This Week’s Top 10: Reality check for Tesla Motors on manufacturing vehicles, Bill Ford says company looking for partners to expand beyond building and selling cars and trucks

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Tesla factoryTesla taking heat over immigrant worker and supplier relations: Tesla Motors has been facing challenges lately on the vehicle manufacturing front; one of these controversies comes from a Slovenian electrician named Gregor Lesnik working at the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., falling through the roof in May 2015 and suffering broken bones in his legs and ribs and head injuries, including a concussion. Lesnik survived and sued his employers, as reported last week in a San Jose Mercury News’ watchdog report. He’d entered the U.S. in March 2015 with a B1/B2 visa on behalf of his employer, ISM Vuzem, as a supervisor of electrical and mechanical installation. He was going to work in a paint shop at a South Carolina BMW plant but instead was diverted to the Tesla plant to install an industrial heating and cooling system, something his visa did not allow him to do. The lawsuit and media report raised the flag on exploiting immigrant workers and committing fraud; and if the federal government should be watching more carefully. Lesnik alleged in his suit that although his hourly rate was over $10 an hour, it averaged out to a little over $5 an hour, far below minimum wage, because he wasn’t paid overtime for weeks that often reached 80 hours. The same work by a local employee would have cost more than $50 an hour. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied wrongdoing and said his company is auditing the contracts to see if its contractors met wage obligations……. That news story came days after Reuters reported on concerns raised by analysts and supplier executives who asked not to be identified that Tesla’s plan to manufacture 500,000 electric vehicles per year by 2018 has been called into question by several sources close to the issues. Tesla’s ambitious plan has called for moving up high-volume Model 3 production two years earlier than originally projected, which they claim will be very difficult and costly. Larger automakers have had to adjust production volumes to lower levels per year at assembly plants to realistically hit their targets. Tesla continues to have delivery delays for its Model X crossover, and its Model S also missed delivery targets when launched and that’s likely to continue with the Model 3, they say. Tesla says that orders and deposits for the Model 3 have been reduced to 373,000 following cancellations of about 8,000 cars and 4,200 duplicates canceled by the company. As capital intensive as auto manufacturing can be, Tesla also announced last week plans to sell about $2 billion in stock to help finance the accelerated launch of the Model 3.
  2. Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said the company is looking into more partnerships with other companies as it moves to expand beyond manufacturing and selling cars and trucks. The game is changing for automakers this year following General Motors’ moves with Lyft, Sidecar, Cruise Automation, and Maven; and Fiat Chrysler’s deal with Google on self-driving cars. Ford has been investing heavily in electric cars, self-driving vehicle technology, and other initiatives, Ford said. Earlier this year, the company launched Ford Smart Mobility LLC, as part of its efforts to delve into carsharing and other mobility services. Asked about a potential alliance with Google, Ford said, “Anything’s possible with anybody. We have a good relationship with Google” but no alliance to disclose. (Editor’s note: Read the clean mobility feature in this week’s Green Auto Market that includes Volkswagen’s upcoming announcement on mobility services it will be launching during its diesel emissions scandal.)
  3. The 29th World Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition (EVS29) event organizers have announced more keynote plenary speakers for day two of the event. Dan Neil, Pulitzer Prize winning auto columnist from the Wall Street Journal, will sit down with industry leaders to talk electric drive innovation and automaker strategies for scaling success during a robust roundtable discussion. Roundtable participants include: Christoph Huss, Vice President Engineering, BMW of North America; Kazuo Yajima, Alliance Global Director, EV and Engineering Division, Nissan and Renault; Kevin Layden, Electrification Programs and Engineering Director, Ford Motor Company; and Michael Lord, Executive Engineer, Toyota Motor Engineer & Manufacturing. The EVS29 conference takes place June 19-22, 2016 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Register now and gain access to the entire electric drive value chain under one roof.
  4. SAE International approved for publishing “SAE TIR J2954 Wireless Power Transfer for Light-Duty Plug-In/ Electric Vehicles and Alignment Methodology,” a guideline to establish wireless power transfer between infrastructure, vehicle suppliers and OEMs for plug-in electric and electric vehicles (PH/EV). The document will be available from the SAE website on May 31st. SAE TIR J2954 is the first step in standardization and was developed by SAE International’s PH/EV Wireless Power Transfer committee, established in 2010. Jesse Schneider serves as the Chair of SAE International’s Wireless Power Transfer committee and is the Fuel Cell, Electric Vehicle and Standards Development Manager at BMW North America.
  5. AltCar Expo: Oakland hosted the third annual Northern California AltCar Expo on May 20-21. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Nissan showcased hydrogen fuel cell cars, electric vehicles, hybrids, and natural gas vehicles, and renewable diesel vehicles. Attendees were able to test drive the vehicles for free both days. Keynote speakers included Richard Battersby, Equipment Manager and Director, City of Oakland and East Bay Clean Cities Coalition; Peter Van Deventer, Program Director & Diplomatic Liaison, Coast to Coast EV Connection and Consulate General of the Netherlands; John Kato, Deputy Director, Fuels and Transportation Division, California Energy Commission; David Meisel, Senior Director, Transportation & Aviation Services, Pacific Gas & Electric Company; Tim Lipman, Ph.D, Co-Director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley; and Rick Sikes, Chief Operations Officer, carbonBLU.
  6. Mercedes-Benz will likely be launching two electric sedans and two SUVs by 2020. They may be plug-in hybrid, battery electric or both, and are being built with minimal changes from the internal combustion engine models. The electric SUVs may be built on the Mercedes GLA and GLC platforms, and the electric sedans could come from the C-Class and S-Class platforms. Going this route could give the company the opportunity of pricing these EVs lower than the Tesla Model S and Model X.
  7. Volvo will be rolling out its new 40 series compact cars and SUVs, including a plug-in hybrid and an electric car, starting in spring 2018 in the U.S. Details on plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants of the 40 series haven’t been released yet.Last year, Volvo released its new “global electrification strategy,” which will include new plug-in versions of its cars, SUVs, and wagons.
  8. xStorage battery packs: Nissan, through its U.K. division, is following Tesla’s lead by entering the energy storage market. Available for pre-order in September, the xStorage line of battery packs was developed with power-management company Eaton. The partnership between Nissan and Enel SpA, Italy’s largest utility, will let Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 owners sell excess energy back to the grid. Owners can sell energy from their lithium-ion batteries during periods of peak demand to the utility.
  9. Self-driving car survey: The University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation conducted its second annual survey on self-driving vehicles – and found that Americans might tend to agree more with the California DMV’s suggested policy than with Google’s argument for owning completely autonomous vehicles. The survey yielded completed responses from 618 licensed drivers in the U.S. and found that the most frequent preference for vehicle automation continues to be for no self-driving capability, followed by partially self-driving vehicles, with completely self-driving vehicles being the least preferred choice. Respondents still overwhelmingly want to be able to manually control completely self-driving vehicles when desired.
  10. ACT Expo highlights: Check out the photo gallery, conference program, and event summary for ACT Expo 2016, which just took place in Long Beach, Calif. Set for May 1-4, ACT Expo 2017 will return to the Long Beach Convention Center. Event organizer Gladstein Neandross & Associates will be presenting Rethink Methane Symposium 2016 in Sacramento, Calif., on June 29-30, 2016.

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