Newsflash: Toyota topman onder vuur

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+++ AUDI is set to invest €300 million to increase the production of electric motors at its factory in Győr, Hungary. The investment was confirmed by the minister of foreign affairs and trade in Hungary, Péter Szijjártó. While some specifics about the plan remain uncertain, Szijjártó confirmed that Audi will receive a €21 million ($22 million) government grant to aid in the expansion of the factory which will add some 500 jobs. The electric motors to be built at the factory will be for all MEB-based models across the Volkswagen Group. Manufacturing is expected to commence in 2025. Audi has been building electric motors in Hungary since 2018 and is an important production market for the German automaker. In fact, it produced 171.000 vehicles in Hungary last year and employs some 13.000 locals. It has contributed to Hungary becoming the 20th largest car exporter in the world. Interestingly, the Volkswagen Group has already mapped out its future beyond the MEB architecture that underpins most of its electric vehicles. In mid-2021, the conglomerate revealed that it will phase out all of its internal combustion platforms over the course of the coming decade and eventually consolidate its 2 existing EV platforms, the MEB and PPE architectures, into a single platform dubbed the Scalable Systems Platform (SSP). This architecture will eventually form the basis of every Volkswagen Group vehicle and will be offered to other automakers. The first vehicle to use this platform will be the successor to the current Audi A8. +++

+++ McDonalds versus Burger King. Apple versus Microsoft. Coca-Cola versus Pepsi. The business world is riddled with rivalries. A new one may be taking shape as Volkswagen tries to unseat Tesla as the leading maker of ELECTRIC cars. VW is in a “good second position” behind Tesla on EVs and making progress on battery production, charging infrastructure and software, chief executive officer Herbert Diess said at a tech conference in Berlin. “We think we can close the gap a little bit in the next months”, he said. Europe’s biggest automaker could overtake its US rival as soon as 2024, analysts predicted last week. Elon Musk disputed this during the Qatar Economic Forum, telling that he “would not agree” with the forecast. He instead praised Chinese carmakers before saying that at Tesla, “we don’t really think about other competitors”. I’m not so sure about that. Many of Tesla’s competitors long laughed it off as an upstart on feeble financial footing before their electric about-faces, so it must feel good to still be miles ahead when it comes to selling battery-powered cars. But Musk himself has acknowledged VW is rapidly electrifying, and has praised Diess for doing so. He’s clearly paying close attention. Tesla delivered more than 936.000 EVs worldwide last year, while VW sold some 453.000 fully electric cars. Musk has christened new factories this year in Austin, Texas, and near Berlin (the latter is basically in VW’s backyard) and Tesla is on track to produce more than 1.5 million vehicles this year, Musk said in April. Still, the Germans are pushing hard to catch up. VW has earmarked some €52 billion through 2026 to develop and produce electric cars. This includes setting up a new €2 billion EV factory in Germany and plans to build up six battery factories across Europe, several of which will involve partnerships. It’s also making a bold move to gain market share in the US, where it’s reviving the defunct brand Scout with rugged electric SUV and pickup models. It’s noteworthy that Tesla’s Austin and Berlin plants have been experiencing teething problems, losing “billions of dollars” as they try to ramp up, Musk said. Musk detailed his decision to cut costs by dismissing about 10% of Tesla’s salaried employees over the next 3 months, or about 3.5% of its global workforce. VW and Tesla have also suffered from Covid-related lockdowns at their factories in China, but recent remarks from Musk and Diess suggest the situation is improving. Tesla still trumps VW on Wall Street. Even after the recent rout, the US carmaker is valued at around $734 billion; more than 8 times VW’s market capitalization. The Germans do have an ace up their sleeve making slick sports cars. VW is sticking to plans to list its Porsche unit in the 4th quarter, chief financial officer Arno Antlitz told. The Porsche listing is poised to be one of Germany’s biggest-ever IPOs and could value the business at as much as €90 billion. Porsche is a highly profitable brand and is far along in its electric transformation, with its Taycan already outselling the legendary 911. It’s a bold move charging ahead with the share sale given that IPOs globally have slowed dramatically this year. Investors are shying away from risks because of the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates and runaway inflation. Swiss firm ABB on Monday postponed the $750 million listing of its EV charging business until the market improves. Antlitz pitched Porsche as a safe haven for investors eager to sidestep the drop in tech and EV stocks, arguing the brand has proven resilient in the face of disruptions. “There’s still capital out there and there’s a lot of skepticism about investing capital in technology companies, in new ventures,” he said. Porsche, on the other hand, “is very solid”. +++

