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+++ AUDIwill roll out more than 9 electrified models in China by 2021 as part of Volkswagen Group’s plan to accelerate the introduction of electrified vehicles in the country. Audi’s first EV, the e-Tron, is imported. Local production of the crossover will begin sometime next year at the Changchun plant of FAW-Volkswagen, a joint venture between China FAW Group and VW Group. Audi sells 2 plug-in hybrids in China: the locally built A6L TFSI-e and the imported Q7 TFSI-e. Before the end of the year, Audi plans to import 3 additional plug-in hybrid products: variants of the Q5, A7 Sportback and A8. The number of electrified models in its local lineup will exceed 9 by 2021, Audi said, without providing further details on these models. By 2025, all the products it sells in China will be electrified, it added. Audi was the largest luxury brand in China until 2018. It has been outsold by Mercedes-Benz in the first 3 quarters of the year. During the first 9 months, Audi sales edged up 1.7 % to 491,040 while Mercedes deliveries rose 5 % to 525,890. Last week, the Volkswagen Group unveiled a plan to accelerate the roll-out of EVs and plug-in under the VW brand in China which will introduce 10 ID battery electric models by 2023, with the first product, the ID.3, to be built at VW Group’s partnership with SAIC Motor in Shanghai at the end of 2020. In addition, the brand will also launch 5 electrified vehicles adapted from gasoline models in China. Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said that trial production has started at VW’s and SAIC Motor’s $2.5 billion electric vehicle factory in Shanghai. Besides the VW brand’s ID series EVs, the plant will also produce other models from Audi, the joint-venture partners said. Diess also said Volkswagen plans to make 22 million electric vehicles by 2028, half of them in China. The VW brand now sells 5 electrified models in China: battery versions of the Lavida, Golf and Bora, and plug-in hybrid variants of the Passat and Tiguan. +++ 

+++ CHINA is considering further cuts to subsidies for electric-vehicle purchases, according to people familiar with the matter, threatening to deal another blow to a once-burgeoning industry that’s facing an unprecedented slump. Industry regulators in the world’s largest EV market have been discussing the proposal but are holding off on a decision until they weigh car sales data over the coming months, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The plan involves reducing subsidies on consumers’ purchases of EVs next year but discussions are still at an early stage so there’s no guarantee the cuts will happen then, 2 of the people said. China, which began subsidizing EV purchases in 2009 to promote the industry, has been gradually reducing handouts in the past few years to encourage automakers compete on their own. But the last time the government cut subsidies it triggered the country’s first drop in EV sales on record, exacerbating what had already been the most prolonged downturn in the world’s largest auto market. The slump in China has dragged down the global EV sector as the country accounts for about half of the world’s sales of electrified cars. Still, regulators continue to face pressure to reduce handouts as state support helped bankroll the livelihood of hundreds of local startups and fueled concerns about a bubble in the industry. But here’s the dilemma: Pull the levers too fast and it risks undermining China’s bigger ambitions of leading the world away from fossil-fueled vehicles. China considers EVs as a strategically important sector and is mulling a target for 60 % of all automobiles sold in the country to run on electric motors by 2035, people familiar with the matter have said. China’s finance ministry, which has been overseeing the discussions, didn’t immediately respond to faxed queries. Though China announced 4 years ago it would gradually eliminate subsidies for new energy vehicles (EVs, plugin hybrids and fuel-celled vehicles) after 2020, details have been vague and it didn’t always stick to the plan. Policy makers have been surprised by the sudden, prolonged downturn that resulted from the latest subsidy cut in June, prompting them to debate whether another cut would be too much for automakers to handle, the people said. The latest cut took effect in June, when the government cut subsidies of as much as 50,000 yuan ($7,153) per EV by half. Chinese NEV sales then began falling in July and have been dropping since. China’s top EV makers have since slashed their earnings outlooks and analysts have recently questioned whether the likes of Nio, once regarded by many as China’s Tesla, will survive. BYD, the country’s biggest maker of new energy vehicles, or NEVs, last month reported an 89 % slump in third-quarter earnings and warned profit could fall as much as 43 % this year. Subsidies have played a vital role in making electric cars more affordable to consumers. While up-to-date data aren’t publicly available, China’s central government disclosed last month it handed out 22 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in EV subsidies to companies in 2017. Some municipalities also offer additional incentives. To be sure, subsidy cuts aren’t likely to deter carmakers from China and analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein say they continue to be positive on long-term EV demand. Tesla is putting the finishing touches on a multibillion-dollar factory near Shanghai as it prepares to start production in the country later this year. Global heavyweights such as Daimler and BMW are also planning to bring in new EV models. Separately, China’s Passenger Car Association said that NEV deliveries fell for a 4th straight month, plunging 45 % in October, as subsidy cuts made it harder for the country’s hundreds of EV makers to convince consumers that they’re worth paying higher prices for than regular cars. The gloom in China’s overall car market continued too, with sales of sedans, SUVs and MPVs dropping for the 16th time in the past 17 months. Some have weathered the slowdown better than most, such as Japan’s Honda. Sales of premium brands rose 14 % last month, with Volvo seeing a 27 % surge. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER will cut 1,100 leadership positions worldwide, or about 10 % of its management. A spokewoman for Daimler’s works council referred to an internal letter circulated by works council chief Michael Brecht. “The works council was recently informed by management about the personnel and financial situation of the company”, Brecht told employees. “Talks have started, there are no results yet”. Daimler’s works council rules out compulsory layoffs until 2030, Brecht said, adding that voluntary buyouts should be possible but only in a situation when both parties consent. Daimler’s new chief executive is due to give a strategy update, which could include cost measures, on November 14. Daimler said the carmaker was working on a cost analysis so that the car, truck and bus maker can remain competitive going forward. Details will be revealed during the carmaker’s capital markets day. “We are in constructive talks with employee representatives and cannot comment on speculation”, Daimler said. +++ 

