Newsflash

0

+++ We know that Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk convinced Google co-founder Larry Page to buy the automaker in 2013, when it was 2 weeks away from running out of cash. The deal didn’t happen, the company made a surprising recovery, but a recent report claims Musk also talked to APPLE , and the California-based tech giant made what was then a very generous offer for Tesla. “Around 2013, there was a serious bid from Apple at around $240 a share. This is something we did multiple checks on. I have complete confidence that this is accurate. Apple bid for Tesla. I don’t know if it got to the formal paperwork stage, but I know from multiple different sources that this was very credible”, said analyst Craig Irwin. Tesla stock peaked at about $380 per share in August of 2018, but it traded for as low as $35 in early 2013, and it never went above $200 that year. Viewed in that light, Apple’s $240-per-share offer was princely. “Regarding the acquisition: my understanding is Apple wanted Elon Musk to step away, and that was a deal killer”, Irwin added. Surprisingly, he believes that if Apple was interested in purchasing Tesla in 2013, it’s still open to an acquisition in 2019 if the price is right. Tesla stock is sinking (it closed at $192.73 a share yesterday) so the timing may be right. Apple is sitting on billions of dollars, so it can afford a take-over, and it’s still searching for a way into the automotive industry. +++ 

+++ Automotive supplier BOSCH has agreed to pay a €90 million fine for lapses in supervisory duties which enabled carmakers to engage in emissions cheating, German prosecutors in the city of Stuttgart said. The auto industry’s diesel emissions cheating scandal, where carmakers used engine management control software to throttle back real-world pollution levels during tests, was made possible with the help of Bosch technology, prosecutors said. Privately-held Bosch, the world’s biggest automotive supplier, delivered around 17 million technical devices equipped with engine management software, prosecutors said in a statement. Bosch has accepted the fine and will not appeal the decision, they added. Prosecutors imposed a €2 million fine for a “regulatory offense” and a further €88 million to penalize “economic benefits”, Bosch said. “With the issue of the notice of fine, the investigations conducted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Stuttgart against Bosch as a supplier of engine control units for diesel engines has been completed”. Volkswagen used Bosch software elements to help the carmaker mask illegal pollution in diesel-engined vehicles. Engine management software was used to measure the steering wheel angle to gauge whether the car was on a test bench. Volkswagen has borne the brunt of penalties and fines for emissions cheating since carmakers, rather than suppliers are responsible for certifying that cars meet clean air rules. +++ 

+++ Ride-hailing apps like those of Uber Technologies and Lyft are expected to alter the state of CAR OWNERSHIP towards subscription-based services and shared ownership, auto industry experts said at a conference. At the annual Collision Conference in Toronto, speakers said ride-hailing apps are also set to play a role in testing automation for safety. “Your phone will be your car”, said Andre Haddad, CEO of Turo, a peer-to-peer car-sharing company that enables users to rent their cars out to others. Haddad said that while car sales have never been higher globally, people are realizing that owning a vehicle is increasingly becoming unaffordable due to car payments, insurance, and parking. “Many more are realizing they can share their car when they’re not using it or rent it out to recover the big costs of ownership”, he added. Uber said it is the largest ride-hailing firm in the world with 91 million users globally and a 65 % market share in North America. Both Uber and Lyft went public this year, but are trading well below their offer prices. Haddad said that car ownership among young adults was on the decline, with fewer adults under the age of 25 purchasing cars. At the same time, he said the demographics would stabilize and demand for cars for events like weekend trips or vacations would maintain their interest. Scott Hempy, CEO of Filld, a mobile gas delivery service, said labor trends like working remotely or from home had contributed to the reduced interest in cars, and that ride-sharing would change the insurance industry to per mile charges, rather than a flat fee. Ride-sharing fleets and taxis are expected to be the testing ground for automation, according to Zaki Fasihuddin, the CEO of Volvo Cars Technology. Fasihuddin said ride-sharing cars would be the first practical applications for autonomous vehicles, at the ultimate goal of reducing all fatalities. “Give consumers the choice”, said Fasihuddin. “Ride-sharing is a viable option. Nowadays people take that for granted, and that’s a valid mode of transportation”. +++

+++ DAIMLER ’s chief executive Dieter Zetsche announced a sweeping cost review on his last day in office, as he bid farewell to shareholders following more than a decade at the helm of luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz. Zetsche, who hands over the top job to 49-year-old Swede Ola Källenius, is credited with having returned Mercedes-Benz to the position of top-selling luxury car brand in 2016. However, the shift toward electric cars, a sputtering global economy and rising costs to keep combustion engines clean have hit car industry margins hard, forcing even profitable businesses like Daimler to renew cost-cutting efforts. “Everything is under scrutiny: fixed and variable costs, material and personnel costs, investment projects, vertical integration and the product range”, Zetsche told the company’s annual general meeting in Berlin, where he was applauded by around 5,000 shareholders. “Along with external factors, we are now also feeling the financial effects of the company’s transformation”, Zetsche said. Pressure to develop electric and autonomous cars has seen research and development expenditure costs at Mercedes-Benz passenger cars rise to €14 billion from around €8 billion 4 years ago. At the same time, China, the world’s largest car market, has seen sales momentum slow for 9 months in a row, with a 5.2 % fall in sales in March. Mercedes-Benz became the top-selling luxury car brand again thanks to an emphasis on upmarket design which appealed to youthful buyers thanks to large digital display screens. The renaissance of the Mercedes-Benz brand came after the German company sold Chrysler, helping the carmaker to swing from a $1.2 billion loss in 2006, the first full year when Zetsche held the top job, to an operating profit of €11.1 billion in 2018. But the Daimler still faces heavy investments to retool Mercedes-Benz plants in the United States, China and Germany to build electric cars and battery cells. The German luxury carmaker is spending €10 billion to develop a raft of electric cars so it can boast a carbon neutral car fleet by 2039 and to avoid hefty fines by regulators. To ensure that customers buy zero-emission cars, the Stuttgart-based group said it was aiming to limit the price of new car technologies for customers. “To do so, we have to cut costs and increase efficiency throughout the company”, Zetsche said, as he confirmed the carmaker’s full-year targets. “This was expected, but it doesn’t make it any better. In particular, we cannot and will not be satisfied with the current level of profitability”. Zetsche, an engineer nicknamed ‘Dr. Z’ who joined the company in 1976, is due to become chairman of the supervisory board in 2021, following a standard 2-year cooling off period. Daimler’s shareholders are also set to approve a new corporate structure, prompting calls from some shareholders for Daimler to consider more radical restructuring moves to unlock shareholder value. Ingo Speich from fund manager Deka said that despite Daimler’s success in gaining market share for Mercedes, shareholders had failed to see significant improvements in the company’s share price and demanded that Daimler consider listing Daimler Trucks, a step that Daimler dismissed. Instead CEO designate Källenius will work out ways to cut development costs for new Mercedes-Benz cars by a significant amount by 2025 and will intensify alliances with rivals as a way to improve margins. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) is bringing new models to Brazil and expanding production at 2 local factories as part of a 16 billion reais ($4 billion) plan to regain lost market share in Latin America’s biggest economy, CEO Mike Manley said. FCA increased its investment plan for Latin America by 2 billion reais through 2024, though it extended the time frame of outlays first announced in June by a year. The spending will go toward increasing annual capacity at a Jeep plant in Pernambuco to 350,000 units from 250,000 and building a new plant to produce more efficient turbo engines, Manley said. FCA plans 15 new, refreshed, or special series models for Fiat, and 10 for its Jeep and Ram brands by 2024. “We want to make sure the Fiat brand remains very strong in Brazil’s marketplace”, Manley said during a visit to the Betim plant. “The Fiat brand is a vital part of our business”. Latin America is critical to Manley’s plans to grow Fiat Chrysler’s business globally. It’s the only other region where the company made money in the first quarter besides North America, turning out €105 million in adjusted earnings before interest and taxes. The automaker’s profit margin in Latin America in the period was 5.4 % and it’s targeting ‘near-double-digit’ profitability in the region over the 5 years through 2022. Fiat opened its first plant in Brazil in 1976 and the Fiat brand led sales in the country for 12 years until 2015. That ended after the company merged with Chrysler and began pouring resources into Jeep in an effort to make it more of a global brand, including starting local production of the Compass and Renegade models. While demand for Jeep’s higher-margin SUVs have boosted its Brazilian market share ranking to 4.8 % from virtually zero 4 years ago, the budget-car Fiat brand has declined to third place. Fiat was the first automaker in Brazil to establish manufacturing facilities outside the industrial center of Sao Paulo state, opening its plant in Betim, in the central state of Minas Gerais, in 1976. Giovanni Agnelli, grandson of the company’s founder and grandfather of Chairman John Elkann, attended the inauguration. Today the factory makes engines, transmissions and 8 Fiat models, from the compact Mobi to the Doblò. It has annual capacity of 800,000 vehicles and 1.1 million engines and transmissions. The Jeep assembly plant in Pernambuco, in northeast Brazil, employs 5,000 people to manufacture the Renegade and Compass. Brazil is one of the few regions outside Europe where the Fiat brand has achieved broad popularity. It’s been withering away in the U.S., where cheap gas prices and a love affair with trucks and SUVs have left its 500 out of fashion. The brand has also largely disappeared from China. The future focus is on Europe, Brazil and emerging markets, people familiar with the company’s 5-year plan said last June. The Betim plant will produce 3 new models starting in 2020, including 2 new SUVs for the Fiat brand, the company said. By that time, Fiat will have to contend with Volkswagen and even its own Jeep brand, Felipe Munoz-Vieira, an analyst with Jato Dynamics in Turin, said in. “Brazil is one of the few remaining key markets of the Fiat brand, but it is not among the brands considered by the consumers looking for an SUV”, he said. “These 2 new SUVs of Fiat will certainly help the brand to regain market share, but by the time they will arrive Volkswagen and Jeep will be well positioned in the segment”. Fiat Chrysler’s Latin American investment compares with the 10 billion reais earmarked for the region by General Motors for 2020-2024 and the 7 billion reais budgeted by Volkswagen through 2020. VW has been losing money in Latin America and expects to break even by 2020. GM CEO Officer Mary Barra said in February that its South American business “remains a concern”. +++ 

