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+++ The BMW Group achieved its best-ever annual sales in 2017, the 7th consecutive year it has achieved a new annual record. This success was spread throughout the company with both BMW and Mini brands achieving new all-time high figures. BMW M and BMW i also achieved record sales. The company’s core BMW brand achieved a new all-time sales high, growing sales by 4.2% across the year, to total 2,088,283. The X vehicles continued to be significant growth drivers with sales of X vehicles up 9.6% compared to the previous year, despite limited availability of the X3 due to the introduction of the new generation in November. The 5 Series, which underwent a model change during 2017, achieved growth of 55.2% (30,359) in December, with sales of the world’s leading premium business sedan up 6.3% (291,856) in the full year. Other models which contributed to the brand’s growth in 2017 include the 1 Series (201,968 / +14.7%), and the 7 Series (64,311 / +4.5%). Pieter Nota, who on 1 January 2018 became director of sales, says: “I am confident BMW sales will continue to grow during 2018, while we also maintain our focus on profitability. Increased availability of X models and our ongoing model offensive, which includes the launches of brand new models this year such as the X2 and the 8 Series, will ensure we bring even more customers to the BMW brand in 2018”. In December, the BMW Group celebrated delivery of the 100,000th electrified vehicle sold in 2017. In total, 103,080 electrified vehicles were delivered to customers during the year; this increase of 65.6% underscores the company’s leading position in electro-mobility. The BMW Group sold more electrified vehicles in Europe than any other premium manufacturer in 2017 and the company’s position on the world market is also extremely strong. 4 years after its launch, sales of the i3 grew in 2017 by 23.3% to total 31,482 worldwide. The plug-in hybrid BMW iPerformance vehicles also continue to grow in popularity, with sales almost doubling to total 63,605. Launched in June 2017, the Mini Countryman plug-in hybrid also made a significant contribution to boosting the BMW Group’s electrified sales, with a total of 5,799 delivered to customers around the world. The BMW Group is expecting strong double-digit growth in electrified vehicle sales in 2018. By the end of 2019, the company aims to have at least half a million electrified BMW Group vehicles on the road. BMW’s high-performance M vehicles achieved record sales in 2017. Deliveries of M and M Performance vehicles increased by 19.1% compared to the previous year, with overall sales topping 80,000 for the first time ever. In its first full year on the market, the M2 was the strongest growth driver, with total sales of 12,293. The M Performance variants of the new 5 Series also contributed strongly to the increase in sales. With the launch of the new M5 in in the spring, BMW M’s powerful success story looks set to continue in 2018.

+++ Few automotive engineers know more about electric powertrains than Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer. In his previous life as Nissan’s head of development, Palmer led the team that created the Leaf. His arrival at Gaydon has put Aston Martin on course for what will be a part-electric future, and he is politely sceptical about James DYSON ’s plan to introduce an electric car in 2020. “I wish him the best of luck”, Palmer told, “but on the numbers that have been reported, I know you won’t do it for that money, and you won’t do it in that timescale. At least, I know that I couldn’t”, Aston Martin Consulting has been involved in several EV projects for other manufacturers (the only publicly disclosed one being Faraday Future), and Palmer says an underestimation of the challenges involved has been a common factor. “We’ve had discussions with about 10 of them”, he continued. “Every single one has underestimated the difficulty of engineering a car to a budget and to an aggressive timescale. Some of them will get there, but always over budget and late”. +++

