Newsflash: Ferrari heeft een nieuwe topman

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+++ APPLE is in early-stage talks with China’s CATL and BYD about supplying batteries for its planned electric vehicle, 4 people with knowledge of the matter said. The discussions are subject to change, and it is not clear if agreements with either CATL or BYD will be reached, said the people who declined to be named as the discussions are private. Apple has made building manufacturing facilities in the United States a condition for potential battery suppliers, said two of the sources. CATL, which supplies major car makers including Tesla, is reluctant to build a U.S. factory due to political tensions between Washington and Beijing as well as cost concerns, the 2 people said. It was not immediately clear if Apple is also talking to other battery makers. Apple, which has yet to make a public announcement about its car plans, declined to comment. CATL, the world’s biggest automotive battery maker, and BYD, the world’s No. 4, also declined to comment. Shares in BYD extended gains on the news, up 5.4 % in Hong Kong in late afternoon trade and closing 6.5 % higher in Shenzhen. CATL reversed earlier losses to finish 0.5 % higher. Apple is in favor of using lithium iron phosphate batteries that are cheaper to produce because they use iron instead of nickel and cobalt which are more expensive, the 4 people said. It has been working on self-driving technology and has targeted 2024 for the production of a passenger vehicle. People familiar with the matter have previously said Apple’s planned EV could include its own breakthrough battery technology. It was not immediately clear if the discussions with CATL and BYD involved Apple’s own technology or designs. The discussions come at a time when the U.S. government is looking to attract more EV manufacturing. U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan includes a $174 billion budget to boost the domestic EV market with tax credits and grants for battery manufacturers, among other incentives. Many battery makers are ramping up production to meet soaring worldwide demand as car makers accelerate their shift to electric vehicles to comply with tougher emission rules aimed at tackling global warming. Chinese battery makers are expected to grow at a faster pace than their foreign peers thanks to further expansion of the world’s biggest EV market, SNE Research said in a June report. CATL is planning a major new automotive battery plant in Shanghai, continuing a blistering pace of expansion that will cement its lead as the world’s No.1 supplier. The factory would near Tesla’s China manufacturing operations. +++ 

+++ As CHINA ‘s auto market enters its traditional off-season in June, raw material shortages have been putting more pressure on dealers. According to the China Automobile Dealers Association, China’s auto sales are expected to be 1.73 million units in May, up 8.8 % year-on-year and 5 % on a monthly basis. However, as the Covid-19 outbreak waned in China during the same period last year, which resulted in recovery for auto retail and a larger base, the growth rate of auto sales in May is predicted to slow, the association said. Recently, Shanghai, Henan and Hainan provinces all unveiled policies to stimulate car sales. Despite this, the off-season effect emerged in June. Since early June, the wheat harvest season began in some regions of China and southern and southeastern China have experienced chronic rains. Fewer consumers visited dealerships to purchase cars, and market demands will see some decline, the association said. Furthermore, auto chip shortages are expected to affect more models, resulting in slow-paced auto production and longer delivery times. Overall, the operation of domestic auto market was relatively stable in May. However, it was weaker than expected, Qiu Kai, director of the industrial coordination department of the association told the newspaper. “The chip crisis also has an adverse effect on dealers’ business, as longer delivery time will lead to customer loss”. China’s auto dealer vehicle inventory alert index stood at 52.9 % in May, down 1.3 percentage points from a year ago and 3.5 percentage points month-on-month, according to the association. The index reflects inventory pressure for automobile dealers. It typically is lower than 50 % when the market is healthy. It is composed of inventory, market demand, dealership finances and surveys of dealers’ purchases, sales and stocks. The index registered declines on a yearly and monthly basis last month, which means automobile dealers’ pressure was released to some extent. However, in May alone, domestic car sales forecasts didn’t show expected growth. This is partly because some target customers returned to their hometowns during the May Day holiday, and scattered cases of Covid-19 and busy farming seasons in some areas in China also led to inadequate market