+++ Customers who want to get the biggest, most powerful SUV from BMW are currently limited to the X7 M50i xDrive. Thanks to 530 hp and 750 Nm from a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 gasoline engine, it is able to sprint from 0 to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.5 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 250 km/h when equipped with summer tires. That’s more than decent performance for a massive 3-row SUV like the X7 and it’s all that BMW is willing to offer. The automaker won’t build an X7 M so it’s up to other companies to build a high-performance version. Germany-based ALPINA is the obvious choice, given its close connection to BMW. The manufacturer has been testing a top-dog version of the X7 for quite a while now and a prototype has been spotted on the Nürburgring Nordschleife again these days. It was not hard to distinguish typical Alpina design elements such as a front splitter under the front bumper with Alpina lettering, massive multi-spoke wheels (they look like 22-inch rims to me) and bigger brakes. The exhausts haven’t been changed yet though and still feature the stock look. Judging by the amber sidelights aboce the front wheel arches, this particular prototype is in U.S. specification so we’re likely dealing with the gasoline-powered Alpina XB7 and not the rumored diesel-powered XD7. The engine has not been confirmed yet but the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 unit looks like a safe bet, especially since it’s also used in the 2020 Alpina B7. In the super limo, the 8-cylinder engine makes deliver 608 hp and 800 Nm. This impressive amount of power and torque should be enough for the X7 as well. Alpina is expected to launch the XB7 before the end of this year, possibly at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. +++ 

+++ AMAZON is expanding its transportation prowess to do virtually everything short of building a car. While Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said little publicly about the company’s ambitions in the sector, the strategy is aimed at leveraging Amazon’s strengths in logistics, cloud computing and digital services together with new interests in related fields from robotics to manufacturing, according to more than 2 dozen people, including Amazon executives and industry executives familiar with the strategy, and a analysis of Amazon’s patent activity. With these new investments and alliances up and down the auto supply chain (and by hiring key auto industry veterans and amassing a robust patent portfolio) Amazon is positioning itself to challenge corporate customers and partners ranging from United Parcel Service to Uber Technologies. Businesses such as Amazon Web Services and Fulfillment by Amazon started as internal efforts to cut costs and improve efficiency in serving consumers, and later expanded to corporate customers. However, companies working closely with Amazon also risk losing business to the online retailer as its transportation expertise grows, according to some analysts and industry insiders. Corporate customers “should be very scared” of Amazon’s move into the dashboard, said John Ellis, a transportation consultant and former global technologist at Ford. As consumers pay less attention to horsepower and more to streaming content and services, he expects more consumers “won’t really care whether you’re in a Ford or a Chrysler or a Chevrolet or a BMW”. Ned Curic, a former Toyota executive recruited by Amazon to oversee Alexa Auto in 2017, said that the company is “always looking for ways to more closely integrate Amazon services if we think it’ll bring value to the customer”. An analysis of more than 5,000 patents granted to Amazon from December 2016 through May 2019 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office indicates at least 210 of those patents cover transportation-related topics from drones to automated ground vehicles. The auto-related patent push outpaced tech rivals Apple and Google, whose sister company Waymo is a self-driving pioneer. Amazon was granted several patents that involve the transport of passengers, including a 2017 patent to provide an on-demand transportation service through a network of self-driving vehicles; a potential competitor to Uber, Lyft and Waymo, as well as major auto customers such as Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors. Patents do not always evolve into specific businesses and processes, Amazon said. “Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology. Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services”, an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. The patent push comes with a boost in Amazon’s transportation-related investments. Since February, it has joined other major investors in providing nearly $2 billion in funding to 3 high-profile startups: electric truck maker Rivian Automotive, self-driving systems developer Aurora and food delivery firm Deliveroo. In the past 2 years, Amazon has built out its transportation ecosystem further with the acquisition of 3 startups (Dispatch, Canvas and Tapzo) while investing hundreds of millions of dollars in at least 9 others, including Shuttl, an Indian company developing an app to help commuters find seats on buses. Amazon’s business partners in the sector include automotive suppliers such as Aptiv, Panasonic and Nvidia, big transportation providers such as Uber and Avis, and self-driving heavy truck startups Embark and China’s TuSimple. The company, through its $33 billion Amazon Web Services unit, also is rapidly expanding its business with corporate customers, notably through 2 major cloud-based initiatives this year with Ford and Volkswagen. The strategic alliance with VW, which includes German supplier Siemens, aims to create an “industrial cloud” to digitally connect the automaker’s far-flung manufacturing operations (122 plants worldwide) and up to 30,000 supplier factories, according to Jonathan Allen, head of professional services in AWS’ global automotive practice. Volkswagen in March said AWS cloud-based services, including machine learning and data analytics, would help the automaker to “increase plant efficiency and uptime, improve production flexibility and increase vehicle quality”. AWS has been one of Amazon’s fastest-growing, highest-margin businesses and provides a platform for corporate customers (from BMW and Toyota to Avis and Formula One) to manage, analyze and in some cases monetize data. Gavin Sherry, CEO of Ford’s Autonomic web services subsidiary, said the No. 2 U.S. automaker can learn a lot from Amazon, which is working with Autonomic and Ford to build a cloud-based platform for the transportation industry. “They have the relationships, credibility and knowhow that we will need in order to fulfill our vision”, he told. Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, is taking a leading role in the company’s drive to get inside cars. Amazon is collaborating with a number of automakers to embed Alexa in vehicles, and has made deals with General Motors, Ford, Volvo and Honda to allow online orders to be delivered to owners’ cars. “Our goal is to bring Alexa to as many vehicles as possible, either through direct integrations with automakers or through automotive accessories with Alexa built in”, Curic said. “We have a lot of work to do”, Curic added, including “bringing Alexa to more vehicles and accessories, building new Alexa features for the car and launching our own automotive product, Echo Auto”. Beyond Alexa Auto, much of Amazon’s focus has one clear theme: cutting the cost of transporting packages, mainly through the company’s Prime and Prime Air delivery and freight services. It has strengthened those capabilities with the addition of Amazon delivery vans and cargo planes. Its investments in Rivian, which has designed a flexible electric truck architecture, and Aurora, which is developing a software “driver” for autonomous vehicles, point to eventual development of self-driving, electric delivery vehicles, analysts said. Amazon, which spent more than $8 billion in shipping costs last quarter, is building out the entire logistics infrastructure through the automation of its warehouses, long-haul truck shipments and last-mile deliveries with Scout robots and aerial drones, according to public records. Electric vehicles are also now a part of Amazon’s strategy for connecting homes to its network. Amazon is supplying home charging systems for Audi’s e-Tron; a deal that could be a step toward managing vehicle fleets, said Roland Berger partner Stephan Keese. One frequently mentioned concern (common to Amazon, Google and Apple) is the security and privacy of data collected from vehicles and their occupants. Curic said voice data collected by Alexa from consumers is used by Amazon “to deliver and improve our services”. Data gathered through Amazon Web Services “is absolutely secure and confidential”, said Curic. “No customer, including Amazon’s Consumer business, has access to any other AWS customer’s data”. Allen told AWS is working with corporate customers to provide advanced data analytics and build services that could generate revenue from the data and enhance the customer experience. “That’s going to lead to monetization” of data by those companies, Allen said. +++ 

