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这家做吸尘器的公司居然要造电动汽车,厂址还不选在中国

Eamon Barrett 2019年03月04日

特斯拉可能很快有一位强劲的竞争对手了。

即将在群狼环伺的电动汽车市场成为竞争对手的特斯拉和戴森,都将在亚洲破土动工,事实就是如此。上个月,在上海郊区一个泥泞的河边场地上,工人、记者和政府官员冒雨见证了特斯拉首个海外工厂的破土动工。与此同时,戴森正于新加坡热带地区的一个未知地点修建工厂,用于生产这家英国真空吸尘器制造商的首批电动汽车。

乍一看,戴森的首个电动汽车生产厂选址可谓是十分奇怪。新加坡是全球汽车持有成本最高的国家之一,而且该国政府负责发放车辆牌照的陆路交通管理局打算实现其汽车保有量的零增长。此外,当戴森的电动汽车完成生产,进入新加坡市场时,它们得不到该国本土市场的强有力支撑。

而且新加坡的劳动力成本比中国这类邻近国家更高。新加坡人力部的数据显示,2017年电子设备组装工人的平均月薪为2090新加坡元(约合1548美元)。中国人社部的数据显示,从事同样的工作,中国劳工的平均月薪为5645元(约合840美元)。

对于特斯拉来说,廉价的劳动力只不过是在中国建厂诸多明显的优势之一,而中国也是全球最大的电动汽车市场。特斯拉当前所有的车型都产自于美国,因此车辆在出口至中国时需要缴纳高额的关税。在贸易战于去年夏天开始之前,中国的汽车进口税为25%。考虑到运输成本,特斯拉估计,车辆进口成本要高出本地产车辆60%。

贝恩咨询公司上海办事处的一位合伙人雷·曾说:“我们都知道,特斯拉过去两年中在利润和现金流方面遇到了一些问题,而且美国市场的增速也在放缓。在全球市场扩张十分重要,而且中国也是主要的参与者。特斯拉不得不寻找一个比进口更加划算的业务模式。”

特斯拉在最近的业绩报告中不仅提到了上海大型工厂的建造,同时还指出:“如果要具备向该地区客户提供真正平价Model 3的能力,本土制造是不可或缺的一环。”但这家高科技制造商直到去年才开始关注在中国生产汽车这一选项。

中国政府1994年便提出要求,外国汽车制造商如要在中国生产汽车,则必须与中国本土企业设立合资企业。这意味着外国公司必须与本土竞争对手分享技术。直到去年,中国政府才表示将在2022年,或者甚至在此之前,在电动汽车制造领域取消这一长达数十年的禁令。特斯拉将成为第一家在中国本土成立独资企业的外国汽车公司。

中国官方并没有表示特斯拉是否会因在上海开设其50亿美元的巨型工厂而获得补贴或税收优惠政策,但中国对特斯拉的到来表示了欢迎。在上海特斯拉的巨型工厂破土动工的第二天,特斯拉的首席执行官埃隆·马斯克与中国总理李克强进行了会面。当马斯克说他热爱中国时,李克强总理为这位激进的企业家亮了令人垂涎的绿灯:“我们希望你们能够站稳脚跟,并拓展市场。”李克强对马斯克说道。

有力的举措

借助上海工厂,特斯拉将有更大的机会来接触中国庞大的汽车生态系统。当前,松下是特斯拉的独家电池供应商,而特斯拉用其生产的电池来制造电池组。电池是电动汽车最昂贵的组件之一,而且特斯拉的首席执行官埃隆·马斯克曾经表示,特斯拉正谋求为其新上海工厂寻找一家新的电池供应商。

今年1月,路透社报道称,特斯拉已经与天津力神电池签署了初步协议,后者是一家生产锂电池的国营企业,其生产厂离特斯拉新上海工厂约有1小时的车程。特斯拉否认签署过任何协议,但表示收到过报价。

