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+++ APPLE said it planned to lay off 190 employees in its self-driving car program, Project Titan, changes that provide a rare window into the automotive technologies the company has been pursuing. The tech firm said in a filing with state regulators that it planned to lay off people from 8 different Santa Clara County facilities near its Cupertino, California, headquarters, as of April 16. A company spokesman confirmed that the reduction was from the self-driving car program. While the iPhone maker has acknowledged its interest in self-driving cars in broad terms, it has never detailed precisely which technologies it is working on and whether it seeks to build a whole vehicle or the sensors, computer system and software to control one. The public documents filed with regulators provide some previously undisclosed clues. Among those laid off were at least 2 dozen software engineers, including a machine learning engineer, and 40 hardware engineers. Some of the positions hint at physical products for consumers: 3 product design engineers and 1 ergonomics engineer face layoffs. 1 machine shop supervisor was among the reductions, though it is unclear how many machinists reported to the supervisor and whether the shop fabricates automotive parts or smaller parts for electronics and sensors. The layoffs appear to be the first major shake-up of Project Titan under Doug Field, who returned to Apple last year as vice-president of Special Projects after a stint at electric car maker Tesla. Apple operates the car project on a “need-to-know” basis, with only about 5,000 of Apple’s 140,000 full-time workers included, according to court documents in a theft of trade secrets criminal case filed this year against an ex-Apple employee. About 1,200 of those are ‘core’ employees that are “directly working on the development of the project”, according to the complaint, which was unsealed in January. Despite the headcount changes, the company appears to have ramped up its testing on California roads. In a filing with regulators earlier this month, Apple said it had logged nearly 80,000 miles of testing in its home state in 2018, far surpassing the less than 1,000 miles it had logged the year before. It was, however, far fewer than Alphabet’s Waymo unit, which logged 1.2 million miles in California last year. +++ 

+++ Just a few days after details concerning the upcoming M2 CS emerged, BMW is working on a new model dubbed the M2 Track Cup. As the name indicates, this hardcore M2 variant would be limited to track use and could pump out as much as 475 hp. Thanks to its use of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo S55 inline-six, the M2 CS will pump out approximately 450 hp, giving it a 19 hp edge over the M3 and M4. BMW will upgrade it to 480 hp for the Track Cup. As the M2 Track Cup will be limited to duty on racetracks, BMW will outfit it with a plethora of visual and aerodynamic modifications to improve its performance. This could include a large fixed rear wing, an aerodynamic front splitter, and an enlarged rear diffuser. Racing wheels with centerlocks and sticky race tires would also come standard. BMW already offers a similar 2-Series track car to customers in the form of the M240i Racing Cup. Owners of the M240i Racing Cup can compete in a range of racing series’ around the world, including the VLN championship. The Track Cup won’t be unveiled until 2021 at the earliest. +++ 

+++ The CHEVROLET C8 Corvette may not be as close to landing in dealerships as we had hoped. An image detailing the vehicles General Motors will produce for the 2020 model year indicates the existing Corvette Stingray and Z06 will remain in production potentially for another year. Chevrolet has pushed production of the new C8 Corvette back to December, allowing it to keep building the C7 for a little while longer. This doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. Chevrolet recently decided to delay the C8 Corvette by 6 months due to an electrical problem. It is claimed that the supercar’s electrical system can’t handle the load necessary to support all of the car’s components and that they had to re-engineer the entire system. According to my sources, the vehicle’s various powertrains will ensure it’s worth the wait. Allegedly, the C8 Corvette could use a 6.2-liter V8 with 500 hp in entry-level guise. A 600 hp model with a 5.5-liter V8 is also said to be on the cards alongside a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 variant with 800 hp. A hybrid, twin-turbo V8 pumping out 1000 hp might even be a possibility. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER announced a $4.5 billion plan that includes building the first new auto assembly plant in Detroit in almost 3 decades and increasing its workforce in the area by about 6,500 jobs, an investment officials touted as an uncommon opportunity to revive the region’s economy. The Motor City was once home to about a dozen massive auto production plants, but a rash of closures helped to push Detroit’s unemployment rate to a peak of almost 29 percent a decade ago. The new Chrysler plant would be the first since 1991 and is expected to add 3,850 jobs. The company said in a news release that it would add another 1,100 new jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit, and roughly 1,500 new jobs at facilities in the neighboring suburb of Warren. The investment would roughly double FCA’s hourly workforce in the city and the expected average wage for the new jobs is about $58,000 a year. Speaking at a news conference after the announcement, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan called the deal a “once in a generational chance to change the economic” fortunes of Detroit. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer said it has been a long time since Michigan has seen an automotive investment as “big and transformative” as Fiat Chrysler’s plan. The investment will also have a ripple effect, boosting the automotive industry and helping other businesses elsewhere in Michigan and other Midwest states, Whitmer said. Fiat Chrysler said the additional investments are subject to tax incentive packages it was working out with the city and state of Michigan. The automaker would need about 80 hectares of land for the project, most owned by the city, Great Lakes Water Authority, DTE Energy and the Moroun family, which owns significant amounts of city real estate and the Ambassador Bridge that connects Michigan to Ontario, Canada. Most of the needed land would be for expanding the footprint of the existing facility, parking and other uses. City officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the automaker, and they were ironing out a deal to assemble land for the project over the next 60 days. If enough land is acquired and the tax incentives are approved, construction is expected to start later this year and the first new vehicles could be in production by the end of 2020. The automaker’s injection of money and jobs into the Motor City contrasts sharply with news from rival General Motors, which announced plans to shutter its Detroit-Hamtramck plant next year and plans to close 4 others in the U.S. and Canada. City officials said they would help bring those 5,000 new jobs to the city without displacing any residents. In the early 1980s, thousands were relocated and a black and Polish neighborhood was razed for what became GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen praised its cooperation with FORD and took pains to highlight its rival’s autonomous vehicles technology, as both carmakers explore deepening their partnership to include self-driving cars. VW and Ford have agreed to develop a range of commercial vehicles together and explored cooperating on electric cars. VW has however so far resisted agreeing to invest in Ford’s autonomous vehicle unit. “We are very happy joining forces on light commercial vehicles and we are exploring this further”, Volkswagen’s chief executive Herbert Diess said. “Ford is one of the pioneers on autonomous, that is why we are talking to Ford”. +++

