Newsflash: hybride Porsche 911 wordt de allersnelste

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+++ If you thought the oil change on your daily driver was kind of expensive, wait until you hear how much it costs on a BUGATTI Veyron. There’s no easy way to put it, so we’ll just spill it out: $25,000! Yep, that’s right, it costs more to change the fluids in Molsheim’s previous-generation hypercar than to go to the dealer and buy a brand new Honda Civic. Bugatti recommends changing the tires every 2 to 3 years, so that’s another $38,000 right there. Add $50,000 for the rims, which should be replaced every 16,000 km, and you’re looking at roughly $100,000 in maintenance costs for the first few visits to the mechanic, assuming everything goes smooth and your Veyron has no other issues, of course. Anyone who can afford to spend a couple of million on a car probably doesn’t give a hoot about fuel consumption. However, when dinner ends up costing less than the fuel required to get to the restaurant, you’ll have a funny story to tell to your millionaire friends on your way to the local dealer for an oil change. +++ 

+++ Some of the wealthiest tycoons in CHINA steered billions of dollars into electric car companies in order to fuel the country’s dreams of becoming a leader in the field. Now a reckoning may be looming as car sales slow and the government reduces subsidies for the nascent industry. That leaves the flagship companies of Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Hui Ka Yan and Robin Li facing an increasingly steep path to profitability on their bets that electric vehicles can be smartphones on wheels connecting passengers to other businesses. Their capital, along with dozens of startups raising $18 billion, helped inflate an electric bubble that now looks to be in danger of popping. China’s car market is experiencing a prolonged sales slump, prompting EV companies to slash earnings outlooks. With China considering further cuts to the subsidies for consumer purchases in order to force automakers to compete on their own, a shakeout is looming that not even the tycoons’ support may be able to prevent, said Rachel Miu, an analyst with DBS Group Holdings in Hong Kong. “For the new kids on the block in the Electric Vehicle (EV) space, it’s a steep uphill climb”, she said. Here’s what China’s richest people have to show for their companies’ EV investments: 1. Alibaba – Xpeng Coupe: Jack Ma stepped down as chairman of Alibaba Group Holding in September after amassing a $40 billion-plus fortune, but China’s richest man retains his board seat (and influence) at the e-commerce emporium he created. Alibaba has participated in several funding rounds for Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology, or Xpeng Motors, including one in 2018 that raised 2.2 billion yuan ($313 million) for the carmaker co-founded by former Alibaba executive He Xiaopeng. Xpeng launched its first vehicle, the 5-seat G3 SUV, last year and has sold 11,940 vehicles so far this year. The company, founded in 2014, also is teaming up with more-established automakers. A factory built with Haima Automobile can produce 150,000 EVs annually. Another should soon begin assembling the P7 coupe, scheduled to begin deliveries next year. The journey hasn’t been without controversy, though, as some engineers bound for Xpeng stand accused of stealing from their ex-employers in the United States. In March, Tesla sued a former engineer, alleging he uploaded files, directories and copies of source code to his personal cloud storage account before resigning. Also, a former Apple engineer was indicted last year for allegedly pilfering self-driving car secrets on his way to an Xpeng job. His trial is upcoming. Xpeng wasn’t accused of wrongdoing. “We are very adamant that we pursue our own R&D”, president Brian Gu said. “Copyright is very important to us”. Hangzhou-based Alibaba, the second-largest shareholder in Xpeng, didn’t answer specific questions about the automaker. Xiaomi, the consumer electronics company, participated in another $400 million fundraising round, the automaker said in November. 2. Tencent: – NIO: Pony Ma’s Tencent Holdings, whose WeChat messaging app helped make him China’s second-richest person, led a $1 billion investment round in NIO in 2017. With more than 26,000 vehicles sold, NIO is one of the few Chinese startups making multiple models, and it beat rivals with an initial public offering in New York last year. But losses piled up with the overall sales slump and as the company, which has been described as “China’s Tesla”, plowed money into marketing and real estate. It sponsored a Bruno Mars concert and opened luxury clubs for NIO owners that feature showrooms, coffee bars and performance spaces. By August the company had opened 19 NIO houses over 22 months, and combined rental expenses were equivalent to 6.3 % of revenue during the 12 months that ended in March. “NIO chooses the direct sales mode and pays great attention to user experience”, the company said. It doesn’t plan to close its existing clubs, or open new ones. NIO lost $2.8 billion in the 12 months ended June on revenue of $1.2 billion and its shares have plunged this year. The Shanghai-based company cut about 20 % of its workforce through September, when Tencent injected another $100 million. “Our sales have been under pressure since the subsidies went down”, NIO chief executive officer William Li said. “It has come to a new era that one can only win customers with quality products and services”. 