Building Cars Is Hard

By Gary S. Vasilash

On September 18, 2021, this announcement was made by Rory Harvey, vice president, Global Cadillac:

“Today, reservations for the 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ Debut Edition sold out in just over ten minutes and we continue to see a lot of enthusiasm around the brand – both current product and in our all-electric future. The initial response for LYRIQ has been extraordinary. Since the show car unveiling last year, more than 200,000 people have expressed interest in learning more about the vehicle and our electric future.”

Deliveries of the electric SUV, which had obtained significant, deserved acclaim, began in July 2022.

The Cadillac LYRIQ: an impressive electric SUV that more people would undoubtedly like to be behind the wheel of. . .except production is rather limited. (Image: GM)

The LYRIQ is built in the GM assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The factory originally built for Saturn. At the plant the Cadillac XT5, Cadillac XT6 and GMC Acadia are also produced.

LYRIQ went into production on March 21, 2022.

So keep in mind: production starts in March, deliveries start in July, and thousands of people wanted to get behind the wheel of Cadillac’s first electric vehicle.

Now admittedly all OEMs in 2022 had to deal with all manner of issues related to COVID and chips and supply chain snafus.

But here is something that is simply startling:

GM announced its U.S. deliveries for 2022.

All in, 2,274,088 vehicles, making it #1 in the U.S.

Cadillac LYRIQ: 122 vehicles.

How many of those LYRIQ “hand wavers” are going to put down their arms and go across the street to an Audi or Mercedes store?

And what about those who were part of the 10-minute sellout? How are they feeling about their decision?

Yes, building vehicles is hard.

But you would imagine that for a vehicle that is as important to Cadillac as the LYRIQ is, that would have been addressed and any speedbumps mitigated.

(Incidentally: while the LYRIQ was the vehicle with the fewest deliveries among all GM vehicles for 2022, the second lowest was another electric vehicle that sold out in 10 minutes when its reservations opened in October 2020 and is now said to be sold out for at least two years: the HUMMER EV. GM delivered 854 in all of 2022.)

Some Surprising Toyota Numbers

By Gary S. Vasilash

One thing that is occurring is that OEMs are decreasing the number of types of vehicles that they have on offer.

Consider, for example, Ford.

If you want a “car,” then you’d better be happy with a Mustang because that’s all that’s available.

It has gone from arguably a “full-line” manufacturer to a SUV/truck manufacturer.

And it is doing well in that truck category, as the company announced that the F-Series is the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 46 years running, and that it sold more than 640,000 trucks in 2022 (this isn’t just the F-150 but the F-550 chassis cab, so it is a mix of personal and commercial vehicles).

Toyota RAV4 (Image: Toyota)

Toyota is a full-line manufacturer, as it builds cars, trucks and utes.

And while it might seem as though this spreading might cause some dilution of vehicle sales (i.e., with a range to chose from, a consumer might pick a car rather than a ute or a truck rather than a car, thereby diminishing the overall sales for a given vehicle), when it added up its 2022 U.S. sales it had some impressive numbers:

  • The Camry is the best-selling passenger car for 21 years running
  • The Tacoma is the number-one small pickup and has been for the past 18 years
  • The RAV4 is now the best-selling SUV for seven years in a row

While some might think that the car segment isn’t all that interesting, know that it sold 295,201 Camrys in 2022.

It also sold 222,216 Corollas (the number-one selling compact in the U.S.)

And there are other cars on offer: Supra, GR86, Mirai, Avalon, and Prius.

The Tacoma clearly is a truck with legs. There were 237,323 sold in 2022. A point of comparison would be the combined number of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon: 117,016.

The RAV4 run is perhaps the most impressive of all. While Ford and GM can legitimately argue—as can the Stellantis Jeep brand—that they have deep, deep SUV know-how and capability, the RAV4, of which 399,941 were sold in 2022, just keeps leading the list.

Seems that offering a full line can have some advantages for the OEMs’ sales and the customers’ choice.

The EV Market May Not Be What Some Think It Will Be

By Gary S. Vasilash

There must be—and certainly ought to be—some consternation this week at GM HQ.

