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+++ A plethora of automakers have adopted luxury sub-brands dedicated to their top-tier offerings, and BUICK is the latest company to do it. Now, among Vignale, Overland, V Series, Initiale Paris, Denali, and so on, there will be Avenir. Sadly, the only name was taken from Buick’s 2015 concept and has nothing to do with the automobile, as it will be a trim level designed to grow with the needs of future luxury car buyers – in Buick’s own words. After acknowledging that the majority of its customers go for the top trim levels when buying a model, expecting a high-end experience and premium quality, the American car maker decided to expand its line-up with a new luxurious signature. “Through the first half of 2016, Buick has been the industry’s fastest-growing major international brand, and Avenir is key to future growth and delivering on the high expectations of new customers coming to our showrooms,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick Sales, Service and Marketing. According to Buick, Avenir vehicles will add distinct touches to Buick’s design, including three-dimensional mesh grilles, large-diameter wheels, and unique trim finishes. The car maker kept it vague while describing the interior of future Avenir models, saying it will offer unique seat details, modern trim materials, and Avenir script identification. Buick is currently experiencing a growth in sales, mainly due to its activity in China. Unsurprisingly, the new brand could appeal to Chinese buyers. The sub-brand will be applied to both existing and future products, although the car maker didn’t specify exactly which ones. +++

+++ Alarmed by the threat posed by Silicon Valley firms developing autonomous driving systems, carmakers at this week’s Paris Motor Show showed signs they are ready to hit back by COOPERATING in areas where they might have been expected to compete. “This is how the automotive industry may be able to fight off the threat that Apple and particularly Google represent to their brands as digital services become more and more important,” technology investment analyst Richard Windsor said. BMW, Daimler and Audi announced this week they would launch new traffic monitoring services next year which give drivers a view of road conditions miles ahead. They are based on video data collected from sensors in other cars and fed to the three carmakers’ jointly-owned navigation mapping services firm HERE. Separately HERE’s Dutch rival TomTom on Thursday announced traffic data deals with truckmaker Volvo and carmaker Skoda. Also General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen are experimenting with a plan to pull video data captured by their customers’ vehicles using Israeli firm Mobileye’s camera-based sensor systems, that may soon give automakers an edge over the likes of Google in the precision-mapping required for driverless cars. However, it remains to be seen whether carmakers can charge premium prices for connected car services as technology companies like Google look to develop similar offerings for free, supported by advertising or other business models. A deal by traffic data start-up Inrix to supply data to Google-owned crowd-sourced traffic and navigation service Waze will help drivers find parking spots on smartphones using the free app. And Renault said on Thursday it was showing a prototype of a Waze system built into its car dashboards which run Android Auto, Google’s operating system for carmakers. Meanwhile connecting cars on the move with the Internet also needs more reliable mobile telecoms networks. With that aim, Germany’s top automakers said this week they were teaming up with telecoms network equipment makers Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Qualcomm and Intel to help with developing the next-generation 5G networks set to debut around 2020. At the same time carmakers are now racing to plot their courses to building self-driving vehicles over the next 5 years, a dramatic acceleration in pace from the 10- to 15-year timeframes many had charted until pushed to speed up the process by the advances made by Google and Tesla. “We see the car transforming from a product into the ultimate platform”, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche told reporters in Paris. Among the car companies there have been two camps, those who are trying to develop their autonomous driving technology in-house, and those who are outsourcing it, but that division is looking set to become less clear-cut due to the need for cooperation in some areas at least. “Gradually all of the car manufacturers will have to get more and more involved in managing data. It’s natural. We’re going to have to work much more collaboratively,” Stewart Callegari, a Nissan product planning executive for driverless cars told reporters at the Paris show. Fiat’s recent partnership to build self-driving vans with Google is seen by analysts as an example of outsourcing, given the Italian auto maker’s weak finances, limiting its ability to invest in its own software expertise. Daimler, on the other hand, is firmly in the camp of vehicle makers who want to go it alone but still sees some need for collaboration. “We need to think whether we work together analyzing the data or whether we do this on our own. This depends on the use case,” Zetsche said, adding that it made sense to work together in areas where potential cost savings resulted but did not blur the distinctions between brands. Some partnerships like the deal between Chinese carmaker Geely’s Swedish subsidiary Volvo Car Group to develop autonomous cars with Uber Technologies, and General Motor’s partnership with Uber’s rival Lyft, are also seen as hybrid approaches. “The automotive industry has and will continue to become a software business in many ways,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters. +++

