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+++ Chinese electric vehicle startup BYTON has tapped veteran engineers from Ford and Renault in advance of mass production of its first vehicle. The EV maker appointed Andy Ball vice president for project management to steer product development and ensure timely vehicle delivery, Byton said this week. Ball worked for Ford in Europe and Asia for 15 years. On April 1, he was made vice president at Jingling Motors, the U.S. automaker’s commercial vehicle joint venture in China. Prior to that, he was chief engineer at Ford’s vehicle engineering center in the east China city of Nanjing. In May, David Twohig joined Byton as chief technology officer after a long tenure at Renault where he led development of the French automaker’s Alpine A110 and the Renault Zoe. Byton plans to launch production at its €1.4 billion plant in the east China city of Nanjing at the end of 2019. The first product to be assembled at the factory is a full electric crossover, the e M-Byte. +++

+++ While many fans of the French brand would love to see a modern take on the iconic CITROEN 2CV, the company’s CEO made it clear that this won’t happen. During the company’s celebrations for its 100th birthday, Citroen’s CEO Linda Jackson told that they are not interested in offering retro models. “We evolve our designs by looking at the past”, Jackson said, “but what I don’t want to do is become a manufacturer that produces retro. I’m not going to produce a new 2CV. That had its time, it was right, but it’s about finding out the next design that’ll be right for the customer”. Citroen has proven that it knows how to offer distinctive-looking models in every segment so playing the nostalgia card isn’t going to happen anytime soon. “We do frequently revisit the past”, Jackson added. “When I started at the company we took all the teams to our Conservatoire (Citroen’s historic collection). We sent them off and told them to come back and tell us what is ‘Citroen’ ”. “They came back with the chevrons, the roundedness of design, and then they noticed through time that the designs sort of evolve and you see them moving from one time to the next, particularly around lighting structures. Next year, when we launch another vehicle, we’ll evolve our lighting signature again”. You have to admit that the world needs more quirky-looking cars and while the beloved 2CV isn’t getting a direct successor, Citroen’s boss promises to offer different and innovative cars that have that special ‘Citroen’ touch. +++ 

+++ Toyota Tsusho, one of the world’s biggest lithium producers, said it would take at least 2 more years to properly gauge the global ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV) market’s direction before deciding whether to further expand supply. Over the next 2-3 years, major automakers would be introducing more electric cars, making EVs less of a fringe product, Masaharu Katayama, head of the company’s strategic metals unit, told. That’s also when it would become clear if people use these vehicles in any fundamentally different way than traditional automobiles, he said, speaking at the company’s headquarters in Nagoya, Japan. “When we have clarity on that, we can have much more clarity on demand for lithium”. Lithium is one of the core ingredients to make EV batteries. The EV market has boomed in recent years, but still makes up just a fraction of total car sales. Demand has been supported by subsidies and ever-tightening environmental regulations, particularly in China and Europe. So far, Tesla and a handful of Chinese manufacturers have dominated the market, with Nissan’s Leaf being the most prominent offering from a major automaker. However, industry giants are ramping up those efforts. Volkswagen has promised almost 70 new electric models over the next decade, while General Motors, which has stated its commitment to an “all-electric future” plans to make its luxury Cadillac brand electric only. Toyota Tsusho, which is part of the Toyota Group headed by Toyota Motor, currently produces about 15,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate at its plant in Argentina through a joint venture with Australian miner Orocobre. It’s currently in the process of expanding production to 42,500 tonnes from 2021. Katayama says the “primary choice” if Toyota Tsusho decides to increase production would be to expand the project again, rather than hunting for new supply. “Our cost is very low, so we’re very competitive. If we need more production, the resources are there. We just need to build another plant”. Katayama expects demand for lithium for decades, because it’s the most basic ingredient of EV batteries. But he sees the rarer and more expensive metal cobalt as more like a spice, and vulnerable to industry-wide efforts to reduce the amount required for battery production. Despite that, Katayama said Toyota Tsusho is currently scouting for investment opportunities in cobalt mines, although it’s at an early stage. He declined to elaborate on the region or size of investments they are eyeing. He did say that securing cobalt supply is essential if producers are to prevent China from dominating the market the way it’s done in rare earths, an obscure class of metals essential for technologies smartphones to satellites, and EVs. China used that dominance in 2010 amid a diplomatic row with Tokyo over a chain of disputed islets, provoking a crisis that became known in Japan as the “rare earth shock”. “Investment is not enough, if you think about how China has maybe half the cobalt resources”, Katayama said. “Political influence is a worry. We have the trauma from rare earths”. +++ 

