Watt's Up for the Week of 12/16/2022

Jo Borras
by Jo Borras

As the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. and very nearly a brand (if not an entire economy) unto itself, major news about the Ford F-series pickup is almost always going to be the most significant automotive news of a given week – but, while there is huge F-150 news this week, the Blue Oval brand is going to have to take a back seat to this shocker: For the first time in well over a decade, the cost of making an EV battery has gone UP.


The cost of lithium-ion type EV batteries has gone up for the first time in more than a decade, a scenario that’s being blamed entirely on surging raw material costs, increased volatility in fossil fuel prices, and increasing demand for EVs, and not at all on the 15+ cumulative inflation rate we’ve experienced in the last two years. At least, that’s how I read BloombergNEF energy storage associate Evelina Stoikou’s comments, which read, “Amidst these price increases for battery metals, large battery manufacturers and automakers have turned to more aggressive strategies to hedge against volatility, including direct investments in mining and refining projects.”


Those increased costs threaten the profitability of major automakers around the globe -- especially those who’ve based their 2022/23 profitability projections on the fact that the average price of a lithium-ion battery pack has fallen from $1,200 per kWh in 2010 to $132/kWh in 2021. Whether or not these trends, which have inspired some analysts to call out a “ lithium price cartel,” have been properly priced into their stock prices remains to be seen. Still, there is one company that seems to be ahead of the curve on this: Tesla.


The brand’s controversial CEO, Elon Musk, said “I’d like to once again urge entrepreneurs to enter the lithium refining business,” in an August 2022 earnings call. “The mining is relatively easy, the refining is much harder.” Musk went even further, saying, “You can’t lose (with lithium refining), it’s a license to print money.”


I bet the chief Twit wished he had some of that printed money earlier this week – an SEC filing shows that Elon was forced to sell some 22 million shares of Tesla stock to raise some $3.5 billion, presumably to cover costs associated with his recent takeover of Twitter.


Since the first announcing his “plan” to take Twitter private for $54.20 a share back in April, Elon has sold a total of $22.9 billion worth of Tesla stock.

WHAT ABOUT FORD


Back to the Blue Oval brand, the big news there is that Ford is adding a third shift to its F-150 Lightning plant to try and keep up with the “huge demand” for the electric pickup.


The third shift means some 250 new employees for the Dearborn Truck Plant and Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, bringing the total number of Ford workers there to 750. Plant manager, Corey Williams, told CNBC that Ford was on track to hit its 150,000-unit production goal. 


Williams goes on to explain that the plant is running three rotating crews of workers on 10-hour shifts, seven days a week, in order to keep up with production. It’s worth noting too, that those shifts are happening while construction is underway on another part of the plant, which is expanding to churn out even more electric pickups. "That's how we're doing this fast,” Williams told CNBC. “We're building (product) while we’re building (the factory).”

SUPPLY AND DEMAND 


With demand for the Lightning staying strong, Ford apparently feels confident in raising the price of its base-model Lightning yet again, marking the third price hike for the e-pickup since its launch earlier this year. That means the starting price of Ford’s F-150 Lightning has climbed from about $40,000 at launch to $56,000 now – a forty percent (!) price increase in less than a year. (!!)


It’s worth noting, perhaps, that these huge price increases only affect the base “Pro” model Lightning “work trucks,” while the “luxe” versions of the truck maintain their old pricing – which, honestly feels like it has something to do with that 98 percent pro-union vote at went down at GM’s battery plant last week, but probably doesn’t.

SPEAKING OF LUXE


Speaking of luxe offerings, there’s apparently already enough demand for the $300,00, “hand built” Cadillac CELESTIQ luxury sedan to fill the next eighteen months’ worth of production capacity. 


"The rate we're going to build these things is around two a day,” Cadillac chief engineer, Tony Roma, told Autoline After Hours. “They (the CELESTIQs) are essentially hand-assembled by artisans that we've picked and have certain skills. We haven't committed to any exact number, we do have some flexibility when we say in the range of two a day and really it's all just about exclusivity.”


