+++ Days after Ford and Volkswagen expanded their partnership to include autonomous and electric vehicles, the German automaker has revealed new details about their AUTONOMOUS driving plans. In an interview with the company’s autonomous driving boss, Alexander Hitzinger revealed Volkswagen will launch small fleets of autonomous vehicles “in the near future”. The executive didn’t go into specifics, but suggested these fleets will be limited in scope as legal, economic and technological challenges need to be solved before the company can launch a “large-scale deployment” of autonomous production models. While autonomous driving technology has come a long way in the past couple of years, Hitzinger said the company has to find solutions for so-called “corner cases” which are bizarre and relatively uncommon issues that autonomous vehicles could encounter. As an example, he noted people driving the wrong way on the highway. This happens somewhat frequently and human drivers know to avoid them. However, autonomous vehicles have to be programmed to do this as simply hitting the brakes could potentially result in a high-speed head-on collision. As for when we can expect to see autonomous vehicles from Volkswagen, Hitzinger said the company plans to “start using autonomous driving for commercial purposes by the middle of the next decade”. To achieve their goal, the company will be lean heavily on Argo AI which they say will set the “worldwide standard” for autonomous vehicles. While most people are wary of autonomous vehicles, Hitzinger said drivers will have a choice between driving themselves or letting technology do it for them. However, you’d better have a pretty big bank account as the executive suggested autonomous vehicles will cater to the rich. As he explained, “It is in the premium segment that customers will be most willing to pay a surcharge for a self-driving car, because they can make better use of their time in the car”. That being said, fully autonomous vehicles won’t be limited to the ultra-rich as Volkswagen says they’re perfect for fleet operators as there is no need to pay a human driver. Thanks to these lower operating costs, Volkswagen expects autonomous vehicles will be deployed by mobility services first. Hitzinger said Volkswagen is developing autonomous driving technology at a “fast pace” and they’re also working on the “appearance and construction” of the vehicles themselves. The company has already shown several proposals including a number of Sedric concepts. In the end, Hitzinger says the company doesn’t have any time to waste as he expects only a “few players will succeed in industrializing autonomous driving”. The winners remain to be seen, but the executive believes self-driving cars are a “great opportunity” for the company. +++ 

+++ It’s no secret that BMW plans to expand is lineup of Gran Coupe models with the smallest model yet. The first ever such model will be based on the FWD / AWD platform that also underpins the recently-unveiled new 1-Series. In keeping with BMW’s nomenclature, the model will be called the 2-Series Gran Coupe and will represent the Bavarians’ answer to the Mercedes CLA. The car will be revealed on July 24. There will be quite a few design similarities with the new 1-Series, like the headlights, grille and front bumper, as well as the side profile from the nose to the rear doors. The rear end is its most distinctive part and features horizontal LED taillights with a bar that unites them with the BMW roundel. The bumper will be sporty and will get a diffuser in the middle flanked by 2 wide exhaust pipes. The range-topping M235i xDrive (which packs a 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 making 306 hp and 450 Nm) will also feature sharp side skirts, kidney grille mesh and a aggressive looking front bumper. His engine is mated as standard to an 8-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive. The M135i xDrive manages to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and hit a top speed of 250 km/h, so we can expect similar figures for the M235i as well. The rest of the engine lineup will be shared with the 1-Series and will consist of 3- and 4-cylinder gasoline and diesel units with outputs from 116 hp. Since the model will be unveiled next week, an official world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show looks almost certain. +++ 

+++ The Ford Ranger returned to the United States earlier this year and a new report is indicating it could eventually be joined by a more rugged BRONCO variant. Ford is working on a new Bronco pickup that is aimed squarely at the Jeep Gladiator. However, it’s still a ways off as production isn’t slated to begin until the summer of 2024. While the model could arrive 5 years after the Gladiator, it would reportedly have a lot in common with Jeep’s off-road focused pickup. Nothing is official, but the truck would likely be offered exclusively as a 4-door model just like the Gladiator. The truck reportedly bears some resemblance to the Explorer Sport Trac which was built between 2000 and 2010. However, it’s expected to be significantly more rugged and adopt traditional Bronco styling cues. Like the standard model, the truck would likely have doors and a hardtop that can be removed. Both the Bronco and Bronco pickup are expected to based on the same platform that underpins the next-generation Ranger. That could potentially create some product overlap between the 2 pickups, but the Bronco truck would likely be positioned as a rugged, off-road focused lifestyle vehicle. Engine options would presumably be shared with the Bronco, so we can could expect a 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder producing around 274 hp and 420 Nm. There could also be a hybrid variant as Ford has confirmed there will be an eco-friendly engine option on the standard Bronco. +++ 

