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+++ AUDI is set to join an alliance with rivals Daimler and BMW to develop advanced driving assistance systems. The companies are developing highly automated driving functions to enable so-called Level 3 autonomous driving on highways as well as automated parking. Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, will announce the alliance at the Frankfurt auto show in early September. Volkswagen will continue to develop fully autonomous vehicles in cooperation with Ford. +++ 

+++ Private car ownership needs to end and vehicle use should be cut if the United Kingdom is to become a CARBON NEUTRAL country by 2050, a committee of MPs has claimed. A scathing report by the cross-party Science and Technology Select Committee claims the British government “should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply be replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions”. The report highlights the fact that the process of manufacturing alternative fuel vehicles, such as EVs, still produces “substantial” emissions. It casts uncertainty on the future of personal transport and owning your own car, saying: “In the long term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”. Despite this, the committee says that, for the time being, the British government should increase efforts to incentivise take-up of cars producing zero local emissions. Further points made include a need for the Government to co-operate with landowners to increase installations of EV charging points, particularly in shared facilities such as apartments. Once again, the plan to ban the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040 (and 2032 in Scotland) was criticised for not coming soon enough. “The UK is not even on course to meet its existing legal binding targets for 2023 and 2032”, it said. It called for ultra-low-emissions vehicles to account for around 60 % of new car sales by 2030, with “the possibility” of raising that to 100 % by 2035. +++ 

+++ FIAT could add a full-electric version of its Panda as it renews it product range in Europe. The new Panda is due in 2021 and an electric version could arrive 2 years later. It would be launched with modular, add-on battery packs to keep its price low. So far, Fiat Chrysler has only said that it is developing a new electric version of its 500. Production of the 500e will start in the second quarter of 2020 at the automaker’s Mirafiori plant in Fiat’s home town of Turin. The next-generation Panda will closely resemble the Centoventi concept car that was unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March, the brand’s CEO, Olivier Francois, told. The Centoventi concept “looks are very faithful to the next-generation Panda”, Francois said. The Fiat brand in Europe is being reduced to a few models based around an electrified 500 lineup and the Panda. The Punto has been axed and the Tipo which is built in Turkey is being withdrawn from some European markets. The Tipo could be replaced by an SUV based on the Jeep Renegade platform. The slow-selling 500L faces the ax but the 500X crossover will be replaced. Fiat plans to add a wagon version of the 500 with the Giardiniera badge that would be aimed at 500L customers. In future, Fiat will not sell large cars, premium cars or sporty cars as the brand focuses on urban mobility and family transportation, especially in southern Europe, Francois. “All models will sit within 3.5 meters and 4.5 meters. This is where Fiat will play. We need more EVs. And we need more 500 models that look legitimate enough to take higher pricing,” he told. Fiat dominates Europe’s minicar segment. The 500 and Panda are the segment’s bestsellers. In the first half, the brand sold 105,534 Pandas; up 15 %, and 100,150 units of the 500, down 9 %. The segment’s sales were down 0.4 % to 603,925. Fiat wants to leverage its small-car dominance to sell EVs, Francois told. The minicar and small-car segments offer the possibility “to generate hundreds of thousands of EV sales”, he said. Fiat’s EVs could use a modular battery pack shown on the Centoventi. The base version of the Centoventi has a 100 km range. But the customer could add up to 4 additional battery modules to reach a 500 km range. The choice also could be made after purchase. +++ 

