Newsflash: samenwerking van Honda met Sony wordt inniger


+++ In China, a growing number of companies are moving into the BATTERY SWAPPING SEGMENT with new models and services. The companies vow to offer electric car owners a quicker and easier way to dispel their anxiety over mileage restrictions. Getting electric vehicles fully charged usually takes hours, while empty batteries can be swapped for full ones in just minutes. Thus, battery swapping has become a major alternative to charging pillars. Dozens of models, from carmakers including Nio, BAIC and FAW, are now capable of battery swapping. Their combined sales in the first 4 months this year reached 42.000 units; up 54 percent year-on-year. Livan Automotive said last week that it is planning to launch at least 6 battery swapping cars in 3 years. The carmaker already has 2 such models in the market. Its latest model, a compact coupe SUV called RL 7, makes its debut at an ongoing auto show in Chongqing, where the carmaker is headquartered, and production will start in 2023. Lou Yuanfa, Livan’s chairman and CEO, said the carmaker is dedicated to battery swapping, which he believes holds the key to the future of the EV segment. Livan also unveiled its battery swapping architecture last week. The architecture consists of a complete vehicle platform, a battery swapping power supply platform and a cloud-based big data platform. The architecture adopts a unified battery that offers different packs ranging from 50 kWh to 100 kWh. Vice-president Yang Quankai said the battery has been proven to support 2.500 charge-discharge cycles, which allows a car to drive up to 800.000 kilometers over a span of 8 years. By the end of this year, Livan is expected to have over 200 battery swapping stations in the country. A number of companies including CATL, Nio and BAIC have also explored the battery swapping segment. Nio, a New York-listed EV startup, has built more than 900 stations for battery swapping vehicles. Guo Dongqiang, a Nio ES6 owner in Beijing, said he has yet to charge his vehicle since buying it in late 2020. “There is a power station near my apartment and I always get the batteries swapped, which is a pretty fast process”, Guo said. Nio plans to set up more than 1.300 battery-swap stations by the end of this year and add 600 more stations annually between 2022-25 in China, it said. Unlike Nio, BAIC’s battery swapping models are mostly taxis. They spend time on the road so charging is not an optimum choice, the carmaker said. Aulton, China’s largest battery swapping company, plans to build 10.000 stations that could serve more than 10 million EVs by 2025. The company’s stations are compatible with 9 EV models from 7 automakers. Chinese battery giant CATL is exploring the market as well. Last week, its battery swapping service, called Evogo, became available in Hefei. The battery-swap station is the size of 3 parking spaces, and each houses 48 battery blocks. It allows the swapping of a single battery block in around 1 minute. There will be 3 fast battery-swap stations in Hefei at first, and it is estimated to reach 20 by the end of this year, the company said. Evogo’s development came within 2 months of the company’s first stations opening in Xiamen. A total of 30 such stations are expected to be available in the coastal city. China FAW Group’s Bestune has launched models capable of swapping batteries at Evogo stations. Chen Weifeng, general manager of CATL’s battery swapping arm CAES, said the new solution will solve range anxiety problems as well as the inconvenience of recharging. “As a business model of sharing and providing good service to our customers, we consider the battery a shared product instead of a consumer product for personal use”, Chen said. In May, local authorities in Chongqing released their new energy vehicle battery swapping pilot plan, saying that the city will set up more than 200 power stations and promote more than 10,000 NEVs capable of battery swapping by 2023. Chongqing is one of a number of cities selected by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to run a pilot program and speed up the construction of battery swapping infrastructure. In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province that borders Chongqing, the number of battery charging and swapping stations will hit 350 by the end of this year. Earlier this month, a car hailing company in the city, called Xiaoma Chuxing, ordered 7.000 battery swapping vehicles from Dongfeng Nissan. There were 1.519 battery swapping stations across the country by the end of May, according to the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance. Analysts at Founder Securities estimate that there will be 3.2 million battery-swap cars across the country by 2025, with more than 28.000 power stations. +++

