Driving change

12 January 2022


From start-up Canoo’s Lifestyle Vehicle to Dodge announcing it will launch the ‘World’s first battery electric muscle car’ in 2024, Jenny Eagle looks at changes in the automotive industry, noting how a global semiconductor shortage has affected sales

The ever-growing need for Climate Change and cleaner, greener air is driving advancements in technology towards more sustainable production and the automation industry is determined not to left behind.

In the USA, production is set to begin at the former Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, less than two years after General Motors (GM) announced a $2.2bn investment to renovate the facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs. Pre-production of the 2022 GMC HUMMER EV pickups began at Factory ZERO in the fall and GMC HUMMER EV is on track to deliver the first vehicles to customers by the end of the year.

Mary Barra, CEO, GM, celebrated the launch of Factory ZERO by welcoming guests to an inaugural ceremony with President Joe Biden, US Secretary Marty Walsh and Ray Curry, president, United Auto Workers, among others.

“To meet our ambitious EV transition, GM’s North American EV vehicle assembly capacity will reach 20% by 2025, and then 50% by 2030,” said Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president of Global Manufacturing and Sustainability. “Factory ZERO serves as a model for transitions that will take place at other factories around the world in the coming years.”

The plant will contribute to GM’s commitment to source 100% of its U.S. facilities with renewable energy by 2030 and all DTE-supplied GM facilities in southeast Michigan, including Factory ZERO, will be powered by renewable energy by 2023.

It will also become the first U.S. automotive plant to install Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband technology, which can manage thousands of devices across Factory ZERO’s footprint, with capacity to support emerging technologies.

The company is also constructing a factory in North America after announcing a joint venture with POSCO Chemical to process battery materials for GM’s Ultium electric vehicle platform. The joint venture will process Cathode Active Material (CAM), a battery material that represents about 40% of the cost of a battery cell.

“Our work with POSCO Chemical is a key part of our strategy to rapidly scale U.S. EV production and drive innovation in battery performance, quality and cost,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “We are building a sustainable and resilient North America-focused supply chain for EVs covering the entire ecosystem from raw materials to battery cell manufacturing and recycling.”

Meanwhile, Californian eMobility start-up Canoo has brought forward its start date from 2023 to Q4, 2022, to produce Electric Vehicles (EV) with its Contract Manufacturing Partner, VDL NedCar, from The Netherlands. The first model will be a van called the Lifestyle Vehicle.

The company is moving its headquarters from California to Bentonville in the US state of Arkansas and wants to set up a small-series production facility for small parcel delivery vehicles and a research and development centre in the state. The latter will be built in Fayetteville.

Canoo is also forging closer ties with the US state of Oklahoma. After the startup announced in the summer that it would locate the plant for large-scale production of its pod-shaped van in the town of Pryor, the company now wants to build new centres in the state. This includes centres for vehicle and software development, customer support and financing. All facilities together are expected to create around 2,700 jobs in Oklahoma.

VDL will build the first Canoo model. The plan is to build up to 1,000 units in 2022 and 15,000 units in 2023. “The strategic partnership with VDL Nedcar will allow us to bring vehicles to market while we build our factory in Oklahoma. It also strongly positions us for geographic expansion in Europe and builds a lasting relationship with the VDL Groep companies,” said Tony Aquila, Investor, Chairman/CEO, Canoo.

Dodge, part of Stellantis (STLA), (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) before it merged with PSA Group), has also said it will end gas-powered Charger and Challenger production in 2024, to be replaced by electric models, according to CEO, Tim Kuniskis.

Dodge announced last year it would launch the “world’s first battery electric muscle car” in 2024. The new electric muscle cars will use the “STLA Large” platform from parent company Stellantis.

Germany-based startup Next.e.Go is also interested in constructing a plant for electric cars in Lovech, Bulgaria.

According to reports by Nova TV, Economy Minister Kiril Petkov said the plant will not just assemble electric vehicles but manufacture the components, supported by Automotive Cluster Bulgaria (ACB) - a non-profit organisation representing the interests of automotive manufacturers, suppliers, and organisations providing services for the automotive industry.

Next.e.Go, founded in 2015, is specialised in the development and production of durable electric vehicles. The company has about 400 employees and benefits from a network of research and technology companies at its headquarters in Aachen. Since 2018, Next.e.Go has been mass-producing its e.GO Life electric car at Aachen Rothe Erde Industrial Park.

