September 28, 2021

Volume XI, Number 271

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September 28, 2021

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September 27, 2021

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Foley Weekly Automotive Report April 13, 2021

This report helps automotive suppliers inform their legal and operational decisions to help address challenges and opportunities.

Key developments

  • LMC Automotive raised its forecast for U.S. light vehicle sales to 16.6 million units for full year 2021, while noting an increased risk of production disruptions stemming from parts shortages.

  • Due to the semiconductor shortage, GM and Ford have reduced or stopped production for at least a dozen North American plants, and the traditional two-week summer shutdown has been canceled for the majority of Ford’s U.S. plants.

  • U.S. fleet sales were down by 28% for Q1 2021 compared to the same period last year, according to Cox Automotive.

  • New-vehicle inventories fell to 2.4 million units industrywide for the U.S. in March, representing a decline of 37% from March 2020.

  • Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters is urging prioritization of manufacturing employees for COVID-19 vaccines, as Ontario issues a new stay-at-home order amid escalating case counts.

  • The EPA is expected to announce stricter emissions standards by the end of July that will be “sufficient to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.”

  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List recommends installing collision-avoidance and connected-vehicle technologies on all vehicles. As of mid-March, U.S. gasoline sales were 10% higher than in the same period last year, but 16% below pre-pandemic levels.

  • Telecom giant Huawei will invest $1 billion in autonomous and electric vehicle technology, and will partner with automakers to make self-driving vehicles sub-branded with the Huawei name.

  • Electric vehicles and low emissions technology:

    • SK Innovation will pay $1.8 billion to LG Energy Solution to settle legal disputes related to EV batteries in the U.S and Korea, averting a 10-year import ban of its batteries into the U.S.

    • Investment in EV battery charging infrastructure could potentially be more important than consumer incentives to meaningfully increase EV adoption in the U.S., according to IHS Markit.

    • GM’s Factory ZERO will produce a battery-electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup that is expected to have a single-charge range of over 400 miles; the production date is undisclosed.

Market Trends and Regulatory

  • LMC Automotive last week raised its 2021 forecast for U.S. light vehicle sales to 16.6 million units, noting that while demand remains strong, plant shutdowns are expected to continue in April and May, leading to extremely low inventory levels. This forecast adjustment follows light vehicle sales of 1.61 million units in March, which represents a SAAR of 18 million units. 

  • According to Cox Automotive:  U.S. fleet sales were down by 20% in March and 28% for Q1 2021, with 514,666 units sold in the first quarter.  U.S. new light vehicles averaged a 38 days’ supply industrywide in March, compared to a 56 days’ supply in March 2020.

  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan indicated stricter vehicle emissions standards would be proposed by the end of July, according to Bloomberg. This timeline corresponds to President Biden’s executive order requiring a review of the Trump administration’s rule that relaxed the emissions limits. Regan did not rule out the possibility of additional regulations in the future related to banning new conventional gas-powered cars.  The transportation sector represented 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as of 2018.

  • Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) on April 7 urged the government of Ontario to prioritize the vaccination of essential manufacturing workers, as currently this category is not expected to be eligible until June.  Ontario introduced a new provincewide stay-at-home order last week and declared its third state-of-emergency since the start of the pandemic, and Premier Doug Ford stated that vaccines would be available for adults in approximately 120 postal codes with high case counts.

  • The NTSB’s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of safety concerns encourages regulators to develop standards for connected-vehicle technology, as well as “collision-warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems in commercial vehicles and require this technology in all highway vehicles and all new school buses.”

  • The U.SEnergy Information Administration’s annual Summer Fuels Outlook predicts a 30% increase in U.S. gasoline prices and 15% more highway travel this summer due to “rising employment, easing regional restrictions designed to slow the pandemic, and increasing overall economic activity as vaccination rates increase.”  While the summer rebound is expected to match or exceed pre-pandemic levels, Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis, OPIS by IHS Markit noted:  “The logic that gasoline demand will suddenly and permanently return to pre-pandemic levels fails to take into account the lingering effects of unemployment, dramatic cuts in urban, suburban and rural events, and hybrid models for commuting that allow for more people working from home. Even as the country gets back to normal, we are still to discover what the ‘new normal’ means.”

  • virtual meeting of automotive and technology companies hosted by the Biden administration on April 12 was not expected to result in immediate decisions on how to mitigate the global semiconductor shortage.

OEs/SUPPLIERS

  • Production cuts caused by the semiconductor shortage -  GM will resume production at its midsize pickup plant in Wentzville, Missouri, the week of April 12 following a two-week shutdown, but the automaker has new or ongoing production shutdowns or reductions affecting at least six North American plants:  Spring Hill, Tennessee, will close beginning April 10 through April 23, affecting production of the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5 and XT6 crossovers; Lansing Delta Township Assembly in Michigan is down the week of April 19, affecting the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse crossovers; Lansing Grand River in Michigan is down March 15 through the week of April 26, affecting the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans; CAMI Assembly in Ingersoll, Ontario, and Fairfax Assembly in Kansas City, Kansas, are down Feb. 8 through the week of May 10; production will be reduced the week of April 12 in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

    • For the week of April 12, Ford has production shutdowns impacting plants in Dearborn and Flat Rock, Michigan; the Kentucky Truck Assembly Plant; the Chicago Assembly Plant; and the Transit van side of Kansas City Assembly in Missouri; the automaker will also reduce output at its Ohio Assembly plant.  Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant produces the highly profitable F-150 pickup truck.