+++ Shares of ASTON MARTIN plunged to a post-flotation low after the luxury British carmaker slumped to a half-year loss, the latest automotive firm to be hit by falling demand in Europe. Aston Martin, best known as James Bond’s favorite marque, has been undergoing a turnaround plan since chief executive Andy Palmer took over in 2014, designed to renew and boost its model line-up and move into new segments. The plan led to an autumn 2018 stock market flotation. But its shares have since fallen by around threequarters from their 19 pounds float price to below 5 pounds, hit most recently by the group’s weak performance in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where half-year demand fell by nearly a fifth. The group posted a pretax loss of 78.8 million pounds ($96 million) in the 6 months through June from a 20.8 million pound profit in the first half of 2018. “We are disappointed that our projections for wholesales have fallen short or our original targets, impacted by weakness in 2 of our key markets as well as continued macro-economic uncertainty”, Palmer said. Overall wholesale demand grew by 6 % in the first 6 months as the group posted strong increases in the Americas and Asia, but a decline in Britain and the rest of the continent prompted the carmaker to cut its full-year forecast. Aston Martin has also been hit by expansion costs as it builds a new factory in Wales to make its first SUV and a lower average selling price. The company said that if it requires some additional financing it would pursue the funds from sources such as the debt markets. The global car industry has been hit by weakening demand in China and a drop in demand for diesel vehicles in Europe, as well as the cost of electrification. Nissan reported plunging profits last week and said it would undertake its biggest restructuring plan in a decade, axing nearly a tenth of its workforce. But 106-year old Aston Martin also faces the risk of a disorderly Brexit disrupting its wholly British production, as delays at ports due to new bureaucracy could slow down the movement of vehicles and components. “We do not want a no-deal Brexit because of the disruption that causes to issues at the border”, said Palmer. The publication of Aston Martin’s latest results came a week after the firm issued a profit warning in which it cut its wholesale forecasts. Retailsales in the first half of 2019 were up 26 % year-on-year, with growth in the USA and China off-setting a steep decline in the UK and Europe. Wholesale volumes (cars being distributed to dealers) were up 6 % year-on-year. Aston boss Palmer admitted that “this has been a difficult period and we’ve clearly seen the market reaction”. But he noted that the firm’s sales were up year-on-year, and added: “I’m confident we are taking the right actions and that we can successfully deliver our strategy”. While sales were up, driven largely by demand for the Vantage and DBS Superleggera, Aston Martin’s revenues dipped in part because it sold fewer high-price Special models, reducing the average selling price of its cars. The firm anticipates sales of its Specials will increase later this year, particularly with the ultra-limited run DB4 GT Zagato Continuation due in the 4th quarter. In its profit warning last week, Aston Martin revised planned wholesale volumes for the full year. From 7.100 to 7.300 units originally forecast when it published its annual results in February, the target has now dropped to 6.300 to 6.500 units. Palmer said that reduction was a result of the firm being “responsible and disciplined in the approach to our balance sheet”, and was designed to ensure that supply of the firm’s cars did not exceed demand, which could force dealers to offer discounts. He added: “Retails are up, wholesales are up, market share is up; we’re just not as up in wholesale as we’d like. In order to protect the market position of the brand we thought it right and proper to cut the wholesale numbers to ensure that we don’t simply make the mistakes of history and have to discount cars to get them away”. Aston Martin’s profits were hit by a one-off £19 million provision for a ‘doubtful debt’ charge, relating to the planned sale of some intellectual property rights in the previous year. The firm has also invested heavily in its ambitious Second Century growth plan, and particularly in developing the DBX, which is due to be launched in December and go on sale early next year. Palmer said that Aston Martin remained “focused completely” on the execution of the plan, and insisted that the wholesale volume revisions and falling share price wouldn’t impact that. “We recognise there are headwinds and continuing uncertainties, and you’d correctly expect us to keep our financing arrangements under review to ensure we have appropriate resources around us”, said Palmer. He noted the first has greater cash reserves than it did this time last year, and would be prepared to secure additional funding “from sources with which we’re familiar” if needed. He added: “Our basic intention is the execution of the Second Century plan. We have some short-term headwinds and one would hope we move through this short-term correction and then carry on with what we’re doing. You always take opportunities to be leaner and fitter, and that we will do. We’ve seen through the development of DBX so far that the efficiency of the development is much greater than it was with DB11, with far fewer design changes, far fewer needs to correct things not modelled correctly. “That efficiency and things we learn through development are then cascased into development of the Vanquish replacement and eventually the Lagondas. We’ll take the opportunity of those learnings, but the plan remains unchanged”. +++ 

