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+++ Be it wishful thinking or educated guess, LG Chem is projecting that GENERAL MOTORS will sell more than 30,000 of its Chevrolet Bolt and Opel Ampera-E electric vehicles next year. LG Chem vice president Kang Chang Beom made the projection during his South Korea-based company’s third-quarter conference call. LG Chem is making the battery for the Bolt and Ampera-E. LG Chem, not to mention General Motors, is counting on the Bolt and Ampera-E to hit a sweet spot of sorts when the five-door model goes on sale. The Bolt and Ampera-E will be able to go a combined 380 kilometers on a full charge. At 30,000 units, Bolt and Ampera-E sales would be in the neighborhood of what Tesla sold of its Model S last year, and about twice as many units as Chevrolet sold of its Volt extended-range plug-in (with the next-generation Volt recently starting sales, that figure has already been surpassed this year). In fact, aside from the Model S and Volt, the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Ford Mondeo/Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid were the only models to break the 10,000-unit sales threshold in 2015. So while Tesla is poised to reach that 30,000 figure with its Model S again this year, the number is still lofty. That said, Americans continue to break monthly records when it comes to plug-in vehicle sales. Last month, more than 16,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids were sold in the US. And through September, plug-in vehicle sales were up about 38 percent to almost 111,000 units sold. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ’s exports have fallen 50 percent so far this month amid protracted strikes that are holding up deliveries. The strikes are a quasi-annual ritual, but this year the carmaker’s labor union has downed tools 24 times since July, resulting in 1.3 billion dollar in lost exports compared to last year. On top of that Hyundai is embroiled in a costly recall of engines used in the flagship Sonata. The company has agreed with owners in the U.S. to provide free repairs of 880,000 cars and extend warranty periods. Hyundai promised the same compensation to Sonata owners in Korea. But the company has now managed to pacify striking workers by reaching a tentative agreement over wages. As workers downed tools, exports took a direct hit. Hyundai has been inundated with queries from overseas dealers whether it will be able to deliver cars on time. The company admits that it has enough inventory to last 2 to 3 months, but eventually it will run out. The delays are affecting Korea’s total export figures because cars account for eight percent of Korea’s total exports and Hyundai is responsible for 80 percent of that amount. Korea’s overall car exports have dropped 52 percent so far this month compared to the same period of 2015 and overall exports have dropped 18 percent. A production line in a Hyundai plant in Ulsan sits idle due to a strike on Sept. 23, 2016. Hyundai and affiliate Kia have not built a new production plant in Korea for 20 years, the last being the one in Asan, South Chungcheong Province in 1996 that is capable of rolling out 300,000 vehicles a year. But Hyundai built 17 plants in 9 other countries over that period capable of rolling out a total of 5.1 million vehicles a year. Overseas plants can now make 2 million more vehicles a year than domestic plants. Hyundai alone created around 46,000 jobs overseas and Kia 16,000 as of the end of 2015. The numbers mean Korea has fallen from 5th to 6th place in automobile production volume and been overtaken by India. And it has been overtaken by Mexico as the world’s No. 3 car exporter behind Germany and Japan. “The domestic automobile industry is losing its luster due to limited sales and militant labor unions”, said Kim Yong-geun of the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association. The engine quality scandal is making things worse. U.S. owners of 2011-2014 Sonata sedans with 2.0 and 2.4-liter Theta engines sued Hyundai over engine stoppages or noise and accused Hyundai of failing to inform them of these problems. Hyundai has reached a settlement with 885,000 Sonata owners in the U.S. by agreeing to provide free inspections and repairs, extend their warranty and reimburse them for repair costs incurred so far, and the same package will be offered to Sonata owners in Korea. Hyundai insists that the problems plagued only models manufactured in the U.S. “The reason why we extended the warranty period on domestically manufactured Sonatas with the Theta II engine is that we’re confident that no defects exist”, a Hyundai spokesman said. But the decision has only increased suspicions among owners in South Korea. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, meanwhile, accuses Hyundai of trying to cover up alleged air bag defects in some models and turned to prosecutors to look into the allegations, while also conducting its own probe into the engine problems. Lee Nam-seok, business management professor at Chungang University said, “The focus has to be on quality improvements and regaining consumer trust rather than on volume growth”. +++

+++ JEEP is planning a significant range expansion at either end of its product range, with both a compact crossover to sit below the Renegade and a three-row SUV called the Grand Wagoneer in the pipeline. At the entry level, encouraging sales of the Renegade and the recent launch of the Nissan Qashqai-rivaling Compass have encouraged Jeep to consider an crossover less than four metres long that will belie its compact dimensions by retaining the rugged traits for which Jeeps are best known. At the top end of the range, meanwhile, Jeep’s plan to bring back its storied Grand Wagoneer nameplate on a three-row SUV is gathering pace. A business plan for the Grand Wagoneer, which will sit above the Grand Cherokee in the range, has been on the table for more than 5 years, but Jeep has apparently now started hinting at the car’s appearance by including a front grille design in a dealer presentation. At last month’s Paris motor show, company chief Mike Manley said progress is being made: “It is still moving forward but it’s a longer-term programme due to the technology that’s going to deployed in that vehicle. I’m pleased with where we are at the moment. It will be an exciting nameplate to bring back”. Jeep is considering taking on top-of-the-range premium SUVs such as the Range Rover Autobiography, with Manley seeing “no maximum price ceiling” for his brand’s products. With Jeep customers tending to gravitate towards the higher trim levels and ‘speciality’ models in the ranges, Manley is confident there is scope for stretching the brand further upmarket, particularly in its home US market. “I don’t think that there is a maximum price ceiling for Jeep”, he said. “If you look at the players that segment in the US, you have Range Rover, Mercedes and Porsche but you also have the American players with vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban. Those cars typically start at around $63,000 and finish at about $99,000, but beyond that you have ‘speciality’ vehicles such as Range Rover Autobiography or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which go well above $100,000. For me Grand Wagoneer, if done well, will be able to play all the way through the bulk of that segment. Pushing the car up to $130-140,000 may be possible, but first we need to establish Grand Wagoneer”. The success of the Renegade has encouraged the company to weigh up a B-segment rival to cars such as the Ford Ecosport. Manley said: “I’m pretty confident that it is going to be a viable segment for us in the future”. He wouldn’t be drawn on a date when such a vehicle might appear and said: “The reality is that we have to go through all of the usual business planning processes first”. Jeep’s offering in the class would “still have to be capable” and possess the brand’s go-anywhere DNA. That poses a challenge when it comes to developing a smaller vehicle, said Manley: “When you think of some of the elements that make a vehicle capable, such as ground clearance, the geography of the vehicle makes it more difficult. You have to be very careful in terms of the geometry of the vehicle, plus the kind of four-wheel-drive system that you employ”. There are existing reports of a B-segment SUV being planned by Jeep India, although it isn’t clear if is a project aimed mainly at the local market. That vehicle, apparently codenamed 526 and less than 4 metres long, is likely to be follow the rugged design cues of the Renegade and will be the most affordable SUV in Jeep India’s range. It is to be built in the Fiat plant in Ranjangaon, India, which is one of the production sites for the new Jeep Compass. +++

+++ MASERATI has revised its future product plans and switched the launch dates of the new Granturismo and Grancabrio 2+2 GT cars with the two-seat Alfieri sports car. The Granturismo and Grancabrio are now slated to be replaced in 2018-2019, followed by the Alfieri in 2020-2021, as Maserati rejigs its forward planning. At one stage, the Alfieri, shown as a well-received concept at Geneva in 2014, was scheduled for a 2016 launch and the future of the Granturismo was in doubt. However, Giulio Pastore, general manager of Maserati Europe, has told the Granturismo and Grancabrio are vital elements of the Maserati line-up. “The Granturismo and Grancabrio will not be dropped”, he said. “We won’t forget that Maserati is very well known in its history for beautiful 2+2 GT cars and we will replace them, then the Alfieri”. It also looks as though the future of the Grancabrio is now assured. A previous product plan had it ending production and being replaced by a soft-top Alfieri. Key decisions on the platform and styling of the Alfieri are also yet to be taken, Pastore said. Maserati could leave the design sign-off until 2018 for a 2020 sales launch. The Levante took 22 months to get into production after it received the green light, Maserati’s exterior design chief, Giovanni Ribotta, told. Ribotta also designed the Alfieri concept and the Ghibli and was part of the design team on the new Quattroporte. “The Alfieri has been very important for Maserati”, he said. “The grille and much of the shape and details have influenced the Ghibli and the Levante”. Pastore also ruled out a compact SUV that could be positioned below the Levante to tackle the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque. The impending Alfa Romeo Stelvio is expected to take that slot in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) line-up. “We have other group cars and companies that will occupy that compact SUV territory”, he said. Maserati now has its fullest model line-up yet and must deliver on forecasts to sell 75,000 cars a year by 2018 and contribute profits to the FCA bottom line. +++

