Newsflash: Alfa Romeo Giulietta gaat volgend jaar uit productie

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+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is scaling down growth plans for ALFA ROMEO , with 2 planned sports cars and a large SUV axed, and the Giuletta to be dropped from its lineup. After Alfa Romeo discontinued the slow-selling Mito and low production 4C, the brand’s lineup currently comprises 3 cars: the Giulia, the Stelvio and the Giuletta. FCA’s revised plan for Alfa Romeo means that a 700+ hp 8C and a 600+ hp coupe that were intended to reboot the brand will not be built. The Giulietta, which went on sale in 2010, could be discontinued as soon as next year, according to union sources in Italy. Also axed are long wheelbase versions of the Giulia and Stelvio planned for the Chinese market. In future, Alfa Romeo will have 4 models: the Giulia, the Stelvio, a new C segment compact SUV and a new B segment small SUV. The Giula and Stelvio will get a mid-cycle freshening in 2020, according to a chart shown to analysts. The compact SUV will launch in 2021 and the small SUV in 2022. FCA boss Mike Manley disclosed the plans to “refocus” Alfa Romeo during the automaker’s third-quarter earnings call with analysts on Oct. 31. “I fundamentally believe in the brand but we must make sure that any investments that we make generate an appropriate return”, Manley said. Alfa Romeo’s product plans have been scaled back to reduce capital spending and make the brand profitable, Manley said. FCA does not publish profitably for any of its brands. Manley’s strategy for Alfa Romeo is a reversal of a strategy unveiled in June 2018 to expand the brand’s lineup to 7 models by 2022 and to increase annual sales to 400,000 by then. Alfa Romeo’s global vehicle sales fell 31 % to 67,427 cars from January to September. Manley said FCA will focus Alfa Romeo in segments and markets where it has been successful. “We will also maintain the brand’s premium position”, he said. Jato Dynamics’ analyst Felipe Munoz said FCA’s reduced ambition for Alfa Romeo is sensible: “Alfa Romeo is struggling with its current product lineup and the global market situation is deteriorating. It’s better to be realistic”. He said he expects Alfa Romeo’s key markets in future will be Europe, the U.S., China and Japan. Europe is the biggest market by far, with the brand’s sales in the region falling 42 % to 41,464 through September. Alfa Romeo’s No. 2 market was the U.S. and Canada, with volume down 28 % to 13,925. Sales in China doubled to 8,491. Alfa Romeo will add full-electric and hybrid cars (models needed to meet future regulatory emissions reduction targets) but on a smaller scale. The small SUV will include a battery-electric version as well as combustion engines, according to FCA’s third-quarter presentation to analysts. The compact SUV will have combustion engines and will offer a plug-in hybrid variant. Alfa Romeo previewed this model with the Tonale concept unveiled in March at the Geneva auto show. No electrified version of the Giulia or Stelvio is so far included in the plan. FCA’s 2018-2022 plan originally had envisaged that 6 of Alfa Romeo’s future lineup of 7 models, including the Giulia and Stelvio, would have plug-in hybrid versions. Manley said Alfa Romeo’s Giorgio rear-wheel/all-wheel drive platform, which underpins the Giulia and Stelvio, has been given a “significant” upgrade so it can be used for full-electric and plug-in hybrid variants. “We have changed the suspension. We have updated all of the electrical architecture in that so that it can take the next-generation infotainment as well as very, very advanced high-tech features”, Manley said. The modified Giorgio platform could be used by Maserati, which in September announced production plans for its first hybrid and battery-powered models, including an electric sports car and a new SUV. It’s not yet clear how Alfa Romeo’s future would change after the planned merger of FCA with PSA takes place. Manley told analysts that a rear-wheel drive platform such as Giorgio could be used by FCA and PSA brands. “If you look across the 2 companies, there are not many rearwheel drive platforms. So it’s incredibly likely that it would be required going forward”, he said. +++ 

+++ Sales of ASTON MARTIN ’s new SUV could exceed expectations, becoming the “ultimate catalyst” for the luxury automaker’s beaten-down stock, according to analysts at HSBC Holdings. “After months of underperformance and the future of the company at stake, we believe the launch of the DBX is potentially game-changing”, the bank said in a note as it became the 4th company among 13 surveyed to recommend buying the stock, upgrading it from a neutral rating. Initial customer and press reaction to the SUV suggests that the DBX orderbook could “surprise to the upside”, analysts including Giulio Pescatore wrote. Aston Martin has been plagued by questions over its capital position, and the stock also dropped sharply after a cut to sales guidance in July. Aston Martin needs to secure orders for 1.400 DBXs by June in order to access a further $100 million of financing, under terms of a recent debt sale. HSBC thinks that target could be hit within a few months of the November 20 launch date, with the market for similarly-priced SUVs “still largely unexploited”. “We are more concerned about the ability of the company to sustain demand beyond 2020”, the analysts said, adding that the launch of a hybrid variant of the car in 2022 could provide some further support. HSBC was among the banks that helped float Aston Martin. Analysts at fellow joint bookrunner Bank of America Merrill Lynch cut their rating to sell last month, saying Aston Martin may need to reduce 2019 margin guidance due to weak near-term demand. +++ 

+++ In CHINA , fewer new energy vehicles (NEV) could be sold this year than in 2018, an official at the country’s biggest auto industry association said, as customers hold back on purchases following a government decision to cut subsidies. Chen Shihua, assistant secretary general at China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), made the comment after the association reported that sales of NEVs fell 45.6 % in October from year-ago levels, following a 33 % decline in September. “There is a gap between sales to date and where they were last year, so according to the development trend, we may see negative growth for new energy vehicles this year”, he said. China has been a keen supporter of NEVs and has implemented sales quota requirements for automakers. But it cut subsidies for NEVs this year as part of an overall plan to reduce subsidies, making the vehicles costlier. Prior to the subsidy cut, the market for NEVs (which include plug-in hybrids, battery-only electric vehicles and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells) had been a bright spot, having jumped 62 % last year. While NEVs sales rose last year, the world’s largest auto market suffered its first contraction since the 1990s last year. The trend has remained discouraging with auto sales falling for a 16th consecutive month in October, declining 4 % from the same month a year earlier, and followed declines of 5.2 % in September and 6.9 % in August, CAAM said. September and October, known as “Golden September, Silver October” by China’s auto insiders, are regarded as the high season for sales, with customers traditionally returning to make purchases after the summer. The decline in sales during the high season has dealt a blow to industry executives’ hopes for a turnaround in the second half of this year. As recently as three years ago, automakers had enjoyed double-digit annual growth in China. But the prolonged sales decline has made domestic car makers from Geely to Great Wall lower their expectations for sales and profit. China’s auto industry executives met with government officials to discuss ways to promote higher car sales in rural areas, sources familiar with the matter said. The country’s car manufacturers are grappling with the pressures of falling sales in the world’s largest car market and are seeking new policies. A senior official at the CAAM, Zeng Guang, confirmed that the meeting had been organized in Beijing. He declined to provide details of the discussions but said participants had agreed that the current sales decline was normal give how China’s car market was still developing. Sources told the meeting was titled “cars for the rural areas”, emphasizing the need to target sales outside of the country’s cities where sales have been especially weak. China’s state planner had issued a series of measures in June to revive a slump in car sales but these had fallen short of automakers’ expectations and done little to spur sales. Sources with knowledge of the meeting said government officials told participants they were considering policies to expand the second hand car market in rural areas and to improve vehicle retirement policies. They also urged firms to develop electric vehicle models that are suitable for the rural market. However, government officials warned that short-term stimulus policies would hurt the industry’s long-term development and was not a route Beijing was keen to pursue. They did not make any commitments during the meeting, the sources said. A senior official at CAAM told last month auto sales in China may drop around 8 % to 26 million this year but were ultimately still on track to hit 30 million by 2023 with further headroom. Government officials from the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and Ministry of Commerce attended the meeting. The NDRC, MIIT and the commerce ministry did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment. Executives from domestic car manufacturers and foreign firms’ joint ventures were also in attendance, they said. Volkswagen’s local venture with the FAW Group, General Motors’ Guangxi-based venture with SAIC, Nissan’s venture with Dongfeng and Chinese brands such as BYD were on the invitation list. +++ 

