Toyota Broke Records Last Year But Still Expected More

·8 min read
Photo:  Brandon Bell (Getty Images)
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

Toyota had a solid 2022 by anyone else’s measure than its own, Volvo won’t cut prices until it sees demand slide and Elon Musk and the president of South Korea had a little chat in our nation’s capital. All that and more in this edition of The Morning Shift for Thursday, April 27, 2023.

1st Gear: Setting Reasonable Expectations

The results are in for Toyota’s 2022 fiscal year, which ended March 31. Over that 12-month period, the automaker built 9.13 million cars and sold 9.61 million. The latter figure beat the prior year’s sales by about 100,000 cars and set a new record, even amidst lingering supply chain uncertainty. That sounds pretty positive on the surface, though the performance still paled in comparison to Toyota’s hopes and dreams at the outset of last year. From Reuters:

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The world’s biggest automaker by sales warned it continued to see impacts from the long-running global chip shortage, saying it remained hard to predict its effect going forward.

Toyota said on Thursday it produced 9.13 million vehicles in the 12 months through March 31, a fraction ahead of its target, though that goal was downgraded twice from an initial goal for the year of around 9.7 million amid industry disruption.

In the previous year vehicle output was 8.57 million. [...] The company didn’t release new sales or production targets for the current business year that started in April.

If we turn our attention to EVs, the picture was a little less rosy:

It disclosed it has so far sold just 17,473 battery electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide, including those of its luxury Lexus brand, for the first three months of 2023.

That compared with 24,466 battery EVs sold by Toyota worldwide for the whole of 2022.

Of course, it’s still early days for Toyota’s pure-electric offerings, when numbers are low but growth is astronomical. Remember, the BZ4X was sidelined for a good chunk of 2022 due to that wheel issue Toyota didn’t know how to fix for months. Also, the company only began churning out its BYD-powered BZ3 electric sedan for China a few weeks ago.

Here in the U.S., Toyota’s 2023 has gotten off to a slow start, with sales down almost 9 percent over the first quarter of the calendar year. The chips remain a thorn in the side.

2nd Gear: Volvo Says Demand Isn’t a Problem

It seems like every few days now, some automaker is publicly rebuking the thought of issuing price cuts across its range. This week it’s Volvo’s top brass making its feelings known on the matter — and it’s not the first time it’s done so. Courtesy Reuters:

Volvo has seen robust demand for its models, which it aims to be all-electric by the end of the decade, with unit sales up 10% in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Tesla has doubled down on a price war begun at the end of last year to spur demand and fend off rising competition, posting its lowest quarterly gross margin in two years and jarring stocks across the industry, including its own.

Volvo, for whom fully electric vehicles (EVs) accounted for 11% last year, said in February it had no intention of cutting its EV prices.

On Thursday, Chief Executive Jim Rowan told Reuters that as long as demand continues to be high for the automaker, he saw no reason to cut prices.

Rowan also said lithium prices, a major source of cost for the carmaker’s EVs, had started to decline. This was despite Chile, the world’s second largest producer of the metal, saying it would nationalize its lithium industry.

He added that more lithium sources were starting to be available from other parts of the world making him comfortable that the cost would continue to decline.

Volvo’s shares in Stockholm briefly ticked upward by as much as 8 percent this morning, before falling flat. If you chart the automaker’s performance over the course of the past year, it’s now trading at less than half of its peak of 85 Swedish crowns — or about $8.25 — from June.

3rd Gear: South Korea Would Love a Tesla Factory

South Korea’s President, Yoon Suk Yeol, has been in Washington this week to discuss many things with President Biden: battery incentives, North Korea and, evidently, their shared love of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” But Elon Musk also happened to catch the head of state while he was in town, which was important because Musk is really hoping Yoon can give him a good deal on a new plant, and Yoon seems to want to. Reuters again:

The two met at Musk’s request as Yoon is in the U.S. for a six-day state visit, said Choi Sang-mok, Yoon’s senior economic secretary, according to a transcript of a news briefing Choi gave in Washington on Wednesday provided by Yoon’s office.

