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+++ According to a series of teasers posted on social media by ALPINE , a new model (which in all likelihood is a more extreme variant of the of the A110), will be “coming soon from Dieppe to Le Mans”. It’s thought to be a track-focused model that will make its premiere at the famous endurance race, which takes place on June 15-16. The rumored name is ‘A110 GT4’. It will feature a different hood and smaller front splitter, along with a compact rear wing. The biggest change will be the added power, with the 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine expected to kick out 300 hp and 400 Nm, like the mill powering the Renault Megane RS Trophy and Trophy-R. That would make it 48 hp and 80 Nm more powerful than the regular A110, and while it would not be prudent to talk numbers, the extra oomph and some weight reduction measures should yield a noticeable improvementover the 4.5-second 0-100 km/h acceleration time of the base version. +++ 

+++ APPLE ’s interest in autonomous vehicles is well known and a new report says the company is in talks to buy Drive.ai. Nothing is official, but Apple wants to acquire the struggling company to boost its own autonomous driving program. The deal is being billed as a so-called “acqui-hire” as Apple appears to be mainly interested in Drive.ai’s engineering talent. As a result, the purchase could see dozens of engineers added to Apple’s program. There’s no word on how much money Apple is willing to pay, but Drive.ai was valued at approximately $200 million 2 years ago. The company has struggled since then and has reportedly been looking for a suitor for months. Apple and Drive.ai wouldn’t comment, but autonomous vehicles require significant capital to develop and the path to profitability is murky at best. That’s one of the reasons the industry is dominated by big names such as Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise Automation. Drive.ai is much smaller than either of the aforementioned competitors and it operates a fleet of autonomous vans in Arlington and Frisco, Texas. Unlike Waymo’s ride-hailing service, Drive.ai’s vehicles have fixed pick-up and drop-off locations. While Apple cut 200 employees from its autonomous driving program earlier this year, the company continues to work on the technology. At the time, a spokesperson told: “We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple”. They went on to say “We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever”. +++ 

+++ General Motors (GM) unveiled an AUTONOMOUS prototype without a steering wheel in 2018, and had plans to begin testing the vehicle this year. As part of the effort, the company applied for an exemption to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. However, that process has taken longer than expected and the company’s petition has received pushback from a number of groups including AAA and The Center for Auto Safety. The process is still ongoing, but it appears GM won’t move ahead with its original plan. GM’s vice president of autonomous and electric vehicle programs revealed: “Until we have exemptions, which we filed a petition for, and / or law changes, we probably wouldn’t go forward with Gen 4 vehicles”. Doug Parks went on to say Gen 3 and Gen 4 vehicles are virtually identical, except the former have manual controls that can be operated by a safety driver. As a result, it now appears GM’s autonomous driving service will be launched with more conventional Gen 3 vehicles. The news comes at an interesting time as a demonstration of Cruise Automation’s autonomous driving technology went horribly wrong. Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo was taking a ride in an autonomous prototype when the “car’s software suddenly turned itself off even as the car kept moving”. A safety driver was forced to take control of the vehicle and bring it a halt. Multiple attempts to reboot the system reportedly failed, so a second vehicle was sent to get Hachigo so he could finish the demo. The failure had to be embarrassing as Honda and GM announced a partnership in 2018 to push for the “large-scale deployment of autonomous vehicle technology”. As part of this effort, the companies will work together to develop a purpose-built autonomous vehicle for Cruise Automation. On top of this, Honda also made an equity investment in Cruise and promised to give the company approximately $2 billion over the course of the next 12 years. +++ 

+++ Russian state conglomerate Rostec plans to reduce its stake in carmaker AVTOVAZ to 25 % by selling a stake to Renault. Rostec may use proceeds from the sale of new Avtovaz shares to add capital to the carmaker, CEO Sergey Chemezov said. “We will invest funds, received from the sale, more than 10 billion roubles ($154.20 million), in Avtovaz development. French partners will make an investment as well”, Chemezov said. He added that Renault will invest about 3 times more than Rostec. +++ 

