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+++ A Mercedes-Benz director has revealed that companies in CHINA are collecting data about drivers and looking to sell the information. Speaking at the The Future of Mobility Summit, director of strategy at Mercedes-Benz, Claus Ehlers, said he had been approached by a Chinese company offering to sell consumer behavior profiles of all Mercedes drivers in the country. Ehlers reports that the company in question was combining driving data with government data it had access to in order to build a profile of drivers. The director failed to provide more specifics about exactly what data the company had, but the information could provide a carmaker with insight as to how much a consumer is willing to spend on a vehicle, for example. Similarly, if a Mercedes owner frequently drives fast, the brand could try to sell them a more powerful vehicle. Things don’t stop here. Ehlers says he was also offered a list of Chinese drivers who had similar customer profiles and driving habits as current Mercedes drivers but owned other car brands. Citing privacy concerns, the German automaker turned down the offers. In an industry where cars are becoming more advanced and increasingly connected with online servers, it seems this type of data collection could become the new norm. +++

+++ CITROEN must grow its international footprint to insulate itself from regional sales trends, CEO Linda Jackson has said in the wake of sales falling 47.3% in China in 2017. Around the peak of the 2012 European car sales crisis in Europe, Citroën became increasingly reliant on Chinese sales, launching bespoke cars for the country as it sought to take advantage of the rapidly growing market. However, last year Citroën’s sales plummeted, in line with those of most mainstream manufacturers, as demand switched from being saloon-led to SUV-led, and many Chinese manufacturers launched high-quality SUVs for lower prices. As a result, Citroën launched the new C5 Aircross in China first, and restructured its dealership network, taking it from 450 outlets to 390. Since these changes in July, its sales have risen markedly and market share grown 0.3%. “A few years ago the strength of China helped offset Europe, but we are fortunate that as China has slowed down so Europe has risen again”, said Jackson. “It highlights that we need to become more international and bring balance to our portfolio. Today, 27% of our sales are outside Europe, by 2020 I want it to be 30% and I want to grow the figure to around 45% in the longer-term”. Jackson highlighted Iran and Latin American as countries offer the greatest short-term opportunities for long-term growth. +++

+++ A high court ruling in FRANCE means it will now be illegal to hold your phone on public roads, even when pulled over and with the engine turned off. Le Figaro reports that in an attempt to reverse the increasing number of road deaths in the country, a new ruling has amended what the current law means when it states ‘circulating in traffic’. Consequently, drivers can no longer pull over to check their phone. Instead, they must be parked in a designated spot. The only exception to this law is if someone has had an accident or breakdown and needs to make a call or send a text. Those found to be breaking the amended law can be hit with points on their license and a fine of 135 euros. This ruling is just the latest attempt from French authorities to reduce the road toll. Recently, a decision was also made to reduce the speed limit on two-lane roads from 90 to 80 km/h. As expected, not everyone is pleased with the new mobile phone law. Speaking to Le Figaro, spokesperson Yves Carras from the country’s equivalent to the AAA indicated the law is short-sighted. “I think we should encourage motorists to stop when they’re using their phones”, he said. +++

+++ KIA is preparing the Sportage for its mid-life facelift in Europe, which apparently will include more than just a few visual touch-ups. The Korean carmaker is planning to debut their new 48V mild-hybrid technology with the facelifted Sportage and the all-new Ceed, which is set for a reveal at the Geneva Motor Show. Meeting the latest emission regulations is the key factor behind this decision but Kia believes the demand for such systems is only going to get stronger in Europe. Visually the updated Kia Sportage is going to be adapted to the company’s latest design language. That involves moving the DRLs into the headlights as we can see from our spy shots while the front bumper will also gain a sharper look. The changes on the rear end are expected to be smaller. A pair of redesigned LED lights and a new bumper, along with new trim pieces are expected in order to make the Sportage look more modern. As for the rest of the engine range, there isn’t much information about what’s going to be changed so far. The current Euro-spec Sportage is offered with a range of 2 petrol and 3 diesel options. The interior is expected to feature a better infotainment system, perhaps with a bigger display, while the list of active safety systems might gain a few new members. After all, having a 48V electrical system opens the way for semi-autonomous functions too. +++

+++ MCLAREN chiefs have confirmed they are “working on a plan” to go racing with the new Senna supercar, providing a series can be found for which it would be eligible. The 800 hp, 800 Nm machine was conceived as a road-legal track car with the intention of making it the fastest McLaren yet around a circuit. With some modifications (the car features continually active aerodynamics and adjustable ride height, neither of which is currently permitted in most leading racing championships) it could be readied for competition use. “I certainly could conceive racing the Senna”, McLaren Automotive chief executive Mike Flewitt told. “I genuinely cannot confirm anything at the minute but we are working on a plan. The way it is designed from an aerodynamic perspective, and the sheer balance of our cars, would be very, very competitive. You could never say outright that you’d go and win, but we wouldn’t go in with any other intention”. Although the Senna sits within the most exclusive tier of McLaren’s model line-up, the Ultimate Series, an unusually generous allocation of 500 examples will be built from this autumn. By comparison, only 375 examples of the previous Ultimate Series model, the P1, were produced, plus 58 track-oriented GTR versions, and the next Ultimate Series car, the BP23 grand tourer, will be limited to just 106 cars. The production run of road-legal Sennas might have been set at a higher level in order to homologate it for race use. A possibility could be a return to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Race organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) is planning a major overhaul of the regulations in light of the collapse of the LMP1 category, which has only one manufacturer entrant, Toyota, this year. It has been proposed that the ACO will shift the technical rules for Le Mans’ top class back towards road-legal supercars, which could open the door not only for the Senna but also for the likes of the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Mercedes-AMG Project One. The earliest a rule change could take effect would be 2020. Perhaps coincidentally, that year’s Le Mans will mark a quarter of a century since McLaren’s sole victory in the famous endurance race with the F1 GTR. New Le Mans rules would need to be ratified by motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, which will hold its next World Motor Sport Council meeting in Geneva on 9 March; just 3 days after McLaren will officially reveal the Senna at the Swiss city’s motor show. In a further development, McLaren has agreed a deal with Toyota to allow Fernando Alonso to race the Japanese company’s prototype at the Le Mans 24 Hours both this year and next. That deal, which also includes several other World Endurance Championship races, will enable him to rack up experience of sportscar racing that would prove invaluable should McLaren enter the category in 2020. +++

+++ The next-generation MERCEDES S-Class has been caught on camera for the first time, undergoing a cold weather assessment in the hands of engineers. Though the current iteration of the company’s flagship saloon received a hefty facelift last year, the pictures confirm that a full replacement is not far off, and is likely to arrive in showrooms in 2020. It’ll be a completely fresh rival for the recently released all-new Audi A8, while a coupe version will take the fight for the soon to be revealed, reborn BMW 8 Series. Unsurprisingly for a car still 2 years from launch, the S-Class saloon spied here remains well hidden beneath typical development mule masking. However, it’s not hard to imagine that the next S-Class will stray too far from the fresh design conventions established by the latest saloon entry into the Mercedes line-up, the new CLS. As such, expect the new look to be defined by sharp, swept back headlights and a new Panamerica style grille up front. A similar, evolutionary rethink in the cabin should match the subtle exterior changes. With Mercedes set to add a hybrid to the S-Class line-up this year in the form of the S 560e, expect the next S-Class to embrace plug-in tech from launch. High-performance, full-blooded AMG models will inevitably feature too, alongside new AMG 53 48v mild hybrid performance variants. With the S-Class positioned as the technology flagship in the Merc range, expect new developments in semi-autonomous driving assistance too. +++

