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+++ Mercedes’ performance division AMG has been tasked with developing the next generation of SL-Class, alongside the next GT. Tobias Moers, chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG, revealed that development work on the new SL was well underway, that it will feature hybrid engines and that we’ll see prototypes out and about later this year. “Handing over the SL for the next generation to AMG, as a performance and sports car brand, is great”, said Moers. “There’s lots of responsibility behind that, maybe honour. It shows that we’re not doing such a bad job! This is a programme that’s really intense. The new SL aligned with maybe the next generation of GT; that’s an intense programme. You’re going to see prototypes later this year”. Moers also revealed that the next SL will be a more dynamically-focused car, as with SLs of old. “The SL in the past was a really important car for us”, he told. “In 2002/03 when we brought out the V8 Kompresser engine. It was a handful! Driving it today, and I did that just recently, I thought ‘was that our driving dynamics back in the days?’ I think it’s time to change a little bit the attitude of SL and bring back a bit of the history of this touring DNA of SL; make it sportier, and other things. The key is that we will have the perfect compromise between driving dynamics and comfort, because it’s still kind of a cruiser and we know that”. The new SL will be available only as a roadster, with Mercedes-AMG also feeding into the look of the new car. “We made things happen that maybe were not achievable if it would not be in our hands: we are always stretching the boundaries”, said Moers. “If Gorden (Wagener, Mercedes’ Chief Design Officer, red.) comes up with an idea, we always try to make it happen; it’s up to us both to sort it out and find a compromise”. This isn’t the first time that Mercedes-AMG has led a Mercedes project, as Moers explained: “We designed everything for the G-Wagen, the whole suspension, axles, everything was done by AMG”. Moers also revealed that the new SL will feature electrified powertrains, although the new GT 4-door will be the first AMG model to arrive as a plug-in hybrid. “Beyond ’21 there will be no car from AMG that will not have an electrified powertrain: hybrid will become more and more important”, he said. “How can the performance car segment survive in the future if you’re not going to use electrified powertrains? I think the share of high voltage electrified powertrains in the performance segment is higher than in other segments, then we have purely electric sports cars, too”. Moers also revealed that Mercedes-AMG plug-ins are likely to use their electric motors continually to boost power. “What we’ll do with our performance hybrids is have a different attitude”, he said. “We have to make sure our we must have an always on strategy: it’s a combined situation, we must always have the combustion engine and electric power otherwise the car is not having its full potential”. With the SL-Class traditionally having slightly longer life cycles than other cars in the Mercedes model range, we wouldn’t expect a new car to arrive much before 2022, with its Mercedes-AMG GT sister car following shortly after. Both cars will share a new aluminium-intensive platform, known internally as the Modular Sports Architecture (MSA), in an attempt to increase the economies of scale and overall profitability of 2 of Mercedes’ most exclusive model lines. Moers confirmed that the 8th generation SL will be offered only as a roadster, like its predecessor. Overall, the SL will be revived as a lighter, faster and more engaging model, which is why AMG has been tasked with heading up the project. As well as sharing a common platform structure, the 2 upmarket Mercedes sports cars are expected to share axle assemblies, suspension, steering systems, 48V electric architecture and hybrid drivetrains, among other components, in a move to cut costs and boost production efficiency. The new SL and GT will be built alongside each other at Mercedes’ plant in Sindelfingen. Early plans to base a successor to today’s SLC off the same underpinnings have been abandoned following a recent decision not to replace the junior Mercedes roadster due to dwindling sales. The adoption of the MSA platform is claimed to have had a positive effect on the styling of the new SL, whose proportions are said to be more in keeping with earlier incarnations of the classic roadster than the current model, which shares a platform with saloon models such as the C-Class, E-Class, CLS and S-Class. A Mercedes source told that the new SL receives a longer bonnet and more rearward-positioned cabin. “The new platform has given us more freedom”, the source said. “There’s more distance between the front axle and the front firewall. This gives it more traditional proportions”. The decision to replace the folding hard-top of today’s SL with a more compact fabric hood is also said to have provided greater scope in the styling of the rear of the new model. “It’s much more shapely, especially at the rear, because it is no longer dictated in height and width for the packaging of the hard-top roof”, the source added. Despite the SL’s market repositioning, it won’t completely abandon the luxury focus, so expect the interior to be almost as opulent as Mercedes’ other high-end models. It will be more driver-focused than cars such as the S-Class Coupé, but there could still be plenty of the brand’s latest driver assist systems drafted in, including its semi-autonomous Drive Pilot function. +++ 