+++ BMW sees no reason to change its plans for Mexico in the wake of U.S. threats to slap duties on Mexican imports, a board member of the German carmaker said, adding the company sells cars globally despite tariffs placed by most countries on imported vehicles. The automaker also foresees no immediate change to its investment plans for North America, said Oliver Zipse, BMW board member in charge of production. Zipse was in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi for the inauguration of a $1 billion BMW plant. BMW is producing its 3 series at the San Luis plant, which started up in April and has a capacity of up to 175,000 vehicles per year. The company plans to ship 2,000 vehicles to the United States from the new Mexican plant in April to July.  “It will increase our already strong footprint in North America and provide us with further model variety in addition to our big SUV”, said Zipse. Asked if BMW will try to lobby U.S. officials to drop the tariffs, Zipse suggested that the company will let its robust presence in the United States do the talking. He noted BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is its largest in the world, with 14,000 direct employees. +++ 

+++ CUPRA ’s range expansion will gather pace in 2020, with a hot version of the next-generation Seat Leon to arrive as part of a 7-strong line-up. The performance Leon, previously badged as a Seat, will adopt the new branding alongside bespoke styling and badging compared with the regular Leon, due to be revealed later this year. Key details that will mark it out from the standard family hatch include twin exhaust tailpipes, a lower ride height, bigger air intakes, sporting wheels, a unique bodykit, a deeper rear diffuser and a larger rear wing. We can also expect to see a unique chassis and suspension setup along with a set of upgraded Brembo brakes. Details of the car’s powertrain remain under wraps, but we don’t expect the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine to go beyond the 310 hp offered by the current hottest model, the sold-out Leon Cupra R. 4-wheel drive may be offered as standard given the power output, but lesser-powered, cheaper front wheeldrive variants could also be introduced. The Seat sub-brand revealed the Formentor coupé-crossover earlier this year, the first model developed primarily as a Cupra. It’s due to go on sale in early 2020. That model joins the Cupra Ateca, along with the Seat Leon Cupra, which was launched before Cupra was spun off into its own brand. Asked about Cupra’s future plans, marketing boss Khaled Soussi said: “We are working on our product strategy, but I can confirm that by the end of 2020, we’ll have 7 cars, including special models, on the streets”. According to Soussi, the ‘special models’ include special editions and ‘halo’ cars. Soussi reaffirmed that the current Leon Cupra will continue to carry a Seat badge, but he said: “With the next generation of Leon, we will have a Leon with a Cupra logo. All our cars from now will have a Cupra logo”. Soussi said decisions over whether Seat models would gain a Cupra-branded version would be made on “a case-by-case basis”. He added: “We are looking at every single car and we are assessing the potential of the car and taking into consideration target customers we want to reach”. Soussi also said no decision had been made about whether Seat could launch its own version of the Formentor. “The Formentor is a car developed specially for Cupra. But we work in the same group and look for synergies for both brands. But at this stage, presenting the first Cupra car, we’re not yet there to think about whether we make a Seat version of this”. Cupra boss Wayne Griffiths confirmed that the Leon will also use the same powertrain first seen in the Cupra Formentor concept. It will comprise a 1.4-litre TSI engine with an electric motor and produce “up to 245bhp and less than 50g/km of CO2 emissions”. However, Griffiths suggested that Cupra could push the Leon’s power output higher than the Spanish brand’s performance coupe-SUV, stating: “We have to look as well at performance hybrids. At the moment, the combined performance is good but we could do even more. There’s a lot of stuff we could look at; an electric rear-axle drive, for example”. Griffiths also explained that discussions are “ongoing” about an all-electric Cupra-branded model based on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB architecture. “It would have to fit with Cupra values”, he said, “but in terms of acceleration at least, all-electric vehicles are already there”. +++

+++ There may be a growing number of car manufacturers venturing into the world of ELECTRIC vehicles (EVs), but turning consistent profits while building such vehicles isn’t easy, as Tesla can attest to. General Motors (GM) thinks it can do things different. The car manufacturer is embarking on an ambitious plan to sell 20 electric models globally by 2023, and GM president Mark Reuss believes EVs will soon have the same price as conventional gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. “We’re going to reach parity a lot sooner than people think”, he said. “Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) compliance will become expensive. All these things and more will lead to greater consumer acceptance of EVs, plus they are going to be great cars”. Reuss says the company is driving down the costs of batteries and cars and will eventually start making money by selling EVs. No company knows better than Tesla about how hard it is to make money selling electric vehicles in this day and age. The Californian company has recorded a few profitable quarters in recent years, but its performance has been patchy at best. Its Model S and Model X are also luxury vehicles, and thus priced way higher what most EVs from GM are expected to cost. The average price of a new vehicle today in the United States is about $37,000, which is on par with the sticker price of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt (Opel Ampera e-). Still, right now GM loses thousands of dollars on each Bolt it sells, so this is not a fair comparison. A basic ICE-powered hatchback or sedan similar in size to the Bolt can be purchased for under $20,000, showing that there is still some way to go before parity is met. +++ 

