Mike Ramsey on Autonomy and Electrification

By Gary S. Vasilash

Mike Ramsey, as a vp and analyst for Gartner on the topics of Automotive and Smart Mobility, spends his time researching and thinking about those two topics and consulting with a wide array of people in the auto industry on the subjects. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Ramsey talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about, primarily the subjects of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).

Although AVs are getting far less attention than EVs, Ramsey suggests that work continues apace on the development of the technology. One of the factors that is going to play a big difference for the greater availability of AVs, Ramsey says, is a decrease in the cost of sensor technology (e.g., lidar). This will help make the calculations for the function more in line with what are automotive economics.

Ramsey suggests that with the amount of data that Tesla is collecting from its vehicles it may be in a prime position to make the move to actual full self-driving capability—but Ramsey underscores that it is probably not going to be with the present setup of sensors that are currently used for the various Tesla models.

EVs are going to be more widely accepted, Ramsey says—but this will require that the price points of the vehicles have to go down in order for people to be able to get into the vehicles, with most of the models out there being in the luxury pricing strata.

Another thing that needs to be addressed vis-à-vis EVs is the charging infrastructure, which many consumers have found to be quite disappointing. Ramsey thinks that automotive OEMs are going to have to think long(er) and hard(er) about what their role in charging needs to be because no matter how good the product is, if the charging experience is a negative one (a recent J.D. Power study on charging found that people are not exactly pleased with their experiences), then that will reflect poorly on the whole undertaking.

You can see the show here.

Sandy Munro on Tesla and Other Electric Vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

Sandy Munro is a Tesla teardown artist.

“Teardown” as in Munro and his team at Munro & Associates taking apart Teslas—and other electric vehicles—and then carefully cataloging and assessing each element that goes into making an entire vehicle.

Munro brings to the activity a 30+ year understanding of what it takes to build a vehicle with best practices. And because he is deeply versed in things like design for manufacturing, he is able to identify where those best practices aren’t being performed.

While Munro had done extensive work on analyzing vehicles that have internal combustion engines, he says that that is behind him for the simple reason that he believes that electric vehicles are going to take a considerable portion of the new vehicle market.

He says that somewhat analogously to Moore’s Law in computing, there is Munro’s Law that has it that if 2022 has electric vehicles at 5% of the new car market, then it will be 10% in 2023, 20% in 2024, 40% in 2025, 80% in 2026.

Given the amount of money global OEMs are spending on developing battery production capacity, it seems that they don’t disagree with Munro.

One of the interesting things that has happened to Munro’s career is that whereas the suburban Detroit firm that he heads once performed its work in relative obscurity, some of the work that the company is doing—like his teardowns of the Model 3 and Model Y—have been put on a YouTube channel, which has led Munro to considerable fame or notoriety—depending on your point of view—particularly within the Tesla community.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Munro talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me on a variety of subjects, including his fame among nine-year-olds. Seriously. (Munro points out one reason why an increasing number of EVs will be sold is predicated on kids influencing their parents, and he thinks that OEMs who ignore the young do so at their peril.)

You can watch the entire show here.

Tesla’s Loyalists

By Gary S. Vasilash

Tom Libby, associate director and loyalty principal, S&P Global Mobility, thinks that what are ordinarily considered “conventional” or “traditional” automakers have a problem. This isn’t a problem that happened yesterday or last week. It is a problem that has been there for a few years now. A problem that execs at those companies talk about a lot and have made efforts—and for a long time these efforts were not much beyond lip-service—to address it. A problem that is now garnering sufficient attention, though results will vary.

The problem is Tesla.

Tesla vis-à-vis owner loyalty.

Libby charts owner loyalty to a brand. With regard to luxury brands including BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Tesla, owner loyalty has been declining. Yet Tesla’s decline still puts it in a position that is much higher than the others. People who buy a Tesla often by another Tesla. The same isn’t as much the case with others. Tesla even takes market share from a number of mainstream brands, as well.

The loyalty rate for the Tesla Model 3 this past March was 76.6%, the sort of figure that program managers at other OEMs wish they had.

Libby says, however, that the Porsche Taycan, which has been available on the market for a few years and the Mercedes EQS, a new entrant, are gaining loyalty.

But if you take into account all of the other models being offered by other OEMs—remember: both luxury badges and well as mainstream—then the dominance of Tesla is rather astonishing.

A question that arises is whether, as other OEMs come out with more-compelling EVs (e.g., while the Cadillac LYRIQ has much to be said for it, remember that GM also foisted things like the Spark EV on the market as though it had relevance when things like the Model S and Model X were on offer: not that there was cross-shopping between those two Teslas and the tiny Chevy, but keep in mind that people were aware of what was being put out there by whom, so Tesla gained share of mind) whether Tesla’s loyal following will peel off.

Let’s face it: there is something to be said about gravity.

You can see the conversation with Libby on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me here.

