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+++ Andy Palmer, CEO of ASTON MARTIN , has publicly revealed some of the company’s possible expansion plans. In an interview, Palmer said: “The reason we’re doing the Valkyrie is to create a halo car, but also to create DNA for a mid-engined sports-car range”. If the boss gets his way, the Valkyrie mid-engine hypercar will be followed up by a smaller mid-engine model to tackle Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren. As the mid-engine sector is new to Aston Martin, Palmer believes that it’s important for the brand to establish a level of credibility with a crazily expensive model first, and then move “downwards one step at a time”. The mid-engine Ferrari-fighter has already entered the design phase, but the real work, engineering, won’t be given the go-ahead unless the company keeps hitting it sales and revenue targets. Should the sub-Valkyrie model be approved, it won’t appear until after the next-generation Vantage and the new DBX crossover are released. Palmer also laid out what’s being envisioned for the Lagonda, which will sit as a marque in its own right and will be pitched into the super-luxury sedan segment against Bentley and Rolls-Royce. The company is currently running studies into how many models the range should encompass. There might only be one model, or potentially three, but Palmer’s gut instinct is that there should be two different Lagonda sedans. Again, nothing’s been approved yet, with the Lagonda expansion contingent on the company meeting future financial targets. +++

+++ The AUDI Q4 will be launched in 2019, the car maker has confirmed. It’ll be part of a growing line-up of style-led SUVs, spearheaded by the electric Q6 and plush Q8. The rakish 5-seater has been conceived to compete against the BMW X2 and Range Rover Evoque. The Q4 will sit on the same MQB underpinnings as the second-generation Q3. It is scheduled to follow the Q6 and Q8 into showrooms in 2019 at a price expected to start about 42,000 euro in The Netherlands. With the next generation of the Q3 set to grow in size in order to provide space in the range for the recently unveiled Q2, the Q4 looks set to trump its closest rivals on outright dimensions. Audi insiders have revealed that the Q4’s overall length will be at least 4,50 meter; about 11 cm longer than today’s Q3. Plans for the Q4 were originally revealed by Audi in the form of the TT Offroad concept, which first appeared at the Beijing motor show in 2014. As with that car, the design of the production Q4 is set to include a heavily curved roofline and a liftbackstyle tailgate. Inside, the Q4 is set to benefit from a range of developments already under way at Audi and parent company Volkswagen for inclusion the next generation of MQB-based models. These include full-HD instrument displays, gesture control functions, a 9,2-inch touchscreen navigation monitor, inductive smartphone charging and the latest connectivity features. Among the powertrains earmarked for the Q4 is a new generation of 4-cylinder petrol and diesel units that have a common 1.5-litre capacity. They will be joined by updated versions of today’s 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, as well as an all-new 2.5-litre 5-cylinder petrol unit with up to 400 hp in a range-topping RS Q4 model. The new Q4 line-up will also feature a plug-in petrol-electric Q4 e-tron model with an electric-only range of up to 50 kilometers, as prescribed by China’s green vehicle regulations. +++

+++ If the outspoken chairman and chief executive of Italian sports maker FERRARI , Sergio Marchionne, is to be believed, some of its customers only became Lamborghini’s clients because they couldn’t get their own Maranello-built car. Speaking before a media forum at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, Marchionne made those remarks while answering a number of questions, as thrown to him by the press. He noted during the media forum that the waiting list of some of Ferrari’s car is long, and many failed to make the cut. Marchionne said that while he has lot of respect for Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali – who once served as principle for Ferrari’s F1 team – he believes those who missed to make the cut for Ferrari cars and were turned away ended up buying Lamborghini vehicles. We wonder how Domenicali would respond to Lamborghini connoted as a second choice to Ferrari cars. According to Marchionne, the list is long enough that Ferrari has to hand-build nearly 8,500 units in 2017 – essentially more than the number that the Prancing Horse produced in 2016. As for the number of vehicles that the Italian carmaker is planning to build in 2018, the Ferrari CEO said it would depend on the areas where the company could expand into. He quipped that Ferrari could still take on an unexplored space on the market, adding that the Italian sports car maker won’t build a car that the market doesn’t want. He cited the Ferrari California as an example, saying that while this sports car was the hardest to bring into the market, they eventually were able to find the space for it. Meanwhile, Marchionne also shut down speculations that Ferrari would soon employ turbocharging technology for its engines. He said that Ferrari will continue using naturally aspirated V12 engine. However, he didn’t discount the likelihood of Ferrari employing the V12 engine in a hybrid setup, complementing it with an electric motor. He said such hybridized powertrain would allow Ferrari to offer the highest possible power – something that could be achieved around two years from now. Now, that would be an interesting development to watch out for. As for the future of manual transmission – a technology that Ferrari is phasing out – Marchionne has already ruled out the possibility of reviving it, even in the next 5 years. Marchionne also discussed Ferrari’s chances in the Formula One, a motorsport it used to dominate. Ferrari’s F1 team had already completed the pre-season testing of its new Formula One challenger. He said the goals of the tests were to make sure that the new F1 racer is reliable and competitive. +++

