Newsflash: Land Rover gaat nieuwe Range Rover hoger positioneren

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+++ ALFA ROMEO has officially withdrawn its 4C sports car from sale just one week after it was revealed that the new GTV coupé and an 8C successor have been removed from the future product plan. An Alfa Romeo spokesperson was unavailable for comment, but the Porsche 718 Boxster rival now no longer appears on Alfa’s configurator and was absent from a list of current and future models shown at the firm’s third-quarter earnings report last week. The 4C has consistently struggled to secure a strong foothold in the unpredictable sports car market, selling just 421 units in Europe last year. That compares with 9.943 Audi TTs and 8.202 Porsche 718s sold in the same period. Last week, Alfa Romeo boss Mike Manley told the company’s stakeholders that its future product portfolio has been “significantly scaled back, with a corresponding reduction in capital spending”. The removal of the 4C will make way for 2 new SUVs and refreshed versions of the Giulia saloon and Stelvio. The biggeer of the 2 new SUVs, the Tonale, has been designed as a means of entering the competitive and highly profitable compact SUV market. It will take its power from a hybrid system shared with its Jeep Renegade platform partner and be priced to compete with the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. There has been no suggestion that a new partnership between Alfa’s parent company FCA and French automotive giant PSA could foster further sports car development, making it unlikely that a replacement for the 4C will appear any time soon. The new alliance is the 4th largest carmaking group in the world, but new CEO Carlos Tavares is known for bringing in drastic cost-cutting measures to improve profitability. +++ 

+++ ASTON MARTIN swung to a third-quarter loss, saying its full-year wholesale volumes would be lower than previously guided after slumping demand in Europe and Asia. Volumes to dealers fell 16 % to 1.497 cars in the 3 months to the end of September as demand in Europe, the Middle East and Africa area dropped 17 % and Asia was down by a third, hit by weak demand for the company’s Vantage model. The 106-year firm, famed for being fictional agent James Bond’s brand of choice, is taking action to cut costs and hopes the launch of its first SUV, the DBX, at a new factory in Wales, will boost performance next year. “We’re essentially holding the cost of a complete factory right now without the benefit of the revenues coming in, so from that point of view of course it’s a really important model”, chief executive Andy Palmer told. Aston Martin, based in Gaydon near Birmingham, posted a 13.5 million-pound loss in the 3 months to the end of September, but said it still expects to meet market expectations of core earnings at around 203 million pounds ($261 million). The global automotive industry has undergone a torrid year, hit by declining sales in China, trade war worries between the world’s 2 biggest economies, a slump in diesel sales in Europe and the need to invest heavily in electrification. But Aston Martin has also suffered since its flotation in October last year when shares launched at 19 pounds ($24.50) before dropping for months and languishing at between 4 and 5 pounds for the last few weeks. Earlier this year, the company announced it was raising $150 million in debt at a 12 % interest rate to bolster its balance sheet ahead of the launch of the DBX. Aston Martin said its net interest expense guidance for 2019 now stood at around 83 million pounds, also affected by the impact of unhedged expenses in U.S. dollars, with prior guidance at roughly 70 million pounds. Aston Martin, which is primarily owned by Italian and Kuwaiti private equity groups, and not part of a wider automotive group, said it could thrive on its own alongside its work with German carmaker Daimler, which has a small stake in the firm. “Our relationship with Daimler is also important so we’re not completely alone. We obviously have their technology to fall back on”, said Palmer. As said the current losses are blamed on lower-than-expected demand for the Vantage. Just 878 have been registered in the first 9 months of 2019 in Europe; less than half the number of 911s that Porsche registered in September alone. Palmer told: “The segment of the market in which Vantage competes is declining and, notwithstanding a growing market share, Vantage demand remains weaker than our original plans. As a consequence, total wholesale volumes are down year-on-year as we balance growth, brand positioning and dealer inventories”. +++

+++ A survey reveals general support for AUTONOMOUS CARS among people who have ridden in one. However, most consumers still prefer to not let the car operate completely on its own, but rather share control with it. In total, 1,395 participants were surveyed at 4 demonstrations totaling 2,000 rides in self-driving cars between November 2017 and April 2019 in Los Angeles, Detroit and 2 locations in Florida. Afterwards, pre- and post-ride survey responses (which included a mix of model, brand, consumer-use and mobility opinion-based questions) were examined. Participants for the survey were recruited by directly reaching out to them using the local municipality’s resident database. People then opted to participate in 1 of the 4 free Demo Days to experience the technology. Participants experienced Level 3 and Level 4 features, such as a vehicle starting, stopping, accelerating and decelerating on its own. For safety reasons, though, there was always a driver inside each vehicle. While only 6 % of survey respondents had ridden in a self-driving car before, 82 % already were enthusiastic about the technology and nearly 10 % reported a higher level of enthusiasm after their ride. However, 73 % of the respondents preferred to share control with their vehicle, and an overwhelming 92 % of respondents said it is a requirement to be able to activate an emergency stop function in a self-driving car. 77 % of respondents said they would seek out a ride in an AV in the future and 76 % said they thought the self-driving vehicle experience was similar to, or greater than, human-piloted rides, according to the survey. 37 % of respondents thought the greatest benefit of self-driving vehicles would be to eliminate or reduce deaths because of accidents, 31 % thought it was to increase mobility for the elderly and those with disabilities, and 12 % thought it was to reduce travel times. During the post-ride survey, 72 % of participants said they saw vehicles with advanced driver-assistant systems have the same or similar features as self-driving vehicles. Consumers are generally enthusiastic about self-driving cars, the survey conducters say, but expect them to be a safer experience than human-driven cars and still have mixed preferences for self-driving car brands. However, other surveys, such as J.D. Power’s Q3 Mobility Confidence Index Study, find consumers are at a standstill when it comes to their perceptions of the technologies. The J.D. Power study, released earlier this month, said consumers have a “low level of confidence about the future of self-driving vehicles”. More than two-thirds of surveyed consumers said they have “little to no knowledge” about self-driving technology, and more than half said they “are unlikely to ever purchase or lease” a self-driving vehicle. In terms to understand the technology, it was commented that public perception of AVs is largely dependent on how much control consumers think they will share with the vehicle. “People are looking for that mix of control. At least in the time right now, as they are getting to understand the technology, the expectation is that the human and the car are going to share control of those automated features. A lot of the conversations we had were, ‘My car does this today; how is that different from what we’re doing?’ What we want to do is start to incorporate today’s vehicles and ADAS technologies that are in today’s vehicles and help folks understand. I think the consumer is really looking for that opportunity to understand the technology. Almost all the surveys that we keep up with have indicated that the biggest barrier to adoption of automated vehicles is consumer acceptance, and in order for consumers to accept it, they have to trust, they have to understand the technology”. +++ 

