GM BrightDrop Announces EV600 Build

An approach to vehicle production at a fast rate: have someone else do it

By Gary S. Vasilash

General Motors is proud because in a rapidly changing industry, it shows that it can go fast.

“Getting our first electric vehicles on the streets in record time before another peak holiday shipping season is the best gift we could receive this year, especially when we consider the supply chain headwinds the world is facing right now,” said Travis Katz, BrightDrop president and CEO.

BrightDrop is the GM business that is developing products—such as electric delivery truck and associated material handling equipment—for companies like FedEx Express and Verizon.

The classification is “eLCV,” for “electric light delivery commercial vehicle.”

Katz is referring to the production of the EV600.

BrightDrop EV 600 (Image :General Motors)

From concept to development in 20 months.

Speaking of the build speed, Katz continued, “This is a strong statement to the market of how our unique operations setup, which marries the cutting-edge innovation, agility and focus of a technology startup with the scale and manufacturing might of a major automaker, can deliver real value to both customers and the planet.”

An interesting aspect of this.

The early builds of the EV600 were done for General Motors by automation supplier Kuka AG.

Perhaps that is the “unique operations setup.”

To be fair, GM will be building the EV600, the EV410 and possibly other vehicles at its CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. The plant is currently being transformed for the production.

The first EV600 is expected to go off the line at CAMI in November 2022.

Or 13 months from now.

A Car, Not the Bond Film

Rolls-Royce getting somewhat closer to its first EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (to give the full name its due) announced today that it is on the precipice (sounds fancier than “edge”) of testing its first full electric vehicle, named “Spectre.”

According to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Chief Executive Officer, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, this is “an extraordinary new product that will elevate the global all-electric car revolution and create the first – and finest – super-luxury product of its type.”

Yes, it is absolutely true that it will be the first product of its type, as it will probably be the type.

As this is an electric vehicle (in disguise), presumably the smoke is supposed to evoke the name, “Spectre.” (Image: Rolls-Royce)

Citing the history of the company for some sort of presumed advantage in the EV space, Müller-Ötvös noted, “it was Charles Rolls who truly prophesied an electrified future for automobiles. In April 1900 he experienced an early electric motor car named the Columbia and declared its electric drive to be ideal.”

While that is certainly notable and impressive, that was also 121 years ago.

What’s taken Rolls (the company, not the man) so long?

And given that deliveries are expected to commence (better sounding than “start,” eh?) not until the fourth quarter of 2023, roughly two years from now, by which time it is hard to imagine that there won’t be EVs from essentially every automotive company on the planet, the excitement seems a bit, shall we say, outré.

Ford Lightning Pre-Production Underway

The first versions of the F-150 model are being built at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan

By Gary S. Vasilash

Ford is increasing its investment—to the tune of $250-million—at its operations at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center and Rawsonville Components Plant.

The reason?

The F-150 Lightning.

It also means 450 more jobs spread across the plants, all of which are in Michigan (Dearborn, Sterling Heights and Ypsilanti).

“We knew the F-150 Lightning was special,” said Ford executive chair Bill Ford, “but the interest from the public has surpassed our highest expectations and changed the conversation around electric vehicles.

“So we are doubling down, adding jobs and investment to increase production,” Ford added.

“This truck and the Ford-UAW workers who are assembling it in Michigan have a chance to make history and lead the electric vehicle movement in America.”

Pre-production underway for the all-electric F-150 Lightning. (Image: Ford)

Ford has taken more than 150,000 reservations for the full-size electric pickup that has an estimated range of 300 miles and a starting MSRP of $40,000. (It is worth noting that the reservations require $100—which is refundable.)

The Lightning is another in the F-150 offerings, which has been the best-seller in the U.S. for 44 years running.

Pre-production is underway for the Lightning, with consumer vehicles planned for availability in the spring of 2022.

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.

Mazda: Looks Aren’t Everything

The MX-30 EV has a problem, and that is how it is engineered

By Gary S. Vasilash

When it comes to vehicle styling, Mazda is a stand-out company. It is remarkable how the company has consistently brought out vehicles with the sheet metal shaped and formed in ways that would only be in the “concept car” category for other OEMs, and even then they might hesitate.

And Mazda has kept the Miata (which is officially known as the “MX-5,” but even though that’s been the case for some years, it will always be the Miata) in production when those people wearing the proverbial green eyeshades would have struck it from the list of offerings a long, long time ago.

2022 Mazda MX-30 EV: Looks good. Doesn’t go far. (Image: Mazda)

That Mazda has continued is a testament to what could be called “pluckiness.”

And the auto industry is a better place for it.

Which brings me to the forthcoming 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV.

And why I think it is going to be, well, let’s just say not particularly successful.

