+++ AUDI has reportedly used the Spanish introduction of the new Q3 to reveal plans to launch an assortment of new models this year. The redesigned A6 Allroad will arrive in the second quarter of 2019. Based on the A6 Avant, it will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors by adopting plastic body cladding and an increased ride height. The A6 Allroad is also slated to have a modestly revised grille and a handful of other special touches. Engine options remain unconfirmed, but they should carryover from the A6 Avant. As a result, we can expect a turbocharged 3.0 liter TFSI V6 that develops 340 hp and 500 Nm. There should also be a 3.0 liter TDI V6 producing 286 hp and 620 Nm. Around the same time, Audi will introduce the facelifted TT RS. Like the standard model, the high-performance coupe will be outfitted with a new front bumper and a revised grille, while it should also feature sportier side skirts and updated taillights. It remains unclear if the car’s turbocharged 2.5 liter 5-cylinder will receive a performance boost from its current 400 hp and 480 Nm. This enables the model to rocket from 0-100 km/h) in 3.8 seconds, before hitting a top speed of up to 280 km/h, so it’s not exactly in need of more power, though it’d be welcome. The third quarter will be jam packed with debuts, as Audi will introduce the new Q4 and RS 7 Sportback as well as e-tron versions of the Q5 and A7. These will be joined by the facelifted A4 and Q7. Finally, in the fourth quarter the automaker will introduce the new A3, RS 6 Avant and RS Q3. The company will also unveil the A8 L e-tron as well as the e-tron Sportback. Perhaps the most anticipated models out of the diverse group are the new RS 6 and RS 7. There have been a number of rumors concerning this pair, but both are expected to use a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. The exact output remains a closely guarded secret, but some reports have suggested drivers can expect 605 hp and 800 Nm. +++

+++ The all-new “Blackwing” 4.2 liter twinturbo V8 engine is a big deal for CADILLAC  and for General Motors as a whole. A clean-sheet design, the power plant has twin-scroll turbochargers housed inside the ‘V’ of the engine (in a so-called ‘hot-vee’ layout), allowing for more compact packaging and, more importantly for the driver, less turbo lag. When Cadillac announced the all-new CT6 V-Series last year, it said the Blackwing V8 produces up to 558 hp and 850 Nm. Cadillac didn’t reveal where in the rev range the maximum power and torque kick in but said the engine has been optimized for a smooth, flat power curve. In the CT6 V-Series the engine is hooked to a GM’s Hydra-Matic 10-speed automatic transmission that drives all 4 wheels. The new 4.2 liter unit is also available in a lower state of tune of 507 hp and 749 Nm in the 2019 CT6. No other performance specs have been announced so far but chances are the Blackwing will help make the 2019 CT6 V-Series an interesting alternative to the Mercedes-AMG S63 and the upcoming Audi S8. For now, the CT6 remains the only car officially announced to feature this engine. However, rumors about GM fitting this power plant inside the upcoming mid-engine Corvette C8 have been going around for quite a while now. The fact that it’s hand-built in Bowling Green, Kentucky (the home of the Corvette) certainly helps these rumors gain traction. Not to mention that even the Blackwing logo reminds of the Corvette. +++ 

