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+++ The on-again, off-again APPLE car will arrive as an electric Van. It will be a competitor of the Volkswagen Transporter. Apple has already started building prototypes of the yet-unnamed vehicle. It will be autonomous, and it will be entirely electric. The technology that powers it (including the battery pack) is being developed in-house by the Cupertino-based tech giant. And, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine the van will be part of a car-sharing program or a shuttle service rather than offered to private buyers through Apple’s network of stores. Apple has confirmed it’s testing self-driving car technology; it voluntarily wrote a letter about its project to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, the company hasn’t said anything about developing its own car. The latest rumors claimed it had given up on becoming an auto manufacturer, sent home hundreds of employees working on Project Titan, and instead decided to focus on developing its own autonomous technology. If accurate, this report suggests Apple has once again changed its mind. +++ 

+++ AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY BRAKING (AEB) and Lane Departure Warning systems are among a number of safety systems set to be made compulsory on new vehicles sold in the European Union (EU). The legislation proposed last year that would require several advanced safety features to be fitted as standard has been approved by Internal Market Committee MEPs and will now go forward for approval from the full European Parliament. The vote is expected to take place next month, and if that happens, the rules could come into place by 2022. The European Transport Safety Council estimates that fitting all new cars with such systems could save 25,000 lives in 15 years. The safety features that will become mandatory in passenger cars are: Advanced automatic emergency braking systems, Lane departure warning systems, Intelligent speed assistance, Alcohol interlock installation facilitation, Driver drowsiness and attention warning, Advanced driver distraction warning, Emergency stop signal, Reversing detection and Accident data recorder. Several of the systems, including AEB, are already widely available and standard on many models, in part because they are now required for a car to score the maximum 5 stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests. Under the new rules, manufacturers will have to ensure the systems are developed in a way that ensures “users accept them”. The laws also include requirements designed to protect vehicles from cyber attacks. Most of the systems will also be made compulsory for light commercial vehicles and buses. Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said the vote result is “great news for road safety”. He added: “It’s encouraging that a lot of the safety technologies proposed are already fitted as standard on many new cars. In fact, it’s not now impossible to get a 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating without AEB fitted as standard. “We would hope the proposed timeline of within 3 years could be more ambitious”. Avery also cited the value of intelligent speed assistance systems but added that he feels it’s important the EU has ruled such systems must be overridable, saying: “Drivers like the vehicle to know what the set limit is but also like to have ultimate control of their vehicle’s speed”. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY , recently hit by what chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark describes as “a perfect storm” of loss-inducing business reverses, believes it’s now on the road to recovery and can, Brexit allowing, score an all-time sales record next year. Despite being hit by WLTP related internal production delays that prevented expected launches of the new Continental GT in the US and China, which together account for just under 50 % of Bentley’s business, the company still scored impressively high sales of 10,494 in 2018. It will start selling the GT in both countries by mid-year, and Hallmark says it could sell around 12,000 cars in 2020, with the recovery plan, which is backed by Volkswagen Group chiefs, already running ahead of forecasts. Bentley faces five major challenges between now and 2025, Hallmark believes. The first, this year, is to complete its planned recovery. Next year’s is to “achieve the solid growth we’ve earned”. After that, it must diversify its range with a promised hybrid version of each model and a series of spin-offs similar to the recently announced Bentayga Speed. By 2023, it must implement an efficient plan for meeting the fast-approaching Euro 7 regulations, aimed at further reducing real-world emissions of particulates and NOx from petrol engines. And by 2025, it must be looking to launch its first battery electric vehicle (BEV), a move made possible by then, Hallmark believes, by approaching Group decisions about future common body-chassis architecture and anticipated developments in battery efficiency to suit Bentley’s bigger, heavier applications. For now, Bentley is undecided about whether its first BEV should be a new model (a more compact Bentayga-style model has been rumoured) or an adapted existing model. In the meantime, the company is working on a replacement for the Continental-based Flying Spur saloon for 2020-21 (which might get a new name) and developing a plan for its larger, flagship Mulsanne saloon. One proposal for the latter, which sells a modest but profitable 450 units a year but seems unlikely to participate in the hybridisation programme, would be simply to redesign it and extend its life. +++ 

