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Additional News Related to Tesla’s Gigafactory

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There has been some additional news regarding the status of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motor’s rollout of its planned gigafactory to produce its own electric cells for use in both its automobiles as well as other rechargeable battery supply needs.

The Associated Press reports that Tesla has now received and sold about $20 million in transferable tax credits granted by the State of Nevada in conjunction with an overall $1.3 billion incentives package put in place to lure Tesla to selecting the northern Nevada site location. In its most recent progress report issued to the state, Tesla indicated that as of the first quarter of 2016, an average of 369 workers were employed at the plant thus far, while an average of 599 construction workers continue to work on plant construction and fit-out.

Tesla battery gigafactory

Source: Tesla Motors

Reports point out that Tesla continues with a strategic supply agreement with Japan based battery supplier Panasonic. This supply agreement reportedly calls for the production of 1.8 billion battery cells through 2017, to support the output needs for both the Model S and the Model X. As of Q1, Panasonic had over 50 employees working at the Nevada battery plant.

The battery plant is being designed to eventually support the production needs of upwards of 500,000 electric powered vehicles per year. The design goal is that the plant would ultimately be able to produce batteries at 30 percent less cost, and when operational, would provide the capacity to be the single largest battery manufacturing volume plant in the world. The gigafactory is part of Elon Musk’s vision that batteries will not only be required in new automobiles, but in alternative energy applications as well. Hence, Tesla’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire SolarCity, the other component of this strategy, which includes supplying storage batteries to capture electricity captured by solar cells during the day, for use in other periods.

Meanwhile, a Bloomberg Businessweek published a report indicates that pressure to speed-up the original production ramp-up output of the gigafactory has taken on new significance because of the 330,000 preorders that have already been received for the new Model 3.

According to the report- “The accelerated schedule to supply the Model 3, the automaker’s first mass market car, doesn’t leave much time to create a complex supply chain that includes expanded mining and exploration operations.”

Further noted is that the Model 3 will feature a newer high-capacity battery with enhanced energy density to expand operating range.  To keep the base price of the Model 3 at its targeted $35,000 range, Tesla engineers are working on different compositions of metal content within the rechargeable batteries. Tesla has reportedly hired specialized metals experts to travel the world to seek out and work with metals suppliers.

In a Supply Chain Matters commentary published in September of 2015, we highlighted the bold supply chain vertical integration strategy that resulted in the concept of the gigafactory, destined to be one of the largest battery manufacturing plants in the world. We further noted the strategic importance of plant’s location in Nevada, close to available suppliers of lithium metal.

At Tesla’s annual stockholders meeting in May, Founder and CEO Elon Musk indicated that lithium metal will only account for two percent of the total materials in the firm’s electric cells. Rather than compete with high-tech and consumer electronics producers across Asia and Korea that consume 85 percent of current lithium supply, the strategy appears to be substituting other metal compounds instead. Similar to what we noted last year, the Bloomberg report indicates that strategic supply agreements for lithium have been signed with Bacanora Minerals and Pure Energy Minerals, each to explore and mine the metal within sources close to the new factory. However, a specialized metals research firm predicts a global deficit of lithium supply this year, turning to slight surplus in 2017 and 2018.

Musk reportedly indicated to stockholders that a bigger determinant for the Model 3 is the cost of nickel in the form that Tesla engineers require. That metal is being substituted for cobalt. Global-wide supplies of nickel have increased during the past two years resulting in a 50 percent decrease in prices.

As with many value-chain strategies related to a firm’s product supply chain, the ability to support both short and long-term customer demand need often rests with key strategic supply agreements. In the case of Tesla, that equates to the critical supply of not just battery cells, but the metals and compounds that go into the production of such cells.

A glance at Tesla’s recently filed Form SD, Specialized Disclosure Report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to adherence to avoidance of conflict materials can give one a sense of how important metals supply is for Tesla.  The Annex lists 41 different global suppliers of Tantalum, 51 suppliers of Tin and 35 suppliers of Tungsten. The scope is truly global in-nature.

Bob Ferrari

 


Volkswagen’s Initial Settlement with U.S. Regulators- More Challenges Remain

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Today marks the initial formal settlement by Volkswagen with U.S. based regulators regarding approximately 500,000 U.S. vehicle owners of two liter diesel engines as a result of the emissions cheating scandal. The financial settlement amounting to more than $15 billion, ranks as one of the highest ever incurred on an automotive manufacturer, a new industry milestone. It further represents what could be one of the largest vehicle buyback offers in U.S. history, one that we believe will test reverse supply chain processes.