+++ The upcoming Mercedes-AMG GT BLACK SERIES will be the fastest-accelerating AMG car yet, according to AMG boss Tobias Moers. The future range-topping coupé will be beaten only by the limited-run AMG One hypercar when it arrives in mid-2020, Moers confirmed. “It’s coming. Just last week I drove it”, Moers said. “It will be the fastest AMG yet, bar the One. Not in terms of top speed, but lap times. Driveability is most important but, with balance, it gets good lap times too”. First confirmed by Moers back in 2016, the Black Series is now under development and mooted to receive AMG’s turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine in a state of tune offering at least 639 hp. This is the figure offered by the current most powerful AMG model with that unit, the GT 4-door Coupé. Any growth on that would ensure the Black Series dwarfs the peak output offered by the current GT champions, the 585 hp GT R and GT R Pro. It would also edge it towards one of the category’s most radical supercars, the 700 hp Porsche 911 GT2 RS. According to Moers, the Black Series will be “great competition with our close neighbour”. The GT Black Series’ extra grunt will be accompanied by a more focused chassis and aerodynamic set-up, which may go even further than the track-focused GT R Pro launched at last year’s Los Angeles motor show. That car was designed with uprated suspension and aero upgrades, but received no extra power over the regular GT R. Such a set-up should ensure the GT Black Series tips the scales at around 1.575 kg, in line or slightly less than the GT R Pro. The 2020 arrival of the GT Black Series will mark a return for AMG’s most extreme moniker after a 7-year hiatus. The last Black Series model was based on the SLS and entered production in 2013. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker BYTON , which is facing a management shake-up and questions about funding an expansion, said it has received over 50,000 orders globally for its new SUV model and plans to start production at the end of this year. “We plan to launch our first production car this July”, Daniel Kirchert, Byton’s co-founder and CEO told, adding that the company aims to manufacture 10,000 units by the first half of 2020. Byton’s backers include Chinese retailer Suning, automaker FAW and Contemporary Amperex Technology. Kirchert’s comments, coinciding with the Shanghai Autoshow, come just days after chairman and co-founder Carsten Breitfeld quit Byton. Breitfeld is joining Byton’s domestic rival Iconiq. His departure is due to trouble funding its planned expansion in the Chinese market, causing tensions inside the company. Kirchert confirmed the former chairman’s departure and said: “Byton has already got very strong resources, and there are 1,800 employees working on different areas including internet connectivity, engineering research and development. We are in the middle of a new round of fundraising, which will be of similar amount to B round. We aim to finish C round around the middle of this year”. Byton had raised $500 million in the series B round last year. Byton, which runs offices in China, the United States and Germany, is one of several largely Chinese-funded EV startups betting on the benefits of local production to compete with Tesla and other auto giants. Its local rivals include Nio and Xpeng Motors, backed by the Alibaba Group. Byton aims to hit the 100,000 unit production level around 2021-2022, he said. The 10,000 and 100,000 unit marks are widely regarded as key production milestones for electric vehicle makers. “Only by large-scale production can we reduce costs and provide affordable prices”, he said. Byton is building its first plant in Nanjing in eastern China with a planned annual capacity of 150,000 units in its initial phase. China’s auto sales contracted for the first time last year since the 1990s amid a broader economic slowdown but sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include electric vehicles, have remained a bright spot. In March, NEV sales rose 85.4 %. +++

+++ CADILLAC is enjoying strong growth in China, General Motors said. GM Cadillac President Steve Carlisle said that Cadillac would expand its network of dealers to 500 in China by 2025. The U.S. automaker will launch a new product every 6 months for the next 3 years in China, Carlisle said at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference. Cadillac is expected to become the company’s lead electric vehicle brand to challenge Tesla. Sales of the Cadillac brand in China rose 17.2 % in 2018 and GM’s Chief Executive Mary Barra has said that the company aims to sell 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2026, many of them in China, which has set strict production quotas on such vehicles. +++

+++ Thieves targeted Daimler’s CAR2GO car-sharing program in Chicago, Illinois. The German company has suspended the service in the Windy City as police investigate the crime, and attempt to locate the missing cars. Earlier, Daimler announced some of the vehicles in its Chicago Car2Go fleet were rented fraudulently. It didn’t explain how they were obtained, or the type of vehicles that were stolen. Car2Go’s Chicago fleet includes the Smart ForTwo, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA. It sounds like thieves were more interested in the Mercedes compacts than in the diminutive Smart. “Due to the information provided by the company, numerous vehicles have been recovered and persons of interest are being questioned”, the Chicago Police Department told. It added that most of the cars recovered were found on the West Side of Chicago and that about 100 cars are still unaccounted for. No one has confirmed the exact number of missing cars, however. Additional information has since trickled in from a variety of sources. Many of the stolen cars were used to commit crimes. He added that 12 people are in custody, but that number has since grown to 16. Daimler stressed the thieves were after cars, and that its service wasn’t hacked. “Clarification: We were not hacked. This is an instance of fraud, isolated to Chicago, and we are currently working with law enforcement. None of our member’s personal or confidential information has been compromised”. Car2Go said. There’s no word yet on when Car2Go will resume. The service remains operational outside of Chicago. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER is looking to make €6 billion in cost savings and efficiency gains by 2021 at Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and a further €2 billion at its trucks division. Around 10,000 jobs will be cut. Daimler declined to comment on the cost savings figure, but has previously ruled out forced redundancies until the end of 2020. The savings are being sought by Ola Kaellenius, who will become Chief Executive in May. Daimler said in February it would pursue cost saving measures after 4th-quarter operating profit plunged 22 %, hit by trade wars, rising costs for developing electric cars and an industry downturn. Around 30,000 Mercedes-Benz cars with faulty vehicle electronics were produced at its plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, requiring expensive reworking which was causing production delays. Those delays had led to a revenue shortfall of around €2 billion and could depress first quarter earnings by up to half a billion euros. Daimler is due to release first quarter earnings on April 26. It plans to become a carbon neutral company by 2040, ensuring that all new cars, production methods and suppliers work in ways which do not produce carbon dioxide emissions. +++ 

+++ Demand for ELECTRIC vehicles remains low in the U.S. market, but industry executives at the New York auto show this week said they are pushing ahead with billions of dollars in investments even while preaching patience. Officials said their companies are charging ahead with a flurry of new electric vehicle (EV) models, citing rising regulatory requirements globally. Last year, only about 2 % of U.S. auto sales were comprised of full electric or plug-electric hybrid models, with Tesla accounting for more than a third of those sales. The United States ranks 7th in EV sales as a percentage of overall sales. Michelle Krebs, analyst at Autotrader, expects EV sales to remain relatively modest until charging infrastructure, prices and battery performance improve. “It’s going to be a pretty long runway”, Krebs said, adding EV sales may first rise dramatically in government and corporate fleets. In New York, industry executives said they face hurdles to selling EVs: persistently low fuel prices, lack of consumer education, lower residual values, higher upfront costs because of battery packs and consumer concerns about the availability of charging infrastructure. Nevertheless, automakers are showing sportier, more creative EVs than the original plug-in models that were mostly small cars. Jaguar began selling its electric I-Pace in late 2018 in the United States, but is selling only about 200 a month. “It will be a long, long time until we see mass adoption”, said Joe Eberhardt, who heads the company’s North American unit. There are nearly 300 million gasoline-powered vehicles on U.S. roads, Eberhardt said. “Nobody is going to drive them into the ocean”. He noted the economic advantages of EVs are slight at current gasoline prices. He suggested an I-Pace owner would on average save about $500 a year by using electricity rather than using fuel, but they will also save on maintenance costs. Volkswagen and its Audi unit are introducing a half-dozen new electric vehicles in the coming 2 years and have aggressive volume targets, aiming to have 20 to 30 % of its sales as EVs by 2025. As part of VW’s $25 billion “dieselgate” settlement, the German automaker agreed to add at least 3 additional electric vehicles, including an SUV, in California by 2020. Volkswagen U.S. chief Scott Keogh said the company is investing in EVs not as a “guilt play” to address its prior diesel issues, but to make money. Keogh says there will be a flurry of launches in the next 3 years but it will still be a few years beyond that. “I think 2025 is where you’re really going to see: is it taking hold?”. Audi said this week it plans to start delivering its new electric e-Tron to U.S. consumers next month. It has just delivered test vehicles to its 300 dealers, said Mark Del Rosso, president of Audi of America, noting that many people who reserved an e-Tron are new to the brand. +++ 

