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+++ A higher performance version of the ASTON MARTIN DB11 has been spied testing near the Nurburgring. Compared to the DB11 that’s already in showrooms and driveways around the world, this prototype has a redesigned front bumper with a larger lower air intake, and a prominent, albeit temporary looking, front chin spoiler. Along the sides, the sills seem to be wider. While at the rear, there’s an improvised rear spoiler poking out of the boot lid. The prototype seen here rides in 21-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P-Zero 305/30 tyres at the rear, and also features cross-drilled brakes. There will likely be more changes, both stylistic and functional, to the car before it enters production. Motivation should come from an uprated version of the company’s new 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged V12 engine. In the standard DB11 this motor develops 608 hp and 700 Nm, and is capable of propelling the DB11 coupe from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 322 km/h. It’s not known at this stage what the faster version of the DB11 will be christened, but DB11 S seems as good a bet as any. In addition to the DB11 S, Aston Martin is also hard at work on a DB11 convertible, and a successor to the Vantage. Last month, Marek Reichman, the company’s design director, told that there will be a “huge difference” in design between the DB11 and the new Vantage. +++

+++ AUDI and Porsche have released a joint statement confirming they will collaborate on a number of different development areas including vehicle architecture, electrification, digitalisation and autonomous driving. Audi chairman of the board of management Rupert Stadler said the initiative would bring together the brightest ideas from both companies to develop strategies for the future. “The best brains of both companies will together set the technical course for the future”, he said. “We are united by many shared values, above all, by our pursuit of the best solutions and the best offerings for our customers”. Collaboration between the 2 Volkswagen Group subsidiaries is nothing new, having previously worked together in the field of SUV development. The 2 brands will spend the coming months outlining their partnership (which will be mapped out up to 2025) with each co-developed project to be jointly headed by a representative from each brand. According to Porsche chairman of the board of management Oliver Blume, the 2 brands will be careful to avoid co-development to the point that their cars and brands become interchangeable. “Together, we will make faster progress in the race for the mobility of the future”, he said. “We will utilise the expertise of both companies and take advantage of synergies. We will cooperate wherever it makes sense. But we will also be very careful to maintain the differentiation between our brands. A Porsche is always a Porsche, and that will remain so in the future”. Along with developing a joint vehicle architecture, electric vehicles and autonomous technology will be areas where the 2 German marques will collaborate. While exact details are yet to be revealed, it is possible that the Porsche Mission E is one of the vehicles that will receive input from Audi, due to the fact that it is an all-new vehicle that will be released in coming years, and also because Porsche released a single image to go with the announcement that shows the silhouette of the Mission E. Audi is also a brand that is working on increasing its electric and hybrid vehicle portfolio, such as a production version of the e-tron Quattro concept, a pure EV small car to compete with the BMW i3, and the eventual rollout of a hybrid variant of each of its models. Porsche may also be able to draw experience from Audi in the sphere of autonomous technology, with the latter working on its Piloted Driving program in conjunction with North American tech group Nvidia and Israeli tech specialist Mobileye, which was bought out by Intel last month. Audi demonstrated its latest advances in January at the CES technology exhibition in Las Vegas, demonstrating a self-driving Q7 SUV fitted with the latest Nvidia-developed technology that allowed the vehicle to ‘learn’ from its driving environment and previous inputs from drivers. +++