+++ FORD named Steven Armstrong president of the Changan Ford joint venture in China to deepen the alliance and push for more models, as the U.S. carmaker tries to stem a decline in sales in the world’s second largest economy. Sales of the joint venture with Chongqing-based Changan Automobile continued to decline in July. In the first 7 months of this year, the venture’s sales dropped more than 60 % compared to the same period a year earlier. Ford’s overall sales dropped 37 % in 2018 in the world’s top auto market, mainly due to a lack of new products. Over the next 3 years, it plans to launch more than 30 new models in China, of which over a third will be electric vehicles. The venture is also planning to revamp some of its existing manufacturing facilities to localise production of Ford’s premium brand Lincoln. This would have a planned annual capacity of 70,000 Corsair SUVs including 12,000 plug-in hybrid variants. “Steve’s leadership will help us further strengthen the Changan Ford joint venture as we bring more new vehicles to the China market, including our first global all-electric small SUV”, Ford chief executive officer Jim Hackett said. Armstrong, the current chairman of Ford Europe, will begin his new role on Oct. 1, and report to Ford China President and CEO Anning Chen. Armstrong replaces Nigel Harris, who will retire at the end of 2019 after more than three decades with the U.S. automaker. In China, Ford also makes cars through Jiangling Motors which it has a stake in. It has said it would partner with Zotye Automobile to sell lower priced cars, but there seems not much progress. According to U.S. consulting firm AlixPartners, 2018 capacity utilisation rates at China assembly plants operated by Ford were below 50 %. Normally, rates of around 70-75 % are considered the break-even threshold. +++ 

+++ With INDIA ’s auto sales declining for the 9th straight month in July, more automotive manufacturers are laying off workers and temporarily halting production to keep costs in check. Toyota and Hyundai are the latest in a string of companies to halt production at plants to combat slumping sales, according to company memos to employees. Passenger vehicle sales in July fell at the fastest pace in nearly 2 decades. The sales declines have triggered major job cuts in India’s auto sector, with many companies forced to shut down factories for days and axe shifts. Sources have told that even more companies have now begun to lay off temporary workers as the slowdown worsens. Denso Corp’s India unit, which makes powertrain and airconditioning systems for cars, has laid off about 350 temporary workers at its Manesar plant in north India, a source familiar with the matter told. Bellsonica, which is partly owned by India’s biggest carmaker Maruti Suzuki and makes fuel tanks and brake pads, has also let more than 350 workers go in Manesar, 2 sources said. Reuters earlier this month reported automakers, component manufacturers and dealers had already cut 350,000 jobs. In a meeting with India’s finance ministry on Aug. 7, industry executives asked for tax cuts, and easier access to finance for dealers and buyers, in an effort to revive sales. Toyota, in a notice dated Aug. 13, told its workers the company would halt production at its plants in Bengaluru in southern India on Aug. 16 and 17 “due to low market demand of vehicles” and high stock of about 7,000 vehicles. N. Raja, deputy managing director, at Toyota’s India unit, told that while the company had a flexible production system it had to resort to 5 no-production days in August to prevent the build up of stock. “The industry is deeply concerned with the reality of poor customer sentiment faced by the sector”, said Raja, adding he hoped the government would step in to support the industry. Hyundai, in a memo on Aug. 9, also said it would halt production for several days in August across various departments including the body shop and paint shop as well as its engine and transmission plants. A Hyundai Motor India spokesman said the company expected sales to pick up in the festive season starting next month. +++ 

+++ The new MERCEDES-AMG GLE 63 and GLE 63 Coupé, due to be revealed later this year, will use the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre petrol V8 as the current E 63, pumping out up to 612 hp and 850 Nm. The second-generation Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé will make its debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Power for the GLE 63 variants will be sent to all 4 wheels through a 9-speed automatic gearbox, with a bias towards the rear. The GLE 63 AMG models will feature wider wheel arches, a lower ride height and larger wheels than the standard model upon which it’s based. The most obvious visual cue are its 4 large exhaust tips. The GLE range is currently topped by the AMG GLE 53, which was revealed in standard SUV form earlier this year. The Coupé is expected to follow before the end of the year. The less potent GLE 53 features the same performance-oriented styling upgrades as the upcoming GLE 63 but is powered by the new mild hybrid 3.0-litre straight-6 engine also used in the AMG CLS 53. The standard GLE Coupé is set to hit the market early next year, and we can expect the hardcore AMG duo to follow a few months later. As well as the new Porsche Cayenne Coupé, the GLE 63 Coupé will go up against Audi’s upcoming RS Q8 and a new BMW X6 M as competition intensifies in the flourishing performance SUV-coupé segment. +++ 