+++ FORD executives have promised for months that they would not abandon customers who want the sedans it’s discontinuing in North America. Now those plans are becoming clearer. Jim Baumbick, Ford’s vice president of enterprise product line management, said the automaker would by 2022 add an affordable nameplate aimed at filling the hole left by ending sales of the Fiesta and Focus. A Ford spokesman declined to say what sort of body style it would have or how big it would be. “It’s an example of how we’re moving faster, working together differently and leveraging our 5 all-new flexible vehicle architectures”, Ford said in a statement. “We came up with the concept in just 12 weeks using our new product creation process. Previous all-new vehicles could have taken years of research before receiving approval”. Baumbick was speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2019 Auto Summit in New York. His presentation also showed that Ford plans to add a higher-performance variant of its “Mustang-inspired” electric crossover that the company has said it plans to start selling in 2020. Ford previously has teased several upcoming vehicles under development, including a small off-road crossover informally known as the Baby Bronco that’s planned for mid-2020, the revived Bronco SUV due in late 2020, and a unibody compact pickup expected around 2022. The pickup matches the timeline of the vehicle Baumbick mentioned, but it’s unclear whether that is what he was talking about. Ford product chief Hau Thai Tang in August said the Ford brand would grow to 23 nameplates (3 more than it had last year) through 2023. He said 9 new nameplates were planned, including 7 pickups and utilities, as 6 others are discontinued. +++

+++ GERMANY ’s economy ministry wants to extend subsidies for new electric cars until the end of 2020 in an effort to increase sales. It is trying to boost demand for electric vehicles on environmental grounds and in response to a diesel emissions cheating scandal that has engulfed the country’s auto industry, notably Volkswagen but also others including Daimler, in the last 3 years. Incentives worth €4,000 euros on the purchase of a new electric car in Germany were introduced in June 2016 and are due to end in June. It envisages an extension until Dec. 31, 2020 in largely its current form. The government and carmakers shared the financing but the €1.2 billion earmarked have not yet been used. Some estimates show that less than €500 million have been taken up. The subsidies have helped lift sales but even so, electric cars made up only about 1 % of new car registrations last year. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI named former Nissan executive Jose Munoz as its global chief operating officer. Munoz, who will take charge on May 1, has also been named president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor North America. Previously, Munoz, 53, was Nissan’s chief performance officer and head of its China operations. He joined Nissan in 2004 in Europe and led its expansion in North America after the global financial crisis. Since then, Nissan has raised its market share in the United States and posted record sales. Munoz resigned from Nissan in January, further rattling the Japanese automaker’s management team amid the investigation into ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn’s alleged financial misconduct. Widely considered as a close ally of Ghosn and a potential successor to lead the automaking partnership between Nissan and Renault, Munoz had been a “person of interest” in Nissan’s widening internal investigation. Munoz will be based in California and will report to Hyundai’s top leadership in Seoul. +++

+++ When people ask Ian Callum, director of design at JAGUAR , if he’s going to put a big 12 inch iPad-like screen in his cars, he says, “Not if I can help it”. The 20-year Jaguar Land Rover veteran, who transformed JLR’s lineup with models such as the XJ and F-Type, was presenting the refreshed XE at a newly remodeled dealership on Manhattan’s west side. Callum criticized giant touch screens (the kind Tesla pioneered in the Model S, which are now popping up across the industry). “If you’re driving 130 km/h, you don’t want to be flipping around an iPad looking to move your door mirrors or your seat controls”, Callum said. “You need to be able to feel your way through the car without looking at it for more than a millisecond”. The Jaguar XE has a dual-screen system, with major information at the top and minor things, such as climate control, below. It also has tactile controls, Callum said, to give drivers a sense that they are part of something mechanical. +++ 

