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+++ For the past century, German luxury automaker BMW has made “sheer driving pleasure” its brand focus. But will it still remain so when cars learn to drive themselves? Pursuing fully autonomous self-driving cars is the latest trend in the global auto industry, and BMW is no exception. The company has been working on developing cars that can do everything from change lanes to park themselves. Martin Steurenthaler, manager of product development at BMW Korea’s R&D center, said the new technology is about helping drivers “be the best driver”, not about taking away the fun of driving by replacing it with a computer. “Although full autonomous driving technology is being developed, the function is only going to come in when necessary, when the driver wants to be productive while staying inside the vehicle”, Steurenthaler said during a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. The 54-year-old product development manager has been overseeing BMW Korea’s R&D center over the past two years. Before that, he was in charge of product development at BMW Japan from 2009 and at BMW Munich from 2006. Steurenthaler explained that congested roads with bumper-to-bumper traffic are one case where autonomous driving technology can be most useful. “A situation like this would call for what we like to label as ‘me time’ where you want to do something productive such as make private or work-related phone calls or go over paperwork without having to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes fixed on the road”. The most recent piece of autonomous driving technology developed by BMW is called overtaking assistance, where a car can detect vehicles and surrounding objects up ahead to safely change lanes and overtake a car in front. However, the technology has yet to be commercialized. The latest to be commercialized by BMW is remote control parking, where the car tucks itself into a tight parking space while the driver is outside the vehicle. The technology is already available in the German market and is in the process of getting approval in Korea, pending issues related to radio frequencies. “The technology will be especially useful in Korea, where parking space is always lacking and very small,” Steurenthaler said. “It will prevent a situation where you have to be extremely careful about bumping the car door into the next vehicle or the wall”. BMW has been testing its self-driving cars on highways for more than two years now, and recently in June, it formed a partnership with American tech giant Intel and Israeli driver assistance technology developer Mobileye to work on technology that will be used in BMW’s 2021 iNext autonomous electric vehicle. The partnership will allow the 3 players to exchange technical know-how as well as valuable test-driving data on an open platform to improve user-friendliness. “Until now, the test drivers have always been experts – educated and experienced drivers”, Steurenthaler said. “It is time for you, me and everybody else to use that function”. Steurenthaler emphasized that safety would ultimately decide who comes out on top in the highly competitive autonomous driving race. “Something we learned from the recent Tesla accident, where a driver was killed while operating a vehicle in autonomous driving mode, is that there are so many possible scenarios that can happen on the road, especially in an urban area like Seoul, which is why accumulating data and refining the related algorithm is highly important”. +++

+++ The replacement for the FERRARI F12 Berlinetta has been caught testing again, months before it’s due to be revealed at the 2017 Geneva motor show. It was previously spotted testing near Ferrari’s Maranello base, and has since shed some disguise ahead of its official debut date. The 2 spotted development cars had thick covers on, but their familiar bodyshape confirms that the 2017 model will be a facelift rather than all-new car. The new car is rumoured to be called the F12 M and will use a reworked version of the F12 Berlinetta’s naturally aspirated V12 engine, with power output raised from the current 740 hp to nearer the 780 hp of the hardcore F12tdf. That should help the 2017 car trim the current F12’s 3.1sec 0-100 km/h time. To improve agility, the power hike could be accompanied by Ferrari’s ‘virtual short wheelbase’ active rear steering system from the F12tdf. The F12 M could also gain the dual-screen infotainment set-up of the new GT4C Lusso along with a range of other interior updates. Pricing is expected to be above the F12’s current entry-level. Earlier suggestions that 2017 F12 model would receive hybrid technology have now lost momentum. The new generation of hybrid-assisted V12 Ferraris is not likely to come until an all-new flagship is launched towards the end of the decade. Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari CEO, said that hybrid technology would come in 2019. Electric technology for this model will trace its roots back to the LaFerrari hybrid, and power could therefore be significantly higher than the current F12’s, with more than 800 hp plausible. +++

+++ After Europe, the FORD EcoSport is now getting ready to take a trip across the Atlantic. As reported by according to AutomotiveNews, the subcompact SUV will be introduced in North America next week, right before the LA Auto Show, by DJ Klaled, who wrote on his Snapchat account “Monday I’m introducing the Ford EcoSport. It’s going to be a world premiere with the new Ford EcoSport”. This has been confirmed by one of the Blue Oval’s spokespersons. There’s no word yet on when the Ecosport will go on sale will go on sale, however. Details on the engine lineup for the US market have yet to be released, but the EcoSport can be had, depending on market, with an assortment of petrol units, joined by a 1.5-liter diesel. The car is currently assembled in Brazil, Russia, Thailand, and India. +++

