+++ The future of the ALFA ROMEO MiTo hangs in the balance, with Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne revealing at the Geneva Motor Show that a change of direction was possible for the car. More will become clear when the brand’s new strategy is revealed at a presentation on 1 June, but it’s already evident that the car will not continue in its current form. “If there is a MiTo in future, I don’t think it will be in the current shape”, said Marchionne. “The market has shrunk: 2-door B segment hatchbacks is a very shrinking market”. With SUV sales exploding, one possibility is that the MiTo namepplate could be transferred to a small crossover. Alfa Romeo is focused on delivering more SUVs instead of replacements for the Giulietta and MiTo, while the firm’s boss, Reid Bigland, even suggesting last year that those models could be dropped altogether. This tallies with current trends in the market, although Alfa Romeo’s chief technical officer, Roberto Fedeli, has since hinted that a replacement for the Giulietta remains on the cards. Nonetheless, the success of the Giulia and Stelvio have carved out a new identity for the Italian brand, and models such as the Giulietta and MiTo don’t fit the new mould according to Bigland. “They’re still selling, but they’re very Euro-centric; we don’t sell them in the US and we won’t roll them into China”, Bigland said. “The new Alfa Romeo is defined by the 4C, Stelvio and Giulia; that’s what we’re focusing on”, he added. “The Giulietta and MiTo are 2 very good cars but they’re not at that same level of Giulia and Stelvio; and the benchmark we have set at Alfa Romeo is much more consistent with the Giulia and Stelvio”. Alfa’s focus for new models will also shift from Europe to Asia and North America, where the big volume markets are SUVs and crossovers. “For a new Alfa going forward, our lens is less on Europe, more on the entire world”, Bigland stated. “Certainly in China and North America the small compact car segments where the Giulietta and MiTo would compete are the smallest segments. Small compact cars in those markets are very difficult proposition right now”. Bigland added that Alfa is focusing on the biggest growth market (SUVs) and said buyers “shouldn’t be surprised to see something from Alfa Romeo in the largest markets”. That’s a thinly veiled reference to a larger SUV that’s believed to be in the pipeline. It will use architecture from the Maserati Levante and sit above the Stelvio in the line-up. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN has confirmed that its upcoming ‘baby Valkyrie‘, designed to rival the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 720S, will use a hybrid powertrain. During a discussion with journalists at the Geneva Motor Show, chief executive Andy Palmer revealed that the mid-engine supercar will be co-developed with the Red Bull Racing Formula One team and launch in 2020. Palmer didn’t provide specifics about the forthcoming supercar’s powertrain, but alongside confirming it will be a hybrid, he ruled out the possibility of a V12 due to weight. A version of the Mercedes-AMG 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is probably the most likely choice. When paired with an electric motor, a horsepower figure in the mid-700s should be achievable. It isn’t just the powertrain which will distinguish the model from all other Aston Martins. Palmer also stated that it will be based around a bespoke carbon fiber monocoque complete with aluminum front and rear crash structures. Like the Valkyrie, these underpinnings should allow the supercar to be exceptionally light. Palmer also said the Valkyrie exists solely for the very reason of putting Aston Martin on the map for creating mid-engine supercars. “The reason we do Valkyrie is to prepare the ground for the acceptance of a Ferrari 488 competitor. Aston has never done a mid-engined car before but, fast-forward 3 years, and if you’re already famous for the fastest car in the world and you’ve been in Formula 1 and, hopefully, won a few titles, then all of a sudden it’s obvious Aston should have a mid-engined supercar”, he commented. +++

+++ AUDI has officially confirmed that a hot SQ2 is on the way, though the new performance Q2 won’t be a full blooded RS model. Confirmed by company bosses at the annual Audi Press Conference, the SQ2 will arrive on sale later this year, and is expected to boast 265 hp. It’ll be one of 11 new SUVs from Audi planned to arrive in showrooms before the end of 2019. The brand applied to register ‘SQ2′ as a trademark with the global trademark office back in 2013, with first test mules appearing on track and on road almost 2 years ago, shortly after the regular Q2’s European market launch. Given the fact that Audi is testing the car both on and off track, I expect bosses are keen to make this one of the best handling cars in the crossover class. It’ll rival models like the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 (sitting below its bigger brother, the RS Q3). The SQ2 is likely to use the 4-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo motor from the Audi S3. There, it produces 310 hp, but given the Q2’s lower status in the Audi family it could be detuned to nearer 265 hp. With standard Quattro four-wheel drive, it would slot into the maker’s growing SQ range of hot SUVs alongside the SQ5 and SQ7. +++

