+++ These days everyone is recording everything. Cyclists, motorcyclists and drivers adorn helmets and windscreens with recording devices, and it was only a matter of time before a manufacturer released a genuine accessory dash-cam, and we predict it won’t be long until they are standard or optional built-in kit. AUDI was the first premiumbrand to release an OEM dash-cam system with its new Universal Traffic Recorder (UTR). Available as a single-cam or dual-cam unit, the device has three surveillance modes, full HD camera, radar, GPS, G-Shock sensor and can be monitored via a free smartphone app. In standard mode, it starts recording when the engine is turned on and stops when the engine is turned off, storing HD video files on an ejectable 8GB SD card. No need to change it, either. When storage capacity is reached, it will start recording over the oldest data. Equipped with a G-Shock sensor, event mode will automatically capture footage if the acceleration sensor exceeds its threshold. The length of time it records in these situations can be adjusted via the app. The unit also features radar-based recording, triggered when motion is detected. Parking mode is activated when the engine is turned off and remains active for more than 72 hours. All of the recording and camera settings can be controlled via the app, which also features live viewing, video gallery and a car finder function. The app is available on iPhone and Android devices and files can be saved from the HD card directly to your phone for safekeeping. Audi Australia says the product has proven popular since it was quietly launched last month, and is designed to work only with Audi vehicles. It’s available for the A4, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q5 and Q7 model ranges. +++

+++ There’s a new report in town about the upcoming flagship from BMW (dubbed iNext) which brings a host of interesting characteristics: 2021 arrival, Dingolfing, Germany, production location, Level 3 autonomous capabilities and a crossover body style. Bavaria’s current flagship (the 7 Series) has been holding the kingship position for decades but that’s all going to change, with the arrival of the X7 and from 2021 of the iNext model. It will feature an all-electric powertrain and all the best technical capabilities that should become available four years from now. According to the rumor mill’s latest whispers, the Vision Next 100 concept showed last year is not an accurate preview of the iNext flagship, because instead of a sedan (albeit a futuristic one), the latter will adopt a more popular today crossover body. Officially BMW entitles it as a “larger vehicle”, with the report talking about a size and shape comparable with the Jaguar I-Pace that is arriving this year in production form. Because it’s not going to trump on the upcoming X7, the iNext will have to bring technological advancements, such as Level 3 self-driving systems. They will arrive a bit late with this though: the Audi A8 is already expected to be the first vehicle in the world with such advanced technology later this fall when it makes if official global debut. What will the iNext do is become quickly capable of Level 4 (High Automation), so it can handle even emergency scenarios without human intervention and become upgradable to the max Level 5 (Full Automation), which is a car that can discard the steering wheel and pedals altogether. +++

+++ As CHEVROLET ramps up development of the Corvette ZR1 and C8-generation car, a select number of 2017 Corvette models are being offered with significant discounts. Corvette Blogger recently discovered that Chevrolet has launched a new incentive program that offers dealerships a certain number of ‘Bonus Tags’. The program sees dealers selling the car at the supplier price but a 10 per cent off is then applied. In rolling out this incentive, Chevrolet has had to drop last month’s discounts that allowed Corvette buyers to essentially get Brembo carbon ceramic brakes for free. In a few months’ time, the 2017 Corvette range, including the 650 hp Z06, will be relatively tame compared to the 2018 ZR1. Current reports indicate it’ll get a new twin-turbo, LT5 V8 engine delivering upwards of 750 hp, making it a serious contender for a Nurburgring lap record. +++

