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+++ When you’re behind some of the most controversial BMW features in recent years, it’s probably not an easy job to defend them from critics. In an interview, BMW design chief Adrian van Hooydonk discussed the big kidney grilles on the current 7 Series and X7, saying that the backlash was “more or less” expected but that the criticism has still gone bone deep. While past 7 Series have not been wallflowers in terms of design, and especially wide kidneys already debuted on the E32 generation 750i V12 in the late ’80s, the newest 7 Series has been likened to a car mounted to an enormous grille instead of vice versa. But the heavy front-end design is justified, according to the design boss: The design brief for the face-lifted 7 included differentiating it significantly from the smaller 5 Series and the grille size was a big part of that. The X7 also features a very big grille, but van Hooydonk says it’s proportional to the rest of the big SUV. Van Hooydonk says most of the criticism also stems from Europe, where sales of the 7 Series aren’t that significant compared to China or the U.S. market. “The 7 Series has always been the hardest to bring the expectations of the entire world into one shape. The customers are very, very different in China, the U.S., the Middle East and in Europe”, said van Hooydonk. In other words, it’s a real challenge to please clients globally: making a car that will stand out in China, for example, but that will not alienate European customers who traditionally have more reserved tastes. “In Europe, people don’t want to get noticed. They don’t like being asked what they paid for a car and they like things in black like a stealth mode. The rest of the world is the opposite. We tried to give the Europeans what they want as well, but the strongest market for the 7 Series is not Europe”. Van Hooydonk also hinted that the next-generation car might feature a less polarizing design. “For the next-generation 7, our job will become slightly easier”. Still, global sales of the 7 Series have gone up after the latest nose job: it seems the car is definitely paying the bills for BMW. +++

+++ Japan publicly cautioned the 2 candidates vying to replace prime minister Theresa May that Japanese investment could leave the country if there is a no-deal BREXIT , urging Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to avoid such a scenario. Japan, one of the biggest investors in the British economy, is very concerned about a disorderly Brexit that would have a very negative impact on Japanese companies in Britain, foreign minister Taro Kono told. “Please, no no-deal Brexit”, Kono said. “Some companies are already starting to move their operations to other places in Europe”. Asked whether investment could leave Britain, Kono said: “It could be that there is going to be less investment”. Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31 and both leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have said they are prepared to take Britain out of the bloc without a deal, although it is not their preferred option. Kono said that if there was a no-deal Brexit, then car companies might have to go through physical customs inspections and that their operations may not be able to continue. Japanese automakers Nissan, Toyota and Honda built roughly half of Britain’s 1.52 million cars last year. +++ 

+++ A former engineer responsible for the ride and handling of the CHEVROLET CORVETTE lineup has expressed his concerns about the upcoming C8 midengine model. Jim Mero worked for General Motors for no less than 34 years and joined the Corvette team in 2004. He was tasked with tuning the driving characteristics of the C6 generation Corvette Z06 and went on to play a pivotal role in the development of all future Corvettes from that moment onward. During the interview, Mero said he was on the team tasked with defining the goals of the new C8 Corvette. He asserts that the team rented out a series of vehicles including an Audi R8, Ferrari 458 Italia, Acura (Honda) NSX and a pair of Porsches to evaluate midengine supercars. The car manufacturer also brought along a Corvette C7 Z06 and a Z51 Stingray to see how they would shape up against the European and Japanese competition. Mero states that the 2 Corvettes “smoked” the other cars brought to the test by the brand’s engineers and told others that the mid-engine supercars were nothing to “aspire” to and that the C7 was actually better. However, executives from GM were reportedly won over by how well the midengine alternatives drove at speeds below their performance limits while also preferring the driving position and the excellent visibility provided by such cars. Despite all the positive points made, Mero said “I worry about the midengine”. It’s no secret that the C7 Corvette represented a significant dynamic leap forward over the C6 generation model and Mero seems to have fears that the C8 likely won’t be much better than the C7. He cites the perfect 50/50 weight distribution of the C7 as one reason why it handles so well and says that the rear-biased weight distribution of the C8 will upset the vehicle’s balance and likely make it prone to understeer. +++

+++ CHRYSLER has announced a new version of its Pacifica MPV for the 2020 model year known as Voyager. The throwback nameplate will be used for the entrylevel versions. Although the Voyager is a new name, it’s essentially the same MPV Americans have known since the Pacifica’s introduction for the 2017 model year; Chrysler is simply rebranding the entry-level Pacifica L and LX models as Voyager L and LX. The Pacifica name will continue to be used on upper-end versions of the MPV. The Voyager L will come standard with cloth seats, a second-row bench and 7,0 inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system. Opting for the step-up Voyage LX nets second-row captain’s chairs. Neither Voyager model is available with Chrysler’s Stow ‘n’ Go second-row storage system. Voyage L and LX buyers will be able to splurge on an optional safety package that includes rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring. Voyager LX buyers will have the option of a cold weather pack that includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Mechanically, the Voyager is identical to the Pacifica. That means a 287 horsepower V6 sending power to the front wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. In addition to the Voyage L and LX models, Chrysler will also offer an LXi trim to fleet buyers. The Voyager LXi is optimized for rental duty with durable vinyl seats, Stow ‘n’ Go seating, roof rack, second-row sunshades and remote start. +++ 

