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+++ ALPINE says the new high-performance A110 S is a true “focused sports car” with a “very different character” from existing versions of the 2-seater. The new range-topping variant of the mid-engined Alpine is built around a reworked version of the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine, with the turbo boost pressure increased by 0.4 bar. That means the unit’s peak power output has risen by 50 hp to 292 hp, which arrives at 6.400 rpm; 400 rpm higher than previously. Torque remains at 320 Nm but is available from 2.000 rpm to 6.400 rpm; 1.400rpm higher than in a standard A110. Retaining the 7-speed automatic gearbox from the standard Alpine, the A110 S can cover 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, a 0.1 second improvement, and its top speed is 260 km/h. The A110 S retains the same aluminium body but has a different chassis configuration, with new stiffer coil suspension springs, retuned dampers and firmer anti-roll bars. The ride height has been lowered by 4 mm to increase stability. There are new wheels and new bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (215 mm at the front, 245 mm at the rear) for increased mechanical grip. Brembo brake calipers with 320 mm bi-material discs (available as an option on other A110 variants) are standard and the firm has reworked the electronic stability control. Overall, the changes have increased the car’s weight slightly, from 1.103 kg to 1.114 kg. Jean-Pascal Dauce, Alpine’s engineering boss, said the changes were all designed with a focus on “high-speed stability and handling precision”. But he added that it would remain a “usable everyday car. The A110 S wouldn’t be a true Alpine if it was too firm or too hard riding to be driven day to day”. As well as the mechanical changes, the A110 S features a number of bespoke styling elements, including carbonfibre and orange flag details on the rear pillars, orange brake calipers and a new wheel design. Inside, the A110 rangetopper comes with new upholstery and stitching, a leather steering wheel and aluminium pedals. Buyers can also opt for a carbonfibre roof, which reduces the car’s weight by 1.9 kg. The A110 S is available to order now, with deliveries due by the end of the year. It costs about 25 % more than the entry-level model. +++

+++ Enthusiasts have been calling for a fully-fledged BMW M supercar for many, many years, particularly since both Mercedes-AMG and Audi Sport have vehicles competing in this niche, namely the AMG GT and R8, respectively. However, such a thing (that would effectively be a spiritual successor to the iconic M1) is not on Munich’s agenda. BMW M division boss Markus Flasch said that the role of a supercar has effectively been filled by the long-awaited M8 that was just launched. According to Flasch, the M8 “is the ultimate performance machine that we offer; it will be the fastest ever BMW at the Nürburgring Nordschleife”, adding that BMW test drivers have called the vehicle “a Porsche Turbo killer”. “The center of gravity is 24 mm lower than in the M5, you sit lower and we’ve done a lot to the connection of the chassis to the body. It makes the front much stiffer and the steering feels different; all our test drivers were surprised by the different character”, Flasch told. BMW presented the M8 in Coupe, Convertible, and Competition guise last week. All models feature a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine which pumps out 600 hp and 750 Nm of torque in standard tune and 625 hp in Competition. While I don’t yet know how the M8 handles, I do know that it is supercar-quick off the line, with the Coupe Competition needing just 3.2 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h. BMW affirmed its target to increase sales this year after group sales rose by 3.2 % in May year-on-year, driven by strong demand from mainland China. “Despite the ongoing competitive and volatile global market environment, the BMW Group expects to achieve an increase in sales in 2019”, the Munich-based company said in a statement, adding it will continue to prioritize profitability over volume. +++

