+++ ASTON MARTIN and Lagonda are prepared for the possibility of shared, autonomous vehicles becoming a preferred mode of transport in cities, according to its chief planning officer Nikki Rimmington, and she believes the brands’ future line-up leaves them uniquely positioned to offer innovative solutions. Speaking at the Driving the Future event in London, Rimmington highlighted her belief that the combined impacts of increased urbanisation, a more mobile but ageing population, an expanding pool of millennials and the increasing purchasing power of women will dramatically shift the customer base for Aston Martin and Lagonda in future. Highlighting the shifting requirements of customers in cities (where 70 % of the world’s population are expected to live by 2050) she said: “It represents both challenges and opportunities, but I do believe that our future model line-up, which uniquely among luxury and performance brands covers the spectrum of sports cars, super cars and SUVs, puts us in a position to react. If you look at autonomy it opens up all sorts of possibilities, of which one of the most appealing is being able to get around faster if the systems are there to support it. Owners could live more remotely but travel in faster. But we might also consider opportunities around shared use of cars. Attitudes are changing: for some, owning a car that sits there stationary, losing value most of the time is less desirable, and the prospect of getting in a car that might be a bit untidy from the previous occupant isn’t a deal-breaker. That could be a opportunity. In an busier urban environment than today it might make sense for high-end hotels or businesses to run fleets of autonomous cars, for instance. Those vehicles could still be hugely personalised to the brands they represent, as we’re used to at Aston Martin, so there is absolutely a role for us to play”. Lagonda has already committed to developing an all-electric saloon for 2021 and is also readying an SUV, which is expected to go on sale in 2022. “The luxury landscape is changing, and if you look at Lagonda as a brand developed to innovate and give us flexibility for what customers want us to offer in future, then it’s clear that we have the bandwidth to meet differing needs”, she said. +++

+++ AUDI Sport models are well-known not only for their power but also for their short lifespans. However, the current RS5 Sportback will probably beat a record in this respect as the facelifted version has already been spotted; about a year after the launch of the all-new generation model. Following the reveal of the facelifted A4 earlier this year, Audi wants to refresh its entire A5 lineup as well and the 2020 modelyear RS5 Sportback will be the last to launch. As with the facelifted Audi A4/S4, the A5, S5, and RS5 coupe, convertible, and Sportback models will get refreshed headlights with new LED graphics, a new front bumper with revised air intakes, and a new grille. The treatment will be the most sporty, obviously. At the rear, the RS5 Sportback will get updated taillights with a new LED signature as well as modest changes to the rear bumper. When it comes to the interior, we should expect changes in line with the facelifted A4. The highlight will be the newer MMI infotainment system which ditches the central control knob on the center console in favor of a centrally mounted touchscreen with revised graphics and menus. There’s no information on whether the facelifted Audi RS5 Sportback will bring a power bump or not but it’s likely Audi Sport will continue with the same 450 hp 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 gasoline engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and standard Quattro AWD. We could see the CO2 emissions reduced in some way or another, though. Expect the refreshed Audi RS5 Sportback to debut in late 2019 or early 2020 at one of the major international auto shows, with sales to begin sometime in mid-2020. +++

+++ In the 2+ years since production of the Chiron commenced, BUGATTI has put together 200 examples. Car no. 200 is a limited edition Chiron Sport ‘110 Ans Bugatti’ and was celebrated at the Molsheim facility. Using different shades of blue inside and out, and wearing the French national flag colors, the 200th Chiron ‘110 Ans Bugatti’ is one of 20 type of deal. It also boasts some expensive options, like the Sky View glass roof, and will be shipped to Switzerland. “You can’t feel anything but pride when you see this 200th Chiron emerge from the factory”, commented President Stephan Winkelmann. “Also, this model marks the celebration of our company history and recalls our French heritage”. Each Chiron takes no less than 10 months to build, and the final assembly alone is completed in 8 weeks. In the first year of production, Bugatti made 70 cars, followed by another 76 the following year. In 2019, the automaker expects to complete the making of over 80 examples of the multi-million dollar hypercar. Out of the total production number of 500, less than 100 are still available to order. All versions of the Chiron, from the ‘regular’ model to the Sport and Sport 110 Ans, make use of the same magnificent engine, an 8.0-liter, W16 with quad turbocharging. The output is simply breathtaking: 1.500 hp and 1.600 Nm. The Divo also uses the same power unit in an identical state of tune, although it’s a tad lighter than the Chiron. +++ 

