How Russia’s War With Ukraine Will Impact the Auto Industry

The Russian incursion into Ukraine this week has thrown European and global markets into a frenzy, as automakers work to determine how big an impact the war, and any economic sanctions against aggressor Russia, will have on supply lines, production, and workforces who could now be in direct danger. Europe’s home automakers will be hit the hardest, as supply lines from Ukraine and Russia freeze up while bombs get dropped. However, Hyundai and Kia’s massive manufacturing presence in Russia now presents a huge headache for the Korean group, as well.

Multiple global automakers have reportedly halted shipments of local dealer orders to Russian partners, effective February 24, the date of the Russian invasion, according to letters apparently sent from the automakers and viewed by the Russian-language business paper Vedomosti. Russian dealers for Audi and Chevrolet reportedly received notices, and Vedomosti claims VW and Skoda are prepping notices of their own. Porsche and Land Rover’s Tata Group had also halted shipments starting the date of the Russian invasion. If this is all true, and it likely is, it’s unclear exactly what conditions forced the shut down—but it probably isn’t going to be easy getting your car through Russian customs right now.

The report says Audi will inform its partners on its plans to resume shipments down the road. Any inventory from automakers that’s already passed through Russian customs will still be delivered. The quick move to halt shipments to Russia on the part of most automakers is likely precautionary and temporary, and more to do with establishing new logistics options adapted to an environment now at war, and in the environment of new global sanctions against Russia. Companies obviously face public pressure to not appear too cozy with a current aggressor, so the shipment freeze is likely an indefinite delay until everybody calms down.

March 2, 2022 Update:

More companies have joined the growing list holding out from vehicle shipments and business operations with Russia, Reuters reports. Honda, Ford, Mazda, General Motors, Daimler trucks, Volvo, and Volkswagen have all confirmed a freeze on business, most citing the economic and logistics impact of the ongoing war and global sanctions against Russia as the cause. Toyota and Nissan reported their Russian businesses were operating as usual, but Mitsubishi and Mercedes-Benz reported they were actively reevaluating business plans in the region.

VW told MotorTrend on March 3 that the company was suspending production in Russia, as well as exports to the country, and that they would financially support any employees in Russia attempting to leave the country. VW tells us electrical wiring systems and harnesses, and interior switch supply lines sourced in Ukraine will be interrupted. The automaker also released a statement: “Against the background of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the resulting consequences, the Group Board of Management of Volkswagen AG has decided to stop the production of vehicles in Russia until further notice. This decision applies to the Russian production sites in Kaluga and Nizhny Novgorod. Vehicle exports to Russia will also be stopped with immediate effect.”

If you’re wondering if the U.S. government and its allies’ sanctions against Russia will further exacerbate the ongoing semiconductor shortage, the answer is of course. While no semiconductors or raw materials used to make them will be flowing into Russia, much of the raw materials come from Ukraine, which probably won’t be exporting them for a while.

Hyundai + Kia In Russia

The Korean automotive sector is hugely reliant on Ukrainian-provided rare gases like neon, krypton, xenon, and more, everything from EV battery cells to superconductors are now on an even tighter supply line, and prices will go up. And speaking of gas, the kind you use to fill up your car at the pump likely will get more expensive in the coming weeks as energy prices rise globally, especially if European nations abstain from Russian fuels in response to its attack on Ukraine.

Hyundai Group, which Kia also operates through, first established itself with a factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2010 and recently purchased a former General Motors facility to renovate for Hyundai Tucson, Palisade, and Kia Sportage production for export to North America and the rest of Europe this year. The automakers combined currently produce more than 230,000 cars annually in Russia.

That’s just what they build there—Hyundai Group sold 373,132 vehicles in the Russian market in 2021, holding the largest market share; Hyundai accounts for 10.3 percent and Kia 12.3 percent of Russia’s total vehicle market share.

The outbreak of war and the onslaught of economic and financial sanctions against Russia now put all of Hyundai and Kia global business in jeopardy and will severely damage the national Korean economy, as well. The Korea Times says “Korean conglomerates” sold $2.5 billion worth of cars to Russia in 2021, plus an additional $1.45 billion worth of car parts and components.

Cars and their parts previously accounted for 44 percent of Korea’s annual export volume to Russia, which will likely be severely hindered by American and European sanctions looking to cut trade and handicap Russia’s economy.

Kia takes home four prizes at the annual Russian Car of the Year awards

Hyundai + Kia in Ukraine

Hyundai also operates a local sales office in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Kia produces the Rio sedan and hatchback at the ZAZ factory in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. On January 28, 2022, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a state of emergency in the region and established plans to evacuate Korean nationals out of Ukraine, the Korea Times reports.

Hankook Tires, another Korean company, evacuated its sales office in the country. An official from Hyundai offered that the company has “been closely monitoring the situation as the Russian-Ukraine crisis is expected to bring about an economic slump and weak ruble,” in a statement to the Korea Herald.

