Thinking About Buying a New Vehicle? Think Hard

. . .because (a) you’re going to be spending more than you might think and (b) you may be buying something that you aren’t necessarily considering

By Gary S. Vasilash

If you’re thinking about buying a new car, ute or truck—and “new” may mean “new to you,” as in “used”—then you ought to hear what Charlie Chesbrough, senor economist and senior director of industry insights for Cox Automotive has to say about the current market conditions.

As Cox Automotive encompasses a variety of businesses that know more than a little something about, as they say, the conditions on the ground—as in Kelley Blue Book and Manheim Actions—Chesbrough’s observations and understanding are grounded in what’s really happening, not some theoretically calculations.

The fundamental thing is this: Although it might seem that COVID is behind us, that everything, with a few hitches here and there, is getting back to normal, that is far from being the case with regard to the availability of some things. Things like motor vehicles.

This is because COVID helped cause a semiconductor chip shortage. In part this came from everyone working or playing from home, which led to a sudden demand for PCs and PlayStations, both of which use silicon.

Because the auto companies faced shutdowns of their factories last year, they canceled their orders with the semiconductor providers, who then readily found anxious customers who were making things like PCs and PlayStations.

So the vehicle manufacturers had to go to the end of the line.

It is also worth noting that some of the chips that go into vehicles don’t have the types of margins that chips that go into other products do, so the semiconductor manufacturers realized that they’d do well by just serving the non-automotive customers fulsomely while providing the auto manufacturers—who are famously thrifty when it comes to paying suppliers—with a reduced number of chips.

This has led to two things, Chesbrough notes:

  1. Overall reduced number of available vehicles
  2. Overall increases in the prices being charged for vehicles—new and used

While the first part of the year seemed to be improving when it came to the availability of vehicles (relatively speaking—2020 was a horrible year for sales and 2021 was an improvement on that), things have gone south since then.

Chesbrough suggests that things won’t get back to what may be considered “normal” until sometime next year (if at all).

At present, OEMs are concentrating on putting chips in vehicles that are high-ticket items, which is good for returns, but which put many consumers in a bind (unless they are high-end buyers).

There are some companies, like Ford, which are recommending that people order vehicles, something common in Europe but not a practice that is at the basis of the auto market as it has developed in the U.S., which is all about moving the metal.

Chesbrough talks to Keith Naughton of Bloomberg, Joe White of Reuters and me on the show.

In addition to which, Naughton, White and I talk about Ford’s massive investments in electric vehicle/battery manufacturing capacity in Kentucky and Tennessee—and how Michigan didn’t even make a proposal for the investments, as well as about GM’s Investor Day presentations, which were clearly designed to make Wall Street look at GM more as a “tech company” with a wide range of product in the pipeline and technology and capacity that will make money sooner rather than later.

And you can see it all

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Lincoln Approaches 100

Yet it is working to maintain freshness and relevance in the market by paying attention to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the aspects of vehicle ownership that probably doesn’t receive as much attention as it ought to is the act of ownership itself.

As in purchasing the vehicle. Then the on-going owning of the vehicle.

To be sure, the product itself has to be worth acquiring. Features, functions, capabilities and the like. Style and technology.

Lincoln, which is now predicated on a lineup of SUVs, is going to be launching an electric vehicle next year and will be offering a fully electrified lineup by 2030.

Lincoln is readying the launch of the Lincoln Intelligence System, a cloud-based system that provides extensive capabilities for its vehicles, including over-the-air updates.

Lincoln will soon be launching its Lincoln ActiveGlide hands-free driving system.

And there is more.

But one of the more interesting aspects of what Lincoln has been steadily doing is providing excellent customer—it calls its purchasers “clients”—service. According to a recent J.D. Power survey, Lincoln is number-one in sales satisfaction among luxury brands.

2022 Lincoln Navigator (Image: Lincoln)

It has developed what it calls the “Lincoln Way,” which is a customer-centric approach to the buying and ownership experience, which it is initially launching in China—an important market for the brand—and then will roll out in North America.

Michael Sprague is Lincoln’s North America Director, which means he is in charge of marketing, sales and service for the marque in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Sprague talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about what Lincoln is doing to help increase the momentum that it is building with not only vehicles like the Navigator, but with its approach to the customer both during and after the sale.

