General Motors CEO Mary Barra Says it Can Beat Tesla at EVs

A photo of an electric Cadillac SUV with the Morning Shift banner beneath it.

Photo: Cadillac

General Motors has its sights set on a long-range electric vehicle that can help it take down Tesla, Jeeps owner Stellantis ends a joint venture to build its cars in China, and NHTSA opens yet another investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 18, 2022.

1st Gear: Mary Barra Wants to Unseat Elon Musk

There’s no denying that when it comes to electric car sales, Tesla is currently sitting at the top of this particular tower after shifting more than 350,000 cars in the U.S. last year. In contrast, General Motors delivered just 24,828 Bolt EVs and one electric Hummer in 2021.

But now, in an interview with the AP, GM CEO Mary Barra says her firm will soon be able to beat Tesla at its own game. Namely, making high-range EVs at a price that most people can afford, and lots of them. Barra told the AP:

“To really get to 30, 40, 50% EVs being sold, you have to appeal to people that are in that $30,000 to $35,000 price range.”

In order to do this, the automaker will lower the cost of its entry-level Bolt EV, while also adding new battery-powered models to its range. This year, this included the launch of the all-electric Hummer and an electric Chevy Equinox is also coming in 2023. These cars are priced at $108,000 and $30,000 respectively. According to the AP:

“Barra is hoping to keep prices relatively low, banking on chemistry breakthroughs to cut battery costs, offsetting huge price increases for Lithium and other key elements that make batteries work.”

Keeping costs lower and ensuring electric cars remain affordable for the average consumer could be all companies need to do if they want to succeed in the space, as most EVs on sale today are notoriously more expensive than their gas-powered counterpart.

And, as Tesla’s current cheapest model starts at $46,990, having the Equinox EV, the $26,000 Bolt and the upcoming Blazer in GM’s lineup could help it carve out a chunk of these sales.

2nd Gear: Stellantis Ends China Deal

After more than 10 years, Stellantis has decided to end a joint venture with Chinese car maker Guangzhou Automobile Group Co (GAC) to produce Jeep cars in the country. Instead, the firm will now focus on selling imported Jeeps in China.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Jeep owner blamed a “lack of progress” on its decision to scrap the joint venture, which started in March 2010. Under the deal, GAC produced Jeep cars in China for sale across the country. The WSJ reports:

“The decision marks a setback for Stellantis Chief Executive Carlos Tavares, who had planned to use the joint venture to expand the car maker’s business in China. Stellantis was forged last year through the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and France’s PSA Group, but both car makers have long struggled to gain a foothold in the world’s largest auto market.”

The end in this collaboration follows a slightly bizarre exchange between the two firms earlier this year. In January, Stellantis announced it was increasing its stake in the partnership from 50:50 to a 75% share in the business. This meant that it would be calling the shots in the future.

But GAC soon issued a statement saying that it wasn’t aware of the news until the announcement. According to the WSJ:

“The Chinese manufacturer issued a statement saying it had learned of the announcement from the Stellantis website and that it ‘deeply regrets that this release is not agreed by us.’

“GAC also appeared to chafe over the suggestion that Stellantis would be running the partnership. ‘GAC Group will strictly abide by the national policies and regulations and adhere to the principle of mutual trust and win-win,” the company said at the time’.”

As the joint venture now reaches its end, Stellantis said it will instead focus its efforts on selling an imported lineup of Jeep vehicles in the country.

3rd Gear: Porsche Eyes 2022 Recovery

Porsche, like many bougie car makers, has taken a bit of a hit in recent years thanks to supply chain constraints, chip shortages and the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic. But now, ahead of a stock listing, the German car maker says recovery could be on the horizon.

According to Reuters, Volkswagen-owned Porsche expects its 2022 revenue to reach $38.63 billion to $39.64 billion, up from $33.5 billion in 2021. This comes despite a 5% drop in deliveries so far this year. Reuters reports:

“Long-term, the brand is targeting 20% or more return on sales, with a goal of 17-18% for 2022, it said, up from 16% in 2021.

“Porsche, which its owner Volkswagen plans to list on the stock market by the end of this year, saw a 5% drop in deliveries in the first half of 2022 with China sales down 16% amid coronavirus-induced lockdowns.”

Despite challenges in China during the first half of the year, Porsche execs predict a stronger second half in the region. Reuters adds that CEO Oliver Blume said that June and July sales for the firm were “positive.”

4th Gear: NHTSA Opens Another Autopilot Investigation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened yet another investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot feature after a Model Y EV killed a motorbike rider in California.

According to Reuters, the special investigation into the 2021 crash is the NHTSA’s 37th investigation into Tesla since 2016. In each instance, the crashes investigated involved a Tesla that was running advanced driver assistance systems, such as Autopilot.

Since its rollout to the public, Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been fraught with problems. Last month, a report found that the software accounted for nearly 70 percent of all semi-autonomous crashes, and various users have shared footage of the system driving into obstacles and oncoming traffic.

There should be no surprise, then, that the feds have increasingly taken notice in the system’s rollout. As well as 37 special investigations into specific crashes involving the system, NHTSA recently announced an in-depth probe into the software.

In June, the government agency said it would expand an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot following several crashes into emergency-scene vehicles. The probe covers 17 crashes that involved first responder vehicles.

5th Gear: Automakers Turn to 3D Printing

We’re all used to reading about how supply chain issues are hitting production of new cars thanks to delays for parts. Well now, automakers are investigating new ways to produce the components they need, including turning to 3D printing for some parts.

According to Automotive News, companies are turning to 3D printing technology to keep assembly lines moving and production machinery up and running. Automotive News reports:

“As an industry, global automakers and suppliers are spending big time on 3D printers and processing equipment, more than $1 billion per year. Analysts peg the growth rate of auto industry purchases of additive manufacturing equipment at more than 20 percent per year until the end of the decade, as automakers turn to 3D printing for rapid prototyping, lightweighting and production of a growing number of parts.”

Cars like the Chevrolet Tahoe and the upcoming Cadillac Celestiq both now make use of parts produced using 3D printing. And, Automotive News suggests that the practice could soon be commonplace for many mass-produced models.

Using 3D printing for some automotive components could help cut load times, as there would be no need to produce molds, stamps, and other casting tools.

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