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+++ After pulling the cover off the new A-CLASS earlier this year, Mercedes is currently working on the AMG-infused versions. The first one, named AMG A40, is expected to premiere at the Paris Auto Show, at the beginning of October, said an official within the Affalterbach-based brand. “Yeah, you will see”, answered Mercedes-AMG’s Senior Manager Marketing Communications, Dominik Greuel, when asked about a possible premiere of the A40 at the biggest automotive event of the fall. “In Paris, it AMG A40 will definitely be for the first time”. The Mercedes-AMG A35 will go head to head with the Audi S3. It’s believed to use the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and EQ Boost technology from the new E350 Coupe and Convertible, which produces 299 hp and 400Nm. The 0-100 km/h acceleration should take just a little over 5 seconds and top speed will probably be electronically limited at 250 km/h. As for the hotter Mercedes-AMG A45, it will have some 400 hp to play with. The Audi RS3 Sportback challenger will be quicker to 100 km/h than the model it replaces, which needs 4.2 seconds. However, it’s been reported than Mercedes-AMG is working on an A45 S derivative, too. It’s unclear whether it will bring more horses, as it’s believed to be a track-focused variant of the car. Changes might include improved aerodynamic and tuned ESP, Traction Control, driving modes and others, in addition to a rumored steering wheel-mounted drive mode selector. Order books for the AMG A40 should open in Europe in early 2019, whereas the A45 and rumored A45S will probably go on sale later next year. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN will launch its first production electric model in 2021 under its reborn Lagonda brand, in the form of a Rolls Royce Phantom-rivaling luxury saloon. The new electric Lagonda has been previewed by the Vision Concept, which was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show this year. It is Aston Martin’s boss Andy Palmer who confirmes that Lagonda will lead the company’s electrification strategy and not the all-electric version of the upcoming DBX cross-over. Aston Martin plans to position Lagonda as a “futuristic alternative” to Rolls Royce and Bentley. Lagonda wants to be the first luxury brand to fully embrace new technologies and all-electric powertrains. “We have the capability, but the plan right now is petrol and hybridization”, said Palmer. “The new platform has indeed been delivered with the capability to go pure electric, but that technology gets used first on the Lagonda”. Lagonda plans to launch an SUV as well, after the saloon. Aston Martin will produce Lagonda models and the DBX at its new St. Athan factory in Wales. Palmer also said that the DBX’s internal-combustion powertrains will be sourced from Daimler. This means that the first Aston Martin crossover will likely use AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8, as well as a more powerful hybrid powertrain. Aston Martin’s CEO also said that the V12 engine in the DB11 and DBS Superleggera will gain some form of electrical assistance, to help extend their lifespan in the face of increasingly tougher emission rules. “We see a path that enables us to conform with CAFE regulations (US fuel economy standards) with hybridization”, he said. “The idea was to prioritize keeping the V12, which we think is the beating heart of the company, and offset it with a pure electric version. But as that’s matured, you see this application of hybridization instead”. “A purist might argue that it’s better naturally aspirated or not hybridised”, Palmer said. “But nevertheless, 12 cylinders is 12 cylinders”. +++

+++ The US-China trade war that began this summer is starting to claim collateral victims. Since the Asian country is the world’s largest car market, automakers who build cars in the United States are faced with a 40 % tariff if they want to sell those vehicles in China; and they are not happy about it. While most luxury car manufacturers have assembly plants in China, they can’t build all their models there, thus they will be forced to import them from other countries and take the tax hit. BMW is one of the most exposed automakers to China’s tariffs because the German carmaker builds most of its SUVs in the United States, at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina. However, the company seems to have found a way to sidestep tariffs: it will simply build more SUVs at its Thailand facility. The Bavarian firm announced it is manufacturing between 10,000 and 20,000 X5s in Thailand to meet demand from China. BMW started producing the previous-generation X5 in Thailand in the spring of 2016, and the plant there is capable of building a “significant portion” of the vehicles the company would have otherwise exported from the US to China. CEO Harald Krüger told analysts ramping up production in Thailand was one action to counteract the tariffs. +++ 

