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+++ Despite Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) expectations, ALFA ROMEO will not return to profit this year, Sergio Marchionne said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is still rebuilding the Italian brand, according to Marchionne. “The losses are shrinking, but we need more volumes”, he told. FCA didn’t break out Alfa Romeo’s 2017 financial performance and Marchionne didn’t give a timetable for the brand’s return to profitability. Last April FCA’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer said that Alfa Romeo would be profitable in the fourth quarter of 2017. Marchionne backed that comment by saying that the Italian brand will turn a profit for 2018, but at the end of last October he appeared more cautious, saying that Alfa Romeo’s US sales were slower than expected and that the brand was also “behind the curve” in China. FCA isn’t releasing production or sales numbers for its brands, leaving market researchers to make an estimate. JATO Dynamics say that Alfa’s global sales increased from 71,700 cars in 2016 to 118,000 in 2017, while the Fim-Cisl union says that production of Alfa Romeos was increased last year to 150,722 units, from 93,117 in 2016. Marchionne’s 2014 plan for the revival of the Alfa Romeo brand targeted 400,000 global sales by 2018 and a lineup of 8 new models. In 2016, FCA lowered these targets and pushed the date for completing the 8-model range to mid-2020. +++

+++ AUDI will update its TT next year as part of the third-generation coupe’s mid-life facelift, applying mild visual tweaks and boosting the performance of its engines. A spotted TT roadster development car shows the minor aesthetic adjustments to be expected on the car’s exterior which, according to the location of the camouflage, will be focused on its bumpers and lights. The car features slimmer headlights that look like miniature versions of the ones fitted to the R8. The units also feature new day running lights, which swaps the L-shaped strips for a longer bar. Audi’s MQB-based 2-door currently comes with a 1.8-litre TFSI engine at the bottom of its range, with a 2.0-litre TFSI above that. It also gets a 2.0-litre TDI option. Sales for the diesel almost halved in 2017, with it representing just 16% of the car’s overall sales in 2017, which amounted to 7.767 units. The Volkswagen Group has recently introduced a new 1.5-litre Evo engine to its ranks, but that unit’s 150 hp means it would have to sit beneath the current entry-point, making it an unlikely addition. There’s a chance the diesel could be dropped due to its slowing demand, but more likely it will be retained in the facelift due to stronger sales in other markets. However, if trends continue, it suggests the TT’s successor could eventually drop a diesel option. As such, no major changes are expected for the 2019 model’s powertrain line-up. For the facelift, Audi is likely to focus on improving the efficiency and outputs of the current range on powertrains. Even the range-topping TT RS, which uses a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, is only likely to get mild changes. Although that should include a boost to the current car’s 400 hp; potentially pushing it over the 400 hp mark for the first time. The latest Audi TT acted as a halo car for the brand’s Virtual Cockpit when it was introduced. However, the facelifted car is expected to make a smaller stride forward with its system. The cabin’s design is therefore not predicted to change too much. Although it’s not due on roads until 2019, the recent sighting of a near-finished-looking development car suggests Audi could reveal the facelifted TT later this year. The current model was launched in 2014 at the Geneva motor show, suggesting this year’s show could host the facelift’s arrival. +++

+++ Ford CEO Jim Hackett famously said he wouldn’t ride in an AUTONOMOUS vehicle on public roads because “the trust isn’t real high” but it appears consumers are slowing warming to the technology. According to a study by AAA, the number of people who said they were afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle dropped from 78 percent to 63 percent in the past year. Male drivers and millennials were the most trusting as only half said they would be afraid to take a spin in an autonomous vehicle. A significant number of people are still afraid of autonomous driving technology but AAA’s Greg Brannon noted “Americans are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of self-driving vehicles” as 20 million more drivers would now trust them compared to a year ago. While autonomous technology doesn’t get drunk or distracted like humans, only 13 percent of people surveyed said they would feel safer with autonomous vehicles on the road. Somewhat shockingly, 46 percent of people said they would actually feel less safe. Other key takeaways from the study include the fact that women are more likely to be afraid of riding in an autonomous vehicle and would feel less safe with them driving on the road. This could represent a serious challenge to automakers as previous studies have indicated women play a major role in vehicle purchasing decisions. Another interesting statistic is the number of people who said they want semi-autonomous technology in their next vehicle has fallen over the past year. 51 percent of people surveyed want the technology while 27 percent want nothing to do with it. AAA speculates some of the reluctance to accept autonomous driving technology could come from the fact that 73 percent of drivers consider themselves “better-than-average drivers”. That’s certainly not the case as AAA notes more than 90 percent of crashes are the result of human error. +++

