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+++ Tesla’s AUTOPILOT system was engaged during a fatal March 1 crash of a 2018 Model 3 in Delray Beach, Florida, in at least the third fatal U.S. crash reported involving the driver-assistance system, the National Transportation Safety Board said. The crash renews questions about the driver-assistance system’s ability to detect hazards and has sparked concerns about the safety of systems that can perform driving tasks for extended stretches of time with little or no human intervention, but which cannot completely replace human drivers. The NTSB’s preliminary report said the driver engaged Autopilot about 10 seconds before crashing into a semitrailer, and the system did not detect the driver’s hands on the wheel for fewer than 8 seconds before the crash. The crash sheared off the roof as the Tesla traveled under the semitrailer. The vehicle was traveling at about 110 km/h on a highway with a 90 km/h speed limit, and neither the system nor the driver made any evasive maneuvers, the agency said. Tesla said in a statement that after the driver engaged the system he “immediately removed his hands from the wheel. Autopilot had not been used at any other time during that drive”. The company added that “Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with Autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance”. While some Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid holding the steering wheel for extended periods while using Autopilot, Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention while using the system. David Friedman, a former acting NHTSA administrator, said the incident raises serious questions about the system and the lack of restrictions on its use. “Either Autopilot can’t see the broad side of an 18-wheeler, or it can’t react safely to it”, said Friedman, a vice president for advocacy at Consumer Reports. “This system can’t dependably navigate common road situations on its own and fails to keep the driver engaged exactly when needed most”. He said Tesla “must restrict Autopilot to conditions where it can be used safely and install a far more effective system to verify driver engagement”. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the Delray Beach and said it is “carefully evaluating all available data and will share any findings upon conclusion of its investigation”. In May 2016, a Tesla Model S driver was killed near Williston, Florida, while Autopilot was engaged, when he slammed into a tractor trailer that also sheared off the vehicle roof. In a fatal crash in Mountain View, California, in March 2018 involving a Model X in Autopilot mode, Tesla said vehicle logs showed the driver had received warnings to put his hands on the wheel but no action was taken by the driver ahead of the crash. That incident is being investigated by both the NTSB and NHTSA. The NTSB said in 2017 that Tesla lacked proper safeguards allowing the driver “to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention”. NHTSA, which has the power to order safety recalls, is investigating a fatal incident in Davie, Florida, on Feb. 24 involving a 2016 Tesla Model S that caught fire and burned the 48-year-old driver beyond recognition. It was not clear if Autopilot was engaged in this incident. NHTSA can demand a recall if it believes a defect poses an unreasonable safety risk, while the NTSB makes safety recommendations. The NTSB said it had reviewed forward-facing video from the Tesla in the Delray Beach crash. NHTSA is also probing the January 2018 crash of a Tesla vehicle apparently traveling in Autopilot that struck a fire truck in Culver City, California; a May 2018 crash in Utah of a Tesla in Autopilot mode; and a May 2018 Tesla accident in Florida that killed 2 teenagers and injured another but was not in Autopilot mode. The NTSB is also investigating an August 2017 Tesla battery fire in California, in which an owner ran the vehicle into his garage. +++ 

+++ BMW boss Harald Krüger defended his track record at the company’s annual meeting, highlighting its luxury lead in the U.S., as the automaker battles to reverse weak margins. BMW is struggling alongside many other automakers with a downturn in demand and record spending after years of growth. After a profit warning last year, the world’s second-biggest luxury automaker after Mercedes-Benz had a tough start to the year, reducing momentum from an unprecedented model offensive to a whimper. That and BMW squandering an early lead in electric cars is putting pressure on Krüger to prove his strategy. “I am certain that we can continue our successful development, especially now that our model offensive is bearing fruit”, Krüger said in prepared remarks to shareholders at the company’s annual meeting. “Your company remains strong, through both calm and stormy times.” The automaker reported its first loss in a decade in the main automotive division in the 3 month through March, after booking a €1.4 billion provision for potential European Union fines over collusion. Even excluding this charge, the unit’s return on sales dropped to the lowest point in 10 years. “Where is this model offensive?” German shareholder association vice-president Daniela Bergdolt said in her speech to loud applause from shareholders. “Sure, you’ve got the iNext, but I was expecting something that blows Tesla out of the water”. Krüger has pledged to retake the premium car sales crown