+++ Car companies will try multiple ways to save money in the least damaging way possible in the coming decade, and we got a taste of that last week when Volkswagen and Ford announced details of their future ALLIANCE . The first concrete steps will be model swaps in the profitable world of vans but the 2 companies are also investigating ways to collaborate on electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and the whole complex world of mobility services. They’ve also said they’re open to working together on car models. “You can’t do this alone”, Ford CEO Jim Hackett said of the race to develop these new and costly technologies. First, though, they’ve got to free up the cash to do that, and that’s where the commercial vehicle sharing comes in. Ford will build a pick-up to replace the VW Amarok and its existing Ranger, starting in 2022. A year later, Ford will also build the next Transporter in its Turkish plant alongside an equivalent Transit Custom, while VW will build them both the Caddy / Transit Connect in Poland. The 2 companies reckon that, between them, they’ll save $1 billion a year by spreading the cost of development and shifting work to low-cost countries. The financial community thinks this a smart move: “It can only be seen as a step in the right direction”, said Arndt Ellinghorst, analyst at investment banking advisory firm Evercore. This tie-up shouldn’t damage the brands. Vans and pick-ups have a long history of inter-brand collaboration and few van owners really care, although VW has to sell the idea of a Ford-built, Ford-powered Transporter to its loyal fan base of surfer types (The Transporter is the direct descendent of the T1 hippy bus, remember, and the model has been built in VW’s Hanover plant in Germany since 1956). Aligning the pair’s van plans wasn’t easy, VW boss Herbert Diess explained at a joint conference last week. “It’s a tough job, but it’s worthwhile because it’s meaningful for both companies”, he said. What comes after that might be more significant. Ford could share VW’s MEB electric car platform, which will be used to underpin 27 electric vehicles throughout the VW Group by the end of 2022. But VW would love to spread the considerable cost of MEB even further. “We are in constructive open dialogue”, Diess said. “We are open to share and generate more scale to reduce risk in the electrification strategy”. Meanwhile, VW is likely to pool its knowledge of autonomous cars with Ford’s Argo A1 autonomous driving unit, again helping to share the burden of a technology that’s already sucking in billions with no clear path to profitability. Ditto mobility. After that, it’s a case of the 2 deciding whether or not to more closely enmesh on cars, the part where brand separation really does matter. They have worked together on cars before, but compared with the vans, it’d be much harder to navigate multiple minefields that would arise, not least the inevitable shutting of plants. But it’s not impossible. VW, for example, is known to be unhappy with the scale economies of its Up-based city cars, while Ford doesn’t sell a car in that sector (the Ka+ sits in a class above). Diess said: “Passenger cars are currently not under discussion but I wouldn’t exclude anything which is meaningful for both companies”. VW and Ford have collaborated before. The most significant for Europe was the AutoEuropa partnership that began in 1995 to produce the VW Sharan, Seat Alhambra and Ford Galaxy large MPVs in Portugal. It didn’t last long. By 1999, Ford had decided to go its own way with the next Galaxy and S-Max. Less well known is a longer partnership, dubbed AutoLatina, in Brazil and Argentina starting in 1987 to badge-engineer each other’s cars. It ended in 1995 but there are still Ford-badged Santanas and VW versions of Escorts running around South America. Ford’s copy of the Santana was even called Galaxy in a foretaste of the European partnership. +++ 

+++ APPLEis restructuring its driverless car technology project after confirming 200 job losses from the team. Further employees are expected to move back to other departments within the Californian company. In 2018 Apple re-hired Doug Field, former hardware engineer at the firm, from an engineering role at Tesla. He was put in place to lead the autonomous programme, dubbed Project Titan. It is thought that work will still continues on driverless software and hardware within the programme. Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed it had ditched its plan to build an autonomous car in 2017. Following Cook’s comments that Apple would continue developing autonomous car technology but has halted development of its own car, 5 anonymous sources told that issues arose from a lack of direction in the project. Some leading employees wanted to develop a fully autonomous car, while others were convinced that a semi-autonomous vehicle was more appropriate. The delays these discussions caused put Apple behind its main rivals, leading to the shelving of the original project. Speaking to Bloomberg in 2017, Cook explained that the technology giant was now completely focused on developing an autonomous system; something he said was “a core technology that we view as very important”. He said the work was “probably one of the most difficult [artificial intelligence] projects to work on”. Apple, which had reportedly been working on its so-called iCar project late into 2016, had failed to close a supply deal with BMW and Daimler for its systems. ABI Research senior analyst James Hodgson believes this, and its project shift, could have cost Apple in the race to help produce a fully driverless car. “Apple was slow to begin testing autonomous systems and now it has a considerable innovation gap to close”, he said. Apple and McLaren were also reported to be in talks in 2016 when the tech giant was said to be looking into a takeover bid of the British supercar maker. The talks have since closed and both parties declined to comment on the matter. Apple’s changing driverless project is said to have seen the resignation, dismissal or reassignment of 1,000 employees prior to the latest batch of job cuts. +++

