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+++ AUDI will put an autonomous all-electric city car akin to the Volkswagen e-Up into low-volume production by 2021. The announcement was made at Audi’s annual general meeting in Neckarsulm, Germany, where the brand’s plans for the next few years were laid out. Audi stated that the technology would be ready for a small series of these A-segment cars in 4 years’ time, whereupon an initial small production run would be undertaken. This suggests that it would be an exploratory run of a car that could be produced in greater volumes later on, although an Audi spokesman couldn’t confirm any further details. If a full-scale production model did appear, it could take the A0 or A2 name, with e-Tron suffixed to signify its electric vehicle status, as with the upcoming Q6 e-Tron SUV. The fact that the autonomous EV would be smaller than the A1 suggests that A0 is likeliest. The A0 would be the second-smallest car Audi has ever made if it were to fit into the standard A-segment dimensions; the smallest being the Volkswagen Polo-based Audi 50 of 1974. The next-generation Volkswagen Up would likely share its underpinnings with the A0. The current Up is around 90 mm longer than the 50. This would make the A0 the first A-segment model that Audi has made. +++

+++ A drop-top BMW i8, expected to be called the i8 Spyder, will be launched alongside a facelifted version of the coupé early next year. Both the Spyder and hard-top variants of BMW’s plug-in hybrid Porsche 911 rival will receive aesthetic and mechanical updates, while the starting price is expected to increase slightly. The external updates will include new headlights with a more intricate LED design, while the Spyder will swap the standard i8’s tailgate for a pair of buttresses behind the driver and passenger, adding more visual drama. These have been adapted from the look of the BMW i Vision Future Interaction concept of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Spyder’s soft-top must be removed manually and stowed away. The open-top model’s design is likely to make it heavier than the i8 coupé, which currently weighs 1.560 kg. The new i8s are expected to get a 10 percent power hike from an upgraded petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, taking power up to 425 hp, about 6 hp less than the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six that powers the BMW M3. The i8s are powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine combined with a front-mounted synchronous electric motor. Interior upgrades are expected as well, with BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment system with gesture control technology likely to be adopted. The facelifted model is expected to have a slight price increase. The Spyder will be priced above the coupé. The updated i8 range will come soon after BMW’s i electric car sub-brand launches a hot version of the i3. The i brand’s models will benefit from a new business deal with Intel and Mobileye to help development of autonomous vehicles. The latest BMW 7 Series and BMW 5 Series both have semi-autonomous driving capabilities, and upgrades to the latest i8 could also include the hybrid inheriting this technology. The i8 and Spyder will eventually be joined by the iNext, which is due in 2021. That car will have autonomous capabilities up to Level 3.5, which will allow full driverless travel in certain environments. +++

+++ DAIMLER and BAIC have announced a new collaboration which will see the 2 automakers build electric vehicles in Beijing. In a statement, Daimler said that these upgrades and improvements will allow it to produce New Energy Vehicles locally. “This year marks the 12th year of our close partnership with BAIC, and we have deepened our Sino-German collaboration by continuously expanding into new business areas”, said member of the board of management of Daimler, responsible for Greater China, Hubertus Troska. “The framework agreement signed today marks a new chapter of our cooperation in terms of New Energy Vehicles. China today is already the world’s largest market for NEVs, and Daimler is committed to contributing to the further development of electric mobility in this country”. News of this Chinese expansion comes shortly after Mercedes-Benz confirmed plans to produce a number of all-electric vehicles in Germany and also commenced production of a gigafactory in the country. +++

+++ FORD is being sued by nearly 7,000 Fiesta and Focus owners over defective PowerShift dual-clutch transmissions. The issue is known to Ford for years, with the suit claiming that 2012-16 Focus and 2011-16 Fiesta’s come with faulty PowerShift transmissions prone to “shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking, hesitation while changing gears, premature internal wear, delays in downshifting and, in some cases, sudden or delayed acceleration”. The mass action lawsuit was filed by Stern Law on April 20 with the Wayne County Circuit Court. “Ford must be held accountable for design and manufacturing defects of the PowerShift transmission that has compromised the safety of the vehicles and cost owners significant loss in vehicle value, reliable transportation and time”, Ken Stern, founder and principal of Stern Law, said in a statement. According to the lawsuit, Ford has issued more than 20 technical service bulletins relating to the aforementioned models, with none of them being a “consistently reliable repair”. In 2014, Ford has extended the powertrain warranty from 5 years to 7 years. The lawsuit is not seeking one large, single payment for damages, wanting to give each client a customized award, based on the damages he/she suffered. +++

