+++ ASTON MARTIN posted a profit of 95 million euro in 2017; 275 million euro more than the 180 million euro loss the brand achieved in 2016. This was driven by a 58% upswing in global sales compared with 2016, with 5.117 cars finding homes across the year. 950 million euro in revenue was raised; 48% up on 2016. The sales are the highest Aston Martin has achieved since 2008, when the Vantage was 3 years old and the DB9 4 years. Aston Martin’s performance in the 4th quarter of 2017 was its best in the brand’s 104-year history, with a 73 million euro pre-tax profit contributing strongly to the full-year total. 2018 started less strongly for sales, however, with 100 deliveries almost cutting the previous January’s 189 deliveries. The introduction of the new Vantage, with the phasing out of the Vantage likely contributing to the 48% dip. When first deliveries of the Vantage kick off in June, these are expected to climb to new heights. A weak pound in 2017 compared with 2016 will have had a small effect on profits; on average, the pound was around 5% weaker against the dollar in 2017 than 2016. “Our revenue growth was stronger than our wholesale volume growth and hence that drove an improvement in our average selling price. We saw an exchange rate benefit from the weaker pound from markets such as the US over the year, since we follow a market-based pricing model for our regional markets”, said an Aston Martin spokesman. Despite this, brand boss Andy Palmer predicts that larger challenges lie in keeping the low-volume car industry buoyant: “These challenges we face are something we haven’t seen before. The challenge to provide something very different for the future is huge. That makes our industry an amazingly exciting place to be. Bring it on”. The industry, given the right conditions, could grow 60% by 2020 if the right deal is struck between the UK and European Governments. Should a no-deal Brexit occur, however, Vehicle Certification Agency approval difficulties could mean ceasing production temporarily until new certification applications had been put through. The largest market for volume for Aston Martin is the United Kingdom, although the fastest-growing market is China. The introduction of the DB11 Volante, Vantage and Vanquish is likely to push Aston even higher into profit, however. +++

+++ Following its 7th consecutive year of record sales, the world’s number one manufacturer of premium vehicles started 2018 with another record: the BMW Group has never sold so many cars in January as in this year. A total of 169,538 customers took delivery of a BMW, Mini or Rolls-Royce premium vehicle, an increase of 3.8% on the same month last year. “We are driving the biggest model offensive in the company’s history and as availability ramps up in the course of the year, this will continue to come through in our sales results”, said Pieter Nota, member of the Board of Management of BMW, and responsible for Sales and Brand BMW. “Deliveries of the new 5 Series sedan, for example, are up by 40%, while the introduction of the new 6 Series GT has far more than doubled overall 6 Series sales in the month. As we introduce more exciting new models like the all-new X2 and increase supply of the X3 in the second half of this year, I’m confident this record month is the start of another record year”, Nota continued. Having delivered well over 100,000 electrified vehicles in 2017, the BMW Group is looking to build further on that success and is targeting 140,000 electrified vehicles this year, thereby maintaining its leading position in the premium battery-electric/plug-in hybrid segment. With sales of BMW i, BMW iPerformance and Mini Electric vehicles increasing by 36.7% compared to January last year, things are well on track to achieve that target. Worldwide, a total of 7,155 customers took delivery of a premium BMW Group electrified vehicle in January. More than a quarter of all BMW and Mini vehicles sold in Scandinavia were electrified. Other very strong markets include Great Britain/Ireland, where electrified vehicles accounted for 11.1% of total BMW and Mini sales and the USA, where the proportion of electrified sales was 5.2%. Global BMW brand sales increased by 3.4% in the first month of 2018, with a total of 148,400 vehicles delivered to customers worldwide. A variety of different models across the portfolio contributed to this new all-time best January. The new 5 Series sedan was once again a strong growth driver, with global sales up 39.6% (25,268). The success of the 1 Series sedan in China helped overall global BMW 1 Series sales increase by 26.4% while the X1 (22,185 / +10.6%) and the X6 (3,128 / +5.8%) were the main growth drivers in the X family, as production of the new X3 ramps up through the second half of the year. +++