Today’s settlement adds additional challenges for VW in its efforts to move beyond this emissions scandal. They include continued damage to brands because some consumers feel deceived and continued heartburn for existing VW dealers and retailers in selling what remains of existing gasoline powered vehicles.

Of the $15 billion total, a little over $10 billion is set aside in a civil settlement to offer vehicle buybacks and additional cash settlements to owners of existing vehicles that were implicated in the software manipulation of diesel powered emissions while $5 billion in allocated to offset excess diesel emissions and eventually boost efforts for new green energy and zero emissions vehicles by VW.

Yet remaining to be eventually settled is the issue of 85,000 4.0 liter diesel powered vehicles involving other primarily Audi and Porsche brands.

According to various published reports, existing owners of 2009-2015 affected vehicles will receive direct compensation of at least $5000 along with the estimated cash value of the impacted vehicles. Prior owners are expected to receive half the compensation of current owners while leased vehicles will also be included in some form of financial settlement. Buybacks are not expected to begin until October at the earliest, pending final judicial approvals of the settlements.

The company faces other fines involving governmental or civil settlements both in the U.S. and other countries as a result of the incident. According to Reuters, regulators will not immediately approve fixes for all three generations of polluting 2009-2015 vehicles. There are still open questions as to whether these vehicles can be economically and logistically repaired.  That opens the potential for a significant reverse supply chain challenge to move such vehicles to recycling or environmentally safe disposal channels.

As noted in our Supply Chain Matters commentary last September, Volkswagen runs the risk of losing the trust and loyalty of its U.S. and global customers if this crisis is not proactively managed. Thus far, it would seem that VW management is trying to move forward in settlements and in executive leadership changes but much more work remains. Many other ongoing supply chain and product related challenges remain as well.

One relates to the inventory of unsold diesel cars that now have had their U.S. and European sales suspended. That adds to the recycling and reverse supply chain challenges. If VW elects to repair or refit some of the diesel powered fleet, there are challenges related to who performs these services, how will compensation be administers and where the refits will be performed.

It is no secret that Volkswagen has struggled with its vehicle line-up for the U.S. market, including a market competitive and fuel efficient mid-sized SUV which was initially promised for 2016 market entry. That model availability problem has become much more complicated and may force VW to reach out to other manufacturers to fill-in holes in the model line-up.

VW continues to learn financially painful lessons regarding its ongoing emissions scandal. A company noted for a somewhat tops-down management style and an engineering-driven culture and among one of the two top global producers will learn some tough lessons as a result of this scandal. The most important when all the dust settles, will be more sensitivity to customer and market needs along with implications of being afoul to governmental emission standards. Now, more than ever in the company’s history, VW needs to take an industry leadership role in alternative powered and green energy powered vehicles.

All of these present a difficult set of challenges in the months to come, when that demands that VW executives move beyond the halls of Wolfsburg.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All Rights Reserved.

 


Two Contrasting Events: Brexit and the Expanded Panama Canal Add New Dimensions for Active Planning- Part One

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It’s the last Monday in June and as we pen this advisory commentary two major developments over these past few days are going to have a definitive long-term impact on various industry supply chains. One is the unexpected results of the referendum by voters in the United Kingdom endorsing an exit from the European Union. The other is yesterday’s formal opening of an expanded Panama Canal. Supply Chain Matters features two commentaries related to both developments. We begin with the Brexit vote.

The results of the Brexit referendum took many by surprise, including this author.  On Friday, alone investors wiped away nearly $2 trillion in market value from various global equity markets in reaction to the news.

By voting to exit the EU, British voters have set off a series of events that many are describing as unprecedented.  The most cited analogy seems to be- “unchartered waters and political events.” Such uncertainly not only surrounds the direct impact on the U.K., but on the EU alliance itself if other select countries take a similar course. Some fear the unwinding of Europe itself, which seems somewhat extreme at this point.  However, it will add more political and governmental dimensions to this ongoing crisis, along with building pressure to accelerate Brittan’s exit to stave-off other efforts at similar separation.

Many of the implications currently reflect such uncertainty and caution. After all, the timeline of Brittan’s exit would likely span two or more years. None the less, there will be short and longer term industry supply chain impacts and various supply chain and S&OP teams need to begin thinking about and educating management on certain strategy scenarios. We view these impacts coming from specific industry, trade and transportation as well as people related dimensions.

