Newsflash: Jaguar gelooft niet dan 1.000 pk de oplossing is voor sportwagens

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+++ ASTON MARTIN , which was reported this week to be the target of Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, said it was not actively pursuing new investors on Friday as it opened a new factory to build its first SUV. As some in the global car industry turn to partnerships, alliances or mergers to handle the challenge of electrification, new technology and tighter margins, it was reported that Stroll, the owner of Formula One team Racing Point, is preparing to buy a major stake in Aston Martin. “You know what we would have to do if there was an official approach. Beyond that, I can’t comment”, chief executive Andy Palmer told at the factory opening, referring to rules governing publicly-listed companies. “We’re certainly not actively soliciting any other participation. That’s not to say it doesn’t come”, he said when asked whether Aston Martin needed a new investor. The British automaker’s new factory in south Wales holds the key to ending a poor performance this year from Aston Martin, whose shares have tumbled 75 % this year on weaker-than-expected sales. In August, its biggest investor, Strategic European Investment Group, bought an extra 3 % stake in the 106 year old company, whose second largest shareholder is a Kuwaiti investor. Last month Aston Martin, which floated in October 2018, launched its DBX model, hoping that more female buyers will help boost sales after posting a pre-tax loss of 92.3 million pounds ($118 million) for the first 9 months. It hopes its new factory, in St Athan will help turn around its fortunes. The plant is its second alongside its historic one in Gaydon. As the autos sector consolidates through deals such as the merge of PSA and FCA, Aston Martin has said it does not need to belong to a bigger automotive group, pointing to the success of stand-alone rival Ferrari. Palmer said the small stake held by Daimler allows Aston to have access to technology and benefit from the speed at which it can operate independently. “There is a perfectly rational route to success in our current state”, he said. Stroll, who is the father of Formula One driver Lance Stroll, is heading up a consortium looking to take a “major shareholding” in the British company. Racefans.net said Racing Point could be rebranded as Aston Martin if Stroll succeeded in taking a controlling stake. In September, Aston Martin raised $150 million in debt at 12 % interest, hiking its borrowing costs, to bolster its balance sheet for the launch of its DBX next year, with the option for another $100 million. The company’s hopes rest on almost doubling sales with its first SUV, which enters production in 2020. Aston Martin is also the title sponsor of the Honda powered Red Bull team, former world champions who won 3 races this year with the 22 year old Max Verstappen. Aston Martin will be competing in the World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours with its Valkyrie hypercar from 2021. Stroll, a collector of vintage Ferraris, has been involved in Formula One and motor racing for years and also owns Canada’s Mont Tremblant circuit in Quebec. He made his money through investing in fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, but came to wider prominence in motor racing circles after bankrolling his son’s career. Lance Stroll, 21, moved to Racing Point from Williams this season after a consortium led by his father bought the Force India team, which was co-owned by financially troubled Indian magnate Vijay Mallya and had fallen into administration. The Silverstone-based team, which uses Mercedes engines, finished 7th overall this season but is planning a factory expansion. Aston Martin’s 2 major shareholders are in it for the long term and the company is not actively soliciting participation, the firm’s boss said. “They look to the long term”, Andy Palmer said. “We’re certainly not actively soliciting any other participation. That’s not to say it doesn’t come”, he said. +++ 

+++ Chinese startup AUTO X , backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, has applied to test self-driving vehicles without an in-car backup driver in California, the first challenger to Alphabet’s autonomous driving venture Waymo to say it has done so. If granted the permit, AutoX would be able to test self-driving cars with a backup provided by a remote human operator rather than a driver in the vehicle, a step forward in the race to operate the first commercial driverless delivery vans or taxis in the state. Google backed Waymo is the only company so far to have secured a full license for testing without a safety driver. AutoX, far smaller than Waymo in scale, is the first of a group of more than 60 companies that have tested with backup drivers in the state to say it is seeking permission for the next level of testing. “After 3 years of efforts, we believe that we have a technology that can go in deep, and safe for the public”, AutoX chief operating officer Jewel Li told, confirming it had applied for the permit. Waymo, Cruise (a General Motors unit) and Uber’s troubled self-driving unit are among