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Mercedes-Benz announced the creation of its new EV specific brand, EQ, at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 2016. This week the luxury carmaker showed us more of its Vision EQ by unveiling the Smart Vision EQ ForTwo in the week running up to the Frankfurt Auto Show. According to the company, the Smart EQ provides a new vision of urban mobility where individualization options make the shared vehicle feel like “your” vehicle. The Smart EQ is the first vehicle from the Daimler Group to take the logical step of dispensing with a steering wheel and pedals. The Smart EQ is developed according to the German automaker’s CASE strategy which stands for the strategic pillars of connectivity (Connected), autonomous driving (Autonomous), flexible use (Shared & Services) and electric drive systems (Electric). EQ plans to introduce more than ten new electric cars by 2022, from the Smart up to a large SUV.
The Smart EQ has a battery capacity of 30kWh, nearly double that of the 2017 Smart ForTwo ED. The vehicle functions are controlled via personal mobile device or voice input, an arrangement that is intuitive, convenient and hygienic. Dispensing with conventional control elements makes the white interior appear even more spacious. The dashboard is replaced by a 24-inch (58.5 x 15.6 cm) screen which is surrounded by a rose gold-colored frame.
Daimler will also unveil the Mercedes Concept EQA teased above at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
The Renault Nissan Alliance and Dongfeng Motor Group forged a partnership to co-develop electric vehicles in China according to a press release by Nissan. The new JV company is called eGT New Energy Automotive Co and will focus on the core competencies of each to produce EVs for the Chinese market. The first vehicle by eGT will be an A-segment SUV based on the Renault Nissan platform. The vehicle will be an intelligent and interconnected EV, which is the new rage in China. Alibaba and SAIC released the first successful mass-market interconnected car last year, the Roewe eRX5 SUV.
“This project is the result of a joint effort to develop electric vehicles for the Chinese market, by the ‘Golden Triangle’ formed by Dongfeng, Renault, and Nissan, with an innovative business model,” said Zhu Yanfeng, Chairman of Dongfeng. “We expect to meet the transformation trend of the market in China; where cars are becoming light, electric, intelligent, interconnected and shared. This is also a testimony of a deepened and strengthened strategic cooperation between the three parties.”
The new venture is owned 25% each by Renault and Nissan while Dongfeng will hold the remaining 50% and headquartered in the City of Shiyan, Hubei Province. Assembly of the EV will be done at the 120,000 capacity Dongfeng plant in Shiyan and will commence in 2019.
The Chinese automaker, Chery Auto, announced that it would launch a new Euro specific brand at the Frankfort Auto Show in mid-September. The new brand will only develop mild-hybrids, PHEVs and BEVs and will start off production with a new SUV pictured below. The new brand will be supported by a European design and engineering facility. The new Chery brand will be built on an “all new, high-quality platform” with special emphasis on European safety standards. More detail of the specific markets and vehicle segment for the SUV will be forthcoming at the Frankfort Auto Show.
Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA) unveiled the 2018 Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivan. The 2018 model will offer a 10% improvement in range, delivering a 33-mile pure electric range, up from 30 miles in the 2017 model. The battery capacity will remain the same at 16kWh.
Kia‘s Chinese partnership with Dongfeng, Dongfeng Yueda, announced this week that it would produce three pure electric and two plug-in hybrid models by 2020. The Korean due, Kia and its sister company Hyundai has experienced a drastic decline in sales and profits over the last year and have been behind most of their peers in bringing EVs to the fast growing Chinese electric vehicle market.
Detroit Electric announced that it would provide greater clarity on its EV development plans at an upcoming industry event in the UK, the Cenex’s Low Carbon Vehicles (LCV) 2017. The UK based startup is in the midst of a recruitment drive where it will add up to 200 people to its payroll by the 2nd quarter of 2018.
One of the world’s Top 3 EV producers, BYD Co., this week released disappointing first-half earnings. Twin contributing factors of a growing EV sector which in turn allowed the Chinese authorities to scale back its subsidy support are blamed for the drop in profits. BYD, who has been the undisputed leader in the worlds largest EV market has seen its position challenged over the last year with competitors eroding sales of BYD, illustrated in the table below. BYD, who is 10% owned by Warren Buffet, saw its profits slide from ~$320 million a year ago to $260 million in the first-half of 2018, or around 20%, a stark reversal from the 79% jump experienced in 2016.
In January 2017 the Government cracked down on the sector by capping the total subsidies available at the Local Government level at 50% of that of the Central Government, dropping the NEV subsidy by 20% effective 1 January 2017, and raising the technology threshold of distance per charge and energy consumption. The new subsidy at Central Government level is now 44,000 yuan ($6,333) for EVs with a range greater than 250km (156 miles), down from 60,000 yuan ($8,600). The subsidy for buses was capped at 300,000 yuan (43,000) down from 500,000 yuan ($72,000).