+++ The next-generation of General Motors’ FULLSIZE SUV models (the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, and Chevrolet Suburban) will all be launched next year and their importance cannot be understated. CEO Mary Barra confirmed the new versions of the profitable trio will come to market in 2020 but would not give exact timing, nor would she say if they will be delayed somewhat by the 6-week UAW strike that recently ended with the ratification of a new 4-year labor contract. The big SUVs are much anticipated. Ever since Lincoln put out its new Navigator, expectations have been high for the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. Executives have promised the fifth-generation car will be worth the wait. GM needs to get them right. These large, body-on-frame, 3-row SUVs are critical to GM’s bottom line and their profits help fund the high-tech electric and autonomous vehicle development that’s already underway. They are also crucial because of their iconic nature; they help define their brands. The blinged-up Escalade became the company’s flagship at a time when other brands had large sedans in that role. The Escalade also made Cadillac cool, and the brand needs an injection of that as it struggles to rebuild its portfolio and reputation. There has been criticism that the styling of the smaller 3-row Cadillac XT6 crossover is bland when compared with its Lincoln Aviator counterpart. But some compromises were made during XT6 development, which shares its underpinnings with the XT5. The new Escalade has had high priority status and the resources that come with it. The giant grille on the 2021 Escalade shows a family resemblance to the new CT4 and CT5 sedans. The hope is the Escalade’s exterior will be more dramatic than the XT6 and that interior design and materials will be dramatically improved over its smaller brother. There will be more than one powertrain, including an updated version of the 6.2-liter V8 that’s already in the flagship Caddy. Early plans to give the Escalade the 4.2-liter twin-turbocharged Blackwing V8 engine were shelved. Performance or V versions of the Escalade are expected to have a version of GM’s 6.2-liter supercharged small block V8. Spy shots have revealed paddle shifters on the steering wheel for the first time in the Escalade. I expect the addition of motors and batteries at some point since GM has designated Cadillac as their leading brand for electrification. Barra said GM, overall, will spend more on vehicles with electric powertrains than combustion engines over the next 5 years with the goal of being the automotive leader in electric vehicles. The Escalade will also have Cadillac’s Super Cruise, the hands-free cruise control system for highway driving. Once again there will be regular and stretched versions of the Escalade, Yukon and Suburban. The launch will be complicated with downtime at the plants in the first quarter of next year to retool for vehicles that have been changed significantly from their predecessors. Confirmation of the rollout of the big SUVs came during GM’s third-quarter earnings call with investors. In addition to some possible tweaks to launch timing (the new Chevrolet Corvette will be launched a bit later than planned) the 6-week strike will cost GM almost $3 billion in lost earnings over the course of the year, with the first $1 billion in losses already in the books. The 4th quarter will be worse because the strike, which started Sept. 16, led to the shutdown of U.S. plants, and idled many operations in Canada and Mexico before employees returned to work. The new 4-year contract includes signing bonuses, pay increases, preserves benefits, and allows for more part-time workers to become full-time. The agreement is estimated to increase GM’s annual labor costs by $100 million but allows the automaker to close plants in Lordstown, Ohio, Warren Transmission in Michigan, and Baltimore Operations in Maryland. But plans to close the Detroit-Hamtramck plant near Detroit were reversed and GM instead is investing $3 billion to build electric pickups, vans, and battery modules there as part of a larger promise to invest $7.7 billion in U.S. factories over the next 4 years. GM reported $2.3 billion in earnings in the third quarter, which is down 9 % from the same period in 2018. Revenue declined slightly to $35.5 billion. While the strike hurts the bottom line now, and overall labor costs will increase, Barra said the goal was to reach an agreement that is good for employees without compromising the future of the company and shareholder value. She said she feels this deal does that. GM will look for ways to further cut costs to pay for the decision to keep the Hamtramck plant open, and while most plants are at capacity they will try to find ways to make up for lost production during the strike. Heavy-duty pickups with crew cabs launched during the third quarter and the rollout will continue with double cabs to be added next, followed by regular cab. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS confirmed it has sold its shuttered Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio to a start-up that has an ambitious plan to begin building electric pickups by the end of 2020. Lordstown Motors Corp, which is 10 % owned by Workhorse Group, has retained Ohio investment bank Brown Gibbons Lang & Co and is working to raise additional capital, Lordstown Chief Executive Steve Burns said in an interview. The fate of the northeastern Ohio plant has become a lighting rod in the 2020 presidential election after GM announced in November 2018 its planned closure, drawing condemnation from U.S. President Donald Trump and many U.S. lawmakers. The fate of the plant, which ended operations in March, remained uncertain until the Detroit automaker reached a new contract with the United Auto Workers union last month. The company has been working on the engineering of the new truck called Endurance and hired Rich Schmidt, a former director of manufacturing at Tesla Inc, as chief production officer. GM said Thursday it believes “LMC’s plan to launch the Endurance electric pickup has the potential to create a significant number of jobs and help the Lordstown area grow into a manufacturing hub for electrification”. GM is not investing in the venture. The purchase price was not disclosed, but sources said it was similar to EV start-up Rivian Automotive LLC’s 2017 acquisition of a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois for $16 million. Burns said the company got a “great deal” after 10 months of talks with GM. Burns, a former Workhorse CEO, said the company has been working on engineering the new truck for the last 6 months but acknowledged the timetable is “aggressive”. However, he said the company has the advantage that the Ohio plant is “fully intact, still warm”. Burns hopes to have pre-production prototypes coming of the assembly line by April and start production by November 2020 with 400 hourly workers to start. “When you live in a factory area and the factory closes, there is a lot of pain there”, Burns said, saying it wants to build a company for the long term. “This should be the electric epicenter of the Midwest if you do it right”. Burns declined to say how much money the company has raised but said they have raised enough to hire the management team and engineers and acquire the factory. He said “the serious” effort to raise additional financing has begun and he is looking for new strategic investors. The fate of the 6.2-million-square-foot Lordstown plant has been a major focus for Trump, who in June 2017 advised workers in nearby Youngstown, Ohio, that factory jobs were not leaving. “Don’t move, don’t sell your house,” he said. GM last month said it plans an electric battery cell plant near the Lordstown complex that could eventually employ 1.000 people. Sources have said the battery plant would be a joint venture, where the workers are represented by the UAW and earn in the range of $15 to $17 an hour. +++ 