+++ EVERGRANDE ’s electric dreams have taken an alarming turn. The property giant has already put over $4 billion into green vehicle brands and dealers. Next, it plans to plough 280 billion yuan ($41 billion) into research facilities and factories, according to statements shared on its website. For the same money boss Hui Ka Yan could buy Tesla, valued at $39 billion. But he’s no Elon Musk, and this could derail a debt clean-up. As a property developer, Hui faces a long wait to reap returns on investments. The outlook is uncertain too. Although prices for new homes are rising, the government could introduce new curbs to cool the market. To hedge against such risks, the group is turning to electric cars, a new technology enjoying strong support from Beijing. But hasty diversification could do more damage than a softening real estate cycle. A slowdown in China’s auto sales and a glut of Tesla wannabes has taken a toll. Funding is evaporating. After raising $7.7 billion in 2018, local companies attracted less than $800 million capital this year. Luxury electric-car maker Nio has seen its stock price halve since its September listing. Evergrande’s investment into ill-starred startup Faraday Future has gone into a tailspin too. A market correction might make it cheaper for Hui to buy the assets he needs to create a vertically integrated operation extending from battery production to dealerships. But Evergrande has little experience making cars, and could struggle to squeeze synergies from multiple acquisitions. The expenditure could strain the balance sheet too. The group’s flagship Hong Kong-listed China Evergrande reported revenue over 450 billion yuan last year, but it is fighting to reduce leverage; its debt to profit ratio is over 4, higher than most peers, according to Eikon. It has made progress, but credit ratings agency Fitch says the company’s ability to generate free cash flows rests in part on a commitment to spending less than 20 billion yuan on non-property businesses this year, and no more than 5 billion yuan the following year. It is not yet clear which unit will foot the bill, or what the timeline will be. But if Hui moves too fast, shareholders might suffer whiplash. +++

+++ FORD is poised to reveal a racing-inspired version of its GT supercar at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Previewed in a darkened image, the new model looks to retain the aggressive front end of the 660 hp V6 powered road car, but a prominent rear wing hints at radical body modifications elsewhere. In silhouette form, the car bears a strong resemblance to Ford’s GTE-Pro racer, which finished 23rd, 24th and 25th at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with factory-backed Chip Ganassi Racing. That team’s number 66 car will take on the Goodwood hillclimb at this year’s event. It is likely that the new model will take the form of a road-going reworking of the Le Mans racer, but no official confirmation of this has been made. Demand for the standard GT, launched in 2017, outstripped supply six-to-one from the order books opening, prompting the manufacturer to extend the model’s limited production run from 1.000 to 1.350 units late last year. A Heritage Edition launched at the same time paid tribute to Ford’s success at Le Mans with the original GT40. It is likely that, as was the case at the launch of the standard model, Ford will prioritise buyers who will regularly drive the car, rather than preserving it as an investment. The company has offered no further details about the unveiling, saying only that “exciting Ford GT” news will be delivered by Ford Performance boss Hermann Salenbauch. Larry Holt, chief technical officer of parts supplier Multimatic, will also be present. His company has previously provided engineering input for the Aston Martin V12 Zagato and Vulcan, and builds road- and track-going variants of the Ford GT at its factory in Canada. Making its UK dynamic debut at Goodwood will be Ford’s new Focus ST, which will tackle the 1.16-mile hillclimb course alongside fellow newcomer the 760 hp Shelby GT500. +++

+++ Will the GENESIS brand finally make its European debut? “That could happen in a couple of years’ time”, Hyundai chief marketing officer Cho Won Hong told during a recent interview. Cho is well aware of the risks. “I know the European market is very difficult for new entrants such as Genesis”, he said. That is why he said Hyundai would try to “build greater awareness of the Genesis brand even before selling cars”. For example, Hyundai will build a Genesis experience center in a major European city “where people can get to understand what the brand is about”, Cho said. Despite the positive spin, there are doubts that Genesis’ European debut is close. “If they don’t give specific plans, I wouldn’t be so sure the launch will actually happen”, Jato Dynamics analyst Felipe Munoz said. “2 years is a long time and many things can change”. There are 2 huge hurdles for Hyundai’s premium brand. First, Genesis has a sedan-heavy portfolio and no crossovers, which would be disastrous in Europe, where SUVs are hot-sellers and large sedans struggle to find buyers. 3 years ago, Hyundai Europe chief operating officer Thomas Schmid said Genesis’s European launch would be postponed because the brand lacked SUVs and suitable engines, specifically diesels. These issues are being addressed. Hyundai executive vice chairman Euisun Chung said in January that a Genesis crossover would be unveiled this year. Cho told that the brand would add “2 to 3 new models” in the coming years. The second hurdle is the nature and structure of the European premium market, which is very crowded and dominated by the German automakers. “Any new brand will have a very tough time cracking it”, Munoz said. Many automakers that have tried to take a share of Europe’s growing premium market have failed or are struggling. Nissan premium brand Infiniti spent more than a decade fighting for a foothold in Europe, but collapsing sales forced Infiniti to announce in March it would stop sales in Western Europe to concentrate on U.S. and China. Toyota’s premium brand Lexus has been competing in Europe for 2 decades but remains a small player in the segment. Honda was wise to decide against bringing its Acura premium brand to Europe. It is not just Asian premium brands that have struggled to build up a presence in Europe. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands and PSA Group’s DS Automobiles have had a tough time gaining traction. There is one way a premium newcomer could jump ahead of the competition in Europe: by debuting something its rivals lack. “If you want to make a dent in the German domination, you have to offer something different, especially from a technological point of view”, Munoz said. He pointed to the recent success of Tesla’s full-electric cars in Europe as an example. As a brand, Tesla outsold Lexus, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo in Europe in March because of strong demand for its recently launched Model 3. Volvo is trying to follow Tesla’s path, betting big on its Polestar electrified brand. Hyundai would be wise to hold back on launching Genesis until it can provide a cutting-edge technology. If this is not the case, it will travel a very rough road in Europe. +++ 

+++ The government of JAPAN was reportedly involved in the collapse of merger talks between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), expressing their concern that a potential deal could had negative effects on Nissan. Japanese officials shared their opinion with the French government. That lead to France (Renault’s biggest shareholder) to pause the discussions in order to try and win Nissan’s support, only for FCA to be annoyed for the delay and withdraw its proposal. The details on Japanese government’s role were apparently kept secret until now but if true, they give us a good idea of how complex these merger negotiations were between Renault and FCA. According to the same sources, Nissan didn’t ask the Japanese ministry of economy, trade and industry to intervene with the French government, despite feeling sidelined in the proposed Renault-FCA deal. The focus now shifts on repairing the relationship between Renault and Nissan, with the 2 car makers having already made the first steps towards that goal. Soon after Renault approving Nissan’s new governance structure, the Japanese car maker allowed Renault boss Thierry Bollore to sit on their board’s audit committee, while Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard will hold a seat at Nissan’s nomination committee. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ has confirmed that it will produce an all-electric version of it GLB compact SUV. The new model, named EQ B, will go on sale in 2021. Official images have yet to be revealed, but the EQ B will sport the same boxy body shape of its combustion-powered relative, albeit with detail changes specific to Mercedes’ EQ electric car model lines. Mercedes hasn’t yet confirmed if the EQ B will offer the same 7-seat configuration as the GLB. The new EQ B will ride on the same platform as the GLB: the MFA2 underpinnings are also used by the latest A-Class, B-Class and CLA. While powertrain details are still to be confirmed, I expect the EQ B to offer a range somewhere in the region of 480 kilometres in order to compete with electric crossover rivals like the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric. The EQ B forms part of Mercedes’ electrification strategy, which will see 10 new model launches by 2022. The new car will sit below the EQ C: the first EV to be released under Mercedes’ ‘EQ’ model range. Mercedes executives had previously confirmed that among the 10 new models there will be ‘several sedans’, while we expect a small commercial vehicle and various SUVs to complete the rest of the line-up. +++

+++ SAIC Motor will assemble vehicles for its MG brand in Egypt with local dealer Mansour Automotive Group as the state-owned Chinese automaker further expands overseas. SAIC is forming a joint venture sales company with Mansour to allow it to first export MG cars to Egypt from China. It also signed a framework agreement with the Egyptian dealer to establish a separate partnership to produce MG vehicles locally, SAIC said. In addition to Egypt, the manufacturing joint venture will sell vehicles in other North African nations as well as countries in central Africa. SAIC did not divulge additional details about the production partnership. The deal will make Egypt the third foreign country where SAIC will build MG brand cars. MG runs a joint venture in Thailand with local business Charoen Pokphand Group. The partnership has two factories assembling right-hand-drive vehicles. In May, MG launched output at a plant in India SAIC purchased from General Motors in 2017. In China, SAIC builds MG models along with Roewe brand vehicles in Shanghai, Nanjing and Zhengzhou. SAIC acquired the MG brand from its state-owned peer, Nanjing Automobile Group. In 2005, Nanjing Auto purchased the brand from bankrupt UK automaker MG Rover in 2005. 2 years later, Nanjing Auto was acquired by SAIC. +++ 

+++ NISSAN will grant Renault’s leaders seats on key committees of its board, signaling an end to a dispute that has poisoned relations between the 2 automakers. In a statement, Nissan said it will give Renault boss Thierry Bollore a seat on its board’s audit committee and Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard a seat on its nomination committee. Both are key positions at the heart of decision making. The concessions from Nissan to let Bollore on the audit committee came with strings attached. Nissan is placing restrictions on Bollore’s role in areas where the two companies might have a conflict of interest, people familiar with the matter said. The move comes after demands by Senard for representation on the committees in return for approving Nissan’s overhauled governance structure plunged the 2 decade old partnership into crisis. Yasushi Kimura, an adviser to oil company JXTG Holdings will chair Nissan’s board and Senard will become the vice-chair. The nomination committee will be chaired by Masakazu Toyoda, the lead independent outside director. Renault now expects to support the resolutions at Nissan’s annual meeting on June 25, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing the negotiations. The partnership between Renault and Nissan has been strained since former leader Carlos Ghosn was arrested for suspected financial misconduct last year. Ghosn denies wrongdoing. “The agreement reached on Renault’s presence in Nissan’s new governance confirms the spirit of dialogue and mutual respect that exists within the alliance”, Renault said in a statement. While tensions between the partners have never been higher, both sides have indicated they have little choice but to patch up their 2 decade alliance. The partnership has proven one of the most successful among automakers, generating €5.7 billion in savings from manufacturing, purchasing and engineering in the 2017 financial year, the companies estimate. Still, common projects continue to emerge. The 3-way alliance, which includes smaller member Mitsubishi, unveiled a partnership to explore driverless services in France and Japan with Waymo, the autonomous-vehicle unit of Google parent Alphabet. The lopsided shareholding arrangement between Renault and Nissan has been a long-running source of friction: Renault’s 43 % stake in Nissan comes with voting rights, while Nissan’s 15 % holding in Renault does not. The role of France, Renault’s most powerful shareholder, has also irked Nissan. Renault’s merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles broke down this month after Nissan declined to back the deal. Following the collapse, both Renault and the French state pledged to repair the alliance with Nissan before contemplating a resumption of talks with FCA. France, which has a 15 % stake in Renault, views securing Nissan’s explicit backing as crucial for the success of a FCA-Renault combination. Nissan representatives on Renault’s board abstained in an informal vote on the deal last week, leading France to seek a delay. Despite the finger-pointing that followed the failed talks, Renault, FCA and France left the door open for a possible deal as they brace for the costly changes sweeping the industry, such as developing electric and autonomous vehicles. +++ 

