+++ AUDISport, the division responsible for the company’s high-performance RS models and the R8 supercar, and once known as Quattro GmbH, has no intention of spinning off hot derivatives of every model in the company’s range. So says the company’s chief executive Stephan Winkelmann, who crossed over from fellow Volkswagen Group brand Lamborghini a year ago. Every new Audi Sport model or derivative, he says, must have global scale (be right- and left-hand drive) and bring something unique to the table, for example the RS3’s five-cylinder engine in a class dominated by fours and sixes. This appears to mean that simply putting a body kit and a big engine in certain cars just to have them for their own sake makes no sense, the Q7 and A1 being likely examples (Although an extra-special version of the S1 did appear). Audi Sport’s current range comprises the RS3 Sportback and sedan, RS6, RS7, TT RS, RS Q3 and R8, with new generations of the RS4 and RS5 expected soon. It clearly rivals Mercedes-AMG and BMW M. I spoke with Winkelmann — an ‘honorary Italian’ following his tenure leading the Raging Bull brand — at the Bathurst 12-hour last week. Australia is the world’s fourth-biggest RS market, and a growing client for Audi Sport’s GT3 customer racing programs. “We are going for exclusiveness rather than volume”, he claimed. “So we pick the right segments. Just saying every Audi coming out has to be RS, have a bigger engine… no. Our choice is not to have a pure volume approach, but to pick projects very carefully”. This means that some Audi models clearly won’t have a RS derivative, though the presence of the RS Q3 suggests the company is pragmatic enough to temper ultimate performance if the body style suggests sufficient sales. “We have to pick very carefully because we can’t just do everything we want”, he added, also saying that he had to consider whether to work-in programs for future Audis we haven’t seen yet, including future electrified offerings. “I’m only a year in the company and what I see is that we have a release of a lot of future models, also new models that are not in model line up of today, so this is not locking us in for the future”. Winkelmann would not be drawn on too many specifics regarding future models, but did give us some clues. We asked him when we’d see the B9 generation RS4, and whether it’d come in both Avant and sedan body types this time. “What I can tell you is we invested in the B segment (mid-sized) and we will have the first big news at the Geneva motor show in March this year. It will be a good thing”, he said. The RS4 is the likely first candidate, though Audi is testing a new RS5 as well. I also asked about the potential for an RS Q5 derivative, taking the massively successful petrol and diesel SQ5, and building on it with something more extreme. “I think there is a market in general for Q models, more than just the RS Q3, and this is something we are looking into”, he responded. Ergo, expect more performance crossovers soon. Perhaps even a RS Q8. +++

+++ HYUNDAI has hired a former General Motors researcher to oversee its center to develop fully autonomous vehicles, joining other automakers and Silicon Valley giants in accelerating efforts on the fast-growing technology. Lee Jin-woo, 47, who has previously led autonomous driving technology development at General Motors for more than a decade, will head the newly established Intelligent Safety Technology Center – a combined research body for Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia – starting on Monday. “The new centre will not only enhance existing Advanced Drive Assistance System technologies but also conduct research into artificial intelligence related self-driving car technologies with the aim of commercializing those technologies”, Hyundai said in a statement. Hyundai and Kia, together the world’s fifth-largest automaker, aim to develop highly automated vehicles by 2020 and fully autonomous vehicles by 2030. However, experts say Hyundai needs to do more to catch up with rivals in the self-driving car race. Earlier, Ford announced plans to invest $1 billion over the next 5 years in autonomous vehicle tech firm Argo AI, while General Motors made a billion-dollar bet a year ago with its acquisition of Silicon Valley self-driving startup Cruise Automation. “Bringing in one person is not enough. Hyundai should form alliances with other companies, which will help hedge financial risks related to developing self-driving cars at a time of falling profit”, said Lee Hang-koo, a senior research fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade. “But this requires commitment from the top management”. Hyundai, which has typically promoted executives from within, has hired a series of executives from overseas, mostly in the design and engineering field. Lee earned a post doctorate at Cornell University, after studying at South Korea’s KAIST and Seoul National University. +++