  • GM will roll out a new navigation system, Maps+, beginning April 30 through over-the-air updates available on approximately 900,000 vehicles as an upgrade from GM’s OnStar navigation product.  Maps+ will have Alexa Built-in1 voice control.  The automaker first announced in 2019 that it would partner with Amazon to make the Alexa voice assistant available for download in select 2018 model year vehicles.

Connected/Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Services

  • Isuzu North America will collaborate with Silicon Valley-based startup Gatik to develop fully autonomous medium-duty delivery trucks.  Gatik develops AI-based software and has worked with Walmart in Arkansas and Louisiana to deliver goods to stores from warehouses using autonomous trucks with safety drivers.

  • Chinese telecom company Huawei is investing $1 billion to develop autonomous and electric technologies in partnership with BAIC Group, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co, with the intent to make driverless cars that include the Huawei logo as a sub-brand.  Huawei is one of several tech companies that are taking steps to expand into the auto industry:  smartphone and electronics manufacturers Xiaomi and Foxconn, as well as search engine giant Baidu, have each recently announced intentions to develop or manufacture electric vehicles.

  • Autonomous truck startup TuSimple intends to raise $1.25 billion in proceeds from an IPO of its Class A common stock.  A recent S-1 filing revealed that the company has lost over $300 million in the last three years, and its ties to China-based investors and shareholders are being reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). TuSimple was founded in 2015, is headquartered in San Diego, and has partnerships including Volkswagen AG’s trucking subsidiary Traton SE.

Electric Vehicles and Low Emission Technology

  • Korean battery makers SK Innovation and LG Energy Solution agreed to settle all litigation in the U.S. and Korea related to EV batteries and not file lawsuits against each other for 10 years.  SK Innovation will pay LG Energy Solution 2 trillion won (USD $1.8 billion) “apportioned into lump-sum payments and a running royalty.”  The companies’ trade secrets dispute would potentially have jeopardized SK Innovation’s plans to expand its manufacturing presence in Georgia, leading to supply disruptions for customers including Ford and Volkswagen.

  • Federal funding for EV charging networks could be more important than consumer incentives, according to Stephanie Brinley, IHS Markit’s principal automotive analyst, as quoted in Autoweek“Government incentives will be appreciated for the potential for speeding adoption, but the incentive program is unlikely to have impact on the overall trajectory of an automaker’s EV plans.” Brinley also noted: “We have seen the combination of state and federal incentives create increases in EV sales in certain areas that fall back once they are ended, but it’s not really clear that the federal credit has moved the needle over the past decade.”

  • GM’s Factory ZERO will produce a battery-electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup that is expected to have a single-charge range of over 400 miles.  A production date was not disclosed. Formerly known as Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, the automaker’s Factory ZERO will also build the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup and 2024 Hummer EV SUV.

  • In-vehicle cameras are not activated on Tesla vehicles outside of North America, according to an announcement made on the company’s Chinese social media page. This follows a ban implemented in China last month on Tesla vehicles from military complexes and certain state-owned entities.

  • A proposed class action suit against Canoo alleges the electric car maker withheld key information from investors, including an absence of OEM partnerships, and decisions to pivot from a subscription sales model, and de-emphasize its engineering services business.  Last year, Canoo announced a deal to go public through a reverse merger with Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp., with a market valuation of $2.4 billion.

© 2021 Foley & Lardner LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 103
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About this Author

John R. Trentacosta, Foley Lardner, Automotive Industry Attorney, Supply Chain Lawyer
Partner

John R. Trentacosta is a partner and transactional lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP. Mr. Trentacosta is actively involved in drafting contracts commonly used in the automotive industry. He frequently represents clients in supply chain disputes, particularly automotive and supplier-manufacturer disputes. He is the chair of the firm’s Complex Supply Chain Litigation Group, former chair of the Detroit Litigation Department and founder and member of the firm’s Automotive and Manufacturing Industry Teams. He also is a member of the Commercial Transactions & Business...

313-234-7124
Ann Marie Uetz Foley Lardner Debtor Representation Bankruptcy Lawyer Foley Lardner Detroit
Partner

Ann Marie Uetz is a partner and trial attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP, where she represents clients in a variety of industries in all aspects of their contracts and business disputes. She also represents debtors, creditors and secured and unsecured lenders in all facets of restructuring. Ms. Uetz focuses her practice on business litigation and bankruptcy, two of Foley’s practice areas recently ranked by U.S. News—Best Lawyers® as “national First-Tier” practices in recognition of excellence in client service.

Ann Marie heads Foley’s Coronavirus Task Force and...

313-234-7114
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