Will we have the necessary power generating infrastructure to underpin the big transition to EVs? Can power grids survive the transition to electric vehicles? The electrification of the automotive industry represents one of the most dramatic shifts in energy consumption behavior in human history. Over the next two decades, electrified powertrains will become the dominant choice for light vehicles. In 2016, 4.4% of all light vehicles manufactured worldwide used battery electric or hybrid powertrains – for 2021, this figure is expected to reach 21.4%. By 2036, however, battery electric and hybrid powertrains will power 71.1% of all light vehicles built. This will inevitably lead to a significant decline in the demand for fossil fuels with an associated increase in demand for electrical energy from power grids. A common criticism of plug-in electrified vehicles from some corners is that today’s power grids might be unable to cope with the increased usage they will bring, but is there any validity to that argument? We can begin to unpack these questions using research conducted on the US market by automotive YouTube channel Engineering Explained, along with power consumption figures provided by the US’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) and MPGe ratings provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Across the US, the average mileage covered by each driver is around 13,500 miles per year. With 231.6 million licensed drivers in the country, that equates to a total of 3.13 trillion miles covered in total by all drivers in the US. Using the EPA’s miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe) figures, we can extrapolate how much electrical energy would be needed for those miles to be covered by electric vehicles. This figure serves as a means to compare the energy consumption of electrified vehicles with that of a gasoline-powered one. A central assumption to this figure is that each gallon of gasoline equates to 33.7kWh of energy. It is important to note that the MPGe figure assumes a perfect conversion of fuel into electricity at the power plant and does not take into account efficiency losses in this process. However, considering this briefing is focused on the impact EVs will have at the power-grid level, MPGe can provide a handy indicator of the increased load EVs may represent as they begin to make up a larger proportion of all vehicles on the road. Clearly, MPGe figures vary from vehicle to vehicle. For example, among the lowest EPA ratings sits the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, which achieves an MPGe figure of 68 while, at the other end, are models such as the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus rated at 142 MPGe. With popular EVs including the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Kia Niro electric and the Nissan Leaf all returning more than 100 MPGe, we can use that figure as a safe average for all EVs. This is fairly conservative and, with new EV developments happening all the time, will inevitably improve in the future.

Production of Rivian’s first model has just begun with the order bank stretching into 2023. Next comes a second large EV but what about after that? The only trucks being built at Normal during the first months are the so-called ‘Launch Edition’. The ‘Adventure Package’ and ‘Explore Package’ variants will be added from Q1. It’s been quite a journey for this firm, and in contrast to other fledgling start-ups, there has been little in the way of controversy. Instead, quiet and steady progress with, inevitably, some delays. Various big name investors have piled in yet Robert ‘RJ’ Scaringe has maintained a fairly low media profile. His policy seems to be one of having Rivian do its utmost to stick to stated deadlines and let the vehicles do the talking. With an expected US$5-8bn set to be raised via an IPO, this appears to be working. The 5.5 m long ‘Rivian Number 1 Truck’ will hit 60 mph in fewer than three seconds, and the maximum EPA-rated range from the Samsung SDI-supplied pack is 314 miles. There are three battery choices: 135 kWh and 180 kWh, to be followed in the second half of 2022 by a cheaper 105 kWh alternative. All trucks have four-wheel drive thanks to a 147 kW motor for each wheel. Power and torque outputs for next year’s base variant are 300 kW and 560 Nm. Equivalents for the 135 kWh and 180 kWh trucks are 522 kW and 562 kW while each produces 1,120 Nm. Other elements of the R1T’s specification have been widely reported but to refresh, there is one body and this four full-sized doors.