++ JEEP will soon be very busy with regards to the next generation of its Wrangler (known as JL and JLU internally). First up, Jeep will be officially unveiling the new generation of the Wrangler (2018 model year) at the 2017 Chicago Motor Show this month. Then, Jeep will be retooling a portion of its Toledo Assembly Complex to prepare for the production of the next-gen Wrangler, local union officials told The Toledo Blade. Specifically, Jeep will retool the site’s portion that currently produces the Jeep Cherokee. The retooling will commence in April and is expected to be completed within six months. This means that Jeep will stop production of the Cherokee at Toledo starting April, and shift its assembly to Fiat Chrysler’s Belvidere site in Illinois. Local media in Illinois have been reporting that Jeep is currently in the midst of preparing the Belvidere site for Cherokee production. Fiat Chrysler’s Belvidere site used to build the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot. Once the retooling of this specific portion of the Toledo manufacturing site is completed in November this year, Jeep will immediately commence production of the next-gen Wrangler JL, as disclosed by Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12. Assembly of pre-production models will start earlier to determine and iron out the possible kinks in the lines. However, Jeep won’t immediately stop production of the current generation of the Wrangler (JK) at its Toledo facility. Baumhower disclosed to The Blade that the production of the Wrangler JK will remain as it is until March 2018. This means that the current-gen Wrangler JK and the next-gen Wrangler JL will coexist peacefully for 5 months until March 2018. However, people at JL Wranglers Forums have reported that production of the Wrangler JK will continue at the Toledo facility until June 2018. This means that the current and next generation models will have a production overlap of around 8 months. After then (either March or June 2018), the site of the Toledo Assembly Complex producing the Wrangler JK will be shut down to be retooled to prepare for the production of the new Wrangler JL. Once this second tranche of retooling is completed, production of the new Wrangler JL will hit a full swing. In October 2016, there was a purported leak of images of Jeep’s new models – including the Wrangler JL – during a dealer presentation. The new Wrangler, still with a rough design, features a tall 7-slot grille flanked by large, round headlights. Its front end is marked by thin LED running light strips on the wide front fenders while the rear end features rectangular taillights with a subtle ‘X’ shape inside. Moreover, the rear end of the Wrangler JL still features a spare tire affixed to the swinging rear door. The next-gen Wrangler may feature a more lightweight construction and an eight-speed transmission. +++

+++ MERCEDES is looking into an electric future for its AMG models, initially through hybridisation but with the prospect of AMG versions of the company’s forthcoming EQ electric sub-brand. “I don’t think they are opposite extremes”, Ola Kallenius, Mercedes’ R&D boss, said. “AMG has always been about driving performance and offering customers a superior experience, but at the same time — and I think this is the sweet spot of AMG — they are cars you can really drive every day. Electrification will find its way into AMG. It’s not impossible that you’ll have a fully electric version or an AMG variant of an EQ”. Early electrification will be through the 48V mild hybrid system that Mercedes is set to roll out across its new generation of engines. Kallenius in effect confirmed this will also make it to AMG’s V6 and V8 motors. Beyond that, the company is seriously considering a new range of fully electric performance cars, with Kallenius keen to point out it has already produced the SLS Electric Drive, which was sold in limited numbers in 2013. “The SLS Electric Drive was a preview of what the future could look like”, he said. “That was a research project, a know-how builder for AMG to get our heads around electrification. It’s just a matter of time until we go more and more electric”. In addition, the Formula 1- engined Project One hypercar will include the energy recovery system of its race-winning sister. “You can’t win the world championship without a superior electric motor”, Kallenius said. +++

+++ NISSAN has been found guilty of using a cheat device on the Renault-sourced 1.6-litre diesel engine on the British-built Qashqai sold in South Korea, the country’s government has ruled. The Japanese manufacturer insists it has complied with regulations. “We are disappointed with the court’s decision”, a statement from Nissan said. “Nissan Korea maintains that it has complied with all existing regulations and did not use an ‘unjustified arbitrary set-up’ or an illegal defeat device in the Euro 6 Qashqai”. The South Korean government however ruled that the so-called device lowered nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions under testing, leading to excess NOx emissions when the system deactivated under normal driving conditions. Qashqai sales in South Korea have been halted and 814 models have been recalled. Nissan was fined around 350,000 euro last year after being accused of cheating on its emissions tests, but refuted the claims and later sued the government’s environment ministry. When it was originally accused, the manufacturer strenuously denied accusations by the government that it had used an emissions defeat device. The South Korean government independently tested real-world emissions of 20 diesel cars in the wake of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, and it was believed the cheat device discovered was linked to Nissan’s emissions-reducing Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, which stopped operating when the engine’s temperature reached 35deg Celsius. “Usually, some cars turn off the emissions reduction device when the temperature reaches 50deg Celsius, to prevent the engine from overheating”, a government spokesman said at the time. “The Qashqai was the only vehicle that turned it off at 35deg”. +++

