+++ IRANIAN police have stopped issuing number plates for U.S.-made cars, including Japanese and German brands, to the consternation of their importers and those who have purchased them. “All American-made and U.S.-brand vehicles, including Honda and Toyota, are banned from receiving number plate services by the police”, police spokesman Saeed Montazerolmahdi said recently. “The General Board of Police made this decision in July and U.S.-made cars are not able to receive number plates even if imported officially and legally via Iranian customhouse”, he said. In Iran, driving a car without number plates is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail. In October last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose orders are final, instructed President Hassan Rouhani to stop importing U.S. products, especially consumer goods, to help Iran consolidate its “resistance economy”, despite the West’s lifting of crippling sanctions under a landmark nuclear deal signed earlier that year. Within weeks, the Ministry of Industry and Trade had prepared a list of 119 items imported from the United States from 2014 to 2015, with a total value of $37 million, and banned most of them. But in a public speech in April, Khamenei criticized the exception for automobiles, saying, “Ministers and officials should seriously stop it”, which prompted chants of “Death to America!” Iran subsequently canceled the import of 200 Chevrolet cars made in South Korea that were waiting in Dubai to be transferred to Iran, while U.S.-made Japanese and German cars are subject to similar treatment. Farhad Ehtesham Zadeh, executive director of the Iranian Car Importers Union, criticized the ban’s application to the use of already imported U.S.-made, foreign-branded cars, saying it has no legal basis and is based merely on an interpretation of Khamenei’s orders. “U.S.-made Japanese cars are imported officially and legally via country’s customhouse and based on the government’s decision. There is no excuse for police to prevent number plating these cars”, he said. According to Zadeh, around 500 U.S.-made Japanese and German cars with a total value of $12 million have been bought by Iranian customers in recent months and are awaiting number plates from police. “They have paid for cars but can’t use them”, he said. Mehrdad, a 43-year-old businessman and a buyer of two U.S.-made Japanese cars, said he was “shocked and depressed” at the news. “In September, I paid $72,000 for a Honda C-VR for myself and $41,000 for a Toyota Prius as a birthday gift for my wife, and after paying all expenses and governmental tax, we were told by police that our cars are unable to get number plates because they’re U.S-made”. “I haven’t bought an American brand and it’s unacceptable for me to have problem with Japanese cars”, he said, adding that dealers are reluctant to refund his money and instead suggest he “wait until a solution can be found”. Mehran Ayazi, a Tehran-based economist, said the ban on U.S. products “should be clarified by the parliament”, namely whether it also applies non-U.S. brands. According to the Tokyo-based Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, 3,847,517 Japanese-brand cars were manufactured in the United States last year. But officials of the association could not confirm how many were exported to Iran. Both Honda and Toyota, in response to queries, said they do not have direct sales to Iran. “It is beyond the reach of our responsibility”, Honda’s press department said. The Japanese government lifted its sanctions on Iran in January and signed a bilateral investment pact the following month to help Japanese companies do business in the country amid intensifying foreign competition for access to its market. +++

+++ JAGUAR ’s radical all-electric SUV has been teased ahead of its arrival at the LA Motor Show, after the firm shelved plans to give the car a public debut at this autumn’s Paris Motor Show. The teaser photo revealed by official Jaguar social media accounts shows little about the car, with just a close-up of the badge and a shot of the wheel. Expect to see more very soon, however. The much-rumoured Tesla Model X fighter was intended to sit above the Jaguar F-Pace in the line-up and offering more dramatic styling than many mainstream rivals, such as Audi’s forthcoming Q6 e-tron. The car is expected to make production at Magna Steyr’s facility in Graz, Austria. Both the Jaguar and the Audi will be well behind Tesla’s Model X; early customers have already taken delivery of their examples of the gullwing-doored SUV, and full production ramp-up is expected over the next 12 months. Jaguar recently registered the I-Pace and I-Type names, prompting speculation that these could be linked to the all-electric SUV. It is believed that the registration is purely a case of Jaguar ‘fencing off’ the names for future use – although there’s an outside chance that one of them could feature as part of the firm’s Formula E race programme, which starts in September this year. +++