+++ Production of the PEUGEOT 208 has officially started at PSA Group’s new factory in Kenitra, Morocco. PSA Group invested €557 million in its new manufacturing facility, which will produce models based on their latest CMP compact car architecture. The annual capacity of the new factory is 200,000 vehicles. The new Peugeot 208 will be joined by more PSA Group models, including new versions of the Peugeot 301 and Citroen C-Elysee, which are small sedans offered mainly in developing markets. The new plant will export its cars to 80 countries according to PSA Group. “At the heart of the Middle East and Africa region, Morocco is an historic and strategic market for our Group and its 4 brands, Peugeot, Citroën, DS and Opel”, said Jean-Christophe Quémard, member of the Managing Board of Groupe PSA said. “We are forging a unique partnership in Morocco’s automotive industry, thanks to the help of all our partners and the support of the Moroccan authorities”. The new factory will eventually employ 4,500 workers at full capacity, which is expected to be achieved in the next 2 years. PSA Group expects the new facility to create around 20,000 direct and indirect jobs. Rival automakers have also factories in Morocco, thanks to the low wages and big incentives, including Renault with its 2 factories in Tangiers and Casablanca. Peugeot will also continue building the 208 at its Trnava factory in Slovakia. +++

+++ PORSCHE ’s GT division has no plans to electrify its models, according to boss Andreas Preuninger. He claims that electrification is “not something we think about at the moment”. The company’s main line-up will soon include an electric Taycan and a hybrid 911, but the GT variants will continue to be all about the purity of a petrol engine without assistance, Preuninger said. “There are ideas to maybe look in that direction for the normal sports car line but not for the GT cars. If we would decide to make all the racing cars electrified overnight, then we would have a reason to look into that but, as always, it has to be a connection between the cars we use on the track to the cars we sell with a numberplate attached”, Preuninger said. “Firstly, for homologation, but also we have to have the same DNA in the car and share the same platform, otherwise you lose credibility”. He continued: “I think it’s very correct and the right thing to concentrate on 3 pillars across Porsche (hybrid, complete electric and hardcore typical sports car). Ferry Porsche once said the last car on earth would be a sports car and I’m absolutely sure he’s right”. Preuninger also claims that Porsche’s board members are “really aware” of how important the GT division is not just to the brand’s clientele, but also to the integrity of the company’s image as a manufacturer of sporting models for enthusiasts. “Luckily our board members support us with GT projects which are pure Porsche in a way a 911 always was. In other teams, Porsche concentrates on fields such as digitalisation and electromobility. We’re in constant interchange but I don’t think we should put everything in one barrel. We have to have different cars to share different purposes and as long as this customer group is willing to buy our cars and enjoy the cars so much, why should we stop?” +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN won a copyright case brought by the daughter of Erwin Komenda, who helped to style the original Beetle. Komenda’s daughter sought compensation for the part her father’s design played in the success of VW’s iconic model over more than 70 years of production. The daughter sought €5 million in compensation after limiting her claim to Beetles built since 2014 because of a statute of limitations. She claimed the newer Beetles still incorporated elements of her father’s design used in 3 generations of a car that has sold over 22 million examples since it first entered mass production following the Second World War.
The court in Brunswick, Germany, examined Komenda’s drawings of the Beetle’s original design and decided that it resembled other vehicles of the period. It also said that the plaintiff was also unable to prove that her father had participated in the styling of Volkswagen’s KdF vehicle, a vehicle on which the original Beetle was based. The KdF was produced in 1938 and was designed by Ferdinand Porsche. The court said in a statement that it therefore denied any copyright claim on Komenda’s drawings of the original Beetle. The daughter was not named by the court. Komenda, an Austrian national, worked with Ferdinand Porsche in the 1930s and for the Porsche car company after the Second World War. He died in 1966. VW said last year that it will end production of the Beetle when the last models are produced at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, next month.
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