+++ The union representing autoworkers at General Motors’ Oshawa, Ontario plant called on consumers in CANADA to stop buying GM cars made in Mexico, the latest tactic in its campaign to get the automaker back to the bargaining table. GM has said it will close Oshawa by the end of this year, but Unifor wants GM to continue production until September 2020, when the current contract expires, hoping that provides enough time to secure the plant’s future. The closure, which GM said will affect 2,973 assembly-line jobs in Oshawa, is part of a broad restructuring aimed at cutting the automaker’s costs as investments increase in electric and self-driving vehicles.  Between 600,000 and 650,000 GM vehicles produced annually in Mexico are shipped to Canada and the United States, representing approximately $20 billion in sales, Unifor President Jerry Dias said in an interview. GM Canada said it imports just 3 models from Mexico, of the 47 it sells in Canada, about 37,000 vehicles annually. Dias stopped short of calling for a total boycott of GM vehicles because Unifor also represents GM workers in Ontario who assemble the Chevrolet Equinox and work at a propulsion plant. “Buyers will need to know which particular models to avoid. Only a few versions of the GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado, and Chevrolet Cruze are sourced from Mexico”, said AutoForecast Solutions vice president Sam Fiorani. “The majority of them come from plants in the U.S. or Canada”. If the boycott does not result in negotiations with GM, Unifor would consider a strike, Dias said, adding that job action is not currently planned. “The only way to get General Motors’ attention is if we fight back”, Dias said at a press conference, adding that any vehicle with a vehicle identification number, or VIN, that starts with a 3 is Mexican made. The move could mean “collateral damage” for the 60-plus Ontario-based auto parts companies that support production in Mexico, GM Canada said. Dias said the boycott may hurt such Canadian auto parts suppliers as Magna, Linamar and Martinrea, with operations in Mexico, but will have minimal impact on Canadian parts workers. Dias plans to discuss the boycott with the United Auto Workers in early February. The union, which a spokesman said has no position currently, encourages members to buy UAW-made products. +++ 

+++ FORD Chief Executive Jim Hackett told employees the No. 2 U.S. automaker would not accept last year’s “mediocre” results and said the company was aiming to nearly double its annual operating profit. Ford is restructuring its global operations, including recent plans to make cuts in Europe. It also has announced an alliance in commercial vehicles with Volkswagen, with plans to jointly develop electric and self-driving vehicles, in moves meant to save billions of dollars. Ford reported a 2018 operating profit of $7 billion with a profit margin of 4.4 %, down from 6.1 % in 2017. Ford said last week that its target for operating margin was more than 8 %. “2018 was mediocre by any standard”, Hackett said in the email. “Yes, we made $7 billion last year. But think of it this way: this represents a 4.4 % operating margin, about half what we believe is an appropriate margin. So we are aiming for much closer to $14 billion”. Hackett did not give a timetable for hitting the $14 billion target. A Ford spokesman said Hackett was simply doing the math to show employees how the margin target translated to overall profit. Hackett, who has been on the job for 20 months, also said that it was “time to bury the year (2018) in a deep grave, grieve over what might have been and become super focused on meeting, and, in fact, exceeding this year’s plan”. Ford did not provide Wall Street with a specific financial forecast for 2019. It simply said it had the potential to improve earnings and revenue. That was in contrast to Ford’s larger U.S. rival, General Motors, which forecasted higher 2019 earnings that far surpassed analysts’ estimates. Hackett also said in looking at Ford’s 2018 results: “I become mad for a short time. Likely mad at myself, but also because I know we are better than that. I know that our competition hasn’t been better than us by magic”. He said Ford had been considering moving up its time frame to electrify its product portfolio since he took over and asked how the company could learn from the trends it missed in China, the world’s largest auto market, where it is losing money. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS is the latest major automaker to acknowledge that its pickups will likely be included in the shift toward electric vehicles. Speaking about the possibility of an all-electric GMC Sierra pickup, GMC brand head Duncan Aldred confirmed “certainly, it’s something we’re considering”. The executive did not mention a timeframe for bringing such a model to market, though it is presumably at least a few years off. The comments follow just days after a Ford executive confirmed plans to launch an all-electric F-Series pickup. Trucks have become an increasingly important segment for the Detroit Big Three as customers shift away from cars. Ford, GM and other automakers likely have their sights on Tesla’s upcoming pickup, one of Elon Musk’s pet projects that he intends to launch in the early 2020s. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI said its Chinese joint venture (JV) is accepting voluntary retirements and reviewing various “optimization plans” at its factories following a slump in car sales in the key market. China saw its first auto sales contraction in more than 2 decades in 2018 as pressure from a crippling trade war with the United States and the phasing out of tax cuts on smaller cars pummeled business in the world’s biggest car market. A bleak outlook as China’s economy slows has prompted many automakers, such as Nissan, to cut production in the country or, as with Suzuki, even exit it.  For Hyundai, troubles have been exacerbated as it is also just recovering from a diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing that had slammed demand for South Korean products in China. Hyundai, which with its affiliate Kia was the No.3 automaker in China until 2016, turned in sales that were only half of its total production capacity last year. “Hyundai is reviewing various optimization plans to enhance facility efficiency around the Chinese New Year holidays”, it said. Chinese financial magazine Caixin reported that Hyundai’s local joint venture expects 1,500 spare working roles in the first quarter, and has asked staff to choose to stay or leave. Hyundai’s China sales sank 23 % in the 4th quarter amid a lack of attractive models and strong branding in the face of competition from both Chinese and global car makers. For the year, Hyundai’s sales stayed nearly flat at 790,000 vehicles in China from a year earlier, compared with its total capacity of 1.65 million vehicles. Hyundai has idled Chinese factories for a number of days since November because of rising inventories, a source familiar with the automaker’s operations in the country said. Late last year, its factory utilization rates hovered below 50 %, except for at its Beijing Hyundai Motor Company Plant 3, he added. “We are agonizing over how to improve our competitiveness in China. It is a very tough situation, but we are trying to turn around China operations next year”, another source with direct knowledge of Hyundai’s China operations told. The weaker demand in China, as the economy grows at its slowest pace in about three decades, has also hurt other foreign players. In September, Suzuki said it would exit the Chinese market, while, a source says, Nissan plans to produce fewer vehicles in the country in the months ahead. At Hyundai’s China JV, 2 workers said they were told in a briefing the plant was not being shut down, but being turned into a production line for new energy vehicles (NEVs). Hyundai has offered to move employees from its Beijing No.1 factory to Cangzhou, Chongqing (where it has one plant each) and to its 2 other plants in Beijing, three people briefed on the matter told. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER will extend a planned shutdown of its UK plants in April because of continuing Brexit uncertainty. The shutdown, which is set for April 8-12, will affect all 3 of the company’s car plants in Castle Bromwich, Solihull and Halewood, as well as its engine plant in Wolverhampton. It comes in addition to a previously-announced planned maintenance closure set for April 15-23. In a statement, JLR said the additional week of production stand-down was due to “potential Brexit disruption”. The UK is due to leave the European Union on March 29. The shutdown was confirmed as the company announced 2019’s holiday dates to its employees across all its UK sites. News of the shutdown follows an announcement earlier this month that 4.500 jobs would be cut from the UK workforce as part of a major cost-cutting programme aimed at turning the company around. The cuts, which account for approximately 10 % of the Tata-owned company’s 43.000 UK staff, are in addition to the 1.500 workers cut last year. Even before January’s announcements, the company had begun adjusting the output of its factories in response to market demand, with 2.000 workers at the Castle Bromwich factory responsible for the Jaguar XE, XF and XJ saloons temporarily moving to a 3-day working week at the end of 2018. Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth has previously condemned the lack of certainty in the market, saying that if the right Brexit deal is not secured, “tens of thousands” of jobs could go at the firm. +++

