+++ The platform of the ALFA ROMEO Giulia will be used to underpin models from other brands within the Fiat Chrysler (FCA) empire, the company’s boss, Sergio Marchionne, has confirmed. The outspoken Canadian-Italian boss told that the rear- and all-wheel drive Giorgio platform, used by the both Giulia and Stelvio, will be used on large Jeeps, Dodge’s next-generation of rear-wheel drive cars, and “the whole Maserati development beyond 2018”. Given his latest comments, it’s safe to assume that the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee will use a version of the Giorgio platform, as will the next-generation Maserati Quattroporte and Ghibli, the GranTurismo replacement and long-planned Alfieri coupe. A report in November 2016 indicated that the platform would also be used for the next-generation Dodge Charger sedan, Challenger coupe, and Barracuda convertible, although there would be no successor for the Chrysler 300 sedan. It’s believed that these models won’t begin hitting the streets until 2020. Sources have told that other models under consideration include replacements for the Durango and Journey crossovers, and a sub-Charger sedan for Dodge. This statement by the FCA boss confirms earlier reports that the Italian-American car maker would defray the cost of developing the new luxury car platform by using it across its range of brands. Marchionne told analysts that relaunching Alfa Romeo as a competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz would cost the corporation over 2.5 billion euros. As such, Alfa Romeo lost money in 2016 and will also lose money this year. The Giulia and Stelvio were initially intended as the first salvos in an eight vehicle assault on the luxury segment, all due on the market by 2018. Last year, FCA stretched the target dates out to 2020, and has given no indication of when the next models in the plan will be released. +++

+++ With AUDI targeting to expand its lineup to around 60 individual premium vehicles by the end of the decade, there is a high chance that the German carmaker would try to fill in every niche in the luxury category. Thus there is a big chance that Audi would introduce a coupe version of its next-generation A3. Audi is expected to launch the fourth generation of the A3 in 2018 or 2019. The series will be headlined by the saloon (sedan), hatchback and Sportback versions. However, it appears that Audi wanted to further broaden the A3 family with a four-door coupe, which should allow Volkswagen’s premium arm to compete in a niche now dominated by the Mercedes-Benz CLA. A four-door coupe version of the Audi A3 should complete the lineup when it arrives – if it arrives – by the end of the decade. Launching a four-door coupe version of the A3 would allow Audi to shift some of its compact models into the executive class sans any significant increase in their prices. This would be similar to the strategy employed by Mercedes when it launched the CLA and CLA Shooting Brake compact cars. Strategically, the move would allow Audi to better keep up with Mercedes – which managed to grab the crown as the best-selling luxury car brand in world in 2016. Creating a four-door coupe version of the A3 would enable Audi it to fulfill its target of offering 60 individual models by 2020. As for how the new A3 four-door coupe would look, we could expect it to have a lot of similarities with the A3 sedan on the front end. However, Audi may opt to give the A3 four-door coupe a new broader grille, redesigned bumpers as well as new LED units as headlights – thereby endowing the new version with a sportier and wider appearance typical of a coupe. Of course, the main definer would be on the rear end. The B pillar would be removed and the A3 four-door coupe would feature elongated yet plunging roofline. The rear lights could be made slimmer and the rear bumper might feature a new design to fit the sporty character of the A3 four-door coupe. The A3 four-door coupe would be underpinned by an evolved version of the VW Group’s MQB platform. Although the next generation of the A3 family is expected to be larger than usual, the MQB platform would allow it to become lighter than the current generation. Likewise, the interior of the next generation of the A3 family might adopt some technologies that would have their debut at the upcoming Audi A8 flagship. +++

