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The Porsche-Volkswagen Situation May Be Too Complex for Its Own Good

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Volkswagen and Porsche’s weird financial and corporate setup are getting a little too strange to get a grip on, the UAW isn’t happy about Hyundai and alleged child labor, and BMW and Amazon Web Services are teaming up for vehicle data software. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Friday, October 14, 2022.

1st Gear: Too Confusing to Fail

The wacky Germans in charge of Volkswagen and Porsche have made the whole situation between the companies (or company depending on how you look at it) such that it can be hard to tell who is really running what. That could mean issues for the companies and for Germany as a whole, according to the Financial Times.

In the short- and medium-term, it’s reported that the massive conglomerate is more stable than ever before because of last month’s minority stake IPO of Porsche (VW still owns 75 percent). It raised billions in cash for the company. However, the good times may not last forever. From the FT:

After the listing of Porsche AG, investors seeking exposure to the Volkswagen empire can now choose between buying equity in four different listed entities: the overall group (Volkswagen AG), its sports car brand (Porsche AG), its trucks business (Traton SE) and a holding company that owns the Porsche-Piëch clan’s voting stock in Volkswagen AG and Porsche AG (Porsche SE).

These are bound together in a web of cross-shareholdings effectively controlled by the Porsche-Piëch family through its grip on voting shares. The listed companies are notionally independent and run by separate executive boards overseen by their respective supervisory boards. But be in no doubt — the shots are called by the Porsche-Piëch clans.

An overlap in personnel across the group’s eight different boards highlights and reinforces this grip. Eleven individuals — nine of them men — hold positions on boards of at least two different companies.

All of that is to say that what is going on inside the VW-Porsche empire is confusing and strange as hell. It also, apparently, will be detrimental to keeping overhead costs down and will raise questions over conflicts of interest.

Just take a look at the roles of Lutz Meschke, chief financial officer of Porsche AG. It might be in Porsche AG’s interests to keep dividends low to preserve cash. But as head of investment management at Porsche SE, he might want to receive as much payments from Porsche AG as possible.

Advisors to the group state that the relationship between Volkswagen, Porsche and the other entities is clearly legally defined. Prior to the Porsche AG IPO, a legal agreement that gave Volkswagen full control over the cash flows and day-to-day decisions at Porsche AG was cancelled. Without such a pact, the management is required under German law to pursue the best interest of the whole corporation.

However, the Porsche-Piëch clan and VW could put a new agreement in place with the stroke of a pen given its voting rights. This might be a purely theoretical option as such a move would be likely to hit investor confidence. But should the preferences of the family change, there might be little external shareholders can do against it.

So, uh, yeah. There’s too much going on here. Only time will tell what this extremely chaotic (and not very organized) corporate structure will mean for the company. God bless ‘em, because my head hurts now.

2nd Gear: Child Labor is Still Bad

This may be hard to believe, but the United Auto Workers’ union isn’t thrilled that Hyundai Group was found to be using a supplier that allegedly hired underage workers. Shocking, I know.

The Korean company reportedly has ties to an Alabama parts maker that the Department of Labor alleged used child labor.

“Exploitation of children is shameful in any circumstance, but it is especially distressing to see it take place at a supplier to a major automotive company such as Hyundai,” Ray Curry, UAW President, said in a statement. From Bloomberg:

The Department of Labor ordered SL Alabama LLC to cease production and shipment of components allegedly manufactured by children aged 13-15 employed at its Alexander City, Alabama, parts facility, according to an Oct. 11 statement. The federal government fined SL Alabama LLC $30,076 and the Alabama Department of Labor levied a separate fine on the company and a temporary employment agency of $17,800 each for child labor violations.

Hyundai said it will work to monitor operations of its suppliers and noted in an emailed statement that SL Alabama has “changed its leadership and introduced additional screening methods to ensure its labor practices are consistent with local, state and federal law.” SL Alabama and Kia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hyundai had previously said in July that it was “unaware of any evidence” of child labor being used at another Alabama parts facility, after Reuters reported Smart Alabama LLC employed immigrant workers as young as 12. Smart Alabama has denied it knowingly employed anyone ineligible for employment.

Another factor leading to the UAW’s pissed off-ness is the fact that the automaker’s factories in Alabama and Georgia aren’t unionized. This has reportedly even led to President Biden admonishing the company.

