Newsflash II

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+++ BMW bills the X2 as a fun and sporty urban crossover and it appears the company is going to back up that claim with a new X2 M35i. Recently spotted undergoing testing, the high-performance model has a familiar design as it apparently comes standard with the M Sport pacakage which includes a sportier front fascia and additional body-color trim. The crossover has also been equipped with the usual M styling cues including larger alloy wheels and an upgraded braking system with blue calipers. The dual exhaust system features larger tips than the standard model and had a more pronounced sound. The interior should also receive some minor styling tweaks as the front backrests were covered in a likely attempt to hide M35i logos. Power is expected to be provided by a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine that produces approximately 300 hp. This would make the model significantly more powerful than the X2 xDrive25i. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS (GM) said a richer mix of full-size pickups and mid-size SUVs in North America should help it offset higher commodity costs in 2018 and maintain pretax margins above 10 percent. The automaker posted better-than-expected quarterly results as cost cutting and higher vehicle prices offset a double-digit decline in U.S. sales volume, and it predicted 2018 would be a strong year globally and in North America. Chief Executive Mary Barra told analysts that GM expects its financial performance to “accelerate further in 2019”, when the company launches redesigned heavy-duty pickups and full-size SUVs in North America, as well as a new family of low-priced compacts in emerging markets. Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said GM’s capital spending will remain at about $8.5 billion through 2019, then should start to ease. He said GM expects to generate free cash flow of $5 billion in 2018, with as much as $2.8 billion available for additional share repurchases. Stevens said despite recent stock market volatility over concerns the U.S. economy may be overheating, the No. 1 U.S. automaker is “not overly concerned about inflation”. “Our forecast is premised on continued growth in the U.S. economy”, Stevens said. Detroit-based GM’s global pre-tax margin rose to 8.2 percent in the quarter versus 6.5 percent in the same quarter in 2016. Its North American pre-tax margin was 10.7 percent. GM had an adjusted EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) of $12.8 billion. GM says the results were driven by a “strong performance in North America”, sustained growth at GM Financial, cost cutting moves, and a return to profitability in South America. The picture isn’t completely rosy as the company revealed “on a consolidated basis (including discontinued operations), GM reported a 2017 net loss of $3.9 billion, driven primarily by charges totaling $13.5 billion”. This was largely due to tax reform in the United States and a $6.2 billion non-cash charge from the sale of Opel and Vauxhall to Groupe PSA. The automaker also left several markets including India and South Africa. While 2017 wasn’t perfect, the company has high hopes for the future as the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will be launched later this year. GM expects they will build on the success of recent entries such as the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Terrain. While these reports typically provide a glimpse into the future, this release wasn’t too revealing as it confirmed the company expects to deploy autonomous vehicles in a “ride sharing environment” in 2019. GM also revealed plans to launch 15 models in China this year under the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Baojun and Wuling brands. One of the biggest winners in today’s announcement was factory workers as UAW-represented employees will receive profit-sharing checks of $11,750. +++

+++ HYUNDAI recently introduced the i30 N and it appears there are still a number of performance-oriented models on the horizon. In an interview, Hyundai’s head of high-performance development confirmed plans for new N Sport models will slot between mainstream vehicles and high-performance variants such as the i30 N. Albert Biermann said these vehicles will have a “more sporty driving experience” but they’ll eschew “a different engine, bigger brakes, or a whole new suspension or axles”. Since the cars will miss out on major upgrades, changes will be modest and include interior and exterior styling tweaks. Biermann also suggested N Sport models could come with sportier tires and there could be N Sport variants of vehicles without an N model. We can expect an assortment of N accessories in the future as well as “expanded motorsports involvement”. While a lot of questions remain, Biermann confirmed N models will have “better value for money” than the competition. +++

