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+++ ASTON MARTINplans to offer hybrid technology on all of its models within the next decade, CEO Andy Palmer has revealed. “We will be 100 percent hybrid by the middle of the 2020s”, Palmer told. The automaker will offer battery vehicles as well as mild-hybrid cars that pair an electric battery to a traditional combustion engine. Aston Martin’s commitment may sound similar to the one Volvo made earlier this summer, but there is a key difference. Volvo says every single one of its vehicles will include electrification, but Aston Martin will simply offer an electrified option on every model throughout its range. So while Volvo will stop selling all vehicles that run purely on gas or diesel, Aston Martin will continue churning out non-hybrid vehicles. Palmer estimates that around a quarter of Aston Martin cars will be all-electric by the end of the next decade. In the meantime, Aston Martin is gearing up to produce its first all-electric car, the Rapid-e, in 2019. It’s possible the upcoming DBX crossover will offer a hybrid version after it enters production in 2019, according to Palmer. The CEO also said Aston Martin wants to develop the electric driving systems in-house. “You need to keep core technology inside the company”, said Palmer. “That’s why we make our own V12 engine. We believe that EVs are a core technology, and therefore we want to do them ourselves”. Aston Martin has its hands full. A year ago, we learned Aston Martin was busy at work launching seven new models within 7 years, starting with the new DB11. Another model is a mid-engine sports car that will rival the Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S. +++

+++ Ever since AUDI Sport was born from the ashes of Quattro GmbH in late 2016, the performance unit went to work launching eight models within 18 months. Over the coming years, it will bring out its own versions of Audi crossovers and electric vehicles. Although Audi Sport obviously has a lot on its plate, CEO Stephan Winkelmann would eventually like to see a halo car for the brand. Winkelmann acknowledged he’s interested in a low-volume exotic car that slots above the R8. “I’m very keen on working on this in the future”, he said. “I think not only the brand deserves it, but there is a demand outside, and the customers are looking into it”. If an Audi Sport hypercar does come to fruition, it would borrow components from Volkswagen Group but maintain its own identity. It would serve as a halo model not only for Audi Sport but also for the Audi brand. While such a vehicle is definitely on his radar, Winkelmann said his immediate goal is expanding the rest of the Audi Sport lineup. Right now, Audi Sport is in charge of a variety of models including the R8, RS 3, RS 7, and TT RS, as well as race cars for Formula E, GT3, and GT4 series. The only RS crossover it has is the RS Q3 sold outside the U.S., but that may soon change. Audi Sport should grow its crossover offerings with an RS Q5 expected to debut later this year and an RS Q8 that could arrive by the end of this decade. Another new frontier will involve electric vehicles. In 2020 or 2021, Audi Sport will offer a version of the e-tron in the form of a coupe-like sedan and/or a coupe-like SUV, says Winkelmann. +++ 

+++ GMC is considering adding a new SUV to its lineup, but it probably won’t be a Jeep Wrangler fighter. GMC wants a crossover to slot below the Terrain to challenge Jeep’s Compass and Renegade. Buick and GMC chief Duncan Aldred said the small SUV segment is “an obvious place” for GMC to expand. It’s unclear if such a vehicle would arrive in place of the long-rumored GMC Wrangler competitor if greenlit, but at any rate that model is likely off the table now. “I don’t think it’s worth trying to take on Wrangler”, he told. “But I think there’s an opportunity somewhere in that space”. Aldred has reversed his position from 2 years ago, when he said a “Wrangler-esque type of vehicle” was a possibility. Given the U.S. auto market’s shift toward crossovers over the last few years, the move isn’t all that surprising. Offering a smaller, lower-priced crossover would help GMC bolster its sales, which have traditionally been upheld by the Sierra full-size pickup but have more recently seen crossovers like the Acadia and Terrain make up a larger percentage. But even though it’s not looking to challenge the Wrangler anymore, GMC will be a better foil to Jeep if it adds a crossover below the Terrain. The 2018 GMC Terrain starts just below $26,000, so a smaller GMC crossover could start somewhere in the $20,000 range to position itself against the Compass and Renegade. It sounds like we won’t see a Wrangler competitor from GM anytime soon, but off-road enthusiasts can take comfort in the fact that the upcoming Wrangler will probably be a good one. The next-gen Wrangler is expected to offer a diesel engine and a new full-time four-wheel-drive system, among other upgrades. +++