+++ The new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is being readied for its grand unveiling. Like most manufacturers, BMW’s current focus remains on growing its SUV line-up, recently bolstering its range with the X2 and X7. Despite this, traditional 4-door models retain a reasonable proportion of the brand’s overall sales. The 3 Series, for example, accounts for 1 of every 5 BMW’s sold worldwide. The new 2 Series Gran Coupe will be an entirely new model for BMW, slotting neatly into its growing ‘Gran Coupe’ range. The German firm intends to expand this line-up further, adding an 8 Series model next year and a 4 Series variant in 2020. This 2 Series version will act as a more practical, style-focused alternative to the 1 Series hatch, also due to arrive next year. BMW is the last of Germany’s 3 biggest brands without a compact 4-door model. Mercedes is cashing in with the CLA, while an A-Class Saloon is due to hit the market next year. Meanwhile, Audi offers the A3 Limousine alongside the Sportback, and a 5-door Coupe version of the next-generation A3 is expected to join the ranks, too. From the front, the 2 Series Gran Coupe will look almost identical to the 1 Series hatch, with BMW’s signature kidney grille flanked by a slender pair of LED headlamps. From the C-pillar, the Gran Coupe’s rakish roofline marks it out from the 1 Series, and BMW’s rivals. It will sit between the 1 Series hatch and 3 Series saloon in terms of size, with rear legroom being more generous than the hatchback, thanks to a slightly extended wheelbase. The marginal size increase is due to the 2 Series’s new front-wheel-drive UKL platform, which currently underpins 10 models from BMW and Mini, including the X1 and the Countryman. Switching to front-wheel drive means the 2 Series and next 1 Series hatch will end the current car’s USP as being the only compact rear-wheel-drive model on the market. The flexibility of the platform will allow BMW to engineer a varied range of powertrains for the new 2 Series line-up. Given that the model will sit towards the lower end of the German firm’s product range, conventional petrol and diesel engines will make up the bulk of the family, but as the market continues to shift away from diesel these are expected to account for fewer sales than previously. I’m expecting the range of engines to be carried over from the current 1 Series, starting with BMW’s entry-level 1.5-litre 3-cylinder unit, pushing out around 140 hp. A pair of 2.0-litre 4-cylinder units will sit above it, with power ranging from roughly 150 hp to 252 hp. All of the diesel versions will be 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engines, with the most powerful model developing around 231 hp. Transmission options will consist of a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic, while some versions will be offered with the option of xDrive four-wheel-drive. Other benefits of the platform include its easy support for plug-in hybrid technology. The system is expected to mirror that found in the 2 Series Active Tourer MPV, by combining a 150 hp 1.5-litre engine with an electric motor, which should provide the car with an electric-only range of more than 50 kilometres and CO2 emissions below 50 g/km. At the model’s other extreme, a future M Performance model could feature. If so, it will have to make use of 4-wheeldrive and a 306 hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine due to the constraints of the new UKL platform and the demands of the market. The current M140i is the only car in that segment to use a 6-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive; the move to a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder will make a future M model a more direct rival for the likes of the Audi S3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45. +++ 

+++ CUPRA will expand its model range to 7 cars by the end of next year, and the brand will offer a version of the forthcoming next-generation Seat Leon. The sub-brand has just revealed the Formentor coupé crossover, the first model developed primarily as a Cupra. It’s due to go on sale in early 2020. That model joins the Cupra Ateca, along with the Seat Leon Cupra, which was launched before Cupra was spun off into its own brand. Asked about Cupra’s future plans, marketing boss Khaled Soussi said: “We are working on our product strategy, but I can confirm that by the end of 2020, we’ll have 7 cars (including special models) on the streets”. According to Soussi, the ‘special models’ include special editions and halo cars. Soussi reaffirmed that the current Leon Cupra will continue to carry a Seat badge, but he said: “With the next generation of Leon, we will have a Leon with a Cupra logo. All our cars from now will have a Cupra logo”. Soussi said decisions over whether Seat models would gain a Cupra-branded version would be made on “a case-by-case basis”. He added: “We are looking at every single car and we are assessing the potential of the car and taking into consideration target customers we want to reach”. Soussi also said no decision had been made about whether Seat could launch its own version of the Formentor. “The Formentor is a car developed specially for Cupra. But we work in the same group and look for synergies for both brands. But at this stage, presenting the first Cupra car, we’re not yet there to think about whether we make a Seat version of this”. +++ 

