Newsflash III


+++ An all-new electric Fiat 500 city car, the 500e, will be launched at the Geneva motor show in 2020, the firm has confirmed. The car will be sold alongside the existing 500, which will continue to be powered by conventional petrol engines as well as receiving styling and technical updates. The all-new electric 500 will sit on a bespoke electric car platform, according to Fiat boss Olivier Francois, with the same platform potentially earmarked for use if the the new Panda-inspired Centoventi concept makes production. The electric 500 will be a key part of Fiat’s transformation in Europe into a brand focusing on small electrified city cars. “The car will stay true to everything you know about the 500, but will be entirely new”, said Francois. “Under the skin it will be radically different, but otherwise you will recognise the size and proportions. But it is a big statement, starting our electric path with the 500. We are doing it with that car for reasons of pricing. It is clear that we cannot sell an electric 500 for the same entry price of today’s 500, but what’s clear is that more than half of our 500 customers today do not buy entry-level models. In fact, for them a 24,000 euro price is normal today. “If you look at our electric competition, they are priced around 32,000 euros. The leap then from 24,000 to 32,000 is not so much, especially if you factor in government grants for electric vehicles”. Francois refused to be drawn on whether the electric 500 could be rear-wheel drive like the original, but said he would be open to the idea. He also said that an electric Abarth model could hold appeal. The electric car platform that the new 500 will sit on will be FCA Group developed. Francois said he would personally be open to sharing the technology with partners (the 500 platform has previously been shared with the Ford Ka, for instance), but he stressed that any such decision would have to be made at a Group level. Fiat also confirmed the new 500 will be joined by a 500 Giardiniera estate, although the firm didn’t say if that would also appear at next year’s Geneva show. Ahead of the 500e arriving, a mild hybrid variant of the 500 is due to launch later this year. The aim is to consolidate the brand’s dominance of the city car segment (the 500 and Panda hold a third of this market) while developing technologies that allow these models to satisfy emission regulations. This focus also means other, less successful Fiat models are expected to axed. The 500’s new platform architecture can also cope with a mild hybrid system. That unit consists of a belt driven, 12V starter-generator, although little detail has been provided on the electric drivetrain to be used in the 500. Lower-emissions petrol engines will also be offered in the 500 and Panda. Francois conceded that the decision to develop the electric cars was driven “both by the desire to create a profitable electric car for our future, and to ensure we avoid the pressures of potential fines if we don’t hit CO2 targets”. +++ 

+++ Revenues from AUTONOMOUS DRIVING will not ramp up until 2030 and beyond, the chief executive of German auto supplier Continental said. “Until 2030, the market will be driven mainly by assistance systems. Significant revenues will only come in 2030 and thereafter”, Chief Executive Elmar Degenhart said in response to a question about when the market for fully autonomous vehicles will take off. +++ 

+++ BMW ’s ambitions to establish China as a hub for exporting electric cars are in limbo because of uncertainty over potential trade tariffs between China and the United States, company executives told. BMW has factories in Europe, China and the United States and plans to establish China, the world’s largest market for electric cars, as an export hub for such vehicles, given its lower labor costs and support for zero-emission cars. But Washington and Beijing are locked in a trade dispute, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to increase tariffs to 25 % from 10 % on $200 billion of Chinese goods if the 2 sides can’t reach a deal. The uncertainty is making it hard for BMW to take a decision about exports, chief executive Harald Krüger said. “We have no basis for taking a decision at the moment. Whether this is financially viable and whether it makes sense needs to be evaluated”, Krüger told. BMW bought a majority stake in its Chinese joint venture partner Brilliance last year and announced plans to build an electric version of its X3 at the venture’s plant in China. So far, BMW has no other plans to produce the iX3 in other markets, so that it can ramp up economies of scale in a technology that has so far proven to be a low margin business. BMW has also signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Great Wall to build an electric version of the Mini. Whether an electric Mini could be exported from China is an open question, Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW’s board member responsible for Mini told. “That’s probably the most strategic question we discussed over the past 2 or 3 years. With all the uncertainty around tariffs. I wouldn’t be able to give you a good answer of what will happen. The only option is to put yourself in a situation where you can react”. China’s size and government regulations favoring locally produced electric cars make it worthwhile for BMW to pursue the alliance with Great Wall to build a Mini in China. But BMW is still undecided where to have Mini’s export hub for electric cars. It has the option of building electric Mini’s in Oxford, England, Born the Netherlands and in China, Schwarzenbauer said. “If China export is something that can be done easily, we could export much more out of China. If this becomes difficult, we have to balance it with Oxford and Born”. +++ 

