+++ Fresh off premiering the ASTON MARTIN Vanquish Concept at the Geneva Motor Show, company chief executive Andy Palmer has confirmed that the mid-engined supercar will be offered in a number of flavors. Palmer said that because the car will directly rival the Ferrari F8 Tributo, Lamborghini Huracan Evo, and the McLaren 720S successor, it will be offered in both Volante and AMR Pro guises. The drop-top Vanquish Volante will compete with the Spider models from McLaren, Ferrari and Lamborghini, while the AMR Pro will be similar in concept to McLaren’s LT models and the replacements to the 488 Pista and Huracan Performante. The all-new Vanquish forms part of a trio of supercars and hypercars being developed by the British car manufacturer. Sitting above the Vanquish in Aston Martin’s forthcoming line-up will be the AM-RB 003 hypercar, complete with a powerful hybrid powertrain similar in philosophy to the LaFerrari. One step above the AM-RB 003 is the Valkyrie, Aston Martin’s ultimate performance machine. Unlike the AM-RB 003 and Valkyrie, which use carbon fiber tubs, the new Vanquish features an aluminum platform. It will be powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 with a small electric motor. The company hasn’t announced performance specifications for this powertrain, but I expect something in the high-700 or low-800 hp mark. As part of this expansion, Palmer revealed that the new models will help bump up its sales. In fact, Aston Martin wants to build 7,000 sports cars and front-engined GT models per year, as well as a further 7,000 examples of the DBX and future Lagonda models. “What works for Ferrari works for us”, Palmer said of the company’s production goals. +++ 

+++ CHINA is leading the worldwide race in the production and sales of electrified vehicles, but quality issues are hurting the local industry. The Asian superpower began ramping up production of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) in 2015 with the introduction of the ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial strategy. Exorbitant amounts of money have been provided to car manufacturers and battery producers through generous subsidies, and the government has even issued mandates for electric vehicle production regardless of demand. New tariffs have also been applied on imported cars to encourage locals to buy vehicles built in China. This strategy is definitely working. In 2018, Chinese car manufacturers sold a record 1.256 million NEVs, most of which feature all-electric powertrains. The country has a goal of hitting 2 million NEV sales in 2020 and it’s on track to achieve that goal. However, Chinese media has started to reveal issues plaguing many local manufacturers. In 2018, a total of 135,700 NEVs were recalled across China; more than 10 % of all NEVs produced. It is claimed that most issues were related to batteries, with at least 40 vehicles spontaneously combusting. Other common issues include overheating batteries, faulty transmissions, faulty odometers, and batteries that drained faster than they should. A recent survey conducted in China found that almost 70 % of respondents regretted buying an NEV. Thanks to the government’s subsidies and other factors, electric vehicle startups are sprouting throughout the country in hard-to-believe numbers. It is thought that China is home to upwards of 500 NEV startups, and as these companies are beginning to discover, building hybrid and electric vehicles isn’t easy. In a move which may help improve the quality of budget NEVs, the government is looking to eliminate subsidies for shorter-range NEVs. Only time will tell if that’s enough to fix the issues. +++ 

+++ This month’s Geneva auto show was notable for the absence of big-name automakers such as Ford, Hyundai, Opel, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo, along with smaller brands such as PSA Group’s DS Automobiles and BMW’s Mini. All of them skipped a showcase that was once considered mandatory to attend. Their absence highlighted the big theme of 2019 and beyond for automakers in Europe and globally: COST CUTTING . Even profitable companies are scrutinizing their bottom lines in all areas, including trade shows, as they prepare for headwinds of known and unknown strengths swirling around legislation, new technology and global trade. Automakers such as BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Porsche, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Ford, Renault-Nissan have all announced plans to save billions of dollars over the next few years as they prepare for a future that legislation demands should be electrified. BMW has said that it will step up its previously announced cost savings plan to help offset the impact of trade conflicts and unprecedented spending on electric cars. Ford said it plans to cut more than 5,000 jobs in Germany and will reduce its workforce in Britain as it seeks to return to profit in Europe while Volkswagen Group said it will shrink the workforce at its core VW passenger cars brand by up to 7,000 employees. “We are facing multiple external