+++ Mike Hawes, the chief executive of UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that the British motor industry is not ready for BREXIT , with car makers being increasingly concerned about the looming prospect of a no-deal divorce with the EU. Production of vehicles in the UK dropped by 47 % in June, with SMMT calling it an anomaly due to model cycles, operational changes and preparation for the new WLTP emission standards. However, Hawes said that the figures are a “reminder of the exports-led nature” of the UK car industry, according to the Guardian. The head of SMMT added that this showed the importance of UK striking a deal with the EU, which is the destination for 53 % of UK car exports, warning that a lack of clarity on Brexit has left the industry struggling to prepare for the country’s departure in March 2019. “No one would profess to being Brexit-ready because there are too many variables in there”, he said. “We need a deal. If we have no deal, there is no transition, there is no implementation period, that would kick in less than 8 months away. You can operate on WTO trade rules but it would be at a significant extra cost and burden than we currently enjoy”. When asked if there were any potential Brexit benefits for UK’s automotive industry, Hawes said: “Not that we can see”. The lack of clarity is already taking its toll on the industry as investments have collapsed, while Jaguar Land Rover said that a no-deal Brexit could force them to pull out of the UK. “Given the cost of stopping production, manufacturers will do everything they can to stop that happening”, Hawes said, adding that this would cost millions of pounds per day. “You survive on the basis that you’re competitive. Once you cease to be competitive, you generally don’t shut overnight, but your ability to attract that next round of investment is that much tougher. Gradually, it’s a death by a thousand cuts”. +++ 

+++ Consumers have fully embraced CROSS-OVERS , but a new report is suggesting Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors will eventually lose their dominance of the segment which is widely popular in North America. Automotive analyst Alan Baum predicts the Big Three will only be responsible for 35 % of the crossovers sold in North America by 2023. That will reportedly be a decline of 26 % since 2005. The companies aren’t just expected to lose out on crossover sales as Baum predicted the Big Three will only be responsible for 16 % of normal car sales in North America by 2023. That figure seems for more reasonable as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has largely abandoned normal cars (besides the aging 300, Charger and Challenger) and Ford will cease sales of several models by then. The only area where Baum predicts the Big Three will remain a dominant force is in the pickup market. If his predictions are correct, the 3 companies will be responsible for 86 % of the truck market by 2023. While no one knows what the future holds, Baum told: “The Asians and the Europeans are taking over crossovers in the U.S. by adding new models and more manufacturing capacity. They did the same thing in normal cars 10 or 20 years ago”. While the predictions sound like doom and gloom, Ford and General Motors are responding to changing consumer preferences. In the past few years alone, GM has launched an assortment of new and redesigned crossovers such as the Acadia, Equinox, Enclave, Traverse, Terrain and XT5. Even more models are on the horizon as Chevrolet recently showed off the 2019 Blazer and Cadillac is gearing up to launch the entry-level XT4 as well as the 3-row XT6. Ford is also preparing an onslaught on new and redesigned crossovers. Over the next few years, we will see the Bronco, Baby Bronco, Escape, Explorer and a new “Performance Battery Electric Utility” which could be called the Mach 1. +++

+++ HYUNDAI wants to leave the comfortable familiarity of Russian doll styling (meaning one basic design spread across an entire line-up) behind. SangYup Lee, the firm’s vice president of design, promises his team is on the brink of a design overhaul. Lee told he wants his team to style cars that are just as sexy as, or even sexier than, an Alfa Romeo. And, significantly, he wants every model in the portfolio to have a style of its own; you should be able to look at a Hyundai and tell whether it’s an i20 or a i30 by merely looking at a few styling cues. His team isn’t completely starting from scratch. The cascading grille will remain in the foreseeable future because it’s a key part of Hyundai’s design language. Each model in the range will wear a different variation of it; it will be taller or wider depending on the model, and odds are Hyundai will further differentiate its cars by using different inserts within the grille. The shift will begin next year. We don’t know what car will inaugurate it yet, but Hyundai already gave us a preview of where it wants to take its design language last March when it introduced a concept named Le Fil Rouge at the Geneva auto show. The new i40 will get the same styling. “The Hyundai look will be more like chess. You see chess as a king, queen, bishop, knight. They all look different, they function differently, but when together, they became one team”, Lee, a former Bentley and General Motors designer, summed up. +++

