Mercedes Is Fast Tracking Its EV Plans

I mean, everyone is. Daimler just wants you to know they're doing it, too.

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Image: Mercedes-Benz

Daimler is accelerating its electrification strategy, Honda is cracking down on third-party lease returns, and Italy’s most celebrated design house is going to make American electric pickups look pretty. All this and more on today’s Friday edition of The Morning Shift for July 9, 2021.

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1st Gear: Carmaker Says EVs Are Going To Be A Big Deal

These electric vehicles — insiders call them EVs — are really shaping up to be quite something. One company has even said it expects the vast majority of cars it’ll be selling by the end of the decade will be purely battery-powered. Wow! From Automotive News:

Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler is stepping up the pace of its transition to electric mobility and plans to largely eliminate internal-combustion engines before the end of the decade.

“We are switching from EV first to EV only,” a high-ranking executive familiar with the plan told Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.

This means that every model series will have a full-electric version, while production, sales and structures will be switched to a business without diesel and gasoline engines.

Every other week, another major automaker makes a grand pronouncement about how many electric cars it projects to sell by 2030 or 2035, or how many internal combustion-powered vehicles it won’t be selling. The fact Daimler put the split at about 50/50 before now and had this recent change of heart says less to me about how dedicated it is to EVs, and more that it realized the rest of the industry has been more bullish with its messaging. Daimler has been failing to match their competitors’ language, and that may come off as less ambitious to potential shareholders.

Eventually gas cars will largely disappear, yes. But the constant prognosticating right now between manufacturers about what things will look like a decade into the future is a pissing contest that won’t have any basis in reality for a good while. Perhaps in four or five years we’ll have a clearer picture of which brands were actually proactive and made the moves they said they would, and which were just pretending.

2nd Gear: Keep It In The Family, Says Honda

New cars are in short supply right now, as are the chips to make them. That’s put a lot of strain on the preowned market. It’s for that reason that going forward, Honda and Acura are making sure that when it comes time to return that Pilot or Odyssey or RSX (they don’t still make that, right? I don’t know — that was the last Acura I cared about) after a lease, you do so at your local, authorized Honda or Acura dealer, rather than a competitor that might give you a favorable trade in-type deal to get you into one of their cars. Via Automotive News:

The carmaker said Thursday it will require the drivers with expiring leases to return their vehicles to authorized Honda and Acura dealers and refuse to accept buyouts from unaffiliated dealers or others. Honda cited tight supplies of cars and trucks as a result of shortfalls in critical components and congestion at ports as the economy recovers.

The Japanese company is the latest automaker to take more control over leases — and boost inventories — by limiting vehicle returns to its own dealer network. The industry has struggled to meet consumer demand in recent months due to a global shortage of semiconductors, which has curtailed production and lifted prices for used cars.

“Our goal is to make sure our dealers have access to quality pre-owned Honda and Acura vehicles to satisfy the needs of new and returning customers,” Petar Vucurevic, a vice president at Honda’s financing arm, said in a statement.

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What’s most surprising about this is that the policy change is said to apply to existing leases in addition to new ones. I didn’t know they could legally do that, and part of me wonders if once lessees catch wind of this, a few don’t try to start a class-action suit or something. Then again, Honda is apparently far from the only manufacturer taking this stance. Ultimately it’s just another thing to be mindful of when shopping for a lease.

3rd Gear: The Power Of 5G Will Make Remotely-Driven Cars A Thing Too, Apparently

A startup named Halo is taking to the streets of Las Vegas with a car-sharing service that is driverless some of the time, in that the car arrives to you without anyone in it, and then you use it, and from there it goes to the next customer again totally unmanned.

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How is Halo achieving this feat? Is it through complete autonomous operation? No — actually there will be drivers, they’ll just be somewhere else holding PlayStation controllers, rather than in the car. (OK, they’re probably not using controllers, it’s just fun for me to think about.) From The Verge:

The idea is simple enough: Halo employs remote drivers to operate the vehicles, delivering them to waiting customers who then get behind the wheel and take the car to their destination. When the trip has ended, the car moves on to its next pick-up under remote control. Halo is also currently operating test drives with safety drivers in vehicles, which it says it won’t include when the service launches for paying customers. That’s easier said than done.

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We’ve talked about how remote-driven cars make a lot of sense for automakers in that getting computers to be able to drive a car is very difficult and expensive, whereas getting a human to drive a car remotely from a country where wages are extremely low is relatively simple. A couple car companies have already dipped their toes into the teleoperation field.

