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+++ The new ALPINE A110 celebrated its second anniversary a couple of months ago, yet a prototype of the mid-engined sports car was spotted at the Nurburgring a few days ago. If I was to take a guess, I’d say that it’s probably the rumored range-topping version that will sit atop the normal car, much like the Renault Mégane RS and its Trophy derivative. I haven’t brought these two cars into discussion just for the sake of it. The modern A110 is powered by the same engine, namely a 252 hp and 320 Nm, 1.8-liter turbo-4. The Mégane RS Trophy is good for 300 hp and 400 Nm which, unsurprisingly, is also the rumored output of the more track-focused Alpine. Apart fromt the alleged 300 hp variant of the A110, which was rumored to arrive this fall, perhaps at the Frankfurt Motor Show, there is also speculation about other possible models. One of them was an open-top Porsche 718 Boxster rival that’s tipped to debut next year. +++ 

+++ The C8-generation CHEVROLET Corvette will be unveiled on July 18th but before that day arrives, an estimation has been made how much the mid-engine supercar will set back buyers in the United States. Considering the development work General Motors has needed to do in order to make a mid-engine Corvette, it should come as no surprise that the C8 will be more expensive than the C7. However, it won’t be a piece of unobtainium like so many mid-engine supersportscars currently on sale. The entry-level C8 Corvette model, tipped to retain the Stingray name, will probably start from about €180,000 in The Netherlands. While that is almost €40,000 more than a base C7, it is not excessive and seems like a reasonable price to pay for all the benefits a mid-engine performance car has over one with the engine hanging over the front wheels. The standard C8 Corvette is expected to be powered by an improved version of GM’s trusty 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine with 500 hp. As you would expect, the C8 will be sold in a number of different configurations and with various engine options. At least one variant is expected to have a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 engine while another could feature this same engine but supplemented with at least one electric motor and delivering around 1000 hp. The most expensive C8 Corvette models may start from around €300,000. If accurate, that would be a lot more than the current C7 ZR1 and absolutely remarkably for a car with 1000 hp, especially when you consider that a Lamborghini Huracan Performante with its 640 hp starts at €329.713. +++ 

+++ Resembling the helmet of a Star Wars stormtrooper, a DRIVERLESS electric truck began daily freight deliveries on a public road in Sweden, in what developer Einride and logistics customer DB Schenker described as a world first. Robert Falck, the CEO of Swedish start-up Einride, said the company was in partnership talks with major suppliers to help scale production and deliver orders, and the firm did not rule out future tie-ups with large truckmakers. “This public road permit is a major milestone, and it is a step to commercializing autonomous technology on roads”, the former Volvo executive told. “Since we’re a software and operational first company, a partnership with a manufacturing company is something that we see as a core moving forward”, he said, adding he hoped to seal a deal by next year. Falck said Einride, whose investors include ex-Daimler Asia trucks head Marc Llistosella, is also courting investors for an ongoing Series A fundraising, often a company’s first sizable one. It previously raised $10 million. Auto alliances are on the rise to share the cost of electric and autonomous technology. Ford has vowed to invest $500 million in U.S. electric utility truck startup Rivian. Einride’s T-Pod is 26 tonnes when full and does not have a driver cabin, which it estimates reduces road freight operating costs by around 60 % versus a diesel truck with a driver. Besides Schenker, Einride has orders from German grocer Lidl, Swedish delivery company Svenska Retursystem and five Fortune 500 retail companies, underpinning its ambition to have 200 vehicles in operation by the end of 2020. Freight operators are under pressure to reduce delivery times, cut emissions and face a growing shortage of drivers. Schenker picked Einride over established truckmakers as the T-Pod straddles the two biggest sector transformations: digitization and electrification, CEO Jochen Thewes said. “We believe that Einride is the best concept out there for now”, he said. The T-Pod is ‘Level 4’ autonomous, the second highest category, and uses a Nvidia Drive platform to process visual data in real time. An operator, sitting miles away, can supervise and control up to 10 vehicles at once. Thewes said the rollout of 5G technology, vital for electrification, was lagging. For Schenker’s pilot with Einride, Ericsson and Telia had to construct two new towers. The T-Pod has permission to make short trips (between a warehouse and a terminal) on a public road in an industrial area in Jonkoping, central Sweden, at up to 5 km/hr, documents from the transport authority show. Falck said Einride would apply next year for more public route permits and was planning to expand in the United States. “Ground zero for autonomous vehicles is the United States. I think it will be the first market to scale when it comes to autonomous vehicles”, he said. +++ 

