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+++ AUDIcontinues the upturn of the past few months with its year-end spurt. In November, the premium brand delivered around 160,000 automobiles to customers worldwide, up 4.5 percent year-on-year. The company once again saw a clear increase in North America (+13.6 percent) and in China (+6.5 percent), in Europe (- 0.1 percent) sales came in on a par with the November figure for 2016. Cumulative global deliveries at the end of the month totaled around 1.699.550 units, which is 0.8 percent below the reference figure from 2016. “Despite the current challenges in some European markets we have achieved the highest November sales worldwide ever”, says Bram Schot, Board Member for Sales and Marketing at Aud. “We aim to confirm the positive trend in December and are confident of slightly exceeding 2016 sales in the year as a whole”. Growth was boosted in November in particular with the sustained high demand for the Q2 and the models in the A5 family. Among Audi’s 3 core sales regions, North America performed the most dynamically in the past month. 23,650 automobiles sold represent growth of 13.6 percent in the region. The United States reported a double-digit increase (12.1 percent to 19,195 automobiles), making November the 83rd record-breaking month in a row for Audi. Meanwhile, the SUV trend continued. Demand for Q models increased by 23.2 percent compared to November 2016. The A5 family was the largest growth lever. In November, more than 1,100 U.S. customers took delivery of the A5 Sportback alone, which only went on sale in the U.S. market from the second generation. Likewise in Canada, Audi achieved substantial double-digit growth in November (+19.3 percent to 2,928 automobiles). In China, the A4 accounted for the largest share of Audi’s November growth. Across all models, deliveries increased by 6.5 percent to 56,208 premium automobiles. As such, China was once again the single market with the highest absolute growth for Audi in November. Since the agreement at the end of May with its local partners on future collaboration, the brand also achieved a new record-breaking sales figure in China in every month. This reduced the cumulative decline in sales to 2.1 percent in the course of the past month, with 528,706 deliveries from January through November. Europe was dominated over the past few weeks by the market launch of the new A8. The flagship of the Four Rings went on sale in dealerships in the second half of November. Among the European markets, Italy (+4.2 percent to 5,806 automobiles) and Spain (+1.6 percent to 4,242 automobiles) once again performed positively. In particular, however, the downturn in the market in the UK had a negative effect on business in Europe: 12,173 sold Audi models represent a year-on-year decline of 6.1 percent. Nonetheless, deliveries from the Ingolstadt-based automaker once again held up significantly better than the overall market. In France too (‑1.4 percent to 5,473 automobiles), sales were down year-on-year. In the German market, sales remained virtually on a par with 2016 (‑0.6 percent to 21,529 automobiles). In total, around 797,150 customers collected keys for their new Audi in Europe since the start of the year, 0.4 percent more than in the same period last year. +++

+++ Chinese car manufacturer BAIC Motor is aiming to stop selling petrol and diesel-powered vehicles by 2025. Chairman Xu Heyi told this during an event to celebrate the launch of a new energy car innovation center in Beijing. “Our goal is to stop sales of self-developed conventional fuel-powered cars in Beijing by 2020 and stop their production and sales nationwide by 2025”, Heyi said. BAIC’s plan comes in response to legislation from the Chinese government to ensure all domestic and international automakers produce a minimum number of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2019. 2 months ago, fellow Chinese carmaker Chongqing Changan Automobile confirmed that it would stop selling conventional combustion-engine cars from 2025 and shift entirely to New Energy Vehicles (NEVs). +++