+++ In November 2006, Toyota and ISUZU signed a basic agreement, focused on developing and building diesel engines. Toyota also agreed at the time to obtain a 5.89 % stake in Isuzu. Now, Toyota and Isuzu have agreed to dissolve their capital tie-up, with the former set to sell its entire stake in the latter in the near future. Despite the split, the 2 companies say that they intend to maintain their strong relationship via ongoing projects related to basic technologies and remain open to the possibility of future collaboration. “Subsequently, with changes in the market environment prompting the companies to suspend some of the originally considered projects, and little specific progress achieved in other collaborative efforts, Toyota and Isuzu have agreed to reexamine the capital relationship based on the current business situation”, Toyota said in a statement. The arrival of electric vehicles helped in putting an end to their diesel project, with Toyota to focus on developing next-generation commercial vehicle technologies with Hino Motors. The latter is already collaborating with Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle unit for the development of electric powertrains and autonomous driving technologies. The 2 companies said that the automotive industry is facing “sweeping, once-in-a-century changes”, but they will continue their efforts to improve their competitiveness in commercial and passenger car markets.+++

+++ For the first time ever, MERCEDES-AMG has 2 sporty sedans in its offering: the third-generation CLS and the new GT 4 Coupe. However, despite coming with similar layouts and dimensions, the automaker is confident they won’t cannibalize each other, as it believes there’s a clear line between them. A spokesman said: “Where our CLS 53 range will be the top of the range for CLS, the GT 4 Coupe is a much sportier option. We’ll have a 63 S, naught to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds, it has rear-wheel steering, technology similar to an AMG GT-R, so it’s that next level above an E 63, again, but with a 4-door coupe styling”. According to Mercedes, the GT 4 Coupe will go up against the top-of-the-line versions of the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte as well as the BMW M8 Gran Coupe, which is currently in development. As for the third-generation CLS, this is pretty much a sportier take on the latest E-Class. The CLS starts from €60,571 in Germany, in base form, whereas the AMG-infused CLS 53, with its mild-hybrid powertrain that makes 435 hp and 520 Nm, along with an extra 22 hp and 250 Nm from the EQ unit, has an €84,430.50 starting price. The Mercedes-AMG GT 4 Coupe, on the other hand, starts from a very steep €150,110 in its homeland, while the ‘S’ designation is at least €16,907 more expensive. Plus, if you opt for the limited Edition 1, the MSRP climbs to €185,343. At the same time, the Porsche Panamera Turbo starts from €155,748, while the Maserati Quattroporte GTS can be had from €161,940. +++

+++ Having been around since 2007, the NISSAN GT-R is currently one of the oldest cars that’s still being sold, although to be fair, it has received numerous upgrades to stay relevant. Throughout the years, there have been many talks about a new generation, but until now, the Japanese automaker has remained tight lipped about it, commenting only that we won’t see a replacement any time soon. Nonetheless, even if development is likely in its early stages, an all-new Nissan GT-R is indeed coming. The brand’s senior vice-president for global design, Alfonso Albaisa, says it will be previewed by a show car. Albaisa didn’t go into specifics when talking about the successor of the R35, as he refrained to saying “naturally”, when asked whether the new GT-R will be previewed by a concept. Previously, Albaisa had said that the new GT-R would be the best in its class and “the fastest super sports car in the world” and that its styling would take no cues from the recently launched GTR-50 concept. Expected early next decade, it will be underpinned by a new platform, which will likely support electrification. Although this is still officially debated inside Nissan, the next GT-R will most probably go down the hybrid route after all, with a new twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine paired to electric motor(s) or a KERS-like system. The total output of the car should sit north of the 600 horsepower mark, given that the current one has a healthy 572 hp, and the Nismo will be even more powerful. +++