+++ The Porsche CAYENNE COUPE will go on sale in autumn. It will be revealed later this month. The Cayenne Coupé is targeted as a rival for the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé, broadening the scope of the Cayenne line-up. It is expected to share the vast majority of its underlying chassis with its traditional SUV sibling. The 5-door Cayenne Coupé will be based heavily on its more practical Cayenne sibling, alongside which it will be assembled at Porsche’s factory in Leipzig. Porsche intends to position the Cayenne Coupé as a performance model, with both a 440 hp version of its twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 and a 550 hp version of its twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engines set to be offered from launch. +++ 

+++ The next-generation Honda CIVIC TYPE R will get a hybrid powertrain as part of the car maker’s accelerated electrification plans. The next Civic Type R hot hatch, due from 2021, is likely to adopt a similar set-up to the NSX supercar’s hybrid system, given its tried-and-tested formula for performance, rather than use a fully electric powertrain. The NSX’s hybrid powertrain combines a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with 3 electric motors for a combined total of 580 hp. Given the Type R doesn’t need the power of the NSX, the hatch could use a 2.0-litre petrol combined with electric motors to undercut the current generation’s 0-100 km/h sprint of 5.8 seconds. The move is part of an electrification strategy, announced at the Geneva motor show, in which Honda said it wants to make its European sales completely electrified by 2025. 2 years ago, it revealed it planned to make twothirds of its sales electrified by 2025, but this has now been superseded by more ambitious intentions to electrify the whole range. Tom Gardner, Honda Europe boss, said: “Since we made that first pledge in March 2017, the shift towards electrification has gathered pace considerably. Environmental challenges continue to drive demand for cleaner mobility. Technology marches on unrelenting and people are starting to shift their view of the car itself”. The decision was aided by the current success of the recently launched hybrid CR-V. It accounts for 60 % of overall sales of the SUV. Previously, diesel, which is no longer offered, made up twothirds of CR-V sales. The announcement ties in with Honda’s recent revelation that it will shut its Swindon plant in the UK in 2021, a move explained by Honda’s “commitment to electrified cars”. It said, at the time, that it would revise manufacturing locations to those areas where volume is expected to be high. This is most likely to be China and Japan. The announcement tallies with the public debut of the E-prototype, a near-production-ready version of the well-received Urban EV concept. It will be the first pure-electric model for Honda in Europe and sit alongside the CR-V hybrid as the only 2 models in the maker’s electrified line-up. A hybrid variant of the Jazz is due to arrive next, followed by the Civic in 2021. +++ 

+++ Last in, best dressed? FERRARI says its first-ever SUV will be the world’s best even though it will be among the last to join the party. In an interview, CEO Louis Camilleri said: “We announced that it would be launched in 2022, that hasn’t changed”. When asked if it might arrive too late to take full advantage of the global SUV boom, Camilleri replied: “I’m not concerned about being too late. I’m more concerned about being the best. And I’m quite confident that we will be. Sometimes you have to take time to get the best thing”. During the briefing Ferrari did not refer to it as an SUV, but conceded some customers have reservations about the iconic Italian sports-car brand making the leap. “There has been some skepticism of the marriage of Ferrari with the Purosangue. And we’re very confident what will eventually come out will be quite spectacular and in-keeping with our DNA”. While the Purosangue will be a global model, Ferrari indicated China would be one of its biggest markets. “We have a strong portfolio in China of people willing to wait to get a Ferrari”, he said. “The Purosangue, we believe, is something that will be very successful in this part of the world”. Ferrari has already confirmed the Purosangue will be sold in Australia, but price and technical details are years away from being released. The Ferrari Purosangue will join other super-super-luxury SUVs from Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, but promises performance beyond their current realm, the company says. +++ 

+++ The future of the FIAT 124 Spider hinges on the firm continuing to work with a joint-venture partner, according to the firm’s boss, Olivier François. Global sales of the 124 Spider have remained slow. “The 124 market is a niche one”, said François. “It is profitable business for us, but only because of the joint venture. It was an opportunity and we took it. It makes money and it adds a certain cool factor. But I accept that such a car may not be key to the future of the brand. It is not what I’d call a pure, absolute Fiat, but for now, it remains an interesting opportunity”. Fiat introduced the 124 Spider in summer 2016, around a year after its Mazda cousin. Sales of both have declined sharply in the US in the past year, with the Fiat down around 25 % and the Mazda, badged Miata in the US, down 21 % compared with 2017. However, sales of both in Europe have remained relatively stable. +++ 

