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Newsflash    01-10-2014 17:00

+++ Following the launch of the upcoming BMW M2 in 2015, the firm's designers and engineers will focus their attention on creating the next generation of mainstream models. The firm plans to evolve the design language of its 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series models in their next generations to create more visual differentiation between models. “We want each and every model to have its own little world. We think that’s important in a market where we sell 2 million cars (Mini and Rolls-Royce included) this year", said Karim Habib, BMW brand design director. “We need to maintain exclusivity, and if anything we will make them more separate”, he added. BMW’s core model range of 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series models have styling that has developed to give each one a distinct identity, a trend started in the late 1990s under Chris Bangle after BMW was criticised for making small, medium and large versions of the same car. Today the 3-series, for example, has crisp-edged styling, whereas the 5-series has a softer look. “Whatever we do must be authentic design, which represents the inner qualities of the car”, said Habib. “Why edges? With edges you express precision and the 3-series drives crisply, with precision. But the 5-series is a bit more about elegance, with more volume in the surfaces”, he added. Habib said BMW can use new headlamp technology, particularly that involving high intensity LED lamps, to give each of the saloon cars a more different and individual front-end graphic to build around its hallmark double-kidney grille. BMW will shortly launch a new flagship 7-series, which is likely to employ slim LED headlamps as its price point can justify making use of the pricey technology. Slim headlamps would enable Habib and his team to design the next 7-series around a much larger double-kidney grille with a greater road presence. The price point of the 3-series, however, can’t yet justify purely LED lighting, so the design would need to incorporate conventional technology headlamps. Depending on how the cost of LED technology develops the 5-series, due for launch in 2016, could go either way. “The LED tipping point is pretty much here”, said Habib. +++ FORD 's third-quarter earnings fell 34 percent but beat Wall Street expectations on a strong showing in North America even as revenue fell due to the cost of introducing the F-150 pickup truck. Ford's launch of its aluminum-bodied F-150 is on track, the company said. A 3 percent drop in third-quarter revenue to $34.9 billion is largely linked to the planned shutdown of the F-150 plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Excluding one-time items, Ford reported earnings of 24 cents per share, which beat expectations of 19 cents from analysts. Three cents of that beat stemmed from operating results in North America and the rest from lower tax rates. Ford's third-quarter profit margin of 7.1 percent in North America lagged the 9.5 percent that crosstown rival General Motors Co reported. Excluding recall costs, Ford's margin would have been 10.2 percent. Ford last month warned that its pretax profit this year would be $6 billion, down from a previous forecast of $7 billion to $8 billion, and that recall costs in North America would be $1 billion. About $630 million of the recall costs came in the third quarter, which cut the company's operating margin in North America, said Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks. The profit margin excluding recall costs of 10.2 percent was lower than the year-earlier 10.9 percent due to F-150 introduction costs, Shanks said. Ford's net profit of $835 million, or 21 cents per share, was down 34 percent from $1.27 billion, or 31 cents per share, a year earlier. The company continued to lose money in Europe and in South America while being profitable in Asia as well as North America. Ford's loss in Europe widened to $439 million from $182 million a year ago, mainly due to weakness in Russia. The company continued its steady gains in China, where it reached 4.7 percent market share, its highest yet. +++ GENERAL MOTORS reported a higher-than-expected profit in the third quarter on strong demand for its redesigned full-size pickup trucks in North America. "Clearly, high transaction prices (the new trucks and SUVs are more profitable than the ones they replace) that certainly helps", GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said. The positive results provided a respite from the drumbeat of negative news this year surrounding faulty ignition switches that led to massive recalls and have been blamed for at least 29 deaths. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas lauded GM's "Audi-style" profit margins in North America that approach German luxury levels. However, he added investors should consider exiting the stock, citing a dial-down of European growth and increased pressures on the key U.S. market. "We believe no automaker with global exposure can confidently offer guidance for the 2015 period", he said. "This is not just a GM issue". Higher pricing on GM's vehicles resulted in a $600 million profit gain in the quarter. It launched new versions of its full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks last year and followed those with other updated SUVs on the same vehicle platform earlier this year. Stevens said GM remained on or ahead of its financial forecast from January, when it said it would see a slight increase in pretax profit this year. The quarter did not include any charges for costs related to the record number of recalls this year as GM has already booked them. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said GM has repaired more than 1.2 million of the cars recalled for the defective switch, and had enough replacement parts to service the rest. Net income rose to $1.38 billion, or 81 cents a share, from $698 million, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, GM earned 97 cents a share, 2 cents above what analysts expected. The quarter included $300 million in special items for flood damage sustained at GM's Michigan technical center and the writedown of Russian assets. Revenue rose slightly to about $39.3 billion from $39 billion. Analysts expected $39.8 billion. GM reported a profit margin of 9.5 percent in North America, the fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth. GM said average transaction prices in the U.S. market and vehicle sales in China reached record highs in the quarter. It is getting almost $4,000 more per full-size pickup than it was before the new model was introduced. Stevens expects GM's North American incentive spending to decline in the fourth quarter. In North America, earnings rose 12 percent to $2.45 billion. Profit at GM's international operations, including China, fell about 20 percent to $259 million. However, GM's equity income in China rose 14 percent to $484 million. The loss in Europe, which included $200 million in restructuring costs, widened by about $150 million as the Russian market struggled. GM posted a loss of $32 million in South America, and CFO Stevens said GM remained focused on cutting costs there. +++ HONDA 's Mobilio, a spacious yet affordable multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), has nearly doubled its market share this year, triggering a price war with Toyota in Indonesia, the latest battleground for global carmakers. Toyota and its Daihatsu affiliate have long enjoyed a more than 50 percent market share in Indonesia, where car ownership is less than 4 percent in a population of close to 250 million. This emerging market with a growing middle-class keen to upgrade to four wheels from two, is a key target for global carmakers facing slowing demand in the United States and Europe. For much of the past decade Toyota and Daihatsu were alone in offering the lower-range MPVs (dubbed 'people movers' locally) that are popular among family-oriented Indonesians. That market grip has seen off attempts by General Motors, Nissan and others to dethrone them. But the Mobilio, a 7-seat MPV with a starting price of around $13,500, is now proving a serious challenger, with sales of about 67,000 since its January launch, driving the company's Indonesian market share up to 13.6 percent. Toyota Group's market share has dropped to 48.7 percent at end-September from above 54 percent 5 years ago, according to data from their distributor PT Astra International. Lower-range MPVs, including Toyota's Avanza and the Daihatsu Xenia, make up over a third of industry sales in Indonesia, says Davy Tuilan, marketing director of PT Suzuki Indomobil Sales, a unit of Japanese rival Suzuki. "The Indonesian market is now more open, because everybody is ready with a product line-up in low-cost green cars (LCGCs) and the low MPV segment", he said. LCGCs are a special category in Indonesia that qualify for some tax breaks. Mobilio drivers say the compact MPV is priced competitively, has a sleek design and offers more room than its rivals. "It's very different from other family cars. To us, it looks like an expensive car, while it's very affordable", said Mirza Ayu, who lives with her parents and brother near the capital, Jakarta. The family bought a Mobilio in June to replace their 5-year-old Avanza. The Mobilio's success also suggests Toyota may have become complacent in a market it has long dominated. "Others have come out with more updated products, new products and I think Toyota has been a little lazy in introducing new models", said Mohit Arora, vice president at research firm JD Power Asia Pacific, referring to MPVs. At a Honda dealership in Jakarta where the Mobilio accounts for around 60 percent of total sales, sales executive Agung Suriza said: "The Mobilio's exterior is fresher than its Toyota and Daihatsu competitors. The design of the Xenia and Avanza hasn't changed much for a long time". A Toyota spokeswoman in Singapore said the group (Toyota, Daihatsu and Hino) "sees increasing competition in Indonesia in a positive way, as a challenge to improve our products and services and to achieve higher standards in fulfilling our customers' needs". To protect its market position, Toyota said it would improve localisation (sourcing more in Indonesia) and strengthen its sales and service network. A Toyota engineer said the company was also working on giving the Avanza a facelift as early as next year, without elaborating. Automakers have responded to the competition with discounts. The Avanza is being discounted by up to 10 percent, or $1,250-$1,330, dealers said; around a 50 percent increase on last year's discount and pushing its price into a lower bracket with the Xenia, which has seen sales drop by a third so far this year. "Last year's discount was lower, but logically if there's competition we take some steps", said one Toyota dealer. "No one's buying a Xenia", acknowledged a senior Daihatsu executive in Osaka. Daihatsu's cheapest car in Indonesia starts at about $6,500. "If Suzuki began selling a car like the Alto in Indonesia, we'd be dead-meat", the executive added. Suzuki sells its Alto hatchback in India, one of its main markets, where the model is among its cheapest at a starting price of about $4,500. Koji Endo, Tokyo-based analyst with Advanced Research Japan, reckons Toyota and Daihatsu need to introduce a couple of models that are cheaper than those from Honda and others if they want to protect their market share. "I think it's probably very difficult for Toyota-Daihatsu to keep 50 percent market share. Maybe 50 will decline to 45 or 40 in the next 5 years", predicted Endo. Indonesia contributed about 17 percent of Daihatsu's global sales in the year to March. Honda did not respond to requests for comment, though Jonfis Fandy, marketing director at Honda Prospect Motors, attributed the Mobilio's popularity to its exterior design, power-to-fuel ratio, roomy interior and safety features. "The Mobilio has been designed mostly to accommodate Indonesian customers' needs", he said, adding Honda plans to expand the number of its dealers by 50 percent to more than 150 in the next couple of years. Competition in Indonesia is set to intensify as automakers build or expand capacity there. Mitsubishi said last month it would invest $600 million in a plant to make MPVs. The industry association predicts car sales will rise 10 percent a year for five years from 2015, boosted in part by government promotion of LCGCs. Industry sales increased 2.7 percent from last year in January-September. +++ MERCEDES-BENZ ’s AMG performance division has already started work on an ultra-high performance version of its forthcoming GT, company boss Tobias Mörs has told. "Why not?", said Mörs when quizzed on the prospect for a high-performance AMG GT. "A street-legal version of our GT3 racing car; that sounds like a pretty good idea". The new car will be targeted directly at the Porsche 911 GT3 though it will use neither that name nor be a Black Series model. "GT3 belongs to the other company", said Mörs, "we will find another name for our car". Mörs would not be drawn on when the new car will be available but confirms the FIA GT3 racing version of the GT will be available from the 2016 season to replace the immensely successful SLS GT3. It would be logical to introduce the road car in a similar timeframe. The target for the car, said Mörs, is a package that excels in every area. "I don’t want to make a dragster that’s only good for doing 0-100 km/h in 2.8 sec. We need more power, less weight, better aerodynamics and different suspension but the targets should be the power to weight ratio, drivability, lap time and tremendous feel". The aim for the new car will be to reduce weight by 80-100 kg compared to the 1570 kg S version of the GT, a task Mörs admitted would not be possible without using different materials. “The car is already 80 kg lighter than the SLS and has a similar power to weight ratio, so to lose much more weight we will need to use carbonfibre as we have with our Black Series models”. He was less easily drawn on how much additional power will be extracted from the new 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo engine, though admitted it would be fair to speculate it will be around the 560 hp mark, a near 10 per cent power increase on the more powerful (510 hp) of the 2 engines available for the GT at launch. Making that power from the engine should be straight-forward as the engine shares its internal architecture with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor used in the likes of the A45 AMG, from which 360 hp is already extracted. He added: “That doesn’t mean we can get 700 hp from the V8, it is not as simple as that, but the V8 is currently very understressed”. A 560 hp GT weighing 80 kg less would provide a power to weight ratio of 375 hp per tonne compared to the 315 hp per tonne of the current Porsche 911 GT3.That should be enough to knock its 0-100 km/h time back from 3.8 sec to a traction-limited 3.6 sec. Top speed is unlikely to increase from the current 310 km/h, as Mörs is keen to equip the car with considerable downforce even at the expense of extra drag. AMG now employs an entire department of aerodynamicists for the first time in its history. The new car will also receive a wider front and rear track to help mechanical grip. The entire package should lop 10 or more seconds off the GT’s Nürburgring lap time, which currently stands at 7 min 30sec using, as Mörs put it, “standard tyres, not special compounds designed to last just a few laps”. +++ NISSAN said it is recalling 260,000 vehicles globally due to a defect in driver-side airbags made by Takata. The Japanese parts maker is at the center of a burgeoning number of recalls over airbags that could spray shrapnel at occupants. The recalls affect Nissan's March model, called Micra in Europe, and the Cube, a Nissan spokesman said. They are chiefly in Japan, with 104,905 cars, 30,000 in Europe and 11,000 in China, he said. The Japanese recall covers models from 2008 to 2012, he said. He was not immediately able to provide more details on regions or model years. U.S. safety regulators have expanded the number of Takata-equipped vehicles in the United States that may be affected by recalls to 7.8 million vehicles by 10 carmakers. +++ PSA 's (Peugeot, Citroën) ingenious hybrid system, known as Hybrid Air, is proving so expensive to develop that the group needs partners to help, the firm's research and development boss Gilles Le Borgne has said. Hybrid Air compresses gas on the overrun and turns it to propulsion when the car next accelerates or climbs a hill. Autointernationaal.nl has already driven a prototype Peugeot 2008 fitted with the system, while Peugeot showed a 208 fitted with the technology at the recent Paris motor show. Citroen has also fitted a Hybrid Air-based powertrain to its C4 Cactus, creating the C4 Cactus Airflow 2L concept. The system delivers real-world savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of about 30 percent. However, it requires a production run of about 500,000 cars a year to be economic, said Le Borgne, because the system needs quite a lot of components not currently found in cars, including hydraulic motors, special gearboxes and 300-bar gas tanks. “Car companies are like big ships”, he said. “It takes time for them to change course as much as they could have to”. Through component supply group Bosch, PSA is searching for suitable partners, but seemed disappointed by the slow response. “Hybrid Air is ready for development”, said Le Borgne, “but it needs a big investment and we are not ready to make it on our own". +++

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