+++ The ASTON MARTIN DBX will be the British manufacturer’s first crack at the SUV market but it’s confident it will deliver an exceptional product. While sitting down with Motoring at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Aston Martin chief engineer Matt Becker and creative boss Marek Reichman said the British marque is targeting the very best SUVs on the market. “The one we focused heavily on is the Cayenne Turbo, and we want to be above that”, Reichman said. “We’ve gone for something that is dynamically better than a Cayenne, sounds better than a Cayenne. We need to make the car drive like it looks. We also had a BMW X6 M which we used for some handling targets”. Becker previously worked for Lotus and said that when Aston Martin started its SUV program, it sampled current SUVs with the aim of replicating their versatility and desirability in all manner of conditions. “We took a bunch of SUVs to the Nurburging, but we didn’t just drive them around the track. We drove them at 300 km/h on the Autobahn and across a field, and on public roads”, Becker said. “The thing that shocked me was the range of capabilities of these cars. We took the learning from that and looked to translate the way the DB11 drives and translate that to an SUV”. As the the DBX is based on a bespoke platform, the company didn’t have to borrow the underpinnings of an existing vehicle and modify it to suit an SUV, like other manufacturers. Becker says this has given Aston Martin a clear advantage over the competition. “There are many systems on the car that allow us to tune the dynamics of the vehicle. The systems underneath are different to a sports car, but I won’t go into the details”. The Aston Martin DBX will be unveiled later this year, likely at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September or the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. +++ 

+++ BMW has started testing the facelifted 5-Series on public roads and the Touring model will be available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. The redesigned grille will grow in size but thankfully not as much as in the 7-Series. Wrapping up the changes will be a slightly updated interior that will feature BMW’s latest technologies, including the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as well as the 10.25-inch infotainment system from the 8-Series. BMW’s updates are usually subtle but now the company wants to give a more distinctive appearance to each of its models in order to become more easily identifiable. BMW already offers the 530e, which pairs a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with an electric motor for a combined 252 hp and 400 Nm. I’ve heard however that BMW is planning to introduce a new 545e xDrive, using the more powerful 394 hp 6-cylinder electrified powertrain from the 745e. The rest of the rather wide engine range will remain more or less the same, featuring small revisions for improved fuel efficiency and slightly better performance on both petrol and diesel models. +++ 

+++ BMW’s M division, long known as the purveyor of the ultimate sports sedan, has mostly given up on the manual transmission. But CADILLAC , a company that built its reputation on comfortable land barges, says it’s committed to keeping the manual alive and well within its high-performance V division. That out-of-character proclamation was made on Cadillac’s behalf by Mark Reuss, president of General Motors. Specifically, Reuss told that “Cadillac will make manuals in V-Series”. Unfortunately, Reuss didn’t extrapolate on timing or which V-Series models are under consideration for a manual transmission. At the moment, Cadillac’s V division doesn’t offer a single vehicle with a manual transmission, including its brand new CT4-V and CT5-V. In fact, Cadillac doesn’t offer any vehicle with a manual transmission at the moment. So if the manual is to make a comeback at Cadillac’s V brand like Reuss says, it will have to be in one of the sub-brand’s upcoming flagships: the CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwing models. Given that the CT5-V Blackwing will be the successor to the current CTS-V (which has never been offered with a manual transmission), it’s doubtful that it’ll receive a standard transmission. However, the CT4-V Blackbird is the heir apparent to the more athletic ATS-V, which was offered with a manual transmission, giving it much better odds on landing a row-it-yourself option. Cadillac recent showed off prototypes of the CT4-V and CT5-V Blackbird models, but the company has yet to release much in the way of details. However, both cars are expected to get the Blackwing 4.2L twin-turbocharged V8 (hence the name) that was used in the limited edition CT6-V. In that application the turbo V8 made 550 hp and 830 Nm. +++ 

