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+++ Work on ASTON MARTIN ’s St Athan plant is officially underway, as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) handed over the site to the brand. The St Athan site will build the DBX SUV, first seen at the 2015 Geneva motor show, from 2019 onwards, as Aston’s 7 planned new models come to the fore. Like Aston Martin’s Gaydon headquarters, the St Athan site was formerly occupied by the Royal Air Force (RAF), and 750 workers will be employed there, who were selected from 3.000 applicants at a recruitment event last year. “Production versions of the DBX will start coming off the line in late 2019 but we should be producing the first development prototypes towards the end of next year”, said CEO Andy Palmer. “There will be some overlap between the 2 sites. If we’re already making components in Gaydon that are needed in St Athan there seems little point tooling up all over again. Likewise work done in St Athan, particularly in areas such as electrification will clearly have its applications in Gaydon. But in principle I like the idea of having 2o competing plants, particularly as one is in England and the other in Wales. It promotes healthy competition and each will drag the other up. “We will have an engineering centre here, it is also likely to be where we do the bulk of our electrification work. Also, we will have our cyber security department here. All the talk these days is of autonomous drive but very few people are talking about how to make sure these cars cannot be hacked, and in many ways that’s a more difficult challenge than autonomy. But until the cars are secure, they cannot be autonomous”. Certain areas of the plant have already been built; the customer and staff reception areas, as well as administration and management offices and employee restaurant; for which Aston Martin was given access to the site to build. The 3 hangars from the RAF’s occupation of the site will be repurposed into the manufacturing plant, though. Palmer said: “We are hosting the Aston Martin Owners Club concours over the weekend, then we start work on the concrete floor first thing on Monday morning”. Some of the future employees at the site are currently being trained at Aston’s Gaydon plant while working on the DB11, while another 250 jobs are being created at Gaydon; Aston claims that 1.000 jobs in total are being created from its current expansion plan. Palmer said: “Due to its sheer size and scale, the St Athan Super Hangars represented an excellent opportunity for us to build our second manufacturing facility, within the envelope of an existing structure. It is perhaps fitting that St Athan is, like our headquarters and sports car factory at Gaydon, a former RAF base. We have 3 hangars, one of which will handle house the body in white, one will be the paint shop and one will look after trim and final assembly”. The plant’s role in Aston’s growth plan is pivotal, as the brand chases 6 more model lines in the next 5 years; the new Vantage in 2017, Vanquish in 2018, DBX in 2019, a mid-engined sports car in 2020 and then Lagondas in 2021 and 2022. +++

+++ The next-generation BENTLEY Continental GT has been spotted running with the 608 hp W12 engine that was introduced in the Bentayga. The new front-end styling appears to draw from the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept first seen at the 2015 Geneva motor show – including a lower front and rear than the current car, as well as shorter overhangs and a shorter wheelbase. Due for launch in early 2018, the GT and its convertible sibling, the GTC, will be based on a new platform called MSB, which has been co-developed by Porsche. The GT will also be used in lengthened form for the next-generation Panamera, which explains why the test mule in earlier spy pictures used a shortened current Panamera bodyshell with an altered ride height and cooling to meet Bentley’s specifications. The Continental range will be significantly lighter than the outgoing model, Bentley boss Wolfgang Dürheimer has said. Like the firm’s Bentayga, the Continental’s bodyshell will be a hybrid-materials structure, with assorted high-strength steels reinforcing a body made mainly from aluminium. The current car is steel-bodied. This change is part of a mass-reduction effort that should drop the car’s weight substantially below the 2.375 kg of today’s GT. However, it will not fall below 2 tonnes, Dürheimer said. Below the range-topping 6.0-litre W12, which produces 18 hp more than the outgoing W12, an updated version of the current car’s 4.0-litre petrol V8 will be offered, also likely growing power output beyond the 528 hp of the S model. There will also be a petrol V6 plug-in hybrid, which will use a set-up that develops 415 hp in today’s Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid. It’s unlikely that Bentley will offer a diesel V8 option in the Continental, despite the unit being readily available and already produced for the Bentayga. Speaking at the Bentayga’s launch last year, Dürheimer said his “personal goal is a sustainable, stand-alone business with an annual production volume of 20,000 units”. He envisages 7 model lines, although the production version of the EXP 10 Speed 6 coupé that would be amongst the growing line-up is yet to be signed off. Bentley could also add its first electric car to the list – as previewed by the EXP 12 Speed 6e. Talking about the advantages of Bentley being part of the new Sports and Luxury Group at Volkswagen, Dürheimer said the Volkswagen Group test drives that take place in Namibia will now be split among the new groups and involve fewer cars. More can be achieved this way, he said. Another gain will be sharing research and development skills, as well as a supplier base suitable for high-performance and luxury models from Porsche, Bentley and Bugatti. Dürheimer added that Lamborghini’s absence from this group “makes no sense”. +++