International consulting and accounting firm KPMG came out with its 23rd Global Automotive Executive Survey, with responses from execs in and related to the auto industry. More than 900 of them from 30 countries.

When asked to rank the companies they think will have a leadership position in electric vehicles by 2030, it went like this:

  1. Tesla
  2. Audi
  3. BMW
  4. Apple
  5. Ford
  6. Honda
  7. BYD
  8. Hyundai-Kia
  9. Mercedes
  10. Toyota
  11. Baidu
  12. Fisker

Look what’s not on the list. And I don’t mean VW, though that is absent, too.

Yes, Apple is on the list. It was last year, too. Then it was in 8th position. Clearly there are more than a few people in the industry that see something that many of us don’t (i.e., Why should Apple bother getting into a low-margin industry? It is unlikely that it could get considerably more in the way of subscription monies than it already has.)

There is another somewhat troubling survey results across the board.

On the question of what percentage of the market battery electric vehicles will have in 2030:

  • U.S.:             29%
  • China:          24%
  • Europe:        24%

While there is some evident optimism regarding the potential uptake of EVs in the U.S., 29% surely isn’t the 50% that is regularly bandied about by domestic OEMs.

And while some may think the 29% average is satisfactory, the median may give them more joy: 35%.

Until they find out that the median number for the percentage of EVs in the U.S. market by 2030 in last year’s KPMG survey was 65%

Cadillac CELESTIQ Explained

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Go make something epic.”

That, Tony Roma, chief engineer of the Cadillac CELESTIQ, says was the mandate he and his team received from GM management to develop a vehicle for the brand that is more like an aurora borealis than a mere halo.

This is a full-size uber-lux electric vehicle that customers will commission, not simply buy.

The Cadillac CELESTIQ is an expression of what can be accomplished by a team given a mandate to “make something epic.” (Image: Cadillac)

It is a sedan that has aluminum mega-castings at the base of its overall structure and an exterior skin made primarily with carbon or glass fiber panels. Roma says that the doors are made with SMC—because the material is transparent to radar, and there are radar units in the doors. Yes, the vehicle is also ladened with plenty of technology, including Ultra Cruise, which will allow hands-free driving in multiple driving scenarios, going well beyond the Super Cruise that GM offers in Cadillacs and other brands.

The CELESTIQ has an 111-kWh Ultium battery pack and a two-motor, all-wheel drive system that generates an estimated 600-hp and 640 lb-ft of torque: Roma says that the car goes faster in a straight line than a CT-5 Blackwing—but the vehicle, he says, is powered such that it provides confidence for the driver and is not meant to have performance for performance’s sake.

This is not simply another vehicle in the Cadillac lineup: the companies benchmarked for the CELESTIQ included Rolls-Royce and Bentley. The pricing for the vehicle is on the order of $300,000+.

Roma says that the production rate of the hand-built vehicles—and the building is going to occur not in a factory, but at the GM Global Technical Center in a special clean-room like facility that is called the “Artisan Center.” The company has made an $81-million investment for producing the vehicle. Within the Artisan Center there will be no more than six vehicles being built at any given time.

Speaking of the development of the vehicle Roma says, “This is all-in house. We didn’t write a check [to another company] and put our badge on it.”

The CELESTIQ, in effect, is a vehicle that makes a statement that Cadillac is a brand that is competitive at the highest echelon within the auto industry.

Roma talks about the engineering that goes into the CELESTIQ on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Frank Marcus of MotorTrend and Richard Truett of Automotive News.

It is arguably one of the most comprehensive insider looks on what will be a landmark vehicle, not only for Cadillac, but for the overall auto industry.

And you can see it here.

Bob Purcell: from the EV1 to the VIA Skateboard Chassis

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bob Purcell has been in the EV space for a number of years. In the early 1990s when General Motors was developing the EV1 Purcell was involved. He was to become the head of the then-newly formed Advanced Technology Vehicles Division at the company. After nearly 17 years at GM Purcell left the corporation and worked at companies involved in batteries and electric propulsion systems.

Purcell is now the CEO of VIA Motors, which is a producer of an electric skateboard chassis for application in Class 2 through Class 5 cargo vans, trucks and buses.

