Production Gathering Pace
Major automakers have doubled down on production promises, after 2.21 million plug-in electric vehicles were registered globally last year, a 10 percent year-on-year increase.
Volkswagen, having brought forward its target of 1 million battery EVs off the production line by 2023, is now shooting for 1.5 million units made per year. This huge step up in numbers means an investment of €33 billion through 2024. The German company delivered its 250,000th BEV in mid-December 2019.
Walkman, Playstation, now EV?
Giant tech company Sony created a stir at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, when it unveiled its BEV, dubbed the Vision-S. There is speculation that the vehicle’s underpinnings were developed by Canadian automotive parts supplier Magna. It remains unclear whether the Japanese company, more famous for its televisions, will actually build the car. Last year, the British domestic appliance maker Dyson abandoned its plans to develop and produce a BEV.
Ford the Gap
Ford is said to have received more than 30,000 reservations for its first dedicated BEV, the Mustang Mach-E. The new vehicle, which is scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2020, will reportedly be delivered to European customers first, before arriving in the United States.
Norway will be among the first markets to see the arrival of the Mach-E. BEVs had a 42-percent share in new passenger car sales in the Scandinavian country in 2019. More than 60,000 units were registered, a 31 percent increase over 2018.
The upcoming electric Ford Transit commercial vehicle will share its battery cells with the Mustang Mach-E, the company’s head of global powertrain purchasing, Lisa Drake, said at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. They will be sourced from South Korean manufacturer LG, which produces the battery cells for Ford and others in Poland.
The Mach-E and the all-electric Transit are among the 18 electrified vehicles Ford intends to launch in Europe through 2021, it said in February.
General Motors made waves in January when it finally confirmed the launch of its range of all-electric trucks and SUVs. The company will build its upcoming BEVs at its factory in Hamtramck, Michigan. The company has earmarked $2.2 billion of investment in the plant.
The American automaker also announced the comeback of Hummer, which it will sell under its GMC label and which will also be produced at the Hamtramck plant. The new all-electric monster truck will be unveiled in May. The infamous former gas-guzzler will pack 1,000 horsepower and will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds.
Tesla on Track for Gold Record
Tesla’s meteoric rise showed no signs of abating in early 2020. Hot off a scorching 2019, a year during which the world’s number one BEV maker delivered a record 367,500 vehicles worldwide, Tesla in the first quarter of this year became the second-most valuable manufacturer in the world.
The Tesla Model 3 ended 2019 as the bestselling vehicle of the year in the Netherlands, with close to 30,000 registrations, more than double the number of its nearest rival, the Volkswagen Polo. The success of the Model 3 in the Netherlands put Tesla in the number three spot of bestselling manufacturers in the country, topped only by Opel and Volkswagen. The Model 3 also ended the year in the number one position in Norway, with 15,683 units sold.
The Model 3 will likely surpass the Nissan Leaf in the current quarter to become the bestselling EV of all time.
More good news for Tesla out of China in the first quarter, where the first units of the Model 3 came off the assembly line in Shanghai. Tesla aims to set up a design and research center in China, Reuters reported in January. The U.S. automaker has already started recruiting for the new facility. Work at the plant was halted later in the quarter due to the coronavirus. While production resumed on Feb. 10, it remains unclear whether output will be ramped up in full.
Tesla beat analysts’ expectations by announcing fourth-quarter revenue of $7.38 billion at the end of January. The company also said it had begun increasing production of the new Model Y, which will hit markets several months sooner than expected. As a result, Tesla expects deliveries in 2020 to “comfortably exceed 500,000 units.” Elon Musk also hinted at the launch of a van or minivan, saying it would “probably” make sense to do so at some point.
Specter of Nokia Looms Large
Tesla’s stock price at one point neared $1,000 per share. The company is now worth more than Ford and GM combined, despite selling only a fraction of the number of vehicles of its American counterparts.
“It’s driven purely by psychology or almost a mass psychosis,” Bob Lutz, an auto industry executive, said in February. “Ultimately, the share price responds to financial, fundamental reality, and that day will come,” said Lutz.
Tesla also eclipsed Volkswagen in terms of market capitalization, even though the German juggernaut sold almost 6.28 million passenger cars in 2019. Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess gave a clue as to why investors are betting on Tesla, when speaking to senior management in January. Diess said Volkswagen would risk the same fate as cell phone manufacturer Nokia if it did not adapt to a changing market.
“If we continue at our current speed, it is going to be very tough,” Diess was quoted as saying by Reuters. “The era of the classic carmakers is over.”
Later that month, however, he said he remained optimistic about the chances of Volkswagen keeping pace with Tesla, and eventually overtaking it.
In January, Diess called upon lawmakers in Brussels to implement binding rules for European Union member states to roll out charging infrastructure for EVs. According to Diess, not enough progress is being made, with several countries, including Germany, falling behind the likes of the Netherlands.