the U.S. tech companies vying for a breakthrough in a market in self-driving vehicles that is struggling to meet its early promise. AutoX, which counts China’s Dongfeng Motor Group along with the Alibaba Group among its main investors, was founded in 2016 by former Princeton professor Jianxiong Xiao, a specialist in 3D learning, computer vision and robotics. The Hong-Kong-based company has raised $143 million so far in funding from investors, according to data provider Pitchbook, deploying 100 RoboTaxi vehicles in China while testing in 10 cities including Shenzhen, Shanghai and San Jose, California, where it has its second base. Its new application comes at a time when U.S. regulators have been clamping down on Chinese tech players looking to make inroads in the United States. Tesla, Lyft and Cruise are among the other players with permission from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving vehicles in the state with backup drivers. AutoX, however, is one of only 4 firms holding a separate permit to test cars carrying passengers in the presence of a backup driver. The others are autonomous tech startup Zoox and Sequoia Capital backed Pony.ai, which has partnerships with Toyota and Hyundai. Zoox and Pony.ai declined to say whether or not they had submitted applications to the Department of Motor Vehicles. +++ 

+++ BMW has done a U-turn on its decision to charge subscription fees for Apple CarPlay on its latest models, a spokesperson has confirmed. Drivers who purchase a new BMW fitted with the firm’s latest infotainment software, OS7, will receive an unlimited subscription to CarPlay for free as standard. Meanwhile, those who already own BMWs fitted with OS7 who have already purchased a 1 year or 3 year CarPlay package will be upgraded to an unlimited subscription at no additional cost. Not all new BMWs come with OS7, though: the i3 and i8 are still fitted with the firm’s previous-generation infotainment software (OS6), as are the outgoing 2 Series and 4 Series. Customers who purchase these models new will still be required to pay a fee for CarPlay. Carmakers have to develop CarPlay software integration themselves, but Apple does not charge licencing fees for the product. In July, BMW became the first carmaker to make Apple CarPlay a subscription service, with buyers having to pay a fee. At the time, the firm claimed the subscription-based model allowed it “to keep the initial cost price of the vehicle down since not everyone will use CarPlay, but at the same time for those that do, they have a flexible offer structure after the initial year’s subscription has expired”. CarPlay is designed to offer a near-handsfree experience for drivers, with the car’s infotainment screen mirroring many aspects of an iPhone’s functionality (bringing apps such as Spotify and Google Maps into the car’s built-in screen) and making them accessible via voice commands. +++ 

+++ Automakers, ride-hailing and technology companies plowing money into the development of electric, self-driving and shared car services will find more ENTHOUSIASTIC CONSUMERS in China than in Europe and the United States, a survey showed. Consumers in some Western countries appear unconvinced as automakers overhaul their factories and supply chains to produce pricey electric cars and invest billions to develop self-driving technology, the survey by OC&C Strategy Consultants showed. While more than 90 % of Chinese residents said they would consider, were likely to or definitely would buy an electric car, only about half of the surveyed consumers in the United States were eyeing an electric car as their next purchase. In Europe, between 64% and 77% of respondents said the same. The research comes as the global auto industry is undergoing drastic changes with a downturn in sales, pressure to meet ambitious emissions targets and challenges in deploying fully self-driving cars as robotaxis. OC&C surveyed around 2.000 consumers in each the U.S., China, Germany, France and the United Kingdom between March and April in online polls. John Evison, one of the survey’s co-authors, said the group did not receive any outside funding for the study. Car buyers in the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom also largely want to retain private ownership of their vehicle, while more than 90 % of Chinese consumers are open to fully-shared mobility options, according to the survey. Ride-hailing companies Uber Technologies and Lyft say they aim to reduce private car ownership. But survey respondents in Western countries, including younger generations, said owning a car remained an important status symbol offering convenience and reliability not matched by car-sharing or taxi services. The survey results also put a damper on companies working on robotaxis, with a vast majority of all respondents saying they would strongly prefer owning a fully automated car, as opposed to sharing it. Daimler last month said it has taken a “reality check” on robotaxis amid questions over their safety and earnings potential. Overall, around a third of Western consumers in the survey said they were distrustful of self-driving cars, while only 4 % of the Chinese respondents said so. OC&C’s Evison said the results suggested the auto industry should invest more in electrification and services for individual car owners rather than “trying to create the next shared mobility revolution”. +++ 