Chinese automaker, JAC, and China’s Google, BAIDU, this week announced a partnership to develop a Level 3 mass market self-driving car for production in 2019, year after Audi will produce a level 3 capable Audi A8. Baidu launched its autonomous strategy, called Apollo, two months back. The Apollo strategy mimics that of Google, aiming to develop software for autonomous vehicles. Hardware partners to the Apollo program include Bosch. It’s still unclear how the strategic partners will develop the vehicle as testing of autonomous cars is not yet legal on Chinese roads. Baidu, however, has a permit to test autonomous cars on Californian roads. Other automakers, such as Volvo and Ford are targeting Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021.
Samsung Electronics this week acquired a permit to test self-driving cars on California’s public road system, making it the 38th company to be allowed to do so. Samsung started testing autonomous vehicles in South Korea in May 2017. See the full list of all 38 permit holders here and the result of the 2016 autonomous testing here.
The German auto supplier ZF, a global leader in driveline and chassis technology as well as active and passive safety technology, this week entered into a partnership with the University of Califonia to develop autonomous driving solutions. In a press release by the company its CEO, Dr. Stefan Sommer defined the partnership as follows – “Our latest research collaboration will significantly boost our Vision Zero Ecosystem in two areas that are key to fully autonomous driving – computer vision and deep learning.”
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“Our Strategy Number One Next is centred on consequent lightweight construction, alternative drivetrain technology, connectivity, autonomous driving functions and the interior of the future. The iNext will set the standard from 2021″
Unconfirmed online reports this week claimed that BMW would not pursue the development of the BMW i5 as its mass market answer to the Tesla Model 3, but rather follow other carmakers such as Hyundai and Citroën, by offering electric options across existing ranges so that customers can choose a gasoline model or an electric model.
The reason for the change of heart is that the cost associated with the specialized chassis systems of the i8 and i3 makes it unsuitable for high volume production. In March BMW’s reported its lowest profitability since 2010 on the back of spending on technologies to compete with its rivals in the electrification and autonomous sectors.
The following statement by Harald Kreuger this week, “The all-electric MINI and the all-electric BMW X3 will mark the beginning of the second wave of electrification for the BMW Group, benefiting from the ongoing technological progress we are making in this area.” is seen to support the reports that the company is having a rethink on its EV Next strategy.
BMW’s change of direction will set it on a different course than its competitor in the luxury car market, Daimler, which has set an aggressive strategy to develop a separate brand to establish a market lead in the e-mobility sector.
The BMW strategy now seems to focus on finding the least cost route of adding batteries to existing models to produce vehicles for consumer’s increasing appetite for electric cars. Adding batteries to combustion vehicles is seen as a cop-out as consumers will be better served by buying electric vehicles built from the ground up around the technology.
Indian based Mahindra and Mahindra this week shed some more clarity on how it aims to compete in the electric vehicle sector. The company announced that it would construct a battery plant in Chakan, Pune City in Maharashtra State which will increase the company’s battery output ten fold. Currently, the company produces only around 500 battery packs a month for its e2O, and eVerito models from imported cells at its Bengaluru plant, the Chakan plant has a target of 5,000 units a month. The Indian company is also developing a high powered electric vehicle platform available by 2019 that is capable of speeds up to 200km/h / 125mph and a range of 350 – 400km (250 miles). The Indian government has set a lofty goal of 100% electrification of the countries vehicle fleet by 2030, but to date, the technology has failed to get any traction that can compare with its peer, China.
US-based research firm Research and Markets this week released a report indicating that they see the EV charging infrastructure market should be valued at around $45 billion by 2025. A rush by governments to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles is seen as the main driver for the uptake of the technology. The research firm also reported on the adoption trends within the charging technology sector, stating that the CHAdeMO connectors would be replaced by Combined Charging System (CCS) as the preferred connector type. The fast charger segment is said to lead over slow or home-based chargers, showing an estimated CAGR of 47.9% from 2017 to 2025.
Research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) this week reported that it expects EVs to reach price parity with internal combustion vehicles (ICE) in the USA and Europe by 2025. Falling battery prices driving down cost is seen as the main reason behind the conclusion. Currently, battery prices constitute around 50% of an EVs cost, by 2020 BNEF forecast batteries to only constitute between 23% and 16% of an electric car’s total cost by 2030. The report did not compare the total cost of ownership, which is expected to favor EVs this decade already. It is unclear if the study did take into consideration regional factors such as the EU adding as much as $340 per engine on diesel engines from 2020, which should increase the cost of combustion engines.
In March the UK based Detroit Electric signed a joint venture agreement with Shanghai-listed Far East Smarter Energy Group (Smarter Energy). The JV called for the Chinese partner to invest $370 million over a four-year period. Already the JV is experiencing stress as Smarter Energy this week announced that it would transfer 40% in Detroit Electric to Far East Holding Group (Holding) to secure financing. The transaction was done at no value. Smarter Energy revealed that the financing round is taking longer than anticipated and that it is struggling to secure the required production certificates from the Chinese Government to be allowed to produce electric vehicles. Up till May 2017, only fourteen such permits have been granted by the Chinese authorities. The remaining shareholding structure of the joint venture now has Detroit Electric owning 50% while Yixing Environmental Protection Science and Technology Industrial Park 10%. It is unclear how the restructuring will impact on the company’s timeline to bring the SP:01 to production by 2018.
