Newsflash II


+++ APPLE has held talks with at least 4 companies as possible suppliers for next-generation lidar sensors in self-driving cars, evaluating the companies’ technology while also still working on its own lidar unit, 3 people familiar with the discussions said. The moves provide fresh evidence of Apple’s renewed ambitions to enter the autonomous vehicle derby, an effort it calls Project Titan. The talks are focused on next-generation lidar, a sensor that provides a 3-dimensional look at the road. Apple is seeking lidar units that would be smaller, cheaper and more easily mass produced than current technology, the 3 people said. The iPhone maker is setting a high bar with demands for a “revolutionary design,” one of the people familiar with the talks said. The sensor effort means Apple wants to develop the entire chain of hardware to guide autonomous vehicles and has joined automakers and investors in the race to find winning technologies. Current lidar systems, including units from Velodyne mounted on Apple’s fleet of self-driving test vehicles, use laser light pulses to render precise images of the environment around the car. But the systems can cost $100,000 and use mechanical parts to sweep the laser scanners across the road. That makes them too bulky and prone to failure for use in mass-produced vehicles. The shortcomings have spurred $1 billion in investment at dozens of startups and mature companies alike to make lidar smaller, cheaper and more robust. Apple’s interest in next-generation lidar sensors comes as it has sharply increased its road testing while bringing on key hires from Tesla and Google. It remains unclear whether the goal of Apple’s Project Titan is to build its own vehicle or supply the hardware and software elements of self-driving car while pairing with a partner for the entire vehicle. But what is clear from Apple’s interest in cheaper lidar systems is that it wants to control the “perception stack” of sensors, computers and software to drive an autonomous vehicle, regardless of who makes the vehicle, another person familiar with the talks said. The 3 people familiar with the talks declined to be identified because the discussions are not public. In addition to evaluating potential outside suppliers, Apple is believed to have its own internal lidar sensor under development, 2 of the people said. Alphabet-owned Waymo has taken a similar path, assembling a sensor and computer system while inking deals to buy vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Apple gets “a lot of optionality by working on the perception stack”, said the second person familiar with the talks. “Bringing a passenger car to the market is really, really hard, and there’s no reason right now they need to jump into it”. The designs Apple is seeking could potentially be made with conventional semiconductor manufacturing techniques, all four people familiar with the talks said. That has the potential to lower prices from the many thousands to the hundreds of dollars as the sensors are produced in larger numbers, similar to chips in phones and other devices. Apple also wants sensors that can see several hundred meters (yards) down the road. The long-distance requirement shows Apple is interested in fully self-driving vehicles, versus the more limited features such as adaptive cruise control used today, two people familiar with the matter said. “They’re not happy with most of what they see”, the first person familiar with the matter said. “They’re looking for a revolutionary design”. A third person familiar with the matter said Apple is seeking a “design-oriented” sensor that would be sleek and unobtrusive enough to fit into the overall lines of a vehicle. Apple once investigated building its own vehicle. The company had a team of more than a dozen engineers dedicated to detailed work such as ensuring doors closed quietly instead of slamming shut, a fourth person briefed on the matter said. Apple last year re-hired Doug Field, an Apple veteran who was serving as Tesla’s engineering chief, to work on Project Titan. The project has about 1.200 people, according to a count in court documents. Field has been putting his stamp on the effort, laying off about 190 workers but also bringing on key hires such as Michael Schwekutsch, who oversaw electric drive train technology at Telsa. Apple also ramped up its testing miles in California, driving nearly 80,000 last year compared to 800 the year before. +++ 