from Mercedes by 2020 after losing the top spot in 2016. In the year through April, Mercedes led BMW on global deliveries by a margin of 52,340 cars, with BMW sales gaining 0.8 % and its rival falling 5.6 %. Mercedes also remained ahead in China. BMW moved early in electric cars among major automakers with the electric i3 in 2013 but paused putting more battery-only cars on the road after sluggish sales until this year, when it will unveil an electric Mini. Meanwhile, Jaguar, Mercedes and Audi have started sales of a fresh generation of battery-powered SUVs. While Volkswagen, Mercedes maker Daimler and Audi are investing into electric cars “at full speed, BMW is traveling in Munich with the handbrake on”, Union Investment fund manager Janne Werning said. BMW plans 12 electric cars by 2025. Krüger defended his cautious approach, saying no one knew how fast electric cars would take over or which technology was set to win out. BMW’s stance contrasts with Volkswagen’s €30 billion electric onslaught for 70 models by 2028, with BMW producing hybrid and battery cars on the same production lines as combustion vehicles because it lacks VW’s economies of scale. “I do not believe it would be wise, from a business perspective, to put all our eggs in one basket”, Krüger said, highlighting plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell cars as alternatives. Krüger announced a €12 billion savings program in March by culling models and reducing drivetrain options. For the second half the year, BMW expects business to improve thanks to models like the revamped 3-series and the new X7. There has been little let-up in the pressure that’s been intensifying due to the U.S.-China trade spat dragging on the global economy, and unprecedented spending demands for the transformation to electric cars. President Donald Trump is poised to delay a decision on tariffs on cars imported from the E.U. by up to 6 months. Though BMW investors have voiced criticisms, there is little risk of a revolt. Quandt family members Susanne Klatten and her brother Stefan Quandt own 45 % of the company’s shares. BMW has assured Hungary it that an investment in a new factory in eastern part of the country is going ahead as planned. BMW and sector peer Daimler have started billion-euro factory construction projects in Hungary yet both are under review due to a projected fall in demand. “I still need to get information from Daimler, but BMW fully informed us yesterday”, Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, told a media briefing. “In no way does the existing decline in the German auto industry affect the BMW factory in Debrecen”. +++

+++ Peugeot, CITROEN and DS will devote far less time and effort working on the user interface systems of future models, focusing instead on the ease of integrating with smartphones. “We’re not running 100 screens or bigger screens”, Citroën design boss Pierre Leclercq told. “You will use your phone to start the car and to do everything. “That is the future. It has to be simple, but it has to be intuitive as well”. Agreeing that many buyers have been frustrated by clunky native user interface systems, Leclercq said that future Citroëns will be far simpler. “5 years ago, we could not assume everybody would have a smartphone”, he said. “Now, when we design cars, we assume that in a couple of years everybody will own a device like this. Then the question is: ‘Does it work with my car?’ ”. Citroën is also set to follow the lead of upmarket manufacturers into smartphone-based car security, moving away from conventional keys, or at least offering the option to unlock and start vehicles with smart devices. “It is all about making things easier; that is the most important thing now”, said Leclercq. +++

+++ The first hot Leon to ditch the Seat badge for CUPRA branding has been spotted at the Nürburgring for the first time ahead of the car’s debut in 2020. Telltale signs that this isn’t just another prototype for the standard Leon include a lower stance, enlarged front air intakes, bigger wheels covering enlarged brakes and twin exhaust tailpipes jutting out from the back bumper. Set to arrive less than a year after the standard Mk4 Seat Leon makes its debut (likely at September’s Frankfurt motor show) the Cupra Leon is also set to receive a plug-in hybrid powertrain option. Seat CEO Luca de Meo confirmed this at the brand’s annual press conference last month. “In 2020, the new generation of Leon will come to market in 5-door and ST versions. It will feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain that will produce up to 250 hp and less than 50 g/km of CO2 emissions”, said de Meo. “Just before the end of 2020, the Cupra Leon and Cupra Leon ST, both with plug-in hybrid versions, will arrive”. It wasn’t made clear whether the power output de Meo referenced did in fact apply to the Cupra, although given the figure is less than today’s hot hatchback and a PHEV version is likely to weigh significantly more, I’d expect a greater output to be extracted for a Cupra model. Also unclear is whether or not the fast Leon will adopt all-wheel drive, by using either the conventional Haldex clutch system of today’s model or an electrically powered rear axle. Last year, de Meo told that Cupra as a brand would be used “as a gate to bring technology that will cascade to the rest of the Seat range”. A fully electric Cupra is also under serious discussion. +++ 

