Newsflash    31-12-2015 08:25

+++ AUDI will miss its benchmark for profitability this year as costs for the diesel emissions scandal and possible recalls of cars fitted with Takata airbags are weighing on results. First-half operating profit at Audi plunged 18 percent to 2.4 billion euros, including 265 million euros of special items which pushed down the brand's operating margin to 8 percent from 9.8 percent a year ago, Audi said on Friday. Audi, the main contributor to VW group profit, added 165 million euros of provisions in the second quarter for its emissions scandal and effects of potentially faulty Takata airbags, raising the amount of funds set aside for both issues since last year to 563 million euros, a spokesman said. The Ingolstadt-based carmaker, which to date has been targeting a profit margin of between 8 and 10 percent, on Friday said it now expects "a level slightly below this corridor", without being more specific. The relapse on profitability coincides with a strategic overhaul at Audi which plans to increase spending on electric cars, digital services and autonomous driving in coming years as part of VW's post-dieselgate shift of business priorities. "To preserve our innovation and investment course, we will raise efficiency in all parts of the company", finance chief Axel Strotbek said. VW on Thursday reported a 12 percent drop in quarterly profit at its troubled passenger-car division, a big improvement on the quarter before but highlighting the challenges it still faces to overcome the emissions scandal. But Audi, which slipped behind Mercedes-Benz last year into third place among the top-selling luxury car brands, said it still counts on more than 20 all-new or redesigned models this year to beat 2015's record 1.8 million auto sales. +++ BMW has revealed its new-generation Efficient Dynamics petrol and diesel engines. The company claims the new engines offer marginally better economy, as well as smoother running, improved acoustic qualities and, especially with the diesels, much more efficient pollution control. The engines are designed for transverse and longitudinal installations so will be used in future Minis as well BMWs. The company isn’t saying when the new engines will arrive, but it’s likely some will appear first in the all-new BMW 5 Series, which is expected to go on sale later this year. The German car maker is promising around a 5% cut in CO2 emissions, 7 hp more power and about 20 Nm extra torque. However, it’s thought the redesigned engines have been primarily optimised to reduce exhaust pollutants as much more stringent regulations come in globally over the next decade. The three-cylinder diesel engines now come in 96 hp/220 Nm and 116 hp/280 Nm guises. The four-cylinder powerplants are available with 150 hp/330 Nm, 192 hp/400 Nm and 235 hp/450 Nm. Both the three-cylinder and four-cylinder petrol engines get BMW’s Twin Power turbo set-up, which consists of direct fuel injection, Valvetronic variable lift for the inlet valves and Double Vanos variable timing for the exhaust and intake valves. The exhaust manifold and turbocharger are now housed in the cylinder head and a new direct fuel injection system operates a maximum pressure of 350 bar; rather higher than in the current generation of petrol engines. BMW says this allows for more accurate metering of the fuel and, as a result, lower emissions of pollutants. The new cooling system should also reduce pollutants by optimising the combustion process. This features a coolant pump with 2 separate outlets; one for the head and one for the block. The w parts of the engine ideally need to be cooled at different rates. Both engines still have balancer shafts, but the unit for the three-cylinder engine has been redesigned. A single-piece timing chain is used to help reduce noise. The new diesel engines also promise a 5% drop in CO2 emissions and an emphasis on reducing exhaust pollutants. All of these new four-cylinder diesel engines now get twin-turbochargers - something previously reserved for the most powerful BMW diesel engines. The low-pressure turbocharger (used at lower engine speeds) has electrically adjustable vanes and the high-pressure turbocharger is integrated into the exhaust manifold. There’s also a switchable cooling system for the low-pressure turbocharger. New exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems have been introduced for both the three-pot and four-cylinder diesel engines. These are intended to further cut exhaust pipe emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx), a polluting gas that has proven to be difficult to reduce in real-world driving conditions. As a result, all of the engines get a selective catalytic reduction system and AdBlue urea injection into the exhaust stream to further reduce NOx emissions. The common-rail fuel injection system of the new diesel family has been redesigned and gets new injectors with a "range of upgraded" sensors to ensure even greater accuracy of the amount of fuel injected into the cylinder. Fuel pressures have been further increased to 2200 bar for the three-cylinder engines and an extraordinary 2700 bar for the four-cylinder engines. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the new diesel engines is that the cylinder bores are not the same diameter along their whole length. Instead, the bores on the new engines are fared sightly at the lower end. BMW engineers say "thermal and dynamic forces" when the engine is assembled and especially during operation mean that straight-sided bores are not ideal. Either the piston crown becomes ‘loose’ at the top of the bore or 'tight' at the bottom, increasing friction on every piston stroke. The new bore design should eliminate this problem. +++ FORD on Thursday declared the U.S. auto industry's long recovery is at an end, sending its stock and those of rival auto companies tumbling. "The growth is over", Ford Chief Financial Officer Robert Shanks told Reuters in an interview. Shanks earlier forecast U.S. light vehicle sales would fall in 2016 from the record of 17.47 million last year, and fall again in 2017. Pent-up demand built during the last recession has been satisfied, and lower used car prices are drawing some buyers away from new vehicles, he said, adding however, "We’re not talking about a collapse". Ford's warning put at center stage a debate that has been running for months in Detroit about how much further the long bull market in U.S. vehicle sales has to run. The debate has consequences. Based on its forecasts, Ford said it will accelerate cost cutting and cut North American production in the second half of the year. That could affect workers' paychecks, payments to suppliers and service vendors, and investment plans. Ford shares skidded 8.2 percent on Thursday. General Motors stock fell 3.2 percent and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles shares closed down nearly 4.8 percent. Mike Jackson, the head of AutoNation, the largest U.S. auto dealership chain, has warned for much of the year that U.S. vehicle demand is hitting a plateau, and has called on automakers to rein in production to avoid overstocking vehicles, particularly small cars. AutoNation reports second quarter results Friday. GM and Fiat Chrysler, however, are taking more positive stands, forecasting continued strength in U.S. and North American vehicle demand. GM last week raised its outlook for full-year results and reported stronger margins in its North American operations. Chief Executive Mary Barra told analysts last week average prices for GM vehicles were up $1,500 in the second quarter from a year ago. She predicted "continued momentum" in the second half as the company launches new models and increases production of trucks and sport utility vehicles. Fiat Chrysler said earlier this week it expects North American demand to "remain strong" and Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne predicted "positive pricing going forward" in the market. However, Marchionne warned that unless the company can negotiate more competitive labor deals with the United Auto Workers, it will stop building sedans and compact cars in the United States. The slump in Fiat Chrysler's sedan sales reflects a broader shift: no longer is consumer demand strong across all market segments and body styles. The call on the North American vehicle market matters to investors because U.S. sales of light trucks and SUVs generate the bulk of global profits for GM, Fiat Chrysler and Ford. Ford said it expects the U.S. economy to grow 1.9 percent to 2.3 percent this year, lower than Ford's previous expectation of 2.1 percent to 2.6 percent growth. The Federal Reserve last month trimmed its forecast for U.S. economic growth to 2 percent from 2.2 percent in March. +++ Electric vehicles are not that big yet in market right now, but they are picking up speed and will inevitably become in the future, so Daimler wants to speed up vehicle development at MERCEDES. According to Automotive News, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche stated that the segment is gaining market share, and it’s very important for Mercedes Benz to time itself accordingly. "We are adjusting our planning in this field. It is very important to get the right timing. As a tendency, and as a trend, we have become more bullish in that regard". The CEO went on saying that Mercedes will reveal more about its plans for electric cars at the Paris Auto Show in October, where a prototype of an electric-powered Mercedes vehicle, with a 500 km range is expected. The car is believed to go on sale before 2020. Daimler will increase spending in order to speed up the electric vehicle development process, which is expected to be “significantly above” last year’s €6.6 billion budget; for comparison, Daimler invested €5.7 billion in 2014. The German giant will devote its resources in developing new low-emission and