Newsflash II

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+++ HYUNDAI and its affiliate Kia said that they will install drive video record systems (DVRS), or dashcams, in upcoming new models to enhance customer convenience. “DVRS will enable drivers to check recorded videos in the audio, video and navigation system built in a vehicle’s cockpit module, as well as on their smartphones”, the Hyundai Motor Group said in a statement. The group decided to “gradually” apply the built-in DVRS in new models as it topped other convenience devices in a recent consumer survey, it said. +++

+++ The current JAGUAR XJ will turn 10 years old in July and that’s an eternity in a highly competitive segment which is increasingly focused on giving consumers the latest and greatest technology. Unsurprisingly, this has negatively impacted sales as the company only managed to move 1,579 units in the United States last year. The situation was even worse in Europe where consumers only snapped up 1,099 XJs. To help reverse the trend, Jaguar will reportedly launch an electric XJ which uses technology from the I-Pace. The new model will shift its attention away from the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class and instead become a competitor for the Audi e-tron GT, Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S. The next XJ should ride on the new MLA platform. Jaguar Land Rover teased the Modular Longitudinal Architecture last summer and it has been designed to accommodate an assortment of different powertrains including internal combustion engines, mild / plug-in hybrid systems as well as electric powertrains. The next XJ could have a 90 kWh or 100 kWh battery pack and 4 electric motors that each produce up to 203 hp. This would give the all-wheel drive model an impressive output of up to 812 hp. Little else is known about the car, but Jaguar design director Ian Callum has previously said the next XJ won’t be a traditional three-box sedan. He has also suggested the car could be smaller than its predecessor and it will be something “people wanna get into and drive”. +++ 

+++ Christian von KOENIGSEGG has revealed more details about his company’s upcoming entry-level model. Von Koenigsegg said the car will debut at next year’s Geneva Motor Show and won’t be as extreme as their other products. As he explained, “It will be more of a road car, not at all track focused”. Koenigsegg wasn’t ready to talk specifications, but he did say the car will be electrified and have a naturally-aspirated V8 engine with Freevalve technology. The latter is a bit hard to explain, but it’s a camless engine which uses fully variable valve actuation. This allows engines to produce more power while also using less fuel. The car will be built in Ängelholm, just like regular Koenigsegg models, and the company is planning on building a “couple hundred” units annually. That’s still pretty limited compared to other supercar makers, but a massive leap for Koenigsegg. Being an entry level model, it will also more affordable than the company’s more extreme supercars. Von Koenigsegg estimated the car will cost between €600,000 and €800,000. Besides talking about the upcoming model, the Swedish brand’s founder said they are forming a new company. It will be focused on providing help to other companies seeking to develop new platforms, electrical systems and even carbon fiber wheels. He also suggested this will allow their innovations to trickle down to “normal cars”. Von Koenigsegg also talked a little bit about their partnership with NEVS. As he explained, they had been working on their entry-level model for a couple of years and decided they needed a partner so their other projects wouldn’t be affected. The company ended up going with NEVS, which surprised a lot of people. However, Koenigsegg’s boss noted the 2 companies have been working together for a while as they have been using Saab’s former testing facilities in Trollhättan. +++ 

+++ I can confirm that LAMBORGHINI will hold the world premiere of the Aventador SVJ Roadster at the Geneva Motor Show. ‘SVJ’ stands for ‘Superveloce Jota’ and has been used by Lamborghini for its most extreme track focused variants. The open-air version of the limited-run Aventador SVJ retains the regular Roadster’s removable carbon-fiber dual roof panels that each weigh about 6 kg and can be stored in the front trunk. It also keeps the powered rear window that can be lowered or raised regardless of the panels. Other than that and a small weight penalty incurred by structural reinforcements, the Aventador SVJ Roadster will be identical to its furious coupe sibling that currently holds the Nürburgring record for a street-legal production car with a time of 6:44.97. Power will come from a tuned naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 with titanium intake valves producing 770 hp and 720 Nm available at 6,750 rpm; an increase of 40 hp and 30 Nm respectively over the Aventador S. It will also be given the same cosmetic and aerodynamic treatment as the track-focused coupe, including the new version of the Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva (ALA) system with movable spoilers, a prominent rear diffuser, tweaked underbody and a big rear wing that will all help increase downforce by up to 40 %. Improvements will be applied to the suspension, 7-speed automated manual gearbox, stability control and ABS. Furthermore, the 4-wheeldrive system will send slightly more torque rearwards (around 3 %) with the Roadster riding on bespoke Nireo wheel wrapped in specially made Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. I’m told to expect sales of the Aventador SVJ Roadster to begin later this year. I don’t know yet how many cars will be produced, but the coupe is limited to 900 examples, plus an additional 63 units in ’63 Edition’ guise. +++ 

