+++ Despite there being many companies out there developing Lidar technology for autonomous vehicles, multiple major automakers have elected to go with Luminar, a Silicon Valley-based tech firm who also works with the Toyota Research Institute and Volvo. Their latest partnership however is with AUDI ‘s autonomous car subsidiary. The goal is for Luminar’s high-powered Lidar tech to help future self-driving Audi models detect obstacles at ranges of 250 meters. “Perception remains a bottleneck for autonomous mobility and we quickly worked to find the most powerful sensors to make the perception task easier”, stated Audi chief technology officer, Alexandre Haag. Audi is planning on investing nearly $16 billion in future technologies, such as electric mobility and autonomous driving systems within the next 5 years. Meanwhile AID’s autonomous tech is expected to spread across multiple brands within the Volkswagen Group. So why Luminar? For one, because they’re one of the few tech firms capable of producing Lidar units at scale. They even opened up a 125,000-foot manufacturing facility in Orlando, Florida. “Seeing to 250 meters, even for dark objects and seeing extremely high resolutions, you can make out what those objects are and now identify the behavior and intention for those objects”, said Luminar founder Austin Russell, while speaking about his company’s breakthrough regarding predicting the movements of pedestrians. “So it’s those kinds of things that we have solved end to end. For many of those types of requirements, we’re an order of magnitude ahead of the next best”. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY is in a tight spot. The ultra-luxury brand is in a balancing act of trying to appeal to its more traditional customer base without turning-off new buyers. “The 2 major demographic segments that we don’t currently sell to (the upper liberals and the post-moderns) account for 40 % of high-net-worth individuals”, Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark told. “And an electric vehicle is even more appealing to them”. Rather than scooping up Bentleys, these consumers are instead buying Porsches and Teslas, according to Hallmark. Bentley, though, hopes the eventuality of its own electric-vehicle will eventually allow it to win over the “upper liberal” and “post-modern” crowds from its German and American competitors. “We see full-electric cars as another growth opportunity in a 5 to 10 year period”, Hallmark said. Why the wait? Well, it doesn’t help that Hallmark claims a mere 40 % of the brand’s current customers are interested in buying an EV. But more importantly, the CEO simply thinks the limited power-density of today’s battery packs means that any electric vehicle it creates will either lack a reasonable driving range or the physical size required of a Bentley product. I’d argue the Tesla Model X, as well as the forthcoming Rivian R1T and R1S truck and SUV, is a sizeable product with an adequate driving range. Nevertheless, Bentley may be aiming to top 640 kilometres of range on a full charge with its forthcoming electric vehicle. The Model X only manages a maximum of 470 kilometres, according to the EPA. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about the electric Bentley in the next few years. Until then, it seems the brand will just have to remain content with losing sales to Porsche and Tesla. +++

+++ It’s not a secret U.S. President Donald Trump and GENERAL MOTORS are not on good terms right now. GM’s decision to idle 4 U.S. plants from 2019 and cut up to 15,000 jobs didn’t go down well with the White House. When it made the restructuring announcement in late November, the automaker said it would invest twice as much money in electric vehicles and self-driving technology. Last year, GM said it planned to launch 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. Apparently, Trump believes it’s the wrong thing to do. In an interview, the President said GM’s decision to shift much of its focus to EVs would not succeed. “They’ve changed the whole model of General Motors. They’ve gone to all-electric. All-electric is not going to work. It’s wonderful to have it as a percentage of your cars, but going into this model that she’s doing I think is a mistake”, Trump said referring to General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra. The President, who threatened to eliminate EV tax credits, also reiterated his disappointment at General Motors’ job cuts and plant closures in the United States. “To tell me a couple weeks before Christmas that’s she going to close in Ohio and Michigan. That is not acceptable to me”, he said. He added that a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada will make it “very uncomfortable” to build vehicles outside the United States. “I don’t like that General Motors doing that. General Motors is not going to be treated well”, Trump said without providing details. Although signed on November 30, the new trade deal has not been approved by the U.S. Congress yet. Under the agreement, a significant percentage of vehicles must be built by workers earning at least $16 an hour. General Motor’s Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio will stop making the Chevrolet Cruze on March 1st and the decision to idle the plant will impact 1,435 hourly and 183 salaried employees. The news has been meet with harsh criticism and Trump has said “They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly”. While a new plant appears to be off the table, it looks like the fate of Lordstown Assembly might not be so dire. General Motors is “dangling the possibility that the factory could be salvaged” as a part of contract talks with the United Auto Workers (UAW). The talks are slated to begin next summer and they’ll likely be contentious as GM will leave 4 plants in the United States unallocated. In a preview of things to come, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes has previously said “GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days”. While nothing has been decided yet, GM spokesman Pat Morrissey told: “Plant closings are a matter of negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers”. He went on to say the plants are simply “unallocated” and this means “there is still the possibility GM will move forward and allocate new product there as part of the next agreement”. It remains unclear what will happen when talks kick off this summer, but GM could seek concessions from the UAW in order to keep Lordstown Assembly open. In return, GM could decide to build a new vehicle at the plant. Of course, only time will tell what happens to the plant and its employees. +++