+++ The production version of the HONDA E-prototype electric city car will go on sale in Europe later this year, and the firm believes the car’s retro design will give it an Apple-style appeal to customers. The 4-seater, displayed at the Geneva motor show, is “95% production ready”, according to the firm. It maintains the styling of the Urban EV Concept unveiled at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show, albeit with the addition of an extra set of doors. While Honda has yet to reveal full technical details of the car, its designers told that it would offer “more than” 100 hp and 300 Nm. Honda said more than 15,000 people have already expressed interest in the machine in Europe. While pricing has yet to be set, understands the firm is aiming for a figure around €37,500 in The Netherlands. Project manager Kohei Hitomi said the machine had been the subject of an internal “battle” over whether to put it into production, with the positive reaction to the concept being a key factor in it gaining approval. Honda has yet to confirm full technical details of the car, which is slightly shorter than a Jazz and around 100 mm taller than a Mini, but has said it will likely have an official range of around 200 kilometres, with fast-charging capacity to reach 80 % charge in 30 minutes. It is aAimed at urban commuters. The E-rototype is built on a new platform designed for A and B segment electric cars, with underfloor batteries produced by Panasonic that are similar to those used in the US market Accord plug-in hybrid. The rear-mounted electric motor drives the rear wheels, which employ torque vectoring to give a smoother response and improved handling in tight corners. Although the E-prototype’s range is substantially lower than that offered by rival electric vehicles such as the 450 kilometre Kia e-Niro or BMW i3, which offers 300 kilometres, Hitomi said it was necessary to keep the batteries small to fulfil its city-car role. “We believe the range is sufficient for this segment of car”, said Hitomi. “Some potential customers might not be satisfied, but when you think about bigger range and a bigger battery, it has drawbacks in terms of packaging. It’s a balance”. The E-prototype features cameras instead of rear-view mirrors, which help improve aerodynamic efficiency. There are also flush door handles and the charging port is mounted centrally in the bonnet. The cockpit is dominated by 12 inch touchscreens, built into a dashboard finished with a wood-effect trim. The seats (including a 2-seat bench in the rear) are covered in polyester, which, as with the wood effect, is designed to make the interior feel like a living room. The E-prototype will be built in Japan and go on sale in selected European markets in late 2019, with others following in 2020. It will also be sold in Japan. The firm has yet to set pricing. Hitomi said it is “important” the car is affordable but he added: “A low price is not always a guarantee of success. When you look at Apple products, they are not cheap, but everyone wants to have them because of their added value. We believe it is the same for the electric vehicle”. +++ 

