Newsflash: Land Rover komt met verlengde 8-persoons Defender

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+++ Manufacturers of AUTONOMOUS CARS will have to accept liability in the event of an accident involving one of their vehicles, according to the specialist in charge of Toyota’s project to develop its own self-driving technology. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, says that manufacturers “won’t have a choice” but to accept that without a human driver to blame for an accident, the law is likely to turn to the companies who make the vehicles instead. “As we move towards autonomous cars, the crash rate will be lower than now but it will not be zero”, Pratt told. “When that does happen, there will really only be one thing left to take responsibility: the company that made the product. “The reality is that no one has a choice”, Pratt said. “The law dictates what we will have to do. Different parts of the world have different laws, and we follow the law”. Pratt, whose division has developed a running Toyota prototype with integrated Lidar sensors that’s capable of Level 4 Autonomy, (where the driver can take their hands completely off the wheel) admitted that the predicted roll-out of autonomous cars has slipped slightly over the past 18 months. “The industry as a whole has adjusted the expectations of the timelines for when things are going to roll out”, he said. “I think that it’s all because of the realisation that there are technical difficulties in predicting what human beings do. Any car in a mixed environment has to do really good job of predicting what other drivers will do, what pedestrians and cyclists will do. It doesn’t understand unless it’s seen millions of training scenarios and videos. The obstacles currently in the way are technical (predicting what things around you are going to do) social, in terms of liability and also brand risk, and economic; where within the price of the car are we going to be able to pay for this stuff? On the liability front, in some ways autonomous cars could be like a vaccine. Vaccines save millions of lives almost all of the time, but once in a while, they can cause an adverse reaction and a person who was otherwise healthy before can get sick and even die. “With vehicle autonomy, we have the potential to save a lot of lives, but some of the time we’re going to have lives lost. So it’s a question for society to decide. Is it okay to accept some technology will save lot of lives but also cost some lives?” +++ 

+++ BMW has expanded its 2 series range with the 4-door Gran Coupe. It shares its front-wheel-drive platform with the 1-series and 2-series Tourer. BMW’s other compact cars, the 2-series Coupe and Convertible, are underpinned by rear-wheel-drive architecture. The 2-series Gran Coupe is aimed at younger, design-focused buyers. It will rival the Mercedes CLA and will debut at the Los Angeles auto show next month. The model will be sold globally and will be the cheapest BMW in the U.S. market. According to BMW, the market launch will start in March in Europe and the U.S., while sales in China will begin at the end of 2020. BMW forecasts 35 % of the 2-series Gran Coupe will be sold in Europe, 20 % in the U.S. and 15 % in China. The 2-series Gran Coupe “has its sights set on establishing the dynamic yardstick in its class”, BMW said. The automaker says its frontwheel-drive architecture features cutting-edge chassis technology and innovative systems that include control-system technology. Design-wise, the model has a “dynamically stretched silhouette which, like the frameless side windows for the 4 doors, is lifted from the classical coupe blueprint”, BMW said. While the front is similar to the 1 series, the back of the car has newly designed rear lights that extend well into the center of the rear end. The 2-series Gran Coupe has the same 2.670 mm wheelbase as its series 1 sibling and it is 1.800 mm wide (just 1 millimeter more than the 1 series), but it is 207 mm longer (4.526 mm versus 4.319); its height is 1.420 mm or 14 mm less than the series 1. +++ 

+++ CHANGAN AUTOMOBILE estimates it lost from 160 million yuan ($23 million) to 550 million yuan in the third quarter, as its proprietary car unit and joint ventures with Ford and Mazda continued to suffer from plunging sales. The numbers brought its total losses in the first 9 months to somewhere between 2.4 billion yuan and 2.8 billion yuan, the state-owned Chinese automaker said in a filing on the Shenzhen stock exchange where it is listed. For the first 3 quarters, sales at Changan’s own brands fell 19 % year on year to around 580,000 vehicles. In the period, deliveries at Changan Ford plunged 58 % to about 129,000 while sales at Changan Mazda slumped 25 % to roughly 96,000 units. Changan Ford builds and markets sedans and crossovers for Ford brand, while Changan Mazda assembles and distributes the Mazda 3 and the Mazda CX-5 plus CX-8. The prolonged downturn of the Chinese new light-vehicle market, which started in July last year, has wreaked havoc on Changan’s operations. In the first 3 quarters of 2018, the company still reported a net profit of 1.16 billion yuan. +++ 

