Newsflash

0

+++ Continental has not yet spun off its powertrain division (to be called Vitesco Technologies) but the supplier is already displaying some of the technologies it hopes to pitch to automakers in the coming years. Chief among them is a 48 VOLT drive system that Continental says allows full-electric operation without the complexity, cost and weight of a typical high-voltage hybrid. The system consists of a new 30 kW, water-cooled electric motor positioned between the combustion engine and the transmission, and power electronics that Continental says have been optimized to handle higher currents and are more efficient. Even though the system is 48 volt rather than high-voltage, as in a conventional hybrid, Continental says it does not consider it to be a “mild” hybrid because of its ability to operate in electric-only mode. Executives would not provide range figures, but say they expect CO2 emissions reductions of around 20 %, compared with 10 % for a current 48 volt mild hybrid system. Lower CO2 emissions means the drive will also improve fuel economy. Top speed in electric-only mode is 80 to 90 km/h. Stefan Lauer, project manager for advanced development in Continental’s powertrain division, said the system was suited for minicars as well as small and compact cars. “We expect to see a distribution of electrification solutions”, he said, adding that midsize and larger vehicles would benefit most from a high-voltage plug-in hybrid system. A prototype version of the drivetrain was fitted to a Ford Focus with a 3-cylinder gasoline engine at a Continental technology exhibition here. In a brief test, the car started in full electric mode and remained there in urban driving conditions. Pressing firmly on the accelerator activated the gasoline engine. Other companies are developing hybrid systems with the same goals. Renault will introduce its 12-volt E-Tech hybrid powertrain, with 2 small electric motors connected to the gearbox, on the new Clio early next year. Continental has taken the first steps toward spinning off its powertrain unit under the name Vitesco Technologies, in an effort, the company says, to react more quickly to emissions-driven market conditions. Since April 30, it has operated as a separate business, with a partial IPO now planned for the end of this year, with the start of trading scheduled for 2020. Continental’s powertrain order book stood at €11 billion at the end of 2018, with €2 billion of that for electrification. Vitesco Technologies will be led by Andreas Wolf, who was appointed head of Continental’s powertrain division in September 2018. The new company will have 3 business areas: engine and drivetrain systems, which includes turbochargers, control units, injection systems and exhaust gas treatment; powertrain components, which includes catalytic converters, sensors and activators, and fuel delivery modules; and hybrid and electric vehicles. Wolf said that increasing divergence in regulations from region to region called for more flexibility. “As an independent company, we have more freedom as a business unit to react quickly and individually to the many different requirements”, he said in a news release this week. The powertrain spinoff is the first step in a planned realignment of Continental, with automotive sales of €33.5 billion in 2018. In addition to the 48 volt high power drive system and new power electronics, Continental also displayed its third-generation electric axle drive, which will appear in a small car for the European market as well as several compact SUVs from Asian automakers, the company said. +++ 

+++ Key players in BATTERY PRODUCTION , including automakers and trading houses from North America to Europe, are becoming increasingly concerned about future shortages of key materials needed for electric vehicle batteries as production soars, according to an Australian supplier. Clean TeQ Holdings, the developer of the Sunrise nickel-cobalt-scandium project in Australia, says more than a dozen parties have now expressed interest in taking up as much as a 50 % stake in the project, CEO Sam Riggall said. They include companies in regions that until recently had shown less impetus to tie up raw material supplies. “It’s dawning on North America and Europe that there’s a raw materials issue that needs to be addressed here”, Riggall said. “For the previous 2 years, I’ve been wearing out a lot of shoe leather and banging on a lot of doors trying to get interest in Europe and North America with very little success. In the last 6 months things have changed quite dramatically”. Volkswagen in May picked Sweden’s Northvolt as a partner to start production of battery cells for electric cars, while the German and French governments have pledged funding and political support for efforts to spur a European battery manufacturing industry. In the U.S., the number of battery electric models available to consumers is forecast to double by the end of 2021. Melbourne-based Clean TeQ, which said last month it had appointed Macquarie Group to run a process to identify a partner, is seeking final offers for a stake in the Sunrise project by the end of September and will aim to complete any sale by the end of the year, according to Riggall. China’s grip on lithium ion battery cell manufacturing is forecast to loosen through 2025, as new capacity is added close to demand centers in the U.S. and Europe, BNEF said in a May report. The scale of planned investments in electric lineups means both automakers and related industries in Europe and North America are focusing on how to secure future supplies of battery-grade nickel, and also on ensuring there is sufficient cobalt after the market tightens from about 2021 to 2022, Riggall said. “Their minds are being forced to turn to raw materials”, he said. “They are seeing significant risks on that side of the business”. There is a looming shortage of nickel sulfate, the material used for battery products, with demand forecast to outstrip planned new capacity, BNEF said in a July 2 report. Cobalt demand may also top global supply from about 2025, according to the note. Cobalt prices have tumbled since early 2018 on new supply from incumbent producers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as some battery makers seek to reduce the amount of the metal in their packs. Nickel has declined about 11 % on the London Metal Exchange in the past year. Clean TeQ is targeting commercial production at the Sunrise project, with a forecast mine life of more than 40 years from 2022, Rigall said. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY is “in a rush” to build an electric car, but the technology to do it credibly won’t exist until at least 2025, according to boss Adrian Hallmark. He highlighted customer survey data that shows Bentley owners or aspiring buyers are 30 % more inclined to own an EV than for any other super-luxury brand, plus customer clinic data from a concept that showed its desirability would rise by 30 % if it were a pure EV. “Let me be clear: I am in a rush to build an electric Bentley”, said Hallmark. “As a brand we should be at the forefront, and it is clear that there is absolute demand from certain customers for it, including a new target group of customers who want it, not just to comply with regulations but because it is desirable to them. But the issue is whether we can build a car that meets our values, and today we cannot. The conundrum is getting enough battery power density, getting the battery control modules as efficient as possible and then creating a car that delivers the required aero, rolling resistance and other parameters to be as efficient as possible. “Today, with the technology available, it would be like buying a battery that could only power a light bulb to half its capacity. A battery that was the right size to fit a Bentley wouldn’t give the range required, a battery that gave the range required would make the car too heavy and so on; the equation doesn’t work whichever way you flex it. “We are wrestling with multiple dimensions and it is my belief (and it is an informed estimate not a defined goal) that we will have the capability of building a car with the high performance and high range capabilities that our customers expect by around 2025”. Hallmark indicated that a real-world range of 650 kilometres was a minimum for an electric Bentley, the same as typically available on a tank of fuel for today’s cars. However he also cautioned that solid state battery technology (seen as the next leap forward in battery capability in terms of range) was at least 5 to 10 years away from being industrialised. “Even solid state prototypes are 2 to 3 years away and the first production is likely to be around 20 times the cost of an internal combustion engine, which would add  a huge amount of cost”, he said. Hallmark said there was a need for an improved charging infrastructure to entice his customers to buy electric cars, highlighting the Ionity network’s progress, which the Volkswagen Group is a part owner of along with several other car manufacturers. It is expected to have installed as many chargers in Europe as there are in the Tesla Supercharger network by the end of this year. “The real tipping point will be 800 Volt charging; the prospect of getting 500 kilometres of range in 20 minutes really changes the game”, he said. +++

+++ BMW believes in the internal combustion engine’s future, but it’s nonetheless making significant investments in alternative fuels. The company announced will put a handful of hydrogen-powered X5s in the hands of real-world customers in the early 2020s in preparation for a wider roll out in the middle of the decade. Klaus Frölich, the head of BMW’s research and development department, confirmed the X5’s arrival in an interview. He added the model will be part of a pilot program and it will use new technology, so it will be considerably more expensive than a comparable gasoline-powered or hybrid model. It’s too early to tell whether the SUV will be sold, leased, or available through a long-term rental plan. The X5 will benefit from technology developed jointly by BMW and Toyota. While both companies have a tremendous amount of experience in making hydrogen-powered cars, Frölich argued the technology remains too expensive to mass-produce. “It doesn’t make sense to scale a hydrogen powered X5 when the stack is €80,000. It makes sense to scale when it’s €10,000”, he explained. He didn’t address the elephant in the room: the refueling infrastructure. It’s tiny at best all around the world, and companies are reluctant to invest in it, but the German government has ambitious plans to expand it in the coming years. BMW and Toyota aren’t alone in their quest to make hydrogen-powered cars a reality. Mercedes-Benz already dabbles in the technology, Honda teamed up with General Motors to develop it, while Audi and Hyundai pledged to share drivetrain parts. Hyundai even floated the idea of a high-performance car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. All of these companies see hydrogen-powered cars a viable long-term solution to the problem of range anxiety often associated with electric cars. +++ 

