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+++ Chinese startup AIWAYS will not use a dealership network to sell cars in Europe and the United States. Instead the automaker will sell its U5 midsize full-electric SUV through leasing contracts it will manage itself. Aiways plans to launch the U5 in Europe early next year, followed by the United States at the end of 2020. “We think we could give customers a very competitive monthly lease rate, lower than the cost of a similar car with an internal combustion engine”, said Alexander Klose, Aiways’ head of overseas business operations. In Europe, Aiways hopes to keep the U5 monthly lease rate below €400 and offer contracts for 24, 36 and 48 months. The size of the initial downpayment has not been decided yet. U.S. leasing prices have not been finalized. In China, Aiways will sell the U5 through dealerships when the SUV goes on sale in its home market in September because financial services, including leasing, are not yet common. The U5’s price in China will be equivalent to about €35,000 before incentives, Klose said. The U5 is in pre-production at Aiway’s factory in Shangrao City in China’s southeastern Jiangxi province. The company plans to build around 2,000 units by the end of the year and just under 50,000 in 2020. The U5 is built on a modular platform using a blend of aluminum and high-strength steel, with the battery pack sandwiched in the floor. The standard model has a 65 kWh battery pack that is homologated for a 503 km range under Europe’s old NEDC type approval process. The SUV is now undergoing homologation under the new WLTP regime. In Europe Aiways is targeting customers who will be able to recharge the U5 at night at their home. “Given our 500 km range, we think European customers will not need to recharge the vehicle during their normal daily use”, Klose told. Aiways plans to offer a smaller battery pack for the European market, he said. Klose said Aiways is not targeting specific markets in Europe. In Shanghai, Aiways unveiled the U7ion concept, which hints to a longer model, destined mainly for the Chinese and U.S. market. Aiways plans to launch a second model before the U7, possibly called U4. It will be shorter than the 4.680 mm U5 and so more suited to European buyers, Klose said. Aiways was founded in 2016 by Gu Feng, the former chief financial officer of Chinese automotive giant SAIC Group. The company’s chief product officer is Roland Gumpert, the founder of sports-car company Apollo Automobile and a former head of Audi Sport. Aiways unveiled a low-volume halo electric sports car called Nathalie last year. The car accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds, according to the company. It has a tubular steel chassis and was fitted with a roll cage to enhance stiffness and make it safer for high-speed track driving. +++

+++ AUDI is reportedly revising its initial production plans for the e-Tron in order to deal with a battery shortage. Internal documents revealed the car manufacturer intended on building 55,830 examples of the e-Tron in 2019; however, this figure has since been revised to 45,242 units. A factory insider claims that this was caused by limitations posed from LG, who supplies batteries for the e-Tron. Moreover, the insider claims there are “tons of problems with LG”, Audi kicked off deliveries of the e-Tron across Europe recently and the first examples are tipped to arrive in the United States as early as next month. It is thought to be building 160 e-Tron models per day and intends on lifting that number to 293 units per day by the end of September. As part of this production increase, factory workers will have their hours lifted from 6 to 8 hours a day. In addition to the alleged battery shortage reducing e-Tron production, it is reported that the company has been forced to push back its plans to commence production of the e-Tron Sportback from the end of this year to the start of 2020. +++

+++ General Motors has submitted a trademark filing for the term ‘Bolt EUV’, hinting at a slightly larger variant aimed at crossover buyers. The trademark filing suggests GM may keep the CHEVROLET Bolt nameplate for at least one of the new models, indicating it may not be radically different from the existing EV, though none of the details have been officially confirmed. +++

+++ FORD and Mahindra agreed to co-develop a midsize SUV for India and emerging markets in an effort to sustain profitability in the world’s third-biggest car market. The new SUV will have a common Mahindra product platform and powertrain, helping to reduce product development costs and gain economies of scale, Mahindra and Ford said. The agreement signed by the 2 carmakers reinforces progress they have made since announcing a strategic alliance in September 2017 and powertrain-sharing and connected-car solutions a year later. Ford was among the first global automakers to enter India in 1995, partnering Mahindra when the country opened its car market for foreign investment. The 2 companies set up a factory near Chennai and started making the Escort sedan. While models including the Ikon, Fusion, Fiesta and Figo followed, the carmaker lagged behind companies such as Suzuki and Hyundai in India. The tie-up with Mahindra is critical for Ford as it has been trying to boost its market share unsuccessfully in the market led by Suzuki and Hyundai. +++