+++ Back in the last half of 2008 and into 2009, when General Motors was looking at too much capacity for too few customers, when it was running out of money and needing to go to the governments of the US and Canada and to the UAW for financial support, its management team was pretty much instructed by the feds to focus resources on what would create the best likelihood for a return on the investments and guarantees that it was getting. Things needed to be cut, and not just the corporate air fleet. This led to the elimination of Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac and the sale of Saab to Spyker. What remained of GM’s North American brand portfolio was Chevrolet, BUICK, Cadillac, and GMC (Oldsmobile had been shuttered in 2004). There were a variety of opinions regarding which brands GM should keep/lose during the midst of the Great Recession. Some thought GMC should be axed, but then it was pointed out that GMC essentially produced high-content Chevrolets, which resulted in fantastic transaction costs. Lots of money in the back of those pickups. Others thought Buick should be eliminated. The rationale was: Chevrolet was the mass-market brand, Cadillac was the luxury brand, and GMC helped leverage the company’s investment in trucks (yes, even back then the F-Series was winning the pickup sales race, so it was always a matter of adding Silverado and Sierra sales to show that GM was solidly in the game). So what was Buick? Better than Chevrolet but not as good as a Cadillac? Somehow that doesn’t seem to be a particularly aspirational position to hold. But Buick’s identity didn’t need to be worked out in 2008-09 because there was a single compelling reason to keep it: China. According to official GM history, Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the first provisional president of China, and Zhou Enlai, a Chinese premier, “Either owned, drove or were driven in Buick automobiles”. What’s more: “According to statistics from the Shanghai government, in 1930 one out of every six cars on the city’s roads was a Buick”. Which is to say that Buick got to China early and has a major presence in that market. When the Regal Sportback and Regal TourX were being unveiled at the GM Design Dome, Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick, gave a briefing of Buick’s place on the automotive landscape. He pointed out that last year the brand sold 1.4 million units, a record, and that it was the “7th consecutive year of international market share growth”. And out of that 1.4 million, how many were sold in the US? 229,631. +++

+++ General Motors has been working on its semi-autonomous driving system for years. Called Super Cruise, it had initially been slated for a fall 2016 debut. Of course, something as critical to safety as a self-driving system should ideally have the bugs worked out before putting it in the hands of customers, and the launch date had to be pushed back. It appears that Super Cruise is road-ready now, as CADILLAC has announced the system will be available in the 2018 modelyear CT6 when it goes on sale this fall. Super Cruise offers hands-free driving on the highway, taking control of steering and speed under the supervision of the driver. An attention detection system (a camera and infrared lights that track head position) ensures that the driver is paying attention and is available to take over driving responsibilities. If needed, Super Cruise will initiate a series of nags, including a flashing light bar on the steering wheel, to regain the driver’s attention. If the driver is unresponsive, the system can bring the car to a safe stop and use OnStar to call first responders. The system employs a suite of sensors, cameras, and GPS, as well as precision lidar-scanned map database, to place the car where it needs to be on the road and in the center of its lane. It only works if the sensors detect appropriate road conditions, and is limited to the more predictable terrain of divided highways with on- and off-ramps. Yes, it’s limited, but safety is paramount, and drivers who spend a lot of time on the highway will appreciate the convenience nonetheless. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI i30N has entered its final stages of performance testing at the Nürburgring, before the upcoming Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST rival goes on sale at the end of the year. As the first road car manufactured by the Korean firm’s performance sub-division, N, the car has been tested in a variety locations including the Arctic Circle and the Nürburgring before its anticipated reveal at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Caught at the the Nürburgring in the video below, the car is being aggressively thrown into corners, suggesting high speed stability and balance are now being assessed before final chassis settings are signed off. The i30N has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that is expected to produce in the region of 262 hp. Initially, the i30N will come with a manual gearbox, with an automatic transmission likely arriving in 2018. Hyundai boss Albert Biermann has hinted that the i30N could have a top speed of around 250 km/h. He also said a four-wheel-drive version could follow later on, suggesting a rival to the Ford Focus RS is being considered. This was backed up by the unveiling of the 375 hp RN30 concept. The i30N will also be available with a track-focused performance package, which will further boost engine performance. “Our car will be affordable”, said Biermann, who in 2014 left his job as vice president of engineering at BMW’s M performance car division to oversee Hyundai’s new N division. The car is expected to be priced at less than 42,000 euro, in The Netherlands with Hyundai stressing N division’s focus will be on “affordable performance”. Biermann also confirmed that Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury standalone sister brand, will get high-performance variants of its models, and suggested it would be available in Europe. “We will go into different markets and regions with N,” Biermann said. “We will also develop high-performance cars for the Genesis brand but they won’t have the N badge. N is just the sub-label for Hyundai cars”. Hyundai launched its third and final version of the Ioniq earlier this year. The car is available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric car, and Biermann hinted that hybrid powertrains would play a part in N’s future. “We have everything available”, he said. “It’s too early now for hybrid powertrains in N cars, but the time will come soon, definitely”. A development version of the i30N raced in the 2016 Nürburgring 24 Hours endurance race to test components that will eventually make it onto the production car. That car was badged as a Hyundai i30 2.0T, and built for Hyundai by the motorsport department of German-based Hyundai dealership Schumann. Compared with a standard i30, around 40% of this i30 2.0T model was new. The engine was newly developed and the car used enhanced suspension, dampers, in addition to upgrades such as different wheels, tweaked steering, wider bumpers and mandatory motorsport safety features. The car’s engine produced 262 hp and 340 Nm ft, suggesting the final road car could offer similar performance. Hyundai has been working on the development of performance models since 2013, when it first launched the ‘N’ brand as part of its World Rally Championship assault. The company has a 3.600 m2 test facility at the Nürburgring. +++