+++ Ever wondered how many billions of dollars the world’s leading motor manufacturers RAKE IN ? Think around $2,000 billion per annum; that’s what 20 of the top car firms on the planet collectively enjoyed in income last year. It’s the likes of you and me buying our vehicles, parts and related products that are annually handing over this colossal sort of money to what can loosely be described as the largest vehicle manufacturers. Mazda sits rock bottom of my league table with revenues that amounted to ‘only’ $31 billion in 2017. Given that Suzuki is one of the world’s top12 car makers by size, its like-for-like figure of $34 billion seems low, but is explained by the fact that its entire product range is at the bottom end of the retail price scale. Geely of China, which includes Volvo and Lotus, comes next on $41 billion. Then it’s JLR’s parent, Tata Motors ($46 billion), and Kia of South Korea ($47 billion). Another Chinese giant, Guangzhou Automobile, may surprise some by making it into the top 15 with a cool $50 billion in annual income. Renault ($66 billion), Beijing Automotive ($70 billion), PSA ($74 billion) and Kia’s big sister, Hyundai Motor ($93 billion), are all trying but failing to make it into the top10. China’s Dongfeng ($93 billion) succeeds where they fail, as does Nissan ($108 billion) and BMW ($111 billion). MG’s owner SAIC with a figure of $129 billion is fighting for a top5 slot and the same is true of Honda ($139 billion). Ford’s annual revenue is a tad under $157 billion, while GM earns more ($177 billion) and therefore beats its Detroit rival by a big margin. Daimler (Mercedes and Smart) makes it on to the podium after weighing in with $185 billion, while the VW Group is the runner-up on $260 billion, some of which will be spent on legal and other bills relating to its self-inflicted diesel debacle, of course. It’s Toyota that has the highest annual income in the automotive world: $265 billion in 2017. Put another way, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, each of these top2 automotive giants enjoys revenues of $1,000 million per day, the overwhelming majority of which comes from motoring consumers. True, the pair have materials to buy, factories to run, huge wage bills, plus countless other massive and unavoidable expenses that need to be paid. Me? I can’t decide whether a vehicle maker raking in $1 billion every weekday is merely fit and healthy, too greedy or taking the you-know-what by charging way too much for its products. Can you? +++ 

+++ The next 3 years could prove to be one of the most transformational periods in SKODA ’s near 123 year history, as the Czech brand prepares up to 9 new cars. Leading the charge will be a new version of the firm’s biggest nameplate of all: the 4th generation Octavia. Although much of Skoda’s focus in recent times has been on expanding its SUV line-up, the Octavia remains its most important car and its true breadwinner. The Octavia has been part of Skoda’s range, on and off, since 1959, and last June the 6 millionth example was built. The current third-generation model is still fresh from a facelift, so the next car won’t arrive until early 2020. However, it will leap forward significantly from the current version, taking on a range of enhancements and updates that are due to underpin the next Volkswagen Golf. As such, the Mk4 Octavia will make use of an updated version of the VW Group’s venerable MQB architecture, enabling both plug-in hybrid and 48-volt mild-hybrid powertrains to appear in a Skoda for the first time. Conventional petrol and diesel power will continue in Skoda’s big seller. Volkswagen’s 1.5-litre TSI petrol four-cylinder will stay, but a new diesel mild hybrid is expected, 2.0 litres in capacity. Improvements in practicality will be targeted, but the Octavia liftback will retain its longer, sedan-inspired shape. “We see a long future for the Octavia: the new model will be state-of-the-art”, Skoda’s sales and marketing boss Alan Favey told. “The new Octavia will continue the theme of looking like a saloon but actually being a liftback”. A true family hatch rival to the new Ford Focus will arrive in the form of a replacement for the budget Rapid. Due in 2019, the next Rapid will move to the smallest version of the MQB A0 platform, which underpins superminis like the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo. The car will no longer be marketed as a cheap runaround, but will in effect become Skoda’s Golf equivalent, and take on a new name in the process. Signalling the car’s importance, the revolutionary Rapid replacement will also serve as the basis of Skoda’s next new SUV. Already previewed by the Vision X concept at the Geneva Motor Show back in March, the production model will arrive later in 2019, using the same platform and wheelbase. It could be badged Anuq or Amiq, and it’ll be the brand’s smallest SUV when it arrives, but it will be positioned above the Volkswagen T-Roc and Seat Arona. Skoda’s first all-electric car will be an EV variant of the Citigo, called Citigo E. Due next year, it’ll be a warm-up act for a production version of the Vision E concept seen at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. This car will be based on the VW Group’s new MEB platform. +++