+++ JAPAN ’s top automakers are shuffling their U.S. product portfolios and resorting to larger imports of popular models there as they scramble to meet booming demand for gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks in the world’s No. 2 auto market. Honda, Japan’s third-largest automaker, said it will begin producing from early next year the Acura MDX at its plant in East Liberty, Ohio, adding to production at its Alabama plant, which also makes its Pilot SUV, Ridgeline pick-up truck and Odyssey minivan. Honda, Toyota and Nissan are all trying to maximise production efficiency at their North American plants to squeeze out more SUVs, but Toyota and Nissan have been importing a large number of SUV models to make up for the production shortfall, and Honda may do the same. “It takes time for manufacturing to catch up to these shifts because automakers are committing to changing their portfolio. It’s not something you can do quickly”, said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for automotive research company Kelley Blue Book. Imports allow car makers to sell more cars in a region without raising local production capacity, but they also can increase foreign exchange risks. Historically low U.S. gasoline prices and cost-conscious consumers seeking multi-tasking vehicles have boosted sales of SUVs, particularly smaller crossover models, and trucks, denting demand for traditionally sought-after passenger cars. Currently, 59 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. market are light trucks, versus 41 percent passenger cars, compared with 55 percent and 45 percent, respectively, a year ago, according to Autodata figures. In contrast, the balance of U.S. vehicle sales at each of Japan’s top three automakers is roughly even, suggesting that while they are producing more vehicles, the model mix of their sales is lagging market trends. Honda is responding by expanding production capacity for its CR-V model in the United States. Another option is importing the CR-V, along with the popular Civic, from Japan, a company spokeswoman said. “While maintaining our current overall capacity in North America, we’d like to also consider our production options in Japan … to produce more light trucks to respond to strong demand”, American Honda CEO Toshiaki Mikoshiba said. The Japanese are not alone in trying to adapt to the demand shifts. South Korea’s Hyundai has been producing its Santa Fe model at its Alabama plant since June to increase supply of the SUV while sales of its mainstay sedans such as the Sonata stagnate. Both Honda and Toyota recently cited a less competitive product mix as a reason for trimming their respective annual North American vehicle sales forecasts. Toyota will increase production capacity of its Tacoma pick-up truck at its plant in Mexico by more than 60,000 to an annual 160,000 by 2018 while it is also looking to its upcoming C-HR crossover model to lift sales in the segment. In the meantime, total Japanese exports of Toyota’s popular RAV4 model to the United States rose 20 percent in January-September from a year ago, even as the model’s production at its plant in Canada has increased by 3 percent over the same period. Nissan has ramped up exports of its Rogue/X-Trail from Japan to North America by 27 percent to 56,000 units in the April-September period from a year ago, while it also exports a large number of Rogues from South Korea. Japan’s No. 2 automaker in August moved production of its Armada SUV from its plant in Mississippi to Japan to make room to make more Titan pick-up and Murano. In April-September it sent 8,000 Armadas to North America. Toyota, Nissan and Honda all anticipate that the rampant growth in the U.S. market may slow going forward, and Lindland at Kelley Blue Book said that flexible production capabilities, rather than more capacity, was key to keeping pace with demand. “I wouldn’t recommend adding new plants because the market is plateauing”, she said. “There’s a fine line between having enough inventory and over building”. +++

+++ As SUBARU sales continue to rise, the company has underlined the importance of quality control moving forward following a spate of recalls and a drop in its Consumer Reports reliability rating. Speaking with Automotive News, the company’s global executive Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said that Subaru is employing pre-emptive actions to help avoid future problems. “We’ve always been focusing on quality, but we did have an increase in recalls. We’ve assigned a former FHI officer who was in charge of global quality assurance to oversee and enhance Subaru’s quality in the U.S. market”, he said. Subaru hasn’t had a monthly sales decline in the United States since 2011 and is on target for its eighth-straight year of record sales. Sales are then expected to continue to rise in the coming years, eventually reaching about 750,000 in 2021, says Yoshinga. “The background of our current situation is Subaru’s rapid sales growth that has caused strain to our U.S. production and to our suppliers. Having recalls like we’ve had this year, we realize the strong need to strengthen our effort to ensure high quality”, Yoshinga confirmed. This year, Subaru has issued separate recalls for the Tribeca, Legacy and Outback, while also continuing to call back Takata airbag-equipped models. Additionally, over 100,000 turbo models were recalled last month. +++

