Interesting XPeng 2021 EV Sales Numbers

By Gary S. Vasilash

The numbers for Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer XPeng—not merely EVs, but “Smart EVs”—for 2021 are rather impressive, especially when looked at as a percentage basis compared to 2020.

As in:

  • 181% increase in the number of vehicles delivered in December 2021 vs. December 2020
  • 222% increase in deliveries in Q4 2021 vs. Q4 2020
  • 263% increase in total vehicles delivered in 2021 vs. 2020

But then when you drill down the numbers are somewhat less impressive.

  • 16,000 vehicles delivered in December 2021
  • 41,751 vehicles delivered in Q4 2021
  • 98,155 vehicles delivered in 2021

Still, directionally things are going well for the company.

XPeng P7 sport sedan. (Image: Business Wire)

The company offers both sedans and SUVs in the China market.  It is notable, as the interest in sedans in the U.S. is waning, that of its December deliveries of 16,000 vehicles, only 3,511 were SUVs—the largest share was taken by the sport and family sedans.

Another interesting thing about XPeng is that the company is building out a supercharging network—661 stations in all, located in 228 cities.

But even more notable is this: it has 311 retail outlets across 121 cities.

For a nascent company in the EV space, 311 is a lot of dealerships.

Tesla, for comparison, has about 170 galleries and showrooms in the U.S.

Not A December to Remember: At Least If You’re Shopping

By Gary S. Vasilash

Cox Automotive reports that there are two things going on in the new vehicle market right now that certainly aren’t particularly beneficial if you’re looking for something new to put in your driveway.

On the one hand, average transaction prices (ATPs) are continuing to climb. In November the ATP was $46,329, a record, and while the December number has yet to be calculated, Cox notes, “A new record in December would not be surprising.”

Then on the other hand, there are incentive programs, which are continuing to disappear.

Cox points out that in 2019 new-vehicle incentive programs reached an all-time high. This year, incentive programs have decreased month after month such that in the fourth quarter it was at the lowest point in five years.

Of course, all of this matters only if vehicles can be found.

Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox, says, “While sales in the first half of 2021 were relatively strong, the industry ran out of vehicles, and sales stalled in the second half.

“Total sales in the second-half of 2021 were the slowest in a decade. Demand is healthy, but supply and production disruptions kept the industry in check. You can’t sell what you don’t have.”

Nor can you buy what you can’t get.

So if you can, you might want to wait until next year.

Chesbrough: “Heading into 2022, we believe the supply situation will improve but it will take time to restock the shelves at dealerships.  We expect modest gains in new-vehicle sales in the first quarter, and by the second half of the year a much more robust market should emerge.”

This, of course, is dependent on things like the semiconductor issue to be solved, to say nothing of improvement in the logistics situation (i.e., shipping and trucking).

But the numbers for 2021 are improved over ’20, so. . . .

Premium Vehicle Perspective: Depends Where You Look

When looking at charts developed by French auto analyst firm Inovev of the sales of premium vehicles in the U.S., China and Europe for the first 11 months of 2021, there are a few surprises.

As in sales of 2 million in the U.S., 3 million in China and 2.5 million in Europe.

It’s not surprising that the number is higher in China than in the other two regions. After all, it has a population of 1.4 billion.

It is a little surprising that the numbers break as they do, given that the population in Europe is 748 million, which is about half of that in China and slightly more than twice the population in the U.S. The 500K increments seem strange given that.

Clearly wealth is not evenly distributed, with the U.S. having a higher proportion of its population capable of affording a premium vehicle.

But the surprising thing is the relative sales of the premium brands in the three markets.

The five three brands in the U.S. during this period are BMW, Lexus, Tesla, Mercedes and Audi. Then there is a slight falloff in numbers.

The top five brands in China are BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big decline (Audi is at over 600,000 units) to Tesla (at 240,000) and Cadillac.