+++ A total of 10 million luxury cars have been sold by Toyota under the LEXUS brand name in the 30 years since the automaker first began marketing it. However, the world’s high-value car market has been dominated by the so-called ‘German three’ (Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi). To narrow the gap, Toyota must ensure that Lexus brand models carve out their own distinctive image, not just boast high fuel efficiency. By region, Lexus brand cars have sold 6.54 million units in North America, accounting for 60 % of the total. This is followed by 980,000 in China, 870,000 in Europe and 540,000 in Japan. The RX has sold the most at 2.86 million units, followed by the ES at 2.29 million. Lexus-brand cars were first marketed in the United States in 1989, a time when U.S. consumers largely viewed Japanese cars as low-end models for the general public. To sell highly profitable luxury cars in that market, Toyota needed to foster a new brand there. The first-generation LS400 was marketed in the United States in 1989, and the next year, the model ranked No. 1 in a quality survey conducted by a U.S. research firm. Lexus is still highly acclaimed in the U.S. market. In 1989, Nissan established a new brand called Infiniti. It has been promoting Infiniti brand car sales, using Hong Kong as a base. Nissan intends to market an Infiniti brand electric vehicle in 2021, the first EV model under that brand, in a bid to boost its sales momentum. Honda preceded Toyota and Nissan in the overseas sale of luxury cars. It started marketing high-value cars under the Acura brand in 1986. At present, the carmaker sells a total of 6 Acura brand models, including sedans, SUVs and sports types, in the United States, China and elsewhere. According to the Japan Automobile Importers Association (JAIA), imported cars have sold more than 300,000 units in Japan for 2 consecutive years, starting in 2017. The figure stood at 309,405 in 2018, marking the second-largest figure in the domestic imported car market. In Japan, luxury cars are said to be associated with German models. Nissan and Honda do not sell cars under their respective luxury brands in the domestic market, while Lexus brand models are rather briskly selling in Japan, as shown by their sales volume exceeding that of BMW imports in 2018. However, German cars have an overwhelming presence in the world’s high-value car market. New car sales in the global market reached 2.31 million units for Mercedes-Benz in 2018, followed by BMW at 2.12 million and by Audi at 1.81 million. Lexus-brand models sold 698,000 units, with the figure for Infiniti standing at 230,000. Japanese car manufacturers have long used their models’ fuel economy performance to increase the strength of their brands. But luxury cars must possess value-added features other than fuel efficiency. “To compete with foreign rivals, domestic carmakers need to further improve their innovative qualities and seek greater excellence in their design”, automobile critic Hideaki Kataoka said. +++

+++ PSA has been the best of a bad bunch among European carmakers. The French group’s shares are up about 20 % in the past year, compared with a 10 % fall for Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler’s 25 % decline. Yet chief executive Carlos Tavares’ purring engine risks running out of gas. The €20 billion company has been boosted by Tavares’ turnaround of Opel-Vauxhall, the previously loss-making business it bought from General Motors in 2017. That unit generated €859 million of operating profit in 2018, implying a 4.7 % margin, compared with an operating loss equivalent to 2.5 % of sales in the last 5 months of 2017. The wider group’s 7.7 % operating margin is comfortably ahead of French rival Renault’s 6.3 % last year. And PSA’s €3.5 billion of free cash flow is greater than the amount generated by the core businesses of German peers Volkswagen, Daimler or BMW, according to Evercore ISI estimates. The future might be less rosy. Tavares’ new medium-term goal of a 4.5 % operating margin for PSA implies that profitability will decline significantly, as auto sales pass their cyclical peak and fixed costs eat up a greater chunk of revenue. Granted, the target could be overcautious. But PSA’s future growth is another worry. Almost all the company’s sales come from Europe; a slow-growing market with relatively stringent penalties for combustion-engine carbon emissions. Tavares wants to take Peugeot into North America, but that market is highly competitive and would increase the group’s sensitivity to possible tariffs from a lasting global trade war. PSA is valued at almost 6 times 2019 earnings; nearly 20 % above the average of Renault, Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen, based on Refinitiv estimates. Investors seem to be giving the French group credit for a successful Opel-Vauxhall turnaround, and ignoring the risk that its growth and profitability could decline. Tavares’ premium valuation might not last. +++ 