+++ The entry-level CHEVROLET C8 Corvette is set to be powered by a naturally-aspirated 6.2-liter V8 engine known as the ‘LT2’. It has been speculated for quite some time that the new C8 Corvette, set to initially hit the market in entry-level Stingray guise, would use a 6.2-liter V8 engine. Now, sources familiar with Chevrolet’s future product plans have provided details about this powertrain. The LT2 is largely the same as the LT1 6.2-liter V8 found in the existing C7 Corvette Stingray and Grand Sport models. Apparently, Chevrolet has updated the engine’s active fuel management system and made various valving improvements to refine the engine. It is expected to produce between 480 hp and 500 hp, giving it a slight improvement over the 460 hp it offers up in the C7 Stingray Z51 and C7 Grand Sport. Torque is also expected to rise from 630 Nm to around 650 Nm. Chevrolet has also modified the 6.2-liter V8 engine to ensure it fits in between the supercar’s axles as opposed to being mounted up front like the C7. The engine will be coupled exclusively to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Powertrain details about future derivatives of the C8 Corvette remain up in the air, but I anticipate a handful of different powertrains being offered, including a twin-turbo V8 and a twin-turbo V8 hybrid with upwards of 1.000 hp. The Chevrolet C8 Corvette will celebrate its global launch on July 18. +++

+++ CRUISE , a U.S. self-driving vehicle company majority-owned by General Motors (GM), told that a U.S. national security panel approved a $2.25 billion investment in the firm by Japan’s SoftBank. SoftBank has come under increasing U.S. scrutiny over its ties to Chinese firms in the face of an escalating trade and technology war between Washington and Beijing. It is in the process of raising its second $100 billion investment vehicle, dubbed Vision Fund, after deploying its first one of equal size. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals for potential national security concerns, approved the investment based on fresh assurances that Cruise’s technology would be completely off limits to SoftBank, a source familiar with the matter said. A SoftBank spokesman declined to comment. The Treasury Department, which leads CFIUS, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. The approval unlocks a seat for SoftBank on Cruise’s board, formalizing its oversight, and cements key financing for Cruise, which has raised $7.25 billion in capital since last year, the company said. “Today’s news is another important step toward achieving our goal to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles at massive scale”, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said. However, approval for the deal did not always appear certain as CFIUS scrutinized it closely, according to 2 people close to the deal. The $2.25 billion investment was unveiled by SoftBank in May 2018 amid a wave of investments by the Japanese technology and telecommunications conglomerate in artificial intelligence, data analytics, financial services and self-driving cars. The investment raised red flags with CFIUS because SoftBank invests in numerous mobility units, some based in China, and encourages companies it invests in to share information. CFIUS was especially concerned about SoftBank’s co-investments with Tencent Holdings, a Chinese social media and gaming giant, and its investment in China ride-hailing firm Didi, which it fears could take technology from Cruise, sources said. The committee, emboldened by a law last year aimed at strengthening the inter-agency panel, has flexed its muscles increasingly against Chinese companies as Beijing and Washington remain locked in a heated trade and technology row. The Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech has been seeking to sell Grindr, the popular gay dating app, after CFIUS said its ownership posed a national security risk. CFIUS halted a plan last year by Ant Financial, owned by the chairman of China’s internet conglomerate Alibaba, to acquire MoneyGram International. The Cruise deal was structured to allow $900 million of the investment to be disbursed initially, with the remainder provided once Cruise autonomous vehicles are ready for commercial deployment and contingent on regulatory approval. The 2 tranches would combine to give SoftBank a nearly 20 percent stake in Cruise. However, the Japanese firm separately announced a joint investment with GM, T. Rowe Price, and Honda of $1.15 billion earlier this year, further boosting its stake. Softbank’s investment, followed by Honda’s announcement in October that it will pour $2.75 billion into Cruise, is still one of the biggest and most high-profile investments in self-driving technology to date. Its Vision Fund, the world’s largest technology fund, unveiled a $1.5 billion investment in China’s top used car platform, Chehauduo Group, in February. The same fund was hiring an investment team based in China to boost its presence in one of the world’s most vibrant tech markets. It is not the first time SoftBank has gone through a protracted CFIUS review. It has had to accept U.S. restrictions on how it runs some of its companies, including wireless carrier Sprint Corp and investment firm Fortress Investment Group. SoftBank lost its claim to 2 seats on the board of Uber when the ride-hailing giant floated in the stock market in May. SoftBank never received permission for the board seats from CFIUS following an agreement in 2017 to invest $9 billion in Uber. The autonomous vehicle industry could revolutionize transportation but faces engineering, safety and regulatory challenges, as well as skepticism among potential users. GM Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo are often described as leading the pack of technology and auto companies competing to create self-driving cars and integrate them into ride services fleets. +++ 

