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+++ AUDI has highlighted the latest A8’s predictive active suspension technology, claimed to provide a superior ride whether in a plush or sport mode. Powered by the car’s 48 volt mild hybrid system, 4 electric motors are paired with a harmonic-drive gear capable of applying nearly 1.200 Nm. Movement is transmitted through a steel rotary tube that contains a titanium rod, applying force to the front spring strut and rear transverse link. The electromechanical actuators are said to be capable of lifting or lowering the body by up to 5 cm from its central position at all 4 corners within a half second. When driving in ‘dynamic’ mode, the technology reduces body roll in a 1.0 G cornering maneuver from more than 5 degrees to just 2 degrees. As an added bonus, acceleration lift and braking dive are also reduced to a minimum. Engineers tuned the system to provide a neutral to slightly oversteering characteristic. In the ‘comfort plus’ setting, the predictive system works together with the front camera to identify uneven surfaces and begin actuating body adjustments as the vehicle reaches the trouble spot. Body movement is claimed to be nearly eliminated when riding over long road undulations or other unevenness. The comfort mode also uses the active suspension to lean into corners, raising the outside body and lowering the inside body by up to 3 degrees to reduce transverse forces on the occupants. “The effect is especially impressive in the speed range from 80 to 130 km/h and at lateral acceleration of up to 0.4 G”, the company says. “The driver and passengers barely notice the cornering maneuver; and even a full cup of coffee in the cup holder will not spill”. The predictive active suspension upgrade will be available starting in Europe by August, with a price tag equivalent to €5,000. +++ 

+++ The recently agreed alliance between BMW and Jaguar Land Rover is set to be extended to include internal combustion engines, a source with knowledge of recent high-level discussions between the 2 car makers has told. The 2 firms initially agreed to work together on the development of electrified powertrains, but according to sources they have now agreed terms on what is described as a “more far-reaching deal involving petrol, diesel and hybridised drivelines” for a wide range of models. According to my sources, BMW is to supply Jaguar Land Rover with internal combustion engines, including 4 and 6 cylinder units “both with and without electrically-assisted hybrid functions”. The move is said to be aimed at allowing Jaguar Land Rover to reduce its on-going investment in petrol, diesel and hybrid drivelines and instead focus its research and development spending on the electric drivelines in partnership with BMW. For BMW the deal safeguards existing research and development, procurement and production operations by adding volume beyond its own brands, BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce. News of the internal combustion engine deal being forged by Jaguar Land Rover and BMW comes at a time when regulatory authorities in key global markets are raising emission standards with particular focus on CO2 and NOx levels to combat air pollution. Thus raising the level of spending required to engineer petrol, diesel and hybrid drivelines. By joining forces on both electric and internal combustion engine drivelines, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover hope to reap the rewards of increased economies of scale while sharing development costs to remain  competitive. +++ 

+++ The new mid-engined CHEVROLET CORVETTE will feature electrified powertrains in the future, with a full electric version under consideration. The new C8 version of the 2-seater was launched in Los Angeles, with the initial Corvette Stingray model featuring a 497 hp and 637 Nm 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine. Chevrolet sources have confirmed the powertrain has been designed to allow for electrification, with insiders suggesting mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid and, while less likely, full electric versions were being considered. Asked if an electrified Corvette might feature a mild hybrid battery-based starter motor, or use a small electric engine to provide 4-wheeldrive, one project member said: “You would not look stupid if you said that”. When asked about future electrified variants of the Corvette, the president of Chevrolet parent company General Motors, Mark Reuss, said: “The company is committed to a strategy of 0-0-0: zero emissions, zero crashes and zero congestion. All of the technology rolling into this vehicle is meant to support that. This platform can carry a lot of different things into the future for General Motors”. Pressed on whether a fully electric Corvette was under consideration, Reuss said: “We’ll see. Stay tuned”. Reuss did confirm that the Corvette would be produced in right-hand drive and will be sold in European markets. Chevrolet sources have confirmed that a convertible version of the Corvette will follow the coupé “in relatively short order”. +++ 