+++ The wraps have just come off the hot Focus ST, but later this year, a new car that’s arguably much more important to FORD ’s future willenter showrooms: the new Kuga. Due to arrive in dealers towards the end of 2019, the third-generation is being tasked with not only stealing sales from the likes of the Volkswagen Tiguan and Renault Kadjar, but also assisting with reversing the brand’s fortunes in Europe and helping boost its profits in the region. The Kuga is Ford’s strongest-performing SUV on the continent; the firm sold 153,800 examples in Europe last year despite the car falling behind rivals in terms of comfort, refinement and availability of plug-in hybrid powertrains. But that is due to change with the Mk3 model, because it moves to a new platform that has electrification at its heart. Beneath the skin the Kuga shifts to Ford’s new C1 architecture that first appeared on the latest Focus. The C1’s flexibility will let engineers stretch the wheelbase to create a more spacious cabin than that currently found on the existing model. It’s all set to change beneath the surface, too, because the newcomer will adopt Ford’s latest generation of engines. The firm’s 1.0-litre 3-cylinder unit, which is a popular choice in the Fiesta and Focus, is not expected to be offered in the SUV due to its increased size and weight. As a result the range will kick off with the larger-capacity 1.5-litre 3-cylinder EcoBoost motor, which is related to the engine found in the Fiesta ST. 2 versions are expected to be offered, with either 150 hp or a more punchy 182 hp. Both could have 48V mild-hybrid technology to help further reduce CO2 emissions. Despite its relative slump in market share, diesel power still makes up a large proportion of sales in this segment, so the firm’s 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre EcoBlue engines will continue to be offered in the new Kuga. But adding real substance to the brand’s range of electrified vehicles will be an all-new plug-in hybrid version of the Kuga. The SUV’s powertrain is expected to comprise Ford’s 1.5-litre 3-cylinder motor backed up by a small electric motor to help deliver CO2 emissions of less than 50 g/km. At the other end of the range it’s feasible that a Kuga ST could be developed, giving the brand its first performance-based SUV in Europe. Ford Performance recently launched ST variants of the Edge and Explorer in the US, although neither model has made its way across the Atlantic. +++ 

