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+++ The new AUDI S8 has been spied virtually undisguised while undergoing testing on and around the Nürburgring. Looking virtually identical to the standard model, the high-performance S8 has a handful of subtle styling touches that indicate this isn’t your ordinary luxury sedan. The most noticeable changes occur out back as the car has a 4-tailpipe sports exhaust system and a new rear bumper with a mesh design below the reflectors. A closer inspection also reveals a new diffuser which is unique to the model. Moving forward, the car has modestly revised side skirts and special alloy wheels. Engineers also installed a high-performance braking system with grey calipers featuring ‘Audi Sport’ badging. It remains unclear if the model is wearing a production front bumper but it’s a tad sportier than the one used on the A8. However, it may just be temporary placeholder as it appears identical to the bumper that comes as part of the A8 Sport package. Photographers couldn’t get close enough to snap interior photos, but the cabin should largely carryover from the standard model. Of course, we can expect a handful of unique touches including a sport steering wheel, special trim and plenty of S8 badging. Power will likely be provided by a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine. It develops 550 hp and 767 Nm in the Porsche Panamera Turbo but the S8 is expected to be rated at approximately 530 hp. If previous reports are correct, the engine could enable the car to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in around 4.0 seconds before hitting a top speed of 297 km/h. The model could eventually be joined by a more extreme S8 Plus which uses the powertrain from the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. If this happens, the model may have around 630 hp. The Audi S8 is expected to be unveiled later this year so look for a possible unveiling at the Paris Motor Show. +++

+++ A breakthrough in the management of DIESEL emissions has been announced today, enabling diesel cars to undercut future limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) by almost 90 percent. Cars must currently emit no more than 168 mg/km of NOx and, in 2020, that limit will reduce to 120 mg/km in real-world driving tests and 80 mg/km in lab assessments. But new technology developed by Bosch allows a diesel Volkswagen Golf to emit just 13 mg/km of NOx in mixed driving conditions, measured using the latest RDE paradigms. Announcing the breakthrough at the company’s annual press conference, Bosch’s chief executive, Volkmar Denner, said: “There’s a future for diesel. Today, we want to put a stop, once and for all, to the debate about the demise of diesel technology”. Denner said the company was “pushing the boundaries of what is technically feasible”. Even in urban driving, where emissions are typically far higher than on the open road, cars equipped with the new technology emit around 40 mg/km of NOX; roughly a third of the permitted limits being introduced in 2020. This means, Denner said, that “diesel will remain an option in urban traffic, whether drivers are tradespeople or commuters”. The technology works by managing exhaust gas recirculation and using optimised turbochargers. It is effective as soon as a car is started and works at all engine speeds, allowing it to operate effectively both when engines are cold, and during urban driving. The system is also effective when drivers accelerate quickly. Journalists were given the opportunity to drive around Stuttgart in cars equipped with the new system. The results captured from these demonstration drives showed average NOx emissions of under 40 mg/km, despite the cars being driven in city centre traffic. While the system cannot be retrofitted to old cars, it is based on already-existing components and is available immediately. It can be incorporated into car makers’ production projects, and the system allows diesel engines to maintain their fuel economy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Denner promised more improvements in emissions management would be forthcoming, as Bosch plans to use artificial intelligence to build on its emissions reduction technology. “We firmly believe that the diesel engine will continue to play an important role in the options for future mobility”, he added. Denner said electric cars had a fundamental role to play in future transport, but “until electromobility breaks through to the mass market, we will still need these highly efficient combustion engines”. +++

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO and FERRARI Chairman Sergio Marchionne has made his disdain for electric vehicles pretty clear and the executive recently revealed we shouldn’t expect to see an electric Ferrari anytime soon. Marchionne announced an electric vehicle won’t be part of the company’s next 5 year plan which runs through 2022. The executive went on to say electric vehicles aren’t relevant for the company yet and he has a point as Lamborghini recently suggested they wouldn’t offer an electric vehicle until 2026 at the earliest. While Marchionne has previously begged people not to buy the Fiat 500e and stated “I’m not even sure you can recover all of your costs, let alone generate a profit, through electrification”, he has shown an openness to an electric Ferrari. Earlier this year, he told reporters “If there is an electric supercar