+++ Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said that a possible deal with FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) was not on the table for now, although he did not rule out it being re-examined at some stage in the future. “Today, it’s not on the table”, Senard told, later adding that “one must never say never” regarding speculation that Renault might relook at merging with FCA. Renault, which earlier this month issued a profit warning and ousted CEO Thierry Bollore, abandoned a deal with FCA in June. +++ 

+++ FORD has a lot riding on the new Explorer, but there’s no hiding the fact that the model’s launch has been a disaster. There are countless issues with the crossover. Among the issues cited are problems with the chassis, transmission, suspension and airconditioning system. The company can’t even get the basics right as some models have reportedly been shipped with missing emblems and trim pieces as well as the wrong wheels. The issues have already resulted in 2 recalls and plenty of upset customers.  Ford has also had to ship thousands of Explorers and Lincoln Aviators from the Chicago plant where they are built to the Flat Rock assembly plant in Michigan where workers are forced to fix the problems. That’s pretty bad news for Ford and the issues have caused sales to plummet. Unsurprisingly, Wall Street isn’t happy and Bloomberg says investors are losing their patience with Ford CEO Jim Hackett. It’s not hard to see why as Ford stock has fallen 15% since Hackett assumed the role in 2017. Analysts are also expecting a disappointing third quarter as the automaker is slated to post lower profits and revenues than last year. The Explorer problems are factoring into this as Morningstar analyst David Whiston said, “This Explorer issue is going to be a big negative for the quarter. It’s a viciously competitive market and you don’t want to be missing one of your big hitters”. A lot of the problems are being blamed on the company’s Chicago plant which has a hostile work environment according to some employees. Ford dismissed that by saying it wasn’t aware of any recent issues involving employees intimidating one another, but the plant is reportedly suffering high turnover rates and is “riven with dissension that’s hampering productivity and quality”. +++ 