+++ PORSCHE is taking a slow and steady approach with its electrified vehicle strategy as the car-maker builds up to the launch of its first all-electric sportscar, based on the Mission E concept. The German sportscar-maker dipped its toe in the water with a limited-run petrol-electric hybrid version of the first-generation Cayenne SUV in 2010 for the US market before rolling the same system out in the original Panamera. Porsche stepped up its game with the facelifted Panamera that ushered in a new plug-in system with the S E-Hybrid, and this was followed by a plug-in version of the second-gen Cayenne shortly after. Probably the most famous hybrid Porsche to date is the 918 Spyder supercar that was built in strictly limited numbers (918 to be precise) from 2013, which matched a 4.6-litre V8 with a pair of electric motors for a total output of 890 hp and 1.280 Nm and a 0-100 km/h time of just over 2.6 seconds. An all-new version of the Panamera four-door launched last month and the range now features a more advanced plug-in hybrid variant, the E-Hybrid, which will roll into showrooms in the third quarter of the year. The latest E-Hybrid uses a new 2.9-litre bi-turbocharged petrol V6 and an electric motor for a combined output of 462 hp / 700 Nm, enough for a 0-100 km/h dash of 4.6 seconds and fuel use of 2.5 litres per 100 km on the combined cycle. It is priced from $242,600 plus on-road costs – about $22,000 more than the petrol-powered Panamera 4 – and according to Porsche Cars director of sales and network development John Murray, it will attract more than the handful of buyers that the first-gen version attracted. “We had very few Panamera Hybrids come in”, he told at the launch of the Panamera 4S and Turbo variants in New South Wales last week. “That car really was a breakthrough in its segment. It was the first hybrid in that segment of vehicle all around the world. In this one, the capabilities of the hybrid system have been increased even further and even the electric driving range is up to 50 km now. And it brings with it of course, all of the upgrades that you have seen in the 4S and the Turbo, it is a complete generational change. I am confident there will be more buyers for it. But that car – like the Cayenne E-Hybrid, like the initial Panamera E-Hybrid – it is all part of a journey leading to 3 years time when we have have fully electric vehicles in our market”. That fully electric vehicle will be the production version of the Tesla Model S-fighting Mission E concept from the 2015 Frankfurt motor show. The futuristic looking four-door is not too far away from showrooms either, with the production version likely to be here by about 2020. It has an electric driving range of more than 500 km and the company has promised typical Porsche performance, with the all-electric system pumping out 550 hp from its 800-volt drive system, ensuring an 0-100 km/h sprint time of 3.5 seconds. Murray said that PCA is already holding orders for the Mission E, despite the production version not being revealed yet. He also added that all of the previous-generation hybrid systems, and even the all-new high-tech version in the second-generation Panamera were all leading to the launch of the company’s first full EV. “As we have spoken about the Mission E, whatever its name is when it is brought to market in 3 years’ time that will be the biggest step of all. But all of these things are stepping stones along the way. “But we, and our dealers and especially our customers are all learning about it, getting used to it. The first Panamera E-Hybrid played its role in that sense. This one will move the game along and of course we are on a journey to fully electric vehicles with Porsche”. Murray said the car-maker has spent considerable effort in communicating the benefits of the hybrid and electric technology with its dealer staff, which then flows to customers in the showrooms. “We spent a lot of time with our dealer staff initially. Every training opportunity we are always talking about hybrid and using the car as a demonstration of that type of thing. They, in turn, are fully informed about where Porsche is going with this. And they have become friends with the technology themselves and been able to talk about it with customers. The customer may still plum for a traditional internal combustion engine – petrol or diesel. But it has planted a seed and Porsche’s take on hybrid technology and Posche’s take on fully electric vehicles, the story is starting to be told and we are on a journey with this thing. It is an evolution of this technology”. Despite earlier rumours, a plug-in hybrid version of the current Macan mid-size SUV is nowhere to be seen and it is looking more likely that it will appear in the model’s second generation. A hybridised version of the iconic 911 is now more likely to occur in next-gen guise as well. +++