+++ Aeva , a startup company founded by former Apple and Nikon engineers, has signed a sensor-system deal with an AUDI owned unit that is working on self-driving technology for Volkswagen. Aeva said that Audi’s AID (Autonomous Intelligent Driving) unit, a “center of excellence” for Volkswagen autonomous driving efforts, will be using its lidar sensor on its e-Tron development fleet vehicles in Munich. The lidar units help give cars a 3-dimensional view of the road. Audi’s AID said it will use the sensors to help develop its so-called robo-taxis, which aim to autonomously ferry passengers around urban areas in the next few years. The 2 companies have been working together for about a year and a half, and Alexandre Haag, AID’s chief technology officer, told in an interview that his unit was drawn to Aeva’s technology because it can generate a 3-D map of the environment around a vehicle, as well as measure the velocity of objects around the car in real time. That could help the sensor spot things like a pedestrian darting out between 2 cars, Haag said. “If anything moves, it’s something that you need to pay attention to”, he said. Aeva’s sensor can measure the velocity of objects because it differs from most lidar units now being tested on the road. Many lidar units send powerful laser bursts and measure their intensity after they bounce off the road and come back to the sensor. Aeva’s unit instead sends out a lower-powered continuous wave and measures its frequency when it returns. Montana-based startup Blackmore is working on similar continuous wave technology. Mina Rezk, one Aeva’s co-founders, said the lower power requirements mean Aeva can make its sensors in the same factories as traditional semiconductors, which will help lower the cost of the units in the future. Current lidar units from others can cost as much as $100,000, a figure automakers are hoping to reduce. “We can integrate a lot of these optical components on the silicon level”, Rezk told Reuters. “It is designed for mass scale”. Aeva and AID would not disclose the financial terms of the deal or how much the sensors currently cost, but Haag said the automaker believes “there’s a path to the right cost for us”, with Aeva’s sensor. “Cost is very dependent on volume”, he said. “So it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, but that’s where we can be the chicken, in the sense that we have the potential to scale”. +++ 

+++ CHINA ’s car market will return to growth in the second half of this year due to government support although the days of high single or double-digit growth are over and consolidation is likely, senior automotive executives said. The predictions from executives, including the head of Mitsubishi, point to a vehicle market that is heading for more balanced growth, especially if the trade war with the U.S. is resolved. Automotive sales in China contracted for the first time last year since the 1990s as a slowing economy and the trade friction between Beijing and Washington affected consumer sentiment. Recent moves by the Chinese government to cut taxes, carmakers’ plans for new model launches as well as the hopes that the U.S.-China trade spat will soon be resolved could start to turn things around, the executives said. “We predict there will be negative growth in the first half this year, even double digit”, said Guangzhou Automobilegroup Co (GAC) general manager Feng Xingya. “But due to government subsidies, carmakers’ discounts and better macroeconomic conditions, sales will turn to positive in the second half”, he said. The decline in Chinese automotive sales has already started to slow. They fell by 5.2 % in March, the smallest decline since August 2018. “It’s only natural for the China market to transition to slower growth”, Mitsubishi’s Chief Executive Osamu Masuko told in an interview, saying that the market was showing some “level of maturity”. “Going forward the market still has more growth left in it, but it will likely grow moderately. Growth of 5-6 % a year on a consistent basis might not be that easy to achieve”. The opening day of the autoshow was marked by launches of new SUVs from carmakers such as General Motors and Daimler, aimed at rejuvenating customer interest with fresh designs in the fast-growing market segment. Some firms were more optimistic with luxury carmaker Rolls-Royce saying that it would likely achieve double digit sales-growth in China again this year, although below 2018 levels. But others predicted that more pressure is to come as Beijing institutes tough rules to transform the industry which could kick off a round of consolidation or prompt some to leave the Chinese market. “That’s more likely to happen to small, non state-owned players who really don’t have a whole lot to offer”, said GM’s China President Matt Tsien, adding that it could extend to some foreign players. The government has this year tightened the screw on makers’ ability to add manufacturing capacity and is instituting electric car production quotas for automakers to combat pollution. “But I don’t believe the number is going to be significant”, Tsien said. “Because at the end of the day this is still one of the most attractive markets in the world. And everybody wants to be here”. +++ 

