Newsflash: Volkswagen gaat batterijcellen met Bosch maken

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+++ GENERAL MOTORS is finding new markets for its hydrogen fuel cell systems, announcing that it will work with another company to build mobile electricity generators, electric vehicle charging stations and power generators for military camps. The emissions-free generators will be designed to power large commercial buildings in the event of a power outage, but the company says it’s possible that smaller ones could someday be marketed for home use. The automaker says it will supply fuel cell power systems to Renewable Innovations of Lindon, Utah, which will build the generators and rapid charging stations. The partnership adds more products and revenue from GM’s hydrogen power systems that now are being developed for heavy trucks, locomotives and even airplanes. Hydrogen generators are far quieter than those powered by petroleum, and their only byproduct is water, Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s hydrogen business, told reporters. He said it’s too early to talk about prices, but said production of the systems should start in the next year. At first the generators will be aimed at powering police stations or industrial uses, as well as outdoor concerts. “These systems run extremely quietly”, he said. “You can stand next to them while having a conversation”, he said. But Freese said the technology also can be very compact and could be used to power homes at some point. GM would provide the hydrogen fuel cells built at a plant in Brownstown Township, Michigan, while Renewable Innovations will build the generator units, he said. General Motors is not alone in entering the hydrogen generator market. Multiple companies, including AFC Energy in the United Kingdom, are selling or testing the products, said Shawn Litster, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied hydrogen fuel cells for about 2 decades. There will be more demand for the generators as vehicles switch from internal combustion to electric power. Police departments and municipal governments, he said, will need backup power to charge emergency vehicles in case of a power outage. Hydrogen can be stored for long periods and used in emergency cases, he said. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is increasingly viewed, along with electric vehicles, as a way to slow the environmentally destructive impact of the planet’s 1.2 billion vehicles, most of which burn gasoline and diesel fuel. Manufacturers of large trucks and commercial vehicles are beginning to embrace hydrogen fuel cell technologies as a way forward. So are makers of planes, trains and passenger vehicles. But generating hydrogen isn’t always clean. At present, most it is produced by using natural gas or coal for refineries and fertilizer manufacturing. That process pollutes the air, warming the planet rather than saving it. A new study by researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities found that most hydrogen production emits carbon dioxide, which means that hydrogen-fueled transportation cannot yet be considered clean energy. Yet proponents say that in the long run, hydrogen production is destined to become more environmentally safe. They envision a growing use of electricity from wind and solar energy, which can separate hydrogen and oxygen in water. As such renewable forms of energy gain broader use, hydrogen production should become a cleaner and less expensive process. Freese said GM would always look to get hydrogen from a green source. But he conceded that supplies synthesized from natural gas would have to be a “stepping stone” to greener sources. The EV charging stations would be able to charge up to four vehicles at once, and they could be installed quickly without changes to the electrical grid, Freese said. They also could go up to handle seasonal demand in places where people travel, he said. The quietness and relative lack of heat make the military generators ideal for powering a camp of soldiers, Freese said. GM wouldn’t say how much revenue it expects from the products, and it did not release financial arrangements of the deal. +++

+++ Toyota ranked top in GLOBAL AUTO SALES in 2021, beating Volkswagen for the second consecutive year amid an easing of the parts supply crunch in Southeast Asia, data showed. Volkswagen said the same day its global sales last year fell 4.5 percent to 8.88 million vehicles, lower than the 9.56 million vehicles sold worldwide by Toyota between January and November 2021. Toyota’s sales include those sold by its group’s minivehicle maker Daihatsu and truck manufacturer Hino. Disruptions to the parts supply chain due to the coronavirus pandemic did not hit the Japanese automaker as hard as other carmakers like Volkswagen, which was forced to curb production in response to global shortages of chips. Volkswagen’s sales in its home market of Western Europe declined 2.7 percent to 2.86 million units, while sales in its main market of China fell by 14.1 percent to 3.30 million units. The result includes products sold under the Audi and Porsche brands. Meanwhile, sales of electric vehicles almost doubled to 452.900 units, while plug-in hybrid electric vehicles increased by around 60 percent to 309.500 units. An official of Volkswagen said that while the company achieved satisfactory sales under the circumstances, it was not enough to offset the impact of the chip crunch. +++