The thing is, for something like this to work, low-latency, ultrawide-bandwidth 5G has to not only be available in the operation area — it must be guaranteed. Semi-autonomous cars don’t need perfect cellular service to operate (though they’d stand to benefit from it), but remotely-operated cars like Halo’s absolutely do.

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That’s somewhat concerning, because the rollout of 5G has been a bit of a clusterfuck. “5G” is actually a mess of different standards and technologies with vastly different performance targets. The version of 5G that Halo’s cars will require — millimeter-wave 5G — is very snappy but also highly range limited, and requires a dense mesh network of nodes because line-of-sight is necessary for it to reach devices. It’s also being kneecapped by a lack of spectrum available to carriers right now.

All this is to say, I am very curious as to how far Halo gets with this plan. With any luck, in a year or two I’ll be able to test it out in person at CES.

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4th Gear: Famed Designer Of Trucks, Pininfarina

Pininfarina. It’s a byword for automotive beauty. Many of the most lusted-after Italian cars throughout history, lots of them Ferrari models, were penned by the company’s trendsetting designers. And now, apparently battery-electric pickup trucks will be, too. Courtesy of a press release from EV startup Hercules:

Under terms of the agreement, Italian design firm Pininfarina will design for the Detroit automaker the Hercules Alpha pickup and other products to be announced at a future date. The two companies expect to immediately begin collaboration. The financial terms of the agreement are not being disclosed.

The rugged Alpha luxury pickup, which will be available in late 2022, will offer powertrain configurations that produce more than 1,000 hp through a torque-vectoring four-motor drive system. The motors provide independent torque control for amazing stability and ultimate high-performance.

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A Pininfarina truck! Now, this isn’t the first time Pininfarina has lavished attention on a vehicle that is not a sports car, coupe or sedan, but American pickups certainly aren’t what they’re typically known for. Right now, the Hercules Alpha basically looks like a pastiche of every EV truck you’ve ever seen, so it’ll be interesting to watch Pininfarina attempt to distinguish it.

5th Gear: Nio Will Build Battery-Swapping Stations Like Everyone Else Is Building Chargers

By 2025, Nio says it expects to have 3,700 more battery-swapping stations in China than the roughly 300 or so it has today. That’s bold, because basically every EV maker outside the country has taken to pooh-poohing arguments for it. Once again, from Automotive News:

Having now sold around 120,000 EVs, Nio will make offering more charging stations a priority, President and co-founder Qin Lihong told a media briefing in Shanghai on Friday to mark Nio’s inaugural Power Day.

Range anxiety has been a major hurdle in EV uptake, particularly in a country like China where distances can be vast. Rival Tesla Inc. has built more than 850 so-called supercharging, or fast charging, stations and 6,500 charging piles in China.

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Nio has become pretty good at this over the last couple of years, which is encouraging in the face of all the naysayers who remain skeptical that there’s any use for on-the-fly battery swaps in the first place. I’m not saying they’re the solution to all EV’s problems — these stations require massive footprints, and a level of quality control absolutely must be guaranteed so you don’t end up inheriting a lemon of a battery. On the other hand, it’s nice to see someone trying and evidently succeeding at it, instead of standing in the corner of the room with their arms crossed shaking their head, going “I don’t— I don’t know about that.”

Reverse: Aircraft Engine Maker BMW Takes On A New Challenge

BMW, noted builder of plane and motorcycle engines and farm equipment, took out advertisements in local papers on July 9, 1929 that it was now in the business of making cars. It’d actually started producing its first model, the Austin 7-based Dixi 3/15, in the previous year. But, you know, news traveled a little slower back then.

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Neutral: I Saw F9 Last Night

It was a fever dream. I can remember flashes of things that happened, but I can’t string them together into any semblance of a coherent whole. There were a fuck ton of magnets, ICP would have loved it. Vin Diesel’s skull busted clear through a doorjamb with nary a scratch, a cut, a bruise on his body. There were many cars but disappointingly few I was surprised to see. It was the best stupid movie I’ve ever watched in a theater.

DISCUSSION

By
V10omous

they’ll just be somewhere else holding PlayStation controllers, rather than in the car. (OK, they’re probably not using controllers, it’s just fun for me to think about.)

You joke about this, but I have been in an autonomous vehicle whose manual overrides were performed with an Xbox controller.