What Comes After RX?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lexus has revealed the 2023 RZ 450e, the brand’s first electric vehicle. Like the RX—which it undoubtedly hopes the RZ will follow in the tire treads of—it is a crossover.

(The RX isn’t going anywhere, of course. It continues to be the linchpin of Lexus. In Q1 in the U.S. Lexus sold 64,365 vehicles, of which 26,795 were RXes.)

Lexus plans to have an electric version of all types of its vehicles by 2030 and to have full EV sales on a global basis by 2035.

So the RZ is the start of what promises to be an unfurling ribbon of new products powered by electricity.

Driven

One of the things that Lexus is touting for the vehicle is the DIRECT4 all-wheel drive system that basically distributes torque based on factors including speed, acceleration and steering angle. The distribution ranges from 100% to the front to 100% to the rear depending on conditions.

This is what the steering wheel of the future (as in late 2022) will look like: Inside the Lexus RZ 450 e. (Image: Lexus)

The vehicle has motors on both the front (201 hp) and rear (107 hp) axles (for a total of 308 hp). Cleverly, so as to keep things going smoothly even should someone mash the accelerator, there is a front-to-rear drive force ratio distribution between 60:40 and 40:60– there is said to be a linear feel as a result.

Also in this smoothness realm is the use of Frequency Reactive Dampers that work to adjust the force on the extension stroke so as to provide handling and comfort. (The objective is to create a drivable vehicle for those who like to imagine that they’re piloting the vehicle [which could go to the point of the available rectangular steering wheel, which looks like it could be in a flight deck] as well as for those who buy a luxury vehicle because they want to feel cossetted.)

And while on the subject of steering, know that there is a steer-by-wire system deployed and the steering control is setup so that the need for hand-over-hand steering movements is minimized. (One thing the shape of the geometric steering device does: maximizes visibility of the control panel.)

As an EV, there is the key question regarding range. The vehicle has a 71.4-kWh battery and it will provide an estimated range of 225 miles.

The RZ 450e will be available late this year.

Mark Reuss on GM’s Electric Transformation

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it is now common to hear people say the auto industry is undergoing the biggest transformation since it became an industry rather than an undertaking by a whole bunch of people who were taking a flyer at building cars—most of whom moved on to other things, including bankruptcy court—unlike many other things that everyone says, it really is true:

Uniformly—from the US to Europe to Asia—OEMs are spending billions of dollars to transform their operations from being focused on vehicles that burn gasoline to vehicles that run on electricity.

Think about that for a moment: These are companies that have been essentially doing one thing for decades: developing and producing internal combustion engines. Yes, these engines get wrapped and outfitted with the other things that make up a car or truck. But when it comes to what makes one vehicle manufacturer different than another has long been thought to be their engine technology.

(One could make the argument that this was changed by Toyota when high quality became a metric that appealed to buyers, and while that is undoubtedly true for a percentage of vehicle buyers, there are still those who want a HEMI or an EcoBoost. BMW didn’t proclaim itself to be the producer of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” because of the shape of its grill; it was what’s behind the grill that mattered.)

General Motors is in the process of spending some $35-billion on EVs—a spend by 2025. The company plans to have capacity to build 1-million EVs by that time. By 2030 it plans to have 50% of its North American production capacity dedicated to EV production.

This work being undertaken at GM isn’t just designing and engineering the vehicles, but in developing the batteries that go into them (Ultium batteries). Think about that for a moment: the batteries store the energy that power vehicles analogously to gasoline in a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. GM didn’t get into the gasoline business. In addition to which, GM announced that it is spending $750-million in North America to build out charging stations. Again, there are no gas pumps that have GM logos on them.

But this is the level of transformation that the automaker is undertaking.

On this special edition of “Autoline After Hours” GM president Mark Reuss spend the hour talking to John McElroy and me about the corporation’s electric transformation. It is an in-depth discussion of the changes that the company is proactively making. Reuss explains why they are making batteries, how they are competing in the EV market, why vertical integration matters, why vehicle-to-grid is an important development, and more.

And you can see it all here.

Electrify America & VinFast

Electrify America is the largest network of electric vehicle fast-charging facilities in the United States. As of today the company has 750 stations and 81 more in the works. Electrify America is investing billions in building out stations and providing education about zero-emissions vehicles. On the one hand, as this is a growing segment it makes good business sense. But on the other, the $2-billion designated for spending is predicated on a legal finding that goes back to the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, so it was perhaps a good coincidence in some ways for Volkswagen Group (i.e., as it produces more electric vehicles, it has the means by which they can be charged).

But Electrify America isn’t a VW-only network. Most companies that have an EV offering have established a relationship with it, including: Audi, BMW, Byton, Fisker, Ford, Hyundai, Lucid, Kia, Mercedes, Polestar, Porsche, Volvo, and, yes, VW.

