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+++ The 2018 AUDI A1 will be larger and more luxurious than the current car due to its new MQB A0 underpinnings and improved interior technology. Much like its cousins from Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat, Audi’s smallest model is expected to grow in both length and width, offering more leg room and increased boot space inside. Rear passengers will also benefit from more head room with that longer roofline. Additionally, the new underpinnings will improve structural rigidity while reducing weight thanks to the use of a so-called hybrid construction. The method, which was first employed in the Audi A8 late last decade, uses a combination of hot-formed steel and aluminium. However, due to the larger size of the next A1, it’s unlikely that the 2018 model will be lighter than the current car, which is 1.035 kg in its entry-level guise. The next A1’s larger body means the compact dimensions of its predecessor are swapped for a more conventional hatchback shape. The car’s design does bear some resemblance to the larger A3, and the shape of its lights (both front and rear) will be familiar to that car. Audi is developing the 2018 A1 to be compatible with its Virtual Cockpit technology; something the current model hasn’t been able to adapt. The system will integrate Audi’s 12.3-inch display into the dashboard and work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Top-spec models could be offered with wi-fi hotspot technology, too. Powering the new A1 will be a selection of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, the bulk of which will be related to units offered in the current car. Entry level spec will be a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, likely with more power than the current 95 hp. Additionally, further developed versions of the current car’s 1.4 petrol and 1.6 diesel turbocharged engines are likely, with the former producing in excess of 150 hp. Industry trends suggest a hybrid model could also be produced, and the Volkswagen e-Up proves the VW Group has an interest in producing electric powertrains for its smallest existing models. Following the launch of the next Audi A1 range, the S1 will arrive as the high-performance range-topper. Like the current hot hatch, it’ll make use of a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and four-wheel drive, but power will be ramped up beyond today’s 231 hp. An output of around 256 hp has been mooted for the next S1’s four-pot, bringing it closer to the discontinued A1 Quattro model and its 5-cylinder engine. The next S1’s power would be unlikely to increase beyond that figure, however, so as not to overtake the output of the upcoming Audi RS1, which is due later this year with 29 bhp. If the 2017 RS1 is a sales success, Audi may also consider producing one towards the end of the run life of its next-generation A1 range. +++

+++ Annual sales of BMW and Mini in Europe topped the one million mark for the first time ever, with a total of 1,091,192 vehicles delivered to customers in 2016, an increase of 9.2%. Every market in the region contributed to that record figure, with many achieving double-digit growth. BMW and Mini sales in Italy grew by 17.7% (83,750) while Spain saw sales increase by 21.0% (55,096). Meanwhile more than a quarter of a million BMWs and Mini’s were delivered to customers in the UK, where sales were up 9.2% compared with the previous year. Sales of BMW and Mini vehicles in Asia also experienced strong growth in 2016 with a total of 745,784 vehicles delivered, up 9.0% compared with 2015. The region’s largest market, Mainland China, achieved an 11.3% increase, with a total of 516,355 vehicles sold. This is the first time more than half a million BMWs and Mini’s were sold in China in a single year. Many other markets in the region also achieved strong growth in 2016: Japan (74,935 / +8.3%) and South Korea (58,500 / +7.2%) are just 2 examples. Full-year sales of BMW and Mini vehicles in the Americas were 7.2% lower than the record high achieved in 2015, with a total of 458,982 units delivered to customers this year. While Canada achieved growth of 6.1% (44,621) and deliveries in Mexico rose 15.4% (34,670), the exceptionally competitive market conditions in the USA saw sales there down 9.7% (365,204). +++

+++ HONDA will launch at least 2 new hybrid models by the end of the decade. The first will be a dedicated hybrid, meaning it will be a new model rather than a gasoline-electric version of an existing model. Tentatively set to replace the Insight, it will use the 2-motor hybrid tech that currently powers the Accord Hybrid. I don’t know whether it will resurrect the Insight nameplate. Honda promises that more details will be released in the coming months. The 2-motor hybrid drivetrain will also power a light truck, according to the Japanese company. The term “light truck” can refer to a SUV, a pickup, or a MPV. This is idle speculation, but Honda could be preparing a hybrid version of the Ridgeline ready to fight the diesel-powered Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins for the segment’s fuel efficiency crown. Honda wants two-thirds of its sales in 2030 to come from electrified vehicles. The company is consequently making large investments in electrified drivetrains. “Half of the all-new models Honda will launch in the United States in the coming 2 years will be electrified vehicles”, said Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s president and CEO. “In the long term, electrified vehicles are key to the future of carbon-free mobility”, he added. The hybrid model will be assembled in the United States, and it’s scheduled to arrive in showrooms next year. Honda hasn’t announced when we’ll see the light truck. +++