+++ The LaFerrari will remain the crown jewel of FERRARI ’s for at least 3 years until a proper successor arrives to fulfill its duties. That’s according to the Italian automaker’s Chief Technology Officer, Michael Leiters. Leiters said that Ferrari is busy updating its research and development strategy to ensure the LaFerrari’s successor is born from the latest and greatest innovations. He then offered up a timeframe of “3 to 5 years” before we see the fruits of Ferrari’s labor. “The roadmap will be finished in about six months”, he said. “So my guess is that we could be three to five years away from a new limited-edition hypercar. Part of the plan is to ensure that the technology used in the next hypercar can be cascaded through the rest of the range”. Looking towards the future, turbocharging won’t be a part of it, at least with regards to Ferrari’s V12 engines. Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne previously called turbocharging a V12 engine “nuts,” effectively ruling out forced induction for any V12 powered Ferraris. However, he did add hybrid solutions will be examined very carefully with a focus on improving performance, not just meeting various emission regulations. As for what to expect from a LaFerrari successor, Leiters alluded it won’t take an F1 car approach as the marque has in the past, as he brought up the F50 specifically. “When we define our new roadmap of technology and innovation, we will then consider a replacement for LaFerrari”, said Leiters. “We want to do something different. It won’t be a road car with a Formula 1 engine because, to be realistic, it would need to idle at 2500-3000rpm and rev to 16,000rpm. The F50 used an F1 engine, but it needed to be changed a lot”, he added, referencing the limited-edition successor to the F40. I’m sure whatever the bright minds at Ferrari dream up will be nothing short of impressive, hopefully with a better name. +++

+++ FORD Australia has reported a much-improved loss of $23.7 million for 2016 thanks to the continued success of its locally developed Ranger and the first full year of the Mustang sportscar and Ranger-based Everest SUV. The result was a marked improvement over the loss of $162.25 million posted for 2015 and was achieved thanks to a strong rise in revenues to $3.58 billion; up 30 percent. Contributing to the result was taxpayer funding of $40.9 million made through the Automotive Transformation Scheme (ATS). Directors said the latest result was again affected by the costs of closing the manufacturing operations, which ceased in October last year. Decommissioning costs and the expense associated with retrenching a large proportion of the company’s workforce masked the improvement achieved on the dealer forecourt, which in sales terms saw the Blue Oval brand’s volume rise 15.3 percent last year. “We expect the company to incur decommissioning-related expenses for the foreseeable future which could be material, while our vehicle, parts and accessories sales division, along with engineering and design services, are anticipated to be profitable”, Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said in the annual report. Communications and public affairs director Martin Gunsberg said the 2016 accounts reflected the progress Ford has made in its quest to transform and grow its business into the future. “The result reflects the significant growth achieved in our core business as we move towards sustainability”, he said. Directors now hope to consolidate the market share gains achieved in 2016, when Ford managed to stop some of the erosion with a 6.9 percent share of the Australian new-vehicle market; a far cry from past years, but up from the 6.1 percent low-point recorded in 2015. The company is confident it can achieve sales in 2017 similar to those seen in 2016, with its performance to the end of April showing a 4.9 percent slip compared to the same period last year. Gunsberg said the national sales company (separate from the manufacturing operations) was “absolutely” profitable in 2016. General Motors Holden last week revealed a 19.2 percent jump in earnings to $152.8 million for 2016. This mainly comprised earnings from the company’s manufacturing operations which were inflated by the absence of depreciation charges. Most of the manufacturing assets were written off in 2013 when the company posted a massive loss of $553 million. Holden also received federal government assistance under the ATS of $51.4 million. Ford took some major steps forward in the showroom battle during 2016 thanks to the first full year of the Mustang and Everest and another boom year for Ranger. With 81,207 new Ford vehicles registered last year, the brand jumped back into fifth place overall, leaping over Mitsubishi and closing the gap between itself and fourth-placed Holden from 32,000 units in 2015 to 13,000. The Thailand-sourced Ranger was far and away the best seller, with a total of 36,934 sold (previously 29,185). The second-best seller for Ford behind the Ranger was the home-grown Territory SUV, even though sales dropped 22 percent to 6.928 units. This was still enough to keep the Focus in third place