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+++ It looks as if CHEVROLET has everything planned out in terms of production. Firstly, they have plans of introducing the Corvette ZR1 in a few months, which will then be followed by an all-new mid-engined Corvette. Currently, the automaker is rebuilding their facilities for their future models. And because of that, reports suggest that the 2018 Corvette will be built in limited quantities only. Cherolet’s Bowling Green, Kentucky plant will only accommodate the lightly improved 2018 Corvette’s assembly for 4 months. This will begin next month after the facility’s 3-month break in anticipation of the new model. Lauren Langille, General Motors communications representative, said that their Kentucky plant employees will return to work all of October and November based on the training requirements as they prepare for production. In the span of 4 months, the automaker estimates to build only 9,700 examples of the 2018 Corvette. That is actually a lot less compared to their annual production of 30,000 models. As early as now, Chevrolet already plans to end production on January 22, 2018. Rumours of a 2019 Corvette and the new ZR1 will be built together with the C8 Corvette for a short period of time. Sources also say that only a limited number of the ZR1 will be produced. 2017 has not been a great year for the Chevrolet Corvette when it comes to sales. So far, they have experienced the lowest sales volume since 2013. One reason for this is the fact that they have produced fewer cars this year due to the facility shutdown. Nothing has been confirmed just yet, but according to rumours, the new Corvette ZR1 will make its debut sometime in 2018, and that it will be sold as a 2019 model later on. I am guessing that it will make an appearance at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show. Speaking of the ZR1, it will likely be equipped with a modified 6.2 liter supercharged V8 that produces a little over its current performance figures of 650 horsepower and 881 Newton-metres of torque. Some say that the ZR1 could use a dual-overhead-cam V8 which they also refer to as the LT5. The current Corvette model being produced today is the 7th generation model, which we first saw in 2013. Media have been speculating that the 8th generation model will come with hybrid technology as well as a number of physical tweaks. The Bowling Green plant has been around since 1981, and GM has produced Chevrolet Corvettes here since then. All in all, the plant has produced over 1.6 million models since 1954, and it is currently the world’s longest running, continuously produced passenger car. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI Motor Group, parent of Hyundai, Genesis and Kia, has announced its strategy for engine development at the International Powertrain Conference in South Korea this week. At the event, Hyundai is displaying 4 new engines and 2 new transmissions, all part of the upcoming ‘Smart Stream’ powertrain family, primarily aimed at reducing emissions and improving fuel economy. Kicking off the family will be a new 1.6-litre turbo petrol and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel, each optimising an existing powertrain structure with smaller and lighter components to reduce weight and enhance efficiency. Hyundai says the aim was to maximise the thermal efficiency of its engines by up to 50 percent. The Smart Stream G 1.6-litre turbo engine also features the first commercial application of Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) engine technology, which adjusts the timing of the opening and closing of the cylinder valve according to the driving mode chosen, to better suit economical or performance-oriented driving. Hyundai will also be showing its new Smart Stream 8th-speed wet-clutch DCT. By 2022, the company says it aims to expand its Smart Stream range to 10 petrol engines, 6 diesel engines and 6 transmissions. Additionally, Hyundai says the internal combustion engine (ICE) will continue to have a strong presence in the automotive industry until 2025 as the take-up of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) continues to grow. The company wants to offer a “greater” proportion of electric, hydrogen fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid powertrains alongside its new Smart Stream family in the coming years. In terms of fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV), Hyundai’s next-generation FCEV model will offer a driving range of 800 kilometres thanks to the largest hydrogen storage density of any fuel-cell vehicle on the market, while also achieving a power output of around 163 hp. This new model has already been previewed with the ‘FE’ SUV, which will be launched globally “early next year”. Hyundai Motor Group’s Smart Stream powertrain family will be rolled out across the Hyundai and Kia portfolios in the coming years, with the technology to eventually become available to all of the group’s models. +++

