Trump's Visit to Ford's Ventilator Plant Was Predictably Bizarre
It didn't need to be this weird.
Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive's morning roundup of what matters in the world of cars and transportation. Today we're talking about President Trump's visit to Ford's ventilator plant in Michigan, whether troubled Nissan's partner Renault can survive without a bailout, and Lucid Motors—remember them?
As a programming note: Speed Lines will not appear on The Drive next week, as I am absconding to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to attempt something as close to a vacation as I can manage during a pandemic. If you need to know what's going on, email Kyle Cheromcha or Jerry Perez directly and ask them. I'm sure they'd be thrilled to personally fill you in on an individual basis.
Trump Praises Automakers, But Visit Eclipsed By Mask Controversy
In a normal timeline, President Donald Trump's visit Thursday to a Ford plant now making ventilators in Ypsilanti, Michigan would've been straightforward. Easy. Simple. Tour the facility, say some words, take some photos, give a thumbs up to all the work being done by factories everywhere with aggressive new safety measures in place.
That, of course, is not how things went down. While Trump did heap praise on Ford and the other American automakers, as quoted by Automotive News:
“I want to commend Ford, along with General Motors, General Electric, Fiat Chrysler and so many other companies, a lot of them in this area, for blazing a trail to safely restart America’s economic engines,” he said. “I want to thank you all for leading America back to work.”
Trump mentioned the upcoming Ford Bronco SUV, calling it a “big winner,” and saying Ford planned to hire 2,000 workers to build it at the nearby Michigan Assembly Plant. The vehicle is expected to go on sale early next year.
Much of the visit was eclipsed by other controversies. First, Trump visited the plant technically in violation of an order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer—whom the president and some of his most ardent supporters have frequently targeted—to avoid tours of manufacturing plants. Second, the mask thing. Michigan's attorney general requested Trump wear a mask while there, as all personnel are required to, but he waffled on whether he would or not and Ford didn't step up to force him to do so. So in the end, Trump did, but only when out of the view of cameras, something he readily admitted to.
"Well, I did wear—I had one on before. I wore one in this back area, but I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it. But, no, where I had it, in the back area, I did put a mask on," Trump said. "I think it sets an example. I think it sets an example both ways." He later railed against the United Auto Workers union for not endorsing him.
There's no deep analysis to come away from here, except to say that as the auto industry returns to work—with some hiccups and pauses as reinfections happen at factories and as many workers are openly fearful of their safety—it is baffling that something as simple as wearing a mask in public for a couple weeks or whatever to protect other people has become such a needlessly partisan issue. Anyway, expect more repeats of this as we close in on the election in November. Auto factories are always props for this sort of thing. And Trump isn't done sparring with officials in the home state of American car manufacturing.
I would give anything to live in a timeline that isn't as dumb as this one.
Renault In Trouble
Moving right along. One automaker having a lot of trouble right now is Renault, the French automaker that lacks a large global footprint—it recently exited China, the world's largest car market—and its sales are tanking like everyone else's during the pandemic. France's finance minister has warned that without government loans, Renault could go out of business. The French government already owns a 15 percent share of Renault, but the automaker may need more direct funding even as it seeks to cull $2.2 billion in expenses over the next two years.
From Reuters, quoting Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire:
"Yes, Renault could disappear," Le Maire. Renault is due to present details of a cost-cutting plan to save 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in expenses in the next two years. First-quarter revenue fell 19 percent to 10.1 billion euros, with sales in Europe falling 36 percent as the effects of coronavirus lockdowns started to be felt.
Among the options being considered are closing several small component plants in France and the Alpine assembly site in Dieppe, France; and ending assembly at the historic Flins plant outside of Paris, although it could be repurposed for other uses.
[...] He added that the government was seeking commitments from automakers in three areas in return for help during the coronavirus crisis: electric vehicles; the fair treatment of sub-contractors; and that they base advanced technology activities in France. The French government has also asked automakers to relocate vehicle production in France.
"Renault is fighting for its survival," Le Maire said in the interview published late on Thursday. "I haven't yet signed the loan."
It's a good thing Renault has its longtime alliance partner Nissan to fall back on here, because otherwise—oh, wait. Never mind.
The Next Tesla Fighter (?) Rises In Arizona
Muskian antics aside, Tesla remains the clear frontrunner in the EV world. But many legacy automakers and startups are issuing their own challenges. The latest one in the latter category is Lucid Motors, which has been around for several years but hasn't actually made any production cars. Until now. Bloomberg reports that aside from the usual coronavirus setbacks, it's on target to start rolling cars out of its Arizona plant in 2021. In fact, construction has actually been on schedule out there.
The company, backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, boasts several Tesla veterans. Its CEO Peter Rawlinson was formerly the chief engineer of the Model S. Its VP of manufacturing had a similar role at Elon's company too. And with strong state and local incentives behind it, Lucid aims to make a big splash soon in the luxury EV space.
We'll see what happens. Will Lucid be the next Tesla, or the next Faraday Future?
On Our Radar
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Did Ford get played by Trump's visit here? I'm coming up short trying to think of anything the automaker got out of that visit.