+++ There have been rumours going around about the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo. At the moment, it does look like we won’t be seeing its next generation model in the coming years. Oh yes, we find it hard to believe too as BMW had come up with a revamped, all-new 3 Series G20 last June. But according to some reports, the GT is about to be phased out after the newest model goes out on sale. This is probably because of the 4-Series Gran Coupe, which offers the same space and practicality altogether. Besides, if you have to put these two side by side, the 3 Series GT would turn out to be the less popular choice even if both practically look the same. But then when it comes to the replacement of the current F30 model (or the G20), we probably have to wait until 2018 to see what the Bavarian marque has to offer. The new 4-Series Coupe’s debut meanwhile will likely soon follow after the 3-Series is launched. By all means, BMW will still go along with the next generation 3 Series. Unfortunately, it won’t have the GT in the lineup. One thing’s for sure, it will have a new design that’s very different from the one we have right now. Perhaps there will be shapelier surfaces and a longer wheelbase of about 2.75 inches long. On the other hand, the 4 Series will still be offered in coupe and convertible models. Given the same well-proportioned and sporty design, the 3 Series GT has always been part of the BMW 3 Series and 4 Series family. But we can’t deny that the 4 Series Gran Coupe is more attractive. It is no secret that the 3 Series GT is not as saleable as the other BMW 3 and 4 Series models to begin with. So if ever the rumours were true, it only makes sense that BMW has finally decided to phase out the unit. All in all, it is very likely that BMW will narrow down the next generation 3-Series lineup to make things a little less complicated. After all, if you already have the 4 Series Gran Coupe, you wouldn’t want anything less, isn’t that right? +++

+++ A hardcore LEXUS LC F sports car will launch in 2018, following the arrival of the LC500 and LC 500h in autumn this year. A recent trademark application from Lexus’ parent company Toyota for the name LC F shows the car maker’s plans to introduce a performance model to the line-up, which could be hybrid-powered. The LC was developed with the express intent of highlighting Lexus’ sporting credentials and a new focus on dynamic capability, so an F model is the natural next step. Earlier, Koji Sato, Lexus’s chief engineer, denied such a project was underway but conceded that the hybrid technology would be more interesting if the project was approved. “Everyone is expecting an F model, but right now we are not sure”, said Sato. “The interesting thing is that Porsche is developing a sports car with electric power, and there is the BMW i8, so maybe a big engine with more power is a little bit heading in the old style. The hybrid model may be an interesting idea. The sudden torque provided by the electric motor is much faster and more unique – and perhaps more interesting for the customer. Lexus is a pioneer of hybrid systems and perhaps we have a role to show that hybrid has more capability now. It would be a unique driving experience, I think. So maybe the LC 500h is the car that would satisfy the requirement for a faster car”. The new LC 500 is powered by a 477 hp V8, while the LC 500h uses a 359 hp V6 coupled to an electric motor and hybrid system. Rivals include the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Maserati Granturismo and BMW 6 Series, although Lexus describes the car as having long-distance GT cruising capabilities. Lexus claims that the standard LC 500h hits 0-100 km/h in less than 5 seconds, while the LC 500 takes less than 4.5 seconds. +++