+++ Italian tax authorities believe that FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) underestimated the value of its U.S. business by €5.1 billion following Fiat’s phased acquisition of Chrysler, according to a company filing and a source close to the matter. The audit, which concerns transactions dating back to 2014, could result in FCA having to pay back taxes for $1.5 billion, the source added. FCA said in its third-quarter report that the tax authorities had issued to the company a final audit report in October this year “which, if confirmed in the final audit assessment, could result in a material proposed tax adjustment related to the October 2014 merger of Fiat into FCA”. It said the issuance of a final audit report starts a 60 day negotiation period, which ends with the issuance of a final audit assessment expected to be received by the end of December 2019. “The company believes that its tax position with respect to the merger is fully supported by both the facts and applicable tax law and will vigorously defend its position”, it said in the third-quarter report. A spokesman for Italy’s tax agency declined to comment. “At this time, we cannot predict whether any settlement may be reached or if no settlement is reached, the outcome of any litigation. As such, we are unable to reliably evaluate the likelihood that a loss will be incurred or estimate a range of possible loss”, FCA said. News of the tax probe comes at a delicate time for FCA, which is finalizing talks with PSA over a planned $50 billion merger to create the world’s 4th largest automaker. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS and South Korea’s LG Chem said they will invest $2.3 billion to build an electric vehicle battery cell joint venture plant in Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities. The plant, to be built near GM’s closed assembly plant in Lordstown in northeast Ohio, will employ more than 1.100 people, the companies said. Construction is to begin in mid 2020 and the plant will have an annual capacity of more than 30 gigawatt hours with the flexibility to expand. At a media briefing, GM chief executive officer Mary Barra said the 50-50 joint venture with LG Chem is aimed at “dramatically enhancing electric vehicle affordability and profitability”. Barra said the Ohio battery plant will accelerate the automaker’s initiative to introduce 20 new electric vehicles globally by 2023. “General Motors believes in the science of global warming and believes in an all-electric future”, she said. Barra said the battery cells will be used in a GM electric pickup which will start production in fall 2021 at the company’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which eventually will “have more than one product”. In October, Autointernationaal.nl reported the Detroit-Hamtramck plant is expected to build at least 4 different electric vehicles, including an SUV for Cadillac and a pickup for GMC. The Ohio battery cell plant will boost LG Chem’s global battery capacity to 100 gigawatt hours by the end of 2020, LG Chem boss Hak-Cheol Shin said at the briefing. Each company will invest about $916 million, with the rest coming from debt capital raised by joint venture, a GM spokeswoman said. Electric vehicle industry suppliers were cheered by the news, especially GM’s talk of an EV truck as pickups and SUVs are the heart of the U.S. market. “We’ve been trying to make it clear to everyone that the U.S. electric vehicle supply chain will grow when more automakers make more EV trucks here in the country”, said Keith Phillips, CEO of Piedmont Lithium, which is developing a lithium mine in North Carolina. Lithium is a key material in EV batteries. Sources familiar with the plan said workers at the GM – LG Chem plant were expected to be represented by the United Auto Workers union and earn $15 to $17 an hour. If so, it would be the first unionized battery factory in the United States. Tesla’s Nevada battery factory and LG Chem’s battery plant in Michigan do not have unions. Barra said the plant’s workers would decide whether a union represents them, and said pay would be competitive with other parts plants. The average pay for a UAW worker at GM is about $31 an hour. Barra said Ohio is providing financial incentives for the plant, but declined to provide details. Ohio became a political lightning rod last year after GM announced plans to close the Lordstown car manufacturing plant. The closure was one issue during a lengthy strike by GM workers and U.S. president Donald Trump condemned the move. +++ 