+++ LOTUS has always had a special place in my heart, as it has for many car fans. A 1990 Lotus Elan SE once sat on my driveway (and still sits on my wall) and I’ve hankered after another Elan ever since, although prices seem to be rising fast. It’s fair to say that Lotus has built some of the finest-handling cars we’ve ever driven, and it still does. But it’s a brand that has never fulfilled its true promise and never had the investment that, I’ve always felt, could propel it to real and sustained superstar levels. So why am I so excited about Lotus now and how can you be convinced that this isn’t just another dose of dewy-eyed romanticism? One word: Geely. The Chinese giant now owns 51 % of the British company; the biggest bonus of its buy-in to Proton, Lotus’s previous owner and the last in a line of potential great saviours. Just to remind you, Geely also owns Volvo (and it’s done a pretty good job there) as well as up-and-coming Lynk & Co and Polestar, plus LEVC, which makes the all-electric London taxi and is about to launch into the growing commercial vehicle sector. Oh, and Geely has just announced a new, global electric car brand: Geometry. Geely is busy doing 2 things with Lotus. Most importantly, it’s investing in the right management team to come up with a sustainable plan and implement it. Then it’s providing these people with the cash to do it; just as it has done so successfully with Volvo. The company is now led by Phil Popham, formerly boss of Land Rover, who also did a fine job transforming luxury yacht business Sunseeker. Now he’s got to transform Lotus into a proper luxury sports car maker. It starts with news of a multi-million-pound all-electric hypercar, but it’s the whispers of a hybrid 911 rival next year that are most exciting. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a Lotus story we’ve wanted to tell for years. +++

+++ Automaker MAHINDRA signed a deal with Ford’s Indian unit to jointly develop midsize SUVs in India. Ford and affiliate companies will invest 6.80 billion rupees ($97.97 million) for the development of the vehicles over a period of 10 years, Mahindra said in a statement. +++

+++ MERCEDES bosses have confirmed that an AMG version of the new GLS will arrive. Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers said: “The markets have fed back to us to say they would like an AMG version out of the GLS”. Andreas Zygan, head of SUV development at Mercedes, went a step further, saying, “We have a lot of customers for AMG, so it would make sense to make an AMG version of this car, but we cannot talk about the timeline or market introduction of this car, but there will be, of course”. A luxury Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS is also on the cards, with Zygan telling: “There is no decision we have taken, but what you see in the exquisite GLS is that we’ve developed a lot of things (the comfort and surroundings we’ve focused on) so the car has the possibility of a further project, but it’s not official. “We’re looking closely and if we’re convinced, it would not take so long to make a decision”. What Zygan did definitely rule out, though, was an electrified version of the GLS telling us that the platform was not designed for electrification and that demand would be too small anyway. He did reveal that the GLS-based Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept, first shown at the Beijing Motor Show in 2018, could still become reality. “Why not?” he told. “At the end it is clear that it’s down to demands of customers, such a car is driven by customer demand and we need enough numbers. We have a very intensive discussion about this, but right now in the near future there won’t be such a concept”. If the car does get the green light, it’s likely to be built alongside the GLS at Mercedes’ plant in Alabama in the USA. +++

+++ As then-Chairman Carlos Ghosn pushed to strengthen NISSAN ’s ties with partner Renault last year, executives at the Japanese company were working behind the scenes with government officials in Japan to defend Nissan’s independence. The efforts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to head off changes in the 2-decade alliance show concern was mounting in top echelons of the Japanese government (months before Ghosn’s arrest on allegations of financial wrongdoing) that his push to cement a new alliance structure, would boost Renault and its largest shareholder, the French state, at Nissan’s expense. Nissan’s leadership was trying to protect the company’s interests in a relationship the Japanese already saw as one-sided. While they sought help in heading off merger plans being floated by the French side, Nissan executives also worked to prevent Japanese officials from over-reacting and inflaming a delicate situation and sought direction from Ghosn. The former head of Nissan’s CEO office, Hari Nada, said the Japanese company would rather keep the existing structure of the alliance than merge with Renault, and that “a re-balancing of the shareholding” to reduce the French company’s 43 % stake in Nissan was the preferred option. The Japanese government was also wary of France’s insistence on making the 20-year alliance permanent. The next month, a message from another Nissan executive, head of government affairs Hitoshi Kawaguchi, describes a draft memorandum of understanding from the economy ministry aimed at their French counterparts. Nissan’s independence “should be respected”, the draft says. Nissan declined to comment, while reiterating that misconduct by Ghosn and his former aide, Greg Kelly, is “the sole cause of the chain of events”. The company declined to make Nada or Kawaguchi available for comment. Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s economy minister, declined to comment on exchanges it had with France. “It’s obvious that we exchange various opinions and information with the French government”, he said. The jockeying last year came as uncertainty hung over the partnership Ghosn had dominated for 2 decades. The 65-year old auto titan, who remains jailed in Japan awaiting trial, was chairman of Nissan at the time and had just signed a new deal to remain chairman and CEO at Renault. In doing so, he had pledged to honor French demands that he make the 3-way alliance that also includes Mitsubishi, “irreversible”, while cautioning that Japan would resist a tighter structure if France remained a shareholder. The rear-guard action at Nissan also lays bare the depth of suspicion between the companies and countries over the alliance (among the top producers of cars globally) before Ghosn was arrested in November on allegations of financial misconduct. He has denied the charges and blamed a “plot” against him by Nissan executives who are playing “dirty games”. Carole Ghosn, the wife of the former auto titan, called on U.S. President Donald Trump to speak about his detention to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when they meet in Washington next week. “Please, President Trump, please ask Abe to resolve this injustice”, she wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. While the content of the documents, first reported by French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, do not prove Ghosn’s allegations, they do show a Nissan leadership preoccupied with preventing what they saw as a French power grab. Nissan officials, who had been coordinating with the Japanese economy ministry, were also concerned the demands in its memo could harm the discussions that Ghosn was carefully trying to inch toward a solution. “As you could see, the draft is going a little too far even in our view, when the French state is staying quiet”, said Nissan’s head of government affairs, Hitoshi Kawaguchi, in a May 21, 2018 message attached to the draft memo. “Though support by the Japanese government is appreciated, it is a private company matter at the end of the day”. He reports to Ghosn that so far, Nissan had asked the ministry to “stay behind us to support Nissan to put a brake on France whenever necessary”. Renault’s new chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, is seeking to move past Japanese fears that Renault wants to dominate the partnership. He said this week the alliance needed to be re-balanced “in spirit” and that the alliance’s cross-shareholding didn’t “reflect the reality” of their relations. Evercore ISI analysts took it a step further, saying in a note that Renault should sell down its stake in Nissan to restore trust.+++ 

+++ The Trump administration estimated that its new NORTH AMERICAN TRADE DEAL will create 76,000 automotive sector jobs within 5 years as automakers invest some $34 billion in new plants to comply with the pact’s new regional content rules. The forecasts from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office were released ahead of an independent trade panel’s hotly anticipated analysis that economists expect to show little or no U.S. gains from the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement. An official told reporters that the jobs and investment estimates are based on plans disclosed by automakers to the trade agency for compliance with the new agreement’s tighter rules of origin. These require 75 % of a vehicle’s content to be produced in North American, with 40-45 % produced in high wage areas, namely the United States or Canada. A senior official told reporters that none of the 15 automakers producing vehicles in North America intend to opt out of the agreement to pay U.S. tariffs instead and move production overseas, as some critics of the deal have suggested. “They have verbally committed to us that they intend to comply with the rules”, the official said. “And they have told us that this is not going to have significant upward pressure on vehicle prices”. The estimates include about $15.3 billion investments previously announced by Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen and battery maker SK Innovation. +++ 

+++ Daimler’s new CEO could end the car maker’s relationship with the RENAULT – Nissan alliance. Ola Kallenius, set to begin his tenure as CEO in May following the departure of Dieter Zetsche, could let the wide-reaching, multi-market partnership lapse by not renewing the joint projects. Various projects have reportedly suffered since Renault-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested on financial misconduct charges. Zetsche and Ghosn, known to have had a close relationship, have been the figureheads of the strategic partnership since its conception in 2009. Today’s list of shared projects includes the Mercedes X-Class and Nissan Navara pick-ups, which share a platform and a number of common parts. The Smart ForFour and Renault Twingo are also heavily related, while all 3 firms share several jointly developed petrol and diesel engines. Mercedes and Infiniti also share a large factory in Aguascalientes, Mexico. +++ 