+++ In EUROPE , car registrations fell 3.6 % in March, with Nissan and Ford showing some of the biggest sales declines. Registrations in the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries dropped to 1.77 million cars last month from 1.84 million a year earlier, the Brussels-based Association of European Carmakers said. The auto industry is facing a downturn in European demand just as it struggles to make drastic cuts to average fleet carbon dioxide emissions, or face massive fines. Nissan deliveries were down 29.4 % in March, broadly in line with their decline for the first quarter as a whole, as the Japanese brand reins in less profitable sales to car rental firms and other heavily discounted channels. Ford, which is restructuring its European operations to address a weak European performance and the looming regulatory emissions hurdles, saw March registrations drop 15.5 %. Sales of Mercedes maker Daimler tumbled 14 %, while Fiat Chrysler’s sales fell 11.7 %. Overall, European registrations for the first quarter fell 3.2 %. +++ 

+++ FORD said a planned shift in production at a Michigan plant to pick-ups from less profitable sedans will lead to an improvement of more than $1 billion in operating earnings. The increase in earnings, before interest and taxes, in 2021 compared with 2017 is due to the shift at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, from the Focus to the Ranger mid-sized pickup and Bronco SUV, Ford said. The Ranger went on sale in January and the Bronco will be launch next year. The information was disclosed in slides prepared for a presentation that Ford’s Jim Baumbick, vice president of enterprise product line management, is making at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in New York. +++

+++ By many measures, GENERAL MOTORS ’ China brand Baojun has been an exceptional success story, growing at breakneck speed by selling low-cost no-frills vehicles in smaller cities and rural areas. But as Chinese consumer tastes shift away from basic and affordable, Baojun is engineering a different image for itself: launching mid-market models that will sport a redesigned logo and be sold through new or revamped showrooms. The move is aimed at ensuring Baojun has offerings in the 100,000 yuan to 150,000 yuan ($15,000-$22,300) range that holds the most potential for the brand, said Mike Devereux, executive vice president at SGMW, GM’s venture with Chinese partners SAIC Motor and the Guangxi Automobile Group. “When you look at what might happen in terms of some of the shrinking segments, you are going to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, he told. The first model off the block is the RS-5 SUV, which went on sale last week. More sleekly designed than other Baojun vehicles, it is the first to feature semi-autonomous driving technology and will be priced from 96,800 yuan to 132,800 yuan. By comparison the most expensive model under Baojun’s old badge is priced from 85,800 yuan to 117,800 yuan. Another 3 models will be rolled out this year, Devereux said, declining to provide further details on the cars. GM executives and analysts see Baojun’s move upmarket as a natural progression as the brand seeks to stay relevant to younger consumers. It is also supported by a large existing customer base. Most of Baojun’s sales are in smaller and less economically developed cities, but those were areas few Western automakers sought to target and the brand, which only got its start in 2011, rocketed to sales of almost 1 million in 2017. Amid a slowing economy, sales slipped last year to around 840,000, accounting for 23 % of GM vehicles sold in China. Han Dehong, senior sales manager at SGMW, said the venture had been exploring a makeover of the Baojun brand since 2014 in tandem with a wide-ranging overhaul of its R&D, supply chain and distribution system. “Younger groups have become the main force of consumer spending in our society and we need to respond to this new younger wave with brand upgrades and revamped models”, he said. Compared to 10 years ago when there few models in the mid-market price range, competition has become fierce. Popular models include Toyota’s Corolla and Volkswagen’s Lavida. VW’s newly launched Jetta brand, which like Baojun is a China-only brand, is expected to also be sold in the same range. “Baojun will need a competitive edge”, said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, noting that Volkswagen is known for quality, Geely Automobile is known for design while Great Wall Motor vehicles offer roomy interiors. To set itself apart, the revamped Baojun brand will emphasize self-driving technology and internet connectivity, GM officials said. The new models will be sold in 365 new or refurbished showrooms, equivalent to 60 % of Baojun stores across China. The brand will also strengthen its presence in bigger cities like Chengdu, Tianjin and Nanjin. A new mobile phone app was also recently launched, allowing customers to arrange a test drive and buy the new models online. GM officials declined to say how much the automaker had invested in the new models, the logo redesign and new stores. The move upmarket for Baojun is partial as some cheaper models will still carry the old Baojun badge although others will be folded into the Wuling brand (the other marque sold by SGMW), said Matt Tsien, GM’s chief in China. Tsien said GM had little concern that a more upmarket Baojun might eat into sales of GM’s Chevrolet as Chinese customers interested in buying a Chevy tend not to be attracted to domestic brands. Roughly equivalent vehicles would also be priced differently. Whereas the most expensive version of the RS-5 will cost 132,800 yuan, the Chevrolet Equinox SUV will start from 174,900 yuan. “No matter how far you take Baojun, Baojun is still going to be domestic, it’s going to focus on the local market here and it’s going to still represent very good value for customers”, said Tsien. +++ 

