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+++ ASTON MARTIN ’s shift towards becoming a brand of higher-performance models has taken another step forward with its hiring of former Volkswagen employee Tobias Sühlmann as exterior design boss. He arrives at a time Aston Martin’s line-up is gaining faster and more driver-focused models. The Valkyrie hypercar stands out as a halo product, but the upcoming DBS Superleggera and rumoured new Vanquish look set to become more accessible examples of the shift, which will move Aston Martin away from its existing rivals like Bentley and closer to supercar makers such as Ferrari and McLaren. The new DB11 and Vantage have kick-started the transition, while the DBS Superleggera, which is due for reveal next month, is hot on their heels, with a 700 hp turbocharged V12 engine. In 2021, a reborn Vanquish will arrive as a rival to the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 720S. However, the ongoing Valkyrie project is said to be proving most beneficial to Aston Martin’s plans because of its partnership with the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team, which is co-developing the hypercar. The car maker’s colour and materials manager Libby Meigh said that the Valkyrie was positively influencing designers, aerodynamicists and engineers across the company. “It is definitely having a knock-on effect that will trickle down into other models”, she said. “We’re learning a lot from Red Bull Racing about how to maximise performance; there’s a lot to learn from a Formula 1 team”. Meigh said that the Valkyrie’s hard focus on performance has meant that aerodynamics has taken priority over design by some margin, but that this has helped designers gain an even better understanding of how to mix Aston Martin features with shapes that work in the wind tunnel. Aston Martin’s transition into a higher performance brand won’t stop with its road line-up. This shift could be significantly boosted in 2021 if new F1 engine regulations, which are due to be introduced in that year, fit with the brand’s future plans. Currently, Aston Martin is Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor, but CEO Andy Palmer has revealed that the brand could substantially increase its involvement. He tweeted last month that “prospective F1 regulation changes support many of the requirements needed for Aston Martin to enter the sport as an engine supplier”. +++

+++ AUDI has started series production of the first 3-cylinder engine at its Hungarian plant. The 1.0-liter gasoline engine, delivering 86 and 116 hp, is said to be efficient and powerful. “Our engine production facility adapts flexibly to new trends in the automotive industry”, says s spokesman. “While establishing alternative drive systems, we are also consistently developing our combustion engines. With the series production of the new 3-cylinder engines we are adding another efficient and powerful engine type to our portfolio”. Innovative solutions ensure that the 3-cylinder engine is efficient and environmentally compatible, for instance the high-performance turbocharger with close-coupled gasoline particulate filter. This reduces particulate emissions from direct-injection gasoline engines by up to 90 percent. The 3-cylinder engine weighs 92 kilograms and will be fitted in various Volkswagen Group models, for example the new Audi A1, the next generation Volkswagen Golf and a B segment SUV from Skoda. Audi Hungaria modified the mechanical processes and assembly line for production of the 3-cylinder engine. Employees can now produce 4 different engine variants at the same time on what is now the most flexible engine assembly line in the Audi Group. In addition to the new 3-cylinder engine about to be launched, this is also where the 1.2/1.4/1.5 liter 4-cylinder gasoline engines roll off the assembly line. “Our 6,000 employees in Engine Production produce around 2 million engines per year, making us one of the world’s largest engine manufacturers”, the spokesman said. “We currently produce 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 cylinder engines and supply 32 production locations in the Volkswagen Group”. This year, Audi Hungaria’s engine production portfolio will be expanded to include future-oriented electric motors. Preparations for the start of series production are in full swing. +++