+++ GENESIS says the soon in Europe to be launched brand is not targeting traditional premium car buyers, and will instead focus on offering a customer experience and concierge services unmatched by other manufacturers. The Hyundai owned premium brand will be launch at the end of next year. It is the latest premium offering to launch as a separate entity to a more mainstream offering, following Toyota owned Lexus, Nissan owned Infiniti and in the US, Honda owned Acura. Hyundai says the company is not aiming Genesis at the usual German premium brands and is instead looking at the wider premium segment that has grown significantly in recent years. “We are not targeting a brand perse, like a BMW or Mercedes”, he said. “What we are looking at is the totality of the luxury market. And if you look at the luxury market, you say ‘well you are going to try to get BMW people to come across’. No, not at all. We are breaking the total luxury market down into different psychographic profiling areas. And that luxury market has growth consistent with the general affluence of Europe; quite substantially in recent years. Not withstanding this year it is slowing down quite a bit. We have had this growing affluence underpinned buy a strong economy for some time. When you look at the luxury market, there are different mindsets of people who are in that sector who have access to the sorts of money and sort of life experience that they want for a luxury motorcar. And a BMW and Mercedes person is quite different to the sorts of people we will reach out to”. Said are no plans to connect the Genesis and mainstream Hyundai brands in its marketing activities. Therefore, there will be very little cannibalisation between the 2 marques. “We won’t be marketing to Hyundai people. Whilst those that are very close to their motorcars may have an understanding of the background and where the vehicles are coming from, and there is nothing to apologise for in that respect, we build very high-quality motorcars and Genesis will be the ultimate example of that. But the brands and the businesses and the customers that will engage with those products between the H and the G brands are very different people. Even in the very early stages, it will be very different people. There will be some small amount of cannibalisation, but it won’t be like some other brands have had through their journey in a similar way”. While Genesis is yet to announce full details of its European sales and servicing strategy, it is expected that there will be some online sales activities as well as through flagship stores, which is not like a traditional dealership. Servicing is also expected to be more like a concierge service where the customer’s vehicle is picked up and dropped off. Given the unique customer experience, it is possible that a Genesis buyer might never set foot in a dealership. “We will have to wait and see to what extent we get sufficient volume where those principles might be challenged. But our approach is to create a brand and a purchase and ownership experience that people have not seen before, certainly in the car industry and even in broader luxury segments. This is going to a high-touch, highly personal experience”. While Genesis is not quite ready to talk about pricing and specifications of its models, it will focus on value for money and simplicity in terms of the overall packaging. “Value still has a place even in the luxury market. I know there is another line of argument that says if you are super luxe, you have to be super priced. That’s not our thinking. Our thinking is also that there are lots of luxury customers. I think we can produce as good or better quality product than the traditional luxury brands. We can package the car with tech and safety and features and it will be equivalent to everybody else but we can package it in a no price, no haggle, no package, no complication proposition. We are going to try to specify the cars in the most popular way that meets the market requirements”. +++

