+++ ALFA ROMEO , the Italian brand built (and rebuilt) on 1960s sex appeal, posted the biggest surge in U.S. sales in 2017, an anachronistic result in an industry currently mesmerized by battery packs and self-piloted transportation pods. The carmaker won its bragging rights the old-fashioned way: through performance. Alfas have curb appeal, powerful engines, and solid engineering. Make no mistake, auto executives are watching the Alfa Romeo experiment closely. It’s not something one sees all that often in the car business these days. Fiat Chrysler assembled a skunk works of marketing gurus and Ferrari engineers and told them to dream big. It also promised to “protect” them from senior leadership: the folks who look for the kinds of parts-sharing, cooperation, and badge engineering that make a contemporary car conglomerate a profit machine. The bar for success, of course, is mighty low for Alfa Romeo. The Fiat Chrysler-owned brand has been largely dormant in the U.S. for almost 25 years. In 2016, the marque sold just 528 machines in America. In recent months, however, Alfa launched a sinuous sedan and SUV. Both are made in Italy, both feature carbon-fiber driveshafts, and both brag about “best-in-class” horsepower metrics. The cars have stolen some market share from BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, and the rest of the luxury set. When Fiat Chrysler pledged to resurrect Alfa in America, it promised vehicles with great weight distribution, a lot of horsepower per pound, and mouth-watering design. After all, this is a brand responsible for what some call the sexiest car ever made. According to auto folks, the brand delivered. Motor Trend magazine even crowned the Giulia its Car of the Year. Meanwhile, Carlock Motor Cars in Nashville has had trouble keeping the Giulia in stock, mostly because it’s such a bold offering. Buyers are looking for a particular version, the souped-up TI Sport package, preferably in a bright color. “It was a little counterintuitive for us”, sales manager Mitchell Sherwood said. “They’re definitely not buying it in silver with black interior and trying to blend in”. Although sales of the cars have been strong, Fiat Chrysler’s rivals in Stuttgart aren’t likely to be scared. Alfa has just 177 U.S. dealers, roughly half as many as BMW and Mercedes. In the 2 segments it has nudged its way into, the carmaker still isn’t near the front-runners, or even in the middle of the pack. Among entry-level luxury sedans, the Giulia captured only 2 percent market share in the recent quarter. “We want to make sure we earn our position in the segment”, said Pieter Hogeveen, Alfa’s director in North America. “It’s not just chasing sales numbers for us”. If Alfa Romeo can keep convincing enough drivers it’s special, it will have the pricing power to tune up its profit metrics. Indeed, the brand’s renaissance in the U.S. has helped shore up Fiat Chrysler’s profit, even as sales skidded at sibling brands Chrysler and Jeep. Alfa may never be big enough to carry the company’s dead weight, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN could launch a lightweight, pure-electric sports car to rival Tesla’s forthcoming next-generation Roadster as part of a wider push towards electrification. The British brand announced recently that it will sell 155 examples of the RapidE pure-electric car next year. And it has committed to having at least a mild-hybrid version of all its models by 2025. The company’s CEO Andy Palmer has now suggested that a revitalised Aston brand could consider taking on Elon Musk’s Tesla operation, which recently previewed a new Roadster that it claimed would be the fastest-accelerating vehicle in the world. When asked if Aston could consider a pure-electric car that’s smaller than a Vantage but faster and more expensive, Palmer said: “It’s possible, yes. There are various challenges involved in making an EV, and the one everyone focuses on is the battery; the management system and the chemistry involved”. He went on: “The interesting thing is that the other 3 key components of any electric car (weight, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance) are areas sports car manufacturers, and us in particular, are really good at mastering. That puts us at an advantage over other brands who are making some big claims, such as Tesla, with a lightweight roadster. I think we could be in that space relatively easily”. A pure-electric Aston roadster would probably make use of the aluminium-intensive platform that’s already been introduced in the DB11 and smaller Vantage, and which is being made electric-ready. That would allow Aston to cut back some development costs by sharing components. It’s unlikely that any such car would be launched until the early part of the next decade, though, as Aston works its way through an ambitious product plan that brings a new model every 12 months right through until 2022. In the meantime, Palmer confirmed to us that Aston’s forthcoming hybrids will use 48V tech and that they will not be plug-ins. “We won’t offer plug-in hybrids. I don’t see the point”, he said. “You have the complexity and costs of a regular engine, and the complexity and costs of a plug-in electrified system. I’d rather spend my engineering dollar on going to what, after all, will be the final goal: pure-electric vehicles. So we hope that the hybrid system we develop will have enough ‘sailing’ pure-electric range to satisfy the requirements of cities”. The mild-hybrid tech could allow Aston engines to dip below eight cylinders for the first time since the straight-six DB7. However, while Palmer acknowledged that a hybrid V6 could be an ideal choice for a future Vantage, he insisted that 4 cylinders aren’t on the agenda. “I’m not going to confirm or deny it, but it’s not beyond imagination that Aston Martin could come down to a V6”, he said. “There’d be the V12 and the V8, so there could be a sporty mid-sized engine; for a future, lighter Vantage, for example. A hybridised V6 could work with that, but using the system as KERS and for performance, of course”. He continued: “I have no objection to the principle of engines that are smaller and in a V configuration, in fact, but in-line 4-cylinder or 3-cylinder units? No. I don’t think we’ll see an Aston Martin with a combustion engine that has any fewer than 6 cylinders”. Palmer also admitted that Aston will offer different battery sizes on its pure-electric editions, allowing customers to focus more on range or dynamic agility. “You can buy a car depending on how much range you actually want”, he said. “With our customers, the difference will not necessarily be cost; it’ll be the amount of weight they want to carry around”. Palmer stated, however, that the company’s forthcoming mid-engined Ferrari 488 rival will have at least the option of a pure combustion engine. “I’d like to think that even by 2020 or 2021, when that car arrives, the world will still be a place where some people are looking for a pure petrol engine”, he said. +++

