Newsflash    08-11-2014 08:00

+++ ALFA ROMEO 's growth into one of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' main global brands, along with an imminent U.S. relaunch, is on target, its North American chief said. Reid Bigland, who also heads U.S. sales for the Chrysler Group, said FCA's commitment of $6.5 billion to revamp Alfa Romeo makes the company's lofty sales goal announced earlier this year "achievable". The first shipment to the United States from Italy of 54 of the Alfa Romeo 4C, a niche sports car, has been sent, Bigland said. They will be the first Alfa Romeos sold in the U.S. market since 1996. The 4C will be followed by a line of models to be sold in larger numbers, but Bigland would not talk about the timing of future cars. In May, FCA announced that Alfa Romeo sales would increase more than fivefold to 400,000 vehicles by 2018, and that North American sales would go from nearly zero to 150,000. A relatively small number of Alfa Romeos have been sold in recent years in Mexico, but none in the United States or Canada. The brand plans to introduce 8 new models by 2018. It is to become, along with Jeep, one of FCA's global brands. FCA has previously said that the next new Alfa Romeo model will be introduced in mid-2015, but Bigland declined to say when it would reach the United States or give details about the model. Bigland said that about 82 Fiat or Maserati dealers will initially sell the 4C in the United States, along with 2 in Canada. The sales outlets will increase to a total of 120 by the first quarter, and 200 by the end of 2015. +++ BMW 's China head expects profit margins to narrow as the German premium automaker steps up localization to maintain double-digit growth amid slowing demand and tougher competition in the world's biggest auto market. "Everything is normalizing in China: the market growth, the volume growth, the margin growth", said Karsten Engel, BMW's China chief executive. "In the coming years, we expect the premium market in China to grow around 10 percent, and for us, a little bit more. The breakneck growth of 30 to 40 percent will not come back again", Engel said. A sudden slowdown in China's car market in the middle of the year knocked BMW's third-quarter China growth to about 8 percent, from over 20 percent in the first half. "In the middle of the year, the dealers said: 'Stocks are building up and we should be careful', so we reduced supply and we reduced a bit of speed", Engel said. "That's why the third quarter was a bit lower". To beat the broader market, BMW aims to double the range of locally produced models to 6 in the course of the current decade, Engel said. That strategy would enable BMW to avoid hefty import taxes and price the cars more competitively in China. German brands BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi currently dominate China's premium car market. But they're being increasingly challenged by newcomers such as Lincoln and Infiniti. Competition and the ongoing trend of selling smaller, and cheaper premium models are weighing on margins. "What we do see is the trend downwards", Engel said. "On pricing. We have to be competitive in the market". To achieve "healthy, steady" growth which is less vulnerable to market fluctuations, Engel said BMW and its dealers need to broaden revenue streams from businesses including auto-financing, used-car sales and after-sales services. +++ CADILLAC 's new boss believes General Motors' premium brand could eventually sell ultra-luxury cars that retail for a quarter-million dollars by 2029. "It is too early today for a $250,000 Cadillac", said Johann de Nysschen, in an interview. "15 years from now, it won't be". Cadillac's current flagship car, the XTS sedan, tops out at around $70,000 which is tens of thousands of dollars less than the range-topping models of such German competitors as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. De Nysschen, a former Infiniti executive who was named Cadillac president in August, is overseeing a product blitz that will cost GM an estimated $2.5 billion over the next 6 years, he told. As part of that brand overhaul, Cadillac is readying the launch next year of a new high-end sedan, the CT-6, followed by an even larger, more expensive model by 2020. De Nysschen hinted the CT-6 will be priced "in the 70s", or just above the XTS. He also said Cadillac is looking at a smaller model positioned below the ATS, one that might compete with the Mercedes-Benz CLA. "We quite clearly have in the passenger car line an opportunity below where ATS is positioned today", de Nysschen said. "There is a whole new category for compact premium sedans". Cadillac may also get more cross-over models to supplement the SRX, he said. "The Germans have so many you can't keep track. An obvious, obvious shortcoming in our lineup". +++ FIAT expects its new 500X crossover to be even more popular in North America than its 500 microcar, senior executives said. Fiat will begin selling the 500X in the second quarter of next year. It is intended to appeal to consumers looking for a larger car than the tiny, retro-styled 500. "If you look at the 500, the number one reason for rejection is the size of the vehicle. We no longer have that", Jason Stoicevich, head of Fiat in North America, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "Our expectations would be to outsell the 500". Stoicevich declined to give specific sales targets. Fiat is launching the 500X in 100 countries, and is relying heavily on strong sales in the United States. Currently, North America accounts for just 60,000 of Fiat's 1.6 million in annual vehicle sales; a figure the brand's global chief called "marginal". "In this case, the North American volumes won't be marginal", Fiat head Olivier Francois said of the 500X. Fiat returned to the U.S. market after a 16-year absence in 2011. The brand needed half the time it took Mini or Kia to breach the 40,000 sales mark in the United States. However, Fiat 500 sales peaked in 2012 and fell 18 percent last year, while overall volumes for the brand dipped 1.2 percent in 2013. Fiat has said that it has a particular opportunity to increase sales in the U.S. Northeast with the 500X because it has all-wheel-drive capabilities. Stoicevich said in September that many consumers who may have wanted to buy a Fiat in these areas held back because of the snowy winters. +++ OPEL will build a SUV at its factory in Rüsselsheim and invest 500 million euros in engine production in Europe, General Motors' Chief Executive Mary Barra said. The U.S. carmaker had said in March that it will make 2 additonal vehicles at Rüsselsheim, including a Buick-branded vehicle, destined for export to the United States as the company seeks to intertwine the Opel and Buick ranges more closely to share development costs. "This