Articles in Category: Automotive

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The damage to brand is extending far beyond Volkswagen.

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The whole German car industry, once held up as the paradigm of quality and professionalism, is feeling the aftershocks of Volkswagen’s emissions testing deceit (popularly dubbed Dieselgate).

The challenge for the German auto industry is made all the more severe because of the industry’s reliance on the diesel engine.

According to a Financial Times article, Germany’s carmakers will upgrade 5.3 million diesel vehicles to reduce their harmful emissions as they scramble to save the country’s manufacturing image and the technology so badly tarnished by the Volkswagen test-rigging scandal.

The 5.3 million cars to be upgraded include 3.8 million Volkswagen vehicles — 2.5 million of which had already been recalled over the emissions issue.

Some 900,000 Daimler cars are involved, plus 300,000 BMWs, as well as a few Opel vehicles, the report states.

The urgency is compounded by reports that a number of German cities, fed up with high levels of air pollution, are contemplating driving bans on diesel vehicles — a move that would devastate the auto sector, the Financial Times reports.

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The Automotive MMI hit the gas in July, rising three points to 90, a 3.4% leap.

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The sub-index reached the 90-plus threshold for the first time since the February reading, when it jumped to 92.

Although automotive sales have fallen off the record pace seen in 2016, the basket of metals in this sub-index posted strong price gains throughout July. U.S. hot-dip galvanized (HDG) steel rose 1.3%, while U.S. platinum and palladium bars posted increases of 2.3% and 3.4%, respectively.

U.S. Automotive Sales Down From 2016 Figures

General Motors sales fell 15.5% in July compared with July 2016, according to Autodata Corp sales data released Tuesday. In the year to date, GM’s sales are down 3.9% compared with the same time frame in 2016.

GM is not the only automotive brand to see lagging U.S. sales this year.

Ford‘s July sales were down 7.4% in July compared with July 2016, and down 4.3% in the year to date compared with the same time frame in 2016. Fiat Chrysler sales were down 10.5% in July compared with July 2016, and 7.2% in the year to date.

Even Tesla, riding high off the hype from the forthcoming Model 3, saw its July sales fall 5.2% below its July 2016 figures. Even so, Tesla’s year-to-date sales are 34.7% higher than its sales for January-July 2016.

Honda also posted sales drops in July (1.2%) and in the year to date (0.2%). Volkswagen, still dealing with the PR quagmire of Dieselgate, saw its July sales fall 2.6%, although its sales are up 5.9% for the year to date.

Several automakers down the sales list did post sales jumps in July compared with July 2016. Subaru (6.9%), Toyota (3.6%) and Mitsubishi (1.7%) posted sales increases, while luxury vehicle brands Ferrari (20.7%) and Maserati (31.1%) also saw increases (albeit on relatively small volumes).

Meanwhile, in China, auto sales were up in June year-over-year by 4.6%, according to Reuters. In July, the Nikkei Asian Review reported surges in Chinese sales for Honda and Toyota. Riding a wave of interest in smaller models, Honda and Toyota year-over-year sales rose 11.6% and 11.4%, respectively.

Section 232 Hits the Brakes

The automotive market is just one industry sector that could be affected by trade measures that could come about as a result of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigations into steel and aluminum imports.

Of course, those investigations have yet to reach a resolution.

Last week, President Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal that “we don’t want to do it at this moment,” in reference to trade actions involving steel imports.

So, for now, that policy track seems to be stuck in park. With January deadlines for both the steel and aluminum investigations — per requirements set forth in Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act — the steel and aluminum markets could remain in limbo for several additional months.

Feeling the Electricity

As electric car technology continues to advance, so, too, is consumer interest.

One model drawing consumer interest in the forthcoming Tesla Model 3. According to a report in CNNMoney, the Model 3, billed as a more affordable electric vehicle option, is garnering more than 1,800 net reservations each day. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told analysts Wednesday that the total reservations for the new model had reached around 455,000, including cancellations.

The base Model 3, without add-ons, is listed at $35,000 and has a range of 220 miles, according to the Tesla website.

Automated Transport Trucks On Hold

In addition to electric-powered vehicles, automation is also considered the wave of the future.

But what about automated trucks delivering goods across the highways of America?

According to a report in Material Handling & Logistics, that possibility might be a reality down the road, but not necessarily in the near future.

