+++ BMW will continue to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology, despite the various barriers that are preventing a wider roll-out to consumers, according to the company’s ‘i’ division boss. The German car-maker revealed its vision of a future fuel cell-powered car in 2015, which was a 5 Series GT powered by the technology, but had earlier revealed its intentions with the 7 Series-based Hydrogen 7 back in 2005. Earlier this year, BMW CEO Harald Krüger re-confirmed the company’s commitment to the tech by producing a low-volume hydrogen fuel-cell-powered car by about 2021, with wider availability from 2025. This follows the agreement BMW signed with Japanese giant Toyota back in early 2013 to develop fuel-cell technology. BMW i head of product management Alexander Kotouc said the company was still developing fuel-cell tech and highlighted the challenges in rolling it out. “If I am talking the electric drive future, it includes fuel-cell and hydrogen”, he said. “You are aware we are still having a cooperation with Toyota. We are of course using economies of scale to research on this really promising technology together. What is the drawback of this technology at the moment? It is the charging network. We know what is really harming the bigger spread of electro-mobility, it is not having enough charging stations. Then you would have another very promising technology but without offering something like infrastructure, I don’t think it is a good idea to go really deeply at the current time. It is always like the egg and chicken thing. We currently don’t see that anybody is investing in something like a hydrogen network. Actually, from a technology point of view, we had the Active Hydrogen 7, so we have a car that could drive, and from a tech point of view, we could offer you a car with hydrogen, it is not that hard. But if there is no network where consumers can charge the cars, there is no point doing it”. Kotouc said there was room for BMW to develop more traditional battery-powered electric vehicles as well as hydrogen fuel-cell cars, but highlighted the environmental issues related to producing hydrogen. “With hydrogen, there are 2 problems. First you don’t have a network. Second, if you want to produce hydrogen, it takes so much energy to produce it, if you take the overall CO2 balance of hydrogen, it is a clean technology to burn in a car, but the CO2 level is so bad to produce the hydrogen it doesn’t make sense. The only clean hydrogen actually could be produced with completely solar power. So far nobody is doing that. It is a clean technology that can’t be clean at the moment”. When asked why BMW is still pouring resources into developing hydrogen fuel-cell technology given the massive obstacles, Kotouc said it was important to continue to explore alternative powertrain technologies to find the best option for consumers. “Well you should never say no to technology if you see value in it. If you were the owner of a gas station and you feel like your business model is going away because combustion engines are, probably not dying in an instant but it is going away. You could say, ‘I will replace my gas station with a charging station’. It is difficult because all of the electric suppliers are quicker. But if I had a gas station, I would say ‘why don’t I convert it to a hydrogen station in the future?’ So the process is ongoing and that is why we of course still investigate hydrogen, and it is a really beautiful technology. I can’t give you a timeframe when it is really ready to (go to) market, because it really all is vulnerable to the infrastructure, but I think there could be a change as well”. Kotouc suggested that a wider acceptance and roll-out of hydrogen powered cars would likely be “about 15-20 years, the battery will be your best bet for cars”. In terms of EV battery range, Kotouc said there was little point in pushing for a vehicle with an all-electric driving range of 1.000 km, as few people would have a need for it on their regular commute. “What we have found from market research, the psychological threshold where customers don’t have range anxiety anymore. It is about 300 km real range. As soon as you have something like 300 km real range in your car, people start ticking the box saying they don’t have range anxiety anymore. Of course, the battery capacity in the future will always become better, it is the same with computers, you always have the cycles where the capacity just doubles. The same will happen to batteries, probably in a slower kind of way. The basic question is how much range do you actually want to put in a car. Because you are always adding weight and adding cost. The question is, do we ever want to offer something like a 1.000 km battery? I would answer, why should we? Technically we could, but if we are at a 500 km range, this is good for almost all purposes. And it is not about the battery you are having in the car, it is more about the charging technology. Because the quicker we can recharge the battery, the less you actually need battery in the car. From a consumer point of view, I wouldn’t ask a question like, when can I have 1000 km battery, but the question is, what can you do about the charging. Because if you imagine you have a 300 km battery, but you can charge it in 10 minutes, you don’t need anymore, because you stop for a coffee, go to the toilet, and you have 300 km once more recharged. Why should you pay more or want more weight in the car to have a 600 km battery, you just don’t need it”. BMW is close to rolling out inductive charging technology, and charging times are reducing with each new EV model released onto the market. Kotouc said internal BMW research suggested that the average number of kilometres driven in an i3, regardless of the market, is 49 km per day. He also said that BMW was keen to offer consumers various options when it comes to alternative powertrain tech. He said the company would roll-out more models under the the ‘i’ sub-brand, but that something like an all-electric production model, such as a 5 Series was also not far off. “We are close. I can’t really give you like an exact number for probably competitive reasons, but you can put something like 2020 on that. It’s coming”. +++

