#renault

More auto marriages have ended in divorce

Auto mergers were once thought of as the best things since sliced bread. Massive operating capacity leverage, shared platforms to reduce cost and a reduction of R&D spend per vehicle. The word “synergy” gets bandied about more than Casanova whispers “I love you“on Valentines Day! Yet why is the auto industry littered with divorces from these romances?

Lets list them.

Daimler bought Chrysler in 1998. Divorced in 2007.

Daimler alliance with Mitsubishi Motors founded in 2000. Divorce in 2005.

Daimler alliance with Hyundai founded in 2000. Divorce in 2004.

Honda – Rover JV. Started 1980. Divorced 1994

BMW – Rover – Started 1994. Deceased 2000.

Nissan – Renault – Started 1999. Currently providing real headaches due to Carlos Ghosn saga. Nissan wants full independence

Ford forms Premier Automotive Group (PAG) comprising Land Rover, Aston Martin, Volvo, Lincoln and Jaguar. Set up in 1999.

Ford sells Aston Martin in 2007.

Ford sells Land Rover & Jaguar to Tata in 2008

Ford sells Volvo to Geely in 2010.

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) formed in 2014 – including Fiat, Abarth, Chrysler, Jeep, RAM, Dodge, Lancia, Maserati & Ferrari brands.

FCA spins Ferrari off in 2016.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but one can be guaranteed that more money has been lost in auto mergers in aggregate than made. Daimler paid $45bn for Chrysler. Almost all of the Mercedes profits plugged the losses of Chrysler. Mercedes quality suffered through cost cutting sending it down toward the bottom of surveys. Daimler’s shares lost over $80bn in market cap as this disaster unfolded.

FCA and Nissan/Renault have been amongst the more successful marriages but global markets have turned many a honeymoon period into separation with fights over custody.

Forming a merger at the top of a cycle seems fraught with risks. Global auto sales are slowing. Renault and Fiat bring a lot of overlap in product lines. Nissan is such an unclear part of the puzzle.

One can argue that synergies which will lower the costs of future production have merit. Investing in battery technology does make sense across multiple product lines.

The biggest problem for the auto industry is that should a slowdown hit mid-merger, which brand suffers the hits? Which marketing team gets culled? Which R&D projects get scuppered? Too many cooks spoil the broth is the end result. There is no way a merger can be locked down in a short timeframe unless one of the parties is facing bankruptcy and has no choice but to comply. That is why Nissan-Renault worked.

Renault-FCA would be better conceived after markets have imploded. Marriages built on tough times stand a far bigger chance of survival than those that are built when things are the rosiest. Shareholders will be the biggest losers if conceived now.

Carlos Ghosn speaks out against 忖度

In what is usually the reserve of Hollywood films, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn has released a video on the basis he was rearrested. He eloquently puts forward his case on why he wants a fair trial. He said he always wanted to preserve the independence of Nissan as a brand despite wanting to move alliance talks forward to a merger but he was backstabbed along the way.

Japan may wish to crow about how it is dedicating itself to best practice corporate governance but the manner in which Ghosn was thrown under the bus certainly raises many red flags. It wasn’t so long ago that the board of Olympus staged a coup against then CEO Michael Woodford when he discovered all of the shady deals and offshore bank accounts. While the updated corporate governance code is a step in the right direction, far too many companies are unwilling to embrace the spirit of it. Filing documents with the exchange are done in ways to say that “we comply”. If you delve into the relationships, one company had an independent director who received 20% of revenue from the board he now sat. So much for conflict of interest.

Nissan’s performance was suffering. Ghosn said that “autonomy” is not a given for the brand. This is where “le cost killer’s” business style clearly rubbed the local management the wrong way. For a man who helped save the company from bankruptcy how quickly they forget his two decades of a turnaround when they feel the company is in a safe enough position to stall for time.  The reputation is in the mud.

忖度 (sontaku) sums up Ghosn’s problems. Several years ago the fanfare of the Corporate Governance Code was thrust into the faces of the international investment community that Japan Inc was changing. After visiting multiple staff inside the Financial Services Agency and the Tokyo Stock Exchange there was absolutely no pulse of proactively to be seen anywhere. Even CM’s slight nudge to get the FSA to tap the shoulder of the TSE to suggest listed corporates provide English language materials to encourage more transparency for foreign investors was met with the response, “it might help if you spoke directly to the Deputy PM & Minister of Finance Taro Aso.” Not a word of a lie. Knowing CM’s task was impossible, they were satisfied to brush it aside with that level of enthusiasm. i.e. we won’t lift a finger until told to do so.

$14bn shock for Shorten. Not $100m

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Let’s face it, pre-election budget boasting is a beauty contest we can do without. Fanciful promises guarantee we will not end up in surplus. Shorten’s speech was loaded with mistakes. Let’s cut through some numbers.

The Coalition put forward the following on Tuesday.

What escaped many in the Frydenberg budget of Tuesday is that to fund the 16.8% jump in tax receipts on 2018/19, individual taxpayers will still see their pockets hit +18.4% in aggregate even after including the ‘generous’ rebates. Superannuation tax collections will jump 43% in 4 years time.

NDIS spending is targeted to be 92% higher by 2022/23 than last year. Medicare +24%, public hospital assistance to the states +21%, aged care services +27%. For all the celebrations of lowering pharmaceutical rebates for one wonder drug from $120,000 to $6.50, the reality is spending in this segment will fall 18.4% in total. The family tax benefit will squeak 4% higher in the next 4 years.

As written on Tuesday, the revenue projections of the government are unrealistic as we stare at a slowing world economy. German industrial production in March cratered to 44.1 and China’s auto sales continued a 7-month double-digit slump in February.

Analyzing the Labor response

Shorten claimed NDIS was cut A$1.6bn to get a surplus. Under Frydenberg’s budget, NDIS for 2019/20 will rise A$4.5bn. Out to 2022/23, it rises to over A$24bn.

The Opposition Leader also made reference to A$14bn in cuts to public schools. Note the funding to public schools on 2013/14 was A$4.8bn. In 2018/19 it was $7.7bn and projected in 2022/23 to be A$10.4bn. 

$200mn to renovate nursing campuses in Australia won’t achieve much. The John Curtin Medical Research School at the ANU cost $130mn alone.

Shorten made reference to bushfires being caused by climate change. Fire & Rescue NSW notes that 90% of fires are either deliberately or accidentally set. A Royal Commission after the horrible Black Saturday bushfires showed that policies which restricted backburning reduction targets were to blame for the larger spread of fires, not climate change. In 2013, Tasmania learned none of the lessons with similar policy restrictions preventing the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service to complete more than 4% of all the 2.6m hectares it manages. The reef is not being damaged by climate change and floods and drought are no more frequent or severe than a century ago.

While climate alarmists will relish the prospect of 50% electric vehicles (EV) and cut emissions 45% by 2030 to save the planet, a few truths need to be considered:

1) our own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has admitted that no matter what Australia does to mitigate global warming our impact will be zero. Naught. Nada. Putting emotion to one side, is there any point in spending $10s of billions to drive electricity prices?

2) South Australia and Victoria have already beta tested what having a higher percentage of renewable energy does or rather doesn’t do for sustainable and reliable baseload power. Both states have not only the highest energy prices in Australia but the world. These stats are backed up in Europe. The EU member states with a higher percentage of renewables have steeper electricity prices than those with less. These are facts.

3) Consumption patterns matterLast year Aussies bought only 2,200 EVs. In 2008, SUVs made up 19% of the new car sales mix. Today they make up 43%.
In 2008, c.50m total passengers were carried on Australian domestic flights to over 61m today. The IATA expects passengers flown will double over the current level by 2030. These are hardly the actions of people panicked about cataclysmic climate change. Or if they are, they expect others to economize on their behalf.

Qantas boasts having the largest carbon offset program in place yet only 2% of miles are paid for, meaning 98% aren’t. 

4) Global EV production capacity is around 2.1m units. While rising, it is still a minor blip on 79 million cars sold worldwide. Add to that, auto parts suppliers and car makers are reluctant to expand capacity too fast in a global auto market that is slowing rapidly.

Car sales in China have fallen for 7 straight months. In Feb 2019, sales fell 13.8% on the back of January’s -15% print.  Dec 2018 (-13%), Nov 2018 (-13.9%) & Oct 2018 (-11.7%) according to the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). The US and Australian car markets are under pressure too. 

