub the car will be built around, which is specifically designed for electrification.
Considering McLaren’s brand positioning and identity is perfectly suited the typical cold and clinical modernity of electric vehicle design, and the fact that everything comes with an automatic transmission already doesn’t make it too difficult to picture the planned future in your head.
I just hope they keep a budget for that biofuel stuff. Could be a lot of fun.
2nd Gear: Why Pay Twice
A bunch of automakers are attempting to appeal a case against Qualcomm over patent licensing agreements for 5G communications technology in modern cars, which they just lost. Here’s what the issues all about, from Reuters:
Qualcomm was fighting a May 2019 decision by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, in a case brought by the FTC. Koh sided with the FTC, writing that Qualcomm’s practice of requiring phone makers to sign a patent license agreement before selling them chips “strangled competition” and harmed consumers.
Automakers have increasingly put chips in vehicles to connect them to the internet, which requires them to sign patent agreements for communications standards such as 5G. The companies had previously argued that connected car prices could go up if Qualcomm won its case.
On the one hand, this sounds like Qualcomm making sure none of these tech-friendly startup companies screw them over on their 5G supplies after “borrowing” the tech after a few years, or something. On the other, if you make a system designed to be mass produced in the millions by a bunch of other companies, I kind of feel like at some point you’re vacating control over what people do with it.
Basically, automakers are arguing they could still pay Qualcomm for the supplies, but they shouldn’t also be paying a licensing fee, which ultimately is just going to translate to the final purchase price of the vehicle and be a burden to the consumer. Makes sense!
3rd Gear: Battery Boost
Speaking of Tesla, CEO Elon Musk is tweeting again. Musk claims that the automaker’s battery technology could see significant improvement in the next three to five years. From Reuters (via Automotive News):
“400 Wh/kg *with* high cycle life, produced in volume (not just a lab) is not far. Probably 3 to 4 years,” Musk tweeted on Monday ahead of its anticipated Battery Day event where Tesla is expected to reveal how it has improved its battery performance.
Researchers have said the energy density of Panasonic’s 2170 batteries used in Tesla’s Model 3 is around 260 watt-hour per kilogram, meaning a 50 percent jump from the current energy density which is key to achieving a longer driving range.
Tesla has announced a new “Battery Day” to detail what it’s working on, scheduled for September 22, which is the same day as the annual shareholder’s meeting.
4th Gear: Subscribe To A Porsche And Try Not To Crash
Can’t afford a Porsche? Have you considered trying to pay for it month by month instead? Well, now you can! From Auto News:
“For the metropolitan area in L.A., this is a perfect way to engage certain target groups with the brand,” Porsche Cars North America CEO Klaus Zellmer said last week. “If California were a country, it would be our fifth-largest market in the world.”
The Porsche Drive subscription program, launched in 2017 in Atlanta, starts at $2,100 a month (before taxes and a $595 activation fee) and offers unlimited vehicle swaps. Since then, the program has been expanded to San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Toronto.
Starting Sept. 25, the new subscription level will offer access to a single Porsche model for one or three months. It starts at $1,500 per month for the Porsche Macan crossover and tops out at $2,600 for the Porsche 911 Carrera.
To be fair, I am genuinely considering saving up enough for three months of a Carrera before society completely crumbles and my money is useless.
5th Gear: China Buying Nice
It would appear that the sucker punch that is the Covid-19 pandemic may have whipped the U.S. and China into finally abiding by some of the terms of their ongoing and very tenuous trade negotiations, as China starts buying up more U.S. goods. From Bloomberg:
U.S. oil exports to China are set to reach a record next month, with about 19 tankers signing provisional bookings to load American crude for the Asian nation in September, according to shipping fixtures, which are subject to change. If all of them set sail, exports could total 37 million barrels, the most on record for a single month.
China’s customs has also strengthened a crackdown on counterfeits and released quarterly reports as set out in the agreement. The Supreme Court has issued a series of work guidelines and implementation plans on ensuring and improving legal enforcement of violations of intellectual property rights, while the National Intellectual Property Administration also published a work plan for strengthening IP protection in 2020 and 2021.
Cracking down on IP theft and counterfeits will go a long way in resolving the tension between the Chinese and U.S. markets, but China has fallen way behind in its trade commitments:
China would need to buy about $130 billion in the second half of this year to comply with the original terms of the agreement signed in January, in which it agreed to purchase an additional $200 billion of American goods and services over the 2017 level by the end of 2021.
To be fair, the last few years haven’t been exactly stable for anybody. With growing stress over the virus, Hong Kong protests, and mounting international tensions, things may finally have pushed the long-battled China trade deal back into forward motion.
Reverse: More Troubling Truman
Neutral: Is It Smarter To Subscribe To A Car Like A 911?
If you’re going to try to own a car like a Porsche 911 Carrera, you’re going to want to get to know it. But is there “enough” time with a car to be satisfied? I feel like with a high performance car, it almost makes more sense to save a budget, “subscribe” for the summer months, and then buy a shitbox Craigslist Subaru in the fall and repeat. I would try it, except I can get a Carrera for at least a couple weeks if I just ask very nicely.