+++ China’s GAC MOTORS has once again delayed plans to enter the United States market, citing uncertainty in U.S.-China trade relations. GAC was preparing to launch in the United States in early 2020, but the company says it has postponed those plans because of “the escalation of China-U.S. trade frictions that could cause distribution uncertainties”. GAC has not announced a new target date for cracking the U.S. market. The latest announcement marks GAC’s second false start in the U.S. In late 2018 GAC was forced to punt on plans to launch here in 2019. It was at that time that GAC said it would launch in the U.S. in early 2020 instead. A number of Chinese automakers have been eying the lucrative U.S. market but, at least so far, none have managed to setup shop in the world’s second-largest car market. Zotye, along with Geely’s Lynk & Co. brand, say they are on track to sell Chinese-built cars in the U.S. next year, but it’s possible the ongoing trade dispute could derail those plans as well. +++

+++ Self-driving cars will eventually become a reality, but GENERAL MOTORS is learning that the population at large might not be ready to embrace cars without a human at the helm just yet. Early last year GM asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a temporary, 2-year waiver for items designed for human drivers and mandated under federal law; things like mirrors and a steering wheel. GM was seeking the waiver so it could deploy a fleet of about 2,500 modified Chevrolet Bolts (Opel Ampera-e) to test a driverless ride-hailing service in San Francisco. However, the petition, which was available for public comment for the last 2 months, is facing uncertainty after receiving pushback from a number of entities. The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, which represents nearly half of the auto insurers in the U.S., was one of the parties that voiced opposition to the waiver. “NHTSA has no business enabling (automated vehicles) to operate on the roads, and surely has no business removing federally mandated vehicle safety standards to a vehicle that they do not know if it’s as safe as existing vehicles”, the group said. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have also requested various concessions to GM’s driverless vehicle plans. The waiver request does have some big name backers, however. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Federation of the Blind, the Telecommunications Industry Association and American Trucking Associations support the petition in the name of advancing autonomous vehicle technology. In 2017 there were 6.4 million crashes on U.S. roads, causing 2.7 million injuries and 37,000 fatalities. According to the NHTSA, driver error was a factor in more than 90 % of those crashes. +++

