Newsflash    08-11-2015 11:00

+++ Volkswagen's luxury flagship AUDI has suspended 2 engineers after its larger diesel engines were found evading emissions limits in the United States, CEO Rupert Stadler said in an interview. Volkswagen and Audi notified U.S. authorities that about 85,000 vehicles with 3.0 liter V6 diesel engines were fitted with emissions-control equipment that was not disclosed to U.S. regulators. The news widened a scandal at parent VW which has led to the ouster of its long-time chief executive and wiped more than 20 billion euros off the group's market value. Audi is now investigating whether employees in technical development and other departments deliberately manipulated emission-control devices and has suspended 2 engineers, Stadler said in an interview, without giving any further details. "We are surprised and shocked by the emissions news from the U.S.", Audi's acting chairman, Berthold Huber, said in a joint statement with works council boss Peter Mosch. "Now the causes for such grave mistakes must be found and eliminated", said Huber, a former head of Germany's IG Metall labor union. "This has utmost priority". The V6 diesel engine was designed and assembled by Audi at its factory in Neckarsulm, Germany and widely used in premium models sold by the group's VW, Audi and Porsche brands in model years 2009 through 2016, Audi said. The Audi suspensions take the number of officials confirmed to have been put on leave across the VW group as a result of its internal investigations to 8, including at least 6 senior individuals. Ingolstadt-based Audi has said it failed to notify authorities in the United States of 3 so-called auxiliary emissions control devices (AECD) in luxury models, one of which is classified there as a banned "defeat device". The admission from Audi, which contributes about 40 percent to VW group profit, is raising pressure on Stadler, a 25-year VW group veteran who has led Audi for 9 years. Asked about potential personal consequences, the 52-year-old Stadler said: "What's at stake now is to find out the truth and I will not rest until everything is on the table". Stadler must push on with the investigation "completely and without regard to individuals", said Mosch, head of Audi's works council and a member of the supervisory board's influential steering committee. The CEO is scheduled to brief the Audi board at a regular meeting on Dec. 3 on the state of negotiations with U.S. authorities and progress in finding technical fixes for the affected vehicles which include the A6 and the Q5, company sources said. +++ The new, 7th generation BMW 5 Series has entered the final phase of engineering development and durability testing ahead of its unveiling in the second half of next year. It’s set to reach showrooms in early 2017 and go head to head with the upcoming new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Jaguar XF and the Audi A6. It will offer a broader range of powertrain options than today’s record-selling model. These will include a new plug-in petrol-electric hybrid with, BMW insiders confirm, a zero-emissions range of more than 30 kilometers. The decision to fit the new 5 Series with a contemporary 48-volt electrical architecture enables it to feature advanced autonomous driving systems. It can have hands-off operation up to a pre-determined speed, a sophisticated anti-collision system and fully autonomous braking, among other features. The increasing importance of connectivity means the new 5 Series will be equipped with a 5th-generation iDrive system, as used by the new 7 Series. It supports new touchpad and touchscreen functions, allowing you to operate the various features in a similar style to that of a smartphone, with familiar pinch, point and swipe commands, or alternatively via an updated rotary dial mounted on the car’s broad centre console. The new model will also offer optional gesture control, with a 3-dimensional sensor mounted within the headlining to detect up to five different hand movements. BMW will also make available its latest voice recognition system, providing the new iDrive system with 4 different operating options in total. As with today’s 6-year-old model, the new 5 Series will be produced in 3 distinct bodystyles: sedan (codenamed G30), Touring (G31) and GT (G32). The GT will continue to feature a large liftback but in what one high-ranking BMW insider has described as a “much more elegant form”. The saloon is scheduled to make its public debut at the Paris motor show during the third quarter of 2016. Dates for the launch of the Touring and GT are yet to be finalised, although sources with knowledge of the planned production schedule suggest they will appear at the Geneva and Frankfurt shows in 2017. Recent prototypes photographed testing on public roads in Germany reveal that the new 5 Series has gained an evolutionary exterior styling update, with cues lifted from the Pininfarina Gran Lusso Coupé concept car first shown at the 2013 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance in Italy. Its traditional three-box silhouette is retained. However, a more heavily raked rear window and sloping boot deck provide it with a sleeker profile and more shapely rear end than today’s model. As part of efforts to significantly improve its aerodynamics, the new 5 Series adopts a more prominent kidney grille with louvres that open when the engine requires cooling and close again to improve airflow around the front end. The headlights, available with optional lasers for the high-beam function, also extend into the chrome surround of the grille in a bid to provide the car with greater visual width. Along the flanks, there is a more pronounced shoulder, added tumblehome to the glass area and an air breather element behind the front wheel arches. The rear gets a shapely new C-pillar treatment, OLED tail-lights and, on the more upmarket models, tailpipes set within the lower section of the bumper. As with the 7 Series, BMW plans 5 styling packages for the new 5 Series: Standard, Sport, Pure Excellence, M Sport and Individual. Underpinning the car is an advanced new platform codenamed OKL (Oberklasse, or ‘luxury class’). First used by the new 7 Series, it has been conceived around a combination of materials, including carbonfibre, aluminium, magnesium and high-strength steel. The