+++ ASTON MARTIN ’s bespoke personalisation outfit, Q by Aston Martin, has launched a new service to help owners create their ideal car storage facility. Automotive Galleries and Lairs, to be revealed at Pebble Beach, will assist owners in designing bespoke garages or display units to house their Aston Martins. The new sub-division can also design and build entire homes, in partnership with high-profile architectural firms, wherein the client’s car collection acts as an integral design feature. Architects are assigned to individual projects based on their awareness of the local area and appreciation of the requirements of the brief. Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman said: “Imagine a home or luxury retreat built around your car. Picture creating the ultimate space to showcase your own automotive works of art. This is now achievable with this new offering. For the car enthusiast, the garage is as important as the rest of the house and a bespoke auto gallery designed by Aston Martin that either focuses on showing off the car or is part of a larger, integrated entertainment space with simulators and such like takes Aston Martin ownership to the next level”. The launch of Galleries and Lairs coincides with the beginning of construction at Aston Martin’s new luxury apartment block in Miami. Aston Martin Residences, a 66-storey tower building in Miami comprising 391 apartments, is scheduled for completion in the next 2 years. +++ 

+++ AUDI is planning a rapid expansion of its e-Tron family in the coming years, and one of its most exciting new electric vehicles currently under development is the Q4 e-Tron. Unveiled as a concept earlier this year, the Q4 e-Tron will reach the production line at the end of 2020 and, according to Audi design boss Marc Lichte, will be offered with personalized headlight and taillight signatures. Carmakers have started to design intriguing headlight and taillight signatures in recent years thanks to the implementation of LED technologies. Lichte said this has allowed Audi to develop up to 25 options for light signatures that customers will be able to choose from when configuring their dream Q4 e-tron. The head- and taillights of the Q4 e-Tron concept both featured intriguing checkboard patterns, but if customers want something different, they’ll be able to order something different. This isn’t exactly a novelty, though, as a handful of current Volkswagen models, such as the Touareg, feature similar customizable graphics, but never before have there been so many choices been available to customers. Beyond its lights, the road-going Q4 e-Tron will, just like the concept, feature a pair of electric motors for a total of 306 hp and all-wheel drive. The concept was also outfitted with an 82 kWh battery pack offering a range of up to 450 km and I have no reason to believe this will change for the production car. +++ 

+++ AUDI SPORT is working its magic on the recently revealed Q3 Sportback and the hot coupé-SUV will make its public debut at next month’s Frankfurt motor show. The RS version of Audi’s 7th SUV will join its less style-focused RS Q3 sibling at the event. It will be identifiable by its dual oval sports exhaust tips, Audi Sport logos on the brakes, and the air intake, grille and wheel styling. The RS Q3 Sportback is expected to use an all-new 2.5-litre 5-cylinder petrol engine that produces up to 400 hp. Such an output would give it the muscle to challenge the upcoming second-generation Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, which uses a smaller 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine but puts out 421 hp in top-spec S form. The Audi will likely counter this with more torque and many enthusiasts will welcome the retention of the distinctive 5-cylinder layout. Expect a 0-100 km/h time of around 4 seconds and a 250 km/h governed top speed. As is traditional with RS products, we’ll also see bespoke interior fixtures alongside mechanical upgrades such as a bespoke suspension set-up and the option of a sports differential. The RS Q3 Sportback will be produced in 2019 at Audi’s plant in Győr, Hungary alongside the regular car. It is part of a growing line-up of style-led SUVs, spearheaded by the electric E-tron and range-topping Q8. +++ 

