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+++ AUDI bosses have finally settled on a proposal for the next-generation TT, which will morph into a fully electric crossover. There has been a fierce boardroom battle within the German company over how the next TT should evolve. It’s been a debate that has raged since 2014 when the firm’s then-boss, Rupert Stadler (who was later charged and removed from his position for his involvement in the Volkswagen Group’s Dieselgate scandal), proposed the idea that the model could develop into a petrol-powered 5-door Sportback or crossover model. Since then, Audi has fast-tracked its electrification plans, and dwindling sales for today’s TT have forced the firm into a radical rethink for the next model. So far this year, Audi has sold only 8,756 coupé and 3,362 roadster editions of the TT globally. The upcoming generation TT also has a working title, eTTron. This clearly indicates Audi’s strategy to completely incorporate the model into its line-up of full EVs. The 4th edition will morph into a sporty crossover, with a length of around 4.35 metres. That will make it more compact than a Q3 but, more significantly, it will be much lower. There will also be a dramatic overhaul inside, too; the current TT set new standards in the industry with its digital cockpit display and absence of centre console. Audi intends to emulate that in the next model, with a cabin that will do away with switches and dials completely and rely on Tesla-style digital displays for the car’s operations. What has allowed Audi to take such a radical approach with the next TT is the availability of a wide range of dedicated electric vehicle platforms that have been developed for use across all of the brands within the Volkswagen Group. Audi intends the keep the next TT roughly in line with today’s model in terms of price point, so the firm has chosen to base the eTTron on the group’s entry-level MEB architecture. The Volkswagen ID. 3 will be the first vehicle within the Group to use the new platform. The eTTron will have a higher price point, expected to be close to €55,000 in The Netherlands, but the MEB architecture will provide Audi with a way of developing a successor to the TT without being forced to radically change its positioning within the market. And much like today’s TT, the flexibility of the MEB platform will enable Audi to develop multiple versions with varying degrees of performance. Standard entry-level versions of the eTTron will be rear-wheel drive, powered by a single electric motor developing upwards of 204 hp. At the other end of the range will be a model comparable with today’s TT RS; driven by an electric motor on each axle for 4-wheel drive, it will have a total power figure in excess of 408 hp. 3 battery sizes (45kWh, 58kWh and 78kWh) should provide a range of between 330 and 550 kilometres before needing to be recharged. The eTTron will be one of 20 fully electric cars Audi intends to launch into the market by the middle of the next decade. +++ 

+++ Auto sales in CHINA fell for a 15th consecutive month in September, data from the country’s biggest auto industry association showed, dampening hopes for a second-half turnaround in the world’s largest auto market. Total auto sales fell 5.2 % from the same month a year earlier to 2.27 million vehicles, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said. That followed declines of 6.9 % in August and 4.3 % in July. Car sales in 2018 declined from a year earlier, the first annual contraction since the 1990s against a backdrop of slowing economic growth and a crippling trade war with the United States. September and October, nicknamed “Golden September, Silver October” by China’s auto insiders, are regarded as the high season for auto sales in the country, with customers traditionally returning to make purchases after summer. The association had previously said it expected sales in the second half to improve, but that overall annual sales would fall 5 % year-on-year to 26.68 million vehicles in 2019. “Sales have risen in the second half but they have not hit expectations and the pace has been slow”, said Chen Shihua, CAAM assistant secretary general. As recently as 3 years ago automakers had enjoyed double-digit annual growth in China, before the brakes came on with the first annual contraction since the 1990s last year. 15 cities and provinces which account for over 60 % of car sales in China implemented new vehicle emission standards earlier than the central government’s 2020 deadline, hurting sales particularly of traditional-fuel vehicles, according to CAAM, analysts, dealers and consumers. Sales of new energy vehicles, which China has been a keen supporter of, have also been impacted by subsidy cuts, falling 34.2 % in September following a 15.8 % decline in August, CAAM said. NEV sales jumped almost 62 % last year as the broader auto market contracted. NEVs include plug-in hybrids, battery-only electric vehicles and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER is recalling hundreds of thousands of Mercedes-Benz vehicles including Sprinter van models over diesel emissions issues. Daimler said that Germany’s road traffic regulator KBA has concluded