Newsflash II

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+++ The Seat ALHAMBRA will get technology upgrades to keep it up to date, as the existing version of the Spanish MPV approaches its 9th year of life. The future of the venerable people-carrier, developed in conjunction with the Volkswagen Sharan, has been in increasing doubt, not least because Seat now has a 7-seat SUV in the form of the Tarraco. However, speaking at the launch of the flagship SUV, Seat’s head of research and development, Matthias Rabe, told that the Alhambra remains a part of the company’s plans. Adding that the firm is planning updates to keep it fresh and satisfy existing customers who want to renew. “The Alhambra is part of our range and it continues to be so”, Rabe said. “The Tarraco doesn’t change that. Yes, the Tarraco is a 7-seater, and for occasional use they are excellent, but if you’re using 7 seats every day then the Alhambra still makes sense. “The car has a big fan base and I think sales have been steady or even improving a little bit recently, so we want to keep those customers happy. We’re working on some ideas to keep the car fresh and we’ll certainly be putting new technology on it to do that; things like the latest generation of adaptive cruise control, for example”. Rabe declined to say if a new generation of Alhambra is under development, although it’s considered unlikely, given the global collapse of the MPV market. There’s no confirmation yet from Seat on whether the updates will be introduced as optional extras, or if they’ll be part of a late-life face-lift for the Alhambra. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN is seeking a price tag of up to $6.7 billion in its stock market debut next month and has geared up for any Brexit outcome, it said. The company, famed for making the sports car driven by fictional secret agent James Bond, said last month it planned to sell around 25 % of its stock in the first initial public offering (IPO) by a British carmaker for decades. A bookrunner for the IPO said the company had already received orders for all the stock on sale. Aston Martin hopes to announce the final price for its stock on or around Oct. 3 and expects it to be admitted to the London Stock Exchange on or around Oct. 8. However, some analysts have raised questions about the valuation it is seeking. Carmakers have warned any customs checks and duties that might result from Britain’s departure from the European Union next March could slow production and add costs to an industry that has been one of the country’s few manufacturing success stories of recent years. The chief executive of Aston Martin, which builds all its cars in Britain, said the company had boosted its stock of engines and components in case free and unfettered trade with the EU ends in a few months’ time. “We’re up to five days of engine stock for example and we’ve got a very large warehouse in Wellesbourne (in central England) where we have at least 5 days of car stock”, Andy Palmer told, up from the previous 3 days’ worth of components held by the firm. “If there are tariffs for every car we lose because of a 10 % tariff into Europe, we presumably pick up from Ferrari and Lamborghini in the other direction because obviously their cars become more expensive in the UK”, he said. But in its IPO prospectus, Aston Martin warned it could face a “significant adverse effect” on sales and profitability if the 18 % of sales it makes into the EU are hit by restrictions. The majority of the company’s suppliers are located in the EU meaning limitations on the movement of goods could also hit the firm’s production schedule and costs. London and Brussels hope to conclude a Brexit agreement by the end of the year, but carmakers are worried that failure to reach a deal could lead to snarl-ups on motorways and at ports, disrupting trade. Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralf Speth warned last week the wrong Brexit deal could cost tens of thousands of car jobs and risk production at the firm, Britain’s biggest carmaker. It said last month the IPO would involve a sale of shares by its main owners, Kuwaiti and Italian private equity groups. The carmaker has undergone a turnaround plan since Palmer took over in 2014, boosting production and expanding into new segments, with a new factory due to open in 2019. Palmer will receive an annual salary of €1.3 million after the IPO and will hold 0.6 % of shares in the company, which he will be able to sell down in stages over 4 years; a move the company said showed the long-term interests of management and shareholders would be aligned. The central England-based automaker sees Italian brand Ferrari, which made its Wall Street debut in 2015 amid strong investor demand, as a model to follow. But some analysts are skeptical. “Aston Martin pricing demands high level of confidence in company’s plans”, said Evercore ISI’s Arndt Ellinghorst. “We continue to flag Aston Martin’s extremely high R&D capitalization rate, which is elevating reported margins and earnings in the near-term”. Palmer, however, said investor interest had been “unprecedented” so far, as he hits the road with a message there is more growth to come. “The tendency of the investors are ‘long only’ type investors, people that understand that this is a growth story,” he said, when asked who he would be meeting. Such investors tend to be institutions that often hold stock for many years. “The aeroplane is half way down the runway but there’s still half the runway to go”. +++ 

