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Mitsubishi Might Be Back, Baby

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That which is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger. So goes the story of Mitsubishi, which may soon emerge from zombie status in North America thanks to a big injection of cash from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Get excited! Even more exciting: it’s Friday. And with it, we’re talking about more EV production problems, buyouts at General Motors, and yet another fight over Chinese batteries in America. Let’s take it to the streets!

Mitsu Back? Mitsu Might Be Back

Mitsubishi E Evolution Concept 2017 1600 12
Photo: Mitsubishi

Most of us these days think of Mitsubishi as “that car company that used to make cool stuff,” and that’s certainly true; but it’s also been a small but quietly growing and profitable part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. (I’m talking about North America here, too; Mitsubishi is pretty huge in other parts of the world, like Southeast Asia.) We know its product offerings aren’t the newest or strongest out there, but they get great fuel economy, and guess what else? Mitsu’s new cars don’t cost a billion dollars, unlike most these days. Also, the company’s still bothering to make small cars with the Mirage when almost every other automaker threw in the towel there.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Now, Mitsubishi may be getting a lifeline of investment as the Alliance renews its wedding vows for 2023 and figures out how to invest in North America to take advantage of those lucrative EV and battery subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act. The plan is called Challenge 2025, and it’s maybe the most interesting Mitsubishi news I’ve seen in a decade-plus of covering cars.

Here’s some of the company’s announcement from last night; it involves heavy investment in electrification (bold mine):

Under Challenge 2025, the next three-year mid-term plan (MTP), Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) will accelerate efforts toward a sustainable carbon neutral future, made possible through a reduction of vehicle CO2 emissions by 40% and a reduction in operational CO2 by 50% by 2030.

Additionally, MMC will move to make 50% of global sales an EV by 2030, and then 100% of the fleet electrified by 2035 (“EV” specifically refers to a blend of plug-in hybrids (PHEV), hybrids (HEV) and pure electrics (BEV)). This goal is made possible through more aggressive investment in R&D and CAPEX, particularly in areas of electrification, IT, and new business. MMC also envisages a 200 billion Yen (US$1.5 billion) investment in battery sourcing to achieve its EV sales target in 2030.

[…] Specifically as it relates to North America, the next three years of business will see an enhanced and electrified product lineup in the market, closer cooperation with Alliance member Nissan, and growing the company’s local leadership position in digital tools for sales and marketing areas across other global markets.

Remember, one major reason the Alliance glanced at Mitsubishi from across the bar, walked over, bought a gimlet and said “We dig your vibe… so, do you party?” is because Mitsubishi’s hybrid tech is pretty advanced. It’s actually well-poised to be a decent player in the electrified space. Scale with Nissan will help in a big way.

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But let’s hope Mitsubishi stays in the affordable-car realm! That’s a big advantage here, especially as EVs and even hybrids and PHEVs still command big price tags. I’m past the point in life where I’m going to beg for a new Lancer Evo or a 3000GT—I’ve had my heart broken too many times before, you see—but I’d love to see Mitsubishi emerge as an affordable, volume player in the BEV and PHEV space in this country. It can be done. Good luck to all involved.

The Nissan Ariya Has Problems, Too

Ariya
Photo: Nissan

Yesterday our man Thomas Hundal wrote a comprehensive roundup of all the early production problems that have faced this new, modern class of EVs in recent years—not to spread EV skepticism or to detract from problems with ICE cars, mind you. No, this is to point out the common issues facing the entire car industry’s electric transformation and to let buyers know what they might be in for, which I think is bare-minimum responsibility in the world of auto journalism.

Unfortunately, we can add Nissan’s new electric Ariya to that list. Though featured heavily in Nissan’s new ad campaigns, production is running at least a third below plan thanks to problems, reports Reuters today. And both dealers in Japan and the U.S. have since stopped taking new orders. Ugh. Here’s the story:

Ariya production has been slowed by problems with the highly automated “intelligent factory” manufacturing system it built for the model at its plant in Tochigi, north of Tokyo, two of the people said.

Nissan designed a system that would allow it to produce cars with different powertrains – batteries, hybrids and internal combustion engines – on the same line.

Implementation has proved “an extremely, extremely high challenge” and the advanced paint line has become a persistent headache, one of the people said.

Nissan also faces shortages of plating for an electronic component for the Ariya after a fire at China-based supplier Wuxi Welnew Micro-Electronic in January, one of the people said. The supplier told Reuters it had shifted output to a second plant and was “working to recover production.”

In a statement to Reuters, Nissan said Ariya production had faced challenges including supply of semiconductors, disruptions in components shipments and the factory’s paint line. “Nissan is making a full and diligent effort to fully regain production capacity at the plant,” the company said.