+++ CHINA is likely to see vehicle sales drop again this year as opposed to earlier expectations for zero growth, the country’s biggest auto industry association said, after it unveiled data showing the sector contracted for a 12th straight month in June. The lower forecast by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) comes amid a spate of downward revisions by industry experts, triggered by a prolonged and increasingly pronounced sales slump in the world’s top auto market. Sales in China, where auto demand last year contracted for the first time since the 1990s, could drop by less than 5 % in 2019 if Beijing can effectively implement supportive policies, senior CAAM official Shi Jianhua said. Car sales in China fell 2.8 % in 2018. Despite continued strength in new-energy vehicle (NEV) sales, overall auto sales in China have stayed bleak in the first half of 2019, with 12.3 million vehicles, or 12.4 % less from a year earlier being sold over the period, CAAM data shows. Sales in June fell 9.6 % to 2.06 million vehicles. The government needs to implement new policies to buoy sales, CAAM said, adding measures so far have not been “as effective and strong as consumers had expected”. China has since January been trying to boost consumption of wide-ranging goods as the world’s No.2 economy slows further in 2019 amid a bruising trade spat with the United States. But its measures to spur car sales have disappointed as they included no plans to relax controls over the issuance of new licenses for traditional-fuel cars in major cities. Consumers were also disappointed as the government did not reinstate a tax cut on small-engine vehicles in rural areas, said Alan Kang, a senior analyst at consultancy LMC Automotive. The implementation of new vehicle emission standards earlier than the central government’s 2020 deadline by 15 cities and provinces, which account for over 60 % of car sales in China, spooked buyers too and hurt sales, according to CAAM, analysts, dealers and consumers. Even as China’s auto market weakened, sales of NEVs have continued to grow. NEV sales rose 80 % in June to 152,000 vehicles, bringing January-June sales to 617,000, up almost 50 % from a year ago. NEVs include plug-in hybrids, battery-only electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. China, blighted by air pollution, has been a keen supporter of NEVs, requiring automakers to meet production quotas. Last year, NEV sales in the country jumped almost 62 % even as the broader market shrank. CAAM said NEV sales rose sharply in June as buyers responded positively to incentives producers offered in anticipation of a planned rolling-back of official purchase subsidies. Beijing implemented a 5-year subsidy program for the NEV sector in 2016 to support sales and encourage innovation. But it has been slowly rolling back the program and plans to phase out subsidies after 2020 amid criticism that some producers have become overly reliant on the funds. +++ 

+++ DENSO and Toyota have agreed to establish a joint venture for the research and advanced development of next-generation in-vehicle semiconductors. The car industry has seen more and more electronic controls being implemented into new vehicles, with the number of in-car semiconductors having also grown, as has their performance. Toyota is therefor looking to develop new tech in this sector, tech that should prove integral to connected cars, automated driving, shared mobility and electrification. Their joint venture with Denso is set to take shape next year in April and will be headquartered in Japan, on the premises of the Advanced Research and Innovation Center. The ownership structure sees Denso retaining a controlling 51 % stake with Toyota holding the remaining 49 %. As cars become more advanced, computing power itself becomes more important. For example, autonomous driving systems need the capacity to scan their surroundings, interpret the data and make necessary adjustments or decisions, all within a fraction of a second. “The new company will conduct advanced research on the basic structure and processing method of next-generation semiconductors and develop electronic components by implementing semiconductors, such as power modules for electric vehicles and periphery monitoring sensors for automated vehicles, thereby contributing to creating the future of mobility”. Still, before any of this can happen, antitrust authorities must give the two companies a green light with regards to their joint venture. Last year in June, Toyota and Denso agreed to consolidate electronic components production and development functions to the latter. Through this agreement, they have been working to achieve “a speedy and competitive production and development system”. +++

