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+++ The ALFA ROMEO 4C carbonfibre sports car will be overhauled in the near future, but it will never be offered with a manual transmission, says Alfa Romeo and Maserati engineering boss Roberto Fedeli. Speaking at the launch of Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Fedeli confirmed that the lightweight 2-seat sports car will be revised with improved suspension and steering, as well as possibly a new engine. A launch in autumn 2018 is likely, with sales commencing January 2019. The original 4C was heavily criticised by the press for its awkward ride, handling and unpredictable steering. Rather than hasten the 4C’s demise, though, Fedeli (formerly chief engineer at Ferrari) says he wants to make the 4C the car it should be. “We are coming back to Formula 1”, he said, “and we need the 4C to be our halo car”. However, Fedeli also confirmed that no future high-performance Alfa Romeos, Maseratis or Ferraris will be available with manual gearboxes, citing a lack of demand among buyers. It’s likely that Alfa Romeo will seek to steal share from the Alpine A110, as the new sports car launches as a Porsche Cayman rival next year. Fedeli said his experiences at Ferrari were enough to convince him that the manual transmission was dead. While developing the California roadster several years ago, he says, Ferrari invested 10 million euro in a manual gearbox option and, overall, just 2 such cars were built for customers. Ahead of launch, Alfa Romeo will be tweaking the spec of the 4C, adding to the selection of paint colours available on the 2-seater. +++

+++ BMW recently announced plans to offer 25 electrified models by 2025 and it appears the company is going to need all of these eco-friendly vehicles to help offset a massive onslaught on new M models. BMW is preparing to launch 26 M and M Performance vehicles over the next few years. The M8 will be unveiled next year but the real push will begin when the all-new M3 debuts at Frankfurt Motor Show in 2019. As BMW M boss Frank van Meel explained, “The M3 is a crucial car for BMW M. It wasn’t the first fully fledged M car but it continues to stand for everything the brand is based upon”. The new M3 will ride on the CLAR platform and feature more aluminum and high-strength steel. The car is also slated to adopt a number of carbon fiber components to ensure it weighs less than the M3 CS which recently debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Despite rumors of a hybrid powertrain, sources told we can expect a conventional twin-turbo 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine that produces around 465 hp. The car will reportedly be offered with a 6-speed manual and an optional 8-speed automatic transmission. Regardless of which gearbox is selected both are slated to send power to the rear-wheels as the rumored all-wheel drive system was reportedly deemed too heavy and expensive. Besides the M3, we can expect M versions of the X3, X4, and Z4. They are slated to be joined by M Performance variants of the 3-Series, 4-Series, X2, and X7. +++

+++ HONDA has announced a partnership with SenseTime, a Chinese startup valued at over 1 billion dollar with expertise in artificial intelligence. SenseTime is a leader in object recognition technology and will combine its AI and deep learning skills with Honda’s AI and autonomous technologies to ensure self-driving cars operate safely in urban areas. Alongside the duo’s work on autonomous vehicles, the partnership will expand joint activities in robotics. SenseTime secured 410 million dollar in investments from a series B funding round earlier this year, reportedly the largest private financing round ever closed by an AI startup. Additionally, it is thought that the technology company will secure a 227 dollar million investment from Alibaba before the end of the year. +++

+++ South Korean automakers face a major headwind from a weakening Japanese yen, which will boost rivals like Toyota next year, a HYUNDAI thinktank said. The fall in the yen will intensify competition in major markets, such as China and the United States, where overall demand is expected to shrink in 2018, the thinktank said. It projected that the Korean won would fetch 978 per 100 yen next year, compared with 1,018 this year. The re-election in November of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who favors massive monetary and fiscal stimulus policies, should point to further yen weakness, the thinktank said. Toyota in November raised its forecast for full-year operating profit, in part due to expectations of a weaker yen, which can make goods exported from Japan cheaper and can boost the value of overseas profits when they are repatriated. “The currency environment is expected to deteriorate next year”, Lee Bo-sung, a director of the think tank, the Global Business Intelligence Center, said at a press briefing. “The weaker yen is expected to be the biggest challenge for South Korean automakers next year, as they are competing against Japanese”, Lee said. He said the price gap between Korean and Japanese cars had already narrowed due to the yen’s decline. For example, Hyundai’s Sonata was 10 percent cheaper than Honda’s Accord in the United States in 2011 and the gap is only 2 percent this year, he said. A weaker yen and higher profit have also allowed Japanese carmakers to boost investment and gain market share in China and other emerging markets, Hyundai’s stronghold, he said. Hyundai has seen its net profit tumble by nearly one-third so far this year, and is on track to miss its annual vehicle sales target by a large margin, having failed to position for a consumer swing to SUVs and a diplomatic row with Beijing that hit Korean-made products. Hyundai said it plans to roll out 3 SUVs next year in the United States (the redesigned Santa Fe, the Kona, and the tweaked Tucson) to revive its sales momentum. In China next year, Hyundai and Kia plan to release 3 China-targeted small SUVs next year. +++

