Way back at the dawn of the EV era (roughly 12 years ago), traditional automakers worried that in the brave new world of electric cars, they would become merely assemblers of components sourced from a multitude of suppliers — from battery manufacturers to makers of motors and touchscreens. They could foresee a time when they stopped being true manufacturers as they were in the good old days when every car company made its own engines and transmissions.
Fast forward a dozen years and Foxconn is charting a course toward becoming a key assembler for the world’s major manufacturers. Most customers really don’t much care where their new cars are built; they just want them to take them where they want to go reliably and safely. In fact, there is a whole industry largely unknown to the public that assembles cars for name-brand companies.
Canada’s Magna International is one. It makes the Jaguar I-Pace as well as a number of other vehicles. Geely has expressed an interest in being a contract manufacturer and China’s Guangxi Automobile Group has started to make EVs under contract for Japan’s Sagawa Express Co. Even Volkswagen Group is getting in on the act, offering its MEB electric car chassis to other manufacturers. Ford says it will offer several EVs based on that platform to its customers in Europe soon.
Many readers may assume this is a niche market, but Goldman Sachs estimates that EV outsourcing will result in the manufacture of 800,000 EVs worth $36 billion in 2025 and 3.2 million EVs worth $144 billion in 2030. That represents some serious business for those who can step up to meet the demand.
Foxconn On The Hunt For Customers
Foxconn now owns GM’s former Lordstown factory in Ohio, a facility that is capable of cranking out 330,000 vehicles a year at full capacity (more with overtime). It is currently making a trickle of Endurance electric trucks for Lordstown Motors and expects to build the Fisker Ocean there as well. But those two products will use only a small part of the capacity of that factory. Foxconn is on the hunt for other business. Foxconn would like to build around 300,000 EVs at the plant, Ian Upton, director of production control at Foxconn Ohio, told Reuters recently. “We would love to find a customer that’s in the 250,000-or-so range and then we can fill up some of the other stuff with niche type things.”
“The results of many of our collaborations will be realized one after the other in 2023,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. “The demand for EVs is driving industry disruption where prominent traditional automakers have and are pivoting to finding solutions for mobility that are cleaner and smarter.” The company’s proposition is simple: let us build your next EV. It has hired a former Nissan executive, Jun Seki, to lead its US manufacturing program. Vehicles assembled at Lordstown will be eligible for federal incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, provided all the other provisions regarding the source of battery materials and components are met.
That could be appealing to some companies that don’t currently have a US manufacturing facility of their own. Building new factories from scratch is expensive and takes years before the first cars start rolling off the assembly line.
The Foxconn Mobility In Harmony Platform
Foxconn is counting on its Mobility in Harmony EV platform, which it calls its “Android system for EVs.” The thinking is that if it is able to standardize the primary systems needed to manufacture electric automobiles, it will be able to quickly and cheaply adapt them to build a wide range of models for a variety of customers. This is similar to the plan hatched by Canoo to make “skateboards” that contain all the components necessary for an electric vehicle and then plunk a completed body — which Canoo calls a “top hat” — on top of of it.
“We want to create that kind of ecosystem so anyone — for example, like United Airlines — can say, ‘I want to make a car,’” Foxconn chief product officer Jerry Hsiao told Reuters recently during a tour of the Lordstown factory. Hsiao worked on the first Android phone for Google and now sees EVs at a similar commercial inflection point.
Foxconn’s ambitions are aggressive. Initially, it is targeting five percent of the global EV market and the equivalent of $33 billion in revenue from manufacturing EVs and components by 2025. It’s longer term goal is to make nearly half the world’s EVs. Five percent of the market, assuming an EV adoption rate of 20% by 2025, would be about 900,000 vehicles.
Foxconn already supplies parts to Tesla and makes camera modules for automakers and suppliers. “They can probably buy things cheaper than anyone on earth,” Raymond Tsang, a partner in Bain & Company, said.
No one can accuse Foxconn of setting its expectations too low. 50% of the global EV market? That certainly is a big ask. It may remind some readers of the enormous touchscreen factory in Wisconsin promoted by Foxconn, Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The 20 million square foot factory was expected to provide jobs for 13,000 US workers. Wisconsin promised more than $4 billion in tax credits for Foxconn, cleared land by evicting people from their homes, and diverted water from Lake Michigan to support the factory. But it turned out that while Foxconn was putting on a great show, no LCD factory was actually getting built, even though Foxconn kept saying it was happening, according to The Verge.
Can we infer from this that the Lordstown scheme is yet another boondoggle designed to pad the corporate coffers of Foxconn with taxpayer dollars? No, it’s too early in the game to think such dark thoughts, but the old expression, “Once burned, twice shy,” does come to mind.
Maybe the electric cars of the future will be made by contract manufacturers like Foxconn with so-called automakers just slapping their corporate logos on the trunk lids/hatches before sending them off to dealers. The most anyone can say today is the car business is changing and there will be winners and losers as a result. Which category Foxconn winds up in remains to be seen.
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