It was just a matter of time for the newly formed partnership, barely five months old, between LeEco and Aston Martin hit the rocks, creating a roadblock for the Aston Martin EV strategy. Although none of the two companies officially announced the breakup of the Joint Venture to develop electric vehicle technology, China Money Network recently reported the suspension of the partnership by the British luxury carmaker.
The terms of the JV was for LeEco to help with the development of low emission vehicle technologies and deliver a concept car within two years. The partnership was funded by China Equity and the Chinese President oversaw the signing of the agreement. It was expected that the concept car will produce more than 1,000hp. The partnership also extended to the Rapid E 2018 model which is expected late 2017 and would have incorporated the latest LeTv Internet of the Vehicle (IOV) system. It is uncertain how the breakdown in the partnership will impact on the release of the performance saloon.
Recently we reported that LeEco, the Chinese equivalent of Netflix and parent company of two EV start-ups, Faraday Future in the USA and LeSee in China, was forced to sell its Silicon Valley property, earmarked for its US headquarters. The sale, reported by Reuters, to Chinese property developer, Genzon Group, will provide the company with $260 million much-needed cash.
Both EV start-ups are known for making bold statements and big ticket announcements just to be followed by press reports of cash flow and funding problems. The announcement comes at a time when Faraday Future is battling to break ground on its plant in Northern Los Angeles. The company could not even pay the $21 million deposit to Aecon despite being offered $300 million by the local authorities for building the assembly plant there.
The 13-year-old LeEco is financially pressed on all fronts and founder, Jia Yeutling, was quoted by insiders referring to the cash flow problem as a “big company disease.” Rumors have also been flying that it was exciting its India operations and shares in its flagship unit, Leshi Internet Information and Technology Corp Beijing lost 25% of its value in five months. LeEco, which products include consumer electronics and cellphones, such as the LePro phone were able to raise $2.2 billion from Sunac China Holdings, a property developer. The funds are however not earmarked for LeEco‘s electric car division. Faraday Future is said to hold the patents to the technology, but recent reports state that the technology is in fact held by a separate company in the Cayman Islands, creating insecurity for investors and borrowers.
One might assume that an icon such as Aston Martin also took the reputational risk in consideration when entering into a partnership with an unproven start-up, but it seems Chinese cash was the deciding factor. The partnership was concluded at a time when a number of partnerships and equity transactions between British car makers and Chinese companies were entered into. Other transactions included investments by Geely in the London Taxi Company’s EV plant at Ansy, and Shanghai-listed Far East Smarter Energy Group investing in UK-based Detroit Electric for the manufacturing of the SP:01 EV. The transactions strengthen both the UK and Chinese positions in the electric vehicle market and created over 1,400 UK jobs.
We look forward to the official announcement by Aston Martin on the state of the partnership and how it will impact the release of the long-awaited RapidE. Aston Martin as recent as December stated that LeEco’s financial woes would not impact the JV or the release of the RapidE.
Bloomberg printed an article this week named “The Electric Car Rush Started Too Early” following BMW‘s release of its financial statements, showing a profit margin of only 8.9%, which was the lowest since 2010. The reason for the pressure on some automakers bottom line is the heavy investment required in research and development for the strategy shift towards new mobility trends, including autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, connected (focus on secure), and shared mobility options. In BMW‘s case, the investment so far is $4.3 billion. The article also criticized EV’s real environmental cost by the hand of a graph (below) from the website shrinkthatfootprint.com showing that EV’s carbon emissions, when charged from coal, can be as much as four times higher than when charged from green sources such as hydro and other renewables.
Next EV‘s CEO announced this week that it plans to commercially launch an affordable Level 4 Autonomous electric vehicle in the USA by 2020. The model will be released under the company’s newly minted NIO brand. NIO is partnering with Israeli Mobileeye (camera-based autonomous systems), Nvidia (AI chip) and NXP semiconductors on the autonomous system.
Another significant investment this week was by the Shanghai Listed Far East Smarter Energy Group in the UK based Detroit Electric. The investment totaling £1.5 billion will eventually lead to the creation of 400 jobs at the company’s Leamington Spa facility for the production of its SP:01 EV.
Although light on new commercial electric vehicles the Geneva Motor Show this week offered some great eye candy in the form of new concept vehicles, which included:
Nissan announced the unveiling of the new version of its popular Leaf EV expected in September, with commercial sales shortly after that. The Leaf is expected to have a range of 200 miles and some autonomous driving ability through its ProPilot system.
On the regulatory front. In the east a ministerial meeting was called in India, chaired by the finance ministry to setting standards for the country’s electric vehicle future. In the west, the British Budget failed to give anything new to the electric vehicle sector. Some market observers expected guidance on emissions and carbon taxes. Chancellor Hammond did, however, confirm £270 for EV’s AI and robotics.