+++ EUROPE ’s automotive lobby cut its forecast for passenger car registrations this year to a 1 % fall from a 1 % rise, blaming slower growth and business concerns over Britain’s impending exit from the European Union. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said it now expected car sales in the European Union to just exceed 15 million this year. “It goes without saying that any additional barriers, costs or delays as a result of Brexit will pose a serious threat to jobs and growth in the auto industry, both in the UK as well as in the EU”, ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert said in statement. “Aside from the uncertainty due to Brexit and changing macroeconomic conditions, this represents a natural stabilization of the market”. In its industry guide, ACEA said production of vehicles in Europe dropped 0.2 % from 2017 to 2018, amid a global decline of 0.6 %. Production of passenger cars in the EU was down 1.4 % in 2018 from the year before, it added. The bloc produces about a quarter of the world’s passenger cars, led by Germany’s strong auto manufacturing industry, employing some 13.8 million Europeans, according to ACEA. For the second year in a row, carbon dioxide emissions from new passenger cars grew, rising 1.9% from the year before. Jonnaert said that put European carmakers at risk of not meeting the bloc’s 2020 emissions reduction targets. “The prospect of fines for not reaching the 2020 CO2 target is to varying degree a serious concern for carmakers”, he said, adding the increase was due partly to a rise in sales of higher-emitting petrol cars following a scandal over diesel pollution. The share of new diesel passenger cars has decreased since 2015, when Volkswagen admitted it had cheated U.S. emissions tests by using software installed in as many as 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide. In 2018, petrol engines powered more than 50 % of new passenger cars in the EU, while diesel accounted for 35.9 %. Hybrid electric, electrically-chargeable and other alternatively powered cars accounted for 7.4%. +++ 

+++ FORD ’s rollout of its redesigned European business plan will result in a radical overhaul of its large car range, as the brand confirms 3 new model nameplates for the region in the next 5 years. The firm says it is “freshening and expanding its vehicle line-up in Europe”, with the 3 new nameplates coming “as it continues to grow its SUV portfolio”. The new models, which are in addition to the new Kuga, Puma and Explorer, also include the “Mustang-inspired fully electric performance cross-over” model, as Ford dubs it. Ford of Europe president Stuart Rowley told that the European focus is on an expansion of its “family SUV line-up”, but he wouldn’t confirm specific names or models that will be replaced. “We are very focused in orienting our portfolio with where consumers are going,” he said. “Many buyers are moving into the SUV space but for us the key question is where buyers are going next”. When asked if these new cars would indirectly replace slow-selling D-segment models such as the Mondeo, Galaxy and S-Max, Rowley said the 3 models “remain part of our product portfolio for now. However, we need to adapt to the changing market”. Alongside this announcement, Ford has released a status report of its European business strategy changes, which will result in 3 new ‘business groups’: commercial vehicles, passenger vehicles and imports. The organisational changes to implement this will come into force on 1 July. The restructure will mean a substantial number of job losses, from factory worker level up to a managerial rethink. Ford employs around 53,000 people across its European operation, so the cuts represent a total of 22 % of its workforce. Including Russia, around 12,000 jobs will be “impacted”, including 2,000 salaried positions set to be axed. Around 3,000 jobs will be “affected” in the UK from now until the end of 2020, including 1,700 jobs at the Bridgend engine plant. This is made up of “agency employees, salary employees and management”, Rowley said. By the end of 2020, Ford will have 18 manufacturing facilities in Europe, as opposed to 24 at the start of this year. The leaner structure and strategy rethink mean Rowley expects profitabiity for the second half of this year to “significantly improve” over the £315 million loss posted in Europe last year. The long-term goal is to achieve a margin of 6 % on earnings before taxes and interest. Rowley also claimed Ford is “on track to meet its obligations” with European Union emissions targets, with car makers facing huge fines if they can’t lower their fleet CO2 average by 25 % before the end of 2020. Ford will achieve this by launching 16 electrified models, including 8 by the end of this year. +++

+++ Hyundai has now launched its premium brand GENESIS in Australia, after it first took the brand to the U.S. in 2017. The Korean carmaker also eyes launching it in China and Europe. Hyundai said that it started selling the G70 and G80 sedans in the Oceanian country as well as opening its first overseas showroom for the brand in downtown Sydney. It plans to open more in Melbourne and Brisbane next year. Some 1.1 million cars were sold in Australia last year, and luxury brands accounted for some 10 % of total sales with 116,000 cars. Hyundai has ranked third in the Australian auto market in recent years with annual sales of 100,000 cars, following Toyota and Mazda. +++ 