+++ Electric luxury cars and SUVs may be 40 % MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE ACCIDENTS than their standard engine counterparts, possibly because drivers are still getting used to their quick acceleration, French insurer AXA said. The numbers, based on initial trends from claims data and not statistically significant, also suggest small and micro electric cars are slightly less likely to cause accidents than their combustion engine counterparts, AXA said at a crash test demonstration. AXA regularly carries out crash tests for vehicles. This year’s tests, which took place at a disused airport, focused on electric cars. Overall accident rates for electric vehicles are about the same as for regular cars, according to liability insurance claims data for “7,000 year risks” (on 1,000 autos on the road for 7 years) said Bettina Zahnd, head of accident research and prevention at AXA Switzerland. “We saw that in the micro and small-car classes slightly fewer accidents are caused by electric autos. If you look at the luxury and SUV classes, however, we see 40 % more accidents with electric vehicles”, Zahnd said. “We of course have thought about what causes this and acceleration is certainly a topic”. Electric cars accelerate not only quickly, but also equally strongly no matter how high the revolutions per minute, which means drivers can find themselves going faster than they intended. Half of electric car drivers in a survey this year by AXA had to adjust their driving to reflect the new acceleration and braking characteristics. “Maximum acceleration is available immediately, while it takes a moment for internal combustion engines with even strong horsepower to reach maximum acceleration. That places new demands on drivers”, Zahnd said. Sales of electric cars are on the rise as charging infrastructure improves and prices come down. Electric vehicles accounted for less than 1 % of cars on the road in Switzerland and Germany last year, but made up 1.8 % of Swiss new car sales, or 6.6 % including hybrids, AXA said. Accidents with electric cars are just about as dangerous for people inside as with standard vehicles, AXA said. The cars are subject to the same tests and have the same passive safety features like airbags and seatbelts. But another AXA survey showed most people do not know how to react if they come across an electric vehicle crash scene. While most factors are the same (securing the scene, alerting rescue teams and providing first aid) it said helpers should also try to ensure the electric motor is turned off. This is particularly important because unlike an internal combustion engine the motor makes no noise. In serious crashes, electric autos’ high-voltage power plants automatically shut down, AXA noted, but damaged batteries can catch fire up to 48 hours after a crash, making it more difficult to deal with the aftermath of an accident. For one head-on crash test, AXA teams removed an electric car’s batteries to reduce the risk of them catching fire, which could create intense heat and toxic fumes. Zahnd said studies in Europe had not replicated U.S. findings that silent electric vehicles are as much as twothirds more likely to cause accidents with pedestrians or cyclists. She said the jury was still out on how crash data would affect the cost of insuring electric versus standard vehicles, noting this always reflected factors around both driver and car. “If I look around Switzerland there are lots of insurers that even give discounts for electric autos because one would like to promote electric cars”, she said. +++ 

+++ One of the co-founders of Chinese electric vehicle startup NIO has departed amid what is proving to be a rather difficult year for the startup. Jack Cheng spent nearly 30 years running Ford’s Chinese operation before leaving to found NIO alongside William Li and Lihong Qin. An internal memo says Cheng retired “due to his age”. Things looked to be going very well for NIO last year. Not only was it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in a move that generated about $1 billion, it also ramped up production and deliveries of its first mass-production model, the ES8. By the end of 2018, it had managed to deliver a total of 10,000 vehicles. However, the slowdown in the Chinese economy, and in particular its automotive sector, as well as the expiration of certain Chinese government subsidies, has seen the company struggle through 2019. NIO deliveries are slipping and, in July, it only shifted 164 examples of the ES8. It’s hardly a surprise then that NIO shares have plummeted from a high of $10.06 on the 1st of March, 2019 to just $3.00 at the time of writing. NIO has been prompted to respond with cost-cutting measures that include abandoning its plans to build a large factory outside of Shanghai, instead opting to continue having its vehicles built by a state-owned contract manufacturer. Additionally, they closed an office in Silicon Valley in May and recently began laying off at least 3 per cent of its workforce in China. “We would like to thank Jack for his support contributions to NIO. After his honorable retirement, Jack will continue to be William’s personal advisor, and will support the company in supply chain and partnership”, NIO communications director JoAnn Yamani said. +++ 