+++ All new TESLA cars are now being equipped with the necessary hardware to enable fully autonomous driving modes, and an official video released by Tesla shows the system’s driverless capabilities. Tesla now fits its cars with eight surround cameras to provide 360 degree visibility around the car of up to 250 metres away. These are accompanied by 12 updated ultrasonic sensors, allowing for detection of both hard and ‘soft’ objects at nearly twice the distance of the previous system. Additionally, a forward-facing radar that can see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even underneath the car ahead has been added to complete the spectrum of vision. However, while the hardware is fitted to Model X and Model S cars rolling off the production line now, it can’t be fully used until the required software is finished and added to the models’ operating systems via over-the-air updates. The video shows the system’s potential, which now benefits from 1.3 billion miles of Autopilot testing data. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet last month that the software should make it to production cars in late 2017, meaning we could be a year away from full Autopilot technology, which Tesla claims will enable passengers to travel from New York to Los Angeles without touching the steering wheel. Tesla is yet to confirm details, but the limited information it has revealed includes that the Autopilot technology, while significantly more effective than the current system, will still largely be limited to operating on highways and multi-lane roads. The new software is likely to mark the most significant step towards a fully autonomous vehicle, though. In September, Tesla announced a new over-the-air update for the Model S and Model X’s Autopilot software that would reduce crashes involving the vehicles by as much as half. The new software is part of the v8.0 update and comes with a range of improvements to the Autopilot system, allowing the cars’ radar systems to register far more objects than before. “The new software enables the car to initiate braking no matter what the object is – especially if it’s large, metallic and dense… It could be a truck crossing the road, a road sign, it could even be a spaceship or a pile of junk metal”, said Musk. No additional hardware is required for the v8.0 improvements, so all radar-equipped Model S and Model X cars built in the past two years will benefit from the wirelessly downloadable update. Once downloaded, the cars will not only recognise more objects on the road, but will also be able to use something Musk calls ‘radar echo’. This technology bounces radar off the road and underneath the car in front and then back off objects ahead of that. Musk said: “Now, if the car in front of you suddenly swerves, we’ve already seen the obstacle in front”. When questioned about the reliability of radar echo – if a radar pulse tried to bounce under a very low car directly in front, for example – Musk said: “It would have to be very very low. Even if a car had 6.0in clearance, it should be able to work”. He added that the radar would also try to “bounce around the car and through the glasshouse of the car”. The system also improves on Autopilot’s geocoding functions, flagging up false positives into GPS map data so that in the future, Teslas passing that point will be aware of whatever object it is that caused the previous car’s auto-braking alarm. The system also gets better lane detection by downloading geocoded lane widths. It’s all part of what Musk calls ‘fleet-learning’. Interestingly, Musk also revealed: “Autopilot accidents are far more common with expert users; they get very comfortable with the system”. To help improve concentration among more laissez-faire Autopilot users, the new software update will force users to park up and restart the car if they choose to ignore 3 alarms telling them to put their hands back on the steering wheel. Musk revealed he believes that the Model S and Model X are already the safest cars on the road by quite some margin, but he claims that this update should improve safety by as much as 50%. “It’s about improving the probability of safety; we have about 160,000 Tesla cars covering billions of miles, so even if it’s one in a billion, there won’t be zero injuries or zero fatalities”, said Musk. He also commented on the recent death of a driver using Autopilot, saying he believes “it is probable” this update would have saved that man’s life. Musk also confirmed the arrival of a 100kWh battery pack for the Model S and Model X earlier this year, which makes the Model S P100D the quickest accelerating car in the world currently in production. In July, Musk also revealed his ‘Masterplan, part two’, which unveiled plans for a compact SUV and a pick-up truck. +++

+++ TOYOTA will pay up to $3.4 billion to settle a class action lawsuit brought by U.S. pickup truck and SUV owners whose vehicles lacked adequate rust protection. Court filings show that the settlement reached on October 31 covers 1.5 million vehicles, dealing a financial blow to the Japanese automaker whose trucks were subject to corrosion that could harm their structural integrity. The settlement applies to Tacoma trucks made from 2005 to 2010, Sequoias from 2005 to 2008 and Tundras from 2007 to 2008. The settlement estimates the value of replacing the frame at roughly $15,000 per vehicle. Under the settlement, Toyota will inspect vehicles for 12 years from their initial sales or lease date to decide if the owner is eligible for a replaced frame or reimbursement. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has adjusted carbon dioxide emissions ratings for many of its cars following on from the emissions scandal, but one leading academic has defended the move saying it’s a “normal process for car companies to refine CO2 numbers”. Models such as the Polo, Golf, Passat and Touareg are included in the changes, which come in the wake of the the recent record settlement of 14.7 billion dollar in the USA for vehicles affected by the 2015 emissions scandal. A company spokesman said: “In the interests of providing our customers with stated fuel consumption figures that are even closer to real-world driving, Volkswagen has voluntarily made slight adjustments within internal parameters for the NEDC homologation test. As a result of this, minor modifications have been made to the brochure data for some model variants going forwards. These changes have no impact on customers’ actual real-world consumption figures”. The biggest alteration noted is the Golf 1.6 TDI with manual gearbox. It’s been updated from 99 gram/km to 103 gram/km. A Polo 1.0 MPI 60’s CO2 emissions are now rated at 108 gram/km where they were previously 106 gram/km. Jo Barnes, senior research fellow in air quality management at the University of the West of England, said: “It’s a normal process for car companies to refine CO2 numbers. It doesn’t mean there has been any impropriety at this stage Volkswagen is erring on the side of caution with these new figures”. Barnes added: “EU regulations have grey areas that have been exploited in the past. Now, car makers are keen to be seen to acting in the spirit of the law rather than just the letter of the law. However, there is still a significant gap between laboratory test results and real-world CO2 emissions”. Other Volkswagen models which have CO2 emission tweaks include the Beetle, Jetta, Sharan and Touran. +++

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