Illustration for article titled Rivian Is Taking Up Teslas Direct Sales Battle
Photo: Rivian
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Rivian is finding itself in the same direct sales battle with dealerships and legislators as Tesla, Carlos Ghosn is dealing with a lot in Lebanon, someone at Italdesign got coronavirus, and all that and more in the Morning Shift for Monday, February 24, 2020.

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1st Gear: ‘Lipstick On A Pig’

Following in Tesla’s footsteps, EV startup Rivian is now going to bat in battleground states with automotive dealerships to push for changes to state laws to allow it to directly sell its cars to customers without the need for a third party dealership, and it isn’t going to be easy.

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From Automotive News:

That startup, Rivian, is lobbying to open up Colorado’s dealer franchise law as it prepares to start production of electric pickups and SUVs this year. Lawmakers in that state could vote as soon as this week on a controversial bill that would allow any automaker — including those with existing franchised dealerships — to sell their EVs directly to customers.

An amendment added to the bill Friday, Feb. 21, designed to prevent traditional automakers from opening up next door to their franchised dealers did little to quell retailers’ concerns about what they say are the potential risks should the bill become law.

“We’re not enamored with the amendment,” said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.”

Thanks to the Teslas’s efforts, Rivian is in a good position for direct sales in the company’s home state of Michigan. Rivian expects to already be able to sell directly in Arizona and is seeking dealer licenses in Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Florida to do the same. The company is pushing for a new bill similar to the changes requested in the Colorado law in Washington state.

2nd Gear: Lead Acid No More?

The next big revolution in battery technology will probably be supercapacitors, which are short-term energy storage devices similar to a battery but more ideal for rapid charging and discharging. The working theory now is that they could one day replace the car’s standard 12-volt battery.

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From Bloomberg:

Skeleton Technologies Group OU is working on supercapacitors, light-weight and long-life components that can distribute intensive bursts of power. These may help eliminate lead-acid batteries, a piece of technology invented in 1859 that still lurks under the hoods of Teslas in addition to the main lithium-ion power source.

[...]

Tesla, also searching for a breakthrough for electric car batteries, bought Skeleton’s competitor Maxwell Technologies Inc. last year. Musk’s company, like other manufacturers, still uses the relatively cheap and recyclable lead-acid battery in addition to the lithium-ion unit.

The sector is at a stage where the lithium-ion battery industry was around 1999, according to Madiberk, whose company also has a base in Germany. Back then, lithium-ion batteries cost over $5,000 per kilowatt hour, compared with under $200 now. Supercapacitors may similarly go from $5,000 to as low as $300, he said, without giving an exact timeline.

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I guess if this tech works out, Back To The Future quotes at the local Auto Zone are going to peak.

3rd Gear: Audi E-Tron Out Of Batteries

Audi’s had a frustrating time getting its all-electric E-Tron crossover off the production line thanks to a delayed launch, recalls, and now battery shortages. Again, from Bloomberg:

Manufacturing at Audi’s factory in Brussels stopped on Thursday and the plant will remain idle until Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said Monday by phone. Audi sold about 26,400 E-Tron cars last year, she said, declining to comment on estimated deliveries this year.

Audi, Volkswagen AG’s largest profit contributor, had to delay the E-Tron’s market launch after its unveiling in September 2018. Audi recalled its first all-electric model last year over potential fire risk. It plans to add the E-Tron Sportback version — which features a more coupe-like declining roofline — later this year as well as a performance sedan dubbed the E-Tron GT.

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The report only cites “battery-supply bottlenecks” for the delay and it isn’t clear when production will be able to resume. Mercedes-Benz has also had to delay its first electric crossover, the EQC, due to similar supply restraints.

4th Gear: Carlos Ghosn Is Having A Normal One In Lebanon

If you’ve been curious as to how things are going for the former Nissan and Renault executive, there’s a new report and interview with Carlos Ghosn in the Wall Street Journal that details everything:

Mr. Ghosn’s new life in Lebanon, he said between sips of espresso, is one of restrictions. He can’t leave the country where he grew up without risking arrest, and Lebanon’s banking crisis has crimped his access to cash. At times, street protests have made even moving around the city a challenge.

And always, he is on the lookout for Nissan or Japanese authorities who might be shadowing him.

“I’ve been told I need to protect myself,” he said. “Even the building in front of my house, Japanese people came to rent it. I don’t know what their intentions are. People tell me that a lot of Japanese people are coming, taking photos and observing.”

His life of hopscotching around the world on a private jet, he knows, is over. His primary focus these days is mounting his counterattack against charges that as head of the auto-making alliance between Renault and Nissan Motor Co., he misappropriated company money and hid compensation. “We’re talking about fighting for my reputation, fighting for my legacy and fighting for my rights,” he said. “I’ve never been as motivated as I am today.”

Asked whether he has anything to apologize for in the wake of his escape, his eyes narrowed. “Apology for what…?” he said. “For who? Nissan? Renault?”

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When he’s less paranoid, Ghosn has been taking his children to see his childhood home in Beirut, suing Renault for pension he claims he’s owned, sipping coffee, and trying to assure the nation’s rowdy protesters and those mad at him for visiting Israel as a company executive despite Lebanon still being at war with Israel that he is not part of the Lebanese establishment and has no interest in government work.

Sounds like anything my usual kind of vacation.

5th Gear: Italy, Italdesign, FCA Hit By Coronavirus

Italy is currently suffering Europe’s worst flare up of the spread of the coronavirus, with a fifth person dying from the virus and at least 220 more people infected as of Friday, Reuters reports.

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And the outbreak is taking its toll on the Italian auto industry, via Automotive News:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is restricting access to its European plants following the spread of the coronavirus in northern Italy.

[...]

In a letter to suppliers and visitors, seen by Automotive News Europe, FCA said access to all of its European facilities will be refused to those who have been in one of the 13 Italian municipalities affected by the virus outbreak.

Italdesign said on Sunday that it will suspend production activities at its two sites in Turin as a precaution after an employee who works at its Nichelino facility tested positive for the coronavirus.

The company said it is working to identify people who had contacts with the affected employee.

Italdesign’s headquarters in the Turin suburb of Moncalieri have been closed.

Italdesign has 928 employees in Italy, most of them at Moncalieri. About 100 work in the Nichelino facility.

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Reverse: Spooky Battle Of Los Angeles

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Neutral: Do Dealers Have A Right To Fight Direct Sales?

On the one hand, I want to be able to buy a car directly from a car company as that seems like the least costly and most-efficient way of doing business. On the other hand, if I was a dealership employee I’d be worried about not having a job if the law changed and allowed for a direct sales model. So I’m conflicted.

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