+++ The European Commission welcomed the delay to U.S. president Donald Trump’s decision on whether to impose tariffs on imported cars from EUROPE and said it was prepared to negotiate a transatlantic trade accord that included automobiles. “We welcome that in spite of some differences, the EU and the U.S. stick loyally and faithfully to the agreement found between president Juncker and president Trump on 25 July 2018. Additional tariffs in either direction could therefore be avoided”, a Commission spokesman said. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a tweet she rejected the notion that EU car exports were a U.S. national security threat, adding that the European Union was ready to negotiate a limited trade agreement, including cars, but not a deal to manage trade that violated World Trade Organization rules. She said she would discuss trade relations with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Paris next week. If the United States imposes further tariffs of 25 % on imports of cars and car parts, it could cost the German economy an extra €6 billion a year, the managing director of Germany’s DIHK Chambers of Commerce said. “But ultimately this would not only affect German manufacturers, but also consumers in the United States”, Martin Wansleben said in a statement. +++ 

+++ FORD is turning to the automotive marketer’s time-tested themes, speed and power, to sell a new generation of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles to mass market customers. Ford this week showed off a hybrid Explorer it is selling to U.S. police departments that combines a 6-cylinder engine with a lithium-ion battery, an electric motor and a 10-speed transmission to deliver 318 horsepower and speed that can outrun police vehicles equipped with a larger V8, company executives said. The Police Interceptor Explorer is a niche model. But highlighting a hybrid vehicle’s speed and functional capability is the strategy Ford intends to deploy broadly as the company begins offering hybrid systems across its highest-volume models over the next 3 years. The new Explorer and Kuga hybrid SUVs are due to hit showrooms later this year, and a hybrid F-150 pickup is scheduled for 2020. In the past, Ford promoted hybrids such as the C-Max by stressing fuel economy. As fuel prices dropped over the past decade, sales of many fuel efficient cars, including hybrids, sagged. U.S. consumers have been paying premiums instead for larger vehicles that offer more horsepower and towing capacity. That market trend now is guiding Ford’s substantial bet on hybrids, combining high performance with the technology to meet tougher emissions rules in China, Europe and the United States, company executives said. “With us and others, it was strictly around fuel economy”, David Filipe, Ford vice president for powertrain engineering, told. “If we are now able to show the customer they can get more from an electrified product, that will be the recipe”, Filipe said. Ford is investing $11 billion plan to deliver 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles by 2022. Ford has developed 2 new hybrid drive systems. One is for smaller models like the Kuga. The other connects a 44 hp electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and will be used for larger vehicles like the Explorer and F-150. Both systems are designed to fit multiple models, and those vehicles in turn can be sold with or without hybrid drive. In the Explorer and F-150, the same 10-speed transmission can be used without the electric motor by substituting part of the drive shaft and little else. The battery pack for the 2020 Escape’s hybrid system, launching this fall, fits under the floor, instead of hogging space in the rear cargo compartment. The 2020 battery pack, built by Ford, is less than half the size of the older one. To promote new hybrid models, Ford is using lessons from the company’s successful effort to persuade F-150 buyers in the United States that a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine could deliver superior performance to fuel-thirsty V8 engines that dominated the large pickup segment for decades, Filipe said. Ford created the “EcoBoost” brand of turbocharged engines, and promoted the 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder EcoBoost sold in the F-150 as more powerful and able to tow heavier trailers than many traditional V8s. The automaker charges $1,600 to $2,595 to install a 3.5-liter EcoBoost, depending on the F-150 model. Including a smaller, less expensive 6-cylinder now offered as the standard motor on certain F-series models, EcoBoost engines now power nearly 70 % of F-150s sold, Filipe said. Ford will also charge more for its new hybrid models. An Explorer Limited with a 3.3 liter hybrid engine will cost U.S. buyers $4,150 more than a model with a 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine, according to Ford’s consumer website. Ford has not released official fuel efficiency ratings for the 2020 Explorer hybrid, but the company has said the vehicle should deliver more than 800 km of driving. Toyota, the leader in hybrid vehicle technology, plans to deploy gasoline-electric power systems across its lineup, including more SUVs. However, other automakers, including Ford’s arch-rival General Motors and Volkswagen, are focusing on developing all-electric vehicles to meet regulatory and consumer demands in all major world markets. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI apparently has high hopes for its partnership with Croatian electric sports-car maker Rimac. Following news that Hyundai was buying a stake in Rimac for around $89 million, the Korean automaker’s head of European design, Thomas Beurkle, told the jointly developed performance EV will influence the entire company’s engineering and design thinking. “You could say it is a marketing instrument on the outside but it’s also a game changer on the inside”, he said. The company wants the EV to be visually distinct from internal combustion cars, geared for buyers “who want to be advanced, who want to lead in terms of taste and style” and willing to buy an unconventional model. “It will be a real challenge for the design department to work on this”, Beurkle added. The executive did not shed more light on what the car might look like, its performance targets, or the likely price bracket. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) is battling a saturated market in China as the automaker attempts to steady a struggling sales operation that triggered a $4 billion writedown in February, CEO Ralf Speth said. Automakers are “fighting for volume” after the world’s biggest automotive market posted its first annual slide in demand in more than 2 decades, Speth said in an interview. That makes it all the more vital that JLR establish its products at the top end of the market, he said. “We want do it in the premium business way”, he said. “The market is going down, but last year the premium market was nevertheless stable”. The company is overhauling its Chinese dealer network because it provides insufficient exposure to the country’s biggest cities. The February writedown pushed JLR owner Tata Motors to a record loss. Speth said that Tata Motors will provide an update when it reports results, but that there is no quick fix for the issue, and he is not prepared to make unlimited sacrifices to stoke volume. “Dealer networks don’t change at the push of a button”, he said. “We do not want to push vehicles in the market then have huge stocks that get older and older. We don’t run for the sake of running. We want to have profit, not just volume”. JLR’s China sales fell more than a third in the 9 months through December and have continued to slide, declining 46 % last month while the country’s car retail market as a whole shrank 17 %. JLR’s business in China has ben hit becasue of persistent woes with reliability and dependability. The company is cutting 5,000 jobs as part of a $3.2 billion savings plan as demand is also hurt by confusion around Brexit and a UK clampdown on diesel autos. Adding to the turmoil, the company is reportedly being targeted for takeover by PSA Group. Speth said he has not spoken with PSA boss Carlos Tavares about any transaction, and cannot confirm whether there have been any discussions between Tata Motors and PSA. “Car companies always talk about technical things or whatever”, he said. “We are talking to everybody. I definitely cannot speak for Tata. I’m a normal employee in this empire and therefore I cannot make a statement”. JLR is also streamlining its commercial policies in China to help compensate for retailers’ losses, and launching extensive on-site training programs to improve the customer experience. The sales decline is being exacerbated by the China-U.S. trade war, according to Speth, who said he hoped the “geopolitical issues between America and China can be resolved quickly”. JLR can thrive as a UK business with its manufacturing base in the country, including electric vehicles, Speth said. He said measures to secure economies of scale through partnerships with bigger companies may not be worthwhile if they mean surrendering control of products and strategy. “Being small, being nimble is also an opportunity to be agile”, he said. “You have the freedom to do all your own strategy in a fast way”. +++

+++ The ST-X concept which LAMBORGHINI unveiled in late 2018 was developed solely to compete in an Urus-only race series scheduled to kick off in 2020. While the main reason it exists is to win races, Lamborghini confirmed the model could ultimately influence a hot-rodded variant of its high-riding model. Maurizio Reggiani, the head of the Italian firm’s research and development department, was asked whether the lessons learned from racing the ST-X on and off the asphalt could seep into a super-Urus, he smiled and replied yes. He stopped short of providing more details about the model, and he didn’t confirm it’s currently being developed, but a look at the ST-X gives us a decent idea of what to expect from the model. Reggiani’s team focused primarily on shedding as much weight from the Urus as possible. They achieved a 25 % weight reduction by using composite materials like carbon fiber, and by removing parts not needed on the track such as the sound-deadening material. Lamborghini likely couldn’t get away with selling a stripped-down Urus with exposed floorboards, but it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a lighter variant with more carbon fiber parts to keep weight in check. The big mystery surrounding the ST-X is what’s under the hood. Reggiani told that his team’s goal was to keep as many Urus parts as possible, and that figuring out which ones to replace was one of the hardest parts of the project. With that in mind, we don’t know what the model is powered by, but it’s likely nothing crazier than the stock engine with a little bit more power. Don’t expect to find the Aventador’s naturally-aspirated V12 between the fender. An ST-X-inspired Urus would presumably keep the twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 engine, too. If it does release an ST-X-ified Urus, Lamborghini wouldn’t be straying far from tradition. The company wasn’t born on the track, but in recent years it has channeled lessons it learned while racing to its production cars. The GT3-spec Huracan notably had a formative influence on Performante model introduced in 2018. +++