Today Electrify America added another OEM to its list: VinFast, the Vietnam-based OEM that announced late in March that it will build an assembly plant for its electric SUVs in North Carolina.

VinFast operates a plant in Hai Phong, Vietnam, at present. Production in North Carolina is anticipated in Q3 of 2024.

The company says it will have global availability of its VF 8 and VF 9 EVs this year.

A car company operating a charging network. A Vietnamese company building a car plant in North Carolina.

Yes, electric vehicles are changing the world in many ways.

An Electric Transformation at The Shyft Group

By Gary S. Vasilash

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize generally have names like “Ford” or “Mercedes.”

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize for who is driving them, like FedEx or UPS, but don’t know who made them, are companies like The Shyft Group, which is a specialty vehicle manufacturer that produces trucks that are used by commercial companies and municipalities and the like.

The company has long specialized in special builds. It has some 3,800 employees in facilities that stretch from Maine to California.

And odds are, you’ve not heard of it unless you are involved some way in logistics. Or you happen to own a vehicle that has rolled out of Spartan RV Chassis.

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One of the consequences of the pandemic is that there is a considerable increase in the number of last-mile deliveries, whether this takes the form of Amazon Prime or Uber Eats.

According to the World Economic Forum, in 2020 there was a 25% rise in consumer e-ecommerce deliveries, which is far from a non-trivial rise. And presumably that has done nothing but increase in the subsequent months.

In addition, the WEC found that there have been increasing commitments by both companies and municipalities to make emissions-free deliveries. Switching away from gasoline and diesel fuel.

Consequently, this has led to the increase in the development and availability of electric trucks.

No, we’re not talking about Ford Lightnings, but in cargo vehicles.

The Shyft Group, having made thousands of vehicles with internal combustion engines for these commercial and municipal applications, has recently launched a new division, Blue Arc, and along with it announced the development of an electric Class 3 delivery vehicle.

Blue Arc EV chassis (Image: Blue Arc)

The vehicle ranges from 14 to 18 feet in length and provides payload capacities up to 5,000 pounds.

It is working with proven suppliers, such as Proterra for its batteries and Dana for its e-axle.

The Blue Arc vehicle was designed from the ground up, and as Shyft has customers in the cargo-delivery space, its designers and engineers created a vehicle that can be readily integrated into those customer operations.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Daryl Adams, CEO of the Shyft Group, talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Mark Williams, and me about how the development of the Blue Arc truck occurred—in a really fast nine months.

Adams describes Blue Arc as the “anti-startup startup,” as it knows the jobs to be done and has built the truck to do them.

It is an interesting discussion of how a company that has a long-standing customer base recognizes the changing needs of those customers and has quickly changed to help address those needs.

And you can see it all here.

Question About Charging Location

When Volvo and Starbucks announced a partnership last month for electric vehicle charging, it seemed reasonable.

ChargePoint DC fast chargers would be installed at up to 15 Starbucks outlets between Seattle and Denver. So when someone needed to get some “juice” they could also get some “joe.” (Admittedly corny but irresistible.)

In the case of a Volvo C40 Recharge, the battery could go from a 20% state of charge to 90% in about 40 minutes with a fast charger.

Hanging out at a Starbucks for 40 minutes is certainly the sort of thing that people do.

Which brings us to an announcement made by Chase, as in the bank, that it is partnering with EVgo. The two will install 50 EVgo chargers at 50 Chase branch locations.

This arrangement will offer 100-kW and 350-kW chargers which can bring vehicles up to an 80% charge in from 15 to 40 minutes.

Does anyone spend that amount of time at a bank?

A Bright Aspect of the U.K.’s Dour March Sales

Although passenger vehicle sales in the U.K. were down 14.3% in March compared to March 2021 at a total 243,479 units.

The U.S. sales were, according to LMC Automotive, on the order of 1.25 million units in March, the automotive consulting firm notes that compared to March 2021 that is a decrease of 22%, so the Brits are better on that score.

What is most notable about the U.K. vehicle registration numbers, as reported by SMMT: Battery electric vehicle sales were 39,315 units, or 16.1% of all vehicles sold. That is a 78.7% increase over the number of EVs sold there in March ’21.

Other categories:

Diesel:                    13,736 units           -55.2% (from March ’21)

Petrol:                     102,349                  -25.6%

MHEV diesel:          11,569                    -50.3%

MHEV petrol:          32,716                    4.0%

PHEV:                     16,037                    -7.5%

HEV:                       27,737                    28.4%

In other words, only EVs, mild gasoline hybrids and hybrids saw an increase. Those three categories of vehicles represent 40.9% of the total market in March ’22.

Things are certainly changing in the U.K.