+++ CITROEN ’s image has been strengthened by the decision to split DS into a standalone brand, according to its product planning boss. Turning DS into a standalone brand has helped to strengthen Citroën, according to the latter firm’s product planning boss. The French firm re-introduced the DS moniker as a sub-brand in 2010, in order to expand its range with more premium models. It was then spun off into a full standalone premium brand within the PSA Group in 2015. While there were fears adding a third PSA brand alongside Peugeot and Citroën might confuse buyers, Citroën product planning boss Xavier Peugeot says the split has freed up his brand to focus on comfort and design. “When the decision was made by PSA Group chief Carlos Tavares to create DS, there were some reactions in the Group that it would be very difficult for Citroen, having lost a key asset. “But we’ve demonstrated it was a tremendous opportunity for Citroën to re-establish its DNA, and to focus on its core model strategy and positioning. The results in Europe in the last 5 years show we can be successful, and now there are no more questions about the content of the Citroen brand, and there are clear differences in territory between all the PSA brands”. In particular, Peugeot said splitting off DS has made it easier for Citroën to focus on a limited number of models, rather than having different line-ups in different global regions. He added that PSA’s approach of introducing shared platforms and powertrains, but giving each brand freedom to design within that, means there is no risk of overlap between the brands. “We are battling because we are all using the same tools, but we can play with them in different ways”, he said. “When we work on new models I claim for technologies for comfort and creativity, while Peugeot, DS and Opel / Vauxhall will ask for other things in line with their values”. +++ 

+++ It’s happened, and not before time. The A word (Affordability) has risen to the top of the car-buying agenda where it belongs … and must stay. Jaguar Land Rover started an honest conversation on this topic on 5 July. That’s when the Indian-owned, British-based firm correctly acknowledged that its I-Pace may be a brilliant, clever, game-changing product but, when retail price s for it are in €80.000 – €95.000 territory, the fact is that the reigning World Car of the Year is way beyond the reach of the majority of new-car buyers. With such ELECTRIC vehicles very much in mind, the company has now declared that “affordability is king”. Halleflippinlujah! Just like connectivity, safety and tailpipe emissions, affordability is one of the most important words in the modern car-buying vocabulary, and rightly so. Then, last week, BMW announced that the Mini Electric will cost just €34,900. This makes it around 50 % more expensive than the bog-standard petrol-powered Mini One First. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a comparatively small premium to pay for a new-tech pure-electric car versus an equivalent old-school pure-petrol car. The Volkswagen e-Up, for example, costs approximately 100 % more (ouch!) to purchase than the basic petrol version. That’s insane. VW knows this. As do its potential customers who (surprise, surprise) aren’t biting. Why would they? With BMW (plus Renault, it could be argued) setting the pure-electric vehicle pricing agenda, Volkswagen has no choice but to rapidly make its EVs more affordable. The same goes for others; certainly Peugeot, whose imminent e-208 suddenly looks relatively expensive at €36,250. Not only will the borderline-premium Mini cost less to buy than the French car, but its impressive future residuals also mean it’ll hold its value far better. If the Peugeot titch isn’t closer to €30,000, it will be left behind by the Mini Electric in the showrooms. Not that affordability, or lack thereof, is solely a problem in the EV market. Plenty of petrol or diesel models seem inexplicably overpriced, too. There are many humble, 1.0-litre, Ford Fiestas at 20 grand or more. Sure, it’s a great little supermini-cum-urban car. But that doesn’t earn it the right to sit in a similar price league to larger family cars with much longer warranties; the Kia (Keeping It Affordable) Ceed, for example. The last thing Ford needs right now is to price the Fiesta out of the market, in the same way that Honda (with CR-V) and Infiniti (Q50) did. I know, I know, that’s harsh. But it’s so, so true. +++ 

+++ FERRARI will expand its product line-up through diversifying the types of models it offers, according to commercial and marketing chief Enrico Galliera. Rather than focus on traditional replacements and variants of existing models, Galliera hopes to transform Ferrari by introducing new segments to the line-up, and he’s not just talking about its SUV, pegged for 2022. “What we are trying to do is become a lot less predictable. We are currently working to redesign our products of the future. For example, the recently revealed SF90 Stradale is not a car that was in our product range previously. It’s a completely new car, new technology, a new segment. It is what we are calling a ‘range supercar’. It’s not a LaFerrari. But it does supercar performance, and is available to a wider range of customers”. Galliera has previously confirmed there will be 5 models launched this year. We’ve already seen the F8 Tributo and SF90 Stradale, while the remaining 3 are unknown. 