+++ Following its best-ever first-quarter sales results, the BMW Group continues to grow sales around the world.  A total of 194,889 vehicles were delivered to customers in April, a slight increase (+1.2 %) on last year’s figure. The company has sold a total of 799,520 vehicles to customers worldwide in the first 4 months of the year, up 2.5 % on the same period last year. The company’s highly successful electrified vehicles are contributing strongly to the ongoing sales success and April saw the achievement of a significant milestone. “We are delighted to announce that there are now over a quarter of a million electrified BMW Group vehicles on the world’s roads”, said Pieter Nota, member of the board at BMW and responsible for Sales. “Combined sales of BMW i, BMW iPerformance and Mini Electric vehicles were up 52 % in April (9,831), bringing the total number of electrified BMW Group cars sold to over 250,000”, Nota continued. “We are well on track to deliver on our stated target to sell over 140,000 electrified vehicles this year”, he concluded. In the first 4 months of the year, BMW Group Electrified sales totalled 36,692 units, up 41.7 % on the same period last year. This considerable growth in electrified sales was spread across many markets, including USA (7,716 / +73.3 %), the UK (5,059 / +25.6 %) and Mainland China (3,181 / +646.7 %). The result in China is due to the success of the recently launched, locally produced 5 Series plug-in hybrid. In April, electrified vehicles accounted for 5 % of global BMW Group sales, although in certain markets, that percentage is much higher. For example, in the UK, 9.0 % of all BMW Group sales are electrified, in the USA it’s 7.3 %. In the mature Scandinavian markets, over a quarter of all BMW Group sales are electrified and in Malaysia, electrified vehicles accounted for more than half of BMW Group sales in April. The main models driving electrified sales growth in April were the 5 Series plug-in hybrid (2,670 / +711.6 %), the X5 plug-in hybrid (1,578 / +45.8 %) and the i3 (2,665 / +18.3 %). Worldwide sales of BMW brand vehicles increased slightly in April (167,275 / +1.6 %) and deliveries in the first 4 months of the year also set a new all-time high level (684,724 / +2.5 %). This is the “Year of X” at BMW, with the ramp-up of the new X3, the introduction of the all-new X2 and (later in the year) the new X4 and X5. In April, sales of X models accounted for 36.8 % of total BMW brand sales and were up 11.1 % (61,536) compared with the same month last year. Even stronger X‑range sales growth is expected in the second half of the year, as availability of the new models increases. +++

+++ LEXUS has filed a trademark for the LQ nameplate. Toyota’s luxury brand registered the letters on May 7th. The nameplate will soon denote a flagship crossover positioned as an alternative to the body-on-frame, Land Cruiser-derived LX. That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. Lexus showed us what a flagship crossover might look like when it introduced the LF-1 Limitless concept earlier this year at the Detroit auto show. Lexus, like many of its peers, doesn’t show concepts just for kicks; if it shows a design study on the show floor, there’s a good chance it’s already in development and it’s a few years from arriving on the showroom floor. The Japanese company hasn’t commented on the trademark application. If it’s indeed for the new crossover, I expect to hear more about it before the end of 2019. +++

+++ MERCEDES-AMG will launch a new entry-level model called the A35 in early 2019. The hot hatch will do battle with the Volkswagen Golf R with a newly developed 300 hp 2.0-litre engine. The model will undercut the next-generation A45 to become AMG’s cheapest model, with an anticipated starting price of around 52,000 euro. The A35 will be powered by an extensively reworked version of the A45’s turbocharged four-cylinder M260 engine. This itself is an evolution of the freshly launched new A-Class’s M270 unit, which features a new crankcase and cylinder head. Although the cylinder bore and stroke will remain unchanged in the A35’s unit, it will have different pistons and bespoke software in order to give it performance close to that of the 310 hp Golf R. The new A45’s 0-100 km/h time is predicted to slip beneath the 4.0 seconds mark, suggesting the A35 will be set for a 4.5 seconds sprint time. That would rank the 4Matic model directly alongside the Golf R, which is as quick off the line as some proper sports cars, such as the Porsche 718 Cayman S. The visual differences between the A35 and A45 will be small, although a clear signal as to what performance is on offer will come from the tailpipes. The A45 will get a quad exit set-up, while the A35 will have a twin-pipe system. This mimics a system of tailpipe variety employed by AMG’s C43 and recently launched CLS53 and E53 models. It’s likely that the A35 will be offered with adjustable damping, like its more hardcore sibling, but AMG could choose to provide it with slightly less aggressive rebound rates to give the A45 an advantage in the corners as well as the straights. Such a variation in character and ability would be necessary to ensure the A35 carves out its own space within the tightly congested performance hatch segment. The A35 will rival the Golf R, Audi S3 and the future BMW M130i xDrive M Performance, leaving the A250 AMG, the most potent model in the regular A-Class range, to face the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The A45 will remain top of the pile and continue to do battle with the Audi RS3. Although Mercedes is yet to officially announce the A35, AMG boss Tobias Moers confirmed late last year that it would “arrive ahead of the A45″. Autointernationaal.nl understands the Paris motor show in October is a likely venue for the A35’s unveiling, suggesting that order books will open at the start of 2019. The A45 is predicted to arrive in the middle of 2019. +++