+++ The FERRARI 488 GTB is being comprehensively re-engineered into a hardcore, track-focused variant that will go toe to toe with the Porsche 911 GT2 RS next year. The car, a hotter version of the 488, will essentially be a replacement to the discontinued 458 Speciale, which is widely regarded as the best driver-focused Ferrari to date. Ferrari is rumoured to be reserving the GTO name for the car, but the final moniker has yet to be officially revealed. GTO has only been applied to 3 Ferraris before: the first 2 of which, the 250 GTO and 288 GTO, were racing machines. The latest, the 599 GTO, was a road-legal version of the track-only 599XX, leading many to claim it wasn’t worthy of its racing title. For this reason, the harder but still road-legal 488 could adopt a new tag that continues the trend set by its spiritual forebears, the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale. The 488’s mid-mounted twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 engine will be boosted with increased turbo pressure and internal modifications to produce an anticipated 700 hp, with torque also increasing substantially on the standard car’s 760 Nm. Ferrari will remove non-essential parts from the interior and sound deadening from its engine bay, as well as fitting lightweight parts such as thinner glass for the windscreen and side windows, lighter ceramic brakes and forged wheels, as with the 458 Speciale. This should bring the car’s kerb weight down to less than 1.400 kg, enabling scintillating on-track performance that’ll include a 0-100 km/h sprint time of little more than 2.7 seconds. The 488 variant will also get new software for its Side Slip Angle Control and bodywork that works the air more aggressively, generating extra downforce to help increase apex speeds and improve high-speed stability. The standard 488 produces 325 kg of downforce at 250 km/h, but the 911 GT2 RS produces up to 340 kg. Ferrari’s aerodynamicists will be keen to rival that figure. Spotted test cars reveal little about the exterior design changes. Ferrari’s road car team has access to its Formula 1 wind tunnel, meaning the car’s new parts will be crafted with the latest technology. Expect large intakes for the more potent powertrain, a bigger front lip and more prominent rear diffuser. Ferrari has refrained from commenting on the model, but recent sightings of a car in light covers suggest development has moved to an advanced stage. This ties in with the schedule for a car that our sources expect will go on sale in 2018. Prices will increase significantly over the 488 GTB. An entry-level figure of more than 400,000 euro in The Netherlands is possible. +++

+++ The FIAT has been awarded no stars by independent safety expert Euro NCAP; the first time such a score has been given. The Punto, first introduced in 2005, was re-examined as part of Euro NCAP’s regular reassessment of vehicles as the body seeks to find cars “that are past their sell-by-date where safety is concerned”. The Fiat was found to significantly trail its modern contemporaries. Euro NCAP explained the Punto’s no-star score “came because of low scores for its crash performance, combined with the absence of key technologies such as Autonomous Emergency Braking”. As well as no stars overall, the Punto was given 0 percent in the safety assist category. This too was the first time such a score had been awarded by Euro NCAP. With a 51 percent adult occupant score, a 43 percent child score and a 52 percent pedestrian safety score, the Punto trails cars like the 5-star Volkswagen Polo, which scored 96, 85 and 76 percent in those respective areas. Matthew Avery from Thatcham Research, which plays a pivotal role in Euro NCAP assessments, told that while the Punto is not a dangerous car, “given its price, in terms of euro-per-safety, it’s not a good buy”. Avery went on to say that “things have moved on” since the Punto was first tested in 2005, commenting that as well as “missing fundamental passive safety systems like side airbags” and offering “poor whiplash protection”, the Punto isn’t available with sophisticated active systems such as autonomous emergency braking. Asked what he thought Fiat should do, Avery said the company should “go back to the drawing board” with the Punto. “Fiat knows how to make 5-star vehicles (such as the 500L) and can do better, while cars like the latest Seat Ibiza demonstrate it’s possible for buyers to combine value for money with safety”. Back when it was first tested in 2005 and under different test criteria, the Punto (then known as the Grande Punto) scored 5 stars for the protection it offered adult occupants, and 3 stars for child passengers. This, Avery told, “reflects the fact Euro NCAP has moved on, and Fiat hasn’t with the Punto”. 5 cars were awarded 5-star ratings with their standard equipment in this latest batch: the BMW 6 Series GT, Hyundai Kona, Jaguar F-Pace, Kia Stinger and Toyota Yaris. Dacia released the following statement about the safety of the new Duster: “The Duster achieved a 3-star safety rating; Dacia’s target. The Duster includes a host of safety equipment that has been upgraded since the previous model. Aiming for 4 or 5 stars would have meant equipping Duster with a range of recent driving aids and technology and that would have made the car more expensive and more complex to drive. That is not consistent with the vehicle’s positioning”. +++

