+++ BENTLEY is ramping up its Mulliner Coachbuilding arm with the reveal of an ultra-exclusive new model this year, of which only 10 will be made. Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff confirmed the project, stating the car will be shown at the end of the year. “We will show a first idea of what we can do for 10 customers”, he said. The car is set to cost in excess of €1.5 million as Mulliner seeks to differentiate itself from the broader Bentley brand. There are not yet any clues to the design or powertrain of the model, but it’s expected to hark back to Bentley’s early heritage and use a traditional petrol powertrain given its very limited numbers. Sielaff said: “We have more and more customers asking for a very individual Bentley; almost a one-off or a series of 10. From our observations, if you look at society, the rich customers are getting richer. They come to us and say ‘I want the one and only Bentley tailor-made for myself. In the old days, this was difficult for homologation but now we ramp up this idea”. He continued: “Of course we have to deal with one-offs very carefully, but I think this is a trend, it’s not only Bentley. It will be under the remit of Mulliner Coachbuilding, sitting on top off Bentley, and will definitely be something more expensive than a normal Bentley”. Bentley has already seen success with a limited-edition Mulliner model this year. The Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner was revealed at the Geneva motor show and all 100 examples promptly sold out. The special edition model celebrates the brand’s 100th anniversary and sports design that echoes the 4 ½ Litre ‘Blower’ that raced at Le Mans in 1930. More and more high-end car makers, such as Rolls-Royce and McLaren, are producing one-offs or limited editions, reacting to customer demand and the profit margins that can be achieved by such cars. +++

+++ It’s not a secret that DS plans a flagship model that will allow it to compete with established executive sedans such as the Audi A6 L and Volvo S90, especially in China. The premium brand’s big saloon is rumored to adopt the ‘8’ nameplate and arrive in China at the end of this year and possibly in Europe from 2020. So far we haven’t seen any photos of the flagship model, but 2 images werde scooped that allegedly reveal the design of the DS 8. It looks like it will be a rebadged long-wheelbase 508. The DS 8 features brand-specific front and rear ends, though. The face features the same hexagonal grille seen on recent DS models and a similar LED signature as the 3 Crossback. The headlights and taillights are unique to the DS 8 and have an Audi vibe about them. Expect the DS 8 to feature frameless windows and a 5-door fastback body style, just like the 508. The flagship DS model also appears to feature pop-out door handles, although I’m not 100 % sure about that given the images’ low quality. The DS 8 is expected to debut at the Guangzhou Auto Show in Late November and go on sale across China shortly after. The DS 8 is also likely to arrive in Europe during 2020. +++

+++ U.S. demand for ELECTRIC vehicles, including hybrids, could rise to 1.28 million by 2026, a new study projected, but most brands will struggle to make money on the new models. Research firm IHS Markit forecasts that more than 130 models in the U.S. market, from 43 brands, will offer electrified propulsion systems, either pure battery electric or hybrid gasoline-electric. But twothirds of those sales will be registered by the top 10 brands, dominated by segment leader Tesla which will take up more than a quarter of those sales, according to IHS automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley. The remaining brands will account for an estimated 392,000 units, an average of just 11,900 cars per brand, she said. “In the near-term, EV competition will be extremely high”, Brinley said. “Increased choice and availability will drive sales growth, but the number of vehicle introductions is initially outpacing demand for the electric propulsion option”. The market for EVs is growing fast, IHS Markit projected. In 2026, 48 brands will sell a total of 16.8 million vehicles (including EVs), which works out to an average of 350,000 sales per brand in the overall market. Pure electric and hybrid vehicles will account for 7.6 % of those sales, compared with only 1.2 % in 2018. Tesla was the No. 20 brand in overall U.S. sales last year, but new competition is coming from a gaggle of global automakers, notably Volkswagen, Daimler, General Motors and Ford. Tesla, which delivered 240,000 EVs to global customers last year and expects to sell 360,000 to 400,000 this year, will continue to dominate the market in 2026, IHS Markit predicts, with average sales of other brands at about 25,000 units each. But even Tesla has struggled to make money for most of its 9 years as a public company. It reported a first-quarter loss of more than $700 million on sales of 63,000 vehicles. Much of the industry’s planned $300 billion investment in electric vehicles and batteries over the next decade is targeted at China, which is projecting EV and plug-in hybrid sales in 2025 of at least 5 million, or up to 20 % of total vehicle sales. The structure of the EV market in the United States is not unlike the broader market, just on a smaller scale. Last year, the top 10 brands in the United States accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 17.3 million vehicles sold. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS announced that it’s spending $24 million to upgrade its full-size pickup truck plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The investment, which will be used to upgrade the plant’s conveyors and other tolling, will help increase production of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. GM says the plant upgrades will be particularly helpful in boosting production of hot-selling crew cab models. “We are building Chevrolet and GMC crew cab pickups at record volume and mix levels to meet customer demand and the $24 million investment will allow us to build even more”, said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “Crew cab sales have been very strong, and we are expanding customer choice with new models, more cab choices and innovative new powertrains”. So far this year crew cab truck sales have jumped by about 20 %. GM predicts sales will be increasing at an even higher rate by the end of the year. The plant upgrades are scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer. +++

