+++ Consumer Report, the influential American magazine has released its annual, traditional ranking of the best car brands, with AUDI claiming the top spot for the second year and followed by two other premium contenders – Porsche and BMW. The latter have both improved their positioning compared to last year’s list, with Audi topping the chart with 81 points out of a total possible of 100, followed by Porsche with 78 and BMW with 77. An explanation might be in order about how these points come flying around – the results combine for the overall score by using these factors: owner satisfaction, road tests, predicted reliability, and safety. For example, Porsche trumps Audi with a higher road test score (88 vs 86), while BMW is equal to Audi as far as these tests go. Interestingly enough, the top five brands are the same, only the positions changed for some of them – Lexus has lost one position and Subaru no less than three. Since we’re dealing with a US magazine, we can be interested in US brands as well – the highest ranked is Tesla (number 8) with an overall score of 73 points and a road test score of 88 points. The bottom of the pack is led by Fiat with a 41-point overall score and 52-point road test score. +++

+++ DS is planning an all-out attack on its premium brand rivals over the next decade with a four-pronged SUV assault, a new luxury saloon and a radical new hybrid supercar to challenge the likes of BMW’s i8. The supercar, first hinted at by the E-Tense concept shown at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, is likely to feature hybrid technology that comes out of a joint venture DS parent company PSA signed last year with Canadian specialists Exagon Motors, Investissement Québec and Hydro-Québec subsidiary IndusTech. The four companies, helped along with 16 million Canadian Dollars-worth of financing from the Quebec government, agreed to share expertise in and develop high-performance electric vehicle components, with PSA set to be the main customer. The result could be a sports car with a plug-in hybrid powertrain producing in excess of 600 hp, plus the latest DS safety, connectivity and autonomous driving tech. DS CEO Yves Bonnefont said with a smile: “This is a possibility, yes, but it’s far too early to talk about anything”. DS vice-president of global sales and marketing, Arnaud Ribault, told: “If we have a sports car, it’ll be unlike any other sports car in its design”. However, we understand that the E-Tense concept gives plenty of clues to how a DS supercar might look, although we’re unlikely to see anything until well into the next decade. Before then DS will be concentrating on SUVs. The stunning new DS 7 Crossback, which makes its debut at the Geneva Motor Show, will arrive first in January 2018. Next will be a small SUV, likely to be badged DS 3 Crossback and sit alongside the current DS 3 supermini in the brand’s range. It’ll be aimed squarely at the likes of the Audi Q2 and Mercedes GLA and could well share engines and EMP2 chassis tech with the new Peugeot 3008. We’d expect to see that car on sale by 2019. Following a large luxury saloon, possibly called the DS 8 and primarily aimed at the Chinese market, will be the DS 5 Crossback SUV that will sit between the DS 7 and DS 3 Crossbacks. It should be a similar in size to Audi’s Q3 and use a further evolution of the EMP2 chassis tech, 55mm longer than that of the DS3 Crossback – the EMP2 platform grows in steps of 55mm. Eventually the DS SUV range will be topped off by a seven-seat Audi Q7 rival likely to wear a DS 8 Crossback badge. Every one of DS’s new models has been designed with electric power in mind, with a plug-in hybrid version of the DS7 Crossback first to arrive in 2019. The new technology from the Canadian joint venture could also find its way into the DS8 Crossback. Working with the Canadian companies also fuels rumours that DS could spearhead PSA’s return to the US market. However, company insiders hinted that this could be as part of a ride-sharing initiative rather than selling cars through traditional channels. I’ve recently seen fellow PSA brand Peugeot announce a deal with French insurance company MAIF to invest $16 million in existing ride-sharing service TravelCar. In line with the new product offensive, DS will ensure that its sales approach is as innovative as the technology in the cars. The DS Urban store in London’s Westfield shopping centre has blazed the way for a new sales approach, with DS bosses promising ‘best in class customer service’. +++