to be built, then Ferrari will be the first”. Marchionne said electric vehicles are a potential risk to profitability. “Pure electric cars may become the prevalent technology for performance sports cars thereby displacing hybrid models”. It remains to be seen if electric powertrains will become the defacto choice of supercar buyers in the future but, in the meantime, Ferrari is focusing its efforts on hybrid technology. Marchionne stated the company is currently debating which models should receive a hybrid powertrain and he has previously said the first mainstream hybrid model will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next year. Little is known about that particular model but a 488 GTB prototype was recently spotted on the Fiorano Circuit accelerating without making any noise. This suggests the model may have a new powertrain which enables the car to travel short distances on electricity alone. +++

+++ On a bright spring day in Amsterdam, car buffs stepped inside a blacked-out warehouse to nibble on lamb skewers and sip rhubarb cocktails courtesy of LYNK & CO , which was showing off its new hybrid SUV. What seemed like just another launch of a new vehicle was actually something more: the coming-out party for China’s globally ambitious auto industry. For the first time, a Chinese-branded car will be made in Western Europe for sale there, with the ultimate goal of landing in U.S. showrooms. That’s the master plan of billionaire Li Shufu, who has catapulted from founding Geely Group as a refrigerator maker in the 1980s to owning Volvo, Lotus, London Black Cabs and the largest stake in Daimler, the inventor of the automobile. Li is spearheading China’s aspirations to wedge itself among the Big 3 of the global car industry (the U.S., Germany and Japan) so they become the Big 4. “I want the whole world to hear the cacophony generated by Geely and other made-in-China cars”, Li told. “Geely’s dream is to become a globalized company. To do that, we must get out of the country”. He’s not alone: At least four Chinese carmakers and three Chinese-owned startups (SF Motors, NIO and Byton) plan to sell cars in the U.S. starting next year. At the same time, Warren Buffett-backed BYD is building electric buses in California; Baidu is partnering with Microsoft, TomTom and Nvidia on a self-driving platform; and Beijing-based TuSimple is testing autonomous-driving big rigs in Arizona. The industry is set for more upheaval as China unravels a two-decade policy that capped foreign ownership of carmaking ventures at 50 percent. The change may energize companies such as Volkswagen and Ford to seek a bigger piece of the world’s largest car market and allow Tesla to set up a fully owned unit. Carmakers may get better visibility of their futures, and those Chinese companies that fear losing sales at home may sense a greater impetus to go abroad. “They are in a better position now than they ever have been”, Anna-Marie Baisden, head of autos research in London with BMI Research, said of Chinese carmakers. “They’ve had so much time working with international manufacturers and have become a lot more mature”. We’ve seen this movie before from China: in the smartphone industry. The nation used the shift in technology from basic flip phones to hand-sized computers to dominate the manufacturing industry, trouncing then-dominant makers from Finland, Sweden, the U.S., Japan and Germany. Last year, 3 of the top 5 smartphone handset makers in the world were Chinese, according to Gartner. Yet the sequel may take longer to become a hit, given the brand loyalty that has existed since Henry Ford debuted the Model T in 1908. How will Chinese automakers convince Midwesterners to give up their Ford F-150 pickups or Tokyo residents to switch from their Toyotas? “Chinese carmakers intend to come over, but what need will they fill?” said Doug Betts, senior vice president of global automotive practice at J.D. Power. “What is the reason to buy their cars?” Chinese cars probably would compete more directly with Japanese and Korean models, said Bob Lutz, the retired vice chairman of GM. American consumers mostly cross-shop Asian brands. “If they start coming in, they won’t be any more competent than Korean and Japanese cars”, Lutz said. “They would probably take share from other Asian brands because the vehicles will be more Asian in character. They’re not going to get much market share”. And then there’s President Donald Trump. Trade tensions between the U.S. and China are simmering as both nations move to slap tariffs on each other’s products. This month, China said it would levy an additional 25 percent levy on about 50 billion dollar of U.S. imports, including automobiles and aircraft. The move matched the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs, with Trump threatening an escalation. That’s not to say the road is impassable. A few decades ago, Hyundai was knocked for fragile engines and rust-sensitive body panels. Now it’s 1 of the 5 biggest manufacturers in the world, selling about 1.25 million cars in the U.S. last year. The group also has factories in Alabama and Georgia. “Competitors emerging from China must be taken seriously”, said Matthias Müller, former chief executive officer of Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker. “I visited China for the first time in 1989, and the development that has happened there since then is just impressive”. The creeping global influence