+++ HYDROGEN has the potential to become an important energy carrier in a future clean energy system, complementing electricity, but it will have to overcome formidable technical barriers first if it is to fulfill that role. “Hydrogen has never enjoyed so much international and cross-sectoral interest, even in the face of impressive recent progress in other low-carbon energy technologies, such as batteries and renewables”, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Policymakers have taken an interest in hydrogen before (following the oil shocks of the 1970s, the climate concerns of the 1990s, and worries about peak oil in the 2000s) only for attention to fade again when oil prices fell and environmental policies switched to other more promising technologies. But this time could be different, according to the IEA, because hydrogen may be an essential part of the tool kit needed to achieve the deep decarbonisation targets policymakers have set under climate agreements. Plans to reduce net emissions near zero by mid-century, announced by some governments, have put the spotlight on sectors where electricity is not the preferred energy carrier and emissions are hard to abate. Such sectors include aviation, shipping, iron and steel production, chemicals manufacturing, high-temperature industrial heat, long-distance road transportation and heat for buildings. The planned double transition (shifting the delivered energy system to electricity, and decarbonising electricity generation) may not work in these areas. Hydrogen may be a better energy carrier in at least some of these applications, according to the IEA. Hydrogen could have other benefits, including tackling air pollution and facilitating the clean energy transition while reducing disruption to workers and communities closely connected with fossil fuels. Hydrogen systems could preserve a future role for at least some production, transportation and employment in the oil, gas and coal industries if they were paired with carbon capture, utilization and storage technology. Worldwide production of pure hydrogen is around 70 million tonnes per year, with another 45 million tonnes of hydrogen produced as part of a mixture of gases. Pure hydrogen is mostly used in oil refining and the production of ammonia, mainly for fertilizers, while mixed gases are supplied for methanol and steel production. Pure hydrogen is not yet commonly used as a fuel. Hydrogen can be produced directly from water by electrolysis, but nearly all the hydrogen currently in use is produced from steam methane reforming or coal gasification. Electrolysis is the perfect pathway for turning excess electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources into hydrogen with zero emissions. By contrast, steam methane reforming and coal gasification are both energy-intensive processes that produce prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). Pure hydrogen production currently accounts for 6 % of worldwide natural gas use and 2 % of worldwide coal use, the latter mostly in China. Production accounts for around 830 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the combined emissions of Indonesia and the United Kingdom. In a future clean energy system, hydrogen and electricity could be complementary energy carriers, since electricity can be readily transformed into hydrogen and back again. Hydrogen could therefore help solve problems of intermittent renewable electricity generation by providing a means of storing energy over time and transporting it over long distances. “Because hydrogen can be stored and used in a variety of sectors, converting electricity to hydrogen can help with the matching of variable energy supply and demand, both temporally and geographically”, the IEA wrote. “Without hydrogen a decarbonised energy system based on electricity would be much more flow-based. Flow-based energy systems must match demand and supply in real time, across wide distances, and can be vulnerable to disruptions of supply”. With so many potential benefits for so many different interest groups, it is no wonder that hydrogen has attracted support from a broad coalition. Politics makes hydrogen a perfect bridge between otherwise opposed interest groups, including fossil fuel producers and renewable energy industries, environmental campaigners and oil-exporting countries. But if hydrogen is to live up to that potential it will need to overcome formidable technical problems around production, distribution and storage. Hydrogen is an abundant but very reactive element which is not found chemically free in nature and is most often bound to oxygen or carbon atoms. “To obtain hydrogen from natural compounds, energy expenditure is needed”, wrote Ram Gupta, a professor of chemical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University and editor of a major study published in 2009. “Therefore, hydrogen must be considered as an energy carrier; a means to store and transmit energy derived from an energy source”. Hydrogen molecules are small, light, highly reactive with other elements, very flammable and burn with a hotter flame than natural gas (methane). Safe handling requires extreme care since hydrogen will leak easily and can be readily ignited to create an explosion, though it is also less dense than air so diffuses quickly which helps mitigate explosion risks. Hydrogen’s reactivity poses more of a challenge since it will penetrate steel causing hydrogen-induced cracking and hydrogen embrittlement, both of which can cause pipeline failure unless expensive specialty steels are employed. The biggest challenges, however, are related to hydrogen’s very low energy density compared with conventional fuels such as natural gas or gasoline. By mass, hydrogen has the highest energy content of any fuel. On a weight basis, a kilogram of hydrogen contains almost 3 times more energy than a kilogram of gasoline. But on a volume basis, hydrogen contains far less energy than other fuels. If hydrogen is stored as a gas, it would need a tank about 3.000 times the volume of a tank of gasoline to contain the same amount of energy. Employing pure hydrogen is therefore only practical if it is compressed or even liquefied to increase its energy density. But even in its most energy-dense liquid form, a cubic meter of hydrogen contains only about a quarter of the energy as a cubic meter of gasoline. Compression or liquefaction is much more expensive than for natural gas and involves the expenditure of significantly more energy. Low energy density is therefore the major obstacle to utilizing hydrogen in transport systems and even some stationary applications. Just 11,000 hydrogen powered cars are on the road, according to IEA figures, together with 20,000 forklift trucks in warehouse use, where refueling is simpler. The dual pathways for producing hydrogen (electrolysis and gasification/steam methane reforming) are the main reason hydrogen appeals to such a diverse range of interest groups and governments. The IEA has suggested several practical ways in which hydrogen use could be scaled up with government support, including blending hydrogen in low concentrations into existing natural gas pipelines. But unless hydrogen production from steam methane reforming and coal gasification is paired with carbon capture and storage technologies it would increase rather than reduce greenhouse emissions. Hydrogen fuel systems are therefore a gamble on the future viability of carbon capture, utilization and storage technology on a large scale. For the moment, carbon capture and storage is likely to remain unviable without a significant price on CO2 emissions, given the enormous energy costs in the process. The biggest obstacle to the future hydrogen economy is therefore not the engineering of storage and distribution of the gas itself but the politics of emissions pricing. If the political emissions pricing problem can be solved, hydrogen is one possible route to a cleaner energy system, though it will have to compete with other technologies that may be cheaper and more convenient. If the emissions pricing problem remains unresolved, hydrogen will likely remain too expensive for widespread use. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI ’s electric lineup is about to become stronger if a report concerning an entirely new EV being added in the not-so-distant future (like, in 2021) turns out to be true. Unlike the Kona Electric, which is based on the petrol / diesel model’s architecture, the new EV will be built on a dedicated platform, said to have been named the Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). The yet-to-be-confirmed electric vehicle is known internally as the NE and it should be a compact SUV, slotting above the Kona Electric. We’ll take the next information with the proverbial pinch of salt, as it refers to a 450 km driving range. The battery supplier has yet to be selected, so the number is probably an unofficial target, although one that places it above the Kona’s EPA-estimated 415 km. While the zero-emission, compact SUV from Hyundai is only a rumor for now, the carmaker has already teamed up with Rimac Automobili to come up with an N midship sports car. The announcement was made last month and is part of Hyundai’s preparations for an all-electric future. +++ 