+++ The first electric car for INFINITI will be a sporty sedan produced in China, the Japanese carmaker said in a statement ahead of a public announcement. The vehicle would hit the market in around 3 years and consumers would get a taste when the company unveils a concept car, dubbed the Qs Inspiration electric sedan, at the Shanghai auto show later this week, Nissan officials said. “China has the most growth potential for electric vehicles globally, especially in the premium segment”, Infiniti chairman Christian Meunier said in the statement. Automakers operating in China have to sell more so-called new-energy vehicles, either battery electric cars or plug-in electric hybrids, to comply with official production quotas designed to reduce smog. It was not immediately clear whether Infiniti planned to produce its first electric vehicle in other markets. An Infiniti spokesman said, however, the brand did not intend to export the electric sedan from China. The planned car is part of Infiniti’s longer-term strategy to significantly “electrify” its product lineup. Brand officials have said that from 2021 every Infiniti model launched will be either an all-electric car or so-called “e-Power” hybrids, underlining Nissan’s previously announced plan to make Infiniti primarily an electrified offering. The electric sedan likely would be built on a new flexible architecture developed specifically to accommodate electrified powertrains, Infiniti said in the statement. Its design, especially the interior, would be significantly different to current models, design chief Karim Habib said. EVs do not have bulky gasoline engines and transmissions, opening up space inside the car. “It will have a flat floor and if you are a passenger you can cross your legs or stretch out your legs”, Habib told. Competition in China’s rapidly emerging electric car market is heating up amid an onslaught of models from startups such as Nio and WM Motor, as well as those from established automakers. In the luxury segment, Infiniti will be competing with the top-selling Model S and Model X by Tesla, as well as other models due to be launched in coming months by Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. +++

+++ The JAGUAR I-Pace has won the coveted World Car of the Year award. A team of 86 automotive journalists worldwide voted Jaguar’s first fully electric car top of the 40 nominated cars. The I-Pace emerged victorious from the final 3, which also included the Audi e-Tron and the Volvo S60/V60. World Car of the Year judges were impressed by the Jaguar’s striking looks and its ability to mix a zero-emission 465 kilometres WLTP-certified range and a 4.5-second 0-100 km/h sprint. On receiving the award, Ralf Speth, Chief Executive Officer of Jaguar Land Rover, said: “it is an honour that the I-Pace has received such an accolade from the prestigious World Car jurors. We started with an ideal, to move towards our Destination Zero vision; zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion. I-Pace is our first step to achieving this and it was conceived when EVs were little more than a niche choice”. It was 1 of 3 wins for the I-Pace in 2019, as it also scooped wins in the Green Car and Car Design categories. Other category winners included wins for the Suzuki Jimny in the Urban Car category and the Audi A7 in the Luxury Car award, while the McLaren 720S was voted the Best Performance Car. Meanwhile, the late Sergio Marchionne was voted the World Car Person of the Year. It’s the latest in a line of many awards for the I-Pace. Back in July 2018, it scooped our own Car of the Year award, as well as coming out top in the Premium Electric Vehicle category. +++ 

