Newsflash

0

+++ AUDI is predicting the end of the conventional production line, which will be replaced by a new modular assembly method. The shake-up will be a remarkable change for an industry that has been organised around a fixed production line every since Henry Ford created the Model T over 100 years ago. The modular system will be introduced on Lamborghini Urus production in Italy. An approximate timeframe is “major change within 10 years”, according to Audi officials. “Audi is convinced that the assembly line has had its day, because as model diversity grows, the more complicated it becomes to master complexity in a rigid sequential process”, says the company. The push is being accelerated by the shift to electrified powertrains, which require cars to be taken onto a spur, built alongside the conventional production line, where electric motors and batteries are fitted. “The conventionally powered cars are not worked on during this time, so the time until completion becomes longer for all the cars on the line”, says Audi. “While this is going on, its sister models with conventional drive move along the conveyor belt suspended below the ceiling”, says Audi. A plug-in Audi A3 Sportback e-tron passes through 7 separate workstations for its electrical powertrain, through assembly stations that internal combustion-engined A3s don’t pass through. While the e-tron is being made, the conventional A3s can’t progress down the production line. Instead of a production line, Audi will break assembly down into individual work areas, staffed by 1 or 2 workers. Audi says their workload can be better managed to even out the workload. “They work steadily at a continuous pace, because they no longer have to adapt their activities to the speed of the line”, says Audi. To move cars between the modular workstations, Audi envisages a fleet of automatically guided vehicles, matched to smaller ‘driverless transport systems’, to supply components just in time. +++

+++ FORD , one of Donald Trump’s prime corporate targets on the campaign trail, offered the President-elect a chance to claim a victory on Thursday by informing him it would not shift production of a Lincoln sport utility vehicle to Mexico from Kentucky. Trump jumped at the chance, claiming in a tweet that he had “worked hard” with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. to keep the plant in Kentucky, even though Ford had never considered moving the whole factory south of the border. In letting Trump claim a victory, Ford made what appeared to be a calculated, public appeal to the next president in an attempt to soothe concerns about outsourcing jobs and to gain some leverage with the new administration as the automaker pushes for favorable policy changes in Congress. “Ford is not going to make a decision on a purely political basis”, said Kristin Dziczek, director of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan. “They are going to make a decision that makes business sense, economic sense and if it happens to align with political goals, that’s great”, she said. The No. 2 automaker in the United States is not the only company in Trump’s crosshairs working out how to deal with the new political reality in Washington. Apple, criticized by Trump for not building products in the United States, is studying the possibility of moving iPhone production to the United States, Japanese news service Nikkei reported on Thursday. Apple did not reply to a request for comment. Trump campaigned heavily on bringing jobs to the United States and attacking companies such as Ford that plan to take some production overseas, a message that resonated in the economically ravaged center of the country. Ford gave Trump plenty of ammunition, confirming in September that all of its remaining small-car production in the United States, at its facility in Wayne, Michigan, would go to lower-cost Mexico by 2019. Ford Chief Executive Mark Fields said no plants would be closed as a result, and no U.S. jobs would be lost as capacity at the Wayne plant would be taken up by two new models. The Mexico plans remain in place, despite the fact that Trump vowed on the campaign trail to stop Ford opening a new plant in that country and promised to slap 35 percent tariffs on any Ford vehicles made there. Ford went further this month, announcing on Election Day a new 195 million dollar investment in India to add 3,000 jobs over the next 5 years in a technology and business center in Chennai. Ford said this week it would import its EcoSport built in India to the United States. Trump has not made any public comment on that plan. On Thursday, Ford said it had been reviewing where to build the Lincoln MKC, just one vehicle built at the Louisville assembly plant, but had decided to keep it in Kentucky. As such, nothing changed, but letting Trump announce the decision gave him the opportunity to claim he saved U.S. jobs and cast Ford as a patriotic manufacturer. “Both sides will claim a certain level of victory because nobody wants a significant negative impact on the industry”, said Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research. It was unclear how many, if any, jobs were actually saved by the decision. Ford decided last year to move MKC production by 2019, on the assumption that production of the Ford Escape, a similar vehicle made in the same plant, would grow. But recently Escape demand has slumped, which may have prompted Ford to reconsider. According to Cole, Ford’s olive branch to Trump was a clear indication that it needs help from the next administration as it faces a host of issues from fuel economy standards and the rise of autonomous vehicles to trade and currency. Cole said Trump, who boasts about his dealmaking skills, may choose to focus on bargaining with companies he has targeted – even if only for small concessions – rather than pursue more punitive measures such as tariffs, which would take time to implement and potentially damage the economy. Ford nodded to those wider issues in a statement, saying it was encouraged that Trump’s economic policies “will help improve U.S. competitiveness”. Ford, like other global U.S. corporations, agrees with key aspects of Trump’s economic plans. It has called for U.S. tax reform and raised concerns about the costs of federal regulations. Ford also shares Trump’s concerns about currency manipulation. +++