++++ American auto regulators want to require automakers to collect more crash data from EVENT DATA RECORDERS (EDRs), more commonly known as “black boxes”. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed requiring black boxes to collect 20 seconds of pre-crash data at a higher frequency rate to help better understand the actions that lead to a crash. NHTSA currently requires 5 seconds of pre-crash data at a slower collection rate for vehicles with EDRs. The agency had studied adopting the regulation for more than three years, as required by Congress under a 2015 law. NHTSA was supposed to have finalized the new data collection rules by 2020. Black box data is a key tool for NHTSA investigations, including crashes where advanced driver assistance systems are suspected as a factor. NHTSA says the data provides a “comprehensive snapshot” of driver actions before a crash and can help “improve future vehicle designs and more effective safety regulations”. NHTSA used data from EDRs in its 2010 Toyota unintended acceleration probe. In 2019, under former president Donald Trump, NHTSA withdrew a 2012 proposal to require EDRs in all new cars because it said automakers had voluntarily installed the devices in nearly all vehicles. In 2006, NHTSA required for automakers that installed EDRs to collect certain data, including vehicle speed, crash forces at the moment of impact, whether an airbag deployed or if the brakes were applied in the moments before a crash and if seat belts were fastened. The National Transportation Safety Board in 2004 recommended EDRs be made mandatory in all vehicles after a California crash killed nine people. NHTSA estimates 99.5% of new vehicles have EDRs. The new rules would take effect no earlier than September 2023. The agency noted at least one automaker (Honda) is voluntarily collecting EDR data on the status and operation of advanced driver assistance systems. +++

+++ The FORD FIESTA has generally performed well in the moose test. However, for the latest version, it seems like the small hatchback doesn’t like to turn. For the uninitiated, the moose test is an evasive manoeuvre safety test that’s made to check whether a car can evade a sudden obstacle on the road, such as a moose crossing the road. The evaluations are done at various speeds to check whether at which speeds the subject vehicle performs the best. Currently, the benchmark is 77 km/h. For the restyled Fiesta, its best attempt was at 73 km/h, which was way down than the previous tests done on the hatchback’s predecessors. The fastest speed a Fiesta had done on the moose test was 81 km/h. At the benchmark speed, the current Fiesta (powered by a 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine with a mild-hybrid setup and manual gearbox) refused to turn and ultimately failed the test. The testers cited the car’s noticeable understeer as it tried to get back onto its original path. As to why the Ford failed, the testcrew cited the difference in tires. The current model comes with a set of Continental EcoContact 6 tyres, which are made for better fuel efficiency. In contrast, the previous Fiestas that they tested wore stickier tyres from Continental and Michelin, with the best performer wearing Continental ContiSportContact 3. The slalom test, on the other hand, saw the new Ford Fiesta doing well. With a time of 24.3 seconds, the Blue Oval hatchback places 4th in the tally, sharing the spot with the Kia Sportage MHEV. +++