+++ RENAULT and alliance partner Nissan are ready to forge closer capital ties but will only do so if France sells its Renault stake, Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said. The comments are likely to deepen a power struggle that spilled into public view in April 2015 when the government increased its stake in the French carmaker to nearly 20 percent from 15 percent, with little warning to Ghosn or the board. Ghosn, the chief executive of both carmakers, said the resulting stand-off over government voting rights had persuaded the Japanese carmaker that no further consolidation was possible while France continued to hold Renault shares. “Following the soap opera of double voting rights and the discussion with the French state, Nissan has said very clearly … that it will not accept any move on capital structure as long as the French state remains a shareholder”, Ghosn told reporters and analysts. The 18-year-old alliance is bound by cross shareholdings but Renault and Nissan remain separate companies with distinct boards and executive teams. “The day the French state decides to get out, everything is open, and I can tell you it won’t take too much time”, Ghosn said. “But as long as they are in, and they want to continue to be a shareholder of Renault, the alliance will continue to move as it is”. The government’s share purchase in 2015, described at the time as temporary, enabled ministers to block a proposed opt-out from a law granting double voting rights to the state and other long-term shareholders. It unleashed a boardroom crisis that led to new Renault-Nissan shareholder pacts at the end of that year. Tensions resurfaced last month following a scathing Renault submission to a French official report. The carmaker accused France of acting on insider information when it bought the additional shares. The state, Renault’s biggest shareholder, now holds 19.74 percent and 2 board seats. Martin Vial, head of the APE state shareholdings agency, demanded a retraction. “These are false allegations and they will have to be rectified”, he told BFM radio on Wednesday. Renault will review the factual basis of its submission, Ghosn said. “Anything imprecise will be rectified, but everything true will be maintained”. Far from the expected apology, his comments cast France as the main obstacle to progress for Renault-Nissan. “The Japanese would never accept to be part of an entity where – particularly taking into consideration everything which happened – the French state would be a shareholder of Japanese assets”, said Ghosn. Government spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Renault’s submission to a Jan. 25 Court of Auditors report said the government had exhibited “contradictions and conflicts of interest” and raised its stake from an “insider position” with privileged access to information. Emmanuel Macron, now the front runner in France’s presidential election, orchestrated the state’s 2015 intervention in his former role as economy minister. +++

+++ So, it will be goodbye for VOLKSWAGEN ’s 1.5-liter TDI engine that was intended to replace the carmaker’s current 1.6-liter TDI unit. This comes as the German carmaker has decided not to continue the development of a replacement diesel unit that could have made its debut in the new generation of the Polo. This was revealed by Frank Welsch, the chief of research and development at VW, during a recent international media launching event for the carmaker’s new Golf in Spain. Welsch disclosed that VW is now abandoning its small diesel engine strategy due to many factors and will instead pursue a new venue to power its compact vehicles. Aside from stopping the development of its 1.5-liter TDI engine, VW is also halting its turbocharged 1.4-liter three-cylinder diesel engine. This smaller diesel engine is currently available for the present generation of the Polo. The scrapped 1.5-liter TDI engine is an aluminum block high-pressure common rail powerplant intended to become a vital part of the German carmaker’s new small engine offensive. It will go in tandem with VW’s newly unfurled turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine that is found in the seventh-generation Golf facelift. Welsch cited a number of reasons why the German carmaker had to scrap the new 1.5-liter TDI diesel engine. First is the high cost of engineering that needs to be done to make the engine economically viable. Welsch specifically mentioned the cost of development of an effective after-treatment system for the new diesel engine. According to VW’s r&d chief, the engine’s after-treatment system alone costs between 600 and 800 euro for the materials alone. He noted that the after-treatment system alone is already as costly as the engine. Thus, the entire engine system costs 25 percent of the Polo itself. VW’s top man for its r&d efforts also disclosed the other reasons for scrapping the 1.5-liter TDI diesel engine. For instance, Welsch said that more stringent standards for carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) also played a role in the decision to abandon the development of the new 1.5-liter TDI diesel engine – and so is the declining demand for diesel powerplants in Europe’s B segment. However, this doesn’t mean that VW would abandon its 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine. In fact, Welsch said that a new generation of the 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine would arrive within one or one-and-a-half years. With VW’s small diesel engines now heading for the trash bin, the carmaker is now developing a new small-capacity petrol-electric hybrid system. According to Welsch, hybrid powerplants are more economical than diesel engines and are even environment-friendly enough to comply with stiff emission regulations. +++

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