+++ AUDI will waste little time in adding a fourth electric car to its line-up by previewing a new addition to the e-tron family at the Geneva Motor Show in March. As with the e-Tron GT revealed at the Los Angeles Motor Show at the end of 2018, the next all-electric Audi show car will be another close-to-production concept, intended to send a strong signal as to where the brand sees the electric car arms race turning to next: small SUVs. While the full-size e-Tron joins the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace, and will soon take on competition from Mercedes and BMW, the small, premium electric SUV space is an as-yet-untapped market. Audi wants to place a serious marker here, to get the jump on the Tesla Model Y, the all-electric version of the Volvo XC40 and a rumoured small electric SUV from Mercedes, all of which are tipped to surface in 2019. The vehicle will in effect be an all-electric sibling for the new Q3, with exterior dimensions extremely close to those of the brand’s third most popular model. Even in its final full year in dealers, the previous-generation Q3 brought in more than 200,000 sales worldwide for the company. As such, introducing an electric option in the crossover segment and pouncing to get there early could be a lucrative move. While the larger e-tron SUV uses a bespoke platform, the smaller newcomer will be a product born of Volkswagen Group modularity. It’ll be the first Audi to use the group’s multi-billion-euro new one-size-fits-all MEB platform for electric vehicles, while it should be the first SUV in the VW Group to sit on the architecture, too. The MEB platform has been described as a ‘skateboard’ like system, allowing the batteries, electric motors and most of the major cooling hardware to be packaged low and even recessed into the base of the chassis. This means Audi will be able to create an electric car the same size as the Q3, but with interior space rivalling that of the brand’s best-selling SUV, the larger Q5. What’s a little less clear is how the dashboard and infotainment of Audi’s baby electric SUV will be laid out. Usually, it’s easy to predict the interior design of a Volkswagen Group car, based on sister models elsewhere in the group and the electrical systems of each platform leading to very common interior layouts. We’ve yet to see a finished MEB interior, but it has been suggested that the platform supports a minimalist, but highly-digitalised, cockpit, with touchscreen displays replacing much of the traditional switchgear. The Audi EV crossover is likely to be a premium take on this new operating concept. It’s anticipated that the electric crossover will be offered with all 3 of the MEB system’s different battery sizes. The Volkswagen Group has still not clarified the exact sizes of the platform’s battery packs, nor the final ranges, but a 48 kWh model capable of 370 kilometres on a single charge is expected to form the cheapest option, with longer-distance 60 kWh and 80 kWh versions also offered, enabling up to 500 kilometres of electric range. With the Geneva car anticipated to be a concept extremely close in execution to the final product, the showroom version looks likely to hit the roads in 2020. Beyond the new electric crossover, Audi has already confirmed it plans to introduce 12 all-electric e-tron models by 2025. A coupé version of the e-Tron, called Sportback, could be next on the bill. +++ 

