Toyota, GM, Ford; EVs, AVs and ADAS

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Norihiko Shirouzu of Reuters reported “Toyota is considering a reboot of its electric-car strategy to better compete in a booming market it has been slow to enter.”

Toyota’s Prius is synonymous with “hybrid.” The company has pretty much hybridized everything. It argues—or maybe that would be “argued”—that it is better to build a whole bunch of affordable hybrids than a comparatively few electric vehicles that are comparatively more expensive: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of an electric vehicle in the U.S. in September was $65,291. The average transaction price for vehicles overall, KBB calculated, was $48,094. Which is roughly a 27% delta, which is certainly non-trivial.

Yes, this is a Prius. (Image: Toyota)

Be that as it may, Shirouzu’s sources indicated that “Toyota’s planning had assumed demand for EVs would not take off for several decades.” Which is decidedly not the case.

So is Toyota making a pivot? That is one of the subjects discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me are automotive consultant/analyst Jack Keebler and long-time auto journalist, currently freelancing at Autoweek, Todd Lassa.

Other topics discussed are the Q3 earnings of both General Motors and Ford, as well as those companies positions on autonomous driving: GM continues to be bullish on the prospects for Cruise, still anticipating revenue of $1-billion from the operation by 2025; Ford is far more conservative, as it announced that Argo AI, the AV company that was owned primarily by it and Volkswagen (each had 39%), was closing. Ford going forward would focus more on Level 2+ and Level 3 ADAS. (Ford CEO Jim Farley: “It’s mission-critical for Ford to develop great and differentiated L2+ and L3 applications that at the same time make transportation even safer.”)

The conversation is wide ranging and lively. And you can see it here.

How Innovative Is Auto?

In the Boston Consulting Group list of the top 50 most innovative companies in the world there are few surprises.

The top three are Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Alphabet comes in at 4.

Not much of a surprise there. You could mix up the names and it would probably be about right.

The first automotive company, at number 5, is Tesla.

Again, not much of a surprise there, either.

But there isn’t another automotive company on the list until position 21. Toyota.

Bosch is down a few spots at 26, although one might argue that its innovation profile undoubtedly has something to do with its Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology, too—not just Mobility Solutions.

Next is Hyundai, at position 33. It wasn’t that many years ago when Hyundai was considered to be not much more than a car company for people who wished they could buy a better car but couldn’t; now it is a highly innovative provider of some of the most remarkable vehicles on the road.

General Motors makes the list at 42, and crosstown rival Ford is just behind it at 43.

Mitsubishi is at 48, but odds are it is not for its motor vehicles (the company has a multiplicity of companies under its umbrella).

So if we subtract Mitsubishi but keep Bosch, there are 6 automotive companies on the list. Or 12%.

Still, it seems that there could be, should be, more.

To be sure, it is a whole lot more difficult to make significant developments in vehicles than in consumer electronics.

But one might imagine that with all of the ways that auto OEM execs are describing their companies the positioning on the list would have more than one company in the top 10 and more than two in the top 25.

(Not) On the Road

Events like airport runways in the UK melting and Hawaii getting some unseasonably sizable waves, to go to two poles on the planet—presumably both indicators that the climate is undergoing something of a change that isn’t exactly beneficial—it would seem that things like 700-hp engines would be a thing of the past. Yet Ford, a company that has actual street cred in the environmental community (e.g., it has committed to reducing emissions in like with the Paris Climate Agreement), a company that is investing billions of dollars in developing the ability to produce electric vehicles, realizes that there is a good market for those who not only want power and performance (e.g., a 5.2-liter supercharged V8 under the hood) but who want to drive in places like the desert.

Ford Raptor R. Who needs a road? (Image: Ford)

So on the one hand Ford puts out an environmentally appropriate F-150 Lightning, a full-EV pickup truck that has a special price point for contractors (a starting MSRP of $39,974) in order to make it clear that EVs can get the job done, and on the other hand it has developed the F-150 Raptor R, specifically engineered for going off road in desert conditions: Carl Widmann, Ford Performance chief engineer: “Raptor R is our ultimate Raptor. When customer experience Raptor R in the desert and beyond, it will make the hairs on the back of their necks stand up—and they’ll love every second of it.”

Guess it is spreading its bets on what it offers to the market.

While Ford isn’t responsible for the behaviors of people who buy things like the Raptor R, it does seem curious that they’ve built it for “the desert and beyond,” and that “beyond” may be places that people aren’t supposed to drive.

According to the U.S. National Park Service, in Death Valley, for example, there are thousands of miles of road, paved and otherwise, yet the park rangers are finding that year after year there are off-road “disturbances”: people driving off the designated routes.

Why does this matter? Well, those who get caught can get sentenced to six months in the slam or a $5,000 fine.

