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+++ ALPINE will soon introduce a hotter variant of the A110. The model will make its debut before the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning on June 15. Alpine previewed the model by posting a photo of a shipping container getting loaded onto a truck on its various social media accounts. The images don’t tell us much, but insiders suggest the model the firm is shipping from its home in Dieppe, France, to Le Mans ahead of the big race is a street-going version of the GT4 car. The yet-unnamed variant of the A110 will be lighter than the regular-production model and it will benefit from various suspension and chassis tweaks to make it even more dynamic to drive. It will receive a 300 hp evolution of the standard car’s turbocharged, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder from the Megane RS Trophy. I expect the tweaks will make the A110 more track-capable than before. Alpine will release additional details about its next A110 variants in the coming days. The model will go on sale by the end of the year. +++ 

+++ A filing from General Motors with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office detailing an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission which could be used by the CHEVROLET C8 Corvette has emerged. The patent was filed on November 13, 2015 but only granted on June 4, 2019. The 12-page document details an 8-speed gearbox by GM, but doesn’t specifically state what vehicles it could be used for. It does, however, include possible 9-speed and 10-speed derivatives as well. Rumors regarding the transmission of the C8 Corvette are nothing new; in early April, a report surfaced suggesting that the new mid-engine sports car could get a dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF. This unit, or variants of it, have been used in vehicles including the Porsche Panamera, Porsche 918 Spyder, and Bentley Continental GT. The patent doesn’t mention what gearbox manufacturer the new transmission would come from, but some suggest it could be made by Tremec instead of ZF. It is widely believed that the C8 Corvette will be sold with a plethora of different engines, likely starting with a 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 and potentially including a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8, among others. All units are expected to feature the same transmission and, to keep up with the current crop of supercars, it would only make sense for Chevrolet to equip the cars with a dual-clutch transmission box. Chevrolet will unveil the all-new Corvette on July 18, meaning we will get our answers in a little at over a month – at the latest … +++ 

+++ Outside of motorsport, regular users of advanced carbonfibre-reinforced plastic ( CRFP ) structures include McLaren, BMW and Lamborghini. The Italian firm built a new factory in 2010 to make the Aventador monocoque in-house, developing its own process called ‘RTM-Lambo’. RTM (for resin transfer moulding) usually involves pressing the dry, resin-free lay-up together in a 2-part mould and injecting the resin. RTM-Lambo is a lower-cost method of making high-quality body components. The top half of the Aventador tub is made and part cured using the ‘prepreg’ method. Prepreg is carbonfibre mat pre-impregnated with resin. It comes in rolls and is stored in a refrigerator, like ready-made puff-pastry, to stop it going off. Prepreg is the best way to make components with a shiny Class A finish, but it is expensive, so the bottom half of the tub is made using RTM-Lambo, like RTM but with a small, precise amount of resin added first to allow pre-forming of the basic shape. Finally, top and bottom components are pressed together in one large mould, impregnated and cured to complete the monocoque. Past master McLaren handed the world’s largest order for CRFP production car monocoques to Salzburg firm Carbo Tech when McLaren Automotive was launched in 2010. Unlike Lamborghini’s approach, McLaren’s Monocells were made using straightforward RTM in steel moulds weighing 35 tonnes. The objective was not to speed up the process but to squeeze the ultimate performance from the chassis. Even so, each tub could be made 10 times faster than that of the McLaren F1 supercar. Now McLaren has it’s own resource, the £50 million Innovation Centre in Sheffield, to produce Monocells and Monocages in-house, the first of which was delivered to the McLaren Production Centre in March. The barrier to carbonfibre in the mainstream has been cost, partly because of the raw material itself but mainly because manual handling of the carbonfibre still plays a big part in the manufacture of complex structures. Production and process costs account for 33 to 75% of the overall cost of components. The BMW Carbon Core is a hybrid design with steel components embedded in the mould along with carbon, but despite rumours that the subsequent 5 Series bodyshell would follow suit, it didn’t, sticking with steel, aluminium and magnesium. The closest yet to a mainstream CRFP bodyshell