Western Europe’s car market tanked again in June, with sales down 17% on last year’s level at under a million units, according to data released by GlobalData automotive forecasting unit LMC Automotive. Europe’s car market is coming under pressure from two main sources. Firstly, sales are still severely constrained by the shortage of critical parts due to the global semiconductors crisis. A supply chain crisis that began last year is still with us in 2022 and forecast to remain a factor into 2023, when efforts to raise chips manufacturing capacity should start to bear fruit. The word in the industry is to expect a gradual easing rather than a sudden resolution to supply problems. For now, vehicle manufacturers are having to prioritise higher margin cars to leave factories where they can, but that still leaves some model lines running short and supply to dealers impacted. In addition to this, some manufacturers – notably Tesla – have had global supply lines being adversely impacted by ongoing Covid-19 effects, especially in China. While waiting lists and order times are unprecedentedly long, manufacturers are in the position of delivering to those existing schedules when they can. However, a growing concern is underlying demand and the macroeconomic backdrop in many parts of the world. This the second market factor coming into play to depress sales further, particularly as we get into the second half of the year when higher price inflation bites and economic growth slows.

The advent of EVs with easily swappable batteries may help address concerns over material shortages, costs and charging times as well as the proper lifecycle management of a potentially environmentally hazardous product, GlobalData’s Thematic Research team wrote this week. It’s an interesting article making the case for battery swapping, which currently exists only on a small scale, in countries such as China and Germany.

More details have now been shared relating to the planned joint venture between Sony and Honda. The two Japanese giants announced a strategy back in March 2022 to collaborate on a range of new battery-electric vehicles. Now, after thrashing out the details, the two companies have agreed to baptize the JV as Sony Honda Mobility Inc. The plan is for each entity to lean on its specialty business areas to maximize the appeal of the new model. Naturally, this will see Sony provide technologies in the fields of sensing, imaging, telecoms, networking and digital entertainment – increasingly important in today’s tech-driven vehicle market. Meanwhile, Honda will focus on vehicle development, manufacturing and safety, along with adjacent mobility services and aftersales support. Bringing in a third-party company, especially one with Sony’s reputation and close ties with digital systems and entertainment, could be seen as a wise move. As the passenger vehicle market gradually moves towards full electrification and partial autonomy, each brand’s unique driving experience is becoming diluted and more uniform. As a result, customers may become increasingly disinterested in performance and handling aspects of a vehicle, with an associated increased focus on a vehicle’s digital networking and infotainment offering.

“Will Renault Group’s plan to reinvent the Alpine sports car brand work?” asked our resident futurist this week. Evolving a small volume marque with a heritage in motor sport into a medium sized brand specialising in electric cars and SUVs will be no easy task. Renault believes it can be done, though, as the plans it has for Alpine reveal. This is the latest installment in a new series covering Renault Group future models; last week we explained how the Renault brand would be all electric by 2030.

As we reported last month, HERE Technologies is to integrate What3Words with Jaguar Land Rover models. We wondered: What are the benefits? For the multinational group specialising in mapping, location data and related automotive services, the OEM supply deal with JLR is a pretty big deal. The technology will be included in all new vehicles along with all existing vehicles with the Pivi Pro Infotainment system. New vehicles featuring the integration include the Defender 130, Range Rover Sport, Jaguar XF and XE Sport. We spoke to general manager EMEA and senior vice president HERE Technologies, Gino Ferru, to find out more about this integration and the rationale.

From automotive engineering and styling to marketing and retail, Virtual Reality (VR) continues to surprise and delight. To learn about the latest trends, we caught up with Eva Poppe, Chief Growth Officer, ZeroLight, a specialist in 3D visualisations.

Customers of China’s BYD, the largest electric vehicle (EV) maker by sales, have taken the unusual step of urging regulators to expand a battery replacement recall to safeguard the reputation of a national champion. Two BYD customers said they and others questioned why BYD had instructed dealers to replace batteries in their cars which were not subject to the recall. Though compensated, the customers said they wanted BYD to be more transparent. The Shenzhen based automaker did not respond requests for comment. BYD, backed by US billionaire investor Warren Buffet, had seen sales more than quadruple so far in 2022, largely shrugging off a slump brought by COVID-19 containment measures. As well as electric cars and buses, BYD also builds batteries which it has portrayed as the industry’s safest and which it is close to supplying to rival EV maker Tesla, BYD’s executive vice president has said.

