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+++ ASTON MARTIN is developing an ultra-high-performance GT model to succeed the current Vanquish that will return the iconic DBS Superleggera nameplate to production. The car’s new name hints at a big jump in performance compared with Aston’s present front-engined super-GT. Due for reveal in June before arriving in showrooms later this year, the DBS Superleggera will move away from the luxury-focused Vanquish and its present rivals, such as the Bentley Continental GT, to compete against proper performance models such as the 800 hp Ferrari 812 Superfast. Company boss Andy Palmer stated his intentions for this harder Vanquish successor to Autocar last year, alongside confirmation that a convertible version (a successor to the Vanquish Volante) will follow. More recently, Aston chief creative officer Marek Reichman emphasised the DBS Superleggera’s potential, stating that the brand has “pushed the boundaries of performance and design to give this car a distinct character and ensure it’s worthy of the heritage and weight that this name carries”. With this in mind, the upcoming super-grand tourer will adopt the turbocharged 5.2-litre V12 engine used by the DB11 but is set to produce considerably more than the 608 hp offered by that car. The current Vanquish S uses a 6.0-litre V12 unit with 603 hp, suggesting the DBS Superleggera could offer in excess of 700 hp. Although it’ll share some parts with its Vantage and DB11 siblings, the DBS Superleggera’s harder focus has been clear from even the earliest stages of development. Mules were fitted with larger aerodynamic pieces, hinting at the higher downforce that will be produced by the finished model. Now that test cars wearing their own bodywork have been spotted, it’s clear that the DBS Superleggera will also differ from its siblings with larger headlights and a more muscular rear section. The car corners with less body roll, the result of a firmer chassis set-up. The DBS Superleggera is part of a major product offensive for Aston Martin. The British marque will also launch the DBX cross-over in 2019, to be built at the new factory in St Athan, Wales. In addition, there will be 2 Lagonda models. The first will be a saloon, previewed by the recent Lagonda Vision Concept (due 2021) and it will be followed by an SUV to rival the Bentley Bentayga in 2022. Aston Martin plans to launch a mid-engined rival to the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 720S in 2021. The car, which will inherit the Vanquish name, has been signed off for production and will use an all-new 6 cylinder engine. The new cars will sit beneath the brand’s halo model, the Valkyrie hypercar. +++