Sprague is one of the most thoughtful and articulate people in the industry, so his observations about the brand—which will be 100 next year (at least will have been part of Ford for 100 years, since it was founded by Henry M. Leland in 1917, and he sold it to Ford in 1922. . .and it is worth noting that Leland had earlier founded another company: Cadillac)—are worthwhile for those with interest in the industry.

In addition to which, McElroy and I talk with Patrick Lindemann, president, Transmission Systems, E-Mobility, Schaeffler, and John Waraniak, CEO, Have Blue, about the Indy Autonomous Challenge, which will be run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 23.

This race will pit 10 vehicles, all Dallara AV-21s, that have been engineered by student teams from around the world, in a race with $1-million going to the winning team.

No, it will not go to the winning driver, because as the name of the race indicates, there are no drivers, this is an autonomous event.

And you can see all of this right here.

How Hyundai Is Becoming a Mobility Company, Explained

Explained with a remarkable level of enthusiasm by Olabisi Boyle

By Gary S. Vasilash

Without question, Hyundai is one of the most innovative companies in the automotive industry right now. The company has on offer vehicles with traditional engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electrics, and even fuel-cells. It has a joint venture with autonomous tech supplier Aptiv that’s called “Motional” that is developing self-driving vehicle tech. It has an urban air mobility operation that is developing that mode of transport.

If it is just a consideration of what it has on the road in terms of its cars and utilities, the level of design exceeds that of most any other automaker that isn’t providing vehicles that start at six-figure levels.

And while it once was that its quality was cringe—worthy, in the 2021 J.D. Power U.D. Vehicle Dependability Study Hyundai ranks seventh and is well above average.

Hyundai’s Boyle: Helping make the transformation to mobility. (Image: Hyundai)

To learn more about the company, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Olabisi Boyle, vice president of Product Planning and Mobility Strategy for Hyundai Motor North America.

Her duties range from short-term planning to pricing, from analytics to strategy.

Boyle joined HMNA from Visa, where she had been the vice president of Connected Commerce.

As she explains to freelance writer Nicole Wakelin, Jeff Gilbert of WWJ 950, and me, she was recruited by Visa because they were interested in her background—which includes some 20 years at both Ford and what was then Fiat Chrysler. (She had been the chief engineer of the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.)

Notable for anyone in any industry, Boyle has a B.S. in industrial engineering from Columbia University, a M.S. in mechanical engineering from Columbia, and a B.S. in physics from Fordham University.

Just looking at her resume gives you the clear notion that this is someone who is really about achievement.

And the level of enthusiasm that she has is absolutely refreshing, as you clearly get the sense that she not only enjoys what she is doing, but that she recognizes that what she is doing is beneficial, not only for Hyundai, but for society at large (e.g., there are big efforts being made in the arena of using hydrogen for not only vehicles, but for other energy applications; this is a means by which there can be a significant reduction in carbon emissions).

You can see the interview with Boyle—as well as a discussion afterwards on a variety of topics, from EVs to the J.D. Power APEAL study—right here.

Oktobertfest 2021 Was Canceled. The Auto Show Wasn’t

An inside look at IAA Mobility. Yes, the German auto show

By Gary S. Vasilash

The event formerly—for almost 70 years—known as “the Frankfurt Motor Show” is no more, as this year the event is officially titled “IAA Mobility,” and it moved about four hours southeast by car to Munich.

According to the organizers, the thesis of the event is “Mobility is the foundation for freedom, prosperity, and encounters. We face new challenges daily, such as urbanization, climate change, and digitization. But instead of borders, we recognize the call for action. It is up to us to go new ways, ask questions, and find answers.”

Which doesn’t sound like, well, an auto show as they have long existed.

Concept Mercedes-Maybach EQS: Do the 1% like garish grilles on EVs? (Image: Mercedes)

So to get some insights on the event, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” “Autoline’s” John McElroy and Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET, both of whom were at the media days of IAA Mobility, talk with me about what they saw, the vehicles that they found to be of interest. (I wasn’t there.)

