+++ BMW is said to be looking at transferring more car production to the UK in light of booming demand for the X1, among other models and it is considering taking over the Honda plant in Swindon. The Honda factory is currently scheduled to close in 2021 when production of the Civic ends, but sources understand BMW is in discussions to take on the site after that date. BMW sources have refused to comment. There are a number of reasons that BMW is said to be looking closely at expanding its operation in the UK, including the highly integrated production system already in place here. BMW builds Minis, which are based on the UKL1 transverse-engine platform, at Oxford, using engines from its Hams Hall plant near Birmingham and body panels from its pressing plant near Swindon. Currently, BMW also contracts Mini production to the VDL Nedcar factory in the Netherlands. Last year, VDL said output rocketed from 169,000 cars in 2017 to more than 200,000, due to the launch of the new BMW X1, based on the same architecture as the Mini family. X1 demand is very strong, accounting for more than 13 % of all global BMW sales. Some 1 Series production could be moved to the UK; a car BMW sold around 200,000 units of globally last year. Another clue that BMW is preparing to re-allocate UKL production appears on the VDL company website, where it states it expects fewer orders from BMW next year and, perhaps, in the years beyond that. The company has reduced its flexible workforce by more than 1.000 employees. BMW has also obtained outline planning permission to extend its Swindon pressing facility. BMW insiders remain tightlipped, admitting only that “some reorganisation” is being considered at Mini Oxford. With BMW selling around 687,000 UKL1 based cars last year (made up of the 1 Series, 2 Series, Mini, X1 and X2) basing much of this in one place would make huge financial sense, as well reducing the length of supply lines post-Brexit. understands the Oxford plant is currently running flat out, hitting a daily production rate of 1.100 cars. +++ 

+++ Chinese ride-hailing and short-term-rental provider Ucar will acquire a 67 % stake in BORGWARD , the German brand revived by Beijing truckmaker Beiqi Foton Motor, for 4.11 billion yuan ($614 million). Ucar is buying the majority stake from consultant Changsheng Xingye Enterprise Management Advisory, Ucar said Monday. In December, Changsheng Xingye purchased the 67 % stake in Borgward from Foton for 3.97 billion yuan. Borgward, once Germany’s third-largest automaker, was liquidated in 1961. Foton purchased the rights to the Borgward brand in 2014. Under Foton, Borgward launched the BX5 and BX6 gasoline-powered crossovers as well as the gasoline and battery-electric versions of the BX7 crossover. The vehicles are built at Foton’s plant in Beijing. Borgward’s sales have remained limited. In the first 11 months of 2018, the brand delivered 32,942 vehicles. Borgward racked up heavy losses under Foton. In the first 8 months of 2018, the brand lost 1.6 billion yuan after losing 2.7 billion yuan in 2017. Ucar, established in Beijing in 2002, operates in more than 300 domestic cities. In 2018, it generated operating revenue of 5.9 billion yuan and a net profit of 270 million. +++ 

+++ Carmaker BYD , which is backed by U.S. investor Warren Buffett, reported a 31.6 % drop in 2018 net profit but said that it expects its first-quarter profit to jump by up to nearly 800 %. The car company, which is Daimler’s partner in China, said its electric car models were selling well, prompting it to predict a 583.39 to 778.65 % growth in net profit for the first 3 months of 2019, from 102.4 million yuan over the same period last year. Last year, its first-quarter profit fell sharply on cuts to subsidies for electric vehicles. China’s market for electric cars is booming, but profits in the sector have been squeezed by fierce competition between established firms and rival start-ups, as well as moves by Beijing to cut subsidies for the market to improve product quality and standards. For 2018, BYD recorded a full-year net profit of 2.78 billion yuan; 31.6 % down from the previous year’s 4.07 billion yuan. Revenue was 130.05 billion yuan, versus 105.91 billion yuan in 2017. The Shenzhen-based carmaker flagged in February that its net profit for 2018 would likely fall 31 % on intensifying competition in the world’s biggest auto market. The company sold 520,000 vehicles last year, up 27 % from a year earlier. BYD, whose popular models include its Tang-series electric cars, has said it aims to sell 650,000 vehicles this year. The company also said that it planned to issue up to 50 billion yuan worth of debt financing instruments, without specifying what it planned to do with the funds. Overall electric car sales in China jumped 61.7 % in 2018 to 1.3 million vehicles. Electric vehicle sales are expected to hit 1.6 million this year. +++ 

