Newsflash: BMW is trots op elektrische efficiëntie nieuwe iX3

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+++ While Audi and Mercedes-Benz are already selling their premium electric SUVs, BMW still hasn’t begun production of the iX3, its own contender in the niche. According to the automaker, production will commence in 2020 at the BMW Brilliance Automotive joint venture in Shenyang, China. While no precise date has been made public, the company has revealed preliminary specifications for the iX3, which will be the first model to use the fifth generation eDrive technology, with the i4 and iNext EVs to follow in 2021. With its first all-electric SUV, the automaker places emphasis not so much on battery size but rather on higher efficiency. The electric SUV packs a high voltage battery with a net energy content of 74 kWh that enables it to cover more than 440 km in the WLTP test cycle. BMW also claims the iX3 boasts a low power consumption of less than 20 kWh/100 km (WLTP), allowing it to achieve a range previously possible only with larger (and heavier) batteries. The battery feeds an electric motor delivering a maximum power output of 286 hp and a peak torque of 400 Nm. Located in a central housing along with the system electronics and transmission, the motor drives the rear wheels, allowing for a typical BMW driving experience. The carmaker says the ratio between motor output and weight of the drive system improves around 30 % compared to the previous eDrive generation. No performance specs are available yet, but the iX3 is said to deliver “high initial acceleration”. Finally, the iX3 doesn’t demand any concessions on practicality, offering the same amount of space for passengers and luggage as the ICE-powered X3 thanks to the battery unit being installed in an extremely flat position in the vehicle floor. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER is seeking to buy a majority stake in its Chinese operations, 3 people familiar with the matter told, after initial efforts to raise its stake failed and as Chinese investors tighten their grip on the German carmaker. Daimler’s moves come at a time of heightened tension between Berlin and Beijing as German lawmakers debate whether to bar China’s Huawei from local 5G networks and as German companies look to ease Chinese ownership restrictions. Daimler has been exploring several options to strengthen its control of Beijing Benz Automotive, its Chinese joint venture with BAIC Group, including a plan to raise its stake to 75 % from the current 49 %, 2 of the people familiar with the matter said. Daimler faces some opposition within BAIC as the Chinese partner wants to maintain control of the highly profitable business that has benefited from strong sales of Mercedes-Benz cars and helped it fund expansion into other activities, sources, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told. Daimler’s cash cow joint venture with BAIC is the main profit contributor of BAIC Group’s Hong Kong listed company BAIC Motor Corp, which also has assets of BAIC’s own brand cars and its joint venture with Hyundai. In 2018, BAIC Motor reported 37.01 billion yuan ($5.26 billion) gross profit while that of Beijing Benz Automotive contributed 40.52 billion yuan, excluding the profit from the China JV, BAIC Motor was loss-making last year. Beijing Benz Automotive, which started building and selling locally made vehicles in 2006, sold around 485.000 units last year, accounting for more than 70 % of Mercedes-Benz’s China sales. In China, the world’s biggest auto market, 525.890 Mercedes-Benz cars were sold in the first 9 months this year; up 5 % from a year earlier even as the total market keeps declining. Rival Audi sold 491.040 units and BMW sold 526.017 (including Mini) over the same period in China. Daimler’s stake purchase ambitions come as BAIC is pursuing a separate deal to buy a 10 % stake in the German carmaker, sources told, to upstage Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which owns a 9.69 % Daimler stake. If BAIC clinches a 10 % shareholding, Chinese companies will control just under 20 % of the luxury carmaker, enough to block significant decisions at Daimler’s shareholder meeting, such as nominating directors or approving major investments. These key decisions need at least 75 % of votes cast at an annual general meeting, giving any shareholder with a 20 % stake a blocking minority. At Daimler’s 2019 annual general meeting, only 52.91 % of the company’s share capital was represented. Daimler held talks with BAIC in 2018 about increasing its ownership of the China joint venture, but the talks petered out, prompting Daimler’s management to ask Goldman Sachs to explore ways to increase its 9.55 % stake in BAIC Motor. In 2018 Beijing started easing foreign ownership rules, allowing BMW to buy a 75 % stake in its joint venture with Brilliance China Automotive Holdings by 2022, when foreign firms will be permitted to control a non-electric passenger car company in China, prompting Daimler to pursue similar ambitions. Daimler has urged the German government to press Beijing to ease ownership restrictions to ensure a “level playing field”, just as China’s ambassador to Germany warned Berlin not to block China’s Huawei from supplying German telecoms equipment. The United States, which is embroiled in a