+++ BP is investing €10 million in the makers of the app Whim, which allows users to pay a monthly fee to access both public and private transport in their city. The company that owns Whim, MaaS Global, started offering the service in Helsinki in 2017. Whim is now also available in Birmingham, England, and will soon be available in Vienna and Antwerp. BP’s investment will support expansion plans in Singapore and the United States, BP said in a statement. A study early this year suggested the app’s users in Finland curbed their private car use, turning instead to the taxis, public transport, bicycles and rental vehicles they were able to access for a single flat rate using the service. BP’s investment will give it access to the technology underpinning the service. Like other oil companies heavily reliant on fuel sales, the British oil major is seeking a foothold in businesses that understand changing consumer preferences around mobility. “Whim is super convenient”, said Roy Williamson, BP’s vice president for advanced mobility. “It takes the hassle out of planning travel, taking on board users’ preferences and connecting and booking their ideal transport choices”. In Helsinki, Whim offers four different “plans” which users can sign up for. The cheapest is a pay-as-you go deal, where the app tells a user the best way to get from one destination to the next using a combination of public and private transit options. The user pays for and collects tickets within the app. In the most expensive option, users pay €499 a month for unlimited access to rental cars, taxis, public transport and city bikes. MaaS Global, which stands for “mobility as a service”, has published reports which say creating a single digital plan for all types of transport will be important to cut congested and polluted streets and foster the shift to automated cars. In the future, private car ownership may fall while software helps people find instant, easy and cheap transit options, according to a report from MaaS in March. In 1 year, the company said it found its users relied on public transit, cycling and walking more than others in Helsinki. Though it does not track private car rides, “new mobility” options could replace 38 % of daily car trips, the report said. BP executives have talked and written about the importance of understanding the changing dynamics of transport, which will affect the way customers access BP’s retail stations and demand for its fuel. The company is already the largest investor of electric car charging in the UK, anticipating rising demand for vehicles without a combustion engine. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric car maker BYD and Toyota said they plan to set up a joint venture to design and develop battery electric cars as they ramp up efforts to produce zero emissions vehicles. The 2 companies said in a statement that they would each invest 50 % of the capital needed to establish the company, which will be set up next year and be based in China. The companies did not disclose the value of the venture. Widely considered a late comer in embracing battery EVs, compared with rivals including Nissan, Toyota had flagged in June that it aimed to get half of its global sales from EVs (including gasoline hybrids) by 2025; 5 years ahead of schedule. The venture aims to develop vehicles that run solely on batteries, rather than plug-in hybrid or gasoline-electric vehicles which also have a combustion engine. In July, the companies said they would develop battery-electric sedans and SUVs, which would then be sold under the Toyota brand in China before 2025. Toyota also develops hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and plans to launch fuel-cell car models with its Chinese partners, Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) and FAW Group, in China, as the world’s largest auto market increases support for fuel-cell vehicles. Shenzhen-based BYD, backed by Warren Buffett, whose models include the Song series and the Qin plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, aims to move to completely electric-powered vehicles. However, its profits are expected to drop this year as China cuts subsidies on EV. +++ 

+++ The market launch of the new CHEVROLET CORVETTE has been officially delayed, with GM officially admitting that production won’t start until February 2020. Spokesman Christopher Bonelli confirmed the delay that is a result of the 6-week UAW strike at GM plants. “Due to the work stoppage, we have had to adjust timing on the launch of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Production will now begin in February 2020 at GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant”, he said. Obviously, the move affects customer deliveries, which were originally scheduled for the end of this year. Another Chevrolet spokesman, Kevin Kelly, told me that “deliveries to customers will start shortly thereafter”, which puts it towards the end of February, beginning of March, 2020. Rumors of the Corvette’s production start being pushed back have been circulating for about a month now, following a strike on September 15 as the UAW clashed with GM over new contract negotiations. The work stoppage apparently affected the operations over at the Bowling Green Assembly facility; The factory was supposed to finish the production of the front-engined C7, shut down for an undetermined amount of time in order to retool for the new mid-engine Corvette and start its production in late 2019. The number of C7 Corvettes waiting to be built is unknown at the moment and the delay might also affect the launch of the convertible C8 Corvette, which was originally planned for early 2020. GM started to accept pre-orders for the mid-engine Corvette in July. Earlier today, GM announced some straight-line performance figures of the new Corvette, confirming that this is indeed the quickest Corvette ever; 0-100 kph takes just 3.2 seconds flat in the base model, with Z51-equipped models dropping that time to 3.1 seconds, which quite astonishing for a car of this price. Demand for the new C8 Corvette is expected to be quite strong, thanks to its eye-catching $59,995 base price and to having the engine shoved behind the passengers for the first time in the history of the model. +++ 

+++ The EUROPEAN Union’s trade chief said a U.S. threat to impose tariffs on EU automotive goods later this month persists while sounding a cautiously optimistic note that levies will be avoided. European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom repeated that the EU would retaliate with duties on a range of American products should the Trump administration hit imported cars and auto parts with tariffs based on national-security grounds. The U.S. faces a self-imposed deadline in mid-November for a decision. “We do not know what the Americans, or the American president, will decide next week”, Malmstrom told. “We do note that there seems to be very few people defending the idea of tariffs in the car sector”, Malmstrom  said. Last year, U.S. president Donald Trump infuriated Europe by declaring American imports of steel and aluminum a security threat and imposing levies of 25 % and 10 % respectively on shipments from around the world including the EU. That prompted the bloc to retaliate with a 25 % tariff on €2.8 billion of American goods such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and bourbon whiskey. A 25 % U.S. levy on foreign cars would add €10,000 to the sticker price of EU vehicles imported into the country, according to the Brussels-based European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. Malmstrom said the EU has been in “intensive discussions” with the U.S. to prevent new tariffs affecting transatlantic trade in auto goods, asserting both sides would be hurt.
“We continue, of course, to have contacts until the very last moment”, she said. +++
 

