2 Korean Battery Makers Settle Dispute That Threatened Biden’s Green Agenda

Two South Korean manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries that are building plants in the United States said on Sunday that they had reached a $1.8 billion settlement in a trade secrets dispute that threatened the domestic battery supply and, with it, the Biden administration’s green agenda.

The announcement came on the day of a deadline set by the United States’ trade representative to decide whether to veto an International Trade Commission ruling in the intellectual property case between LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation. The commission’s ruling in favor of LG had threatened SK with a ban on supplying batteries in the country and put its facility under construction in Georgia at risk.

The plant, which is still under construction, will supply batteries for electric vehicles for Ford and Volkswagen, and with the settlement agreement, SK is now also free to seek business from other companies.

The dispute had threatened the domestic supply of batteries for electric vehicles. The settlement prevents delays in the development of American electric vehicles and supplies.

as DealBook reported on Friday.

“A week ago, talks between these companies had stalled and 2,600 Georgia jobs were at risk,” Mr. Ossoff said in a statement. The settlement, he said, ensures “thousands of jobs, billions in future investment, and that Georgia will be a leader in electric vehicle battery production for years to come.”

vetoed a decision by the International Trade Commission in a dispute between Apple and Samsung on public interest grounds. But such disapprovals are rare, and the settlement spared the Biden administration from having to take a position. LG is building a plant in Ohio that will supply batteries for General Motors electric vehicles, and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, also wrote to President Biden about the dispute last month, urging the president not to veto the decision, arguing that SK should not be allowed to benefit from “stolen intellectual property” against its state workers.

The trade commission’s decision would have excluded SK from the domestic American market while allowing the company to fulfill existing contracts to Ford and Volkswagen. But the plant in Commerce, Ga., is still under construction, and SK expressed hesitation on continuing to build it given that it would be unable to do additional business.

LG countered that SK had overstated its importance to the domestic battery supply and suggested that another company would purchase the plant in Georgia if SK abandoned it. But any disruption to the plans in Georgia could have been a problem for American automakers and the administration, as the international battery supply for electric vehicles is already strained and the administration’s green energy transition plans rely on expanding the use and production of electric vehicles.

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Returning to the Office Sparks Anxiety and Dread for Some

Last fall, after some of the restrictions had eased in Germany, Trivago, a travel company based in Düsseldorf, let employees work remotely three weeks of the month and then spend one week in the office. The office weeks were designed for collaboration and were treated like celebrations, with balloons hanging from the ceilings and employees plied with coffee and muffins, said Anja Honnefelder, the chief people officer and general counsel of the company.

But the experiment failed, she said. “We saw that many of the people only came back for two or three days during the week because it felt unnatural, all of the social interactions,” said Ms. Honnefelder, who described her staff as young and made up largely of software engineers and data scientists. “They felt like they couldn’t get their work done and that it was disorienting.”

So, in January, Trivago announced that employees would come back to the office two days a week, but it has not been able to implement the plan because Germany has imposed new restrictions because of a rise in coronavirus cases.

“What we think will happen is that employees will use the two days to socialize, have extended lunches and work with their teams because they know, for the rest of the week, they will have time to focus and manage their own work and not be distracted,” Ms. Honnefelder said.

The ability to focus on work without distractions from other employees is the main reason Mr. Jaakola, the Minneapolis software engineer, does not want to return to the office. He admits he finds dealing with other people kind of “draining,” and hopes his company won’t force him to return to the office, even for a few days a week.

“My sense is that my company will try to go back to how things were before and I think they’ll quickly realize there are a lot of remote possibilities out there for us,” he said. “If they try to force us to come in without a legitimate reason, I can get another job if I don’t want to come in.”

Gillian Friedman and Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

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Biden’s Push for Electric Cars: $174 Billion, 10 Years and a Bit of Luck

But production is only one piece of the puzzle. The transition away from gas-powered vehicles rests on convincing consumers of the benefits of electric vehicles. That hasn’t been easy because the cars have higher sticker prices even though researchers say that they cost less to own. Electricity is cheaper on a per mile basis than gasoline, and E.V.s require less routine maintenance — there is no oil to change — than combustion-engine cars.