+++ Women will become the majority on the board of GENERAL MOTORS this year after 2 male directors retire. It’s a first for an automaker and places GM among a handful of companies with roughly the same number of men and women at the highest level. GM’s board will shrink to 11 members, from 13, with 2 directors not standing for re-election at the annual meeting June 4, the company said in its proxy filing. Jim Mulva, former CEO of ConocoPhillips, and Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, are both 72, the retirement age for the automaker’s board. The board will temporarily waive the retirement age requirement for Lead Director Tim Solso, also 72, for 1 year to assist in GM’s “period of transformation”, the company said. 6 women, including CEO Mary Barra, and 5 men complete the slate of members up for shareholders’ approval at the annual meeting. The shift comes as women are slowly gaining more power at the largest U.S. companies, lifted by pressure from investors and employees as well as state-mandated quotas. Researcher Equilar says women may now comprise half the members of Russell 3000 company boards by 2034, a forecast that has shortened by 2 decades since 2016. Barring changes in the composition of other company boards, Barra and incoming Best Buy CEO Corie Barry will become the only female CEOs in the S&P 500 who serve a board with a majority of female directors. Viacom and CBS, the only other companies with a current majority of female directors, are both run by male CEOs. Another 19 S&P 500 boards would swing to majority female directors with the addition of one more woman. +++ 

+++ Tokyo prosecutors are likely to indict former Nissan chairman Carlos GHOSN on an additional charge of aggravated breach of trust when his current detention period expires. Ghosn was arrested for the 4th time this month on suspicion he tried to enrich himself at Nissan’s expense, to the tune of $5 million. He is also awaiting trial on other charges of financial misconduct and aggravated breach of trust. Ghosn, who had been released on $9 million bail in early March after spending 108 days in jail, has denied all allegations against him. His defense team has launched a public battle against the prosecutors, calling the latest arrest “illegal”. Once celebrated as the savior of a near-bankrupt Nissan 20 years ago, Ghosn has been ousted as chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi since his arrest, threatening the stability of the auto-making alliance he masterminded. He has said he is the victim of a boardroom coup. +++

+++ The tale of HONDA ’s rise and fall in Europe is a chastening one. At one time, the firm was viewed as a genuine alternative to BMW, led by engineers making cars with cutting-edge petrol engines and sharp design. In the 1970s sales success with the Civic in the US was pioneering, while a joint venture with Rover in the 1980s broke new strategic ground. So when the British Swindon plant opened in 1992 with the capacity to build 150,000 cars a year, just as Europe’s single market was launched, Honda looked set to conquer the continent. Yet 27 years on, the relationship with Europe has soured: sales are in the doldrums, with just 150,000 cars shifted last year, and the £2 billion Swindon factory will close in 2021. Civic production will also stop at its Turkish plant, although “business operations” will be maintained. Remember how well-loved Honda was in the late 1980s and early 1990s? There was the amazing NSX sports car, the McLaren-Hondas that won everything in Formula 1 thanks to their turbo V6 and normally aspirated V12 engines, and the joint venture with Rover, all contributing to a solid toehold in Europe. Back in 1990 Honda was selling 155,000 cars in Europe, compared with Nissan’s 371,000, Toyota’s 340,000 and Hyundai’s 18,000. After opening in 1992 with the Accord, the Swindon factory steadily boosted sales, rising to 225,000 in 1998. These were not easy years, however. BMW acquired Rover, rivals such as Hyundai were moving faster and Honda’s own diesel engine was a decade from production. In the meantime, it bought in its oil-burners from Rover. A real turning point was 2000; the year Hyundai sold more cars in Europe than Honda. Honda didn’t have its own diesel engine until 2003: the inevitably brilliantly engineered i-CDTI. But by then its Korean competitor was selling 100,000 cars per year more, while Nissan and Toyota were smashing the market. Sales of diesels and rising demand for SUVs did lift Honda to its European sales peak of 313,000 units in 2007, just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The manufacturer’s response to the financial crash was, reasonably, defensive. One former insider said: “Honda is fiercely independent and the management refused any idea of bail-outs. But it raised the issue of how vulnerable the company was to a shock. So instead, they pulled back and shut the second production line at Swindon”. Knocking Swindon back to a maximum of 150,000 units was never going to end well. “The minimum efficient volume is around 250,000”, says David Bailey, a professor of industrial strategy at Aston Business School. Ever since, European sales have been on a steady (some insiders say “managed”) decline, levelling out at 140,000 to 150,000 units in 2017/18; pretty much where Honda’s European sales started in 1990. In fact, when Swindon was at the height of its powers, and as the second plant was opened in 2001, Honda was discussing whether to aggressively target 150,000 units per year in the UK alone. But management baulked and the moment to create an impregnable sales base for Swindon passed by without being seized. Insiders believe UK sales could be stronger, but senior management has repeatedly turned down requests to supply more right-hand-drive cars. “Honda refused to chase daily rental and fleet sales, so that cuts you out of a large part of the UK market, where rivals like Hyundai are selling a lot of cars”, says one source. UK sales peaked at 106,000 in 2007 but have subsided back to around 53,000. Consequently the model range has diminished, limited to 4 volume models: the Jazz, Civic, HR-V and CR-V, plus the NSX super-sports car. Honda Motor Europe senior vice president Tom Gardner contends the brand has performed well: “Honda has maintained consistent UK market share over the past 5 years, in excess of 2 %, highlighting strong brand presence in the UK, with a committed dealer network offering outstanding customer satisfaction”. However, insiders and experts identify weak product planning as one of Honda’s missteps. Among them are the Pilot 5+2 SUV not making it to Europe in 2002, the on/off Civic Tourer estate, the niche model strategy, on/off hybrids and being slow to market with diesel at a time when it was a must-have in every manufacturer’s armoury. Another example is when, having built a customer base for the Stream and its FR-V successor, Honda pulled out of the MPV market without a replacement, deserting the loyal customers the 2 models had won. “Fundamentally, Honda has misjudged the European market, and they simply don’t have the volume to justify production here”, says Bailey. Talking to former Honda employees, there is a feeling that a switch was flicked around the time of the 2008 financial crisis. “Honda lost its spark. The model range definitely lost its spark”, says one former executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The product line wasn’t as exciting and the commitment wasn’t the same”. Another insider identifies a senior management team with a focus more on the home market in recent years and reduced interest in Europe. “The new generation seem more nationally focused”, says the former exec. “The post-World War II generation who were around in 1992, and who looked to Europe, are gone. The new people are less interested in Europe”. Bailey believes Honda’s management has been patient but ultimately too many setbacks forced it to act. “Swindon has been at 60 % capacity since 2008”, he says. “But too much has changed: an about-turn on diesel and Brexit have been game-changers for industrial strategy”. Back in the 1980s, Honda was headed by Nobuhiko Kawamoto, widely considered the most charismatic Japanese car company leader of the past 30 years. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Honda’s golden period of the modern era was under his stewardship. But who can blame the current management for acting? Europe has been reduced to Honda’s 10th biggest global car market, behind even Indonesia. And Hyundai now sells nearly 4 times Honda’s volume in Europe. Despite these obstacles, Gardner says Honda remains fully committed to Europe: “Europe is the most competitive region in the world, with the tightest regulations and the most demanding customers, and Honda continues to invest in its automobile line-up for the region”. Ask any car enthusiast and there is deep affection for Honda’s back catalogue of innovative models, especially those using high-revving VTEC petrol engines. The company even matched Toyota with hybrid developments in the mid-1990s. But it’s hard not to conclude that it has failed to build a consistent and coherent (and European-friendly) product range. Strong sales in the US, for example, mean some models have to be focused on that market. It has also chopped and changed its ‘image cars’, in contrast to rivals that have nurtured theirs, while potentially significant developments such as the IMA hybrid haven’t made the hoped-for sales breakthroughs. Honda was once at the cutting edge of hybrid development with the Gen-1 Insight IMA in the mid-1990s, created by engineers redeployed from F1. Yet the 5-door model, an obvious volume-seller, didn’t appear until 2009, a decade behind the Prius. The Insight was dropped in 2014, just as the politics of air quality was emerging. “Honda had an early lead in hybrid technology, let it go and Toyota has romped all over them”, says Peter Wells, a professor at Cardiff Business School. Globally, the CR-V and HR-V have been huge hits for Honda, and both are among the world’s top 10 sellers. The CR-V broke new ground in 1997 with its car-like driving manners, boosted at the time by shared knowledge of Land Rover’s Freelander plans. In fact, some insiders rate the CR-V as Honda’s shining light ahead of the Civic. But it was Nissan’s overwhelmingly successful Qashqai that was to become the compact SUV standard bearer, its 2007 launch leading to huge sales numbers. “The Qashqai soon became a reference model and has allowed Nissan to take sales away from its Japanese rivals”, says Felipe Nunoz, a global analyst at Jato Dynamics. European CR-V sales peaked with 76,000 units in the Qashqai’s launch year, a time when the Toyota RAV4 sold 99,000. By 2017 CR-V sales fell by more than half to 34,000, compared with 71,000 RAV4s, while the HR-V sells around a quarter of the Nissan Juke’s UK volume. Undoubtedly Honda’s back catalogue is graced by handsome and great-looking cars, but consistency of style and brand, especially in the volume-selling models, has somehow eluded them. “There have been some fantastic cars, but they haven’t been used as a jumping point to the volume sellers”, says Dale Harrow, head of car design at the Royal College of Art. Harrow questions whether Honda has ever really pinned down critical details, such as the front-end graphic of its cars, and suggests that some models, like the HR-V, remain “apologetic and plain vanilla”. Yet the latest Civic is a riot of shapes, vents and styling lines; seemingly built by a different company. A fundamental issue that Honda has struggled to fix is aligning its brand image across Europe, with owners who are typically older in the UK than they are in places such as Germany and Eastern Europe. That makes car design challenging, but it is not helped by Honda’s refusal, according to one insider, to work around a typical “European buyer”. Instead, the firm allows each country or region autonomy. Honda is famously engineering-led and maintains it “will continue its approach of delivering products of high quality that resonate with its very loyal European customer base”. But not even experts in their field can identify the head of design at Honda, if one exists. Instead, the power in its product development process is vested in an engineer or LPL (Large Project Leader), who is tasked with bringing individual models to market but not under the watchful eye of a head of design empowered to oversee range-wide design discipline. Harrow believes there is “still the feel of a company where designers are dressing the engineering”. The company does have a European design studio in Germany, but it has never had the profile of Nissan’s London studio, for example. There’s a stark contrast with Kia and Hyundai, too. The Korean brands recruited 2 senior European designers, Peter Schreyer (formerly of Audi) and Thomas Bürkle (ex-BMW), to run a design studio in Germany to create European-flavour cars. The reward has been hot-selling models such as the Tucson and Kona. Employing European designers has brought coherence to the Korean brands’ range; something they didn’t possess when Honda was outselling them 10 to one nearly 30 years ago. “Honda hasn’t appointed an overseas design boss”, says Harrow. “I think that shows a lack of value in design at the top level”. A government-led task force is trying to save as much of Swindon and its infrastructure as possible. It’s the least the 3.500-strong workforce deserves. Meanwhile, Honda focuses on an electric future and is targeting 2025 as the date by which all of its new cars will be electrified. Gardner says: “This ambition will place Europe at the forefront of the company’s accelerating electrification efforts, and will require major, ongoing investment into the region”. Sadly these electrified Hondas will be built in Japan and exported to Europe. How well they sell here may in part depend on Honda’s ability to learn the lessons and fix the failures of years past. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR has confirmed that it will develop new bespoke electric vehicles to sit alongside the all-electric I-Pace that’s already on sale. Design chief Ian Callum said that more EVs are in the pipeline and that they will be built from the ground-up as EVs. “We are doing more battery cars at Jaguar, yes. That’s all I’m saying. When you’re doing electric cars, they’re new cars. They’re not just batteries put in an old car. You can’t do that”, Callum said. While Callum failed to say what form future electric Jaguar models could take, previous reports have indicated that the next-generation XJ could be sold exclusively in all-electric guise. This model would be based around Jaguar Land Rover’s Modular Longitudinal Architecture which supports ICE, hybrid and battery-electric vehicles. If the next XJ is indeed an all-electric, it could use a 100 kWh battery rather than the 90 kWh unit used by the existing I-Pace. In addition, the electric sedan could feature 4 electric motors placed at the wheels, each rated at upwards of 200 hp. While Jaguar isn’t interested in making electric versions of its current ICE-powered models, fellow British car manufacturer Aston Martin has done just that with the Rapide E. Unlike most premium electric sedans, the Rapide E doesn’t feature batteries in its floor, and its battery pack is placed where the 6.0-liter V12 of normal variants resides. +++ 

