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+++ AUDI has appointed the research and development (R&D) chief of Swedish carmaker Volvo as its new head of technical development, filling a key post as the Volkswagen-owned brand grapples with the fallout from the group’s emissions scandal. Peter Mertens, senior vice president for R&D at Volvo who has previously held senior positions at General Motors and Audi’s German rival Mercedes-Benz, will take up his new post as soon as possible, a spokesman for Audi said, without being more specific. Mertens will replace Audi’s former R&D chief Stefan Knirsch, who left the premium brand in September. A source familiar with the matter has told Reuters Knirsch’s departure was related to Volkswagen’s investigation into its emissions test cheating scandal, without giving details. Audi and Volkswagen have declined to comment. Audi, Volkswagen’s biggest profit engine, has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in the scandal after Volkswagen said earlier this month that Audi cars with automatic transmissions had technology capable of distorting emissions when tested. With Mertens, Audi is seeking stability after losing four heads of R&D in as many years at a time of intense competition with Mercedes-Benz and BMW in new technologies. “Mertens’s appointment is a good decision”, Audi labor boss Peter Mosch said. “It’s important to further push digitalization and electric mobility”. +++

+++ CADILLAC ’s controversial Project Pinnacle dealer reform program has been delayed once again. Originally scheduled to launch in October, the launch was then stalled until January and now pushes into April, brand chief Johan de Nysschen confirmed in a statement. “Pinnacle’s going to be around for the long term, so there’s no need to rush it into execution”, he said. “Adding another three months certainly will not hurt”. The plan aims to improve the customer experience for potential Cadillac buyers, assigning dealers to 5 separate categories based on projected sales volume. Each has its own requirements for services and facilities. Some dealers have cried foul over the proposal, arguing that it is unfair to smaller players and potentially violates franchise laws in some states. Cadillac responded by offering to buy out the 400 smallest dealers (nearly half the current sales network) with offers of up to $180,000 to simply walk away from an existing franchise agreement. The buyout provision may not be going as planned, with less than 20 dealers accepting the offer so far. De Nysschen cites the number as evidence that dealers are enthusiastic about the program, however some dealers may be waiting for a higher offer or litigation payout. The vast majority of dealers have formally signed on to participate, while the remaining 93 holdouts represent little more than one percent of the brand’s US sales volume. The CEO promotes the latest delay as beneficial to dealers that need more time to review the reform plan or renovate their showrooms. +++

+++ So remember that show that premiered on Amazon Prime last week? It was called The GRAND TOUR and apparently, a lot of people watched it. And by a lot, Amazon says that it generated “millions” of subscribers who watched the episode all over the world, including the U.S., U.K., Germany, Austria, and Japan. The web streaming service didn’t say the exact figures, but a nine-figure viewership in the pilot episode is as good a start as the new motoring show could have. Not that we embrace the practice, but you can bet that more people also tuned in to watch the return of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond in some form or fashion, legally or illegally. More importantly than the viewership, the episode hummed along smoothly save for a few bumps here and there. The trio proved that they were already in mid-season form with their banter and wise cracks. They also also spent a good time setting the table for future episodes, all while having enough time to highlight today’s holy trinity of hypercars, the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1. All told, it was a good episode in my book. Turns out though, I’m being conservative with praise compared to other media outlets who also tuned in to catch the show. The Guardian, for one, described the show as a “brilliant, beautiful spectacle”. The London Evening Standard didn’t hold back on its praise too, calling the show “stunningly beautiful” and episode one as a “confident opener that leaves the BBC’s attempted Top Gear revival in the dust.” Likewise, online reviews for the The Grand Tour have been effusive with praise, getting a 9.6 rating from over 10,000 votes on IMDb to go with a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even Amazon’s own vote rankings system gave the show a 4.9 out of 5 rating. To be fair, not everyone was on board the The Grand Tour’s praise train with The Spectator remarking that the three hosts are “a bit on edge and over-eager to impress”. And somewhat predictably, the BBC wasn’t throwing flowers at the show either, even calling the lack of a comedic payoff from the massive opening sequence as “uncomfortably hubristic”. Then again, this is the BBC we’re talking about so it’s not surprising that it would throw as much shade on The Grand Tour as it possibly can. It still has to protect Top Gear, which, by the way, is now under more pressure to put its lost season behind it. +++

