02/12/2021

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The Toyota ship sets course for EV; AI on the rise; West Europe auto sales on a slide – the week

8 min read

The Toyota ship sets course for EV; AI on the rise; West Europe auto sales on a slide – the week

While Toyota has been slower than other legacy automakers to adopt electrification it has hit the throttle on EV innovation to catch up, a GlobalData analyst wrote this week. In the EV field, Tesla is widely seen as the leading driver of innovation. The company changed the face of the market with the launch of its 2012 Model S sedan, proving that EVs could offer reasonable range, excellent performance and be desirable to consumers, paving the way for the dozens of new EV models launching across the market. However, while the Californian startup has been generating headlines with each new iteration of its products, the legacy auto industry has been steadily gearing up its EV strategies to compete. In particular, Toyota is making strong headway into EV development after a somewhat slow start in the sector. The Japanese automaker was the largest automaker by sales volume in 2020 but has been more hesitant than many established rivals to dive in to large-scale EV production. This is partially down to Toyota’s market leadership and extensive R&D in hybrid-electric drivetrains that use nickel-metal hydride battery packs, which the company will be reluctant to abandon for purely battery-electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion cells. Toyota’s hand has been forced, however, by the industry-wide move to adopt battery EVs as regional regulators begin to define timelines to outlaw the sales of combustion-powered cars. With other automakers making strong commitments to abandon combustion engines and electrify their lineups, Toyota has now responded with its own line of battery EV models. These will sit in its new bZ range with the first model, the bZ4X, due on sale in mid-2022.

At its simplest form, according to IBM, artificial intelligence is a field which combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving. IBM also says it encompasses sub-fields of machine learning (ML) and deep learning and these disciplines are ‘comprised of AI algorithms which seek to create expert systems which make predictions or classifications based on input data’. ‘Deep learning’ comprises so-called neural networks, or layers of inputs and outputs, a kind of ‘scalable machine learning’ but machine learning is the bedrock of all of this. ML is based on the premise that systems can be designed to ‘learn’ from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. Very clever algorithms (written by humans, who set the parameters for ML decision making) have started this particular ball rolling and big data sets – like those generated by connected cars – are the abundant raw material that clever chips can process increasingly quickly. Advanced high speed computing capabilities available today enable or facilitate many machine learning applications – and we’re seeing more. It is becoming less ‘exceptional’ and more ‘mainstream’. Digital processes that create big datasets act as a facilitator. Large volumes of data can be quickly processed in real-time for solutions described variously as smart or intelligent. The automotive industry is emerging as a major source of AI and machine learning. The importance of artificial intelligence (AI) to the automotive industry over the coming decade cannot be overstated. Facing the long-term existential threats of sustainability, overcapacity, and the prospect of decreasing volume due to the challenge of shared mobility, automotive players must harness AI’s potential. The greatest potential lies in the abundance of data that auto suppliers and automakers amass and do not currently use effectively. Data volume will only continue to grow as autonomous, software-defined, and connected vehicle functions increase in number and scope. Data science and machine learning (ML) are designed to quickly assimilate large volumes of data, understand what it means, and promptly apply the insights that emerge.

As the chips crisis continues to bite, October was a bad month for Europe’s vehicle market. The outlook is also clouded by a rise in Covid infection rates and a worsening economic backdrop. West Europe light vehicle sales set to fall by over 28% in October. Preliminary data gathered by GlobalData reveals that the West European light vehicle market fell by 28.8% year-on-year in October. This sits below GlobalData’s previous expectations for the month of a fall of 23.3%. The result marks the fourth consecutive monthly fall as the market continues to be constricted by inventory woes stemming from the global chips shortage. In SAAR terms, the annualised selling rate for the preliminary data came in at 11.2m, the lowest October result since GlobalData’s records began in 2007. In recent times, this marks the lowest SAAR for the region since May 2020. For the Big Five markets – Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK – the estimated sales fall exceeded the overall market, crashing a combined 30.1%. Sales in the biggest market, Germany, fell an estimated 34%, marginally better than the estimated result in Italy of nearly 36%. By comparison, sales in the UK and Spain fared better, with declines of 21.8% and 23.4% respectively. GlobalData analyst Calum MacRae told Just Auto that for the remaining two months of the year he expect sales to continue to suffer year-on-year declines, though of a lower magnitude than October’s drop. “This should see the West European market close the year at 12.4m, some 0.3% down on the COVID-19 ravaged 2020 market,” he said. MacRae maintains that COVID-19 still presents significant downside risk to the market. He points out that infection rates are once again on the rise in most West European markets (bar Spain at the moment) with governments monitoring the situation intently. “It could be that more lockdowns are the order of the day in certain markets if infections and hospitalizations start to spiral,” he warns. “Coupled with the worsening macroeconomic outlook due to energy prices and mounting inflationary pressures volumes in West Europe, the region might struggle to reach our current 13.6m forecast for 2022,” MacRae says. A 13.6m West European market next year would amount to a 9.7% increase on 2021’s forecast outturn.