+++ The supervisory board of BMW will meet on July 18-19 to decide on the future of group boss Harald KRÜGER . Krüger’s term is due to expire in May 2020 and it is customary for German companies to communicate a year before expiry whether a board member’s contract will be extended. However, unnamed sources said that a decision on Krüger’s contract had been pushed back to July. If Krüger’s contract is not extended, there are 2 internal frontrunners for the top job, though there has been no formal decision. One is Klaus Fröhlich, head of development, and the other is Oliver Zipse, head of production. Both currently sit on the management board. The board meeting is scheduled to take place at BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina. BMW, which has lost the position of biggest selling luxury brand to Mercedes, expects group pretax profit to fall by more than 10 % this year. +++ 

+++ KIA has unveiled its Europe-only XCeed crossover, which joins the hatchback, SW wagon and ProCeed shooting brake variants in the Korean brand’s Ceed family. Sales of the XCeed will begin in the third quarter of 2019 and it will be built at Kia’s plant in Zilina, Slovakia, alongside the rest of the Ceed’s portfolio. The XCeed is 85 mm longer than the hatchback variant and 36 mm taller.The coupe-styled crossover “merges the strengths of both hatchback and SUV”, Kia Europe chief operating officer Emilio Herrera said. “The XCeed’s sporty design also makes it more desirable than many taller, larger SUVs without compromising on versatility because of its “intelligent packaging”, he added. The XCeed will be positioned above the Stonic and below the Sportage. It will compete against models such as the Volkswagen T-Roc, Toyota C-HR, Ford Focus Active and Renault Kadjar. The XCeed will be offered at launch with a choice of 1.0, 1.4 and 1.6 liter gasoline engines. A 1.6 liter diesel will also available. Electrified powertrains, including 48 volt mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid options, will join the Ceed family in early 2020. “Production of the plug-in hybrid versions of both the XCeed and the Ceed SW station wagon will start in November and the cars will be on the market in January 2020”, Herrera told. November is also when Kia Europe will start production of the mild-hybrid version of the Ceed Hatchback, Herrera said. Mild hybrid versions of other Ceed body styles might be launched later, depending on how much Kia will need them to meet the European Union’s tougher fleet CO2 targets that start to take effect in 2020, Herrera told. Sales of the current 3 versions of the Ceed rose 32 % to 42,625 in the first 5 months of 2019. Prices for the XCeed will be announced in September, just before the car’s public debut at the Frankfurt auto show, Kia said. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI is plotting a resurrection of the iconic Lancer Evolution as part of a return to its performance car roots. It is planned to continue a rich history of Lancer Evolution models kicked off with the launch of the first-generation model in 1992, by offering supercar-beating acceleration together with the choice of either traditional 4-door saloon or 5-door hatchback bodystyles. Details remain scarce, but suggestions are the followup to the Lancer Evolution X produced between 2007 and 2016 would share key elements of its drivetrain with the next-generation Renault Mégane RS, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine mated to a dual-clutch gearbox and an advanced Mitsubishi-developed S-AWC four-wheel drive system. In its most potent form, the existing front-wheel-drive Renault Mégane RS’s MR designated engine delivers 300 hp and 400 Nm of torque. However, the possible addition of electronic boosting in a 48V mild hybrid system being developed for the Renault – Nissan -Mitsubishi alliance is likely to increase its reserves closer to the 350 hp and 420 Nm of the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder powerplant used by the limited-edition Subaru Impreza WRX STi S209. The 11th generation of the 4 wheeldrive Lancer Evolution has been conceived to sit on the CMF-C/D F4 platform developed within Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi. The current non-performance Lancer was discontinued as an international model in 2017, but the name lives on with a saloon model sold in Chinese-speaking markets due to its popularity. The Evolution’s revival, part of Mitsubishi chairman Osamu Masuko’s plan to restore the Japanese maker to its previous position of strength within the performance car ranks, would depend on the Lancer returning in a new generation. Masuko, 70, is set to surrender his position as CEO to Takao Kato. However, the Mitsubishi veteran will continue to lead the company in the position of chairman. Previous plans by Masuko to develop a successor to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X were placed on hold following heavy losses at the company and its subsequent purchase by Nissan in 2016. +++

