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Transmission: VW CEO: Apple poses bigger threat than traditional auto rivals

Happy Holidays! I hope you’ve been able to spend time with family and friends this holiday season, even though it may have felt different this year. Here’s what I got for you in this edition of Transmission.

VW on alert as Apple attempts to develop its own autonomous vehicle

It’s safe to say that Apple has a major portion of the electronic market on lockdown. The other week, I was strolling the streets of Nashville and passed at least ten people over the course of 30 seconds who either had their head down staring at their Iphone or were listening to music with Airpods in both ears. Apple’s next strategic move? Developing its own self-driving car and taking it to the streets by 2024. No joke.

Our story starts back in 2014, when Apple first began drafting plans to create its own autonomous vehicle, nicknamed “Project Titan”. But soon after that period of planning began, the company reassessed its goals and decided to push back the project due to lack of clarity. In 2018, Apple hired former Tesla employee Doug Field to resurrect Project Titan. Fast forward to 2020 and Cupertino is well on its way to producing vehicles for the mass market.

In a LinkedIn post addressing the reports of Apple’s quest for autonomous vehicles, Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen, warned his employees not to underestimate the cash-rich tech giant that is Apple.

“We look forward to new competitors who will certainly accelerate the change in our industry and bring in new skills,” Diess wrote. “The unbelievable valuation and the practically unlimited access to resources instill a lot of respect in us.”

What advantage does Apple possess that worries automakers? Great question. According to Automotive News, Apple’s strategy revolves around its promising battery design. Unlike standard lithium-ion batteries, Apple is developing what it calls a “monocell” design which essentially bulks up individual cells as opposed to having pouches and modules that hold materials. This radical design would allow for a longer range and “radically” reduce battery cost. Apple is also researching lithium iron phosphate to use in batteries, which reduces the chance of overheating. 

What challenges does Apple face? Another great question. I mentioned earlier that Apple has access to a vast amount of resources. However, building an efficient supply chain still remains a daunting task. It took Elon Musk and Tesla 17 years to develop a supply chain. In 2016, Tesla was accused of hiring 140 workers at $5 an hour to build a paint shop for the Model 3. The following year, faulty procurement in Tesla’s supply chain caused a battery cell assembly line to malfunction.  Musk blamed the contractor involved in both situations, but no matter who was to blame, Tesla still had to pay the cost of lost assembly time and a court settlement.

The other thing to think about is the deadline. As mentioned above, Apple wants to achieve this goal by 2024, but with the year we’ve had, I can see this project timeline being pushed back by at least another year or two.

All in all, it looks like Apple has the ability to become a true competitor of automakers, specifically Tesla. If you think about it, Apple and Tesla both share similar product design philosophies. Each company has created a closed ecosystem that keeps the consumer coming back to its products. For example, Tesla vehicles can only use Tesla’s charging stations while Apple has complete control over the software (apps and operating system) and the hardware (the phone itself) that a user owns. This will be quite an interesting story to follow as Apple attempts at navigating the roadways of the automotive industry.

Future bridge expansion points to promising growth in Mexico

Laredo is the most important Mexico – U.S. border crossing, but there’s another bridge in the spotlight today. The Anzalduas International Bridge connects Mission, TX and Reynosa, Mexico and is expected to start allowing passage of commercial trucks with cargo. Currently the bridge only allows access to passenger vehicles and empty cargo trucks.

Last year, Mission city officials began the design process for northbound and southbound lanes as well as plans to expand inspection facilities. While the project doesn’t have a firm deadline in place yet, the McAllen City Manager, Roy Rodriguez, said that the bridge will open up to commercial trucks with cargo soon, during a webinar hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. 

“Our bridges are our way of life for South Texas,” Rodriguez said. “We are very proud to own two international bridges. We have a team of cities that have partnered for many, many years, on Hidalgo Bridge and Anzalduas Bridge. Anzalduas is really the future for us. It is a big part of the future of this region.” 

With access to the bridge potentially changing, McAllen city officials believe Mexico will experience a surge of growth in freight volumes. Why? Rodriguez presented a great point in the webinar about the current bridge activity that answers this question. The two international bridges that the City of McAllen owns, have seen over 20 million visitors. Once full commercial truck access is granted for the Anzalduas Bridge, that number should rise even higher. And with more commercial trucks passing over this bridge, transportation and logistics companies and distribution centers could begin popping up on both sides of the border. The Pharr-Reynosa bridge, which had 623,155 truck crossings during the fiscal year 2018-19, has already experienced this trend. 

The moral of the story? This potential expansion adds to the excitement of new growth in Mexico.

Industry News

  • In Nikola news, the Phoenix-based company hit another setback. Republic Services Inc. has cancelled an order for 2,500 electric garbage trucks.
  • Here’s an article that’ll make your brain hurt. Check out this SUV. Or should I say truck? I’ll let you decide.
  • Plug and Charge is a new way of automating payment for EV charging, bringing Tesla-style convenience to drivers who use something other than a Tesla. Payment now happens on the backend, so you can focus on charging and worry about billing later.

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