Newsflash II

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+++ BMW ’s M division is open to the idea of creating standalone cars not based on existing models. The company has several sports car concepts in mind, but the projects remain at the embryonic stage of development. “We are investigating M variants that may also be standalone, that don’t have a predecessor”, revealed BMW M boss Markus Flasch in an interview. He added his team has identified several potential segments, though he declined to reveal which ones he has in mind. The company isn’t opposed to a hypercar, but it’s difficult to make a business case for a car in the vein of the Mercedes-AMG One and the Aston Martin Valkyrie. “Economically, hypercar projects are always difficult and so the prerequisites to turn such a project into reality are obviously very difficult, but I would not rule it out”, he said. Regardless of what the company comes up with, the model(s) will need to fall in line with other M-badged cars in the BMW line-up. “It has to fit our character, a combination of precision, agility and luxury. And we are not copying, we are doing it our own way”, he explained. He didn’t reveal when we’ll see a standalone M car break cover, but it sounds like it’s more of a when than an if. It’s a strategy that makes sense. Rival Mercedes-AMG already sells 2 standalone sports cars: the GT, and the GT 4-Door. Rumors indicate a third car will arrive sooner rather than later to replace the SL and take Porsche head-on, and the aforementioned One is on its way to limited production; it’s already sold out in the United States. Meanwhile, Audi Sport’s R8 is well into its second generation, and it’s planning an electric 4-door model inspired by the 2018 E-Tron GT concept. Historically, a vast majority of M-developed cars have been based on existing BMW models. The M3 is a hotter 3 Series, the M5 is a more powerful 5 Series, and so on. The only standalone car in the division’s history is the M1, a mid-engined coupe made between 1978 and 1981. The M1 Homage concept unveiled in 2008 shed insight into what a modern-day successor could look like, but insiders suggested it was never a serious candidate for production. +++ 

+++ BUGATTI is reportedly preparing to make a tradition of unveiling new ultra-exclusive models at Pebble Beach. The company introduced the limited-edition Divo at Monterey Car Week last year. Another new model will make its first public appearance at the same venue this year, sources have told. A few potential buyers are said to have already secured build slots for the upcoming mystery model. Bugatti recently confirmed that less than 100 Chirons are still available for sale. Despite an average selling price of $3.35 million to $3.65 million, the planned 500-unit production run is nearly sold out. The special edition that is planned for Pebble Beach is expected to be priced in the same bracket as the Divo, which fetches $5.8 million. +++ 

+++ In a future where cars will be able to drive themselves without any need for human assistance, companies like FORD might end up operating more like an airline than a traditional carmaker. Rest assured, this isn’t about taking to the skies, but rather understanding how to maximize the time these cars spend on the road, as well as understanding how to sell seats with regards to ride-hailing and delivery services. “Autonomous vehicles are a per-mile business, not an ownership business”, said Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles. “It’s the same thing for the airline industry. You make money with high utilization. Your fixed costs don’t change much”. Marakby was in Washington earlier this month, speaking about the aviation industry’s imprint on Ford plants, future delivery projects and future plans that would incorporate walking robots. The Blue Oval also wants to start a commercial business using autonomous-driving technology in 2021. While the Ford exec didn’t specify which airlines he talked with, he did say that their requirements are similar to those of a business that would revolve around autonomous tech. “We’ve learned a lot of things we’ve already incorporated into our model about utilization, and that’s what drives the business”, he stated. “We are designing our first car to go hundreds of thousands of miles in a shorter period of time, and it’s the same as airlines using expensive planes and refurbishing them every few years”. He also added that Ford has analyzed its Kuga hybrids going back 15 years in order to see what can go wrong on them; not in a typical 250,000 kilometres but in a half a million kilometres. “That’s what’s useful for us”, he said. +++ 

