Photo: AP
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Toyota wants to get you into an electric vehicle faster, GM may be putting controls in their autonomous vehicles after all, the Tesla stock roller coaster rides on, and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, June 7, 2019.

1st Gear: Toyota Wants Half of All Sales to be EVs by 2025 But Still Hasn’t Given Up on Hydrogen

Electric cars are the future feels like a phrase that can only be typed using the Spongebob meme font these days, not because it’s untrue but because it’s kind of meaningless at this point. The dominating question is not if but when, and, for automakers, whether they’ll dive into the EV deep end or keep wading in gradually while whining about how cold the water is.

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Which is to say it’s not exactly surprising Toyota has cut its goal for when it wants half of all global sales to be EVs to 2025, roughly twice as fast as the previous benchmark. They plan to do this by leveraging partnerships with battery makers and other automakers. From Reuters:

Toyota is now faced with a higher-than-expected demand for cars that use batteries, rather than gasoline, Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi told a briefing on Friday.

Also, increasingly stringent emissions regulations require more lithium-ion batteries in the next five years than the automaker plans to produce, he added.

“We consider ourselves as a maker of electric vehicle batteries, going back to when we developed the battery for the Prius,” he said, referring to the pioneering gasoline hybrid.

“But there may be a gap between the amount of batteries we can produce, and the amount of batteries we may need.”

Toyota, which already makes batteries for hybrids and hybrid plug-ins, said it will partner with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) and EV maker BYD Co Ltd for battery procurement.

This is all pretty standard fare for an article about EVs; we expect the industry to shift quickly but making batteries is hard etc. However, Toyota did throw in one curve ball at the end:

“We haven’t changed our policy towards battery EVs,” Terashi said. “We are not shifting our focus to prioritize battery EVs, nor are we abandoning our FCV strategy.”

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Yes, that’s FCV, as in Fuel Cell Vehicle, as in hydrogen fuel cells. I get diversifying R&D to minimize strategic risk and all that, but it doesn’t seem like you can be going all-in on both electric and FCVs.

But not only that, we’re not sure how Toyota plans on catching up so quickly that half of all car sales to be EVs by 2025. Despite the head start from the Prius, it barely makes any long-range electric cars to begin with. And its hydrogen efforts have always fallen a bit flat, outside of California.

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2nd Gear: GM’s Cruise May Just Keep the Dang Steering Wheel For Now

More than a year ago, GM began the process seeking federal approval to build autonomous vehicles for its Cruise subsidiary without manual controls such as pedals or steering wheels. Like nearly any process seeking federal approval, it has dragged on without resolution.

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Now, GM appears to be ready to just keep the damn steering wheel until the Feds can get their act together. From Automotive News:

General Motors’ initial fleet of autonomous vehicles for public use will “most likely” include manual controls such as steering wheels and pedals, according to the company’s head of electric and autonomous vehicles.

GM last year requested federal approval to launch such a fleet with its fourth-generation Cruise AV that does not include manual controls as early as this year. However, the U.S. government has been slow to grant safety exemptions for the vehicles, which do not meet existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

“Until we have exemptions, which we filed a petition for, and/or law changes, we probably wouldn’t go forward with Gen 4,” Doug Parks, GM vice president of autonomous and electric vehicle programs, said Thursday during the 2019 RBC Capital Markets Future of Mobility Conference in Palo Alto, Calif. “But we think it’s really something we’ve got to talk about, we’ve got to work on.”

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There’s still no time frame for Cruise to publicly launch, although GM execs have previously targeted some time this year. I, for one, would be more than happy to have Cruise take their time and launch when ready as opposed to falling prey to the “race to AV” narrative and rushing a product that isn’t there.

As far as AV companies go, Cruise—and Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-AV system for that matter—have done a good job staying out of the news for the wrong reasons. Let’s hope that continues.

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3rd Gear: Tesla Stocks Up, Wheeeeee!!!

The Tesla stock roller coaster continues its exciting ride, with prices up 12 percent in June due to expected forthcoming good news on orders and deliveries, particularly on the Model 3, according to the Detroit News. This follows a terrible-no-good May for Tesla that saw the company’s stock price plummet 22 percent.

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This might be too simplistic, but it sure seems to me like when Tesla focuses on making good cars well the stock does well, and when it’s all about robotaxis and arbitrary price points it can’t hit the stock does poorly. But that’s just one poor blogger’s take using nothing but the financial mysticism of his own two semi-working eyes.

Anyways, here’s what Tesla’s recent years look like on the ol’ ticker:

Screenshot: Google Stocks

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Up down up down up down up down. It’s almost like Tesla is a volatile company run by an unpredictable futurist.

4th Gear: We Have So Many Questions About the Erstwhile FCA-Renault Merger

The Financial Times has a detailed rundown of the FCA-Renault merger deal falling apart, which is worth reading in full should you be fortunate enough to have an FT login. But the detail that sticks out to us is this:

A demand that French finance minister Bruno Le Maire be given time to use a trip to Japan to smooth the deal with Renault partner Nissan, made late in a meeting on Wednesday evening, was too much for FCA.

As the minutes ticked towards midnight, a call between FCA’s increasingly frustrated board members ended with a decision to call off the merger approach.

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So a multi-billion dollar merger months in the making was called off because a key player in the whole deal—the French state owns 15 percent of Renault—wanted to talk it over with another key player in person? We’re sure to learn more about this abrupt about-face in the coming weeks and perhaps even months, but the big question is why the rush?

5th Gear: Businesses Hate Unpredictability, Especially Car Companies

My colleague Brad wrote about the news last night that a bunch of the major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen, wrote a letter to President Trump asking him to please reconsider his emissions standards rollback:

If the White House follows through on its plan to roll back EPA regs to pre-Obama specs, some 14 states have already stated that a legal suit would be on the table. California’s Air Resource Board, for example, would institute its own fuel economy and emissions standards, more stringent than the federal minimum. The rollback would knock the planned 2025 corporate average fuel economy goal down from 54.5 mpg to about 37 mpg, among other planned regulations knockdowns.

By cleaving the country over automotive regulations, this rollback would effectively mandate that manufacturers would have to treat those 14 states as a new market with separate goals. The automakers are attempting to drum up legislative support for continuing a single unified EPA and CARB standard, stepping in to seek compromise between the White House and California.

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Brad’s post is worth reading in full, particularly for pointing out that this is an all-time example of Be Careful What You Ask For.

But the broader point I want to add is that this is unlikely to be the last time the federal government seeks vastly different rules than a handful of states looking to go in the complete opposite direction. Should a Democrat further to the Left win the next election, the same dynamic could well appear, this time with red states bucking the federal regulatory trend.

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Businesses, especially very large ones that have to plan manufacturing schedules years and years in advance, hate this kind of unpredictability and variability. Should this come to pass, regardless of your feelings on fuel economy standards, it is going to radically change the business climate in this country, and almost certainly for the worse.

Reverse: Switzerland Invents the Drive-Through Bank

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Neutral: FCA-Renault WTF

What are your biggest questions about the FCA-Renault failed merger? What smells fishy to you?