+++ A sole focus on developing and promoting ELECTRIC powertrains will lead to Europe missing emissions targets and long-term environmental issues, leading figures in the automotive industry have said. Speaking at the Driving the Future event in London, Neville Jackson, chief technology and innovation officer at Ricardo, a firm developing combustion engine, hybrid and electric car technologies, said: “We are too focused on the only way ahead being electric, and that is a message we have to get across to legislators. If you look at the lifecycle analysis of vehicles, which is set to be part of European Commission regulations from 2026, then the analysis of cradle to grave impact is clear: the internal combustion engine still delivers by far the lowest environmental impact. We need to avoid the issues of spending huge amounts making batteries that aren’t recyclable, or which are expensive to recycle. There are real opportunities with the technology; let’s not forget we invented the lithium ion cell, but there are hurdles to overcome that we have to face into in a realistic way”. Neville’s comments come despite car manufacturers focusing on second-life use of batteries once they are no longer used in cars, such as putting them in houses and using them to store energy at peak output times and return it to the grid when required. Jackson’s view was echoed by Michael Hague-Morgan, commercial director of Autocraft, a specialist engine and battery cell company. He said: “Whenever you rush into technology you make mistakes. That is already evident in the number of battery packs we are now seeing that have failures. Some were even designed as sealed, so you can’t open them and replace or repair them easily. The impact of that on the environment is huge. The focus on pure electric in isolation does not offer the best route – there is some wonderful hybrid technology coming, and it is my belief that will get us further down the path to our targets than pursuing electric in isolation”. Craig Wilson, managing director for Williams Advanced Engineering, which focuses primarily on electrified powertrain technology, added: “There is no silver bullet here. The internal combustion engine will be around for sometime I anticpate, albeit supported by different technologies and factors”. Jackson and Hague-Morgan also highlighted the pressures of capitalising on Europe’s innovation leadership in emerging technology. “Our academic centre is the envy of Europe”, said Jackson, “but the struggle is taking our ideas and leadership into a position of scale. An example would be the £1-2 billion required to get battery manufacturing; it’s what’s required and what some countries are investing, and at that point the offer of a £100 million incentive doesn’t look enough. There is an upfront cost to defossilising our system that will pay back, but it needs to be invested in first”. Hague-Morgan added: “The traditional model has been to sell our university knowledge. In electrification we are in the same position, but do we want to sell it? Do we want to manufacture offshore, or take the opportunity to get highly-skilled, highly desirable manufacturing here? One of the issues is that government funding is typically measured by the blunt instrument of whether it will create jobs. Today, we don’t have the same unemployment issues we had a few years ago, yet the measure is the same. I’d like to see a focus on the type of jobs being created, so that we can keep the manufacturing in Europe and capitalise on the transition”. Hague-Morgan also outlined a vision for car sales to remain mixed equally between combustion engine, hybrid and electric powertrains for the foreseeable future, with the latter more focused on urban and societal trends. “We shouldn’t overlook the technology we have today, including diesel”, he said. “The issue is getting legislators to understand the facts, starting with the differences between a Euro 4 or 5 diesel and today’s Euro 6 diesels. It is not easy to understand, but the right solution should depend on it”. +++ 

+++ A Chinese battery maker spun off from GREAT WALL MOTOR is planning its first overseas manufacturing base in Europe. Svolt Energy Technology plans to build a base in an as yet undecided European country, with a research center and production for battery materials, cells and modules, Svolt general manager Yang Hongxin said. Investment will be around €2 billion, Yang said. As part of that, Svolt aims to seek about 1 billion yuan ($145.34 million) in its next fundraising round this year. It will raise more funds to support construction which begins in the second half of next year, with production starting in 2022. The plant will have an initial capacity of 20 Gigawatt hours. By 2025, production capacity will be around 24 GWh by 2025, senior Svolt official Cao Fubiao said. The plant’s first customer will likely be Great Wall and Svolt is in talks to supply “German and French car manufacturers”, Cao said, declining