+++ If you were eagerly waiting for FORD to bring out an even faster version of the Focus RS, then you won’t like what you’re going to read on next. Ford is on the verge of abandoning the Focus RS500 project because the business case for the model isn’t solid enough. Despite spies having spotted prototypes of the Focus RS500 being tested, the whole project is facing problems, including Ford’s issue with the model’s position within their own range. “It could be treading on other cars’ toes”, said well-placed sources. And by other cars, the sources mean models like the Mustang GT. And while overlapping sales with the Mustang is not a big issue in Europe, Ford’s US dealer network is still unsure whether they want a model like this. Without the US market, a car like the Focus RS500 will not be able to justify its development costs, making the whole thing a struggle. Ford has looked though at making a ‘RS500-lite’ model with smaller budget and aimed exclusively for the European market. The smaller budget though would have taken its toll on the model’s technical content, with a source saying that something like this “might dilute the RS brand”. Time is also another of the project’s problems as the window to get the Focus RS500 into production is narrowing, with Ford planning to discontinue the current Focus model in late 2017. Let’s cross our fingers then and pray for Ford to do the right thing, which is giving us a 400hp AWD hatchback for our grocery shopping. +++

+++ While some car companies are announcing their plans for 2020 or 2025 at most, HONDA is stretching up to 2030 when it comes to its eco-friendly vehicles. CEO Takahiro Hachigo told that, by the end of the next decade, the automaker is planning to increase its alternative-powered car sales in the United States, from both the Honda and Acura brands, to more than two-thirds. What this means is that Honda is targeting more than 1 million hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles and EVs, a very ambitious plan, considering that the company delivered just 2,329 hybrid cars through June, 2016, in the US. However, the manufacturer that brought the first hybrid to this side of the pond in 1999 – the Insight, now has just 4 electric models in its lineup – the CR-Z, which will be discontinued soon, RLX, Accord Hybrid and NSX. These will be joined by the new Clarity FCV this year and, according to the same Hachigo, the lineup will continue with the arrival of a new PHEV sedan next year, and possible hybrid versions of the Civic and CR-V, by the end of 2020. In addition to the US market, Honda is also planning to increase its global hybrid and electric vehicle sales to approximately two-thirds of total deliveries, by 2030. Honda has reaffirmed that, unlike its main rivals, it’s not interested in creating an alliance with another automaker. The brand sells about 5 million cars annually, and executives have no plans to drastically increase that figure in the near future. “We don’t have any aspirations to make it 10 million. We want to draw a line between those who want to do that and ourselves. We want to stay within the 5 million range,” explained company boss Takahiro Hachigo in a recent interview. Automakers looking to buy into Honda shouldn’t hold their breath, but Hachigo’s comments don’t mean the company will remain completely isolated. Honda is open to working with other automakers when it makes sense; notably, it’s currently developing hydrogen drivetrains with General Motors. “I’m not jumping at the news of other partnerships,” added Hachigo. He’s referring to Nissan’s recent purchase of a controlling stake in Mitsubishi, and Toyota’s collaboration talks with Suzuki. “We just want to be able to do what we want to do”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI said about 1,000 of its executives will take a 10 percent pay cut, the first such move in seven years at South Korea’s second-largest conglomerate that shows the harsh impact of market share woes and labour strife at its flagship firm. The pay cuts affect executives at 51 group companies, a spokeswoman at flagship Hyundai Motor said. The spokeswoman said the cuts are voluntary and are applicable from this month but declined to say how much the group expects to save from the move or which ranks of executives will be impacted. Once industry outperformers, Hyundai and affiliate Kia are grappling with falling market share in its major markets such as China and South Korea, as well as slowing demand in other emerging markets. Hyundai, the world’s fifth-biggest automaker together with Kia, is expected by analysts to report a lower-than-expected third-quarter profit on Wednesday, squeezed also by a protracted strike, which was resolved earlier this month. “The pay cut is not that much, but symbolizes the severity of the difficulties Hyundai is undergoing”, said Chung Sun-sup, chief executive of corporate research firm Hyundai’s woes are also impacting the broader South Korean economy. The country’s central bank said the economy, powered by export-driven manufacturing firms, would have grown faster in the third quarter, were it not for the setbacks suffered by Samsung Electronics and Hyundai. At a time when its rivals are benefitting from strong demand for SUVs, Hyundai is grappling with slowing demand for its mainstay sedans like Elantra and Sonata. Hyundai is also heavily reliant on sales in emerging markets like Russia and Brazil, making them vulnerable to slowing sales in those countries. Earlier this month, Hyundai replaced the heads of both its South Korean and China operations. “We are worried about next year’s outlook”, a group executive told Reuters. Yonhap News Agency, which earlier reported the Hyundai pay cuts, said this is the first executive pay cut at the group since 2009. +++