+++ Far from the sunny, wide streets of Phoenix, where Waymo’s self-driving taxis ply their trade, a handful of European startups are developing DRIVERLESS CARS to navigate the clogged, chaotic, rain-swept roads of European cities. Startups such as Oxbotica, FiveAI and Wayve that are testing cars in Britain say the old continent is a unique proposition with quirks and challenges that tech giant Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber, Aurora and others have yet to crack.
Operating on a shoestring relative to their U.S. rivals, the European startups say they have been forced to get creative and focus on cheaper, more tailored technologies that could cope in a heavy downpour on a busy London street. “A car trained to drive on the wide open highways of Arizona isn’t going to survive on the streets of Croydon. It’s a totally different environment”, said Alex van Someren, venture capital investor at Amadeus Capital, which has a stake in FiveAI. The startups hope that by developing systems and software that work in the most trying circumstances, they will be in prime position when deep-pocketed U.S. firms expand into new regions to capitalize on a future of self-driving cars. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the era of connected high-tech vehicles is expected to generate about $150 billion of new profits for the auto sector by 2035, making the race to nail the technology a potentially lucrative one. Some investors estimate a fifth of global new car sales will be self-driving vehicles by 2030. While only a handful of startups are likely to survive, investors have poured $70 billion of private investment since 2014 into more than 3,400 firms globally involved in “new mobility”, ranging from autonomous driving to ride hailing to electric scooters to machine learning, according to BCG. In the English university city of Oxford, Paul Newman founded robotics and self-driving company Oxbotica to develop “universal autonomy” software that could be sold to any carmaker, fleet operator, delivery firm or transport company. The company has been testing its software in a Ford Mondeo crowned with assorted cameras and sensors on the busy streets of the city, driving the same loop, down the high street and past the Red Lion pub, 5 times a day for 3 months. Repeating different circuits over and over again with its fleet of cars gives the company a baseline to measure its progress, and in tricky areas it allows the software to come up with new data relevant to a specific place, Newman said. “The negotiations one has to do with bicyclists and undergraduates in the early hours (around streets that frankly were designed for ponies) in these European cities is a little bit different”, he said. The firm now plans to open offices in North America and China, and aims to launch a self-driving taxi service in 2021 in London on specific routes (with a safety driver present) as part of a consortium working with cab company Addison Lee. Oxbotica’s public road trials are labor-intensive and costly, and demonstrate the extent of the challenge facing companies aspiring to take on Waymo and Uber on a shoestring. Like Wayve and FiveAI, Oxbotica is making do with a fraction of the funding doled out in the United States to futuristic transport companies. It has received funding of $28 million, while FiveAI has raised $37.7 million, according to the latest figures from Crunchbase. By way of comparison, General Motors’ self-driving division Cruise raised $1.15 billion in May in new equity, valuing the unit at $19 billion, while California-based driverless delivery startup Nuro raised $940 million in February. The amount of venture capital funding going into autonomous car and tech companies in Europe doubled in 2018, but was still a tiny fraction of the amount pumped into U.S. startups. The European firms pulled in $89 million last year, just 2% of the venture capital funding collected by U.S. companies, according to data from CB Insights. U.S. startups may benefit from generous funding but Europeans argue the yawning gap in financing (coupled with the particular regional needs) has pushed them to find cheaper ways to plug the technological gaps. Lidar, for example, the laser pulse technology used widely in U.S. autonomous cars, struggles to paint an accurate picture of a vehicle’s surroundings once rain, fog or snow set in, so developers in Europe are testing a range of other tools. “The challenges we have to solve here are subtly different and that calls for a different set of sensors and more emphasis on image and video processing, use of visual techniques for localization,” said Stan Boland, founder and CEO of FiveAI. “The deterioration of lidar in the rain is pretty horrendous”, said Boland. FiveAI started road tests in the London boroughs of Bromley and Croydon this year and hopes to launch passenger trials in 2020. Its long-term objective is to operate an autonomous vehicle fleet to complement public transport. While Oxbotica’s Newman and Boland argue that lidar has a role to play (alongside other sensors and cameras) Wayve, an autonomous driving company based in the university city of Cambridge, insists the laser technology is unnecessary. Wayve co-founder Amar Shah said recent improvements meant you could now get reliable relative depth estimates using cameras alone, and that would be far cheaper and more reliable when it comes to mass producing self-driving cars. He said Wayve would be looking for partnerships in the near future with car makers, suppliers and any other bodies such as regulators involved in developing a driverless future. He also shrugged off the idea companies such as Waymo and Cruise would pose a serious threat with their bigger financial clout. “They’ve spent ten years in Phoenix, Arizona and can barely get out of there, so how can they come to Europe?” said Shah. Nevertheless, analysts and consultants paint a future dominated by companies such as Uber and Waymo with massive fleets offering cheap monthly subscriptions for on-demand, self-driving vehicles. But full autonomy could still be years away. “From the first idea that this will happen fairly quickly, now the autonomy winter has come”, said Arthur Kipferler, partner at automotive consultancy Berylls Strategy Advisors. The challenges the technology faces were highlighted when a pedestrian was killed in March 2018 by a self-driving car being tested by Uber. The incident caused a temporary halt to Uber’s development program. “When you get on the ground and you go on a test drive in autonomous vehicles, whether it’s in San Francisco or in China, in unfamiliar, complex urban environments, they’re still a ways off in terms of getting to full autonomy”, said Deborah Orida, global head of active equities at Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which has invested in self-driving startups Aurora and Zoox. For European start-ups, wariness on the part of investors about promises of one-size-fits-all autonomy could be an opportunity to sell their message. But while they may see self-driving as a fundamentally regional challenge, others are critical of their localized approach, saying the U.S. giants will win out by ensuring commercially viable services first. “If you want a business, I think you need to go where it’s easier, do it fairly quickly and then scale up, learn, and go to the next level of difficulty”, said Kipferler at Berylls. “If you’re in it for the research side then test it in central London or Mumbai or Delhi, and you will never have a commercial service but you will have the research”. +++ 