+++ FERRARI chief executive Louis Camilleri is under pressure to achieve the lofty targets set by Sergio Marchionne before his death. Camilleri took the top position at Ferrari in July after Marchionne fell ill following surgery. The industry veteran would later die a few days later. Shortly afterwards, shares in Ferrari fell by more than 8 % when Camilleri said Marchionne’s financial targets were “aspirational”, suggesting that they may not be achievable. Marchionne pledged to double core earnings to €2 billion by 2022 and introduce the Italian automaker’s first SUV. “Investors want to hear whether Ferrari confirms the 2-billion figure, which was already seen as ambitious and now somewhat put in question by the new CEO and how they plan to expand the portfolio, including an SUV”, general manager at investment fund Investitori, Emanuele Vizzini said. Ferrari’s value has doubled since it was taken public in 2015 under Marchionne’s leadership and is in very strong health, easing pressure on Camilleri. However, the company does have some challenges ahead, especially as emissions rules tighten around the world, forcing Ferrari to adopt hybrid and electric technologies throughout its range. Additionally, many Ferrari enthusiasts remain on the fence about the marque’s promised SUV. Some are doubtful that such a vehicle will prove a raging success while others assert that it will likely follow in the footsteps of the Lamborghini Urus, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and Bentley Bentayga and be well-received by wealthy customers. However, the Ferrari SUV turns out, Camilleri will be under constant scrutiny to ensure the car manufacturer and lifestyle brand takes no backwards steps. +++

+++ Toyota’s GAZOO RACING sub-brand is set to expand with the names of the first GR-badged variant of the GT86 across Europe. If the trademarks signify production performance variants, it will mean a more hardcore version of Toyota’s GT86 sports car. This development fits with Toyota’s aim to spread the influence of its Gazoo Racing division, with the upcoming Supra being honed by the motorsport sub-brand. It’s almost certain that the GT86 will get uprated power over their cooking variants. The GR-badged GT86 variant trademark comes near the end of the car’s current life cycle. The GR version could therefore be introduced in the second-generation GT86, due soon if the usual 7-year cycle is any guide. This will help to differentiate the car from the mechanically identical Subaru BRZ, produced in a joint venture between the 2 brands. +++ 

+++ A federal judge has dismissed a criminal case against GENERAL MOTORS over its handling of ignition switch issues. The case, brought against GM in 2015, was dismissed after a request filed to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan by federal prosecutors. The automaker entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York back in 2015 after being charged with wire fraud and concealing information from government officials over the ignition switch defect linked to 124 deaths. The agreement required GM to pay a $900 million fine and accept three years of oversight from an independent monitor. Those 3 years are now up and prosecutors say General Motors has complied with all the agreement’s terms. In the years since the ignition switch issue emerged, General Motors has recalled 2.6 million vehicles and paid in excess of $2.6 billion in penalties and settlements. Included in this sum was $120 million GM agreed to pay in order to settle claims from 49 U.S. states in October 2017. The states in question asserted that GM knew about the safety risk posed by its ignition switches as early as 2004, but decided against fixing the problem. Federal officials claim GM could have resolved the issue with a new key design that would have cost less than $1 per vehicle. No one from General Motors has been criminally charged over the matter. However, while the government’s case against GM has been dismissed, the car manufacturer is still facing civil lawsuits over the ignition switch saga. +++ 