+++ Several automakers including Porsche, Volkswagen, Smart and even LAND ROVER have all been victimized by cheap Chinese copycats. And if you haven’t seen it yet, the most recent one would be the Range Rover Evoque’s near exact Chinese replica, called the LandWind X7 that was introduced 2 years ago. In fact, both models almost look identical except for some tweaks. To prevent this from happening, the British automaker is thinking of implementing a new strategy: hold off on showing concept cars too early. Gerry McGovern, Land Rover design boss, recently said that they are now wary of showing concepts years before they’re produced because they fear that the Chinese will replicate them. This is because some of these Chinese brands are very quick at manufacturing and that they could easily beat the production version to the market. Apart from delaying the introduction of concept cars, Jaguar Land Rover has also filed copyrights and competition complaints in China against the LandWind X7. Just last week, McGovern also said that they are nervous about introducing their concepts as they can simply be copied just like what happened with the Range Rover Evoque. A JLR spokesperson supported his statement by saying that the company’s success is based on their vehicles’ unique design and engineering attributes, and they strongly believe that these must be protected not just in their country, but in the global market. Furthermore, this is not the very first time JLR experienced this problem with Chinese manufacturers. The Range Rover Sport has also been replicated and is being marketed as the Hongqi LS5. Besides that, there is also the Hanteng electric concept, which strangely looks very much like the Jaguar i-Pace concept. What’s worse is that these Chinese knockoffs are flooding the market. This is what has prompted JLR and other automakers to fight back. Today, Jaguar Land Rover is worried that the new Defender SUV might be the next model to have a knockoff, considering that they have just teased some key design details earlier this week. McGovern said that designers and engineers are working extra hard to ensure that the new Defender lives up to its classic name. Now, with JLR’s new strategy, we are guessing that we won’t see another teaser of the Defender until it’s almost out. Just how effective do you think JLR’s new strategy is in preventing Chinese manufacturers from copying their designs? Should they be more aggressive in going after these companies? And will other major automakers like Porsche and VW join in this battle too? +++

+++ MAZDA says it’s already too late to introduce a rotary sports car to celebrate its 100 year anniversary, as it seeks to firm up its financials before it dives head first into a halo product. Mazda’s director and senior managing executive officer of R&D, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, confirmed the reported 2020 timeline of the next-generation rotary sports car, first previewed by the RX-Vision in Tokyo 2 years ago, is now unlikely. “By 2020 we cannot provide RX-Vision in the market, we will not have enough money to invest and commercialise RX-Vision”, Fujiwara said. According to Fujiwara, it has taken Mazda a great deal of time to free itself from debt, but the company won’t be stable enough to invest in halo products (such as a rotary sports car) until it has larger cash reserves, in case it has a miss with a major product. “After decades, we are free of debt now finally. We have to become the company that is rich enough so that we can still be profitable even with the failure of one or two programs. We have to keep going, we have to survive. “In 2020 we have the centenary year, this is a long, long history, we have to continue the business of Mazda, we have got a lot of the employees in the world, therefore, we have to continue business itself and if some project make mistakes, then company is going sideways we cannot do that, we should have some money now to take a risk with the RX vision and rotary engine; that is my dream. That is our dream”. For now, it appears that the timeline for development of an RX-8 successor depends entirely on the success of Mazda’s upcoming product line, backed with the brand’s new SkyActiv X powertrains. “If we achieve this successfully, we can get enough money to invest in next challenge, then we can judge to go ahead”, Fujiwara said. The other issue facing the next-generation rotary sports car is the global shift toward banning internal combustion engines in cities. Fujiwara says Mazda will produce a rotary sports car utilising an electric powertrain to circumvent such restrictions in some countries, but Australia will more than likely get a pure rotary powertrain when it goes to market. The good news is that Mazda appears to be working on the rotary sports car, even whilst honestly admitting its financial challenges. The company’s technical research boss, Mitsuo Hitomi, says that it would take at least 5 years to develop a new rotary engine. Apart from financial considerations, other reasons for the delay appear to surround the longevity of the rotary: making sure it’s here to stay in the long term, with Fujiwara stating “once we introduce rotary engine again I want to make sure rotary engine is continued forever”. RX-8 production ended in 2012 and, with the introduction of another rotary sports car likely to wait until some point after 2020, a near-decade gap between the cars now appears likely. +++

+++ NISSAN plans to offer “fully autonomous” cars in 2022, and will take responsibility for any incidents that occur on the road from this time onwards, as Volvo and a few other brands have committed to do. The company discussed its plans for vehicle autonomy with media at its headquarter city of Yokohama this week, sharing findings from testing conducted in Tokyo, London and Silicon Valley dating back as early as 2013. Its roadmap shows current-day Level 2 active driver aids (think lane assist, adaptive cruise control) will be improved to handle multiple-lane highways next year, urban roads and intersection by 2020, and Level 4 fully autonomous driving within 5 years from now. The exclamation point on these bold claims was demonstrated earlier this week by the new IMx electric crossover concept, which claims full autonomy, including a mode where the steering wheel actually folds into the dash. Nissan also this week demonstrated a prototype of its next-generation autonomous driving tech, planned for use in a test phase on public roads, in Tokyo, from 2020. This next iteration of its so-called ProPilot suite was fitted to a modified Infiniti Q50, and apparently enables the vehicle to operate autonomously on urban roads and freeways, beginning when the driver selects a destination using the navigation system, until arrival. We were supposed to sample this tech on a road course in the Japanese capital this week, but at the last minute it was cancelled. The company cited “congestion”. Hmmm. Nevertheless, the prototype’s artificial intelligence uses input from 12 sonars, 12 cameras, 9 millimeter-wave radars, 6 laser scanners and a high-definition map, all of which apparently allows the car to adjust in real-time and navigate busy intersections with many variables. Nissan claims that “these hardware upgrades, along with software improvements, also ensure smooth transitions when encountering obstacles in the road. This results in a human-like driving feel that gives passengers piece of mind”. The 360-degree driverless car tech is complemented by new in-car curved OLED displays and an augmented reality head-up display, as seen in the IMx, plus gesture control that includes eye-gaze tracking as well as gesture and motion detection. Another side of this coin is shared data. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance plans to sell 14 million cars annually inside 5 years, by which time 90 percent will be connected to an Alliance Cloud server, via a plug-in dongle. Data sharing is a key part of this next-generation technology rollout. In the meantime, Nissan is rolling out the current ProPilot level 2 system on the Leaf, Qashqai and X-Trail. Despite the fancy title, this is basically just lane-departure prevention and adaptive cruise control melded into one. +++

