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+++ The AUDI e-Tron has covered a distance of over 1,600 kilometers across 10 European countries in 24 hours as part of an publicity stunt aimed at demonstrating its EV’s abilities as a long-distance cruiser. 9 journalists climbed aboard 3 e-Tron 55 Quattro cars and embarked on the tour that took them from Lake Bled in Slovenia to Amsterdam in the Netherlands over the course of 24 hours. Their 1,600 kilometer tour included Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Covering this distance in 24 hours was made possible by the e-Tron’s 150 kW fast-charging capability. Using direct-current charging at high-power charging stations, the lithium-ion battery of the reaches 80 % of its capacity in just under 30 minutes. Obviously, this saves lots of time on long trips such as the 1,600 km tour. Each of the 3 e-Tron cars made 7 charging stops during the tour: in Kärnten, South Tyrol, Vorarlberg, in the Canton of Zurich, in the Breisgau, in the Eifel, and near Liège. These stations are also integrated into the e-tron Charging Service, along with the AC charging stations where the e-tron can recharge using up to 11 kW of alternating current. In total, Audi’s proprietary charging service covers around 100,000 charging points in 19 EU countries. “Our electric SUV is an excellent long-distance car because it perfectly combines a high degree of ride comfort, performance and efficiency”, explains Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler, Audi Board of Management Member for Technical Development. “On the journalists’ tour we’ve also shown that, apart from the range itself, fast-charging capability with 150 kW is crucially important”, the executive added. +++ 

+++ While BMW is clearly a German company, the crossovers that are exceedingly important to it are actually made in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And more than that, the Spartanburg plant (physically located in the town of Greer) is where the corporate know-how and capability for those vehicles is concentrated. These are the vehicles (specifically, the BMW X3, X4, X5, X6, X7) that drove record growth for the company in 2018, according to BMW. But what’s most notable about BMW Group Plant Spartanburg, given current events, is that according to the U.S. Department of Commerce it was the largest automotive exporter by value for the fifth year running in 2018. That’s worth emphasizing: largest automotive exporter by value. Not GM. Not Ford. But BMW. And where might one assume that more than a few of those X vehicles are shipped to? China. Some 360 miles southwest of Spartanburg is Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. It started building vehicles in 1997. Since then, Daimler has invested in excess of $5.5 billion in the facility. It manufactures the crossover now known as the GLE, formerly the ML-Class. It also makes the GLE coupe and GLS. Daimler describes the Tuscaloosa facility as “the traditional home of SUV production” for those vehicles. When it reported its global 2018 sales, Daimler noted that on a global basis SUVs account “for more than a third of all Mercedes-Benz sales”. According to the Chinese finance ministry, on December 15th the Chinese government will impose a 25 % tariff on automobiles (and a 5 % tariff on auto parts) from the U.S. Certainly this is going to have a direct effect on the sales of vehicles that are manufactured in the U.S. and exported to China. BMW and Mercedes are going to take it on the chin for the vehicles that they make in plants that they invested in so heavily in the U.S. Which could potentially mean that people in places like Greer, South Carolina, and Vance, Alabama, are going to find themselves in the crosshairs of the combatants. Soo too could Lincoln, which produces vehicles in places like Louisville, Kentucky (Navigator), Chicago, Illinois (Aviator) and Flat Rock, Michigan (Continental). Although the Tesla Gigafactory 3 is rapidly nearing completion in Shanghai, it is worth noting that vehicles built in Fremont, California, are being sold in China in numbers that don’t make Musk unhappy. When December rolls around and the tariffs are slapped on the vehicles from California, odds are there will be some unhappy campers in Fremont. And there are consequences for companies like GM and Ford, as well. Both of those automakers have manufacturing partners in China, so the domestically built products wouldn’t be affected by the 25 % tariffs. But in 2018 General Motors sold 2.95 million vehicles in the U.S. It sold 3.64 million in China. While the companies make more money in the U.S., big export volumes can have non-trivial benefits to the bottom line. The trade dispute is also inspiring another troubling trend. In May, CNBC reported that “Huawei is winning over more and more Apple fans in China as the escalated trade tensions have stoked ‘nationalist sentiment’ ”. China is a major market for Apple, just as it is for brands like Cadillac. What happens if the “nationalist sentiment” carries over to things like Jeeps and Mustangs? What if it carries over to Buick, which has boasted about its “long and distinguished history in China that dates back to the early days of General Motors itself”, a market that arguably keeps the brand alive? Tariffs are paid by consumers. And in this war of import penalties that is growing between the U.S. and China, workers in Fremont, Tuscaloosa, and Spartanburg are likely to be paying a hefty penalty, as well. And none of this takes into account the overall slowing that is occurring in the global automotive market. Those X models that aren’t selling in China aren’t necessarily going to be selling in the U.S. (or elsewhere) if the overall number of vehicles being sold in the U.S. declines. If the tariffs are going to be something of a gut punch, the slowing sales is going to be a swift kick, to boot. +++ 