fuel-efficient engines, alternative drive systems, autonomous driving technology and a new generation of batteries. +++ The SKODA Kodiaq is the model best poised to launch Volkswagen’s Czech brand into the US market, according to the firm's CEO, Bernhard Maier. Speaking to Autocar at the recent Kodiaq launch, Maier said he believed the brand's new SUV model would be a hit if sold in the US although he also explained that the US wasn’t on Skoda’s immediate radar. “If we do decide to compete in the US, we will have one chance to make a good first impression”, he said. “We feel that if we were there now, the Kodiaq would be a home-run car”. Maier said the 3 new markets that currently most interest Skoda are South Korea, Singapore and Iran but he added: “America is the one that we don't currently compete in with the biggest potential”. Skoda is undertaking a feasibility study to determine whether a potential US entry would make sense. The company has also recently trademarked the names of several of its models with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Names trademarked by the brand in the US include Superb, Octavia, Yeti and vRS, as well as a yet-to-be-identified H-Tec model name. No timescale has been set for Skoda to make a decision about the US but its all-new Kodiaq model will go on sale in European markets at the start of 2017. +++ TOYOTA reported a drop in first-half vehicle sales on Thursday following a series of production stoppages, falling behind Volkswagen which became the world's top-selling carmaker in the first 6 months of 2016 despite its emissions scandal. The Japanese company, which manufactures the Toyota, Lexus and Daihatsu brands, said its global sales slid 0.6 percent in January-June to 4.992 million vehicles worldwide, down from 5.021 million in the same period last year. Volkswagen said on Wednesday it delivered 5.116 million vehicles in the same period, a 1.5 percent rise. Having been the world's best-selling automaker for 4 consecutive years through 2015, Toyota has suffered this year from a hit to Japanese production after an earthquake in April damaged a plant operated by a key supplier, halting production at many of its lines across the country for weeks. Before that, production at domestic assembly plants ground to a halt for a week in February after an explosion at one of the automaker's steel suppliers led to a shortage of parts. For the month of June, sales of Toyota vehicles fell 1.1 percent on the year to 881,000. VW's sales have so far not taken a beating from its "dieselgate" scandal, sparked by its admission in September that it installed illegal software to mask toxic emissions on about 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide. While sales of its mass-market VW brand have suffered, this has been more than offset by strong demand for luxury Audi and Porsche models as well as Czech brand Skoda. Europe's largest automaker said on Thursday it expected full-year sales to come in slightly above last year's 9.93 million deliveries, as demand in China and Western Europe outweighs declines in the Americas and Russia. Although the emissions scandal has tarnished its reputation and triggered a multitude of lawsuits, VW has maintained sales in part by offering incentives to buyers in the United States and other markets while it repositions its business by investing in electric cars and on-demand transport services. General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, is third in global sales rankings, with 6-month sales of 4.76 million vehicles, down 1.2 percent from a year earlier. +++ VOLKSWAGEN said on Friday it regretted the Washington Department of Ecology's decision to fine it $176 million over its emissions scandal, saying the move ran counter to efforts to resolve U.S. consumer claims collectively. "It is regrettable that some states have decided to seek environmental claims now, notwithstanding their prior support of this ongoing federal-state collaborative process", the German carmaker said in a statement. Volkswagen (VW) has sought a comprehensive national resolution in the United States of all environmental issues arising from its emissions test cheating scandal. As part of these efforts, VW has agreed to buy back or modify affected vehicles, create a $2.7-billion environmental trust and invest $2 billion on infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles. On Thursday, the Washington Department of Ecology said it had fined VW $176 million for installing illegal software on many of its diesel vehicles to cheat and falsify emissions tests. VW has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board. It has not said whether it will launch an appeal. VW's "dieselgate" scandal erupted in September, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the carmaker had violated the Federal Clean Air Act, forcing the carmaker into a $14.7 billion settlement. +++

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