demand, said Lang Xuehong, the association’s deputy secretary general. The association said that in June dealers are also under a lot of pressure to improve their second quarter and first half year sales performance. Due to the ongoing chip crisis, the market will see a low-intensity price war, the association added. FAW Volkswagen, SAIC General Motors and SAIC Volkswagen still grabbed the top-3 spots, with FAW Volkswagen selling 168.000 vehicles, down 7.7 % year-on-year. In terms of Chinese-owned brands, Geely, Changan Auto and SAIC-GM-Wuling all entered the top 10 rankings. Last month, Geely sold 86.000 vehicles, down 18.9 % year-on-year and 6.5 % month-on-month. In the first 5 months, Geely delivered 530.000 vehicles, completing 35 % the 2021 full-year sales target (1.53 million). As to Japanese brands, Dongfeng-Nissan sold 88.000 vehicles, down 16.1 % year-on-year and 13.7 % month-on-month. Dongfeng-Honda, with a total of 66.000 vehicles sold, also joined the top 10 ranking. The automaker registered a 1.2 % growth year-on-year, however, compared with the previous month’s 85.000 units, it represented a 22.4 % decline, the biggest decline in the top 10. Though the Covid-19 and chip crisis have an effect on the auto market supply in the first half of this year, auto demand is just delayed, not disappearing, the website said quoting a research report. Meanwhile, electrification and intelligence have gained the attention of consumers, and will see rapid development in the future. +++ 

+++ If the auto industry is to succeed in its bet that ELECTRIC vehicles will soon dominate the roads, it will need to overcome a big reason why many people are still avoiding them: fear of running out of juice between Point A and Point B. Automakers have sought to quell those concerns by developing EVs that go farther per charge and fill up faster. Problem is, most public charging stations now fill cars much too slowly, requiring hours (not minutes) to provide enough electricity for an extended trip. Concerned that such prolonged waits could turn away potential EV buyers and keep them stuck on gas-burning vehicles, automakers are trying to cut charging times to something close to the five or 10 minutes of a conventional gasoline fill-up. “It’s absolutely the target to get faster and faster”, said Brett Smith, technology director at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank. “It’s not there yet, but it’s one of those things that moves the needle more toward a competitive vehicle for a lot of people, this ability to fast charge”. The latest generation of EVs, many with ranges around 480 kilometers per charge, can accept electricity at a much faster rate than previous models could. So fast, in fact, that most charging stations cannot yet accommodate the vehicles’ advanced technology. It can now require hours to fully charge an electric vehicle because most stations operate on a home-like alternating current. Direct-current fast-charging stations, by contrast, are hours faster. But they can cost tens of thousands of dollars more. The high cost is something the Biden administration will have to consider as it develops incentives to encourage companies and governments to build 500.000 charging stations nationwide by 2030. Among the possibilities being discussed are grants, with $15 billion in spending over five years to build the network, including fast chargers along highways and in communities. Details are being worked out as the administration negotiates its infrastructure plan with key members of Congress. Of the roughly 42.000 public charging stations in the United States, only about 5.000 are considered direct-current fast chargers, according to the Department of Energy. The rest are like home chargers; they require roughly eight hours to fully charge longer-range batteries, longer than anyone wants to wait to charge a vehicle on a road trip. And most fast chargers can pump out only about 50 kilowatts per hour (requiring roughly an hour to charge an average EV to 80 %) even though newer EVs are capable of being charged must faster than that. “It’s one of the big barriers for someone who is not living with a battery-electric vehicle yet”, said Alex Tripi, who head’s Volvo’s electric vehicle marketing. “It will continue to be for a while”. Limited by technology, early electric vehicles charged at ridiculously low speeds when compared with recent models. When Nissan’s Leaf first went on sale more than a decade ago, for example, it could take in only 50 kilowatts per hour from a fast charger. That meant it took a half hour to charge it to 80 % of its small battery, with a range of just 93 kilometers. A new long-range version released in 2019 nearly tripled the range per charge. Because it can take 100 kilowatts at a fast charger, it can get to 80 % (291 kilometers) in 45 minutes. Newer EVs can be charged even faster. But they far exceed the capacity of most fast chargers. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning can take in 150 kilowatts per hour. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and Porsche’s Taycan are over 200 kilowatts. The Hyundai, with 480 kilometers of range, can go from a 10 % charge to 80 % in just 18 minutes, much closer to gasoline fill-up times (automakers tend to quote charging times to 80 % of battery capacity because it takes much longer to go from 80 % to 100 %; the final 20 % is often slowed down to prolong battery life.) Hyundai knows there aren’t many chargers now that can fill the Ioniq that fast. But it says it’s ready for a future when more quick chargers are more widely available. “Hopefully the infrastructure will improve across the U.S. for this to be a whole lot more viable”, said John Shon, senior group manager of product planning. Tesla, which has its own private charging network of 25.000 plugs worldwide, leads just about every automaker. Its newer chargers can crank out up to 250 kilowatts and 282 kilometers of range in about 15 minutes. Electrify America, a charging network funded with money paid by Volkswagen as punishment for its emissions cheating scandal, says it’s ready for the newer EVs. Having installed fast chargers since 2018, it runs more than 600 stations with 2.600 plugs nationwide. All can pump out 150 kilowatts. That means they can charge a typical EV with 300 miles (480 kilometers) of range to 80 % of battery capacity (386 kilometers) in roughly 45 minutes. Over half of Electrify America’s stations can pump out 350 kilowatts, which charge twice as fast. A fast-charge fill-up to 80% of battery capacity varies by state but typically costs around $16. Even Tesla owners, who can access the nation’s biggest fast-charging network, risk running out of juice on road trips, especially in rural areas. On Monday, one such driver, Dan Nelson, said he had to stop at a Tesla station near Ann Arbor, Michigan, for more than 20 minutes to make sure his Model 3 had enough charge to reach his rural home 40 kilometers away. “There’s definitely improvements that can be made”, said Nelson, who charges at home most of the time. Bruce Westlake, president of the East Michigan Electric Auto Association, suggested that such anxiety tends to ease as people gain more experience with EVs. He said he is now comfortable running his 2 Teslas as low as 5 % of battery capacity to go farther between charges on trips. Research by J.D. Power shows that most people think charging stations are needed at locations where gas stations are now. But in fact, according to the Energy Department, most EV owners charge at home more than 80 % of the time. That means super-fast chargers, which can cost close to $100.000, should be built mainly along highways where people are traveling long distances and need to charge quickly, experts say. They also may be needed in urban areas where people live in apartments with no access to a home charger. It’s far from clear that the automakers can depend on a proliferation of fast chargers across the country to build customer confidence and propel EV sales in the years ahead. The high cost and heavy load on utility grids likely will limit the number of fast chargers to areas where they’re needed for quick fill-ups, said Jessika Trancik, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies EV charging. “As we’re approaching this transition”, she said, “it’s important to be more strategic than just putting them everywhere”. Charging companies have time to figure out where to build fast chargers, because it would take more than 17 years to convert the entire U.S. fleet of 279 million passenger vehicles from petroleum to electricity; even if every motorist were willing to make the switch, said Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, a charging station company. But the chargers can’t come fast enough for automakers, who want more people to buy their EVs to spread development costs over more vehicles. Romano says fast chargers will be needed about every 120 kilometers on roads that connect metro areas, and that the United States should get there in about 2 years. As more EVs are sold, he said, more stations will be built. “You don’t want to put all the infrastructure in for 20 years starting with vehicle zero”, Romano said. “This is about the natural organic growth”. +++ 