1 is expected to be a convertible variant of the 812 Superfast, and Galliera hinted that at least 1 would be in a “new segment” for Ferrari. He said: “There are 5 launches in 2019. We are creating new segments for Ferrari to attract different customer profiles. There are a few clients who are looking for something different. For example, Portofino is not necessarily peak Ferrari but it’s more elegant, more comfortable. There were lots of people that wanted a Ferrari but were scared by high-performance car. He continued: “We have a saying: different Ferraris for different Ferraristas”. By expanding its breadth of models, Galliera believes the brand can maintain exclusivity while still growing. “This is our strategy for the future”, he said. “We’re not selling more of the same product. We grow without pushing a single model. We will see growth through new segments. And we expect to grow further in higher-end models. For example, the SF90, which has a 25 % higher price than rest of range”. Last year, Ferrari sold 9.251 units, a figure which is expected to grow this year. The introduction of its SUV in 2022 is set to push volume beyond 15.000 units. +++ 

+++ FORD will lay off about approximately 200 employees in September at a Canadian manufacturing plant in Oakville, Ontario, with the possibility of more layoffs in January, the company said. Ford employs approximately 4,600 workers at the Oakville plant. “We have been arguing as a local for the past several weeks trying to persuade the company from somehow avoiding this scenario, but to no avail”, Dave Thomas, president of Unifor Local 707, in Oakville, Ontario, said in a note to members. The union president had originally estimated the number of layoffs at about 185. “As always, it’s based on a business decision and it all comes down to dollars and cents”, he said. Ford attributed the layoffs to slowing sales of the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, both of which are produced at the Oakville plant. In addition, the Ford Edge is no longer being sold in some European markets, which the company also pointed to as a reason for the Oakville layoffs. “We have a longstanding practice of matching production with consumer demand”, Kelli Felker, Ford’s manufacturing and labor communications manager, said. The plant will slow production as of Aug. 1, cutting one shift and reducing hours, Thomas said. Robert Gibson, spokesman for Ontario’s minister of economic development, said the provincial government is disappointed to learn of the layoffs. “We want the employees in Oakville to know that our government stands with them and their families”, Gibson said. “We will work with our partners to continue to fight for good jobs in Oakville and support the affected families”. Ford had announced a 10 % cut to its global white-collar workforce in May, eliminating 7,000 jobs. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker also announced intentions to slash 12,000 European jobs by 2020. Canadian auto sales in June were down 7.2 % from a year earlier, the largest drop in a 16-month decline. Ford has announced it is adding a third shift and increasing production capacity at the Silverton Assembly plant in South Africa as a result of growing demand for the facelifted Ranger and the Ranger Raptor. The rise in demand comes mainly from Europe, where Ranger sales set a year-to-date record in Ford’s 20 European markets (Austria, Belgium, Britain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland). In the second quarter of 2019, the automaker sold 13,000 units; up 8.2 % compared with the second quarter 2018. Ranger sales in the first half of 2019 reached 26,700; the highest level since the truck was first introduced in the region in 1999. According to the latest data available from the end of May 2019, the Ford Ranger is Europe’s best-selling pickup with 30.4 % market share. This is obviously great news for South Africa’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria where the Ranger and Ranger Raptor are built for European markets. The factory has been upgraded to a production capacity of up to 168,000 vehicles a year, its highest ever. A third shift will be added from early August, creating 1,200 new jobs including 104 skilled artisans and technicians. “The R3 billion ($216 million) investment in our South African plants, announced in 2017, is now coming to fruition with the addition of a third shift to increase our production output”, said Ockert Berry, vice-president Operations, Ford Middle East and Africa. “The investment enabled extensive reworks at the Silverton Assembly Plant to expand our production capacity from 124,000 vehicles per year to 168,000 units, which is 58,000 vehicles more than our original capacity when the current Ranger program commenced in 2011”, the representative added. With the addition of a third shift, production will increase from 506 vehicles a day to 720 units to satisfy the strong demand from South Africa and 148 export markets around the world, including European countries. +++ 

+++ Hyundai says it has made a breakthrough in HYBRID VEHICLE TRANSMISSIONS . The Hyundai, Kia and Genesis-owning conglomerate has developed a “world-first technology” that improves gear-shift efficiency for hybrids. Now set for mass production, the in-house developed is called Active Shift Control (ASC) and Hyundai claims it reduces gear-shift times by 30 % while at the same time adding to driving fun and improving fuel economy. The technology monitors gear shifts 500 times per second, “precisely adjusting the transmission rotation speed for faster shift times”, the carmaker explains in a press release. ASC allows the hybrid’s electric motor to also take control of gear shifts by applying new software logic to the Hybrid Control Unit (HCU) to shorten shift times which are usually slow on hybrids which typically lack torque converters. By aligning the rotational speeds of the engine and transmission gear shift times are reduced by up to 30 % from 500 milliseconds to 350 milliseconds. Despite quicker shift times, ASC is said to deliver smoother gear changes as well. The first vehicle to feature Active Shift Control is the upcoming Sonata Hybrid, with the tech later to find its way on other Hyundai and Kia hybrids. “The development of world’s first ASC technology is a remarkable innovation which incorporates precise motor control to automatic transmission. It will not only save fuel but also provide a more fun driving experience for our customers”, said Kyoung Joon Chang, vice-president and Head of Powertrain Control System Group of Hyundai. Finally, Hyundai claims the new technology also increases durability of the transmission by minimizing friction during gear shift. +++ 

+++ 20 years ago, Daimler Chrysler, as the 2 merged companies were called then, launched the A-Class-based Necar 4, the first production-ready HYDROGEN vehicle capable of being driven on public roads. The plan was for the first commercial version, dubbed, ‘Necar X’ to be launched on public sale in 2004. By that time, Daimler Chrysler said it would have spent over €1.2 billion on fuel cell vehicle development: it was that big and looked that certain. The board member responsible for R&D, Klaus-Dieter Vöhringer, said back then: “From 2004 to 2010, the population of fuel cell vehicles has to increase very fast otherwise the refuelling infrastructure will not grow”. He was dead right in one sense: it didn’t grow and fuel cell cars haven’t taken to the roads in large numbers. Yet. Some would say hydrogen fuel cells are the holy grail of sustainable propulsion because they emit nothing except water and heat from the tailpipe. So long as the hydrogen fuel they consume is produced sustainably, it’s an environmental free lunch with refuelling pretty much as easy and fast as it is with petrol or diesel. In common with a battery, a fuel cell ‘stack’ consists of hundreds of individual cells producing a little over one volt each. The favoured technology for cars and transport is the polymer exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. A fine polymer membrane sandwiched between a platinum cathode and anode and two flow plates in a kind of double-decker sandwich make up each cell. Hydrogen travels through the flow plates on the anode side while air is pumped through the cathode side as a source of oxygen. Hydrogen protons are attracted through the membrane to the oxygen, making water, leaving the hydrogen electrons behind, forming a current in an external circuit. There have been lots of technical hurdles to overcome (including scavenging residual water from inside the cells, which would freeze at low temperatures, starting the stack in sub-zero temperatures, economic manufacture and robustness) but today fuel cell systems are advanced, if still pricey. An entire fuel cell system consists of a stack, a carbonfibre tank capable of storing hydrogen at 750 bar and a small lithium ion battery to deliver both the fast surge of power needed for acceleration and to store energy from regenerative braking. Tough hydrogen tanks split and release hydrogen rather than exploding if damaged and, in that sense, the world’s most plentiful element is safer than petrol. The rest of the powertrain is like that of any other electric car, with an electric motor and power control module to manage it all. It’s also 20 years since the formation of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, one of the world’s largest institutions pushing the development of fuel cell technology. With its 2030 Vision programme, it aims to get 1.000.000 fuel cell vehicles on California roads along with 1000 hydrogen filling stations by 2030. Maybe then, the fuel cell ball will really start rolling. Hydrogen fuel cells are ideal for large vehicles as well as cars. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI laid out its U.S. sales turnaround plan with an expanded line-up of SUVs after posting its biggest quarterly profit jump in 7 years. The automaker forecast its U.S. market share to begin rising again from this year, targeting a year-end share of 4.2 % versus 3.9 % last year, with sales of its upgraded Palisade starting from the second half. It aims for a U.S. share of 5.2 % by 2023. Solid performance at home and in the United States in the 3 months through June helped offset a sales slump in China, where a slowing economy, trade war with the United States and a lack of competitive models prompted the automaker to suspend production at its oldest factory earlier this year. To maintain momentum in the United States (its biggest overseas market) Hyundai said it plans to boost the proportion of SUVs in its U.S. line-up to 67 % in 2023 from 50 % in 2019, as it works to catch up with a shift in consumer preference. “It was a surprise when Hyundai revealed an aggressive U.S. turnaround plan, but I don’t see any problem in it meeting its annual sales target there”, said analyst Kim Joon-sung at Meritz Securities. Hyundai’s revival is being led by heir-apparent Euisun Chung following 6 years of profit decline. The executive vice chairman is widely considered to be seeking investor support to revisit an ownership restructuring plan as he prepares to take over from his 81-year-old father and chairman. A previous proposal was scrapped last year following shareholder opposition, notably from U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. Since last year, Chung has brought in a flurry of foreign executives in a sweeping reshuffle at a firm dominated by Koreans. Most recently, in April, it appointed an ex-ally of Nissan’s ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn as global chief operating officer and Americas chief. In the April-June period, U.S. sales gained 3 % while a weak Korean won against the U.S. dollar raised the value repatriated income. At home, new models such as the new Palisade and Sonata helped sales jump 8.1 %. Overall, net profit for the quarter rose 31.2 % to 919.3 billion won ($780.44 million), just short of market estimates but still Hyundai’s biggest quarterly percentage gain since the first quarter of 2012. Operating profit rose 30.2 % on a 9.1 % increase in revenue, the automaker said. Even so, the earnings recovery could weaken as Hyundai braces for a potential strike by its domestic labor union that could disrupt supplies of models such as the Palisade both at home and overseas, analysts said. The union will vote next week whether to approve strike action after walking out of annual wage talks. A prolonged dispute could have a greater impact on sales and earnings this year because, unlike in the past 3 or 4 years of slow growth, sales of its new models have been brisk, Samsung Securities analyst Esther Yim said in a recent report. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) has teamed up with BASF for a pilot research project dubbed ChemCycling, which aims to tackle the challenges of plastic waste. The project is looking into ways of taking domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, and turning it into a new high-quality material that could potentially be used in future Jaguars and Land Rovers. The plan is to transform waste plastic into pyrolysis oil using a theromochemical process. Then, the material is fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources, ultimately resulting in a new premium grade that “replicates the high quality and performance of virgin plastics”. It can also be tempered and colored, which makes it ideal for designing next-gen dashboards and exterior surfaces in cars. Right now, JLR and BASF are testing the pilot phase material in an I-Pace prototype front-end carrier overmoulding in order to verify that it meets the same safety requirements as the existing original part. “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers”, said JLR senior sustainability manager, Chris Brown. “At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy”. This trial program is the latest example of JLR’s commitment to addressing the challenges of waste plastic. The British automaker has already collaborated with Kvadrat on alternative seat options that combine a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle. +++ 

+++ The BMW Group is betting it can lure more customers to MINI by adding crossovers and 3-door hatchbacks. The automaker appears to be doubling down on its small-car brand even as it acknowledges the challenges of selling to Americans obsessed with pick-ups. BMW Group sales boss Pieter Nota said turning around the Mini business in the U.S. will take new products, including fresh offerings in what Mini calls its Hardtop (hatchback) line. But new developments also are coming in small crossovers, he said. “That’s a growing segment”, Nota added, avoiding specific product plans. “Without revealing anything, we will see growth in that segment”. BMW is addressing an existential crisis for Mini: Customers, especially in the U.S., are ditching small cars for roomy crossovers. “You see virtually every brand, including the super premiums, moving into these type of vehicles”, said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting at LMC Automotive. “There is a core buyer for Mini now, and that group is not growing. So moving into this segment could attract new buyers. Porsche is a good example of success in stretching a brand into the crossover segment”. Crossovers accounted for 38 % of the U.S. light-vehicle market last year, up from 27 % 5 years ago. During that period, small-car market share shrank to 12 % from 18 %. Mini’s largest model, the Countryman, was