+++ Hyundai and KIA are considering tiny crossovers for Europe. If approved, the city-oriented models will be positioned below the Kona and Stonic, respectively. Because there’s no such thing as having too many crossovers in the lineup, Hyundai and Kia are toying around with the idea of adding one more to their European offerings. Both South Korean brands have told they would consider going below the Kona and Stonic models, respectively, but a final decision has not been taken yet. If approved, the city-oriented crossovers would come exclusively with a front-wheel-drive layout. With Hyundai selling the i10 in Europe’s A-segment where Kia has the Picanto, it’s not that hard to imagine crossover versions of the 2 tiny cars. JATO Dynamics analyst Felipe Munoz believes a new crossover segment could be created, encompassing models with an overall length of less than 4 metres. The Suzuki Ignis already fits in that category since it measures just 3.700 mm. Hyundai and Kia are not the only ones interested in selling a tiny crossover as Jeep has already confirmed plans to go below the Renegade. As per the 2018-2022 roadmap published at the beginning of June last year, Jeep will launch a new model that will be a part of the A segment. In addition, Volkswagen is reportedly working on yet another crossover, one that would be a follow-up to the Taigun concept and slot below the T-Cross. Allegedly called T-Track, the pint-sized crossover is expected to debut in production guise as early as next year. At the other end of the spectrum, Hyundai and Kia recently introduced their biggest high-riding models, the Palisade and the Telluride. Additional models are in the works for various regions of the world to further capitalise on the insatiable thirst customers have for crossovers. Take for example Hyundai’s new sub-Kona model and a midsize crossover for the United States, while Kia will give the Ceed the crossover treatment in Europe and will introduce a new compact model in the U.S. that could be called Tusker. +++ 