with 6.783 units (down 4.6 percent). As might be expected, judging from the waiting list, the Mustang made a big impression in its first full year on the market. Mustang sales rocketed from a negligible 121 in 2015 to 6,208 units last year. That growth could have been even higher if supplies were not limited. The lift in Ford sales was much greater than the 2.0 percent rise achieved by the market overall, which peaked at a new record of 1.18 million cars and trucks. Gunsberg said the strong Ranger sales followed the introduction of the PX Series II models and the addition of the Sync 3 infotainment system. “We are seeing consistently increased numbers year on year, indicating that the Ranger is meeting customers’ needs in Australia”, he said. Gunsberg confirmed that supplies of the Mustang were still constrained by demand for the popular model in other markets and that the waiting list still stretched past mid-year. “But it is getting better. At least people are not waiting a year anymore”, he said. The latest loss has brought Ford Australia’s accumulated losses to $908 million, almost double the shareholders’ funds of $454 million. Whickman said in the directors’ report there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the company will be able to pay its debts as and when they become due and payable”. +++

+++ Sales of midsize HYBRID cars in South Korea were halved in the first 4 months of this year, mainly due to existing vehicle models becoming dated and the popularity of new non-hybrid vehicles, market watchers said. Data provided by carmakers showed sales of the Sonata, K5 and Malibu hit 2,268 units at the end of April, down a sharp 49.7 percent from a year earlier. Broken down by month, sales in January plunged 62.6 percent on-year, with numbers backtracking 41.7 percent and 29.7 percent in the following 2 months, respectively, before rising to 56.6 percent in April. Sales of the Sonata hybrid, which first reached the market in late 2014, and is made by Hyundai, reached 1,281 units, while those for the K5 hybrid made by Kia and sold as the Optima in the United States totaled 842, with Malibu hybrid numbers standing at 145. The Malibu is sold by GM Korea, the South Korean unit of US auto giant General Motors. On the other hand, sales of full-size hybrid cars rose for 4 straight months this year, with the Grandeur, made by Hyundai, topping the monthly 1,000 sales mark for April. The Grandeur is badged as the Azera in the North American market. From January through April, full-size hybrid model sales reached 4,269, up a sharp 24.1 percent vis-a-vis the year before. These fuel-efficient cars accounted for 29.9 percent of all full-size cars sold in the country. Market watchers said the shift in the market reflects the popularity of the new Grandeur passenger car and that the hybrid models are no longer overly expensive compared with conventional gasoline powered cars that have less fuel economy. “With the launch of the latest face-lifted Sonata hybrid pending, the size of the midsize sector is expected to remain weak for the time being”, an industry watcher said. Hyundai, meanwhile, said a hybrid version based on the new Sonata “New Rise” will be launched within the year. +++

+++ HYUNDAI and KIA , South Korea’s top 2 automakers, saw their combined sales in China plunge by 65.1 percent on-year in April amid the row over the deployment of a US anti-missile system here, industry data showed. The 2 auto companies sold a combined total of 51,059 units in China last month, down 65.1 percent on-year, the second consecutive sales decline there, Hyundai confirmed. Sales of Hyundai dropped 63.6 percent on-year to 35,009 units last month, while Kia suffered a decline of 68 percent and sold 16,050 units. The sales posted by the 2 companies were the lowest level seen since demand for automobiles saw a sharp decline in February 2009 due to the global financial crisis. “Anti-Korea sentiment in China due to the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) deployment is the biggest reason for the 2 auto companies’ weak performance last month. The market had predicted the THAAD issue to slash Hyundai and Kia’s April sales in China, continued from March”, said analyst Kwon Soon-woo of SK Securities. Hyundai Mobis, South Korea’s biggest auto parts maker, is feeling the impact of Hyundai and Kia’s sales decline, with a dim second-quarter outlook for the auto parts supplier prevailing. Analysts, including Esther Yim at Samsung Securities, lowered Hyundai Mobis’ expected second-quarter performance. Yim projected that the auto parts supplier would post sales of 8.9 trillion won ($7.9 billion) from April to June, down 8.8 percent year-on-year. Its