of China’s industry isn’t limited to getting their wheels on U.S. and European roads. Equally important, the Chinese are getting under the hoods of foreign brands by buying up parts suppliers, making batteries for the world’s Electric Vehicle (EV) fleet and corralling supplies of the metals that give those batteries life. Automakers such as Geely, Chery and BYD started talking a decade ago about cracking the U.S. auto market with an array of low-cost passenger vehicles. Those efforts stalled, so the industry built a global presence through acquisitions. Chinese companies have announced at least 31 billion dollar in overseas deals during the past 5 years, buying stakes in carmakers and parts producers. The most prolific buyer is Li, who spent almost 13 billion dollar on stakes in Daimler and truckmaker Volvo. Tencent Holdings, Asia’s biggest internet company, paid about 1.8 billion dollar for 5 percent of Tesla. As software and electronics become just as critical to a car as the engine, China is ensuring it doesn’t lag behind in that market, either. Baidu, owner of the nation’s biggest search engine, announced a 1.5 billion dollar Apollo Fund to invest in 100 autonomous-driving projects during the next 3 years. “We have secured a chance to compete in the U.S. market of self-driving cars through those partnerships”, Li Zhenyu, a vice president overseeing Baidu’s intelligent-driving unit. “Everyone has a good chance to win if it has good development plans”. Baidu and Tencent are among the Chinese corporations racing Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber Technologies and the major automakers to develop autonomous driving, with an aim for mass adoption by 2021. The government’s aspiration to deploy 30 million autonomous vehicles within a decade is seeding a fledgling chip industry, with startups like Horizon Robotics emerging to build the brains behind those wheels. Then there’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), the maker of electric-vehicle batteries that’s planning a 1.3 billion dollar factory with enough capacity to surpass the output of Tesla and dwarf the suppliers for General Motors, Nissan and Audi. The Ningde-based company plans to raise 13.1 billion yuan as soon as this year by selling a 10 percent stake, at a valuation of about 20 billion dollar. The bulk of the new funds would pay for a manufacturing plant that would make CATL the world’s biggest maker of Lithium-ion batteries. CATL already supplies Volkswagen and owns 22 percent of Finland’s Valmet Automotive Oy, a contract manufacturer for Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. To juice those batteries, Chinese companies are leading the way in securing necessary raw materials like cobalt and lithium. Chinese companies make about 60 percent of the world’s refined cobalt, according to trading firm Darton Commodities. China Molybdenum is the world’s second-biggest cobalt miner after Glencore. The company, with a market value of more than 24 billion dollar, became a major force in battery metal in 2016 after buying control of the cobalt-rich Tenke Fungurume mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Glencore said in March it agreed to sell about a third of its output during the next 3 years to GEM, a Chinese supplier of battery chemicals. “China has made no secret of its ambition to have a really big and powerful auto industry”, said Michael Dunne, president of consulting firm Dunne Automotive in Hong Kong. “China does intend to lead and dominate the electric-vehicle industry”. The Chinese government sees EVs as its best chance to seize global leadership in an emerging powertrain technology. Cleaning the notoriously smoggy air and reducing a dependency on foreign petroleum are bonuses. China, already the world’s biggest vehicle market, overtook the U.S. as No. 1 for EVs in 2015. This week’s Beijing auto show will feature 174 EV models, with 124 of them developed domestically. China’s knack for speedy adaptation has put the country in a position to lead the auto industry in new technologies, Toyota’s China Chief Executive Officer Kazuhiro Kobayashi said.  President Xi Jinping showed his determination to rewrite the rules of the automotive industry during a 2014 trip to Shanghai. “Developing new-energy vehicles is the only way for China to move from a big automobile country to a powerful automobile hub”, he said when visiting SAIC Motor, a Shanghai government-owned company that partners with General Motors and Volkswagen in China. That set off a chain reaction. SAIC, the country’s largest automaker by unit sales, invested more than 20 billion yuan in new-energy vehicles, or NEVs, which include electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles. Western companies dominated for almost a century because they refined the internal-combustion engine. The electric motor threatens to erase that disadvantage, said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “NEVs can help China to become a global leader in the auto industry”, Hu said. “China and the rest of the world can now start from the same starting line”. First in the blocks is Li, a 54-year-old former photographer who started his career with 2,000 yuan from his father and now has a net worth estimated at about $12 billion. Though Chinese-branded passenger cars are sold throughout Southeast Asia and Africa, none have made it to the U.S. or Europe. Li first promised at the 2006 Detroit auto show that he would crack the U.S. market within 2 years with Geely’s Free Cruiser. That didn’t happen, so he came up with what he considers a better method: make Lynk’s new crossover (called the 02) in Belgium. The car will be available from the first half of 2020 in Europe, and then Li plans to hopscotch across the ocean. “This is the next step”, said Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation, the largest U.S. auto-dealer group. “And it’s a doable step”. +++

