The Center for Automotive Research is an independent non-profit organization that started life as part of the University of Michigan. Its mission is to promote dialogue between auto industry groups and government agencies. Last week, at a Management Briefing Seminar panel discussion that focused on relations between the auto industry and its suppliers, Inga Von Seelen, senior vice president for purchasing at Volkswagen of America, told those in attendance her company is evaluating sites in the US for an assembly plant to build electric pickup trucks.
“We have a lot of growth potential, which is why we are looking at sites for a new plant for pickup trucks and batteries. It would be an electric pickup truck. Overall, I still see growth in the market. We, with our brands Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen, have huge potential in the US,” she said, according to industry news source Wards Auto.
Von Seelen did not offer any further information about when her company might decide on a site. Neither did she reveal any hints about what sort of electric pickup the company has in mind. Will it be the size of a Ford F-150 Lightning, a Chevrolet Silverado EV, or a Ram 1500 EV? Or will it be more of a “lifestyle” vehicle like the Rivian R1T, the Honda Ridgeline, or Toyota Tacoma?
Volkswagen does have a midsize pickup called the Amarok it sells in many world markets other than North America. It is rumored to be collaborating with Ford on the development of a new midsize pickup truck similar to the newly released Maverick. And then there is the new Scout division, about which hardly anything is known other than a teaser graphic released a few months ago showing two vehicles — a compact SUV and a pickup with a short bed. Might that new Volkswagen factory for pickup trucks be where Scout-branded vehicles are manufactured? When we know more, you will know more.
Making Vehicles Ain’t Easy
The panel discussion where Van Seelen made her remarks was entitled, “Supplier Relations: Finding Success Amid Risks and Scarcity.” She said Volkswagen, like all automakers today, is grappling with issues such as labor, inflation, access to critical materials, and other logistical issues.
“A clear challenge is raw material,” Von Seelen added. “The cost of energy also is an issue, and the Volkswagen Group is trying to keep ahead of the myriad financial challenges facing Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers with more transparency and greater communication.”
Pat D’Eramo, CEO of Martinrea International, told the group,“We are a stamper (of chassis, body and other metal components) and welder. It has been a very difficult two or three years. Every week we have a bankrupt Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier in Europe. Everyone recognizes EV volumes are at risk. We cannot invest in every EV out there. You have to decide which ones you think will be winners.”
Suppliers would not necessarily benefit from a boom in EV sales that would strain capacity and exacerbate a tight labor market. A period of stable schedules and moderate growth would benefit everyone, he said. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which may boost demand for electric cars and trucks, such a period of stability and moderate growth may not be in the cards.
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