+++ BMW says it isn’t developing any cars without a steering wheel or pedals, despite the ongoing rise of autonomous technologies. BMW spokesman for Corporate Communications and Politics, Wieland Bruch, said future BMW models will remain driver-focused. “The whole reason why there is BMW as a brand is that customers individualize their products and that they come with emotional appeal. Our key to success in the future is that we must keep driving as an individualized and emotionally aspirational topic. We can also say that if a BMW model can drive autonomously, it will still come with a steering wheel and the customer has the choice. We have no car under development where there are no pedals or there is no steering wheel”, Bruch confirmed. Speaking on the same topic, head of Product and Brand Communications at BMW, Eckhard Wannieck, gave the example of the bold Vision Next 100 Concept from 2 years ago as to how future BMW drivers will have the choice of driving if they choose. Despite the concept‘s other-worldly design, it had a steering wheel and pedals. “The key message of this car was that it still has a steering wheel. BMWs will always have a steering wheel and you have the driver orientation where the focus is on the ultimate driving machine and ultimate driving pleasure”, he said. Not all brands share BMW’s commitment to traditional driving controls. Volkswagen, for example, recently unveiled its I.D. Vizzion concept as the flagship of its I.D. range without a steering wheel or pedals. +++

+++ GEELY boss and billionaire businessman Li Shufu didn’t only look at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles before buying a 10 per cent stake in Daimler. Germany’s Spiegel reports that he also considered investing in BMW. The publication claims that Li promised he could give BMW better access to the Chinese market in exchange for the know-how to the automaker’s electric technologies. No reason has been given for why BMW rejected Li’s proposal, but the German brand has since partnered with Great Wall Motor to sell and produce electric vehicles in China, including Mini. Ultimately, Li settled on Daimler and purchased a 9.69 per cent stake in the brand in a move worth almost 9 billion dollar at current market prices. He is now Daimler’s largest shareholder, taking the top spot from the Kuwait Investment Authority which has a 6.8 per cent stake. Geely is thought to have settled on Daimler to benefit from to the company’s EV technologies, as the Chinese government is requiring local manufacturers to produce an increasing number of zero-emissions cars. However, not everyone within Daimler is sold on Li’s plans. During the Geneva Motor Show, an unnamed Mercedes-Benz executive said: “Ideally we want a win-win alliance. Handing Volvo and Geely our Mercedes technology is not win-win”. In addition, Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche said that any possible technology sharing with Geely must not comprise the partnership the Germans have with China’s BAIC. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said that Chevrolet will start building more Bolt EVs (Opel Ampera-e) at the Orion Assembly plant later this year thanks to the increasing global demand. “Increased Bolt EV production benefits our customers around the world, our dealers and our employees, who are proud to build an affordable, ground-breaking vehicle that our customers love”, said Barra. “And there is more to come because the Bolt EV is our platform providing a window into our all-electric and self-driving future”. Barra said that the Bolt EV, along with the Volt plug-in hybrid and the Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid accounted for nearly a quarter of the industry’s EV and plug-in sales. GM also expects a strong performance in China as well, having introduced there models like the Buick Velite 5 and Baojun e100 along with the CT6 Plug-in. “And this is just the beginning. We are well on our way to bringing at least 20 new all-electric models to market by 2023, our next step toward a zero-emissions world”, Barra added. Chevrolet produced 22,398 Bolt EVs in 2017, its first full year of production. The carmaker sold 23,297 units of the Bolt in the U.S. last year, despite availability being limited to certain states. GM’s boss didn’t disclose figures considering the Bolt’s upcoming production increase, but said that the EV’s assembly line can be easily adjusted to churn out bigger numbers. +++

