+++ One of the cars that reshaped the BMW brand, the 1-Series, is getting ready to be significantly overhauled for its third generation. The biggest change will come from the adoption of the UKL platform, which will make it wave goodbye to rear-wheel drive. Used across the Mini range and the latest X1, the architecture has practical advantages, including a longer wheelbase, which together with the layout, will make it more spacious inside for passengers and their luggage. However, since the UKL is only compatible with four-cylinder engines, expect the hot hatch version of the next 1-Series to drop the straight-six engine and replace it with a turbocharged four-cylinder. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system will be adopted on more expensive models, including the range-topper, and this will place it in the same league as the Mercedes-AMG A4, Ford Focus RS, and Volkswagen Golf R. Other engines expected to make their way into the compact car should be sourced from the BMW X1 and Minis, and include the 1.5-liter 3-cylinder diesel, a 3-cylinder petrol, and the usual 2.0-liter units that are believed to be badged as the 120i and 120d. BMW is also cooking an electrified version of the next generation 1-Series, which is said to use a tuned version of the plug-in hybrid powertrain that is used in the Mini Countryman Cooper S E, meaning a 1.5-liter turbo unit and a small electric motor. Whereas the hatch will be significantly changed under the skin, on the outside, it will carry a toned down design that should make it sleeker over its predecessor, with a front end inspired by the new 5-Series. +++

+++ General Motors has unveiled a German-made BUICK crossover wagon it plans to sell in the United States, and in so doing highlighted the U.S. auto industry’s vulnerability to shifting trade politics. The Buick Regal TourX (Opel Insignia Country Tourer), scheduled to launch later this year in the United States, is aimed at imported all-wheel drive vehicles such as those offered by Subaru (Outback) and Zhejiang Geely Holding’s Volvo Cars (V60/V90 Cross Country). In a plan mapped out long before the Trump administration and Congress began talking about taxing imported goods, GM planned to build the TourX at a factory in Rüsselsheim, Germany, near Frankfurt. Asked how a potential “border tax” on imported goods could affect the TourX, GM product development chief Mark Reuss told reporters that such a levy might hurt, but added: “I don’t know what the border tax is. How can you make a product plan based on something you don’t know?” he asked. Reuss said GM is making plans to deal with a border tax, which could affect not just the Regal TourX. GM imports a Buick SUV called the Envision from China, and has electric vehicles it needs for the Chinese market that it currently builds only in the United States. China levies steep tariffs and taxes on imported vehicles. In a separate interview, the head of GM’s North American operations said he is encouraged that President Donald Trump and administration officials are listening as auto industry executives explain the complex, global supply chains behind their model lineups. “It’s too early to speculate, but we believe the new administration is more aligned with us than different”, said Alan Batey, who runs GM’s North American auto business and the Chevrolet brand globally. There is “a very open and constant dialogue” with administration officials, he said. GM’s chief executive, Mary Barra, is a member of an advisory council to President Trump. The TourX was one of two new Buick models the brand unveiled at GM’s design center in suburban Detroit. The other, the Regal Sportback (Opel Insignia Grand Sport), offered an unusual hatch opening designed to give a car that looks like a sporty coupe. The hatch allows a driver to load cargo onto folded rear seats. Some engineering and production of the Regal and the TourX relied on GM’s Opel operations, which are on track to be sold to France’s PSA. Reuss said that sale does not necessarily mean the end of collaboration between Buick and the German Opel operations. +++

+++ Automakers sold a record number of vehicles in CANADA during March, with General Motors Canada leading in sales volume and posting its best monthly sales performance since 2008. Overall Canadian sales were driven by an 11.1 percent increase in consumer demand for pickups and SUVs during the month, which more than offset a 0.3 percent dip in sedan sales. Carmakers sold 187,540 vehicles last month, a 7.1 percent increase over the same period last year, which at the time was the best March since 1988, according to industry data from Desrosiers Automotive Consultants. Sales growth for the first three months of 2017 was 4.6 percent. GM Canada, which makes Chevrolet and GMC vehicles, reported double-digit sales growth, selling 30,115 total vehicles in March, an increase of 22.9 percent from a year ago when it sold 24,498 cars. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which makes Dodge and Chrysler brands, posted a marginal sales rise, with 26,531 cars and trucks sold during the month, compared with 26,469 a year ago. Ford sold a total of 26,487 cars and trucks in Canada last month, up from 26,447, a 0.2 percent rise. In the United States, monthly figures came in below market expectations, adding to concerns that the boom in U.S. auto sales may be waning. Other automakers also reported a significant increase in Canadian sales, including Nissan, which sold 14,523 vehicles, representing a 26.7 percent jump. Honda Canada reported an 18.7 percent rise, selling 17,392 vehicles. +++