+++ CHEVROLET has confirmed that the long-awaited C8 generation of its iconic Corvette sports car will receive the Stingray name, a moniker that has adorned various Corvette models since 1963. The Stingray badge had its first outing on 1963’s second-generation Corvette, but was discontinued in 1976. It was revived in 2014 to identify entry-level variants of the C7 Corvette, launched in 2014. The announcement, accompanied by the reveal of the new model’s badge designs, is the first since the model’s 18 July launch date was officially confirmed earlier this year. Prototypes of the C8 Corvette, showing the distinctive long rear deck and cab-forward proportions indicative of a mid-engined model, have been circling for some time. Reports from the US suggest there have been delays in development owing to significant issues with the chassis and electrical architecture. While it’s not clear yet if those technical problems have been overcome, a Corvette dealer in New Jersey is taking $1000 deposits for the new model, even before the reveal date confirmation. In a further break with tradition, the C8 Corvette will be sold alongside a version of the current car. Sources inside General Motors, which owns the Chevrolet brand, indicate that we can expect a slightly revised version of the existing C7 as an entry-level alternative. Although the C8 will carry a price premium over its front-engined sibling, it will be sold at a price that significantly undercuts the junior supercars offered by other manufacturers. There will be no surprise in the choice of launch powerplant, with the C8 set to reach the market using a developed version of General Motors’ current LT-spec 6.2-litre V8. Although this engine still uses pushrods, and will be unable to match the low-down torque of turbocharged alternatives, the all-alloy unit has many virtues: it is light, responsive, relatively cheap to build and able to generate around 500 hp with minimal work. It also gives a clear connection between the radical new car and the front-engined Corvette that will continue in production. This could be advantageous given the existing car has an older and more conservative buying profile than other sports cars in the US. Punchier powerplants are a certainty, however; especially given GM’s history of offering faster variants soon after the launch of a base car. US media has previously reported that these will include a newly developed overhead camshaft V8, set to be sold in both naturally aspirated and twin-turbo forms, the latter sure to produce at least as much as the 760 hp of the current supercharged Corvette ZR1. Beyond that, a hybrid version will add an electrically powered front axle to the mix, potentially giving a total system output approaching 1000 hp. Another big change will be a new twin-clutch transaxle gearbox (likely featuring 8 speeds) developed by transmission supplier Tremec and effectively removing the option of a conventional manual version; a significant shift given the relatively high percentage of current Corvettes that are still sold with a clutch pedal. Like its rivals from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren, the new Corvette will display its mid-mounted engine through a glass cover. Despite GM’s sale of its European operations to the PSA Group last year, the new car is being developed with significant use of the Nürburgring Nordschleife and we can expect the sort of aggressive aerodynamics necessary for good high-speed performance there, possibly including active elements. But while the C8 will no doubt be extremely fast, the need to keep costs down means that the use of expensive materials will be limited. The chassis is believed to be an aluminium spaceframe, and it will have the glassfibre bodywork that has been used by every previous generation. Carbon brakes are certain to be available, but the new Corvette is likely to stick to a base specification of cast-iron discs for the same reason. While the C7 Corvette has a ‘targa’ roof with removable panels, it seems likely that the C8 will shift to a more conventional split between coupé and a convertible, the latter to follow at a later date. Production of right-hand-drive variants for European, Asian and Australian markets is likely, in part due to the success that the Ford Mustang has enjoyed in the UK and Australia, but also due to strict new laws that prohibit the import of left-hand-drive models in certain markets. A US source said that the loss of Opel has not made a significant difference in the case for European sales, with the C6 and C7 Corvettes both sold on this side of the Atlantic in small volumes through accredited dealers. The current Corvette’s 6.2-litre V8, however, falls foul of impending WLTP regulations, meaning it, and its powertrain-sharing Camaro stablemate, can no longer be sold new in the UK from August. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen Group sales in CHINA rebounded strongly last month rising 15 % to 354,800 units. The German car maker attributed the gain to changes in China’s emissions rules, which prompted dealerships to offer steep discounts to cut inventories of new vehicles falling short of the tougher requirements. At the request of China’s central government, most major cities and provinces announced earlier this year the adoption of State 6 emissions rules, equivalent to the Euro 6 standards, on July 1. Starting July, buyers of vehicles that can only meet the State 5 emissions standards, which are similar to Euro 5 rules, in these cities and provinces can’t obtain license plates from local authorities. VW brand sales rose 14 % to 261,100 units in June, a spokesman said, without disclosing sales of its other brands in China. According to FAW-Volkswagen, VW Group’s joint venture with China FAW Group, which builds vehicles for Audi and VW brands, Audi’s China deliveries jumped 23 % to 58,788 cars in the month. Due to weaker sales in the first 5 months, the German auto giant’s total sales for the first half of the year dipped 3.9 % to below 1.92 million. +++ 