+++ The vehicle that marks JEEP ’s return to the pickup segment, the Gladiator, will officially touch down in Europe this summer for the first time during the 2019 Camp Jeep. The event will take place in San Martino di Castrozza, Italy, between July 12 and 14, and will give Jeep fans, owners and potential customers the chance to take a closer look at the Gladiator. Subsequently, it will launch in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region next year. Presented to the world at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Gladiator is assembled at Toledo, Ohio. It’s billed as “the most capable mid-size truck ever” and promises “functionality, versatility, best-in-class towing and 4×4 payload, open-air freedom and superior dynamics and off-road capability”. In the United States, the Gladiator has a starting price of $33,545, which is $5,600 more than the base Wrangler. At first, customers can only get it with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that’s rated at 289 hp and 352 Nm. However, in 2020, the pickup will be offered with a 264 hp and 599 Nm 3.0-liter V6 diesel as well. Both Jeep and Mopar have other surprises in store for those attending the Camp Jeep 2019 in Italy, including the Wrangler Rubicon 1941. Launched at the Geneva Motor Show, it packs plenty of gear that enhances its off-road abilities and visual appearance, such as the raised suspension, snorkel, rock rails, black door sill guards and fuel door, special livery and others. The upgrades will launch this summer on the Wrangler Sahara and Sport trims powered by the 2.2-liter diesel engine. +++ 