+++ LOTUS is plotting an extensive overhaul of its product line-up, according to Group Lotus CEO Feng Qingfeng. Feng, who also holds the role of chief technical officer of Zhejiang Geely (owner of Lotus as well as the Volvo Group), spoke at the recent Shanghai motor show after Lotus officially confirmed its Type 130 all-electric hypercar. Confirming the British brand’s new positioning as a cutting-edge, engineering-led company, he said Lotus plans to use its technical expertise throughout the group and to introduce new technology that will ultimately feature on cars from Geely’s other brands, too. “For the high-end and pioneering technology and applications, Lotus can serve as the frontrunner in many cases”, Feng told, “then gradually in the future that kind of know-how and those resources can be shared with the sister brands within the group”. He is also refreshingly open about how he wants the company to be perceived, and which rival he most aspires to beat: “Today, Porsche is our target and our benchmark”. As with the German brand, Feng admits that Lotus will need to diversify beyond sports cars, but also insists that these will remain at the heart of the company’s efforts. “We know Lotus is famous for its sports car products but, to support the revival of the brand, we need a much greater line-up of products for future growth”, he said. “A variety of excellent products can provide pleasant and exciting driving experiences for our customers, not one that is limited just to sports cars”. While Geely is investing to encourage growth at Lotus, with plans to introduce a range of sporting models and even an SUV, Feng insists that this process must be approached appropriately. “A brand or a company incapable of being self-sustaining or profitable cannot last”, he said, “but a company focused exclusively on making profit without its own mission will not last in the long term. “No brand can stand if it’s always having a blood transfusion. Take the Porsche brand: it has wonderful products and is financially strong”. Feng shares Lotus CEO Phil Popham’s enthusiasm to return Lotus to high-level motorsport, but says the company won’t rush in before it can afford to. “Elite level motorsport programmes depend on the success of our future products”, he said. “That is a precondition for this kind of expensive programme”. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI said that Osamu Masuko will step down as its chief executive on June 21 and be replaced by Takao Kato, who is president of its operations in Indonesia. Masuko will retain his role as chairman of the board, Mitsubishi said, adding that Masuko and Kato will hold a press conference on May 20 to discuss the changes. Japan’s 6th-largest automaker, in which Nissan holds a controlling stake, said this month it expects profit to fall to $821 million in the year to March as it navigates slowing demand for cars, global trade frictions and the need to develop new technologies. +++

+++ NISSAN said that Hiroto Saikawa would stay on as chief executive, backing the protege of former boss Carlos Ghosn even as top shareholder Renault had earlier pushed for a change in the Japanese automaker’s leadership. Saikawa’s re-appointment is likely to be seen as a rebuff to Renault, which has pushed for leadership changes as a prelude to merger talks, sources at both companies have told. Saikawa, who has long opposed full integration, is seen as an obstacle to a tie-up, several people have said. Nissan has proposed that Renault chief executive Thierry Bollore will join the board, while Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard will remain on it. The board will be increased to 11 members from 8 and will include 7 outside directors. The proposals will be put to a shareholder vote in June. The make-up of Nissan’s board has vast implications for the Nissan-Renault alliance. The unequal relationship between them (smaller Renault has the bigger stake in Nissan) has long been a source of friction. The board unanimously backed Saikawa, even while acknowledging he may have not done enough to rein in Ghosn, one external director said. Ghosn, who has been charged with financial misconduct, has denied wrongdoing. “While there are issues pertaining to Saikawa’s responsibility, we feel it is more constructive to focus on cooperation within the alliance, Nissan’s recovery and its strategic plan”, Keiko Ihara said. “We had a robust debate, we took our time to look at the risks, but in the end all of the directors agreed to the appointment”, she said, adding that Renault’s Senard had agreed at a meeting earlier this week to the decision to keep Saikawa. However, a source close to Senard said there had been no vote earlier this week, unanimous or otherwise, on Saikawa’s reappointment as CEO. Nissan’s uninspiring performance in the months since the dramatic ouster of Ghosn in November has sparked concern at the French