The skateboard chassis allows an array of upfitting opportunities. (Image: VIA Motors)

Although he had his start with a passenger car (the EV1), Purcell is convinced that commercial vehicles are the ideal place for electric propulsion.

As he explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” this is because the total cost of ownership of an electric truck is less than that of one with a thermal engine, thanks to things like reduced maintenance requirements. In addition to which, he says there is a 4:1 per mile cost benefit (electricity vs. liquid fuel). All things that add up to improvements to the bottom line of commercial carriers.

(While personal vehicle owners can also experience the same advantages, it isn’t often—if ever—that you hear the buyer of a new EV say, “I got this because the life-cycle costs are a distinct advantage.”)

Purcell talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights, and me on the show.

Beyond his discussion of what they’re doing at VIA, Purcell shares plenty of insights on both his career as well as the overall EV landscape. The man is clearly an EV proponent, but unlike many boosters of the tech, Purcell has a deep base of knowledge in the space, which makes him far more credible than the average EV enthusiast.

And you can see the show here.

Saving Cadillac

By Gary S. Vasilash

John F. Smith worked at General Motors at the same time that John F. Smith worked at General Motors.* The latter was to become GM CEO. The former was appointed by the latter to a number of executive positions within GM.

Perhaps the most notable was in 1997, when he was named head of Cadillac.

Things weren’t great at that brand back then. Hard to believe, but there was something that is now intrinsic to Cadillac that was absent: the Escalade, the massive truck-cum-SUV that has had visual presence on the road for a little more than two decades now.

The original Escalade. (Image: GM)

The Escalade was to come to be under John Smith’s period at Cadillac, helped into existence by the other John Smith, who was known as Jack.

John Smith talks about his career at Cadillac in this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” as well as a book he has recently had published about some of his adventures in the auto industry, Fin Tails: Saving Cadillac, America’s Luxury Icon (see how important Escalade was/is?).

Also on Smith’s resume are positions including vice president of Planning at General Motors International Operations in Zurich as well as president of Allison Transmission. Which is to say that he has a broad perspective on the auto industry, one broader than just Cadillac.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Smith spends the hour talking with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Doron Levin, who, among other things, writes about the auto industry at Saving Alpha and me.

And you can see it here.

*Given that “Smith” is the most common surname in the U.S., and “John” has been in the top 10 until 1987, this isn’t exactly surprising.

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.

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.

Building the ID. Buzz

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Volkswagen ID. Buzz will not go on sale in the U.S. until 2024. The degree of interest in this vehicle is immense, perhaps, in part, because while there are other OEMs offering (or developing) EV pickups, Volkswagen has this “microbus” category to itself when it comes to fully battery electric vehicles (i.e., Chrysler has long had the Pacifica hybrid and Toyota offers the current-generation Sienna only as a hybrid).

And even were others to get into this space (e.g., GM brings back the Venture, Silhouette and Trans Sport—wait, while the first was a Chevy the other two were, respectively, an Olds and a Pontiac, and they don’t exist anymore—the brands; there are undoubtedly some Silhouettes and Trans Sports still out there, as S&P Mobility says that the average age of a truck on the road is 11.6 years) they would not have the same resonance as the ID. Buzz will.

VW ID. Buzz, Euro model. (Image: VW)

The ID. Buzz is being produced in Hanover, Germany, by the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) operation. One reason why that’s reasonable is there is a commercial variant of the vehicle, the ID. Buzz Cargo.

The vehicles have been in production since May, as they are available in the home market.

(Also in Hanover they’re producing the Multivan with various powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid.)

Josef Baumert, member of the VWCV Brand Management Board for Production and Logistics, said, “After 203 we will produce 130,000 units of the ID. Buzz and ID. Buzz Cargo at our Hanover plant” annually.

Given that Ford got 200,000 preorders for its F-150 Lightning before it put a pause on taking any more names lest those waiting and waiting become annoyed with Ford, odds are that the 130,000 is going to be an insufficient number for the microbuses to meet demand in Europe and the U.S.

Of course, that’s a good problem for a vehicle manufacturer to have.

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.