+++ AUDI expects its new Q3 to appeal to women buyers despite its more “masculine” design compared with the soft look of its predecessor. Female customers, just like men, have professional lives and want a car that reflects their equal status, Audi exterior designer Matthias Fink said. “It was an error in the past to think that all women want sweet cars”, he said. The second-generation Q3 gets a “bodybuilder” style makeover with a more upright appearance and bulging sides. Its large new octagonal grille and big side inlets also help give it a more masculine look, Audi said. The SUV is a key model for the company. It’s Audi’s No. 3-selling model globally after the Q5 and A4, accounting for just over a tenth of the automaker’s overall volume. Besides the fresh design, Audi hopes enhanced driver safety and assistance equipment, a new digital dashboard and more interior space will help to boost sales. The Q3 moves to parent Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture from an older platform. The Q3 is 96 mm longer, 18 mm wider but its height was trimmed by 5 mm compared with its predecessor. The wheelbase is 77 mm longer, giving more knee room, headroom and elbow room. Audi replaced the analog instruments on the dashboard with its new digital instrument cluster. A 10.25 inch screen is standard. Customers can also opt for Audi’s Virtual Cockpit with added functionality features including music track information and navigation on the driver’s main screen. The Q3’s more sophisticated safety equipment includes a so-called “adaptive cruise assist” that uses sensors and cameras to help monitor what is around the vehicle. The system helps the driver to accelerate, brake and steer in traffic jams or on long journeys. A Pre-Sense front safety system that can automatically brake to avoid collisions with pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles is standard. Audi has moved production of European versions of the Q3 to Györ, Hungary, from Seat’s factory in Martorell, Spain. Audi A1 production replaces the Q3 in Martorell after moving from Brussels, where the company is building its new e-Tron. +++ 

+++ The new CHEVROLET Corvette (C8) won’t be launched at an auto show. General Motors says it is looking at a summer reveal, “perhaps May at the earliest,” at a dedicated event where the Corvette won’t share its new look on life with any other vehicle. Seems only fitting, since 2 years ago Chevrolet launched the latest Camaro at a standalone event in May in Detroit. Price has been an even more confusing topic than the launch date, with numbers from $70,000 to $170,000 making claims. Seems that 3 months ago, Bob Lutz told the C8 would run roughly $5,000 more than the current C7 Corvette. With 2019 prices having just risen in the United States, the entry Stingray Coupe starts at $56,995 out-the-door, putting a Lutz-based estimate around $62,000. The Bob has revised his figures, though. He now says: “I expect the goal is to sell the C8, version for version, at a little more than the C7”. I don’t know how Lutz defines “a little”. If Chevrolet can get the cap the starting bid at $70,000, that feels like win in spite of a 25 % price jump. There’s a healthy gap to the C7’s price, which will sell beside the C8 for a while, and that buys a 6.2-liter mid-engined V8 with more than 455 hp. Besides, the 992-series Porsche 911 starts at $110,000. More expensive versions will come, though. Lutz also said: “The superfast variants will come out 2 to 3 years later and cost more than $100,000”. Those roaring trims are predicted to include the much-discussed twin-turbo DOHC V8, and a hybridized model with more than 1.000 hp and all-wheel drive thanks to an electrified front axle. Lutz says of the C8’s automatic gearbox: “Traditional customers will certainly resent that change because the manual-shift cars are fun to drive. But I believe that machines often outdo humans”. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI , the world’s 5th biggest carmaker by sales, said it is bracing for weak sales in 3 major markets next year due to the slowing global economy, trade disputes and rising lending rates. In a seminar held at the carmaker’s headquarters in southern Seoul, the Global Business Intelligence Center, a think tank under the South Korean carmaker, forecast global vehicle sales will fall 0.1 % to 92.49 million units in 2019 from an estimated 92.44 million units this year. “Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, slower growth in China and stricter regulations on diesel cars in Europe are all set to further weigh down demand in those significant markets in 2019”, said Hyundai vice president Lee Bo-sung, who heads the