+++ The first fully autonomous vehicles able to handle all conditions on public roads, and potentially replacing private car ownership, will probably not appear until after 2030, said CONTINENTAL ‘s head of self-driving car projects, Andree Hohm. “People always ask me when driverless vehicles will be on the road”, he said this month at Continental’s Tech Show in Hannover, “and I tell them the answer is ‘today.’ If you have a very specific application area, for example like a private road, and want to travel at low velocity, you can buy such a vehicle”. Early forecasts that driverless mobility would first appear on highways have shifted, he said, with the realization of the difficulties of trying to bring a vehicle traveling at high speeds to a safe stop in case of a malfunction. Now, Hohm said, the feeling is, at least at Continental, that low-speed, urban settings will be ground zero for autonomous driving. Urban situations may be more complex than highways, he said, “but they have one key advantage: slower speeds give you more opportunities when systems fail or you get erroneous readings from sensors”. Continental is active in many areas of autonomous driving technology. The supplier is working to make parts in series production suitable for use in robotaxis, and is offering some of them in the EZ10 autonomous shuttle from EasyMile, a French company in which it holds a stake. Development work is being done on the CUbE platform, which is based on the EZ10. Continental’s autonomous driving systems include the ability to generate a 360-degree image from a combination of data from radar, lidar and cameras to provide redundancy. “We at Continental consider driverless mobility to be very promising”, he said. “It will have a significant share of the mobility of the future”. Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart said in April that the overall software market alone for autonomous vehicles was expected to grow from €280 billion to €1.2 trillion by 2030. Nonetheless, Hohm said, autonomous vehicle technology has three hurdles to overcome before it becomes viable for widespread use: technology, regulatory approval and consumer acceptance. The key technology challenge will be combining a variety of sensors inside the vehicle (radar, lidar and cameras) to create a safe environment. “This foundation has to be very solid”, he said. “You have to cover all situations because there’s no driver as a fallback option”. One of Continental’s solutions is to incorporate external sensors on street signs and roadways; for example, in a “smart intersection” that can detect situations well ahead of the vehicle. Breakdowns, accidents and erratic pedestrians “can be better perceived from the viewpoint of the intersection compared to the viewpoint of an approaching car”, he said. On regulations, the main problem is a lack of a unified framework for testing and implementation of autonomous vehicles, he said. “Lots of pilot projects are pushing forward, but in a very heterogeneous way”, he said. “This is a very challenging scenario, because if we’re going to invest a lot of money we have to be sure that the solutions we create fit a wide variety of countries”. Finally, he noted, many consumers are skeptical about driverless cars, and studies have found that worries are increasing, at least in Germany in the U.S., although Chinese respondents are become more receptive. “It still sounds a little bit creepy, if you think about it: going into a car where there is no one at the steering wheel”, he said. “This is for us a clear signal that we have to introduce those functionalities step by step. We need to clearly show what we are introducing”, Hohm added. “We need to involve people in pilot projects, so they can actually experience how exciting the technology is”. +++ 