+++ In an attempt to gain prestige, improve competitiveness and open new sales channels abroad, automakers from CHINA are investing in new design and engineering operations in Europe that could bolster their long-term prospects in the region and at home. Chinese companies have been trying to establish a foothold in Europe for years, with Geely first debuting at the Frankfurt auto show in September 2005. To date, however, they have failed spectacularly, due in part to a reputation for woeful quality following crash-test scandals involving the infamous Landwind SUV and the Brilliance BS4. New engineering bases such as that of Great Wall Motors in Germany could address some of these shortcomings. Local R&D operations help manufacturers better understand market requirements, learn the complicated ins and outs of foreign homologation procedures and establish ties with new suppliers. “These development centers could certainly contribute to driving technological advances in China”, said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “They are, however, much more likely making ground preparations to launch in the European market, since they realize their products wouldn’t stand a chance if they cannot be developed to meet European needs”, said Bratzel, who tracks innovation in the industry with the consultancy PwC. Granted, an R&D center or design studio is not necessarily a precursor to a market launch, nor a requirement. Some brands have quietly been here for years without trying to debut a model in Europe. Volkswagen Group’s largest joint venture partner, SAIC Motor, established a small engineering operation in Europe in 2005, as did VW’s newest JV partner, JAC Motors. Yet the slowdown in China’s auto market over the past few years, culminating in the recent slump, has underlined the need for automakers there to expand their reach to survive. Domestic brands have been hurt the most, with Geely dropping to fifth from second largest by sales in one year. The early imposition of stricter “C6” emission standards in many parts of China, as well as trade tensions with the Trump administration, prompted forecaster LMC Automotive to revise its estimates for China’s light-vehicle market through 2025. The analyst firm now expects a second straight year of contraction with only a gradual recovery. While sales abroad can potentially help offset difficulties at home, analysts warn that the prestige that comes with succeeding in Europe requires mastering its brutal market conditions. Many global automakers have been forced to scale down their presence in the region, shedding brands and shutting plants, with General Motors giving up entirely. Metzler Bank auto analyst Jürgen Pieper thinks that the long-term plan of Chinese brands for the next decade is to generate 10 % of their business in Europe. “That said, they will know from rivals such as Ford and GM just how hard it is to earn money in the European volume segment”, Pieper said. “So in the end, it won’t be their top priority”. As recently as last year, financially beleaguered Qoros had looked to set up an engineering center in Germany. Yet plans for a European launch appear further off than ever, despite its being the first Chinese automaker to earn EuroNCAP’s top rating of 5 stars in a crash test. While Chinese premium electric-vehicle brand Nio has a development center in Munich with almost 200 employees, founder William Li told that the company would be judicious in choosing the right moment to expand beyond domestic borders. “It’s very easy to enter a market”, Li said, “but very hard to survive and win”. That said, industry experts agree that a small-scale R&D center can help attract new design and engineering talent while limiting financial risks. Frankfurt in particular has proved to be a popular location, situated in the heart of Europe’s automotive cluster with immediate proximity to one of the Continent’s largest international airports. Chery Automobile picked a Frankfurt suburb for the site of its R&D center, which opened late last year. The center is supposed to help Chery prepare for its European launch. Stressing the company’s desire to sustainably grow, Chery Europe Director Jochen Tüting said the automaker was still finalizing it plans for Europe. In the meantime, most of the team is concentrating on design and design feasibility work for the parent in Wuhu. “Chery Europe’s approach does not entail the aim of being the first Chinese automaker to operate here with as broad a product portfolio as possible, but rather examine various possible business scenarios on the basis of profitability”, Tüting said in an email answer to questions. In May, Geely opened a development center virtually next door to Chery’s. Geely’s facility that is expected to employ about 300 engineers within the next few years and help accelerate the company’s efforts in electrification and ultra-low-emissions vehicles. The choice echoes a similar move by Hyundai Europe, which founded its technical center near Frankfurt in 2003 and shortly thereafter established a joint design studio with sister brand Kia. It was here that models such as the ix35 compact SUV and its platform sibling, the Kia Sportage, were developed. “These Chinese brands are learning from those who did it best”, said Bratzel. “Hyundai and Kia were able to establish themselves in Europe in a far shorter time frame than Toyota, for example, in part because early on they built up local research and development operations”. +++ 