the brand’s bestselling nameplate through June this year. Mini’s U.S. sales peaked at 66,502 in 2013. The brand declared that year that it would sell more than 100,000 vehicles per year here by 2020. But last year, U.S. sales fell 7.3 % to 43,684. Sales through June of this year fell 22 % to 17,583. Poor sales have dented dealer profitability. That has prompted BMW Group to let Mini dealers downsize their stores or move operations into their BMW locations, sharing backroom expenses to help defray operating costs and real-estate overhead. Dealers are expected to differentiate the brands in the consolidated location, with Mini-branded showrooms and dedicated sales and service employees. But if BMW Group executives in Munich are worried about Mini’s prospects in the world’s second-largest auto market, Nota did not let on in New York. Mini is an “iconic brand” and will have a leading role in the luxury small-car segment, he said. “We are optimistic that with the new models that will come‚ including the Mini Electric, but also John Cooper Works, we can see a healthy future for the Mini brand in the U.S.”, Nota said. BMW Group’s strategy to stick it out in America’s collapsing small-car market contrasts with Daimler’s decision to yank Smart from the U.S., and Volkswagen’s plan to mothball the Beetle. Nota sees the competition’s capitulation as a way to consolidate market share. “Unlike some of our competitors, we are not turning our back to the U.S.”, Nota said. “We see that even as an opportunity”. If Mini has a future, it will likely be electrified. On July 9, the BMW Group debuted its first serious series-production electric Mini: the Cooper SE. Assembly begins in November in Oxford, England, with U.S. deliveries expected in early 2020. Based on the BMW i3s’ battery-electric powertrain and the 3-door Mini Hardtop’s body style, the Cooper SE is powered by a 184 hp motor and is capable of going from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds. With a low center of gravity, thanks to a strategically positioned T-shaped 12-module battery, the Cooper SE remained in control in the sharp turns of the Formula E street circuit during a drive at the event. “It was important to not just do the next electric car; we wanted to do Mini Electric”, Elena Eder, product development chief for Mini’s electric program, said at a media briefing in New York. “It had to have the genes of Mini. It was very important to preserve the main characteristic of the Mini, which is the go-kart feeling and also the iconic design”. But the heart of the Cooper SE is a modest 32.6 kWh battery that is expected to have an EPA-estimated range of about 200 kilometres on a full charge. In a world of 320 kilometre-plus electric vehicles, the Cooper SE could be a hard sell to a public wary of range anxiety. “We wanted to avoid putting too much weight and too much cost into the car” with a larger battery, Nota said, noting the new model’s range is “optimal” for in-town driving. BMW Group execs were coy about plans to electrify the entire Mini lineup. The Countryman’s plug-in hybrid variant is currently the brand’s sole electrified vehicle. BMW Group does not plan to electrify the current generation of its other Mini models, “but for the next generation, we might still have surprises for you”, Eder teased. Nota reiterated that internal combustion engines will continue to power Minis. “We see certainly a significant role for electric in Mini. But there is also going to be a place for our John Cooper Works because there is serious customer demand there”, he said. “So, we will also have some really exciting combustion engines for the Mini brand”. The Mini Cooper SE is part of BMW Group’s ambitious plan to launch 25 electrified vehicles (more than half of which will be full electric) by 2023. The automaker moved the deadline forward by 2 years to speed the “transformation toward emission-free mobility”, Nota said. “In some markets, that is becoming a No. 1 selling argument”. Rather than go all-in on battery electrics, BMW Group is taking a more pragmatic strategy. Future BMW models will be designed to accommodate battery electric and combustion engine powertrains. And the company’s factories will be designed to seamlessly switch between powertrains. That diversified approach is a hedge against making a pricey bet on any one technology. Despite the hype, EV demand remains questionable and heavily reliant on tax incentives, government regulation and prevalence of vehicle charging infrastructure. “What we see in global markets is that the rate of acceptance of electric mobility is differing”, Nota said. “But we do see overall an increase in the acceptance of electrification”. +++