+++ GERMANY is planning to boost by 50 % the incentives available for purchasing an electric or electrified car, in a bid to accelerate the transition to cleaner vehicles. Under the name ‘Environment Bonus’, as the German government calls it, the revised subsidies will rise to as much as €6,000 per model, with the car companies to continue covering half of the cost. The German government wants to have 10 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2030, as part of their strategy to boost their auto industry against that of the United States and China. Earlier this week, VW started production of the ID.3, which will be priced at around €30,000. According to Evercore ISI analysts, the revised incentives will drop the price of a midrange ID.3 to around €24,000 to €25,000 in its home market. VW said that the Zwickau factory will be producing 100,000 electric vehicles from next year, raising its annual output to 330,000 by 2021. So far, more than 35,000 customers have expressed their interest in the ID.3. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany will invest €3.5 billion by the year 2035 in building a charging infrastructure for electric cars, promising 1 million charging stations by 2030. Germany is the second biggest market for electric cars in Europe, sitting closely behind Norway with almost 53,000 battery-electric car sales this year. Changes in the EV subsidies are expected to take effect this month and will remain active through 2025. +++ 

+++ HONDA slashed its annual profit and global sales outlook to a 4-year low, citing a firmer yen and bleak business in both India and its main market of North America, even as it unveiled plans to buy back $915 million shares. The dour outlook comes at a time when Honda is struggling to shore up its automobile operations, with its profitability down more than half in the past 2 years due to a series of quality-related issues constraining its financial firepower to invest in new vehicle technologies. Japan’s third-largest automaker now expects an operating income of 690 billion yen for the year to March, lowest since the year-ended March 2016, from 770 billion yen previously. It sees the yen averaging 107 versus the dollar over the period, from a previous assumption of 110 yen. A stronger currency eats into profits because exports become more expensive and the value of overseas earnings decreases. Honda said it had also been hit by an almost 20 % slide in motorcycle sales over the 6 months to September in India. The world’s No.4 auto market has gone into a tailspin this year amid tight liquidity, high taxes and a weak rural economy. “The Indian market is contracting at a very rapid rate”, said Honda Executive Vice President Seiji Kuraishi. “I must say, we are struggling there”. While Honda’s vehicle sales were overall flat in its main market of North America in the first half, it expects a “moderate” decline over the course of the fiscal year. The company cut its outlook for global group auto sales to 4.975.000 vehicles versus a previous forecast of 5.110.000 for the current financial year. Honda joins compatriots Suzuki, Subaru, Mazda and Mitsubishi in slashing profit projections in recent days. Toyota bucked the trend and retained its forecast. Flush with cash after a stellar second quarter, it also announced a $1.8 billion share buyback. Honda has said it will buy back up to 33 million shares worth up to 100 billion yen over the rest of the fiscal year. Nissan is due to report results next week. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI announced that its direction for future mobility will be shaped by a so-called human-centered philosophy. “Cities and mobility services were developed for humans from the very beginning”, said the group’s executive vice chairman Euisun Chung. “That’s why we are making a wide range of efforts to study a human-centered future from a broader humanities perspective”. In a move to pursue its human-centered philosophy, the group said it has set up the Human-Centered City Advisory Group that comprises of experts from various fields such as engineering, urban planning and psychology. According to Chung, while new mobility services involving electric cars and micro scooters have been released, it is hard for these services to fully bloom without a proper city plan. The advisory group established early this year has been researching a way to realize a city design that can create new human-centered values, Hyundai said. Its goal is to develop a blueprint for ideal future cities. The group said it plans to unveil the results of the research early next year. In a separate project, the group has also been conducting the 2050 Future City Project to make predictions on future cities in different regions with global experts. This will help it find new business opportunities. Chung said he is discussing various partnership opportunities with ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft for future mobility service development. On the recent announcement by Uber that flying taxis will be available in 2023, Chung said he thinks a more realistic timeline would be 2029 as relevant legislation needs to be in place. +++ 

