+++ CRUISE , the autonomous vehicle (AV) company majority-owned by General Motors, has urged President Joe Biden to back efforts to speed thousands of self-driving cars to U.S. roads, saying the country risks lagging behind China, according to a previously unreported letter. The chief executive of Cruise, Dan Ammann, in a letter to Biden dated May 17, asked him to back legislation raising the cap on the number of vehicles that a company can seek to have exempted from safety standards that do not meet existing federal requirements that assume human drivers are in control. The cap, Ammann wrote, “acts as a U.S.-only impediment to building these vehicles at scale in the United States”. “China’s top down, centrally directed approach imposes no similar restraints on their home grown AV industry”, Ammann wrote. “We do not seek, require or desire government funding; we seek your help in leveling the playing field”, he said, citing research that AVs are “estimated to create and sustain 108.000 jobs over the next 5 years”. The White House declined to comment. Senators John Thune and Gary Peters have been working for several years on efforts to ease restrictions on AVs. An amendment to a bill designed to address U.S. competitiveness against China proposed by Thune to raise the cap stalled last week amid opposition from labor unions and plaintiffs attorneys, but Thune and Peters are expected to continue to pursue the issue. Thune and Peters in April circulated language for potential legislation to grant the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to lift the cap and initially exempt 15.000 self-driving vehicles per manufacturer, rising to 80.000 within 3 years. The NHTSA would need to certify self-driving vehicles exempted are at least as safe as human-driven ones. Ammann, in his letter to Biden, said that “without your support and congressional action to revise these self imposed barriers, the U.S. AV manufacturing industry will lag, AI development will stall, and our foreign competitors will race ahead”. The auto industry, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and others have been pushing for years to convince Congress to speed self-driving vehicle deployment. Waymo and California-based Cruise have applied for permits needed to start charging for rides and delivery using autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, citing state documents. In October, Cruise said it planned to seek NHTSA approval to deploy a limited number of Cruise Origin vehicles without steering wheels or pedals. The Origin, which was developed with GM and Cruise investor Honda, has 2 long seats facing each other that can comfortably fit 4 passengers. Production is expected to begin in early 2023. +++
+++ GLOBAL passenger plug-in electric car sales increased in April by 249 % year-over-year to over 392.000, which is the 4th highest monthly result ever. For 10 straight months (since July 2020), plug-in sales set new all-time records for particular months. After the first 4 months of 2021, plug-in share increased to 5.7 % (3.7 % for full electric cars), compared to 4 % a year ago.
While the tiny Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV is the top player in terms of volume, an interesting thing in April is that the Tesla Model Y noted a higher sales result (estimated) than the Model 3. Moreover, the fourth and fifth bestselling models are Volkswagen’s duo: ID.4 and ID.3. The topselling models last month were: 1. Wuling’s Hong Guang Mini EV (29.251 in april and 125,925 year-to-date). 2. Tesla Model Y (16.232 and 72.296). 3. Tesla Model 3 (14.980 and 141.696). 4. Volkswagen ID.4 (10.318 and 17.743). 5. Volkswagen ID.3 (5.941 and 17.703). Overall, we see 8 all-electric models in the top 20, and a total of 15 BEVs in the top 20. The top-selling plug-in hybrid was the Li Xiang One. 3 brands (Tesla, SAIC-GM-Wuling and Volkswagen) noted very similar results in April. Volkswagen is now also third year-to-date, ahead of BMW. Among automotive groups, Tesla is still the top player (14 %), but SAIC (13 %) and Volkswagen Group (13 %) are right behind. A total of 5 brands exceeded 20.000 units, and 10 exceeded 10.000 units last month. +++
