A Rearview of 2020

It would be hard to write the story of 2020 without reference to Covid 19, the unprecedented nature of which caught everyone off guard. Sales were stopped altogether in March and there were difficulties between April-June. The rest of the year could be thought of as “mixed market forces” as everyone looked towards selling online.

Market Forces:

Another problem with the year was the lack of motor shows, the New York show was first to postpone from April to August, later to be dropped altogether.

For the many automakers which relied on the Chinese supply chain both production levels and importing issues affected US supply. This was one of the many reasons that used car vehicle sales increased here – as much as 30%.

New Models:

As with any year there were always the new models, such as the iconic Cadillac OT5 with a 335-horsepower twin turbo. An additional rear camera helps remove the blind spot you sometimes encounter when parking.

Ford introduced a 2020 Mustang and 2020 Fusion, the latter having an Ecoboost engine and driving assist.

Underperforming Sales:

One of the more popular cars was a compact crossover from Hyandai, the Tucson. Sales were still down at 900,00 units. Ford Transits sold 93,000 units which proves that businesses still need vans, even if sales were down.

Although new Jeeps and Cherokees were planned for this year as well as Toyota Highlander what happened was a slight drop; 17% for the Highlander. It could have been a whole lot worse.

The Subaru Forester showed the miniscule increase in sales: 2%.

International Car Sales:

In both May and June sales for passenger cars increased in China. Japan had the strongest sales, even if their sales were down by a fifth. Light vehicle sales were down by a quarter, but they recovered better than Europe for instance. In Russia sales were down by a quarter.

In June, France was the only country that outdid Germany and the UK. September 2020 was a good month for China, USA and Europe as sales increased, though recovery had not quite improved for Europe, it was still down by a third. Brazil had a similar decrease in figures.

There were some difficulties in September when car companies weren’t able to create WLTP** compliant vehicles. Still, Italian car sales increased by 10%, and Germany by 8%, despite the numbers from other countries contracted. Numbers of registrations increased in China for the fifth month running, which shows great promise for the rest of the world after the virus.

November 2020 the VW was the top selling model, the second being the Toyota Yaris.

Conclusion:

Maybe it’s best to draw a line in the sand for 2020, those who run car factories and those who sell cars are more aware of the difficulty but the general conclusion inside the industry is that car sales will resume with a few modifications in 2021. After all, people are longing to get back to normal (not just new normal) as well as getting away. If planned correctly, 2021 will show a big difference, we will wait and see.

**The Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) laboratory test is used to measure fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from passenger cars and vans, as well as their pollutant emissions.

Tesla Cars – Their Success Continues

Tesla seems to have a different way of selling than its rivals. They speak of being mission-focused, consumer-focused and giving a consistent experience, but how does it stack up?

There is certainly expansion occuring, not only in the US but also they are building factories in China and Germany. But why have they reached such lofty heights?

Despite various models, such as the Roadster, Model S and Model X they seem more than a car company. With (according to CNN) revenue valued at 24.6 billion, they are also a hardware and software company.

There are other authorities which speak well of Tesla – the Owner Satisfaction Survey in 2017, run by Consumer Reports, placed them highest. The survey looked into such variables as the driving experience, comfort and value amongst other items.

These cars are in majority sold online, selling cars directly to the customers instead of using dealerships. Their showrooms are in malls and places with high footfall instead of the regular out of town places. There is remote diagnosis and even remote repair so no need to visit the customer. Relying on mobile technology they don’t make a profit on service.

The prototypes of the Tesla were revealed in July 2006 in Santa Monica to 350 invited guests. It was certainly about quality, not quantity.

A loan from the US Department of Energy in January 2010 of a massive 465 million dollars was certainly good for business. It was repaid in 2013 in full. Tesla has been developing its technology in an environmentally friendly way ever since.

Surprisingly, the patents aren’t heavily protected but can be used by other companies. As a sidenote, the number of patents registered is certainly a sign that it’s a technology company with a emphasis on the internet; most car companies have only the odd patent. While they are flexible with their patents, there are several trade secrets of Tesla which do remain private.

If you wish to let Tesla self-drive, there is an autopilot program available. If you wish to drive it yourself reviews of the cars talk about a “feeling of acceleration” in addition to “ride quality.”

There is some controversy as to whether it is actually “self-driving,” the car still needs to be supervised. The Tesla can handle various automatic tasks such as lane centering, lane changes, self-parking and summoning cars from a parking space or a garage. It all sounds pretty cool.

20% of all electric cars were produced by Tesla, which given the strong Japanese and German electric car market this is quite an achievement. So in the grand scheme of all cars made in the world, Tesla has a tiny piece, however in an apples to apple comparison to similar cars produced they are a big fish in their tiny pond.

So, are you self-driving or are you supervising the driving? In September 2020 someone was charged with driving over 90mph, it appears both “passengers” where asleep. According to the authorities these support systems are meant to be complementary, the human behind the wheel is ultimately responsible.

Despite this differentiation from how other car makers sell their cars, there is a huge amount of choice with a Tesla. The sky is the limit—did you know they were developing a space program as well?