+++ CAR SHARING software is being fitted as standard to the next Renault Zoe in a further step towards a future of pooled electric car ownership, but also in a move to help car makers to reduce fines in 2020 if they overstep fleet CO2 average figures. The car sharing software is supplied by French company Vulog, whose AiMA (Artificial Intelligence Mobility Applied) platform is used by 25 car sharing schemes on a fleet of 11,000 cars on 5 continents. It integrates multiple functions involved in car sharing, such as finding an available car online or through an app and unlocking it with a mobile device, plus monitoring charging and invoicing to streamline the management of the car fleet. “This partnership with Vulog will facilitate the launch of car sharing services for mobility operators around the world”, said Corinne Pakey, Renault’s mobility business manager. Renault already has 6.100 electric vehicles across Europe in car sharing programmes and the agreement with Vulog is expected to add a further 2.500 in north Europe, South America and the UAE. Renault is also a partner in the Marcel electric car ride-hailing service in Paris. As well as pushing electric cars towards urban mobility improvements, Vulog believes that fleets of shared electric cars could save many manufacturers from the fines that the EU will levy from 2020 on car makers that miss their fleet CO2 average figure. For every gram above their CO2 emission limit, car makers will have to pay €95 for each car registered. According to a report by PA Consulting, 9 of the 13 main car-making groups in Europe could have to pay out, ranging from Mazda’s relatively modest €80 million to Volkswagen’s eye-watering €1.4 billion. Total industry fines might reach an astonishing €14 billion, according to industry analysts IHS Markit. This explains why Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) recently paired up with Tesla to pay the US EV maker to pool fleets for CO2 calculation purposes. FCA faces going 6.7 g/km over its 91.8 g/km target, equal to a €700 million fine. Unsurprisingly, EV pioneer partners Renault and Nissan (now in alliance with Mitsubishi) are among the four makers predicted to be on course to meet their CO2 target. “EV car sharing does reduce CO2 emissions and helps reduce liability under the new corporate fleet regulations”, a Renault spokesman told. “It also gives Renault access to a new audience: people who may not want to buy a car but also those who may not otherwise try an EV”. Vulog believes other car makers could significantly reduce fleet average CO2 with shared EVs and are preparing to roll out such schemes. “Many car makers have a plan to do this”, said Vulog boss Gregory Duconge, “but they just aren’t ready to talk about it yet”. VW, one of the makers tipped to miss its 2020 fleet CO2 target, for example, has supplied 325 e-Golfs to Zipcar, which has a medium-term aim to be 100 % electric by 2025. When VW’s ID family of electric cars gets into serious volume production by 2020/21, it can be expected to have a very large global fleet of car share EVs. Thomas Ulbrich, VW’s head of e-mobility, recently confirmed that by the end of the ID family model introductions in 2027/28, VW will have built 15 million EVs on its new MEB electric car platform. That would make a huge dent in its fleet CO2 numbers and many could be on electric car sharing schemes. Ford is also facing fines but it is remaining tight-lipped about electric car sharing, if only because significant numbers of its electric models are still a couple of years from launch in Europe. But it will go it alone, unlike FCA and Tesla. “Ford has no plans to pool our fleet CO2 emissions with any other car manufacturer”, it said in a statement. +++ 

+++ South Korean battery maker LG Chem said it had signed an agreement to set up a joint venture with China’s GEELY Automobile Holdings to produce batteries for electric vehicles. The joint venture would have annual production capacity of 10 GWh by the end of 2021, and its products would be supplied to Geely’s electric vehicles from 2022, LG Chem said in a statement. The 2 parties would invest $94 million each in the venture. Vehicles equipped with South Korean batteries currently are not eligible for government subsidies in China, the biggest auto and EV market in the world. But Korean battery makers including LG Chem have announced investment plans to expand capacity in China, hoping China’s plan to phase out subsidies over the next couple of years will level the playing field. “Through the joint venture, LG Chem has secured a stable structure to provide batteries for electric vehicles to the Chinese market”, LG Chem said in a statement. The South Korean company said it would pursue more joint ventures with other global carmakers. +++ 

+++ Chemicals giant BASF still expects a slight improvement in the GLOBAL car market this year, a spokesman said, even after the group announced job cuts at its German coatings operation. BASF, the world’s largest supplier of chemicals and plastics to the car industry, said that it would cut 200 jobs at its coatings site in the German city of Münster by 2021, citing ongoing weakness in car markets. The downturn in the global car market has shown no signs of abating as the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute continues. China reported the worst-ever monthly sales drop in the world’s largest vehicle market. BASF’s spokesman however said the company was currently not changing the assumptions underpinning its guidance for 2019 group earnings. BASF (a maker of petrochemicals, coatings, catalytic converters and foams) said last month that it was aiming for growth in 2019 operating profit at the lower end of a 1-10 % range, despite analyst predictions of a decline in full-year earnings. While the group’s automotive business had seen a weak start to the year, BASF predicted slight growth over the full year, it said last month. +++