But then there’s this: “The fragile landscape and ecosystem is impacted by illegal off-road driving in many damaging ways”:

  1. Leaves Lasting Scars
  2. Damages Vegetation
  3. Endangers Wildlife
  4. Disrupts and Compacts Soil
  5. Pollutes Water Sources
  6. Destroys Designated Wilderness
  7. Threatens Sensitive Cultural and Historic Sites

Some of those things, when broken, simply can’t be fixed. While the vast majority of desert drivers undoubtedly are responsible, those who aren’t can cause tremendous damage. . .which they’ll likely drive away from. (The National Park Service says that if one gets stuck having gone on an unauthorized excursion that person is responsible for paying the towing fees, which can cost thousands. One suspects, however, that it would really be tough to get the Raptor R stuck.)

Here’s hoping that when the dealers hand over the fobs for Raptor Rs they remind the new owners to Tread Lightly!

What Vehicles Are People Considering and Why?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Kelley Blue Book puts together an interesting study on what people are interested in by examining what they are searching for automotive-wise both on desktops and mobile.

For Q1 22 in the non-luxury space the number-one brand is Toyota, with 34% brand consideration. In Q4 21 it was Ford on top. They’ve switched places. Ford is at 32%. Chevy is on the rise because in Q4 it was at 25% but has risen by five percentage points.

What is somewhat sad is Fiat, which was at 0% in Q4 and is at 0% in Q1.

And just above it are Mitsubishi and MINI, both at 1%, which is where they were last quarter, too.

Perhaps people just know all they need to about those brands.

Ram Laramie 1500: Imposing and comfortable. (Image: Ram)

KBB slices, dices and rices data in various ways. Like looking at four categories: SUVs, Cars, Pickups, and Minivans.

The top SUV is the Honda CR-V (besting the Tahoe, Durango, RAV4 and Highlander).

The #1 car is the Honda Accord, edging out the Civic (sibling rivalry). The Camry, Charger and Challenger follow.

In Pickups it is the Silverado 1500, followed by the F-150, F-250/F-350/F-450, the Silverado 2500/3500 HD, and the Tacoma.

In Minivans it is the Sienna followed by the Odyssey, Pacifica, Pacifica Hybrid and Voyager.

Of those categories, 66% looked at SUVs, 37% Cars, 35% Pickups, and 5% Minivans.

Perhaps there is some life in Cars, although the considerations were down 31% in the last quarter and 33% in the last year, so clearly things aren’t moving in the right direction.

Another potentially encouraging sign for Cars is that in the top 10 models considered, there are three Cars on the list (Accord, Civic and Camry), which is the number of SUVs on the list (CR-V, Tahoe, Durango).

What are the top three factors driving consideration?

Durability/reliability is in the top spot, which is not a surprise, nor is the fact that Toyota is the one that takes it.

Second is safety, and while you might imagine that would be Volvo, Subaru is actually in that position.

And third is driving comfort. This is taken by Ram. Who would have thought that a pickup truck would win the comfort honors?

Ford & Tesla: Go Figure

By Gary S. Vasilash

Jim Farley, Ford CEO, said to the assembled audience on hand for the production launch of the all-electric F-150 Lightning on April 26, “We plan to challenge Tesla and all comers to become the top EV maker in the world.

“That’s something that no one would have believed just two years ago from us. They’re going to look at this truck and believe it.”

That’s something I have a hard time believing right now.

Not that Ford doesn’t have a shot at becoming the lead EV builder at some unspecified time in the future. It probably will. Electric pickups and full-size crossovers will undoubtedly roll out of its dealerships in huge numbers one Ford has them.

But that a company that has pretty much been synonymous with “auto industry”–as it was established in 1903 and has had factories churning out cars, trucks and crossovers the world over for more than a century–uses Tesla as the point of comparison.

This is not to diminish the accomplishments of Tesla in any way. In 2021 it delivered more than 936,000 the world over.

While Tesla doesn’t break out its numbers by country, Cox Automotive estimates that the U.S. sales of its vehicles were 352,471 in 2021.

Ford had one EV in 2021, the Mustang Mach-E. It sold 27,140.

It’s not like Tesla just started selling cars last year. It has been on the market for more than 10.

Yes, it started out small.

And so was ignored by the traditional OEMs like Ford.

But Team Tesla kept at it and the traditional OEMs kept doing what they were doing by and large their efforts toward producing EVs were simply to meet regulations, not customers.

Now these companies (and know that it isn’t just Ford and GM, but even other stalwarts like Mercedes and BMW) have recognized that not only is Tesla selling a lot of vehicles, but that customers really want them, which is a good characteristic for products to have in a market.

It is sad that Farley (yes, he gets something of a pass as he didn’t become Ford CEO until October 2020) has to compare what the Ford Motor Company will do with Tesla.

One would like to think that the company founded by a guy who was certainly more advanced than many of his contemporaries would be the one other companies would be comparing themselves to, not Tesla.

F-150 Range Considerations

The EPA-estimated range of a Ford F-150 Lightning XLT SR is 230 miles. Ford had been targeting 230 miles and nailed it.