center. The Hyundai research institute forecast vehicle sales of 17 million in the U.S. in the new year, down 1.4 % from an estimated 17.25 million for 2018, with sales in Europe to dip 0.2 % on-year to 17.8 million units from 17.84 million. Sales in China are expected to move up 0.2 % to 23.2 million from 23.15 million. In the carmaker’s home market of South Korea, increasing rates and sluggish growth are all likely to affect consumer sentiment, Lee said. Vehicle sales are projected to fall 1 % to 1.79 million autos from 1.81 million in the cited period, he added. But in emerging markets such as India, Brazil and Russia, combined vehicle sales are expected to grow 7.7 % to 8.28 million autos in 2019 from an estimated 7.67 million in 2018, the senior executive predicted. The sale of electric vehicles, including plug-in electric and battery electric cars, will continue to rise to reach 4.01 million units from 3.37 million during the 2018-2019 period, he said. Hyundai and Kia originally aimed to sell a combined 7.55 million vehicles this year, up 4.1 % from the 7.25 million they sold last year. Analysts, however, said the target may not be reachable due mainly to a lack of competitive SUV models in the US and Chinese markets. In the January-November period, their combined sales rose 1.96 % to 6.75 million units from 6.62 million the previous year. +++ 

+++ Since his arrest on suspicion of falsifying financial reports, Nissan’s former Chairman Carlos Ghosn has been sitting in a humble cell for more than a month, interrogated day in and day out, without a lawyer present. His case is drawing attention to the criminal justice system in JAPAN , where there is no presumption of innocence and the accused can be held for months before trial. The system, sometimes called “hostage justice,” has come under fire from human rights advocates. When a court denied Tokyo prosecutors’ request to detain Ghosn another 10 days, it was so unusual that the Japanese media reported he might be released. But such speculation was dashed when prosecutors rearrested him a day later on suspicion of breach of trust, tagging on a new set of allegations centered on Ghosn’s shifting personal investment losses of some $16 million to Nissan. But his plight is routine in Japan. People have signed confessions, even to killings they never committed, just to get out of the ordeal. A trial could be months away and could drag on even longer. And his chances aren’t good: The conviction rate in Japan is 99 %. Those close to Ghosn and his family say he is asserting his innocence. But it is unclear when release may come for Ghosn, who led a 2 decade turnaround at Nissan from near-bankruptcy. Tokyo prosecutors consider Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, a flight risk. Other nations may have legal systems that are criticized as brutal and unfair. The U.S., for instance, has its share of erroneous convictions, police brutality and dubious plea bargains. But, in the U.S., a person is presumed innocent, has the right to have an attorney present and gets freed within 72 hours if there is no charge. Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s School of Law, said such a longtime detention is highly unusual in the U.S. “Each time the government reaches a deadline where Ghosn might be released, the government files new allegations and rearrests”, he said. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Shin Kukimoto said prosecutors are merely doing their job of “trying to carry out a proper investigation”. When asked by a reporter about “hostage justice”, he replied: “We are not in a position to comment on how the law has been designed”. Under such a system, those who insist on innocence end up getting detained longer. Once the rearrest processes run out and a suspect is formally charged, bail is technically possible but often denied until the trial starts because of fears about tampered evidence. “It is good that the world will learn how wrong Japan’s criminal system is through the case of this famous person. It is something even many Japanese don’t know”, says Seiho Cho, a lawyer in Tokyo and an expert on criminal defense. “Countless people have gone through horrible experiences”. A famous case is Iwao Hakamada, a professional boxer, who served 48 years in prison, mostly on death row after he signed a confession under questioning and was convicted of killing a family of four. He was freed in 2014 after DNA tests determined blood at the crime scene wasn’t Hakamada’s, and a court ruled police had likely planted evidence. Boxing champions had rallied on his behalf. A true-life story of a man who refused to sign a confession that he groped a woman on