The report states that in a recent ABI Research survey, 44% of respondents were not aware of the use of automated vehicles for transport.

That doesn’t mean automation isn’t picking up steam overall. The study notes that 30% of all U.S. companies plan to incorporate robotics into their operations next year.

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Swedish carmaker Volvo is betting the farm on electric vehicles.

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In an announcement this week, Volvo cars said beginning in 2019, it will no longer launch new car models powered only by an internal combustion engine. According to the Financial Times, pure and electric hybrid cars will be the only game in town for the Swedish carmaker.

Following hot on the heels of Tesla’s launch of its most affordable mass-produced Model 3 — which, since March last year, has taken nearly 400,000 pre-orders, a remarkable vote of confidence in what has become one of the most exciting brands in the automotive industry — does Volvo’s announcement spell the end of the internal combustion engine?

Regardless of the headlines, Volvo is not turning its back on petroleum and diesel engines just yet.

Reading between the lines, the pledge is to launch five new models between 2019 and 2021, all of which will have petrol and diesel hybrid options, plus electric vehicle EV) versions, not five new models which are EV only. Although Volvo is owned by Chinese manufacturer Geely — and as such does not have to report to shareholders on a quarterly basis, giving greater flexibility to invest today for the longer term — the Swedish carmaker is still not saying it can achieve this on its own.

Rather, Volvo’s announcement is saying to the market it is seeking cooperation among battery manufacturers and infrastructure providers to provide solutions to the two biggest challenges EVs face: limited range and limited charging infrastructure.

The first challenge, range, requires continued massive investment in research and development to drive down battery costs and increase power density. The latter challenge requires a massive investment, not just in charging points, but also in configuring electricity grids to cope with demand if EVs achieve scale.

Volvo’s Chinese ownership probably influenced these strategic goals in another way.

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After sustaining a one-point drop last month, the Automotive MMI regained lost ground during the one-month period ending July 1. The Automotive MMI — our sub-index of industrial metals and materials used by the automotive sector — increased by one point, from 86 to 87, via a 1.1% boost.

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Although the increase was small, the one-point jump is an encouraging sign, as it marked the first increase for the sub-index since early this year, when it jumped from 82 to the February reading of 92. After that 92 mark, the sub-index posted four straight months of decreases.

Overall, U.S. auto sales continue to drop after a record 2016. Auto sales to the midway point of the year were down 2.1% compared with the same point last year, according to Autodata Corp data released earlier this week. Standard passenger cars took a nosedive in the year to date, with an 11.4% drop in sales (from 3.64 million units to 3.22 million).

However, the news isn’t all bad. Consumers have taken a liking to trucks this year — trucks have seen a 4.6% increase in sales in the year to date (compared to the same point last year).

In the year to date, General Motors (GM) sales fell 1.8% (but leads the way with nearly 1.44 million units sold in the calendar year to date), Ford‘s fell by 3.8% and Fiat Chrysler fell by 6.7%.

On the positive end, Nissan sales were up 2.7%, Volkswagen sales were up 7.6% and Mitsubishi sales were up 5.1%. As for Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, sales were up 42.7% after a jump from 16,500 units sold to 23,550 units sold in 2017 to date.

Meanwhile, growth in Chinese auto sales is slowing, partially due to lower tax breaks for compact cars, according to the Nikkei Asian review.

GM, however, reported a strong June, according to a Reuters report Wednesday. After two consecutive months of sales drops, GM reported a 4.3% sales increase in June compared with June 2016, according to the report. However, GM’s year-to-date sales are down 2.5%.

Total vehicle sales from January-May are up 3.7%, according to Reuters, lower than the anticipated 5% growth predicted by the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The Political Backdrop: Section 232

The Trump administration was expected to announced the result of its Section 232 investigation of steel imports late last week. That announcement never came, but many in the U.S. steel industry expect the administration to introduce tariffs or quotas in an attempt to strike at Chinese excess capacity.

Those policies would lead to domestic steel producers to raise prices, which would, of course, have an effect on automobile prices.

President Trump is headed to Germany this week for a Group of 20 (G20) summit, where Section 232 is likely to come up.

Whatever the administration ultimately decides, the steel and aluminum industries — and by proxy, the automotive industry — are watching closely.

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This morning in metals news, LME copper bounced back Thursday after a down Wednesday, Saudi steel producers are happy about a cut in export tariffs and Volvo made a major announcement regarding the future of its vehicle inventory.

