Seeing Through The Stealth
While one US president seemed to think stealth aircraft are truly invisible, that’s not really the case. Sure, they may be somewhat invisible to radar, but if you see one in the hangar or see it flying overhead, it will be perfectly visible to the human eye. Even the most advanced and high-flying stealth drones can be seen if someone looks carefully enough.
Let’s take a more careful look at Foxtron’s stealth bomber, and see what there is to see.
The surface of the iceberg would be Foxconn’s partnership with Yulon. Foxconn owns 51% of their Foxtron joint venture. While Foxconn has a lot of experience with manufacturing, supply chains, governmental relations, and squeezing labor, Yulon has the automotive experience.
Like Foxconn, Yulon started out building things designed by other companies. It initially started by building copies of Willys Jeeps under license. Next, they partnered with Nissan to build copies of its cars, rebranded with its own badging. Over the years, it has also worked to assemble vehicles from various other manufacturers using knockdown kits, but it didn’t rebrand any of these. Decades of building other people’s designs eventually led to them designing their own vehicles in the 1990s and again from 2009 to present.
These two companies were able to go from partnership to production of three prototypes in one year, with the reveal of the three prototypes last month at the Hon Hai (Foxconn) Tech Day.
I know this is a 5-hour video, but don’t worry if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing. I watched it, so you don’t really have to.
What Foxtron Actually Announced Last Month
First off, it was clear right from the beginning that the prototypes weren’t typical auto industry prototypes or concept cars. They were “reference prototypes” meant not for the company itself to bring to production, but to show what Foxtron can do.
Everyone knows that Foxconn and Yulon can design and build cars. That capability was never in any real doubt. The real thing they had to prove was that they could work together to design and build not only EVs, but also use a common platform to build EVs that were very different from each other. Creating a luxury sedan, a crossover, and a bus — all on the same platform — allowed them to prove this.
Foxtron does intend to sell these vehicles starting in the next 2–3 years in Taiwan, but that’s only a very small part of the story here.
If you go to Foxtron’s website, it looks nothing like Tesla’s website. You don’t see a single car on sale, pre-orders for upcoming models, or anything like that. Instead, you’ll find this:
The main thing it’s selling is its work, not its products. From plans, to styling, to engineering, to prototyping, to development, to production, it’s available for any or all of those steps. In theory, you could work with the company to design a new vehicle on its platform and have the company produce a finished product for you to sell to customers.
If you don’t want to use Foxtron for the whole process, it’s also happy to sell you key components for you to use in a vehicle of your own design, driving skateboards, and other partial vehicle solutions.
If this was the whole story (it’s not), this alone would play to Foxconn’s strengths. It has proven to be very adept at not just manufacturing, but solving new manufacturing problems and designing for manufacture. Any gaps in their general manufacturing knowledge that don’t apply to the automotive world are plugged by Yulon’s experience both in the automotive industry and in building its own vehicles.
On top of that, it is used to working in low-margin industries (and the automotive world is a low-margin industry). Many other companies getting into electric cars have charged in with high expectations, only to find that the money just isn’t there like they thought it was. Foxconn has been living in that trench for decades, and probably looks at companies going through “production hell” like the guy in the “Mmmm. First time?” meme. The execs would probably feel like a fish out of water if the profits got too good.
But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
An Open Platform, And Open Alliance To Contribute To It
Nobody should doubt Foxtron’s ability to build supply chains. Both parent companies (Foxconn and Yulon) would have disappeared decades ago if they couldn’t build supply chains to feed their factories and brand customers to buy what comes out of them. That’s not a problem at all.
But, it has decided to make it easier for its customers to build a custom supply chain in concert with Foxtron, and the company’s making it easier for potential suppliers to join these supply chains through open platforms and an open alliance. The MIH Consortium runs the Open EV Alliance, and anybody can join. Yes, literally anybody. They even let me join (I could potentially help a non-English speaking company improve its marketing, as I speak a little Mandarin).
This not only makes everyone’s job easier and helps everyone get involved in good business relationships with other companies, but also helps make sure that everyone has good working relationships as they contribute to the platform and other efforts companies are making in the EV market.
Foxtron Really Could Become A Dominant Player
When you consider the history of Foxconn and Yulon, their plan to become a huge player in the EV market doesn’t seem so unrealistic.
The history shows that they’ve got not only the chops to play in the market, but the experience operating in austere conditions. Even if there’s not a lot of per-unit profit to be made, they know how to keep a company running lean and efficient to do better than break even. More importantly, their ability to build business relationships is going to be a big deal. Finding companies to sell the EVs to the end customer and taking care of most or all of the rest puts them in a position to focus on the basics and get things done like they always do.
There are many automotive manufacturers who just aren’t doing a lot with EVs and will have a LOT of catchup work to do in the next decade. The prospect of being able to do what Apple and Dell did, and just hire a lot of it out, will help the industry transition more quickly as it hits tipping points, will prevent some companies from going under, and will put Foxtron in a very good position.
By 2035 or so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the company doing what its doing now in the electronics industry, become a household company without the household name — also taking over your garage this time.
Featured image by the United States Air Force (Public Domain).
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