+++ BMW, Daimler, Ford and other automakers that import vehicles into CHINA face more costs, headaches and confusion in the coming months as a result of President Donald Trump’s trade war. China said last week that it would impose new tariffs by year end on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, including vehicles, in retaliation for duties the Trump administration has threatened on Chinese goods as soon as Sept. 1. China also said it would reintroduce a separate 25 % tariff on vehicle imports on Dec. 15. Trump responded by saying U.S. companies that do business in China should look into moving those operations stateside, which isn’t something that automakers with plants there can do easily. If anything, the extra tariffs would make local production more critical to supplying dealerships in China to avoid significant price increases on imports from the U.S. and elsewhere. “Clearly, China is trying to send a signal that they will not back down”, Jeff Schuster, president of LMC Automotive’s Americas operations and global vehicle forecasts, wrote in an email. “The takeaway here is that the trade war is not going to be resolved any time soon, and the industry needs to be prepared for the volatility and the cost risks. In the end, the Chinese consumer will have to pay more for the imports or brands will have to absorb the cost of the tariff”. BMW and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand combined to account for 57 % of the 230,115 vehicles exported to China from the U.S. in 2018, according to LMC Automotive. Ford represented 20 %, followed by Tesla at 7 %. Tesla, which is building a plant in Shanghai but doesn’t yet make vehicles in China, is on pace to import more than Ford in 2019. Overall, about 3 % of the vehicles sold in China are made in U.S. assembly plants. U.S. exports of the X3, X5, X6 and other crossovers represented 12 % of BMW’s China sales volume last year, the most for any company besides Tesla. “The tit-for-tat tariffs, absent any meaningful negotiations, are damaging to the American auto industry”, John Bozzella, chairman of the ad-hoc group Here for America, which includes Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, said in a statement. He said U.S. vehicle exports to China fell by half in 2017 after tariffs were imposed and that another such decline would cost American jobs. Ford, in a statement, said it exports more vehicles to China than it imports from there to the U.S. and urged the 2 countries to “work together to advance balanced and fair trade”. Several other automakers declined to comment, deferring instead to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington. The alliance called the new tariffs “unfortunate for consumers and the entire auto sector”. +++ 

+++ Don’t wait for GMC ’s on-again, off-again baby crossover any longer. The company confirmed it has no plans to enter the growing car-based subcompact crossover segment in the near future because the expansion wouldn’t fit its image. “I’m going to give you a definitive no on that one”, answered Mark Alger, a regional marketing manager for GMC’s Canadian division, when asked about the entry-level segment. “We want to position GMC as a premium brand, focus on our trucks, and capitalize on the AT4 name”, he added. Positioning GMC as a premium brand wouldn’t prevent officials from giving an entry-level the green light; Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz all sell cars priced in the vicinity of $30,000. Focusing on trucks like the Sierra and the Canyon makes sense, however, because they compete in a bigger segment of the market where profit margins are much wider. It helps that GMC doesn’t have to worry about markets outside of North America; it’s not concerned about its sales and image in, say, Spain. I’ve heard speculation about GMC’s entry-level model since the Granite concept made its debut during the 2010 Detroit auto show. It was approved for production in 2010, approved again the following year (complete with rear suicide doors), and canceled in 2012, but the reports never went away. The segment’s popularity added credibility to the recent murmurs describing a born-again Granite aimed at the Honda HR-V and the Toyota C-HR, among others. The Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore are both GM vehicles that compete in this segment. GMC also canceled a body-on-frame, Bronco-taming SUV, according to a recent report. The truck-focused automaker promised every nameplate in its range will receive the rugged AT4 treatment by 2021, however, and it announced plans to show the off-road-ready Canyon in early 2020. +++ 