+++ NISSAN ’s new chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, has bold plans for the company in post-Carlos Ghosn times. Saikawa took office on April 1 and among his most immediate priorities are to expand the presence of Mitsubishi (Nissan’s global partner) in the United States while also re-focusing Nissan’s electric vehicle efforts. During an interview, the new chief executive revealed his hope that Mitsubishi’s global sales can double and that it can make significant inroads in the U.S. and ultimately rival the sales of Subaru. “They are now a 1 million unit company. Easily they can grow to 1.5 million, hopefully 2 million. Having a partner that is a 2 million company is much better than having one that is a 1 million company. My first wish is that they should start growing, rapidly, and they should regain ground in the U.S. as soon as possible”, he said. Saikawa ruled out the possibility of Nissan selling Mitsubishi-badged vehicles in America but did reveal that as Renault isn’t a player in the U.S., there’s an opportunity for it to supply cars to Mitsubishi. Alongside his plans for Mitsubishi, Saikawa also said that the Japanese marque is pushing forward with its electric vehicle plans and will reveal an overhauled Leaf next year. Before 2020 comes around, Nissan will unveil an all-new electric vehicle with a range of around 480 km. +++

+++ TESLA Tesla just managed a symbolic but important win in its quest to make electric cars popular. Tesla’s stock market cap has overtaken that of General Motors: it was worth about 51 billion dollar, or 1.7 billion dollar more than its established rival. While it’s not clear that this will last, it’s no mean feat for a company that has made just 3 car models in its brief 13-year history. The big question is whether or not Tesla can back up that value with raw sales numbers. To a large extent, Tesla’s valuation is based more on its potential than what it has done so far. All of its existing cars are luxury models that have sold in modest numbers: it’s happy to have sold 25,000 cars last quarter where GM sold nearly 690,000 vehicles (including commercial sales) in the same period. Even when you consider Tesla’s premium prices, it’s relatively a small player in the automotive industry. It’s not exactly profitable, either. While Elon Musk’s outfit occasionally turns a profit, it tends to bleed cash due to its combination of high investments and relatively low output. Most of the hope rests on (you guessed it) the Model 3. Tesla has racked up hundreds of thousands of deposits for its more affordable EV, and it’s increasingly looking like the first car company to sell EVs in truly large numbers. The high market cap really amounts to a bet, a prediction that Tesla represents the future of transportation. That’s not an outlandish wager (Chevrolet plans on selling just 30,000 Bolts in 2017), but it’s not a reflection of actual performance. +++

+++ TOYOTA is to spend 1.3 billion dollar retooling its American Kentucky plant for next-generation Camry. The company’s largest plant will be upgraded to manufacture vehicles build upon the modular Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). Toyota has announced a record 1.33 billion dollar investment in Kentucky, home to its largest global factory. Most of the funds will be spent retooling the assembly plant to begin producing vehicles based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). The investment will also cover general improvements including a new paint shop. First announced in 2012, TNGA is a modern modular architecture that will support multiple vehicles. Toyota will develop multiple vehicles concurrently on the same platform, maximizing parts sharing while reducing development time and costs. Due to arrive later this year, the eight-generation Camry will be among the first vehicles underpinned by TNGA. The 2018 model promises to deliver improved handling, thanks to a more rigid structure, and more comfortable than the current edition. Toyota recently hired 700 workers to help support the 2018 Camry launch, elevating total employment to 8,200 workers at the Kentucky factory. +++

+++ Deutsche Bank has warned that sales in the UNITED STATES auto industry are on the precipice of collapsing on the back of rising interest rates. According to Deutsche Bank analysts Rod Lache, Mike Levine and Robert Salmon, U.S. sales for new vehicles may fall to 16.6 million by the end of the year, 1 million less than last year’s record-breaking figures. “Somewhat ominously, today’s market increasingly resembles one we described in ‘A Triple Threat’ (Feb. 20, 2004). “In that report we highlighted the risks to the industry from rising rates, rising negative equity in vehicle loans and used vehicle-price deflation. This could lead to deteriorating affordability, delayed trade-in cycles, consumer shifts from new to used, diminishing credit availability and deteriorating mix/pricing”, they said. One key concern for analysts is that a decreasing number of vehicles are being taken off the road with scrappage declining to about 11 million a year from 13-14 million a decade ago. “This has led us to question whether the U.S. is broadly oversupplied, and whether trend demand in the 17 million range is fundamentally supported. If it is not, the oversupply should be self-correcting: the U.S. market will experience declining used-vehicle prices, pressuring new vehicle sales”, said the analysts. +++

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