+++ HONDA expects its factories to make more vehicles this year despite a computer chip shortage and supply chain troubles. But because it’s starting the year with so few vehicles at dealers, the company expects U.S. sales to fall below last year’s numbers. The company expects U.S. new vehicle prices to ease a bit from the record of more than $46.000 in December as automakers increase production, but Executive Vice President of National Operations Dave Gardner said prices won’t fall to where they were before the pandemic. A shortage of new vehicles brought on by the global chip shortage has forced Honda and other automakers to cut factory production at a time when demand is strong. That has crimped the supply of new vehicles, in some cases driving prices higher than the window sticker. Honda, with its Acura luxury brand, expects to sell somewhere around 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S. this year, which would be short of last year’s 1.47 million. Last year, the automaker started with 300.000 vehicles in its U.S. inventory. Today it has only about 20.000, Gardner said. “I think we’re expecting that we’re going to be able to build more than we were last year, but the pipeline has been emptied to such a degree”, he told reporters. Edmunds Executive Analyst Jessica Caldwell says Honda’s situation is typical of the rest of the U.S. industry. She expects production increases, but says automakers have 75% fewer vehicles on dealer lots than in a normal year. And many of those already have been sold. As a result, people currently are paying an average of $700 over the sticker price for an average of $46.426. “I think that overage that we’re seeing is probably going to come down”, she said. Gardner said Honda continues to see shortages of chips, and that ports are still clogged, slowing the flow of parts to the point that Honda has at times had to pay extra for air freight shipments. The omicron variant of the novel coronavirus also is starting to hit factory workers, affecting production, he said. Honda also announced hat it will roll out an all-new HR-V this year, followed by an all-new CR-V  and a new Pilot larger SUV. +++

