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January 29, 2021

Lucid, chips, aluminium – the week

News US electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors was in talks with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund about building an electric vehicle plant in the kingdom was the most-read story on just-auto this week.

By Olly Wehring

News US electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors was in talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund about building an electric vehicle plant in the kingdom was the most-read story on just-auto this week. The news had been reported by the UK’s Financial Times earlier this week, with the newspaper citing an interview with the head of the sovereign fund, Al-Rumayyan. Bloomberg subsequently reported the two parties had discussed setting up a plant in the Saudi city of Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast. The Saudi government has been investing heavily in recent years to diversify the economy away from the oil sector and is seeking to attract international companies to set up operations in the kingdom. Lucid Motors last month announced it had completed construction of its first electric vehicle plant in Arizona. The AMP-1 (Advanced Manufacturing Plant) is scheduled to begin commercial production of the Air passenger car early this year with a second model – the Gravity – to be added later in the year.

Modern vehicles are as reliant on computer chips as they are on their engines and chassis. Most come fitted with a number of chipsets to handle on-board functions, power infotainment systems, and to monitor and perform driving functions including advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and semi-autonomous operation in limited circumstances. Right now, there’s a supply problem as other industries – consumer electronics in particular – compete for limited supply. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when automotive production was shut down, chip suppliers pivoted to prioritise the supply of consumer electronics where demand remained stable, or increased, due to lockdowns and the requirement to work from home. Now, with the automotive sector looking to ramp up production, it has found itself at the back of the queue for chips.

The redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue (X-Trail outside North America) is the company’s first global model built using a “closed-loop” recycling system for aluminium parts. The system helps reduce CO2 emissions compared with using parts made with primary alloys from raw materials. It also promotes the use of materials that don’t rely on newly mined resources, as well as the reduction of waste from factories. The bonnet (hood) and doors of the 2021 Rogue are stamped from aluminium alloy, a material that reduces vehicle weight and helps improve fuel efficiency and power performance. The model is built in Kyushu, Japan, and Smyrna, Tennessee.

When the Tesla Model S electric vehicle launched in 2012, one of its stand-out features was the enormous central touchscreen in the dashboard that replaced nearly all physical on-board controls. It quickly became a selling point of the car with a simple, elegant user interface, intuitive controls, and even hidden ‘easter eggs’. Although many rivals had used touchscreens for a long time, none were remotely as large as Tesla’s unit. However, earlier in January, the US’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally issued a formal letter to Tesla, informing the automaker that it had determined the screens in 2018 and earlier Model S and Model X vehicles posed a safety risk. The risk was centred around the fact the driver would lose some critical safety functionality if the screen or the software driving it failed. You’ll find analyst Mike Vousden’s examination of how Tesla ended up using such a large screen very interesting.

Preliminary financial results for 2020 issued by Volkswagen Group showed a strong recovery during the course of the year, underpinned by stronger sales in China. In a statement, the company said that group deliveries “continued to recover strongly in the fourth quarter and even exceeded the deliveries of the third quarter 2020, leading to strong group turnover”.

The final light vehicle sales figures for the year are now in and December’s results, with global sales falling by a marginal 0.2% year-on-year, were a reflection of the remarkable resilience the auto market has demonstrated in the most trying of years. The December results mean that – in a market that registered SAARs below 60m for three consecutive months beginning in March – the overall market fell by just over 15.6% to finish on 75.1m for the year. That is some story amid all the pain the world has endured in the past 12 months. GlobalData analyst Calum MacRae looks ahead to full year 2021.

Earlier this month, the former KMC (Kia Motors Corporation) revealed a new logo and tagline, changed its name to Kia Corporation and updated us on the number of EVs it is planning to launch. But Kia’s not done yet. Soon, we’ll see the production version of the CV electric car project; GL3, a successor for the K7; then NQ5, the next Sportage. It’s going to be a busy 2021 for the company.

During his tenure, the now-disgraced ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn regularly threatened the future of the UK plant in Sunderland over the euro and Brexit despite it being one of the company’s highest quality and most productive factories, worldwide. Now, with Ghosn long gone, much more positive remarks by new Nissan COO Ashwani Gupta suggest Nissan remains highly committed to its UK plant and will increase investment in electrified technology manufacturing in the UK to meet post-Brexit EU trade rules of origin requirements. More battery production will be added to the Envision plant next to Nissan’s Sunderland vehicle manufacturing plant that makes the Leaf EV. Nissan makes about 30,000 Leaf electric cars at its Sunderland factory, most with a locally-sourced 40 kilowatt-hour battery. They remain tariff-free when exported to the EU. However, a higher-range battery is currently imported from Japan.

Strong demand for EVs resulted in two electric models securing places in the top three European best-selling cars sales chart last month. Behind the popular Golf, Volkswagen’s ID.3, launched in the fourth quarter, registered almost 28,000 units and became the second most popular car in Europe, during December, according to JATO Dynamics analysis. The BEV topped sales charts in the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria and was Germany’s third best-selling car, the fourth best seller in the UK, and second in Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg. The EV was ahead of a previous UK sales chart topper, the Tesla Model 3, in overall rankings for Europe in December. JATO said: “Europe is getting ready for an EV revolution and last month’s results are a clear indicator that when these cars have the right price attached to them, they can lure consumer demand away from popular gasoline and diesel models.” EVs are on the up, then, but you knew that. On a walk down to town recently, two I.D.3s passed me by within 30 minutes. It took at least two years after the launch of the Leaf in 2010 before the ‘on the road’ spot rate was like that. VW’s vast footprint (like a huge local dealer) is probably helping here.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor,

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