Newsflash: Toyota introduceert elektrische C-HR

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+++ CHINA ‘s monthly vehicle sales rose for the first time in nearly 2 years in April with production returning to 2019 levels; an indication that the industry has returned to normalcy since the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a leading industry association. A total of 2.07 million vehicles were sold in April; up 4.4 % on a yearly basis, while vehicle output rose by 2.3 % on a yearly basis to 2.1 million units during the same period, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said. The first monthly sales growth since July 2018 came after a 43 % fall in March and a 79 % slump in February, as the novel coronavirus outbreak distanced people from showrooms in the world’s largest auto market. Chen Shihua, deputy secretary-general of the CAAM, said the rebound was primarily a result of the country’s effective efforts in controlling the pandemic and a slew of government policies, including extending subsidies on new energy vehicles and offering more license plates for gasoline cars in some big cities. The association said the rebound in April fell short of expectations and it estimated that the growth trend will likely continue to improve in the next two months due to the anticipated release of pent-up demand. In terms of production, 203 out of 204 car manufacturing plants of major Chinese and international car groups had resumed operations in China by Monday, said the CAAM. “If there is demand, we can ramp up to produce more vehicles than last year”, said Xu Haidong, deputy chief engineer of the association. Buoyed by the robust recovery in April, many carmakers have expressed confidence about market potential in the subsequent months. China’s largest private carmaker Geely sold 105.468 vehicles last month; up 2 % from the same period last year. “We are confident on the sales performance in May and in the second half of the year, as we launch new models and resume deliveries that were affected by the coronavirus”, said Geely president An Conghui. China has become the lone ray of hope for foreign automakers including Volkswagen and General Motors, as the global automotive industry has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. SAIC-GM delivered 111.200 Buicks, Chevrolets and Cadillacs; up 13.6 % from the same month last year. SAIC-GM-Wuling sold 127.000 vehicles last month; up 13.5 % on a yearly basis. FAW-Volkswagen delivered 165.734 vehicles under the Volkswagen, Audi and Jetta brands; up 9.9 % year-on-year. “We have left the deepest valleys behind us and are now on the climb to the peaks again”, said Volkswagen Group China CEO Stephan Wöllenstein. “China is currently the role model for renewing vitality in automotive markets around the world and it will stabilize Volkswagen Group’s business while operations in Europe are still slowly coming back”. Amid growing optimism that China’s auto industry is improving, industry experts have urged caution and said both sales and production in the country could take a big hit if the health crisis is not curbed overseas. “My message is one of cautious optimism. It would be wrong to think that daily life is going to return to completely normal soon”, said Wöllenstein. The CAAM said the recovery is unlikely to recoup the losses of previous months. Sales in the first four months totaled 5.76 million units; down 31.1 % on a yearly basis. It estimates that sales this year could fall by 15 % from the over 25 million units sold in 2019. If the pandemic cannot be effectively controlled outside China, the worse-case scenario could be a slump of up to 25 %, it said. China’s vehicle exports are expected to drop by 200.000 units this year, from about 1 million in 2019, as the pandemic erodes global demand, said Chen, the CAAM official. Chen further said another big concern is that plant closures overseas could disrupt China’s production supply chain. “We are still somewhat reliant on imported parts, including those for some engines and transmissions”, he said. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) and Italy’s export credit agency Sace do not comment on reports the automaker is seeking State guarantees on loans worth up to €6.5 billion to weather the coronavirus crisis. FCA’s Italian unit, which oversees production sites in the country, is said to be in the process of asking state guarantees for loans, after the automaker said earlier this week it scrapped its planned ordinary dividend on 2019 results. FCA is in talks over a state-backed credit line of about €6.3 billion, with Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo ISP.M as lead lender. FCA’s decision to scrap its dividend marks another setback for plans by the Agnelli family’s Exor arm to raise cash after a $9 billion sale of its reinsurer unit PartnerRe collapsed this week. FCA and PSA, which have agreed a tie-up to create the world’s 4th largest carmaker, said they were both withdrawing their annual dividend. That will allow them each to preserve €1.1 billion in cash during the coronavirus crisis. Exor, led by Agnelli scion John Elkann and FCA’s controlling shareholder with a 28.9 % stake, will miss out