+++ Following the announcement that it will cease UK production this year and withdraw from Western Europe in 2020, INFINITI continues to go through significant changes. Nissan has announced it is relocating its luxury brand’s headquarters back to Japan from Hong Kong. The company was based there since 2012 in an effort to better understand the Chinese market and evolve its unique brand identity. Infiniti’s Hong Kong office currently has about 180 employees. The move is aimed at “providing greater efficiencies and enhance collaboration with parent Nissan as Infiniti electrifies its portfolio over the next 3 years”, the company said in a press statement. According to the new strategic plan, Infiniti will relocate its global headquarters from Hong Kong to Yokohama, Japan, where Nissan is also based, in mid-2020. “The relocation will further integrate Infiniti with global design, research and development and manufacturing functions based in Japan. This connection is crucial as Infiniti ramps up development of its battery electric and e-Power offerings”, reads the statement. The move is also expected to “help increase efficiencies across the business in a hyper-competitive, disruptive industry”. Nissan says Infiniti will continue to operate independently and develop its unique, premium brand identity while at the same time creating “more operational efficiencies by sharing architecture, technologies and back-office functions with Nissan”. Nothing changes regarding Infiniti’s focus on North America and China, its largest growth markets. The luxury marque will dedicate more resources for its SUV lineup in North America and bring 5 new vehicles to China over the next 5 years, and will also work to improve the quality of sales and residual values in these markets. Moving forward, the upscale brand will electrify its portfolio, discontinue diesel offerings and “focus its resources on its best opportunities” in an effort to become a serious player in the premium segment. +++ 

+++ The economy minister of ITALY said he saw no reason for the state to buy a stake in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) should the Italo-American carmaker merge with Renault. FCA pitched a finely balanced merger of equals to Renault earlier this week to tackle the costs of far-reaching technological and regulatory changes by creating the world’s third-biggest automaker. Asked whether the Italian government was considering buying into FCA if the merger went ahead, Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said he saw no reason. Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said earlier Rome should take a stake in a combined FCA – Renault group if necessary, given the importance of the car sector for the domestic economy. The French government owns a 15 % stake in Renault. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR will shortly end production of its XJ saloon as it makes way for a new electric flagship to arrive next year. The final, 8th generation XJ will leave the Castle Bromwich production line on 5 July, with the company having built 122,330 examples since launch. It has been a decade since the unveiling of the X351 model in July 2009, making the XJ one of the oldest cars currently available in the UK. A mid-life facelift in 2015 subtly revised the exterior styling and added an upgraded media system. In 2018, Jaguar unveiled the XJ50 special edition in celebration of the model’s 50th anniversary. Despite its iconic status, the XJ has become Jaguar’s least popular model; the company shifted just 301 in December 2018, compared with 4.492 units of the F-Pace, 2.252 of the XE and 492 of the F-Type during the same month. The XJ is set to be reinvented as a flagship electric saloon for its 9th generation next year. While this hasn’t yet been officially confirmed by Jaguar, a spokesman said that the marque intends “to continue the XJ nameplate”. The 2020 model will make a move upmarket as Jaguar aims to provide a luxury saloon on par with the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Given its zero-emissions powertrain, it will also rival the upcoming Porsche Taycan. Such a radical reinvention is nothing new for the XJ; the X350 from 2002 was Jaguar’s first aluminium model, while the X351 did away with the sloping body lines that had adorned every XJ since the 1968 original. The X351 was the fifth-most produced XJ. The one built in the highest numbers was the XJ40, with 208,733 being made between 1986 and 1994, while some 177,243 examples of the XJ Series III were built from 1979 to 1992. Furthermore, 127,078 units of the XJ Series II (in both saloon and Coupe forms) were produced between 1973 and 1979 and 126,620 X308 XJs were made from 1997 to 2002. +++