+++ In the first 4 months of the year, global MINI brand sales increased by 2.8 % (to 113,704 cars). Despite significant headwinds in the United Kingdom, the brand’s largest market, Mini sales in April (27,329 units / -0.9 %) achieved the same high level as the previous year. +++

+++ The new OPEL Corsa “will not be compromised in any way” despite being developed in less than 2 years by PSA Group after a signed-off design based on previous owner General Motors’ (GM) architecture was axed. A revised Corsa was set to be launched this year, sitting on a modified version of GM’s Astra platform. However, PSA took the decision to re-engineer the car on its own small car platform, EMP1, as it took control of the company to save on licence costs to GM. As such, the new Corsa will be launched in 2019 and will share its underpinnings with rivals including the next generation Peugeot 208 and DS 3 Crossback. However, global Opel boss Michael Lohscheller insisted that the compressed development time would not be a hindrance to the new Corsa’s success. “It is a pretty fast development time, but it is not compromised in any way”, Lohscheller said. “We have a clear understanding of what we want from the car, what is possible from the platform and how to get there. It’s true that we had a version ready to go, and you can’t just stretch a design to fit a new platform. But the teams have done a fantastic job in record time to ensure that the car is on schedule. We started work on the project even as the deal to buy Opel / Vauxhall was being agreed and we are all very excited about the car”. The new Corsa will be built at Spain’s Zaragoza plant, which has built the car since 1982, from 2019. +++

+++ PORSCHE ’s upcoming Cayman GT4 will stick with a naturally aspirated flat-6 engine, despite the arrival of a turbocharged flat-four in the 718 Cayman. The car will use a detuned version of the new 911 GT3’s 4.0-litre flat-6, although power is expected to increase over the previous generation’s 380 hp, with 400 hp-plus expected. “Natural aspiration is one of our main USPs”, said Andreas Preuninger, head of GT car development at Porsche. “We think we can achieve throttle response and immediacy a little bit better with an atmospheric high-revving engine than any kind of turbo”. Preuninger also confirmed that there are no plans to create any 4-cylinder GT cars. The bolstered performance means the car’s 0-100 km/h time will be cut from the previous-generation car’s 4.4 seconds, while its top speed is also likely to rise slightly. Just like the preceding car, the new GT4 isn’t expected to weigh any more than the Cayman GTS, so Porsche will likely keep the car’s weight below 1.450 kg. The 2015 Cayman GT4 raided Porsche GT’s parts bin for components to make the car more focused, and it’ll be no different for this new model, as Porsche seeks to increase the focus of its sports car line-up with variants such as the 911 Carrera T and 911 GT3 Touring Package. Preuninger dropped a broad hint that the next Cayman GT4 will come with both manual and PDK gearbox options. “The aim is to always have the choice”, he said. “Now we’ve started with that strategy with the GT3, let’s hope that it pays off”. Preuninger also said Porsche will crack down on speculators who buy GT cars to flip for a profit rather than to drive. “If you do it, you won’t get the next car”, he said. Autointernationaal.nl expects the new Cayman GT4 will cost around 116.000 euro in The Netherlands. +++

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE has outlined a vision for an electric future, expecting regulatory pressure to force a complete shift to battery power by 2040. CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said the British luxury marque expects Europe’s proposed bans on diesel and gasoline vehicles to eventually expand to its other key markets: the US and even the oil-rich Middle East. The executive clarifies that Rolls-Royce does not plan to willingly drop its V12 engines, which have become a core element of the automaker’s high-end brand identity. In fact, the company believes its cars are so exclusive they represent negligible environmental impact. “We will definitely offer 12-cylinder engines as long as we can, as long as it is legally allowed to offer them”, he said. “But electrification is the future, full stop. You need to prepare yourself for that”. The company isn’t exactly opposed to electric powertrains, however, as battery propulsion meshes with the brand’s focus on powerful cars with ultra-quiet cabins. “Electrification actually fits extremely well with Rolls-Royce because it’s silent, it’s powerful, it’s torquey, so in that sense it’s a very good fit”, he added. Rolls-Royce is not rushing into the EV push, leaving a vague decade-long window to introduce its first all-electric luxury car. A far-flung Vision Next concept was unveiled 2 years ago alongside equivalent futuristic concepts for all BMW Group brands. +++

+++ The rise of cars with SELF DRIVING capabilities has created numerous opportunities for technology firms to break into the automotive industry. Now the world’s biggest smartphone producer has bet more than half a billion US dollars that it can become a market leader in autonomous vehicles; and I’m not talking about Apple. The firm in question is Samsung Electronics, which had a 19 % share of the smartphone market last year, compared with Apple’s 14 %. To put that into context, the Korean firm makes 44,000 smartphones an hour, and sells more than 660 million connected devices a year. Samsung Electronics has been quietly building up its involvement in autonomous and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) technology through its Silicon Valley based Strategy and Innovation Centre. According to Dave Anderson, the centre’s director of technology for smart machines, the business unit is tasked with “investing in the next generation of technology”. He added: “The hottest thing going on right now in Silicon Valley is self-driving cars, and anything related to them”. Crucially, Samsung has no aspirations to build its own cars, as rival Apple once did. Instead, its efforts are focused on a software and hardware based open platform called Drvline, designed to make Samsung a ‘go to partner’ for manufacturers that want to develop autonomous cars. In the past 21 months, about 1.000 engineers across Samsung and Harman, the car technology subsidiary it bought in 2017 for $8 billion, have begun working on autonomous systems. The firm has spent around $100 million on the creation of a framework for an autonomous driving platform, and is investing in companies building innovative autonomous systems. A further $140 million has been devoted to early seed funding to build up what Anderson called “an ecosystem of partners”, working in 5 areas: next generation computers, sensors, software, communications and user experience. Samsung then created a dedicated automotive innovation fund, worth around $300 million, to further invest in firms with the technologies required for self-driving cars. The first to benefit was TTTech, a company that specialises in software integration. Anderson explained: “We know there isn’t one partner that can do it all, and we know we can’t do it all, so we’re learning from all the experience in the industry, and bringing together the best pieces that we can see in the industry to the Drvline platform”. The idea of the open platform is that manufacturers can customise or enhance it as they choose, and that it can grow and build as autonomous technology develops. For example, the hardware is built around a baseboard (capable of handling systems up to Level 2 (also known as ‘hands-off’) autonomy) that interacts with the vehicle, with two Samsung processors alongside. Daughter modules, either from Samsung or partner firms, can be added to increase the platform’s capability and processing power. Anderson said that the requirements for autonomous cars to be connected devices plays to Samsung’s strengths as a business: “Cars are becoming software-enabled mobile devices. They’re mobile phones on four wheels. In the context of autonomous driving, it has to be designed from a fundamental perspective to be functionally safe. That has to start from the ground up. That’s very similar to a problem we’ve already tackled and solved with mobile phones”. The growing demand for in-car technology has meant the car industry has had to react faster and reduce lead times in recent years, similar to smartphone producers. Anderson said: “That’s been a trend for the last ten years, with technology companies being pulled in. “The idea of Samsung as a technology company is so exciting to car manufacturers that they’re coming to see what we can do. We are leaders in all the business areas we touch. We didn’t create the first smartphone, but we quickly followed that trend and became a leader, as we have in consumer electronics, fridges, washers, dryers and TVs. What Samsung is doing in the automotive industry is bringing that breadth of capability, both in terms of engineering prowess and sheer manufacturing capability. That’s going to be a disruptive moment in the industry”. Cars running Drvline with up to Level 4 autonomy (‘mind- off’, whereby the driver can turn their attention away from controlling the car) are currently testing on the road in Korea and California. The first product from the new system is likely to be a forward-facing autonomous braking camera, which Anderson said should go into production in 2020. +++