+++ Despite being one of the newest models in the lineup, the CADILLAC CT6 has begun preparing for its mid-life facelift. It was spotted undergoing hot weather testing in Southern Europe. So why the early updates? Well, Cadillac has been running a marketing campaign using the Escala concept, one of the coolest cars it’s ever put together. But in a way, this has backfired, as customers are turning up to dealerships demanding to buy one. So the Escala’s design cues are being transferred to the not-quite-flagship CT6 model. Despite the full camouflage of the prototype, we can see that a new grille design is being introduced, bigger and sportier. Meanwhile, the CT6’s vertical headlights are being shaved into a narrow layout. Of course, the production car can’t come close to the sharpness of a design study. Around the back, something similar is happening to the taillights, but the Escala’s swooping fastback trunk can’t be added. Of course, another reason for the facelift is adding a performance version. Sources suggest a CT6 V-Sport is on its way. This would change the formula to a prestige-sport-luxury sedan, a bit like the Audi S8, by adding more handling prowess and a bigger engine. The V-Sport might get Cadillac’s twin-turbocharged V6 LF4 engine, like the one in the ATS-V. In that car, the powerplant makes 464 horsepower and 600 Nm of torque. Sending power to the wheels is either the 8-speed 8L90 automatic or a new 10-speed that’s unrevealed. There’s also a rumor about a CT6-V. General Motors’ go-to engine for big power is the 6.2-liter V8 giving the Corvette Z06 its grunt. However, it’s possible that an all-new Cadillac-specific V8 is in the cards. I believe a new twin-turbocharged 4.2-liter V8 is on the way. Of course, that information is base on the Escala concept having exactly that kind of mill. The advanced engine utilizes Active Fuel Management technology, enabling fuel-saving 4-cylinder operation. +++

+++ HYUNDAI design boss Luc Donckerwolke believes that autonomous vehicle technology and electric powertrains could help to extend the life of the small MPV; and he has admitted that a successor to the ix20 is in the pipeline. The Korean brand’s baby people-carrier (a low-volume model in Europe) had been expected to be canned after the launch of the new Kona small SUV. However, Donckerwolke, who joined Hyundai at the start of 2016 as Senior Vice-President Design, says that MPVs could be well suited to the flexibility afforded by self-driving cars, and able to maximise the practicality offered by the removal of a combustion engine. When asked if he had a replacement for the ix20 on the drawing board, Donckerwolke replied, “Yes, we do. We don’t call it the ix20 yet but yes, it’s there”. He added: “The SUV has contaminated all segments of the market, really, due to this ‘adventure flavour’, which cannot be reached with an MPV. The SUV gives you functionality along with the alibi that you are a dynamic person. It conveys the impression that you have a lot of lifestyle. It’s a pure marketing thing, really. We are at the point of a shift now, with what’s going to happen with autonomous vehicles. And if you have all of that assistance, why would we confine ourselves to the package that we currently had? Even more so when you have electrification. That’s exploding the whole theory of the packaging and the layout. So looking ahead, the MPV – by which I mean the sense of the maximum utilisation of the space you are occupying with the floor of the car, is going to become a necessity, and almost a logical approach. But we’re talking about 10 or 15 years from now”. Donckerwolke was not responsible for the Kona; a car he says will have “unique elements” that will not be shared with other models in the Hyundai line-up, because he joined after the manufacturer’s California studio won the internal concept competition for the car’s design. But he’s preparing a new design language that’s likely to be introduced on the next Sonata, due by 2019. “I’m really excited about the next Sonata”, he said, “because it’s the one that’s going to relaunch the design of Hyundai. I think for the brand Hyundai, at the moment, it’ll be a big step forward. We’ve frozen the design of it already and it’s making a big change”. +++

