Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Google's Waymo To Use Chinese Geely Robotaxi Body. This Should Send Shivers Into Western OEMs

Yes, yes, it's Alphabet's Waymo but Alphabet is a stupid name.

And speaking of stupid, last week I was asked about elections in China. I had to explain they don't have elections in China. Hong Kong recently held elections for the city's legislature, a throwback to the city-state's British-colonial history,  but the Chinese Communist Party only allowed candidates they had vetted to run. Pro-Beijing candidates won in a landslide. As to the rest of China, they don't have elections.

Oddly enough, Google's senior vice-president of global affairs Kent Walker spoke out on changes to Georgia's election laws last April: "...We're concerned about efforts to restrict voting at a local level..."

CBS News, whose parent Viacom also spoke out on the Georgia law compiled a list of the major changes in the Georgia legislation. It appears the most onerous is a new requirement to include your Georgia state ID number on your absentee ballot form and/or the last four digits of your social security number.

Again, voting is not allowed in China
And not a peep out of the GOOG.*

To trot out our sometimes tagline: "The Less Virtue, The More Signaling."

From Forbes, December 28:

Waymo announced today it will integrate its technology into a robotaxi base from Chinese manufacturer Geely. Geely owns Volvo and this vehicle was designed in Sweden, it will be under the Geely Zeekr brand and most likely be manufactured in China. China has been, for several years now, the leading car manufacturing country in the world but its cars are not seen very often in western countries and particularly not in the USA.

Up to this point, western OEMs have not faced much competition from Chinese makers. Chinese cars are not made to fit US Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards and can’t be sold in the USA. Chinese brands have no reputation, or even have a negative reputation compared to top western brands — that’s even true in China though it’s been changing there.

Brand is important. Surveys suggest that the nameplate on a car is the top factor in a consumer’s choice of what car to buy. (They say it’s safety when you ask them, but actual buying choices are based on several other things, including brand, performance, cost, luxury and several others.) Maintaining good reputations for their brands has been essential to keeping market position for all major global brands.

This is why the shift to robotaxi is frightening to car OEMs. Customers don’t care a lot about the brand of the car that picks them up. While you might choose between Uber UBER -0.2%, Uber Select or Uber Black to set the level of car, you don’t care whether your Uber Select is a Lexus PLXS +1% or a Mercedes. You don’t care much at all what your Uber is. So while people might not be ready to buy a Geely or SAIC car in the USA, they won’t care about this when taking a ride. The brand they might care about is Waymo, and that brand will be on this vehicle.

It gets even worse for the OEMs. One way the top brands have gotten their reputations is by making quality, highly reliable cars. Chinese manufacturers are new to the game. They make lower cost cars but may not have yet reached the quality levels of a BMW, Mercedes or Toyota. When people buy cars, they care a lot about whether the car is going to break down or not. When your car breaks down, even if it’s under warranty, it’s a major burden. You can get stranded. You have to arrange to get the car to the shop. You’re possibly out a car while it’s in the shop or have to arrange a loaner. On top of all that is the cost of the repair if it’s not under warranty. It’s a bad day and people pay a lot to get cars from the brands that break down less often....

*You could write that introduction for every story on 200-or-so multi-billion multinationals, BlackRock, Coke, JPMorgan, Facebook, and on and on and on. In fact, stealing an idea from Investment Hulk:

I think he stole the pic from StockCats, but the thought is unique to him (well him and a couple billion other people)

Just for grins and giggles: Warren Buffett signed a declaration against discriminatory voting rules that ran across two pages of the New York Times and Washington Post in April. The declaration begins:

We Stand For Democracy
A government of the people by the people for the people

Berkshire Hathaway's 2009 investment in China's largest electric vehicle company, BYD, for $232 million was valued in the last annual report at $5.9 billion. That one was Charlie Munger's idea.

Here's our contemporaneous post:

Berkshire Takes 9.9% Stake in China Electric-car Maker BYD (BRK.A; 1211 [Hong Kong])

China has been very good to Mr. Buffet. But there are zero voting rights in China.

So much for A government of the peeps, by the peeps etc.