+++ The world’s top platinum and palladium supplier has an answer to the electric-car boom that may pose a long-term threat to its biggest market: invent a new BATTERY . Anglo American Platinum wants to develop a lithium battery that uses platinum-group metals instead of cobalt and nickel. The aim is to create a new multi-billion dollar source of demand for the metals as electric vehicles reduce the need for traditional fuel autocatalysts. Platinum miners have good reason to be worried. Electric-car sales are forecast to reach 56 million by 2040, making up about 57 % of the overall car market versus 2 % now. That could curb demand for autocatalysts, which use platinum and palladium to clean toxic emissions. Platinum is already under pressure: prices are near a decade-low as drivers turn away from diesel engines and supplies remain ample. “Platinum could play a big role in batteries, but we need to thrift out the other metals to make it viable”, said Mike Jones, CEO of miner Platinum Group Metals, which is working with Amplats to develop the new battery. Amplats and Platinum Group Metals have agreed to invest up to $4 million in Lion Battery Technologies to find a way to use platinum metals to keep batteries cool and create a lighter product with a greater driving range. The venture is studying how much metal will be needed and aims to have a commercial prototype in 3 to 5 years. The idea is not new. Academics have researched the technology since the 1990s, but developing it has so far been unfeasible. There is no proof yet that such a battery can be mass manufactured, and no technology right now can compete with nickel-cobalt batteries in terms of affordability and performance, said George Heppel, a battery metals analyst at CRU Group. Part of the challenge is that platinum metals are much more expensive than cobalt and nickel. Early research also shows that 0.5 to 1 ounce of platinum or palladium could be used in the new technology, as much as 6 times the amount of metal currently used in traditional autocatalysts, said Jones of Platinum Group Metals. “The battery industry is trying to reduce its reliance on expensive/resource scarce material, so I question how hungry the market would be for these batteries”, said James Frith, an energy storage analyst. While electric-car sales are already rising, platinum consumption in the auto sector remained fairly robust in recent years amid stricter emissions rules, and the industry has boosted palladium usage, helping push prices to a record. Total demand may rise about 18 % for platinum through 2030 and 12 % for palladium, according to Noah Capital Markets. If platinum metals demand does slow, that would be especially bad news for South Africa, where 75 % of all platinum and 40 % of palladium are mined. The industry contributes about 96 billion rand ($6.3 billion) to exports from the nation, which is teetering on the brink of a second recession in successive years. Miners’ support for new battery technology will likely grow, but more industry collaboration is needed to promote demand for metal, Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said. The company is also working with Toyota and Mitsubishi to look at ways to use platinum metals in more environmentally friendly ways. Creating a new battery using platinum metals “would be massively positive for the industry”, said Rene Hochreiter, an analyst at Noah Capital. But “it’s still early stages”, he said. +++ 

+++ General Motors and Ford say they are preparing for a potential ECONOMIC DOWNTURN that could be triggered by the ongoing trade war between the United States and China. Ford North American chief financial officer Matt Fields said the car manufacturer has a $20 billion cash buffer in the event of another global recession. Similarly, GM’s finance head Dhivya Suryadevara revealed at the same event that Ford’s biggest rival has $18 billion in cash if needed. General Motors revealed at the conference that it has modeled both moderate and severe downturn scenarios similar to the 2008-2009 financial crisis to ensure it can weather the storm. “It’s something that we continually keep watching and updating to make sure that we’re all set for when the downturn does come”, Suryadevara said. In addition to ensuring it has a lot of cash on hand, General Motors is looking at deferring non-essential capital expenditure and shifting to lower-priced vehicles as part of its “downturn planning”. Ford says it is “proactively” evaluating the future of the economy and is working with experts to model the impact of a potential recession. This year has proved to be extremely volatile on the world markets as many economists try to predict the next economic downturn. Tit-for-tat tariffs between the United States and China in recent months have already had detrimental impacts on the production and sales of cars around the world due in part to rising raw material costs. +++ 

