+++ To say it’s been a busy couple of years at ASTON MARTIN would be a massive understatement. An all-new DB11 is just about to arrive at owners’ doors, wealthy clientele are jostling for a spot on the AM-RB 001 hypercar waiting list, the (very) limited edition DB10 was delivered to one Mr James Bond, the track-only Vulcan supercar blew the cobwebs off anyone lucky enough to drive one, and GT12 and GT8 specials have also been launched. Not enough? Well, Aston’s racing programme has been revitalised, a new range of accessories is available from a new Central London Aston Martin boutique and a new factory in Wales is taking shape to produce the production version of the DBX crossover. Oh, and there’s the AM37 Powerboat. All that (and much more) has happened in the 2 years since Andy Palmer first crossed the famous moat at Gaydon and into Aston Martin headquarters. Last year I caught up with Andy to get a view on his first year in the job; this year I’ve spoken to Aston employees old and new on how the company has changed under his stewardship. Design director Marek Reichman has seen plenty of ups and downs in his 11 years with Aston. “We’ve had some very difficult times”, he told. “You can be on a great ship that looks fantastic, but when you’ve got no captain, no direction, you sometimes wonder ‘what’s the point?’. Andy’s brought back this desire for Aston to be a great British car company”. Reichman also revealed how Palmer’s vision helps him and his design team. “Every time Andy speaks about the journey it enthuses me more”, he said. “He has an internal compass that points to his vision with laser precision. For a chief creative officer that makes life much simpler. We’ve gone from producing a new car every four years to producing one a year, plus specials. We’re now very much about looking forward: what we can be and what we need to be”. Ian Hartley joined Aston Martin aged 16 in 1989 and was one of the last apprentices taken on under ex-chairman Victor Gauntlett. He’s now a senior manager in the vehicle dynamics team working on cars like the new DB11. “Years ago it was like working in sheds”, he told us. “When it rained, water used to leak through the old production facility’s W-shaped roofs and run down the shelves where the nuts and bolts were kept. We used to be working in pits and water got in”. “Aston was always busy, but now we’re developing a lot more cars. In V8 and DB9 days we did one before we started another project. Now I’ve got a lot of projects – it challenges you to think of different ways to develop the car”. The changes over the past 2 years have had a big impact on the workforce, as Hartley explains: “In the past there were always ups and downs; there’s a good period during development, then sales drop off and you struggle to pull another model together. Here it’s very clear – there’s a good separation between our cars and we know what market we’re trying to hit. We’re being taken into new sectors so it’s exciting – we’re going to get to develop DBX, for example”. Just beginning their Aston journey are Ceri Davies and William Savage. Until recently, Davies was self-employed in the aircraft industry in South Wales after 22 years in the RAF. Now he’s a build technician at Gaydon, but will move home to work in Aston’s new factory in St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan. “I’m up here for 2 years with 40 Welsh colleagues”, said Davies. “I just wanted a change of gear and the opportunity to work with a prestigious company like Aston was exciting”. William Savage is a degree apprentice, working at Gaydon while studying at Warwick University. He’s following in the footsteps of Palmer, who also started out as an apprentice. “Andy has been in to see the apprentices”, Savage told us. “It’s great to see how his career has gone and that you don’t always have to go to university to get to the top”. One thing that talking to all Aston Martin employees tells us is that the next 2 years will be even busier than the last. The message is simple: you ain’t seen nothing yet. +++

+++ BMW has confirmed that it will launch a second-generation i3 but at this stage, isn’t sure when. During an interview with Automotive News, i3 project manager Heinrich Schwackhöfer said that a new i3 will see the light of day despite just over 60,000 units of the current model being sold in the past 3 years. “It’s not the sentiment within the company that it’s been a failure — absolutely not at all. The “i’ subbrand is stable and you can count on a successor to the i3, but I cannot say when that will be”, he said. When BMW does create the next-gen i3, its range will have to be significantly greater than the outgoing model if it has any chance of attracting buyers. As it stands, the most powerful i3 variant with a 33 kWh battery has an electric range of 183 km. By comparison, the cheaper Opel Ampera-E has a range of 383 km and the Tesla Model 3 will be able to run for over 321 km when it hits the market late next year. +++

+++ New FERRARI models produced from 2019 onwards will get hybrid power to improve performance, brand CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Monday. Speaking during a conference call to investors, Marchionne explained that using a mixture of combustion engine and electric power will help to make cars even faster while also improving efficiency. Currently, the only Ferrari road cars to use hybrid power are the LaFerrari and the LaFerrari Aperta, but the F12’s successor, which is expected to arrive around 2020, is rumoured to become the first mainstream model to use hybrid electric power. Ferrari has patented common architecture for electric models that would be able to travel 50 kilometers in electric-only mode. The patented architecture could possibly be used to underpin everything from entry-level models to the flagship future F12 successor. Marchionne also revealed on Monday that Ferrari would undergo a  “fundamental shift” in the way it makes its cars in the coming years, which could see production ramped up to more than 10,000 cars per annum. “Although I neither commit to this nor do I give any sort of certification of it being our objective, it is possible that the annual sales number could be well in excess of 10,000 cars in 2025”, he said. Marchionne also suggested that Ferrari could increase its product range to include more luxury models, like the recently launched GTC4 Lusso, to appeal to a wider audience and help increase demand. However, some limit is likely to be kept in place in order to maintain the exclusivity of the brand’s products. Ferrari’s ambitious plans for the future come after it has enjoyed strong financial success in recent months. Share prices rose more than 7% on Monday after it posted an 8% sales increase for the third quarter of 2016. +++

+++ HYUNDAI has chosen to keep its UK pricing the same since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Other manufacturers, including Ford, Honda and Suzuki, joined the list of car makers increasing UK pricing on their models as a result of Brexit, after the vote caused fluctuations in the pound. However, Hyundai has opted to keep its prices fixed in an attempt to get the edge over the competition, according to UK CEO Tony Whitehorn. “It is a strategic move for us, the strategic move being that we want to try and make our cars accessible; that’s key for us”, Whitehorn said. “This year, we will not raise our prices; but that’s not saying that we will not raise our prices in the future, and that has been the strategy that we have taken here in the UK”. Ford has announced that prices will increase by 1.5% across its range, while Honda will be increasing the prices of its cars by an average of 0.9% this month. Some Suzuki models will also be subject to price increases, with a 2% increase blamed on the fluctuation of sterling. The PSA Group, which is made up of Peugeot, Citroën and DS, raised its prices by 2% after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Vauxhall is set to increase prices of most models in the UK by 2.5% on the 1 October, matching an increase made in the aftermath of Brexit. General Motors Europe has suffered as the value of the pound slipped against the euro, with the UK being its largest national market. Tina Müller, Opel’s chief marketing officer, said Brexit has in effect cost the company £346 million already. “It will be the trend across the industry”, Müller told journalists at the Paris motor show. “I think we are leading here but we know that everybody else will follow”. Despite GME’s predictions for a decline in the British market, sales remain strong at the moment. +++

+++ The MERCEDES G-Class will undergo extensive changes in the coming years, with a facelift to the 35-year-old model so major that Mercedes says it will in effect be a new car when it launches. It’s expected – but unconfirmed – to launch at next year’s Frankfurt motor show. The big push is to increase the car’s width by up to 100 mm for greater stability, to accommodate new front suspension and to liberate greater interior space for new, broader seats front and rear, while maintaining the character and iconic look of the current model. “We have to be careful with our heritage”, says Mercedes-Benz’s SUV boss, Andreas Zygan. “We offer something really special. Last year – the 34th – was the best ever for G-Class sales. It’s amazing, and one of our idols”. The codename for the G-Class remains W463, but the structure is being extensively reworked. More aluminium is being added and it is being made around 100 mm wider, taking the width of the car to around 1860 mm. The change to the structure – shifting from steel to aluminium – is also being made with a view to slashing the kerb weight; a reduction of more than 300 kg is being touted by insiders. The current G350 weighs in at a hefty 2.570 kg. The G-Class’s new front suspension will use a three or four-link set-up, while a more modern electro-mechanical steering system is also being fitted. The exterior design will retain the right-angled looks of today’s car with a near-vertical windscreen. Some inspiration could also be taken from the futuristic Ener-G-Force concept car from the 2012 Los Angeles motor show. Insiders said it not only previewed the new GL, but possibly also the next G-Class. The interior overhaul will focus not only on increasing space but also on improving comfort and quality, with interior fittings from the C-Class set to make it into the venerable off-roader. Technology levels will also be increased, with features such as LED lights and more driver assistance and safety systems set to be fitted. The engine range will include the new 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder petrol (codenamed M256) and diesel (OM656) motors that Mercedes is working on ahead of their debut in the 2016 E-Class. In the G-Class, a petrol unit with more than 360 hp and a diesel producing more than 300 hp are being touted. The engines will be paired with Mercedes’ new nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard, resulting in vastly improved economy. Range-topping AMG variants, which account for half of all G-Class sales, are set to follow the launch of the standard models, with AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0 V8. The same engine will feature in the G 500 variant, with cylinder shut-off technology included for improved fuel economy. The next-generation Mercedes GLS Class, previewed by 2012’s Ener-G-Force concept, is set to morph into a full Range Rover rival in 2018, with a big push on luxury and refinement and the addition of a long-wheelbase variant. Mercedes has noted the trend for super-luxury SUVs like the latest Range Rover and Bentley Bentayga and intends to pitch the next GLS right into the heart of this growing segment. The bigger and even more luxurious long-wheelbase GLS could take the Pullman name to represent its premium positioning. The badge is also set to be used on longer, plusher versions of the Mercedes S-Class to replace the axed Maybach range. The next GLS could also form the basis of a new Aston Martin Lagonda SUV as part of the deal between Mercedes and Aston Martin. +++

+++ Cars without side or rear-view MIRRORS could hit the streets as early as next year. Instead they will rely on camera monitors. They are part of plans being pursued by the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The ministry said camera monitors may also help reduce accidents by offering wider views and eliminating blind spots, while also cutting up to 10 percent in mileage because no side mirrors mean less wind resistance. “International standards on replacing side and rear-view mirrors with camera monitors have already gone into use since June”, a ministry official said. “The latest plan aims to adjust these standards to fit domestic safety regulations”. +++

+++ As the electric vehicle market gains momentum, NISSAN is celebrating 75,000 EVs sold to European customers. The vast majority is accounted for by the Leaf, which was launched in 2010 and, apart from the 30 kWh battery offering that promises a 250 km range, is pretty much the same. “Europe’s electric vehicle market is growing at an extraordinary pace, as motorists across the continent switch on to the multiple benefits that electric mobility provides. As part of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, it is our aim to offer customers around the world a safer and more sustainable future through our electric vehicle range”, said Gareth Dunsmore, Director of Electric Vehicles at Nissan Europe, referring not only to the Leaf, but to the e-NV200 as well, whose year-to-date sales are up by 34 percent. While the current Leaf continues to enjoy a 10 percent increased popularity in Europe in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2015, Nissan is also looking at a replacement of its zero-emissions hatch, which could hit the market in 2018, according to previous info. The car will benefit from a new design language and an increased range, expected to sit between 498 and 547 km. +++

+++ The SOUTH KOREAN car market seems to have no hit model this year, which sells over 100,000 units a year. The most popular model so far this year is Hyundai’s Avante compact sedan, which sold 78,253 units in the first 10 months, according to industry data on Monday. Hyundai’s Porter truck placed second with 78,115 units sold, followed by the Sonata (69,039 units), which retained the top spot for 2 consecutive years in 2014 and 2015. Kia’s Sorento (67,060 units) and GM Korea’s Chevrolet Spark (64,423 units) placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Neither the Avante nor the Porter is likely to sell over 100,000 units by the end of the year, a Hyundai staffer said. “They needs to sell 10,000 units a month to be a hit model, but that is unlikely given their sales performances over the past months,” he added. +++

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