+++ In 1989, a few months before Nissan officially launched the INFINITI luxury brand, the nascent automaker attempted to build hype and interest through a rather unconventional advertising campaign. A series of television spots ran, each depicting a different scene in nature (a sun-dappled pond, a distant flock of birds flying in formation, etc.) with a calm, soft-speaking narrator extolling grand notions of luxury, design, and a driver’s relationship with a car. Compared to the in-your-face, surround-sound advertising model we’re accustomed to today, this experimental campaign sounds like a failure. Indeed, even contemporary critics weren’t impressed, although, according to the December 1989 article in the New York Times, this $60 million ($124 million in 2019 bucks) campaign was an unexpected success. At the time of that publishing, “more than 60,000 people, many more than expected, have dialed the toll-free number in the ads to find out the location of the nearest Infiniti showroom”. Still, the flagship Q45 that launched alongside the M30 never sold in the same incredible numbers enjoyed by the rival Lexus and Acura models in the same era. It wasn’t really until later in the 1990s and early 2000s when the brand really began to capture sales. By the mid-2000s, Infiniti became a byword for cutting-edge driver’s tech, incorporating some of the earliest examples of backup cameras, adaptive cruise control, and active hydraulic suspensions. Buoyed by the success of the enthusiast-beloved G35 and later G37, Infiniti was considered the Japanese BMW for a time. The automotive industry has been chugging along for more than a century, yet it’s incredible to see how much it can shift in less than a decade. Since 2014, the shift toward electrification has become a full-fledged inevitability, perhaps nowhere more obviously than among the German luxury makers. Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche have all launched dedicated EV products (a big hat tip must be given to Tesla for waking them up) along with multiple hybrid and plug-in-hybrid variants based on their existing portfolios. Yet the Japanese automakers are more reserved than ever before, seemingly abandoning the thinking that permeated their lineups in the 1980s and 1990s, when impeccable quality control and reliability blended with weird, experimental design and tech to give those very same Germans (not to mention the American companies) absolute fits. Aside from a handful of hybrid models over the years, the “big three” of Japanese luxury are still scrambling to launch their first all-electric offerings to the allegedly EV-hungry market. Not one to be left behind, Infiniti is hustling to rework its entire lineup for an EV-centric future. Starting this month, Infiniti is celebrating its 30th birthday, a milestone it celebrated by throwing a blowout bash in the desert, giving media and VIPs an inside look at the past, present and future of the brand. Held at Spaceport America in New Mexico, brand leaders stepped us through what to expect from the next 5 years. By 2021, Infiniti hopes to electrify its entire lineup, offering either a full EV or hybridized variant of each member of the brand family. Wondering what that looks like? Check out the Q Inspiration, the Qs Inspiration, and the QX Inspiration concepts. These 3 design studies are our best look at what comes next, each packing either a hybrid or EV powertrain, and riding on the same dedicated platform. The fully electric powertrain will incorporate one electric motor in the front, one in the rear, and a sizable battery pack somewhere in the middle. Of course, considering we don’t even have a name for these future cars, we don’t have any information on range, power, price, or performance. The gas-electric hybrid is perhaps more intriguing, at least in the near-term. This new setup will incorporate a new “gas-generated EV system” Infiniti is calling e-Power. These hybrids incorporate a much smaller battery pack than the full EV counterparts as well as a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged powerplant with the automaker’s variable-compression engine technology that serves as a generator to feed power to the smallish 3.5 to 5.1 kWh pack. If this sounds familiar, it’s similar to the powertrain found in the Chevrolet Volt and some variants of the BMW i3, although Infiniti’s version packs quite a bigger punch. When combined, the 2 motors put out between 248 and 429 hp, depending on trim and vehicle. Snag one with the higher output, and you’re rewarded with a 0-to-100 kph run as quick as 4.5 seconds. Don’t be put off by the idea of a rattling, noisy gas generator ruining the silent, halcyon EV experience. Infiniti promises you probably won’t even notice it, on account of all the extra work it put into isolating that 1.5-liter from the interior cabin. By itself, the engine is claimed to be “uncommonly smooth”, a byproduct of a “multilink” design that removes the need for traditional balance shafts. The engine is also said to be “fully encapsulated”, with fluid-filled mounts to dampen as much as possible. If this wasn’t enough, there’s active noise cancellation inside the cabin to counter any errant internal-combustion sounds. According to Infiniti, this new electrified frontier signals big things for the evolution of its design language. Arguably the most stylish Japanese luxury automaker, next-generation Infiniti designs will benefit hugely from ditching the conventional internal-combustion engine. With no more bulky powertrains to package, the automaker promises a radical shift in exterior design, complimented with more “spacious, lounge-like cabins”. +++ 

