+++ AUDI SPORT , the division responsible for the hot RS models, will soon expand beyond its familiar range of sports cars, saloons and coupes with this; the RS Q8. It’s due to be unveiled later this year, acting as the flagship for Audi’s SUV range and providing competition for the Range Rover Sport SVR. Revisions include an aggressive body kit with a broader front bumper, a deeper rear diffuser and a set of flared wheel arches. It will also ride lower than the standard Q8 on a set of larger alloys, while the Audi’s trademark oval exhaust tips poke out of the rear bumper. Last year, Stephan Winkelmann, former Audi Sport boss and current head of Bugatti, told: “We have a product line-up which we are working on, which will be expanded in more prestige segments and body styles which are sellable around the world, SUVs”. He wouldn’t confirm which models are on the way, but suggested that a version of the new Q8 range-topper is the first model we’ll see. “The Q7 is now in a phase of its lifecycle which, in my opinion, to be profitable is too late to step in”, said Winkelmann. “But a lot of markets are demanding bigger cars”. The Audi Q8 Sport Concept, first displayed at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, hinted that the production SUV will combine high performance with top-of-the-line luxury for Audi’s wealthiest customers. It will use the same platform as the Lamborghini Urus, which means it’s sure to use petrol power. Winkelman added: “Diesel is not compatible with a world car; there are countries where you cannot sell the diesel”. As such, we expect the new Audi RS Q8 will be powered by the same Volkswagen Group-sourced twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, currently found in the new Audi RS6 Avant, the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. Performance will likely be comparable to the RS6, with power and torque standing at 600 hp and 800 Nm respectively. The engine’s power will be fed through an 8-speed automatic gearbox to Audi’s Quattro 4-wheeldrive system. To cope with the extra grunt, I expect Audi Sport will also beef up the Q8’s suspension, braking and chassis management systems. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY will update its best-selling model, the Bentayga, next year to bring it up to scratch with its latest models. Although not exactly long in the tooth, the Bentayga has been around since 2016 with no significant styling or technology upgrades. Since its launch an all-new Continental GT has come to market, while the latest generation of Flying Spur will arrive in dealers soon. In order to ensure the Rolls-Royce Cullinan rival isn’t left behind by both its competitors and its siblings, revisions to the exterior will bring it into line with the latest brand look. It’s too early to tell how extensive these will be, but expect a reshaped grille, fresh bumpers and tweaks to the lights front and rear. Just as significant will be the technology overhaul inside. The current car’s infotainment system is often criticised for feeling out of date next to cheaper siblings from Audi and Porsche, so the priority will be to bring in the latest system from the Continental GT and Flying Spur. A fully digital instrument display will likely also feature, while the range of active safety technology should advance. The flagship W12 engine is expected to receive upgrades to boost efficiency, but don’t expect anything dramatic across the rest of the range. The V8 is relatively new, too, while the 6-cylinder plug-in hybrid model still isn’t on sale after a lengthy delay. Question marks remain over the diesel model, which was officially axed from the firm’s line-up in 2018. A change in attitude towards the fuel was blamed for its removal back then, but since then sister brand Audi has introduced several large capacity S-badged diesel models to its range. Expect to see more details emerge early next year. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric car maker BYD posted a 203.6 % rise in first-half profit, as China’s new energy vehicle market continues to surge. The Shenzhen-based company, which is backed by U.S. investor Warren Buffett and whose products include battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, posted net profit of 1.45 billion yuan ($205.29 million), up from 479.10 million yuan a year earlier. BYD sold 145.653 so-called new energy vehicles (NEVs) between January and June; up 94.5 % from a year earlier. It also sold 82,419 fuel cars; down 44.9 %. Revenue rose 14.8 % to 62.18 billion yuan from 54.15 billion. BYD, whose models include the Song series and the Qin plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, aims to move to completely electric-powered vehicles. It said last month it would develop battery electric vehicles (EVs) with Toyota. Overall sales of NEVs in China rose 49.6% in the first 6 months of this year from a year earlier, but those sales fell 4.7 % in July, the first drop in more than 2 years, as China cut subsidies on such vehicles from July. China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers has trimmed its forecast rise for NEV sales this year to 1.5 million from 1.6 million. BYD, which has a joint venture with Daimler, said the subsidies cut was likely to pressure companies in the industry in the short term, but would promote its healthy development over the long term. BYD will launch models such as e2, e3 and a revamped Qin in the second half of this year, and expects the new models will further drive sales growth and support the leading position of the group in the industry, the filing said. China is considering offering favorable treatment to other vehicle technologies including petrol-electric hybrid vehicles, as a way to diversify environmental friendly vehicles amid a broader push to go green. +++ 

