+++ In AUSTRALIA, the top25 brands in the first quarter were: Toyota (sales: 48,514 – growth: Up 4.3 percent), Mazda (30,462 – Even), Hyundai (22,406 – Down 8.2 percent), Holden (20,119 – Down 10.7 percent), Ford (18,433 – Down 1.1 percent), Mitsubishi (18,416 – Up 1.1 percent), Nissan (15,057 – Down 13.3 percent), Volkswagen (13,735 – Down 5.8 percent), Kia (12,873 – Up 34.8 percent), Subaru (12,761 – Up 8.4 percent), Mercedes–Benz (10,400 – Up 3.3 percent), Honda (9.772 – Up 1.8 percent), BMW (6.330 – Down 15.4 percent), Audi (5.244 – Down 14.9 percent), Suzuki (4.878 – Down 5.1 percent), Isuzu (4.495 – Down 19.9 percent), Land Rover (3.948 – Down 3.5 percent), Renault (2.619 – Up 9.8 percent), Lexus (2.255 – Up 3.2 percent), Jeep (1.925 – Down 49.2 percent), Porsche (1.442 – Up 1.8 percent), Volvo (1.175 – Down 20.8 percent), Skoda (1.097 – Up 3.2 percent), Mini (893 – Down 1.7 percent) and Jaguar (820 – Up 20.6 percent). +++

+++ The entire Volkswagen Group is now looking to share even more components to presumably incur less expenses as the burden of the Dieselgate scandal still weighs heavy. Most importantly, 2 of the automaker’s major brands, BENTLEY and Porsche, are going to cater together for development costs that could yield savings of 100 million euros annually. Apparently the shared development effort should start early next year, with Porsche CEO Oliver Blume hinting towards 14 cross-disciplinary teams seeking right now to find the best solutions for the shared cost process. “It is a wide-ranging plan that is highly detailed and thought out”, he said. Potential synergy fields include chassis development, shared components, joint sales structures, and even quality assurance. The first proof will come as early as 2018 when the new Continental GT is slated for introduction, using the Porsche’ rear-wheel drive MSB platform that is already in use with the second generation Panamera. Another crucial shared field will be represented in the EV field, and cater for Bentley and Porsche. This is because, allegedly, the production version Mission E chassis will be shared with the upcoming sports cars from Bentley, previewed by the EXP 12 Speed 6 and 6e concepts. +++

+++ BMW Group sales achieved their best ever March, with sales in the month totalling 254,862, a 5.9% increase year-on-year. It was also a record first quarter with sales of the BMW Group’s 3 premium brands (BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce) increasing by 5.3%; a total of 587,237 vehicles have been delivered to customers around the world so far this year. “We’ve achieved a strong start to the year, with our X-family models and the 7 Series being the main growth drivers”, commented Ian Robertson, member of the BMW Board with responsibility for Sales. “March was the first full sales month for the new 5 Series Sedan and the customer feedback for this benchmark car is already very positive”, he continued. “Our electrified models also continue to show extremely strong growth, with almost 20,000 sold in the first quarter, meaning we’re on track to achieve our target of 100,000 electrified vehicle sales this year. As we start the biggest model offensive the company has ever undertaken, I’m confident 2017 will be another record year for the BMW Group, retaining our leading position in the industry”, he added. The BMW brand achieved its best-ever first quarter, cracking the half million mark for the first time this early in the year. Global BMW sales totalled 503,445 units, an increase of 5.2% on the same period last year. Sales of BMW brand vehicles in March totalled 212,093, an increase of 5.3% compared with the same month last year. Many models throughout the range contributed to this growth: in March, deliveries of the X1 increased 21.0% (26,759), sales of the X5 were up 20.7% (17,678) while deliveries of the flagship 7 Series grew 74.8% (7,134). The 5 Series, of which the new generation sedan had its first full month on sale in most markets, was delivered to around 35,000 customers worldwide. With its broad offering of premium electrified vehicles, the popularity of the BMW Group’s innovative BMW i and BMW iPerformance models continues to grow rapidly. Since the beginning of the year, almost 20,000 electrified vehicles have been delivered to customers worldwide, double the number sold by this time last year. First quarter production of electrified vehicles totalled more than 24,000 vehicles. Scandinavia continues to be a strong region for electrified vehicle sales. As of early April, over 10,000 i3 vehicles have been delivered to customers in Norway since launch. March also saw the launch of the plug-in hybrid 530e iPerformance in most markets. That model is expected to be a strong growth driver for electrified vehicle sales, as is the Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 plug-in hybrid which will start delivery in June. All major sales regions achieved an increase in sales both in March and in the first quarter. Many markets achieved double-digit increases, including China and Mexico/Latin America. In the beginning of April the BMW Group handed over its 3 millionth vehicle to a customer in China. +++

