The Tricky Challenge of Meeting the EV Future in the (Mainly) ICE Present

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the things that isn’t often considered when OEMs announce still another new electric vehicle is that just as is the case with their vehicles with internal combustion engines, suppliers make a considerable number of the parts and systems that go into those vehicles.

This puts suppliers in something of a tricky situation because chances are they have the capacity to produce parts for ICE vehicles and now, assuming that they want to continue to have business, they have to acquire or develop the wherewithal to make the EV componentry.

And let’s face it: this EV transition isn’t going to happen overnight, so there is still the need to supply the things for the ICE vehicles.

Consider the situation at GM, an example that is simply representative of the industry as a whole.

Buick has four vehicles in its lineup and zero EVs. Cadillac has seven and one EV. Chevy has 18 vehicles and one (or two if you could the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV as two, but they count it as one). And there is GMC with eight vehicles and one EV.

It should be noted that there were 22,830 EVs delivered in the U.S. by GM through Q3—out of a total 1,650,827 vehicles.

Still, suppliers see the proverbial writing on the wall and as such they are looking to what they can do to make the transition to electric.

One of the top global auto suppliers is Schaeffler. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk to Jeff Hemphill, chief technology officer of Schaeffler Americas.

Hemphill explains how the company is making the transition to electrification, providing everything from motors that are used in hybrid systems to complete e-axles for battery electric vehicles. The company is both responding to what OEMs want and working to develop the tech that is expected to be needed.

(Remember: EVs are still pretty much a nascent technology for most OEMs–and suppliers–even though it seems fait accompli.)

Hemphill talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Mike Austin of Guidehouse and me about how the company is working to provide OEMs with what they need now—and will need tomorrow.

And you can see it all here.

The Amazing Singer Vehicle Design

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although the Porsche 911 circa 1989 to 1994 is a beautiful car, the people at Singer Vehicle Design can make it even more stunning.

The team—who are located both in LA and the UK (in Oxfordshire, where you’ll find lots of people who know things about performance vehicles)—do a comprehensive transformation of the vehicle, going down to the bare metal of the chassis and then reconstructing it with everything from new carbon fiber body panels to different seats.

(Image: Singer Vehicle Design)

There is, in effect, a menu that those who are looking to have their Porsches transformed: Classic Study, Turbo Study and Dynamics and Lightweighting Study. The first two, according to Mazen Fawaz, CEO of Singer Group, list for some $800,000 and the last-named $2-million.

Somewhat stunning, right?

But Fawaz notes “Demand is skyrocketing.”

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Fawaz, who became CEO in January 2020, explains the method that the company takes in transforming the cars, which takes multiple months (someone who is booking a restoration had better not be in a hurry as there is a long line of orders there already), as well as why there is a focus on the 964 Porsche 911 rather than other models.

(One thing to consider is that there is a finite production run of the vehicles—on the order of 40,000 units—so there is a built-in boundary of what can be recreated by Singer. What’s more, while the demand for Singer’s services is high and the order books in robust shape, presumably there is only a certain number of people who can afford the price of exclusivity.)

Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me is Mike Austin of Hemmings.

Here’s something interesting to know about Singer Vehicle Design: the company was established in 2009 by Rob Dickinson, a car designer turned rock musician, turned back into car designer. Dickinson was the lead guitarist and vocalist for the British band of the ‘90s, Catherine Wheel. Catherine Wheel’s style of music includes audio distortion.

But the thing about the vehicles to roll out of the Singer operations: there is an aesthetic purity to them, the absolute opposite of distortion.

And you can learn all about it here.

All About Jeep

Jim Morrison talks about the venerable brand on this “Autoline After Hours”

The numbers are notable.

Through the first three quarters of 2021 Jeep sold 604,671 vehicles in the U.S.

That makes it, by far, the most important brand within the Stellantis U.S. group.

While everyone knows that pickup trucks are driving the market in a big way, Jeep handily outsold Ram brand, which had sales of 495,410 units.

Of course, in terms of product offerings Ram pretty much has the Ram pickup variants, which accounted for 434,772 of the sales. The ProMaster Van and the ProMaster City account for the rest.

Jeep vp Jim Morrison (Image: Jeep)

In the case of Jeep, there are the Wrangler (164,710) and the Grand Cherokee (189,727). Having two popular models is certainly beneficial.

And as for the other brands—Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo—realize that all in for the first three quarters the entire group had sales of 1,365,881.

Jeep and Ram combined account for 1,100,081 units, so you can figure how the others did.

Jim Morrison is vice president, Jeep Brand North America. On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” he talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Mike Austin of Hemmings and me about where the brand is and where it is going.

The importance of having some solid nameplates is something that they’re taking into account which is leading to an expansion of offerings.

For example, the fifth generation Grand Cherokee is now also available as the 4xe (plug-in hybrid) and Grand Cherokee L (a three-row vehicle).

In addition, this year Jeep has also launched the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Wagoneer starts at $86,995. It is not only the most sumptuous Jeep, but what is important to note is that it is still a Jeep: the engineers didn’t forget capability when developing the vehicle.

Morrison talks about those vehicles, as well as about the influx of competition that Jeep is now facing, such as with the Ford Bronco and the GMC HUMMER.

He thinks that what is going to happen is that the entire segment is going to grow as people begin to think more and more about vacations that put them behind the wheel of a vehicle and not strapped into a seat on an airplane, and that an increasing number of those vacation trips will be out in the wilds, a place where Jeeps excel.

Morrison also thinks that Jeep will maintain its share of the market, not lose it to the other companies.

He also talks about whether there could be fully battery electric Jeeps, and while he is cautious about talking future product, he does make an interesting statement that encompasses Jeep:

“We don’t care what puts power to the ground. We just want to do it better than anyone else.”

That’s a Jeep thing.

You can see the show here.

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.