+++ Have you been thinking about ordering up a new ASTON MARTIN Vantage, but are set on getting the manual gearbox? If so, you may have to wait a bit. It’ll be another year before Aston Martin starts offering its new sports car with 3 pedals. Company spokesman Matthew Clarke told that “a manual version of the new Vantage is in our plans”, but that “at this stage it is at least 12 months away”. The Vantage is currently offered with a Mercedes-AMG-sourced, 510 hp and 685 Nm 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. With the engine mounted far behind the front axle and the transmission at the rear, the Vantage is said to have perfect a 50/50 weight distribution. I am expecting the manual version to boast 7 forward gears, like the Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette and I am also anticipating a 12-cylinder version to follow powered by the DB11’s 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12. In that application, the engine produces 608 hp and 700 Nm. A roadster, or Volante in Aston-speak, is also on the cards. But given the delay in rolling out the manual version, we wouldn’t count on additional variants to follow any time soon, especially since the existing model is already just about sold out until next year. The previous Vantage was on the market for 12 long years, during which it bred a wide array of variants. This time around, and with the AMG partnership in place, its life-cycle should not be as long and the different versions will hit the market much sooner. +++

+++ Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Environment minister, isn’t so sure that software fixes applied to DIESEL vehicles will completely resolve their emissions problems. Schulze said that the only way to avoid car bans is for diesel vehicles to be retrofitted with expensive hardware changes. “I fear that in cities where the limits have been far exceeded (Munich, Stuttgart and others) software updates alone will not suffice. The many measures from the immediate program for clean air, such as electrification of buses, are good and will help many cities, but overall they aren’t enough to solve the problem in cities that are particularly badly affected. In my view technical updates are the only realistic way to avoid driving bans”, she said. The minister continued by saying that retrofits are needed in particularly badly affected areas in roughly 20 cities, where software updates won’t be enough to control NOx emissions. Ever since the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal broke, there has been a strong backlash against diesels, particularly in Europe. Numerous cities have already announced driving bans for diesel vehicles, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to avoid them alltogether. In late February, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, Germany ruled that cities across the country could ban older diesel-powered vehicles. In response, Stuttgart may ban Euro4 vehicles next January and Euro5 models in the fall of 2019. Moreover, other cities may introduce bans in the coming months if no other solutions can be found. +++