+++ It’s BENTLEY ’s 100th birthday this year so, to celebrate, the firm is planning a Centenary model, due to be revealed at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Details are scarce for the time being, but the model seems to be based on the Bentley Continental GT. Bentley says this new Centenary model will be inspired by one of its iconic race cars. The firm has confirmed nothing yet, but I’m guessing this inspiration will stem from the Le Mans-winning 1930 ‘Blower’ Bentley 4 ½ litre. Like almost everything else concerning this car, performance figures are yet to be announced but, as it pays homage to a historic racer, I expect that the Centenary model will only be delivered with Bentley’s existing 6.0-litre W12 engine. This means 635 hp, 900 Nm and 0-100 km/h sprint of 3.6 seconds. It’s also possible that the Centenary could receive a few chassis revisions and a bigger set of brakes. Like all Bentley special editions, I’m expecting the Centenary to only be supplied in limited numbers. If Bentley’s recent special edition back catalogue is anything to go by, the price tag could climb to the €350,000 mark. Loss-making carmaker Bentley is on track to be profitable this year but a no-deal Brexit puts that at “fundamental risk”, its boss told, adding that the chance of Britain leaving the EU on March 29 with a deal now seemed “fairly low”.  Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is due to leave the European Union, the globe’s biggest trading bloc, in a little more than 2 months but the government’s negotiated deal was rejected by lawmakers, leaving open the possibility of a disorderly Brexit. The car industry, which employs over 850,000 people in the country, has warned that any tariffs and customs checks would hit firms such as Bentley’s parent company Volkswagen as it both exports from Britain and imports vehicles and components. Bentley, which made a €137 million loss in the first 9 months of last year, is undergoing a turnaround under new boss Adrian Hallmark, who said the group is on course to return to the black, but that plan could be undone depending on the form Brexit takes. “It’s Brexit that’s the killer”, he told. “If we ended up with a hard Brexit, that would hit us this year because we do have a potential to get beyond break-even to do the turnaround. It would put at fundamental risk our chance of becoming profitable”. Like other carmakers, the high-end brand is taking steps to prepare, including building up stocks of imported parts from two days to 10 days and building a higher proportion of cars for some non-European markets in the next few months. “We will build more cars for China or the U.S. than we would normally do in the 6-month period”, Hallmark said. Hallmark said he believed the company was prepared and did not plan to temporarily halt output after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, as planned by fellow automakers Mini and Honda. “Carry more stock, and it’s a few million euros per year. If we had to stop production, then that would be a similar value per day”, he said. Hallmark said there are 3 possible outcomes on Brexit: a deal by March 29 which has a “fairly low” probability, no deal with “a degree of unrest and chaos” or an extension to Britain’s EU membership. German automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen made around 40 % of the 2.37 million cars sold in Britain last year, with less than 10 % of the total built in the country. In 2016, Britain was the largest single export market for German automakers, which sold 800,000 new cars there, or 20 % of their overall global exports. Of the top 10 automotive plants which export the highest proportions of their output to Britain, 7 are in Germany, including Ford in Cologne, PSA in Eisenach, Volkswagen in Ingolstadt and Mercedes in Bremen. Britain’s Brexit negotiators have pointed to the car industry as an example of where the EU would lose out if there were new trade barriers. VW owned Bentley, based in the northern English town of Crewe, recorded a 5 % decline in 2018 sales to 10,494 vehicles, hit by a delay in the arrival of its Continental GT model. In China, sales rose 19 %. Asked whether the company might move some Bentley production out of Britain to overcome any Brexit hit, Hallmark said he did not see that happening in the medium term. “You can never say never but there’s no intention of moving what we have to other facilities because of Brexit”, he said. “When we look at new products, are they under question? Of course they are like every product that is in there was under question. We have to be competitive and we are”. +++

+++ BUGATTI will not make an SUV, its CEO Stephan Winkelmann has stated, reacting to speculation that a second model line could be a high-riding vehicle to rival the Lamborghini Urus. Winkelmann said: “There will be no SUV from Bugatti”, adding that such a model would not do justice to the brand or its history. Rival Ferrari has previously said it won’t produce an SUV, yet it is now developing something that it has branded an “FAV” (Ferrari Activity Vehicle). Whether Winkelmann is choosing to be similarly coy about Bugatti’s plans remains to be seen. His comment on the SUV comes as Bugatti celebrates its 110th year, in which the French brand has prepared a ‘few surprises”, including the “presentation of further models”. No more details have been revealed. Rumours around a second Bugatti model line have been rife for some years, and Winkelmann confirmed late last year that there is enough enthusiasm to grow the brand, citing the sell-out success of the €5 million Divo, a track-focused development of the Chiron. At the time, he said: “The response to the Divo has been tremendous. Each car has been sold to an existing Chiron customer, and the allocation has gone immediately. That shows the passion for this brand. That shows me that we are ready to do more. In terms of the number of people we have who love the brand, I feel we have proved a lot. The next question is how much money do we have to invest into our future to make some of our ideas become reality, and will the return justify that investment. That is what we must work on”. Bugatti is understood to be considering a number of bodystyles, looking at regional demand and growing segments. There has long been debate over a 4-door saloon, as previewed by the 2009 Galibier concept. Winkelmann previously headed up fellow Volkswagen Group brand Lamborghini, where he was instrumental in launching the Urus. +++ 