+++ FORD has acknowledged that early versions of the 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine in the Focus RS can develop an issue that causes them to consume coolant fluid. The company told that the problem, which appears to be affecting cars of as little as 10.000 kilometers, is causing some 2016 and 2017 models to produce “white exhaust smoke” as they burn coolant during cold running. When asked whether the issue will result in a recall, a spokesman said Ford is “working on a repair for all customers”, suggesting a fix could be rolled out even to include cars not currently affected. “In the meantime, if vehicles show these symptoms, customers should visit their dealer for an inspection and repair under warranty”, the spokesman added. Ford has already replaced several affected engines with all-new units built to the latest specification under warranty. No official line as to the cause of the problem has been released, but a large number of posts on internet forums from Mk3 Focus RS owners have suggested that the head gasket is failing to seal the engine block to the head effectively. However, rather than being a design issue of the head gasket itself, the problem has been linked to block distortion. It is believed that the physical shape of the engine changes through multiple heat cycles, eventually preventing the gasket from sealing the two parts correctly. This, owners have suggested, is allowing coolant to leak into the cylinders when the engine is cold, causing issues such as a smoking exhaust and misfire before the engine is up to its optimum temperature. A Focus RS owner claims that he has come across a dealership report stating that another car with the aforementioned symptoms was “losing coolant” due to the cylinder block being “out of tolerance”. The report concluded that the car now had a “distorted cylinder head”. The problem is not thought to affect Mustangs with the same engine due to the use of a different alloy for its block and head. The Focus RS’s engine is made from an upgraded alloy with a cast-iron lining and gets its own head gasket design – requirements for the car’s higher 350 hp output. +++

+++ LAND ROVER and its UK dealers were “probably a bit complacent” about sales of the new Range Rover Velar as a result of the massive interest in the car following its reveal, Andy Goss, the company’s global sales operations director, has admitted. Stressing that sales were now on track for the BMW X6 and Porsche Macan rival, Goss said that Land Rover was initially surprised by the relatively low ratio of test drives to orders. “We had a couple of things to learn if I’m honest, some adjustments to make”, said Goss. “The moment the car was revealed, the enquiry lines were red hot and we were smashing our targets like never before, and I think that led us to believe that the car would sell itself. But, of course, life isn’t that easy. We needed to reassess the right approach. Our dealers had taken the levels of interest and set in stone that they wouldn’t need to discount the car to sell it, for instance. Perhaps they saw a surfeit of milk and honey and felt they didn’t have to try as hard as perhaps they might otherwise. The adjustments we had to make were small: a tweak in the interest rates on finance and opening up the space for dealers to negotiate a bit, to give customers what they rightly want and expect: a good value deal. Once we’d done that the orders came in quickly, and last month the Velar comfortably outsold the Macan”. So far, around 20 percent of Velar sales have been to Range Rover Evoque customers trading up, with the vast majority being to customers new to the Land Rover brand. “There are very few Range Rover Sport customers trading down”, said Goss. +++

+++ The upcoming LEXUS LC F looks set to become the firm’s most powerful production vehicle ever and could be tapping on the doors of established supercars. The LC F will use a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine delivering a healthy 630 hp. To put that figure into perspective, the current LC 500 has 477 hp and that car is no slouch, meaning the LC F should be absolutely blistering. Beyond the vehicle’s adoption of a new powertrain, the insider asserts that the LC F will weigh approximately 7 percent less than the LC 500, or approximately 135 kilo less, thanks to the use of additional carbon fiber reinforced plastic. Last but not least, the source claims that the LC F will start at roughly 20 million yen ($176,000) and arrive in dealerships around the world in 2019. Expect to learn more about the LC F throughout 2018. +++

