+++ Some people may think AUDI Sport is a new company but it is in fact the motorsport division of Audi combined with the best of what Quattro GmbH can offer. The first 3 models that this partnership is expected to release will be the RS3, the RS5 Coupe, and the TT RS. These made their official debut during the 2017 New York Auto Show. Both Audi of America Vice President for Product Management Filip Brabec and Quattro General Manager Stephan Reil confirmed that additional models will be released in the near future. According to the two, the RS range will continue to have new models and both customers and enthusiasts alike should expect the newest version of the RS7 to be unveiled along with the new A7. Reil in particular has been in-charge of all the RS models for at least 18 years now. He explains that in developing this model, the brand introduced an entirely new strategy. In particular, Audi Sport develops new models starting with the base car. Reil says that the practice in the past was to have the actual model at the end of the lifecycle. However, he continues, they are developed in conjunction with the others much like the RS3. Reil says further that the brand intends to implement a more worldwide strategy when it comes to its future products. A number of the new RS models are being developed, he says, because the U.S. market is continuously pushing for it. That said, the possibility is high that the brand will come out with a crossover version of the RS, again due to influence of the U.S. market. VP Brabec cautions though that not all Audi models will have a corresponding RS variant. He adds that this model is already distinct the way it is. A good example of this is Mercedes-Benz developing performance cars with AMG. However, the brand assured that the RS models will not be the same as the S models. He says that while the S model has a more mainstream appeal and is more attainable, the RS can be considered as the cherry on top. Both the RS and S are composed of models that are high performance versions of some of Audi’s vehicles. These variants are mainly focused on improving the sport performance. The S model started with the S2 Coupe in 1990 with the RS being introduced through the RS 2 Avant by 1994. Many of the RS and the S models released today are mainly based on the A, TT, and Q models under the same figure. Thus, the RS 4 is based on the A4 with the TT RS using the TT. +++

+++ BMW has built a state-of-the-art Driving Centre facility in South Korea, but there’s a question mark over its long-term future. It’s a bit difficult to see why BMW would invest millions in a driving centre similar to the one it already has in Munich and the US in a place such as South Korea. Especially since it’s potentially a house of straw. Until you see the numbers. The South Korean appetite for luxury cars is growing and BMW currently sells about 50,000 cars into the country. And we’re not talking base-model 1-Series, either; no, the South Korean taste in BMWs runs to the higher end of things with a high skew towards 7-Series limousines and plenty of M-cars. But South Korea is also seen as a central location for the rest of Asia, for which you can insert the word ‘China’ and its hugely expanding middle-class (Shanghai is just a 30-minute flight from Seoul). Opened in 2014, the South Korean BMW Driving Centre stands on a vast stretch of reclaimed land, drained and turned into useable countryside decades ago when Seoul’s original airport was moved to the Incheon area about 70 km west of the capital. The odd thing is that the Seoul locals have taken the driving centre to their hearts, using the facility as a day out where the kids can attend the BMW Junior Academy (where they’re taught road rules and even basic engineering), mum can attend a day-spa and dad can take a new BMW for a spin on the test track, go for a taxi-ride on the high-speed circuit or even take a training course in how to be a professional security driver. According to the centre’s senior director and the man who originally envisaged the project back in 2008, Sungtaek Jang, the South Korean habit of making fast purchasing decisions has made the driving centre a hub for actual car purchases. “We have sales representative from the major Seoul BMW dealerships rotate through the centre, and we assume we will sell about 2.000 cars per year directly from here”, he said. So while the cost of running the centre adds up to about ?4.5 million a year, with the sales figures and the estimated 430,000 visitors to the centre each year, it’s actually a pretty handy profit centre as well as a means of pushing the BMW message on safety and driver training. Sungtaek Jang, who is part salesman, part showman and 100 per cent dedicated to the centre, told that even at just 3 years in, the driving centre is “already planning an extension which will extend the circuit’s main straight to one kilometre long and will allow speeds of 250km/h”. But here’s the house of straw part; despite its phenomenal success, the centre’s days are already potentially numbered. Built at the tip of the Incheon island (which is two smaller islands joined by the reclaimed land) the location of the driving centre is right at the end of a proposed fifth runway. At the moment, the runway doesn’t exist as planes using it would have to stack over North Korean airspace, something that is simply not an option in the current political climate. But if North and South Korea are ever re-united (and there’s a sector of the South Korean population that believe this is a `when’, not an `if’) then the 240,000 square-metre driving centre would be demolished to allow for that crucial fifth runway. Sungtaek Jang believes in reunification and points out that BMW’s lease on the land runs out as early as 2025. +++

