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+++ Automakers are joining forces with suppliers and technology companies to develop self-driving systems out of fear that AUTONOMOUS vehicles may not be as profitable as first expected. As recently as 12 months ago, most major automakers were developing autonomous technologies in house for future models but more recently, many companies have altered their plans and instead formed technology alliances to spread the cost and burden of developing these systems. A board member from a major German carmaker told in anonymity that the autonomous market “may not be worth the scale of the investments currently being sunk into it”, hence why carmakers are looking to lighten their loads. Last year, BMW announced an alliance with Intel and Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicle software and according to the brand’s vice president of autonomous driving projects, Klaus Beuttner, forming such a partnership was a necessity. “Sitting at other companies, one rattles off the technological challenges and safety aspects, and you come to realize that many of us are swimming in the same sludge. Everybody is investing billions. Our view was that it makes sense to club together to develop some core systems as a platform”. Automakers, including BMW, freely admit that they will probably lose money on their first fully autonomous vehicles but many are banking on the potential for driverless taxi services to redefine the industry and prove more profitable. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS employees in San Francisco have begun testing a fleet of self-driving taxis on public roads. In an interview with TechCrunch, Kyle Vogt, founder and CEO of GM’s Cruise automated driving division, revealed the company has begun beta trials of its new Cruise Anywhere service. Using a smartphone app, select Cruise employees are able to request a lift in a similar fashion to Uber and other ride-hailing services. Unlike those publicly available apps, cars summoned by Cruise Anywhere are all self-driving Chevrolet Bolt hatchbacks (Opel Ampera-e). These electric hatches are fitted with extra hardware and the necessary software to drive autonomously. Currently the service is limited to roads mapped by Cruise, and availability is sometimes constrained by the fleet size, which is set to grow to 100 by the end of the year, and the needs of the R&D team. Due to local regulations, Cruise’s fleet of autonomous Bolts require a certified employee seated in the driver’s seat to take over when required. According to Cruise, human intervention has only been needed a few times, with the bulk of the driving done by the cars themselves. The company says around 10 percent of its workforce is currently enrolled to use the Cruise Anywhere app, with some people using it as their main form of transportation. There’s no word yet on when Cruise will begin testing the Cruise Anywhere system in other cities or open the service to the public. Cruise Automation was acquired by General Motors in March, 2016, for an estimated 1 billion dollar. +++

+++ LAND ROVER design boss, Gerry McGovern, says Land Rover is going through a transition phase, and the desire is to create products that are less specialised. Apart from out-and-out sports cars, there appears to be no boundaries to where the British 4×4 manufacturer can take the brand. “Of course, we’re very respectful of that heritage, but we’ve also got to be really careful that we’re not harnessed by it, because the world is changing rapidly and like other manufacturers, we are facing massive challenge and need to be flexible. Land Rover is actively looking at new opportunities to enter new areas of the auto business they’ve not previously been in. The all-new Range Rover Velar is certainly one of those vehicles that has effectively widened the SUV category. One of the great things about the design of Velar is the really long, elegant wheelbase against what is a relatively long vehicle for its overall size. It looks beautifully planted. And although it sits above Evoque and under Range Rover Sport, it’s not a smaller version of one, or a bigger version of the other, it’s got its own unique personality. It’s not like any other Range Rover we’ve ever seen, but you can see our DNA in it from things like the continuous beltline, floating roof and the overall level of visual robustness for example”, McGovern said. He also talked about creating new products in non-SUV segments, in the same way that traditional luxury saloon brands such as Bentley and Maserati (with Rolls-Royce on the way) have moved into the SUV category and are having plenty of success. Conversely, pure sports car brands like Lamborghini and Aston Martin are diving head-first into the SUV market, with even Ferrari now talking about a crossover vehicle. “We’re also excited to be looking at areas Land Rover hasn’t been in before. We need to do that because the industry is facing some major challenges at the moment from urbanisation, legislation, digitalisation, electrification and taxation; what’s Brexit going to mean to us as a business. But there’s also the question of future vehicle ownership and autonomous driving. What’s that going to mean for us. I think the brand can go even further when it comes to more car-like vehicles. I’ve been in the business quite a while now, but I’ve never been as excited as I am now. Along with some significant challenges, there are some massive opportunities. Land Rover as a brand has the ability to create scale, to do lots of things people wouldn’t expect us to do. Because most of the other manufacturers have moved into our territory. But we have still that established heritage and we’re still the best in our off-road ability and we’ve got that authenticity. We can use that authenticity to do other things, the most capable vehicles in an urban environment, for example”, explained McGovern. While the next-generation Defender is still a year or 2 away, it could also herald a return to the commercial sector for Land Rover. Over the years, the company has lost out to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, which has been supplying trucks, as well as commercial versions of its G-Wagon. “I’m not saying commercial vehicles is a path we’re really considering at Land Rover, but I think the Defender range is where we can instil a strong sense of visual functionality”, he added. +++

