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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Arrival: The Cleverest EV Company on the Planet?

Making electric commercial vehicles seems to be what several companies are doing. But the approach of this U.K.-based company is unlike what those other companies are doing.

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the more interesting companies in the electric vehicle space is Arrival, a firm that was founded in London in 2015, where it has its HQ, and which has also established a North American HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Arrival is in the business of developing electric vehicles.

Arrival Automotive CEO Mike Ableson. (Image: Arrival)

Initially a bus (start of production: Q4, 2021). Then a commercial van with a payload up to 4,400 pounds (start of production: Q3, 2022). Then a larger van with a payload up to 8,800 pounds (start of production: Q3, 2022). And eventually a small consumer vehicle (start of production: Q3, 2023).

Here’s one thing that makes these vehicles notable: There is a modular structure so the vehicles can be tailored to the specific user and application. While “special builds” generally drive costs, starting with this design approach helps minimize that.

Here’s one thing that makes the Arrival approach notable: Rather than building these vehicles in conventional automotive assembly facilities that have a stamping plant and paint shop, as Mike Ableson, CEO of Arrival Automotive (and 35-year vet of GM, where his last position was vice president of EV Infrastructure, with a variety of advanced technology, strategy and engineering positions before that), points out on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” the Arrival approach, known as “microfactories,” is predicated on establishing a manufacturing facility within what would ordinarily be considered a warehouse.

This is low-volume, regional manufacturing.

It will put its first U.S. microfactory, which will start producing buses later this year, in York County, South Carolina. There will be a second in West Charlotte, North Carolina, where as many as 10,000 electric delivery vans will be built, with production starting in the third quarter of 2022. It has another microfactory in Bicester, UK.

The vehicles have proprietary composite body panels so there is no stamping plant needed. The colors are molded in the material so there is no paint shop. The factory utilizes robotic transport vehicles that move from cell to cell so there are no traditional assembly lines. The assembly is done with mechanical fasteners and adhesives so welding equipment isn’t required.

Ableson points out that batteries are a big cost component of all electric vehicles. He also notes that essentially all OEMs are faced with the same type of battery costs. So, he explains, that the way to keep costs down is not only in establishing production capabilities, but also in designing and engineering the vehicles is such a way that they can minimize overall cost.

The company uses the term “radical impact” in relation to what it is doing.

Arguably, if they pull off what they are undertaking, that won’t just be corporate rhetoric but a true statement.

Ableson talks on the show with Joe White of Reuters, Mike Austin of Hemmings and me.

Then White, Austin and I discuss a variety of other subjects, most of which have to do with vehicle electrification claims and efforts being undertaken by companies including Honda, Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors.

And you can see it all here.