+++ Under the theme of “The Next Era, The Next Adventure”, MITSUBISHI will exhibit a total of 7 models including 2 concept cars: the K-EV concept X Style and the Vision Ralliart Concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon 2022. Also on display will be five custom cars based on the production models available in Japan, which include the Outlander and the Eclipse Cross, the Delica D:5 minivanand and the Minicab-MiEV, a kei-car class electric commercial vehicle. Mitsubishi’s lineup centers on Electric Vehicles (EVs) and SUVs with enhanced environmental-friendliness, safety, security and comfort. The K-EV concept X Style is a new generation all-electric kei-car with Mitsubishi-ness, which combines safety, security and comfort, as well as environmental-friendliness. It fuses maneuverability of a kei-car with smooth yet powerful acceleration and high-quality ride comfort of an EV, while offering advanced driver assistance systems and connectivity. The exterior features an SUV-like styling and a two-tone color scheme, with a clean, solid matte blue body and a copper-colored roof reminiscing the motor winding of an EV. The front bumper, body sides and liftgate are accentuated by X-shaped logos, which symbolize the combination of a height kei wagon with an SUV-feel and appeal of an all-electric vehicle. The Vision Ralliart Concept embodies Mitsubishi’s vision for the new Ralliart and brings together the company’s engineering and passion for Monozukuri challenges (craftsmanship). Styling is given a premium look with impressive presence on the road, and the comfortable ride with peace of mind in various weather and road conditions (characteristic of Mitsubishi vehicles) is further refined. The exterior features bold, muscular styling created by the front and rear bumpers with functional beauty, and the large, widened front and rear over fenders. The front grille with a radiator shutter and the large rear diffuser reminiscent of a race car emphasize the sportiness of the model. The matte black body color shows blue highlights when hit by light, creating a deep, multidimensional expression that gives it a high-quality feel. To provide high driving performance, the Vision Ralliart Concept has a wide stance and is equipped with 22-inch large-diameter wheels and tires. Large brake discs and opposed-piston 6-pot brake calipers, which exert braking performance matching the powerful torque of the motors, are adopted to elevate acceleration, cornering, and braking to a higher level. Equipped with the Ralliart accessories, the Outlander Ralliart Style and the Eclipse Cross Ralliart Style offer a sense of excitement to customers who seek their own unique driving and styling. The body is painted in premium, high-brightness White Diamond color, while the front, side and rear garnishes and the liftgate spoiler are colored in red to give the exterior a sporty look. The alloy wheels are painted black, and the side decals and mud flaps with the Ralliart logo express the passion of Ralliart for refinement of road performance. The Delica D:5 Tough x Tough is equipped with various aftermarket parts and Ralliart accessories to further emphasize the tough, off-road styling. The Black Mica body is complemented by matte black front grille and fender garnish, as well as red door mirrors and fog light garnish, which are the Ralliart accessories. A suspension lift is given by modifying the shock absorbers and springs, and the tough, off-road styling is enhanced by the 16 inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, front bumper guard, rear bumper guard, and mud flaps. The Delica D:5 Tough x Tough is also equipped with a roof carrier, a rooftop tent and a sleeping pad which can be used to make a fully-flat bed over the second and third row seats for a comfortable overnight stay. The Outlander Wild Adventure Style allows the driver to fully enjoy outdoor leisure by adopting genuine accessories and collaborating with “ogawa,” a Japanese outdoor brand. The body color comes in Black Diamond, which emits a powerful sparkle when struck by light. The front, side and rear garnishes and the rear spoiler give the exterior a sporty look, while the side bars, rear bumper protector and mud guards emphasize the toughness of the SUV. The model is also equipped with a roof carrier, a trailer hitch, and camping gear in collaboration with “ogawa”. The Minicab-MiEV B-Leisure Style is a kei-car class electric commercial vehicle that offers convenience from private to business use by serving as a source of power supply. The exterior features a two-tone paint with ivory-colored roof and moss green body reminiscent of forests and campgrounds, along with side decals of plugs, tent and work desk. Fit for solo camping, the Minicab-MiEV B-Leisure Style is equipped with various gear such as a car awning, camping table and folding cot. Inside, the rear space is arranged to be fully flat, and the cabin is equipped with a low table, a seat chair and a rug to enhance comfort for remote working. Furthermore, the Minicab-MiEV B-Leisure Style is equipped with the MiEV Power Box, which can use the power from the drive battery to power electronics and appliances such as an electric kettle, a coffee maker, or a laptop, making outdoor leisure and work even more comfortable and convenient. +++

