Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)
Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 29, 2023, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.
1st Gear: Dealers Not On Board With Strong EV Push
About 4,000 car dealerships across the U.S. are calling on President Joe Biden to ease up on his proposed federal regulations for EV sales that they say would mandate an unrealistic shift to battery-electric vehicles.
The group sent a letter urging Biden to “slow down” his efforts. They cited an EPA proposal that could mandate 60 percent of new vehicle sales be battery-powered by the 2030 model year. By 2032, that number would be 67 percent. From Automotive News:
“These vehicles are ideal for many people, and we believe their appeal will grow over time,” the letter reads. “The reality, however, is that electric vehicle demand today is not keeping up with the large influx of BEVs arriving at our dealerships prompted by the current regulations. BEVs are stacking up on our lots.”
The dealerships cover a broad swath of car brands sold in states including California, Michigan, Colorado and New York. They argue customers are not ready to switch to fully electric vehicles because of unresolved challenges such as access to reliable charging networks, vehicle affordability and range anxiety.
To be sure, legislation such as 2021's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and 2022's Inflation Reduction Act seeks to address those challenges, with billions in federal funding for building a national EV charging network, boosting domestic battery production and lowering EV purchase costs for consumers.
However, the dealerships want Biden to “allow time” for battery technology to improve, EVs to become more affordable and charging infrastructure to be built, among other actions that could help with consumer adoption.
The National Automobile Dealers Association said its members are doing their part to prepare for the transition to EVs. That effort includes investing over $6 billion in training and equipment.
“But any significant EV penetration into the mass market — which is where we are seeing stalled EV growth and all this new model inventory start to pile up — will require a broad, unified strategy that considers the vital importance of factors such as affordability, consumer incentives, charging infrastructure, utility capacity, resources for battery manufacturing and model availability,” NADA spokesperson Jared Allen said in a statement.
“There are concerns across the entire auto industry that we just aren’t acknowledging that these factors are real,” he continued, “and that they absolutely influence customer attitudes and decisions.”
Whether or not the the letter will have any bearing on Biden’s initiatives is yet to be seen, but I certainly wouldn’t count on it.
2nd Gear: GM’s New UAW Contract Cost, Stock Buyback
General Motors said its new labor deal with the United Auto Workers union will cost the automaker $9.3 billion. At the same time as this announcement, it outlined a $10 billion share buyback plan, a 33 percent dividend increase and “substantially lower” spending at its robotaxi unit Cruise. From Reuters:
The buyback is the equivalent at Tuesday’s closing price to nearly a quarter of GM’s common stock. Its shares were down about 14% this year before rising about 9% in premarket trading on Wednesday.
The Detroit automaker also lowered 2023 profit expectations after the U.S. strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW).
GM has struggled to boost its stock price as it dealt this year with the UAW strike, and with problems at its Cruise self-driving vehicle unit and rollout of its new electric vehicles.
The $9.3 billion in additional costs through 2028 is for agreements with the UAW as well as Canadian union Unifor, and translates to about $575 per vehicle over the life of the deals.
GM’s new guidance reduced expected net income attributable to stockholders for 2023 to a range of $9.1 billion to $9.7 billion, compared to the previous outlook of $9.3 billion to $10.7 billion.
CEO Mary Barra acknowledged that GM’s stock price was “disappointing to everyone,” and pointed out that shares at about $28 were actually 15 percent below GM’s 2010 IPO price.
GM said earlier this year it would cut fixed costs by $2 billion by the end of 2024 and then followed up in July with plans for another $1 billion in cost reductions. In April, GM said about 5,000 salaried workers had taken buyouts and agreed to leave the company.
GM said it would cut costs at Cruise, which has suspended all U.S. testing after a crash in California last month prompted that state’s regulators to bar the company from testing driverless vehicles. Cruise, which is cutting jobs, lost more than $700 million in the third quarter and more than $8 billion since 2016.