+++ In SOUTH KOREA, Hyundai’s car sales plummeted 20 percent on-year in September after a temporary tax incentive ended and customers and staff went on holiday for Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving. Affiliate Kia also posted a 14.9 percent cut in domestic sales. Sales of most of its flagship models excluding the new K7 dwindled, while output plunged 19.5 percent. The entire Korean car industry saw a decrease of 13.2 percent on-year in September. GM Korea’s sales dropped 14.1 percent to 14,078 cars, with exports down 11.6 percent. But Ssangyong’s overall sales rose 5.7 percent to 12,144 cars due to the successful Tivoli brand. Sales here decreased 1.2 percent but exports grew 22.2 percent. +++

+++ Almost everyone who’s in the car community, and even people that aren’t, have probably heard the stereotype that lesbians drive SUBARU cars. What you may not realize is that stereotype was fostered by Subaru, and it helped make the company relevant again in the ’90s. This is the story told by NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Apparently, as the company was trying to figure out who was buying its cars, the marketing folks discovered that gay and lesbian people were a large segment – along with all those outdoorsy types. The discovery led to subtle advertising directed specifically at what we now refer to as the LGBT community, which in turn led to more sales to gay and lesbian consumers. There were other components to Subaru’s sales strategy in the ’90s, but this particular campaign was an important part and quite successful. Thanks to that success, today we still have Subaru around building reliable, all-wheel-drive transportation, as well as rally-inspired sport compacts. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN suppliers seem keen to avoid more disputes with the company even as they face growing pressure from Europe’s largest automaker to accept price cuts. Two German suppliers halted parts deliveries to Volkswagen in August to protest cancellation of a contract by Volkswagen, disrupting production and threatening the carmaker’s recovery from its emissions scandal. Volkswagen, grappling with billions in costs from the so-called “Dieselgate” scandal and a strategic shift to electric cars, has said it will review procurement strategy to avoid any repetition of the crippling dispute. At a suppliers’ fair in Wolfsburg, parts makers sounded eager to play ball. Christoph Kaune, key account manager at U.S.-based Maxion Wheels which supplies steel and aluminum wheels to Volkswagen, said cost-cut pressures at the German group are “extremely high” and it is tough to get it to agree on compensation for fluctuating steel prices. “It’s very difficult to find a fair compromise but Volkswagen is one of our biggest customers”, Kaune told. “That’s what really matters”. Marek Poskart of Canada’s KSR International, a maker of fixed pedal modules and automotive sensors, agreed. Volkswagen is seeking to extract greater price cuts from suppliers than in the past, he told, but the negotiations are fair and KSR has started to improve development processes to better meet Volkswagen’s price targets. “If your cost structure is plausible you will have no difficulties with Volkswagen”, Poskart, a sales director, said. “It’s a give-and-take”. Volkswagen is not only squeezing down prices but has also reduced orders, a sign of its push to cut costs by tackling complexity in R&D, said Kai Rohrbach, a manager at GOM GmbH which makes 3D scanners and software in Braunschweig near VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters. “In the past they sometimes bought 4 to 5 systems at once but now it’s only about 2 at a time,” he said. When he opened the biannual event on Monday, Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Müller warned that carmakers and suppliers would only together be able to cope with “the epochal change” driven by electric cars and autonomous driving. “We want to be successful with you together”, the CEO said. “That’s the only way how it can work”. +++

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