+++ The ALPINE A120 sports car will be made largely from aluminium, parent company Renault has confirmed. Latest images from the Dieppe plant in which the car will be built show various unfinished parts of the upcoming mid-engined coupé. Alpine boss Michael van der Sande has confirmed that aluminium would be used to save weight and, the manufacturer claims, produce a high-quality finish. The A120 will first be seen at the Geneva motor show in March, but we’ve already seen much of the car through spy shots, a video leak and the initial concept, to which the production car appears to remain true. Initially, 1955 examples of a Premier Edition-badged A120 will be made in order to celebrate the car’s launch. They will be available in 12 countries before right-hand-drive markets are offered the car some months later. A 2.000 euro deposit secures one of these early cars, which can be specified via a bespoke Alpine app. Three colours are available; black, white and blue. Powering the coupé will be a mid-mounted 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, derived from the 1.6-litre turbochargd petrol unit of the Renault Clio RS. An output of 270 hp is expected, equating to a confirmed 0-100 km/h time of 4.5 seconds. The site says the car will be priced between 65,000 and 70,000 euro in The Netherlands, making the A120 a direct rival to the Porsche 718 Cayman. A convertible variant of the A120 is also coming from Alpine. +++

+++ The BMW X7 has been spotted winter testing. The Mercedes GLS and Range Rover rival will be the largest SUV yet produced by BMW and adopts a typical SUV body shape with a boxy passenger cabin and flat-faced front end. There will be familiar BMW design features, such as halo daytime running lights and kidney grilles. The seven-seat X7 is being developed with the US and Chinese markets in mind but was confirmed for European sales by BMW head of sales and marketing Ian Robertson last year. Speaking at the New York motor show, Robertson said: “We will have some versions that are top-end luxury, as well as more mainstream versions. I can’t talk about pricing now, but given that this car will have all the technology and luxury of the 7 Series, it gives you a pretty good idea of the price point we’re talking about”. Previously, it was thought the X7 would be built on an extended version of the X5’s underpinnings, but Robertson said many parts are actually bespoke for the new car. “If you put both cars next to each other, the resemblance is small in terms of wheelbase etc. We’re not going to just extend the wheelbase, it’s a complete new panel cell”. It is too soon for BMW to confirm which engines will go into the X7, but sources have previously speculated that it will feature a selection of six and eight-cylinder engines, such as the 3.0-litre diesel in 30d, 40d and 50d guises and the twin-turbo 4.4-litre petrol V8 from the X6 xDrive50i. Robertson also hinted that the X7 would use engines from a wide range of BMW models, rather than just the X5 and X6. A hybrid model will almost certainly going be offered, because BMW “sold more hybrids to customers in The Netherlands in the first 2 months of 2016 than in all of 2015 put together”. The X7 will be built at the company’s plant at Spartanburg in the US. It will have 3 rows of seats, making it a rival for the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator in that country and China. The X7 is not expected to go on sale until 2018, and an insider said we’d be unlikely to see it before the close of 2017. The X7 has been under development since late 2015. +++