+++ In his 50 years working in Britain’s car industry, John Cooper has survived plenty of upheavals. None is scarier than the prospect of BREXIT . Being split off from their biggest market means the job cuts and production slowdown United Kingdom carmakers have imposed the past few months could be just a prelude to wholesale shutdowns. The shock is only beginning to hit. Since October, 650 of Cooper’s colleagues have lost their jobs at the factory where Vauxhall Motors churns out Astra hatchbacks. The remaining 1,200 staff worry the plant may close if the U.K. loses tariff-free access to Europe. Across the River Mersey from Vauxhall’s factory, Jaguar Land Rover is planning production cuts. “People shouldn’t underestimate the dangers that Brexit’s bringing”, Cooper (a union representative) said outside the sprawling factory in the town of Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, where he’s worked since he was 18. “Why would Nissan continue to invest in the north east when it’s got a plant in Spain where it can build the same car without a 10 percent tariff?”. If Prime Minister Theresa May gets her way, by next year Britain will start severing ties with the bloc after a transition period, including quitting the customs union it’s been part of since 1973. Whether duties are imposed after that is still up in the air as London and Brussels wrangle over the terms of their divorce. Tariffs and other hurdles to trade could be disastrous for the automotive industry since parts routinely move across borders several times during the manufacturing process. Take the Mini, manufactured in Oxford. Before reaching the production line, each engine crankshaft is made in France, shipped to BMW’s U.K. engine plant in Hams Hall near Birmingham and then to Steyr, Austria for assembly. The fate of the Vauxhall plant depends on whether its French parent company, PSA Group, decides to build the next Astra, a 2021 model, there. PSA, which bought Vauxhall from General Motors last summer, has other options: it designs Peugeots and Citroens in France and Opels in Germany and could ship those to Britain with Astra logos. Foreseeing these risks, Cooper had ardently campaigned against Brexit by canvassing workers at the plant, yet the leave vote still prevailed in the neighboring area, along with most of the other towns where U.K. carmakers operate factories. “It’s hard to see how anybody could sanely vote for anything that would make the business more difficult”, said Peter Southwood, 44, who’s worked at Vauxhall for 21 years. “They see the cars coming down the line, they see how many are going abroad, they see where the parts come from”. Southwood’s grandfather and 2 uncles worked at Ellesmere Port and he hopes his son or daughter might uphold the tradition. But, Brexit or not, employment in Britain’s automobile industry isn’t what it used to be. In the heyday of the 1970s, 12,500 people worked at the Vauxhall plant. Headcount has since fallen 90 percent, largely due to automation. The EU departure is dealing the industry an additional blow just as it scrambles to adjust to the transition into electric cars and government plans to phase out gas and diesel engines in the coming 2 decades. After touching a record in 2016, U.K. car sales suffered their biggest annual decline since 2009 last year as Brexit and the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal tarnished buyer confidence. The cost of assembling a car in Britain could increase by 2.600 euro under a so-called Hard Brexit, where a 10 percent tariff is imposed, according to estimates of London-based PA Consulting. Plant closures are most likely at Japanese-owned Honda and Toyota since they export most of the cars they make in Britain, it said. Foreign companies won’t stay “if there is no profitability of continuing operations in the U.K.”, Japan’s ambassador to the U.K., Koji Tsuruoka, said in an interview carried by BBC News this month. “It’s as simple as that. These are high stakes that I think all of us need to keep in mind”. It will probably be too risky for both sides to let negotiations fall apart without a deal that allows goods to move between borders with few or no tariffs, according to Tim Lawrence, head of manufacturing at PA Consulting. “Britain is Europe’s second-biggest car market and it’s hugely important for EU companies like the German premium manufacturers”, he said. But talks on trade haven’t even started, and the EU doesn’t expect a full detailed trade deal to be completed until after the U.K. has left. In and around Ellesmere Port, a nerve center for the industry, workers are understandably anxious. On a snowy day this month outside Jaguar’s Halewood plant where it makes Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport SUVs, several workers wearing green sweaters and trousers bearing the signature Jaguar cat logo said they’d been warned not to comment. One man said he’d voted to leave the EU because migrant workers crossing the bloc’s open borders had depressed U.K. wages. “I’m happy to get out of Europe, just not with the way the government have gone about it”, he said. Another, 50-year-old Brian, was hopeful demand would pick up: “Rich people are still going to buy high-end cars”, he said. Owned by India’s Tata Motors, Jaguar Land Rover is more shielded from Brexit because it exports a lot to the U.S. and China and a spokeswoman said new investments are planned at Halewood. Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port site, by contrast, ships 8 out of 10 cars to Europe, according to Cooper. He’s lobbying management for new production along with Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Britain’s national Unite union and an ally of opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The pair went to Paris last month to try to convince PSA Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares to grant 2 new models to Ellesmere Port. That’s the deal Cooper says is needed to guarantee survival, and both should include electric versions. Tavares hasn’t yet obliged. A Vauxhall spokesman said he couldn’t speculate. After half a century at the plant, Cooper won’t give up without a fight. Vauxhall is an iconic brand in the U.K., appealing to Britons who want to support local industry and local jobs; something that, ironically, Brexit campaigners said leaving the EU would help safeguard. “I don’t believe if you put a Vauxhall badge on a Peugeot 308 it would sell it in the same volume”, Cooper said. “I don’t want my legacy to be we didn’t get a car”. +++

