Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis on the Transition to Electric

By Gary S. Vasilash

Perhaps more controversial than Dylan going electric in 1965. . .

If you think about “Dodge,” you have a pretty good idea of what it is: A lineup of muscle cars. It is a brand that has pared itself down to an essence, as things like the Journey and Caravan have gone away, leaving the bulk of the brand on the shoulders of two vehicles, the Charger and the Challenger. (The Durango is still in the showroom.)

The positioning of the brand is unapologetically the “Brotherhood of Muscle,” although all genders are encompassed within the club.

Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept: Dodge goes electric. (Image: Dodge)

One might think that this whole muscle car thing is an anachronism. HEMI engines don’t seem to a thing that would resonate in the age of Greta Thunberg.

However, in the first half of 2022, Dodge outsold Chrysler, Fiat and Alfa Romeo combined: 84,761 to 73,010.

There is a defined niche of buyers for whom muscle cars matter. And they buy them.

Although the platform underpinning the Charger and Challenger is, by contemporary standards, vintage, the people at Dodge have kept things going by introducing special editions and packages for the cars (e.g., the SCAT Pack Swinger, a tribute to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s).

Tim Kuniskis is the CEO of Dodge. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” he explains how Dodge will keep being propelled forward with cars even though he admits “cars are dead”—albeit dead for those who don’t necessarily consider their vehicles to be a representative of who they are. The Brotherhood of Muscle knows what matters to them and prove it every day.

Still, Kuniskis and his team are fully aware that the market is changing, moving away from HEMIs to electric propulsion.

So rather than pretending that it is otherwise, they have rolled out with “Last Call” editions of the Charger and Challenger and revealed the bad-ass battery electric Charger Daytona SRT Concept.

They are putting the proverbial pedal to the metal as they drive toward an electric future.

As Kuniskis points out in the show, people who drive muscle cars think somewhat differently than ordinary car consumers.

For example, do you think someone with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat high-output V8 under the hood—a 797 hp or 807-hp engine, depending on package—is at all concerned with the fact that they may get a combined mpg of 15? Given that, what is the likelihood that someone getting an electric muscle car is going to be concerned whether the range is 300+ miles or a fraction of that—as long as the car moves like a bat-out-of-hell (which explains why the propulsion system in the concept is named “Banshee”)?

Ordinary EV buyers are largely concerned about range. Dodge EV buyers will focus on performance. (OK: some of them will be concerned with range, but they’re going to want to make sure that their cars seem to be hellacious performers.)

Kuniskis talks about the present and the future of Dodge with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Edmunds, Mike Musto of Hemmings and me.

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in muscle cars per se it is a fascinating look at how a brand that is as intensely focused on one segment as Dodge can make a transition to a different technology model without disaffecting its customer base.

One can imagine that the Dodge switch to an electric future will become a business school case study, which you can learn about now, for free, here.

Mike Ramsey on Autonomy and Electrification

By Gary S. Vasilash

Mike Ramsey, as a vp and analyst for Gartner on the topics of Automotive and Smart Mobility, spends his time researching and thinking about those two topics and consulting with a wide array of people in the auto industry on the subjects. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Ramsey talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about, primarily the subjects of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).

Although AVs are getting far less attention than EVs, Ramsey suggests that work continues apace on the development of the technology. One of the factors that is going to play a big difference for the greater availability of AVs, Ramsey says, is a decrease in the cost of sensor technology (e.g., lidar). This will help make the calculations for the function more in line with what are automotive economics.

Ramsey suggests that with the amount of data that Tesla is collecting from its vehicles it may be in a prime position to make the move to actual full self-driving capability—but Ramsey underscores that it is probably not going to be with the present setup of sensors that are currently used for the various Tesla models.

EVs are going to be more widely accepted, Ramsey says—but this will require that the price points of the vehicles have to go down in order for people to be able to get into the vehicles, with most of the models out there being in the luxury pricing strata.

