+++ ASTON MARTIN is readying a harder version of its four-door Rapide, which will wear the AMR badge. Aston Martin unveiled the AMR brand at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, confirming the imminent arrival of both AMR and harder, track-biased AMR Pro versions of its line-up. The Rapide AMR itself was previewed in concept form at the show, complete with a series of sportier design tweaks inside and out, plus a dose of additional power. The Rapide AMR Aston Martin is preparing to offer to customers will be almost completely unchanged from last year’s Geneva preview. The new front apron with its large lower section lights and chin spoiler is unchanged, while fresh side skirts are also present. Around the back, an aggressive looking rear diffuser appears, complete with the AMR brand’s trademark lime green detailing. A new lip spoiler sits on the bootlid too. Expect new sports seats and a smattering of naked carbon fibre on the dashboard and around the interior to separate the Rapide AMR from the standard car. Aston will deliver the AMR badged Rapide with a bit more power to accompany its punchier looks. It’ll still make use of the standard car’s naturally aspirated 6.0-litre V12, though power will climb to 600 hp thanks mainly to the adoption of a new exhaust system. Chassis revisions are due too, while the top speed will climb to 336 km/h. Last year, Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer confirmed a production run of 210 Rapide AMRs. It’ll arrive on sale towards the end of 2018, likely priced from around  300.000 euro in The Netherlands. +++

+++ DIESEL sales may never recover, even if technical advances make it a more environmentally friendly fuel than alternatives, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne believes. “The disengagement is happening. Since Dieselgate, the share of diesel sales has reduced month by month”, said Marchionne. “There’s no point denying that, and it’s clear that the cost of making diesel reach the new standards is going to become prohibitive”. The FCA Group is set to unveil its next 5-year plan to investors on 1 June, and Marchionne has already said that the firm will end sales of diesel models for its Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep and Maserati brands by 2022, reasoning that electrified technology will deliver better returns than investing in a new generation of diesel engines. “We have to lessen our reliance on diesel substantially”, he said. “Whatever the arguments on each side, the markets have turned against diesel and almost killed it. I’m not sure we have the strength as the FCA Group or as an industry to turn it around”. At the height of the Dieselgate scandal, authorities accused a diesel engine in the Fiat 500X of using a cheat device; a claim that the crossover’s maker vigorously denied. +++

+++ The switch from combustion engined to ELECTRIFIED powertrains will bring greater societal issues than the car industry alone can either consider or address, PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares has warned. Outlining his firm’s strategy to have half its cars electrified in some form by 2020, and to offer a fully electrified line up by 2025, Tavares highlighted his concerns that the pivot to electrification wasn’t being driven by a full understanding of the consequences. “What I wonder about is who is taking the 360 degree view?” said Tavares. “There is so much more to consider than selling electrified cars, from the battery creation to the battery recycling, from the rare metals being used to the extraction techniques to get them, to what it means for taxation, the total cost of ownership, the charging point infrastructure and more. If you want clean energy you need to ask how you produce that energy. From my perspective, the current strategy around this 360 degree view is lacking clarity. The car industry is moving quickly and strongly, but from cities to governments I am a little worried that the answer is that nobody has a cohesive approach. If they miss something then the whole strategy could backfire on us, not just as an industry but on citizens as a whole”. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER is to cut 1,000 jobs at its site in Solihull, citing a fall in diesel vehicle sales, the company has confirmed. The jobs losses at the site have been restricted to agency workers, with many contracts not being renewed. Production levels at the site, which currently builds models such as the Jaguar XE and Land Rover Discovery, will be reduced as a result. In a statement JLR said: “In light of the continuing headwinds impacting the car industry, we are making some adjustments to our production schedules and the level of agency staff. We are however continuing to recruit large numbers of highly skilled engineers, graduates and apprentices as we are over-proportionally investing in new products and technologies”. Year to date, Land Rover’s sales have slumped by 20 percent compared to the same period last year. Jaguar’s sales, meanwhile, have plummeted by over 26 percent. In March the market share of diesel dropped to 32.4 percent, although petrol upped its share to 62.5 percent. Despite the job losses the company went on to say: “We also remain committed to our UK plants in which we have invested more than 4.5 billion euro since 2010 to future proof manufacturing technologies to deliver new models”. +++