+++ NISSAN said a report by Nikkei that it would slash production this year was “completely incorrect” and that it had lodged a complaint with the business daily, in an unusually strong denial of a media report in Japan. The comment came after Nikkei, revered in Japan for its business news and known for its market-moving scoops and previews, said Nissan would cut its global production by about 15 % for the current fiscal year ending March 2020. The move would mark a shift away from the aggressive expansion campaign promoted by ousted former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, the Nikkei said. “The details reported in this story are completely incorrect, and Nissan has voiced its strong objection to the Nikkei”, the Japanese automaker said in a statement posted on its website. “Nissan’s production plan for the current fiscal year will be disclosed on May 14, when the company announces its financial results for the previous fiscal year”, the carmaker said. Nikkei, which also owns Britain’s Financial Times newspaper, confirmed it had received the complaint from Nissan. It said it would continue to cover the issue and promptly report all the facts once they become clear. The newspaper had earlier reported that Nissan aimed to produce about 4.6 million units in fiscal 2019, citing plans being communicated to the automaker’s suppliers. The move was likely to impact earnings and could cast a pall over Nissan’s alliance with French automaker Renault, the Nikkei said without elaborating. That would be the steepest production cut in more than a decade by the Japanese automaker, as it battles weak sales in overseas markets including the United States where it plans to scale back sales operations, according to Nikkei. Earlier this year, Nissan, which has been battling falling sales, lowered its operating profit forecast for the current fiscal year to $4 billion; 22 % lower than a year earlier. It would be Nissan’s lowest profit since 2013. Japanese companies typically respond to media reports by saying they were not the source of the information and, depending on the content of the report, that they may be considering various options and that nothing had been decided. It is rare for a Japanese firm to say it has issued a strong rebuke to a media outlet. +++