on around €320 million in cash at a time when 2 deals to reshape its portfolio of businesses have either been scrapped or delayed. The coronavirus crisis had already forced vehicle and equipment maker CNH Industrial, also controlled by Exor, to delay to late 2021 “or beyond” a plan to split in 2 companies and list its truck, bus and engine business, which was initially due to be completed by early next year. All eyes are now on the $50 billion FCA-PSA merger. The 2 automakers said that preparations for their planned 50-50 fusion were “advancing well” and that the closing was expected on schedule, before the end of the first quarter of next year. The sale of Bermuda-based PartnerRe foundered after Exor resisted attempts by French insurer Covea to drive down the price of the cash deal. Some saw that as a warning shot to PSA not to try the same tactics with FCA where Elkann is the chairman. “With its decision not to accept a discount on PartnerRe, Elkann has sent a strong message to PSA and its CEO Carlos Tavares”, an investment banker close to the situation, who asked not to be named, told. “The message is: don’t expect to come around and get much different conditions on the FCA-PSA merger”. The decision to scrap payment of ordinary dividends, which had been announced in December as part of the tie-up agreement between the 2 automakers, did not alter the terms of the deal as both companies took the same step. Analysts are, however, focusing on a €5.5 billion special dividend which FCA is set to pay to its investors just before completing the merger. Intesa Sanpaolo analyst Monica Bosio said she still expected the payment of the special dividend, “which implicitly represents the premium assigned to the group in the deal thanks to its positioning in the U.S. and to its high-value brands such as Jeep, Ram and Maserati”. Marco Opipari, an analyst at Fidentiis, said the merger was essential to the 2 group’s long-term competitiveness, especially in the current scenario, but that some terms of the agreement could be rediscussed. “A Solomonic solution could be to cut FCA’s extraordinary dividend to 3 billion euros”, he said, adding that, as a rebalancing, PSA could ditch the planned spin-off of its controlling stake in parts maker Faurecia. The Covid-19 spread has hit asset valuations hard and raised questions about the terms of deals struck before the virus swept across the world. Shares in both FCA and PSA are both down around 45 % this year. Exor’s other investments include Ferrari, Italian soccer champions Juventus and weekly magazine the Economist. +++

+++ FORMULA 1 teams are currently bracing for the economic fall-out of the pandemic, with the sport reporting last week it had experienced an 84 % fall in revenue across the first quarter of the year. The opening 10 races of the season have been called off, the hosting fees for which funds much of the prize money that is then given to teams. It has led to concerns about the future of a number of outfits on the grid, with Williams deputy chief Claire Williams warning F1 could lose “a lot of teams” if it does not go racing this year. Racing Point team boss Szafnauer said that while F1 should “worry about everybody across the board”, he feared manufacturers may want to focus on supporting their road car businesses instead of keeping F1 programmes running. “The thing with the manufacturers, not so much in Formula 1, but in their regular business of developing and selling and designing road cars, it’s a very, very cost intensive business”, Szafnauer said in an interview. “Their fixed costs for tooling are massive, and it depends where in the cycle you are of reaping some of those revenues back from the fixed costs that you put in. If this thing caught you at a point in your life cycle of your cars where you just invested billions and billions of dollars and now you’re hoping to get some of that back from car sales, but it’s not happening, then again at that margin, this could have a big impact, I think. If you’re a big car manufacturer, then you’ve got to say ‘is racing really our bread and butter? No it’s not, selling cars is’. So you make those kind of decisions”. Szafnauer served as Honda’s director of strategy and business planning in the F1 prior to its withdrawal from the sport at the end of the 2008 season, triggered by the economic crisis. He felt the recovery of manufacturers such as Honda after the Great Recession acted as proof things would improve after the Covid-19 pandemic. “I remember Honda waited and waited and waited as long as they could because they did not want to pull out of Formula 1 and racing at the time”, Szafnauer recalled. “But unfortunately in 2008, it just looked like there was no end to the financial crisis, and it looked like their car sales were never going to rebound, and that’s when they decided to pull out. As it turned out, the car sales did rebound, they came back, and I think the same thing will happen here. We will get over this, car sales will rebound, there might be pent-up demand, and we’ll get through it. In the meantime, I think it’s important that we start racing as soon as possible”. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS ‘self-driving car unit Cruise told staff it has decided to lay off workers, the latest start-up in the nascent industry to cut jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Cruise officials acknowledged they were cutting jobs, but declined to confirm the number. According to an internal email, about 8 % of the staff would be cut, which amounts to more than 140 people. The outbreak has caused funding to dry up in the autonomous driving industry. That is only the latest challenge in a sector whose promise of large-scale rollouts of so-called robotaxis has been pushed out by many years. “In this time of great change, we’re fortunate to have a crystal clear mission and billions in the bank. The actions we took today reflect us doubling down on our engineering work and engineering talent”, Cruise spokesperson Milin Mehta told. The cuts at Cruise, which had 1.800 full-time employees, come just a week after GM chief executive officer Mary Barra said the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s commitment to Cruise was “unwavering” and it was growing the business. “Cruise is well capitalized”, she told analysts on a May 6 conference call after GM posted stronger-than-expected first-quarter profit. “We have and will continue to grow our team by recruiting and retaining the very best engineering and leadership talent”. The email said layoffs at Cruise include staff at an engineering team in Pasadena, California, that works on Lidar, a sensor technology that uses pulsed laser light to sense objects, similar to the way radar uses radio waves. The email was sent by Cruise CEO Dan Ammann. Lidar start-ups had mushroomed when self-driving car tech drew billions of dollars in investments. The cuts at Cruise echo pain felt elsewhere in the industry. Starsky Robotics, a 5 year-old San Francisco start-up focused on automating long-haul freight delivery, closed its doors in mid-March due to lack of funding. And Zoox, a self-driving tech firm based in Silicon Valley, also has laid off staff during the pandemic. General Motors is ready to start building its new generation of large SUVs at a plant in Arlington when it reopens North American assembly plants on May 18, Philip Kienle, the automaker’s North American manufacturing chief, told. The big SUVs, including the Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Suburban, are critical to the automaker’s profitability, and especially so now that GM has taken on billions in new debt and suspended its dividend to ride out the coronavirus crisis. Workers at the Arlington plant volunteered to finish the last of the current generation of GM’s Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon SUVs after GM shut down most operations in March. “That was an amazing feat in itself”, Kienle said. Workers then finished retooling the factory, clearing the way for the redesigned models to begin production next week, he said. “That work is complete. We are ready to start the system fill and start the new model”, Kienle said. Before it had to shut its North American plants, GM had told suppliers it was aiming to launch the new large SUV lineup beginning in late April. As North American vehicle manufacturing restarts, GM also plans to focus on accelerating production of its profitable large pickup trucks, Kienle said. He would not comment on the timetable for restoring three shift operations at the company’s pickup plants. GM executives have said the automaker is running short of certain truck models after losing 40 days of production to a strike last fall. GM suppliers have been told the company plans to resume 3-shift production at it Fort Wayne truck plant as soon as June 1. Like its rival U.S. automakers, GM has had workers going through its North American factories this week, fitting them with new safety equipment ahead of the relaunch. GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are following the same coronavirus safety procedures, in agreement with the UAW. Kienle said the pace of the company’s production restart will be “slow and deliberate” and will depend on safety within GM’s plants, and the performance of suppliers that are restarting their own factories. “There’s going to be bumps in the road”, Kienle said. +++

 

+++ HYUNDAI ’s Australian arm has issued a recall for nearly 100.000 vehicles due to a potential fire risk caused by a short circuit that can happen even when the engine is turned off. Included in this recall are 9.393 units of the Santa Fe (made between March 16, 2005 and September 22, 2009) and 68.765 i30s (assembled between November 7, 2006 and December 14, 2010). According to the description of the defect listed by the country’s safety watchdog, a manufacturing error is blamed for “an electronic control circuit board in the ABS module” that could “short circuit when the components are exposed to moisture”. The failure of these parts does not affect the functioning of the brake system. Nonetheless, due to the increased fire risk posed by this defect, even with the engine turned off, the automaker is advising owners to keep their cars away from the garage, as well as other structures and flammable materials. “Affected vehicles need to be parked in an open space and away from flammable materials and structures, i.e. not in a garage”, Hyundai said in a statement. The fix will see authorized technicians install a relay kit in the circuit board, which prevents the power surge and eliminates the risk of fire. The parts are expected to become available from July and the repairs will be made free of charge. Hyundai already issued a recall for the i30 from 2009-2011 and the Santa Fe from 2007 for a similar issue earlier this year. Back then, the NHTSA noted that “moisture may enter the ABS module and result in an electrical short”. The recall began on April 2, with dealers installing a relay in the main junction box that prevented the risk of an ABS shortcircuit when the car was turned off. +++ 