+++ Ford has been going through a mess of problems when it comes to the dual-clutch transmissions offered in the FIESTA AND FOCUS . So, today Ford announced that it’s extending the clutch warranty on certain vehicles with the dual-clutch transmission in the United States by 2 years or 40,000 miles, to a total of 7 years or 100,000 miles. This action brings the newer vehicles’ warranties in line with the extended warranties of some of the older cars. This news doesn’t change the 10 year / 150,000-mile transmission control module warranty. Additionally, anyone who paid for clutch repairs out of pocket is going to be reimbursed for those repairs now that the extended warranty is in place. Dave Filipe, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering wrote in a statement: “Ford understands and regrets that many customers have been inconvenienced and frustrated by the performance of the DPS6 transmission. Earning and keeping the trust of customers is vital to everything we do. That is why Ford and its dealers have gone to great lengths to improve the performance of the transmission”. The second part of the news today concerns a software update that Ford is still offering folks who own these cars. Ford has already updated the transmission control modules for 84 % of the cars, but it says 16 % of owners haven’t come in for the update yet. This update provides an enhanced warning that indicates when the transmission control module is going to fail. It’s free, and Ford is taking this opportunity to try and get as many people on the new software as possible. The aforementioned extended warranty will cover approximately 560,000 cars, and the update is still waiting to be applied to 165,000 cars, according to Ford. +++ 

+++ At FORD , Mustang and Bronco are iconic names. Ford is leveraging that equity, creating families of vehicles as part of an overall rejiggering of its lineup that downplays traditional sedans and emphasizes car-based vehicles with a different look. Much like F-Series encompasses assorted pickups and truck chassis under one umbrella, Mustang and Bronco are evolving into sub-brands of sorts, adding variants and even different body styles while working to preserve the essence of the names attached to them. Mustang has the distinction of being the only traditional low car with a future in North America; Ford is not investing in next generations of the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion (Mondeo), or Taurus for this market. Some of these cars have already been discontinued, the rest are being phased out and replaced with more functional designs in a world enamored with pickups and SUVs. The current Mustang went global, and the family includes performance variants such as the Shelby GT350 and upcoming Shelby GT500. At the other end of the spectrum, a Mustang hybrid is coming. The lineup is further expanding with a performance electric vehicle, an SUV with Mustang styling cues. Developed on Ford’s new electric vehicle architecture, it will launch in 2020. It is being done with kid gloves, Ford president and CEO Jim Hackett told in an interview. “We have to thread the needle on this really carefully because this franchise has just got such clarity that it is not going to evolve away from what its leverage is. It’s not going to be that. But there’s a couple derivations here”. It makes marketing sense to leverage the Mustang name: gaining name recognition for a new nameplate requires a lot of time and money. Ford has big marketing plans to ensure the electric SUV makes a big social media splash before it goes on sale next year. “It’s that powerful a brand”, Hackett said. The other big name to leverage: Bronco. The return of the rugged SUV has been generating buzz for a couple years even though it does not go on sale until next year and has not yet been shown. The design has been finalized. The Bronco, which shares underpinnings with the Ranger pickup, will be offered with a choice of 2 or 4 doors, and rear or allwheel drive. Like the Jeep Wrangler, the doors and roof are removable and can be cleverly stashed in the cargo hold. The side mirrors are attached to the windshield frame so they stay in place when the doors are removed. There will be a spare tire in the back and giant letters spelling Bronco across the front. In terms of powertrains, educated guesses include the 2.3 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and perhaps the 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6 as the top-spec engine. Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission is expected, and enthusiasts would love the option of a 7-speed manual. There will also be a Bronco hybrid. To broaden the Bronco family, there is a front and allwheel drive compact crossover coming that shares some of Bronco’s rugged good looks and is also due by 2020. Like the Kuga, it is car-based, but while the Kuga was designed to be an urban SUV, the ‘baby Bronco’ will have some off-road chops with the necessary approach, departure, and breakover angles, as well as Terrain Management. It will also have hybrid options. The smaller crossover won’t be a shrunken Bronco, but the unibody crossover will share some design cues. And it could have Bronco as part of its name: Think Discovery and Discovery Sport. Jim Farley, president of New Businesses, Technology, and Strategy, has also confirmed plans to build a more affordable midsize pickup to slot below the Ranger. The entry-level pickup would be a new nameplate for Ford and could be part of the Bronco family as a compact unibody pickup. It would also ride on the front-drive platform used by the new Focus in Europe. This would be in line with Ford’s overall strategy of replacing traditional cars with car-based vehicles with a different shape or body style. Engine options could include Ford’s 2.0 liter turbocharged L4. The base engine could even be the 1.5 liter 3-cylinder engine. A Focus based pickup would not be unprecedented. Ford sold a 2 door subcompact pickup called the Courier in Brazil which was based on the 1998 Fiesta. It was replaced in 2013 with the larger Ford Ranger.