hearings over certain Mercedes-Benz vehicles with so-called OM651 diesel engines meeting Euro5 emission standards and has ordered Daimler to carry out recalls. A recall of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vehicles was imminent after KBA warned the luxury carmaker that the transporter vans may contain illegal engine management software. “Mercedes-Benz customers will be notified in writing over further actions if their vehicle is subject to the recall and a software update can be installed”, the company said. Daimler said a “medium 6 figure” number of vehicles would be affected by the recall, including 260,000 Sprinter vans from a previous generation of vehicles that went out of production in 2016, and that it was fully cooperating with the regulator. KBA proceedings with regard to engine control functionality were far advanced but not yet concluded, it said. More orders from the regulator could therefore not be ruled out. Earnings would not be further affected by the KBA proceedings, it added. In June, Daimler issued a profit warning and announced an increase of legal provisions by a high 3-digit million euros amount, to cover various ongoing governmental proceedings and measures relating to diesel vehicles. +++ 

+++ Not only does the DODGE Challenger remain an excellent seller for the car manufacturer, its 4-door Charger sibling also continues to sell well. Dodge Charger marketing manager Ashton Muñoz revealed that the sedan is so popular it is actually attracting owners from rival brands and muscle car enthusiasts looking for something a little more practical than their Mustangs and Camaros. “We actually see a lot of people coming in from Mustang and Camaro. It’s a sedan, but we see 2-door muscle car buyers getting into it” Muñoz said. “We like to theorize that you’ve had a muscle car your whole life, and you’re in that next stage (with a family), but you still want something fun. You can have it with the Dodge Charger”. One key reason why the Charger continues to sell well after all these years is the fact that there simply isn’t another performance sedan from a mainstream brand on the market like it and for anywhere near the same price. In addition, the Charger is the only rear-wheel drive sedan in its segment and this has no doubt paid dividends in making sure it appeals to traditional driving enthusiasts. “The discontinued Ford Taurus SHO was decently powerful and had all-wheel-drive, but it was still a Taurus. Impala has zero performance trim levels, and the only Chevrolet that was close to the Charger was the Holden based SS sedan, which is no longer” Muñoz added. “The Toyota Avalon just came out with a TRD. They’re trying, I get it, they may be seeing what we’re doing and hoping to get a piece of that performance market. But what you look at their actual additions for performance, they only did an exhaust and tightened up the steering and suspension. And it’s still front wheel drive. We’re the only RWD car in that segment”. The Dodge Charger family was recently spruced up with the launch of the range-topping SRT Hellcat Widebody model that’s available with up to 717 hp in the limited-edition Daytona 50th Anniversary model. The Charger Widebody package is also available in 485 hp Scat Pack guise and ‘standard’ 707 hp Hellcat form. +++ 

+++ Dealerships use all sorts of tactics to drum up sales, but one in South Carolina is raising eyebrows for their unusual promotion. Dubbed the “God, Guns and America!” campaign, the promotion will give buyers a bible, an American flag and a Smith & Wesson rifle. Given the promotion comes on the heels of mass shootings, not everyone is a fan. However, Carolina FORD general manager Derrick Hughes said it’s been a hit with customers: “We’ve had multiple people take advantage of the promotion”. The deal applies to both new and used vehicles, and Hughes said customers have purchased everything from used Dodges to new F-150s. The promotion kicked earlier this month and runs through November. Needless to say, it’s gotten a lot of attention. Reaction on the dealership’s Facebook page has been mixed as some are praising Carolina Ford while others are saying things like “Welcome to the origin of our next mass shooting”. While many people appear to assume the dealership is trying to send a political message, Hughes told: “We are not taking a political stance in any way, shape or form”. Instead, he suggested the dealership is full of “very patriotic people who believe in our country and salute our military”. Of course, the dealership isn’t just handing out guns to everyone who buys a vehicle from them. Instead, customers are given a voucher to a nearby sporting goods store. If a customer wants the gun and passes a background check, they can get it. If they don’t want the gun or don’t pass the background check, they’re free to purchase something else with the voucher. +++ 