+++ Hyundai and KIA said all of their overseas plants will be in operation next week amid signs of the coronavirus pandemic passing its peak. Currently, Kia’s plant in Mexico is the only overseas manufacturing facility which is still suspended to manage inventories. Korea’s No. 2 carmaker plans to restart production at its Mexican plant on Monday, a company spokesman said. “Most of their overseas plants have resumed production at a reduced level, and whether production volumes will return to pre-coronavirus levels largely hinges on demand recovery”, he said. Hyundai restarted its Brazil plant on Wednesday. Last week, Hyundai and Kia resumed operations at their Alabama and Georgia plants, respectively, in the United States. Hyundai and Kia suspended most of their overseas production facilities from March. The suspension affected their vehicle sales, particularly in the past 2 months. From January to April, Hyundai and Kia sold a combined 1.845.406 vehicles; down 19 % from 2.268.183 units in the same period of last year. Hyundai has 10 overseas plants: 4 in China and 1 each in the United States, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Russia, India and Brazil, and 7 domestic ones: 5 in Ulsan; 1 in Asan and 1 in Jeonju. Their combined capacity reaches 5.5 million vehicles. Kia has 7 overseas factories: 3 in China and 1 each in the United States, Slovakia, Mexico and India, and 8 local ones: 2 in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi; 3 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi; and 3 in Gwangju. Their overall capacity is 3.84 million units. +++ 

+++ LG CHEM topped the global electric vehicle battery market in the first quarter thanks to client company Tesla’s strong sales. According to market tracker EV Volumes, the company supplied 14 % of the batteries for 88.461 Tesla cars in the first quarter. Propelled by Tesla’s strong sales, LG Chem supplied EV batteries with a total storage capacity of 6.3 gigawatt hours. It took the lead over its Japanese competitor Panasonic for the first time in terms of quarterly deployment. In its first-quarter performance Tesla outshone the Volkswagen Group and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which sold 60.721 and 55.866 electric vehicles, respectively. LG Chem supplies batteries for Tesla’s Model 3. Since September, the it has provided cylindrical battery cells manufactured at its plant in Nanjing, China. Samsung SDI ranked 4th, globally shipping EV batteries with a combined storage capacity of 1.3 gigawatt hours, and SK Innovation was 7th with 0.6 gigawatt hours. +++ 

+++ MCLAREN could mortgage its priceless collection of historic racing cars and its iconic Mclaren Technology Centre headquarters in Woking in a bid to raise funds. Like most manufacturers, McLaren has taken a financial hit during the coronavirus crisis, with both sales of its road cars and revenue from its Formula 1 team both taking a substantial hit. The move comes after McLaren was reportedly rejected furlough support from the government for its 3.000 strong workforce after it was deemed that the company hadn’t explored enough fundraising options. While McLaren hasn’t commented on the suggestions, a spokesman told that it was exploring options. “Like many other British businesses, McLaren has been severely affected by the current pandemic and we are therefore exploring a variety of different funding options to help navigate these short-term business interruptions”, the spokesman said. Loans as high as £300 million could be secured against the Surrey facility and the car collection, with the amount being repaid once racing resumes and sales pick up when the pandemic settles. The McLaren technology centre, where the company produces its F1 cars and road cars (in a neighbouring second facility) is also where the company displays many of its historic road and racing cars from IndyCar, Can-Am, Le Mans, and of course F1. The factory’s famous ‘Boulevard’ faces out across the 50 hectare site’s main artificial lake and houses cars driven by the likes of Senna, Prost, Hakkinen, Raikkonen, and Hamilton, among others. McLaren revenues grew by 18 % last year to £1.4 billion, with 90 % of its road car output being sold overseas. +++ 