+++ FERRARI is in the midst of developing its very first SUV and the vehicle is expected to offer more power than the Lamborghini Urus. Ferrari has remained quite tight-lipped about its SUV, only confirming last year that it is being developed under the Purosangue name (Italian for ‘thoroughbred’ or ‘pure blood’). However, the SUV will likely push performance for these types of vehicles to new heights. It is believed the Ferrari Purosangue will be powered by some kind of V8 engine, likely adorned with a pair of turbochargers and some form of hybrid assistance. The Lamborghini Urus pumps out 650 hp from its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 and, with the addition of a hybrid system, it’s certainly possible that the Ferrari will have more grunt. The rear-mounted transaxle layout of the Purosangue’s platform should mean the front wheels will be powered in part by electricity. Ferrari’s decision to launch an SUV is clearly one motivated by the expectation of making heaps of money on such a vehicle. SUVs are the latest must-haves for the world’s elite and, with the likes of Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Porsche all competing in this segment of the market, it was only a matter of time before Ferrari joined the party. No one outside of Ferrari has any idea of what the company’s first SUV will look like but it will inevitable share some common design traits with existing Ferrari models. Expect sharp and aggressive headlights, round taillights, and a set of big, sporty wheels. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) is putting behind its failed bid to merge with Renault with an uplifting announcement for the future. The Italian-American carmaker said it plans to invest €700 million in the all-new, all-electric Fiat 500. That’s FCA’s biggest single bet on an electric vehicle to date. FCA’s chief operating officer for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, Pietro Gorlier, announced the investment at the Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy which turns 80 this year. “The plan is confirmed”, Gorlier told when asked if FCA remained committed to investing in electric vehicle technology after the plan to merge with EV specialist Renault collapsed. Gorlier said the investment would go towards building a new production line at Mirafiori capable of manufacturing 80,000 units of the new 500 EV annually, with the potential to expand capacity later. The upcoming electric 500 will be Fiat’s first EV to be marketed in Europe as the unsuccessful 500e was exclusive to the United States. The executive said production would start in the second quarter of 2020. According to FCA’s plans, around 1,200 people will be dedicated to the production of the Fiat 500 EV but the electric city car might not be the only EV made in Mirafiori. “This car was entirely conceived, designed and engineered here. It is a genuine product of ‘Made at Fiat’ and ‘Made in Turin’ ingenuity. It is another excellent example of the ability to create and innovate which abounds in our company and in this city”, Gorlier said. “The new Fiat 500 electric represents just the first phase of our investment plan for Mirafiori. This project will be followed by the renewal of the Maserati range, starting with the Levante, and the addition of other models as projected in our business plan”, he added. The 500 EV, which Gorlier says will adopt cutting-edge solutions, is part of a much broader investment plan FCA has for Italy over the 2019-2021 period. The carmaker pledged to invest a total of €5 billion to renew its product range by introducing 13 all-new or significantly refreshed models “and a comprehensive offering of electric vehicles, including 12 electrified versions of new or existing models”. The upcoming Fiat 500 EV’s all-new electric powertrain will likely feature a swappable and upgradeable battery pack, as demonstrated on the Fiat Centoventi concept. +++

