Toyota’s getting serious about buildin’ batteries, Apple’s getting serious about making a car (again), and Stellantis is getting serious about not selling Chryslers in Australia anymore. All that and more in The Morning Shift for November 19, 2021.
As Ford and General Motors announce plans for new battery plants seemingly every other month, Toyota is nearing toward the realization of its first in America. Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, says the Japanese automaker will likely partner with Panasonic to make it happen. At the moment Greensboro, North Carolina is reportedly the leading choice for a venue:
While details of the ownership and operation of the plant are still unclear, it will likely be via the two Japanese companies’ battery joint venture Prime Planet Energy & Solutions, one of the people said. Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma said nothing new had been decided regarding the company’s U.S. battery investments. Prime Planet spokesman Masato Tokuhisa said the company is “always considering what’s best in regard to our production,” without commenting on specifics. Panasonic spokeswoman Yayoi Watanabe declined to comment.
Up until last year, Panasonic’s EV battery business pretty much revolved around Tesla. But then as Tesla began courting other suppliers with different technologies, like CATL and its lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, Panasonic began diversifying, too. It sold its stake in Tesla for $3.6 billion over the summer — shares it’d bought 11 years prior for $30 million. I’m no CFO, but I reckon that’s a decent return on an investment.
Last year, Toyota and Panasonic started Prime Planet Energy & Solutions — a battery joint venture like so many uniting car and tech companies these days — owned 51 percent by Toyota and 49 percent by Panasonic. Bloomberg reports that while Prime Energy leads global hybrid battery production, it’s only now finding its footing manufacturing batteries for fully electric vehicles. Which makes sense, because Toyota is still on an extended hydrogen publicity tour.
Toyota recently pledged to invest $3.4 billion in EV battery production in the U.S. over the next decade. As for the prospective Greensboro Prime Energy project, Bloomberg notes that “no formal commitment has been made and the plan could still evolve, these people said.”
The top story of yesterday’s Morning Shift was the continued battle over whether union-built EVs should be entitled to a larger federal tax credit. Tesla and Toyota, which do not have ties to the United Auto Workers, unsurprisingly don’t love that proposal. Less than 1,000 U.S. Toyota employees working in logistics and parts distribution are unionized, but the vast majority is not.
Toyota caught wind of comments made at a GM factory by one of the bill’s proponents — Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow — that the Japanese automaker’s opposition demonstrates they’re not part of the “home team,” whatever that means. From Automotive News:
Fresh off the passing of a bipartisan federal infrastructure bill that includes funding for EV chargers and upgrades to the nation’s electric grid, Stabenow and the president were speaking at GM’s Factory Zero EV plant in Detroit to an audience of largely of UAW members.
“I think it takes a lot of nerve for an auto company based in Japan, where they make it almost impossible for us to sell to them in Japan, where they receive government funding and consumer rebates in Japan, where they have a union labor force in Japan — in fact, everywhere except in America, by the way, where they fight tooth and nail against Americans who tried to organize — it takes a lot of nerve for them to fight our effort to have a consumer bonus for buying vehicles made by the United Auto Workers,” Stabenow told the audience to applause. “So I call this I call this just leveling the playing field, and I’m committed to supporting the home team and leading this effort in the Senate.”
Toyota was offended, so much so that it blasted a mass email to its near 40,000-strong American workforce to remind them what team they’re on:
In an unsigned internal memo called “Fast Facts” distributed Thursday to the Japanese automaker’s 38,000 employees in the U.S. via email and shared with Automotive News, Toyota said Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow “directly attacked Toyota for fighting back on her discriminatory proposal. This was an unprecedented attack, including accusations that were false and hypocritical.”
The email is long — too long to include here in full — and purports that the bill, as well as Stabenow’s comments, treat Toyota’s non-union employees as “second class.” Again, you can read it in full over at Automotive News. I will include this bit though, bolded by yours truly:
Toyota believes that the future of mobility is electric and we support incentives that make the cost of EVs more affordable to consumers.
But U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has proposed an extra $4,500 incentive for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) made by workers who have decided to join a union. This would give an insurmountable advantage to just three companies: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep, Ram and other foreign brands.
Later, the memo reads “we don’t believe the government should discriminate against fully half of all U.S. autoworkers simply because they have decided not to join the UAW.” “Decided” is quite the loaded word choice, particularly when you’ve been accused of blocking unionization efforts for decades, and take out full-page ads to disingenuously reframe the bill as an attack on the value of non-organized labor. I’d say that I have a solution for you Toyota, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.
