Despite trade tensions surrounding Chinese vehicles, Stellantis and Leapmotor’s JV is preparing to go global, starting with Europe. This week, Leapmotor International, the 51/49 Stellantis-led joint venture, completed its binding agreement and said it was preparing for exports to the EU, expected to begin in Q1 2024. Earlier this month, during its Q1 2024 shipments and revenues call, Stellantis CFO Natalie Knight hinted things were moving “quite rapidly” with the Leapmotor JV. Leapmotor International will be headed by CEO Tianshu Xin, a former Stellantis China executive. The vehicles will be sold under the Leapmotor brand, with its two flagship models T03 and C10 set to enter nine European countries this September: France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Greece an Romania.Targeted regions will later expand to India & Asia Pacific (excluding China), Middle East & Africa plus South America.

Ford future

Ford has hit the reset button on global electrification, so where does that leave its future model plans? Before looking at specifics of the next generation models planned for the later 2020s and beyond, it’s worth examining where Ford Motor Company finds itself globally. In Asia-Pacific, things are good, the Ranger being a particular bright spot; Europe best rated as OK-to-good rather than stand-out; North America excellent; and China, well, things could be better there. Ford brand monthly sales in the People’s Republic have been lately failing to break the 10,000 (locally made) vehicles mark. The Mondeo accounts for around a third of volume with the Equator Sport a distant second followed by the Explorer, Edge and Escape. Which means the Equator and Evos are not doing too well, deliveries running at a rate of only a few hundred a month. Even worse, the Mustang Mach-E and Everest are usually only in double digits. The company does have much to be positive about, as the relationships with its main JV partners seem good, even if volume is nowhere near that of General Motors let alone Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda or even Nissan. Still, Ford Motor Company has stuck it out through difficult periods before and seems committed to local market, as long as it can make decent returns.

VinFast growth aims

Vietnam’s domestic car company VinFast is stepping up its global expansion by focusing on Asia’s emerging battery electric vehicle (BEV) markets, challenging the long-standing dominance of Japanese automakers in the region, as well as a growing number of Chinese brands. VinFast was established by Vietnam’s largest private conglomerate Vingroup in 2017, initially to produce internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with the technical collaboration of BMW, Magna Steyr and Pininfarina, before it began switching to BEVs in 2021 as the company refocused on future segments of the global vehicle market. The automaker launched its first BEV model in 2022, the VF e34, which has since been joined by several other battery-powered passenger models under the VF badge. The company has now ceased production of ICE vehicles altogether. Despite entering a growing list of overseas markets since the end of 2022, including in Europe and the US, the company struggled to grow its sales significantly last year. Global deliveries fell just short of 35,000 vehicles in 2023, most of which took place in its home market Vietnam. While this was up from the estimated 26,000 units in 2022, it was still lower than the 38,000 vehicles it delivered in 2021. Sales of electric scooters expanded threefold to just over 72,000 units, however.

ASEAN sales stay off

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ASEAN Light Vehicle (LV) sales decreased by 11% year-on-year (YoY) in Q1 2024, primarily driven by lower sales volumes in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, while Malaysia and the Philippines saw positive sales growth. Indonesia’s LV sales plummeted by 22% YoY to 200k units in Q1 2024. Several factors contributed to the weak result, including consumer and business caution surrounding the presidential election in mid-February and disruption in March due to the Ramadan period. Additionally, a high base effect from a strong performance last year, driven by recovery from global supply chain disruptions and new model launches from popular brands like Toyota, Daihatsu and Honda, also played a part in the double-digit YoY decline. Preliminary data for April indicates a continued slump in sales (-18% YoY and -35% month-on-month (MoM)) due to shortened working days during the Eid holiday. Consequently, we have revised our near-term sales forecast downward. Sales are now projected to decline by 4% to 894k units in 2024, marking the second consecutive year of contraction. It is worth noting that the Bank of Indonesia raised the interest rate to 6.25% in April to address currency weakness, which may increase the cost of auto loans and tighten loan approval criteria. After a 9% YoY decline in 2023, Thailand’s LV sales experienced a further substantial drop of 24% YoY in Q1 2024. In terms of vehicle type, Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) sales fell by 30% YoY in 2023 and continued to decline by 43% YoY in Q1 2024, as a result of economic weakness, severe weather conditions, delayed government budget spending, and stricter auto loan approval. Passenger Vehicle (PV) sales, which had increased by 11.9% YoY in 2023, saw a reversal with an 11.7% YoY decline in Q1 2024, following the government’s reduction of cash subsidies for Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) purchases from THB 150k to THB 100k in February 2024. Based on preliminary data, Thailand’s April sales dropped by 18% YoY and 14% MoM to 48k units, marking the lowest monthly sales in 32 months. Given this sustained weakness, we have adjusted our near-term sales forecast downward. Sales are now expected to decline by 6% to 708k units this year, with downside risks persisting. Credit conditions are unlikely to ease any time soon, due to high levels of household debt and non-performing loans. Vietnam’s LV sales declined by 9% YoY in Q1 2024, due to the impact from the expiration of the temporary registration fee reduction in December 2023 and the Lunar New Year holiday in February 2024.

But global was up

The Global Light Vehicle (LV) selling rate stood at 86 million units/year in April, a modest improvement on the previous month. With 6.8 million vehicles sold last month, this was a 2.8% improvement year-on-year (YoY), with year-to-date (YTD) sales up 3.8%. At the regional level, selling rates continued to see mixed results. In the US, the selling rate grew month-on-month (MoM). China’s selling rate eased despite the continuation of the price war. Meanwhile, Europe also saw a moderate contraction in the selling rate in April versus that of March. In Japan, sales bounced back after production disruption at key brands.

AI assisted insurance

One of the biggest hassles car owners face is when it comes to car repair and insurance claims. This process can be time consuming, costly, and sometimes confusing. What if AI could assist with that? A software and services company, Solera, is aiming to transform the vehicle claims space by offering a touchless experience, powered by AI, that applies algorithms from an accurate vehicle-repair database. Rana Farag is the AI global portfolio lead at Solera, with technical expertise in sustainability and AI in the aftermarket, claims, and insurance industry. Frankie Youd spoke to Farag, to learn more about her involvement with AI and how Solera’s AI works on the collected data.

‘Free’ sun power for EVs

While the UK is known for its cooler climate and rain, energy technology start-up Lightstate, founded in 2022 and headquartered in London, says it is the perfect place to harness solar power for EV charging. Dedicated to creating the next generation of green infrastructure for clean mobility, it is on a mission to design and scale the world’s most customer-centric energy hubs while also addressing the challenges of vehicle electrification in the UK. Its ‘Lightstations’ (rapid EV charging hubs) will utilise solar panels on its rooftops. Contrary to popular belief, these work optimally in temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit). Currently there are three initial sites confirmed for 2024, with more to follow. To learn more about the firm’s plans for the future, we interviewed Lightstate CEO Alex Hearn who brings 23 years of experience in entrepreneurship for a carbon and combustion-free future.

Cruise back in the saddle

Cruise finally announced this week its robotaxis would return to the road for the first time since last October, when the fleet was parked following an accident with a pedestrian in San Francisco. Motor Authority reported the relaunch would take place in Phoenix, Arizona, with only two robotaxis operating initially, in each case with a safety driver behind the wheel. Cruise started service in Phoenix in 2023 and the company also this week said robotaxis would eventually be deployed in other parts of Arizona, including Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Low CO2 alloy

Nissan says it will use low CO2 emission aluminium parts made from green or recycled aluminium in new and current models from fiscal year 2024 onward and aims to complete the full transition to such parts by 2030. Aluminium accounts for approximately 10% of vehicle weight. By using low CO2 emission aluminium, Nissan says it aims to take a significant step towards achieving carbon neutrality. It wants to achieve carbon neutrality in the entire lifecycle of its vehicles by 2050. Green aluminium is produced using non-fossil fuel-derived electricity and can reduce CO2 emissions during production by approximately 50%.

Xpeng on tariffs

Chinese electric vehicle maker XPeng has said planned new US import tariffs (up to 100%) for Chinese made cars are ‘detrimental’ to achieving carbon neutrality and a future transition to greener energy. According to a Reuters report, Xpeng co-President Brian Gu also said the tariffs would result in higher costs. “This has no impact on Xpeng Motors at the moment, but for such a large market as a whole, I hope that in the future it can become more open, allowing global products to enter and compete,” he said, according to Reuters.

Cheaper Nio brand

Nio launched a more affordable electric car brand in China in a bid to gain a firmer foothold in the world’s most competitive market as Tesla momentum slipped. The brand, called Onvo, would target family users with its first model which competed directly with Tesla’s Model Y and the Toyota RAV4 SUVs, Nio chief executive officer William Li said at an event in Shanghai, according to Bloomberg. The launch vehicle, the medium size L60 SUV, was “longer, wider, and roomier than the Model Y,” he said.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto