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+++ ASTON MARTIN engineers are busy testing the next Vanquish, which will be the brand’s hardest and fastest series grand tourer model, with intentions for it to reach showrooms this September. The British model is delving away from its luxury-focused forebears to become a rival for proper performance models such as the Ferrari 812 Superfast. It has been tested on the Nürburgring and more recently back on public roads in the UK. The new V12 model, due to go on sale in September, will step clear of traditional luxury rivals such as the Bentley Continental GT and towards sharper performance models such as Ferrari’s 800 hp 812. Company boss Andy Palmer recently stated his intentions for this harder Vanquish alongside confirmation that a convertible version, the Vanquish Volante, will follow. Both versions of the next-generation grand tourer will adopt the turbocharged 5.2-litre V12 engine used by the DB11 but are set to produce considerably more than the 608 hp offered by that car. The current Vanquish S uses a 6.0-litre V12 unit with 603 hp. Palmer told that development of the car is almost complete. He described the new Vanquish as “bloody good”. He added: “The majority of product investment for the Vanquish is finished. What’s left is preparation of manufacturing the car rather than preparation of the car itself. “We are making more prototypes to make sure we’ve got production ready to go”. Aston Martin engineers had been using a DB11 mule to test the next Vanquish’s underpinnings for several months but, since the start of October, tests have taken place with a car wearing new bodywork. This includes a lip spoiler, suggesting the final car’s bodywork will generate significantly more downforce than the DB11. The Vanquish will use its own version of the DB11’s structure, which also underpins the latest Vantage; itself revealed only late last year. Due to its harder focus, the Vanquish’s underpinnings will be the most aggressive, as illustrated by the spotted development cars at the ‘Ring, which clearly sit lower and corner with less body roll than the DB11. Palmer has previously emphasised the progress made with the new structure, telling that the cars it is spawning will help the brand shed “perceptions of old technology, old platforms and the question of whether we can survive as an independent manufacturer”. As part of its product offensive, Aston Martin will also launch the DBX cross-over in 2019, to be built at Aston Martin’s new factory in St Athan, Wales. In addition, there will be 2 Lagonda models; likely a saloon in 2020, followed by an SUV in 2022. Aston Martin plans to launch a mid-engined rival to the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 720S in 2021. The car has been signed off for production and will use an all-new V6 powertrain. The new cars will sit beneath the brand’s halo model, the Valkyrie hypercar. +++

+++ AUDI doesn’t have plans to hold a press conference at the North American International Auto Show but it appears the company could still reveal the all-new A6 later this month. Back in December, I told you about the company’s “Reveal the A6” film competition and now the automaker has released additional details about the campaign which asks aspiring filmmakers to produce a video for the upcoming sedan. The people who submit the 6 best ideas will be invited to Ingolstadt to “experience the new Audi A6 Sedan up close” on January 15th. It remains unclear if this is just a private showing but it could suggest the company will reveal the car on that day as the material goes on to say “Up to this point, the car will not be disclosed to the public”. The 6 filmmakers will then be given 15,000 euro to turn their ideas into a film that needs to be completed by February 12th. The three best films will be shown at the Geneva Motor Show and this suggests the car will make its debut in Switzerland. Audi is remaining tight-lipped about the model but the company said those “looking for inspiration for the features” on the A6 should “take a closer look at the new Audi A7 Sportback”. Notable highlights on the latter model include a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a new interior layout that consists of a 10.1-inch upper display and an 8.6-inch lower display which provides access to various climate control and comfort functions. We can also expect a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system and an assortment of advanced driver assistance systems which use up to 5 radar sensors, 5 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a laser scanner. Under the hood, there will be an assortment of 4- and 6-cylinder engines including a 3.0-liter TFSI V6 which develops 340 hp and 500 Nm. In the A7, the engine enables the model to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 5.3 seconds before hitting a limited top speed of 250 km/h. +++