+++ Ford’s premium LINCOLN brand plans to build as many as 5 new vehicles in China by 2022, according to 2 U.S. sources, in a move to expand sales in the world’s largest vehicle market that would also blunt the impact of trade U.S-China trade spats. Ford has said it plans to build an all-new SUV in China by the end of 2019, however the company has not detailed future production plans for the Lincoln brand in China beyond that. “Our localization plans to support the China market are on track and will serve to further drive Lincoln’s growth in China”, Lincoln spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said. “Beyond that, it would be premature to discuss our future product and production plans or timing”. Sources familiar with Ford’s production plans told the automaker now expects to begin building the new Lincoln Aviator in China in late 2019 or early 2020, along with replacements for the MKC compact crossover and the MKZ midsize sedan, followed in 2021 by the all-new Nautilus, which replaces the Lincoln MKX crossover. A 5th model, a small coupe-like crossover, is tentatively slated for production in China in 2022, the sources said. Ford has much to lose if the war of words over trade between China and U.S. President Donald Trump escalates into a full-blown tariff war. Last year, it shipped about 80,000 vehicles to China from North America, more than half of them Lincolns to support the brand’s growth. All Lincoln vehicles that Ford now sells in China are brought in from North America. Even if China does reduce its 25 percent tariff on imported vehicles (as Chinese President Xi Jinping promised) it is not clear that would mean a big, long-term increase in Fords and Lincolns made in U.S. factories heading to Chinese showrooms. Ford is pursuing long-range plans to build more vehicles in China to serve a market that is now roughly 60 percent larger than the U.S. market, and projected to keep growing. But it is playing catch up to hometown rival General Motors and German luxury brands including Audi, BMW and Mercedes, which have invested heavily in Chinese production in recent years as a form of insurance against trade, political and currency gyrations and to lower price points for their premium cars. Chinese vehicle imports from all markets last year climbed to 1.2 million, but still represent less than 5 percent of total vehicle sales in the country, according to figures from the China Automobile Dealers Association. Less than a quarter of the imported vehicles sold in China (267,473 according to Statista) came from U.S. auto plants. The current 25-percent tariff rate makes it tough for Ford’s American premium brand to compete with GM’s Cadillac and the Germans, which avoid the import tariff on their locally built vehicles. “As long as Lincolns are not manufactured in China, the brand’s sales will no doubt suffer continuously”, Zhu Kongyuan, Secretary General of the China Auto Dealers Chamber of Commerce (CADCC), told. The Lincoln brand launched in China 4 years ago, and local production of the first Lincoln-brand vehicles will not start for another 18-24 months, people familiar with the company’s plans said. The entire localization process could take Ford as long as 4 years. All 5 Lincoln models are expected to offer hybrid gasoline-electric variants, to help Ford meet China’s tough new quotas for electrified vehicles, the sources said. While it sold 54,124 vehicles in China last year (a record for the brand) Lincoln continues to trail Cadillac and the German luxury brands by a wide margin in that market. Cadillac, which was launched by General Motors in China in 2004, builds in China virtually all of the vehicles it sells there and thus avoids the steep import duty. Cadillac outsold Lincoln by more than three-to-one in China last year, selling a total of 175,489 vehicles though a network of roughly 180 retail stores. China is Cadillac’s largest market. If Beijing follows through on its threat to double import tariffs before Lincoln can ramp up local production, the resulting price hikes on its imported models could persuade many people to buy a Cadillac or a Lexus instead, said CADCC’s Zhu. +++

+++ A bespoke, all-electric hypercar will be launched under the PININFARINA name and badge, owner Mahindra has revealed. Set to be called Automobili Pininfarina, the legendary design house is to spin off its very own, all-new luxury electric car brand, with the first model under the name due in 2020. The company will be based in Europe, where its future cars will be designed, engineered and manufactured across sites in Italy and Germany. Mahindra says that lessons learned from its participation in Formula E will be applied to the cars, with the first Automobili Pininfarina model arriving as a electric hypercar. Mahindra was one of the original teams for the all-electric single seater series, entering in the inaugural 2014-15 season. The team is currently second in the Constructors’ Championship this season, having racked up 2 race victories. While we’re waiting to see the vehicle, Pininfarina claims that the 2020 hypercar will be capable of 0-100 km/h in less than 2 seconds, rivalling the next-generation Tesla Roadster. A top speed of 400 km/h has been touted. A production run of around 90 examples is planned for now, with a 500 kilometer range. The company has named former Volkswagen Group executive Michael Perschke as its first chief executive officer, who said: “I am honoured to lead Automobili Pininfarina and our ambition is to make it a respected and desirable brand recognised by connoisseurs who value design heritage, substance, and sustiainable high performance EV technology”. +++