+++ FORD is preparing a radical re-invention of its European large family car line-up by replacing the Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy with a single crossover model. The new vehicle, whose name is not yet known, will mark Ford’s exit from both the classic large sedan / liftback market and the MPV sector. Although there’s no news on a definitive launch date, the car is expected to arrive in early 2021. Unlike some of Ford’s bespoke European models, the model will be sold in North America and beyond. In the US it is being compared by insiders to the Subaru Outback. Although a niche model in Europe, the Outback has been a significant success in the US since it was launched 2 decades ago, with recent sales above 200,000 units annually. Last July Jim Farley, Ford’s president of new business, technology and strategy, hinted at the move away from conventional road cars towards what he called ‘utility’ body styles. He said the thinking behind the move into medium-rise crossovers was that customers would get “utility benefits without the penalty of poorer fuel economy”. The new car will be built on Ford’s super-flexible C2 platform, which underpins the Focus and, in time, should be able to stretch to the future 7-seat Edge. The front section of the architecture will also be used by Ford’s future Transit and Tourneo family. The model will be offered with petrol and diesel engines plus a 48 Volt mild-hybrid petrol option. The base engine is expected to be Ford’s 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol unit, which will have a belt-driven electric motor and small battery in mild-hybrid form. Insiders says that new Euro 6d compliant diesel engines are, in pollution terms, as clean as petrol engines in real-world use. It is understood that these new oil-burners are still more economical than even mild-hybrid petrol engines, as well as being less expensive. Ford’s move to medium-height crossovers in Europe is also partly a recognition that meeting future EU fuel economy regulations would have been very difficult with a line-up of conventional SUVs. For a similar reason, it’s not yet known whether the car will be offered with fuel-sapping all-wheel drive in Europe. Instead, some kind of electronic traction control system for navigating loose surfaces is possible. Ford will be hoping that the model will appeal to today’s mainstream market of ‘adventurous families’ who will be attracted by running costs lower than those of an SUV, allied to what’s said to be a particularly capacious load bay and a comfortable raised driving position. Although the car will replace 3 very different vehicles, it is expected to outsell the Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy combined. Last year Ford Europe sold around 50,000 Mondeos, 24,000 S-Max models and 12,000 Galaxys; figures which are too low to be profitable enough. By the time the model is launched, Ford will have discontinued 4 MPV model lines. The MPV market has been hit hard in recent years, and as a result Ford will end production of the C-Max and Grand C-Max by late summer, as well as the Romanian-built B-Max compact MPV. The Galaxy and S-Max will likely follow next year. The B-Max will in effect be replaced by the upcoming Puma, and the company will look to steer existing (Grand) C-Max owners into the new Kuga. +++ 

+++ The UAW and GENERAL MOTORS (GM) formally kicked off contract talks, with the union’s president calling on the automaker to keep open plants it has slated for closure and to invest in its workforce after the union helped it through a government-led bankruptcy a decade ago. “We invested in you, now it’s your turn to invest in us”, United Auto Workers’ president Gary Jones said at a joint event with GM executives in downtown Detroit. This year’s talks on a new 4-year contract between the union and the Detroit automakers are expected to be contentious, as U.S. auto sales are slowing after a long boom. Rising healthcare costs, job security and the use of temporary workers are also expected to be major sticking points. GM in particular has been a target of union ire since announcing the closure of 5 North American plants late last year. That move drew widespread condemnation, including from Republican U.S. president Donald Trump. Criticism has persisted despite GM’s stated efforts to seek jobs at other plants for all displaced workers. Workers from GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant, wearing red shirts emblazoned with “Invest in Lordstown”, greeted UAW officials with applause as they arrived at the event. GM is in talks to sell the Lordstown plant to electric vehicle startup Workhorse Group and an affiliated, newly formed entity. Workers in Lordstown built the Chevrolet Cruze; sales of which had plummeted in the last few years as Americans abandoned sedans in favor of larger, more comfortable pickup trucks and SUVs. GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in remarks before a formal handshake with Jones that the pace of change in the auto industry has intensified as automakers invest heavily in the race to develop electric vehicles and self-driving cars. “We are not here just to survive. We are here to win”, Barra said. Winning “represents growth and that means jobs”, she added.
The UAW and Ford officially launched negotiations yesterday, where Jones had struck a similarly adversarial tone, vowing that workers should share in automakers’ profits and to prevent their jobs being outsourced to Mexico or China. The union and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will formally launch talks later. +++

+++ HONDA has already ruled out its pint-sized E hatchback, but the automaker is plotting a bigger electric vehicle architecture that will eventually underpin cars and SUVs. Honda hasn’t announced exact timing for its new EV platform, but the company promises it will launch before 2025. Like the E, Honda’s larger EV models will be rear-wheel drive with a rear-mounted electric motor. “This new architecture is designed to achieve smooth driving and highly efficient packaging”, Ayumu Matsuo, Honda’s managing officer in charge of power unit development, told. “We believe it will meet the needs of customers who like our C and D segment models”. Although rear-drive in base form, Honda’s EVs will also offer all-wheel drive through the use of an additional motor mounted at the front axle. Honda is also targeting a perfect 50/50 weight distribution to maximize driving dynamics. Range hasn’t been discussed, but Honda says its upcoming EVs are being designed for “long-distance travel”. Honda wants EVs to account for 15 % of its global sales by 2030. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) has received a £500 million loan guarantee as part of a new government initiative to support UK car manufacturers’ electrification schemes. In a meeting of automotive industry leaders at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May announced that the guarantee would be provided by UK Export Finance. The nature of the investment means that if JLR were to default on repayments, the government would act as the company’s guarantor. The loan guarantee will assist JLR in readying its Castle Bromwich production facility for the next-generation XJ, which has now been confirmed as an all-electric rival to the Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S, arriving next year. The outgoing prime minister also reaffirmed the UK government’s ongoing commitment to sustaining domestic manufacturing, stating that the significant investment will aid JLR, as the UK’s biggest car manufacturer, in its shift to electric vehicle production. The move is the latest in a series of government-backed schemes to facilitate the roll-out of electric vehicles. Recent changes to the UK’s company car tax system have eradicated benefit-in-kind charges for EV drivers, and Number 10 has spoken out against the difficulties of accessing, and paying for, charging points in normal driving situations. Joining JLR at yesterday’s roundtable event were representatives from Aston Martin, BMW, Vauxhall and Nissan, alongside counterparts from energy companies Shell and BP. The bodies have come together to form a green mobility transition board, which will see them coordinate plans for the industry-wide switch to zero-emissions powertrains. The conglomerate’s first large-scale project will be the construction of a new ‘Gigafactory’ near Coventry for the production of EV batteries. The prime minister announced, additionally, that plans are in place to make mandatory the fitment of domestic EV charging points to all new homes in the coming years. The UK’s electric vehicle infrastructure is widely regarded as ill-prepared for the move away from conventionally fuelled powertrains, and the government is under pressure to support manufacturers and suppliers as they race to build and sell the next generation of vehicles. +++ 

+++ MAGNA INTERNATIONAL ’s European subsidiary Magna Steyr opened a new paint plant in Slovenia’s northeastern Hoce–Slivnica municipality. The paint shop, which complements contract vehicle production at a Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria, started test runs in March. The plant currently employs 200 people and is poised to employ an additional 200 people when running at full capacity. Magna spent about $1.38 billion on the plant and received about €18.6 million in government incentives from Slovenia. Magna first revealed plans for the factory in January 2017. Construction of the factory is the largest greenfield investment in the country’s history, the Slovenian government said in a statement. Magna Steyr builds cars for Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and Jaguar at its contract manufacturing factory in Graz. The Graz plant is about 75 kilometres north of the new Slovenian plant. +++ 

+++ Tough days seem to be ahead for one of MERCEDES-BENZ ’ toughest vehicles, the X-Class pickup. Parent company Daimler is reportedly planning to drop the Nissan Navara-based model. Unnamed sources from the automaker claim the X-Class will be sacrificed as Daimler aims to reduce costs amid profit warnings. If true, it’s an interesting decision that would basically equate to Mercedes-Benz admitting it got the pickup segment wrong. Last year, the carmaker sold only 16,700 units of the X-Class in Europe, Australia, and South Africa, despite the fact that the model launched only 2 years ago. The fact that the X-Class is not sold in the United States, the world’s biggest pickup market, probably didn’t help either. Sales have also been hit by the fact that Mercedes-Benz has issued several recalls already. The first sign that the X-Class did not have a bright future was a decision announced in February by former Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche. Back then, the executive said the company would abandon plans to build the pickup for South American markets at a Renault-Nissan plant in Argentina. The X-Class is built exclusively at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain alongside the Navara and Renault Alaskan. But probably the biggest problem the X-Class has is the premium pricing that few buyers find justified for what essentially is a rebadged Nissan Navara with Mercedes-Benz exterior styling cues and a plusher interior. +++ 

+++ NISSAN may add electrified drivetrains when it updates its Juke, which was widely credited with popularizing the small SUV segment in Europe after its launch in 2010. The Juke is expected to move to Renault-Nissan’s CMF-B small-car platform from Nissan’s B platform. This will give Nissan access to the plug-in hybrid technology in the newly revealed Captur, which will offer Renault’s first plug-in drivetrain starting next year. Another potential electrified option is Nissan’s E-power hybrid drivetrain, which the automaker uses in the Note small MPV in Japan. Nissan has said it is bringing E-power to Europe but has not said in which model. The automaker will unveil the latest generation Juke on Sept. 3. Nissan has admitted it has delayed replacing the Juke. “We have taken a longer period of time to replace it than we said we would”, Ken Ramirez, Nissan Europe’s former head of sales, said at the Geneva auto show in March. Nissan had intended to replace the Juke in 2018. The Juke will continue to be built at Nissan’s factory in Sunderland, England, for European markets. In February, Nissan canceled plans to build its X-Trail at the plant, citing uncertainty around Brexit as one of the reasons. The automaker said planned investment at the factory for the Juke and a new-generation Qashqai was unaffected. The Juke was Europe’s best-selling small SUV until 2013 when it was overtaken by new rivals such as the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008. Last year, the Juke was the 13th best-seller in its segment. Sales for the first 5 months were down 8.8 % to 28,891. The segment was led by the Dacia Duster with sales of 94,497; up 20 %. Nissan will not give the Juke a public debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September. The automaker has skipped the show, and the Paris auto show, “for a while now”, a spokesman said. Other absentees from Frankfurt will include Toyota and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, reflecting a trend for automakers to use marketing budgets for standalone launches that are streamed on the Web. +++ 