A fancy new factory, plus the standard-issue supply-chain disruptions equal an equation for headaches. I haven’t driven the Ariya yet but I’ve heard it’s good, if unexciting. (I also haven’t seen any on the road, ever!) But clearly, it’s a crucial component of what Nissan wants to do in the EV era. They had better figure this out sooner than later if it’s going to be a true player here.

GM Offers Buyouts To Employees After Nicely Profitable 2022

The GM Orion Assembly Plant
Photo credit: General Motors

Here’s one for your “Capitalism Is All Made-Up” file: Though GM posted a record $14.6 profit for 2022 and paid its workers a handsome bonus to go with it, it is now offering buyouts to a “majority” of its 58,000 white-collar workers in the U.S. CEO Mary Barra said Thursday that the move is part of an effort to cut $2 billion in costs over the next few years. Here’s CNBC with the details:

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The “Voluntary Separation Program,” or VSP, will be offered to all U.S. salaried employees who have spent five or more years at the company as of June 30. Outside of the U.S., the automaker will offer buyouts to executives with at least two years of time at the company.

GM expects to take a pretax charge of up to $1.5 billion related to the buyouts, according to a public filing Thursday. The majority of the charges are expected to be all-cash and occur during the first half of the year, the company said.

Barra, in the letter Thursday, said the program is “designed to accelerate attrition in the U.S.,” assisting the company in potentially avoiding “involuntary actions” in the future. The buyout offer comes after the Detroit automaker said last week it would terminate about 500 salaried positions globally.

Why do this after the record profits? For the usual reasons, like shoring up funds for the expensive EV transformation being undertaken by the entire industry. There’s also an upcoming UAW contract process coming up, and those workers will be likely to ask for more hourly money thanks to the record profits.

Anyway, buyouts are often a precursor to layoffs, and hopefully, GM’s people won’t have to face that. This buyout offer also reportedly comes with up to a year of COBRA medical coverage; not a bad deal if you’re in a position to take advantage of it.

[Editor’s Note: This type of thing is not unusual in the auto industry, but it is not a sign of good times. At Chrysler, when times were tough, the company offered employees VTIPs, or “Voluntary Termination Incentive Programs,” that involved money and a voucher for a car, as long as the employee agreed to leave the company (and, according to rumors from folks who dealt with the VTIP in the early 2000s, to agree never to return).

Here’s some info on the VTIP from 1991, per Justia US Law:

In April, 1991, Parker received a brochure for Chrysler’s newly implemented Special Early Retirement Voluntary Termination Incentive Program (“VTIP”). The package was accompanied by a cover letter signed by Chrysler’s president, Lee Iacocca, which explained that, as a result of “slim profits,” Chrysler needed to reduce its workforce by 3,000. The letter also explained that choosing the program was completely voluntary. The VTIP package included $62,000, a Chrysler vehicle, six months of continued life and health insurance coverage, and savings plan benefits. The brochure also offered information sessions and outplacement counseling in connection with the VTIP.

-DT]

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Sen. Marco Rubio Hits At Michigan’s Ford-CATL Plant

2021 Mustang Mach E Gt Performance Edition
Photo: Ford

Remember how Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin passed on having a Ford-CATL battery plant in his state because he was afraid of undue “Chinese Communist Party” influence on the battery giant’s operation there? And remember how the Ford plant went to Michigan instead? It all shows you how political these battery fights can be, especially with companies from China—which has such dominance in this space already—getting involved.

Now, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is firing back at the Michigan plant, introducing a bill that could block the lucrative tax credits involved with the deal. Reuters dives deeper:

Rubio, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, introduced legislation that would block tax credits for electric vehicle batteries produced using Chinese technology, saying it would “significantly restrict the eligibility of IRA tax credits and prevent Chinese companies from benefiting.”

Ford said in response to Rubio that “making those batteries here at home is much better than continuing to rely exclusively on foreign imports, like other auto companies do. A wholly owned Ford subsidiary alone will build, own and operate this plant. No other entity will get U.S. tax dollars for this project.”

Last month, Rubio asked the Biden administration to review Ford’s deal to use technology from CATL.

My take is this is a little overblown. First of all, the entire point of the IRA—one of them, anyway—is to create a North American battery supply chain ecosystem so that we don’t have to rely on China, a hostile peer state that already has too much control over that world already. Second, I think we can safely assume security and IP protection will be paramount for Ford here, right? Third, this plant represents thousands of American manufacturing jobs, so it’d be a shame to see those get torpedoed over speculative politics.