+++ The Hyundai KONA crossover is available with both traditional internal combustion engines, and a fully electric drivetrain, so it makes sense an in-between version is also in the works. I expect to see a different grille, aero-style alloy wheels and, possibly, revised bumpers on the production version of the car. Inside the cabin, the hybrid Kona has an upgraded infotainment system with a touchscreen display that’s both wider and taller than currently featured. To accomodate this, the system’s physical controls have been slimmed down and moved underneath the screen. I’m not sure if this model will be a hybrid or plug-in hybrid model. Either way, it’s likely the Kona hybrid, be it regular or plug-in, will share its drivetrain with Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI is facing a problem many car manufacturers would like to have. Demand for its super-sports cars outpaces supply. The company has decided to cap production in order to maintain a high degree of exclusivity. Company CEO Stefano Domenicali revealed Lamborghini will only build 8,000 cars in 2020. The Urus will represent half of those units. The remaining 4,000 will be split between the Huracan Evo and the Aventador S; the V10-powered model will represent about twothirds of the mix. “The other factor that I’m very proud of is the fact that the Lamborghini brand is growing stronger and stronger with the younger generation. It’s one of the reasons why we have to be at the right level when it comes to exclusivity”, Domenicali explained. He added the time customers spend waiting for a car is part of the experience of buying a high-end model like a Lamborghini. And, in a bid to become more tech-savvy, the company developed an app called Lamborghini Unica that lets buyers keep track of the production process. It even sends them a photo of their Urus when it’s ready to roll off the assembly line. But, as Lamborghini’s customer base gets younger, Domenicali stressed dealers need to be prepared to cater to more impulsive motorists who buy a car because it’s cool, not because of the heritage of the brand that makes it. 70 % of Urus buyers are new to the brand, so executives are still learning what they expect from the brand. 8,000 cars is a rounding error for a larger automaker like Ford or Volkswagen, but it’s a significant increase for a small company like Lamborghini. The Italian firm sold 1,302 cars in 2010, 3,815 cars in 2017, and 5,750 in 2018. +++

+++ Norway’s appetite for all-electric vehicles grows stronger each year, to the point where Nissan was able to top the overall sales charts for 2018 with the LEAF . The Japanese car maker managed to sell 12,303 Leafs during the previous year in Norway, becoming the country’s best-selling car overall. In addition, the electric hatchback remained Europe’s most popular EV, selling 40,699 units during the past year. Nissan has updated the car with the introduction of new features, the most important of which is the addition of the Leaf e+ version that sports a larger 62 kWh battery pack. The new battery extends the driving range to a WLTP-estimated 384 km and offers faster acceleration, too. The Leaf also offers additional connected services, new color options (including a contrasting roof) and a new NissanConnect EV mobile app. The new connectivity features are offered in the new 3.Zero limited edition which comes with an eight-inch infotainment system that gets additional functions such as door-to-door navigation. “We can celebrate standout sales success with Norway as an example, as it highlights how the Nissan electric ecosystem has established itself as a sustainable lifestyle choice in a relatively short space of time”, said Ken Ramirez, senior vice-president Sales and Marketing at Nissan Europe. “With the range now stronger than ever, we look forward to welcoming more customers to EV ownership in the coming months”. +++