+++ The United Auto Workers will continue striking against GENERAL MOTORS (GM) until a tentative deal is ratified by members, extending its walkout for at least another week. Voting on the proposed contract will begin Oct. 19 and ballots will be due by Oct. 25, Brian Rothenberg, the UAW’s spokesman, said during a press conference in Detroit. The strike began Sept. 16 and has cost GM an estimated $2 billion. The stock is down about 7 % since the strike began. The walkout has already had a profound effect on the U.S. economy, contributing to the steepest drop in U.S. factory production in 5 months. By deciding to stay on strike until ratification, the union may be acknowledging the challenge it will have convincing the rank-and-file it’s squeezed all the concessions it possibly can out of the company. Keeping workers on the picket line “is an indication they don’t feel like it’s a slam dunk”, said Arthur Wheaton, director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “They better get it out to a vote because it’s a nightmare if it gets voted down”. After reaching a tentative agreement, the UAW released highlights of the accord. While it notably doesn’t throw a lifeline to GM’s Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio, the automaker is offering to pay $11,000 ratification bonuses to senior workers. It’s also dangling $60,000 early retirement buyouts for up to 2,060 employees and providing lump-sum payouts and annual raises that will take hourly production wages up to $32.32 an hour by 2023. Every day the strike continues costs GM about $100 million of profit, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy wrote in a report this week. “We encourage the UAW to move as quickly as possible through the ratification process, so we can resume operations and get back to producing vehicles for our customers”, GM said in a statement. The union’s local presidents and chairmen (roughly 200 officials) met after being called to Detroit earlier this week when the 2 sides began to make major progress hammering out a new contract. The proposed agreement shortens the length of time temporary employees need to work before converting to permanent status, a major sticking point in the negotiations. Workers will get 3 % wage increases in the second and fourth years of the contract and 4 % lump sums in the others. “It’s certainly a generous economic deal”, said Art Schwartz, a former GM labor negotiator who is now a consultant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The one issue that could derail the deal is the automaker’s decision to follow through with closing 3 U.S. factories. “The UAW kind of got everything the members wanted, except those 3 plants”, Schwartz said. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , the parliament has shot down a proposal by the country’s Green Party to introduce a 130 km/h speed limit on unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. The proposal was taken to the Bundestag (that’s the German parliament) for a vote, where it was rejected by a vast majority. In fact, no less than 498 of a total 631 votes were cast against the proposal. German chancellor Angela Merkel had already rejected the idea of placing speed limits on unrestricted portions of the Autobahn earlier this year. Similarly, transportation minister Andreas Scheuer canceled a meeting to discuss the recommendations. According to the Green Party, it knew opposition from the governing coalition would be so strong that the proposal would be rejected. However, Green Party member Cem Özdemir told German public broadcaster ARD that the party often makes proposals like this without mainstream support in the belief that they will slowly gain popularity and support over time. Anyone who has driven on the Autobahn will tell you that it is an automotive enthusiast’s paradise. Nowhere else on continental Europe are there such large sections of de-restricted motorway, so it’s something unique to Germany. The Green Party cited safety as one of the main reasons why it wanted to impose speed limits. Some had also suggested that imposing limits could help reduce the country’s carbon footprint significantly, a claim that was rebuffed by Germany’s Environment Ministry. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI has announced the development of the world’s first Machine Learning-based Smart Cruise Control (SCC-ML), a technology that takes into account the driver’s patterns (behavior/tendencies) and applies them to how the system should behave in traffic. The tech works by incorporating artificial intelligence within the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) feature, which is planned for implementation in future Hyundai Group products. “The new SCC-ML improves upon the intelligence of the previous ADAS technology to dramatically improve the practicality of semi-autonomous features”, stated Hyundai Group vice president Woongjun Jang. “Hyundai Motor Group will continue the development efforts on innovative AI technologies to lead the industry in the field of autonomous driving”. According to Hyundai, Smart Cruise Control enables an essential feature and core technology for ADAS, specifically maintaining distance from the vehicle ahead while traveling at a driver-selected speed. By combining AI and SCC into a system capable of learning, SCC should then be able to autonomously drive in an identical pattern as the driver. These patterns are represented by certain driver behaviors, such as the distance one keeps from the preceding vehicle and acceleration. Without machine learning technology, creating such a personalized cruise control system would have been impossible. “For instance, even the same driver may accelerate differently in high-speed, mid-speed and low-speed environments depending on circumstance, but detailed fine-tuning was not available. Therefore, when Smart Cruise Control was activated and the vehicle operated differently than they prefer, drivers, sensed the difference, resulting in a reluctance to use the technology because it made them feel anxious and unstable”. The driving pattern information is regularly updated using sensors, reflecting the driver’s latest driving style. It’s also important to note that SCC-ML is programmed in such a way that it can avoid learning unsafe driving patterns, thus increasing its reliability and safety. With the addition of Highway Driving Assist (an upcoming tech from Hyundai featuring automatic lane change assist), SCC-ML will achieve Level 2.5 autonomy. +++ 