+++ Hyundai’s premium brand, GENESIS , is preparing to showcase its cars at the Geneva auto show in March as it revs up for a European sales launch. Genesis is currently sold in the U.S., Canada, Russia, South Korea, the Middle East and Australia. 3 years ago, Hyundai Europe chief operating officer Thomas Schmid said Hyundai was holding off on the launch of Genesis sales in Europe until the end of the decade when the brand will have SUVs in its lineup and a wider range of powertrains. Genesis currently sells the G70, G80 and G90 sedans. The brand plans to launch the GV70 and GV80 crossovers in the next 2 years. A battery-powered sedan is planned for 2021. Genesis could start sales in Europe in a couple of years, Hyundai chief marketing mfficer Cho Won Hong told earlier this year. According to exhibition documents, Genesis has reserved a stand in one of the Geneva show’s exhibition halls. The stand was last year occupied by Italy’s DR Automobiles and Fornasari brands, and Russia’s Auris premium brand. A Genesis spokesman said a final decision had not yet been made on whether the brand will appear at the show. In September, Genesis hired Filippo Perini as chief designer at its European advanced design center in Germany. Perini worked for Alfa Romeo, Audi and Lamborghini. Most recently, he was the head of design and design innovation at Italdesign. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , Tesla, Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen were among brands that saw strong sales gains in November as overall market sales jumped 9.7 % to 299.127 vehicles. Porsche’s registrations rose by 159 %, Audi sales were up 41 % and VW brand’s volume gained 27 %. The brands are bouncing back from a sales dip in autumn last year when new WLTP testing standards caused delivery disruptions. Tesla’s registrations increased 130 %, helped by demand for the Model 3. Smart’s volume gained 60 % while Alfa Romeo sales rose by 40 % and Peugeot registrations jumped 27 %. Mercedes-Benz and BMW gained 7.5 % and 1.6 % respectively. Ford registrations rose 1.9 %. Brands that saw steep sales drops included Suzuki (down 36 %), Honda (down 20 %), Mini (down 19 %) and Opel (down 17 %). Sales of gasoline cars increased 5.9 % for a 57.9 % market share. Diesel car registrations rose 1.9 % for 31.6 % share. German registrations in the first 11 months are up 3.9 % to 3.3 million. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR ’s new design director, Julian Thomson, has told that he wants to create more sports cars, now that he’s at the head of the British firm’s design department. The updated F-Type, the firm’s only sports car, is the first new model to be launched under Thomson’s tenure as design director, but he is keen to strengthen Jaguar’s position in that market: “Jaguar will always build sports cars. I’d love to do more than one”. Although sales of sports cars today are comparatively low when compared with other types of vehicle, Thomson believes that the growing threat to mainstream volume production could see a greater demand for luxury vehicles and sports cars in the future. He said, “In this day and age of electrification and autonomous technology, a part of me thinks there may be a resurgence of people enjoying transportation for transportation’s sake and driving for driving’s sake. Whether that makes the market bigger I don’t know, but I think there is a threat to volume production cars and they are going to struggle to find a position on what they do. I’d hope that truly special and luxury cars, sports cars, will find a place where they have the option to be more exotic”. Thomson wouldn’t be drawn on which area of the market an additional Jaguar sports car would target, but he did rule out a fully electric hypercar. “Cars like the Pininfarina Battista and Lotus Evija which have sheer amounts of power are not the answer”, he explained. “You need to have something which you interact with and love and have that sense of connection with. I don’t think that can be done through sheer power”. Work is already under way on the F-Type’s successor, which is due to land around 2022. When asked how Jaguar will approach electric vehicle technology and sports cars, Thomson added: “It’s going to be the next generation of car when we do something like that. We’re starting to understand the electric car experience and its very good. The new XJ will be fully EV and it fits that type of car. I guess what’s more difficult for us to understand, is that you buy a sports car because you want something really interactive and emotional engagement, so we’re still thinking about what would be the electric sports car offering. It’s not clear to us yet”. Asked if Jaguar would ever consider jointly developing a new sports car with another manufacturer, much like Toyota and BMW did with the Z4 and Supra, Thomson replied: “It depends what that car is really and depends what you’re trying to create. The industry is all about collaboration these days and we’d welcome the opportunity to do that. But it has to be a real Jaguar, I’d hate to do something where each party has to compromise to create an average result”. +++ 

