GM dealerships to get EV chargers from Blink in North America

EV charging network and equipment company Blink Charging said on Tuesday it would supply EV chargers at General Motors dealerships in the U.S. and Canada.

Blink said it would collaborate with facility services provider ABM Industries to supply its IQ 200 Level 2 chargers to dealerships across North America. The press release didn’t quantify how many units are being installed.

The company added that it had already shipped chargers to some GM dealerships in the U.S. and has orders in hand to supply more in the coming months.

Level 2 charging can generally provide a vehicle with about 18-28 miles of range per hour and is widely found in places of employment and commercial establishments.

GM, which currently makes the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, has agressive plans to deliver several EVs across its four brands in the next years.

Ford Credit: Stripe partnership to support e-commerce, aid reservations

A new partnership with Stripe will help Ford expand its capability for e-commerce and dealership transactions such as vehicle reservations, Ford Motor Credit said Monday.

The companies signed a five-year arrangement for Stripe to act as a “premier payment service provider” to Ford dealerships in North America and Europe, Ford Credit said. The captive finance company also has responsibility for other Ford payments.

“We have been working with Ford to reimagine our e-commerce payment infrastructure,” Ford Credit CEO Marion Harris said in a statement. “Stripe’s platform will help us deliver simpler, outstanding payment experiences in any channel customers choose and scale improvements faster.”

Ford Credit Chief Product Officer Julien Jacquet told Automotive News last week that the partnership with the digital financial platform provider would allow Ford to deliver new products and services to customers faster.

Stripe will help Ford manage payments as it unfolds new services such as subscriptions — “a complex, recurring payment use case” — under the Ford+ initiative, he said.

Ford CEO Jim Farley told a 2021 earnings call Ford+ involved an “always-on” strategy of constant interaction with customers and “building new capabilities like connected services to enrich the customer experience and drive recurring revenue streams.”

Ford Credit said Stripe would improve the efficiency of customer digital payments to dealerships related to ordering, reservations, digital services and electric vehicle charging. Stripe would permit Ford to send customer payments to the relevant local Ford or Lincoln dealership.

For dealerships, “the big one is reservations,” according to Jacquet.

Ford Credit spokeswoman Margaret Mellott said Ford’s partnership with Stripe could allow easy vehicle charging payments at the Blue Oval network.

“Immediately, your vehicle talks to the charger, to the network and to Ford, and automatically lets you know it paid for the transaction without you having to try and find your credit card,” she wrote in an email Friday.

Ford expects to start introducing Stripe’s technology in North America during the second half of this year. It will roll out to dealerships market by market, Jacquet said.

The Ford-Stripe arrangement supports commercial customer applications as well, such as a situation where an employee would charge an E-Transit at home and need reimbursement from the fleet owner. According to Mellott, this could be arranged without manual processing.

“These are complex payment models,” Jacquet said.

Harris told Automotive News the Stripe deal demonstrated another element of the Ford+ plan: relying on third-party providers for certain items, particularly “the commodity portions of our tech stack,” rather than building those capabilities in-house. Using Stripe freed up Ford resources for “high-value” financial product and service development, Harris said.

“We’re thrilled to be the payments engine under the hood powering the next stage of Ford’s digital transformation,” Stripe Chief Revenue Officer Mike Clayville said in a statement Monday.

Nikola’s founder wants a look at vehicles U.S. says he lied about

Nikola Corp. former CEO Trevor Milton claims federal prosecutors refused access to company’s vehicles and equipment he says are crucial to his defense against fraud charges.

Milton, scheduled to go on trial in April, asked a judge on Friday to allow him to inspect and photograph certain prototypes and other Nikola property and places. He said the government and the company have refused his repeated requests.

Access to the evidence is necessary to refute claims that Milton misled investors, he said. Milton is accused of lying about the success of his debut truck, the Nikola One, and claiming the company had engineered and built an electric-and-hydrogen-powered truck called the Badger. He also allegedly claimed Nikola was producing hydrogen at reduced cost, and that it had developed batteries and other components itself.