+++ The 2020 modelyear OPEL Ampera-e is getting more electric range, with the official EPA rating rising to 415 kilometres, up from 380 kilometres for the 2019 model year. Opel hasn’t put out a press release or any official information regarding the increased range, so I don’t know exactly how it got there. Nothing much has changed as far as the Ampera-e’s design, so all the efficiency gains must be coming from improvements to the powertrain. The battery pack is a 60 kWh unit. Opel could have found a way to increase the size of that pack, or found efficiency gains in the powertrain or elsewhere. I’ll let you know when I find out. Ultimately, this range increase makes the Ampera-e even more competitive than before. It offers more range than the Kia e-Soul, Kia e-Niro and (just barely) the Hyundai Kona Electric. The Opel also takes the Nissan Leaf+ and Tesla Model 3 in Standard Range Plus form. The Long Range and Performance models still handily beat the Ampera-e, though. Other changes I know about now include new colors, improved cameras and a new high gloss black grille as opposed to the black or silver grille options. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen said it was not interested in taking a stake in TESLA , denying a media report that CEO Herbert Diess wanted to buy shares in the U.S. company to access its software and batteries technology. “The speculation about buying a stake in Tesla is without merit”, a Volkswagen spokesman said in a written statement. Diess meets with Tesla CEO Elon Musk on a regular basis because of the U.S. carmaker’s expertise in software and battery cell design. Diess would go in right away if he could, but the Piëch en Porsche families think otherwise. Acquiring a stake would be enough for the German carmaker to access Tesla’s technological expertise. An obstacle, however, would be to get the consent of Volkswagen’s controlling Piech and Porsche families to fund the stake purchase. A banker close to Volkswagen said that while Diess would love to have Tesla’s software developers, the CEO believed it was almost impossible to justify paying €27 billion to buy the whole company. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN Group’s namesake VW brand expects to lift profit margins over the next few years despite an expensive shift to electric cars and growing economic headwinds in Germany and abroad. VW, in the midst of the auto industry’s most ambitious electric-car push, is sticking with a target of selling 1 million battery vehicles by 2025, Ralf Brandstaetter, the unit’s chief operating officer, told reporters. The brand is sticking with a goal of 6 % operating-profit margins in 2022; up from 5.2 % in the first 6 months this year. The sales goal, which would move VW well past Tesla, “is the guiding star of our strategy”, Brandstaetter said. Luring buyers toward e-cars (from tech-savvy youngsters to traditional loyalists) will be critical for the VW group to turn its €30 billion spending spree into a success and avoid steep European Union fines for breaching emission limits. Trade woes and recession fears are adding to the urgency and forcing VW to become more efficient after a decade of rising demand. Economic swings are hard to predict and do pose a risk in coming months, Brandstaetter said; from Brexit’s fallout to persistent tension between the U.S. and China. “We are monitoring the situation very closely”, he said. But VW’s broad global presence and economies of scale put the automaker in a better position than many rivals to cope with economic swings, he said. VW’s diesel-emission scandal caused a fundamental crisis but it also “became a catalyst for the transformation of Volkswagen”, Brandstaetter said. That set the stage for the bold plans under way now. VW plans to use its vast scale to produce electric cars at more competitive costs than rivals. The brand, which accounts for about half of the group’s global deliveries, in the past has been bogged down by an unwieldy range of vehicle variants, bloated costs and poor budget discipline. A new brand logo, which will be unveiled next month, can be displayed on car fronts as well as smartphone screens. It was last tweaked 6 years ago with a more 3-dimensional look, and has changed only modestly since the manufacturer’s resurrection after World War II. VW’s electric-car offensive starts with the rollout of the ID3 hatchback in Zwickau, Germany, later this year and will be followed by almost 70 more models across the group in the next 10 years. VW has taken deposits for 27,000 vehicles and the brand’s sales chief, Jürgen Stackmann, said the number may well reach 30,000 in time for the Frankfurt auto show in September. VW will roll out production of cars based on a new dedicated electric-car platform dubbed MEB, adding sites in China, Czech Republic and the U.S. VW has added €4 billion to its planned spending on IT projects as software will play an increasingly important role in future cars. +++

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