+++ Asia’s luxury marques are looking to challenge the Germans in the premium ELECTRIC car segment, with Lexus, Genesis, Acura and Infiniti hinting at plans to launch EVs in the near future. Executives from each company said they are all weighing electric vehicle offerings in response to a wave of new models coming from brands like Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Porsche. Hyundai’s luxury arm Genesis has been the most upfront with the company’s electrified plans, telling three EV models will be launched by 2025, with the first arriving around 2020. “In Genesis, we absolutely need that kind of luxury electric vehicle”, said Lee Ki-sang, senior vice-president at Hyundai Motor Group’s Eco Technology Centre. Lee added the Genesis EVs will be based on a dedicated electric platform that is currently under development. Meanwhile, Genesis’s global boss, Manfred Fitzgerald said electrified vehicles are an opportunity to change brand perception. “Anybody who has driven an electrified vehicle knows that it has definitely some excitement in it”, he said. While acknowledging the hurdles of range anxiety and development costs, Fitzgerald added: “Once those challenges are taken away, I think you will see a swift adoption”. Last month Infiniti’s president, Roland Krüger, told Automotive News the company was considering “very concrete” concepts for an EV though wouldn’t go into further detail. Honda’s luxury arm Acura is also looking into EVs, which is a logical next step from its current hybrid offerings in the NSX supercar and flagship RLX sedan. General manager Jon Ikeda said the company is looking at EVs “from an overall brand standpoint”, and while there are no firm plans to release such a model just yet, “anything innovative and unique is what Acura is looking for”. Lexus on the other hand – a longtime sceptic of fully-electric vehicles despite offering hybrid options for years – appears to be on the road to full EVs after last year’s Paris motor show, where their German competitors launched an electric offensive. Jeff Bracken, general manager for Lexus International, said: “Subsequent to that show, we began conversations with our product planners”. Parent company Toyota has been reluctant to invest in all-electric models, preferring its proven hybrid drivetrains, though a report last year by Japanese newspaper Nikkei claims the company plans to mass-produce EVs by 2020. The Japanese automotive giant killed off its EV program in 2014 which saw the demise of the eQ micro car offered overseas and a fully-electric version of its RAV4 SUV co-built with Tesla. However, Bracken said while nothing has been confirmed at this stage, it would be foolish to not consider EVs. “I think we’d have our heads buried in the sand if we didn’t thoroughly study all-electric cars”, he said. Maybe this would explain the lack of a hybrid offering in the all-new Lexus LS range revealed in Detroit – it’s possible the company is working on an EV version. Japan’s S-Class competitor will be powered solely by a new twin-turbo 422 hp / 600 Nm twin-turbo V6 in the US at launch. +++

+++ GERMANY cannot afford to give in to intimidation and threats of protectionism from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, and to do so even once would invite repeated bullying, a key conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Trump warned German car companies that he would impose a border tax of 35 percent on vehicles imported to the U.S. market, in an interview. Norbert Röttgen, head of Germany’s foreign affairs committee in parliament, said Germany must stay true to its values. The country is one of the world’s leading exporting nations, getting nearly half its gross domestic product from exports. “The smart thing to do is not to yield to intimidation and threats”, Röttgen told a small group of foreign reporters when asked about German industry’s readiness to stand up to Trump. “If you take this path once, you will become the object of threats and intimidation”, said Röttgen, a leader in Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “And I don’t think that makes sense either for Germany as a whole or for individual companies”. A BMW executive said the carmaker will stick to its plans to open a Mexican plant in 2019, despite Trump’s warnings of a border tax on the German brand’s vehicles made in Mexico and destined for the United States. “I think it is politically right and economically wise to stick to our principles and our policies, which for Germany is a policy of open and fair trade”, Röttgen said. Merkel told German industry leaders that she would remain committed to free trade, in an indirect rebuttal to Trump’s comments about border taxes on car imports. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel responded to Trump’s comment that too many German and too few U.S. automobiles were on the streets of New York by saying the United States “should build better cars”. Gabriel issued an indirect warning to Trump against stoking nationalism and promoting protectionism: “Nationalism and protectionism are not the recipes for greatness”, Gabriel said in a speech in Berlin. The United States is Germany’s top trading partner. +++

+++ KIA may have only just taken the wraps off its long-awaited Stinger sports sedan and it has already emerged that the car could receive an all-electric variant rivaling the Tesla Model 3. Kia’s head of overseas marketing, Spencer Cho, confirmed that the platform underpinning the Stinger “is capable of a full EV powertrain at a later date”. Although Cho stopped short of confirming an electric variant, it would be a waste not to make the most out of the model’s flexible architecture. At launch, we already know the Stinger will be offered with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 and a 2.0-liter turbo and further down the road, will get a 2.0-liter diesel for Europe, Korea and other select markets. Alongside the Stinger’s ability to support a large selection of powertrains, Cho revealed that it is also a good platform for the brand to add autonomous technologies to. “We are working on level three and level four autonomous technology and the Stinger is a good platform to add some of that technology to. We’re carefully evaluating this technology before we put it into our cars, though”, he said. +++