One interesting observation that they make is that while there were certainly plenty of introductions by the German car companies—like the Concept Mercedes-Maybach EQS, an electric vehicle that is for, well, the Maybach set; the BMW i Vision Circular, which McElroy points out has a clever approach to the traditional kidney grille, as it basically fills the front end in tasteful matter, not something garishly slapped on the nose; and the Volkswagen ID.Life, a small city car that Paukert notes is unlikely to be able to ever come to the U.S. due to the homologation requirements—the footprint of the show was far different than that of the Frankfurt venue.

In addition to which, we talk about the speed with which Tesla makes changes to its systems (e.g., electrical architecture) and whether traditional OEMs have the capability to catching up, whether those traditional OEMs should combine their mainstream powertrain operations into an independent standalone company and take the savings from the elimination of the cost of their individual ops to spend on things like electrification, and more.

All of which you can see here.

Developing the 2022 Nissan Frontier

It was a long time coming. Here’s how they delivered

By Gary S. Vasilash

If you go way back in time—to 1959—Nissan (a.k.a., Datsun) introduced its first compact pickup truck in the U.S., the Datsun 220.

Which is to say that the company isn’t a stranger to the segment or the market.

1997 saw the first-generation Nissan Frontier pickup, which was offered as a 1998 model year truck.

The second-generation Frontier, a MY 2005 unit, was introduced in 2004.

And while there have been modifications and improvements over the years, there wasn’t a third-generation Frontier until now, the MY 2022 Frontier.

Third-generation, 2022 Nissan Frontier. (Image: Nissan)

The Frontier is in a segment that has certainly changed during its history. Both GM and Ford had midsize products, which they both removed from the market before re-entering it.

Toyota, with its Tacoma, has just kept at it, year after year, leading the segment in sales.

As this is an important segment for all involved, Melaina Vasko, Vehicle Performance Manager, Nissan Frontier, says that as they developed the 2022 model they were certainly cognizant of the competition, but, at the same time, they were not going to overlook the fact that during its run to date there have been more than four million Frontiers sold in the U.S.

So she and her development team spent time learning from customers, learning what they wanted and thinking about what they could bring them.

One of the things people are absolutely interested in is a truck that can fit into a garage. The Frontier with a short wheelbase is 210.2 inches long; the long-wheelbase version is 224.1 inches. The vehichle is either 73 or 74.7 inches wide (the more rugged trims have brawnier shoulders); the height variations range from 71.6 to 72.9 inches. There are two bed sizes: 59.5 inches for the standard version and a 72.7-inch long bed.

Vasko explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” how the 22 Frontier was developed with an eye toward providing capability, drivability, comfort, technology, and style, and how these are addressed with the new vehicle.

She talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research, and me.

It is notable that this is a vehicle that was a long time coming, longer than most vehicles that you can probably think of.

Consequently, the amount of attention to the execution is certainly something that is different than, say, a model that is turned over every five years.

One of the things that Vasko told her team, one of the things that should be important to anyone in any endeavor, is simply this: “Try.”

When things seemed more than difficult, perhaps teetering on the edge of what might be considered impossibility, they were encouraged to try.

Without trying, they wouldn’t have been able to deliver on the 2022 Frontier.

And you can see the show right here.

Safer Is Better

Technologies that are beneficial when you’re behind the wheel or simply a rider

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the factors of an electric vehicle that is often overlooked—unless you happen to be a first responder—is that when there is an accident and the vehicle needs to be quickly accessed, said vehicle can be “hot”—not (necessarily) a battery fire—but as regards the electrical current that is running through the vehicle.

Device is pyrotechnically actuated to severe the high-voltage line in an EV should there be an accident. (Image: Joyson Safety Systems)

So to address this potential hazard, Joyson Safety Systems developed a pyrotechnic device that is triggered by a vehicle’s ECU in the event of an accident and cuts the electric high voltage connection within a matter of milliseconds.

This is just one of the clever products that has been developed by Joyson. Some of these devices are in use on vehicles right now (e.g., Tesla put that high voltage electric line cutter into vehicles in 2017; the system that monitors whether a driver is paying attention when GM’s Super Cruise is activated is a Joyson development, as well).

So to discuss these and other developments, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we are joined by Jason Lisseman, vice president, Global Product Line, Integrated Safety Systems, Joyson Safety Systems. Lisseman talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Bengt Halvorson of Green Car Reports, and me.

