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.

Engineering the ’24 Chevrolet Silverado EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Let’s determine what must be true to make it happen—and then let’s make it happen.”

Although it sounds rather simple, what Nicole Kraatz is referring to is the approach that she and her team took to product development under the restrictions that were presented to them because of COVID-19.

Business wasn’t as usual.

And what they were, and are, developing is something that is unlike what had been done before and absolutely important in the offerings of GM:

Kraatz is chief engineer of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.

Imagine: they had to develop a new vehicle while, in many cases, working at their kitchen tables, not the engineering center where there is immediate access to people and tech, not situations where you have to ask the kids to stop streaming because the Internet connection is wonky.

Determine what needs to be done. Then do it.

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Pickup trucks are essential to the offerings of Chevy in particular and GM in, well, general.

In 2021 Chevrolet delivered a total 1,437,671 vehicles, of which 529,765 were Silverados.

GM sold a total of 2,218,228, vehicles, so Silverado is nearly a quarter of all of its sales.

2024 Silverado EV RST, style meets capability and electricity. (Image: Chevrolet)

In addition to which, GM is committed to transforming its vehicle portfolio to all-electric in the years to come, and is in the process of spending some $35-billion in transforming from combustion, including $2.2-billion at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, which has been transformed to Factory ZERO, where the Siliverado EV will be built.

The 2024 model is interesting compared with the cross-town rival’s F-150 Lightning in that the Chevy is a new vehicle from the tires up, with nothing being brought over from the conventional truck, while the Ford is largely the combustion-based truck that is electrified.

(In the case of the Chevy, the Ultium platform is being used, an all-new EV battery-based architecture that provides a range of modularity such that pickup trucks and midsize SUVs—as in the Cadillac Lyriq—and other vehicles can be based on it.)

The Silverado EV will come in two versions at the start: the WT and the RST. The former is the work truck version, the sort of thing that contractors would be interested in as it will offer 8,000 pounds of towing and 1,200 pounds of payload.

The RST is the truck that someone will boast to their neighbors about was it offers everything from four-wheel steering to automatic adaptive air suspension, and when the Wide Open Watts mode is activated, it will have a 0 to 60 mph time of less than 4.5 seconds. (Remember: this is a full-size pickup truck.)

Both will have an estimated range of 400 miles on a charge and be capable of handling DC fast charging (up to 350 kW).

The Silverado EV represents an opportunity to Kraatz and her team to take the learnings of more than 100 years of GM trucks and make it something new.

Kraatz talks all about the Silverado EV on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with John McElroy, Joann Muller of Axios What’s Next, and me.

And you can see it here.

CES: Yes, People Are Still Getting COVID

By Gary S. Vasilash

Auto shows, for purposes of publicity, have become passe. In terms of allowing consumers to get a chance to see a vast array of brand-new vehicles, they are great. But when it comes to getting attention from reportorial outlets, vehicle manufacturers have increasingly run the numbers and concluded that the input (the money they spend) is far in excess of the output (the amount of coverage) at auto shows.

During the past few years, OEMs have glommed on to the fact that there is a big technology show held in Las Vegas at the start of January each year, CES.

This used to be the “Consumer Electronics Show.” But the show organizers have presumably decided that it is better to be as inclusive as possible, so by using three letters rather than descriptive words, they can get more exhibitors.

As the fortunes of traditional auto shows have waned, those of CES have waxed.

So more and more automotive OEMs and suppliers have decided that CES is a place they need to be.

It doesn’t hurt that they want to be perceived, for purposes of stock valuation, as being “tech companies,” something that is a bit more difficult to pull off at a traditional auto show.

So a number of OEMs have signed up for CES.

Last January CES was entirely virtual. That was when COVID-19 was raging.

This January CES is being held in person. This will be when COVID-19 is raging.

Some tech companies came to the realization that a jammed trade show with people from all around the world (159 countries) in attendance—even though attendees must show proof of vaccination, wear masks, and get test kits along with their badges—is not a good venue while hospitals are at the breaking point with COVID cases.

Twitter, T-Mobile, Amazon, Intel, Lenovo, Google, Microsoft and Meta dropped out. Tech media outlets including TechCrunch and The Verge said they wouldn’t put their people in harm’s way.

In the automotive space General Motors and Waymo have announced they’re not going to physically participate.

The CES organizers maintain that the show must go on.

Here’s something to know: as of December 26, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), 84.36% of the ICU beds in Nevada are in use, of which 21.85% are for COVID patients.

Of course, were someone to attend CES and become infected they would probably back in their home locale before they became really sick.

So it should be known that HHS stats have it that in the U.S., as of December 26, 75.34% of all ICU beds are in use, of which 21.28% are in use for COVID patients.

Wonder how the ventilator supply is holding up. . . .

To say nothing of the nurses, doctors, orderlies, technicians, cleaning personnel, and all the other people who keep our medical facilities running, people who have been going through unmitigated hell because there are people and organizations that evidently are self-centered.

Yes, yes, we’re all tired of the pandemic. Yes, yes, we all want to get back to things in person. Yes, yes, plenty of people have been vaccinated.

Yes, yes, these are not normal times. Some companies clearly understand that. They clearly understand the health and safety of their people (and by extension, people who would come in contact with them) are critically important.

When companies ranging from Amazon to GM to Waymo figure CES isn’t the place to be, (1) how can other companies not come to that conclusion and (2) how can the CES organizers not understand that fact?

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.