+++ Speaking about the new Grand Wagoneer, JEEP chief Mike Manley acknowledged the long wait by saying “We’ve been working on it for several years” and noted the SUV has had a “long gestation period”. The model is expected to be unveiled next year and Manley confirmed it will be “super premium” and “clearly positioned significantly above the Grand Cherokee”. Pricing remains unclear but the Grand Wagoneer will compete with luxury SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon Denali, and Lincoln Navigator. The model will be significantly more expensive than the rest of the Jeep lineup. Manely even suggested there could be more luxurious versions of the Grand Wagoneer in the future. Besides talking about the Grand Wagoneer, Manley said “I believe there is an opportunity to do an A-segment SUV, something smaller than Renegade”. Little is known about the model but previous reports have suggested it could be sold exclusively outside of North America where smaller vehicles are more popular. We’ll learn more about Jeep’s future plan this summer as Manley confirmed FCA’s latest 5-year plan will be revealed on June 1st. The executive declined to go into specifics but he said the company has “very significant” plans for electrification. The company has already dipped its toes in these waters as the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine on the Wrangler features an eTorque system. Manley has also previously revealed a Wrangler plug-in hybrid will arrive in 2020. +++

+++ Last year was a good one for LAMBORGHINI . The Italian automaker managed to shift 3,815 units, which was an increase of 10 percent compared to 2016. Despite having an awesome year, Lamborghini, just like everyone else, is looking to grow in the SUV segment. The Italian brand did this by introducing the Urus, which has, apparently, been a hit. Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini’s CEO, said that Urus sales have exceeded expectations. He states that buyers are actually spending around 40,000 dollar extra on options for the vehicle. “We were expecting a positive feedback from the customers, but not at the level we are receiving now”, said Domenicali. “The reaction of the customer is really fantastic”. Thanks to the new SUV, Lamborghini is expecting to sell even more cars that last year. According to Domenicali, the company is planning to end 2018 with a production figure of 5,000 vehicles. That’s 1,185 more units than 2017, and Lambo’s CEO believes that the Urus will account for at least 1,000 of those extra units. Interestingly, the outlet states that the Urus is drawing new consumers to the brand, as 70 percent of buyers are using the SUV as their entry into the world of Lamborghinis. Moreover, he was surprised by the number of women who bought the Urus. The Urus is also selling well in areas that have bad roads, like Russia and India, where the brand has a hard time moving its supercars. That makes sense, as the Urus’ tall ride height makes it the better choice for those regions with less than smooth tarmac. So, is Lamborghini looking to increase sales considerably over the next few years? Domenicali claimed that production figures will always be low (probably less than 10,000 units annually, I guess) and the vehicles will be built to the highest standards. +++

 +++ It’s been a while since I last talked about MAZDA bringing back the rotary engine, something that’s been on and off the cards for a number of years. The RX-Vision concept that was revealed in 2015 made everyone cry “just build it!”, but Hiroshima has remained coy about it. I already knew that the automaker was working on an electric vehicle that would use a rotary not to propel the wheels, but as a range extender. Now, though, there’s official confirmation from a company exec that a car with such a powertrain is indeed coming our way in 2019. Martijn ten Brink, Mazda Motor Europe’s Vice President of Sales and Customer Service, told that the long-awaited return of the rotary engine will indeed happen next year, though it might not be in the way its fans would expect. “With our Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 strategy, we have outlined a complete plan for our future”, ten Brink told. “An electric car is part of that plan, mainly because some markets require us to do so”. He also said that, despite the Electric Vehicle (EV), Mazda still has faith in conventional engines: “As far as we’re concerned, the internal combustion engine is far from written off. Even in 15 to 25 years, it will still be present in cars, simply because hybrids and plug-in hybrids require an internal combustion engine, too”. The new EV that will debut next year will, according to the Japanese automaker’s exec, be built on its new modular small car platform and will be close to the Mazda3 in size. It will use a single-rotor engine mounted horizontally instead of vertically, as it used to be until now, as a range extender, pretty much like the e-Palette concept that was unveiled by Toyota at this year’s CES convention. In a rather unexpected twist, though, he added that it won’t necessarily be powering a sports car. In fact, Mazda may pull a Mitsubishi Eclipse stunt and use this powertrain on a crossover. Now, having whetted my appetite not just with the RX-Vision, but the striking RX-Vision Coupe that was displayed last year at the Tokyo Motor Show as well, it would be an anticlimax to see an SUV instead of the proper sports car we have been waiting since 2012, when the last RX-8 rolled off the assembly line. On the other hand, maybe ten Brink is sandbagging, trying to keep the exact identity of Mazda’s first-ever EV a secret. At least I sure hope he does, as either of these concepts would do just fine in production guise, even if the rotary takes a back seat to electric motors. +++