+++ Half a continent away from the auto plants of Detroit, U.S. strikes at GENERAL MOTORS (GM) have sent shivers through the central Mexican city of Silao, where the local GM factory furloughed 6,000 workers last week when parts from the United States ran out. Rich or poor, residents are anxiously hoping the labor dispute will end so the company reopens the plant, which has been an anchor of the local economy since GM arrived a generation ago, transforming the landscape forever. “General Motors is the biggest source of income here. When General Motors stops, everything stops”, said Silao resident Francisco Vazquez. “Before General Motors, there was nothing”. Once a provincial backwater with a handful of colorful old churches, Silao is now enveloped in a thick cordon of factories and warehouses serving automotive companies from all over the world. In the years after GM opened the Silao plant in 1995, dozens of other firms followed, such as Volkswagen, Continental and Pirelli. Meanwhile the city’s home state, Guanajuato, drew in plants from carmakers including Mazda, Honda and Toyota. Tensions over the future of manufacturing in North America are at the heart of the mass GM walkout. The debate has pitted U.S. labor advocates eager to reduce Mexico’s cost advantage against Mexican trade unions fighting to protect local jobs. In the United States, the average GM assembly employee earns about $30 per hour before tax. By contrast, an assembly worker in Silao with 10 years experience was, until the shutdown, getting about $4.50 per hour before tax, including benefits like shopping vouchers. When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he pledged to bring back manufacturing jobs lost since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect in 1994. He also vowed to slash illegal immigration from Mexico. Yet Silao’s labor leaders say moving jobs from Mexico to the United States will only increase pressure on Mexican workers to migrate. “It’s important to keep jobs in Mexico for the sake of the United States”, said Hugo Varela, the Guanajuato boss of Mexico’s CTM trade union confederation, which represents GM workers. “It’s what stops migration to the United States”, he added. “If there aren’t jobs here, people will try to cross”. In addition, the GM strike has Mexican business leaders worried that industrial unrest could spread here, where the leftist government of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised to help strengthen trade unions. More than a dozen local workers, union officials and contractors of GM told their priority was defending local jobs. There has been little indication that Mexican autoworkers will show solidarity with the UAW. Operations at the GM Silao plant ground to a halt on Oct. 1. Vast parking lots in front of the cream-yellow building were mostly empty this week. Fast food sellers set up on the perimeter of the sprawling plant complained business was bad, and local GM workers said they were trying to make ends meet with odd jobs. The GM worker with the pay-slip said that during his furlough he was only receiving 55 % of his regular wage. He shook his head when asked if he might strike to pressure GM for full pay. His chief concern, he said, was to keep his job, or ensure a proper severance. “Maybe we’d go on strike if they tried to take the plant away”, said the GM worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he worried he could be fired for talking to the media. The Silao shutdown has sparked temporary layoffs at another GM site in Mexico and some major suppliers locally, including American Axle & Manufacturing, employees said. In Washington, the GM strike has complicated Trump’s push to get Congress to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trade deal he brokered to replace NAFTA. Democratic lawmakers allied with unions are resisting, saying Mexico must do more to implement tougher labor rules. U.S. and Canadian unions accuse their Mexican peers of flouting international standards to undercut them, and hope tougher laws will make Mexico less attractive to offshoring. Over the past 2 decades, Mexican annual automobile output has jumped 165 % to more than 4.1 million according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, lifting Mexico from 11th to 6th place in the global rankings. By July 2019, the automotive industry made up more than 30 % of the value of Mexico’s total exports. Some 80 % of those are sent to the United States, making Mexico highly sensitive to U.S. industrial disputes. The U.S. strike at the No. 1 U.S. carmaker began on Sept. 16, with its 48,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union seeking more pay and job security, a bigger share of company profits and protection of healthcare benefits. In Silao, fears about the local economy are growing. Jose Juan Campos, a contractor who said he had worked regularly at the GM plant from its opening until the strike, said he had never known a stoppage like it and that the firm was unlikely to take back many workers before Christmas. “People are getting desperate”, he said. +++ 