To be fair, however: China is also giving this Ford deal extra scrutiny since they trust us about us much as we trust them. That’s probably unlikely to cause the deal to be blocked, though. And while some speculate America could be at actual war with China in a few years, my other favorite car blog the Council on Foreign Relations points out that none of these heightened tensions have kept American companies from doing business in China:

To be sure, the Ford-CATL deal is part of the larger story that there is in fact much less decoupling between the two economies than headlines would lean one to believe. Macro-level statistics suggest that geopolitical tensions have not deterred U.S. commercial actors from continuing to deal with China. New data released in February by the U.S. Department of Commerce reveals that both the import of goods from China to the United States and export of goods from the United States to China increased from 2021 to 2022, totaling a cumulative $690.6 billion in 2022—a record high level. Investors are similarly bullish on China, with, for example, Goldman Sachs’ overseas hedge fund clients’ positions in China also reaching a record high.

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Chris D
Chris D
11 months ago

“GM posted a record $14.6 profit for 2022…” Was that a record low profit? That’s not much, even if GM’s market share has continued its decades-long downward trend.

Captain Zoll
Captain Zoll
11 months ago

I’m constantly astonished how mitsubishi squanders not only their rally/performance heritage, but also their offroad heritage.
They made the first 4WD japanese car. They hold 12 victories in the dakar rally.
And yet we hear nothing about that, but keep hearing bullshit about how “Mercedes-Benz invented the car”.

They entirely gave up on the Pajero 2 years ago, leaving the Triton, the just as agricultural Pajero sport, and Delica D5 buried away in their respective small markets.

I find it ridiculous how so many Americans are presently willing to pay exorbitant money for a wrong-hand-drive 30-year-old van, just for the 4wd capability and luxury features, all while their state government could remove its road legality at any moment.
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi is selling a modernised version of exactly that in their home market, but they can’t be bothered to homologate it for the US market.
if they did, it would improve the perceived quality of their cars, and bolster their offroad image (which would at least trickle down to all of their crossovers), and they’d basically have the market cornered on 4WD passenger vans.

Acid Tonic
Acid Tonic
11 months ago

Im still unable to stop talking about my two past Evolutions (IX and X). Most fun cars I ever owned to this day. Absolutely need to make another so I have something to look forward to in the sea of boring automatic cars.

Hell I still want the diesel Evo that was rumored before they canceled it. Imagine a knock proof compound turbo 2.0 running 60psi of boost making over 450hp and torque for days thru that best in class awd system.

Would have been amazing.

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
11 months ago

I drove an Outlander Sport hundreds of miles on marginal roads in Costa Rica a few years back. It was underpowered, completely forgettable in styling, but was 100% up to the challenge. And looking at Misubishi’s website you can buy one for under $29k. Appliances yes, but some people only need a vehicular appliance.

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones
11 months ago

I occasionally see an obviously-new Mitsubishi driving around and it always surprises me because I’m pretty sure they don’t even advertise. I personally don’t think I’ve seen a Mitsubishi commercial in a decade or more. And yet, people are still finding their way to those lots!

Also, did you guys know Mitsubishi put the Eclipse name on a crossover? And yet because they’re so under-the-radar, I don’t even know if anyone gave them any trouble for it. It’s wild. They’re just kind of quietly doing their thing over there.

Gabriel Jones
Gabriel Jones
11 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Jones

There was a bit of noise about the big eclipse, but not as much as the mustang Mach e.

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
11 months ago

Marco Rubio head of an Intelligence Committee? The jokes just write themselves.

Lokki
Lokki
11 months ago

Yeah but the jokes aren’t nearly as funny as the ones about Eric Swalwell’s Chinese-spy girlfriend named Fang when HE was on the Intelligence Committee.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholasreimann/2020/12/19/heres-what-we-know-about-rep-swalwells-connection-to-a-suspected-chinese-spy/?sh=3740d2282050

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
11 months ago
Reply to  Lokki

Whatever.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
11 months ago
Reply to  Lokki

Girlfriend? I was under the impression that she worked for his campaign and he cut ties as soon as the FBI tipped him off that she might be a spy, but that’s it. Even though they’re just local officials, I’d be a lot more concerned about the unnamed (or at least, not conveniently leaked) politicians she had much closer relationships with.

As far as I know, the only evidence for the “girlfriend” part is “Trump Jr tweeted it”, which… well, if you believe everything the Trumps tweet at face value, sketchy used car salesmen must absolutely love you.

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
11 months ago

The GM move is to remove salaried workers and replace with contractors or temp employees. Contract/temp workers can be cut easily, cheaply, and without media news. The Big 3 have really stepped up their H1 hiring the past 10 years since the last crash, these people are contractors & off the books. Even is people that take the package and can return some day, they will not be perm FT salaried employees, they will be contractors/consultants.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
11 months ago
Reply to  Brian Ash

The problem with this strategy is you lose institutional knowledge over time. Onboarding and offloading contractors gets to be inefficient and disruptive. Let’s use a hypothetical example. You botch a new product launch, but you learn from it. Are you using those same experienced contractors for the next launch?

Of course none of this matters to investors who track value in seconds rather than years.

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