+++ In a recent interview with General Motors’ Executive Vice President of Global Product Development, I learned that the automaker is currently developing a more affordable version of the CHEVROLET Camaro with a V8 engine. It was also hinted that it won’t be the only variant that will get special attention. Todd Christensen of Chevrolet said that they are trying to come up with a lower end version of the said vehicle. By doing so, they have to think of ways to repackage and reprice the Camaro. Right now, Christensen says that they are exploring different options for this, and they also noted that the V8 engine seems to have a higher demand than what they have expected. In fact, when they had the 5th generation Camaro, the automaker sold a lot of V6 engines, thinking that the 6th generation would be the same. But instead, the V8 demand increased for the latter. That being said, Chevrolet still sells more V6 Camaros, it’s just that there is something about the new V8 that are luring more muscle car fans. Now, it will not be that easy for them because the Camaro SS already has a starting price of $37,000. That makes it $1,905 more expensive than the 2018 Ford Mustang GT (at around $35,000). To compare it with the base V8 Dodge Challenger with 355 horsepower, the said model has a price tag of $32,995, but you can get the more powerful 485 horsepower Challenger T/A for $38,995. This is why Christensen wants to develop a more affordable V8 powered model; as a way for the middle of the market to grow. As mentioned earlier, it is not only the V8 model that is getting some attention from the research and development team. Apart from that, the company is also looking into developing the turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. Here is the thing, the Camaro only produces 275 hp and 400 Nm. That is a lot less compared to the Mustang’s 2.3 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that produces 310 hp and 474 Nm. It is too soon for Christensen to say when we will see the said variants. However, the American automaker is currently working on a facelifted Camaro and it is just practical if they wait for that to be unveiled first before introducing the cheaper variants like the more affordable V8 model as well as the updated 2.0 liter four cylinder. If our sources are right, the refreshed Camaro should debut as early as next month at the Detroit Auto Show. +++

+++ The all-new FISKER Emotion electric car is set to make its world premiere at the Consumer Electrics Show in Las Vegas next week. This funky-looking EV’s claim to fame is its state-of-the-art graphene solid-state batteries that can receive 200 km of charge in under 9 minutes. Company boss, Henrik Fisker told that the ultra-fast charging is possible, because the employed batteries apparently have the highest energy density in the world, or 2.5 times that of lithium/ion batteries. Fisker said that this technology will one day enable ranges of more than 800 km on a single charge and charging times as low as 1 minute; that’s faster than filling up a gas tank! As for the battery’s construction, Fisker’s technology allows the packaging of bulk three-dimensional solid-state electrodes with 25 times more surface area than flat, thin-film solid-state electrodes, thus enabling fast charging and cold temperature operation. The Emotion is also said to have a top speed of 260 km/h and features fully autonomous driving. It’s unclear at this point how extensive the self-driving system will be, but Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) will be fitted to the car. Lidar is hidden in the foremost section of the car, in a darkened glass area just below the badge. It’s capable of mapping the Emotion’s environment in 3D. As for the car itself, Fisker claimed that clever packaging allowed the team to maximise leg room and interior space. “The entire cabin has been moved forward very much, and we lowered the bonnet of the vehicle to get better aerodynamics. Because of the better packaging of an EV model, we have been able to create a more dynamic and sporty design but the leg room is on par with large luxury saloons”, he told. Fisker, who designed the Emotion, said that he decided to “take a risk to change the proportions” of the car, so that the design is as original as it can be. “It’s a risk because people aren’t used to it”, he explained. At launch, the Emotion will be the first model introduced by Fisker Inc. The new company is not to be confused with Fisker Automotive (defunct in 2014) which produced the Fisker Karma. The Emotion will be an expensive low-volume model with a carbon-fibre and aluminium structure, while the graphene battery pack will be stored under the floor. The car will be built by VLF, a manufacturing company Fisker partly owns. The hardware and software relating to the autonomous driving tech will be developed and supplied by external companies, streamlining costs and maximising efficiency at the same time. The luxury EV also boasts all-wheel drive and constant data connection. Its base price starts from $129,900. Fisker also told that there will be a second, higher volume and lower cost model to follow. “Production for that will be handled by an established carmaker, because the established car brands have really mastered high-volume, high-quality car production”, said Fisker. There’s no details to go by this mode, but he said the car will be built upon a modular EV platform. “It will be scalable, so more models can be created from it in the future”, he explained. With more models planned for the future, Fisker Inc could well be a rival to established electric car manufacturers such as Tesla, BMW i and Mercedes’ new EQ sub-brand. +++