automaker. Renault owns 43 % of its bigger partner and analysts estimate that Nissan’s planned 30 % dividend cut this year will wipe around €130 million from the French company’s earnings. The 2 Renault executives were recommended to Nissan’s board by the French automaker to strengthen the alliance, Ihara said. Renault also recommended Bernard Delmas, who chairs French tyre company Michelin’s Japanese operations. There had been widespread speculation about Saikawa’s future and the make-up of the board after Nissan this week flagged a 28 % drop in annual profit and slashed its dividend, underscoring its struggle to turn a page after Ghosn. Ghosn’s arrest in Japan and immediate ouster by Nissan strained the partnership, as Renault resisted a full investigation of alliance finances and kept its absent leader in office as chairman and CEO for 2 more months. Ghosn is out on bail and awaiting trial in Tokyo. +++ 

+++ PEUGEOT hopes to draw buyers to the brand’s first mass-market full-electric vehicle, the e-208, with a long-term battery warranty and lease rates that are comparable to internal combustion versions. The favorable terms are part of Peugeot’s ambitions to have the e-208 account for 15 % of its new small hatchback’s global volume. Last year, Peugeot sold about 230,000 units of the 208 in Europe and 295,000 globally. Europe is expected to be the No. 1 market for the EV, which goes on sale at the end of 2019 (gasoline and diesel versions of the new-generation 208 will go on sale this spring). IHS Markit forecasts that Peugeot will produce about 350,000 units of the 208 in 2020, with the e-208 making up a significant portion of that extra volume. Sales prices for the 208 will be announced this spring, but Peugeot is already promoting a 48-month, 60,000-km, €299-a-month lease for the e-208, with a down payment of €2,400. The company says the terms compare favorably to gasoline versions (€269 a month) and diesel versions (€289) of the 208 when the cost of fuel is taken into consideration. “When you add usage costs, the electric version is actually less expensive”, Sylvain Chereau, Peugeot’s EV director, told. “TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is the central message to our customers”. Volkswagen is promoting a similar plan for its ID.3 electric vehicle, with the first cars expected to go on sale in 2020. Unlike some competitors, including Europe’s 2018 top-sellers, the No. 1 Nissan Leaf and No. 2 Renault Zoe, Peugeot will not lease the battery separately. Instead, the e-208 will have an 8-year, 160,000-km warranty, at the end of which it promises the battery will still be able to retain 70 % of its charge. “We want to keep it simple”, Chereau said. Europe’s electric car segment was the region’s fastest-growing sector, with sales last year that grew 41 % to 233,254 units in a flat market. Overall, the share of electric cars sold in Europe grew to 1.5 % of the total market from 1.1 % in 2017. The second-generation Nissan Leaf reclaimed the segment lead with 39,994 sales, marginally ahead of the segment’s 2017 leader, the Renault Zoe (38,227). The Hyundai Ioniq rounded out the top 3, slipping one spot from 2017, even though its sales rose 45 % to 31,918 units. New competitors such as the Tesla Model 3, which figures show took the lead as Europe’s top-selling EV through February, are starting to appear in Europe, because the EU’s tougher CO2 level of 95 g/km starts to take effect next year. Some relatively new models in the segment include the Hyundai Kona Electric and the e-Niro from sister brand Kia. Other significant debuts this year will be models from Peugeot siblings such as the DS 3 Crossback E-tense and Opel/Vauxhall Corsa EV. Both will be built on the same e-CMP platform as the e-208. Another key model will be the revamped Zoe. The next generation of the Peugeot 2008 will appear by year-end, with an electric version similar to that of the DS 3 Crossback. “We have to get down to 95 grams”, Peugeot CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato told. He is counting on the e-208 and plug-in hybrid versions of the 508 and 3008 (both emit about 49 g/km of CO2) to play a crucial role. Peugeot’s fleet CO2 average in 2018 was 107,7 g/km; the second-best figure in Europe after hybrid-heavy Toyota, but Peugeot was still more than 3 g/km above its 2017 figure. Government support will also play a bigger role in electric vehicle sales in some countries. In France, for example, electric vehicles are eligible for a €6,000 rebate, up to 27 % of the total purchase price. And starting Jan. 1, 2020  buyers who turn in older, high-polluting vehicles for scrappage can get up to €5,000 if they buy a new EV. EV owners can get a tax rebate for much of the cost of home charging stations, and some cities will provide free parking. +++

+++ Europe’s mass-market SMALL SUV B segment is growing so rapidly that key players such as Ford, Jeep and Opel are doubling their model offerings. Last year the segment, which continues to be led by the Renault Captur, outpaced growth in all others except electric cars, with a 37 % increase to 1.83 million units. The boost given by new models such as the Volkswagen T-Roc, Citroen C3 Aircross and Seat Arona was such that small SUVs came close to passing the compact SUV C segment, which recorded sales of 1.88 million units. The increase in popularity of small SUVs is such that they will briefly overtake compact variants as the most popular SUV segment in 2020, analyst firm LMC Automotive predicts. Sales will rise to 1.99 million this year and 2.16 million in 2020, just ahead of compact SUVs, LMC forecasts. In 2021, compact C segment SUVs will be back in front but only just, LMC estimates. The growth has prompted Ford to develop a second model, called Puma, which launches toward the end of the year. The Puma will be built alongside the EcoSport at Ford’s factory in Craiova, Romania. “SUVs are becoming so dominant that it makes sense to have more entries”, Roelant de Waard, Ford’s head of sales and marketing for Europe, told. “You see others already going that way, for example with VW with the T-Roc and T-Cross”. The Puma brings some of the dynamism and sporty looks that helped to make Ford’s Fiesta the biggest-selling small car in Europe and is expected to help replace some of the sales lost as the small-car segment declines. The Puma, at about 4.200 mm long, also provides a bridge between the smaller EcoSport, which measures 4.017 mm, and the Kuga at 4.613 mm. “It’s a very nice sweet spot between”, de Waard said. “It’s clearly bigger than the EcoSport. It’s more crossover than SUV, more dynamic, so will appeal to a different customer”. Pricing of the Puma will be closer to that of a compact C segment hatchback, de Waard said. Ford has said it wants SUVs to account for nearly half of its passenger car sales, up from 27 % last year. Also planning to double up is Jeep, which has promised a second small SUV to launch before 2022. That new vehicle would sit below the Renegade, which finished last year in 11th place in the small SUV segment. Opel has shown that having 2 models in the sector works. Last year it was the most successful brand in the segment, combining sales of the fifth-place Mokka X and the No. 8-selling Crossland X. Opel will replace the Mokka in 2020 with a model that it says will put more styling distance between the Mokka X and smaller Crossland X. Not everyone is in the sector yet. Skoda will launch the Kamiq into the segment in autumn. Meanwhile, Toyota is expected to add a small SUV at its plant in Valenciennes, France, either this year or early next to sit beneath the C-HR. There will be change at the top, too. Renault is expected to launch a new version of the best-selling Captur early next year, while rival Peugeot is preparing a replacement for the successful 2008, which just got beaten for second place last year by the new Dacia Duster. Also expected early next year is the long-awaited Nissan Juke, which last year sank to 13th position in the segment with sales of 67,647, down 29 %. Nissan acknowledged it was late replacing this once segment-defining car, which led the sector in 2013. “Obviously, it’s time for a new one. It’s a really important vehicle for us”, Ken Ramirez, Nissan Europe’s head of sales and marketing, told. He said the new Juke would be revealed this year. The Juke also could receive the e-Power hybrid drivetrain that Nissan has said will be coming to unspecified European models. Electrification in the sector is rapidly increasing the closer the European industry gets to the launch of tougher fleet CO2 targets starting in 2020. While automakers find the cost of applying emissions technology and electrification to traditional small cars hard to justify, the price bump and consumer pull of small SUVs mean that the full range of electrification is about to be deployed in the sector. Last year just 0.2 % of small SUV sales were full electric (the Hyundai Kona EV), with no plug-in hybrids, but that is expected to change. PSA Group is leading the charge on electric. PSA’s Opel unit has said it will make a full-electric version of its new Mokka X in 2020, while Peugeot has announced it will make an electric 2008 with sales starting early next year. DS already sells an electric version of its 3 Crossback. Last year the small SUV sector was 69 % gasoline and 29 % diesel. +++ 

+++ TESLA chief executive officer Elon Musk told employees that he will increase scrutiny of the company’s expenses in his latest initiative to cut costs at the electric car maker. Tesla earlier this month closed a $2.7 billion offering of stock and convertible notes, giving it much needed cash as it ramps up production. Musk said in an email to employees its net proceeds from the offering gave Tesla only 10 months to achieve breakeven at the rate it was burning cash in the first quarter. “That is why, going forward, all expenses of any kind anywhere in the word, including parts, salary, travel expenses, rent, literally every payment that leaves our bank account must be reviewed” Musk said. Tesla’s attempts to cut costs are not new. In April 2018, in an email sent to employees, Musk said he had instructed his finance team to “comb through every expense worldwide” to find possible cuts. More recently, Tesla laid off 9 %, and 7 % of its workforce in June 2018, and January, respectively. The new initiative comes after a tumultuous year for Tesla which has seen analysts and investors cast doubt on its ability to produce, sell and deliver enough cars to make a sustainable profit. +++