+++ Lawyers for Nissan’s former chairman Carlos GHOSN , who has been detained for more than 3 months on financial misconduct allegations, filed a request for bail for the third time with a Tokyo court. The latest filing with the Tokyo District Court is the first bail request by the ousted car titan’s new legal team, appointed last month, including Junichiro Hironaka, known for winning acquittals in high-profile cases. His previous defense team, led by Motonari Otsuru, a former head of the special squad of Tokyo prosecutors investigating the financial misconduct allegations, made two requests in January. Courts in principle grant bail when there is no risk of a suspect fleeing or destroying evidence. Ghosn, 64, has been charged with understating his remuneration for a number of years in Nissan’s securities reports and transferring derivatives losses from his private asset management company to the automaker. He denies the allegations. The former executive appeared in court in January seeking an explanation for his continuing detention. It was his first public appearance since his arrest in November. The court said he needed to be detained as he could destroy evidence and flee Japan. Hironaka, known in judicial circles as the “acquittal guarantor”, has told reporters that he is “confident that (Ghosn) is innocent” on both charges and it is “extremely odd that a matter which should be resolved internally by a company has been brought to prosecutors”. The arrest of Ghosn on Nov. 19 came as prosecutors and a Nissan executive cooperating with the investigation struck a plea bargain agreement. +++

+++ British business secretary Greg Clark will travel to Japan to ask HONDA to rethink its recent decision to close a car plant in his country. The secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy is considering offering financial assistance to the Japanese automaker in a meeting with Honda executives who recently decided to close the company’s plant in Swindon. Honda said earlier this month it will end in 2021 production at the Swindon factory, which is the company’s only European car plant, at a cost of 3,500 jobs. The decision came amid uncertainties over the course of Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union on March 29. The Japanese automaker did not directly attribute its decision to Brexit, saying it was made to speed up development of electrified cars, but said it is worried about possible parts supply disruptions. Britain set up a task force made up of members from the government and local businesses to discuss how to support workers affected by Honda’s plant closure. A task force source was quoted as saying, “Once a viable package has been put together in a few weeks, Greg has got to get on a plane to Japan to make the case”. The source also said, “Greg needs to show Honda that the UK can offer stability and is still a good place to build cars”. Honda’s decision followed a Nissan announcement revealing that it was canceling plans to produce its next-generation X-Trail at its Sunderland plant in northeastern England. Nissan said it needed to optimize its regional investment strategy while indicating Brexit uncertainty also played a role. +++

+++ HYUNDAI has presented a blueprint for its future and pledged to invest $50.7 billion, most of it in research and development. Until 2016, Hyundai allocated just 55 % of its total spending to R&D and the rest to building factories and other facilities, but now that proportion is to rise to 77 %. In 2014 and 2015 when Hyundai and affiliate Kia saw automobile sales peak at 8 million vehicles a year, the automotive giant focused its investments in building factories in China. But sales have dwindled there ever since. The new investment Hyundai announced is 1.6 times larger than the money it spent over the last 5 years, so the money for R&D has effectively doubled. The spending plan is even more remarkable since Hyundai’s operating profit fell from $9 billion from 2011 to 2013 to $2.7 billion last year. “The automotive industry is experiencing a major transformation which hasn’t been seen in a century and we can’t afford to push back investment in future growth”, a company spokesman said. Out of the $39 billion in R&D spending earmarked over the next 5 years, Hyundai plans to spend $16 billion on self-driving car technology. Another $23 billion will be spent on developing new SUVs and premium sedans, which fetch higher margins, as well as cutting-edge engines. The automaker also plans to expand sales in Southeast Asia and other new markets, while clawing back market share in China and the U.S. +++