+++ In a surprising move, MERCEDES has reportedly decided to offer the updated C-Class with a diesel plug-in hybrid powertrain. This version of the revamped C-Class will be named the C 400d EQ Power and feature a zero-emission range of up to 50km. Moreover, it will be joined by a new petrol-electric version, called the C 400 EQ Power. Both will use an updated version of the electric motor used on the current petrol-electric C 350e PHEV that’s delivering an extra 42 hp to the wheels, in addition to a tweaked charging system, which will provide quicker charging times, according to undisclosed sources that are familiar with the issue. The rest of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models will benefit from new 2.0-liter four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, with extra power and lower CO2 emissions. Diesels will churn out 150 hp, 194 hp, and 245 hp in the C 200d, C 220d, and C 300d, respectively. One of the petrol options will get 190 hp in the C 200 EQ Boost that’s named that way to highlight the implementation of a mild hybrid setup with a 48V electric architecture that adds an extra 17 hp of electric boost for short periods of time, and a belt-driven alternator. The upcoming C 300, on the other hand, doesn’t have a hybrid function, but comes with 260 hp, up 15 hp compared to the current car, thanks to increased turbo boost pressure. At the higher end of the range, the C 43 models are believed to retain the 3.0-liter V6 engine, but with a minor power boost, whereas the top-of-the-tine C 63 will get an updated version of the 4.0-liter V8 with new twin-scroll turbochargers. Depending on the selected model, the facelifted C-Class will come with either a 6-speed manual or a new 9-speed automatic gearbox that replaces the 7-speed auto offered on the current models. Styling changes to the 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class are expected to be discreet, with modified lighting units, bumpers, and a new diamond pattern grille insert on AMGs. The range-topping versions will get Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus headlights as seen on the E-Class and S-Class. The facelifted Mercedes-Benz C-Class is expected to mark its first public debut in March, at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. +++

+++ The PORSCHE Macan will be revealed in facelifted form this April. Due on European roads in September, 4 years after the first Macan landed here, the refreshed Jaguar F-Pace rival will remain on sale until 2021, when it will be replaced by a new model that offers, among other engine options, full electric drive. The stylistic changes made to Porsche’s best-selling model are subtle, to say the least. Evident on the prototypes shown here are restyled front and rear bumpers with new-look air ducts. The front indicators are also mounted lower than that of the current model, on the lowest horizontal fin of the outer front air ducts. The Porsche SUV also receives upgraded headlights with altered LED graphics, although the overall shape of the headlight clusters remain the same as those in use today. The Macan was the first Porsche to adopt structured tail-light lenses; those on this new model are restyled with new LED-enhanced lens graphics and what appears to be a full-width reflector panel across the tailgate; a design feature that has already graced a number of recent Porsche models. Although the facelifted Macan was originally expected to receive an updated interior featuring the touch-sensitive switchgear introduced to the latest Panamera, the prototype pictured here gives no clues that it will head in that direction, retaining the same controls the Porsche SUV was launched with back in 2014. But with another 3 years before it is due to be replaced by a comprehensively re-engineered second-generation model, we would be surprised if the new capacitive switches didn’t make their way on to the 2018 Macan. What we can bank on is the adoption of a pair of new 7.0 inch displays within the instrument cluster, together with a 12.3 inch touch-sensitive infotainment display as part of an updated Porsche Communication Management system. The system, launched in the latest Panamera, supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and contains a new function called Porsche Connect, which offers services such as call centre support, a wi-fi hotspot, real-time traffic updates and remote access via a smartphone. On the engine front, the Macan’s existing turbocharged 3.0-litre and 3.6-litre V6 petrol engines will be replaced by more advanced units boasting capacities of 2.9 litres and 3.0 litres. In 3.0-litre form running a compression ratio of 11.2:1, the new V6 delivers 330 hp and 450 Nm in the base Panamera. This is 10 hp and 10 Nm less than the least powerful version of the outgoing 3.0-litre engine, which serves up 340 hp and 460 Nm ft in the existing Macan S. There is more to come from the new engine, though. With altered software liberating added turbocharger boost pressure, the same unit kicks out 354 hp and 500 Nm in the latest Audi S4/S5. A more performance-oriented version of the new V6 with a lower capacity of 2.9 litres and compression ratio of 10.5:1 is earmarked to replace the current 3.6-litre engine. In the Panamera S, it provides 440 hp and 550 Nm; 40 hp more than the existing Macan Turbo, with the same torque output.
Also planned is a new petrol-electric version of the Macan, running the same drivetrain used by the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. It uses the new turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine in combination with an electric motor to provide a combined system output of 462 hp and 700 Nm. +++

