I’m not sure there’s anything that needs Silicon Valley disruption less than utilities, so it’s no surprise that a Tesla subsidiary is reportedly moving on in. All that and more in The Morning Shift for March 8, 2021.
1st Gear: Elon Said Get Me Into The Most Dysfunctional Power Grid We’ve Got
I don’t care if some people get stuck with Model Xs with malfunctioning doors, or Model 3s defeated by rain, or whatever other little problems crop up in Tesla cars. I just don’t know if I want that kind of operation involved in power grids.
But Elon is nothing if not undaunted, as Bloomberg reports:
A Tesla subsidiary registered as Gambit Energy Storage LLC is quietly building a more than 100 megawatt energy storage project in Angleton, Texas, a town roughly 40 miles south of Houston. A battery that size could power about 20,000 homes on a hot summer day. Workers at the site kept equipment under cover and discouraged onlookers, but a Tesla logo could be seen on a worker’s hard hat and public documents helped confirm the company’s role.
Property records on file with Brazoria County show Gambit shares the same address as a Tesla facility near the company’s auto plant in Fremont, California. A filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lists Gambit as a Tesla subsidiary. Executives from Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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A quick google of “Gambit Energy Storage” does turn up this project presentation with a big picture of a Tesla-branded battery station down in Angleton, Texas, near to Freeport, Galveston, and Houston. Bloomberg also found the connection an easy one to make:
The Gambit project was originally developed by San Francisco-based Plus Power, a privately held renewables company that has battery operations in several states. Scott Albert, the former city manager of Angleton, said it was obvious that Plus Power was working with Tesla. A project summary available on the city’s website features images of Tesla’s utility-scale battery products, and some of Plus Power’s principal staffers previously worked at Tesla. (Plus Power confirmed its sale of the project to an undisclosed party and declined further comment.)
The Gambit project is not hard to find in Angleton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people in the middle of the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. But people on the construction site appear to have instructions to avoid drawing attention or answering questions from passersby. A photographer who attempted to observe from the front gate was told by a worker that it was a “secretive project.” White sheets obscured what appeared to be Tesla’s modular Megapacks.
I mean, it’s certainly possible that nobody could do worse at getting Texans power than the existing de-regulated grid, but I feel like the people who survived the freeze deserve better.
2nd Gear: Please Enjoy Volvo Dealers Freaking Out About Online Sales
Volvo is going all-in on all-electric cars, which it plans on selling exclusively online.
Volvo dealers are not taking this news particularly well, as detailed in a delightful report from Automotive News:
Retailers are “concerned and fearful” about where they stand, Volvo Retail Advisory Board Chairman Ernie Norcross told Automotive News last week.
“Dealers always want to control the consumer experience from start to finish,” said Norcross, owner of Volvo Cars Memphis in Tennessee. “If we don’t control the buying experience, how are we anything but a delivery and service center?”
“We have to engage with the prospect not just on the product, but on their passion about what they want to drive,” said [Adam] Simms, a Bay Area Volvo dealer. “I am not sure a website emotionally engages people like humans do.”
Dealerships have been built as sales venues, with grand showrooms and space for large inventories, [Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book] said. “Changing the sales process may be easier — and cheaper — than changing the physical space.”
That’s a concern for Todd Bondy, operating partner at Volvo Cars Oklahoma City. “We have some big investments in real estate that the manufacturers have all been pushing over the last several years,” Bondy said. “It’s very likely that the footprint that we have now is going to be obsolete.”
While many of us would certainly be stoked if we could just specify and order all of our cars online with dealers only operating as service locations, maybe we haven’t considered ... uh ... what it would do to their real estate investments?
3rd Gear: And Also BMW Talking Shit On The Apple Car
The Apple Car project has been having a tough time on its own, getting rejected by Hyundai and Kia. Why BMW decided to pile on it, I do not know, but I do enjoy a little hubris every now and then. From Bloomberg:
BMW AG has a message for Apple Inc.: bring it on.
The German luxury-car maker is well placed as electrification and alternatives to private vehicle ownership transform the auto industry, Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said in an interview. He is undaunted by reports that the world’s most valuable company could enter the car business.
“I sleep very peacefully,” Peter said when asked about Apple. “Competition is a wonderful thing — it helps motivate the others. We’re in a very strong position and we want to remain in a leading position of the industry.”
This is somewhat rich coming from the company that decided to poach the “i” branding for its own stuttering enviro-car branch.
4th Gear: Peugeot Plans To Come Stateside Officially Scrapped
As we reported last week, things were not looking good for Peugeot’s return to the United States, gone since 1991. The exec in charge of the move bounced over to Alfa Romeo (another 1990s departure) and we expected the worst. Now we got it, as Automotive News reports:
Stellantis has halted a plan to bring back the Peugeot brand to the U.S. market, saying it wants to concentrate on “existing brands” in North America after the merger of PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles gave the new group a broader geographical reach.
The plan for a comeback for Peugeot, last sold in the U.S. in the early 1990s, was thrown into question after the merger was announced in December 2019. Larry Dominique, the executive who had been leading PSA’s U.S. efforts since 2017, on Friday was named head of North America for the Stellantis brand Alfa Romeo.
A Stellantis spokesman said on Saturday that the “new context of Stellantis with a strong presence on U.S. market leads us to focus on existing brands.”
Honestly, the last thing America needs is another bland midsize sedan company struggling to find its identity. We already have Chrysler!
5th Gear: People Keep Talking About VW Selling Bugatti To Rimac
Porsche boosted its stake in the electric car gurus at Rimac, and all people seem to talk about is VW selling Bugatti to the Croatian startup. From Bloomberg:
Porsche agreed to lifts its stake in Rimac, a move that could pave the way for parent Volkswagen Group to sell its ultraluxury Bugatti brand to the Croatian electric supercar maker.
Porsche will invest 70 million euros ($84 million) to raise its stake in Rimac to 24 percent, from 15 percent, in a capital increase, the VW Group brand said in a statement Monday.
Porsche first bought a 10 percent stake in Rimac in 2018, raising it to 15 percent a year later.
“Our investments in the company Rimac have proved to be absolutely right,” Porsche Chief Financial Officer Lutz Meschke said. “The company has developed very well technologically. We expand our cooperation step by step.”
Bloomberg also noted that the deal “could pave the way for parent VW Group to sell Bugatti to the Croatian automaker.” Maybe Bloomberg knows something I don’t.
Reverse: The Only Box More Overpriced Comes From Tiffany
Neutral: What Does Need Tesla-ification?
EVs needed some sex appeal in the 2000s. What else could use some freshening up?