has been that of the BMW i3 but it, and its construction, may not necessarily continue after the current model. A breakthrough in cost cutting may be on the horizon, though. Voith Composites developed an automated system called the Voith Roving Applicator to make the CRFP rear panel and parcel shelf for the Audi A8, calling it “a breakthrough technology in the composites world”. For now, though, aluminium remains a favourite for mass-produced cars and is more sustainable, taking 95 % less energy to recycle it than to make the stuff in the first place. Developed by Lamborghini with golf club manufacturers Callaway Golf and hailed as a material of the future, Forged Composite consists of short carbon fibres mixed with resin, injection moulded and cured in just two or three minutes. It was used to make the Sesto Elemento concept car a few years ago and some small production parts today, but while 30 % cheaper than RTM-Lambo, it has yet to achieve the breakthrough in car manufacturing once hinted at. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) is partnering up with autonomous systems provider Aurora Innovation in an attempt to develop and build self-driving commercial vehicles. According to FCA officials, this move is meant to help them explore the possibilities of using Aurora’s systems on the RAM and Fiat Professional brand vehicle lines, although RAM remains the main focus. Prototypes could be on the road within the next 3-5 years. “As part of FCA’s autonomous vehicle strategy, we will continue to work with strategic partners to address the needs of customers in a rapidly changing industry”, stated FCA boss Mike Manley. “Aurora brings a unique skill set combination with advanced and purposeful technology that complements and enhances our approach to self driving”. As far as FCA is concerned, this collaboration is the first that could help them directly bring autonomous technology into their product lines, although previous projects included selling Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans for use in Waymo’s self-driving vehicle operations. This 2-year old start-up was founded Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell; 3 individuals who played significant roles in the development of self-driving tech at Google, Tesla and Uber, respectively. Their new product is called Aurora Driver and it is capable of Level 4 automation, meaning no human intervention or oversight is needed. “We are thrilled to forge a partnership with FCA US to develop a meaningful business model for delivering the benefits of self-driving commercial vehicles”, said Aurora Co-founder Sterling Anderson. Currently, Aurora is also working with the likes of Volkswagen, Hyundai and Dyson. +++ 

+++ This past November, LAMBORGHINI announced that it had created a single car in collaboration with one favored, unnamed customer. The exact value of the one-off SC18 Alston has not emerged, though in an interview with technical director Maurizio Reggiani in his Sant’Agata Bolognese office, he teased that it hovers somewhere between $1 and $13 million dollars, the cost of Bugatti’s recent La Voiture Noire. Reggiani is very clear on one thing: he claims Lamborghini started what is a growing trend of making extraordinarily expensive, street legal, one-off supercars. The SC18, for instance, was created “in synergy” with the customer and Centro Stile Lamborghini division. In short, head designer Mitja Borkert sat down with the longtime Lamborghini client and they drew up the 770 hp V12 car. It is the first one of its kind for the brand, but it was also a long time coming. This current mode of customization can be traced back to the the Lamborghini Reventon in 2008. “I remember it very well, because when I first became technical director, my first job was to do this car”, Reggiani says. “It was appointed in a meeting with then-chief executive officer Stephan Winkelman, who decided we needed to do a car that was completely out of the scope. So we came up with Reventon”. This was not a one-off (Lamborghini made 21 of them) but it was the brand’s first model to test a new stratosphere of modern buyer. In fact, its almost immediate sell-out success proved to Lamborghini executives that the auto market could handle the extravagant price and exclusivity of vehicles heretofore considered too wild for it to bear. This paved the way for the $4.5 million Veneno and Centenario, each rare-as-plutonium supercars that came several years later. Over the decade since since the Reventon’s debut, the company has sharpened a strategy of making ever-more expensive, scarcer cars, ultimately resulting in the single commissioned SC18 from last year. “The Reventon prompted the big discussion about the dimensions of this segment”, Reggiani says. “As we scouted more and more during that time, we started to see how, this market, you can stretch in terms of price and in terms of demand. The Reventon coupe was $3 million; the Reventon roadster was $3.2 million; the Centenario was $2 million. So in this segment, we know there is a marvelous market”. +++