+++ Construction of a factory for electric car start-up LUCID MOTORS has begun in Arizona, US. Final approval for the $700 million facility, in the small town of Casa Grande, was granted by the state last month. It is to sit on a greenfield site that Lucid will lease from the local county for $1.8m per year, with the option to purchase it after the fifth year. Although the site is nearly 500 acres, the initial building will cover just 1.8 acres. As many as 2.000 people are expected to work at the factory by 2022, and the entire facility’s planned 6 year construction should generate more than 3000 jobs. The first examples of Lucid’s first model (the Air: a 1000 hp, 640 kilometre luxury electric saloon) are set to be built by the end of next year. The aim is 20,000 examples per year by the time the factory is complete. The location was initally identified in November 2016, whereupon Lucid stated its aim to begin production of the Air in 2018. It then experienced a number of corporate financial issues, as major Chinese investor Jia Yueting (who also had involvement in another troubled American EV start-up, Faraday Future) slid toward bankruptcy. However, it announced last April that it had secured in excess of $1 billion funding from the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for the PIF said at the time: “By investing in the rapidly expanding electric vehicle market, PIF is gaining exposure to long-term growth opportunities, supporting innovation and technological development, and driving revenue and sectoral diversification for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. The PIF aims to bring revenue back into the country in a world moving away from oil and “aims to strengthen PIF’s performance as an active contributor in the international economy, an investor in the industries of the future and the partner of choice for international investment opportunities. Our investment in Lucid is a strong example of these objectives”. The initial investment was said to be $500 million, with subsequent funding coming as Lucid achieves production milestones. Lucid has announced that the first members of its Casa Grande assemply team are now working alongside engineers at the firm’s new headquarters in California to build the next series of Air prototypes. The company was formed in 2007 under the name Atieva by Bernard Tse, a former board member and vice president of Tesla, and engineer Sam Weng. Its CEO is now Peter Rawlinson, a former head engineer at Jaguar, Lotus and Tesla. Recently appointed to the role of vice president of manufacturing, tasked with overseeing production initiation, is Peter Hochholdinger, another former Tesla employee and a previous senior director of production at Audi. Lucid has secured a battery supply deal with Samsung and LG Chem for the Air. It also plays a part in the engineering and supply of batteries for the Formula E electric single-seater racing series. +++ 

+++ The MERCEDES-BENZ G-Class will eventually be fully electric, according to Daimler boss Ola Källenius. Little is known at present about the zero-emissions G-Class, which is expected to be a number of years away, other than that it will swap the current diesel V6 and petrol V8 for a 100 % electric powertrain. However, some details may be deduced from other Mercedes EV models. Following the approach used for other, already announced models in Mercedes’ EQ electric sub-brand, such as the EQ A and the EQ C, the new car could be sold under the name EQ G and feature bespoke body styling as a result. Like the EQ S, the electric G-Class is likely to be introduced with 4-wheeldrive and generate its power from 2 electric motors: 1 at the car’s front and another 1 giving thrust at the rear. Although Mercedes has yet to release official specs, it’s likely an electric G-Class will improve on the power and torque generated by the standard version of the car. It will need to as well, because it will be considerably heavier. In terms of range, we can expect about 500 kilometres. However, this increased performance, if it materialises, will almost certainly come at an increased cost. The EQ G will likely be the most expensive G-Class variant, because the G-Class is a heavy-set car and will therefore require a bigger and pricier battery pack. Mercedes has not specified a launch date for the new car, saying only that it is “a long way in the future”. +++ 