+++ Unverified rumors claim DODGE will make major technical changes to the Charger and the Challenger to comply with looming regulations. They’ll likely be lighter than they currently are, they could get smaller in nearly every direction, and you can safely bet that they’ll incorporate some degree of electrification. The retro-inspired, heritage-laced design is here to stay, however. Mark Trostle, Dodge’s horsepower-addicted chief of design, told that looks deserve a big chunk of credit for making the Charger and the Challenger as popular as they are. Horsepower and quarter-mile times help sell cars, but it’s the “magic of their design” that lures buyers into showrooms to check out the modern-day muscle cars in the metal. “I wouldn’t want to ruin something that’s been so successful for us”, Trostle concluded. He compared the Challenger to the Jeep Wrangler, another design icon in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) portfolio. The offroader entered its 4th generation in 2018; every part of it is new, and it’s not a Xerox copy of its predecessor, but it’s still immediately recognizable as a Wrangler. Trostle hinted he’s planning this type of evolutionary design for the next-generation Challenger. After all, it’s part of the company’s history, and heritage is something no amount of money can buy. While it sounds like development work on the next-generation Challenger is ongoing, Dodge isn’t finished with the current-generation car yet. The nameplate will celebrate its 50th birthday during the 2020 model year, and it’s reasonable to assume Dodge has something special planned for it. +++ 

+++ HONDA ’s small car line-up is set to receive a much-needed shot in the arm at the end of the year, when the new 4th generation Jazz takes to the stage at October’s Tokyo Motor Show. And as Honda looks to electrify its model range, the new Jazz will be hybrid only. While previous versions of the Jazz have sported an upright MPV like appearance, the next-generation car will have mini SUVs like the Seat Arona and Citroen C3 Aircross in its sights. This will help to broaden its appeal, courtesy of a chunky SUV-inspired design. That means the front will feature larger, bolder headlamp units, a more prominent grille, and a front bumper that’s finished in black around its lower edges. Roof rails will appear for the first time on a Jazz, and that dark trim will continue around the side, where the wheelarch cladding will lend the car a rough and ready look. Spy shots have also revealed that around the back, the previous Jazz’s vertically stacked lights will be ditched for more conventional horizontal units sitting beneath the rear window. Chunky body cladding will bring a more rugged look, too. The rear hatch will cut deep into the back bumper (as on the previous model) so there will be a generous opening for loading bulky items into the boot. Despite its chunky-looking dimensions, the Jazz will measure around 4 metres long (much the same as more conventional superminis) so it won’t grow significantly in size over the outgoing model. However, beneath the skin the new Jazz is expected to sit on an all-new platform, which will bring greater gains in practicality and also allow Honda to squeeze in the advanced hybrid technology that the company is beginning to roll out. The firm can consider itself among the pioneers of hybrid tech; its first production petrol/electric car, the Insight, went on sale back in 1999. As part of Honda’s plan to electrify its entire range by 2025, the next Jazz will benefit from electrical assistance to improve fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. Honda insiders have suggested that this will be the first Jazz to do away completely with traditional combustion-powered petrol and diesel options and go hybrid-only. This time around, the Jazz hybrid is set to use a similar configuration to the ‘intelligent Multi-Mode Drive’ (i-MMD) set-up used by the CR-V. As a result, in typical driving situations the combustion engine will be put to use as a generator, and rather than driving the wheels directly, it sends charge to an electric motor, which tops up a small battery. When more performance is needed, the engine can drive the wheels directly via a fixed-ratio gearbox. Although the larger CR-V uses a 2.0-litre engine in its hybrid system, we expect that the Jazz will use a much lower-capacity combustion unit, because of its smaller size and lower weight. Inside, the new Jazz is going to take a significant leap forward in terms of both design and tech. Early glimpses of the cabin show a large infotainment screen sitting proud of the upper sweep of the dashboard. Below it sit 3 large, round dials to adjust the climate control functions. The overall appearance should provide a major step up in perceived quality compared with the current model. Thanks to its tall body and clever use of interior space, the last Jazz scored strongly on practicality. And this new model is almost certain to retain Honda’s Magic Seats system, consisting of a sliding rear bench and an upward-folding seat squab which opens a footwell-to-ceiling space. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ pulled off a 13 % sales increase in July, enabling it to outsell BMW and Audi during the month and also in the first 7 months of the year. Last month, Mercedes-Benz delivered 59,435 vehicles in China. The tally pushed the brand’s cumulative China sales through July to 404,092, Daimler said. July deliveries at the BMW brand rose 16 % to 51,377.The BMW Group didn’t disclose the BMW brand’s China sales for the first 7 months. Instead, it said the BMW and Mini brands combined sold 404,023 vehicles during the period; up 17 % from a year earlier. Volkswagen Group hasn’t released sales for Audi, which narrowly defended its title as the largest luxury brand in China in 2018. But according to FAW-Volkswagen, VW’s joint venture with China FAW Group, which markets locally produced and imported Audi cars, Audi’s China sales increased 6.1 % to 56,233 in July. Through July, Audi’s local deliveries surged 27 % to 368,094. While the overall new-vehicle market in China has contracted for 13 straight months, most global luxury brands have fared better.  In addition to the 3 major German luxury brands, Cadillac, Volvo and Lexus have also maintained growth. Cadillac sales increased 2.8 % to around 14,700 in July and in the first seven months, deliveries rose 2.1 % to 129,300. GM only releases brand sales in China on a quarterly basis. Volvo deliveries advanced 25 % to 12,639 in July. The Swedish brand’s year-to-date sales rose 12 % to 80,380. In the first 7 months, Lexus delivered 109,933 vehicles in China, an increase of 31 % from a year earlier, the Japanese brand’s China office said, without divulging the brand’s July sales. +++ 