+++ SUBARU is finally making good on its promise to begin electrifying its lineup. The Japanese company has announced it will introduce a XV Hybrid before the end of the year with a little bit of help from shareholder Toyota. The car will be the brand’s first plug-in hybrid model. While technical details are vague at best, I know the model will keep the standard XV’s flat-4 engine but receive its own version of the Toyota Hybrid System (THS) found in the Prius. This option should give the XV the extra power it sorely needs, but it’s not a performance hybrid. It’s all about saving petrol. Subaru notes the XV Hybrid will be capable of electric-only driving for “local commuting”, a term that suggests it will have no more than 30 kilometres of range on battery power alone. It will function as a normal gasoline-electric hybrid the rest of the time. All-wheel drive will remain the only configuration offered. The XV Hybrid will presumably come only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). +++

+++ TESLA is expected to soon announce its next Gigafactory in Shanghai, China, as new company registrations have been discovered. A new business licence has been approved for a company registered by Tesla’s set-up in Hong Kong. The new Chinese company will be located in Shanghai’s free trade zone, suggesting that this 47 square-mile area will become home to Gigafactory 3. The new company, Tesla Shanghai Co Ltd, was set up with 100 million yuan (around $16 million), and will focus on “technical development; technical services; technical consultation; technology transfer in the field of electric vehicles, spare parts, batteries, and energy storage equipment; electric car display; and product promotion”. Tesla boss Elon Musk has already said that the next Gigafactory will be in China, although the official announcement isn’t expected until the third quarter of this year. Musk previously announced that the company’s smaller models (the troubled Model 3 and the upcoming Model Y cross-over) will be made at the plant, but not the Model S and Model X. A European Gigafactory will be the company’s fourth, although it appears to be some way off. Tesla’s well-documented production troubles with the Model 3 have led to heavy investment in the company’s first Gigafactory to quell ‘production bottlenecks’ and reach delivery targets for the entry-level model. +++

+++ “Our future is electric and we will no longer develop a new generation of diesel engines”, said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of VOLVO . “We will phase out cars with only an internal combustion engine, with petrol hybrid versions as a transitional option as we move towards full electrification. The new S60 represents the next step in that commitment”. Last month, Volvo reinforced its electrification strategy by stating that it aims for fully electric cars to make up 50 % of its global sales by 2025. The announcement was made at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show, positioning it as a powerful player in China, the world’s leading market for electrified cars. The new S60 is based on Volvo’s in-house developed Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), which also underpins the company’s award-winning new 90 Series and 60 Series cars. The S60’s estate sibling, the V60, was launched earlier this year in Stockholm. The new S60 will initially be available with a range of 4-cylinder Drive-E petrol engines as well as with 2 petrol plug-in hybrid versions. Mild hybrid versions will follow next year. Production of the new S60 will start this fall at Volvo’s brand new manufacturing facility outside Charleston, South Carolina. This plant will be the only manufacturing  location for the new S60, meaning American-built S60s will be sold in the US market as well as overseas through exports. +++

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