3. Evergrande: One of the more startling entrants in the EV industry is property developer China Evergrande Group, which declared it wanted to be the world’s biggest manufacturer within 3 to 5 years. That means surpassing Tesla, which just opened a factory in Shanghai. Between September 2018 and June 2019, Evergrande invested more than $3.8 billion in EV-related companies and will start producing its Hengchi brand next year. Evergrande, which wants to open 10 production bases, plans to spend 45 billion yuan on new-energy vehicles between 2019 and 2021. On November 10, a unit announced it would spend almost $3 billion to boost its stake in National Electric Vehicle Sweden to 82 % from 68 %. Billionaire chairman and founder Hui Ka Yan, who is diversifying into businesses such as soccer and health care, acknowledged there isn’t much overlap between Evergrande’s real estate business and its EV ambitions. “We don’t have any talent, technology, experience, or production base in manufacturing cars”, Hui said. “How can we compete with the century-old automakers in the world?” His answer: by opening Evergrande’s wallet. “Whatever core technology and company we can buy, we will buy”, he said. Yet Hui’s whatever-it-takes strategy may take a toll on Evergrande because of the cash-burning nature of EV investments. The company’s forecast of spending 45 billion yuan is probably an underestimate, and that may exacerbate its cash crunch, according to BI. “This could crimp its home-sales margin given an urgency to sustain price cuts to boost cash collection from sales”, analyst Kristy Hung said in a Nov. 22 report. 4. Baidu – WM factories: Robin Li, the CEO of China’s dominant internet search engine company, made WM Motor Technology part of Baidu’s move into autonomous driving. Baidu led a fundraising round this year that generated 3 billion yuan for the Shanghai-based automaker. Baidu owns a 13 % stake. WM rolled out an electric SUV last year and has delivered more than 19,000 vehicles, chief strategy officer Rupert Mitchell said. So far this year, WM sold 14.273 of its battery-powered SUVs, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That puts WM behind market leader BYD (backed by Warren Buffett) and NIO, but ahead of Xpeng. WM launched a second SUV model on November 22. WM has an advantage over rivals started by employees from internet companies, Mitchell said. Founder Freeman Shen used to run the Volvo Car Group in China. “We are not moonlighters from the technology industry that are having a crack at mass market automotive”, he said. Volvo parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group has sued WM, seeking 2.1 billion yuan in compensation for alleged copyright infringement, Chinese state media reported in September. WM has denied wrongdoing. WM is producing vehicles at fully owned factories, which helps maintain quality control, Mitchell said. The company, which is opening a second factory next year that can make 150,000 vehicles annually, wants to raise another $1 billion, Mitchell said. +++ 

+++ New-car registrations in FRANCE rose by 0.7 % in November on higher numbers of self-registrations and a rebound from new WLTP emissions rules introduced last year. There were 172,735 vehicles registered last month over 19 selling days, industry association CCFA said. In November 2018 there were 21 selling days. Adjusted for that difference, the market would have risen 11 %, the group said. Automakers are preparing for new EU emissions reduction regulations that go into effect on January 1, 2020 by seeking to liquidate stocks of higher-emissions models, either through incentives or self- and dealer registrations. The French market also continues to be boosted by the after-effects of last year’s certification deadline for the WLTP (Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Test Procedure). The September 1 deadline resulted in lower than normal sales last autumn as buyers rushed to take advantage of incentives over the summer and some unapproved models were kept off the market. Brands reporting the biggest gains in November were Land Rover (+40 %); Nissan (+ 39 %); Audi (+36 %) and Renault (+ 26 %). Sales at Renault has fallen by 25 % in November 2018, so the rebound last month returned the brand to a pre-WLTP sales level similar to that of November 2017. This November, Renault Group sales rose by 12 %, with Renault brand’s gains offsetting a 21 % decline at budget brand Dacia. PSA Group sales fell by 7 % with Opel down 38 %, Peugeot down 4 % and Citroen 3 %. DS sales rose by 2 %. Volkswagen Group sales were up 8 %, with Seat sales up by 23 % and Skoda sales by 18 %, in addition to Audi’s growth. VW brand sales fell by 7.7 %. BMW Group sales were up 3.3 %, with an 18 % increase at BMW brand offsetting a 25 % drop at Mini. Mercedes sales fell by 5.7 %. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales fell by 6.9 %, with Fiat down 9 %. Ford increased sales by 3.4 %. Hyundai increased by 15 percent and Kia was 6 % up. Toyota sales fell 13 %. By powertrain, diesel sales have held steady at 34 % for the month and for the year. Gasoline engines made up 58 % of the market, with hybrids at 5.6 %, nearly all conventional. Full electric vehicles had a 1.9 % market share. For the year, the French market is flat (down 0.2 % through November), but adjusted for an equal 232 selling days, it is up by 0.6 %. +++ 

+++ I’ve spent much of my life working out of the world’s car capitals: Beijing, Detroit, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo, Turin, Wolfsburg, and not forgetting once-notable motor industry hamlets such as Dagenham (now a 100 % vehicle production-free zone), Longbridge (very quiet) and Swindon (almost gone). But at this time of the year at least, the epicentre of the automotive world is LOS ANGELES . For starters, late November marks the arrival of the World Car Awards (officially, the largest consumer automotive competition on the planet) LA Test Drives programme, in which dozens of WCA judges/jurors/executioners from all corners of the globe drive and score the best and best-value products for 2020/2021. Editor-in-Chief Fowler and I are among their number, and over 4 late-November days, we were each privileged enough to drive the collection of vehicles gunning for World Car glory. It wasn’t such a surprise that the all-electric Porsche Taycan was so bloody brilliant, if expensive. But equally impressive in its own modest, affordable way was the Kia Telluride, a mid-sized SUV that tells us all we need to know about how this South Korean firm has gone from no-hoper to borderline premium player in a couple of decades. Telluride’s official starting price in the US is just $31,690 but US retailing laws allow dealers to charge more due to phenomenal demand. In view of the fact that it’s probably the hottest-selling Kia ever, some new car sales execs are (legally) upping the price by around $8,000. And the punters seem happy to pay. Although there are currently no plans to sell the Land Rover/Volvo-lookalike Telluride in Europe, buyers over here need and deserve it. Kia America boss Michael Cole also told me he’d love to see the Georgia-built Telluride sold in Europe. Watch this space. The LA Auto Show piggybacks the World Car Awards Test Drives programme, and it was at this fine exhibition at the LA Convention Centre where I witnessed further confirmation that large national and international motor shows definitely aren’t dead. True, Ford’s so-called Mach-E version of the Mustang was an LA Show embarrassment for the confused company because there is nothing Mustang (apart from the cynical use of that great name) about it. What next? A ‘Mustang’ Fiesta? Thankfully, though, America redeemed itself with GM’s Corvette, which looks the part. Still, the bonkers Bollinger Motors exhibit was my star of the show. Karma was a pleasant surprise, too, with its beautifully executed cars, never mind its lunatic mission statement that “Karma is more than our name: it is a purpose, a series of words transformed into deeds”. Whatever all that means. Talking of lunacy, on its stand Subaru exhibited live German Shepherds which it helped put up for adoption. So, to be perfectly clear and accurate, I’m talking about what I saw with my own eyes: live dogs on display at a live motor show. Only in LA, one of my favourite, most reliable, insane car capitals of the world. +++ 

+++ This has been a really strong year for MERCEDES-BENZ as far as expanding their product line and introducing new and innovative technologies, aimed at making life on-board and on the road easier. Such systems include the new MBUX user interface with Interior Assistant, E-Active Body Control, the Carwash Function, the fully-variable 4Matic all-wheel drive system (as seen on the new GLE), the 48 volt system for V8 engines and so on. Let’s take them one at a time, shall we? 1. MBUX with Interior Assistant: MBUX stands for Mercedes-Benz User Experience and unlike the old version, the newer one allows for the “intuitive, natural operation of different comfort and functions through movement recognition”. This is possible thanks to a camera in the overhead console, which registers movements of the driver’s and front passenger’s hands and arms. When your hand approaches the touchscreen display or the Touchpad on the center console, the infotainment screen will change, highlighting individual elements. Other functions include hand gesturing and personalized programs. 