In Europe it is BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big drop to Volvo (Audi: >500K; Volvo: 245K) and Tesla.

While there is consistency with BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and while Tesla is certainly on a roll, Lexus is something of an outlier. It doesn’t show up at all in the listing of sales in China and in Europe it is in ninth position, behind Lancia and just ahead of Jaguar, all of which are well below 100,000 units.

Lancia doesn’t show up at all in the sales tracking for the U.S. and China, and in the U.S. Jag is in last place and it is third from last in China.

Seems as though the German brands are consistently solid around the world while for everyone else it is somewhat random.

China Lifting Non-Domestic Ownership Rule

Right now (i.e., 12/28/21) a non-Chinese OEM that has an operation in China that isn’t building EVs can only operate through a 50-50 joint venture with a Chinese company.

In a few days (i.e., 1/1/22) that will change. Nikkei Asia reports that yesterday (i.e., 12/27/21) the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission lifted the requirement as of the first of January.

Right now, there is an array of OEMs that have 50-50 joint ventures with Chinese partners.

Does this mean that they’ll suddenly buy out their partners and go for the whole thing?

Probably not.

Why?

It is undoubtedly a good thing to have a Chinese partner who can help with indigenous issues that may not be recognized by someone who is not absolutely embedded in the country and its culture. Even though a company may have people who have been in a given country for a number of years (be it China, the U.S. or anywhere else), not everything that someone who has lived there all of their lives simply knows can be understood by someone who hasn’t had that experience.

While there may be increases in the level of ownership of the various OEMs for financial reasons, odds are things aren’t going to change on a wholesale basis.

Presumably the non-Chinese OEMs have worked to develop good relationships with their partners. So there isn’t a whole lot of upside to throwing a wrench in those works.

The global auto industry is simply getting a bit more global.

CES: Yes, People Are Still Getting COVID

By Gary S. Vasilash

Auto shows, for purposes of publicity, have become passe. In terms of allowing consumers to get a chance to see a vast array of brand-new vehicles, they are great. But when it comes to getting attention from reportorial outlets, vehicle manufacturers have increasingly run the numbers and concluded that the input (the money they spend) is far in excess of the output (the amount of coverage) at auto shows.

During the past few years, OEMs have glommed on to the fact that there is a big technology show held in Las Vegas at the start of January each year, CES.

This used to be the “Consumer Electronics Show.” But the show organizers have presumably decided that it is better to be as inclusive as possible, so by using three letters rather than descriptive words, they can get more exhibitors.

As the fortunes of traditional auto shows have waned, those of CES have waxed.

So more and more automotive OEMs and suppliers have decided that CES is a place they need to be.

It doesn’t hurt that they want to be perceived, for purposes of stock valuation, as being “tech companies,” something that is a bit more difficult to pull off at a traditional auto show.

So a number of OEMs have signed up for CES.

Last January CES was entirely virtual. That was when COVID-19 was raging.

This January CES is being held in person. This will be when COVID-19 is raging.

Some tech companies came to the realization that a jammed trade show with people from all around the world (159 countries) in attendance—even though attendees must show proof of vaccination, wear masks, and get test kits along with their badges—is not a good venue while hospitals are at the breaking point with COVID cases.

Twitter, T-Mobile, Amazon, Intel, Lenovo, Google, Microsoft and Meta dropped out. Tech media outlets including TechCrunch and The Verge said they wouldn’t put their people in harm’s way.

In the automotive space General Motors and Waymo have announced they’re not going to physically participate.

The CES organizers maintain that the show must go on.

Here’s something to know: as of December 26, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), 84.36% of the ICU beds in Nevada are in use, of which 21.85% are for COVID patients.

Of course, were someone to attend CES and become infected they would probably back in their home locale before they became really sick.

So it should be known that HHS stats have it that in the U.S., as of December 26, 75.34% of all ICU beds are in use, of which 21.28% are in use for COVID patients.

Wonder how the ventilator supply is holding up. . . .