+++ The wife of former Nissan boss Carlos GHOSN , Carole Ghosn is calling the U.S. president Donald Trump to help her husband over his legal battle in Japan. Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan last November over charges of financial misconduct. “I’d like president Trump to speak to prime minister Abe about fair conditions, fair trial conditions and to let me speak to my husband and also to respect this presumption of innocence until proven guilty”, Carole Ghosn, who has a U.S. passport, told. Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe will be the host of the Group of 20 economies in Osaka, set to take place on June 28-29. Carole Ghosn added that she had not spoken to her husband since he was re-arrested on April 4, before being released on bail 3 weeks later. “They told him one of the bail conditions, the restrictions, is he isn’t allowed to speak to me or talk to me, which I find inhumane”, she said. “All of this could have been dealt with internally within the company. This didn’t need to go this far and on top of it my husband is innocent and time will prove the truth”. This isn’t the first time Carole Ghosn asks for political help, calling the French government to aid her husband back in April. Carlos Ghosn has been denying all charges against him since the beginning of his legal battle. Earlier this month, Carlos Ghosn’s lawyer told Japanese media that the bail conditions his client is being held under constitute a breach of human rights. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen is still trying to solve the quiz of getting the next-generation GOLF into mass production but the company’s executives appear adamant that the new compact hatchback will launch by the end of this year. VW’s boss Herbert Diess said that they are in the middle of preparing for series production of the new Golf. “Currently we are fighting hard with the ramp-up”, Diess said. “We will meet our deadline and deliver the first vehicles at the end of this year”. During development of the new generation Golf, VW’s engineers were riddled with software glitches, mostly because the new model will be able to be updated over the air. This function however exposes the car to new threats and requires more extensive cybersecurity measures to be taken. The software in the upcoming Golf is way more complex than its predecessor, featuring 100 million lines of code versus 10 million for a new car sold 10 years ago. Unnamed sources within Volkswagen said that the company was rushing to meet the internal deadline for delivery by the end of the year but so far, there’s no definitive date from official lips. The new Golf aims to become the segment’s most connected vehicle, featuring a digital cockpit as standard on all versions and new fuel-efficient powertrains that run on petrol, diesel and compressed natural gas. VW is also working on a new 48-volt mild-hybrid version, as well as a plug-in hybrid with 80 km of EV range. Back in May, Diess said that the new Golf would be presented to the global motoring press in October. It was initially reported that the model would make its static world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but the company opted not to in order to focus on the reveal of the battery electric ID.3 hatchback. +++ 

+++ General Motors is reportedly considering reviving HUMMER in the era of electrification. Best known for its large gas-guzzling SUVs, the Hummer brand was acquired by GM in 1998 and retired in the wake of the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. The automaker is now exploring the possibility of building a new line of luxurious Hummer-badged SUVs with pure electric powertrains. Before the brand was shelved, GM revealed the HX Concept as an obvious Jeep Wrangler rival with a smaller footprint than the H2 and H3. A few plug-in hybrid Hummer H3 SUVs have already been on the road, built by Raser. The company in 2009 attempted to purchase rights to the Hummer brand. The deal ultimately fell through, however. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI is working on an all-new i20. The Korean firm’s latest supermini will reach the European market by mid-2020, with a range of powertrain and chassis tweaks, fresh technology and styling features lifted from its larger sibling, the i30. I expect the next-generation model will be based on the same platform and field a similar engine range as the outgoing i20, albeit with a range of handling, ride and efficiency tweaks. Like the old model, the new i20’s engine range will feature a 1.2-litre 4-cylinder and a turbocharged 1.0-litre 3-cylinder, in a couple of states of tune each. Buyers will also be offered the choice of a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, depending on the engine. The performance-focussed i20 N will offer Hyundai a rival to the Ford Fiesta ST. It’ll likely be powered by a tuned version of the Korean firm’s 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol, producing 204 hp; enough to make it competitive with the 200 hp Fiesta ST, but not so much that it treads on the toes of Hyundai’s flagship hot hatch, the 250 hp i30 N. Hyundai has retained its supermini’s compact proportions and practical five-door layout, with the most noticeable changes being the adoption of the brand’s larger “cascading grille” and slim headlight design, as seen on the latest Santa Fe. Technology updates, lifted from larger Hyundai models, will also feature. I expect the new i20 will use the Korean brand’s latest 8 inch infotainment system (as fitted to the Hyundai i30), while a wealth of safety equipment will be offered as standard, including autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and a driver attention warning system. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR has issued a voluntary global recall notice for its I-Pace electric SUV. Owners of 2018 and early 2019 models have been advised of a fault with the I-Pace’s electrical regenerative braking system, which could result in extended stopping distances. The fault will not present itself except in the event of a failure of the regenerative system, which isn’t an issue that has been reported. The company states that “in the unlikely event of an electrical regenerative brake system failure, affected vehicles do not meet the regulated standard for the time to transition brake force to the friction brake system. This means that the stopping distance may be potentially extended. A brake system software update will ensure that the vehicles meet the regulatory requirements”. Jaguar will not charge owners of affected vehicles for the repair, which it says requires only a short visit to a dealership. This latest recall is the second issued by Jaguar Land Rover in recent months. Around 44,000 2.0-litre diesel and petrol powered models were called back by the company in March amid concerns that they could be emitting excessive levels of CO2. +++ 