+++ DYSON has employed Roland Krüger, former president of Infiniti, to head up its automotive division in preparation for the launch of its electric car in 2021. Krüger led Nissan’s luxury division from 2015 before quietly leaving “to pursue other opportunities” earlier this month. Dyson CEO Jim Rowan confirmed his appointment in a financial results conference today, stating that Krüger is a “very well respected and experienced executive within the industry, and his appointment proves how serious we are about taking this project and this division to the next level”. Rowan said the company will invest “in excess of $1 billion” in the EV project this year alone. When questioned about Dyson’s ability to make mass production of electric vehicles profitable, Rowan claimed it will benefit from an already established “high-velocity supply chain” and the experience gained from the production of more than 50 million digital motors for its vacuum cleaners and hand dryers. +++ 

+++ FORD faces an $800 million bill if Britain leave the European Union without a deal, comprising World Trade Organisation tariffs and the impact of a weaker pound. Car makers and other manufacturers, including Airbus, have warned about the toll a no-deal Brexit could impose, including higher tariffs, disruption to supply chains and threats to jobs. Britain is due to leave the European Union in about 2 months, and with Prime Minister Theresa May failing to win support for her negotiated deal, companies are increasingly worried about the possibility of a chaotic Brexit. Ford operates 2 engine plants in Britain, its third-largest market, and the destination for roughly 1 in 3 cars made at its German Cologne plant. Ford posted a lower operating 4th quarter profit as losses in every global region except North America weighed on results. The No. 2 U.S. automaker is restructuring operations globally. It is making cuts in Europe, looking to reorganize its South American operations and turn around China; all unprofitable regions. “It was not a year we were happy with and the 4th quarter continued that theme”, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told. He acknowledged the potential this year for disruptions such as strikes in regions where it is restructuring. In 2018, Ford took a $3.3 billion combined hit from higher tariffs and commodity costs, unfavorable foreign exchange and recalls related to former airbag maker Takata. Last week, Ford provided a cloudier 2019 outlook because of tariff costs and uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the European Union, only saying it had the potential for higher earnings and revenue. That was in contrast to Ford’s larger U.S. rival, General Motors, which on Jan. 11 forecast higher 2019 earnings that far surpassed analysts’ estimates. Shanks reiterated that Ford’s market-leading presence in Britain gave it extensive exposure to the effects of Brexit. Ford said that it would cut thousands of jobs and look at plant closures in Europe as part of its plan to return to profit in the region. Ford posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $116 million, down from a net profit of $2.5 billion in the same quarter in 2017, largely because of one-time pension costs and other charges. In North America, Ford posted a pre-tax profit of $2 billion. It saw losses in every other region, with Asia reporting the largest loss of $381 million, driven by plummeting sales in China. Ford and Volkswagen said they would join forces on commercial vehicles and were exploring joint development of electric and self-driving technology. Sources said that Germany’s automakers, including VW, were in talks to jointly develop autonomous cars. VW reiterated it was still looking for new partners, while Shanks said the companies were still in talks. Ford, which ended 2018 with $23.1 billion in cash, previously said it remained committed to its operations in Europe and South America, and its losses in China would narrow this year. Chief Executive Jim Hackett said that analysts “don’t have to wait long” for Ford’s South American reorganization plan. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI posted its first quarterly net loss in at least 8 years as its vehicle sales slumped in the key China market. Hyundai reported a net loss of 129.8 billion won ($114.95 million) for the 4th quarter ended in December. It was the automaker’s first net loss since it changed the accounting method in 2011. And though sales climbed 5 % to 25.67 trillion won in the quarter, operating profit fell 35 % to 501 billion won. Hyundai has been grappling with the lack of attractive models and strong branding in China, its biggest market where the auto industry’s sales contracted for the first time in more than 2 decades last year due to the Sino-U.S. trade war and the phasing out of tax cuts on smaller cars. The automaker, which together with affiliate Kia was the third-biggest automaker in China until 2016, is now saddled with overcapacity, with its 2018 China sales falling short of target and reaching only half of its total production capacity. It was also the 6th consecutive annual net profit fall for Hyundai, which with Kia is the world’s No.5 automaker. Hyundai blamed weakness in emerging market currencies and rising investments as well as one-off costs such as corporate taxes for the weak results, but expects profitability to improve this year driven by new models. Hyundai’s China sales tumbled 23 % in the 4th quarter, lagging the wider market. For the whole year, Hyundai sold 790,000 vehicles in China; lower than its target of 900,000 and almost flat from its 6-year-low of 785,000 in 2017 when Seoul’s diplomatic row with Beijing hurt consumer sentiment about Korean products. Hyundai’s total capacity is 1.65 million vehicles in China. Its Chinese joint venture may have swung to a loss in the 4th quarter from a year earlier, said Esther Yim, an analyst at Samsung Securities. “Hyundai earnings will recover this year after bottoming out. But the question is the strength of the recovery, which is expected to be weak”, she said. “I expect earnings to miss market forecasts again this year as falling demand and rising competition makes it difficult for Hyundai to pass along higher costs of new vehicles to customers”. The automaker plans to boost exports from its Chinese factories, vice president Zayong Koo told a conference call. It also aims to expand China sales by 9 % this year by launching models such as the redesigned Sonata and ix25 in China. Hyundai also plans to increase the number of its new energy models available in China to 5 in 2019 from the current 2, Koo said. Last year, Hyundai’s longtime China vice chairman Hsueh Yung-hsing resigned as part of a sweeping executive reshuffle under heir apparent Euisun Chung. “China demand is expected to be down 5 % this year, and I don’t see a reason why Hyundai would improve sales and outperform the market this year”, said Angela Hong, an analyst at Nomura. Hyundai’s U.S. sales slipped 1 % last year to 677,945 vehicles, versus the market’s 0.6 % gain, with the automaker’s redesigned Santa Fe failing to live up to its expectations with a 12 % sales drop for the year. The automaker is also bracing for potential U.S. tariffs on vehicle imports and a U.S. investigation over how it handled a recall over engine defects. Hyundai and Kia aim for a 3 % sales growth this year; another tepid rise after they missed their sales goal for a 4th consecutive year last year. +++ 