+++ NEVS announced its plans to reopen the former-Saab factory in Trollhättan, Sweden to produce its electric 9-3s in the second half of next year. The Chinese-owned National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which bought the assets of Saab after the Swedish automaker went out of business, is planning to take advantage of the growing global demand for purely electric vehicles. “We are embracing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the automobile industry with the adoption of new technologies moving forward way faster than we expected”, Chairman Kai Johan Jiang said to Bloomberg. “Car-sharing, electrification of automobiles and autonomous driving are the inevitable trend of future transport”. The company has already begun production of the 9-3 EV in their Tianjin factory in north-eastern China, which has an initial capacity of 50,000 cars per year and will be expanded to 220,000 cars by 2019. NEVS claims that they already have 300,000 orders for electric cars from ride-sharing companies such as Panda New Energy. Based on the outdated Saab 9-3 platform, the electric NEVS 9-3 is said to offer a driving range of 300 km, a WiFi hotspot, over-the-air updates and a special air filtration system. The company showcased a redesigned concept of the 9-3 in early 2017 but these changes never made it to production apparently. “Being an early entrant to the electric-car industry doesn’t guarantee the company will be a strong player”, Jiang said. “It is like great waves sweeping away sand; 95 percent of companies won’t be able to survive, given that the threshold of electric car-making is quite high, so passion alone won’t nail it”. +++

+++ PORSCHE said that the plug-in hybrid version of the Panamera has been a really surprising hit, attracting 60 percent of the customers since its market debut last June. The company is currently launching the plug-in hybrid versions of the Panamera in the US and China, which are going to become the model’s biggest markets. “Customer demand is much higher than the 10 or 15 percent we first expected”, Gernot Döllner, head of the Panamera model line, told. One of the main reasons for this unexpected demand in Europe is tax benefits, boosting the hybrid model’s share by more than 90 percent in Belgium and 70 percent in France. In its home market Germany, 25 percent of all the Panameras sold are plug-in hybrid. As automakers invest huge money on electrification and new technologies to comply with the ever stricter emissions regulations, Porsche sees its plug-in hybrid lineup gaining some traction and despite the fact that they’re basically famous for their sports cars. Porsche offers the Panamera in 2 plug-in hybrid versions, the 4 E-Hybrid and the monstrous Turbo S E-Hybrid. The former (which is also the cheaper model) offers up to 50 km of all-electric driving range, as well as 462 hp from its plug-in hybrid powertrain. +++

+++ TESLA stock was downgraded to sell from hold by Cascend Securities on signs that customer demand for the mass-market sedan, the Model 3, is beginning to flag as the company grapples with production issues. Cascend’s Chief Investment Strategist Eric Ross said new customers who have not already preordered the Model 3 are realizing that they can’t get new vehicles until 2019, and are starting to look elsewhere. The electric-car field is growing, with all the major car makers working on their own models, he said. Ford alone has 13 electric vehicles planned for release in the next 5 years. Meanwhile, “the company is burning through cash and will likely need to raise capital in the first half of 2018 (and perhaps even the first quarter 2018)”, Ross wrote in a note. “And there won’t be enough Model 3 production to suggest break-even is around the corner”. To be sure, there are positives to report on Tesla, including its “great, exciting brand to which consumers are drawn”, said the note. And some major economies, including China, the U.K., France and Norway have banned the future production of vehicles powered by fossil fuels, a boost for electric-carmakers. However, the Model 3, the semi truck and the Roadster have all been announced and unveiled, and Ross is not expecting another major product launch soon. Cascend downgraded Tesla to sell on June 16, when the stock was trading at $371, and then upgraded it to hold on July 17, when it had fallen to $319. The stock then rose above $385 in September, “but we weren’t nimble enough to make that trade”, said Ross. His new $250 stock price target “is back to where the stock was when the Model 3 was announced, but not yet meaningfully on the horizon”, he said. Demand rose sharply ahead of the Model 3 launch, but is now moving down on a quarter-on-quarter basis. “We are concerned that Tesla (with all its buzz) will lose customers to competitors because they can’t manufacture enough vehicles”, said Ross. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call that he expects to achieve a production rate of 5,000 Model 3 vehicles a week by late in the first quarter, adding he had “zero concern” about a production goal of 10,000 a week at some point in 2018, although he was unwilling to name a date. But the company’s production issues may lie beyond just the known battery issues and have more to do with their integration into the Model 3. Meanwhile, Tesla’s junk bond rating could be downgraded if it fails to meet its goal of 300,000 units being produced in 2018. Tesla and Musk may simply have too many balls in the air to really home in on the Model 3 problem, said Ross. He cited as examples, Musk’s interest in rebuilding Puerto Rico and its infrastructure,The Boring Company, SpaceX and the Hyperloop. “To be clear, we are Elon Musk fans”, he wrote. “We love the long-term potential of most of his endeavors. However, from a shorter-term stock potential-perspective (what we are paid for) we see Tesla lagging for a while. It’s probably time to take some risk off the table”, said the note. “If you want risk, we surmise bitcoin will reach $20,000 long before Tesla reaches $700. And you’ll be able to hedge your investment on the CME”, said Ross, referring to the exchange plans to start offering bitcoin futures. +++