+++ The global rebound from the coronavirus pandemic is revving LUXURY CARMAKERS sales to never-before-seen heights, as order books at the likes of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Rolls-Royce burst with demand from the world’s wealthy. Just like regular earners around the world, the richest cut back on consumption during 2020, with “double-digit” falls in sales for makers of the most coveted cars, says Felipe Munoz of market research firm Jato Dynamics. But “customers for these cars were not as exposed as others” to the crisis’ financial fallout, he adds. For the wealthy, “most of the problem was that they couldn’t get out of their houses”, Munoz says. “They postponed their purchases”. The rebound for exclusive cars was already underway in the final quarter of 2020 as they reached for their platinum credit cards again, cushioning the pandemic blow by comparison to mass-market manufacturers. Annual sales last year at Volkswagen-owned Lamborghini sped past their 2019 record to 7.430 vehicles, driven by the Italian manufacturer’s hefty Urus. Closed factories meant sales at Ferrari tumbled 10 % last year, to 9,119 cars. But bosses say the black-horse brand now has an “order book at record levels”, powered by the SF90 Stradale (the carmaker’s first plug-in hybrid) as well as the windscreen-free 2-seater Monza. Ferrari hopes to top the 10.000-unit mark next year, when it becomes the final luxury producer to offer an SUV with the Purosangue. “The luxury market still has very specific rules and customers”, Deloitte car industry analyst Guillaume Crunelle says. “Behavior is much more linked to personal situations, how their wealth is developing, rather than market trends”. After a year with less consumption, “there is quite some money around to be spent”, Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös tells. Nevertheless, the BMW subsidiary’s boss also sees the aftereffects of the pandemic in people’s buying patterns. “Quite a lot of our clients said that Covid taught them that life can end easily tomorrow and now is time to enjoy your life”. Last week the historic British brand launched a yacht-inspired model, the Boat Tail, of which it has so far built just 3 units. Müller-Ötvös says that the new car is “much more refined” than its last custom build, the Sweptail, which cost in the region of $13 million. Rolls-Royce’s one-offs notwithstanding, most even among the priciest manufacturers swept along in trends like the unstoppable march of the SUV, and an environment-conscious turn to electrification, Deloitte’s Crunelle points out. Jato Dynamics’ analysis showed that sports cars made up just 5 % of luxury sales last year, while SUVs’ market share outpaced coupes for the first time. In Britain, Bentley and McLaren laid off thousands of workers as the virus outbreak began, only for Bentley to book record sales of 11.000 units driven by the Bentayga. Rolls-Royce saw its best-ever quarter in early 2021, powered by its new Ghost and the 2.6-tonne Cullinan, the most expensive SUV on the market. And James Bond favorite Aston Martin has returned from the brink of bankruptcy with its almost equally chunky DBX. Looking ahead, “production for this year is fully booked”, Rolls-Royce’s Müller-Ötvös says. Europe and North American remain solid markets for luxury brands, but China is where most of the growth can be found. “It’s the world’s top region for wealth building, and cars are still a very potent mark of status”, Crunelle says. Munoz predicts that “with more and more millionaires and billionaires (in China) each year, the trend is likely to continue”. +++
+++ A U.S. securities watchdog told Tesla last year that chief executive officer Elon MUSK ’s use of Twitter had twice violated a settlement requiring his tweets to be preapproved by company lawyers. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had ordered the electric car maker to vet any material public communications Musk made regarding Tesla, following Musk’s August 2018 tweet that he had “funding secured” to possibly take Tesla private in a $72 billion transaction. In correspondence sent to Tesla in 2019 and 2020, the SEC said tweets Musk wrote about Tesla’s solar roof production volumes and its stock price were not preapproved by Tesla’s lawyers, the Journal reported, citing records of communication that have not been previously reported. “Tesla has abdicated the duties required of it by the court’s order”, media reported, citing a letter signed by a senior SEC official. +++
+++ The Ford Mustang Mach-E, the company’s first serious, modern electric vehicle, topped the sales charts in the small but influential car market of NORWAY last month. The market is seen by many as a testbed for EVs because of its hunger for the vehicles. Last year, EVs outsold internal combustion vehicles for the first time ever. In may, battery-electric vehicles made up 60.4 % of all sales in the nation according to the Norwegian Road Federation. In all, 14.063 new vehicles were registered in Norway in May 2021; a 75 % increase from the covid-impacted May 2020 total of 8,000. Impressively, the Mustang Mach-E made up nearly 10 % of all sales new registrations last month, with a total of 1.384. Its sales took off like a rocket last month, though, because its total for the year is just 1.429. The second-best-selling vehicle in May 2021 was the Toyota RAV4 with 853 registrations, followed closely by the Skoda Enyaq (795) and the Volkswagen ID.4 (774). Interestingly, the Tesla Model 3 (504) was only the 6th bestselling vehicle in Norway in May, perhaps a sign that Tesla’s caché isn’t immune to threats from other credible EVs. For the year to date, the Tesla climbs the ranking to 4th place, with a total of more than 3.000 registrations. That’s up from 4.8 % from the same period in 2020. The Mustang Mach-E, meanwhile, tumbles down the charts to 11th place and the RAV4 (with 4.212 total registrations this year) is the bestselling new vehicle in Norway so far this year. Although the news for Ford is positive, Gunnar Berg, Ford’s Norway CEO, was typically reserved and Scandinavian about the Mustang Mach-E’s chart-topping performance. “Our realistic goal is to remain prominent in the sales statistics for several months to come”, said Berg in a statement. +++