+++ U.S. President Donald Trump said that the United States would not imminently impose new tariffs on autos imported from JAPAN . At a press conference, Trump was asked if he was still considering the levies, which he can institute under U.S. trade law if his administration finds that the imports threaten national security. “Not at this moment, no, not at this moment”, Trump said. “It’s something I could do at a later date if I wanted to but we’re not looking at that”. The United States and Japan reached a broad framework of a trade agreement last week, with Tokyo making concessions on agriculture but Washington maintaining current auto tariffs. Trump told the press conference that the possibility of the tariffs was “one of the reasons we made a deal”. +++ 

+++ Toyota has recently made headlines for understating the true horsepower and torque of the new Supra. It appears that others might be following the same practice. When the latest 911 Carrera S could be tested, it headed to a local tuning shop to strap it onto a dyno and see what it’s capable of. PORSCHE claims the car’s 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-6 pumps out 450 hp and 530 Nm of torque. Judging by the numbers churned out by the dyno, those figures appear rather conservative. The new 911 Carrera S produced an average of 420 hp and 550 Nm at the wheels during multiple runs. Taking into account a possible drivetrain loss of 15 %, that could mean the Carrera S is in fact delivering around 485 hp and 633 Nm at the crankshaft, but it is hard to determine the exact drivetrain loss of a particular car. In the not too distant future, Porsche will release a number of new 911 variants that will slot above the Carrera S in its range. We know that a new GT3 is just around the corner, but before it is unveiled, we will probably see the car manufacturer release the new Turbo and Turbo S. Sources tell me they will use an updated version of Porsche’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat-6, with over 600 hp for the ‘base’ version and up to 650 hp for the S. +++ 

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE appears to be readying a ‘Black Badge’ version of the Cullinan, something that came to light after a filing made by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that listed a model by that name was discovered. No mention is made as to when the vehicle may premiere nor what components will differentiate it from the regular version, but other Black Badge models like the Dawn, Ghost and Wraith give us a good idea of what to expect. Black Badge models sport the Spirit of Ecstasy finished in gloss black as well as chrome exterior elements, including the front grille surround, trunk lid finished, lower air inlets, and tailpipes finished in black. Rolls-Royce also developed bespoke carbon alloy wheels that incorporate no less than 44 layers of carbon fiber. The Black Badge models also include aluminum-threaded carbon fiber finishes throughout the interior. The new variant of the Cullinan will likely feature largely the same new components to give it a more aggressive and stealthy appearance than lesser models. Rolls-Royce went to the trouble of boosting power of the Ghost Black Badge by 40 hp and 60 Nm over the standard model, but similar power gains were not enjoyed by the Wraith Black Badge, so it’s anyone’s guess what will happen with their SUV. Powered by a 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V12, the Cullinan delivers 570 hp and 850 Nm, making for a pretty nifty ride. A power bump would be welcome, though, especially since the Black Badge will come at a premium. +++ 