2. E-Active Body Control: This technology is based on a fully networked hydropneumatic active suspension, running on a 48 volt platform, and working alongside a newly-developed air suspension. According to the German automaker, this is the only system in the market where the spring and damping forces can be individually controlled at each wheel. The result is a suspension setup that can counteract body roll, as well as pitch and squat; really helpful on larger vehicles such as SUVs. 3. Carwash Function: If you happen to purchase the all-new Mercedes GLS, you should know that it comes with a bit of tech that you can use while your car is being washed. The Carwash Function will automatically adjust the suspension to the highest position, fold the mirrors, close the windows and sunroof, suppress the rain sensor, switch the climate control to air-recirculation mode and activates the 360-degree front camera view. When you leave the carwash, these settings will automatically revert to normal as you accelerate past 20 km/h. 4. Fully-variable 4Matic: Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system has been further developed, and starting with the new GLE, it can now vary torque distribution between the front and rear axle from 0-100 %, depending on the selected driving mode. 5. V8 with 48 Volt System: For the 2020 model year, Mercedes gave the GLE and GLS electrified V8 powertrains, comprised of a V8 biturbo gasoline unit with a 48 volt on-board electrical system and integrated starter generator. The configuration produces an additional 250 Nm and 21 hp, which are available through EQ Boost over short periods. The starter generator is also responsible for handling hybrid functions such as energy recuperation. 6. Active Stop-and-Go Assist: Yet another system first launched on the all-new GLE. This technology enables the vehicle to recognize traffic jams at an early stage, before actively supporting the driver in bumper to bumper traffic up to 60 km/h. 7. Cross-Traffic Function: This feature allows the vehicle to brake at speeds typical of maneuvers that are necessary in avoiding a possible collision with oncoming traffic. The car will do the braking if the driver signals the intention to turn (with the turn signals), coming to a stop before crossing the lane marking. 8. Exit Warning Function: This year, vehicles equipped with Blind Spot Assist also come with a new Vehicle Exit Warning function. It works by lowering the risk of a collision with other road users after the car is parked; for example, it protects against passing cyclists. The system monitors the blind spot when the car is at a standstill or parked, and can warn the driver (visual warning in the mirrors, and audible via the instrument cluster) of approaching vehicles, motorcycles or bicycles when opening the door. Mercedes will even keep this function active for up to three minutes after you switch off the engine. 9. Energizing Coach: Mercedes say that the Energizing Coach function is based on an intelligent algorithm that can recommend a specific relaxation program depending on the situation and the individual. The goal is for passengers to feel refreshed and relaxed even on long and demanding journeys. +++ 

+++ Few designs from NISSAN in recent years sparked the imaginations of car enthusiasts quite like the gorgeous IDx Freeflow (top) and IDx Nismo (bottom) concepts, unveiled back in 2013 as a spiritual successor to the Datsun 510. As soon as the covers for the retro-inspired concepts were lifted, the automotive world got very excited. The idea of a cheap, front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car from Nissan with a more appealing design than the 370Z spelled good things for the Japanese automaker. Unfortunately, the IDx never made it to production, and thanks to a Nissan engineer, we now know why. For a start, the market for a modern Datsun 510 would be tiny and while such a vehicle could be considered as a rival to the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ duo, there’d be little chance of it selling particularly well, especially when you consider that Nissan already has the 370Z in its portfolio. Secondly, Nissan didn’t have anywhere to build such a sports car. The only facility where production would have been feasible was its Tochigi, Japan plant that handles production of the 370Z, GT-R, and Japan-only Skyline and also has the capability to build vehicles with rear or allwheel drive and longitudinally mounted engines. However, re-tooling this site to handle IDx production would have required huge investments. Last, but not least, the profit margin for a sports car of this sort simply wasn’t there and Nissan couldn’t make a business case to build the IDX. Shame. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is going all in when it comes to electrification, having launched the Taycan pure EV saloon and planning a zero-emissions Macan for the next generation. The Boxster and Cayman duo is also earmarked to embrace an electric future in just a few years from now, while the Cayenne and the Panamera already have versions carrying a “hybrid” badge. In addition, a Taycan Cross Turismo estate is coming at some point in 2020. What else is on Stuttgart’s electrification agenda? A hybrid 911. Porsche’s boss, Oliver Blume, was interviewed about the automaker’s electrifications ambitions for the next decade. I’ve known for quite some time the 911 (992 generation) would receive a hybrid powertrain and now I get to find out a few details about the first-ever 911 of this kind to come straight from Porsche. Blume told the 911 hybrid is set to become the “the highest-performance 911 of all”, meaning it will have what it takes to battle with the top dogs in the vast 911 family, such as the Turbo S and the GT2 RS. Because it won’t be a plug-in hybrid, it’s not going to have to carry around a significant amount of extra weight as a consequence of adding a big battery. I have full confidence in Porsche that it will deliver a thrilling 911 hybrid taking into account the engineers are going to benefit from the experience gained during the 919’s development. Not only was the race car an immense success in motorsport, but the purpose-built 919 Hybrid Evo has claimed the outright record at the Nürburgring with a time of 5 minutes and 19.54 seconds. Little else is known about the 911 hybrid, but Porsche’s sports car development boss August Achleitner has promised the car is going to have a limited electric range. I also know the 992 generation model has been developed right from the start to have enough space for a disc-shaped electric motor, while the PDK has been engineered to cope with torque levels exceeding 800 Nm. It’s unclear how much extra power the hybrid component will bring, but Achleitner did point towards the direction of the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid with its 136 hp and 400 Nm coming from the electric motor. Assuming the electrified 911 will be based on a Turbo, which is expected to have around 650 hp in S guise, the hybrid will be a real monster with well over 700 hp. The small battery pack will likely be installed somewhere at the front to improve weight distribution compared to the 39:61 setup of a 992 Carrera S. Its capacity is not known, but the aforementioned Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid has a 14.1 kWh pack. The hybrid model is also expected to have a lower centre of gravity by installing the battery down low at the front after reducing the size of the petrol fuel tank. It remains a mystery when the 911 hybrid will debut, although reports say it could arrive by 2022. +++ 

+++ RENAULT ’s marketing chief, Francois Renard, is quitting the automaker after just over a year in the post. Company veteran executive Xavier Martinet will replace him. Renard joined Renault in November 2018 under previous CEO Thierry Bollore after working for non auto companies including Unilever and skin care products company Kate Somerville. Renard is the latest in a series of top executives who have left the automaker, which has been struggling since the arrest and ouster of former chairman Carlos Ghosn. Renault veteran Arnaud Deboeuf quit in September to join rival PSA Group, blaming Bollore for forcing his exit. Deboeuf had led the Renault-Nissan alliance operations. Bollore was ousted by the automaker’s board in October when finance chief Clotilde Delbos was appointed interim CEO. Renault is looking for a new CEO with Italian executive Luca de Meo said to be favorite for the post. Other high-level departures include Thierry Koskas, Renault’s former sales director,  Renard’s predecessor who is PSA’s head of sales and marketing. Former Renault executives now at PSA also include Alain Raposo, head of powertrain, battery and chassis engineering; Olivier Bourget, head of programs and strategy; and Yann Vincent, industrial director. Martinet will join Renault’s management committee and will report to Olivier Murguet, executive vice president, regions and sales. He started his career at Renault in 1997 in Hungary. He then worked for the Renault Retail Group in Bordeaux, France, and in 2008 was named executive assistant to the head of the Europe region, and then held the same position for the head of global sales and marketing. He joined Nissan North America in 2010 as a senior brand marketing manager. In 2013 Martinet became head of Renault Portugal sales, and in 2015 he was promoted to head of marketing in France. Last year he was named managing director for Renault Italy. +++ 

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG , a South Korean subsidiary of the French carmaker, sold 5.648 units of its sport utility vehicle QM6 (Koleos) in November, up 50 % from the same month last year, the company said. It was the first time since 2016 that sales of the QM6 surpassed the 5.000 mark. It ranked second in the mid-sized SUV segment, after Hyundai’s Santa Fe, added the company. Driven by growing interest in vehicles powered by liquefied petroleum gas, 3.626 units of the QM6 LPe were sold last month and 1.808 units of the gasoline model. The QM6’s diesel version, launched in September, saw sales increase 51.4 % from the previous month, the company said. Between January and November, the carmaker sold over 40.000 units of the QM6, a 42.4 % increase from the same period last year. However, monthly sales of all Renault Samsung’s vehicles inched down 3.9 % year-on-year, while the number of vehicles manufactured in South Korea and shipped overseas grew 19.4 % to 7.673 units from the previous month. +++ 

+++ TESLA ’s announcement earlier this month that it will build its first European factory near Berlin will draw further companies from the electric mobility and energy storage sectors into Germany, a state premier told. “They are already on their way. I’m hearing there are further inquiries with the communities and the regional business development program. Tesla will cause other companies to follow”, said Dietmar Woidke, premier of the eastern German state of Brandenburg that surrounds Berlin. He said Brandenburg was already in talks with other companies, declining to identify them due to confidentiality agreements. “I expect that we can announce it before Christmas”, Woidke said. Tesla’s move is a big boost for Germany as a center for manufacturing after BMW and Daimler in recent years chose to build new factories in Hungary, and after its auto industry was hit hard by Volkswagen’s admission in 2015 that it cheated U.S. diesel emissions tests. +++ 

+++ The TOYOTA Corolla is now offered exclusively as a hybrid, with the sole non-electrified engine having been ditched as part of a range revamp for 2020. The line-up for the Ford Focus rival now includes 2 new variants that were revealed at the Geneva motor show earlier this year: the performance-inspired GR Sport hatchback and the high-riding Touring Sports Trek estate. Notably, all versions will now feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The Corolla will continue with two petrol-electric hybrid options: a 122 hp powertrain based around a 1.8-litre engine and a 184 hp powertrain based around a 2.0-litre engine. The 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine has been dropped from the range. The new GR Sport trim on the Corolla is named in reference to Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s motorsport arm. It features some of the styling elements of GR models, although the powertrain and performance remain unchanged. Toyota is understood to be considering a fully fledged Corolla GR hot hatch. The Corolla GR Sport gains GR badges, a new mesh front grille, different bumpers and new 18 inch black alloy wheels. A silver insert in the rear bumper is designed to create “the look” of twin tailpipes and a diffuser. Inside, there are sports front seats and a 7.0 inch touchscreen; Toyota’s largest infotainment package. It also comes with LED headlights, rear privacy glass, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a head-up display. Named due to a partnership between Toyota and bicycle manufacturer Trek, the Corolla Touring Sports Trek has its suspension raised by 20 mm to give it an “SUV-influenced look”. It also gains silver-finished front and rear runners, new 17 inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass and LED headlights. +++

+++ Those hoping that the United States can avert further trade tensions with China will be disappointed to learn that president Donald TRUMP now thinks it’s better to wait for the 2020 elections before doing something about the issue. Whether there is a real strategy behind this or it’s just something that his administration feels would help his campaign, is currently unknown, but following his comments, both European share prices and the Chinese yuan took a hit. “I have no deadline, no. In some ways I think it’s better to wait until after the election with China”, Trump told. “But they want to make a deal now, and we’ll see whether or not the deal’s going to be right. It’s got to be right”. Investors and manufacturers alike have been hoping that the U.S. and China might resolve this issue, which has slowed economic growth on a global scale. To make matters worse, Trump also said that a deal with China would only happen if he wanted it to. “I’m doing very well on a deal with China, if I want to make it”, said the U.S. president. “I don’t think it’s up to if they want to make it, it’s if I want to make it. We’ll see what happens. I’m doing very well, if I want to make a deal, I don’t know that I want to make it, they’re going to find out pretty soon”. +++ 