No stranger to electric car production is BANG Kransysteme, in Germany, which recently installed an overhead travelling crane at Telsa Giga Berlin.

The bridge crane, which has a loadbearing capacity of 100t on the main hoist and a 60t auxiliary lift, is already assembling the Giga Presses.

The Giga Press is a machine Tesla is installing at its manufacturing plants to increase production efficiency and improve vehicle build quality.

Tesla is currently using two types of 6,000-ton Giga Presses to cast the one-piece rear end of the car and the one-piece front end of the car. At the moment, this production technology is used only for the production of Model Y.

“We are continuously supplying OHTC to Tesla Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg in Grünheide, ranging from 8ton to 125ton WLL.,” said Christoph Bang, managing director, BANG Kransysteme.

“After a five-day set up phase in the ‘Casting’ (CA) area and routine safety checks, the crane immediately started operations to assemble the Giga Press, which is going to diecast the unibody of the upcoming Model Y electric crossover at Giga Berlin.”

The Giga Press is a series of aluminum die casting machines manufactured by Idra Group in Italy. They are notable for being the largest high-pressure die casting machines in the world, with a clamping force of 55,000 to 61,000 kilonewtons (5,600 to 6,200 tf). Each machine weighs 410–430 tons (900,000–950,000 lb). In the future, the Casting Shop will house eight casting machines.

GLOBAL SEMICONDUCTOR CHIP SHORTAGE

Despite an uptake in electric vehicle production globally the automotive industry has seen a sharp fall in semiconductor processing chips, leading car makers to close production lines temporarily.

The crisis has been affecting companies for almost a year. It initially stemmed from increased demand for personal computers, tablets and smartphones at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which largely diverted supply away from the automotive sector, and now extends to Covid-related closures at semiconductor factories and international shipping ports.

General Motors and Ford last year reduced production at their North American assembly plants due to a shortage of semiconductor chips.

GM extended downtime at eight plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Most of the cuts were two weeks, but production of the Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 full-size pickups in Indiana and Mexico resumed after one week of downtime.

“The situation is still complex and highly fluid, but the team continues to look for creative solutions to minimize the impact on the most demanding and capacity-constrained vehicles,” the company said.

Ford Motor Co. said it too had cut production at its F-150 pickup truck and two other vehicles. The automaker said its Oakville Assembly Plant in Canada and Kansas City Assembly Plant in Missouri was down on week in August. Oakville builds the Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus crossovers. Kansas City assembles the F-150. Ford also cut two of three shifts at its Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan, which produces the F-150.

“Our teams continue making the most of our available semiconductor allocation, finding unique solutions to provide as many high-quality vehicles as possible to our dealers and customers,” the company said.

The chip shortage caused rolling shutdowns of automotive assembly plants globally throughout the whole of last year. Ford was hit particularly hard by the lack of chips, losing about 50% of its planned production in the second quarter.

According to Martyn Collins, editor, Business Car Magazine, Progressive Media International, the shortage has led to longer order times for new cars and increased the price of used cars.

“Buying a used car can make a lot of sense, because there’s usually a decent saving over buying new. However, that doesn’t necessarily ring true anymore, with prices increasing for the last few months, pushing up values of some models above their recommended retail prices when new,” he said.

“It is not just nearly new models where values are increasing either. According to cap hpi’s live trade values, three-year old models showed an overall increase in June, equivalent to £625 per car. This rise follows a 2% increase in April and a 6.7% increase in May. On average, this means values have increased by an astonishing £1,700, or 13.5% over the summer months, rising to £2,500, for one-year old cars over the same period.

“With Covid lockdowns increasing demand, together with a semiconductor shortage, both have created a perfect storm for higher used car prices. Last year, with closed dealers, and a higher proportion of buyers wanting to replace their cars with money saved due to being at home, this led to inflated prices for available cars - although it was short-lived.

“Now, on top of buyer demand, those who want to buy new are faced with the added headache of a global semiconductor shortage. They are the microchips used in car production and are, in essence, the ‘brain’ in modern cars. Mostly made in the U.S. and Japan, the production shortage is expected to last well into this year.

“As a result, there is a smaller supply of new cars, equalling longer waiting lists. Although the short supply seems to be affecting some manufacturers more than others. So, a higher proportion of those wanting to buy a new car, are heading to the used car market instead. This in turn, has put strain on the availability of used car stock - with buyers willing to pay more.