+++ FORD has sold its vast Melbourne industrial sites in Broadmeadows and Geelong in a multi-million dollar deal that bookends an historic era of car manufacturing in Australia. 6 years after the global car company first announced it would end its local manufacturing operations in Australia, Ford signed a deal to offload the bulk of its plants to Melbourne-based developer and builder Pelligra Group. Under the deal, Ford will carve out and keep the land and buildings it currently uses in both locations into subdivisions. The last Australian-made Ford, a blue XR6, rolled off the Broadmeadows assembly line in October 3 years ago. At the same time 600 workers lost their jobs when Ford closed its factory doors. Pelligra plans to turn Ford’s land into high-end business and industrial parks housing thousands of jobs in manufacturing industries. The parks will be known as Fortek Geelong and Assembly Broadmeadows. The bulk of Pelligra’s development experience is in Melbourne’s western suburbs, but the group three years ago tied up a deal to take over rival car manufacturer Holden’s redundant manufacturing plant in Adelaide and turn it into an industrial business park. Director Ross Pelligra said he had similar plans for up to 85 hectares he inherited from Ford. Ford’s Australian operations were concentrated over 3 sites; 2 in Geelong and 1 facility in Broadmeadows. Combined they have more than 265,000 square metres of factory floor and warehousing, equivalent to about 13 times the size of the MCG’s playing field. They were put up for sale last year with an estimated value of about $75 million. The final price paid by Pelligra is understood to far exceed that figure, although neither party would disclose the amount citing confidentiality. Kay Hart, Ford’s chief executive of Australia and New Zealand, said the car giant will keep its existing research, design and engineering facilities in both Geelong and Broadmeadows as well as its You Yangs car-testing proving ground at Lara. “The sites have played a central role in the history of Australia’s auto industry as centres of technical excellence, and have been part of the fabric of the local communities for generations”, Ms Hart said. The global car giant first announced it would end local manufacturing in 2013, a move that saw it shed 1.300 jobs and, along with the closure of rival manufacturers, prompted the cascading shut down of multiple other local car part manufacturers and suppliers. Parts of Ford’s distinctive white and red brick plant in Geelong, which greets motorists as they drive along the Princes Highway, are covered by heritage restrictions. The heritage structures will be restored and turned into innovation and research hubs tied to the area’s universities, Mr Pelligra said. Pelligra, a privately-owned family company, will spend $500 million (including the sale price) on the first stage of developing the sites, focusing on refurbishing and leasing the existing buildings. “We’re concentrating on manufacturing but we are going to mix it up. It won’t feel like an old school industrial park”, he said. Over the past 5 years industrial land in Melbourne and Sydney has become a highly sought after commodity for e-commerce and logistics warehousing, sparking a run up in values. +++

+++ The Projekt GRENADIER 4×4, the heavy-duty off-roader by British firm Ineos, is being planned with a potential hydrogen fuel cell version. An engineering study is scheduled to be started shortly to “assess the feasibility and production of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered 4×4”, according to documents. The description is included in a list of £25 million worth of grants awarded by the Government. Transport minister Jesse Norman made the announcement “for the next round of low-carbon vehicle projects for vehicles that are not just clean but connected, too”. Details of the hydrogen Grenadier are sketchy, but the feasibility study will also explore “vehicle requirements, system design and components supply”, making it a comprehensive look at the design and manufacturing practicalities of the high-tech 4×4. Government figures show that the feasibility study will cost a relatively modest £249,000, of which Westminster will provide £124,000. “The support for these projects is key to the delivery of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy, which aims to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emissions vehicles”, stated the Department for Transport. The Grenadier is being funded by chemicals company Ineos, created from part of the former ICI empire and owned by one of the UK’s richest men, Jim Ratcliffe. The 4×4 is inspired by the original Land Rover Defender, with unbeatable off-road performance and easy repair its key design criteria. Ineos describes it as an “uncompromising 4×4”. An engine supply deal has been signed with BMW and engineering is being handled by a consultancy firm in Germany. A missing link is a factory, although Ford’s plant in Bridgend, South Wales has been rumoured as a possible site. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) will resist car industry trends to share technology and explore partnerships on electrification, according to the company’s CEO. The Volkswagen Group recently announced that it is interested in licensing its forthcoming MEB pure-electric vehicle architecture to rivals such as Ford, and Toyota is opening up tens of thousands of patents relating to the hybrid technology it has developed over two decades. Both companies believe that sharing this information and technology will help them to drive down their own costs due to increased economies of scale on components. However, JLR boss Ralf Speth said he believed his company’s compact size would allow it to be agile and that it would resist the temptation to seek partnerships on that front. “I guess I see it in a different way”, he said. “You can talk about economies of scale and that’s correct. But on the other hand, there’s the freedom we have to develop and do our own strategy in a fast way, a structured way. This gives us a lot of power. In the UK we’re a big company, but in international terms we’re small, a design house. We deliver outstanding vehicles to special customers. Being small and nimble is also an opportunity to be agile; the I-Pace shows this best”. Speth said that that contrary to the industry thinking, he expects battery costs to actually rise in the short term due to a shortage of demand. “The supply of batteries is limited”, he said. “That means that for the next 2 to 3 years, I don’t think we’ll see a cost reduction. Even more so, I think the cost of batteries will go up. The whole of the industry thinks they’ll go down but at the moment demand is higher than supply, so the normal economic law applies. It’s only when supply catches up that costs will go down”. +++

+++ NISSAN has shaken up its executive board, adding a top director from partner Renault as it battles the fallout from the Carlos Ghosn saga and disappointing results. The firm will propose to shareholders a new board structure with 11 members; 6 of whom will be external, as Nissan attempts to improve corporate governance in the wake of former chairman Ghosn’s arrest for alleged financial misconduct. “With the lessons from the recent executive misconduct still fresh, Nissan resolves to rigorously pursue separation of supervisory and executive functions”, said the firm. Renault chief executive Thierry Bollore will join his colleague from the French firm, chairman Jean-Dominique Senard on the board, with the 2 partner firms are at odds on how close their ties should be. The appointment appears intended to calm tensions between the firms. A source close to the matter said Bollore’s appointment was a major concession from Nissan towards Renault “given that Nissan’s management has very little confidence” in the French executive. Bollore stood by Ghosn for a long time after his arrest, sparking anger at Nissan, whose internal investigation brought down its former boss. Another source said Senard “had pushed for this appointment but the Japanese refused at the beginning”. Senard has already been sitting on the Nissan board since he was elected to replace Ghosn at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in April. “For Renault, it’s about having someone on the board, next to Senard, who knows the story, a heavyweight who will share Senard’s views”, said the second source. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa will keep his job despite mounting pressure on him to step down after a set of disastrous results, with net profits expected to plunge to a decade-low in the coming year. Several shareholders have called for Saikawa to be sacked before his term comes up for renewal in June but the former Ghosn protege has insisted he wants to stay on and guide the reforms he hopes will return Nissan to profitability. Keiko Ihara, a former racing driver who headed a group to suggest reforms to Nissan governance after the Ghosn arrest, admitted there had been “inappropriate conduct” and that “the top management should be held responsible”. But in the end, it was a “unanimous” decision to keep Saikawa in his job, Ihara said. The firm has been crippled by the reputational damage caused by the legal woes of former chairman Ghosn, who faces 4 formal charges of financial misconduct. He denies any wrongdoing. But analysts point to several problems for Nissan beyond Ghosn, including apparently declining relations with its French partner Renault and a dearth of new products. “At this time of radical transformation in the automotive industry, Nissan urgently needs to establish a highly effective governance structure to enhance business capabilities and achieve sustainable corporate value”, the company said in its statement. Saikawa has brushed off calls for his resignation, saying he wanted to launch a fresh start for the firm and would discuss the timing of his stepping down “at the appropriate time”. Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi make up an unusual 3-way alliance that has grown to become the top-selling car group. Ghosn was the driving force between bringing the firms together and has since alleged that Nissan launched an investigation into him over fears he was hoping to merge the Japanese and French companies. Saikawa has admitted “differences of opinion” with Senard on the future make-up of the alliance, including the capital partnership between the 2 companies. Renault is pushing towards a merger of the 2 firms but Nissan executives are more skeptical. +++

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG Motors chief Dominique Signora said he expects the automaker’s R&D center to play a greater role in development for the group globally. During a press event held at the Renault Technology Korea building in Yongin, Gyeonggi, Signora said the R&D center will be given more projects related to new vehicles and gadgets. He added that the center will not only work on models for the domestic market but also participate in group-wide projects. In April, the Renault Group restructured its regional organizational chart and placed the Korean unit, along with the Japan, Australia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) operations, under a new Africa-Middle East-India-Pacific (AMI-Pacific) region. Under the new structure, Renault Technical Center is responsible for developing and testing cars for more than 100 countries in the AMI-Pacific Region. “Through realignment, Renault Technology Korea will play a greater role, which translates to greater possibilities”, Signora said. The technical center “will serve as a core development resource and actively push the group’s growth and future progress”. The research center, with more than 1,000 employees, is the largest satellite R&D facility in the Renault Group. The 6-story complex, built in 1996, sits on 150,000 square meters (1.6 million square feet) on the outskirts of Yongin. The event took reporters to a design center, a vehicle crash test site and an electromagnetic compatibility measuring hub. The automaker said Korea is the only country with both research and production facilities operated by a local unit of the Renault Group. Renault Technology Korea “is a global institute capable of everything from designing vehicles to constructing, analyzing and testing them”, said Kwon Sang-soon, head of the research center, after taking reporters around the facility. “Our center is conducting various projects as we are in charge of the Renault Group’s C-segment and D-segment sedans and SUVs. We are now heading projects for new vehicles targeted for the Asia region and China”. Kwon said he and his team are in the final stage of developing the XM3 compact SUV, scheduled to be released early next year. The center is also working on making a liquefied petroleum gas version of the QM6 SUV. The group is considering bringing its Zoe small-sized electric vehicle for Renault Samsung Motors to release to the Korean market next year, he added. Renault Samsung Motors previously said it will continue investment in Korea, as the local unit serves as a key R&D center for its French parent despite the long dispute with its union. The automaker’s union has gone on 62 strikes since last October for a total of 250 hours, causing production losses of 14,320 vehicles, according to the automaker. The dispute has continued well past a March 8 deadline set for the conclusion of negotiations. The dispute recently escalated, as the union announced that it will stage a full-scale strike if its wage negotiations with management do not achieve progress. The union has claimed the minimum wage is not being paid to its workers and has demanded management improve working conditions. Management has stood firm and said cost increases could harm the automaker’s competitiveness, adding that Busan factory workers are already paid better than other Renault Group employees. Plant workers have also asked for the right to participate in personnel decision-making, which Signora refused to consider when meeting with Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don last month. As its factory’s utilization rate has fallen by more than 20 %, Renault Samsung Motors temporarily suspended operations of its Busan plant last month, and it is considering halting operations again later this month. The automaker said it reduced this year’s production target from 200,000 units to 160,000 units. The union and management started meeting again this week to continue negotiations. Renault Samsung Motors officials declined to comment on the labor dispute during the press event. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen truck brand SCANIA has signed a battery supply deal with Sweden’s Northvolt and is in talks about making an equity investment as part of the startup’s efforts to raise 1.5 billion euros, Scania’s head said. Chief executive Henrik Henriksson told he could not disclose exactly how much capacity Scania had secured from Northvolt, which said this year it had sold roughly half of its planned 32 gigawatt annual capacity by 2023. “It’s a substantial part”, he said. “There will be a shortage of batteries for the automotive sector globally in the coming 5 to 6 years because there’s simply not enough capacity. So the more capacity we can get our hands on, the better we feel”, he added. Driven by regulatory pressure to cut diesel pollution, commercial truck makers have made a flurry of announcements to deliver battery electric or hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. Scania is also going electric by invested in battery buses, electric roads and hydrogen fuel-cell technology, as well as its plug-in hybrid trucks. Hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles accounted for 4.5 % of total sales in 2018. Henriksson, who said the battery would be the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, saw opportunities to share costs with its parent Volkswagen, which also makes VW and MAN branded trucks and is spending $50 billion on electrifying its vehicles. Scania had picked Northvolt because its business model of developing cells in collaboration with customers meant they could create batteries specifically for trucks, rather than relying on current models geared towards cars. Henriksson said electric cars tended to draw on their batteries for “a couple of hours a day, while our vehicles are running 24/7” so batteries needed tailoring for different needs. “We’re participating in both the discussions about how to secure future capacity and volume commitments, and also, when it comes to equity and the like, the capital structure going forward”, Henriksson said of talks with Northvolt. Northvolt, founded by former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson, is looking to spend €3 billion to build Europe’s biggest battery cell plant in Sweden, a project to rival U.S. electric carmaker Tesla’s Gigafactory. The company’s plans, including a potential second factory in Germany, are seen as central to Europe’s effort to compete with Asian rivals, which have gained a lead by locking in supply deals with carmakers. Northvolt is now raising €1.5 billion, split equally between debt and equity, and has asked the European Investment Bank for a €350 million loan. It had raised more than its €80 to €100 million target last year, with contributions from Scania, engineering group ABB, wind turbine maker Vestas and energy firm Vattenfall. It has also secured some funds from German engineer Siemens and carmaker BMW. A person familiar with the matter said Vattenfall had agreed to discuss battery orders and provide equity, while ABB had signed a memorandum of understanding to participate. Atlas Copco, Husqvarna, Vestas, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover, Daimler, and BMW were in advanced talks over the volumes of batteries they would order from the factory, the source said. The source added that Wartsila, Siemens, E.On, Ikea and Volkswagen were in early discussions about their participation. The companies declined to comment on the new fundraising and supply talks, or were not immediately available for comment. Northvolt’s Carlsson confirmed Scania’s comments but declined to comment on other discussions. “Scania is part of what we call the partnership group”, he said. +++ 

+++ A TESLA Model S reportedly caught fire in a parking lot in Hong Kong and the car manufacturer has already rolled out an over-the-air battery software update to try and prevent similar incidents in the future. The Model S 85 was parked in the city’s San Po Kong District for roughly 30 minutes before it caught fire. 3 explosions were reportedly captured on CCTV footage and the car was not plugged in at the time of the fire. Local authorities are said to be investigating the case but that hasn’t stopped Tesla itself getting the jump and already taking action, Tech Crunch reports. The Calfironian electric car manufacturer announced that it is introducing a software update to change battery charge and thermal management settings in the Model S and Model X. Tesla has yet to determine the cause of the fire in Hong Kong and doesn’t yet know if there are any issues with the battery pack. “We currently have well over half a million vehicles on the road, which is more than double the number that we had at the beginning of last year, and Tesla’s team of battery experts uses that data to thoroughly investigate incidents that occur and understand the root cause”, the company said in a statement. “Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare and our cars are 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car, we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero. As we continue our investigation of the root cause, out of an abundance of caution, we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity”, Tesla confirmed. The update will not be made available to the Tesla Model 3. The fire in Hong Kong comes just a few weeks after a Model S was filmed exploding while parked in a Shanghai parking lot. +++

+++ TOYOTA started sales of the revived Supra sports car. Production of the previous Supra, regarded as Toyota’s flagship sports car model, ended in 2002. “We were able to send the globally beloved Supra out into the world again”, Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Tomoyama said. “We want to keep challenging ourselves to make cars fun over the next 100 years”. The new Supra was developed jointly with BMW and will be produced in Austria. Toyota focused on the new Supra’s high acceleration and stable driving performance at curves. Some editions can accelerate to 100 km/h in only 4.3 seconds. The Supra debuted in 1978 as the Celica XX. Since it was rebranded to the current name in 1986, about 290,000 units have been sold worldwide. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN continues to tease the new Golf as the company has used the Vienna Motor Symposium to unveil the car’s new 48 volt mild hybrid system. According to automaker, the Golf will be equipped with a 48 Volt belt starter generator and a 48 Volt lithium/ion battery. The belt starter generator features an integrated electric motor that provides recuperation and boost functions. In recuperation mode, the system converts kinetic energy into electricity and this is stored in the lithium-ion battery that is located underneath the front passenger seat. This energy can then be used to provide an “electric boost” during acceleration. The mild hybrid system also shuts the engine off as soon as the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. Volkswagen says the engine switches “on and off without delay” and this process produces minimal vibrations. Thanks to this setup, the Golf saves approximately 0.4 liters of fuel every 100 km. Initially, the system will be offered on 1.0- and 1.5-liter EA211 evo engines that are paired to a dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission. The system will then gradually spread to other engines and models. While the mild hybrid system will improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, Volkswagen said the “most efficient way to reduce CO2 emissions is to expand battery electric vehicles on a broad scale”. As part of this effort, they will introduce the ID.3 later this year. The ID.3 will feature a 204 hp electric motor that will enable the hatchback to hit a top speed of 160 km/h. More importantly, the model will be offered with multiple battery packs which will allow the car to travel between 330 – 550+ km, according to the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure. +++

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