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Newsflash    06-07-2014 10:00

+++ BENTLEY is planning to launch 2 more models after its forthcoming SUV, currently at a prototype stage, hits the market in 2016. Returning chairman and chief executive officer Wolfgang Dürheimer says the company is considering launching either a 2-seat sports car or a more conventional model, priced between the Continental and Mulsanne, and concentrating at first on whichever looked more profitable. "My own preference would be to build them both", said Dürheimer, "providing a business case for each can be made". Planning for the models is included in a new R&D spending round, the biggest in Bentley history. The company will spend more than 900 million euro between now and 2016, mostly at Crewe, on new model development. The SUV will appear towards the end of 2015 and reach its first customers in 2016, Dürheimer says. The staple engine will be a redesigned version of the W12 engine; with a "double digit" improvement in the present version's CO2 output. It will also be first to offer the plug-in hybrid powertrain with a 50 kilometers battery-only range, which Bentley will eventually introduce as a "core technology" for its model line-up. The SUV, which according to Dürheimer will have its air suspension tuned more for coping with suburban speed bumps than extreme off-road conditions, is also likely to be the first diesel Bentley, featuring an adapted version the 4.2-litre V8 diesel already used by Audi. "We will offer the fastest, most powerful and most exclusive SUV on the market", says Dürheimer, with an obvious nod towards the Range Rover, "and we will solve the problem that people cannot at present spend more than about 200,000 euro on an off-roader". At a press conference to announce bullish half-year sales for the Crewe-based company, Dürheimer said he expected 2014 to be "a fifth straight year of substantial growth" but stopped short of claiming a record. Sales had grown in every market, he said, with China scoring the greatest first-half growth of 61 percent, though that rate of improvement was unlikely to be sustained for the full year. America was still Bentley's biggest market, with sales of 1.388 cars in total. Bentley is also launching a new move to "contemporise" its cars, providing modern alternations to the traditionalist wood, leather and British Racing Green so often associated with its models. A recently opened modern, glassy showroom at Crewe (named CW1 House) provided a guide to dealerships around the world to modernise the customer experience and introduce upgrades needed for the arrival of the SUV, which could well push volume beyond the 15,000 units a year already announced. +++ BMW is rumored to be mulling a beefier plug-in hybrid supercar to slot above the i8. The i9 will be a bigger, faster and more powerful car that would use a similar engines/motors layout as the smaller i8. It actually goes so far as to say the upcoming car would deserve being called the i10, simply because of the discrepancy between it and the smaller, less powerful i8. Performance wise, I was not told what to expect, except for the 0-100 km/h sprint time, which will drop to under 4 seconds for the i9. Top speed could also be raised past 250 km/u and it probably will be, to justify its existence (the i8 can also do 250 km/h) and reflect 100 years of BMW existence, the historic feat it’s being created to celebrate. +++ FORD one-upped its larger rival General Motors in the second quarter, showing a profit in Europe for the first time in 3 years while GM was weighed down by recall-related costs in the United States. Still, the picture remains cloudy for the automaker in the second half, which for Ford will carry heavy costs because of new vehicles. Ford's profit in the second quarter was driven by record results in North America and it reaffirmed its forecast for a full-year profit of $7 billion to $8 billion. The No. 2 U.S. automaker also repeated its warning that second-half results will reflect heavy costs related to a record number of vehicle launches, including the critical F-150 full-size pickup truck, a high-margin vehicle that is being extensively redesigned. Ford surprised analysts by posting its first European profit in 3 years, leaving the company well on track to achieving its objective for full-year profit in that region in 2015. However, Ford, like GM, lost money in South America. While GM sees things getting better in that region in the second half, Ford downgraded its outlook there, saying it now expects a greater full-year loss than it had projected previously and that the second half of the year would result in break-even results or a loss. Ford's overall second-quarter profit rose to $1.3 billion, from $1.23 billion. Excluding one-time items, the company's 40-cent per-share profit topped analysts' expectations by 4 cents. Ford's operating margins in its home market improved to 11.6 percent but the company reaffirmed that would decline in the second half and finish between 8 percent and 9 percent for the full year. GM's second-quarter margins in North America hit 9.2 percent and officials said they remain on track to hit their mid-decade target of 10 percent. Ford's revenue of $37.4 billion topped analysts' expectations for $36.16 billion. +++ GENERAL MOTORS reported a much lower second-quarter profit due to numerous recalls and the expected cost of at least $400 million for a compensation fund for those killed or injured by a defective ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths. GM also reiterated that it expected a moderately improved operating profit this year and that its future recall costs would be slightly higher than historic rates. "We're on or ahead of the plan we shared in January", Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens told. "Our expectation is that the second half of the year will be better than the first half". Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said strong vehicle pricing in North America "saves the quarter". GM earlier this year recalled 2.6 million cars for the faulty ignition switches, which can cause engine stalls and stop power steering and power brakes from operating and air bags from deploying. The company is under investigation by U.S. safety regulators, Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice over its failure to detect the problems for more than a decade. Net income in the quarter fell to $190 million, or 11 cents a share, from $1.2 billion, or 75 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, GM earned 58 cents a share, just below the 59 cents analysts had expected. One-time items for GM included the charge for establishing the victims' compensation fund, which the company said could still rise by about $200 million, as well as an $874 million charge for a change in how the company will account for recalls in the future. GM previously took charges as recalls occurred, but now it will account for potential future liabilities as the cars are sold and adjust those costs on a quarterly basis, as it does for warranty expenses. For the victim's compensation fund, Stevens said the $400 million figure was based on actuarial data and did not say whether the company expected the number of deaths linked to the defective part to rise. He reiterated that the fund had no cap and that attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the fund for GM, was not consulted in setting the charge and would determine the final payouts. Safety advocates had previously pushed for GM to put aside $1 billion for the compensation fund, and the company's charge for that was at the low end of Wall Street's expectations. Not counted as one-time items were previously disclosed costs of $1.2 billion for GM recalls, which have covered almost 29 million vehicles so far this year. GM also has $200 million in restructuring costs. Revenue rose slightly to $39.6 billion, but that fell short of the $40.59 billion analysts had expected. Retail sales rose 5.7 percent in both North America and the International Operation unit, which includes China, while falling 11 percent in Europe and 18 percent in South America. GM's North American operating profit, including about $1 billion in recall costs, fell about 30 percent to $1.39 billion. However, higher prices and lower incentives in North America added $800 million. For example, the company was able to get up to $7,000 more for the new Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs and about $5,000 more for the newer Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks, Stevens said. Profit margins in North America reached 9.2 percent, improving year-over-year for the 4th straight quarter. Stevens said they remained on track to reach the company's mid-decade target of 10 percent, but some analysts said the margins were weaker than they expected. In Europe, GM's loss almost tripled to $305 million, largely due to restructuring costs for the planned closure of its plant in Bochum, Germany. Stevens said the company still expected to return to profitability in the region by mid-decade. The International Operations' profit rose 36 percent to $315 million. Net income profit margins in China hit 10 percent. South American operations slipped to a loss of $81 million from a year-earlier profit. Stevens said the company expected business there to improve slightly in the second half. +++ OPEL is planning to pick up the slack in Europe as Chevrolet exits the continent. The parent company has announced that GM Europe will now be labeled Opel Group, hinting at the growing importance of the German brand in GM's European strategy. Alongside the announcement, Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann has confirmed that his brand is considering an attack on the entry-level segment that Chevrolet failed to engage. The company's primary competition in the low-end of the market will be Renault's Dacia brand. "GM is definitely not Dacia, but this whole budget and entry-level market segment is very interesting", the executive told. "They can be admired. We are definitely looking at the segment". Neumann admits that Chevrolet was attempting to target the entry-level market, however the bow-tie marque was not a proper fit for the segment. The previous strategy would have caused overlap if Opel had made a similar attempt, however Chevrolet's departure provides room for the German brand to expand downmarket. Recent reports suggest Open will launch 27 new or redesigned models by the end of 2018, restructuring the lineup in an attempt to establish profitability after years in the red. Entry-level models could help the company achieve its goal of unseating Ford atop the European market in terms of sales volume. +++ RENAULT has announced it will build a light commercial vehicle for Fiat starting in 2016. Details are scarce because the van is still at the embryonic stage of development, but Fiat - Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed the van will replace the Scudo that was developed jointly by Fiat and PSA (Peugeot, Citroën). "Technically, the new vehicle will be very similar to the Fiat Scudo, but there will also be some major improvements", explained Marchionne in an interview. Rumors circulating around the Italian auto industry indicate Fiat's yet-unnamed van will be based on the new Renault Trafic midsize van that is scheduled to go on sale across Europe in the coming months. Like the outgoing Scudo, Fiat's next van will be offered as a panel van aimed largely at commercial buyers as well as a more family-focused vehicle designed to carry passengers. The 2 vans will feature brand-specific drivetrains designed in-house and they will not share any sheet metal. The Fiat Scudo's replacement is tentatively scheduled to arrive in showrooms across Europe in late 2016. At the time of writing Fiat is not planning on selling the van under the Ram nameplate in the United States. In the same interview, Marchionne confirmed Fiat and Renault are not currently looking to collaborate on other projects. +++ For the first time, TESLA will stop production at its assembly plant in California as the company prepares for the Model X crossover and adds robots to ramp up Model S production. Production is scheduled to resume in the first half of August. Tesla expects production to jump by 25 percent after the $100 million upgrade, which involves adding 25 robots and modifying the factory’s body and general assembly lines. "This represents the single biggest investment in the plant since we really started operations and enables us for higher volumes. It gets us ready to build X and to do it on the same line as the S", Tesla spokesman Simon Sproule told. Tesla wants to deliver at least 35,000 Model S sedans worldwide this year, which would represent an increase of about 56 percent from 2013. Growth is expected to come from new markets such as China, Hond Kong, the UK, Japan and Australia. At the end of first quarter this year Tesla was producing around 700 units per week, with a goal of increasing that to 1,000 later this year. Current weekly production at the factory is approaching 800 units. Later this year Tesla will start building the Model X, with deliveries scheduled for early next year. The automaker hasn’t announced a price for the new model yet. +++

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