+++ The Volkswagen Group has hit back at a report suggesting it could sell LAMBORGHINI or take the Italian car manufacturer public. The report asserted that the German automaker was preparing to fold Lamborghini into a separate legal entity that could be sold or listed publicly in a bid to free up resources for the development and mass production of electric cars. It was also claimed that VW wants to increase its focus on its Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi brands. In a statement, a Volkswagen spokesman denied the report: “There are no plans for a sale or IPO of Lamborghini. Speculation to this effect is unfounded”, the spokesman said. The report claimed that, by streamlining the VW Group, less geographically diversified divisions such as Skoda and Lamborghini could be left in the cold. While VW has denied the report, that’s not to say it’s impossible that Lamborghini could be sold or spun-off in the future. FCA famously spun-off Ferrari a few years ago and the company’s value has gone on to grow substantially. Lamborghini’s value recently jumped to $11 billion and analysts claim that it is a good candidate for an initial public offering particularly due to its growing sales figures, mainly thanks to the Urus. Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess has previously stated that he wants to see the Group’s value jump from its current $89 billion to no less than $220 billion. Freeing up an asset like Lamborghini would certainly push the conglomerate towards that goal. +++ 

+++ Reports of a possible return of the rotary engine have been going back and forth ever since MAZDA discontinued the RX-8 sportcar 7 years ago. The latest thing that fueled the rumors once again is a mule that was spied testing at the Nurburgring not long ago, with its front end hidden beneath vinyl stickers. So, could it be that the Japanese automaker is planning to bring back the RX-8 or RX-7 nameplate (or could it be the RX-9?), using a brand new rotary engine, with or without some some sort of electrification? Your guess is as good as mine, although I’m inclined towards the latter scenario. The rumor mill speaks about a possible rotary engine that could act as a range extender in the company’s first electric vehicle. The all-new EV was teased for the Tokyo Motor Show, which starts later this month, and is believed to be aimed at Europe, China and Japan. It could also launch in America with a range extender, and that’s where the rumored rotary engine comes into play, catering to those “suffering” from range anxiety. On a second note, patent images showing a turbocharged rotary engine made their way onto the web a few months ago, suggesting perhaps that Mazda will launch a modern-day RX-7. My guess is they could do both, but even though at this point, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess, I don’t think Hamamatsu has chosen the RX-8 as a mule randomly, especially when it rotary-powered sports cars have so many fans. +++ 

+++ MCLAREN has confirmed that it will be building a road-going GT4 racing car based on the 600LT, dubbed 620R. It will feature a design linked to that of last year’s ultra-exclusive 570S MSO X, with an aerodynamic package clearly adapted from that of McLaren’s racing programme. Alongside a prominent rear spoiler and front splitter arrangement, there will be a roof-mounted air scoop and new intakes cut out from the bonnet. Further changes include an exhaust feeding out through the bumper in place of the top-exit items of the 600LT, a detail that features in the Woking brand’s GT4 cars. A specific wheel design, most likely made from a super-light material such as magnesium, will also be part of the package. The 620R will feature a bespoke suspension tune compared with the 600LT.  You can expect the twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 to be boosted to 620 hp; more than the regulation-restricted racing models. The interior is yet to be seen, but expect faithful race-spec details such as bucket seats, 6-point harnesses and the removal of non-essential hardware and features. McLaren is yet to reveal any details of the car, but when questioned, a spokesperson confirmed its existence and said: “This is a car that will be offered to select customers by invitation only”. It will be built in strictly limited numbers, although probably not as exclusively as the 10 units of the 570S MSO built for US customers, and is expected to cost significantly more than the 600LT. More details should follow some time next year. +++ 

+++ Makoto Uchida, the newly appointed chief executive officer charged with forging “a new NISSAN ” brings with him a reputation for doing what makes sense and what makes money. His willingness to say “no” (his fans call it just being realistic) may be what it takes to lead Nissan out of its current troubles. Last year, when the longtime purchasing executive was promoted to president of Nissan’s Chinese automaking joint venture, Dongfeng Motor, he immediately found the unit locked in a corporate stalemate. Nissan headquarters had decreed that its Chinese-market vehicles must follow Nissan’s global standards on vehicle connectivity technology. The local staff argued that China’s domestic connectivity tech was more advanced and (despite the corporate desire for global standardization) the company should move in that direction for China. Uchida studied the matter and concluded that his local team was right: Headquarters was wrong. “Once he was convinced of that, he went to war with the Japan side to make sure they understand what we need and why we need it, but was able to give us the resources to do things in a very different