+++ A top Renault Group executive parachuted in and explained some harsh economic realities to disgruntled workers at the Busan factory of affiliate RENAULT SAMSUNG MOTORS . Jose-Vicente De Los Mozos, executive vice president of manufacturing and supply chain, said that the affiliate needs to produce competitive cars to get orders and that, at present, productions costs are too high. He emphasized that strikes have only hurt the company and the workers. De Los Mozos explained the difficult situation facing the Korean operations due to last year’s wage negotiations (which have yet to be concluded) and a series of partial walkouts by the union in its battle for higher wages, the carmaker said. The executive from Renault’s Boulogne-Billancourt, its France headquarters, pointed out that production costs per hour at the Busan factory are already some of the highest among all Renault factories worldwide, and he warned that any rise in costs will harm the competitiveness of the factory in terms of group-wide production decisions. He said that jobs can only be protected if workers offer competitive products, not when they go on strike. He offered the company’s factory at Valladolid, Spain, as an example. The factory produced nearly 290,000 cars per year in 2002, but it had to let go of roughly 1,300 employees on falling demand and a deteriorating economic situation in Europe, he said. He added that a series of strikes by the union did not change anything. What did bring change, according to De Los Mozos, was an agreement between the company and the labor union reached in 2009 that involved freezing wages for three years and working together towards restoring performance. The Valladolid factory is now one of Renault’s most productive factories. In 2017, it exported 92 % of the 250,000 cars it produced. The executive asked employees to finalize the wage negotiations as soon as possible for the sake of the factory’s future. It is crucial for the Busan factory to receive new orders. While it has been producing Nissan’s X-Trail on consignment, the contract ends in September. As X-Trail production accounts for nearly half the workload at the factory, failure to win new orders could risk the factory following in the footsteps of the GM Korea factory in Gunsan, North Jeolla, that closed last year. During the executive’s stay in Busan, the 16th round of wage negotiation took place for roughly an hour but ended without progress. Renault’s labor union has gone on 38 partial strikes, totaling roughly 144 hours of walkouts, according to company data. +++ 

+++ SUBARU announced a global recall of 2.2 million SUVs, the biggest ever for the company, over a brake light glitch that could affect how the vehicle engines start. The company said it was recalling 306,728 units of Impreza and Forester in Japan, while the remaining 1.96 million vehicles will be recalled in North American and other regions. “It is the biggest recall as far as the number goes”. a Subaru spokesman told. No accident has been reported in connection with the problem. The company said silicone gases that can come from cleaning products or cosmetics could coat part of the switch for the brake lights, interfering with the lights turning on properly and also engine ignition, the company said in a document filed with the transport ministry. The company did not disclose the cost of the recall, but analysts say the company expects it to be around 10 billion yen ($90 million). Subaru’s reputation, built partly on it touting the safety of its vehicles, has been dented by various scandals in recent years. It has had to admit to a mileage-data cheating scandal as well as acknowledging it allowed factory staff without proper authorisation to conducted final inspections on some vehicles. Subaru said its domestic production in January halved from a year earlier, reflecting the impact of a temporary factory shutdown that came after the discovery of a power-steering defect in certain models. Subaru said its output in Japan plunged 50.9 % to 21,953 vehicles, while exports dived 40.0 % to 21,334 units. The Japanese automaker suspended operations at its only domestic assembly plant, in Gunma Prefecture north of Tokyo, on Jan 16 after finding the problem with a defective power-steering component. Subaru restarted production on Jan. 28, but the supply of parts has remained unstable. The company hopes production will return to normal by the end of March. Subaru has been reeling from quality-control issues since 2017 when it admitted unauthorized staff had conducted vehicle inspections at 2 domestic plants for more than 30 years. Earlier this month, Subaru said it has revised downward its full-year group earnings forecast for the current business year through March amid declining production and sales. In 2018, Subaru’s domestic production fell 7.0 % from the previous year to 659,965 vehicles after it found its inspectors fabricated fuel and emissions data and failed to take proper steps in checking brakes and speedometers. The automaker plans to reduce domestic production in 2019 by about 2 % to 650,000 units from the previous year to give priority to ensuring quality standards are met. +++ 