If you believe everything you see on the internet, one of the first celebrity influencers to take delivery of a new CELESTIQ will be musical artist Lenny Kravitz – who is, arguably, the Cadillac of hipsters. GM’s promotional video, below, doesn’t specify whether or not Kravitz paid for the car with his own money (or, if it does, it was after I lost interest).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StBAhPC4erY

ENERGY SMART


In addition to making some smart moves on the lithium front, Tesla is continuing on its course to become an energy company in its own right, with the launch of Tesla Electric, “the electricity plan that offers low-cost clean energy for homes with Powerwall (Tesla’s home backup battery offering) — starting in Texas.”


Tesla Electric brings smart grid technology to the nation’s least regulated and most isolated/troubled energy grid, which allows home and business owners on the Tesla utility plan to tap into Powerwall’s intelligence by giving it the ability to decide when it’s best to buy and store electricity, sell stored electricity to the grid, and when it’s best to use that stored power to run your home or charge your EV.


In other words, the system allows you to buy cheap electricity during off-peak hours, and sell it back to the utility for credits when demand exceeds capacity. “You earn credits toward your bill when you contribute energy stored in your Powerwall to buffer the grid,” Tesla states. “As a member, you can also monitor the sources of your electricity supply 24/7 in the Tesla app and ensure that any electricity you use from the grid is offset with 100 percent Texas-generated renewable energy.”


On average, the company claims that “Tesla Electric” members have the potential to earn 50% more credits on their electricity bills compared to similar plans on offer from other utility companies.


TRUCK STUPID


Over on the shallower end of Tesla’s talent pool, professional truck drivers over at CDLLife are taking aim at the recently revealed “production version” of the Tesla Semi truck, calling the supposedly game-changing truck, “ a completely stupid vehicle.”


A Twitter thread posted by career truck driver Tomasz Oryński has gone somewhat viral for its brutal takedown of the Tesla Semi, which highlights just some of the ways the truck’s unique, center seat design is going to make life on the road tougher on truck drivers.


“Driver sits in the middle. This makes overtaking or looking ahead more difficult. But also makes it impossible to reach out of the window to pass the paperwork or to talk with the guy in the gatehouse when you enter a port or a factory or, say, a tollbooth,” Orynski said, in one Tweet, continuing with, “The doors are in the back. You enter, hang your coat, and then have to walk a few steps forward to sit behind the wheel. This means that you are wasting cab space for a corridor basically. You can’t place a bed there so the driver can rest, because there are doors there … And if you want to get out from the right side, you need to go over the passenger seat that interlocks with driver’s seat so you can’t just walk in front of it like in a standard cab. And sometimes you need to get out to the right – I did it today as had deep snow on my left.”


Oryński goes on, slamming the truck’s door placement, costing reasons why the truck’s design will make its inside harder to keep clean, and more, eventually closing out his rant with, “I can go on. Bottom line is that this vehicle is a rich boy’s toy, not a practical, working vehicle because its designers have no clue about the realities of transport.”


Luckily for truck drivers everywhere, the guys in purchasing usually listen to their needs and make purchases accordingly – and not, I dunno, as some sort of PR tool to get favorable, “greenwashing” press coverage from environmental outlets, right?



You’re the Best and Brightest. You tell us.

[Images: Ford, screenshot by the author, Ford, Cadillac, Tesla, Tesla]

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Jo Borras
Jo Borras

I've been in and around the auto industry since 1997, and have written for a number of well-known outlets like Cleantechnica, the Truth About Cars, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can also find me talking EVs with Matt Teske and Chris DeMorro on the Electrify Expo Podcast, writing about Swedish cars on my Volvo fan site, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.

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  • Cprescott Cprescott on Dec 19, 2022

    Ford removed the only vehicle I'd consider from them by overpricing it. My divorce from Ford after nearly 40 years is final.

  • EBFlex EBFlex on Dec 20, 2022

    “As the best-selling vehicle in the U.S….major news about the Ford F-series pickup”


    Just a point of clarification….the F-Series is not a vehicle.

  • Tassos Jong-iL The Peninsula of One Korea.
  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
  • Redapple2 Jeez. This is simple. I 75 and 696 area. 1 nobody -NOBODY wants to work in downtown Detritus. 2 close to the tech ctr. Design and Engineering HQ. 20 miles closer to Milford.3 lower taxes for the employees. Lower taxes for Evil GM Vampire.4 2 major expressways give users more options to suburbs. Faster transport.Jeez.
  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain
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