Porsche’s Chief Financial Officer Lutz Meschke has stated in a media interview following the conclusion of the Macan EV unveiling on January 25, 2024, that Europe’s initial plan to ban the sale of new fuel cars by 2035 may be postponed, as reported by Bloomberg.
Prolonging the Battle and Gradually Narrowing the Gap with Chinese Automakers through Trade Barriers
In March 2023, the European Union passed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars starting from 2035.
Due to opposition from Germany and Italy, after coordination, the European Union agreed not to ban models using synthetic fuels. Range anxiety of electric vehicles continue to affect the willingness of end consumers to purchase cars, becoming the biggest obstacle to the growth of electric vehicle sales.
Coupled with China’s electric vehicle market, which accounts for over 50% of global BEV sales, nurturing Chinese automakers led by BYD, who continuously lead in the technical level of the the battery system, the electric drive system, and the electronic control system compared to Europe, America, and Japan.
Not long ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated that without trade barriers, Chinese automakers would destroy the vast majority of their competitors. Whether this statement is exaggerated or not, trade barriers currently serve as the most effective means for Europe and the United States to prevent the continued growth and expansion of Chinese automakers, as exemplified by the United States’ IRA legislation and the European Union’s anti-subsidy investigations.
Delaying the implementation of the ban on the sale of new fuel cars can synergize with trade barriers, allowing consumers to maintain distance from Chinese-made electric vehicles. This approach provides breathing space for European automakers and US and Japanese automakers in the fuel car market.
With the Dual Strategy of Western and Japanese Automakers, Taiwanese Manufacturers Need Greater Flexibility in Planning
Assuming the postponement of the ban on the sale of new fuel cars, automakers in Europe, the United States, and Japan may simultaneously pursue synthetic fuel technology based on traditional fuel car frameworks while continuing to develop electric vehicle technology.
However, this dual approach, which does not favor one technology over the other, is likely to affect the allocation of resources for electric vehicles. During the era of internal combustion engine vehicles, dominated by Western, Japanese automakers, and Tier 1 suppliers due to various constraints such as patents and technological barriers, it has been challenging for Taiwan to access system-level supply opportunities.
In the era of electric vehicles, Fukuta Elec & Mach Co.’s all-in-one electric drive and control system has entered Mazda’s range-extended electric vehicle supply chain, while Foxconn has launched an electric vehicle manufacturing platform to vie for opportunities in complete vehicle manufacturing from carmakers. Consequently, Taiwan is gradually moving from Tier 3 and Tier 2 to Tier 1.
If automakers in Europe, the United States, and Japan adopt a dual strategy, Taiwanese manufacturers’ opportunities in the electric vehicle field may face reduction or fiercer competition.
Apart from continuously strengthening relevant technologies in the electric vehicle domain, Taiwanese manufacturers also need to enhance the commonality and modularity of their product lines to adapt to the ever-changing industrial regulations under geopolitical shifts.
Apple has delayed the production schedule for the Apple Car from 2026 to 2028, as reported by Bloomberg. The vehicle is expected to feature a Level 2+ advanced driver assistance system.
Aim for Fully Autonomous Driving: Apple Car Once Planned to Remove the Steering Wheel
Apple has named its project for the Apple Car “Titan”. The initial concept envisioned a fully electric vehicle without a steering wheel, potentially achieving Autonomous Driving Level 5.
The delineation of autonomous driving levels places Level 3 as a watershed: vehicles below this level still require driver control (by eyes and hands), with the system providing assistance.
Vehicles at Level 3 and above gradually empower the system to assume greater control, gradually freeing the driver’s hands and eyes. Therefore, only vehicles beyond Level 3 can be considered truly autonomous vehicle.
Downgrading the Autonomous Driving Level: Apple’s Compromise with Market Realities
Having accomplished numerous revolutionary innovations in the consumer electronics realm, it’s understandable that Apple aims to replicate its successful model in the automotive industry. High-level autonomous driving represents a battleground where Apple can leverage its strengths.