The single biggest cost of an electric car comes from the battery, which can run about $15,000 for a midsize sedan. That cost has been dropping and is widely expected to keep falling thanks to manufacturing improvements and technical advancements. But some scholars believe that a major technological breakthrough will be required to make electric cars much, much cheaper.

“There’s a good sense that at least for the next maybe five years or so they’re going to keep declining, but then are they going to level off or are they going to keep declining?” Joshua Linn, a professor at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow with Resources for the Future, an environmental nonprofit, said about battery costs. “That won’t be enough, so then that’s given rise to a lot of attention to infrastructure.”

The federal government and some states already offer tax credits and other incentives for the purchase of electric cars. But the main such federal incentive — a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of new electric cars — begins to phase out for cars once an automaker has sold 200,000 E.V.s. Buyers of Tesla and G.M. electric cars, for example, no longer qualify for that tax credit but buyers of Ford and Volkswagen electric cars do.

The Biden administration has released no details about its proposed E.V. tax credits.

Another big concern is charging. People with dedicated parking spots typically charge their E.V.s overnight at home, but many people who live in apartments or have to drive longer distances need to use public charging stations, which are still greatly outnumbered by gas stations.

“The top three reasons consumers give for not buying E.V.s are lack of charging stations, time to charge, and the cost of E.V.s,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “They seem to be really emphasizing all three. So, over all, it looks very promising.”

There are well over 100,000 gas stations in the United States, most with multiple pumps. Mr. Biden’s plan calls for a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers within the decade, up from about 41,000 charging stations with more than 100,000 outlets today, according to the Energy Department.

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Ford Can Be Sued in States Where Accidents Occurred, Supreme Court Rules

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for consumers injured by products to sue their manufacturers, unanimously ruling that courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed in the consumers’ home states notwithstanding that the products were made and sold elsewhere so long as the manufacturers did substantial business in the states.

The case arose from two car accidents involving vehicles made by Ford Motor Company. In one, Markkaya Gullett was driving her 1996 Explorer near her Montana home when the tread separated from a tire. The vehicle spun into a ditch and flipped over, and Ms. Gullett died at the scene. Her estate sued Ford in state court in Montana.

In the other, Adam Bandemer was a passenger in a 1994 Crown Victoria, on his way to do some ice-fishing in Minnesota, when the driver rear-ended a snowplow. The passenger-side airbag failed, and Mr. Bandemer sustained serious brain damage. He sued in state court in Minnesota.

Ford argued that the courts lacked jurisdiction because the company did not have a relevant connection to those states. It had designed the vehicles in Michigan; it had manufactured the Explorer in Kentucky and sold it in Washington State; and it had manufactured the Crown Victoria in Canada and sold it in North Dakota. (The cars ended up in Montana and Minnesota after they were resold.)

quoting an earlier decision. “Their residents, while riding in vehicles purchased within their borders, were killed or injured in accidents on their roads. Can anyone seriously argue that requiring Ford to litigate these cases in Minnesota and Montana would be fundamentally unfair?”

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, also filed a concurring opinion in the case, Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368, saying the court’s jurisprudence in this area was muddled and out of step with the modern reality of “corporations with global reach.”

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With Fewer Ads on Streaming, Brands Make More Movies

When the N.B.A. shut down its season last year because of the pandemic, one of the first phone calls Chris Paul made was to the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Mr. Paul, then a point guard with the Oklahoma Thunder, knew he wanted to chronicle what was going on, and he wanted Mr. Grazer’s help.

“The idea was, basically, film everything that had taken place in that game that night and what was going to come of it,” Mr. Paul said. “We had no clue what would happen next.”

The result was “The Day Sports Stood Still,” a documentary about the shutdown, the N.B.A.’s pandemic bubble and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the league. (Mr. Paul appears in the film and is an executive producer.) It is a portrait of the ways the pandemic convulsed the sports world, but also an example of how Covid-19 has upended the entertainment industry.