+++ In GERMANY , workers at carmakers Audi and BMW staged further strikes but German labor leaders and employers are aiming for a deal on wages and working hours by early February, representatives of both sides told. Some 160,000 workers had already joined industrial action this week to support IG Metall’s wage claims and the union has threatened to call for 24-hour walkouts if talks fail to make progress. Spurred on by the fastest economic growth in 6 years and record low unemployment, IG Metall is demanding a 6 percent rise for 3.9 million metals and engineering workers. It has also launched its first major campaign for shorter working hours in more than 3 decades. It is demanding that workers gain the right to cut their weekly hours to 28 from 35 to care for children or elderly or sick relatives and then return to full-time employment after 2 years. Employers have offered 2 percent plus a one-off 200-euro payment in the first quarter. They have rejected demands for a shorter working week unless hours could also be increased temporarily as well to maintain output. Labor bosses and industrial employers took a small step toward a deal in third-round regional talks in southwestern Baden-Württemberg, agreeing to appoint experts to look into the issue of working hours. Any deal in Baden-Württemberg would typically be applied in other states as well. As well as the differences over lengthening hours, employers have also rejected the idea that they should help make up for the pay shortfall for some workers who do cut their hours. Talks will resume in the region on Jan. 24, although sources on the employers’ side said it was unclear whether there would be a “long night” to conclude negotiations at that time or whether a 5th round of talks would be scheduled. Analysts at Barclays said they expected an agreement on a wage increase of around 3.2 percent, based on an analysis of past labor deals by IG Metall. Typically, they said, a deal is achieved after 5 rounds of negotiations. German inflation hit its highest level in 5 years in 2017 when prices rose an average 1.7 percent over the year. Talks in the southern German state of Bavaria, home to industrial companies including engineering firm Siemens and truckmaker MAN, are due to enter a third round on Monday. Lower Saxony will follow on Tuesday and North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s industrial heartland, later next week. +++

+++ The new HONDA Accord slept on a Brooklyn snowbank, looking as out of place as a Corgi at the Iditarod. Bigger, fancier beasts surrounded it. From the warmth of my apartment, I started the car with the push of a button. A few minutes later, I went out and parked my toddler in the spacious back seat and tucked his massive stroller into the trunk. I plopped down into the pre-heated leather cabin, and the chipper little machine churned its wheels out onto the dry pavement. It eagerly zipped through the aisle of SUVs. It’s not a propitious time to be making a car like the Accord. In the past 5 years, 1 million of the U.S. drivers who bought sedans each year disappeared. Well, not exactly. They instead went shopping for SUVs. Honda, however, is undeterred. The automaker made a fairly big deal as it rolled out the 10th iteration of its norm-core car in July. It’s easy to dismiss the new Accord as nothing more than a relic of the company’s glorious, gas-fired past. But there’s more going on here. For one thing, there is still no good reason not to buy a Accord. It’s remains fun, safe, spacious and efficient. In an industry that runs on a rich mix of marketing and performance statistics, the Accord is one of the few products that still enjoys thoughtless, unexamined consumption. People who don’t want to spend the time figuring out the perfect car to buy tend to buy an Accord by default (that’s a far larger demographic than any auto executive would care to admit). Despite the frequently reported death of the old-fashioned sedan, the Accord still does a lively business. Last year, 326,000 of them zipped off U.S. lots, making it the 10th best-selling vehicle in the country. “Sedans are extremely important to Honda”, said Ray Mikiciuk, assistant vice president of Honda sales. “The decline of that segment, I think, is greatly exaggerated”. Mikiciuk is being diplomatic here. The rest of the segment is declining at an alarming pace, but not the Accord. There are still bigger vehicles, taller ones, faster ones and more efficient ones. For a Honda sedan today, winning a superlative is about as likely as hitting 320 kilometers miles per hour. But here’s one: The new Accord is arguably the best Honda ever, which is saying something. “It’s more performance-oriented, luxurious and technologically savvy than anything we’ve ever produced”, Mikiciuk said. The first thing one notices about the newest version is the design. It simply looks better. Honda shortened the car slightly while lengthening the wheel-base, which makes the whole package look both more elegant and sporty. Even better, the tweak made for a more spacious back seat and trunk. Starting at $23,570, even the base trim gets LED headlights, Honda’s “Sensing” safety system, a package of active-cruise control, forward-collision warning and lane-keep assist. The small 4-cylinder I drove had no turbo lag to speak of and lots of torque at low-speed. The car can also be had with a larger 4-cylinder. Both engines can be mated to Honda’s sublime manual transmission. Inside, drivers will find heated and ventilated leather seats, a heads-up display, an 8-inch touchscreen and a handy bin in the center console that wirelessly charges smartphones. My gripes were few. The steering is a little light, the touchscreen angles away from the driver slightly and requires more of a reach than I’d like and the brakes go from zero to grabby quite abruptly. Honda’s quiet strategy for success, however, is most evident at the car’s A- and C-pillars. The strut separating the front windshield from the side of the car is alarmingly, even Teutonically, thin. This is an expensive feat for carmakers and one of the bellwethers that separates a good vehicle from a great one. The roof line and rear windshield similarly swoop down to the trunk in a fastback trajectory that apes a Porsche Panamera. It’s an incongruously sexy line for a vanilla sedan. In short, not only will this machine go head-to-head with the Toyota Camry, but it does a passable impression of an entry-level Audi. For $36,000 (the price of a bare-bones premium sedan) the Accord comes fully-loaded with an adaptive damper system, rain-sensing wipers and heated rear seats. When asked if Honda intends to compete with the more opulent German brands, Mikiciuk was circumspect: “It’s designed to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people”. There’s another reason Honda is still going after sedan buyers so aggressively: It knows its rivals aren’t long for the race. In short, the Accord is a 3,300 pound, $30,000 master class in game theory. The little machine has already been busy rounding up abandoned market share from a number of competitors resigned to the scrap heap in recent years, from the Mercury Milan and Volkswagen CC to the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. Rival sedans still in production, such as Buick’s Regal (Opel Insignia), Ford’s Fusion (Mondeo) and Kia’s Optima, are lagging badly. Honda’s strategy team understands this dynamic better than most, because they pulled off a similar trick in the minivan market. Their Odyssey remains just 1 of 5 choices for a family hauler. The mid-sized sedan race isn’t that anemic yet, but if it gets there, look for Honda at the front of the pack. +++