MitsubishiConcepts

+++ TESLA is turning to Mozambique for a key component in its electric car batteries in what analysts believe is a first-of-its-kind deal designed to reduce its dependence on China for graphite. Elon Musk’s company signed an agreement last month with Australia’s Syrah Resources, which operates one of the world’s largest graphite mines in the southern African country. It’s a unique partnership between an electric vehicle manufacturer and a producer of the mineral that is critical for lithium-ion batteries. The value of the deal hasn’t been released. Tesla will buy the material from the company’s processing plant in Vidalia, Louisiana, which sources graphite from its mine in Balama, Mozambique. The Austin, Texas-based electric automaker plans to buy up 80 % of what the plant produces (8.000 tons of graphite per year), starting in 2025, according to the agreement. Syrah must prove the material meets Tesla’s standards. The deal is part of Tesla’s plan to ramp up its capacity to make its own batteries so it can reduce its dependence on China, which dominates global graphite markets, said Simon Moores of United Kingdom-based battery materials data and intelligence provider, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. “It starts at the top with geopolitics”, Moores said. “The U.S. wants to build enough capacity domestically to be able to build (lithium-ion batteries) within the USA. And this deal will permit Tesla to source graphite independent from China”. Moores said producing the batteries in the U.S. will reduce some of the questions Tesla is facing about its ties to China, where there are environmental concerns at some mines. The automaker also has set up a showroom in the region of Xinjiang, where Chinese officials are accused of forced labor and other human rights abuses against mostly Muslim ethnic minorities. A message was left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department. The battery industry has been confronted with a short supply of graphite in recent months, Moores said. Graphite stores lithium inside a battery until it’s needed to generate electricity by splitting into charged ions and electrons. It comes as every major automaker is racing to get into electric vehicles amid concerns about climate change. Tesla is making almost a million electric cars per year, and sourcing enough batteries is its biggest constraint, he said. “They’ve upped their own battery manufacturing capacity”, Moores said, but still “they can’t get enough batteries”. A new battery factory that the company is building in its new hometown of Austin, Texas, will allow it to get closer to self-sufficiency, but Moores said it is still buying batteries from other manufacturers, “and that won’t change this decade”. For instance, Tesla has a deal with Panasonic to make battery cells at the automaker’s battery factory near Reno, Nevada. The deal with Syrah is part of a broader effort by automakers to secure relatively scarce raw materials for batteries as demand for electric vehicles is expected to grow, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal e-mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights. The deal also brings the graphite processed in Louisiana much closer to Tesla’s U.S. factories. “The pandemic pointed out to us that we’ve got these long, long, long supply chains, and it doesn’t take much to disrupt a supply chain”, said Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Somebody could all of the sudden say, ‘We’re going to jack up the prices,’ or ‘We’re going to refuse to ship it’ “. It’s unlikely that the Tesla deal with Syrah will rankle the Chinese government because China has plenty of markets for its graphite, including increased domestic electric vehicle production, Abuelsamid said. China, though, is Tesla’s biggest global market. It has a giant factory near Shanghai and sells about 450.000 vehicles per year there, compared with about 350.000 in the U.S., Abuelsamid said. For the Australian mining firm, the deal is “crucial” because it has a non-Chinese purchaser for its graphite product, Moores said. Syrah’s graphite mine in Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado, is one of the world’s largest, with an ability to produce 350.000 tons of flake graphite a year. Cabo Delgado has faced violence in recent years by Islamic extremists, an insurgency that has recently extended inland from coastal areas toward the neighboring Niassa province. The mine is on the main road connecting the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, a thoroughfare that has been recently upgraded by a Chinese contractor. At a ceremony to reopen the road in December, President Filipe Nyusi called for vigilance so the road isn’t used by insurgents. +++

+++ TOYOTA , the world’s top-selling carmaker, said Tuesday it no longer expects to meet its annual production target with operations hampered by the global chip crunch. A worldwide shortage of microchips, essential components of modern cars, has forced many automakers including Toyota to slow or temporarily halt production. In September, the Japanese giant lowered the number of vehicles it hopes to make in the year to March 2022 to 9 million, down from 9.3 million. But the company said fresh cuts to a planned bumper factory output next month meant it was unlikely to meet its new target. “Current demand is very strong, therefore we were aiming for a high February production plan”, Toyota said in a statement. But “due to the impact of the continuing demand for semiconductors across all industries”, the company said it had reduced its global production target for February to around 700,000 units, some 150,000 fewer than before. “As a result of the revision, the full-year production forecast for the fiscal year… is expected to be lower than the previous forecast of 9 million units”, it said. Next month’s target is still higher than the 668.000 units Toyota made in February 2021, however, as it scrambles to make up for lost output due to the semiconductor shortage and pandemic disruption to supply chains in Southeast Asia. The targets are for Toyota and Lexus vehicles only, not the auto group’s other brands Daihatsu and Hino. Toyota said it would halt operations for several days next month on 11 production lines at 8 of its 14 Japanese plants. The company offered its “sincerest apologies to our customers and suppliers for the various inconveniences these adjustments may cause”. +++