new 5 Series will shed up to 100 kg compared with today’s model, which is a claimed 1.595 kg in its lightest form, the 520i. The interior adopts a new-look dashboard that features high-resolution digital instruments and a free-standing infotainment monitor. The design is similar to that in the latest 7 Series, with the same basic architecture, multi-function steering wheel, switchgear and materials. The subtle increase in external dimensions is reflected inside, with added accommodation both front and rear. BMW has placed great emphasis on improving the comfort and refinement of the 5 Series. New seats with softer cushioning are used up front. The bodyshell also receives new sound-deadening material. From the outset of sales in early 2017, the engine line-up will include various versions of BMW’s latest B47 diesel and B48 petrol 4-cylinder units, all in 2.0-litre form, as with today’s model. They will be joined by BMW’s recently unveiled B57 diesel and B58 petrol 6-cylinder engines, which also use a standardised 500cc individual cylinder capacity for an overall volume of 3.0 litres. The new 5 Series is also earmarked to receive a newly upgraded 450 hp 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, recently launched in the 750i. Other engine options will include a quad-turbocharged version of the new 6-cylinder B57 diesel, which will be a successor to the M550d. Set to replace the existing tri-turbo N57 engine, this advanced 3.0-litre unit is said to adopt electrically driven turbos to bolster reserves beyond the already stout 381 hp and 640 Nm of today’s model. BMW also plans to offer the new 5 Series with the plug-in petrol-electric powertrain used in the 330e, 740e and X5 xDrive40e. The hybrid set-up mates a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor mounted within the gearbox and a lithium ion battery sited in the floor of the boot to provide an electric-only range of more than 30 kilometers. The new 5 Series flagship will be the M5. Set to offer a choice between rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive for the first time, it is tentatively due to be unveiled at the 2017 Geneva motor show. It will feature a developed version of the 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine. Standard 5 Series models will receive either a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or a new 9-speed automatic. The M5 will continue with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. As with the new M5, some models will be offered with the choice of rear or optional 4-wheel drive. +++ Hyundai has provided valuable insight into what we can expect from its newly-formed GENESIS sub-brand. Genesis will be formally launched at next year's Detroit Motor Show with the unveiling of the 2017 G90, a full-size sedan designed to replace the aging Hyundai Equus. Positioned at the very top of the lineup, the G90 will usher in the Athletic Elegance design language that will influence every single car the company will introduce in the coming years. The G90 will be the first of 6 brand new models designed with an unabashed focus on luxury. The lineup will include a big crossover aimed at the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and the BMW X5, a coupe that will replace the existing Genesis coupe, and, surprisingly, an entry-level sedan that will fight head-to-head against the 3 Series and the C-Class. The sedan is expected to quickly spawn a crossover, though Dave Zuchowski, the CEO of Hyundai Motor America, suggested that a body-on-frame Genesis crossover isn't in the works. Every member of the Genesis lineup will ride on a purpose-built platform and use brand-specific engines, meaning they won't simply be regular-production Hyundais spruced up with bigger rims, more chrome, and a cow-lined cabin. Zuchowski revealed that Hyundai will hand-pick which North American dealers will get to sell Genesis models. Currently, 411 of Hyundai's 834 United States dealers are authorized to sell the Equus. +++ KIA has quickly completed construction of its first production plant in Mexico, located in the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon. Crews broke ground at the site just 13 months ago, representing the fastest completion of any manufacturing facility in Kia's history. The project required an up-front investment of approximately $3 billion, paid by Kia and its supplier partners. The plant will have an annual production capacity of 300,000 vehicles, most of which will be headed to US showrooms. Approximately 20 percent will supply the Mexico market, while another 20 percent will be sent south to other Latin America markets. Approximately 14,000 jobs are expected to be directly generated to help the facility reach its production targets. Workers will be assisted by modern equipment, including a $75 million stamping press that is the largest among any global Kia plant. Other features, including LED lighting and an on-site water treatment plant, are aimed at furthering the company's 'green' production commitments. "Thanks to the state-of-the-art technology and manufacturing processes being introduced to the plant, we expect our facility to be one of the most environmentally-friendly automotive manufacturing plants in the region", said Kia Motors Mexico president Seong-Bae Kim. The company has not yet announced a production start date for the new factory's assembly line. +++ PSA (Peugeot, Citroen, DS) must urgently improve its position in Germany, where it lags peers because it is failing to convince customers of the value and attractiveness of its cars, Chief Executive Carlos Tavares told. "The unsatisfactory results in Germany are apparently due to the fact that German customers are not as convinced of our products as the Spanish, French, Austrian or Dutch ones are", Tavares was quoted as saying in an interview. He said PSA needed to improve its image as well as its dealership network in Germany, where its Peugeot and Citroen brands had a combined market share of about 3.3 percent in January to October this year, compared with 21 percent held by the VW brand or 7.1 percent by Opel. "I do not want to accept that as normal. We must get better in Germany", Tavares said. Asked whether he was interested in taking on new investors, he said PSA could remain independent but did not need to do so. "I'll talk to