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Is the traditional Auto Show dying? The North American International Auto Show appeared underwhelming this year, so what might the future hold for the prestigious event? This month, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) (once a usually snow-bound Janauary event) took place in Detroit but most of those in attendance on the preview days appeared to agree that the show was underwhelming compared to its pre-pandemic heyday. In fact, some could be heard wondering aloud – perhaps with tongues slightly in cheek – whether the show would still exist in years to come. So, what might the future of this event look like? On the surface, the NAIAS still maintains a grandiose image, occupying the vast halls of Huntington Place on the banks of the Detroit River, which separates the US from Canada. However, a closer look reveals that the show is failing to live up to its former glories. Part of the main hall that once would have been filled with OEM stands was given over (on the preview days) to the ‘AutoMobili-D’ section showcasing startups and other companies focused on innovation in the automotive industry. Few OEMs were represented at the show with corporate stands – the Detroit 3 and Toyota being the most notable. For those seeking to view models from other manufacturers, a tightly packed dealership-run section in the far corner of the hall had to suffice. And, perhaps the most discussed factor among those present at the show was the lack of new product launches to excite attendees. The new generation GMC Acadia was probably the most newsworthy release. Outside of this, Cadillac’s media-day press conference focused on a facelift to the CT5, a model which we expect to be discontinued in the coming years in favour of an electric replacement, while Jeep showed off lightly updated versions of the Wrangler and Gladiator and Ford brought the gently facelifted F-150. Perhaps most concerningly for traditional auto shows, some OEMs seem to be deliberately snubbing obvious opportunities to launch new models at such events.

Renault‘s ‘lecky future

While it has been investing in electric drivetrains and two EV-native platforms, it will be six more years until Renault’s internal combustion models disappear. Even then, 2030 only applies to the European region. There will be many more hybrids and plug-in hybrids in the imminent future, continuing well into the second half of the decade. Electric alternatives continue to be phased in too, the brand attempting revolutionary change with a high pricing strategy. That has in fact already begun with new models such as the new Megane. This new report starts with a look at the brand’s smallest models, moving up size by size to the next generation of bigger crossovers, SUVs and even a new MPV.

VinFast IPO

Vietnamese start-up VinFast Auto this month revealed plans to build a second overseas vehicle assembly plant, in Indonesia, as part of ambitious plans to become a mainstream player in the global electric vehicle (EV) market. The automaker made the announcement in a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), after the company listed on the US Nasdaq stock exchange in August through an initial public offering (IPO) following its merger with a local special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). VinFast Auto’s share price almost quadrupled to US$83 from its listing price of US$22 in less than two weeks, with a surge to a staggering US$191bn – more than the market capitalisation of Ford and GM combined and higher than almost all other global automakers. Then reality kicked in. The share price subsequently plunged to a low of below US$14 before recovering. In what has been one of Nasdaq’s wildest rides in recent years, investors must have been betting on VinFast becoming the next Telsa – which is clearly very far off the mark for a number of reasons.

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Nikola on hydrogen

Nikola’s recently appointed CEO – Steve Girsky – was upbeat about prospects for the company and hydrogen fuel in a recent Q&A session, and did not shy away from difficult questions relating to the firm’s recent battery fire incidents and voluntary recall. Despite only being in post since last August, Girksy was confident and spoke candidly about the recent challenges Nikola has faced. “I think there’s a lot of white space between Nikola and the competition in the zero-emission Class 8 truck market,” Girksy said. He drew on his previous experience as president of GM Europe. During his role there he “asked about Tesla and was told it was bunch of engineers playing with laptop batteries.” “We know how that turned out,” he continued. “Tesla got a ten-year jump start on the entire industry.”

Germans rush for EV charging subsidy

Applications for solar-powered home EV charging for German homeowners exhausted allocated funds for this year in a single day, the country’s trade office, Germany Trade & Invest has said. The programme offers up to EUR10,200 for people to equip primary residences with solar powered EV charging capabilities. These include solar panels, solar electricity batteries and charging stations. Administered by KfW, Germany’s development bank, the fund has been capped at EUR500 million after 33,000 applications were filed within 24 hours. Homeowners will be able to apply for support from a further EUR200 million from government funds in 2024.

Thais get to drive Tanks

Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor (GWM) began selling two new premium off road SUV models under its Tank brand in Thailand this week, continuing its expansion into south east Asia countries. It began taking orders for the Tank 300 and 500 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUVs at an event in Bangkok this week, having unveiled the models at the Bangkok International Motor Show earlier this year, with local deliveries scheduled to begin in October. The Tank line will be sold alongside the company’s Haval and Ora brands which are already available in Thailand.

Europeans like BEVs

Although petrol cars remained in demand, growth in new passenger car registrations in Europe last month was up thanks to uptake of electric cars which recorded their second highest monthly market share on record in August 2023. According to JATO Dynamics data for 28 European countries, 22% of registrations were BEVs or 196,000 units of 900,000. Overall sales rose 20% year on year with the volume of electric cars increasing 102% and petrol just 11%. However, despite the smaller increase in volume, petrol cars still accounted for 53% of the registrations. BEV registration growth was strong in Belgium (+224%), Greece (+183), Luxembourg (+164%) and Portugal (164%). With 171% registrations growth in Germany, this country accounted for 44% of the European total.