to identify the automakers. The European plant would add to Svolt’s first factory under construction in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. The Chinese plant will have initial capacity of 12 GWh and will eventually exceed 70 GWh. “We plan to have 5 production bases worldwide, including in the United States, but it will take time”, Yang said. “The global plan is to reach a capacity of 100 GWh by 2025”. Svolt became independent in 2018. The company also said it is making “good progress” on developing a cobalt-free lithium/ion battery; a goal of battery producers aiming to eliminate the pricey and increasingly scarce mineral. The move comes as Asian battery makers deepen cooperation with automakers in Europe, where limited means of making the cells that power electric vehicles has raised concern of over-reliance on Asian manufacturers. Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) is building a 14 GWh factory in Germany and will supply batteries to BMW. CATL was identified as a strategic partner by Volkswagen Group when the German automaker said it will buy €50 billion worth of cells. VW also named South Korea’s SK Innovation, LG Chem and Samsung SDI, as well as Sweden’s Northvolt. Great Wall has additionally signed a deal with BMW to build electric Minis in China. +++

+++ Growing understanding in the car industry of the value of INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE technology able to meet new anti-pollution requirements is likely to fuel a wave of consolidation in the next 2 years, industry executives and bankers say. Mergers and acquisitions have been stuck in a rut since Volkswagen Group was caught cheating pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global tightening of emissions regulations that depressed the value of gasoline and diesel technologies. But the market is beginning to separate companies capable of meeting new emissions standards from those struggling to do so, which could close the gap in price expectations between buyers and sellers over the next 12-24 months, industry experts say. The auto industry has all but stopped developing next-generation combustion engines as limited resources are directed towards building electric and self-driving cars. However, electric vehicles are still a niche product, accounting for only 1.26 million (or 1.5 %) of the 86 million cars sold worldwide last year, and analysts forecast it will be the middle of the next decade before a tipping point comes when electric cars overtake combustion-engine variants. That means there will still be demand for emissions-compliant combustion engines and so automakers and suppliers able to offer that are likely to see valuations recover, said Reinhard Kuehn, co-head of European Automotive at Deutsche Bank. “At the same time, suppliers that struggle with this will remain a hard sell”, Kuehn said. Meanwhile, as production capacity of gasoline and diesel engines is cut back, the impetus for mergers among suppliers should increase, bankers believe. VW, one of the largest producers of engines, has said it will develop its final generation of combustion engines by 2026, while Ford last month said it would close 2 engine factories in Europe. “The profit pool of companies with combustion engine-related technology (once the envy of the industry) is shrinking with the rise of electric vehicles and the digitization of the industry”, Goldman Sachs managing director Axel Höfer said. “You would expect someone to come in and consolidate to benefit from economies of scale”. VW is now warning its suppliers to prepare industry-wide solutions for winding down combustion-engine manufacturing as it ramps up mass production of electric vehicles. The company 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, transforming the industry’s supply chain. “It makes no sense to have factories running at only 40 % capacity”, Stefan Sommer, VW’s procurement head, told: “The auto industry is obliged to develop structures to consolidate combustion engine assets, to decide where to bundle certain activities. If we end up with uncontrolled insolvencies, it will be a problem for the industry”. There are more than 120 plants making combustion engine components in Europe, according to consulting firm AlixPartners. German auto industry association VDA says 436,000 jobs are tied to building engines in Germany alone. Demand for compliant combustion engine assets has already triggered consolidation among automakers themselves – PSA Group’s takeover of General Motors’ Opel business in 2017 was driven by that issue. “With emissions regulation getting more stringent, particularly in Europe, some manufacturers are getting left behind in terms of their ability to develop compliant engines”, Franciscus van Meel, BMW’s head of vehicle development, told. Until recently, deals have still proved difficult to do because of lingering disagreements over valuations. U.S. group Dana late in 2018 launched the sale of its European head gasket business, a key component for combustion engines, people