Two major industries dominating UK based manufacturing are automotive and aerospace industry, the latter being focused primarily in commercial aircraft component manufacturing.

Two of the most dominant stakeholder brands of autos in the UK are Volkswagen and Tata Motors, The latter is currently the leading car maker in sales of various VW, Audi and Porsche branded vehicles and has a significant manufacturing presence in these brands as well as that of Bentley. For VW, the news is especially troubling given its current crisis for dealing with the financial and brand fallout stemming from the diesel emissions scandal across Europe and the United States. It adds yet another challenge to protecting its market interests. Tata Motors is the producer of Jaguar and Land Rover branded vehicles and the U.K. represents its single biggest market and source of profits. The shares of both of these manufacturers were impacted by the news of the exit EU mandate.

According to published business media reports, most global auto manufacturers seem to be collectively in reassessment mode regarding their current UK based operations. Concerns center on impacts on tariffs, uncertain currency fluctuations and the local market, as U.K. consumers themselves deal with new uncertainties and any economic consequences related to exit. According to a published report by The Wall Street Journal, registrations for new autos amounted to 18.5 percent of all European registrations last year. The WSJ cites forecasting firm data indicating that there could be as much as an $8.9 billion hit to auto OEM earnings and a nearly 14 percent decline in U.K. new car registrations in 2017. With the broader European auto industry coming off multiple years of retrenchment and downsizing as a result of the past global financial crisis, news of the UK exit, coupled with potentially other subsequent impacts, has many industry executives at-pause.

According to Wikipedia, the aerospace industry within the U.K. is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement. The industry employs around 113,000 people directly and around 276,000 indirectly and has an annual turnover of around £25 billion. Domestic companies with a large presence include BAE Systems (the world’s third-largest defense contractor), Britten-Norman, Cobham, GKN, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce (the world’s second-largest aircraft engine maker), and Ultra Electronics. External companies with a major presence include Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus, Finmeccanica, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Safran and Thales Group. From our lens, the most significant company to watch will be that of Rolls Royce which was already struggling with growth and profitability challenges.  Many of these providers exist in supply chain ecosystems being challenged to ramp-up production but at the same time, reduce overall costs. With such presence from many component manufacturers and actual commercial and military aircraft producers the open question is whether the reliance on a local currency and broken ties with EU trade policies will have an impact on the economics of the local industry. Only time will tell if they do.

From the independent trade and transportation lens, we had already predicted at the beginning of the year that major geopolitical developments centered on global trade agreements would present new concerns and challenges for industry supply chains. With a U.K. exit from the EU, industry supply chains need to factor another border crossing in their logistics and transportation plans, not to mention the potential for different tariffs or duties to emerge.

With major trade pacts such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (T-TIP) still in ratification stages, a new unknown is entered, namely the U.K. as a separate negotiating party.  With many pushing for quicker ratification because of the current anti-trade political environment, these agreements could be faced with having to factor the U.K. as an unknown until exit is achieved and new trade policies adopted, not to mention a possible change in political leadership. The implication extends to product labeling, country of origin, intellectual property protection and other unknowns at this point.

Finally there is the issue of people, both in talent attraction and retention. An advisory from CBI Insights notes- “The free movement of workers between the U.K. and the EU arguably made London into a top tech startup talent pool in all of Europe. The decision to leave the EU may cause a brain drain that could hamstring innovation in London.” Some others take issue with the notion of brain drain.  However, multiple industry supply chains have already been impacted by the need for new talent and as supply chains become deeper invested in new technology needs and requirements, UK based producers, service firms and tech companies will need to assure that workers will find the U.K. economically and workplace attractive.

Brexit has ongoing implications beyond the U.K. that could conceivably impact other geographic regions, specific countries and industries. We advise supply chain and line-of-business teams to take on a precautionary approach towards any impacts brought about by Brittan’s exit from the EU. Rather than alarm, now is the time for active supply chain modeling and scenario planning to advise senior management of various business or financial implications, if any? Clearly, with overall global supply chain activity levels already trending toward contraction, and with this new politically active and vocal electorate, the global economy and global markets are becoming less uncertain.  This is a time of constant strategy awareness and attention to needs for contingency planning with added visibility to ongoing global events. We highly recommend that industry teams be vested in market and industry intelligence, supply chain risk mitigation and technology that brings added intelligence and insights to both customer-facing and supply-facing operational, financial and global trends.

Bob Ferrari

© 2016 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All Rights Reserved.


Report of a Different Focus for General Motors in Supplier Management Relationships

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The Wall Street Journal has reported that General Motors will allow 400 U.S. and Canada based component suppliers for GM vehicles being produced in Brazil and Mexico to be able to periodically renegotiate their supply contracts. These suppliers are currently challenged with the effects of a volatile foreign currency environment causing rising material and labor costs. At least once per year, suppliers can renegotiate terms when impacted by unexpected external economic factors.

This development is newsworthy because among long time automotive industry watchers, GM has developed somewhat of a past reputation as a strict negotiator with what the WSJ describes as “ironclad” contracts with suppliers. Annual industry surveys ranking the relationship of suppliers with various global OEM’s have consistently ranked GM much lower in past surveys.

This latest move is attributed to support a new GM strategy that involves investing $5 billion over the next ten years to develop a new line-up of Chevrolet branded vehicles for consumer markets in Brazil, Mexico and foreign markets such as India and China. Thus, procurement strategy has taken on a more active strategy to longer-term support product development needs. GM’s new chief procurement officer, Steve Kiefer has reportedly been exploring alternative supplier management efforts with GM’s supplier base since taking on the CPO role in late 2014.

What we believe should go unnoticed is that Keifer’s previous industry background included roles at Tier One industry supplier Delphi Automotive, thus providing a fresh bottoms-up perspective on supplier relationship management.  Since taking over leadership of GM procurement, he has reportedly fostered the creation of longer-term supplier contracts that include co-innovation in component design or automotive sub-systems for areas such as safety and more intelligent vehicles. The WSJ report quotes a marketing executive for supplier Magna International as reinforcing that GM has taken on a more collaborative approach with that supplier.

We wanted to highlight this report for Supply Chain Matters readers because it is indeed noteworthy.  We thought about extending our “Thumbs-Up” recognition but we will hold off somewhat until there is further history in these ongoing efforts.

However, in the meantime, well-done, GM…


There’s a High Visibility Supply Chain That Can Also Move Supplier Fortunes

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Readers of this blog are well aware of the power and consequences of supplier visibility that is attributed to the Apple supply chain.  Knowledge of supplier contributions to Apple’s product value chains can literally make fortunes or cause significant financial harm, depending on the news or developments, whether real or rumored.

It now appears there is a new contender on the scene, that being Tesla’s supply chain.

This week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted evidence to this effect.

Recent rumors were that battery manufacturing firm Samsung SDI, a component-making division of diversified electronics manufacturer Samsung, was in-line for a new procurement contract for lithium-ion batteries to power the newly announced Tesla Model 3 vehicle. Keep in-mind that Tesla partnered with Panasonic to build the giant battery manufacturing gigafactory located in Nevada. That partnership required Panasonic to pony-up a considerable financial sum to help in building this new facility as well as incorporating advanced manufacturing processes.

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify that Tesla was indeed working exclusively with Panasonic on the Model 3 electrical power needs, and that news articles claiming otherwise were incorrect. According to the WSJ, that one tweet caused Samsung SDI market capitalization to drop by $580 million while the market cap for Panasonic jumped $800 million in the same day.

The report notes: For investors chasing buzz, the electric-car maker has increasingly been a driving force among shares of automobile-component suppliers in Asia, akin to what Apple news does to electronic-parts makers.”

The article further noted:”Tesla moves stocks, even if the news is hard to confirm.”

Two other examples were provided to reinforce this trend. Hankook Tire shares shot-up in May on news that it could become a Tesla supplier.  Similar news sent shares of battery producer LG Chem soaring last October. Taiwan based Hota Industrial Manufacturing; sole supplier of gearboxes saw it shares driven down in April amid rumors that Tesla was seeking a second supply source.

Thus, Tesla has obviously become another high-visibility global supply chain, one where supplier fortunes move on the slightest news, and one that will increasingly be subject to attempts to gain all forms of insider information.

There is of-course, another twist to this new high visibility supply chain. That is that automotive supply chains will increasingly shift toward more high technology components and software composition in the overall supply chain.  Then, there are the continually rumors that Apple maybe working on developing its own branded electric car.

So goes the new era of elite supply chains, those few innovative players that literally move financial markets on the basis of being the recognized market disruptor, where supplier contracts, news or supply chain hiccups determine financial fortunes.

Bob Ferrari


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