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+++ AUDI is considering retiring the R8 and replacing the V10-powered halo car with a pure electric flagship. The company already toyed with the idea when it presented the R8 e-tron. The performance EV was more of a technology demonstrator, however, with a price tag north of $1 million and a production run of less than 100 units. Reports circulating more than a year ago suggested the current R8 would be retired at the end of its life cycle, perhaps as early as next year. Now, the company has revived the idea of a battery-powered replacement, said to be labeled the e-tron GTR. The car will be inspired by the 4-door e-tron GT concept and the PB18 e-tron. Presumably aimed at Tesla’s next-gen Roadster, the GTR is expected to be powered by a 95 kWh solid-state battery and 3 electric motors. It is said to target a 0-to-100 km/h benchmark of around 2 seconds. The Volkswagen Group last year disclosed a partnership with startup QuantumScape to bring solid-state batteries from the lab to the assembly line by 2024. To be clear, however, none of the ‘breakthrough’ battery technologies have yet to successfully demonstrate production viability. It is unclear if Audi is considering traditional lithium/ion cells as a backup plan in case the solid-state gambit falls through. Incremental advancements in lithium/ion tech have gradually increased power density, a critical factory in building a lightweight sports car with acceptably long range. +++ 

+++ ELECTRIC vehicles have long been hailed as a cleaner alternative to gas and diesel powered vehicles, but a group of German scientists claim EVs are actually worse for the environment than their fossil fuel-burning counterparts. In their study, titled, “Electric Vehicles are not a Panacea for Climate Change”, German scientists Christoph Buchal, Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn claim that electric vehicles are responsible for 11 to 28 % more CO2 emissions than their diesel-powered counterparts. The scientists’ findings are based on the entire EV production process, as well as Germany’s current energy mix. According to the group’s findings, mining and processing the lithium, cobalt and manganese necessary to make a battery pack for a Tesla Model 3 generates up to 15 tons of CO2 emissions. Given a vehicle lifespan of 10 years at 15.000 km per year, that averages out to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Furthermore, the study notes that since Germany still relies on coal for some of its energy production, emissions from those power plants needs to be taken into consideration. Once electricity generation is factored in, the study claims a Tesla Model 3 emits the equivalent of 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per km. For comparison, a Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe powered by a 3.0L diesel emits 176 grams of CO2 every kilometer. The study looked exclusively at the German market, so it’s possible an electric vehicle would be cleaner to run in regions that rely more on wind and solar for power generation. However, emissions tied to the production of vehicle batteries is more universal and appears to be electric’s dirty secret. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI said that it established a joint venture with Swiss-based H2 Energy (H2E). Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, the new venture, will supply 1,600 hydrogen-powered large-size trucks over the next 7 years for the European market. H2 Energy is a hydrogen energy company that specializes in developing hydrogen-charging infrastructure in Switzerland. The terms of the venture were not disclosed. The Korean automaker said in a statement that it aims to develop eco-friendly commercial vehicles for European markets first then take it to other markets, such as Korea and the United States. It hopes to take advantage of the friendlier regulatory environment in Switzerland. Hydrogen or electric-powered trucks in Switzerland are exempt from the country’s road tax on trucks over 3.5 tons. “Through the joint venture, we expect Hyundai to successfully enter the European market through hydrogen trucks by starting with Switzerland”, said executive vice-president Lee In-cheol at the signing ceremony for the joint venture at Hyundai’s headquarters in Yangjae, southern Seoul. “Hyundai Motor will strengthen its technological leadership in hydrogen electric vehicles through the commercialization of hydrogen electric trucks”. “H2E will be active in providing a hydrogen environment so that Hyundai Motor’s hydrogen electric trucks are well utilized”, said Rolf Huber, chairman of the board at H2 Energy. Automakers in the European commercial vehicle market have recently been active in developing eco-friendly offerings. +++ 

+++ KIA has sold over 8 million vehicles in the U.S. over nearly 3 decades since its entry into the local market. The carmaker said it sold some 55,800 cars last month to reach the milestone with cumulative sales of 8.03 million cars. Kia, which set up its U.S. subsidiary in October 1992, was not much of a player until it opened its local plant in Georgia in 2010, when cumulative sales hit the 3-million mark. The figure gradually increased to 5 million in 2014 and 6 million in 2015 and 7 million in 2017. Its most popular model in the U.S. is the Sorento, which has sold over 1.31 million units there, followed by the Soul (1.19 million) and the Optima (1.06 million). +++