GM sees radar technology as part of the solution for ADAS and autonomous vehicles, which is where Oculii comes in. General Motors has invested millions of dollars in Oculii, a US-based startup attempting to improve the performance of radar sensors for use in automated driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving. The news comes shortly after Oculii’s May 2021 funding round where it raised $55 million from a range of OEM and Tier 1 suppliers including Hella. The startup already holds nearly a dozen patents in the field of radar sensing. Radar sensors fire a focused beam of radio waves in front of the vehicle to detect obstacles by reflecting that beam back to a receiver unit. This setup offers exceptional accuracy for distance detection and operates in almost all weather conditions, plus radar sensors are more affordable than competing LiDAR (light-based sensors) and alternative approaches. Radar is an ideal sensor for level 1 autonomous systems such as adaptive cruise control that can match the speed of the car in front. However, the ‘resolution’ of the image provided by radar is poor. While radar can very accurately tell how far away an obstacle is from the vehicle, it cannot tell what kind of obstacle it is or in what direction it is moving other than its proximity to the radar sensor. This means the application of radar sensors in level 2 and above autonomous systems is limited because they need to build up a more detailed picture of the world around them – including the ability to tell the difference between static obstacles, other vehicles and pedestrians, and their relative trajectories. Most level 1 and 2 autonomous systems sold today include radar as part of the overall sensor suite, alongside existing vision cameras, ultrasonic and LiDAR sensors. Tesla, however, is notable for its decision to omit radar from Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built from May 2021 onward, instead banking on its so-called Tesla Vision system entirely based on vision cameras and machine learning image processing. The company insists the system can gather enough detail from just its vision cameras to safely categorise and determine the location of obstacles around it, and plot a safe course forward. However, critics have pointed out that vision cameras can get confused by bad weather or unexpected scenarios. Oculii believes it can make radar sensors a more attractive option to tier 1s and OEMs by using software to enhance the resolution of existing commercially available radar sensors. Its system uses artificial intelligence to dynamically adjust the radar waves in response to the environment. While Oculii is being understandably secretive about exactly how this is achieved, it claims the software can enhance the sensing accuracy of existing radar systems by up to 100 times.

General Motors chief executive Mary Barra has said the automaker plans to make changes in its supply chain to help cope with the continuing semiconductor chip crisis that has forced significant production cuts. “We’re going to make some pretty substantial shifts in our supply chain,” Barra said in an online interview monitored by Reuters. “We’re already working much deeper into the tiered supply base because generally General Motors doesn’t buy chips (directly) but (our suppliers do). But now we’re building direct relationships with the manufacturers.” A GM spokesman declined to comment further to Reuters on how the company might shift its supply chain. The news agency noted that, this week, the White House and the US Commerce Department plan a meeting on the chip crisis which has caused production cuts by automakers around the world. Last week, GM said it had doubled the number of units the semiconductor shortage would cost it in the second half. Barra said the issue was a “solvable problem, but it’s going to be here a little longer”.

Magna International and Veoneer announced the expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, or HSR Act, in connection with the previously announced acquisition of Veoneer by Magna. Under the agreement announced on 22 July, 2021, Magna will acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of Veoneer for US$31.25 per share in cash, representing an equity value of $3.8bn, and an enterprise value of $3.3bn, inclusive of Veoneer’s cash, net of debt and other debt-like items as of 31 March, 2021. The waiting period expired at 11:59 p.m. on 13 September, 2021 without the issuance of a so-called second request by the US Federal Trade Commission or the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division. Expiration of the waiting period under the HSR Act satisfies one of the conditions necessary for the completion of the merger. Additionally, the companies have submitted investment screening filings in France, Germany and Italy, and have submitted draft antitrust filings (requesting reviews under applicable simplified procedures) in the European Union and China. The companies are also progressing antitrust filings in South Korea and Canada, the other two jurisdictions in which approvals are required. A special meeting of Veoneer stockholders is scheduled to take place virtually via webcast on 19 October, 2021 and will ask stockholders to consider and vote on a proposal to adopt the Magna merger agreement.

The UK is seeing a strong surge in used car prices as the chips shortage causes short supply and long waiting lists for new cars. UK average used car prices rose by 16.6% during the first eight months of 2021, according to market analyst Indicata UK. Higher demand is also hitting used car stock levels in the trade, with stocks around 9% lower at dealers now compared with at the beginning of August. Overall used car sales to August this year were up by 24.9% compared with the same period in 2020, and by 4.8% compared with pre-pandemic 2019. Indicata group sales director Jon Mitchell said: “Buyers continue to clamour for whatever stock they can get their hands on and generally dealers are holding onto the majority of their part exchange stock to retail.”

