Automotive

Toyota Broke Every Record and is Still Worried About the Future


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Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP (Getty Images)

Toyota doesn’t want anyone to get too excited about its recent triumph, BMW’s next wave of EVs depends on cheaper-but-better batteries and it’s not getting any easier for Canoo. This is The Morning Shift for Wednesday May 11, 2022.

1st Gear: Toyota Tempers

In spite of an ensnared global supply chain, ongoing pandemic and rising energy costs, Toyota ended its 2021 fiscal year with record operating profits, the carmaker reported in its latest earnings summary on Wednesday morning. But it also didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea and get used to that kind of success. From Automotive News:

Operating profit climbed 36 percent to 3 trillion yen ($24.61 billion) in the fiscal year ended March 31, topping the previous high from the fiscal year ended March 31, 2016. Toyota booked a robust operating profit margin of 9.5 percent, up from 8.1 percent the year before.

In announcing its earnings results on Wednesday, the world’s largest automaker said full fiscal year net income increased 27 percent to 2.85 trillion yen ($23.38 billion), while revenue grew 15 percent to 31.38 trillion yen ($257.42 billion). Both those totals chalked new records for Toyota as well.

Worldwide retail sales increased 4.7 percent to 10.38 million vehicles in the 12-month period.

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That’s the good news. The bad news is Toyota also believes its 2022 operating profits could fall short of their 2021 total by as much as 20 percent, even though it also forecasts selling 3.1 percent more vehicles this coming fiscal year compared to last. (That would be another record, by the way.) Courtesy of Financial Times:

Toyota’s projection of ¥2.4tn ($18.5bn) operating profit for this financial year was well below analyst forecasts of ¥3.3tn, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. In the 2021-2022 financial year, it delivered a record operating profit for a Japanese company.

The forecast 20 per cent drop in operating profits by the world’s largest carmaker sent its shares down 4.4 per cent on Wednesday.

The group, which includes Toyota’s Daihatsu and Hino subsidiaries, expects to sell 10.7mn vehicles this financial year, compared with 10.3mn units last year.

“We expect a decrease in our operating income due to unprecedented increases in materials and logistics costs. However, we will continue with our future investments,” said Masahiro Yamamoto, chief officer of Toyota’s accounting group.

Executives said the weaker yen and high vehicle sales were unlikely to offset a steep rise in raw material and logistics costs, which are expected to hit ¥1.45tn. This would more than double last year’s costs, which also reached an all-time high.

Toyota’s conservatism is somewhat refreshing in this market, where companies arbitrarily decide how many EVs they’re going to build 10 years from now to goose their stock prices. And whatever small steps it’s taking to weather this storm — like embracing parts with small cosmetic flaws — are obviously working. But if a company can break records in one term and then immediately warn everyone that it won’t happen again, well — we’re clearly still a ways from being out of the woods.

2nd Gear: BMW’s EV Plans Rest on Cheaper Batteries

The all-electric Neue Klasse architecture that will underpin an eventual BMW 3 Series and other models beginning in 2025, will incorporate battery packs with cylindrical cells, more similar to those used by Tesla, in the interest of optimizing efficiency while slashing costs, Bloomberg reports. Those batteries could save BMW as much as 30 percent compared to current equipment, according to people familiar with the carmaker’s plans.

The new round cells will be manufactured by BMW’s existing partners, the people said, declining to be named discussing internal deliberations. The manufacturer currently buys batteries from China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. and EVE Energy Co., South Korea’s Samsung SDI Co. and Sweden’s Northvolt AB.

Cells typically make up four-fifths of the price of a battery pack and improving technology and efficiency have typically delivered annual cost reductions. That trajectory has come under strain due to record price rises of key inputs like lithium and nickel, challenging automaker forecasts of soon selling EVs for a similar margin to combustion-engine cars.

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BMW is apparently already paying less than its contemporaries for batteries, so this should be a big win for the company.

Last year, carmakers paid an average of $118 for each kilowatt hour of a pure electric vehicle battery pack, according to BloombergNEF’s 2021 study on lithium-ion battery prices. BMW’s pack costs are already below this level, the people said.

The energy density of the new BMW cells will be higher than Tesla’s round cells by at least a low double-digit percentage, the people said, without giving further specifics. That might help BMW build electric vehicles with a longer driving range than its American competitor.

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Mercedes is teasing an electric sedan with 620 miles of range after all, so we could be on the cusp of an industry-wide leap in terms of average longevity on a full charge. That should quell some range anxiety fears, though I’m not optimistic that’ll change until there are as many charging locations as there are gas stations.

3rd Gear: Good for Mitsubishi

The three diamonds notched an operating loss in 2020, but that turned into a profit in 2021, thanks to the new Outlander. From Automotive News:

The Japanese automaker forecast steady operating profit in the current fiscal year, citing continued momentum of a more profitable product mix, despite rising procurement costs.

In the fiscal fourth quarter ended March 31, Mitsubishi booked operating profit of ¥31.4 billion ($257.6 million), reversing an ¥8.6 billion yen ($70.6 million) operating loss a year earlier, the company said May 10 while announcing its fiscal-year financial results.

Mitsubishi reported net income of $240.4 million in the three-month period, erasing a $560.3 million net loss from the same quarter a year earlier.

Global retail sales expanded 8.7 percent to 250,000 vehicles in the quarter, as robust demand in North America, Australia and Southeast Asia offset slumping deliveries in Japan and Europe.

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North America proved a modest success for the brand. That’s what happens when you offer Americans a new SUV that actually looks like it was designed in the last four years, while sliding in with lower-than-average pricing in this demand-accelerated market.

North American retail sales rose to 40,000 units in the quarter, from 38,000 the year before, as Mitsubishi cashed in on the popularity of its redesigned Outlander crossover.

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The Outlander is competent and not a small car, which is really all Mitsubishi needed to do to sell in the U.S. Good for them.

4th Gear: Canoo Warns Cash is Tight

The EV startup warned during its earnings report Tuesday that it could run out of money by the end of the next quarter. From Reuters:

Canoo said it had around $105 million in cash left as of the end of March, less than the $120 million it burned in operating expenses during the first three months of the year. Capital expenses during the first quarter came in at $28.4 million on zero dollars of revenue, underscoring its need for additional funding.

“We have been clear about our philosophy of raising capital judiciously and will continue with this disciplined approach,” Canoo Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Aquila said in a statement.

Aquila said Canoo had more than $600 million in accessible capital to fund the start of vehicle production and “significant experience raising capital in challenging markets.”

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Canoo is also suing its second-largest shareholder for some $60 million it believes it was cheated out of. The Texas-based company recently inked a NASA contract, which is a nice resume boost but not really the sort of business deal that’s going to keep the lights on. This is the way it’s always been for Canoo.

5th Gear: Mercedes Isn’t Quitting F1

Every six months or so there’s a rumor that Mercedes is considering leaving Formula 1 because it’s already won everything several times over, F1 is expensive and it wants to appear fully dedicated to EVs. The automaker’s CEO Ola Källenius recently reaffirmed the brand’s commitment to the sport, adding that it’s not terribly important if F1 still relies upon internal combustion when the company’s road cars are moving away from it. From Autocar:

“[As a company] we have decided to go towards this journey of decarbonisation – it’s the only decision that you can make – and the same goes for Formula 1,” said Källenius.“The next powertrain regulations that we will have will put much more significance on the electrical side – and there is a clear commitment to making Formula 1 CO2-neutral.“For the next set of regulations, the electrical piece of the lap time will increase. There will still be a combustion engine, but it will be used as a lab to develop CO2-free fuels, which will be needed certainly by the aviation industry, but maybe to lower the output of the existing car parc too.“We are not yet at a point where you can run a race like we had in Abu Dhabi with the energy from a battery only. A sport like Formula 1 needs to put on a show, so the path has to be one of decarbonisation. The battery technology is not there yet.“But going CO2-free with a higher emphasis on electrification ensures the sport remains very relevant and we will stay to race.”

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Reading between the lines, it’s key that the forthcoming powertrain regulations and move to synthetic fuels was absolutely necessary to convince brands like Mercedes — and the imminent Volkswagen — that F1 was as green as it could possibly be from a marketing perspective. I’ve got nothing against Formula E, but it’s still a category defined by its technological limitations, despite the ongoing progress it’s made. You race with what you need, and the top level of global motorsport still needs internal combustion.

Reverse: R&D to a Standard in Five Years

The tubeless tire celebrates its 75th birthday today. From History.com:

On May 11, 1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, announces it has developed a tubeless tire, a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient.

The culmination of more than three years of engineering, Goodrich’s tubeless tire effectively eliminated the inner tube, trapping the pressurized air within the tire walls themselves. By reinforcing those walls, the company claimed, they were able to combine the puncture-sealing features of inner tubes with an improved ease of riding, high resistance to bruising and superior retention of air pressure. While Goodrich awaited approval from the U.S. Patent Office, the tubeless tires underwent high-speed road testing, were put in service on a fleet of taxis and were used by Ohio state police cars and a number of privately owned passenger cars.

The testing proved successful, and in 1952, Goodrich won patents for the tire’s various features. Within three years, the tubeless tire came standard on most new automobiles. According to an article published in TheNew York Times in December 1954, “If the results of tests…prove valid in general use, the owner of a 1955 automobile can count on at least 25 per cent more mileage, easier tire changing if he gets caught on a lonely road with a leaky tire, and almost no blowouts.” The article quoted Howard N. Hawkes, vice president and general manager of the tire division of the United States Rubber Company, as calling the general adoption of the tubeless tire “one of the most far-reaching changes ever to take place in the tire industry.” The radial-ply tire, a tubeless model with walls made of alternating layers–also called plies–of tough rubber cord, was created by Michelin later that decade and is now considered the standard for automobiles in all developed countries.

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Neutral: You Ever Wake up Thinking About the Toyota Voltz?

On Jalopnik’s stream yesterday we were playing Enthusia Professional Racing for the PS2, which contains the Toyota Voltz — the Matrix that became the Pontiac Vibe that then became a Toyota again. Part of the reason I love playing old racing games is because they remind you cars like that existed.

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