+++ FORD and Volkswagen said they are expanding their global alliance announced in January with deals that are expected to involve collaboration on electric and autonomous vehicles. The 2 companies are expected to announce further details on an agreement to share electric and autonomous car technologies at a press and investor conference in New York. They said Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess and Ford chief executive Jim Hackett would appear together, but provided no additional information. The automakers could outline more than one agreement. One potential element could be an investment by Volkswagen in Argo AI, the self-driving vehicle systems company majority owned by Ford. Ford created Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC in 2018, pledging to invest $4 billion until 2023. It has sought outside investors to help share the spiraling cost of developing autonomous vehicle technology. Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, a start-up bought by Ford in 2017, is part of that unit. Volkswagen and Ford have been discussing for months how to share the burdens of investing in future electric and autonomous vehicles. The apparent agreement between the 2 global manufacturers is the latest sign of how pressure to cut carbon emissions and fend off challengers from the technology industry is driving consolidation in the auto industry. Rather than continue developing their own, proprietary technology, automakers are sharing vehicle components and technologies. As with Ford and VW, much of this sharing is happening without outright takeovers and mergers. Honda last year joined forces with General Motors to develop autonomous vehicles by investing $2.75 billion in GM’s Cruise Automation self-driving vehicle unit. Alphabet’s Waymo has agreements with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover to buy and equip vehicles with its self-driving systems. Analysts at Citi said Ford licensing Volkswagen’s MEB platform is a “transformational” step. “Not only does it likely further de-risk VW estimates in 2020 by guaranteeing some profits from electric vehicles next year, but also likely provides VW with an unassailable scale advantage in the market with it potentially producing around 400,000 battery electric vehicles in Europe next year”, Citi analyst Angus Tweedie said. VW signed a deal in March to develop a pickup truck using a Ford platform, and the carmakers have been in talks about extending the alliance to include autonomous driving and mobility services, as well as Ford’s use of VW’s MEB electric-vehicle platform. In June, Volkswagen ended its partnership with software firm Aurora only days after the self-driving software start-up firm announced an alliance with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. +++ 