geopolitical and regulatory disruptions and technological changes”, JLR boss Ralf Speth told journalists at a briefing in January during which he announced 4,500 job cuts, which is 10 % of the automaker’s workforce. “Just to name a few: Brexit, China, China-U.S. trade, CO2, diesel, diesel taxes, WLTP and I could go on. These serious challenges are coming in hordes in a manner we have seldom, if ever, witnessed in the past”, he said. Speth claimed the changes have “wiped out hundreds of billions in share value in the last year alone”. Perhaps the biggest drain on cash is moving from the relative certainty of the internal combustion engine, with its familiar supply-chains, customer acceptability and industrial base, and into the unknown of mainstream electrification. Battery costs, an uncertain electric vehicle market, and an even more uncertain shift to different car ownership patterns are all weighing heavily on CEOs, argues Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst. “Without visibility on these issues, it is more difficult to forecast revenues, costs and returns than in the past”. So there will be more cost cutting. “In 2019, expect to see big programs announced with a focus on purchasing, commonality and platform efficiency, discretionary spending, marketing, travel and distribution costs”, analyst Max Warburton of Alliance Bernstein said in a note to investors in January. The biggest expenditure to tackle is for materials. For example, Evercore ISI calculates that material costs swallow 77 % of VW Group’s revenue, far ahead of labor costs at 18 %. That puts the emphasis on suppliers. “Supplier cost savings will inevitably be a big part of these cost-reduction plans”, Bernstein’s Warburton wrote. Suppliers should be bracing themselves for demands for price reductions. “It’s certainly going to be a tough battle”, he said. This is how it will play out. Purchasing departments will rank parts by price and work downward, Warburton said. “Suppliers that specialize in selling items with high values are therefore at greatest risk of price-downs. While low-cost components generally escape the cost-cutting ax”, he wrote. Avoiding the high-cost rule are those suppliers that offer new, highly technical parts that the automaker has no competence in, for example advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). Megasuppliers with massive economies of scale can leverage their size to fend off potential competitors, helping them resist some of the cost-cutting pressure coming from automakers, Warburton argues, citing Autoliv (in airbags) and Valeo (in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, HVAC, and lighting). Those offering crucial emissions-reducing technology should also be safe. Reducing complexity is another goal automakers are increasingly aiming for in the battle against rising costs. For example restricting customer options to bundled packages. VW brand Chief Operating Officer Ralf Brandstätter cited the Golf as an example in an interview last November. “In 2018 we have sold about 84,000 Golfs in Germany of which more than 58,000 had a different configuration. Fewer than 400 models were identical”, he said. By bundling options and increasing the number of identical models, you need less logistics space, optimize your supply chain and reduce lead times, he said. Under the VW brand’s Future Pact, the company targets €3 billion in cost cuts in the four years to 2020. Volvo is another one reducing complexity. “The XC40 is essentially a one-spec, high-price car”, Lex Kerssemakers, head of Volvo in Europe, told journalists in January. “We don’t want to go back to the days of Henry Ford and say, ‘The only color is black.’ But I think we are at a turning point. People don’t buy complexity any more. It also brings our cost down”. Volvo is planning to further reduce options later this year. Along with PSA, Volvo has become a role model for cost-cutting in Europe. It was almost a happy accident, Kerssemakers said. “Circumstance forced us to reinvent ourselves when the Ford era ended (in 2010 when Ford sold the company to Zhejiang Geely Holding)”, he said. “Geely did not come in with a bag of gold. We had to finance our own revival. And when you are poor you become very inventive”, he said. When it created its Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) it saved by co-developing the platform with sibling brand Geely. Volvo also made sure there was plenty of carryover from its larger Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). “With one engine bay, one firewall layout and the same engine family, you start to be extremely efficient”, Kerssemakers said. Platform and engine reduction is trending across all automakers. It was a key part of Opel’s surprise return to a half-year profit last year, CEO Michael Lohscheller told. Under PSA ownership, Opel will shift from 9 platforms and 10 powertrain families to just 2 platforms and 4 engine families. A key engine is PSA’s 1.2-liter turbo gasoline unit, the so-called Puretech. This global engine is currently made in France, China and Poland