+++ INDIA ’s automotive market has been a sleeping giant. Only 18 out of 1,000 Indians own a car, compared with nearly 800 in the United States and around 500 in the European Union. With 1.34 billion people in the country, the potential is staggering; and just this year, India passed Germany to become the 4th-largest market in the world, including passenger cars and light-commercial vehicles. McKinsey forecasts that India will overtake Japan for the third spot in 2021. But making long-term inroads with even a small fraction of the country’s hundreds of millions of potential car owners has frustrated one company after another, from Volkswagen to Ford and General Motors. That could be because the Indian auto market is like no other, according to one of the industry’s elder statesmen, R.C. Bhargava, the chairman of Maruti Suzuki India, far and away the market leader. For several reasons, he said, India is not likely to gain the scale of China, which raced past the rest of the world in 2 decades to be the biggest automotive market. “In the last 25 years, annual growth has averaged 9 percent”, Bhargava said. “But two-thirds of users of motorized transport are on two-wheelers” and that is where the real potential is, he said. “This makes Indian mobility very different than the rest of the world”, he said. A look at sales figures from 2018 bears that out. Passenger car sales rose by 5 % to 3.4 million vehicles. Sales of three-wheel vehicles, on the other hand, grew by 31 % to 717,590 units, and two-wheelers (motorcycles and scooters) grew by 13 % to 21.7 million units. There are now some 200 million two-wheeled motorized vehicles in use. The cars that are in use are small (75 % are under 4 meters long) and Indians do not generally move up to larger cars, he said. That is because zoning makes it nearly impossible to turn India’s network of tiny streets and winding roads into the wide boulevards and superhighways of China’s newest cities, Bhargava said. That means that selling prices are generally low, with premium vehicles a niche market. Sales of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar-Land Rover and Volvo totaled just 40,000 last year. But those automakers that have succeeded have a lock on the market, with the top-4 holding 82 %. Maruti Suzuki sold 1.7 million vehicles in 2018; 8 % higher than 2017. In second place was Hyundai, with sales of just 550,000; third was Mahindra with 249,000 sales and Tata Motors is fourth with 237,200 sales. Ford of India is the highest-ranked European / American automaker, in 7th place with sales of 97,800 cars last year. European automakers have not fared well. Renault, once the darling of the Indian market with the subcompact Kwid, slumped to just 82,400 sales last year, a drop of 27 %. India has also been a rare weak point for Volkswagen, which sold just 37,000 cars last year, falling 23 %. Skoda and Fiat Chrysler also have a presence in India, but each sells less than 20,000 vehicles a year. That does not mean that overseas automakers have given up. PSA Group, which has been in and out of the Indian market, is planning to start local production in 2020 or 2021. Hyundai’s partner brand Kia has finished construction of an Indian plant, with aspirations to crack the top-5 in sales. A big question is the shape of future mobility in India, Bhargava said. The Indian government is grappling with high pollution levels as well as the negative effect on the country’s trade balance from importing fuel. Starting next year, Indian cars will have to conform to Euro 6 emissions standards. “That will make a big difference”, Bhargava said. The high cost of electric vehicles means that they will be adopted later in India than in China or Europe, he said. Instead, the government is backing compressed natural gas and hybrid vehicles in the short to midterm, until around 2030. “The auto industry wants to keep all options open”, he said, “We’re not sure what the future will be”. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR will follow up the recently revealed XE with similarly extensive changes for the XF later this year and F-Pace, due early next year. Senior product planning manager Wayne Darley said the XF was “the next priority”. “If you look at when those 2 cars (XF and F-Pace) went on sale (late 2015 and early 2016) that gives you a good idea of the timings”. The 2020 model-year XF will be revealed in the second half of this year, before going on sale in late autumn. The F-Pace, however, is tipped to receive upgrades for the start of next year. The changes will be as significant as the XE, with evolved exterior looks but significant cabin upgrades, focusing on a substantial boost in perceived quality and new technology features. Like the smaller saloon, the XF and F-Pace are likely to adopt features from the I-Pace, including a new secondary central screen for the climate control functions and a new steering wheel. Both cars will also join the XE in receiving RDE2-compliant diesel engines, which Darley said required a “huge push” on the engineering side to ensure the XE was the first car in its class to market with the ultra-efficient engines ahead of an emissions regulation change in 2021. What remains unclear, however, is whether the XF S and F-Pace S will return. The new XE will no longer be available with the supercharged V6 S variant for the rest of its lifecycle, while V6 petrol and diesel versions of the F-Pace and XF are no longer on sale. Jaguar Land Rover has just released a new inline 6-cylinder petrol engine in the Range Rover Sport, but with the XE S axed due to slow sales it remains to be seen whether that engine will return to the larger models. Darley confirmed that examples of the long-awaited F-Pace SVR will finally arrive in dealers in April, well over a year since the car’s reveal. The V8 powered Porsche Macan rival was apparently delayed after engineers decided changes to the car’s set-up were required, but there was also a parts supply issue. +++

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