+++ BMW is set to bring back the 8 Series as a luxury GT to rival the Mercedes S-Class Coupe, with range to include M8 supercar. The large, luxurious grand tourer will get a coupe bodystyle similar to the smaller 4 Series. It will clearly be a 2-door car, with a long bonnet and rear section, plus a cut-off bootlid similar to the current 6 Series. Trademark applications with the global intellectual property regulators showed that BMW had already started the basic prep work. In late March it applied to strengthen its control of a string of 8 Series-related names, including 825, 830, 835, 850, 845, 860 and M850. A BMW insider has confirmed that the move was not merely a case of the company ring-fencing the badges for possible future use, and that it reflects an imminent rejig of BMW’s GT line-up. BMW’s decision to bring back the 8 Series is due to a change of heart on what the 6 Series needs to be. The Bavarian manufacturer has not considered a rival to the Porsche 911 sports car before, preferring its 6 Series to be a larger, heavier GT. But the arrival of the Mercedes-AMG GT in the same market as the Porsche 911 has signalled new conflict between the big German premium brands, and now BMW wants the 6 Series to be its contender, as a more agile 2-seater sports car. It’s that move which will make room for the new 8 Series. BMW has also applied to register M8, signalling the potential arrival of a production car that was originally considered back in the early nineties. BMW created prototypes with a V12 engine (the motor that would ultimately end up in the McLaren F1) in the original 8 Series, but canned the project due to a perceived lack of customer demand. The new M8 would give BMW a rival for the likes of the Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe. M division would probably choose to use the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine, producing around 450 hp, allowing the 7 Series’ V12 engine to be used in high-designation ‘regular’ 8 Series models like the 850 and M860. +++

+++ The FORD Performance division is open to RS-badged SUVs. Ford Performance’s top exec believes no one has built a true performance SUV yet. Audi recently made headlines by promising to introduce additional RS-badged SUVs in the coming years. Ford’s European division (which launched the RS nameplate on a hot-rodded Escort in the late 1960s) has just made the same pledge. “We’ve seen, even in the U.S. and globally, that people like aggressive-looking cars. They like sporty, they want the power and pick-up and engine improvement, so I think the answer is yes. SUV customers would appreciate performance, for sure”, revealed Ford Performance boss David Pericak in an interview. Pericak noted slapping a muscular-looking body kit and a sprinkling of RS emblems on an Expedition won’t cut it. A high-riding RS model would need to be a true sports car with comprehensive engine and chassis modifications. Ford is open to the idea of expanding its lineup of RS models, but it’s being careful not to dilute the nameplate’s image. The Blue Oval isn’t out to chase volume. The Ford product most likely to receive the RS treatment is the Kuga. The Edge and the next generation EcoSport are potential candidates, too. However, building RS variants of bigger models like the Explorer and the Expedition is out of the question. Interestingly, Pericak opined that no one has built a true performance SUV yet. “There are people who have made partial attempts at building a performance SUV, and there are different things that have happened, but there are no real credible ones. So, I think that’s an area of some opportunity”, he explained. +++

+++ The next MERCEDES CLS could lose its V8 engine. It will be sacrified to make room for AMG’s four-door GT. Buyers in the market for a V8-powered Mercedes-AMG CLS should order one as fast as possible. The third-generation CLS will ride on the same platform as the brand-new E-Class, and the 2 cars will share numerous mechanical components. However, the top-of-the-line model will receive a 450-horsepower version of Mercedes’ upcoming 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six. It will be an AMG-lite model like the E43 and the C43 instead of a full-blown hot rod like the current CLS 63. It’s a strategy that certainly won’t please every enthusiast, but it will make space in the lineup for the upcoming production version of the GT concept shown earlier this month in Geneva. The four-door GT is expected to pick up where the CLS 63 will leave off. Also based on the E-Class, it will feature the same sleek, wind-cheating four-door coupe silhouette but it will pack a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine. A range-topping variant with a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain will join the lineup a little later in the production run, according to insiders. Mercedes-Benz is expected to introduce the next-generation CLS this fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Sales will begin next year. +++

+++ Is MITSUBISHI delaying the next-generation Outlander and ASX? The company has reportedly stalled the projects to share more parts with Nissan’s next-generation Qashqai and X-Trail lineup. Mitsubishi has delayed both the new Outlander and ASX by at least 6 months as it works to deepen its parts-sharing efforts with Nissan, several unnamed supplier executives told. The redesigned Outlander was initially expected to arrive early in 2019, followed by the new ASX in 2020. The former is now said to be slated for late 2019 or early 2020, while the latter is believed to be pushed to 2021 or beyond. The Outlander and ASX will be among the first Mitsubishi models to be transformed in light of Mitsubishi’s new role as part of the Renault-Nissan alliance. Engineers are presumably attempting to determine the best mix of shared components that can be used in both the Outlanders and the next Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail. Any commonalities will be invisible to most consumers, as both brands will continue to have separate aesthetic identities. +++