+++ As far as Automobili LAMBORGHINI S.p.A. is concerned, 2016 was a very fruitful year. This is all due to the fact that the luxury sports carmaker has delivered the most cars in 2016 than any year in its entire history. Not only that, this sales milestone should allow Lamborghini to ride the momentum in 2017. According to Lamborghini’s annual sales report, it was able to deliver 3,457 vehicles around the world in 2016, around 6.5 percent more (plus 212 vehicles) than the number of units that the company delivered in 2015 (3,245). This marks the first time that Lamborghini was able to breach 3,400 deliveries in any given year, as the company made full use of its 135 dealers spread in 50 countries worldwide. In addition, 2016 marks the sixth year in a row that the carmaker was able to post a surge in deliveries. The United States remains as the carmaker’s largest single market, with 1,041 delivered in the country in 2016. Japan was the second largest market for the carmaker, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, the Middle East and China. For the fiscal year 2016, the Lamborghini Huracan (Coupé and Spyder) remains to be the sports car maker’s most popular model. In fact, Lamborghini delivered 2,353 units of the V10-powered the Huracan in 2016; 111 units more than the number that were sent for delivery to customers in 2015 (2,242). On the other hand, the V12-power Aventador accounted for nearly a third of deliveries in 2016. For the year, the carmaker delivered 1,104 units, compared to 1,003 units in 2015. Lamborghini reached a new milestone for the Aventador in December 2016, with production reaching 6,000 units in the month. Lamborghini chairman and chief executive Stefano Domenicali said that by posting record deliveries in 2016, the luxury sports carmaker managed to outperform its key business objectives. He remarked that the new sales record confirms the substance and sustainability of not only the Lamborghini brand, but also the company’s product and commercial strategy. He noted that such record deliveries were remarkable considering that the company was in the midst of its preparations for its new super sports car models and for its third model line. These new models include the new Lamborghini Centenario Coupe and the Centenario Roadster, both of which are up for delivery this year. Still in the midst of deliveries is the special series Huracan Avio, of which only 250 units are being made. Lamborghini is also in the process of building 50 units of the Aventador Miura Homage. Other new Lamborghini models that were launched or announced in 2016 include the Lamborghini Huracán Rear Wheel Drive Spyder and the new Lamborghini Aventador S. The third model line that Domenicali mentioned refers to the Lamborghini Urus SUV that will be launched next year. To accommodate the production of this new model, Lamborghini will hike the capacity of its facilities in Sant’Agata Bolognese. +++

+++ 2016 was the first full year of MINI sales following the brand’s realignment in 2015, and Mini recorded its best-ever sales results with a total of 360,233 vehicles delivered to customers, an increase of 6.4%. “These record results show that MINI is on the right track, with our new Cabrio and Clubman models being the strongest growth drivers”, said Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW Board of Management member responsible for Sales and Marketing. “Now in early 2017, we will be introducing the new Countryman to market, one of the brand’s most important models, with the electrified version coming in the summer. That will complete the revision of the Mini line-up and I am confident we will see sales grow even further over the next 12 months”, Mr Schwarzenbauer added. +++

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE announced the second highest annual sales in the marque’s 113-year history, against a backdrop of challenging market conditions. The Goodwood-based luxury house delivered 4,011 units (+6.0%) to customers globally during 2016. Strong sales were reported worldwide except in the Middle East, where significant headwinds impacted on the entire luxury sector. Sales growth was driven by the enduring success of Wraith and Ghost, complemented by the highly successful launch of Dawn and the introduction of Wraith Black Badge and Ghost Black Badge. The seventh generation Phantom retained its status as the most desirable luxury good in the world, enjoying exceptional demand in its final year of production, laying the foundation for its highly anticipated successor. +++