+++ Singer Vehicle Design and Williams Advanced Engineering are clearly trying to coax us into making poor financial decisions because the duo have announced plans for one hell of an engine collaboration. It’s an aircooled, 4.0-liter PORSCHE flat-6 engine that makes, wait for it, 500 horsepower. Note, that figure matches the current Porsche 911 GT3 and this engine sings its sweet song past 9,000 rpm. Singer, responsible for some incredible “reimagined” Porsche restoration jobs, and Williams, part of the Williams Grand Prix Engineering Group, brought on the right man for the job as well: Hans Mezger. Mezger is responsible for designing Porsche’s first flat-6 engine and many of its racing powertrains. He’s been a technical consultant for this latest project, so, yes, it promises to be very good. A quick glance at the forthcoming engine’s spec sheet shows some tremendous engineering involved. It boasts 4-valve-per cylinder heads, dual oil circuits, titanium connecting rods, aluminum throttle bodies, upper and lower injectors, carbon fiber intake trumpets, a ram-air induction system, and a titanium and Inconel exhaust. In fact, the engine is actually a modified version of the 3.6-liter flat-6 engine Mezger developed for the 1990 911, and it uses lightweight materials throughout. The engine will find a home in Singer client Scott Blattner’s reimagined 911, and the company says it will reveal other areas Williams worked on in the near future. There’s no price associated with the engine itself, but with a spec sheet like this, and Mezger’s name attached to the project—we can imagine this hasn’t been an inexpensive undertaking. +++

+++ Cooperation talks between the Volkswagen Group and India’s TATA Motors about joint development of a car for emerging markets, have ended amicably, a Volkswagen Group source said. The collapse of the talks is a further blow to Volkswagen’s efforts to develop a cheap vehicle platform for Asian markets, after an earlier alliance with Japanese partner Suzuki also fell apart. Volkswagen was not immediately available for comment. In March, Tata Motors and Volkswagen announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a long-term partnership to explore joint development of products for customers in India and other markets. Volkswagen’s entry-level Skoda brand has been commissioned by VW to lead the talks with Tata and was exploring a possible entry-level car platform together with the Indian manufacturer, using Tata’s AMP vehicle platform as a basis. Volkswagen’s Skoda division dropped the idea of developing the AMP platform on fears that it would need significant further investment to meet future crash-test and emissions requirements said the source, who declined to be named. “VW-Skoda have decided to drop the idea of partnering with Skoda and AMP and instead explore VW’s own MQB platform for possible further synergies”, the source said. Skoda to declined comment. Tata Motors did not immediately respond to a request for comment. +++

+++ Every time a new piece of new TOYOTA Supra information hits the web, it causes a flurry. Why? Because the car was held in such high regard and its return has been eagerly awaited by so many. While we have high hopes for the 2019 Supra, it looks like it will forego one thing we love: a manual transmission. That’s the latest piece of news, which comes from leaked BMW model codes. The leaked documents show specifications for both the 2019 Supra and the next BMW Z4; the cars will share many powertrain components with one another, with BMW carrying the engineering torch. As of now, the Z4 is listed as a recipient of a manual transmission, while the Supra does not list a manual gearbox as an option. Instead, it’s listed only with a BMW-sourced automatic transmission. The model codes also spell out two separate engine offerings for the 2019 Toyota Supra: a 252 horsepower 4-cylinder and a 340 hp 6-cylinder. Those numbers are suspiciously spot on with the outputs of the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and turbocharged inline-6-cylinder engines in BMW’s current lineup. That means the Supra will get an inline-6, which should please enthusiasts. However, the long-rumored, range-topping V6 hybrid powertrain isn’t listed in the leaked documents. I’ve expected Toyota’s flagship sports car to incorporate some sort of hybrid technology. For now, it looks like internal-combustion engines alone will power the reborn icon. It’s possible the hybrid may have been scrapped, or it may debut further in the future. +++

+++ South America may soon receive a new VOLKSWAGEN SUV dubbed the Tharu and based around the Skoda Karoq. According to Brazilian publication Auto Papo, Volkswagen has registered the Tharu name with Brazil’s National Institute of Industrial Property and intends on using it for a new model. No confirmation has been given as to what vehicle this name will be applied to but it could very well be a local version of the Karoq set to be assembled in Argentina and sold throughout the continent. If this is the case, the Volkswagen Tharu can be expected to make use of the German company’s 1.4-liter TSI engine with 150 hp currently produced in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There’s a possibility that VW’s slightly larger 1.5-liter TSI might also be offered to customers with a variable geometry turbo and cylinder deactivation. A simple 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission will probably come standard across the range. +++

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