+++ A new SUZUKI Grand Vitara is definitely on the way inside the next few years, but don’t expect the next-generation model to retain the current car’s comparatively hardcore off-road abilities. Instead, you can expect the next iteration to follow the smaller ‘regular’ Suzuki Vitara’s lead and adopt a more road-focussed demeanour and construction, to better compete with rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson in the hugely popular medium SUV market. “As you just mentioned, I cannot really make comments too much about the Grand Vitara, but we have a plan”, Suzuki’s general manager for the Latin America and Oceania Division, Takanori Suzuki, assured me this week. “Yes, yes”, he confirmed, when we asked if a new Grand Vitara would be produced. “We’ve been, and we will be, concentrating on mainly developing the SUVs or crossovers, as a main model line-up of Suzuki in future. “Of course we are producing normal B segment hatchbacks like Swift or Baleno, but mainly our other products should be SUVs or crossovers. That is Suzuki’s, how can I say, character”. When we asked Takanori if the next Grand Vitara would remain a real off-roader, he did not comment, but said most mainstream demand was for softer crossovers. We’d imagine a stretched Vitara with more space and power seems like the obvious destination for the next Grand Vitara. “New Grand Vitara, sorry, we haven’t really decided yet whether it has reduction gear, is a real off-roader, or is like a current Vitara-style crossover”, he said. But he also quickly mentioned that the next-generation Jimny would carry the torch as a hardcore 4×4, so reading between then lines here is not a problem, if I can be so bold. A replacement for the Grand Vitara is well overdue, given the current model launched in 2005, though much speculation has said the car would be killed off. Thankfully, it’s now understood this is not the plan. It’s already been axed in Europe in current generation form, though it remains a key car for the brand elsewhere and still sells in useful numbers for Suzuki Australia. The C-segment SUV market is a boom one globally, after all. Despite offering a real unique selling point thanks to its dual-range gearing and proper off-road ability in a market dominated by car-based crossovers that are more refined in urban areas, Suzuki seems to realise that the majority of market demand is for the latter. The smash success of the new Vitara is evidence for that. As such, expect the next Grand Vitara to use a version of the company’s new global architecture, pointing to some commonality with the smaller Vitara, giving it a lighter weight, better refinement and superior tarmac handling. It’ll also use petrol and (likely) diesel engines from Suzuki’s family of turbo powertrains, and probably an on-demand switchable 4×4 system that allocates torque between the axles but lacks conventional reduction gearing, and potentially the Vitara diesel’s dual-clutch automatic transmission. You can also expect a cool retro design in line with the new Vitara and Ignis, lots of customisation options (coloured plastic inserts etc) and lots of handy cabin storage. These are becoming brand trademarks. +++

+++ Just last week the FBI arrested a VOLKSWAGEN executive on vacation in Florida in connection with his role in the whole diesel emissions debacle. And it could arrest more of them, if it gets the chance. So five Volkswagen execs may be forced to stay within Germany’s borders indefinitely, or else face jail time in the United States. Following reports of an impending deal being cut between the German automaker and the US Department of Justice, Bloomberg reports that a court in Michigan has indicted a further 5 executives embroiled in the scandal. Among them are the company’s engine chief Heinz-Jakob Neusser, diesel propulsion engineer Richard Dorenkamp, quality management chief Bernd Gottweis, his colleague Jürgen Peter, and former Neusser’s predecessor Jens Hadler. Bloomberg points out that while US officials could seek help from Interpol to apprehend those charged, Germany does not allow the extradition of its citizens in such cases. In a previous bribery case at electronics giant Siemens AG, all eight of those being pursued in the United States managed to evade arrest by staying in Germany. Following their lawyers’ advice and the Siemens precedent, the Volkswagen executives could stay safe in their home country. But if they leave (even to other parts of Europe) they could be picked up at the proverbial drop of a hat. German hedge fund manager Florian Homm was arrested in Italy in 2013 on financial fraud charges when he left his home country, and director Roman Polanski was similarly arrested in 2009 (though later released) on decades-old sexual-assault charges after crossing over the border from France (which has similar non-extradition laws to Germany) into Switzerland. Staying within Germany’s borders might in and of itself prove difficult for executives at a industrial multinational like Volkswagen, and could be made even more so by other methods at US officials’ disposal. Even if convicted in absentia or a warrant remaining on the books indefinitely, however, a settlement with US prosecutors could result in the charges going away without jail time, thereby liberating those indicted to travel abroad freely. +++

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