Yoon touted South Korea as an ideal country for Tesla to build a gigafactory, citing the country’s cutting edge industrial robots and high-skilled workers, Choi said.

“(President Yoon) also said he would actively support Tesla in terms of location, human resources and tax if it makes the investment decision,” Choi told reporters.

Musk told Yoon that South Korea remains as one of the top candidates for Tesla’s Gigafactories, and he would have an opportunity to visit the Asian country, according to Choi.

Tesla and Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In November, Yoon told Reuters that the country would offer “tailored” incentives and minimise any risks posed by unions to encourage Tesla’s investment, days after he had a video call with Musk.

It must be convenient to have a president in Musk’s corner vowing to squash any obstruction posed by those pesky “highly skilled workers” — in Yoon’s own words — so the Tesla CEO needn’t lift a finger.

4th Gear: BY-Damn

BYD is keeping up with Tesla’s price cuts in China and outpacing its growth. The EV maker’s net profit was an eye-watering five times higher than it had been over the same period last year. Reuters, I promise, for the last time today:

Net profit for the first three months of the year was 4.13 billion yuan ($596.56 million), up 410.9% from 808.41 million yuan a year earlier, on revenue up 79.8% at 120.17 billion yuan, the company said in a stock market filing.

The Shenzhen-based company, whose investors include Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, outsold Volkswagen-branded cars in the first quarter of this year in China, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Buoyed by its Dynasty and Ocean series of plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, BYD sold 552,076 new energy vehicles in the first quarter, a surge of 92.81% year-on-year, according to the company.

The company sold more than 1.86 million vehicles in 2022, mostly in China.

BYD has joined many other Chinese brands in a price war started by Tesla, with the offering of discounts for its Song Plus and Seal EVs in March.

Considering BYD is set to roll out a sub-$17,000 EV in the country, the Buffett-backed juggernaut shows no signs of not steamrolling pretty much everyone.

5th Gear: Bosch Has a U.S. Chip Plant

That’s thanks to the acquisition of California-based TSI Semiconductors, which produces chips primarily for the automotive, telecom and energy sectors. You know — “legacy” chips. Although Bosch didn’t list the dollars exchanged in the sale, it did say it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the government’s Chips and Science Act. Via Automotive News:

The bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act that President Joe Biden signed into law this week gives automakers hope that the semiconductor industry will now be able to keep up with surging auto industry demand.

The law provides about $52 billion in subsidies for semiconductor research, design and production in the U.S., including $2 billion set aside for the mature node “legacy chips” that are commonly used by automakers and suppliers. The bill also includes a 25 percent tax credit for investments in microchip production through 2026.

If you’re wondering if the decision to snap up a U.S.-based silicon supplier had anything to do with the wealth of EV manufacturing the Inflation Reduction Act has attracted to this country, why yes it did:

Bosch expects the market for automotive microchips to rise in the coming years — particularly for silicon carbide chips, which are more efficient than a typical silicon-based microchip. Silicon carbide chips can boost EV battery range by as much as 6 percent vs. a standard chip, according to Bosch.

It anticipates the market for silicon carbide chips to grow by about 30 percent annually over the coming years. By acquiring a location in the U.S., Bosch hopes to supply EV makers in the region.

“We are strengthening our local presence in an important electric vehicle market,” Markus Heyn, chairman of Bosch’s mobility solutions business, said in a statement.

Bosch has become a chipmaker so slowly, the world barely noticed.

Reverse: Wide Track, Come Back

On this day in 2009 — 14 years ago — there was nobody left to build excitement. From

GM announces plans to phase out Pontiac

Neutral: GTO of Future Past

Image:  General Motors
Image: General Motors

In honor of Pontiac’s death day, here — have a picture of the 1999 GTO Concept, which looks like the low-detail version of a car in a video game before it gets closer and all the polygons pop in.

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