+++ TAKATA admitted to hiding the deadly risks of its exploding airbags for about 15 years in an agreement to pay U.S. regulators, consumers and car manufacturers $1 billion in penalties. The faulty airbags have been linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide. The Tokyo-based manufacturer also agreed to plead guilty to one criminal charge. The settlement requires approval of a U.S. judge. Formerly, the second largest supplier of air bags in the world, Takata has had difficulty coping with the biggest product recall in history, which is expected to cover more than 100 million airbags. Putting the criminal investigation behind it should help the struggling car parts maker find a buyer. A sale may be announced by March after due diligence had to be extended in part because of the difficulty in calculating the potential liabilities, people with knowledge of the talks said last month. The $1 billion payment includes $25 million to the U.S. and $975 million to compensate carmakers and people who were injured, according to court papers. While the criminal fine is due within a month, the company doesn’t have to pay the restitution until it’s sold because it can’t afford to pay now. Separately, U.S. prosecutors charged 3 former Takata executives for their alleged roles in hiding the risks since 2000. The 3 ( Hideo Nakajima, Tsuneo Chikaraishi and Shinichi Tanaka) are Japanese citizens and aren’t in U.S. custody. The U.S. has an extradition agreement with Japan, but it’s not automatic. The 3 men charged worked at Takata until about 2015, according to court papers. None of them, or their lawyers, could be reached for comment. According to prosecutors, the three knew the inflators had ruptured and other failures during testing, and routinely discussed fabricating test results, removing unfavorable information (known as “XX-ing” the data) and manipulating reports. They hid the defects and issued flawed reports so that carmakers would buy the air bags, enriching themselves and the company, prosecutors said. “Automotive suppliers who sell products that are supposed to protect consumers from injury or death must put safety ahead of profits”, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade in Detroit said on Friday. “If they choose instead to engage in fraud, we will hold accountable the individuals and business entities who are responsible”. The investigation hasn’t concluded and other people may be charged, McQuade said. The settlement is a key milestone in an ongoing process to secure investments in Takata, Shigehisa Takada, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Takata deeply regrets the circumstances that have led to this situation”, Takada said. The restitution is “a drop in the bucket”, said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with auto researcher Kelley Blue Book. Automakers will end up spending billions on fixing the problem, she said without making a specific estimate. The Justice Department has been wrapping up investigations before Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration when many of the people who have been overseeing the cases step down. 2 days ago, Volkswagen agreed to plead guilty in an emissions-cheating scandal and pay $4.3 billion in penalties. Prosecutors have charged seven people in that case, including 5 executives still in Germany, and one who pleaded guilty. The 2 companies are the latest in the industry to come under scrutiny of U.S. prosecutors. In 2015, General Motors entered into a deferred prosecution deal and agreed to pay $900 million to settle a probe into an ignition-switch flaw tied to more than 100 deaths. A year earlier, Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to avoid prosecution over its attempt to hide safety defects over uncontrolled acceleration. Takata’s criminal settlement follows its 2015 agreement to pay a $70 million civil fine to U.S. regulators for providing selective, incomplete or inaccurate information about the air bags. That fine could rise as high as $200 million, if Takata doesn’t finish the recalls in three years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are 46 million recalled Takata air bag inflators in 29 million vehicles in the U.S., NHTSA said. More recalls are coming over the next 3 years, affecting as many as 69 million inflators in 42 million vehicles, the agency said. The airbags have been used by more than a dozen automakers, including Honda, Volkswagen and GM and the recalls are scheduled through 2019. Takata has been sued by dozens of drivers and passengers claiming shrapnel injuries from the airbags. As part of one lawsuit, Harry Trimble, who was listed as an author of a faulty validation report to Honda, said under oath that the decisions to hide the risks weren’t cultural. “I think this was about a complete breakdown of that entire organization to build a safe product”, he said. He said he knew that one day there would be a knock on his door by a U.S. marshal. +++

+++ TESLA said it will charge new customers fees to use its Supercharging stations if they exceed an annual limit, detailing its price structure to help pay for the expansion of its network of stations. The move marks Tesla’s first attempt to monetize a service that the company’s electric-car owners have long enjoyed for free as it prepares to introduce the more affordable Model 3 sedan later this year. The company led by Elon Musk stressed that Tesla is “only aiming to recover a portion of our costs and set up a fair system for everyone; this will never be a profit center for Tesla”. Tesla vehicles ordered after Jan. 15, 2017, will receive roughly 400 kilowatt-hour of free Supercharging credits (about 1,000 miles) annually on the anniversary of their delivery. “If customers travel beyond their annual credit, they will be charged a small fee to Supercharge”, Tesla said. “In North America, pricing is fixed within each state or province; overseas, pricing is fixed within each country”. Tesla said the Supercharging fee, for example, would be about $15 for a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, about $120 for a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York, about 60 euros from Paris to Rome and about 400 yuan from Beijing to Shanghai. Tesla’s Supercharging stations, typically located at malls on highways between major cities, aim to ease car owners’ anxiety about running out of power and enable long-distance road trips in Tesla’s vehicles. The company has 795 Supercharging stations globally. Each station typically has six to eight spots for cars to park and charge. Superchargers currently deliver roughly 170 miles of range in 30 minutes. The company in November announced the end of free Supercharging. Where possible, owners will be billed per kWh (kilowatt-hour), which will vary in the U.S. from state to state. In California, for example, the fee is $0.20 cents; in West Virginia, it’s $0.11 cents. Unused credits do not roll over to the next year; credits are reset to 400 kWh each year, on the anniversary of the delivery date. If the car transfers ownership, credits are reset on the date of the transfer. +++

+++ The brand-new Atlas SUV could help VOLKSWAGEN return to the pickup truck segment in the United States. Matthias Erb, Volkswagen of North America’s chief engineering officer, revealed that his team is evaluating the possibility of turning the Atlas into a pickup. The model would fight head-to-head against the Honda Ridgeline, which is an evolution of the Pilot. A decision to move forward with the project hasn’t been made yet. Erb revealed that executives are still considering expanding Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup with a rugged, body-on-frame model, though it wouldn’t be a full-size truck like the Chevrolet Silverado. “Body-on-frame trucks are a protected market”, Erb explained. The engineer shot down the recent rumors that claim the next-generation of the Amarok will be sold in the United States. The model currently sold overseas won’t make the trip across the Atlantic because it’s nearing the end of its life, but Volkswagen isn’t planning on selling its replacement here, either. Volkswagen will decide whether to develop a pickup for the United States market in the coming years. The Chicken Tax slaps a 25-percent tariff on all imported light trucks, so an Atlas-based pickup would most likely be assembled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. +++

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