global trade dispute with China, has urged German chancellor Angela Merkel to exclude Huawei from mobile equipment auctions on security grounds. Huawei says it is an independent company and dismisses such concerns as baseless attempts by the United States to damage its business and reputation. Last week China’s ambassador to Germany, Ken Wu said Beijing could retaliate if Huawei was excluded from Germany’s 5G rollout. “If Germany were to take a decision in the end that would exclude Huawei from the German market, then it should expect consequences”, the Chinese ambassador said. “The Chinese government will not just stand by and watch. Look, 28 million cars were sold on the Chinese market last year, including 7 million German cars. Could we say too one day that German cars are not safe because we are capable of producing our own cars? No, this is pure protectionism”. +++ 

+++ China’s DONG FENG MOTOR will have a reduced stake of around 4.5 % in the new group resulting from the merger between PSA and rival FCA, 2 sources said. Dongfeng has a 12.2 % equity stake in PSA and under a preliminary agreement announced in October would have had about half of that in the combined entity with FCA. According to the binding deal approved by PSA board, FCA’s robot unit Comau will remain within the combined group rather than being spun off as was originally planned in October, the sources said. The 2 groups will then jointly decided how to extract value from Comau. Dongfeng’s stake in PSA has attracted attention because of the possibility it could interfere with U.S. regulatory approval for the deal. U.S. economic adviser Larry Kudlow said last month the Trump administration would review the proposed merger because the deal would give the Chinese carmaker a stake in the combined company. +++ 

+++ The ELECTRIC VEHICLE TAX CREDIT in the United States is unlikely to get an extension due to resistance from president Donald Trump. For car manufacturers such as Tesla and General Motors, the credit is a legislative priority and has been credited as helping to accelerate the introduction and sales of EVs across the country. A proposal championed by Michigan Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow and Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine would grant automakers a $7,000 tax credit for 400,000 EVs they produce after exceeding the current cap of 200,000 vehicles to receive the full $7,500 credit. “There has been extreme resistance from the president”, Stabenow said. “I don’t know why the White House would want to stop jobs and the future of the auto industry”. Officials from the White House have warned lawmakers that if they try to expand the electric vehicle credit as part of a compromise spending bill, it could tank the measure. The credit is viewed by many in the West Wing and among many conservatives as mainly benefiting rich California residents and Tesla. “President Trump is fighting to protect middle-class taxpayers by opposing this welfare program for the wealthy”, president of the American Energy Alliance Tom Pyle said. “The Senate Republican leadership would be wise to follow his lead”. Leaders in the House and Senate are currently negotiating a comprehensive package of tax breaks in a government spending bill that’s likely to move this week. +++ 

+++ The Audi Q8, Ford Puma, electric MG ZS EV, MG HS, Nissan Juke and Volkswagen Golf are the 6 cars to gain maxium scores in the final round of EURO NCAP safety testing for 2019. However, lower three-star ratings were awarded to other models from the Volkswagen Group, as well as a new model from Chinese start-up Aiways. The Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii siblings were put through the tests for the first time since all 3 were facelifted in 2019. Their ratings were brought down from 5 to 3 stars because AEB (a standard feature on the outgoing models) has been made an optional extra. Aiways’ new U5 electric SUV, which will go on sale in 2020 as the company’s first European model, was also rated at 3 stars. This car lost points for its performance in the side impact, side pole and pedestrian avoidance tests. Aiways responded to NCAP’s findings, noting that the U5 “is the first electric vehicle from a Chinese start-up to be tested by Euro NCAP”. It added: “We are a young company, and will adapt and learn from these results. Euro NCAP found the U5 to be structurally safe, and we have already addressed and resolved the other issues highlighted in the testing. We expect the U5 to be among the safest mid-size SUVs available when it goes on sale in Europe next year”. Aiways will make its European debut in 2020, with the U5 entering the market on a lease-exclusive basis. The Ford Puma, which will be launched in 2020, achieved a 94 % score in the adult occupant category, providing adequate passenger protection in the full-width rigid barrier, frontal offset, side barrier and side pole scenarios. The Fiesta-based compact crossover lost some marks in the pedestrian impact test, with NCAP calling attention to its “stiff windscreen pillars”, but the model’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system was found to avoid collisions in most cases. The 8th Volkswagen Golf follows its predecessor in achieving a 5-star rating. NCAP praised the family hatchback’s “excellent crashworthiness