+++ SUBARU was late jumping on the electrification bandwagon but the company is gearing up to introduce a new plug-in hybrid later this year. The model will borrow heavily from Toyota which has a sizable stake in the automaker. As Subaru chief technical officer Takeshi Tachimori explained, “For our plug-in hybrid to be introduced this year, we have used Toyota’s technologies as much as possible”. However, Tachimori confirmed the car will have a longitudinally-mounted Subaru engine instead of a transversely-mounted Toyota unit. The model will be heavily influenced by the Prius and this suggests the car could have an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Since the Subaru model will use a unique engine, it’s hard to predict fuel economy numbers but the Prius can travel up to 40 km on electricity alone. There’s no word on which model will receive the plug-in hybrid powertrain but Tachimori confirmed the vehicle will be built in Japan. The decision to use Toyota’s technology comes out of necessity as Tachimori stated “We can’t engage in a large-scale development” because of their small size and limited resources. +++

+++ TESLA said it is sticking with Chief Executive Elon Musk’s revised production targets for its Model 3 sedan, cheering investors who have put up with 2 delays, but the electric automaker’s plans to raise spending this year underscored its growing need for cash. Reflecting the mixed 4th quarter report, shares of the Palo Alto, California-based company, which are up 10 percent since the start of the year, were barely changed in extended trading. Money-losing Tesla’s long-term viability depends on annually selling billions of dollars of Model 3s, the new sedan that starts at $35,000, about half the price of its flagship Model S. Tesla said that net reservations for the new model were stable during the 4th quarter. Production delays blamed on battery issues resulted in only 1,550 deliveries in the 4th quarter, far below the 4,100 vehicles expected by analysts, meaning revenue from the highly anticipated vehicle has yet to hit Tesla’s bottom line. But obstacles to production of 5,000 vehicles by the end of the second quarter “were getting smaller with every week”, Musk told analysts on a conference call. Once at that production rate, Tesla could begin to generate sustained positive operating income “at some point in 2018”, Musk said. “I‘m cautiously optimistic that we will actually be GAAP profitable with no asterisk”, he added. Using that accounting method, Tesla lost nearly $2 billion last year. Tesla posted its biggest-ever quarterly loss, but the loss was not as wide as analysts were expecting, and revenue just topped targets. Musk reiterated a bold goal to produce 1 million vehicles annually by 2020, with plans to make capital investments related to the upcoming Model Y SUV toward the end of this year. Nearly 2 years ago, Musk proclaimed that Tesla would produce 500,000 vehicles in 2018, which Model 3 troubles has made near impossible. Analyst Jamie Albertine at Consumer Edge Research said there was a trade-off between accelerating growth and vehicle quality, and it was better not to rush Model 3 production and risk a recall. Tesla’s reiteration of its production target for the quarter was good news, he said. Tesla Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja said that more than 50 percent of Tesla’s spending was on the Model 3, underscoring that project’s importance and its high cost. Tesla burned through $3.4 billion last year, and $787 million in the 4th quarter alone, and said capital spending in 2018 would be “slightly more” than in 2017 due to expanded production at its Fremont factory and Nevada Gigafactory. Other upcoming capital needs include the recently unveiled Tesla Semi, the Model Y and a factory in China. Tesla ended the fourth quarter with $3.37 billion in cash, just below the $3.5 billion in the previous quarter, which had been boosted by a $1.8 billion debt sale. For the first time, Tesla securitized its leases, raising $546 million earlier this month in securitized notes backed by Model S and X lease payments. Still, Tesla’s cash burn eased in the quarter, in part thanks to customer deposits for the just unveiled Semi truck and Roadster, inventory reduction of finished vehicles and some Model 3 capital spending deferred to the first quarter. The niche carmaker has made inroads among luxury car buyers with the advanced technology and innovative design in its Model S sedan and Model X SUV. Still, it faces a wave of electric vehicles from competitors on the horizon. Global automakers from Ford to Volkswagen are cumulatively investing $90 billion in electrification over the next 5 years, with luxury models from Audi and Jaguar due to hit showrooms this summer. Amid that sales pressure, Musk announced that Jon McNeill, president of global sales and service, and seen by some as a possible successor to Musk, was leaving the company. He will join U.S. ride hailing company Lyft as its new chief operating officer. Despite the competitive environment, Tesla’s stock has soared 35 percent in the last year, making the company the second-most valuable U.S. automaker, with a market capitalization of $56.1 billion, just behind General Motors, which had net revenue of $145.6 billion in 2017. But some analysts have questioned whether the myriad of other interests, from space exploration to tunnel boring technology, are a distraction at a critical time within Tesla. Net loss widened to $675.4 million for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 from $121.3 million. Total revenue rose to $3.29 billion from $2.28 billion. +++

