German competitors unveil own electric cars in catch-up race against Tesla

The German government hopes to see one million fully electric and hybrid vehicles, such as the EQ from Mercedes, above, on the road by 2022. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018

German competitors unveil own electric cars in catch-up race against Tesla

  • Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche subsidiaries between them control some 80 percent of the worldwide premium car market
  • German carmakers have vowed a total of almost €40 billion of investment in battery-powered vehicles in the coming three years

FRANKFURT: After years watching Tesla’s electric cars speed ahead while they have been on the defensive over an industry-wide diesel emissions scandal, German high-end manufacturers have finally unveiled their first challengers to the Californian upstart.
Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche subsidiaries between them control some 80 percent of the worldwide premium car market.
But until recently they offered little battery-powered, zero-emission competition to Tesla and its bombastic chief executive Elon Musk.
That changed this month, with all three groups unveiling their first all-electric SUVs slated for release over the next two years.
Audi rolled out its “E-Tron,” BMW its “iNext” and Mercedes its “EQC,” while Porsche presented an electric coupe, the “Mission E.”
In total, German carmakers have vowed a total of almost €40 billion ($46.7 billion) of investment in battery-powered vehicles in the coming three years, industry association VDA says.
With a market share of around eight percent in Germany — compared with Tesla’s 0.1 percent — Audi hopes electric cars will account for around one in three sales by 2025.
“Finally, it’s getting started!” auto industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said.
Time is pressing, as sales of engines powered by automakers’ longtime growth driver diesel have plummeted in the face of plans by many large cities to ban them to bring down air pollution.
The entrance of the three German behemoths into the electric race is far more consequential for Tesla than smaller fish like Britain’s Jaguar, whose “I-PACE” is already on sale in the UK.
And the US tech firm faces major hurdles of its own, struggling to stem losses that have been going on for years while trying to reassure investors and customers of its chief executive’s mental health.
Musk was filmed drinking whisky and smoking cannabis (which is legal in California) with radio host Joe Rogan earlier this month, and in August revealed he was suffering from intense stress and fatigue in an interview with the New York Times.
On Tuesday, Tesla confirmed that the US Department of Justice was investigating the company over Musk’s tweet announcing a plan to remove its shares from the stock market.
Also, on Twitter, the South African entrepreneur admitted Tuesday that after months spent overcoming “production hell” on the firm’s mass-market Model 3, it was now in “delivery logistics hell” struggling to get cars to buyers — while promising “rapid progress.”
For expert Dudenhoeffer, “Tesla is the market leader and has great strength in innovation, but the coming six to nine months will be a decisive test” for its chief executive.
“If he doesn’t manage to stabilize the Model 3 and make the firm profitable, it will get very complicated for him, including with regard to his investors.”
The German government hopes to see one million fully electric and hybrid vehicles on the road by 2022, up from fewer than 100,000 at the start of this year.
But the spread of the technology is constrained by a number of factors, including a limited range of models for sale, slow expansion of charging infrastructure and limited capacity for building new batteries.
A government commission on electric mobility recently found Germany would need to increase the number of charging points available more than five-fold to serve a million drivers.
And while they are perfecting electric motors and other electric-drive components, German carmakers have so far balked at direct investment in costly battery production, aware that they would have to catch up on a head start enjoyed by Asian industry leaders and unwilling to gamble on an adventure in the unfamiliar territory of cell chemistry.
European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said recently that the EU should be open to state aid for a long-hoped-for “Airbus of batteries,” while business daily Handelsblatt reported the German economy ministry is cobbling together a consortium of companies and research institutes.
For now, the most conspicuous progress comes from China’s CATL.
The challenger for global battery leadership against the alliance of Japanese Panasonic and Tesla announced in July a mammoth new factory in central Germany to supply European customers.


WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Keeping things in balance

Updated 08 December 2019

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Keeping things in balance

  • The over-compliance will result in cuts of 1.7 million bpd

Brent crude rose above $64 per barrel after OPEC+ producers unanimously agreed to deepen output cuts by 503,000 barrels per day (bpd) to a total 1.7 million bpd till the end of the first quarter of 2020.

The breakdown is that OPEC producers are due to cut 372,000 bpd and non-OPEC producers to cut 131,000 bpd.

Current market dynamics led to this decision as oil price-positive news outweighed more bearish developments in the US-China trade narrative that has weighed on oil prices throughout the year, with US crude exports rising to a record 3.4 million bpd in October versus 3.1 million bpd in September.

OPEC November crude oil output levels at 29.8 million bpd show that producers were already overcomplying with its current 1.2 million bpd output cuts deal by around 400,000 bpd. 

The over-compliance will result in cuts of 1.7 million bpd, especially when Saudi Arabia continues to voluntarily cut more than its share.

This makes the agreed 1.7 million bpd output cuts pragmatic since it won’t taken any barrels out of the market.

It isn’t a matter of OPEC making room in the market for other additional supplies from non-OPEC sources, as OPEC barrels can’t be easily replaced.

Instead, this is about avoiding any oversupply that might damage the global supply-demand balance.

Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has effectively kept his promise and managed to smoothly forge a consensus among OPEC and non-OPEC producers.

He has also successfully managed the 24-country coalition of OPEC+ including Russia in reaching an agreement.

Despite suggestions otherwise in recent coverage of the Vienna meeting, the deeper cuts announced on Friday have nothing to do with the Aramco IPO. Let’s remember this meeting was scheduled six months ago and the IPO has been in the works for much longer.

The Aramco share sale did not target a specific oil price. If that was a motivating factor it could easily have chosen another time.