close to the matter said. With the help of Bank of America it invited suitors to bid, but pulled the auction several weeks later due to muted interest. The sale of Germany’s closely-held Ifa Group, a maker of shafts mainly used in combustion engine-powered cars, was announced a year ago, but never got over the finishing line. Among the few suitors was China’s Wanxiang, but differences on pricing proved insurmountable, people close to the talks said. “The main problem is that buyers’ and sellers’ price expectations don’t match”, KPMG partner Jürgen Schlangenotto said. “A seller typically says: I have a robust order book and good margins, so I want a valuation of 6 times profit (annual core earnings), while a buyer says there’s no long-term growth so I am paying 4 times”. A fresh test of interest in combustion engine assets will be the sale of engine parts and gear box parts maker Tekfor. Private equity owner KKR is in talks with a Chinese buyer, according to people close to the matter. James Kamsickas, CEO of U.S. drivetrain supplier Dana, believes internal combustion engine (ICE) demand could persist for many years. “People are overbaking a little bit on how much the internal combustion engine is just going to go away”, he told. “If anything, I’m a very strong advocate that it’s going to be a world of hybridization for the next 15 years. Last time I checked, that still requires an ICE”. +++ 

+++ MINI said it expects strong demand for its first full-electric car, the Cooper SE, as customers increasingly choose battery-powered cars that are emissions free. “We are entering an era in which electric cars will become a normal choice for our customers”, BMW’s production chief, Oliver Zipse, said at a press event at Mini’s home production plant here. BMW said about 20,000 potential customers have already expressed an interest in the Mini Electric. The car will have a range of 200 to 232 km under Europe’s WLTP test regime. It uses a 32.6 kWh battery pack. Mini said performance has been prioritized over range. The Mini Electric will accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 7.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 150 km/h. Maximum power is 184 hp. The Mini Electric is based on the 3-door hatchback. It has the same 211 liters of trunk space as the combustion engine car, rising to 731 liters with the rear seats folded down. The first electric Mini was built in 2008 on a trial basis. It was a 2-seater because of its large battery pack. The Mini Electric seats 5. The Mini Electric weighs 1,365 kg, which Mini says is 145 kg heavier than the Mini Cooper S 3-door combustion engine car with automatic transmission. The center of gravity is 30 mm lower than the combustion engine car, helping with the vehicle dynamics. The battery pack is fitted into the space vacated by the exhaust pipe and the fuel tank, meaning the body shell and chassis is largely similar to the conventional Mini. The battery pack is built in BMW’s plant Dingolfing, Germany, using pouch-style lithium ion battery cells supplied by CATL in China. The electric motor is adapted from the one in the BMW i3 and fits under the hood using the same engine mounts as the combustion unit, saving BMW money in development. The Mini Electric comes with home and public charging cables. It can be recharged to 80 % capacity in 35 minutes from a 50 kW fast-charging station. Zipse defended the relatively short range of the Mini Electric, saying that giving it a bigger battery to boost range would have made it too expensive. “It’s an urban car and 140 miles is exactly on the sweet spot. There are not so many electric cars in that price range”, Zipse said. Production of the Mini Electric will begin late this year at the Oxford plant, with the first deliveries arriving in March next year. Output of the new Mini could come at about the same time as a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 if Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement, leading to potential tariffs, additional bureaucracy and disruption to production. BMW built just over 230,000 cars in Oxford last year, accounting for 15 % of Britain’s total automotive output. BMW has previously warned that it could move some production of engines and vehicles out of Britain if there is a disorderly Brexit, an option neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt, the 2 candidate vying to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, have ruled out. The Mini Electric is BMW’s second all-electric car after the i3, which was unveiled in 2013. Disappointing sales for the model meant the electric car buzz stayed around Tesla, whose Model 3 went on sale in Europe in February and can drive as far as 409 km on a single charge. Automakers are facing the difficult task of developing a costly electric model lineup while demand remains hard to predict. Battery-car sales in Europe rose 48 % last year, but at just over 200,000 vehicles, they made up a fraction of the 15.6 million new car registrations. The high cost of batteries also makes electric cars far less profitable to manufacture than combustion-engine vehicles. BMW is planning to have a dozen battery models in its stable by 2023, with an electric version of its X3 up next in 2020. The carmaker is taking a cautious approach to the market by producing the cars at the same plants that make combustion vehicles. This will help it meet tougher regulation on emissions while at the same time allow flexibility to adjust production. For the moment, electric cars are relatively expensive and some customers are put off by patchy charging infrastructure. +++ 