+++ FORD is developing its most engaging Focus ST yet with the proven 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, making the future model its last non-electrified high-performance Focus. Replacing the old ST’s 2.0-litre engine, the 2.3-litre unit will have close technical links to the aluminium four-pot used by the 350 hp Focus RS but will be adapted for life in the front-wheel drive ST to offer around 285 hp. Since the next RS is due to kick-start hybrid power for Ford’s hot models from 2020, the upcoming ST will serve as the final chapter in pure combustion power for Focus hot hatches. Ford is understood to have chosen the 2.3-litre powerplant, rather than a more powerful version of the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder featured in the new Fiesta ST, because the smaller engine would have to be run close to its reliable limit in this guise. The Focus ST competes against the Renault Mégane RS and Peugeot 308 GTi, which come with 280 hp and 270 hp respectively. The 2.3-litre, on the other hand, which offers up to 375 hp in the Focus RS Red Edition, can be more practically tuned for the Focus ST. It’s due to come mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual gearbox, with no Powershift automatic option. This change signals a clear driver focus for the new model, suggesting that the next Focus ST will be a more enthusiastic and playful car to drive. The latest Focus arrived in April with claims from Joe Bakaj, Ford of Europe’s vice president for product development, that it will offer “that fun-to-drive feel” earlier Focus models were famous for across the line-up. The ST will, of course, take this to the next level. The new Focus is also said to be 88 kg lighter, like-for-like, than the old car, suggesting the ST could shed some kilos from the old car’s 1.437 kg figure. Its structure is claimed to be 20 percent more rigid, with a 50 percent improvement around the suspension elements, which should provide Ford engineers with the opportunity to improve the ST’s agility without compromising ride quality. This has certainly been the case with the new Fiesta, which has received similar improvements over its predecessor. Ford had planned to launch its next Focus ST at the end of 2018, but the Blue Oval brand has pushed back the car’s arrival into 2019. It’s expected to be revealed in the run up to the 2019 Geneva motor show, with a public debut at the March event. Sales should kick-off by next summer. The Focus ST will remain the most potent version of the Focus on sale until the next-generation Focus RS arrives in 2020. That car will use a smaller 2.0-litre engine mated to a hybrid powerplant that’s based around 48V architecture to offer 400 hp. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS ‘ South Korean unit dropped a plan to consider filing for bankruptcy after winning concessions on pay, bonuses and benefits from its labor union in a tentative deal.  The deal will pave the way for nearly $500 million in fresh capital injection by the South Korean government, providing much-needed liquidity to GM Korea to pay employees and its suppliers, but slumping vehicle sales and low factory run-rates raise questions about its longer-term future. The concessions by GM Korea’s powerful auto union are expected to heap pressure on other auto unions for similar moves, at a time when South Korea’s auto industry is grappling with higher labor costs and sluggish demand from the United States and other markets. “Through the latest agreement, GM Korea will be a competitive manufacturing company”, Kaher Kazem, chief executive of GM Korea, said in a statement in Korean. GM shocked South Korea in February when it unveiled a major restructuring plan for the money-losing unit, which involved shuttering 1 of its 4 plants in the country and voluntary redundancies for 2,600 workers. The automaker had sought wage concessions from the union as well as government funding and incentives to save its remaining 3 South Korean factories. The board of GM Korea delayed a decision on whether to file for court-managed bankruptcy protection after the automaker failed to reach a wage deal with its labor union in time to meet a deadline. The union accepted the company’s request to freeze base wages and skip bonuses for this year as well as trim benefits, according to the agreement. Future base wage increases and performance pay “will be dependent upon the company regaining profitability”, while the base wage rises will not exceed inflation, it said. Regarding its 680 remaining workers at the Gunsan factory, which is scheduled to be shuttered in May, the company will “implement options including a voluntary redundancy program and transfers” to other plants to avoid layoffs. “The labor union made huge concessions to save the company”, Hong Young-pyo, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who mediated the agreement, said at a news conference after the deal. The union was absent from the press conference where Hong and GM executives were present. A union spokesman declined to comment, saying union members are expected to vote on the preliminary deal. “Clearly it sets an example that a labor union cannot help but make concessions to overcome its company’s crisis”, Kim Soo-wook, a professor of operations management at Seoul National University, said. “This will influence further labor conflicts and activities case by case depending on how bad the situations are for companies or how the global economy goes”. Hyundai, South Korea’s biggest automaker, is bracing for its annual talks with its labor union, after it posted a 5th straight drop in annual earnings last year as a lack of SUVs in the United States and a diplomatic row with China hurt earnings. Adding further pressure on Hyundai, U.S. activist hedge fund Elliott Management said a restructuring plan proposed by the auto group to end circular shareholding structure was not enough, and recommended it create a holding company and increase dividend, among other things. The deal would pave the way for the Korea Development Bank (KDB) to provide support and for GM to allocate 2 new models to South Korea to help turn around GM Korea, the unit said in a statement. State-run KDB is GM Korea’s second-largest shareholder with a 17 percent stake. The U.S. automaker owns 77 percent of GM Korea, while GM’s main Chinese partner, SAIC Motor, controls the remaining 6 percent. The government had stepped up pressure on GM and the union to reach an agreement, saying without a swift deal some 150,000 jobs at the automaker and its suppliers would be at risk. GM Korea still needs to negotiate with KDB on terms of the latter’s financial support to the unit, while trying to secure tax and other incentives from the industry ministry. KDB’s chairman told Reuters last week the lender may sign a preliminary agreement by April 27. Some analysts said the fate of GM Korea is still uncertain. The unit’s strength is small cars but GM is scaling down its presence in that segment, said Lee Hang-koo, a senior research fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade. “GM has extended the lifeline of GM Korea, but not sure how long it will last”. The South Korean unit, once the backbone of GM’s Asian strategy, has been hobbled by labor costs and hurt by the automaker’s decision to pull its Chevrolet brand from Europe, a key export market. It posted a net loss of $1.1 billion in 2017, its 4th straight year in the red. The unit still makes more than 1 million assembled or partially assembled vehicles for the United States, European and emerging markets. It is also an engineering and design source for GM’s small vehicles and electric vehicles, as well as home to some of GM’s top-ranked suppliers globally. +++