The film, which debuts Wednesday on HBO and HBO Max, comes from Mr. Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and a newer entrant to Hollywood: Waffle Iron Entertainment, Nike’s production entity.

General Electric Theater” television show from 1954 through 1962.

In the past decade, branded filmmaking has only proliferated.

Patagonia funded a feature-length documentary about dams, called “DamNation,” in 2014. Pepsi backed the 2018 movie “Uncle Drew,” which showcased the basketball star Kyrie Irving recreating his septuagenarian character from a popular series of Pepsi Max commercials. The film made $42 million and marked one of the first branded entertainment campaigns to be adapted into a major motion picture. “Gay Chorus Deep South,” a documentary produced by Airbnb, debuted on the festival circuit in 2019. And Apple’s acclaimed “Ted Lasso” began its life as an NBC Sports promotion for its acquisition of the broadcast rights to the English Premier League.

Imagine Entertainment, the production company founded by Mr. Grazer and Ron Howard in 1985, formed Imagine Brands in 2018 to pair companies with filmmakers, hiring Mr. Wilkes and Marc Gilbar, the creator of the “Uncle Drew” Pepsi campaign and an executive producer on the film, to run the group. The division has produced both feature-length documentaries and narrative films with their partners, which have included Unilever, Walmart and Ford.

Imagine is also working with the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. The company, which effectively created soap operas when it began to sponsor serial radio dramas in the 1930s to help promote its soap products, is cofinancing a feature-length film with Imagine called “Mars 2080.” It will be directed by Eliza McNitt and begin production later this year. The film, which is scheduled to be released theatrically by IMAX in 2022 before moving to a streaming service, focuses on a family resettling on Mars.

It grew out of a breakfast in New York in 2019, where Mr. Wilkes, Mr. Howard and Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, discussed technology in the pipeline. The Imagine team later toured Procter & Gamble’s research labs in Cincinnati, seeing examples of its “home of the future” products and meeting its scientists.

Kimberly Doebereiner, the vice president of Procter & Gamble’s future of advertising division, said the company hoped to do more long-form storytelling, like “The Cost of Winning,” the four-part sports documentary its shaving brand Gillette produced. It debuted on HBO in November.

“We want to be more interesting so consumers are leaning into our experiences and we’re creating content that they want to see as opposed to messages that are annoying to them,” she said. “Finding a way to have content that is in places where ads don’t exist is definitely one of the reasons why we’re leaning into this.”

It’s all part of a deliberate shift by brands to try to integrate themselves more fully into consumers’ lives, the way companies like Apple and Amazon have, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, an analyst with Forrester. And they want to do so without commercials, which, he said, have “zero credibility” with consumers.

“If the right story has the right ingredients and it becomes worthwhile for sharing, it doesn’t come across as an intrusive bit of advertising,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “It feels much more like a natural part of our lives.”

Alessandro Uzielli, the head of Ford Motor Company’s global brand and entertainment division, first met with Imagine Brands in early 2018. He was looking for a way to augment Ford’s advertising campaign for its relaunched Bronco with a piece of entertainment that would reach a younger audience. The result was “John Bronco,” a 37-minute long mockumentary directed by Jake Szymanski (“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) and starring Walton Goggins (“Justified”) as the greatest fictional pitchman of all time.

The short film earned a slot in the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu. In addition to featuring guest spots from Tim Meadows, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bo Derek, it helped reintroduce the Bronco, a sport utility vehicle that the automaker pulled in the mid-1990s.

“This helped us speak to an audience that we probably weren’t going to speak to on our own,” Mr. Uzielli said.

“It was Imagine’s project, and we didn’t want to cloud their process, to try to make it feel like too much of a sales job,” he added.

Mr. Szymanski, who has directed both feature films and commercials, including ads for the Dodge Durango starring Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy, said Ford allowed him a great deal of creative freedom. “I think they could have tried to impose a much larger shadow on it than they did,” he said.

Now, Imagine, Mr. Szymanski and Mr. Goggins are trying to turn John Bronco into the next Ted Lasso — an effort in the early stages of development.