+++ The current RENAULT Clio has been in production since 2012, making it one of the oldest cars in the supermini segment, but the French brand will introduce the 5th generation later this year. Coming as early as the 2018 Paris Auto Show in September, prior to its on sale date scheduled for 2019, the B-segment car will basically be an evolution of the 4th generation model. Visually, it will be inspired by the Symbioz Concept and its larger sibling, the new Mégane. Looking to keep production costs as low as possible, Renault will continue to offer the next Clio based on the CMF-B architecture, albeit with a few modifications, which will give it access to a variety of petrol engines, including the turbocharged 0.9-liter three-cylinder, and the new 1.3-liter unit. It’s unclear at the moment whether any dCi diesel mills will make their way into the car, as the French manufacturer is still weighing in on this decision as the market is moving away from oil burners. While diesels may be uncertain, the 2019 Renault Clio will get the 48V hybrid technology, paired to a small petrol engine, which will lead to lower emissions and improved fuel consumption. A plug-in hybrid variant has been apparently ruled out, though. Moreover, the publication reports that the French brand’s next-generation supermini will play its part in their electrified future, so we’re probably looking at a new Zoe too, in the coming years. The 2019 Renault Clio is also expected to adopt basic semi-autonomous driving, which will allow it to steer, accelerate, and brake on its own, raising the bar for other cars in the subcompact sector. Nevertheless, don’t expect to read the paper behind the wheel, because drivers will be obliged to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. +++

