Ford And GM Lay Out Vasty Different Hybrid Strategies

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 31, 2024, 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.

Ultra Cruise is GM’s Answer to Tesla’s So-Called ‘Full Self-Driving’

1st Gear: GM And Ford Don’t See Eye-To-Eye On Hybrids

Both Ford CEO Jim Farley and General Motors CEO Mary Barra gave a look at what their respective automakers would be doing in the future regarding hybrid vehicles, and their plans could not be farther apart. Farley sees hybrids as an important piece of the automaker’s long-term strategy, but at the same time, Barra sees them as more of a right-now stopgap. Who is right? I don’t know, man. From Reuters:

“We should stop talking about it as transitional technology,” Farley said of hybrids at a Bernstein conference. “Many of our hybrids in the U.S. are now more profitable than their non-hybrid equivalent,” Farley added.

Plug-in hybrids, which include a small battery that can be used for shorter distances, may not be relevant in a few years, Farley said. However, extended-range hybrids are an important technology for the industry’s future, he said.

Hybrid vehicles, which bridge the divide between gas-powered vehicles and EVs, have experienced a surge in demand over the past year, prompting automakers to scale back on their drive to go electric.

[…]

Ford is aiming to quadruple hybrid sales over the next several years, executives have said. It has pulled back on some of its EV investments and pushed back production of EVs in Canada and the U.S.

Separately, the Ford chief said on Thursday that EVs should not be subsidized, and that automakers should be pushing to profitably produce battery-powered models quickly.

“We believe that we have to get to that fitness level as soon as possible,” Farley said.

Meanwhile, Barra gave an extremely different view of what hybrids will do for the brand and the auto industry as a whole.

Barra said the Detroit automaker will have plug-in hybrids starting in 2027, in response to steeper regulatory requirements, but electric vehicles are where GM sees the market heading.

“It’s not the end game because it’s not zero emission,” Barra said of hybrids at the same conference. “We’re trying to be very smart about how we do that and how we deploy capital there,” she added.

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will end up with the correct strategy regarding hybrids. That being said, if you don’t have the capability of home charging right now, hybrids are an excellent alternative to all-electric vehicles if you ask me.

2nd Gear: Labor Department Sues Hyundai For Child Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor announced it sued Hyundai because of the use of child labor at an Alabama plant. It held the automaker liable for the employment of children in its supply chain, including a 13-year-old girl who was working up to 60 hours per week making car parts. That is, and I’m definitely not a legal expert, not allowed. From The New York Times:

In the suit, filed in a federal court in Montgomery, Ala., the department said Hyundai was responsible for the employment of children at a Smart Alabama factory in Luverne, Ala., which produces parts like body panels that are shipped to a Hyundai factory in Montgomery. The suit also claimed a staffing agency, Best Practice Service, recruited the children to work at the supplier’s plant.

In a statement, Hyundai said child labor was “not consistent with the standards and values we hold ourselves to as a company.” It added that the Labor Department used “an unprecedented legal theory that would unfairly hold Hyundai accountable for the actions of its suppliers.”

[…]

From July 2021 to February 2022, a 13-year-old girl worked at the Smart plant, where she was recruited to work by Best Practice Service, the suit claimed. The suit also contended that two other children were employed at the plant.

The Labor Department said that through the employment of children at its supplier, Hyundai was in violation of the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prevents the interstate commerce of goods “that were produced in violation of the minimum wage, overtime or child labor provisions” of that law.

“Companies cannot escape liability by blaming suppliers or staffing companies for child labor violations when they are in fact also employers themselves,” said Seema Nanda, the Labor Department’s chief legal officer, in a statement Thursday.

The suit comes after investigations by Reuters and The New York Times documented the use of child labor by the suppliers of car companies. In 2022, Reuters found that Smart Alabama had used child labor at its facility, and that Kia, which is part of the same South Korean conglomerate as Hyundai, had also used child labor in the South.

As it turns out, Hyundai isn’t alone. A 2023 investigation by The Times found that children were employed at General Motors and Ford suppliers.

The United Auto Workers union has said it would like to organize workers at Hyundai’s plant in Montogomery, which is probably a good thing if you are not a fan of child labor.