“SUV models are consistently popular, mainly because of their practicality. As such, their values remained consistent throughout the first two lockdowns. Now they’re on the up, partly because of how family friendly they are. However, another influence could be that most of us staycationed at home this year and need a suitable vehicle to do this. According to the trade, SUVs with the biggest gains include the Ford Kuga and Renault Kadjar.

“Some second-hand cars, such as German premium sport models, are so in demand at the moment, values of some are exceeding their recommended retail prices by as much as £10,000. There is no sign yet of prices falling, equalling a positive and profitable time for sellers.”

Spanco works with many companies retrofitting and upgrading old cars, including Revology Cars, in Florida, which reproduces 1965-1968 Ford Mustangs, as and Extreme Performance and Off-Road, in Pennsylvania, providing vehicle restoration, off-road equipment, and custom aftermarket performance modifications.

Workers at Revology perform different manufacturing processes in-house, from welding parts together to create a complete car body to painting and upholstery. When they started manufacturing, Revology purchased car bodies that were already welded together to assemble into a complete car. However, when the firm decided to start building the steel unibodies in-house as well, they had to implement new equipment and processes into their facility.

One new process it needed was a material handling operation to move car floor assemblies between two workstations, and to move the assembled car body onto a rolling cart to move it into a third workstation. With the equipment and capabilities it had in place, lifting and moving the car bodies wasn’t possible. Aaron Wright, chief engineer, Revology, looked at different material handling solutions to find the best fit for the application and decided a freestanding bridge crane would offer the best coverage.

He reached out to Mark Seavy at J. Herbert Corporation, an overhead crane manufacturer and Spanco dealer located in Kissimmee, Florida, to help him select the right components and dimensions and provide a quote for a new system.

There were several constraints to consider when designing the system. Building constraints included nearby air conditioning ducts, angled roof support braces, lighting, and a mezzanine.

The system also had to span two workstations without intruding into an adjacent third workstation.

Together, Wright and Seavy selected a Spanco Freestanding Workstation Bridge Crane with a total capacity of 2,000 pounds. The system includes two 1,000-pound capacity bridges with 14-ft spans and 38-ft runways, with a height under the boom (HUB) of 11 ft. Each bridge is equipped with a 1,000-pound capacity manual chain hoist.

“Without the Spanco crane, the body assembly operation wouldn’t be possible. It would take multiple people to even consider lifting the car body, and it wouldn’t be safe to do. The crane provides lifting capability that has allowed them to start producing the car bodies in-house as well. The Spanco crane allows us to complete a manufacturing process that would otherwise be impossible,” said Wright.

Now, workers use the crane to move completed car floor assemblies to a framing fixture where the car bodies are assembled. The sides, roof, engine compartment, and frame rails are added to the assembly, then workers lift the complete body onto a rolling cart. The two bridges on the system allow workers to balance the car bodies while lifting them.

Additionally, when the crane is not in use for lifting car bodies, workers can attach spot welding equipment to the hoists to give welders access to the workstations.

Extreme Performance and Off Road provides performance services for cars and trucks, and often pull motors out of cars, either for restorative maintenance or to replace with higher performance engines.

It previously used a “cherry-picker” type engine hoist and an aluminum gantry crane for lifting motors out of cars but now uses a 1,000-pound capacity Spanco Headerless Workstation Bridge Crane, composed of four columns, two 12-foot runways, and an overall bridge length of 12 feet.

“The size of the headerless workstation makes it easier for workers to move around a car or truck while they’re working. You can position yourself and the hoist anywhere around the vehicle that you’re working on. Compared to a “cherry picker” type engine hoist, the Spanco Headerless System is the way to go. With a cherry picker, you’re fighting for room to move around. With the Spanco system, it’s faster, easier, and safer. You’re not going to accidentally hit the car with any equipment,” an engineer for Extreme Performance and Off Road said.

“McDal Corporation did the installation in three hours. When they were finished, I pulled the truck in here to unload the first motor and transmission. The entire installation caused minimal downtime, and they could start using the system that same day. We’ve used it to unload a generator, new motors, and heavy equipment.”

Another example is when Extreme Performance, was upgrading a 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a higher performance motor. The Monte Carlo’s hood is longer than most cars’ hoods, and the cantilever arm of the engine hoist wasn’t long enough to reach the engine so it turned to Spanco’s 1ton aluminum gantry crane with height adjustment kit.