+++ In early 2020, Sony Group chief executive officer Kenichiro Yoshida took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (the tech industry’s main annual event) and announced a once-in-a-decade pivot: The Japanese electronics maker was joining the electric vehicle race. As Yoshida wrapped up his 30-minute presentation, the lights on stage dimmed and a glowing grille emerged from the shadows. The CEO raised his hands as a sleek, Sony-branded car rolled onto the stage. “Like mobile phones during the past decade, the next mega-trend will be mobility”, Sony’s chief declared. With Yoshida’s pronouncement, the 76-year-old Japanese company joined a growing roster of technology giants plotting their foray into the automobile industry. As vehicles become electric, autonomous, gadget-stocked and web-connected, the movement is luring a wide array of new players (most notoriously Apple with its secretive Apple Car) all betting they have the technologies necessary to disrupt the $3 trillion market. While Big Tech’s jostling has largely been downplayed by many incumbent carmakers, the push by Yoshida, 62, gained him an unlikely fan back in Japan: Toshihiro Mibe, who at the time was running research and development at HONDA . Of all Japan’s carmakers, Honda had thrown itself most aggressively into EVs, targeting a full phase-out of combustion-engine vehicle sales by 2040. From early on, Honda saw potential for collaboration with Sony, with its consumer electronics, autonomous driving sensors and software, as a way to differentiate new models and add value to the low-margin business of making cars. Behind the scenes, Mibe had spent years courting Sony’s top management, seeking to sell them on his vision of the companies’ potential synergies, people familiar with the executive’s approach said. When Mibe, 60, became Honda’s CEO last year, those overtures took on new weight. After a number of meetings between individuals ranging from the companies’ top executives to engineers, plans for a joint venture began to solidify around the end of 2021, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. That culminated in the 2 firms unveiling plans to create a new company to develop and sell next-generation EVs. 2 iconic companies, symbols of Japan’s economic recovery from the ruins of war, were joining forces. “Companies from completely different industries have different cultures and sources of value”, Mibe said, speaking about Honda’s partnership with Sony in an interview in April. “There was this idea that we could create a chemical reaction together. This was a fascinating concept, and I met with President Yoshida and said, ‘Let’s do this’ “. For Honda, Mibe’s approach makes sense. Over the past few years, Tesla, with its autonomous driving features and ability to improve car performance via over-the-air updates much like an iPhone, has highlighted the knowledge gap when it comes to the software powering the next generation of cars. Sony anticipates the cars being connected to the cloud and equipped with in-house sensors that will eventually enable Level 4 autonomous driving. At that stage, cars don’t require human interaction in most circumstances, thereby freeing up drivers to game, potentially, or view Sony content. Honda confirmed these technologies are under consideration for future joint-venture models, the first of which are due for release in 2025. For Sony, partnering with Honda gives it access to supply chains, production know-how and vehicle-sales expertise. Automaker operations are held to stringent safety standards and firms need to be responsible for the whole lifecycle of their vehicles, from maintenance to eventual scrapping. While the process of forming Big Tech-automaker partnerships might prove challenging, the model is “essential” to keeping pace with the rapid evolution of cars, said Olaf Sakkers, co-founder of RedBlue Capital, an early-stage investor in mobility startups. “There’s a clear target, Tesla, compared with which everyone is falling behind”, Sakkers said. Sony and Honda’s alliance shows that “companies are having to realize what their core competencies are and where they need technology and partners”, he said. Not only is there likely to be more consolidation within the automotive industry itself going forward, but “the partnership model is going to be seen more and more”. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Apple has searched far and wide for an ally to help it develop and produce its car, but talks with the likes of Hyundai and Ferrari have stalled, likely because they’re wary of becoming an assembler for a product that could end up cannibalizing their business. Most tech-auto tie-ups so far have avoided Honda and Sony-style 50-50 partnerships. Operational differences could also jeopardize longer-term collaboration, including the relatively slow and meticulous pace of development in the auto industry, according to analyst Tatsuo Yoshida. While Sony has its hand in a sprawling range of businesses from gaming to movies and music, Honda’s fate is tied firmly to the appeal of its EVs, Yoshida said. That means it’d bear the brunt of losses if the partnership were to end after its initial 2025 vehicle release. “The real question is what comes after”, Yoshida said. Yet Honda chose Sony from several potential electronics company candidates, and Sony had also been looking for a manufacturing partner. The companies say they selected each other for a reason. During a joint briefing in March, Yoshida and Mibe said their common culture of wanting to “challenge the next big thing” would help bridge the divide between their industries. As evidence of this, Sony’s CEO alluded to the companies’ historic ties dating back to their founders, Soichiro Honda and Masaru Ibuka. Honda and Ibuka famously developed a close friendship while building their businesses. The 2 met for the first time in the mid-1950s, when Honda visited Sony headquarters and asked co-founder Ibuka whether the semiconductors used in transistor radios could also be used to switch engines on and off; a radical idea at the time. The companies tested out the idea, but ultimately didn’t move forward, Ibuka wrote in a 1990s book he authored about Honda’s founder. Nevertheless, Ibuka recalls that their willingness to try new things continued to draw the 2 leaders together through the years. In their respective businesses, Honda and Sony “put primacy on making attempts”, Ibuka wrote, “which meant that failure came frequently”. “Success and failure are 2 sides of the same paper”, Ibuka wrote, referring to the famous line from Honda’s founder. “With everyone so bent on not failing, that’s why cases of success are so rare”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI has scrapped a plan to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled plant to power its main production lines in South Korea due to a growing consensus that excludes natural gas from the list of environmentally-friendly energy sources. The decision comes after the European Parliament’s environment and economy committee voted against the classification of gas and nuclear energy as sustainable investments last month. Although a formal vote by the European Parliament is due next week, the committee’s decision raises the possibility that natural gas might not be considered eco-friendly energy. “We had considered building an LNG plant as part of an effort to achieve zero carbon emissions, but we decided to rescind the plan in line with a global consensus to cope with climate change”, Hyundai said on Friday. Last May, the country’s top carmaker drew up a plan to build an LNG-powered thermal power plant to self-supply more than 70% of its energy needs. It had planned to operate its first LNG plant from 2025 within the Ulsan complex, 310 km southeast of Seoul. Regarding the plan, it received the request by the Climate Group to clarify its LNG plant construction plan. The non-profit organization leads the RE100 campaign, under which companies will make a full switch to renewable energy by 2050. Last April, Hyundai joined the RE100 multinational campaign. But the RE100 initiative does not count LNG as a renewable energy source, which might put Hyundai under pressure. The carmaker’s announcement could affect other Korean companies, which are preparing to build LNG plants to power their production lines. Combustion of LNG emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal. But in the long term, companies need to shift into hydrogen fuel away from LNG to achieve carbon neutrality, said an industry official. “We will install solar panels at our major factories and self-generate electricity from renewable energy sources”, said a Hyundai official. +++