+++ Over the past few weeks, Fiat Chrysler and JEEP have been in the news quite a bit. Sergio Marchionne, FCA’s CEO, is still in search of a merger partner, which could potentially mean spinning off Alfa Romeo and Maserati as a separate company. And while one Chinese automaker reportedly tried to buy the whole company recently, that offer was apparently too low. And at the center of many of these deals is one brand: Jeep. Why? Because it could easily be a major automaker all on its own. Bloomberg reports that in the next year, FCA expects Jeep sales to increase 30 percent worldwide, approximately 2 million units in total. That’s up significantly compared to its approximately 300,000 deliveries in 2009. But Marchionne has told analysts he eventually sees that number more than tripling, with Jeep potentially selling as many as 7 million vehicles a year. For comparison, Ford delivered approximately 6.7 million units globally in 2016. Assuming that Jeep’s growth continues to the point it’s able to meet Marchionne’s projections, that would make it one of the biggest brands in the world. Even now, one analyst recently said Jeep is potentially more valuable than all of FCA. No wonder other automakers have shown interest. But according to analyst Maryann Keller, selling Jeep is the last thing FCA needs to do. “I don’t see how FCA could sell it,” Keller told Bloomberg. “Whatever they got for it would hardly replace what they lost”. Marchionne seems to be aware that if FCA were to sell Jeep, the remaining company would likely be much less attractive to other potential merger partners. “We do need to worry about the stump that’s left behind”, Marchionne said on a recent earnings call. “If we start picking away all the things that appear to be interesting to people, then I think we’re going to end up with a sub-optimal business that cannot run”. +++

+++ NISSAN offers a broad 5-grade model range of recently-facelifted Qashqai models, but for more than 9 in 10 of buyers, 2 of them may as well not exist. 88 percent of buyers go straight into N-Connecta grade and above. Indeed, Nissan says just 2 percent of Qashqai buyers will pick the entry-level Visia model: demand is so low, it’s actually now only built to order, and is thus not part of the everyday production run. Even the next-up Acenta only takes 10 percent of sales. Around 48 percent of Qashqai buyers are expected to choose the N-Connecta. That proportion has slipped compared to the pre-facelift Qashqai, but only because more people are expected to choose the top-line Tekna and new Tekna+ variants instead. Previously, those range-topping Qashqai accounted for around a third of sales. With the launch of the facelifted model, Nissan expects that to rise to 40 percent, with around 2 in 5 buyers going straight into the range-topping Tekna+. +++

+++ Morning or evening commutes are usually the traditional times of day for the nasty rear-end crashes, one of the most common types of accidents on roads everywhere. These are usually frustrating instances of distracted driving, but they also sometimes have deadly consequences. Not for owners of TOYOTA vehicles, though, because the carmaker argues its Safety Sense and ICS (Intelligent Clearance Sonar) packages can mitigate 90 percent of rear-end collisions. According to the company, the Toyota Safety Sense technology will drop the rate to around 50 percent, so the ICS takes care of the rest. The Japanese automaker is naturally promoting Toyota Safety Sense and ICS in a bid to increase road safety and sales of vehicles equipped with the technologies, aiming for 90 percent by the end of the 2018 fiscal year in America alone. In part, the company’s data collection included studies of parking garage incidents; an independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study discovered backup cameras are infinitely more effective at mitigating rear-end collisions when backing up than parking sensors. Naturally, technology can only go so far when human drivers are involved (so rear-end collisions would still take place even if all cars from all makers would have the best and latest safety technology) this is where autonomous cars come into play as the alternative. +++

+++ UBER will remove a controversial feature from its app that tracks riders for 5 minutes after they have exited the vehicle, Reuters has confirmed. The move comes amid the impending appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as CEO and a number of scandals that have rocked the ride-hailing company. If you use the Uber app, you know that riders can share their location data so drivers know where to pick them up. Late last year, Uber got rid of an option allowing users to share this data only when they are using the app. So unless riders opted out of tracking altogether, they ended up sharing their location even when their trip was over. While Uber believed the feature would help make riders safer after getting dropped off, others say it posed a threat to privacy. The tracking feature requires permission from the user to activate, and if riders opt out, they could type in a pickup and drop-off address instead. But the controversy comes on top of other problems for Uber. A U.S. Federal Trade Commission complaint alleged Uber didn’t protect the personal information of its users and was deceptive about how it prevents snooping by employees. Plus, Uber has admitted to using “Greyball” software that prevented law enforcement officials from accessing the app. It has since stopped this practice. Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan confirmed the company is pulling the post-trip tracking feature from the app. Sullivan said the decision was not related to any leadership changes. According to reports, Khosrowshahi is expected to take the helm as the new CEO of Uber. The former top exec at Expedia was reportedly chosen for the role a few months after Travis Kalanick was reportedly asked to leave. Uber will update the tracking feature on iPhones first before rolling changes out to Android devices. Sullivan hints the company could bring back post-trip tracking in the future, but only if the company adequately explains the reason behind the feature to customers. +++

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