+++ It’s turning out to be one of the worst years ever for auto workers across the globe amid shrinking demand and a tectonic shift in vehicle technology, with Daimler and Audi announcing almost 20.000 JOB CUTS in just the past week. All told, automakers are eliminating more than 80.000 jobs during the coming years. Although the cuts are concentrated in Germany, the U.S. and the UK, faster-growing economies haven’t been immune and are seeing automakers scale back operations there. The German companies joined General Motors, Ford and Nissan in massive retrenchments put in motion over the past year. The industry is sputtering as trade tensions and tariffs raise costs and stifle investment, and as manufacturers reassess their workforce in an era of electrification, autonomous driving and ride-on-demand services. The global auto industry will produce 88.8 million cars and light trucks this year, an almost 6 % drop from a year ago, according to researcher IHS Markit. German auto-industry lobby VDA predicts that the decline will continue next year, forecasting global deliveries of 78.9 million vehicles, the lowest level since 2015. The pace of job cuts in the home of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW is expected to be “more pronounced in 2020”, VDA president Bernhard Mattes said, adding that the technology shift alone could lead to the loss of 70.000 jobs over the next decade. “A fundamental structural change with enormously high investments at a time of deteriorating market dynamics; the tension is being felt at many companies”, said Mattes. Cuts are also being carried out in China, which employs the largest number of people in the industry and has been mired in a sales slump. Electric-vehicle startup NIO, which has lost billions of dollars and watched its New York listed shares plummet, dismissed about 20 % of its workforce by the end of September, shedding more than 2.000 jobs. “The persistent slowdown in global markets will continue to dent automakers’ margins and earnings, which have already been hurt by increased r&d spending for autonomous-driving technology”, said Gillian Davis, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Many automakers are now focused on cost-saving plans to prevent margin erosion”. Being an early leader in electrification has not spared Nissan, which has been in turmoil since the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn a year ago. With profits plumbing decade lows, the Japanese automaker is shedding 12.500 positions in the coming years, mostly at factories across the globe, to reduce costs as it rushes to refresh an aging model lineup. A redesigned version of the battery-powered Leaf, which debuted later than planned because of the loss of the company’s longtime leader, is not giving the company much of a boost this year. Factory-floor workers have been rising up against the retrenching. GM’s more than 46.000 U.S. hourly workers staged a 40 day long strike this fall (the longest against the company in almost half a century) but managed to coax the company into keeping open only 1 of the 4 American factories it made plans to shutter a year ago. On November 22, about 15.000 people marched in the streets to protest job cuts and factory closures in Stuttgart, the German city that’s home to the global headquarters of Daimler, Porsche and major parts supplier Robert Bosch. Protesters in the historic downtown square of Schlossplatz wore red scarfs, blew whistles and waved red flags in support of Germany’s powerful labor union IG Metall, which organized the demonstrations. Top union officials who represent workers at Mercedes-Benz, Audi and many suppliers claim the companies are using the shift toward EVs as an excuse to push through deeper cuts and boost profits. “We don’t let our jobs be taken away just because some managers haven’t done their homework”, Roman Zitzelsberger, the regional head of IG Metall in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and the worker representative on Daimler’s supervisory board, told the crowd. The job concerns proved to be justified. Audi announced a week later it will eliminate as many as 9.500 positions in Germany through 2025 as parent Volkswagen Group prepares for a costly transition to electric vehicles. Daimler announced plans to shed more than 10.000 worldwide. If it were a country, the auto industry would be the world’s 6th largest economy, according to Fircroft, a technical job-placement firm. In Germany alone, when including local operations of foreign manufacturers, about 150.000 jobs might be at risk in coming years, according to estimates by the Center of Automotive Management, near Cologne. The clouds started to form for U.S. automakers last year, when Ford revealed plans for a years-long, $11 billion restructuring. The company has made a series of piecemeal announcements since then, slashing roughly 10 % of its global salaried ranks and shutting 6 plants: 3 in Russia and 1 apiece in the U.S., UK and France. Of roughly 17.000 jobs Ford is eliminating, 12.000 will be in Europe. The state of car-factory jobs in the U.S. is less clear, mainly thanks to the new contracts Detroit-area automakers have been negotiating for the next 4 years. The prospects looked somewhat bleak for the UAW when talks began this summer. With vehicle demand slowing, production shifts were being pared back across the country; by Nissan at its truck-and-van plant in Mississippi, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles at its Jeep Cherokee SUV factory in Illinois and Honda at an Ohio plant that mostly makes Honda Accord sedans. Workers fear plug-in cars, which have fewer parts and require less labor to build, will doom auto jobs. In the end, the UAW has announced commitments by GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler to invest almost $23 billion in U.S. facilities over the course of the next 4 years, and to add or retain more than 25.000 jobs. While that sounds like a lot, it remains to be seen whether the spending will actually boost production. It costs the companies billions to convert or retool existing factories for them to make new cars and powertrains. The union also did not emerge without some bruising losses, with the most notably being its lost battle to save GM’s aging car plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The factory, opened in 1966, became a political football when the company announced production of Chevrolet Cruze would end in March. President Donald Trump told supporters a year and a half earlier not to sell their homes, assuring them his administration would bring jobs back. GM sold the complex to cash-strapped electric-truck startup Lordstown Motors last month. For Scott Brubaker, GM’s offloading of the Lordstown plant could be a one-way ticket out of the auto industry. The automaker transferred him to its Corvette sportscar plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which meant leaving an Ohio farm his family has owned for 4 generations. The idling of the factory left him with 2 options: live in his camper trailer in Bowling Green and commute home on weekends, or take a $75.000 severance check from GM and find a new job near Lordstown. He has an offer to work for a company clearing land for developers, but it pays $5 an hour less than GM, and he says it would cost him his pension. Lordstown Motors is still raising money for its electric trucks, and Brubaker has his doubts it will succeed. “I went to GM for good pay and benefits”, Brubaker said. “What we did in the plant we did successfully, and GM still pawned us off”. +++ 

+++ Perched at the top of MCLAREN ’s product lineup is the Ultimate Series, an elite group of hypercars built in small production runs with prices that start in the high 6 figures. That’s far out of reach for most buyers, but McLaren is expanding the segment rapidly to tantalize buyers who can reach them. Last month, McLaren unveiled the Elva roadster, a $1.82 million nameplate that will have a run of only 399 vehicles. The Elva marks the third Ultimate Series nameplate the brand has introduced since the P1 gas-electric hybrid launched in 2013 with a production run of 375 cars. “P1s were about $1 million in the U.S.”, recalled McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt during a stop in Detroit. “And we thought at that point, ‘Hey, you know, we might come back into the segment every 10 years’ ”. But the reception for the P1 prompted McLaren to speed up that timeline. “The Ultimate segment, which is a several-million-pound segment, is much stronger, much healthier”, Flewitt told. “McLaren has gained much stronger credibility in that segment, and more quickly than we had planned”. McLaren followed up the P1 with the P1 GTR, a track-only variant with a sold-out run of just 58 vehicles. In 2018, production began on the Senna, which had a starting price of nearly $1 million. At the time, it was McLaren’s most-powerful road-legal car and also its lightest. The production run of 500 vehicles was sold out as soon as McLaren announced it in late 2017. The company then added a GTR variant, limited to just 75 cars, which also sold out. “You’ve got to seduce people”, Flewitt said. “People really have to want it to spend $1.3 million on a motor car. You’ve got to produce something that is not just technically special, but it’s emotionally appealing. And if you do, and your brand is trusted, that credibility builds”. The company’s new Ultimate Series Speedtail may be the strongest test of that philosophy to date. The futuristic Speedtail, with a 3-seat layout paying homage to the iconic F1 of the 1990s, carries the highest starting price in McLaren’s portfolio, at around $2.3 million. Its production is limited to 106 vehicles, which mirrors the number of F1s built. Speedtail deliveries begin in January, but the model was sold out before it was even officially announced in late 2016, before it had been given an official name. The high-end sensation isn’t lost on Flewitt. “It’s wonderful that customers have the confidence in McLaren that they basically signed up for that car two and a half years before we were even putting it into production”, he said. The addition of Ultimate Series models takes place as the British exotic brand records substantial sales growth. McLaren sold 4.806 vehicles globally in 2018, up from 1.654 in 2015. Such numbers are almost rounding errors for some automotive brands. And the Ultimate Series totals are even smaller. But Flewitt said that McLaren is benefiting from something else. “We’re playing in a market segment that’s all about exclusivity”, Flewitt said. “I come from a traditional automotive background and volume was the defining thing. How many cars you made defined your success”. But volume, he said, “is almost an irrelevant measure for us”. Exclusivity and volume work against each other. McLaren could have sold more P1s and Sennas had it built more, he said, but larger production runs might have had an adverse impact on demand. “We announce a limited-run car like Speedtail, 106 cars, and they sell out. And you think, ‘Should have I done 150?’ But the reality is that you could pick too high a number and it would dampen demand. People wouldn’t want it because it wasn’t exclusive”, said Flewitt. “It’s a bit of an art form. The high price, the low volume and the exclusivity are part of the appeal for people, without a doubt”. Each Ultimate Series model was developed to serve a different purpose. The Senna is seen as a track car that happens to be road legal. The 1.050 hp gasoline-electric hybrid Speedtail, with luxurious interior materials and room for 3 inside, along with precision aerodynamics, is viewed as a hypercar and grand tourer built into one. The most recent addition, the Elva, is the most extreme yet. It has a carbon-fiber chassis and body but has no roof, windscreen, side windows or even an audio system; all in an effort to be McLaren’s lightest car to date. “We’re very often pushing boundaries. We’re very often setting targets for ourselves that we don’t actually know how to meet yet”, Flewitt said. “We’re going to meet that target through the development of the car, which keeps our cars at the edge in terms of performance”. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ plans to roll out 10 electric vehicles by 2022, beginning with a battery-powered crossover to arrive in the U.S. early next year. But developing the market for the technology in the U.S. will be a challenge initially, Mercedes’ new U.S. boss, Nicholas Speeks, told at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “There is no huge natural demand for electric vehicles in the United States”, said Speeks, who most recently ran Mercedes’ business in China. “People are perhaps a little bit hesitant in going away from something that they have known for the last 130 years with the combustion engine. There’s some anxiety about the range. Where am I going to charge it, and how does it work?” But putting Americans behind the wheel of EVs will go a long way in helping sell them, the cravat-wearing Briton said in his first series of media interviews. “Experience will help us”, Speeks said. “Getting cars on the road, having people speak from experience about electric cars will be helpful”. For EVs to have broader consumer appeal, he said, they must be marketed on performance, not just their green credentials. “It’s very much a question of: can we present the cars not necessarily in terms of the environmental impact, which is important, but because they’re just great cars?” Speeks said. EVs as “fun to drive” is the message Mercedes hopes to deliver with its debut EQ model. The 408 hp, dual-motor EQ C has a range of about 450 kilometres, based on European emission standards, and is capable of a 0-to-100 kph sprint in 4.8 seconds. “We will have a range of cars which are appealing not solely by virtue of the fact that they have this alternate drivetrain, but by virtue of the fact that they are great cars”, Speeks said. “We will gradually ramp up, and we will make sure that we are positioning those cars at a point where people can afford them”. Mercedes expects about 60 % of early demand for the EQ C to come from the West Coast. Speeks, who has done tours of duty in Japan, Dubai, Vietnam and Germany for Mercedes, took the top job at Mercedes-Benz USA in September. He is credited with growing Mercedes’ China business at a 20 % annual rate. Under Speeks’ stewardship, the brand’s premium-vehicle segment share there rose from 17 % in 2012 to a 24 % forecast for this year. An encore in the mature U.S. market will be a tougher ask. Mercedes’ share of the U.S. premium-vehicle market has fallen 2.4 % since 2016. Getting the product right will be key to Mercedes’ success in a slowing market. The focus is to have cars with the content and features that customers want, Speeks said. “We have to make sure that we are clear about what the trends might be, and that we see 4 – 6 years ahead that we are going to have vehicles that meet whatever market demand we think is going to be around at that time”, he said. As the U.S. market is slowing, Speeks will be running a leaner organization. Mercedes parent Daimler plans to reduce head count at its Mercedes-Benz cars division to help manage the disruptive shift to self-driving and electric cars. After multiple profit warnings this year, Daimler said it plans to slash spending by about $1.1 billion by the end of 2022. “We are a major constituent part in the sales and marketing organization we have globally, so we will do our part”, Speeks said of the U.S. arm. While declining to reveal details of how Stuttgart’s cost cuts will play out at Mercedes USA’s Atlanta headquarters, Speeks said, “It won’t necessarily be a painless journey, but it behooves us always to ask if we are being at our most effective and most efficient in pursuing whatever objectives we have”. Success also hinges on relationships with dealers, Speeks said. “What I want from dealers is a sense of their ambition. I will need their energy and their guidance in many cases, being new to the market”, he said.
