Su$tainable Mobility, Volume 19 📻
This bi-weekly newsletter aims to separate the signal from the noise for making money in all things sustainable transportation: Electrification, mode shift, active and public transit, and mobility aggregation, across both people and goods movement.
This week we have a Deep Dive on why Sony is bluffing about its efforts to build an EV.
Disclaimer: This newsletter represents individual thoughts and not those of any employer. I will always disclose when I have a financial relationship with a company cited.
🇩🇰 Denmark to make domestic flights fossil fuel free by 2030. Other European countries are sure to follow suit in various ways. Electric planes are likely to beat out hydrogen propulsion for the short-haul portion of the market.
🇪🇺 European airlines are running nearly 18,000 empty flights to comply with EU rules on landing slot utilization. A good example of how comprehensive climate policy requires rethinking many existing regulations.
🚚 Wired Magazine calls fleet charging solutions for heavy-duty trucks the next billion dollar business. A good primer on how the recharging business for heavy-duty trucks is quite different than, say, passenger cars.
🦁 South African rangers are using e-motorcycles to catch poachers. A nice use case thanks to the quieter operation of electric powertrains.
🚬In France, car ads will soon have to promote sustainable mobility. The parallels with advertising for big tobacco are pretty clear.
🥡 TikTok is leveraging its user base to get into last mile food delivery. By partnering with ghost kitchens for food preparation, and GrubHub for delivery, TikTok can encourage food trends to go viral and then get a cut of the ensuing food consumption.
🇳🇨Tesla is rolling up its sleeves in New Caledonia in order to more sustainably extract nickel. One tiny territory in the crosshairs of Tesla’s ambitions, colonialism, and the harsh realities of mining.
🚚 Nikola has delivered its first BEV truck for use at the Ports of LA/Long Beach. A rare bright spot for a truck maker whose 2021 was filled with bad news, including a settlement with the SEC.
🗽 New York Governor Hochul is moving forward with the proposal to connect Brooklyn and Queens via rail. It’s a good step towards making the NYC subway less Manhattan-centric, but such projects in the US, particularly in NYC, are hamstrung by out of control costs.
🌞 Solar technology is getting closer and closer to use as a surface application in cars, trucks, and planes. We will inevitably find a way to use the large surface area of transportation vehicles for energy generation.
🤖 McKinsey sees robotaxi economics becoming economically feasible by 2030. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that autonomous goods delivery is now moving ahead faster and faster than autonomous people movement.
🚙 Aufera (Nigeria): Peer to peer carsharinG
🖲 Autonomous Knight (Belgium): Multi-spectral sensor systems for autonomous transportation
👩🏽🎓 Best Path Transit (Connecticut, USA): Software to optimize school bus systems and routing
🧑🏻🔧 Fettle (UK): Bike repair platform and service outlets (formerly known as Handlebars)
🧐 Hyperspec (California, USA): Computer vision for autonomous vehicles to reduce map dependency
DEEP DIVE: Why Sony is bluffing with its efforts to build EVs
At CES on Tuesday, Sony announced that it was launching an electric vehicle (EV) division called Sony Mobility, with an aim towards “exploring the commercial launch of Sony’s EV.” While it’s easier than ever to launch an EV car manufacturer, my own assessment is that Sony will not end up building its own cars.
First, there’s a world of difference between launching a car company from scratch and trying to do it within the confines of a decades-old conglomerate. Part of what makes Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid work is their maniacal focus and fear of failure. There simply isn’t a plan B. The same isn’t true when a conglomerate aims to launch a car company; employees on an ill-fated project can always go back to their prior projects. The last conglomerate that successfully created a car company was Hyundai, a project that coincided with the industrialization of South Korea. Numerous attempts since then have failed.
It’s not that Sony doesn’t know the auto industry. Part of what makes the concept plausible is that Sony is present in so many different car components, including semiconductors, gaming and entertainment services, and electronics.
But this is part of the problem: Based on all of its existing ingredients, Sony should be a leading tier-one automotive supplier. But in the annual ranking of top 100 automotive suppliers published by Automotive News, the Sony name doesn’t appear once. It’s a problem of both substance and style; Sony has never presented a unified “supplier” face to the auto industry and has probably missed out on billions by not unifying all the various Sony pieces into solutions for car manufacturers.
Any tier-one supplier who attempts to become an actual car manufacturer takes on existential risk vis-a-vis their existing customers. The last time a supplier tried was in the 2008-2010 financial crisis, when GM, in a fit of desperation, arranged to sell its German carmaker Opel to the supplier Magna. The deal even had Angela Merkel’s support, but was ultimately torpedoed, partially by VW, who made it very clear that it would stop all contracts if Magna opted to compete head-on with VW. While the industry has gotten much more comfortable with co-opetition since then, it’s hard to imagine the likes of GM, Geely, Daimler, and Stellantis being excited about working with Sony on leading-edge supply agreements if Sony was simultaneously selling its own cars.
What Sony’s CES announcement ultimately comes down to is something Sony has struggled with before: getting various parts of its sprawling empire to cooperate. Many have noted, for example, that Sony should have arguably been the birthplace of the iPod based on its experience in music and consumer electronics. If it takes an audacious CES announcement to get the various elements of Sony to work together as a genuine tier-one auto supplier, so be it.