Another thing that needs to be addressed vis-à-vis EVs is the charging infrastructure, which many consumers have found to be quite disappointing. Ramsey thinks that automotive OEMs are going to have to think long(er) and hard(er) about what their role in charging needs to be because no matter how good the product is, if the charging experience is a negative one (a recent J.D. Power study on charging found that people are not exactly pleased with their experiences), then that will reflect poorly on the whole undertaking.

You can see the show here.

Sandy Munro on Tesla and Other Electric Vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

Sandy Munro is a Tesla teardown artist.

“Teardown” as in Munro and his team at Munro & Associates taking apart Teslas—and other electric vehicles—and then carefully cataloging and assessing each element that goes into making an entire vehicle.

Munro brings to the activity a 30+ year understanding of what it takes to build a vehicle with best practices. And because he is deeply versed in things like design for manufacturing, he is able to identify where those best practices aren’t being performed.

While Munro had done extensive work on analyzing vehicles that have internal combustion engines, he says that that is behind him for the simple reason that he believes that electric vehicles are going to take a considerable portion of the new vehicle market.

He says that somewhat analogously to Moore’s Law in computing, there is Munro’s Law that has it that if 2022 has electric vehicles at 5% of the new car market, then it will be 10% in 2023, 20% in 2024, 40% in 2025, 80% in 2026.

Given the amount of money global OEMs are spending on developing battery production capacity, it seems that they don’t disagree with Munro.

One of the interesting things that has happened to Munro’s career is that whereas the suburban Detroit firm that he heads once performed its work in relative obscurity, some of the work that the company is doing—like his teardowns of the Model 3 and Model Y—have been put on a YouTube channel, which has led Munro to considerable fame or notoriety—depending on your point of view—particularly within the Tesla community.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Munro talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me on a variety of subjects, including his fame among nine-year-olds. Seriously. (Munro points out one reason why an increasing number of EVs will be sold is predicated on kids influencing their parents, and he thinks that OEMs who ignore the young do so at their peril.)

You can watch the entire show here.

Foxconn in Ohio

Monarch Tractors–which is located in Livermore, California, which is about 45 minutes east of Mountain View so it is Silicon Valleyesque yet still has something of the region’s former agricultural glory about it—has developed an electric tractor.

The MK-V, which produces up to 70 hp, and is fitted with a swappable battery that has a runtime of ~10 hours, is described as being “smart.” There is a screen on board that provides the ability to access live video, weather and other farming-related information.

But what is even more interesting is that it is “driver optional.”

The tractor can be operated remotely.

Apparently your favorite local restaurant isn’t the only place that has trouble finding workers.

The MK-V can mitigate some of that labor shortage for ag.

Also interesting is the company that has just signed on to manufacture the tractors for Monarch: Hon Hai Technology, which is better known as “Foxconn.”

The tractor is scheduled to go into production at Foxconn’s facility in Lordstown, Ohio.

Foxconn acquired the factory last May from Lordstown Motors. Foxconn is to build the Lordstown Endurance electric pickup in the plant.

And in 2024 the Fisker Pear, an EV with a presently intended starting price of $29,900.

No matter how the MK-V, Endurance or Pear do, Foxconn will undoubtedly do well.

Prologue to Honda’s Prologue

When American Honda sent out a news release early this month reporting on its Q2 sales, the headline affixed is:

“American Honda Sales Challenged by Supply Issues”

“Challenged” is, if nothing else, a euphemism for, oh, crushed.

In Q2 the sales of its cars were down 56.5% and trucks off by 47%, for a combined drop of 50.7%.

And realize that this is in the context of Q2 2021, which still wasn’t exactly a banner period in the U.S. auto industry.

Honda faces some issues going forward because it is a company with superb expertise in internal combustion, and it appears as though while gasoline-burning engines aren’t going to suddenly disappear, there will be a decided decrease in the numbers sold, a consistent drop-drop-drop in the near future.

Honda will have an electric SUV in 2024, the Prologue.

It is based on the General Motors Ultium platform.

Which goes to the point of its expertise in engines, but not so much EVs.