+++ NISSAN and its China partner Dongfeng Group are in talks with Didi Chuxing to launch a joint venture to manage car fleets for Didi’s ride-hailing and car-sharing services. They are also exploring the possibility of the Nissan – Dongfeng venture designing and building vehicles tailored for Didi’s ride-hailing service; cars which are likely to be battery-powered and eventually driverless, the people said. A partnership would help the Japanese automaker meet China’s production quotas for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, and would be similar to a venture that Volkswagen set up with Didi last year. As part of the planned deal, Nissan’s China joint venture would help manage fleets of gasoline-fuelled and electric cars in a dozen cities for Didi, the country’s dominant ride-hailing firm. It would also help maintain and service the fleets, whose cars are leased to independent drivers. Nissan’s venture with Dongfeng Group would supply the vehicles although some cars may also come from Dongfeng’s own brand. 3 sources said the talks, underway since last year, were far along, although 1 source warned that more scrutiny at both companies over how money is invested could delay finalising of the deal. Nissan, which is grappling with a strained relationship with partner Renault after ousting their former chief Carlos Ghosn, has forecast a 4th straight year of steep profit decline for this financial year. Didi is under pressure from investors to deliver a quicker and sounder route to profitability, separate sources familiar with the matter have said. Meeting China’s tough quotas for so-called new energy vehicles (NEVs) is proving a headache for automakers in China. Convincing consumers of the merits of the electric cars is not easy, government subsidies for purchasing EVs are being rolled back and vehicle demand is slowing, with consumer sentiment also hit by the trade war with the United States. “It is now common practice for automakers like Nissan to make sure they have some guaranteed sales volume for new-energy vehicles”, said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight. Automakers such as Geely, SAIC, Dongfeng, Changan and FAW also have created car-sharing and ride-hailing services. Under the planned deal, in congested cities where municipal governments have restricted the use of gasoline-fuelled cars, Nissan and Dongfeng would provide battery electric cars. 2 sources said one model would likely be an all-electric version of the Nissan Sylphy sedan. Other methods automakers can pursue to meet NEV production quotas include buying NEV credits from other carmakers with excess points, investing in or forming a venture with a Chinese EV startup or buying a car-sharing operator in China, sources at Nissan said. They added that longer term, Nissan hopes the venture with Didi will provide invaluable insight into catering to consumers who opt out of car ownership and rely on ride-hailing and car-sharing services; a trend that is expected to gather steam as traffic jams in China’s biggest cities get worse. Didi’s desire to have its own vehicles designed specifically for ride-hailing is something it has also discussed with Volkswagen as part of their separate joint venture, sources have said previously. Such cars will likely look very different from vehicles used to commute today. They would have little occasion to go at fast speeds so their engines could be much smaller, while other features preferred by car owners such as big wheels and sleek aerodynamic styling could be taken out or significantly modified. Since the cars would be mostly carrying one or two people at a time to work, they are likely to have fewer seats and more space for luggage, sources have said. +++