+++ AUDI design boss Marc Lichte is eager for the brand to produce a luxury coupé to rival the upcoming BMW 8 Series, but does not believe that market demand is currently strong enough to justify such a model. When asked about Audi’s lack of presence in the segment, Lichte said: “I love the shape of a 2-door coupe, but it is also true that the sales volumes for them are much lower than for 4-doors. In the future, who knows? We have many ideas in this direction”. The luxury coupes sector has enjoyed a resurgence with the forthcoming 8 Series, which will go head to head with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, as well as the new Polestar 1, which will be the first model from Volvo’s new performance sub-brand. Audi has shifted its attention away from 2-doors in recent years, but the Prologue concept car, revealed at the Los Angeles motor show in 2014, hinted at how a range- topping coupé from Ingolstadt might look. The Prologue, one of Lichte’s first designs for the company, was ostensibly a car to preview Audi’s then-new design language, but could yet be the inspiration for the oft-mooted A9 2-door flagship. The Prologue concept was pitched as a potential sister car to the current A8, which was still in development at the time. At 5.100 mm in length, 1.950 mm in width and 1.390 mm in height, the show car is 35 mm shorter, 1 mm narrower and 70 mm lower than the A8. Despite the growing number of luxury coupe offerings from rival manufacturers, a Lichte penned 2-door is unlikely to arrive before 2019, because Audi’s current model schedule features four fast-approaching new arrivals. When asked when a coupe might arrive, Lichte said: “First we must launch the A6, then we have the Q8 next year, A1 and Q3. We won’t do anything before this. It’s step by step”. +++