贝恩咨询公司新加坡办事处的戴尔·哈德卡瑟认为戴森将依靠其自身的电池组来实现自身与市场对手的差异化。大多数像特斯拉这样的电动汽车制造商使用锂电池,也就是将固态锂电极浸泡在电解质溶液中。哈德卡瑟认为戴森会倾向于选择“固态”电池。

哈德卡瑟表示:“电动汽车的成本大部分仍集中在电池组。当然,特斯拉也意识到,自己在今后很长一段时间内可以通过改善锂电池来降低成本,但戴森认为利用固态锂电池可更快地完成这一转变。”

固态电池使用金属或玻璃这样的固态导体取代传统液态电解液。从理论上来说,相较于锂电池标准,固态电池可以储存更多能量,充电速度更快,而且更耐用。此外,固态电池更加安全,因为固态导体不会像电解液那样升温,但找到一种可用于这种电池的固态材料并不是件容易事。

戴森已承诺向其电动汽车项目投资25亿英镑(约合32.2亿美元),其中10亿英镑将仅用于开发电池组。2015年,戴森以9000万美元的价格(约合5800万英镑)购买了基于密歇根州的固态电池开发商Sakti3,而就在收购发生7个月之前,戴森曾向公司提供了1500万美元的初步投资。然而,2017年4月,戴森放弃了它从Sakti3购买的专利,然后于去年9月注销了在该公司4900万英镑的投资,引发了业界有关戴森将放弃其固态电池项目的猜测。

然而,在注销这笔投资一个月前,戴森为一项技术申请了专利。按照申请材料的说法,这项技术“提供了一种简单、快速和低成本的固态电池制造方式。”在去年的采访中,戴森称其公司正在开发两种固态电池,其中一种可能将用于其真空吸尘器,另一种则用于新车。《财富》杂志曾问及其电动汽车是否会使用固态电池,但并未收到公司的回应。

戴森称,公司每年生产的电池已经达到了1亿块。但哈德卡瑟称,公司对于这些电池的生产地“守口如瓶”。戴森此前表示,其电动汽车的生产地将与其电池生产地保持一致,这也就意味着公司的电池产自于新加坡。

重大优惠

多年来,戴森一直在巩固其新加坡业务。公司在新加坡聘请了1100多名员工,包括首席执行官吉姆·罗万。公司于2017年在新加坡科技园开设了一家新研究中心,并在上月将其总部搬到了新加坡。戴森真空吸尘器所使用的电机自从2013年以来便一直由新加坡生产,该公司的另一家生产厂位于菲律宾,其主要的制造设施位于马来西亚。这个知名的英国品牌自2003年以来就把生产业务放到了英国之外的地区。

新加坡国立大学MBA项目学术主任尼丁·盘加卡称,新加坡十分希望将自身打造为高端制造商,而戴森的汽车工厂与这个计划可谓是一拍即合。因此盘加卡猜测,为了将戴森吸引至自家地盘,新加坡祭出了税收减免大旗,也有可能给出了地价折扣。

盘加卡表示:“我认为给戴森提供优惠政策是一项非常明智的选择。税收仅仅是新公司能够给政府带来的其中一项福利,同时新的工作机会以及其他多个层面的效应也是十分重要。此外,如果戴森不来新加坡,那么新加坡什么都得不到。”

当地政府此前曾经使用税收减免来吸引投资,而且此类做法在全球都很普遍,例如亚马逊第二总部回归纽约所引发的竞标大战(在该交易破灭之前),还有去年威斯康辛州为了吸引台湾制造商富士康所推出的30亿美元补贴计划。

戴森并没有说公司是否因在新加坡设厂收到了任何财务方面的优惠政策。新加坡政府官员也拒绝对此置评。在随后向《财富》杂志发表的评论中,新加坡经济发展署董事总经理助理基伦·库玛详细介绍了新加坡各项颇具新引力的特征,但并没有提及税收。

库玛说:“在过去10年中,新加坡制造业一直在稳步地转型,从而让该行业的竞争优势转变为劳动力的深度技能,先进科技的使用,例如机器人和自动化,以及强大的本土和区域供应商生态系统。”

