Shocker: An electric car company actually meets production goals (and yes, it’s Tesla)
#SuryaRay #Surya Once again electric car pioneer Tesla Motors is the lone firm out of its electric car peers that says it’s going to do something, and then actually (usually) does it. According to Automotive News, Tesla has now reached its goal of producing 400 Model S electric cars per week, or around 20,000 cars per year.
This rate of production has been Tesla’s goal for months — if not years — and it’s a big step on the company’s path to profitability this year. Back in November, during its latest quarterly earnings, Tesla said it was on track to reach this milestone after having to scale back its original production goals a couple months earlier in September. It also means that all those customers on the waiting list to get their Model S cars — there were 13,200 as of the third quarter — will get their cars sooner, rather than later.
However, as I’ve written before, Tesla seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the struggling world of independent electric car makers and batteries made for electric cars. Electric car infrastructure maker Better Place shuffled out its second CEO in as many months last week, and laid off a big chunk of staff in the face of very slow adoption of its electric car service in Israel.
Electric car startup Fisker hasn’t made any of its hybrid electric Karma cars in months, and is looking for a Chinese partner, investor or acquirer with deep pockets to offer it a lifeline. Fisker’s original production goal at the beginning of its life was 5,000 Karmas in 2011, and it’s made around 1,900. A123 Systems, which has been making batteries for Fisker’s Karma, went bankrupt last year and then was bought by Chinese auto tech giant Wanxiang.
For the auto giants like GM and Nissan, which have been making their own mainstream electric cars, production isn’t a problem. It’s just that sales are a little slow. GM sold a total of 23,461 Volts in 2012, up from the 7,671 sold in 2011, and Nissan sold 9,819 Leafs in 2012, according to AutoblogGreen. GM originally wanted to sell 45,000 Volts in 2012.
So why is it so hard for independent electric car companies to meet their targets, and large auto makers to hit sales targets? For the auto giants, the market is only just emerging. GM’s Volt and the Nissan LEAF are the first mass produced plug-in battery cars on the market in the U.S. Auto exec Bob Lutz, who kickstarted GM’s Volt and is now on the board of some startups, says the transition to electric cars will be very slow.
For independent car startups, commercial scale production can be daunting and take a lot longer than expected, too. Many things can go wrong, and the it can take months to streamline the process of auto manufacturing. Tesla was founded back in 2003, and its pilot car — where it made errors and suffered delays — was the original Roadster. It’s taken Tesla this many years to get to its closer to mainstream auto maker status just pushing out 400 cars per week.
Wanxiang: Come la Cina Aumenta il suo Capitale di Tecnologie Pulite
Wanxiang è una delle più aggressive aziende cinesi che sta continuando ad aumentare la sua importanza nel panorama delle energie pulite negli USA facendo piazza pulita di aziende del settore green tech.
China’s Wanxiang sees opportunity in struggling U.S. cleantech
#SuryaRay #Surya “Cleantech is the new frontier for civilization,” Pin Ni, the President of Wanxiang America, told me in an interview this week. While Wanxiang might be an entirely unfamiliar name in the U.S., it’s one of China’s largest industrial parts companies with $13 billion in revenue and 45,000 employees. Wanxiang’s American division is sizable in its own right, with around $2.5 billion in revenue and 6,000 people.
Wanxiang has emerged as a company that has been making some really aggressive investments into U.S.-based cleantech startups, and the firm has invested in quite a few companies that had hit a wall financially. Most recently Wanxiang said it planned to invest up to $450 million into ailing lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems, which could eventually give Wanxiang 80 percent ownership.
A123 Systems, based in Waltham, Mass. has been bleeding cash for months, with weak sales and a battery recall for a line it produced for electric car maker Fisker Automotive. It was on the verge of being delisted from the Nasdaq. Ni described A123 Systems to me as one of the clear leaders in lithium ion battery manufacturing that has been facing significant financial challenges. Wanxiang will work to help A123 get “financially stabilized,” said Ni.
Wanxiang also invested $420 million into GreatPoint Energy, a company based in Cambridge, Mass. that converts coal into cleaner-burning natural gas. At the time that deal was described by the Wall Street Journal as “the largest ever by a Chinese corporation into a venture-capital-funded U.S. company.” GreatPoint Energy planned to use the money partly to build a large-scale plant in China to convert coal into natural.
But before Wanxiang’s investment, GreatPoint Energy’s technology had stalled in the U.S., partly because U.S. shale natural gas had emerged as so cheap plentiful. GreatPoint’s technology showed great promise, but “economically they were finished in the U.S. The shareholders had decided to not give the company any more money,” said Ni. However, in China, GreatPoint’s economics worked far better.
Ni told me for U.S. cleantech startups, Wanxiang can provide valuable resources like capital, management, and help with expanding into China. Wanxiang is involved in all types of clean technology, from electric cars, to solar, to wind farms, to batteries. Wanxiang invested in another struggling company electric car company Smith Electric Vehicles.
When I asked Ni if Wanxiang looks for undervalued, under performing, cleantech startups, he said, it probably only looks that way because of the few press releases about these companies. Wanxiang also invests in energy companies that are thriving, says Ni.
But the reality of cleantech is that “we’re not there yet in terms of technology and cost,” says Ni, “the industry needs a lot of support from governments and private companies. It’s not a viable business as of today.” However, Wanxiang and Ni don’t waver on the sector in the long term: “There’s no question we need to get there.”
Wanxiang’s investments in U.S. cleantech companies aren’t without controversy; particularly for companies that have gotten money from the U.S. government, and then are building products in China. A123 Systems received a $249 million matching grant from the Department of Energy to build its factory, which will now be mostly owned by the Chinese conglomerate.