+++ The U.S. Department of Justice has demanded documents related to the Pwershift transmission used in about 2 million of Ford’s FIESTA AND FOCUS vehicles sold throughout this decade. A subpoena issued in April in Case No. 126 before a District of Columbia grand jury requested “all documents, communications and electronically stored information” relating to the company’s actions involving the DPS6 PowerShift transmission dating back to 2010. A Ford spokesman told that it has cooperated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as to DPS6-related issues beginning in 2014. +++ 

+++ FORD will consider building pickups in China if restrictions on driving them in cities are relaxed and it could also roll out customized models at that time, a senior company official said. Ford was among foreign automakers exhibiting their wares this week at the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, a fair aimed at showcasing the country’s free trade credentials. Many of the vehicles that Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles put on show were pickups; a segment of the Chinese market that has remained relatively resilient even as the overall industry braces for a second year of dipping sales. Demand for pickups (both from traditional farm and construction-related customers as well as newer interest from general car buyers) has increased and last year China became the world’s second-biggest pickup truck market. But many big Chinese cities restrict pickups from entering their centers, an obstacle for sales growth. But some urban areas have relaxed the rules in recent years, boosting pickup sales. “If more areas relax restrictions on pickups, we will plan to locally manufacture pickups in China to meet the demands of Chinese consumers with considerations of the market situation”, Joseph Liu, Ford’s China vice president for product innovation, told. The Dearborn based automaker does not build Ford-branded pickups in China, but its local partner, JMC (in which Ford has a 32 % stake) manufactures Yuhu series pickups with Ford technology. Liu did not provide details about manufacturing plans or model specifications but said made-in-China Ford pickupss would be different from existing imported models, if and when Ford went ahead with the plans. For instance, China-made pickups would be of sizes that are suitable for China’s roads and are less likely to have capacity for towing trailers as current policies limit that. Other automakers at CIIE told this week they were there to test the waters. GM and FCA also displayed their new pickup models such as the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra Denali, and Jeep Gladiator. FCA representatives said the company planned to launch the Gladiator in China but was still working on adjusting the model to meet regulatory requirements on things like emissions. A spokeswoman for GM said the company wanted to showcase American-style pickup trucks in Shanghai to get public opinion. She said, however, that GM had no plan to launch these models in China now. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI , together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has finalized a patent for an innovative synthetic material that can form the basis of new generation supercapacitors. The collaboration between the 2 companies began 3 years ago when Lamborghini joined the MIT-Italy Program. Now, the automaker is a co-author of this patent, and will look to explore additional optimization of the properties of the material, as well as large scale production. This result also signifies Lamborghini’s commitment towards electrification, which began in 2017 with the presentation of the Terzo Millennio, and more recently with the Sian; the latter unveiled at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show. “The joint research with MIT fully embodies our values and our vocation for anticipating the future: a future in which hybridization is increasingly desirable and inevitably necessary”, stated the company’s CEO, Stefano Domenicali. The new patented material was synthesized in the laboratories of MIT’s Chemistry Department, with the aid of Lamborghini’s Concept Development Department, and is based on the ‘Metal-Organic Frameworks’ (MOF) concept. “The molecular structure of this family of materials makes it the ideal candidate for producing electrodes for high performance supercapacitors of the future, because it maximizes the specific surface area, i.e. the amount of surface area exposed to electric charge in relation to the mass and volume of the sample. More specifically, the stated goal of the research is to improve the energy density: the patent filed today promises to increase this density by up to 100 % compared to the technology currently on the market”. While the research has yielded significant results, its potential is much greater, even when compared to the supercapacitors used on the Lamborghini Sian. Supercapacitors are said to be a good solution for high-performance motorsport applications due to their exceptional power and durability specs. +++ 

