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Tesla's Swift International Expansion Gets A Brake Check

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Tesla has run into some trouble in Germany and China, rental car companies are so desperate that they’re buying used, and the Ford Bronco Sport seems safe. All that and more in The Morning Shift for May 3, 2021.

1st Gear: Tesla Is A Bully Until It Grovels

Which is what it sure seems like it’s doing in China now, according to Reuters, after some newsworthy recent incidents.

Electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), facing scrutiny in China over safety and customer service complaints, is boosting its engagement with mainland regulators and beefing up its government relations team, industry sources said.

Tesla’s change of strategy leading to more behind-the-scenes interaction with policymakers in Beijing compared to relatively little previously shows the seriousness with which the U.S. automaker views the setbacks in its second-biggest market.

It also comes at a time when China is trying to regulate large and powerful private companies, especially in the technology sector, on concerns about their market dominance.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, a public holiday in China.


Tesla, of course, barely gives any thought to regulators in the U.S., because it doesn’t really have to. Such is the weak nature of things here, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Like any bully, you just gotta punch it in the mouth once.

2nd Gear: Meanwhile, In Germany

The opening of Tesla’s factory there has been delayed by at least six months, according to Reuters, which cites a report in Automobilwoche.

Tesla (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk has given its German team six more months to start production at its delayed factory near Berlin, its first gigafactory in Europe, German weekly Automobilwoche reported, citing company sources.

A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on the report, referring to last month’s official statement by the carmaker that put the start of production at the Gruenheide site towards the end of 2021.

Initially, Tesla had planned to start production on July 1, 2021, but red tape and plans to also build a battery cell factory on the site have delayed the project.


We heard about Tesla being mad about “red tape” last month; usually that just means companies are mad they can’t cut corners.

3rd Gear: Rental Car Companies Are Buying Used Cars

The companies include Hertz and Enterprise, according to Bloomberg, and they are doing it because there is a shortage of new cars, because of the shortage of semiconductors. This is a little bit funny, because around this time a year ago rental car companies were selling off their fleets en masse. The rental car companies now are in “uncharted territory,” because usually rental companies buy only new cars, and at a discount, because they buy so many of them.

Hertz is adding as many cars to its fleet as it can to support the travel rebound, including used cars, spokeswoman Lauren Luster said in an email.

“The global microchip shortage has impacted the entire car-rental industry’s ability to receive new vehicle orders as quickly as we would like,” Luster said. “Hertz is supplementing our fleet by purchasing low-mileage, preowned vehicles from a variety of channels including auctions, online auctions, dealerships and cars coming off lease programs.”

The same goes for closely held Enterprise, the nation’s largest rental company. Avis Budget Group Inc. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our fleet acquisition team is working hard to secure additional vehicles — both new and low-mileage used vehicles — through all channels to meet the ongoing increase in demand,” Enterprise spokeswoman Lisa Martini said via email. “Overall, though, both new and used car inventory remain low. Our teams will continue to do everything we can to help customers with their transportation needs.”

If you are thinking of making any kind of big-ticket purchase right now — a house or car — maybe see if you can hold off and wait everything out, for the time being. Everyone, it seems, is going a little nuts.

4th Gear: The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Crashes Well

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it its Top Safety Pick+ award, its highest mark. From the IIHS:

To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK+, the higher of the Institute’s two awards, vehicles must earn good ratings in all six IIHS crashworthiness evaluations, including the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. They must also be available with a front crash prevention system that earns advanced or superior ratings in both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations, and good or acceptable headlights must be standard on all models, regardless of trim level.

The Bronco Sport, which was introduced in 2021, hits all those marks. It earns good ratings in the six crashworthiness tests. Both the standard and optional front crash prevention systems earn superior ratings in the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations. And the headlight system offered on all trims earns a good rating.


Ford spokesman Mike Levine was on hand on Sunday to give an enthusiastic quote to the Detroit Free Press:

“Some doubted Bronco Sport but we have crazy smart engineers that created a badass baby mountain goat for trails and have done it again with Top Safety Pick+,” Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications manager, told the Free Press on Sunday.


Doth protest too much.

5th Gear: Over-The-Air Updates Are The New Must-Have For Automakers

The motive, of course, is profit, as we saw with Volkswagen last week. On Saturday, Bloomberg took stock of the overall landscape.

Most major automakers are fleshing out a strategy for selling upgrades via over-the-air software updates and a rash of them will start popping up in the wild in the next few months, starting with luxury vehicles. “If you don’t have digital experiences, you are not on the radar screen,” Kjell Gruner, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, recently told Bloomberg. “You’re irrelevant.”

Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes all confirmed that these options will appear on flagship vehicles soon, though nearly all of them said, via e-mail, that it was too early to discuss details. It’s “part of a global BMW strategy,” said spokesman Phil DiAnni. “When and how the concept gets rolled out in individual markets, and to what extent, is still to be determined.”

General Motors is all-in as well. On Friday, some 900,000 of its vehicles in the wild got an over-the-air version of Maps+, an app-based navigation tool. Similar software pushes are in the works for the company’s Super Cruise autonomous driving function. Underpinning it all is a massive electrical hardware update launched at the end of 2019. Dubbed the Vehicle Intelligence Platform, the system can process 4.5 terabytes of data per hour, a five-fold increase over its predecessor.


Cars becoming apps with in-app purchases is a bad trend, for sure, though also perhaps inevitable.

Reverse: Encounters At The End Of The World

A moment later, Fletcher climbed out of the plane and walked to the exact geographic North Pole, probably the first person in history to do so.


Neutral: How Are You?

T-minus five days until the CDC says it’s all right for me to go maskless outdoors. I remember first wearing a mask last March, which actually wasn’t a mask but a bandana. That was comic and strange at the time. I imagine unmasking will simply just be strange.