+++ HYUNDAI is gearing up to enter the hot hatch market in 2017 with a performance variant of its new i30 hatchback. It’ll go on sale in Europe in the second half of 2017. It’ll be the next vehicle in what will eventually be a four-strong i30 range. I’ve already driven the new i30 hatchback and a new i30 Wagon was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show. I’ve also spied a fastback shaped 5-door coupe version of the i30, which should appear later this year too. The i30N will be the first car to carry the firm’s new ‘N’ badging – kickstarting a new performance sub-brand across Hyundai’s range. Hyundai has revealed that the i30N will use a Limited Slip Differential. More information such as engine and performance details will be revealed closer to the car’s reveal, though I understand 2 states of tune for the i30N’s motor – including a powerful Focus RS rivalling version – could be on the cards. The RN30 concept from last year’s Paris show is clearly much more motorsport-focused than the eventual production car will be, featuring a full aero bodykit, a striking livery and a fully kitted-out interior with bucket seats, a roll cage and a racing steering wheel. It wouldn’t be a racer without the right motor, though, so the RN30 concept is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with an incredible 375bhp and 451Nm of torque. It poweres all four wheels through an all-wheel drive system using a dual-clutch race gearbox with a rev-matching function. A special variable exhaust system adds to the drama, while a limited-slip differential makes it better to drive on track. It’s made from a lightweight plastic compound, and the weight distribution is kept low in the car to make it handle better. The seats are set back for the same effect, improving the car’s balance. Compared to a production i30, the RN30 is 30mm wider and 84mm lower, but it’s the radical bodywork changes that mark it out as a concept car. The ‘floating’ wheelarches at the front, huge green foglamp surrounds, front splitter and huge rear diffuser all give it a very agressive look. Inside, the racecar theme continues with the buckets seats and roll cage, plus there’s a stipped-out feel and full harneses instead of seatbelts. There’s also a set of cameras inside and out, to record footage of your laps. The Hyundai i30N road car will be launched later this year and will draw inspiration from this concept car in places. It’s obvious that the production model will be anywhere near as racy as the RN30, although engineering boss Albert Biermann did tell us earlier this year that the N division will focus on being great to drive on track. +++

+++ KIA ’s Stinger sports sedan was not developed to match the performance of prestige German models such as the BMW 3 Series but to be more of a Gran Turismo, and a showcase of the South Korean brand’s technical capabilities, according to chief designer Gregory Guillaume. The rear-wheel-drive Stinger made its European debut at the Geneva motor show this week and will sprint into Australian showrooms by the end of this year in 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.3-litre turbo V6 guise. Guillaume, who is head of design at Kia Motors Europe, told journalists in Geneva that the company’s focus during development was more on creating a grand tourer as opposed to a Euro-baiting high-performance sedan. “That’s a bit why we decided to go for the Gran Turismo approach”, he said. “The project started with the GT concept from 2011. That concept was a result of a question that we were asked by headquarters – if we were going to go into front-engine rear-wheel-drive car in that segment and in that size, what should Kia do? “The reference in that segment worldwide is BMW 3 Series. Everybody wants to beat that always. We said from start we don’t believe that is what Kia should be doing. With us it should be more about style and more dynamic-looking. And we started to go for this modern interpretation of a GT”. Guillaume said his inspiration for the Stinger came from his childhood dream cars as a young man growing up in France. “I always had in mind iconic GTs of the early ’70s – this Italian Gran Turismo. I had in mind one car – the original Maserati Ghibli. Raw power, fast, but it’s not what it’s about. It’s elegance, it is style. I grew up in France. I had in my mind those cars that were the ones you would see on the motorway going from Paris to St Tropez. You work hard in Paris, go and have fun in Cote d’Azur. We were looking for the modern interpretation of that”. Guillaume said the decision to make the Stinger a big comfortable cruiser meant that it would not compete dynamically with the predominantly European mid-size set. “A GT is about a long journey – yes, spirited driving, but a long journey. You need comfort, you need style so that’s why we went for that car”, he said. “It has a much longer wheelbase than the 3 Series or any car in that segment actually, because you give occupants space. Not so much vertical space, but knee space. When you sit in the back of a Stinger, you are not cramped, you feel quite comfortable, you could do a long journey. “Automatically, if you make those choices you are not going be as competitive in handling as a four-door, more compact solution like a 3 Series, but that was the choice we made. It was the right thing for us to do”. Guillaume penned numerous sportscar proposals earlier in his career for Audi and Volkswagen, and noted the irony of Stinger being the sportiest car to reach production under his watch. “It is probably the sportiest car I have done in production in my whole career”, he said. “I worked a long time at Audi and Volkswagen and God knows how many proposals of coupes I have done that just didn’t make it. The one that makes it is a Kia. How cool is that?” +++