5) So haphazard is the drive for EV legislation that there are over 200 cities in Europe with different regulations. In the rush for cities to outdo one another this problem will only get worse. Getting two city councils to compromise is one thing but 200 or more across country lines?

Without consistent regulations, it is hard for makers to build EVs that can accommodate all the variance in laws without sharply boosting production costs. 

6) Fuel excise tax – at the moment, 5% of our tax revenue comes from the bowser. $25bn! Will Mr. Shorten happily give this up or do we expect when we’ve been forced to buy EVs that we will be stung with an electricity tax on our cars?

7) Norway is a poor example to benchmark against. It is 5% of our land mass, 1/5th our population and new car sales around 12% of Australia. According to BITRE, Australia has 877,561km of road network which is 9x larger than Norway.

Norway has around 8,000 chargers countrywide. Installation of fast chargers runs around A$60,000 per unit on top of the $100,000 preparation of each station for the high load 480V transformer setup to cope with the increased loads.

Norway state enterprise, Enova, said it would install fast chargers every 50km of 7,500km worth of main road/highway.

Australia has 234,820km of highways/main roads. Fast chargers at every 50km like the Norwegians would require a minimum of 4,700 charging stations across Australia. Norway commits to a minimum of 2 fast chargers and 2 standard chargers per station.

The problem is our plan for 570,000 cars per annum is 10x the number of EVs sold in Norway, requiring 10x the infrastructure.

While it is safe to assume that Norway’s stock of electric cars grows, our cumulative sales on Shorten’s plan would require far greater numbers. So let’s do the maths (note this doesn’t take into account the infrastructure issues of rural areas):

14,700 stations x $100,000 per station to = $1,470,000,000

4,700 stations x 20 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $5,640,000,000 (rural)

4,700 stations x 20 slow chargers @ A$9,000 = $846,000,000 (rural)

10,000 stations x 5 fast chargers @ A$60,000 = $3,000,000,000 (urban)

570,000 home charging stations @ $5,500 per set = $3,135,000,000 (this is just for 2030)

Grand Total: A$14,091,000,000

Note that Shorten pledged $100m to EV charging stations around Australia to meet his goals. Even if he was to skimp on 2 fast and 2 slow chargers per stand, Aussies taxpayers will need to shell out $6.5bn. At least he could technically cover that with repealing $6bn in franking credits.

Norway’s privately run charging companies bill users at NOK2.50 (A$0.42c) per minute for fast charging. Norway’s electricity prices are around NOK 0.55 (A$0.05c) per kWh to households.  In South Australia, that price is 43c/kWh. So will Shorten subsidize an EV owner charging in Adelaide at the mark up a private retailer might charge? 

What about subsidies to EV buyers? If we go off Shorten’s assumptions of $3,400 per EV at 570,000 EVs per annum, the tax payer will fork out $1.94bn a year.

Will there be a cash-for-clunkers scheme?  If the plan is to drive internal combustion powertrains off the road, existing owners may not be emboldened with the decimation in the value of their existing cars. Let’s assume buyers are irrational and accept $3,000 per car (Gillard offered $2,000 back in 2010) trade-in under the scheme. That would amount to $1.73bn.

8) Making our own batteries! While it is true Australia is home to all of the relevant resources, sadly we do not have enough cobalt to make enough of them.

Australia is home to only 4% (5,100t) of the world’s cobalt. 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from DR Congo which has less than satisfactory labour laws surrounding children. If we want cheap EVs, we have to bear that cross of sacrificing children to save the planet. It can’t be done any other way.

Li-ion batteries consume around 42% of the globe’s cobalt supplies. Cars are 40% of that. The rest being computers, mobile phones, etc.

9) Automakers have set up their own battery capacity to supply internal production. Given our terrible history in automotives, we should not expect them to line up to buy our batteries.

Nissan spent around A$770m on a battery plant in Sunderland. Panasonic plowed $2.8bn into the battery plant that supplies Tesla.

10) Australia has no real homegrown industrial scale EV battery technology. If we bought in a technical license, that will only make our production costs prohibitive on a global scale. Our high wage costs would add to the improbability of it being a sensible venture.

All in, Shorten’s EV plans could cost Australians well over $20bn with c.$4bn in subsidies ongoing.