+++ The future of the MINI brand is being radically rethought as its BMW parent makes major changes to its product plans. Plans for a new 4th-generation Mini have been pushed back and any new model will not appear before 2023. Even the major makeover scheduled for today’s Mini range in late 2019 might be canned as part of BMW’s comprehensive planning overhaul. One plan for the Oxford-based brand would see BMW and Chinese car maker Great Wall teaming up to engineer a new small front-wheel-drive platform, which would be used for an all-new range of Minis to be launched from 2023. Sources also say the 4th-generation Mini range is likely to shrink, with an axe hanging over future versions of the cabriolet and the three-door hatchback. The dislocation of the Mini brand comes after BMW’s decision to shift production to just two platforms for all of its future models. These have been dubbed FAAR for front-wheel-drive cars and CLAR for rear-wheel-drive ones. This strategic move, say insiders, has left Mini’s future up in the air because the FAAR architecture is too expensive and too big to underpin future Mini models. As BMW platform strategist Lutz Meyer told, both the FAAR and CLAR platforms will be engineered to allow vehicles to be produced with internal combustion engines, as plug-in hybrids and as pure-electric models. The electric motor on the hybrid versions of the new-generation vehicles will drive the axle not powered by the internal combustion engine. This engineering layout means that future BMW plug-in hybrids will be all-wheel drive. Such a complex ‘multi-fuel’ platform will be more expensive to engineer and produce than today’s rather simpler, front- wheel-drive UKL platform, which underpins the Mini family and BMW models such as the 2 Series Active Tourer and X1. For BMW, the FAAR and CLAR architectures are essential because it is proving difficult to predict with accuracy future buying patterns and the extent to which drivers will swap to pure- electric vehicles. As a global brand, BMW also has to cover individual market moves in different countries. For example, China is switching to electric cars at a much faster rate than Western markets. Furthermore, the Mini brand’s fundamental problem is that it is a relatively small part of the BMW operation. In 2017, the BMW Group sold 2.46 million vehicles. Of that total, Mini accounted for 372,000 units globally; a sixth of the company’s output. Crucially, however, the 6-model Mini range shares technology with a number of BMWs (including the new X1 and X2 crossovers) and total production of the front-drive UKL platform is a very healthy 850,000-plus units annually. Even so, when BMW begins the shift to the FAAR platform from 2021, production of the UKL platform will be phased out. This is the hard industrial logic that lies behind BMW’s attempts to broker a deal with another car maker to engineer a new platform that is modern and safe but less complex and expensive to produce. Industry rumours suggest that BMW held extensive talks with Toyota on a co-operative project, but that came to nothing. A deal with Great Wall looks more promising because BMW and the Chinese maker have already formed a 50/50 joint venture. Called Spotlight Automotive, it will produce an electric version of today’s Mini in China. If the new BMW-Great Wall platform project goes ahead, the 2023 Mini family will be quite different. There’s unlikely to be a cabriolet and the 3-door bodystyle could also be dropped. Expect a compact 5-door hatch and new Clubman and Countryman models that will be less bulky and rather more lithe than today’s cars, which are hampered (especially in the case of the 5-door hatch) by having to be built on a platform designed primarily for vehicles from a larger segment. 3-cylinder engines with mild-hybrid assistance will be standard issue on the new models. A pure-electric version of the platform, spun into 2 models, is part of Great Wall’s plan to offer 7 EVs in its range by 2025. The Mk4 Mini will still be made in the UK, but localised production for the Chinese market seems highly likely. In 2017, only 35,000 Minis were sold in China. The cost benefits of local production could boost that significantly. One significant reason for BMW pursuing a platform deal with a Chinese maker is that the engineering costs will be notably lower than for a platform engineered in Europe. It’s not widely appreciated that the cost of engineering a new platform has to be amortised across every car that is built on it. High wage costs for Western engineers (alongside factory workers, designers and management staff) is a massive issue for cars like the Mini. Traditionally, Mini’s vast array of options packages has boosted profitability, but as standard equipment levels have increased, this effect has lessened. +++