+++ The second-generation Koleos has only been around in Europe since mid-2017, and yet RENAULT is already out testing the facelifted version. Why the rush? Well, sales of Renault’s largest SUV aren’t great, especially compared with those of its arch-rival, the Peugeot 5008. Another reason is that the Koleos has been on sale in other markets since 2016, including Australia, the Middle East, South America and China. Speaking of China, Renault has quietly unveiled the facelifted Koleos at the Shanghai Auto Show, though I’m not able to tell whether the Euro-spec model will get the same subtle updates or a more significant makeover instead. The European version could be in for a more extensive design upgrade. Meanwhile, the Koleos Phase 2 that has just debuted in Shanghai features a new front bumper, fresh grille trim and restyled DRLs. At the rear, the China-spec model looks identical with the European one and the only difference I’ve been able to spot is a slightly updated taillight signature. There aren’t any photos of the interior available yet, but I don’t expect Renault to make significant changes to the cabin; it would be nice if the Koleos got the new infotainment system that debuted on the latest Clio, though. Right now, most European markets get the Koleos with a single engine choice, a 173 hp 2.0-liter dCi turbodiesel mated to an X-Tronic CVT and either front- or four-wheel drive. It is likely that it will be replaced by the Blue dCi 200 hp powertrain. +++ 

+++ RIVIAN ’s founder has revealed some new details about their future product lineup. The company plans to introduce 6 vehicles by 2025, R.J. Scaringe said. All of them will reportedly be pickups and SUVs as the company doesn’t have any intentions to build a sedan. The models will also be relatively large as Scaringe said these vehicles are popular with consumers and burn the most fuel. While Rivian has a lot on their plate, Scaringe confirmed they will also be making vehicles for other companies. He didn’t go into specifics, but said one of the models is related to Amazon’s $700 million investment. This is certainly interesting and it’s possible the online retailer has tapped the firm to create an electric delivery vehicle. That’s far from official, but more than 5,000 Amazon employees have called on CEO Jeff Bezos to create a company-wide plan to combat climate change. Scaringe didn’t mention the company’s discussions with General Motors, but he might have hinted at why the talks fell apart. As he explained, “In general, my reason for starting Rivian was to do big things without anything preventing us from doing that”. GM might have wanted some kind of exclusivity agreement with Rivian and this could have prevented the 2 sides from reaching a deal. Regardless of how those talks turned out, it doesn’t appear that Rivian is struggling. Scaringe said the automaker has already received tens of thousands of pre-orders for a $1,000 each. That’s pretty impressive considering the company’s first vehicles won’t be launched until next year. +++

+++ SMART ’s future was recently secured thanks to a new joint venture with Geely. That’s good news, but the picture isn’t entirely rosy as the brand might withdraw from the United States. Nothing is official as of yet, but Daimler board member Britta Seeger said: “We’re deciding how to proceed with Smart in the U.S.”. Seeger stated talks are continuing, but a decision should come before summer. Smart arrived in the United States in 2008 and was initially successful as they sold 24,622 units. However, sales quickly plummeted and were down to just 5,927 units two years later. Sales recovered a bit in following years, but their most recent peak was 10,453 units in 2014. Since then, it’s been a downward spiral and just 1,276 units were sold last year. 2019 is looking even worse as data shows U.S. dealers have only sold 231 units through the first 3 months of the year. The minuscule numbers probably make it hard to justify Smart’s continued existence in the United States, but the joint venture could complicate the decision. Under the terms of the deal, a new-generation of Smart electric vehicles will be built in China and go on sale in 2022. The models will be sold globally and that could suggest the brand still wants a presence in the United States. If that’s the case, Smart USA might have to struggle for the next years until new products arrive. Regardless of what happens, the next-generation of Smart vehicles will be styled by Mercedes and engineered by Geely. The companies haven’t said much else about their plans, but they did confirm their intention to expand the Smart lineup to include a model in the B-segment. +++

