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+++ AUDI has confirmed it will skip the 2019 edition of the Detroit auto show. Arch rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW announced the same move in recent weeks. “Audi has had a long and successful history at NAIAS, debuting countless models that customers enjoy today. For 2019, we have decided that we will not participate in NAIAS. We will continue to evaluate auto shows on a case-by-case basis relative to the timing of our product introductions and the value the show brings from a media and consumer perspective”, the company explained in a statement. Audi stepped out of the auto show circuit last year when it organized the first Audi Summit in Barcelona, Spain. It introduced the new A8 during the event. The brand will unveil the E-tron Quattro during this year’s Summit, which will take place on August 30th in Brussels. The decision to sit out Detroit represents another punch to the gut for the show, which competes with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for media attention. The show organizers are examining ways to revitalize the event. One of the options on the table consists of moving it from January to October, when it’s warmer in Michigan. This would, in theory, allow auto-makers to organize outdoors test drives for the media and the public. Though the 2019 Detroit show will be a quiet one, it will remain an event worth attending for enthusiasts. I expect one of the stars will be Chevrolet’s long-rumored mid-engined Corvette, which is the industry’s worst-kept secret, and the organizers stress the companies attending the event have other surprises in store. “In meetings that have occurred around the world with participating brands, the show has been privy to some insights on significant product and industry news that has been earmarked for Detroit for the 2019 show”, a spokesperson told. +++

+++ FORD has responded to criticism over plans to stop selling most of its passenger cars on the North American market. The company held its ground and defended its position. “This doesn’t mean we intend to lose those customers. We want to give them what they’re telling us they really want. We’re simply reinventing the American car”, stressed Ford CEO Jim Hackett during an annual shareholders meeting. Executive chairman Bill Ford echoed Hackett’s comments. He also added he didn’t expect such negative coverage from the media. “I wish the coverage had been a little different. If you got beyond the headline, you’ll see we’re adding to our product lineup and by 2020 we’ll have the freshest showroom in the industry. The headlines look like Ford’s retreating. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth”, Ford said during the meeting. Hackett briefly addressed a long-standing question: what does the future hold for Lincoln’s sedans? He explained the born-again Continental will carry on through its life cycle, meaning it will stick around at least until the early 2020s. He stopped short of revealing whether or not the model will be replaced. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS may follow its Detroit peers in taking the off ramp from the American sedan market, according to Morgan Stanley. The maker of Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac sedans might mimic Ford, which is keeping only the Mustang muscle car in the lineup, and Fiat Chrysler, which no longer manufactures sedans in the U.S., Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said. “All 3 of the Detroit 3 automakers have something in common: They’ve all been exiting the sedan business”, Jonas said. “We think that GM is going to follow Fiat Chrysler and Ford”, he said. The transformation of GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s lineups will factor in how the companies approach negotiations with the Trump administration and California regulators over the future of fuel economy standards, Jonas said. On one hand, the automakers will press for relaxed federal rules to protect their pickup and SUV businesses. At the same time, the manufacturers are investing heavily in electric vehicles to appease the Golden State. +++

+++ JAPAN has rallied some of its biggest manufacturers in an effort to regain control of the world’s battery market. Having led lithium-ion battery technology at the start of the decade, the Asian country has since lost a majority of its 70 % market share to China which has leveraged its cost advantage and booming electric vehicle market to lead global manufacturing of lithium-ion cells. In response, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has subsidised almost $20 million as part of a new partnership with manufacturers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Panasonic called the Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Center. It follows Japan’s recent H2 Mobility consortium with manufacturers to build fuel cell refilling infrastructure across the country. Toyota, Nissan and Honda all have battery-electric vehicle technology now, including Toyota’s un-commercialised efforts on solid-state batteries, but Libtec will accelerate bringing the cells to market. Solid-state battery technology promises to be something of a silver bullet to current lithium-ion drawbacks such as its potential volatility, relatively slow charging time and weight-to-energy ratio. Safer solid-state batteries use denser solid rather than liquid electrolytes that can store more energy and have the benefits of charging much faster, running cooler and being cheaper to manufacturer. While Toyota believes solid-state batteries are still far from production, Libtec expects the new alliance will bring a 550 km range battery to market by 2025 and an 800 km range cell by 2030. Recharge times will be just a few minutes and similar to pumping 60 litres of fuel. The complexity behind solid-state batteries could give Japan a head start on China, including new international certification standards that will make production and commercialisation harder to begin. +++