+++ It seems that reviving MERGER talks between automotive giants Renault and FCA will depend on overcoming at least 2 major hurdles: repairing Renault’s relationship with Nissan and the willingness of the French state to reduce its stake in its home automaker. The French government agrees to give up its sway over Renault as this would be necessary for the merger talks to be revived. France could for example agree to reduce its 15 % stake after obtaining commitments by FCA on French jobs and plants, according to sources who wished to remain anonymous. Despite failed talks, Renault, FCA and France have left the door open for a possible deal as all entities brace for the costly changes that are about to sweep through the industry, such as the development of electric and autonomous technologies and infrastructures. “The project remains, in my head, absolutely remarkable and exceptional”, Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said. Meanwhile, FCA is still “firmly convinced of the compelling transformational rationale” of its proposal, whereas French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said a merger is an “interesting opportunity” and that talks could resume once Renault’s alliance with Nissan is strengthened. Last week, FCA boss Mike Manley reportedly met with Renault executives in Paris in order to kick start new talks. Perhaps the most promising development was the French finance minister confirming that the state would consider cutting its Renault holding in order to help strengthen the alliance with Nissan. On its part, the Japanese automaker is also willing to accept its partner’s demands for more representation on its board committees. Even so, strengthening the alliance is likely to take time, especially after everything that happened with the arrest of Carlos Ghosn back in November and the ensuing saga, which is far from over. On Nissan’s end of the deal, “playing along” would translate to “yes” votes from the company’s 2 representatives on Renault’s board. The company had officially said it was “not opposed” to a FCA-Renault tie-up, but to Renault and the government of France, the Japanese partner’s lack of enthusiasm for the FCA proposal was enough to inspire cold feet. The French government hedged on FCA’s offer and instructed the company to request more time to review the deal. Officials were concerned due to Nissan’s choice to abstain from voting on FCA’s proposition. Insiders are now convinced that Nissan plans to use its votes as leverage to increase its autonomy. Renault currently owns more than 40 % of the Japanese automaker. Nissan would like to see that stake reduced. But ultimately, it depends on whether the French government wants out. Renault probably wants them out; there have been several clashes in the past and the FCA merger is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the government to bail. It has also been reported that FCA is wary of the French government’s stake in Renault, and would prefer an arrangement that allows for less intervention in situations such as this one. It depends on whether FCA can secure French jobs. Because unions will place the blame for any and all job losses right on the government’s lap. It’s kind of a fine line. It’s doubtful that a FCA-Renault-government alliance can work well in the long term. The same could be said for a FCA-Renault-Nissan alliance if Nissan can’t obtain the independence it wants in the long term. +++ 

+++ Bob Lutz, the retired veteran of the auto industry, was apparently impressed by the fit and finish of a Tesla MODEL 3 he spotted in a parking lot. Lutz’s views of Tesla have been mixed for years but apparently he couldn’t help but praise the EV maker after inspecting a random Model 3 he found sitting in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lutz says that he was eager to see for himself if the wildly reported sketchy assembly work of the Model 3 was real but apparently the car in front of him left him “stunned”. “Not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach”, Lutz writes. “Gaps from hood to fenders, doors to frame, and all the others appeared to be perfectly even, equal side-to-side, and completely parallel. Gaps of 3.5 to 4.5mm are considered word-class. This Model 3 measured up”. Despite praising the manufacturing quality of Tesla’s entry-level model, Lutz added that he remains critical of the company’s business model and Musk’s strategy. He has expressed his concern in the past about Tesla’s inability to turn a profit, criticizing the company’s need to raise more capital due to its high costs but apparently he doesn’t have anything bad to say about the fit and finish of the Model 3. Lutz added that small, even panel gaps require precise design and engineering, modern equipment but also leadership focus, “something that Tesla clearly has”. +++ 