and standard fit of a number of assist systems”, and noted that ’vehicle-to-X’ connectivity systems, as featured on the new Golf, will be tested by NCAP in the future. In total, Euro NCAP has tested 55 models this year, with 45 earning a 5 star score. But as said, the Volkswagen Up has scored just 3 stars in the latest round of Euro NCAP crash test results. While Euro NCAP tested the electric version, the new score also applies to the facelifted petrol-powered models due in the new year. Much of the blame for the 2 star loss lies with the reduced safety assist score, and changing crash-test criteria. In 2011 the Up scored 86 % for safety assist technology, partly thanks to its seatbelt reminder and electronic stability control systems. In 2019 it was awarded just 55 % in the safety assist category. NCAP’s crash safety experts criticised Volkswagen’s decision to remove autonomous emergency braking (AEB) from the Up’s options list, although lane keep assist (a feature that was not previously available) is now fitted as standard. This latest retest is not the first time modern safety assessments have been applied to older cars. In 2017, the Fiat Punto was awarded 0 stars during its retest, and was removed from sale by its maker shortly afterwards. And earlier this month, the Volkwsagen Sharan was awarded 4 stars during its NCAP tests despite its rear door detaching during impact; an eventuality Volkswagen said it had never seen demonstrated in real-world accident data. Life for city cars looks tough under current and future regulations. As well as crash test criteria that are difficult for smaller cars to meet, unintended consequences linked to European Union carbon dioxide targets could see city cars die out altogether. +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES and the PSA Group agreed to combine in a deal that will create the world’s 4th biggest auto manufacturer. The French and Italo-American carmakers signed a binding accord for a 50-50 merger of their businesses, they said in a statement. The combined company will be led by PSA chief executive officer Carlos Tavares, with Fiat chairman John Elkann holding the same role at the enlarged firm. The merger would forge a regional powerhouse to rival Volkswagen and have a stock-market value of about $46 billion, surpassing Ford. The tie-up also brings together 2 auto-making dynasties: the billionaire Agnelli clan of Italy, led by Elkann, and the Peugeots of France. The combination will give PSA a long-sought presence in North America and should help Fiat gain ground in developing low-emission technology. Yet it doesn’t fix all of the their shortcomings, Jürgen Pieper, an analyst at B. Metzler Seel Sohn & Co. told. The business will still lack “very good premium brands” as well as “a good position in China”, he said. Like executives across the industry, Tavares and Elkann are responding to growing pressure to pool resources for product development, manufacturing and purchasing in the face of trade wars and an expensive shift toward electric and self-driving technology. The companies are aiming to extract €3.7 billion in annual synergies from the deal, without closing any plants, unchanged from the target they announced when they revealed their merger discussions 6 weeks ago. The challenges will be manifold, from improving Fiat’s struggling European operations to meeting tough new rules on emissions that kick in next year in Europe. Tavares, known as a hard-nosed cost-cutter, will also have to navigate the political crosscurrents in France, Italy and the United States, where the automakers have deep national roots. Yet he has tackled tough jobs before. Tavares led the French carmaker back from the brink after taking over in 2014, and revived the loss-making Opel brand after acquiring it from General Motors 2 years ago. Tavares, on a call with reporters, said the companies don’t expect any significant issues from the antitrust regulators. In outlining the industrial side of their merger, PSA and FCA said that more than two-thirds of their production would be concentrated on just 2 platforms, with 3 million cars per year on a compact/midsize platform and 2.6 million on a small platform. The smaller platform will be PSA’s CMP architecture and larger cars will be on the group’s EMP2, industry sources told. Ram pickups and larger Jeep models will continue to use FCA underpinnings. PSA’s architectures offer several advantages. They are multi-energy, meaning they can accommodate gasoline, diesel or electrified drivetrains, allowing a quick response to customer demand without significant new investments on production lines. They are also more modern than FCA’s equivalent platforms, with cars on the CMP architecture starting to go into production in 2019. Moving FCA vehicles to PSA platforms could quickly increase economies of scale for the merged company, much as PSA did after acquiring Opel in 2017. The CMP platform, designed to cover the small car and the lower part of the compact segment, allows for gasoline, diesel or full-electric power. It was launched last year with the DS 3 Crossback and it underpins the new generation of Peugeot 208 / 2008 and the Opel / Vauxhall Corsa. The next models using CMP is expected to be a replacement for the Citroën C4 Cactus and Opel Mokka X, both due next year. The EMP2 platform, covering the upper part of the compact segment up to midsize models, debuted in 2013 on the Peugeot 308. It is also on the 3008 and 5008 midsize SUVs, the DS 7 Crossback, the Citroen C5 Aircross and the Opel Grandland X. The Peugeot 508 midsize sedan and station wagon, launched last year, were the first ‘low’ D segment passenger cars using the architecture. Currently EMP2 is offered with gasoline, diesel and gasoline plug-in hybrid models, but it is also designed to offer pure battery models in the next decade. The first FCA model based on the CMP architecture could be a small crossover for Alfa Romeo, due in late 2022, also with a battery-only variant. The Fiat 500e electric model, set to debut in March at the Geneva show and to go on sale next fall, will not be affected by the transition to PSA’s architectures, as it is in an advanced stage of development. It is based on a modified FCA small car architecture and will be built in the Mirafiori plant in Turin. FCA has said that it will exit the minicar segment and has written off investments in the architecture used in the Fiat 500 / Panda and Lancia Ypsilon. PSA is also likely to leave the segment, with no plans to replace the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108, now built along with the Toyota Aygo in a jointly owned factory in Kolin, Czech Republic. PSA will leave the joint venture at the end of this year, and Toyota will take full ownership of the plant in 2021. The remaining joint FCA – PSA production of larger models, about 3 million units in 2018, are mainly body-on-frame pickups from Ram (720,000 sales in 2108), and Chrysler and Dodge large sedans, minivans and SUVs (730,000 sales in 2018). Other models on dedicated platforms include the body-on-frame Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator; the Jeep Grand Cherokee, on a unibody platform shared with the Dodge Durango; and commercial vans for Citroen, Fiat and Peugeot. Peugeot is expected to introduce a body-on-frame pickup next year, developed with its Chinese partner Dongfeng. The combined PSA – FCA will have 14 brands, from Alfa Romeo to Peugeot. But would all of them survive? PSA chief Carlos Tavares, as designated CEO of the combined company, said in November that there were no current plans to scrap any of the brands, but he acknowledged that managing the portfolio would be part of the “challenge” he and his leadership team will face. The new company would produce 8.7 million vehicles annually, based on current sales, making it the world’s 4th largest automaker. But some of the brands, especially FCA’s, have been starved of investment or rely on just one or several models. And there is a risk of geographical or segment overlap. Tavares suggested that despite his love for storied brand names like Alfa Romeo, some might not survive. “We love the history of car brands, it gives us a foundation on which we can project ourselves into the future”, he told. He said that the merged group could have a “significant number” of brands, but less than Volkswagen Group, the current No. 1 automaker, with more than 10 million annual sales and 10 passenger car brands, including newer Chinese ones such as Sihao and Jetta. The Renault Nissan Mitsubishi alliance, which vies with VW for the top spot, has just 4 brands with global reach (Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Infiniti), as well as regional players such as Alpine, Dacia, Datsun, Lada, Renault Samsung and Venucia. Toyota, the No. 3 automaker, has just Toyota, Hino and Lexus as global brands, plus regional brands such as Daihatsu. The following analysis is based on company figures for PSA and Jato Dynamics estimates for FCA, as it does not report sales by brand. Abarth: Tavares, a racing enthusiast, could have a soft spot for Abarth’s high-performance variants of Fiat’s mainstream models. As COO of Renault, Tavares was the driving force in the revival of Alpine, the French equivalent to Abarth. Abarth was founded in 1949 and taken over by Fiat in 1971. It was closed in 1981 and restarted in 2007, and now offers performance versions of the Fiat 500 and the recently discontinued 124 Spider, itself a variant of the Mazda MX-5. Sales increased 7.4 % last year, to 26,736 units. But without an electrified model in its lineup, Abarth is at risk because of stricter EU emissions rules that take effect January 1. Alfa Romeo: FCA’s last 3 attempts to relaunch this Italian brand with a strong racing heritage failed badly. Founded in 1910 and bought by Fiat in 1986, Alfa Romeo had been constantly losing money for almost 20 years. After ceasing production of the MiTo and the low-volume 4C coupe and spider, Alfa Romeo today offers just 3 models: the Giulietta, the Giulia and the Stelvio. Global sales increased by 10 % in 2018, to 119.269 vehicles, of which 69 % were in Europe and 21 % in North America. But in Europe, at least, sales have fallen sharply this year, to 45.232 units through the end of October from 74.746 in the same period in 2018. The Stelvio was the brand’s best seller in 2018, at 46.087 units. At the end of October, FCA Mike Manley said that investments into Alfa would be reduced, throwing its future into further doubt. Among the effects: the Giulietta will not be replaced; plug-in hybrid versions of the Giulia and Stelvio will not appear; and 2 other announced