+++ South Korean electric vehicle (EV) battery maker LG Chem is considering building a second U.S. factory, 3 people familiar with the matter said, accelerating a race to add capacity to meet growing global demand for GREEN VEHICLES . LG Chem, one of the leading EV battery makers in the world that counts General Motors and Volkswagen among its customers, is weighing investing about 2 trillion won ($1.70 billion) in the plant that could begin production in 2022, one of the people said. Kentucky and Tennessee are among the candidates for the plant’s site, the person said. A decision on the plant’s site is expected to be made by the end of this month, another person said. Automakers are pushing ahead with billions of dollars in investments in electric vehicles to meet global regulatory requirements. A new plant by LG Chem would come as South Korean companies have stepped up U.S. investments, moves that have been praised by U.S. President Donald Trump. LG Chem’s new factory would primarily supply to Volvo, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and potentially to Hyundai, General Motors and Volkswagen, one of the people said. LG Chem, the most valuable company of the LG conglomerate, said in a statement it is reviewing various ways to meet its global clients’ orders, but there are no concrete plans at the moment. The sources declined to be named as the plan is confidential. A second U.S. plant would come amid a growing rivalry between LG Chem and crosstown rival SK Innovation, which recently broke ground on its $1 billion U.S. EV battery plant to primarily supply to Volkswagen. Earlier this year, LG Chem sued SK Innovation in the United States for alleged theft of trade secrets by hiring its former employees. “We are currently pursuing another production base”, LG Chem’s new CEO Shin Hak Cheol told reporters this week, without elaborating on the country. Electric vehicle sales are projected to reach 1.28 million vehicles by 2026 in the United States alone, compared with less than 200,000 in 2018, according to market researcher IHS Markit. Trump praised U.S. investments by SK, Lotte Group and other South Korean conglomerates and raised hopes that Korean companies will continue to expand in the United States. “Thank you very much. Congratulations. It’s a great job”, he said during his meeting with South Korean business leaders in Seoul on June 30. The participants included group holding company LG Corp’s Vice Chairman Kwon Young Soo. LG Chem, the battery supplier for GM’s Bolt, currently operates an EV battery plant in Michigan. LG Chem also has production bases in South Korea, China and Poland. It drew attention during the groundbreaking of its first U.S. production facility in 2010, when former President Barack Obama traveled to Michigan for the event. LG Chem is also being wooed by the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to build a new domestic factory to create jobs; one of Moon’s top priorities. CEO Shin said LG Chem is in talks to build a production facility for cathode materials used in EV batteries in the southeastern city of Gumi in South Korea, but details have not been finalised. +++ 

+++ LEXUS will bring a “futuristic” concept to the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show which will preview the company’s electrification strategy for the next decade, the company announced. By 2025, every model (current and forthcoming) in the Lexus lineup will be offered in an electrified variant. Not all of those will be exclusively electric as parent company Toyota has several different electrified powertrain programs at its disposal. Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, full EV and fuel cell variants are all expected to be part of the final picture, and offerings will likely vary by market and region. Lexus followed its core brand into electrification in 2009 with the introduction of the HS sedan. The better-known CT 200h and GS 450h followed in 2011, and new hybrid variants have been offered for various models since. Currently, the company’s flagship LC coupe and LS sedan are both offered with a high-performance hybrid system boasting more than 354 hp. So far, the company has no dedicated battery-electric- or fuel-cell-powered vehicles, but we expect such introductions will be coming sooner rather than later. Stay tuned. +++

+++ The merger proposal made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to RENAULT in May was an “act of courage” but the Italian-American carmaker felt the conditions were not right to go ahead, FCA Chairman John Elkann told. Last month, FCA pulled the plug on its proposed merger with Renault, saying negotiations had become “unreasonable” due to political resistance in Paris. “Mergers are difficult to make and to manage. There must be the right conditions to go ahead and it’s important to say no when they are not”, Elkann said. “FCA is ready to face the challenges of the new era”, he added. +++ 

