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+++ FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) boss Sergio Marchionne has admitted that the Italian brand was becoming less relevant in the European market. And as he seeks to drive FCA into profitability, he said tough decisions needed to be made and cited Lancia, which now sells only the Ypsilon, as an example of what might be in store for Fiat. “I understand that Fiat means a lot but its relevance in the marketplace is wrong. We need to make room for the emergence of the more powerful brands and protect the safety of the sales”, said Marchionne. “We have had to restrict Lancia’s operations because its market appeal was limited. We need to start being unemotional about these things”. The unstoppable rise of SUV sales is partially behind Marchionne’s thinking. The CEO said he expected them to take up more than 40 percent of the European market by 2022, which would be a major problem for the Turin based company. “Then we have an issue because trying to morph the Fiat brand into a market that is developing in that direction when we have a brand like Jeep is a bit nonsensical”, he explained. “And Alfa Romeo and Maserati, because of the attractiveness of the margins they generate, the preferred route for us to develop Europe. I am not killing Fiat. I think it has phenomenal prospects in Latin America. But in Europe it has a less relevant role because its emphasis will be on the 500 family and Panda. Those will be the mainstays of the brand in Europe and the ones we will continue to develop. I am less enamoured with the Tipo sector of the market because of the competitiveness we encounter. We need to be careful we don’t deploy large amounts of capital to chase an overcrowded market”. +++

+++ MAZDA will put a new version of its 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X engine into production next year with the promise of up to 30 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the existing Skyactiv-G petrol. That figure is said to be possible during low-speed driving, but the company claims that 20 percent is also possible in average real world driving scenarios. The target outputs for when the engine hits the market in 2019 is 190 hp and 230 Nm. Development engines have been installed in 6 prototype cars comprising Mazda 3 bodies underpinned by the new Skyactiv architecture. The new Skyactiv-X engine relies on 2 technologies (lean burn combustion and compression ignition) to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions while delivering good performance. A conventional internal combustion engine mixes air with fuel at a ratio of 14.7:1, the perfect mixture to burn petrol in the cleanest possible way. Fuel is ignited by a spark inside the engine’s combustion chamber and burns progressively until it is used up in a split second. A leaner mixture can improve economy, but can be more difficult to ignite and leads to faltering combustion. The Skyactiv-X technology successfully sidesteps those problems with spark-controlled compression ignition (SPCCI), which reliably ignites the entire lean air/fuel mixture of between 30:1 and 40:1 in one go. Extra air to feed the lean burn running is supplied by a small, belt-driven, Rootes-type air pump. A higher-than-normal compression ratio of 16:1 produces almost enough pressure to combust the lean fuel-air mixture spontaneously, but not quite. That happens when a second dose of fuel is injected and fired by a spark to create a mini fireball. The extra pressure created by the fireball tips the simmering main charge over the edge and it ignites. The engine can run in this mode throughout a large part of the operating range but, when the driver accelerates very hard, the engine switches to a conventional mode burning a spark-ignited 14.7:1 air fuel mixture like any other petrol internal combustion engine. SPCCI is an evolution of a concept called HCCI (homogeneous charge compression ignition), which a number of manufacturers tried but failed to perfect more than a decade ago. The main problem was switching between HCCI mode and conventional mode, now solved by Mazda with SPCCI. he new Skyactiv vehicle architecture is lighter to improve energy efficiency. It is also aimed at improving driver control by giving a smoother ride by reducing road shocks into the cabin. A stiffer structure using more lightweight steel components helps improve handling and ride, and the introduction of thimble-sized structures called ‘damping nodes’ at crucial joints reduces noise and vibration in the cabin. +++