+++ The blame game over the breakdown of FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) and Renault’s €35 billion merger will soon pass. The enduring question is whether the 2 automakers have better options than combining with each other. Returning to the table still looks like the least painful way forward. FCA walked, citing French politics. Its 50:50 merger proposal was clearly not far from being an acceptable deal. The terms offered a financial premium and pledges to safeguard jobs, while identifying savings for Nissan, Renault’s existing partner. FCA has to protect its own shareholders (its withdrawal reminds the world they matter, too) but the automaker was wise to leave the door slightly ajar. Neither FCA nor Renault have a plan B that looks quite as attractive industrially. For the former, the alternative European move looks to be a merger with PSA Group. Crunch the 2 together at today’s market values and PSA’s shareholders would own 51 % of the combination, giving them a smidgen more of the value creation and the impression of getting the better side of the deal. Paris might feel that is an easier transaction to sell to the French public, especially as FCA’s average market value over the last 6 months has been slightly higher than PSA’s. Yet it’s hard to believe that PSA would be a better cultural fit than Renault. That is a paramount consideration for a complex merger integration. FCA’s talks with Renault evolved speedily from an initial discussion about an industrial partnership. Even if you didn’t believe the companies would ever fully achieve the €5 billion of annual synergies FCA identified, the benefits would be still be considerable. What’s more, Renault’s alliance with Nissan means the scope for savings could be well beyond what might be possible with PSA. For Renault, a transaction with FCA remains the most credible near-term way of narrowing the discount to its theoretical value. If you subtract the value of the French automaker’s stake in Nissan, its cash and other investments, shareholders put no value whatsoever on its actual business of making vehicles. True, Renault has the possibility of expanding industrial ties, and possibly merging, with Nissan. But it cannot ignore the market reaction to the FCA proposal. Shares of Renault, FCA and PSA are all up slightly from where they were before talks leaked 12 days ago, baking in some lingering hope of consolidation. Renault stock, however, is up the most. That might be the market waking up to its undervaluation. More likely, it’s a recognition of what the company stands to gain if consolidation remains possible. Choreographing a comeback will not be easy. This is a battle to be the master of Renault while making a transaction look like a merger of equals. Any final agreement would probably have to look like it was brokered by Paris. What will matter for investors is whether continued government interference prevents decisions from being made on a commercial basis. Under FCA’s first proposal, the 2 companies would nominate 4 directors each. The French state would be excluded from the boardroom and see its voting rights fall from just under 30 % to 7.5 %, in line with its economic stake in the combined company. Giving it 1 of the 4 board seats, while still diluting its voting power, could be a tolerable a compromise to get a deal done. France’s influence would still be reduced relative to today, which might just persuade Italy against trying to acquire a stake and a matching seat. After all, France and Italy are going to make life difficult for these companies either way, whether they are in the board room or not. Leave it to the market to punish the stock accordingly. +++

+++ FORD is ready to sell its idle Russian plants and sees interest from potential buyers, the carmaker’s Europe chairman said in St. Petersburg. The company had announced in March that its Russian joint venture Ford Sollers would close 2 assembly plants and an engine factory in Russia, exiting the country’s passenger vehicle market. “We are open to discuss potential sales to other companies”, said Steven Armstrong. “We have had interest from a number of different companies”. +++ 