+++ NISSAN may be looking at the possibility of closing its Barcelona factory but no final decision has been made as the Japanese carmaker plans a new global strategic direction, 2 sources with direct knowledge told. Nissan is planning to reduce its global capacity by 20 % and close its Barcelona-area plant, shifting its production to Renault plants. In return, the Japanese brand might built the Captur and Kadjar at its British Sunderland factory. A Nissan Spain spokesman declined to comment, but said the carmaker plans to present an updated global business plan in late May. “The company does not comment rumors or information about the future of the plant”, a Nissan Spain spokesman said, adding that Nissan’s European chairman had earlier told union leaders at the Barcelona plant they would be informed about the factory’s future before summer. The factory partially reopened on May 4 after the coronavirus outbreak forced a total shutdown in mid March, but a workers strike brought production back to a total halt from May 6, the spokesman said. As a consequence of the strike, over 2.000 out of the 3.000 workers in Nissan’s plant and related facilities in the Barcelona area have been temporarily laid off, he added. Unions have long complained about the lack of a clear strategy on the Barcelona plant’s future, which produces pick-ups and electric vans. Autointernationaal.nl reported earlier that Nissan will pull back from Europe and elsewhere to focus on the United States, China and Japan under a plan that represents a new strategic direction for the carmaker. The “operational performance plan” is due to be announced on May 28 and goes beyond fixing problems from ousted leader Carlos Ghosn’s aggressive expansion drive, people with direct knowledge of the plan told. Nissan expects equal contributions to global car sales from China, the United States and elsewhere in coming years as the struggling Japanese carmaker strategises to recover profitability, 2 people with knowledge of the issue said. Nissan aims to grow contributions from its biggest markets, China and the United States, to about a third each from just over a quarter now, while the share of other regions, including Brazil, Europe, Japan and Russia, will ease slightly to a third, from about 45 % in total now, the sources said. The comments offer the first glimpse of how the automaker’s global sales breakdown could look in its recovery strategy, set to be unveiled on May 28. Under the plan, Nissan will aim to bolster cooperation with partners Renault and Mitsubishi to reverse losses and spruce up a brand dented from years of chasing market share. The steps will focus on salvaging profitability in the United States and “stopping the bleeding” in Europe, said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak with media. “Eventually we see roughly one-third of sales in the United States, one-third in China and one-third in other regions”, the source added. “There are many newer markets we can continue to grow, like Brazil, Russia and south Asia”, he said, adding, “If we work well with our partners we can achieve volume growth and profitability”. Nissan declined immediate comment on its future sales outlook. In April, Autointernationaal.nl reported that Nissan’s latest recovery plan was likely to assume its annual sales target would hover around 5 million units; down from 6 million in the previous recovery plan announced in July. Nissan’s global sales plunged to a 9-year low of 4.8 million units in the year ended March, when the coronavirus worsened its slump in sales. Sources have told a downsizing plan envisions closing at least 14 assembly lines through 2021, leaving annual production capacity of about 5.5 million units. An expected annual operating loss of around 45 billion yen in the year ended March is cranking up pressure on the company to scale back an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. A key pillar of Nissan’s “operational performance plan” will be to consolidate production, procurement and development with Renault in Europe, the French automaker’s home market, and Mitsubishi in southeast Asia, where the smaller Japanese automaker has a stronger presence. Nissan plans to reduce its manufacturing presence in Europe and is considering closing its plant in the Spanish city of Barcelona, sources have told, with one saying it was also assessing the prospect of Renault building cars at Nissan’s massive plant in Sunderland, England. “My view is that we will be left with more integration of Sunderland into the general European industrial scheme”, the person said, while acknowledging such moves would hinge on Brexit trade pacts. Nissan’s May plan will not include consideration of any outside investment or government-backed support, he added. +++ 

