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Making Electric Trucks Is Hard

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“Making cars is hard” is a term we coined at the old lighting site to explain, with extreme simplicity and brevity, why so few newcomers in the autos space ever succeed. It’s an endlessly complex, heavily regulated, capital-intensive business with vast supply networks and tight competition—and that’s before you even figure out how you’re going to sell the damn things. Or make the electric, software-driven vehicles that seem to be the future.

And it turns out that making electric trucks may be even harder. That leads our morning news roundup for today, as Americans everywhere prepare for travel nightmares and hopefully start slacking off ahead of an unfortunately mid-week Fourth of July holiday. Also on tap today: more on the upcoming United Auto Workers fight, more weirdness at Nissan and some good news for Toyota.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

Oh, and I’m not going to devote a whole item or standalone story to this, but Polestar is going to use Tesla’s charging standard too. Called it! Anyway, let’s do the news.

RIP Lordstown Motors, Hello To The Difficult EV Truck Wars

Lordstown Endurance 2
Photo: Lordstown Motors

The announcement that Ohio’s Lordstown Motors would enter bankruptcy protection this week is both sad and deeply unsurprising, given everything that startup has been through since the tail end of the Trump years.

But Bloomberg columnist Liam Denning has an interesting angle, which is describing just how hard it is to make pickup trucks, in particular, go battery-electric. It kind of comes down to this: can any automaker build a competent real truck that can do real truck things? As embarrassingly macho as that sounds, there is truth to it; Denning’s column talks about how Rivian’s trucks are more purchased as “lifestyle vehicles” while plenty of F-150 Lightning owners are pissed at how much their range drops off when they actually have to tow something. Batteries, at least at present, are just ill-suited for that:

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Trucks, particularly the almost comically macho versions popular in the US, have the aerodynamics of a dumpster. Getting the range to a decent level mostly means installing bigger batteries, which also add more weight, raising the cost.

Consider the Ford F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its marquee model. As Kevin Tynan of Bloomberg Intelligence points out, the sticker price was slightly below $40,000 when orders launched in January 2022, but that has since jumped to almost $60,000, with an average transaction price of around $85,000. Rivian Automotive Inc.’s R1T starts at about $73,000. Forthcoming electric trucks from GM and Tesla aren’t likely to be cheap, either.

And he predicts that all of the automakers are going to have a tough time making an electric truck that can really suit all truck buyers’ needs: towing, off-roading, hauling and just normal driving:

In bridging that, reducing the cost-gap is a base requirement: The average truck buyer’s pre-tax household income is $117,000 while for an electric version it is $161,000, according to Strategic Vision. Ford’s intention to scale up production of electric vehicles rapidly is the standard route to this, but the price war with Tesla earlier this year shows sticking to that will be tough.

Above all, though, it will require somehow making an electric truck at least as compelling as its traditional counterparts, if not more so. When Tesla released the Model S sedan, it succeeded not so much because it was an electric car; more that it was a car made better by being electric. Replicating that feat for trucks remains an industry-wide challenge, whatever Lordstown’s ultimate fate.

“Aerodynamics of a dumpster.” I like that.

The column is worth a read in full. Lordstown is, or was, a questionable effort that probably never really had a shot but the fact is truck duty is going to be tough for trucks. I think it’s inevitable someone will figure this out; we’re still in the early, early days of EV trucks and the segment’s too critical to not get right. In the meantime, this is why I think hybrid trucks show promise too, and I’m glad the new Tacoma’s going that route next.

Some Sales Wins For Toyota

2023 Toyota Prius Spec 3

The chip shortage and parts disruptions from the pandemic hit almost every car company hard, but Toyota eked out a pretty good sales year in 2022 nonetheless with about 10.5 million vehicles sold globally. Now, this year’s looking to be even better in some ways as the supply chain seems on the path to recovery. Via Reuters:

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The company sold 838,478 vehicles globally last month, including its luxury car brand Lexus, compared to 761,466 vehicles in May 2022, when sales took a heavy hit from the stuttering parts supply because of the pandemic.

In Japan, Toyota’s sales jumped 35.1% to 116,954 units in May, outpacing a 21.5% year-on-year rise in April. Global sales of hybrids grew 25.8% year-on-year to 261,147 units, accounting for just under a third of the total number of vehicles sold worldwide last month.

Toyota still couldn’t crack 10,000 global battery EV sales in May, and that includes the Lexus brand, so that’s still an area where the world’s largest car company is weak. But the rise in hybrid sales is interesting and good to see.

But many of Toyota’s most popular models remain tough to find. I’m at the point now where if a friend calls and asks if I can help them find a RAV4 Prime, I simply hang up the phone and never speak to them again.

Stellantis Ramps Up Jeep Production Ahead Of Possible UAW Strike

Jeep Grand Wagoneer L 2023 1600 01
Photo: Jeep

This fall’s UAW contract negotiations with the Big Three are expected to be more contentious than they’ve been since, I dunno, maybe the 1970s. That’s because the union will be seeking assurances from the profitable American automakers that workers will still have jobs in the EV era, and they’re also pissed at the amount of plant closures and job offshoring that’s happened in recent years.