+++ KARMA has been testing its updated Revero plug-in hybrid saloon on European roads ahead of a planned market debut here. Originally launched in 2016, the Revero is the model born out of the ashes of Fisker’s bankruptcy. New Chinese-funded firm Karma has been selling the model in the US since then and is now planning to introduce it in European and Asian markets after a number of updates to make the powertrain more competitive. The 4-door coupé, a rival to the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, will get styling revisions to its front and rear but that its overall bodyshape will stay true to the Fisker Karma, to which it’s the successor. Karma’s chief revenue officer, Jim Taylor, previously told that the Revero’s delayed entry into Europe and Asia was always part of the business plan. Prices for the current model start at $130,000 in the US. The current Revero uses solar panels located on its roof that can power the car’s electrified powertrain. Solar panels have been seen on earlier development cars, so expect improvements to their efficiency with the 2019 model if they do continue into production. “The energy collected from the solar panels is supplied directly to the car’s high-voltage battery, which in turn powers the electric motors”, Taylor explained when asked how they work on the current model. “Our solar panels are twice as powerful as the original Fisker ones”. While no charging time for the solar roof was revealed, Taylor suggested that strong Californian sunshine would enable owners to leave their car parked outside all day and return to it with noticeably more charge. “We’re still a long way off from being able to charge it up significantly in a few hours, but if you left your car parked in an airport car park for a couple of days, you’d see more energy”, added Taylor. The input of the sun’s energy is displayed on the Revero’s infotainment screen, so drivers can see when energy is being captured, even on the move. The current Revero uses a 260 hp turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine and 2 electric motors, with some parts supplied by BMW. It’s claimed to be capable of running in electric-only mode for up to 80 kilometres, but Karma is understood to be pushing for a better range in the updated model in order to satisfy even more stringent real-world tests. As a plug-in hybrid, the Revero straddles the line between electric rivals such as the Tesla Model S and more conventional alternatives such as the Porsche Panamera. It will also compete with the upcoming Polestar 1 hybrid coupé. Karma Automotive has been built upon the remains of Fisker Automotive, which closed for business in 2013 due to a lack of funding. With owner Wanxiang Group providing a stronger financial backing, insiders are anticipating a more productive future for the American brand. +++ 

+++ KIA is working on a terrainlook version of the Ceed. Likely to be called the XCeed, Kia’s latest crossover will take on the Ford Focus Active, Volkswagen T-Roc and Mini Countryman in the ever-expanding cross-over market, and will sit underneath the Sportage in the firm’s line-up. I expect the XCeed crossover to be officially revealed in the middle of 2019 before a public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It should be the final member of the Ceed family, following the release of the more practical Ceed Sports Wagon and a stylish ProCeed shooting brake. When quizzed about the idea of a terrainlook Ceed earlier this year at the reveal of the firm’s latest family hatchback, Artur Martins, Kia’s vice president of marketing, told: “This is something we are putting on the table. There will be no 3-door with this car so that gives us the chance to have another body type of the Ceed”. +++ 