Yes, it is a crossover, which is good in the market.

Yes, it continues with the Kodo design language, evolved, which is good for everyone who looks at vehicles.

Yes, it probably has a great interior, as this has been something that Mazda has been consistently brining to market. (Apparently the interior of the MX-30 features cork, a nod to the company’s founding more than a century ago as a cork manufacturer.)

Yes. Yes. Yes.

But.

It has an EPA estimated range of 100 miles.

That is absolutely insufficient.

Mazda evidently knows that because for owners of the MX-30 (and know that the vehicle will be available in California, not other markets) there is what it is calling the “Mazda MX-30 Elite Access Loaner Program,” which provides access to other Mazda vehicles—all of which have a >100-mile range—for up to 10 days per year for three years.

The base MSRP is $33,470. And just 100 miles?

Rivian’s Second Factory

And what about its first?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Word is that Rivian, the company that will be producing an electric pickup—the R1T—and an SUV—the R1S—at its factory in Normal, Illinois (quite a name for a burg, if there ever was one), where it is also producing commercial vehicles for Amazon, which is one of its investors (as are Ford, Cox Automotive and others), is looking for a plot of land upon which to build a second factory with a 200,000-vehicle per year capacity.

Seems like the company has big aspirations.

And on the subject of big, it also seems that Texas has the inside track on the factory.

But here’s the thing: the 2.6-million square foot factory in Normal has capacity of over 200,000 vehicles.

You’d think, perhaps, that they would want to make sure that (1) they have all of the bugs worked out of the processes and (2) that they would have sufficient demand for their vehicles before looking to spend a rumored $5-billion on a second factory.

Of course, factories don’t go up overnight.

That said: Might this not be a bit premature?

About Charging the BMW iX3

It is quick. But that’s still slow

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to information about the new BMW iX3 (the UK version) we learn such things as the fact that there are 188 prismatic cells in the battery that have a gravimetric energy density that’s about 20% higher than that of the previous pack.

The new BMW iX3 has range on the order of 280 miles. (Image: BMW)

There is BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive technology that brings along a charging unit that provides power to both the 400V battery and the 12V on-board power supply.

As for the charging, when using AC it will permit single- and three-phase charging at up to 11 kW.

However, when plugged into a DC fast charger, it can charge at up to 150 kW. This means it can go from a 0% state of charge to 80% in 34 minutes.

There is another set of numbers that are striking. The BMW iX3 can charge the vehicle so that it can travel up to 62 miles (based on the WLTP test cycle, which is generally more generous than EPA figures) in 10 minutes.

While 10 minutes isn’t a whole lot of time, 62 miles of distance isn’t a whole lot of range.

According to the EPA, the average fuel economy for light-duty vehicles in 2020–cars, pickups, and cargo vans less than 8,500 pounds GVWR and SUVs and passenger vans up to 10,000 pounds GVWR—was 25.7 mpg.

The flow at your local gas pump (assuming you’re in the U.S.) is limited to 10 gallons per minute.  Which means that a light vehicle can get 257 miles of range in one minute.

Somehow people are going to have to get used to spending more time at a service station.

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.

Tesla Q2 ‘21

If it hadn’t last $2-million on Bitcoin, the number would have been bigger

By Gary S. Vasilash

A few things from Tesla Q2 numbers

Consider this:

Models S/X production numbers were:

  • Q2 2020:      6,326
  • Q3 2020:      16,992
  • Q4 2020:      16,097
  • Q1 2021:      0
  • Q2 2021:      2,340

Were they not electric vehicles, the phrase “running out of gas” comes to mind.

To be fair to the people in the Tesla plants, for the Models 3/Y:

  • Q1 2021:      180,338
  • Q2 2021:      204,084

So they’re certainly busy.

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Here’s an interesting understatement:

“Solving full autonomy is a difficult engineering challenge in which we continue to believe can only be solved through the collection of large, real-world datasets and cutting edge AI.”

The emphasis on the dataset comes from the more than one-million Teslas the company is collecting data from.

However, there are plenty of companies that believe that in addition to the critical datasets there is a need for a sensor suite on the vehicles in order to assure that the real world is discerned by the vehicle in real time.

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The company also stated in its report to shareholders, “Public sentiment and support for electric vehicles seems to be at a never-before-seen inflection point. We continue to work hard to drive down costs and increase our rate of production to make electric vehicles accessible to as many people as possible.”

Presumably much of this growing support among the public is predicated on the availability of EVs from OEMs other than Tesla. Vehicles like the Audi e-tron and the Mustang Mach-E.

That last phrase—“accessible to as many people as possible”—seems to echo what Mary Barra has been saying for some time.  At the Aspen Ideas Festival in June Barra said, “As we move to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, it is on us to lead positive change and implement inclusive solutions that bring everyone along, especially our employees and communities.”