+++ NISSAN named American Stephen Ma as its next finance chief and said some veteran executives were stepping down, putting a new generation in charge of a company battling to recover from plunging profits and management scandal. The announcement by Japan’s second-largest automaker comes just weeks after it named the head of its China business, Makoto Uchida, as its next chief executive. Following the dramatic ouster of former chairman Carlos Ghosn almost a year ago, Nissan has been battered by sliding profits, uncertainty over its future leadership and tensions with top shareholder Renault. The company is revamping its top ranks with younger executives, picking Ma, its global controller who turns 49 this month, as its next chief financial officer to replace Hiroshi Karube, whose departure was also announced. Ma, who joined Nissan’s U.S. operations in 1996 and has served as CFO of Nissan’s joint venture with Chinese partner Dongfeng Motor, will join Ashwani Gupta, the 49-year-old who was appointed chief operating officer last month, in becoming the highest ranking non-Japanese at the company. “We are trying to achieve a generational change in Nissan management”, said a source at the company, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They, along with Uchida, 53, and other top executives, will take on their new positions on December 1. Among those leaving is Yasuhiro Yamauchi, who was acting CEO and passed over for the top job that went to Uchida. Nissan, whose shares have slumped about a fifth in value so far this year, also announced the departure of Hitoshi Kawaguchi. Kawaguchi, who has been in charge of external affairs, had been seen as backing Yamauchi for the CEO position. Both Kawaguchi and Yamauchi, septuagenarians who between them have served more than 80 years at Nissan, will leave the company at the end of the month. They are the latest Nissan veterans to go, after former CEO Hiroto Saikawa was forced to resign in September as directors sought a clean break with the Ghosn era. Nissan’s new executive team will face the task of lifting profits, which have hit their lowest in more than decade. Earnings have been undercut, particularly in the United States, a key market, by years of heavy discounts and low-margin sales to rental firms as part of a strategy to raise market share, which has cheapened Nissan’s brand image. They also need to repair Nissan’s relationship with Renault, which has soured since Ghosn’s arrest on charges of financial misconduct. One official raised concerns about a lack of experience among the new executives in managing the alliance with its French partner. “We expect we’re going to face some difficulty in dealing with Renault”, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter. “We need to make solid preparations for that”. Since Ghosn’s ouster as chairman of both companies, Nissan and Renault have squabbled over the selection of Nissan’s board members and executives, as well a proposed tie-up between Renault and FCA earlier this year, which ultimately failed. The French automaker, which holds a 43.4 % stake in Nissan after it saved the Japanese automaker from financial ruin 2 decades ago, for years has been pursuing closer ties with its bigger partner, only to be rebuffed by Nissan. The latest strains have sparked investor concern about the future of the Franco-Japanese alliance at a time when car companies desperately need scale to keep up with sweeping technological changes like electric vehicles and ride-hailing. FCA announced earlier this week it was in talks to merge with Renault rival PSA to create the world’s 4th largest automaking group, closing in on the Renault-Nissan alliance, which ranks among the top 3. +++ 

+++ According to PSA boss Carlos Tavares, the merger with FCA will not result in any brands being let go on either side, he said during a recent interview. Yet, some people have questioned whether the 2 companies actually need all those brands, especially since some of FCA’s brands may require heavy investment, and/or could end up competing against PSA’s for sales. “It is part of the challenge to properly manage these brands to cover the market”, stated Tavares. “I see that all these brands, without exception, have one thing in common: they have a fabulous history”, he added. “We love the history of car brands, it gives us a foundation on which we can project ourselves into the future. So today, I don’t see any need, if this deal is concluded, to remove brands because they all have their history and they all have their strengths”. He went on to say that the merged group “would indeed have a significant number of brands”, but that the number would still be lower than what the Volkswagen Group has. Tavares added that both companies will target productivity improvements over time and that they are both willing to make any concessions in order to get a green light from the European Union. “Give all the necessary regulatory approvals that need to be granted, such a deal cannot be closed in less than a year”, said Tavares, while adding that a “binding deal” should be sealed in the coming weeks. +++ 

+++ ROLLS-ROYCE could soon come under pressure at the top end of the luxury market from a little-known Chinese brand. Domestic-focused car maker Hongqi, which in 2018 poached Rolls-Royce design chief Giles Taylor, is planning an attack on the pinnacle of luxury motoring that will eventually go global. As part of the FAW Group, one of China’s biggest car manufacturers, Hongqi aims to achieve this by leveraging a rich cultural and historical heritage that includes building official government limousines such as the popular L5. Now settled into his role as global vice-president of design and chief creative officer in Munich, Taylor told of plans to build a flagship luxury car that would target affluent Chinese buyers who would traditionally aspire to own a Rolls-Royce. “We’re picking up young customers with extreme wealth: they want to buy Chinese”, said Taylor of the Hongqi brand, which was revived last year. But, Taylor insists, rather than cloning Rolls-Royce, any Hongqi flagship designed under his stewardship will have its own distinct identity. “We have to find a new Chinese, innovative and digital way of crafting new Hongqi vehicles that stand alone”, he said, so they cannot be “accused of being a copy of Rolls-Royce. We’re not going to do that”. Taylor cited Chinese culture as the inspiration for a new brand identity, and confidently added that Hongqi “will become the number-one luxury brand in China”. He added: “I think there’s a richness in the Chinese culture, whether it’s through ancient sculpture, fashion, calligraphy: there’s a rich mine to tap into to bring not just a Western answer, but a Chinese answer”. While that design DNA is key, Taylor also sees innovation as a strength of Chinese brands and recognises an appetite for it. “I see China as far more thirsty for innovation”, he said. “If you look at the customers, they expect innovations, but also design innovations”. Taylor believes that, rather undercut Rolls-Royce on price, a new Hongqi limousine could challenge the British brand on content and innovation, and come with a suitably hefty price tag. He said: “I come back to the artistic culture of China. We’ll use those crafted traditions in a way that will be beautiful and elegant and attract people in their own ways”. Taylor acknowledges that competing in the luxury space will be a tall order in markets such as Europe and the Middle East where premium brands are long established. “To bring the Chinese ‘Rolls-Royce’ out of China will always be a challenge because the 114-year brand legacy of Rolls-Royce has been cultivated and crafted and enhanced decade on decade”, said Taylor. “We need to work out a way of carefully crafting its brand persona and platform outside of China, and that will take time”. Taylor nevertheless believes that the opportunity is enormous. He concluded: “With Hongqi, we’re starting somewhere fresher. But in many ways, sometimes the shackles of heritage are constraining. So there are positives and negatives in bringing a new luxury brand out of China”. +++ 