The 10-foot span of the crane allowed it to fit easily around the sides of a vehicle, so it could be positioned above any vehicle’s engine, even over the long hood of the classic Monte Carlo.

The crane could also be extended up to 10 feet—high enough to fit easily over tall vehicles—so it could be used to remove engines from large SUVs, trucks, and boats. With swivel-locking polyurethane casters, it can be used to lift and move heavy objects around the garage, and for loading and unloading at the loading dock.

“The Spanco Aluminum Gantry Crane was easy to use, and the mechanics were able to use it quickly. It never got in the way like the engine hoist, making it easier for mechanics to work around. It’s also more stable and could provide better lateral movement thanks to the polyurethane casters, and the lightweight aluminum construction made it easy for one person to move or adjust it,” said Jim DeCerio, owner, Extreme Performance and Off-Road.

One company to profit from the global chip shortage is former Siemens company, Infineon, which opened Europe’s latest semiconductor plant in Villach, Austria last year, producing power chips mainly for auto customers. CEO Reinhard Ploss says semiconductor order patterns suggest carmakers are aiming to make up for lost time this year. (Jochen Hanebeck will take over as CEO Infineon Technologies, in April.

Siemens recently partnered with Mercedes-Benz to expand the digitalization of sustainable production methods in the automotive industry.

The Mercedes-Benz Berlin-Marienfelde site in Germany will be transformed into a competence centre for digitalization with a focus on the development and implementation of the digital Mercedes- Benz Cars ecosystem MO360, in addition to the redesign of production activities. In the future, e-mobility components will also be assembled in Berlin.

The company wants to secure the future for the Berlin plant, which is the oldest site in the Mercedes-Benz global powertrain production network. The Mercedes-Benz Digital Factory Campus in Berlin is the technological and digital nucleus for the whole Mercedes-Benz Cars production network. Its objective is to roll out the new developments that have been tested in Berlin at the Mercedes-Benz plants worldwide and to provide the users with the required qualifications.

With the Werner-von-Siemens Centre for Industry and Science in the Siemensstadt in Berlin, there is already an excellent wealth of experience that can be incorporated into the cooperation. With the synergies of the Siemensstadt (Siemens City 2:0) and the Mercedes-Benz Digital Factory Campus Berlin, plants that represent the origin of industrialization in Germany, will be transformed into two modern digital sites.

Cedrik Neike, member, Siemens Managing Board and CEO Digital Industries said: “We are further expanding our decades-long successful cooperation with Mercedes-Benz in the field of engineering and production. Together, we want to take the next big step towards sustainable and even more competitive automotive production. To achieve this, both partners rely on end-to-end digital technologies to connect technology, sustainability and new working environments more closely than ever before.”

Siemens is also working with Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Corporation for Digital Mobility Transformation using Siemens’ NX Software and Teamcenter Software from the Xcelerator Portfolio to replace incumbent solutions to become standard solutions for Hyundai and Kia next-generation data management and design environment.

“Selecting NX software and the Teamcenter portfolio from Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio for our core design and data management platforms will introduce a new working environment for our teams that will pave the way for a leap forward in future car development,” said Albert Bierman, head. R&D Division, Hyundai Motor Company.

“This is the beginning of a huge transformation and an important point of change for Hyundai Motor Company and with Siemens as our trusted partner we will work together to achieve our goals through mutual cooperation and teamwork.”

Hyundai and Kia and Siemens will collaborate to establish design methods and develop custom solutions that consider the lifecycle of all automobiles and associated processes and activities, such as production, purchasing and partners research and development.

“Like so many of our customers, Hyundai and Kia is undergoing major transformations in its business and Siemens is honored to have been selected as a strategic partner to provide support and state-of-the-art technologies that will help revolutionize how it develops its next generation products,” said Tony Hemmelgarn, president/CEO, Siemens Digital Industries Software..”

Mary Barra, CEO, GM, welcomes President Joe Biden to Factory ZERO.
Inside GM Factory ZERO
GM Factory Zero.
Canoo to make Lifestyle Vehicles. (Picture credit: Randawg72 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)
BANG Kransysteme installs an overhead travelling crane at Telsa Giga Berlin..
BANG Kransystemes, Germany.
Spanco 1 ton aluminum gantry crane.
Spanco headerless workstation bridge system.
Siemens expands digitlization production methods in the automotive industry.
The signing of the Siemensstadt 2.0 future pact. Picture credit: Siemens.
Siemens extends its Xcelerator portfolio.