+++ Talk about busy – AUDI will launch new versions of its large A6, A7, A8 models, as well as a new Q3 small SUV and baby A1 hatchback, all by the end of this year. The German luxury car maker made its plans public at the 2017 Geneva motor show, where Audi chairman of the board Rupert Stadler said the brand detailed the expansive model range revamp. “On the one hand, we will renew 5 of our existing product lines by the middle of this year: so, we’re talking about the A8, the A7, the A6 family, the all-new Q3, and of course, the A1”, Stadler said. “On the other hand we will have all-new cars: for example, 3 fully electric cars by the end of this decade”. The all-new A8, A7 and A6 will all share the brand’s MLB platform, which also underpins the A4 and A5 ranges. Further to that, we can expect further styling differentiation between the 3 models than ever before, with the A7 Sportback model set to be considerably more dynamic in its design than the more stately A6 and A8 sedans. Andreas Mindt, head of Audi exterior design, told at the show the changes seen between the new-generation A4 and A5 models will flow through to the larger A6/A7 pairing. “When you compare the A5 and the A4, the A4 has a higher grille and the A5 has a lower grille. So the bonnet goes lower or stays higher; that depends on if you want to show more status, or more dynamism – and you can play with this. This is one theme that you can work out”, he said. “Absolutely – you will see this with the A6 and A7, like A5 and A4, there are 2 different faces already. I think this is very important”, Mindt said of the A6 and A7 being differentiated even further than they currently are in terms of styling. The new-generation A1 is expected to be more playful, but perhaps not as jovially styled as the Q2. The Q3, on the other hand, will see a generational change with new drivetrains and underpinnings, but like the Q5 that came before it, it will unlikely see dramatic differences that position the car in a different market, a la the Q2. Watch for more on these new Audi models to come in the months ahead. +++

+++ MAZDA is gearing up to introduce electric drive tech to its cars around the world, and headlining the roll-out will be an all-new, bespoke electric vehicle. Insiders at Mazda have told me that the Japanese brand is targeting a launch date of 2019 for its new EV. It will use Mazda’s latest design language, set out by the new CX-5 and RX Vision concept. European R&D boss Matsuhiro Tanaka said: “A fully electric car is one of the possibilities we are examining. A small car is best for an EV because bigger vehicles get too heavy with bigger batteries, and that doesn’t make sense for Mazda”. While Tanaka didn’t go into detail on the new model, it’s expected to be a rival for the Renault ZOE, although the car isn’t yet confirmed for European markets. Asked about the platform for the EV, Tanaka told me that it would need to be “a new design, because even though our strategy with it is the same as our current range, the technology is different. For example, there will be lighter materials”. He added: “If we put in heavy batteries, we need to do the opposite with the total weight. We are going to develop a new material technology in the future to deal with this”. From 2021, Mazda will expand its range of electrified vehicles with a line-up of plug-in hybrid models. Tanaka said: “We are developing a concept with hybrid power. We already introduced a hybrid Mazda 3 in Japan, so we have the technology”. The Japan-only Mazda 3 hybrid uses tech from Toyota but future hybrids from the brand are likely to come as part of this partnership. It’s possible that we’ll see a return to Mazda’s staple rotary engine in a range-extending capacity, providing power to charge a battery, rather than driving the wheels. I drove a prototype Mazda 2 using exactly such a rotary powertrain back in 2013 while recent reports suggest the brand has patented similar technology in the US. Asked about the rumoured electrified rotary powerplant, Tanaka told me: “Something like that was in existence, but I can’t go into detail. Both performance and economy are possible with rotary. It’s very stable and quiet at standard revolutions, so some potential exists for that”. +++

+++ MCLAREN has proven itself highly adept at making the most out of the same building blocks. That includes the same essential twin-turbo V8 setup across its entire lineup. But it may not stick to the eight indefinitely. “For us, it’s all about the attributes. If we can get the performance, then it doesn’t matter if it’s 12 or 10 or 8 or 6” McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt told. “We’re all enthusiasts, we’d love a manual-shifting V12, but that’s 20 years out of date. So we’re not wedded to cylinder count, but we are wedded very much to performance and excitement”. Coupled with his determination to keep any weight increase in check while electrifying more of its supercars, Flewitt’s comments leads me to project that the company is planning a new V6 hybrid powertrain. Though unconfirmed, the setup could suit the next-generation Sports Series quite well, replacing the detuned V8 that currently powers the 540C and 570S. Having just rolled out in 2015, that could be some time away. But the company is building a new production facility in Sheffield that is projected to come on line in 2020 – which could see a new Sports Series rolling off the line first. The question this raises in my mind is where McLaren would get the engine. It could lob a couple of cylinders off the current unit – which now displaces a nice round 4.0 liters in the new 720S. It could develop a new unit altogether. Or it could source one from somewhere else – say Honda, for example, which employs a hybrid V6 setup in the new NSX. That prospect would assume, however, that the current relationship between McLaren and Honda doesn’t disintegrate over their joint Formula One project. On the subject of powertrains, Flewitt also hinted that the forthcoming BP23 three-seat super-GT will boast a significant power increase even over the 910 hp McLaren P1. The model looks set to base its hybrid powertrain on the new 4.0-liter unit and integrate a more potent battery pack, so we could be seeing upwards of 1,000 hp in a luxurious hypercar closer in spirit to the Bugatti Chiron. +++

+++ MERCEDES have been testing the mid-cycle refresh of the current S-Class for quite some time now, and it seems that they are finally ready to pull the cover off. While the Germans remain quiet when it comes to announcing a date, a full reveal is scheduled “within the next month”. It remains to be seen, however, if the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will be brought to Shanghai or New York (or both), but once it will be ready, it will adopt the safety and assistance systems from the latest E-Class, with improved driver support from an advanced autonomous system. Other novelties include the addition of a new inline-six petrol engine with the 48V electrical system, which promises to offer the same performance of an eight-cylinder unit and better fuel consumption. The brand’s flagship sedan is also expected to pack the four- and six-cylinder turbodiesel engines of the new E-Class, in addition to the 4.0-liter V8 biturbo in the AMG models. Being a facelift means that the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will also get a few visual updates, but don’t expect anything striking, apart from the usual tweaked bumpers and lighting units on both ends. +++

+++ PEUGEOT could return to the top prototype class of Le Mans racing – but only if race organisers substantially reduce the costs of competing. Peugeot withdrew from the LMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship in early 2012, at a time when its road car division was making substantial losses. The French manufacturer had competed in the championship for 5 years, winning Le Mans in 2009 and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup title in both 2010 and 2011. Speaking at the recent Geneva motor show, Peugeot chief Jean-Philippe Imparato reiterated PSA Group boss Carlos Tavares’s assertion that the company was now in a position to return to sports car racing if costs are lowered. “We have always said we will return if three conditions are met: firstly, we as a company are making money; secondly, we have won the Dakar Rally and thirdly, the cost of competition cannot be over 200 million euro per year”, said Imparato. “The first 2 conditions are now met, the third is not. We are studying a return, but the regulations must be easier on the budget”. Audi withdrew from the championship at the close of the 2016 season, leaving Porsche and Toyota as the 2 manufacturer entries in the LMP1 category. Organisers are said to view 3 manufacturer teams as the minimum number for the championship to be sustainable, and are pushing for rule changes to reduce costs and tempt Peugeot in. Potential changes include modifying the aerodynamic rules, although the continued use of costly hybrid powertrain systems is seen as crucial to making the race cars relevant to road car developments. In September last year, Tavares said: “There are many ways to limit costs, including the aerodynamic development”. +++

+++ TESLA has revealed it will axe entry-level 60 kWh battery versions of its Model S saloon next month, due to low demand for the 60 and 60D cars and as part of a bid to simplify the Model S range. Tesla customers have been notified that the Model S 60 and 60D models will be discontinued on 17 April. The two ‘60’ versions of the Model S were introduced only last summer, though most customers have skirted over these entry level cars in favour of Model S 75 saloons instead. The 60 and 60D cars actually use the same 75 kWh battery pack as the 75 models, though the additional performance and range is locked away behind a limiter. It’s possible to unlock the additional battery capacity through a paid for over-the-air update, though it seem most buyers find it makes more sense to buy the Model S 75 in the first place. +++

+++ TVR ’s new super-sports coupe is revealed at last, but only to the exclusive group of enthusiasts who have already agreed to buy one. The car, a 320 km/h, front-engined V8 two-seater very much in character with the traditional Blackpool TVRs but entirely new from the ground up, is being unveiled in series of secret launches at designer Gordon Murray’s HQ near Guildford, south east of London. Only those who have already placed a deposit are invited. The company is swearing its customers to secrecy (to the extent of asking them to sign confidentiality agreements) because it has elected not to show the car’s finished look in public until an official launch in September. First customers are seeing the car in groups of about 30, at intimate meetings with designers and company principals, held on Saturdays and Sundays over two weekends. Proceedings start with a briefing on the car’s all-new mechanical specification (touching on aerodynamics, lightweight construction and crash safety) before the fully detailed model is dramatically revealed. Prospective buyers are also hearing about a series of performance targets for the car: power from the Cosworth-developed V8 easily exceeding 400 hp, a kerb weight around 1.200 kilo and a Dutch price below 150,000 euro for the full-house TVR launch edition. Plus, of course, the sub-4.0 seconds 0-100 km/h sprint. “Though these weekends are mainly about revealing the beauty of the car”, says Les Edgar, TVR’s chairman,  “we’re also keen to stress its sophisticated underpinnings, which incorporate the very latest technology. This project has required our engineers and designers to start from scratch (you can’t meet the latest legislation any other way) and we’re proud of what they’ve achieved”. Edgar says the need for an entirely new design (and a desire among TVR’s backing consortium to refine the car’s all-important details) is the main reason for slippage in the original delivery schedule. “We’re determined to give this car the perfect chassis, and to make sure the looks match the engineering”, Edgar explains. “That has meant working through a number of styling iterations, which isn’t a quick process. When the news of TVR’s new car broke early last year, shortly after almost 400 deposits were taken. A full-size clay model of the car was taken to the London motor show, but it remained under covers. The new TVR uses Gordon Murray’s patented “iStream Carbon” production process which uses a tubular structure to define the hard points of the car, with bonded-in carbon fibre panels greatly enhancing its strength. The rigidity, lightness and crashworthiness of iStream have already been proven in a number of applications, including Murray’s own micro-cars, 2 Japanese sports car projects and a flat-pack truck design for developing world applications called Ox. At the Guildford meetings, customers are also seeing a 3D portrayal of the TVR’s completed interior (in 2 different colour/trim combinations) plus a model of TVR’s unique in-house seat design. Proceedings conclude with a discussion of finance options, then a Q&A. The whole thing occupies a little less than 2 hours. Over the past year, TVR has been conducting extensive performance and durability tests of its Cosworth-developed, Mustang-derived 5.0-litre V8 engine, most of them in previous generation TVR Cerbera lightened to simulate the weight of the new car. Performance has been described as “electrifying”. TVR is also making good progress with a deal over its new factory, expected to be located close to the proposed new Circuit of Wales in Blaenau Gwent. Les Edgar says the company should get the keys to the new place, an existing building converted to its own specification, in the first quarter of next year. Full-scale production will began after a short pilot production phase in the third quarter of 2018. TVR isn’t yet saying exactly when first owners will get their cars, but can expect this to be a burning question among its weekend visitors. +++

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