Tesla shines for GD analysts; NHTSA appointee worries Telsa; Toyota's new BEV - the week - Just Auto
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Tesla shines for GD analysts; NHTSA appointee worries Telsa; Toyota’s new BEV – the week

05 Nov 2021 (Last Updated November 5th, 2021 14:03)

Deputy Editor Graeme Roberts reviews the week's major news and analysis on Just Auto.

Tesla is the automotive company best positioned to take advantage of future vehicle manufacturing disruption in the industry, according to GlobalData analysts. The US based firm comes top of the list in a ranking of overall leadership in the themes that matter most among vehicle manufacturing companies. These themes, which can be defined as any issues that keep CEOs awake at night, describe technological, macroeconomic and industry-specific challenges that companies are currently facing, as well as the opportunities they create. GlobalData’s Thematic Research ecosystem identifies and tracks these challenges, and how they create the long term winners and losers of the industry. Tesla scored highly in several themes, particularly when it comes to batteries, electric vehicles, internet of things, autonomous vehicles, China impact and overcapacity, where it received top marks of five out of five. Tesla received scores of four for transport as a service; and three for India impact, ESG and COVID-19 performances. These scores represent GlobalData analysts’ assessments of the competitiveness of each company regarding a particular theme. They are then weighted based on their importance and used to create the final industry ranking. Tesla was followed in our ranking by BYD, Geely and SAIC Motor.

Last month, US President Joe Biden confirmed that the current deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Steven Cliff would be promoted to the role of administrator for the agency. Cliff will take over the NHTSA at a crucial time for road safety development – road deaths are growing at an alarming rate while, elsewhere, the US lacks an effective regulatory framework to manage the deployment of partially autonomous vehicles. Under the previous Trump administration, the NHTSA was accused of taking something of a back seat role in driving road safety improvements. Mark Rosekind, its last administrator, left the agency in 2017 to join self-driving startup Zoox and no new leadership has been assigned until now. This saw Carla Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research label the agency ‘inactive’, while Jason Levine, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, called it ‘dormant’. The NHTSA’s hands-off approach looks especially unwise with the revelation that road deaths in the US have risen throughout the pandemic despite the fact that fewer people are using the roads. According to NHTSA’s own figures, annual deaths on the US’s roads rose by 7.2% in 2020 to 38,680, and deaths in Q1 2021 were up 10.5% on Q1 2020, despite a 2.1% decline in the total number of miles driven. There are several factors driving the increase US road deaths including the fact that, with fewer drivers on the roads, a reckless minority may have felt entitled to drive faster and more dangerously. Now, however, the ascension of Cliff to head the agency is being seen by most observers as an indicator that the NHTSA will take a more active role in driving road safety improvements. It also seems likely that the agency will begin making new rules governing the development and use of autonomous vehicles considering models equipped with level 2 semi-autonomous systems are becoming more common on US roads. Further evidence that autonomous vehicles are in the NHTSA’s sights can be seen with the appointment of Missy Cummings as a senior safety adviser. Cummings is a professor of engineering and computer science at Duke University – and former fighter pilot – with extensive experience of autonomous driving systems and has been openly critical of autonomous systems, including Tesla’s Autopilot, through her online presence. Cummings’ appointment in particular appears to have irked Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk who tweeted that Cummings track record is “extremely biased against Tesla”. Musk’s concern over Cummings’ role appears to be driven by a concern that she will guide legislation that will impact Tesla – specifically in relation to its Autopilot and full self driving semi autonomous systems. This comes on top of the August 2021  announcement the NHTSA would formally investigate the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot system after reviewing a number of cases where vehicles which were reportedly using the system collided with emergency vehicles.