+++ RENAULT is approaching the problem of adding more EVs to its range the right way, at least according to some leading industry officials, by concentrating on high-riding crossover and SUVs, instead of more traditional saloons or hatchbacks. The French giant is apparently not going to launch 1, but 2 such models which are set to arrive by 2022. Both will be underpinned by the firm’s new CMF-EV platform, which is scalable in terms of width and length, but it can only cater for compact and mid-size vehicles. Gilles Normand, the senior vice president of Renault’s EV program, confirmed the fact that both models will be high-riders, although they will have to have superior aero properties compared to other similar vehicles. He said “In the EV world, we are sensitive to drag: air efficiency around the car. With these new applications, we are up to 550 km of driving range”. Referring to the upcoming Dacia Spring, he added that “We identified there was room below Zoé but even more expectation above it. People are realising that EVs are safe, enjoyable and can be taken on much longer trips than early models”. Regarding the new cars, 1 will be roughly the same size as the Kadjar and the other 1 will be a B segment model. Renault intends to have 8 EVs in its range by 2022 and most of them will be small. It’s therefore logical that this second electric crossover will slot in between the Dacia Spring and the aforementioned future Kadjar-sized model. +++ 

+++ Hyundai chief Chung Eui-sun met with SAMSUNG chief Lee Jae-yong to discuss cooperation in developing rechargeable batteries for electric cars. The meeting by the heads of Korea’s biggest conglomerates, which are traditionally bitter enemies, shows the urgency of tackling a rapidly changing economy exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic. The 2 tycoons discussed the future of solidstate batteries, which are being touted as the key power source of vehicles in the future. Solidstate batteries replace the liquid electrolytes of lithium-ion batteries with solid matter to enable smaller dimensions and may even be bent. Cho Jae-phil at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology said: “We will be able to commercialize solid-state batteries 5 years from now, which would mean a major leap forward in electric vehicle usage because their price tags could be slashed and travel distances extended”. The 2 were apparently trying to sniff out how far each has gotten in their development. Samsung and Hyundai used to be archrivals in a business landscape where conglomerates traditionally have a finger in every pie and compete with each other at all levels. But things changed when Chung and Lee took over management from their old-fashioned patriarchal fathers. One industry source said, “It seemed vital to keep other rivals in check in the old days of quantitative growth, but the new generation of corporate chiefs have realized that domestic rivalries have become meaningless in an era of global competition”. Rechargeable batteries and self-driving cars cannot be independently developed by one company and require cooperation. South Korea has world-leading technologies in those areas and experts have pointed out for some time the need for synergy. Koh Tae-bong at HI Investment and Securities said: “Hyundai aims to roll out 44 different eco-friendly cars by 2025 and build an electric city air carrier by 2028, so it’s in urgent need of solidstate batteries”. In early March, Samsung Electronics said its researchers have developed solidstate battery technology that is more efficient than existing ones. Compared with lithium-ion batteries that are widely used in EVs, solidstate batteries boast greater energy density and are safer, as they utilize solid electrolytes instead of liquid electrolytes, according to Samsung. It said using such technology would enable an EV to drive up to 800 kilometers on a single charge with a life cycle of over 1.000 charges. The Hyundai Motor Group is pushing to mass produce an electric vehicle based on its own EV platform called electric-global modular platform (E-GMP) next year. The new platform will be installed on Hyundai’s new 45 SUV and the Prophecy which will replace the Ioniq. Its smaller affiliate Kia will introduce a crossover. At the end of last year, the Hyundai Motor Group signed a 10 trillion won ($8.2 billion) deal with SK Innovation, another South Korean EV battery maker, to purchase batteries for 500.000 EVs over the next 5 years. The Hyundai Motor Group said it plans to have 23 EV models and sell a combined 1.06 million units by 2025 (Kia included). According to industry data, combined EV sales of Hyundai and Kia came to slightly over 24.000 units in the first quarter of the year; making it the 4th largest producer in the world after Tesla, the Renault-Nissan alliance and the Volkswagen Group. “Strategic cooperation between Samsung and Hyundai, which have emerged as global IT and auto powerhouses, is expected to provide South Korea with an opportunity to pioneer the global mobility industry”, an industry source said. +++ 

+++ SSANGYONG reported that its net loss sharply widened in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, marking the 13th consecutive quarter in the red, amid growing worries over the coronavirus outbreak. Net losses for the January-March quarter deepened to 193.54 billion won (US$157 million) from 26.12 billion won in the year-ago period, the company said in a statement. “Disrupted production by the coronavirus outbreak and weaker sales amid virus fears cut into the bottom line”, the statement said. Operating losses also deepened to 98.63 billion won in the first quarter from 27.80 billion won a year ago. Sales fell 30 % to 649.19 billion won from 933.21 billion won during the same period. The South Korean unit of Indian carmaker Mahindra has struggled with declining sales due to a lack of new models and the parent firm’s recent