and will be produced in Hungary, Morocco and India. Automakers should go further and pool resources on engine development, Evercore ISI’s Ellinghorst said. “With the exception of certain sports cars, full-size pickups and larger premium offerings, we believe that the powertrain is of diminishing interest to the vast majority of consumers”, he said. Continuing to invest in combustion engines on a stand-alone basis is a “flagrant waste of capital”, Ellinghorst said. By treating engines as a commodity and buying from suppliers, the industry could save $30 billion a year from scale savings, Evercore ISI predicted. VW Group already has engine scale via its wide range of brands, and others are collaborating. For example, Renault and Nissan developed their new 1.3-liter turbo gasoline engine with Daimler. The unit will be produced in Valladolid, Spain; Sunderland, England; Kölleda, Germany; and China. PSA, meanwhile, is happy to share its engines. “We have a long track record of cooperation and we are always ready to sell our engines to competitors”, Gilles Le Borgne, PSA’s director of quality and engineering, said in a call to journalists in January. The cooperation news that has made most waves this year was generated by Ford and VW, which announced that they were going to build vans for each other. First up will be a Ford-built replacement for both its Ranger and VW’s Amarok pickup, starting in 2020. A year later Ford will build VW a midsize Van alongside its Transit Custom, likely at Ford’s plant in Turkey, while VW will build the partners a smaller Van, likely in Poland. Ford’s savings are estimated to reach $500 million a year, while VW hinted it would stand to gain by a similar amount. VW Group CEO Herbert Diess said the joint development would be worth the effort from both sides: “It’s mitigation against potential cost increases because of the new drivetrains we need for the electrification in this segment and also the CO2 penalties we are facing”, he said. The Ford-VW alliance could extend to combining their autonomous vehicle (AV) development while Ford is considering whether to use VW’s MEB platform for full-electric cars. “It’s an attractive area”, Ford CEO Jim Hackett said. “Both the EV and AV are big costs for investment. Both are really important to both companies’ future. That is part of the incentive to find ways to cooperate”. Ford’s cost-cutting in Europe is being done to overcome persistent losses in the region. Ford has said it will  focus its European product range on vehicles that make money. Those vehicles are its successful van ranges and select SUVs. So far in Europe Ford has yet to commit to the same radical step it has taken in the U.S., where it will exit the passenger-car market to focus on SUVs, trucks and commercial vans. Managing labor costs is another headache, particularly for companies with long-standing ties to high-cost countries such as Germany, the UK and France. Job cuts are an integral part, especially among white-collar workers as manufacturers tout “leaner, flatter” management structures. For JLR, its job cuts “will accelerate the decision-making processes”, helping to save costs, CEO Speth said. Ford of Europe’s job cuts will similarly improve the “agility” of the organization, the automaker said. Volkswagen wants to cut jobs in its high-wage German factories but it must also save as many jobs as possible as the shift to electric cars disrupts employment patterns to appease its powerful labor union. For example, at its future electric-car manufacturing hub in Zwickau, it is reversing the trend of outsourcing parts production and bringing in more stamping work, for example for the hood, fenders and doors, to ensure that the plant’s 7,700 workers could be retained. The slow pace of cost-cutting within VW frustrates some in the financial community. “The lack of progress on delivering net efficiency gains is certainly true for the broader VW Group and the VW brand in particular”, Evercore ISI’s Ellinghorst said in a report specifically studying Audi’s need to make changes. “Due to its benefits from being part of the VW Group, Audi should by definition be more profitable than its peers. Yet it is performing on broadly the same level”. Seemingly off the table, however, are plant closures. Although there are some factories that are dangerously close to being shut, particularly in the UK, where Brexit threatens any remaining competitiveness offered by some of the weaker plants. The facilities most at risk are JLR’s plant in Castle Bromwich and PSA’s Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port. PSA, however, has introduced efficiencies at the problematic plants it inherited when it bought Opel/Vauxhall from General Motors. The success PSA has enjoyed at those factories is part of the reason it is regarded as the cost-cutter to emulate. Bernstein’s Warburton draws parallels with the work of investment firm 3G Capital, which advocates zero-based budgeting. Using this method, all expenses for a new period must be judged from a zero base rather than rolling over last year’s numbers. The result is a “brutal focus” on cost, Warburton wrote in a paper. “A quote trotted out by multiple CEOs over the years is, ‘You can’t cost cut your way to prosperity’. Well, at PSA, it seems you actually can”. +++ 