+++ MINI will take advantage of the continuing SUV boom by launching a smaller sister car to the Countryman. The new model won’t join the range until 2021 at the earliest, making use of the brand’s next generation of chassis technology, and that means electric power will be a given for the new small SUV. According to a source close to Mini, the new model is likely to be similar in footprint to today’s 5-door car, but another SUV larger than today’s Countryman has been ruled out. Member of the BMW board of management Peter Schwarzenbauer said: “That would not fit with Mini’s DNA: we would not make a 7-seater or something like that. I think a Countryman is the maximum size and the right thing for Mini, but I wouldn’t see it getting any bigger”. Asked if there was a chance that Mini could make a smaller SUV than the Countryman, Schwarzenbauer told: “That would be an interesting option, especially when you look around. There are few car types in the world right now that fit into every market. A small urban SUV is definitely a segment that is extremely interesting, but so far we haven’t made any decision on its direction”. Autointernationaal.nl understands that work is already under way on a new platform that would underpin the next generation of Mini’s, including the small SUV and, eventually, a replacement for the recently launched Countryman. At the moment, MINI has 2 platforms at its disposal: UKL1 which underpins the Mini in 3 and 5-door hatchback form as well as the Convertible, and UKL2 which is used for the Clubman and Countryman, including a plug-in hybrid version of the latter. The all-electric Mini, due to go on sale in 2019 and previewed by the concept unveiled at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, will make use of a modified version of the UKL1 platform. However, the new chassis will be developed from the start with electrification at its core. BMW’s global sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson has hinted previously that Mini could eventually become an all-electric brand, and the new platform will be key to the company’s electrified future. The new small SUV is likely to measure a little over 4 metres in length, putting it up against rivals such as Volkswagen’s forthcoming T-Cross SUV, as well as established players such as the Nissan Juke. The look of the new car will be traditional Mini, and is likely to feature some of the details shown on the Electric concept. And while Mini has confirmed that the brand will go no larger than the Countryman, it has also stated that it won’t build a smaller car than today’s 3-door model. Even with a new platform, insiders have said that it will not be economically viable to make a smaller car, like the well received Rocketman concept from 2011. Costs for the new platform are likely to be shared across the BMW Group as it’s expected to be used for the next generation of front-wheel-drive X1, 1 Series and 2 Series models, and possibly even a replacement for the all-electric i3. Bosses have stated that the Countryman will be the biggest Mini to go on sale; there are no plans to produce a 7-seat version. But the new small SUV will take its styling cues from the Countryman model, even though it is based on new platform. +++

+++ Consumer Reports (CR) are revisiting the TESLA Model S, a car that’s not exactly new to begin with, as it was launched in 2012, receiving a facelift last year. However, the review brings us up to date with Tesla’s latest revisions. Thanks to a network of quick charging stations, filling the battery doesn’t take that long, and once you’re done, expect a driving range in excess of 563 km in the 100D grade, or 443 km in the entry-level 75D. The instant torque provided by the electric powertrain is another reward of driving a Tesla Model S, which tackles corners quite well thanks to its balanced weight distribution, and absorbs most bumps on the road. Inside, the cabin is dominated by a huge 17-inch touch-screen display that controls pretty much everything, from the suspension ride height to the infotainment system and sunroof, and gives the zero-emission sedan a futuristic yet minimalistic look. Over the years, Elon Musk’s company has significantly upgraded the Model S, from adding new batteries and all-wheel drive, to various other technologies. The most discussed highlight, though, is the Autopilot system, a function that allows drivers to relax behind the wheel on the motorway or in congested traffic, but CR advises users not to rely on it as the “ultimate self-driving system”, as it’s far from flawless

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has stopped deliveries of its van Multivan T6 with diesel engine, after it could not fully confirm certain technical figures in an internal audit, the company said in a statement. The German car maker said it has already notified the German Federal Motor Transport Authority about the matter and said it could not provide further details at this time. “The Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles brand is currently investigating internal reports that it has not been possible to fully confirm certain technical figures in the Conformity of Production (COP) audit for the model Multivan T6 with diesel engines and passenger car type approval”, Volkswagen said in the statement. An internal audit conducted by Volkswagen had found that the van’s diesel-engine emissions were surpassing the nitrogen oxide values the company had given previously to the motor transport authority and that it had notified the authority about the findings. “Clarifying the matter as well as coordinating and obtaining approval for any necessary action in close consultation with the competent authorities is being given top priority by the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles brand”, Volkswagen said. +++

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