+++ DODGE will invest in various forms of electrification to ensure stricter emissions regulations don’t neuter its cars, according to one of its top executives. “I think the absolute future is electrification of these cars. That’s not necessarily bad. It could be battery electric, it could be plug-in hybrid, it could be regular hybrid, could be e-axles, any one of the number of electric technologies. But I am a firm believer that electrification will be the key to high performance in the future”, affirmed Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger cars for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), in an interview. Kuniskis spoke after Dodge revealed the wide-body variants of the Charger Scat Pack and Charger Hellcat, and he was referring to high-end variants of the company’s mainstream models. His comments come shortly after insiders revealed the Challenger Hellcat was in line to receive some form of electrification. The cost of electrification technology remains a problem. Dodge hasn’t launched an electrified performance car yet because the technology remains too expensive. “We don’t have the price points of the batteries down to a place where, quite honestly, it’s a mainstream proposition”, he explained. He acknowledged going hybrid adds a level of performance not available in a muscle car with a big V8; he cited the Porsche 918 Spyder, the Acura NSX, and the Ferrari LaFerrari as examples. “There’s absolutely a performance advantage to it, it’s just a question of when the consumer acceptance is going to be for that. And, I think it’s going to be as soon as the price points come down, it becomes a mainstream viable option”, he concluded. His comments suggest the current variants of the Charger and the Challenger will not go hybrid before the end of their production run. However, their successor is believed to be in the works, and those models will receive some form of electrification. They’re expected to arrive in the early 2020s. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) has reached a supply deal with transmission manufacturer ZF to use a new 8-speed automatic transmission in its future rear and allwheel drive vehicles with front-longitudinal engine configuration. This gearbox uses an integrated electric drive and will work with virtually any car in FCA’s range with a front-longitudinal layout. The transmission can also be used in plug-in hybrid vehicles and while FCA has yet to specify which of its models will get the transmission, it is expected to find its way into some of the company’s largest models. Production of the new transmission is set to commence in 2022 and will be built at the company’s factory in Saarbrücken, Germany. At a later date, the gearbox will also be manufactured in other locations, including the United States and China. “We are pleased being nominated as global transmission supplier by FCA. This is our second major order for the new 8HP and it confirms our strategy to focus on plug-in hybrids as an every-day solution and to develop attractive products in these areas”, ZF chief executive Wolf-Henning Scheider said. ZF says this is the second largest order in its history and comes just 3 months after it inked its largest single order with BMW to supply its latest-generation 8HP transmission. Some car manufacturers are starting to shift away from dual-clutch transmissions towards those supplied by ZF. BMW, for example, only sells the new M5 with ZF’s 8HP torque converter transmission as opposed to the old dual-clutch. Not only is the ZF unit cheaper, bt it is also more reliable and can easily support the power and torque figures of most of the industry’s turbocharged engines. +++

+++ Volkswagen will naturally follow up the imminent introduction of the new GOLF with an all-new GTI model. Tipped to be shown a few months after the standard hatchback in the middle of 2020, the GTI promises performance upgrades and, in line with the rest of the Golf range, a weight reduction. The design adopts the familiar cues of previous GTI models to mark it out from the mainstream version. These include different front and rear bumpers with larger air intakes, chunkier wheels and tyres covering larger brakes, the familiar split dual-exit exhaust and a rear spoiler. In a reversal of original plans, Wolfsburg as decided not to make a more radical switch to hybrid power. Instead, the 8th generation Golf GTI is set to stick with much of the hardware that has made the 7th generation model such a success, both critically and commercially. That means an updated version of the Audi-developed EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine used in the existing Mk7 Golf GTI. Again, like the current car, it will be offered with two power outputs: a standard output of around 255 hp and a more powerful 290 hp model badged TCR, which will replace the current Performance version of the GTI. The TCR badge has been used for the first time on a run-out version of the current Golf GTI and is designed to improve the link between the model and the firm’s GTI TCR racing car. An increase in torque of today’s 2 versions of the GTI is claimed to establish new levels of performance. In the case of the higher-spec model, it is said the 0-100 km/h time will be less than 6.0 seconds and the top speed of 250 km/h. Gearbox choices will include carry-over versions of today’s 6-speed manual and 7-speed dual-clutch items. As recently as last October, Volkswagen had planned to switch the Golf GTI to mild-hybrid power as the performance flagship of a new range of IQ-badged petrol-electric mild-hybrid models. That system is also based around the EA888 engine, and is due to be revealed this year. However, it will not now be used on the Golf GTI, under the instruction of VW Group chairman Herbert Diess, who reversed the decision of his predecessor Matthias Müller. The transversely mounted 2.0-litre 4-cylinder powerplant will be mated to an electric motor and 48 Volt electrical architecture. It is a set-up VW plans to mirror on the smaller 1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel units to be used by the next Golf, due to receive a public debut towards the end of this year after being delayed from an expected Frankfurt debut in September. The original plan had been to improve the Golf GTI’s low-end response with electric boosting. Additionally, the technology was to bring a coasting function that idles the engine on a trailing throttle and a recuperation system that harvests kinetic energy during braking. However, VW’s about-turn on hybrid technology should lead to a similar character to today’s car. The new Golf GTI is underpinned by a further-developed version of the existing model’s MQB platform, featuring a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension in combination with adaptive damping control. Engineers involved in the new car’s development say a lot of attention has been focused on steering accuracy. The electro-mechanical set-up of the outgoing model has been heavily reworked to provide it with added levels of feedback and a more direct ratio. The GTI’s exterior styling isn’t likely be a major departure from what has gone before, but insiders have hinted that the car will have a more extrovert, aggressive look, most significantly around the front grille, which is expected to feature a deeper vent section, and new, slimmer front headlights that take advantage of the latest LED technology. Around the car’s rear wheels, enhanced shoulders are expected to give the car a sportier stance. Buyers will be restricted to just one bodystyle: a 5-door hatchback. The 3-door will no longer be produced. Changes inside include a new digital cockpit with an optional head-up display unit and new switchgear, including a centre console featuring a stubby T-shaped gearlever for DSG-equipped versions. The new GTI is also expected to follow the mainstream model and get a technical overhaul. Most significantly, this includes the integration of a new, larger central digital screen that will have some touch functionality, but also a new tactile control system designed to make the most common control adjustments easier. +++

