Newsflash II

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+++ Future ALPINE models will adopt electrification as the brand “cannot escape” the advances of the technology, according to Oliver Murguet, executive vice president Sales and Regions at Groupe Renault. Murguet admitted that despite Alpine’s focus on lightweight, back-to-basics sports cars, it will have to implement electrification into its next generation of models. “Electrification will be massive”, Murguet said. “We have to intensify electrification. Alpine cannot escape”. While Murguet wouldn’t give a timeframe on the introduction of electrification, nor what form it may take, it is clear that Alpine intends to significantly develop its product portfolio in the future. Up to now, Alpine has only one model: the A110. Implementing electrification would add weight, but any such car would counter the extra bulk with improved power and torque. However, Murguet didn’t seem to think this was particularly problematic, adding: “Look at Ferrari: even the latest Ferrari is a hybrid electric”. Despite the A110 weighing just 1,103kg, Murguet suggested that stripping a car bare didn’t necessarily tally with the brand’s mantra. “Alpine customers are asking for more sportiness, but also more cosiness”, he said. Bosses have previously hinted at the idea of an Alpine-badged SUV. Although no such project has been confirmed the larger and heavier setup of a hybrid or electric powertrain would be a better fit for the more favourable packaging of such a model. +++ 

+++ A FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) worker died in an accident at the group’s factory in Cassino, central Italy, prompting unions to launch a strike at the plant to demand tighter safety measures, officials said. A spokesman for the company confirmed the death of the 40 year-old in an accident that occurred as he was moving a mould in the cold press area of the plant as part of standard operating procedure. The 3 main Italian metal engineering unions called for an 8 hour strike in Cassino, where the group produces the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio. Rocco Palombella, head of the UILM union, said accidents of such gravity had not happened for several years at Fiat Chrysler plants. “We’re waiting to know from prosecutors how a fatal accident could occur, despite all the safety measures that are normally taken in the plant”, he said. FIOM heads Francesca Re David and Michele Palma urged the government to strengthen procedures for preventing and supervising job safety, claiming that both were increasingly being affected by understaffing. +++ 

+++ FORD and partner Changan Automobile opened a new R&D center for their passenger vehicle joint venture in the southwest China municipality of Chongqing. The facility is part of a plan to accelerate business development at Changan Ford, according to Ford China, a Ford unit in charge of the U.S. company’s operations in the Greater China region. The center will enable Changan Ford to achieve deeper integration of Ford’s product design DNA and Chinese consumers’ preferences in vehicle design. It will also develop vehicle prototypes and test gasoline and electrified vehicles for emissions; vehicle and component endurance; noise, vibration and harshness; and dynamic performance and functionality, according to Ford China. Changan Ford, based in Chongqing, produces and markets sedans and crossovers under the Ford brand. It is also slated to start assembling vehicles for the Lincoln brand later this year. Due to a lack of new and redesigned products, sales at Changan Ford have steadily declined since 2017. In the first 8 months, deliveries plunged 61 % to 108,001 cars. Ford also runs a joint venture with Changan in the east China city of Nanchang. The partnership, Jiangling Motors, produces the Ford-badged Everest SUV, Tourneo, Transit and Territory compact crossover. Jiangling Motors also builds trucks and light vehicles for JMC, Jiangling Motors’ proprietary brand. Through August, total sales of Ford-badged vehicles built at the 2 joint ventures dropped 47 % from a year earlier to 163,629, according to numbers disclosed by Changan and Jingling Motors. Ford will roll out more than 30 new and upgraded vehicles, including 10 electrified vehicles under the Ford and Lincoln brands, in China over the next 3 years, according to a product plan the company disclosed in April. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) said it took inspiration from technology companies for its new research and development center. “We are now an IT company. We have to go away from the old ways of doing things”, CEO Ralf Speth said at the opening of the center in Gaydon, central England. Speth said the company borrowed ideas from the headquarters of Chinese tech giants Baidu and Alibaba, among others, when planning the center. The center brings together the design studios of Jaguar and Land Rover on the same site for the first time, along with the automaker’s engineering and purchasing teams. Having everyone in the same building will ensure a leaner development process, Speth said. Bringing closer together designers, engineers and procurement employees means “higher quality and an earlier time to market”, Speth told. The design center has offices around a central T-shaped covered street with places such as cafes and informal meeting areas to allow the 13,000 staff to freely congregate. “Communication is at the end of the day innovation, so we try to do it here”, Speth said. JLR is caught up in the same technology trap as all its rivals in the automotive industry. The demand for smarter technology from buyers familiar with the frenetic pace of development from smartphone and internet companies is being matched by the push to electrification from legislators, putting huge strain on finances. Finances are already strained at JLR after China woes pushed the company into a loss last year (construction of the center started back when China was still highly profitable for the company). However, the automaker says the resulting cost savings and job cuts in the last 12 months or so have made it more efficient. “It was probably the hardest time in my career to restructure the company, but we are more agile”, Nick Rogers, head of engineering, told journalists at the opening. Rogers said the number of staff working on traditional mechanical engineering is shrinking as it hires more software, mechatronics and electrical system engineers. Speth talked about having to write “100s of millions of lines of code” as importance of software overtakes that hardware in the minds of buyers. Jaguar Land Rover’s current most high-tech vehicle, the Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV, has three electric modules than can be updated wirelessly over the air. The new Land Rover Defender, arriving next year, will have 14 updateable modules. Rogers boasted about ‘dual-banking’ technology, where updates do not compromise the functionality of the system unlike on computers, which can be inoperable when updates are taking place. Some automotive engineering traditions are still alive at the Gaydon site. Test-beds resound to the sound of combustion engines being run 24/7, and Rogers gave no timetable for phasing out engine development, as others have done. Inside Jaguar’s new design center, full-size clay models are still being used to refine the look of future designs. In fact, the number of clay plates that hold the models has gone up from two in the old studio to 10, even if the process to draw the cars, ‘mill’ the clay shape and record their final proportions and is done digitally. The cars themselves might be stuffed with technology but they are still close enough to their ancestors to need traditional skills for years to come. +++ 