+++ The POLESTAR 1’s initial production run will reach the Volvo subsidiary’s first customers later this year, but you wouldn’t know it based on the intense amount of fine-tuning going at the Hallered Proving Grounds, about 65 km east of Gothenburg. “When it was supposed to be finished it was still not good enough”, said Roger Wallgren, with a smile, when discussing the car on the sidelines of the facility’s handling track during the first test-drives of the Polestar 1 by people outside of the Volvo Car Group. Wallgren, fellow chassis specialist Fredrik Lundqvist and their boss, Polestar 1 lead development engineer Joakim Rydholm, have no recollection of what a typical workday is anymore, and they couldn’t be happier. They want the Polestar 1 to set the ride and handling standard for a brand that didn’t officially exist 2 years ago. The engineers have spent countless hours making sure the Polestar 1, a plug-in hybrid coupe with combined power of more than 600 hp and 1.000 Nm, meets their high-expectations. They, along with Polestar 1 commercial project leader Sofia Björnesson, know what’s at stake with the brand’s debut model. “It’s a halo product. If we don’t do this right …”,  Björnesson said without finishing the thought because she knows the ramifications. “But I’m not worried at all. We will make it. We are making it”. There is a reason why Polestar is confident. Rydholm, Lundqvist and Björnesson were all part of Polestar during its short-lived iteration as Volvo’s answer to BMW M and Mercedes-AMG. In July 2015, Volvo acquired 100 % of Polestar Performance. Prior to the purchase Polestar was an independent tuning firm that Volvo hired to jointly develop high-performance versions of its vehicles. Fast forward to June 21, 2017. That is the day Volvo announced that instead of competing against Mercedes-AMG it would turn Polestar into a stand-alone brand that would be a rival to Tesla and BMW i subbrand. The closest competitor the Polestar 1 has is the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid. “We can still be that competitor to the German premium brands’ successful tuning divisions, we will just use electric performance vehicles instead”, Björnesson said. “We have been working and struggling with this the Polestar 1 for almost 4 years and now it’s a reality. It’s here”. When asked what she was happiest about as the car nears completion she pointed to the team’s relentless pursuit of performance. “They have never given up on tuning a great chassis. We are still working on that, tuning millimeters and micrometers. We want to have a car that defines what Polestar Performance is all about”. To create that definition the team has had its share of tough decisions to make. A couple stood out when Rydholm, Björnesson, Wallgren and Lundqvist gave me a tour of the car. “We initially planned to have electronically controlled dampers”, Wallgren said. “It would have been quite typical”, he said of having an active damping systems that could be adjusted from inside the car by choosing a setting on a touchscreen. “But it didn’t live up to our expectations”, Wallgren said. “What we have is the more hardcore choice”. The Polestar 1 has a dual flow valve solution from Ohlins that make it possible for the driver to adjust the dampers by plus or minus 20 % by turning a gold-colored knob that is under the hood of the car. “It was not an easy decision because there was a lot of market pressure” to have a solution that could be adjusted inside the car, Wallgren said. Added Björnesson: “We also had already communicated what we were going to use electronically controlled dampers, but the dual flow valves fit the chassis and the car’s performance much better”. Another challenge came when picking the tires. Rydholm worked with Pirelli on the specifications. Typically it take 2 rounds of work to get the compound, layers, tread, etc. to the point where the solution will work. Anything more than that gets very expensive. Rydholm said Polestar needed 4 rounds to get the tires to be exactly the way he what them to be. There was no blowback from Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath on the extra cost. “That is the beauty of working at this price point”, he said of the €162,000 coupe. “If we said that is would improve the performance, we got the OK”. +++ 

+++ RENAULT intends to launch new at least 2 new bodystyles of electric models before 2022 as part of its wide-reaching electrification plan, including crossover models. During a presentation of the redesigned Zoe, the brand’s EV sales and marketing boss Emmanuel Bouvier drew up a slide pointing out 2 new electric models in the pipeline that have yet to be named and detailed. When questioned about the models as part of a wider assault on the EV market, Bouvier claimed “our objective is to cover A, B and C segments, with multiple shapes of vehicles”. That would likely include crossover variants in the 2 larger segments. Bouvier also confirmed that the new models would be passenger cars, not commercial vehicles such as the Kangoo ZE. The firm already has the city focused Twizy, the Zoe supermini and, along with the Kangoo, an electric Master panel van. Renault also produces an electric saloon, similar to the long-dead Fluence ZE, as part of a joint venture programme with Samsung in Korea. The City K-ZE is an affordable A-segment electric car that’s targeted primarily at Asian markets but is also under consideration for Europe. While it’s not yet clear which of the further bodystyles are Renault’s biggest priority for electrification, B-segment (supermini-sized) crossovers are selling faster than just about any other category. The firm has a scaleable electric platform, dubbed CMF-EV, that could be used the make battery electric models of different sizes and price points. +++ 