anyone. The main point is: If I am talking to someone I want to be in good shape", he said, while adding he was currently not in negotiations with any one particular party. PSA expects to be back in the black this year, after swinging to its first profit since 2011 in the first half of this year and despite some headwinds from currency effects and a slowdown in the Chinese market, he said. "With a return on sales of 5 percent we are back on par with our rivals and not at the end of the field", he said, adding he expected 2015 vehicle sales to be stable versus 2014. +++ ROLLS-ROYCE has an answer that can only come from a luxury marque when asked if it will develop a driverless car. "I think we invented it", said the company's Asia Pacific regional director Paul Harris. "With a chauffeur". Harris says although Rolls-Royce owners increasingly preferred to drive themselves, the days of Jeeves seated behind the wheel are not over yet. "They like the ability to phone their driver up and say 'come and bring me the car now' or whatever. I see that all the time in Asia. "So the self-drive car, I'm not sure it's really going to give you that option. For me, it seems to be an extension of almost buses really: they're driving around in certain circles and you ask them to stop at point A, you jump on board and get on with people you don't know and continue your journey". In some ways, not much has changed over the years for the 109-year old luxury car brand, which was resurrected as a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW in 1998. But Harris stresses the company, which still builds its cars (about 4.000 of them a year) by hand in Britain, wasn't living in the past. He says tighter regulation on auto emissions may fast-track the development of an electric vehicle, as pressure mounts on car makers to rein in pollution and offer emissions-free driving. "Very clearly the board of directors have been saying, and quite rightly, that we're looking at a number of options", says Harris, in Melbourne this week to launch Rolls-Royce's new model, the Dawn convertible. "The trigger that will make us change will be the development of legal infrastructure in certain markets where we then may be omitted. So you may have a city in the US saying if you want to drive in the city you have to be electric only. And of course if that happens, we have to be able to react. "But at the moment I think that's in the medium-term window. It's not in the short-term, so it's quite a way off". Electric vehicles have muscled into the luxury car segment. US company Tesla has declared war on the internal combustion engine and unlocked its patents to speed up the development of mass-produced battery-powered cars. And in October, Aston Martin revealed an electric version of its four-door Rapide, which normally has a 6.0 litre, V12 petrol engine. But Harris says if Rolls-Royce produces an electric car, it will not be playing catch-up. In 2011, it made a one-off, fully electric-powered car, dubbed the 102EX. Harris says most people expected the car to enter production, given the high quality of the prototype. "That car was made as a one-off to live-test opinion of both consumer prospect and media. We almost got polarisation of opinions. We got people who were interested in Rolls-Royce who loved it and existing Roll-Royce petrol heads, V12 fanatics; and it's not they disliked it, they just love V12". This led senior management to doubt the viability of electric technology, but Harris says views within the company are changing. "Without mentioning brands, I think there is a heightened awareness to electric. The technology seems to be evolving in the right way. "But I still think there is some anxiety amongst consumers when they buy products because they buy them with a longevity window in mind. They don't actually keep them that long, but there's that mindset. It's like when you buy a mobile phone, come 2 or 3 years' time and the battery is gone. "The other issue for me is the accessibility of recharge ports. But that is slowly developing, maybe not at the pace it needs to and the consideration to recharge properly isn't there. However, once that infrastructure is there, and that will come quite rapidly in the next 5 to 10 years, we will be very clearly there". The Rolls-Royce executive predicts that the next 15 years will probably involve more changes in the auto industry than in the last century. And that won't just include technological advancements, but also in the way people own cars (or don't). "I'm in the generation where you owned cars or you leased cars. We're starting to see not even the commitment for 3 years, but the commitment for a day or an hour or two hours or by the minute or kilometres. "It's all evolving and changing all the time. The importance for us is that we are there and adaptable". +++ VOLKSWAGEN will not lower planned provisions of 6.7 billion euros for the costs of its diesel emissions scandal, though the technical fix for 8.5 million cars in Europe have turned out to be simpler than expected. VW is seeking as much as 20 billion euros in funding from banks as it struggles to cope with the expected costs of the scandal, which analysts say could top 40 billion euros including fines, legal claims and vehicle refits. But while the total costs of the scandal aren't clear, VW has no plans to alter the existing provisions, a spokesman told reporters at the carmaker's base in Wolfsburg. VW said during a presentation it only needs to install a mesh near the aircleaner in 3 million 1.6-litre EA 189 diesel engines to ensure they comply with EU emissions rules. Fitting the mesh will require 1 hour of work, improving the measuring capability of the engine's air mass sensor which enables more efficient combustion, another spokesman said. Chief Executive Matthias Müller told managers that the technical steps needed to fix the vehicles are "technically and financially manageable". VW said it was too early to give an estimate of the costs of installing the so-called air flow transformer. All 8.5 million engines in Europe, including 5.2 million 2.0-litre diesels and 300,000 1.2-litre diesels, will require software updates. "Our assumption that fundamental interferences with the engine are necessary have not come true", Müller said. +++

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