+++ TOYOTA has announced that its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire will be upgraded to accommodate production of vehicles on its new global platform, thanks to an investment of 270 million euro. The move is part of a global programme to ensure all of its plants can produce vehicles on the Toyota New Global Architecture platform. TNGA already underpins the fourth-generation Prius and the Toyota C-HR crossover, which is built in Turkey. The majority of Toyota’s models will use TNGA by 2020. Currently, the Burnaston factory builds the Auris, including hybrid variants, and the Avensis. A Toyota spokesman told that the plans “future-proofed” the plant but could not confirm whether the same models would be produced there in future. However, he added that production and employee numbers would not be affected. With a new Auris due next year and set to be built on the TNGA, the upgrade to facilitate the platform will need to be in place in the next 12 months. The car maker said the investment will “improve plant competitiveness and additionally it will promote UK supply chain efficiencies”. Toyota Europe boss Johan van Zyl said the company was focused on “securing the global competitiveness of our European plants. The roll-out of TNGA manufacturing capability is part of this plan”. Van Zyl also addressed concerns regarding Britain’s upcoming departure from the EU. “Our investment demonstrates that, as a company, we are doing all we can to raise the competitiveness of our Burnaston plant in Derbyshire”, he said. “Continued tariff-and-barrier free market access between the UK and Europe that is predictable and uncomplicated will be vital for future success”. The UK government is also set to invest 25 million euro in the project to support skills and training, research and development and innovation. Business and energy secretary Greg Clark said: “Our automotive sector is one of the most productive in the world and Toyota’s decision to invest 270 million euro upgrading its Burnaston plant is a further boost to the UK auto sector. I also welcome the prospect of investment to take Toyota New Global Architecture into the supply chain. “Toyota is one of the world’s largest car producers and this inward investment underlines the company’s faith in its employees and will help ensure the plant is well positioned for future Toyota models to be made in the UK”. Toyota’s Burnaston factory opened in 1992, first producing the Carina E saloon. In 2016, it rolled 180,396 vehicles off its line and is at full capacity. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGENGroup chief executive Matthias Müller believes the German automaker is back on track in the wake of 2015’s dieselgate scandal. Müller said that “2016 did not turn out to be the nightmare that many predicted” for VW and that moving forward, the company “must become more international, more entrepreneurial and more female – especially at the management level”, he said. While speaking to the crowd, Müller said that Volkswagen has fixed 4 million diesel vehicles found cheating emissions and that it is modifying about 200,000 customer vehicles per week. He said that the brand plans to complete all the diesel fixes by this fall. Beyond discussing how VW was coping after the scandal, Müller also spoke briefly about Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) president Sergio Marchionne’s interest in creating a merger with Volkswagen. “There is no contact at this time between me and FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne”, Muller initially said. Later, he added “I am not ruling out a conversation. It would be very helpful if Mr. Marchionne were to communicate his considerations to me too and not just to you”, he told reporters. +++

+++ The announcement a few years back that no VOLVO would be sold with an engine larger than 4 cylinders caught some off guard – even the company’s CEO. In a frank interview with select media at the 2017 Geneva motor show, Volvo Cars CEO Håkan Samuelsson suggested that the strategy to only have 4-cylinder engines in its models was one he wasn’t entirely sold on even a couple of years ago. The announcement was made at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, and at that time Samuelsson wasn’t in the top job at Volvo Cars (he was appointed to the board in 2012). But since then, he said he’s seen the strategy not only work wonders for the brand’s fleet average emissions and consumption, but also be met with praise. “Absolutely, I think we’re even more committed”, he said of the company’s feeling towards its decision to dump its 5-, 6- and 8-cylinder engines. “2 years ago you could ask me that, and probably I would have had to answer a different way”, he admitted. “But today, I’m absolutely convinced. The reaction of that decision has been very positive. Even in the US – the XC90 was even car of the year in the US, a big SUV with a four-cylinder engine: that’s a good indication that we took the right decision. The number one reason is to bring down fuel consumption: you have lower friction in a smaller engine, it has better consumption. There is cost, especially in installation – even if you get an engine from a partner, which we got from Ford, but installing it in the car is a nightmare with all the piping and everything”. The existing structure of Volvo – before it was tidied up and turned around by Chinese company Geely – was a bit of a mess, according to Samuelsson. “I think we had 8 different engines in the old Volvo – all different, and all requiring different wiring harnesses and that’s, of course, a lot of complexity, and it eats up the synergy in the base engine itself. Now we have, always, 4-cylinder, always installed in the same way, so it’s much more modular and positive”, he said. The company offers different power outputs for its 4-cylinder petrol and 4-cylinder diesel engines, and if you’re really into extra grunt there’s the “Twin Engine” plug-in hybrid model, with 408 hp. +++

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