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+++ AUDI kicked off 2018 with substantial sales growth. In January, the brand delivered around 149,100 premium automobiles to customers worldwide, up 20.3 percent year-on-year. A sharp increase in China (+73.0%) in particular was a key factor, contrasting with the slowdown in sales a year ago as the company negotiated with its local partners. The brand with the 4 rings also again clearly increased sales in North America (+9.8%). In Europe (-2.2%), sales in January were, however, slightly below the record-breaking level from 2017. “It’s a good start to a crucial year for Audi”, says Bram Schot, Board member for Sales and Marketing at Audi. “2018 will be shaped by our model initiative. But with this initiative we are laying the foundations for growth over the next few years”. In the course of the year the main focus will be on the full-size segment. The new A7 will be launched, and Audi will bring out the next generation of the A6, together with 2 brand-new full-size SUVs: the Q8 and the all-electric powered Audi e-Tron. The models in the A4 and A5 family accounted for the bulk of growth in January. In this segment Audi delivered about 50 percent more automobiles to customers than a year ago. Demand for the A4 and A5 held up well specifically in the United States, with sales up more than 71 percent. Across all models, Audi of America sold 14,511 (+9.9%) premium automobiles, achieving its 85th consecutive record‑breaking month. In neighboring countries Canada (+10.2% to 2,130 automobiles) and Mexico (+8.3% to 1,203 automobiles), Audi again achieved clear growth. In North America as a whole, sales at the month-end totaled around 17,850 automobiles (+9.8%). In China, 60,875 (+73.0%) customers opted for an Audi in January. As such, the brand recorded its strongest January in China since entering the market 30 years ago. This year, Audi model launches will include the long version of the new A8 in Chinese dealerships; another important impetus for the brand’s full-size sales, as China is the largest sales market for the flagship of the Ingolstadt-based automaker. In Europe, around 60,450 (-2.2%) customers took delivery of their new Audi in January. This slight fall is essentially due to a drop in sales in France (-22.9% to 3,394 automobiles) and Italy (-19.5% to 4,030 automobiles). A year ago, Audi sales enjoyed a very strong start to the year in both countries thanks, among other things, to the newly available Q2. In Spain (+0.4% to 4,949 automobiles), however, sales exceeded the 2017 figure. The same applies to the two largest European sales markets of the four rings: In the UK, sales increased by 0.5 percent to 11,810 automobiles, despite the shrinking overall market, while sales in Germany were up 0.4 percent to 23,019 automobiles. In its domestic market, the company started in August 2017 to offer a trade-in bonus for customers who switch from diesel cars that meet the Euro 1 through Euro 4 emission standards to an Audi model with the Euro 6 standard. To date, around 21,500 customers have taken advantage of this offer and replaced their older car with an Audi equipped with the latest efficiency technology. +++

+++ Car makers are in a race against time to develop next-generation battery and electrical systems that can deliver a competitive advantage, according to BMW ’s outgoing head of marketing Ian Robertson. At present, the electric cars on sale deliver broadly the same range and performance, with pricing being affected by other aspects of the vehicle. However, Robertson believes some car makers are on the cusp of making breakthroughs that could shift the capabilities and earn them the edge over rivals. “We believe that the next few steps in development will turn batteries from a commodity into something delivering more of a technical advantage”, said Robertson. “Ultimately, that advantage will probably even out again, but there will be a period where the battery capability will become a defining factor in choice. Today, car buyers will choose an engine based on different factors: its power, its economy, its refinement. Some are better than others, and there will be a period where customers will have a choice of batteryperformance in a similar way”. BMW has a long-standing partnership with Toyota in developing battery and hydrogen technology, the latter having revealed its plans to sell solid state batteries by around 2025. Solid state batteries have the potential to deliver greater performance than lithium ion ones, while being smaller and potentially cheaper in time. “I’m confident with where we are at”, Robertson said. “Solid state batteries are already working in the lab, but bringing them to production is proving incredibly difficult”. +++

