A few years ago, the industry narrative was that all-electric vehicles would reach financial parity with their combustion-driven counterparts in 2025. The assumption was that this would gradually occur by way of ramping up battery production and leveraging economies of scale. However, reality had a different take, as the world is now confronting record-setting prices across the board. Manufacturer and dealer hikes have resulted in the average invoice of EVs rising to $54,000 — roughly 10 grand higher than the typical transaction price of gasoline-powered vehicles, according to J.D. Power.
With economic pressures spiking the value of all automobiles, hardly anything is leaving the lot for less than it could have been had for in 2020. But the increases seen on all-electric models are actually outpacing the models we’ve been told they’re supposed to replace.
The U.S. light-vehicle market doesn’t appear to be in the best health. While many automakers now opt against issuing monthly sales reports, those that still do are posting some pretty brutal numbers.
This does not bode well for an industry that seemed pretty certain that 2022 would be its recovery year. However, it is on-brand with the slew of announcements made by manufacturers warning about supply constraints and an inability to manufacture at scale. There has also been a growing sense that some consumers may be shunning vehicles that have spent the last several months trading well above what seems rational. Wholesale pricing actually declined by roughly 6 percent since the January record. Though you may not see that represented on dealer lots or even have noticed if it was because last month still saw transactions averaging 14 percent higher than they were last year.
While the semiconductor shortage was long considered the excuse par excellence for why the automotive sector couldn’t produce enough vehicles during the pandemic, some manufacturers have begun pivoting to blaming supply chains that have been stymied by Chinese lockdowns. Toyota is probably the best-known example. But the matter is hardly limited to a singular automaker and market analysts have already been sounding the alarm bell that strict COVID-19 restrictions in Asia will effectively guarantee prolonged industrial hardship around the globe.
Back in April, Shenzhen was emerging from a month-long lockdown. However, the resulting downtime severely diminished the tech hub’s output which exacerbated global component shortages. While Chinese state-run media claimed regional factories maintained full-scale production during the period, the reality was quite a bit different. Meanwhile, Shanghai has remained under harsh restrictions since March and more look to be on the horizon. As an important industrial center and the world’s busiest port by far, the situation has created an intense backlog of container ships that are presumed to create some of the sustained problems that we’re about to explore.
It’s been a while since we’ve covered the trucking protests and you might be wondering what happened with the U.S. People’s Convoy that emerged from the still-smoldering ashes of the Canadian Freedom Convoy. Well, it’s been circling Washington, D.C. for the last several weeks in the hope it can draw sufficient attention.
Unlike the Canadian-based convoy, which saw the government deploy armed men to clear demonstrations taking place in front of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, the Americans have remained mobile to avoid getting cornered by authorities. Stationed out of Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, truckers have established a base of operations where they can service vehicles whenever they’re not on the Beltway protesting. Drone shots from above have indicated that there are usually a few hundred trucks parked at the racetrack each morning, though videos from inside show evening returns including hundreds more supportive passenger vehicles. While journeys into the city do take place, they typically involve a handful of trucks designed to make some noise before quickly retreating to avoid being penned in.
Tesla Inc. is briefly suspending production at its Shanghai factory for two days, starting today, as China upgrades restrictions pertaining to a new COVID outbreak. While the rest of the world has been scaling back pandemic-related restrictions, the Chinese Communist Party has begun issuing new mandates after locking down 51 million people at the start of the week. The government has said its part of its no-tolerance approach to the virus after citing roughly 1,700 infections spread across a dozen cities.
This has already started impacting supply chains that have been beleaguered by two years of restrictions already, apparently catching Tesla in the process. Despite Shanghai not having been issued any official orders, there’s been mounting pressure for businesses to temporarily shut down or reinstate protocols to have people work from home.
On Wednesday, American truckers commenced a cross-country drive from California to Washington, D.C., to petition governments (local, state, and especially federal) to end all COVID-19 mandates. Known as The People’s Convoy, the group was inspired by the Canadian Freedom Convoy that was broken up over the weekend and effectively serves to spread its message within the United States.
The goal is to arrive in the capital early in March to pressure the Biden Administration into ending any formal federal emergencies pertaining to the pandemic. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from the District of Columbia government and the U.S. Capitol police for 700 National Guard troops, widespread fencing, and 50 armored vehicles in anticipation.
With the Ambassador Bridge having been cleared by police over the weekend, those protesting government mandates have literally been relegated to the sidelines. Canadian officers from a variety of departments, including Ontario Provincial Police, are now situated at relevant intersections and Windsor, Ontario, has declared a state of emergency in case demonstrators return.
But don’t think the story is over. The trucker blockade certainly caused trouble for the automotive sector and it suddenly seems interested in rolling the event into the industry’s ever-expanding list of excuses. Now that the rigs have all been removed, spokespeople have been chiming in and they’re being presented as rather single-minded on the matter. They want more assistance from the government to quash any protests that might impact their bottom line and are happy to have something else to blame for why the broader industry remains in such a pitiful state.
The Freedom Convoy that originated in Canada last month has gained an incredible amount of momentum, garnering loads of support from citizens around the world. Sympathetic protests seem to be erupting everywhere while the original group of truckers remains planted on the streets of Ottawa to demand an end to government mandates. But honking at Parliament Hill for two weeks was only a portion of the convoy’s grand strategy.