+++ Automakers in JAPAN are exporting an increasing number of vehicles to the United States and this is sparking fears that the country could become the next target for President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies. The fears aren’t entirely unfounded as Trump recently complained that “Japan sends us millions and millions of cars, and we tax them virtually not at all”. Trump went on to say the United States doesn’t export much back to Japan as there are “trade barriers and lots of other things”. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing Trump to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership to help eliminate some of these obstacles but it wouldn’t have any effect on increasing American car sales in the country as Japan doesn’t tax imported vehicles. Trump doesn’t seem interested in the offer either as he prefers a one-on-one deal with Japan instead. While a number of Japanese automakers have plants in the United States, America’s insatiable demand for crossovers means Japanese exports have been on the rise. Nissan’s exports to the United States climbed nearly 30 percent last year thanks to the introduction of the Rogue Sport (Qashqai). Likewise, Toyota imports more than 50 percent of the RAV4s sold in America from Japan. Last year, Japanese automakers sent 1.76 million vehicles to the United States while the American companies only sold a handful of cars in Japan. American automakers control less than 1 percent of the market in Japan and Ford bailed on the country in 2016 as it couldn’t find a path to profitability. The situation could get slightly better in the future as Toyota and Mazda recently announced plans to open a joint factory in Huntsville, Alabama. The plant will have an annual production capacity of 300,000 units and it will build the Toyota Corolla as well as a Mazda crossover. +++

+++ The MITSUBISHI Lancer is set to return as a crossover and could get hybrid power. The funky C-segment crossover will rival the Toyota C-HR. The Japanese brand is enjoying a rapid growth in sales as part of the same Alliance that includes Renault and Nissan. Now the firm’s boss, Trevor Mann, and chief designer Tsunehiro Kunimoto have started work in earnest on replacements for all of Mitsubishi’s current SUVs, and a new generation of a small car and the Lancer. Mann revealed that the direction of the Lancer is close to being finalised, and he also gave a strong hint of what size of vehicle will carry the badge. “We have a long-range product plan that’s pretty solid until 2025, and a dotted line beyond that”, he explained. “Within that what we’ve said is, ‘Which vehicles do we want? What are we going to work on?’ We’re going to replace ASX, Outlander and the L200 pick-up. Then we have these 2 boxes: Pajero and Lancer. “Lancer’s probably the easiest one; we believe we’ve got a solution that could fit the segment. Because if you look globally, the C-segment hatchback (Golf and Focus) market is not shrinking. It’s down a bit in the US and Europe. But its numbers are still expanding in China. So there is appeal. And I think because the segment is so large globally, we’ve got to take a look at it”. Kunimoto says the design direction previewed by the e-Evolution that was displayed at last year’s Tokyo show is ideal for a smaller vehicle. This could evolve into a new Lancer hatchback. “Just because it’s C-segment doesn’t mean it has to be a very conventional”, the designer explained. “Maybe we can create a new type of hatchback vehicle. We’re thinking quite radically. Originality is as much a part of the Mitsubishi design philosophy now as consistency”, Kunimoto added. The firm is likely to base the Lancer on the latest evolution of the Alliance’s CMF C/D platform. That would support a crossover shape like the e-Evolution’s, while also offering the potential for 4-wheel drive and the adoption of Mitsubishi’s hybrid systems, tech that the Alliance brands are working hard to integrate into their platforms. +++

