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Newsflash    01-07-2015 08:00

+++ BMW 's M cars could become automatic only and are unlikely to get more than 600 hp. BMW M boss Frank van Meel says competition between the DCT dual-clutch and automatic gearboxes is good for the brand and both ’boxes have a future. However, manual gearboxes could become a thing of the past for M cars because of declining sales figures. Van Meel said: “From a technical standpoint, the future doesn’t look bright for manual gearboxes. The DCT and auto ’boxes are faster and they have better fuel consumption. "It’s difficult to say we’ll stick to the manual, but we still have a big fan community for manuals and we are not going to take away something the customer wants to have”. Van Meel also said 600 hp is the current limit of an M car’s capability. “For now, 600 hp is the most you can get in an M car”, he said. “We’re at the limit. If you go on adding more horsepower and torque, it’d probably be over the limits”. +++ Production of the CITROEN C4 Cactus is being ramped up in order to keep up with demand. Brand manager Linda Jackson said the car has been a great success for the brand, and now the French firm wants to "be even more ambitous" with its sales targets. "Cactus is doing very well", said Jackson. "First of all the car was only going to be a European vehicle, and that would have been very much the tradition: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands. We set the initial sales volume at 70,000. Since we launched in June last year, we have sold just over 74,000 Cactus models". Citroën already increased production of the C4 Cactus at its Madrid factory back in April to cope with demand, and is now aiming to sell 90-100,000 Cactus units annually worldwide. Key to continuing the Cactus's growth is opening the car up to new markets. Already on sale in Europe, Citroën has confirmed the Cactus will now be sold in Australia and could be sold in China in the future. "When we first had the concept, the Chinese said it was too different for them, too modern", said Jackson "Then last year at the Beijing motor show the Chinese said: 'We’ve got to have it, we’ve got to have it…' So in 4 years, tastes have changed and the Chinese market has evolved and yes, we are studying whether it might be possible to take it into China and other markets across southeast Asia. "We believe we've got a great vehicle. It is a success, but now we want to push it more with some more ambitous targets. This shows the spirit of where we want Citroën to go: it's about being modern, vibrant, young at heart and having the feel-good factor that comes with having a great car to drive". +++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER has announced a new manufacturing agreement with Magna Steyr that will see some of its future models built in Austria. The new agreement is intended to free up production resources and relieve pressure on JLR's UK factories, which are understood to be nearing full capacity. Magna Steyr, which operates its own factory in Graz, Austria, already builds vehicles for other car manufacturers. In the past, Magna Steyr has produced cars including the Peugeot RCZ, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Mini Countryman. While Jaguar Land Rover hasn't revealed which vehicles will be produced at the Magna Steyr plant, possible candidates for Magna Steyr to build include the Land Rover Discovery Sport, the upcoming Range Rover Evoque Cabriolet and a smaller variant of the Jaguar F-Pace crossover. JLR has already committed to bringing 12 new or refreshed vehicles to market over the course of 2015-16. At the same time the firm will invest 4.5 billion euro on new vehicle development and expansion. Bringing some vehicle manufacturing to the Magna Steyr site will allow the firm more time to search for its own bespoke European factory. It is understood the new plant will build models based on the company’s new aluminium architecture, with the upcoming Defender replacement being the lead candidate for overseas production. Although the move to build an east European plant might prove controversial, JLR’s 3 UK plants are already packed to capacity. The Evoque and Discovery Sport (both based on JLR's steel D8 platform) are currently built in the northwest at Halewood, which is thought to be operating at maximum capacity. The Castle Bromwich site will build the new XF and the F-Pace, which are both based on the smaller D7a aluminium architecture. Solihull is building the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and the Jaguar XE. Trying squeeze in both Discovery 5 production as well as the expected third Range Rover model could result in the Discovery 5 being made in eastern Europe. Known internally as ‘Project Darwin’ and codenamed L663, the new Defender should be the main product line for the new facility. However, if