It sounds like Ford’s finding it a little tougher to market electric trucks and vans to commercial buyers than it expected, Tesla’s trying to do the impossible and the Maverick that’s actually worth caring about is delayed. All that and more in this happy Friday edition of yourMorning Shift for October 22, 2021.
1st Gear: Fleet EV Adoption Not Going The Way Ford Hoped
Ford’s going all in with this battery-electric commercial vehicle thing, between the F-150 Lightning and E-Transit. On paper, these vehicles make sense for businesses — they’re cheaper to run, cheaper to fuel and come heavily subsidized. Companies should be flocking to them! Well, at least in a perfect world where charging infrastructure is equally distributed, limited range isn’t an issue and the batteries in these cars won’t necessitate costly repair or replacement in a decade. From Reuters:
Ford Motor Co sees a robust market for electric trucks and vans by 2030, but it is facing some early pushback from commercial customers that are a key audience for the automaker’s new F-150 Lightning and E-Transit, a top executive said on Thursday.
The Lightning pickup and E-Transit van “are targeted at real people doing real work,” said Ted Cannis, chief executive of Ford Pro, at the Reuters Events Automotive Summit.
But some of those potential fleet buyers are taking a “wait and see” attitude, partly from a lack of experience with electric vehicles and partly from a lack of clarity on government policy and regulations around EVs.
Those are not insurmountable obstacles over the longer term, according to Cannis, who told Reuters:
“In the U.S., we see 70% of the full-size bus and van industry going electric by 2030. That’s more than 300,000 vehicles annually. And we expect a third of the full-size pickup (market) to go all-electric by 2030, which is more than 800,000 vehicles annually.”
It is very easy for Ford to say it designed the Lightning and E-Transit with blue-collar work in mind — I don’t doubt that. EVs may offer a number of benefits to businesses. That doesn’t change the reality that people’s livelihoods depend on these vehicles, and every commercial application is different. Sure, an E-Transit sounds great for last-mile deliveries in the Northeast. But how useful is an F-150 Lightning going to be to a contractor in the Midwest who has to drive 60 miles to the next charging station?
One day Ford will be right about all this, and its early bet on workhorse EVs will pay off. But it’s foolish to think it’s going to undo decades of set routines and expectations overnight. Businesses will adopt EVs when they feel confident in doing so.
2nd Gear: Stellantis Is Battery Agnostic
Stellantis has announced plans to raise a battery plant in partnership with Samsung SDI in 2025. If you’re reading this and thinking, “hold on a second, that’s like week-old news,” you’re both right and wrong. On Monday, the carmaker also revealed it’s looking to open a plant in collaboration with LG in 2024. Now, it’s Samsung SDI, too. From Automotive News:
The automaker has not said where either battery plant will be located. The plants will feed Stellantis assembly plants in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico as the company works toward a goal of having electrified vehicles account for at least 40 percent of U.S. sales by 2030.
“With the forthcoming battery plants coming online, we will be well positioned to compete and ultimately win in the North American electric vehicle market,” Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said in a statement. “Our strategy to work with highly recognized partners boosts the speed and agility needed to design and build safe, affordable and sustainable vehicles that match exactly what our customers demand. I am thankful to all the teams working on this critical investment in our collective future.”
Stellantis doesn’t care who it has to partner with, it just wants its batteries. Joint ventures between major players in both industries are becoming increasingly common, while exclusive partnerships — like the one Tesla and Panasonic had until recently — are dying off. Volume’s easier to maintain and money’s easier to make working with a range of rival suppliers, so that’s the direction carmakers are going in.
3rd Gear: Tesla’s Gonna Have A Tough Time With This One
Speaking of batteries, a Chinese company you may have learned about in recent months named CATL happens to be a pretty large supplier of them. Tesla employs CATL batteries in some vehicles it produces in China. It’d like to do the same with cars built in other parts of the world, too. And it’d be especially convenient for Tesla if, say, CATL could open a plant in the United States. Unfortunately, that’s going to be easier said than done, as Apple has found. From Reuters:
The technology has garnered interest from EV makers and Reuters reported in June that Apple Inc is in early stage talks with China’s CATL and BYD to get [Lithium Iron Phosphate] batteries for its planned electric vehicles and wants them to build factories in the United States.
But CATL was reluctant to build a factory in the country due to political tensions between Washington and Beijing as well as cost concerns, people said at that time.
“We are evaluating the opportunity and possibility of manufacture localization in North America,” CATL said in a statement on Friday.
