Articles in Category: Automotive

The surprise announcement that PSA, holding company for the Peugeot, Citroën and DS brands, is in talks with General Motors to acquire GM’s European Opel and Vauxhall brands has set the cat among the pigeons in European capitals.

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One of the first justifications for any major merger or takeover is the opportunity for cost reduction from economies of scale and consolidation. PSA’s interest in the Opel/Vauxhall brands has some logic to it.

Constructeur Automobile Mondial?

Acquiring the brands would catapult PSA into the major league, closer to Volkswagen and Fiat in terms of automobile sales volume. Not surprisingly, the French publication Le Monde was one of the first to cover the story in depth (site est en francais, mes amis). As the newspaper explains, for GM, Opel and Vauxhall make up only 12% of the company’s production of roughly 12 million vehicles a year, but for PSA an additional 1.2 million units on top of the existing 1.9 million should create considerable opportunity for economies of scale, at least in the European market where PSA currently sells 1.9 million vehicles out of a total production of 3.1 million worldwide.

Will a deal selling Opel/Vauxhall to Peugeot mean more 308s? Source: Adobe Stock/mrivserg.

The worry in European capitals, though, is that those economies will be achieved by closing production facilities. With PSA 14% owned by the French government and Opel a major employer in Germany, the telephone lines between Paris and Berlin have no doubt been humming seeking reassurances that if European approval is to be given, no job losses will result in Germany or France. Read more

Our Automotive MMI took off in February, surging 12.2% along with strong gains in steel prices and all of the base metals in the automotive index saw gains in the first full month of 2017.

Hot-dipped galvanized steel was a particularly strong performer along with the catalyst metals, palladium and platinum. The tough talk about U.S. automotive production that President Donald Trump started during the campaign has only ramped up since his inauguration. Automakers could have to significantly alter their purchasing and supply chains if a border tax is enacted.

House Republican leaders have proposed what they call a “border-adjusted tax,” which would place a levy on vehicles imported into the U.S. and fully exempt those exported. Though Trump initially deemed the idea too complicated, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently said it was under consideration and could help pay for a wall along the Mexico border.

An overhaul of the U.S. tax system could hand an advantage to Ford Motor Company, Honda America and General Motors, which rely the least on imported vehicles among the major automakers. The shake-up, if it is a border-adjusted tax, would clearly undermine Toyota America, which relies on shipments of RAV4 sport utility vehicles from Canada and Lexus luxury models from Japan, and deliver an even more damaging blow to companies with zero domestic production, including Mazda Motor Corp.

“The border adjustment piece of this is very intriguing for us,” Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields told analysts after posting a $10.4 billion pretax profit for 2016. “The reason for that is we are the largest producer of vehicles here in the U.S. We’re a top exporter.”

About 79% of Ford’s domestic vehicle sales were built at home last year, according to researcher LMC Automotive, second only to the much smaller electric-car maker Tesla Motors. Honda ranks just behind Tesla and Ford, with 68% of its U.S. sales coming from domestic plants, followed by GM with 65%.

If the first weeks of the Trump administration are any indication, though, initial action on a tax plan could happen quickly via executive order and the lengthy process of legislation could be a post-executive order action plan.

January is typically the weakest month of the year for U.S. auto sales, and last month appeared to be no exception. Sales fell 2% to 1.1 million, according to Autodata Corp. Supply chain executives are clearly more worried about supply chains and a possible import tax this month than end-product sales.

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In addition to executive orders essentially reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines this morning, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that will require the secretary of Commerce (his nominee, Wilbur Ross, still awaits confirmation) to come up with a plan to mandate American-made steel for all new, expanded or retrofitted pipelines in the U.S. The plan is due in six months.

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“Going to put a lot of workers, a lot of steelworkers, back to work,” Trump said after signing the memo. According to the memo, “produced in the United States” shall mean:

  1. With regard to iron or steel products, that all manufacturing processes for such iron or steel products, from the initial melting stage through the application of coatings, occurred in the U.S.
  2. Steel or iron material or products manufactured abroad from semi-finished steel or iron from the U.S. are not “produced in the U.S.” for purposes of this memorandum.
  3. Steel or iron material or products manufactured in the U.S. from semi-finished steel or iron of foreign origin are not “produced in the United States” for purposes of this memorandum.

Trump also urged the chief executives of the Big Three U.S. automakers to build more cars in the U.S., pressing his pledge to bring jobs to America and discourage Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles from investing in Mexico.

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Trump has threatened to impose 35% tariffs on imported vehicles and opened the White House meeting with General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Ford CEO Mark Fields and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne saying he wants to see more auto plants in the U.S.