The EPA-estimated range of a Ford F-150 Lightning XLT ER is 320 miles. Ford had been targeting 300 miles, so that extra 20 miles is a positive accomplishment.

F-150 Lightning. Gets you there. Just not too far away. (Image: Ford)

Still, some people look at those number and are, well, underwhelmed.

Of course, take into account that this is a pickup truck, so that means it is big and heavy, which doesn’t do wonders for electric vehicle range.

Ford offers a 5-liter V8 for the F-150.

A 4×4 with the engine returns a combined 19 mpg.

The truck can be specified with gas tank size. The smallest is 23 gallons. The largest is 36 gallons.

A V8 F-150 with the 23-gallon tank has a range of 437 miles.

A V8 F-150 with the 36-gallon tank has a range of 684 miles.

Somehow really makes those Lightning numbers seem, well, underwhelming.

The Ford E-Transit Explained

By Gary S. Vasilash

Imagine: a 266-hp electric motor that generates a maximum torque of 317 lb-ft located between the rear wheels for operational performance. . .and it is in a cargo van.

That’s the Ford E-Transit, a Class 2b vehicle that comes in eight configurations: You can get it as a chassis-cab or a cargo-van, you can get three different roof heights, you can get three different wheelbases.

The 68-kWh battery is good for about 126 miles. Pulling into a DC fast charger will bring the battery from 15% to 80% in 34 minutes. Plugged into a Level 2 charger will take it from 0 to 100% in about eight hours.

Tim Baughman of Ford Pro North America sees a transition to electrification in commercial applications and acknowledges that there are some applications that are not necessarily applicable. (Image: Ford)

The e-Transit is a work truck, something that Ford knows more than a little something about. As Tim Baughman, general manager of Ford Pro North America—and know that Pro is the organization that focuses on the commercial side of things for the Blue Oval—points out, Ford has about 40% of that market, the leader in the space.

So as they were developing the E-Transit they had the opportunity to talk with the people who get fleets of vehicles of this type, whether it is a handful or a lot-full, so that their interests and concerns could be taken into account.

One of the things that they did when developing the E-Transit was to pretty much take the existing gasoline-powered Transit and use it for the electric truck. (There is the addition of an independent rear suspension for the E-Transit because things like battery packs are rather heavy.) While some might think that this is something of a quick-fix approach to getting an electric cargo van out there, as there are things like the BrightDrop ev600 and the electric Amazon delivery van being built by Rivian, Baughman points out that by having the same interior dimensions and mounting points, it is much simpler for upfitters to configure the e-Transit because of their experience with the Transit.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” there is a comprehensive examination of the Ford E-Transit as Baughman talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chad Kirchner of EV Pulse, and me.

Not only do we discuss the truck itself, but the Ford Pro software solutions that the organization has developed in order to do things like track and charge vehicles in order to keep the fleet up and running at its maximum efficiency, again taking into account Ford’s experience in this commercial space. And you can see it all here

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.

Ford Using Waste Plastics from Oceans

But the amount is, well. . .

Citing a figure from the Pew Charitable Trust, Ford Motor says that there are up to 13 million metric tons of plastic deposited in the world’s oceans each year.

Part of that waste consists of plastic fishing nets.

So working with DSM Engineering Materials, Ford is taking the discarded nylon fishing nets, transforming them into pellets, that are then injection molded by HellermannTyton into wiring harness clips.

Clip made with recycled plastic from the ocean. (Image: Ford)

The clips are used to guide the wires that power side-curtain airbags in the Bronco Sport.

While this is certainly laudable, there’s one thing to take into account.

Each of the wiring harness clips weighs about five grams.

One ounce is equal to 28 grams.

There are 35,274 ounces in a metric ton. Or 987,672 grams.

A lot of clips are going to be necessary to put a dent in the ocean.

How Important Are Trucks to Ford?

In a word: Very

By Gary S. Vasilash

Microchip shortages notwithstanding, despite dealer lots with fewer vehicles on them, Ford reported a sales increase for the month of November of 5.9% compared with November 2020.

In terms of what people bought in November, the F-Series, which will be the best-selling vehicle for its 45th consecutive year, is absolutely essential to the total U.S. sales.

(Image: Ford)

The company sold a total 158,793 vehicles (Ford and Lincoln brands).

It sold 3,767 cars. 72,795 SUVs. And 82,231 trucks.

Of the trucks, F-Series accounts for 60,418 units.

All of Lincoln had sales in November of 6,405.

All of Ford SUVs consisted of 66,390.

So there’s F-Series, with nearly 10x the sales of Lincoln and almost equal to the sales of the EcoSport, Bronco Sport, Escape, Bronco, Mustang Mach-E, Edge, Flex, Explorer, and Expedition combined.

The nameplate that is second to the F-Series in sales for November is the Explorer.

There were 18,268 Explorers sold.

Yes, the F-Series makes that much of a difference.

Without it the total November sales would have been 98,375.

Not nothing.

But not as impressive as it is.