+++ The next generation of MCLAREN sportscars, which will arrive from 2019, will use hybrid powertrains and have autonomous driving capability. The core models, the first of which will be a replacement for the 570S, will be based on a new structure that will be an evolution of the current Monocell II architecture. Following the successor to the 570S (which sits upon the lowest ‘Sports Series’ tier on McLaren’s model ladder) each subsequent replacement will use a hybrid powertrain. Given the 720S was launched last year, that Super Series model won’t be hybridised until 2022. “Hybrid design is part of the next platform; it is designed-in from day one rather than having to adapt an existing chassis”, said boss Mike Flewitt. He confirmed that a hybrid powertrain will be the only option within McLaren’s core model ranges and cars will not be offered only with internal combustion engines. However, Flewitt would not rule out non-hybrid powertrains in some limited-edition models in its Ultimate Series, which includes the forthcoming Senna track car and the BP23. The latter will use a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine augmented by an electric motor and battery pack. However, the hybrid powertrains due to be used in the Sports Series and Super Series models are likely to have a different set-up that will include a downsized turbocharged V6. The new generation of cars will also mark the introduction of autonomous driving features to McLaren models. However, Flewitt said the firm will not adopt every possible aspect of self-driving technology currently on the market. “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”, he said. +++

+++ MERCEDES introduced the brand-new A-Class hatchback last week. It’s 1 of 8 models that will make up the brand’s compact car family when it wraps up its model offensive. Thee A-Class Sedan is the second of the 8-strong family. We could see it as soon as the New York Auto Show. Executives have revealed the identity of several other members of the family. The A-Class duo will be joined by replacements for the GLA, the CLA, and the B-Class. We’ll also see a new crossover named GLB (in 2 wheelbase sizes) that will borrow design cues from the brand-new G-Class. That leaves 2 models. Design chief Gordon Wagener ruled out the long-rumored A-Class convertible because, in his opinion, it wouldn’t look good. The CLA Shooting Brake is unlikely to get a replacement. All eight models will ride on the same front-wheel drive platform. Mercedes promises its future compacts will all have another thing in common: they’ll look good. “I can assure you that all variants on this platform, there will be at least 8, will be stunning”, Wagener said. +++

+++ NISSAN plans to invest 60 billion yuan ($9.5 billion) in China over the next 5 years with its joint-venture partner as it seeks to become a top three automaker in the world’s biggest market. Long stuck as a second-tier player in China, Nissan and Dongfeng Group said on Monday they plan to boost their volume to 2.6 million vehicles a year by 2022, up from 1.5 million vehicles last year. Nissan plans to achieve the objective, dubbed its “Triple One” strategy, by focusing on electric cars and Venucia, a no-frills local brand Nissan operates in China; 2 market segments expected to see a surge in demand. It also aims to boost sales of light commercial vans and trucks. China’s auto market has been dominated by General Motors and Volkswagen for nearly 2 decades, with each of them selling 4 million vehicles last year. Nissan, along with Toyota, Ford and Honda lag far behind, each selling 1 million-plus vehicles a year. “We aim to break away from this second-tier group and become a top3 China automaker”, Nissan’s China chief Jun Seki said in an interview. “We need to go full-throttle aggressive”, Seki said. “If we didn’t do that, we would fall behind and fail to grab market share otherwise we could take”. Part of the strategy is to keep growing the Nissan brand and the company’s premium Infiniti brand, Seki said. Nissan and Dongfeng plan to increase the Nissan brand’s annual sales by 500,000 vehicles to 1.6 million vehicles a year by 2022. It also plans to boost Infiniti’s annual sales by 100,000 vehicles to about 150,000 vehicles a year over the same time frame. Still, more critical a strategy is Nissan’s electrification plan. Seki said the joint venture will launch as many as 20 electrified vehicle models across all brands in an effort to sell roughly 700,000 such cars a year by 2022 excluding electric light commercial vehicles, using a combination of all-electric battery vehicles and so-called “e-Power” hybrids. Automakers are scrambling to launch an array of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles over the coming years, in part to comply with China’s production quotas for such cars. Nissan’s joint venture with Dongfeng sold about 22,000 electric vehicles last year, but they were mostly light commercial e-vans. In order to generate large enough EV volume, Nissan plans to come up with lower-cost electric cars by locally sourcing electric motors and other key EV components from suppliers in China. In 2019, Nissan for example plans to launch 3 such lower-cost EVs under the Venucia name. “We expect EV and e-power hybrid business to become profitable”, Seki said, without elaborating. Venucia, which Nissan established jointly with Dongfeng, is another key focus. The brand began selling cars in 2012, competing with China’s low-cost, no-frills indigenous brands such as those run by Geely and Great Wall Motor. Seki said shoring up Venucia is a must because indigenous Chinese brands will likely collectively sell as many cars as global brands sell in China. Last year indigenous Chinese brands sold a total of 10.3 million vehicles, compared with global brands’ 13.9 million vehicles. Venucia, which uses retired Nissan technologies such as platforms and transmissions, last year sold 143,000 vehicles, up 22.7 percent from 2016. Seki said Nissan wants to boost Venucia’s annual volume by more than 400,000 vehicles to be able to sell as many as 600,000 vehicles a year by 2022. The effort is likely to face tough competition, however, from established local players such as Baojun, which General Motors operates jointly with its local China partners. “No global automakers have a brand that competes with low-cost local brands except for us and General Motors”, Seki said. In addition to Baojun, General Motors operates the Wuling brand in a joint venture with Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp and Guangxi Automobile Group. “Venucia is our clear advantage and we are going to milk it to grow rapidly”, Seki said. +++