+++ MCLAREN is testing an all-electric prototype, the firm’s sale and marketing boss has admitted at the Beijing motor show, but the numbers don’t stack up. “We’re running a project development prototype electric vehicle”, explained Jolyon Nash. “We need to understand how an EV can possibly deliver a McLaren driving experience that’s visceral and true to its DNA”. The company has set a goal of 2022 for 50 % of its vehicles produced to be hybridised in some form or other; Volvo announced plans in China to meet that same target by 2025. But McLaren’s criteria for an electric vehicle are a lot more demanding. “With battery technology as it is today it can’t happen: there’s a binary choice between battery power that gives you torque and top speed but very limited range versus great range and limited performance. A high percentage of our customers take their cars on track and they want at least 35 minutes around a track before they stop and have to put some fuel in. If we had an EV it would have to perform at that level. Only when the technology can provide a true McLaren driving experience will we build an EV”. Nash said that McLaren engineers had done calculations on what would be needed to get an electric vehicle to the performance level as its latest car: “If the Senna was an EV, to deliver the same performance it would weigh 2,000 kg. That’s not a McLaren”. He also made it clear that the firm isn’t going to do an SUV; not while it’s making enough money in thoroughbred sports cars to keep shareholders happy at any rate. “I think we’re pretty clear on at McLaren. Part of our success is that we’re consistent in what a McLaren is, and every car must be true to that DNA. A McLaren is fundamentally a lightweight, mid-engined supercar/sportscar. Every car should live up to that and it should be engaging to drive. That’s the commitment we have with our customers”. The company’s next car will be the BP23, a 3-seat hyper-GT that will pay a tribute of sorts to the iconic McLaren F1 from 1993. +++

+++ MERCEDES has yet to decide whether its small convertible, the SLC, will be axed. Last year reports emerged that suggested the ageing car could be pulled from the German carmaker’s lineup entirely and left unreplaced, but it now appears that those reports were somewhat premature, with the latest rumours from Stuttgart suggesting an actual decision regarding the car has not yet been taken. “I don’t know, it’s under discussion. Under construction, so to speak”, Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers told. A potential demise for the SLC, which was renamed from SLK when it was facelifted in 2015, could clear the path for a third bespoke AMG model, which has been touted to rival the Porsche Cayman and Boxster. Regardless of what happens to the SLC, the larger cabrio from Mercedes will yet live on. The Mercedes-Benz SL will get a successor (which will be more performance-oriented than the current GT cruiser that it is now) but the AMG man says that the tuning division won’t be involved in its development. “I heard about that rumour. That rumour is wrong”, Moers said regarding an AMG-devised SL. Not much is known about the upcoming SL replacement at the moment, but speaking at the Geneva motor show in March, Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche described the car as “a real wow car, a stunning car”. What we do know about the new car is that the all-new SL is set to arrive in 2021 and will likely be available with a hybrid drivetrain and with AMG’s twin-turbo 4-litre V8. +++