+++ In CHINA , the government has announced that it’s slashing subsidies on electric vehicles (EVs) before removing them entirely in 2020. This has been done in an effort to get manufacturers to rely on technical innovation for success rather than financial assistance. The subsidies have helped China’s EV industry to grow rapidly to maturity in the past decade. EVs must now have a range of at least 250 kilometres to qualify for any government subsidy, up from 150 kilometres previously. In addition, the subsidy for those officially capable of more than 250 miles will be halved, from RMB 50,000 (currently €6.500) to RMB 25,000. In China, official ranges for EVs are produced under the NEDC test cycle, which has now been superseded in Europe by WLTP due to its often unrealistic results. For example, the Nissan Leaf is rated at 380 kilometres NEDC and 270 kilometres WLTP; a decrease of 28.5 %. China’s finance ministry also has told local bodies to remove any incentives of their own. This could lead to overall help for consumers reducing by up to 67 %. While some Chinese car makers, such as BYD, state that they were prepared for the change, others have said they might have to increase their prices. A Bernstein analyst, Robin Zhu, says: “While the incumbent OEMs will see some earnings damage, we consider Nio the most vulnerable of all. Despite struggling for demand, the company recently indicated it won’t reduce prices to offset lower EV subsidies. Today’s subsidy cuts mean Nio’s cars just got meaningfully more expensive for consumers”. There has been a strong drive towards electrification from the Chinese government as it looks to lessen its environmental impact. More than half of global EV sales are made in the country, which has the world’s largest overall automotive marketplace. In 2018, the total number of EVs and hybrids sold there was 1.2 million. This was a year-on-year growth of 140 %, despite the overall market dropping by 2.6 %. It’s predicted that there are currently more than 480 different EV-making companies in China, ranging from small-scale operations producing super-cheap microcars with lead acid batteries to global conglomerates such as Geely and the Volkswagen Group. +++ 

+++ BMW plans a small battery-powered car called the i2 as the first model based on a new electric platform developed with Mercedes-Benz maker DAIMLER . The i2 It will cost less than €30,000 and could go on sale in 2024. The i2 will be similar in size to the i3, launched in 2014, but without its immensely expensive carbon fiber body. The i2 will have a 300 km range. The joint sales target for the i2 and Daimler’s version would be 500,000 cars a year. BMW initially wants to develop only one electric model with Daimler. BMW and Daimler are in talks to cooperate in developing vehicle platforms for electric cars to reduce development costs. +++ 

+++ The Tesla Model 3 has become Europe’s best selling pure ELECTRIC vehicle (BEV) in its first full month of sales with 3,657 examples sold. It outsold the established Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf by 773 and 1,324 units respectively. The Model 3 broke tradition, as usually the volume of new vehicle registrations comes from fleets, with the Model 3’s volume coming from private registrations. On top of that it also became Europe’s top-selling premium mid-size saloon, outselling the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. In February, in the midst of the 6th consecutive month of decline of European registrations, EV registrations increased by 92 % to 20,000 registrations year-on-year. In Norway alone EVs accounted for 40 % of overall registrations in the country. The Mitsubishi Outlander remained Europe’s best selling plug-in hybrid in February, closely followed by the Volvo XC60 TE, BMW 530e iPerformance and Kia Niro PHEV. Toyota occupied 4 out of the top5 spots for hybrid vehicles sold during the month. +++ 

+++ Renault intends to restart merger talks with Nissan within 12 months after which it will set sight on a bid to buy FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA). The plans signal a return to the strategies supported by former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn who held talks about merging Renault with FCA 2 to 3 years ago. However, the French government had opposed the move. Late last year, Ghosn was ousted as Nissan chair and arrested in Tokyo on financial misconduct charges of under-reporting his salary. Ghosn has said the charges were “meritless”. The recent formation of a new alliance board led by Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has led to an increase in confidence that the 2 parties can now push ahead with the merger plans. FCA is also seeking a partnership or merger and the company is holding talks with rivals for a deal. Nissan and Renault are also expected to revamp their boards, with Renault reducing its board’s size and Nissan adding majority outside directors. FCA might gain from playing an mergers & acquisitions waiting game. Already the subject of interest from Peugeot of France, the $24 billion carmaker could face a bid from a merged Renault-Nissan. Such a deal would be tricky and take time. But patience could give FCA better options to solve its tech and Asian headaches. The prospect of becoming part of an $80 billion global group could be tempting for FCA chairman John Elkann. Joining forces with a merged Renault-Nissan would grant better access to Asia, where the Italian-American group is almost non-existent, and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, where it also lags. A union with Peugeot, by comparison, ticks neither of these boxes. Granted, the 3-way deal seems a remote possibility for now. The requisite first stage of merging the French and Japanese companies would require a change of heart by either Nissan or the French government. The state owns 15 % of Renault, which in turn owns 43 % of Nissan, understandably raising Japanese fears of meddling by authorities in Paris. It’s also hard to see President Emmanuel Macron scaling back the government’s influence to help pave the way for a union with Nissan that could lead to French job losses. Any subsequent deal with Fiat would require further cuts. Most of the expected costs savings essential to fund future high-tech developments would come from streamlining operations in Europe, where FCA and Renault together have roughly 85 production sites. European layoffs would not go down well with Italy’s anti-austerity government, nor with France’s “yellow vest” protesters. But those concerns are also a potential obstacle to a more immediate deal with Peugeot chief executive Carlos Tavares. The interest from Renault-Nissan is a reminder that Elkann needn’t rush into a hasty tie-up. The next round of auto mergers & acquisitions, long predicted by late FCA boss Sergio Marchionne, is getting some traction. Political objections may diminish over time. If Elkann’s ultimate objective is for the Agnelli family to have a smaller slice of a bigger carmaking pie, he may want to bide his time. +++ 