+++ INFINITI Australia managing director Jean-Philippe Roux has reiterated support for the brand’s controversial steer-by-wire electric steering system that has been the subject of media criticism and a recall campaign, while admitting that work needs to be done to convince buyers of its benefits. Tagged Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) by Infiniti and introduced in the Q50 mid-size sedan in 2014, the “world first” steer-by-wire design was recalled earlier this year to solve a software bug that causes the steering wheel to tug without prompt when parking. The design (which forgoes a mechanical linkage between steering wheel and the front wheels and instead uses electronic actuators to turn the front wheels) was rumoured to be dropped in favour of a conventional mechanical linkage, however Mr Roux said that was “absolutely not” not the case. He instead insisted that media criticism of the system (centering around lifeless, arcade-game response) had been attended to with the upgraded DAS II system found in the facelifted Q50 and set for the forthcoming Q60 3.0t coupe. “DAS is a very strong point of differentiation for us, it was a technology that was daring, a world first”, he said. “Now we responded on several occasions to the criticism, but we most importantly launched DAS II, the second-generation of DAS that is available on Q50. We think it’s a much more refined DAS than it was in the first generation”. Far from being canned, Mr Roux further explained that played an important role as a next step to autonomous driving. “This is a technology innovation paving the way for autonomous driving, so it’s a very important building block in our brand strategy when it comes to our technology approach”, he continued. “We still believe this remains a strong point of differentiation and we will be pushing DAS along the line, so we will still invest in this”. Asked whether it was difficult to explain to customers the benefits of a steer-by-wire system over a conventional steering system, Mr Roux admitted it was a challenge but was one worth pursuing. “What we need to do with any kind of technology is actually translate that into key customer benefits, and from that perspective it offers much more comfort, more control for the driver”, he explained. “It’s very important for us in terms of the sales pitch to have people driving DAS and find that it’s a huge plus compared with driving a non-DAS vehicle”. Mr Roux listed technology as a key pillar and selling point for a brand that, in this country, was still establishing itself in the marketplace and aiming to differentiate itself from other brands. “We’re drawing a lot of enquiries about the brand (and) we want to focus on the products, but the first question is ‘who are you as a brand? This is the question coming from customer”, Mr Roux continued. “Empower the drive’ is the brand motto and what it’s trying to say is that people that buy Infiniti are a bit different, they like to drive something different and the empowering is that our cars (through the technology, through the design) are empowering those buyers to be a different person. “You will see on the Q60 a lot of empowering technology, a lot of technology that is not just there for the sake of technology, but technology to actually assist the driver in terms of capabilities. Technology is a big focus”. The next technological step for the brand is its Variable Compression Turbo (VC-T) engine that debuted at September’s Paris motor show, which uses an articulated crankshaft to alter con-rod length to create a variable compression ratio aimed at raising power or reducing emissions depending on the conditions. Although Mr Roux refused to disclose the product rollout of the Nissan-Infiniti world first design, he suggested that “you’ll see more communication on the VC-T turbo in the next months to come”. Infiniti currently uses four-cylinder turbocharged Daimler/Mercedes-Benz engines in its Q30, QX30, Q50 and Q60 models, but although the new VC-T design would indicate a replacement for that shared design, Mr Roux said it was “too early to tell, too early to comment”. “We haven’t disclosed any production rollout yet but this is a world first, a brand building block in terms of technology”, he added. “We have been on a very good journey with Daimler with a number of good products globally and expanding, Daimler is a very good partner for us with their technology and platforms”. +++