+++ KIA will showcase a new in-car technology for future autonomous vehicles aimed at reading people’s emotional states in real time through artificial intelligence based bio-signal recognition at next months’ Consumer Electronics Show. Dubbed Real-Time Emotion Adaptive Driving, or just R.E.A.D, this innovative system was developed based on a joint research collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab’s Affective Computing group. According to the Korean automaker, R.E.A.D can optimize and personalize your car’s cabin by analyzing you in real time, “potentially altering conditions relating to the human senses”, and creating a better mobility experience. This is of course aimed at a future where people no longer have to worry about driving a car themselves and are able to mostly just sit back and relax. “We have developed the R.E.A.D. System to create an interactive future mobility in-cabin space by converging cutting edge vehicle control technology and AI-based emotional intelligence. Consequently, R.E.A.D. will enable continuous communication between drivers and vehicles through the unspoken language of ‘emotional feeling’, thereby providing an optimized human senses-oriented space for drivers in real-time”, stated Kia R&D boss, Albert Biermann. Kia’s CES 2019 exhibit will be called ‘Space of Emotive Driving’ and will also feature multiple other advanced in-car and mobility technologies focused on this specific concept. The upcoming Consumer Electronics Show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, kicks off on January 8 and ends on January 11. +++ 

+++ LEXUS have been successful at selling hybrids, but their lineup lacks a proper battery-electric model. However, that could soon change for the luxury auto brand, as a new trademark filing might signal the arrival of a zero-emission UX. Toyota is looking to secure the UX 300e moniker with the European Intellectual Property Office. And while sometimes automakers trademark different names to prevent the competition from using them, Lexus’ naming scheme scheme tells us that an electric UX might be on the cards. So far, Lexus hasn’t announced its intention of launching an electric crossover. Nevertheless, the LF-1 Limitless Concept that was presented at the New York Autoshow last Aprol was said to have either a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or even an electric powertrain. Thus, this could’ve been the firm’s way of initially teasing such a model. The UX 300e will probably launch next year, hinting at either a Geneva Motor Show or Frankfurt Motor Show reveal, in spring or fall, respectively. +++ 

+++ Having your check engine light come on can be a bit disconcerting as it could mean anything from major problems to something as simple as a gas cap not being tightly screwed on. While the issues can vary widely, the annual Vehicle Health Index Make and Model Reliability Rankings has analysed check engine repairs and their related costs. This year’s study looked at over 5.6 million vehicles from the 1996 to 2018 model years which reported a check engine light coming on between October 1st, 2017 and September 30th, 2018. According to the results of the study, Toyota vehicles were the least likely to have the check engine light come on. The automaker was followed by Hyundai, Honda and Mitsubishi. While it’s good to have a reliable vehicle, some repairs are unavoidable. When this occurs, you’ll probably want one of the cheapest vehicles to fix. MAZDA lead the study with an average check engine light repair cost of $286. It was followed by Kia ($320) and Hyundai ($328). As for the most reliable vehicles, the winner is a bit of a surprise as it’s the Audi Q5. It was followed by the Subaru XV and 3 Honda models (CR-V, HR-V and Civic). +++

+++ According to French hybrid engine parts supplier Valeo, MILD HYBRID vehicles will make up over 25 % of all cars worldwide in the year 2026. The statement was made by the company’s innovation director, Guillaume Devauchelle. Valeo manufactures electric devices that assist the combustion engine in mild hybrids, allowing them to reduce overall carbon emissions; this being one of the technology’s selling points. Devauchelle thinks that the number of cars running on these types of mild-hybrid powertrain configurations will reach 27 million in 2026. He also said that cars running either entirely or just partly on gasoline will remain “the majority for a long time”, because the transition to fully-electric models will be a gradual one. Compared to regular hybrids or even plug-in hybrids, mild-hybrid vehicles require less extra parts, which means that automakers can keep the weight down. The flip side of that is that you don’t save as much fuel as with a full hybrid design, and you don’t get high levels of regenerative braking. So while efficiency is not as high as with full-hybrid cars, plenty of automakers have still invested in mild-hybrid technology; including major players such as brands from the Volkswagen Group, Daimler, Hyundai, Kia and others. Valeo is one of the world’s top suppliers and has sold $19.3 billion’s worth of original-equipment automotive parts in 2017. +++ 