+++ The next generation of the OPEL Astra is set to be built at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant from 2021 onwards, depending on the final terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union. The long-term future of the Ellesmere Port plant has been in doubt for some time, with Carlos Tavares, the boss of Opel’s parent company, PSA Group, saying that it needed to close the cost and quality gap to the group’s other European plants in order to survive. But PSA, which also owns the Citroën, DS and Peugeot brands, has now confirmed that it is planning for the facility near Liverpool to be one of 2 European manufacturing locations for the next-generation Astra, alongside Opel’s Russelsheim plant in Germany. The current model is built at Ellesmere Port and Opel’s Gliwice facility in Poland. The next-generation Astra will be built on PSA’s EMP2 platform and, as part of the firm’s electrification programme, will include an plug-in hybrid version. The machine is due to go into production in 2021. PSA said it had been “working hard” to turn around Opel’s fortunes and the decision over Ellesmere Port “demonstrates the continuous effort and commitment of Groupe PSA to Vauxhall”. However, PSA said the plan to build the Astra at its UK facility was not set in stone. “The decision on the allocation to the Ellesmere Port plant will be conditional on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union and the acceptance of the New Vehicle Agreement, which has been negotiated with the Unite Trade Union”, it said. PSA didn’t specify exactly what Brexit terms it was seeking, although it is likely to focus on frictionless and tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has continued to lead calls from the car industry to secure a tariff-free trade agreement and for the Government to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Ellesmere Port opened in 1962 on the site of RAF Hooton Park, initially producing the Vauxhall Viva. It later produced the Chevette, and in 1980 it became the first Vauxhall plant to produce and export Opel-branded cars to Europe. The Astra has been produced there since 1981, and the plant was also the production base for the larger Vectra. +++ 

+++ This is how important Ford judged the new PUMA to be to the company’s European success: during development of the small cross-over, company executives green-lighted expensive modifications to the car’s existing platform instead of looking for opportunities to save money. The Puma is based on same small-car underpinnings as the Fiesta, but Ford of Europe’s designers knew that platform would not deliver the look they needed. “Ford of Europe has the highest number of customers who put exterior first among reasons to buy, so, we knew from Day One we needed to have that ‘wow’ effect”, Ford of Europe design boss Amko Leenarts said. To do that engineers would need to widen the track of the B2 platform and enable it to accept bigger wheels. That would give the Puma the more muscular look the design team wanted. But they would need approval from Ford of Europe’s executive team, led at that point of the process by Jim Farley (he is now the automaker’s global head of businesses, technology and strategy). Platform sharing works best when as many parts as possible are carried over. That includes chassis parts. Volkswagen’s MQB architecture is a good example. The plan for the Puma, however, would require new suspension and chassis parts. “It was a difficult decision at the beginning”, said Sigurd Limbach, vehicle line director for Ford of Europe’s small cars. “Should we invest all this money in the platform to make the Puma happen?” The design team knew they had a potential hit on their hands, but they needed an extra boost. To get that they went to a focus group, which was won over by the Puma’s looks. “The research was so compelling we had a really good argument to push back and get the design we wanted”, said George Saridakis, Ford of Europe’s director of external and internal design. The new suspension and chassis parts were expensive, but the extra track width provided the Puma with 2 advantages: more interior space and better handling. “It was win-win”, Limbach said. The designers were then pushed by Joe Bakaj, then Ford of Europe’s then head of engineering, to create as much trunk space as possible in what was still a relatively small car (4.186 mm long, making it just 146 mm longer than a Fiesta). Bakaj also wanted a trunk width of 1 meter, which presented the designers with another expensive problem. “The rear taillamps were initially a single piece, which is quite cost-efficient”, said Murat Güler, Ford of Europe’s exterior design chief. “But we realized that to fulfill these targets, the lamps were squeezed into a corner”. So, they asked for (and got) more expensive split taillamps with one half on the tailgate itself. “Research helps you to get all these extras”, Güler said. Ford expects the Puma to match the impact of the first generations of the Ford Focus (1998) and S-Max (2006). Both debuted successful designs that broke free of the company’s own conventions. Company executives also believe the extra money spent on the platform was worth it to get a design that will appeal to customers in a very image-driven segment. “The money will come back,” Limbach predicted. “The concept was convincing and it persuaded the company. This is the mindset you should have during tough times”. +++ 

+++ French president Emmanuel Macron said there was no need for the government to lower its stake in RENAULT and that he wanted the alliance with Nissan to work on strengthening its synergies. Relations have been strained between the alliance members since the shock arrest in November of former boss Carlos Ghosn, but Macron referred to that as an individual situation that should not have a bearing on their partnership. “Nothing in this situation justifies changing the cross shareholdings, the rules of governance, and the state’s shareholding in Renault, which has nothing to do with Nissan”, Macron told. His comment contradicts recent remarks by finance minister Bruno Le Maire that the government was ready to reduce its 15 % stake in Renault in the interest of bolstering the automaker’s alliance with Nissan. “I wish for the group to maintain its stability concentrating on the essential and that synergies between Renault and Nissan continue to be strengthened”, said Macron, who was in Japan on an official state visit ahead of the G20 in Osaka. “The future of the group is how it can become leader in electric vehicles and one of the leaders in autonomous vehicles. I think the future is more of a growing integration”. Despite the French government’s frequent calls for Renault and Nissan to strengthen their partnership, Nissan has been unhappy with what it sees as an unequal relationship and has rebuffed previous suggestions of an outright merger. Renault owns 43 % of Nissan which has surpassed its French partner in size since being rescued by it 2 decades ago. Nissan holds a 15 %, non-voting stake in its partner. Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa said at a shareholders’ meeting this week the Japanese automaker would “postpone discussions” on the future direction of the alliance as it prioritized recovery of its financial performance. +++ 

