When I first sounded the alarm about the leadership of GM and Ford a year ago this month, I knew nothing about Stellantis, the Amsterdam-based automaker. The company’s name alone made me skeptical. Stellantis sounds like the name of a disease, a deadly one at that. “OMG, I tested positive for Stellantis!”
The little I knew about Stellantis heightened my skepticism. The company was formed in January 2021 when SA Group and Fiat Chrysler completed their merger, creating the fourth-biggest automaker in the world by volume and third biggest by revenue. The company’s brands include Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Peugeot, and Vauxhall.
I’ve long been wary of Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep products, and I was doubtful that one company could successfully manage more than a dozen vehicle nameplates. Reading up on Stellantis and CEO Carlos Tavares I’ve fast learned that I was badly mistaken.
Tavares strikes me as the rare CEO I can believe in: A straight-talking, tough as nails leader unafraid to criticize government policies and pursue a contrarian and impolitic vision. That vision so far has put GM’s and Ford’s grandiose EV ambitions to shame.
The corporate and EV trade media aren’t fond of Tavares because he has been critical of government aggressive mandates to force people to drive electrical vehicles. Although EV sales have been on the rise in Europe and the U.S., Tavares says demand has been artificially induced by generous government subsidies. While many people claim to want to purchase EVs in the belief it will help the environment, Tavares says consumers don’t want to pay the significant 40 percent premium it costs to manufacture EVs.
Tavares has also warned there is currently an insufficient supply of raw materials required to manufacture enough EVs to meet the demand required to comply with government mandates. Tavares has a possible backup plan: Stellantis is also testing synthetic e-fuels, which are made with renewable energy, on 28 types of its internal combustion engines, a step it said could help decarbonise the company’s existing European fleet.
EV cultists will fast tell you that e-fuels are a pipe dream and that electric vehicles are absolutely, positively, not open to debate, the only solution to reducing automotive carbon emissions. Dare to question the significant environmental damage caused to manufacture EVs or the carbon emissions required to electrify the vehicles, EV cultists will immediately dismiss you as being a MAGA-supporting, climate change denier, and a likely a racist and transphobe to boot.
Tavaras knew he has no choice but to get with the EV program and he’s on board. Stellantis has committed to selling only EVs in Europe by 2030, five years ahead of the European Union’s mandate requiring zero emission vehicles. There appears to be demand for Stellantis’ EV products in Europe, where most of them are sold. In the first half of this year, Stelllantis’ global EV sales were up 24%.
Stellantis doesn’t yet sell any EVs in the U.S., hence the less-than-favorable media coverage the company receives. The company projects that half its North American vehicles will be electrified by the end of 2025. Even without EVs to sell yet in the U.S., Stellantis claims it is second in the U.S. for low-emission vehicle sales, citing S&P Global data. The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is America’s best-selling plug-in hybrid, with the Grand Cherokee 4xe at No. 2 and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid at No. 4. Dodge, Ram and Alfa Romeo brands ranked in the top three spots in the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS).
GM and Ford, despite all the media hype CEO Mary Barra and Ford CEO have generated with their lofty EV promises, so far are missing their marks by country miles. GM isn’t even close to its EV production goals, and Ford’s Lightnings and the electric Mustangs the company proudly assembles in Mexico are piling up on dealers’ lots, forcing the company to slash prices, offer sweetheart low financing, and cut back on its production.
Stellantis has ambitious EV plans that could put a dent in GM’s and Ford’s SUV and truck profits, which is where those companies make most of their money.
Stellantis expects its fully electric 2025 Ram 1500 REV pickup will be able to drive 500 miles on a single charge, matching the range Tesla claims its Cybertruck will have. By comparison, GM says its Chevrolet Silverado 1500 EV and GMC Sierra EV will have only 400 miles of range. Long-range versions of Ford’s electric Lightning pickup can only travel up to 320 miles on a charge.
The Ram REV will also be able to tow as much 14,000 pounds, according to Stellantis, matching Tesla’s claim for its Cybertruck. GM says its trucks will be able to pull a 10,000-pound trailer and Ford’s Lightning truck can pull a similar amount.
