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+++ The future for is looking bright for ALFA ROMEO. The racy Giulia saloon is set for launch next year alongside an all-new SUV, and now a senior source at the company has revealed the next-generation Giulietta hatchback could be rear-wheel drive.

At a recent FCA (Fiat-Chrysler Automobile) event, the group’s head of passenger vehicle design Alberto Dillilo revealed the next Giulietta will be based on a “shortened version of the Giulia’s platform”. When quizzed whether this would mean the family hatch would also be rear-wheel drive, Dillilo said: “it’s possible, technically”. However, rivals like the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are also available with all-wheel drive, and it’s possible top-of-the-range Giuliettas could also be specced with this as an option. The revelations come as no surprise, after FCA confirmed plans to make its vehicle architecture as cost-effective as possible by spinning multiple bodystyles on single platforms. Given the significant investment it has put into the Giulia, Fiat-Chrysler bosses will be hoping to spread the cost with the next Giulietta. It will also help differentiate Alfa’s new line-up from the new family-oriented Fiats, as bosses feel the old Bravo and current Giulietta were too closely aligned. What’s more, the rear-wheel drive setup is likely to give the new Giulietta a unique selling point. The current BMW 1 Series is the only rear-driven family hatchback on sale in Europe, but the next-generation car is likely to move over to the UKL1 modular front-wheel drive platform that underpins cars like the Mini and BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. This gives Alfa Romeo the opportunity to turn the Giulietta into a truly sporty premium hatchback. A second Alfa spokesperson claimed the Giulietta’s current platform and suspension setup was “fine” and theoretically had “plenty of life left in it”, but that to be successful the Giulietta had to be “better than rivals, not just good enough”. Of course, rear-wheel drive also opens the door to an ultimate performance model. There are no details of official powertrains yet, but the 510 hp Giulia Quadrifoglio shows Alfa’s potential to truly upset the German establishment in terms of supercar-challenging sport saloons. To that end, there’s every possibility we’ll see a rear-driven Alfa Romeo Giulietta Cloverleaf to rival the BMW M135i, or a four-wheel drive Golf R challenger, with over 300 hp. Further down the range, we should see the usual array of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, but expect the price tag for the entry-level car to surpass the 30,000 euro barrier, given the mechanical complexities of sending the driveshaft to the rear. We can expect more details of Alfa’s Giulietta after the launch of the Giulia, sometime next year. +++

+++ BMW is lining up an autonomous driving concept as part of its centenary celebrations next year, head of sales and marketing Ian Robertson has suggested. At a briefing in London, Robertson talked extensively about the “moral dilemma” of fully autonomous cars, and then hinted that the firm would show new developments in this area as part of its birthday, which falls on 7 March. “We’ve reached the ‘feet off’ phase of autonomy”, he said, “and now we’re in the ‘hands off’ and ‘eyes off’ phase, but only for brief periods. The next phase will be ‘brain off’, but while the technology could be there in, say, 10 years’ time, other factors probably mean it’s 15 years away. “One of those factors is what you could call the moral dilemma. In a situation where a truck is going to hit your car, what does the autonomous car decide to do: save you by swerving out of the way, swerve into the path of another vehicle and possibly kill someone, or hit a pedestrian, or does it simply decide that, yes, the truck is going to hit you? We’re not ready for that”. Asked about BMW’s preparations for its centenary, Robertson said: “There will be some products we will share. But while we will celebrate a century of being in business, we will predominantly be looking at the century ahead. Maybe what I’ve been alluding to will be the direction of that”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI’s next-generation hydrogen-powered car will be a bespoke design, as the firm bids to challenge the Toyota Mirai for supremacy in the emerging fuel cell market. Both Hyundai and Toyota put the first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on sale this year, but while the Mirai is a bespoke design, Hyundai’s model is based on the existing (and now superseded) ix35 SUV. Hyundai embarked on the project using an existing platform as a result of its pledge to sell a hydrogen car to any customer anywhere in the world and without a lead time of more than 3 months. To date, Hyundai has only confirmed that sister brand Kia will launch its own dedicated fuel cell vehicle in 2020, but it now seems certain that it will be twinned with a fresh launch from Hyundai prior to that. “We will launch a dedicated vehicle, although it is not clear what vehicle type it will be based around”, said Sae-Hoon Kim, Hyundai-Kia’s head of hydrogen fuel cell research. “Developing a bespoke car offers clear advantages. For instance, the larger the radiators on a fuel cell car the better, and you can see on the Mirai that they have developed a cooling solution that helps with that scenario”. Speculation suggests that Hyundai will stick with an SUV bodystyle for its car; global sales of SUVs continue to boom, and it would allow the firm to develop a cohesive look for the range of eco-friendly cars it is planning to launch, the first of which, the Prius-rivalling Kia Niro crossover, was shown last month. Kim suggested that a target range of 800 kilometers per charge and a top speed of 180 km/h were realistic; today’s ix35 FCV manages around 600 kilometers and 160 km/h. “Our issue is that all customer feedback says range and boot space are the priorities, but of course a larger fuel tank impinges on boot space”, he said, adding that Hyundai was looking to the aerospace industry for further technology learnings. +++