+++ TOYOTA is to investigate how to make the best use of used electric and hybrid vehicle batteries, and intends to build a 10,000 kW storage battery comprised of 10,000 old Prius and iQ EV batteries. That storage battery would absorb surplus electricity from the grid during times of low use, and also store energy generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar farms, which can have unpredictable generation patterns. The stored electricity would then be fed back into the grid during times of high demand. The new scheme is being developed by Toyota in conjunction with Japanese utilities provider Chubu Electric Power, and will see a “verification project” launched this year. If this is successful, the large storage battery will be built in 2020. Toyota says used batteries “even with reduced performance levels” can “handle adjustments in energy supply and demand”, allowing electricity suppliers to “manage frequency and voltage fluctuations in power distribution systems”. The vast majority of the batteries used by Toyota’s new scheme will be nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) units, taken from old hybrid vehicles such as the Prius. But the company estimates that by “around 2030”, more sophisticated lithium-ion batteries from future electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will be used. Toyota’s new project follows a similar scheme from Nissan, whose ‘second life’ battery project has seen old Leaf batteries provide backup power to the Amsterdam Arena, home of football club AFC Ajax. The joint venture between Toyota and Chubu Electric Power will also see rare-earth metals collected from old batteries, allowing these expensive elements to be reused. +++

