Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s roundup of what matters in the world of cars and transportation. It’s Friday, and that is always a good thing. On tap for today: the “fundamental architecture” of the Tesla Model Y will be different when it comes to Germany, Volvo’s hybrid gamble pays off and BMW’s still trying the hydrogen thing.
A quick programming note: due in large part to the extremely slow auto industry news cycle as of late, Speed Lines will be running on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now on for the foreseeable future. If you have strong feelings about this move or general feedback, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
A Different Model Y?
Tesla had another great week, posting its fourth consecutive quarterly profit at $104 million and even more deliveries than in Q1. It announced its next factory will be in the Austin, Texas area. Its stock price continues to soar until it becomes the standard by which all global currency is judged by. All good things for the most-watched automaker on the planet.
But this is Elon Musk we’re talking about, so there’s always a chance he’ll pull a fast one on the rest of us. Buried in Tesla’s Q2 earnings call is a detail that didn’t catch a lot of headlines: the fact that the Model Y crossover sounds like it will be significantly retooled when its production begins in Germany’s Giga Berlin plant sometime next year. Here’s a transcript of that call from Seeking Alpha, emphasis mine:
Well, we bring a massive amount of effort into manufacturing engineering, the machine that makes the machine. There’s probably 1,000%, maybe 10,000% more engineering required for the factory then for the product itself. So we’re certainly making progress. I mean, battery and powertrain factory, Gigafactory in Nevada is, you know, alien dreadnought version 0.5, something like that, starting to approach version 1.
We’re getting way better at making cars. You can see that in Giga Shanghai. You’ll see that even more with Berlin. And we’re really changing the design of the car in order to make it more manufacturable. The fundamental architecture of Model Y will be different in Berlin, it may look the same, but the internals will be quite different and fundamentally more efficient architecturally than what we’ve done to date.
And Tesla manufacturing exec Drew Baglino followed up:
Yes. I was going to expand on that. I think part of the Alien Dreadnought concept is not just automation, but minimizing the number of process steps and complexity involved in the manufacturing system, which involves really integrating design and manufacturing across from like when the raw materials enter the factory to the finished goods exit. And we’re learning so much through doing that.
It’s extremely rare, if not entirely unprecedented, for an all-new car to be retooled completely with a year or two of its launch while it still looks the same. Having said that, quality issues around the Model Y are already well-documented, and considering the many, many production problems its sibling the Model 3 had, it does not surprise me that Tesla is trying to retool things as it gets that car out to the global masses.
This could well be a catch-up move—like a software patch—after Tesla rushed to get the Model Y out on time. Baglino is talking about production; Musk seems to be talking about the car itself. An Electrek post from earlier this month indicates it’s a mix of both.
Presumably, those manufacturing techniques will be adapted at the Fremont and Shanghai plants, so it will be interesting to see if the Model Y itself is really that much of a different car. Somebody get Sandy Munro on the phone.
Volvo’s Hybrid Gamble Pays Off
Gone, somewhat sadly, are the days when Volvo subsists on turbocharged five-cylinder engines. But in their place have been a new generation of plug-in hybrid, forced-induction motors across the entire range. They’re impressive powerplants for sure; I was just testing a T8 XC90 and was won over by its power and efficiency.
These motors are clicking with buyers, too, reports Automotive News. Plug-in hybrid sales are now up 80 percent in the first half of 2020. From that story:
“In the first half 14 percent of the cars we sold globally were hybrids,” Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Automotive News Europe in a telephone interview. “In Europe, it was close to a quarter of the cars we sold.”
The actual figure was 24 percent, up from 9 percent in the first half of 2019, according to Volvo’s figures for Europe, which include the EU, Britain and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries.
Globally Volvo sold 37,775 plug-in hybrids during the first six months, up from 21,015 during the same period last year.
It’s been especially good for Volvo in Europe, where, like all automakers, it is trying to wean itself off diesel sales and still appeal to customers who don’t want to pay high prices for petrol. I’m in favor of it too because increased hybrid sales can only help to drive battery costs down as the market gradually shifts to fully electric cars.
We’re Still Doing This, Huh
Speaking of alternate powertrains, BMW—which along with Honda and Toyota was on the hydrogen train longer than it probably should have been—hasn’t given up on the fuel cell game. It’s doing a hydrogen version of the X5 starting in 2022, reports Bloomberg:
BMW AG will make a version of its X5 SUV that runs on hydrogen fuel-cells, part of the carmaker’s plan of producing as many drive variants as possible until one technology proves dominant.
The i Hydrogen NEXT will get a limited production run starting in 2022, the German manufacturer said in a statement Friday. Toyota Motor Corp. will supply the fuel cells for the vehicle.
The technology “could have the potential to become another pillar in the portfolio of BMW,” Chief Executive Officer Oliver Zipse said.