+++ Former AUDI chief executive Rupert Stadler is among 4 people who have been charged by German prosecutors for their role in the Volkswagen Group dieselgate emissions scandal. The German public prosecutor’s office in Munich has charged Stadler and 3 other defendants with false certification and criminal advertising practices. In a statement, the prosecutor said that Stadler “is accused of having been made aware of the manipulations since the end of September 2015, at the latest, but he did not prevent the sale of affected Audi and Volkswagen vehicles thereafter”. Stadler joined Audi in 1990, becoming its chairman in 2007. He was also appointed to the Volkswagen board in 2010. He was arrested in June 2018, and has been in prison in Germany since then. His employment with Audi was officially terminated last October. The 3 other defendants have also been charged with developing engines containing emissions ‘defeat devices’ that were used in Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars. While the prosecutor declined to identify the other defendants, sources have told that they include former Audi and Porsche executive Wolfgang Hatz and 2 engineers. The prosecutor added that investigations against 23 other suspects were continuing. Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to having used illegal engine control software to cheat pollution tests, triggering a global backlash against diesel. The affair has so far cost the German carmaker €30 billion. Audi only admitted in November 2015 that its 3.0 liter V6 diesel engines were fitted with an auxiliary control device which was deemed illegal in the United States. Volkswagen and its former managers have faced numerous law suits, and in April prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig charged former Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn with fraud over his role. The Munich prosecutor said that three of the defendants are accused of having developed engines for Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars that used emissions cheat devices. Stadler was arrested in June 2018 as part of a broader probe into emissions cheating at Audi, which is part of Volkswagen Group, and spent several months in prison. Volkswagen later terminated Stadler’s contract against the backdrop of a criminal investigation into whether he was involved in emissions tests cheating. The prosecutors said that his indictment relates to roughly 250000 Audi branded cars, 112000 Porsches and 72000 Volkswagen cars that were sold in the U.S. and Europe. Hatz, former R&D chief at Porsche and former head of powertrain development at Audi and parent Volkswagen, spent several months in custody in 2017 and 2018 over his alleged role in the emissions cheating scandal. Stadler’s and Hatz’s lawyers were not immediately available for comment. People familiar with the proceedings told that Stadler and Hatz have denied wrongdoing. The Braunschweig prosecutors had said that Volkswagen’s emissions cheating took place between November 2006 and September 2015, and that Winterkorn failed in his duty to inform European and U.S. authorities after it became clear in May 2014 that diesel engines had been manipulated. Winterkorn had also neglected to inform customers of, and did not prevent, the continued installation of fraudulent software, the prosecutors have said. Winterkorn’s lawyer has said he cannot comment on the charges because he had been denied access to important case files. Audi said in a statement that it was in the interest of the company, its shareholders and employees to clarify the issues that led to the diesel crisis. “Until this has happened, the presumption of innocence must prevail”, the spokesman said. +++ 