+++ CHINA is considering testing a ban on gasoline-powered vehicles in some parts of the country and may set a timetable to eventually phase out such vehicles, according to the industry ministry. The government has encouraged sales of electric vehicles as part of a crackdown on pollution, but auto industry officials doubt it will completely phase out traditional internal combustion engines given regional differences in climate and environment. Authorities must first analyze factors such as market demand and emission levels to decide whether to test no-go zones for gasoline-fueled vehicles. China is the world’s largest NEV market, with 1.3 million units sold last year. NEV sales, which include battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, are expected to reach 1.5 million units next year. The ministry may formulate a timetable to phase out gasoline-fueled vehicles, according to the document, but did not say if it would be specific to certain parts of the country or a nationwide phase out. China’s southern province of Hainan, said in March it plans to stop selling gasoline vehicles by 2030. +++ 

+++ FORD ’s constant lineup reshuffling will give birth to a number of new vehicles, with electrification being at the top of their agenda. One model that seems doomed, though, is the Mondeo, which is tipped to leave for good in 2021 as part of the automaker’s plans to phase out sedans across the continent. However, the Blue Oval has filed trademark applications for the Mondeo Evos moniker on August 15. The trademark, according to the filing, can be used for “motor land vehicles and electric vehicles, and parts and fittings and accessories therefor”. Does this mean that the Mondeo will continue to live on in other parts of the world for one more generation? That’s a tricky one, as it could also signal the arrival of a new crossover of some sorts, or perhaps a different model. Or, as is often the case, maybe they secured the name so that no one else could use it. Interestingly, Ford used the Evos moniker on a concept car 8 years ago. Presented at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, it previewed the company’s new global design language. It had a 2-door coupe body style, gullwing doors and a minimalistic interior layout, with sports seats at the front and a couple of individual seats at the back. +++ 

+++ GEELY said first-half net profit skid 40 % amid a sustained downturn in the world’s biggest auto market, and it forecast an uncertain outlook for vehicle demand for the rest of the year. Geely, China’s highest profile car maker globally thanks to the group’s investments in Volvo and Daimler, posted a net profit of 4.01 billion yuan ($568.5 million), compared to the 6.67 billion yuan it made in the same period a year earlier. Analyst Kenneth Lee had expected Geely to report a 4.78 billion yuan profit for the period. Profit in the first half “was negatively affected by higher discounts and incentives to reduce dealers’ inventories ahead of the official implementation of China 6 emission standards in some areas”, Geely said in the filing, referring to a stricter vehicle emissions standard China implemented in July. Total revenue for the first half was 47.56 billion yuan, down from 53.71 billion yuan over the same period in 2018, it said. It sold 651,680 vehicles in the January-June period, around 15 % lower than the same period of last year. Retail sales volume, however, recorded “a mild YoY growth” during the same period, Geely said, adding it plans to launch at least 8 new or revamped models in the next 12 months. China’s overall auto sales fell 4.3 % in July, down for a 13th consecutive month. Although the Chinese government had started to introduce measures to stimulate automobile demand, the passenger vehicle market in China has shown little sign of improvement. Recently, the China-U.S. trade dispute appears to have worsened further, resulting in more uncertainty for passenger vehicle demand in China in the remainder of the year. Last month, Geely cut its sales target for the year to 1.36 million units from 1.51 million units, seeking to reduce dealers’ inventories amid uncertainty in the overall car market. Geely sold 1.5 million cars last year; 20 % higher than the figure for 2017. +++ 