To say nothing of the nurses, doctors, orderlies, technicians, cleaning personnel, and all the other people who keep our medical facilities running, people who have been going through unmitigated hell because there are people and organizations that evidently are self-centered.

Yes, yes, we’re all tired of the pandemic. Yes, yes, we all want to get back to things in person. Yes, yes, plenty of people have been vaccinated.

Yes, yes, these are not normal times. Some companies clearly understand that. They clearly understand the health and safety of their people (and by extension, people who would come in contact with them) are critically important.

When companies ranging from Amazon to GM to Waymo figure CES isn’t the place to be, (1) how can other companies not come to that conclusion and (2) how can the CES organizers not understand that fact?

Electric Vehicles Need Batteries. Battery Plants Need (Cheap) Electricity

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the key things needed for an electric vehicle is—surprise, surprise—batteries.

One of the things that OEMs are doing is not simply depending on suppliers to build the battery plants, but, in efforts to better control their supply chains, participating in the build of the factories with suppliers, such as GM and LG in Ohio and Ford and SK Innovation in Tennessee.

Ford’s $5.6 billion mega campus, BlueOval City, is not being built in Michigan. It will go up in Tennessee. One reason: electricity is cheaper there. (Image: Ford)

While GM and Ford are both headquartered in Michigan, they’ve not picked Michigan as a place to build a battery plant.

So, reports Bridge Michigan, on Wednesday the Michigan Public Service Commission voted to do something that could help make the state more appealing, and not just to the home-state OEMs:

Allow utility companies to offer industrial customers a reduced rate for electricity.

Presently industrial customers in Michigan pay 7.85 cents per kilowatt hour. Just across the border in Ohio the rate is 6.85 cents.

And for companies operating battery plants or semiconductor fabs, those pennies add up. Fast.

Polestar 2 Gets a Full-Blown Browser

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to statcounter, as of November, when it comes to browsers, Chrome has 66.35% of the global market. Then there is a drop WAY DOWN to 9.82%, Safari. So as you can imagine, the rest are below that.

One browser I’d not heard of is Vivaldi. According to the company, “Vivaldi launched in 2015 to make up for the loss of features in other browsers.” And it acknowledges that it is based on the Chromium engine.

Presumably, that makes it part of those Chrome stats.

Be that as it may, the browser is of interest because Polestar has released it for the Polestar 2. The deployment is described as a “full-scale web browser” that allows users “to browse the web as they might on their mobile devices.”

Said Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, CEO at Vivaldi, “We are really proud to introduce our browser to a car for the first time, and specifically with a brand like Polestar. Our technological and sustainability ambitions are well aligned. We value transparency, privacy and responsible innovation – including the fact that we have our servers in Iceland, one of Polestar’s newest markets. Like Polestar, we are a challenger brand, and we take a Scandinavian approach to design, that is based on trust and listening to our users.” Vivaldi is based in Norway.

The browser can be accessed through the vehicle’s 11-inch screen. It features a built-in ad blocker, privacy-friendly translation tool, notes function, tracking protection and encrypted sync functionality.

It is worth noting that the browser can only be used when parked. Files can be downloaded when parked. And if there is streaming and driving commences, it will be audio only.

In addition to sustainability, safety is another important item on the Polestar agenda.

Hispano Suiza?

By Gary S. Vasilash

The headline of the news release reads: “10 things you didn’t know about Hispano Suiza.”

And 10 is a profound minimization as I must confess to not even knowing that the company (founded in 1904, I learned) continued to exist.