+++ Mahle Powertrain has unveiled a new 48 volt battery prototype with increased charge and discharge rates that could offer significant savings thanks to optimized battery cooling and cell chemistry. By maximizing their recuperated energy, MILD HYBRID SYSTEMS can become a lot more efficient, and according to Mahle, their prototype allows for fuel savings of between 12 % and 15 %. “Mild hybrid vehicles need to recover energy efficiently and at a relatively high power during deceleration events. High storage capacity is not required for these applications as the recuperated energy can be deployed during the next acceleration. Thus a compact and cost effective battery that is capable of high charge and discharge power levels relative to its storage capacity is desirable”. Since no suitable low-cost compact batteries could be found to deal with the necessary recharge and discharge cycles involving high currents, Mahle decided to develop its own, using an LTO chemistry in selected cells that allows for continuous charge/discharge rates of 10 kW and 20 kW peak rates for short periods; all this from a battery pack with a capacity of just 0.5 kWh. Mahle engineers also focused on the design of the busbars and electrical connections within the battery itself, since any high resistance in these components could produce heating issues and limit the power capability of the system. The company has begun testing its first prototype, looking to verify whether the battery pack can meet their performance targets. First results indicate that all temperatures within the pack “remain within an acceptable range at a continuous discharge rate of over 10 kW” and that the setup is indeed capable of peak power levels in excess of 20 kW. The next step will of course be to fit the Mahle 48V eSupercharged demonstrator vehicle with this prototype pack. +++ 

+++ MITSUBISHI has confirmed that a facelifted Space Star is on the way and will be revealed later this month, on 18 November. The reveal will take place in Thailand, near the Laem Chabang plant where the Space Star is built. The facelifted Space Star will morph in line with the rest of the Mitsubishi range from a design perspective by utilising the brand’s ‘Dynamic Shield’ design language, as used on the L200, Outlander, ASX and Eclipse Cross. There’s a new, bolder top grille, while the headlights are joined by strong, C-shaped metal castings. Nothing else has been said about the newcomer though, so it remains unknown if the facelift is mainly a design change or if Mitsubishi has altered the interior and engine line-up for its Hyundai i10 rival. However, advances in on-board technology and driver assistance features are anticipated. There’s no word on powertrain changes, but the refreshed Space Star is expected to offer the same pair of 3-cylinder petrol engines as the current model. The 1.0-litre produces 71 hp, while the 1.2-litre produces 80 hp. Both are said to be optimised for lightweight build and efficiency and may be electrified at some point in the Space Star’s lifecycle, heightening its appeal in Europe, where it has traditionally struggled against better-equipped and more keenly priced rivals. In May, a senior Mistubishi source hinted that the Japanese company was considering an electric version of the Space Star to rival the new Skoda Citigo-E iV and Renault Zoé. He told: “If you try to build one car for both Asia and Europe, it’s clear you end up pleasing neither. It’s either too lowly specced or too highly specced depending on your perspective. We have a couple of options. We could look to the Renault-Nissan alliance for a solution or we could move towards a battery-electric city car for some markets”. The current Space Star, which replaced the Colt, was introduced here in 2013. It was launched with a raft of new equipment as standard, including hill start assistance for the first time in the smallest Mitsubishi model’s history. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is launching online car sales in Europe and the U.S. as the automaker seeks to attract younger customers. The automaker has opened a digital sales channel in Germany that allows customers to buy new and pre-owned cars. Porsche is also launching digital retail in the United States, with 25 of the 191 U.S. Porsche dealerships currently offering in-stock new and certified pre-owned cars through an online pilot program. The online sales will be rolled out across Europe and in China, Porsche said in a news release. Customers can choose a vehicle online and carry out the most important purchasing steps online. The final conclusion of the contract and vehicle collection will take place at one of the company’s 88 German dealerships. “I am assuming that about 10 % of our vehicles will be sold online in Germany in 2025”, Alexander Pollich, Porsche’s sales chief for Germany, told. Online sales will only include new and used cars that are immediately available at dealerships. Once the customer has selected a car and placed it in his shopping basket, they can choose between a purchase or a lease. The owner can also trade in his old vehicle. When the online ordering process is complete, €2.500 euros is billed as a deposit. The car is then set aside and is no longer available for sale. The final contract is concluded with the responsible Porsche dealer or Porsche Financial Services. The prices are fixed, and the particular dealer has pricing authority. This eliminates the negotiations that are especially the rule in dealership used-car transactions. Porsche intends to use the new approach to reach new classes of buyers. “Online sales offer the opportunity to appeal to younger, more digitally inclined buyer groups”, Pollich said. So far dealerships are not opposing online sales. “This isn’t really direct sales from the manufacturer”, said Roger Störzer, CEO of the Hegau-Bodensee Porsche dealer of the Graf-Hardenberg-Group. But it remains to be seen how well the approach will be accepted, he said. Many Porsche customers prefer personal contact, Störzer said. +++ 