+++ The NEW YORK MOTOR SHOW isn’t until March next year, but debuts and reveals have been confirmed by at least 8 manufacturers ahead of the event. Some of these unveilings will come from Genesis, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche; all premium brands that will no doubt want to showcase important models at the New York show. But what will they be presenting exactly? While further details won’t be confirmed until around the time of the New York motor show in March, here’s a few educated guesses as to what will be making its debut in the Big Apple. The Genesis debut is mooted to be a production version of the GV80 concept shown at the 2017 New York show, signalling the Korean luxury offshoot’s arrival on the premium SUV segment. While it’s not due to be launched in Europe until the end of 2019, it’s reported the GV80 will be available with V6 and V8 engines, meaning it will likely be based on the rear-drive Kia Stinger platform as opposed to the front-drive architecture of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Palisade. Not much else is known about the new model, but it would likely compete with mid- to large- sized offerings from established luxury players like the Audi Q5/Q7, BMW X3/X5, Mercedes-Benz GLC/GLE, along with the Lexus RX. Mercedes-Benz is believed to be prepping the all-new GLS for New York, which would make sense given that model is produced in North America alongside the GLE. The new GLS is expected to be even larger than the current model, while also being more luxurious to compete with everything from the BMW X7 to the Range Rover. Numerous reports have suggested the GLS could get an uber-luxe Maybach variant like the S-Class limousine, which could take the big Benz into contention with the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Since the GLS will almost certainly be based on a stretched version of the GLE platform, expect the new full-size SUV to offer the latest and greatest in driver assistance tech and infotainment systems, including the net-based MBUX software that debuted in the A-Class. Finally, the Porsche reveal could be anything from a version of the new-generation 911 sports car, or the production version of the all-electric Taycan. So far we’ve only seen the 911 Carrera S (revealed a few weeks ago in Los Angeles) meaning there’s still Cabriolet, Targa, Turbo and GT3 versions still to come. The Taycan, meanwhile, has been confirmed for launch sometime next year but hasn’t actually been revealed in production form. It’ll draw heavy inspiration from the Mission E concept that previewed it, though expect the final design to be a little watered down and more in line with the latest models in the company’s range. Other debuts are scheduled for Kia, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, though it’s not entirely clear what the mainstream brands are planning. Kia revealed the all-new Soul in Los Angeles, including the electric version, so the Korean brand’s reveal could be a sub-Sportage crossover. Kia plans to launch the flagship SUV Telluride in the first half of 2019, while a new compact model should be launch in Europe during the latter half of next year. Subaru’s debut is a little more of a mystery, though my guess is a hybrid version of the Forester or Ascent, following the launch of the Crosstrek (XV) Hybrid in Los Angeles last month. +++ 

+++ NISSAN has filed a civil claim in Brazil against Carlos Ghosn’s older sister to request a stay on the statute of limitations for “unjust enrichment”. The company said the claim was “not yet a specific request for a judgment against Ghosn’s sister”, but the move was seen as preparing the carmaker for additional legal action in the future. Nissan’s internal investigation has uncovered a $100,000 per year consulting contract signed between Ghosn’s sister and Nissan, although there was no evidence of any work being done. Separately, Ghosn’s daughter retrieved documents, cash and a gift wallet from a Nissan-owned apartment in Rio after winning a court battle with the Japanese group that sought to block her access. The company claimed there was a risk that potential evidence of misconduct by Ghosn could be removed or destroyed. Nissan believed the safes may contain details of dealings Ghosn had with prominent political and business figures in Brazil, some of whom were later jailed on bribery and corruption charges. But the daughter, who was accompanied by 2 judicial officers and Nissan’s lawyers when she entered the apartment, did not find any documents inside the safes and only retrieved $20,000 in Brazilian currency and an empty wallet. Nissan said its lawyers were unable to review 2 plastic folders containing documents that were separately removed from a wardrobe. Devon Spurgeon, a spokesperson for Ghosn and his family, said the documents were old agendas from a business trip to Brazil, and a request by Nissan to see the documents was denied by the judge. +++