+++ Practically every automaker, from juggernauts like the VW Group or Daimler to small start-ups, is jumping into the ELECTRIC VEHICLE bandwagon, yet sales are abysmal, and will probably will continue to be until one big problem is solved: their high prices. According to JATO’s most recent study, which included 43 different world markets, in the first half of 2019 the average price of an electric car was 81 % higher than that of other vehicles. Which, along with the (mostly) limited charging infrastructure, explains why buyers shy away from purchasing them. In Europe, the second largest EV market after China, their total market share was just 1.9 %, which still makes EVs a rather small niche. The situation in the United States and Canada is quite similar. The average price of vehicles sold is slightly higher than in Europe, at $35,614 per unit, which can be explained by the popularity of vehicles like pickups that accounted for an 18 % market share with an average price of $43,650. While the cheapest EV, the Nissan Leaf, starts at $32,506, the bestseller, Tesla’s Model 3, comes at $47,467, making it 21 % more expensive than the average car sold and surpassing even the average SUV or pickup. Factor in American’s dislike for small cars, and things become even clearer. If there’s a silver lining in this cloud, that’s China. As JATO’s report notes, the Chinese government has put its weight behind electric vehicles and is pushing hard for electrification; moreover, local safety standards are more lax than those in the US or Europe, which allows for lower costs. That is reflected in their pricing: while the market average sits at $26,715, you can get the Chery EQ1 city car for $20,260 or the BYD’s Yuan subcompact SUV for for just $15,279. And since this the world’s largest market for all vehicles, including EVs, it could make a difference, although electric sedans, which have a huge, 42 % market share, are still more expensive than the rest. So, with the sole exception of China, do electric cars still have a long way to go before they become popular? It depends. Like we mentioned earlier, major manufacturers are investing heavily into this segment, and one good example is the new VW ID.3 that, at nearly $33,000, comes under the total market average. Moreover, costs of both manufacturing and batteries will inevitably fall, resulting in making EVs more affordable. Therefore, if we were to come to a conclusion, it would be that yes, right now EVs are niche, but they are definitely coming. It’s only a matter of time until their makers can figure out how to price them equally, or at least close to, the rest. +++ 

+++ The dream of reviving the FORD Capri lives on within the company’s European design studio, according to the man who leads it, Amko Leenarts. Ford has recently brought back the Puma as an SUV, will soon revive the Bronco and is using the Mustang as inspiration for its first electric car, leaving others to speculate what else from the firm’s rich back catalogue it could create a modern-day version of. “Who would not want to bring back the Capri as a design?” said Leenarts, when asked about badging and which models from the past could be used to inspire his design team. “We’d love it. But it’s got to be in the zeitgeist and has to fit, and work as a plural, not just exist as something for a designer to bring back an old car”. He added: “I’m amazed by the amount of names we own that spur emotions, positive and negative”. On that latter point, Leenarts pointed to the example of the Probe, which had once been seen as a progressive, futuristic study of aerodynamics, yet instead is remembered as a model that flopped. Leenarts took over as Ford of Europe’s design boss 2 years ago but, unlike in the past when Ford gave names to the design language it pursues, he prefers a more open brief. “Kinetic design was the right move at the right time”, he said. “But it’s now pretty old-fashioned to have a name. It’s just to tick a box, rather than design around. We have many different vehicles in the portfolio that no single design language or philosophy could cover. It can be good to have a design language name, but you can end up with as many failures as successes. “We’re a global company with different roots and territories. There are different ways to cut design philosophies. Cutting it to one is not fair or honest to make a range of products”. It has now been 8 years since Ford last launched a pure concept car with the 2011 Evos, and Leenarts said there were no imminent plans to return to making them either. “We’ve moved towards live internal demonstrations”, he said. “We rally round as a team, not just a car to put away on a show stand. I’m not pushing that idea of making a concept too much”. +++ 

