EV automaker Tesla is preparing to update its Model 3 sedan, Hyundai has plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery plant here in the U.S. and Vietnamese car maker VinFast has shipped its first car to America. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, November 28, 2022.
1st Gear: Tesla is Preparing to Update The Model 3
Tesla has had its current range of cars for a while now. The Model S has been around in one form or another since 2012, the Model X SUV hit the road in 2015 and the Model Y in 2020. Then, there’s the brand’s smallest sedan, the Model 3, which has been on sale since 2017. It’s been a popular car for Tesla, but looks to be the time to update it.
According to Reuters, while Tesla scrambles to ready the Cybertruck electric pickup for release, engineers at the electric vehicle maker have also been working on an update to a car that already exists, the Model 3. The update would “cut production costs and boost the appeal” of the Model 3.
“One focus of the redesign codenamed ‘Highland’ is to reduce the number of components and complexity in the interior of the Model 3 while focusing on features that Tesla buyers value, including the display, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the revamp has not been announced.
“The revamp of the battery-powered sedan, which could also include some changes to the Model 3’s exterior and powertrain performance, will go into production at Tesla’s factory in Shanghai and the company’s Fremont, California plant, two of the people said. Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory will put the redesigned Model 3 into production in the third quarter of 2023, they said.”
Reuters says its “not clear” how great the cost savings will be on the updated Model 3, or if those savings will be passed onto EV buyers. Tesla has been slowly but surely increasing the prices of its EVs in most markets around the world, except in China, where it cut prices earlier this year.
Could the cost-cutting on Model 3 production hold the key to CEO Elon Musk’s promise of an affordable EV for the masses?
2nd Gear: Investors Are Bored Waiting for Self-Driving Cars
Every tech-head out there likes to tell you that autonomous cars are just a year away. The only problem there is that they’ve been just a year away for at least the last five years, and those ever-changing goalposts are getting a bit tiring.
It turns out that investors in the self-driving space are starting to feel the same way, according to the Wall Street Journal:
“After years of ambitious targets and bold promises, investors are growing impatient with the pace of driverless-car development, sending shock waves through an industry that had become accustomed to latitude and piles of cash from investors.
“Auto makers in recent weeks scaled back plans for the technology amid new pressure to curb expenses during an economic slowdown. An influential hedge fund also has questioned Google-parent Alphabet Inc.’s yearslong effort to advance self-driving technology, an endeavor that has proven thornier than many experts predicted just a few years ago.”
WSJ reports that “profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are still a long way off,” which is reducing investors’ faith in the space, adding that driverless startups, like Nuro, Inc., are also looking to reduce staff to cut costs.
This, the WSJ adds, is at odds with the sector just a few years ago, when big name automakers like Ford and GM were throwing money at driverless car startups. This begs the question, are full self-driving cars still more than a year away?
3rd Gear: Hyundai Plans $1.9 Billion U.S. Battery Plant
The automotive world was sent into a frenzy earlier this year when the U.S. amended its tax breaks for EVs so that only cars built in the States would qualify. First, there was outrage from oversees manufacturers and then, slowly but surely, they began pledging to build new facilities here in America.
Today, Hyundai is the latest automaker to make such a pledge as it plans a new $1.9 billion battery plant that could open in 2026. According to Reuters, the plant will be constructed by Hyundai in partnership with South Korean battery maker SK On. Reuters reports:
“Hyundai Motor and SK On, the battery unit of energy group SK Innovation Co Ltd, are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on the investment next week, the [Korea Economic Newspaper] said, citing unidentified auto and battery sources.
“Targeted to start in the first quarter of 2026, the plant aims to have an initial annual production capacity of about 20 gigawatt hours (GWh), enough to power about 300,000 electric vehicles (EVs), the newspaper said.”
The new plant is expected to break ground in Georgia, near Hyundai’s new EV plant. Hyundai broke ground on its $5.54 billion new EV production facility last month. It will produce electric cars for both Hyundai and Kia when it is fully operational.
SK On also currently operates two battery plants in Georgia, as well.
4th Gear: VinFast Ships its First Car to the U.S.
Vietnamese automaker VinFast has had a fast and furious launch into the U.S. Earlier this year, the automaker announced plans to build a production facility here in America, and opened its first stateside showrooms shortly after. Now, while it waits for its U.S. factory to get up and running, it’s started shipping its first EVs to America.
According to Automotive News, VinFast has shipped its first batch of cars from Asia to North America, comprising 999 EVs destined to reach customers over the coming weeks. A second batch of cars is destined for these shores at the start of 2023 as well.
“The first cars are expected to be handed over to customers by the end of December, the company said.
“VinFast CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy said some of the VF 8 electric crossovers being shipped Friday would be sent to U.S. car subscription service Autonomy but the majority would go to retail buyers who have ordered the car.”
But despite landing its first cars in the U.S. less than two years after announcing ambitions to launch here, the rollout is behind schedule for VinFast. The company initially said it wanted to ship 5,000 cars to the U.S. by December. Instead, it will deliver just 999 models, decided as the right amount for its first shipment as this is a lucky number in Vietnam.
5th Gear: H2-Go
As the world scrambles to clean up its act, engineers are looking to the aviation industry as the next big sector that needs attention. It’s because of this that projects investigating electric aircraft or hydrogen-powered engines are being investigated.
Now, the BBC reports that engine manufacturer Rolls Royce has fired up its first hydrogen-powered jet engine. The engine in question is a Rolls-Royce AE-2100A gas turbine motor, the same model used to power the C-130 Hercules.
“This is the first time a modern aircraft engine has ever been run on hydrogen.
“Devoid of bodywork, with its intricate wiring and pipework exposed, it sits securely fastened to a sturdy test rig, while engineers cluster around an array of screens in the control room, a safe distance away.
“The tests are being carried out by Rolls-Royce, after development work in Derby and in partnership with the airline EasyJet.”
The test aimed to prove that a jet engine could be run and controlled safely while burning hydrogen as fuel. It’s part of a project backed by UK budget airline EasyJet, which believes the fuel holds the key to the future of sustainable aviation.
But if engineers can prove that the fuel will successfully power airliners, the next challenge will be creating it in a sustainable manner. While this small-scale test used hydrogen created using renewable energy, scaling that up to power the global airline industry will be another challenge entirely.
Reverse: Lights Out and Away We Go
Neutral: How Were Your Holidays?
We’re all groaning and grumbling to be back at work this morning after the long Thanksgiving weekend. Are you as well? How was your holiday weekend, did you get up to anything fun? I had a weekend playing tourist and hitting the NYC Thanksgiving parade before attempting to cook up a feast for some friends – the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes went down a storm (Translated: they were a hit!)