A weekly look at all that sucks in the automotive industry, and some good bits
Just as the BBC and UK commercial channels had a convulsion when they heard Amazon and Netflix were moving into the arena of programmes on demand by investing in high quality drama productions and series, conventional car manufacturers must realise the writing for them is also on the wall if they don’t get a move on and develop.
After a welter of propaganda articles spewed out by tame car hacks on how clean is diesel, even a magic part invented from nowhere to clean older diesel engines, and all the major manufacturers having cheated on emission levels, car manufacturers are finally turning to electric cars and hybrid varieties.
Old backs new
Now we have a brand spanking new car company backed by a wealthy conglomerate. Amazon has taken shared in Rivian. Most know what Amazon does, what of Rivian?
Rivian plans to bring the first electric pick-up truck to market. It announced itself to the world last year but in reality existed developing and producing electric platforms since 2009. The US company is hoping to have the kind of impact Tesla made by shaking up the established automotive set and believes it has found a niche with the creation of go-anywhere electric vehicles.
The online retail giant Amazon has led a successful $700 million (£544m) round of investment in American electric car start-up Rivian. Fledgling Rivian are looking at a start-up fund total Amazon and existing shareholders of around $1.15 billion (£894.5m). The company is in discussions with General Motors (GM) for more investment. If a deal is secured, the company remains independent, so clever has it been sharing the shares.
And whilst you or I might not be interested in Rivian’s barge of an electric people carrier – see photographs – their pick-up will be picked up by UK self-employed builder companies once they calculate the savings in petrol, diesel and service costs. In time, Rivian will produce small vehicles.
For whom the bell tolls
Amazon’s buy-in rings the death knell for car makers who churn out boring tin cans, barely troubling to create radical designs, new propulsion or use environmentally friendly materials, and failing to address modern traffic problems.
You can see the lethargy and arrogance in their television advertising; nothing about the car, just the brand name, some pretty girls hanging around it or in it, and long empty driver-friendly streets and highways. If a down-market brand such as the Dacia Duster you get jokes. (Excuse the snobbishness, but who tells friends they own a ‘Duster’?)
When Amazon and Netflix see a good thing you just know it must be a good thing, after all, they won’t squander their unpaid taxes. They will invest what they keep and then submit the acquisition as a tax benefit.
The technical bits simplified
The R1T pick-up and R1S seven-seat SUV, the first and second in a series of models eventually planned, are built on a bespoke electric ‘skateboard’ chassis that is modular and can be used on all different types and sizes of vehicles.
The initial pair are closely related, the chief difference being a slightly shorter wheelbase in the R1S. The R1S is 5040mm long, making it Range Rover-sized, while the 5465mm-long R1T is … even bigger.
In both cars, the lithium ion battery pack is mounted in the floor. The R1T is good for a 230-mile range in its standard 105 kWh capacity, a 300-mile range with a 135 kWh battery pack, or up to 400 miles with a 180 kWh ‘mega-pack’. In the R1S, the same battery packs are offered with ranges of of 240, 310 and 420 miles respectively.
The two models have four electric motors, one for each wheel, giving them four-wheel drive. It’s claimed both vehicles can crack 0-60 mph in just 3.0 sec and 0-100 mph in less than 7.0 sec in the 135 kWh versions. Your gravel delivered at the speed of light.
Rivian claims the electric drivetrain and chassis set-up allows for both impressive on-road performance and handling and precise off-road control that surpasses any existing mechanical solutions.
The flat floor is reinforced with carbon-fibre and Kevlar to protect the battery pack, while both models get five-star crash test safety ratings in the US.
Design wise – it’s all about street cred
A distinctive stacked headlights front-end design is common to both vehicles. The spacious interiors get durable materials easy to clean in keeping with the cars’ off-road lifestyle. Two screens feature inside, running Rivian’s own software graphics.
Reading from the Press Pack: “There are packs of novel hidden features and clever solutions in both models, including a 330-litre front storage under the nose. The pick-up has a full-width storage compartment between the rear doors and rear wheels that’s good for housing golf clubs.”
The company is also backed by investors from the Middle East, (who else?) and employs some 750 people worldwide. Its design and engineering centre is based in Plymouth, Michigan, and other key sites include a battery development facility in Irvine, California.
Will it come to the UK? It has opened an advanced engineering centre in Chertsey, Surrey. Mene mene tekel upharsin. (Daniel 5:25).
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Ford considering leaving UK
Ford has warned that as many as 7,000 jobs in the UK could be under threat as a result of Brexit. Automotive News Europe reports that the European arm of the American automotive giant has said that a no-deal Brexit could bring ‘dire consequences’ for its UK engine manufacturing plant. Ford’s statement comes after the Times newspaper said that the car maker had reached out directly to Prime Minister Theresa May to reveal that it was looking at options with regards to moving its production out of the UK. If it remains in Britain after a hard Brexit, it could cost the company around £800 million. “This isn’t about contingencies any more – we are taking steps because of the uncertainty. It’s real.”
Honda Closes UK factory
Those politicians who said car companies would never leave the UK lied. Justin Tomlinson Tory MP for Swinden canvassed on a card of Leave. 55% of the town backed Leave. Tomlinson says Honda’s plant closure has nothing to do with Brexit, as that makes everything hunky dory. Honda, diplomatic as ever, (Japanese culture shies from discussing decisions or insulting their host) wants to go electric but see the UK tardy on installing chargers. Like other makers they get delivery of parts from Europe. Imposing tariffs on low volume sales is the last straw. What do the workers think? They express their anger and fears for the future blaming Brexit for a loss that they said would send shock waves through the town. “Tomlinson wanted Brexit – he gets to carry the can. If he’s not unseated by a massive majority at the next election then this town gets what it deserves,” said one worker who refused to give me his name. Honda plans to close its factory in Swindon in 2021. It employs 3,500 people. To that number you can add over 7,000 supply films relying on Honda, including haulers and day couriers. Swindon is about to become the proverbial ghost town. I confidently predict Mazda will be next, another small and precarious car maker.
Buying a pre-registered car
Young friend asked my advice about buying a pre-registered car. “What does ‘pre-registered’ mean? Those are cars a dealer has bought from the manufacturer in bulk. A bulk deal cuts prices. It also gives the impression they have met monthly sale’s targets. But if you buy a pre-registered car remember it’s been owned already by the dealer, and you can’t specify what additions you’d like added to the order. Nevertheless, an average discount of £2,000 is very tempting.