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM, new car registrations fell for the first time in 6 years in 2017, dropping 5.7% to 2.54 million vehicles. This is chiefly as a result of falling consumer confidence, worsening exchange rates and concerns over the future of diesel according to industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Although 2.54 million registrations marks a drop on 2016 figures, it is the third largest registrations year in a decade and the sixth best since records started in the 1950s. It also follows a hugely successful year in 2017. “We must keep perspective: this is not the industry falling off a cliff edge; it is a retraction from exceptional highs in the face of significant challenges”, said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes, who predicted a further fall of 5-7% over the course of 2018. The drop came despite a record-breaking first 3 months of 2017, stimulated by buyers rushing to beat VED tax changes in April. Most markedly, diesel registrations dropped dramatically in the final half of 2017; they fell 31.1% year-on-year in December (against an overall year-on-year decline in registrations of 14.4% in December), and 17.1% year-on-year across all of 2017. Registrations of petrol cars in 2017 grew marginally by 2.7%. Private registrations declined by 6.8%, with fleet registrations down 4.5% and business registrations falling by 7.8%. “Diesel has suffered from confusion among consumers about its environmental impact, but we believe there is increasing clarity about the benefits of the latest engines”, said Hawes. “There is strong evidence that diesel owners have held off replacing their cars until they get clarity rather than simply going out and buying a petrol car instead, and our belief is that many of them will return to the market this year”. Hawes suggested that government announcements around the banning of petrol and diesel engines from 2040 (later revealed to be inaccurate) plus the imposition of increased VED and company car taxes from April 2018 were to blame for consumer confusion. “Diesel is far from dead,” said Hawes, who predicted it will account for 40% of registrations (more than 1,000,000 cars) in 2018. “Everyone needs to understand that there are right types of technology out there for different types of driving. If you drive high mileages or a larger vehicle, then the latest diesels will often offer significant benefits. Of course, we need to make the case for it clearer, and we have the facts regarding CO2 and NOx improvements to bear that out. The environmental impact is clear: without an uplift in diesel sales, we have no chance of hitting the required CO2 targets”. The average CO2 figure for cars registered in 2016 was 120.1 gram/km, which rose to 121.04 in 2017; last year is the first year since records began in 2002 that the figure has risen year-on-year”. Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric car registrations made up 4.7% of the market in 2017, the highest percentage yet, accounting for 119,000 of the 2.54 million registrations. That is a rise of 34.8% from 2016. Of that number 13,500 were electric cars. “We are making progress, but it is clear that there is a long journey to go on to earn the support of consumers”, said Hawes. Superminis, small family cars and SUVs continued to be the most popular market segments in the UK, with the latter now accounting for one in five new cars sold in the UK. The SUV segment was also the only market segment to grow in 2017. The top10 list of best-selling cars in the UK are 1: Ford Fiesta – 94,533 registrations; 2: Volkswagen Golf – 74,605 registrations; 3: Ford Focus – 69,903 registrations; 4: Nissan Qashqai – 64,216 registrations; 5: Vauxhall Corsa – 52,772 registrations; 6: Vauxhall Astra – 49,370 registrations; 7: Volkswagen Polo – 47,855 registrations; 8: Mini Hatch – 47,669 registrations; 9: Mercedes-Benz C-Class – 45,912 registrations; 10: Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 43,717 registrations. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has suspended orders for the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid as production bottlenecks have built up a considerable lead time for new orders. A spokesman couldn’t reveal the precise lead times for the last orders placed but confirmed that they’re well under one year. The bottlenecks blamed for slow production were also not pinned down to a supply issue or fault with production, so the only solution for Volkswagen to avoid excessively long lead times was to suspend orders of the model. A Volkswagen statement reads: “Due to bottlenecks in production and in order to not impose unreasonable waiting times on our customers for new car orders, temporarily the Golf GTE cannot be ordered. We will inform you as soon as this model is available to order again”. The Passat GTE, with which the Golf GTE shares its powertrain, remains available to order, as do the fully electric e-Golf and e-Up models. The production problem follows Tesla’s production bottlenecks experienced with the Model 3, which failed to meet delivery targets and prompted CEO Elon Musk to announce that issues in its Gigafactory were being looked into. Orders for the Audi A3 E-tron are also to be suspended later in the year. Dealers are awaiting confirmation from the plant as to the official reason for the sales hiatus. The Golf GTE and A3 E-tron share the same powertrain, although this has not been given as the reason for the pause. +++

+++ Today, VOLVO has a pretty complete range of new SUVs. These models vary from the largest XC90 to the smallest model which is the XC40. At the top of the range is the S90 along with the V90. Now, it is time for them to update the smaller cars in its lineup, and we mean their sedans and crossovers. In fact, the company is already testing for the new S60 and V60, and Volvo executives exactly know what they want from the new V40. Starting with the V40 hatchback, the next generation model will now sit on a CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform just like that of the XC40. They will be built on the same wheelbase too. Apart from that, Volvo thinks that both vehicles can share a number of components, such as their powertrains and infotainment systems. When Volvo launches the V40, it will initially be equipped with a 1.5 liter 3-cylinder and a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, both turbocharged. Aside from this, a plug-in hybrid may be available from the beginning too, if not later on towards its life cycle. In Europe, a diesel option will be available too following a fully electric version later on. Volvo’s head of research and development, Henrik Green, told that each electric car will have at least 2 different battery sizes. The first option will be more affordable but it will have a limited range, while the other option will have more power and range, and will cost more too. Come 2019, the automaker plans to launch a fully electric version of this, riding in the same CMA platform. The model will likely be built in China and will have a 100 kilowatt-hour battery with at least 400 kilometers range. The automaker plans to give their smaller 40-series models a different approach when it comes to style, by making them look more adventurous, also so it could go up against the Volkswagen Golf. This is their way of giving their smaller cars more character as opposed to making them look like shrunken versions of the larger models. We can’t wait to see what Volvo has planned for their smaller cars. +++

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