“It’s kind of a win-win,” Mr. Szymanski said of a possible television series based on Mr. Goggins’ character. “I don’t think Ford would have any creative control over it but to have a character named John Bronco in the world, that would be a good thing for them.”

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Picture brightens for commercial EVs on rising demand from delivery customers

BANBURY, England (Reuters) – Electric van and bus maker Arrival is wrestling with the global pandemic like other UK firms, but not because of a lack of business.

A man stands next to a fully-electric test van, due to go into production in 2022, built by electric van and bus maker Arrival Ltd, that has seen a spike in interest due to soaring e-commerce amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and looming fossil-fuel vehicle bans, in Banbury, Britain, February 23, 2021. Picture taken February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Nick Carey

Arrival is fielding four to five times the number of queries from potential customers compared with a year ago as soaring e-commerce during the pandemic and changing emissions regulations have fueled demand, said president Avinash Rugoobur.

“Worldwide, the mindset has shifted and people understand the future is electric,” said Rugoobur. “So now it’s a question of how do we get there?”

At Arrival’s R&D centre in Banbury, northwest of London, executives from a major British retail group patiently waited to tour the startup’s test van, due to start production in 2022.

A spike in interest in Arrival followed Britain’s call in November for a ban on new fossil-fuel vehicles by 2030, and was further helped by new U.S. President Joe Biden’s stated interest in electrification.

Tightening CO2 emissions targets in Europe and China have combined with improving battery technology to provide greater range at lower costs, giving commercial electric vehicles (EVs) their moment in the sun after years of waiting.

“People talk about a tipping point for commercial EVs, but I think we’re already there,” said Luke Wake, vice president of maintenance and engineering at United Parcel Service Inc, which has ordered up to 10,000 vans from Arrival and owns a stake in the startup.

Feverish investor interest in finding the next Tesla Inc and bringing them to market via special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) has included commercial EV startups like Canoo Inc and Arrival, which will go public later this month via a merger with CIIG Merger Corp.

Also, the coronavirus pandemic has boosted the need for vans to deliver goods to consumers at home.

Startups like Rivian, Volta Trucks and traditional manufacturers Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co have models out or in the works. Rivian will begin making vans for Amazon.com Inc later this year.

As batteries are still expensive, commercial EVs have a higher sticker price than diesel or petrol equivalents – a hard sell for many cost-conscious companies.

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But thanks to lightweight materials and tailoring battery packs to customers’ range needs, Arrival’s Rugoobur said that is about to change – at some ranges its vans will cost less than a diesel equivalent.

“If Arrival can manufacture those vehicles at the equivalent price of a diesel van, the total cost of ownership is so heavily in their favour it becomes a competitive advantage,” said David Wyatt, an analyst at research firm IDTechEx.

‘IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN FAST’

Fleet operators also face increasing scrutiny over sustainability from retail customers, who feel the same pressure from consumers, said Volta Trucks Chief Executive Rob Fowler.

“If you look at logistics operators, they’re in the middle and under pressure from all sides,” he said.

Stockholm-based Volta Trucks, which also operates in the UK, is developing a 16-tonne electric truck, due for production in 2022, for urban freight distribution routes. Batteries are heavy, so the Volta Zero’s body is made of a light hemp-based composite and its shorter inner-city routes require fewer battery cells.

Volta Trucks has an order book of $260 million and its biggest public order to date is for 1,000 trucks from French refrigerated truck firm Petit Forestier.

Higher upfront costs, challenges associated with charging multiple vehicles simultaneously and a paucity of available models mean there are still relatively few commercial EVs in service.

But Simon Webber, a portfolio manager at Schroders, which has about $650 billion in assets under management, said more EVs coming to market and falling battery costs will change that.

“It’s going to happen fast,” Webber said. “Because the average life of those vehicles is lower, they turn over faster than passenger vehicles, they will electrify faster.”

Leading energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said the commercial EV market will mushroom from a low base today to global sales of 3 million units by 2025 and 9 million by 2030, led by buses and light trucks.