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So here’s a question: Is it possible that its Q2 net income of $1.1-billion, its largest-ever quarterly profit, notwithstanding, Tesla is coming from behind for a change?

Behind in terms of the development of automated driving, as it tries not to use an array of sensors.

Behind in terms of having vehicles that come at a price point that are more affordable?

As for the first, the need for things like LiDAR seem clear.

As for the second, time will tell whether companies like Volkswagen and GM are truly going to give Tesla a run for its money on the closer-to-entry end of the EV market.

The Emerging EV Challenge

Incumbents will gain some share. But it is going to take a lot of work to get it

By Gary S. Vasilash

When GM announced its sales for the first half of 2021, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the new variant the Bolt EUV did quite well. Comparatively speaking.

That is, sales were up 142.4% compared with the first half of 2020.

Of course, 2020 was the COVID year, so the sales of pretty much every vehicle has shown robust signs of sales, but few with such a high percentage rise.

That said, the total number of sales for the two models in the first half of 2021 was 20,288. To put that number into context, realize that the company sold 31,886 Malibus during the same period—and that represented a decline of 33.5% for the stalwart sedan.

And to put the Bolt EV/EUV sales into context, know that in the second quarter alone of 2021 Tesla delivered 199,360 Model 3 and Model Y units—or looked at another way, Tesla sold in three months 179,072 more vehicles than Chevrolet did in six months.

“IONIQ 5 introduces the Hyundai brand to a while new set of buyers, Jose Munoz ,president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America, said of the forthcoming EV. Buyers matter. Especially new ones. (Image: Hyundai)

General Motors has a lot of commitment to EVs going forward, In November 2020 it announced that it would have 30 new EVs on the global market by 2025, of which two-thirds would be available in North America. Then in June 2021 it announced it was adding commercial trucks to the North American mix, as well as additional EV production capacity.

In the GM boilerplate it describes itself as “a global company focused on advancing an all-electric future that is inclusive and accessible to all.”

Last week Mercedes announced its all-EV approach by 2030.

But presumably this is not a plan that is “inclusive and accessible to all.”

Also last week GM announced a recall of 2017-2019 Bolt EVs. A problem with the vehicles potentially bursting into flames.

This is the second time these models have been subject to a recall, with the first being in November 2020.

The new GM EVs that are on the way will not have the same battery system used by the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. It is an all-new design.

However, GM is not exactly in a position to make that as a benefit of the new vehicles because it would throw some serious shade on the Bolts.

Perhaps the limited sales of the Bolts works in GM’s favor because if the number of recalled vehicles was larger, if there were more people aware of the problem, then it would have even more work ahead of it trying to convince people that it, too, can make EVs with the best of them.

It is widely known that Tesla owners give Tesla a pass in a way that traditional OEMs have never gotten, nor will they. If there are manufacturing defects, shrug. If there are performance problems, shrug. If owners learn of those who are using the so-called “Autopilot” system and run into the side of a semi, a moment of silence followed by a shrug.

If any of these things are related to a traditional OEM: Wailing and gnashing of teeth by the customer base—and that’s just the start.

To be sure there will be more people buying EVs from the traditional brands. While in some cases it may be because the vehicles look damn good—Audi is certainly staking a claim in the design space—in more cases it will probably be predicated on the availability that can come from volume: not only availability in terms of the vehicles being on lots, but availability in terms of economies of scale helping reduce prices.

But given the delta between Model 3/Y sales and Chevy Bolt EV/EUV sales, I can’t help but think that the traditional OEMs may have a bigger problem on their hands than they might expect.

Although Hyundai has certainly been in the U.S. market since 1986, arguably it is still a challenger brand in the market compared to those that have been around for 100 years or more.

While its sales numbers are still modest in the U.S. vis-à-vis the established players, in the first half it sold 407,135 vehicles, or 49% more than it did in the first half of 2020.

Hyundai has been offering hybrids, EVs and even fuel cell vehicles in a way that many traditional OEMs don’t match.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that the same people who buy Samsung phones rather than iPhones would be more likely to go with a Hyundai than a Chevy. (If we go back to the aforementioned design advantage, Hyundai is certainly proved that point.)

So a chunk of the traditional goes there.

Then there are the new entrants. Lucid. Fisker. Lucid is staring at a high price point (think of it as a Cadillac competitor) and Fisker is more in the middle. Both of those companies have announced that they are working on what could be described as vehicles that are more inclusive and accessible.

While it might seem that the incumbents have the advantage simply because of their name recognition and availability, IBM doesn’t make PCs; when’s the last time you bought an image-related product from Kodak; and although a Pan Am shuttle took people to a space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.