+++ Despite poor sales, MERCEDES still has faith in the SL, so the roadster will live on for a new generation. The successor of the current car, which has been around since 2013 and refreshed for the 2017MY, is already in development, said the company’s CEO, Dieter Zetsche. “We are working on a next generation of the SL. The plan is to make a real wow car, a stunning car”, Zetsche said. “Whenever we accomplished that in the past, the SL has had a very good performance in the market place, and that’s where we want to go”. Further details about the new luxury roadster haven’t been disclosed, but the answer to some questions comes from a previous report, which claims that the next-gen is due in 2021. The SL is said to be developed alongside the second-gen AMG GT, which is expected to arrive one year later, and to be sportier than the current model. In addition to extensive use of aluminum, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz SL will also get rear-wheel steering, optional air suspension, all-wheel drive and a slightly longer wheelbase to accommodate 2 rear seats. Elsewhere, electrified powertrains are believed to be offered, too, and some speak about a possible plug-in hybrid variant to serve as an 800 hp range-topper. However, that seems unlikely, given that the true ‘wow’ factor will be reserved for the next AMG GT. The latter’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, however, probably in a different state of tune, is expected to find its way under the new SL’s bonnet. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI used to be a company that, apart from the mainstream models, also made sports coupes and hardcore sedans. Nowadays, though, the Japanese company is focusing on the SUVs and crossovers, which might not satisfy petrolheads but is good for sales. And while it already has quite a few SUVs, the brand is reportedly looking into adding another one to its lineup. Tsuneshiro Kunimoto, the vice president and general manager of Mitsubishi design, said the brand is indeed considering a new crossover. “Yes, that is one thing we are looking at. A new SUV”, said Kunimoto-san. “The SUV is still growing, also in China and Europe, so it would be a good decision for Mitsubishi”. When we hear that Mitsubishi wants to add another tall, chunky vehicle to its lineup, we can only hope for a successor to the Pajero. The SUV, which is also sold under the Shogun name, is still available in some parts of the world. The automaker’s lineup already consists of multiple SUVs and crossovers, but there’s an obvious gap for an off-roader. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance will also provide the Japanese brand with possible components to use from Nissan, which has a few vehicles that are capable of getting dirty. This could help Mitsubishi build a competitor to the Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Wrangler and upcoming Ford Bronco while limiting its development costs, though we doubt they’ll go for a hardcore off-roader as Kunimoto spoke about an SUV. Either way, Mitsubishi’s exec sees room for growth: “Mitsubishi is robust and ingenious. Look at the Pajero at Dakar, for example. Thanks to the new alliance, we have so many choices. Mitsubishi will continue to grow”. Kunimoto didn’t discose when the new SUV would make its debut, but did say that development is currently in progress and that it could feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain. +++

+++ The next PORSCHE 911 will gain a plug-in hybrid version but since this is Porsche we’re talking about, it will be the new king of the range per the company’s boss. “The 911 plug-in must be a very strong performing car”, said Porsche boss Oliver Blume. “It will be the most powerful 911 we’ve ever had; 700 hp might be possible”. The electrified version of the next-generation 911 will still use a turbocharged flat-six engine, only now it’ll be complimented by an electric motor with at least 136 hp, which is the power made by the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid’s motor. Porsche is keen to celebrate the existence of the plug-in hybrid powertrain in the new 911, with the engineers to add a special button for added electric punch, Blume added. The plug-in hybrid architecture will be bespoke to the new Porsche 911, mainly because of its unique configuration, but the company will use the experience earned with the hybrid versions of the Panamera and the 918 Spyder. However, don’t expect it to show up from the launch of the Porsche 992, the codename of the next 911, as Porsche plans to add the plug-in hybrid version in the lineup a couple of years later. The next generation of the Porsche 911 is expected to debut at the Paris Motor Show this October. +++

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