+++ Spy shots have emerged of a facelifted HYUNDAI i20 being tested ahead of a possible release later in 2018. A spokesperson confirmed that a facelifted i20 is “coming” but no timescale is certain at the moment, hinting towards a reveal later this year. When it goes on sale, the revised i20 is expected to mirror the prices of the current model. The photos show a i20 test mule wearing a heavy disguise but elements of the car, such as the roof, remain exposed with regular painted bodywork rather than distracting camouflage. As you’d expect from a facelift, the overall shape of the i20 remains with the front grille appearing to be slightly bigger than the current model’s. The back of the car has been extensively covered over but you can just about notice a split rear boot spoiler. A light blue paint scheme covers the test mule, matched to black wing mirrors; the same colour combination used by the Korean manufacturer to launch its i30 N hot hatch. This i20 test car has also been fitted with a similar wheel design to that found on the i30 N. While this mule appears to be the standard car, an i20 N hot hatch is believed to be in the works and ready to emerge in the near future. When the facelited i20 arrives we expect the new-look front and rear ends to be accompanied by small engine performance enhancements. Additional extra standard equipment inside and further autonomous safety features are also likely to appear as part of the upgrade package. +++

+++ The MINI brand overall achieved a new sales record in 2017 with 371,881 vehicles delivered to customers around the world, an increase of 3.2% on the previous year. The new Countryman saw a jump in sales of 30.0% (84,441). Another significant contributor to the brand’s sales success was the Convertible, which grew sales 12.0% (33,317). “We are delighted that with our new brand strategy, we have achieved a new sales record. The focus of the portfolio on fewer but more characterful models was completed with the launch of the new Countryman last year”, stated Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the BMW AG Board and responsible for Mini.. “The Countryman contributed significantly to the growth in 2017 and the first plug-in hybrid also achieved excellent results. I am sure that this success will continue into 2018, with the launch from March of the new Hatch 3 and 5 door, as well as the Convertible, supporting the brand’s further growth”, he continued. +++

+++ A German court has ordered PORSCHE SE, the investment company behind Porsche, to reveal whether it believes documents were destroyed when the Dieselgate scandal broke. Porsche SE’s board must answer 5 questions relating to what was known of Volkswagen Group emissions cheat practices before they were exposed in September 2015. The information is vital in several ongoing legal cases with investors, who claim that they are entitled to billions of euros in damages. Both the VW Group and Porsche SE have refrained from answering questions related to this because of what they called “ongoing investigations”, the largest of which is led by law firm Jones Day. “Citing the investigation by Jones Day is no valid argument to deny the information, because hiring an external law firm normally doesn’t oblige the client to confidentiality”, said the judges. “The right of shareholders to information may not be foiled by citing external investigations”. Judges have also accused the 2 companies of not taking enough action to prevent employees from destroying documents that would have been vital to the US legal case. In the ongoing US case, a Volkswagen diesel engineering boss, James Liang, was sentenced to prison for 40 months for his involvement in the scandal. So far, eight high-ranking executives have been charged. +++

+++ The revived TOYOTA Supra is just weeks away from launch, as the official unveiling is all set for the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. The sports car, developed jointly with BMW, won’t be sold with Toyota badges, and will instead feature the Gazoo Racing nameplate. Insiders claim tht the new Supra will come in 4 different states of tune; as the basic Supra, as a Supra GR, as a Supra GR Sport, and finally as a Supra GRMN. Expect a significant gap in performance and price between the base Supra and the GR sport, with variations in suspension tune also likely. “The Supra will be by Gazoo”, the performance division, Shigeki Tomoyama, told late last year. The news comes after it transpired that the Gazoo Racing team became more heavily involved in the car’s development, after Toyota president Akio Toyoda tested the vehicle and decided it needed to be “more mobile”. Prototype cars have since been given more of an edge to what was a fairly benign initial set-up. The Supra’s sister vehicle, the BMW Z4, is expected in showrooms next year, but Tomoyama hinted that the Gazoo creation may not arrive until the second half of 2019. While the BMW will be sold only as a convertible, the Supra will be a fixed-roof coupe. It’s likely that the Gazoo-badged car will use bigger, 6-cylinder engines, too. As the owner of a 600 hp carbon fibre-bodied previous-generation Supra, Gazoo boss Tomoyama said that the new car will need to attract fans of the classic models. “The new car has to appeal to the existing owners first”, he told. “The old cars had a straight-6 engine, twin turbos and rear-wheel drive; the new car must have the same philosophy”. There’s a chance Toyota and Gazoo will look to their Le Mans race cars for added hybrid tech. The new model is said to weigh between 1,200 kg and 1,500 kg, with Gazoo using the BMW M4 Coupe and Porsche 911 as benchmarks. As with all other GR models, such as the Yaris GRMN, the company will offer an extensive range of aftermaket tuning parts for the new sports car. Prices will be announced closer to the car’s showroom debut. +++

+++ The PSA Group has appointed industry veteran Stephen Norman to head the VAUXHALL brand in the UK. The appointment comes only days after the French carmaker announced further jobs will be cut at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant. In a press conference today, Norman, who previously headed PSA’s marketing operations, acknowledged that the Luton brand faces significant challenges in the coming year but the main focus is on turning around the brand’s sales slowdown. “Before anything, we must first improve the fortunes of the brand on the demand side. We have to produce cars that people will want to buy, then we will look at supply issues”. When asked whether the future of the brand is doubt, Norman said: “There is a clear understanding within the PSA Group that Vauxhall is a brand in its own right, as is Opel in Europe. Both brands have intrinsic value”. Norman, who has worked in the motor industry for over 40 years for brands such as Rover, Fiat and Renault, has joined at a difficult time for Vauxhall. Registration fell 22 percent last year, a figure linked to a total of 650 recent job losses from the brand’s Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire. Although a decision on the plant’s future is yet to be made, Norman admitted that its fate is “inextricably linked” to Vauxhall’s sales performance. “If we manage to make a radical improvement in Vauxhall’s fortunes in the UK and my future colleagues in Opel do the same to their markets, then there will be a requirement not only for every possible unit of production that we’ve got, but maybe more besides. You don’t have a factory to support one brand in one market, it just doesn’t work like that. Clearly, if we want things to go up, we have to stop them going down”. Norman stated that SUVs will play a key part in Vauxhall’s sales revival in the UK, with the models in the segment forming the backbone of the brand’s range for several years to come. The Crossland X crossover and Grandland X SUV were launched last year, with the latter only just entering the market. +++

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