+++ Volvo owner GEELY has no immediate plans to buy more into Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler after becoming the German brand’s largest shareholder. The Chinese car giant, which now owns 9.69% of Daimler, overtook the Kuwait Investment Authority’s 6.8% stake and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s 3.1% share. At current exchange rates, the Geely deal is reportly worth around 7 billion euro. Geely boss Li Shufu said in a statement that his company has no intentions to increase its stake in Daimler “for the time being”. He said: “I will fully abide by the company charter and governance structure of Daimler and respect its values and culture”. Experts believe the investment in Daimler, of which 70.7% is owned by institutional investors and 19.4% is owned by private investors, could help Geely fast-track negotiations to gain engineering and technological knowledge from the influential German brand. The move is part of an aggressive expansion by Geely, which shot to prominence in Europe after acquiring Volvo in 2010 from Ford and went on to buy The London Taxi Company in 2012. It established the Lynk&Co brand in 2016 and acquired a majority stake in Lotus and almost half of Proton parent company DRB-Hicom last year. Geely also recently bought the American flying car start-up Terrafugia, with an ambition to launch its first flying vehicle in 2019. It’s thought that Geely may be looking to further its electric car strategy. An analyst source predicted that this is likely the case, saying: “With all the disruption in the market and luxury brands across the world working on their future investments in areas like EVs, autonomous vehicles and mobility-as-a-service, the established brands will be regularly courted by new entrants so as to establish brand loyalty in new products (such as EVs) and ensure cost-effective use of new technologies”. +++

+++ LAND ROVER is set to launch a diesel-hybrid Range Rover Evoque in its next-generation line-up, due next year. 6 different Evoque development cars spotted testing have been registered as using a 2.0-litre diesel-hybrid engine, according to an online database. The plans tally with Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement last year that it wanted to electrify all of its models by 2020. I know the Evoque is set to launch with 1.5-litre plug-in hybrid, but previous research projects by Jaguar Land Rover suggest the 2.0-litre diesel powertrain is likely to use a 48V mild-hybrid set-up. I expect it to echo a JLR prototype called Concept_e MHEV. This mild hybrid is based on a Range Rover Evoque donor vehicle and features a prototype 90 hp diesel engine with a 48V electrical system. It incorporates a 15 kW crank-integrated motor with a disconnect clutch within a hybrid module sandwiched between the engine and a nine-speed transmission. The motor-generator is powered by an advanced 48 Volt electrical system and a 48 Volt lithium/ion battery. The brand’s decision to use diesel power in its hybrid Evoque contrasts a move it made with the larger Range Rover hybrid, which swapped from diesel-electric to petrol-electric power in its latest update. It also contrasts the route taken by rivals, such as Volvo, which will produce a hybrid version of its Evoque rival, the XC40, with petrol power. Diesel has come under pressure in recent months, with the UK Government announcing raised taxes for diesel models in a bid to lower the number of them on the road. But diesel cars, particularly those assisted with electric power, are still considered among the most efficient for long distance drivers. The mild hybrid Evoque will likely offer the very best economy figures and lowest CO2 output in its range. It will lend its electrified diesel powertrain to sibling models in the Discovery Sport and Jaguar E-Pace ranges. Jaguar Land Rover’s wide-ranging adoption of electric power comes as part of a heavy push towards electrification. CEO Ralf Speth confirmed last year that its electrified model range would “embrace fully electric, plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid vehicles”. The brand will launch its first electric model, the I-Pace, into the market this July. It will also produce an all-electric XJ and electric Road Rover in 2019. +++