+++ Chinese real estate developer EVERGRANDE is moving into the world of electric vehicles and believes it will soon become the world’s largest electric vehicle group. China Evergrande Group is led by an ambitious chairman named Hui Ka Yan. The chairman said that Evergrande is in a position to expand into the world of electric vehicles having established itself as the nation’s second-largest property developer. “Evergrande has positioned across the electric-vehicle industry chain and is now armed with advanced technology. Evergrande will strive to become the world’s biggest, and the strongest, electric vehicle group within 3 to 5 years”, Hui said. To say those are ambitious goals would be an understatement, and while Evergrande will be new to building electric vehicles, it has been exploring the market for several years. The company is the majority investor in Swedish hypercar manufacturer Koenigsegg, has invested heavily in National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) and last year, purchased a 45 % stake in Faraday Future as part of a $2 billion deal. In a statement, Evergrande says it will use electric car production technology from both Koenigsegg and NEVS as well as drive systems from Dutch company e-Traction. Not everyone is convinced that the company has what it takes to establish itself as a serious player in the world of electric vehicles. “Aiming to produce at such speed is like imagination”, John Zeng, managing director of LMC Automotive Shanghai, said. “I haven’t seen very strong technology or products from the firms they’ve bought”. While building electric vehicles will be no easy task for Evergrande, the company does have a lot of money behind it, as Hui is China’s third richest person and is worth almost $40 billion. +++ 

+++ The PSA Group approached FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) this year about combining the 2 companies, but the Italian-American automaker rebuffed the overture. Executives at the 2 companies are no longer talking. FCA executives don’t like the idea because it would increase exposure to Europe’s mature market, while the Agnelli family, with a controlling stake, isn’t interested in a transaction financed with PSA stock. A PSA offer would likely need to use equity for a transaction to keep debt from ballooning, since the automaker hasn’t yet digested its acquisition of General Motors’ European business. FCA boss Mike Manley has said he is not opposed to a deal that would make the company stronger. “I want to find areas where cooperation, whether it is partnerships, whether it’s joint ventures or whether it is deeper levels of equity cooperation that makes sense for us and whoever that is, will give better vehicles to our customers and a better return to our shareholders”, Manley told reporters at the Geneva auto show this month. “I’m very open to it”. A combination of FCA and PSA, “from a volume perspective, would make sense”, Richard Hilgert, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, said this month. Together, they would make almost 9 million vehicles a year, giving them the heft to compete with Volkswagen, Toyota and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance in a way that neither can on its own, he said. This is particularly crucial in the small-car segments both are known for in Europe and South America. And for PSA’s Peugeot brand, planning a return to North America in 2026, Hilgert said FCA’s U.S. retail network “would give them an opportunity to pitch to an established set of dealers“. +++

+++ China’s GREAT WALL said its 2018 net profit rose 3.58 %, even as China’s economy slows and competition gets fiercer. Great Wall, China’s top SUV maker and BMW’s local partner, reported full-year net profit of 5.21 billion yuan ($776.16 million), up from the previous year’s 5.03 billion yuan. Total revenue for the year was 99.23 billion yuan, down from 101.17 billion yuan in 2017, it said. The Baoding-based carmaker sold 1.04 million units last year, down by 1.6 % compared with a year earlier. Its popular models include China’s best-selling SUV Haval H6 and the Wingle series of pickups. Great Wall has said it aims to sell 1.2 million vehicle this year. Great Wall will phase out more low-end products, and gradually increase the proportion of newly launched models, company said, adding product prices have moved to higher levels. “With the gradual liberalization of foreign-invested shares in joint ventures and tariff reductions on imported cars, the competition between local brands and international car brands will become more intense, and market share will be further concentrated due to changes in market competition”, the company said. Great Wall agreed with BMW last year to set up a joint venture for their planned production of electric Mini vehicles. +++ 