+++ STELLANTIS might pick Italy to build a new gigafactory in Europe, to support its expansion into electric mobility, as the carmaker is discussing conditions of the project with Rome, a source close to the matter said. In April, Stellantis, which was formed at the beginning of this year through the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot SA, said additional gigafactories in Europe and in the United States would be decided this year. “Discussions are just at the stage of an exchange on the principle of creating a gigafactory in order to cover Stellantis’ future needs. These conditions will have to be studied with Italian authorities”, the source said, adding that nothing had yet been decided. Italy is one of the carmakers main manufacturing hubs. In its €205 billion recovery plan, Italy will spend almost €24 billion on the transition to cleaner energy and sustainable mobility. As part of this, Rome plans to invest €1 billion to enhance its battery, and solar and wind power industries. Stellantis chief executive Carlos Tavares and chairman John Elkann held a virtual meeting last week with Italy’s industry minister Giancarlo Giorgetti. “An exchange took place on the principle of the coverage of Stellantis needs in batteries, and given the group produces numerous vehicles in Italy, there would be a shared interest in discussing the conditions of a gigafactory in Italy”, the source said. A government source said the minister and Stellantis had discussed last week about a possible contribution by Rome, through funds from Italy’s Recovery Plan, to the production of batteries for electric mobility. Stellantis has said it would offer electric versions of almost all of its European line-up by 2025, and that by 2030 battery-hybrid and full-electric cars should make up 70 % of the group’s European sales. The group currently has 2 gigafactory projects in Europe, 1 in France and 1 in Germany, in a joint venture with a subsidiary of TotalEnergies. The 2 sites represent a total investment of €5 billion and should allow production of batteries for 1 million cars per year on the basis of a cumulative 48 GWh capacity. In January the European Union approved a plan which includes giving state aid to Tesla, BMW and others to support production of electric vehicle batteries, helping the bloc to cut imports and compete with industry leader China. +++
+++ TOYOTA has announced that its flagship hydrogen fuel cell car, the second-generation Mirai, has increased the world record distance for FCVs to over 1000 km on a single fill. According to the Japanese manufacturer, the car (driven by four drivers total) was able to cover a total of 1.003 km and still had 9 km of range remaining (as indicated by the on-board information system). The hydrogen consumption averaged 0.55 kg/100 km (the full tank is 5.6 kg). That’s a significantly higher result than the previous record, set by the Hyundai Nexo (778 km). “The journey started from the Hysetco hydrogen station in Orly and finished after driving 1.003 km on one single fill. The 1003 zero-emission kilometres were driven on public roads, south of Paris and in the Loir-et-Cher and Indre-et-Loire areas, and the distance & consumption were certified by an independent authority”. “To achieve this 1.003 km driving distance record, the drivers adopted an “eco-driving” style but no special techniques that could not be used by everyday drivers”. The result is impressive indeed, especially since the car was ready for more driving after just 5 minutes of refuelling. Our main question here is whether it changes anything for battery-electric cars, which we believe are the ultimate zero-emissions solution. Well, not necessarily, because EV range also increases and even today we reported about 1.000 km covered (with a few charging stops) in less than 10 hours. Drivers will be able to go wherever they want also in BEVs. With very limited hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, there is no advantage in range of hydrogen cars. Our major concerns are however not in the infrastructure (stations can be simply installed), but the economical viability of the less efficient solution. +++