+++ JAGUAR will release a heavily updated F-Type next year. There will be significant styling alterations for the Porsche 911 rival, including a dramatic overhaul of the front end with a reshaped bonnet and slim headlights relocated further down the front fascia. A redesigned grille also features, while at the rear it gets a new tail-light design with a squared-off rear profile mimicking the recently facelifted XE. It’s the first major styling revision since the F-Type was launched in 2013. It’s expected that much of the more advanced technology and infotainment features from the I-Pace and the facelifted XE will make its way into the F-Type interior. That means new digital dials, a larger and more feature-laden touchscreen, and substantial upgrades to the materials. Jaguar Land Rover is now phasing out the long-used supercharged V6 in favour of a new turbocharged and hybridised straight-6, and the F-Type will benefit from this more efficient powertrain. The turbocharged 4-cylinder and supercharged V8 engines should be carried over to the new car with limited changes, however. What remains unclear is whether the new F-Type will retain a manual option. They are a tiny fraction of overall F-Type sales. Jaguar’s priorities for 2019 are the roll-out of the new XE and the launch of a similarly updated XF and F-Pace. However, we could see the revised F-Type revealed before the year is out, with an on-sale date in the first few months of 2020. +++

+++ Authorities in Michigan and Detroit have approved Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ $2.5 billion factory expansion plan in the city. The company will invest $1.6 billion to build a new assembly facility at its Mack Avenue site, while $900 million will be spent on upgrades to the Jefferson North Assembly Plant. “Thanks to the strong support of Governor Whitmer, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and city of Detroit, I am pleased to confirm that plans to invest in our Jefferson North Assembly Plant and build a new state-of-the-art assembly plant in Detroit have been given the green light”, said FCA chief operating officer Mark Stewart. The state has agreed to an incentive package worth hundreds of millions of dollars, expecting the factory expansion to add thousands of jobs as FCA prepares to build the next-generation JEEP Grand Cherokee and a new three-row SUV. +++

+++ LAND ROVER boss Ralph Speth is bullishly talking up his financially challenged company’s prospects, which will soon be boosted by the arrival of the ‘sensational’ new Land Rover Defender. Speth, speaking at the FT Future of the Car Summit in London, said: “It was one of my toughest days to stop the old Defender, the icon. I’ve driven the new Defender. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this, but it’s so sensational on the road and off. It’s pure fun and so capable”. He was also ebullient about the multi-award-winning all-electric i-Pace: “I am very proud about the i-Pace. It shows that in the UK there’s advanced technology. The UK team can do it. It has a completely new design language, with far more space in the interior, as well as the technology. It is not built in the UK because when we decided to go ahead with the i-Pace we had no spare capacity whatsoever”. As electrification spreads across the Jaguar and Land Rover ranges, PHEVs are being built in the UK, he pointed out. Although being part of a big global group might bring economies of scale, he liked the agility that comes from being a relatively small player. “We have freedom to do things in our own way. Overall I think we are very well prepared for the future as a British company in Britain”. Asked about JLR’s need to cut its costs by billions of pounds, Speth said: “Every car company at the moment is stretched. But we have a clear plan. We have taken tough decisions prior to anybody else. We are on track. We are the fastest growing brand in the US with Land Rover. With Jaguar we are the fastest growing brand in France”. There were many challenges ahead, with customers demanding petrol, hybrid and battery electric options, and with uncertainty about the long-term future of technology. “With batteries there are huge challenges to overcome in terms of production and performance, but also in recycling”. The new Defender will be built in Nitra, Slovakia. It’s one of JLR’s newest plants, with the capacity to build 150,000 vehicles a year. The Discovery is also being built at the same factory. It is now certain that Land Rover will launch a Defender Sport model, as well as myriad bodystyles, and a fully electric version is in the works too, slated for launch in 2024. +++ 

