+++ CADILLAC chief executive Johan de Nysschen has denied reports that the CT6 could be axed after the 2020 model year. Late last week, Reuters indicated that the CT6 was one of six passenger cars from General Motors reportedly on the chopping block due to dwindling demand for cars. However, de Nysschen said there is no plan to cancel the luxurious sedan. “There is absolutely, if I could speak all capitals now, they’d be coming out of my mouth. There is absolutely no plan, at all, to cancel the CT6”. Interestingly, de Nysschen not only said that the CT6 won’t be ditched but that the automaker actually plans on investing more into the vehicle. “The CT6 forms a very important part of our product strategy going forward for the brand. The car also has a very major contribution to make to the shaping of brand perceptions, and the transformational process that Cadillac is undergoing as far as that is concerned”, he said. +++

+++ FISKER ’s goal of bringing the EMotion sedan to the market has hit a major stumbling block after its battery supplier, Nanotech Energy, confirmed that it has left a joint venture with the carmaker. Henrik Fisker had previously revealed that the all-electric EMotion would be powered by battery cells using graphene developed by Nanotech. However, chairman and acting chief executive of Nanotech Energy, Jack Kavanaugh said it didn’t make sense for the company to go ahead with the partnership. “In order to meet the timetable for Henrik Fisker, we would have had to just focus on that and that alone. It wasn’t right for us as a company to just focus on one thing”, he said. According to Fisker, it will now source its batteries from LG Chem, a leading South Korean supplier. Rather than the previously planned graphene cells, the EMotion will instead use the company’s cylindrical lithium/ion NCM chemistry cells. ‘This cell from LG Chem, it’s their latest new cell and we have done our own testing of that cell and verified that it will give us the power we need and the capability of fast charging”, Fisker said. If all goes to plan, Fisker hopes to commence deliveries of the EMotion in late 2019. +++

+++ FORD says it will stop producing its B-Max model at its Romanian unit Automobile Craiova in September. Instead, it will built its smaller sport utility vehicle EcoSport in the fall. Ford has plans to hire an additional 500 people, on top of plans for more than 1,000 new hires announced earlier this year, meaning Ford Romania staff will rise by just under 1,700. +++

+++ Are GERMANY ’s carmakers embroiled in a cartel bigger than the supersized Audi Q7? That’s the suggestion from a report in Der Spiegel magazine, suggesting that Audi, VW, Porsche, Daimler and BMW colluded to slow down innovation and limit the effectiveness of emission cleaning technology. The reality may prove more prosaic. On one level, carmakers are in need of more collaboration, not less. The fact that the five German brands co-operate in “working groups” to set standards has been known for years. And so far there is no suggestion that auto groups colluded on the most sensitive antitrust areas: prices. Volkswagen notified regulators about potential antitrust violations during such talks more than a year ago, but so far there have been no charges, fines or mentions of investigations. That suggests this may not become a big issue. As far as innovation is concerned, there’s little sign competition has failed. Data by Evercore ISI analysts last year showed that at 14 billion euros, German automakers’ aggregate annual research and development budget is 50 percent higher than tech group Apple’s. A study by the Center of Automotive Management, a German think tank, concluded that Volkswagen, Audi and Daimler each deployed more innovative technology to their vehicles than any other global competitor. Moreover, the German brands face fierce competition from foreign brands which stand outside the alleged cartel. The real problem might be too much duplication of effort. The Evercore ISI data shows that of the 100 global companies with the biggest R&D budgets, 17 are in the auto industry. Many are developing the same costly technology. Take autonomous driving. CB Insight, a venture capital database, in May identified 44 companies that are developing driverless vehicles. Some signs of positive cooperation are happening. In 2015, the German auto makers jointly bought Nokia’s digital mapping business Here. Last year, they unveiled plans to jointly build charging infrastructure for electrical vehicles in Europe. Regulators do need to keep a close eye on such joint projects. But as long as antitrust watchdogs do their job, closer cooperation among carmakers is nothing to be feared. +++

