+++ In a recent interview, AUDI Sport’s Stephan Winkelmann hinted at the possibilities of a hypercar program. Mercedes-Benz as we know will be launching its own version of the low-volume, high-powered supercar in September at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Perhaps it’s also true that if not for the AMG-specced Project One, he wouldn’t even dare to consider the thought. As the former head of Lamborghini, Winkelmann has a background on hypercars at least one way or another. Since he’s now the head of Audi Sport, (the high performance sub brand that develops the Audi RS), people couldn’t help but wonder what he’s up to especially after another German competing brand is set to launch a hypercar within this year. It looks like Winkelmann has been contemplating about it already when he stated that “coming from a brand where we did this in the past and we put it to a new level, if it’s about a very limited car with a high price to test the value of the brand, it might be a good idea”. Well, if ever that’s the case, we’re more than thrilled to see how it would go along with Mercedes’ first ever road legal supercar to be made available commercially using Formula One’s hybrid powertrain. The Project One will be equipped with the very iconic, powerful and efficient F1 drivetrain with pure electric and wheel-selective front drive technology. When combined, this power system is capable of delivering beyond 1.000 horsepower. That’s how good it is. Meanwhile, the R8 V10 Plus is considered to be Audi’s most powerful offering so far. It comes with a 610 hp 5.2 liter V10 engine, pushing it to drive up to 100 km/h in 3 seconds flat before reaching a top speed of 330 km/h. Still, we’d be keeping our fingers crossed that hopefully one day, Audi Sport would come up with its own version of the hypercar. Who doesn’t want it anyway? Grigory Gorin’s Audi F-Tron would make a good concept to start with. Or, they could take some inspirations from Lamborghini. If not, then maybe they can just take it from their experiences in the past with the Audi racing team. In his own words, Winkelmann said that he sees “a potential for those type of cars in Audi Sport” and that there are plenty of ideas out there considering the history they have in GT3, WEC and Silver Arrows. Nevertheless, let’s see what happens right after Mercedes launches the much awaited Project One. Only then will we know whether Audi Sport is really up for a challenge. +++

+++ Thanks to several spy images, Italian sports car maker FERRARI is thought to be developing an updated version of the F12 Berlinetta. There have been reports speculating the possible specs as well as the moniker of this new F12, but so far, Ferrari has yet to confirm or deny the existence of this new sports car. However, a member of the Ferrari Chat forums claimed that there is indeed an updated F12, and it was recently shown to a private group of people at the Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. Two versions of the updated F12, as claimed, were shown during the presentation: a model and a fully functional revised F12. This member also claimed that he was present during the presentation, in which the carmaker unveiled quite a number of details about the updated F12. While Ferrari has been quiet about the name of this updated F12, the forum member disclosed the carmaker referred to the model as the F152M and V12 Sport. In addition, the updated F12 will have a new engine as its core: a V12 powerplant with a displacement of around 6.5 liters. The forum member went on to specify that this engine would be a naturally aspirated unit that is able to deliver up to 800 hp of output and up to 718 Nm of torque. According to the forum member, Ferrari’s presentation wasn’t so clear about the performance figures of the updated F12. Nonetheless, the updated F12 is reportedly able to sprint from nil to 100 km/h in less than 3 seconds, and from standstill to 200 km/h arriving in less than 8 seconds. That means that this updated F12 model would be really quick, if the claims were true. Further details were also provided by the forum member regarding the updated F12. For instance, the member claimed that the transmission of the updated F12 has been returned to allow for 30 percent quicker up-shifts and 40-percent quicker downshifts. Likewise, the member claimed that the updated F12 is provided with the latest version of Ferrari rear-wheel steering system. As for the design, the forum member claimed that the updated F12 would feature a revised and more aggressive front end with new LED headlights while the rear end features a “floating” rear diffuser. Inside, the member claimed that the updated F12 would feature an 8.8-inch passenger display. The claims of this forum member were somewhat different from current speculations about the updated F12. For instance, there were speculations that it would be powered by a naturally aspirated 6.3-liter V12 engine that powers the F12tdf. This engine is rated to develop 770 hp of max output and 705 Nm of peak torque. If true, then it would be more powerful than the current F12 Berlinetta, which has a V12 engine that only delivers 730 hp of max output and 690 Nm of peak torque. There were also speculations that Ferrari would tune this engine to develop up to 850 hp of output. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS Korea CEO James Kim has set Chevrolet’s domestic market annual sales target at 194,000 units, the highest-ever local sales goal for the global brand, according to GM. Last year the company sold 180,275 units, a 13.8 percent increase compared to the previous year. The results marked the first time the brand broke the 180,000-marker since it first entered Korea’s imported car market in 2011. Reeling off the company’s best-ever domestic performance last year, Kim and Dale Sullivan, vice president of vehicle sales, services and marketing, hosted the 2017 Chevrolet National Agency Workshop in Incheon, where the pair revealed their initiatives of snagging double-digit shares of the domestic car market this year. “Chevrolet has a solid brand reputation and excellent competitiveness, and for the first time in 6 years, it has become an icon of innovation in Korea”, said Kim in a press release. “This year we are launching new and competitive products including the all new Cruze and the Bolt (Opel Ampera-E)”, he continued. “And through aggressive marketing, excellent customer service offers such as the Chevrolet Complete Care, we will set new milestones by surpassing last year’s achievements and attaining double-digit shares in the domestic market”. Last year GM Korea’s market share accounted for 9.9 percent of all vehicles sold in Korea, including domestic brands, making it the country’s third-largest automaker behind local giants Hyundai and Kia. +++

+++ MASERATI chief operating officer Glen Sealey has expressed strong interest in an upper-large SUV to complement the Levante and re-opened the door to producing a small SUV, having admitted that the company must face the realities of the ‘crossover’ boom. Sealey reiterated that Maserati currently would not enter into product space below the entry point to the Levante range, however he believed there were options for a pricier ultra-luxury SUV from the brand. “Maserati is a brand that people will happily pay up to $270,000 for, so there is a lot of space for us”, he said. “We’re also a brand that people will more than happily pay $100,000-plus for, and that’s about where we sit (and it is) the lowest we want to go to today. By the time you put a Quattroporte GTS Gran Lusso/Gran Sport on the road, you’re edging toward $270,000. People pay that. So we can stretch the brand up to that level. “Can we do that in an SUV? Yeah, absolutely. The possibility is there, as long as the brand can sustain it (so) if the product is there we’ll go ‘okay’ ”. With Ferrari having refused to produce an SUV, and the Volkswagen Group rival having launched the Bentley Bentayga and announced the forthcoming Lamborghini Urus, a Maserati rival could join what Sealey has admitted is a lucrative segment. It could also, he believed, complement the Quattroporte upper-large sedan in its declining class. “Today when we look at our 5-year plan, Levante is an absolute key part of that, but so are the sportscars, the high-end, executive cars, which is Ghibli, and Quattroporte for us (which) is our signature car”, Sealey continued. “It’s a vehicle we won’t abandon and I personally think that there is always a spot for Maserati to have a racing engine in a large saloon; we started that. I think there is space for an upper large saloon as well as an SUV, but … you have to acknowledge the market trends. “If in 5 years’ time, no one wanted that saloon and everyone wanted an SUV, we would have to move in that direction. We must move where consumer demand wants to take us. Where you invest now to get more return … clearly there is a trend toward SUVs”. Sealey also hinted that a decision had not yet been made to go ahead with an upper-large SUV Maserati. Asked if the brand would need to make a judgement call on whether the SUV market will continue its ascent, given product lead times could total several years, he replied: “With technology involving CAD modelling (and) photo printing so you can print out the parts and models without doing the full clay model, it has shortened that development cycle enormously”. Another Maserati spokesperson explained that the growth in the SUV market was seen to be in the premium sector and that was likely to continue. It indicates an increased likelihood that the Italian brand will deliver a ‘crossover’ further upmarket. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) sibling brand Jeep will launch its Grand Wagoneer rival to the Range Rover in 2019, which the company has all but confirmed will be produced on a body-on-frame chassis. While some components could be shared with a Maserati SUV, an Automotive News report has this week revealed a quote from FCA chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne, who said the Giorgio rear- and all-wheel drive platform underpinning the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio will be amortised across brands including Jeep and Maserati. “The investment in Alfa Romeo and certainly the technical investment in the Giorgio architecture was something that was designed to benefit more than Alfa”, Marchionne told. “I’m happy that we have finally found clarity of thought in the extension of these architectures well beyond Alfa”. He added that Giorgio would underpin “the whole Maserati development beyond 2018”. Although Sealey has in the past ruled out Maserati offering an SUV with a starting price of below $150,000 and positioned as a smaller complement to the Levante, he has now re-opened the door to that possibility too. The Stelvio measures 4867mm in length, demonstrably shorter than the 5003mm Levante. “If we chose to go downmarket with something smaller, it would have to be something that incorporates those 6 brand pillars for Maserati”, Sealey said, outlining these as performance, sound, exclusivity, Italian made, craftsmanship and design. “Whether that would be something smaller and far sportier, I don’t know (but) certainly there is a market opportunity there. “I’ve always said our brand is an exclusive brand. Below us we have premium brands, above us we have exotic brands. Where we sit – we sit as an exclusive brand and we are protective of that”. +++

+++ In what could be seen as a sign of things to come, the MERCEDES C-Class was Australia’s top-selling mid-sized vehicle in January. The German luxury car (many of which are actually made in South Africa) outsold the locally made fleet-favourite, Toyota’s Camry, 651 units to 580. The Camry’s 580 figure compares to 4.850 in December. The Toyota generally enjoys more than 50 percent market share at the lower end of the segment, but dropped off markedly last month because the company registered a huge batch in December as demonstrators, and is now clearing stocks. The same phenomena occurred in 2016, where sales dropped from 5321 in December 2015 to 503 in January 2016. Toyota has had to keep annual production high in order to gain enough scale to keep its Altona factory open until October this year, a goal it has now achieved. From November this year it’ll import a Camry from Japan instead. Industry stats counter VFACTS splits the medium passenger market into 2 price bands: sub-$60k and above $60k. The Camry and Mazda 6 usually top the former, and the C-Class the latter. The trend of luxury brands over-performing in the mid-sized car segment continued beyond Mercedes last month. The BMW 3 Series (270) was the third top-selling medium car of any type, ahead of the Ford Mondeo (251, up 41 per cent). Behind the Ford was the Mazda 6 (250), just ahead of the Mercedes-Benz CLA (244) and Audi A4 (234), both of which outpointed the cheaper Subaru Liberty (210), Skoda Octavia (162), Volkswagen Passat (140), Lexus IS (117) and Subaru Levorg (109). Smaller-volume players included the Jaguar XE (93), Kia Optima (73), BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe (71), Holden Malibu (57), Hyundai Sonata (37), Nissan Altima (35), Audi A5 Sportback (35) and Honda Accord (34). A mixed bag. Medium car sales as a whole across all price bands dropped 11.2 per cent last month over January 2016, with a combined market share of 4.5 percent; less than half that of the small SUV market. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN threatens to sue Ferdinand Piech over mediacomments. Piech reportedly told German newspapers that he had raised concerns over the emissions scandal in March 2015, six months before the issue became public. Volkswagen has threatened to sue former chairman Ferdinand Piech over recent comments he allegedly made to German media. Piech allegedly told German prosecutors that he had informed VW Group supervisory board members about the US emissions investigation in March 2015, according to Der Spiegel. He was allegedly informed of the inquiry via former Israeli ambassador Avi Primor. The former chairman reportedly claimed that he confronted Winterkorn after receiving the tip, but the then-CEO allegedly claimed that Volkswagen had received no notification from US authorities of an emissions investigation. Volkswagen did not publicly acknowledge the EPA’s inquiry until September of that year, prompting Winterkorn’s resignation within days. Piech’s allegations essentially accuse Winterkorn and others of attempting to brush the scandal under the rug for six months and keep investors in the dark. “The Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG emphatically repudiates the assertions made by Ferdinand Piëch as reported recently in the media”, the automaker said in a statement. The company claims law firm Jones Day already investigated Piech’s account in detail, but “no evidence was forthcoming indicating the accuracy of these allegations, which were classified as implausible overall”. Other affected board members have all denied the assertions. “The Board of Management will carefully weigh the possibility of measures and claims against Mr. Piëch”, the statement added, without elaborating. +++