+++ LYNK & CO is the “wild horse” in parent Zhejiang Geely Holding’s growing stable of brands, CEO Alain Visser says, because unlike other Geely brands such as Volvo and Lotus the company sees itself as a “mobility brand with a car”. Geely has 2 objectives for Lynk & Co, Visser told: “1. To become the first brand steered from China to be global. 2. To not just say, ‘Here is another car brand’. But to say, ‘Here is a brand that challenges the car industry’ “. One way it will do that is by not having traditional dealers when it starts sales in Europe in mid-2020. Instead, Visser said that Lynk & Co will have 2 to 3 company-owned flagship stores per country and supplement them with so-called ‘pop-up stores’ that will visit smaller cities in that country. For example, Lynk & Co’s flagship store in Sweden will be in Stockholm, which means someone in Gothenburg with interest in one of the brand’s cars will have to wait until the pop-up store comes to town. Visser said Lynk & Co’s mobile store will be in Gothenburg for one week a month. Everything inside the company’s stores (sofas, chairs, espresso cups) will be for sale. This plan has proved to be popular. Visser said a large number of companies have approached Lynk & Co about having their products inside the brand’s store. These products range from kick bikes to shoes to furniture. “We are not desperately looking for partners. We are selecting partners”, Visser said. Lynk & Co already has the 01, 02 and 03 models on sale in China, where they accounted for a combined 120,000 sales in 2018. When asked about the 04, 05 and 06 Visser declined to offer details but he did provide an interesting tease: “We are not a car company. We are a mobility company, so when you talk the 04 and 05 you’re thinking cars and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case”. While China’s GAC Motor is postponing a launch in the U.S. next year, Lynk & Co is going ahead with its plan for U.S. sales. Visser said the U.S. launch for Lynk & Co will happen at the end of 2021. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI will reorganise its SUV line-up to create clearer space between the Outlander, Eclipse Cross and ASX, a senior source has revealed. The strategy, set to roll out from 2020, will be made possible by the firm’s position within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which it joined in 2016 and which gives it access to shared platforms between the brands. Although the source was not specific on car sizes, they said that there would be roughly a 200 mm gap in length between each car, giving Mitsubishi a line-up similar to Nissan’s respective X-Trail, Qashqai and Juke triumvirate. As such, the new Outlander will grow, with the next ASX shrinking compared with today’s models. “Today we aren’t in an ideal position, with our SUVs close in size, but in the next 18 months you will start to see a strategy that separates them out”, said the source. “The good news is that the SUV is core to Mitsubishi’s DNA and on that front the world is coming to us. We have a strong reputation in the market (as well as for plug-in hybrids and even electrification) and we can build on that”. They indicated that, as well as petrol and diesel variants, the next-generation Outlander would continue to be offered as a plug-in hybrid, the Eclipse Cross would be available as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid and the next-generation ASX would have the option of full battery-electric capability. “We will not have a unique nameplate, but instead offer the appropriate electrification options for the vehicles and how people will use them”, said the source. The Mitsubishi Engelberg Tourer displayed at the Geneva show in March showcases the look of the next-generation Outlander and a new 4-wheeldrive plug-in hybrid powertrain. It mates a 2.4-litre petrol engine with a 20 kWh battery and electric motors front and rear, with a claimed 70 kilometre WLTP electric range. The next-generation Mitsubishi Space Star could be electrified, as the firm tries to balance differing expectations for small cars across global markets. The current edition went on sale in 2012 and, under various nameplates, has met with mixed success, selling well in some markets but struggling in others. “If you try to build one car for both Asia and Europe, it’s clear you end up pleasing neither”, said a senior source. “It’s either too lowly specced or too highly specced depending on your perspective. We have a couple of options. We could look to the Renault-Nissan Alliance for a solution, or we could move towards a battery-electric city car for some markets”. +++ 

+++ NISSAN is not considering the possibility of a merger with top shareholder Renault at the moment, and none of the nominees to the Japanese automaker’s board are pressing to make it an issue now, an external director said. As Nissan ponders its future without former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who orchestrated its financial rescue two decades ago, French partner Renault has been quietly maneuvering for merger talks, sources at both automakers have previously told. France’s government has also weighed in, saying that the status quo was weakening the alliance and could not continue. But given Nissan’s current focus on improving corporate governance and recovering from a run of poor results, Keiko Ihara, who has been overseeing efforts to overhaul governance, told in an interview that the issue of a merger was not on the table at the moment. “We don’t have time to feel any of the pressure which appears to be coming externally”, she said. “We’re not aware of any director nominee who wants to make this an official topic of discussion at the moment”. Ihara, who also chairs a provisional council for an external nominations committee to be set up next month, said the process to find eventual successors to CEO Hiroto Saikawa and other executives would begin soon after the group is formed. Saikawa, a protege of Ghosn, has come under pressure to lift Nissan’s dismal operational performance just as Renault has been looking at ways to merge the 2 companies, a move opposed by Saikawa and some of his colleagues. Ihara also said that Nissan has a lot of internal talent from which it can choose its next generation of executives after an exodus of top-level officials following the ouster of Ghosn. Nissan is overhauling its board structure and the way it appoints top executives and determines their pay as it seeks to improve its corporate governance after it accused Ghosn of financial misconduct. Ghosn denies all charges against him. Last week, Nissan announced a list of 11 nominees for its expanded board of directors, which include Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard and CEO Thierry Bolloré, to be voted on by shareholders next month. It also decided that Saikawa would stay on as chief executive though Renault had earlier pushed for a change in Nissan’s leadership. “Once the nominations committee is up and running, it will start considering a succession plan”, Ihara said. She said the provisional council believed there were “dozens of people” within the company who could eventually take over as CEO, chief operating officer or other management positions. “Nissan is a global company so it has a wealth of people who have deep global experience and expertise”, Ihara said. +++ 

