+++ ASTON MARTIN ’s future product roll-out will all carry “beautiful” designs and the British brand’s signature proportions while also featuring greater differentiation amongst its sportscars, according to chief creative officer and design director Marek Reichman. Reichman said the beauty of an Aston Martin is one of its defining characteristics and that more varied model designs will also be seen. “You’ll always see beauty, you’ll always read that proportional beauty and that can be applied to whether it’s a mid-engined car… or whether it’s a luxury sedan or luxury SUV, you’ll see a proportion that is beautiful and that’s important to me”, he said. “You know one of Andy (Palmer, Aston Martin president and CEO)’s statements to me when he joined the company was to bring his mum into a showroom and he wants her to tell him, what a Vantage is, what a DB11 is and what a Vanquish is, so that there is a very distinct character between each of them. We do a lot more focus on proxy customers now within the segments, so our cars in the future will be much more distinctive”. Specifically speaking, Reichman talked about the Vantage (a car which often drew styling comparisons with the DB9 grand tourer) but with an imminent redesign, would not suffer the same fate under the recently-released DB11. “When you see new Vantage, it shares only 2 components with the DB11: the door handles, and obviously there are two of them, and obviously the badge, and that’s it”, he said. “There is nothing on Vantage that you would recognise on DB11, so you’ll see greater flavours of Aston Martin in that respect. You will always see a hint of, what I would call, the Aston Martin hill in the grille, or the inflection you would get at the top of the grille. You might not necessarily see grille veins, if you look at Valkyrie there is no grille effect, but you know it’s an Aston Martin via its face and the upper language of the car, you still see the proportions, so imagine that extrapolated into a core mid-engined car and that kind of gives you the flavour of how the mid-engined car will develop as well”. Reichman explained that Aston Martin’s design language adheres to the golden ratio (basically a rule in which the eye is drawn to a point at about one third of the subject matter) with more design flourishes added to make it their own. “Designers do it inherently, and that’s why Aston Martins have that core of beauty”, he said of the golden ratio. “All over the car you will see that relationship, but it’s not just about proportional relationship, because we have to have DNA, we have to have a character within that proportion, and the character is the Aston Martin. Aston Martin has consequent lines and what does a consequent line mean? It means it does something… it’s emphasising the beauty, the proportion, it’s emphasising how light falls across the surface, but it has a meaning and it lies in context to another line on the surface. So whether it’s in Valkyrie, whether it’s in DB11, whether it’s in the SUV, you will see that proportional language and those consequent lines”. However, designing around future technologies (specifically Aston Martin’s first RapidE electric vehicle) presents its own set of challenges, according to Reichman. “I think that the advantage is that it’s change, and I think as a designer you always appreciate change”, he said. “Yes, we have to think about cooling but we don’t have to think about cooling in the same way as an IC (internal combustion) unit. Balance is different because you don’t have to have a lump at the front, you can spread the load, you can spread the weight, so I think it brings brilliant challenges that allow change and I think every single designer wants change. Disadvantages are obviously that it is a mass, and it’s a mass that you have to place somewhere, but it’s a spreadable mass and it makes you think about how the language of something should be. I think the positives far outweigh the disadvantages”. Reichman also hinted that future Aston Martin models will feature more technology than ever before and that it “will actually allow us to be more simple and be more relevant to the consumer”. +++

+++ BMW will follow Tesla’s lead with over-the-air updates for its cars “pretty soon” according to Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management for Sales for the BMW Group. The company, which employs 300 people in Chicago to develop and issue regular updates for its own BMW app, doesn’t share rival brand’s concerns of over-the-air update security, with Mercedes only allowing updates at its dealers. However, Robertson has promised an after-sales revolution for owners led by the car’s connectivity. “We’ve worked hard to improve the after-sales experience in our dealers”, said Robertson, “But for some people visiting their dealer is still an inconvenience. So imagine a time when your car isn’t being used (overnight, for example) and a BMW technician can come and service your car and it’ll be ready for you, fully valeted, in the morning”. BMW’s Connected app already gives control over certain controls like navigation, climate control and locking. And Robertson revealed how, in the near future, BMW will work with companies like Amazon so that packages can be delivered to a car, with access being given remotely. “We’re aiming for the whole after-sales environment to become seamless and invisible”, Robertson told. Robertson also revealed that he thinks advancing battery tech could spell the end for fuel cells. With solid state batteries performing well in lab tests, he said, “If battery tech advances as we think it could do, it could overtake the need for fuel cells”. Robertson admitted that BMW had a slower than anticipated start to its EV programme with cars like the i3 and i8, but while it took 3 years to sell the first 100,000 cars, his company would sell 100,000 this year alone. +++

+++ It is no surprise that the French marque BUGATTI came back to Geneva Motor Show this year. It means to showcase one of the first Chirons to be delivered to its fortunate owner. Bugatti’s exhibit booth will have on display the royal blue Chiron: the Bleu Royal tinted carbon fiber with two tone combination of French Racing blue and Deep blue for its interior. Bugatti earlier reported how Europe continues to be the company’s largest market for the new Chiron: accounting for 37% of the 250 examples in the order list. However, the North American market is also close, claiming 30% of the total market share followed by the Middle East at 26%. The rest of the world shares the remaining 7%. At any rate, the numbers are increasing and it may take a few more years until we see another production-ready Chiron to ever come out of the Molsheim headquarters. The 1,500 hp Chiron, which takes several months to build, comes with a starting price of 2.4 million euros. On average, the company is capable of producing at least 70 units annually. That means, the remaining 250 units will not be completed until 2020. With the new 8.0-liter turbocharged 16-cylinder engine, the Chiron now boasts up to 1,500 hp against the Veyron’s 1,000 hp and Veyron Super Sport’s 1,200 hp. Bugatti aims to market their sportscar to billionaires living in the Middle East, in Asia, North America and of course in Europe. The French car brand is also slated to give test drives to its customers towards the end of March. Wolfgang Dürheimer, president of Bugatti Automobiles, said that half of the Chiron have already been ordered even when the test drive program hasn’t started yet; it only goes to show how these customers have great confidence in the brand. +++

+++ It seems the dual-cab HYUNDAI pick-up some countries so very dearly want is still a way off, with the Korean brand’s design head saying such as model is not in the pipeline just yet. Hyundai and Kia chief design officer Peter Schreyer said, while he and his team are working on a number of vehicles, a pick-up is still not currently one of them. “We work on a lot of things”, Schreyer said. “And moving into new segments always creates new opportunities, for sure”. But a rival to the likes of the hugely popular Toyota HiLux? “Not at the moment”, the design boss said. +++

+++ MAZDA is not set on following its automotive rivals by rushing to bring a fully autonomous car to market, with the company preferring to focus on driver enjoyment. A number of mainstream and premium brands have been vocal about their intentions to have a fully autonomous vehicle in their fleet in the coming years, with some makes aiming for 2020. Mercedes-Benz is actively working on self-driving technology, Honda has paired up with Google’s self-driving tech arm Waymo, Ford is already testing driverless Mondeo’s in the US and General Motors is also working hard on the technology. According to Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak, the Japanese car-maker is working on self-driving systems, but it is not the company’s key tech focus. “We have a plan and we are certainly developing it”, he told at the CX-5 media launch last week. “But our philosophy is still very much centred on the driver and we would like to maintain that. The guys in Japan are working through that strategy and how autonomous will fit in”. Doak highlighted Mazda’s suite of active safety technology (dubbed i-Activsense) that is classed as ‘level one’ autonomy, but reiterated the focus on driver engagement. “Obviously we have i-Activesense with lane keep assist and those sort of things and we will continue to develop it. But for us it is not a priority. We don’t want to be the autonomous car company, we are all about horse and rider, man and machine and that is very much where we want to be”. Level one autonomy is defined by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) International as a vehicle where the driver must be ready to take control at any time. It identifies active safety and driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, parking assistance with automated steering, and lane keeping assistance. The i-Activsense introduced on the CX-5 includes adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go function, adaptive LED headlights, driver attention warning, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, a side camera and smart brake support. Doak said it would take longer than some car-makers are anticipating to get fully autonomous vehicles in showrooms and on public roads, given how complex the issues around regulation and legislation are. “I think everybody has got this expectation that these things will all happen in 5 years, it’s going to take a long time. It is hugely complicated thing to do. It is not imminent. If it is then it is very much going to be a trial. There is a hell of a lot of difference between that and mass market and getting everybody in one, so I think it is a fair way off”. +++

+++ MERCEDES says that fully autonomous vehicles are at least a decade away. Intelligence Drive manager Jochen Haab said that like most car makers, Mercedes-Benz sees autonomous driving technology in five levels. He says the brand is currently sitting around level two to three: advanced self-driving systems that allow a vehicle to be driven autonomously, so long as there is a human to take over at any given moment when required. Haab said that current systems require immediate human intervention if a situation calls for it, but moving to level four will see the cars drive themselves completely autonomously, but still require a human that can take over when a situation is set to arise. The difference between current level three technology and level four is the time it takes for the vehicle to require human intervention, with level four vehicles able to pre-warn the driver many seconds in advance for their input. As for fully autonomous driving that doesn’t require any human intervention, Haab told that is still many years away. “To have that level of automation where you sit into the car at point X and tell it to go to point Y and maybe even pre-program it, and then you get in the car and (lets imagine it as a driverless taxi) and tell the car to take me to the airport, do your emails and then the car says ok get ready to get out… to do that in that level of high automation, I think it’s at least a decade away”, Haab said. Asked why that is the case when brands like Tesla are already rolling out full autonomous driving technologies (with autopilot two), Haab said there are too many variables to be able to do full autonomous with the current level of data available. “It’s the what ifs… what if you had a breakdown in the cellular phone network, what if you had intensive fog and if you had a car that had no controls, what if you lost connection, what would that car do? You would be in a piece of metal. You need redundancies and making things work and even with very limited information, it is a very tough task”. Haab says that Mercedes-Benz’s attitude and brand slogan of the best or nothing mean it doesn’t have to dive head first into autonomous vehicles if it doesn’t believe the technology is mature enough. “It’s a good idea to design systems on the basis of statistics, but it’s a bad idea to design them to statistics alone. Our brand slogan is best or nothing, I would not like it to be all-or-nothing on autonomous, and just believe that it would work”. The upcoming Mercedes-Benz S-Class will again top the recently released E-Class for autonomous driving technologies, with the German brand seeking to outdo both BMW and Audi in the autonomous technology field. +++

+++ RENAULT has all but confirmed that a new Megane RS is on the way, after Renaultsport teased its next creation in celebration of achieving 1 million likes on Facebook. The teaser confirms that we’ll see the car for the first time later this year, with the Frankfurt Motor Show in September now looking very likely to be the stage for the debut of the new Megane RS. Elsewhere, reports around the web suggest that Renault could reveal the new hot Megane at the Monaco Grand Prix late in May – a “Révélation Renault Sport” event has been scheduled to take place during the Grand Prix eekend. Regardless, we don’t expect it to go on sale until early 2018. Last year, Renaultsport boss Patrice Ratti told that despite the current Megane RS engine being good for up to 300 hp, there are no plans to develop that car any further, so an attempt at the front-wheel drive Nurburgring lap record (currently held by the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S) will have to wait. “The Megane is faster in the corners but you need power for the straight section… We’ll have to save the record attempt for the next Megane, I think”. During an interview in 2016, a separate company insider told: “When you have torque vectoring, rear-wheel steering and four-wheel drive, and you want the car to behave in a certain way, you have to have a global chassis control system”, the insider said. “When you see cars like the Focus RS, you can feel that Renaultsport will have to do something about it”. This conversation hinted that Renaultsport was considering four-wheel drive to rival the Ford Focus RS. The brand has been keeping close tabs on that car as it develops the next hot Megane, which is likely to appear in 2018. But Boss Ratti’s latest commments confirm that the car will remain front-wheel drive. Renaultsport boss Patrice Ratti also told that the RS will “probably” get a manual gearbox, as well as the EDC dual-clutch automatic option from the Clio RS. “The EDC gearbox offers the car up to new markets, like Japan and Australia, but we would prefer to be able to offer the choice of a manual”, said Ratti. The lesser Megane GT model was also developed using Renaultsport expertise, and features a rear-wheel steering system that’s likely to make its way on to the full-fat RS model. This set-up improves mobility at low speed but also stability at higher revs. Development of the new Megane RS was started alongside the standard model, which is something that will happen more often. A source told: “Renault is saying that Renaultsport is something special and it should work on more cars. At the moment, we have the RS, Alpine and Clio to work on”. That also includes hybrids, as Renault starts to develop more electric models. “It’s only the beginning, but we are looking at a hybrid project”, the insider continued. “As Renault is keen to look at it, of course we will have to be involved as well. We are trying to be involved in big decisions, including the architecture, and how batteries will be put in the cars. If we have four-wheel-drive systems, we need to look at how to get more performance to make them fun to drive”. +++

+++ Foreign automakers in RUSSIA are benefiting from a stronger, more stable ruble, which is reducing their costs and supporting earnings in dollar terms at a time when the once-booming local market is expected to return to growth after 4 tough years. The companies, including the Volkswagen Group, Renault-Nissan and Ford, were some of the hardest hit by Russia’s economic downturn, in which annual car sales more than halved from a 2012 peak of almost 3 million vehicles, and a sharp devaluation of the ruble raised prices for imported parts and sapped profits. But Russian car sales are now forecast to grow by 4 percent in 2017, according to the Association of European Businesses lobby group. 5 of the world’s biggest carmakers operating in Russia, which had a combined market share of around 38 percent last year, told the stronger ruble had improved their position in the country. This will help them to cope in a challenging and volatile market once seen overtaking Germany as Europe’s biggest for automobiles. “The ruble fluctuation is of course difficult in all directions. When it was shooting up or weakening like hell over the last few years we had difficulties … we lost a lot of money there”, Marcus Osegowitsch, head of Volkswagen’s Russian business, said. “Now of course the ruble is stronger again and we are managing. If it stays somewhere between 65 and 67 to the euro, this is fine for us”. The ruble has gained 8 percent against the dollar and 6 percent against the euro so far this year, supported by higher oil prices and Russia’s nascent economic recovery. Year on year, the Russian currency is up almost 20 percent against the dollar. General Motors quit Russia in 2015, partly due to the ruble devaluation, but industry analysts say those foreign players who have stuck out the crisis years could soon see their local operations return to profit. “Foreign producers who suffered losses over the last 2 years now have the opportunity to return to profit thanks to the stronger ruble”, VTB analyst Vladimir Bespalov said. “This could happen by late 2017 or early 2018”. Ford, which is enjoying an unexpected uptick in sales in Russia, has already lowered prices on 4 models produced by its joint-venture with local partner Sollers due to the ruble strengthening. Competitors will similarly try to keep prices low, Bespalov said, in an effort to win back cautious buyers. Representatives for Kia and Renault, which owns a majority stake in Russia’s top automaker AvtoVAZ along with its alliance partner Nissan, said the ruble’s improved performance in 2017 was supporting sales and the market recovery. “In the long term, the stronger ruble will positively affect our profitability”, a Nissan spokesman said. AvtoVAZ’s production costs are less exposed to currency fluctuations than those of foreign carmakers, as the majority of its car components are produced domestically. “In the last few months, the situation with the ruble rate has become more predictable, which has affected the behavior of our clients,” a Toyota spokeswoman said. “We are seeing a renewed readiness to buy a car”. +++

+++ A number of European VOLKSWAGEN owners are claiming that their vehicles have been ruined after the German company’s diesel emissions fixes. Select Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda owners who’ve sent their vehicles back to their dealers to pass emissions standards have encountered a plethora of serious problems, causing many to question whether it is worth returning their vehicles to be fixed. Many owners have complained that their vehicles were working perfectly fine and that a number broke down after their dealership visits. One owner, James Harrison, told that his 2010 Golf 1.6 TDI diesel had to undergo hardware changes to be fixed. However, he says that the vehicle now stalls intermittently and is often difficult to restart. Additionally, it goes into a so-called ‘regeneration mode’, where soot is collected in a filter and burnt off almost every time he uses the car, rather than just doing so a few times a year prior to the ‘fix’. “I am concerned at the long-term impact this will have. If the car is regenerating every day, what will this do to the lifespan of the EGR [exhaust gas recirculation] valve and the rest of the exhaust system, which cost thousands to fix if they go wrong?” Harrison said. Volkswagen AG has admitted that of the 480,000 fixes done so far, 3,600 complaints have been filed. Despite what some believe, returning vehicles to VW for its software and hardware fixes isn’t mandatory. However, there are claims that the automaker has been automatically fixing vehicles without notifying owners when they are undergoing scheduled services. +++

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