+++ Is DAIMLER backpedaling on hydrogen? “Battery costs are declining rapidly whereas hydrogen production remains very costly”, admits Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche. Daimler has admitted that hydrogen fuel cells have taken a back seat as battery prices continue to drop. The German automaker has been developing FCV technology for more than a decade. The efforts led to several low-volume test fleets, including the B-Class F-Cell, and a commitment to offer the new GLC F-Cell in several markets this year. Speaking at a Stuttgart automotive congress, however, Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche acknowledged that FCVs no longer have the same advantages that encouraged development when battery prices were extremely prohibitive for long-range cars. “Battery costs are declining rapidly whereas hydrogen production remains very costly”, he said, as quoted. Aside from the cost proposition cited by Zetsche, scant hydrogen refueling infrastructure is viewed as a significant hurdle in the US and abroad. The US Department of Energy lists just 34 stations in the entire country, most of which are centered around Los Angeles or the Bay Area. The GLC F-Cell appears to address the lack of filling stations by integrating a battery pack with enough power to cruise for around 50 kilometers on a single charge, essentially relegating the fuel cell stack to a range extender that only kicks in on longer trips. Drivers no longer need to drive across town to a hydrogen station if they only use the vehicle for short commutes and top off the battery in between. The GLC F-Cell is expected to cost around 80,000 euro when it arrives later this year or early in 2018, though a lease program will also be available. +++

+++ Approximately one year after they announced that the EcoSport will be built in Romania for European markets, FORD has taken a crucial step into this direction, by posting 976 job openings. The automaker is in search of basic and skilled operators to increase the current workforce at the Craiova plant of 2,715, in a recruitment process conducted by their local arm which begins this month and ends in July. “It is great to be announcing today that we are adding almost 1,000 new jobs at our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Craiova, bringing the total number of people employed here to more than 3,650. The new jobs go hand-in-hand with the transformation of our plant that we started last winter to support the production of the EcoBoost”, commented Ford Romania’s President John Oldham. Production of the EcoSport, which is sourced from India, will commence this fall, subsequent to an injection of approximately 200 million euro, which brings the total investments that the company has made in the Eastern European country to more than 1.2 billion euro since 2008. Ford will continue to produce the EcoSport at their Chennai factory, in India, for local and selected export markets, whereas the Romanian plant, which also assembles the B-Max and the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine, will export the subcompact SUV to Western Europe. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS ‘ chief financial officer said the automaker expects another “very strong year” in 2017 and reiterated the company’s earnings forecast for the year. “Overall, we expect a more challenging environment across a number of dimensions” in 2017, due to rising interest rates and falling used-car prices, CFO Chuck Stevens told investors and analysts on a conference call. But thanks to an improving economy and lower fuel prices, Stevens said GM believes “we’re going to be in a reasonably constructive industry environment”. Stevens said the No. 1 U.S. automaker will reduce inventory levels, a concern for Wall Street, to around 90 days in June from 98 at the end of March, and to around 70 days by the end of 2017. He said a combination of solid economic indicators and cost-cutting should help GM maintain profit margins of around 10 percent. The CFO’s conference call came just days after disappointing U.S. new light vehicle sales figures for March showed an annualized sales rate of around 16.6 million units. Those figures had added to concerns that after a 6-year boom cycle that U.S. auto sales might be set for a decline. Stevens said GM still expected U.S. new light-vehicle sales for the industry at around 17.5 million units, after a record 17.55 million in 2016. GM believes March figures were skewed by a mild winter that meant sales were “more evenly distributed” across the first quarter as opposed to prior bitterly cold winters, Stevens said. GM still expects full-year earnings per share of $6.00 to $6.50, he said. Stevens said the company expected its used car prices to come down around 7 percent this year as many leased vehicles return to the market. Investments in autonomous vehicle technology are adding around $150 million in costs per quarter at GM, the CFO said. The call came more than a week after billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn publicized a plan to boost GM’s value based on creating two stock classes, one that pays a dividend and another that does not. GM rejected the proposal and rating agencies say it would negatively affect the company’s credit rating. Einhorn has promised a proxy battle where he hopes to win board seats, but has not released any names. +++