+++ Daimler has suspended a local sales franchise for its MERCEDES-BENZ brand in China after a customer complaint about service from the dealership went viral on social media. Daimler said in a statement that the dealership in Xi’an city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi had reached an agreement with the customer and was investigating its customer service and business operations and had suspended the franchise in the meantime. It made no further comment about the move, which came after a video emerged on Chinese social media showing an unhappy Chinese customer protesting at a dealership, and which also prompted a critical response from regulators. In the video, the customer complained that a car she had recently bought was leaking oil and that she was subsequently treated poorly by the dealer, highlighting poor consumer rights in the world’s second largest economy. She also said she had paid a “financial service fee” of 15,000 yuan ($2,235) to an employee at the dealership when she bought the car. China’s banking and insurance regulator has asked Mercedes-Benz’s car finance unit to investigate its dealership arrangements, state media said. Car dealers should not be allowed to collect so-called financial services fees and should make efforts to protect customers’ rights, China National Radio quoted Pang Xuefeng, an official from China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, as saying. +++ 

+++ Unions at OPEL / Vauxhall’s Astra factory in the United Kingdom fear they may lose production of left-hand-drive models of the compact car to Germany. Parent company PSA Group will decide in the coming weeks which European factories will build the new-generation Astra, due in 2021. The Astra is currently built in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, and Gliwice, Poland. Opel’s home plant of Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, could be picked to build left-hand-drive cars currently produced by Ellesmere Port. The factory needs an extra model after production of the Zafira Tourer runs out in the summer. Its only model then will be the Insignia. The so-called “Site Selection Process” for the Astra has largely been completed. PSA is considering 2 options: 1) Allocating 75 % of Astra production to Ellesmere Port with the remaining volume produced in Rüsselsheim, instead of Gliwice. 2) Building 75 % of Astras in Rüsselsheim, with Ellesmere Port producing only right-hand-drive versions for the UK, Ireland and South Africa. There was no mention on whether Gliwice would get a new model to replace lost Astra output. Option 2 is more likely because of Brexit and currency risks. But the option depends on German unions agreeing to big job cuts at Rüsselsheim, which IG Metall is resisting. A source at the Ellesmere Port factory told: “I believe it is a possibility depending on the Brexit outcome”. A Vauxhall spokesman said the company would not comment on speculation. “In general, we want to continue to improve the utilization of our plants and their performance. We are focusing on the production of profitable models”, he said. PSA boss Carlos Tavares has previously said he was open to the idea of building right-hand-drive versions of PSA vehicles in Ellesmere Port to avoid tariffs between the UK and the EU in the event of a hard Brexit. This could mean the factory gaining production of next-generation right-hand-drive Peugeot and Citroen cars alongside Astras as a hedge against Brexit. Opel/Vauxhall has been shedding jobs under PSA CEO Carlos Tavares to restore the former General Motors business to long-term profitability. The Astra was Opel/Vauxhall’s second best-selling model in Europe last year after the Corsa. Astra sales fell 27 % to 156,827 during the year. Corsa sales dropped 7 % to 214,324. +++ 