+++ HONDA ’s Swindon plant and workforce are the victims of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, according to the firm’s former UK boss Philip Crossman. He was managing director from 2013 to 2016 and now consults for the car industry. He said: “A perfect storm has culminated in this devastating decision, and for the people involved it is heart-breaking. The one thing I know that didn’t lead to this decision was the quality of the workforce or the facilities at the plant. Honda standards generally are world class, they top quality polls everywhere, and the quality in Swindon was close to the top of all of Honda’s plants. “The commitment and enthusiasm of the workforce is second to none. They will suffer the fallout from this, of course, but they are in no way to blame for it”. Instead, Crossman detailed his belief that the decision was likely the result of numerous global and local events that culminated around the need to make a decision on where to make the next generation Civic in around 2,5 years’ time. “Around 30 months before production is when investment decisions need to be made”, said Crossman. “The production cycle meant that it was time to decide what to do next, and that put Swindon in the spotlight at a time when the company was facing a lot of challenges. We all know the conclusion they came to”. Faced with the decision of whether to invest in the Swindon plant to build the new Civic, Crossman believes that there were 5 key factors that delivered the final blow to its 3.500 workers and the extended supply chain, estimated to total a further 10,000 workers. 1) Global car market challenges: Shifting sales patterns around the world are impacting on every car maker, and Honda is not immune. Sales in China and the world’s second-largest car market, the USA, fell. Both are traditional strongholds for Honda sales. The figures in Europe were low too, at 0.8 % of all registrations; down from a high of more than 2 % in 2007. Diesel’s decline was not a significant reason, however, argues Crossman. “They didn’t have a diesel until 2004, and even now a fraction of its global car sales were diesels”, he says. “The impact has been relatively minor as a result”. 2) Chinese market decline and shift: Honda has roughly doubled sales in China (the world’s largest car market) since 2013, but as with many car makers suffered a difficult 2018 as the market declined after years of steady growth. Furthermore, Honda’s reputation was hit hard by a quality issue with locally made cars that led to months of significant declines. China is also leading the world for electric car sales, with around 35 % electrified car registrations in the world registered in China. More than 1 million electrified cars were registered in China last year for the first time, and legislation and incentives, largely encouraged in order to lower the country’s dependence on imported oil, will drive that figure ever higher. 3) Electrification: This was cited by Honda as the primary reason for its withdrawal from Swindon, although critics argue that the investment challenge brought on by evolving technology was long-established and inevitable, irrespective of Swindon’s fate. Crossman believes Honda’s interpretation was fair, however, saying: “The challenge is enormous and expensive. They are well-set for the long game, with advanced hydrogen fuel cell knowledge, but the interim gap requires enormous investment. That transition is vexing all car companies”, 4) Japan – EU trade deal: Crossman highlights the deal, signed last year, as weakening Swindon’s position. It kick-starts a process to reduce tariffs on cars brought in from Japan to the European Union from 10 % to nothing, in stepped increments over a period of 8 years. As a result, had another Civic been signed off for production at Swindon the full tariff-free deal would have been in force for its final years of life. While Crossman would not comment on specifics that he has no knowledge of, with global sales shrinking and under-utilisation of factories rising as a result in 2018, Honda appears to have taken the decision to retrench to maximise use of its facilities in Japan. 5) Brexit uncertainty: Honda specifically said Brexit was not a factor in its decision, and Crossman sees no reason to dispute that. However, he does argue that no business decision would be made without a full assessment of the prevailing business pressures. “They say it is not the reason for the decision, and I believe that, but it is hard not to look at it as a contributory factor. They needed to decide whether to invest in Swindon and the UK at a time when the conditions they would be working in are not clear”, he says. “Uncertainty does not help business”. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI will add a new Tucson N-Line to its line-up. The new trim level will likely reach the market by the end of the year, adding a range of exterior and interior upgrades to the standard model. The performance-inspired Tucson will likely feature N-Line front and rear bumpers, N-Line side skirts, larger alloy wheels, a new diffuser, twin exhausts and a rear spoiler. Like all N-Line models, the interior of the Tucson will feature sports seats, a leather sports steering wheel, fresh black headlining and an 8,0 inch infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There will also be an “N-Line” badge stamped into the gear selector. Hyundai’s new N-Line trim level will likely be available across the entire Tucson range, with powertrains ranging from the entry 1.6-litre petrol to the range-topping 4-wheeldrive 2.0-litre 4-cylinder 48V diesel-hybrid. +++ 

+++ LEXUS will benefit from the partnership that Toyota, its parent company, created with BMW. The next-generation IS will allegedly come with a straight-6 engine borrowed from the BMW parts bin. The 6 in question is the 3.0-liter unit found in the Z4, the M340i, and the born-again Toyota Supra. It makes 340 hp. The IS will remain rear-wheel drive, but I don’t know which transmission(s) will be available. The engine palette will also include several 4-cylinders, a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, and, intriguingly, a variant of the twin-turbocharged V6 found in the LS. The straight-6 will power Lexus’ answer to the M340i, while the V6-powered, F-badged model will compete head-to-head against the M3. The next IS will keep the current model’s dimensions, but it will weigh less because it will ride on a rear-wheel drive variant of the modular platform found under recent additions to the Toyota family like the Prius, the Corolla, and the Camry. It will be sharper to drive than the current model, too; Lexus is doing all it can to re-establish the model as a true contender in the sports sedan segment. It’s reasonable to assume the RC coupe will benefit from the same upgrades, assuming it returns for a new generation. The next IS makes its debut in 2021. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is reportedly experiencing production hiccups with the all-electric EQ C, potentially limiting output volume until the last weeks of the year. The EQ C is expected to be delivered only to a limited number of ‘VIP customers’ starting in June. Volume is said to be limited through November at the earliest, several months behind the original plans. The report speculates that the German automaker may have encountered trouble sourcing enough batteries to bring the line up to speed by the middle of the year. Notably, battery module assembly was one of the biggest hurdles for Tesla’s Model 3 ramp-up. Mercedes-Benz isn’t the only established automaker having apparent trouble with EV development. German rival Audi is said to be “more than a year behind schedule” with the e-Tron, stalling the launch due to last-minute engineering changes that have allegedly pushed development costs past €2 billion. +++ 