a crowded commuter train became a popular 2007 movie “I Just Didn’t Do It”, directed by Masayuki Suo. The film depicts a 5 year legal battle for exoneration, highlighting the burden of proof of innocence was on the accused. In the U.S., defense lawyers tend to be vocal, but in Japan, it is fairly standard (as in the case of Ghosn) for them to stay silent, especially before trial, because that’s considered better for the suspects. Lawyers are allowed to visit clients in detention. Ghosn has been formally charged in the initial set of allegations, underreporting his income by about $44 million for 5 years through 2015. The maximum penalty for violating Japan’s financial laws is 10 years in prison, a $89,000 fine, or both. Greg Kelly, an American Nissan executive who was arrested with Ghosn, has been similarly charged with collaborating on underreporting Ghosn’s income. Kelly was not rearrested on the latest breach of trust allegations. Kelly’s U.S. lawyer says he is innocent and abided by company policy. Nissan has also been charged as a legal entity, but no person besides Ghosn and Kelly has been charged or arrested. Nissan executives repeatedly say an internal investigation that began in the summer showed clear and serious wrongdoing, which went unnoticed for so long because of complex schemes “masterminded” by Ghosn and Kelly. They went to the prosecutors, resulting in the surprise Nov 19 arrests, and are cooperating closely with the investigation. Being accused of a crime is devastating in a conformist insular society like Japan. Family members also become targets of discrimination, spurned for marriage and ostracized. Some commit suicide. Cho, the lawyer, said the long detention and trial mean people lose their jobs, reputation, sometimes their families. But he still had this advice: Whatever you do, don’t confess to anything you didn’t do as that just makes it worse. “Don’t ever compromise on your innocence”, he said. +++

+++ We know there’s a hybrid LAMBORGHINI Aventador successor coming sometime between 2020 and 2022. Due to deleted Instagram posts and a fissures in the rumor-verse, we expect a hypercar codenamed LB48H to preview the next electrified V12 Lamborghini. The next model in the Italian carmaker’s series of low-volume specials will cost about $2.6 million, making it just another walk in the hypercar park as for price. The weird part is that the LB48H will glow in the dark. The Lamborghini Terzo Millennio concept from 2017 revealed a smattering of Tron-like light sculpture in its launch video. The wheels and engine bay glow, illuminated Italian flag graphics mark the front fenders, LED piping runs down the centerline. But lights don’t come under the traditional definition of ‘glow in the dark’. If the LB48H really does sport some kind of overall incandescence, well, we’re about to enter a new chapter in hypercars. Other questions remain about how the LB48H will preview the future of Sant’ Agata. The company’s head of R&D has bemoaned the weight of batteries, admitting that the best-case scenario for the coming series-production hybrid V12 flagship means an additional 150 to 200 kilos. It’s thought that the hypercar will use supercapacitors instead of batteries, providing a lightweight solution that would also showcase future technical potential. The all-electric Terzo Millennio employed nascent supercapacitor tech Lamborghini has been developing with MIT. That solution’s upside is lighter size and weight compared to batteries, longer service life, a supercapacitor’s fast charge and discharge ability, and the fact that it can discharge and recover energy at the same time. The downside is that supercapacitors have low energy density compared to lithium/ion batteries, so it’s possible the LB48H could use a battery and a supercapacitor to work a 50 hp motor aiding an 800 hp V12. The production V12 is expected to get a more mundane solution. Lamborghini’s looking ahead to cities mandating a minimum all-electric range up to 50 kilometres. One idea in play is a split hybrid layout, with an electric motor in charge of the front axle. That eliminates a prop shaft, and sharpens front axle response and torque vectoring. However, without a front transmission, a split system loses efficiency when approaching the triple-digit speeds integral to the brand. The other option would be a more traditional blended hybrid. Lamborghini’s said to have shown the LB48H to prospective buyers in June. We should see the real thing and its possibly glowing carbon fiber soon. +++ 

