Volkswagen is talking the talk, American Airlines’ pilots and flight attendants aren’t happy, and sodium-ion batteries. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 29, 2021.
It is kind of ridiculous that the world’s biggest or second-biggest automaker (depending on how you count) is playing catch up on EVs with Tesla, a young punk of an automaker that, in terms of automotive history, has been on the block for about 30 seconds, but here we are. VW also moved to buy a big European rental car company this week in its “mobility” push.
Spurred by Chief Executive Herbert Diess’ vision to overtake Tesla as the world’s top electric vehicle (EV) player, Volkswagen has unveiled a string of targets and deals this year to meet that goal.
“Yes, we did buy a car rental company, but it won’t be a car rental company probably in 5 to 10 years’ time. It can be a big mobility platform,” Diess told journalists.
The 62-year old said he hadn’t finished.
“Our electric offensive is picking up momentum and we will keep on increasing its pace in the months to come,” he said.
Volkswagen said it now expected an operating return on sales of 6.0-7.5% this year, up from 5.5-7% previously, and nudged up its forecast for net cash flow at its automotive division, which is now expected to be much stronger than in 2020.
I appreciate Diess’s implication that car rental companies are shady businesses or something. Volkswagen is NOT in the business of car rentals. It is in the business of mobility, you see, that is totally different.
Automotive News has an interesting story this morning about how the engineering firm Dürr is helping VW with its EV production. Automaking always comes down to details.
One innovation was Dürr’s Next.assembly strategy, which employs a new gluing technology that installs vehicle side windows in a flow process. A more traditional line would have required a stop-and-go setup for workers to spend more time at each vehicle.
To do it, Dürr had to time components and machinery to precisely line up.
First, the car body moves on the skillet conveyor assembly platform. Mounting robots guide the side window to the application tower for glue. The robot is then synced up with the platform system from a “defined trigger point,” in Dürr’s words, meaning the exact position of the body that is optimal for installation.
The side window is installed with an accuracy of a few tenths of a millimeter using this system, Vogl said.
The process does not make the assembly line move faster — it simplifies a task that would have slowed it down.
Admiring advances like this is always a bit queasy, as more robots mean fewer jobs.
Currently, batteries for cars mainly use cobalt, aluminum, nickel, manganese, lithium, and iron, but costs for those materials have been up sharply in recent times, which has left automakers seeking alternatives. Reuters says that CATL, which supplies batteries to Tesla among others, has a battery which uses sodium.
China’s CATL on Thursday became the first major automotive battery maker to unveil a sodium-ion battery, saying it planned to set up a supply chain for the new technology in 2023.
The energy density of its new sodium-ion batteries is still lower than that of LFP batteries, Huang Qisen, deputy head of CATL’s research centre told an online briefing. But he added that they perform well in cold-weather and fast-charging scenarios.
CATL, which competes with Japan’s Panasonic Corp (6752.T) and South Korea’s LG Chem, has over 5,000 researchers, its chairman, Zeng Yuqun, told the briefing.
It is also developing other technologies that integrate battery cells directly onto an electric vehicle’s frame to extend its driving range.
CATL did not say how much the sodium-ion batteries would cost, which is the big question, of course.
The automaker has been hampered by the chip shortage, and production will continue to be touch-and-go. It said Wednesday that it would be prioritizing truck production over midsize SUVs like the Traverse. That means that full production of Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra will restart at Flint Assembly on Monday, along with Fort Wayne Assembly and Mexico’s Silao Assembly.
From the Detroit Free Press:
But GM’s midsize SUV plants, including Lansing Delta Township Assembly, which builds the Chevrolet Traverse and the Buick Enclave SUVs, will add an additional week of downtime starting Monday. GM also builds midsize SUVs at Spring Hill Assembly in Tennessee and Ramos Assembly in Mexico.
On Wednesday, GM also provided some restart dates for other plants that have been idle because of the chip shortage.
- Lansing Grand River Assembly will restart Cadillac CT4 and CT5 production on Aug. 30. It had been scheduled to resume the week of Aug. 16. Production of Cadillac CT4 and CT5 has been down since May 10. There is no impact to Chevrolet Camaro production at the plant.
- Fairfax Assembly will take an additional four weeks of downtime and resume production of Cadillac XT4 only on Sept. 20. Chevrolet Malibu production will remain down.
- San Luis Potosi Assembly (Mexico) will add three weeks of downtime through the week of Aug. 16. It was supposed to resume production Monday. It has been down since July 19. GM builds the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain SUV there.
It has been a challenge for pilots and flight attendants to find hotel rooms to sleep in between flights, which The Wall Street Journal calls a “growing pain” of summer travel ramping up now that people are doing that again. The pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions are none too pleased.
Airlines have flooded into leisure destinations this summer, including some in remote areas near natural parks—one reason hotels have sometimes been harder to find, union and airline officials say. Hotels have also gotten fuller. In the week ending July 17, U.S. hotels were 71% full, the highest weekly hotel occupancy reached its highest level since October of 2019, according to hotel data tracker STR.
“Flight attendants should not have to wait hours on end to speak with the hotel/limo desk,” Julie Hedrick, president of the union that represents flight attendants at American, said in a statement. Flight attendants have had to sleep in airports because hotels haven’t been found in time, adding: “Crew rest is being impacted.”
Eric Ferguson, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said the lack of hotels and ground transportation on layovers has put pilots in unsafe situations.
A spokesman for American said the airline is looking into the concerns the unions raised. “Taking care of our crew members while they are away from home is a priority for American,” the spokesman said.
If you’re flying this summer, be nice to your flight attendants and pilots. We’re all going through it.
This History post claims that Cadillac “remains a leader in the luxury market,” which, let’s be honest now.
My right-front tire persistently deflates itself to about 20 psi and stays there, or less than half of the max psi (44 psi) and less than what the shop usually inflates it to, or 33-34 psi. It never goes flat, but the situation is highly irritating, as once you become a my-tires-will-always-be-optimally-inflated person, you never go back. Have I gone to a tire shop to get the damned thing checked out? No, why do you ask.