+++ MERCEDES-AMG confirmed its second-generation 45-badged compact models will pack a serious punch. The A45, CLA 45, and GLA 45 will each boast 421 horsepower, AMG boss Tobias Moers told on the sidelines of the New York auto show. It is a serious upgrade considering the current 45s offer 381 horses. While additional specifications remain under wraps, I expect AMG will continue to use a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It will boast an impressive output of 210,5 horsepower per liter of displacement. The engine will be mounted transversally, every Mercedes compact is built on a front-wheel drive-based platform, but it will spin the 4 wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Performance numbers are still being kept secret. Moers told the all-wheel drive system found in the 45s will not be the same one fitted to the mid-range 35 models. He didn’t reveal what will be different, but he said the technology “doesn’t know what understeer means”. I expect Mercedes-AMG to begin rolling out the 45s before the end of 2019. We’ll see the A45 and CLA 45 models first, possibly as soon as the 2019 Frankfurt auto show, while the GLA 45 is still a few years away from breaking cover. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is developing a fully electric 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman that will be launched by 2022, and is considering offering them alongside mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the current cars. The next generations of the 2-door roadster and coupé sports cars have for some time been thought to be among a range of future pure-electric models set to be spearheaded by the upcoming 4-door Taycan and the Taycan Sports Turismo. However, Porsche chairman Oliver Blume has indicated that hybrid powertrains are also being considered. “We have prototypes of the 718 running in electric now and a hybrid prototype is being built”, he said. “If you look to the next generation of those cars it is possible, although it is not yet clear whether it would be plug-in hybrid or hybrid”. The decision to pursue both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the 718 Boxster and Cayman alongside the forthcoming electric models is understood to have been taken after an internal engineering study revealed that lithium/ion battery technology is not yet sufficiently advanced to enable pure-electric versions to offer more than 300 kilometres of range without significant changes to the existing mid-engine platform architecture. Porsche is now pursuing a plan that could see pure-electric Boxster and Cayman variants using the company’s new PPE architecture offered alongside updated versions of today’s models featuring hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains. The plan would mirror the move taken by Porsche with the next-generation Macan, which will continue to be produced on its existing MLB platform with new hybrid drivetrains while offering the choice of a pure-electric variant based on the PPE architecture. Speaking about Porsche’s plan for the second-generation Macan, Blume said: “For at least 2 to 3 years we will have both. At that point, we can decide whether to upgrade the combustion engines to the new Euro 7 standard or go full electric. The pace that countries are changing is different: China wants electric now, Russia is in less of a hurry, for instance”. The new mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains intended for the 718 models are developments of those already engineered for the larger 911, according to sources. The electrification measures are among changes designed to allow Porsche’s existing combustion engines to meet the upcoming EU7 emissions standards. However, while the hybrid systems scheduled to appear on the facelifted version of the 8th generation 911 early next decade are based around Porsche’s horizontally opposed 6-cylinder petrol engine, those being earmarked for the new 718 Boxster and Cayman are set to use the smaller-capacity flat four engine introduced by Porsche in 2016. Both units feature a 48V electrical system and disc-shaped electric motor integrated into a modified version of the existing Boxster and Cayman’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The mild-hybrid system has been conceived to provide an electric boost to the petrol engine for added performance potential and increased efficiency, albeit without the ability to provide an electric-only driving mode. The plug-in hybrid also provides electric boosting but has been built around a battery of sufficient capacity to offer extended pure-electric running. Porsche’s plan to give the 718 Boxster and its fixed-roof Cayman sibling electric power originated from the 2011 Boxster E project. That machine featured a 122 hp electric motor with a range of 170 kilometres, although EV technology has moved on substantially since then. More recently in 2017, Porsche developed the one-off Cayman e-volution. It had a claimed 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 3.3 seconds, a 190 km/h top speed and a range of almost 200 kilometres on a 38 kWh lithium/ion battery. Despite the impressive performance credentials of the Cayman e-volution, concerns about its limited range led Porsche to pursue the development of solid-state batteries; both for future pure-electric versions of the 718 Boxster and Cayman as well as for an electric hypercar that is expected to appear in 2025 as a spiritual successor to the 918 Spyder. Porsche insiders citing studies carried out by parent company Volkswagen say they anticipate a rapid evolution of lithium/ion cells for an improved energy-to-weight ratio in the next generation of batteries. Estimates are that cell energy density both by volume and weight will increase by 25 % from 2019 to 2025. By 2025 they also expect the adoption of solid-state batteries to bring a further increase of 25 %. This would allow Porsche to pack more energy in the same space with no additional weight penalty. A €90 million investment by Volkswagen in QuantumScape has given Porsche access to the latest developments in solid-state battery technology. +++ 