+++ MCLARENwill not launch an electric car before 2022 because the company believes they are not yet exciting enough to drive. An electric McLaren had been tipped to be launched as one of 15 new McLarens in the firm’s Track 22 plan of new launches to 2022, but that will not be the case, McLaren boss Mike Flewitt has confirmed. “With electric vehicles (EVs), developing is the right word, and we have an electric mule running around”, said Flewitt. “It’s more for the attributes than the powertrain itself. How exciting can an EV be? Next to the Senna, it isn’t. “We couldn’t deliver an EV today that would meet the excitement of the McLaren brand. We’re working on it. As the technology is developed, the performance capacity will come. It’s a good 5 years away. It’s a challenge to us to produce the same engagement as with the P1, Senna and 675LT. “It’s some way off, and it’s not in the plan because we don’t have the answer at the moment”. Flewitt revealed that currently, for an EV to have the same performance as the P1, it would have to weigh 2 tonnes. He was more positive on hybrid development, though, and repeated his claim that 50 percent of McLarens would be hybrids by 2022 and, “to play it safe”, that all would be in 10 years’ time. “It’s on track”, he said. Hybrids are much easier to integrate into the design of a car’s powertrain, said Flewitt, allowing them to become an integral part of the engine and powertrain rather than bolt-on devices, as they were previously. “The downsides are weight and cost, but the upsides are reduced emissions and the ability to access zero-emission zones in cities”, said Flewitt. “It’s a better driving experience with a hybrid. We can do it with a hybrid but not with an EV”. +++

+++ The next-generation MERCEDES-AMG A45 looks set to have the highest specific output for a production engine in the world, eclipsing even the McLaren Senna and its 800 hp V8. AMG boss Tobias Moers told that the A45 will have “well over 400bhp” from its new engine, which is expected to be an extensively reengineered version of the current car’s 2.0-litre lump. That means it will have more than 200 hp per litre, ranking the car at least 12 hp/litre higher than the current A45 and beating the current specific output champion, the 200 hp per litre Senna. The model, dubbed by insiders as ‘The Predator’ as a nod to its extreme performance, is expected to serve a slam dunk to Audi Sport and its archrival RS3 in the pairing’s ongoing super hatch fight, while also ensuring the A45 offers stronger straight-line performance than the soon to arrive and likely more adjustable BMW M2 CSL. Despite rumours to the contrary, the model will be pure petrol and will not require a hybrid set-up to produce its headline-grabbing numbers. “It’s going to be the next step in every perspective, including driving dynamics”, said Moers, who also confirmed that a softer AMG model, the A35, “will arrive ahead of the A45”. The A45 has been spotted testing several times in recent months, but the most recent sighting showed the car’s production-spec exhausts for the first time – suggesting that powertrain development is now at an advanced stage. The latest development car’s quad-exit system features oval exits in place of the current A45’s more squared-off tips. Also featured is Mercedes’ Panamericana front grille, giving the 2019 car a design nod to the recently revealed AMG GT Coupé. AMG’s upcoming all-wheel-drive 5-door mega-hatch will have its own unique chassis developments that could allow it to run in an ultra-low track mode. The model can squat to bring its sump to little more than an inch from the ground. The current car is renowned for its stiff adjustable set-up, so this development car suggests AMG could be targeting even more body composure for track-day driving in its future model. Today’s four-year-old 381 hp first-generation A45 is capable of 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds, but AMG is planning to ramp up straight-line performance further still. The basis for the changes to the M133 unit comes from Mercedes’ new M260 four-cylinder engine. This is derived from the older M270 motor used by today’s A-Class, but has a new crankcase and cylinder head. Initially, the reworked M133 will feature a traditional exhaust gas-driven twin-scroll turbocharger. However, AMG is also developing a more advanced variant of its new engine that uses a 48V electrical system and runs both an electric-driven turbocharger and electric motor in a hybrid set-up that promises an even greater ramp-up in performance. AMG is also looking to endow its new hatchback model with an extra 30 Nm; a move that, insiders have told, will provide it with at least 500 Nm and allow its 0-100 km/h sprint to crack the 4.0 seconds mark. The changes to the A45’s driveline extend to its gearbox and multi-plate-clutch four-wheel-drive system. Both have been extensively redesigned to handle the higher torque loadings of the new model. In line with developments further down the new A-Class line-up, AMG’s new flagship hatchback model is set to adopt a new 9-speed dual-clutch transmission, together with a faster-reacting 4-wheel-drive system that offers greater variability in the drive split between the front and rear wheels, plus a torque vectoring function for added on-the-limit handling delicacy. +++

+++ POLESTAR ’s debut model, the hand-built plug-in 1, could have an extended run due to demand, the company’s COO has revealed. Chief Operating Officer Jon Goodman told that there were currently around 6,000 expressions of interest in the car, before a confirmed price has even been announced. Initially Polestar was planning a limited run of only 1,500 of the cars, set to be built at the brand’s new facility in Chengdu, China. However, Goodman revealed that number could easily be doubled to meet demand from eager buyers. Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told that the company would start to take deposits of 2,500 euro from serious customers from the middle of March, although he refused to confirm pricing for the car yet. However, we expect prices to be higher than originally anticipated at around 160,000 euro. For that, customers will be getting a hand-built car featuring plenty of carbon fibre and powered by a plug-in hybrid system with a total of 600 hp and 1,000 Nm. It’ll feature a claimed all-electric range of 150 kilometres from its battery, while its 340 hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine will take you even further. And although the Polestar 1 will still be a limited run car, it is likely to be replaced according to Goodman. Once the company has established itself with its cheaper, all-electric 2 (saloon) and 3 (SUV) models, a new 1 could be on the cards. “We’ll always want a flagship”, Goodman told. +++

+++ PORSCHE may joint the list of companies developing flying taxis for future ‘mobility’ services. The German performance marque may seem an unlikely contender in an industry focused on fully-autonomous aircraft. Such services will initially serve wealthy city dwellers, however, meshing with Porsche’s clientele. Porsche sales & marketing head Detlev von Platen suggests a passenger-carrying drone could slash his commute from Zuffenhausen to the Stuttgart airport, which currently takes at least a half hour by car. “It would take 3,5 minutes with the plane”, he said. The company is said to be preparing a design sketch for its drone taxi vision. Companies involved in similar projects range from Airbus and Uber to DeLorean and Volvo parent Geely, among others. +++

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE is developing a second ultra-low-volume model with bespoke bodywork. The car is planned for the “near future”, says design chief Giles Taylor, and follows the widely admired one-off Sweptail model shown at the Villa d’Este concours event in Italy last year. Taylor implies that there could be more than one example of this next model, although the number will be in the low single figures. The company is exploring models with hand-beaten bodywork as part of its fast-growing bespoke business, says Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös, with the department now staffed with more than 100 designers, engineers, customer liaison staff and more. “It’s the future of luxury”, he says. “People don’t want something others can get. They want something very unique. We’ve invested quite a lot in this. Bespoke is very important – without it, we wouldn’t sell as many cars”. One of the challenges of making panel-beaten bodies is “having the capacity to do it”, Müller-Ötvös adds, because these skills are hard to find. A promising solution “is 3D printing of panels”. Further in the future, perhaps by 2040, Müller-Ötvös believes the advent of autonomous cars and the reduced need for pedestrian protection features could allow more creative scope. “It could bring the old era back”, he says, referencing the last century when bespoke bodywork was built on a separate chassis. Rolls-Royce’s bespoke department is an increasingly busy division in the company, having created several high-profile projects in recent history, including the Sweptail, and it fettled the four cars displayed at the Geneva motor show. Almost every Rolls-Royce ordered today features that department’s handywork at the request of the customer, the brand has previously revealed. The next ultra-exclusive car will likely be not quite as customer-involved as the Sweptail, however. Speaking at the Sweptail launch, Taylor said: “We will probably never repeat the level of involvement we had with a customer for this car ever again, not because we don’t want to but because it’s always fraught with risk that someone may misinterpret the end goal. It’s a risk you might end up with something that doesn’t fit the brand or suit the customer”. +++