+++ There have been talks about a BMW supercar for a very long time now, and, unlike other execs in the past, the brand’s Head of Design, Jozef Kaban, has not dismissed the idea. The former Skoda chief designer, who moved to BMW last year from the VW Group, where he helped pen the Bugatti Veyron, among others, leaves the door open for a potential exotic. “I came to BMW to help with other thinking, to give them another opportunity to think about new things”, said Kaban. “BMW is doing great cars, maybe there is space to dream about the next new car, maybe something more extreme”, he added. This can be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a future supercar. The spiritual successor of the M1 hasn’t been given the green light yet. Even so, previous reports spoke about possible electrification, as it could be developed together with their motorsport division, bringing some tech from Formula E to the road. BMW’s supercar would apparently challenge the likes of the Mercedes-AMG Project One. However, it needs to be approved for production first, and one of the execs who needs to sign it off it is the company’s Vice President, Dirk Hacker. Hacker doesn’t dismiss it, either, as he said, towards the end of 2017 that “if we came to the decision to do a super sportscar, then we could do that”. +++

+++ The slow-selling C4 was dropped last year, and CITROEN now has the C4 Cactus pseudo-crossover to compete in the compact segment. However, in a surprising move, the French firm will reportedly bring the C4 hatch back. The company’s CEO, Linda Jackson, admitted that the regular C4 is still “extremely important” to them. “I’m not saying we’re going to get rid of Cactus, but we will introduce a new C-segment car”, Jackson said. “It’ll be in the sector, but it will not be traditional. Nor will it necessarily be the C4 Cactus. As time evolves, we’ll move back into what we call our core model strategy, which will be to have a C-segment car”. Introduced in 2010 and facelifted 4 years later, the second generation Citroen C4 shared its underpinnings with the first-generation Peugeot 308. The latter was replaced by an entirely new car in 2013, which won the 2014 European Car of the Year award. PSA’s next logical step would be to use common platforms for the new Citroen C4 (name unconfirmed) and the third generation Peugeot 308, which would allow both cars to share the same engines and technologies and, thus, reduce costs. At this point, however, there’s no word on when the new C4 might be launched and whether it’ll get a Cactus version as well. +++

+++ Former FIAT CHRYSLER Automobiles vice president Alphons Iacobelli has pleaded guilty to allegations that he made at least $1.5 million in improper payments to senior officials from the United Auto Workers union. The 58-year-old was charged in July for taking part in a conspiracy to pay prohibited money and gifts to union officials. Prosecutors claim Iacobelli will be forced to repay $835,000 and asserts that he faces a statutory maximum of 8 years in prison. In the U.S. District Charge, Iacobelli plead guilty to conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act. Additionally, he subscribed a false tax return after failing to declare hundreds of thousands of dollars in income that was illegally diverted. Government officials assert that Iacobelli made the illegal payments to United Auto Workers official in an attempt to obtain concessions and advantages for the carmaker. Iacobelli faces sentencing on May 29. The former executive isn’t the only one caught up in the scandal. The wife of former UAW vice president General Holiefield, who died in 2015, Monica Morgon, is expected to plead guilty to similar charges. In a statement, the UAW said it is “appalled at these charges. We have worked with the (national training center) and Fiat Chrysler to implement a range of measures aimed at enhancing transparency and internal controls at the NTC to reduce the risk of any future recurrence of these activities”. Fiat Chrysler Automobile chief executive Sergio Marchionne called the conduct “deplorable”. +++