戴森的首席执行官吉姆·罗万也说过类似的话,他将新加坡接触“广泛供应链”的机会及其“高素质的劳动力”作为戴森选择新加坡而不是中国或英国建设其汽车厂的原因,但公司也曾考虑过这两个国家。

但新加坡并没有任何出众的汽车工业,因此戴森将不得不进口组件,并设立全新的汽车供应链。这在短时间内,也就是戴森预计其第一辆电动车面世的2020年之前,将是一个巨大的成本和挑战。然而,在中国设厂将获得更多接触汽车供应链的机会,但罗万强调,新加坡“接触诸多市场的机会”是公司选择这个被半包围的弹丸之地的第三个原因。

新加坡已经与美国和中国签订了长期的自由贸易协议。去年10月,新加坡与欧盟签署了一项协议,后者将逐渐取消对进口汽车的关税。如果以新加坡为支点,戴森将有更多的机会来接触世界最大的电动汽车市场,同时又不会受累于难以预料的中美关系和脱欧危机。

让自身远离中国还可以帮助戴森保证其贸易机密不会受累于中国声名狼藉的知识产权保护执法不严。詹姆斯·戴森去年在给雇员的一封信中写道:“汽车行业新技术的竞争十分激烈,我们必须尽全力保证公司的汽车技术不会遭到泄露。”

戴森创始人预计,到2011年,其公司三分之一的成本将用于研发。他说,公司“并不是低端制造商。”例如:公司价值400美元的电吹风。但只有在戴森的产品无法被他人模仿时,较高的研发成本才算是物有所值。

到目前为止,公司对于其新电动汽车的大部分细节依然守口如瓶,但还是泄露了一些信息。戴森自己称,那种将污泥刮的到处都是的传统雨刷将被戴森干手机所采用的Airblade技术取代。公司的自动真空吸尘器所使用的360度摄像头也会出现在汽车上。与此同时,特斯拉需要保密的技术要少一些,而在中国设厂的举措将帮助其处于行业发展的领先地位。

哈德卡瑟表示:“这两家正在开拓市场的公司正处于不同的发展阶段。特斯拉的目的是降低其现有产品的价格,而戴森则正尝试在市场上推出全新的产品。”戴森能否在规避“新手”风险的同时重振新加坡汽车制造业,让我们拭目以待。然而,如果戴森成功了,那么它将成为特斯拉最意想不到的竞争对手。(ag体育平台|官网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

Tesla and Dyson, two soon-to-be-competitors in the crowded electric vehicle market, are breaking ground in Asia—literally. In a muddy riverside field on the outskirts of Shanghai workers, journalists, and government officials turned out in the rain last month to witness the ground breaking of Tesla’s first overseas factory. Meanwhile at an undisclosed location in Singapore’s tropical climes, Dyson is building a factory that will produce the British vacuum maker’s first-ever electric vehicle (EV).

At a glance, Dyson’s choice of location for its debut EV plant is strange. Singapore is one of the most expensive places to own a car and the government’s Land Transport Authority, which issues permits for car ownership, is targeting 0% growth in car ownership levels. There won’t be a strong local market for Dyson’s electric vehicles (EVs) as they roll off the production line and into the city-state.

Labor costs are higher in Singapore than in neighboring countries, such as China, too. According to data from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, the average monthly wage for an assembler of electronic equipment was S$2,090 ($1,548) in 2017. Meanwhile in China, the Ministry of Labor reports the average monthly salary for the same job was Rmb5,645 ($840).

For Tesla, cheaper labor is just one of the more obvious upsides to manufacturing in China, the world’s largest market for EVs. Tesla currently produces all of its cars in the U.S., which leaves the vehicles subject to a hefty levy when imported to China. Before the trade war began last summer, the tariff rate on auto imports was 25%. Factoring in the cost of shipping, Tesla estimated it was operating at a 60% cost disadvantage to locally produced cars.