+++ MORGAN ’s all-new sports car will be revaled at next month’s Geneva motor show ahead of a sales launch later this year. The new model was first seen testing earlier this month, revealing a design that’s a familiar adaptation of the 1930s-inspired look Morgans have carried for decades. This is set to evolve further with a new range-topping model in 2020. But there are substantial developments under the skin. The new model, known internally as the Wide Body, will make use of an all-new, lighter bonded aluminium platform. The company also says the car will feature “a powertrain never before installed in a Morgan”. The Wide Body comes after half a century of the Malvern-based car maker fitting V8 engines to its cars. The final examples of the Aero 8 and Plus 8, fitted with BMW’s N62 unit, will be kept for Morgan’s heritage fleet. It’s thought that a downsized, forced-induction 6-cylinder engine will feature in the upcoming flagship model, and this could also be the powertrain used by the Wide Body. Morgan claims the sports car is positioned above the Roadster, Plus 4 and 4/4 in performance terms but is “not designed to be a direct replacement for the outging Plus 8 and Aero 8”. That pair will be replaced by the new flagship. The Wide Body’s chassis is said to be twice as stiff as the aluminium chassis of previous flagship Morgans and, combined with the new engine, “will result in the most dynamically capable production Morgan ever”. Graham Chapman, Morgan’s technology director, says next year’s launch “is the culmination of several years of unprecedented development in design and engineering for Morgan”. He added: “This has produced the most advanced development programme in Morgan’s history, the results of which we cannot wait to share with our customers worldwide”. +++ 

+++ A successor to NISSAN ’s hugely popular Juke is expected to be unveiled later this year. The second-generation will go on sale in early 2020. It’s a long-awaited replacement for today’s model, which has been on sale since 2010. The car will have an overall shape broadly similar to the original. Designdetails will progress significantly, however. In an interview last year, Nissan’s global design boss, Alfonso Albaisa, said: “It’s an urban meteor with a nasty attitude”. The original Juke was introduced at the 2010 Geneva motor show and helped to boost the popularity of supermini-sized SUVs. In terms of sales, that class grew tenfold across Europe between 2010 and 2016, and by 2022, it’s expected to double in size from its 2016 level of 1.13 million units. Juke sales have exceeded 100,000 per year in Europe 4 times to date, and the styling of the Sunderland-built car was considered an important contributor to that. “Our job was easier with the first one, because there was nothing else like it”, Albaisa told. “And that car’s success was so huge even given how polarising it looked. The second one couldn’t be derivative or evolutionary and still be a Juke. We’d almost have to change its name to Nancy otherwise”. The new Juke is likely to be built on a stretched version of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s CMF platform, as used by the Renault Clio. It’s expected to shun the naturally aspirated petrol engines that have accounted for much of its sales volume so far, instead using the turbocharged 1.0-litre 3-cylinder and 1.3-litre 4-cylinder units used in the Qashqai. A 1.5-litre 115 hp diesel is likely to be offered, too, while 4-wheel drive will be kept for automatic models higher up the range. +++ 