However, with the complexity of vehicle components and the stricter validation standards for automotive regulations compared to commercial ones, Apple, if it intends to venture into car manufacturing, still needs to align with the technological development levels of other components.
For instance, to eliminate the steering wheel configuration, mature wire-controlled steering technology is necessary. However, among all car manufacturers currently, only Tesla, Toyota, and Infinity have adopted this technology, resulting in a relatively small market size.
Related component suppliers also are still in the process of research and development or observing the market. Even if suitable suppliers are found, the adoption of such advanced technology may raise the cost of car manufacturing.
Additionally, the trust between humans and machines has yet to mature, and related regulations are still under development. Achieving full confidence from drivers to take their hands and eyes off the steering wheel, even under the Apple brand, is not an easily achievable goal.
Prioritizing Safety and Stability in Vehicle Design: Apple’s Compromise is the Right Decision
Given the direct impact on driver safety and the long product lifecycle, the automotive industry, whether traditional or electric vehicles, prioritizes safety and stability in design principles. Even with innovative technologies, their priority is secondary to safety and stability.
Designing an electric vehicle without a steering wheel is undoubtedly enticing, however, given the need for further validation in technology, regulations, and human-machine trust, the production timeline for Apple Car may continue to be delayed.
Additionally, the automotive industry adheres closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. At this stage, the primary concerns for car manufacturers are not the presence of steering wheels or the level of autonomous driving but rather range anxiety and high car prices. These concerns belong to the “lower-level” needs of the demand pyramid, affecting the basic survival conditions of manufacturers.
Only by prioritizing the satisfaction of these types of needs can manufacturers proceed to fulfill higher-level demands for advanced autonomous driving.
If Apple Car’s project adjustments are indeed true, it represents a compromise with reality. However, it allows Apple to quickly introduce products to capture market share. After all, only by successfully achieving the goal of production from nothing to something can Apple have the opportunity to create a truly Apple-dominated battlefield.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stated on January 26th that the U.S. government will propose that American cloud computing companies determine whether foreign entities are accessing U.S. data centers to train artificial intelligence models.
According to a report from Reuters, Raimondo stated during her interview that, “We can’t have non-state actors or China or folks who we don’t want accessing our cloud to train their models.”
“We use export controls on chips,” she noted. “Those chips are in American cloud data centers so we also have to think about closing down that avenue for potential malicious activity.”
Raimondo further claimed that, the United States is “trying as hard as we can to deny China the compute power that they want to train their own (AI) models, but what good is that if they go around that to use our cloud to train their models?”
Since the U.S. government introduced chip export controls to China last year, NVIDIA initially designed downgraded AI chips A800 and H800 for Chinese companies. However, new regulations in October of 2023 by the U.S. Department of Commerce brought A800, H800, L40S, and other chips under control.
Raimondo stated that the Commerce Department would not permit NVIDIA to export its most advanced and powerful AI chips, which could facilitate China in developing cutting-edge models.
In addition to the limitations on NVIDIA’s AI chips, the U.S. government has also imposed further restrictions on specific equipment. For example, ASML, a leading provider of semiconductor advanced lithography equipment, announced on January 1st, 2024, that it was partially revoking export licenses for its DUV equipment in relation to the U.S. government.
Negotiations between Hyundai Motor and the U.S. government concerning tax incentives for the Korean automaker’s USD 5.5 billion EV plant in Georgia have yet to reach a conclusion.
It was first reported on August 31st 2023, indicating that Hyundai Motor Group and LG Energy Solution (LGES) would invest an additional USD 2 billion in their battery cell manufacturing joint venture (JV) at the Metaplant in Bryan County, Georgia.
The company subsequently aimed to expedite the construction of its factory in Georgia and establish partnerships with local battery suppliers to align with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), as stated by Hyundai’s CFO Seo Gang-Hyun during an earnings call.
