Rivian is having a time, cars don’t legally require steering wheels or pedals anymore and BMW just made an acquisition I personally thought it made years ago. All that and more in this Friday edition of The Morning Shift for March 11, 2022.
1st Gear: So Much Good Will Squandered
March has not been kind to the upstart EV truck and SUV maker everyone’s been rooting for. First, Rivian announced a significant price hike of up to 20 percent on preordered vehicles, forcing customers to pay a lot more if they wanted their R1T or R1S on the schedule they’d been promised. It walked those hikes back, but that didn’t save it from a lawsuit from a shareholder claiming that the company knowingly underpriced its products.
Things aren’t getting better for Rivian, either. On Thursday, it reported “a net loss of $2.46 billion in the fourth quarter compared with a loss of $354 million from a year earlier,” per Reuters via Automotive News. And on Friday morning, its stock was trading for 10 percent less. Again, from Reuters:
Rivian Automotive Inc shares tumbled 10% in premarket trade on Friday after the electric vehicle maker halved its production forecast, pointing to its struggles with soaring raw material prices and supply chain constraints.
Prices of lithium and nickel, key materials used in batteries that power electric vehicles, have skyrocketed due to the Western sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
That, in turn, has added to supply-chain disruptions, which have plagued the industry since the outbreak of the pandemic.
As hard as Rivian has been hit, it’s somewhat disingenuous to chalk all its problems up to the supply chain. Everyone’s dealing with it, and at this point it’s more an issue of rolling with those punches in a way that’s fair and transparent to customers. Springing a five-digit price increase on reservation holders is pretty much the opposite of doing that, and it’s reflecting in the company’s stock price. As Reuters notes, Rivian’s now trading for less than half of the value of its initial public offering in November. On Friday it dropped down as far as $36.30, a record low.
2nd Gear: The Cuts Keep Coming For Toyota
Toyota is planning to manufacture a record 11 million cars globally in 2022, provided it can stick to its schedule. We are three months into the year, and the world’s largest automaker has already had to curtail that plan somewhat. On Friday it announced a slew of cuts to domestic production through April, May and June. From Reuters:
Toyota plans to reduce domestic production by about 20% in April, about 10% in May and about 5% in June from an earlier production plan, a spokesperson said. Production would still remain high as the previous plan factored in the need to make up for lost output, the spokesperson said.
The automaker’s suppliers have been forced to deal with a number of changes to production plans due to chip shortages, and the reduced output should take some of the burden off them, the spokesperson said, declining to comment on the number of cars involved or the financial impact.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda told union members this week that without a sound production plan, suppliers risked becoming “exhausted” and that April through June would be “an intentional cooling off” period.
Surely you can guess why this is happening, but of course now there’s a new complicating factor to consider: the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Plus, in February Toyota had to forfeit 13,000 vehicles worth of production in Japan due to a cyberattack at one of its suppliers. Wonder what it’ll be next week.
3rd Gear: Cars Without Controls
GM’s Cruise division is currently testing self-driving taxis on city streets. These cars don’t have drivers and so they don’t really need human-operated controls, like steering wheels and pedals. It’s for that reason that the automaker recently petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make an exception for automated vehicles, so they’re not required to have those inputs. Via Reuters:
Automakers and tech companies have faced significant hurdles to deploying automated driving system (ADS) vehicles without human controls because of safety standards written decades ago that assume people are in control.
Last month, General Motors Co and its self-driving technology unit Cruise petitioned the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to build and deploy a self-driving vehicle without human controls like steering wheels or brake pedals.
The rules revise regulations that assume vehicles “will always have a driver’s seat, a steering wheel and accompanying steering column, or just one front outboard passenger seating position.”
“For vehicles designed to be solely operated by an ADS, manually operated driving controls are logically unnecessary,” the agency said.
Depending on how you look at it, this is a significant milestone. It’s now been codified into law that some cars don’t need conventional controls. You could view this as a big step toward the self-driving future we’ve been promised for so long — gold you could view this as GM merely establishing permission to save production costs on its robotaxis. I’d lean more toward the second read, but regardless: still kind of a big moment in the course of automotive history.
4th Gear: BMW Buys Company You Probably Thought They Already Owned
That company is none other than Alpina — or, should I say ALPINA, considering the way it’s styled in all of the company’s marketing materials. Alpina has been tuning the German luxury automaker’s products for decades now, but not in the track-focused, power-obsessed tradition many specialists do. Sometimes Alpina BMWs are less powerful than their source material, which is weird. The company also has an obsession with replacing paddle shifters with nipples behind the steering wheel.
Personally I’ve never understood the love, but BMW clearly thought Alpina was worth locking down for an undisclosed sum. From a press release:
The company owned by the Bovensiepen family will continue to use its engineering expertise in developing, manufacturing, and selling BMW ALPINA vehicles within the existing cooperation until the end of 2025. This results in base BMW cars receiving extensive modification by the ALPINA team – including the engine and transmission, as well as the chassis, aerodynamics, and interior equipment. BMW ALPINA vehicles are pre-assembled on BMW production lines before final assembly of the vehicles taking place in workshops in Buchloe, also comprising individual interiors built to customer specifications.
After 2025 is when things really begin to change for Alpina. It’ll cease assembly at its current headquarters in Buchloe, outside Munich, and move manufacturing into BMW proper.
The sale of trademark rights to BMW and the resulting discontinuation of the current ALPINA vehicle program at the end of 2025 will have implications for existing jobs at the Buchloe site. BMW will support ALPINA with the necessary adjustments to the workforce at the Buchloe location over the coming years. Up until the end of 2025, BMW will work with ALPINA to offer those employees who will not be able to continue working at the Buchloe site a new position with the BMW Group and also help them find new jobs with suppliers and development partners.
Here’s to many more weird fast BMWs in the years ahead.
5th Gear: The Panda Is Safe—For Now
There are few vehicles more precious than the humble, honest Fiat Panda. Its immediate future has been secured until 2026, per yet another report from Reuters that confirms it’ll be produced alongside the Alfa Romeo Toena- I’m sorry, Tonal.
Stellantis will produce its best-selling Fiat Panda small car at its Pomigliano plant in southern Italy until 2026, metal workers unions said on Thursday after the carmaker met workers’ representatives.
The production of the Panda in Pomigliano, for which the group had never provided an end date, will add to production of Alfa Romeo’s new sport utility vehicle Tonale, which is about to start at the plant.
Subcompact EVs are very hard to do affordably, so I hope that the Panda persists for as long as it possibly can. Because once Stellantis goes full EV, the Panda could materialize as something very different — and very expensive — compared to the efficient, practical multitool of a car it’s been for decades now. That is, if it even gets to live at all.
Reverse: It’s “A Van Time”
It’s said that the Renault Avantime, the B-pillar-less minivan with futuristic styling and arguably the most French vehicle any French automaker has produced in the last 20 years, was first shown at the Geneva Motor Show on this day in 1999. Our recently -departed colleague Jason Torchinsky drove one not too long ago and recorded that funky experience for your viewing pleasure.
Jalopnik has a Twitch now if you didn’t already know, and yesterday Steve DaSilva and I chatted about a multitude of subjects while he played Gran Turismo 7. It was a fun time, and we plan on doing it every Thursday at 4 pm ET. I love a racing game, and so I’d like to ask the gamers in the chat what you’d like to see us play. And let me be extremely clear about this: Nothing is off the table. I want to get weird and esoteric. Serviceable Sega Saturn racers, like F1 Challenge. Driving Emotion Type-S. This abomination. Of course we’ll play new stuff too, but I want to stream games nobody else is streaming. Let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments.