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+++ Wagonistas the world over got a little hot under the collar at the 2017 Geneva motor show, as both Mercedes-AMG and Porsche took the covers off two super-brisk, super-practical estates: the E63 S Estate and Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo. But alas, British sports car brand ASTON MARTIN says it is unlikely to enter that particular fray. Aston Martin Special Operations vice president David King said, although one-off specials are part and parcel of what Aston Martin do, a performance wagon is not currently on the table. “I think for us, the DBX – the SUV we’re working on – is our step into that sort of vehicle, in terms of practicality and space”, King said. “I don’t think we’ve got an estate car on the drawing board. I think if you came to me with a commission to make one for you, we’d take a look at it. But for us, the big step is going into that luxury SUV market with the DBX in a few years time. Then we’ll see if we can make an AMR version – we’re only speculating here …” At the pointy end of a team tasked with creating Aston Martin specials, King said with support from committed shareholders and its new-since-2014 chief executive – Andy Palmer – he and his team are thoroughly encouraged to work with the design department in dreaming up ideas. “The GT12 that we launched a couple of years ago, came from within my team – something we’d always wanted to do to the Vantage. And we’ve now got licence to go out and do that. And with each success builds the confidence that we can deliver. “By being careful in the limited numbers that we commit to sell, we generate demand, and people know, with confidence, they can buy a special edition Aston, and they’ll sell out, they have to get in early, and they’ll get something that’s a long-term investment. “But we’ll keep making real, proper, credible cars that excite our customers, because we love doing it really”. King highlighted that realities such as legislation and safety targets must always be met, however, “The beauty of the special editions is that we can take a slightly different approach to the investment-versus-cost equations”. “So we’ve been encouraged to really push the edges on what we can do”, King said. “Since the Lagonda Taraf of 2014/2015 we’ve done a number of one-off commissions – we showed a GT12 Roadster last year at Goodwood for example. So, if you look at the Q range, including Aston Martin’s new Q Collection models, we then move from that to Q Commission, which can be anything you like – from bespoke leathers and paints, to an entirely new design of a car. “And then on top of that now, we’ve got our AMR sub-brand, which allows similar levels of customisation, but in a more harcore way. It’s not just about colour or trim or materials, it’s about hardcore performance attributes as well”. Speaking of hardcore, King told the V12-powered Aston Martin Vulcan supercar was born out of a desire from his team to step into the world of track-day exotics. “We came up with the idea of Vulcan, and it was created entirely within my team”, a team that over the last 5 years has grown from a dozen staff to 60 or 70 people. “And that gave us the confidence to take on something much more ambitious, which is Valkyrie”, King said. “We knew that there was a market for these high-priced cars if we get them right. Valkyrie’s slightly different in that it’s a major collaboration with Red Bull Advanced Technologies and with Adrian Newey in particular, but my team still has the role of delivering that car, taking it through to launch, supporting Adrian’s vision, choosing all the suppliers, managing the program, and working with Marek Reitman’s design team. “To be fair, this is Adrian Newey’s vision that he’s always had… So, in that sense, we’re more the facilitators of Adrian’s dream, rather than creators of the idea, which brings its own challenges. Everything is new, everything is extreme, everything is optimised to within half a per cent as you would do in Formula 1, so there’s an obsession to detail. Balancing that with a need to meet some sort of timing targets and usability targets is fascinating. And the art of any great car is in the trade-offs you make in the balance of the compromises you make to achieve the balance of attributes. So it’s going to be extraordinary”. As for Aston Martin Special Operations cars specifically though, King revealed that a lot has changed since the days of the 2009 One-77 and 2011 V12 Zagato. “Those cars didn’t sell overnight, they were slow burners, it took some time to fill the order books – the fact that we were in the middle of a recession didn’t help. But overtime, we’ve seen prices for those cars go up. People know that limited edition Aston Martins are collectable, long-term investments, and they’re great cars as well. “So, we’re now at a stage where we announce the car with a volume. We’re not greedy on the volume, things just sell out. And that’s a delicate balance. I’d hate to think we’d ever push the volume too high. There should always be one less car then there are customers”. Powered by a Cosworth-sourced 6.5-litre V12, the Aston Martin Valkyrie – formerly known as the AM-RB 001 – is “pretty complete in the virtual world”, with the first physical prototypes expected to start testing in early 2018. The Valkyrie, and the 612 hp / 850 Nm Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate and 550 hp / 770 Nm Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Tursimo are on display at the 2017 Geneva motor show until March 19. +++

+++ AUDI may have copped a bit of flak over its same-same-but-different car design over the past few years, but the company is looking to make its models appear mode distinct as they roll out. Andreas Mindt, head of Audi design exterior, told at the 2017 Geneva motor show that the German company is working on ways to ensure its models aren’t as, shall we say, Russian Doll-like as they have been in the past. “When you think back 10 years ago, in half of the world Audi was not known as a brand. The single-frame grille was new, and people had to learn what the single-frame is, or what an Audi is”, Mindt said. “This is why when you go to China, for instance, and you’re not known in the market, you have to make it more recognisable. When the vehicle range looks more alike, when you do one advertisement, you’re advertising for the whole lot. But then as things change and people know about you, you should do more differentiation to make it more playful”, Mindt stated, before giving a concrete example of how that thought process has come to fruition. “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. Mindt confirmed that the company will make its new A6 and A7 models – both due to debut later this year – more diverse. “Absolutely – you will see this, like A5 and A4, there are 2 different faces already. I think this is very important”, Mindt said of the A6 and A7 being profoundly different in terms of styling. Another new model that Mindt says will shift perception is the upcoming all-new A8, which is set to take its styling to a different level. It is expected to draw heavily upon the Audi Prologue concept of a couple of years ago, and you can see below that the grille treatment in particular is broad and purposeful. “For sure, the next A8 will have most of the status, you really have to put all the models next to each other and see how long the window graphic is, and then you have to decide how to put it into the whole range”, he said. “Window graphic sizes, grille sizes, you can play with this. Sometimes you freak out for special cases. Sometimes you can mix it up – when you’re confident, you can mix it up”. Mindt said that the company’s uniform grille treatment will be differentiated between SUVs and passenger cars: the SUV line will have an 8-pointed grille design that will portray boldness, while the 6-point single-frame grille on passenger cars can be toyed with depending on the model. He said the RS5 Coupe, for instance, gets a more compact but broader grille finish compared with the regular A5 Coupe, to give it more stance. “I think that an SUV and a lower car are 2 different worlds. The tricks working on an SUV will not work on a normal cars, and this is why I think you need to separate them, to do the stuff that fits with each car. And this is what you will see in the near future”, he said. Another interpretation that the brand is considering is the face of its electric cars. There are 3 new electric cars due before 2020, and Mindt said the company has something special planned to make the EV range stand out from the conventional combustion-engine models. “We are confident in saying that we need a face”, he said. “Some of these electric cars are kind of faceless, like cars from the 1980s. In the ’80s you couldn’t see the difference between brands, but now we have the task to differentiate with the grille to make more difference. All the cars coming out now will have different faces and different body styles”, he said. “The Quattro architecture will stay: the car will always say ‘I’m driven by four wheels’, this is our core brand value. The car looks like its crawling on all fours, it’s not falling over. Even for electric driven cars we want to keep this”. +++

+++ Here’s one for the conspiracy theoretician in you – the next time you board your latest high-tech laden automobile, think for a second about the fact that CIA might use it for “nearly undetectable assassinations”. And that ties neatly into the latest Fast 8 (The Fate of the Furious, sorry) trailer you can see here, for no reason at all… Or is there one – WikiLeaks thinks there’s cause to be concerned after recently spilling 8,761 documents that are allegedly coming from a high-security network within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence. No sifting through them needed, we have the cover story – the documents list vehicles as “potential mission areas” since way back in 2014 and also reportedly studied the idea of hacking them. While this might sound far-fetched, an alarm buzzer might be triggered here, as cyber security experts have been calling for better security on connected cars for years now. The legitimate reason to get worried is that at the center of the potential hack is BlackBerry’s QNX automotive software, which is used already in more than 60 million vehicles. The documents mention the QNX as the specific “mission area” that could be exploited for the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch – a division of the agency that now gets exposed for the first time, apparently. Of course, from there to having secret, undercover assassinations… is a long way. +++

+++ Having celebrated its 11th birthday this year since it was revamped as the modern city car we know it, the FIAT 500 needs to be replaced to remain competitive. Expected to maintain a retro design while employing a radical hybrid tech, its successor is already on the table over at FCA, but it’s believed that it won’t launch before 2019. Adding the new hybrid tech means that the city car will wave goodbye to the 1.3-liter MultiJet diesel in favor of a 48-volt hybrid system, as part of the parent company’s plans of reducing carbon dioxide emissions across their entire vehicle range. “We will have to play with a variety of solutions. There are very few things that are certain in this market – apart from one, and that is that small displacement diesels are dead. I think everything else if fair play, so we’ll experiment”, FCA chief Sergio Marchionne told. The 48-volt systems are seen as the right approach, from a cost-effective point of view, as adding full hybrids into a car such as the Fiat 500 could kill it. “We still make a very large number of small cars like the Panda and Fiat 500. Putting full hybrids into a car in that segment is going to kill you. We need to find other solutions, and that’s why I think we need to embrace 48-volt systems in a more realistic way”, Marchionne added. If this is FCA’s solution, then expect the new Fiat 500 to be more expensive over its predecessor, while becoming faster and cheaper to run. +++

+++ Speaking to media at the 2017 Geneva motor show, KIA chief designer Gregory Guillaume said Hyundai’s N Performance and Genesis sub-brands might make sense for Hyundai, but neither is a path Kia has plans to follow. “When we work on and develop our cars, we don’t really think about Hyundai, to be honest”, Guillaume said. “There’s enough competition outside to compete with the sister brand. I know that we have no goals to do a sporty sub-brand, also no goals to do a premium sub-brand. We believe that Kia, as a brand, is elastic enough or flexible enough to be able to deliver a car like the Picanto, like the Stinger, like the Sorento, and it’s actually more beneficial for the brand itself. You know, how much does it help me if the Stinger has a different name on it than ‘Kia’? How’s it going to help my Cee’d, my Sportage? I don’t see it. It might make sense for Hyundai – they didn’t have much of a sporty character or association to it – but we’ve been trying to bring sportiness and youth to our cars for quite a while now, and it was working. People saw our cars as being very dynamic, so we don’t really feel the need to do that”. Guillaume said what you will see is Kia expand on is its range of GT models and GT-Line model variants. “Our plan is to deliver GT-Line versions for all cars of the line-up, in some cases, GT versions. But I think that’s strong enough for us”. Launched on the European Cee’d, Kia’s GT-Line is now a feature of the already-launched European Sportage, with the new third-generation Picanto following suit. In Australia, the Kia Optima GT is currently joined by the Sorento GT-Line, and Sportage GT-Line. +++

+++ According to the latest rumor off the mill, in a recent interview, Tim Gallagher, the senior manager of Leaf and Electric Vehicles for NISSAN , has allegedly confirmed the expected release date of the new generation Leaf all-electric. It seems that the eagerly-awaited all-new Leaf will be ready for primetime faster than anyone expected – with a worldwide presentation in September and then deliveries starting very soon afterwards – as in before the end of 2017. What is odd is that we don’t have any other details about the new electric – just a bucket load of speculation. For example, we do know it will come with some semi-autonomous capabilities, most likely the first generation Pro Pilot system that allows single lane motorway autonomy, which should arrive this summer on the facelifted Qashqai. The design might be inspired by the IDS concept that was unwrapped at the Tokyo Motor Show in late 2015. Nissan has also hinted the new Leaf will have a range of more than 320 kilometers. Additionally, it appears that “select” leaf can get an offer to extend their leases if they expire in 2017 to “potentially receive three months of waived payments on their extended leases, and be placed on a priority list for the all-new Leaf”, according to Gallagher. +++

+++ We already know that TOYOTA I extensively working with BMW for a new sports car – and the rumor mill just keeps calling it the new Supra. But how about the Japanese brand bringing back the MR2 sports car as well? Well, if that happens, the company would have a proper sports car family consisting of 3 models: the MR2, the 86 and the Supra. Well, if these new reports that hint at the company looking to add a third sports car to its range in the near future are true, some fans will surely rejoice. The tip comes from Gazoo Racing chief Tetsuya Tada, who suggested the third member of the sports car lineup next to the Supra and 86 might very well be the MR2 successor enthusiasts have been calling for. Tada commented in a recent interview that at the heart of the lineup will be “Three Brothers,” an homage to the original Supra, Celica, and MR2 we got back in the 80s and 90s. Production is even expected “as soon as possible”. The model would also keep the spirit of the original, unlike the 86 which has almost nothing to do with the Celica – the new entry-level sports car would be a no-frills, lightweight roadster with a mid-mounted engine and a manual gearbox. But the reports are going even further as to saying it will take a page out of the Supra book and use some form of hybrid technology. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has admitted that development of the next-generation Phaeton was cancelled because of the Tesla Model S. Talking at the Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen brand boss Herbert Diess said that development of the new-age Phaeton was quite progressed when the marque decided to pull the plug for fear that it wasn’t going to match up to the Model S. “We were quite far advanced with the next Phaeton but it became clear it wasn’t enough of a leap forwards. A modern large saloon has to be competitive and have an advantage over the Tesla, which is the benchmark and in many regions dominates the segment. Now, if we go back there, we have to take Tesla seriously, and of course that is what we are doing with our electric strategy”, added Diess. The automaker has apparently started to work on the new Phaeton and plans to launch it by 2020. With Tesla now in its sights, it will be dramatically different than the Phaeton we are familiar with and could even adopt a new name. +++

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