+++ OPEL ’s turnaround was accomplished by slashing fixed costs and sharply simplifying its product portfolio, boss Michael Lohscheller said. But he and his management team employed other levers to get Opel into the black last year. First, Lohscheller said, he took away the cookies from every meeting. “It’s symbolic, and better for your health”, Lohscheller said. Assuming a more serious tone, Lohscheller said the first move was to cut the ranks of upper management by 25 %. “You have to clean the escalator from the top”, he said, citing a German saying. After doing that, Lohscheller said, “People realized this is serious. Costs are your best friend, because that is what you can control”, he said. Product costs per vehicle were down €367, more than half of the €700 reduction under Opel’s Pace turnaround plan announced in November 2017. Another key driver of the turnaround was quickly moving to PSA architecture from General Motors platforms. Under GM, Opel had 9 platforms; under PSA, it will have just 2 within a few years. 10 engine families are being reduced to 4, Lohscheller said. “That’s a massive complexity reduction with huge, huge benefits”, he said. GM engineered models such as the Adam are being phased out. Among the PSA-based models to come in the next 18 months are the next-generation Corsa, Opel’s perennial best-seller, and a nex Mokka X, another strong seller. Both will have battery electric drivetrains as options. Opel’s transformation is also being propelled by benchmarking, both against external competitors and within PSA Group. Lohscheller said he was dismayed at first when he saw how far behind Opel was compared with PSA’s metrics, but it roused the competitive spirit of employees. “Do not underestimate the power of benchmarking”, he said. “We quickly developed plans on how to catch up. And the Opel people wanted to catch up; they wanted to be better”. Compared with industry benchmarks, Opel pricing has improved by 2.2 %, Lohscheller said, but prices are still 6 % points below the target. “On pricing, we’re still a bit behind”, he said, noting that Opel had improved channel mix and trim level. Although Opel has global ambitions (it will restart sales in Russia at the end of this year) having a Europe-based owner is a key to the turnaround, Lohscheller said. “What made a big difference was that within PSA, Europe is the core business, and this focus on Europe made a lot of things easier”, he said. “In the past, we tried to find global synergies, which sometimes are not so easy to find. ‘What are really the synergies between an Opel Corsa in Croatia and a pickup truck in Idaho?’ . I keep saying: ‘Paris is closer than Detroit ever was’ It’s a summary of how we do the business now”. Opel lost nearly €1 billion euros annually under GM over the past 2 decades but is now profitable under PSA, which bought GM’s European business in 2017. Opel’s operating profit in 2018 was €859 million; the highest in its 157 years as a company. The operating margin was 4.7 %. Free cash flow was €1.36 billion. Profits per car increased by €1,400 in Germany, Lohscheller said. Fixed costs were cut by 27 % on a like-for-like basis in 2018, said Lohscheller, who was promoted to CEO from Chief Financial Officer in mid-2017, soon after Opel’s sale to PSA was announced. +++

+++ POLESTAR boss Thomas Ingenlath doesn’t just want his brand to re-define what an electric vehicle looks like. He says the Volvo subsidiary should “drive the progress of car design in general” within the automotive industry. Ingenlath has the skillset to make this happen. In his dual role as chief design officer for the Volvo Car Group, his styling influence played a crucial role in the XC60 winning the 2018 World Car of the Year award and the XC40 winning the 2018 European Car of the Year. Ingenlath has another mission for the 2-year-old stand-alone premium electrified brand, which aims to have its first model, the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid coupe, in customers’ hands before year-end. He wants Polestar to provide a “seamless and hassle-free experience” to customers, Ingenlath told. To reach this goal Polestar will offer Google’s Android operating system embedded into the car. “You will not have to adapt do a different navigation, you just use Google Maps”, Ingenlath said. Another convenience the brand plans to offer is to pick up a Polestar model when it needs service and to return it to the customer’s home or workplace when finished. With that we will help bring back the joy and fun of owning and driving a car”, Ingenlath said. When asked about the brand’s plans to get its models in front of potential customers, Ingenlath said the first Polestar Space where employees will inform customers about the company’s products but will not receive a commission for closing a sale would open this autumn in Oslo, Norway. The second will follow soon after in Beijing. By the second quarter of 2020 Ingenlath wants there to be a total of 50 Polestar Space locations open for business. “We are in full swing finding the right locations and getting the contracts signed”, he said. +++

