Toyota Will Lean on Lexus to 'Accelerate' Its Electric Vehicle Plan

Toyota Will Lean on Lexus to 'Accelerate' Its Electric Vehicle Plan

A photo of the Lexus Electrified Sport concept from Toyota’s December 2021 briefing. New Toyota CEO Koji Sato said the Lexus brand will lead the way in bringing Toyota’s new EV-related technologies to market.Photo: Noriaki Mitsuhashi/N-RAK Photo Agency

Toyota’s new CEO is “accelerating” the company’s plans around electric vehicles but he doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea, Ferrari’s less-but-still-new CEO learned something from Tesla, and Detroit thinks Stellantis ought to buy up all the houses near its stinky factory. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, February 13, 2023.

1st Gear: It’s About Communication

Upon assuming the post, Toyota’s new CEO Koji Sato inherited — among other things — an electrification strategy criticized as slow and unambitious by most. Sato provided a little more background on those plans during a Monday briefing, announcing that the company will use Lexus to push its newest technologies and processes in the battery-electric realm. From Automotive News:

“The first is business reform starting with next-generation BEVs,” Sato said. “To deliver attractive BEVs to more customers, we must streamline the structure of the car and with a BEV-first mindset, we must drastically change the way we do business.”

Sato said more details will likely be announced in April after he takes office.

But the overhaul, he said, will lead off with Lexus, which already has a brand goal of going fully electric worldwide by 2035 and selling 1 million EVs globally in 2030. […]

“It is inevitable to streamline and reform the manufacturing process,” Sato said.

The EV overhaul will focus on new engineering and new manufacturing for the vehicles in an attempt to give them a uniquely Toyota-brand character as well as make the cost competitive.

Thermal management, electricity management and aerodynamics are all areas of study.

“We are trying to find a characteristic unique to Toyota,” Sato said. “We need to go to the next step. We are going to accelerate specific and concrete activities.”

Now, don’t take Sato’s talk of “accelerating” things to mean that Toyota is going to go all-in on EVs. In another portion of the briefing quoted by Reuters, the chief executive said that “to the point that we have been slow at battery EV projects, I think around half of it is a communication issue.”

Top brass still believes hybrids — conventional gas-electric and plug-in — will be relevant for many years to come, and their previous goal to achieve 3.5 million battery-electric sales globally by 2030 has not changed. In case you’re curious, Toyota only moved 24,466 EVs last year. But when Toyota does get moving on pure electric cars in earnest, it’s going to arrive by way of Lexus. Which makes sense, because EVs are expensive and Lexus can offset that to some extent with much higher profit margins.

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2nd Gear: Ferrari’s Not Too Proud to Learn From Tesla

Bloomberg asked Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna if he learned anything from Tesla in an interview published Monday. Considering he’s the CEO of Ferrari and not, say, Hyundai, I would’ve half expected Vigna to laugh at the question. Instead, he gave a very reasonable answer, while reflecting on how Ferrari could do EVs with its own flavor going forward.

What have you learned from Tesla?

The big contribution that Tesla has made to the automotive industry? It was a wake-up call. Things used to happen too slowly. Tesla shook up the industry and accelerated processes and decisions. They were faster and more agile.

How unique is Ferrari’s path toward electrification?

Electrification is a new way to provide our customers a unique driving experience, and I’ve no doubt that our electric powertrains will give clients the same thrills of combustion engines. The point is how to extract the best emotion from the use of this technology, giving something unique to the clients.

Driving thrills is a combination of factors: longitudinal acceleration, lateral acceleration, sound, gear-changing and braking. This doesn’t change if the powertrain is electric.

Further down Vigna says there are two kinds of EVs — the functional kind and the emotional kind. You can guess which Ferrari builds. Nevertheless, Maranello’s differentiating factor through its entire history up until now was its engines, and while building EVs is “easy,” in Vigna’s words, differentiating electric cars will prove the main challenge.

Electrifying cars is relatively easy from technological point of view. The real point is how to extract the best emotion for the use of this technology you want to provide to the driver. Technology is just a tool, and I think there’s too much money poured into this, and this is because there’s a lack of deep knowledge.

Vigna says Ferrari’s found a way — that its EVs won’t be like anyone else’s. Of course, everyone’s been saying that, but I’m curious to find out how.

3rd Gear: About That Smell From Stellantis’ Detroit Plant

Stellantis isn’t moving as quickly as it could on the whole smelly factory thing, and Detroit City Council has evidently had enough. It wants the automaker to “offer home buyouts at fair market value” and cover the costs of installing odor-neutralizing equipment in each of them, or kill the funk emanating from the Detroit Assembly Complex immediately. From Automotive News:

Stellantis has agreed to a $1.8 million fund to repair residents’ homes to protect them from local environmental effects, the resolution said, but the money is “apparently insufficient” to meet residents’ needs.