+++ Hyundai expects growth in the auto market of RUSSIA to slow sharply next year. Automakers have warned Russia’s plan to raise value added tax in 2019 would hit car sales, which have only just started to recover from 4 years of stagnation. Hyundai forecasts car sales in Russia will grow 5-6 % in 2019, after an expected increase of 12.8 % this year, the company’s Russian managing director Alexei Kalitsev told. Hyundai plans to keep its 10 % market share in Russia next year and increase sales to 190,000 cars from 180,000 in 2018. +++

+++ Uber’s SELF DRIVING prototypes have hit the road for the first time since March, when one of them was involved in a deadly accident in Arizona. The company’s test program is much smaller than it used to be, however, and it places a considerably bigger focus on safety. The ride-sharing giant deployed 1 or 2 cars on a roughly 1,5 kilometre route that runs between 2 of its office buildings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The cars aren’t allowed to drive faster than 40 km/h and Uber places 2 safety drivers in each prototype at all times. The company previously explained it made the training course that its safety drivers need to take more rigorous in the wake of the March accident. Though the prototypes are still powered by the autonomous technology Uber developed in-house, the test drivers aren’t allowed to turn the stock safety systems (like autonomous emergency braking) off. Wired learned the cars are now fitted with a camera-based driver-monitoring system that detects when the person behind the wheel isn’t paying attention to the road. Finally, Uber will only carry out tests during the week, in good weather, and in broad daylight. “Over the past 9 months, we’ve made safety core to everything we do”, Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, wrote in a statement. Uber isn’t as brash as it used to be. It obtained permission from Pennsylvania officials before letting its prototypes loose on Pittsburgh streets. The company plans to gradually expand its program, it needs to catch up to rival Waymo, but it hasn’t released a time frame yet. What is certain is that its self-driving cars won’t return to Arizona in the near future. Government officials banned Uber from testing its autonomous technology after the crash. +++

+++ SOUTH KOREA ’s domestic car market moved in 2 different directions this year. The rising popularity of large sedans and SUVs stood in sharp contrast to weaker demand for smaller vehicles. In the January-November period, Hyundai, Kia, General Motors Korea, Renault Samsung and SsangYong sold a combined 698,326 units, up 0.3 % from 696,403 cars sold a year earlier, the data showed. Demand for medium SUVs, such as Hyundai’s all new Santa Fe, reached 207,269 units, up a sharp 29.5 % from the same 11 months in 2017. The total so far is expected to push medium-sized SUVs to become the country’s top-selling vehicle type on an annual basis in 2018. This will mark the first time such crossovers have taken the top spot in Asia’s 4th-largest economy, where car buyers generally tended to favor mid- to large-size sedans. In regard to larger crossovers, the popularity of SsangYong’s Rexton caused sales of such cars to jump 12.9 % on year to 46,734 units, further pushing up overall SUV numbers. Industry watchers said the release of Hyundai’s 3-row Palisade and a longer version of SsangYong’s Rexton will further fuel sales going into 2019, with numbers likely to get a further boost once Kia releases its own large SUV that is expected to get the Telluride name. Besides SUVs, sales of large sedans, centered on Kia’s K9, caused total numbers to rise a respectable 5.7 % to 52,945 units up till November despite drop in demand for Hyundai’s luxury Genesis G90 falling off compared to the year before. On the other hand, sales of midsize and smaller vehicles dipped 0.9 % on year to 481,542 units, with demand for small city cars dropping 7.5 % to 115,647 units. “Vehicles like the Sante Fe clearly bolstered demand this year, with this trend likely to continue with the release of the Palisade and new versions of the G90 and G80 to further contribute to sales growth for bigger cars going into 2019”, an industry source said. +++ 