+++ FORD ’s Russian joint venture with Sollers will close 2 assembly plants and an engine factory in Russia, exiting the country’s passenger vehicle market, resulting in charges of about $450 million to $500 million. The move is part of a restructuring that will see Russia’s Sollers assume control of the venture, which is currently led by the U.S. automaker. Industry sources told this month that Ford was considering closing Russian plants as it was reviewing operations in unprofitable regions. The No. 2 U.S. carmaker said the closures would lead to “significant” job losses, along with the closure of assembly plants in Naberezhnye Chelny and St. Petersburg, and an engine plant in Elabuga. The restructuring follows similar actions in South America and Europe as Ford works to return to profitability in money-losing markets. Ford also has been negotiating to expand a commercial vehicle and pickup truck alliance with Volkswagen, with investors focused on potential partnerships around the development of electric and self-driving vehicles. Those talks also include working together regionally, including possible plant consolidation. A Ford spokeswoman said the talks are continuing. A restructured Ford Sollers will focus on commercial vehicles, while passenger vehicle production will cease by the end of June, the companies said. “The new Ford Sollers structure supports Ford’s global redesign strategy to expand our leadership in commercial vehicles and to grow the business in Europe in those market segments that offer better returns on invested capital”, Steven Armstrong, president of Ford of Europe, said. Ford was the first international carmaker to launch vehicle assembly in Russia, opening a plant in St Petersburg in 2002. In 2011, it set up a joint venture with Sollers in which Ford and Sollers each hold a 50 % stake, but Ford has controlled the business since buying up preferred shares. Under the new structure, Sollers will take a 51 % controlling interest. Sales of new cars in Russia are expected to rise 3.6 % this year, marking a slowdown from last year. “The Russian passenger vehicle market has been under significant pressure in recent years, with recovery slower than expected and a shift to lower priced passenger vehicle segments”, Ford said, adding that resulted in underused plants. Ford said it expects pretax special item charges of $450 million to $500 million, most of which will be recorded this year and are part of the previously announced $11 billion charge that Ford said it would take to globally restructure its business. Ford is expected to showcase an expanded SUV lineup for Europe on April 2nd including an all-new small SUV and its new-generation Kuga with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. The new small SUV will be positioned between the automaker’s Ecosport and the larger, compact-sized Kuga. It will be called Puma and will be built at Ford’s plant in Craiova in Romania, which produces the EcoSport. Ford is adding the new small SUV to win customers who want a sportier and more premium SUV with more equipment than the EcoSport, but do not need the size of the Kuga. Ford will showcase the small SUV and Kuga at a big media event in Amsterdam. Ford said it would “deliver significant electrification, commercial vehicle and SUV news” at the event but has not commented on future products that will be shown there. Ford will not show a long-range electric crossover teased recently ahead of its planned 2020 launch, a source familiar with the automaker’s plans for the event said. The Amsterdam event, which Ford calls “Go Further 2019,” is an important showcase for Ford, which is skipping expensive auto shows in favor of standalone livestreamed events under the “Go Further” banner. Ford was absent from this year’s Geneva auto show and last year’s Paris show. More SUVs are a key element of Ford’s plan to turn around its money-losing European business. The automaker’s current SUVs (the Edge, Kuga (called the Escape in the U.S) and EcoSport) accounted for a fifth of its vehicle sales in Europe last year. SUVs and crossovers typically sell for more than hatchbacks such as the Fiesta and Focus, earning higher profit margins. In Amsterdam, Ford will also show new mild hybrid versions of the Focus and Fiesta. Both will go on sale next year. The cars will pair a 3-cylinder 1.0-liter EcoBoost gasoline engine with a 48-volt belt-driven integrated starter/generator that both recovers energy and gives a small power boost. Mild-hybrid drivetrains, like plug-in hybrids, reduce fuel consumption, and so CO2 emissions. Ford said earlier this year that it will include one or more electrified options with every new-car launch. Ford last year singled out the Kuga as being the only Europe-built passenger vehicle that made a profit for its European division in the second quarter of 2018.  Ford builds the Kuga in Valencia, Spain. The automaker’s commercial vans were also profitable, the company said. Ford is reviewing its European operations to reverse losses, which were $398 million in 2018. Restructuring includes cutting thousands of jobs and could include shutting down production plants. Earlier this month, Ford said it will cut 5,000 jobs in Germany and an undisclosed number in the UK. +++ 