+++ Of course, the men and women at LUXURY CARMAKERS like Aston Martin, Bugatti, Ferrari and Rolls-Royce have had a foothold in the above described market for years. Ferrari has built one-off cars such as the Superamerica 45 and the P540 Superfast Aperta for special buyers since announcing its Special Projects Division 10 years ago. Aston Martin has quietly made such one-offs as the CC100 for its most prized collectors in recent years. Both Bugatti and Rolls-Royce have fashioned uber-expensive one-offs, if at times only intermittently and, until recently, usually secretly, for a century. In fact the coach-built one-off tradition goes back, arguably, hundreds of years to the days of building actual coaches: the royal, horse-drawn kind. These aren’t just bespoke versions of existing models; they are built-from-the-ground-up special creations tailored specifically to the commissioner’s request: lengthened wheelbases and novel seating positions: special outfitting to enable, say, hunting or state ceremonies, for example. Coach-building in its current form at Bugatti means building a specific and special car first as a unique vehicle, then approaching a potential customer to ask if they would like to purchase it. Rolls-Royce was doing its own version of coach-building with the likes of its Phantom touring limousines throughout the 1900s. In 2017, it debuted the singular $13 million Rolls-Royce Sweptail at the Concours d’Elegance Villa d’Este, where the client picked it up from the event and took it directly on a road trip through the Italian Alps. “The industry is going through a burgeoning point with these cars, and there is an extreme exercise in differentiation”, says Alex Innes, Rolls-Royce head of coach-build design. “The Rolls-Royce approach is much more organic, much more romantic, than some. To us, it is a very, very small niche part of the business, and it will always remain so”. Bugatti, meanwhile, says “the sky is the limit” on how it will alter or augment one of its base chassis models and has been more vocal than most companies have been, until recently, about this lucrative side of the business. Tim Urquhart, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit, says the potential growth in this ultra-exclusive market is “exponential”. Witness the burgeoning number of billionaires around the globe, particularly in Asia, and the increasing trend toward personalization and individualization of luxury objects. Last year saw 31 individuals added to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Add to that the fact that many one-off cars use the platform of previous models: yes, it’s a muddy area between something being 100 % original and something that is one-of-a-kind that may use a chassis from an existing car, requiring little new development or financial outlay from automakers. The lure of the sale must be enormous. It’s no small thing that with the Reventon, Lamborghini figured out a way to charge 8 times the price of the cars upon which its chassis was based. “The margins are huge and the potential for this to continue is massive”, Urquhart says. “A company that does this like Rolls-Royce is mining their heritage very successfully”. There is plenty of discussion about the proper way to do it. Technologies such as 3D printing have reduced the limiting effects of time and the scarcity of human talent. But where Lamborghini has indicated it tends to let customer’s imaginations run a little freer, and independent hyper-carmakers such as Glickenhaus might go several steps farther down that crazy fantasy aesthetic, Rolls-Royce takes a closely guided approach. And Bugatti, for its part, has said it will always build the car first, then approach a potential customer about a purchase, rather than the other way around. “Let’s not forget there is no accounting for taste and the mega-rich have some of the most appalling taste on the planet” ”, Urquhart says. “At Ferrari or Rolls-Royce, they will have to be very protective of their brand heritage”. Indeed, Rolls-Royce’s Innes puts the Rolls-Royce philosophy in culinary terms: While you might order something special off the menu of a 3-Michelin-starred restaurant, you would never walk into the kitchen, take over control from the chef, and start adding ingredients, would you? “We work on commissions with clients who are committed to buying a car, even without knowing what it might look like”, Innes says. “Rolls-Royce is a very precious thing. The customer is a commissioning patron, and we are working collaboratively with them, but artistically we are always in control. It’s important to underline that because I know some other brands approach it very differently”. The company will never make “more than single figures” of coach-built cars annually, he said. Others are watching closely. Aston Martin and McLaren are fashioning supercar small batches of their own, such as the multimillion-dollar Valkyrie and GT12 Volante and the ultra-rare McLaren P1 GTR, respectively. And, of course, Bentley has long made coach-built vehicles for the Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, whose