+++ OPEL will adjust production volume at its Rüsselsheim plant in Germany this year. Output will be halved to 68,000 vehicles from 123,000. “Opel continuously adjusts production. We want to further improve the capacity utilization of our plants. This of course also applies to Rüsselsheim”, an Opel spokesman said, adding that the company does not publicly comment on details of its internal plans. Opel builds its Insignia and Zafira in Rüsselsheim. Zafira sales in Europe fell 39 % to 29,220 last year, as customers switch to crossovers such as the brand’s Grandland X, whose 2018 sales were 74,299. The Grandland X is built in PSA’s plant in Sochaux, France. Insignia sales dropped 6.8 % to 67,053. In May, Opel’s labor leaders agreed with PSA management on an investment plan and job guarantees for German factories in return for wage concessions. PSA Group bought Opel and its UK sister brand Vauxhall from General Motors last year in a $2.6 billion deal, saying it aimed to restore Opel to profitability by 2020. PSA posted a 7.8 % increase in quarterly revenue, buoyed by the acquisition of Opel-Vauxhall as well as strong sales of pricier Peugeot models. +++ 

+++ RENAULT had appointed Michelin boss Jean-Dominique Senard as its new chairman, after Carlos Ghosn was forced to resign in the wake of a financial scandal that has rocked the French carmaker and its alliance with Nissan. Senard will become chairman immediately, the company said, with deputy chief executive Thierry Bollore taking over Ghosn’s other Renault role as full CEO. The appointments may begin to ease a Renault-Nissan leadership crisis that erupted after Ghosn’s Nov. 19 arrest in Japan and swift dismissal as Nissan chairman. Senard, 65, now faces the task of soothing relations with Nissan and resuming talks on a new alliance structure to cement the 20-year-old partnership. “It’s important that this alliance remain extremely strong”, Senard told, citing the mounting investment demands of new vehicle technologies. “It is our compulsory duty to go forward together”. Nissan welcomed the leadership change, which CEO Hiroto Saikawa said would open a “new chapter” for the partnership. The announcement also marks a clear end to one of the auto industry’s most feted careers, 2 decades after Ghosn was despatched by former Renault boss Louis Schweitzer to rescue newly acquired Nissan from near-bankruptcy; a feat he pulled off in 2 years. After 14 years as Renault CEO and a decade as chairman, Ghosn had formally resigned from both roles. Ghosn’s arrest and indictment for financial misconduct has strained the Renault-Nissan relationship, threatening the future of the industrial partnership he transformed into a global carmaking giant over 2 decades. For 2 months, the tensions deepened as Renault and the French government stuck by Ghosn despite the revelation he had arranged to be paid tens of millions of dollars in additional income, unbeknownst to shareholders. Ghosn has been charged with failing to disclose more than $80 million in additional compensation for 2010-18 that he had agreed to be paid later. Nissan director Greg Kelly and the Japanese company itself have also been indicted. Both men deny the deferred pay was illegal or required disclosure, while not contesting the agreements’ existence. Ghosn has denied a separate breach of trust charge over personal investment losses he temporarily transferred to Nissan in 2008. Ghosn had agreed in recent days to step down from Renault, but only after the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, called for leadership change and his bail requests were rejected. Senard, who had been due to retire from Michelin in April, now has fences to mend in Japan. Following Ghosn’s arrest, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa had sought to weaken Renault’s control and resisted its attempts to nominate new directors to the Japanese carmaker’s board. In a possible sign of detente, Nissan called an April shareholder meeting to appoint a Renault-nominated board member and formally terminate Ghosn and Kelly’s directorships. It remains unclear whether Renault, as Nissan’s parent, will also name its next chairman. Nissan currently owns a 15 % non-voting stake in its French parent and 34 % in Mitsubishi, a third major partner in their manufacturing alliance. Once its new management is settled, French officials want the alliance to resume work on a new ownership structure to cement the partnership, which Ghosn had been mandated to explore when his Renault contract was renewed last year. Nissan is wary of any such moves. Now is not the time to discuss structural changes, Saikawa reiterated. “Communication between the boards of the 2 companies has been a bit difficult” since Ghosn’s arrest, the Nissan CEO said. “I’m looking forward to better communication”. As Renault CEO, Bollore will also become chairman of the alliance, a French official told, as set out in the 2002 shareholder pact underpinning the partnership. His operational alliance role will be overseen by Senard, who will lead discussions on the future “evolution” of its structure, Renault said. Renault has yet to finalize Ghosn’s severance package, estimated by the CGT union at €25-€28 million in addition to an annual pension of €800,000. Ghosn’s golden parachute could be politically explosive in France, where the government is battling “yellow vest” street protests over low pay and inequality. Fabien Gache, a Renault CGT spokesman, said the union would press the government to vote against the package at Renault’s annual shareholder meeting in June. “We should not add indecency to indecency”, Gache said. The government will decide how to vote on Ghosn’s severance pay when details become clear, a finance ministry official said. +++ 