+++ The European Union’s top court has rejected an appeal by BMW against a European Commission decision to limit the state aid it could receive for a car plant in eastern Germany. The Commission stipulated in 2014 that the carmaker should receive no more than €17 million to expand production of 2 models of electric and hybrid passenger cars in Leipzig; a project expected to create 800 jobs. Germany had originally planned to grant €45 million toward the project, but the Commission ruled any amount exceeding €17 million was incompatible with internal market rules. BMW challenged the decision, arguing that the Commission had made errors in calculating the cost of the project. It lost an initial case before the General Court of the European Union, the second highest EU court, in September 2017. BMW subsequently appealed, but the European Court of Justice rejected the appeal. +++

+++ Contingency plans in case of a no-deal BREXIT have so far cost the UK car industry £330 million. Research from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders found that, collectively, car makers have spent the money on preparations for a no-deal Brexit since the referendum in 2016. The SMMT added that not all of its members had yet responded so the total figure would be higher. For most major UK manufacturers, these plans include stockpiling materials and components, securing warehouse space and looking at new logistics such as using alternative ports. It has also been necessary, in some cases, to purchase additional insurance, train in new customs procedures and recruit people. Most significantly, the movement of annual plant shutdowns from the summer to April, which were pulled forward in anticipation of the March Brexit deadline, were costly for those car makers affected. The SMMT added that this measure cannot be repeated for the proposed October departure date from the EU. While individual makers’ expenditure was not disclosed, the SMMT said some marques had spent more than £100 million, others had spent “tens of millions’ and some under £1 million. SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the fear of a ‘no deal’ Brexit was “causing investment to stall, as hundreds of millions of pounds are diverted to Brexit cliff-edge mitigation; money that would be better spent tackling technological and environmental challenges”. In the first 6 months of this year, £90 million of investment was pledged in the UK car industry, comprising £23 million of government funding for electrification projects, plus a couple of smaller, unnamed suppliers. By comparison, £374.3 million of investment was announced in the same period last year and £647 million in 2017. Hawes added: “We expected a decline in investment because of product cycles. We are not blaming it entirely on Brexit but the downturn has been precipitous. A ‘no deal’ is causing investors to sit on their hands.” He described the £90 million figure as “pitiful”. He renewed calls for “a free and frictionless trade, to have competitive just-in-time manufacturing depends on that. Any tariff threatens the industry. The worst possible outcome is no deal. If we can get a deal, the future of the industry is still strong”. Hawes also said the industry was “desperate” for a Tesla-esque gigafactory. “We want to bolster the supply chain and ensure that the UK industry moves at the pace of new technology. “Without a Brexit deal, it would be much harder to attract Gigafactory investment. In future, value will be in batteries rather than powertrains, as it is now. We are going to need multiple gigafactories, especially to reach zero emissions”. Brexiteers have long argued that Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, which exports hundreds of thousands of cars to Britain, will do its utmost to protect that trade, while the British government under Johnson is now ramping up preparations and has said it could help affected sectors. But spending has fallen every year since 2014, down from £5.83 billion in 2013 to £1.1 billion in 2017 and £589 million in 2018. “We need an internationally competitive business environment to encourage more investment, more innovation and more growth”, said Hawes. “That starts with an ambitious Brexit deal that maintains frictionless trade and we look to the new administration to get a deal done quickly so manufacturers can get back to the business of building cars”. +++ 

