Newsflash II

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+++ AUDI’s second-generation A1 will get extra style, as well as a classier interior and more tech. With plusher versions of the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta on the market, the new A1 will need to be even more upmarket to keep its kudos as one of the classiest superminis. There’s also the facelifted Mini Cooper to contend with, and the next generation Peugeot 208, Renault Clio and Opel Corsa are due soon as well. The second-generation A1 will move on to the smallest version of the VW Group’s ubiquitous MQB platform, called A0. The switch in architecture also means that production of the A1 will transfer from Brussels in Belgium to Seat’s Martorell plant in Barcelona, where the car will be built alongside the Ibiza and Arona. The new platform will bring many benefits; the first being the ability to make the A1 larger than the current model. It is understood that after intense debate inside the VW Group about the number of wheelbases spun off any single version of MQB, the company’s top brass have ordered a single length of around 2,560 mm across all of the forthcoming small cars from Audi, Volkswagen, Seat and Skoda. That’s a gain of around 90 mm over the existing A1, and while the body is likely to grow by a tiny fraction of that, the extended wheelbase should bring benefits for rear passengers. Boot capacity will also rise slightly, potentially from the current car’s 270 litres to around 300 litres. A new platform brings new engines, and the A1 range is likely to kick off with a re-engineered version of the current 1.0-litre 3 cylinder turbo, developing around 95 of 115 hp. With the new Polo and upcoming A1 sharing lots of mechanical DNA, Audi may also choose to offer the A1 with the VW Group’s new 1.5-litre petrol engine. It should give Audi enough options for the entire line-up, with the exception of the S1 hot hatch. There is also the possibility of Audi introducing a plug-in hybrid e-tron version of the A1. Back in 2012 it developed a concept featuring a 3-cylinder turbo and electric motor. The technology is expensive, though, and if introduced it will push the A1’s price into new territory, possibly upwards of 37,000 euro. However, it would give Audi a competitor for the BMW i3 and the new electric Mini; cars it can’t currently rival. Of course, a new model wouldn’t be complete without a new look. The design changes will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Expect sharper headlamps with a unique daytime running light signature either side of the latest company grille, which follows the rule of being hexagonal on hatchbacks and saloons, rather than octagonal as on Audi’s SUVs. At the rear, wider tail-lights are likely to be inspired by the recently refreshed A3, with an integrated roof spoiler to aid aerodynamic efficiency and give the A1 a sportier look. Audi’s ‘scrolling indicators’ are set to be offered as an option across the range. What is likely to be more intriguing to buyers is the raft of new tech inside. Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit will make an appearance for the first time, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will also be introduced on an updated version of Audi’s MMI infotainment system. The firm may roll out a WiFi hotspot as well as it aims to rival the connectivity offered by the A1’s main rival, the Mini. The existing car will soldier on with only minor tweaks before the next model is introduced, but it could get a sign-off flagship. Audi has fenced off the RS 1 badge, and while senior company insiders deny any plans for such a vehicle, it’s possible that the company could issue a limited-edition, extreme hot hatchback version of the A1 as part of the tail end of its current production run in early 2018. +++

+++ The mid-engine CHEVROLET Corvette rumor mill kicked into high gear following the release of several CAD drawings in December but fans hoping to see the model at the North American International Auto Show next week are reportedly out of luck. The C8 isn’t expected to be unveiled until next year. This isn’t a complete surprise as Chevrolet recently unveiled the Corvette ZR1 but it’s disappointing nonetheless. One thing that’s certainly not disappointing is the C8’s engine lineup. The model will likely be offered with an upgraded version of the company’s 6.2-liter LT1 V8 engine. The engine will reportedly produce up to 600 hp thanks to a higher compression ratio and a less restrictive exhaust. Other engines are expected to be added to the lineup after launch and the report says the company has expressed interest in a flat-plane crank V8 like the one used in the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350. The most interesting rumor revolves around a range-topping variant which would make the ZR1 look weak by comparison. The model will reportedly have a twin-turbo V8 engine that powers the rear wheels and an electric motor that powers the front wheels. This setup would give the model all-wheel drive and a reported output of 1,000+ hp. While manual transmissions have been a hallmark of the Corvette, the C8 will reportedly eschew them for a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. That will probably annoy a number of fans but DCTs offer a number of benefits including improved acceleration. The manual transmission might not make the jump to the next-generation, but GM’s focus on lightweight construction surely will. The report says the car will use a hydroformed aluminum space frame chassis as well as lightweight components such as carbon fiber and magnesium. We can also expect carbon-ceramic brakes and lightweight fiberglass springs. There have been constant rumors about how much the mid-engine Corvette will cost but the latest report says pricing will start at around 170,000 euro in The Netherlands. +++

+++ It is no secret that Volkswagen’s DIESEL scandal has negatively affected demand for diesel vehicles, particularly in Europe. Take a deeper look at the figures, however, and you’ll see that demand for diesel-powered vehicles has risen and fallen multiple times throughout the past 30 years. In Europe, diesels reached their peak popularity in 2008 when 8,211,709 examples were sold across the continent. In the same year, petrol vehicle sales peaked at 7,233,662. However, since 2008, demand for diesel (and petrol) vehicles has declined significantly. In fact, from a peak of over 8.2 million in 2008, diesel sales plummeted to just 4,913,025 in 2014, before the dieselgate scandal broke. Similarly, petrol sales fell to their lowest figure in over 30 years, scoring just 3,915,268 sales. Both of these figures were gathered before the dieselgate. As of 2015, 52 percent of cars in Europe were still fueled by petrol, with diesels accounting for 37.29 percent and ‘Others’ (we guess that means hybrids and all-electric) at 10.78 percent. In a handful of countries, diesel remains the preferred option. For example, the share of new diesel registrations in Sweden has soared from 0.9 percent in 1992 to 59 percent in 2015. In France, however, diesels have dramatically fallen out of favor. In the early 1990s, the country accounted for 45 percent of all new diesel car registrations in Europe, but by 2015, that figure had dropped to just 16 percent and the market for new cars has reversed in favor of those powered by petrol engines while diesel ones experienced a 16 percent decline since 2005. Despite what many believe, the decline in popularity of diesels hasn’t been driven entirely by Volkswagen’s cheating practices. Instead, demand for such vehicles has been dropping for much of the past decade. Nonetheless, diesels still account for a sizable share of the car market and are not expected to disappear anytime soon. +++

+++ Don’t doubt the long-term potential of the traditional global car giants, says Stephen Odell, FORD ’s retiring executive global sales and marketing boss, even if it’s fashionable to do so in a world increasingly focused on autonomous and electrified vehicles. The winners, Odell believes, will be the companies that pay attention to the fast-changing requirements of customers, and he numbers Ford among them. The task will be to make “frenemies” of the emerging connectivity and data companies, as people adopt and use the new transportation and mobility services. Perhaps you’d expect a top-notch Ford retiree to spread love and optimism as he departs, but Odell is special. He’s the “tough but fair” Romford-born Brit who led the downsizing of Ford’s European business, starting in 2012, that closed 2 UK plants and one in Belgium, and scaled down Ford’s operations in Germany, Russia and Romania, dramatically shrinking their workforces. It may not have looked like progress at the time, but it secured the company’s future in Europe by matching capacity to demand. Now Ford “and some others” are starting to prove their suitability for the brave new world. “The realisation that we were moving into an era of accelerated change started to be evident 10 or even 15 years ago when electric cars started to get fashionable”, explains Odell, who joined Ford in 1980. “Everything was going to be electrified, we were told by the new experts. That world tended to write off the prospects of companies like ours (with share prices and investment ratings) in the belief that we were too big and too inflexible to operate in the new way. But that’s wrong. The global car companies very much will make it, and they’re starting to prove it”. There are serious hurdles to overcome, admits Odell, but Ford’s hard-won financial stability will be a major asset as investment in new models and new infrastructure has to be made. He says: “7 or 8 years ago, there were only a handful of electric models on the market, and the demand was a couple of percent. Now there are upwards of 50 offerings, and the market’s still only 3.5%. The challenge is taking the customer with us”. Odell sees a similar model structure to today’s (Fiesta, Focus, Transit, Mustang, F-150) but believes the cars themselves will be very different. “How people view things will be vital”, says Odell. “An electrified Mustang can either be a problem or the fastest-accelerating machine you’ve ever owned. An electrified F-150 can be just a load hauler or a mobile business centre on a building site with its own power supply and communications centre. We’ve got to lead opinion”. Given that taming manufacturing capacity has been such a big part of his recent life, Odell’s impressions of current world car-making potential are fascinating. Capacity and demand are broadly equal in the US’s 17.5 million unit market, Europe (though not Ford) still has a car-making surplus and China’s explosive market may well be reaching a point where capacity starts to outweigh demand; a situation that might favour home-grown makers because they will have cost advantages. Odell is proud of his time at Ford-owned Volvo, during which the company was configured for an orderly sale to Geely (“They’ve made a very good job of partitioning it, which is what Chairman Li Shufu said he’d do”) and, yes, he feels some pride in having set Ford of Europe back on a profitable track, even though it couldn’t have happened without the closures. “I did what was necessary for Ford”, Odell says. “Anyone who feels good about such a thing is either not telling the truth or not a very nice person. I’ll have regrets for the rest of my life, but we made it work. It’s ironic to me that General Motors now gets credit for pulling out of Europe and selling to PSA, because they couldn’t sort it out, whereas we’re criticised for taking the tough decisions and staying”. Stephen Odell will always be remembered as the man who brought Ford’s iconic Mustang to Europe, where at times it has been the region’s biggest-selling sports car. “While we were planning the European turnaround, it became clear our line-up had some holes”, he says. “So we pushed to have a refresh of the Transit, which is now working, and to launch the EcoSport and Edge, because there were signs, not then backed by demand, that the SUV sales surge was about to happen. We also needed to have something sexy. It had to be the Mustang, which had admirers all over the world. So we lobbied very hard, which wasn’t so difficult until they (the management) realised it’d need to be made in right-hand drive. After that, there was some pushback. “However, our team was stubborn about it, and I was able to convince the bosses we’d earn enough to pay for all the extra engineering. “We managed to do it in the very first year, which is something I’ll always look back on with pride”. +++

+++ Toyota ’s new GAZOO RACING performance division is looking to take on established rivals with hot Yaris, Supra and GT86 models. Toyota has launched a new global high-performance sub-brand that is set to rival BMW’s M Division, Mercedes’ AMG and Audi’s RS editions, claim company insiders. Known simply as GR, which stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s new performance division will roll out globally over the next few years, and will appear on most new Toyotas. The first of these to reach the UK is the new Yaris GRMN. The GR brand will appear in ascending order of potency in 3 different guises on new Toyotas; as a basic GR, as a more aggressive GR Sport and finally as a no-holds barred GRMN, where the MN stands for “Meisters Nurburgring”. Gazoo Racing has long been a skunkworks project at Toyota, appearing on the side of limited edition tuned Toyotas within the home Japanese market and representing the company’s internal racing projects, particularly at the Nurburgring. But from now on it will become a global high-performance road car brand in much the same vein as AMG and BMW’s M Division. The next car that comes to Europe to feature GR branding will be the all-new Toyota Supra, which will be launched at Geneva this year and appear on the roads in 2019. Following this will be GR versions of the next GT86 and numerous other members of the range. “There’s no reason why the GR brand can’t be applied to any or all Toyotas in future”, a company insider told. If they can apply the top-flight level to the Yaris, then they can apply it to any Toyota, goes the current thinking. +++

+++ MINI ’s head of design has revealed some new details about the company’s future and its upcoming electric vehicle. In an interview-style press release, Oliver Heilmer said the company’s product range is “very good” but admitted “our path can not only be evolutionary”. As he explained, advances in technology are changing the world of design and Mini needs to look to a future with autonomous driving technology and electric mobility. Speaking of technology, Heilmer said drivers should be able to “communicate and interact” with their Mini like friends instead of using menus and clicks. This change is coming pretty soon as the BMW Group has already announced plans to integrate Amazon’s Alexa into BMW and Mini models starting later this year. Heilmer says he believes the “Mini in the future will be pure electric” and noted EVs give designers “whole new freedoms as far as interior space and proportions are concerned”. Mini has plans to launch an electric vehicle in 2019 and it was recently previewed by a concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Heilmer didn’t say much about the vehicle but stated it will be a “genuine Mini” and revealed its electric nature will be “visible in its details, e.g. unconventional and innovative details which reference the traditional Mini world but which at the same time combine it with new technologies”. He went on to say the model will benefit from 3D printing but stated “we’re still working intensively on the design and there are still decisions to be taken”. +++

+++ It’s been another record year of sales for PORSCHE , which delivered 246,375 vehicles over the course of 2017. That’s a 4 percent increase over the previous year, which had seen a far greater leap from 187,208 vehicles in 2015 to 225,121 in 2016. More impressive, though, is how quickly the German automaker, once a fringe player, has doubled its output. Just 6 years ago in 2011 (when it still reported its sales by fiscal year, not calendar), it’s worldwide total came to 116,978 units… or less than half of what it moved last year. So what gives? The Macan, that’s what. Porsche introduced the SUV in 2014, and it’s since grown to become its biggest seller. It sold over 97,000 of them last year alone, which is about how many vehicles it sold in total as recently as 2010, which nearly matched the best sales year it had until then (98,652 in 2008). The Panamera more than held its own last year, the introduction of the new model boosting sales by a massive 83 percent to 28,000 units. It sold about 25,000 of the 718s and over 32,000 of the 911, with Cayenne ostensibly accounting for the remaining 64,000. China stands as the automaker’s largest single market, where sales rose by 10 percent to 71,508 units compared to a 2percent increase in the United States (at 55,420) and a 3 point drop in Germany to 28,317. By comparison to Porsche’s total of 246,375, rival Aston Martin sold just 5,117 last year (representing an increase of 58 percent over 2016 and a9 year high). Despite a broader product lineup, Jaguar still hasn’t matched Porsche’s sales (with 178,601 vehicles moved last year). And Maserati? It has yet to publish its sales for 2017, but sold a record 42,100 vehicles in 2016. In fact it only sold its 100,000th vehicle in its entire history less than a year ago, which is only slightly more than all the Porsche Macans sold in 2017 alone. Add all those numbers up (even throw in the few thousand that McLaren sold last year and that Ferrari and Lamborghini are each expected to report) and still Porsche delivered more cars than its chief rivals combined. That’s pretty darn impressive… but the competition is working hard at catching up. +++

+++ In RUSSIA , Kia and Volkswagen brand were the top gainers among major automakers last year as the country ’s new-car market rebounded from a 4 year slump with 12 percent growth. Sales rose to 1,595,737 in 2017, according to data from the Association of European Businesses (AEB) lobby group. In 2016, sales fell 11 percent. Registrations in December grew 14 percent to 166,013; the 10th month of consecutive growth. “The market has a long way to go return to its former strength but a first and important step in the right direction has been made”, said Jörg Schreiber, head of the AEB Automobile Manufacturers Committee. Kia’s sales increased 22 percent in 2017 but were flat in December. Volkswagen brand sales rose 21 percent for the year and 37 percent last month. Market leader Lada had a strong year with 17 percent sales growth in 2017 and 18 percent in December. No. 2 Hyundai was up 9 percent for the year and 7 percent last month. Third-place Renault’s volume rose 17 percent in 2017 and 6 percent in December. Ford is increasing its Russian production on growing demand for its SUVs and vans. Ford’s volume was up 18 percent last year and 37 percent in December. Audi, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz were among automakers that performed badly. Audi’s sales slumped 18 percent for the year and 12 percent in December. Mercedes volume was flat in 2017 and but increased 19 percent last month. Toyota sales were flat last year and gained 4 percent in December. +++

+++ TOYOTA has revealed that its e-Palette Concept will use a Mazda-sourced rotary engine as a range extender. Unveiled at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, the e-Palette Concept imagines a future where Toyota could partner with other companies to develop purpose-built vehicles and mobility solutions. Brands named as partners in the ‘e-Palette Alliance’ include Uber, Amazon, Pizza Hut, and Mazda. Speaking with Green Car Reports at the Consumer Electronics Show, spokesman for Mazda North America, Jacob Brown, said Mazda’s engineering team will aid in the development of the vehicle’s powertrain, including supplying a rotary range extender. “Mazda will provide technical information on a rotary engine range extender to be used in the vehicle being developed. We will reveal more details at an appropriate time”, Brown revealed. By using a compact, light, and quiet rotary engine, Toyota could fit a smaller and less-expensive battery into the vehicle. If this happens, it would come on the back of admissions from Mazda that its rotary engine could eventually be used as a range extender in electrified vehicles. As for the e-Palette itself, Toyota imagines the vehicle as being highly customizable and finding use as a package delivery van, ride-sharing vehicle, and a mobile e-commerce vehicle. Toyota intends on conducting tests with the vehicle in the early 2020s and could use it as a mobility service for athletes during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. +++

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