+++ NISSAN has suspended production in Russia for the first half of the business year that began on April 1 as there is little prospect of the situation regarding the country improving, chief executive Makoto Uchida said. “We believe this situation could become more serious and prolonged”, a spokesman quoted Uchida as saying at Nissan’s annual general meeting (AGM), in reference to a worsening Russia-Ukraine conflict. Workers have been informed and the automaker will continue to monitor the situation and minimize its impact, Uchida said. Nissan suspended production in Russia in March as well as exports there after Russia invaded Ukraine, raising logistics risk as Western nations imposed an array of economic sanctions. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”. The revelation comes as companies worldwide are under pressure to cut business ties with Russia. However, only 2.4% of Japanese companies operating there have done so since the invasion began on February 24, the lowest among Group of Seven nations, showed an analysis by Teikoku Databank based on a survey from the Yale School of Management. Nissan’s alliance partner Renault withdrew from Russia in May after mounting criticism of its presence there. At the AGM, Uchida also said Nissan has been in talks with Renault about the alliance’s electric vehicle (EV) future after the French automaker hinted at spinning off its EV unit. Renault is overhauling its business in response to the electrification of the auto industry and rapid growth of EV makers such as Tesla Inc. In April, it said it would consider all options including listing its EV business. Nissan, an EV pioneer with its 2010 Leaf, last month said it was too early to consider spinning off its own EV division. “We will carefully explore matters from every angle, and decide on our own”, Uchida said. Also at the AGM, Nissan rejected (as widely expected) an investor proposal to deem 43% stakeholder Renault as Nissan’s parent for disclosure purposes, thereby forcing the publication of a decades-old agreement stipulating their capital and business alliance. The investor argued disclosure would allow shareholders to scrutinize and help balance the alliance. Nissan, which owns a 15% non-voting stake in Renault, last month said it would disclose the agreement’s content in its annual securities report to the extent it does not violate a confidentiality obligation. Nissan also said it would not be directly involved with the restructuring of former key supplier Marelli, though it would continue collaboration. The auto parts maker, owned by U.S. private equity firm KKR & Co , filed for court-led rehabilitation last week after a voluntary debt workout failed to gain full support. +++