+++ MAZDA has revealed an MPS-fettled small car was once in the works for its current-generation Mazda3, but the high-performing hot hatch was canned due to a lack of resources and stricter emissions regulations. Mazda product division deputy general manager Kenichiro Saruwatari said at one stage the third-generation Mazda3 was mooted to receive a Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST-fighting flagship. “Honestly speaking, on this current car, we tried to put some sort of special engine but we stopped development because we don’t have any resources to develop it”, he said. “As you know, currently we have to focus on making very good fuel consumption and emissions globally to meet the regulations of CO2”. When asked if the 232 hp / 420 Nm turbocharged 2.5-litre engine from the large CX-9 SUV would fit into the smaller Mazda3, Saruwatari confirmed it could be shoehorned in, but that the engine was not designed for a performance application. “We can put this engine into another car, but it is not developed for sportscars”, he said. “So the characteristics that we put in the turbocharger in that model (CX-9) was just to make the power, was just to meet the CO2”. The previous-generation Mazda3 MPS, which was discontinued in 2013, utilised a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produced 260 hp of power and 380Nm of torque. With power being sent exclusively to the front axle via a 6-speed manual gearbox, Mazda’s last hot hatch could accelerate to 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, making it more than a match for the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Renault Megane RS, Mini JCW, Honda Civic Type R and Opel Astra OPC from the same era. Interestingly, the Mazda3 MPS performance figures still hold up against modern front-drive hot hatches including the Ford Focus ST and Peugeot 308 GTI, and is only 0.4 seconds slower to 100 km/h than the incoming new-generation 320 hp / 400Nm turbocharged Honda Civic Type R; the fastest front-drive production car yet. Saruwatari, who oversaw engine development of the Mazda3 and Mazda6 when both models offered MPS variants, said the MPS line-up was only one way in which Mazda appealed to driving enthusiasts. “Our brand is always in pursuit of the ‘zoom-zoom’, to provide the feeling and celebrate driving itself”, he said. “The way to make it, one way is like the roadster, so we made it very light and with a small engine, and the other is to put a more powerful engine and proper drivetrain and something like that. “We are considering which is the best way to provide those kinds of things driving enjoyment and we have a history with the Mazda3 and especially the Mazda 323 where we joined the WRC”. When asked if and when the MPS nameplate could return, Saruwatari could neither confirm nor deny and simply replied “we hope, we wish”. +++

+++ Interested in becoming one of the stockholders of one of the famed British carmakers, MCLAREN Automotive? The door to becoming one of the carmaker’s owners could open up as early as 2020 when McLaren might open itself for public ownership. In an interview, McLaren Automotive chief executive Mike Flewitt remarked that the company might launch an initial public offering in the next 3 to 5 years in a bid to further boost funds. Should this intention come into fruition and the McLaren is listed in the stock market, it would be the second high-end carmaker to launch an IPO in recent history. The first was Ferrari in 2015. Flewitt quipped that the more successful McLaren becomes, the more attractive it would be for people who wanted to invest into the carmaker. He added that launching an IPO of the company in 3 to 5 years is a better route for McLaren. These statements from McLaren’s top honcho came a few weeks following an announcement by Aston Martin that it was considering floating the company in the stock market. Just like Aston Martin, McLaren could follow the success achieved by Italian supercar maker Ferrari when it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015. Since then, Ferrari has seen its value surge by around 62 percent. So, in the eyes of both McLaren Automotive and Aston Martin, launching an IPO is such not a bad thing to pursue if they really needed enough funds to bolster their war coffers. However, this isn’t the first time the McLaren floated the idea of launching an IPO for the sake of increasing investments. In 2011, Executive Chairman for McLaren, Ron Dennis, remarked that supercar manufacturer could open itself up to public investors within 5 years. McLaren Automotive is basically the road car business of the McLaren Technology Group, the same company that controls the McLaren Formula One team. Around half (50 percent) of McLaren Technology Group belongs to the Bahraini government. Around a fourth (25 percent) of McLaren Technology Group is owned by Dennis. The remaining 25 percent is held by Saudi businessman Mansour Ojjeh. Flewitt has disclosed that a number of offers to buy McLaren Automotive from McLaren Technology Group have been received, although the current owners have no intention, yet, to divest their hold of the company. In its present form, McLaren Automotive was only created in 2011, launching its first model in the guise of the 12C. The carmaker posted its fourth consecutive annual profit in 2016, after delivering 3,286 cars in 2016, which is more than double its sales in 2015. McLaren Automotive is eyeing to achieve annual deliveries of 4,500 units. +++