GM Takes to the Water

Electric vehicles don’t all have to have wheels

By Gary S. Vasilash

From 1919 to 1979 General Motors owned Frigidaire, the appliance company that made, primarily, refrigerators.

Toyota was once cracked for making “appliances.” GM once did, literally.

(The Toyota comment was related to the fact that its designs were rather innocuous, like those white rectangles that are in kitchens and laundry rooms. Of course, a positive spin would go to the point that many major appliances are often highly reliable. . . .)

GM has announced that it is taking a 25% ownership in Pure Watercraft.

Seattle-based Pure Watercraft make boats.

But not your ordinary run-of-the-lake boats but electric boats. For the sake of argument, these are not “EBs” but bona fide “EVs.”

Said Dan Nicholson, GM vice president of Global Electrification, Controls, Software and Electronics, “GM’s stake in Pure Watercraft represents another exciting opportunity to extend our zero-emissions goal beyond automotive applications.”

The company recently announced that it is working with Wabtec Corp., a locomotive builder, providing batteries and its hydrogen fuel cell technology.

So obviously they’re serious about “beyond automotive.”

If you think back to the last time you were trying to take a snooze on a beach and then a boat with a massive outboard came blasting by, the whole notion of the silent running of a battery-powered boat seems all the more understandable.

At the very least the GM investment is going to expand scale to boat electrification, which should make it more accessible to more people.

And let’s face it: GM’s involvement in watercraft makes a whole lot more sense than refrigerators.

Auto Numbers: Something to Consider

The math is. . .surprising

By Gary S. Vasilash

A few numbers.

In the first three quarters of 2021, these are the U.S. sales numbers of the leading luxury brands:

  • 259,237 BMW
  • 245,864 Lexus
  • 230,855 Tesla
  • 213,708 Mercedes

That’s right: Tesla outsold Mercedes.

And then there is this, the market capitalization (on 11/11/21) of the three companies that were once known as the “Big Three”:

  • GM: $89.14 billion
  • Ford: $77.5 billion
  • Stellantis: $64.21 billion

(It is worth noting that in addition to Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mopar and Ram, Stellantis includes Abarth, Maserati, Open, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Lancia, Peugeot, and Vauxhall. Meaning it is a much larger company back when it was part of the Big Three.)

Here’s the kicker:

  • Tesla: $1.068 trillion

Tesla could buy all three.

But then what would become of its value?

Cadillac LYRIQ: Hitting All the Right Notes

An up-close look at the exterior and interior design of what will undoubtedly become the flagship of the Cadillac lineup (sorry, Escalade)

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Cadillac LYRIQ is certainly the most important Cadillac vehicle to be launched since the Cadillac CTS appeared in 2003. Arguably the LYRIQ, an electric vehicle, is one of the most important products that General Motors is putting on the market because it truly marks a commitment to contemporary EVs that it has announced are coming.

The 2023 LYRIQ, which will be on the market in the first half of 2022, is the real thing.

The fresh face of Cadillac. (Images: Cadillac)

Yes, it will be beaten to showrooms by the GMC HUMMER EV, but that is arguably a niche vehicle. A niche vehicle with people with deep pockets: the first edition, for which all of the reservations have been spoken for, has an MSRP of $112,595.

The LYRIQ will start at $58,795. The reservations for the first edition of the crossover were full. In 10 minutes.

The LYRIQ has an estimated range of over 300 miles from the 100.4-kWh Ultium battery pack. It is a rear-drive vehicle. The Ultium drive unit will provide ~325 hp.

On the inside there is a 33-inch diagonal screen that stretches across the instrument panel, a 19-speaker AKG Studio audio system, eight-way power driver and front passenger seats, and other accoutrements that are characteristic of a vehicle that is a showcase for the brand.

An interior so well crafted, you might not want to leave when your trip is complete.

On the exterior there is a illuminated black crystal front grille that illuminates in an orchestrated manner, a grille that is certainly a signature of not only the vehicle, but of the level of creativity, imagination and technology that may become known as what Cadillac is all about.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” we learn about the LYRIQ, inside and out.

We—“Autoline’s” John McElroy, Henry Payne of The Detroit News, and me—are joined by Brian Smith, Cadillac exterior design director, and Tristan Murphy, Cadillac interior design manager.

What is notable about LYRIQ, even if you put aside that it is an EV, is that this is a vehicle that was a total clean-sheet design. They were creating something absolutely new, something that wasn’t a variation on a theme.

The charter was to create a vehicle that would not only show the world of electric vehicles that Cadillac has arrived, but the world that drivers live in too: This is meant to be a vehicle that not only will people like driving, but be one that they’ll be proud to be seen in.

Three of the words that Smith and Murphy use to characterize what the LYRIQ represents are performance, technology and craftsmanship.

The best of right now with the attention of detail that often seems to be lost.

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Then, for the second half of the show, McElroy, Payne and I, all jurors for the North American Car, Truck & Utility of the Year (NACTOY) awards, talk about the vehicles that we had the opportunity to drive earlier in the week, all semifinalists for the 2022 awards.

The vehicles include:

  • Audi A3 and S3
  • Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
  • Genesis G70
  • Honda Civic
  • Mercedes S Class
  • VW Golf and GTI
  • Ford Maverick
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Toyota Tundra
  • GMC HUMMER EV pickup
  • Rivian R1T
  • Ford Bronco
  • Genesis GV70
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Jeep Wagoneer & Grand Wagoneer
  • Kia Carnival
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • VW ID.4

And you can see it all here.

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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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.