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE is readying the next generation of its Ghost luxury saloon. The Ghost, sitting underneath the Phantom flagship and a rival for the Bentley Flying Spur and Mercedes-Maybach S 600, has been on sale with only a small facelift since 2010. It’s the next launch priority for the British maker after the Cullinan was introduced late last year. While it’s expected that the Ghost will still be manufactured at the brand’s headquarters in Goodwood, West Sussex, it’s clear that some of the car’s development and validation programme is occuring in BMW’s facilities. The Ghost’s front end has a clear family resemblance to the Phantom, but the rear appears to be more shapely and features a more sloping rear window line. The interior will adopt many of the advanced features and traditional touches found in the Ghost’s siblings. Technical details of the new Ghost are still under wraps, but we do know that it will make use of the same aluminium-intensive architecture as the latest Phantom and Cullinan. Don’t expect this to mean a substantial weight saving, however: today’s Phantom is actually a bit heavier than the car it replaced due to increased technology and material use, both under the skin and on the surface. It is likely that Rolls-Royce will continue to use its trademark twin-turbocharged V12 engine in the Ghost, given customers demand the ultimate even from the brand’s cheapest model. It’ll almost certainly share the 585 hp 6.6-litre unit found in the latest BMW M760Li, though whether it will adopt that car’s 4WD system remains to be seen. +++ 

+++ Germany’s top carmakers including BMW and Volkswagen are looking at ways to speed up development of the next generation of SELF-DRIVING cars, possibly by even working together, as tech giant Google forges ahead with plans to mass produce such vehicles. Carmakers and tech companies have been in a race to develop self-driving robotaxis since 2012 when Google unveiled a self-driving car. BMW announced a development pact with tech firm Mobileye in 2016 and Daimler struck an alliance with autos supplier Bosch in 2017. BMW and Daimler’s first-generation autonomous cars will start to emerge after 2020/2021 using computers and high-definition maps to navigate within a pre-defined geographical zone like a motorway. But Google’s Waymo unit this week announced plans to mass produce self-driving cars, adding urgency to German carmakers’ plans to review ways to accelerate the development of second-generation vehicles, a source at a German carmaker told. “There are talks between various players about where the resources come from to develop the next generation self-driving vehicle”, the source said. “The autonomous driving push won’t be enough to get us to level 5”, a second source said, referring to the highest level of vehicle automation. Volkswagen’s chief executive Herbert Diess last November said Waymo had a 1 to 2 year head start in developing self-driving technology, due to its decade of testing and millions of kilometres driven. BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, as well as major German suppliers Continental, ZF and Bosch, were in talks about developing a joint system for autonomous driving, citing company sources. “If we combine our knowledge and technology, then we can even overtake Waymo”, one of the participants in the talks said. A third source at another German carmaker said it was unlikely a consortium would include all German manufacturers and major suppliers, but that an economic slowdown had led to a reassessment of spending requirements. The BMW led consortium currently includes Intel, Mobileye, Magna, Fiat Chrysler and auto suppliers Delphi Automotive and Continental AG. One member of the consortium, Magna’s chief executive Don Walker, earlier this month urged the auto industry not to waste funds on developing self-driving cars and to forge broader alliances as a way to share development costs. BMW reiterated it was open to broadening its consortium. “As we have emphasized in the past, there is interest from other companies in a cooperation. As usual, we do not comment on this in public and cannot comment on media or market speculation”, a BMW spokesman said. In October, BMW’s research and development chief Klaus Fröhlich said rivals were interested in joining a BMW led consortium to develop self-driving cars. German carmakers are in talks about developing a common standard for placing stereo, camera and lidar sensors on an autonomous vehicle, as a way to share the regulatory and liability burden faced by carmakers, BMW’s Fröhlich told. “At the moment we have a lot of discussions, how can we join, how can we modify our sensor stack so they can team up”, BMW’s board member for research and development said. Volkswagen has said it is open to deeper alliances in autonomous cars, including with Ford and Waymo, and reiterated it was on the lookout for new partners. Daimler declined to comment. The Stuttgart-based carmaker unveiled a cooperation deal with Bosch in April 2017 to develop a system for self-driving vehicles which would be open for third party users. +++ 