+++ The JAGUAR I-Pace battery electric vehicle is set to be built at the Magna facility in Graz, Austria. Automotive News Europe quotes Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) boss Ralf Speth as confirming that the groundbreaking new model – revealed as a concept at this week’s Los Angeles motor show – will be constructed at the facility. Magna specialises in vehicle engineering and contract manufacturing and has a number of deals with major car companies. It will, for example, handle some production of the new BMW 5 Series in 2017. It is a long-time supplier of components to JLR. Earlier this year the 2 companies announced a collaboration on a new aluminium casting facility in Telford that will be operated by Magna subsidiary Cosma International. The definitive version of the I-Pace will be revealed in late 2017 before going on sale the following year, with 2019 expected to be the first full year of production. ANE also reports that the annual production capacity for I-Pace could be up to 13,000 units. Construction of the electric I-Pace would be one of two vehicles that Magna is currently gearing up to produce on behalf of JLR, which needs additional capacity to support its UK factories as part of its ambitious growth plans. It is also building a new factory in Slovakia, opened a 300 million euro base in Brazil in the summer, has a production joint-venture in China and an assembly plant in India. The identity of the second JLR vehicle to be made at Magna isn’t known, and it isn’t even certain that it will also be a battery electric vehicle. However, JLR has this week committed to a huge roll-out of EVs, plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids over the next 5 years. The I-Pace’s battery electric architecture has been created with applications in other derivatives and model lines in mind. Ian Hoban, Jaguar’s vehicle line director, told at the LA motor show: “The motor, gearbox arrangement, motor siting, high-voltage system, battery frame and cooling system is the new architecture of the battery electric car. That is where we’ve invested our time, money and effort and clearly we’re doing because we need to be able to apply it and it has to be scaleable”. +++