models, a large SUV for the North American market and a high-performance coupe have been killed. The brand will add a small and compact SUV, the latter previewed by the Tonale concept displayed this year at the Geneva auto show. Tavares would have to decide if it is worth the time and money for yet another relaunch for a brand that this year will sell less than 100.000 units globally. Citroen: This French brand, founded in 1919 and part of PSA since 1976, is in the midst of a strategic repositioning focusing on comfort and seems safe. Citroen now shares underpinnings with other PSA brands, but it is famous for 3 milestones in automotive history: the Traction Avant of the 1930s, the world’s first mass-produced front-wheel-drive car; the 2CV, which brought cheap and quirky transportation to postwar France; and the DS of the 1950s, distinguished by its space age styling and pneumatic suspension and transmission. Citroen sold 1.05 million cars last year, mostly in Europe, with the C3 its bestseller with 252.000 units. Sales are down by 3.9 % this year through the third quarter, and the Chinese market, where Citroen was the first French brand to establish a manufacturing presence, is a particularly weak point, as it is for all PSA brands. Chrysler: The namesake brand of the North American side of FCA is quietly fading away: It offers just 2 models, the 300 and the Pacifica, the latter as the group’s only plug-in hybrid. Founded in 1925 and merged into Fiat in 2014, Chrysler last year saw its sales decrease by 13 % to 178.102 units globally, of which 166.000 were in the U.S. This year sales in the U.S. are down 26 % through the third quarter. FCA did not announce any new models for Chrysler in its 5-year plan unveiled in June 2018. DS Automobiles: PSA unveiled this upscale brand in 2014, when it relied on versions of Citroen models. The name is a homage to Citroen’s legendary flagship sedan, and PSA hoped that it would evoke an image of French luxury and design, especially among Chinese buyers. But sales fell sharply until 2018, when the brand’s first all-new model, the 7 Crossback, was introduced. It was joined this year by the 3 Crossback small SUV, and sales are up 8.2 % through the third quarter. Even so, the Chinese joint venture is being dissolved after production slowed to a trickle. Tavares and DS executives say the brand is profitable, despite selling just 53.300 units in 2018. A new flagship sedan is set to debut next March at the Geneva show. Dodge: This American brand dates back to 1900 and was acquired by Chrysler in 1928. Today it is focused on performance cars (the Charger and the Challenger) and the lineup includes an SUV, a crossover and a minivan. Its 2018 sales declined by 3.9 % to 554.782 units, nearly all sold in North America. Sales of the Charger are up this year, likely helped by sales to law enforcement agencies. FCA has not recently announced any new models for Dodge. Fiat: The namesake brand of the Italian side of FCA turned 120 years old in July. It would be the second-largest brand in the merged company, with 1.38 million units sold last year, after Peugeot. Fiat has substantial manufacturing and sales operations in Europe and Latin America, as well as a successful light-commercial vehicle division, Fiat Professional, which shares with PSA production of the Ducato large family of vans. The brand has abandoned China and is fading in the U.S., where it is discontinuing sales of the 500. Global sales last year declined 8.5 % and have fallen by more than 10 % this year in Europe, its main market. The aging 500 remains Fiat’s best seller, and it leads the minicar segment in Europe with the Fiat Panda. But FCA has recently said it would abandon the low-margin minicar segment, suggesting that it would try to move buyers up to the small car segment. A new range of small and compact models could be launched based on PSA’s CMP architecture. Fiat is planning to unveil in March at the Geneva show an electric version of the 500, but it is seen as lagging behind other automakers in electrification. Jeep: The brand has passed from American Motors to Renault to Chrysler to Daimler to FCA, but it has thrived under Italian stewardship. When Fiat merged with Chrysler in 2014, Jeep sold 1 million units and had four plants in the U.S. Last year, Jeep increased global sales by 11 % to 1.55 million units, with a total of 10 manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico, Italy, Brazil, China and India. Its most iconic model is the Wrangler, an heir to the original World War II era Jeeps. Its best-selling model is the Compass with 413.000 units. A big boost to Jeep sales in Europe could come from an entry model, to slot below the Renegade, that FCA has announced and postponed several times. The so-called B-Jeep now seems slated for a 2022 launch. Lancia: Now a single-model brand, Lancia looks at risk under a merged company. It could play in the same near-premium segments as DS. Founded in 1906 as an Italian luxury brand focused on design and comfort, it was taken over by Fiat in 1969. Lancia’s fortunes began to decline a decade ago when Fiat drastically reduced its pipeline of new models. 