+++ For the first time in its history, JAGUAR LAND ROVER has reported record retail sales in the last 12 months by selling over 600,000 vehicles. From April 2016 to March 2017, the British automaker sold a total of 604,009 cars, a 16 percent improvement over the previous 12 months and things appear to be getting ever stronger for the brand. In the fourth quarter of 2016, Jaguar Land Rover sold 179,509 vehicles, 13 percent higher than the same quarter in 2015. In March this year, a total of 90,838 Jaguar Land Rover vehicles were sold, a figure 21 percent higher than March 2016. For the full financial year, the company reported significant sales increases in China (32 percent), North America (24 percent), the UK (16 percent) and Europe (13 percent). Sales in other overseas markets fell by 6 percent. The key reason for the increase in sales was the introduction of the F-Pace with it the major contributor in Jaguar’s sales rising by 83 percent in the financial year. Speaking of the results, Jaguar Land Rover group sales operations director Andy Goss said “These numbers set the seal on Jaguar Land Rover’s seventh successive year of sales growth, by breaking through the 600,000 barrier. We continue to make encouraging gains in key markets such as China and North America, as well as seeing sustained customer demand for the Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport”. +++

+++ Whenever Apple is going to have a new product for sale in its stores, the fanboys line up in such great numbers that it’s surprising Ticketmaster hasn’t figured out a way to capitalize on the multitude of anxious buyers with credit cards ready to go. When Elon Musk talks about a new car being added to the lineup, there is an analogous group of people, and Musk has cleverly set up a model in which people place deposits for their place in line. The number of deposits (two per customer only, it should be noted) for the Model 3 is some 400,000. Because Tesla is a Silicon Valley company that has a highly desirable, highly designed suite of products for which there is demand the likes of which is completely uncharacteristic for the category, it is often compared to Apple. After all, has anyone gotten into line to buy a Windows phone? Do you even remember the Zune? So it must be that Tesla is like Apple. But there is one nontrivial problem with this comparison: Apple sells its products in mass quantity. Tesla, even though it just had its best quarter ever, delivering a record 25,418 vehicles (up 69 percent over the first quarter of 2016) is still, when compared to the car industry in general, selling a specialized product. No, the automotive brand most like Apple is JEEP. Just as with Apple’s quickly identified design language (either for the physical phones and computers or the interfaces for same) there is no mistaking a Jeep. Like Apple’s legion of fans, there are people for whom a Jeep is not merely a form of transportation, but a statement about one’s way of life. Like the companies that wish they could have designs that are Apple-like and do their utmost to have a similar objects or appearances (sometimes landing them in court, a la Samsung), is there a single automotive company that wouldn’t like to have some of Jeep’s magic? While there aren’t people who are lined up outside of dealerships when a new Jeep goes on sale, there is probably more interest in the forthcoming Wrangler than in the accumulation of interest in a half-dozen other vehicles from other companies. And like Apple, Jeep is a comparative volume play. Last year Fiat Chrysler Automobiles delivered 926,376 Jeeps. Walter P. Chrysler and the Dodge Brothers must be spinning at high velocity in their graves, because the U.S. total for Chrysler brand was 231,972, and Dodge was 506,858. The sum of the two (738,830) is well shy of Jeep’s sales. On a global basis, Jeep sold some 1.4 million units in 2016. It is looking to increase that number to about 2 million by 2020. Which means that there will be not only a line extension, such as putting a vehicle below the Renegade and one above the Grand Cherokee, but that Jeeps will be sold in greater numbers in places that aren’t the US. Realize that, for example, while the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is being produced in 4 plants, none of them are in the US. Clearly there is a danger here for the Jeep faithful, a danger that Jeeps may become something targeted toward markets that aren’t the US, aren’t from where they originated. What becomes of the “authenticity”? Because if there is any characteristic that defines Jeep, that’s it. Turns out the answer to that question is simple: Nothing. That’s the word from Mark Allen, the man who has been designing Jeeps for more than 20 years, the man who heads Jeep Design. In a recent interview, he told me that no matter where Jeeps are built, all of them are (and will be) designed in Auburn Hills by his team. Yes, there are modifications needed to make the vehicles street-legal for other countries (not exactly major things, generally, as he cites license-plate fixture points as an issue they face) but the Jeeps are going to be coming out of the primary Jeep studio. It will soon be Easter. Allen and his team will be in Moab, Utah. They will be taking with them a suite of specially created Jeeps, vehicles they will be showing and demonstrating to the Jeep faithful who go there each year (this is the 51st) for the Easter Jeep Safari. Allen points out that these are capable concept vehicles, as in Jeeps that are capable of doing what Jeeps are supposed to do. Sure, there are clubs for probably every vehicle on the planet. But chances are there is no more dedicated group of individuals around the planet than those who drive Jeeps. That’s something that Tesla will never have. Nor will Samsung or Microsoft ever get the love of Apple. +++