In an latter interview, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp expressed concerns that the IRA is adversely affecting Korean companies. Korea Joongang Daily further noted that no Korean electric vehicles, including those from Hyundai Motor and Kia, are currently listed for the IRA tax credit. According to TrendForce’s analyst, the market share in 2023 for Hyundai Motor and Kia combined is 10.6%, which ranks as 4th in the US market, behind GM, Toyota, and Ford.
Currently, the U.S. Energy Department has reportedly yet provided a definitive response to Hyundai’s request for a 30 percent tax credit under the IRA, as per a report from the Korean media outlet Korea Joongang Daily. As reported by The Korea Daily, the potential value of these incentives could be around USD 350 million.
“We’ve been constantly discussing with the U.S. government for the incentives,” Hyundai Motor confirmed regarding the news. “Nothing has been decided, and we’re waiting for the result.” Still, reportedly, Hyundai and Kia have not announced any cuts to EV production or investment.
TrendForce notes that the automotive industry is currently facing high raw material and labor costs, as well as significant investments in electrification and autonomous driving. Balancing the protection of local enterprises, maintaining competitiveness, and managing consumer costs is an urgent task for governments worldwide. Most countries are focusing on the country of origin rather than the brand of vehicles in their restrictive measures.
Measures taken by the US—specifically for EVs—include requiring that EVs and their batteries be assembled in North America. Furthermore, critical minerals in the batteries must originate from countries that have signed free trade agreements with the US to qualify for subsidies totaling US$7,500.
The U.S. lawmakers is reportedly attempting to further drive the “decoupling” of the Pentagon’s supply chain from China. According to sources cited by Bloomberg, the U.S. Congress has prohibited the Pentagon from procuring batteries produced by six Chinese companies, including CATL and BYD.
Additionally, the other four battery manufacturers set to be banned are Envision Energy, EVE Energy, Gotion High-Tech, and Hithium Energy Storage Technology. Based on the report, of the top 10 battery suppliers in the world, just three are non-Chinese companies.
It is noted that this regulation is part of the “2024 National Defense Authorization Act,” passed on December 22, 2023. However, commercial purchases, such as Ford’s procurement of batteries from CATL in Michigan and Tesla’s sourcing of batteries from BYD, are temporarily exempt from these measures.
As per IJIWEI’s report, the U.S. government has long been eyeing the Chinese new energy vehicle supply chain. Previously, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argued that China’s new energy vehicle industry posed a threat to the “national security” of the United States.
At the end of 2023, a document was signed, stipulating that from 2024 onwards, all electric vehicles produced in the U.S. are prohibited from using Chinese batteries. The signing of this document is evidently unfavorable for companies in the electric vehicle battery industry looking to expand into the U.S. market.
According to the conditions for electric vehicle subsidies under the U.S. IRA Act, starting in 2024, the use of battery components produced by entities from “Foreign Entity of Concern” (FEOC) countries is prohibited. In 2025, the prohibition extends to the use of key minerals processed or recycled in FEOC countries. FEOC encompasses China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran.
The U.S. Department of Energy, in December 2023, released a notification of a proposed interpretive rule, requesting comments to define FEOC, covering overseas subsidiaries of Chinese companies and overseas enterprises with more than 25% ownership by Chinese state-owned enterprises.
However, given the current distribution of the battery supply chain, completely bypassing the Chinese battery supply chain in the U.S. is challenging. Even if feasible, it would come with substantial costs. The result could be a short-term inability to reduce vehicle prices, further impacting the gradually weakening demand for electric vehicles in the United States.
TrendForce indicates that the combined sales of BEVs and PHEVs in the United States totaled approximately 1.46 million vehicles in 2023. Due to the requirement that many vehicles must meet local assembly criteria in the U.S. to qualify for subsidies, numerous models lost subsidies in 2023.
It is expected that in 2024, various automakers will increase the proportion of local assembly, expanding consumer options to stimulate demand. However, stringent conditions for battery adoption could become one of the variables affecting the growth of electric vehicle sales in the United States.