+++ German startup company SONO is teaming up with National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) to build the first series production solar-powered electric vehicle at Saab’s former plant in Trollhättan, Sweden. Production of the 5-door Sion hatchback will start next year, with an output of approximately 43,000 cars a year, Sono said. In total, 260,000 vehicles will be built over an 8-year period, the company said. The Sion has solar cells built into the surface of the car’s panels. Its battery can be charged to a range of 34 km. The vehicle can also be charged via mains electricity, providing a range of 250 km on a full charge. After the presentation of prototype models in 2017, Sono has been test driving the car in Europe. Sono says the Sion will be fitted with integrated sharing options, which allow the owner to offer rides via an app. A bi-directional charging function enables the Sion to both receive electricity and feed it to other vehicles or into the electricity grid. The Sion will cost €25,500, Sono said. The company says it has already taken about 9.800 orders for the car. There are plans to develop other vehicle models based on the vehicle’s platform, Sono said. NEVs acquired the assets of Saab Auto in 2012 after the collapse of the  Swedish automaker. Originally NEVS had planned to build electric cars in Trollhätten. +++

+++ TESLA said that 4 members of its 11-member board would be leaving over the next 2 years, as the electric car company looks to streamline its board. Brad Buss, Antonio Gracias, Stephen Jurvetson, and Linda Johnson Rice will not be standing for re-election in the upcoming annual meetings of stockholders in 2019 and 2020, the company said in a regulatory filing. The company said its directors reviewed the composition of the board “focusing on a phased streamlining of the size of the Board to allow it to operate more nimbly and efficiently”. Tesla said the decision did not result from any disagreement between the company and the directors. Of the 4 members who would exit the board, Buss and Gracias were part of Tesla’s disclosure controls committee, overseeing the implementation of the terms of the consent agreement between Tesla and the SEC. Buss was also the chief financial officer of solar panel installer SolarCity for 2 years before retiring in 2016. Tesla bought SolarCity that year. Gracias has been an independent director at Tesla since 2010. Last May, proxy adviser ISS recommended that investors vote against his election to the board and called him a non-independent director. Jurvetson, the co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is said to be on a leave of absence from Tesla’s board since allegations of sexual harassment against him arose. Jurvetson has denied the allegations against him. The proposed changes in the board come a couple of weeks after Elon Musk’s position as the chief executive officer of Tesla was secured after a federal judge urged the billionaire to settle contempt allegations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over his use of Twitter. Musk was sued by the SEC last year for tweeting that he had “funding secured” to take the company private. He settled the lawsuit, agreeing to step down as chairman and have the company’s lawyers pre-approve written communications with material information about the company. But he was again accused of violating that settlement by sending a tweet about Tesla’s production that had not been vetted by the company’s attorneys. A federal judge ruled that Musk and the SEC would get another week to settle a dispute over Musk’s use of Twitter. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is preparing to introduce the ID Neo later this year and now I’ve learned more about the car’s battery pack. According to the head of Volkswagen’s Center of Excellence for Battery Cells, the company has designed the battery pack to “last as long as the cars”. Of course, this is relative as battery performance declines with age and repeated charging. Frank Blome acknowledged there are challenges, but said the battery pack will have a minimum capacity of 70 % for 8 years or 160,000 km. To maximize the life of the battery pack, Blome suggested drivers should limit their use of rapid chargers and only charge the battery to 80 %. This wouldn’t be convenient, but Blome contends an 80 % charge is “more than enough” in most cases as a majority of trips are relatively short and typically involve driving to work or going shopping. As for range, Blome said the modular battery pack will allow drivers to travel up to 550 km on a single charge. He also said upcoming EVs will be available at “affordable prices”. Besides talking about current battery technology, Blome gave a few hints about the future. He believes there will be “significant advances” in lithium-ion technology in the coming years, but the next “big leap” in performance will likely come from solid-state batteries. Volkswagen has been working on solid-state batteries with QuantumScape, but Blome suggested mass production is still several years off. However, they could be ready sometime between 2025 and 2030. Solid-state batteries are seen as a bit of a holy grail for electric vehicles as they are lighter and have a greater energy density than current lithium-ion batteries. Volkswagen has previously said solid-state batteries could increase the range of the e-Golf from 300 km to approximately 750 km. +++

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