+++ Have you heard the rumor? Chevrolet is killing the CAMARO . Apparently, the current 6th generation car will soldier on untill the early 2020s, then cruise into the sunset. Chevrolet is said to have commenced development of a 7th generation Camaro, but after some soul searching (and a look at the numbers), decided to cancel the program and stretch the lifespan of today’s car. After that, the Camaro will die. Nonsense. Thanks to the C8 Corvette, the Camaro isn’t going anywhere. Here’s why. 1) Front-engine fun: At the C8 launch, Chevrolet acknowledged that the move to mid-engine was because the front-engine layout had reached its zenith. Chevrolet’s own Camaro seems to contradict that. Even with its base turbo 4-cylinder engine, the Camaro shines on track with the 1LE package. I called the V8, 6-speed equipped SS “A revelation”, concluding that it’s “one of the finest driver’s cars in the world”. If these Camaros show anything, it’s that a front-engine car can pack serious performance. 2) Budget brawler: $60,000-or-so for supercar-rivaling performance makes the C8 an incredible value. But $60 grand is still far from ‘entry-level’ most people could never dream of buying a car that expensive. The Camaro SS offers V8 thrills for under $40,000. And the turbo-4 Camaro packs sporty looks and rear-wheel-drive dynamics for well under $30,000. Chevrolet has a history of muscular performance, and making the C8 its baseline offering would alienate a population of enthusiasts who want to go fast behind a bow tie. 3) Breathing Room: Cannibalism within a lineup (losing sales of higher-margin vehicles to cheaper but similarly performing cars) is a concern for automakers. A problem for the C7 Corvette Z06 was the equally powerful but less expensive Camaro ZL1. Fitted with the 1LE package, it turns into a legitimate track record hunter for a smidge over $70,000. With that firepower, at that price, it likely stole more than a few Corvette customers. Now that the mid-engine revolution has commenced, risk of cannibalism is diminished, and there’s newfound room for the Camaro. 4) Detroit Fuel: In today’s crossover craze, sporty coupes have a hard time proving a business case. But despite its ancient platform, Dodge Challenger sales remain strong. And even as Ford cancelled its cars, the Camaro’s arch-nemesis, the Mustang, boldly powers on. Chevrolet may make similar lineup shifts, but the C8’s arrival creates new potential for the brand’s other longstanding performance nameplate. Would Chevrolet be so short-sighted as to cancel the Camaro and let Motown rivals eat its lunch? I think not. Rather, its 7th generation will arrive better than ever and ready to take on the world. +++ 

+++ The CHEVROLET CORVETTE has always proved to be the most popular among Baby Boomers, but Chevrolet believes the C8 has the right ingredients to appeal to customers of all ages. General Motors president Mark Reuss said the C8 should appeal to buyers young and old. “You can say the buyer, like me, is getting older. But at the end of the day, if you do a great car, one that is beautiful, that delivers performance and is attainable, any generation with aspirations for this type of car is going to buy it”, Reuss said. “You don’t have to worry about who can’t get into it any longer or doesn’t want to get into it any longer. A lot of that kind of goes away”. The original Chevrolet Corvette was unveiled when Baby Boomers were young kids and when they grew up, in the 1970s and started making money, sales of the Corvette soared and hit a record of 42,571 units in 1977. Now, these Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age and many have left the market. This has caused sales of the Corvette to begin falling. In recent years, younger buyers have sought out crossovers and SUVs. Reuss acknowledges this, but believes the C8 will help to change things. As he explained, “That’s true but this car here isn’t in the market today, and I think this is going to change everything”. Reuss pinpoints the fact that the new Corvette features an exciting V8 engine, a dual-clutch transmission as well as eye-catching interior and exterior designs. It will also start at less than $60,000 and he believes this will help the model appeal to younger buyers. +++ 

+++ Automakers are increasingly pushing autonomous and electric vehicles, but it appears CONSUMERS aren’t thrilled with either of them. According to JD Power’s Mobility Confidence Index Study (which asked more than 5,000 consumers about their feelings towards autonomous and electric vehicles) many people need more convincing about the latest developments in the automotive industry. The study found that the Mobility Confidence Index for autonomous vehicles was 36 on a 100 point scale. Part of the reason for the low score was that people said they wouldn’t feel comfortable riding in an autonomous vehicle and were also afraid of sharing the road with self-driving cars. This discomfort seems to come from a mistrust of autonomous driving technology as 71 % of consumers were worried about possible technical failures or glitches. 57 % of respondents were afraid autonomous vehicles could be hacked, while 55 % were worried about their legal liability following a crash. The news wasn’t all bad as 65 % of people were more hopeful than worried about autonomous vehicles and it appears a number of the concerns could be caused by a lack of information. In particular, 66 % of respondents said they have “little to no knowledge about self-driving vehicles”. Acceptance of electric vehicles was higher as they had a Mobility Confidence Index score of 55. While consumers like the environmental benefits of EVs, many said they likely wouldn’t purchase one and were concerned about their reliability compared to petrol-powered models. Consumers were also concerned with costs, a lack of charging infrastructure and range issues. Many of these challenges are being addressed as companies are building more charging stations and many electric vehicles now have a range in excess of 322 km. Automakers are also introducing vehicles that can be recharged faster and this is important as 74 % of people said they’d only be willing to wait 30 minutes or less to receive a charge that delivers approximately 322 km of range. +++ 