+++ PININFARINA designed 2 dramatic concept cars for the Shanghai motor show. In days gone by, that would have been front page news, because it would have likely meant a new Ferrari and the other perhaps an established car maker looking to get out of a design rut by turning to the iconic design house for a nudge in the right direction. But in Shanghai, it meant a concept car for electrified vehicle maker Karma (born out of the old Fisker Karma) that, while striking, is never likely to reach production. It also meant a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle maker called Grove aiming at (and succeeding in) getting a few more column inches for its first concept car, the Granite, rather than the scrutiny being applied to the aspirations of yet another start-up Chinese car maker. This is the reality of a design house nowadays, even one as great and with as many icons in its back catalogue as Pininfarina. “To be frank, traditional car manufacturers have now built their own design centres; we cannot hide this”, says company chairman Paolo Pininfarina. “They have big design centres. Some always had one, like BMW or Mercedes, but some used to partner and collaborate, especially the Italian brands. Now they build their own more and more. It’s not for me to say if it’s right or wrong. For me, innovation also comes through contamination. Through collaboration, partnerships. Then you see it from both sides’ point of view, you discuss, see this, and you create more innovation. If you have one design point of view, the design studio, the inspiration is the history. And you’re afraid to go out of the tradition, and you lack innovation. You can’t deny that in traditional brands building up design centres, the traditional design houses are not as important as in the past”. They’re quite sad words to hear when you can consider the illustrious history of Pininfarina, but this is the reality of the modern car industry. So, how is Pininfarina fighting back? “Now there is a revolution on connected, shared, electrified, autonomous vehicles”, says Paolo. “New systems, new mobility, new interfaces and human-machine interface. There is a lot of space for Pininfarina”. There is also a rather convenient new client through the arrival of Automobili Pininfarina. That’s both good and bad news for the Italian company that lends its name to the upstart. Both are part of the giant Indian conglomerate Mahindra, so the work will be in-house, yet in giving its names to cars of its own for the first time, Pininfarina must fear declining business (as Italdesign found when bought by the Volkswagen Group), because everyone simply fears you’re working for the opposition. It also brings up the very thing Paolo bemoaned in the diminishing amount of third-party work, because it’s now effectively designing cars with its own badge on them, even if the companies are managed separately and have autonomy. “Automobili Pininfarina is a client that, like all others, we give 100% to”, says Paolo. “But it’s a special one, as it uses our name as a standalone. We need to be careful, as it has all of our designs on it. Our personal presence is quite strong, and I want to check the design works with Pininfarina history and heritage. It’s special”. Automobili Pininfarina revealed its first model, the Battista electric hypercar, at the recent Geneva motor show. More are planned, but they’re not to be rushed. “We don’t need to hurry too much”, says Paolo. “It took us 90 years to do the first model, so taking 91 to do two models is okay”. Despite the new work from elsewhere in the group, Pininfarina is smaller than before. However, it’s also more profitable. Its design studio in China is just as busy as its one in Italy, with both having around 3-4 projects ongoing at a time. There seems a tinge of regret and sadness when Paolo speaks about what Pininfarina has evolved into, but he remains optimistic that the great company can put its name to cars from major manufacturers once more. “With traditional brands, maybe limited editions and celebrations are a way to go”, he moots. “With BMW, we did the Gran Lusso 6 years ago. It was a nice experience, why could we not do it again?”. And with Ferrari: “Why not?” +++

+++ TESLA has outlined a plan to launch a “closed loop” battery recycling program at its Nevada Gigafactory. The company says it is only just starting to receive battery packs that are at the end of their useful life or retired from R&D, manufacturing, quality control or service operations. Currently, batteries are sent to third-party recyclers across the globe to tear down the cells and recover reusable metals. Eventually, recycling will be handled in-house at Gigafactory 1 for both manufacturing scrap and end-of-life batteries. The system will recover critical materials such as lithium and cobalt, along with other metals such as copper and aluminum. “The closed-loop battery recycling process at Gigafactory 1 presents a compelling solution to move energy supply away from the fossil-fuel based practice of take, make and burn, to a more circular model of recycling end-of-life batteries for reuse over and over again”, Tesla says. “From an economic perspective, we expect to recognize significant savings over the long term, as the costs associated with large-scale battery material recovery and recycling will be far lower than purchasing and transporting new materials”. Notably, recent reports suggest Tesla and battery partner Panasonic are struggling to maximize battery yield at Gigafactory 1. Launching an on-site recycling program could help the company offset production yield issues. No specific timeframe for implementation has been publicly announced, however. +++