+++ An hour’s drive north of Paris along the River Seine lies Flins, home to RENAULT ’s biggest and oldest factory, where 2,700 workers and 900 robots toil in tandem to build a steady stream of compact cars. More than half of the vehicles rolling off the line, however, don’t carry the Renault diamond badge. Instead, the factory’s most important car is the Nissan Micra, of which Flins produced 94,000 last year. The site’s shift towards the Japanese model is emblematic of Nissan’s heft in an alliance it has failed to dominate since its inception almost 2 decades ago. Even French President Emmanuel Macron has been drawn into photo opportunities with management to tout Nissan’s plans in France, rolling up last month at Renault’s factory in Maubeuge, where the Renault Kangoo-based Nissan NV250 small van will be produced next year. Flins also is ramping up the Renault Zoe full-electric car but the small hatchback still accounts for less than a fifth of the plant’s output. The French-Japanese alliance is now threatened by the downfall of the man central to the functioning of the partnership: Carlos Ghosn. He was re-arrested on more expansive charges of corporate wrongdoing. The Nissan side has sought to harness the leadership void to address what it perceives as French favoritism by Ghosn. The French government, on the other hand, has moved to protect the pact as Renault’s biggest shareholder, saying it has helped secure business over the years, a view shared by the workers of Flins. “The factory needs the alliance”, said Dominique Bertrand, who represents the Force Ouvriere labor union at Flins, where he started on the assembly line more than four decades ago. “Electric cars are the future, but they won’t keep the whole plant busy”. The stakes are high in France, where unemployment is above 9 % and Renault is one of the biggest employers, with almost 48,000 people on the payroll. Macron has endured a combative month. Demonstrators clad in yellow vests swarmed the streets of Paris to protest his policies, in a clash that has morphed into an explosive movement against inequality. While Ghosn’s decline and fall has gripped the corporate and political world in Japan and France, the response has been fractured. In the wake of a lengthy investigation by Nissan, executives in Asia removed Ghosn from his posts, while the European side kept him in place, arguing he should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. The alliance shareholding agreement gives Renault a 43 % stake in Nissan, while Nissan holds 15 % of Renault, with no voting rights. The agreement also stipulates that Renault’s CEO heads the alliance. When the alliance began in 1999, Renault was about the same size but in much better shape financially than Nissan, which was on the verge of collapse. Fast forward 2 decades, and Nissan overshadows its French partner with almost twice the revenue and a larger profit contribution. Ghosn is unlikely to re-emerge in public anytime soon. He has already spent a month in jail in Tokyo, and the latest set of charges accuse Ghosn of inflicting financial damage to Nissan from his own unprofitable investments. Ghosn’s lawyers declined to comment, and the French government has not responded to the latest developments. While Renault has undoubtedly benefited from the alliance, workers in Flins don’t necessarily share the view that Nissan has propped up its partner, or that Ghosn (a globalist with roots in Brazil, France and Lebanon) is partial to Paris. On the contrary, the view in Flins is that Nissan has launched cars with fresher designs and hot-selling crossover vehicles such as the Juke and the Qashqai, something that Renault required years to replicate. Nissan also has pushed into the important Chinese market on Ghosn’s watch, while Renault has little presence there. Nissan does rely on Renault, too, for better access to the vast European market. Renault makes engines for Nissan in Cleons in northern France, and the Nissan-badged vans sold in the region are Renault under the hood. Nissan and its Micra, first launched in 1982, are key to keeping Flins humming along. Less than a decade ago, it looked as if building the Micra was too costly in Western Europe: Nissan moved production from Sunderland in the United Kingdom to a Renault factory in Chennai, India. But quality issues and the distance from key European market led Nissan to relocate the Micra once more, this time to Flins. There were also more synergies with Renault’s Clio, France’s bestselling car this year that’s also built in Flins and has the same engine transmission as the Micra. It’s a complex work web that highlights the intertwined relationship between Renault and Nissan. “Building the Micra in Flins was really a symbol of the alliance”, said Yassine Aldidi, a representation of the CFDT union at the plant. “Now we’re wondering if this is the beginning of the end”. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will write off its investment in Gett after the Israel-based ride hailing app failed to gain ground on bigger rivals Uber, Lyft and Didi. Gett raised another $80 million from major shareholders including Volkswagen and Access Industries in a funding round in June valuing the company at $1.4 billion. Volkswagen has already written down the value of its Gett holding to 16 million euros. +++

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