“You cannot discount the whole geopolitical aspect of it,” Sanjiv Malhotra, founder of battery startup Sparkz and former U.S. Department of Energy executive, told Reuters.
“Our customers, they do not want to be caught in this political crossfire,” said the U.S. startup, which is looking at setting up LFP production lines in the United States to challenge China’s dominance.
I know Tesla and Apple wield considerable influence, but between the ongoing trade war and the U.S. government’s general distrust of Chinese technology firms, I don’t know how they expect to win this one — at least quickly.
4th Gear: Tesla’s Also Hit A Snag In Germany
We now move to Germany — specifically, Berlin — where Tesla’s been trying to run a factory for a minute now. The EV maker hoped the first Berlin-built Teslas would begin rolling off the assembly line next month, but that’s hit yet another snag, as the Federal Ministry of the Environment will force the company to repeat an online public consultation round so local residents have the opportunity to object. From Reuters:
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at a visit to the factory site in Gruenheide on Oct. 9 that he hoped to begin production in November, which looks increasingly unlikely as authorities first need to review the latest submissions before deciding whether to grant approval.
The repeated process, only open to those who expressed an objection in previous public consultation rounds but were not satisfied with the response from Tesla or the environmental ministry, will run from Nov. 2-22, the statement said.
A Tesla spokesperson said the company was maintaining its target to begin producing cars before the end of the year and then ramp up as quickly as possible.
Authorities decided to repeat the process after environmental groups disputed in a separate case also moved online that citizens were not warned far enough in advance that the consultation would be digital, prompting concern that the same applied to the Tesla consultation.
You might be wondering what good public complaints would do at this point, as the factory’s already been built. The strange thing is, Tesla still hasn’t been granted final approval to build it, even though it’s sitting there completed and ready to go. In fact, technically the company could still be told to demolish it, as Reuters explained in an earlier story:
The pre-approvals Musk has received from local authorities to build without final permission are legal, but rarely used by German firms because of the associated risk: if final approval is not granted, Tesla must pay to tear everything down.
That’s not say Tesla is going to have to tear everything down — this additional consultation round is generally being treated as a technicality by the media. That said, the fact that it could really speaks to Tesla’s brazen approach to pretty much everything.
5th Gear: The Best Maverick Is The Most Delayed
Yesterday we learned the the official EPA rating for the base hybrid Ford Maverick is a very strong 42 MPG city. That’s wonderful news. Unfortunately, as has been the case lately, the Maverick people are actually excited for is also the one Ford has displayed a real penchant for delaying, for some reason. From Automotive News:
Deliveries of the hybrid version of the 2022 Ford Maverick have been delayed until January by emissions certifications, but the pickup now is expected to get slightly better fuel economy than Ford Motor Co. originally projected.
The automaker previously said the Maverick’s hybrid powertrain — the standard offering — would be available at launch, but only the gasoline-powered model went on sale in September. Officials now say they’ll begin shipping the hybrid trucks in December, with deliveries beginning in January, “so required state and federal emissions certification can be completed.”
Earlier this year we learned Ford wouldn’t stock the hybrid Maverick at dealer lots, so they’d all have to be ordered online. Perhaps once hybrid production ramps up next year, Ford will change its tune. In the meantime, it still amuses me that Ford is heavily marketing its small truck off the back of “an exceptional, targeted EPA-estimated 40 mpg city” — it’s mentioned twice prominently on the vehicle’s official page — but you can’t get that model now, and even when you can, you won’t find it at a dealership.
Reverse: Moral Panic Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
Once upon a time, Grand Theft Auto was a gritty-yet-quaint top-down action game where you got to jack cars and do far more heinous things, but ultimately from such a distance that nobody was really alarmed by it. On October 22, 2001, that suddenly changed — and everyone took notice.
Neutral: How Did You Discover GTA 3?
I know this is a car site, so I’m not assuming everyone played the game; I’m just asking how you became aware of it. I was in grade school at the time, and I remember casually watching my 21-year-old brother play GTA 3 here and there, not noting or remembering anything about it, because of course it all went over my head. Until I was told I couldn’t watch him play that game anymore. Which disappointed me — I liked watching him drive the Banshee!
I wouldn’t seriously play a GTA until the fourth one came out, at which point I put tens, maybe hundreds of hours away in Cops and Crooks mode with a particular group of friends. Anyway, what’s your GTA history — whether you played one of those controversial PS2 titles or not, did it strike you any particular way when you learned about it? If you were a parent at the time, did you have to shield your kids from it?