+++ Almost a year after his arrest and with months to go before his trial, indicted former Nissan Chairman Carlos GHOSN plans to fight the charges to the finish, his lawyer said. The fallen auto titan will not agree to a lesser crime in a bid for leniency, and he definitely is not discussing with his legal team any eventuality of time behind bars, Japanese attorney Junichiro Hironaka, one of Ghosn’s lawyers, said of his client. Japan has no established custom of plea bargaining that would allow Ghosn to concede some charges in order to mitigate prison time, Hironaka said. And besides, Hironaka added, Ghosn’s legal team fully expects to exonerate him because, they say, Ghosn is innocent of any wrongdoing. Hironaka painted the picture of a Ghosn laser-focused on his legal defense and making the best of the harsh bail conditions that keep him confined to Japan and unable to meet his wife. Ghosn makes regular trips to Hironaka’s office, the only place he is allowed computer access under the bail restrictions. And in his free time, he finds some solace through other activities, such as recent a trip to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, with his daughter, his attorney said. Yet always looming in the background is the threat of up to 15 years in prison if found guilty on all counts. Ghosn, who denies all the charges, does not dwell much on that, Hironaka said. “Whether Mr. Ghosn has considered the possibility of spending a significant amount of time in jail, no, that is not something we have talked to him about”, Hironaka said. “His current state is that he is doing his best, despite the very severe, difficult situation he is place under”. Ghosn’s attorney reiterated the defense team’s attack on the investigation that resulted in Ghosn’s stunning Nov. 19 arrest last year. Central to the strategy is the argument that prosecutors illegally conspired with Nissan executives and government officials to frame Ghosn and remove him from power in order to prevent a full merger of Nissan with French alliance partner Renault. In the process, Ghosn’s lawyers say, prosecutors have also violated Ghosn’s rights by engaging in such activities as illegal evidence collection and denying his right to a speedy trial. Deputy prosecutor Takahiro Saito has denied inappropriate handling of evidence. “I don’t have any comments about what the defense attorneys said about evidence disclosure”, Saito said last week. “We are dealing with pretrial procedures for a public trial in an appropriate manner”. A year after Ghosn’s arrest, the trial still does not have an official start date. Hironaka said both sides are tentatively targeting sometime next April but that nothing has been decided. Ghosn faces 4 indictments in Japan. The first 2 are charges of failing to disclose more than $80 million in deferred compensation. The 2 other counts are breach of trust charges that accuse Ghosn of diverting company money for personal matters or personal gain. +++ 

