Toyota shutters its Russian factory, while cutting production estimates, and the Department of Energy wants to build more hydrogen infrastructure. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, September 23, 2022.
1st Gear: Toyota Sees Time For Change, Does Not Stick Around Saint Petersburg
Companies have been exiting Russia left and right over the past few months, and now it seems Toyota’s joining the fray. Its Saint Petersburg factory has been halted since March, thanks to “supply chain disruptions,” but now the company is going all-in and shutting it down. From Reuters:
Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) has decided to close its plant in Russia, Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade said in a statement.
The automaker suspended production in St Petersburg in March due to supply chain disruptions and stopped vehicle imports into Russia.
Toyota will ensure the fulfilment of all social obligations, as well as significant additional pay-offs to the staff, the ministry said, and will retain after-sales service of Toyota and Lexus cars and maintain its dealer network.
The factory, which has a capacity of 100,000 units a year and produced the Camry and RAV4 models, will be preserved and may be sold in the future, Kommersant’s sources said.
It’s not clear what “social obligations” Toyota will need to fulfill, given that severance pay likely falls under those “significant additional pay-offs.” Maybe the company needs to continue maintaining the factory, rather than allowing it to fall into disrepair?
2nd Gear: And Cuts Down Its Year-End Production Estimates
Every couple of weeks, Toyota puts out a big statement saying “OK, listen, we missed our production goals for last month and are lowering our production goals for next month. But, looking at the year as a whole, we’re gonna be totally fine and hit the production numbers we originally planned.” It gets less convincing every time. From Automotive News:
Toyota Motor Corp. is feeling the bite of the semiconductor crunch again.
Despite efforts to ramp up output over the summer, the world’s biggest automaker said persistent supply chain troubles will force it to cut its global production plan in coming months..
Despite the setback, Toyota said in its warning Thursday that it was sticking to its plan to produce out 9.7 million Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles in the current fiscal year ending in March.
In the home market of Japan, the slowdowns will affect production on 10 lines at seven plants, out of 28 lines across 14 plants. The Toyota RAV4, Camry, Crown and GR Yaris are among the vehicles impacted.
Suspensions will also dent output of Lexus vehicles including the LC, IS, RC, ES and CT cars as well as the UX, NX and RX crossovers and the GX SUV.
I remember playing the “Look, I may be behind and not catching up but I will absolutely have everything done by the end of the year” card on my college professors. It didn’t convince them either.
3rd Gear: The Mirai Was Playing The Long Game
When the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, it demanded that the Department of Energy fund hydrogen infrastructure. Now, the agency is opening up applications for those interested in actually building it. From the Detroit News:
The U.S. Department of Energy opened applications Thursday for $7 billion in funding for regional hydrogen hubs.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year directed DOE to fund at least four hydrogen hubs in different areas of the United States, but DOE said Thursday it aims to fund 6 to 10 hubs. The hubs will demonstrate hydrogen production, processing, delivery, storage and use.
“It’ll build networks of hydrogen producers, potential consumers and local connected infrastructure to accelerate the use of hydrogen,” said Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator. “This is going to be a game changer for communities in the country.”
If you’re looking for a few hundred million bucks, and think you can build a hydrogen hub, may as well throw your hat in the ring once applications open. The worst they can do is say no, right?
4th Gear: China Is Feeling The Lithium Price Pinch
Lithium is important in batteries. Lithium is also really, really expensive. EVs in China are cheap. You can see where the problem is starting to form here. From Bloomberg:
Scorching gains for lithium, a raw material vital for powering electric vehicles, threaten to push costs even higher for Chinese battery makers, and the government is finding itself powerless to do anything about it.
Even after a meeting last week where Chinese authorities pleaded with major producers to stabilize prices, lithium carbonate surged to a fresh record, rising to 500,500 yuan ($70,716) a ton. In yuan terms, that exceeds the level prevailing when Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk called prices “insane” earlier this year.
It was easier for China back in March, at the time of the previous peak. Then, officials hauled in representatives of the supply chain and told them they wanted “rational” prices. That did at least stall the rally. But it came at a time when virus lockdowns were curbing demand, and downstream users were also struggling to cope with high costs for other battery materials like nickel and cobalt. Now, things are different.
China’s manufacturing is picking up, with output of electric vehicles more than doubling from a year ago in August. The China Passenger Car Association expects EV sales to hit a record 6 million this year, double the number in 2021. Lithium supply still trails demand, and there are concerns about the availability of power in key production hubs this winter. In a sign of market tightness, an auction of Australian spodumene just attracted the highest-ever winning bid.
As Chinese EV adoption grows, lithium prices likely won’t drop — high demand means high costs. Will companies shift their focus to higher-cost, higher-profit vehicles, or revert back to older battery chemistries like nickel metal hydride for the low end of the market?
5th Gear: Ford Shuffles Its Executives
Ford’s been shaking things up internally recently, between its gas/electric corporate split and the rearrangement of executives to meet the new structure. Now, a swath of new or reassigned VPs seeks to fill in some gaps. From Automotive News:
Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said it is reorganizing its executive ranks as it adds new talent and gives a handful of leaders expanded roles in conjunction with the previously announced retirement of Hau Thai-Tang, the longtime product and purchasing chief.
“As we enter an intense period of execution for Ford Model e and our $50 billion investment in breakthrough electric and digital vehicles, Doug, Lisa and Chuck are taking on larger roles and building out very capable teams,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement. “Developing and scaling the next generation of electric and software-defined vehicles requires a different focus and mix of talent from the accomplished Ford team and many exciting new colleagues joining our company.”
Additionally, Ford said it has hired four new executives with “Silicon Valley credentials.”
Automotive News has the full list of nine executives and their new roles, in case you were really intrigued about what Jim Baumbick is doing now. I for one hope he’s having a good day.
Reverse: Oh Hey Look A Planet
Neutral: Have Y’all Heard Of This ‘Biking’ Thing?
I moved recently, and the quieter streets around my new apartment have allowed me to start taking bike shares everywhere. Turns out, bikes are great. I am now firmly pro-protected bike lanes on every road, everywhere, in the world.