“Inspecting these items, and demonstrating the functionality of the technology, go to the crux of his defense,” Milton’s lawyers said in the court filing.

Milton wants his lawyers and experts to inspect prototypes for the Badger, the Nikola One, and the UTV, as well as a hydrogen demonstration station and a media studio, all located at a company’s Phoenix facility.

Milton, who stepped down from the company in 2020, was charged in July with misleading investors about the EV maker’s prospects in order to boost its stock price. He has pleaded not guilty.

Last month, Milton asked for the case to be thrown out, saying he wasn’t given fair notice that the alleged statements he made could be considered criminal and that prosecutors haven’t shown how his comments influenced purchases or sales of Nikola stock, among other arguments.

The following week, the company agreed to pay a $125 million civil penalty to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

The case is U.S. v. Trevor Milton, 21-cr-00478, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

Graham Ourisman Automotive on the hunt for more dealerships

A partnership between publicly traded conglomerate Graham Holdings Co. and Chris Ourisman of Ourisman Automotive Group has expanded to four dealerships since early 2019, and the executives behind the pairing aim to continue the growth.

Last month, Graham and Chris Ourisman bought a Ford dealership in Manassas, Va., marking Graham Ourisman Automotive’s fourth dealership in three years. The store, Battlefield Ford of Manassas, which boasts a strong commercial truck business, was purchased Dec. 28 from Steve Fay of Battlefield Automotive, and the dealership was renamed Ourisman Ford of Manassas.

“It’s just such a high-performing dealership that there was certainly appeal for us because of the size of it,” Ourisman said. “It just felt like a great tuck-in for what we are building out in the Washington, D.C., metro market.”

Ourisman told Automotive News that the dealership included a “great team already in place, a team that’s got really great results that we think that we can add to, [and] a team that’s driven by integrity and values.”

Graham, which has other businesses ranging from TV stations and restaurants to education company Kaplan Inc. and a health care group, declined to disclose the Ford dealership purchase price. But it said it holds a 90 percent ownership stake in the dealership and the three others it owns with Ourisman.

Ourisman now oversees 17 franchises and 15 dealerships between the stores in Graham Ourisman Automotive and those that are part of his family business, Ourisman Automotive of Marlow Heights, Md. Ourisman Automotive was ranked No. 23 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. for 2019, retailing 31,798 new vehicles that year. It wasn’t ranked on Automotive News‘ most recent list as the group didn’t share data for 2020.

Graham Ourisman Automotive started when Graham and Chris Ourisman teamed up in early 2019 to buy a Lexus store in Rockville, Md., and a Honda store in Tysons Corner, Va., from Sonic Automotive Inc. In late 2019, the partners added an open-point standalone Jeep dealership, Ourisman Jeep in Bethesda in Maryland.

The partnership didn’t find many acquisition opportunities in 2021 that were right, Ourisman said. But he said he expects that as they continue to evaluate stores to buy this year, “there’s going to be more and more that align” with Graham Ourisman Automotive’s growth strategy.

“We’re still looking at all opportunities that make sense for us, and that’s in metro D.C., but it’s also in other geographies across the country,” Ourisman said, adding that the partnership is looking at the top 50 major metro markets across the U.S.

No stores are currently under contract, he said. The partnership aims to compete for open points — new store locations awarded by automakers — but it hasn’t been awarded anything new, he said.

Ourisman said there’s “no ceiling” and “no floor” to Graham Ourisman Automotive’s store count. The partnership has considered buying several groups, ranging from those with two stores to 16 stores, he said.

The partnership “was created with the concept of building something really big,” Ourisman said. “It was not made to build something that sort of feels comfortable and just fits in nicely with the status quo.”

Graham Executive Vice President Jake Maas said that the company considers its auto business to be “a growth platform.”

“If we find attractive acquisition targets that meet our criteria that we can acquire for a fair price, we’d certainly be interested in adding more dealerships to our operations,” Maas said.

