+++ BMW’s management board is skipping the Paris Motor Show to hold talks aimed at breaking a deadlock over whether to produce new electric cars, including a battery-powered Mini, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Spurred on by the success of U.S. rival Tesla, which has received almost 400,000 pre-orders for its Model 3 car, German carmakers Mercedes-Benz and Audi have accelerated their own electric car program. Volkswagen has said it plans to launch more than 30 electric vehicles over the next decade, forecasting they would account for about a quarter of group deliveries by 2025. Executives across the industry predict electric cars will increasingly gain mainstream acceptance among customers thanks to advances that make batteries get cheaper and more powerful and the VW emissions scandal, which has sparked a regulatory backlash against diesel-engine vehicles. But BMW has been torn about whether to accelerate development of new electric cars, given its expensive early investments into the area which resulted in only lackluster sales of its i3, which saw only 25,000 deliveries last year. Norbert Reithofer championed the i3 project while chief executive of the Munich-based carmaker and, in his new role as chairman, is keeping up pressure on new CEO Harald Krüger and BMW management to expand the company’s electric program. But some other senior executives are unwilling to plough more resources into electric cars until i3 sales improve and there is a clearer business case for such investment, according to one of the four sources, who declined to be named because of the confidential nature of the discussions. Most of BMW’s eight-strong management board, including the CEO and chief financial officer, traditionally attend the closed-door press and executive days of the biennial Paris Motor Show for one of the biggest industry gatherings of the calendar. But this year only Ian Robertson, board member for sales and marketing, will be at the show, while the rest will instead attend a company strategy meeting at the end of September, according to the sources. Board members will attempt to reach agreement on the carmaker’s electric car strategy, including whether to build an electric Mini, said the sources. BMW’s car division has delivered a return on sales above 8 percent for 25 quarters in a row, a track record that the new management does not want to blemish, even as heavy investments into ride-hailing services loom. “How does the company expand into the loss-making segment of electric cars and retain its industry-leading profitability. That’s essentially the question facing management now”, said another of the sources. The carmaker recently revamped the i3 by giving it a new battery with greater range, a step which has given a boost to sales. After years of pushing back a decision on an electric Mini, many BMW managers are now warming to the idea, the sources said, given that governments are clamping down on pollution and offering subsidies for zero-emissions vehicles and charging infrastructure. “The question is: what alternative is there”, said another person familiar with BMW’s thinking, who declined to be named. Those managers in favor want to have an electric Mini ready for 2019, the sources said, but to build one BMW needs to find a Mini vehicle platform which can accommodate a battery, and to make multi-million euro investments to convert factories to build electric cars. It is too expensive to rework the i3’s platform to suit a Mini, one of the sources said, since costs of reengineering would probably make it even more expensive than the i3 which costs in excess of 40,000 euros. Senior managers fear they will not recoup the investment costs with Mini-branded cars because these do not command the same sticker prices as BMW-labelled cars, another of the sources said. BMW is already working on a mid-sized electric “cross-over” vehicle. One way to compensate for lower profits from smaller cars would be to expand the range of large luxury and M-branded performance cars, the source said. BMW is considering building a model priced above its 7-series flagship to capture a segment of ultra-wealthy clients who are buying the likes of Mercedes Maybach models, another source said. BMW will also discuss how best to retain staff, after suffering high-profile defections, including a member of the electric cars development team. One of them was Carsten Breitfeld, the former head of the i8 programme, who defected to Chinese electric vehicle maker Future Mobility Corporation in July 2016 because he felt BMW had lost some momentum in the area of electric cars. “I worked in BMW i for some years and we did some new things”, Breitfeld told Reuters in China. “After doing this first step BMW stepped back and waited for what would happen in the market”. The cumbersome process of getting things approved was one of the key frustrations, Breitfeld said, adding that at Future Mobility Corporation he can get 10 people in the room who handle all the key areas and immediately make a decision. “The same thing in a big corporation takes half a year because it’s not 10 people you have to talk to, it’s 500 people”. +++
+++ Retails sales of passenger vehicles grew by nearly 25 percent in CHINA in August, marking the country’s sixth consecutive month of increased sales. According to the China Passenger Car Association, sales of cars and utility vehicles grew by 24.5 percent last month. That boom was fueled by a growing price war between automakers and the looming expiration of tax cuts that will make some vehicles more expensive. Margins are now so thin on some vehicles that dealers are making just $10 per transaction. However, those lower prices have had a positive effect on sales. China’s Great Wall Motor drastically cut prices on its H6 and H2 utility vehicles last year, netting a 25 percent boost in sales. China is planning to soon do away with a tax cuts for larger vehicles, which is also promoting increased sales. “In our recent dealer interviews, it was clear that pre-buying had already begun to influence industry volumes”, Robin Zhu, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein, wrote, according to Automotive News. “We expect the pull-forward of demand to persist through the end of the year, and support year over year growth”. Last month Ford saw its sales in the world’s largest auto market grow by 22 percent. General Motors also had a strong month, with sales up by 18 percent. GM’s luxury Cadillac brand far outperformed the overall market, with sales growing by 93 percent. +++
+++ JAGUAR has been telegraphing its electric future for years, and this week we’re beginning to see it come to fruition. The company’s Formula E race team officially launched September 8 with sponsorship, livery, and an interesting name for its racecar, the I-Type 1. It marks Jaguar’s return to factory-supported racing and serves as a model for the company’s future strategy. “The Formula E championship will enable us to engineer and test our advanced technologies under extreme performance conditions”, Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering at Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement. “We will apply this vital knowledge as part of our real-world development”. Formula E competition starts October 9 as the all-electric racing series begins its third season. Panasonic signed on as the title sponsor of the team. Formula E is a natural move for Jag and allows the British company to remain true to its racing heritage while still looking toward. The company claims seven Le Mans titles, which is the fourth-most in history, even though it hasn’t won one since 1990. That’s a great lineage, but Jaguar knows it’s getting dusty. Launching a Formula E effort allows it to compete in a form of motorsports that should prove relevant to road-car technology. Jag is drawing on Williams Advanced Engineering (you might have heard of its F1 team) for the electric powertrain. Williams also helped with the development of Jaguar’s C-X75 plug-in concept car. Meanwhile, an F-Pace has been captured silently testing this week in the Alps. Though it looks like a normal F-Pace, spy shooters report it was producing no engine noise, leading (or perhaps leaping) to the conclusion it’s the rumored electric SUV Jaguar is working on. Likely, this prototype has a diesel engine as a range extender. Though the camouflaged F-Pace is great fodder for speculation, Jag’s electric efforts are not a secret. Jaguar and Land Rover showed off three electric-vehicle demonstrators last year and the company is exploring everything from mild hybrids to full electric powertrains. JLR has filed paperwork to secure trademarks for I-Pace and E-Pace. “JLR is definitely rushing headfirst into electrification”, said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis for research firm AutoPacific. “No longer content to be a second-tier luxury player, JLR is making certain it can go toe-to-toe with the luxury segment’s best, knowing full well that offering technology leadership lends a lot of credibility in this part of the market”. +++
+++ The MERCEDES SL is being engineered by the AMG performance car division for the new eighth-generation car, sources close to the German car maker have revealed. Caught testing in prototype form for the first time at the Nürburgring under the heavily modified body of a S-class coupé, development of the new two-seat luxury roadster was recently handed to AMG as part of a plan by Mercedes-Benz’s incoming research and development boss, Ola Källenius, to provide the new SL with what’s been described as “a more sporting character” than the existing model. “It is being kept secret at the moment, but AMG is heading the engineering of the new SL”, a highly placed insider at Mercedes-Benz’s headquarters in Stuttgart told Autocar, adding: “It’s going to be a vastly different proposition to today’s model”. Among the key elements of the new SL being prepared by AMG is a new platform structure. Known internally as the MSA (modularen sportwagen architektur), it is also planned to underpin the successor to today’s SLC. The new platform, which supports scalable tracks and wheelbase, has been developed using various solutions from Mercedes-Benz MRA (modularen rear architektur), as used by the E-class. As well as receiving a new platform, Mercedes-Benz has also taken the decision to ditch the SL’s folding aluminium roof. For the first time since the fifth generation model ceased production in 2001, the new model, codenamed R232, will flaunt a multi-layer fabric hood similar in construction to that used by the S-class cabriolet. Among the engines planned to power the new SL is Mercedes-Benz’s soon-to-be-revealed turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol unit. In the new SL 300 is planned to deliver 367 hp, while added turbocharger boost pressure and other power enhancing measures will see it pumped up to 440 hp for use in the SL 400. Ranged above them will be the SL 500 running a specially tuned version of AMG’s 4.0-litre V8 with around 460 hp. Two AMG models are also planned: the SL 63 running a 510 hp version of AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-itre V8 and the range-topping SL 65 with a twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre V12 producing 630 hp. A Mercedes-Benz spokesman said it was unlikely that Mercedes-AMG’s 43 range would be extended to the SL, given that the current SL 400 uses the same engine as the 43 range, with the same power output. Nevertheless, if 43 badging were given to the SL, it’d almost certainly use the engine found in the current SL 400, which is also in the 43-badged AMG line-up. The current SL has been around in facelifted format since late 2015, so the next-generation SL may still be at least two more years away if it follows the standard timeframe for model cycles. Currently, the SL 63 produces 585 hp; the same as the E 63 S because they use the same engine in the same state of tune. As such, it’s likely the