Welcome to the Hyperdrive daily briefing, decoding the revolution reshaping the auto world, from EVs to self-driving cars and beyond.
- GM joins Ford, Stellantis in idling truck plants again due to chips.
- Elon Musk says he would prefer to steer clear of politics.
- China amps up its scrutiny of car-hailing services .
Motor Shows Make a Comeback
After months of home-office work and Zoom calls, car CEOs are finally getting a chance to meet up in-person when the IAA Mobility car show kicks off Monday in Munich.
It’s the first major auto-industry forum in Europe since the pandemic, so organizers are trying to spread out participants by holding some events outdoors and in Munich’s city center. Still, my colleagues and I have heard several companies are dispatching smaller teams than usual due to concerns about the delta variant, and some are forgoing the event altogether. The list of prominent no-shows includes Toyota, Nissan and even European giant Stellantis.
It’s still going to be fun, though, to mask-up and elbow-bump on site. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the event Tuesday, and the likes of Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler will show off their latest wheels. Visitors will be able to test-drive dozens of battery-powered cars, e-bikes and scooters on a seven-mile track that stretches from the conference venue into downtown Munich. So why not hop into an electric Porsche and head to the Hofbräuhaus for some roasted pork knuckle and Bavarian folk music?!
Here’s what we’re looking out for or eager to ask executives about next week:
The show won’t be all fun and games. Automakers are still reeling from the global semiconductor shortage that’s poised to be a hot topic in Munich, with chipmakers Qualcomm and Intel also happening to be in attendance.
Scarce supplies will be the norm for a while. Renault, which expects to lose output of 200,000 cars this year, will idle its Spanish plants for as many as 61 days until the end of December, and Stellantis’s Melfi factory in southern Italy will operate only five days in September. My colleagues in China reported this week that Tesla temporarily halted some operations at its Shanghai plant due to the crunch.
After Western carmakers enjoyed many boom years selling seemingly ever-growing numbers of combustion-engine cars, their post-pandemic sales numbers aren’t looking as promising. Long-dominant VW has slipped up, causing some consternation. BMW is trying to protect its Chinese investment by buying assets from Brilliance Auto Group Holdings, the in-default parent of the carmaker’s main joint-venture partner in the country.
President Xi Jinping has emphasized the importance of China boosting its own national brands and committed several-hundred-billion yuan to hastening the EV shift. Chinese manufactures including Nio, BYD and Xpeng are now making more aggressive moves to sell their EVs in Europe, my BloombergNEF colleague Colin McKerracher wrote in this space a few weeks ago.
Volkswagen is bringing the ID.5 GTX crossover and the electric version of its hippie-era microbus called the ID.Buzz, prototypes of which are being used to test startup Argo AI’s self-driving system in Munich. BMW is presenting the iX, its latest electric SUV, while Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz will show off the EQE sedan, which is a bit smaller and less-luxurious than its flagship EQS limousine. Several startups are showing up with electric bicycles, scooters and motorbikes, as there’s a special focus on cleaner mobility in cities.
While most of the auto world’s incumbents have set fairly ambitious goals to electrify their lineups and bolster recycling and emissions-reduction efforts, executives should still brace for a bit of shouting and shaking of fists.
A German activist group called Sand im Getriebe — sand in the gears — has been warning for weeks it will stage protests against “big auto” at the show, in line with efforts across Europe to push cars out of city centers to give more space to pedestrians and cyclists. Sand im Getriebe has called for climate activists from all over the country to flock to Munich to “crash the German auto industry’s green-washing party.” Because of the spread-out and open nature of some of the events in Munich, carmakers’ PR departments are in all likelihood dreading the prospect of some less-fortunate photo ops.
Before You Go
Volkswagen’s premium-car unit Audi got a jump on the show by offering a first glimpse of a full-size electric sedan that will be key to narrowing a technology gap with Tesla. The Grandsphere design concept is the precursor to a sedan slated for production in 2025 that will boast an all-new software stack capable of taking over the task of driving from humans under certain conditions. Audi expects to almost double annual deliveries to 3 million cars in 2030 compared to 1.7 million last year. “This goal is very ambitious,” CEO Markus Duesmann told reporters days before the festivities get underway in Munich. “But in light of the market forecasts and our attractive product portfolio, it’s possible.”