The best-selling vehicle in the U.K. in March? The Tesla Model Y. And that’s of all powertrains. Number 2? The Tesla Model 3.

Enough said.

Hertz Getting More EVs: Good for Them. Tricky for Renters.

The Polestar 2, when plugged into a DC fast charger, can go from 10 to 80% of charge in 33 minutes. If using a Level 2 charger, it is about eight hours to get to 100%.

Imagine the clock running. . . .

Rental car company Hertz and Polestar have announced that during the next five years the vehicle manufacturer will be selling Hertz some 65,000 vehicles, starting with the Polestar 2.

Hertz announced in October 2021 that it would be sourcing 100,000 Model 3s from Tesla.

Clearly the company is making a commitment to electric vehicles.

The company reported that in Q4 2021 it had a total of 470,900 vehicles, of which 384,492 are in the Americas.

Here’s the thing: Whether it is someone who has rented a vehicle for making business calls or who has one for a family vacation, isn’t is almost always the case that in order to avoid paying exceedingly high refueling rates there is a last-minute run to a gas station before dropping the vehicle off, even if that station is one of those that is on the edge of the airport and so has comparatively high per-gallon prices?

Further, isn’t it almost always the situation—vocational or avocational—that people are running to the edge of the time schedule for the flight departure? (Let’s not even go to the baggage check and the TSA process.)

Imagine the clock running. . . .

How are EVs going to work out for those people?

Probably not very well.

Why You May Not Be Getting That New Vehicle Anytime Soon

“The preliminary assessment from S&P Global Mobility for global auto production and sales levels continues to develop, but the current geopolitical events put pressure on an already delicate auto industry situation. Given additional uncertainty surrounding some important raw materials used in the production of semiconductors out of Ukraine and Russia, an initial assessment results in an assumption that several semiconductor plants will be forced to run intermittently at suboptimal speeds between the third quarter of 2022 and the second quarter of 2023, which in turn results in a further downgrade of global light vehicle production levels.  Lower production levels will create an even more untenable new vehicle inventory situation resulting in a downgrade to US light vehicle sales expectations.  As reflected in the S&P Global Mobility March 2022 forecast release, our initial impact removes approximately 250,000 units from our CY2022 US sales expectation and just over 300,000 units from our CY2023 projection, resulting in expected annual volume totals of 15.2M and 16.6M respectively.”– Chris Hopson, manager, North American light vehicle forecast, S&P Global Mobility

Maybe next year. . .

Cars, COVID & Dealers

Two out of three repeat vehicle buyers said they would stay with the brand of their current vehicle (a.k.a., “brand loyalty”) but it turns out that two out of three repeat car buyers. . .buy a different brand.

So finds a survey from Chase Auto. (As in “Chase” the financial institution, which explains its interest in the habits of vehicular consumption.)

One not-particularly-surprising finding is that 45% of people are driving less than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seems that the amount of driving is about to increase, as 53% say that they’ve got a road trip planned. And somewhat related to that is a finding that two out of five people are using their own vehicle for travel rather than an alternative (presumably train, plane, bus) because 80% of them say it makes them feel safer.

Chase Auto found some encouraging news for dealers, as 77% say that they want to visit a dealer and test drive a vehicle and a huge 85% want to pick up their car at the dealership.

That really seems odd.

However, “57% want to talk in-person to a knowledgeable salesperson.”

Shouldn’t that number be a lot higher?

Talking Tech With NVIDIA

By Gary S. Vasilash

NVIDIA is a company that was once familiar primarily to gamers because of the GPU chips that it had developed that made rendering both fast and highly detailed.

Now NVIDIA is as familiar to those in the auto world, as it is working with Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes, Volvo and more.

Lucid Motors is using NVIDIA tech in its Air. BYD has announced it is working with the company, as well.

NVIDIA developing maps for autonomous driving operations. (Image: NVIDIA)

What’s interesting is that these companies are using NVIDIA tech to build systems that provide the characteristics that they are looking for to make their vehicles distinctive.

NVIDIA is not merely producing processors that have massive processing capability—the Jetson Orion operates at up to 275 TOPS—that’s trillion operations per second—but it is developing software that will help facilitate autonomous driving operations.

The company has developed a mapping system that not only features information collected by specific vehicles, but which takes in crowdsourced information so that there is an accurate representation of what is going on: say a construction zone has popped up since that information was collected. The system has it.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” NVIDIA vice president of Automotive Danny Shapiro discusses what the company is doing and how it is doing it.

Arguably NVIDIA is at the forefront of developing the technology that will change transportation in many ways.

He talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me.

And during the second half of the show McElroy, White and I discuss a variety of topics, including the opening of the Tesla plant in Berlin, the speculation that Porsche might build the long-rumored Apple car, the announced range of the Ford F-150 Lighting, and a variety of other subjects.

And you can see it all here.