+++ An ESP stability control fault affecting the the new SUZUKI Jimny will not yet be the subject of a recall or delay deliveries, despite being confirmed by the Japanese brand. Journalists uncovered the issue with the second-generation small 4×4 during test drives for the World Car of the Year awards in California. On 2 test cars the ESP caused disturbing on-road behaviour in specific circumstances. During certain cornering conditions the Jimny’s ESP system brakes an individual front wheel as if to correct a skid that isn’t actually occurring. The effect is to cause the car to rock from side-to-side, as the front spring of the braked wheel compresses and expands with the pulsing intervention of the ESP. The condition can also affect one of the rear wheels. Chief Jimny programme engineer Hiroyuki Yonezawa attended the event and experienced the same issue once it had been demonstrated. 2 test cars were provided, both exhibiting the same behaviour. Suzuki says that this behaviour has not previously appeared during Suzuki’s development testing or during the international launch event in Germany. Once alerted, Suzuki immediately despatched additional engineers to the Angeles Crest Highway near Pasadena, California, to investigate. They were able to replicate the behaviour, but have not been able to reproduce it at the company’s test facility in Japan. In a statement, Suzuki has said that “the continuous activation” of stability control occurred “when a specific road condition, tilt angle in the road, incline and slope, and degree of the curve was combined with a certain level of speed. There is a possibility that the ESP is instantaneously switched on by reacting to the vehicle sway when departing the S-shaped curve, and then consecutively switches on because the vehicle is circling the curve at high speeds”. During the test of the car, with chief engineer Yonezawa aboard, the Jimny was driven briskly not only on the particular incline and bend sequence that triggered the behavior, but along an 13 kilometre stretch of the Angeles Crest Highway. On this longer section the nearside front wheel occasionally braked, as did the offside rear wheel. Suzuki has also said that “the intervention of the stability control may give a sense of discomfort to the driver but is not an event that would disturb the vehicle’s direction of movement”. This would agree that the vehicle’s direction of travel remains unaltered. But the side-to-side rocking motion triggered by quick-repeat, single wheel brake interventions, which occurred only on one particular stretch of road taken at a speed higher than the (cautious) mandated limit, would probably alarm an inexperienced driver. Suzuki says that it will “further analyse the event and carefully consider how to adjust the program while maintaining the Jimny’s performance balance. Therefore, we regret to say we are unable to inform you when exactly we will be able to implement any changes to the program at the moment”. +++ 

+++ One of the main differences between the new BMW Z4 and upcoming TOYOTA Supra is that the former is only offered as a roadster and the latter as a coupe. However, that line could be crossed, as a Toyota Supra Convertible or Targa is reportedly on the Japanese company’s radar. The brand’s chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, told that an open-top Supra might happen: “Of course we consider this”, said the exec. There’s a long journey between considering and actually making it, though. Sure enough, Toyota has the foundation stone set in terms of research and development with the platform-sharing BMW Z4. But a Toyota Supra Cabriolet needs to get enough votes to be approved for production. And it has to be feasible financially, so we wouldn’t hold our breath for it. At the other end of the ‘what if?’ question is a BMW Z4 Coupe. If the Toyota Supra Convertible gets approved for production, then could we see a fixed-roof Z4. There’s no apparent binding contract stopping either of the 2 brands from developing such cars, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the pipeline, as it would have to go through a very rigorous process. Then comes the problem of assembly space, as the upcoming Toyota Supra is said to join the new BMW Z4 at Magna Steyr, in Austria. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s cleanup of a diesel cheating scandal will cost it €5.5 billion in 2018 and around €2 billion in 2019, Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter told. Since 2015, the German car making group has paid more than €27 billion to settle investor and consumer lawsuits as well as regulatory fines and remedies tied to resolving excessive emissions levels in its diesel cars. In 2020 Volkswagen Group will see costs of about €1 billion related to emissions cheating, Witter told. VW is sticking to plans for listing its trucks business in 2019 and continues to see growth potential in China, the world’s largest car market, Witter said. +++