way”, said an associate who works with Uchida in China. “He’s not going to submit to the Nissan headquarters machine”, the associate said. “He always says the regions deliver the results and headquarters should support the regions. He has the strength and experience to try something different. He is going to be a very different type of CEO”. The glimpse of Uchida in action may signal what’s in store for a struggling Nissan and its businesses in North America, South America, Europe and elsewhere. Insiders say Uchida, a theology student in his younger days, is a pragmatic stickler for profitability who is leery of lofty numerical targets and ready to rock the boat for regional independence from headquarters. That has been a trouble area for Nissan in recent years. Under the powerful, visionary leader Carlos Ghosn for 19 years, and even under his short-termed successor, Hiroto Saikawa, local markets did what they were told. Nissan’s biggest market (the United States) pursued and even achieved an aggressive market share goal set by the home office. In addition to being costly, the exercise soured many retailers and managers on the company. Last week, Nissan named Uchida as part of a trio of lesser-known executives to bring about what Nissan board chairman Yasushi Kimura called “a new Nissan”. Uchida, 53, along with newly named chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta, 49, and vice chief operating officer Jun Seki, 58, will make up a management team that is younger, internationally minded and newly committed to working with Nissan’s French partner Renault. And maybe more important, a year after Ghosn’s controversial arrest and the ensuing implosion of Nissan’s executive ranks, it is a team untainted by scandal. Uchida’s first test might be to once again balk at home office expectations. The new CEO inherits a midterm plan created by Saikawa before he resigned as CEO last month. But last week, Kimura made it clear that the new team has free rein to chart its own recovery course for the troubled carmaker. Some directors think an all-new midterm business plan is needed, said a person familiar with the board’s thinking. “The new CEO may have to develop a new plan because the current one may no longer hold”, the person said. “A review of that will be one of the first questions that will be asked of them”. Indeed, Uchida and Gupta were specifically picked in large part to make a fresh start, to break from a year marred by former Chairman Ghosn’s arrest on charges of financial misconduct and Saikawa’s sudden departure under the cloud of his own pay scandal. “We selected people who could represent a new Nissan in a strong way”, Kimura said. Critics say not being able to say “no” to headquarters is what landed Nissan in its current financial troubles, marked by profit-draining incentives and fleet sales that ultimately undercut global earnings. The whiplash in North America resulted in a squeeze that virtually wiped out corporate profits in the most recent quarter. In China, Uchida also pushed back on electric-vehicle sales goals sent from Yokohama, which locals in China knew were unrealistic. “We all knew it was not executable”, the China associate said of meeting the sales goal from the headquarter. “Or if we did, we’d have to sacrifice a lot of profitability. He convinced the company to move back the electrification market share in order for us to focus on profitable, sustainable growth”. Masakazu Toyoda, the director in charge of Nissan’s nomination committee, said of the work ahead, “The most important thing for the company is the recovery plan. Performance recovery should be completed, and this is the biggest challenge that we are addressing”. The road map laid out by Saikawa in May calls for trimming the vehicle lineup, cutting capacity and slashing thousands of jobs in an effort to reverse imploding profits over the next 4 years. It also aims to restore parent company operating profit margin to 6 % in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023. It languished at 0.1 % in the quarter ended June 30. But it could be a while before Uchida and Gupta make any course corrections. They will take their new posts no later than Jan. 1. Interim CEO Yasuhiro Yamauchi continues until the handover. They will need time to reassess the situation. Both men break with traditional Japanese corporate culture in notable ways. They are relatively young, internationally minded, and both are midcareer transfers into the company; not lifers recruited straight out of college. Uchida joined in 2003 and Gupta, a former Honda executive in India, in 2006. Crucially, both bring a working knowledge of Nissan’s estranged alliance partner Renault. Uchida was corporate vice president for alliance purchasing and also did a stint at Renault Samsung Motors, the French automaker’s South Korean unit. Gupta, a native of India, joined the alliance as a general manager of purchasing for Renault in India and was global head of the alliance’s joint light commercial vehicle business. Gupta is chief operating officer of Mitsubishi, the third major partner in the Renault-Nissan alliance. Gupta was dispatched to Mitsubishi only this year, replacing Trevor Mann, another