+++ Redesigning an instantly recognisable, iconic car is one of the hardest jobs in the motor industry. Some would say it’s impossible. But FIAT believes it has a solution, of sorts. Simply don’t do it. And it’s hard to argue with its logic. 9 years after it was launched, and with a bare minimum of design changes, the 500 continues to perform wonders in the sales charts. In many markets it is matching what it did sales wise in 2007. In some it is actually exceeding them. No matter that there are now better options in terms of dynamics. Buyers can’t get enough of that cheeky styling. Little wonder, then, that there was precious little talk of a replacement when I asked Fiat’s global brand chief Olivier Francois what his plans were. Francois told me: “There will be a new 500 when we need one, and when we are able to design one without abusing what is our icon. But it is a very heavy responsibility. It is not feasible or conceivable to totally change it.” Francois has a point. You only need to look at the Volkswagen Beetle, for example, which has lost a lot of its original lustre in its current incarnation, to see the pitfalls that lie in wait. “Design-wise it is super-challenging,” he continued. “We are working on it but very cautiously.” Of course, there have been regular updates to the current car, and according to Francois it is now very different to the one that was first launched. He stressed: “We have changed 60 per cent of the car between 2007 and 2016. Aesthetically it looks a little better but it is very close, but a lot of the substance has evolved with one thing in mind – keeping it relevant.” And Francois’ idea of relevance is very clear; under the skin it can change dramatically but the styling simply cannot and will not. He explained: “When you have a real icon, like the Porsche 911 or Vespa scooter, you are blessed to have such an object in your hands. The only thing you need to be obsessed with is keeping it relevant, because once an item is no longer relevant – like the London red phone box – it becomes a dead icon. “All I need to do with the 500 is not grow it very much, be very careful with the styling and keep it loaded with CarPlay, Android Auto, TFT clusters, the right engine for the right moment.” Further down the line more electrification seems likely too, with the 500e already on sale in certain US states. “Absolutely,” said Francois of the prospect. But the key message is clear; for now the 500 is going to march on with its cutesy retro looks, with a 10th anniversary of the ‘new’ model and 60th anniversary of the original in 2017 presenting greater opportunities for even higher sales – and no sign of an all-new model on the horizon. Francois is unrepentant about the firm’s strategy. He concluded: “We are lucky to have a perfect sized icon; history blessed us with an icon that is more relevant than ever because it is a city car and people are hungry for urban mobility solutions. Because it is our golden goose, we are very protective of it.” It’s a hugely sensible strategy that has served Fiat well for nearly a decade, and is likely to do so for some time yet. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ’s forthcoming i30N hot hatch, previewed by the outrageous 380 hp, four-wheel-drive RN30 concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, will arrive next year in 2 states of tune. “We will have 2 versions: a base version and a more performance orientated one,” Hyundai’s head of vehicle test and high performance development, Albert Biermann told Auto Express. “The character will be a little bit different. On the one car, we focus a little bit more on the everyday driving, but it’s also racetrack capable – you can push it hard. The other one is more track going with everyday driving more compromised – you can expect more power, too.” However Biermann hinted that a more extreme i30N featuring the high-powered engine from the concept and four-wheel drive, to rival the likes of the Ford Focus RS, could come: “We are just starting and the performance level we are offering does not require four wheel drive,” he said. “But I have already driven our testing prototype with 300 horses and the torque and the all-wheel drive and everything, so that car already exists.” “The 380 hp version of this engine is advanced technology that we’re looking into and testing and we also test all-wheel drive and torque vectoring systems and so on, but there’s no decision yet – we do a lot of advanced projects.” However, the i30N has a job to do to prove Hyundai’s performance credentials to sports car buyers before the company goes even hotter. “We are Hyundai, we have no established sports car customer base,” said Biermann. “If we go from zero to top level high performance, the question is how many customers will go there to buy a Hyundai with such a high price.” When the i30N arrives next year, Biermann promised a more restrained level of styling than on a Honda Civic Type R. “This is Hyundai, so we will not go too wild,” he said. “What we will sell next year will be a mix of this wild car and the i30 – the production car will be closer to the i30 than the RN30, but it has a nice differentiation to the base i30. We have a strong value for money point on this car – and it has all the bells and whistles that hot hatches have.” The i30N will arrive first with a manual gearbox, but with an 8-speed twin-clutch automatic due to arrive. And Biermann also confirmed that the hot N cars could also spawn look-a-like models lower down the range with some of the exterior aesthetics, but without the performance upgrades. Biermann has previously described several areas of improvement the i30 N will have over a basic i30, including a faster and more precise gearshift, stiffer engine and transmission mounts to deal with higher cornering and braking loads, more sensitive and precise mechanical power steering, ABS tuned to suit the high-performance tyres fitted to the car and modified suspension, including a new front axle knuckle for sharper turn-in. Additionally, the i30 has reinforcement to stiffen the chassis and will also feature an electronic limited-slip differential to reduce understeer, although Biermann could not confirm whether this will be standard or optional – or only available on the faster ‘performance pack’ model, which does not have an official designation yet. An exact price for the RN30 hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Biermann has said N-branded Hyundais will retail for “significantly more than the base models, while still being more reachable than their competitors.” Biermann also hinted at further N performance models for the Hyundai brand: “There is some discussion if an i20 could be an N car in the future,” he said. Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis, set to arrive in Europe in the next few years, could also feature N-style performance variants under a different name. Biermann has previously discussed the possibility of Hyundai dealers offering tuning parts for N customers that could be added to their cars after purchase. “Hyundai has its aftermarket and customisation arm Tuix in Korea, which is not very active in Europe but this could be a nice business opportunity for them.” he said. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI will resume domestic sales of eight vehicle models on Oct. 1, the company said, after correcting overstated mileage readings in its second cheating scandal this year. Japan’s sixth largest automaker has admitted it falsified the mileage on 12 models, including the Pajero and Outlander, taking a blow to its reputation. The latest suspension came after a 2-month suspension in sales of four minivehicle models this year, including 2 produced for Nissan, following the initial admission of incorrect fuel economy readings. The market value of the company has tumbled since that scandal broke, prompting it to seek financial assistance from Nissan, which agreed to buy a controlling one-third stake for $2.2 billion. Japan is Mitsubishi’s fifth-largest market, following markets including Asia ex-Japan, Europe and other regions. Its home country comprised roughly 10 percent of its vehicle sales during 2015/16. +++