Given the state’s residents embraced electrification early (with Toyota’s first Prius leading the charge) and California is home to Tesla, it seems strange the legislature approved a plan to tax the electric vehicle battery metal lithium to generate revenue for environmental remediation projects despite industry concerns it would harm the sector and delay shipments to automakers. Democrat governor Gavin Newsom approved the tax as part of a must-pass state budget. The state legislature had signed off on the levy the day before. The tax was structured as a flat rate per tonne and would go into effect in January. It would be reviewed every year, and state officials had agreed to study potentially switching to a percentage based tax. The state has giant lithium reserves in its Salton Sea region, east of Los Angeles, an area heavily damaged in the 20th century by years of heavy pesticide use from farming. Funds generated from the tax were earmarked in part to cleanup of the area.

Geely-owned Volvo Cars will build a third manufacturing plant in Europe as part of its plan to become fully electric by 2030 and climate neutral by 2040. The plant in Slovakia will be the company’s third European plant covering its largest sales region and complementing the Ghent plant (Belgium) and Torslanda plant (Sweden). Construction of the Kosice plant is planned to start in 2023, with equipment and production lines installed during 2024. Series production of next-generation, pure electric Volvo cars is scheduled to start in 2026. The facility is designed to produce up to 250,000 cars per year, the company says. The new facility represents an investment of around EUR 1.2 billion and will be located close to Kosice, in the eastern part of Slovakia, where it will benefit from a well-established automotive supply chain as it becomes the fifth car plant in the country. Slovakia is already well established in regional automotive supply chains. Furthermore, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Kia and Jaguar Land Rover already have vehicle manufacturing plants in the country.

Stellantis has announced plans for the two facilities that comprise its engine complex in Trenton, Michigan, which it says will provide maximum flexibility for the operation. The plan includes a $24.7 million investment to retool the south plant to be a flexible engine line, capable of producing the two variations of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. Following retooling, the Pentastar production line at the north plant will be decommissioned by the end of 2022 and all 3.6-liter engine production at the complex will be consolidated at the south facility. First launched in 2011, the Pentastar engine quickly became the workhorse of the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram product lines, streamlining the company’s V-6 engine offerings from seven to one. Upgraded in 2016, Stellantis says the redesigned V-6 delivers improved fuel economy and performance over the original version of the same engine, which will continue to be produced through 2023.

A Volkswagen-led consortium has closed the Europcar buy transaction and VW says it is aiming to secure a significant share of the global market for mobility services over the next decade. VW maintains that, together with its consortium partners Attestor and Pon Holdings, it will accelerate Europcar Mobility Group’s transformation to become the leader in sustainable mobility through technology and data. The company will continue its existing partnerships while, at the same time, becoming a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s future mobility platform. Europcar Mobility Group’s offer will cater to a wide variety of the customers’ mobility needs, from car sharing for a few hours to car subscription for multiple months. Pilot phases of mobility services in partnership between Volkswagen, Porsche Bank and Europcar are to start as early as Q4/22 in Vienna. Hamburg is expected to follow in Q1/23.

Patents for wireless communications technology filed by the top 20 carmakers have jumped to a record high of 991 in the past year, according to research by intellectual property law firm Mathys & Squire. The figure is up from 945 in the previous year and triple the 323 patents five years ago. Wireless communications technology is expected to be a key component of driverless cars, allowing autonomous vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and objects, therefore avoiding collisions with those objects. Mathys & Squire said the automotive industry had begun to generate its own wireless communication patents in order to avoid possible clashes with the telecoms industry. The telecoms sector is seen as being more litigious than the automotive sector in the protection of its intellectual property.

A handful of chipmakers, including Micron and AMD, reportedly have signalled falling demand as soaring inflation squeezes spending, even though it is easing a two-year global semiconductor shortage that has hit production of everything from cars to smartphones. Chip shares worldwide tumbled last Friday after memory chip maker Micron Technology forecast on Thursday much worse than expected revenue for the current quarter and said the market had “weakened considerably in a very short period of time”. Chipmakers were overwhelmed trying to meet big orders from makers of smartphones and personal computers (PCs) after demand surged from people working from home during the pandemic.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto