Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive's morning roundup of what matters in the world of cars and transportation. Today we're talking about Lordstown Motors' attempt at a comeback for a former General Motors plant in Ohio, how Bentley wants to speed up electrification and an end to BMW and Mercedes' short-lived partnership.
Inside Lordstown Motors' Attempted Comeback For Ohio
The all-new Ford F-150 isn't the only important American pickup truck that will debut this Thursday. Granted, what Lordstown Motors has in Ohio is very much the David to Ford's best-selling vehicle in America, but it's still important—if nothing else, as a ray of hope for a battered community that's seen much of its manufacturing base dry up in recent years.
On Thursday, EV startup Lordstown Motors will conduct the official reveal of the Lordstown Endurance electric pickup truck, which is made at the former Chevrolet Cruze plant in the Ohio town with the same name. That plant has had an ugly and often highly politicized history; built in the 1960s, it spent decades making an ever-dwindling number of GM compact cars from the Bel Air to the Cruze, but was "unallocated"—a fancy, union-placating term for production being discontinued—last year.
That delivered a crushing blow to the local economy, which has long been dependent on Ohio's evaporating manufacturing sector. That county alone has lost 20,000 jobs since 2000. GM, rightfully so in my opinion, received a great deal of criticism for unallocating the plant as it moved other production jobs overseas and to Mexico.
The plant got a rare shot at another lifeline when it was sold to Lordstown Motors, which is 10 percent owned by electric truck maker Workhorse Group, and uses its technology.
NPR today has a dive into the plant's rebirth, and what a big deal it is to the region. Here's Youngstown native Frances Turnage, who worked at the plant for three decades starting in the 1970s:
It's not all smiles and sunshine, however. Lordstown Motors won't be filling as many jobs as GM did. For one, it's a much smaller EV startup; additionally, as that story notes, EVs have fewer moving parts than conventional vehicles, so if you don't need an engine, you don't need as many workers. And there remain many questions about Lordstown Motors' funding and long-term viability. Making cars is hard.
Still, it's something, and the people in that region will take what they can get.
So Much For That
German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz made big waves last year when they announced a $1 billion non-exclusive partnership to collaborate on autonomous vehicle technology. Industry observers saw it as a sign of the future: more partnerships, deals, team-ups and even consolidation as the auto industry scrambled to invest big money in automated cars. The future is going to be so expensive to create, the reasoning went, that the industry was due for consolidation and outright contraction eventually too.
But that was last year, and in a very different economy. Now BMW and Mercedes are already calling it quits. Almost certainly, the reasons for doing so were complexity and the massive costs involved, reports Tech Crunch:
As that story notes, both companies still have other partners, like Intel and Mobileye. And they're already pooling some mobility services. But given that both companies are seeking to cut jobs and costs right now, this move isn't totally surprising.
Bentley Goes Against The Grain
On that note, the popular reasoning goes that thanks to the corona economy, big investments in future tech—EVs and autonomy—will get pushed back as companies try and conserve capital. But on the former front, automakers still have to contend with ever-tightening emissions regulations, whether they like it or not.
So leaders at Bentley Motors, the famed British luxury marque today owned by the Volkswagen Group, argue kind of the opposite: the pandemic will actually see an accelerated shift to electrification. Cost control has impacted combustion engines, not future stuff.
Here's the UK's Autocar on that, quoting Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark:
One imagines Bentley can pull that off thanks to the shared resources of the VW Group, and the fact that it's smaller and not dependent on truck sales to survive. Still, Bentley has much to prove: it only returned to profitability last year after several years in the red, and has been heavily impacted by both Brexit and the pandemic. If the VW Group were ever to cut costs, it seems an obvious place to start.
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