It’s been widely reported that the Lightning loses half its range when towing a trailer or in excessive heat or cold weather. Even if the Ram loses half its charge towing a trailer, it should still have a meaningful range advantage.
The environmental benefits of Ford’s Lightning are open to debate. Bloomberg traced the light metal Ford uses for its Lightning pickup to a refinery in Brazil accused of sickening thousands of people. The company also is building a lithium battery plant on fertile farmland in rural Marshall, MI, that’s opposed by residents because they say it could potentially damage their water supply and cause other environmental issues.
Stellantis’ radar for dumb government money is impressive. Ford duped Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer into giving the company $1.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies to build its $3.5 billion lithium battery plant, which supposedly will create 2,500 jobs.
The Canadian and Ontario governments have agreed to give Stellantis $15 billion CDN ($11.3 billion U.S.) in public support for an electric-vehicle battery plant in Windsor, across the border from Detroit. Stellantis says the plant will also create 2,500 jobs, but the company won’t have to pay significant healthcare costs because of Canada’s socialist medical system.
Underscoring Tavaras’ ruthlessness, Stellantis halted construction of the Windsor plant when it became concerned it wouldn’t get all the government handouts the company felt it was owed.
Stellantis appears progressive on the HR front. The Detroit News reported earlier this month that Stellantis has partnered with various schools and businesses, including Ohio State, Michigan’s Oakland University, and Amazon, to run training academies and teach employees the software skills the company needs to migrate to electric vehicles. Stellantis pays for the cost of the training.
“Basically, we’re getting paid to go back to school,” Adam Goodes, a Stellantis engineer who graduated from the data academy, told the News. “It just excelled everything that I was hoping for.”
Stellantis has yet to agree to adopt Tesla’s charging standard, and Tavaras validated my concern when I questioned the wisdom of Ford’s decision to do so.
“Any responsible carmaker will avoid by any means necessary putting his or her company at the dependence of a competitor,” Tavaras said in January, nearly six months before Ford surrendered to Tesla. GM quickly followed suit, and then Rivian and Mercedes felt compelled to also adopt the standard. That could force Stellantis to fall into line, an example how a weak competitor can cause industry harm.
It doesn’t appear that Tavares regards GM and Ford as his most threatening competitors, but rather Tesla and China’s automakers. He insists Stellantis is well positioned to compete.
Tavaras says Stellantis has a 14.4% percent profit margin, while Tesla’s profit margin has fallen to 10.5% from 17% because of aggressive cost cutting to maintain market share. He estimates GM’s profit margin at 8.3%, a tad higher than the margin Ford’s Farley says he’d be happy with.
“If we are racing for the bottom in terms of facing the Chinese with price cuts, Tesla will have problems with that strategy before we do, because we are more profitable than Tesla,” Tavaras said.
The U.S. is still in the early innings of EV conversion, and perhaps Barra and Farley will prove me wrong about my skepticism of their leadership. At this moment, my doubts are proving correct.
GM recently reported its rollout of EVs is going poorly and a trade publication reported that its Cadillac Lyriq is selling below its sticker price, despite limited supply. Ford’s EV rollout is so disastrous the company is curtailing its ambitions and considering manufacturing more hybrids, following Tavaras’ wisdom.
I’m no longer a choir of one doubting the EV leadership and capabilities of Barra and Farley.
G.M. is “way behind where they should be,” Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions, told the New York Times. “If they’re having trouble with the first wave of these new E.V.s, and if they can’t roll them out, that’s not good for the next wave of higher-volume models.”
A market analyst just published a blistering report about Farley and his EV grandiosity.
Tavaras is well compensated for his efforts. He received $26 million in 2022 compensation, and despite achieving a blowout year and beating market expectations, a few investors opposed the payout because it was significantly higher than European companies pay their CEOs.
Barra and Farley respectively received $29 million and $21 million in compensation last year.
Tavaras clearly doesn’t need my advice, but I still wonder if the Stellantis name isn’t a marketing and investor hindrance. If Tavaras keeps firing on all cylinders, I’ll think positive and imagine Stellantis as a disease that inflicts very successful and competent business executives and hope I get stricken with the ailment.