+++ The new South Korean luxury brand, GENESIS , says its current aim is to establish itself as a true competitor to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, with volume and sales expectations not a priority for the foreseeable future. Manfred Fitzgerald, the former head of brand and design at Lamborghini and now the boss of Hyundai’s offshoot Genesis brand, says that building brand credibility is the first focus for the Hyundai-owned brand. “It’s about establishing a brand, establishing a credible brand”, Fitzgerald said. As far as Fitzgerald is concerned, volume expectations are currently not the focus for Genesis, even though he admits profitability is a requirement for the brand’s future success. “We are in here definitely not to lose money, but I couldn’t tell you about volume expectations because it’s not our priority, because if I was thinking about that it would be something distracting and what might have caused the wrong answers to some of the questions here”, he said. “So we are focused on showing our competence in design and also what we can deliver to the customer in terms of service and experience”. Genesis will go head-to-head with the trio of German luxury brands as well as Japanese offerings from Infiniti and Lexus with an initial launch of 6 models, including 2 SUVs (one of which it showcased in the form of the Genesis GV80 concept in New York) a large GT, plus sedans in various sizes. Nonetheless, while it goes through its establishment phase, Fitzgerald says it won’t look to downsize its range for now. “All the other competitors are looking to enlarge their portfolio and having more volume. We are not there yet, we are only 15 months old and that should give you an idea of what our goals are for the mid-term and long-term. And, just right now to be recognised as a true competitor, as a credible competitor, and that is what we are trying to do right now”. Part of establishing that credibility, however, won’t see Genesis create a supercar or a high-end performance car. “I might not be your typical marketing guy, I don’t believe in target groups, I believe in doing great models and creating great products, and hopefully there will be many people that love them and fall in love with them and that’s it. “If you need a halo vehicle? That’s not our spiel”. Nonetheless, there will be a BMW 6 Series Coupe and Mercedes-Benz SL rival in the form of a Genesis GT in the near future. +++

+++ INFINITI has confirmed it is looking into introducing performance-oriented Red Sport versions of other models in the range, including its SUV range. Bernard Michel, product planning manager for Infiniti, said “every possibility is being explored”. “We’re assessing every opportunity to have other additions in our line-up, in terms of Red Sport. It’s a badge and nameplate that’s basically going to be embedded into the Infiniti landscape”, he said. “The answer is ‘yes’, if there’s an opportunity. There’s an appetite for performance cars and we’re looking at that closely”. Infiniti has already introduced Red Sport versions of the Q50 sedan and Q60 coupe, both powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 developing 405 hp of power and 475 Nm of torque. The brand has also previously offered sporty crossover models as well, the pre-update QX70 (known then as the FX) had the choice of a 5.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8, which produced 390 hpof power and 500 Nm of torque when Infiniti first arrived locally in 2012. Additionally, motorsport-inspired FX Sebastian Vettel limited edition was also on sale on Europe in 2012, developing a meatier 408 hp and claimed a top speed of 300 km/h – so the company definitely knows how to make a fast SUV. Given the success of the Audi SQ5 and Porsche Macan locally, it would be a prime opportunity for the Japanese marque to introduce its own performance SUV, or SUVs. +++

+++ KIA Australia’s massive sales growth over the past few years, which has seen it become our market’s ninth-selling brand overall, has taken even company management by surprise. The Korean brand was up 35 percent to 12,873 units over the first quarter of 2017, pushing it past Subaru and into 9th spot. The growth trajectory is putting the company at levels it did not plan to be at until about 2019/20. This 25 percent Q1 growth is over 2016, a year where the company grew 26.5 percent to record highs, in turn over a record 2015 where it leapt up by a comparatively modest 20.5 percent, admittedly off an underperforming base. “I don’t think anyone expects to be up 20 percent, 26 percent and 34 percent”, Kia Australia COO (and ex Hyundai Australia executive) Damien Meredith said this week. “I said when I first joined I’d be happy if we were at 50,000 units annually by 2019 0r 2020. We’ll probably get there this year”. The company’s full-year record set last year was 42,668 units. Growth this year is coming from the Cerato, which is belying a drop in passenger car sales thanks to bargain-basement pricing, which Kia is able to offset by selling high-ratio numbers of top-end Sorentos and Carnivals. Cerato sales over Q1 grew 94 percent to 4.654 units. Other strong performers were Sportage (3.385, up 30.5 percent), Sorento (1.146, up 17 percent) and Soul (73 units, up almost four-fold). The new Picanto is also averaging about 270 units a month, all incremental. With the new Rio rolling out, a new Picanto due within months, and the much-hyped Stinger GT (a 330 hp rear-drive sportssedan) due in September, there’s plenty of fresh metal to keep the dealers and buyers engaged. Beyond this, the new Cerato is expected during 2018 and will bring a new circa 200 hp turbo variant with dual-clutch gearbox. Meredith also said the addition of an industry topping 7-year warranty was vital, because it gave people “permission to buy” a brand they may have been on the fence about. There does appear to be a ceiling for Kia, however, given its small SUV to rival to the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Hyundai’s imminent Kona is not expected until 2019, oddly. It also has no clear timeline for a deliveryvan and pick-up range, despite lobbying its Korean parent hard. +++