The war in Ukraine could also severely impact global EV battery cell production, as the nation is the world’s third-largest producer of nickel and aluminum, two highly valuable resources necessary in battery and EV components. Additionally, Ukraine produces almost 70 percent of the world’s neon gas needed for components like chips, which are already suffering a shortage that has driven the average new vehicle transaction price in the U.S. to unbelievable new heights. It will likely only grow higher this year.

Ukraine is also a critical global supplier of rare gases used in all sorts of high-tech equipment and components, and the war will severely hinder those supplies and likely cause prices to rise. This, too, will have a specific impact on the Korean economy, as the nation imports 30.7 percent of its krypton, 23 percent of its neon, and 17.8 percent of its xenon rare gases for component production from Ukraine, according to the Korea Herald. South Korean-based automaker SsangYong also imports raw materials like aluminum from the region.

The Korean Automotive Manufacturer’s Association fears up to 29 percent of its group sales could drop this year, anticipating a similar impact to when it witnessed a 62 percent drop in auto exports after the Russian incursion in Crimea in 2014, which also brought about international sanctions against Russia.

New Sanctions on Russia

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it would immediately target the core infrastructure of Russian financial and some economic institutions. Sanctions target banks such as the state-backed Sberbank, VTB Bank, Otkritie, Sovcombank and Novikombank. The move is meant to ban any trading with U.S. institutions and freeze any U.S. assets held by the companies and their executives.

This first wave of sanctions from the U.S. and its allies, announced on February 24, did not specifically target Russia’s auto sector or any enterprises directly involved. However, some major economic enterprises related to autos were targeted, including Russia’s Sovcomflot shipping company and Russian Railways, as well as much of the Russian energy sector.

Russia is currently the third-largest supplier of nickel in the world and provides 40 percent of global palladium resources used for manufacturing catalytic converters, according to NBC. In return, Russia also relies on foreign supply lines for as much as 25 percent of its home automotive production, which could be heavily sequestered by new sanctions. The Russian Gaz Group has already announced that it will have to halt production as sanctions are levied against Russia.

Analyst Sam Abuelsamid from Guidehouse Insights told NBC the big question regarding sanctions comes down to China: “If we put heavy sanctions on Russia, they might respond and cut us off from many of the things we need,” including circuit boards and other raw materials, such as the lithium needed for electric vehicles. However, following the first wave of sanctions, this may not be a serious risk.

J.D. Power and LMC Automotive analysts have downgraded projected global light vehicle production this year to 85.8 million units for 2022, a cut of 400,000 vehicles this year, Reuters says. However, the overall global volume of light vehicle sales is still expected to rise by 5 percent.

Renault + Stellantis + Toyota Have Russia Trouble, Too

Other major global automakers, including Renault and its affiliate brands, Stellantis and its affiliates, and Toyota, also have a significant manufacturing presence in the region. Renault has already announced that production in its Moscow, Russia, facility would have to stop from February 28 to March 5, citing “tighter border controls in transit countries and the forced need to change a number of established logistics routes,” but failing to mention the Russian invasion of Ukraine outright, according to Reuters.

Renault Group makes 8 percent of its core earnings in Russia, the automaker’s second-largest market after its home of France. Russia’s top automaker, AvtoVAZ, is partially owned by Renault, as well.

Stellantis operates a car factory in Kaluga, Russia, where it also manufactures Mitsubishi models. Production of Peugeot, Citroën, and Opel cars reportedly doubled in Kaluga in 2021, and overall sales for Stellantis in Russia grew by 65 percent. There were plans earlier this year to start exporting commercial vehicles from the factory, which have now been interrupted.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares commented on the situation on a conference call earlier this week: “If we cannot supply the plant, if that is the reality, we have either to transfer that production to other plants, or just limit ourselves,” via NBC. The factory only exported about 11,000 commercial vehicles last year, a fraction of more than 2 million total light commercial vehicles the company sold.

A Stellantis spokesperson told MotorTrend that the company is “monitoring the situation carefully in real time, and if necessary we will take appropriate measures in the interest of our employees and their families. We currently see no significant impact on our business operations, including our manufacturing plant.”

Considering the light amount of commercial exports from the Kaluga factory, it’s more likely Stellantis’ local Russian operation takes the bigger hit, though broader supply chain issues will still negatively impact the global Stellantis portfolio.

Toyota has been building the Camry in Russia for decades and has a factory in Shushary, Russia, for localized production. It’s unclear so far how Toyota’s operations may be impacted, and the company has not yet responded to our request for comment. MotorTrend also reached out to Kia and Volkswagen, and we will update as more information is made available.

A Škoda spokesperson shared a prepared statement with MotorTrend regarding its manufacture of cars at the Eurocar factory in Solomonova Industrial Park, Ukraine:

“Škoda views the Russian attack on Ukraine with great concern and dismay. Škoda is hoping for a quick cessation of hostilities and a return to diplomacy. We are convinced that a sustainable solution to the conflict can only take place on the basis of international law. The degree of impact on our business activities in the affected countries is continuously determined by a task force. In all activities on site, the safety and integrity of our employees is our top priority. “

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