+++ An INFINITI spokesman has announced that the QX70 crossover has been killed off. Sad. Kind of. Not really. Although customers continue to demand crossovers, Infiniti told that the QX70 won’t be offered for the 2018 model year and that it will instead shift its marketing efforts to the smaller QX50, set for a comprehensive overhaul in 2018. The untimely demise of the QX70 comes as quite a surprise, particularly after the company unveiled the new premium version of the crossover, dubbed the QX70 Limited, at last year’s New York Auto Show. However, the design of the QX70 remained largely unchanged from 2009 and is now at odds with the rest of the Infiniti family, particularly when compared to both the QX50 Concept and QX80 Monograph Concept. While the QX70 as we know it is no more, the automaker is said to be planning a Nissan Murano-based replacement for 2021 or 2022. +++

+++ After years of subpar cars, General Motors hit a home run with the 10th generation of its big, cushy Chevrolet Impala. Consumer Reports, notorious in Detroit for its favoritism toward imports, called the Impala the best SEDAN it had ever tested, and the car became an icon of the automaker’s post-bankruptcy product renaissance. “It’s very luxurious”, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of auto testing. “In terms of ride comfort and quietness, it was really a standout. That’s something that has really trickled down through the rest of General Motors’ lineup”. Just 4 years later, the Impala’s chances of reaching an 11th generation look grim. Sales are tanking. Production has slowed to a crawl. An average Chevy dealership now sees about one Impala customer every 2 months. It’s not a case of GM doing anything wrong, besides designing crossovers ​that today’s consumers like better. The shift from cars has spelled trouble for many venerable nameplates, but it’s been especially devastating for the Impala and other full-size sedans that once ruled American roads. Hyundai this month said it was discontinuing the Azera after selling just 1,792 of them in the U.S. in the first half of the year. Chevrolet already has confirmed the demise of 2 other full-size cars, the high-performance SS and fleet-only Caprice. Ford is widely expected to cut the Taurus from its North American lineup, having limited the car’s newest generation to China. With no signs that the falloff for big sedans could ease, the Impala (one of GM’s longest-running and most-recognized names, a car that logged more than 1 million U.S. sales in 1965) appears unlikely to survive much longer. Its plunge into irrelevancy comes as GM is launching 4 redesigned cross-overs this year and developing 3 new cross-overs for Cadillac in the next few years. “The Hyundai Azera is just the first casualty in the large-sedan segment”, said Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific. “The Impala could face the same fate as the future continues to grow darker. We’re in the midst of a permanent shift away from sedans and coupes”. Sales of full-size sedans have dropped 18 percent so far in 2017, more than doubling last year’s rate of decline. The segment’s share in the U.S. has dropped by two-thirds in the past decade, to a mere 2.3 percent now. Automakers are on pace to sell fewer large cars in the U.S. this year than in 2009, the low point of the recession, even though total sales for the industry have climbed 65 percent since then. “It’s just not a practical segment anymore”, said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis at Edmunds. “Their only crime is that they’re a large car. They’re really great cars for what they are. The market is just not the same. There are legacy buyers, but even that’s going to dwindle off because the heyday for these cars was so long ago”. Large cars are getting squeezed not only by cross-overs, which offer greater utility and cargo space, but also by midsize cars, which cost less, get better fuel economy and have grown more spacious over the years to satisfy consumer demand and make fuel-economy targets easier to hit. While large sedans are often positioned as aspirational flagships for luxury brands, mass-market models carry little such cachet. “No one’s buying Toyota Corollas because there’s an Avalon”, Fisher said. Hyundai, in announcing the end of the Azera this fall, attributed the decision to its new high-end spinoff, Genesis, and improvements to the midsize Sonata, which starts at about $12,000 less than the Azera and offers virtually the same amount of interior space. “The Sonata has increased its appeal: it’s got generous roominess and a lot of content at a very affordable price”, said