+++ The last-generation LAND ROVER Defender phased out in early 2016 was offered in 3 basic variants: a short-wheelbase 2-door model, a long-wheelbase 4-door model and a 4-door pickup. Due out in 2019, its replacement will spawn an even broader line-up of models. “When you see our announcements around this car, you will see it will be a very wide, stretched range. We will compete with some of the volume manufacturers, but we will also go up to very powerful, very luxurious versions of the Defender”, revealed Mark Cameron, the head of Jaguar- Land Rover’s Australian division. While he stopped short of providing additional details about the future Defender range, his comments suggest some variants will be priced well into Range Rover territory. They’d presumably be aimed right at the second-generation Mercedes-Benz G-Class, an upmarket off-roader. Like the G, even the most expensive variants of the Defender will be surprisingly capable off the beaten path. “The new Defender is going to be the most capable car we’ve ever built”, Cameron said. His comments echo those made previously by other Land Rover executives, and create exceptionally high expectations for the upcoming model. I expect it will make its public debut during the 2019 Frankfurt auto show in September, and it will arrive in showrooms before the end of 2020. +++

+++ When 2 lovers announce plans to MARRY , to have and to hold and share their lives in equality and mutual respect, it’s normally cause for festive celebration. In business, where a so-called merger of equals binds two parties to communal goals and interests, it’s much the same. That’s why trumpets sounded to fete the latest corporate couple to announce their plans to walk down the aisle: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Renault. The French group is next week expected to officially accept the Italian-American carmaker’s proposal. Like all equal partnerships, their €33 billion union envisions a 50:50 share of assets and board seats, and a management structure in which MARRY contributes a chairman and Renault the chief executive. But like so many human marriages that begin happily, those involving companies don’t always succeed. The absence of a dominant party may even make such arrangements more difficult. That’s because the choice to pursue a merger of equals is often taken to appease constituents whose interests may diverge from others in the wedding party; particularly governments, family shareholders and founders. France seems to have a larger distribution of such co-equal corporate relationships than, say, Germany or the United States. That’s probably a reflection of the state’s enduring influence over Gallic capitalism. Many have struggled or failed. To prove the exception, FCA and Renault’s leaders need to understand and avoid the mistakes of previous corporate nuptials. Appeasing French president Emmanuel Macron’s government was a key factor in the Italian-American carmaker’s proposal. The company controlled by the Agnelli family has pledged to pay a special dividend worth €2.5 billion to its shareholders, thus reducing its equity value to within parity of Renault’s. In a less restricted market, FCA would probably have lobbed that money at Renault shareholders in return for control of the combined group. The 2 carmakers have other factors in common besides stock-market value. Both are pipsqueaks in a contest that pits Western car manufacturers against technology giants awash with cash and a Chinese industry determined to rule the roads. They face a future where the rising cost of hydrocarbon emissions consigns the combustion engine to the museum, and where humans yield their steering wheels to algorithms. Together, FCA and Renault (and maybe eventually partners Nissan and Mitsubishi) stand a better chance. Culturally, they’re similar too. The elegant city of Turin, where Fiat Chrysler is based, feels more French than Italian. Rome is twice as far away as Lyon. The local version of Italian spoken by Gianni Agnelli (grandfather of current chairman John Elkann) even sounds French, with its “erre moscia”, or soft r’s. It’s not hard to see how Elkann, who was educated in Paris, hit it off with aristocratic Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. The 23-year age gap between the 2 also makes a competition for dominance less likely. While 2 men in bespoke suits do not make a single global corporation, comity at the top of FCA and Renault is an auspicious start compared to previous combinations conceived as mergers of equals. Lafarge’s deal with Swiss cement rival Holcim was another trans-alpine fusion. Announced in 2014, the $44 billion transaction was also struck at parity, with a shared board, and with Lafarge’s boss designated CEO and Holcim providing the chairman. Cracks quickly appeared. Lafarge’s results deteriorated and its shares sank. Bruno Lafont, Lafarge’s CEO, annoyed his frugal Swiss counterparts by flying a private jet around the United States on a roadshow. To save the union, and preserve $1.5 billion in synergies, the terms were renegotiated to give Holcim owners a cash dividend. Lafont rescinded his title to Eric Olson, an American Lafarge executive. That saved the deal from falling apart before the formal exchange of vows; a fate that had recently befallen the proposed tie-up between French ad firm Publicis and Madison Avenue rival Omnicom. But the cement saga didn’t end there. Not long after consummation, Olson was forced to resign amid a probe into whether Lafarge had made payments through intermediaries to armed groups, including Islamic State, in Syria. The former CEO was cleared in March. In what appeared to be a rebuke to the board, the French judges absolving him agreed that he “had been the subject of an internal destabilisation campaign as a U.S. citizen”. They effectively accused Holcim’s directors of hanging the Lafarge executive out to dry. Shareholders haven’t fared well either: LafargeHolcim shares have lost a third of their value since the merger closed in October 2015, much worse than rival HeidelbergCement’s 8 % decline. Though LafargeHolcim may be the nastiest example, there are more botched cross-border mergers of equals involving French partners. Essilor and Luxottica have been battling over who should be the chief executive since the eyewear groups combined last year. During the squabbling, which has temporarily been quieted by an agreement to conduct a search for an external CEO, the maker of Ray-Ban glasses and Varilux lenses has lost a fifth of its value. TechnipFMC has returned a negative 36 % to shareholders since the oil-services firms merged as equals in 2017, underperforming rival GE-Baker Hughes. Moreover, by designating Paris just one of 3 headquarters, alongside Houston and London, much of the decision-making is now done outside of Technip’s tower in the French capital’s La Defense district, says a Parisian banker who no longer counts the company as a domestic client. Yet these examples pale in comparison with the disastrous 2006 fusion of Alcatel and its American telecom equipment rival Lucent Technologies. While Alcatel shareholders got 60 % of the combo, Lucent boss Patricia Russo became CEO and the board was evenly split. Her feuding with French Chairman Serge Tchuruk, amid huge losses, led to both leaving after 2 years. New management cleaned up the mess, which eventually disappeared into the maw of Nokia. FCA and Renault have more going for them than the ill-fated telecom-equipment group. But the challenges the car business faces are similarly existential to what the leader in fixed-line DSL networks experienced. Any one of these forces could spell extinction: An end to the fossil-fuels era, the advent of mobility as a service, disruptive technologies and the rising capability of Chinese rivals. Infighting over who gets what job in a marriage of equals would probably guarantee an equally ugly outcome. +++ 

+++ The Japanese partners of Renault have not been left in the dark by the automaker over its merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the chairman of MITSUBISHI said. “If the intention was to leave us out, they wouldn’t have come all this way to explain their position, would they?” Osamu Masuko told reporters, following a meeting of top executives from Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi. “For us, the fact that they are explaining their position to us means that they want us to be a part of their plan”, he said. Masuko said he was directly informed by Renault of its plans to merge with FCA. +++

+++ Tesla makes changes to their lineup on a chaotic basis, but it appears the MODEL S is about to get a significant refresh. Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California is being prepared to produce the all-new Model Y and an updated Model S. The latter car is expected to go into production in September and it will reportedly feature a host of updates including a new interior which follows in the footsteps of the Model 3. As a result, we can expect a minimalist cabin which could eschew the current car’s digital instrument cluster and touchscreen infotainment system with a portrait orientation. Both will presumably be replaced by an all-new ‘floating’ display similar to the one used on the Model 3. Besides the new infotainment system, the car could adopt seats sourced from higher-end versions of the Model 3. There could also be a new dashboard and a revised center console. Performance changes are more mysterious, but the report suggested the updated Model S could share its electric motors with the higher-end versions of the Model 3. The report also says there will be an updated battery that increases the range to 644 km) That’s an impressive distance for an EV, but it’s only 48 km further than the current Model S Long Range. It remains unclear if the update will also include exterior styling changes, but it appears the car will be built on the same production line as the Model X. This will reportedly happen to accommodate Model Y production which could begin as early as next year. If that’s the case, the entry-level crossover could arrive well ahead of its planned launch in the fall of 2020. +++