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Stellantis said Mike Manley would leave his role as head of Americas to become CEO of AutoNation, America’s largest automotive retailer based in Florida, from 1 November. He apparently won’t be replaced directly. Mark Stewart (COO, North America) and Antonio Filosa (COO, Latin America) will now report directly to CEO Carlos Tavares. The move takes Manley back to his roots. According to Wikipedia, he started in the auto industry as a trainee at car financing company Swan National, worked for Renault and Peugeot dealerships, then on to the Lex Autosales car dealer group. After Lex was bought by DaimlerChrysler UK, Manley became the automaker’s director of network development and was transferred to the US in 2003. In 2008, he became EVP of planning and sales for Chrysler followed by COO for Asia. In 2009, Manley became Jeep CEO, overseeing a sales rise from 320,000 vehicles in 2009 to 1.23m in 2015. He reportedly had said being appointed the head of Jeep was “the turning point of his career”.

Renault says it may cut up to 2,000 engineering and support jobs in France, as it looks to transition to new mobility. The automaker’s management and French labour bodies have started talks with a view to concluding a nationwide multi-year labour agreement for the period, 2022-2024. Despite the job reductions, Renault adds France would become Renault’s central hub for electric vehicles. It will intensify industrial activity in the EV field and production of core electric engines would be established within French borders. Overall, the manufacturer says its plans would see a net increase of 500 jobs as it looks to recruit 2,500 new positions. Subject to agreement, the Group plans to allocate the production of nine new vehicles to its French plants, a majority of which would be 100% electric. ElectriCity would be responsible for the production of: Mégane E-TECH Electric, the future electric Renault 5, the electric version of New Kangoo, an electric SUV project and another future vehicle. The Dieppe plant would produce a new Alpine vehicle, while the Sandouville plant would manufacture the New electric Trafic. Finally, the vehicle following-up to Master as well as a vehicle developed for a partner would be produced at the Batilly plant. The Cléon plant would be responsible for the future 100 kW electric engine as well as the associated value chain. These projects, which expand on previously announced initiatives, include Re-Factoryin Flins and ElectriCityin the Hauts-de-France region.

China’s leading electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturer, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) plans to begin production of sodium ion batteries late next year, a company executive said. CATL unveiled its sodium ion battery in July, saying the breakthrough marks a key milestone in its quest for develop alternative materials for EV batteries. The company expects shortages of mainstream materials such as nickel sulphate to emerge by 2025 as global demand for EVs continues to surge. The company claims its sodium ion batteries can achieve energy densities of up to 160 Watt-hour per kilogramme, which it says is the highest in the world for this class of battery. The assistant to the company’s chairman, Meng Xiangfeng, told an industry conference last week the company had solved some key technical issues and has also addressed a lack of available raw materials for the production of sodium ion batteries.

General Motors President Mark Reuss has revealed GM’s group of three all-new motors that will power its Ultium-based EVs. Designed by GM, the 180-kilowatt front-drive motor, 255-kW rear- and front-drive motor and 62-kW all-wheel drive assist motor are part of Ultium Drive. GM says all three motors were calibrated in-house to ensure the highest level of performance in Ultium-based EVs. The motors have also been built as a scalable family, sharing design principles as well as similar tooling and manufacturing strategies. “Twenty years of electric drive system development and more than 100 years of high-volume vehicle engineering are helping GM pivot quickly from conventional vehicles to EVs,” Reuss said at a conference. “Our vertical integration in this space, encompassing both hardware and software, helps give us control over our own destiny and a significant competitive advantage.” GM maintains the 180- and 255-kW units are permanent magnet motors designed with the aim of minimizing reliance on heavy rare earth materials while the 62-kW unit is an induction motor. As many as three electric motors can be used in one EV – variations of the 2022 GMC Hummer EV will feature three separate 255-kW motors, yielding a GM-estimated output of 1,000 horsepower. GM engineers have also developed the software for Ultium Drive’s motor controllers, which is key to serving the propulsion needs of various vehicle types with a minimal set of components.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com