+++ Planned job cuts at OPEL will save enough cash to meet owner PSA Group’s turnaround targets, the works council chief said, as Opel workers’ rejection of further concessions began to draw criticism from French unions. PSA aims to eliminate 3,700 jobs under a program of voluntary departures, with 2,000 candidates already identified, Wolfgang Schaefer-Klug said. “I’m not worried about meeting the cost targets”, the labor boss said at a press conference. “The scale of the uptake of buyout offers means it’s now a question of whether we have enough staff to manage the current workload”. The group declined to comment on the job cuts target. PSA, which last year paid General Motors 2.3 billion euro for loss-making Opel and British sister brand Vauxhall, is also demanding pay curbs and other sacrifices from workers in an attempt to restore profitability by 2020. Tensions have mounted since Opel workers rejected demands that they waive a 4.3 percent pay increase negotiated nationwide in return for PSA’s commitment to assign a new model to the Eisenach plant in central Germany, securing the plant’s future. German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern this week over PSA’s plans. Chief Executive Carlos Tavares had an “open and constructive” telephone conversation with the German economy and labor ministers, Peter Altmaier and Hubertus Heil, the company said. Force Ouvriere (FO), PSA’s biggest French labor grouping, also weighed in, urging Germany’s IG Metall union to “take more responsibility” for necessary cost cuts. “They seem prepared to make the rest of the group carry the burden”, FO official Christian Lafaye said in an interview. “The French unions will not allow their workers to take the weight of a third competitiveness plan”. Under Tavares, staff at PSA sites in France, Spain, Britain and several other countries have granted concessions on working hours, wage restraint and bonus cuts. A return to profit requires productivity measures far beyond the agreed buyouts, PSA executives maintain. “If only returning to competitive production was as simple as announcing voluntary job cuts; that would be too easy”, a management source said. At Vauxhall, Opel’s British arm, assembly workers in Luton have just signed off on a 1.5 percent pay increase and hours that can be modified at  short notice to meet demand spikes. Gary Reay, an official with the Unite union, said Luton workers would also be dismayed if German colleagues avoided making a similar contribution to the recovery of the business. “Our members wouldn’t be at all happy”, Reay said. “We were unfortunate enough to not get the increase we initially wanted, which would have been above inflation. We had to do what we thought was right for our situation”. Following the breakdown on Opel pay, PSA suspended a plan to invest in production of a new SUV at Eisenach, which IG Metall said would have safeguarded only half of the plant’s 1,800 jobs. Union negotiators furthermore accused PSA of “blackmail” by demanding wage restraint for its entire 19,000 German workforce as a precondition for investment at just one of its sites. “It’s not just about the wage deal, it’s about whether we can trust PSA with future agreements”, Schaefer-Klug said. “They are not offering to negotiate, they’re dictating”. +++

+++ TOYOTA has officially confirmed that the next-generation Supra that’s been co-developed with BMW will be powered by one of its German partner’s engines and not one of its own. During an interview, Toyota’s vice president of research and development, Gerald Killmanm, confirmed that the Supra won’t just use the same platform as the new Z4 but also make use of a BMW engine. However, this does not mean the 2019 Supra and all-new Z4 will use the same engine. The Supra will utilize a naturally-aspirated inline six-cylinder delivering upwards of 300 hp without any hybrid wizardry, while the new Z4 should be available with a plethora of engines. These are expected to include a 4-cylinder with 195 hp and 320 Nm for Europe and a 252 hp 4-pot for the North American market. It’s also been rumored that a TwinPower Turbo 3.0-liter 6-cylinder with 340 hp and 410 hp, depending on specification, might make its way under BMW’s bonnet. At March’s Geneva Motor Show, Toyota previewed its new sports car with the Gazoo Racing Supra Racing Concept, complete with styling influenced by the eye-catching FT-1 Concept. Production of the model will take place at Magna Steyr’s facility in Graz, Austria from the first half of 2019. +++

+++ As SUVs and crossovers have become increasingly popular, demand for small cars (and by that, I mainly mean sedan and hatchback bodystyles) has dwindled in the UNITED STATES . However, this is nothing new and according to analysts, the small car market is simply returning to historical norms. Many automakers brought a plethora of small vehicles to the U.S. in anticipation of rising fuel prices. This hasn’t happened and as gas prices have settled at exceptional lows, new car buyers have started to purchase larger and less frugal vehicles. The discontinuation of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart a couple of years ago seems to have been the trigger for falling small car demand. “I can tell you right now that both the Chrysler 200 and the Dodge Dart, as great products as they were, were the least financially rewarding enterprises that we’ve carried out inside FCA in the last 8 years”, FCA chief executive Sergio Marchionne has said. “I don’t know one investment that was as bad as these 2 were”. The U.S. boss of small cars for Volkswagen Jan Dickmann says small cars also don’t make all that much sense in the United States, especially when compared to Europe. “You’re not feeling safe in a very small car next to a really big pickup. In Europe small cars are driven by high gasoline prices and we have a lot of really small villages with really small streets. And we have a different culture in parking. Here you go into a parking lot. In Europe you really have to circle in your small car to find a small street space”. It is a similar story for sedans, Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer says, asserting that they are unlikely to regain popularity from SUVs. After all, many SUVs now come equipped with small and efficient powertrains and are no longer the gas-guzzling boats they once were. +++

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