+++ NISSAN ’s advanced technologies including platforms and electric powertrains could give it leverage in a merger involving Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), thanks to a royalty system it has with the former, 2 people with knowledge of the matter said. A merged Renault-FCA could face an extra hurdle each time it uses technology developed by Nissan or Mitsubishi, while the 2 Japanese automakers stand to gain a client in FCA, one of the people said. Both sources declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. Nissan’s technology, particularly in electrification and emissions reduction, could give it some sway in the $35 billion potential tie-up between Renault and FCA, even as its stake in the newly formed company would be diluted. Currently Renault pays less for technology developed by Nissan than the Japanese automaker pays for French technology, a third person said. This has long been a sticking point for Nissan, and an area where Nissan could seek more favorable terms. “Whenever Nissan transfers platform, powertrain or other technology to Renault, there is a margin or royalty which Renault has to pay for use of that tech”, one of the people said. “In that sense, FCA, if everything went well, would become another ‘client’ of ours and that’s good. More business for us”. A Nissan spokesman declined to comment on its royalty system. The potential Renault-FCA deal has complicated the Japanese automaker’s already uneasy alliance with Renault. A further deal with FCA looks likely at least in the near term to weaken Nissan’s influence in the 20-year-old partnership. Renault owns a 43.4 % stake in Nissan and is its top shareholder. Nissan holds a 15 % non-voting stake in Renault and would see that diluted to 7.5 % after the FCA deal, albeit with voting rights. The imbalance between the 2 has long rankled Nissan, which is by far the larger company. Renault had previously angled for a merger with Nissan but has been rebuffed by CEO Hiroto Saikawa. Securing benefits from the merger deal will be important for Saikawa, who is grappling with poor financial performance while he struggles to right the company after the ouster of former chairman Carlos Ghosn last year. By joining forces, Renault and FCA hope to consolidate what would have been 2 electric vehicle development programs into one, and then deploy the resulting technology across a much larger range of vehicles, reducing costs. FCA, which foresees trouble in meeting with increasingly stringent emissions regulations in both Europe and China, would likely benefit significantly from Renault powertrain technologies. Much of these technologies have been beefed up by R&D led by Nissan, the first automaker to launch a mass-market all-battery electric vehicle (EV). The Leaf is the world’s top-selling EV, with sales of more than 400,000 since its launch in 2010. The company has also found unexpected success with its e-Power gasoline hybrid system. It could use its technology as a negotiating tool with Renault and FCA. Technically, any deal between Renault and FCA would not involve any structural change in Renault’s confidential partnership agreement with Nissan, the Restated Alliance Master Agreement, although FCA would join Renault as a counterparty to the pact. But Nissan does stand to benefit from a more balanced capital structure in the merger. As the combined Renault-FCA company would be domiciled in the Netherlands, the French government would lose its double shareholding permitted under France’s Florange Law. As a result, the French government would be left with a 7.5 % voting stake in the new company, potentially easing a source of tension between Nissan and Paris, as the current arrangement effectively hands the government outsized influence over the Japanese automaker. There is also the issue of regional overlap. FCA and Nissan are rivals in the North American truck and SUV market, where Nissan has struggled with poor margins. “Nissan is struggling in the United States. Will pairing up with Chrysler help? Not really”, said Takeshi Miyao, managing director of consultancy Carnorama. He said Nissan could seek compromises in other areas if Renault-FCA were to seek consolidation in the region. Southeast Asia, where the third member of the Renault-Nissan alliance, Mitsubishi, dominates vehicle sales, could also be a area for potential horse-trading with Renault and FCA as they expand their presence in the fast-growing market. Here, Mitsubishi could negotiate hefty concessions in return for distribution in Indonesia, Thailand and other countries. “Our main market is the ASEAN countries, so we would like to know how cooperation would look in this region”, Mitsubishi chairman Osamu Masuko said. “There are areas where making decisions may be difficult”. +++ 

