The Pandemic Has Been A Boon For Cars

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People are turning to cars because of coronavirus, GM says its wireless battery-management system is good, and Renault. All that and more in The Morning Shift for September 10, 2020.

1st Gear: Cars!

I have heard, anecdotally, from friends in New York City and elsewhere that they are considering buying a car (if they don’t already have one) in these times because they distrust public transportation or they want an escape pod because, I dunno, everything about the world at this moment in history feels kind of tenuous.


This makes sense, and it has been one of the themes of the pandemic, along with suburban and exurban and rural life making a comeback. Indeed, The New York Times has been on the case! Bloomberg reports today that the stonks are performing well also as a result.

The Stoxx 600 Automobiles & Parts Index has gained 14% this quarter, the best performance among 19 industry groups in the wider regional equity benchmark, which has risen 2.2%. Every member of the gauge is up since the start of July, led by Germany’s Daimler AG, Finnish tire producer Nokian Renkaat Oyj and French parts maker Valeo SA. The car index is outperforming on Thursday in a seventh consecutive session — the best winning streak in a year — but is still down 12% for 2020.


Changes that the pandemic is bringing about in people’s behavior, such as possible population shifts out of cities, also are a potential boost to vehicle demand.

“Simply speaking, people will fly less, use less public transport and will drive more,” Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analysts Arndt Ellinghorst and Thanos Hadjiantonis said in a note on Wednesday. “Earnings and cash flows will bounce back.”


I briefly considered trying to sell my Fit because I could probably get an extra $500 or $1,000 out of it thanks to the seller’s market for small cars in NYC. And then I thought, “Fuck that. I’ve owned a car in this city for over a decade, why quit now.”

2nd Gear: Toyota Will Spend Hundreds Of Millions On Autonomous And Such

It’s part of a plan to make the cities of the future.

Via Reuters:

The fund called Woven Capital is to invest in companies in areas such as autonomous mobility and smart cities, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Japanese automaker unveiled a plan to build a prototype “city of the future” called Woven City at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and functioning as a laboratory for autonomous cars.

“With diverse projects such as Arene, the Automated Mapping Platform, and Woven City, the Woven Planet Holdings Group has set ambitious goals for itself, and we will need a variety of partners and technologies to achieve those goals,” James Kuffner, CEO of TRI-AD, said in a statement.


I admire the ambition!

3rd Gear: Renault Isn’t Out Of The Woods Just Yet

Renault is the kind of company that always seems to be in some kind of low-key financial trouble but keeps on keeping on. That hasn’t changed.


Via the Financial Times:

[Renault CEO Luca de Meo], who took over at Renault in July, said the carmaker’s cash projections were “alarming” and that it needed to model itself on PSA, which owns Peugeot, in an internal memo seen by the Financial Times.

The former Volkswagen executive said in the memo, first reported by Reuters, that PSA “was almost bankrupt five years ago” before being turned round by former chief Carlos Tavares.

“The goal is to get back on track and solve our problems as quickly as possible: treasury and costs. That means that we might have to go further than planned in the effort to reduce costs.”

Renault has already unveiled a three-year, €2bn cost-cutting initiative in May that will involve shedding 15,000 jobs, including politically sensitive losses in France.

It has also scaled back its global ambitions pushed by former boss and current fugitive Carlos Ghosn, cutting global production capacity from 4m vehicles in 2019 to 3.3m by 2024.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Renault particularly hard, compounding existing issues, including its troubled relationship with Japanese partner Nissan.


I fully expect Renault to be with us in 10 years, still complaining about challenges to its business.

4th Gear: EV Sales Up Big In China

Another theme of the pandemic has been that EV sales are rising, whether because of subsidies or not. China has seen a rise as well, as Reuters reports.

New energy vehicle (NEV) sales in China surged 26% on year to 109,000 units in August for their second consecutive month of gain, a promising sign for automakers that have invested heavily in the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles (EVs).

For the full year, NEV sales are likely to reach 1.1 million vehicles, down around 11% from last year, said the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) on Thursday.

NEVs include battery-powered electric, plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

“The sales rebound was fuelled by rural NEV sales promotion events and local governments’ support,” said senior CAAM official Chen Shihua.


5th Gear: GM Is High On Its Batteries

High on its own supply, or possible supply, thanks to a wireless battery-management system.


Via Automotive News:

The battery system, developed with Analog Devices Inc., can be updated over the air to incorporate new technology quickly, improves range by reducing weight and allows used-up batteries to be converted into clean power generators, GM said. It will be standard on all vehicles powered by GM’s proprietary Ultium batteries, including the GMC Hummer pickup that could arrive in 2021 and the Cadillac Lyriq crossover due in 2022.

“Scalability and complexity reduction are a theme with our Ultium batteries — the wireless battery management system is the critical enabler of this amazing flexibility,” Kent Helfrich, GM executive director of global electrification and battery systems, said in a statement. “The wireless system represents the epitome of Ultium’s configurability and should help GM build profitable EVs at scale.”

The wireless management system eliminates the need to develop specific communication systems or redesign wiring configurations for each new vehicle, GM said.

The system can run battery pack health checks in real time and help maintain long-term battery health. It reduces wiring within the batteries by up to 90 percent, GM said, which can extend charging range by making the vehicle lighter and freeing up space for additional batteries.


This is all well and good but the jury is very much still out on how much of a challenge Hummer and Cadillac will be to Tesla.

Reverse: Drunken Driving


Neutral: How Are You?

I made some kind of brisket adobo situation last night and listened to some old jams while nursing a tumbler of riesling, eventually vodka. I’m full of hope.