+++ MERCEDES will launch further G-Class variants in the near future, including a faster G 63 S and a luxurious Maybach model. Speaking from the launch of the all-new G-Class in the south of France, product chief Gunnar Guthenke told me the bespoke nature of the SUV’s platform meant further variants were inevitable. He also suggested that improvements in the car’s dynamics would pave the way for faster and more focused ‘S’ versions. “We have had G 63 6×6, the G500 4×4 Squared and the Landaulet”, Guthenke told me. “Will there be more to come? Certainly. We have a small team, but all of these cars were developed very quickly”, he said. “Let’s see what comes”. This suggests that in addition to the standard 5-seat SUV, further limited-run G-Class models are in the pipeline. He also touched on the firm’s existing Designo service, which offers special paint, leather and trim packages; allowing owners to customise cars to their taste. When pushed as to whether we might see a super-exclusive Maybach version of the new G-Class, Guthenke said: “We have had Maybach with Landaulet. We want to nurture this tradition”. In addition, Guthenke seemed confident that the new car’s improved chassis could cope with more power, suggesting an AMG ‘S’ model was on the cards. “Previously, you’d never have had the steering and dynamics for an S”, he said. “I am so excited about future modifications”. However, despite the trend for downsizing, a V6-powered AMG G 43 is less likely. Guthenke simply said: “Our customers love the V8”. The new G 63 gets AMG’s latest 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, producing 585 hp and 850 Nm. That’s enough to take the brick-shaped G-Class from 0-100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds (almost a second less than the outgoing G 63) and on to a top speed of 220 km/h, or 240 km/h if you choose the optional AMG Driver’s Package. As with the E 63, the V8 engine also gets cylinder deactivation. This helps the newly re-engineered G 63 (which boasts 4Matic 4-wheel drive and a 9-speed automatic gearbox as standard) to CO2 emissions of 299 gram/km. The G 63 gets many of the chassis and suspension improvements fitted to the regular new-generation G-Class. Its specification also includes AMG Ride Control as standard; this adjustable damper system can adjust its set-up between three configurations – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – depending on how relaxed or focused the driver wants the chassis to feel. Other new features for the AMG-tuned G-Class include a speed-sensitive steering rack and 5 on-road and 3 off-road driving modes. Called Dynamic Select, the drive mode selector offers the ability to modify elements such as engine response, transmission shift pattern and steering weight through everything from Slippery to Sport+ (road), plus Sand, Trail and Rock (off-road). The overall silhouette of the G 63 has changed little, because Mercedes spent much of the regular G-Class’s development period working out how to keep its distinctive shape while still modernising the vehicle. The G 63’s cabin gets a distinctive grab handle on the glovebox for the front passenger and chrome highlights on elements like the switch that operates the differential locks. The G 63 features an analogue instrument cluster as standard, but as an option, the car can be ordered with Merc’s latest widescreen combination, which mixes fully digital dials with a large central infotainment display. The interior also includes an AMG sports steering wheel and a control for the standard two-stage exhaust system, allowing the occupants to increase the noise allowed through to the cabin from the V8 motor. The G 63 is due in the showrooms in the second half of this year, following its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show. +++

+++ NISSAN continues to enjoy burgeoning demand for its electric vehicles, recently reporting a 10 percent jump in its EV sales in the last fiscal year ending March 31. The Japanese marque unveiled its second-generation Leaf last year and sales of it commenced in Japan and the United States in October 2017. In fiscal year 2017, a total of 54,451 Leafs were sold around the world, a 15 percent jump from the 47,423 sold the previous year. As the new Leaf reaches Latin America, Asia, and Oceania this year, sales will increase further. Since the Leaf was introduced in 2010, more than 320,000 examples have been sold in 51 markets worldwide. “The strong performance of Nissan’s EV models globally is a testimony to our expertise and leadership in electric vehicle technology”, Nissan executive vice president Daniele Schillaci said. “The unprecedented response to the most advanced electric car in the world, the Leaf, contributed significantly to the robust growth of Nissan in 2017. The Leaf is the best-selling electric car in the world, with the widest reach and the greatest availability. We expect its continuous leadership in 2018”. Beyond its use of Nissan’s latest battery pack and electrics, the Leaf comes complete with a plethora of advanced technologies and features, including the ProPilot autonomous driving technology, ProPilot Park, and e-Pedal. While the Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric car, Tesla has received in excess of 400,000 orders for the entry-level Model 3. However, it remains to be seen when the automaker will be in a position to deliver all these cars. +++