Air pollution issues near the Detroit Assembly Complex – Mack date to 2021 when the plant began production and neighbors started complaining of foul paint smells.

Since September 2021, Stellantis has been subject to a half-dozen air-quality violations, including for odor and elevated levels of pollutants; officials have said the air is safe.

Stellantis spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said that while the company works to solve the odor issue, it is using “interim odor controls, which have proven to be effective,” and that the plant is in compliance with permitted emissions limits.

The company applied last May for a permit to install a regenerative thermal oxidizer, which it identified as the solution for paint odor emitting from the plant, but the state has yet to approve it.

“We respect the right of Detroit City Council to issue this resolution,” Tinson said in an emailed statement. “We are working to complete the installation of the new regenerative thermal oxidizer and have it operational as quickly as possible to permanently resolve the odor issue.”

It’s unclear why the state has yet to approve the thermal oxidizer’s installation but Stellantis is apparently going ahead to set it up anyway, all the while residents haven’t been told when they can expect to breathe in cleaner air. If I had to live with this for a year and a half, I’d be desperate for someone to just buy my dang house so I could get the hell out of there, too.

4th Gear: Ford Chooses CATL

This one broke late on Friday afternoon, but Ford has reportedly decided to partner with CATL for its southwestern Michigan battery plant, per Bloomberg:

Ford Motor Co. and Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. plan to build a battery plant in Michigan, according to people familiar with the matter, capping a monthslong search that became mired in geopolitical tensions between the US and China.

The multibillion-dollar facility, to be located about 100 miles west of Detroit, is expected to create about 2,500 jobs, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t yet public. The agreement could be announced as soon as next week, they said.

Ford is moving ahead with the project despite uncertainty around how the US Treasury Department will interpret requirements in President Joe Biden’s signature climate package, the Inflation Reduction Act. The law is designed to withhold consumer tax credits for EVs made with a certain amount of China-linked materials in their batteries.

“We’ve said that we’re exploring batteries based on CATL’s technology for Ford vehicles and that we plan to localize” production in North America, Ford said in an emailed statement. The company didn’t specify whether it had picked a location or determined other details of the project’s scope.

Under the supposed agreement, Ford would own the factory entirely and staff it with its own workers, while CATL would own the technology and manufacturing processes used to build the cells. It would theoretically ensure a North American base for Ford battery production, allowing the Blue Oval’s EVs to qualify for the full Inflation Reduction Act tax credit, while requiring no investment from CATL.

5th Gear: Renault Wants Volvo’s Help to Build Electric Vans

Renault is very interested in offering an electric van for last-mile deliveries in Europe, and it reportedly wants Volvo’s help to make its dream a reality, according to Bloomberg by way of Automotive News:

Renault Group is in discussions with Volvo Trucks to collaborate on the French carmaker’s new FlexEVan electric van project that will help it compete with Stellantis in Europe, according to people familiar with the matter.

Talks with Volvo Trucks, which is the parent company of Renault Trucks and is the world’s second-biggest truckmaker, are continuing and there is no certainty that an agreement will be reached, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they were discussing private information.

The FlexEVan, which would be used for “last mile” deliveries and tradespeople, is due to be launched in 2026. Renault’s Mobilize mobility services unit will have a version, tentatively called Hippo. The van is based on Renault’s EZ-Flex concept, and will be built on a so-called skateboard chassis.

Media representatives at Renault and Volvo Trucks declined to comment. Renault CEO Luca de Meo has said the van will be built with a nonautomotive partner.

Renault has already been testing FlexEVan prototypes on the continent, and the little thing actually looks really neat — much more charismatic than our idea of a last-mile delivery vehicle in this country. It’s not terribly important how these things look, of course, but credit to the design team where it’s due.

Reverse: A Stig Is Born

On this day in 1975, multidisciplinary racing talent Ben Collins was born in Bristol, England. He competed in ASCAR — a series whose name will never not make me chortle — but you of course know him best as Top Gear’s second Stig. Happy 48th birthday, Ben!

Neutral: What’d You Do For the Big Game?

They say if you call it anything else without the NFL’s express written consent, they’ll sue you. My girlfriend and I went out for an early Valentine’s Day dinner because we live in Pennsylvania and it was real easy to grab a table at any restaurant without a TV around 7 p.m. last night. I’ve never seen the roads emptier.