+++ With only a few weeks left until its imminent reveal, the new generation of the MERCEDES E-Class will reportedly be available for pre-order before the end of January.  The three-pointed star will pull the wraps off the executive sedan at the 2016 NAIAS, in Detroit, in early January, and just a week later, Mercedes-Benz Passion Blogreports that the company will start taking pre-orders for the European market on the 18th of the same month. Info on pricing remains unknown for the moment, but its future owners will have to wait around 3 months until taking a closer look, as the model is said to reach dealerships in April.  The 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class will be an evolutionary step up from the current model and it will bring a fresh exterior, a new interior, which has been detailed already, and different powertrains. The company will show it, at first, in a sedan body style, which will be followed by an Estate. A Coupe is in the works too, along with a long wheelbase version, expected to be aimed towards the Chinese market. The Convertible will reportedly be introduced towards the end of 2017. Full details on the next-gen E-Class will be released on January 11, during the Detroit show. +++

+++ Japanese and Korean cars are more RELIABLE than their European or US rivals, according to exclusive data provided to Auto Express by leading warranty provider Warrantywise. And we can reveal which brands have the highest (and cheapest) repair bills. Each make was ranked by a dependability factor, based on the number of reported faults or breakdowns, with a score of 75 representing the average. Any rating above that is considered good; below 60 signifies a high incidence of repair work is required. Average costs, age and model were also considered. To be included in the data, each brand was required to have at least 100 active Warrantywise policies, and in our tables analysing the cost of repairs (right), we’ve listed the models with the most policies. Toyota was ranked top for dependability, backing up the 2015 Driver Power satisfaction survey, which rated the iQ as the most reliable model, ahead of Honda and Suzuki. UK big-sellers Ford and Vauxhall were 8th and 17th respectively. The figures also show that list price doesn’t guarantee hassle-free motoring as Bentley, Jaguar and Porsche all scored below 60. When your car does break down, the Warrantywise figures show the average repair cost is £639, with the lowest average bills from Smart and MG. Makers such as Peugeot and Ford also produce models that are among the cheapest to repair. The most expensive cars to repair are: Ferrari £2,046, Maserati  £1,430, Bentley £1,356, Porsche £842 and Mitsubishi £833. The cheapest cars to repair are: Smart £390, MG £399, Peugeot £406, Fiat £417 and Ford £421. The data also reveals owners’ warranty habits, with the car’s average age recorded. MG owners may enjoy some of the lowest repair bills, but they’re among the most risk-averse owners, as the average age of an MG with an extended warranty is 8.34 years. The average age across our data is 6.29 years, but owners of premium makes such as Land Rover or Mercedes purchase policies for cars over 8 years old, suggesting they fear more for reliability than others. Warrantywise CEO Lawrence Whittaker told: “There are some obvious trends, such as the more exotic you go in your car choice, the more expensive the repair bills will be. But there are exceptions lower down the scale, with some more mainstream brands showing costly repair bills should things go wrong. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese top the chart, with the more exotic Euro brands nestling at the bottom”. The combined dependability score and the average cost of repair are: 93 Toyota £592, 93 Honda £535, 92 Suzuki £424, 89 Mitsubishi £833, 88 Mazda £617, 88 Hyundai £577, 86 Nissan £521, 85 Ford £421, 85 Subaru £791, 84 Peugeot £406, 84 Seat £475, 83 Smart £390, 82 Lexus £603, 82 Fiat £417, 82 Volkswagen £631, 82 Mini £497, 81 Vauxhall £467, 81 Renault £441, 80 Kia £522, 79 Chevrolet £548, 78 Skoda £492, 77 MG £399, 77 Volvo £553, 77 Land Rover £453, 76 Saab £425, 75 Citroen £501, 74 Audi £620, 70 Mercedes £751, 69 BMW £701, 64 Chrysler £464, 64 Jeep £505, 64 Ferrari £2,046, 60 Alfa Romeo £590, 57 Porsche £842, 54 Jaguar £794, 41 Maserati £1,430, 14 Bentley £1,356. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first Beetle rolling off the assembly line in Wolfsburg. The car’s history, of course, pre-dates 1945 and involves a certain mustache aficionado the company would rather not mention. That being said, Hitler’s “People’s Car” (officially known as the KdF-Wagen) was barely a blip on the radar as only 630 models were built by the end of the war.Since the Wolfsburg plant was focused on wartime armaments production, the U.S. military occupied the site in April 1945.  The plant was eventually transferred to the British Military Government in June of that year. One month later, Senior Resident Officer Major Ivan Hirst received an order for 20,000 Volkswagen Type 1s. The first model rolled off the assembly line shortly after Christmas in 1945 and Volkswagen contends it was a “highly improvised undertaking”.  Due to material shortages and the side effects of the war, Volkswagen was only able to build 55 vehicles by the end of 1945. Production was also limited to roughly 1,000 units a month for the next 2 years. Despite the initial problems, Volkswagen credits the British for converting the factory to civilian manufacturing, instilling a focus on quality and setting up a dealership network. The Brits were also instrumental in setting up an export market. Volkswagenwerk GmbH was eventually transferred back into German hands in October 1949 and the Beetle would go on to become a hit as over 21 million were sold. +++