+++ The latest batch of EURO NCAP results are in, and it’s good news for motorists sizing up the new Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q5 or Toyota C-HR – all three have achieved five-star ratings in recent tests. The new Discovery’s top score wasn’t flawless though, with the driver airbag bottoming out in the frontal offset test and the driver’s door becoming unlatched in the side barrier examination. A clutch of 2017 superminis have been through the mangle too, with the new Citroen C3 emerging with a four-star rating – narrowly missing out on a five-star score due to failing just short of the threshold in pedestrian protection. Alongside the new C3 the Fiat 500 has been tested afresh, though the stylish supermini is beginning to show its age in terms of safety. First put through its paces by Euro NCAP in 2007, the 500 – then a brand new car – received a five-star adult occupant rating. Despite receiving a facelift last year, the refreshed 500 now drops to three stars overall in the latest, tougher tests, with a 66 percent score for adult occupant safety. The 500’s previous Euro NCAP test came under the old pre-2009 rules, and Euro NCAP itself stresses comparing old results with new is unfair. The new scoring system places more emphasis on standard safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking, while a second rating for cars with optional safe ty packs is also published where possible. Joining the new C3 and the refreshed 500, Ford’s new Ka+ has been through Euro NCAP’s tests. Despite being a brand new car, it gets a mediocre three-star score with standard safety equipment. Not surprising considering the Ka+ has been built with a low starting price in mind. According to Euro NCAP’s Secretary General, Michiel van Ratingen, “Consumers may be better off waiting for the all-new 500 and hope that Fiat will take the opportunity to offer a vehicle that competes on safety with its competitors, as the original did 10 years ago. Unfortunately, high hopes for the segment are smashed by Ford by releasing a brand new Ka+ with mediocre safety performance”. On a more positive note, the new C3 “shows that a respectable rating is achievable also for superminis”. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER Automobiles has told its shareholders that it may face fines of up to $4.6 billion if federal regulators determine that the company fitted diesel control devices on its vehicles. FCA recently informed investors that it had received subpoenas and information requests from the U.S. Department of Justice, Security and Exchange Commission and a number of states’ attorneys. The company is alleged to have fitted approximately 104,000 diesel pickup trucks and SUVs with devices designed to cheat emissions tests. FCA said “If we are found to have violated any of the provisions of the Clean Air Act, we could be subject to penalties imposed by the EPA and (California Air Resources Board) as well as other government authorities”. While FCA vehemently denies any wrongdoing, the EPA says that there were at least eight auxiliary emission control devices on 2014-16 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees with the available 3.0-liter diesel engine. The use of such devices is technically legal but regulators in the U.S. require disclosures before any such vehicles can be sold in the United States. “Such investigations could result in the imposition of damages, fines or civil and criminal penalties. It is possible that the resolution of these matters could have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows and may adversely affect our reputation with consumers, which may negatively impact demand for our vehicles”, FCA concluded in its statement. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER CEO Ralf Speth has said there is still room for the company’s UK manufacturing capacity to grow, while also refusing to rule out the possibility of a Range Rover model smaller than the Evoque in the future. Speth believes that a 20% increase in capacity in the UK was “at the lower range” of a production increase in the UK over the next three to four years at its three UK plants. Two of JLR’s three UK plants at Solihull and Halewood operate on three shifts around the clock, with Castle Bromwich on two, and therefore an obvious place where there is room for capacity to grow. But Speth said that changes in process and infrastructure at plants could also lead to growth in capacity, as could reconfiguring plant layouts, updating the supply chain, increasing logistics space, and improving the data in plants with the rollout of 5G connectivity to help run them. JLR sold 580,000 cars last year, and in addition to its UK plants, it has factories in Brazil and China and plans for another in Slovakia. It is soon to expand the Land Rover side of its range with the new Range Rover Velar, and the Jaguar side with the new E-Pace and electric I-Pace. Speth said Jaguar had been chosen for JLR’s first EV as it would have been too complicated to create an EV for Land Rover due to all the off-road tech needed to make it an authentic Land Rover product. The Defender remains a priority to replace in the Land Rover range, but Speth also refused to rule out any further additions and said that anything was possible when specifically asked about a compact SUV. +++

+++ MERCEDES hybrids will get a ‘EQ Power’ badge. The company has reserved the ‘EQ Power+’ designation for AMG-tuned models. Mercedes-Benz has used its Formula 1 team to launch the new ‘EQ’ sub-brand for electrified powertrains. The badge first emerged with the Generation EQ, an all-electric concept that debuted last year in Paris. The crossover introduced both a new design language and unique branding for upcoming battery-powered vehicles. The company is not saving the EQ name for its first long-range electric vehicle. It will make its production debut on the updated S-Class expected to arrive this summer, with the hybrid edition carrying the designation ‘EQ Power’. Hybrids with high-performance powertrains, tuned with help from AMG, will be labeled EQ Power+. The latest Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 car is now known as the F1 W08 EQ Power+. Daimler’s R&D head, Thomas Weber, recently announced that at least 10 electric cars are on the company roadmap through 2025. The first will presumably be a toned-down production adaptation of the Generation EQ. +++

+++ In PAKISTAN, an increasing number of consumers have recently bought their first car. The national surge in sales has prompted 3 global carmakers to commit in the past few months to starting production in Pakistan, potentially doubling the number of foreign carmakers in the country. The car market is still small, and dominated by the 3 Japanese brands that have local manufacturing plants: Toyota, Honda and Suzuki. In the past manufacturers have been put off by the country’s relative poverty, as well as political instability and concerns about security, but in the past few months, Renault and Hyundai / Kia have announced they will soon start assemblies in Pakistan, in partnership with local companies. It marks a return for Kia and Hyundai, which left in the previous decade when their local partner suffered financial problems.The new and returning entrants are being drawn in by several factors. The first is both the scale of the potential market in a country of 200 million people, as well as the rate at which it is already growing. In 2012-13, carmakers sold 118,830 cars in Pakistan. By 2015-16, that had risen 52 percent to 181,145. The surge has left Toyota, Honda and Suzuki struggling to meet demand with their customers sometimes forced to wait as long as 5 months before their cars are delivered. Part of the reason for the rise in car sales is that Pakistanis are getting richer. Between 2010 and 2015, the amount each person earned per year rose from $4,370 to $5,320 as measured in gross national income per capita at purchasing power parity. That trend is expected to continue, partly helped by China’s plans to invest more than 52 billion dollar in Pakistan’s infrastructure under the “One Belt, One Road” project. Hyundai forecasts that, consequently, car sales in Pakistan will hit 300,000 a year by 2020. +++

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