The United Auto Workers union is none too pleased with General Motors’s big investment in a Mexican plant, Volkswagen may be approaching its day of reckoning for its dumb Voltswagen joke, and Stellantis is bringing in a friend from France. All this and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for April 30, 2021.
1st Gear: GM’s Spending $1 Billion To Build EVs In Mexico And The UAW Isn’t Happy About It
GM plans to start building electric vehicles at its Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico starting in 2023. To do it, it’ll need to make a hefty investment to retool the factory first, to the tune of $1 billion. Ramos Arizpe is currently where GM produces the Chevrolet Blazer and Equinox, and starting later this year it’ll begin making batteries and electric drive components too.
The UAW isn’t loving the news, Automotive News reports:
“At a time when General Motors is asking for a significant investment by the U.S. government in subsidizing electric vehicles, this is a slap in the face for not only UAW members and their families but also for U.S. taxpayers and the American workforce,” Terry Dittes, the director of the UAW’s GM department, said in a statement.
“General Motors automobiles made in Mexico are sold in the United States and should be made right here, employing American workers. That is why our nation is investing in these companies. Taxpayer money should not go to companies that utilize labor outside the U.S. while benefiting from American government subsidies. This is not the America any of us signed on for. Frankly, it is unseemly.”
GM spokesman Dan Flores respondent to those comments with the following statement, published in a Detroit News story:
In response, GM spokesman Dan Flores said GM “recently announced nearly 9,000 jobs and more than $9 billion in new electric vehicle or battery cell manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. As a global company that builds and sells products around the world, we will we take the appropriate steps to transition our manufacturing footprint moving forward to support our all-EV vision.”
The Ramos Arizpe plant is expected to be where GM will manufacture an all-electric SUV for Honda, while its Acura counterpart will reportedly be made at GM’s Spring Hill, Tennessee factory. Both will utilize the company’s Ultium battery technology and are expected to debut as 2024 model year cars.
In addition to Spring Hill, GM’s other U.S. EV plants are Orion Assembly and Factory Zero, both located in Michigan. It also constructs battery cells at its Lordstown, Ohio site.
2nd Gear: The SEC Wonders If Voltswagen Went Too Far
It’s bad enough that Voltswagen was a dumb, unfunny April Fools’ joke that refuses to die, but now it could actually result in some penalties for the German automaker. The Security and Exchange Commission has launched a probe to determine whether the stunt goosed the company’s share price, according to Germany’s Der Spiegel via Google Translate:
The investigations are at an early stage, at the beginning of April the authorities made a request for information from the Wolfsburg-based company. When asked, the group confirmed that the SEC had requested information from the US subsidiary Volkswagen Group of America. VW cooperates with the responsible authorities.
It’s a logical development, considering many experts predicted the prank could land Volkswagen into trouble as soon as it happened. It’s been compared to Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeting in 2018 that he was going to take the electric vehicle maker private, set shares at $420 and that funding for all of the above had already been secured. The SEC investigated that, too.
Volkswagen eventually apologized for the whole thing, dismissing it as little more than a “gag” to “celebrate [its] profound focus on electrification.” But then of course the company’s North American PR team stood by it in statements to the media for a solid day.
Yeah, the journalists shouldn’t have been gullible enough to fall for it. But then, Volkswagen clearly got off on the attention and those fleeting hours when they had everyone hook, line and sinker. Attention is the only reason companies do anything on April Fools’ Day, and you know what they say — attention is money. (Does anyone say that? I don’t know — I’m saying it.)
3rd Gear: Ford Will Sell A Second MEB-Based EV In Europe
Ford was already slated to license Volkswagen’s MEB platform for one electric vehicle to be sold in Europe starting in 2023, and now it appears the Blue Oval will do the same for a second model. Hands haven’t shaken yet between the two parties, Bloomberg reports, but those talks — they’re advancin’.
“As we have said previously, there is the potential for a second all-electric vehicle based on the MEB platform to be built at Cologne, and that is still under consideration,” Ford Europe said in an emailed statement. VW declined to comment.
It’s interesting how the global push for EVs is resulting in so much collaboration between automakers of similarly large scale. Typically, you expect to see a relatively bigger player offer its manufacturing muscle to a smaller one. But the relative scarcity of EV tech, and the fact some brands are further along than others, with better understandings of and ties in key markets, has made these partnerships between giants more common. Ford and Volkswagen, GM and Honda. Who’s next?
4th Gear: Stellantis Will Let You Rent A Citroën Ami In DC
The Citroën Ami — a tiny EV some people think is adorable yet personally reminds me of Hans Moleman — is headed for American roads. Free2Move, a car rental service operated by Stellantis and active in Washington DC, teased that it will import the Ami on LinkedIn and Twitter. At this point, that’s really all we know.
The Ami is actually considered a quadricycle in Europe, with an eight horsepower motor, 43 miles of range, and a top speed of 28 mph. In France, the Ami can be driven by anyone over the age of 14, which makes it kind of novel as a short-range, rentable urban commuter. In an American city? I’m curious as to how it’ll be classified to achieve legality in the U.S.
5th Gear: Phone Company Looks To Buy Car Company
Apple may not have been able to woo Hyundai — or any other established automaker, for that matter — to build its electric cars. Competitor Huawei, the world’s largest telecom firm, is opting for a similar strategy to gain entry into China’s ever-lucrative EV market.
Automotive News reports the company is eyeing up Chongqing Jinkang New Energy Automobile, a “small domestic automaker” that also operates the Seres brand headquartered in Santa Clara, California. Huawei’s software is also embedded into a number of EVs sold in China, from the likes of BAIC and other state-backed manufacturers, so it stands to reason this would be the company’s next move.
Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group who led the company to become one of the world’s largest smartphone makers and has recently shifted his focus to EVs, is leading the talks with [Chongqing Jinkang New Energy Automobile owner] Sokon, said the two people.
The telecom giant looks to finalize the deal as soon as July, said the other source.
I do wonder what such an acquisition would portend for Seres’ future in the U.S. Do not forget that Huawei was barred from selling so much as smartphones in this country, then hit with a crippling denial order barring it from using Google services, Qualcomm semiconductors, and any other American-origin components in its electronics. We’ll have to wait and see if the U.S. government notices.
Reverse: Remembering Roland
It was 27 years ago today that we lost Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in a crash during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, in the middle of one of motorsport’s darkest weekends. This was of course preceded by a harrowing accident for Rubens Barrichello in Friday practice, and followed the next day by the death of Ayrton Senna in a crash in the early laps of the race. Ratzenberger was 33.
Neutral: What Are You Listening To?
My work soundtrack lately has been a playlist I put together compiling lots of songs that have appeared in Wipeout games over the years. Lyrics impede my ability to concentrate, and ’90s trance keeps the blood pumping and the words flowing, you know.