Photo: Roger Kisby (Getty Images)
Automakers all want you to know they don’t like the stunt Tesla’s pulling, lawmakers have reintroduced legislation in the hopes of making catalytic converter theft harder and BYD is trying to do the impossible in Japan. All that and more in The Morning Shift for February 1, 2023.
1st Gear: Nobody Wants to Commit
Volkswagen sees Tesla’s game of steep discounts, and its CEO Oliver Blume has wasted little time telling the world that the company wants no part of it. Courtesy Automotive News:
VW will not take part in a price war with Tesla, Blume told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. “We have a clear pricing strategy and are focusing on reliability. We trust in the strength of our products and brands,” he said.
VW wants to be a global leader in EVs but this should be achieved through profitable growth, Blume said.
Ford agrees. Not Ford in the States, of course — here, the brand has already slashed Mustang Mach-E prices, particularly for trims with the extended range battery. No, Ford of Europe, which told the media on Tuesday that the Mach-E’s price will remain stable in France and likely elsewhere on the continent, too.
A Ford France spokesperson said it had no imminent plans to cut prices in response to Tesla’s discounting. The Mustang Mach E’s price cuts are “specific to the North American market. We have nothing to announce at this time,” the spokesperson said.
Ford is able to deliver the Mustang Mach E in France in a shorter time and in the majority of configurations following a period of production constraints, the spokesman added.
The Mustang Mach E’s prices remain unchanged in the UK and Germany, Ford’s largest European markets.
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You know who else won’t have it? Renault. (You may wonder what battery-electric vehicles Renault offers, but it turns out that the Megane E-Tech is a hot seller in its native France, and even outsold the Tesla Model 3 last September.) This week, Renault CEO Luca de Meo warned against price cuts that aren’t based in actual savings in production:
“I think that a battle on pricing on electric cars right now when we are just starting operations is not the best thing that could happen to the industry,” de Meo said on Tuesday at the industry’s lobby group ACEA’s headquarters in Brussels.
De Meo said automakers need to have a good profit margin for electric cars because of the high investments needed — “otherwise this will not become a very healthy business for the industry.”
He said he thought that EV price cuts seen so far are not “structural” — that is supported by genuine cost reductions that are passed onto the consumer.
Reading between the lines of de Meo’s comments, the reason most of these automakers aren’t effortlessly matching Tesla’s discounts is because they can’t afford to, lest they want to forfeit their already tight profit margins on EVs. Of course, Tesla arguably plays in a space that these aforementioned brands don’t. We can argue all day whether Tesla deserves the “luxury” label or not, but it’s little coincidence that through all of this, Porsche might just raise its prices.
2nd Gear: Congress Is Still Talking About Catalytic Converters
Last year Congress introduced a bill intended to thwart the rising thefts of catalytic converters — a crime that the poor Honda Fit of our own Erik Shilling fell victim to in June. The proposed legislation, which would involve VIN stamping to link catalytic converters with their original cars, appears to have legitimate bipartisan support, as well as the backing of every automotive dealer and service organization known to man. However, it went nowhere in 2022, so it was reintroduced in both the House and Senate this week with seemingly no changes. From Automotive News:
The bill — known as the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft, or PART, Act — aims to reduce catalytic converter thefts by requiring new vehicles to have the VIN stamped onto the converter, allowing law enforcement officers to link stolen parts to the originating vehicles.
It also would create a grant program to allow dealerships, repair shops and other eligible parties to stamp VINs onto converters of existing vehicles, and it would establish federal criminal penalties for theft, sale, trafficking or known purchases of stolen catalytic converters.
This comes in addition to bills lodged at the state level — 2021 saw 84 pieces of legislation proposed in 29 states alone. The PART Act would supposedly make provisions for etching on existing cars, which is better than nothing, though it’s hard to imagine dishonest scrap yards changing their ways, or thieves not grinding those numbers off as soon as they’re able. Anything’s better than nothing, I suppose.
3rd Gear: More EV Chargers Along Every Highway
Electrify America and Travel Centers of America have announced a partnership, not terribly unlike the one General Motors and Pilot publicized last year, to set up more charging stations off America’s major highways. From Automotive News:
Electrify America and TravelCenters of America detailed a new partnership Monday to install 1,000 chargers at 200 TravelCenters locations along major highways over the next five years. The companies plan to launch the first chargers this year.
The partnership will add Electrify America charging stations to major travel corridors, aiming to ease consumers’ range anxiety on road trips, Rachel Moses, an Electrify America director, told Automotive News.
More chargers are always good, but not as good as it could be if they’re as unreliable as Electrify America’s existing systems. Eh, what else would you expect from a business Volkswagen was forced to start as punishment for Dieselgate?
4th Gear: Stellantis Big Into Ethanol
The automaker believes in the potential for ethanol hybrid vehicles in South America, so it’s investing in its local development, per Reuters:
Stellantis NV expects to have in place by the end of this year the technologies needed for it to develop ethanol hybrid vehicles in Brazil, the head of the carmaker in South America said on Tuesday.
The initiative comes amid a broader push for sustainability in the region, with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva saying also on Tuesday that under him the country’s economy would be based on “finding clean energy alternatives”.
Antonio Filosa said the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais would be the “epicenter” of ethanol hybrid cars for Stellantis, which has three plants in Brazil, two in Argentina and an industrial partnership in Uruguay.
“We launched the Bio-Electro project last year and now we are going to work internally to have the first technologies developed in-house by the end of this year, and then launch them to the market when it is opportune,” he told reporters.
At the moment, the manufacturing of hybrids in Brazil mostly belongs to Toyota and Chery. But Brazil has always taken a shine to ethanol to fuel cars thanks to its history as a sugar producer, as well as government subsidies. Toyota first introduced a prototype for a flex-fuel Prius in 2018, so the technology isn’t exactly unprecedented. Stellantis probably could have done this years ago, but that’s not typically the Stellantis way.
5th Gear: BYD’s Next Mission
How will a Chinese EV maker fare in a country that hasn’t really bought into EVs yet? BYD is about to find out as it prepares for entry into the hybrid-heavy Japanese market. From Reuters:
China’s BYD Co Ltd unveiled its first dealership in Japan on Tuesday, taking on one of the biggest challenges in its explosive global rise as it seeks to win over customers deeply loyal to their own auto industry.
BYD, an acronym which stands for Build Your Dreams, has ambitious plans to open more than 100 dealerships in Japan by the end of 2025.
But it faces a tough task in a country where petrol and hybrid models are much more popular than battery electric vehicle (BEVs) and nine in 10 cars sold annually are built by domestic firms such as Toyota Motor Corp.
“If customers trust us and give BYD a try, we’ll have a good chance (at succeeding),” BYD Auto Japan Inc President Atsuki Tofukuji told Reuters at a media event to mark the opening of its maiden outlet in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city.
At the store, BYD is showcasing its ATTO 3 electric sports utility vehicle which has a cruising distance of 485 kilometres (301 miles) and costs 4.4 million yen ($33,744).
The ATTO 3 basically looks like an HR-V crossed with a Venza, by the way. I can sort of understand the appeal of staking your claim to EVs in a territory before anyone else has, and before EVs have really become popular. But I also wasn’t aware that nine out of every 10 cars sold in Japan is from a domestic brand. Seems like trouble, BYD; have you really thought this through?
Reverse: The First Ferrari
On this day, 76 years ago…
Neutral: What’s Holding You Back from EVs?
Is it price? Infrastructure? The general malaise of the current auto market? And has any of this talk of a race to the proverbial pricing bottom piqued your interest in pulling the trigger?