+++ Nissan chief executive Hiroto SAIKAWA had the lowest approval among the 11 directors endorsed by shareholders at its annual general meeting (AGM) this week, gaining only 78 % of the votes, a filing showed. The low approval comes in the wake of a rare public rebuke for Saikawa from international proxy firms. International Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis earlier this month had urged shareholders to vote against him, citing the need to break with the scandal-plagued era of his former boss, Carlos Ghosn. Saikawa, a former Ghosn lieutenant, trailed well behind the 99.1 % votes in favor of Jean-Dominique Senard, chairman of Nissan partner Renault. The 2 men had a public spat this month over Nissan’s governance reforms that raised concerns about the future of the automaking alliance. Nissan released the breakdown of votes from the annual shareholders meeting in a filing to Japan’s financial watchdog. Saikawa’s standing among shareholders has eased somewhat from the last vote 2 years ago, when his directorship was endorsed by 79.9 % of shareholders who voted. Only Ghosn had a lower approval at that time, receiving 75.4 %. Nissan shareholders voted in favor of a new governance structure and board to address lax auditing revealed after the arrest of Ghosn over financial misconduct allegations. Ghosn, who is awaiting trial in Tokyo and out on bail, denies all the charges against him. In a separate filing, Nissan said it would forgo paying Ghosn deferred retirement benefits totaling 4.44 billion yen ($41 million), along with 2.27 billion yen in share-related rights, after it accused its former chairman of underreporting his salary from the automaker. Ghosn’s planned compensation for the year to March totaled 1.65 billion yen, comprising 410 million yen which had been paid and a payment of 1.24 billion yen which would have been paid after retirement. Nissan canceled the latter payment after firing Ghosn as chairman following his arrest in Japan in November. Ghosn has been charged with 5 counts of financial misconduct and has essentially been under house arrest in Tokyo while he faces trial next year. +++

+++ The SELF DRIVING CAR joint venture of SoftBank and Toyota will receive investment from a further 5 Japanese automakers, 2 sources familiar with the matter said, broadening backing for the all-Japan effort. Mazda, Suzuki, Subaru, Isuzu and Daihatsu will each take a stake of a few percent in the venture, the sources said. With the move to autonomous driving and electric vehicles creating ructions across the industry and spawning once unlikely partnerships, the venture, Monet, which is developing an on-demand self-driving service platform, hopes to help Japan’s auto industry ride the shift. Monet, announced in October, added investment from Honda and Toyota’s truck making subsidiary Hino in March, leaving SoftBank the largest shareholder with a 40.2 % share and Toyota owning 39.8 %. When Honda and Hino joined in March, the total investment in Monet was 2.5 billion yen ($23.20 million). It was not immediately clear how much the 5 new partners are investing in the venture. The venture’s head told earlier this month it was planning to expand its investor base. Monet hopes to export a basic version of the service to Southeast Asia in 2020 and aims to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year. +++

+++ TESLA has reportedly formed a battery cell “skunkworks” that aims to reduce the company’s reliance on Panasonic. Previous reports have alleged that Panasonic’s battery production line has been a bottleneck that constrains overall vehicle output, one of several factors that have put the company behind schedule in its quest to build 500,000 vehicles annually. Multiple sources now tell CNBC that Tesla is ramping up internal development of battery cells, assigning employees to explore new battery technologies and production methods that would be necessary to manufacture cells in large quantities. Tesla’s vehicles are currently powered by 2 different types of off-the-shelf cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells. Using common cells has allowed the company to benefit from a steady decline in per-kWh battery costs. Signalling a shift beyond traditional lithium-ion battery technology, the company earlier this year acquired supercapacitor maker Maxwell Technologies. Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2011 predicted that supercapacitors would be the most likely ‘breakthrough’ in energy storage for electric vehicles. Tesla could divulge more details of its latest strategy at a battery and powertrain event later this year. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA plans to invest $2 billion to develop electric vehicles (EVs) in Indonesia over the next 4 years, starting with hybrid vehicles, Indonesia’s coordinating ministry for maritime affairs said. “From 2019 to 2023, we will progressively increase our investment to 28.3 trillion rupiah ($2 billion)”, Toyota president Akio Toyoda was quoted as saying. The Japanese carmaker said this month that it aimed for half its global sales to be from electric vehicles by 2025; 5 years ahead of schedule and will tap Chinese battery makers to meet the accelerated global shift to electric cars. The deal was agreed at a meeting in Osaka between Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan and Toyoda. “Because the Indonesian government already has an electric vehicle development map, Toyota considers Indonesia a prime EV investment destination”, Toyoda said. He said Toyota would follow the government’s EV plan by investing in stages, starting with the development of hybrid vehicles. Indonesia, the region’s largest economy, has plentiful reserves of nickel laterite ore, a vital ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used to power EVs, and has been making a push to attract foreign carmakers. Officials are betting Indonesia, which is already Southeast Asia’s second-largest car production hub, can become a major regional player in lithium battery production and feed the fast-rising demand for EVs. The country announced earlier in 2019 plans to introduce a fiscal scheme that will offer tax cuts to EV battery producers and automakers, as well as preferential tariff agreements with other countries that have a high EV demand. Indonesian ministers told in December that Hyundai plans to start producing EVs in Indonesia as part of an around $880 million auto investment in the country. Mitsubishi meanwhile announced in mid-2018 it would work with the Indonesian government to research infrastructure that could accommodate EVs. Analysts are cautious however on how quickly Indonesia’s EV ambitions can be carried out, as some of its lithium battery projects require complicated nickel smelter technology. The ministry’s statement gave no details on how Toyota, which already makes batteries for hybrids and hybrid plug-ins, would implement its investment plans. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , car production fell for a 12th consecutive month in May, with industry bosses blaming a 15.5% year-on-year decline on the continued impact of earlier UK factory shutdowns, along with falling global and domestic demand. A total of 116,035 cars were produced in the UK last month; 21,239 fewer than the same month in 2018. Production of domestic models fell by 25.9 %, while 12.6 % less cars were built to be shipped overseas. Manufacturing for export still accounted for 80.9 % of all cars made. Overall, 116,035 new cars were built in the UK in May; a 15.5 % decline compared to the same period in 2018, when 137,274 units were sent to dealerships. Year-to-date, the UK has produced 557,295 cars; 21 % less than the 705,774 that had been produced by this point last year. The main reason for the shortfall is the decision by companies including Jaguar Land Rover, Honda, BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce to close their factories temporarily in April amid widespread confusion over Britain’s date of departure from the EU. +++