+++ “From 2020, you will become a permanent back-seat driver” ran a typically breathless headline from 2015. The story reflected the optimism that Silicon Valley geniuses were fast clearing the hurdles to SELF DRIVING . That optimism has faded as both car and tech firms begin to acknowledge that training a computer to think faster and smarter than a human amid the myriad of driving situations we encounter daily is tough. “Everybody talking about autonomous cars four years ago was saying they’d be here by now”, Nick Rogers, head of engineering at Jaguar Land Rover said. “I think we can get 80 % of the way there very, very quickly, but when the car’s in charge, the only answer is zero accidents and that’s going to be a challenge for a bit longer”. Ford put its hand up this year, too. “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles”, CEO Jim Hackett said. Argo AI, the self-driving tech firm tasked with making Ford’s vision a reality, dampened down expectations of Ford’s self-driving car promised for 2021. CEO Bryan Salesky wrote in a blog last month that the car will operate in only a specific area of a city, won’t be available for purchase and will have a governed top speed. That puts this Ford car at the lower end of what’s termed Level 4 autonomy: you get to be that permanent back-seat driver, but in limited areas only. Even Level 3, where you can take your hands off the wheel but must be prepared to take control at a moment’s notice, hasn’t been given the regulatory green light in Europe as hoped, despite Audi offering the technology on its top-end models from 2017. For car companies, it was a bad case of ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out), caught as a result of excess exposure to Californian tech firms and spread around via artful presentations by consultants. “They’ve been told day in and day out that they are ‘dinosaurs’, that they are going to be ‘disrupted’ ”, Max Warburton, analyst at Bernstein Research, wrote in an October report. “This repetitive refrain has worn down the decision makers at the top of these companies”. Car makers are now ‘right-sizing’ expectations and seizing the conversation back from tech companies, who are learning the adage ‘cars are difficult’, according to Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst covering autonomous tech for IHS Markit. “There’s hasn’t been a direct safety impact on what they’ve been doing in the past”, Carlson said. The high cost, uncertain payback and the need for cast-iron certainty that it all works have pushed tech firms and car makers into collaborations. For example, earlier this year, Volkswagen joined Ford to take a joint majority stake in Argo AI; BMW and Daimler have teamed up on autonomous development; and a raft of companies, including Toyota, General Motors, Bosch and Arm, formed a consortium to develop an autonomous computing platform. Carlson said: “We’re talking about complex systems. You can’t just provide one piece to the next person in the supply chain and ask them to add something on top of it”. Another impediment to progress is the uncertainty whether all the miles of testing have made the computers smart enough to take on the ultimate responsibility. “Companies we talk to really don’t know where they are, don’t know when they’re done”, said Ziv Binyamini, CEO and co-founder of Foretellix, an Israeli company that claims it has developed a way of validating testing. The promises might have been toned down, but the technology is still advancing. Earlier this month, Waymo, the Google-owned firm generally agreed to be furthest ahead with the technology, wrote to customers of its self-driving ride-hailing trial in Phoenix, Arizona, to say that its cars will soon arrive without their human safety driver. China, meanwhile, is working around self-driving issues by modifying its roads, denoting some to be ‘AV-only’, for example in Beijing’s ‘E-town’. Off public roads, autonomous robots are happily delivering parcels in Milton Keynes and guiding passengers to gates in Frankfurt airport. Robotaxis may be 10-20 years away instead of next February (unless you live in Phoenix), but lower-cost, higher-margin transport is still the prize. “The opportunity ahead is bigger than any of us can imagine”, said Salesky. “Its future will arrive gradually, and safely, if we do it right”. +++ 