+++ MAZDA has confirmed that its first electric car will be revealed at Tokyo motor show on 23 October. The model, previewed by the e-TPV prototype, is expected to adopt an SUV bodystyle, which can more easily accommodate an underfloor battery pack. It will use a similar set-up to the prototype, which has a 35.5 kWh battery and a single electric motor delivering 143 hp and 300 Nm of torque to the the front wheels via a single-speed transmission. The EV is likely to have a range between 200 and 250 kilometres, similar to the new Mini Electric but significantly less than more obvious rivals, such as the Hyundai Kona Electric. It will be able to accept 6.6 kW domestic charging and 50 kW public rapid charging. Mazda will also introduce a modern version of its famed rotary engine in a range-extender variant of the EV. 2 years ago, Mazda boss Mitsuo Hitomi confirmed that, rather than being used in its purest form, a rotary engine will be used as an EV range-extender. He said: “The rotary engine isn’t particularly efficient to use as a range-extender, but when we turn on a rotary, it’s much, much quieter compared to other manufacturers’ range-extenders”. The Japanese firm’s range hasn’t featured a rotary-engined road car since the RX-8 went out of production in 2012, but it did produce a rotary range-extender Mazda 2 prototype back in 2013. It has remained interested in reintroducing the technology to production since. The Mazda RX-Vision Concept, which was shown at the Tokyo motor show in 2015, used such a powertrain. Mazda has eschewed hybrid and electric models in recent years, instead choosing to focus on improving the efficiency of its petrol engines. This year, it introduced spark plug-controlled compression ignition to the latest Mazda 3, with the promise that it will “combine the economy and torque of a diesel engine with the performance and lower emissions of a petrol unit”. +++ 

+++ The MAZDA 2 will gain mild-hybrid power as part of a facelift for the compact hatch, which also includes design tweaks and technology upgrades. The Japanese firm’s Ford Fiesta and Hyundai i20 rival will retain the 1.5-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine, but is now boosted by a belt-integrated starter/generator on all manual models. It will be offered in 2 stages of tune, with a 75 hp version on entry level models and a 90 hp powertrain for upscale trims. The manual versions produce 94-95 g/km of CO2, depending on trim level. Mazda cites a number of tweaks to improve the handling of its supermini, including a new urethane top mount in the rear dampers, revised power steering and the introduction of a G-Vectoring Control Plus system, which uses the brakes to aid cornering. The design changes include a revised grille with a new design closer to the Mazda 3, a wider wing, new bumper and revised LED headlights. Inside, the dashboard trim, air vents and other features have been tweaked, with new-shape seats designed to offer more comfort. Mazda also claims the use of new damping materials and the reduction in the gap around the B-pillar reduce noise and improve refinement for those inside. The entry level Mazda 2 includes rear parking sensors, 15 inch alloy wheels and climate control. As well as the more powerful engine, upscale models gain the Mazda Connect navigation system, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, driver assistance features including brake assist and lane-keeping assist, 16 inch alloy wheels, a gloss black grille, rear privacy glass, chrome exhausts, keyless entry, a reversing camera, leather seats, a head-up display and heated front seats plus steering wheel. The revised Mazda 2 will go on sale in November. +++ 

+++ A MERCEDES GLB prototype was spotted testing at the Nurburgring recently, trying to hide the Panamericana grille with vertical slats and the rest of its details with a smattering of camo. Now, given that the AMG GLB 35 was already unveiled last month, it follows that this should be the 45 version, either in “base” or top 45 S guise. Compared to the 35, it will feature differently styled front and rear bumpers, different exhaust pipes, bigger wheels with a different pattern, larger brakes and a slightly lower ground clearance to further enhance its handling. The icing on the cake will be the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which produces a massive 421 hp and 500 Nm in the A45 S and CLA 45 S. The lump is matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission that channels the output to the all-wheel drive system. If the company sticks to that pattern, then expect the lesser GLB 45 to produce 387 hp and 480 Nm. I don’t know when the top-of-the-line GLB will debut, but it might launch sometime next year. Mercedes-AMG has worked on an increasing number of Mercedes models in recent years, but there are some of them the performance brand will not touch. AMG chief Tobias Moers clarified that the new EQ C and B-Class shall not get the AMG treatment. Understandably, Affalterbach’s engineers won’t work on the German brand’s commercial vans either. The latest-generation Mercedes-Benz B-Class is available with an AMG Line package in Europe consisting of 18 inch wheels, a unique body kit, lowered suspension and an upgraded steering system, but that’s just a bells-and-whistles job. AMG could undoubtedly make B 35 or B 45 variants of the B-Class using the engines from the A 35 and A 45 if it wanted to, however demand for such models doesn’t justify such an investment. The EQ C is the first all-electric vehicle in the brand’s new EQ family of vehicles and sold exclusively with a 408 hp powertrain that’s good for a 0-100 km/h sprint of 5 seconds. Moers didn’t specify why AMG won’t tweak the EQC. It is possible they may be thinking building an AMG-branded electric vehicle isn’t the smartest move so early on in their push towards electrification and besides, with a touch over 400 horsepower, the standard model has more than enough oomph as it stands. +++ 

+++ NISSAN will review its decision to build the Qashqai at its Sunderland plant in northern England if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. 3 sources said a disorderly Brexit where Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, damaging supply chains, could prompt the eventual closure of the site. Former British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a 2016 deal with Nissan to ensure the Japanese firm built the model at the plant in Sunderland, a huge boost to the government as it came in the months after Britain voted to leave the bloc. 1 source at the time told that the government had promised extra support to Nissan in written assurances that Brexit would not hit the competitiveness of the plant, which exported 55 % of its cars to Europe. Former chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who was involved in that decision, has since been fired by Nissan. +++ 