+++ From the moment Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) kicked off with its 3-month-long ad campaign until the day it unveiled the new DODGE Challenger SRT Demon, folks have been guessing what the exact figures would eventually be on its price tag. Well, I think I have the probable answer to that enquiry: the muscle car will cost below $100,000. Isn’t that a good start? Fiat Chrysler’s Head for Passenger Car Brands, Tim Kuniskis, explained during an interview that although the starting price will be more expensive than the standard HellCat, the SRT Demon would still fall under the six-digit figure. In that case, if the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat comes with a $64,000 price tag, the Demon’s asking price will be more or less $35,000 higher: still a lot less expensive than a Tesla Model S P100D model that comes with a starting price of $135,000. The Demon boasts a menacing 840 horsepower under the hood. That said, customers can also benefit from its very swift 0-100 km/h 3-second acceleration as compared with other cars in the market. By hitting a quarter mile in only 9.65 seconds, the Challenger SRT Demon is in fact, way faster than a LaFerrari hyper car being offered by Ferrari. Nevertheless, Fiat Chrysler’s viral marketing campaign has brought so much attention to the new sports car during the last several weeks. In line with this, the Challenger SRT Demon has also landed a role on the latest “Fast and Furious” as Vin Diesel’s hot car in the film. In the previous year, Dodge’s sales figures for the said muscle car fell short at almost 9% despite the impressive number of deliveries made by the company entirely. But given the massive exposure both in the music and movie industry including celebrity endorsements and endless teasers, I think the Challenger SRT Demon would fare incredibly well by the end of the year. FCA after all knows where to start. In any case, the SRT Demon will only come into production this year with a maximum of 3,300 units. FCA will be allocating 300 examples for its Canadian market while the remaining 3,000 units will be sold in the US. Each vehicle will come with a personalized plate with the owner’s name for those who place their orders from the factory. The “below 6-digit figures” will of course vary depending on the dealer’s margin. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER is still confident that internal combustion engines will live on, with the British brand using more than £1 billion to establish its new U.K. Engine Manufacturing Center (EMC) that will manufacture the new Ingenium petrol engines. The company has thus celebrated the start of production of the Ingenium engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit that will start reaching both Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles starting this summer. The Manufacturing Center will also deliver Jaguar’s new high-performance 2.0-liter engine, which can be had with up to 300 horsepower. The 2 new engines will supplement the current 2.0-liter range. “The start of petrol production marks an important milestone for the plant as we move to providing a suite of ultra-low emission”, said Trevor Leeks, EMC Operations Director. “High-performance petrol and diesel engines to power the full Jaguar and Land Rover vehicle line-up now and in the future”. The center has more than 1,400 employees, with 80 percent of those new employees, and they are making the engine that debuted on the Jaguar F-Type at the recent New York Auto Show. +++

+++ As we approach the debut of MERCEDES-AMG ’s ‘Project One’ at September’s 2017 Frankfurt auto show, more and more details on the hybrid hypercar are surfacing. AMG recently gave a sneak preview of the car to its closest clients, many of whom have already reserved one of the 275 build slots for the car. The car’s hybrid powertrain, essentially lifted straight out of one of the Mercedes AMG Formula One’s team championship-winning race cars and augmented with an electric drive system on the front axle for all-wheel drive, will deliver a peak 1,020 horsepower. Around 750 hp is said to be coming from the internal combustion component alone, in this case a turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 with the ability to rev to 11,000 rpm. A combination of four electric motors will deliver 400 hp, though not all of this will be going directly to the wheels. At the rear of the car, one electric motor will be connected to the engine via the crankshaft and help power the rear wheels, as well as recapture energy. A second electric motor will be integrated with the turbocharger to help spin its compressor as well as recapture wasted exhaust energy. So far the setup is the same used in F1. But the Project One will feature 2 additional electric motors at the front axle to create the aforementioned all-wheel-drive system. F1 cars don’t have this, though the LMP1 Hybrid prototypes competing in the World Endurance Championship do. Current cars like the Acura NSX and Porsche 918 Spyder also benefit from a similar setup. Based on previous hints from AMG boss Tobias Moers, the Project One should weigh roughly the same as its peak power output in kilograms (approximately 1,315 kilograms). This includes the weight of the battery which should hold enough charge for a pure electric range of 50 kilometers. The Project One (this is only a code name, by the way) helps celebrate AMG’s 50th anniversary this year. It’s also a precursor to the new hybrid performance route the Affalterbach tuner is about to embark on. While there are still a few build slots remaining, unfortunately there are none left for buyers in the United States. The starting price, not that it matters much for its potential buyers, is 2.27 million euros. +++

