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Newsflash    31-08-2015 17:00

+++ The FIAT 124 Spider and its Abarth offshoot will be much further apart than first thought, senior company sources have revealed. The new Mazda MX-5-based sports cars, which are due in 2016, were among 30 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles products shown at a global dealer conference in Las Vegas last week. While it was known that the 124 Spider would spawn an Abarth version, as with other Fiats in the range, what has become clear is just how different the pair will be. Rather than the Abarth getting the usual performance makeover of more aggressive front and rear ends, the sports car will actually get different sheet metal to the donor car for a completely different look. Previous artist’s impressions of the 124 Spider are also understood to have been very wide of the mark. There will be no 500 references in the 124 Spider; instead it will be unashamedly a modern version of the 124 Spider with associated styling cues, in the same way the new 500 is a modern version of the original. Sources have also shed light on the engines the pair will use. Mazda engines will not feature in the car, meaning the 1.4-litre Multiair turbo from the Fiat range will be adapted for a longitudinal, rear-wheel drive application. The aluminium 1750 engine from the Alfa 4C had been hotly tipped to power the Abarth version. However, this engine is considered an Alfa engine so will not appear in the Abarth in this form. Instead, it is likely to have the bore and stroke adapted to give it a unique capacity from its Alfa application. Also due next year is an Abarth version of the recently revised 500. This will be more extreme than the current model, in line with Abarth’s desire to make itself a more credible performance brand. The original Fiat 124 Sport Spider remained in production for a remarkable 19 years. Designed by Pininfarina and related to the rear-wheel-drive Fiat 124 family, it was launched in 1966, survived the introduction of new emissions and safety regulations in 1974 and was sold as a Fiat until 1982, when the brand pulled out of the United States. Between 1983 and 1985, it was sold as a Pininfarina, which was a fair reflection of the fact that the Italian design house founded by Sergio Pininfarina had built the car since its launch. Production ended in 1985 after an estimated 200,000 had been built. About three-quarters of them were sold in the US. +++ FORD's Russian venture, Ford Sollers, opens a $275 million engine plantthis week, which will help make its Russian-produced vehicles less dependent on imported components and currency fluctuations. Ford aims to spend 60 percent of the cost of producing cars for the Russian market in the country itself by 2020, to qualify for benefits such as lower import duties on car components. The new plant, in the republic of Tatarstan, has the capacity to produce up to 105,000 engines a year, with the possibility of expansion to up to 200,000, Ford Sollers said in a statement. At least 30 percent of Russian-built Ford vehicles, including Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, and Ford EcoSport models, will be equipped with locally built engines, the company said without providing a timeframe. Ford does not currently make any engines in Russia. "Our main target in line with our long-term localization strategy was to launch engine production with a significant level of localization. We are fully committed to this strategy which is key for our business in the current environment", said Adil Shirinov, Ford Sollers' Chief Operating Officer. After years of growth in excess of 10 percent, Russian car sales collapsed in 2014 as the economy shrank and the rouble weakened, due to lower oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis. New car sales in Russia are forecast to drop 36 percent this year to 1.55 million, according to the Moscow-based Association of European Businesses (AEB). In January-July, sales fell 35 percent, year-on-year, the AEB said. Ford's sales in Russia fell 52 percent in January-July, even though it launched four new models in the country this year. It also took control of the Ford-Sollers venture, which was in the red last year due to the economic slump. Carmakers with models targeted at middle-class buyers and heavily dependent on imported components have been hit hardest. General Motors said in March it would shut its plant in St Petersburg and wind down sales and production of its Opel brand in Russia as it did not want to make significant investments in a tumbling market. +++ I drove a prototype of KIA's all-new replacement for its Sportage and although it's a work in progress, the signs are good. More than one in four of Kia’s sales are of the current Sportage, a stylish crossover that has done much to cement the marque’s reputation for producing attractive, reliable and good value cars. This current model looks likely to achieve its biggest annual sales in the UK in its final year on sale, despite the fact that I consider its practicality, refinement, ride comfort and handling to be somewhat mediocre. The new Sportage, which goes on sale in February next year, has a challenging brief. Not only must it keep its good looks, it will also need to show solid improvements if it’s to compete with highly competent cars such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Mazda CX-5. I had an early opportunity to see what the new Sportage is capable of, having recently driven prototypes undergoing hot weather testing in Death Valley, in the US. On the move, the Sportage feels decently civilised. Wind noise is low, road noise is reasonably well contained and the 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine delivers consistent pulling power. It’s smooth, too, although it sounds busy at high revs. The prototype’s automatic transmission shifted with little enthusiasm and was clearly unfinished. I didn’t try a manual. The Kia's steering is far sharper, however, being more responsive and more consistently weighted. European Sportages will get a different, variable-rate steering system from these prototypes, although I’d expect the welcome added precision to be maintained. The new Sportage corners tidily, feeling confident through bends and effortlessly manoeuvrable. There’s not much body roll by crossover standards, and it’s reassuringly stable at speed. The ride over crests and dips is good, but small bumps are dealt with a little less well. Coarse road surfaces generate a little tyre hum but this is unlikely to be representative of the showroom-ready Sportage. The car I drove was in close-to-finished form only in terms of their (very effective) airconditioning and under-the-bonnet cooling, while their engines, suspension and detail development are a long way from being signed off. However, it’s easy to see that the interior is a little more spacious, a lot better finished and more sophisticated. The presence of a huge array of temperature monitoring gear made it hard to see how big the boot really is, or how useful the seats-down luggage space might be. Given Kia’s track record for consistently improving its cars with each generation, it’s safe to assume that this new Sportage will prove to be more practical and better to drive than the outgoing model. Don’t expect a breakthrough but do expect an improved Sportage. Upgrades in finish, refinement, practicality, handling, performance and economy look likely, but it’s too soon to say whether the Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5 face a major new challenger. +++ NISSAN has begun talking about the replacement to the ground-breaking Juke, confirming that it will be once again built in Sunderland, north-east England. The new Juke, expected next year, will also be the first to be built on a brand-new platform slated to be shared with other small Nissans and Renaults, the company said. The Juke has been a huge hit for the Japanese brand since it was first launched in 2010 and kick-started a now-booming market for supermini-based SUVs. Last year the Sunderland plant made 132,000 Jukes, putting it just behind the Qashqai SUV in popularity across Europe. The next Juke is the first to be confirmed to be built on Nissan-Renault’s so-called CMF-B platform that will also underpin next year’s Micra replacement. It will also be used for the next Renault Clio. This large-scale platform sharing is important to keep the sale cost competitive and also makes big-car technology cheap enough to put into small cars. Examples in the new Juke could include Nissan’s around-view parking monitor and lane-departure warning. The car could be the first to include in-built telematics to relay driving information back to insurance companies in return for cheaper premiums, a technology that Renault-Nissan is known to be exploring. The new car is also expected to bring improvements to the interior and ride quality, 2 areas that let the current car down. The new Juke will be mostly designed and engineered in the UK, Nissan has said, meaning it will be specified to suit European tastes. The Juke has plenty of competition these days from the likes of the Renault Captur, Opel Mokka and Peugeot 2008. However the new car will see them off, according to European chairman Paul Willcox. “Nissan is going to remain the benchmark in the small SUV segment for many years to come”, he said. The announcement of a 136 million euro investment in the Sunderland plant to make the new model is unsurprising given the car’s success, but wasn't a given. Honda’s rival HR-V for example is built in low-cost Mexico instead of the firm’s Swindon plant. The investment by Nissan will secure thousands of jobs at the Sunderland factory, which produces the current Juke, Qashqai, Note and electric Leaf models. The firm said the money gave "security to our Sunderland plant beyond 2020". The plant made 500,000 cars last year, making it the biggest car plant in the UK, according to Nissan. According to Prof David Bailey from Aston Business School, Nissan's Sunderland plant makes more cars than the whole of the Italian car industry. The new investment will secure 6,700 jobs at the plant and more than 27,000 in the supply chain. Nissan Europe chairman Paul Wilcox told the plant was "probably the most productive in Europe and, I'd argue, globally". He added that although demand in Russia and China was slowing, the car market in western Europe was "very good and improving". "We are not getting carried away as the global market is turbulent, but we are seeing slight growth in demand". According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, UK car production in the first half of the year hit a seven-year high of 793,642 cars; the equivalent of 3 cars every minute. This was the highest production since 2008, the year of the financial crisis that sparked a deep recession in the UK. +++ A 7-seater, long-wheelbase version of the SSANGYONG Tivoli will be shown at the Frankfurt motor show this month. The Ssangyong XLV-Air is described as a pre-production version of the long-bodied version of the Tivoli that is due to be launched early in 2016. Ssangyong has not revealed many details of the car yet, but has said it will bring more luggage space and a choice of 1.6-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel engines. It is expected to come with seven seats and will be offered with two or four wheel drive. Also on the Ssangyong stand at Frankfurt is the XAV-Adventure, which is described as being a modern take on the Korando. The prototype was spied out testing with a 5-seat Tivoli and appeared much longer around the C-pillar than its five-seat sibling to accommodate a third row seat and more interior space. The manufacturer has made a commitment to release a new model every year up to 2020 so the 7-seater seems likely to reach these shores. +++ The recovery among UNITED KINGDOM car makers has accelerated much faster than the wider manufacturing sector as the motor industry bounces back from the slump after the financial crisis. Official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the auto industry recovered at an average rate of 3.1 percent per quarter after the crash, and accelerated past its previous peak in the final three months of 2013. This contrasts with the manufacturing sector as a whole, which averaged anaemic growth of just 0.3 percent and remains below the heights it hit before the economic meltdown. Car makers also punched above their weight in their contribution to the economy in terms of gross value added (GVA), which measures output minus the input used in production, with an annual economic contribution of 16,32 billion euro. This puts it behind only food production and metal parts manufacturing. This came despite the sector accounting for only 6 percent of the all people employed in manufacturing, with 141,500 people working in the sector, and an annual turnover of 82,42 billlion euri, representing 12 percent of manufacturing’s total. Advanced manufacturing systems in the car industry could be driving the higher levels of productivity, according to manufacturing industry trade body EEF. “The sector is highly automated and investment-intensive. Essentially, car makers are ahead of the curve; automation is likely to become increasingly mainstream as UK manufacturing heads into the fourth industrial revolution”, said Zach Witton, EEF deputy chief economist, referring to the predicted “Industry 4.0” when parts of the supply and manufacturing chain digitally link up to improve efficiency and cut costs. “Industry 4.0 will see innovative firms take the lead and help position the UK as a global manufacturing and technology hub”. The ONS data also highlighted how R&D spending in the auto sector has almost doubled over the past decade to 2,8 billion euro a year, outpacing the increases in the wider manufacturing sector. The research was also more adventurous than other sectors, with 82 percent spend going on “experimental development”, compared with around 50 percent in the machinery and equipment and pharmaceuticals sectors, and just 30 percent in aerospace. However, the funding of the auto industry’s research was almost entirely foreign, perhaps reflecting Jaguar Land Rover’s dominance in the UK car sector. The prestige car maker was bought by Indian conglomerate Tata in 2008, and has put 15 billion euro into new facilities and products over the past 5 years. According to the ONS, just 9 percent of R&D spend on motor vehicles and parts was from UK-owned businesses. Jaguar Land Rover’s importance to the UK auto industry is also highlighted by the regional breakdown of turnover, which is dominated by the West Midlands, where the company is based. A spokesman for car industry trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “The ONS statistics support our figures that show the UK automotive sector is delivering growth in production volumes, turnover and employment. Continuing to expand in a fiercely competitive global market is a major challenge and will depend on a supportive economic and regulatory environment which promotes investment to foster innovation and continuing productivity improvements”. +++ VOLKSWAGEN's finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch is set to become its next chairman, putting Europe's biggest carmaker on course for calmer waters after rival factions including ousted patriarch Ferdinand Piech united to back him. The company has been looking for a permanent successor to Piech, who was turfed out in April after clashing with Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn over strategy but still wields influence through his family holding. One day after proposing to extend the CEO's contract by 2 years until the end of 2018, the supervisory board's executive and nomination committees proposed to elect Poetsch, 64, as chairman. Volkswagen's 51-percent owner Porsche Automobil Holding SE said Poetsch had the unequivocal support of its supervisory board, which includes Piech. Winterkorn also supported the move to elevate Poetsch, according to a source familiar with the company's thinking. "This is good news", said Arndt Ellinghorst of research firm Evercore ISI, citing Poetsch's clear understanding of VW's financial problems. "Poetsch has been advocating an increased focus on consolidating VW's business post an era of M&A". VW's plans to appoint Poetsch, who has been the German group's finance chief since 2003, to the helm of its 20-member board were reported earlier. Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen chose an internal candidate who understands the complexities of the relationship between labor unions, investors, major shareholder Lower Saxony and the Porsche-Piech clan. Appointing an external chairman would have caused more unrest than stability, according to the source familiar with the company's thinking. "Everybody at VW believes firmly that the current problems can be overcome on our own", the source said. Poetsch is likely to be elected for a full 5-year term, even though he is replacing Piech whose board mandate officially expires in April 2017, a source at VW said. This would represent a break from tradition for the company, as a new board member usually serves out the remaining term of his predecessor before a new election takes place. If Poetsch were to serve out his full term, that would effectively put an end to 68-year-old Winterkorn's ambitions of becoming chairman himself, earning a belated victory for Piech who had pledged to thwart the CEO's chances of succeeding him. However, any success by Winterkorn in turning VW around could nevertheless bolster his chances of nudging the new man out and becoming chairman himself. Poetsch will first have to be elected to the supervisory board at an extraordinary shareholder meeting in November, which will also have to approve the appointment to the board of Piech's niece, Louise Kiesling. Huber said the supervisory board would decide on a successor for Poetsch as CFO without delay. The chief executive of VW's premium carmaker Audi, 52-year-old Rupert Stadler, is a candidate to succeed Poetsch as VW CFO, a source familiar with the matter said. +++

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