+++ The consistently popular NISSAN Qashqai will be refreshed later this year, with more technology and an updated look. It is expected to debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March, before going on sale in the summer. Visually, the changes will be subtle, with the biggest advances taking place under the skin. The Qashqai will build on the current car’s tech-filled interior, with a greater focus on the car’s advanced assistance systems. It’s thought that the car’s new look will take after the Qashqai Premium Concept from last year’s Geneva show. While the changes are still hidden underneath substantial masking front and rear, the makeover will consist only of slight modifications to the bumpers, lights and grille. As part of the facelift, Nissan bosses confirmed that semi-autonomous technology will form a part of the facelift package. The Brit-built Qashqai will be equipped with Piloted Drive autonomous driving tech ‘version 1.0′, forming part of a full model update with revised looks and new cabin tech. The system will allow autonomous driving in heavy traffic on motorways or A-roads. Explaining the tech’s capabilities, Richard Candler, head of advanced product strategy, told us: “It can manage the steering, braking and acceleration and it is especially useful for stop and go traffic and motorway driving”. And he promised it would be affordable too. “This is accessible. We are not trying to make a 100,000 Euro Qashqai. And in time it’ll be on Jukes and Micras, and we simply can’t double the price of a Micra. It’ll be a reasonable price”. For the time being, Piloted Drive 1.0 won’t allow driverless lane changes like Tesla’s system, but Nissan will launch “multiple-lane control” some time in the next 4 years. Candler added: “This tech will become mainstream on our cars in the same way that Safety Shield is. Last year 50 percent of the cars sold had Safety Shield. My vision is to get to those kind of numbers – it’s going to be like ABS and airbags, integral to the car”. In a similar vein to Ford with its new Vignale models, the Nissan Premium Concept Qashqai gets upmarket styling details such as carbon-fibre add-ons, 20-inch alloys and a new grille design. Said Candler: “We see people coming from BMW and Audi to Qashqai and this is a key motivation for the Premium concept. With that there is the expectation of more tech and more premium features”. Senior vice-president Colin Lawther added: “50 percent of Qashqais at the moment are top-spec cars. We’re not at the top level yet. 50 percent of people buy the Tekna, which is the top grade, and then people personalize on top of that, so we are not at that top grade. We certainly haven’t topped out Qashqai yet”. +++

+++ SUZUKI and Toyota have announced they are drawing up the framework for a partnership that will allow them to co-develop new environmental, safety and IT technology. In a joint statement, the Japanese car makers said their collaboration is designed to improve future mobility for the betterment of society. They confirmed that research will be shared, as well as technology and physical car parts. Toyota president Akio Toyoda said: “We want to cooperate toward enabling all people throughout the world to truly experience the joy of mobility and to achieving a society of future mobility full of smiles. I am truly thankful for having been given this opportunity to work together with a company such as Suzuki, which overflows with the spirit of challenge. Toyota looks forward to learning much”. The announcement comes 4 months after the companies revealed their intentions for such a partnership. The car makers began discussing the prospect of working together in order to keep up with competition. “In the face of the advanced and future technology R&D field, Suzuki is increasingly feeling a sense of uncertainty”, said a Suzuki spokesman. The late 2016 statement went on to say that although Toyota has been conducting R&D in environmental, safety and IT technology, it believes that competitors in European and North American markets may be ahead of it when standardising and partnering with other companies for technological development. Suzuki’s infamous partnership with Volkswagen ended in a bitter legal battle resulting in the 2 companies parting ways far earlier than the deal set out, and Suzuki buying a 20% stake back from Volkswagen. Toyota, meanwhile, has been working on its next Supra in a joint venture with BMW that will also produce the Z5. Both of the new sports cars will be hybrids and will share many components. Development has now separated as the cars near completion, however. Toyoda has suggested that more partnerships of this sort could be on the horizon. “We would like to always keep our doors open for new partnership opportunities, which will contribute to the making of ever better cars as well as to the development of the automotive industry”, he said last year. +++

+++ Established car manufacturers face an uphill battle to overcome TESLA ’s ability to harness customer driving data in the race towards autonomous cars, according to Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess. The American Electric Vehicle manufacturer revealed earlier this year that it already has around 760 million miles’ worth of driving data – and that it adds a million more to that total every 10 hours. Tesla has been able to achieve this because all of its Model S vehicles are designed to beam information back to its servers – and because the cars’ owners have been willing to play a part in this scheme, which also brings improvements to their vehicles via over-the-air updates. Tesla has stated it will move to full autonomy in 2018, while Volkswagen and other car manufacturers have set targets beyond the end of this decade. Volkswagen’s boss Herbert Diess has said that Tesla’s data-harnessing technology is giving the ‘outsider’ an advantage against established car manufacturers. “We don’t have that ability and we won’t have it tomorrow either”, said Diess. “We’ve looked at how much the technical equipment in the car would cost, and it’s around 300 euros per vehicle. Perhaps by 2020, when we will have it, that figure will be down to 150 euros. But it’s more than that; it’s also about IT infrastructure – the back end that you need to process the information. And all the while, they are adding millions of miles of extra data every week. I think we need to take Elon Musk very seriously”, he added, “and if he keeps upgrading the functions as he is doing then it will be difficult to keep up. I do think we will win in the end, but it will be because of our abilities to scale and spread production”. +++