+++ I write a lot about electric cars these days. It’s my job to report on what’s happening in the car business and, whether we like it or not (and many don’t), it’s a subject that’s dominating new car stories and the wider news agenda. Not a day seems to pass without a story cropping up about climate change and electric vehicles. One of the phrases that the car industry often bandies about when talking about EVs is that they have to be ‘normalised’. That means cheaper, more accessible and more akin to what we’ve been driving for decades. For me, one car has always stood out as one that could help normalise electric car ownership: the OPEL Corsa. The Corsa is one of those cars that everyone has a story about; whether they learned to drive in one, owned one or had a mate who modified one. It’s a constant in the European best-sellers list. And now it’s going electric; this is really EVs going mainstream. It’s going electric in some style, too. As you can see, the Corsa has matured nicely, with Opel’s design team led by Mark Adams producing one of the best-looking superminis we’ve seen for a while. Alongside its sibling, Peugeot’s 208, the humble supermini is looking posher and cooler than ever. One of the most important parts of normalising an electric car is the range. Opel says that a real-world range of 330 kilometres should be achievable; more than enough, I suspect, for most Corsa owners. Of course, that’s nothing if the car’s not affordable and, let’s face it, most EVs are expensive even when fuel, tax and other running cost savings are taken into account. So what about the Corsa? Converting the cost from the expected German price in Euros and taking away the current plug-in car grant, you could have an electric Corsa on your driveway for as little as €35,000. Expensive for a Corsa, maybe, but not for an EV that promises as much as this one. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) plan to merge with Renault drew criticism from rival French automaker PSA Group. In a memo sent to PSA’s top executives, CEO Carlos Tavares highlighted risks to the proposal. Renault was chosen mainly because its value was depressed by the troubled alliance with Nissan following the Carlos Ghosn affair, according to the memo. “The transaction proposed by FCA therefore seems particularly opportunistic, largely to its benefit”, the note said, while acknowledging potential for savings. “For Renault, this may be an asset in discussions with Nissan, but it could also weaken the alliance or even lead to an unwinding”. PSA held talks with Fiat Chrysler earlier this year on potential collaboration. A PSA spokesman declined to comment. For Tavares, FCA’s decision to pair up with Renault represents a missed opportunity. Since arriving in 2014, the 60-year-old executive (a former protege of Ghosn at Renault) has turned around a struggling PSA by focusing relentlessly on efficiency and scale. He held talks with FCA earlier this year to build a new “super platform” before FCA slipped into the arms of Renault. More than three-quarters of PSA’s revenue comes from Europe, where automakers face a consumer slowdown and a squeeze on profit margins from stricter emission regulations. At the Geneva auto show in March, it looked like FCA and PSA would pair off. Tavares and his counterpart at FCA, Mike Manley, spoke publicly about the desire to participate in consolidation. But FCA chairman John Elkann was not convinced. A deal with PSA would rely on disruptive and politically unpalatable job cuts, while Renault offered a more-advanced program for electric cars and greater access to Asia through Nissan. Renault’s share price has hovered near 5-year lows, according to the memo, which (echoing some analysts) contends the automaker’s market value is negative after stripping out its 43 % Nissan stake and banking business RCI. “Renault’s current valuation largely explains Fiat’s interest in a merger”, the memo said, calling the deal a “virtual takeover of Renault by Fiat”. Relations between Nissan and Renault have been strained since the arrest of alliance leader Ghosn in November. Recently, Nissan pushed back against a Renault plan to join together under a 50-50 holding company structure. Should the alliance break up, Renault may end up unwinding its Nissan stake “under particularly deteriorated conditions”, the memo said. The Franco-Italian tie-up bears management and governance risks, along with the possibility of antitrust remedies, according to the note. The transaction will “open a period of fragility for the various actors”, it concluded. +++ 