2 years ago, Lancia was reduced to just the Ypsilon; sold only in Italy, where it found 48.557 customers in 2018, but sales are up considerably this year. Maserati: The only truly premium brand in the PSA-FCA merger, Maserati was born as a race car maker in Bologna, Italy, in 1914 and moved to Modena in 1937, the first in a long series of ownership changes. Fiat bought an initial stake in 1989 and completed the takeover in 1993, giving full control of Maserati to its then-subsidiary Ferrari. Maserati today builds the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante. Sales last year fell by 28 % to 35,238 units, and have continued to drop in 2019, as the brand slumped in its 2 largest markets, China and the U.S. FCA is planning to relaunch Maserati with seven new models between 2020 and 2023, all featuring a battery electric variant. Opel: With its sister British brand Vauxhall, the German-based brand is the latest addition to PSA’s stable after the French group bought it from GM in 2017. Opel produced its first car in 1899, and in 1929 GM took a majority stake in the company, using it as its European arm. But Opel had been losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in the decades before PSA’s acquisition. Sales in 2018 were 1.04 million, and have fallen slightly this year, by 2.2 %. Under Tavares Opel has been returned to profitability, largely by moving models to PSA platforms and finding efficiencies in purchasing, engineering and other functions. Currently a Europe-only brand, Opel hopes to become more international, starting with re-entering the Russian market. The small Corsa, Opel/Vauxhall’s best-seller, has been renewed this year on PSA’s CMP platform, including a battery electric version. Peugeot: The “P” in PSA has a history that dates back more than 200 years, and it would be the largest brand in a PSA-FCA merger, with 1.74 million units sold last year. The family business that preceded the current Peugeot company was founded in 1810 to manufacture coffee mills and bicycles. Armand Peugeot built the company’s first car, a steam tricycle in 1889; this was followed in 1890 by an internal combustion car with a Panhard-Daimler engine. Peugeot remained under family control until February 2014, when to stave off financial collapse the family accepted a capital hike in which Dongfeng Motors of China and the French government each bought a 14 % stake for about 800 million euros each. The Peugeot family stake was consequently reduced to 14 %. The majority of Peugeot sales are in Europe, where it is the 4th bestselling brand after Volkswagen, Renault and Ford. The 208 is Peugeot’s best seller at 294.000. A new generation is being launched currently, including a battery-electric variant. Other top sellers are the 3008, the 5008 and the newly renewed 2008. Sales are down around 20 % this year, due to slumps in China, Latin America and the Middle East, including the complete loss of the large Iranian market after sanctions were reimposed there. Ram: Together with Jeep, Ram is the cash cow of FCA’s North America region, which in the third quarter delivered €2.02 billion in operating profit, equivalent to a 10.6 % operating margin. The American nameplate had been used for Dodge pickup models before becoming a standalone brand under former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne in 2009. Sales rose from 263.000 units that year to 720.456 in 2018, and 2019 sales of pickups and vans are up sharply. Vauxhall: It was founded in 1857 as a pump and marine engine company before turning to cars in the early 20th century. It was acquired by GM in 1925, and in recent decades built and sold Opel models in the UK. Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller recently said that Vauxhall would remain in a merged PSA-FCA, saying that it was the only British volume brand, and that it could offer opportunities, especially with Brexit. +++ 

+++ FORD said it is adding 3,000 jobs at 2 factories near Detroit and investing $1.45 billion in those plants as it revamps SUV and truck models and adds new electric and self-driving cars. The second-largest U.S. automaker is putting $750 million into a factory in Michigan and adding 2,700 jobs over the next 3 years to build Ranger mid-size pickups and the revived Bronco SUV coming next year, the company said in a statement. The facility also will get a new “modification center” to complete Ford’s first autonomous vehicles starting in 2021. Ford is spending another $700 million on its full-size pickup truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, at what is known as the Rouge manufacturing complex. The automaker will add 300 jobs at the plant as it begins building hybrid and fully electric versions of its best-selling F-150 pickup over the next few years. The investments were negotiated this fall in contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, but Ford is revealing details on the scope of the spending plans and new jobs for the first time. The automaker said the moves will bolster its position as the top producer of vehicles in America and largest employer of UAW-represented workers. “At Ford, we are investing aggressively in building on our strengths today (including trucks and SUVs) while at the same time expanding our leadership into electric and autonomous vehicles,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s automotive president, said in the statement. +++ 