+++ PEUGEOT bosses confirm a hot hybrid version of the 3008 is due in 2019 with 300 hp. It’s not a GTi as we know it, but it is confirmed that a high-performance plug-in hybrid version of the new SUV, with around 300 hp, will be launched. The model will be one of the most powerful SUVs on sale from a mainstream brand, but it’s not expected to carry the GTi badge. The French manufacturer has already laid out its plans for a PHEV version of the 3008, but Peugeot product director Laurent Blanchet has revealed more details on the brand’s hybrid technology strategy. “I can tell you, this plug-in hybrid technology will be available with our 1.6 THP petrol engine”, Blanchet said. “Combining the petrol engine with an electric motor, the combined horsepower of the car will be more or less 300”. That figure would likely make the 3008 faster than any mainstream rival, with power to be close to the figure expected from the forthcoming Seat Ateca Cupra. Expect a 0-100 km/h time of around 6 seconds and a top speed approaching 240 km/h as a result. Blanchet added that the 3008 plug-in would send power across all four wheels, saying: “We have put the electric motors on the rear axle, so you will have a four-wheel-drive car that’s very efficient”. On Peugeot’s electric plans for the future, Blanchet also told that more plug-in hybrids will arrive in the next few years. He said: “The 3008 with the technology I have mentioned will arrive in 2019, and then we will develop a PHEV for all of our range”. In the same year, Peugeot will introduce an all-electric 208, with power and range capability to rival a Renault Zoe. Despite the 3008 PHEV’s hot hatch-baiting performance, Blanchet claimed that there are no plans to badge it with the iconic ‘GTi’ nameplate. “The hybrid is a sporty car, but the GTi badge is more for the small hatchback segment; a 3008 with a GTi badge is a bit too much right now”, he said. “We could use the GT label instead”. +++

+++ SEAT will launch its first electric model in 2019, brand boss Luca de Meo has revealed. While not confirming it, Meo suggested that the model would be an electric version of the Mii. “It makes sense for the city”, he said. The e-Mii concept of 2016 offers a glimpse of what the production car will be like. It shares parts with the Volkswagen e-Up, the current version of which uses an 82 hp electric motor that produces 210 Nm and offers a 160 kilometer range. A second Seat EV will follow soon after, with Meo describing it as “something Leon-sized”, suggesting it will be based on the larger hatchback model. Such a car was first previewed with the IBE concept. It would be likely to inherit hardware from the Volkswagen e-Golf, which currently uses a 35.8kWh lithium ion battery to produce 136 hp and 300 Nm. A third Seat EV, due before 2020, could be an SUV twinned with the Volkswagen T-Roc, a SUV based on the next generation Polo. De Meo recently revealing that a performance crossover was being considered. The car will follow the launch of the new Arona, a compact crossover that’ll go on sale late in December. “We’ll get to know more after the Arona unveiling in the summer”, said de Meo. +++

+++ TESLA chief executive Elon Musk just gained a massive and well-connected confidant to help him better crack China’s auto market: Tencent Holdings. The Chinese internet giant isn’t just an investor, Musk said after his electric-car maker disclosed Tencent had bought a 5 percent stake in his company for 1.8 billion dollar. He also referred to the owner of the WeChat and QQ messaging services as an adviser. “Tencent’s passive stake is not only a vote of confidence in Elon Musk and the future of EVs, but also may help in accessing the Chinese market”, Brian Johnson, an auto analyst at Barclays, wrote in a note to clients. Tesla stumbled out of the gate in China, with Musk blaming his sales staff for underwhelming results and stoking fears about charging challenges soon after deliveries began in 2014. While the company has been getting better traction (revenue from China tripled last year to more than US1 billion) sales from the market were still less than a quarter of what Tesla made in the US. Tencent’s purchase vaults the company to the position of Tesla’s fifth-largest shareholder just as Musk prepares to start production of his mass-market Model 3 later this year, and as Tesla scouts for additional “gigafactories” that would further boost battery production. In buying the Tesla stake, Tencent is adding to existing investments in technologies that are reshaping the auto industry and the future of mobility, including ride-hailing apps and the maps and artificial intelligence needed for driverless cars. “Having Tencent as a partner helps position Tesla to launch the Model 3 in China”, said Joseph Fath, a fund manager at T. Rowe Price, Tesla’s fourth-largest shareholder. “Tencent is one of the three superpowers in China along with Baidu and Alibaba, and they clearly have a lot of backing from the government”. Tencent purchased Tesla shares on the open market and from Tesla’s stock offering earlier this month, according to a regulatory filing. The sale of equity and debt padded Tesla’s coffers as Musk spends heavily on introducing the lower-priced Model 3. Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng said earlier this month he envisions Tencent developing AI technology for driverless cars in the future. The Shenzhen-based company is one of the biggest investors in Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing and owns stakes in mapmakers NavInfo and Here, the German consortium owned by carmakers BMW, Audi and Daimler. In getting behind Tesla, Tencent also is adding to existing bets on electric cars. It was an early backer of Nio, the startup owned by Chinese internet entrepreneur William Li and originally called NextEV. Nio’s US headquarters are in San Jose, California and the company has vowed to bring a plug-in autonomous car to the US market by 2020. While Tencent has cooperated with companies it has invested in previously, there are no detailed plans for cooperation with Tesla at the moment, according to an emailed statement. “Elon Musk is the archetype for entrepreneurship, combining vision, ambition, and execution,” Tencent said in the email. “Tesla is a global pioneer at the forefront of new technologies including electric vehicles, assisted driving, shared vehicles, digitising real-world information, sustainable energy generation and scalable energy storage”. Tesla has several stores in China’s largest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Musk, 45, has fought the perception that it’s difficult to charge one’s car in China and is expanding Tesla’s network of superchargers and “destination” stations at hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and other locations. “Tencent’s philosophy is to just invest in the best companies in the world”, David Chao, the co-founder of venture-capital firm DCM, said in a text message. Tesla and Tencent could create WeChat fan pages and communities to boost the company’s brand in China and integrate the app into Tesla cars, Chao said. “There are so many connections. It makes a lot of sense”. Tesla currently makes the Model S sedan and the Model X, which comes with an in-car HEPA air-filter system. While Tesla doesn’t release shipments by market, researcher JL Warren Capital says the company exported 1.356 vehicles to China during the first 2 months of 2017, nearly 4 times more than the year-earlier period. Musk unveiled the Model 3 in March 2016 at a late-night party in Los Angeles. About 373,000 pre-orders were placed for the car, unseen by most buyers, including thousands who stood in long lines or camped out overnight at stores. “Very few” Model 3 orders have been placed in China so far because the company has yet to launch the car in China or Europe, Musk said. In getting behind Tesla, Tencent also is adding to existing bets on electric cars. It was an early backer of Nio, the startup owned by Chinese internet entrepreneur William Li and originally called NextEV. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is counting on an unprecedented crossover offensive to turn around its troubled North American division. Currently, crossovers and SUVs make up between 10 and 12 percent of the Wolfsburg-based company’s lineup on our shores. Hinrich Wöbcken, the head of Volkswagen’s North American division, told he wants that figure to balloon to about 40 percent in the coming years. One of the more surprising tidbits of information is that the first-generation Tiguan will stick around for a while longer. It will be sold alongside the new, 7-seater model unveiled in January at the Detroit Auto show and positioned as an entry-level offering. It will need a new name, of course. The Touareg will keep its spot as Volkswagen’s range-topping SUV. The Atlas could spawn a smaller model with just 5 seats, but Wöbcken has shot down the recent rumors that claim a Honda Ridgeline-fighting pickup truck is in the works. There’s no enthusiasm in Wolfsburg for such a model, he explained, because the segment is relatively small. The focus on high-riding models doesn’t mean Volkswagen will overlook its sedans. A brand new Jetta will make its debut next year, and the U.S.-spec Passat will be replaced in 2019. The Beetle is safe, too. “This is typical with emotional products that peak early and then wind down. But there still is a huge community out there that still loves the car. We’re going to continue bringing out special editions to keep that product fresh”, he promised. +++

+++ VOLVO believes electrification is the only practical strategy to achieve the EU’s tighter 2020 emissions mandate. The Swedish company is the latest automaker to place a big bet on electrification for its core models, expecting gasoline and diesel engines to play a much smaller role in the not-too-distant future. The company last year announced plans to develop at least 2 electric models, one based on the new Compact Modular Architecture and another using the larger Scalable Product Architecture. The first example will arrive on the market in 2019. Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson suggests the company’s electrification strategy has quickly matured from an exploratory interest to a keystone of its future product roadmap. He anticipates a tipping point after 2020 when decreasing battery costs are expected to make hybrids and EVs competitive with diesel powertrains, which will become more expensive as governments tighten emissions limits for CO2 and NOx. “The driving experience with a fully electric vehicle is really very good with high acceleration and quiet, little or no transmission noise, so once we bring down the cost it becomes a very good proposition”, the executive said. “People will buy it not just because of lower emissions, but because it’s good technology”. Volvo is also confident that charging infrastructure will continue to expand naturally without requiring direct investment from automakers. At the other end of the spectrum, Samuelsson believes infrastructure costs will prevent hydrogen fuel cell powertrains from gaining traction. “With hydrogen you would require all new infrastructure once more, so I think there is a limit to what people will invest in”, he said. “We believe we have to focus on one main energy source and we believe that is electrification because it’s more flexible … Of course, we might be wrong”. Volvo intends to have over a million electrified vehicles on the road by 2025. +++

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