Hyundai spokesman Derek Joyce, “and then on the upper end we’ve got the G80 model from Genesis, which is rear drive but has good roominess and of course luxury-level amenities”. Despite the segment’s bleak prospects, not every automaker is looking to get out. Toyota plans to release the 5th generation of the Avalon next year; the car is moving to the same modern platform that underpins the Camry and Lexus ES, signaling a commitment to the vehicle even though the company now sells fewer than one Avalon for every 10 Camrys. Nissan considered dumping the Maxima several years ago, in light of surging sales for the Altima. But it decided the Maxima had too much name recognition to give up on it, and the redesign launched in mid-2015 has fared well, with sales jumping 55 percent last year and 2.5 percent in the first half of 2017 (the Maxima and the Chevrolet SS are the only full-size sedans to post increases this year). Nearly a quarter of full-size car owners who buy a new vehicle stay in the same segment, according to IHS Markit data. About a quarter buy a compact or midsize crossover, which is up from 19 percent 3 years ago. The problem is that as many of those owners age, the segment isn’t attracting many new buyers beyond police departments and car-rental companies. “If you want more room, you’re not looking for a car. You’re looking for an SUV”, Fisher said. “For the same price, same fuel economy and more utility, you could get yourself an SUV, and sometimes one with a third-row seat”. Few cars have enjoyed as much success as the Impala. Its collapse since the recession has been equally stunning, with 2017 marking the car’s seventh consecutive year of declining sales. Even in 2014, after it was last redesigned, the Impala dominated the large-car segment. But after its sales plummeted 45 percent in the first half of 2017, the Impala now trails the Dodge Charger and the Maxima. It gets worse. Retail sales of the Impala have fallen 57 percent this year, to just 10,707 units in 6 months. Twothirds of the Impalas sold in 2017 went to airport car-rental lots and other fleet operators. Chevrolet has been less willing than most rivals to artificially boost Impala sales with discounts. Year to date, Impala incentives have averaged $4,800 per vehicle, vs. $5,600 for the Charger, $6,000 for the Maxima and $7,500 for the Chrysler 300, according to Autodata. “By getting close to the true underlying demand, we’ve been able to optimize the revenue side of the equation”, said Chevrolet spokesman Jim Cain. But little underlying demand is left. The upside for Chevrolet is that killing the Impala probably wouldn’t hurt the brand, particularly because it has also redesigned the Malibu and Cruze, incorporating many of the same attributes that made the Impala stand out in 2013. IHS Markit data show that 61 percent of Impala owners remain loyal to Chevrolet with their next purchase, and 72 percent stay within the GM portfolio. Tom Libby, IHS Markit’s manager of loyalty solutions and industry analysis, described those numbers as unusually high. “It shows that the rest of their portfolio is more competitive”, Libby said. “It speaks to the increasing appeal of the broader lineup within the brand”. Chevrolet officials declined to directly comment on the Impala’s future. The car was expected to be freshened and get a new 9-speed transmission this year, but no such changes have been announced. The Automotive News Data Center estimates that GM built only about 12,600 Impalas in the first half of 2017, which is 77 percent fewer than the same period last year. GM’s president of North America, Alan Batey, said in a June interview that GM needs a balanced portfolio of products and that sales in other countries can help provide the scale needed to support less popular cars in the U.S. But the Impala is primarily a North American nameplate. Another strike against it is that it’s built on GM’s aging Epsilon platform, and the cost of migrating it to a new architecture would be increasingly hard to justify. GM’s newfound philosophy of focusing its investments on the parts of its business where it foresees worthwhile returns also doesn’t bode well for the Impala. In addition to largely pulling out of Europe, India and other markets, GM has identified North American cars as an area in which it intends to cut back. “We look at what is the portfolio customers are going to want in two, three, four, five years and beyond”, GM CEO Mary Barra said in a November interview, “and make sure we’re looking over the horizon to have the portfolio for the future, not just ‘ We’ve always had this, so we always will’ “. +++