+++ RENAULT has launched the fifth-generation Clio on a new platform, upgraded its interior and will add a fuel-saving hybrid variant to the powertrain family in a bid to keep the automaker’s best-seller atop Europe’s largest segment, small cars. The Clio is the first Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance model on the jointly developed CMF-B platform. Renault claims savings of 50 kilograms and improved underbody aerodynamics over the previous architecture, helping to reduce fuel consumption. New construction techniques improve stiffness and safety, Renault says. Renault has focused on the interior of the new Clio, with particular attention to connectivity, perceived quality and digital screens. Analog gauges have been replaced by a digital instrument panel, with an optional 10 inch version incorporating navigation functions. The central 9.3 inch multimedia touchscreen, which is angled toward the driver, has a significantly larger surface area than the screen in the current version of the Clio, Renault says. The EasyLink interface coordinates entertainment, apps and navigation functions, and incorporates features from Renault’s partners, TomTom and Google. Redesigned seats have deeper bolsters and better materials, as well as thinner headrests and a shape that allows for more rear-seat knee room. Renault says a higher central console with shorter gear lever improves ergonomics. The steering wheel has been made smaller, through a more compact airbag, which Renault says improves dashboard visibility. Trim levels now include R.S. Line, with racing-inspired features such as redesigned front and rear valances, and a new Initiale Paris version with leather seats and other luxury appointments. The big news on the engine front for Clio is the introduction next year of a hybrid powertrain, which Renault calls E-Tech. With 2 electric motors and a 1.2 kWh battery, the E-Tech system can operate in full-electric mode 80 % of the time in urban driving, reducing overall emissions by 40 % in city traffic, Renault says. The Clio’s exterior shape is not a radical departure from the 4th generation’s, but the car’s length has been trimmed by 12 mm and it is about 30 mm shorter. It will be available only in a 5-door hatchback version. Notable stylist changes include chrome-plated side window surrounds, a glossy black B-pillar trim, front air deflectors that Renault says improve aerodynamics, larger rear taillights and more deeply sculpted body sides. “The exterior design of Clio IV won over our customers and continues to do so today, so we chose to keep that DNA”, says Laurens van den Acker, Renault Group’s corporate design director. Van den Acker noted that design has become a much more important criteria for Renault buyers in the past decade. The Clio has 3 families of driver assistance systems: Driving, Parking and Safety. Driving aids include Highway and Traffic Jam Companion, which keeps the vehicle centered in its lane and maintains a set speed and distance from cars in front and behind, at speeds up to 160 km/h. Drivers must still keep their hands lightly on the wheel, Renault says. Parking assistance is provided by a 360-degree camera system, which combines images to give a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle. Easy Park Assist controls steering to aid parallel parking, though the driver needs to control the pedals and brakes. Renault has improved emergency braking to distinguish between bicycles and pedestrians. Other safety aids include a radar-activated blind spot warning and traffic sign recognition with speed alert. The Clio will be built in Renault’s factories in Bursa, Turkey, and Novo Mesto, Slovenia, with extra capacity available in Flins, France. IHS Markit predicts that Renault will sell 350,000 Clios worldwide in 2020. The Clio led Europe’s small-car segment in with first 5 months with sales of 151,274; up 4 %. The Volkswagen Polo was No. 2 with sales of 124,547; down 3.2 %. +++ 