+++ RENAULT posted a 6.7 % decline in first-half vehicle sales amid a global auto slowdown, but said a forthcoming product offensive would begin to help soften the blow in key markets. Sales fell to 1.94 million light vehicles in January-June from 2.08 million a year earlier, the company said. The slump was outpaced by a 7.1 % global market contraction, it added. The sales announcement comes amid gathering gloom for the global auto industry, with major markets in decline and trade barriers looming. It also comes a day after domestic rival PSA recorded a 12.8 % slump in deliveries. “Renault maintained its market share in the first half of the year in a market that was in sharp decline”, the carmaker said, adding that it had held its ground with “no new products”. The rollout of a new Clio will help lift sales in the second half, sales chief Olivier Murguet told, bolstered by an updated Zoé. Global sales of battery-powered models rose 42.9 % in the first half. While the core Renault brand’s sales fell 11.5 % in the first half, lower-cost brands showed gains, with Dacia up 4.5 % and the Russian Lada marque advancing 6.8 %. Group sales were flat in a declining European market but down 27.7 % in the sales region spanning Africa, the Middle East and India; largely as a result of Renault’s 2018 withdrawal from Iran under threat of U.S. sanctions. Deliveries fell 5.2 % in the Eurasia region including Russia and 3.9 % in the Americas, where Renault sees the Brazilian market rebounding 8 % this year. The global market will show a new decline of about 3 % this year, Renault said, with Russia down a further 2-3 % and Europe stable, assuming that a hard Brexit is averted. Renault is scheduled to publish full first-half results on July 26. +++ 

+++ TESLA has rolled out yet another series of pricing and configuration changes across its entire lineup. The Model S and X have received the biggest adjustments, eliminating the Standard Range variants and consequently bringing the respective base prices up to $79,990 and $84,990. Some buyers will be happy to learn that ‘Ludicrous’ acceleration is now a standard feature for the Performance trim. Previous available as a $20,000 option, the upgrade allows the Model S and X to launch from zero to 60 mph in the mid-two-seconds range. The Model 3 has received more of a minor adjustment, making Pearl White the new standard exterior color with a $38,990 entry price. Tesla has argued that its direct sales model avoids the unpredictable pricing that buyers experience with franchise dealers, however the company has rolled out numerous price changes in recent years. +++ 

+++ While many of the latest developments in the world of automotive tech focus on electric cars, VOLKSWAGEN has kept one eye on the present to improve the petrolhead’s old friend: the manual gearbox. While many cars are showing gradual progress towards electrification, VW hasn’t neglected improving existing tech. And it’s a worthwhile step: after all, manual gearbox-equipped vehicles still hold a significant share of the automotive market worldwide. Volkswagen will appeal to that market with its new transmission, named MQ281. Changes have been made from the current Volkswagen gearboxes to improve efficiency, reduce emissions levels and boost refinement. VW says that the new design can handle torque loads anywhere between 200 to 340 Nm, so the gearbox will be suitable with a wide variety of engine outputs; both petrol and diesel. For reference, those numbers cover everything from the 115 hp 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine to the 150 hp version of the group’s 2.0-litre TDI. In an increasingly environmentally conscious society, electric cars are unsurprisingly growing in popularity. However, as the government’s plans to bring the petrol and diesel car sales ban forward loom large and brands must trim their average emissions levels, improving the efficiency of the manual gearbox will enable those who still appreciate the engagement of a manual transmission to enjoy it while they still can. Production of the new gearbox will take place at existing VW Group facilities in Spain and Argentina. The recently refreshed Passat will be the first car to benefit from the tech, but VW says that a wide range of models throughout the group – from hatchbacks to SUVs, will eventually benefit from the units. +++

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