+++ The MASERATI Levante isn’t selling like hot cakes, and this means that the brand’s parent company, FCA, will have to adjust production to meet the market demand. The automotive giant’s Mirafiori plant, in Turin, Italy, the place where the SUV is being put together since 2016, will cut working hours by 59 percent, until July. This temporary compromise, which sees Maserati resort to solidarity contracts, is equivalent to the loss of 2,080 jobs, the FIOM union said. As a result, the employees will work less, and therefore be paid less as well. The action comes in contrast with FCA’s CEO Sergio Marchionne’s statement from 2014, when the automaker presented its 5-year investment plan, who said that full employment at their Italian facilities is guaranteed until the end of 2018. Marchionne changed his statement last month, when he talked to the press at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, saying that FCA “may need more time”. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Mirafiori factory, which also makes the Alfa Romeo MiTo, had to resort to temporary layoffs for a few days last year as well, when production of the Maserati Levante was halted. Not only that, but the Italian firm had to temporarily stop assembling the GranTurismo, GranCabrio, Ghibli, and Quattroporte as well, a few months ago. +++

+++ Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that the all-new MBUX infotainment system recently released in the latest-generation A-Class will soon be added to all of the firm’s models. Created as a replacement to the firm’s Comand system, MBUX is Linux based and incorporates a GPU from Nvidia and 8gb of RAM. It is feature rich and much easier to operate, complete with an interface that’s just 2 menu levels deep. Head of research and car development at Mercedes-Benz, Ola Källenius, confirmed MBUX will be introduced to all the brand’s vehicles “within a couple of years”. Beyond offering simplified touch interaction, MBUX adopts a natural language voice recognition system similar to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. After speaking the phrase ‘Hey Mercedes’, users can control most vehicle and infotainment functions with their voice. In the A-Class, MBUX will be offered with either two 7.0-inch screens, two 10.25-inch screens or a mixture of the two display sizes. Larger models in the Mercedes-Benz family, such as the S-Class, are currently sold with two 12.3-inch displays. Head of user interaction at Mercedes-Benz, Georges Massing, confirmed that the MBUX hardware and processes can be installed into existing models. +++

+++ A replacement to the MCLAREN 570S is set to arrive next year and it will include both hybrid and autonomous technology. As part of the company’s ongoing Track22 strategy, a host of McLaren models will adopt hybridization in the coming years. The first in this new line of hybrids will be an all-new Sports Series models. McLaren boss Mike Flewitt confirmed that the revised Monocell II architecture to be used by the next 570S has been designed for a hybrid powertrain from the outset. “Hybrid design is part of the next platform; it is designed-in from day one rather than having to adapt an existing chassis”, he said. As for the vehicle’s self-driving ability, Flewitt didn’t say much other than confirming that the brand will be careful with what kind of autonomous technology it will implement in its vehicles: “We will be selective. Autonomy in its own right isn’t that appealing to our customers, but we need to have capabilities designed in for safety, legislation and emissions”. The McLaren 570S only arrived in 2015, but McLaren, unlike its rivals, has a 4 to 5 year lifecycle for its models. Before a successor to the 570S lands, it is possible that a hardcore LT variant could be launched as a swansong to Woking’s entry-level model. +++