+++ A new study in the UNITED STATES has discovered that Americans are holding on to their cars longer than ever. According to an analysis released by IHS Markit, the average age of a light vehicle in the United States now stands at 11.8 years, up from an average age of 11.7 years in 2018. IHS cites better vehicle quality as one of the reasons people are holding onto their cars for longer. “Better technology and overall vehicle quality improvements continue to be key drivers of the rising average vehicle age over time”, said Mark Seng, director, global automotive aftermarket practice at IHS Markit. For the first time, IHS’ analysis includes a break down of vehicle age by region. Not surprisingly, the West, where weather is typically more mild, laid claim to the oldest average vehicle age at 12.4 years. The Northeast, known for its harsh winters, had the youngest vehicles of any region with an average vehicle age of 10.9 years. The study also found different aging rates across vehicle segments. Passenger cars saw their average age increase by 2.2 % while pick-ups, which are extremely popular at the moment, saw a bump in age of just 0.1 %. Although the average age of a vehicle on the road has been steadily increasing since IHS started its study in 2002, there could be a dip on the horizon. Because of the dramatic decrease in new cars sales during the Great Recession, the firm expects the number of vehicles on the road between 12-15 years old to decline 27 percent over the 2018-2023 span. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has introduced a new app-based car sharing service that will use a fleet of exclusively electric vehicles. WeShare initially launches in Berlin with 1.500 units of the e-Golf, which can be rented by the minute using a smartphone. The fleet will expand with 500 e-Up cars early next year and the brand’s upcoming electric ID.3 will join the scheme later in 2020, once the first customers car deliveries have begun. The launch joins similar services from other manufacturers, including BMW and Daimler, that focus on the emerging trend of urban mobility. Customers will download an app and use their smartphone to unlock and start a WeShare car, with payments made digitally. Users must have a German address, be over 21 years old, and have held a driving license for at least a year. An introductory price of 19 cent per minute will be in place until September, when hire rates will increase to around 29 cent per minute. The service won’t use fixed rental stations, instead relying on Berlin’s existing electric infrastructure. The city currently has more than 800 charging points that are powered by renewable resources. Volkswagen has also partnered with German supermarket chains Kaufland and Lidl to install 140 rapid charging points at 70 stores across Berlin, with exclusive charging rights for WeShare cars overnight while the stores are closed. “Supermarkets are the filling stations of the future”, Christian Senger, VW’s head of Digital Cars & Services, said. “Charging while you shop is the ideal solution, for private consumers and for us”. Initially, Volkswagen will use a service team to ensure cars are charged. Later, users will be incentivised to charge the cars themselves. WeShare has been in testing for 3 months already using a smaller fleet of 400 cars and around 2500 customers, to a largely positive response. The service will be integrated into VW’s ‘Volkswagen We’ digital ecosystem, which also includes We Park digital parking payments and We Deliver, a service that allows delivery drivers to unlock your car’s boot to leave parcels inside. Volkswagen is aiming to expand the scheme to other European cities next year, including Prague, in partnership with Skoda, and Hamburg. The company is open to adding micromobility options to the scheme, such as e-scooters and electric bicycles, although a decision has yet to be made. By 2023, Volkswagen expects to have invested €9 billion in EV technology, and is aiming to sell 1 million electric cars per year by 2025. +++

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