+++ SSANGYONG wants to launch an electric pickup truck in the coming years. The South Korean automaker has already started developing the model but we don’t expect to see it until early in the next decade. The yet-unnamed model will ride on a brand-new architecture developed specifically to underpin electric vehicles. Daniel Rim, the brand’s executive director of export markets, told that the truck will “raise eyebrows.” He didn’t provide additional details, though he added he thinks the model will come with all-wheel drive. It could become the first electric pickup in the world unless Tesla beats SsangYong to the punch. SsangYong has its work cut out for it in the coming years. In addition to the electric truck, the company plans on releasing gasoline- powered pickups plus a series of new SUVs and crossovers, including a battery-powered model. SsangYong is a little bit like Jeep or Land Rover in the sense that it’s a company that has historically specialized in making off-roaders. It’s looking to capitalize on this position in the coming years to expand its presence globally. Right now, it’s heavily dependent on the Asian market with small pockets of activity in Europe and Australia. This leaves us with one question: will consumers ever see a SsangYong in North America? I’ve heard rumors of American-spec models before. In 2016, the company’s chief executive revealed he needed a new product line-up to stand a fighting chance in the United States. The then-current line-up was too old for such a competitive market. The company has embarked on a major tech and design overhaul, so I’ll keep an eye out on its expansion plans. +++

+++ TOYOTA is one of the few automakers embracing fuel cell vehicles and the company is doubling down on its commitment by unveiling Project Portal 2.0. Billed as a “great leap towards the future of zero-emission trucking”, Project Portal 2.0 is a hydrogen-powered Class 8 semi which builds on the success of the original Project Portal that was unveiled last year. Built using a handful of components sourced from the Mirai, Project Portal 2.0 is one of the world’s first zero-emission heavy trucks to be built by an OEM.  It has a range in excess of 482 km and this is a 161 km improvement over the original semi.  This has been achieved without negatively affecting performance, so Project Portal 2.0 has 670+ hp and 1,794 Nm. Besides the increased range, Project Portal 2.0 is more versatile than the original semi as it has been equipped with a sleeper cab that makes it better suited for long-distance travel. Toyota also says the model has a “unique fuel cabinet combination that further increases cab space without increasing wheelbase”. Thanks to these changes, Toyota says Project Portal 2.0 is “more commercially viable” than the original semi. While the company isn’t talking about production plans, the automaker highlighted the need for zero-emission semis by saying there are over 16,000 trucks working in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles alone. That number is expected to grow to 32,000 trucks by 2030. The unveiling of Project Portal 2.0 comes shortly after Toyota said it wants to produce more affordable fuel cell vehicles including cars and crossovers. The report went on to say the next-generation Mirai will arrive in the early 2020s and will likely have a more powerful and compact hydrogen fuel cell system. Little is known about the next Mirai, but the car could have an increased range of between 700 and 750 km). By 2025, the range could climb to 1,000 km. Besides the next-generation Mirai, Toyota reportedly has plans for an assortment of other fuel cell vehicles including trucks and SUVs. These models are expected to be launched around 2025 and they could be joined by commercial vehicles. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN could produce an R-badged performance model, based around one of its upcoming I.D. electric vehicles. During a recent interview, the boss of VW’s R division, Jost Capito, said the German automaker needs to ensure any ID R model it makes is up to scratch. “If we do an R electric car, then it will be a proper R, or else it wouldn’t make sense”, Capito said. According to Capito, no decision has been made as to when the vehicle will see the light of day. “We have an idea, based on what’s going on on the racing and production side, but we haven’t defined a date yet. The development in EV technology is going too quick that every month you have changes. At some point, you have to say: this is what we want, define it and go for it”. Volkswagen has also yet to decide which of its ID models will be the first to benefit from R treatment. To help it decide, the brand will figure out which vehicle will offer the best compromise between performance and everyday usability. The most likely candidate is the I.D. hatch or I.D. Crozz SUV. Whatever choice is made, Volkswagen is in a strong position to create a high-performance electric vehicle thanks to the knowledge it gained with the record-setting Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak and with the Audi Formula E team. VW-owned Porsche will also enter Formula E soon, increasing the firm’s EV presence even further. Speaking about the I.D. R Pikes Peak, Volkswagen motorsport boss Sven Smeets said it shows how exciting electric cars can be. “This project was a demonstration of what the ID family will be, and what R will be in an electric future. Our idea was to convince people that electric cars are not boring. They can be very emotional, and we’ve proven that”. +++

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