+++ Registrations of diesel cars in the UNITED KINGDOM were down by 30.6 percent in November, when the overall market declined for the 8th consecutive month. In total, 163,541 new cars were registered last month, 11.2 percent less than in November 2016. Sales of petrol cars grew 5 percent to 92,944 units, giving petrol a 56.8 percent market share; up from 48.1 percent at the same point last year. This was accompanied by 33.1 percent growth in alternatively fuelled vehicle registrations, bringing their market share up to 5.4 percent. However, these could not counter the 27,163 unit drop in diesels, resulting in a decline in the overall market. Private registrations were actually down by the smallest percentage, falling 5.1 percent in November. Business and fleet registrations fell by 33.6 percent and 14.1 percent respectively, with the impact of these sectors (which represent a respective 52 percent and 2.7 percent of the market) key contributions to last month’s shrinking numbers. So far this year, 2,388,144 new cars have been registered for Britain’s roads; a 5 percent drop, or 126,620 cars, on the same period last year. These are the top10 best selling cars in the United Kingdom: 1: Ford Fiesta – 89,504 registrations, 2: Volkswagen Golf – 68,396 registrations, 3: Ford Focus – 66,279 registrations, 4: Nissan Qashqai – 60,682 registrations, 5: Vauxhall Corsa – 50,739 registrations, 6: Vauxhall Astra – 45,533 registrations, 7: Volkswagen Polo – 45,498 registrations, 8: Mercedes-Benz C-Class – 43,792 registrations, 9: Mini – 43,299 registrations, 10: Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 41,005 registrations. +++

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN T-Roc R is being developed to become the most agile offering in its class, with chassis development guru Karsten Schebsdat and professional racing racer Benny Leuchter on hand to ensure its competitiveness. Speaking at the launch of the new Volkswagen Polo GTI, Schebsdat, who has led the development of models such as the Golf GTI Clubsport S and previously headed up chassis development at Porsche, said the T-Roc is already well suited to a performance application and therefore would be an effective R model. “I think the standard T-Roc with 4Motion fourwheel drive and the DCC chassis with 19 inch wheels is the most agile SUV in that class”, he said. “​If there will be a T-Roc R, it will definitely be even more fun”. The model, a rival to group stablemate the Seat Ateca Cupra, will have 310 hp and has been spotted testing recently at the Nürburgring. Leuchter has been drafted in to provide input for the car’s set-up. He was a key contributor to the Clubsport S’s final technical settings and was the man behind the wheel when it set an earlier Nürburgring front-wheel drive lap record. Leuchter said he has been pushing for more agile set-ups on Volkswagen models that reduce the understeer previous models had become synonymous with, suggesting that the T-Roc will be given playful characteristics in order to appeal to driving enthusiasts. Leuchter’s input with the Polo GTI, for example, has increased its adjustability. The hot SUV will be powered by the same turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine as its main rival, the Ateca Cupra. However, the VW model is likely to come with a slight power advantage over its 300 hp sibling to help justify a higher price; mimicking a trend seen with the Golf R and Leon Cupra. Much will be shared with the hot Golf, because the T-Roc is based on the same MQB A underpinnings as the hatchback. But even with the same outputs, the T-Roc R’s additional weight and higher centre of gravity will ensure it falls short of matching the 4.6 seconds 0-100 km/h time and dynamic handling of its smaller sibling. In typical Volkswagen R style, the future performance T-Roc’s styling will likely remain restrained, giving it an understated look like the Golf R. This early ‘in the metal’ sighting comes 4 weeks after VW research and development boss Frank Welsch told that he had comissioned the build of a development car to test the T-Roc R formula. Welsch said he “liked the idea” and expected it to “go well”. Volkswagen chairman Herbert Diess revealed earlier this year that the fastest T-Roc would bypass the GTI name because “GTI is for us the hot hatch; a sporty car, classless and accessible for many. It should be this car: a hot hatch”. For an SUV, Diess said “we have another sub-brand, R”. The T-Roc R would sit above the current most potent 190 hp T-Roc, which Welsch believes will help the model stand out in its busy segment. “We have a 190 hp T-Roc, which is more than the competitors offer”, he said, “and we’ll see if lots of people take that”. The commonality of parts for cars using the MQB A platform on which the T-Roc sits also raises the prospect of the new SUV being sold in plug-in hybrid GTE form along with, potentially, a warm GTD set-up. However, the future of diesel engines in smaller cars remains up for debate as manufacturers weigh up the cost of meeting new emissions regulations for diesels against how much of a premium buyers will be willing to pay. A pure-electric version of the T-Roc is unlikely, however, as VW is set to launch a bespoke family of electric models on its MEB platform from 2020. Welsch’s openness to branding a fast T-Roc as an R model rather than a GTI also signals a clear policy to reserve the latter badge for its famous hot hatches. Even so, the firm is looking to broaden the appeal of its GTI range, with the entry-level Up GTI set to launch early next year. As the SUV sector booms, car makers are looking to exploit sales niches while creating halo models that attract attention to a line-up. For example, Nissan launched Nismo models of its Juke, but VW’s decision to launch an R version of the T-Roc would signify a step up in the mainstream performance SUV stakes. +++

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