+++ LAND ROVER isn’t resting on its laurels following the new Defender’s unveiling, with the 3-door 90 and 5-door 110 models set to be joined by a larger, 8-seat 130 variant in the coming years. The 130 is destined to be revealed in the second half of next year before its launch in 2021. Despite the model’s badge, it will share its wheelbase length of just over 3 metres with the 110, meaning no costly platform extension is required. Instead, Land Rover is set to boost the car’s rear overhang to allow it to offer up to 8 seats. It will be around 5.1 metres in length, making it 342 mm longer than the 110 version and around 50 mm shorter than the BMW X7. Land Rover has still to officially confirm the 130’s existence, but it is described internally as the ‘premium explorer’ of the range and is aimed at large, active families who like to travel. The 130 will increase the upper Defender’s price point, fitting in with Land Rover’s desire to establish the 4×4 in the high-end, high-margin off-roader segment alongside models such as the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. It could also help the car’s popularity in China and the US, where large SUVs are far more popular than in Europe. Ultra-high-spec models are being worked on by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations department, likely with inspiration from the division’s various high-end Range Rover spin-offs. This would allow Land Rover to capitalise on the global popularity of high-power, high-price 4x4s, bolstered by the latest Mercedes-AMG G 63. While other Defender variants will appear, it is now understood that the rumoured pick-up model has been axed from the product plan. It is thought that company bosses have been unable to make the development costs of the pick-up viable, and they consider that the standard 110 and upcoming 130 offer enough loadspace versatility with no need to remove the roof and expose the bay to the elements. Land Rover produced a pick-up model throughout the old Defender’s life, all the way back to the original Series 1. +++

+++ Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard is determined to get the carmaker’s alliance with NISSAN back on track next year, he said, adding other matters such as a potential tie-up with Fiat Chrysler were less of a priority. The Renault-Nissan partnership was rocked by former alliance boss Carlos Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo almost a year ago on financial misconduct charges, which he denies. The 2 firms are still trying to repair relations, including through recent management overhauls, to focus again on combined efforts to cut costs and invest in new technologies, among the pressing issues thrown into sharp relief by a Renault profit warning last week. “My obsession is for the alliance to take off in 2020”, Senard told. “If by 2020 we don’t manage to start extracting all the potential of this alliance, I’ll consider it to be a failure, on a personal level and by our teams”. Senard did not give further details, but he added that other matters, such as attempting to revive merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which were abandoned in June, were secondary to the industrial projects Renault and Nissan needed to work on. “Today, it’s not on the table”, Senard said of a FCA deal. He added reducing Renault’s 43.3 % stake in Nissan, which could help improve relations, was also not top of his list. “Nothing can ever be excluded, but this is not what we’re focused on”, Senard said. Senard was parachuted in from tyre maker Michelin in early 2019 to help steady Renault, which is 15 % owned by the French state. Earlier this month, the carmaker ousted CEO Thierry Bollore, a former Ghosn protegee known for having a strained relationship with Nissan, as it tries to wipe the slate clean with its Japanese partner. “I discovered an alliance in worse shape than I’d imagined. This takes time to mend”, Senard said. Renault, which said last week it was reviewing some mid-term targets, is due to release more details about its third quarter performance on October 25. +++ 

+++ RENAULT has revealed its first hydrogen vehicles, the Kangoo ZE Hydrogen and Master ZE Hydrogen, making it the first manufacturer to offer hydrogen-powered vans. However, while cars such as the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai are powered solely by a hydrogen fuel cell system, Renault is using a hydrogen fuel cell as a range extender to the vans’ existing electric powertrain. While the Kangoo ZE and Master ZE will still be available in pure electric form, this range extender fuel cell variants add up to 3 times more range, with both models offering at least 390 kilometres. Renault said another advantage of hydrogen is that refilling takes only 5 to 10 minutes. The Kangoo ZE Hydrogen will land later this year and the Master ZE Hydrogen in 2020. It is likely the technology will extend to other Renault vehicles, although the French car maker would not comment on such a move. Denis Le Got, Renault-Nissan light commercial van boss, said: “These vehicles provide professionals with all the range they require for their long-distance journeys as well as record charging times. And the advantages do not stop there, as Master ZE Hydrogen and Kangoo ZE Hydrogen can run on decarbonised energy that respects the environment while offering all the comfort of electric driving”. The Kangoo ZE Hydrogen will be priced at €48,300 in France. Master pricing is yet to be confirmed. +++ 