King Alfonso XIII of Spain and his ride. (Image: Hispano Suiza)

Other items of interest:

  • It is a Spanish company
  • Its first vehicle is something called the Armored Type Birkigt System (1905)
  • It built airplane engines starting during World War I
  • King Alfonso XIII of Spain liked his 20CV so much that in 1910 he bought 8% of the company
  • The company announced it will be building two electric supercars, the Carmen and the Carmen Boulogne. “Carmen” comes from Carmen Mateu, granddaughter of the founder of the company and mother of the current head of Hispano Suiza. The company will build 24 cars.
  • Hispano Suiza is part of the Peralada Group, “which represents the pinnacle of luxury in gastronomy and entertainment through its global portfolio of casinos, restaurants, hotels, golf courses, vineyards, music festivals and marinas.”

That last item sounds more intriguing than the cars.

Fisker Goes NFT

The first auction starts December 22 @ 5 pm PST and runs for 24 hours. It may be over by now

By Gary S. Vasilash

“I’m a car designer by heart. I still draw my designs with a pen on paper, where I’m able to create a unique motion that leads to emotional lies, so the design ultimately feels like it’s created by a human, not a robot.”

That’s Henrik Fisker, founder and chief designer of the company that bears his name.

So oddly enough, the company is going to raise money—50% of which will go to nonprofits supporting corporate ESG principles—by auctioning off not Fisker drawing on paper but those drawings in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Fisker by Hand: OCEAN Concept Collection will be available in four tiers:

  • Ocean One: One copy
  • Extreme: 10 copies
  • Ultra: 25 copies
  • Sport: 64 copies

Ocean, of course, is the name of the company’s electric crossover, which is expected to go into production November 2022.

Those buying in the top three tiers will also get “redeemable benefits.” Things like. . .signed prints and even (for the person or, perhaps, organization who wins the bidding for Ocean One) an original work of art.

Why the NFT route? “I’m always looking for ways to strengthen our relationship with our customers, fans and stakeholders.”

The company, which is working hard to minimize the carbon footprint associated with its vehicles, points out that it is using Solana cryptocurrency on the Solana blockchain because it is “a proof-of-stake blockchain with far less environmental impact that proof-of-work blockchain.” Cryptocurrency tends to require a whole lot of electricity.

But here’s the thing: If he is going to put ink on paper, why not just auction that?

Arguably, by making a digital representation of his work Fisker is going more toward something that is, in effect, created by a robot.

Remarkable Rotary Engine and Agreeable NACTOY Jurors

Power in a small package. Jurors before casting their ballots

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Omega 1 is a highly efficient engine, one that can produce 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Yet it weighs just 35 pounds.

While it is a combustion engine, it doesn’t have pistons. Doesn’t have crankshafts.

Rather, the output from the engine comes from a single rotating power shaft.

Yes, the configuration of the engine is predicated on rotary motion. In fact there are no moving parts besides the rotational elements.

It can be fueled with gasoline or hydrogen.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we are joined by Matthew Riley, the founder, CEO of Astron Aerospace and inventor of the Omega 1 and Chris Theodore of Theodore & Associates and technical advisor to Astron.

They explain the way this engine works.

Astron Omega 1. Looks complicated. But simpler and lighter than a reciprocating engine. (Image: Astron Aerospace)

Given the name of the company, there is a focus on use in aircraft applications. For example, drone use would be certainly something that this lightweight engine would lend itself to.

But it also is conceivably applicable to automotive applications: Think of how it could be used to power a vehicle using hydrogen as fuel—there would be no need for a fuel cell to transform the hydrogen.

Then on the second half of the show “Autoline’s” John McElroy and I are joined by Matt DeLorenzo of Kelley Blue Book and Jack Nerad of “America on the Road Radio.” All four of us are jurors for the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) awards and will soon be voting on the winners for the 2022 awards.

The finalists are:

CAR

  • Honda Civic
  • Lucid Air
  • Volkswagen GTI/Golf R

TRUCK

  • Ford Maverick
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • Rivian R1T

UTILITY

  • Ford Bronco
  • Genesis GV 70
  • Hyundai IONIQ 5

The four of us discuss which vehicles are likely to win.

The surprising part of the discussion is how much agreement there is, with little in the way of dispute.

But you be the judge by watching it here.