+++ An external committee reviewing governance at Nissan said there were enough facts to suspect violations of laws and the private use of company funds by ousted chairman Carlos GHOSN . Following a 3-month audit of Nissan’s governance after a scandal that shook the global auto industry, the committee put the blame squarely on what it called Ghosn’s concentration of power. It also acknowledged Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa’s role in Ghosn’s salary arrangement at the heart of the scandal. 20 years to the day since French automaker Renault agreed to rescue Nissan, the committee described a corporate culture at Nissan “in which no one can make any objections to Mr. Ghosn”, who was “in a way deified within Nissan as a savior who had redeemed Nissan from collapse”. The group issued 38 recommendations to bolster Nissan’s governance, including that top executive positions at the Japanese carmaker should not be held by people serving in executive positions at Renault or junior partner Mitsubishi. It also proposed that the majority of directors, including the chairman of the board, be independent, outside directors and that the role of company chairman be abolished. The recommendations from the external, 7-member committee come weeks after Nissan and Renault said they would retool their alliance, one of the world’s biggest automakers, to break up the all-powerful chairmanship previously held by Ghosn. “There are facts sufficient to suspect violations of laws and regulations, violation of internal rules and private use of company funds and expenses by Mr. Ghosn”, the committee said in its report. It also singled out Nissan director Greg Kelly, who too has been indicted, for his alleged role in helping Ghosn avoid oversight, and said that Saikawa had signed documents regarding compensation Ghosn would receive after retirement. “It is clear that there are issues requiring improvement with respect to Nissan’s governance as it could not prevent the misconduct”. Ghosn, who this month was released on $9 million bail after spending more than 100 days in a Tokyo detention center, has called the charges against him “meritless”. Kelly has also denied the charges. “We expect Nissan will take these recommendations seriously and execute them in a swift manner to build the best possible governance structure”, committee co-chair Seiichiro Nishioka told a briefing in Yokohama. At the briefing, the committee declined to comment on whether other individual directors (including Saikawa) should be held for responsible for failing to prevent the alleged actions by Ghosn. Nishioka also told the briefing that the capital structure between Nissan and Renault was a matter for the companies, and it was not appropriate for the committee to get involved. Nissan has said that too much power had been concentrated on Ghosn, one of the most feted executives in the global auto industry who orchestrated Nissan’s financial recovery in the early 2000s and created the blueprint for the automaking alliance between Nissan and Renault. At the time of his arrest in Tokyo in November on financial misconduct allegations, Ghosn held the chairmanship at Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, which together form one of the world’s biggest automakers selling roughly 10 million vehicles each year, while also serving as Renault CEO. Nissan’s board currently comprises 9 directors including the chairman, 3 of whom are categorized as outside, independent directors. 2 directors, including one outside director, formerly served senior vice president roles at Renault. In a statement, Nissan said that its board of directors would review the committee’s proposals “with the greatest attention as soon as possible”. It has said it will put forward proposals to change the company’s governance at its general shareholders meeting in June. Before that, it will hold an extraordinary shareholders meeting next month to vote on the ouster of Ghosn and Kelly, who has been charged alongside Ghosn for understating Ghosn’s salary, as company directors. +++ 

+++ Grey Liu bought his third vehicle 4 months ago: a Foton pickup, lured by its $7,000 price tag and its ability to transport his motorcycle to the grasslands of northern China where he likes to ride. The Beijing-based businessman is among a growing number of drivers in China keen on pickups; either for leisure or just because they like them, expanding the market beyond traditional demand for farm, construction and maintenance work. While calling his pickup “a big toy”, the 35-year-old notes some of his friends also have one. “There are more and more people like us”, Liu said. Pickup demand (both work-related and the newer interest from mainstream consumers) has climbed on the back of an easing in government restrictions and last year China became the world’s second-biggest pickup truck market. Signs this year that rules may be relaxed further are prompting industry executives and analysts to talk of a potential doubling or even greater jump in demand. That in turn is spurring GREAT WALL , China’s largest pickup manufacturer, and Ford, the maker of the most popular U.S. pickup series, to bolster product lines. Great Wall is developing its first leisure model, president Wang Fengying told. “We believe demand for multi-purpose pickups will soon start taking off in a major way”, she said in a written statement. The new truck will be priced much higher than current models and will be 1 of 5 all-new pickups in the next 3 years. At least 1 of the 5 will be an electric model. Although overall demand in the world’s biggest auto market fell last year for the first time since the 1990s, pickup sales rose 10 % to around 452,000 vehicles for a 4th straight year of growth. That helped China overtake Canada as a pickup market, although it is far behind U.S. figures of just under 3 million. Like much of the world, the segment remains niche in China, accounting for less than 2 % of overall sales. That contrasts with 16 % for the United States and over 40 % for Thailand. Chinese demand grew after the government in 2016 allowed pickups to enter some urban areas in four of 31 mainland provincial-level areas. Last year, requirements that pickups have large unsightly labels that clearly marked them as commercial vehicles were dropped, making the vehicles far more attractive to mainstream consumers. Then in January, China’s state planning body said it would steadily relax restrictions on pickups in cities; part of measures aimed at lifting consumer spending. It did not, however, say when or where rules might be eased. Depending on how extensive that easing is, annual pickup demand in China could double or triple even if limited parking options hobble demand in the country’s biggest cities like Shanghai, executives and analysts say. “If China allows pickups to enter central areas in more cities, the market could grow to 1 to 2 million units a year”, said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight. Great Wall’s new leisure pickup would be similar to Ford’s mid-sized Ranger and priced at more than 200,000 yuan ($29,800), a mark up of at least 70 % over its current most expensive pickup. It aims to make this higher-end pickup feel more like a passenger vehicle and it will have an interior design like our SUV models. The vehicle is part of the company’s plan to eventually enter the United States, although the model would likely have to be modified. Great Wall had aimed to enter the U.S. market in 2021 but U.S.-Sino trade tensions have currently made exports from China uneconomical. Ford plans to launch a new pickup in China this year, adding to the F150 Raptor which it introduced in early 2017 and the Ranger which was launched in 2018. Sales for the Raptor, priced from 466,800 yuan ($69,565), tripled to nearly 2,500 vehicles last year, the company said. It declined to disclose sales for the Ranger which sells from 305,800 yuan ($45,570). “Ford continues to see growing opportunities in China’s pickup truck market, because of a combination of regulatory conditions and growing consumer interest”, a spokesman said. With China pushing the development of electric vehicles hard, some domestic makers have joined Great Wall in looking at electric pickups, including Ford partner Jiangling Motors and Volkswagen partner JAC Motors. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group is developing a new electric pickup, a company source told, adding it would be made by its Yuan Cheng Auto unit. +++ 