+++ 3 years ago, I heard about an attempt to relaunch the iconic CORD brand with a series of continuation models inspired by the originals of the 1930’s. I haven’t heard much about the effort since then, but it appears the legendary brand is going up for sale once again. According to a listing by Worldwide Auctioneers, the “trademark, licensing and manufacturing rights” to Cord will be up for grabs at the company’s Auburn Auction which kicks off on August 30th. The rights to the company are being offered without reserve and the auction firm says the “purchaser can offer licenses for Cord automobiles and parts, Cord clothing, Cord model toys and the classic Cord logo”. There’s no auction estimate, but Cord is an iconic brand which pioneered front-wheel drive vehicles in America. The company also produced stylish cars such as the 812 Phaeton which featured hidden headlights and a supercharged 4.7-liter V8 engine that produced 177 hp. While the auction company didn’t say much about Cord or who is selling the rights, Craig Corbell II purchased them at auction in 2014. He intended to reboot the company and make use of the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 which would have allow them to create replicas of classic Cords and outfit them with modern powertrains. There’s no word on what happened to Corbell’s plan but his company, Cord Revival, apparently confirmed they’re the ones selling the rights as they made a Facebook post linking to the auction. +++ 

+++ FORD plans to launch Chinese sales of its first electric vehicle, a battery-powered version of the Territory crossover, at a starting price of 199,000 yuan ($28,924). After government subsidies, the price will be lowered to 182,800 yuan, Ford said. The electric Territory will go sale late this year with a range of 360 kilometers on one change. Like the gasoline variant, it will be assembled at Jiangling Motors; Ford’s truck joint venture. The gasoline Territory, with a starting price of 109,800 yuan, is the first passenger vehicle built at Jiangling Motors, which also produces the Everest SUV, Tourneo and Transit for the Ford brand. Ford markets only one electrified vehicle, the plug-in hybrid variant of the Mondeo, in China. The vehicle is built at Changan Ford, Ford’s passenger vehicle partnership. The U.S. company’s China sales continue to slip due to weak demand for Ford-badged vehicles. In the second quarter, deliveries at the Ford marque slumped 28 % to 92,885. By contrast, Lincoln sales rose 7 % to 12,404. To stem falling sales, Ford plans to introduce more than 30 new and upgraded models, including at least 10 electrified products, under the Ford and Lincoln brands in China over the next 3 years. +++

+++ The London Electric Vehicle Company ( LEVC ) has produced the 2500th example of its TX range-extender hybrid taxi, marking a significant production milestone for the firm. Production of the low-emission model began in January 2018 at the company’s purpose-built Coventry facility following a £500 million investment from Chinese parent company Geely, which took over the British firm in 2013. The factory has a production capacity of 36,000 units per year, and employs more than 1000 people. LEVC claims the 2500 TX taxis produced so far have prevented 6800 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, based on the emissions rating of the model’s diesel-powered predecessor, the LTI-produced TX4. The company also says NOx emissions, regarded as the primary contributor to poor air quality, are down by 99.5 % compared to the older model. Over the 21 million miles covered collectively by the TX, it has used 850,000 litres less fuel than the TX4, saving its owners £3.85 million, or roughly £100 per week, in running costs. The TX is sold in 20 UK cities so far, including Coventry, Manchester and Edinburgh, but London remains LEVC’s biggest market, with 2000 TXs in operation across the capital. The model is also available in Norway, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Netherlands. LEVC’s boss Jörg Hoffmann said: “When this project began in 2014, we set out to make the world’s most advanced taxi, to distil over 70 years of cab-building knowledge into an all-new leader in urban zero emissions mobility. The endorsement from drivers is compelling while passengers love TX’s comfort, space and connectivity features. We are proud to be supporting the city of London in its efforts to improve air quality, and doing the same across the UK. In the very near future we will be further driving TX sales in Europe and expanding our range with a new LCV. Our goal is to be the leading European green commercial mobility solution provider”. The recently revealed LCV is a small van that shares a drivetrain and platform with the TX, aimed at urban businesses. With an electric-only range of 80 miles, it is expected that owners will travel in from the suburbs on petrol power, before switching to zero-emissions mode in the city centre. +++ 

