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The automotive industry has a notoriously high carbon footprint in manufacturing. Could the innovative re-use of household waste in vehicle parts materials help to reduce this? The automotive industry is giving much more thought to its environmental impact as whole – through the development of EVs, to circular economy principles and reusing recycled materials in manufacturing vehicle parts. The use of plastics is being increasingly identified as a problem to be addressed in terms of overall carbon footprint. The Mercedes VISION EQXX electric concept utilises UBQ, a 100% bio-based material made from organic and unrecyclable household waste developed by UBQ Materials. UBQ is used in the bionic structure of the vehicle’s body shell and in interior structures such as the headrests. We spoke to Co-CEO of UBQ Materials Jack ‘Tato’ Bigio, to discuss how the bio-based material is made as well as the environmental benefits.

Shut up and drive

It’s green for go for autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Significant restrictions on driverless cars were controversially lifted on August 10, a sign of success for the tech, automotive, and Transportation as a Service (TaaS) industries after a challenging post-COVID recovery. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 3-1 to allow the industry leaders—General Motors-owned Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo—to operate their robotaxis 24/7 and charge ride fees to users. The CPUC heard six and a half hours of contentious public commentary and arguments about autonomous vehicle safety before signing off on the use of the still-fledgling technology. The arguments continued with a motion to pause on August 17 from the San Francisco city attorney, and a subsequent autonomous vehicle collision with a fire truck. The developments may, even at this late stage, bring more caution to the project. With its famously hilly streets, wind, and fog, San Francisco is a challenging location for autonomous vehicle (AV) testing. But it is exactly what Cruise wanted, to encounter as many edge cases as possible early on and learn from them. In contrast, Waymo began testing in sunny, flat Phoenix, initially in purpose-built facilities. Considering the high upfront cost of driverless cars, their primary use—initially at least—will be as TaaS, rather than for private use, with large corporations more easily absorbing these costs. The companies first away from the lights and likely to lead the AV fleet revolution include Waymo, Cruise, Uber, and Didi.

ASEAN optimism

After ASEAN Light Vehicle (LV) sales slightly increased by 1% YoY in H1 2023, the market jumped by 6% YoY in July 2023 thanks to the increasing sales performance in Malaysia and Philippines. Malaysia LV sales jumped by 33% YoY and 8% MoM in July. Behind the outstanding performance, it was the result that carmakers were offering competitive prices, aggressive promotions, and value-added services in order to at least partially offset the end of the tax cut. Also, demand was boosted by the introduction of new models (such as the newly launched Proton X90, new-generation Perodua Axia, and Toyota Vios), improved supplies, and resilient consumer spending. As PV sales continued to exceed expectation, GlobalData made minor upward adjustments in the Passenger Vehicle (PV) forecast for 2023-2026. On the other hand, we cut the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) forecast by an average of 4k units a year through the long term, as the industry is facing challenges from the global slowdown. The net impact of the revisions on total LV sales forecast is small increases in 2023-2026 and marginal cuts in 2027 and onward. Thus, the latest 2023 sales were now projected at 753k units in 2023.

Foxtron car closer

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By GlobalData

Foxtron Vehicle Technologies, the Taiwan joint venture between Hon Hai Precision Industry and local carmaker Yulon Motor Group, was expected to start production of a battery powered SUV in the fourth quarter of 2023. The news came during a recent investor conference. Hon Hai, Apple’s contract manufacturer Foxconn, aims to become a significant player in the global EV industry. It has developed an EV platform complete with powertrain and has established several EV partnerships around the world. The Foxtron joint venture was expected to begin production of the Model C later this year, based on the MIH dedicated EV platform developed by Hon Hai with the support of local and overseas component manufacturers. It was expected to be powered by lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries.

China rising

New vehicle sales in China increased 8% to 2.58m units in August 2023 from 2.38m a year earlier, according to passenger car and commercial vehicle wholesale data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). The market picked up some momentum last month after a sluggish couple of months, helped by promotional campaigns and discounts by vehicle manufacturers and government stimulus policies. The economic recovery from the Covid pandemic has also been sluggish so far, with GDP expanding by just 5.5% in the first half of the year after growth slowed to 3% in the whole of 2022. Youth unemployment remains high and consumers have reined in spending amid rising economic uncertainty with the property sector among the weakest sectors.

VinFast expanding

Vietnamese electric vehicle (EV) maker VinFast plans to ship its first EVs to Europe this year after receiving regulatory approval, its CEO told Reuters, as the European Union considers imposing tariffs on Chinese rivals. Under the plan, about 3,000 of its VF8 crossovers would be delivered to France, Germany and the Netherlands in the fourth quarter of this year from VinFast’s factory in northern Vietnam, a source told Reuters. Reuters noted the Nasdaq-listed company’s plan to expand into Europe quadruples a previous unmet target of delivering 700 cars by last July and came as the EU probe into Chinese EV makers created a possible gap in the market. If the volume was reached, Europe could become VinFast’s biggest overseas market this year.

Stainless steel plant closing

Hyundai Steel said it would close its Incheon stainless steel plant in South Korea at the end of the year and exit this market segment altogether in response to growing competition from Chinese suppliers and declining sales to Hyundai Motor and Kia Corporation. The move came after the company scaled back operations in China due to fast rising competition from local suppliers as well as weak HMG demand. The Incheon plant near Seoul produced 100,000 tonnes of stainless steel last year, or only half of total capacity.

Hyundai accelerates EV plant

Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) said it was speeding construction of its new electric vehicle (EV) plant in the US to benefit early from tax credits and incentives available under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The government is offering up to US$7,500 in tax credits to buyers of EVs produced in North America under the act which was signed off by the Biden administration last year. The maker of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis began construction of a dedicated EV plant in Georgia last October with planned capacity for 300,000 vehicles per year. Completion was originally scheduled for the beginning of 2025.

ICE ban postponed

The UK government said this week it will move back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years, so all sales of new cars from 2035 will be zero emission. Previously, the sale of new cars in Britain with only petrol and diesel engines (not hybrids) was to be banned from 2030. In a statement the government said the move ‘will enable families to wait to take advantage of falling prices over the coming decade if they wish to.’ The government is, however, sticking to the 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target for the country.

Mercedes goes digital

Mercedes-Benz has said it is adopting a ‘digital first’ strategy in production processes, utilising digital twins to streamline output of models on its modular architecture MMA platform across factories in Germany, Hungary and China. The automaker said MMA would make its MO360 production system “more intelligent” and connect 30 plants worldwide. It plans to consolidate production of electric, hybrid, and combustion models onto a single factory line.

Volvo axing diesel

Geely controlled Volvo Cars said it would stop production of all diesel models by early 2024. The automaker said it would only sell fully electric cars by 2030. Last November, Volvo sold its stake in Aurobay, the joint venture company which produced its combustion engines. According to GlobalData, diesel cars accounted for 55.8% of Volvo sales in 2019 but only 11.6% so far in 2023.

Marelli plant chopped

Supplier Marelli plans to close its Crevalcore plant in Italy which produces components for internal combustion engines (ICE). The company said the facility had become “unsustainable” due to the switch to EVs. Closure would affect 230 jobs. The Crevalcore factory makes plastic components and processes aluminium ICE components.

Hyundai pay agreement

Hyundai and its unionised South Korean workforce have agreed a wage deal which will increase annual pay by 12% (without the usual strikes). The union said 58.8% of its voting members approved the agreement while 41.1% rejected it.

Have a great weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto