Newsflash    01-10-2014 13:00

+++ BMW has hired Ferrari's former chief engineer as it seeks to strengthen its technical prowess amid intensifying competition with rival German luxury carmakers Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Roberto Fedeli, who joined the Fiat-owned brand in 1988 and has been head technician on Ferrari models since 2007, will join BMW in November, a spokesman at the Munich-based company said. The spokesman did not specify Fedeli's assignment after his move to BMW. His departure coincides with the resignation of Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who will leave the company after escalating clashes with Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of parent Fiat, over strategy. Germany's 3 leading premium carmakers have been closing ranks this year. Second-placed Audi has narrowed the gap with top-ranked BMW, while third-placed Mercedes-Benz is enjoying strong demand for new models. +++ Automakers in CHINA ,from state-owned FAW to Zhejiang Geely, are racing to sell more eco-friendly cars as they try to meet tough fuel economy rules due next year as part of Beijing's battle against pollution. But many of China's smaller indigenous automakers will struggle to make the costly upgrades needed to meet the new rules, which aim to push more efficient energy use and which are expected to be toughened every year through 2020. A technology deficit versus bigger foreign automakers and the cost of developing or obtaining the new technologies needed are likely to speed up consolidation in a fragmented industry of more than 80 registered manufacturers. The Chinese government last week unveiled tough penalties tied to the new fuel economy rules: from naming-and-shaming those who fail to make the grade to restricting production at non-compliant automakers. "Restricting production is a very severe penalty", said He Hui, an analyst at the International Council on Clean Transportation, an adviser to China's government on fuel-economy policies. "Chinese carmakers lag far behind foreign firms in their technology repertoire, so the rules add pressure to those already struggling domestic brands". By next year, all car makers in China, the world's biggest autos market, will be required to achieve average fuel economy of 6.9 liters per 100 km across their product line-up. By 2020, the target will have been made more stringent to 5 liters per 100 km. That means each car maker will have to improve fleet average fuel economy by more than a third by the end of the decade from today's levels, said James Chao, regional director at IHS Automotive, estimating it will cost "billions and billions of dollars" for the industry as a whole to comply. "Who's at a disadvantage? ... the local lower volume manufacturers", said Chao. "This may well be the catalyst for them to either find a partner or to be acquired". Nearly 30 percent of carmakers in China failed to meet suggested fuel economy targets for 2013, and most of those were Chinese, including Lifan Industry Group and state-owned GAC Group's passenger car unit. Some foreign makers, too, especially luxury car producers, are likely to struggle to meet the new rules, and are rushing to adopt green car technologies, according to Chao. Highlighting the challenges facing even some of China's bigger automakers, already struggling to compete with global brands, Beijing-based BAIC Motor Corp (Daimler's local partner) has said the fuel economy rules are a major business risk that could result in product delays and big increases in component and design costs. Auto manufacturers, most notably those from overseas, are adopting electric propulsion technologies, such as all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids, in the expectation that regulators will provide them with extra fuel-economy credits when it comes to measuring up for the new rules. But these new technologies are costly, difficult to master and not without risk. That's why others are turning to more accessible, but high-impact, technologies, like Hangzhou-based Geely, which is ready to embrace conventional gasoline-electric hybrid know-how; the same technology Toyota uses in its Prius even though China's industrial policymakers don't currently endorse the technology with generous purchase subsidies. Geely spokesman Victor Yang says the company plans to start selling in the latter half of next year a hybrid version of its Emgrand 7 midsize sedan, which will offer more than a third better fuel economy than the gasoline-only model. The new hybrid technology "will be migrated to other models" later to sell more high-mileage cars and help Geely clear the new fuel-economy hurdles, Yang added. FAW has asked Daihatsu to provide small-car powertrain technology so it can revive its Tianjin Xiali small car unit and help FAW Group meet the 2020 fuel economy rules, 2 executives at the Japanese firm said, adding that Daihatsu has tentatively agreed to provide FAW Xiali with newly developed automatic transmissions, and the 2 companies are putting the finishing touches to a deal. FAW is also asking Daihatsu for 1-liter gasoline engine technology, drive shafts and other technologies to upgrade FAW Xiali's small cars, the executives said, asking not to be named as talks are ongoing. +++ It looks like it might be time to bid farewell to the V8 rumble from the CHRYSLER 300 SRT, at least if you live in North America. The reported change comes as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reshuffles its ranks with the Dodge brand, re-absorbing SRT and building its muscular reputation with the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models. Meanwhile, Chrysler is taking a more mainstream approach, and that likely means the end of overt high-performance models from the division for now. The 300 SRT will be discontinued in the US for 2015, but it won't be totally dead. Some right-hand drive markets will still get the brawny V8 sedan next year. The 300 SRT's North American demise probably shouldn't come as a total shock. In FCA's 5-year plan, it says that the 300 is destined for a refresh to be unveiled later this year, presumably at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. There's no mention of the SRT model in the document, though, which seems to signal its end. In regards to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the other non-Dodge from the former SRT brand, it's likely sticking around in spirit, if not in name. Insiders say that the recent trademark filing for the Trackhawk could be meant for a sporty Grand Cherokee for 2016, but there's no official decision yet. The high-performance SUV still wears the SRT badge for 2015, though. Still, Trackhawk sounds like a nice fit with the off-road Trailhawk models on the Cherokee and upcoming Renegade, and it\s possible that the Trackhawk designation will supplant that of SRT on this model. +++ DACIA is clearly a success story for Renault and the brand’s sales are testimony to that, with the Romanian brand racking up 3 million deliveries since the launch of the Logan in 2004. Nicolas Wertans, Renault Group SVP Global Sales says: "Dacia has sold 3 million vehicles since the brand’s renewal merely 10 years ago, and that’s something of a unique achievement in today’s automobile industry”. In the first half of this year Dacia saw its sales rise by 24.4 percent, with deliveries increasing in all European markets. Dacia is also the brand that registered the highest market share gain in Europe (36.2 per cent) in the first six months of 2014 and has youngest vehicle line-up on the continent. Dacia’s market share has also risen in all its Mediterranean rim markets. The brand continues its international expansion and will arrive in Israel before the end of the year, after reaching 6 new markets last year: United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Cyprus and Malta. +++ In early 2013, the Nissan Leaf shed a massive $6,500 from its $35,200 base price in the United States to offer a new starting price of $28,800. Since then, we have seen numerous other plug-in vehicles get smaller price tags, from the Honda Fit EV (lower lease price) to the Chevrolet Volt (around $5,000 lower) to the Mitsubishi iMIEV (a $6,130 drop). Last year, FORD lowered the $39,200 price of the Focus Electric by around $4,000, but that hasn't been enough to get the Ford EV to really compete, saleswise, with other plug-in vehicles on the market. But wait, as they say, there's more. Ford will lopp another $6,000 from the price of both the 2014 model year Focus EVs currently on dealer lots as well as the redesigned 2015 models that are now rolling out (they're basically the same car, minus some appearance changes). Ford spokesman Aaron Miller confirmed that the Focus EV will now start at $29,995 and said that reducing the price should make the Blue Oval's only pure EV competitive. "We hope by reducing the price we're giving consumers another reason to consider it", he said. Through the end of September 2014, Ford has sold just 1,534 Focus EVs in the US (the model sold 1,335 in the first 9 months of 2013). For comparison's sake, the Nissan Leaf starts at $29,010 and sells around 3,000 units a month in the US. Miller notes that the Focus EV has been selling the best on the West Coast, and is also doing well on the East Coast. After that, he said Atlanta and the Great Lakes area also see decent sales of model's admittedly small pie. I can only assume that offering the EV for under $30,000 will make that pie somewhat bigger. +++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER is involved in discussions to build a new factory in the US. The British automaker already has several facilities at home in the UK, along with a plant in India and another in China, but it has yet to establish any manufacturing capability directly within the North American market. The company is said to be talking to officials from several southern US states, which currently host facilities from a range of other foreign automakers, unnamed sources have told. South Carolina has been named as a potential location for a new plant capable of producing at least 200,000 vehicles annually, fulfilling nearly half of Jaguar Land Rover's US sales. Previous reports suggested the company was considering a new production facility in Saudi Arabia, however the plans have yet to materialize. The latest information suggests the Middle East initiative has been put on the back burner in favor of North America. Jaguar Land Rover has dismissed the allegations as merely "speculation", but acknowledges general ambitions to "expand its international manufacturing footprint", according to a statement. +++ It’s been exactly 20 years since KIA debuted in the US, back in 1994. You’d think that by now, having established itself over time as a maker of cheap and reliable motors and increasingly high quality ones as of late, they’d have rid themselves of the “crap brand” stigmata. Experts say they haven’t, though … Not only have Kias been featured in “best interiors” trophies, but the cars they now make are by no means unattractive, inside or out. They are mechanically competent and come with good engines. They’re even trying their hand at luxury (K900), along with fellow group members Hyundai. However, it seems that it will take longer for it to be perceived differently. Michael Sprague, Kia’s chief marketer for the US, says: “When I came into the position 6 years ago, in my head I thought it was going to be about a 5-year period of time to change Americans’ perception of us. And it has changed. But I’d like it to go faster. I haven’t gotten everybody yet”. He also points out, quite worryingly, that Kia actually ranked third worst in ALG’s Brand Perception of Quality study for 2014, above (now gone) Suzuki and unsuccessful Smart. Sprague was keen to note, though, that “The reality is it’s almost a complete inverse, we're above all those brands”. I don’t know if that’s true to the letter, but it does sound a bit harsh for them to be placed so low. +++ Supercar buyers interested in the PORSCHE 918 Spyder may have to act quickly, as the limited-edition model is nearly sold out. The high-performance hybrid began its production run last fall, with assembly continuing into July 2015. The company has already sold all vehicles that are scheduled to roll off the assembly line through late March or early April, however. "It's probably in the last and the final straight", Porsche Cars North America marketing exec Andre Oosthuizen told. The halo supercar pairs a 4.6-liter V8 engine with an electric motor on both the front and rear axles, adding up to 887 horsepower and 800 Nm of torque. Drivers can expect to hit 100 km/h from a standstill in just 2.8 seconds, with a top speed of over 240 km/h. Keeping to the name scheme, the company only plans to build 918 examples of the supercar. Less than 40 have reportedly been delivered so far, and at least one has already been destroyed by fire when the owner was attempting to refill the gas tank. +++

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