“Power supply in Europe can no longer be a patchwork of individual member states. This has to change,” he said.
Made in Germany
Mercedes-Benz will launch five new BEVs by 2022. The EQA model, based on the new GLA class, was subsequently confirmed for debut later this year, according to U.K. motoring publication Autocar. Also on the slate are the EQB, EQE, EQS and EQG. The EQS, likely the second new model to arrive, will ride on Mercedes’ new dedicated BEV platform, dubbed MEA.
In February BMW, reiterated that it does not believe in developing a platform solely for BEVs, as Mercedes-Benz has done. BMW executive Udo Haenle told Automotive News Europe that “market forecasts are too uncertain to warrant inflexible, electro-only platforms.”
BMW instead will more than double the number of employees at its Dingolfing site in southern Germany in an effort to increase the production capacity of electric motors and batteries. It will raise staff to 1,400 by the end of the year, with the workforce expected to grow to 2,000 thereafter.
BMW builds many of its PHEVs at Dingolfing, alongside the all-electric Mini Cooper SE. The new iX3 BEV is expected to begin rolling off the assembly line later this year.
The Battery Pack
With automakers ramping up production of vehicles, battery manufacturers are enjoying a surge in orders, according to Nikkei Asian Review. Despite the uptick, Chinese battery manufacturers are feeling the pinch of increased competition and lower profit margins from a slump in sales and automakers taking production in house. As a result, the number of smaller producers dwindled.
Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology, better known as CATL, bagged a supply deal with Tesla in February that will see CATL become a small-scale supplier. Japan’s Panasonic Corp. will remain Tesla’s principal battery supplier. LG Chem also recently joined the roster as backup supplier.
Chemicals company BASF announced it had selected Schwarzheide in Eastern Germany as the production location for battery materials. BASF expected to be able to produce enough cathode active materials for some 400,000 BEVs per year.
Volkswagen is in talks to acquire a 20 percent stake in Guoxuan High-Tech, a Chinese manufacturer of battery packs for EVs, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in January. The deal could be worth around $560 million.
Volvo in January announced it would build a battery assembly plant at its South Carolina site. Construction is slated to begin in the second half of 2020 and be completed ahead of the scheduled launch of the XC90 Recharge in 2022.
The Chinese government is reportedly working on a new industry standard for a battery-swapping system, which would allow BEV drivers to quickly replace a battery as opposed to recharging it. Chinese automaker BAIC already has its own standard and related services, including 187 swap stations. In Europe, Renault experimented with a battery-swapping system for its Fluence ZE back in 2009. Its partner in the battery-swapping service, Israeli firm Better Place, filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
In Japan, Toyota and Panasonic will set up a battery joint venture under the name Prime Planet Energy & Solutions, the two companies announced in February. The new entity, split 51 to 49 percent between the two, will commence operations on April 1.
Nikola Motor Co., a truck maker based in Phoenix, U.S., says a new battery technology it is developing will double the range of its fully electric and fuel cell heavy-duty trucks, saving almost $50,000 per truck, Nikola CEO Trevor Milton told media. The new battery has output of 500 watt-hours per kilogram, allowing its BEV trucks to drive 1,200 kilometers fully loaded between charges and its fuel cell trucks to exceed 1,600 km. It can be scaled for passenger cars and medium-duty trucks, according to the company. Nikola will also be offering the battery’s intellectual property rights to competitors as long as they shoulder some of the licensing costs and join a consortium.
Tesla’s new Semi will should be available at the end of the year, according to CleanTechnica. The Semi has a range of 800 km on a single charge, with a shorter-range model capable of 500 km on a full charge.
In early February, Volvo North America unveiled its electric semi, the VNR, with sales set to begin this year. The company has already started offering medium-duty urban transport EVs. Volvo will begin sales of the trucks late this year. The trucks will have laden weight of 30,000 kgs and a range of 120 to 200 km during the initial phase of testing. The company’s European division began sales of its FE and FL medium-duty trucks in selected markets in 2019. It also has plans to introduce a heavy-duty regional transport tractor truck.
The fire department of Menlo Park, a town in Northern California, will take delivery of the world’s first electric fire truck in 2021. The rig is being built by Austrian company Rosenbauer and will cost a little more than $1 million, about the same as the iconic American fire engine made by Pierce in Wisconsin. The vehicle will still have a diesel-powered generator to pump water and to act as a backup.
Startup Arrival made headlines again later in the month, when parcel service UPS announced it would order 10,000 BEV delivery vans in a deal valued at more than $440 million. UPS is scheduled to take delivery of the vehicles by year-end 2024.
Mercedes-Benz has invested in a development and test center at its truck plant in Worth, Germany, to the tune of $55 million. The center will explore connected, autonomous and electric driving and will feature a road-to-rig test stand for real-time analysis.