+++ The SKODA Superb plug-in hybrid will be sold as a powertrain instead of a trim level, giving customers a number of price options depending on how much equipment they want along with electrified motoring. The Czech brand revealed initial specs for the Superb PHEV recently; it’ll have similar power and torque figures to those of the VW Passat GTE, which sells as a only a couple of trim levels. But Skoda will aim to offer its plug-in hatchback as an engine type instead of a restricted number of versions, potentially allowing customers after an Style spec Superb to choose electrification as easily as a turbocharged petrol or turbodiesel. Skoda’s global sales and marketing boss Alain Favey told: “It will be one powertrain, the hybrid, and it will be offered on different trims. Of course, electrified vehicles have a slightly higher price point, but we want to make it as accessible as possible so we think it’s good to offer this variation”. When it arrives on the market next year the Skoda Superb PHEV will be front-wheel drive and capable of 70 kilometres of pure-electric. Initial technical details released by senior Skoda management show that the car (the Czech manufacturer’s first plug-in vehicle) will mix a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 160 hp with an 115 hp) electric motor integrated into the car’s DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The total combined system output of the two motors will be 220 hp. However, Skoda says the Superb PHEV will be able to travel around 70 km on electric power alone, thanks to a 13 kWh battery that’s larger than the unit found on the VW. The firm’s head of powertrain, Martin Hrdlicka, believes the electrified Superb should deliver an official CO2 emissions figure of around 31 gram/km; 9 gram/km less than the Passat. Hrdlicka admitted that there were “no technical reasons” why the Superb’s powertrain could not be swapped across to the Kodiaq or scaled down to fit into the Octavia and Karoq. But he said the company would have to study customer demand before committing to such a move. “It’s not a question of the technology”, he said, “but we have to see what our customers are expecting from such a product and how much they’re willing to pay for it – because the plug-in hybrid systems don’t come for free. So first we have to see how the Superb goes and the reaction of our customers”. The Superb hybrid could conceivably just carry PHEV badging, although Skoda has applied to trademark a number of potential powertrain ‘sub-brands’. Alongside G-Tec (which the firm uses to designate an engine adapted to use compressed natural gas, CNG) it has made applications to trademark H-Tec and F-Tec. Hrdlicka also revealed that Skoda will have its own battery production facility in Czech Republic by the time it enters the pure-electric market early in the next decade. The firm’s pure electric vehilcle, which will be based, like the Volkswagen I.D. hatchback, on the VW Group’s forthcoming MEB platform, is expected to be some form of SUV, but Skoda has yet to release any details beyond confirming an expected production date of 2020. +++

+++ American president Donald TRUMP has threatened to tax imported cars from the European Union as part of his increasingly vehement rhetoric around trade tariffs. America is the largest export market for cars built in the EU. Statistics show that 200 billion euro worth of cars were exported from the EU last year, with the US the destination for 25 percent of them. Of those cars, just more than half were exported by German car makers. Trump’s comments come as part of a wider focus on imported goods, including proposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. The move is part of his ‘America First’ campaign, in which he has pledged to protect American interests and jobs. He has described existing trade deals that don’t favour America as “very stupid”. The specific threat to the car industry was made in a Tweet, which read: “If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on US companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the US. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” In a second Tweet he added: “Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!” As well as widespread condemnation from car makers, who have pointed out that they manufacturer their most successful models in the US already, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans directly and indirectly, Trump’s comments have brought a mixed reaction from his political allies and opponents. In addition, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau described tariffs as “absolutely unacceptable” and hinted that any tariff would be met with strong resistance and potentially retaliatory action. Brazil, Mexico and Japan have hinted at similar moves. +++

+++ The UNITED KINGDOM new car market declined by 2.8 percent last month as diesel sales continue to tumble, according to new figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). There were 80,805 cars registered in February, a month that’s traditionally lower than average due to the new plate arriving in March. But the impact on sales due to the pressure being put on diesel-powered cars is clear, with sales down 23.5 percent for oil burning models. Conversely, petrol sales were up by 14.4 percent, with the fuel type accounting for 48,941 cars, or 60.6 percent of the market, an 8.5 percent growth on February 2017 and key cause for the UK’s recent growth in automotive CO2 emissions per car. While the demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) continued to grow, with demand up by 7.2 percent to 3.547 registered. The changes have ensured the new car market is down by 5.1 percent on this time last year, registrations by business, private and fleet buyers were down 29.8 percent, 7.1 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. Diesel now accounts for just 35.6 percent of the market, down from 45 percent at this point in 2017. AFV market share is up by a percent, although these lower emission models still account for just 5.1 percent of overall new car registrations. The trends back predictions that 2018 will be the second consecutive year of declining new car demand, as pressure on diesel and economic uncertainty continues to hamper sales. “Although the new car market has dipped, it remains at a good level despite the drop in demand for diesel”, said SMMT boss Mike Hawes. “Consumers should be reassured, however, that the latest cars are the cleanest in history and can help address air quality issues, which is why they are exempt from any restrictions”. The Ford Fiesta remained Britain’s favourite car in February, with 5.201 registrations, while the Volkswagen Golf is second after 2.927 cars were registered. Ford’s Focus was the third most popular model, with 2.052 cars delivered in February. It meant the top3 remained unchanged compared with the month before. Although March is traditionally a peak for new car sales in a year, due to the plate change, Mike Hawes believes that demand will remain comparably low due to a “further softening”. This will be emphasised by the fact that March 2017 was a record month as registrations were pulled forward to avoid VED changes. +++

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