Graham has reported an uptick in revenue and income from the dealerships, disclosing that automotive operating income was $4.5 million for the third quarter and $8.8 million for the first nine months of 2021. Third-quarter automotive revenue rose 10 percent to $84.7 million, while revenue for the first nine months of 2021 jumped 33 percent to $242.7 million.

Revenue rose because of sales growth at the then three dealerships and higher prices for vehicles amid high consumer demand and inventory shortages, Graham said.

In addition to the December acquisition, Graham Ourisman Automotive in 2021 invested in its CarCare to Go platform, a vehicle maintenance and repair pickup and delivery service.
Graham Ourisman Automotive last year also acquired the real estate for its Honda dealership in Tysons Corner from Capital Automotive. The Washington Business Journal said the $27 million deal closed in September.

Maas said the lease term was expiring and the partnership had an opportunity to buy the land. Whether to buy or lease dealership real estate will be considered on a case-by-case basis, he said.

“For that particular dealership, the right thing to do was to own that property,” he said.

The purchase of Battlefield Ford required assuming multiple leases and originating two new leases covering about a half-dozen parcels on 11 acres, making it a more complex deal, said James Mitchell of Cushman & Wakefield’s Dealership Capital Services division. He and the firm’s Erin Rice represented the store’s seller, who he described as being at retirement age.

Mitchell said they needed a buyer who “wasn’t afraid of a very complicated real estate structure with multiple leases.”

Cushman & Wakefield, which represented Sonic in its 2019 sale to the partnership, contacted Ourisman about Battlefield Ford in late summer or early fall. The deal went under contract by the end of October, and seller Fay wanted it closed by year-end for tax purposes, a feat that was accomplished, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said his firm is in the process of taking dealership platforms generating $600 million or more in annual revenue to market and will share those opportunities with Graham Ourisman Automotive.

“Their plans are to have a significant presence, certainly in the mid-Atlantic and then long term in the East Coast,” Mitchell said.

Graham views its tie-up with Ourisman as successful, Maas said.

The parties came together “with a long-term orientation and a belief that together we can build a strong automotive business,” he said, “and we still very much have that perspective today.”

GM software needs driving push for new hires

DETROIT — General Motors plans to add hundreds of employees to its software-defined vehicle team by the end of this year.

CEO Mary Barra called for applications during her CES keynote this month, when she outlined the automakers’ electric vehicle plans, software ambitions and future vehicle concepts.

The majority of the new hires would join the company’s software-defined vehicle space, the automaker’s biggest growth area, said Sim Gill, engineering business manager for GM’s software-defined vehicle business unit.

The new hires could work in Detroit, California, Canada, Israel or remotely from around the globe. In April, GM launched a new remote-work standard to give employees the flexibility to work from wherever they are most efficient and to give GM access to a broader talent pool beyond its office locations.

Among the team’s biggest projects is GM’s Ultifi platform, which is a crucial piece of the automaker’s goal to boost revenue through software and subscription-based services. GM aims to double its annual revenue to about $280 billion by 2030 and raise profit margins in part by selling additional services to customers. GM expects as much as $25 billion in annual revenue from software and subscription services by 2030.

GM introduced its Ultifi software platform as a customer experience program that combines the purchase, onboarding and ownership experience in November 2020. Last September, GM formally announced plans for an evolved version of Ultifi, now characterized as an in-vehicle customer experience platform, to make its vehicles smarter and more personalized.

Ultifi will be the underlying software that enables applications from GM and third-party developers, Gary Cygan, director of GM’s software-defined vehicle program and solution management, told Automotive News.

It can support quick updates and additions of safety, entertainment and convenience features that often are held until a vehicle’s midcycle freshening.

The Cadillac Lyriq, an electric crossover due early this year, will be among the first vehicles with Ultifi, but the software will be added to others via over-the-air updates.

Examples of possible Ultifi-backed features include a weather mode that automatically closes a parked vehicle’s windows before rain, automatic child locks when the vehicle senses a child in the back seat and an Amber Alert setting that automatically reports the sighting of a license plate number for which police are searching.