+++ The Finance Minister of FRANCE , Bruno Le Maire, said his country is ready to cut its stake in Renault in order to consolidate Renault’s partnership with Nissan. Le Maire said Paris, which has a 15 % stake in Renault, might consider reducing its stake, if it led to a “more solid” alliance between the Japanese and French firms. “We can reduce the state’s stake in Renault’s capital. This is not a problem as long as, at the end of the process, we have a more solid auto sector and a more solid alliance between the 2 great car manufacturers Nissan and Renault”. Le Maire had earlier said the French government was open to tie-ups involving Renault as long as French industrial interests were protected, and would consider any Renault deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that respected the French firm’s alliance with its Japanese partner Nissan. FCA abandoned its $35 billion merger offer for Renault, blaming French politics for scuttling what would have been a landmark deal to create the world’s third-biggest automaker behind Toyota and Volkswagen. The French government had welcomed the merger plan, but overplayed its hand by pushing for a series of guarantees and concessions that eventually exhausted the patience of FCA, sources told. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS chief executive Mary Barra has defended the company’s proposed sale of its shuttered Lordstown, Ohio, factory to EV maker Workhorse. The initial announcement came as a surprise, as Workhorse is a little-known player in the EV market. Later reports suggested the company has been operational for 12 years but has only delivered a few hundred vehicles and would likely need $300 million in additional funding to repurpose the GM factory. Workhorse’s apparent fragile financial state and the widespread criticism over GM’s plan to close the factory had naturally led to speculation that the proposed sale was more of a public-relations move than a viable business decision. “We remain thinking it’s a strong possibility and think people should focus on opportunity and maybe every now and then a little optimism wouldn’t hurt anyone”, Barra told. When asked directly if the move was a PR stunt, the executive claimed “We vetted many opportunities”. Workhorse is among a short list of finalists that could win the contract to replace the US Postal Service delivery truck fleet, though the deal is far from certain. The company has also shipped vehicles to private shipping companies such as UPS and DHL. Again, however, it is unclear if these exploratory sales will lead to a big contract that would require a production facility as big as Lordstown. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is positioning its EQ C as an affordable alternative to the larger Tesla Model X and Audi e-Tron. Mercedes is aiming the crossover at customers who plan to purchase their first electric vehicle. By eliminating expensive features typically offered in the midsize crossover segment such as continuously variable air suspension, engineers were able to reduce the EQ C’s pre-tax starting price to less than €60,000, allowing it to qualify for government subsidies in countries such as Germany. With taxes in Germany the EQ C costs €71,281 while in the same market the Model X starts at €85,300 and the e-Tron at €82,350. The EQ C, Mercedes’ first mass-market EV, comes with a range certified at up to 374 to 417 kilometers under the new WLTP test cycle and the battery’s storage can be replenished to 80 % in 40 minutes using a DC fast-charging station. “We expect a large number of EQ C buyers, perhaps roughly half, will purchase it as a second car”, said Jörg Heinermann, head of sales & marketing for the Mercedes’ EV line. While project managers hope they can poach Tesla owners, they acknowledge that the main purpose of the EQ C was to prevent any further loss of Mercedes customers to rivals with EVs in their showrooms. “Tesla is a generation further with its Model 3”, a project engineer conceded. Heinermann believes the EQ C will be a winner in Europe, particularly in prestige markets such as Switzerland where conversations with dealers suggest that some customers had been waiting for an electric Mercedes before giving up their combustion-powered drivetrains. The vehicle is equipped with an 80 kWh lithium ion battery that weighs 652 kg and feeds an induction motor over each axle. Combined, the battery and motors provide total output of 408 hp and 760 Nm. The EQ C goes to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds but engineers have limited its top speed to 180 km/h to conserve range. Particular attention was paid to the vehicle’s noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Each electric motor is mounted on 2 separate sets of rubber bushings to better insulate the passenger cabin: one where the drivetrain connects to its subframe and the other where the subframe connects to the body. Plenty of sound dampening foam and fabrics such as felt have been added, even in the rear wheel arches, smoothing out all spikes in noise frequencies across the bandwidth spectrum from low to high. Sturdy yet light aluminum beams along the side sills protect the battery from side impacts while structural reinforcements were made to the car’s front and rear. Deformable crumple zones in the battery’s frame absorb as much additional energy as possible to ensure the modules themselves remain undamaged in the event of a crash. A small plough under the car near the front axle acts to clear debris away, preventing shocks to the car’s underbelly that could also pose safety risks. If the EQC is in an accident, the battery automatically shuts down, reversibly or irreversibly depending on severity of the crash. There are also shutdown points where emergency teams can deactivate the high-voltage system manually. +++ 