+++ VOLVO will introduce 2 brand-new crossovers by the end of the year. One of them is a replacement for the XC60. It’s the company’s most popular model, so getting it right is crucial. Details are still few and far between, but one of Volvo’s top executives affirmed the second-generation XC60 is “a big step forward”. The second crossover is a smaller model named XC40 that will take Volvo into a segment it’s never been in before. Previewed last year by the 40.1 concept, it will compete head-to-head against the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3. The XC40 will be the first car to ride on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform, and it will be sold in the United States. “There’s a big chance it’ll be one of the most successful cars in our line-up”, predicted Henrik Green, the head of Volvo’s R&D department. The 40- and 60-series family will later grow to include additional models, including replacements for the Golf-sized V40, the S60, and the V60. Volvo remains committed to downsizing, so all of the aforementioned cars will be four-cylinder-only. However, every model will get a gasoline-electric hybrid variant. Volvo hasn’t revealed when we’ll see the new models. We’ll learn more about the next additions to the Volvo lineup in March at the Geneva Auto Show, and in April at the Shanghai show. +++

+++ The battle for WORLD automotive sales dominance is emerging as a race in four, with the Renault Nissan Alliance – courtesy of its part acquisition of Mitsubishi Motors in May last year – creeping within striking distance of new global leader, Volkswagen, and former top dogs Toyota and General Motors. Just 300,000 units separated top place from fourth in the 2016 sales race as the biggest automotive groups clocked up record sales around the 10 million-unit mark. Volkswagen Group and its squadron of subsidiaries such as Audi, Skoda, Seat, Porsche and Lamborghini accumulated a record 10.3 million vehicles sales in 2016 – a rise of 3.8 percent on 2015 – to assume the number one position for the first time, despite fallout from the dieselgate affair. It edged out Toyota, even though the Japanese giant’s sales crept up 0.2 percent to 10.17 million Toyota, Daihatsu and Hino vehicles. Toyota was undone in its chase for a sixth successive crown by a 0.5 percent fall in sales outside of Japan and relative weakness in China where General Motors and Volkswagen dominate. General Motors – a long-time leader before Toyota and now Volkswagen rose to the top – scored a record 10 million sales last year, up 1.2 percent on 2015. It was GM’s fourth consecutive record sales year, underlining the recovery America’s number-one car-maker has made since the global financial crisis that started a decade ago. Despite the increase, General Motors could only manage third place in the sales race, but its fourth quarter performance of 2.78 million vehicles puts rivals on notice that it is far from a spent force. GM’s strength has come from its 2 major markets – the United States (3.04 million) and China (3.87), with the latter enjoying a 7.1 percent sales increase in General Motors sales in the calendar year, despite dire warnings that the world’ s biggest market was running out of steam. Even the regular thorn in GM’s side – Europe – showed signs of a turnaround, with sales of Opel and Vauxhall vehicles increasing 4.0 percent, thanks mainly to the arrival of the new Astra wearing its European Car of the Year badge. However, General Motors’ global position is now threatened by the Renault Nissan Alliance which claimed 9.96 million sales in 2016 – just 8.000 units behind GM. The emergence of the French-Japanese group near the top of the leader board is large due to its acquisition of 34 percent of Mitsubishi Motors and its 934,013 sales (-13 percent). Nissan sales rose 2.5 percent to 5.6 million, while Group Renault sales – including those sold under the Dacia brand – achieve 3.2 million registrations. The overall Renault Nissan tally also included 284,807 Lada vehicles made in Russia by Avtovaz, which is 51 percent owned by Renault. While the new “big four” turned on record performances, Ford remained anchored on about 6.65 million sales, half of which came from its North American home ground. Its global market share slipped 0.1 percent, despite 13.6 per cent sales growth in China where its share grew two-tenths to 5.2 percent. This growth there has been largely driven by the Australian-developed, Focus-based Escort that has emerged as the Blue Oval’s top seller in China. South Korea’s Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia suffered a sales slip, down from a combined 8.01 million units in 2015 to 7.88 million last year. Hyundai led the way with 4.86 million sales, with Kia on 3.02 million. The drop has been greeted by a company-wide ban on salary rises for executives this year as it hopes to cut costs and claw sales up to 8.25 million units in 2017. Another of the big losers of 2016 was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) which sold 4.7 million vehicles for the 12 months, down 3.0 per cent on 2015. In the US, FCA suffered a 10 percent decline, reflected by sales downturns for its Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands. Only Jeep (926,376, +6.0%) and RAM (545,851, +11%) made headway. The performance casts doubt on FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plan to achieve 7 million units by 2018. +++

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