+++ The French brands from PSA (Citroen, Peugeot and DS) have grand plans to become global players. The 3 Groupe PSA brands, which also now includes German brand Opel, are currently focused primarily on the European market. But PSA boss Carlos Tavares wants to change that. Speaking at the unveiling of the Citroen C5 Aircross SUV at the 2017 Shanghai motor show, Tavares said growing the brand in China and re-entering the US market is crucial to the company’s future growth plans. “China is the biggest market in the world”, Tavares was quoted. “We want to become a global car maker, so it is important for us to be successful in China. Being successful in China shows we are capable of being a global car maker. That’s why it’s strategic for us to be here”. The launch of the C5 Aircross is an important milestone for the brand. It is Citroen’s first in-house SUV as sales of the high-riding models continue to close the gap on traditional passenger cars. PSA already revealed a 10-year plan to return to the US market for the first time since 1991. The first step is to establish a car-sharing program with its current French partner that runs the Autolib service in Paris. The next step would be to introduce PSA cars to that program as a means of introducing its product to US consumers. Once that is successful only then would the company begin selling its cars direct to the public. PSA has also flagged its intention to make Opel a global brand when it is fully separated from former owners General Motors. That could eventually mean a return to Australia where it would compete directly with Holden. General Motors previously launched Opel a stand-alone brand in Australia selling the Astra and Insignia but the project was short-lived and both those models are now sold as Holdens locally. +++

+++ SPYKER CEO Victor Muller believes there’s still a place for manual transmissions in the exotic car market. While speaking at the New York auto show, Muller said he sees enthusiasts buying manuals again. That explains why the company’s new C8 Preliator Spyder comes standard with a 6-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic transmission is also available for those who have less joy in their lives. Muller said the majority of Preliator buyers have stuck with the clutch, though he declined to give any solid numbers. Don’t expect Spyker to start some sort of sea change, though. The company only plans to build 100 examples of the C8 Preliator Spyder, and while the idea of a 1,350 kilo convertible with 600 horsepower and a 6-speed manual tickles all our fancies, the truth is, Ford will build more Fiestas with a manual next year than Spyker will build cars, period. And there is no great call for row-your-own Fiestas. Still, this is welcome news after both Ferrari and Lamborghini officially abandoned manual transmissions for quicker dual-clutch options last year. It’s good to hear that Spyker doesn’t. +++

+++ Tesla may have garnered buzz surrounding the announcement it will reveal a semi truck in September, but TOYOTA this week showed how it imagines revolutionizing the trucking industry. This hunk of tractor trailer metal is called Project Portal, and it’s powered exclusively by a hydrogen fuel cell system. The semi truck produces zero emissions and its only byproduct is water, like other fuel cell vehicles. Project Portal is a collaboration between Toyota and the Port of Los Angeles, a hotbed for heavy freight and trucking. Powering the 80,000-pound semi truck are 2 Mirai fuel cell stacks delivering 670 horsepower and 1.800 Nm of torque. There is also a 12-kilowatt-hour battery, which as the Japanese automaker correctly points out is “relatively small” for a vehicle of this size. Project Portal is only capable of going 320 kilometers before needing to fill up on hydrogen, making it suited for deliveries around town only at present. At its reveal, Toyota was joined by the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission to announce the semi truck will undergo a feasibility study to look at the potential for fuel cell technology in the trucking industry. It would make a hefty contribution to Port’s Clean Air Action Plan, which has dramatically reduced harmful emissions in the Long Beach area since 2005. Hydrogen fueling station infrastructure is anything but ready to tackle the average American driver’s needs, but it may be less of an issue for vehicles like semi trucks, which haul freight across the country and stick to clusters of designated routes. To help inch the process along, Toyota has already committed to partnering with Shell in an effort to expand hydrogen filling stations across the state of California. +++

+++ The 2017 Auto Shanghai show in China has been brimming with novelties, and the electric car market had its big portion of notoriety there, but it seems VOLKSWAGEN is looking to stand out from the crowd. With the infamous Dieselgate scandal still not behind it, German automaker Volkswagen seems committed to its green strategy (presenting their third concept in the I.D. line of prototypes, I.D. Crozz. But it turns out it’s not all they did) because electric car project boss Christian Senger commented on the sidelines of the show that VW aims to introduce its electrics to the market priced about the same as their internal combustion engine alternatives. And because EV pricing has been a major factor in the failure to become a widely-adopted technology, VW is promising some big things. “Offering our electric cars for prices similar to combustion engine vehicles really is a game changer”, commented Senger. “We’re using the need to step from traditional combustion engine cars to reinvent the VW brand”. The move is certainly something that was well thought: Tesla positioned the Model 3 as an affordable model and before production even started there are tens of thousands or pre-orders waiting in line. VW has so far presented three concepts for the upcoming electric car family and has been leaving breadcrumbs towards a major announcement for this fall’s Frankfurt Motor Show. +++

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