+++ OPEL will start short-time work shifts this month at its home plant in Rüsselsheim. The short-time work will last for 6 months, an Opel spokesman said. The move is part of a cost-cutting scheme that Opel’s owner, PSA Group, is implementing in Germany. The Rüsselsheim factory’s long-term future is secured with the production of the Astra there starting in 2021, the spokesman said. Among vehicles currently built in the Rüsselsheim plant are the Insignia and the Zafira. The reason for the short-time working is a big drop in sales of the cars built in the plant, German media reported. Insignia sales in Europe fell 36 % to 26,276 in the first half. Zafira sales were down 58 % to 8,370. Opel said in June that the decision to build the next Astra, which will be based on PSA’s EMP2 platform, in Rüsselsheim was made possible by improvements in the factory’s efficiency and competitiveness. The current Astra is produced in Gliwice, Poland, and Ellesmere Port, England. PSA will focus on light van production in Gliwice and has said a decision whether Ellesmere Port keeps Astra production along with Rüsselsheim depends on the UK’s future trading terms with the European Union. PSA bought Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall from General Motors in 2017 in a $2.6 billion deal. The savings from the integration of Opel-Vauxhall contributed to PSA’s record profit in the first half of 2019. +++ 

+++ SAIC MOTOR has started producing MG cars, mainly for export, at a new plant in Ningde, a city in east China coastal province of Fujian. The first vehicle to come off the production line on Sunday was the plug-in hybrid version of the MG HS compact crossover, state-owned SAIC said. The 5-billion yuan ($702 million) factory can build up to 240,000 vehicles a year at full capacity. The plug-in hybrid variant of the MG HS is the third electrified vehicle marketed under the MG brand, following the plug-in version of the MG6 sedan and the battery variant of the EZS subcompact crossover. The plug-in MG HS will be shipped to the UK and other European countries, SAIC said, without identify the other countries. In July, the electric MG EZ went on sale in the UK and has since been shipped to the Netherlands and Norway, according to SAIC. In the UK, the main export market for MG, SAIC also sells the MG3, MG ZS and MG GS through imports. The Ningde plant is SAIC’s 4th factory in China, after plants in Shanghai, Nanjing and Zhengzhou. It will also increase SAIC’s annual production capacity in China to 980,000 vehicles from 740,000. The factory will also build gasoline models for MG, according to SAIC. Outside of China, SAIC also produces cars for MG in Thailand and India. In 2005, Nanjing Auto, another state-owned automaker, purchased the MG brand from bankrupt UK automaker MG Rover in 2005. 2 years later, Nanjing Auto was acquired by SAIC. SAIC also produces and sells passenger vehicles under the Roewe brand in China. SAIC has delivered 414,740 under the MG and Roewe brands in China this year through August; a drop of 9.3 % from a year earlier. The company did not disclose separate sales or exports for the MG brand during the 8 month period. +++ 

+++ The future of the SUBARU BRZ and TOYOTA GT86 sports cars is secure, after the 2 Japanese car makers announced an extension of their partnership. New GT86 and BRZ models were in question, given the high costs of sports car development and relatively low sales. The introduction of the Toyota GR Supra, jointly developed with the BMW Z4, also cast a doubt over whether the firm needed 2 halo cars. However, today’s news secures both the GT86 and BRZ’s existence for the coming decade. Toyota and Subaru first joined forces in 2005. Along with sports car development, their agreement included production by Subaru of Toyota vehicles and supply by Toyota of vehicles to Subaru. Earlier this year, the companies announced they would jointly develop a dedicated platform for electric vehicles, in a similar vein to Volkswagen’s MEB platform, as well as jointly developing an electric SUV that will use Subaru’s all-wheel-drive technology and Toyota’s electrification systems. This latest announcement includes Toyota increasing its equity stake in Subaru, giving it 20 % of voting rights, and Subaru acquiring shares in Toyota. The move has the aim “of further developing and strengthening” the partnership, the firms said. Toyota and Subaru confirmed that this latest tie-up includes joint development of the new GT86 and BRZ, expanding use of the Toyota’s hybrid system in Subaru models (it’s already offered on the XV and new Forester) and joint work on connected vehicles and autonomous driving. The agreemeent will bring together “both companies’ strengths to jointly develop all-wheel-drive models that offer the ultimate sensation in all-wheel driving”, said the announcement, adding the 2 are “in pursuit of making ever-better cars beyond that achieved thus far by Toyota and Subaru”. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , the government is considering bringing the 2040 ban on the sale of all new conventionally powered petrol and diesel cars forward to 2035. Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said he would like to see the Government examine at the 2040 target and “thoroughly exploring” whether there’s a case for bringing it forwards. Shapps acknowledged the Committee on Climate Change’s view that the ban should be brought forward to 2035 at the very latest and pledged to test the arguments in favour of it, working with industry to examine how to proceed. He concluded: “Just as we rejuvenated the automotive sector in the 1980s, we’re going to work with our pioneering car sector to help them sell the next generation of electric cars around the world, providing high-skilled jobs, utilising British know-how and ending that dependence on fossil fuels once and for all”. Commenting on the news, chief executive of the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) Mike Hawes said: “Industry is committed to zero emission transport for all, investing heavily in the technologies to get us there. This is about market transformation, however, and despite growing choice, low and zero emission vehicles still only make up a fraction of the market underscoring the huge challenge of fast-tracking a shift to zero emission transport. Ambition must be matched by measures that support industry allowing manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively. This includes long-term government commitment to incentives and investment in infrastructure to accelerate the uptake of these new technologies”. This isn’t the first time that calls have been made for a faster phasing out of petrol and diesel cars in the UK. Current Government policy (set out in the Road to Zero strategy) says “conventional” petrol and diesel cars should be banned by 2040, and only cars that are “effectively” zero emissions should be sold by that date, leaving the door open for new plug-in hybrids to be sold past 2040. But the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee (a cross-party group of MPs from the Labour, Conservative, and Scottish National parties) recommended not only that the 2040 date should be brought forward to 2032, but that new plug-in hybrids should also be banned from sale. Experts say this would require consumer demand for zero-emission vehicles to increase by 17,000 % in a little over a decade. The BEIS report published in 2018 claimed, however, that “zero should mean zero”, and urges the Government to set a “precise target for sales of new cars and vans to be truly zero emission by 2032”. This would leave only ‘pure’ electric cars (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf and any future hydrogen cars, like the Hyundai Nexo, on sale in new car showrooms. In a scathing attack on central policy, the BEIS committee says the Government’s “lack of clarity on the meaning of the 2040 targets is unacceptable”. The MPs recommend “Government either acknowledge that petrol and diesel will ultimately need to be fully phased out from cars and vans, or admit that it is not seeking a zero emissions fleet. It cannot have both”. Another area that came under fire in the BEIS report was the decision by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to cut grants for electric vehicles by 25 %. The BEIS report’s authors say this decision “has been made too soon and too suddenly”, and “risks undermining the UK’s burgeoning EV market”. EV sales made up just 1.7 % of all new car registrations last year, though UK residents are the 4th biggest buyers of electric cars (by market share) worldwide. The UK’s charging infrastructure also came in for criticism. BEIS said “poor provision of charging infrastructure is one of the greatest barriers to growth of the UK EV market”, and warns “public charge points will be required in residential areas for the 40 % – 50 % of homes in the UK that do not have off-street parking”. The authors highlight there is just one public charger per 98,800 residents in Wales, compared to the North East, where the ratio is one charger per 3,931. The BEIS report acknowledged certain policy areas of which it approves, such as the Faraday battery technology challenge, but is also calls Road to Zero “vague and insufficiently ambitious”. The authors cite evidence that claims air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths and costs the UK economy over £20 billion each year. BEIS says another barrier to electric vehicle ownership is the fact that only 1,600 mechanics are qualified to work on EVs and hybrids, with most of these employed by main dealers. +++ 