+++ The current status quo regarding the alliance between RENAULT and its partner Nissan cannot continue and must be changed as it is currently weakening Renault, said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire. “The status quo is not possible, the status quo is weakening the overall group, we have to push forward, make progress and consolidate this alliance”, Le Maire told reporters. He had earlier discussed the matter with Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko. Nissan said earlier this month 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. 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. +++ 

+++ SEAT is rolling out a micro mobility strategy to counteract the possible end of the traditional business model of the car industry, said Lucas Casasnovas, the automaker’s head of product marketing. Seat is working on 2 micro mobility products to follow the launch of the eXS-KickScooter and the Minimo quadricycle. One of the new products will be positioned between the scooter and Minimo. Seat has signed a deal with Spanish startup UFO to supply 530 scooters for a sharing service in Madrid. No official date has been given for the debut of the Minimo, which was shown in Barcelona. The move into micro mobility is a must because the car industry is becoming “a luxury industry, not accessible for young people”, Casasnovas told. New driver’s licenses for people under age 35 have dropped by 50 % in the past 10 years. Car sales to people under 35 also declined half over the past decade. Car prices rose 30 % in 10 years, partly because of new safety, connectivity and driving-assistance features. The average age when purchasing the first new car rose to 38 years from 33. Behind this trend is the stagnation in salaries of people under age 25, flat at €1,000 per month for the past 10 years, Casasnovas said. Those under age 35 make less than €2,000 a month. As a result, the average age of new-car buyers in the EU has risen to 56 years, he said. The new business model, Casasnovas said, will enable Seat to offer mobility options to these people. “If we don’t, someone else will do it”, he said. “I’m not referring to Uber and Lyft, which still buy cars, but to such players as Lime or Byrd. Those companies rent scooters”. This is a huge business opportunity that the auto industry is leaving to somebody else, Casasnovas said; an opportunity that is growing 20 % a year and will continue to do so for at least 5 years. Seat will offer micro mobility products through its dealers, online and through sharing services. Its customers also could include fleets such as sales forces. Seat will need partners, Casasnovas said, because it lacks the agility and cost structure to develop such products. +++ 

+++ Consumer Reports has issued another criticism of TESLA ’s Autopilot technology, claiming the latest update “doesn’t work very well” and poses a potential safety risk for drivers. The magazine takes issue with how the system automatically changes lanes, without first receiving driver permission. The author claims the feature “cut off cars without leaving enough space and even passed other cars in ways that violate state laws”. To be fair, Tesla and other companies developing autonomous technology face a difficult conundrum in deploying technology that can effectively maneuver in environments where human drivers are technically breaking the law. In a congested environment such as Los Angeles rush hour, merging onto a highway is sometimes impossible without turning into a small slot. “The system has trouble responding to vehicles that approach quickly from behind”, said CR auto testing director Jake Fisher. “Because of this, the system will often cut off a vehicle that is going a much faster speed since it doesn’t seem to sense the oncoming car until it’s relatively close”. Fisher also claims Autopilot is reluctant to merge into heavy traffic, and when it does, it often “immediately applies the brakes to create space behind the follow car”. Human drivers typically coast after merging into heavy traffic to increase following distance. This leaves the merging vehicle in violation of “following too closely” laws for a longer period of time, however. “Monitoring the system is much harder than just changing lanes yourself”, Fisher argued. “Using the system is like monitoring a kid behind the wheel for the very first time. As any parent knows, it’s far more convenient and less stressful to simply drive yourself”. Tesla has promised to roll out an even more aggressive merging option, allowing drivers to accept a “nonzero chance of a fender bender” in freeway traffic, according to Elon Musk’s recent Autopilot event. The company aims to launch Full Self-Driving (with driver monitoring, at first) sometime next year. +++

Comments are closed.