+++ A multitude of all-electric Volkswagen models will hit the market in the coming years and, according to the car manufacturer, it is hoping to initially attract early adopters to ensure their success. During a recent interview, Volkswagen chief marketing office Jochen Sengpiehl said that the brand’s early EVs won’t be targeted towards innovators like Tesla models are. “Using social demographics and psychographics we have identified for the first time a global target audience that we call ‘aspirational middle class’ ”, Sengpiehl said. “With all innovations, however, you have this diffusion curve. The Golf appeals to the masses. Tesla appeals to innovators. After the innovators come the early adopters. We want to target those early adopters. That’s why our communication is more edgy than with our conventional cars. If you catch the early adopters, the others will follow”. According to Sengpiehl, these early adopters are younger than typical buyers of a combustion engine car, earn very good money, often work at startup companies, are well educated and live in urban environments. The first model in VW’s range of electric vehicles is the ID.3 hatchback. Set to be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the ID.3 is similar in size to the Golf and will be sold in a number of different forms. The entry-level model will be capable of traveling up to 330 km on a single charge, while the top-of-range model will be able to drive up to 550 km between charges. +++ 

+++ When BMW picked Harald KRÜGER to run the company more than 4 years ago, he was the perfect candidate. Young, with a personable manner and decades of experience across the company, Krüger appeared ready to guide the venerable luxury maker into a future of electric, self-driving and shared automobiles. But 2 weeks before his contract came up for renewal, Krüger quit. Instead of leading the company through the biggest upheaval in a generation, he was felled by the transition as he failed to provide a roadmap to the future. In his farewell note, he cited the “enormous exertion” demanded of BMW employees as the company grapples with the unprecedented demands of the shift. In the past few years, the industry “has been shaped by enormous changes, which have brought about more transformation than in the previous 30 years”, Krüger said in the note. Krüger, 53, inherited a company at the top of its game. Under the previous CEO (now chairman) Norbert Reithofer, BMW had outsold Mercedes-Benz and Audi for a decade. The company was a pioneer in full-electric vehicles with the i3 city car introduced in 2013. It was the first major automaker to use lightweight carbon fiber in mass-market models. And its traditional business of sumptuous-but-sporty sedans and SUVs was as robust as ever. But soon after Krüger took over, sales of the i3 hit a wall, calling into question the electric push. The plan to use carbon fiber turned out to be too costly. The strong-willed Reithofer never really exited the stage. The diesel crisis that shook rival Volkswagen sullied the reputation of the entire German car industry, and more recently the U.S.-China trade spat has hit profits. “The path BMW set out for Krüger wasn’t easy”, said Frank Biller, an analyst at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in Stuttgart. “BMW has traditionally picked executives with less emotional flair and more of a technical, engineering background. Car electrification is a very emotional topic”. As Krüger puzzled over how to reinvent BMW for the electric age, it was almost a year before he presented his strategic vision, which was a bust. He delayed BMW’s next major electric car, effectively squandering its leadership in the field. Key engineers quit to set up an electric-vehicle startup. And to help pay for the shift, Krüger doubled down on gas-guzzling, super-charged luxury cars such as the 8-series and full-size X7. At Krüger’s first major public appearance, at the Frankfurt auto show in September 2015, the CEO collapsed on stage minutes into a presentation. He blamed the episode on dehydration and too many hours flying, but it was an apt metaphor for his leadership, and the event haunted him with obvious discomfort speaking publicly in the months that followed. The company has since watched Daimler’s Mercedes reclaim the luxury crown. Tesla has become the face of the electric-car revolution. And everyone from Ford to Ferrari is rushing to develop electric models, with scores of new offerings scheduled to hit the market in the next 5 years. “BMW took its head start in electric cars for granted and then failed to hit the accelerator again when needed”, said Christian Ludwig, an analyst at Bankhaus Lampe in Bielefeld, Germany. Krüger’s departure serves as a warning to the new executives running at least a half-dozen of the industry’s top companies. Electric vehicles offer nowhere near the same returns as combustion vehicles. And selling electrics remains a struggle without major incentives as consumers balk at patchy charging infrastructure, high prices and limited driving range. Like Krüger, most of the new executives come from engineering backgrounds. But they will be required to master