White House Investigates Chinese Cars with Connected Tech

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White House Investigates Chinese Cars with Connected Tech

We’re all familiar with those little dongles offered by insurance companies that plug into your car’s OBD2 port to gather data for adjusting your insurance rates. But what other information does your car collect? Could it know where you like to dine, work out, or even your preferred scenic route home? As Mark Twain might quip, “There’s gold in them thar cars.” This is one reason why America is growing increasingly wary of Chinese-made cars.

Welcome to Critical Materials, your daily briefing on all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we delve into the U.S. launching an investigation into Chinese technology found in connected cars due to concerns over data collection and potential exploitation.

In other news, Stellantis is exploring the possibility of manufacturing its own EV batteries, while Aston Martin has opted to postpone the release of its inaugural battery-electric vehicle. Let’s dive in.

30%: U.S. Launches Probe into Chinese Connected Car Tech Due to National Security Concerns

On Thursday, the Biden administration confirmed its intention to launch an investigation into connected vehicles incorporating Chinese technology. National security concerns are cited as the driving force behind the probe, with a focus on the potential exploitation of vehicle systems and the collection of significant data related to U.S. infrastructure.

President Joe Biden issued the following statement:

These cars are connected to our phones, to navigation systems, to critical infrastructure, and to the companies that made them. Connected vehicles from China could collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People’s Republic of China.

The U.S. Commerce Department will lead the investigation, with the road ahead anticipated to be challenging. The department’s initial steps will involve soliciting input from industry stakeholders and seeking feedback on potential actions to be taken.

Specifically, concerns revolve around vulnerabilities in systems found in connected cars, including those responsible for transmitting telematics data, driver assistance features capable of controlling acceleration and steering, as well as EV powertrain and battery systems. There are worries that these systems could be exploited by independent or nation-state cyber threat actors.

White House economic advisor Lael Brainard highlighted the remote enablement capabilities of many vehicles and expressed concerns about potential exploitation, particularly those with technologies sourced from China. Brainard emphasized that China imposes restrictions on connected vehicles, permitting operation only if they provide data to Chinese entities and use Chinese software exclusively.

Amid concerns about Chinese-built cars entering the U.S. market, lawmakers, auto manufacturers, and industry trade groups are sounding alarms over the possibility of “an extinction-level event for America’s auto industry.” They fear that tariff-dodging automakers could flood the market with foreign-made vehicles, potentially introducing exploitable technology onto U.S. soil. The ongoing investigation serves as one tool in America’s arsenal to address these concerns.

It’s important to clarify that the U.S. has no plans to outright ban Chinese EVs. However, the probe aims to provide insights into the impact of potential data collection, a practice already employed by China in its domestic connected cars, and the risk of exploitation.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo underscored the seriousness of the issue, stating, “It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out how a foreign adversary like China—with access to this sort of information at scale—could pose a serious risk to our national security and the privacy of U.S. citizens.”

60%: Stellantis CEO Calls for In-House Battery Production

When it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), one of the costliest components is undoubtedly the cells nestled within their sizable battery packs. With consumers demanding long-range EVs featuring the latest battery technology, it’s no wonder that larger battery capacities translate to more cells, more expenses, and increased weight.

Aware of the financial complexities involved in venturing into battery production, most automakers opt to outsource this aspect to established battery manufacturers like Panasonic, CATL, and Samsung SDI. However, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares sees this reliance on external suppliers as problematic.

Currently, only two automakers, Tesla and BYD, have developed and produce their own cells, both ranking among the largest automakers globally in terms of volume. Tavares asserts that Stellantis should follow suit and establish its own cell manufacturing capabilities to cater to the needs of its future EV lineup.

According to Tavares’ statement to Car and Driver:

The EVs we are making right now, they need to solve a very major issue, which is that you cannot add 1000 pounds of additional weight to every car.

The big challenge of the next generation of EVs, from my perspective, is to make them lighter—with the same amount of energy to protect the range. 500 miles [per charge for the U.S. market] should be okay.

Stellantis already possesses a 45% stake in Automotive Cells Company (ACC), a joint venture with Mercedes-Benz and TotalEnergies. CEO Tavares appears to anticipate leveraging ACC to advance new battery technologies and chemistries across future battery generations, potentially providing the company with a foothold in the battery market.

Tavares asserts that enhancing energy density in vehicle batteries will result in reduced weight and overall vehicle costs. This reduction in cost is expected to stimulate vehicle demand by offering more competitive prices.

Furthermore, Tavares envisions evolving battery chemistry to utilize more readily available raw materials, further lowering costs and enhancing sustainability over time.

90%: Consumers, Aston Martin Delays First BEV Blame

Consumers, it seems you’re in the hot seat. Aston Martin’s much-anticipated debut of its first fully electric car will have to wait, and it’s all because of you. Aston Martin Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll recently confirmed that the launch of the rumored battery-electric four-door grand tourer will be postponed due to insufficient consumer interest.

Stroll remarked, “The consumer demand for BEVs, especially at an Aston Martin price point, isn’t what we anticipated two years ago,” during the review of the company’s 2023 fiscal results.

Instead, Stroll notes a considerably higher demand for hybrids over full-fledged BEVs. Aston Martin’s customer base seems to still favor the sensation of a gas-powered sports car. Perhaps Dodge’s approach of simulating engine vibration was onto something. While it may not replicate the aroma of burnt fuel or the distinctive sounds of exhaust pipes, it’s a step in the right direction.

Aston Martin’s partnership with U.S. EV startup Lucid to develop its EVs was anticipated to propel its electric vehicle ambitions. Lucid’s provision of powertrain technology, including the rear drive unit, battery, modules, and software for integration, was a significant step forward. However, despite the technological advancements, Aston Martin’s delay in launching its electric vehicles isn’t attributed to technical challenges but rather to consumer demand, as stated by Stroll.

While the launch of the 998-horsepower Aston Martin Valhalla hybrid supercar remains on schedule for later this year, the debut of its four electric vehicles—previously confirmed by Stroll as new models—will be postponed.

100%: Your Thoughts: In-Car Data Privacy – How Worried Are You?

In today’s digital age, concerns over in-car data privacy are mounting. The once-held expectation of privacy has been eroded, with our phones tracking our every move, web browsers logging our online activities, and companies analyzing our personal data for targeted marketing. Personal Identifiable Information has become a commodity for marketers, further blurring the lines of privacy.

With the advent of connected cars, our vehicles now possess a wealth of personal information, raising questions about data privacy. Automakers are exploring ways to integrate consumer purchasing directly into the in-car ecosystem, and even tire manufacturers are leveraging telematics data to predict tire replacement schedules.

Given these developments, how concerned are you about the digital footprint left by your car? Would you be willing to sacrifice certain connected features to safeguard your data? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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