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Copper Rebounds Slightly After Hitting One-Week Low

After a Wednesday that saw a 0.9% drop for LME copper, the metal bounced back Thursday, ticking up by 0.1%, Reuters reported.

The metal moved up from its one-week low, which on Wednesday stood at $5,815 per ton.

In the backdrop was the recent release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s June meeting, revealing “policymakers were increasingly split on the outlook for inflation and how it might affect the future pace of interest rate rises,” according to Reuters.

Saudi Steel Gets Tariff Cut Relief

Steel producers in Saudi Arabia received good news this week as the government announced it would stop export duties on steel for two years, according to Reuters.

According to the report, the government also cut cement export duties by 50%.

While Saudi stocks overall were down early Thursday, stocks in the building materials sector showed well, including Al Yamaha Steel Industries, which surged by 2.1%, according to Reuters.

Volvo Looks to Go All-In on Green Rides

The traditional combustion engine took a hit this week when automaker Volvo announced it would build only electric or hybrid vehicles beginning in 2019, The New York Times reported.

While the “green” vehicle market is still relatively small, it is growing. As Autodata Corp numbers released this week show, sales of Tesla vehicles, for example, have surged. In the year to date, Tesla sold 23,550 vehicles, good for a 42.7% increase in sales from the same point last year.

Of course, those sales figures are tiny when compared with traditional automakers, like GM and Ford, which sold 1.41 million and 1.29 million units, respectively, in the calendar year to date. Sales for those giant automotive brands, however, are down (albeit down from a big 2016 in sales for automakers).

Clearly, battery-powered and hybrid vehicles are picking up steam. What does this green wave mean for metals? The boom presages increased demand for metals like cobalt, for example. Also, according to Seeking Alpha, the coming electric vehicle revolution bears bad news for platinum group metals (PGMs), like platinum and palladium.

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Reports of platinum’s demise have been much exaggerated — or so this month’s report from the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) would argue.

Sales of diesel vehicles in some parts of Europe have taken a beating in recent months over concerns that authorities will raise costs or otherwise make living with diesel engines a less attractive proposition for owners, due to negative sentiment post-Dieselgate. Total car sales have dropped in some European markets, including the U.K.. However, where sales have held up there’s been a definite swing to gasoline vehicles rather than diesel.

The markets have read this trend as meaning platinum demand will fall — but maybe not surprisingly, the WPIC is taking a more optimistic view.

Regardless of buyers’ short-term preferences, the WPIC says the auto industry has an overarching challenge in the years ahead that will support platinum demand. Automakers will face fines if they do not meet new EU CO2 targets by 2020, but the report lists the industry’s rather limited options.

First, the industry could boost sales of battery electric vehicles (BEV). However, with a consensus expectation of BEVs taking no more than 5% of the market by 2025 due to lack of charging infrastructure, it seems unlikely BEVs are the short-term solution.

Source: World Platinum Investment Council

Second, the industry could sell a higher percentage of hybrids. Recent trends, however, suggest demand for hybrids, despite Volkswagen’s Dieselgate, is still growing too slowly. Demand is certainly not growing fast enough to reach those emissions targets, which are just 2 ½ years away.

So, the third option — and to be fair to the WPIC, probably the most likely option — is for automakers to clean up diesel. The technology already exists to meet the most stringent nitrogen oxide (NOx) targets set for 2022, but the industry needs to do more than it has done in the past to prove to the buying public the performance figures they publish can be achieved in the real world.

The WPIC points to French automaker PSA, which has undertaken to publish independently certified, real-world CO2 test results for its vehicles. PSA also recently announced it will do the same for NOx results.

It is only by automakers voluntarily — or maybe by legislation — being forced to accept third-party verification of their emission figures that they will be able to rebuild consumer trust and deflect harsher government legislation on diesel engines in the future.

Not surprisingly, the attraction of the WPIC is significantly cleaner diesel engines will require increased platinum-group metal (PGM) loadings, even as the industry shifts from the current lean NOFX trap (LNT) system to the more effective selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology. According to ExtremeTech, when announcing Ford’s switch to SCR, it reported that SCR is more costly, but it’s also generally considered more effective than LNT.

Of course, the platinum price has more drivers than just the demand for the catalysts in the automotive market. Investor demand in the form of ETFs, physical demands in the form of jewelry, and chemical and catalyst demand from the chemicals industry are all significant drivers on the demand side.