+++ According to an analyst, up to a third of TESLA Model 3 reservation holders are becoming new Model S owners. While speaking with Street Insider, Pacific Crest analyst Brad Erickson suggested that Tesla’s recent introduction of a cut-price 2-year leasing scheme is paying dividends in getting Model 3 customers into the brand before production of the entry-level model begins. “We think as many as a third of current Model S orders are coming from Model 3 reservation holders opting for the newly created 2-year (and less expensive) lease,” Erickson was quoted as saying. Available for a limited time in August and September, the leasing scheme seemed to launch in an effort to get those with Model 3 reservations into other Tesla models immediately. Depending on location, the deal allowed customers to lease a Model S 60 from less than $600 a month over 24 months. Cheap Model X reservations were also available. The electric automaker’s current plans projects production of the Model 3 commencing in the second half of 2017. As almost 400,000 pre-orders were placed, many will be forced to wait at least two years before taking delivery. +++

+++ Bridgestone revealed more details of its new DriveGuard TYRE technology at an event in the UK recently. The DriveGuard is a self-supporting run-flat tyre that can be fitted to conventional wheel rims and driven at speeds of up to 80 km/h for a maximum distance of 80 km. The tyre can be fitted to any car equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and is compatible with standard rims. When a conventional tyre deflates, the sidewalls collapse and fold, becoming trapped between the wheel rim and the road. If the car carries on driving, a combination of the pressure exerted by the rim on the trapped carcass and the heat generated in the folded sidewall leads to the rapid destruction of the tyre. Self-supporting run-flat tyres have thick sidewall inserts with enough strength to keep the rim suspended above the ground when the tyre is deflated. The downside is that the thicker section and increased rigidity of the sidewalls impairs ride quality compared with conventional tyres. The DriveGuard is constructed using Bridgestone’s proprietary Nano Pro-Tech technology, which evens out the distribution of sulphur bonds between the carbon molecules in the compound. This chemistry reduces internal friction within the material and inhibits heat generation in the sidewalls. Heat build-up is further reduced as the tyre rolls along by a cooling fin design moulded into the sidewall. The combination of these factors allows a thinner sidewall construction and this, combined with a new crown structure to better absorb bumps and lumps in the road surface, is claimed to deliver comfort levels comparable with those of standard tyres. An advanced polyester carcass body ply design reduces heat generation and helps the tyre to hold its shape when deflated. The thinner sidewalls also help to keep weight down, an important factor when manufacturers are struggling to remove every gram of weight to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions. We haven’t had the chance to test the claims of improved ride quality from behind the wheel yet, but we did have a demonstration ride in the passenger seat of a Opel Astra with a front tyre completely deflated. The car steered around a low-speed handling course without drama and rode well enough that the flat wasn’t immediately obvious without TPMS. The Astra was fitted with the more accurate type of TPMS, which displays an absolute tyre pressure in the instrument display via wireless pressure sensors in the wheels. The test runs started with zero pressure showing for the deflated tyre, but after a couple of laps the heat generated in the tyre was enough to expand residual air and raise the pressure to 1psi. Tyres generate some heat whether deflated or not, and this suggests the integrity of the tyre remained intact, allowing it to reinflate slightly, whereas a conventional tyre would have been damaged beyond repair. Bridgestone says a punctured DriveGuard can be repaired by authorised dealers, as long as the sidewall or the structure of the tyre hasn’t been compromised in any way. A tyre inflation system can be used, but Bridgestone warns against reinflating a tyre that has been run flat without expert inspection first. The DriveGuard scores well under the EU tyre labelling scheme with ‘A’ for wet performance and ‘C’ for rolling resistance. According to a Bridgestone technician, achieving high scores in all of these areas with a run-flat tyre is a challenge because of the stiffer sidewalls. The DriveGuard is on sale now in 19 summer and 11 winter sizes, ranging from 185/65 R15 to 245/40 R18. The cost is 10-12% higher than that of a Bridgestone Turanza, for a set of four in 225/45 R17 size. +++

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