+++ In AUSTRALIA, Mitsubishi outsold both Holden and Ford for the second successive month in March to creep within striking distance of leapfrogging the one-time market leaders from sixth place to fourth in the year-to-date new-vehicle sales rankings, according to official data released today. While the overall Australian market hit a record March high of 105,410 units (up 0.9 percent on the corresponding month last year) Holden’s sales dipped 13.7 percent, to 7.211 units, as the GM subsidiary makes the tough transition from local manufacturer to importer. By contrast, Mitsubishi, which completed a similar transition some years ago, grew sales by 16.3 percent, to a March record 7.583 units, on the strength of its SUV and Triton pick-up performances. It also outsold Ford (6.852), and now sits just 17 units behind fifth-placed Ford in year-to-date sales (18,433 v. 18,416), and just 1.703 behind fourth-placed Holden (20,119). Market number one Toyota powered ahead with a healthy 19,652 sales for the month (+10.1 percent), including a contribution of 4.245 units from its all-conquering HiLux pick-up that returned to the top spot on the sales ladder, both for the month and year to date. Mazda was steady in second place on 10,472 units, while Hyundai (8.700) comfortably held on to third, despite a 10.3 percent fall, mainly as a result of a switch this month to an all-new i30. Once again, Australians showed their passion for their light trucks, voting with their credit cards to create an LCV quinella: HiLux (4.245) first and Ford Ranger (3.845) second. But it was Mitsubishi that was the mover towards the top of the table, again finding favour with customers with its off-roaders and utes. Sales of the Outlander grew 65.4 per cent, to 1.609 units, while its Triton-based 4×4 wagon, the Pajero Sport, soared almost 130 percent, to 975 sales. Even its old warhorse, the Pajero (one of the oldest vehicles on the market) grew its sales by 70.6 percent, to 464 for the month. For Holden, the latest sales figures indicate that, although it is early days, it is going to take time to gain traction with its imported passenger cars as it is counting down to the closure of its local manufacturing in October. Astra Hatch’s 719 sales last month fell short of the 873 achieved by the car its replaces, the Cruze, in March last year, although the Astra only gained its mass-selling 1.6-litre automatic variant half way through the month. Also, Cruze had the advantage of sedan and wagon body styles along with hatch, while Astra is still awaiting its sedan version. Barina, Spark, Captiva and Trax were all down again, as was the locally built Commodore (2.081, -18.5 percent). On the bright side, Colorado (1.927) and Trailblazer (336) both recorded gains. Although Mitsubishi is breathing down its neck, Ford again reversed its sales slide of recent years, despite diminished sales of Falcon (33) and Territory (268) that are now selling in dribs and drabs in runout since the closure of local Ford manufacturing last year. Ranger continued to dominate Ford sales with 3.845 units in March (+30 percent), making up almost half of all Blue Oval volume, although its locally developed wagon SUV sibling, the Everest (321) slipped slightly. The new Escape (486) was a big improvement over its Kuga predecessor (306) last year, while Focus (520), Mondeo (300) and Mustang (622) all were in the black month on month. The top-selling small car in March was Toyota’s Corolla (3.574) ahead of the Mazda3 (3.039), while Hyundai’s Tucson (2.156) pipped Mazda’s CX-5 (2.116) for SUV sales leadership while the latter’s guard was down in the middle of a major model change this month. Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said the long-running market transition from passenger cars to SUVs appeared to be the industry’s new norm. “Two months in succession of SUV sales leading the market is further confirmation of a trend we’ve been observing for some time”, he said. “For the first 3 months of 2017, the SUV segment is now the dominant sector, whereas this time last year passenger cars led the market by around 10,000 sales. Clearly, the shift in market dynamics is accelerating”. Kia consolidated its place in the top10 with a mega 39.2 percent sales increase over last March thanks to a 126 per cent jump in Cerato sales (1.769) and 47.4 percent lift in Sportage (1.216). The South Korean company is now running 34.8 percent ahead of last year, locking up a record 12,873 sales in the first quarter. Of the prestige brands, Mercedes-Benz smashed its March record with 4.008 sales, thumping German rivals BMW (2.220) and Audi (1.508). Mercedes’ top seller, the C-Class, outsold arch rival BMW 3-Series 745 to 252. Subaru eclipsed 5.000 units for the first time in March, notching up 5006 units (+3.8 percent). It was also Subaru’s second highest sales month ever, topped only by last June’s 5135 units. Stars for the Japanese importer were the new Impreza (1.168, +79.7 percent) and Outback (1.202, +4.5 percent). +++