+++ Normally, automakers look at the annual New York auto show as a venue in which to unveil cars. This year, HYUNDAI will travel to the event to unveil the Venue, a new crossover positioned below the Kona. The Venue will compete in a segment of the American market Hyundai has never been present in before. It’s one that’s booming in Europe and in other global markets, but that automakers have shied away from in the United States because they argue that small cars don’t make money, and that consumers don’t want them to begin with. Hyundai seems to have cracked that code. I don’t know what the Venue looks like yet. Hyundai enigmatically released 3 teaser images to preview it. One shows the lettering on the model’s rear end while hiding its overall design; so far, so good. The second shows hip-looking people enjoying a roof top party, and the third is a view of crowded Smith Street in the Chinatown district of Singapore. The Hyundai Venue will break cover on April 17, the first press day of the New York show. Sales will begin in the months following its debut, and pricing is expected to start in the vicinity of $18,000. Looking at the Hyundai line-up, I’d have expected its next crossover to wear the name of a city or a place. The company explained it intentionally avoided weaving more geography into its portfolio. Hyundai’s naming theme for SUVs has typically been a city or place. Venue embodies the characteristics of ‘the place to be’, en route to the final destination, wherever that may be,” it wrote in a statement. +++ 

+++ German chipmaker INFINEON cut its 2019 revenue forecast for the second time in as many months, as declining vehicle sales in China, the world’s largest car market, hit its automotive division. Sales are now expected at €8 billion in the year to Sept. 30, plus or minus 2%, Infineon said. That represents a year-on-year increase of 5.2 %, down from a previous forecast of 9 %. “Business indicators point to a slower demand recovery than expected thus far”, the group said. “A number of end markets continue to be sluggish; in particular, the trend of declining vehicle sales in China has accelerated in February, causing dealer inventories to increase sharply”. The slowdown in China, exacerbated by trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, and a slump in sales of the Apple iPhone, have rippled through semiconductor supply chains in recent months. Infineon, whose automotive division accounts for 40 % of revenues, cut its revenue guidance in February, but at the time forecast a better second half as demand recovered and inventories were worked off. With indicators of industrial activity, such as purchasing managers indexes, showing further weakness since, hopes for a ‘V-shaped’ recovery appear to be receding at the Munich-based company. At the mid-point of its guided revenue range, Infineon expects a segment margin (its measure of operating profitability) of 16 % for this business year, down from 17.5 % previously. Revenues in the quarter to March 31 will be flat, quarter on quarter, in line with earlier expectations. But there will be a lower-than-expected revenue increase in the second half of the year, the company said. Infineon, which last year decided to build a new chip fabrication plant in Villach, Austria, said it would keep its investments at the projected level of around €1.5 billion to address supply bottlenecks in areas such as electro-mobility. +++ 

+++ MOBILEYE chief executive Amnon Shashua has accused Nvidia of copying the company’s self-driving technology. The executive claims Nvidia’s recently announced Safety Force Field (SFF) technology closely resembles Mobileye’s own Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) model outlined in 2017. “Based on the information that has been made available, it is clear Nvidia’s leaders have continued their pattern of imitation as their so-called ‘first-of-its-kind’ safety concept is a close replica of the RSS model we published nearly 2 years ago”, Shashua said. “In our opinion, SFF is simply an inferior version of RSS dressed in green and black. To the extent there is any innovation there, it appears to be primarily of the linguistic variety”. Both describe a broad approach to motion-control and decision-making principles necessary for self-driving cars to seamlessly mesh with real-world traffic, predicting that accidents will not be completely avoidable but ensuring that the self-driving car is never at fault. Many of the rules and principles, such as “do not hit someone from behind”, are obviously self-evident for any company developing autonomous vehicles. Some language used by Nvidia is a perfect match for Mobileye’s 2017 paper, however, such as the tag line “Right-of-way is given, not taken”. Intel-owned Mobileye says it openly shared all of the technical details of RSS “because we believe that the safety of automated vehicles should not be proprietary”. The company is apparently miffed that Nvidia is trying to take credit for the ‘innovations’ outlined in 2017. “Mobileye has invested enormous resources to develop RSS, and Mobileye has obtained intellectual property rights to protect these investments”, Shashua says. +++ 

+++ What looks like the next RENAULT Megane R.S. Trophy-R has been spied testing at the Nurburgring. This stripped-out version of the Megane R.S. 300 Trophy will likely aim to retake Renault’s place as holder of the front-wheel-drive Nurburgring lap record; a record which it hasn’t held since June 2014 with the previous-generation Megane 275 Trophy-R. The car follows the same formula as the 275 Trophy-R, with larger front brakes, lighter Carbon Revolution alloy wheels and slightly tweaked panelling. The rear seats have also been binned in the interest of weight loss, too. I expect it to be powered by a reworked version of the R.S. 300 Trophy’s 1.8-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, potentially improving on its 300 hp and 400 Nm. A manual gearbox option should be retained, too, following the critical backlash Renault received for the automatic-only Clio R.S. 220 Trophy. Inside, I can just about identify a pair of carbon-fibre backed racing seats. Eventually, I expect to also find a pair of racing harnesses, a harness bar, a luggage net, an Alcantara steering wheel and aluminium pedals. Other, less noticeable, additions will include adjustable dampers, a range of chassis bracing, composite springs, stripped-out sound deadening, a freer-flowing exhaust system and grippy tyres. Like the old Megane 275 Trophy-R, I’m anticipating the R.S. 300 Trophy-R will be sold in limited numbers, and will likely break cover towards the end of 2019. +++ 