+++ The second-generation RENAULT CAPTUR , due later this year, will be a much bigger step in design to its predecessor compared to the new and outgoing Clio, said design boss Laurens van den Acker. The Captur, which when it launched was one of the first in a now-saturated small SUV segment, has remained at the top of the sales chart in Europe despite its age. Van den Acker said the new model will be focused on everything: “technology, interior, exterior”. He continued: “The Captur is in the most dynamic market segment in Europe. The car industry has become so competitive: if your product is not 100% perfect, you are going to have a very tough life”. The Captur will launch with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid variants. It is the second, following the Clio, in an onslaught of new hybrids in the car maker’s range. It will use an 90 hp petrol engine mated to a 40 hp electric motor and 9,8 kWh battery, which promises an electric-only range of 40 to 50 kilometres. The Nissan Juke and Peugeot 2008 rival is due to arrive in the middle of next year, 9 months after its platform-sharing supermini sibling: the fifth-generation Clio. As with the new Clio, Renault will make more extensive changes to the Captur’s interior design than the exterior. A technology upgrade is the brand’s top priority for its B-segment models, and we’re expecting to see a Tesla-style portrait infotainment system adapted from that found in the latest Mégane. A raft of semi-autonomous driver assist features, shared with Nissan’s upcoming ProPilot system, will also ensure it has the high-tech appeal of premium-badged rivals. Both the Captur and Clio will be based on a modified version of the existing CMF-B platform, shared with the latest Nissan Micra. New 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre turbo petrol engines (the latter co-developed with Mercedes and seen in the A-Class) will be drafted in to improve performance and efficiency, while a 1.5-litre diesel unit will also be offered. Like many crossovers, sales of Renault’s Captur have been climbing steadily, with more than twice as many sold in 2016 (215,000) than the brand shifted in 2013 (84,000). Only in the past year have sales started to tail off as newer models, such as the Seat Arona, attract buyers. With the new model expected to be on sale by the spring of 2020, it could help the French car maker regain ground in the sector. +++ 

+++ UBER is nearing a deal with a group, including SoftBank, to invest in its self-driving car unit to be valued at $7.25 billion. SoftBank, Toyota and Japanese auto-parts supplier Denso are expected to invest a total of $1 billion as part of the deal, which could be announced in the next few days. SoftBank closed its $8 billion investment in Uber in January 2018, which gave it a 16 % stake in the ride-hailing company and made it the largest shareholder. The Japanese technology investment fund also has investments in General Motors’ self-driving car subsidiary Cruise. SoftBank and automaker Honda have invested a total of $5 billion for acquiring separate minority stakes in Cruise. Cruise has a value of more than $14 billion despite no significant revenue and a product not ready for commercial launch. Uber is getting ready for its initial public offering (IPO) and filed for it last week. +++

+++ Falling new vehicle sales in the UNITED STATES through the rest of 2019 and into 2020 will bring more intense competition in the increasingly crowded market for SUVs and a continued decline in passenger car sales, executives and economists said. “There are more and more SUVs coming to market and I continue to see that market growing”, said Fred Diaz, U.S. chief executive of Mitsubishi. “It’s hyper competitive”. After a long bull run, U.S. auto sales are expected to fall about 3 % to 16.8 million units. That is still a respectable number, but the decline will increase competition for market share. Much of the decrease will be driven by falling sedan sales. As recently as 2012, passenger cars made up more than 50 % of U.S. new vehicle sales. But that number has dropped rapidly as American consumers have sought the greater comfort and space provided by larger pickups and SUVs. While those bigger vehicles are far more profitable for automakers, increased competition could lead to higher incentives in that segment that could squeeze profit margins just like with sedans over the years, industry officials said. Executives also cited slowly climbing auto interest rates and the rising cost of new vehicles. Honda Senior Vice President Henio Arcangeli said uncertainty about the revised U.S. tax code also had an impact on sales. In the first quarter, sedans made up just over 30 % of new vehicle sales. Bob Carter, head of U.S. sales at Toyota, said the industry-wide passenger car market share could still fall slightly before hitting a bottom. But for SUVs, the market has continued to grow and may see slight growth in 2019. That has automakers pushing out new SUVs to fight for sales. According to data from automotive consultancy LMC Automotive, by the year 2023 there will be 90 mainstream SUV and crossover models on the U.S. market, as well as 90 luxury models. Those numbers compare with 2017 levels of 65 mainstream SUV and crossover models and 53 luxury models. Patrick Manzi, senior economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), said the growing competition favors those automakers bringing fresh vehicles to the market to grab consumers’ attention. “If you don’t have the newest, hottest product, you’re going to have to stand out somehow”, he said. One way to stand out with an older vehicle is to offer steeper discounts to potential buyers, Manzi added. Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand has launched a new SUV, the Corsair, which chief marketing officer Joy Falotico says has turned out to be “lucky timing”. Lincoln sales rose 11.2 % in the first quarter, driven by SUV sales, even as Ford brand sales fell 2.2 %. “I am confident that sales trend will continue”, Falotico said. Despite falling sedan sales, executives at Nissan and Toyota said they remain committed to the segment. Toyota’s Carter noted Americans still bought 5.3 million sedans in 2018. “So maybe it drops another 10 %, it’s still 4.8 million units and I care desperately about that market”, he said. “We’re absolutely committed to the pickup and SUV market. But we’re as equally committed to the car market”. +++

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