+++ POLESTAR is sending its 1 hybrid coupé on a brand-building world tour that will begin at next month’s Geneva motor show and reach a climax at its public launch in the middle of next year. Worldwide sale of the model, which is the first production car from Volvo’s new electric performance brand, will begin soon afterwards. It will be priced from 160,000 euro in The Netherlands. According to newly appointed Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, who also continues as Volvo’s design director, Polestar will become Volvo’s “technological spearhead” that, after the 1 hits the market, will make only all-electric performance cars. The company is preparing for a 2020 launch of the all-electric Polestar 2 crossover saloon that bears a very close relationship to Ingenlath’s Concept 40.2 already seen at motor shows. A full-sized Polestar 3 SUV will arrive after that. The 1 coupé, which has an all-carbonfibre body based on a shortened S90 platform and just under 600bhp available from a front-mounted 2.0-litre turbo engine, plus twin electric motors on the rear axle, is very much a halo car. In Geneva, the 1 will be shown to a group of more than 100 potential customers who will then be invited to confirm their interest by submitting a deposit of €2.500. The car will make more European appearances (possibly including a driving debut at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed) before heading to the US and then China, where a special manufacturing facility capable of handling carbonfibre structures is already under construction close to Volvo’s existing plant at Chengdu. The 2, an all-steel hatchback saloon that shares Volvo’s smaller CMA platform and uses the exterior design of the well-received Concept 40.2 car, will go into production late next year for sale in the early months of 2020. It will be made in both left and right-hand drive. Ingenlath won’t say where the car will be built but is keen to point out its suitability as a rival to Tesla’s Model 3. Polestar is understood to still be deciding the details of its powertrain design, although two electric motors (one front, one rear) are suggested. The car should cost “from €40,000” and have a practical driving range of about 320 kilometres. The 3, a radically styled, low-roof SUV that will use the next generation of Volvo’s SPA big-car platform and have a mixed aluminium and steel body construction, is understood to be heading for a 2022 launch and is likely to be made at the Chengdu factory. When all 3 models are selling as anticipated, Polestar volume could reach 80,000-90,000 cars annually (with the 1 accounting for 500 and the 2 around 50,000). Ingenlath says further models are being considered in areas that wouldn’t be mainstream enough to suit Volvo. As well as developing its rule-breaking new models, Polestar is working on a bespoke marketing set-up aimed at increasing convenience for owners and moving beyond the traditionally adversarial customer-dealer relationship. Cars will be paid for by a monthly ‘subscription’ that includes insurance, servicing and possibly customer hire days (in case they need a van or fancy a sports car for a few days, for instance). Cars will be picked up from customers’ homes or workplaces and delivered back after servicing. Polestar commercial director Jon Goodman expects to choose about 80 Polestar ‘spaces’ around the world to sell its cars. +++

