November 21, 2017 News of the Day: Tesla Allowing Reservation Holders to Configure Their Model 3s, Key Safety Systems Signs Deal to Acquire Airbag Maker Takata for $1.6 Billion

Author: Eric Walz   

Tesla Allowing Reservation Holders to Configure Their Model 3s

SAN FRANCISCO — The long wait for a Tesla Model 3 electric car may be getting shorter. Tesla has started notifying non-employees Model 3 reservation holders to configure their cars.

A Tesla spokesman said in a text message Tuesday that the company began sending invitations to depositors outside the company's employee base to design the Model 3. The car starts at $35,000 before options or incentives and is pivotal to CEO Elon Musk's attempt to transition Tesla from a niche player to high-volume automaker.

Some Model 3 options are paint color, wheel size, enhanced Autopilot feature, long-range battery, and the premium package, which includes a glass roof.

Model 3 production has been stalled by bottlenecks both at Tesla's assembly plant in California and its battery factory near Reno, Nevada. In the third quarter, the company built only 260 of the cars, well short of its 1,500-unit forecast. Initial deliveries were reserved for Tesla employees, investors and close friends of the company.

The Model 3 Owners Club, an online forum, tweeted Tuesday that one of its members, a current Tesla owner who is not an employee, was invited to configure his vehicle and was told delivery would take about four weeks.

India-based Mahindra Opens Detroit Headquarter, Looks to sell EVs in U.S.

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DETROIT — Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, one of India's oldest vehicle manufacturers, is testing autonomous tractors, trucks and cars, while moving closer to bringing electric vehicles to the United States, Chairman Anand Mahindra said on Monday.

The company, which celebrated the opening of a new North American headquarters north of Detroit with a ribbon-cutting on Monday, is considering when to begin U.S. sales of the vehicles, Anand Mahindra said in an interview. Mahindra's managing director described a similar ambition earlier this month.

Mahindra is weighing whether the vehicles should carry its own brand or those of its affiliates Pininfarina, the famed Italian design house; and Ssangyong, a Korean manufacturer of utility and crossover vehicles, he added.Mahindra & Mahindra bought Ssangyong in 2011 and Pininfarina in 2015. The Indian parent is collaborating with both companies on developing electric vehicles, including premium models for Pininfarina that likely would compete with Tesla.

Earlier this year, Autocar India reported that Pininfarina was developing a family of electric vehicles for China's Hybrid Kinetic Group that includes the elegant H600 hybrid sedan, as well as its own electric supercar, the H2 Speed Concept. It's also working on a supercar with Emerson Fittipaldi.

Mahindra's Auburn Hills auto plant is the first one to open in the region in 25 years. The expansion is part of a $230 million investment in Southeast Michigan that also includes a recently-opened warehouse and logistics operation in Pontiac and an existing prototype operation in Troy.

Key Safety Systems Signs Deal to Acquire Airbag Maker Takata for $1.6 Billion

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DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. is signing a signed a definitive agreement to sell most of its assets to a Chinese-owned rival.

Key Safety Systems of suburban Detroit will pay $1.6 billion (175 billion yen) in a deal expected to close early next year. The company is owned by Ningbo Joyson Electronic, described as a "Chinese automotive conglomerate" that acquired Key Safety Systems in 2016 for $920 million.

The companies reached an understanding on the sale in June. Key Safety will get all Takata assets but those making replacement airbag inflators. Takata will continue to run those operations until they close.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force and spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers. Vehicles made by 19 different automakers were recalled to replace frontal airbags on the driver's side or passenger's side, or both in what NHTSA has called "the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history." The Takata airbags were installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2015.

Much of the money will go to pay a $1 billion penalty from a U.S. criminal fraud case. The deal is a key part of Takata's bankruptcy cases filed last summer in the U.S. and Japan.

Former GM Exec Bob Lutz Claimed Tesla is "Going out of business" During CNBC Appearance

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Following Tesla's flashy unveiling of its electric semi and second-generation Roadster last week, former General motors chief Bob Lutz appeared on CNBC and claimed the event was merely a distraction from the manufacturing problems it's experiencing with the Model 3.

The automaker has been struggling to ramp-up production of the $35,000 sedan and failed to meet its third-quarter delivery targets, and Lutz thinks the semi event was a way to drum up hype and raise capital amid hard times.

"The company, folks, is going out of business," Lutz said. At this rate they'll never get to 2019." "They are hemorrhaging cash. They're going to have to go for another capital raise," he added.

Lutz has always been an outspoken and harsh critic of Tesla, but his statements have some weight. Well established brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and GM are better versed in vehicle manufacturing and will have a myriad of EVs available soon, which could take a big bite out of Tesla's sales. This is will be especially true if the company cannot work out the porduction bottlenecks with the Model 3.

"There is no secret sauce in Tesla," Lutz said, referencing other automaker's competing battery electric tech. "They use the same lithium-ion batteries as everybody else."

Luckily for Tesla, it has enough of a jump on the competition for there to be a large gap between the Model 3 and the arrival of the next worthy competing product. However, Tesla fans are still holding out hope that Elon Musk can deliver on his promise of building 5,000 Model 3's a week by the end of the first-quarter of 2018.

Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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