+++ HYUNDAI will launch a new, third-generation i10 next year, and new prototypes of the strong-selling city car have been spotted with less disguise. The Volkswagen Up rival’s front end can be seen for the first time, showing a design taking inspiration from the bigger i30. We can also see that the new model will be lower and wider than the outgoing car for a less boxy profile. It’s thought that previous prototypes, spotted during their winter testing regime, were in fact for the emerging market version of the i10, because the recently spotted prototype has a different stance and body shape. Details of the interior are yet to be seen, but the Korean brand is expected to boost perceived quality and introduce more advanced technology, including greater connectivity features, wireless phone charging and more active safety systems on top models. Space inside isn’t likely to increase significantly, because the current i10 is only fractionally shorter than the latest Kia Picanto, with which the new model will share its platform and mechanicals. Engines are expected to include the familiar 1.0-litre 3-cylinder and 1.2-litre 4-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol units, with a turbocharged 1.0-litre triple likely to make its way over from the range-topping Picanto. Expect prices to rise slightly to reflect the improvements and changing markets. +++

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has been slapped with a class-action lawsuit relating to the infamous ‘death wobble’ involving 2015-2018 JEEP Wranglers. Filed in Detroit’s U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of Michigan, the lawsuit asserts that the issue occurs because the solid frofront axle of the Wrangler cannot absorb bumps and vibrations as efficiently as an independent front suspension. It is alleged that the front axle and steering components of the Wrangler can be jarred out of equilibrium, resulting in violent shaking of the vehicle at highway speeds. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Claire Reynolds, the owner of a 2018 Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4 who claims the company offered to replace the steering damper if her vehicle was under warranty. She states that this is simply a “Band-Aid fix” and won’t prevent the issue from re-occurring. FCA is well is aware of the problem. In fact, the Italian-American car manufacturer stated publicly last year that “vehicles equipped with a solid axle are susceptible to vibration” but claimed that it was “not a safety issue” and that “there are no injuries involving FCA vehicles related to this allegation”. The lawsuit addresses these assertions from FCA and takes aim at the company for stating that the death wobble is not a safety issue “rather than address it, or disclose its possibility and/or warn drivers at the point of sale” about the issue. The lawsuit seeks damages for affected drivers in the form of a buyback program which requires FCA to pay drivers for defective vehicles and provide compensation for the loss of value to the vehicles. +++

+++ Hyundai and KIA said they would invest in self-driving car software startup Aurora to speed up development of autonomous vehicle technologies. “With the new investment, the companies have agreed to expand research to a wide range of models and to build an optimal platform for Hyundai and Kia’s autonomous vehicles”, a spokesman said. Aurora said in a blog post that the investment is part of a series B financing round, which has now raised more than $600 million. Aurora, which just announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, competes with Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ majority-owned Cruise, among others. +++

+++ LAMBORGHINI introduced the aggressive Huracán Sterrato concept last week and a new report is indicating it could go into production. The model could be launched in 2021 as a limited edition variant. Plans haven’t been finalized, but sources told the company could build between 500 and 1,000 units. They would reportedly carry a base price of around €300,000 in The Netherlands. Lamborghini’s chief technical officer wouldn’t confirm plans for production, but he did imply it’s possible. As Maurizio Reggiani explained, the “provisional business case suggests that we can build this car at a profit”. In order to keep costs in check, Reggiani said the company could build Sterrato-specific components out of a specially developed “lightweight synthetic material” which can be used in 3D printers. This means the company wouldn’t have to spend much money developing the model and that’s an issue as Lamborghini’s budget is “quite tight”. The Sterrato would certainly make an interesting addition to Lamborghini’s lineup and it’s believed the car could help juice Huracán sales as the model ages. That’s going to be increasingly important as the report suggests a replacement has been pushed back to 2024. Regardless of what happens, the Huracán Sterrato concept was based on the Huracán Evo and featured a rugged exterior with underbody skid plates, aluminum-reinforced side skirts and extended fender flares. The concept also had LED auxiliary lights, an additional 47 mm of ground clearance and 20-inch wheels that were wrapped in specially-developed tires. Power was provided by a naturally-aspirated 5.2-liter V10 engine that developed 640 hp. It is connected to a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and a standard all-wheel drive system. +++

+++ LAND ROVER will sell its new Defender in China, expanding the global markets for the new generation of its iconic off-roader. The addition of the Defender to Jaguar Land Rover’s Chinese line-up will help the automaker to boost its performance in a market where it has seen sales plummet in the last few months. In a recent presentation to investors, Jaguar Land Rover said the Defender would include “China-specific features”. The Defender is expected to debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September and go on sale early next year. The SUV will also be sold in the U.S. besides China and its European home market. Land Rover described the new Defender as “tough, capable, and unstoppable”. The Defender be launched with conventional and mild-hybrid versions of JLR’s Ingenium range of engines. A plug-in hybrid model will join the range after its launch, JLR has said. JLR said in April that the Defender would be built along alongside the Discovery at the company’s new plant in Nitra, Slovakia. Pictures of the prototype confirm that the new model keeps the same squared-off shape as the original off-roader. The new car will rival dedicated off-road vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser and cheaper versions of the Mercedes-Benz G class. The new Defender replaces an iconic model that went out of production early 2016. During its 67-year run, the SUV’s rugged, boxy design and off-road capabilities made it an icon. Land Rover Design chief Gerry McGovern has said the new model’s appearance will keep an emotional connection to the previous generation and would still be a tough vehicle like the original. But it will have features to appeal to a new generation of buyers, he said. +++ 

+++ Could old-school LEAD BATTERIES come back to life and speed-up the introduction of electric cars as part of a nationwide charger network? That’s the thinking in the US, where industry and government are teaming-up to explore if banks of high-capacity lead cells sited at conventional fuel stations could make life easier for EV owners. Tesla is already reported to have looked at the idea. The latest move is a feasibility study in Missouri, organised by the Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI), and supported by a grant from the US department of Energy. “This ground-breaking project could pave the way for a much wider roll-out of EV charger stations utilising advanced lead battery technology”, the CBI said. Modern lead-carbon cells use dry accumulators with the electrolyte held in glassfibre fleece, so there is no nasty old-school acid to leak out. The cells are widely used in industry, with applications that include balancing energy flow out of wind turbine farms. They can be installed in large storage capacities, for example 25 mWh. For the US EV charging network, the lead cells would be charged with cheaper off-peak electricity, to reduce the cost to a fuel station and EV owner of charging during the day. In particular, the lead batteries could help avoid the fuel station incurring “peak demand charges”, an extra fee charged to US businesses by electricity companies. A report in February 2018 from management consultants McKinsey “How Battery Storage Can Help Charge The Electric-Vehicle Market” suggests that a fuel station could save €2.700 per month in electricity costs alone by reducing the demand charge. Demand charges can be so high for EV charging stations that they become unprofitable, says McKinsey. The consultants suggest that a fuel station owner could install two 150 kWh direct current (DC) fast chargers together with 300 kwh of lead cells. At peak times the lead cells would deliver the charge to customers’ EVs and, through clever charger and battery management, could replenish several vehicles without triggering the demand charge. “A system configured this way could reduce demand charges to a minimum; that would be $3000 a month that wouldn’t need to be passed on to consumers, which would substantially cut costs. Tesla has already said it is going in this direction and others may follow suite”, said McKinsey. +++ 

+++ LEXUS used the 2019 North American International Auto Show to introduce the stunning LC Convertible concept. Now, it appears the production model is right around the corner. Lexus will unveil the LC Convertible at the Goodwood Festival of Speed which kicks off on July 4th. Little is known about the car, but it is expected to be virtually identical to the concept. As a result, the production model should closely echo the coupe but adopt a unique rear end and a retractable soft top. Engine options should carryover from the coupe and include a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 that produces 478 hp and 539 Nm. It is connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission which sends power to the rear wheels. This setup enables the coupe to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, but the convertible will likely be a tad slower. I can also expect a hybrid variant with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, 2 electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. The powertrain has a combined output of 359 hp and it allows the coupe to run from 0-100 km/h in 5.0 seconds. The LC Convertible will reportedly arrive at dealerships soon, but there’s no word on specifics. However, the model should cost more than the coupe. +++ 

+++ It didn’t take long for the mystery of design director David Woodhouse’s sudden departure from LINCOLN and Ford to clear up. As it turns out, the British designer was poached by Nissan Design America where he will serve as vice president. In his new role, Lincoln’s former design director and Ford’s former director of global strategic design “will lead all Nissan and Infiniti design activities in North America”. He will also serve on the company’s global Nissan design management committee. “As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Nissan Design America, I am pleased that David Woodhouse will be leading and inspiring our talented team in San Diego”, said Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president for global design. “David’s talent, leadership, and vision will ensure that Nissan Design America shapes an exciting future for the Infiniti and Nissan brands as well as groundbreaking user experience concepts for our customers for years to come”, the executive added. No further details about Woodhouse’s role at Nissan Design America have been released but, then again, it’s pretty clear that he will have the last word when it comes to the design of all future Nissan and Infiniti production and concept vehicles for North America. His influence may go beyond the region, however, as NDA designs vehicles for global markets with a particular emphasis on the North American region. The studio works in close collaboration with its global design counterparts, as well as with Nissan Technical Centers in Japan and North America. Founded in 1979, Nissan Design America was the Japanese automaker’s first design studio outside of Japan. Today, it is a “full-production design studio capable of handling all phases of automotive design development, from exploratory to production”. With 25 years of global automotive design expertise behind him, Woodhouse has worked for important brands including BMW, Mini, Range Rover, Cadillac, Ford and Lincoln. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-AMG will launch its new 2.0-liter turbo-4 in a handful of AMG 45-badged models in the very near future and has suggested that it could get more powerful. The M139, as it is code-named, has already been officially confirmed with a peak output of 421 hp and 500 Nm. Power per liter sits at an impressive 210 hp, making this the most powerful mass-production 4-cylinder road car engine ever. Compared to the M133 that powered the previous-gen AMG 45, the M139 has been flipped 180 degrees, with the turbocharger and exhaust manifold now facing backwards. The turbo also features roller bearings and the engine incorporates an improved exhaust manifold helping to prevent individual cylinders from negatively influencing one another during load cycles, while it runs on 0W20 oil (!) and still needs servicing every 30,000 kilometres or once a year, whatever comes first. Producing a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with so much power is an impressive feat, made possible by numerous upgrades that range from new oil and water cooling systems to forged aluminium pistons and an ultra-strong crankcase, but Affalterbach’s engineers don’t appear finished with this powertrain. During a recent presentation, Mercedes-AMG head of engine development Ralph Illenberger indicated there is more grunt on the agenda. “There will be more to come. There’s always room for improvement. But 421 hp is really quite a high number, especially when it’s also street-legal. That was the challenge. We’ll see what the future will bring”, he said. If AMG does boost horsepower and torque figures from this engine, we could end up with some very exciting performance cars. And to think that a blue-blood supercar of the early 2000s, like, the Ferrari 360 Modena, had ‘only’ 400 hp at its disposal (and less torque) and, from what I recall, was ferociously fast. +++ 

+++ You don’t always know what you have until it’s gone. Renault investors who called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) €15.3 billion MERGER offer stingy will recognise this sentiment. FCA, chaired by John Elkann, pulled its 50-50 merger offer last week, citing “political conditions in France”. As well as meddling by the French government, the talks suffered from accusations that the Italian-American group’s plan undervalued the French carmaker. Activist fund CIAM said Elkann’s deal implied a negative value for Renault’s core business. At face value that’s right. Renault’s 43 % stake in Nissan was worth €11.1 billion before Elkann’s approach. The group also has shares in Daimler valued at €780 million. Its financing arm RCI Banque had a book value of €5.2 billion at the end of December. These add up to more than €17 billion. That implies Fiat’s proposal put a negative value of €1.8 billion on Renault’s main carmaking business. Yet these simple sums need adjusting. Renault and Nissan’s alliance stops the French group from controlling its Japanese partner or selling its stake without permission. The tangible value from its shareholding is a regular stream of dividends, which will total €598 million this year, using Refinitiv estimates. Those payments are worth about €5.7 billion over the next 20 years, assuming no growth and applying a 10 % discount rate. Renault could sell its stake in Daimler, but would probably have to accept a discount to the market price. Assuming a 15 % cut, the holding is worth €663 million. Meanwhile, the fortunes of Renault’s financing arm are tied to the struggling auto sector, and European bank valuations are depressed. So a price tag of three-quarters of book value, or €3.9 billion, seems more realistic. Deduct all these from Fiat’s offer and there’s €5 billion equity value left for Renault’s automotive operations, which generated €1.2 billion in earnings last year. Assume net income shrinks 1 % in 2019 and the forward multiple is over 4 times. That’s a lower valuation than Renault investors might have hoped for, but it’s not negative. It’s also similar to the multiple Fiat’s offer placed on its own operations. More importantly, a deal would deliver €5 billion of annual cost savings, shared equally between the 2 groups. That makes restarting merger talks a priority. +++ 