+++ Never mind when, can SELF DRIVING CARS ever even work at all? That’s probably the question in the minds of most people. But to work, fully autonomous cars will require the invention of a machine that has the cognitive abilities of a human. The building block of a human nervous system is a neuron and millions of them form a neural network in the body’s central nervous system. To make autonomous cars a reality, computer scientists need to create artificial neural networks (ANNs) that can do the same job as a human’s biological neural network. So assuming that really is achievable, the other thing an autonomous car needs is the ability to see, and this is where opinions in the industry are split. Until recently, conventional wisdom had it that as well as the cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors cars already have for cruise control and advanced driver assistance systems, lidar (light detection and ranging) is essential. Lidar is like high-definition radar, using laser light instead of radio waves to scan a scene and create an accurate HD image of it. One stumbling block has been the high cost of lidar sensors, which only two years ago cost more than £60,000. Lower-cost versions on the way should bring the price down to around £4000 but that’s still a lot for a single component. Not everyone believes lidar is even necessary or desirable, though, and both Tesla and research scientists at Cornell University have independently arrived at that conclusion. Cornell found that processing by artificially intelligent (AI) computers can distort camera images viewed from the front. But by changing the perspective in the software to more of a bird’s-eye view, scientists were able to achieve a similar positioning accuracy to lidar using stereo cameras costing a few pounds, placed either side of the windscreen. Tesla reasons that no human is equipped with laser projectors for eyes and that the secret lies in better understanding the way neural networks identify objects and how to teach them. Whereas a human can identify an object from a single image at a glance, what the computer sees is a matrix of numbers identifying the location and brightness of each pixel in an image. Because of that, the neural network needs thousands of images to learn the identity of an object, each one labelled to identify it in any situation. Tesla says no chip has yet been produced specifically with neural networking and autonomous driving in mind, so it has spent the past three years designing one. The new computer can be retro-fitted and has been incorporated in new Teslas since March 2019. The Tesla fleet is already gathering the hundreds of thousands of images needed to train the neural network ‘brains’ in ‘shadow mode’ but without autonomous functions being turned on at this stage. Tesla boss Elon Musk expects to have a complete suite of self-driving software features installed in its cars this year and working robotaxis under test in 2020. Tesla boffins say a self-driving car needs a neural networking computer capable of performing a minimum of 50 trillion operations per second (50 TOPS). By comparison, a human brain can manage about 10 TOPS. The new Tesla computer consumes no more than 100 Watt of power so it could be retrofitted. Bosch and Nvidia are developing a similar ‘brain’ for autonomous cars ready for 2020. It’s called the Bosch AI self-driving computer. +++ 

+++ TESLA will raise prices in China, earlier than planned, and is considering increasing prices again in December should Chinese tariffs on U.S.-made cars take effect, people familiar with the matter said. The people declined to be identified as the plan has not been made public. The company is among many impacted by Sino-U.S. trade friction. It currently imports all the cars it sells in China and has had to adjust prices multiple times over the past year due to tariff changes. Tesla was considering a lift in prices in China from September after the yuan weakened significantly against the U.S. dollar. One person told that the automaker was bringing forward these plans to Aug. 30. Both people said the automaker is now also mulling another price hike in December after China’s commerce ministry last week announced it would reinstitute tariffs of 25 % on vehicles and 5 % on auto parts which it suspended in December, in the latest tit-for-tat escalation of the trade war. “Tesla will also try to ship more cars to China before December, before the tariff hikes”, said one of the people. +++ 