+++ Dutch navigation and digital maps firm TOMTOM reported a forecast-beating 14 % rise in first-quarter revenue and said it had won 2 contracts to supply high-definition maps to carmakers. “We had a good start of the year, winning the first two available HD map deals, which gives us an early position in this growth market”, said CEO Harold Goddijn in a statement. TomTom in January agreed to sell its fleet management business to Japan’s Bridgestone for €910 million, in order to concentrate on its digital map-linked businesses, which it has said it expects to grow by around 15 % to €430 million in 2019. TomTom’s prospects took a huge knock last year with the entry of Google’s far-reaching supply deal with a group of carmakers including Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi. The Amsterdam-based company also faces a long-term decline in the sales of dashboard-mounted satnav devices. TomTom said the HD contracts were with 2 of the world’s largest car companies but gave no further detail. “The key attraction of these wins is strategic”, said ING analyst Marc Hesselink, who rates the stock a “buy”. “By adding clients to the HD platform, TomTom gets more data to improve and update it ”. First-quarter revenue reached €169.5 million, above an average forecast of €157 million from analysts polled by the company. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of €18.8 million also beat an average forecast of €12 million. TomTom stuck to its full-year outlook for revenue of €675 million, including €430 million from its location technology, and free cash flow of around 10 % of revenue. TomTom also sells mapping services to software makers. Notably, it is the largest provider of digital maps to Apple , though Apple intends to roll out a maps service in the United States this year using an in-house system. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said it will begin building a new version of the Corolla in Brazil that will run on electricity, ethanol and gas, which it says will be the first vehicle of its kind in the world. Brazil, which is South America’s largest auto producer, has largely resisted the shift toward electric and hybrid vehicle production that has swept through more developed markets. Some of Toyota’s competitors in Brazil, including General Motors and Volkswagen, have said they will import electric vehicles but do not plan to produce them domestically. The announcement was made in a news conference hosted by Sao Paulo state governor Joao Doria. Toyota said the car will be produced in the state, at its Indaiatuba plant, which will receive an investment of 1 billion reais ($254.73 million). Toyota said in a statement that it made the decision to build the Corolla in Brazil in part thanks to a package of tax incentives passed by the country’s Congress, known as Rota 2030. Unlike in most markets around the world, ethanol is a common car fuel in Brazil. Toyota already imports the hybrid Prius to Brazil. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s Slovak unit pledged to increase efficiency by 30 % by 2020 to get ahead of the company-wide savings drive as it seeks to raise its competitiveness within the group. The country’s biggest car plant and largest private sector employer has seen investment of €2.8 billion since 2010 but its focus on SUVs leaves it vulnerable to an EU drive to cut CO2 emissions and VW’s aim to launch almost 70 new electric models by 2028. Bratislava makes electric versions of the Volkswagen Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo but no plans have yet been made for models built on VW’s electric vehicle platform. The plant, which made 408,208 cars last year mostly for the Chinese, U.S. and German markets, is in the running to produce several new models, VW Slovak Chief Executive Oliver Grunberg told. “To put Slovakia on the forefront of the company’s factories, we aim to increase efficiency by 30 % already in 2019-2020, 5 years earlier than the company-wide target”, he said. The plans include reduction of its 14,800 staff by 3,000 this year and slower wage growth. “We need the unions to contribute to raising VW’s competitiveness, perhaps not take 2 steps ahead but half a step instead”, Grunberg said. “We expect slower wage growth”. Workers at the factory went on strike 2 years ago over pay. VW Slovakia agreed then to hike wages by 4.7 % from June 2017, followed by a 4.7 % rise in January 2018 and 4.1 % from last November. “We will prefer guarantees of job stability over wage growth in the ongoing round of collective bargaining”, VW union chief Zoroslav Smolinsky told. +++