+++ Ending weeks of arguments over the adequacy of HYUNDAI ’s dividend plans, shareholders rejected a proposal by US activist investor Elliott Management that urged it to provide a combined 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion) dividends to investors this year. At an annual shareholders meeting held at the carmaker’s headquarters in Seoul, 86 % of the shareholders voted for Hyundai’s plan of offering 1.1 trillion won in dividends while 14 % stood by Elliott’s proposals. Shareholders also approved the company’s recommendation of new board members over Elliott’s candidates. The vote results were widely seen as a crushing victory for Hyundai Motor over Elliott, the world’s largest hedge fund, known for its hardcore shareholders activism. Elliott has been pressuring the South Korean carmaker since last year, blocking its attempt to revamp its tangled corporate governance. Hyundai had requested for shareholders’ approval of 3 new outside directors: Yoon Chi-won, vice chairman of UBS Group, Eugene Ohr, former international partner of Capital Group, and Yi Sang-seung, economics professor at Seoul National University. Three 3 (Hyundai Group Executive Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, Hyundai Motor President Lee Won-hee and R&D Head Albert Biermann) were also named board members. Biermann, a former BMW engineer, is the first foreign executive to be on the board of the carmaker in its 51-year history. +++ 

+++ Not only is the Porsche 911 GT3 one of the finest performance vehicles on the planet, but it also serves to prove that there’s still demand for high-end sports cars with manual transmissions. LAMBORGHINI could have been like its German sibling and continued to offer a row-your-own transmission option for its models. Lamborghini chief executive Stefano Domenicali stated that is company researched offering manual gearboxes for special edition models of the Huracan and Aventador supercars. Unfortunately, the figures didn’t add up. If Lamborghini were to build a special edition Aventador with a manual, cap production to 200 units, and price it $25,000 above the ‘regular’ Aventador, that would only generate an additional $5 million for the company. Developing a manual gearbox for the Aventador would cost significantly more than that, particularly since there is no other vehicle in the Volkswagen Group family which it could share a transmission with. As for the Huracan, one may think it would be easier to offer with a manual ‘box as the Audi R8 was previously sold with one. However, as the magazine notes, that 6-speed is no longer produced and again, Lamborghini wouldn’t be able to justify building one from the ground up. The reason why Porsche can build the 911 GT3 with a manual transmission is that it uses a gearbox previously used in 911 racing cars and all of the tooling has been paid for over the years it’s been around. What’s more, more than 50 % of GT3 customers are selecting the no-cost optional manual. Lamborghini’s manual take rate wouldn’t be so high. So, while Lamborghini has wanted to cater to the wishes of select customers, it’s been unable to do so with the Aventador and Huracan. Will that change when these vehicles are replaced? Only time will tell. +++

+++ LAND ROVER has won a legal battle against the Chinese car manufacturer, Jiangling, after raising a case of copyright infringement in 2016. Until now, the Chinese firm has sold an SUV which bears a clear resemblance to the Range Rover Evoque, called the LandWind X7, which the Chinese judicial system has now deemed unsuitable for sale. The Beijing Chaoyang District Court ruled that the LandWind X7’s similarity to the Range Rover Evoque has caused widespread consumer confusion, outlining 5 major design aspects which the Chinese car plagiarised from the British car. These include its basic silhouette, its roofline, its headlights and the near-identical body creases down the car’s flanks. As a result of its piracy, Jiangling must withdraw all LandWind X7s from the market and pay compensation to JLR. Keith Benjamin, JLR’s Global Legal Director, commented on the outcome, stating, “we welcome this decision of the Beijing court, which further strengthens our confidence in investing in China. This ruling is a clear sign of the law being implemented appropriately to protect consumers and uphold their rights so that they are not confused or misled, whilst protecting business investment in design and innovation”. Land Rover’s concerns over the Chinese copycat car were first raised in 2016. At the launch of the updated 2018 modelyear Range Rover, the firm’s design boss, Gerry McGovern, said the company was “wary of showing new concepts” because of such incidents. McGovern was concerned that the design of a forthcoming car could be copied from the concept before Land Rover could launch the production version. Shortly after the new Range Rover’s launch, the British firm filed an updated copyright for the Evoque’s design and an unfair competition complaint against Jiangling Motors. “The success of Jaguar Land Rover is based partly on its unique design and engineering attributes, which we believe are worth protecting across all markets”, said a further JLR spokesperson. Land Rover isn’t the only brand to fall victim to alleged copycat designs. Chinese manufacturer Zotye has previously gained notoriety for producing models which seem to be copy-and-paste versions of the Porsche Macan, Volkswagen Tiguan and Smart ForTwo. +++  

