+++ ASTON MARTIN has announced a 700 million euro trade and investment plan designed to drastically boost its presence in China. In 2017, sales grew by 89% in China, largely thanks to the introduction of the DB11. In a new 5-year plan for the world’s largest new car market, Aston Martin will invest 22 million euro into its Chinese dealer network, with a new city centre showroom in Beijing becoming its crowning site. Before the end of 2018, Aston Martin will have 10 new dealerships in China, bringing the total to 20. The company is readying its Chinese outlets for the introduction of its first SUV model, the DBX, as well as its first electric series-production model, the RapidE, in 2019. Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said: “Our impressive 2017 performance in China reflects increasing demand for our new and special vehicles. The continued roll-out of our new model pipeline, including our first electric vehicle in 2019, will further improve Aston Martin’s market share in this key market, alongside investments we are making to strengthen brand visibility and sales performance. These investments reflect our confidence in the Aston Martin brand and the attractiveness of the Chinese market, which was our fastest growing region in 2017”. Aston Martin expects to continue its growth in China with the addition of the new Vantage. The model, which is offered with an AMG-sourced turbocharged V8 engine, was revealed late last year. Closer to home, Aston Martin is building a new production plant in St Athan, Wales. The site will handle production of the DBX and play a pivotal role in the development of electric technology. +++

+++ Google’s self-driving car division, Waymo, has announced its plans to purchase thousands of new Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Waymo has been using the Pacifica to test its AUTONOMOUS technology since 2016 when it ordered 100 examples. Last year, it added 500 units to its burgeoning fleet and is now testing them in 25 cities, including in Phoenix where vehicles are being tested with non-paying passengers. This latest announcement comes just days after it was revealed that rival Apple now has 27 prototypes driving autonomously on U.S. roads, a figure that pales in comparison to what Waymo has. Neither Waymo or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have revealed financial details about the purchase. While recently speaking to the media, FCA chief executive Sergio Marchionne said that it was difficult to say which automakers are going to come out on top as the industry shifts towards electrification and autonomous technologies. Nevertheless, FCA continues to pursue self-driving tech and alongside its partnership with Waymo, is developing autonomous technology with BMW, Intel, Delphi Automotive, Continental, and Mobileye. This partnership only initially involved BMW, Intel, and Mobileye when first established in July 2016. Since then, all involved parties have been designing and developing a scalable architecture capable of supporting level 4 and 5 autonomous driving by 2021. +++

+++ BMW will rival Mercedes in the compact coupe saloon class with the arrival of the 2 Series Gran Coupe in 2019. With a fresh CLA coming too, competition is hotting up in the segment. Mercedes plans to fight the compact saloon market on 2 fronts, with a conventional saloon take on the new A-Class, which will be revealed later this week. The upcoming BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe will adopt to a new front-wheel drive platform, shared with the X1 and X2. The Gran Coupe name has already appeared in the BMW 4 Series range and carries a price premium over 2-door models. +++

+++ FORD hopes a big product offensive in Europe this year, led by the arrival of its new Focus, will boost its regional division. The automaker will unveil its latest-generation Focus at a stand-alone event in April instead of the Geneva auto show in March, a company spokesman said. Ford said it has created greater separation between Focus variants in the same way it created distinct versions of the new Fiesta. Focus variants launched this year will include the upscale Vignale version, sporty ST-Line and a station wagon. Future versions will include the performance ST and SUV-inspired Active variants. Ford will unveil face-lifted versions of its Edge and Ka+ at the Geneva show. The company may add a 7-seat version of the Edge in Europe. Its sells a 3-row Edge in China. Earlier this month, Ford Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks said the automaker’s product plan for Europe would include “more 3-row SUVs”. Ford currently has no 7-seat SUVs in Western Europe. In Russia, it sells the Explorer with a 3-row version. A refreshed version of is Mustang sports car, first shown at the Frankfurt auto show last year, will go on sale later this year. Also arriving is a refresh of the EcoSport, with a 4 wheeldrive version likely to be added. The Fiesta Active and ST market launches will complete the Fiesta range this year. Ford said its European profit fell 81 percent to $234 million last year from record levels in 2016 on higher warranty and commodities costs, and the effects of Brexit. Ford will continue to build European versions of the Focus in Saarlouis, Germany. Ford has announced that the U.S. version will be built in China. European sales of the Focus were flat at 212,806 last year, according to JATO Dynamics. The Focus was Ford’s No. 2 seller in Europe after the Fiesta, whose volume fell 15 percent to 254,059. +++

+++ JAGUAR has released new details about the I-Pace ahead of its debut on March 1st. Set to become the company’s first electric vehicle, the I-Pace aims to be the “perfect every day car, whether on the school run, daily commute or even coping with sub-zero temperatures”. Speaking of the latter, Jaguar says the model was extensively tested at their cold weather facility in Arjeplog, Sweden where temperatures hit lows of -40°C. In order to deal with the extreme temperatures, the I-Pace has been equipped with a pre-conditioning system which helps to ensure the vehicle can achieve its maximum range and performance. Jaguar says owners will be able to setup preferred charging times and pre-conditioning schedules from either the InControl infotainment system or a smartphone app. Thankfully owners won’t have to wait very long as Jaguar has revealed the model will have a rapid charging system that can deliver an 80 percent charge in 45 minutes or less. Jaguar declined to release additional specifications but the I-Pace concept had a 90 kWh battery and an electric powertrain that produced 400 HP and 700 Nm. This enabled the model to accelerate to 100 km/h in approximately 4 seconds and travel more than 500 km on a single charge in the NEDC cycle. Reports have suggested the I-Pace will be offered in 4 different trims with the entry-level I-Pace S featuring LED headlights, a Meridian audio system, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The range-topping I-Pace First Edition packs on the luxury features as it is slated to have leather upholstery, heated seats, a panorama glass roof, and a head-up display, among other things. +++

+++ MCLAREN has the intentions to double sales in China. The Woking sports car maker begins to export its 570S Spider and 720S models this month. McLaren already has dealerships in China and will open a new one in Xiamen this year. The car maker intends to sell more than 300 cars in China before the end of the year. It sold 147 there in 2017. This growth plan will result in it producing bespoke models for the Chinese market. The country is the world’s biggest new car market, accounting for almost a third of global annual sales. McLaren confirmed that it is working with a Chinese fashion designer to create a limited run of 570GT Sports Series models; it is also working with other local companies. Chief Operating Officer Jens Ludmann said: “China is increasingly important for a company like McLaren as we are set to import new models, expand our retailer network, boost investment and grow sales, all while working closely with local businesses, designers and craftspeople to jointly celebrate British and Chinese culture and talent”. Of all the countries McLaren sells in, the US remains its biggest market. The UK runs in third, with sales in the domestic market having grown by 23% last year. In total, McLaren sold 3340 cars in 2017. +++

+++ The Geneva Motor Show is about a month away but a new report is indicating the MERCEDES-AMG GT4 will debut in Switzerland. Set to battle the Porsche Panamera, the GT4 was previewed by the Mercedes-AMG GT concept which was unveiled at last year’s show. Mercedes has been tight-lipped about the model but AMG CEO Tobias Moers told : “I have shown some people the finished car now and they are impressed by how close it is to the show car”. The model will be based on the MRA platform which underpins an assortment of different vehicles including the E-Class and CLS. The latter model will bear a striking resemblance to the GT4 but Moers isn’t worried as he said “We have a loyal CLS customer base already: it has the perfect combination of style, sportiness and comfort. With our new GT4, the task is all about conquest from other brands”. To help distance the 2 models, Mercedes won’t offer a high-performance CLS 63. Instead, the top model will reportedly be the CLS 53 which recently debuted at the North American International Auto Show. Speaking of engines, we can expect the GT4 to be powered by a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. It produces 571 hp and 750 Nm in the E 63 and 612 hp and 850 Nm in the E 63 S. Mercedes could also introduce a hybrid variant which uses the same powertrain as the CLS 53. The model has a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 435 hp and 520 Nm. It is backed up by an electric motor that contributes an additional 22 hp and 250 Nm. This setup enables the all-wheel drive sedan to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds before hitting an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h. +++

+++ Fresh PORSCHE Mission E details have arrived by way of words from Uwe Michael, boss of Porsche’s Electronics Development Division. Michael says that when the Mission E launches next year, owners will be able to charge their cars with 400 kilometres of range in “less than 20 minutes” thanks to new charging technology being developed to work with the car’s 800 V electrical system. Porsche also plans to offer home charging stations dubbed ‘intelligent wall boxes’, which are operated via a smartphone app. Users can use the app to set particular charging times, so their car can be topped up at home while power is at its cheapest price. The system will also be capable of regulating the power being fed to the vehicle, as not to place too much stress on the electricity grid during busy periods. Away from the home, Porsche plans to take on Tesla’s Supercharger network with its own Turbo-Charger system of public charge points too. The news comes not long after Porsche engineers were spotted testing an early Mission E mule in winter conditions. The Tesla Model S rival had been previously spotted at the infamous Nurburgring undergoing performance testing, where Porsche recently set a lap record for a production car in the new 911 GT2 RS. The prototypes were fitted with a range of sensors, which feedback relevant data to engineers regarding the EV’s performance. The test mule bore a strong resemblance to the Mission E concept that previewed the model at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show; the headlamps on the test mule appeared to be more traditional, similar to those on the Cayman, while the suicide doors had been axed for traditional front-hinged doors. Porsche is aiming to sell up to 20,000 Mission Es a year and is looking at supplementing the range with a high-performance GT-E variant, as well as other versions with varying power outputs. Porsche CEO Oliver Blume, told: “We will think of different options and there will be more than one, with different levels of power”. The boss also stated that the Mission E will be capable of updating its software via Wi-Fi, and that Tesla-style power upgrades could also feature. “It will be possible to work with over-the-air options”, he said. “It isn’t decided yet, but it could be possible to charge up with more power. For example when you have 400 hp, it could be possible to upgrade to 450 hp”. In a previous interview, Blume told to expect various autonomous features, though a fully robotic version of the Mission E is not planned. He also said the ability for owners to enjoy driving their car is essential, but gave examples where a driver may read a newspaper while stuck in a traffic jam or the car being able to park itself remotely as occasions where autonomous technology could be used. +++

+++ SEAT has confirmed that it will turn its Cupra performance line into a stand-alone brand. The first Cupra-badged models, including a hot version of the Ateca, will be unveiled next month. The move will give Cupra “its own soul, its own DNA, its own identity by becoming a new entity”. It is understood that Seat branding won’t appear on Cupra models. Seat boss Luca de Meo said earlier turning Cupra into a stand-alone brand would give the firm the opportunity to “add another dimension”. The Cupra range will be expanded in the coming years and using a stand-alone brand will give the freedom to diverge more from Seat’s regular line-up, drawing on the expertise of motorsport division Seat Sport. It also allows for the prospect of limited-run Cupra-only models. Last year, Seat additionally filed trademark requests for the Bolero, Salsa and Tango nameplates, which have previously been used on concept cars. Seat has long been positioned as the Volkswagen Group’s ‘youth’ brand and for years represented that with a focus on performance and emotion. But in recent years, that focus on smartphone-savvy younger buyers has prompted Seat to shift its attention to design, in-car technology and connectivity. It has also greatly expanded its model line-up with the launch of the Ateca and Arona. Seat introduced the Cupra (a portmanteau of Cup Racing) badge in 1996 with a hot version of the Ibiza to celebrate the car’s victory in the 2.0-litre category of that year’s World Rally Championship. Since then, the Cupra name has been used sparingly. +++

+++ Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has laid into TESLA and its CEO Elon Musk. Wozniak explained how he went from a Tesla fan to one of their critics. Wozniak reportedly owns 2 Model S sedans but it appears he became disenchanted with the brand over the past few years. As he explained, Elon Musk said new sensors would enable Tesla vehicles to drive themselves across the country by the end of 2016. The company then pushed the cross-country trip to 2017 and then 2018. The demonstration still hasn’t happened and Musk recently suggested it won’t occur anytime soon. As a result of the constant backpedaling, Wozniak said “I don’t believe anything Elon Musk or Tesla says, but I still love the car”. Even though Tesla vehicles come with semi-autonomous driving technology, Wozniak isn’t impressed as he stated “You’ve got to be on your toes all the time with it” and noted humans can easily do what the vehicle can’t. He went on to say that everything he’s read indicates “every other car manufacturer in the world” has more advanced autonomous driving systems than Tesla. That’s a bit of a stretch but Audi introduced the first vehicle with Level 3 semi-autonomous technology and GM’s Cruise Automation has already launched an autonomous ride-hailing service using modified Chevrolet Bolts (Opel Ampera-e). Speaking of the Bolt, Wozniak revealed he’s a huge fan of the electric vehicle and drives it every day. However, he uses a Tesla on longer trips so he can take advantage of the company’s extensive supercharger network. +++

+++ The car industry in the UNITED KINGDOM faces “the greatest challenge of our time”, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes, referring to ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and the anti-diesel rhetoric. “Brexit comes at a time when the global car industry faces so many challenges. Our global competitors are focusing on electric and autonomous vehicles when, in the UK, we’re focusing on Brexit and air quality”, said Hawes. Figures from industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), show that 1,671,166 cars were built in the UK in 2017, down from 1,722,698 in 2016. That represents a fall of 3.0% compared to 2016; the first decline in 8 years, but still remains the second biggest year for production since the turn of the century. The downturn in production is largely attributed to poor domestic demand thanks to “declining business and economic confidence and confusion over government’s policy on diesel”, said the SMMT. Jaguar Land Rover remains the biggest manufacturer of British-built cars for the third consecutive year, despite being down 2.3% year-on year and despite recently confirming it is cutting shifts at its Halewood plant due to concerns over Brexit and diesel demonisation. It made 532,107 vehicles last year across its Birmingham and Liverpool sites, led by the Range Rover Sport and Jaguar F-Pace. Nissan took the second spot, down 2.4% on 2016 with 495,206 vehicles made, led by the popular Qashqai. Mini was third biggest producer, followed by Toyota, Honda and Vauxhall. Honda had its most successful year, thanks to its new Civic, with production up 22.4% to 164,160 units. Worst hit was Vauxhall, whose production was down 22% to 92,164 cars. Toyota also dropped 20% to 144,077 units built. The top10 cars sold worldwide and built in Britain were, in descending order, the Nissan Qashqai, Mini hatchback, Honda Civic, Toyota Auris, Vauxhall Astra, Nissan Juke, Range Rover Sport, Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport. Of the overall 1.67 million vehicles, 1.34 million were sold outside the UK. Car exports were down 1.1%, only a slight decline when compared to cars built for the UK market, which dropped 9.8%. This reflects the decline in UK car sales, which fell 5.7% in 2017, a result also blamed on falling consumer confidence, concerns over diesel and worsening exchange rates. Reiterating the SMMT’s previous stance on Brexit, Hawes said: “The EU remains our biggest partner for exports. The EU market is getting back to pre-recession levels. We must maintain the relationship with not only Europe, but all countries. Businesses need clarity, not just on the Brexit transition but also the long-term arrangements. The single market must continue, and there must be no tariffs. Anything else would undermine our competitiveness”. Hawes expects UK car production for 2018 to stay at a similar level to last year, his tone notably differen to this time last year when he described the industry as being “in rude health” and predicted that the all-time record of 1.92 million British-built cars, set in 1972, would soon be beaten. When asked today about hitting that record, Hawes commented: “it’s hard to foresee us reaching that figure while we have this period of uncertainty”. Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth expressed caution on the firm’s prospects for 2018: “The car industry is facing a number of challenges that are undoubtedly impacting consumer confidence, particularly in the UK. Jaguar Land Rover must become as lean and fit as possible so that we can continue to invest in our autonomous, connected and electrified future”, he said. Meanwhile, Honda expects to maintain 2017 levels for production this year. Hawes also predicted that shortly before leaving the EU, there would “likely be a pull-forward” in terms of car production, followed by a decline directly after Britain’s exit. Ford’s UK boss Andy Barratt added: “The car market involves global players. So global capital goes to safe havens: the places where you will get the greatest returns. The free trade agreement is key, plus a stable currency, stable regulations”. The SMMT also confirmed that UK automotive investment fell by 33.7% last year to £1.1 billion, compared to £1.66 billion in 2016. Investments in 2017 included McLaren’s Sheffield facility and Toyota’s Burnaston plant. Despite the downturn in investment and car production, engine production bucked the trend, hitting record levels. Output was up 6.9% to more than 2.7 million units in 2017, with 54.7% of these destined for overseas sale. More than 1 million diesel and 1.7 million petrol units were built last year, delivering £8.5 billion to the economy and creating 8.000 jobs, according to the SMMT. Ford UK boss Andy Barratt, added that Ford’s engine plant in Dagenham had made 793,200 engines in 2017, an increase of 10,500 over 2016 “despite fragile demand and anti-diesel rhetoric”. This success was largely down to its Transit. +++

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