+++ LOTUS has been something of an anomaly among Britain’s traditional car brands of late. While others have enjoyed success after success, the Norfolk firm has been desperately short of the investment needed to produce new models, and thus forced to continually bring to market different versions of the Elise and Evora. So the news that it is heading for new ownership, with Chinese company Geely taking a controlling interest, can only be welcomed. The benefits should, in theory, be mutual; Geely will be able to tap into Lotus’s widely respected technical and engineering expertise to produce lighter cars that will help to meet emissions targets in its home market. And for the Lotus brand itself, there will hopefully be the long overdue prospect of new cars, although we’ll have to wait for a while, I’d imagine, to see how Geely’s plans come to fruition. Why does this matter? Because put simply, Lotus has a very important, money-can’t-buy attribute that dozens of car makers covet: goodwill. I believe the credibility accrued by classic models of the past means that there are sufficient numbers of car fans who’d be prepared to take the plunge and buy a Lotus if the product was right. It is like Alfa Romeo in that respect; a brand people care about, despite a patchy recent history. Is Geely likely to be a safe pair of hands? You’d have to say the portents are good. Under Geely ownership, Volvo has been reinvigorated, finding the confidence to forge its own path with a genuine sense of style that mercifully doesn’t try to ape the premium German makers. And new Geely brand, Lynk & Co, is also off to an exciting start, with attractive models and radical ownership ideas. It’s still early days, but the future looks brighter for Lotus than it has for a while. +++

+++ The updated NISSAN X-Trail will be launched this August with a refreshed look and Nissan’s second phase of autonomous technology. The SUV will be available with Nissan’s Propilot 2 system, which can control the car’s acceleration, brakes and steering on the motorway in relation to lanes and other cars. The system, which was launched on the Japan-only Serena MPV last year, still requires drivers to maintain contact with the steering wheel and be ready to retake control should they need to. Other driver assist programmes include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, as well as rear cross-traffic alert, which gives visual and audible warnings if the driver is about to reverse into oncoming traffic. The updated X-Trail offers a choice of three engines, all retained from the pre-facelift model. These are a 1.6-litre diesel and 2.0-litre diesel, as well as a 1.6-litre petrol. They come mated to either a 6-speed manual or CVT automatic gearbox. Nissan has also tweaked the design of its best-selling SUV model, giving it a sharper front end with a new V-shaped grille surround, angular daytime running lights and adaptive lighting technology for the first time. The car comes with new 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels, and gets some chrome trim on its exterior. 4 new paint colours have been added: Orange Pearl, Red Pearl, Blue Pearl Metallic, and Dark Brown Pearl. Inside, there’s a new flat-bottomed steering wheel and more premium materials, including optional tan and black two-tone leather for the seats and trim. Nissan has also included a new 8-speaker Bose Premium sound system on the options list, while a DAB radio is now standard. Nissan Connect, the car maker’s infotainment system, also has a more responsive interface that’s designed to work more like a smartphone. It comes with sat-nav as standard. The X-Trail, which is available in 5 or 7-seater guises, has a repackaged boot to swallow up to 565 litres of luggage (15 litres more than before) or 1.996 litres with the rear seats folded down. The boot features a modular luggage divider system that can be adjusted into nine different configurations. An automatic tailgate with hands-free operation is also available. Prices are yet to be confirmed for the updated X-Trail, but it’s expected to stick close to the outgoing car’s entry-level price. The outgoing X-Trail is the world’s best-selling SUV, having sold 766,000 units since its launch in 2014. +++

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE has been hyping their Bentley Bentayga competitor and has just revealed new details about the next-generation Phantom. During a showroom opening in Australia, Rolls-Royce’s global client sales manager for the Asia Pacific region, Ian Grant, told: “I’ve seen the vehicle personally, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The design lines are so striking, yet elegantly and impressively Rolls-Royce”. Grant went on to say the model rides on an all-aluminum platform, enabling it to have a “lot less weight” than its predecessor. He also revealed the Phantom will have a four-wheel steering system, so the maneuverability and turning circle of the model will be “incredible” for something of its size. The 7th generation Phantom went out of production earlier this year and its replacement is scheduled to be launched in 2018. Little is known about the car, but previous spy photos have shown it will have an evolutionary design that makes it instantly recognizable as a Rolls-Royce. I’ve only seen a few glimpses of the interior, however buyers can expect an upgraded cabin with a digital instrument cluster and a large infotainment system. Despite the focus on technology, the Phantom will continue to be elegantly equipped with premium leather upholstery and wood trim. +++