+++ Drivers who buy new cars today usually don’t have to worry about whether the car will break an axle on the side of the road, or whether its brakes will give out on a steep hill. We can reasonably expect to get airconditioning as a standard item, and we can expect that the technology inside the car will work intuitively and will enhance, rather than inhibit, the driving experience. And yet. We still find plenty to complain about. After all, not all modern luxury car are created equal. Some have shoddy interior materials lining their walls, others lack the power and torque to make them equal to competitors. Others are just plain boring. What are the WORST LUXURY CARS ? My quibble with the Lexus LC 500 isn’t about how it looks on the outside. I like its swooped body, big wheels, and low, smooth roofline. If I had to buy a Lexus, it might even be this one. It’s the most exciting of that family. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much. No, my problem with the LC 500 is twofold: For one thing, it simply doesn’t compete, performance- and craftsmanship-wise, with others of its type and price point. Compare it to the Porsche 911 and you’ll find it is a much more pleasurable and emotional experience to drive. It is precise and immediate when you turn the steering wheel and when you press the brakes. The Porsche is quick and sharp: it’s as if they anticipate what you’ll want to do. The LC 500, on the other hand, takes a beat to digest your request and then, maybe, it’ll get back to you. It just doesn’t have the visceral feel of guts under that hood or aggression in its gears. It’s lukewarm. Second, and more annoying, the interior of the LC 500 feels plastic and lightweight. The screen and technology system is so bad it equals those of the Cadillac lineup, which is pretty terrible. The Range Rover Velar contains the most exceptional example on the market today (yes, even beating out Tesla) while the screen controls and performance in Lexus’s LC 500 feel light years behind the times. The “touchpad” at the bottom of the center console and the overall vertically oriented design will annoy. Have you ever heard anyone say: “I’d like to have to use a semi-responsive, tiny, black flat screen set near my knee when I drive?” The technology is imprecise at best. And certainly not intuitive. Another member of the ‘worst luxury car’ categorie is the Audi S4. Here’s the problem with it: It’s boring. Both inside and out. All right, that’s not a crime, but it’s inexcusable in this day and age. Tesla makes an electric sedan that is more interesting, visually, than this car is, for goodness sake. It has a ho-hum V6 engine that produces only 354 horsepower. The S4 is a good example of what the generic modern luxury sedan is: safe and rounded off. Take the badges off, and I’ll bet you $100 you couldn’t identify this as an Audi. Audi is a great automaker. I expect more from it than this. You should, too. You are probably surprised to see a gorgeous convertible from such an esteemed brand on this ‘worst luxurt car’ list. But stick with me; I have no quibbles with how the DB11 Volante drives. Spend any amount of time with it, and, from the inside out, the design of the car is difficult to embrace. With the top up, the canvas cover looks stretched to threads over the infinitesimally small rear seats. Hung wide across the car’s low body, it compromises every otherwise beautiful body curve the brand has worked so hard to develop. It diminishes half the sight lines from behind the wheel and makes everything feel cramped and too busy inside. If I owned this car, I’d literally never have the top up, for fear of ruining its otherwise-fine exterior angles. On the inside, too, you run into trouble. With the top up, the interior, which seemed relaxed when open to the breezy air, suddenly begins to feel stressful. This is because Aston Martin offers too much finishing: the options can be garish and gaudy, with multiple leathers and woods and stitching colorations on the seats and doors and dash. From the (uncomfortably stiff and straight) front seats, it’s like sitting inside a cramped karaoke bar with no escape in sight. And I wouldn’t wish the back seat on anyone I cared about, even remotely. If you want an Aston Martin convertible, steer yourself toward the Vanquish S Volante. It offers more space and sight. If you go for the Volante, keep the top down and forget about driving in the rain. Another car from the ‘worst luxury car’ list is the new QX50. This SUV looks large but comes with only 4 cylinders and 272 hp (press the gas and you’ll feel the anemic response). It rolls and lumbers around corners. The interior cabin displays look as if they came directly from 2008: as dull as the exterior body, except for the multiple, differing fonts used in graphics displays, which are disconcerting. The QX50 has room enough inside its cabin, as well as adequate storage space. And it does drive. I guess that’s something. +++

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