+++ FERRARI has appointed technology executive Benedetto Vigna its new CEO as the Italian company begins its move towards electrification. Vigna, 51, is currently leading an executive role in the chip division of ST Microelectronics, Europe’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer. He will join Ferrari on 1 September following the departure of previous CEO Louis Camilleri back in December last year. “It’s a special honour to be joining Ferrari as its CEO, and I do so with an equal sense of excitement and responsibility”, Vigna said. “Excitement at the great opportunities that are there to be captured; and with a profound sense of responsibility towards the extraordinary achievements and capabilities of the men and women of Ferrari, to all the company’s stakeholders and to everyone around the world for whom Ferrari is such a unique passion”. It’s hoped that Vigna will help Ferrari move into next-generation technologies, including electrification; the Maranello firm’s first fully electric car is due in 2025. The Italian has 26 years of experience in the chip industry, having in 1995 founded ST Microelectronics’ microelectromechanical systems and sensors group division, which is now the company’s most profitable operating business. “We’re delighted to welcome Benedetto Vigna as our new Ferrari CEO,” said Ferrari chairman John Elkann. “His deep understanding of the technologies driving much of the change in our industry and his proven innovation, business-building and leadership skills will further strengthen Ferrari and its unique story of passion and performance in the exciting era ahead”. Vigna studied physics at the University of Pisa before working with some of the world’s leading technology companies. He will step down from his presidential position at ST Microelectronics on 31 August. +++

+++ Since last July, a little-known automaker in China’s southwest has dominated the world’s largest electric car market, outselling bigger players and even Tesla almost every month with a tiny, bare-bones EV that starts at just $4,500. The HONGGUANG Mini is the brainchild of SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile, a joint venture between SAIC Motor and Guangxi Automobile Group (2 state-backed automakers) and U.S. giant General Motors. Based in the city of Liuzhou, known for its limestone mountains and river-snail soup, the company has even bigger ambitions for the future. Having sold some 270.000 of its cars within 9 months, making it the best-selling EV in China, the firm is also aiming for annual sales of 1.2 million vehicles next year; almost equal to the number of EVs churned out by all China’s carmakers in 2020 combined. It’s an eyebrow-raising target, but even before making the Hongguang Mini, Wuling had a track record for producing winners in a market that’s defining the new era of driving. Set up in 2002, the Chinese-American JV built its business selling microvans: dependable sliding-door workhorses that earned the nickname ‘the bread box car’ in Mandarin, and were China’s top-selling passenger vehicle in 2017. Millions of them ply the country’s roads, used by contractors and delivery drivers alike. The buyers of those gas-guzzling gray vans are almost exclusively male, which makes Wuling’s pivot to the Hongguang Mini (which has a top speed of 100 km/h and 12 inch wheels) all the more extraordinary. Shortly after its debut last July, the automaker realized the vehicle was gaining a following among young women, a phenomenon it leaned into with an approach that bends conventional wisdom about how cars are sold. “Our company’s mentality is to produce whatever people need”, Wuling’s head of branding and marketing, Zhang Yiqin, said in an interview. “We keep close tabs on our users. The hurdles to electric car adoption can only be cleared when consumers find using them a comfortable thing”. To that end, Zhang has staffed his team with employees who understand the Hongguang Mini’s customer base, which is now around two-thirds female. At 35, he jokes he’s the elder statesman of the group, the age of which averages around 27. Slogans like “Young and Eager” are splashed across the walls of Wuling’s headquarters in Liuzhou, a city that’s embraced EVs alongside the company. With 30 % of all car sales electric last year, its adoption rate is now the highest rate in China, according to WAYS Information Technology. Wuling’s success with the Hongguang Mini was driven by a targeted marketing campaign conducted almost entirely online, according to Zhang. His team often communicate with consumers directly via various social media platforms, and it was a customer’s request for more hues that saw the company come up with Hongguang Mini’s latest iteration: the Macaron. It comes in avocado green, lemon yellow and white peach pink, with an optional solid-color roof for contrast, to mimic the vanilla butter cream that sandwiches the French meringue confections of the same name. It’s also how they landed on one of the car’s key selling points, besides its rock-bottom price point: Hongguang Mini drivers are able to customize their vehicles in a way that’s not possible elsewhere. Using ‘stickers’, the car’s panels and body can be transformed. Some sport the Nike swoosh, some have galaxy-like outer space scenes and others cartoon characters from Hello Kitty and Doraemon. The original Hongguang Mini comes in around 20 different base colors that can be switched up, and buyers can customize the interior as well. Zorah Zhang (no relation) is a typical client. The 23-year-old is a fan of Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator who directed “My Neighbor Totoro”; a fantasy film featuring a character called The Catbus, a grinning feline whose seats are covered in fur. She’s pimped her Hongguang Mini to resemble it, spending around 15.000 yuan ($2.300) to cover the car’s interior with brown velveteen and studding the roof with lights that sparkle at night. “A lot of my friends have the Mini, you see them everywhere in Liuzhou”, said Zhang, who lives with her parents (they drive a BMW sedan). “I love things that reflect my character. I may change the look of the car again if there’s other stuff I fancy”. As frivolous as turning a set of wheels into a fashion accessory may seem, there’s a very real market up for grabs. Outside of Liuzhou, EV penetration in China is still only around 6 % and competition is fierce. Tesla may be the name that resonates loudest, particularly in larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai where its first Gigafactory is located. But a host of newer, local entrants from Nio to Xpeng, Li Auto and WM Motor are crowding in. At the same time, other home-grown players like BYD, a carmaker long backed by Warren Buffett, are upping their EV game while international behemoths such as Volkswagen are plowing billions of dollars into new electric lineups. With consumers in China overwhelmed by choice when fossil-fuel cars are added to the mix, automakers need to give motorists what they want to survive, said Jochen Siebert, managing director of consultancy JSC Automotive in Singapore. “SAIC-GM-Wuling has to come up with new ideas all the time to attract consumers”, Siebert said. The Hongguang Mini is “a kind of accessory, which means it’s a fashion item that might go out of fashion sooner or later”. For now, it’s a strategy that’s paying dividends for Wuling. The company, owned 50.1 % by Shanghai-based SAIC, 44 % by GM’s China unit and 5.9 % by Guangxi Automobile, sold 1.6 million vehicles in total last year. While that was down about 4 % from 2019 amid the pandemic, Wuling’s new-energy vehicle sales almost tripled to 174.000 units. For GM, which is doubling down on electrification and autonomous driving under chief executive officer Mary Barra, the Hongguang Mini appears to have been a boon. The carmaker saw revenue of $9.9 billion from its China auto joint ventures in first-quarter results out last month, up from $4.3 billion for the first three months of 2020. GM, which has several other partnerships in China, doesn’t break out Wuling’s revenue in its financial results. While customer engagement has distinguished the Hongguang Mini, cost has been main driver of its blockbuster sales in a country where many find the sticker price of a Tesla Model 3, which sells for the equivalent of $39,300, beyond reach. The basic Hongguang Mini starts at $4,500, and even the new Macaron sells for under $6,000. Wuling has been able to churn out cheap cars thanks in part to its good supply-chain management, honed through making the super-popular microvans. Many of Wuling’s suppliers have also set up manufacturing bases in Liuzhou, which has helped cap costs further. It’s a model that’s being replicated by car companies in other cities and provinces across China, flattering for Wuling but challenging too as the price of rivals’ cars come down. Multinational automakers are also eyeing off the compact EV space, with Daimler set to make an electric version of the Smart (for many, the consummate tiny car) in China with its own venture partner. The global shortage of semiconductors is also weighing on Wuling, with the Hongguang Mini, despite being a basic EV, still requiring over 100 chips. Hongguang Mini production has been impacted by the shortfall, with output of the Macaron expected to be down around 15 % in May, according to Zhang. The hefty sales target for 2022 is the cornerstone of Wuling’s plan to maintain its market-leading momentum. After debuting a convertible Hongguang Mini at the Shanghai Auto Show in April, it’s aiming to release a mid-cycle enhancement of the vehicle later this year and is working on a two-seater EV targeted at younger men, Zhang said. At a Wuling dealership in downtown Liuzhou, user-experience manager Li Zhengguang says there’s a four-person team focused solely on new media. They communicate with would-be customers using Douyin, as TikTok is known in China, and 0Little Red Book, a trusted social shopping platform popular with young women, sharing photos and videos. Li, who used to sell diamond engagement rings, says there’s not a lot of difference between jewelry and cars. Create desire for a cool product and buyers will come, he says. Pitching the Hongguang Mini not as a cheap car but a coveted accessory in brand-conscious China is brilliant, JSC Automotive’s Siebert said. “It’s become a hallmark of SAIC-GM-Wuling over the past 20 years to always surprise the market, and themselves”, he said. “They’ve done