Just as a quick refresher: child labor bad, union work good.

3rd Gear: BMW and Amazon Team Up for Your Data

Amazon Web Services and BMW are coming together to create a new cloud-based software meant to deliver and manage data made by connected vehicles.

The software is reportedly meant to aggregate data from the vehicle from a number of sources. It’s all being done in an effort to speed up the development of new features and make software life cycle management a bit better. According to Amazon, the software will provide new features for the driver and vehicle with over-the-air updates.

So, Amazon and BMW are harvesting your data, but it’s for a good cause, according to them. From Automotive News:

The software automatically collects vehicle data in real time, examines the health of the source and manages access to the data to meet governance policies, AWS said. It uses AWS security protocols and process the data according to privacy requirements and individual client preferences.

AWS processing capabilities such as analytics, machine learning, and computing allow BMW Group to use the data to develop new vehicle features and applications. Only specialists in BMW Group divisions such as data science, artificial intelligence, business intelligence and vehicle application development will have access to the data, AWS said.

Neue Klasse will process around three times the vehicle data compared to the current generation of connected BMW vehicles, said Nicolai Krämer, vice president of Vehicle Connectivity Platforms for BMW Group.

BMW is going to be the first company to use this new software, but it will reportedly be offered to other automakers as time goes on. In theory, it’ll add features like enhanced electric vehicle range and leaned autonomous operation (yeah, sure).

4th Gear: Stellantis Pays Up in California Emissions Probe

Stellantis’s unit in the United States, FCA U.S., has to pay a $5.6 million penalty to resolve an investigation in California pertaining to violations of air quality regulations.

According to the California Air Resource Board (CARB), 30,600 Stellantis-made vehicles (2012-2018 Ram 1500s, Jeep Grand Cherokees, and Dodge Durangos with the 5.7-liter HEMI V8) didn’t comply with emission standards in the state. From Reuters:

FCA will pay a $2.8 million civil penalty and $2.8 million to bring more electric school buses to schools in the South Coast Air Basin. CARB said FCA cooperated with the investigation into the emissions issue discovered during state testing.

“This case is a perfect example of why CARB’s compliance testing is so important in protecting the state’s air quality and public health,” Steve Cliff, CARB Executive Officer, said.

Stellantis said Thursday: “While we accept responsibility, this does not reflect our strategy for the future,” noting that it was working to introduce 25 U.S. electric vehicles by 2030.

In a separate emissions probe, FCA US in June pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and agreed to pay about $300 million in a plea agreement to resolve a U.S. Justice Department diesel emissions fraud investigation.

The Justice Department said FCA US installed deceptive software features to avoid regulatory scrutiny and fraudulently help the diesel vehicles meet required emissions standards.

FCA US previously paid a $311 million civil penalty and paid over $183 million in compensation to more than 63,000 people as part of a class-action diesel lawsuit.

This latest settlement is FCA’s second in California in the past four years. Back in 2018, the company settled for $500 million ($78 million went to California) penalty because of “defeat device software” meant to get around emissions testing on over 100,000 diesel vehicles nationwide.

5th Gear: Lufthansa CEO Optimistic About Air Travel Demand

Japan’s re-opening to tourists and a rise in demand for business travel is spelling good news for the air travel industry, according to Lufthansa’s CEO. However, that sector isn’t nearly out of the woods just yet.

“There is no reason for pessimism,” Carsten Spohr said. He added that he also expects China to gradually re-open following its Communist Party Congress, which kicks off on Sunday.

There are still a few issues facing the industry: namely the war in Ukraine, inflation, and fears of a recession. From Reuters:

In Europe, most airline stocks have plunged over the last six months, some by as much as 50%, over worries that rising household bills will dampen appetite for travel.

Lufthansa expects to reach 87% of its pre-pandemic capacity in 2023 after 75% this year, he said, adding that some 86% of seats on the German flagship carrier’s planes were now filled.

Lufthansa expects to reach 87% of its pre-pandemic capacity in 2023 after 75% this year, he said, adding that some 86% of seats on the German flagship carrier’s planes were now filled.

“We have finally left the crisis behind, after two and a half years,” the airline CEO said.

Reverse: Cool Guy Chuck

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