Based on conversations with manufacturers, “we see commercial electric vehicles coming in a big, big way,” said Tom Jensen, CEO of battery maker FREYR, which is going public via a merger with a SPAC, Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp.

‘STILL MORE EXPENSIVE’

EV makers say while commercial EVs have a higher sticker price, over their lifetime their “total cost of ownership” is lower as electricity is cheaper than diesel and electric motors require less frequent repairs due to having fewer moving parts.

The UK arm of package delivery firm DPD, a unit of France’s La Poste, was an early adopter and its 732 EVs account for nearly 10% of its fleet – most of them e-NV200 vans from Nissan Motor Co Ltd or eTGE vans from Volkswagen AG unit MAN.

In 2020, the pandemic drove DPD’s volumes to a daily record of 2 million packages during the holiday peak season and the company will buy 500 more electric trucks in 2021.

Olly Craughan, DPD UK’s head of corporate social responsibility, said a diesel Mercedes-Benz Sprinter unit costs around 25,000 pounds ($34,572), but an electric version costs up to 45,000 pounds.

“It’s still more expensive, but the gap is closing,” said Craughan. “If you can run them longer than diesel vehicles that’s where you’re going to make more of a return.”

DPD will test a Volta Zero later this year and has talked regularly with Arrival, Craughan said.

By 2025, battery prices are expected to fall enough to give EVs price-parity with fossil-fuel vehicles.

But Arrival’s Rugoobur said some of the startup’s production models will already beat diesels on price – aided by a tough, light thermoplastic composite body that offsets heavy batteries – and includes basic self-driving features to cut down on costly accidents at package depots.

“If we can get that price point down to an acceptable level where you can scale it, it allows us to make bigger commitments like the one with Arrival,” UPS’s Wake said.

Reporting by Nick Carey in Banbury, England; Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in London; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis

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Tesla’s Stock Tumbles Amid Sales Worries and Market Volatility

Sergio Rodriguez, a consultant from St. Marys, Ga., who owns a Tesla Model X, recently drove a Mach E across the country. Mr. Rodriguez said he planned to keep his Model X, despite some serious quality issues and slow responses by Tesla that he has described in YouTube videos and on electric vehicle websites.

“I still love the Model X. In terms of performance, you want a thrill,” he said. “But you have to accept that it has a lot of imperfections. The Mach E is definitely built with quality, and it’s cool. You can’t help but look when it drives by.”

Last month, Ford sold 3,739 Mach E’s, a tiny number compared with the tens of thousands of pickup trucks the company sells every month but respectable for an electric car. This month, Volkswagen is scheduled to begin delivering its electric S.U.V., the ID.4, in the United States. General Motors recently updated its electric compact, the Chevrolet Bolt, and introduced a larger, higher-riding version of the car.

Whatever the competition brings, Tesla has enough cash on hand to finance its operations for some time. It took advantage of its soaring stock price last year by selling more than $12 billion of new stock to investors, and had more than $19 billion in cash at the end of 2020. Tesla spent $1.5 billion on Bitcoin early this year, and even if the company takes big losses on that wager, it will still have significant cash on hand.

The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, has come a long way from the dark days of 2018 and 2019, when some analysts wondered if it would survive as an independent business. Mr. Musk was struggling with increasing the production of Tesla’s most affordable car, the Model 3, and described the company’s problems as “manufacturing hell.”

Despite the recent drop, Tesla’s stock price is still up over 300 percent over the past 12 months. And its market value is more than the combined market capitalization of Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, Daimler, G.M. and Ford — companies that sell many more cars than Tesla.

Of course, any time a company is valued at many times its peers, it can be vulnerable to a sell-off if investors begin to have even small doubts. Even after the stock plunged from its high, Wall Street is extremely optimistic about Tesla. The stock trades at 144 times the profit that analysts expect the company to earn this year, a stratospheric valuation. Much hope in the market is placed on Tesla’s having a big slice of a much larger market for electric vehicles, which is why analysts expect the company’s profits to more than double by the end of 2025.

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