Well we all knew that the Volkswagen admissions scandal was the story that was going to run and run, so it should come as no surprise that the media is full of the latest allegations being made against Fiat Chrysler by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The Washington Post, the Economist and the Financial Times all report the EPA’s announcement that they are in discussions with the automaker over software which they say, might be illegal. The EPA has held back from calling the technology a “defeat device” in the terms used in last year’s cases against VW.

But in broad terms the operation of the software appears to work in a similar way to that of VW’s in that it also has the characteristics of the emissions controls under certain circumstances. Contrary to what many others believed, in fact, emission control equipment is allowed some pretty wide parameters of operation.

Diesel’s Easier… To Pollute With

In Europe where the rules are less rigorous, the testing regime allows diesel cars up to 14 times more noxious gases on the road under test conditions. According to the Economist, they are allowed to shut down their emission controls on the grounds that not doing so might damage engines when the ambient temperature is low. But in some cases this ambient threshold could be as high as 17 degrees, a temperature not reached for months in many Northern European countries. Read more

After surging in November, base metals fell across the board in December. That selling pressure spread into aluminum markets, limiting any upside moves into the year-end. Prices however didn’t give that much ground as aluminum’s fundamental story remains rather bullish. The drops look a lot like classic profit-taking.

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The auto industry is a key driver of aluminum demand. Auto sales in US and China (the world’s biggest car market) finished the year on a strong note. Total vehicle sales in the U.S. hit an 11-year high in December, aided by a fourth-quarter surge in demand that exceeded expectations. In China, car sales hit an all-time record in November, up 17.1% year-on-year.

Although the figures came in strong, they should be taken with a pinch of salt. In the U.S., cars were sold at an average 10% discount off the original asking price and that’s an incentive level not seen since the beginning of the financial crisis. Similarly, in Q4, China announced a 50% cut in its sales tax on automobiles with small engines. The tax cut was effective only until the end of 2016 although some analysts expect China to extend the tax cut into next year.

Chinese Supply

One of the factors supporting higher aluminum prices has been that there were fewer smelter restarts than expected smelter in China. In addition, we foresee limited additional restarts this year due to rising production costs and pollution issues in China.

First, alumina seems headed for a supply deficit this year following Chinese curtailments. Second, coal prices have surged since China reduced the hours for workers in its coal sector, supposedly in a bid to control pollution and curtail its excess industrial capacity. Truth be told, though, China really relaxed the mining day norm simply to control skyrocketing — some would say artificially high — prices. However, we expect the maneuvers will keep China’s supply of coal and aluminum in check this year.

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For years, China’s cities have been choking on the smog spewing from China’s industrial production sector but things have recently gotten much worse. Two weeks ago, authorities asked 23 cities in northern China to issue red alerts as inspection teams scoured the country. The scale of the red alert measure shows that the Chinese government is taking air pollution seriously. Given that coal burning is the biggest contributor to air pollution in China, industrial metals supply could shrink this year, particularly steel and aluminum.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The massive existing overcapacity and questions regarding China’s ability to maintain its rate of growth are the main factors that could spoil the party for aluminum bulls. However, for the reasons explained above, it seems early to make a call on that. We still see upside potential in aluminum prices.

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After President-elect Donald Trump targeted Toyota Motor Corp. yesterday with a taunt about the Japan-based multinational’s plan to build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build the Corolla model, both Toyota and Japan are fighting back.

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Trump warned Japan’s biggest automaker that it will face heavy penalties if it chooses to make cars for the U.S. market in Mexico, writing “Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.”

The president-elect’s tweet sent shares of Japanese automakers makers sliding today. An angry Japanese government and corporate establishment pushed back against Trump’s criticism of Toyota.

“Toyota is responsible for large employment at U.S. plants such as in Kentucky. It’s questionable whether the new U.S. president has a grasp of how many vehicles Toyota builds in the U.S.,” said Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister.  Hiroshige Seko, minister for trade and industry, added that the Japanese government would do its part to explain to the new U.S. administration about the contribution of the country’s car industry to the U.S. economy.

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Other Japanese CEOs also chimed in in support of Toyota including Sony’s Kazuo Hirai and Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn in what seemed like a full-court press from “Japan, Inc.” condemning Trump’s tweet.

U.S. auto sales set a new record in 2016. Automakers sold 17.55 million vehicles last year, as sales continued at a hot pace in December and topped analysts’ expectations.