+++ Today, buyers of the sought after BENTLEY Bentayga can get the vehicle with either a 6.0 liter biturbo W12 or a 4.0 liter diesel fueled V8, with an electrically driven supercharger and 2 turbos. However, the automaker will soon offer a gas-fueled V8 to the range in July next year. It will be the Volkwagen Group’s 4.0 liter biturbo engine in the Porsche Cayenne that will be installed into the Bentayga. That said engine produces as much as 550 horsepower and 770 Newton metres. The Lamborghini Urus actually comes equipped with the same engine, but produces 650 horsepower and 850 Newton-metres instead. All the said models sit on the same MLB platform, and that being said, it shouldn’t be a problem for Bentley’s engineers to fit the engine in. If Bentley does push through with this, and that is to offer the Bentayga with a V8 engine, this simply means the existence of a more affordable version of the Bentayga. Like the Cayenne, the less powerful version of the powerplant is still full of power, though less than the existing 6.0 liter biturbo W12’s 600 horsepower and 900 Newton-metres. Apart from a V8 option, Bentley also shared that they are considering a plug-in hybrid Bentayga that is on the way. Being a hybrid, it will likely share the same platform as the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. However, both models may have different specs. For instance, the Panamera comes equipped with a biturbo 2.9 liter V6 together with an electric motor that carries out 462 horsepower and 700 Newton metres. Overall, its lithium ion battery has enough juice to drive the Panamera for 50 kilometers, but I think that this figure might be lower in the Bentley Bentayga. So for those who are not keen on getting the Bentagya’s current W12 engine or the 4.0 liter diesel-fueled V8, then good news for you as soon, we might see it running on a V8 engine. The best part is that it will likely be more affordable too. And as mentioned earlier, Bentley will likely have a hybrid version of the Bentayga too, which is perfect for those who want to go green. The only question right now is when this will happen. +++

+++ The new Chinese marque BYTON will unveil what it bills a “next-generation smart device” in the form of an electric SUV at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on 8 January. Nanjing based Byton is a new brand by Chinese e-car start up Future Mobility, co-founded by former BMW and Nissan executives. Carsten Breitfeld, the former head of BMW’s i division, is the firm’s CEO. Along with its Chinese headquarters, Byton owns studios and research and development facilities in Munich and Santa Clara, California. In preview images released prior to the as yet unnamed car’s CES unveiling, we see a huge digital display screen seen spanning across the dashboard and on the steering wheel, which can be used by both the driver and the passenger. A secondary display is embedded in the steering wheel. The car will boast 5G WiFi connectivity too, plus a user interface that recognises the driver’s face, voice and hand gestures.While the mid-sized SUV’s exterior design remains under wraps, the soft round shape appears conventional, but unique tweaks such as the web of LED strips at the front are hinted at. Byton claims that its car will boast a suite of autonomous drive functions, while it will also make use of machine learning to examine and remember surroundings and scenarios, and communicate with other Byton cars. The electric motor has a range of 500 kilometers and it can be adequately charged with a week’s worth of power ‘in the time it takes you to enjoy a cup of coffee,’ according to the Chinese brand. The car will be unveiled at CES on 8 January, alongside a host of new and futuristic autonomous electric vehicles from the likes of Fisker and Rinspeed. +++

+++ The CHEVROLET Corvette C8 will be the most drastically altered model in its family tree thanks to its use of an all-new powertrain that mounts a twin-turbo V8 behind the passenger compartment. Chevrolet’s next-generation American supercar will therefore trade the front-engined layout of the C7 for a better-balanced mid-engine setup. New reports suggest this adjustment will come alongside the introduction of a boosted 8-cylinder engine. Chevrolet’s significantly more focused supercar will pick up the baton from the already well respected C7, which marked a big leap forward from its forebears. The C8 is expected to send up to 700 hp to its rear wheels, ranking it ahead of the Ford GT and Ferrari 488 GTB. Most recently seen testing alongside a Corvette ZR1 (a track-focused version of the current C7) the C8’s shorter nose and longer rear section, complete with a pair of buttresses, are evidence of its mid-engine layout. Sources think the car could use a turbocharged V6 engine in a cheaper variant that would expand the car’s reach and help to bring down the range’s average CO2 output; essential in a world of ever stricter emissions limits. The C8 is expected to use more aluminium in its construction to save weight. Carbonfibre is unlikely to feature due to its cost; the Corvette has consistently undercut the prices of its most exotic European rivals. The finished C8 is expected to arrive in Europe in mid-2019, shortly after its introduction to the US market. +++