+++ Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard pledged to repair the relationship with partner NISSAN at the company’s shareholder meeting, saying that the trust between the 2 car makers can be restored. “The priority is to restore a strong alliance”, Senard said, adding that both the French car maker and Nissan will need time, patience and effort to make it happen. Senard spoke to investors for the first time since being appointed at the helm of Renault, following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn in Japan on charges of financial misconduct. The executive was brought in by the French government, who also happens to be Renault’s largest shareholder, to fix the issues between the 2 car makers, but it appears that he did the exact opposite, as he further rocked the alliance by pushing for a merger with Nissan and failing at it, and then doing the same with FCA. “I am disappointed”, Senard said of the failure to strike a deal with FCA, adding that the plan was to sign a non-binding agreement with them last week. Renault’s chairman blamed the French government for the collapse of talks with FCA, adding that the merger would lead to synergies rarely seen in the industry. He added that the fallout from the Ghosn scandal “left the alliance more damaged than what was initially apparent”, adding that the alliance “is making a new beginning that needs to be confirmed”. Nissan has refused to examine Senard’s merger proposal and Renault responded by blocking the proposed governance changes at Nissan, demanding more seats at the Japanese car maker’s committees. Senard told shareholders that he would support Nissan’s governance reform if they allowed Renault’s 2 representatives on Nissan’s board to be members of the committees. Nissan’s chief executive said he would discuss differences in views over the automaker’s plan to reform its governance directly with Renault, calling the French car maker an important shareholder and partner. The push by Renault to block a governance overhaul at Nissan has put the 2 decade old Franco-Japanese alliance in jeopardy, posing a headache for Nissan boss Hiroto Saikawa. +++ 

+++ French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) – RENAULT merger remained an “interesting opportunity” but added he would tell the French carmaker’s chairman that strengthening the Renault-Nissan alliance was the priority. The French state is Renault’s biggest shareholder and sources have said chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is furious over the government’s interference at the carmaker after FCA withdrew its offer for a €35 billion merger with Renault. Le Maire said he would meet Senard, with the chairman’s position seen weakened by the deal’s collapse and the ensuing fallout with president Emmanuel Macron’s government. Le Maire told he was not responsible for derailing the proposal that would have created the world’s third biggest carmaker behind Toyota and Volkswagen. “It remains in interesting opportunity. But I have always been very clear: that it should be in the context of a strategy to reinforce the Renault-Nissan alliance”. “As long as the French state is the main shareholder, its responsibility to the company, its employees, its factories and research centers is to fulfill its role with other shareholders in defining a strategy”. The deal collapsed after Nissan said it would abstain at a Renault board meeting to vote on the merger proposal, prompting Le Maire to request the Renault board to postpone the vote for 5 days. “We simply asked for 5 extra days. 5 additional days seems entirely reasonable to me”, Le Maire said. “FCA withdrew its offer as it was entitled to do. But believe me, the state will never react under pressure”. Macron has turned down a request to meet Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, who is furious over the government’s interference at the carmaker, raising questions over Senard’s future. News of the rebuff came as Renault shareholders voted to endorse Senard’s January appointment to replace Carlos Ghosn, the ousted leader of the Renault-Nissan alliance. Senard, whose bid to merge with FCA over Nissan’s reservations was thwarted by Le Maire, unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Macron to appeal for his support, 4 government and company sources said. 7 months after Ghosn’s arrest on financial misconduct charges (which he denies) the alliance he forged is on life support. +++ 