Automakers eclipsed the record year of 2015 by some 70,000 vehicles or 0.4%, according to tracking firm Autodata Corp. Light truck sales totaled 59.5% of all sales last year, with cars representing 40.5% of the record. A year ago those percentages were 55.8% to 44.2% and each were about half just a few years ago.

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Another new sales record looked like a longshot just a few months ago, but a strong holiday sales period helped U.S. automakers forge ahead. Our Automotive MMI increased a point last month closing out a strong year.

Automotive metals are not just seeing robust demand from U.S. consumers. Automotive purchases in China are helping the strong economic recovery there, too. Sustainable growth in the world’s largest consumer of commodities is a bullish trend for all industrial metals and automotive alloys are no exception.

Ford Motor Company‘s recent decision to reinvest in a plant in Michigan rather than open a planned facility in Mexico may be the first salvo in an automotive trade war that has long been promised by President-elect Donald Trump.

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Japanese electronics company Panasonic and U.S. electric car maker Tesla said today they plan to begin production of solar cells at a factory in Buffalo, New York.

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The two companies said they finalized an agreement calling for Tokyo-based Panasonic to pay capital costs for the manufacturing. Palo Alto, California-based Tesla made a “long-term purchase commitment” to Panasonic.

Their statement gave no financial figures. The factory in Buffalo is under development by SolarCity Corp., a San Mateo, California-based solar panel company owned by Tesla. The photovoltaic cells and modules will be used in solar panels for non-solar roof products and solar glass tile roofs that Tesla plans to begin making, the announcement said.

LME Names New Clearing Executive

The London Metal Exchange has appointed James Proudlock as deputy chief executive of its clearing system, the exchange said last week.

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Proudlock, who has 30 years experience in commodities, will join LME Clear in April next year.”Prior to joining LME Clear, James worked at JP Morgan Securities for 10 years where he was a managing director and commodity product lead for Futures and Options and most recently markets execution,” the LME said.

Renewed economic confidence followed the election of republican nominee Donald Trump and Americans snapped up new vehicles at a rapid pace in November, giving the U.S. auto industry a chance of breaking its all-time record for full-year sales.

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The Automotive MMI was up, too, jumping 8%.

In November, U.S. auto sales rose 3.7% compared with a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. On an annualized basis, that equaled a rate of 17.87 million units. November sales growth projections had ranged from 2.7% at Edmunds.com to 4.2% at Kelley Blue Book. Total sales for November were 1.38 million, that shattered a record for the month that was set in November 2001.

Automotive_Chart_December-2016_FNL

The month’s annual sales rate, adjusted for two extra selling days this November, was 17.9 million vehicles, more than the 17.7 million average estimate.

A contributing factor to the solid month was the Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday sales, which are having an increasing effect on the month’s output. With one month to go, the auto industry has a decent chance to match or exceed its 2015 full-year record of 17.47 million vehicles sold.

Automotive sales and metals prices are both benefiting from bullish sentiment among buyers and investors. Steel companies stock prices have increased after Trump’s election just as aluminum and copper prices in the bullish metals markets.

Another factor in new car sales is the enduring low prices for both oil and gasoline, which might change soon now that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers such as Russia have finally agreed to a production freeze.

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Rising oil prices, however, might not be the detriment to auto sales that they have in the past. Hybrid vehicles and simply more efficient fuel consumption have blunted the impact of gasoline prices on new car sales. One of the reasons that the gas tax has become such a poor funding mechanism for the federal Highway Trust Fund is that motorists simply have to buy less gas for today’s efficient, newer vehicles.

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Global automotive giant Volvo is currently taking part in a European Union research project which involves replacing the various cables in trucks with wireless sensors.

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The result is expected to be a dramatic reduction in the amount of copper and plastic used. Every year the Volvo Group should be able to dispense with around 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) of cabling, which is the equivalent of 18 metric tons of copper and 33 metric tons of plastic.

Volvo is saying goodbye to miles of cabling in its truck division. Can IoT sensors replace all that expensive copper and plastic? Source: Volvo.

Volvo is saying goodbye to miles of cabling in its truck division. Can IoT sensors replace all that expensive copper and plastic? Source: Volvo.

“The savings could amount to a large number of hours, sometimes even days. In the factory, the cables are awkward to handle and time-consuming to fit in the right place,” said Jonas Hagerskans, a development engineer at the Volvo Group. “The wireless sensors are much simpler to install. The cables are also sensitive to dirt and rust and prone to faults. By replacing the cables with wireless sensors, it is possible to prevent all the potential cabling faults. When trucks come into the workshop for repairs, identifying faults in long cables that are difficult to access is very time-consuming. In the future, our customers could get their trucks back from the workshop more quickly.” Read more