+++ The launch in September of AUDI ’s first pure-electric car, the E-tron, and the increased amount of digital content in such models mean the German firm is completely reinventing the way it approaches quality procedures at its factories. “Audi is going through its biggest change ever as it transitions to become a digital company”, said head of quality assurance Werner Zimmermann, “and quality is one of our core competences, with our customers having expectations for the function, comfort, value and reliability of our cars”. All of the quality departments, covering 500 vehicle functions and their 2.800 staff, mostly based at Audi’s Ingolstadt HQ in Germany, are adopting new procedures to deal with the increased electrical complexity of the Audi of the future. For example, a battery-electric Audi will be equipped with more than 100 computer control nodes and generate 100,000 signals in its electrical wiring, compared with the 12,000 signals that a typical combustion-engined car generates today. Audi’s quality teams get most directly involved in new car launches in the final 6 to 10 months of the typical 4-year product cycle, when they can best influence the quality of the finished model. An Audi’s tight panel gaps don’t happen by luck. Metrology is the science of measurement and Audi is using digital advances to improve the correlation between design and manufacture to improve the 0.2 mm panel-gap tolerance. Currently, a master jig is created 10 months ahead of Job One (the start of production), when production tooling becomes available to fine-tune the body to a perfect panel fit. Audi uses the same 0.2 mm tolerance in its interiors, which also have their own master jig. A new bit of kit in the department is an optical jig, built around two 16 MPM digital cameras mounted on robotic arms, which can build up a 3D picture of a complete production body in 4 hours; a 100 GB file. The ‘tactile’ scanners of old took 48 hours to do a similar but less thorough job. This scan can be compared with the original computer-aided designs and the high and low spots where the production tools are lacking accuracy can then be projected back onto a body to show exactly where the press tooling should be adjusted. The next step is to completely digitise the master jig for every Audi car body and further increase production quality and reduce tolerances by half to just 0.1 mm. Audi is subjecting its first EV to on-road validation in readiness for its 2018 launch. “Things are changing in the day of the connected car”, says Arnd von dem Bussche-Hünnefeld, head of total vehicle quality. His team runs 600 or so test vehicles, which transmit real-time test data back to Ingolstadt, allowing faster troubleshooting. The new A8, with its self-driving functions, for example, logs 50 GB of data in an 8-hour shift. A less complex A3 generates 3 GB. Audi has also added a new subjective evaluation system to its 2 established quantitative criteria to deal with the increased complexity of driver assistance systems. A tablet-based CarPad is linked to the data-logging system to allow test drivers to input their assessment of test cars. “The technology is not speeding up development but allowing us to cope with 30 to 50 percent more data”, says von dem Bussche-Hünnefeld. In fact, development for Electric Vehicles is slightly slower because charging batteries slows down the process. The centrepiece of Audi’s work on advanced materials is a focus ion beam (FIB) scanning electron microscope, worth a cool 2 million euro. This fires a beam of electrons into the component under test and can reveal detail of up to 5 micro-metre definition in semi-conductors, coatings, films, paint, bearings and sensors. Most recently, FIB scanning revealed delamination at the interface of a thin adhesive layer as the root cause of a problem on the new A8’s touchscreen, seen as bubbles on the screen to the human eye. The work allowed the supplier to change the adhesive and solve the problem. In one of many anonymous-looking labs, a team of 4 semiconductor engineers is perfecting computer chips and circuit boards for in-car use. “There are up to 8.000 semiconductors combined into a vehicle today”, says Stefan Simon, a senior engineer, “and 80 percent of the innovations are based on semiconductors”. The lab has recently worked to validate Audi’s organic LED tail-lights for production. The OLED is only a few micro-metres thick and bonded onto a 0.5 mm glass substrate. OLEDs create the distinctive ‘waterfall’ pattern of Audi indicators. Also cleared for production here is the laser scanner (or Lidar) used in the A8 for Level 3 self-driving. The device is made by supplier Valeo but validated for use by Audi at Ingolstadt. +++

+++ CADILLAC CEO Johan de Nysschen has left the company, replaced by General Motors Canada president Steve Carlisle. “We appreciate Johan’s efforts over the last 4 years in setting a stronger foundation for Cadillac”, GM said in a statement. “Looking forward, the world is changing rapidly, and, beginning with the launch of the new XT4, it is paramount that we capitalize immediately on the opportunities that arise from this rate of change. This move will further accelerate our efforts in that regard”. De Nysschen was poached from Infiniti in 2014 after Cadillac had been left out of the broader double-digit growth in the luxury segment. The new chief attempted to make Cadillac a more distinct entity, establishing a new headquarters in a trendy New York City neighborhood. The former Audi executive intended to transform Cadillac into a competitive luxury brand, rather than a discount alternative to German and Japanese rivals. He led a naming shift, starting with the flagship CT6 sedan. The brand appeared slow to expand its SUV lineup, however, as buyers continued to shift away from cars. Cadillac’s US sales fell by nearly 5 percent in 2016 and 9 percent in 2017. Ongoing growth for the XT5 has helped the brand recover slightly in the first 3 months of 2018, but dealers will have to wait until fall before the XT4 arrives. A GM lifer, Carlisle has been praised for leading a “resurgence of the GM Canada franchise”. +++