+++ The RENAULT City K-ZE, an all-new and all-electric car for the Chinese market, which made its debut at the 2019 Auto Shanghai show, has been engineered for global sale. “This could be a global car for us, but it has not yet been decided”, said CEO Thierry Bolloré. The car is being manufactured in China, but could potentially be sold worldwide, he admitted. “It would not be instead of the Zoe and Twizy though”, he added. He rebutted my suggestion it could be sold as a Dacia in Europe, although he admitted that the budget brand would gain electric models before too long. The dinky new city car is what Renault calls its first A-segment EV. The City K-ZE is 1 of 3 electric cars to be produced locally in China by 2022, on top of 6 more using more conventional propulsion means. The 9 cars will be “mostly SUVs” according to Renault. It’s part of a slightly messy-sounding collaboration between the Dongfeng Motor Group, Nissan and local manufacturers e-GT New Energy Automotive. Prices are not yet confirmed, but Bolloré said rivals in China cost around 60,000-70,000 RMB, which is the equivalent of €8.000 to €9.300 (taxes not included). “We will be competitive with that”, he promised. It’s definitely a city car; the wheelbase is 2.423 mm; 67 mm shorter than the already-quite-tiny Twingo. It’s certainly chunkier to look at than a Twingo, though; it’s almost like a teeny-weeny SUV. Renault says it has 150 mm of ground clearance, while the thick cladding and roof rails giving the design game away. Pretty it ain’t, though. Inside, an 8 inch touchscreen that takes up the majority of the dashboard and the driver has a set of cartoonish instruments in the binnacle. Tyre pressure sensors and a reversing camera are standard, too. The cabin air system also has PM2.5 (particulate matter) filters; something that’ll come in handy in the smog-choked cities of China. That’s lavish equipment levels for Chinese standards, especially in a dinky city car. Fast charging is dealt with in just 50 minutes from 0-80%, or 4 hours to 100% on what Renault describes as a slow charge. Battery, motor and performance specs aren’t known yet, but I do know it’s a handy 130 kg lighter than the competition. Renault’s EV credentials are rock solid, with the trailblazing Zoe (it debuted in 2012) having now shifted some 110,000 units. Within the Alliance, Nissan’s Leaf is on its second generation while many rivals race to bring their first EV to market. Carlos Ghosn was punchy on the car’s huge potential in China at the 2018 Paris motor show (and before his dramatic incarceration). Considerably more sophisticated than the Chinese rivals the K-ZE will go up against, Ghosn insisted it would compete directly on price. And that potential is enormous when you consider nearly half a million pure EVs were sold in China last year alone. “Renault was a pioneer and is the European leader in electric vehicles. K-ZE is an affordable, urban, SUV-inspired electric model combining the best of Renault; our leadership in EV, our expertise in affordable vehicles and in forging strong partnerships”, said Ghosn. While describing the City K-ZE as a global car, Ghosn was less confident about its European future. The business case may well stack up, but China comes first. Previously all or nothing in its approach to electrification, Renault’s also announced hybrid versions of its volume sellers; Clio, Mégane and Captur. Badged E-Tech and offering both hybrid (Clio) and plug-in hybrid functionality (Megane and Captur), the first E-Tech Renaults will arrive in 2020. +++ 