+++ 2 years after production of the second-generation Insignia started, OPEL is already working on the facelifted iteration. Since this is an attempt at trying to keep it competitive in the rather crowded mid-size segment that includes rivals such as the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb, Mazda6, Toyota Camry and Peugeot 508, the facelifted Insignia retains the General Motors (GM) platform. However, it could get some hardware changes, although nothing is certain yet. Now, it may have GM roots, but the refreshed Insignia will try to put distance itself from its past. Thus, the front and rear ends have been redesigned, getting new headlights and taillamps, reworked bumpers and a smaller duck lid spoiler in the GSi grade. The overall styling will bring it closer to some of Opel’s newer models, like the Corsa, which is entirely new and sports PSA underpinnings. Some trim revisions are expected inside, but this is where the updates will pretty much end, given that the Insignia already received a new infotainment system last year. Opel is thought to introduce the facelifted Insignia at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show in September, so we will likely learn more about it in the weeks to come. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE only just unveiled the 718 Cayman GT4 and, already, it is being asked about the possibility of an even faster, RS-badged variant. While speaking with boxer engine development manager Markus Baumann at the recent global launch of the new sports car, I asked whether the GT4’s 4.0-lite naturally-aspirated 6 could be upgraded. “Yes. We could of course get more power”, Baumann responded. “When we take the technologies from the GT3, like the titanium con-rods, or the dry sump. When you apply those technologies to this 9A2 engine it can create much more horsepower than 420. We have those technologies already developed and we could easily bring them together in the 9A2”, Baumann added. In the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder form, this engine pumps out 420 hp and 420 Nm. Those are serious figures, especially for mid-engined sports cars as small as these two. Some customers will inevitably want more, however. When asked about the possibility of the engine’s screaming 8000 rpm redline being lifted further, Baumann said doing so would be possible. “I would say everything is possible, it’s just a matter of effort”, he said. “It’s a question of model strategy. With a lot of investment into development you can achieve a lot of things with the cars. For now I think for this car 420 hp is enough power. Right now, for strategy reasons, we need to keep a little bit of distance to the 911 GT3 of course”. It is understandable that Porsche doesn’t want to see a potential Cayman GT4 RS approach 911 GT3 levels of performance. However, we know that the 992-generation GT3 is just around the corner and set to receive more power than ever before, so this could open up room in Porsche’s sports car range to make a GT4 RS viable. +++ 

+++ Miniature remote controlled cars have proved to be a crowd pleaser at track and field throwing events, but for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, TOYOTA is upping the game with a hi-tech way to fetch javelins and hammers: pint-sized, self-driving A.I. robot cars. The Japanese automaker unveiled a prototype of its next-generation field support robot, a miniature shuttle bus-shaped contraption based on its “e-Palette” ride-sharing vehicle under development, to be used at the Tokyo Games. The vehicle, roughly the size of a toddler’s ride-on toy car, can travel at a maximum speed of 20 km/h and sports 3 cameras and 1 lidar sensor which enable it to “see” its surroundings. Draped around the top of its body is a band of LED lights which illuminate when the vehicle uses artificial intelligence to follow event officials toward the equipment hurled by athletes onto the pitch during shot put, discus throw, hammer throw and javelin events. After the equipment, which can weigh as much as 8 kilograms for hammers, is loaded into the vehicle by the official, a press of a button located toward its front sends the car zipping back to athletes for later use. “Humans are better suited to picking up heavy equipment from the field, but for quickly transporting them to their respective return depots, that’s a job that’s best performed by robots”, Takeshi Kuwabara, a project planning manager who oversaw the robot’s development, told reporters. “Our aim was to leverage the strengths of both humans and robots”. The trend of using miniature cars to fetch equipment at Olympics throwing events goes back to the 2008 Beijing Games, where firey-red, rocket-shaped cars scurried along the green to collect hammers, javelins and discuses. At the 2012 Games in London, BMW developed and operated a fleet of blue and orange miniature Mini Coopers to collect the discarded equipment, while pint-sized green pick-up trucks performed the task at the Rio games in 2016. A major sponsor of the Tokyo Games, Toyota also plans to dispatch virtual reality enabled humanoid robots and mobile telepresence robots which will enable spectators who cannot attend the games in person to experience events and meet athletes remotely. A fleet of robots on wheels developed by the automaker which can perform household tasks for elderly people and hospital patients will also guide guests to wheelchair seats and serve refreshments at events. Toyota plans to use the games to showcase its new vehicle technologies ranging from fuel-cell buses to on-demand, self-driving taxis, as it competes with industry rivals and tech firms to develop affordable autonomous cars and electric vehicles (EVs), along with on-demand transportation services. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN was late to embrace the crossover craze, but they’re certainly making up for lost time as the company has introduced a slew of new models including the T-Cross and T-Roc. There appears to be another one the horizon as the company will build a new crossover at its plant near Pamplona, Spain. Little is known about the model, but the publication says it will be a “sporty urban” crossover that will go into production in the second half of 2021. The model will reportedly be a member of the Polo family and be offered with hybrid and electric powertrains. There’s no word on specifics at this point, but the crossover is slated to ride on the MQB platform which also underpins the Polo and T-Cross that are built at the plant. While the company is staying tight-lipped about details, Volkswagen’s board member for production and logistics, Andreas Tostmann, said “Since the new model uses the same mechanical platform as those already built in Landaben, we can use the same manufacturing lines for it as for the Polo and the T-Cross, obtaining synergies that will allow us to manufacture it at competitive costs”. That makes sense, but it will be interestingly to see how Volkswagen differentiates the model from the T-Cross. That particular crossover was launched last year with an assortment of petrol and diesel engines producing up to 150 hp. The T-Cross is available exclusively with front-wheel drive and reports have suggested it won’t receive any electrified variants. It remains unclear if all-wheel drive will be offered on the new crossover, but it would likely be a welcome addition. +++ 

+++ This month, before Oliver ZIPSE knew that he would be named chief executive officer of the BMW Group, he gave an impassioned talk here to the media about the best way forward into electric vehicles and automotive mass production. Zipse, 55 and a 28-year veteran of the German luxury automaker, was speaking to the automotive press, but he could have been talking to BMW’s board as it seeks direction for the disruptive decade ahead. The independent family-controlled automaker faces a challenge: It is known for the agile, sporty performance characteristics of its cars and crossovers, but it must electrify its powertrains without losing its high-end racy street cred, and it must do that with only a handful of busy manufacturing plants around the world. Zipse’s focus on answering that challenge earned him the CEO post last week. BMW’s supervisory board, while meeting at the company’s biggest assembly plant, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, said Zipse will take the role on Aug. 16, replacing Harald Krüger, who will step down in August. Zipse, who started at BMW as a trainee, was said to be in a race for the CEO job with another strong contender, Klaus Fröhlich, BMW’s 59-year-old board member for research. Zipse has a few years before he reaches BMW’s unofficial CEO retirement age of 60. But he also has a zeal for the intricacies of flexible manufacturing; something the company must master to juggle development and production of electric and internal combustion vehicles. “Flexibility is key”, Zipse told journalists here during an event at the Mini assembly plant, which he once ran. Forecasting demand for EVs in the years ahead will not be as easy for BMW as forecasting its traditional products, he said. “If we predict the success of 3 series, we can be pretty much spot on”, he said. “To predict electromobility is much more difficult. If you are not flexible either way, it’s very difficult for you to succeed in the market. Succeeding is staying profitable”. Zipse delivered a 40 minute talk at the Oxford plant, half of it devoted to why BMW should not go down the same path as Volkswagen Group and others in creating vehicle platforms that are uniquely electric. Instead, he said, BMW must have platforms that can go either way. That has been a topic of strategic debate inside BMW in recent years, complicated by the company’s relatively limited global production capacity. BMW in June said it will introduce 25 electrified models by 2023. Zipse was at the plant in southern England to present Mini’s first electric car, the Cooper SE. It is built on the same platform as combustion-engine cars that are moving down the same assembly line. He said the cost to adapt the plant was minimal and did not require a big effort. Zipse, a mechanical engineer who once studied computer science at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, has been vocal for years about making BMW’s factory network more efficient and flexible. As board director with responsibility for production, he led the company to expand in Hungary, China and the U.S., while bolstering the company’s industry-leading profit margins. “We have a 72 second cycle in our plants”, he said, referring to the industry measurement of how much time each factory work station requires. “In our German plants, we are partially below 60 seconds. To integrate different drivetrains in a plant without losing efficiency; that’s the secret. “Either you can do that or you cannot. And we can do it, we can do it”. +++

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