+++ Cars sold in the European Union from 2022 onwards will be required to be fitted with a range of new SAFETY SYSTEMS as standard, including intelligent speed limiters and monitors that can detect when a driver is drowsy or distracted. The European Commission has approved the legislation, which was proposed last year and provisionally approved last month, in a bid to improve road safety. The legislation is due to come into effect from May 2022 for new models that haven’t been designed yet and May 2024 for new versions of models currently on the market. The measures are subject to the formal approval of the European Parliament and EU member states in September. The legislation will make it compulsory for new cars to be fitted with intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems, which can use GPS data and sign-recognition cameras to advise drivers of speed limits and, unless overridden, can limit the speed of the vehicle as needed, by way of reducing engine power. Cars will also need to be fitted with an alcohol interlock system, in an attempt to prevent drunk driving. Distraction monitors will use cameras that can detect when a driver is impaired, tired or not paying attention, and then prompt them to react. Volvo recently announced that it would fit such systems on its vehicles as standard. The safety features that will become mandatory in passenger cars are: 1) Advanced automatic emergency braking systems, 2) Lane departure warning systems, 3) Intelligent speed assistance, 4) Alcohol interlock installation facilitation. 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. The European Commission estimates that the measures will save more than 25,000 lives by 2038. Under the new rules, manufacturers will have to ensure the systems are developed in a way that ensures “users accept them”. Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the European Transport Safety Council, said: “There have only been a handful of moments in the last 50 years which could be described as big leaps forward for road safety in Europe. The mandatory introduction of the seatbelt was one, and the first EU minimum crash safety standards, agreed in 1998, was another. If this agreement is given the formal green light, it will represent another of those moments”. +++ 

+++ SEAT will lead the Volkswagen Group project to develop an entry-level electric vehicle that can be sold for less than €20,000, the company has announced. The VW Group confirmed 2 weeks ago the project to develop an ‘MEB entry family’; in effect, a smaller set of pure-electric models that will be around 4 metres in length (the same as a Polo or Ibiza) by 2023. Now Seat boss Luca de Meo has confirmed that 300 engineers have been assigned to the project in Barcelona, and that Seat will be one of the brands to use the smaller, cheaper MEB architecture. ” Seat will develop, in collaboration with the VW brand in Wolfsburg, a new electric vehicle of around 4 metres, based on a platform that is leveraging the MEB platform technology, here in Martorell. For the first time in the history of our Centro Technico, we’ll help to develop a platform that may be used by other brands around the globe. We are working on the idea that sooner rather than later, everybody will be able to drive an electric car for less than €20,000″. The VW Group boos Herbert Diess added: “The small electric platform project is a great step towards an even more affordable electric mobility. Seat will realise the first electric vehicle that is especially designed for urban journeys, available around 2023. The total cost of ownership of this vehicle will be lower than that of comparable combustion-engined vehicles, because of savings on fuel and maintenance. It will be the most environmentally friendly and economic way to move in urban areas”. Diess’s comments would suggest that the VW Group is looking at a much more modest range for its MEB entry family than the conventional line-up, which will be launched with the ID.3 hatchback later this year. It’s conceivable that to keep the price at such a low level, MEB entry hatchbacks could have as little as 200 kilometres of range between charges. De Meo also confirmed the identities of the first 6 pure-electric or plug-in hybrid Seat cars, which will all be on sale by the start of 2021. The first model will be the Mii Electric, and this will be followed by the el-Born MEB pure EV and then plug-in hybrid versions of the new Tarraco and the next generation of Leon. In a significant development, Seat also confirmed that the next 2 Cupra models (the Formentor crossover and the Cupra edition of the next-gen Leon) will also feature plug-in electrification. This marks the first major commitment by any manufacturer to make a hot hatchback with plug-in functionality. “We’ll start 2020 bringing to market the Mii Electric. It’s an electric version of the current Mii. We see it as an appetiser, a way for us to test and learn about the electric car value chain. Also in 2020, the new generation of Leon will come to market in 5-door and ST versions. It will feature a plug-in hybrid with up to 250 hp and less than 50 g/km of CO2 emissions. Just before end of 2020, it will be the moment of el-Born, based on most advanced volume electric platform on the planet, the MEB platform. It will be right in the middle of the European market on size and price. It’s a game-changer. In same time frame, Cupra Leon and Cupra Leon ST, both with plug-in hybrid versions, will arrive. And at the beginning of 2021, we’ll close the cycle with Cupra Formentor and Tarraco PHEV. The good news is that we can announce today that the Formentor will be produced here in Martorell”. Seat confirmed that it recorded strong sales in 2018; the best performance in the company’s history. It made €294 million in profit last year, a rise of 4.6 % over 2017, and delivered 517,600 vehicles, a gain of more than 10 % from the previous year. +++ 