entry-level AMG-tuned SL 63 will have the same power output as the E 63, details of which were recently leaked in a document. If that’s the case, the SL 63 could have 610 hp and 850 Nm of torque from a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine. Both cars also weigh exactly the same (1.845 kg) in their current iterations and have a 0-100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds with the old 5.5-litre V8 fitted. The S 63 Cabriolet is faster to 100 km/h by 0,2 seconds and still uses the old engine, so it’s safe to assume that the SL’s engine will be in the same state of tune, and that when the S 63 adopts the smaller engine, it will be more powerful than the SL and E-Class AMG-badged cars. Meanwhile, AMG will continue to produce V12 engines, so it’s a safer bet that the flagship SL 65 will return once again. Another source said the SL was the next in line for development from Mercedes. +++
+++ Japan’s transport ministry may raid MITSUBISHI Motors’ offices a fourth time if the evidence collected during its latest inspection won’t prove sufficient. According to Autonews, another search could also be in the works if the findings somehow point to even bigger problems than just the automaker’s decades-long fuel economy scandal. “You can’t deny the company has a culture that’s prone to malpractice”, said Yuki Ebihara, on official within the regulator’s recall division. “Compared with other makers, we have to give them a closer look”. Despite the possibility of another raid, Nissan still expects to close its $2.2 billion stake deal with Mitsubishi Motors before the end of 2016 and according to a spokesman for the company, remain convinced that the transaction is worth it. Issues still remain, though, including the fact that three days before the latest raid, the ministry concluded that 8 of 9 Mitsubishi models fell short of the company’s advertised fuel economy figures and that recalculated figures provided by Mitsubishi themselves were still inaccurate compared to tests done by the regulator. Once Nissan finishes purchasing their stake in Mitsubishi Motors, the former will agree to hold shares for a period of 10 years. A filing by the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group also revealed that both Nissan and Mitsubishi will have the first right of refusal to purchase shares if either of the 2 companies decides to sell. +++
+++ The X-Trail/Rogue refresh is more than just new fascias and updated features: NISSAN gave the crossover a hybrid model. It’s available with both front- and all-wheel drive and features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 30-kilowatt electric motor that produce a combined 176 horsepower, six more than the standard Rogue. The hybrid manages 34 mpg overall with FWD and 33 mpg overall with AWD. Both versions have 5 mpg better estimates than the normal Rogue, which gets 29 overall with FWD and 28 overall with AWD. Impressively, the hybrid powertrain doesn’t affect cargo space much. Behind the first row of seats, the hybrid loses just 0.2 cubic feet, and behind the second row, it loses 1.1 cu ft. You also lose the standard Rogue’s Divide-N-Hide flexible seating system, and it’s only available with 2 rows of seats. I don’t know how much the hybrid will cost over the normal model, since Nissan didn’t release pricing for either version. Based on the pricing structure for the Murano and the Murano hybrid, the electrified Rogue could cost about an extra $3,000 over the regular gas model. Even with the introduction of the hybrid, Nissan still made sure to add the new styling and features to the rest of the X-Trail/Rogue line-up, too. Outside, all X-Trail/Rogues get updated head and taillights, a Murano-inspired V-grille, as well as more chrome details. Inside, the little crossover gets a new flat-bottomed steering wheel with available heating, newly available memory seats and mirrors, and an updated shifter. Nissan also added new Platinum packages with a nicer leather interior, and base level models now get heated seats and remote start as standard. The company also upped the safety quotient by adding Intelligent Cruise Control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and prevention systems and high-beam headlight assistance. Pricing is not yet available for the regular Rogue, but it likely won’t change much from the current base price of just over $24,000. It will be available in early November, and the hybrid will be available by the end of the year. +++
+++ VOLVO has kicked off the Drive Me autonomous car programme; the world’s most ambitious and advanced public autonomous driving experiment. Based in Volvo Cars’ special manufacturing facility in Torslanda, the programme will see the XC90 become the first in a series of autonomous cars that will eventually be let loose on the streets of Gothenburg. As a leading light in the automotive safety field, Volvo believes that introducing AD technology will reduce car accidents, as well as freeing up congested roads and reducing pollution. With the constant development of autonomous driving systems over the coming years, Volvo hopes that no one will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by 2020. The Drive Me project is unlike other autonomous driving experiments as Volvo aspires to collect feedback from the real customers that will use the cars in their day to day life, as opposed to purely relying on the research of its own engineers. Volvo hopes to refine its autonomous driving technology ahead of its commercial introduction around 2021. The Drive Me customer cars will undergo a meticulous testing phase to ensure the cars function exactly as they should and once this is complete, the cars will then be available to the public. Gothenburg is the first of numerous planned public trials for the autonomous driving Volvo cars. Next year a similar project is due to launch in London, while interest from cities in China could mean that the Drive Me project may be taken there over the next few years. +++