Honda is trying to drum up interest in the vehicle by doing things like announcing that it is “the first Honda model designed primarily through virtual reality visualization technology.”

  1. Honda isn’t the only OEM to use VR
  2. So what?

According to Marco Tan, VR and CG designer at Honda Design, “By simulating and evaluating colors, materials and even lighting in a virtual 3D environment we were able to explore possibilities that took styling to a higher level.”

Undoubtedly it was an aid, but eventually the Prologue needs to exist IRL.

Did you ever buy a vehicle because you knew how it was designed?

Honda plans to have its own EV architecture underpinning its models in 2026.

Then, in 2027 a series of “affordable” EVs co-developed with GM.

If the future is EVs, one might conclude that the future of Honda might have more than a working relationship with GM.

The Other EV Battery

When you think about electric vehicles and batteries, you probably think of those massive lithium-ion units that are driving the electric motors. But there is more that needs electricity on board EVs beyond the motors, like, say, the audio system. And this leads to something that you’re undoubtedly familiar with–more or less—if you pop the hood on an old Chrysler or a new Chevy and damn near everything in between: a 12-Volt battery. Yes, batteries like that–more or less–are in EVs, too.

Clarios builds >150 million vehicle batteries per year. About a third of all the batteries produced in the world

It has batteries in cars old and new. Including EVs.

(Image: Clarios)

While your car likely has a typical lead-acid battery in it, if you have a start-stop system built into the powertrain system, it is has an absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery on board. It is engineered to withstand that regular starting and stopping.

Mark Wallace is the CEO of Clarios. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Wallace explains the why and how of AGM batteries in EVs. Clairos has developed what it calls a “Smart AGM” battery for EV and plug-in hybrid applications that provides real-time communication with the vehicle system to assure overall performance.

And, of course, he talks about more conventional batteries, too.

While “lead-acid batteries” sound like they are an environmental nightmare, turns out that those batteries are made with 99% of materials that can be recycled or reused and 90% of the batteries produced are made from recycled materials.

Wallace talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Sebastian Blanco, and me on the show.

And you can see it here.

Sono Has a Bright Idea

One of the types of energy for transportation that doesn’t get very much attention is solar. Certainly unless you live in Arizona or some place like that solar tech is probably not as efficient as plugging in an electric vehicle and letting the grid do the work. Yet when it comes to renewable energy for transportation, the Sun is more beneficial than the Local Electric Utility.

Sono Motors, a German company, is working to develop solar-powered transportation, as in the Sion, a solar-powered passenger car for which it has more than 18,000 reservations.

But it also sees other applications.

Delivery vehicle uses solar energy. (Image: Sono Motors)

So the company, looking to amass data on how well solar works in places including Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern—which are certainly not Phoenix, Tucson or Sedona—is working with the Rhenus Group, a logistics service provider, integrating solar modules onto a 15-tonne test vehicle that will be used for last-mile logistics.

Jonas von Frieling, Head of Innovation Hub for the Rhenus Home Delivery and Rhenus High Tech, points out, “If there is a widespread switch in transport to electric drives, supply must grow accordingly. Solar cells on vehicles could relieve the grid in the process and offer respite for fleet managers by easing the burden on charging infrastructure.”

A point that would be beneficial for other logistics providers to take into account as they make their transitions to EVs. Wherever they’re located.

Kemal Curic Talks Lincoln Star Concept

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lincoln, like other brands, is working to redefine itself by developing electrified vehicles. One of the advantages that Lincoln has in this regard is that (1) it is the luxury brand of the Ford Motor Company, which is devoting serious resources to creating vehicles of this type so it gets a big lift from its parent company and (2) as it is a luxury brand, there is more headroom vis-à-vis pricing because let’s face it: electric vehicle technology is still expensive, so putting it in vehicles that appeal to customers (or “clients” as Lincoln people may refer to them) that can afford more is the right move.