+++ The collapse of merger talks between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Renault marks a setback for a tight network of current and former Goldman Sachs bankers who sidelined NISSAN as they tried to convince the French political establishment to back the deal. Goldman Sachs had pushed out FCA’s house bank UBS, which was close to the automaker’s late CEO Sergio Marchionne, to lead on the deal for the company. Helping Renault was New York-based Ardea Partners, a boutique advisory firm launched in 2016 by Chris Cole who had spent 30 years at Goldman Sachs including co-chairing the investment banking business. “This deal was cooked up among friends who have known each other for years”, said a source involved in the talks. “But despite their relationship and banking experience, it all fell apart”. Cole was directly involved in the negotiations on behalf of Renault and had Goldman’s chairman of investment banking, FX de Mallmann, as his counterpart representing FCA. The pair worked closely with another former Goldman banker, Laurent Clarenbach, who spent 10 years at the Wall Street bank between 2001 and 2011 and is now a partner at French boutique bank d’Angelin & Co. London-based d’Angelin, launched by French banker Benoit d’Angelin in 2017, was brought in by FCA to help market the €33 billion deal to the French government given his founder’s close ties with French President Emmanuel Macron. The French government owns 15 % of Renault and was immediately seen as a major obstacle to getting a deal done. But advisers at both sides of the negotiating table were bullish about finding an agreement. “Their long-lasting friendship and mutual trust played a role in keeping them upbeat, even when Paris started demanding more control over the merged entity”, one source close to the deal said. Ardea Partners and Goldman often help each other on business and share work for high profile clients. They are currently advising advertising giant WPP on its ongoing sale of data analytics unit Kantar. Ardea’s executive team mainly consists of former Goldman bankers including James Del Favero, who spent 26 years at the Wall Street bank. The Goldman network had been expected to secure the backing of Macron’s government before the deal became public, several sources said, adding Goldman deployed staff from its New York, Paris and London offices in a bid to win France’s blessing. But, this time, Goldman and its allies failed to deliver, amid demands for more control by the French state and resistance from Renault’s alliance partner Nissan, which decided to abstain from a Renault board vote on the deal. “They couldn’t navigate the complexity of this deal and their plan of sidelining Nissan backfired”, the first source said. French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire demanded that, as one of the main conditions for talks to progress, the deal needed the backing of Nissan. But FCA and its banks did not lay the groundwork to secure Nissan’s endorsement, having kept the Japanese automaker in the dark about the merger plan to avoid leaks. “It was an ill-conceived deal from the start”, said a source close to Nissan. “FCA’s advisers thought they could corner Nissan and secure France’s approval in a couple of days. They clearly minimized the risks”. +++ 

+++ NORWAY ’s power grid is likely to need an 11 billion crown ($1.27 billion) upgrade over the next 20 years to meet demand from the country’s growing fleet of electric cars, with consumers likely to have to foot the bill, a study has shown. Electric car (EV) sales in Norway reached a record-high in March, with almost 60 % of new cars sold fully electric, a result of state policy to exclude such vehicles from certain taxes and offer free or cheaper road tolls, parking and charging points. Aiming to end fossil-fueled car sales by 2025, electric vehicles now account for 220,000 of Norway’s total fleet of 2.7 million cars. It aims to have a mostly carbon-neutral fleet on its roads by 2040. In a study conducted for Norway’s power regulator with DNV GL, state-appointed consultancy Poyry said a power grid investment of up to 11 billion crowns would be needed by 2040 if most passenger cars were by then powered by electricity and drivers maintained their current charging habits. “If nothing is done, charging every afternoon to evening seems most likely. In that case, the 11 billion grid cost is paid by all customers”, Poyry’s Norway director Kjetil Ingeberg told. Poyry’s data showed that 60 % of the investment would be for low-voltage grids, 10 % for substations, 28 % for high-voltage grids and 2 % for high-voltage transformers. However, Norway’s drivers could keep costs down by changing their charging habits. Charging car batteries at night would drop new grid costs to almost zero, while charging in the afternoon and only when batteries are relatively empty would require just above 4 billion crowns of investment. If drivers continue to plug vehicles in every afternoon, the average peak demand time will shift to 1700-2000h from 0800-0900h, the study also showed. Poyry estimates that there will be about 1.9 million electric cars by 2040 with a combined annual power need not exceeding 5 terawatt hours (TWh). Erik Figenbaum, a chief researcher in Norway’s institute of transport economics (TOI) sees the power need rising to about 8.8 TWh by 2040 (almost 25 % of today’s total household power consumption in Norway) from 0.8 TWh currently, presuming all cars are electric by then. +++ 