seat, for example, must sit higher than Prince Philip’s. The company is not quite making one-offs for others with less-than-blueblood pedigrees yet, but those in power there are certainly considering it. “There are more and more customers who want something very very unique, and customers are asking us about the possibility of one-off commissions”, says Stefan Sielaff, the chief designer at Bentley. “But we would not give a car to a customer that is a coach-built object that is not homologized and certified to be legal to drive on the roads. As you can imagine we are a member of the big Volkswagen Group and there are a lot of people looking into this legally. It is rather expensive to do”. But make no mistake: At the highest level, nearly all cars are personalized to some degree. At Rolls-Royce, the number hovers between from 95 % to 99 %. Bentley’s Mulliner program sees 70 % of the Bentayga sold heavily bespoked. Sielaff mentions one customer who requested over a private meeting at home in London that her Mulliner-made car match the favorite of her 100-count collection of nail varnish. Of course, Bentley could do that (it’s a frequent request) but she didn’t want to hand over the bottle for development. It was her favorite color, after all. The next day, the Bentley designer returned to the factory to start work on the lady’s order, sporting a single fingernail painted with the varnish of choice from the previous day. It wasn’t on the level of designing an entire car from scratch, but it’s a lot of work for a whim. “It’s a little bit like having a sparring partner”, Sielaff says. “Obviously, these people are able to afford it. They are self-confident and also brave enough to ask, and that is great. So we are thinking about it. Nothing has been decided, but we are thinking”. +++ 

+++ MAZDA will launch a handful of new vehicles and powertrains in the coming years to ensure it meets tougher CO2 emission targets in Europe. Chief executive Akira Marumoto confirmed that the car manufacturer will introduce its first all-electric vehicle next year and follow it up with various plug-in hybrid models from 2021 or 2022. “First, the Skyactiv-X engine we are launching this year emits less than 100 g/km of CO2. Second, the first Mazda battery-electric vehicle will hit the market next year. Finally, we will introduce plug-in hybrid models from 2021 or 2022. So we will eventually achieve the emissions target, although we will have some difficulties in 2020”, Marumoto said. Details about Mazda’s upcoming electric vehicle remain somewhat limited but we were first told about the EV last year and received confirmation that it will be a standalone model, not one based around an existing ICE-powered Mazda. In addition, it has been confirmed that the car will feature Mazda’s own powertrain technology and not the electric systems which it is developed with Toyota and Denso. In the meantime, Mazda is working on mild-hybrid versions of its upcoming Skyactiv-X powertrain. Work has also been done to improve the efficiency of the diesel engines it uses in vehicles like the Mazda 6 and CX-5. Marumoto believes that for SUVs and large sedans, the most efficient powertrain moving forward “will be a diesel coupled with an electric motor”. +++

+++ Elon MUSK has spoken again, and what he said is that there os a possibility the infotainment system used by Tesla vehicles will support third-party apps in the future. Musk said that as more Tesla models hit the roads, the company may open up its infotainment system to outside developers. “As our number of vehicles grow, it starts to potentially makes more sense to develop games and other applications for Tesla. We just need a lot of cars”, Musk said, adding that there needs to be “enough of an install base to warrant the effort” of developers building separate apps for Tesla vehicles. As it stands, Tesla owners can entertain themselves with a plethora of infotainment functionalities unique to their vehicles. For example, games like Super Breakout, Missile Command, Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Centipede are all available for the Model 3, Model S, and Model X. Other services available include music streaming, books, podcasts, and navigation tools. There are even a handful of Easter eggs available, including the infamous ‘fart mode’ that, depending on where you stand, is either funny or plain nonsensical. Gaming in a car may seem pretty wild, but Tesla isn’t the only car manufacturer exploring such features. Mercedes-Benz recently demonstrated the ability to play SuperTuxKart on its MBUX infotainment system while in the driver’s seat, using the steering wheel and pedals as controls. The German car manufacturer is even holding an In-Car Gaming Challenge for students, developers, designers, graduates and startup businesses to design games for the MBUX system. Fully-autonomous vehicles still have way to go before reaching production, but we can rest easy knowing that when they do arrive, car manufacturers will offer a multitude of services to keep drivers vehicle occupants entertained. +++