+++ MERCEDES is set to introduce 2 plug-in hybrids to its facelifted C-Class line-up as part of plans for an extended range of EQ-Power-badged models. The electrified drivetrains are based around a new hybrid system. It operates in combination with a 4-cylinder petrol engine in the new C 300e and a 4-cylinder diesel engine in the C 300de. The new EQ-Power system increases the output of the electric motor by 40 hp over that used by the existing 4 year old 300h to 120 hp. The 2 new hybrids’ electric range will extend to more than 50 kilometers, thanks to the lithium/ion battery’s capacity rising from 6.4 kWh to 13.8 kWh. Mercedes is remaining tight-lipped about the combined system outputs for the new C 300e and C 300de. However, the C 330e’s turbo 2.0-litre engine is claimed to deliver 211 hp and the C 300de’s turbo 2.0-litre engine 194 hp. The 2 plug-in hybrids will go on sale later this year as part of a facelifted C-Class line-up that will make its public debut in saloon and estate bodystyles at the Geneva motor show in March. The facelifted C-Class will have 3 diesel models: the 150 hp C 200d, 194 hp C 220d and 245 hp C 300d. Each runs Mercedes’ latest 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine. 3 petrol models feature in the line-up: the C 180, C 200 and C 300. The C 180 uses a 1.6-litre turbo engine that produces 156 hp in the SLC 180. The C 200 and C 300 both have Mercedes’ new four-cylinder petrol engine. In the C 200, a mild hybrid with EQ-Boost badging, the engine delivers a nominal 192 hp, with an added 18 hp available on kickdown when the alternator acts as an electric motor to boost performance. In the C 300, it gets a higher state of tune at 245 hp, but no electric assistance. +++

+++ An electric Corsa will be launched in 2019 alongside 3 other electrified models, OPEL has announced. The 2 brands’ first fully electric car is expected to be their top seller as they step up their electrification plans under new owner PSA Group. The regular Corsa will enter production in the Zaragoza plant in Spain, according to Opel, with the electric variant following closely behind. The electric Corsa is part of Opel’s wider electrification strategy, under which every model will be electrified in some way by 2024. A plug-in hybrid Grandland X is also planned. The next Corsa will likely be built on the same architecture as the next Peugeot 208 and DS 3 Crossback. A product planning slide that surfaced last year showed PSA’s intention to produce an all-electric 208 as its next zero-emissions model (its first being the Ion). PSA aims to have Opel back in profit by 2020; the brand posted losses of more than 200 million euro in the second quarter of 2017. The Zaragoza plant has built Corsas since 1982 and also currently produces the Mokka X, Crossland X and Citroën C3 Aircross. No details have been given about ranges, but that of rivals such as the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona Electric should put the electric Corsa and 208’s ranges comfortably above 320 kilometers. +++

+++ No one outside of POLESTAR has driven the 1 but on the back of customer demand for the model, the company is already considering increasing production of the 2+2 hybrid coupe. When first announced, Polestar 1 production was to be capped at 1500 units with 500 examples rolling out of the firm’s Chinese factory annually for the next 3 years. However, Polestar chief executive Thomas Ingenlath revealed that more than 5.000 people have expressed interest in owning the car. “We are looking at whether we could do a higher volume than 500 units a year. We are checking that out. I think there is potential to go to 2 shifts”, he said. Although customers are already lining up for the model, Polestar isn’t in a rush to make a decision on the future of production. In fact, construction of the factory in Chengdu won’t be completed until the middle of this year and Polestar 1 production isn’t set to commence until 12 months later. One particular challenge of building the Polestar is the fact that it is the first vehicle from Volvo to have a carbon fiber body. “We have a great deal of respect for the challenge we face as we bring our carbon fiber production into reality. It will be a rather slow start, but it is needed for this complicated product”, Ingenlath said. Also making the 1 unique is the fact that customers won’t be able to purchase one outright, at least not at this stage. Instead, Polestar will adopt a subscription sales model, offering the 1 on a two- or three-year subscription basis. +++