+++ Land Rover is in the midst of the largest product overhaul in its history, which will involve the firm launching a fully electric RANGE ROVER for the very first time. The fifth generation, due in 2021, will be the most radical and technically advanced there has been in the SUV’s 50-year history. It will be a completely new model, based on Land Rover’s new Modular Longitudinal Architecture (MLA) that can accommodate mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric powertrains. Land Rover bosses have focused on moving the Range Rover even further upmarket, due to increased competition in the segment from the likes of the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The look of the newcomer will play a leading role in that. The challenge Land Rover’s design director Gerry McGovern is facing is what to do with the electric Range Rover, which will launch after the standard hybrid and plug-in models, around 2022. McGovern told that his design team is taking an ‘evolutionary’ approach with the next model, but the flexibility afforded to the team by the use of an electric powertrain means there are various options for how an electric Range Rover could look. “There are 2 basic approaches”, McGovern told. “There’s one that says if it’s an all-electric vehicle, it gives you the ability to free up your proportions. So you could have a more cab-forward approach. And then the question is, is that right for Land Rover? Or do you just forget about what the proportion system is, and design the car round its relevance to the consumer and optimising it in terms of what it’s capable of doing in terms of its on-road/off-road abilities, in terms of its functionality, its storage, its versatility and all those things?” Every edition of the next Range Rover will be built at JLR’s Solihull factory, which received a £500million investment boost last year. Fully electric, hybrid and diesel models can be produced on the site following the cash injection. The mechanical makeup of the electric Range Rover is still unknown, but the MLA platform allows for 2 electric motors to be fitted, one on each axle, for 4-wheeldrive. The size of the new model will also enable Land Rover to fit a battery as large as 100 kWh, if desired, comfortably giving the SUV a range of 500 kilometres. McGovern added: “The Range Rover, whether it’s electric or not, is a car that’s loved the world over and it’s highly differentiated from anything. Thinking about the next-generation model, would you change it just so you could say that, because it’s electric, we don’t really need a bonnet any more, so let’s pull the cab forward and end up looking like a bus or a van? You have to be really careful how you deal with that, and if you look at the Range Rover Sport and Evoque, they’ve all evolved, they’re evolutionary, they’re not deliberately, dramatically going away from what they were before. They become more modern, they become more technically capable. We’ve embraced technology to enable the design to be more modern”. +++ 

+++ SEAT will launch a new electric scooter later this month, as part of the Spanish firm’s attempts to become a leader in ‘urban mobility solutions’ to tackle congestion in large cities. The eScooter, which is being developed in collaboration with Barcelona-based motorcycle maker Silence, will join the upcoming Minimó and the eXS Kickscooter in the company’s new urban transport line-up. While Seat has not given performance details, it says the eScooter features a 100 % electric powertrain equivalent to a 125 cc petrol bike. It will be presented at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona later this month. In recent years, an increasing number of car companies have started targeting solutions for crowded cities. Earlier this year, Seat announced that it would spearhead efforts in the segment within the Volkswagen Group. Last year, it piloted a fleet of prototype car sharing vehicles, modelled on its upcoming Seat Mii Electric, that users could rent through a smartphone app and a forerunner to its eScooter, the Segway-based eXS. In 2021, Seat will introduce a new small electric city car. The Minimó develops the concept of the Renault Twizy and fronts the firm’s increasing emphasis on small and environmentally friendly transport alternatives. Seat boss Luca de Meo said that “the constant growth of large cities makes achieving efficient mobility one of the main challenges to overcome”. +++ 

