+++ ASTON MARTIN lost 200 million dollar last year, but things are looking up. Sales spiked nearly 50 percent in the fourth quarter thanks to the introduction of the new DB11 and now the brand is looking for more ways to improve profitability. At the Geneva auto show next month, Aston Martin will introduce an expanded Q by Aston Martin range of personalization products. New for the brand is the Q by Aston Martin – Collection. Buyers will be able to specify from this range of trim, paint, and upholstery selections at the point of sale and the factory will install them prior to delivering the cars to the dealerships. These features go above traditional options. Examples include tinted wheel finishes that incorporate body-colored blades to the diamond turned spokes, unique leather quilt upholstery patterns, as well as other leather and wood options. This expansion of the Q by Aston Martin range is similar to Porsche’s many options for its cars. Go to the Porsche configurator and you can choose the materials and trims for virtually any component of your Porsche’s interior, giving you the ability to add tens of thousands of dollars to the final price. Interested buyers can go further with Q by Aston Martin – Commission. This is available in 2 steps. The first step is handled by Aston Martin’s global dealership network. The dealers work closely with Q by Aston Martin – Commission to create ultra-limited series cars with designs and features distinct to their regions and customers. The second step is more personalized. It begins with a collaboration between an individual customer and Aston Martin’s design team at the company’s headquarters in Gaydon, England and ends with a one-off car–provided you have to pocketbook to make that happen. Marek Reichman describes Commission as “fulfilling a creative need—we’re experts providing a consultation, like a Savile Row tailor or a yacht builder”. Previous Q by Aston Martin – Commission models have included the Aston Martin CC100 Speedster concept created for the company’s 100-year anniversary in 2013 and the Vantage GT12 Roadster shown at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Together with a gradually renewed lineup, perhaps Aston Martin Q can help the company go from just making beautiful cars to making a profit. +++

+++ The new DS 7 Crossback will kickstart a new model blitz by the upmarket French brand, during which it will launch a new car every 12 months for the next 6 years, including a family of SUVs. Speculation suggests that the DS 7 Crossback, which goes into production early in 2018, will be followed by the launch of a DS 3 Crossback, to rival the Audi Q2. A larger Audi Q7 rival is then said to be under consideration if the current trend for booming SUV sales continues and could be badged DS 9 Crossback. The SUV family will likely be complimented by a replacement for the DS 3 supermini, and more traditional medium and large saloons, potentially named DS 5 and DS 9. However, the latter is highly dependent on how the Chinese market’s tastes develop with its traditional hunger for large, chauffeur-driven saloons waning. While declining to be drawn on specifics, while talking about the potential for a small SUV DS, salesmanager Arnaud Leclerc said: “What’s clear is that we need to find a way to keep DS 3 customers with the brand and offer them something as they move up. It’s also true that the segment for small SUVs is growing. But nothing is decided”. DS vice president of marketing Arnaud Ribault added: “It’s true that to develop we will need a family of SUVs and a family of saloons. But where that takes us in terms of sizes and the order of our launches is less clear. The DS 7 represents a start; tradition may dictate we follow it with one smaller and one larger SUV – why not? – but we haven’t announced this”. The DS 7 SUV will be built and sold in China, alongside the smaller China-only DS6 model which has been sold there since 2014. The latter car is based on older PSA Group technology and as such cannot be sold in other markets as it doesn’t meet safety requirements. +++

+++ Car registrations in FRANCE in February will fall after hitting a 5-year high last year on the back of the country’s economic recovery. New-car registrations, a proxy for new-car sales, are expected to fall 2.9% to 161,886 vehicles in February, according to data from the country’s car manufacturing association, CCFA. The figure surpassed 2 million in 2016 for the first time since 2011. February this year has one working day less than in the 2016 leap year. New car registrations had risen 11% in January. After several years of decline, France’s car market notched up strong growth in 2015 and the rebound continued into 2016 as consumer spending increased on economic expansion of 1.1% in 2016. Registrations of new cars made by French manufacturer Peugeot fall 7.4% in February while at its cross-town rival Renault they are down 3.8%. +++