+++ BMW has announced that a new Chinese joint venture with Great Wall Motor will oversee the production of MINI ’s first electric model, which is due in 2019, for the Chinese market. Manufacturing of the Electric Vehicle (EV) will run alongside Mini’s production efforts in Oxford, where the car will also be made. Production at BMW’s existing joint venture in China, BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA), already caters for BMW demand in the domestic market. BMW sold 560,000 cars in China last year, while 35,000 Minis found homes across the same timespan. BMW Germany built 1.15 million cars in 2017. So far, the plans for the new joint venture are only at the stage of a letter of intent, but BMW has alluded to more electric Mini models on the way, which would also be made by Great Wall. The Mini Electric was demonstrated by a concept revealed last year. The production model will be toned down from the concept, with the highly stylised bodywork and yellow flashes on the exterior likely being diluted. BMW already has 3 facilities in China under BBA: 2 production plants and 1 battery factory in Shenyang. Alongside the Mini EV production announcement, these are getting a boost in investment. During the early stages of the Brexit process, BMW executives issued warnings about the future of Mini’s Oxford plant, which currently deals with demand for Minis in more than 110 markets. A Mini spokesman told: “This announcement does not put into question Mini’s commitment to our UK facilities, as demonstrated by our recent investment decisions, which include building the first electric Mini at Oxford”. The spokesman couldn’t elaborate on the brand’s plans following the first EV, however. +++

+++ OPEL will launch a warm, GSi-badged Corsa later this year to rival the Ford Fiesta ST-Line, as the Corsa celebrates its 25th birthday on the market. The Corsa GSi is expected to have around 150 hp; well down on the 208 hp Corsa OPC at the top of the range. Its bodywork will be more aggressively styled along the lines of the Insignia GSi, although toned down from the racier OPC. Following the reintroduction of the GSi badge in 2017 on the Insignia GSi, Opel is planning to extend the warm badge to its smaller cars, starting with the Corsa but also moving to the Astra. Opel has a long history with hot Corsas, with the GSi badge being launched on the modelrange in 1987. Opel clarified that GSi does not replace the more hardcore OPC sub-brand, which is now only carried on the hot Corsa, since the brand discontinued the Astra GTC OPC. Opel has no plans for more OPC models, but says that it will use the badge again. GSi is not its replacement, but a warm version, with the relationship of the 2 similar to Audi’s S and RS-badged cars. The Corsa GSi, unlike the four-wheel drive Insignia, will be front-wheel drive only. The Insignia GSi commands a premium of around 15% over the next-most expensive Insignia variant, although it’s likely to be a smaller price gap for the Corsa. Opel said that the GSi would not come alongside spec simplifications across the range, though. First deliveries are expected in late 2018.

