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Southwest Airlines on Wednesday flagged softer August leisure bookings and joined two other US airlines in warning of higher fuel costs in the third quarter due to a jump in crude prices.

The largest US domestic carrier said August bookings were at the lower end of its expectations, in part due to seasonal trends, but maintained that overall leisure demand and yields remain healthy.

Shares of Southwest fell 4% premarket, before paring some losses to close down 2.6% at $29.97.

The forecast comes as early signs emerge of domestic travel demand weakening, with inflationary pressures hurting consumers even as carriers hand out costly contracts to retain workers.

United Airlines and Alaska Air Group also warned of higher fuel costs in the current quarter as crude oil prices rose for a third straight month in August, amid signs of tightening supply.

In a regulatory filing, United said jet fuel prices have climbed over 20% since mid-July.

The carrier also said it had no imminent plans to move its headquarters to Denver from Chicago after buying 113 acres of land there. Finance Chief Gerald Laderman at the TD Cowen Transportation Conference said the first order of business is the expansion of the flight training center in Denver.

Southwest said it continues to forecast a “solid (third-quarter) profit,” but trimmed its expectations for revenue per available seat mile – a proxy for pricing power – to a 5% to 7% fall, compared with a 3% to 7% fall forecast earlier.

Alaska Air expects a quarterly adjusted pre-tax margin of 10% to 12%, lower than its prior expectation of 14% to 16%.

US airlines do not generally hedge against fuel costs, making them vulnerable to price swings.

“The relatively quick up move in fuel has given the industry little time to respond through fares,” Citi Research analyst Stephen Trent said in a note.

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Chinese ministry says EU’s anti-subsidy EV probe made spy-like levels of ‘unreasonable demands’

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Chinese ministry says EU's anti-subsidy EV probe made spy-like levels of 'unreasonable demands'

Another day, another deeper understanding of the conversations going on behind closed doors as China and the EU approach the negotiating table as they toe the lines of a looming trade war surrounding vehicle imports and anti-subsidy probes of Chinese EVs.

June has been a noteworthy month for global EV market news, as nearly every day, we are delivered a new chapter in an ongoing saga of a looming trade war between China and the European Union.

The dispute between the two global markets began last fall when the EU Commission announced an anti-subsidy probe to determine if Chinese-made EVs imported into Europe were given an unfair advantage due to state-backed funds.

As part of the probe, the EU Commission requested information from several Chinese automakers selling their EVs in Europe, including names like NIO, BYD, XPeng, and state-owned SAIC. Even before the probe results were shared, the EU began threatening tariffs, after the US announced it would quadruple duties on Chinese imports from 25% to 100%.

In retaliation, China threatened tariffs on European imports up to 25%, particularly on gas vehicles from German automakers and other industries. Before sharing its results, the European Commission argued that three Chinese EV automakers, including SAIC, had yet to supply adequate information to the anti-subsidy probe and as a result, would face the highest tariffs (38.1%) on imports.

Across the world, China’s Ministry of Commerce is painting a different picture, calling the requested details of the EU’s anti-subsidy probe of Chinese EVs “unprecedented,” comparing the probe to espionage.

China tariffs

Chinese deem anti-subsidy EV questions spy-like

Per Reuters, China’s Ministry of Commerce has spoken out about the EU’s anti-subsidy probe on EV imports, calling the detailed information demanded from Chinese automakers “unprecedented.”

In a local news conference in China earlier today, Commerce Ministry spokesperson He Yadong said the EU Commission “mandatorily required” Chinese automakers to share advantageous information regarding sourcing raw materials for batteries, manufacturing components, developing sales channels, and their respective pricing.

When asked whether the EU Commission was using the anti-subsidy probe to spy on Chinese EV automakers, Yadong said the following:

The type, scope, and quantity of information collected by the European side was unprecedented and far more than what is required for a countervailing duties investigation.

State media CCTV is pushing a similar “spy” narrative against Brussels following an article posted Wednesday. During today’s news conference, Yadong also said that the EU’s claims that Chinese car companies like SAIC did not fully cooperate are “groundless.”

With Beijing working with European automakers to ease or stop the incoming EV tariffs and the Chinese state media accusing the EU Commission of spying, we appear to have moved beyond brinkmanship and into a potential trade war.

In addition to its own threatened tariffs on EU vehicles imported into China, Beijing has also launched a dumping investigation into EU pork imports, further raising tensions. Meanwhile, Chinese EV automakers who obliged the anti-subsidy EV probe have spoken out against the tariffs but are not wavering on their expansions in the EU markets, no matter what.

Companies like NIO have expressed confidence that they will continue to expand and sell well in Europe, whether they pay duties on each EV import or not.

The EU’s tariffs are expected to take effect on July 4, 2024. This story remains ongoing.

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Startup Kinetic rolls out robots to fix electric cars, and someday robotaxis

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Startup Kinetic rolls out robots to fix electric cars, and someday robotaxis

Kinetic cofounders: CEO Nikhil Naikal, CTO Sander Marques, COO Chris Weber

Courtesy: Kinetic Automation

While electric vehicle demand is still increasing in the U.S., the sales growth rate for cars that pollute less has cooled down in 2024 due partly to the high cost of insurance and repairs for tech-laden new models.

A 2024 study by J.D. Power found that, despite the climate benefits, only 26% of car buyers in the U.S. were “very likely to consider purchasing” an EV in the next year, and more than 20% were “very unlikely to consider an EV purchase” at all.

That’s where Santa Ana, California startup Kinetic Automation comes in. By providing diagnostics and recalibration of the high-tech systems in modern vehicles, the company hopes to decrease costs associated with EV ownership and repairs.