+++ MINI is reportedly planning a second all-electric model already, before its first one has even his the market. We already know that Mini is planning an electric model that will be built in both China and at the established factory in Oxford. But a second electric Mini will strictly be a Chinese market exclusive, and will be another product of BMW’s partnership with Chinese carmaker Great Wall. The reason for a second electric, Chinese market Mini is that although the previously announced model will be built in China, its battery pack isn’t locally sourced (coming from BMW’s e-mobility center in Bavaria) meaning that the car can’t be sold in China because of the country’s strict manufacturing laws. Instead a second model, which will reportedly be better suited to the Chinese market, will be produced to help the brand conquer the country. The Chinese market electric Mini is set to go on sale some time next decade. Meanwhile, the first electric Mini has been slated to begin production next year, and will become available worldwide, including the US where there is a possibility the brand could become electric-only in the coming years in a bid to boost sales. BMW hopes it and Mini’s push towards electric cars will lead to 15 to 25 % of its sales being electrified vehicles as soon as 2025. At the moment it is building electric cars in smaller numbers because it feels that EV production isn’t yet profitable enough to justify producing them to the same level as petrol and diesel cars, but it will start building electric vehicles on a large scale when the latest drivetrain technology comes along in the next couple of years. +++

+++ TESLA Chief Executive Elon Musk said the Silicon Valley car maker will start production of an all-wheel drive, dual motor ‘performance’ Model 3 in July. Tesla will open orders for that trim level in the next week, Musk said. Model 3 sedans with air suspension are likely coming next year, he said. The Model 3 is the linchpin of Tesla’s expansion plans, and production of the car in meaningful numbers has been delayed. At a conference call with analysts following first-quarter results earlier this month, Tesla kept intact the target of producing 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of the second quarter. Tesla has moved the goal posts for Model 3 production at least twice. A previous target was for 2,500 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of first quarter; Tesla missed that one, reporting in early April a production rate of around 2,000 a week. During the call and in a letter to investors sharing results, however, Tesla disclosed that it paused Model 3 production in the third week of April to “enable higher levels of output”, but in the week before the shutdown it produced a record 2,270 Model 3 sedans, its third straight week in April with more than 2,000 of the cars produced. Tesla said another production pause is expected in the second quarter. Tesla shares have lost 7 % in the past 12 months, which contrasts with gains of around 14 % for the S&P 500 index and 18 % for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform will unlock bolder and more dynamic vehicle aesthetics as the Japanese car-maker shifts away from the boring, sensible and safe models of its past. Spearheading the wave of fresh Toyota product will be the brand’s California-based Calty Design Research studio, which had a hand in crafting the mould-breaking C-HR crossover launched last year, the Supra-previewing FT-1 concept from the 2014 Detroit motor show and the Lexus LC luxury sports coupe. Calty Design Research president Kevin Hunter said the aesthetics of new models is now taking a higher priority than before. “In the past at Toyota, and this is another reason why we had rather bland design, the design group was basically being handed an engineering package and saying ‘hey, make a beautiful car’. Well, first we need good stance, we need good front overhang, rear overhang, height; we need all these proportions working in harmony together before we can really achieve good design. So now at the very early stage, design is involved with engineering, and we’re working through these problems together and trying to find the best solution. Design has a much stronger seat at the table now within Toyota’s organisation and this is contributing a lot to the bottom line, which is getting more dynamic-looking automobiles”. First introduced in 2015 with the 4th generation Prius, versions of the TNGA modular platform now underpin the C-HR, Camry, upcoming Auris/Corolla, Lexus UX crossover and the new-generation RAV4. Hunter revealed that the TNGA platform plays a crucial role in shaping more aesthetically pleasing vehicles in-line with the architecture’s strong dynamic characteristics. “These new models are pathfinders for the styling and dynamic benefits of TNGA, qualities that will be further developed as new platforms and vehicles are introduced to Toyota’s global range in the months and years to come”, he said. “TNGA has redefined Toyota’s approach to vehicle development and manufacturing, resulting in vehicles that can inspire confidence and deliver genuine fun-to-drive performance. The lower centre of gravity, more rigid frame, new suspension and greater use of high-strength steel provide direct benefits that result in balanced handling and a more engaging drive. TNGA also liberates vehicle design, enabling rooflines and bonnets to be lower and resulting in each model being visually distinctive with more appealing proportions”. The new directive of “no more boring cars” has come straight from the top, according to Hunter, with Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda himself mandating the shift away from ‘safe’ designs. “To get that support at the top is paramount, if we’re proposing to mix things up, if you’re not getting that support from the top, it’s not going to go anywhere and it’s going to stall out”, he said. “So having that is so critical to where we’re heading to right now. And the other part is getting everybody on board to think the same way. We all have to share a common understanding of where we’re heading and that has to not only be design; design is only one component of the entire process, engineering has to kick in, sales has to kick in, marketing has to, everybody has to be on board with this proposition. As a result of this new global commitment, we expect to develop the most capable, most exciting generation of vehicles the company has ever produced”. Hunter chalked the “bland” vehicle designs of Toyotas in the past decade to “trying to please everybody”, and as a result producing nondescript products. We were making really, really good cars, people liked our cars, but they were pretty bland, let’s face it”, he said. “The next question you might be wondering is ‘well why are you making boring cars, how did that happen?’ There’s probably many reasons, but for me, 2 key fundamental points are: 1) we were trying to please everybody, we wanted to literally make everybody happy and not have one person disappointed in a Toyota car, but the problem is that if we try to do that, we end up in the middle and we just made vanilla cars (but really, really good vanilla cars). 2) We had a large consensus-driven organisation, and the more people you get together trying to satisfy everybody’s thoughts and opinions, again, you have to move to the middle. We streamlined that process and we’re making more dynamic cars, more bold cars, more pure cars and cars that we think people will really, really enjoy driving as well, and driver engagement is another big factor that’s playing into Toyota’s future direction. We have a good trajectory now of where we’re heading and we really feel good about it”. The C-HR has already been heralded as a brand perception changer for the big T brand thanks to its striking design. Incoming models such as the new Auris and flagship Supra sportcar are also set to contribute to bringing dynamism back to Toyota. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has stopped taking orders for its Golf GTE citing “unprecedented demand”. The car, a hybrid equivalent to the fan favourite GTI, has proven so popular, that it looks like even Volkswagen (Europe’s biggest carmaker) has managed to outdo itself. A message on Volkswagen’s website reads: “Due to unprecedented demand, leading to long delivery lead times, Golf GTE is currently closed to ordering”. A spokesman for Volkswagen confirmed that the popularity of the car meant that the German firm’s factories had reached capacity and that build times had increased as a result. “We have temporarily stopped taking orders for the Golf GTE”, the spokesman said. “We had a high number of orders last year and into this year. The pace of the new orders arriving meant we filled the maximum production capacity of our factories and so the build time for new orders ran into a significant number of months”. Despite that, Volkswagen is still offering the all-electric e-Golf, as well as the e-Up electric city car. The new Up GTI is also proving hard to get your hands on any time soon. +++