+++ New Nissan chief Makoto UCHIDA vowed to turn around the teetering automaker, which has found itself in a downward spiral since the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn last year. The firm aims to break away from the 2 decade Ghosn era that was marked by a top-down system in which power was concentrated with the charismatic chief. Instead, the company wants to put more emphasis on collective leadership with a fresh 3-pronged management structure. But it remains to be seen whether Nissan’s gambit will pay off, as the new leaders will face myriad daunting challenges, such as sinking profits, damaged relations with French alliance partner Renault and problematic corporate governance. “I say this honestly. Nissan is in a very difficult situation”, said Uchida during his inaugural news conference at the company’s headquarters in Yokohama. Besides Uchida, Nissan has 2 other new leaders. Mitsubishi veteran Ashwani Gupta has been appointed chief operating officer and Jun Seki, who was senior vice president at Nissan, is now his assistent. Under the new structure, Uchida said he will closely work with Gupta and Seki. He added that although some have said a 3-person structure will slow down decision-making, he believes this won’t be the case. In an apparent effort to illustrate the unity of the 3 leaders, Gupta and Seki also made short speeches at the news conference. The troika structure is intended to prevent a single leader from wielding excessive power, as Ghosn was seen as doing, according to a panel of experts commissioned by Nissan to come up with improvements to its corporate governance. “Considering the current situation, it may be true that Nissan needs strong leadership, but at the same time, there are also ideas contrary to that”, Yasushi Kimura, who chairs Nissan’s board, said in October after the company announced the new leaders. Kimura said the collective leadership will facilitate friendly competition among the top officials, who will also be supporting each other. The management system is expected to be more transparent and produce fairer decisions, Kimura added. Uchida also said he intends to reform Nissan’s corporate culture, in which the firm set some unachievable business goals and focused more on short-term profit, which ended up backfiring. Nissan’s operating profit for the April-September period plummeted by 85 % to 31.6 billion yen compared with the same period the previous year. Its unit sales declined in all major global markets. The automaker also revised downward its full year forecast for operating and net profit to 150 billion yen and 110 billion yen from 230 billion yen and 170 billion yen, respectively. Uchida also emphasized the importance of the alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi as a means to survive the changing competitive environment in the industry, where the know-how and technology needed to produce environmentally friendly vehicles and develop autonomous driving will be essential. “As we aim to turn around the business and for further achievements, the alliance is indispensable”, Uchida said. Asked what he thinks of Renault seeking a merger with Nissan, Uchida said he is not talking about that option at all with Renault at this point because he believes the alliance partners first need to pinpoint problems that each face. Kimura said Uchida, Gupta and Seki all share an understanding that maintaining and strengthening the alliance is critical. Since Gupta is a former COO at Mitsubishi and is originally from Renault, the new 3-pronged system may be intended to maintain harmony in the alliance. The tie-up has been somewhat strained since the exit of Ghosn, who was the glue that held it together. +++  

+++ The critical first British High Court hearing in the class-action lawsuit being brought against VOLKSWAGEN for its actions in the Dieselgate scandal will kick off this week with a hearing over whether the company’s 2,0 litre diesel engine was fitted with a defeat device. Lawyers will argue the case over 2 weeks, with a judgement expected in spring 2020. Ahead of the trial, Slater and Gordon, representing nearly 100.000 owners, described the hearings as “a decisive point”. “Volkswagen has had plenty of opportunity to come clean, make amends and move on from this highly damaging episode”, said Gareth Pope, head of group litigation. “But instead it’s chosen to spend millions of pounds denying the claims our clients have been forced to bring”, he added. Volkswagen said that it will continue to “defend robustly our position in the High Court”. In a statement it added: “The Volkswagen Group maintains that there has never been a defeat device installed in any of its vehicles in the United Kingdom”. The company said the specific legal point under consideration is “whether the legal definition of a defeat device is met in certain circumstances”. If Volkswagen’s lawyers win, the case is unlikely to progress further. If the ruling goes against them, the case will move to a second phase that is unlikely to play out until late 2020 or 2021. If VW is ultimately found guilty, it could be ordered to pay hundreds of millions in compensation. Volkswagen and lawyers representing around 95,000 motorists have been locked in a group action lawsuit (the biggest ever raised in the UK) for 4 years. The number of motorists represented, however, is fluctuating and has gone down in recent months as duplicate and irrelevant claims are