decision not to inject fresh capital into the Korean unit. Mahindra said early this year it will inject 230 billion won into SsangYong for the following 3 years after obtaining approval from its board. But Mahindra’s board voted against the investment plan last month as the spreading Covid-19 outbreak continues to affect vehicle sales in global markets. Instead of the proposed 230 billion won, Mahindra said it would consider a “special one-time infusion” of up to 40 billion won over the next three months to help SsangYong continue operations. But analysts said the special infusion could be just a quick-fix solution for the cash-strapped carmaker. They said the fate of SsangYong hangs in the balance should there not be a rebound in vehicle sales. From January to April, sales fell 33 % to 30.952 units from 45.908 in the same period a year ago. SsangYong’s lineup consists of the flagship G4 Rexton, as well as the Tivoli, Korando and Rexton Sports. In 2011, Mahindra acquired a 70 % stake in SsangYong for 523 billion won. It currently owns a 74.65 % stake in the SUV focused carmaker. +++ 

+++ Tesla plans to expand the coverage of its V3 SUPERCHARGING piles in the second half of this year and newly set up 4.000 supercharging piles in China (including V3 and V2 supercharging piles) by the end of this year. The goal will not be changed despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a person in charge of Tesla said in the report. At present, Tesla has nearly 2.500 supercharging piles and 2.400 destination charging piles in China. The 4.000 pile goal will see a 60 % surge of its overall supercharging piles in China, the report said. Launched in 2019, Tesla’s V3 supercharging supports peak rates of up to 250 kilowatts per car, doubling from the 120 kW of V2 supercharging piles. At this V3 peak rate, a Model 3 Long Range operating at peak efficiency can recover around 120 kilometers of charge in 5 minutes, according to Tesla’s official website. +++ 

+++ TESLA plans to introduce a new low-cost, long-life battery in its Model 3 in China later this year or early next that it expects will bring the cost of electric vehicles in line with gasoline models, and allow EV batteries to have second and third lives in the electric power grid. For months, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has been teasing investors, and rivals, with promises to reveal significant advances in battery technology during a “Battery Day” in late May. New, low-cost batteries designed to last for a million miles of use and enable electric Teslas to sell profitably for the same price or less than a gasoline vehicle are just part of Musk’s agenda, people familiar with the plans told. With a global fleet of more than 1 million electric vehicles that are capable of connecting to and sharing power with the grid, Tesla’s goal is to achieve the status of a power company, competing with such traditional energy providers as Pacific Gas & Electric and Tokyo Electric Power, those sources said. The new “million mile” battery at the center of Tesla’s strategy was jointly developed with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) and deploys technology developed by Tesla in collaboration with a team of academic battery experts recruited by Musk, 3 people familiar with the effort said. Eventually, improved versions of the battery, with greater energy density and storage capacity and even lower cost, will be introduced in additional Tesla vehicles in other markets, including North America, the sources said. Tesla’s plan to launch the new battery first in China and its broader strategy to reposition the company have not previously been reported. Tesla declined to comment. Tesla’s new batteries will rely on innovations such as low-cobalt and cobalt-free battery chemistries, and the use of chemical additives, materials and coatings that will reduce internal stress and enable batteries to store more energy for longer periods, sources said. Tesla also plans to implement new high-speed, heavily automated battery manufacturing processes designed to reduce labor costs and increase production in massive “terafactories” about 30 times the size of the company’s sprawling Nevada “gigafactory”; a strategy telegraphed in late April to analysts by Musk. Tesla is working on recycling and recovery of such expensive metals as nickel, cobalt and lithium, through its Redwood Materials affiliate, as well as new ‘second life’ applications of electric vehicle batteries in grid storage systems, such as the one Tesla built in South Australia in 2017. The automaker also has said it wants to supply electricity to consumers and businesses, but has not provided details. Autointernationaal.nl reported in February that Tesla was in advanced talks to use CATL’s lithium iron phosphate batteries, which use no cobalt, the most expensive metal in EV batteries. CATL also has developed a simpler and less expensive way of packaging battery cells, called cell-to-pack, that eliminates the middle step of bundling cells. Tesla is expected to use the technology to help reduce battery weight and cost. The sources said CATL also plans to supply Tesla in China next year with an improved long-life nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery whose cathode is 50 % nickel and only 20 % cobalt. Tesla now jointly produces nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) batteries with Panasonic at a ‘gigafactory’ in Nevada and buys NMC batteries from LG Chem in China. Taken together, the advances in battery technology, the strategy of expanding the ways in which EV batteries can be used and the manufacturing automation on a huge scale all aim at the same target: Reworking the financial math that until now has made buying an electric car more expensive for most consumers than sticking with carbon-emitting internal combustion vehicles. “We’ve got to really make sure we get a very steep ramp in battery production and continue to improve the cost per kilowatt-hour of the batteries; this is very fundamental and extremely difficult”, Musk told investors in January. “We’ve got to scale battery production to crazy levels that people cannot even fathom today”. Tesla has reported operating profits for 3 quarters in a row, driving a near-doubling of its share price this year. Still, Musk’s ambitious expansion plans depend on increasing both profit margins and sales volume. A number of the technical advances made by Tesla and CATL in battery chemistry and design originated at a small research lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The lab has been run since 1996 by Jeff Dahn, a pioneer in the development of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage. Dahn and his team began an exclusive 5-year research partnership with Tesla in mid-2016, but the relationship dates back at least to 2012. Among the critical contributions from Dahn’s lab: Chemical additives and nano-engineered materials to make lithium-ion batteries tougher and more resistant to bruising from stress such as rapid charging, thus extending their life. The cost of CATL’s cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate battery packs has fallen below $80/kWh, with the cost of the battery cells dropping below $60/kWh, the sources said. CATL’s low-cobalt NMC battery packs are close to $100/kWh. Auto industry executives have said $100/kWh for battery packs is the level at which electric vehicles reach rough parity with internal combustion competitors. Battery expert Shirley Meng, a professor at the University of California San Diego, said NMC cells could cost as little as $80/kWh once recycling and recovery of key materials such as cobalt and nickel is factored in. Iron phosphate batteries, which are safer than NMC, could find a second life in stationary grid storage systems, reducing the upfront cost of those batteries for electric vehicle buyers. In comparison, the new low-cobalt batteries being jointly developed by General Motors and LG Chem are not expected to reach those cost levels until 2025, according to a source familiar with the companies’ work. GM declined to comment on its cost targets. Earlier this year, it said only that it planned to “drive battery cell costs below $100/kWh” without specifying a timetable. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA ‘s first pure electric car for mass production has rolled off the line in China, according to Tianjin FAW Toyota Motor Co. The model was produced in a factory in North China’s Tianjin municipality, according to the company. It is the first pure electric car in China under the Toyota brand. The model is equipped with batteries with large storage and has good functions, according to the company. Toyota said it would reduce vehicle production in Japan by 122.000 units in June, as a lack of demand for new cars due to the coronavirus prompts the automaker to keep its plants running on limited operations. The drop in Toyota’s production underscores the challenging conditions for carmakers around the world due to the fallout from the virus. Besides weak demand, problems with procurement and social distancing measures at plants are also expected to hit output. The automaker said it would halt production at all of its 15 plants for four days next month, while stopping output for up to 7 days on 10 of its production lines, which make models including the Prius, the Corolla sedan, and the 4Runner (a SUV). In addition, it plans to operate only single shifts on 5 production lines next month, an arrangement which would continue on 2 lines through July and through August on another, it said in a statement. A Toyota spokeswoman said the reduced output represented a 40 % cut from initial plans made earlier in the year, while declining to give further details. In June 2019, it produced 289.544 vehicles at home. Earlier this week, Toyota said it planned to slash production in North America by nearly a third through October due to the coronavirus The automaker resumed some output at its seven North American sites this week. Toyota is bracing for an 80 % drop in full-year operating profit, its lowest in 9 years, as it expect car sales to remain weak for much of the year. Some analysts believe industry-wide global auto sales could slump by a third this year and that any recovery will slow and patchy as job losses and reduced incomes weigh on consumer spending. +++

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