+++ HYUNDAI and Michelin today announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop next-generation tires designed for premium electric vehicles. As part of the deal, Michelin will work to develop next-generation tires that will have optimal performance characteristics, allow an EV to drive long distances, and be highly durable, in order to deal with the increasing range requirements and heavy loads of EVs. In addition, Hyundai and Michelin plan to conduct joint research to analyze tire wear, tire load, and road friction to improve tire quality. Since they are going onto premium vehicles, they’ll also have to be quiet and comfortable at high speeds. Finally, the companies want to make the tires greener by having 50 percent of their total weight made up of eco-friendly materials, rather than the 20 percent of their current tires. “This partnership with Michelin will result in real innovations in tire technology, solidifying Hyundai Motor Group’s position as a leader in the smart mobility industry”, Bong-soo Kim, head of the chassis development center at Hyundai, said in a statement. “By fully leveraging our mobility technology and Michelin’s tire expertise, we are confident in our ability to achieve ground-breaking innovations in tire performance enhancement and create synergies in this organic collaboration”. The memorandum is non-binding but it follows a previous deal between the companies that was signed in 2017. That deal, said Georges Levy, the executive vice president of automotive original equipment at Michelin, led to the creation of an exclusive tire for the Ioniq 5. “The collaboration between Hyundai Motor Group and Michelin over the past 5 years contributed to the successful launch of the Ioniq 5”, Levy said. “We are pleased to announce that the relationship has been extended for three more years to continue our work together on new technologies in favor of safer, cleaner mobility. The association between Hyundai Motor Group and Michelin is founded on the same vision and on a shared passion for excellence, performance, and innovation that have become increasingly essential factors as we rise to the mobility-related challenges we all face today”. +++