+++ JEEP has revealed more details of its long-awaited second-generation Compass at this week’s Los Angeles motor show, a year ahead of the Australian launch in the last quarter of 2017. Taking the fight up to the just revealed Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Tiguan and Hyundai Tucson, the MP-series medium-sized SUV will also be the company’s first Indian-produced vehicle sold elsewhere. While Jeep says it is too early to talk pricing and specification, the resulting lower-cost sourcing should at least ensure competitive positioning, with the base version expected to kick off from the low-30,000 euro mark. Coming in at 4.394 mm long, 1.874 mm wide and 1.641 mm high, the American-designed and engineered Compass has been deliberately styled to emulate its successful Grand Cherokee big sibling, affording the mid-sizer an upmarket look and feel. It will squeeze in between the smaller Renegade (at 4.200 mm long) and larger Cherokee (that stretches to 4.600 mm), giving Jeep one of the broadest SUV ranges. Along with the usual visual branding cues such as the trapezoidal wheel arches and seven-slot grille treatment, the Compass introduces a distinctive chrome ‘headband’, rising from the base of the A-pillars around the top of the window line. Although there are clear size and visual parities with the Cherokee, the newcomer is in fact based on the Renegade, employing a variation of its Small Wide 4×4 architecture. This means this is monocoque bodied, with a transversely mounted engine and the availability of front-wheel drive. Despite the comparatively soft underpinnings, MacPherson strut-style suspension is fitted at both ends of the vehicle, providing up to 200 mm of wheel articulation. Additionally, there will be a choice of 2 lightweight on-demand AWD systems available, as well as class-competitive approach/ramp-over/departure angles and up to 216 mm ground clearance on the off-road focused Trailhawk. A single power-transfer unit with rear-axle disconnection is utilised in AWD models, featuring Jeep’s Selec-Terrain technology, offering Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud modes in the regular versions. As well as the additional ground clearance the Trailhawk will be offered with skid plates, all-season tyres, a full-sized spare, a unique grille treatment, the addition of a Rock Mode in the 4×4 system, and Active Drive Low. The latter ushers in a 4.33 final drive ratio, a crawl ratio of 20:1 and up to 100 per cent front/rear torque split. As a result, Jeep says that the Compass will be the most capable vehicle in its class. No powertrain details have been revealed, except that four-cylinder units will rule the roost, starting with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo and 1.6/2.0-litre turbo-diesels. Transmission choices will be limited to 6-speed torque converter items in models with front-wheel drive, while the AWD variants will employ a 9-speed auto. A palpably higher quality cabin has been a major priority, with an emphasis on soft-touch materials. Additionally, light as well as dark materials will be made available. Advanced multimedia connectivity will be ushered in, accessible through no less than three touchscreen choices. Plus, new-to-series options are coming, including an electric tailgate, two-part sunroof and adaptive cruise control. European-bound models should feature Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Hill Descent Control systems. There is also a decent amount of space available front and rear – the result of a 2.636 mm wheelbase, which measures about 60 mm more than the donor Renegade. Cargo volume varies from 438 litres to 1.251 liter depending on the wheel and tyre package. Jeep says any quality bugs have been sorted, thanks in part to 1.8 million kilometres of accelerated testing. Combined with road-test simulators, that figure is 25.7 million kilometres, and has included shakedowns in Brazil and China. The SUV specialist has also talked up the greater structural robustness, in part due to the application of 64 per cent high-strength steel and composite for crash and load management. Along with India, the Compass will also be built in Mexico, Brazil and China, making it Jeep’s most globally focussed vehicle to date. The original, MK-series Compass was launched in March 2007. Built in Illinois, it is distantly related to the Dodge Caliber and previous-generation Mitsubishi Outlander. +++

+++ The I-Pace Concept may have been the star of Jaguar LAND ROVER (JLR)’s Los Angeles show stand, but other electrified models will beat it into showrooms as the 2 brands embrace battery power. JLR’s CEO Dr Ralf Speth said: “40 to 50 percent of our range will be electrified by 2020”. Although the production I-Pace will be seen in 12 months time and go on sale in early 2018, it’ll be beaten into showrooms by plug-in hybrid versions of the current Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. That means plug-in tech works with existing platforms, pointing the way to a full roll-out of plug-in hybrids across JLR’s mainstream range before the end of the decade. Further full-EV models based around the new architecture being employed in the I-Pace are also expected for both brands, while JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations division has also confirmed that it is looking at a higher-performance version of the I-Pace. However, it looks unlikely that Hydrogen power will been on the agenda for JLR, with engineering boss Wolfgang Ziebart telling me: “Hydrogen is complete nonsense. The well-to-wheel relationship is a disaster for hydrogen. You have a well-to-wheel efficiency of around 30%, while EVs end up with 70% efficiency”. Ziebart also promised that the I-Pace would be the first of the ‘Tesla fighters’ to make it to market, beating rivals from Audi and Mercedes, while he also expected another breakthrough in battery tech in 3 to 4 years yielding even greater opportunities for extended range, greater performance and reduced charging times. +++

+++ MAZDA says that it will continue its market position above the non-premium brands and challenge the actual luxury brands on their entry models as market desire shifts further towards premium offerings. Mazda dismissed suggestions of the Japanese company bringing back its Xedos luxury brand, instead reinforcing Mazda in continuing to focus on its current mid-way position. “Our vision for Mazda is to sit above non-premiums and give the premiums a run for their money for their entry-level models, that’s where I think we can live quite comfortably”, a spokesman said. “I think there is a move generally in consumer land and not just in automotive, towards higher quality and higher brand strengths – and I think we are benefiting from that at the moment”. The spokesman says that Mazda’s focus on offering more premium features in non-premium segments has allowed the brand image to grow beyond its main Japanese rivals. “I think this generation of product has really enabled us to move that extra step and I think it has been recognised by customers. That’s why, because we are still competing in non-premium segments with a car that has that extra quality in terms of feel and look and everything else, I think that’s part of what’s driving the appeal of the brand and we certainly don’t want to walk away from that”, he said. Mazda is already seeing luxury car owners coming into the brand with the launch of the new CX-9, which has attracted plenty of luxury vehicle trade ins. “We are already getting into that sort of game, we are getting dealers that are getting Q7s and Lexuses traded in on CX-9s so they are starting to meet in the marketplace. “What you can’t grow overnight is that sort of brand halo, like what the Benz star and BMW propeller gets you, but that’s fine and we don’t see ourselves in that class at this stage. But we see that we are an alternative”. He said despite the luxury brands moving downwards with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi A1/A3 and BMW 1 Series and X1, it actually makes better business sense for Mazda to move upscale than it does for the Germans to move down. “One thing that has happened with this generation of product is that we have moved our average revenue across the whole portfolio up, whereas when you look at the premium brands with their A-Classes and cheaper models, their average revenue is coming down, so, we are going to meet at some point – but it will find its own level I think”, the spokesman said. +++