+++ The economy of SLOVAKIA , dominated by automakers including the Volkswagen Group, the PSA Group, Kia and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), slowed unexpectedly in the second quarter when it expanded by 1.9 %, down from a 3.7 % rise in the first quarter and missing analysts’ expectations of 3.3 % growth. The quarterly, seasonally adjusted growth of 0.4 % given by the statistics office also missed analysts’ expectation of a 0.7 % expansion, buffeted by turbulence in the global economy and a shrinking Germany economy. “Slovakia is feeling the impact of the global slowdown and the economic stagnation in Germany, our biggest trade partner”, VUB Bank analyst Michal Lehuta said. “Slovakia’s unexpected slowdown in the second quarter was due to the slowdown in industrial output, falling net exports and weak household consumption”, he said. Slovakia’s data has been the biggest disappointment in central Europe as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic all posted strong growth, albeit slowing down from first quarter. Slovakia’s industrial output dropped 2.1 % year-on-year in June, the first contraction since March 2018 and the lowest level since April 2017, statistics office said last week. Car production at factories run by Volkswagen, PSA, Kia and JLR, fell for the first time in 18 months in June, dropping by 7.6 %. The country’s central bank said a partial shutdown at oil refiner Slovnaft in May and June and output cuts at United States Steel’s Slovak factory as the steel industry struggles across Europe have also contributed to slower growth. Statisticians will release the full breakdown of the Slovak data, including household consumption, on Sept. 6. A slump in exports sent Germany’s economy into reverse in the second quarter, data showed, as its manufacturers bore the brunt of a global slowdown amplified by tariff conflicts and uncertainty over Brexit. +++ 

+++ How much are you willing to pay for a SMALL CAR ? Right now, you can find new models from just under €14,000, but there’s an ever-increasing amount of evidence that this is going to change, and soon. As mentioned above, the next Honda Jazz is going to get a radical rethink and hybrid powertrains across the range. And that means this pocket-sized practicality star is likely to be more expensive. It’s only part of a growing trend, though, for cars that are smaller but not necessarily much cheaper. That’s because the safety kit, refinement and efficiency required for regulations and customer tastes simply cannot be produced cheaply enough to deliver the same price tags that have existed for the past decade or more. As if to prove this point, the early signs are that the next Hyundai i10 (an affordability champ since the days of scrappage) is likely to carry a list price hike of a few thousand euros when it arrives at the end of the year. The Korean firm is promising funkier looks and a more premium cabin on its smallest offering, and if the speculation on the numbers is correct, it clearly believes it can charge more for them. At least there will be another i10; some brands are getting out of the small-car market altogether, hoping to cover it off by selling larger superminis to some customers (often at roughly the same money) and leasing them to others. The trick, of course, will be to keep an eye on the ‘through the range’ sections of the comparison tests and look beyond the big numbers. Because as long as the residual values of the new wave of small cars increase in line with the list prices, and interest rates remain low, then monthly private lease payments and 3-year lease deals may not ultimately change all that much. It’s hard to believe, but it’s customers wanting to pay cash and buy outright who stand to take the biggest hit. +++ 