+++ SKODA ’s new factory in eastern Europe will have an annual production capacity of 350,000 units, which could double if there is enough demand, the automaker’s CEO Bernhard Maier said. Skoda is taking the lead on the plant, which will build models for the Czech automaker and other brands in the Volkswagen Group. The factory is planned to open toward the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023. Maier said the search for a location has been narrowed to 2 potential sites from four. He did not name the sites. Serbia and Turkey have been named as possible sites. Maier said the factory will have an annual capacity of up to 350,000 units, the same size as the automaker’s plant in Kvasiny in the Czech Republic. But the site will be developed to add extra capacity by building a second plant alongside the first, Maier said on the sidelines of Skoda’s annual results conference on March 20. The plant is expected to make the Skoda Karoq and Seat Ateca. Karoq and Ateca production “is the most likely scenario but it’s not finally decided”, Maier said. The 2 SUVs are currently built in Kvasiny but the factory will need to free capacity for new models. VW Group is transferring production of the Volkswagen Passat to Kvasiny from Emden, Germany, to create capacity to build EVs at Emden. A small full-electric car that will be part of VW Group’s “MEB entry family” will also be added at Kvasiny plant. Skoda is likely to lose sales this year because its Czech plants of Mlada Boleslav and Kvasiny are running at full capacity, Maier said. The automaker could have sold 100,000 more cars last year if the capacity to build them had been available, he said. Skoda built 886,100 vehicles in 2018 at Mlada Boleslav and Kvasiny. A new paint shop has opened at Mlada Boleslav to eradicate a production bottleneck. Skoda currently sends 60,000 units of its Fabia annually to be painted at VW’s Osnabruck plant in northern Germany, before they are returned for assembly at Mlada Boleslav. That will stop by the end of this year when the paint shop is fully operational, Maier said. Osnabruck also builds some Karoqs. Skoda is about to start sales of its new Scala that replaces the Rapid and will begin sales of the Kamiq small SUV in the autumn. Later this year it will unveil the replacement for its Octavia, its best-selling car. +++

+++ Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler is in talks to sell up to 50 % of its SMART city car division to Chinese car maker Geely. The sale of a significant stake in Smart will be confirmed before the start of the 2019 Shanghai motor show in mid-April. The German city car division, established in 1994, has regularly struggled to post a profit due to the slim margins of its limited range of urban-focused models. In 2018, Smart contributed just 128,802 of Daimler’s 2,310,185 global sales. The move to secure a stake in Smart by Geely, which became Daimler’s largest shareholder (9.7%) last year, appears set to strengthen ties between the 2 car makers. Daimler and Geely have already announced plans for the establishment of a premium ride-hailing service, which is planned to be headquartered in Hangzhou, China. Recent speculation suggested Daimler was preparing to alter its business activities for Smart under its new chairman, Ola Källenius. This led it to announce it was in talks with “several possible co-operation partners” as it worked to establish plans for the next generation of models, which it has already confirmed will be electric-only. The immediate future of Smart has been the subject of intense speculation since Daimler announced chairman Dieter Zetsche would step down from his role in May 2019 after 13 years at the head of the German car maker. The 65-year-old German has been a strong champion for the city car brand, having been instrumental in its creation and development over the past 25 years. His successor Källenius is said to hold less enthusiasm for the loss-making division. Mercedes-Benz doesn’t quote separate profit results for the Smart brand, but it’s thought to have failed to generate a profit in each of the years of its existence. Analyst estimates suggest Smart’s losses amount to up to €700 million annually. A sale of a significant stake in Smart to Geely might face opposition in Germany, whose government recently ratified a law allowing it block investments above 15 % by non-EU companies in what it describes as “sensitive industries”, including defence, energy and automotive. When Geely secured its stake in Daimler, German politicians questioned to motives of the Chinese company, which is parent to its own Geely Auto brand, LEVC, Lotus, Lynk&Co, Proton, Volvo and Yuan Cheng Auto. +++ 

+++ Meeting in Brazil this week, auto executives from Toyota to General Motors talked up traditional fuel sources like ethanol, natural gas and diesel, underlining how SOUTH AMERICA ’s protected auto market is likely to resist a broader global move toward electric vehicles for years to come. Even as automakers revamp their global businesses to focus on electric cars in Europe, North America and Asia, executives who oversee production in Brazil and Argentina are still prioritizing internal combustion engines, in part because of subsidies for locally plentiful fuels. “The future of Argentina’s energy is natural gas”, said Cristiano Rattazzi, who heads the country’s unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as well as its automakers trade group. He added that diesel fuel, out of favor in much of the world, also still has potential in Argentina. Argentina’s natural gas production is expected to increase dramatically as foreign oil companies and state-owned YPF pour investment into Vaca Muerta, one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves. Aurelio Santana, executive director of Brazil’s auto trade group, had similar things to say about ethanol, which powers many of Brazil’s cars. “It’s very important that the government supports investments in research and development involving ethanol”, Santana said. “We need to maintain what we already have here”. The desire to stick to what they know underscores the political sway of local energy producers. Recently, Brazil’s legislature issued a series of tax incentives, dubbed Rota 2030, which offer significant benefits to car makers who choose to invest in ethanol research. The event took place in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the historic home of Brazil’s auto industry, which is still reeling from the shock earlier this year that Ford would be shutting its plant in the city. Toyota is so far the only automaker to announce that it plans to make even a hybrid model in South America, featuring an engine that can run on electricity or either pure ethanol or gasoline. “It’s the best solution for our region”, said Celso Simomura, Vice President for Toyota’s Brazil operation. General Motors earlier this month announced an investment of 10 billion reais ($2.58 billion) in Brazil over the next 5 years, but none of that will go to electric cars, said Carlos Zarlenga, GM’s chief for South America. GM will start importing electric vehicles this year to test the market, he added, but there are no plans yet to build them domestically. Volkswagen’s top executive for South America and the Caribbean, Pablo Di Si, said the German automaker was going to import six electric or hybrid models to Brazil by 2023. But he also said there were no plans to produce them locally. “In Latin America, we need to consider all the caveats”, Di Si said, pointing to the lack of a legal framework for electric vehicles and not enough charging infrastructure. Volkswagen wants to sell 1 million electric vehicles globally by 2025. Fiat’s Rattazzi was confident that the old ways would survive in South America in the medium term. “In 2030”, he predicted, “the combustion engine will still have a place”. +++ 