+++ VOLVO isn’t letting up on pushing for sweeping changes to how new vehicles are sold; whether auto dealers like it or not. At a conference affiliated with this week’s New York auto show, Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Volvo Car’s U.S. unit, stood up for the vehicle subscription service the company started last year with the XC40. While dealers in California have called the program illegal and filed a 199-page petition to the state’s department of motor vehicles to block it, Gustafsson said the industry “needs to shape up”. Speaking on stage at the event hosted by the National Automobile Dealers Association and J.D. Power, a slideshow behind him flashed a quote attributed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: “Your margin is my opportunity”. “We need to be open to new ideas”, Gustafsson said. “Otherwise, I think the guy that is chasing our margins, he will find out far faster than we do”. +++

+++ The European Commission’s push for a WIFI BASED standard for cars backed by Volkswagen took a big step forward after EU lawmakers endorsed the move over 5G technology promoted by BMW and Qualcomm. The EU executive wants to set benchmarks for internet connected cars, a market that could generate billions of euros in revenues for carmakers, telecoms operators and equipment makers, according to analysts. The issue has split the auto and tech industries and triggered fierce lobbying from both sides seeking a share of a potentially lucrative market for internet-connected cars. Wifi technology supporters include Renault, Toyota, NXP, Autotalks and Kapsch TrafficCom. The technology primarily connects cars to other cars. 5G backers include big names like Daimler, Ford, PSA Group, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Qualcomm and Samsung. Fifth generation, or 5G, standard hooks up to both cars and devices in the surrounding environment, with a wider range of applications in areas such as entertainment, traffic data and general navigation. The last hurdle for the plan is the European Council where opponents would require a blocking majority to overturn the proposal. +++

+++ Former Volkswagen Group boss Martin WINTERKORN could face trial in Germany next year on fraud charges connected with the automaker’s diesel-rigging scandal. The prosecutors’ office in Brunswick in VW’s home of Lower Saxony said that they were pressing criminal charges for fraud and violation of competition law against Winterkorn and 4 other executives. Prosecutors said Winterkorn was accused of a particularly serious case of fraud because he failed to disclose the emissions-cheating to the responsible authorities in Europe and the U.S. after it became clear in 2014 that VW had been manipulating engine management software to cheat U.S. tests for harmful NOx emissions. Prosecutors told that the prosecutors’ indictment is now being “thoroughly examined”. If a judge decides the case should go to trial, this will happen in 2020 at the earliest because of the volume of documents, the spokesman said. The indictment comprises 300 files with about 75,000 pages. Winterkorn, 71 faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. He could also face legal action from Volkswagen for damages if found guilty. U.S. prosecutors have already filed criminal charges against Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the automaker’s diesel-emissions cheating. The 4 other executives facing charges in Germany are Hans-Jacob Neusser, VW’s former head of engine development; Jens Hadler, former director of powertrain development; Hanno Jelden, who led engine electronics; and Thorsten D. Neussers, a department head. Neusser and Hadler have also been indicted by U.S. authorities. +++ 

+++ A Toyota development mule resembling the YARIS has been spotted testing at the Nürburgring, sporting the bodywork from the current car and a camouflage livery. The company has made no announcement regarding a new hot hatchback, but under the same disguise as prototypes of the recently revealed Supra, the mule looks to be carrying out high-speed performance and handling tests. The main clue as to the model’s sporting ambitions are found at the rear, where two wide-bore exhaust pipes can be seen exiting a diffuser-style bumper. Elsewhere, wide alloy wheels wrapped in low-profile tyres round off a low, squat stance in the same vein as the range-topping GRMN variant of the current Yaris. The next generation Yaris will move to Toyota’s latest TNGA vehicle architecture, as used by the new Corolla and C-HR. The car is tipped for a reveal late next year. Toyota has launched a number of performance badges, including GRMN and GR Sport, based on its Gazoo Racing motorsport, arm and company boss Akio Toyoda has spoken of a desire to produce more performance vehicles. The performance division turned its hand to the Yaris last year, with the launch of the warm GR Sport variant, which produces 100 hp from its 4-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol-electric powertrain. That model is available only in 5-door form, which suggests this latest sighting could be based on the Yaris GR Sport. +++

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