+++ Daimler will deepen partnerships with Chinese auto suppliers since they often lead United States and European rivals in key technologies for electric cars and connected vehicles, MERCEDES-BENZ executive Wilko Stark said. Stark, who is currently head of Procurement and Supplier Quality at Mercedes-Benz said the shift toward electric and connected cars has made it more dependent on battery cell chemistry and connected vehicles expertise from outside the company. “We will think about partnerships in some areas. The role of partnerships as a whole will gain in importance”, Stark said during a news conference in Stuttgart to discuss the German carmaker’s procurement strategy. Mercedes-Benz will rely more on its suppliers to take a leading role in the area of research and development as well as to identify cost-cutting potential through process optimization, Stark said. “We will intensify scouting of Chinese suppliers. China is more advanced than the United States in many areas of digital innovation”, Stark said. “China will dramatically increase in importance”, Stark said referring to the raft of suppliers that Mercedes-Benz does business with. China, a market where the luxury passenger car brand sold 674,125 cars last year, is setting the pace in terms of rolling out electric mobility and digital services like mobile phone-based payment systems, giving local suppliers an edge over European and United States competitors, Stark said. “In the area of connectivity services, the Chinese are ahead of the Americans; we have no choice but to deepen our relationship with these suppliers”, he said, naming China’s Alibaba and Tencent as leading players. Daimler is also thinking about a broader alliance on batteries in view of the challenge of trying to police potential ethical or human rights violations in mining of rare earth minerals – such as cobalt, which is often found in conflict zones, but is needed for electric car batteries. “But there are no formal decisions in this area”, Stark added. Mercedes is also scouting suppliers for innovations to see whether the German carmaker could make use of a more compact, lighter electric vehicle battery. Stark noted that denser, cheaper batteries with shorter recharging times could also allow Mercedes to bring down the cost of electric cars closer to their equivalent combustion-engined variants. “Overall volume and weight are as important as energy density”, Stark said, referring to battery cells. By bundling orders for components for conventional and electric vehicles with the same supplier, Mercedes-Benz hopes to help its supplier base manage the transition between electric and non-electric cars. Separately, Stark said the replacement of Carlos Ghosn as Renault chairman will have no impact on an alliance between Renault and Mercedes. “We have a relatively stable cooperation and supply agreement with Renault-Nissan. This supply relationship is stable and will remain unchanged”, Stark said. +++ 

+++ Ford’s upcoming hybrid MUSTANG might share an important component with many of its predecessors: a V8 engine. Recent patent filings suggest Ford doesn’t necessarily see electrification as an excuse to downsize. The patent filing was published earlier this month. It outlines a “twin motor drive system for hybrid vehicle” made up of an internal combustion engine that spins the rear wheels, and a pair of electric motors each powering one of the front wheels via a reduction gearbox. This setup gives the Mustang all-wheel drive, a first in the nameplate’s decades-long history. The patent notes a variety of internal combustion engines are compatible with the hybrid powertrain, it’s not V8-specific, but it clearly shows an 8-cylinder engine. In April 2018, Ford announced the Mustang hybrid would boast V8 power with more low-end torque; in hindsight, the company may not have been alluding to V8-like power. At the time, Ford announced it was fast-tracking the gasoline-electric Mustang to production, and it aimed to release the model in 2020. It will presumably go on sale in the United States, but it’s also a way to boost the car’s popularity in markets like Europe and China. Ford hasn’t provided an updated time-frame since. If 2020 is still the target, we’ll certainly hear more about the Mustang hybrid in the coming months. +++ 

+++ The Renault – NISSAN – Mitsubishi alliance is getting 2 new chief executives after Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa announced that he will leave his post at Nissan just a day after Carlos Ghosn did the same at Renault. Saikawa will hand over the reins at Nissan in coming months after he reforms the governance behind the car manufacturer. Saikawa was a former protege of Ghosn but the Japanese chief executive was pivotal in ousting Ghosn as Nissan chairman when allegations of his financial misdeeds came to light. Nissan’s quick firing of Ghosn sparked fierce opposition from Renault who for more than 2 months, kept Ghosn in charge despite his Japanese imprisonment. Some have speculated that Ghosn was the victim of a coup by Saikawa to consolidate his power with the automaker. It remains to be seen why exactly Saikawa is preparing to step aside but analysts say it could help to mend the fractured relationship between Renault and Nissan. Renault recently confirmed that Michelin chief executive Jean-Dominique Senard will take over as its chairman. Senard’s appointment has been backed by France which just so happens to be the most powerful Renault shareholder. Senard will also join Nissan’s board and is charged with proposing changes to the alliance’s structure. It is hoped that Senard will help to fix the carnage left behind by Ghosn and Saikawa. “Hopefully he takes his time to speak with a wide range of people before setting a strategy”, Macquarie Group analyst Janet Lewis said. “He needs to gain trust with the leadership of both Nissan and Renault, and needs to ensure he is not being viewed as a mouthpiece for the French government”. +++ 

