What does your car know about you? We've all seen those small little dongles offered by insurance companies that can be plugged into your car's OBD2 port to collect data, which is used to fine-tune your insurance rate. But what other information does your car know? How about where you like to eat, or go to the gym, or perhaps even that scenic route you like to take home after long days at work? As Mark Twain might say: "There's gold in them thar cars." And that's one reason America is increasingly concerned about cars from China.  

Welcome to Critical Materials, your daily roundup of all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we're talking about the U.S. launching an investigation into Chinese tech found in connected cars over the data that they collect and the potential for exploitation.

Stellantis is also looking at building its own EV batteries, and Aston Martin has decided to delay their first battery-electric car. Let's jump in.

30%: Feds to Investigate Chinese Connected Car Tech Over National Security

US President Joe Biden visiting GM's Factory ZERO EV plant

The Biden administration confirmed on Thursday that it will launch an investigation into connected vehicles utilizing Chinese technology. The administration cites national security as the reason behind the probe, noting the risk associated with the potential exploitation of vehicles' systems, or the collection of troves of valuable data related to the U.S. infrastructure.

President Joe Biden issued the following statement:

These cars are connected to our phones, to navigation systems, to critical infrastructure, and to the companies that made them. Connected vehicles from China could collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People's Republic of China.

The investigation will be spearheaded by the U.S. Commerce Department. The path forward is certainly an arduous one. The department will kick off the effort by gathering feedback from industry stakeholders and seeking comments on what actions it should ultimately take.

More specifically, the administration has concerns that systems present in connected cars—like the ones used to transmit telematics data, driver assistance features that can control acceleration and steering, as well as EV powertrain and battery systems—could be vulnerable to exploits from independent or nation-state cyber threat actors.

"Many of these vehicles can be enabled and disabled remotely. Connected vehicles that have technologies sourced from China could be exploited in ways that threaten U.S. national security," said White House economic advisor Lael Brainard. "China already has restrictions that do not allow connected vehicles to operate in China unless those vehicles only provide data to Chinese entities and use only Chinese software."

The worry comes amid the concern of Chinese-built cars finding their place in the U.S. market. Lawmakers, auto manufacturers, and industry trade groups have recently expressed concerns of "an extinction-level event for America's auto industry" caused by the potential of tarriff-dodging automakers. And, as a result, could mean an influx of foreign, exploitable tech on U.S. soil. This could be one tool in America's arsenal to head that off. 

To be clear, the U.S. says that it has no plans to outright ban Chinese EVs. But this probe will better help it to understand the impact of potential data collection (something China already does for its own domestic connected cars) and exploitation.

"It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out how a foreign adversary like China—with access to this sort of information at scale—could pose a serious risk to our national security and the privacy of U.S. citizens," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

60%: Stellantis Must Make its Own Batteries: CEO

Carlos Tavares, Stellantis CEO

One of the most expensive components of battery-electric vehicles are—surprise!—the cells inside of their gigantic battery packs. That should come as no surprise given the consumer's need for long-range EVs with current-generation battery tech. Larger capacity batteries require more cells, which means more money and more weight.

Automakers know that getting into the battery game is a slippery cost slope, and in a volatile market with huge cost investments already cutting a hole in their pockets, the majority of manufacturers are tapping well known battery manufacturers like Panasonic, CATL, and Samsung SDI to build batteries for their BEVs.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares says that's a problem.

The only two automakers have designed and currently manufacturer their own cells are Tesla and BYD, which are the two largest automakers by volume. Tavares believe that Stellantis should join their ranks by designing and building their own cells for their future EV products.

Here's what Tavares told Car and Driver:

The EVs we are making right now, they need to solve a very major issue, which is that you cannot add 1000 pounds of additional weight to every car.

The big challenge of the next generation of EVs, from my perspective, is to make them lighter—with the same amount of energy to protect the range. 500 miles [per charge for the U.S. market] should be okay.

Stellantis already holds a 45% stake in a battery company co-owned with Mercedes-Benz and TotalEnergies called Automotive Cells Company, or ACC for short. It would seem that Tavares expects to potentially utilize ACC to help build out new battery tech and chemistries over its future generations of batteries, which could be its "in" to the battery market.

Tavares says that increasing energy density in a vehicle's battery will decrease weight and the overall cost of the vehicle. This is expected to help drive vehicle demand due to lower prices.

Over time, Tavares believes that the battery chemistry can be made to utilize more common raw materials to decrease the cost even further and make the process more sustainable.

90%: It's Your Fault That Aston Martin is Delaying its First BEV

Aston Martin Valkyrie

Shame on you, consumers. How dare you not have enough interest in Aston Martin's first fully electric car? Now the company is delaying its launch, and its all your fault.

Aston Martin, perhaps best known for being the car maker of choice for fictional British spy James Bond, won't be launching a fully electric car next year as originally planned. Aston Martin Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll confirmed yesterday that the company will delay the launch of its rumored battery-electric four-door grand tourer due to low consumer demand.

"The consumer demand [for BEVs], certainly at an Aston Martin price point, is not what we thought it was going to be two years ago," said Stroll while reviewing the company's 2023 fiscal results.

Instead, Stroll says that there has been a much higher demand for hybrids than full-on BEVs. Most of Aston's customers reportedly are still stuck on that gas-powered sports car feel. Perhaps Dodge was onto something by looking at simulating engine vibration. That still doesn't replace the smell of burnt fuel and the unique sounds of thousands of tiny explosions resonating from a tailpipe, but it's a start.

Aston previously signed an agreement with U.S. EV startup Lucid to help build out its EVs. Lucid is supplying Aston with powertrain tech like the rear drive unit, battery, modules, and software for integrating into its systems. But according to Stroll, the holdup is the consumer demand—not the tech.

The Brits are still planning to launch the 998-horsepower Aston Martin Valhalla hybrid supercar later this year, but its four EVs—which Stroll has previously confirmed are new models—will have to wait.

100%: How concerned are you over in-car data privacy?

View of a hacker holding 3D rendering car concept

Gone is the reasonable expectation of privacy. Your phone knows where you are, your web browser knows what sites you frequent, and Google knows what blender you were planning on buying your partner for their birthday. Personally Identifiable Information, meet marketing. It's time to add one more cog to that machine.

In the era of connected cars, your vehicles now know more about you than you might realize. It's the reason that automakers are looking to integrate the purchasing of tangible items into their in-car ecosystem. Hell, even some tire manufacturers plan to use telematics data to determine when your tires will need to be replaced.

All of that being said, how concerned are you over what your car adds to your digital footprint? Would you be willing to forego certain connected features in order to protect that data? Let me know down in the comments.

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