+++ In the UNITED STATES , the used car market is seeing an unprecedented phenomenon: owners selling vehicles for as much or more than they paid for them. The strange twist comes as a global shortage of computer chips amid the Covid-19 pandemic has stalled auto manufacturing, fueling a price increase for used vehicles, which in turn helped drive record U.S. inflation last year. It “100 percent is a new trend”, which is unlikely to end soon, said Aurelien Guillaud, owner of Arlington Auto Group (AAG), a car dealership based in Arlington, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital. Due to the shortage of new vehicles, there has been an influx of demand for used cars, he said. New government data showed U.S. consumer prices surged seven percent last year, the biggest increase in nearly 4 decades, fueled in large part by the dizzying 37.3 percent jump in prices of used cars and trucks. Given the struggles to get semiconductors from factories in Asia amid the pandemic that has limited new car inventories, car rental companies have been hanging onto their fleets, cutting off the usual steady supply of vehicles for the used car market and pushing up prices. And the strict lockdowns in China to contain the Omicron variant could exacerbate the supply issues. “Compared to a year ago, now you buy that same car for $20,000 instead of $16,000”, and sell it for $24,000, said AAG manager Eddy Malikov. The dealership lot has 40 vehicles ready to sell, fewer than its usual pre-pandemic inventory. Last year was strong for AAG, which sold 300 to 400 cars despite the price increases that turned a number of customers away. Americans’ reluctance to use public transportation amid the pandemic also is a factor driving high demand for cars. “There’s not much supply, but there’s a huge demand”, Guillaud said. He notes that in Europe commuters might opt to use a scooter or a motorcycle, but “over here, it’s a car because of the distance that you have to drive”. Rising prices have been dramatic. Malikov recalled a customer who bought a car for $21,000 in 2019, “and they ended up trading the car for $21,000 some 2 years later, with 16.000 more kilometers basically, which was kind of ridiculous”. In other cases, owners sell their car for even more than they bought it for. In a recent study, analysts at KPMG warned that the used car boom will not last. “History tells us the current frenzy in the used car market will come to an end”, the authors said, noting that chip shortages and supply chain problems eventually will be resolved. Then the “massive auto manufacturing machine will shift back into high gear and the dealer lots will again be full”, after which the used car market will “collapse”, they said, predicting a 30 percent drop in prices. The analysts acknowledged however that it is difficult to know when this shift will happen and whether the decline could be “sudden or slow”. But there are signs major manufacturers are banking on the boom continuing for a while longer: General Motors announced plans to launch CarBravo, a new online market for GM brand used vehicles. The venture will compete with successful firms like Carvana and CarMax. Guillaud said some people are trying to take advantage of the market, and points to online forums where sellers admit to reselling vehicles 2 weeks after they bought them. But he warns that Virginia law prohibits individuals from buying and reselling more than 5 cars a year. +++

+++  VOLKSWAGEN and Bosch have committed to a joint venture to significantly upscale Volkswagen’s battery factories, with an aim of making the firm self-sufficient in European battery-cell production. The car maker and component supplier signed a memorandum of understanding that will ensure the “entire range of processes and components” will be sourced within Europe, aiming for “cost and technology leadership in the industrialisation of battery technology”. The geographical aspect is key, as Volkswagen board member for technology Thomas Schmall explained: “Europe has the unique chance to become a global battery powerhouse in the years to come. There’s a strong and growing demand for all aspects of battery production, including the equipment of new gigafactories. Volkswagen and Bosch will explore opportunities to develop and shape this novel, multibillion-euro industry in Europe”. Bosch sold its cell chemistry division a few years ago, at the time citing the risky high investment costs, but this tie-up with Volkswagen will give it the scale to allow it to re-enter this growing field. Europe is struggling to catch up with Asia and especially China, on battery production. Reports out this week suggest that mining conglomerate Rio Tinto has had to push back its proposed Serbian lithium mine off the back of local opposition. Change is coming, though, as recent announcements from various companies put a total yearly European battery-production capacity at 700 GWh by 2030. The new partnership between Volkswagen and Bosch makes strategic sense, as the former has vast car manufacturing experience and is already committed to upscaling its battery production, while the latter has the technical know-how in factory automation. Volkswagen is committed to European battery production and has announced that it plans to build 6 battery-cell factories on the continent by 2030. To that end, it recently announced a tie-up with battery maker Northvolt with the aim of having a 16GWh battery-production facility in Lower Saxony by 2024. Meanwhile, Bosch opened a semiconductor factory in Dresden last year. +++

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