+++ The Taycan EV has been a long time in the making, but PORSCHE is extremely confident about its latest (and greatest?) creation. During a recent interview, chief executive Oliver Blume said the Taycan handles like the famed 911 sports car. “When we set up a new Porsche, we always set the standard for ourselves: the Taycan has to drive like the 911”, he said. “I was recently on our racetrack in Italy. And I’m still excited. We have the advantage in electric mobility that we have a lower center of gravity with the battery than the 911”. Blume went on to add that Porsche’s knowhow when it comes to creating class-leading chassis has allowed it to achieve exceptional driving dynamics when the Taycan is cornering. Porsche will build “well over 20,000” Taycans annually and kick off production in September with less than 10,000 units rolling out of the factory before the end of the year. Additional details about the Porsche Taycan have been emerging in recent months in the lead-up to its global premiere. Most recently, a black and blue prototype was spied testing prior to the vehicle’s global premiere at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September. The Taycan has a very similar design to the Mission-E Concept from a few years ago but obviously doesn’t look quite as wild. Porsche has confirmed that the range-topping Taycan variant will feature a pair of electric motors and produce in excess of 600 hp, allowing the car to reach 100 km/h in less than 3.5 seconds. The car is expected to travel more than 500 km on a single charge. +++ 

+++ RENAULT will reveal the new Zoé later this month. Following the launch of the new Skoda Citigo e iV and Seat Mii electric, Renault will revise it’s all-electric supermini with reworked styling and a range of mechanical upgrades, to keep it competitive in the growing EV market. Styling revisions over the previous model aren’t as drastic as the heavy cladding would suggest, with updates being limited to a new front bumper, a pair of new fog lamps, a fresh front grille and a slightly tweaked rear bumper. A minor interior lift is also likely, with refreshed upholstery and a revised infotainment system. As such, we expect most of Renault’s updates will be found under the skin. Details are still under wraps, but the French firm assures us that the new Zoé will be a “decent upgrade” over the outgoing model. A more powerful electric motor and a larger-capacity battery are expected. Renault is the biggest player in the European EV market and has recently strengthened its position by announcing new Kangoo ZE and EZ-Flex Van concepts. By 2022 Renault ‘s EV portfolio will grow with the addition of a smaller all-electric city car and a larger family-sized hatchback to rival the Nissan Leaf. The first-generation Zoé was a trailblazer when it debuted in late 2012. Back then, EVs were only just beginning to pop up in Europe so the Zoé didn’t have much competition. This helped the electric supermini become the best-selling battery electric in Europe, with more than 110,000 units sold since launch. Today, the landscape is rather different: this year and the one after it will bring an array of new similarly-sized electric vehicles in Europe, including the Honda E, Peugeot e-208, Opel Corsa-e, Mini Hatch Cooper S E, DS 3 Crossback E-Tense and more. Thus, the second-generation Zoé wil thusl need to up its game in the face of increased competition. The new electric supermini could offer a slightly larger battery of 50 kWh and, with it, an improved range of 400 km. Charging capabilities will also take a major step forward with the adoption of 100 kW CCS2 fast charging (22 kW AC charging will still be available). The new Zoé is also expected to gain Level 2 autonomy systems such as Lane Keeping Assist and Active Cruise Control with stop & go capability. All signs point to Renault launching its new EV at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, with sales most likely to commence in early 2020. +++ 