“We all know Tesla has been having some sort of trouble for the last two years in terms of profits and cash flow, and the U.S. market for growth has slowed down,” says Ray Tsang, a partner in the Shanghai offices of Bain & Company consultants. “Expanding into the global market is important and China is a major player. Tesla had to find a business model that was better than just importing.”

In the company’s latest earnings reports Tesla noted, while referring to the construction of its Gigafactory site in Shanghai, that “local manufacturing is an essential component of our ability to provide to customers in the region a truly affordable version of Model 3.” But manufacturing in China wasn’t appealing for the high-tech automaker until last year.

Since 1994, Beijing has required foreign auto manufacturers to form joint ventures with local firms in order to produce vehicles in China. This meant foreign firms had to share technology with local rivals. Only last year Beijing announced it would scrap the decades-old restrictions by 2022 or even sooner for EV manufacturers. Tesla will be the first foreign car company to open a wholly-owned factory on Chinese soil.

There’s no official word on whether Tesla received subsidies or tax incentives to open its $5 billion Gigafactory in Shanghai, but China is making the company feel welcome. The day after breaking ground at the Gigafactory’s site in Shanghai, Tesla CEO Elon Musk met China Premier Li Keqiang. When Musk said he loved China, Li offered the radical entrepreneur a coveted Chinese green card. “We hope you can get a firm foothold and expand the market,” Li told Musk.

Power move

With its Shanghai plant, Tesla will have greater access to China’s rich automotive ecosystem, allowing the car company to diversify its suppliers. Currently, Panasonic iag亚游在线登陆|注册s Tesla’s sole supplier of battery cells, which the auto company uses to build battery packs. The battery is one of the most expensive components of an EV, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said his company is investigating alternative suppliers for its new Shanghai factory.

In January, Reuters reported Tesla had signed a preliminary agreement with Tianjin Lishen Battery, a state-owned firm that produces lithium-ion batteries in a factory roughly an hour’s drive from Tesla’s new Shanghai location. Tesla denied it had signed any agreements, but said it had received quotes.

Dale Hardcastle, a partner in Bain & Company’s Singapore office, thinks Dyson will rely on its own battery pack to differentiate itself from the rest of the market. Most EV manufacturers, like Tesla, use lithium-ion batteries, where solid lithium electrodes are immersed in an electrolyte solution. Hardcastle suspects Dyson will opt for a “solid-state” battery instead.

“The majority of the cost in EVS is still the integrated battery pack,” Hardcastle says. “Tesla of course sees there’s a way to bring down the cost by improving lithium-ion batteries in the long run, but Dyson thinks there’s potential to make the shift much faster with solid-state cells.”

A solid-state battery replaces the liquid electrolyte of a conventional battery with a solid conductor, such as metal or glass. Theoretically a solid-state battery could store more energy, charge faster, and last longer than the lithium-ion standard. It is also safer, because the solid conductor doesn’t heat up like an electrolyte. But finding a solid-state material fit for purpose isn’t easy.

Dyson has pledged £2.5 billion ($3.22 billion) to its EV project, of which £1 billion is dedicated solely to developing the battery pack. In 2015, Dyson bought Michigan-based solid-state battery developer Sakti3 for $90 million (£58 million), after making an initial $15 million investment in the company seven months earlier. But, in April 2017, Dyson dumped the patentag亚游在线登陆|注册s it had acquired from Sakti3 and then wrote off £49 million of its investment in the company last September, prompting speculation the company was abandoning its solid-state scheme.

However, a month before writing off its investment, Dyson filed a patent of its own for a technology that, according to the filing, “provides a simple, fast and low-cost way of producing a solid-state cell.” In an interview last year, Dyson claimed his company has two solid-state batteries in development—potentially one for use in its vacuums and one for its new car. The company didn’t respond to Fortune’s request for comment on whether its EV would use a solid-state battery.

Dyson claims it already produces 100 million battery cells annually but, according to Hardcastle, the company is “quite secretive” about where those batteries are manufactured. Dyson previously said its EV would be manufactured wherever its battery is made, which suggests the company’s batteries are made in Singapore.