+++ FORD will disclose details later this year of its investment shift to SUVs and crossovers from passenger cars. On Jan. 17, Ford said it will scale back its lineup. That includes offering far fewer iterations of models that survive the cuts as Ford seeks to become leaner and nimbler to help improve its profit margins. Reporting 4th-quarter and 2017 earnings, CEO Jim Hackett declined to offer more details to frustrated analysts, saying only that he would share details later this year. Ford is currently looking into where the biggest opportunities are, he said. Executives have said that Ford is implementing business practices focused around Hackett’s mantra of “smart vehicles for a smart world”. This includes $14 billion in costs cuts, simplifying orderable products, and tailoring its model lineup to higher-margin segments for different parts of the world. The investment shift means Ford will focus on performance SUVs and “authentic off-roaders” where the automaker can get higher profits, Jim Farley, president of global markets, said earlier this month. Ford expects its SUV mix will increase 10 percentage points over the next couple of years, while its sedan / hatchback portfolio will shrink about 10 percentage points, the company said on Jan. 17. Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said that Ford isn’t as fit as its peers. This is stopping the automaker from achieving its desired profit margins of around 8 percent. Ford’s 2017 pretax profits fell 19 percent to $8.4 billion, reducing its operating profit margin to 5 percent from 6.7 percent in 2016. 4th-quarter adjusted pretax profits fell 19 percent to $1.7 billion due to higher steel and aluminum prices, as well as adverse currency rates. In Europe, Ford’s pretax profit slid 66 percent to $56 million in the 4th quarter and fell 81 percent to $234 million for 2017. Most of the full-year drop was attributed to Brexit-related charges, as well as higher commodity and warranty costs. Shanks said Ford’s revenue will be bolstered by the launches of 23 new vehicles globally this year, up from 11 last year. Ford’s key upcoming launch in Europe is the new Focus, which arrives later this year. Ford is also preparing an ambitious plan to roll out robot taxis and driverless delivery vehicles by 2021. +++

+++ Celebrated Italian designer Giorgetto GIUGIARO will introduce an electric concept car in early March at the Geneva Auto Show. The yet-unnamed model takes the form of a long sedan with a fastback-like roof line. That’s about all we know when it comes to design; the blacked-out teaser image hides the rest of it fairly well. The designer points out he worked with a Chinese energy management company named Envision to turn his sketch into a concept car. To that end, it’s “connected to a broader energy ecosystem”, which sounds like it can dispense electricity when needed, not just take a charge. In other words, this concept could power your house during peak hours or in the event of a power outage. Giugiaro is surfing almost every wave in the industry. In addition to being entirely electric, the concept sedan is capable of autonomous driving. It still looks a lot like a conventional car inside, though. “The technology would have allowed me to eliminate the steering wheel, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it”, 79-year old Giugiaro told. He promised the concept nonetheless features “unique and innovative” solutions. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI Santa Fe will be fully revealed at the Geneva motor show later this year, with a redesign and new technology added to the car as it enters its 4th generation. It will feature aggressive front-end styling, adopting then split headlight design from the much smaller Kona. Among the tech highlights are a rear occupant alert (a warning to let the driver know when leaving the car if there’s someone in the rear seats) as well as automatic braking added to the rear cross-traffic alert system, effectively giving the car automatic emergency braking in both forward and reverse. The car has been part-developed at the Nürburgring, as the brand looks to sharpen the handling of its range by testing all of its models there, no matter how non-performance oriented they are. The Santa Fe is the brand’s largest car sold in Europe. “It would be very nice if in 10 to 15 years we can have people on the street seeing Hyundai as a brand that makes cars which are fun to drive”, said Klaus Köster, Hyundai’s director of high performance vehicles. “We have already established ourself as a reliable, quality car maker, that makes cars with good designs”, he said. “But now we have the knowledge to add sportiness to that image; which is something us Europeans like”. Although not confirmed, it’s expected that Hyundai will take an electric version of the Kona to the Geneva motor show. +++

+++ The MERCEDES SL used to be the pinnacle of the company’s lineup but the model has lost some of its luster thanks to curious styling decisions and newer vehicles such as the AMG GT Roadster. Sales have steadily declined over the past few years and the company is hoping to reverse that trend by introducing an all-new model in 2021. We’ve haven’t heard much about the car in the past few months but Mercedes is currently debating whether or not the all-new model should simply transition into an AMG exclusive vehicle. This would be a big change, but it could make sense as the car is being developed alongside the next-generation AMG GT which is due in 2022. Given its AMG origins, it comes as little surprise the next-generation SL will be sportier than its predecessor and adopt an aluminum-intensive design as well as rear-wheel steering and active stabilizer bars. We can also expect an optional air suspension and a 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Despite the newfound sportiness, the car is expected to have a longer wheelbase and 2 rear seats. The report also suggests the model won’t be a full-on sports car as that role is already taken by the AMG GT. Engine options remain unconfirmed but an insider told to expect a handful of hybridized powertrains including a 3.0-liter straight 6 with 435 hp and a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with outputs of 522 hp and 612 hp. There are also rumors of a plug-in hybrid variant which will feature the latter engine as well as an electric motor that develops 204 hp. This would reportedly give the model a combined output in excess of 800 hp and 1.000 Nm. +++

+++ TESLA is on track to achieve its production targets for the Model 3, the electric car-maker said, squashing a report of further delays and quality issues for its latest and most-affordable sedan. Tesla’s problems with battery production at its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, are worse than it had acknowledged, CNBC had reported earlier, citing some company employees. The problems included Tesla needing to make some batteries by hand and borrowing scores of employees from one of its suppliers to help with manual assembly, CNBC had said. “To be absolutely clear, we are on track with the previous projections for achieving increased Model 3 production rates that we provided earlier this month”, a Tesla spokesman said in a e-mailed statement. “As has been well documented, until we reach full production, by definition some elements of the production process will be more manual”, the spokesman said. Earlier this month, Tesla delayed a production target for the Model 3 for the second time, disappointing investors even as it claimed “major progress” overcoming manufacturing challenges that have hampered the vehicle’s rollout. Tesla currently plans to make about 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of the first quarter, half the number it had earlier promised. It expects to reach its goal of 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of the second quarter. +++

+++ The VOLVO V60 has entered the winter testing phase of development ahead of a planned launch at the Geneva motor show in March. The V60’s design is an obvious reference to larger models in Volvo’s line-up which were styled by former Volvo head of design (now Polestar CEO) Thomas Ingenlath. An S60 saloon will arrive soon after and both will go on sale in early 2019. The BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class rival is likely to share engines with the XC60 and will be built on the same Scalable Product Architecture as the rest of Volvo’s large model range. This means that a 407 hp T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid will top the range as a softer rival to the Audi S4 and Mercedes-AMG C43, while 2 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engines and 1 petrol unit will also feature. It’s possible that a smaller hybrid using a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine will arrive later, shared with the XC40. Specs will mirror that of the XC60, with Momentum spec at the entry level and R-Design Pro at the top. Inscription will be in the middle. Safety kit will also match that of the XC60, meaning that when it hits the market in early 2019, it’s likely to be the safest car in the class. The XC60 was declared the safest car ever tested by Euro NCAP last year, achieving a 95% overall score. It is equipped with safety systems that are more advanced than Euro NCAP currently tests on cars. Prices are expected to start from 45,000 euro in The Netherlands in entry-level 2.0 D4 Momentum spec. This is an increase of more than 4.500 euro over the previous car, but Volvo’s move upmarket and the previous V60’s long production run account for the jump. With Volvo introducing subscription plans, named Care by Volvo for its models, starting with the XC40, it’s likely that this will also be rolled out across the rest of the range, including the V60. +++

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