+++ Thierry Bolloré, the chief executive officer of JAGUAR LAND ROVER , has proved to be something of a Goodwood superfan. He has attended most Goodwood events since he arrived in the job 20 months ago on a mission to implement a revival and electrification plan he labelled “Reimagine”. I grabbed a word with Bolloré just after he’d taken to the famous hillclimb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the new Range Rover Sport V8, driven by senior engineer Graham Moss. Question: You’ve just driven the famous Goodwood hill – did you enjoy it? Answer: “Of course, but unfortunately I had to go as a passenger. I would have loved to drive myself but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the correct licence. Next year I will make sure I drive myself”. Q: Do you believe events like Goodwood are important for marques like Jaguar and Land Rover? A: “They’re extremely important. Our profile as a modern luxury company should extend far beyond the cars themselves. It has to encompass the whole ownership experience, and that means into places like this. In the future we will make sure it does”. Q: Your Reimagine plan is very radical, and very rigorous. Is it on track? A: “Yes, it is exactly on track. Maybe we are even a little ahead of the plan in some places. It is true that we have been rather quiet over the past months because we are concentrating so hard on work. We have a lot to do and we must concentrate on it because we have a long way to go. But even so, things are going well”. Q: Has the Reimagine plan been modified since you devised it? A: “Not so much. Only to simplify it in some areas so we can go faster. But we are on track. You will see”. Q: Jaguar and Land Rover models have been criticised in the past for quality, and you promised improvements. Have you delivered them? A: “Yes we have. I wish I could show you our graphs back in the office. We have progressed everywhere, but especially with our newest models. The new Range Rover is now setting an extremely high standard, our highest, and we are doing very well with the new Defender, too”. Q: How have you coped with the shortage in semiconductors? A: “To be candid, we were not very good when the difficulties first emerged. We were unprepared and we were quite naive. We had up to 140 suppliers, and in some cases we didn’t even know where the semiconductors were in our cars. But we have worked extremely hard on the problem. Now have far fewer favoured suppliers (fewer than a double digit number) and we have worked with them to make huge improvements. It had been a very difficult problem, but it has brought us big benefits for the longer term”. Q: How has your production been going? A: “We have had a difficult time, like many companies. Did you know that last year we made only half of the cars we could have made? It’s no surprise that we have long waiting lists. As you know, our aim is to make 600.000 to 800.000 cars a year, and we have not managed anything like those numbers”. Q: I know you’re working flat out on the new electrified Jaguar line-up, but what about new Land Rover models? A: “We will advance some of those, too, even ahead of schedule to cope with electrification. But I can’t give details yet”. Q: Your Land Rover brands are extremely strong, but even so you have work to do on the Land Rover Discovery family, is that correct? A: “Yes it is. Our success with the new Defender has definitely had an effect on Discovery’s position. But we believe there is a great role for Discovery within Land Rover as a family of its own, and we are working hard on that”. Q: What sort of niche can Discovery have? A: “It has always been a very family-oriented model, answer want to enhance that. It needs to have many of the best characteristics of our luxury models, but with the emphasis on practicality and accessibility”. Q: Given the relatively high prices of your cars, and the demand for new models like Defender, surely you must be the envy of the car world? A: “Yes, I believe you are right. We certainly have many satisfied customers. Only yesterday I was talking to one of my neighbours who has a Range Rover Sport. He stopped me in the street and said ‘Thank you, Thierry. Thank you for my car.’ It was a great moment”. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s chief lobbied the Japanese government to make clear it supported hybrid vehicles as much as battery electrics or face losing the auto industry’s support, a senior lawmaker told a ruling party meeting. The lobbying by Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) industry group, comes as the automaker has faced increased scrutiny from green investors who say it has been slow to embrace battery-electric vehicles and pressed governments to slow a transition to them. Akira Amari, a former industry minister and a veteran member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), requested changes to the government’s annual economic policy roadmap at a June 3 meeting, saying he had spoken with Toyoda a day earlier, according to notes and audio of the meeting. The final version of the document included a reference to “so-called electric-powered vehicles” and appeared to put fossil-fuel burning hybrids on equal footing with zero-emission battery vehicles, even though environmentalists say there is a vast difference. “I spoke with chairman Toyoda yesterday and he said that JAMA cannot endorse a government that rejects hybrids”, Amari told the policy meeting of LDP lawmakers, according to the notes and audio. Use of synthetic fuel, such as from hydrogen, would make hybrids “100% clean energy” cars and the policy document should make that explicit, Amari said. “If we don’t make that clear, JAMA will push back with all its might”, Amari said, according to the notes and audio. “If we don’t say that hybrids are included in the category of electric vehicles, that won’t look good”, he said, adding that a reference to electric-powered vehicles should be changed to “so-called electric-powered vehicles”. Amari confirmed that he asked for the inclusion of “so-called” to make clear that electric vehicles were not limited to battery-electric vehicles and included hybrids. He said he asked for no other changes. He confirmed that he had spoken to Toyoda. “What Mr. Toyoda is trying to say is that hybrids running with synthetic fuels are good for the environment because they are extremely fuel efficient. He said he would be extremely unsatisfied if hybrids were rejected. That’s what he told me. He asked if the LDP were rejecting hybrids and I said that we were doing no such thing”. Amari told that by developing synthetic fuels automakers would be able to produce zero-emission internal combustion engines. Such fuels could also be used in aircraft, which can’t run on battery power, he said. In a statement, JAMA said the auto industry was making every effort toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Since the goal was carbon neutrality, it was important to broaden options and not be limited to specific technologies, it said. It was also necessary to respond to various situations and customer needs in each country and region, it said. The final version of the document refers to Japan’s 2035 target of all new domestic car sales being “so-called electric-powered vehicles”, and specifically mentions in the main text that such vehicles include hybrids. An earlier draft from May 31, also available online, shows the reference to hybrids only in a footnote. The main text refers to the 2035 target as having all new car sales being “electric-powered vehicles”. The annual policy document is of major importance for the government and serves as a framework for its future policy. Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker by sales, has said fossil fuels, not internal combustion engines, are the problem. As well as the hybrids it popularised more than 2 decades ago with the Prius, it also champions hydrogen technology, although that has so far not caught on the way battery-electric cars have. Hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, accounted for almost 44% of the new passenger cars sold in Japan last year, while battery electric vehicles accounted for less than 1%, according to data from the Japan Automobile Dealers Association. Energy and climate think-tank InfluenceMap has rated Toyota the worst among major automakers for its lobbying record on climate policy, which includes public statements and interaction with governments. It has been criticised by its own investors, including pension funds, over its lobbying. Denmark’s AkademikerPension has sold down most of its stake in Toyota over the last year. Toyota last year committed 8 trillion yen ($60 billion) to electrify its cars by 2030, with half of that slated to develop battery electric vehicles. Still, it expects annual sales of such cars to reach only 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, or around a third of current sales. Toyota said hybrids make sense in markets where infrastructure isn’t ready to support a faster move to battery vehicles, and that customers should have more choices for cleaner technology. +++

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