+++ TESLA plans to unveil its electric pickup on November 21 in Los Angeles, chief executive officer Elon Musk tweeted. Musk had said in January that Tesla might be ready to unveil the truck by summer. “The pickup doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen bouncing around the Internet. It’s closer to an armored personnel carrier from the future”, Musk had said in a tweet here last month. Carmakers including Ford and General Motors are racing to design radical new takes on their most profitable pickup models, replacing petroleum-fueled engines with batteries in a bid to outflank Tesla’s plan to eclipse their brands. Ford’s F-150 and GM’s Chevrolet Silverado are the top selling vehicles in the U.S. market. The reveal would happen a day before the Los Angeles Auto Show opens to the public. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA plans a $1.8 billion share buyback, Japan’s biggest automaker said, after beating quarterly forecasts on higher global vehicle sales and an improved performance in North America. Operating profit rose 14% to 662.3 billion yen ($6.1 billion) for the 3 months to September 30 as Toyota enjoyed its strongest second quarter since 2015. The profit beat an average forecast of 592.3 billion yen, based on estimates from 9 analysts. It sold 2.75 million vehicles globally, up from 2.18 million a year earlier. Sales in North America, Toyota’s biggest market, rose 5.6 %, while sales in Asia climbed 3.4 %. Operating profit in North America, which has been a sore spot for Toyota over the past 2 years, more than doubled helped by less discounting. “New models of the RAV4 and the Corolla, as well as last year’s Camry, have been well received in North America, so we’ve been able to lower incentives”, Operating Officer Kenta Kon told reporters at a briefing. Toyota said it would buy back up to $1.8 billion worth of its common stock, or 34 million shares, by end-March. It maintained its forecast for operating profit in the year to March to fall 2.7 %, after 3 years of gains, as it expects a strengthening yen to weigh. It lowered its forecast for annual global car sales by 2.7 % to 10.7 million units, weighed by weakening demand in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Still, it expects record sales topping last year’s 10.6 million. Toyota’s projected profit slip is subdued versus smaller rivals including Mitsubishi, Subaru and Mazda, which have slashed their full-year outlooks by up to 67 % this month amid weaker demand for their cars. Many of them acknowledge they are struggling to contain costs amid the need to invest heavily to develop self-driving cars and electric vehicles. Toyota also said higher R&D investments and rising labor costs had made cost-cutting a challenge, but it managed an additional 45 billion yen in cost savings during the quarter. Executive vice president Mitsuru Kawai told that the company was looking at every possible way to cut production costs and improve efficiency at its factories, including scraping out “every last drop” of vehicle body paint from the can before opening a new one. “Each drop of paint on its own would represent only a fraction of a yen in savings, but if we add up these efforts we can build a savings effect”, he said. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group is open to sharing future autonomous-vehicle systems with other automakers as it races to catch up with rivals such as Waymo in cost-intensive technologies that could transform the way people and goods move, according to Alexander Hitzinger, VW’s senior vice president for autonomous driving. Joint projects beyond a deal with Ford signed in July (that includes a $2.6 billion investment in its U.S. peer’s affiliate Argo AI) could help spread out costs more widely, Hitzinger said. “We do have to catch up in some fields but we’re not massively far behind here and as VW Group we can really generate very large economies of scale”, Hitzinger told. “And this will be a scale game”. VW’s efforts to develop autonomous cars date back more than a decade to tests hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in the U.S. But the industrial giant’s unwieldy corporate structure (with operations scattered across 12 automotive brands and 122 factories worldwide) led to fragmented development that allowed quicker rivals to take the lead. Hitzinger, who rejoined Volkswagen from Apple after previously holding key engineering positions at Porsche’s motorsport operations, now oversees a newly formed unit dubbed Volkswagen Autonomy that is aimed at bundling projects more efficiently. The division will have offices in Germany, Silicon Valley and China to attract top talent and develop highly automated driving systems (so-called Level 4 autonomy) that can be scaled up for commercial production starting around 2025. VW is testing self-driving versions of its Golf on the streets of Hamburg, Germany. The tests involve 5 electric versions of the Golf, equipped with Level 4 self-driving technology, that use lasers, radars and scanners.The cars have drivers who can intervene to take the wheel. +++

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