+++ When China responded to President Donald TRUMP ’s trade war with an extra 25 % tariff on U.S.-made cars in mid-2018, the move cut the number of vehicles exported from America by half. China dropped the added levies for most of 2019 but is now threatening to bring them back as part of its latest escalation of the tit-for-tat with Trump. With no signs of the Trump administration’s trade war with China ending soon, experts say automakers need to be prepared for volatility and added costs. While U.S. automakers Ford and Tesla would suffer, a bigger blow would be felt by German companies that build Mercedes-Benz and BMW SUVs at plants in Alabama and South Carolina. Together, BMW and Daimler sold 6 of the 10 most popular U.S. vehicles exported to China during 2018. The trade war cost BMW €300 million in 2018 and Mercedes parent Daimler was the first major global corporation to cut profit targets because of trade last year. Yet even companies such as General Motors that produce locally most of the cars they sell in China could be hit by levies on auto parts and further retaliation measures. BMW in 2018 calculated a full year of tariffs between the U.S. and China would cost it about €600 million, though the countries came to an agreement shortly before that scenario was realized. The company makes its entry-level X1 in China through a joint venture with Brilliance China Automotive Holdings and has plans to increase its ownership to 75 % by 2022. BMW also moved local production of its X3 to China in May 2018, around the time the first round of retaliatory Chinese tariffs kicked in. Its bestseller, the X5, is shipped in ready-to-assemble kits to Thailand before continuing on to China, avoiding any new penalties on U.S. imports. Most exposed is the Spartanburg-made X7, BMW’s largest SUV, which has sold well in China. Between 5 and 10 % of group earnings would be wiped out over a full year, Jürgen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, said in an email. “A second-half recovery would be difficult to achieve”. Mercedes-Benz never quantified the earnings impact of the trade war and has faced a range of other problems, including a regulatory crackdown on its diesel cars in Europe and production disruption affecting its popular GLE. It has said additional tariffs may prompt it to consider assembling some SUVs in Southeast Asia, as BMW does with the X5, for export into China. Mercedes will start local production of its first all-electric SUV, called EQ C, in China at the end of this year. Tesla exports its pricey Model S and Model X to China, along with the lower-priced Model 3. About 14 % of its global output in the first half was sold there, according to Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy. CEO Elon Musk has high hopes for the Model 3 in China and has been focused on getting the company’s plant in Shanghai running by the end of this year. The Chinese tariffs are due to take effect in December, so the impact will depend on how quickly the plant starts production. Ford expects China to become Lincoln’s biggest market, surpassing the U.S. over next few years. Almost 10 % of its sales in China were imported, the vast bulk of them from the U.S.; including topsellers such as the Mustang and F-150 Raptor pickup. Three quarters of Ford’s exports to China are Lincoln models, and while all are now made in North America, local production of the Corsair small SUV will begin late this year. “We encourage the U.S. and China to find a near-term resolution on remaining issues through continued negotiations. It is essential for these 2 important economies to work together to advance balanced and fair trade”, Ford said after the new tariffs were announced. Avoiding levies is a key reason Lincoln plans eventually to build all its models in China, except for the Navigator, which does not sell in large enough numbers. “We see China as ground zero for Lincoln, given the size of the market and how well the brand has been received”, Bob Shanks, Ford’s then-Chief Financial Officer, said in May. The U.S. automaker would have little exposure to the new tariffs. GM does send some American-made parts to China, but the impact is minimal, according to Levy, the Credit Suisse analyst. The bigger risk to GM and companies with few exports to China is that there could be greater retaliation against their operations in China, or the Trump administration could add tariffs on parts made in China for U.S. vehicles, said Baum, the independent auto analyst. +++

+++ Volvo and Harris Poll recently conducted a study that concluded that UNRESTRAINED PETS in your car, particularly dogs, can be extremely distracting. That may sound pretty obvious, but what isn’t as obvious is how much more distracting it is compared with having your dog properly harnessed or in a carrier. Twice as much, as it turns out, when it comes to how often and how long drivers are distracted. The 2 organizations observed 15 drivers and their dogs over the course of 30 hours of driving. With the dog unrestrained, the organizations found the driver and dog doing something distracting and dangerous 649 times versus just 274 when the dog was belted in. And drivers were distracted for a total of 3 hours and 39 minutes while the dog was loose, and just 1 hour and 39 minutes with the restrained. Having the dog loose in the car also increased the heart rates of both the driver and the dog over the course of the drive. If the dog was properly restrained, the driver actually had a lower heart rate at the end of the drive than at the start. Of course, reducing driver distraction is only one reason it’s good to keep your dog in a safe carrier or strapped into a harness. As we’ve covered before, dogs and other pets can be easily injured or ejected from the car in a crash if they’re loose. You’ll also want to make sure you select a pet safety device that can withstand a crash, such as those approved by the Center for Pet Safety. +++

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