+++ The forthcoming successor to the original Cayman GT4 will stick with a naturally aspirated flat six engine despite the arrival of a turbocharged flat four in the PORSCHE 718 Cayman. The engine is expected to be a detuned version of the new 911 GT3’s 4.0-litre flat six, although power is expected to increase over the previous generation’s 380 hp. 400 hp-plus is expected. “Natural aspiration is one of our main USPs”, said Andreas Preuninger, head of GT car development at Porsche. “At Motorsport, we think we can achieve throttle response and immediacy a little bit better with an atmospheric highrevving engine than any kind of turbo”. He also confirmed there are no plans to create any 4-cylinder GT cars. The bolstered performance means the car’s 0-100 km/h time will be cut from the previous-generation car’s 4.4 seconds, while its top speed is also likely to rise slightly. Just like the previous car, the 2019 GT4 isn’t expected to weigh any more than the Cayman GTS, so Porsche will likely keep the car’s weight below 1.450 kg. 2015’s Cayman GT4 raided Porsche GT’s parts bin for components to make the car more focused, and it’ll be no different for the 2019 model, as Porsche seeks to increase the focus of its sports car lineup with variants like the 911 Carrera T and the 911 GT3 Touring Package. The next Cayman GT4 will be powerful enough to wear the RS badge, reserved for Porsche’s most hardcore models, and Preuninger dropped a broad hint that it will come with both manual and PDK gearbox options. “The aim is to always have the choice”, he said. “Now we’ve started with that strategy with the GT3, let’s hope that it pays off”. Preuninger also said Porsche will crack down on speculators who buy GT cars to flip for a profit rather than to drive. “If you do it, you won’t get the next car”, he said. +++

+++ Mass-market brands like TOYOTA currently make up most of the world’s auto sales, but that won’t be the case for long, says the automaker’s head designer. With the advent of autonomous vehicles, Simon Humphries, Toyota’s design head and general manager of the company’s advanced R&D and engineering company, sees mainstream brands getting squeezed out of the market in the coming years. Instead of buying Camrys and Corollas, Humphries believes most people will commute in autonomous pods. While that may be bad news for most automakers, it’s not all doom and gloom for enthusiasts. Humphries envision two distinct ends of the market forming; one for extreme sports cars and the other for super-high end vehicles. “On one side we’re going to see this optimized (transport) system, but on the other side you’re going to see a pure race car”, Humphries told. “There will be an emotional solution, and a practical solution. So maybe the story is that the middle ground is increasingly going to disappear”. That bodes well for brands like Ferrari and Rolls-Royce, but it remains to be seen what it means for brands like Toyota. In all likelihood those kind of companies will have to transition into the mobility business if they’re to survive. +++

+++ At VOLVO , net revenue for the period increased 16.6 percent to SEK210.9 billion compared to SEK180.9 billion in 2016, while the operating profit margin improved from 6.1 per cent in 2016 to 6.7 per cent in 2017. The results underline the comprehensive transformation of Volvo’s finances and operations in recent years, positioning the company for its next growth phase. Global sales rose 7.0 per cent during the year, underpinned by a 25.8 per cent increase in China, Volvo Cars’ largest individual market. “Our business has transformed completely since 2010 and we are now gearing up for a phase of global, sustainable growth”, said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive. “We are investing in all parts of our organisation and have laid out clear strategies around electrification, autonomous drive and connectivity”, 2017 was an important year for Volvo Cars, as the company launched new models, developed partnerships in important areas and unveiled a global electrification strategy unmatched by any other car maker. It completed its global line-up of brand new SUVs throughout the year, with the launch of the new XC60 and the company’s first ever small SUV, the XC40. The XC40 launch also coincided with the introduction of a new model of car access via the company’s brand new ‘Care by Volvo’ premium subscription service. In July, Volvo Cars announced that it would place electrification at the core of its future business, stating that every car it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor. In a further commitment to electrification it launched Polestar, a new stand-alone electrified car brand fully consolidated within the Volvo Car Group. Volvo Cars enhanced its collaboration with Geely Holding via the creation of a joint venture technology company to provide further economies of scale in technology development. It also acquired a 30 percent stake in Geely’s new Lynk & Co car brand, with which it shares the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). In 2017, Volvo Cars signed a framework agreement with ride-hailing company Uber to sell it tens of thousands of autonomous driving compatible base cars between 2019 and 2021. Volvo announced in 2017 it will open its new manufacturing plant in South Carolina, its first in the United States, which will build the upcoming new S60 as well as the next generation XC90. The plant represents an investment of over USD 1.1 billion and will create nearly 4,000 new jobs. +++

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