+++ There was a time, not long ago, when Chinese motor shows were almost a laughing stock. The halls would be filled with a mixture of under-engineered vehicles from the local manufacturers and knock-offs trying desperately to look like premium products from Europe. Not any more. This week’s Beijing Motor Show feels as major as any of the other global showcases. It’s the locals who are making the big strides, too, mixing China’s huge muscle in the battery market with a lack of heritage and ‘legacy’ that gives them huge potential when it comes to building cars and selling them. After all, if you don’t have thousands of dealer contracts worldwide, you can afford to take a radical approach on how you engage with customers, or even if you sell cars at all, instead of leasing them to users instead of owners. The first test of this is likely to be Lynk & Co, which has already stated that it will come to Europe from next year, but without traditional showrooms. It won’t be alone, though; Byton, which showed a fresh prototype of its SUV in Milan last week, has also stated that its customers will subscribe through ‘brand stores’ and online access. Contrast this with the fortunes of OPEL , which announced last week that it will trim a chunk of its dealers over the next couple of years. There are other reasons why this fabled British brand needs to slim down its dealership portfolio, of course; it’s operating under new owners who are targeting profit margins after years of the firm chasing huge volumes. But even so, I think Opel is unlikely to be the last established name to reboot the way it sells cars in the years ahead. And I won’t be at all surprised if some of the Chinese start-ups in the halls of Beijing are the ones forcing the change. +++

+++ The RENAULT Twingo, one of Europe’s quirkiest small city cars, is getting ready for its first visit to the plastic surgeon. The French mini will be subjected to subtle cosmetic tweaks front and rear, with redesigned bumpers and tweaked lights all around along with a refreshed color palette but the biggest change should come from under the skin. Renaul will replace the existing 0.9-liter turbo petrol with a bigger 1.0-liter TCe unit. The new engine will be slightly more powerful than the existing 90 hp unit and is expected to better fuel economy and lower emissions, as it will be fitted with a particulate filter due to Europe’s latest rules. The interior will also be updated with new color and trim options, as well as a new infotainment system. Offering most of the connectivity options has become a must-have feature, even for small city cars. The rear-engined, rear-driven Renault Twingo is also rumored to gain a pure electric version too, if the company feels there’s demand for it. Adding an electric motor and a battery pack to the Twingo’s chassis should be no problem for Renault’s engineers since the small model shares its architecture with the Smart ForFour, which is already offered with an all-electric powertrain. The updated Renault Twingo is expected to appear in the market towards the end of the year, with a possible debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show this September. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will launch a range of ‘extreme’ new performance models under its R brand. And that will include versions within its future lineup of I.D electric cars, company bosses have revealed. The German brand’s current GTI and R performance models have been left trailing rivals with significant power deficits. But Jurgen Stackmann, VW’s sales and marketing boss, says the company has a plan in place to change that. “The R brand is going extreme and can go extreme”, Stackmann told. “The role of R is that it can go beyond the pure rational; nobody needs a compact car with 400 hp, but there is a place, certainly, and that’s the turf of R”. It’s almost certain the Mk8 Golf, due next year, will be one of the first models to benefit from the new extreme R makeover. Company bosses have also expressed an interest in growing the R portfolio beyond the Golf to include the T-Roc and Tiguan SUVs. Stackmann added: “With a little more expressive design, R can go beyond the rational side of things. It (the R brand) can find its place in a different league of pure performance and there’s a space where customs are willing to pay a significant amount of money”. Beyond conventional models VW also plans to expand the R brand into its future range of I.D electric cars. “The I.D R that we put into Pikes Peak shows that the R strategy needs a dimension on the electric world”, Stackmann explained. “It cannot stick to just conventional powertrain solutions; it is a new dimension to our brand”. The Pikes Peak car develops 680 hp from an electric motor on each axle and shows “how powerful we can get with our MEB electric platform idea” and “where can we take the R idea when it comes to the electric family”, Stackmann told. +++

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