+++ TOYOTA reported a drop in quarterly operating profit but still added 9.7 percent to its full-year earnings forecast as the world’s No. 2 automaker expects a bigger reprieve from a weakening yen. The manufacturer also said it had “no immediate plans” to change its policy of producing an annual 3 million vehicles at home in Japan, many of which are shipped to the United States, even after criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump for the number of cars it exports to the country. The results come as Toyota braces for profit to tumble from last year’s record 2.31 trillion yen. However, its outlook has improved as it anticipates the domestic currency to stabilize following volatility seen earlier in the financial year. “We’ve revised our full-year yen forecast to 107 yen to the U.S. dollar from 103 yen, which is the biggest contributing factor to our profit forecast revision”, Managing Officer Tetsuya Otake told reporters. Toyota now expects net profit of 1.7 trillion yen ($15.08 billion) for the year ending March, a decline of 26 percent from a record set a year earlier. It also sees operating profit of 1.85 trillion yen, 8.8 percent more than forecast in November. For the 3 months ended Dec. 31, however, a stronger yen knocked 770 billion yen off earnings. That pushed operating profit to 438.5 billion yen from 722.2 billion a year earlier, below a median forecast of 483.57 billion yen drawn from 11 analysts in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S/ poll. The rosier profit outlook comes as Toyota expects to sell slightly more cars globally than previously forecast. It now forecasts sales in North America, its biggest market, to be a touch higher than last year, fueled by demand for larger cars. Toyota has been working to supply more SUVs to the United States where demand for larger models has surged due to historically low gasoline prices. Such is the demand that Toyota has shifted production in the region away from its staple sedans. It has also increased imports of its RAV4 from Canada and Tacoma pick-up truck from Mexico. U.S. President Trump has taken issue with the proportion of cars domestic automakers import rather than produce locally, considering the size of sales in the world’s second-biggest market. Toyota imported about half of the record 2.449 million vehicles it sold in the country last year, including 26 percent from Japan. But Toyota said it would stick to its long-held policy of keeping around one-third of production at home as a way to continually hone the country’s manufacturing expertise. Japan’s automotive exports are likely to be high on the agenda when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Trump for summit talks in Washington later this week. +++

+++ New car sales in the UNITED KINGDOM reached their highest level for more than a decade in January, with 174,564 new cars registered in the first 4 weeks of 2017. That’s the biggest number of sales recorded in Britain since 2005, and represents a year-on-year growth of 2.9%. It has been spurred on by a significant increase in demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles, with 7,279 sales accounting for 4.2% of demand overall and representing a 19.9% increase on January 2016. Conversely, diesel cars saw a 4.3% drop in sales compared to the year before, but petrol rose by 8.9% – representing 50.7% of sales with 88,507 models sold across the month. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes acknowledged the importance of alternatively fuelled cars in ensuring the UK market stayed strong. He said: “It’s encouraging to see alternatively fuelled vehicles benefiting from this positive growth, reaching a record market share. After record growth in 2016, some cooling is anticipated over the coming months, but provided interest rates remain low and the economy stable, the market is in a good position to withstand its short-term challenges”. The Ford Fiesta remained Britain’s most bought car, with 8,495 sales ensuring it easily beat the Volkswagen Golf, which sold in 5,455 units to finish second. The Ford Focus was third best, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class ranked fourth. In terms of market spread, private purchases were up by 5% and represented 44% of all sales. Fleet saw a small increase by 1.4%, but business sales dropped by 1%, representing just 4% of the total market. The month as a whole continued a steady trend of growth in overall January car sales that’s been in place since 2011. The highest levels ever reached in the month were in 2002, when more than 200,000 cars were sold. +++