+++ According to the recently issued Navigant Research Leaderboard Report, OEMs ranked by their autonomous drive technology are being led by FORD, followed closely by General Motors, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler. Interestingly enough, this study puts the rest of the carmakers, but also technology companies (from Tesla to Waymo or Uber) in contender or challenger positions, contesting the rather general common public perception that Tesla is actually ruling the self-driving race. In addition, Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering, talked about the subject at the SAE WCX, formerly known as the World Congress conference taking place in downtown Detroit. During his opening keynote, Washington announced the timeline for the introduction of a fully autonomous vehicle: 2026 at the earliest and 2031 latest. This actually significantly sets back the previous timeline, of 2025 for the consumer model. But the manager did back Ford’s previous stance for a Level 4, highly autonomous vehicle getting in the fleet of a ride sharing company by 2021. The jump from fleet operator to consumer vehicle will then take at least 5 (or possibly 10 years) due to certain constraints. For example Washington cited the need for more sensors in or near streets, better AI capabilities for decision making, and a way to interact with non-smart cars. “We have a ways to go before this becomes a reality”, he said. “At Ford, we are working very very aggressively to make this a reality by 2021. … This is not science fiction. This is not a research project. This is something we’re going to make happen, and others will, too. And it’s happening because the technologies are making it possible”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI is going all in with its Genesis luxury brand, following in the footsteps of Honda and Toyota’s success with Acura and Lexus, respectively. But it’s not the 20th century any more, as it was when the Japanese luxury marques began to surge in the sales charts. Genesis looks to be a proactive premium brand, and its parent company seems to want to take on Tesla. Automotive News reports Genesis will not only flesh out its lineup of vehicles to include the G80, G90, and the upcoming G70 sport sedan, but plans to challenge Tesla’s crown as an electric-vehicle powerhouse. Of the 6 new nameplates coming by 2020, per the brand itself, Genesis will also encompass a plug-in hybrid vehicle and a pure battery electric vehicle by 2021. While the plug-in hybrid will be based on an existing Genesis model, the brand will give the EV an all-new name to further extend its portfolio. Genesis global brand chief, Manfred Fitzgerald, said the plug-in is expected to be ready for 2019, while the electric model will be in development a while longer. Following the first EV in 2021, a second may be introduced, according to Fitzgerald. As for what body style to expect from Genesis’ first fully electric vehicle, the brand is mulling over 2 architectures: one for small- and medium-sized vehicles and one for larger vehicles. The executive declined to give specifics about what form the brand’s first EV will take, but did say the all-electric layout gives its designers the “total liberty to do something we haven’t done before”. One thing is clear, though: don’t expect traditional hybrid vehicles from Genesis, the ones without plugs. The cost associated with greater electric-only driving range offered by plug-ins can be absorbed through Genesis’ premium price tags, said Fitzgerald. Genesis won’t be the only brand gunning for the premium electric-car space. Longtime standards in the luxury space such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW have similar goals. Even Porsche plans to produce its Mission E concept, which debuted 18 months ago to great acclaim. +++

+++ MERCEDES parent company Daimler will team with automotive parts manufacturer Bosch to further develop self-driving software and algorithms with the intention to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market by as early as 2020. According to the brands, self-driving vehicles will “improve urban traffic flows, enhance road safety, and provide an important building block for the traffic of the future” and that “the technology will increase the attractiveness of car sharing”. The intention is to develop Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recognised level 4 and 5 (both levels which do not require any human input to navigate or operate on the road) autonomous vehicles that can be shared or hailed from a phone. “Within a predetermined urban area, people can conveniently use their smartphones to book a car share or an urban automated taxi that comes to them ready to take them to their destination”, said the 2 brands. By leveraging self-driving technologies in this manner, where the vehicle comes to the person and not the other way around, it could also decrease traffic congestion as the traditional car ownership model is challenged by ride-sharing and car-hailing services. Not only will autonomous vehicles allow users to perform other tasks while en route to their destination, but self-driving technology will also broaden the transportation options of the young (who might not be old enough to drive) and old (who might not be comfortable driving), as well as people living with a disability (who may not have the capability to operate a vehicle). Autonomous vehicles (which can communicate with one another as well as the surrounding infrastructure) are also expected to increase road safety by taking human error out of the equation, potentially taking the road death toll down to zero. Hardware currently used to underpin self-driving vehicles includes autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, surround-view cameras, GPS tracking and adaptive cruise control, however many autonomous vehicle experts have cited government, regulatory, ethical and social issues as the main hurdles to overcome before widespread adoption. Although no other information was provided, an artist’s depiction of a futuristic city envisages the Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept car unveiled at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) roaming the streets as an on-demand autonomous taxi. +++