+++ It’s been roughly 6 months since TESLA broke ground at its Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai, China, and already, the electric car manufacturer has started installing production equipment at the site. What’s particularly impressive is that the first couple of months of this year were spent preparing the site and construction only really commenced in earnest in April. In the 3 months since, most of the huge facility has been built. Speaking at Tesla’s recent shareholders meeting, chief executive Elon Musk said he believes Gigafactory 3 is the quickest car manufacturing plant to ever be built and says it is on track to be completed this summer. As work at the site continues, Tesla has started to install the equipment needed for vehicle production, including stamping machines and the paint shop. The company will start building the Model 3 at the site as soon as it’s ready, and by the end of the year, Musk wants the site to be churning out roughly 3.000 Model 3s per week. Meanwhile, the company is looking to increase Model 3 production at its Fremont, California site to 7.000 units per week. Tesla opened the orders books for the Model 3 vehicles it will manufacture and sell in China at the end of May. Prices start at 328,000 yuan ($47,523), including value-added taxes. That’s a hefty 49,000 yuan ($7,091) less than the current Model 3s sold in China which are imported from the United States. Gigafactory 3 will also handle production of Chinese Model Ys. +++ 

+++ The next-generation TOYOTA Land Cruiser is set to go on sale in 2021 and will ditch the V8 engines it’s currently available with. Buyers looking to pick up a current Land Cruiser can opt to have the SUV fitted with a 4.5-liter turbodiesel and a 4.6-liter V8 petrol, depending on the market. However, these 2 engines will be phased out due to ever-tightening emissions standards around the world. Toyota’s head of product planning and development in Australia, Bernard Nadal, recently stated that most brands are “shifting down from V8s” and indicated that Toyota could do the same. “Toyota is clearly a leader in hybrid technology”, Nadal said. “The European brands have gone typically to turbocharging diesel engines. With the struggles they’re having in Europe today, we know a lot of them will move across to turbocharging petrol engines”. The current train of thought is that when the new-age Land Cruiser arrives, it will be offered with both V6 turbo-diesel and V6 turbo petrol engines. The Japanese car manufacturer will then draw on its decades of experience with hybrid technologies by selling the big off-roader with at least one V6 hybrid powertrain. Toyota insists that despite downsizing the engines in the Land Cruiser family, the vehicle will remain as capable as ever. “The current hybrid take-up of Toyotas is amazing. It’s going very, very well for us, not just in Australia but also in key European markets and in America. That’s a fair sign of where we’re going”, Nadal said. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has revealed charging and battery details of its upcoming ID 3 electric hatchback, ahead of production getting under way later this year. The ID 3’s lithium-ion cells have been designed to allow for a charging capacity of up to 125 kW, which puts it ahead of every other mainstream electric car currently on sale. Only premium EVs including the Audi E-tron and Tesla Model X can charge faster. Volkswagen guarantees the batteries will retain “at least 70%” of their usable capacity after 8 years or 160,000 kilometres of use. As part of the company’s roll-out of its new ID electric vehicles, a new range of domestic charging points has been designed to allow owners to fully charge their cars overnight or during a working day. The new wall boxes work with charging capacities of up to 11kW (AC), allowing faster charge times than a conventional 230 volt power supply. A fast-charge point would give the ID 3 roughly 260 kilometres of range in half an hour. The 420 kilometres battery utilised in the ID 3 First will be the middle of 3 battery sizes offered in the ID 3 range, which Volkswagen believes will be the most popular. The €30,000 entry-level version will offer a range of 320 kilometres, with the largest battery allowing for 550 kilometres. It is understood the 3 batteries will be 45, 58 and 77 kWh respectively. The company says it has received pre-orders for more than half of the launch edition versions of its Renault Zoe rival. Customers in 29 European countries have been able to pay a deposit to pre-book one of the 30,000 examples of the ID 3 First models, which will feature a WLTP-certified range of 420 kilometres and will be priced at less than €40,000 in Germany. Deliveries are due to begin in April 2020. In early May, Volkswagen claimed to have received 15,000 pre-orders in a week, with the greatest demand in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden. Each country has received an allocation of ID 3 models. Initial problems with Volkswagen’s IT systems struggling to keep up with heavy traffic from users were shortly rectified. The Golf-sized ID 3 will be officially launched at this year’s Frankfurt motor show, after which those who have pre-booked a First edition will be able to firm up their order. Orders for the general ID 3 production run will also start then. +++

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