But much of recent negative sentiment toward platinum has been due to controversy over the diesel engine’s ability to meet emission targets.

And in that sense, platinum’s fortunes will in part ride on the coattails of the auto industry’s ability to re-establish the diesel engine as an environmentally acceptable propulsion unit.

The Automotive MMI, our sub-index of industrial metals and materials used by the automotive sector, dropped by one point for a June reading of 86. The Automotive MMI has not seen an increase since early this year, when the figure accelerated from a January reading of 82 to 92 in February.

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Overall, consumers seemed to pass on auto purchases in May, continuing the slowdown from January-April. Car and light truck sales — checking in at a total of 1.52 million in May — were down for the third month in a row. Automakers reported a 1% drop in sales from the previous year, according to a Reuters report.

While Ford Motor Company’s sales are down by 3.5% in the calendar year to date compared with the same point in 2016, it had a good May, edging out GM and others, according to data from Autodata Corp.

Ford sold 240,250 vehicles in May, a 2.3% increase from its May 2016 total sales.

GM, meanwhile, sold 237,156 vehicles in May 2017, a 1.4% drop from May 2016.

As for Chinese auto sales, those are down, too, despite a strong first quarter. Reuters reported a 2.2% drop in April sales after a 5% rise in March. The decline was the largest in China since August 2015, according to the report.

So how does that related to the metals side of the story?

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Ford Motor Company has bet the farm on electric and driverless cars, to borrow a phrase from an article this week.

The appointment of Ford’s new boss, Jim Hackett — who previously headed Ford’s Smart Mobility subsidiary from March 2016 but prior to that, was boss of Steelcase, a business furniture company — illustrates more graphically than words that Ford has read the runes for the internal combustion engine and the current automotive business model, and decided it needs a radical shake-up in its thinking and approach.

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A rethink of where the industry is going over the next 10 years has prompted not just the hiring of this talented outsider, but also, earlier this year, Ford’s $1 billion investment in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company that, it is hoped, will produce the software needed for a new generation of self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars, though, are dependent not just on developing new technologies but a host of legal, insurance policy and regulatory changes that will take time to evolve.

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You should credit them for trying. As one of the first foreign multinationals to invest in the Indian market, General Motors has been persevering for over 20 years.

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This month, however, it has finally pulled the plug, announcing that it will stop making cars in India for the Indian market by the end of this year. That doesn’t mean it will cease all manufacturing. Although the firm has already stopped its production in Gujarat, it will continue with its manufacturing foundry at Talegoaon in Maharashtra, making parts and cars for export to the Asian and South American markets.

As part of a wider re-structuring aimed at improving profitability, the BBC reported, GM has put a $1 billion investment plan for India on hold, while also pulling back in South and East Africa. The firm plans to sell a 57.7% shareholding and grant management control to Isuzu in its East African operations, as well as stop selling cars in South Africa and sell its Struandale plant there to the Japanese firm in a re-structuring aimed at creating savings of $100 million per annum.

To be fair, minor successes aside, GM has struggled in India and failed to make much impact on a market originally dominated by domestic brands but latterly by Japanese and Korean firms. Even after more than 20 years, GM’s Chevrolet brand only has 1% of the market.

Commenting on the earlier plan to invest $1 billion in the market to develop its product range in what is forecast to become the world’s third largest car market, GM’s International president Stefan Jacoby is quoted as saying, “We determined that the increased investment required for an extensive and flexible product portfolio would not deliver a leadership position or long-term profitability in the domestic market.” Read more

This doubtful week, a Stanford economist made the bold proclamation that electric vehicles will completely displace their petrol and diesel counterparts by 2025, and India’s plan to triple steel production by 2030 was met with more than a few raised eyebrows.

Grand Plans

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Speaking of India, its ascent as a promising market for renewable energy has been truly impressive. Consultancy EY recently published its 2017 Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI), and India took the number two spot, beating out the U.S., which slipped to third place.

India had been number nine in 2013, before Narendra Modi, who views developing renewable energy to wean India off coal as a top priority, became prime minister. Modi aims to boost India’s renewables capacity to 175 GW by 2022 (currently capacity stands at 57 GW).

India has similarly high ambitions for steel, as Sohrab Darabshaw reported earlier this week. The country aims to triple its steel production capacity by 2030, which would mean adding 182 million tons of capacity. Read more