Ford has applied to trademark the Courier name in the U.S. The Courier name was also used on Ford-badged versions of the Mazda B-Series compact pickup in the early ’70s, before the truck became the Ranger for the 1983 model year in North America, while remaining Courier in other markets. There were also electric Couriers from 1979 to 1982. In 2003, Ford introduced the Ford Everest midsize SUV based on the Courier/Ranger for Asia and Central America. Ford and Volkswagen have agreed to work together on everything from pickups and commercial vans to electric and autonomous vehicle development. The partnership includes use of the Ranger platform to create pickups for both automakers in 2020 for markets around the world; with the possible exception of North America, depending on who you talk to. Ford execs have insisted North America is not part of the agreement, but Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess says a Ranger-based pickup for VW on this side of the ocean is very much in play. Hackett, who has yet to visit Wolfsburg, has an explanation for the discrepancy. “It was in the discussions, so he’s right. It was in the earliest talks where we might take this”. But it is not an option now, Hackett said, in part for logistical reasons. In North America, Ranger is “selling so well that we’d have to build capacity for that”. Rangers for North America are built in Wayne, Michigan, at a plant that used to make the Ford Focus and C-Max. The Michigan Assembly Plant will also make the Ford Bronco. Ford will develop and build VW a successor to the Amarok pickup for Europe and other international markets, and the shared platform will be used for a new Ranger for Europe, South America, and Africa. Ford has a number of additional Ranger plants around the world that can handle the assignment. +++

+++ The economy of GERMANY shrank by 0.1 % in the second quarter from the previous 3-month period as global trade conflicts and troubles in the auto industry weighed on Europe’s largest economy. The state statistics agency Destatis said that falling exports held back output while demand from consumers and government spending at home supported the economy. In comparison to the same quarter a year ago, the economy grew 0.4 %. Germany’s economy is facing headwinds as its auto industry, a key employer and pillar of growth, faces challenges adjusting to tougher emissions standards in Europe and China and to technological change. Uncertainty over the terms of Britain’s planned exit from the EU has also weighed on confidence more generally: British prime minister Boris Johnson has said his country will leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the path to the new trading relationship. Analyst Carsten Brzeski at ING said trade conflicts and the struggling automotive sector were key reasons why output had fallen. The last time the German economy contracted on a quarterly basis was the third quarter last year when the automotive sector was dealing with bottlenecks getting cars certified under new emissions standards. “Increased uncertainty, rather than direct effects from trade conflicts, has dented sentiment and hence economic activity”, Brzeski wrote in an emailed research note. U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed new tariffs on Chinese goods while seeking a broader trade agreement and has indicated he may impose import tariffs on autos that would hit European manufacturers. Uncertainty over the outcome of those talks and what the future trading regime will look like among the U.S., China and Europe has weighed on business optimism, deterring business spending and investment. That comes on top of structural change in the auto industry, where tightening emissions regulations in Europe and China and digital technologies are pushing automakers to make heavy investments in battery-powered cars and smartphone-based services, with uncertain payoff. Germany continues to enjoy low unemployment of 3.1% but lower exports have raised concerns that weakening external demand will spread to domestic consumers and businesses. Germany runs a large trade and investment surplus with the rest of the world, which leaves it more vulnerable to a slowdown in global trade. Slowing growth has also increased debate over the German government’s practice of running budget surpluses. The International Monetary Fund, the U.S. Treasury Department and some economists at home have said Germany should cut tax burdens and spend more on infrastructure to boost domestic demand. That could make the country less dependent on exports. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she sees no need for a stimulus package “so far” but added that “we will react according to the situation”. She pointed to plans to remove the so-called solidarity tax, an added income tax aimed at covering costs associated with rebuilding the former East Germany, for most taxpayers. Andreas Rees, chief German economist at UniCredit, said that the growth figures and Merkel’s nuanced remarks indicated the likelihood of a moderate fiscal easing next year “has increased significantly”. The German quarterly decline was a big reason why growth across the wider 19-country eurozone has slowed. Figures confirmed that the eurozone’s growth halved in the second quarter of the year to just 0.2 %. Germany’s industrial problems also contributed to the large 1.6 % monthly fall in the currency bloc’s industrial production in June. The European Central Bank has signaled it is preparing a package of additional monetary stimulus measures including a possible rate cut and bond purchases that could be announced at its Sept. 12 meeting. +++ 

+++ Earlier this year, HONDA announced its intention to stop making cars in the United Kingdom and Turkey from 2021. Now, I learn that the Japanese automaker will also end automobile production in Argentina from 2020. Honda Motor de Argentina S.A. (HAR), a Honda subsidiary in Argentina which currently produces both motorcycles and automobiles, announced it will discontinue production of the HR-V at the Campana plant in the province of Buenos Aires next year. Starting on May 31, 2020 the facility will focus on manufacturing motorcycles, Honda added. Models currently built at the plant include the Wave, CG150, and XR150L. The move is motivated by Honda’s need to strengthen its automobile business structure “in the face of abrupt changes occurring to automobile industries around the world”. More specifically, the automaker says it wants to optimize automobile production allocation and production capacity on a global basis. Honda has been building cars in Argentina since 2011 (City / Jazz Sedan and HR-V) and motorcycles since 2006. The company said it will continue its automobile sales and after-sales service operation in the South American country. The Campana plant has around 1,000 employees and the fate of roughly half of them is unclear at the moment. Honda is in talks with the local union to offer a buyout for workers involved in auto production. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has come up with a solution to the JEEP Wrangler’s infamous ‘death wobble’, but has stopped short of issuing a recall. For years, the Wrangler’s solid front axle has meant that imperfections in the road can cause drivers to suddenly experience significant steering wobble when traveling at high speeds. The intense ‘death wobble’ is the subject of a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit. The car manufacturer claims to have come up with a solution to the issue which involves fitting a new steering damper or stabilizer. However, FCA continues to insist that the steering wobble is not a safety issue and as a result, it is not issuing a recall for its popular off-roader. Instead, Wrangler owners will be able to head to the local Jeep dealer and receive the new steering damper free of charge in a campaign which FCA dubs a “customer satisfaction note”. In a statement, chief technical compliance officer for FCA, Mark Chernoby, said the death wobble is an issue of resonance. “If you bang it with that frequency it’ll just sit there and keep going forever. It won’t slow down, it won’t dissipate, and that’s essentially what we’re talking about here with the vibration in the new Wrangler”, he said. “When you hit a bump in the road, if everything is just right, this suspension can set off that resonance and what we started seeing is as soon as it got cold this past fall, early winter, we started seeing complaints”. Lawyers behind the ongoing lawsuit call FCA’s resolution a “Band-Air fix” and believe the wobble “can only be remedied by substantial revisions and repair to the suspension”. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-AMG is well into developing the swansong for the GT range, the Black Series, ahead of its launch next year. The bodyshell will get new bonnet vents necessary to cool the heavily tuned twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, which is mooted to put out up to 680 hp. There will also be a massive, race-inspired fixed rear wing that dwarfs even that of the GT R. It suggests that unlike previous Black Series models, which have a reputation for unruly cornering behaviour, there will be a focus on keeping all that power locked to the asphalt through aerodynamic downforce. The future range-topping coupé will be beaten in acceleration terms only by the limited-run AMG One hypercar when it arrives in 2021, AMG boss Tobias Moers confirmed: “It will be the fastest AMG yet, bar the One. Not in terms of top speed, but lap times. Driveability is most important but, with balance, it gets good lap times too”. Currently, the most powerful iteration of the 4.0-litre V8 is found the GT 63 4-door Coupé, where it makes 630 hp. The expected pushing of the envelop to 680 hp would ensure the Black Series easily surpasses the peak output offered by the 577bhp GT R and GT R Pro. It would also edge it towards one of the category’s most radical supercars, the 700 hp Porsche 911 GT2 RS. According to Moers, the Black Series will be “great competition with our close neighbour”. The GT Black Series’ extra grunt will be accompanied by a more focused chassis and aerodynamic setup, which may go even further than the track-focused GT R Pro. That car was designed with uprated suspension and aerodynamic upgrades but received no extra power over the regular GT R. Such a setup should ensure the GT Black Series tips the scales at around 1.575 kg, in line with or slightly less than the GT R Pro. The 2020 arrival of the GT Black Series will mark a return for AMG’s most extreme moniker after a 7-year hiatus. The last Black Series model was based on the SLS and entered production in 2013. +++ 

+++ Volvo’s electrified performance brand POLESTAR will equip its first volume model with an integrated audio system developed by Dirac and Harman International. By combining the Dirac Unison active acoustic treatment with a Harman Kardon audio system, the Polestar 2 eliminates acoustical imperfections, the supplier said. “It resembles what glasses do to your eyes”, Mathias Johansson, who is CEO and co-founder of Dirac, told. “The goal is to get back to the sound experience that the artist and the producer originally intended”. Along with Polestar and Volvo, Dirac has worked with BMW, Bentley and Rolls-Royce to help them push their audio systems to higher levels of performance and sophistication through digital optimization. The goal being to make sure the sound is “as good as possible in that particular environment where you’re listening”, Johansson said. He said a big challenge for Dirac is knowing, or helping to define, an automaker’s so-called “sound identity”. “For example, you don’t want too much oomph in the base at Volvo because it doesn’t have that kind of image and neither does Polestar”, he said. Dirac general manager of Automotive Audio, Lars Carlsson, explained why he believes sound identity is crucial at the industry’s top players. “Safety is a commodity. Driving performance is a commodity to some people. The cars are quieter. They are good looking. So what can you do to make your car stand out? Great sound”, Carlsson told me. Johansson said achieving this goal will become even more important as the industry moves to self-driving vehicles. “When do you have time to listen to good music during your busy day?”, he asked. “It’s when you’re commuting. It’s when you are in the car”. +++ 

+++ Following months of teasers, PORSCHE has announced the highly anticipated Taycan will be unveiled on September 4th. Since the company has already booked over 30,000 pre-orders, the Taycan will be unveiled simultaneously on 3 different continents. In particular, there will be events in Canada, China and Germany. The company is also promising at least one guest star as Mark Webber will take part in the festivities. Porsche is keeping detailed specifications under wraps, but the automaker previously confirmed the Taycan will have 2 electric motors that produce a combined output in excess of 600 hp. This will enable the car to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in less than 3.5 seconds and travel more than 500 km on a single charge (NEDC). We can also expect less powerful variants which will be easier on the wallet. Nothing is official, but reports have suggested the entry-level Taycan will cost around €90,000 and have an 80 kWh battery pack.  The model is also slated to have outputs of 326 hp and 381 hp. Buyers will larger budgets will reportedly be able to purchase a Taycan 4S which features all-wheel drive as well as a larger 96 kWh battery pack. It’s rumored to have outputs of 435 hp and 490 hp. Later down the road, there could be a Taycan Turbo S with around 734 hp. There have also been rumors about a GTS variant, but little is known about it except that it could be a lightweight, rear-wheel drive model. +++