+++ The HYUNDAI Group is working on developing the world’s first Road Noise Active Noise Control system (RANC), which builds on the automaker’s existing Active Noise Control tech (ANC). ANC actively reduces noise by emitting soundwaves inverted to incoming noise, and does this by analyzing the in-cabin sound to decrease engine and road noise, as opposed to simply blocking noise through sound insulation. RANC on the other hand is able to analyze various types of noise in real-time and produce inverted soundwaves; for example, it can counteract the sounds created between tires and wheels or the rumble sounds coming from the road. “RANC is a remarkable technology which takes existing NVH technology to the next level”, stated Gangdeok Lee, a researcher at NVH Research Lab. “We will continue to take the leading position of NVH technology and deliver the highest level of quietness to customers”. The way RANC works is as follows: it uses an acceleration sensor to calculate the vibration from the road to the car, while the control computer analyzes road noise. “As its computation and signal transfer speeds are optimized, it only takes 0.002 second to analyze the noise and produce an inverted soundwave, generated by the DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The microphone constantly monitors the road noise cancelation status, and sends the information to the DSP. RANC is able to conduct accurate noise analysis and rapid computation to combat road noise for the driver’s seat, the passenger seat and rear seats separately”. According to Hyundai, RANC can reduce in-cabin noise by 3 db, which in turn means that the Group could potentially decrease the amount of unsprung weight in a car by using fewer sound-insulating parts and dampers. This technology was developed with future vehicles in mind. As internal combustion models get phased out, vehicle noise will primarily come from three sources: powertrain, road and wind, but since electric and fuel cell vehicles make almost no powertrain noise, quieting road and wind noise will become imperative. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER ’s Brexit-related production shutdown at its UK plants will leave the automaker short of cars to sell in its current financial quarter. The week-long shutdown, which started Nov. 4, was planned to offset any potential disruption of parts supplies if the UK left the European Union on October 31 without a trade deal. The EU gave the UK an extension to January 31. The shutdown will cost JLR the production of 12.000 cars, Adrian Mardell, chief financial officer, told financial analysts on an October 31 earnings call. Mardell said the automaker will build just short of 120.000 cars in the current quarter. “That’s much less than we expect to retail in the quarter”, he said. Mardell said inventory “will be very, very thin” in the quarter and warned of “further disturbance” in the quarter after that. JLR’s cut in production comes after it took steps to reduce its dealer inventory, especially in China, where falling sales contributed to a  €4.2-billion loss in its last financial year. The company has posted profits for the last 2 quarters, helped by stabilizing sales in China, cost-cutting and a strong demand in the U.S. Mardell said that he expected JLR to remain profitable through the second half of its financial year to give a profit margin range of 3 % to 4 % for this year and the next. Mardell said the continuing threat of a no-deal Brexit was “the only significant risk we have out there that is live and real and potentially imminent”. He said if JLR has to temporarily close plants after the UK quits the EU on January 31 “that would then start to impact the year’s results”. JLR has 3 plants in the UK from which it exports cars worldwide. It also has an engine plant in the UK. The automaker’s plants in China and Slovakia were unaffected by the Brexit production stop. JLR had no choice but shut plants for a week, CEO Ralf Speth told reporters in September. A “hard” Brexit on October 31 would have caused major disruptions at ports in the UK and continental Europe. Speth has previously warned that the wrong Brexit deal would cost the UK car industry “tens of thousands” of jobs. Car production in the UK fell 16 % in the first 9 months to just under 1 million cars. BMW went ahead and shut its plant in  Oxford, which builds the Mini, on October 31 and November 1; a decision made before the UK’s since postponed decision to leave the EU. +++ 

+++ LEXUS will reveal its first series production electric car, which will be an electric version of the UX, at the Guangzhou motor show in China later this month. The Japanese firm hasn’t given any firm details of the car ahead of the 22 November reveal, but says it is “specifically crafted to suit the needs of audiences in China and in Europe”. But it will be based on the electric Toyota C-HR, a sister crossover to the UX that is currently offered in the Chinese market. The car is likely to be named the UX Electric. Lexus and parent firm Toyota are due to launch 3 electric models by the end of 2021. Lexus showcased a dramatic EV concept called the LF-30 at the Tokyo motor show recently, which was intended to preview the general style of its future battery-electric cars. The LF-30, which is similar in size to the Jaguar I-Pace, uses a new EV architecture being developed by Lexus and Toyota, which is planned to be introduced from 2022. +++ 