One of the more interesting—and unusual, though absolutely useful—developments Lisseman describes is a sensor that detects and classifies the air quality within a vehicle.  As he explains, as there are shared, autonomous vehicles, it may be that whomever was in the vehicle before you was rather, um, fragrant, and so having a sensor that will be able to make a determination that the interior is odiferous and need some attention before other passengers climb in can make a big difference.

In addition, McElroy, Halvorson and I discuss a variety of other issues, including the GM battery problem with the Bolts, public charging issues and much more.

Which you can see right here.

Mobility in Michigan

The auto industry is changing. And Michigan is doing so right along with it

By Gary S. Vasilash

To be sure, the world is chasing advanced mobility solutions, things that will include cars and trucks as we know them—more or less—as well as other modes of transportation, be they electric scooters or air taxis.

Of the places in the world where this is probably focused on more than almost anywhere else is Michigan, given that the southeastern part of the state is where cars and trucks as we know them originally emerged in sufficient numbers that, well, we know them. (While Henry Ford didn’t “invent” the automobile nor the truck, what he did do was create a system whereby those things became accessible to regular people: manufacturing operations may not be the sexiest of things, that’s how Ford, as the phrase has it, “put the world on wheels.”)

Detroit Smart Parking Lab (Image: Ford)

Certainly there are other places where mobility is of intense interest, whether it is Silicon Valley or Stuttgart.

So the state of Michigan appointed its first chief mobility officer, Trevor Pawl. And we have him on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Pawl’s undertakings in this position are wide ranging.

For example, the State announced it is working with Ford, Bedrock and Bosch to launch what is described as “the nation’s first-of-its-kind, real-world test site for emerging parking technology.” Yes, parking. It is the “Detroit Smart Parking Lab.”

About a year ago the state announced that it would be building what is described as “a first-in-the-nation connected and autonomous vehicle corridor” between Detroit and Ann Arbor, again working with a number of partners (including Ford—that company is serious about the future of transportation).

And Pawl and his team are working on the ways and means to get seniors and the disabled to where they need to go. They are working on the build-out of charging infrastructure.

And a whole lot more.

Pawl talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley of IHS Markit, and me on the show.

And you can see it all here.

Charging EVs With Green Energy

An invention that could make more people use environmentally benign charging for their electric vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

While some people buy electric vehicles because they are fashionable or because they like the performance or because they detest the smell of gasoline and beef jerky, some other people buy EVs because they are environmentally sensitive and have read studies or heard that guy in a Starbucks holding forth about how EVs are better for the environment than combustion cars.

While that is true—or so the studies and the guy in Starbucks seem to indicate—there is also an issue that these people need to take into account, which is that a lot of electricity is generated by activities like burning coal. Again, while in the long run the EV—even with the sketchy source of power—is better for the environment, there is better. . .and there is better.

And Jim Bardia of Change Wind Corp. has the proverbial better idea.

It is generating electricity for electric vehicles with wind and/or solar power.

While that in itself is not unique, the approach he is taking certainly is.

(The name of his unit isn’t particularly exceptional, however: Wind & Solar Powered Tower.)

He has designed a wind mill that, unlike the pinwheel style we’re all familiar with from charming postcards from Holland or those unsightly windfarms outside of Palm Springs, are axially oriented: think of a can with sections cut out that is centered on a post stuck in the ground that spins when the wind blows. More: the top of the setup is covered with photovoltaic cells that catch the sun. The post is hollow so all of the collected energy is sent down to the equipment at the bottom (including battery storage) that allows electric vehicle charging.

(OK: if you’re thinking about a can on a stick that somehow was engineered to generate electricity, that would be a scale that might work with a Hot Wheels car. Barida is talking about something that is, well, massive, for grown-up vehicles, as in generating 52.2 kW per hour and being capable of an output of 480-volt DC fast charging.)

In this arrangement the devices can be located in parking lots of everything from car dealerships to shopping malls to football stadia.

While it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the “grid” (which, as many people have learned this summer, isn’t exactly the most robust of things), Bardia says that it is beneficial to connect to it because excess power can be sold back to the utilities.

Bardia talks about this clever idea on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET, and me.

And Paukert, McElroy and I talk about a number of other issues, including whether Geely is one of the most interesting vehicle companies in the world, the Biden plan for 50% EVs by 2030 and the EPA regs that may make >30% EVs by 2030 a necessity for OEMs, and a whole lot more.

All of which you can see here.

Why 2030 Isn’t Going to Be All That Different from 2020

Yes, there will be more electric vehicles. But not all EVs. So internal combustion engines need improvement.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bosch, Sujit Jain, president, Powertrain Solutions for Passenger Cars, Commercial & Off-Road, and Electric Vehicles at the company’s North American operations, points out, has been advancing—and producing—technologies for the auto industry essentially for as long as there has been an auto industry.

And today isn’t any different.

The company is not only making massive investments for developing and utilizing Industry 4.0 capabilities, but it is investing heavily in the development and production of everything from microprocessors and fuel cells in order to advance the functionalities and performance in the auto industry.

It is committed to the electrification of vehicles, whether this makes the form of hybrids, full battery electrics or fuel cell powered vehicles.

But while Jain says company projections have it that the number of battery electric vehicles in the U.S. will grow from about 2% of the market in 2020 to 30% by 2030, that still leaves 70%, the large percentage of being combustion engines. Yes, they may be hybrids, but there is still gasoline or diesel being burned.

So one of the things that Jain and his colleagues are doing is developing the ways and means to increase the efficiency of those engines, both in terms of performance and emissions reduction.

Some of the things that they are pursing, Jain says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” include synthetic fuels, electrically heated catalysts to reduce cold-start emissions, and hydrogen fuel injection (i.e., instead of a hydrogen fuel cell, this would be a combustion engine running on hydrogen).

Jain talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Kelsey Mays of Cars.com, and me on this show.

After Jain’s segment, the three of us talk about a variety of subjects, including former Nikola head Trevor Milton being charged with three counts of criminal fraud related to the company he founded; Tesla’s Q2 financials ($1.14-billion in GAAP net income), the possible consequences of it opening up its charging network to other brands, and the move from upscale-shopping districts for its stores and galleries to lower-end real estate; Magna’s growth and technological breadth; and more.

And you can see it all here.

Recycling Li-Ion Batteries

Sure, the electric vehicle market is growing. But there’s the non-trivial issue of critical materials for the batteries for all of those new cars, trucks and SUVs. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

Ajay Kochhar, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle, points out something that should give everyone a bit of pause when it comes to the burgeoning electric vehicle market: In 2013 there were three electric vehicle battery plants. In 2021 there are 225 existing on the way.

According to the Critical Materials Institute, which is under the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the definition of critical material is: “Any substance used in technology that is subject to supply risks, and for which there are no easy substitutes.”

Things like lithium used in batteries. Or nickel. Or cobalt.

Lots of battery plants. Not a whole lot of readily available—to say nothing of environmentally available (mining is not necessarily conducted in places where there is more concern with getting the stuff out of the ground than how that ground will be after the important stuff is removed in an environmentally benign manner)—critical materials.

Kochhar and his colleague Tim Johnson once worked on the lithium-extraction part of the business, Kochhar says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” He also points out that there is a whole lot of work that occurs between the extraction of lithium and it ending up in a battery (here’s something amusing: cylindrical cells are sometimes referred to as “jellyrolls” and the pouch-style batteries as “chocolate bars”).

So Kochhar and Johnson established Li-Cycle, which is dedicated to recycling lithium-ion batteries in a safe manner.

(image: GM)

Kochhar says that they are able to recover approximately 95% of the important materials—like lithium, nickel and cobalt—from the batteries, which can then go back into the production of new batteries.

This past May Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, announced that it had selected Li-Cycle to recycle up to 100 percent of the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing from its battery-manufacturing facility in Ohio. This will include things like offcuts and scrap, which, Kochhar says, may be comparatively small, but given that the plant in Lordstown will have a capacity of >30 gWh, it is a non-trivial amount.

While Kochhar acknowledges that even within the next 10 years the amount of recycled critical materials from batteries will be limited—perhaps no more than 20%–there is an important need to do this.

Kochhar talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joann Muller of Axios What’s Next, and me.

And you can see it here.