“To do that in a non-Ultifi environment would take a long time. With the platform, it’s very, very fast,” Cygan said. “We’re really focused on making the platform developer-friendly [for] everyone who wants to come and build on it because it’s so easy to do.”

GM is pulling some of its best talent from around the company for Ultifi. Cygan was chief of staff for Doug Parks, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, before joining the software team in October. He has held software and engineering roles since 2008.

Gill joined the Ultifi team last year after about a decade in engineering. She was a vehicle performance engineer for Cadillac, primarily working on the sound character of the CT5-V and CT6-V Blackwing.

Whether it’s perfecting the sound of Blackwing engines or determining how to elevate the customer experience with in-vehicle software, Gill said she and other engineers have the strategic know-how to reach GM’s goals.

“It really comes down to the engineering mindset of how do you take this and turn it into this?” she said.

Software employees with mechanical engineering backgrounds already understand the vehicle, Cygan said, but with Ultifi they can transfer existing skills to writing software. GM is looking both internally and externally to fill the openings.

“We have a ton of tech talent at GM and a ton of people that can learn and do new things,” Cygan said. “We’re focused on finding the right mix of new adds from other places from right out of school, as well as migrating people from different areas in [the company]. It’s a cool space because of all of the different backgrounds that you get.”

Long term, when autonomous-driving technology becomes widely available, the Ultifi system could become the backbone of a vehicle’s entertainment and convenience component.

“Once they can go driveway to driveway,” Cygan said, “the things that you want to do in your vehicle are very, very different, and they’re a lot more similar to the things you want to do in your house.”

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath sees tenfold sales growth by 2025

Polestar’s plan to go public this year via a merger with the special-purpose acquisition company Gores Guggenheim forced the Volvo Cars subsidiary to do something it had declined to do since it was born in 2017: provide detailed sales and financial targets.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said that revealing the electric car maker’s midterm plan — which includes boosting sales to 290,000 by 2025 from 29,000 last year and reaching breakeven in 2023 — was “absolutely terrifying.” But making its targets public has been a great motivator, he added.

He also explained how Polestar was spared from the worst of the chip crisis and revealed a big change the company has made in the U.S. during an interview with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: Polestar has provided a detailed sales and financial outlook for 2021-25. Was that terrifying or liberating?

A: It’s absolutely terrifying. But this is required if you want to go to the public markets. Making a public commitment helps you to strive toward a goal in a way that you would have never done if you had kept the target a secret.

Was the backlash against SPAC deals a concern?

When we started this process, there were already some questions about the big hype around SPACs. That is why Polestar decided to do this together with Gores Guggenheim, which is an experienced partner that has done a number of successful SPAC deals. I think Alec [Gores, chairman of Gores Guggenheim] and his team are very thoroughly working on what they have to achieve. Then we’ll see how everything proceeds in the spring. We are confident there’s nothing that will prevent this from coming to a successful finish.

How do you address the risks created by Polestar’s heavy reliance on production in China, which has tense trade relations with the U.S.?

The picture that you draw is of today. In the future, we will have U.S. production in South Carolina, starting with the Polestar 3. As our lineup grows, we will go to Europe, because we want to have production in all three major regions. Therefore, we will not end up being China-dependent with our production.

Volvo builds the Polestar 1 at a factory in Chengdu, China, and the Polestar 2 in Luqiao. Would you consider assembling the two models at the same plant to maximize efficiencies?

We don’t put all our cars into one factory because with our business model, we go where that architecture is already in production. We see this as beneficial because it doesn’t matter that the Polestar 3 is in another factory because this isn’t an additional investment for us.

If it goes together with Volvo’s future electric flagship SUV in Charleston, that is fine. We simply follow where the car’s architecture is being produced. We just have to make sure that the technology we need is implemented in that factory and that it’s possible to fit our car in there.

How much of an impact has the chip crisis had on Polestar?