3rd Gear: Toyota, Mazda, Subaru Have Unanswered Questions About New Gas Motors

Toyota, Mazda and Subaru hosted a joint “Multipathway Workshop” this week in an effort to pitch their plans for keeping the internal combustion engine alive as we enter the electric vehicle age. From Automotive News:

It was a meticulously choreographed extravaganza, months in the making, that brought the CEOs of the three carmakers on stage, along with their chief technology officers. They presented a rare unified front on a tech strategy seemingly out of sync with much of the global industry.

The session for journalists lasted three hours, including breakout portions for each company, showcasing a plethora of prototype vehicles and next-generation engine mock-ups.

A follow-on session for analysts ran another three hours.

But the presentation, led by Toyota, left plenty of questions unanswered. Time frames, costs, investment figures, efficiency gains, plans for corporate synergies — a whole range of concrete details — were left fuzzy or simply not addressed.

The companies’ proposition for multiple paths to carbon neutrality is persuasive, assuming the transition to a cleaner future ruled by electric vehicles will be halting and slow.

But room for doubt abounds, from the assumptions underpinning Toyota’s calculations on emissions to the lofty optimism in futuristic carbon neutral fuels and the focus on saving jobs.

One big takeaway from the event is that these automakers have some serious work cut out for them.

Key to the big-picture plan from Toyota CEO Koji Sato is the argument that combustion-equipped hybrids churn out about the same amount of carbon dioxide over their life as battery-only EVs.

That life-cycle evaluation is based on a well-to-tank assessment that considers the emissions of creating the gasoline or electricity. It also factors in emissions from the manufacturing supply chain, from stamping sheet metal to mining battery chemicals.

The PowerPoint slides typically shown by Toyota to communicate this idea give generalized bar graphs, with no easily quantifiable comparisons between hybrids and EVs.

Toyota acknowledges the assessment differs by region. In countries such as France that rely on nuclear power or in countries using renewables, for example, EVs can account for fewer emissions.

But what about on a global basis? How far down the supply line of life-cycle assessment should the calculation go? There are some economic sectors over which automakers exert little control — such as energy, mining or even the emissions from cargo ships that move cars across the ocean.

Toyota Chief Technology Officer Hiroki Nakajima says that even the U.S. market isn’t a monolith. Vehicle usage and energy supply sources vary radically by region. What is the best way to parse that holistically?

Despite the fact Toyota owns minority shares in both Mazda and Subaru, the automakers have made it clear the “Engine Reborn” initiative does not involve any joint development, common procurement, shared production or technology tie-ups. AutoNews questions if that’ll come later, but no one is sure. It’s a very strange move in my opinion. We don’t really need all of these different engines, and I feel like it may be wiser for them to work together, but what do I know?

You should really head over to AutoNews for a more in-depth look at what these Japanese automakers are cooking up when it comes to ICE vehicles It’s far too long to fit into a single TMS gear.

4th Gear: 125,000 Teslas Face Seat Belt Recall

Tesla is recalling 125,227 vehicles in the U.S. because the seatbelt warning system doesn’t fucking work right. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says this malfunction could increase the risk of injury in a collision From Reuters:

The regulator said the vehicles failed to comply with the federal safety requirements as their seat belt warning light and audible chime may not get activated when the driver is unbelted.

The recall affects certain 2012-2024 Model S, 2015-2024 Model X, 2017-2023 Model 3 and 2020-2023 Model Y vehicles.

[…]

The remedy will remove dependency on the driver seat occupancy sensor from the software and only rely on driver seat belt buckle and ignition status to activate the seat belt reminder signals, the NHTSA said.

Don’t worry, Tesla nerds. The automaker will release an over-the-air update to fix the issue, with deployment expected to start sometime in June. Before any of you flip out, yes, just because it can be fixed with an over-the-air update doesn’t mean it’s not a recall. I don’t want to hear it.

Reverse: It Isn’t Even That Big. I’m Not Impressed By It

Neutral: An Off-Roading Machine

On The Radio: Rebecca Black – “Friday”

Read More

Andy Kalmowitz