+++ The reports claiming the SUBARU BRZ / Toyota GT86 twins wouldn’t be replaced have largely fallen silent. Both models will get a successor sooner rather than later, that’s official, but Toyota could use a higher number of existing parts to keep development costs in check. The list of carry-over components might include the coupes’ basic platform, according to a recent report. The second-generation BRZ and GT86 could shift to a rear-wheel drive version of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) found under a variety of models including the RAV4, the Prius, the Corolla, and the C-HR. The coupe segment is declining globally, so Subaru and Toyota are having a difficult time putting together a business case for the development of a standalone platform. Building the BRZ and GT86 on Prius bones sounds like heresy at first, but don’t cry foul: it just shows how flexible TNGA is. It was developed with front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive cars in mind. The coupes would, theoretically, drive like a proper rear-wheel drive car. And, keep in mind Volkswagen has paved the way with its MQB platform, which is found under a wide variety of cars ranging from the Atlas to Audi’s TT. Subaru and Toyota executives haven’t decided whether to use TNGA for the coupes yet. The second alternative that’s still on the table is making both models on an evolution of the platform they’re currently riding on, which traces its roots to an older version of the Impreza. Using Subaru’s new modular platform, which underpins cars like the current variants of the Impreza, the Forester, and the Legacy, has been ruled out. Insiders told that the platform was developed with all-wheel drive in mind, whether it’s mechanical or electrified, and making the BRZ and GT86 anything other than rear-wheel drive is out of the question. The development of both cars is well under way, but I don’t know when they’ll break cover yet. +++

+++ SUZUKI announced it is recalling 2 million vehicles shipped domestically, citing improper inspections and a series of other faults including false fuel efficiency data. The recall affects vehicles running for 4 years or less that have not yet received a routine check-up. Among them is the minicar Spacia. Last week, Suzuki admitted that an internal review had uncovered a host of problems at its factories, including faulty brake checks, falsified fuel-efficiency data, and uncertified staff carrying out final inspections. The recall is expected to cost the firm around 80 billion yen ($715 million) and also affects parts made by Suzuki for vehicles produced for Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi. Transport minister Keiichi Ishii has said the company needs some “serious soul-searching” over the scandal. The problem “raises doubts about the firm’s regards for compliance and it is extremely regrettable”, Ishii told reporters. +++ 

+++ TESLA has shed more light on Autopilot’s neural-network prowess, arguing that its superior machine-learning methods eliminate the benefits of simulated training and lidar sensors. The company’s Autopilot software head, Andrej Karpathy, has explained how the entire fleet of Autopilot-equipped cars contributes to an automated training system that has allowed the neural-network algorithms to become more refined with little need for computer simulation. Karpathy and Tesla CEO Elon Musk argued that simulation does not capture the “long-tail” rare events that prove most troublesome for self-driving platforms, such as complex pedestrian zones where the pedestrians may be moving in reaction to the car’s motion. “If someone can make a simulation that accurately matches reality, that in itself would be a monumental achievement”, Musk said. “They can’t; there’s no way”. The company also uses data from cars that have Autopilot turned off to help train its neural network, using the human driver’s behavior as an example of how to maneuver in certain situations. A demonstration video showed how this information is used to improve predictions for lane guidance that follow a curve beyond the line of sight. Tesla has reaffirmed its commitment to using cameras and radar/ultrasonic sensors for depth perception, pointing out that vision is proven to be an effective sense used by humans to drive. Autopilot uses stereo imaging from multiple cameras, along with raw neural-network learning to process motion into depth. In a short six-second clip of a drive in a city, the system created a 3D point cloud of the surrounding vehicles, pedestrians and buildings. Musk argues that lidar gives a “false sense of progress” for companies that have not solved “the vision problem” through neural-network programming alone. “Lidar is a fools errand”, he proclaimed. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed”. Nearly 500,000 Autopilot-equipped cars are already on the road, with another 500,000 expected to be added in the next year. Tesla believes its unmatched real-world data set gives the company an edge above all rivals. Waymo is widely considered the leader in full self-driving development, though the company has cautiously launched its commercial service only in a small patch of the Phoenix suburbs. Tesla’s system still requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, but the company predicts this precaution will be overcome in the next year as the ongoing machine-learning programs continue to refine the software. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said it is setting up a research institute in Beijing in partnership with Tsinghua University to study car technology using hydrogen power and other green technologies that could ease environmental problems in China. The initiative, outlined by Toyota’s president and chief executive Akio Toyoda in a speech at Tsinghua University, is part of the Japanese carmaker’s efforts to share more technology with China as it seeks to expand its business in the country by beefing up manufacturing capacity and distribution channels, a source close to Toyota said. The Tsinghua-Toyota Joint Research Institute will conduct research into cars and new technology to solve environmental problems in China, including reducing traffic accidents, Toyota said in a statement. The institute will “cooperate in research not only related to cars for Chinese consumers, but also in research related to active utilization of hydrogen energy that can help solve China’s energy problems”, the company said. The move dovetails with Toyota’s announcement this month that it would offer carmakers and suppliers around the world free access to nearly 24,000 patents for electric vehicle technologies. Executive vice-president Shigeki Terashi told earlier this month that the automaker intended to become a tier 2 supplier of hybrid systems and that it had already received enquiries from more than 50 companies. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has stopped working on the successor to the New Small Family range, the internal codename for its Up, Mii and Citigo city cars, but is planning one last hurrah with an updated range of electric derivatives. We’ve already seen the limited-series e-Up electric vehicle (EV), which was launched in 2013. But this time round, the VW Group is planning battery-powered versions of all 3 family members and they’re due to launch in 2020 under the VW130 codename. Buyers will be able to pick from 3 versions, depending on their need for range and performance, and the size of their wallet: 24 kWh battery, 70 kW e-motor and 300 kilometre range; 36 kWh battery, 90 kW e-motor and 400 kilometre range; 49 kWh battery,  110 kW e-motor and 500 kilometre range. The pricing ladder, according to my sources at Wolfsburg, will stretch from around €20,000 to €27,500. Project VW130 is the last Volkswagen based on the ancient PQ matrix conceived way back when under Ferdinand Piëch. It truly is the changing of the guard, as the new MEB architecture takes over. The project has been put on ice because of the macro-economic shifts wreaking havoc in the car industry. Increasingly strict emission norms make it unprofitable for many car makers to compete in the entry-level category and they’re all considering new ways of producing attractive, profitable small cars. VW’s not alone: Renault and Smart are said to terminate their cooperation when Twingo and Forfour need to be reinvented towards the tail end of the next decade and Opel is not going to replace the funky but barely profitable Adam and Karl, either. Ford will stop selling the Ka+ in September. Volkswagen is accelerating its roll-out of electric cars, Wolfsburg confirmed at its 2019 annual conference. It revealed plans to launch almost 70 electric vehicles (EVs) by 2028, instead of the 50 it had previously planned. That’ll mean 40 % of cars sold by 2030 will be battery powered across the VW Group (including Audi, Seat, Skoda, Porsche and others). As a result, the projected volume of EVs to be built upon its electric platforms will spiral from 15 million to 22 million, bringing crucial economies of scale; useful when all car makers are desperate to push down the cost of electrification. Committing to higher volumes will secure lower unit prices for batteries and power controllers necessary to electrify a car. The group also committed to going carbon neutral by 2050; it is analysing its CO2 output at every step of manufacturing, from factory floor to external supply chains. +++ 