+++ VOLVO’s new S90 saloon has a familiar face. The car is the second big model to come off the Swedish brand’s heavily touted $11bn vehicle platform and follows the sleek, critically acclaimed XC90 sport utility vehicle. The S90 has the same, T-shaped LED headlights (a nod to Thor’s hammer from Norse mythology) and a grille made of 23 rods of curved iron. “This is the face of Volvo”, says chief designer Thomas Ingenlath. “It’s confident, it’s proud and it is strong”. To that list could be added the word independent. 5 years after falling under the control of Chinese industrial group Zhejiang Geely Holding in a landmark Asian acquisition, Volvo feels more Scandinavian (and more successful) than ever. The company is forecasting a large rise in profits and record sales this year. It is gaining credibility as an alternative to the three German premium carmakers. The privately held company is even preparing to tap the bond market for the first time. Now Volvo is trying to shake off its buttoned-up reputation and tell the world about its transformation. “We’re a normal company”, says Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo’s understated chief executive, in an interview at the company’s Gothenburg headquarters. The group still shares part of the site with the truckmaker of the same name that used to own Volvo. “We’re not a division within a huge group like we have always been”, he says. “That sets the tone and comes with responsibility for profit and loss and for your balance sheet, including the external responsibility to explain and defend”. Mr Samuelsson’s predecessors had plenty of defending to do. Volvo, as part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group between 1999 and 2010, suffered stagnating sales. It was not helped by uninspired products that were (Volvo executives now say) compromised by having to share parts, styles and skeletons with its US parent. “If this was a hospital, the patient would have been declared dead”, says one Volvo manager of the then lossmaking company. Under Chinese ownership, Volvo is getting on to the shopping list of drivers who normally prefer Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The XC90 put Volvo into a higher price category and has had consumer magazines agog with its sleek interior, in-car technology and advanced safety features. “Geely bought Volvo because they assumed Volvo deserved a better future”, says Mr Samuelsson. “They wanted to release the tiger. And they are seeing that happening now, in steps”. The company’s ambition draws comparisons with another resurgent premium carmaker (Jaguar Land Rover) which was also formerly part of the Ford stable and has since fallen into Asian possession. So far, JLR’s profitability has left Volvo in the dust. The British-based group made £2.6bn in pre-tax profit in its last financial year; twice what Tata Motors paid Ford to acquire the two UK brands in 2008. Volvo made only $260m in operating profits last year, despite selling an almost identical number of cars: about 460,000. Operating margins at Volvo are also thin: 2.2 per cent in the first half of this year. JLR, by contrast, makes operating margins close to 10 per cent, having built on the success of products conceived during the Ford era, such as the Range Rover Evoque. At Volvo, “we based our turnround exactly on a new platform, new vehicles, not just new-style vehicles”, says Mr Samuelsson. “I don’t think you can say that Jaguar has that same process. So that, of course, takes a longer time”. Volvo created SPA (Scaleable Product Architecture), the first of two completely new modular building systems, for large cars. It has moved to innovative, four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines that will power the majority of its future cars. And by 2019, it will have a line-up of nine new or reworked vehicles: three sizes in three different styles. Volvo is now moving into phase two of its turnround: capitalising on the investments, launching the new products, and sustaining a higher price point. Attention now turns to the second, smaller toolkit: CMA, which stands for compact modular architecture and is the big test of Volvo’s relationship with its Chinese paymasters. Geely Auto, the Hangzhou-based volume carmaker also owned by Volvo’s parent, is working with Volvo to create midsize cars in a variety of shapes: hatchbacks, sedans and small SUVs. The platform is an attempt to find cost savings and make acceptable margins on small cars. It means upmarket Volvo must share parts with firmly mass-market Geely. That task scuppered the high-profile former alliance between Daimler and Chrysler. “It’s very difficult to develop platforms and architectures if the brands are positioned very differently”, says Martin Sköld, associate professor at Stockholm School of Economics. But the collaboration (enshrined in China Euro Vehicle Technology, a sister company to Volvo and Geely Auto) gives Volvo greater volumes for its engines. Geely in return gets European design and perhaps the chance to become the first Chinese carmaker to achieve global renown. There is still some talk around Gothenburg and among suppliers of conflict between the Chinese and Swedish participants in and around CEVT. “Of course it has been challenging; God, I can tell you, there are days I wonder, ‘How the hell should we fix this?’ ”, says Mats Fagerhag, the former R&D chief at Saab who runs CEVT. But he says the focused nature of the collaboration means Volvo and Geely have created a “smarter” way of integrating. “Somehow you are forced: let’s solve those cultural issues here quickly because we have an important task to do”. +++

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