operating profit was expected to plummet 20 percent to 626.8 billion won. Hyundai and Kia’s performance is an essential factor for Hyundai Mobis, as the 2 automakers account for some 70 percent of the auto parts maker’s sales. Hyundai Mobis supplies modules for various Hyundai and Kia models, including Hyundai’s LF Sonata sedan and Hyundai’s luxury lineup Grandeur IG sedan. “Hyundai and Kia Motors’ sluggish sales in China is a result of intensifying competition there and their falling product competitiveness”, Yim said. “It is difficult to expect sales to bounce back up on eased political risks”. Despite enhanced profitability of Hyundai Mobis’ after-service business, chances of the company showing improved profit in the coming months remain unlikely due to weak performance in the module business, according to Moon Yong-kwon, an analyst KTB Investment & Securities. Hyundai Mobis is largely divided into module business and after-service business. Sales posted by its module sector totaled 7.5 trillion won, down 2.2 on-year in the first quarter, which was the lowest since 2011, company data showed. The rising inventory of Hyundai and Kia Motors is also accountable for Hyundai Mobis’ sluggish module business, as they will continue downsizing production, Moon said. That means less modules for Hyundai Mobis to sell. The new vehicle inventory of Kia in the US reached 4.9 months of supply as of March, which means the automaker holds the inventory for an average 4.9 months before selling it. According to Moon, conditions in China and the US will continue to affect Hyundai and Kia, and ultimately push down Hyundai Mobis’ performance. +++

+++ Mercedes-Benz has completely transformed MAYBACH yet again. From a stand-alone brand it revived in 1997 to compete with (Volkswagen’s) Bentley and (BMW’s) Rolls-Royce, Daimler has now turned Maybach into a high-end sub-brand, standing alongside AMG in transforming “ordinary” Benzes into even more desirable and expensive sets of wheels. What started with the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class limousine has since begun to spread: first to the S650 Cabriolet and then to the G650 Landaulet: both highly exclusive and unabashedly expensive vehicles that are sure to have sold out almost as soon as they were announced. So what’s next? Well, crystal balls don’t actually exist outside the realm of fairy tails, but I have a few ideas of what Mercedes could do next to make its luxury automobiles even more luxurious and sought-after than they already are. 1) S650 Sedan: Mercedes just revealed a facelifted version of its flagship S-Class sedan a couple of weeks ago at the Shanghai Motor Show. Included in the revised lineup is the Maybach version, and we predict it won’t be long before that model gets a new engine as well: specifically the engine that’s already featured in the S650 Cabriolet and G650 Landaulet. The 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 is hand-built by AMG in Affalterbach (the experiment of moving engine production off-site hasn’t panned out) with 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque, and is the same mill you’d find in the AMG S65, G65, and SL65. 2) SL650 Roadster: If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that the only vehicle in the Mercedes range that uses that twin-turbo V12 but hasn’t yet been Maybach-ized yet is the SL. A pillar parallel to the G-Class and S-Class at the top of the Mercedes lineup, the SL would be a natural candidate for the Maybach treatment. It would, however, be the first time that Maybach produce a two-seater, so we wouldn’t call breaking precedent a foregone conclusion just yet. It would make a fitting send-off, though, for the current R231-generation model revealed in 2011 before it’s replaced by an altogether different model – one which could be even more prime for the Maybach badge. 3) S650 Coupe: With the S-Class sedan and cabrio both having already joined the Maybach lineup, the next logical candidate would be the coupe. Fortunately the ingredients are all there; it’d just be a matter of the powers-that-be at Daimler to decide on pulling the proverbial trigger. The decision could come down to a limited edition (like the drop-top) or regular production (like the saloon), and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the latter follow the former if the manufacturer sees enough demand. (Same goes for the cabriolet, for that matter.) It could be time, after all, for the Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith to see a little competition from Stuttgart. 