How to Report on Tesla: The Sycophantic Approach

By Todd Lassa

Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles Times reporter Russ Mitchell opened up on Twitter about covering Tesla and its larger-than-life CEO, Elon Musk, who, not entirely coincidentally, is embroiled in controversy over his pending $44-billion takeover of Twitter.

“It took several months to realize it, but Tesla’s media approach was to find reporters who would in effect serve as public relations contractors, and then suck up to them with access to Musk and other access,” Mitchell writes in tweet two of 23 he posted on the topic. “Tesla PR,” item 3/23 says, “would drop ‘exclusive’ stories on compliant reporters’ laps that could be reported as news.”

It is smug for an auto journalist to say  “I told you so,” and point out that generally writers for buff books  were always more dubious about Tesla, especially as the company’s market cap surged toward $1 trillion, even when the bulk of its profits came from California Zero Emissions tax credits paid by the “dinosaur”-fed industry.

Mitchell was an auto reporter for the paper, covering, “the future of mobility and the strengthening relationship between Silicon Valley and the auto industry.”  he had been a tech reporter for the Times until January 2016, when he left for a “brief stint” at Kaiser Health News’ California Healthline.

Shortly after his return, Mitchell covered the fallout from a May 2016 decapitation of a Tesla driver whose car Autopiloted itself under a semi-trailer in Florida. One result of this incident was that Tesla “broke up” with Mobileye, an Israeli sensor and software company whose products Tesla was using, in September 2016. Telsa blamed the split on what it said was Mobileye’s plans to compete with Tesla.

When Mitchell reported both sides of the story, with a Mobileye source telling him it was because of Tesla’s “lax” safety culture, a Tesla spokesperson told him the PR department “felt betrayed,” according to tweet 16/23. From that moment on, Mitchell says, “I was set aside as a potential propagandist. …”

In other words, he did Tesla PR’s bidding for just a quarter-year.

Mainstream automotive reporters were sufficiently impressed by the battery cell technology powering the Lotus-bodied 2005-09 Roadster, and when the Model S made its debut in June 2012, virtually universally we found the performance, range and promise of a carbon-emissions free automotive future impressive. (I was one of the Motor Trend editors to unanimously vote it 2013 Car of the Year.)

But the Wall Street investment community and Silicon Valley hubris – it was still a time when big tech could do no wrong– certainly did not sit well with those of us waiting for broken-down, past-its-20th-century-glory Detroit to collapse in the face of automotive startups like Tesla.

Still, we gave credit when and where Tesla was at the top of its game while, at the same time, trying to hold Musk accountable for his antics, including his promotion of “full self-driving” cars and SUVs which always seemed to be “coming soon” but never really arriving.

Musk has blamed his customers, on more than one occasion, of being clueless about what Autopilot “full self-driving” is, even as he claims the latest software update makes his vehicles “full self-driving.”

They are not. They are Level 2 at best.

But any criticism of Tesla’s models, major or minor, will almost certainly be met with vitriolic, even trolling counter-criticism from Musk’s acolytes. Everything Musk does must be perfect. Much of the objective reviewing of Tesla’s products come from independent EV auto websites, though there are plenty of Tesla-specific fanboy sites.

It may have taken Mitchell just three months to figure out that Tesla PR had appropriated him, but the company’s communication system apparently remains, and that’s not good for Tesla’s customers, Tesla’s competitors, nor highway safety.

Todd Lassa is a long-time automotive journalist and editor of thehustings.news

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.

Hertz Getting More EVs: Good for Them. Tricky for Renters.

The Polestar 2, when plugged into a DC fast charger, can go from 10 to 80% of charge in 33 minutes. If using a Level 2 charger, it is about eight hours to get to 100%.

Imagine the clock running. . . .

Rental car company Hertz and Polestar have announced that during the next five years the vehicle manufacturer will be selling Hertz some 65,000 vehicles, starting with the Polestar 2.

Hertz announced in October 2021 that it would be sourcing 100,000 Model 3s from Tesla.

Clearly the company is making a commitment to electric vehicles.

The company reported that in Q4 2021 it had a total of 470,900 vehicles, of which 384,492 are in the Americas.

Here’s the thing: Whether it is someone who has rented a vehicle for making business calls or who has one for a family vacation, isn’t is almost always the case that in order to avoid paying exceedingly high refueling rates there is a last-minute run to a gas station before dropping the vehicle off, even if that station is one of those that is on the edge of the airport and so has comparatively high per-gallon prices?

Further, isn’t it almost always the situation—vocational or avocational—that people are running to the edge of the time schedule for the flight departure? (Let’s not even go to the baggage check and the TSA process.)

Imagine the clock running. . . .

How are EVs going to work out for those people?

Probably not very well.

Has Tesla Distorted the EV Market?

Everyone wants to have their cake and to eat it, too.