+++ U.S. President Donald TRUMP declared that some imported vehicles and parts pose a national security threat but delayed a decision for as long as 6 months on whether to impose tariffs to allow for more time for trade talks with the European Union and Japan. The unprecedented designation of foreign vehicles imported to the United States from some of its closest allies sparked anger from automakers, dealers and foreign governments after a White House document hinted it would seek voluntary export quotas on autos from U.S. trading partners. Toyota, which said in March it is investing $13 billion in U.S. operations through 2021, called the designation “a major set-back for American consumers, workers and the auto industry” and said it sent the message “our investments are not welcomed”. Trump’s decision, at least for now, averts what was shaping up to be a new dramatic escalation in the Trump administration’s trade disputes around the world, including a trade war with China. Trump continued his rhetoric attacking foreign imports from the EU. “They have trade barriers. They don’t want our farm products, they don’t want our cars. They send Mercedes-Benz’s in here like they’re cookies”, he told a group of real estate agents. “They send BMWs here. We hardly tax them at all”. The president had faced a deadline to make a decision on recommendations by the Commerce Department to protect the U.S. auto industry from imports on national security grounds and imposing tariffs of up to 25 %. Trump directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to pursue negotiations with the EU, Japan and any other country he deemed appropriate and report back within 180 days. If no deal is reached, Trump will decide by then “whether and what further action needs to be taken”. In a proclamation, Trump agreed with a Commerce Department study that found some imported cars and trucks are “weakening our internal economy” and threaten to harm national security, but it stopped short of naming specific vehicles or parts. Automakers warned the tariffs cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically raise prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars. A group representing major German and Asian automakers including Daimler, Volkswagen, Honda and Nissan, called the suggestion some auto imports are a national security risk “absurd”. The group added that “no one in the industry has asked for tariffs or other ‘protection’ from the government”. “The truth stands: imported autos and auto parts are simply not a national security threat”, said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association. “Using this spurious claim as justification to force our trading partners into new negotiations will only create more uncertainty for America’s entire auto industry”. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford and others, said the companies remained “deeply concerned that the administration continues to consider imposing auto tariffs”. The group said that since 2017 automakers have invested $22.8 billion in new and existing facilities in the United States, but “increased auto tariffs threaten to undo this economic progress. At the end of the day, you can have tariffs or investment, but you can’t have both”. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, criticized Trump’s finding and said his “petulant threats will only make it less likely our allies will work with us to confront our collective challenges with China and to fix real trade problems”. A revised U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada signed in November effectively shields existing imports from the 2 nations to the United States from national security tariffs. The auto tariffs face strong opposition in Congress, including from many prominent Republicans. The White House has refused to release the auto import study to Congress. Trump’s proclamation said “domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports” and said a strong U.S. auto sector is vital to U.S. military superiority. The reports cited statistics that U.S.-owned companies’ share of the U.S. automobile market has declined from 67 %, or 10.5 million units produced and sold in the United States, in 1985, to 22 %, or 3.7 million units produced and sold in the United States, in 2017. At the same time, the Commerce Department report stated that imports nearly doubled: from 4.6 million units to 8.3 million units. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Trump that “successful negotiations could allow American-owned automobile producers to achieve long-term economic viability and increase R&D spending to develop cutting-edge technologies that are critical to the defense industry”. The report called the European Union and Japan “protected foreign markets” that “impose significant barriers to automotive imports from the United States, severely disadvantaging American-owned producers”. The United States also has barriers to imports, most notably a 25 % tariff on pickups from outside North America. +++ 

+++ VOLVO is launching a new smartphone-based tool to help drivers handle various issues following a car accident. After the in-car SOS communications detects an accident and Volvo Customer Care determines that there are no injuries, the system sends the driver a link to the Accident Advisor utility to help manage the insurance claim. Drivers are presented with a checklist, starting with a reminder to take pictures and gather other evidence that can be sent to the insurance company. The tool also provides a direct link to digitally filing a claim. Accident Adivsor will roll out automatically for all 2015.5 or newer Volvo vehicles equipped with the company’s in-car SOS tech. +++

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