+++ The all-new MERCEDES-AMG GLE 63 was recently spied testing at the Nurburgring, disturbing the peace with its menacing growl and chewing through its tires during high-speed cornering. The prototype packs a new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8, which represents a big improvement in terms of power and fuel efficiency compared to the old 5.5-liter mill. In the GLE 63 S, the new V8 is expected to produce up to 612 hp and 850 Nm, whereas the regular variant should get 571 hp and 750 Nm. The new GLE 63 Coupe and GLE 63 S Coupe will share the same engine with identical outputs. The outgoing GLE 63 S needs only 4.2 seconds to sprint to 100 kph from a standstill, so the new one will probably be able to do 3.9 seconds. That would put it on par with its arch rival, the BMW X5 M, which maxes out at 290 km/h when fitted with the optional M Driver’s Package. The X5 M Competition is 0.1 seconds quicker and uses an uprated version of the 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8 that produces 625 hp instead of the regular model’s 600 hp. Spotting it on the road will be relatively easy, as it sports a large grille with vertical slats, new bumpers and side skirts and slightly wider wheel arches compared to lesser versions of the new GLE. As for its launch, it should take place before the end of the year or in early 2020. +++ 

+++ Since time is a valuable commodity for PORSCHE ’s affluent customers, the Volkswagen Group subsidiary hopes it can convince discriminating electric vehicle drivers with the fastest recharging capability currently on the market. The Taycan, the brand’s first EV and a rival to the Tesla Model S, has an 800 volt electrical architecture that is twice as powerful as that in a typical EV. A drained battery can be replenished to 80 % in less than 23 minutes at a DC fast-charging station; a luxury that other automakers currently cannot offer. “We believe charging performance is important for our customers. It’s not just a matter of pure absolute range”, said Matthias Kirchgässner, who is sales and marking director for the Taycan product line. Porsche knows that to supplant Tesla at the top of the premium EV sedan segment the Taycan also needs to be speedy when it’s not hooked to a charging station. With a record-setting Nürburgring lap time of 7:42, the Taycan is quicker than all other electrically powered four-door models on the market. To set the new mark the Taycan was helped by its 3-chamber air suspension and rear-axle steering, which are both standard on the Turbo S variant. The car slots below the Panamera in what Porsche calls its C Sports sedan segment, occupying a white space in the brand’s portfolio in a deliberate move meant to minimize any potential negative effect on the rest of the lineup. Preliminary data suggests that this will not be a problem. “Roughly half of interested customers haven’t bought a new Porsche in the past 10 years, but that doesn’t mean the rest will cannibalize other models”, Kirchgaessner said. Because Porsche owners often have more than one car in their garages, there is also a chance of an incremental volume boost. “We expect a number of them (current Porsche owners) will likely buy a Taycan in addition to another model, rather than instead of it”, he added. Kirchgässner said Taycan buyers will tend to be younger and more technologically savvy than the brand’s traditional customers, providing a certain rejuvenation effect on the perception of Porsche. The company invested about €700 million in its crowded campus in Zuffenhausen , near Stuttgart, to add Taycan production. Part of the money was for a new, more flexible assembly line that replaces the traditional conveyor belt with automated guided vehicles. All production at the Taycan factory is designed to be carbon neutral. +++ 

+++ TESLA unveiled its first vehicles built in China, a milestone for Elon Musk’s company as it prepares to start sales of domestically-made electric sedans in the world’s largest auto market. Assembled in Tesla’s new Shanghai Gigafactory, which only broke ground in January, the first Model 3 sedans came in blue and were emblazoned with the brand name in Chinese characters. Selected local media were invited late last week to test drive the vehicles, which start at about $50,000. China’s first plant wholly owned by a foreign carmaker (and Tesla’s first outside the U.S.) is a crucial test of Musk’s bid to keep his carmaker profitable as he bets on Chinese demand for electric vehicles. The plant is producing cars in small quantities as part of preparations. Tesla is working with local authorities to obtain manufacturing certification and hopes to get it by year-end, Chairman Robyn Denholm said last week in Shanghai. +++

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