+++ TESLA has reportedly backpedaled on promised delivery schedules for the Model 3 Standard Range. The company recently celebrated availability of the promised $35,000 base model. Some buyers are now facing a longer wait time, however, after initially receiving an estimated delivery date near the end of the second quarter. “Our apologies, we will need to reschedule your delivery appointment to a later date”, the company sent in text messages. “A Tesla representative will reach out when we have a better estimate of your delivery timing from Tesla”. The issue is believed to be related to Tesla’s commitment to placing top priority on the earliest pre-orders. Some buyers who ordered after the $35,000 Model 3 announcement may have been kicked down the list as the earlier deposit holders fulfill their orders. “Well the priority is for longtime reservation holders so we would first need to assess how many of the long term reservation holders want the $35,000 car”, CEO Elon Musk said during the announcement call. “So it really depends on on that on that and obviously this news has been embargoed until now so we first need to assess how many of the reservation holders wish to buy that car”. Musk added that he expects the new orders to be fulfilled before the end of June, when the next “tax credit cliff” cuts the incentive. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA expects its sales in South America and the Caribbean to rise 0.9 % in 2019 compared with last year, Celso Simomura, vice president of Toyota’s Brazil operation. He said Toyota expected to sell 445,000 vehicles across the region in 2019, up from 441,000 in 2018. Simomura added that growth had been higher in recent years, with 5.2 % sales growth in 2018, and 6.9 % growth in 2017, but did not give a reason for the slowdown. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGENis working on plans to expand its forthcoming ID. family of electric vehicles to include models as small as the existing Polo. The firm revealed its intentions at the VW Group’s annual conference, where a slide showing a product line-up included an ‘MEB entry family’ alongside the likes of the ID.3 hatchback and ID.Crozz SUV. That’s a reference to the MEB pure-electric platform that will underpin the ID models. Previously, VW sources had suggested that MEB would not go any smaller than around 4.4 metres in length; or about the same as a Tiguan. But VW Group chairman Herbert Diess acknowledged that the ‘entry family’ would be more compact as well as cheaper. “It’s a smaller size”, he said. “It’s sub-Golf size. It’s being worked on now. We should expect it around 2023”. In effect, the admission confirms at least tentative plans for the sub-€20.000 baby electric SUV outlined by earlier this year. But the T-Cross-sized model could also be joined by an all-electric supermini. This would give VW a rival for the new Peugeot e-208 and its sister car, the forthcoming pure-electric Opel Corsa. The VW Group’s board member for technical development, Frank Welsch, explained that developments in battery tech may provide the cost breakthrough VW requires to make the project viable. But he also said that the idea was still in early discussions, and supported Diess’s belief that any model would be unlikely to arrive much before 2023. “Every 2 or 3 years, we see improvements in battery technology and electrochemistry”, Welsch said. “If we speak about MEB entry, I don’t think it would happen before 2023, and there will be at least some improvements by then. It could also be that we go for a different concept, in terms of which chemistry we use. There is lithium/ion like the ID.3, but also (maybe not in Europe, but in China) we see LFP [lithium-ion phosphate] battery tech”. He continued: “There are different components in there: no nickel, no cobalt and so on, which make it cheaper, but today, the specific energy density of that technology is not competitive. “But if you go for a smaller concept, where they don’t need a range of 500 km, or where they could never afford a battery capacity of 80 kWh, for example, it could be a possibility, especially when you keep in mind it should improve over the next 3 years”. He added: “But I want to stress, MEB entry is just a discussion. We are at the concept level, looking at feasibility. So we are happy with the tech we have for the first wave of ID cars, and now we’re looking again at how we could bring the costs down. “It’s no use going down from Golf size to Polo size, and then saying: ‘We’ve saved 50 euros on the bare chassis’. We have to look across everything. Could we offer it with a smaller motor? It’s a smaller car, and you can get a Polo with lower-powered engines than you can get in a Golf”. Welsch also admitted, however, that while smaller-range models would be offered to bring down the starting price of MEB entry cars, there’s no reason why bigger-battery editions couldn’t be offered. “Because it’s part of MEB, we can still have larger capacities of battery”, he said. “We wouldn’t need to stop at 40 kWh, for example; if I have the space between the axles, I can use it. So even with a smaller wheelbase I could imagine going for, say, 60 kWh, because we know from the Polo that some customers of that size of vehicle do want to go for longer journeys as well”.+++

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