+++ JEEP will bring its new Gladiator pick-up to Europe next year. The heavy-duty vehicle, which is based on the new Wrangler, was revealed late last year, and its European fate at that point wasn’t clear. However, Jeep’s European boss, Jeff Hines, has confirmed the decision had been taken to launch in Europe. “It will land in quarter 1 or quarter 2 in 2020”, he said. “It won’t be big volumes, but our customers love the idea of it”. The Gladiator will arrive at a time of strength for Jeep in Europe. Its 170,000 sales total in Europe last year was an increase of more than 50 % on the year before and made the brand bigger than Land Rover in the region. Its best-selling models are the Renegade and Compass, the 2 smallest vehicles it makes. From 2020, both will be made in Italy, once production of the Compass moves from Mexico. Both models will be available as plug-in hybrids by then, too. This year, Jeep plans to launch new S-range models across its line-up as more road-focused variants. Hines said that further growth for Jeep in Europe was possible: “How big can we be? Never big enough, so long as we stay true to the brand. To grow more than 50 % will be tough, but we have plans to support growth even if the industry remains flat or decreases”. When asked how it felt to now sell more cars than Land Rover in Europe, Hines said: “It feels good on our sales performance and growth and to bring more customers. We can grow and bring to more customers. We’re steadily improving”. 2 more models that could come to Europe in time have also just been confirmed by Jeep after investments in its US factories. A 7-seat SUV to sit alongside the Grand Cherokee will launched before 2022, as will a luxurious new SUV to sit atop the range that will revive the Grand Wagoneer name. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is undertaking an in-house product strategy study into a high-tech hypercar successor to the 918 Spyder, company chairman Oliver Blume has confirmed. Blume said the new flagship model could be powered by either a plug-in hybrid or pure electric powertrain and, if approved, is envisaged to launch in the middle of the next decade. The hypercar would be designed to be a showcase for the German maker’s electrified drivelines. The machine would fill the void at the top of the Porsche line-up left when the 918 Spyder ceased production in 2015 after a limited run of 918 models. Blume said that Porsche was currently busy readying its first electric cars, the Taycan and Taycan Sports Turismo. But he said the firm was considering taking on the likes of the McLaren P1 and Rimac Concept One. “In the future, I see a possibility for a hypercar with the next generation of the batteries”, said Blume. “It should be a very high-performing car. We haven’t decided yet, it’s more in the direction of 2025 or later. That’s what we do in our product strategy”. Commenting on developments connected with the hypercar study, Blume said Porsche was carefully monitoring progress in the field of solid-state battery technology in a co-operation set-up with Stanford University in California. The co-operation is part of a €90 million investment made by Porsche’s parent company, the Volkswagen Group, in QuantumScape Corporation, a solid-state battery start-up spun off from developments made by Stanford established in 2018. Blume indicated the hypercar product strategy study underway at Porsche was still in its infancy, saying: “We haven’t decided yet whether it will be a hybrid or a pure-electric car. We are waiting on the evolution of the batteries. We will then decide what’s going on”. Blume also reaffirmed that Porsche was committed to launching a petrol-electric hybrid version of the 911. “We will continue with high-performance petrol engines in our sports car for as long as possible. It is true, we are thinking about a hybrid drivetrain for the 911”, said Blume. “The platform is already prepared”. Porsche has gained expertise in hybrid drivetrains through its motorsport activities, including three victories at the Le Mans 24 hours with its 919 Hybrid. Blume said the hybrid driveline under development would be the highest-powered driveline in the 911. He pointed to the Panamera S-E Hybrid as an example of what is possible, noting it uses 60 Ah battery technology and develops in the vicinity of 700 hp. By comparison, the latest evolution of the 911 Turbo uses a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre horizontally opposed petrol engine developing 540 hp. “There’s no decision yet whether we will have a plug-in-hybrid, which has more weight but more range, or a solution like that in the 919 Hybrid race car”, said Blume. “But in I think in 3 or 4 years we’ll be able to offer a hybrid of some sort in the 911”. +++ 

+++ SUBARU revealed a revamped Levorg with the hope that the car’s significant engineering changes will kick-start a renaissance of the company’s sales. The Levorg has failed to fill the gap left by the Legacy Touring. As a result, Subaru has lost a loyal band of customers that it now wants to recapture. The brand registered just 90 examples across Europe in January. “We made a mis-step with the Levorg and made it too extreme, too sporty. It just wasn’t right for our customers”, said a spokesman. A new higher-quality interior, retuned and comfort-oriented suspension and a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated Boxer petrol with a more relaxed power delivery are the 3 key changes. The spokesman describes the new naturally aspirated engine, which replaces a peakier 1.6-litre turbo unit, as the heart of the Levorg’s refreshed character. “The combination of that turbo engine and the firm suspension has been a real turn-off for customers”, he said. The 2.0-litre unit makes 150 hp and 196 Nm (down 20 hp and 54 Nm on the old unit) but is expected to be considerably more efficient. It’s mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT gearbox and all-wheel drive. +++ 

+++ TESLA has unveiled a new third-generation version of its Supercharger system, which, it says, will allow a Model 3 to recover 120 kilometres of charge in 5 minutes, and charge at rates of up to 1.600 kilometres per hour. The electric car firm’s V3 Supercharger system is built on an entirely new architecture, with a 1MW power cabinet that can charge at up to 250 kW per car. Tesla estimates the increase in charging speed will cut the amount of time customers spend charging their cars in half. Tesla has also developed a new feature to help reduce charging times for Model 3 owners. Called On-Route Battery Charging, the system begins to heat the batteries when navigating to a Supercharger station, to ensure they are at optimal charging temperature on arrival. Through that system and the V3 Superchargers, Tesla estimates that a typical charging time at one of the units will drop to 15 minutes. The V3 charging system will initially be available for only the Model 3. Tesla says software upgrades are due in the near future to increase charging speeds for Model S and Model X machines. The Model Y, a cross-over due to be revealed later this month, will likely also be able to use the system because it shares technical elements with the Model 3. The first beta test V3 chargers are currently in operation in California, near Tesla’s headquarters, and work on the first full sites will begin in April. The first V3 Supercharger sites in Europe and Asia are due in the final quarter of the year. Tesla currently has more than 12,000 Supercharger sites in North America and says it plans to have coverage for 99 % of the European population by the end of the year. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA warned that it may end manufacturing in the UK if the country crashes out of the European Union on unfavorable terms, joining other automakers reviewing their operations in Britain as negotiations toward Brexit drag on. “If the business environment becomes very difficult to operate, of course those types of decisions should be on the agenda”, Johan van Zyl, the Japanese company’s head of Europe, told. “But hopefully we will be able to avoid a withdrawal”, he said. The Toyota executive’s comments follow Nissan’s decision last month to renege on plans to build the X-Trail in England and Honda’s announcement to end production in the country in 2021. Britain has long been a Japanese hub for European auto production, with Honda, Nissan and Toyota owning 3 of the country’s 6 largest factories. Toyota pledged an investment of $316 million in 2017 to produce the new version of the Corolla in England and upgrade its vehicle platform. Last year the automaker built 129,070 Corolla cars at its plant in Burnaston, central England. Toyota also has a plant in Deeside, Wales, that produces 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter gasoline engines. The Welsh factory built 308,415 engines in 2018. Toyota remains hopeful the UK and EU will reach an agreement on Brexit terms, van Zyl said. “If there is a bad Brexit, we will need to look at future investments”, he said. The carmaker may need to make decisions about the production of the next Corolla before the current version reaches the end of its model cycle in about 2023, he said. +++