weeded out. Some Jeep and Jaguar owners had to be taken off the list. The trial will be held under civil rather than criminal law; it is about compensating motorists rather than punishing any wrongdoer. As such, the legal arguments will centre on 3 points under the so-called ‘threefold test’. Slater and Gordon will have to win all 3 for motorists to gain any compensation from Volkswagen in a trial tipped to take 8 or 9 months, with both sides expected to deploy an army of technical experts to help argue their case. The first legal point will be to determine whether Volkswagen has breached its ‘duty of care’ and will hinge on whether the firm fitted a ‘defeat device’ to cars equipped with the EA189 diesel engine in 1.2, 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacities. “It remains Volkswagen Group’s case that the affected vehicles did not contain a prohibited defeat device and that any findings by foreign authorities on that point is not binding on the English Court”, the firm told in a statement. “Our consistent position has been that the instigation of legal proceedings in the high court in London is unfounded”. This defence is disputed by Slater and Gordon, since Volkswagen has admitted in the US to having fitted a defeat device that detected a rolling-road test and temporarily modified the combustion to reduce NOx emissions. This admission carries no legal weight in the UK. “VW has already admitted it programmed the vehicles to operate in 2 modes (test and road). But have failed to explain why they did this. The judge has now ordered them to explain”, said Slater and Gordon in its statement. In the pre-trial hearing, Slater and Gordon will argue that the English high court is bound by a finding by the KBA, the German type approval body, that Volkswagen’s software includes a defeat device. Volkswagen will counter that it believes the “switching function” between test and road modes “used in the UK and the EU is legal”. If Slater and Gordon argues this point successfully, it then has to establish ‘causation’ and prove a link between damage or harm to the car and the defeat device software. It may be more difficult to convince the judge of this. Volkswagen is firm that “our UK customers have not suffered any loss or damage as a result of the NOx issue. The affected vehicles are safe and roadworthy and perform as advertised”. Slater and Gordon argues that the cars were sold “deceitfully” and could not be lawfully sold, but once the Dieselgate scandal was exposed and Volkswagen recalled cars for a technical fix, owners suffered poorer fuel economy, CO2 and drivability. The headline-grabbing final point will be the size of any multimillion-pound payout, based on the losses suffered by motorists. Slater and Gordon is aiming to prove that owners have lost out on residual value owing to the defeat device and in terms of issues caused by the fix. “Our clients tell us the fix has made vehicles less fuel efficient, has impacted performance and resulted in instances of vehicles going into limp-home mode in dangerous circumstances”, said Slater and Gordon. Finally, it is pushing for “exemplary damages” to punish Volkswagen for its alleged deceit. Volkswagen, of course, will attempt to demonstrate evidence to the contrary: that there has been no adverse impact on residual value, CO2, fuel economy or engine performance. And it stresses that the “fix” resolved “the vast majority of complaints to our customers’ satisfaction”. If it looks as though the damages might fall short of expectations and won’t cover the legal costs, the case could be settled out of court. More twists and turns are to be expected as the case meanders its way into court later this year, but affected motorists and Volkswagen can at least look forward to the protracted process finally being resolved by the end of 2020. Behind the scenes, Volkswagen is understood to have undertaken a research project into the effects on residual values, which is where the biggest losses might be crystallised. Of course, Slater and Gordon has a big incentive to win as large a payout as possible to satisfy motorists attracted by adverts taken out by the law firm as it built the group litigation. It estimates damages at more than £2000 per car (made up of losses on residual values, breach of contract and unfair trading regulations related to finance agreements) although legal costs will absorb at least 30 % of that. But a different estimate was a “few hundreds of pounds” to a maximum of £1000 per car. If damages are expected to average £1000 per claim, that will be £97 million in total and well short of Slater and Gordon’s “hundreds of millions” estimate. That’s important because the law firm has financial backing from Therium Capital, which is expecting a payback on its investment. If the damages fall short of expectations, the motorists’ side might be better off settling out of court, because £97 million might only just cover legal costs. +++

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