+++ SKODA ‘s upcoming small SUV will be called the Kamiq. The company announced the name ahead of the upcoming Geneva motor show, where the car is set to make its global debut. The name was taken from an Inuit word meaning “something that fits as perfectly as a second skin in every situation”, according to Skoda. An SUV of the same name is already sold in China, although that car is based on a localised platform shared with the Chinese version of the Rapid. The Kamiq is expected to go on sale towards the end of 2019. +++ 

+++ SUBARU has halted production of the Forester, Impreza and XV in Japan after identifying a defective steering component. The problem is said to affect the power steering system in vehicles manufactured between late December and January 16, though no specific technical details have been disclosed. “The power steering unit issue was discovered very early, and countermeasures are being put in place”, Subaru spokesman Dominick Infante told. “Subaru can confirm that no vehicles with the affected power steering units will be sold to customers until the vehicles have been repaired”. The issue is estimated to impact approximately 10,000 units. +++ 

+++ TESLA said it is reducing production hours for higher-priced Model S and Model X cars, just days after saying it would cut jobs as the electric carmaker looks to make more affordable versions of the Model 3. Tesla also faces the unenviable choice of raising prices at the risk of losing customers or slashing costs by thousands of dollars per vehicle as the electric vehicle tax break started to phase out from earlier this month. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk had said earlier this month that Tesla will no longer be taking orders for the 75 kWh version of the Model S and X to streamline production. “As a result of this change and because of improving efficiencies in our production lines, we have reduced Model S and X production hours accordingly”, a Tesla spokesperson said. “These changes, along with continuing improvements, give us the flexibility to increase our production capacity in the future as needed”. The company said it will provide more details on the earnings call. A reduction in tax credit added $3,750 to the price of Tesla’s electric cars starting Jan. 1. Musk had said the need for lower-priced versions of Model 3 will become even greater from July, when the U.S. tax credit again drops in half. This would add $1,875 to the car’s price tag. The tax credit is set to go away entirely at the end of 2019. +++ 

+++ VOLVO is recalling 219,000 cars globally due to a potential fuel leak. The recall relates to diesel-engined 2015 to 2016 model year examples of the V40, S60, V60, XC60, V70/XC70, S80 and XC90 built between 2015 and 2016. In affected cars, a faulty fuel line could develop cracks, allowing fuel to leak into the engine bay. Volvo sold 534,332 cars globally in 2016, meaning a significant proportion of cars are affected. The company is “proactively” recalling the cars, so affected owners should be contacted over coming days and weeks. Volvo’s recall of 219,000 cars follows a global action by Toyota in October last year, which saw 2.4 million previous-generation Prius and Auris recalled over a potential stalling issue. BMW, meanwhile, recalled cars in 2018 over fears a potential glycol leakage from the exhaust gas recirculation cooler could lead to fire. A Volvo spokesperson told: “Investigations by Volvo Cars have identified that some vehicles may have small cracks inside one of the fuel lines in the engine compartment. This, in combination with a pressurised fuel system, may over time lead to fuel leakage in the engine compartment. There are no reports of damage or injuries related to this issue. Volvo is proactively recalling these cars as a preventative measure to avoid any problems in the future”. +++

+++ Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation has granted approval for WAYMO to build self-driving vehicles in the state. The company has developed its own hardware and software systems that must be installed in fleet vehicles, starting with the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and soon the Jaguar I-Pace. “Our local engineers are already hard at work outfitting our Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans with Waymo technology, and now we’re looking forward to expanding our roots”, Waymo said. The company has picked Southeast Michigan as its manufacturing center, though a specific facility has not yet been selected. The site is expected to be the world’s first factory completely dedicated to mass production of Level 4 autonomous vehicles. Importantly, Waymo customers will eventually be presented with numerous vehicle options when arranging a ride. Different types of vehicles from various automakers will be tailored for a range of activities, from getting groceries to going out for a night on the town. The factory is expected to employ hundreds of employees in the next few years. +++

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