+++ The odds were against it, but the beleaguered TOKYO MOTOR SHOW (championed and reinvented by Toyota boss Akio Toyoda) not only met its ambitious attendance target but exceeded the 1 million visitor goal by good measure when doors closed. Toyoda, who also is chairman of the show’s organizer, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, brashly set a goal of 1 million visitors in a bid to reverse the show’s flagging fortunes over the last 10 years amid waning enthusiasm for auto expos worldwide. When the 12-day show wrapped up, more than 1.3 million people had visited. The tally represented a 70 % surge over the 771,200 who attended the biennial show in 2017. Attendance had been falling fast, from 902.000 visitors in 2013 to 813.500 in 2015. Back in 1991, the show swelled with a record 2,02 million people. Numerous factors conspired to make reversing the downward spiral a tough task. First, half the show’s traditional exhibition center (Tokyo Big Sight on the capital city’s waterfront) is under construction to become the international media center for next year’s Summer Olympics. That meant that halls for Toyota, Subaru and Daihatsu were in a separate location, with visitors needing to ride shuttles between the venues. Also, international participation reached a nadir. The only major global brands participating this year were Mercedes-Benz, Smart, Renault and Alpine; the last 2 seemingly out of solidarity with their Japanese alliance partners, Nissan and Mitsubishi. The lack of exotic foreign brands only further undercut the show’s draw power. But JAMA and Toyoda rallied to reinvent the show and pull in the people with new ideas. The concept was to create an event more akin to a theme park than a traditional auto exposition. The Tokyo show relied on a full menu of freebie activities to bring people downtown. The hope was they would then cave to buying tickets into the exhibition halls with the cars. Free admission for high school students and anyone younger only helped the push. Buses of students piled into town for the show on school excursions. Indeed, JAMA’s official tally included people perusing the free-admission areas in addition to the paid-entry automotive halls. It relied partially on officials with click-counters to add up the number of people in those areas. JAMA didn’t release a breakdown for only the ticketed portions. The sideshow attractions ran the gamut, from trendy to techy. They included girl pop groups, drift-driving demos, esports tournaments and aerial drone racing. JAMA seems to think it hit upon a new formula for auto show success. “You may have felt something a little different from usual this time”, Toyoda said in a statement after the attendance figures were released. “If you found yourself happy to come this time, please look forward to the 2021 Tokyo Motor Show. We would like to propose something far beyond my imagination at the next motor show 2 years from now”. +++ 

+++ Swedish EV start-up UNITI will market its 3-seater electric car by using a new rental method instead of relying on dealership sales or selling to car-sharing companies. The company plans to launch the Uniti One urban minicar in the United Kingdom Sweden in the middle of next year, with Germany following later in the year. Uniti CEO Lewis Horne said traditional sales to customers will not form the bulk of its income. “Direct sales are still viable but it’s recurring revenues that is the business model”, Horne told. Uniti plans to link up with large companies to offer employees a mobility service. Horne declined to say how this would work in practice. He said the company will announce more details in January. Uniti decided to go this route because of lessons learned from the failure of the Paris’s Autolib, which was based around the Bollore Bluecar EV. Autolib was halted in 2018 amid mounting losses associated with the high costs of maintaining its cars at multiple charging stations throughout Paris. The Uniti One was engineered in the UK and will offer 2 different battery sizes to give a maximum range of 300 km with the biggest 24 kWh pack. It starts at €21,600 for customers who want to own the car. The vehicle is registered as a car rather than a quadricycle and so conforms to tougher safety regulations for cars including having an airbag. It has the option of camera-based collision avoidance safety technology from suppler Mobileye that also includes lane departure warning. Other equipment include a panoramic roof that darkens to act as a sun visor and also reduces heat build up when the vehicle is parked. The Unity One comes with a touchscreen powered by Android Automotive OS that includes Google Maps, Waze and Spotify. The company says updates to the screen can be delivered over the air. Uniti started as a project at Sweden’s Lund University and the company is partly financed by crowd-funding. Horne declined to discuss the company’s larger backers. The Uniti One will be built by the same unnamed British firm that engineered the car, which is based in Norfolk, eastern England. Horne would not say whether the company was Lotus Engineering, which is also based in Norfolk. The car is small at just 3.222 mm long and 1.709 mm long. Although it is an urban vehicle, it can travel on faster roads thanks to a top speed of 120 kph. The 67 hp electric motor can propel the car f rom 0 to 100 kph in 9.9 seconds, the company said. The 3-seat layout puts the driver in the center of the vehicle, with 2 passengers behind. One use envisaged by the company is taking children to school. +++ 

+++ Trial production has started at VOLKSWAGEN ’s and SAIC Motor’s $2.5 billion electric vehicle (EV) factory in Shanghai, VW’s chief executive said on Friday, the latest development in the race to sell EVs in China. “The move goes in line with Volkswagen’s e-mobility initiative”, Herbert Diess told reporters during a tour of the factory. The announcement comes 2 weeks after Tesla also said it had started trial production at its factory in China, where it aims to produce 500,000 cars a year when construction is completed. Established automakers and startups alike are aggressively targeting China, the world’s largest new energy vehicle (NEV) market, where NEV sales jumped 61.7 % to 1.3 million vehicles in 2018. Volkswagen is trying to leapfrog peers by readying 2 Chinese EV factories by next year. Volkswagen’s ID series EVs will be the first to roll off the Shanghai production line, the German automaker said in a statement. The plant will also produce other models such as from VW’s premium Audi brand, the joint-venture partners said. Diess also said Volkswagen plans to make 22 million electric vehicles by 2028, half of them in China. In July, Diess said that by 2035, half of Volkswagen’s annual sales in China will be NEVs. +++

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