+++ With the automotive industry increasingly turning to electric cars, countries that are heavily dependent on car manufacturing are facing a new challenge. SLOVAKIA is a small European country with a population of around 5.5 million people. At the same time, it’s also the country with the biggest ratio of locally produced cars per person in Europe. Automotive factories account for about a third of Slovakia’s exports, yet the only electric cars produced there are at VW Group’s Bratislava facility. Other manufacturers with factories in the country include Kia, PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) and Jaguar Land Rover, not to mention the countless suppliers that provide the necessary parts. Bloomberg reports that, with the EV revolution in full swing, there’s a growing sense that the country needs to keep up or it will lose out. “It’s going to take a lot of power to transform this industry and if only for the sake of security (national security) we should have it”, said Peter Badik, the owner of a company that has 27 charging points in Slovakia. “We should be in the first row of the debate and we’re not”. Then, there’s also the problem with the electric car production demands. A conventional vehicle requires more than 20,000 parts to run, while an EV drops that number to as few as 7,000, creating a smaller market for established suppliers. “The Germans may try to protect their own suppliers and could cut off the suppliers in eastern Europe unless those suppliers will be able to make this transition, which I think is going to be extremely difficult”, said Matjaz Schroll, head of private equity for central and eastern Europe at Franklin Templeton Investments. “It could have a huge negative impact”. Market analysts predict that electric cars will represent as much as 8 percent of the total sales globally within 2 years. In 22 years, electric cars will make up 54 percent of the new sales. VW’s plant in Bratislava has been producing the e-Up since 2013. The Group’s regional subsidiary Skoda is planning to launch five electric models, starting in 2025. PSA’s facilities in western Slovakia already halted building a new engine plant and now plan to produce electric models there. Jaguar Land Rover’s Slovak factory is still under construction, but the British carmaker has applied for permission to add a new wing for EV battery production. “If we don’t want to fall asleep (and we don’t) we’ll need to adapt”, Peter Ziga, the Slovak economy minister, said. “Many carmakers have announced target dates for going completely electric, including those that operate here. We will not just passively watch the development, but we will be also active partners”. +++

+++ The new TOYOTA Supra will have 340 hp, 450 Nm and a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds. It will be 4.380 mm long, 1.855 mm wide, 1.290 mm tall and will have a wheelbase of 2.470 mm. This is 140 mm shorter, 45 mm wider, 15 mm taller and 80 mm shorter in wheelbase than the previous Supra of 1993. At 1.496 kg, the new car is 14 kg lighter than the previous Supra and 250 kg heavier than the Toyota GT86. The Supra’s engine, a 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder dual overhead cam unit, produces 340 hp at 5500 rpm and 450 Nm of torque at 1.380 – 5.200 rpm. It’s thought that an 8-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox will be used – both engine and gearbox are derived from BMW units, shared with the 2019 BMW Z4, with which the Supra was co-developed. Both cars sit on the same carbonfibre architecture. It’s not yet known what the top speed of the Supra is. The 3.8 seconds puts it in league with the PDK-equipped Porsche 911 Carrera S; the Toyota is 14 kg lighter and has 85 hp less than the Porsche. +++

+++ The legal battle between Waymo and UBER recently got underway but, in a surprise move, the companies reached a settlement to end the courtroom showdown. Uber will give Waymo a $245 million stake in the company to end the legal proceedings which kicked off in San Francisco earlier this week. The figure is significantly less than what Waymo was originally seeking as the publication says the company wanted at least $1 billion last year. Waymo proposed a $500 million settlement earlier this week but that was rejected by Uber’s board on Tuesday. While the courtroom drama began on Monday, the case dates back to 2017 when Waymo sued Uber for using its technology in their autonomous driving efforts. The case centered on Anthony Levandowski who reportedly downloaded more than 14,000 files from Google before leaving the company. He later co-founded an autonomous trucking company called Otto which was then bought by Uber. In a lengthy statement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said “My job as Uber’s CEO is to set the course for the future of the company: innovating and growing responsibly, as well as acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past. In doing so, I want to express regret for the actions that have caused me to write this letter”. Khosrowshahi went on to say Waymo’s owner, Alphabet, is an “important investor in Uber” but they are also competitors and won’t always agree on everything. The executive added the company’s acquisition of Otto “could and should have been handled differently” as the prospect that former employees “may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions”. Khosrowshahi said the company doesn’t believe any of Waymo’s trade secrets or proprietary information was used by the company but they are working to “put integrity at the core of every decision we make”. Despite Khosrowshahi’s statement, a number of publications have raised questions about the timing of the settlement. As Engadget notes, Levandowski was scheduled to be called to the witness stand later today to discuss lidar and radar technology which Waymo had claimed was stolen. +++

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