+++ The government of CHINA will remove ownership limits on foreign car companies by 2022, opening the world’s largest car market to more global investment and providing brands with their best opportunity yet to crack the country. Currently, non-Chinese companies can only build cars in China via joint ventures, such as FAW-Volkswagen. But new plans outlined by Chinese president Xi Jinping will remove the requirement for them to partner with a Chinese firm and own no more than 50 percent of the venture. Such a change is expected to especially benefit companies interested in investing in China’s electric car technology sector, which is considered to be among the most advanced in the world. China’s strict emissions limits have encouraged rapid growth in this area. Dozens of technology start-ups have been established in recent years to create zero-emissions models. Xi’s new plans also include lowering tariffs on imported vehicles; they currently stand at an unusually high 25 percent. Such a change could drastically boost the number of sales of imported vehicles in China. The impact this could have would be substantial, not least because the Chinese market is vast. Last year, 23.900.000 cars were sold in China, which comfortably beat the 15.630.000 sold in European Union and European Free Trade Association countries. +++

+++ British motorists are more likely to opt for HYBRID than diesel when they buy their next car, according to the results of a survey compiled by the National Franchised Dealer Association (NFDA). Of the 1.000 respondents in the study, of which 490 were male and 510 were female, just 12 percent said they were considering buying a diesel car for their next vehicle purchase. Not only is this a tiny proportion for a fuel type that once accounted for nearly half of all new car sales, it’s also a marked decrease on the 23 percent of respondants opting for diesel in an survey compiled just 1 year ago. This means that, according to the NFDA’s survey, diesel ranks behind hybrid power, which was the choice for 13 percent of respondents. Although relatively small in scale, the study illustrates the extent of consumers’ loss of confidence in diesel. Sales for black-pump vehicles have tumbled in recent months and now account for 33.5 percent of the market, down from a 44 percent share last year. The results of the survey suggest that the chances of sales recovering any time soon are low. The UK Government’s recent diesel tax hike will no doubt present another barrier to diesel’s recovery. Petrol ranks top in the NFDA study, with 41 percent of respondents saying they’d choose a car of this fuel type for their next vehicle purchase. However, the second most popular answer is “don’t know”, backing suggestion that the UK’s recent new car sales downturn has been in part triggered by a general fall in consumer confidence. The survey shows that most consumers are still some way off opting for a plug-in electrified car as their next purchase: this type of car was chosen by just 2 percent of participants. Pure electric was the top choice for only 1 percent. In fact, 59 percent of respondents ranked purchase cost as a main reason for not opting for a pure electric vehicle, while battery range and access to charging infrastructure were highlighted as a concern for 53 percent and 52 percent of participants respectively. +++

+++ HYUNDAI will introduce a new N-Line trim via the i30 this summer as an answer to Ford’s ST-Line, Kia’s GT-Line and Opel’s recently relaunched GSi. As the first model to get a proper N performance variant, the i30 will initially be the only Hyundai offered with this sporty N-Line trim. It will gain 18 inch wheels, more aggressive bumpers and red accents, all of which are clearly influenced by the 250/275 hp i30 N’s design. Some of the i30 N’s interior features will also be carried over. Hyundai will also give the i30 N-Line a lukewarm chassis tune, fitting between the more forgiving set-up of the regular model and the focused running gear of the i30 N. Expect very slightly lower suspension with tweaked damper rates to help improve handling, plus the fitting of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, which are less hardcore than the tailor-made Pirelli P Zeros offered with the i30 N. Like the red-blooded N car, the N-Line’s chassis and geometry set-ups will have been honed at the Nürburgring. Hyundai chassis boss Albert Biermann, a former BMW M division engineering boss, oversees this track testing and has pledged to produce engaging cars, suggesting the i30 N-Line be more playful than the class average. To emphasise its driver-focus, the i30 N-Line is likely to be launched exclusively with regular powertrains. But, like Ford and Kia, Hyundai is expected to eventually offer its performance-inspired trim with a wide range of engines. Currently, the i30 comes with 1.0 and 1.4-litre petrol engines, as well as a 1.6-litre diesel. The i30 Wagon and Fastback bodystyles are also set to be offered with N-Line trim. Hyundai is eager to tap into the lukewarm segment harboured by ST-Line, GT-Line and GSi cars because of rapid growth in demand for such models. The first examples are due in Hyundai showrooms later this year, following an expected introduction in the summer months. +++