+++ This is a typical David-Goliath battle: A small Chinese electric-vehicle startup says it does not fear the electrification challenge coming from the Volkswagen Group, a multi-brand giant that is not only Europe’s largest automaker but also the No.1 automaker by sales in China, the world’s largest auto market. “Traditional dealers will always push to sell internal combustion engine models because they deliver higher service and aftermarket revenues”, said Freeman Shen, founder, chairman and president of WM MOTOR . ‘WM’ is short for ‘Welt Meister’, which means “world champion” in German. The company was founded in 2015 and launched the EX5 compact crossover, its first model in China last September. In the first quarter, WM Motor sold a just 4,085 units of the EX5, whose price in China starts at the equivalent of 23,000 euros before incentives for the standard version with a 300 km range. As a comparison, the VW Group sold over 2.5 million units worldwide in the same period. While WM Motor could be one of the several Chinese battery EV startups that might not live long, Shen, 49, is the perfect example of a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs with a truly international background. He holds a bachelor of science in engineering mechanics from the South China University of Technology, a master’s in structural engineering from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. On top of this, Shen is a graduate of the advanced management program at Harvard Business School. He began his career in the United States at supplier Eaton Corp. He then moved to China, where he held a number of senior roles in the auto industry, including vice president of Fiat Group China and founder and first president of BorgWarner China. Earlier in his career, Shen was a board member and group vice president of Geely Holding Group. While at Geely, he was responsible for the acquisition of Volvo Car Group in 2010, after which he was appointed chairman of Volvo China. For WM Motor, Shen chose direct sales as the distribution model because he sees vehicles as the low-margin “hardware,” while it is the “software” that will create value in connectivity and mobility services. Shen’s ambition? To create for WM Motor “an ecosystem that will go beyond the product alone”. His reference model? Tesla, obviously. His marketing positioning? To create a range of battery-powered cars that will be fun to drive and affordable. +++

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