+++ The PSA Group is predicting tenfold growth in global sales of plug-in cars to around 10 million units by 2025 and promises that by then every one of its models will be offered as either a plug-in hybrid or electric car. This encompasses those from the Citroën, DS, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall brands. Alexandre Guignard, PSA’s group director of low-emission vehicles, told that all of the brands are “technologically ready to play our part in the coming energy transition”. His teams, based in a special prototype plant at Sochaux in eastern France, have spent years reorganising the group’s manufacturing systems so that each plant specialises in models from 1 of 2 modular platforms: LMP2 for family-sized cars and SUVs and CMP for smaller cars. From next year, PSA will offer a plug-in hybrid or electric version of every new model. It expects to launch 15 of these between now and 2021, concentrating on electric for the CMP cars and plug-in hybrid for the LMP2 ones. All models have been engineered for maximum manufacturing commonality between standard and electrified models, and their interior packaging is identical. The first plug-in hybrid model on LMP2 architecture will be the DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 4×4, which is due early next year. 7 other models using the same powertrain, including the Peugeot 508 and 508 SW, Peugeot 3008, Opel Grandland X and Citroën C5 Aircross, will gradually follow to 2021. These models will use a 1.6-litre Puretech petrol engine mounted transversely in the nose, producing around 200 hp alone and driving through an 8-speed Aisin automatic gearbox. Two 110 hp electric motors, one front and one rear, work with the engine to provide around 300 hp of peak performance, which yields 0-100 km/h acceleration of 6.5 seconds. A front-wheel-drive version features a 180 hp version of the Puretech 1.6 with one 80kW motor and a 13kWh battery. Fully charged, the lithium ion traction battery carried under the rear seat gives an electric-only range of up to 50 kilometres, while official CO2 output is 49 g/km. In real-world terms, says Guignard, the 7 Crossback E-Tense 4×4 is around 40 % more frugal than its conventional petrol equivalent. PSA predicts that the biggest expansion in electric car demand between now and 2025 will be in Europe, where take-up will expand 13-fold to 3.6 million units. In China and North America, sales are tipped to grow 8 times, to 4.7 million and 1.7 million units respectively. “We are ready for this”, says Guignard. “We will have the technology and the product. But, like everyone, we also have much work ahead”. +++ 

+++ SEAT will launch 2 electric models within the next 3 years, including its first bespoke full EV built on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB decided electric architecture. Speaking at the launch of the Tarraco SUV, which completes the first wave of the firm’s ongoing model offensive, Seat’s technical boss, Matthias Rabe, said the company is set to introduce a number of electric and electrified models into its range. The firm has already confirmed that its first EV, which will likely be an electric version of the Mii, will arrive in 2019, alongside a new Leon. The firm will launch a new product every 6 months for the next 3 years, including the first pure electric model, built on the MEB platform. Rabe said the model “will show electric cars can be emotional, sport and demanding”. He described it as an “all-day car”, adding: “That means affordable, suitable as a family car in terms of interior space, and with a range of around 500 km. “We will have a very nice, very interesting offer for the customer in a price region where we are today. It will be a nice package: good technology, fun to drive and with the price will be somewhere between Leon and Ateca, it will be a good offer to market”. Rabe also said that the firm would introduce extensive use of hybrid and mild hybrid technology throughout the line-up of both Seat and new sub-brand Cupra. The new Tarraco will launch with petrol and diesel engines, with Rabe confirming that a plug-in hybrid version would follow within the next 2 years. It will offer a total powertrain performance of 210 hp with 400 Nm of torque and a pure electric range of 50 kilometres. He also said the car would have a CO2 output of less than 50 g/km. Seat is also working on a number of other alternative fuel types, including Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). It showcased the technology at the launch of the Tarraco, although CNG-powered Seat models are unlikely to reach the UK due to limited demand for the fuel in this market. +++