+++ TESLA ’s executive turnover is higher than major Silicon Valley-based technology companies and is particularly acute among those reporting to CEO Elon Musk, according to a Bernstein analyst. The electric-vehicle maker has been changing over about 27 % of its top executives on an annualized basis, said Toni Sacconaghi, a Bernstein analyst. That’s the highest rate among 7 companies Sacconaghi benchmarked Tesla against, though Snap and Lyft have had similar levels of turnover, he wrote in a report. About 44 % of executives reporting to Musk have changed over annually, Sacconaghi found, compared with about 9 % on average at the other companies, which also include, Uber Technologies and Facebook. “While one could argue that Tesla’s high turnover reflects its unique and demanding culture, we worry that such turnover not only causes instability but could also reflect more significant concerns among senior leaders about the company’s direction or workplace practices”, Sacconaghi wrote. Tesla’s loss of executives from critical positions and quick departures by external hires have been “worrisome”, and at current rates, the company’s entire executive team of more than 150 people would be gone in less than 4 years, Sacconaghi wrote. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA has been seen testing what appears to be a plug-in hybrid variant of the RAV4 on European roads. At first glance, the prototype doesn’t seem any different from the standard car. However, closer inspection reveals a disguised opening on the right-hand side of the bodywork (the opposite side of where the fuel filler cap resides); a classic tell that a charging port is lurking underneath. The test hack is also towing what looks like dynamometer equipment, another traditional sign of a new powertrain under development. While Toyota is unable to officially comment, it’s most likely that a plug-in hybrid RAV4 would continue to use the 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder petrol engine mated to a larger electric motor and lithium ion battery pack. While the Japanese maker already has a PHEV in its arsenal in the form of the Prius Plug-in, that 1.8 litre unit is unlikely to provide sufficient power and torque levels to account for the substantial weight increase usually seen with a plug-in hybrid; for reference, the straight hybrid model already weighs around 1750 kg. The TNGA platform underpinning the SUV has been designed to offer a mix of powertrains. Expect an all-electric range target of about 50 kilometres, allowing a quotable low-CO2 figure to satisfy business users. Toyota has long been an advocate of its so-called ‘self-charging’ parallel hybrid system (used in the Prius for 2 decades) claiming it’s more convenient than having to plug in. However, all car makers will be forced to drive down their fleet average CO2 rating rapidly or face heavy fines as new EU emission laws come into force in 2020/21. Electrification with a meaningful all-electric range is the most effective way of doing so. As such, expect a plug-in hybrid RAV4 to arrive on the scene in the middle of 2020, rivalling models such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN , the largest car brand in China, bucked the market downturn for a second month in a row, with July sales rising 2 % to 228,000. The gains came mainly as a result of its SUV offensive, the brand said. The VW brand has introduced 5 new locally built crossovers in China since last year: The Teramont, T-Roc, Tayron, Tharu and T-Cross. Along with the Tiguan and Touareg introduced earlier, crossovers and SUVs generated 29 % of its sales in July, up from 14 % a year earlier, VW brand said. The Lavida and the upgraded Passat, 2 sedans produced specifically for China, also helped lift July deliveries, the brand noted, without revealing volumes for either model. In the first 7 months, the VW brand’s China sales totaled 1,706,700; a dip of 2.9 % from the same period last year. The VW brand is poised to shore up sales the rest of this year with the launch of the first product under its entry-level Jetta subbrand in the third quarter. The vehicle, the Jetta VS5 compact crossover, will have a starting price of 89,800 yuan ($12,792). It will be assembled at FAW-Volkswagen’s plant in the southwest China city of Chengdu. FAW-VW is VW Group’s joint venture with China FAW. +++

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