Toyota Motor unveiled a new battery-powered bZ4X SUV, the first model in its new BZ (Beyond Zero) series of electric vehicles (EVs) based on a dedicated EV platform and designed for global markets. The new compact SUV was scheduled to be launched worldwide from mid 2022 including in North America, Japan, China and Europe. It has an estimated range of around 500km (300 miles) per charge and is powered by a 71KWh battery pack which can be recharged to 80% in 30 minutes. The front wheel drive model has a 150kW motor and the 4WD two 80kW motors. The bZ4X is the first of seven bZ models scheduled to be launched by 2025 and is part of the company’s strategy of introducing a full line of electrified vehicles comprising hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), battery-powered EVs (BEVs) and fuel cell models (FCEVs) to maximise consumer choice. The purpose-built BEV platform was developed jointly with Subaru and provides “impressive driving performance through a low centre of gravity and greater rigidity”.

VW Group owned Skoda has said it will reduce its 2021 production plan by around 250,000 units by the end of the year due to the shortage of semiconductors. The company also said it anticipates that the situation regarding the supply of semiconductors will stabilise again from the fourth quarter 2021 onwards and will then be ‘gradually easing in the second half of 2022’. In the first three quarters of the year Skoda delivered 700,700 vehicles (-2.9% compared to the previous year). However, Skoda said operating profit and sales revenues remained at a high level thanks to strong first half-year. Total operating profit of EUR900m was posted as of the end of September, with return on sales at 6.8%. Significant production cutbacks due to chip shortages will weigh heavily on the fourth quarter, Skoda acknowledged, and the company also said it is responding with increased cost discipline and a comprehensive efficiency programme.

Audi’s refreshed A8 model features new ‘digitised light’ technology which it says is comparable with video projectors and delivers greater safety. The ‘digital matrix’ LED headlights use DMD (digital micromirror device) technology. Each headlamp contains approximately 1.3 million micromirrors which disperse the light into tiny pixels, which means that it can be adjusted with the greatest precision, Audi claims. One new function that this enables is lane and orientation lights for highways. Here, the headlights emit a carpet of light, which illuminates the driver’s lane particularly brightly. Above all, the orientation lights particularly help drivers intuitively stay in their lane at road construction sites, it is claimed. The digital matrix LED headlights can generate dynamic coming home/leaving home functions upon unlocking and leaving the car, too. They shine like projections on the ground or the wall, Audi says. The refreshed A8 also comes with digital OLED rear lights as standard. When ordering the car, there are two rear light signatures to choose from – three with the S8. When the “dynamic” Audi drive select mode is chosen, the lights change to a further signature that is only available in that mode. In conjunction with the assistance systems, the Digital OLED rear lights have a proximity indication feature: if another vehicle comes within two meters (6.6 ft.) of a stationary A8 from behind, all the OLED segments are activated. Additional functions include dynamic turn signals as well as coming home and leaving home sequences.

Toyota Motor announced plans to spend US$461m at its main (and original) US plant in Kentucky to meet shifting customer demand, reduce carbon footprint and advance its future capability, according to a company statement. The automaker said it would install advanced manufacturing equipment and technologies at Georgetown plant, which was built 35 years ago, designed to speed up production, increase production flexibility and help improve its overall competitiveness. The investment would also “expand the plant’s ability to manufacture new electric vehicles”, the company said. It also said there would be no “significant” new jobs as a result of the investment but 1,400 temporary contractors employed through Kelly Services would be offered permanent positions to help it retain talent and provide a more inclusive work environment. Toyota’s North American product range would be boosted with the introduction of a new 2.4-litre turbo engine at the plant which the company said would further increase flexibility to quickly meet an evolving market.

Although group vehicle deliveries were down 12% in the third quarter, BMW reported a sharp increase in profits as it benefited from a richer sales mix helped by soaring sales of its electrified vehicles. BMW reported net profit for Q3 of EUR2,584m, 42.4% up on the same quarter last year (with automotive revenues up by just 3% in the same period). Group deliveries of vehicles were put at 593,177 (BMW brand = 524,858 units), some 12.2% down (BMW brand, 10.3% down) on last year’s pace. BMW Group vehicle production volume in the third quarter was 535,439 units, 15.4% lower than the same quarter of last year. However, BMW also reported a doubling in sales of electrified vehicles (EVs and plug-ins) in the first nine months of this year at 231, 575 units (+98.9%). Within that, sales of all-electric vehicles grew particularly dynamically, rising by 121.4 % to 59,688 units for the nine month period.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto