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+++ The upcoming ALFA ROMEO will be a driver’s car, CEO Reid Bigland said. We will get our first full look at the Stelvio at the LA motor show later this month. “The reason people will buy our mid-sized SUV is because they will get blown away by the driving dynamics”, Bigland told. “Every car Alfa Romeo makes must stand apart for that reason, and this car will not disappoint”. Bigland said that the arrival of this mid-sized SUV – the Stelvio name is yet to be officially confirmed by Alfa Romeo – is something that reflects market demand. “The whole world is gravitating to SUVs. A few years ago an Alfa Romeo SUV would have been sacrilegious, but now it makes perfect sense”, he explained. “Our job is to keep an eye on consumer preferences and give people what they want”. +++

+++ FORD has outlined plans to build a new technology center in Chennai, India. The company expects to invest 195 million dollar in the facility, which will eventually host 12,000 workers. The campus will serve as a global hub for vehicle development, mobility products and business services. The Blue Oval last year vowed to triple exports from India, investing 1 billion dollar in a new manufacturing facility in Gujarat. The plant complements an existing production facility near Chennai. Together, the factories are expected to be capable of producing nearly a half million vehicles annually. Ford suggests the Chennai tech campus will become the company’s second largest employment center behind Dearborn. “India is not only a vibrant market for cars and new mobility ideas, it also is rich with talent, technical expertise and ingenuity”, said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. “This new center will help us attract the best and brightest, and make Chennai a true hub of innovation for Ford around the world”. The company will consolidate 9,000 existing workers in Chennai and hire an additional 3,000 employees over the next 5 years. The new 28-acre campus is expected to be operational by early 2019. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS has announced retooling investments and shift cuts affecting four different US factories. The company plans to spend 900 million dollar at its Toledo Transmission Operations, Lansing Grand River and Bedford Casting Operations facilities to prepare for future vehicle programs. The news is not all positive for Lansing Grand River, however, as the factory will soon experience job cuts as operations are scaled back to two shifts. The plan also affects General Motors’ Lordstown plant in Ohio. “As the customer shift from cars to crossovers and trucks is projected to continue, General Motors will suspend the third shift of production at both facilities in the first quarter of 2017,” the company said in a statement. Lansing Grand River currently builds the Chevrolet Camaro and the Cadillac CTS and ATS, while Lordstown produces the Chevrolet Cruze. Sales of the Camaro and Cruze are down by 9.0 and 19.9 percent so far this year, respectively, and the Cadillacs have both slid by around 17 percent. The company also issued a carefully worded statement aimed at Donald Trump. In his campaign for President, Trump strongly criticized NAFTA and the auto industry’s migration to Mexico. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ’s small SUV has been spotted testing ahead of an expected launch next year. The new model is expected to arrive on the market in 2018, and will be the third SUV in the Hyundai line-up. It will rival the Nissan Juke and Opel Mokka X, as well as upcoming small SUVs including the Seat Arona and an upcoming Skoda. Hyundai recently trademarked the ix25 and ix30 badges once again in Europe, but Hyundai’s UK CEO Tony Whitehorn denied knowledge of any plans to bring the badges, as a small SUV or otherwise. The ix35 badge was previously used on the Tucson, while the ix25 name was used on a concept SUV which then became the Creta in emerging markets. Whitehorn revealed that Hyundai’s SUVs are named rather than being given alphanumeric titles to separate them from the brand’s volume models, like the i10, i20 and i30. This means that the car will have a name, most likely based on a place name like the Tucson and Santa Fe, although Whitehorn couldn’t comment on this. The new SUV is likely to share engines with the new i30, given the 2 models’ similar sizes and the new engines the i30 will add to the Hyundai range, so expect to see a turbocharged 1.0-litre and turbocharged 1.4-litre petrols, as well as a 1.6-litre diesel in the SUV’s range. The petrols produce 120 hp and 140 hp in the i30 respectively, while the diesel comes in 95 hp, 110 hp or 132 hp guises. Prices for the new Hyundai SUV are expected to be slightly less than those of the Nissan Juke. +++

+++ The new NISSAN Micra will be available for people to buy as part of a group when it is launched early next year under a digital car-sharing scheme announced today by Nissan. Customers will be able to opt in to Nissan’s new Intelligent Get & Go Micra scheme, which allows users to buy a Micra as part of a group and use it only when they need it. Groups are between 3 and 5 people, and around 50 people will be initially chosen to launch the scheme in Paris. Nissan is aiming for groups of 4 ideally, though, so users can benefit from one day a week of car usage and one weekend per month. The sign-up site will go live next month. The software being developed to facilitate the scheme is inspired by social media – users set up a personal profile on the app like other social networking sites – but doesn’t actually use any existing platform, aside from promoting the strategy. A Whatsapp-style chat function will also allow users to keep up to date with the car’s availability amongst their group, in addition to an app which tracks the car’s location and availability. Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO and chairman Carlos Ghosn announced the plan and highlighted the profile-matching element of the scheme, which uses social networking to determine the group with which each user is best suited to share. Nissan claims the scheme is fully digital, using geo-location and smartphones to facilitate the car sharing. The digital platform will match owners with compatible driving needs and owners are billed monthly according to how much they have used the Micra. The brand hasn’t yet revealed what the initial cost to users is, but members of the scheme will sign up on a 12-month contract, and will need to find a replacement for themselves, should they wish to leave before the 12 months is over. The scheme will use an Acenta-spec 0.9-litre Micra with Bose sound system. The cost of membership to the scheme includes insurance, servicing, access to the online community and the smartphone app that will host the service. A maximum annual limit of 15,000 km is slated for each group’s Micra. Perishables, including but not limited to fuel and wiper blades, are shared amongst the group based on the car’s usage. Nissan’s more youthful target audience with the Micra is why the car was chosen; the car sharing strategy is aimed squarely at younger drivers too. It hasn’t ruled out introducing other cars into the scheme, but only after feedback has been received from members driving the Micra. Ghosn said: “We are moving toward a future where car usage may be more flexible, social and shared. At Nissan, we’re pioneering new ways to allow drivers to enjoy the freedom and financial benefits of shared car ownership. There is no better vehicle to launch this programme than the all-new Micra, which embodies the vision of Nissan Intelligent Mobility”. The scheme will be launched first in Paris later this year, with the car-sharing beginning in April 2017. Nissan has yet to reveal further details about the scheme. +++

+++ There are plenty of factors to weigh-up when purchasing a new car, such as performance, fuel economy, styling, technology, and how it feels to drive, but even in 2016, RELIABILITY is still probably the biggest factor for car buyers. It’s easy to think that there’s no such thing as an unreliable car these days, but the 2016 Driver Power survey shows that there’s still clear discrepancies between different manufacturers. Each year the Driver Power survey asks 50,000 UK motorists to score their cars on a number of different factors – reliability included. It gives us a great idea of how the cars we test fare in the real world, and clearly shows that on UK roads some manufacturers are more reliable than others. It’s self-reported data and there are a couple of surprises in the results alongside more predictable placers, but it does give an impression which manufacturers are leaving customers satisfied, and which ones leave something to be desired. The 2016 list of the most reliable car manufacturers contains many names we’ve come to expect to see near the top as a result of their performance in previous surveys. Japanese brands dominate the top 10 with Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Suzuki and Subaru all making the cut. Less predictable was Dacia’s third spot overall, proving that cutting-costs does not have to mean cutting corners on reliability. The simplicity and proven Renault mechanicals behind Dacia products appear to be counting in their favour. The biggest surprise has to be the overall king of the most reliable car brands, however. Tesla has made a huge impact on the car industry in recent years and despite it still manufacturing a relatively small number of cars, the firm’s customers appear to be delighted with the level of reliability they’re getting. Whether things will change as more Tesla models find owners in the UK with the Model X and Model 3 becoming available remains to be seen but there’s no denying that Tesla seems to be heading in the right direction. These 10 brands are the most reliable: 1. Tesla – 97.54%, 2. Lexus – 97.25%, 3. Dacia – 96.45%, 4. Toyota – 95.03%, 5. Honda – 94.61%, 6. Mazda – 94.58%, 7. Suzuki – 94.36%, 8. Skoda – 94.35%, 9. Subaru – 94.32%, 10. Kia – 94.17%. And so we arrive at the ‘could-do-better’ end of the most reliable car brands scale and the 10 least reliable car manufacturers in 2016. Propping up the table is Mini, a brand that you may not necessarily have associated with reliability issues niggling or catastrophic. Yet, Mini owners have spoken in Driver Power 2016 and they aren’t as happy as they could be. Also finding a spot in the rogues gallery are Volkswagen and Audi, while it’s even more a surprise to see Nissan languishing down there given the strong showing from its fellow Japanese marques. It seems Fiat and Alfa Romeo still have work to do too while Land Rover has a long way to go to catch Jaguar in 17th. The 10 most unreliable brands are: 23. Audi – 90.43%, 24. Fiat – 90.19%, 25. Hyundai – 90.15%, 26. Ford – 89.91%, 27. Alfa Romeo – 89.76%, 28. Nissan – 89.05%, 29. Volkswagen – 89.01%, 30. Land Rover – 88.20%, 31. Jeep – 87.93%, 32. Mini – 87.09%. +++

+++ Despite a general decline in sales of foreign cars in SOUTH KOREA, German automaker Mercedes-Benz logged a new record last month, selling more than 6,000 cars. According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, Mercedes-Benz sold 6,400 cars in October, the best performance by a foreign brand on record and a jump of more than 72.4 percent from the same month last year. Mercedes was followed closely by rival BMW, which sold 5,415 cars last month, up 71.6 percent. They left other imports in the dust, with sales of foreign cars overall down 5.5 percent so far this year compared to 2015. That was partly due to a precipitous drop in sales of Audis and Volkswagens after those companies were forced to stop sales and recall models here for falsifying emissions test results. +++

+++ TESLA CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the firm’s next Gigafactory production plant will be in Europe; the company will start looking at potential locations next year. Musk confirmed the plans at a press conference, after he announced Tesla’s acquisition of Grohmann engineering – a German automated production technology firm. Tesla hopes that its buyout of Grohmann Engineering will accelerate its manufacturing technologies as it prepares to put the Model 3 saloon into production. Although Musk said that no location for the European factory will be decided upon until next year, it seems logical that somewhere near the Grohmann site will at least be considered an option, as it becomes the largest centre for Tesla’s European operations. Tesla’s plans to make another Gigafactory are so solid, that the Fremont plant is now being referred to as ‘Gigafactory 1’, with a European plant likely to be ‘Gigafactory 2′. In relation to a question about bringing production of Tesla models to Europe, Musk said: “This is something that we plan on exploring quite seriously with different locations for very large scale Tesla vehicles, and battery and powertrain production”. Grohmann Engineering – soon to be Tesla Grohmann Automation – is based in Prüm, Germany, and specialises in automated manufacturing technology. Tesla says that the acquisition of the company should accelerate its production processes as “the factory becomes more of a product than the product itself”. Tesla plans to use the Prüm centre as a hub for its factory developments, although no vehicles will be produced at the centre. A total of 1.000 jobs will be created in Plüm in the next 2 years, with Tesla planning to expand the centre in the near future. The developments in robotic car production which come from Prüm will be used in Tesla’s existing factory in Fremont, California. A Tesla spokesman said that new cars will not be produced at the Grohmann plant, and that it is only a production engineering facility. This does not mean that Tesla’s next factory will not be Plüm-based, though, with multiple sites being looked into ahead of the decision being made. Tesla hopes that opening more factories – previously speculated to be in Asia and Europe following Tesla’s US-based manufacturing plants – will create greater economies of scale in its production process, which will ultimately drive vehicle prices down. Tesla needs to do this in order to produce more cars like the upcoming Model 3, which will be its cheapest model as well as its best-selling, having already racked up several hundred thousand pre-orders. The Tesla spokesman said that the automation that Grohmann deals with is “critical to reach those economies of scale”. Grohmann, according to Bloomberg, also serves the telecommunication, consumer electronics and biotechnical industries, and has presence in multiple Asian markets, as well as Europe, Canada, North and Central America, South Africa and Australia. These areas of business will without doubt be of great interest to Tesla, as it seeks to expand its presence globally, as well as diversify its business. Tesla would not disclose how much it paid to acquire Grohmann, and couldn’t comment further on Musk’s comments. Musk says the electric automaker will open its second gigafactory in Europe and decide on an exact location next year. The billionaire businessman confirmed the news while speaking about Tesla’s recent acquisition of German engineering group, Grohmann Engineering. During a press conference, Musk said the European facility won’t just focus on lithium-ion battery production but will also manufacture cars. “This is something that we plan on exploring quite seriously with different locations for very large scale Tesla vehicles, and battery and powertrain production – essentially an integrated ‘Gigafactory 2’ ”, he said during a conference call. “There’s no question that long-term Tesla will have at least one – and maybe two or three – vehicle and battery factory locations in Europe”. In the meantime, Tesla is focused on bringing the entry-level Model 3 to the market in mid-2017. When volume production of the Model 3 is reached, Musk expects the automaker to build 600,000 cars annually, up from its current 100,000 units per annum figure. +++

+++ TOYOTA is looking at mass-producing long-range electric vehicles (EVs) that would hit the market around 2020, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Monday, in what would be a dramatic reversal of strategy for the world’s top-selling automaker. Even as rivals such as Nissan, Volkswagen and Tesla have touted pure electric cars as the most viable zero-emission vehicles for the future, Toyota has said it would reserve EVs for short-distance commuting given the high price of rechargeable batteries and lengthy charging times. By adding longer-range EVs to its product range, Toyota would be changing its tune from promoting plug-in petrol-electric hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) as the most promising alternative to conventional cars. The Nikkei business daily, without citing sources, said Toyota would set up a team in early 2017 dedicated to developing electric cars that can travel more than 300 km on a single charge. The paper added that Toyota aims to begin selling its first long-range EV in 2020 in Japan as well as other markets such as California, and China – the world’s biggest car market – which is promoting a switch to battery EVs. Toyota neither confirmed nor denied the report, saying it does not comment on product development plans. In an emailed response, it said it continued to develop various fuel-efficient technologies, including EVs, with the best application for each in mind. Toyota has pledged to make all of its vehicles essentially emissions-free by 2050. Industry experts said emissions regulations in California, widely considered a benchmark in global vehicle emissions standards, and China’s push to increase electric car usage could be behind a possible change of heart at Toyota. “Toyota has been a major hold-out on EVs, but it appears that it now realizes that without them it may be difficult to satisfy tightening regulations,” said Takeshi Miyao, managing director of consultancy Carnorama. “Not including EVs as an option would run the risk that it could face sales restrictions in some areas”. From 2018, California and a growing number of U.S. states will require automakers to produce a much larger number of zero-emissions vehicles as a proportion of total sales. Toyota has promoted FCVs such as its Mirai as the most sensible next-generation option to hybrids, a category it dominates with the Prius, since they have a similar driving range and refueling time to conventional cars. But the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations poses a major hurdle for mass consumption. Toyota will launch a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius in the coming months. Engineers have told Reuters that in developing a safe and powerful lithium-ion battery for the model, Toyota would be able to produce batteries for EVs in future. +++

+++ German prosecutors have widened an inquiry into suspected market manipulation by managers at VOLKSWAGEN to include the carmaker’s supervisory board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch, Volkswagen said on Sunday. The investigation, which relates to Pötsch’s time as finance chief, is the latest fallout from Volkswagen’s admission last year that it cheated on diesel emissions tests. Volkswagen has acknowledged it installed software that deactivated pollution controls on more than 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide, damaging its global business and prompting the departure of Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn. Adding to its troubles, a German newspaper reported on Sunday that a U.S. regulator found another cheat software device in vehicles made by its luxury division Audi which is unrelated to the device that triggered last year’s scandal at Volkswagen. Audi has declined to comment on the report. The prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig first announced the market manipulation probe in June, targeting former CEO Winterkorn and Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess for suspected market manipulation related to the emissions scandal. The prosecutor’s office said at the time that its inquiry centered on evidence that Volkswagen’s duty to disclose possible financial damage from the emissions test cheating may have arisen before Sept. 22, 2015, when it publicly admitted wrongdoing. Winterkorn had already left Volkswagen at the time, while Diess is still head of its core brand. “Based on a thorough examination by internal and external legal experts, the company reaffirms its belief that Volkswagen’s management fulfilled its duties to inform the capital market”, Volkswagen said on Sunday. Volkswagen said the company and Pötsch, who was finance chief of Volkswagen from 2003 until he became chairman in October 2015, would fully support the prosecutor’s office in its investigation. The prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig was not immediately available for comment. The Porsche and Piech families that control Volkswagen through their holding company Porsche SE, of which Poetsch is CEO, said on Sunday they backed the manager and shared Volkswagen’s view that he had complied with capital market rules. The German state of Lower Saxony, Volkswagen’s second biggest shareholder with 20 percent of voting rights, said it was up to the prosecution and the courts to assess what had happened, adding Pötsch should be assumed to be innocent pending the completion of the investigation. Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag report said the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had made a new discovery of cheating software in an automatic transmission Audi in summer 2016. CARB has declined to comment on the report. Audi, the main contributor to earnings at parent Volkswagen, had already admitted last year to using illicit emissions-control devices in about 85,000 3.0 liter six-cylinder diesel engines and has so far this year set aside 752 million euros to cover related costs. Bild am Sonntag, which cited no sources, said the software in CARB’s new discovery lowered carbon dioxide emissions by detecting whether a car’s steering wheel was turned as it would be if it was driving on a road. If the steering wheel was not turned, as if it was being tested in a laboratory, the software turned on a gear-shifting program which produced less carbon dioxide, allowing the car to meet the emissions criteria. If the wheel turned by more than 15 degrees, as if it was being driven, it turned the software off. The newspaper did not say if other performance criteria improved when this was switched off. Audi stopped using the software in May 2016, just before CARB discovered the manipulation in an older model, the paper said. It said the affected transmissions were used in several hundred thousand vehicles, including Audi’s A6, A8 and Q5 models, adding that the carmaker had suspended several engineers in connection with the matter. Any revelation of further cheating software would be a major setback after Volkswagen just reached a near $15 billion settlement with U.S. regulators and car owners, crossing one of the biggest hurdles in the clean-up of the scandal. +++

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