+++ MERCEDES details 2018 S-Class’ tech features. New tech allows the S-Class to drive itself for longer periods of time, even on long country roads. Recent spy shots suggest the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class won’t get much in the way of visual updates. However, the Stuttgart-based company has revealed much bigger changes will be found under the sheet metal. The S will receive many of the high-tech features inaugurated recently by the E-Class. These include remote-controlled parking and vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V). Remote-controlled parking takes the stress out of backing into a tight parking spot by letting the driver control the S-Class like a R/C car. V2V lets the S “talk” to other Mercedes nearby to warn of hazards like ice the road. The updated flagship will also inaugurate a series of new automated driving features. “We are approaching the goal of automated driving more purposefully and faster than many people suspect. From the autumn, the new S-Class will be able to support its driver considerably better than all systems which have been available to date”, said Michael Hafner, head of automated driving and active safety at Mercedes-Benz, in a statement. Notably, the adaptive cruise control function (named Distronic in Mercedes-speak) now knows when it needs to slow down for bends, intersections, roundabouts, or toll booths. The new tech allows the S-Class to drive itself for longer periods of time, even on long country roads, according to Mercedes. The 2018 S-Class will receive Mercedes’ first straight-six engine in about 2 decades. The 3.0-liter unit will gradually trickle down to other members of the company’s lineup, including the E, the GLE, and the next-generation CLS. A hotter version of it will power AMG-badged models. The V8-powered S will receive upgrades, too. While the S560 nameplate hints at a bigger engine, the S will follow the industry’s downsizing trend and adopt model-specific evolution of Mercedes’ twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. It will generate roughly 476 horsepower, a 20-horse increase over the 4.7-liter unit it replaces, while returning 12 percent better fuel economy. The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is tentatively scheduled to make its public debut in 2 weeks at the Shanghai Auto Show. It will go on sale nationwide before the end of the year. +++

+++ SUBARU promises to start making ’emotionally appealing’ cars. The company is looking to aesthetic design as an area for potential improvement. Subaru has promised to place a higher priority on aesthetic design for future vehicles. The Japanese automaker is experiencing another strong year in the US market, capping a decade-long run of record growth, but the company is still looking for ways to improve and avoid resting on its laurels. Subaru product planning and design manager Matt Wherry suggested the company is for the first time focusing on product design as a competitive advantage. “We’ve made great cars, but not necessarily the most beautiful”, he said. “Now they’re really going to be emotionally appealing, to a level they haven’t been before”. Wherry says the automaker is not worried about losing sales. Instead, the heightened focus on design is said to be a natural next step after the company achieved success in all other major areas. The new Impreza lineup is said to hint at the reprioritization. Designers apparently spent more time choosing key design changes including the Impreza’s sculpted doors, new front fascia and interior trim. Subaru is slowly expanding its Tustin, California design center, which currently employs eight full-time designers tasked with looking into the future to help guide the company’s styling direction. The team is expected to gain more influence in the coming years, as the US market continues to be the automaker’s profit center. +++

+++ You’d think TESLA would sell far fewer units of its pricier, slightly frumpier-looking Model X than its mainstay Model S, but that’s not the case these days. The electric car maker has revealed its production levels for the first quarter of 2017, and it’s apparent that the gap has closed dramatically in recent months. Tesla delivered about 11,550 Model X vehicles at the start of the year, or just 1,900 shy of the 13,450 Model S cars that found owners in the same period. It’s a stark contrast to a year earlier, when Tesla supplied 12,420 sedans and just 2,400 SUVs: buyers clearly are clearly willing to trade a bit of cash and style for some extra capacity. The kicker: the gap might have been even narrower in ideal conditions. Tesla notes that there were “severe” Model X part shortages in the first 2 months of 2017, and that it just didn’t have the time to ship every last example to customers in the period. To put it another way: Expect a big bump in Model X numbers during the spring. As it stands, this was still a banner quarter for Tesla. The company’s rapidly increasing production goals led it to set yet another delivery record, with 69 percent more EVs trading hands versus a year earlier. With that said, there’s just a few months to go before Tesla starts Model 3 production. However well the Model S and X are doing right now, they’re going to seem like small potatoes before long. +++

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