+++ In the wake of Dieselgate, VOLKSWAGEN is planning what it calls a “wide bandwidth” of new powertrain technologies to meet future CO2 requirements being driven by Europe, North America and China. The company says achieving climate targets has become a “primary objective” and massive resources are being allocated in a money-no-object assault on emissions. Developments include a wide range of hybrid, electric and advanced combustion-engine technologies. The 95g/km CO2 fleet average set for 2020 is likely to fall well below that by 2030. To meet that challenge, electrification of powertrains will be essential for all manufacturers. Volkswagen is forecasting that 25% of its cars will be battery-electric by 2025, with more than 50% being electrified in some way, compared with just 3% today. Research is also continuing into bio and synthetic fuels as well as synthetic natural gas. VW already has the electric e-Golf and e-Up, as well as Golf and Passat GTE plug-in hybrids, and it is developing the range further. Current hybrids are fitted with a seven-speed DSG transmission with built-in 60 hp electric motor/ generator. Engineers are also working on a ‘GTI’ prototype, called the Golf GTE Performance, where software changes boost acceleration in electric-only mode up to an unlimited speed if the battery is sufficiently charged. An all-new 7-speed DSG transmission, waiting to enter production, can also support full-hybrid drives. The recall on VW diesel cars following Dieselgate is 70% complete in Europe as a whole, with fixes on 2.0-litre, 1.6-litre and 1.2-litre engines being carried out at the rate of one car every 1.4 seconds globally. VW says independent testing confirms the recalled cars meet the legislative requirements using the new Real Driving Emissions measurements, although it is facing repeated calls that the fix is damaging and making cars more polluting in certain cases. Future options for significantly reducing NOx include the introduction of a second selective catalyst reduction module into the exhaust system along with a NOx storage catalyst. The amount of NOx generated inside the engines will be reduced too, using new higher-pressure injection systems and combustion strategies. Electrically powered compressors operating on the new 48V electrical systems can also reduce NOx ‘peaks’, lessening the work left to do by the catalysts. The new 130 hp 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol engine is a rework of the existing engine employing advanced and expensive technology to improve fuel economy and emissions. The engine is the first volume-production petrol engine to be equipped with a variable turbine geometry turbocharger, has the highest compression ratio of a turbocharged petrol engine at 12:1 and runs on a special Miller cycle operating regime. The combination of the three adds up to claimed best-in-class fuel consumption and flexible power delivery throughout the rev range. A more powerful, 160 hp version exists in prototype form. Future petrol technologies being considered include water injection and variable compression ratios. Compressed natural gas (CNG) has been popular in Europe for decades and is now joined by renewable bio-methane made from fermenting plant materials such as straw. Bio-fuels are carbon neutral because the plants absorb CO2 when growing. Some 1.800 kg of straw (about 7 circular bales) can make 300 kg of CNG, enough to power a Polo for 10.000 kilometres. The VW Group has been working on the production of synthetic e-fuels for some years. The process combines CO2 from the atmosphere or from fermentation processes with sustainably produced hydrogen to make a carbon-neutral synthetic liquid e-fuel. It’s worth the effort, say engineers, because switching to carbon-neutral synthetic or bio-fuels can have an immediate effect when used in older as well as new engines. Mild-hybrid electric vehicles (MHEVs) should become the norm in the next few years as 48V electrical systems become commonplace. The combination of 48V belt-integrated starter-generator (BISG) and a small, affordable 48V lithium ion battery means they can recover and store electrical energy like other hybrids. The BISG can also boost engine torque, saving fuel and improving response. VW has 2 prototypes, a Golf 1.5 TSI MHEV and an MHEV Plus. Both have 15 hp BISGs but the Plus has a second, 35 hp electric motor driving the front axle, although it can also be fitted to the rear axle to create a low-powered all-wheel-drive system to aid traction. The Plus has the advantage that it can recover energy while coasting with the engine stopped and can also pull away under electric-only power like a full-hybrid. Both prototypes are fitted with a new generation 7-speed DSG transmission, which cuts CO2 by 10 g/km compared with VW’s first DSG launched in 2003. +++

+++ VOLVO is currently developing its second generation V60, which is set to be make its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The new V60 will have a plug-in hybrid powertrain in its range. This isn’t surprising in light of Volvo’s plan to electrify its entire range by 2019. Overall, this Mk2 Volvo V60 displays the traditional boxy frame that has accompanied Volvo estate cars for years. The other thing that won’t change too much is the interior, as all of Volvo’s ’60 cluster’ cars (XC60, S60 and V60) will feature a similar dashboard design to the ’90 cluster’ vehicles (XC90, S90 and V90). We expect to see the same portrait touchscreen display and high-quality materials around the cabin. The V60 and the as yet unseen new S60 will use the same SPA platform as the XC60 SUV; the same foundations as used for the larger XC90, S90 and V90 cars. That suggests that familiar Volvo design cues are set to spread further down the range from the larger Volvo cars. This is confirmed with the latest V60 shots, which show the test mule sporting the new LED headlight cluster seen on the XC60. Power is expected to come from a range of 4-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, with the same D4 and D5 units from the S90 and V90 joined by a T8 plug-in hybrid and possibly a T5 petrol as well. Volvo’s 8-speed manual gearbox will power the front wheels in most models, but AWD will be available, as well as a manual gearbox on certain versions. A smaller, more economy-focused hybrid than the 407 hp T8 model is another potential powertrain for the V60 and S60, as well as the other cars in Volvo’s refreshed range. This set-up would harness engines and batteries from the forthcoming ’40’ range of models, which will use a smaller platform developed in conjunction with Volvo’s Chinese owner, Geely. Safety is always a big part of Volvo’s products and the next S60 and V60 will be no different, combining passive crash protection with a host of modern active safety kit including automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and semi-autonomous driving tech. +++

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