+++ Ford is working on an electric vehicle with RIVIAN. It is investing $11.5 billion to introduce 40 electrified vehicles by 2022, of which 16 will be fully electric; the rest will be hybrids or plug-in hybrids. In addition to engineering its own electric vehicle architecture, Ford will use Volkswagen’s electric vehicle platform to expand its European lineup and is working with tech company Rivian in the U.S. on larger vehicles. “They’re all teaching us different things, and the platform rationalization may come years later”, Ford president and CEO Jim Hackett said in an interview. One of Ford’s intriguing partnerships is with Rivian, a Michigan-based tech company that has developed cool electric pickup and SUV concepts that are slated to go into production in late 2020. Ford has invested $500 million in Rivian and will use its skateboard chassis that provides a full electric powertrain complete with battery pack, electric motors, suspension, axle, and other key components to power a vehicle for about 640 kilometres. “Rivian is a really special thing that’s teaching us about merging not only the powertrain, but the architecture that the ECUs [electronic control unit] and other things connect to”, said Hackett. “So think of it as architecture for the operating system of the vehicle”. “You shouldn’t go down the path of assuming it’s a pickup”, Hackett told, which has me assuming it will be an SUV. Many of the details are now finalized. “At the senior levels it’s pretty close”, he said. “I think a lot of that has been settled, but not ready to talk about”. Rivian will build the skateboard and likely assemble the entire vehicle. “It would be counterproductive for us to try and make what they have capacity to do in the beginning here, because they’ve got a factory in Illinois that meets a lot of our criteria”. Hackett said overall he likes Rivian founder RJ Scaringe’s clean sheet approach and thinks tapping into the tech company’s engineering will speed up Ford’s rollout of smart vehicles. All Ford SUVs in the future will offer a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or both. Ford has vowed to be the top producer of hybrids by 2021, jumping ahead of Toyota, with plans to offer some degree of electrification on every mainstream vehicle. Adding batteries and motors to Mustang will enhance performance. There will be a Mustang hybrid, and a pure electric SUV with Mustang styling is due to launch in 2020. For pickups, electrification adds capability and efficiency. An F-150 hybrid is due in 2020, and Ford is working on an electric F-Series pickup. No time line has been given for that model. Little is known about the pickup, but the Rivian R1T will have 4 electric motors that produce up to 764 hp and 1120 Nm. Since Ford has effectively abandoned hatchbacks and sedans in North America, it likely means the Rivian-based model will be a SUV. +++ 

+++ TESLA chief executive Elon Musk has revealed that there are no current plans to offer air suspension on the Model 3. Back in August 2017, Elon Musk revealed that the Model 3 would be available with Smart Air Suspension in the Dual Motor version of the electric sedan. That vehicle should have arrived towards the start of 2018 but we are now in the second-half of 2019 and there is still no sign of air suspension coming to the Model 3. Quizzed about whether the Model 3 will still be getting air suspension, Musk said it won’t. “No plans to introduce air suspension on Model 3 at this time”, he replied. This is somewhat surprising because Tesla went to the trouble of testing a Model 3 Dual Motor prototype with air suspension last year. Evidently, the electric car manufacturer either doesn’t believe there would be enough demand for air suspension on the Model 3 or is simply trying to avoid adding complexity to Model 3 production with a complicated air suspension option. It is also possible that by not selling the Model 3 with air suspension, Tesla will hope to upsell buyers looking for such a system to the more expensive Model S and Model X. Tesla hasn’t said if its SUV sibling to the Model 3, the Model Y, will be available with air suspension at some stage during its production run but we would argue that its higher starting price and SUV shape would mean it could be well-suited to such a system. +++

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