+++ Roughly 85 years ago, on October 22, 1934, SKODA unveiled the original Superb to replace the S 640 nameplate. This first-gen model was in production until 1949, and was initially powered by a 2.5-liter 55 hp 6-cylinder engine. In 1938, Skoda introduced the Superb OHV with an 80 hp 3.1-liter 6-cylinder unit, and prior to the war, a small series of Superb 4000 models with V8 engines was built. Due to political reasons, production eventually came to a halt and would stay that way until 2001 when the first modern Superb was born. Right off the bat, the 2001 Superb set the benchmark for rear legroom in its segment (non-premium mid size sedan), while also representing strong value for money. Skoda built 136.068 first generation modern Superb models, before coming out with the replacement in 2008. In 2009, the Superb Combi was launched, offering between 633 and 1,865 liters of trunk volume, depending on whether or not you folded the rear seat. This second generation model also came with keyless access and start, which was a first for the Czech automaker. By 2015, Skoda had built no fewer than 404.756 saloons and 217.734 wagons at its plant in Kvasiny, Czech Republic. The current-generation Superb has proven to be very popular as well, thanks not only to its modern and elegant design, but also interior space and multitude of advanced assistance systems meant to increase safety and comfort. This year, Skoda’s flagship model went in for a major facelift, receiving full LED matrix headlights, improved safety tech, a Scout variant, new TDI diesel unit and soon, an electrified iV version with plug-in hybrid technology. While 54 % of all Superb models are delivered to buyers in Europe, the flagship nameplate is also in demand in China: almost 33 % of the Superbs is sold in Skoda’s largest single market. Between 2001 and the end of Q1 2019, a total of 1.280.600 modern Superb models rolled off the assembly line. +++ 

+++ Automotive journalists like to complain that U.S. buyers don’t have enough wagon models to choose from, but the truth is the market for such vehicles is so small that automakers have little incentive to enter the segment. Stationwagons made up just 1.4 % of all car sales in the United States last year, according to data from J.D. Power. That’s insignificant compared to the 48 % market share of the crossover / SUV segment, so it’s little wonder that wagons are such a rare sight in America’s car dealerships these days. However, there is one model that is thriving in the States: the SUBARU Outback. As a matter of fact, one could say the Outback practically is the wagon segment in the United States. That’s because the Japanese model has a 1.2 % overall market share, or 85.7 % of its segment, with 178.854 sales in 2018. This means that all the other wagons on sale in the U.S. are fighting for just 0.2 % of the market, making Audi’s introduction of the new A6 Allroad to the United States a rather daring move. So how does Subaru manage to dominate the wagon market so strongly? A lot of it has to do with the Outback’s design. The jacked-up wagon offers more ground clearance and rugged styling cues that appeal to buyers of both wagons and crossovers / SUVs. There may be other models that do to the same thing, such as the Volvo V60 / V90 Cross Country and the Buick Regal TourX (Opel Insignia Country Tourer), but they are significantly more expensive than the Outback. It also helps that the Outback is a long established nameplate in the U.S. and has a solid reliability record. For all its success, the Outback lost more than 10,000 sales compared to 2017, which is a lot. It remains to be seen whether that’s attributable to buyers holding off a purchase until the launch of the all-new Outback or the overall decline of the segment. +++ 