+++ Carlos Ghosn went all-in on China by approving a plan to invest $9 billion, yet his successor at NISSAN appears to be rolling that back amid signs the world’s biggest car market is beginning an extended downturn. Nissan is cutting a future target for China car sales by about 8 %, people familiar with the matter said. Nissan and Dongfeng now forecast their joint venture will sell 2.39 million vehicles in 2022, the end of the current midterm plan. That’s a reduction of more than 200,000 units from the previous target, the people said. The revision is being discussed as Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa embarks on a program to put profitability before growth in sales volume, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. That includes possibly taking a break from introducing brand-new models in China. “You need to invest to survive”, said Toliver Ma, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities. “All players, big or small, will need a plan for their electric vehicles, especially to compete in China”. Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for Yokohama-based Nissan, declined to comment on the new 2022 targets. Nissan’s venture with Wuhan-based Dongfeng said it will review the mid-term targets and may make adjustments based on market conditions. Nissan’s strategy in China, a longstanding priority and source of pride under Ghosn, is the latest company pillar to shake since Saikawa took over after the former chairman’s Nov. 19 arrest. The Japanese executive fended off Ghosn’s intention to merge Nissan with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi, and he criticized the strategy of offering above-average incentives and sacrificing profits for market share in the United States. Ghosn is charged with falsifying financial information and breach of trust. He denies the charges and will go to trial after being freed on bail earlier this month. Under Ghosn, Nissan pledged to invest $9 billion over 5 years in China and introduce 20 electrified models by 2022. It intended to boost annual deliveries by 1 million units, compared with last year’s sales total of 1.56 million vehicles, including imports. Saikawa’s mandate to Nissan executives is to not focus on sales volume (as Ghosn did) but rather to boost profit, according to one person familiar with his thinking. No major new Nissan models are planned for the China market through 2020, and its luxury Infiniti brand plans no new vehicles through 2021. Given current conditions, this is probably the right approach, said Janet Lewis, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities. “The move by Saikawa to improve the profitability of sales, even if it means a lower market share, is correct”, Lewis said. Nissan said it couldn’t immediately comment. At risk is Nissan’s standing as the biggest Japanese carmaker in China and the third biggest among foreign companies, trailing only Volkswagen and General Motors. China is the world’s biggest market for EVs, with consumers there buying 1 of every 2 sold globally. Every manufacturer there must meet strict output targets for NEVs or buy credits from competitors as the government moves to phase out gas guzzlers. Nissan’s Leaf is the best-selling electric car ever and spawned a wave of competing models from traditional automakers and startups such as Tesla and Nio. Rivals chipped away at the Leaf’s lead with key technology advancements, and Ghosn’s arrest prompted Nissan to postpone the updated model’s debut in Tokyo. Tesla is building a factory in Shanghai to make its first cars outside the United States. Nissan released its first China-made EV last year, using the Leaf’s power train in its Sylphy model. Another cause for concern: China’s annual car sales declined last year for the first time since the early 1990s, and ongoing trade tensions with the U.S. threaten to dampen demand even further. Cutting costs in such an environment may deliver short-term profit gains but hurt Nissan’s chances to compete down the road. “Fresh new models are what keeps traffic coming to the showroom”, said Bill Russo, chief executive officer of Shanghai-based consultancy Automobility. “It’s especially true in hypercompetitive markets like China”. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE chief executive Oliver Blume says the German automaker is putting a greater focus on GT models for the 911’s 992 generation. Blume said that implementing an expanded GT program similar to the 991-generation helped boost sales of the old car immensely in its final year of production. In fact, Porsche sold more cars in the model’s final production year than any other 911 generation to come before it. Porsche will do the same with the new 911 and increase the number of GT models on offer, even though Blume wouldn’t go into specifics. However, there’s a number of obvious 911 GT variants which will be built. The first of these include a new GT3, which has already been spied testing on a number of occasions in recent months. A hardcore GT3 RS will arrive soon after and, from there, the sky is the limit as Porsche could build a new GT3 Touring, GT2, and GT2 RS, as well as some versions we haven’t seen in the past. One thing that’s bound to relieve 911 customers is that select GT models will retain naturally-aspirated engines. It is reported that the 6-cylinder engine of the 992 GT3 will displace at least 4.0-liters, rev to around 9,000 rpm, and could pump out upwards of 550 hp.  Beyond confirming that new Porsche 911 GT models are on the agenda, Blume said that he sees no need to install future 911 models with autonomous driving systems. +++ 

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG has failed to win a new order from Nissan to replace the Rogue (X-Trail), whose production ends in September. The Renault Group has formed a global alliance with Nissan but fused its Asia-Pacific regional headquarters into the Africa, Middle East, India and Pacific region. The move follows the ouster of Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, which according to sources resulted in a management clash between Nissan and Renault. Renault then decided not to allocate production of the new Rogue to its factory in Busan. Instead it will be made at a Nissan plant in Kyushu, Japan. Renault Samsung is struggling to adjust to the new regime. “All of the Rogues we manufactured last year were exported solely to the U.S., which shows how concentrated our shipments were on a single market”, a staffer said. “Since we now fall under the jurisdiction of the African and Indian regional headquarters, we will focus on finding new sales channels to emerging markets”. +++ 

+++ SSANGYONG managed to remain the third-largest local automaker in South Korea by domestic sales, a title it only reclaimed last year, in the first 2 months of this year according to monthly sales data. The carmaker won the title last year for the first time in 15 years thanks largely to the stable popularity of its Tivoli and larger Rexton. According to SsangYong, it sold 7,579 cars domestically last month; a 7.2 % increase year on year. GM Korea, which has spent a troubled last year with its Gunsan factory closing down, came in fourth with 5,177 cars sold last month. Its domestic sales slumped by 10.8 % compared to the same month last year. Renault Samsung Motors, currently having trouble inking a wage deal with its labor union, sold just 4,923 units. Renault’s sales fell 8 % year on year. January’s sales records were even worse for GM Korea and Renault as GM saw a 35.6 % dive in local car sales year on year while Renault saw a 19.2 % fall. SsangYong, on the other hand, enjoyed a 14.5 % sales increase in January. A SsangYong spokesperson said “joint efforts by the company and its labor union to develop new cars helped the automaker respond to changing market demands”, adding it hopes to become a prestigious SUV maker that offers the best car options to consumers increasingly leaning toward SUVs. SsangYong has clinched wage deal with its labor union without dispute for the past 9 years. When inking last year’s wage deal, SsangYong CEO Choi Johng-sik said the company and labor union had agreed to cooperate in order to accomplish the bigger goal of stabilizing company management. The automaker filed for court receivership in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis when its owner, SAIC Motor, pulled out of the business. The company and the labor union have been striving to make a turnaround after being acquired by India’s Mahindra in 2011. SsangYong is thinking this year may be a chance to make the turnaround dream a reality. It has high hopes on the new Korando, the first brand new generation in 8 years, released last month. The company plans to sell 30,000 units of the latest Korando in Korea this year. CEO Choi said, “Korando will be a key model that helps our company bolster business performances and be recognized as a premium SUV maker”, during the car’s launch event held in Songdo, Incheon, last month. +++ 

+++ TESLA has reportedly revived its free Supercharging program to help drive sales in the final weeks of the third quarter. The latest program is said to be focused on existing owners who already have free Supercharging on their current vehicles. This limited group has been offered to keep no-cost charging grandfathered-in when upgrading to a new Model S or X, with 3 years of unlimited Supercharging if they take delivery in Q3. The company has also revised its referral program, giving 1,000 miles of free Supercharging to both the referrer and the new customer. Each referral also gives a chance to win a Founder’s series Roadster or Model Y each month. +++ 