4) Landaulet: While the industry today seems to be constantly inventing new automotive bodystyles, we can credit Maybach with reaching back into the history books to revive one that had long since been all but completely forgotten. That would be the oddball anomaly known as the Landaulet. Essentially a half-convertible, landaulets feature fixed roofs over the front seats and folding mechanisms over the rear: good for parades, and (practically speaking) not much else. Daimler revived the style for a limited-production version of the long-wheelbase Maybach 62, producing just eight of them, each priced at $1.35 million, or nearly 3 times the price of the fixed-roof version. It also applied the style more recently to the Mercedes-Maybach G650, and we wouldn’t rule out the prospect of the format returning for an exclusive version of the S-Class sedan (likely the stretched Pullman version) in the near future. 5) GLS: Long rumored to be in the works, a Maybach version of the GLS crossover could be just around the corner to challenge the Bentley Bentayga and forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it lose the third row of seating in favor of a pair of first-class seats and plenty of legroom to go with it, which could make it especially popular in the vital emerging luxury markets of the Middle and Far East. The biggest question left in our minds is what engine would power the thing. Available to date with either a V6 or V8, we don’t know if the V12 would even fit or not, but Daimler could simplify the process and just go with the eight. After all, the Maybach S-Class sedan offers a V8 (with all-wheel drive) as an alternative to the big twelve. 6) Sprinter: A van? Yes, a van. Discerning (and well-heeled) customers are increasingly turning to big vans as their chosen mode of luxurious transportation (especially for long distances) and that point is not lost on Mercedes. The Sprinter has proven particularly popular for these aftermarket conversions, and the new V-Class is following its lead. But why should Daimler watch the retrofitters make all the money luxing up its vans when it could do so itself, and charge an arm and a leg for the privilege? The major concern might come down to cheapening the brand, but the brand’s image is being reshaped as it goes. And as the old saying goes, money talks. So if the money’s there, don’t be shocked to see Daimler reach out and take it. Is That All? If the formula proves a success for Mercedes, it could dig deeper into its existing lineup for more models to turn into Maybachs. The prospect of a stretched E-Class has been mooted for the Chinese market especially, but so far has yet to materialize. The next-generation CLS is expected to move up-market to make room for a new CLE underneath, and the flagship four-door coupe could be in line for the Maybach treatment as well. If there’s enough demand, Daimler could green-light additional S650 Cabriolets, and with a new G-Class around the corner, we might see a Maybach version of that as well. Less likely (but not to be ruled out entirely) is the possibility of a Maybach-fettled Smart Fortwo. It’s a strategy that Aston Martin tried (and ultimately abandoned) with the Toyota iQ-based Cygnet, but a luxed-up Smart could, in theory, offer Maybach owners a nimble city car smaller but no less luxurious than the limousines they’d sooner leave outside the downtown core of increasingly congested metropolitan areas. The prospect I find truly intriguing, though, is that of a halo car like the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 concept or the Exelero showcased back in the day. Mercedes has been known to make some eminently powerful grand tourers, and that could be just what it needs to set the sub-brand apart. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s North American chief executive has revealed that the Japanese carmaker is looking at lightweight materials in order to meet tightening fuel economy standards. Speaking at an event about Toyota’s expansion of its research and development center in York Township, Jim Lentz said that aluminum is of serious interest for the company. “We have to look at many, different ways to improve fuel economy. So, obviously, we will be looking at more and more ways to use lightweight materials like aluminum in future products”, Lentz said. Toyota’s vice president in charge of purchasing and supplier engineering, Robert Young, expanded on this by saying that creating body parts from aluminum will be quite easy. The challenge, he said, will be incorporating the lightweight material into future platform components. Increasing its use of aluminum won’t come cheap for Toyota however. It is reported that President Trump is considering tariffs and other measures on aluminum and steel not made in the U.S. +++

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