Texan Car Factories

There is a long history of car manufacture in Texas, as early as 1917 a plant in Fort Worth. As many companies manufacture in a number of states it’s hard to find an individual characteristic that explains why a particular car is made a particular place. For instance, we may associate Cadillacs with Texas, but they were originally from Michigan. Still, if car makers prefer to locate factories there, either the State government is friendly to them (tax wise) or Texans as enterprising individuals.

The reason why cars were first made in Texas was to do with promising tax breaks. The first factory created Chevrolet’s. It didn’t look that much like a factory; the windows were too big. It would be satisfying to say the first car was a success, but it was given to a local reporter who promptly crashed it – so much for promotions.

The tax breaks for Chevrolets unfortunately didn’t last beyond 1922 and the factory had to close. Fortunately, a similar one opened in downtown Fort Worth.

“Texans” by Plymouth/ Dodge were also made in Fort Worth in 1922, almost forgotten about now. Their slogan was “first in endurance, durability and speed.” They might have had too much of the last feature with a massive 35 hp, more than they cope with. In their glory days they produced 20 cars a day, but it seems they did not live up to demand.

One factory that is still running is at Arlington – Arlington Assembly. The factory has operated more than 60 years creating large SUVs and Chevrolet and Cadillac, although when it started in 1954 it also made aircraft. During the 1990’s they also made roadsters such as the Buick Roadmaster. The names were reminiscent of long past – The Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Pontiac Chieftain, despite this only being the 1990’s.

As with other factories they have recently moved into battery powered cars, with many developing cell technologies. The Chevrolet Volt was the first mass market plug-in hybrid. The Tahoe, described as a “full-sized SUV” with several versatile features, is also produced here. There are plans for a new underbody for both the Tahoe and Suburban – other improvements are more cargo space and electro-hydraulic brakes for both vehicles.

At this factory plans were announced in December 2019 for an expansion costing 1.6 million. In addition to this, there will be a $1.4 billion spent on an improved body and paint shops. So, it doesn’t appear this factory is going anywhere soon.

Tesla chose Austin to build a plant for the Cybertruck and the site also produces the Model Y, a small SUV. Reports say that they are concentrating on the East Coast, not the whole US, planning to invest $1 billion. Since they are planning to have a Cybertruck out there in 2021 they may need to get a move on.

Another car maker in Texas which don’t immediately trip off the tongue is Union Tank Car Company. Their focus is railway engines and carriages, but they also manufacture cars. And as with many automakers they manufacture in other states as well.

Cobots and the Workings of a Car Factory.

Cobots is the nickname given to robots who build cars on an automatic assembly line (short for collaboration robots). These robots cost from $50,000 to $80,000 but the big expense with this type of machinery is maintenance and repair.

Why Robots?

The reason for using robots isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s not necessarily about robotic precision and speed—humans are able to work as fast as accurate in most cases. It’s actually about the danger to humans from repetitive stress. A human the same motion over and over can build up an injury.

Humans also get bored doing the same thing over and over, which can lead to accidents that harm themselves or others or create a potential defect in the vehicle. When a robot does something wrong it does it every time which means when you discover the problem you can go back and fix them all. It’s expensive but imagine having random errors on random units and trying to find all of those.

Finally, certain chemicals that are used are harmful to humans. Paint for example. If a robot paints a car it can essentially move via conveyer belt to the next part of the process. In the distant past of the assembly line someone ran the risk of spraying the car, then the car sat until dry before moving to the next process.

Supervision:

The tasks are supervised by a computer program. The science of performing individual tasks depends on both geometry and timing. The program tells each robot where each part should be placed, how to rotate, where to weld, etc. It also supervises the rotating of parts and moving of the cars.

The first waves of assembly robots were all in cages, no doubt to protect human workers. Now there are fewer humans working in close proximity to the machines, so the robots seem to roam free. Most of them are based in one place but they give the appearance of being free compared to their predecessors.

Production Order

The first part of the car to be constructed is the floor. This is done through pressing steel. Next light robotic arms do tasks as diverse as screwdriving, wheel mounting and installing the windshield.

The arms use a combo of lasers and cameras so the item can be offset properly. Tasks such as welding require robots with longer arms. To perform the task properly every time the arms work along the same arc for an entire pass.

The robots need to work together. If the panels aren’t in the right place they can’t weld together properly. Some jobs are more complicated than others; windshield placing requires several vacuum powered functioned grips for example.

Other things you may not know about Cobots:

What people may not know is that robots also tend to other machines in the factory, for example automatic forklifts load and unload items.

Quality control is still performed by the human workforce.

Another thing people may not know is, like humans, robots tend to work on shifts. A robot can work for two or three shift operations until it needs to be replaced by another robot. Engineers are always looking for more accurate ways to the building of their vehicles.

As late as 2005 90% of all robots were found in car factories. Automating the process is about increasing the safety, quality and productivity. In the same way that conveyor belts were first used in the car industry robots have taken over auto factories.

As well as the co-bots many factories “employ” drones to check vital parts of the factory, such as delivery pipes. It saves humans from climbing around to check remote locations.

There is no end to a robots uses in a car factory. There were even reports that robots were making the coffee in one Ford plant – hardly the most dangerous job in the world, so maybe it was a PR stunt. Still, it shows their versatility.