+++ HYUNDAI and affiliate Kia saw their combined market share plunge in the domestic car market due to a lack of new models alongside prolonged labor strikes. They accounted for 58.9 percent last month, the lowest in 16 years, according to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association on Friday. Their market share, which had been over 70 percent, dropped to around 60 percent in June 2014 and seemed to be recovering for a while before falling again to stand at 58.9 percent in October this year. Meanwhile, General Motors Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong took up a combined 26.6 percent of the market last month, almost double the 14.5 percent recorded in January. The growth was largely due to the release of new models such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Renault Samsung SM6 sedans. General Motors Korea accounted for 11.3 percent, Renault Samsung 9.0 percent and Ssangyong 6.4 percent. Sales of imported cars, which struggled for the last five months, began recovering last month. A total of 20,612 imported cars were newly registered in October, up 18.3 percent from 17,423 cars during the same month of last year and up 22.9 percent from 16,778 cars in September. +++

+++ JAPAN ’s 7 major automakers logged drops in group sales in April-September, reflecting the yen’s appreciation, their latest earnings data have showed. Toyota, Mazda and Fuji Heavy Industries (maker of the Subaru brand), which all rely on exports more heavily than others, posted operating profit declines of more than 20 percent, as the stronger yen dented profitability on exports. Nissan’s operating profit fell 14 percent. Mitsubishi incurred a first-half operating loss for the first time in 7 years, as its mileage data manipulation scandal resulted in costly vehicle recalls. It also logged a record first-half net loss due to special losses related to the scandal. By contrast, Honda secured profit growth thanks to cost cuts and an accounting treatment change for its pension system. Suzuki enjoyed record earnings, supported mainly by brisk sales in India. All but Toyota and Nissan projected a stronger yen than their previous estimates for the second half that began in October. According to their latest estimates, foreign exchange fluctuations will work to push down their combined operating profits by 2.202 trillion yen, which is 165 billion yen more than the previously projected negative impact. Mazda and Fuji Heavy revised down their operating profit forecasts for fiscal 2016. Mitsubishi is braced for an operating loss also for the whole year ending in March 2017. Global auto sales are robust at the 7 firms except Mitsubishi. Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, and Fuji Heavy expect record sales. Mitsubishi is likely to fall to the seventh place in sales, overtaken by Fuji Heavy. +++

+++ The NISSAN – Renault alliance aims to offer Chinese drivers a new electric car costing just $8,000 within 2 years, chief executive Carlos Ghosn said as he touted an “explosion” in demand amid efforts to offset climate change. The electric auto market as a whole is stepping up a gear thanks to cheaper batteries, government incentives to consumers and better infrastructure for charging vehicles on the go, he said at the Web Summit in Lisbon. “For me, it is a no-brainer: electric cars are going to be a much bigger part of our industry in the future”, Ghosn told AFP in an interview. Nissan was a groundbreaker in mass-marketing electric vehicles from 2008 and counts the popular Leaf in its fleet. But that higher-priced model does not compete against cheaper offerings from rival manufacturers such as BYD, Zhidou and SAIC in China, which is now the world’s biggest auto market and also one of its worst polluters. “There is an explosion of demand for the small, cheap electric cars in China. We’re going to compete because we want to continue to maintain our leadership in electric cars”, Ghosn said. “The Chinese country is putting a lot of support behind electric cars and I think China, which will represent in 2016 one-third of the car market in electric cars, there’s going to be a big market for electric cars”. Ghosn did not offer details of the new Nissan-Renault model (the Japanese-French company works with joint venture partner Dongfeng in China) but said the price point and timeframe were set. “Our intention is to market a car which you can sell at $8,000 but without government incentives,” he said, adding it would be a localised product made with Chinese engineering. “Our objective is to be on the market within a couple of years”. Beijing is seeking to develop its nascent electric car industry with incentives and other government support in a bid to boost the country’s environmental credentials and tackle crippling air pollution. Some 247,000 ‘zero emissions cars’ were sold in China last year, quadruple the number in 2014, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. That leaves a lot of room of growth, automakers believe, with 24 million new cars sold in total in China last year. A key driver in the growth, Ghosn believes, will be climate change. UN members are now meeting in Morocco to flesh out details of how they can best combine to implement an agreement to defuse the menace. Future emission regulations will “play a very important role in the speed at which electric cars are going to develop”, the auto executive said. “In my opinion this is going to drive more electric cars in the future” but the industry is still waiting on details from the international effort, he said. Key to the electric development is the evolution of battery technology. Initially, Nissan made its own batteries for want of anything suitable on the market, but Ghosn said it was now content to buy from other suppliers and concentrate on researching advanced batteries of the future. He said that electric and hybrid vehicles count as significant trends alongside connectivity inside vehicles, to plug them into the world online, as well as autonomous driving cars. Questions have been raised over the autopilot system used by the pioneering company Tesla after 2 fatal crashes this year. But Ghosn said isolated incidents would not sidetrack the evolution of self-driving cars, as Nissan-Renault tests one such vehicle on a dedicated highway lane in Tokyo. Nissan on Monday said its net profit during the April-September period fell 13.3 percent, blaming a strong yen and weak sales in Japan. But sales in China rose 3.8 percent to 610,000 automobiles. +++

