+++ Major cities around the world need to be updated and overhauled so they are ready for the roll out of AUTONOMOUS and connected vehicles, according to Ford CEO Jim Hackett. The recently appointed boss of the Detroit marque said the design of global cities was out-dated and have reached congestion capacity. Hackett talked about Ford’s City of Tomorrow, which he said will re-imagine how our streets and cities function. Ford wants major global cities to incorporate autonomous connected cars into their infrastructure, by developing technology that intertwines self-driving cars with public transport, pedestrians and the streets they’re driving on. For that reason, Ford has partnered with tech companies Autonomic and Qualcomm, who will help develop technology required for connected self-driving vehicles to operate in cities. “With the power of AI and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, we have technology capable of a complete disruption and redesign of the surface transportation system for the first time in a century”, said Hackett. “Everything from parking, traffic flow and goods delivery can be radically improved;  reducing congestion and allowing cities to transform roads into more public spaces”. Autonomic will provide cloud-computing expertise in the form of the Transportation Mobility Cloud. This will connect self-driving vehicles with traffic lights, smart devices of nearby pedestrians and city infrastructure, and relay information from the vehicles to local cloud-based servers. If congestion occurs, the software can reroute other vehicles to avoid disruptions as a result of data feedback from vehicles already in traffic. The Qualcomm Technologies will provide C-V2X vehicle sensors that can interact with other self-driving vehicles and smart devices to improve safety for drivers and pedestrians. Ford believes it will also improve traffic flow and help free up additional space in cities. Hackett is under no illusion as to the scale of the task, adding: “The challenge is enormous. We are talking about orchestrating the entire transportation network that is already woven into the fabric of our urban environments and civic life”. +++

+++ FISKER has unveiled patents for its potentially industry-changing solid-state battery technology at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The American manufacturer claims the new battery tech has the ability to power a car for over 800 kilometers and aims to introduce it to its model line-up in 2023. Energy density from solid-state batteries is said to be 2.5 times greater than traditional lithium-ion batteries (like those used in the Nissan Leaf) while Fisker is claiming the tech could cost a third of the price of today’s batteries by 2023. It should also allow faster charging and better performance in cold temperatures. Development of solid-state batteries for vehicle use has been slow, due to the lack of supply chains for the specific raw materials needed to assemble the battery pack. As well as claiming its solid-state-powered EV’s could have a range of over 500 miles on a single charge, Fisker says charging times could be as low as one minute. However, the brand does not specify whether the battery can be fully or partly charged in the space of 60 seconds. Fisker’s flexible solid-state battery intentions were made at CES alongside its new EMotion, a 260 km/h 4-door electric saloon with a range of 640 kilometers, which will rival the market-leading Tesla Model S. +++

+++ It seems that FORD might be planning a surprise unveiling for the all-new Bullitt Mustang during this year’s Detroit Auto Show. A source told that the Bullitt will be unveiled at NAIAS as a 2018 model, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the famous Steve McQueen movie which came out in 1968, featuring an iconic car chase scene. Despite this rumor, Ford spokesman Mike Levine stated that “We don’t have any Mustang news to share today but we love the interest in America’s favorite muscle car”. The Bullitt Mustang was also not among the cars previewed by Ford for the media earlier this month, but I’ve known for quite some time that an unveiling would happen sooner rather than later, with leaks springing up as early as February 2017. Last month, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be the Dark Highland Green 2018 Bullitt, filming a commercial in Chicago. Meanwhile, earlier in the year, the same car appeared on a board found in a behind-the-scenes video featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Powered by a 5.0 liter Coyote V8, the 2018 Bullitt Mustang will come with an upgraded suspension, 5-spoke black and chrome alloys, black tailpipes, red Brembo brakes and Recaro seats. There will also be a faux gas cap with a crosshair on the rear fascia, instead of the ‘GT’ badge. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI Tucson lives in a rough neighborhood. Not the suburban driveways where most are likely to be parked, but the highly competitive market segment at which it’s pitched. That means Hyundai has to keep on its toes with a regular schedule of updates lest it go stale, and that’s exactly what it appears to have in store. It appears that Hyundai’s revising the sheetmetal at both ends and along the doors in between. Expect new bumpers front and rear, with revised air vents and capped by fresh lighting graphics and a resculpted hood and tailgate as well. Look for the Korean automaker to take the opportunity to fit updated engines, safety equipment, and infotainment technologies inside and under the hood as well when the revised model hits showrooms later this year or early the next. Because if it doesn’t, the competition will start edging in on its territory. +++

+++ Advertisers are constantly thinking about how they can expand their reach, and it appears that the automotive industry is their next large step: advertisements in your INFOTAINMENT system. A Santa Clara-based company called Telenav, which already collaborates with carmakers such as Ford, General Motors, Lexus and Toyota, is planning a so-called “in-car advertising platform” for vehicles with internet connectivity. This is a program that serves ads directly into the car, making owners pay more for connected services if they choose to decline them. However, due to possible driver distraction, the system will only display the ads upon approach, at startup, and at traffic lights, Telenav said, a problem that will eventually disappear once fully autonomous driving becomes a reality. One of the company’s spokespersons said that “this approach helps carmakers offset costs related to connected services, such as wireless data, content, software, and cloud services”, adding that “in return for accepting ads in vehicles, drivers benefit from access to connected services without subscription fees”. “Telenav research shows users are receptive to ads when they get something of value in exchange”, added Ky Tang, the company’s Executive Director of Strategy. Meanwhile, a Telenav press release read as follows: “Relevant ads such as coupons and recommendations are delivered to customers based on information from the vehicle, including frequently traveled routes, destinations, and time of the day”. “As an example, drivers can be encouraged to pick up a discounted pizza on the way home, or be alerted to sales at stores near their destination. In addition, when the vehicle is low on gas, the platform points out nearby stations along the driver’s route, potentially with discount offers”. Most of the ads are said to be static, while others will be animated but, for the time being at least, they won’t contain any audio, according to the company. +++

+++ KIA  will introduce 48V mild-hybrid technology to its current Sportage and the next-generation Cee’d as part of a move to meet tougher European emissions targets, the company’s R&D boss has confirmed. Woong Chul Yang, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group’s R&D division said: “For Europe there is demand for mild-hybrid 48-volt technology, so we are working on that for the Sportage and for medium sized SUVs, and we are working on that for the new Cee’d. This is to meet all those tough CO2 requirements”. Kia has also confirmed it will launch a fully electric version of the Niro later in 2018, with a quoted range of 380 kilometers. Yang said that though the Niro EV will come with a 64 kWh battery, there is scope for it to feature a smaller battery. “Having 2 battery outputs is something we are thinking about. Sometimes we put too much battery capacity into cars, we put heavier batteries that add weight. If people drive just 160 kilometers, then that kind of use doesn’t need big batteries. People who are short range driving all the time, it makes sense to have smaller batteries”. Yang hinted that a 32 kWh battery could be offered with the Niro EV. “This is a lot lighter so the range isn’t cut by two”, he said. “Because it’s lighter, the range will not reduce by half”. The 32 kWh battery could also make its way into a fully electric version of the Kia Stonic, according to the R&D boss: “A Stonic EV is being thought about. The Stonic has a very good fit for electrification”. Yang confirmed the South Korean manufacturer has joined a long list of companies now working on solid state batteries: “Solid state is something we’re working on, an area all automotive companies are working on. But it is on the laboratory stage at the moment. Pretty much, the current lithium/ion battery technology is mature, and the next step, the next big leap is solid state”. +++

+++ LAND ROVER has moved the Defender into cold weather testing ahead of the car’s sales launch next year, with the short wheelbase 90-badged model spotted testing under the body of a heavily modified Range Rover Sport. Initial launch plans for the reborn Defender centre on 2 different wheelbases and 2 distinct bodystyles. The famous 90 inch and 110 inch wheelbase that gave the old Defender 90 and Defender 110 their names will also inspire the naming strategy of the new model, which will be built on a version of one of Jaguar Land Rover’s aluminium architectures. Those wheelbases will house both hard- and soft-top bodystyle options for the new car, which are currently being experimented with in Land Rover’s design studio. An eventual series of Defender models will potentially include a pick-up and a line-up of different versions and trims ranging from the more civilised everyday use to the most hardcore, as well as more premium and performance varieties, with one eye on the continued success of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Land Rover will use its 70th anniversary celebrations later this year to finally reveal its plans for a reborn Defender, which will go on sale in 2019. It is now 2 years since the Defender went out of production; 67 years after the original Land Rover Series I, it’s derived from, entered it, and there has been a wall of silence around the company’s plans to launch a replacement. +++