+++ TESLA ‘s Advanced Summon feature may soon be arriving as an over-the-air update, providing a much higher level of automated and manual control when parking or hailing the vehicle. “Almost ready to roll out”, CEO Elon Musk said. “Regulators just approved”. The executive previously claimed the new feature will allow the car to “drive to your phone location and follow you like a pet”. Owners will also be able to “drive it right from your phone remotely like a big RC car if in line of sight”. The upgrade is said to be supported by all cars with Autopilot HW2 hardware, covering Tesla’s entire fleet built within the past few years. “By next year, a Tesla should be able to drive around a parking lot, find an empty spot, read signs to confirm it’s valid & park”, Musk wrote in November. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA aims to raise vehicle sales in China by 8 % to 1.6 million this year, the Japanese automaker said. Toyota sold 1.47 million vehicles in China last year, up 14.3 % from 2017. Toyota’s forecast comes at a time when automakers in China in general are bracing for a tough year after weakness in sales emerged last year. China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) this month said it expects sales to show no growth, forecasting flat sales of 28.1 million vehicles for 2019. Other government and industry bodies see a 0-2 % growth in overall demand. China’s automotive market last year contracted for the first time since the 1990s. Despite the slowdown in the overall market, sales by Japanese companies especially Toyota remain strong. Last year China and Japan pledged to forge closer ties during a 3-day visit in October to Beijing by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, signing a broad range of agreements including a $30 billion currency swap pact, amid rising trade tensions with Washington. During Abe’s visit Chinese President Xi Jinping said bilateral ties had returned to the right track and China would ensure that the positive momentum continues, state media reported. +++

+++ Toyota has confirmed plans to discontinue the YARIS from US showrooms. Once the Japanese automaker’s least expensive model with a $16,565 starting price, the Yaris experienced dismal US sales last year with a nearly 78 % drop from 2017’s numbers. Incredibly, the hatchback only outsold the Mirai by a margin of 240 units. The company’s North America chief, Jim Lentz, told the Yaris will not carry through to the 2019 model year. The sub-brand will not be completely forgotten, however, as Toyota has promised to make an announcement about the new Yaris lineup later this year at the New York International Auto Show. +++

+++ America’s trade war with China isn’t stopping ZOTYE from preparing to sell its vehicles in the United States as the company will reveal its first dealerships at the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) show on January 30th. Zotye’s announcement was short on details, but the company noted these dealerships are expected to become the first to sell Chinese models in the United States under the Chinese automaker’s brand name. While we expect additional information will be released next week, the company has previously said its first US-spec model will be an SUV that is slated to go on sale in 2020. Zotye hasn’t said much beyond that, but has previously stated “engineering, development and homologation work is currently underway”. Despite being tight-lipped on specifics, Zotye USA’s Facebook page is full of images showing the T700 crossover which is essentially a Chinese clone of the first-generation Range Rover Evoque. However, HAAH Automotive Holdings (which is handling US distribution rights) has previously said Zotye is “developing numerous new models” and “one of these new models will be the first product launched in the USA during the 4th quarter of 2020”. Zotye isn’t widely known outside of China, but it often gets called out for its less than creative styling. Besides the T700, Zotye’s SR9 has been criticized as a Porsche Macan knock-off. The company’s T600 also resembles the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan, while the Traum Meet3 echoes the Mercedes GLC. It will be interesting to see if the company’s first US model will follow a similar philosophy, but the automakers are pretty protective of the US market. This can be seen by FCA’s ongoing feud with Mahindra over the Jeep-like Roxor. +++

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