The startup, which employs about 40 people full-time, has developed a robotic system that uses computer vision and machine-learning software to quickly diagnose issues with a vehicle’s digital systems.

Kinetic CEO and co-founder Nikhil Naikal explained that a lot of new models, especially battery electrics, are loaded with bells and whistles such as touchscreens and robust infotainment software, along with a variety of cameras and sensors that enable everything from rapid charging to driver safety features including forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control.

The existing collision repair industry is well-equipped to handle most physical fixes like replacing a bumper, a busted windshield, brakes and paint or adjusting alignment. But for many collision repair centers and auto dealerships, ensuring all sensors, software and computers are working properly can prove time-consuming and expensive.

Kinetic puts its robotic systems and technicians to work helping these shops and dealerships fix the finicky, “digital” aspects of customers’ cars.

Here’s how it works: A customer’s car rolls up to one of Kinetic’s service bays, where it is scanned from bumper to fender with machine vision sensors, some on a robotic arm that peers over the top of the vehicle.

The scan determines which systems need to be precisely programmed or need a recalibration. Then Kinetic’s software, which is connected to the vehicle’s systems, will initiate and track the completion of those fixes.

Kinetic uses robotics and AI to recalibrate the software and sensors in electric vehicles.

Courtesy: Kinetic Automation

The company built its first four service hubs in Las Vegas, and Orange County, San Bernardino and Riverside counties in California.

To fuel its growth, Kinetic has raised $21 million in a Series B round of venture funding led by Menlo Ventures, joined by Allstate Strategic Ventures, Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures and the company’s earliest investors Lux Capital, Construct Capital and Haystack Ventures.

Menlo Ventures’ Partner Shawn Carolan, who invested in Uber and Jump Bikes, said collision companies and auto dealerships that had worked with Kinetic as pilot customers helped convince his firm to lead the deal.

“They were saying, ‘This reduced our cycle time by days.’ Or ‘We got cars back to customers faster and cheaper,’ and ‘This made my life way easier,'” he explained. “So we knew this was already solving a tremendous pain point.”

Before starting Kinetic with his co-founders, COO Chris Weber and CTO Sander Marques, Naikal worked as the vice president of software engineering at Velodyne, a company that made lidar sensors that enable robots, drones and autonomous vehicles to detect and avoid objects in their surrounding environment. Velodyne merged with Ouster in 2023.

Weber previously worked as an operations leader at Uber, while Marques is a repeat tech entrepreneur whose prior company developed engine control modules for high-performance vehicles.

Kinetic will one day provide its services to robotaxi fleets, Naikal said, and to the owners of other autonomous vehicles. But for now, the startup is focused on hiring, training technicians and building out its service hubs across the U.S. to handle a higher volume of auto repairs, especially the electric vehicles that are growing to comprise a larger portion of cars on U.S. roads each year.

So far, Kinetic has most commonly worked on Ford Mach-E, GM Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Ioniq EVs, and some Teslas at its existing service hubs, the CEO said.

Market research firm Canalys forecasts that sales of battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles combined will reach 2.2 million units in 2024 in North America, representing about 12.5% of all new vehicle sales in the region.

“Motor vehicle insurance for EVs, and across the board, has been a major contributor to inflation rising something like 20% when you look at the Consumer Price Index over the last 12 months,” Naikal said. “I’d like to hope we can shave a few points off of that while making people more comfortable switching to electrics.”

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BYD hits a major milestone as its Yuan brand crosses 1 million in sales

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BYD hits a major milestone as its Yuan brand crosses 1 million in sales

China’s leading EV maker, BYD, just hit another major milestone. The BYD Yuan family surpassed 1 million in sales this week, becoming its latest brand to cross the threshold.

BYD Yuan family tops 1 million in sales

BYD has been on a roll as it expands the brand into new territory. Its latest accomplishment comes as another one of its family of brands hit the 1 million sales mark.

The Yuan brand topped 1 million in sales, BYD announced Thursday. BYD’s Yuan family consists of the Yuan Plus, Yuan Up, and Yuan Pro SUVs. After launching in February 2022, the Yuan Plus (known as the Atto 3 overseas) is the first electric SUV underpinned by BYD’s e-platform 3.0 for EVs.

With starting prices under $16,500 (119,800 yuan) in China, BYD’s electric SUV competes with other top-selling models like the Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4.

As the first EV built for overseas markets, BYD’s Yuan Plus (Atto 3) has quickly become a best-seller in key markets like Europe, Australia, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and others. In September, the 500,000th Yuan Plus rolled off BYD’s assembly line.

BYD-Yuan-1-million
BYD Yuan series tops 1 million in sales (Source: BYD)

The Yuan Up went on sale in March 2024, starting at under $13,400 (96,800 yuan), while the Yuan Pro, which hit the market last May, is priced at $13,200 (95,800 yuan).

BYD’s Yuan is its latest series to hit the 1 million sales market following the Song and Qin brands.

BYD-Yuan-1-million
BYD Atto 3 (Yuan Plus) in Japan (Source: BYD)

With over 428,500 models sold last year, Yuan is one of BYD’s best-selling brands, accounting for 14% of 2023 sales. Through the first five months of 2024, BYD has sold nearly 135,000 Yuan models or roughly 10.5% of total sales.

BYD-Yuan-1-million
BYD Yuan Plus (Atto 3) EV interior (Source: BYD)

After applying for an emissions and noise certification with the South Korean environment ministry this month, BYD is expected to launch the low-cost Atto 3 (Yuan Plus) on Hyundai and Kia’s home turf, where the domestic automakers dominate the market.

Hyundai and Kia’s share fell 3.5% last year to 76.6% as new EVs like Tesla’s China-made Model Y gain momentum.

Source: CnEVPost, BYD

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