+++ If RENAULT green-lights a proposed merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the companies almost immediately could begin saving money by consolidating components and basic structures on many of their most popular vehicles, an industry analyst said. The synergies could multiply if they invite Nissan, currently Renault’s alliance partner, to join the merger, according to a former Renault and Nissan executive. Renault and FCA are in talks to tackle the costs of far-reaching technological and regulatory changes by creating the world’s third-biggest automaker. A Renault-FCA combination “would mean a greater sharing of parts (which) could really boost the profitability of FCA’s smaller vehicles”, said Sam Fiorani, vice president, AutoForecast Solutions. Building similar models on a common vehicle architecture, Fiorani said, “would give both companies a lot more freedom in manufacturing. They could mix brands and vehicle sizes on the same assembly line, switch vehicles between plants to balance production, and even shift production from one country to another, depending on changes in demand, tariffs or other considerations”. Fiorani said FCA could benefit from sharing the French automaker’s expertise in electric vehicles and powertrains, where Renault and Nissan have jointly invested more than $5 billion. These are areas in which FCA has little in the way of components or intellectual property. Another sector that is ripe for consolidation is light commercial vehicles, where Renault and FCA could build a variety of vans in several sizes on common platforms that could be assembled and sold in global markets. Ford and Volkswagen began their alliance discussions a year ago by focusing on potential collaboration in light commercial vehicles. Fiorani said Renault’s CMF architecture, which was jointly developed with Nissan and underpins many of Renault’s passenger cars and crossovers, could be used by FCA on a wide variety of vehicles. As an example, he said the CMF could provide a new foundation for at least 5 Jeep models, including the Renegade, Compass and Cherokee, which now are based on 4 different platforms. A hurdle to implementing the merger is all the intellectual property (including the CMF vehicle architecture) that is shared between Renault and Nissan, said Patrick Pelata, a veteran of the 2 automakers’ alliance who was formerly Renault’s chief operating officer. “They will need Nissan’s agreement for it to be used by FCA”, Pelata told. “Nobody’s talking about that right now, but it’s an important subject”. Renault would not likely be interested in sharing FCA’s body-on-frame platforms, which underpin the automaker’s big pickups and SUVs in North America, Fiorani said. “But if Nissan is invited to join the merger, that could open up new possibilities”, he said. “Nissan could use FCA’s full-size truck platform for its next-generation Titan and Armada, while FCA could use Nissan’s mid-size truck platform for the next-generation Dakota and Durango”. Fiorani said it likely would take at least 2 years after a Renault-FCA merger is approved before the arrival of the first new vehicles built on shared architectures. +++ 

+++ According to industry specialists, the global ROBOT TAXI industry has a great growth potential and could be worth in excess of $2 trillion a year by 2030. Analysts from UBS Group came up with this lofty figure based on a simulation they ran of a robo-taxi fleet operating in New York which optimized routes and riders’ connections with vehicles. It also took into account running costs, utilization rates, charging-station network size, and margins. The figure also includes revenue streams from building charging stations, making the vehicles and tires, and providing the electricity. It is estimated that ride-hailing giants such as Uber and Lyft will likely lead the charge in the world of self-driving taxi services but a number of car manufacturers are also tipped to play a significant role in the development of the industry. These will include General Motors, Volkswagen, and Daimler. Alphabet’s self-driving unit Waymo is also expected to be a major player in the robo-taxi industry. A number of companies have already announced plans to introduce large fleets of autonomous taxis, including General Motors. The car manufacturer had intended to launch a fleet of no more than 2.500 modified Chevrolet Bolts (Opel Ampera-e) through its Cruise Automation brand for an on-demand ride-sharing fleet likely based in San Francisco by the end of this year. However, these plans recently hit a hurdle after numerous groups expressed concerns. General Motors made a request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) back in January 2018 to receive a 2-year temporary waiver on features including mirrors, dashboard warning lights, and turn signals designed for human drivers. Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that once the regulatory challenges are dealt with, autonomous taxi fleets will soon flood roads around the world. +++ 

+++ TESLA chief executive Elon Musk appears determined to see the car manufacturer increase its delivery figures this quarter. In an email sent to company employees, the businessman said that he will hold calls with teams in America, Asia, and Europe every 2 days to “understand what’s needed to accelerate” Tesla’s current rate of deliveries. While Tesla had a successful final quarter of 2018 where it delivered a record 90,700 vehicles, things haven’t got off to a flying start for 2019 and last quarter, the company’s deliveries fell significantly to 63,000. Musk is determined to see deliveries rebound, however, and has previously said that the car manufacturer will likely deliver between 90,000 and 100,000 vehicles this quarter. Investors and analysts aren’t so confident and according to Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jones, those on Wall Street predict Tesla will deliver somewhere in the mid- to upper-70,000 unit range. The company, which has struggled to keep up with Musk’s delivery promises, had on average produced 900 Model 3 cars per day last week, according to the email, bringing it closer to a target of 7,000 per week. Demand for the Model 3 and other cars has moved to the top of investors’ list of worries after the company reported slack first-quarter demand against a backdrop of U.S.-China trade tensions. +++