11) Green jobs – according to the ABS, jobs in the renewable sector have fallen from the peak of 19,000 in 2011/12 to 14,920 in 2016/17. The upshot is that green jobs in the renewable sector are not sustainable.

In short, Mr. Shorten’s budget reply was extremely thin on detail. Especially with respect to climate change. The LNP has plenty of ammunition to prosecute the case on his wild costing inaccuracies (as outlined above) yet will they have the gumption to fight on those lines. Saving the planet is one thing.

Loading a stretched grid with EVs and increasing the proportion of less reliable power sources looks like a recipe for disaster. We need only look at consumption patterns to get a true sense of how ‘woke’ people when it comes to global warming. South Australians and Victorians are already living the nightmare of renewables.

This election is about one thing – individual pocketbooks. The electorate needs working solutions, not electric dreams.

Is Musk losing it?

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Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk losing it? More senior resignations from accounting and HR this week  reveal more cracks in the automaker. He emailed a journalist, calling him a “mother f*cker”. He went further to say he hoped the cave rescuer he called a “”pedo” sued him because a UK man who is single and spent so much time in Thailand must be a child rapist.

He rattled off he had “secured” funding of $420/share to go private and then all of a sudden he didn’t, prompting the SEC to investigate. He was then on radio with comedian Joe Rogan toking what is reportedly a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. Are these the actions of a man running a $50bn market cap company?

Clearly his board can’t control him.  With the shares collapsing and bond prices falling, refinancing will become problematic. Chief  Accounting Officer Dave Morton quit the company after revealing his concerns about the various obstacles Tesla faces.

Tesla’s Chief People Officer, Gabrielle Toledano, took leave in August and said she wouldn’t be returning to Tesla.

Musk has been a genius and visionary to get Tesla where it is today. Yet he is a direct victim of his own hubris. Sleeping under boxes with Tesla bankrupt written on them to living on the factory roof to rattling off about production hell while accusing families of drivers dead due to over reliance in a system he aggressively promoted.Tesla was technically asking for suppliers to refund a portion of the monies they were paid since 2016 to the EV maker so it could post a profit which is borderline accounting manipulation in an attempt to give the impression of an ongoing concern.

He also complained at the lack of support in the media despite being called out on this nonsense.

Musk’s compensation is also linked to a $650bn market cap, which is effectively saying to the market that his company will be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler, Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

The Tesla story is on the ropes. Expect more mega-releases on new products to try to keep the dream alive and the disciples faithful. I guess ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ worked for The Beatles…

Tale of the gold coin chocolate & a warning for Tesla Disciples

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It hadn’t really hit until going back to read the conditions of Musk’s new executive compensation package but the first thing that struck me was the risk of the old adage of paying too much attention to the share price. The collection of all 12 tranches for CEO Elon Musk only kicks in when his company hits $650bn in market cap. The first thing to pop in the head was that of Japanese mobile phone retailer Hikari Tsushin back during the tech bubble. The rather eccentric CEO Yasumitsu Shigeta had gold coin chocolates made embossed with “Hikari Tsushin: Target Market Cap Y100 trillion.” One could only conclude he believed in his own BS.

It was at that moment where the only thing that crossed the mind was ‘this spells trouble’. There were magazines like Forbes touting how Shigeta was one of the richest men in the world and analysts fell hook, line and sinker for this unrealistic dream forecasting he’d be #1 before long. The only rational conclusion for the Contrarian Marketplace was to tell them that “bet he won’t be in the top 100 next year.”  Low and behold the tech bubble collapsed and Hikari Tsushin – that believed it was worth 2x the market cap of then highest valued corporation in the world, General Electric – fell over 95%.

While Musk may not yet have printed target market cap $650bn gold coin chocolates, what the incentives are saying to the market is that his company needs to be worth more than Daimler, BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Fiat-Chrysler Ferrari and Porsche combined. Just read that last sentence again. Do investors honestly believe that Tesla which consistently misses and is going up against companies that have been in the game for decades, seen brutal cycles, invest multiples more in technology and forgotten more than they remembered will somehow all become slaves to a company which has no technological advantages whatsoever?

Once again, this compensation package screams of gold coin chocolates in mentality. Instead of running the business and letting the share price do the talking, the mindset is focused on launching convertibles into space and distracting investors from increasingly dreadful financial results which eventually must come full circle if the results continue to miss. Broader Tesla report here.