+++ TATA Sons has deepened the row between it and former chairman Cyrus Mistry. In a strongly worded statement, Tata said Mr Mistry presided over falling income and rising costs and “dismantled” the company’s structure. Tata Sons, the holding company for Tata Conglomerate, a group of 100 companies whose interests include steel, Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley Tea, removed Mr Mistry as chairman last month. His removal shocked the business world and no reason was given at the time. The statement said that in the 4 years of Mr Mistry’s chairmanship, the 3 main problem companies (which include Tata Steel Europe) had not improved. The 2 others singled out as problem groups are Tata Teleservices/Docomo and the Indian operations of Tata Motors. Tata’s statement said the group’s figures as a whole looked good because of the “excellent performance” of 2 companies, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and the UK subsidiary of Tata Motors, Jaguar Land Rover. Tata’s statement says Cyrus Mistry changed the culture at the 150 year old group: “Insiders in Bombay House who have been with the group for many years silently and helplessly watched the conscious departure from old, proven and successful structures within the group and the induction of very senior executives from outside the group with little or no experience of running large companies and being paid large amounts… for purely functional positions at the very top”. Mr Mistry had led Tata since late December 2012, and was the first chairman in nearly 80 years to come from outside the Tata family. Shortly after his ousting, he sent a highly-critical letter to the company’s board, saying he had become a “lame duck” chairman and alleging constant interference, including being asked to sign off on deals he knew little about. Separately, TCS removed Cyrus Mistry as chairman. As the former chairman of the conglomerate’s holding company, Mr Mistry holds that same role in a number of Tata subsidiaries. Tata Consultancy Services is the biggest software services firm in India and its income is central to the whole Tata empire. Tata Sons wrote to TCS nominating Ishaat Hussain as chairman: “In view of this, Mistry has ceased to be the chairman of the board of directors of the company, and Hussain is the new chairman of the company”. Tata Sons holds more than 70% in TCS, but its control is weaker over other companies. Despite the outpouring of criticism by Tata Sons, some of these businesses may wish to retain his services. Indian Hotels, which owns the Taj chain, has called an extraordinary general meeting to consider a resolution to remove Mr Mistry as director. He received unanimous support as chairman from Indian Hotels’ independent directors at a board meeting last week, where he was praised for providing strategic direction and leadership. Mr Mistry is also chairman of Tata Steel, Tata Motors and Tata Chemicals. +++

+++ In addition to recent news coverage of TESLA expanding to Europe, specifically Germany, there are reports of the United Kingdom also looking like a viable expansion location for Tesla. As Elon Musk addressed the press after news broke of Tesla acquiring a German automated factory specialist, Grohmann Engineering, he also said that Tesla is likely to establish an engineering group in Britain at some point in the future. Musk said: “We have a lot of respect for the British automotive engineering talent. Just look at Formula 1 – it amazes me how much British talent there is in that”. For example, there are engineering hubs in and around the Midlands, which could well offer Tesla some valuable know-how. According to The Telegraph, Musk does not see Brexit and the current climate of financial insecurity surrounding Britain as a hindrance, and that Brexit is not likely to have “a significant impact” on Tesla’s plans. For Tesla, Europe is a major market and a very possible Gigafactory 2 location. “Tesla is going to make some very significant investments in Europe – and the US of course”, said Musk. “There is no question of at least one, maybe 2 or 3 Gigafactory locations in Europe in the future. We think it the right thing to do is to start producing cars there as soon as we can reasonably do”. +++

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