+++ LAND ROVER is currently testing Plug-in hybrid versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, ahead of a possible launch in 2018. The current fourth generation Range Rover had some mild updates for the 2017 model year, but these are the latest pictures of forthcoming hybrid models which could be introduced to the range with more updates for 2018. The test mules get a new front bumper and grille, which is believed to house the charging port, while the lights at the front and back are also a new design. Warning stickers on the front and rear of the car indicate that these are electrified models. It’s thought that the Range Rover is powered by a hybrid unit which incorporates a 300 hp four-cylinder Ingenium petrol engine and a lithium-ion battery, which is stored under the boot floor. It is highly likely the model will have an electric-only range, which could be around 50 kilometers. Its closest rival would be the BMW X5 xDrive40e, but with an inferior power output to the expected Range Rover hybrid it’s possible that the Range Rover could better the BMW’s 0-100 km/h time of 6.5 seconds. This system, which will give the big SUV very low CO2 emissions, is expected to be used in future hybrid models of the Jaguar F-Pace, XF and XJ. A diesel-electric hybrid version of the Range Rover has been available since 2013, but this will be an all-new powertrain. The current Range Rover model lineup has a choice of a diesel or petrol 3.0-litre V6, a 4.4-litre diesel V8 and a range-topping 5.0-litre V8 in the Range Rover Sport.
Other big SUVs are set to get plug-in variants, including the Bentley Bentayga and forthcoming Lamborghini Urus. +++

+++ LEXUS is preparing an all-out LC F performance variant of its flagship LC coupe, complete with a 600 hp twin-turbo V8 – according to a new report, which cites a source at Lexus, claiming the Japanese luxury marque will reveal the LC F at this year’s Tokyo motor show in October. At the heart of the performance coupe will reportedly be a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 – essentially two 2.0-litre mills joined at 90 degrees – pumping out a meaty 600 hp of power and around 637 Nm of torque. The new V8 is also reported to feature in the next GS F sedan, though with slightly lower outputs. Shifting gears will be the company’s new 10-speed automatic transmission, which made its debut with the LC500. The LC F will feature a bespoke bodykit, including bonnet vents, air ducts for brake cooling, a fixed rear wing, an aggressive front splitter along with side and rear air vents. Filling the arches will be new 20-inch alloy wheels, along with six-piston brake calipers for extra stopping power. In addition to the hi-po LC, a convertible version is also said to be in the works – potentially ahead of the LC F – according to a report last December by industry journal Automotive News. +++

+++ General Motors (GM) has told the PSA Group it would only sell licenses for the manufacture of OPEL cars to the French company if it agreed not to sell them in North America, Russia or China. Under such an agreement Opel would only be allowed to sell new models in those 3 markets following a possible tie-up with PSA, but not existing ones such as electric car Ampera-e. PSA declined to comment on the report. Opel was not immediately available for comment. PSA, the Paris-based maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars, and Detroit-based GM confirmed they were in talks over a PSA-Opel tie-up to create Europe’s second-largest carmaker by sales after Volkswagen. +++

+++ The head of French carmaker PSA played down the threat to British factories when he discussed the potential takeover of GM’s European operations with union officials and politicians in London. The British visit was the latest part of a charm offensive by Carlos Tavares, chief executive of Peugeot-maker PSA, after news broke last week that PSA was in talks about a possible purchase of the Opel business. Germany accounts for about half of Opel’s 38,000 staff, while 4,500 are in Britain where Opel operates as Vauxhall and there are concerns in both countries about the impact of any deal on jobs. Britain’s business minister Greg Clark said talks with Tavares focused on the firm’s desire to boost output. “We discussed how PSA’s approach is to increase market share and expand production rather than close plants. I was assured that the commitments to the plants would be honored”, Clark said in a statement. “There was also recognition that members of the Vauxhall pension fund will be no worse off”. Tavares said this week that the combined company would aim to sell more than 5 million vehicles annually within “a few years”. PSA and GM Europe delivered 4.3 million vehicles between them last year. Tavares also delivered a similar message to the Unite union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey. “He talked in terms of not being here to shut plants. That’s not his nature”, McCluskey, the head of the country’s biggest union, told reporters, adding the talks were “relatively positive”. But McCluskey said there remained a lot of issues to discuss, including that of pensions. The Vauxhall pension scheme has a deficit of up to 1 billion pounds ($1.25 billion) according to a source. PSA said Tavares used the meeting to reaffirm “his commitment to conduct this dialogue in accordance with existing agreements and the ethical approach of the PSA Group”. PSA said this week it would respect existing labor agreements if a deal took place. Underlining concerns about jobs, Opel’s European works council said it had agreed to open a line of communication with its counterpart at PSA Group. +++

+++ TOYOTA has reduced its number of top positions to speed up decision-making, as the Japanese automaker works toward a slimmer executive to better compete in an industry undergoing rapid change. The move comes as the world’s second-ranked automaker by sales, after Volkswagen, hopes to quicken decision-making to regain the lead in an industry increasingly focused on new technologies, including automated driving and low-emission power units. Announcing personnel changes for the financial year starting April, the Japanese automaker on Wednesday said in a statement it would reduce its board of director positions to 9 from 11. Under the new structure, only President Akio Toyoda and Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada will remain representative directors after Toyota cut the number of such posts from 6. The automaker reduced the number of representative directors to centralize responsibility and accountability for the entire company, while fewer board directors would speed up executive decisions, Toyota spokeswoman Kayo Doi told. The change comes just a year after Toyota overhauled its corporate structure to one emphasizing product-based management rather than region-based. “This structural change is not an answer but an opportunity”, President Toyoda said in the statement. He said the change was necessary to “allow us to remain viable in an era in which we are producing and selling 10 million vehicles a year”. Toyota’s scale affords benefits such as lower procurement and production costs. But it also raises quality-control risks, as the automaker experienced in the early 2000s when driver-side floor mats led to unintentional acceleration in some vehicles. Toyoda, who has led the company since 2009, previously said the automaker’s sheer size can slow down decision-making. Osamu Nagata, previously Toyota’s chief administrative officer in North America, will be promoted to chief financial officer and executive vice president, and joins the board of directors. Mitsuru Kawai will become executive vice president in charge of factories. Kawai joined Toyota as a plant worker in the 1960s, rising to the automaker’s highest position held by blue collar worker. Board directors Mitsuhisa Kato, Takahiko Ijichi and Nobuyori Kodaira will step down and become company advisors. Senior managing officers Hirofumi Muta, Koei Saga and Soichiro Okudaira will also step down. Muta will join affiliate Hino Motors as executive vice president, whereas Saga will become an executive advisor at Toyota and chairman of the automaker’s racing arm. Okudaira will head compact car maker Daihatsu, which became a wholly-owned Toyota company last year. Operational changes will take effect from April, while board positions will be voted on at a shareholder meeting in June. +++

+++ A new small VOLKSWAGEN SUV will be launched by the end of 2018. The new model will sit on the Polo platform and take its inspiration from the T-Cross Breeze first revealed at the Geneva motor show last March. Unlike the open-topped VW concept, though, the 4.133 mm long production version of the T-Cross Breeze receives a fixed roof and a 5-door layout. This will put it in direct competition with the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and Opel Mokka. VW’s new SUV will seat up to 5 adults and be built alongside the new Polo at the company’s Pamplona factory in Spain. Engines for VW’s entry-level SUV will mirror those of the new Polo, with three-cylinder and four-cylinder petrol and diesel units ranging from 75 hp to more than 200 hp. Also under development at VW’s Braunschweig engineering headquarters in Germany is a new petrolelectric hybrid drivetrain that will be introduced to a number of models, including the production T-Cross Breeze. It will serve as an alternative to VW’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. Initially, the new mild hybrid will use a 15 kW electric motor mounted within the front of a 7-speed dualclutch gearbox. It will provide an electric range of around 3 kilometers and a performance-boosting function under acceleration. At a later date, VW will double the output of the electric motor for an increase in zero-emissions range and greater performance. +++

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