former Nissan executive who left the company in the wake of the Ghosn upheaval. Adding a thread of continuity to Nissan’s top brass will be vice chief operating officer Seki. Seki was also a chairman of Nissan’s China operations before being tapped by Saikawa this year as the top officer in charge of performance recovery. Among the triumvirate, Seki has the deepest Nissan roots. The 3 leaders face a daunting to-do list. They must reboot imploding profits, rebuild frayed relations with Renault, which is undergoing its own challenges, and revive Nissan’s flailing business in the United States. Critically, neither Uchida nor Gupta have ever had a posting to Nissan’s all-important U.S. business. That might be seen as a handicap in some quarters. But not necessarily in the case of Uchida, who values regional autonomy. “He wants to really, really understand the details of every decision he makes”, said his China associate. “But he gives a lot of latitude to the experts on the ground”. +++ 

+++ PININFARINA will reveal a new car every 12 months for the next 4 years as part of new product offensive. And next in line will be a Lamborghini Urus-rivalling crossover, due to be shown in the middle of next year. Prototypes of the Italian firm’s halo model, the 1.900 hp electric Battista, are due to be built in the middle of next year ahead of first customer deliveries at the end of 2020. Only 150 examples of the Battista will ever be produced, each costing in the region of €2.5 million. The models that are due to follow the limited-run hypercar will be more accessible in terms of price point, senior figures at the company revealed to us. Investment for the next 4 products has been secured with the Urus-rivalling crossover due next year to be priced from around €300,000. However, unlike the Urus, it will be a fully electric vehicle. The firm recently announced that its upcoming range of EVs will be based on platforms developed in conjunction with Bosch engineering and Benteler. The platform will allow the firm a lot of flexibility in terms of packaging, with multiple electric motors able to be bolted to each axle. Pininfarina’s current production base is in Cambiano, where the Battista will be hand-built. The firm is looking to establish an addition production facility, ideally in Italy, where the upcoming range of additional models will be produced. +++ 

+++ The ouster of RENAULT boss Thierry Bollore last week sweeps away another remnant of the Carlos Ghosn era and perhaps moves the French automaker closer to a stronger bond with Japanese affiliate Nissan. Bollore’s removal came just days after Nissan named a triumvirate of leaders without deep ties to Ghosn, the former chairman who was arrested in November and has been stripped of his many roles throughout the global alliance he created. Bollore, Ghosn’s handpicked successor, reportedly never developed a rapport with chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, the respected Michelin CEO brought in by Renault’s board of directors and the French government to mend relations with Nissan. Senard dodged questions about any personality clash with Bollore, saying that there was “nothing personal” about the decision, but it was simply that the alliance needs a fresh start and that required new governance. He also denied that either the French government or Nissan had put pressure on Renault’s board. It took just 3 days to topple Bollore, who only learned of reports that Senard wanted him out after meetings with Nissan in Japan. At Nissan, former CEO Hiroto Saikawa (another Ghosn appointee) resigned swiftly last month after being linked to improper payments, although the transgressions were much smaller in scope than those that Ghosn is accused of engineering. In addition to the changes at the top of Renault and Nissan, numerous executives seen as Ghosn allies have moved on or been reassigned. Senard and Nissan now have a clean sheet to ponder how to revive trust within the alliance and redistribute the balance of power, which has been solidly in Renault’s hands since the French automaker took a controlling stake in a then-ailing Nissan in 1999. Investors seemed to relish the prospect, and perhaps even the revival of the failed merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The first task is to find Bollore’s successor, but Renault’s executive talent pool has been thinned by a number of recent high-profile departures (some to crosstown rival PSA Group) and Ghosn’s reluctance to share power. Renault will be led on an interim basis by Clotilde Delbos, with assistance from Olivier Murguet, head of global sales, and Jose-Vincente de los Mozos, deputy alliance vice president for manufacturing and supply chain. Any outside candidate will need to have a thick skin to handle the fickle French government (which holds a 15 % stake and wields outsize influence over strategy, especially in any areas that could touch employment) as well as the physical and mental stamina to endure long flights to and from Tokyo. Perhaps most important, that person must have Nissan’s approval, much as Senard is said to have given his blessing to the Japanese automaker’s new governing tribunal of CEO Makoto Uchida, COO Ashwani