+++ RENAULT will launch a new version of its Zoe with 110 hp at the Geneva motor show this March. A source told that the Zoe R110, as it will be called, would supersede the current R90 with 16 hp more from its Z.E. 40 battery-powered electric motor, although the car’s focus would remain the same and so it won’t have a sportier guise than the regular version. The R110 will be available in both Dynamique Nav and Signature Nav trims, but not the entry-level Expression, unlike the current R90 variant that is offered with all 3. This means the R110 will get 16 inch wheels, a hands-free keycard and automatic headlights and wipers as standard. Renault is yet to comment on the Zoe’s Geneva arrival and so it is not yet known whether there will be changes to the car’s battery range. The current model is capable of 400 kilometres according to the NEDC test. Prices for the R110 are expected to slightly increase on the equivalent R90. Renault’s boosted Zoe will come at a time when the model, which was launched in 2012, continues to grow in popularity. European sales totalled 30,134 last year, which represented an increase of 8,894 on the year before. This mirrors a trend seen across the electric car segment. +++

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , falling diesel car sales in January are the leading reason for an overall decline in the car market in the first month of the year. The news reflects a continuing trend: in 2017, UK car sales dropped by 5.7%, with a 17.1% decline in diesels. However, diesels were hit even harder towards the end of last year, with a fall of 31.1% from July to December. The number of diesel-engined cars sold in the UK dropped by 25.6% in January, contributing to an overall decrease of 6.3% (or 162,615 units sold) compared with the same month last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Petrol car sales rose by 8.5% and alternatively fuelled vehicles (electric and hybrid models) by 23.9%, but both of these increases failed to offset the ongoing fall in diesel registrations. As a result, diesel market share now holds only 36% of the overall market. In the past, it has accounted for more than half of all cars sold. Electric and hybrid models are slowly gaining ground with 5.6% market share, compared to 3.5% in January last year. The SMMT, talking about the diesel fall, said “confusion over government policy continued to cause buyers to hesitate”, referring to ongoing miseducation about brand new diesel cars having the same detrimental effect on air quality as older, diesel cars. By contrast to the UK, the overall German car market is expected to be up 12% in January, but diesel sales are set to have declined by 17%. The hit on diesel has also affected UK car manufacturing: last week, it was announced 2017 production was down 3%. The downturn was largely attributed to poor domestic demand thanks to “declining business and economic confidence and confusion over government’s policy on diesel”, said the SMMT at the time. SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The ongoing and substantial decline in new diesel car registrations is concerning, particularly since the evidence indicates consumers and businesses are not switching into alternative technologies but keeping their older cars running”. He added: “Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need government policy to encourage take-up of the latest advanced low-emissiond diesels as, for many drivers, they remain the right choice economically and environmentally”. The SUV segment was the only one to show growth in January, with a 6.6% uplift leading to a record market share. They now account for a fifth of all new car registrations. The biggest segment declines were mini, MPV and executive segments. The Ford Fiesta, which holds the top spot the majority of the time, was a runaway success in January, selling 8.335 units. By comparison, the second-placed Volkswagen Golf accounted for 4.310 units. The Ford Focus came third. Car makers faring well in January include Mini which increased its sales compared to last January by 25.9%, while Seat was up by 9.0%. Those hardest hit include DS, down 55.9% and Fiat, down 46.8%. Vauxhall, whose sales dramatically decreased in 2017, finishing the year 22.2% down, started 2018 slightly more positively, with a drop of 8.8%. A spokesman told there was “no single contributory factor to its latest results, but added that it expects its Grandland X to contribute significantly to sales volume over the next few months. “We have the right mix of models now, with 3 SUVs. Admittedly we didn’t before”, he added. Volvo, whose new XC40 compact SUV adds to an a relatively new model line-up, has dropped 18.8%. Volvo UK boss Jon Wakefield said the registrations were in lines with its plan, and that retail customers were up 14%. He added: “With an extremely positive order take in January for the XC60, XC90 and new XC40, we anticipate a buoyant 2018 for Volvo in the UK”. Britain’s best-selling cars in January were: 1: Ford Fiesta – 8335 registrations, 2: Volkswagen Golf – 4310 registrations, 3: Ford Focus – 4105 registrations, 4: Nissan Qashqai – 3851 registrations, 5: Vauxhall Mokka X – 3767 registrations, 6: Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 3358 registrations, 7: Kia Sportage – 2622 registrations, 8: Vauxhall Corsa – 2587 registrations, 9: Ford Kuga – 2580 registrations and 10: Mercedes-Benz C-Class – 2478 registrations. +++

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