Tesla has been in a rut lately. There's no shortage of polarizing press about the automaker, and with its Q1 earnings call for the year coming up later this evening, Tesla may face some hard questions from investors during the call and over the next few days and weeks immediately following it.

Welcome back to Critical Materials, your daily roundup for all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we're talking about Tesla's potentially troubling earnings call, Subaru's AI-powered upgrade for its EyeSight driver assistance system, and Americans being more aware of Chinese EV brands than ever. Let's jump in.

30%: Tesla's First 2024 Earnings Call Signals Trouble For Musk

Elon Musk at Tesla's Shareholders Meeting at Texas Gigafactory

Tesla is set to have its first earnings call for the fiscal year this evening, and it's looking like it's going to be an absolute mess given the company's not-so-great start to 2024.

For starters, Tesla's stock is down. Way down. 43% down since the beginning of the year. If that doesn't signal bad news to investors, perhaps Tesla's lackluster first-quarter deliveries does. Or, maybe it's Tesla's recent layoff of 10% of its workforce does, or its recent bad press from the Cybertruck's accelerator pedal recall.

It could also be the company's plans to scrap (but not really, maybe?) its $25,000 EV in favor of its robotaxi platform. This in particular is being viewed as a very out-of-pocket decision, especially as American automakers are preparing to enter into a potential fight with cheap Chinese EVs.

On top of all of this, Tesla is seeking to reinstate Musk's court-rejected $56 billion performance-driven payday via a shareholder vote as investors ask the CEO to "at least appear to make Tesla his top priority."

Tesla typically structures its earnings calls very precisely, knowing what news to reveal, who will speak and when, and what investor questions to answer. In fact, the company has set up a Q&A site where investors can ask questions ahead of the earnings call so it knows what to address and where investors' heads are at. So it's unlikely that things will go off the rails on the call itself, but this is Tesla we're talking about, so expecting the unexpected it pretty much a given at this point.

The bigger concern is how investors could react to details presented during the earnings call. Specifically, those with money in the game are looking to see how Tesla will curb its demand problem, ensure that profitability is sustainable after price cuts across both vehicles and services, as well as understand where Tesla is positioned regarding its $25,000 next-generation car.

Tesla's stock could take a bigger hit, or, perhaps, investors may question how positioned the company's leadership is to deliver products that are able to stand on their own in a market that is only growing in competition.

Either way, all eyes are on Musk.

60%: Subaru EyeSight Is Getting An AI Upgrade

2024 Subaru Solterra

Speaking of eyes, Subaru will soon upgrade its EyeSight driver assistance system with new chips from Advanced Micro Devices that use onboard Artificial Intelligence to make quicker, more accurate decisions.

Like Tesla, Subaru has been a huge proponent of vision-based driver assistance systems. Its unique forward-facing stereo camera has helped to work like human eyes, providing a three-dimensional map to help gauge depth without the need for costly sensors like Lidar.

However, as more companies (like Volvo) do make the move to Lidar, vision-based systems need to change the way they see and react to the world in order to remain competitive—and that's where Subaru sees its new chips coming into play.

One of the ways that AI will specifically be used is for hard-to-see situations like bad weather. For example, if lane markers are occluded by snow, the on-board chips will help the vehicle to make better decisions. The chips may also aid in picking up hard-to-recognize objects, such as a person lying down in the road. Subaru also expects these chips to use less energy, a must-have as the industry moves towards electrification.

Automotive News says that Subaru is using this leap in tech to help reach its goal of zero road fatalities in its cars by the top of the decade:

Subaru puts its popular EyeSight technology at the center of automated driving and preventative safety strategy. The Japanese carmaker aspires to achieve zero road fatalities by 2030 among accidents connected to its products, an ambitious target. Subaru wants to eliminate deaths in road accidents among occupants of its vehicles and among people involved in collisions with its vehicles, including pedestrians and cyclists.

Subaru says that these new AMD chips will find their way into cars with its next-generation EyeSight platform. The automaker has not provided a timeline or list of vehicles that will get the upgrade first.

90%: America's Youth Is Eerily Familiar With China's EVs. That Could Spell Trouble For U.S. Brands

BYD Qin EV

America's auto industry is rapidly working to rally together legislators to prevent Chinese automakers from selling cheap EVs on U.S. soil. However, the rather public fight seems to have had the unintended consequence of the Streisand effect—and now American consumers are more aware of Chinese EV brands than ever.

A new study by management consulting firm AlixPartners found that the majority of American car buyers know of Chinese brands like BYD, Nio, Hozon, and Leapmotor. According to the study, 58% of EV buyers who were very likely or moderately likely to purchase an EV as their next vehicle were aware of Chinese automakers.

The study also found that the younger the potential buyer, the more likely they were aware of these brands. For example, 73% of people aged 25-35 were aware of the brands, as were 76% of shoppers 18-25 years old.

"It's pretty clear that even with very little market share, the awareness is really growing," said Mark Wakefield, co-leader of AlixPartners' global automotive and industrial practice. He continued to note that brand awareness with younger shoppers "bodes either well if you're a Chinese EV company exporting or ominously if you are a traditional automaker."

Needless to say, consumers being aware of a particular brand doesn't necessarily mean that they will buy it—especially if the marque isn't currently sold in their market. However, it does point to consumers being more well-researched, potentially gravitating to certain vehicles that carry similar features or aesthetics as their Chinese counterparts.

It may also make it more difficult for lawmakers to push protectionist legislation to dissuade foreign automakers from bringing vehicles to the States. Currently, the auto industry is putting pressure on the U.S. government over the potential of an "extinction-level event" for domestic car manufacturers caused by a flood of cheap foreign EVs. The U.S. has, in turn, pushed preferential trade partners like Mexico to help stop the flood early on. For example, Mexico has recently stopped meeting with Chinese manufacturers to offer incentive packages to build factories.

The study showed that in addition to U.S. consumers being more aware of these niche EV makers, they are more likely than ever to purchase an EV in the future. 35% of U.S. respondents said that they were likely to buy or lease a battery-electric vehicle as their next purchase, and 48% were likely to buy or lease a BEV by 2035.

100%: Have You Considered Going Back To Gas?

Range Rover Electric teaser

After being in an all-EV household for more than a year, we've racked up around 24,000 miles between our Model 3s both road-tripping and commuting. My wife turned to me while driving the other day and said, "You know, I don't think I could ever buy another gas car." She cited the ability to charge up at home, the smoothness of the drive, and single-pedal driving as being some of her favorite features.

I agree with her sentiment for a daily driver—even though I have been itching for a new gas-powered project car lately.

All that being said, I'm curious: how many of you EV drivers have actually considered going back to gas, and why? Does it have to do with charging availability, reliability, or range? Let me know in the comments.

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