Gupta and Deputy COO Jun Seki. Senard described Nissan’s new management team as “extraordinarily pro-alliance”. He said Renault would take its time seeking a permanent CEO, but he said that person would “need to have the ability to comprehend the alliance’s imperatives in an international context”. Whether Renault picks a caretaker CEO or someone with a long-term future, that person will inherit an automaker with relatively solid fundamentals, although profits and sales have slumped this year. Renault is not alone in feeling the effects of a slowdown in European and global auto sales. It has suffered in the past 18 months from an aging lineup, but replacements for Renault’s 2 global bestsellers, the Clio and Captur, are going on the market this autumn. Thanks to Ghosn’s aggressive (and costly) push for electrification early in this decade, Renault is expected to meet Europe’s increasingly stringent emissions targets without paying penalties, and it has been amortizing EV development costs for years. Renault is also globally diversified, with operations in more than 150 countries, another Ghosn hallmark, allowing it a hedge against currency and economic fluctuations, although it has been hit hard this year by Argentina’s financial collapse. It is not heavily invested in the slumping Chinese market, where it has a relatively small joint venture with Dongfeng Motor that produces SUVs, and it controls a domestic maker of minibuses and minivans, Jinbei-Brilliance. Nonetheless, Renault needs a strong alliance with Nissan to help share development costs, drive hard bargains in purchasing (another Ghosn obsession) and finance expensive future technologies such as autonomous vehicles. As examples, Renault’s new models rely on Nissan’s ProPilot Level 2 advanced driver assistance system, and the alliance is close to rolling out a common EV platform, which critics have said is long overdue. But Senard was adamant that those waiting for swift, radical change in the Renault-Nissan relationship shouldn’t hold their breath. Nissan and Renault first needed to get used to new management teams, he said. And after being in crisis mode for 11 months, he added, “there’s a need to take the time to relax and reflect”. +++ 

+++ SEAT is considering a major rebranding plan that would reposition the Spanish car maker further upmarket in the search for greater sales and profits. It is part of a broader strategy by parent company Volkswagen. The plan was hinted at by Volkswagen chairman Herbert Diess on the sidelines of last month’s Frankfurt motor show. The move could lead to Seat taking the name of its newly established Cupra sub-brand ahead of the development of a new line-up of models and a concerted push into new global markets, including North America, by the middle of the next decade. The possible rebranding of Seat forms part of a wider plan for further differentiation between each of Volkswagen’s key volume car brands. Nothing is official yet, although Diess indicated Skoda is set to adopt a more budget-oriented role and Seat may be taken further upmarket in a future-proofing move for both brands. Diess told the Spanish firm’s best chance of long-term survival is to be positioned above Volkswagen as a more emotional premium brand, in the vein of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Alfa Romeo. At the centre of concern for Seat is its high operating costs in relation to the current pricing level of key models like the Ibiza, Leon and Ateca. Diess hinted the cost basis of those cars is almost the same as their VW counterparts despite the price difference. Although Diess praised the efforts of Seat boss Luca de Meo in boosting sales to more than 500,000 in 2018, he pointed to disappointing performances in key European markets such as Italy and France as just one reason to rethink Seat’s future direction. Chairman of both Seat and Cupra, de Meo has already gone on the record about the issue of the Seat brand. Speaking at the launch of the Cupra division early last year, he said: “Seat has put a focus on growing and gaining credibility, but in some markets there is still some rejection of the Seat brand from people who are image sensitive. This we can fix, but we need time. Cupra is starting from scratch with something new. We start from a green field, and maybe with that we can attract customers who in other cases might not buy a Seat. Selling those kinds of cars for us is much more profitable. This allows us to increase the conquest of the brand”. Next year, Cupra will move from its small base shared with the firm’s motorsport division to a new 2400-square metre HQ, having already increased its staffing levels by 50 %. Cupra has sold more than 18,000 cars this year, an improvement of nearly 80 % on 2018, despite having only 2 models (the Ateca and Leon) on sale so far. The Tavascan is a realistic preview of Cupra’s first electric car, according to design boss Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos. “I made a deal with De Meo that this car would be very close to a production version”, he said, although he admitted that the project has yet to get the official green light. Mentioning the Tesla Model 3 as a potential rival, Mesonero-Romanos claimed that brand’s interiors are “too simple, too cold” and that “if everybody adopted the same cabin design, we would have one characterless interior”. He said future Cupra cabins will have “a lot of nice shapes that humanise the vehicle. Simple doesn’t have to be crude”. +++ 