+++ TESLA ‘s critical new crossover will be around the size of the Model 3, and is slated to go into production from 2020. Pricing details, model ranges, power output all remain unclear at this point, but we’ll know more soon. Tesla has confirmed a launch date for the latest addition to its pure-electric range, with Elon Musk announcing the Model Y will be launched in Los Angeles on March 14, California time. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, made the announcement over his favourite medium, Twitter. He also confirmed the vehicle will be an SUV “about 10 % bigger than Model 3, so will cost about 10 % more and have slightly less range for same battery”. Last week Tesla announced it will begin production of the long-promised entry-level $35,000 Model 3. That Standard Range model has a claimed range of 354 kilometres, and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.8 seconds. According to Musk’s calculations, a similar Model Y variant would start from $38,500 and have a range of roughly 319 km. The Model Y is expected to share many of its design cues with the Model 3, and could be based on the Model 3’s platform. Unlike the Model X, the Model Y will be not equipped with Falcon Wing doors. In the company’s most recent letter to shareholders, Tesla stated it hopes to “achieve volume production of the Model Y by the end of 2020, most likely at Gigafactory 1”. Gigafactory 1, just outside Reno, Nevada, currently produces battery packs for the company’s cars. Production of the Model 3, Model S and Model X takes place in Fremont, Calfornia, at a factory previously owned by GM and Toyota. The Model Y will also be built at the company’s factory in Shanghai, China, once it is completed. If the Model 3 is anything to go by, the car revealed this month could be a pre-production concept, with certain details, such as the head- and tail-light design, likely to change before the Model Y starts trundling out the factory gate. +++ 

+++ TRI-AD ( TOYOTA Research Instutite – Advanced Development) and Carmera will work together on a proof of concept with regards to the development of camera-based high-definition maps for roads that go beyond the highway infrastructure. This is just a first step towards realizing TRI-AD’s open software platform concept, also known as AMP (Automated Mapping Platform), supporting the scalability of autonomous driving by compiling data sourced from participating vehicles to generate maps in HD. “Currently, automated driving map development relies on highly expensive specialized mapping vehicles deployed in limited numbers, and a lengthy manual process for reliable HD map creation. We’re excited to partner with Carmera to automate HD map generation and help enable automated driving mobility for all”, stated TRI-AD’s VP of automated driving, Mandali Khalesi. The 2 companies will place cameras in Toyota test vehicles and begin collecting data over the next several months from areas of downtown Tokyo. The cameras will use Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) suite the automaker installs on its vehicles worldwide. Then, all the images and any other data gathered via TSS will be processed on Carmera’s real-time platform, automatically generating the required HD map data. The ultimate goal is to provide ultra-reliable road information to self-driving cars in the future, and by using commercially available vehicles around the world for HP map work, automated driving could become a reality on all roads. However, even if HD maps become available for the U.S., China, Germany and Japan’s entire road networks (0.23 million km), this would still only represent less than 1 % of the global road network (39.5 million km). Guess we’ll have to wait until AIs become as good, or better, than humans in order to render drivers totally obsolete. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s flagship VW brand missed its margin target in 2018 as operating profits declined despite growth in top-line revenues at the German carmaker. The operating margin at the brand fell to 3.8 % from 4.1 %, putting it short of a target of 4 to 5 % set by group CEO Herbert Diess, who wants to raise it to 6 % over the medium term. Volkswagen declined to comment ahead of a news conference on its results scheduled for March 12. The company, based in Wolfsburg, reported preliminary 2018 group results a week ago that were weighed down by currency effects and supply bottlenecks caused by new emissions testing rules, and warned of a tough year ahead. Volkswagen shuffled management responsibilities at its core brand, freeing up Group CEO Herbert Diess to oversee the carmaker’s radical strategy to mass produce electric cars. The German multi-brand car and truck making giant, which also owns the Bentley, Bugatti, Audi, Porsche and Skoda brands, has staked its future, to the tune of €80 billion on the mass-production of electric vehicles. Volkswagen said Christian Senger will take over VW’s Digital Car & Services from March 1 and head up group-wide cooperation on software and smart mobility concepts. VW brand’s chief operating officer Ralf Brandstaetter will take over responsibility for quality assurance and value engineering at the VW passenger car brand and take on responsibility for small, compact and mid to full product lines. “This change will provide the CEO with greater leeway for shouldering the strategic tasks faced by the Group”, Volkswagen said in a statement, referring to Diess. Diess, who is head of the VW brand, will retain his role as head of VW’s Product Safety Committee and Frank Welsch, who is currently VW’s head of technical development, will be able to devote more time to his task as head of group research and development, the company said. +++

+++ VOLVO said it will drop single-use plastic by the end of this year to support the United Nations (UN) campaign to decrease plastic usage. The move is part of a global effort by the automaker to follow the UN “Clean Seas” initiative for plastic reduction to protect the oceans. The automaker’s commitment ends non-recyclable plastic use at all its sites, including offices and showrooms. The company said it will replace plastic with products made with paper and other eco-friendly materials. The global effort by the automaker is expected to eliminate the use of 20 million plastic items every year. “As a brand that strives for sustainable, eco-friendly business, we will take responsibility to contribute toward a better life for the next generation and continue our various efforts and support”, a spokesman said. +++

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