sales of the Range Rover Sport continue to boom and the Jaguar F-Pace crossover is also a sales success, lack of capacity in the UK might mean another model has to be made at the new plant. It is understood that the current thinking among JLR planners is that the next generation Discovery (codenamed L462) could also be made at the new facility. Sources say JLR bosses have narrowed down a site for its new factory to 2 potential locations. The first possibility is near Gyor in Hungary, which would allow the company to take advantage of the supplier base built up by Audi for the local production of the TT Coupé and its four-cylinder engines. The second possible site is somewhere in Poland, although the sources could not be more specific. JLR sources privately insist that opening a plant in central or eastern Europe and moving some production to Austria is not a vote of no-confidence in the UK but simply a function of the UK plants getting close to capacity and the need to spread its production footprint, following the lead of rivals such as Mercedes and BMW. JLR already has production in China and is currently building its own facility in Brazil. +++ The next-generation MERCEDES-AMG A45 will get more than 400 hp, according to Tobias Moers, Chief Executive of Mercedes-AMG. Speaking at the reveal of the updated Mercedes A-Class and after the brand revealed an all-new, more powerful AMG-A45, Moers also confirmed the next generation car will get an all-new four-cylinder engine. He told that despite the recent power increase from 360 hp to 381 hp, it is not possible to extract more horse power from the current turbocharged engine. However, with the super-quick Volkswagen Golf R 400 on the way, it’s only a matter of time before Mercedes counter with something even more explosive. Moers said: “It is important for our customers to have the most powerful car in the segment". However, Mercedes won’t simply install a bigger turbo or rejig the ECU, with Moers commenting: “To us, it is important to offer the whole package”. While Nurburgring lap times have dominated the headlines in recent months, a new circuit-wide ban will put a halt on official manufacturer time tests. But that didn’t stop Moers hinting this new A45 could get round the track in less than 8 minutes, putting it on a par with the Seat Leon Cupra 280, and at least 10 seconds faster than the outgoing A45 AMG. To my surprise, he also hinted that Mercedes was not yet considering electrification or hybrid power for its top-spec AMG models. Using BMW’s six-cylinder M-cars as an example, Moers asked us why Mercedes would consider dropping the V8 C63, “when it is within fuel econony figures of lesser rivals”. The visual changes made to Mercedes’s standard A-Class will make their way onto the CLA and GLA next year, with both models getting the uprated AMG engines in the coming months, too. +++ The RENAULT Laguna replacement, the Talisman, will go on sale in 2016. Design cues around the front end echo those of the next-generation Mégane, which is also due to arrive in 2016, while the Talisman’s overall shape is similar to traditional saloons like the Citroën C5 and Peugeot 508. Renault says the Talisman nameplate was chosen as it “conjures up notions of both protection and power. At the same time, Talisman is an easy word to pronounce and understand the world over”. The Talisman will come with a choice of 2 petrol and 3 diesel engines. The 110 hp 1.5-litre diesel engine is the most efficient of the range, with emissions starting at 95 gram/km when paired with the 6-speed manual gearbox. A 1.6-litre dCi 130 and a dCi 160 are also offered, alongside a 150 hp and 200 hp petrol option. Renault says that the new car will come with 4Control (a four-wheel steering system) and active dampers, which allow the driver to switch between Comfort, Sport, Eco and Neutral modes. The Talisman name is already used on a four-door model sold in China. The aligning of the name with this new model shows Renault’s ambition to create a more global car. The Talisman has been a long time coming, with plans for a more premium executive saloon to replace the Laguna stretching back to 2012. Renault bosses told Autocar in 2013 that the next Laguna would need to be a more adventurous model, and would need to incorporate the “fluid and emotional” styling seen in Renault’s smaller models. In particular, former Renault boss Carlos Tavares said inspiration would come from the Zoe, Captur and Clio models. The new Talisman gets a sleeker, more executive profile in-line with market leaders such as the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda 6. The front-end design is believed to be the new Renault family face that we'll eventually see on next year's new Megane hatch, and an adaptation of that currently seen on the Kadjar SUV. It's 4,85 metre long, 70 mm longer than the Passat, and 1.87 