+++ A new in-wheel ELECTRIC motor designed to make it easier and quicker for manufacturers to develop EVs is due to enter production later this year. The weight-saving technology, called the Protean Drive, has been under development by Farnham-based Protean Electric for the past 8 years. “There are a number of different applications for it”, explained Protean’s Gabriel Donaldson. “It can be used for 2-wheel-drive EVs, to hybridise an existing vehicle or to convert a 2-wheel-drive vehicle to 4-wheel drive”. The Protean Drive is a completely self-contained ‘smart actuator’ that includes a permanent magnet and synchronous electric motor, as well as the electronics needed to make it work. Each motor produces 109 hp and 1.250 Nm, so a 2-wheel-drive electric vehicle could conceivably produce peak power and torque of 218 hp and 2.500 Nm. Using self-contained wheel motors such as the Protean Drive eliminate transmissions and driveshafts and free up space in the centre of the car between the driven wheels. Cabling is minimised: 2 cables supplying power and another smaller one used by the main vehicle computer to control the motor. Donaldson says that, at 72 kg, a pair of the motors weighs 30 kg less than the electric drivetrain of a BMW i3 (102 kg). However, the wheel motors still weigh more than a conventional wheel. With that in mind, the Protean Drives were fitted to a Volkswagen Golf, the suspension of which was tuned by an independent vehicle dynamics expert. According to Donaldson, the additional unsprung weight was managed successfully and the test car was made to handle as well as a standard Golf GTE. Eliminating transmission reduces friction losses by 6-8 percent compared with a conventional 2-wheel electric drive system. The extra efficiency is a benefit during both acceleration and deceleration, so more energy is recovered during regenerative braking. The Protean Drive can be produced to fit wheel sizes from 14 inch to more than 20 inch. It is currently in pre-production and will be built in China, initially at the rate of 5 to 10 units a week. Although there are significant packaging and efficiency benefits, the technology is more expensive than a conventional electric drivetrain and work is continuing to make it more price-competitive. “Although there are commercial benefits in using it”, says Donaldson, “nobody will pay more for it”. A Chinese vehicle manufacturer will be the first to adopt the technology this year. Like many EV motors, the Protean Drive is a permanent magnet-synchronous unit running on alternating current (AC), like a household appliance. Sitting between an AC motor and the direct current (DC) battery is an inverter that converts DC to AC to power the motor. During regenerative braking, the inverter converts the AC generated by the motor to charge the battery. Motors are usually separate and the vehicle manufacturer has to source a suitable inverter. The Protean Drive incorporates an inverter so can be used by an EV manufacturer on a ‘plug- and-play’ basis. Protean Electric describes the new in-wheel design as an “inside out” motor. Traditionally, permanent magnets are mounted on a rotating central spindle called a rotor. This is surrounded by stationary electrical windings called the stator. In the Protean Drive, the rotor is on the outside and the stator on the inside. The motor drives the wheel directly and doesn’t require major modifications to the vehicle. Protean describes it as the “closest the auto industry may ever get to a bolt-on electric drive system”. +++

+++ MCLAREN scored its best sales year in its history in 2017, shifting 3.340 cars across the 12 months. Although that is only a modest increase over 2016’s 3.286 cars (which itself represented growth of 99.3% over the previous year), McLaren’s newest model, the 720S, achieved the same sales figure in 6 months as its predecessor did across the whole of 2016. The best sellers among the range remain the entry-level Sports Series cars, comprising the 570S coupé and Spider, 570GT and 540C. They accounted for 2.119 sales. The Super Series, which is now the 720S alone, took up the other 1.221 cars. No Ultimate Series cars were built in the wake of the P1 or ahead of the Senna. McLaren’s largest market is still North America, which takes up around 37 percent of the brand’s output. For 2018, McLaren predicts that the Super Series will account for around 50 percent of sales, as order banks take the company through to the summer. A small portion of 2018 sales will be taken up by the Senna, which is limited to 500 units, although only the first few will reach customers before 2019. With 12 launches before 2022, McLaren’s product portfolio is set to grow considerably, with the next Ultimate Series car, codenamed BP23, being one of these. Super Series cars are likely to remain the top sellers, though. McLaren celebrated building its 10,000th car in late 2016. Its 20,000th one is likely to be built in 2019, given the brand’s current rate of growth. +++