+++ U.S. President Donald TRUMP said trade negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen”, adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imported goods for some time did not mean talks were in trouble. Trump also said he expected to keep a 25 % tariff on European light trucks amid separate ongoing trade talks with the European Union, but that companies could avoid it by building factories in the United States. The Trump administration is engaged in ongoing trade talks with both the European Union and China as part of the Republican president’s “America First” agenda. Top U.S. officials are headed to Beijing in coming days, with a summit possible between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to seal any final deal. “The European Union frankly, treats us as badly as China”, Trump told. “Our deal is coming along very well. We’ll see what happens”, Trump said regarding China. “I think the deal will probably happen. I think they need it very badly”. Asked about his remarks earlier this week about U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods staying in place for a period of time and whether that meant there was a snag in the negotiations, Trump said, “No, not at all”. Trump then segued to the European auto sector, including trucks. “We get a 25 % tariff on that segment; that’s our best segment by far. And yes, we will absolutely be able to keep it. Not only keep it going, I really think we have tremendous potential”, he told. “I’ll tell you what the end game is. They’ll build their plants in the United States and they have no tariffs”, Trump added. Then, asked if he would agree to zero tariffs, he said: “I would do it for certain products, but I wouldn’t do it for cars”. Shares of German automaker Daimler jumped briefly after the interview. The United States in July agreed not to hit EU car imports with extra tariffs while the Washington and Brussels sought to improve economic ties, but the U.S. ambassador to the EU said Europe was falling short in trade talks. Additionally, the U.S. Commerce Department has given the White House a report regarding the legal basis to impose steep tariffs on cars on national security grounds. Asked if autos and auto parts posed a security risk, Trump said: “well, no”. “What poses a national security risk is our balance sheet. We have to have, we need a strong balance sheet. Otherwise you don’t have national security”, Trump added. “We’re straightening it out”. Separately, Trump also told that if U.S. lawmakers do not pass his new deal to supersede the North American Free Trade Agreement trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, he might “go pre-NAFTA” but gave no other details. The leaders of the 3 countries last year reached a deal to replace NAFTA with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But it must be approved by the U.S. Congress, which is split between Trump’s fellow Republicans, who control the Senate, and Democrats, who hold the majority in the House of Representatives and have been cool to the new pact. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will offer a glimpse at what its largest full-electric SUV could look like when it debuts the I.D. Lounge at the Shanghai auto show next month. The production version of the 3-row, 7-seat SUV will compete against large electric SUVs such as the Tesla Model X. It is expected to launch first in China and the U.S. early next decade followed by sales in Europe in 2024. The production car will be the flagship of VW’s I.D. family of long-range electric cars that will include a Golf-sized hatchback, the Crozz and Crozz Coupe SUVs, and a retro-styled I.D. Buzz microbus. VW has also shown the I.D. Vizzion study for an electric sedan. VW brand sales chief, Jürgen Stackmann said the upcoming Crozz and Crozz Coupe, expected to launch by 2021, will not be enough to meet rising demand for SUVs and crossovers the most important pillar in VW’s product strategy. “Larger dimensioned versions that offer more seating capacity are in great demand at the high end of the market”, Stackmann said. The I.D. Lounge concept, which will debut on April 16 in Shanghai, will demonstrate VW’s plans to compete in that part of the market, he said. Volkswagen Group plans to will launch 70 full-electric vehicles by 2028 and build 22 million cars off various EV architectures including the VW brand’s MEB and the PPE platform jointly under development by Audi and Porsche. China will be a key market for the Crozz and the Lounge, as the brand’s share of all SUVs there is expected to double to 40 % by 2020 over last year. This year it will launch 8 new SUV models in the country, 5 of which will be locally produced. By 2025, Volkswagen expects the overall market for EVs in China to grow to more than 4.8 million units from 1.3 million in 2020. In the long term, it estimates that over 85 % of all cars sold in China in 2040 will be EVs, compared with 70 % in Europe and 60 % in the U.S. A VW source said China and the U.S. would get the Lounge first because Europe currently has conventionally-powered models such as the Tiguan Allspace, Sharan and T6 microbus in case a customer needs a third row of seats. +++

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