BMW i Ventures, the venture capital unit of the BMW Group, has announced a strategic investment in Upstream Security, a tech startup which aims to accelerate the development of innovative automotive cybersecurity technologies and promote strategic connected vehicle cybersecurity projects. Israel-based Upstream is described as a data management platform purpose-built for connected vehicles, delivering automotive cybersecurity and advanced data-driven applications. The platform utilizes connected vehicle data to secure vehicles already on the road against known and unknown cyber-attacks and helps OEMs to unlock the value of automotive data. The collaboration with Upstream started back in 2019 when it joined the BMW Startup Garage program and became a group supplier. The pilot project was successfully completed by the BMW technology office in Israel. Leveraging the startup programme, Upstream can harness experienced and specialised resources to develop and test its technology.

The percentage of EVs among newly registered German cars is at an all time high. The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) said electric vehicles accounted for 30.4% of new vehicle registrations in October, a record. “The explanation is relatively simple,” said Germany Trade & Invest ‘automotive expert’ Stefan Di Bitonto.  Carmakers decide what sort of vehicles they allocate parts like semiconductors to. The profit margins for electric vehicles are currently quite high. That’s because the German state subsidises the purchase of EVs with up to EUR6000. Additionally dealers offer a EUR3000 rebate which is making buyers think that now is the right time to purchase a car. So it makes sense to put semiconductors in EVs. Everyone all around is profiting.” Overall German sales fell 35% to 178,700 cars last month. There were 54,400 new EV registrations, up 13%. Volume of BEVs rose 32% month on month. Electric car registrations more than tripled, from 63,281 to 194,163, from 2019 to 2020, according to the German government agency KBA. And 115,296 EVs were registered from January to May of this year alone.

Geely’s concept has all the comforts of home down to a washing machine. No mention of a dryer. China’s Zhejiang Geely Automobile Group plans to enter the local electric heavy truck market by 2024, joining a growing number of electric vehicle (EV) makers to target this segment. The car maker’s Farizon Auto commercial vehicle unit unveiled a futuristic battery powered truck concept, the Homtruck, following similar moves by BYD Auto in September and Telsa much earlier. TuSimple, a Chinese autonomous truck startup, also planned to launch an electric truck in 2024. Geely said it aimed to produce 570,000 zero and low emission trucks per year by 2030. CEO Li Shufu said during the unveiling of the truck: “An upgrade of the next generation of vehicles is imminent, particularly commercial vehicles, as they put a heavy burden on the environment.” The Homtruck unveiled this week features a number of home comforts for its drivers, including a shower, toilet, single bed and kitchen area with refrigerator and small washing machine. Drivers could switch between power modes, from pure electric to hybrid battery, and would be able to easily swap depleted batteries for fully charged packs. The truck would also be able to support autonomous driving.

British company Altilium Group announced an agreement with Indo Mineral Research, a member of the Sebuku Group, one of Indonesia’s largest mining groups, to cooperate in the development and promotion of the DNi Process in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest reserves of nickel. The two companies have agreed to commit financial, technical and logistical resources to accelerate the adoption of the process and to play a key role in the EV battery supply chain. Discussions are now under way with several parties to construct plants in Indonesia, with the first likely to deliver at least 20,000 tonnes of nickel in mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) a year, sufficient nickel and cobalt for the equivalent of around 500,000 and 250,000 lithium ion batteries, respectively. In addition, the process will produce saleable co-products such as: hematite, magnesium oxide, aluminium hydroxide and scandium oxide.

Volkswagen said it would invest EUR1bn in Latin America and expected to make a profit there in the 2021 financial year, for the first time since the 2013 recession. The automaker would build the MQB platform based Polo Track at its plant in Taubate, Brazil for sale in 2023. VW would develop digital business models and expand biofuel research to boost its “transformation into [a] software-oriented provider of sustainable mobility”.

BMW of North America and California Bioenergy (CalBio) have announced an expanded collaboration to include Bar 20 Dairy, a farm based in Kerman, California, as the automaker works with dairy farms on renewable energy. The project intends to power EVs in the state using biodigester technology to capture methane from manure to generate electricity for the power grid. The technology captures methane from manure and turns it into renewable energy without combustion. It will also result in methane reductions to help the state meet its climate goals.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto

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