+++ TESLA is promising that the production version of the new Roadster will be even better than the head-turning prototype unveiled a couple of years ago. While recently speaking on the Ride the Lightning podcast, Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen said that the all-electric supercar is still undergoing developent: “It’s evolving deservedly so; it needs more time. It will be even better than what we’ve unveiled. In every way”. While von Holzhausen failed to reveal what will differentiate the finished item from the prototype, his statement that it will be improved fits in line with previous statements from chief executive Elon Musk that the electric car manufacturer is working on a number of unique components for the car. Most notably, Musk has previously stated the Roadster will be available with a ‘SpaceX package’ that includes small rocket thrusters to help the car’s acceleration, aid in braking and cornering, and bump up the car’s top speed. These rocket thrusters could also help the Roadster hover, making it the first Tesla with such a capability. At the Roadster’s unexpected unveiling back in late 2017, the company revealed that it will have a 200 kWh battery pack, new powerful electric motors, accelerate to 100 km/h in just 2.0 seconds and sprint through to a 402 km/h top speed. If these already mighty figures are indeed improved for the production model, then we could be looking at something even more extraordinary. “We’re going to do things with the new Roadster that are kind of unfair to other cars. It’s crushingly good relative to the next best gasoline sports car”, Musk said earlier this year. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA will unveil a vehicle powered by solid state batteries at the 2020 Olympics as a means of showcasing its battery capability, the firm’s chief technology officer Shigeki Terashi has revealed ahead of the Tokyo motor show. However, the solid state battery technology (which promises the potential for longer range in smaller and potentially cheaper battery packs which can also take charge faster) will not reach mass production until the middle of the decade, he added. When the technology is used in mass production vehicles it will be rolled out across the firm’s entire line-up of EVs, he said. “We will produce a car with solid state batteries and unveil it to you in 2020, but mass production with solid state batteries will be a little later”, said Terashi, who also highlighted the battery know-how Toyota has accrued through its hybrid leadership developed with the Toyota Prius. While the solid state battery equipped car is expected to be a one-off prototype that will form some part of the event’s opeing or closing ceremony, a further 12 semi-autonomous vehicles will run during the event using lithium-ion batteries. That timeline still puts Toyota at the forefront of solid state battery technology. While Volkswagen has talked of a similar timeline, BMW, with which Toyota has various partnerships, has indicated that it doesn’t expect to be selling electrified vehicles using solid state batteries until 2030. The Olympic show car is expected to be based on the Toyota e-Palette, an autonomous platform that the firm has developed and which it is offering to partners to use to showcase their own self-driving technologies. An updated version of the e-Palette is expected to be shown at this year’s Tokyo motor show. +++ 

+++ U.S. President Donald TRUMP dropped another fun little nugget for the media to fact-check, and this time, it was about French automaker Renault. Last week, during a diatribe about trade practices between the U.S. and Europe, Trump claimed that Renault was still shipping cars across the Atlantic. Of course, in reality, they haven’t done so for 30 some years. “They put up tremendous barriers to our doing business in Europe”, said Trump. “Our farm products, very hard to get them in. Our cars, very hard to get them in, and yet they send Mercedes, they send BMW, they send Volkswagen, Renault, in case of France”. He reportedly also mispronounced the French carmaker as “Ren-alt”, as opposed to “Ren-oh”. While we’re pretty sure that his claim is backed by the fact that in the 80s (Renault partnered with AMC (American Motors Corporation), which resulted in cars such as the Renault Alliance (a U.S. version of the Renault 9) being built at AMC’s Kenosha plant in Wisconsin), the fact remains that the partnership did not survive into the 90s, when Renault eventually ending imports. Back in 2017, former Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn was asked whether his company would follow rival PSA Group in returning to the United States, to which he replied that the U.S. market was too competitive and that he would rather focus on China and Russia as far as overseas exports were concerned. Speaking of the PSA Group, it has been officially reported that the Peugeot brand will spearhead its North American (USA, Canada) comeback. Right now, the French brand is in the process of homologating vehicles for the U.S. market, a process that’s expected to take several years. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group is not scouting for alternative locations as it evaluates plans to build a new car factory in Turkey, said Andreas Tostmann, VW’s production chief. Earlier this month, the automaker said it had postponed a decision to build a car plant in Turkey in the wake of international criticism of the country’s military operations in Syria. “We are watching developments. Plans for Turkey are currently on hold. We are not actively looking at alternative locations”, Tostmann told journalists. The decision to put the Turkish investment on hold reignited interest among other countries vying to host the €1.3 billion plant that would build the VW Passat and Skoda Superb models. Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia hope VW will return to its earlier shortlist of sites, which included the Balkan nations and North Africa. Bulgaria’s government is ready to boost its offer and double the subsidies available to VW to €260 million from an initial €135 million while Serbia’s pitch is that an investment by VW would help stabilize the region. Romania has a Ford factory and is home to Dacia, which is owned by Renault. +++

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