+++ China’s largest carmaker, the SAIC GROUP , has unveiled an electric car platform, the first of its kind among local carmakers in the world’s largest vehicle market. The platform, called Xingyun, or Nebula, can be upgraded and stay compatible with future technologies. Using the platform, EVs will have a wheelbase from 2.690 millimeters to 3.100 mm in which batteries measuring 2.023 mm in length can be installed. The batteries can deliver power tot electric motors of 204 – 820 hp and an energy matrix of 44 – 150 kWh. The EVs are expected to achieve a range of 1.000 kilometers, according to Kang Huaping, vice-president of the SAIC innovation research and development institute. EVs based on the SAIC Nebula platform are scheduled to be in production by 2023, Kang said. The platform is able to provide the foundations of various types of vehicles, including medium-sized hatchback, large and medium-sized sedan, luxury sedan, sports car, sports utility vehicle or multipurpose vehicle. Models using the platform can host frontier technologies such as high-pressure casting, solid-state battery, electrical architecture and autonomous driving. Equipped with an active safety system and a data security protection system, Nebula aims to provide customers with a safe and quiet environment. The platform will help realize SAIC Group’s goal of achieving peak carbon emissions by 2025, Kang added. SAIC’s Nebula demonstrates China’s development in the auto industry’s intelligent manufacturing and offers technical support for other Chinese auto brands, the carmaker said. Earlier this month, SAIC unveiled the Mulan under its MG brand, built on the Nebula platform and sports the carmaker’s One Pack battery in which energy density reaches 180 kWh per kilogram. +++

+++ The long, swoopy, not-so-pretty design of the STATIONWAGON has definitely not been popular in South Korea, a country where SUVs and luxury sedans make up most of the market share. But targeting drivers who seek compact car with sedan-like driving comfort and spacious cargo space like SUVs, automakers are launching stationwagons to lure consumers amid shifting trends. According to the country’s largest automaker Hyundai, its luxury brand Genesis will start selling a wagon-inspired model G70 Shooting Brake on July 7th. Having a 40 percent larger cargo space compared to original G70 sedan, the Shooting Brake is the first stationwagon model in 11 years by Hyundai after the i40 was launched in 2011. It stopped manufacturing the i40 in 2019, after selling just 213 units in 2018. Despite its compact size, the G70 Shooting Brake can load up to 1.535 liter of cargo or 4 golf bags when the second row is fully folded. With recent trends of car camping among drivers amid social distancing after pandemic and young Koreans taking more interest in golf, carmakers see potentials with stationwagons that have advantage of sedan’s driving performance and SUV’s loading space. Its price, also, is not as expensive as SUVs. “One of the biggest trends in local automotive market is car camping, and automakers are seeking to launch models that can offer both comfort and large cargo area. In that context, stationwagons can receive consumer attention”, said Lee Ho-geun, automotive engineering professor at Daeduk University. According to market data, sales of wagon models like the V60/V90 Volvo Cross Country and the BMW 3 Series Touring on the Korean market jumped 2.5 times by the end of last year compared to pre-pandemic time in 2020. Others say launch of stationwagons is simply a part of carmakers’ strategy to complete various lineups to satisfy different consumer needs. “In case of the Hyundai Motor Group, which has risen to third place in the global car sales rankings last year, it is a time to complete its full lineup of models in its portfolio”, said an industry insider. “While the sales and consumer feedback (on G70 Shooting Brake) is still questionable, since it is sold under the luxury brand Genesis so it may have different appealing point compared to existing stationwagons”, he added. +++

+++ TOYOTA said its domestic output in May fell 28.5 percent from a year earlier to 144.204 vehicles, declining for the third straight month due to a global chip shortage and a parts supply crunch caused by a Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai. The rate of decline was the biggest since January when domestic output fell 32.2 percent from the previous year, the major Japanese automaker said. Toyota had to suspend operations at some of its factories in Japan because the lockdown had made it difficult to procure parts. Toyota said its global output in May fell 5.3 percent from a year earlier to 634.940 units, falling short of its production target of about 700.000 vehicles after its production in South Africa was affected by flooding. Although the Shanghai lockdown was lifted on June 1, Toyota’s production continues to be affected by the strain on parts supply from the Chinese city. Meanwhile, rivals Nissan and Honda increased domestic production significantly in May from a year earlier as they ramped up operations at their factories. Nissan’s domestic output jumped 77.9 percent to 26.799 units as a new model of its Note boosted sales. Honda saw its output rise 57.7 percent to 37.285 vehicles, showing a sharp rebound from a year ago when domestic production decreased sharply. In contrast, Honda’s global output was down 14.5 percent to 244.368 units, as it was strongly impacted by the chip shortage and Shanghai’s lockdown. Despite the chip shortage, the global output of Nissan was up 1.7 percent to 231.732 cars, the first rise in 11 months, thanks to robust domestic production. Total domestic production by 8 major Japanese automakers, including Toyota, Nissan and Honda, fell 16.0 percent in May to 396.433 vehicles amid the global parts crunch, according to industry data. Their total global output fell 0.2 percent to 1.62 million units. +++


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