extremely well because they focus on the right things. On quality, when they were mainly making microvans, and now on marketing”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung was given the Issigonis Trophy at a ceremony held by a British auto magazine. The Issigonis Trophy, named after Greek car designer Alec Issigonis, is given every year to a figure in the auto industry who had made notable achievements. Previous winners of the trophy include Ron Dennis, former chairman and founder of McLaren Group, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota and Dieter Zetsche, former chairman of Daimler Group. “In the last decade, the Hyundai Motor Group has grown into one of the world’s leading car firms, and chairman Euisun Chung has been key to that transformation”, Steve Cropley, editor-in-chief of the magazine, said in a release. “We are proud to award him this year’s Issigonis Trophy to recognize his achievements. The transformation made by the company is unmatched in the industry in recent years”. After becoming the group’s chairman last year, Chung has been active in introducing an electric vehicle (EV) lineup through the dedicated platform E-GMP and expanding its hydrogen business, launching a fuel cell system brand called HTWO. “What lies at the heart of our efforts is our single-minded focus on serving and empowering our customers”, Chung said. “Through a considered approach, we will create more opportunities and oil the wheels of ‘progress for humanity’ ”. +++

+++ RENAULT – NISSAN India wants the Tamil Nadu state government to recommend adequate social distancing measures based on practices at other automakers amid a dispute with its workers union over safety. It said in a court filing that it was following practices at other automakers including “Maruti, Hyundai, Kia, Ford, BMW” and that increasing the distance between workers to more than two to three feet at some work stations was “impossible”. M Moorthy, the general secretary of the Renault-Nissan India workers union, said the union will file a counter petition. “Other manufacturers need to adopt the best practices we are pushing for, not the other way around. We feel unsafe, and that is why we are against what the company is doing”, Moorthy said. The Renault-Nissan plant resumed operations last week after workers earlier went on strike saying they felt unsafe due to a rising number of coronavirus infections at the factory. Tamil Nadu is one of the worst Indian states affected by the pandemic and labour unions for Renault-Nissan, Ford and Hyundai have written letters of protest, arguing that hundreds of workers in the auto manufacturing hub of Chennai have fallen ill with Covid-19 and dozens have died. Ford and Hyundai also halted work at their plants last month after workers protested and some went on strike. +++ 

+++ According to recent article, the TESLA Model 3 is now the most popular electric car in the United Kingdom. But what about the often-reported lack of demand and slowing sales related to Tesla’s vehicles, or the multitude of “Tesla Killers” swooping in to bankrupt the Silicon Valley automaker? Don’t get us wrong here, the competition is certainly coming, and some current and future Model 3 rivals are quite compelling. Depending on who you talk to, some Tesla rivals are actually better than Tesla’s vehicles in a number of ways. In fact, we’re increasingly excited that Tesla rivals are finally arriving, and some are fantastic cars. With that said, just because other automakers are finally moving forward with compelling EVs doesn’t mean people will stop buying Tesla’s vehicles. It just means many more people will take the plunge and switch to an EV. Some people like Android phones and Samsung products much better than Apple products, but people haven’t stopped buying the iPhone, and they probably never will. Demand for the Model 3 is reportedly massive across the globe. Tesla and Elon Musk continue to say the brand is production-constrained, and that’s why it’s expanding and improving facilities, all while building multiple global factories. It will be interesting to see (once Tesla is no longer production-constrained) if its deliveries shoot “to the moon” in a big way. If not, the new factories may be excess. At any rate, based on recent figures provided by independent analyst Matthias Schmidt, the number of Tesla Model 3 saloons in the UK has now passed the Nissan Leaf over the first 4 months of 2021. The data suggests that there are some 39.900 Model 3 vehicles in the UK compared to 38.900 Leaf hatchbacks. As of May 2021, some 232.000 EVs had been sold in the UK, which is due in part to a massive increase over the last 5 years. The fact that the Model 3 is dominating is interesting since there are cheaper EVs available in the UK, and the area doesn’t have quite the same charging infrastructure issues and range needs reported in the US. +++

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