+++ The latest diesel models from Mercedes, Opel and BMW emit almost no nitrogen oxides, or NOx , even in the toughest real-world on-road tests, according to independent research. The German automobile club (ADAC) conducted on-road RDE (real driving emissions) tests of a number of petrol and diesel models to assess their cleanliness, and found many models dramatically undercut the 168 mg/km currently allowed under Euro 6d-Temp rules. The diesel Mercedes C-Class 220d actually emitted no NOx whatsoever during the on-road tests, while the BMW 5 Series 520d emitted just 1mg per kilometre. An Opel Astra with a 1.6-litre diesel engine also impressed, emitting just 1 mg/km of NOx, while the Citroen Berlingo BlueHDI 130 emitted just 7 mg/km. In some cases, the diesel cars tested emitted less NOx than equivalent petrol models. It is not known how the cars in question achieved such low NOx emissions, but the findings echo work showcased by Bosch in early 2018 that revealed on-road NOx levels could be cut to as little as 13 mg/km. NOx emissions have been at the heart of the debate around diesel, with research linking them to everything from asthma and pulmonary conditions, to heart disease and dementia. The findings from the ADAC will be welcomed by vehicle manufacturers, who have reportedly been facing battles to get their cars to comply with the on-road RDE element of the WLTP (worldwide harmonized light vehicles test procedure) tests. The results also come against a backdrop of legal wrangling related to the legality of RDE limits. On road RDE NOx limits are set at 80 mg/km (milligrams per kilometre) for diesel cars, and 60 mg/km for petrols. In order to allow manufacturers time to get their vehicles compliant with the tests, and allow for inaccuracies in the PEMS (portable emissions measurement systems) used during the on-road RDE tests, ‘conformity factors’ (which allow cars to emit more than those limits) were set. The current conformity factor is 2.1, meaning a car can emit 2.1 times more NOx during RDE tests than is permitted. From January 2020 the conformity factor drops to 1.5, effectively allowing diesels to emit 120mg/km of NOx during RDE trials. At the end of 2018, however, the European Court of Justice ruled the European Commission had no right to introduce those conformity factors, meaning a strict limit of 80 mg/km of NOx should be in effect. Reports indicate the European Commission intends to appeal the ruling, but the 80 mg limits will be enforced within 14 months if that appeal is unsuccessful. +++ 

+++ The Tesla Model 3 and the Chrysler 300 both lost their Recommended rating from Consumer Reports because of declining RELIABILITY . Model 3 owners complained about loose bodytrim and glass defects, while 300 owners experienced problems with the in-car electronics and the 8-speed automatic transmission. Both brands say they have already solved the problems. “We have already made significant improvements to correct any issues that Model 3 customers may have experienced that are referenced in this report, and our return policy allows any customer who is unhappy with their car to return it for a full refund. This new data from Consumer Reports comes from their annual Owner Satisfaction survey, which runs from July through September, so the vast majority of these issues have already been corrected through design and manufacturing improvements, and we are already seeing a significant improvement in our field data”, a Tesla representative said in a statement. It’s possible that the Model 3 will regain its Recommended rating in the future, according to Consumer Reports. Tesla told the publication the same thing it told me: it has already addressed the problems reported by early Model 3 owners, and they won’t affect motorists who buy the car new in 2019. “If that turns out to be true, it’s possible it will be reflected in our future surveys, but it’s also possible that other problems will arise”, said Jake Fisher, the senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. Chrysler sang a similar tune. “We address all issues we see in our quality indicators, and the issues referenced by Consumer Reports have already been identified and resolved. The 2019 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger represents the best iteration of the vehicles ever”, a spokesperson said. “With the improvements we’ve made, we’re confident 300 and Charger will both regain their recommended status in the future”, the representative added. Consumer Reports also bumped the BMW 5 Series, the Dodge Charger and the Volkswagen Tiguan off of its Recommended list. +++ 

+++ Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s cut its outlook on RENAULT to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’, citing broader challenges within the automotive sector that could hit its profits. “The negative outlook reflects the risk that Renault will be unable to return its profitmargin to 2017 levels (9 -10 %) over the next 2 years given the numerous headwinds in the global automotive industry and company-specific problems that could reduce its operating profit generation for a sustained period”, S&P Global Ratings wrote in a note. +++ 