technology-driven trends such as ride-hailing, while contending with Silicon Valley giants such as Tesla, which is aiming at BMW’s bread-and-butter 3-series and VW’s Golf with its Model 3, and Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet. At Daimler, new CEO Ola Källenius, 50, issued the company’s third profit warning in a year, citing provisions to cover recalls of diesel cars that need upgrades to improve emission technology. He took over from Dieter Zetsche in May. At Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, CEO Mike Manley failed in an attempted merger with Renault that would have delivered much-needed electric technology FCA eschewed under Sergio Marchionne, the long-serving CEO who died last year. Krüger’s likely successor, Oliver Zipse, 55, is another insider with a similar career path. Like Krüger, Zipse worked at BMW’s Mini operations in England, and then served as global head of production. Zipse is a champion of BMW’s strategy of keeping factories as flexible as possible, making hybrid and electric models alongside combustion cars around the world. That aligns him with Krüger, who in May defended his cautious approach on electric cars, saying no one knew how fast they would take over or which technology might win out. “We have taken numerous decisions that we are now bringing to the road”, Krüger said at a June presentation. “By 2021, we will have doubled our sales of electrified vehicles compared with 2019”. +++ 

+++ NIO , the electric vehicle manufacturer that’s been labeled “China’s Tesla”, has ambitions that far exceed its home market. Company founder and CEO William Li revealed in an interview that Nio has plans to expand to Europe, but the main goal right now is to compete with German rivals in China. Li said the automaker has global ambitions. “Yes. We want to be a global brand. We have almost 200 people in Munich, for example. But we are still a very young company and have limited resources”, the executive replied when asked if Europe appealed to Nio. “If we expand abroad, we should be profitable. That’s why we should be very careful when we expand outside of China because it’s very easy to enter a market, but very hard to survive and win”, he added. Li also touched the subject of the ET Preview concept car unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in April. Asked when the Tesla Model 3 rival will go into production, Li did not provide a timeline. “That was just to show the car’s styling. We will gather the feedback and then decide when and how to launch a sedan in that segment”, he explained. Currently, Nio has 2 all-electric SUVs in its lineup, the ES8 and the newer ES6. Starting at around $75,000, the former competes with the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE in China, while the latter, priced from around $52,000, goes against the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Li says Nio has a market share of more than 10 % with the ES8 in China and “that is just the beginning”. The company recently started delivering the smaller ES6 which will help it increase sales further in the world’s largest car market. +++

+++ Before being purchased by the PSA Group, OPEL knew it was facing very serious problems. Among them, its annual operating losses of nearly €1 billion, but also its inability to meet EU CO2 emissions reduction targets, which would have meant massive fines. Now, 2 years later, Opel is both profitable and has a clear plan on how to meet its emissions targets, said the company’s CEO Michael Lohscheller. Still, at the end of last year, Opel’s emissions were far higher than those of PSA’s main brands, Peugeot and Citroen. We’re talking 126 g/km of CO2, as opposed to 108 g/km. Now, their target will be about 94g/km, according to analysts. The way to get there is by purging itself of old GM architectures, as well as rolling out electric and plug-in hybrid versions of its popular models, said Lohscheller. “The new cars on PSA architectures deliver a massive improvement in emissions, and then we bring electrification on top”, said Lohscheller. “To be very clear: we will be compliant as of 2020”. At the end of 2018, most of Opel’s models were still riding on GM platforms. This included the best-selling Corsa, as well as the Astra, Mokka X, Insignia, Adam and Zafira. Meanwhile, average fleet weight was 1,345 kg as opposed to 1,204 kg for Citroën and 1,245 kg for Peugeot. By the end of 2020, this lineup will look very different, especially with an all-new and electrified Corsa riding on PSA’s CMP architecture. Also going electric will be the Grandland X and the next Mokka X, while by 2024, Opel will have electrified versions for each one of its nameplates; whether they be hybrids or fully-electric models. “We have changed a major part of our product portfolio”, added Lohscheller. “Our emissions were relatively high, but that is based on the former portfolio of older products”. It’s safe to say that Opel’s turnaround has been one of the quickest ever witnessed in the automotive industry, where in a couple of years they’ve gone from potentially facing penalties for non-compliant cars, to having a bright future yet again. +++ 