+++ LITHIUM miners are bulking up for a booming future when electric vehicles go mainstream. But speed bumps loom, with prices tumbling on a burst of new production and demand growth slowing in China. Between mid-2015 and mid-2018, prices for lithium, the soft, silvery-white metal crucial for rechargeable batteries, almost tripled as the world’s fleet of electric vehicles hit the 5 million mark, and the auto industry began to fret over the supply of raw materials. That sparked the opening of 6 lithium mines in Australia since 2017 as companies raced to gain from an evolving technology. While the EV boom is coming, it isn’t here yet. Sales growth is slowing in China, the top market, and the drive to fill the battery supply chain has cooled. The result: A 30 % price plunge for lithium that’s spurring concern over where the bottom may lie. “The latest EV data did reveal slowing growth, inferring that on top of excess supply, demand is now a problem”, Vivienne Lloyd and other analysts at Macquarie Capital wrote in a report this month. “The key interest for investors should be who is likely to survive”. In the first quarter of 2019, sales of electric vehicles in China, the largest market for EVs, grew by about 90 % compared with a year earlier. While that sounds impressive, it’s half the growth seen between 2017 and 2018, according to Nikolas Soulopoulos at BloombergNEF in London. Meanwhile, lithium output in Australia, the world’s leading producer, is expected to rise about 23 % over the next 2 years. And last month, the mining minister for No. 2 Chile, Baldo Prokurica, said the current administration was seeking to double that country’s production within 4 years. Lithium producers face other pricing hurdles as well, including a slowdown in the world’s ability to convert mined ore into lithium materials. Some converters in China reported delayed expansion due to overly aggressive project time lines, extended periods to commission their facilities, and tightened credit, according to a July report by Orocobre. In response to the delays, Perth-based Pilbara Minerals said in June that it planned to temporarily slow the pace of production. Even though the long-term demand outlook still looks strong, some producers are lowering their earnings forecasts for the short-term. Earlier this year, Belgium-based Umicore, the world’s largest lithium-ion cathode maker, lowered its earnings guidance through the end of 2019, citing weaker demand and the shutdown of energy storage systems in South Korea. While Umicore said it expects “significant growth in revenues and earnings in 2020”, its previous projections of 100,000 tons of cathode materials sales in 2019 and 175,000 tons capacity by the end of 2021 are now on a 12- to 18-month lag. Top lithium miner Albemarle and Livent also cited weakening demand and low prices as the cause of business headwinds and production delays. “There’s a tradeoff”, said Joel Jackson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. Producers “see that electric vehicles will take off years from now, and they want to be the dominant players in 2023, 2025, 2030”, Jackson said. “So they’ll try to build out what they believe will be the supply needed to service lithium demand years from now, and they want to get their products out there first”. By 2025, the market for mined lithium raw material may be worth $20 billion, compared with $43 billion for refined products and $424 billion for battery cells, according to a base-case scenario outlined in a 2018 study published by the Australia-based Association of Mining and Exploration Companies. By 2030, the supply of lithium-ion batteries will need to increase by more than 10-fold, according to forecasts, with electric vehicles to accounting for more than 70 % of that demand. In the meantime, the lithium bears are in control. Morgan Stanley forecast earlier this month that lithium carbonate prices from South America would fall below the $10,000 per ton threshold. Different forms of lithium produced in different regions will continue declining and converge between $7,000 and $8,100 per ton by 2025, according to analysts led by Javier Martinez de Olcoz. Not all lithium is equal, either. Miners produce lithium with specific chemical properties, catered to the needs of each buyer. Negotiations to close contracts are confidential and typically take months. “As the EV industry evolves, battery requirements are changing to address greater safety needs, range specifications, and energy density”, Martinez de Olcoz wrote in a report. The difference, he said, “has raised questions about the ability of lithium producers to keep up with the fast-changing demand profile”. Lithium stocks will remain volatile, but producers who can adapt faster to the changing needs of their customers are likely to win in the race to dominate the market, de Olcoz said. +++ 

+++ OPEL has announced a new range-topping powertrain for the Combo Life people carrier. The Ludospace can now be had with a 1.2-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 130 hp and 230 Nm at 1,750 rpm. The PSA-sourced engine is linked exclusively to an 8-speed automatic transmission and start/stop, with an NEDC-rated average fuel economy as low as 5.3 l/100 km and corresponding CO2 emissions of 121 g/km (for the SWB 5-seat model). The new power plant meets the Euro 6d emission standard, thanks in part to the Gasoline Particulate Filter (GPF). The Combo Life powered by the 1.2-liter turbo engine accelerates to 100 km/h in 12.3 seconds and reaches a top speed of 186 km/h. Prices for the Opel Combo Life equipped with this engine start at €27,200 for the base Edition trim level in Germany. In addition to the new engine and automatic transmission, the Combo Life 1.2 Turbo gains new standard features including a 6-stage adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and armrest, heated multifunction steering wheel wrapped in leather, front power windows and airconditioning. An infotainment system with an 8 inch color touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is also standard, as are several driver assistance systems. Those include automatic cruise control and speed limiter, front collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, hill-start assist, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and driver drowsiness alert. +++ 