+++ The SUZUKI Vitara will be the Japanese firm’s first full-hybrid model when it launches early next decade. Dale Wyatt, Suzuki UK’s managing director, told electrification will be a key pillar in the brand’s development over the next few years. “We’ll see mild hybrid coming through”, he said. “We’ll use 12-volt systems on smaller cars, and 48-volt on the larger models; this will happen up to 2020”. Asked whether full-hybrid powertrains would feature in the Suzuki line-up later down the line, Wyatt said: “Yes, but on S-Cross and Vitara. Not Swift and Celerio”. Price is the deciding factor on what form of electrification Suzuki’s future models will use; more expensive models are able absorb the higher cost of hybrid technology. “The cost of electrification is around €10,000”, Wyatt added. “People aren’t prepared to pay that kind of money on a Swift”. Wyatt also hinted at the possibility of a slimmed-down Suzuki range in the future, however. It would see the company looking to ditch its 2 model per segment strategy, one rational and one emotional, for a ‘one size fits all’ approach. He admitted the models pulling customers into showrooms were cars like the funky Ignis, Swift and Vitara, rather than the more practical Celerio, Baleno and S-Cross. +++ 

+++ The new Seat TARRACO will be offered in performance-focused FR form in both conventional and plug-in hybrid forms. Seat has already confirmed plans to offer a sport-themed FR edition alongside the Style and Xcellence versions that will form the backbone of the range. Seat’s head of research and development, Matthias Rabe, confirmed that the Tarraco Hybrid, due in 2020, with 210 hp and 400 Nm of torque, and the ability to go 50 kilometres on pure-electric power alone, will not just be a standalone model, but rather a powertrain that can be fitted to various trim levels. These would include FR, he stated. “FR Tarraco will be about the design and styling, and the chassis, instead of more power”, Rabe said. “We have 190 hp petrol and diesel versions, and then there’s the 210 hp hybrid, and these all have enough performance for FR. So yes, there’s every reason why FR can be a hybrid and we will certainly do that”. The Tarraco hybrid will have CO2 emissions of less than 50 g/km, Rabe said, even on the tougher WLTP fuel test that’s now being introduced. +++ 

+++ TESLA boss Elon Musk has lamented the company’s latest challenge, “delivery logistics hell”, as Model 3 production continues to ramp up. Responding to a buyer who complained that she could see her car just beyond the fence collecting dust in a railyard as Tesla kept pushing back the estimated delivery date, Musk admitted deliveries have been more challenging than expected. “Sorry, we’ve gone from production hell to delivery logistics hell, but this problem is far more tractable,” he wrote. “We’re making rapid progress. Should be solved shortly”. The executive has also acknowledged difficulties getting Tesla cars repaired at independent body shops. Some third-party shops have apparently blamed Tesla for weeks-long delays, claiming that the automaker is slow to ship necessary parts to complete repairs. “Goal is for repaired car to be better than before accident”, Musk wrote on Twitter. “Should always be true if damaged/used parts are correctly replaced with newer parts”. The company has completed basic body repairs in 24 hours, but Musk is pushing for same-day fixes and eventually complete jobs in under an hour. +++ 

+++ There was a time when the new TOYOTA Supra could have launched as a very different sports car. Gazoo Racing chief Tetsuya Tada revealed that Toyota was considering a mid-engined layout for the new Supra. “In the planning stages we suggested a mid-engined layout and BMW was happy to go with it, but I took the idea to Akio Toyoda and he told me off”, Tada said. While mid-engined vehicles have inherently more balance than front-engined cars, Tada said that there are numerous advantages to fitting the engine up front. “We stuck with front engine because of feel and control. We know how to control a front-engine car, we already have that capability”, he stated. While we won’t be getting a Toyota Supra with its engine in the middle just like a Porsche Cayman or Alpine A110, the new Supra will continue the Japanese marque’s recent strong form of launching enthusiast-focused vehicles, something it revived with the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ twins. The range-topping Supra will come outfitted with a single-turbo 3.0-liter B58B30 engine shared with BMW. This engine is tipped to deliver 340 hp and will be mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission sending power through the rear wheels. A manual gearbox looks unlikely. The all-new Toyota Supra is set to launch next year. +++

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