And said cake will be delicious. And although said cake will have an exceedingly high number of calories (after all, it is delicious), there will be no added weight to everyone who eats their cake.

Are electric vehicles ecologically oriented or are they performance vehicles?

Well, given that performance numbers are something that Tesla has been able to post, many people think both.

Of course, going Plaid also means going to the Supercharger more frequently. And the electricity that comes out of the units doesn’t get generated by magic.

Still, people are snapping up Teslas to the extent that the traditional purveyors or luxury vehicles can only look on with sublimated horror and try to determine what it is that they can do to get their piece of the market.

And the answer seems to be to opt for performance.

Nice green background, eh? (Image: Mercedes)

Or as Philipp Schiemer, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG GmbH, puts it about the forthcoming Mercedes-AMG EQE sedan:

“With the new model, we are expanding our range with a purely electrically powered performance vehicle and are thus addressing additional target groups. The AMG EQE focuses on sportiness and impressive driving dynamics. And that’s not the end of our Future of Driving Performance: After performance hybrids and all-electric AMG derivatives based on EVA2, stand-alone AMG electric vehicles will follow in the not too distant future. These are based on AMG.EA, our new, completely in-house-developed platform.”

The Mercedes-AMG EQE with the AMG DYNAMIC PLUS package produces 677 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. It is said to be able to go from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds and has a top speed of 149 mph.

Mercedes has AMG in its portfolio, so it might as well use it wherever and whenever it can.

What’s more, there is something to be said for getting more electric vehicles on the road so as to increase the public’s level of comfort with the technology.

And while the two permanently excited synchronous motors that the car uses are certainly more efficient than an equivalent gasoline engine would be, let’s face it: The only green this car is about is the color of the traffic signal when the accelerator is mashed.

Perhaps the person who buys an AMG EQE can feel noble about their environmental footprint. Perhaps.

Electrify America Tops in Charging Analysis

By Gary S. Vasilash

Electrify America, the company that was established by Volkswagen as part of its penalties associated with “Dieselgate,” is the network calculated to be best by umlaut, an organization that performs benchmarking, and Charged, an EV magazine.

Electrify America scored highest, with 702 of a possible 1,000 points.

Tesla came in second, at 649.

There were two primary categories:

  • Digital Platform
  • Charging Location

The people performing the analysis drove some 2,100 miles in Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They drove in a Mustang Mach-E and a Tesla Model 3.

In the Digital Platform category, which looks at things like the website and the app, Electrify America came in with 275 points. Tesla was well behind, at 165.

In terms of Charging Location, which is about the actual act of charging, Electrify America scored 426.75 points while Tesla came in at 484.25.

So the biggest difference is not out there plugging in at a station but while on one’s phone.

Guess it comes down to what is more important, especially when you just want to get the damn thing charged and on your away.

The other charge point providers and their scores are: Charge Point (611), EVgo (578), Greenlots (548), Blink (505) and EV Connect (472).

Who Knew?

“Manufacturing is Tesla’s core competency.”—Tesla Q4 and 2021 Update

It is interesting to note that in its Fremont plant it has the capacity to produce 100,000 Model S/Model X and 500,000 Model 3/Model Y. In Shanghai, >450,000 Model 3/Model Y.

And it has Berlin and Texas on tap.

Yes, there is a lot of manufacturing capability at Tesla that sometimes gets overlooked by, well, everything else.

Premium Vehicle Perspective: Depends Where You Look

When looking at charts developed by French auto analyst firm Inovev of the sales of premium vehicles in the U.S., China and Europe for the first 11 months of 2021, there are a few surprises.

As in sales of 2 million in the U.S., 3 million in China and 2.5 million in Europe.

It’s not surprising that the number is higher in China than in the other two regions. After all, it has a population of 1.4 billion.

It is a little surprising that the numbers break as they do, given that the population in Europe is 748 million, which is about half of that in China and slightly more than twice the population in the U.S. The 500K increments seem strange given that.

Clearly wealth is not evenly distributed, with the U.S. having a higher proportion of its population capable of affording a premium vehicle.

But the surprising thing is the relative sales of the premium brands in the three markets.

The five three brands in the U.S. during this period are BMW, Lexus, Tesla, Mercedes and Audi. Then there is a slight falloff in numbers.

The top five brands in China are BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big decline (Audi is at over 600,000 units) to Tesla (at 240,000) and Cadillac.

In Europe it is BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big drop to Volvo (Audi: >500K; Volvo: 245K) and Tesla.

While there is consistency with BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and while Tesla is certainly on a roll, Lexus is something of an outlier. It doesn’t show up at all in the listing of sales in China and in Europe it is in ninth position, behind Lancia and just ahead of Jaguar, all of which are well below 100,000 units.

Lancia doesn’t show up at all in the sales tracking for the U.S. and China, and in the U.S. Jag is in last place and it is third from last in China.

Seems as though the German brands are consistently solid around the world while for everyone else it is somewhat random.