Lucid opens Middle East plant

Saudi Arabia building cars? Yup. Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Lucid has officially opened its first overseas (and second) factory in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Jeddah. In 2018, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) invested in Lucid, headed by former Tesla executive Peter Rawlinson, on condition the company built a factory locally. The move was part of a strategy to diversify the kingdom’s economy beyond oil. The new site will produce EVs, such as the Air, for Saudi Arabia and export.

Renault ends joint purchasing

Renault said it would end its common purchasing agreements with Alliance partners Nissan and Mitsubishi by the end of 2023. The companies agreed a restructured alliance in July, following 10 months of negotiations. Renault said the alliance would now move from a standardised global model towards “project driven cooperation to enable quick and agile decisions”. This new model would use each company’s geographical strengths, technical resources and market expertise to support respective strategic plans. The carmaker said the new structure would help in adapting to the “new trend of the automotive industry”, including more regionalised markets due to regulation differences and electrification and connectivity needs.

UK output down (again)

UK car production fell 9.7% in August, following six consecutive months of growth, according to the latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data. Some 45,052 cars were produced in Britain last month. Typically the smallest volume month of the year with variable summer shutdowns which can lead to large percentage variations, August’s output was in part affected by extended production pauses at some plants for planned maintenance and upgrades as carmakers gear up to produce the next generation of electric vehicles. Production for the domestic market declined by more than a quarter (25.2%), while output for export fell by a less pronounced 5.5%, equivalent to 2,150 units. The decrease was driven largely by a decline in shipments to the US, China and Japan.

Mitsubishi gives up on China

Mitsubishi quit the UK RHD market a few years ago (despite initially owning the then-growing PHEV SUV segment with the Outlander) and this week came news it was quitting a much bigger country, reportedly planning to exit its Chinese vehicle production joint venture with China’s Guangzhou Automobile (GAC) in response to declining sales, according to Nikkei. Mitsubishi had been struggling for several years in the world’s largest market where top local brands were enjoying strong demand for electric and hybrid vehicles. MMC sales in China fell 60% year on year to 39,000 vehicles in 2022, after peaking at around 140,000 units in 2018, despite the launch of the Outlander hybrid crossover in the final quarter of last year. The GAC Mitsubishi Motors joint venture in Hunan province, the company’s only factory in China, stopped production earlier this year and was not expected to resume assembly of Mitsubishi vehicles. According to the reports from Japan, Mitsubishi had started final negotiations with GAC to withdraw from the joint venture in which it holds a 50% stake together with Mitsubishi Corporation. The reports also suggested GAC Mitsubishi Motors would remain a corporate entity, but without Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Corporation as shareholders.

More US battery plant plans

Samsung SDI has committed to invest US$2bn in the second battery manufacturing plant it has agreed to build with Stellantis, the company disclosed in a stock exchange filing this week. StarPlus Energy, their US battery joint venture established in 2021, announced in July plans to build a second battery plant in Indiana with a capacity for 34GWh a year from 2027. This supplements the plant currently under construction in Kokomo, also in the state, scheduled to be completed early in 2025 with capacity of 33GWh.

Taiwan supplier heads to US

Taiwanese automotive components manufacturer Hota Industrial Manufacturing plans to build a US factory to boost presence in the growing North American electric vehicle (EV) supply chain. The company, which produces drivetrain components such as driveshafts, axles, gears and differentials for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and EVs, announced it would build its first factory outside Asia in the Santa Teresa Borderplex Industrial Park in New Mexico. Hota supplies components to a large number of vehicle manufacturers, including Tesla plus other US and European automakers.

And Skoda goes to Vietnam

Volkswagen Group has launched Skoda in Vietnam with local distribution and planned local production through Thanh Cong Group. “Our medium term plan is to engage around 30 local [suppliers], assemble around 30,000 cars from CKD kits, and realise a sales potential of 40,000 vehicles annually beyond 2030,” said Skoda sales and marketing chief Martin Jahn. The Karoq and Kodiaq would be the first models on sale – imported initially from Europe.

Ford pauses battery plant build

Ford has announced it is pausing work on its $3.5 billion EV battery plant in Marshall, Michigan in response to what it says is its ability to run the plant competitively – as UAW strikes continue to impact the company’s operations. Speaking to The Detroit News, a spokesperson said: “We’re pausing work, and we’re going to limit spending on construction at Marshall until we’re confident about our ability to competitively run the plant.” It is unclear whether the automaker’s decision is related to the ongoing autoworkers’ strike, but the UAW has strongly criticised Ford’s actions. There have also been concerns expressed by lawmakers in Congress over the involvement of China’s CATL in the EV battery plant.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto