The fate of a prominent battery supplier rests in the president's hands, yet another Black media mogul is imploring General Motors to do better, and crowds may return to F1 at this summer's British Grand Prix. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, April 9, 2021
If you haven't been following the ongoing legal scuffle between battery suppliers LG Energy Solutions (formerly LG Chem) and SK Innovation, here's the long and short of it: SK Innovation is in danger of being barred from the U.S. market for a decade as punishment for misappropriating LG's trade secrets. President Biden has the power to take that away, if the companies can't settle this matter between themselves. Thing is, his last day to do that is Sunday, April 11, as Reuters reports:
The Biden Administration, through the U.S. Trade Representative's office, is set to decide as early as Friday whether to take the rare step of reversing the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), unless the Korean battery companies reach a last-minute settlement.
The White House declined to comment on Thursday.
The ITC in February sided with LG Chem in its trade secrets claims, but permitted SK to import components for batteries for Ford EV F-150 program for four years, and Volkswagen's North American EVs for two years.
If the ITC's decision stands past this weekend, automakers that use SK components in vehicles sold in the U.S. will be unable to import them for the next 10 years, with limited exceptions for certain Ford and Volkswagen models. Complicating matters further, SK is building a factory in Georgia that it has threatened to abandon should the ban be upheld. As you'd imagine, Georgia politicians would much rather Biden let SK go with a slap on the wrist:
Last month, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp urged Biden to intervene, noting SK's plant will employ nearly 2,600: "Simply put: the livelihoods of thousands of Georgians are now in your hands."
Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff has held numerous meetings with the Korean battery makers and Biden Administration, his office confirmed, and stressed "the urgent need for both companies to come to the negotiating table and agree to a settlement to save the Georgia plant," a spokeswoman said.
Last week, the ITC surprisingly appeared to walk back its claims against SK, deciding that the company didn't infringe on LG patents. Still, this hasn't cleared SK from the whole trade secret misappropriation thing, and so unless Biden reverses the ITC's ruling, LG will walk away very happy, and SK may just walk away from the U.S. entirely.
Sean "Diddy" Combs has joined the group of Black media leaders calling on General Motors to do more business with Black-owned media companies, publishing an open letter on his site, Revolt, on Thursday.
In the company's initial response to the criticism, GM essentially opted for the "I have a Black friend" defense, listing Revolt as one of the Black-owned companies it backs while simultaneously postponing the meeting it originally agreed to have with the group. Combs doesn't share quite the same rosy picture of their relationship, as the Detroit Free Press details (including an excerpt of Combs' letter and GM's response):
"When confronted by the leaders of several Black-owned media companies, General Motors listed my network, REVOLT, as an example of the Black-owned media it supports," Combs wrote in the letter. "While REVOLT does receive advertising revenue from GM, our relationship is not an example of success. Instead, REVOLT, just like other Black-owned media companies, fights for crumbs while GM makes billions of dollars every year from the Black community."
GM spokesman Pat Morrissey reacted to Combs' letter saying that GM has agreed to hold several meetings over the next few weeks with Black-owned media and has vowed to boost the amount of ad dollars it spends with Black-owned media.
"In 2021, for example, we doubled our spend with Black-owned media groups to 2%," Morrissey said. "We will increase our spend with this important segment to 4% in 2022, and will continue to grow our spend thereafter with a target of 8% by 2025."
A whole four percent by next year, bravo GM! Wow! What do you want, a medal or something?
For your daily semiconductor shortage update, Hyundai is now suspending production for two days next week at its Asan, South Korea plant. That's in addition to the downtime currently underway until April 14 at its Ulsan plant. From Reuters :
"We are closely monitoring the situation to take prompt and necessary measures to optimize production in line with the supply conditions," Hyundai said in a statement.
The Asan factory turns out 300,000 vehicles each year, including the Sonata and Grandeur sedans.
Hyundai last week announced it would suspend output at Ulsan, its main South Korean factory, from April 7 to April 14 because of chip and component supply issues.
Hyundai had been able to avoid a hit from the shortage so far largely because it maintained a stockpile of chips unlike its global peers, Reuters reported in February.
Hyundai, like Toyota , staved off production cuts thanks to some prudent thinking. Stockpiles eventually run out, though. With the draught of silicon going on as long as it has, the shortage finally hitting Hyundai isn't surprising. Meanwhile, GM and Ford are being further battered by the lack of chips, announcing a slew of cuts per the Associated Press via ABC :
GM said that the cuts will take place at its Spring Hill, Tennessee; Ramos Arizpe, Mexico; Ingersoll, Ontario; Fairfax, Kansas; Lansing, Michigan, Delta Township; and Lansing, Michigan, Grand River factories.
Also Thursday, Ford said it would shut down its Chicago, Flat Rock, Michigan, and the Transit van side of the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri, during the week of April 12.
GM delivered 69 percent more vehicles in China throughout the first quarter of 2020 and Ford was up 73 percent in the same span of time, according to Automotive News. These numbers are encouraging, though for GM they don't quite yet signal a full recovery to pre-COVID sales:
While extending a recovery that began in April 2020, GM's first-quarter sales in China were still below the 813,973 vehicles the Detroit automaker reported for the first quarter of 2019.
As for Ford, Q1 2021 marks the fourth-straight month of year-over-year growth for the company. That's thanks to an effective turnaround plan detailed by The Motley Fool via Nasdaq :
Chen joined Ford from Chinese automaker Chery Automobile in October of 2018, after several quarters of sales declines. Chen's aim since taking the reins has been to overhaul Ford's products and business to better align with Chinese consumers' expectations. He said that the growth streak is just a beginning.
Most of Ford's product line in China would be familiar to Americans, but not all. The company has focused on sales of Lincoln luxury vehicles (particularly crossover SUVs) and familiar Ford-brand crossovers, with a few added models that are unique to the Chinese market.
The locally made Lincoln Corsair and Aviator SUVs helped drive a 217% year-over-year gain for the Lincoln brand, with sales of about 19,300. Ford-brand sales rose 44.7% as its SUV sales roughly doubled, led by the Explorer, Escape, and Edge, and a new China-only SUV model called the Equator.
Some Formula 1 races from the waning rounds of the 2020 season to the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28 have seen limited capacity crowds, depending on each host country's discretion. The upcoming British Grand Prix, scheduled for July 18, may allow for full-capacity attendance, as long as spectators carry vaccination passports. Per Autosport :
The British government has outlined a roadmap for an easing of restrictions in the coming months, including permission for large outdoor seated venues to allow up to 10,000 fans or 25% of total capacity – whichever is lower – from 17 May.
There could then be a further loosening of restrictions from 21 June to allow for capacity crowds at all of the UK's major summer sporting events.
Silverstone has now given its full support to plans for vaccine passports and COVID-19 testing prior to allowing fans to attend its events, ensuring they can function safely.
The circuit joined bodies including the FA, the EFL, the Premier League, the RFU, the ECB and Wimbledon in writing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the leaders of the opposing political parties about the matter.
Even with vaccine passports and testing, I'm still surprised event organizers would chance full attendance. The U.K. government has been much more careful than our leaders on the other side of the pond who are totally cool with sell-out baseball games .
I live in one of the 20 states that doesn't require front license plates, and I recently transferred my car's registration. Which means I now have a big, gaping hole where the plate used to be that I'll probably cover with some kind of decorative alternative. The problem is that the vast majority of custom vanity plates you find on places like Etsy and eBay are clad in Punisher logos and red-and-black distressed American flags, so whatever I choose is probably going to look dumb. I'm kind of amazed there isn't a market out there for tasteful enthusiast vanity plates!
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