+++ Earlier this month, we saw the first official teaser image for the all-new HYUNDAI i10 and I was quite impressed with it. If that design sketch has anything to do with reality, the new i10 should be one of the best-looking city cars on the European market. However, I did find it a bit too aggressive-looking for a regular city car and now I think I know why: the next-generation i10 N will also be offered in a go-fast N version. It will feature 2 big round exhaust pipes, a sportier looking grille flanked by 2 round additional lights, big air intakes in the bumper, as well as larger, wider wheels in a sporty design with a red center cap. All these elements hint at a sporty model that would compete with the Volkswagen Up GTI. There are no clues regarding the engine in the i10 N but the 120 horsepower turbocharged 3-cylinder 1.0 T-GDI unit seems to be realistic. Expect it to work with a manual transmission. The Hyundai N wizards should also fit a sports suspension and beefier brakes to the performance division’s smallest model. Of course, Hyundai could also introduce an i10 N-Line which combines sporty design cues with a regular engine. +++ 

+++ When it comes to LARGE CROSS-OVERS , there are 2 trends that have been universally acknowledged: first, the market just keeps on growing, and second, it is the one place non-premium brands can succeed, as Hyundai and Kia have demonstrated. But now it seems the good times for non-premium models may be over. In the first quarter of this year the segment, made up of such models as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge and Skoda Kodiaq, fell by 18.9% in the United Kingdom. The sales figures for the past few years tell a similar story: non-premium models are falling, while premium ones are going from strength to strength (note that figures include crossovers such as the Edge and SUVs like the Santa Fe; the distinction between crossover and SUV is not relevant in this context). So what’s changed? To understand the answer, it is worth going back to the long-term trends at work in the rest of the market. Traditional volume saloon models like the Ford Mondeo have largely been squeezed to death by the BMW 3 Series and its equivalents, as people now expect a large saloon to come with a premium badge. In a way, the question is why has this not already happened to large SUVs? The reason is that when crossovers like the Kia Sorento first broke through, they were intrinsically radical and interesting. To people moving out of large saloons, a big crossover was seen as one of those trendy new off-roaders you could show off to the neighbours. The fact that the badge wasn’t premium was less important, because a large crossover was inherently a premium product compared to a big saloon or hatchback. But now the market is returning to normal. In terms of bodystyles, crossovers and SUVs (including everything from the Nissan Juke to the Bentley Bentayga) account for 39.6 % of all sales; almost exactly the same proportion as hatchbacks. Given the current ubiquity of such cars, it’s hard to argue that a crossover is still intrinsically premium. If your neighbours now have one, you might want a premium crossover to stand out. It’s the same reasoning that led to the rise of premium brands in other segments over the past 30 years. That does not mean there will be no more large crossovers from non-premium brands. After all, if Skoda can sell plenty of Superb saloons, there is no reason why it cannot sell the Kodiaq in decent numbers. But it does mean that the rising tide that floated all boats is now receding. Non-premium brands will have to offer compelling value to stop buyers defecting to more prestigious alternatives. It is no surprise that the big winner in recent years has been the premium compact crossover, as premium brands originally started at the top of the SUV tree. For example, the first BMW SUV was the X5 and the Volvo’s first was the XC90, with the companies then working down to the X1 and XC40 respectively. Non-premium large crossovers are the only SUV/ crossover segment to have peaked; or gone ‘ex-growth’ in marketing jargon. There is no precedent anywhere in the market for a non-premium segment to recover share against premium competition. +++ 