+++ While TESLA continues to struggle with regards to the assembly of its much awaited Tesla Model 3, investment firm Oppenheimer & Co. is confident that its previous production estimates of the mid-size all-electric sedan would still be reached by the end of 2017. There is no denying that Tesla is still ramping up production of the new Model 3, but previous reports had indicated that production woes have been bugging the electric carmaker. In its previous estimates, Oppenheimer said Tesla would be able to produce 3,005 units of the Model 3 in 2017. Considering reports that Tesla managed to deliver more than 200 units of the Model 3 sedan in the third quarter, the company would have to deliver around 2,800 examples of its newest offering in the current quarter covering October, November and December 2017. While Tesla hasn’t updated its delivery guidance, Oppenheimer is expecting the carmaker to deliver 100,056 vehicles in 2017; encompassing all its offerings like the Model S, Model X and Model 3. Tesla is aiming to produce around 5,000 vehicles per week in December. Despite Oppenheimer’s optimism, production of the new Tesla Model 3 is indeed hitting some bumps, if we take into account the statements made by Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, months ago. Musk had written that the first 30 units of the Model 3 would be delivered to customers in July. He remarked that after that, production of the Model 3 would grow exponentially, and Tesla would be able to deliver 100 cars in August and over 1,500 units in September. This means that in the third quarter of 2017, Tesla should have produced and delivered 1,630 units. In reality, over 200 units have reached customers. As to why Oppenheimer retained its previous estimates, a company analyst in the persona of Colin Rusch may have the answer. Rusch, along with other investors, recently had a meeting with Tesla. In a note, Rusch wrote that Tesla has assured that all the production equipment for Model 3 is already installed and working, with vehicles already moving through the production line. He added that Tesla indicated that the delay in the ramp up was because of the failure of a small number of suppliers to deliver on time. Rusch added that at least one supplier has received the boot and has been replaced by insourcing. It was believed that this company was German automotive supplier SHW Automotive, which had disclosed that a customer (presumed to be Tesla) had canceled a 100 million euro order for axle-drive pumps. Musk had earlier warned that Tesla would implement a rigorous sourcing program both with internal teams and suppliers. He added that suppliers should meet the set high standards and deadlines; otherwise they would be fired. +++

+++ TOYOTA and Gazoo Racing are already planning a successor to the Yaris GRMN hot hatch, which will be a mass-production model and serve as a homologation base for the next WRC rally car. Shigeki Tomoyama, senior manager for Gazoo Racing, said: “We know our current situation and we believe that we need to change the platform for the rally car to be even more competitive”. “For the next generation of rally Yaris we will prepare a homologation road car. We have to commit to producing 25,000 of them in one year, so it won’t be a limited edition like the GRMN”, which is limited to 400 units in Europe. When asked about what changes the company would make compared to the current GRMN variant, Tomoyama gave several points, but didn’t go into great detail. “There will be some differences in the suspension pick-up points, because suspension travel is a big factor in WRC”, he said. “Also we would be lighter in some areas, because that could allow our rally team to move weight around”. Most rally cars are below the minimum weight, and the teams are able to position ballast strategically for better handling. This is the sort of thing we are looking at”, Tomoyama told. “But in the meantime, we’re focused on winning the championship with the current Yaris next year”, he added. It’s believed that the new hot Yaris will launch with the next-generation hatch, sometime around 2020. The current version was first released in 2011, and has received a couple of facelifts since then; the most recent being earlier this year alongside the release of the GRMN. The current Toyota Yaris GRMN is powered by a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine, sending a meaty 212 hp and 250 Nm to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission. According to the company, its hot Yaris can sprint from 0-100 km/h in just 6.3 seconds, on its way to an electronically-limited top speed of 230 km/h. +++

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