+++ TESLA drivers will be able to safely go to sleep behind the wheel of a car and wake up at their destination within two years, according to Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO and co-founder said the brand’s autonomous technology will be complete by the end of 2019, and safe to operate without any human observation before 2020 is over. Musk said the last steps on the path to full autonomy are “extremely difficult”, but claimed with absolute certainty that Tesla’s driverless car technology would be “feature-ready” by the time the year is out. “I think we will be feature-complete, full self-driving this year”, said Musk. “Meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without intervention this year. I would say I am certain of that, that is not a question mark”. He added: “However, sometimes people will extrapolate that to mean now it works with 100 % certainty, requiring no observation, perfectly this is not the case”. Nonetheless, Musk said Tesla’s self-driving systems would soon be good enough for occupants to sleep while the car drives itself: “My guess as to when we would think it’s safe for somebody to essentially fall asleep and wake up at the destination? Probably towards the end of next year”, Musk said he foresaw disagreements between Tesla and regulators as to when the firm’s autonomous technologies will be safe to use. “When will regulators allow us even to have these features turned on even with a human oversight?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s a variable which we have limited control over; when will regulators agree that these things can be done without human oversight? That is another level beyond that”. Musk called such considerations “externalities we don’t quite control”, and claimed, “the conservatism of regulators varies a lot from one jurisdiction to another”. Musk then went on to make his comments about drivers falling asleep behind the wheel, saying: “That’s when I would think it’s most likely it will be safe enough for that. I don’t know when regulators will agree”. Musk added that federal regulators in China and the USA are usually quite open to accepting Tesla’s new technologies, while European authorities can be “a little conservative in this regard”. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group has been dealt a severe setback in its efforts to put a close to the diesel emissions scandal following a decision by Germany’s top court that may force it to compensate thousands of European customers. In a surprise ruling, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice rebuked VW Group arguments that the cheat software it fitted to various diesel models was legal under European Union law, and therefore resolved it of any responsibility to compensate customers. The court, acting on a case originally set to be heard on February 27, but since withdrawn at the behest of the plaintiff, brought down its decision, classifying the cheat software as a “material defect”. In a statement, the court said the Volkswagen Group was obliged to provide customers with a car free from defects. The decision is thought to open new legal avenues to customers seeking to claim compensation on the basis that the car they were sold was not representative of that advertised. In certain cases, it may even force the Volkswagen Group to provide customers with a brand new car, even if the car in question has been superseded by a new model. Volkswagen had sought to settle the case to avoid a ruling against it by the court. However, the court decided to table its decision, despite the case being withdrawn. Unlike in the US, where affected customers have already been compensated, the Volkswagen Group has sternly resisted calls for compensation against the fitment of cheat software, or a so-called defeat device, in diesel cars sold in Europe. More than 400,000 disgruntled European customers have joined various group action suits against the German car maker, whose brands include Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda. The customer in the case presided over by the Federal Court of Justice and originally set to be heard next week had demanded compensation from the Volkswagen Group in the form of a new car, because the Tiguan TDI purchased in July 2015, some 2 months before US authorities uncovered the diesel defeat device, was fitted with illegal cheat software. In response, a Volkswagen Group statement suggested the court decision does not allow “concrete conclusions” regarding legal claims against it. Commenting on the case, the Volkswagen Group argued the idea of compensating the customer with a new car was “impossible” as the first-generation Tiguan sold in 2015 is “totally different” from the second-generation model on sale today. The Volkswagen Group has regularly indicated an intention to draw a line under the diesel emissions scandal, which is claimed to have cost it more than €27.4 billion, and push ahead with a future model strategy focused heavily on electric vehicles. In 2015, the Volkswagen Group admitted to rigging as many as 11 million diesel cars with cheat software that allowed them to record lower emission levels on official government-specified tests run under laboratory conditions than those achieved on public roads. +++  

+++ VOLVO has raised some 2 billion Swedish crowns ($215 million) in a bond issue just 5 months after the Chinese-owned carmaker terminated plans for a stock market flotation, blaming trade tensions and a downturn in the sector. Carmakers like Volvo face heavy expenditure in developing electric and driverless cars, just as diesel engines fall out of favor and major Chinese and European markets stutter. Volvo, which is developing electrified performance brand Polestar and owns a stake in parent Geely’s stablemate Lynk&Co, is spending about 5 % of its annual turnover building electric and autonomous vehicles. The company, which had 2018 revenue of 252.7 billion crowns and net cash of 18.03 billion, had repeatedly said it would fund the development with internal resources and did not need external help. But CEO Håkan Samuelsson said this month that external finance was needed to support the development of electric cars and that Volvo was talking to Chinese and U.S. tech investors. Samuelsson had in late November ruled out Volvo raising funds via a bond offering in the short term, saying it was not the right time because markets were too turbulent. A Volvo spokesman said the new bond would be used for general corporate purposes and not for a specific project. +++

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