+++ When David landed an assembly line job at Volkswagen’s Bratislava factory, his colleagues congratulated him on securing a well-paid position he could ride to retirement. 2 years later, he is among the 3,000 workers being laid off at the plant that produces the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne in a round of job cuts that has sent shockwaves through SLOVAKIA , the world’s biggest car producer per capita. “All my colleagues were saying there’s nothing to worry about, if I get used to the work load and work pace, the salary will gradually increase and I will have a stable job until retirement”, said David, who declined to give his last name. “And suddenly I get a call from human resources and learn that I’m being let go”. The job losses at the factory, Slovakia’s largest private sector employer, underline the challenges the country faces to keep the engine revving in an industry that accounts for about 12 % of annual economic output and more than 1 in 10 jobs. Competition from lower-cost southeastern European markets, a shift to electric vehicles and global trade tensions are among the headwinds buffeting the small central European nation as automakers mull where to launch future production lines. Volkswagen itself is looking at building a new plant in eastern Europe, with trade publications citing Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey as the most likely locations. While David found a job at another carmaker, the layoffs at the Bratislava plant, which also makes the Audi Q7 and Q8 models, have put the government on alert. “To use a car metaphor, we see a warning light, we don’t need to take the car for a general repair yet”, economy minister Peter Ziga told. “We have 300,000 people working in the car sector (directly and indirectly). Should anything happen to them, it would be serious”. The uncertainty has spurred unions, which have previously pushed for big wage increases, to change tack. “At the moment, we do not focus on salaries, the priority is job stability”, Volkswagen union chief Zoroslav Smolinsky told. “We need to wait out the worse times and wait for the better times”. Seeking to bolster an auto industry that accounts for 44 % of industrial output and 40 % of exports, the government has approved subsidies to boost the sale of electric cars and announced tax breaks of up to 200 % of the amount invested in research and development. But at the same time, moves to raise the minimum wage and increase bonuses for night shifts introduced last year are making Slovakia less competitive, said Jan Pribula, secretary general of the Slovak Automotive Industry Association. “This is the time when companies are deciding who gets new models in 7 years”, said Pribula, whose group represents Slovakia’s 4 carmakers (Volkswagen, PSA, Kia and Jaguar Land Rover) along with suppliers, research institutes and importers. “It is important to send a signal that we are responsible because now we are gradually losing a competitive edge”. Slovakia is not the only central European country facing such challenges. Fellow European Union members the Czech Republic, home to Volkswagen’s Skoda brand, and Hungary, where both BMW and Daimler have plants, rely heavily on investment from foreign automakers. A brewing global trade war is a particular concern for such countries, given their high reliance on foreign trade, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said earlier this month. Deloitte Chief Economist David Marek has said a 25 % tariff on U.S. imports of cars from Europe would cut the revenue of the Czech auto industry by 12 billion crowns ($532 million) a year. Poland, the region’s biggest economy, is betting on electric vehicles, setting a target of having 1 million such cars and vans on the road by 2025 and highlighting a battle for investment as the auto industry embraces new technologies. At the same time, faltering global growth has led some carmakers to put expansion plans on hold, such as Daimler’s announcement in May to postpone an increase in capacity at its Kecskemet compact-car plant in Hungary. “It has been taken for granted that plants like Bratislava would just carry on and produce the next generation model”, Carol Thomas, an auto analyst at LMC Automotive, told. “But we can’t just assume that anymore. Plants will not only have to fight for new models, they will also face greater competition to retain new generations of models they already produce”. So far this year, Volkswagen has scaled back production lines in Bratislava and returned workers borrowed from Hungary’s Audi plant in 2016. “This is the key year that will decide the future of the Slovak factory”, VW Slovak Chief Executive Oliver Grunberg said, adding a decision was expected by the end of the year. “Improvements in Slovakia’s business environment would help increase attractiveness of Bratislava’s plant”. +++ 