+++ MINI says its operations are currently unaffected at its Oxford plant following the Brexit vote and will continue to be for some time until it’s clear how the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) proceeds. Mini boss Peter Schwarzenbauer said it remained “business as usual”. He added: “For the time being, nothing has changed. I could consider thousands of different scenarios, but we don’t know what will happen”. Schwarzenbauer said Mini had made significant investments in modernising its plant in the past two to three years and there was no imminent decision to be made on any future cash injections, because Mini simply “does not have any big investments in front of us”. This compares to Nissan, which had an imminent investment decision to make regarding future model production at its Sunderland plant, prompting it to seek assurances from the British government on Brexit before making a decision. Schwarzenbauer said Mini was in a similar situation in the US with the recent election of Donald Trump as president. “Nobody knows what really will happen at the end of the day”, said Schwarzenbauer, who pointed to the fact that BMW already has a strong presence in the US. Its Spartanburg SUV plant is the largest BMW factory in the world. +++

+++ NISSAN and other big Japanese manufacturers can only work in the UK if they are free to import parts from the EU, the country’s ambassador said, warning the government not to slap taxes on the trade post-Brexit. Factories can only work efficiently if there are not arduous border checks holding up trade, Koji Tsuruoka said, adding that companies working in Britain want as little change to this setup as possible. So far the debate around Nissan’s future in the UK – with its major plant in Sunderland – has focused on the factory’s ability to export cars to the EU without taxes. But the Japanese ambassador told the House of Lords that it is also vital that the UK does not levy taxes on components imported from the EU, which are then put together in the north east of England. “A car is made of 20,000 or more parts – the Sunderland factory assembles the final product which starts running… but there are many parts which are not produced in Sunderland or the UK. This is a global supply chain, they order parts from where it is most efficient to do so”, Mr Tsuruoka said, noting that it is EU factories which supply many of those parts. “It is these parts that come freely through the borders to the factories that makes this efficient car manufacturing possible. You often see tariffs as an issue that bars the finished product being exported elsewhere, but even before that there is this flow of parts”. He told the committee that it is this open border allowing trade in both directions with no taxes or delays which makes the UK such an attractive place to invest – not just the ability to sell goods into the EU’s market. Mr Tsuruoka said it is important that any future UK deal with the EU also keeps a lid on complicated border checks, particularly around the rules of origin – that is, the process of determining how much of the finished product comes from countries with which the EU has a trade deal, to determine whether or not tariffs apply. If taxes and checks are added in the Channel it will mean the manufacturers “suffer severely”. “If you put in artificial barriers, by definition it will be costly and inefficient – that is something that car manufacturers here are quite concerned about”, he said. Mr Tsuruoka added that it is crucial his country’s businesses are kept up to date with the likely end result of the Brexit negotiations if the UK wants them to be able to plan ahead and keep investing in the country. “While we have an engaged dialogue between the 2 governments with the support of the industries, we can assure them and give them comfort that there is not going to be any shock”, he said. “If they are forced to take action because they have never heard any of those decisions were coming, then by definition it will be detrimental to their business”. He was speaking weeks after 10 Downing Street held private talks to give unspecified assurances to Nissan that the company would not be harmed by Brexit – a meeting which led Nissan to announce it would invest more in the Sunderland plant to build 2 new car models. +++

Comments are closed.