+++ The rate at which older combustion-engined cars are removed from the world’s roads will have to SPEED UP if air quality around the globe is to be tackled rapidly, the world’s car engineers believe. “Ultimately the speed at which we can changeover the fleet is the constraint on cleaning up air and I think we need a forcing function for us as an industry to work around”, said Paul Mascarenas, a board director of FISITA, which represents 200,000 global automotive engineers. Mascarenas, a former senior Ford Europe engineer, believes that even if battery electric vehicles were available in multiple model ranges and in free supply today, it would still take 10 to 15 years to substantially replace the world’s fleet of combustion-engined cars with cleaner alternatives. “There will be various constraints, including new car supply, and supply chain, but it is not clear when or how those constraints will be taken off”, said Mascarenas. “It is undetermined the time to change over the fleet, to get to one or 1.5 billion alternative fuel vehicles in service globally by 2040”, he said. European governments are aligned around banning the sale of solely combustion-engined new cars by 2040, with many setting targets for a reduced percentage by 2030. FISITA chief executive Chris Mason describes the switchover as a “significant challenge”, but believes it will be substantially pushed by “societal acceptance and demand” rather than “leverage” by politicians .“When enough models are in the market, car-buyers will make the changeover happen”, said Mason. +++ 

+++ Efforts by THAILAND ’s central bank to talk down a spike in auto loans amid wider concerns about household debt have sent a chill across the country’s car dealers, which are struggling to source finance for new customers. Although the Bank of Thailand (BOT) has taken no policy action yet, analysts say the mere prospect of car loan curbs has been enough to tighten the finance spigot to domestic buyers. While that may take some of the heat out of auto finance, the sudden deceleration threatens car makers, dealers and the wider sector, which has been one of few growth drivers against a backdrop of declining exports and sluggish investment. “Our car sales in April and May fell by 50 %”, said Sumete Patchuttorn, managing director of Mazda Mahachai. “Finance firms are more cautious about lending now”, he said, adding that about 60 % – 70 % of his clients’ loan requests were rejected this year, up from 30 % in the previous year. More than 80 % of car buyers rely on loans. The car industry accounts for about a tenth of gross domestic product in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy. Bank of Ayudhya said car sales contributed 0.4 percentage point to last year’s 4.1 % economic growth. Although roughly half the cars are made for export, that part of the sector has also been declining. “A slowdown in car sales this year will also drag down consumption”, said Naris Sathapholdeja, head of TMB Analytics, adding car sales contributed a fifth to last year’s 4.6 % growth in consumption. He sees GDP growth of 3 % this year, with consumption up 3.5 %. Worried that car loans were driving household debt to one of the highest levels in Asia (at about 80 % of GDP) the central bank said in April it had started monitoring car loans and considering loan standards since the beginning of the year. Of particular concern for the central bank is the fact that car loans have the highest delinquency rate among consumer debt products, with 6.9 % of them between 1 and 3 months overdue at the end of March. Analysts said possible central bank curbs could include debt service ratios for borrowers or downpayments required on car purchases. Those possibilities alone were enough to knock annual car sales growth from nearly 20 % in 2018, its fastest since 2012, to 3.7 % year-on-year in May, its slowest since May 2017. In turn, on-year growth in auto loan volumes has slowed to 11.4 % in the first quarter from 12.6 % in 2018; the fastest in 6 years. The research unit of Kasikornbank said car sales might contract as much as 6 % this year if the BOT required a downpayment of 25 % on car purchases. The Federation of Thai Industries expects car sales to rise just 2.4 %, said Surapong Paisitpattanapong, spokesman of the FTI’s automotive industry division. “The market has been stagnant this year”, said Phanumast Rungkakulnuwat, chief executive officer of Autocorp Holding, which sells Honda cars. Last year its sales grew 10 %. The BOT predicts GDP growth of just 3.3 % this year. Thailand has lagged regional peers for years and is forecast to grow more slowly than any country in Southeast Asia except Singapore. +++ 

