Our changing times have resulted in disruptions for automotive and virtually every other industry. Publishing is changing as well, and you will now be receiving Industrial Heating digitally. Many factors are driving this change, and we were certainly concerned that paper magazines are stacking up in empty offices. 

This editorial will also be affected by our online shift because I won’t entirely be limited to a single page. Use this link (www.industrialheating.com/edit520) to read the full version of this month’s editorial. COVID-19 has clearly affected the automotive industry, and we want to discuss that, but we also want to focus on an automotive-industry picture larger than this present disruption.

As I write, domestic automotive manufacturers are shut down to protect their workers. Shutdowns began around mid-March. Some have joined forces with manufacturers of ventilators to ramp up production. An illustration of this is Ford. Originally scheduled to restart some plants on April 6 and April 14, these dates have been further postponed. One components plant will restart the week of April 20 to exclusively produce the Model A-E ventilator in collaboration with GE Healthcare. Production will quickly scale up to produce 50,000 ventilators by July 4. Approximately 500 paid volunteer UAW workers will be building these ventilators. 

Ford is using its 3D printers at the Advanced Manufacturing Center to print disposable air-filtering respirator masks. They plan to make 1,000 masks a month but could increase this number. Ford isn’t the only automaker to jump into the medical-supply business. Fiat Chrysler is also making as many as 1 million face masks a week that will then be donated to hospitals, police and emergency personnel. GM has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to make ventilators. 

Beyond COVID-19, recent automotive news included an announcement by NTN Driveshaft in February of a $58 million expansion of its Anderson, Ind., plant. The expansion will result in a captive heat-treatment facility. Also, Bodycote announced a $36 million restructuring plan to reposition its classical heat-treatment branch in Western Europe to focus on supporting electric-car production.

Along those lines, electric vehicles (EVs) and everything related (e.g., batteries) were a large part of the bigger-picture automotive news. GM announced in March that it is increasing its electric-car lineup and that they have a new long-range battery to power them. GM says its Ultium battery has a range of up to 400 miles between charges. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said, “Our team accepted the challenge … to position our company for an all-electric future.”

Specifically, GM has plans for several new crossover EVs – two from Buick and at least two from Chevrolet. GM also plans to launch a Hummer electric pickup truck, a new Bolt and Bolt CUV and a few Cadillacs, including the Lyriq CUV.

FORTUNE reports that Ford is creating the Mach-E Mustang to use Tesla’s example and move an electric vehicle away from practical utility and toward performance. A future GT version is expected to go zero-to-60 in 4.5 seconds. Ford expects EV sales to grow to 1.5 million a year in the U.S. by 2025.  

Another FORTUNE article boldly predicts that the 2020s is the final decade of the internal-combustion engine (ICE). The prediction includes a 10-15 year transition period when both technologies will be on the road but that by 2030, no ICE vehicles will be available for purchase.

Eliminating ICE vehicles has its good and bad points, and an entire article could be written on that subject. One possible benefit for consumers is that EVs are proving longevity, based on limited experience. Tesloop, a shuttle service in Southern California, uses only Teslas. Its fleet’s odometers are well past 300,000 miles with some nearing 500,000. They show no signs of slowing. Longer life and potentially less maintenance along the way could result in lower cost of ownership.

China is a huge market for EVs, and car manufacturers are trying to take advantage. In Shenzhen, all but 100 of the city’s 21,000 taxis are China-made EVs. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has teamed up with Chinese start-up AutoX to bring self-driving (autonomous) robotaxis to China. The robotaxis could hit the streets of Shenzhen and Shanghai in 2020. FCA also announced that it will work with Foxconn to produce EVs and Internet-connected vehicles in China.

We have previously reported on the advancements in autonomous vehicles, such as the robotaxis in China. Progress is being made, but it’s slow going. Much of the advancement in this area will require highly developed data connections such as 5G technology.

We have also mentioned that EVs are ripe for start-ups. One such is in Vietnam (VinFast) and is run by the county’s richest person. With a goal of exporting EVs to the American market, Pham Nhat Vuong is investing as much as $2 billion of his own money. He is targeting 2021 for the export of vehicles to the U.S., Europe and Russia.

Automotive is a dynamic industry that is being impacted by the current crisis. It will be interesting to see where the industry goes once things get back to “normal.” Buckle up for a wild ride!