Some go to production hell. I went to production heaven.

Stampings are checked at Volvo car factory in Luqiao, China. Picture Kalinda Zhang.

The world’s most talked-about car factory sits in California. It is sued for being “a hotbed for racist behavior,” and for targeting pro-union employees in mass firings. Working conditions at the plant are labeled as “grueling.” Submitted to “aggressive production goals,” workers receive “life-changing injuries,” reports say. The quality at this plant is described as so bad that quality checks “routinely revealed defects in more than 90 percent” of the cars , wrote Reuters. The shop floor at the factory is characterized as “messy, it hiccups, modules are repaired on the line, stockpiles of parts lie around in “semi-organized” fashion. The current situation at the factory is “production hell” said its CEO. Now that’s an interesting car plant, especially because the company that owns this both loathsome and lonesome plant, Tesla, is valued close to General Motors, a company with more than 100 plants all over the world.

Normally, a hot-blooded journalist would just love to get into such a scandalous plant, but for some reason, journalists are not invited.

I had to make do with the world’s second-most interesting car plant. I went there to experience the opposite of production hell – that would be what, production heaven?

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World’s Largest Automakers: Toyota back on top

It looked so rosy

It looked so rosy

A month ago, we did not join the crowd that prematurely crowned Volkswagen king of all automakers. A week later, we pronounced that VW’s triumph may be fleeting. And fleeting it is: As of today, Volkswagen finds itself back in the familiar number 2 position, with Toyota resuming the lead. [Continue Reading]

Toyota’s record gains, and Piech’s shattered dreams

Announcing record profits, again

Announcing record profits, again

Today, Toyota announced a second year of record net profits, and it forecasted a third. The press conference was held at 3pm in Tokyo, timed to coincide with the close of Tokyo trading, and the start of Friday business in Wolfsburg. You, and Volkswagen, can watch the entire presser on streaming video. For a quick summary of the important numbers, refer to Reuters, or Bloomberg. Instead, let’s focus on a question that was neither asked, nor answered at the press conference: What was Piech’s beef with Winterkorn, and why did Piech have to go? It had to do a lot with today’s numbers.

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Toyota’s TNGA is TPS 2.0

Perplexed press: So, that's TNGA?

Perplexed press: So, that’s TNGA?

Yesterday, Toyota trucked a few busloads of journalists to Toyota City to unveil the Toyota New Global Architecture. Those who didn’t go, and who used the press release to write about common parts, missed the story. Those who expected a Japanese version of MQB, went home disappointed, or confused. Those who followed prior hints that production engineering plays an essential part in TNGA, with the aim of increasing a plant’s output and flexibility, while keeping CAPEX in check, were not surprised. In a full day of presentations, we saw very little hard evidence of modular systems. What we heard, saw, and could touch was living, working, grinding and stamping proof of TPS 2.0, a new-millennium-ready version of Toyota’s vaunted production system. [Continue Reading]

Annual warning: Don’t read too much into Chinese numbers this time of the year



Statistics for February new car sales in China are dribbling out, and they are bad. They are supposed to be bad. In February, all of China was (I am looking at you, Elon Musk) truly on vacation, most dealerships were closed for weeks, while people enjoyed the Chinese New Year festivities, either at home with their families, at the beaches of Thailand, or on Tokyo’s Ginza, buying electric toilet seats. Old China hands are used to discombobulated car sales numbers at this time of the year. Aspiring analysts fall for them every year. [Continue Reading]

The Truth About Japanese Import Quotas: There are none

Misleading picture: Ship brings cars from Yokohama to Kyushu

Misleading picture: Ship actually brings cars from Yokohama to Kyushu

Sometimes, when I read Detroit’s shrill anti-Japanese propaganda these days, only a quick look on the calendar assures me that it’s no longer 1941. The degree to which the toxic bombast has poisoned the ADHD-afflicted minds of our youth became evident again yesterday, when the alleged Truth About Cars wrote that “a new quota on U.S. imported cars was struck down as part of trade negotiations with Japan. In exchange, Japan will buy more American rice.”

Jalopnik followed Detroit one step further into the deep shit, and wrote: ”U.S. automakers are limited to selling just 5,000 cars a year in Japan.”

None of this is true. Brains have become collateral damage of Detroit’s propaganda war, and that’s a charitable assumption. I had to look at the calendar again. To my surprise, yesterday was January 27, 2015. Speaking of ADHD, let’s get two things out of the way, quickly, before attention dissipates:

There are no quotas on car imports to Japan. No old ones, no new ones. Japan also won’t buy more rice, at least not now. [Continue Reading]

Done. VW crosses 10 million mark in 2014, stays #2 worldwide, #1 in China

Geschafft! Winterkorn in Beijing, where the battle was won

Geschafft! Winterkorn in Beijing, where the battle was won

Volkswagen achieved its “first goal of Strategy 2018” by crossing the 10 million unit threshold in 2014. On a group level, Volkswagen delivered 10.14 million units, including heavy trucks and buses by group companies MAN and Scania, the company said in a statement today. Volkswagen beat GM again in China, solidifying its leadership in the world’s largest car market with 3.68 million units vs. GM’s 3.53 million. Worldwide, Volkswagen remains in the #2 slot. [Continue Reading]

Brokerage: Tesla could be sitting on 3,000 unsold cars

Model S - Picture courtesy slashgear

The Rule of Scarcity plays a large role in the persuasion process, as any pop psychologist can confirm. Nobody knows that better than master salesman Elon Musk. Waiting times for a Tesla are legend. If you believe the on-line chatter, the Model X is basically sold out for 2015. Is the scarcity for real? John Lovallo, a research analyst at Merrill Lynch, wanted to find out.

In the case of the Model X, Lovallo did not have to dig deep. The way it looks, there won’t be a Model X in 2015. As far as the Model S is concerned, Lovallo was told by Tesla that “essentially, in the third quarter, we sold every car that was. Including cars in, like, showrooms, and everything we basically had.” But then, Lovallo started going through the books, and he found that “Tesla’s finished goods inventory at the end of 3Q appears to tell a different story.” [Continue Reading]