Stellantis seems to be anticipating trouble here. So a few months away from what could end up as a strike vote, it’s putting two Jeep plants into “critical status” from July 5 through October 2. That means everybody’s gotta work overtime to make lots of Jeeps, in case any strikes do happen. They’ve played this card before. Here’s Reuters to explain:

Stellantis told workers at both facilities the plants will be in “critical status” from July 5 through October 2. Under the current United Auto Workers (UAW) contract, a plant in critical status can run up to 7 days a week for a period of 90 days and require union employees to work more than 9 hours of overtime, according to a notice sent to employees and reviewed by Reuters.

“The company executives are doing this to build up inventory ahead of a potential strike. They are trying to intimidate us because we will not accept another sellout contract from the United Auto Workers,” the rank-and-file committee, an independent group of mostly union workers for the Warren Truck facility, said in a blog post.

Stellantis said the reason was strong sales. “Due to high demand for the Wagoneer, Grand Wagoneer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, Stellantis has put the Warren Truck, Detroit Assembly Complex – Jefferson, and Kokomo Engine plants on critical plant status,” the company said in a statement. “The plants may run up to seven days a week for the next three months to increase sales of these popular models.”

Negotiations between the Detroit Three and the UAW leaders are set to begin on July 13 and the contracts expire in mid-September. Any strikes could further squeeze new vehicle inventory, which—see above—is still pretty battered and tenuous these days.

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Nissan Accused Of Putting Cameras In Former Executive’s Home

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Photo: Nissan

I told you, Nissan’s weird as hell these days. (Allegedly, anyway.) Amid the surprise departure of now-former COO Ashwani Gupta, Reuters is reporting Nissan installed cameras inside Gupta’s home to monitor him and that this happened at the behest of the CEO:

Nissan has been investigating a claim that Chief Executive Makoto Uchida carried out surveillance of the carmaker’s second-in-command to acquire leverage to remove him from the company because of Gupta’s opposition to some terms in a new partnership deal with Renault.

Nissan directors were briefed on the preliminary findings of the investigation into the surveillance claim by U.S. law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell at a board meeting on June 20 at the company’s Yokohama headquarters, the two people said.

The preliminary report said Nissan had installed two sets of security cameras at the entrance to Gupta’s house in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward, the people said. It said the first system was for use by a private security firm while the second system was set up for access by Nissan’s internal security team to monitor Gupta, the two people said.

Oooookay. That this is coming up during a board meeting feels pretty serious. If it’s true, well… you’d think Nissan would’ve learned by now that it could use a few years without any unhinged corporate scandals.

Your Turn

What truck, or automaker, do you think is most promising in the electric space? There’s not much to choose from yet, but that’ll change soon enough. Who do you think will get this right?

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago

You know I’m just going to say “electric Cayenne” for the last question, right?

Definitely not a full-on truck, but I wanna do some yeehaw truck stuff in it.

Last edited 11 months ago by Stef Schrader
Drew
Drew
11 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Just do your yeehaw truck stuff in the rough limo from the other day. It’s not like you’ll notice any new damage, plus the stretch gives you some hauling space.

https://www.theautopian.com/you-should-definitely-buy-this-wild-porsche-911-limo-originally-built-for-benihanas-founder/

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago
Reply to  Drew

That rules, but uhh. No. Not for off-roading.

That there is a Lemons Rally domination machine.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
11 months ago

We know you’re going to strike so please build all the vehicles you can before you do, OK? We’re sure the quality will be impeccable.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
11 months ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

Also, please make sure you have enough parts and sub-assemblies on hand to cover the recalls while you are out on the dock fishing for the summer.

Last edited 11 months ago by Andy Individual
Nlpnt
Nlpnt
11 months ago

The biggest new obstacle I see to electrification is automakers’ headlong rush into the most popular/profitable-as-conventional vehicles segments rather than the ones that make the most sense to electrify first.

It would make far more sense to electrify vans ahead of pickups since vans are mostly bought for commercial work and more often for either fixed route urban multi-stop jobs like parcel delivery and shuttle-bus work where the units start from and return to a central yard and can charge overnight and there’s plenty of regen and plenty of idling to cut.

Yes, automakers are in business to make money, but they’re getting huge amounts of taxpayer subsidies to make the switch and that should come with the notion of switching first what makes the most sense to switch on a use-case basis rather than a profit-maximization one.

Last edited 11 months ago by Nlpnt
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
11 months ago

Since we’re talking EV trucks today, I thought I would share this external link to an interesting op-ed that’s related.

https://slate.com/business/2023/06/electric-vehicles-auto-haulers-weight-capacity-roads.html

Greg
Greg
11 months ago

Your Mom’s hard!

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