Lincoln plans to have three electric vehicles in its showrooms by 2025. Odds are all or some will be variants on what exist there right now (which makes sense: the Nautilus actually had a 7.5% sales increase in 2021, a year that otherwise was rife with minus signs).

But Lincoln has unveiled what Kemal Curic, global design director, Lincoln, refers to as a “moonshot,” the Lincoln Star Concept.

The Lincoln Star Concept: the essence of electric luxury. (Image: Lincoln)

The “star” refers to the graphic logo that Lincoln uses. Picture the basically rectangular badge with the cross in its center more square-like and extend the arms of the cross out beyond the square with pointed ends: It then becomes something that is like a North Star image. The North Star (a.k.a., Polaris) is the brightest star in the night sky and as such has long been used as a point of navigation: the Lincoln Star Concept is the direction that Lincoln is heading toward.

What’s more, a star is about light, and if there is something striking about the Lincoln Star Concept is that whether it is on the front fascia or in the cosseting cabin, animated light is an absolute key feature.

In this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Curic talks to John McElroy and me about the Lincoln Star Concept: the whys, the hows and the wherefores, about how they are using advanced technology (e.g., using 3D metal printing to create the A- and D-pillars that have an organic form that allows the driver to have less-obstructed views), to imagine what could be in Lincoln’s future.

An interesting point that Curic makes about developing the vehicle, which is certainly applicable to other things, not just vehicles, is that they worked to subtract things, to create something more essential in the context of revealing the essence of luxury rather than obscuring it with what are superfluous features.

You can learn about this and other aspects of the Lincoln Star Concept from Kemal Curic by going here.

Cadillac Supercharges the Escalade: Seems Strange for the Company Going EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although Cadillac is purportedly going to be an all-EV brand by 2030, between now and then it will continue to offer things like this: the Cadillac Escalade-V.

Rory Harvey, global Cadillac vice president, says, “Customers and enthusiasts have asked for an Escalade-V, and we’re thrilled to bring this high-performance SUV to market in the year of Cadillac’s 120th anniversary.”

Supercharged, 682-hp V* is hardly the stuff of environmental awareness, is it? (Image: Cadillac)

The vehicle is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 682 hp and 653 lb-ft of torque.

The Escalade-V, which has a starting MSRP of $149,990 (including destination), will go on sale later this summer.

As of now there are no EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers. However, the numbers for a more-typical 6.2-liter in a non-V Escalade are 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.

Somehow this makes any green cred that Cadillac may be interested in gaining for itself all that more difficult.

Still, they have to somehow pay for the development costs of the EVs. . . .

It is worth noting (although those paying +$150K may not care) that premium is required for the V engine. According to AAA, the current national average for a gallon of premium is $5.03.

So if you’re filling the tank of the Escalade-V it would set you back $120.72.

Electric Vehicle Market in the U.S.: EVs Gaining Traction

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Stellantis announced a $2.8-billion investment in Canada. Investment will be made in the Windsor Assembly Plant to set it up to produce a new multi-energy vehicle architecture. . .with one of the energies being electricity.

There will be spending at the Brampton Assembly Plant—currently the home of the Dodge Charger and Challenger (and Chrysler 300)—where a vehicles based on a new architecture will be produced starting in 2025. An electrified architecture.

And there will be some spent on expanding a battery lab.

In ordinary times, $2.8 billion would be the stuff of amazement.

But now it is basically table stakes as automakers build new factories or transform old ones for electric vehicle production. As well as making investments related to battery development and production.

GM has announced it is investing $35-billion by 2025 for electric vehicles.

Ford has announced that it will be spending $50-bilion through 2026 for the same.

S&P Global Mobility, according to principal automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley, anticipates that sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. will be on the order of 35.7% of the market by 2030.

In 2021 that number was about 4%. So within the next eight years there will need to be a rise of about nine times where they are now.

But according to Brinley and Mike Jackson, executive director of strategy and research for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), it seems highly likely that this will be the case.

The how and why this will occur are discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hour,” where Brinley and Jackson talk to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me.

And you can see it all here.