+++ SUBARU has been doing really well for some time now. Just last year, the company announced its eighth consecutive U.S. sales record, hitting the 600,000 mark for the first time in history when it comes to deliveries. In fact, they sold over 600,000 last year, and with the current pace they are at this year, it looks like they will beat their present record. Apart from that record, Subaru can now claim a new all-wheel drive sales record as they have overtaken Audi’s all-wheel-drive sales. According to some figures online, Subaru now sells the most number of all-wheel-drive cars globally, 15 percent of the global market to be specific. The automaker ranked number one by selling 965,892 units between the April 2015 to April 2016 financial year, that is 245,382 more than Audi’s sales of 720,510 units. Third in line would be Jaguar Land Rover, who have sold 485,797 units. To break down the company’s sales, 60 percent of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive global sales come from the United States, within the same timeframe, 50,000 units were being sold in Europe; that is less than what it achieves in the US in one month. Furthermore, the UK sells less than 4,000 units in a year, and only a total of 1,210 units were sold in the past five months, that is a 19 percent drop compared to last year’s figures. Though Subaru is hitting the sky with its sales in the United States, it appears that it hasn’t been able to build up the brand name across the Atlantic. Subaru Corporation, previously known as Fuji Heavy Industries, is made up of many parts, but most of the company’s income, at 94 percent, derives from the automotive division, while Subaru’s aerospace division only provides 4.7 percent. To enlighten you guys, 99.3 percent of Subaru’s lineup actually consists of vehicles that come with the all-wheel-drive system as a standard. And the BRZ coupe, being the lone rear-wheel-drive option, fills the 0.7 percent, along with a few kei car options that offer the same setup in Japan. What will probably continue the success of Subaru for the coming months in the US are the refreshed WRX, as well as the updated Crosstrek (XV in Europe). +++

+++ To say it’s been a rocky time for UBER recently is an understatement. Former president Jeff Jones quit the company after working there for just six months. Waymo is suing Uber over alleged theft of technology. CEO Travis Kalanick was caught berating one of his drivers. A female employee wrote a blog post that exposed a culture of sexual harassment. And there’s the matter of a $708 million loss in the first quarter of 2017. Now I have word that Kalanick is taking a leave of absence. The announcement came in an email to employees before a company meeting convened to discuss how this $70 billion ride-sharing ship is attempting to create sweeping reforms. In the email, Kalanick said he would take time off to work on himself and reflect on building a “world-class leadership team”. He gave no word on how long he would be away, but this feels very much like Gavin Belson on the HBO show “Silicon Valley” stepping onto his private jet to drift away and rediscover who he is. At the subsequent meeting, Uber released recommendations made by former attorney general Eric Holder on how the company could curtail sexual harassment and other executive wrongdoing. Yet the company is clearly far from heading down that reworked path as board member David Bonderman proved during the meeting with a sexist remark directed at fellow board member Arianna Huffington. Bonderman resigned from the board a few hours later. Uber was founded by Kalanick back in 2009, along with Garrett Camp. It was Camp’s idea and Kalanick gives him full credit. Kalanick was the main advisor at the beginning, as Camp built the company from an idea to the app and into a large company. Camp still serves as chairman. Besides the issues on the business side, there are personal reasons as to why Kalanick would take some time away. In May, his mother and father were in a boating accident. Sadly, Travis’ mother died as a result of the accident, and his father was injured. As Kalanick steps away from the company he helped balloon into a giant, it will be interesting to see how it changes. His aggressive style of leadership has led to some serious internal issues for Uber, and that massive Q1 loss must weigh heavily on the minds of investors. Still, Uber is used by riders in more than 570 cities across the globe, employs in excess of 12,000 people, and is working its way into the world of autonomous ride-sharing options. +++

+++ Herbert Diess, head of the VOLKSWAGEN brand, says the GTI badge will only be used on hot hatches, namely the Up, Polo and Golf, thereby quashing rumours of GTI crossover. In a recent interview Diess told: “I think with the 3 GTI models we have now, we are set”. He outlined the company’s thinking on the matter: “GTI for us is the hot hatch: a sporty car, classless, with potential for everyday use and accessible for many. It should be this car: a hot hatch”. That said, Volkswagen has other performance sub-brands on hand for models that aren’t named Up, Polo or Golf. For the upcoming T-Roc crossover, which will slot in underneath the Tiguan, Diess hinted at a performance variant, possibly using the R badge. When asked if a performance version of the upcoming ID electric hatchback was on the cards, Volkswagen’s boss indicated such a variant is not currently part of the company’s thinking. Instead, Volkswagen may expand its range of sporty GTE plug-in hybrid models. The company has pivoted towards electric and hybrid vehicles in the wake of the Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal, providing ample ground for a potential GTE expansion to flourish. +++

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