+++ The first heavily automated mass-market vehicles for consumers could go on sale as soon as 2022, if one or more vehicle manufacturers adopt a new sub-$500 lidar sensing package being developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar. The tremendous cost of lidar (prices for individual sensors currently range from about $6,000 to more than $100,000) is one of the big stumbling blocks to the wide rollout of SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES , whether in commercial delivery and robo-taxi fleets such as those being developed by Ford and General Motors, or in passenger vehicles aimed at consumers. Luminar has developed a low-cost lidar platform that bundles hardware and software and is being tested by several automakers, according to Austin Russell, Luminar chief executive officer and founder. The company’s new Iris system will be offered in 2 versions: 1 that will enable hands-free “freeway autonomy” and 1 less expensive version that will enable some automated functions, such as automatic emergency steering and braking. The first is designed to sell for under $1,000 at higher production volumes, while the second, which is intended to plug into manufacturers’ advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), is expected to sell for under $500, Russell told. Manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly skeptical about the speed of adoption of fully automated self-driving systems, because of both their high cost and complexity. In the meantime, they have begun focusing on deploying more ADAS features, which share components, but cost much less and can generate much-needed revenue to help defray the cost of developing full self-driving systems. Lidar-driven ADAS “can be more easily monetized by the manufacturers (and) more easily implemented today” than fully automated systems, said Steve Lambright, vice president of marketing for lidar startup AEye, which is developing components for both types of systems. In the meantime, a long-predicted shakeout in the lidar sector has yet to materialize, judging from a recent flurry of investments and acquisitions, even though the industry has yet to embrace a single lidar technology. Israeli startup Innoviz, backed by suppliers Aptiv and Magna International, just closed a Series C round of funding and has raised a total of $252 million (more than any of its rivals) with new money from SoftBank Ventures Asia and several large Chinese investors. A new player, Sense Photonics, this week closed a Series A round and has raised more than $43 million, with backing from corporate investors Samsung Ventures and Shell Ventures. Aurora, a Silicon Valley self-driving startup backed by e-commerce giant Amazon.com and automaker Hyundai, recently acquired Montana-based lidar startup Blackmore. Blackmore is developing a more expensive lidar technology called FMCW, as are startups OURS Technology, founded by a former University of California Berkeley researcher, and SiLC Technologies, founded by a silicon photonics veteran. FMCW components can cost more, but the devices use less power and can be made compact, according to Mehdi Asghari, chief executive of SiLC, who adds: “These things will eventually go into headlamps, rearview mirrors or the body of the car”. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , new car sales have remained relatively steady over the last few quarters, but one industry analysts predicts the market is headed toward a cliff. John Murphy, a senior auto analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said that he expects car sales to decrease by nearly 30 % by 2022. That would mean industry sales of around 14 million units, down from record highs just over 17 million units. “The industry is going through this process of what it is, what it should do and how it should operate, and what its current business strategy should be, and it’s a challenge”, Murphy said. “You have to get your core business in great shape and that much better off than it has in the past so you can intake that success and fund the uncertain future”. Learning from their mistakes during the last economic downturn, Murphy predicts automakers will refrain from offering discounts, which should help insure profitability, even at lower volumes. It should also help that automakers are heavily reliant on crossovers, which are more profitable than typical sedans or hatchbacks. New vehicle introductions should also help keep the market afloat. Automakers are expected to introduce an average of 62 new products per year over the next 4 years, which is well above the usual average of 40. Those new products should keep customers interested and prevent sales from dipping any lower than 14 million units. Although Murphy’s outlook is bleak, there’s light at the end of the tunnel; he expects the auto market to make a full recovery after the 2022 dip. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN boss Herbert Diess has reportedly confirmed that the company’s talks with Ford are close to being finalized and will include a collaboration on electric vehicles. The negotiations are “progressing well” in the late stages, the executive told a group of senior managers and executives. “Without a strong presence in the US (still our weakest region) global trade conflicts risk putting us in a dire situation”, he said. “Today we are a company that’s strongly influenced by China. We need a counterweight in the US”. The German automaker has already established a partnership with Ford on pickups and commercial vans. The latest talks are said to focus on autonomous technology and electric vehicles. Unconfirmed reports suggest VW may be willing to share its all-electric MEB platform architecture, while Ford will provide access to autonomous technology via its Argo AI division. +++

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