+++ TOYOTA has started developing its next 86 sports car model with Subaru, aiming to launch the compact rear-wheel-drive sports vehicle around 2021 with improved performance, according to sources. The 86 (Hachi-roku) sports car will be produced at Subaru’s plant in Gunma Prefecture. Toyota hopes the new model will attract new customers and raise its corporate image, the sources said. The new 86 model is likely to have an engine size of 2,400 cc, up from the current 2,000 cc, and will provide a lower center of gravity for greater stability in curves. Subaru will sell a model of the newly developed car under the BRZ name that will be equipped with safety gears, including automatic brakes and could also adopt its Eye Sight driver assistance system. The original 86, jointly planned and designed by Toyota and Subaru, was first rolled out in 2012. The car was named after the AE86 chassis code of the Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno coupes that gained popularity in the 1980s. Compared with Toyota’s popular Prius and C-HR that both sell over 100,000 units annually, only around 7,200 units of the 86 sports car were sold in 2017. The sports car has attracted core fans, however, due to its reasonable price and solid performance, with owners often exchanging information on the internet and getting together on weekends for drives. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has chosen Herbert Diess as its new chief executive in an overhaul that includes streamlining the company’s multiple car brands into just three groups while preparing its truck business for a potential listing. The plans were announced after Volkswagen board of directors ousted Matthias Müller as CEO and discussed ways to overhaul the company, which spans motorbikes, buses, trucks and passenger car brands including Ducati, Bentley, Porsche, Audi, Scania and Skoda. Müller’s replacement with VW brand chief Diess follows slow progress in reorganizing the group’s car brands, a key pillar of “Strategy 2025” to transform the Germany’s biggest car company into a leader in cleaner cars and to move on from its diesel emissions scandal of 2015. For Volkswagen its the biggest overhaul since it became a multi-brand conglomerate under former chief executive Ferdinand Piech, a grandson of VW Beetle designer Ferdinand Porsche. Under the plans, Volkswagen will divide itself into 6 new business areas, plus a portfolio for China, as part of an effort to decentralize responsibility and improve efficiency. The carmaker will prepare its truck and bus division for “capital market readiness” by making it a public limited company as a prelude to a potential listing, confirming a Reuters report from last month. The new car brands will be Volume, Premium and Super Premium. Sources had told that VW would reorganize its brands into these groups. Analysts welcomed the appointment of Diess, a former BMW executive who has more than doubled profitability at the VW brand since taking charge in 2015. “Diess is a man of action, he is the most plausible choice at VW to lead the group into the next phase of its transformation”, said Nord LB analyst Frank Schwope, who has a “buy” rating on Volkswagen. Separately, VW said works council executive Gunnar Kilian, a close aide to labor boss Bernd Osterloh, will replace group human resources chief Karlheinz Blessing who will stay at VW as an adviser. Sources told that Kilian would replace Blessing. Purchasing chief Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz, the longest-serving top executive at VW, will leave the company, the carmaker said. VW will tighten leadership duties within the group and empower the heads of the three vehicle categories to take on company-wide responsibilities. With VW’s core namesake brand shouldering the bulk of development spending within the group, Diess will also become responsible for R&D activities across the group. Rupert Stadler, CEO of the premium brand Audi, will take charge of group sales. Oliver Blume, head of sports car brand Porsche and newly appointed to the group executive board, will oversee production at the multi-brand organization, VW said. Diess, Stadler and Blume will also take charge of the new groups Volume, Premium and Super Premium respectively, VW said, without giving more details. The German carmaker’s deliberations come as rival carmakers and suppliers including Fiat and Daimler work on ways to slim down and divest non-core assets. Analysts at Goldman Sachs say there is 160 billion euros worth of “hidden value” in the European autos sector that could be unlocked through portfolio simplifications. +++

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