+++ Carmakers NISSAN and Renault inaugurated a joint innovation laboratory in Tel Aviv, enabling their alliance to collaborate with Israeli start-ups. The new operation, which has a partnership with the Israeli government’s innovation authority, is focusing on sensors for autonomous driving, cyber security and big data. It is testing and working on more than 10 projects with Israeli start-ups, including cybersecurity provider Argus, solar energy company Apollo Power and electrical propulsion system maker IRP Systems. Renault-Nissan alliance officials in Israel downplayed reports of strained relations between the 2 carmakers since the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn in November. “Today is a very good example of what we are doing together”, Gaspar Gascon Abellan, the alliance’s deputy executive vice president of engineering, told reporters. “Speculation will run of course in the future, but at the team levels what we see is that we are collaborating very tightly and closely to develop all the new technologies”. The lab will enable the start-ups to test their technologies in vehicles. Financial details were not disclosed. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance has similar labs in Silicon Valley and in Shanghai. “Through collaborations with promising local start-ups with cutting-edge technologies, we aim to develop a variety of key technologies that will be essential for the future of mobility”, said Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, alliance executive vice president of engineering. The new facility will also cooperate with the alliance’s venture capital fund, which plans global investment up to $1 billion over 5 years. It has invested in the Maniv Mobility fund in Israel though not in any local companies. Christian Noske, direct investments director of Alliance Ventures, said the fund typically invests $10 million per start-up and plans to invest in at least one Israeli business this year. The 2 decade old partnership of Renault and Nissan was plunged into fresh crisis today as the French automaker’s demand for a greater say in Nissan’s new governance system drew rare public censure by the Japanese firm. Renault, which owns 43.4 % of the Japanese firm, signaled it would block Nissan from formally adopting an overhauled governance structure at a June 25 shareholder meeting unless Renault received representation on new Nissan committees. The demand, conveyed in a letter from Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard just weeks before the meeting, could scuttle the new structure, created after months of deliberation by an outside committee and previously supported by Senard. Nissan responded in some of its frankest language yet against its top shareholder, calling the demand “most regrettable”. “Nissan has received a letter from Renault indicating intention to abstain from voting”, Nissan said in a statement. “Nissan finds Renault’s new stance on this matter most regrettable, as such a stance runs counter to the company’s efforts to improve its corporate governance”. The rift lays bare the deep strain between the 2 automakers, whose alliance has been under pressure since the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn in November. What’s at stake now may be even bigger than their vast alliance, which includes Mitsubishi. Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) are looking for ways to resuscitate their collapsed merger plan and secure Nissan’s approval for that deal. Nissan is, therefore, poised to urge Renault to significantly cut the 43.4 % stake, 2 people told. By abstaining from the governance vote, Renault would effectively block the new governance system (which includes 3 committees) as adoption requires twothirds approval. Nissan recently said it would abstain from voting on the FCA-Renault merger, although both FCA and Renault later blamed the failure of that deal squarely on the French government. “Renault’s rights as 43.4% shareholder of Nissan need to be fully recognized and at a minimum 1 or 2 directors proposed by Renault should be members of each of the 3 committees”, Renault said in its letter. “As currently proposed, this does not seem to be the case”. A Renault source said Senard’s letter was motivated by concern about Renault’s under-representation on the new Nissan board committees being introduced following the arrest of Ghosn, who is now awaiting trial and denies the financial misconduct charges against him. “It’s not a final abstention and Renault’s position can still change”, the source said. “As things stand, Renault has not been assured of appropriate committee representation as Nissan’s main shareholder”. Renault had yet to receive specific details on the proposed composition of each of the committees, another source with knowledge of the issue told. A Nissan source said Renault CEO Thierry Bollore had expressed a desire to sit on new Nissan committees to oversee executive nominations and compensation, and a planned corporate governance auditing committee. But such a move would raise concerns about a possible conflict of interest, as it would give Renault a say in Nissan salaries and corporate governance, the Nissan source said. “It’s shocking behavior from a shareholder that has been saying for months that it supports us in strengthening our corporate governance”, the Nissan source said. The source added that even if Renault blocked the committees, Nissan would still try and go ahead and set up similar governance structures, and try to make them as binding as possible. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, in Tokyo after a G20 meeting, told reporters it was up to the management of both companies to solve their problems. The French government owns 15 % in Renault. The rift could put further pressure on Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa, who looks increasingly at odds with Renault. He was earlier quoted as saying: “We are preparing for the shareholder meeting and will discuss necessary issues at the appropriate time. If there are differences of opinion with Renault, then I’d like for those to be discussed”. In March a Nissan-appointed outside team recommended the formation of the 3 committees to improve its corporate governance. Under the proposal, Renault directors would be free to serve on the nominations committee, but would be barred from the compensation and audit committees. The 2 companies have struggled to repair their relationship after Ghosn’s arrest exposed simmering tensions, including Nissan’s long-held concerns about the alliance’s capital structure. Nissan also appears to have been largely left in the dark on the merger discussions between Renault and FCA, which had attempted to join forces to create the world’s third-largest automaker before talks fell apart last week. +++ 

+++ A premium electric car start-up, founded by a serial entrepreneur with a bold plan to take on the giants of the car industry through new technology and business concepts: it’s easy to see why NIO has been referred to as ‘China’s Tesla’. But scratch below the surface and you’ll find there are far more differences than similarities between the 2 firms. That starts with their underlying philosophies: whereas Tesla set out to use new technology to disrupt the car industry and reinvent the car itself, Nio is aiming to capitalise on the massive changes the industry is undergoing to reinvent the user experience. It’s an approach that makes Nio worthy of attention among a swarm of Chinese EV start-ups and a genuine contender to expand globally as a credibly premium car brand. And it has certainly made a flashy start. Founded in 2014 (originally as Nextev), Nio might be familiar to you through its Formula E team (which won the inaugural 2014-15 driver’s championship with Nelson Piquet Jr) or the EP9 electric supercar, which currently holds the Nürburgring lap record for EVs. Business types might even recall Nio’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange. That all came before the firm launched a road car. The first of those was the ES8, an SUV that went on sale in China last year, and it was followed by the smaller ES6 this year. In April, Nio showcased the ET, a concept that previews a saloon due in 2020. Underpinning its range is a huge operation: offices in Shanghai and Beijing, a production plant in Hefei, a development facility in Nanjing and 2 battery plants. That’s just in China. There’s a tech centre in San Jose, a design studio in Munich and a performance division in Oxford. All told, Nio employs around 10,000 staff worldwide, many involved in developing novel technology for its ever-expanding range of cars. While Nio is investing heavily in electric and autonomous tech, its innovative approach can also be seen through its customer-facing side. Its Nio app is used both to sell cars and as the basis to create a community, complete with points-based reward scheme. It has a growing number of gleaming showroom-cum-members-club Nio Houses: think a Tesla or Apple Store mixed with a Starbucks. There’s also a line-up of merchandise that ranges from model cars to bold collaborations with high-end fashion and homeware designers. And we haven’t even mentioned the Nio Power division, which operates a remote battery-charging service and has established a network of battery swap stations among other efforts. With Nio, there’s a lot to take in. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and RENAULT are looking for ways to resuscitate their collapsed merger plan and secure the approval of the French carmaker’s alliance partner Nissan, according to several sources close to the companies. Nissan is poised to urge Renault to significantly reduce its 43.4 % stake in the Japanese company in return for supporting a FCA-Renault tie-up, 2 people with knowledge of its thinking also told. It is still far from clear whether any concerted effort to revive the complex and politically fraught deal can succeed. FCA Chairman John Elkann abruptly withdrew his $35 billion merger offer after the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, blocked a vote by its board and demanded more time to win Nissan’s backing. Nissan representatives had said they would abstain. The failure, which FCA and Renault blamed squarely on the French government, deprived both companies of an opportunity to create the world’s third-biggest carmaker with €5 billion in promised annual synergies. It also shone a harsh light on Renault’s relations with Nissan, which have gone from frayed to fried since the November arrest of former alliance chairman Carlos Ghosn, now awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges he denies. FCA has so far turned a deaf ear to suggestions by French officials that its merger proposal could be revisited. But since the breakdown, Elkann and his French counterpart Jean-Dominique Senard have had talks about reviving the plan that left the Renault chairman and his chief executive Thierry Bollore upbeat about that prospect, 3 alliance sources said. One of Elkann’s senior advisors on the Renault merger bid, Toby Myerson, was expected at Nissan headquarters in Yokohama for exploratory discussions with top management, 2 people with knowledge of the matter said. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa is likely to attend. The meeting comes amid mounting strains that may preclude compromise, after Senard warned Saikawa that Renault was prepared to block key Nissan governance reforms in a dispute over board committees. Alternatively, the escalating tensions and negotiating positions could give way to a breakthrough, as FCA-Renault’s industrial logic and savings prove hard to ignore. Saikawa, who has argued consistently that alliance shareholdings need “rebalancing” to reflect Nissan’s superior size, would press for a substantial reduction to Renault’s stake as part of any agreement, according to the same people. Nissan’s 15 % stake in Renault carries no voting rights. “If FCA are expecting some sort of negotiation, they must be anticipating that request”, said one. The FCA-Renault deal that Elkann whipped off the table (at least for now) would have seen both companies acquired by a listed Dutch holding company owned 50-50 by current FCA and Renault shareholders, after payment of a €2.5 billion special dividend to FCA shareholders. Paris had secured stronger job guarantees and terms including a cash payment to Renault shareholders, following public criticism that the bid undervalued Renault. For Nissan, however, the merger would “swap out one small 43 % shareholder for a bigger 43 % shareholder it doesn’t know”, said a source familiar with top management thinking. Nissan could back the FCA-Renault deal only with a “substantial reduction” in the French carmaker’s holding, they said. France may not automatically oppose a reduction to the Nissan holding if it secured Renault’s place at the heart of a consolidated group. The government has also said it could reduce its own 15 % Renault holding, to the same end. “All options can be considered”, Finance minister Bruno Le Maire told after the deal collapsed, when asked about Japanese pressure for Renault to reduce its Nissan stake. But a senior ministry official declined to elaborate on that possibility. “The proposal is gone”, he said. FCA may also be prepared to compromise for a tie-up that promises to plug the technology gaps threatening its ability to keep pace with vehicle electrification and emissions compliance. It has few other potential partners, after talks with Peugeot maker PSA ended inconclusively earlier this year. Estimated FCA – PSA synergies were closer to €3 billion, according to 1 person briefed on the matter. FCA has already floated a call option that would allow Nissan to increase its 7.5 % voting stake in the combined FCA – Renault, another person involved in the talks said. Nonetheless, anything beyond a token reduction of Renault’s Nissan stake would likely upset the deal valuations and prove unpalatable to its prospective merger partner. “It’s not something FCA would want to reduce”, the same person said. “It’s an intrinsic part of the value of Renault”. Elkann and Senard had planned to press ahead with a merger agreement and formal talks over Nissan’s abstention, in the belief that the deal economics would compel it to follow and cooperate, sources close to the Renault board have said. By blocking that strategy at the eleventh hour, the French state may have handed the Japanese company a new negotiating opportunity. One thing Renault and Nissan can agree on is that any window to revive the merger is likely to be short. “If there’s going to be a deal it will probably be in weeks rather than months”, one alliance executive said. +++ 