+++ TOYOTA said it would launch a plant in Myanmar to manufacture Hilux pick-ups from 2021 as the Japanese automaker plans to locally assemble vehicles for the emerging nation where demand for cars has been soaring. The newly built plant in Thilawa Special Economic Zone in the suburbs of Yangon will produce about 2,500 vehicles each year using the semi knock-down method, Toyota said in a statement. In tapping Myanmar for localized vehicle assembly, Toyota joins domestic rival Nissan, which began output in the Asian country in 2017. Toyota is considering investing about 60 billion yen ($550 million) in Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing. Japan’s top automaker is looking to set up a new mobility-services company in China. “We continue to evaluate our business strategy from a global perspective in areas of Connectivity, Autonomous, Sharing and Electrification to meet the future needs of our customers”, Toyota spokesman Kensuke Ko said. Toyota has made large investments in other ride-hailing firms such as Uber and Grab as traditional automakers race to team up with disruptive tech companies. +++

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , a number of factory shutdowns timed to coincide with the originally scheduled date of Britain’s departure from the European Union, led to a dramatic 44.5 % year-on-year slump in car manufacturing in April. A total of 70,971 cars were built in April, down 56,999 on the 127,970 produced in the same month of 2018, according to data produced by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). It was the 11th straight month in which manufacturing output declined. While manufacturing has been substantially down in 2019 (with a 22.4 % year-on-year decline so far) the April figures were heightened by several car firms, including Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce, bringing forward production stoppages usually planned for the summer to guard against any delays caused by Britain leaving the European Union, which had been due to take place on 29 March. Brexit was subsequently delayed, and is now scheduled to take place on 31 October. It is highly unlikely firms will be able to suspend production again following this date, and SMMT president Mike Hawes again called on politicians to rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit to minimise further damage to the industry. Hawes said the figures were “evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers”. He added: “Prolonged instability has done untold damage, with the fear of ‘no deal’ holding back progress, causing investment to stall, jobs to be lost and undermining our global reputation. This is why ‘no deal’ must be taken off the table immediately and permanently, so industry can get back to the business of delivering for the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of the global technology race”. Production figures in April were also hit by a decline in demand in both the UK and overseas, including the continuing struggles within the Chinese and EU markets. The SMMT estimates that, if the UK leaves the EU with a “favourable deal and substantial transition period”, the decline in production will ease by the end of the year, although in this best-case scenario year-on-year output would still be around 10.5% down on 2018. +++ 

+++ VOLVO , together with Finnish tech firm Varjo, a maker of high-end augmented reality headsets, has unveiled the world’s first mixed-reality application designed for car development. The 2 companies have made it possible for somebody to drive a real car while wearing an augmented reality headset, seamlessly adding virtual elements that seem real to not just the driver, but the car’s sensors too. Their latest invention is called the Varjo XR-1, and it’s pretty impressive. “With this mixed-reality approach, we can start evaluating designs and technologies while they are literally still on the drawing board”, said Volvo chief technology officer, Henrik Green. “Instead of the usual static way of evaluating new products and ideas, we can test concepts on the road immediately. This approach offers considerable potential cost savings by identifiying priorities and clearing bottlenecks much earlier in the design and development process”. The XR-1 also boasts highly accurate eye-tracking technology, making it easy to assess how drivers use a new functionality and whether or not they are distracted by the new features. “From the very beginning, our vision has been to create a product that can seamlessly merge the real and the virtual together”, said Niko Eiden, founder and CEO of Varjo. “The incredibly advanced ways in which Volvo uses the XR-1 show that Varjo’s technology enables things that have been previously impossible. Together with Volvo we have started a new era in professional mixed reality”. Volvo will demonstrate the Varjo XR-1 headset at the Augmented Reality World Expo in Santa Clara, California, while a patent has already been filed for the technology. +++

+++ WAYMO is reportedly preparing to revive its Arizona testing program for autonomous semi-trailer trucks. The company stopped testing the Class 8 trucks in the state as it focused on launching a commercial autonomous taxi service with its fleet of the Chrysler Pacifica. Test programs have continued in other areas including California and Georgia. The upcoming Arizona testing is said to be at a more advanced stage in the semi project’s development, according to TechCrunch. The MPVs will be operated on highways throughout the metro Phoenix area before expanding to other regions. A pair of safety drivers will be on board each vehicle, while some will be carrying a dummy load to simulate cargo weight. Waymo will be competing with several other startups and established players, such as Daimler, to commercialize autonomous cargo vehicles. +++

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