We have some leverage because of the size of our company. Everybody understands that we are in an important growing phase and that we are very much dependent now on one product (the Polestar 2). That means we don’t have the opportunity to maneuver around between different products and plants.

Polestar aims to sell 65,000 cars this year, up from 29,000 in 2021. Has the chip crisis forced you to consider adjusting your goal?

When we set the target for 2022, we did so with the chip shortage in mind. So far, we have had no reason to adjust our outlook downward, but who knows how bad things will be.

With Volvo going all-electric, how will Polestar differentiate itself?

The aim of the Polestar range is to be sportier and to have a stronger focus on the driver. Even if it’s an SUV such as the Polestar 3, it will have a sleek silhouette, meaning there will be less emphasis on cargo space and more emphasis on the propulsion. It will also have a more daring design. I have always said that a Volvo should not provoke people. It should have a very high acceptance from each and every customer profile. A Polestar will be more progressive and avant-garde; therefore, it will not be loved by everybody, but it will address its fans.

How is your strategic plan different today from what it was when you and your colleagues were creating the company?

When we started the plan, the U.S. was basically nowhere when it came to EVs, and suddenly it has grown to a market with wide acceptance. Since we planned on being in the U.S. from our start, we could adapt very quickly to the change, which has allowed us to rapidly ramp up from four Polestar Spaces to 25.

In Europe, the first seven markets we chose have been participating very nicely in the strong EV growth there. And when we started, China was not so far ahead of the other markets when it came to premium electric cars.

The U.S. has been a pleasant surprise for Polestar. Has that led to any changes to your marketing?

Our approach has changed a lot in the U.S. The biggest sign of how much came in the autumn of 2021 when we switched our advertising to a countrywide spread. Before it was always concentrated on locations where we saw or anticipated high uptake of EVs. This shows that EVs are no long a regional or local topic in the U.S. It has a much broader reach and appeal.

Volvo wants half of all global sales to be done online by 2025. Polestar already uses the Web for all sales. How many of these are truly online, and what percentage is done at one of your Polestar Spaces or pop-up stores?

This would imply a very strict separation between the two, but that was never our idea. What we know is the test drive is a super important element for everyone. Therefore, it’s a given that you need to offer the customer the opportunity to have some contact with the product. This mostly happens at a Polestar Space.

What we also have found out is that the overwhelming majority of customers have no problem doing the financing and other aspects of the deal on their mobile device. If they need additional help, they can get it via an online chat or by going to a Polestar Space. Instances in which a customer does everything at a Polestar Space, including buying or leasing the car there, are very rare.

Will your retail model of mostly having urban showrooms be tweaked once the higher-volume Polestar 3 arrives?

This is already taking place. In the U.S. last year, we went from four to 25 Polestar Spaces. This definitely will accelerate with the increase in volume that will come with the arrival of the Polestar 3. It is happening in all the countries where we are active as we move from being in the big capitals to the next wave of locations.

Are you seeing an indication that the interest in EVs is growing beyond the major cities where Polestar is active?

Yes. An example showing that EVs are gaining wider acceptance came this summer when we opened a pop-up charging station as a kind of promotional event. We decided to put it halfway between Stockholm and Gothenburg.

The first day we opened, all the test drives were taken. These were local people in the middle of nowhere who would have never gone to Stockholm and Gothenburg for a test drive, but they were happy to try an EV when we came to them.

That clearly gave me an indication that there is a certain group of customers who will be open to the brand once it comes closer to them.

Polestar has a lot of work to do to reach its 2025 goal, right?

Yes. By then we want to grow to 290,000. It’s very clear a lot has to happen in the next few years to achieve such a volume. We will expand into more markets and increase the size of our lineup by adding the Polestar 3, 4 and 5. This will give us a product portfolio with two SUVs (the Polestar 3 and 4) and two fastback sedans (the Polestar 2 and 5).

We will be helped by the switch from combustion engines to electrification. I imagine this will keep increasing, causing a snowball effect. The more EVs that are driven around, the more people will be exposed to them and the more the infrastructure will grow. That will be a nice dynamic in this field.