+++ INFINITI is “still studying” plans for a new flagship, according to design boss Shiro Nakamura. The brand has been analysing the possibility for some years, but Nakamura’s tone suggests that a flagship is still some years away. A V8 engine looks out of the question. +++

+++ Two mules of the next generation MERCEDES G-Class have been scooped testing together. The vehicles carry an identical body wrap, but being test mules, it doesn’t really matter. Still, the new model is expected to carry a visually similar squared off design to the original model. While the exterior will make it instantly recognizable as a G-Class, inside, it will please tech fans with a large infotainment display akin to the E-Class and S-Class, as well as all the latest comfort features. Those looking to take it out on challenging slopes will be glad to hear that the next generation will retain its body-on-frame architecture, but will be wider than its predecessor. Despite the increased size, it will also be lighter, with some sources suggesting that it may shed as much as 400 kg. Set to be produced by Magna in Graz, Austria, where it is believed to share the same assembly lines with the non-AMG versions of the current iteration, the all-new Mercedes-Benz G-Class will come with a variety of petrol and diesel engines, possibly including a hybrid model, likely topped by two AMG-badged models with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 and a twin-turbocharged V12. +++

+++ Consumer Reports annual Car RELIABILITY Survey is out, and yes, there are some big surprises. First and foremost? The venerable publication no longer recommends the Honda Civic. In fact, aside from the walking-dead CR-Z and limited-release Clarity fuel-cell car, the Civic is the only Honda to miss out on CR’s prestigious nod. At the opposite end there’s a surprise as well – Toyota and Lexus remain the most reliable brands on the market, but Buick cracked the top three. That’s up from 7th last year, and the first time for an American brand to stand on the Consumer Reports podium. Mazda’s entire lineup earned Recommended checks as well. Consumer Reports dinged the Civic for its “infuriating” touch-screen radio, lack of driver lumbar adjustability, the limited selection of cars on dealer lots fitted with Honda’s popular Sensing system, and the company’s decision to offer LaneWatch instead of a full-tilt blind-spot monitoring system. Its score? A lowly 58. The Civic isn’t the only surprise drop from CR’s Recommended ranks. The Audi A3, Ford F-150, Subaru WRX/STI, and Volkswagen Jetta, GTI, and Passat all lost the Consumer Reports’ checkmark. On the flipside, a number of popular vehicles graduated to the Recommended ranks, including the BMW X5, Chevrolet Camaro, Corvette, and Cruze, Hyundai Santa Fe, Porsche Macan, and Tesla Model S. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the hilariously recall-prone Ford Kuga/Escape getting a Recommended check – considering the popularity of Ford’s small crossover, this is likely a coup for the brand, as it puts the Kuga/Escape on a level playing field with the Recommended Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan X-Trail/Rogue. While Ford is probably happy to see CR promote the Kuga/Escape, the list wasn’t as kind for every brand. For example, of the entire Fiat Chrysler Automobiles catalog, the ancient Chrysler 300 was the only car to score a check – there wasn’t a single Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, or Ram on the list. That hurts. FCA isn’t alone at the low end, either. GMC, Jaguar Land Rover, Mini, and Mitsubishi don’t have a vehicle on CR’s list between them, while brands like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Nissan, Lincoln, Infiniti, and Cadillac only have a few models each. +++

+++ It has only been on sale for a few months, but the SEAT Ateca is already a favourite small SUV. In the face of strict competition from the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, the Ateca impresses with its sharp handling and low price tag. Buoyed by its success with the Ateca, Seat has confirmed that it will launch a second, smaller SUV called the Arona, which is expected to be in showrooms in late 2017. It will rival the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Opel Mokka and Peugeot 2008, and is aimed at growing families who value the extra space and versatility of an SUV but don’t neccessarily need to go off-road. While the Ateca shares its mechanical underpinnings with the Leon family hatchback, the Arona will be based on the smaller Ibiza – a Ford Fiesta rival. That’s important, because an all-new Ibiza is also due to be launched next year, as well as a significantly updated Leon. The Arona is expected to be styled in a similar vein to the Ateca, but unlike that car is only likely to be offered with front-wheel drive. The Arona’s engine range will be shared with the Ibiza. SUVs remain one of the largest markets in Europe right now, and small SUVs continue to be very popular. The Captur, Juke and Mokka are all regular sights on European roads, and the Arona will be going up against all three. It will also compete against some premium small SUVs, such as the Audi Q2 and the Volkswagen T-Cross, a Polo-based SUV that’s scheduled to arrive in 2018. The Ateca has already set a precedent for Seat’s SUVs representing good value for money. It undercuts many of our favourite cars in this market. Seat will be looking to repeat this with the Arona. +++