+++ Mini’s parent company BMW has given the green light to a heavily reworked electric-powered production version of the ROCKETMAN : the British company’s ultra-compact urban-based concept, first displayed in 2011. Set to be launched in 2022, the 3-door hatchback is planned to be an electric powered entry-level model within a realigned Mini line-up, with production set to take place at Spotlight Automotive; a newly established joint venture operation run by BMW and its partner Great Wall Motors in Jiangsu, China. “We’re advancing plans for a model along the lines of the Rocketman. It’s a car we have been looking at for a long time, but to build it profitably at the price point we think customers are prepared to pay,  you need a joint venture partner to share costs. Great Wall Motors has provided that opportunity with a shared electric car platform that will be used by Mini”; a senior BMW official revealed. Designed by a team working under the guidance of former Mini design director Anders Warming, the original 3.419 mm long Rocketman was conceived to extend the Mini line-up into the city car segment, as a rival to the likes of the Smart Forfour. But despite a favourable response from potential buyers, its development was halted when talks broke down between BMW and Peugeot on a possible platform and engine sharing deal. Through its joint venture with Great Wall Motors, BMW has reignited plans for the entry-level Mini model, which is planned to be produced exclusively in a joint venture factory in China for global markets. But while the original Rocketman was planned around a range of 3-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, the Mini model being developed by Spotlight Automotive is set to use electric power exclusively, as part of the German car maker’s plans to launch 25 plug-in hybrid and pure electric models by the end of 2023. It is planned to compliment Mini’s first ever electric model, the upcoming Cooper SE, in an expanded line-up. Nothing has been made official at this stage, though the production version of the Rocketman is expected to share its underpinnings and key elements of its electric driveline with the Ora R1; a compact hatchback launched by Great Wall Motors’ new Ora electric vehicle sub-brand in 2018. At 3.495 mm in length, 1.669 mm in width and 1.530 mm in height, the R1 is similar in dimensions to the 2011 Rocketman concept. It is powered by a front-mounted electric motor developing 48 hp and 120 Nm of torque. Energy is provided by a standard 30.7 kWh or optional 33 kWh lithium/ion battery, providing the price leading Ora model with an official range of 310 and 351 km respectively. News of Mini’s move to build a production version of the Rocketman in China comes close on the heels of Mercedes-Benz’s decision to sell 50 % of its Smart city car division to Chinese car maker Geely, which intends to develop a whole new generation of urban-based Smart models. +++

+++ SEAT is working on a facelift for the Ateca. The Spanish brand’s revamped SUV will reach showrooms in the second quarter of next year, sporting fresh exterior styling, more interior tech and a potential plug-in hybrid powertrain. Exterior styling updates seem minimal, being limited to the camouflaged area around this mule’s nose. Revisions include a new front bumper, a revised grille, a pair of mildly tweaked front wings and a fresh set of new headlights. New alloy wheels and additional customisation options are also expected. Interior styling revisions will be equally minimal, stretching to little more than trim and upholstery updates. More noticeable will be an updated range of technology; the old model’s 6.5 inch infotainment system will be ditched, with the SUV’s larger 8.0 inch unit being offered as standard across the range. The facelifted model will also come with a range of additional USB ports, while higher specced models will come with the Volkswagen Group’s 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster for the first time; an option which was previously only available on the performance-focused Cupra Ateca. A plug-in hybrid powertrain could also be introduced to the Ateca’s engine range, utilising the same drivetrain as the new Volkswagen Passat GTE. This Ateca PHEV would combine a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 8.7 kWh battery and an electric motor, providing 204 hp, 350Nm of torque and a likely all-electric range of around 35 kilometres. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA announced that it’s revamping its production plans for its yet-to-be built production facility that’s currently being constructed in Huntsville, Alabama. Toyota initially said it would build its Corolla at the Huntsville plant, which will be operated in a joint-venture with Mazda, but the automaker has officially scratched those plans. Instead, Toyota says it will build a yet-to-be announced SUV in the Corolla’s place. “This shift is in response to changing market demands and a growing consumer appetite for SUVs which are achieving record sales, including Toyota’s best-selling RAV4”, Toyota said in a statement. Although pure speculation, it’s possible Toyota’s unnamed SUV could be based on a Mazda platform. Mazda will use the Alabama plant to build an SUV of its own, and it would make fiscal sense for Toyota to take advantage of that baked-in capacity. Toyota and Mazda have ca history of collaboration, including the current Mazda2-based Toyota Yaris for the North American market. +++

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