+++ JEEP says that the all-new Compass medium SUV is essential in its desire to become a truly global brand, as it will compete against some of the biggest players internationally such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. Unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show last week, the second-generation Jeep Compass has been designed and engineered to have the widest possible appeal of any vehicle to come from the iconic American 4×4 brand. Unlike its 2006-vintage predecessor, which was built in Illinois, the 2018 Compass will be manufactured in Brazil, Mexico, China and India, and not in the United States. The only other Jeep to follow that path is the closely related Renegade, which is sourced from Italy for global consumption. “Compass is not do-or-die, but it’s a very important vehicle for us”, according to the global head of the Jeep brand, Mike Manley, speaking to journalists at last week’s LA show. “Today we have 22 percent of that segment in the US with 2 vehicles (the outgoing Compass and its Patriot fraternal twin), and we’re replacing it with one, so it’s got a big challenge to maintain that. But if you look at our penetration in the C-SUV segment around the world outside of the US, it’s incredibly low. So, really, it’s a big opportunity, but if we get it right, it will fuel our growth going into 2017 and 2018, but it’s not do-or-die, but we want to approach it that way. No doubt it is our most international model ever. It’s going to be built in four locations around the world, it’s going to be specifically targeted to some of the biggest markets around the world, and it builds on Renegade. I’d say Renegade is our first global vehicle, and this one is now the next”. All up, 17 different powertrain combinations have been developed for the new Compass, with many of them, such as the front-drive 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo front-driver with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, devised specifically for one market (China in this case). Conversely, US and Canadian buyers have a 2.4-litre four-cylinder atmo unit in either six-speed auto (FWD) or nine-speed auto (AWD) configurations, while 2 super-frugal turbo-diesel engines will spearhead the series’ entry into the European regions. In a similar way, the noise, vibration and harshness advances that the latest Compass introduces reflects the higher refinement expectations demanded by European consumers. +++

+++ The head of MERCEDESAMG division has confirmed that the skunkworks is developing a hardcore Black Series version of the AMG GT sports car. The natural successor to the previous SLS AMG Black Series, the AMG GT Black Series will cap the AMG GT range. The AMG GT Black Series is expected to launch sometime in 2018. Mercedes recently introduced the AMG GT R, but its 585 horsepower just doesn’t cut muster with the mad scientists at AMG. After all, the firm recently released a new E63 with 612 horsepower, and it can’t have a four-door sedan outgunning its halo coupe. “I know the GT R chassis is able to handle more power”, AMG boss Tobias Moers told, “but we have 585 hp in the GT R, and 612 hp in the E63”. Moers added that the AMG GT Black Series would have “outstanding driving dynamics” to go along with any additional power. Given that the Black Series treatment is typically reserved for the end of a car’s lifecycle, the AMG GT Black Series could signal that a new Mercedes sports will arrive in 2019 or 2020. +++

+++ PEUGEOT has expressed interest in creating a hot hotch to sit above the Golf GTI-rivalling 308 GTi, potentially in the form of a model to rival the widely successful Ford Focus RS. Speaking with Autocar, Peugeot boss Jean-Philippe Imparato confirmed that a new range-topping hot hatch is possible, designed to act as the brand’s halo model in place of the discontinued RCZ coupe. “There is space for something. I don’t have a solution but I am on it. We are very involved in competition sport, like Dakar, and we don’t want to lose this space with our cars. I don’t think we will develop an RCZ replacement. On each level of our range (308, 208) we will have something impressive in performance. Do we work on a new RCZ or on the fact that the next 308 will be a beast?” he said. One possible solution to Peugeot’s quandary could be a production version of the crazy 500 hp 308 R Hybrid concept. That car is powered by a 270 hp 1.6-liter engine joined by 2 electric motors and making for a wildly rapid hatchback capable of hitting 100 km/h in as little as 4 seconds. Although Peugeot hasn’t announced any intention of making the 308 R Hybrid concept a road-going reality, it is likely that if it does reach dealerships, it will be detuned slightly to produce around 400 hp, putting it on par with the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3 Sportback. +++

+++ My spies caught a prototype of the SEAT Leon Cupra roaming around, featuring wider front fenders and no camouflage at all. With the regular Seat Leon having already received a mild facelift about a month ago, we are left waiting for the range-topping Cupra to get the same updates. The hot Spanish hatch will get 300 hp out of its retuned turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine when combined with AWD on the wagon Cupra ST model. The spyphotos though show a prototype wearing a set of wider front fenders which could be there to hide a wider track. This feature alone raises many questions about whether Seat is developing an even hotter version of the Leon Cupra or not. The other difference over the current Leon Cupra models is spotted at the back, with quad exhaust pipes replacing the pair of oval tailpipes the current regular Leon Cupra wears. An even faster Cupra version is not unprecedented for the Spanish brand as they have done it in the past with the original Leon Cupra R model. Perhaps Seat wants to reignite the battle for the fastest hatch around the Nurburbring with a more focused Leon Cupra but in order to be successful, it must beat first the lap time posted by the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S. At this point information is very little, with too many questions and far too few answers so we must wait and see if Seat is indeed working on something that exciting. +++

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