+++ A new study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has found consumers are less satisfied with their vehicles. According to the study, satisfaction levels dipped 3.7 % from last year to a score of 79 on a 100 point scale. The declines were nearly across the board as 21 of the 27 brands in the study saw satisfaction levels dip. Furthermore, consumers say quality and value has deteriorated. Jumping into the numbers, customers with most satisfied with LEXUS vehicles as the brand had a score of 84. That put them slightly ahead of Mercedes (83). There was a 7-way tie for third place as Audi, BMW, Honda, Infiniti, Lincoln, Subaru and Volvo all had a score of 82. At the other end, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was the clear loser as they own two of the least satisfying brands. Dodge scored 74 points, while Chrysler came dead last with 71. While most brands saw a minor decline in satisfaction, there were some notable exceptions. Infiniti saw the biggest improvement as they climbed from 78 to 82. The luxury brand was 1 of 3 nameplates that saw gains, with the other 2 being Chevrolet and Mercedes which were each up a point. Nissan and Volkswagen saw the biggest declines as satisfaction levels for both brands dipped 6 percent. Rounding out the worst 3 performers was Jeep which saw a decline of 5 percent. Among the key takeaways from the study is rising prices could be having an impact on satisfaction levels as the average new-vehicle transaction price hit a record of nearly $37,000 this year. That’s particularly true of Chrysler vehicles as owners reported they had the “worst value proposition”. The study also found that buyers aren’t as happy with technology or gas mileage as they were ago year. The latter isn’t too surprising as consumers continue to embrace crossovers, pickups and SUVs. +++ 

+++ By investing money in Israeli start-up company TriEye, PORSCHE is looking to benefit from the latter’s short-wave infrared sensor technology (SWIR), which should enhance safety in vehicles equipped with driver assistance systems. This tech is said to improve a car’s ability to see in poor weather conditions such as dust, fog or rain. Also, TriEye’s unique patent-pending semi-conductor design makes it possible to manufacture SWIR HD cameras at a “fraction of their current cost”. “TriEye is a promising technology company led by an exceptionally strong team with experience in the areas of nano-photonics, deep learning and the development of semi-conductor components”, said Porsche R&D exec, Michael Steiner. “We see great potential in this sensor technology that paves the way for the next generation of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions. SWIR can be a key element: it offers enhanced safety at a competitive price”. Despite being founded in 2017, TriEye’s tech is based on almost a decade of advanced research in nano-photonics, performed by Professor Levy, the company’s CTO. “Our mission is to save lives and reduce risks of accidents in all weather and lighting conditions”, said TriEye CEO and co-founder, Avi Bakal. “The expansion of our Series A round and the addition of Porsche as a strategic investor serves as further proof that SWIR is a critical component in the necessary sensor fusion solution to enable safer and better advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles”. The amount invested by Porsche in the Israeli start-up was not disclosed. +++ 

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE introduced the 102EX concept in 2011, but the company still hasn’t launched an electric vehicle. That isn’t too surprising, but Bentley hasn’t been coy about their plans for electrification. Earlier this year, the company announced all of their models would be offered with a hybrid powertrain by 2023 and their first electric vehicle will arrive by 2025. Rolls-Royce is undoubtedly aware of this, but it seems like they not rushing to launch an electric vehicle.  Quite the opposite actually as Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös told they will launch an EV “when the time is right”. Müller-Ötvös didn’t say when that would occur, but he revealed the company isn’t going to follow the dual powertrain strategy employed by Bentley. Instead, the company will skip plug-in hybrids and focus exclusively on electric vehicles. A number of automakers also adopting the same approach and Müller-Ötvös believes it makes the most sense. As he explained, “It may be okay for bigger companies to go into hybrids and all sorts of different technologies”, but “we need to make smart decisions on where we invest our money”. Besides the cost benefits, Müller-Ötvös suggested legislation will change to favor electric vehicles over plug-in hybrids. This will likely occur in city centers where pollution concerns have already seen a handful of vehicles getting banned. A lot of questions remain, but it appears Rolls-Royce was planning on going electric from an early stage as Müller-Ötvös revealed the Architecture of Luxury, that underpins the Phantom and Cullinan, can support electric vehicles. +++ 

+++ Hyundai has started testing the next-generation TUCSON and according to my sources, big changes are afoot for the SUV. Let’s start with the looks, shall we? First and foremost, the new Tucson will receive the similar split headlights to the Santa Fe and Kona. Complementing these new lights will be a re-designed front grille that drastically alters the look of the new car. It’s not just the looks that will separate the new Tucson from the old one. It is possible the new 2.0 GDI HEV hybrid engine will be offered in the new Tucson. Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations will be available. Few other details about the next-generation Hyundai Tucson are known but, with that being said, the South Korean car manufacturer has decided to base its forthcoming Santa Cruz medium-sized pickup truck on the same architecture as the new Tucson. Consequently, it will likely share the same engines. +++

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