“We expect the pace of Cruise’s expansion to be more deliberate when operations resume, resulting in substantially lower spending in 2024 than in 2023,” Barra said.
GM Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson said spending on Cruise in 2024 will be down “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Barra said Cruise and GM would need to “rebuild trust” with state and federal regulators.
In terms of a budget, GM is now facing higher costs under the new contract with the UAW.
The company said it was finalizing its budget for next year “that will fully offset the incremental costs of our new labor agreements and the long-term plan we are executing.”
GM’s accelerated share repurchase program will advance $10 billion to executing banks, and the company will immediately receive and retire $6.8 billion worth of GM common stock.
GM had approximately 1.37 billion shares of common stock outstanding prior to the buyback program, the company said. The program is expected to end in late 2024 and will be executed by Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Citibank.
GM will still have another $1.4 billion of capacity remaining through its share repurchase authorization for additional stock buybacks. It also is expected to increase its common stock dividend by 3 centers per quarter, starting in 2024.
3rd Gear: Honda’s Big Electric Motorcycle Investment
Honda will invest about $3.4 billion in its electric motorcycle business by the end of the decade. It is also raising its target for annual sales to four million units in 2030, up from a previous goal of 3.5 million. From Bloomberg:
The company plans to introduce 30 new electric motorcycle models worldwide by 2030 and will start operating dedicated electric motorcycle plants globally from around 2027, it said in a statement Wednesday. New technology will reduce the length of assembly lines by about 40%, it said.
“We aim to sell electric motorbikes at the same price as ICE models,” Daiki Mihara, head of Honda’s motorcycle electrification development division, said during an online press briefing, referring to internal combustion engines.
The company highlighted India and the Asean region as places where it aims to expand market share. Mihara said new production facilities will “highly likely” be in India and Southeast Asia.
Honda added that it has been developing lithium ferro-phosphate batteries and is planning to adopt them in 2025.
“Having a variety of batteries, each with different strengths in terms of output range and cost, will enable Honda to accommodate a wider range of use applications and expand the range of product variations,” the Japanese company said in the statement.
In the mid- to long-term, Honda is apparently exploring batteries with higher energy density than the stuff we currently have. It is looking to use all solid-state batteries that are currently under development. It also said it aims to reduce the cost of finished electric bikes by 50 percent.
Honda is aiming for an operating profit margin of over 10 percent for its motorcycle business in 2023. However, electric bikes will only be over 5 percent.
4th Gear: Mercedes Shuffles EV SUV Production
Mercedes-Benz is planning to pull production of its top-of-the-line electric EQS SUV from the U.S. and replace it with the higher volume GLC EV. EQS SUV production will be relocated to Berlin, Germany from its 6,300-employee factory in Vance, Alabama in the second half of this decade. From Automotive News:
The product shuffle is intended to make room at the 6-million-square-foot Alabama factory for the higher-volume GLC EV, which a source described as a “cash cow.”
GLC EV production in the U.S. should begin in the first quarter of 2026, according to AutoForecast Solutions. The research firm estimates that GLC EV volumes will hit 50,000 vehicles in the first year of manufacturing — more than double the EQS SUV’s current production volume.
The EQS SUV production move will add about 20,000 vehicles annually to the Mercedes factory in Bremen, which builds several models, including the C- and E-Class sedans, the GLC and EQE crossovers.
The new GLC EV will serve as a successor to the EQC electric crossover, which was supposed to be MB’s first mass-volume EV in the U.S. However, the automaker killed those plans because of the EQC’s limited range that was decidedly inadequate for the U.S. market
The new model is supposed to have a range of about 300 miles, pretty much the standard here.
Reverse: Of Course His Name Is Byrd
Neutral: You Know What Day It Is
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On The Radio: Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Official Audio)
Keyword: ‘Slow Down’: Nearly 4,000 U.S. Dealers Aren’t In On Biden’s EV Push