+++ The next VOLKSWAGEN Golf is likely to ditch its smaller diesel engines in favour of micro-hybrids using 48-volt electric technology, the company’s boss has suggested. The newly facelifted Mk7 Golf is offered with a mix of 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesels, with power outputs ranging from 115 hp up to 184 hp. However, speaking at the launch of the car, Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess admitted that the future of smaller diesel engines is now uncertain, because of the increasing costs of cleaning up the technology for ever-tightening legislation. “The next Golf – the Mk8 – will lead a strong rollout of 48-volt electrics for us”, said Diess. “I think we will have to substitute some of the diesels for micro-hybrids in that car; they will have similar fuel efficiency and better acceleration, but have a similar cost or even slightly less”. It’s believed that the micro-hybrid Golf would use a version of the latest car’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which has the capability to close down completely when cruising. This could be mated to a small electric motor, perhaps with as little as 15 hp, that would use the 48V electrics to manage charge levels and provide assistance for the combustion engine under acceleration. The Mk8 Golf is not expected to make its public debut until 2020. It will be based on an evolution of the existing MQB platform, but will be the first mainstream Volkswagen Group car to get the 48V tech that we’ve already seen on premium models like the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga. If Volkswagen has decided to drop the 1.6-litre diesel from its best-seller, it’s also likely to have implications for the Polo, which also uses that engine. Diess declined to confirm if the forthcoming Mk6 Polo, expected by the end of this year, would be the last generation to get diesel power – but he admitted, “That area of the market is particularly price-sensitive and as diesels get more and more expensive, they really become only relevant where you are regularly travelling very long distances. And most A0 cars (superminis like the Polo) travel about 50 kilometres per day”. +++

+++ The 2017 WORLD Car of the Year (WCOTY) finalists have been announced, and once again the list is dominated by models from European brands. There are 6 Car of the Year awards up for grabs this year, including the main prize, as well as gongs for the following categories: luxury, performance, car design, green, and urban. The Urban Car of the Year prize is new for 2017, and is only open to cars under four metres in length. The 10 finalists for the overall Car of the Year award include 6 European cars (Audi A5/S5, Q2, Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Skoda Kodiaq, and Volkswagen Tiguan), one Japanese-Italian collaboration (Fiat 124 Spider), and 3 Japanese vehicles (Honda Civic, Mazda CX-9, and Toyota C-HR). Reflecting the popularity of crossover vehicles, 7 of the 10 World Car of the Year finalists are high-riding cars. In the luxury car category, 4 of the finalists (Bentley Bentayga, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Volvo S90/V90) hail from Europe, with the Genesis G90 holding up the flag for the rest of the world. Battling it out for the Performance COTY prize are Europe’s Aston Martin DB11, Audi R8 Spyder, McLaren 570S, and Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman, and the American designed and built Honda NSX. Depending on how you want to slice and dice things, there’s either a four-to-one or three-to-two split for the honours in the Urban COTY award, with Europe’s BMW i3, Citroen C3 and Smart ForTwo Cabriolet battling it out against Japan’s Suzuki Ignis and the Ford Ka+. The European market Ka+ was developed for emerging markets, like South Africa, Brazil and India, and originally went on sale in 2015 as either the Ka or Figo. Models bound for Europe have been slightly tweaked in accordance with continental preferences. It’s guaranteed that no European vehicle will win this year’s World Green Car of the Year award, as the finalists include 2 Americans (Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model X), 2 Japanese (Honda Clarity, Toyota Prius Prime) and 1 Korean model (Hyundai Ioniq). The winners in each of the categories will be announced at the New York auto show, which takes place in the middle of April. +++

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