+++ As promised earlier this year, PSA has brought back the OPEL brand to the Russian market, with the first models available to order being the Zafira Life and Grandland X. Not only that, Opel has also started vehicle production in Russia with the Zafira Life people-carrier which is made at the Kaluga plant. The German brand will also build the Vivaro van soon at the same facility. The move completely reverses GM’s 2015 decision to pull Opel out of Russia, which at the time was a troubled market. Opel is determined to regain market share in Russia and says it will have at least 1 major launch every year from now on. At the moment, selected dealers in major cities offer the Grandland X and Zafira Life. The latter is already being built at PSA’s Kaluga plant, with the Vivaro van to enter production as well in early 2020. Initially, 11 dealers in big cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Stavropol, Rostov, Ryazan, Tyumen or Nizhny Novgorod will be Opel partners. Their number will double as soon as next year and grow further later on. “A significant increase of our profitable exports is one of the key pillars of our Pace company plan. We are making further progress in this area now with our comeback in Russia”, Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller said, adding that “We will gradually increase our commitment in the country in the coming years. This includes offering a wider range of products”. Opel’s return to Russia will strengthen the presence of Groupe PSA in the Eurasia region. The automaker sees the country as a large and strategically important market with a lot of potential. Furthermore, Opel has a long-standing tradition and enjoys a good reputation in Russia. Opel / Vauxhall is betting on an extensive export offensive as part of its Pace plan, which will help the company become sustainably profitable. The goal is to generate 10 % of the overall Opel sales volume outside of the European core market by the mid-2020s. To achieve this, the brand is strengthening its presence in Asia, Africa and South America and will enter more than 20 new export markets by 2022. These include Colombia and Ecuador, where Opel will start exporting vehicles starting next year. +++ 

+++ SEAT is set to reveal the new Leon in concept form next year. The 4th generation of the Spanish brand’s Ford Focus rival will be unveiled at at a dedicated event on January 28th. Seat insiders have called the new car the biggest step forward in the model’s history, with a significant improvement in cabin technology and the introduction of variants with electrified powertrains. Seat is gradually moving away from straight edges and sharp angles for future models. The rear-end shape is familiar, however. The C-segment car will get a more advanced infotainment system (which can update maps, apps and functionality over the air) similar to that offered in the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf. Seat CEO Luca de Meo said: “For 2 years, we have been working on what will be the best infotainment system coming to market next year, starting with the Leon”. Along with the new cabin tech, the fourth-generation Leon will also be available with Seat’s first plug-in hybrid powertrain to offer improved fuel economy as well as limited zero-emissions running. The plug-in Leon is billed as the model to kick-start Seat’s electrification ambitions, which will gain pace when its first truly bespoke EV, the El Born, is launched in 2020. To signify its big stride forward, the upcoming Leon’s look has been described by brand design boss Alejandro Mesonero as taking “a bigger step” than the company has taken since the relaunch of the brand with the current Leon in 2012. “Sometimes you need to take a bigger step so as not to be obsolete. We’re ready very soon for the next, bolder step in design”, he said. Rabe has previously told that the design and packaging of the 5-door car will “not be a typical hatch” and that “it will create some desire”. The next Leon will once again use the VW Group’s MQB platform, albeit a significantly updated version shared with the recently launched Mk8 Golf. The Leon will come in 5-door hatch, ST estate and crossover forms. The latter, jacked-up version will sit below the Ateca SUV in the brand’s range and be “more extreme” than the previous version of the Leon ST, according to Rabe. He added: “We talk about hatch and we talk about SUV. Why not make something in-between?” The range is expected to kick off with the familiar 1.0-litre TSI 3-cylinder petrol engine. Seat won’t drop diesels from the line-up, Rabe said, but the range will include one of the first mild-hybrid petrol options within the VW Group for those wanting levels of economy similar to those offered by oilburning engines. This is likely to use the 48 Volt system mated to a 1.5-litre TSI engine, as found in the Golf. There will also be a plug-in hybrid Leon, which the Spanish brand has already confirmed will offer a 50 kilometre all-electric range. Expectations are that the PHEV Leon will use the 204 hp petrol-electric system offered in the Golf, with a more powerful 245 hp plug-in powertrain reserved for the Cupra-branded performance version. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , 7 out of 10 top-end cars sold in Korea are imports, according to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association. Overall, imported cars account for 16 % of cars sold there, but imports dominate the high-end segment. A total of 211.719 cars costing more than W50 million were sold here from January to October this year, and imports accounted for 68.4 % with 144.845 cars. This is mainly due to the fact that Korean carmakers produce hardly any luxury cars except for Hyundai’s Genesis brand and perhaps Kia’s Stinger and Mohave SUVs, and they lack the status-affirming clout of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. The key target consumers have also shifted from drivers in their 30s to 50s, and growing income disparity has led to a rise in purchases of expensive imports, as seen in the soaring number of luxury cars priced at more than W200 million. Total sales of imports declined 10.6 % during the first 11 months of this year compared to the same period last year, mainly due to supply shortages after an emission-rigging scandal, compounded by the slow economy. But the amount of money spent on imported cars fell only 7 percent on-year to W15.5 trillion, meaning more expensive imports were sold. Sales of luxury imports costing over W200 million surged 32.1 % to 3,920 vehicles. +++ 

+++ Comparing the sales figures of the TESLA Model 3 with other models always brings some rather surprising conclusions about the popularity of the most talked-about EV in the market. Tesla’s baby electric sedan has been an impressive seller for some time now, surpassing ICE-powered models from legacy automakers with ease. According to Cleantechnica’s estimates (Tesla doesn’t release monthly sales data and it also almost never replies to any press inquiry emails), 127.836 Model 3s were delivered between January and November of 2019 in the USA, making it the 9th best-selling passenger car in the market. That number alone is impressive but when you start comparing it to other car maker’s results, it’s eye-opening; Tesla delivered more Model 3s in 2019 up until November than BMW’s 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-Series models combined, which amount to 116.073 vehicles (these numbers were provided by BMW). While it’s not affordable to the masses, the Tesla Model 3 enjoys immense popularity at the moment, thanks to a combination of segment-leading performance figures, low cost of use and cutting-edge technology. While some predicted that, following the initial wave of early adopters, demand would eventually settle down, sales of the Tesla Model 3 remain pretty strong. The comparison with BMW’s car sales figures also showcase how Tesla is disrupting the industry at the moment. With demand for crossovers and SUVs still on the rise and Tesla still standing as the only credible choice for customers in USA wanting an electric vehicle, it’s no wonder that BMW’s combined passenger car sales are down by 14.4 % when compared to the same period last year. Tesla predicts that it’s going to deliver between 360,000 and 400,000 vehicles this year, helped by the fact that it started deliveries in more markets than ever. Tesla is considering cutting the prices of its China-built Model 3 sedans by 20 % or more next year. Prices of the cars, which will be manufactured in Tesla’s new Shanghai factory, will stand at 355,800 yuan ($50.547.67) and are likely to be lowered from the second half of 2020. The scale and timing of price cuts could change based on market situations. The U.S. carmaker aims to lower costs by using more local components, allowing it to import fewer parts and avoid tariffs. +++ 

+++ The moose test. It’s a dramatic name for a vital look at how vehicles react to emergency manoeuvres. There are several ways in which automakers and independent companies gauge real-world vehicle dynamics, but the moose test (so named due to its Scandinavian origins where encountering a moose in the road isn’t uncommon) is arguably among the most critical. It simulates an emergency swerve to miss an object, followed by another emergency swerve to avoid oncoming traffic. And well, the VOLKSWAGEN Passat estate didn’t do so well. The car in question packs a 2.0-litre engine developing 190 hp. The driver enters the test at a speed of 77 km/h and according to a video, he had no idea how the car would respond. The tail swings out quite dramatically on the second swerve, so much so that the driver struggles to recover and actually hits a cone on the opposite side of the track. Reducing the speed to 73 km/h, the VW and the driver were able to successfully complete the hard lane-change without hitting cones. It wasn’t smooth sailing, however, as the Passat’s tail still wagged emphatically and the driver was clearly prepared for wayward action. To be fair, this is the speed where most cars struggle in the moose test, but the Volkswagen’s strong tendency for oversteer is certainly more dramatic than what we usually see. And as far as I know, this estate had stability control engaged as well. If there’s any good news here, it’s that the Passat Variant seems to have some driving characteristics that enthusiasts might enjoy. Snapping the tail out for a Scandinavian Flick looks quite easy, and it actually maintained its composure very well in a standard slalom test. But for average drivers suddenly faced with an emergency situation, the long roof Passat could be quite a handful. +++

 

 

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