+++ UBER is not responsible for the death of a woman who was killed by one of its autonomous test cars in an accident in the US in 2018, a court investigation has found. Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed when she was struck by the vehicle at 70 km/h when she was walking her bicycle across a road in Tempe, Arizona. Despite a county attorney having decided the ride-hailing company is not criminally liable for the accident, the car’s humam backup driver (Rafaela Vasquez) could still face charges. It has been reported by police that Vasquez was distracted at the time of the crash, with evidence suggesting she may have been streaming an episode of The Voice on her smartphone, and the fatal accident could have been avoided if she had been her eyes had been on the road instead. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN Group’s drive to loosen up a famously bureaucratic decision-making apparatus will extend well beyond the potential IPO of its truck unit, if the automaker’s leadership has its way. With a decision imminent on whether to sell a minority stake in Traton SE, Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter said moving ahead with it would be a good step and “an important sign” for VW. “We do see the broader strategic dimension of such a move”, Witter said. The automaker could delay a deal if market conditions prevent it from generating adequate proceeds, he said. The company is in the midst of a fundamental overhaul meant to make it more agile and better equipped to fend off both traditional rivals and newer challengers like Alphabet or Tesla. In addition to speeding up decision-making, CEO Herbert Diess has pledged to slash VW’s notoriously excessive engineering costs and allocate significantly more funds to software and electronics. Doing all of that at the same time is a challenge and includes potentially unpopular decisions on which assets are key going forward and which ones are best cut loose. VW’s powerful unions and the state of Lower Saxony, which is VW’s second-largest shareholder with a 20 % stake, have resisted deeper cutbacks in the past in a bid to protect German jobs. Diess, CEO since April, insists that an asset review that started 3 years ago might still lead to disposals at the industrial giant, which employs some 640,000 people at 123 factories across the globe, making everything from motorcycles, supercars and heavy trucks to ship engines. Swirling speculation about a possible IPO of its most profitable brand Porsche was quickly denied last year. VW plans to shift Lamborghini from the Audi unit to Porsche to forge a so-called ‘super premium’ group that also includes Bentley and Bugatti. This division alone could be valued at more than €120 billion. VW is currently valued at €78 billion. Diess has the backing to push for deeper changes from VW’s Porsche-Piech ownership family, the reclusive billionaire clan that rarely comments in public about the prospects of its main asset. Wolfgang Porsche, a top family leader and supervisory board chairman at Porsche Holding SE, told reporters he fully supports management’s push to tackle what he described as “fossilized structures” that bog down the main VW and Audi brands. As VW’s top management forges ahead, Witter says a squeeze-out of minority shareholders at the MAN subsidiary “isn’t a topic currently” and won’t influence the vote on whether or not to go forward with the Traton IPO. VW has been untangling the MAN conglomerate to fold the main truck operations into Traton and shift the remaining businesses to somewhere else within the group. Analysts and investors have grown increasingly skeptical VW can deliver deeper efficiency gains and savings, even as the company proved remarkably resilient against increasing pressures from trade tensions, a slowdown in its largest market China and the fallout from its diesel-emissions scandal, which cost VW €5.3 billion in cash outflows last year. “The criticism is understandable”, Witter said. “In many areas we’re still not where we should be”. +++

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