+++ LINCOLN , the premium brand of Ford, is pretty keen on enriching its clients life, with new experiences that are created to help buyers sway their positive feelings in their direction. Strictly as test runs for now, 2 new programs (At-Home Test Drives and Lincoln Chauffeur) might become standard alongside the already in use Lincoln Pick Up & Delivery program. The latter (available on all 2017 model year Lincolns, allows owners to schedule a pickup time for the servicing period) a representative will arrive, pick it up, leave a loaner and get it to and from the dealer. As far as the 2 new programs, the less interesting is the At-Home Test Drives. It’s being trialed in Dallas and Houston, allowing potential shoppers to secure a time and location for a product specialist to let someone test drive a Lincoln vehicle. The other one is a bit quirkier. Lincoln Chauffeur will enter Miami as its testing ground, and this one allows Lincoln owners and lessees to request personalized driver or shopping assistants, kind of like having a minion. A third party service provides workers to cater for a long list of activities: bring you to a dinner date, pick up your kids after soccer practice, or drop you off at the airport, for example. +++

+++ MERCEDES is preparing to unveil an updated version of its flagship S-Class sedan at the Shanghai Auto Show next week. That much we already know. But the German automaker has also revealed plans for a new concept sedan (a much smaller one) to share the stage at the Chinese expo. Called the Concept A Sedan, the show car is set to preview a new compact model to sit alongside the CLA four-door coupe (pictured above) in Daimler’s growing small-car lineup. Little in the way of details have been disclosed at this point. But Benz has indicated that the concept will embody “harmoniously balanced proportions and sensuous surface design” to preview the automaker’s latest styling direction and the future of its compact class. Along with the S-Class and A-Class sedan concept, Daimler will also showcase the new GLA, the latest AMG 43 models (including the GLC, C-Class, and E-Class) for the first time in China, as well as a special Smart Forfour Crosstown edition. +++

+++ A senior SUBARU executive has been frank about the brand’s latest drivetrain being short on power. Masahiko Inoue, Subaru project general manager product and portfolio division, told in an interview at the launch of the new XV in Japan this week that he has been copping it from all angles about the 2.0-litre engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto in the latest-generation Impreza and XV models. “Everybody is requesting from me a more powerful engine”, Inoue said. “Everybody thinks it needs more power. They are satisfied, they understand the Subaru Global Platform and the new 2.0-litre engine, but needing more power is a common complaint from everybody”. So, what is Inoue doing about it? Well, it seems possible that the company will work a new engine into the mix if the sales volumes continue to rise. He said that, because the XV and Impreza are the brand’s entry-level models around the globe, there is pressure to make the costs of introducing more powerful drivetrains viable. He said the brand is looking at a few different options: a larger displacement non-turbocharged engine; a smaller displacement turbocharged engine; or a hybrid version with battery backing. “Of course, we are studying, and we are now studying one of the options: a 2.4- or 2.5-litre engine, downsized and turbocharged, and power supported by motor, a hybrid. Every way we are studying for the next model, or the future model. Now, the XV is not so popular. If it becomes more popular, then we have to go to the next step to have more power in the highest version. We need more volume to justify that”, he said. “One of the ways is using a downsized turbo, and of course we are thinking that way. But we cannot spend money on this vehicle, because this is an entry vehicle for Subaru. We have to keep competitive with the cost for the entry vehicles, so if the turbocharged model is requested, maybe it will go to the Forester, or the Levorg, or another vehicle”, he said, perhaps giving away a little hint that the next-generation Forester, due mid-2018, will have a turbo engine in lower-grade models, not just the flagship XT. “In the case of the Impreza and the XV, now it’s just a 2.0-litre direct-injection model, and a 1.6-litre in Japan and the European market. This has expanded the customer base for Subaru: this is the entry vehicle”. Inoue said that if hybrid were the answer, the brand wouldn’t just have one type. We know that the new global platform has been built with electrification in mind. “Hybrid, now we are thinking of it: many types of hybrid: plug-in, series hybrid. Electric, we have to think of that to have a zero-emission vehicle with some volume in the market in future”, he said. As for a diesel? Don’t count on it. “Diesel is really decreasing: you have to spend a lot of money to clean up the emissions. Hybrid is better”, he said. +++

+++ Elon Musk, the well-known entrepreneur, billionaire, TESLA co-founder and CEO, as well as Twitter evangelist, has spilled the beans on 2 upcoming model introductions. The news are pouring from Tesla’s direction (we know the Model 3 final reveal is just around the corner) and now the boss has announced in his usual way (via Twitter) when the next models in the lineup will get presented. First of all, it turns out the next big reveal is not the semi-confirmed Model Y crossover based on the Model 3, but the all-electric semi-truck, which was announced by the company last year. Now it turns out the first introduction (possibly in concept form) will take place in mere months, as in September 2017. So, Tesla is seemingly keeping itself busy, in June we should have the Model 3, then in September the semi-truck. While having an electric semi-truck in its portfolio is seriously “big stuff” (pun intended) the other reveal is of even more interest for regular consumers. Tesla has again committed to introducing a long-desired pick-up truck for the mainstream market, and according to Tesla’s CEO tweet, we’re only waiting another 18 to 24 months. “In addition to consumer vehicles, there are 2 other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport. Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year”, read the declaration of intention for both models issued last summer during Tesla’s conference for Master Plan Part Deux. +++

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