metre wide. The sloping rear roofline is indicative of the saloon fashion nowadays, while the large LED rear lights give the back-end a distinctive look. Inside, the Talisman gets an all-new dash design, with an 8.7-inch portrait-angled touchscreen system borrowed from the new Espace. New tech includes LED headlamps, a head-up display, Bose surround sound and hands-free parking, and there's a digital instrument cluster as standard. The firm is also claiming the larger saloon offers best-in-class passenger space, and an impressive 608-litre boot. As you'd expect with a Renault, the latest active safety systems feature aiming it up with the best in its class. Under the skin Renault has pushed the boat out, claiming the Talisman is the only car in its class to offer both four-wheel steering and adaptive damping combined for "dynamic, agile handling" and "outstanding ride comfort". Renault bosses have claimed we'll be seeing the Talisman in Europe at the beginning of 2016, before it is rolled out in Turkey and North African markets later on. +++ SEAT will be ready to fully embrace plug-in hybrid and electric models by 2020. As part of the Volkswagen Group, the Spanish brand (now eyeing sustainable profitability after years of losses) has access to hybrid tech being developed by the likes of Volkswagen and Audi in the Golf GTE and A3 e-tron. But Seat has no immediate plans to introduce hybrid models to its range. Chairman Jürgen Stackmann told: "It’s a question of time not a question of if the brand will turn electric. But currently we have zero demand for electric cars. So we are focusing on our 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder engine and our TGI compressed natural gas engine. We think we can get to 2020 without having a lot of electric propulsion systems. Clearly, after 2020 towards 2025 we will see the introduction of electric drive into Seat cars because that is what the EU asked us to do. But of course the true question is when can we have a system that is affordable to customers”. For the time being, the brand’s focus remains on its core models (the Leon and Ibiza) and its ambitious plan to roll out three SUVs before 2020. A Nissan Qashqai and VW Tiguan-sized SUV is first on the agenda in 2016, and is likely to be followed by a B segment crossover in 2017. A third, bigger, model, hinted at by the 20V20 concept seen at the Geneva Motor Show, is planned for around 2020. And Stackmann is bullish about the chances of the Qashqai-sized car. “I am confident we have nailed it well”, he said. “The intention is not to be too off-roadish, but elegant, sporty and agile”. Seat’s plans will not be affected by the recent turmoil at the top of the Volkswagen Group, which saw chairman Ferdinand Piech resign after losing his power struggle with chief executive Martin Winterkorn. “We have a strategy that is 100 per cent in line with what the Group wants and I feel zero irritation to my plan”, he said. “Our strategy has not been altered a single inch”. And that strategy does not include a sports car, Stackmann confirmed. “It is bottom of the priority list”, he admitted. “We have a successful sports car, Cupra”. Meanwhile, the brand’s attempts to improve its dealer network are gathering pace. Seat’s network was voted rock bottom of Auto Express’s Driver Power survey last year, and the company has previously admitted it was concerned with the findings. It is now overhauling its dealerships by refreshing the premises with a new corporate identity and immersing dealers in the ethos and passion of the brand with visits to the Martorell factory in Barcelona. +++ The car market in the UNITED KINGDOM has seen record figures for the first half of 2015, with more cars sold in the past 6 months than in any other equivalent period. A total of 1,376,889 cars were registered in the UK in the first 6 months of the year; a rise of 7% over the equivalent period in 2014. This beat the previous record, which stood at 1,376,565 in the first half of 2004. June was also the 40th consecutive month of increased sales, with 257,817 cars sold. This marked a rise of 12.9% over June 2014. The increase is down to a high level of registrations to the fleet sector, although the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said private sales were also performing well. Alternatively fuelled vehicles, such as electric cars and plug-in hybrids, have continued their strong performances of recent months, with sales up by as much as 70.9% year on year. The biggest selling car in June was the Ford Fiesta, with the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Focus coming in second and third respectively. The Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai round out the top five. The same five cars make up the top five performers for sales in 2015 as a whole so far. +++

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