+++ The replacement at the helm of India’s largest conglomerate has come as both a shock and a surprise. Tata Sons, the holding company of TATA Group, in a sudden move, unexpectedly replaced chairman Cyrus Mistry with his predecessor Ratan Tata. The change is made even more puzzling by the company giving no explanation or details about its decision. The country’s media, though, is filled with speculation about the decision and what the future might hold for Tata. The first question on everyone’s mind was “Why?” Cyrus Misty had been hand-picked as a successor to Ratan Tata in 2012, as the second chairman from outside the Tata family and with high hopes that he would be the right man to steer the company. He was the sixth chairman in Tata’s 148-year history and the first chairman in nearly 80 years to come from outside the Tata family. The Economic Times writes the move was over “performance issues,” citing allegations that Tata was not happy with Mistry’s “approach of shedding non-profit businesses, including the conglomerate’s steel business in Europe, and concentrating only on cash cows”. The paper also notes that there was a “fundamental disconnect between Mistry and Tata, particularly with regard to ethos, values, vision and the direction” the group was taking. Mistry’s explicit disregard for the “old guard” in the company was “considered overtly aggressive and unnecessary,” according to the paper. Business publication Mint also speaks of “contrasting styles in investment”, saying the approach of Mistry “was in sharp contrast with that of his predecessor Ratan Tata”, under whom the group was “one of India’s most aggressive acquirers, especially of overseas assets”. During his time as chairman since 2012, Mistry though seemed to move into the opposite direction, getting rid of loss-making units and focusing on the stronger core businesses. The plans to sell the British steel plants owned by Tata are part of this trend. The Business Standard says that people in the know were aware the conflict “was building up”. The paper cites a number of recent incidents where Tata felt not properly informed by Mistry about his business decision. But the paper cites sources from close to the Tata board saying that the “real issue was that Tata felt Mistry may not be the best bet in the long-term” with no vision for the future. Officially, Cyrus Mistry was “replaced”, seen by many publications as a decidedly vague term, especially given the context that there were next to no further details or explanations. The change at the top is widely seen as the chairman getting the boot. For the Economic Times, the case is an “ouster,” described as “worse than any scene from corporate fiction in which the CEO is given the pink slip at the shortest possible notice”. The article also points out that the sudden decision “is most unusual and not in keeping with the reputation of good corporate governance that the Tatas had earned over the past decades”. The paper cites an unnamed “old Tata hand” describing the situation as “a coup that was planned to perfection and executed to the tee”. The Business Standard points out that Cyrus Mistry’s “stint as chairman” was the shortest ever at Tata, while Mint adds that he “wasn’t even given the option of resignation”. The Times of India describes the “replacement” bluntly as a “sacking”, suggesting in fact that Mr Mistry is “likely to move to the Bombay high court” to challenge the board’s “decision to dismiss him”. The new man at the top is also the old man. Ratan Tata is Mr Mistry’s predecessor and had been leading the group for 21 years. He is also 78 years old, which hardly makes him a long-term prospect for the company. There is now a selection committee charged with finding the permanent replacement within 4 months. The Business Standard points out that it is not just the chairman who has been replaced. The group’s executive council has also been dissolved. The cut with Mistry is seen as something that “can be a watershed event” in the group’s history by the Economic Times. The Mint is warning that the sudden move could mean that “Tata group shares may pay a price for the abrupt, opaque decision”. Many papers point to a period of uncertainty that could ensue for Tata. Mistry is the son of the single largest individual shareholder in Tata Sons – and the prospect of his taking legal action against his sacking could hamper Tata at a crucial time. The Times of India warns: “Given the financial and family backing that Cyrus enjoys, any legal challenge he mounts against his dismissal could lead to uncertainty both within and outside the group, at a time when a number of its companies aren’t doing very well”. +++

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