+++ The reborn British sports car marque TVR will unveil its all-new sports car range at the 2017 Goodwood Revival, the company has confirmed. It’s the first time a new car has been unveiled at the historic motorsport event in West Sussex. The launch edition car, which will cost “under £90,000”, will be shown alongside a range of old TVRs, as the brand celebrates its 70th anniversary at Goodwood. TVR claims that, thanks to low weight and huge power, its new car offers a class-leading power-to-weight ratio of 400 hp per tonne. It, according to TVR, is more than a 911 Turbo S, Aston Vantage GT8 and an F-Type SVR. The first run of ‘Launch Edition’ cars will be built around a carbonfibre chassis, designed with help from famed design consultant Gordon Murray, put together using his innovative ‘iStream’ manufacturing system, and clothed in carbonfibre bodywork. While the first batch of cars will get the full carbonfibre treatment, it’s understood that the following production run will use an aluminium chassis and bodywork made from less exotic composites, such as fibreglass. However, the carbon tub and carbon panels will still be available as an option at extra cost. The iStream process is claimed to be far more cost-effective than more traditional composite manufacturing methods. “Historically, carbonfibre has been reserved for motorsport and high-end supercars, but now TVR will be offering customers a slice of that technology at a fraction of the price” says TVR’s chairman Les Edgar. “The carbon manufacturing process really is a game changer, and one I’m delighted to offer to all of our early adopter Launch Edition customers within the package cost”. Gordon Murray added: “From early on it became apparent that there was no reason why we couldn’t develop a carbonfibre chassis structure for the new TVR at a lower cost than manufacturing processes previously allowed”. The most recent car to showcase Gordon Murray Design’s nascent iStream technology was Yamaha’s compact sports car concept displayed at the 2015 Tokyo motor show. Following hot on the heels of the announcement of the TVR marque’s comeback, the company revealed in summer 2015 that it had sold out the projected first year of production in just 6 weeks. More than 300 deposits of £5000 have been taken on the next generation of models. Putting money down early has secured one of the first new TVRs to be built, and owners’ club members were allowed to jump on the queue for just £2500. Hence the company has raised a handy nest egg to help develop its new models. “The response has been fantastic”, said Edgar. “With deposits continuing to flow in, we will be looking to close the order book for the Launch Edition car shortly. Our intent is to unveil the styling of the new car in the coming months at a public event, although we will be conducting car clinics before then”. Can TVR pull it off? That’s the $64 million question. Enthusiasts would suggest there is indeed a place in the market for something simpler, purer, more brutal than the polish of Porsches or the Germanic heft of modern-day M3s and AMGs. A step up from the purity of a Toyota GT86. But the economic realities of realising this dream are harsh and the path to independent manufacturing is littered with failure, not least the last-generation TVR concern. However, the new business has appointed some of the brightest minds in the business, and the low-volume specialist build process that is Murray’s iStream could make or break their chances. It’ll be fascinating to see if they can relaunch TVR successfully. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has rejected calls from the mayor of London Sadiq Khan to pay £2.5 million in lost congestion charge revenue. The bill would cover the cost of the 80,000 Dieselgate-affected cars in London that escaped congestion charge payments due to their low-emissions classification. Volkswagen says the cars qualified for a discount on the charge and that since no CO2 change has been measured, they still meet the criteria at the time. But Khan describes VW’s actions as “nothing short of a disgrace”; the famously outspoken London mayor has since introduced and proposed stringent fees and penalties for drivers of diesel cars since the scandal emerged, such as a Toxicity charge, due to be introduced in October. Volkswagen emphasised that the cars were discounted due to their sub-100g/km status. No official CO2 figures on affected cars have been changed, so they did not qualify for the discount under a falsehood. Volkswagen issued the following statement in reaction to Sadiq Khan’s suggestion: “Volkswagen is clear that all of its vehicles which were affected by the NOx issue, and which benefited from the Congestion Charge Greener Vehicle Discount, did so validly throughout the relevant period”. Khan wrote to Volkswagen late last year, saying: “There is no excuse for the utter lack of action VW has taken in London since the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal came to light”, according to The Guardian. He continued: “I want to see a proper commitment from them to fully compensate the thousands of Londoners who bought VW cars in good faith, but whose diesel engines are now contributing to London’s killer air. I also urge them to reimburse Transport for London (TfL) the £2.5m lost in congestion charge revenue, which I will use to fund a new schools air quality programme that will reduce the exposure and raise the awareness of schoolchildren in London attending schools in the most polluted areas”. Khan said London was home to 80,000 VW vehicles (2009 to 2015 model years) that were affected by the “cheat devices”; software that allowed various Volkswagen models to detect when they were being tested for emissions and change engine settings to pass. The scandal affected 11 million vehicles worldwide. Volkswagen has agreed a deal in the US to compensate owners and dealers who were misled by the emissions claims but has said it will not pay out in Europe. Khan, who became London mayor in May of last year, also requested that VW updates him on progress on the reprogramming of affected vehicles, asking when the work would be completed. The British Government has also urged VW to pay compensation to British owners and threatened prosecution over the scandal. The company already faces legal proceedings in several countries around the world, including the US, Norway, South Korea and Germany. It’s not the first time Volkswagen has rejected others’ proposed levies on the brand; Volkswagen continues to reject the notion that owners in Europe should be compensated, and also refused to cover the cost of a government re-testing of a sample of the UK car market. +++

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