SUV will become a second flagship next to the Insignia", Barra said in a statement, referring to Opel's premium sedan. The decision to invest 500 million euros to upgrade production for fuel-efficient engines comes on top of the 245 million euros pledged in March to bring a new model to Rüsselsheim and the 4 billion euros promised last year to overhaul Opel's ageing range as it chases a targeted 8 percent of the European market. Auto industry association ACEA says that Opel and sister brand Vauxhall's market share was 6.9 percent in Western Europe between January and October. The announcement was welcomed by labour union IG Metall, representing workers who have vehemently opposed some of GM's decisions to downsize operations in Europe. "The example of Opel shows that IG Metall knows how to combine securing industrial jobs with sustainable growth", Wolfgang Schaefer-Klug, head of Opel's worker council said in a statement. In February Opel signed a collective labour agreement with employees at its German factories in Rüsselsheim, Kaiserslautern and Eisenach, in an accord that includes a job protection guarantee until 2018. Opel employs about 3,300 workers at Rüsselsheim, where the Insignia, Zafira and Astra models are built. GM said it would invest the 500 million euros in engine production at the Kaiserslautern and Rüsselsheim Opel plants as well as the GM powertrain factory in Tychy, Poland. +++ TESLA is slowly ramping up production. Demand for its electric sedans allegedly remains high. Yet far fewer of the vehicles are making their way onto U.S. roads this year. In the first 9 months of 2014, the number of U.S. registrations of Tesla vehicles fell by one-third to 9,331, according to an analysis of public records by Hedges & Co., an Ohio-based market-research firm. In the same period, however, Tesla said it delivered 21,821 cars: a 40 percent increase from a year earlier. What happened to the other 12,490 cars? One possible explanation is that Tesla is shipping more cars abroad. Here’s how the dynamic pans out: Tesla sells its cars directly and basically makes them to order, so there should be little lag between delivery, sale, and registration of any given Model S. All those Teslas without U.S. registrations (almost 60 percent of deliveries so far this year) could have been shipped abroad. Tesla now has about 40 sales centers in Europe and began shipping cars to Japan in September and China early this year, although it still doesn’t have a network of chargers in the latter country. But the overseas-sales thesis doesn’t entirely sync with what Tesla has said. In its latest financial update, on Nov. 5, the company said “the majority” of its deliveries in the third quarter were in North America. It predicted slightly less than half of its vehicles next year would be routed abroad; far fewer cars than the registration slump would suggest. Tesla hasn’t been keen to elaborate. When asked about the decline in registrations, it simply referred to its recent earnings report. Another possibility is that U.S. buyers are cooling on the car and deliveries aren’t translating to sales nearly as quickly as the carmaker would have us believe. On this front, Tesla traffic in the U.S. is interesting. The number of new registrations has decreased in Washington, where Teslas have been most popular since they first rolled off of assembly lines. Registrations in California, by far Tesla’s No. 1 territory in terms of overall sales, fell 43 percent in the first 9 months of the year. But registrations are climbing in places like Indiana and Ohio, where Tesla sales have been scant thus far. This year saw Georgia pass Oregon, Connecticut, and Colorado in the number of new Teslas going on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles. In other words, at this point in Tesla’s journey (roughly as the fledgling car company shifts into second gear) it may be transitioning from the early-adopter crowd to the everyman. (Or at least the everyman that has $70,000 to spend on a luxury car). If demand really isn’t waning (and Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk insists as much) it does seem to be shifting. A Tesla on the streets of San Francisco is old news at this point, no more notable than a small-batch Porsche. A Tesla in Savannah, meanwhile, is still turning heads. If demand is cooling in green-oriented states (and the U.S. at large) Musk probably wouldn’t want to crow about it, at least not until he has a new model to sell. +++ VOLKSWAGEN is to invest 85.6 billion euros in its automotive operations over the next 5 years to push foreign expansion, new models and technology to back its quest for global leadership. Volkswagen said the bulk of the cash will flow into developing more efficient vehicles and production methods, taking its capital expenditure to between 6 and 7 percent of revenue in the period from 2015 to 2019, which analysts said amounts to a slight hike in investment spending. Analysts at investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI said, "As expected, VW's 5-year capex planning has not become a victim of the company's efficiency program which is, among other things, aiming at 5 billion euros of efficiency gains at the VW brand by 2018". Around 41.3 billion euros of the investment plan will go toward developing a range of SUVs, modernizing part of the light commercial vehicle portfolio and toward developing hybrid and electric drives. At the same time, investments are also planned in new vehicles and successor models in almost all vehicle classes, which will be based on modular toolkit technology and related components, the company said. Volkswagen Group Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said the investment plan will help it become "the leading automotive group in both ecological and economic terms with the best and most sustainable products". Around 23 billion euros will be spent on expanding capacity at its plant in Poland where it builds Crafter vans, and the new Audi plant in Mexico, as well as on paint shops and a production facility to make vehicle parts. Poised to meet its annual sales target of 10 million vehicles four years early in 2014, Europe's largest carmaker has also sought to embark on an efficiency drive to save 5 billion euros across its multi-brand group which includes luxury division Audi and Czech carmaker Skoda. But squeezing budgets appears to be tough as VW faces costly commitments to develop fuel-efficient powertrains to meet carbon dioxide emission targets, and to beef up its troubled operations in the United States while expanding in China, its biggest market. Volkswagen's Chinese joint ventures will invest 22 billion euros in new production facilities and products by 2019, the company said. +++

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