The big break

Dyson has been consolidating its business around Singapore for years. The company employs over 1,100 staff in the city, including CEO Jim Rowan. The firm opened a new research center in Singapore’s Science Park in 2017 and moved its HQ to the city last month. The electric motors that power Dyson’s vacuum cleaners have been manufactured in Singapore since 2013 and the company has another production site in the Philippines and its primary manufacturing center in Malaysia. The iconic British brand hasn’t manufactured within the U.K. since 2003

According to Nitin Pangakar, the academic director of the National University of Singapore’s MBA program, Singapore is keen to build its image as a high-end manufacturer and Dyson’s car plant fits well with that plan—so well, Pangakar suspects Singapore enticed Dyson to the city by offering tax breaks and, maybe, a cheap deal on land.

“I think incentivizing Dyson would be very enlightened,’ Pangakar says. “Taxes are just one way a government can benefit from welcoming a new company, while job creation and other multiplier effects are very important too. Plus, if Dyson doesn’t come here then Singapore gets nothing anyway.”

The local government has used tax breaks to entice investment before and doing so is a common practice worldwide—consider the bidding war Amazon sparked for the location of its HQ2 in New York (before that deal soured) or the $3 billion subsidy scheme Wisconsin laid out to attract Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn last year.

Dyson hasn’t said whether it received any financial incentives to open its factory in Singapore. Singaporean officials have declined to comment too. In remarks emailed to Fortune, Assistant Managing Director at the Singapore Economic Development Board, Kiren Kumar, detailed Singapore’s various attractive qualities, but didn’t mention taxes.

“Over the past decade, Singapore’s manufacturing sector has been steadily transformed into one that competes based on the deep skills of our workforce, the use of advanced technologies such as robotics and automation, and a strong ecosystem of suppliers locally and in the region,” Kumar said.

Dyson CEO Jim Rowan has adopted a similar line, touting Singapore’s access to an “extensive supply chain” and its “highly skilled workforce” as reasons why Dyson chose the city as the site for its auto plant, rather than China or the U.K., which were also under consideration.

But Singapore lacks any significant automotive industry. Dyson will need to import components and establish a brand-new auto supply chain, which will be a significant cost in the short term and a challenge to achieve by 2020, when Dyson expects to produce its first vehicle. A factory in China would have greater access to automotive supply chains, but Rowan highlighted Singapore’s “access to markets” as the third reason why the tiny semi-enclave was selected.

Singapore has longstanding free trade agreements with the U.S. and China and, last October, Singapore signed one with the E.U. that will gradually eliminate tariffs on auto imports. From Singapore, Dyson will have greater access to the world’s largest EV markets while keeping safe from unpredictable Sino-U.S. relations and the perils of Brexit.

Putting distance between itself and China could help Dyson safeguard its trade secrets against China’s notoriously lax enforcement of intellectual property rights too. In a letter to employees last year, James Dyson wrote, “Competition for new technology in the automotive industry is fierce and we must do everything we can to keep the specifics of our vehicle confidential.”

The Dyson founder estimated in 2011 that one third of his company’s costs go into research and development. He said, the company “can’t be the low-end producer.” Case in point: the company’s $400 hair dryer. But the high R&D cost can only be justified if it yields Dyson a product no one else can produce.

So far, the company has kept most of the details regarding its new EV secret but some elements have leaked. Dyson himself suggested that traditional windscreen wipers, which “brush the muck back and forth,” could be replaced by Dyson Airblade technology – the kind that powers its hand dryers. The 360-degree camera from the company’s autonomous vacuum cleaner could find a home in the car too. Tesla, meanwhile, has fewer secrets to keep and establishing a presence in China could help it stay abreast of developments in the industry.

“The two companies are coming at the market from different stages of development,” says Hardcastle. “Tesla is looking to make what it already has cheaper, while Dyson is trying to introduce something completely new.” Whether Dyson can mitigate the risks of trying something new while simultaneously reviving Singapore’s auto manufacturing industry remains to be seen. But, if Dyson succeeds, Tesla could find itself challenged by its unlikeliest rival yet.

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