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

+++ TOYOTA will ramp up development of battery-electric vehicles, with plans to launch at least 10 models worldwide from 2020 onwards, including 6 global models based on its new e-TNGA platform. The Japanese firm has brought forward the goal for electrified vehicles to make up half of global sales from 2030 to 2025, in part as a response to the accelerated take-up of such vehicles. As part of that plan, Toyota is aiming to sell at least 1 million EVs or hydrogen-powered vehicles, along with 4.5 million hybrids; a technology the firm has long been a pioneer in. Toyota’s electric vehicle programme will start next year, when the firm will launch electric versions of the C-HR and sister Izoa in China, alongside a Japan-only 2-seat city car. The latter model will have a top speed of 60 km/h and 100 km range on a single charge. It will be followed by other ultra-compact cars and scooters. Toyota is also planning to develop at least 6 variations of global model, including the results of recently announced collaborations with Suzuki and Subaru, based on an electric version of its TNGA platform. Those vehicles will include the compact SUV it is developing with Suzuki, and the medium SUV it is working with Subaru on. Toyota will also develop a crossover, large SUV, saloon and MPV, some of which could also be developed with partners, according to the firm. Toyota’s e-TNGA platform has been designed for flexibility, and can be used to produce cars in front and rear drive, with the motors on the front and rear axles respectively, or twin-motor four-wheel-drive models. As with other EV platforms, the batteries will be mounted under the floor. Toyota has warned that the plans could be slowed by the ability to source enough batteries. It is working with a number of partners to source battery supply, including a new deal with Chinese company CATL. Toyota aims to get half of its global sales from electrified vehicles by 2025, 5 years ahead of schedule. The change illustrates the breakneck growth in the EV market, which is transforming the auto industry, and is also an acknowledgment by Japan’s top car maker that it may not be able to meet demand for batteries on its own. Toyota is now faced with a higher-than-expected demand for cars that use batteries, rather than gasoline, executive vice president Shigeki Terashi told. Also, increasingly stringent emissions regulations require more lithium-ion batteries in the next 5 years than the automaker plans to produce, he added. “We consider ourselves as a maker of electric vehicle batteries, going back to when we developed the battery for the Prius”, he said, referring to the pioneering gasoline hybrid. “But there may be a gap between the amount of batteries we can produce, and the amount of batteries we may need”. Toyota, which already makes batteries for hybrids and hybrid plug-ins, said it will partner with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) and EV maker BYD for battery procurement. However, Terashi said while demand for EVs grows, profits will be slower in coming, given the economies of scale. EV technology has come a long way since 2010, with battery technologies improving and costs coming down. Still, EV sales are expected to trail gasoline hybrid vehicle volumes by 2025, with the former expected to be fewer than 1 million vehicles, Terashi added. The key to creating a profitable battery EV operation could be in combining new mobility technologies, including on-demand ride services, with battery-powered electric cars, he said. Tapping CATL signals a widening of Toyota’s procurement pool. The Chinese firm already has relationships with other automakers such as Honda, Nissan and a multi-billion dollar battery supply deal with Volvo. Toyota has for decades been developing its own lithium-ion EV battery technology and has partnered with Panasonic to develop and make rectangular-shaped prismatic batteries. The automaker, which launched the Prius, the world’s first mass-market “green car” over 2 decades ago, has led in technologies for hybrid and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). Its cars account for more than 80 % of the global hybrid vehicle market. But it has trailed rivals such as Nissan, Volkswagen and Tesla in bringing all-battery EVs to showrooms. Toyota is looking to partnerships with rival automakers and tech firms as It announced it was teaming with Subaru to develop a battery-electric SUV on a platform produced together as they seek to split costs. Toyota is, however, not changing its long-held belief that hydrogen FCVs will be the ultimate zero-emissions vehicles in the future, Terashi said. “We haven’t changed our policy towards battery EVs”, Terashi said. “We are not shifting our focus to prioritize battery EVs, nor are we abandoning our FCV strategy”. The firm has also long espoused the benefits of hybrids and how they are an effective alternative to all-battery EVs, given a fuel efficiency roughly double that of gasoline cars, lower cost and that they do not need charging infrastructure. +++ 

+++ The switch to electric mobility for the masses can’t be done overnight and an automotive giant like VOLKSWAGEN knows that all too well. Europe’s biggest automaker, though, wants to do everything in its power to speed up the transition to electric mobility and that can’t be achieved only by building millions of EVs; the charging infrastructure must also keep up with the increasing number of cars. To that end, the VW Group pledges to install a total of 36,000 charging points in Europe by 2025, of which 11,000 will be developed by the Volkswagen brand. They will be installed at VW plants and at about 3,000 Volkswagen dealerships in large towns and cities. VW will achieve these goals via its charging infrastructure company Elli (Electric Life) and “We Charge” charging service. In doing so, the automaker is also getting involved in the lucrative business areas connected with charging. In total, the VW Group will invest about €250 million at its European locations, including Germany. According to company estimates, 70 % of all charging operations in the future will be carried out at home or work. Therefore, Elli will offer complete charging solutions for companies and consumers to meet these requirements from 2020 onwards, which will range from affordable Wallboxes including installation to appropriate eco-power. At its plants throughout Germany, Volkswagen will install about 4,000 charging points for employees, and many of these will be accessible to the public as well. Under the Ionity umbrella, it will also install about 400 fast charging stations with up to 2,400 charging points along major routes and highways throughout Europe by 2020. Fast charging stations will also be brought to urban areas. The first 28 of them not located on the Autobahn network will be inaugurated in Wolfsburg at the end of June. VW estimates public charging stations will be used for about a quarter of all charging operations. Via “We Charge”, it will allow customers access to more than 100,000 charging points throughout Europe in the future. Finally, the German group plans partnerships with retail chains to allow customers to charge their cars while they are shopping. +++

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