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Touareg has been spied virtually undisguised ahead of its anticipated reveal later this year. Its new look is heavily inspired by the T-Prime GTE concept revealed at the Beijing Motor Show in 2016. At the front end it sprouts new, thinner headlights which bleed directly into the vertical slats of the front grille; a Volkswagen design highlight introduced on the new Arteon. An agressive front apron with large vents gives the Touareg an imposing look from the front, while the smooth rear end gets rear lights lifted almost directly from the concept. It all points to heavy T-Prime influence. It looks considerably wider and lower than the existing Touareg, but senior Volkswagen sources told me to expect the finished car not to change much. “The wheelbase of the show car is an Audi Q7’s”, said Frank Thomas, Volkswagen’s sales and marketing boss for full-size vehicles, as we walk around the T-Prime in a studio in Hamburg, “so we’ll take a few millimetres out of the rear door length for the production car. If anything, we think the slightly shorter body makes the crease along the sides and the falling roofline look even more dramatic”. The front end certainly doesn’t lack drama, with a huge chrome-plate grille, deep air intakes and aggressive running lights that actually stretch right across the base of the Volkswagen badge. At the rear, there are neat tail-lights whose graphics reference the symbol often used to show a mobile phone’s signal strength or, you could imagine, the amount of charge left in a plug-in hybrid’s batteries. The overall look is a more dynamic one than the current Touareg, particularly around the rear wheelarch, where there’s a subtle blister to create a stronger shoulder line. Despite the switch of platforms, Thomas says Volkswagen will resist the temptation to offer the T-Prime with a conventional 4 cylinder diesel engine. “Our experience is that customers want the extra relaxed performance of 6 cylinders”, he says. “We’ll start with a V6 diesel, although we will also offer a V8 TDI at the top of the range”. The Touareg will be offered with VW’s 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged 4 cylinder petrol motor in some markets, notably China. But the same unit will also be paired with an electric motor to power the Touareg GTE, a plug-in hybrid that can replenish its battery reserves by using a little more of the combustion engine’s capacity, or travel for small distances on electric power alone. “We’re thinking the pure-EV range of the Touareg GTE has to be at least 50 km”, says Thomas. Inside, the T-Prime’s cabin is a showcase for the future direction of Volkswagen interiors. The front is dominated by the huge touch-screen mounted in the centre of the dashboard but angled towards the driver. It’s a 15-inch display (as large as many laptops, in fact) and Volkswagen’s engineers plan to use the increased desktop space to allow levels of configuration previously unseen on a car interface. Sitting inside the concept, it’s clear that the switch to Volkswagen’s MLB chassis technology has helped the packaging; even with the lower roofline and the show car’s panoramic glass sunroof, there’s plenty of headroom for six-footers. “You sit very slightly lower than before”, admits Thomas, “and that makes all the difference with the headroom”. The rear cabin is laid out in a 2-seat format, with a large central tunnel between the pair of passengers and 3 more screens: one each on the back of the front headrests, and a portrait-oriented display low down near the centre console. The extra screens are not expected to make production: “We think our customers would rather have strong 4G connectivity for their own devices like iPads and smartphones”, says Thomas, but while the 4-seat configuration will not be the Touareg’s standard layout, it could yet appear later in the car’s life. “We are exploring the possibility of maybe a more luxurious version of the Touareg”, says Thomas. “It is now the global Volkswagen flagship (privately, VW sources say the prices of high-end, fully-optioned editions could even crack the 120,000 euro mark) so maybe there is the chance to do a four-seat version at some point, even more focused on luxury, with even higher-end materials and more complex stitching on the seats”. There will not be a 7-seat configuration, however. The Touareg will be sold across Europe and Asia, but there are doubts on whether it will make it to the United States. The production version of the next Touareg is likely to make its public debut this spring, with sales and deliveries to European markets starting in late summer or early autumn. It’ll be built at Volkswagen’s plant in Bratislava, alongside the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. With the demise of the Phaeton, the next generation of Touareg will be VW’s global flagship, and as such, it gets the job of introducing the company’s latest infotainment system. So while most Touaregs will undoubtedly ship with a conventional central infotainment screen, possibly combined with VW’s digital instrument panel, the T-Prime’s radical touch-screen system will be offered, at least as an option. In hardware terms, it uses a 15-inch display that’s angled towards the driver, and could well be slightly curved in the final production model, in an attempt to reduce glare and reflections. It’s the software that will bring the biggest revolution for Volkswagen owners. The huge desktop area can be completely tailored to the driver’s tastes, prioritising the size and position of ‘tiles’ containing everything from sat-nav instructions to audio information or the latest weather forecast. These ‘tiles’ can be moved around, or even pulled or swiped across from the central screen to the active instrument panel. Volkswagen’s software engineers are said to be evaluating whether customers want this level of smartphone interaction, or if they’d prefer a double-tap or single-tap to maximise windows. Either way, a central button, permanently displayed at the base of the screen, will always allow users the security of returning to their saved home screen layout – again, a feature borrowed from smartphones. The system won’t be limited to one user, either. Different drivers will be able to bring up their own preferred layout, either through use of their own key or by selecting their ‘user’ at start-up, much like during a computer login. +++

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