+++ Tobias Moers, the boss of MERCEDES-AMG , has hinted that another stand-alone AMG model is already being considered to sit alongside the existing GT Coupe and new GT 4 door Coupe. The 2 GT models are the first from the performance division not to be based on standard Mercedes derivatives, but Moers said they are by no means the last. However, he was swift in ruling out a unique AMG SUV, which might be the most obvious choice for Affalterbach’s next project. “There was a clear space in the market for the four-door GT”, he said, “but we already have many excellent AMG SUV derivatives and it makes no sense to steal from them just so we can make our own car”. Quite what the new car would be is not clear, but it seems most likely to be a smaller, more affordable sports car to steal sales from Porsche’s Boxster and Cayman; something the current Mercedes SLC has never had the firepower or focus to achieve. Moers confirmed that the GT 4 door Coupe will get a 4.0-litre V8 hybrid powertrain with at least 800 hp in the future. The hybrid set-up, first seen in the concept version last year, will become the flagship model for the car when it arrives in 2020. It is likely to use the ‘EQ Power+’ soubriquet and will be a direct response to the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, which currently has 680 hp and is good for 310 km/h. The additional power of the AMG model suggests a 320 km/h top speed and a 0-100 km/h dash of little more than 3 seconds are very much on the cards. The new powertrain won’t be restricted to the GT 4 door Coupe, either. In time, it will be used in the S-Class and the next GLS (where it might also power a Maybach model). This means it will in effect replace the ‘65’ models with their 6.0-litre V12 engines. +++

+++ OPEL will terminate all dealer franchise contracts with 2 years of notice. During a conference call on 30th April the notice will be given, meaning all contracts will end on 30 April 2020. The decision to terminate current contracts comes in an effort to boost overall profitability. “We believe some dealers need to make more money”, a spokesman said. Dealers who are offered new contracts will be chosen because they rank highly for profitability, including used car sales and after sales, as well as customer satisfaction. Opel’s dealer franchise restructuring could involve closer integration with its PSA Group siblings, Citroën, Peugeot and DS. The spokesman says that sharing some retail sites with its sister brands is “almost inevitable” because this option gives both Opel and Vauxhall “a flexibility that we didn’t have before”. The changes come as part of the PSA Group’s plans to boost efficiency in all brands, outlined by its Push to Pass business plan that was announced by chairman Carlos Tavares late last year. +++

+++ A PORSCHE board member is being investigated over potential involvement in the diesel emissions scandal of its parent company, the Volkswagen Group. About 160 investigation officials have searched 10 buildings located in the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in the hunt for evidence linking the board member to emissions test manipulation. The board member is 1 of 3 unnamed suspects involved, including an individual from a high management position and a former Porsche employee. Porsche confirmed the investigation but did not comment on who was involved. It said in an official statement: “We confirm that investigators today inspected and secured documents at the offices of Porsche AG in Stuttgart and Audi AG in Ingolstadt. Audi and Porsche are co-operating fully with the investigating authorities. Please appreciate that we can’t comment on further details due to the ongoing investigation”. Although no further details about the search have been released, it is believed to be part of the wider investigation into Porsche’s involvement in Dieselgate. The brand’s link has so far centred on its use of Audi diesel engines. Audi’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, which has been used in more than 125,000 cars including the Cayenne, was found to feature emissions cheat software earlier this year. Audi’s Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm premises were searched only recently. No link has been made to the recent VW Group management shuffle, which replaced former CEO Matthias Müller with Herbert Diess. VW Group chairman Dieter Pötsch said the move sought to “safeguard” the company and its long-term strategy. Porsche recently axed the last current diesel models from its line-up, but said the decision was due to demand and had no relation to the ongoing emissions scandal. +++