+++ The UNITED KINGDOM is looking at the tools it can use to support carmakers in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said. The government is in talks with companies including PSA Group, Toyota, Ford, Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover to establish where the “pinch points” and ‘pain’ would be if the UK leaves the European Union without an agreement, Zahawi said. “There are a number of levers available to me, to us in government, to be able to help those businesses”, Zahawi said in an interview, when asked whether loan guarantees were possible. He said he is working out how he can help car makers “within the confines of either World Trade Organization state aid rules, or, if we have a deal, EU state aid rules”. Automakers have been vocal in opposing the sort of no-deal Brexit Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he’s pursuing if he can’t reach an accord by Oct. 31. They have warned it would be ‘devastating’ for the industry, disrupting just-in-time supply lines and ushering in tariffs that would drive up costs and make exports uncompetitive. The UK auto industry association, SMMT, said a no-deal Brexit “would have an immediate impact on the industry, putting jobs at risk and causing severe and potentially irreversible damage. The UK and EU automotive industries are deeply integrated so we need a deal that guarantees free and frictionless trade. Anything less risks destroying this vital industry”. PSA boss Carlos Tavares said in July that all Astra production will be pulled from its plant in Ellesmere Port if Brexit makes it impossible to turn a profit at the 1,000-worker Opel / Vauxhall brand facility. Nissan has suggested it may move some production out of the UK if the country leaves the EU without a deal. “Any decision is not straightforward. We have to carefully analyze all the situations”, Nissan Europe chairman Gianluca de Ficchy said when asked about the possibility of closing a plant in Sunderland, northeast England. “The only clear conclusion we have reached is that if WTO tariffs will be applied, it will not be sustainable”. Nissan, which sends 70 % of its UK output to the EU, is urging Johnson’s government to support the industry by agreeing with the bloc not to apply tariffs, de Ficchy said. The imposition of WTO rules with a 10 % duty on UK-built cars shipped to the EU would be impossible to offset through cost cuts, he said. Zahawi said one of the tools he is considering is the so-called exceptional regional growth fund; an award of grants outside normal competitive bidding processes designed to assist “where the economic situation in a local area deteriorates suddenly”. He said the UK will seek to avoid disruption to supply chains in a no-deal Brexit by not imposing additional border checks. “Essentially, we will wave the deliveries through”, he said, adding that there have been “encouraging noises” from authorities in Calais, the main French port for the UK, that will not cause any problems “either because they don’t want to harm French businesses”. Still, that’s far from a cast-iron guarantee that there won’t be disruption, because the French will be obliged to follow EU laws and enforce a customs border. Zahawi also said that the government is pushing an ambition for Britain to lead the world in developing electric vehicles and hydrogen technology, including a drive to develop a so-called gigafactory to make electric car batteries in the UK. The government announced as much as $1.22 billion of investment to accelerate the development of new battery technology and hydrogen fuel cells last month. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN does not expect the shift in production toward electric cars aimed at averting billions of euros in European pollution fines to hurt its profit margins, chief executive Herbert Diess said. “We do not expect a deterioration in margins. Our advantage is that all our brands have the same platform for electric products and the same batteries that we buy in China”, Diess said in an interview. Het added the German car maker expected to sell nearly 20,000 units of the Audi e-Tron in 2019, adding the first year’s production of the electric Porsche Taycan was already sold out. Orders for the Volkswagen ID.3, the group’s recently unveiled compact electric model, are already covering the production planned until mid-2020, Diess said. Last month at Frankfurt auto show Germany’s premium automakers marketed electric cars as their flagship models to lure customers away from gas-guzzling SUVs. Diess said he was concerned by the trade war between the United States and China, which was already causing a fall in Volkswagen’s Chinese sales even if its market share in the country had been growing in the past 6 months, reaching 19 %. In any case, Volkswagen does not plan to cut its exposure to the Chinese market, Diess said. +++

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