+++ The MERCEDES-AMG GT will receive a mild power upgrade and subtle cosmetic tweaks later this year as part of its mid-life facelift. Due on sale in December, the updated Porsche 911 rival has been spotted testing with light camouflage on its bumpers to hide changes made there. The changes are set to be minor because AMG only last tweaked the exterior design of its sports car after the launch of its GT R and GT C models in late 2016. The changes included fitment of a larger Panamerica front grille. The GT, which was introduced to Mercedes’ line-up in 2014, will also get a small upgrade in power from its turbocharged 8-cylinder engine. The current standard car produces 476 hp from its 4.0-litre V8, but the unit produces up to 585 hp in the Mercedes-AMG GT R, showing how much available room for performance there is. Expect the base model to edge towards 500 hp, with the S and C models above it also raising their current 522 hp and 557 hp respective outputs. The top AMG GT R could also receive a boost, although that car’s output is understood to be limited by the fitment of a dry sump. AMG may choose to integrate the wet sump system of the E63, which produces 612 hp in the S that uses the same V8, to enable a more substantial increase. The updated AMG GT range will come at the tail end of a heavy range expansion for AMG, where a new GT 4-door model will be launched. Although linked in name, the car will be more technically related to AMG E-Class models than the GT sports car. AMG is also launching a new hybrid line-up, which starts with the CLS 53 later this year, to kick-start a performance electrified range. However, there are no plans to integrate hybrid technology into the current GT model. +++

+++ VOLVO boasted record sales in 2017. Worldwide, the brand sold 7,0 percent more cars compared to 2016 (571.577 units). In the Asia Pacific region, sales grew by a strong 20.9 percent on the back of a record performance in China, Volvo’s largest market, where sales increased 25.8 percent compared with 2016. Meanwhile sales in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region grew by 3.3 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, while the Americas region grew by 0.7 percent. 2017 was an important year for Volvo Cars in many ways. The new XC60, which replaced the company’s best-selling model and the best-selling mid-sized SUV in Europe, premiered at the Geneva Auto Show in March. Volvo Cars also announced that it would place electrification at the core of its future business and stated that every car it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor, marking the end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine. In a further commitment to electrification, Volvo also launched Polestar, a new stand-alone electrified car brand fully consolidated within the Volvo Car Group. During the course of the year, Volvo Cars also deepened its partnership with Geely Holding via the creation of a joint venture technology company to provide the economies of scale that will allow them to more rapidly develop next generation electrified vehicle technology. Volvo also and announced it would take a 30 percent stake in Geely’s new Lynk & Co car brand, based on the 2 entities’ joint Compact Modular Architecture. September saw the introduction of the XC40, Volvo’s first offering in the fast growing small SUV segment. Volvo also invented a new model of car access with its ‘Care by Volvo’ subscription service, making having a car as transparent, easy and hassle free as having a phone. A concept introduced with the new XC40. Volvo Cars continued construction on a new manufacturing plant in South Carolina, its first in the United States, and it was announced that the plant would, in addition to the upcoming new S60, build the next generation XC90 from 2021. This takes Volvo Cars’ total investment in its US manufacturing operations to over USD 1.1 billion and will raise the total of new jobs created at the Charleston site to nearly 4,000. Late in the year, Volvo Cars opened up an entirely new market as it signed a framework agreement with Uber to sell tens of thousands of autonomous driving compatible base cars to the ride-hailing company between 2019 and 2021. +++

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