+++ When VOLKSWAGEN ’s Africa boss Thomas Schaefer set out to conquer the continent, he quickly realized he needed more than a flashy new product. He needed a new business model. Study after study showed the same thing: there was no demand for new cars. Low purchasing power and a lack of financing put them out of the reach of most Africans, while competition from used imports gave buyers a cheaper alternative. So Schaefer is placing a $50 million bet on a new business built around ride-hailing and car-sharing. And VW is using Rwanda (a small central African nation with a growing reputation for innovation) as its laboratory. “It was almost an industrial experiment”, Schaefer told. The German carmaker’s project was launched with some fanfare last December in the capital Kigali but since then scant information has been disclosed about how it has progressed. VW told the app for its Move ride-service now had over 23,000 registered users in Kigali. However only around 2,200 of those are active users; a fairly modest uptake so far in the city of 850,000 people. In July, the ride-hailing service averaged 384 rides per day, a figure VW said it wanted to double. It may be a longshot but, if successful, the Rwandan gamble could help plot a future course for Volkswagen, and others, in Africa’s challenging auto sector by securing a foothold in the region’s rapidly growing ride-hailing space. Industry experts are divided on the merits of the plan, with some questioning whether VW can compete with the likes of Uber and Bolt in Africa or, in light of those companies’ losses, if it should even try. While VW sees Kigali is an ideal test ground, offering a data sample that’s statistically significant at a reasonable cost, critics say the city (where Uber and Bolt are absent) is not an accurate gauge of conditions in bigger markets. Schaefer cautioned that the experiment was still in its early stages, adding he’d like to give the business model a 2-year test run before assessing it. “Luckily our headquarters leaves us alone. They just say, do what you need to do”. And though it hasn’t yet set a timeframe, Volkswagen told it was already looking to Ghana in West Africa and Ethiopia, a rapidly reforming market of some 100 million people, as initial targets for an expansion of its mobility business. Global automakers like VW, Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Peugeot, are waking up to the potential in Africa, where incomes and consumer aspirations are rising. But the region accounted for less than 1 % of global new passenger car sales last year, making it hard to justify investing in local manufacturing and assembly. VW’s ride-hailing cars are assembled in Kigali at a new $20 million plant that also produces vehicles for the relatively few customers able to afford a brandnew Polo or Passat. Employers can also access VWs to transport their workers and VW plans to launch car-sharing, where customers can drive themselves and are charged for the time they’ve used a vehicle. All those vehicles are owned by VW, which after a year or 2 of service will sell them onto the second-hand market at a price more accessible to average Rwandans. VW is also opening certified service centers. VW hopes combining all these businesses (new car sales, ride-hailing, car-sharing, used car sales, parts and service) can make the company’s investment in Rwanda worthwhile. “If we were to focus only on selling new cars, in a few years we can close business”, said Michaella Rugwizangoga, CEO of Volkswagen Mobility Solutions. “We had to think bigger”. Schaefer believes VW will eventually need around 800 cars on the road in the city for ride-hailing and sharing. The company will begin introducing its e-Golf into the mobility fleet next year. Joseline Iradukunda quit her old job as a secretary in a law firm to go to work behind the wheel of a new Polo for VW’s app-driven ride-hailing service. The 25-year-old now spends her days plying the hilly, winding streets of Kigali. “This car works 24/7”, she said proudly, parking near the city’s beehive-shaped convention center to pick up a client, one of roughly a dozen she will transport during her shift. Jean-Jacques Koffi, a Kigali-based entrepreneur from Ivory Coast, is a regular Move customer. “During the week, I use it twice a day”, he said as Iradukunda drove him to his office. “You know it’s a brand-new car. It’s comfortable”. Rwanda has already earned a reputation for innovation; from a cashless public transport system to medical drones. The city’s budding IT sector allowed VW to develop its app locally. VW’s project is hailed by some as ahead of its time. “This truly is a fantastic case study for future mobility in progressive frontier economies”, said Martyn Davies, managing director for emerging markets at Deloitte. But others, like Justin Coetzee (a transport engineer and founder of GoMetro, a mapping platform that allows cities to optimize transport investments) don’t see a market for what VW is offering. Most Kigali residents, he said, use existing, cheaper public transport like motor taxis and buses. Others drive themselves. And while VW faces no direct competition in Kigali, that won’t be the case in many other markets, with Uber and Bolt established in major African cities, a fact that hasn’t yet translated into profits. “No ride-sharing service is making money, even with scale. No model creates positive cash return”, Coetzee said. So far, the app’s rating on Google’s Play Store (the download platform for Android devices) trails both Uber and Bolt, while the Apple version has been widely panned by iPhone users. Despite these problems, Deloitte’s Davies thinks VW has leverage that Uber and Bolt lack. The promise of assembly plants and factory jobs, he argued, could earn the carmaker tax breaks from governments looking to industrialize along with a voice in policymaking. “That’s VW’s significant competitive advantage here”, he said. +++

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