+++ Are you having trouble picturing the future of the automotive world in, let’s say, 2 decades from now? Well, here’s what NISSAN thinks it will look like. The company claims it’s not just about connectivity or automation, but also zero-emissions and even Artificial Intelligence. One of the technologies currently under development at Nissan is their B2V tech, which stands for Brain-to-Vehicle. This technology is based on detecting and predicting what the driver means to do, so that the vehicle can take action more quickly. The Japanese automaker also wants us to imagine a world free of traffic, with red lights being a thing of the past. Driving the road of the future could also mean recharging your all-electric car on the go, using wireless charging lanes. The best part is that, when the driver wants to assume control and enjoy driving on a nice twisty road, he or she will still have that option. Let’s hope Nissan is right about this one. +++

+++ Fueled by the success of the Kwid, RENAULT is now looking into yet another small and low-priced SUV, aimed at India and other emerging markets. The new vehicle might debut as early as next month, as a concept, at the Auto Expo 2018 event, which starts on February 9. The study is expected to evolve into a production model and arrive next year. It will be a sub-4-meter product, which should catch consumers attention, as cars that are shorter than 4 meters are more affordable to buy in India due to lower taxes. Development of the yet-unnamed vehicle is reportedly taking place at the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s Research and Development center in Chennai, the birthplace of the Kwid. In other related news, it seems that Renault is also working on something called “a premium hatchback”. We’ll take the ‘premium’ part with a grain of salt, but it appears that this one will be sub-4-meter as well, and it could also make its way as a concept to the Auto Expo 2018, prior to its 2019 launch, when it should be underpinned by a modified version of the CMF-A architecture, shared with the Datsun Redi-Go. +++

+++ TOYOTA  reported 2017 sales of 1,001,700 vehicles (including Lexus) in Europe, an increase of 8 percent from 2016. Total market share for the group increased to 4.8 percent. Hybrid sales grew by 38 percent year-on-year to 406,000 units. These cars now represent 41 percent of Toyota’s total European sales, and an impressive 52 percent in Western Europe only. Lexus contributes to the Hybrid success with an average mix of 60 percent of total sales in Europe and 98 percent in Western Europe. Lexus enjoyed its highest ever sales and 4th consecutive year of growth led by its SUV range. The successful launch of C-HR led the way for the strong 2017, with almost 80 percent of the customers choosing the Hybrid powertrain. This strong performance in 2017 has been supported by the Yaris Hybrid (+18 percent), the RAV4 Hybrid (+31 percent) and for commercial vehicles with the new generation Hilux (+10 percent) and Proace (+189 percent). In Russia, the locally produced Camry and RAV4 managed to maintain their segment leadership despite the challenging market conditions. “2017 has been a very good year for us. We have exceeded 1 million sales in the current challenging market environment, ahead of our 2020 target. This great achievement is highlighted by another absolute sales record of our hybrids and shows the confidence that European customers place in our Toyota and Lexus brands. Our hybrid line-up of 16 Toyota and Lexus models, the largest in the automotive sector, drove this above market sales growth. With over 74,000 sales in 2017, its highest ever, Lexus remains on track to sell 100,000 vehicles in 2020”, said Johan van Zyl, president and CEO of Toyota Europe. Top sellers were the Yaris (209,130), Auris (121,725), C-HR (120,750), RAV4 (112,537) and Aygo (85,279). Top sellers at Lexus were the NX (27,800), RX (18,900) and CT200h (8,800). Less succesfull were the Toyota Corolla (60,936), Verso (27,164), Avensis (25,863), Prius (22,703) and GT86 (1,556). At Lexus, the less succesfull models were the IS (6,093), GS (1,763), RC (1,446), LC (587) and LS (165). +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has created a new company division devoted to its e-mobility strategy, headed by its former head of production and logistics, Thomas Ulbrich. Ulbrich takes charge of the new division from 1 February and is tasked with overseeing Volkswagen’s transition to electric power, including the implementation of its new MEB platform. His successor as head of production and logistics is Andreas Tostmann, who moves from sister company Seat, where he had been executive vice president of production. Volkswagen’s e-mobility strategy will roll out the MEB platform in 2020 with the electric ID hatchback and ID Crozz SUV; production versions of recently revealed concepts. Ulbrich’s responsibilities will include ensuring these cars’ transition to production models runs successfully, and it’s likely that projects such as Ionity (a consortium of manufacturers including Volkswagen rolling out an EV fast charger network across Europe) will also fall under the new e-mobility board member’s remit. Having joined Volkswagen in 1989, Ulbrich’s CV contains a variety of logistical and production-related directorships, having held his most recent role since 2014, following a four-year stint as technical executive vice president of Volkswagen’s Chinese arm. +++

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