+++ WIRELESS CHARGING will be available on electric and plug-in vehicles within 2 years, one of the leading wireless tech companies has claimed. According to Graeme Davison, vice-president for business development and marketing at tech firm Qualcomm, technology similar to that currently used to charge mobile phones will arrive on the electric vehicle market “in 18-24 months”. Qualcomm is one of a number of companies chasing commercially available wireless charging, which uses high-frequency magnetic fields to transmit from a pad on the ground to a receiver on the vehicle. The vehicle then turns the magnetic pulses into electricity to charge the battery. Eventually, Qualcomm says wireless charging will become available on the move, with charging pads built into roads, and the company has already demonstrated the technology. However, static charging is far closer to commercial viability. The firm has been testing its systems in Formula E for some time, where they are used to charge the safety and medical cars. Speaking at the Paris ePrix at the end of last month, Davison said: “We’ve had a couple of manufacturers award design wins to Qualcomm technology (they’re shrouded in secrecy) but you will see them coming out in the design cycle, so in 18-24 months you’ll be able to order vehicles with wireless charging on them”. Davison also said that although the technology may be slightly more expensive while in its infancy, it will eventually cost the same as plug-in charging. “The manufacturers control the price, but they’re showing that they’ll get to effectively the same cost as plug-in systems. It depends on the manufacturer, but in the first few years there might be a discrepancy where wireless charging is seen as the most expensive option, but when we get to volume and maturity there will be no difference between them”. +++

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