+++ The new BMW M division president Markus Flasch has left the door slightly ajar for the supply of his firm’s latest 6-cylinder performance engine, the 510 hp S58 unit destined for the 2020 M3 and M4, to TOYOTA for use in a hotter version of the GR Supra. Although the new-generation straight-6 has so far been fitted to only the X3 M and X4 M Competition performance SUVs, it is due to be installed in all of BMW M’s next generation of compact high-performance models, from the M2 coupé upwards. And, in a break from convention, it’s possible that it could feature in a high-performance Supra, too. So far, no expression of interest from Toyota has been made, according to Flasch. But if the deal was done, it would make it the first BMW M engine to be sold as a customer unit, and to feature in a third-party car, since the McLaren F1’s S70 V12. Flasch said: “We’ve certainly made no offer to supply the engine to Toyota, and no request has been made, as far as I know. But it’s an interesting idea, if unlikely for now. It would be a lot for us to give away, you might say. But I’d never say never”. The GR Supra currently uses the B58 3.0-litre straight-6 engine from which the S58 was developed, although only 10 % of parts are common between the 2 power units. A lack of power compared with some cars at its price point has been a criticism levelled at the Toyota during its initial market reception. The S58 BMW M engine would provide Toyota with the head room to move the car up to 480 hp or even 510 hp, in a motor that would likely be easy to package in the car.  “As a rule, we don’t offer BMW M engines to third parties because we consider them such a strength of our cars”, Flasch added. “I think it would be a hard decision for a lot of the team to accept, particularly with the S58 being so new. Why would we sell it before we had a chance to use it ourselves in all the places we plan to?” But, as Flasch said, never say never. +++ 

+++ As the final Beetle rolled off the assembly line of VOLKSWAGEN ’s Puebla plant in Mexico it marked the end of an era. From 1955, the factory has been building first, second, and third generation Beetles without interruption. The Beetle has succumbed to the popularity of SUVs and it’s no surprise that the Mexican plant will replace it with a SUV. As VW mentioned in the press release that announced the end of Beetle production, “Volkswagen de Mexico will soon shift resources to produce a North American market-focused compact SUV that fits in the manufacturer’s lineup below the Tiguan”. According to VW of Mexico CEO Steffen Reiche, that particular model will be called Tarek and will enter production in late 2020 in Puebla, which also builds the Jetta and Tiguan. The new SUV is expected to reach U.S. dealerships in 2021. The Tarek will be based on the China-spec Tharu, itself a rebadged Skoda Karoq. It will become the brand’s entry-level SUV in the United States, positioned below the long-wheelbase Tiguan; mind you, the T-Cross and T-Roc are not sold stateside. Steffen Reiche said the new compact crossover for North America will be a beefed-up version of the Tharu. “We’ll adapt the Chinese model for this market. Our version will be the stronger one, the rougher one compared to the Chinese one”, the executive was quoted at the event marking the end of Beetle production. While the Tarek for North America will be made in Mexico, South American markets will import the model from Argentina where the compact SUV will also be made at the carmaker’s Pacheco plant. As with the Tharu, the Tarek will be based on the carmaker’s good-for-all MQB platform. In China, the Tharu offers 3 turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engines (1.2, 1.4, and 2.0 liter units) with outputs of 116 hp, 150 hp and 190 hp, respectively. A 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is standard for every engine and all versions come with front-wheel drive. +++

+++ WAYMO has quietly announced a few more milestones, reaching 10 million miles of real-world driving and surpassing 10 billion miles in digital simulations. Waymo chief technology officer Dmitri Dolgov stressed the importance of both mileage benchmarks for developing mature self-driving technology. “I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things”, he said. “One is fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale”. Waymo is generally considered the leader in self-driving technology, though the company is still operating a limited pilot program in a 100-square-mile region of Phoenix suburbs. Tesla has taken a different approach, rolling out incrementally more powerful semi-autonomous features across its entire fleet of Autopilot enabled vehicles. The company has argued that its real-world data is necessary to address the edge cases that simply cannot be imaged in a simulated environment. +++

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