+++ TESLA boss Elon Musk has warned that the company’s car pricing will potentially multiply after the company launches its ride-hailing service. The executive recently claimed Tesla’s vehicles will be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over their useful life when operated as part of a fully autonomous robotaxi fleet. The presentation did not answer the obvious question at the time: why would Tesla sell any cars to consumers if they become worth so much more for a taxi service? Musk confirmed the likely price increase when asked if consumers have limited time left to buy a Tesla car before prices “go up severalfold to balance supply and demand” once the company solves full self-driving. “To be clear, consumers will still be able to buy a Tesla, but the clearing price will rise significantly, as a fully autonomous car that can function as a robotaxi is several times more valuable than a non-autonomous car”, he added. The company is still working to make full self-driving a reality. In a separate Twitter thread, Musk said that intersections with complex traffic lights and shopping mall parking lots are the 2 biggest software challenges. “Developer branch already mostly works in these scenarios, but massive effort required to get to 99.9999 % safety”, he said. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will create joint ventures and help finance battery production to persuade skeptical cell suppliers to back its aggressive push for mass producing electric vehicles, board member Stefan Sommer told. VW has said it will buy €50 billion worth of battery cells and has identified Sweden’s Northvolt, South Korea’s SKI, LG Chem and Samsung SDI as well as China’s CATL as strategic partners. “Not every supplier is convinced that electric mobility will come on such a large scale. You need to spend more time convincing them to invest in the auto industry”, Sommer told. Volkswagen said that by 2025, it needs 150 gigawatt hours worth of battery production capacity in Europe and another 150 in Asia. By 2030 this figure will double. “These producers need to prioritize between making a new smartphone or building a new battery factory. So even the battery cell producers are asking: will production volumes scale up quickly?”, he said. The German automaker is retooling 16 factories to build electric vehicles and plans to start producing 33 different electric cars under the Skoda, Audi, VW and Seat brands by mid-2023. Customers have been slow to adopt electric vehicles in large numbers because of the limited operating range and long battery recharging times, and because of a lack of charging infrastructure. This has spooked potential suppliers. “When it comes to normal components, suppliers have the opportunity to sell to other car makers, if VW buys less. But with electromobility we all know: if it does not work for VW, then it won’t work for others”, he said. This is why VW provides suppliers with finance for tooling and shares the risk of installing new production capacity by making new factories a joint venture. “The tendency is to do joint ventures. The suppliers are still asking themselves, is this market going to take off or not? Meanwhile they realize it is an opportunity”, he said. Joint ventures have the advantage of giving VW an early insight into manufacturing progress as a new plant is erected. “We have built up our own expertise, which we share with suppliers, which helps when we build a new plant. It gives us an early indication if there are teething problems”, Sommer said. “We have not been able to build as many cars as we wanted to. Our supplier is not delivering the numbers that we need”. From 2021 Volkswagen will use electric battery cells using a composition of nickel, manganese and cobalt in a ratio of 8:1:1, Sommer said, adding that one supplier was still using a ratio of 6:2:2. For the Chinese market, Volkswagen sees potential for using lithium Iron based batteries, known as LFP. These have lower energy density than NMC cells, but Chinese drivers tend to stay within large cities and do not travel long distances by car. “The necessity for a long operating range is less important in China”, Sommer said. Solid state electric battery cells will replace NMC cells and become mass production ready in the second half of the 2020’s, Sommer said. “Solid state cells can be made in existing battery factories. It will be the same producers and the same factories where solid state batteries are made”, Sommer said, adding that round 60 % of the tools can be reused for next generation cells. Volkswagen may even build its own battery cell manufacturing plants in China, Sommer said, but added that for now the car maker is relying on its Chinese joint venture partners FAW, SAIC and JAC to find suitable battery suppliers. +++ 

+++ WAYMO is trialing in-car Wi-Fi and installing car seats in every minivan to help distinguish its self-driving taxis from traditional ride-sharing alternatives. The new features follow a recent move to launch ad-free music streaming via Google Play Music. “Whether you want to catch up on emails or jam out to some of your favorite tunes using our music integration, we encourage riders to make this space their own”, said spokeswoman Julianne McGoldrick. Most riders are presumably using their own cellphones which would not need Wi-Fi, though some could take advantage of wireless connectivity to do work on laptops. Waymo is still limiting rides to a small patch of Phoenix suburbs, with human safety drivers behind the wheel. The company has not announced a time-frame for expanding into additional territories. +++

Comments are closed.