The will-they, won’t-they turmoil of Apple’s electric car development got a boost this week, as Bloomberg’s Apple soothsayer Mark Gurman reported that the tech giant has redoubled its efforts to debut a vehicle as early as 2025 under new leader Kevin Lynch. Apple was supposedly mulling over two options of how to proceed after Project Titan’s been repeatedly waylaid, and it choose the decidedly more ambitious goal. From Bloomberg:
For the past several years, Apple’s car team had explored two simultaneous paths: creating a model with limited self-driving capabilities focused on steering and acceleration — similar to many current cars — or a version with full self-driving ability that doesn’t require human intervention.
Under the effort’s new leader — Apple Watch software executive Kevin Lynch — engineers are now concentrating on the second option. Lynch is pushing for a car with a full self-driving system in the first version, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.
Gurman’s been following Apple closely for a while, so I tend to put stock in his takes. In a later editorial, he said while the renewed ambition will likely motivate the team, that doesn’t necessarily mean Apple will hit its ideal timeline:
Even with its vast resources and ambition, I don’t believe Apple will achieve the goal of a fully driverless car by 2025. That adrenaline-fueled timeline is more of a motivating factor for the team than a hard deadline, but I do anticipate them pushing hard to showcase a prototype by then. It’s the firmest launch goal Apple has put forth for its car since its first vehicle attempt in the mid-2010s.
Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Lynch quietly leaves the company in a year. That’s kind of been the recurring theme of this odyssey.
The same week Ford announced a partnership with semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries, GM announced it’ll be working with a number of firms in the space to design new chips that can handle a greater breadth of tasks. From Bloomberg:
GM currently uses a wide assortment of semiconductors in its cars. It now plans to reduce the types of chips it uses to just three families of semiconductors over the next several years. That would reduce the variety of chips GM orders by 95%, making it easier for producers to fulfill the company’s needs and boosting margins, Reuss said at the Barclays Auto Conference.
Reuss said GM needs to cut down on semiconductor complexity because the rapid increase in high-tech functions in its new models, along with the company’s rapid push into electric vehicles, means the automaker needs a lot more chips.
“We see the semiconductor requirements more than doubling over the next several years as the vehicles we produce become more of a technology platform,” Reuss said.
GM will be working to develop the chips with Qualcomm Inc., STMicroelectronics NV, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Renasas Electronics Corp., ON Semiconductor Corp., NXP Semiconductors NV and Infineon Technologies AG, Reuss said.
The hope is that GM can slim down the variety of chips it orders so those orders can actually be filled. It’s a smart idea, and a reminder that if both industries actively listen to each other and try to meet halfway, we might one day be able to buy cars again. Imagine that.
Chrysler sells twice as many models here as it does in Australia: two. Down under, you see, they only get the 300. Soon Australians won’t even be able to buy that, as Chrysler is leaving the country by the end of 2021. From News.com.au:
Kevin Flynn, FCA Australia managing director, said “Chrysler has held a special place in the heart of many Australians and we are proud of its history here.”
Chrysler’s locally-built Valiant Charger was a worthy rival to Holden and Ford muscle cars in the 1970s. Many folks will remember the brand’s “Hey Charger” ad campaign, and the vehicle’s starring role in films such as Wog Boy.
A statement released by FCA Australia said Chrysler fell victim to “the global push towards electrification and focus on SUVs.”
FCA will focus on Jeep in 2022, introducing a plug-in hybrid version of the Grand Cherokee as well as a larger, three-row Grand Cherokee L aimed at big families.
Ah yes! Whomst among us doesn’t remember Wog Boy?
Ford officially discontinued the Edsel 62 years ago, on November 19, 1959. It built 118,287 of them and lost $350 million on the car in 1959 money. That works out to $3.3 billion today. They considered calling it “The Intelligent Whale” which, seeing as how history played out, might have given it a better chance at success.
I never do it, I promise. I actually don’t think I had since I was behind the wheel of my mom’s Acura RDX when I was first learning how to drive as a teen. But last week, I felt that bump heard the unmistakable shredding of my Fiesta’s black alloys as I botched a street parking job. I told myself not to care, that they’re the stock wheels anyway and now I can use them as winters without shame. But I have OCD about shit like this and will probably pay to have it refurbished. It’s not that bad.