Large groups of truckers have broken off to create blockades at meaningful border crossings, gaining control of North America’s already ailing supply lines. The most recent example resulted in the taking of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, an essential trade crossing for both the United States and Canada. Truckers have held the bridge for five days and automakers have begun announcing shutdowns due to supply issues. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has begun discussing an end to lockdown measures after failing to stop the protests and other nations appear poised to follow in its footsteps.
With supply lines being of particular importance these days, truckers are leveraging their role to encourage government to see things their way. Canada’s Freedom Convoy reached Ottawa on Friday to demand officials end pandemic-related restrictions it believes are wreaking havoc on the economy and the protests have yet to stop.
While this all started with U.S. and Canadian truckers urging the government to abandon border restrictions that forced all drivers to be vaccinated and confirmed as COVID free (starting January 15th) or be forced to quarantine for 14 days, activists are now asking Ottawa to abandon all mandates or prepare itself for worsening disruptions to already ailing supply chains. They’ve since been joined by Australian truckers, who have formed the ‘Convoy to Canberra’ for similar reasons. Future demonstrations are also being prepared for the United States.
Intel has announced a $20 billion investment to transform a 1,000-acre plot in New Albany, Ohio, into the latest addition to its U.S. chip-manufacturing hub. Construction is scheduled to commence later this year with operations starting in 2025. But everyone’s wondering if it is going to be enough to rectify the pathetic state in which domestic vehicle production currently finds itself.
Despite the semiconductor shortage having encouraged the automotive sector to repeatedly idle factories, word on the ground is that things are becoming more stable. Companies are seeing less production downtime overall and workers are reporting more reliable working conditions across the board. However, several automakers have continued to express concerns (e.g. Volvo), alleging that chip shortages could stretch deep into 2022, while the U.S. government ponders how to advance chip production in-country and become less dependent on Asian suppliers.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has been touring Michigan, meeting with union members and industry heads, and plans to urge Congress to move on a $52 billion in funding bill aimed at boosting domestic production. We’ve questioned the efficacy of the CHIPS Act before, primarily in relation to how the subsidies would be allocated. But there are new concerns that the plan will mimic the Biden administration’s EV subsidies by spending heaps of taxpayer money and giving union-backed organizations a larger cut.
While Mercedes-Benz has gradually been moving away from larger motors, it was still a shock to learn that the company would be removing the brunt of its V8-powered lineup in the United States for the 2022 model year. Higher-end vehicles typically come with broader profit margins and Americans tend to like V8s, so it was strange to see the brand tailoring its product at the last minute. Less surprising, however, was watching the entire automotive community speculate on the reasons why.
As your author is constantly suspect of regulations, it was my assumption that emissions compliance was the main culprit. But one would assume European rules would have put the kibosh on V8s in the home market long before cars were neutered in North America. Mercedes likewise suggested this was not the case, alluding to supply chain issues that have been hampering the industry since the start of 2020 while it promised to fix the problem as soon as possible. Then, Daimler executives started giving different answers and hit the reset button on the global supposition surrounding the discontinued engines.
Despite the occasional media report claiming that the semiconductor shortage is nearly over, reality looks quite a bit different. Some manufacturers have managed to temporarily stabilize supply chains, even though others have continued announcing work stoppages as they run out of chips. Wait times for the electronic components have also increased by about 61 percent since the beginning of 2021. Meanwhile, a recent Kelly Blue Book survey had 48 percent of respondents saying they were going to postpone buying a new automobile until shortages end, prices come down, and they can actually find the vehicles they’re looking for. But even those that were willing to buy now expressed a surprising level of acceptance to abandon brand loyalty or their preferred body style just to get a fairer deal on an automobile.
With the United States fairing worse than other regions in regard to chip availability, the White House has been under pressure to solve the problem all year. Thus far, government strategy has focused on encouraging investments for new semiconductor production. But there’s a new gambit being proposed that would invoke a Cold War-era national security law that would force manufacturers to furnish information pertaining to semiconductor supply lines and chip sales.
With supply chain hiccups crippling the automotive industry’s ability to conduct business as normal, resulting in rolling production stalls and skyrocketing vehicle prices, manufacturers looked to be in serious trouble throughout the pandemic. But we learned that wasn’t to be the case by the summer. Automakers were posting “surprise profits” because people still needed cars. We also found out there’s been a growing appetite for expensive (see: highly profitable) models and the industry saved itself a bundle by not needing to pay for office space or line workers, as COVID restrictions kept everyone at home.
Having considered the above, most automakers are seriously considering how they can further leverage this new modality. German manufacturers have even said they’re not that interested in going back to the normal way of doing things — instead electing to intentionally limit volumes and focus on high-end models that will yield the greatest return on investment. But it’s not quite the curveball it seems, as some companies were already ditching the volume approach.
While we fully expected to issue rolling updates on factory shutdowns as industry suppliers struggled to catch up to manufacturers in the aftermath of coronavirus lockdowns, the last few have been impossible-to-predict curveballs.
Honda found itself at the mercy of digital criminals who held its network for ransom, forcing numerous factory shutdowns around the globe as it tried to make sense of the attack. Meanwhile, Hyundai has had to belay assembly in South Korea after an employee at supplier Duckyang Industry Co. fell into the machinery.
The fatal incident stopped production at the supplier, leading to parts shortages at Hyundai that required work stoppages on numerous production lines — including those responsible for the Palisade and Kona.