+++ RIVIAN chief executive R.J Scaringe has revealed a number of interesting things about the company and its vehicles during a comprehensive interview. Rivian was founded a decade ago and in 2011 first presented an electric sports car. After that, the company went into ‘stealth mode’, shying away from public attention and quietly shifting focus away from a sports car to an SUV and pickup, presented at last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show as the R1S and R1T. The 2 models are based around Rivian’s skateboard architecture and are being marketed towards adventurers. As a result, the company is looking at various ways to ensure the R1S and R1T can be used far away from charging stations. “We’ve designed the vehicle so you can have auxiliary battery packs”, Scaringe said when asked about potentially installing charging stations in national parks across the U.S. “You can also charge Rivian-to-Rivian, which is a neat thing. You connect the 2 vehicles and then I could hand you some electrons. That takes us to the limit, and of course you can always find a corner of the world where it won’t work, just like you can’t find a gas station in Antarctica”. One of the biggest concerns from consumers about electric vehicles is charging times. The time it takes to top up an electric vehicle is coming down, especially with 800 volt technology as featured in the Porsche Taycan. Rivian says buyers will be able to add 320 km of range to its vehicles in 30 minutes and believes charging any faster with current technology will eventually degrade battery cells. “Could we go faster? Yes. Do we start to really degrade the cell? Yes. In the next 5 years, you’ll see a lot of demonstrations where things are charged in 15 minutes, but if you do that 30 times, the battery is shot”, he said. Rivian has secured more than $1 billion in investments from the likes of Ford and Amazon and intends on launching both the R1S and R1T by the end of 2020. +++ 

+++ TESLA ’s rankings at 2 high-profile job websites have declined, suggesting that job dissatisfaction at the electric car company is intensifying amid layoffs, strategy shifts and executive turnover. Tesla placed 16th on LinkedIn’s annual “Top Companies 2019” list published in April, compiled from billions of actions taken by its over 600 million users that indicate job interest and demand. It held the 5th and 6th spots in 2018 and 2017, respectively. At jobs site Glassdoor, Tesla’s overall company rating fell to 3.2 out of 5.0 stars based on reviews written in the first quarter from a high of 3.6 in 2017, according to historical data compiled by Glassdoor. The average rating of the nearly 1 million employers reviewed on the site is 3.4. In the first quarter, Elon Musk’s CEO approval rating dropped to 52 % from 90 % in 2017. Tesla’s “recommend to a friend” rating fell to 49 % in the first quarter from a high of 71 % 2 years prior, the Glassdoor data showed. Similarly, Glassdoor ratings for culture and values, career opportunities, senior leadership and 6-month positive business outlook all fell. Only “work-life balance” and “compensation and benefits” remained static. No metrics improved. The reviews are anonymous and Glassdoor says it does not verify identities or employment status. Told of the rankings, a Tesla spokeswoman said the company remains a highly sought after employer. Tesla received over half a million job applications in 2017 and again in 2018 and expects to exceed that figure in 2019, she said. Tesla also made Forbes list of “Most Innovative Companies” last year. Employer branding specialist Universum ranked Tesla and sister company SpaceX as the most attractive employers for engineering students. As Musk prepares to talk up future growth at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting, the car maker is weathering a difficult period. 2 years after the official launch of its Model 3, intended to catapult Musk’s company to volume car producer status, Tesla is still struggling to reach its targets. Tesla lost $700 million in the first quarter and saw a drop in vehicle deliveries, raising concerns about consumer demand and shipping logistics. Wall Street is also souring on Tesla, with the company’s shares falling 39 % so far this year. Analysts have cut their ratings after the company announced lower deliveries and worries over the company’s direction. Of the 2 current and 16 former employees, some praised Musk as a visionary but said his management style and the exodus of executives have left a void in leadership. Among recent executive departures, Tesla’s chief financial officer retired in January and the company’s top lawyer left in February after 2 months on the job. Both positions were filled. Tesla also lost its heads of communications and growth. Neither position has been filled. Tesla had 48,817 full-time employees at the end of 2018, according to SEC filings, after a 9 % headcount reduction throughout the company announced in June 2018. Tesla announced it would lay off another 7 % of its workforce in January. In a company-wide email last month, Musk said all expenses would be reviewed, including by him, adding that current spending could quickly eat up Tesla’s recent capital raise. Tesla declined to comment on whether Musk was signing off on each new hire. Tesla has 1,100 jobs posted on its website, down from 2,510 in January. Tesla said job postings differ from jobs open, as one posting could represent multiple openings. +++

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