+++ 2 key committees in the U.S. Congress said they will revive efforts to pass long-stalled legislation to speed the adoption of SELF DRIVING CARS . The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee sent automakers, safety groups and others interested in the bill a request for input and said they were working on a “bipartisan and bicameral basis to develop a self-driving car bill”. In December, Congress abandoned efforts to pass legislation on self-driving cars before it adjourned, in a blow to companies like General Motors and Waymo. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota and others, praised the announcement. “Right now various countries are exploring regulations that will shape the future of autonomous vehicles, and the U.S. risks losing its leadership in this life-saving, life-changing technology, so we urge Congress to move forward now, this year”, spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said. The letter sought input by Aug. 23 on a variety of issues including federal rules (both current or new) testing, privacy, disability access, cybersecurity, consumer education and crash data. The U.S. House unanimously passed legislation in September 2017 by voice vote to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, but it stalled in the Senate last year. Despite a series of concessions by automakers, the bill could not overcome objections of some Democrats who said it did not do enough to resolve safety concerns. Under the prior legislation, automakers would have been able to win exemptions from safety rules that require human controls. States could set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections but not set performance standards. In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was considering a pilot program to allow real-world road testing for a limited number of vehicles without human controls. Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver would be able to control the vehicle using traditional controls. In January 2017, GM filed a petition with NHTSA seeking an exemption to deploy fully automated vehicles without steering wheels before the end of 2019; that petition was still under review. Last week, GM’s self-driving unit, Cruise, said it was delaying the commercial deployment of cars past its target of 2019 as more testing of the vehicles was required. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , car production fell by a fifth in the first half of 2019. In the first 5 months of 2019, UK factories built 666,521 cars; 20.1 % less than the 834,573 produced in the same period last year. June 2019 marked the 13th consecutive month of decline, with the number of cars built falling 15.2 % year-on-year from 128,799 to 109,226. Although production for the domestic market saw a 17.8 % boost in June, it has fallen by 16.4 % overall in the first half of 2019. Exports (which have made up 80 % of the market so far this year) dropped by 21 %, with a 19.8 % year-on-year decline having occurred in June. Exports to the EU (which makes up 57 % of the UK’s car export market) were down 15.6 % in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, exports to the US were down 12.9 %, China down 53.1 %, Japan down 10.5 % and Turkey down 93.0 %. The threat of a no deal Brexit is one of the causes for this decline, with a number of UK factories having brought their annual shutdowns forward from the summer to April 2019, impacting overall production for the first half of the year. In addition, this has involved stockpiling materials and components, securing warehouse capacity and investing in new logistics solutions, additional insurance and training in new customs procedures. Slowing demand in key overseas markets also contributed to the decline, with global consumer confidence at a low point. It has been a largely gloomy year so far for UK car manufacturing. Honda announced it will shut its Swindon plant in 2021, while Nissan pulled plans to make the next X-Trail in Sunderland. But earlier this month, Jaguar Land Rover bucked the trend by announcing major investment in its Castle Bromwich plant. Mike Hawes, chief executive of Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, commented: “Jaguar Land Rover is an outlier and a rare piece of good news across the UK industry. It’s hugely welcome. But the underlying trend is not so good”. The broader outlook for UK car manufacturing very much depends on the outcome of Brexit, says the SMMT. If there was a favourable Brexit deal and transition period, UK car production is expected to rise to 1.42 million by 2021. But, say figures from data firm Auto Analysis, if the country leaves Europe with no deal and turn to WTO rules, output is forecast to fall around 30 % on recent levels to 1.07 million units by 2021. If that were to happen, it would be the lowest production figures since the 1980s. +++ 

+++ A significant number of owners of VOLKSWAGEN GROUP cars fitted with the firm’s 1.5-litre TSI Evo engine have been experiencing serious ‘kangarooing’ issues. While VW has been aware of the problem for months, a fix has yet to be developed. The fault affects mainstream VW Group cars, with Seat, Skoda, Volkswagen and Audi owners complaining about their experiences. Online forums are also filled with the same issue. The problem only appears in manual cars with the 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine; DSG autos are said to be unaffected. Owners report a juddering action, which is most noticeable in lower gears when motors are cold. One reader said the ‘kangarooing’ is so pronounced that it moves him in his seat, while another reported their car can stall at junctions and roundabouts unless they drop the clutch and get the engine revving again. While all the issues relate to the same engine / gearbox combination, dealers have responded inconsistently. Some have allowed owners to reject their cars, others have not. Software patches have been applied to some vehicles, while a number of owners have been told no such patch exists. In some cases retailers have informed customers the issue is a “characteristic” of the car, while others have been more open about the significance of the problem. I contacted Volkswagen in December about the fault, and the firm said it was “aware of reports from customers complaining that some vehicles featuring the 1.5-litre TSI Evo engine with manual gearbox can be slightly hesitant in the cold-running phase”. VW insisted, however, that this issue was rare, and promised it was developing a solution. 7 months later a fix still hasn’t been developed. VW considers the number of cars affected is “small”, and says it is “working with the authorities to provide solutions”. The firm added affected owners should discuss their issues with dealers. But with mixed messages coming from franchises, and no solution in sight, readers say VW should do more to resolve the issue. Volkswagen replaced its 1.4-litre engine with the 1.5-litre TSI Evo in March 2017 with the Golf, and now offers the motor with a number of models, including the SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq and Audi A3. +++

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