+++ After falling behind in its initial Model 3 production ramp and lowering output targets, TESLA is now apparently confident it can raise its output goals for the second quarter. In a letter distributed to employees, CEO Elon Musk has explained that an upcoming shutdown will “set us up” for production rates of 3,000-4,000 units per week by next month. “Another set of upgrades starting in late May should be enough to unlock production capacity of 6,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of June”, he added. To be clear, the 6,000-unit internal target is designed to allow a margin of error and still meet the 5,000-unit public goal. “The reason that the burst-build target rate is 6,000 and not 5,000 per week in June is that we cannot have a number with no margin for error across thousands of internally and externally produced parts and processes, amplified by a complex global logistics chain”, Musk wrote. “By having a Model 3 subsystem burst-build requirement of 6,000 units by the end of June, we will lay the groundwork for achieving a steady 6,000 cars/week across the whole Model 3 system a few months later”. The executive also praised his employees for making the Model 3 design tolerances “better than any other car in the world” and promises to further improve going forward. “This is not enough. We will keep going until the Model 3 build precision is a factor of 10 better than any other car in the world”, he added. “I am not kidding”. +++

+++ The next-generation TOYOTA Supra won’t be a bargain-basement sports car, the company has confirmed. Staying true to tradition, it will become one of the most expensive members of the Japanese company’s lineup when it arrives. “It will not be a cheap car”, Gerald Killmann, the vice president of Toyota’s research and development department, said bluntly in an interview. “There will be a clear difference between the GT86 and the Supra. The GT86 remains the affordable sports car, the Supra becomes the performance model”, he added. He didn’t provide more specific pricing information. The coupe-only model will launch with a gasoline engine borrowed from BMW, according to the executive. This shoots down the numerous rumors claiming the Supra will go hybrid. We know it won’t, at least not early on in the production run. We’re not ruling out the possibility of seeing a gasoline-electric model later on, however. Killmann also confirmed what we already knew about the Supra. It rides on the same platform as the next-generation BMW Z4 and the 2 will share numerous mechanical components. The chassis will be tuned in-house by BMW, though that’s being primarily handled by the company’s main research and development center in Japan, not in Europe. I expect to see the born-again Supra break cover by the end of the year. Sales are tentatively scheduled to begin next year. Killmann added the firm will waste no time sending its newest sports car to the track, though we won’t find out which category it will race in until after the street-legal car’s official debut. +++

+++ VOLVO will not launch any all-new models between now and 2020, instead capitalising on its existing line-up to reach its goal of 800,000 annual car sales by that date. Other models such as a SUV cabriolet or SUV coupé (the latter of which was rumoured following a recent trademark application for XC50 from Volvo) could happen in future but are not currently in the product plan. Volvo’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) boss Lex Kerssemakers said: “It would be nice to have a cabriolet or a coupe. It’s the cream on the cake but you don’t need it to survive”, adding that any new models would be beyond 2020. Its focus for now, said Kerssemakers, was electrifying its existing line-up to achieve its stated intention of achieving a 25% mix of electric models by 2025. “We cover 98 percent of the market with our current portfolio. Our electrification goals show we are taking it very seriously and we are rapidly expanding our electrified powertrains”. The XC40 will receive a hybrid powertrain in autumn this year, and its also expected to be the first Volvo to go fully electric. Volvo-owned performance brand Polestar is expected to launch its pure electric vehicle first, which will closely resemble the Concept 40.2 shown last year. The next replacement model in Volvo’s line-up is the V40, which should arrive early next year. Kerssemakers confirmed the next V40, based on the brand’s Compact Modular Architecture (the same as the XC40) would be electrified and be a “strong evolution” stylistically on the current model. However he hinted it wouldn’t be dramatically different. “The old XC90 to the new XC90 was a big difference because it was much larger, while the XC40 we could be a lot more extreme because it was the new kid on the block. The V40 is well established”. Volvo is establishing itself more and more as a growing threat to bigger premium brands. Last year, it sold 571,577 units globally a growth of 7 percent over 2016. In Europe, its XC60 sold 99,023 units in 2017, more than 100 percent more than the BMW X3 which sold 41,355. +++

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