+++ SEAT is seeking to expand its market in both North Africa and Latin America in the next 10 years, looking to steady its profit by decreasing its dependence on the Europe market. Luca de Meo, head of the Volkswagen’s Seat division, announced in Barcelona that even though there has been a steady increase in sales such as in markets of Italy and France, it would be highly beneficial for Seat to be able to sell around 30 percent of the vehicles outside Europe in the next 50 to 10 years. Producing Seat automobiles in VW production departments in Mexico could ease access to Central and South American markets, de Meo exclaimed. Seat, created around 1950 to assemble Fiat models and that was acquired and had become a subsidiary for Volkswagen in 1986, has been a chink in the armor for the German automobile manufacturer. VW has reiterated that it will reassess its company’s portfolio in the wake of “dieselgate”, the emission scandal that rocked the car market scene. Due to the aftermath of Dieselgate, it puts further stress on Seat to enhance its performance in the future. Europe’s bursting car market competition is bent to further heat up eventually due to Peugeot Société Anonyme Group (PSA) plans to amass General Motors’ Opel to produce Europe’s second largest automobile manufacturer. The Spanish company will proceed with its role in VW Group’s new established factory in Algeria, according to Luca de Meo’s speech at the Seat’s annual press conference. VW group of companies has merged with Algerian SOVAC in order to produce the Seat Ibiza, Volkswagen Gold and Caddy and also including the Skoda Octavia at the new factory in Algeria. The new Seat Ibiza’s production will ensue at the new factory located in North Africa at the latter half of the year where the parts that will be used to build the Ibiza and supplied from the Seat’s Matorell plant will be found. After almost a decade of profit losses, Seat released an operating profit of around 153 euro million in the past year led by the recently released Ateca, the company’s first ever SUV. With an operating margin of an estimated 1.7 percent revenue, it is still considered to be weakly profitable, considering the 6.7 percent for the company and 8.7 percent for the Czech automobile company Skoda. Seat is on the move to roll out a larger SUV in the year 2018, in an act to hike up its performance. The Ateca’s big brother, based on the Volkswagen Tiguan and made in Germany, will be the Spanish automaker’s future flagship. As Seat’s main releases will remain economical hatchbacks such as the Leon and Ibiza, De Meo remarked that they are confident about the potential of the still unnamed Seat’s new vehicle. The Ateca’s next of kin will eventually become the Seat’s 3rd SUV and will have seating that accommodates 5 to 7 passengers. +++

+++ CEO and Chairman of TESLA Motors, Elon Musk is a very ambitious man, and is known by many as the man who wants to redefine transportation on Earth and in space. He also plans to expand fully autonomous vehicles to the mass market – which indeed are pretty cool ideas. But sometimes, Musk has brilliant ideas that most people don’t agree with. For instance, earlier this week, he confirmed to the public that he will ditch the head-up display (HUD) for the Model 3, and it that it will not feature any traditional instrument. Instead, he feels that all the information the driver needs can be put on a large center display. The Model 3, which will go into limited production later this year and which will feature a self-driving mode, comes with no fuel tank or engine. And I think that this is why Musk believes that there is no need for a HUD, since there is no need for the driver to monitor anything, apart from the speed the car is going. Furthermore, Tesla representatives made it certain that drivers will be given all the information they need in the car’s 15-inch tablet that will be placed on the center console. Musk really is not the type to please people. People have messaged him on Twitter regarding this matter but he seems pretty certain with his plan. One guy tweeted that he would rather spend extra cash on a basic LCD speedometer, and Musk responds to him with a “You won’t care”. Another instance is when Musk raised the question “How often do you look a the instrument panel when being driven in a taxi? to the people. So I guess not a million people can change his mind. This idea might be a potential disaster since cars have always been equipped with a HUD, and people are used to this. By changing this, prospects of the Tesla Model 3 might be turned off by this new movement by Musk. However, there have been rumours that Tesla’s Autopilot technology that has full-on autonomous capability will not be ready by the time the Model 3 will be released, and the company has to go through federal regulations before they can sell these vehicles. Therefore, we can never be too sure if Tesla will actually pushes through with their plan. Also, Tesla plans to skip the beta phase, and will go on with the production of this model from the current prototype. The company plans to release this model as early as July and will have a starting price of $35,000. The Model 3 can go to 100 km/h in less than 6 seconds, and will have a range of around 350 kilometers. +++

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