Speeks is known to be a tough operator with the brand’s retailers. In early 2013, he put independent Mercedes-Benz dealers in China on notice for not meeting sales targets, despite the company lowering them 30 % from the prior year. “Your performance as a dealer worries me”, he wrote at the time. “A telemarketer in a call center could achieve these low sales volumes”. While in China, Speeks grew the dealer network rapidly. Between 2014 and 2016, the brand was opening 2 dealerships a week. “A big lesson there was that anything we’re going to do in a market, we have to do together with our partners, who are on the front lines and represent our brand to our customers”, he said. “If we cannot enlist the talent we have in our retail network, and they are considerable, then it will be a much harder, if not impossible, journey”. +++
 

+++ NISSAN said its U.S. unit would halt operations for 2 days next month, as the company tries to reverse a slide in profitability in the country. The company has been trying to cut costs after its profit plunged this fiscal year, hit by a stronger yen and falling sales in China and the United States. It was even forced to slash its forecast for operating income to an 11 year low. “To optimize business performance and competitiveness, Nissan North America will implement 2 office closure days in the U.S. on January 2 and January 3”, Nissan said in a statement. The closure, however, would not affect dealers including those of its Infiniti brand, the company said. It was earlier reported that Nissan was putting the entire U.S. organization on 2 days of unpaid furlough next month and cutting employee travel expenses by half, effective immediately, citing a memo to employees. The closure will affect the company’s headquarters in suburban Nashville and assembly plants in Smyrna and Decherd, the report said. Nissan’s new CEO Makoto Uchida laid out his strategy to bring the Japanese car maker back to form, but also retain its independence within the Renault alliance.“The alliance is critical to reach our goals”, Uchida said. “We need to look at what worked within the alliance, and what didn’t, and decide how to go forward. Nissan has enjoyed growth over the years thanks to the alliance. I intend to continue our alliance efforts while maintaining Nissan’s independence”. Uchida added that closer capital ties with Renault are not a focus in the short term for Nissan. Nissan’s new boss also stated that the company must rethink its corporate culture, saying that the issues with declining sales and profits are a result of the unrealistic goals set by Ghosn during his time at the wheel. “By trying to hit over-ambitious goals, we caused a rapid decline in our performance”, Uchida said. “We have to set objectives that are challenging but achievable and understandable”. Nissan’s new plan involves cutting 12.500 jobs worldwide, reviewing its model portfolio and decreasing its global production capacity from 7.2 million to 6.6 million vehicles per year. In addition, the car maker wants to increase its US sales to 1.4 million vehicles by the end of the fiscal year ending on March, 2023. This is part of former CEO Saikawa’s plan, which Uchida is set to implement following a reexamination with the newly appointed COO Ashwani Gupta and Vice COO Jun Seki. Investments and front-line operations will be streamlined as a way of cost controlling, while new models like a full-electric SUV will be introduced to help Nissan increase its revenue. “The most important pillar of the business transformation is growth through new products, new technologies,” he said. “I want our employees to feel proud that they work for Nissan”. +++ 

+++ China’s Dongfeng Motor will likely trim its stake in PSA after hiring banks to study options, people close to the matter said, in a move that could ease the French carmaker’s planned merger with FCA. Dongfeng has a 12.2 % equity stake in the French carmaker and would have about half of that in the combined entity formed by FCA and PSA, which announced in October a tie-up to create the world’s fourth-biggest automaker. A smaller Dongfeng holding would likely help get the deal past U.S. regulators amid trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, an issue which has raised questions about the Chinese firm’s next move since the PSA-FCA merger was announced. Dongfeng, a long-standing partner of PSA, had sent banks a request for proposals to explore options for the stake several weeks ago, according to the sources. The company is now aiming to present its board of directors a share sale plan in the coming days, one of them added. PSA declined to comment while Dongfeng did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Dongfeng is looking to reduce its holding in the merged entity of PSA and FCA to a level that would be acceptable to The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), 3 people close to the situation said. CFIUS reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks and has tightened its oversight of deals involving Chinese entities as Beijing and Washington remain locked in a heated trade and technology dispute. Having a stake of over 5 % in the merged FCA-PSA company could entitle Dongfeng to a seat on the board of the new firm, one of the sources familiar with the matter added. PSA and Fiat Chrysler hope to sign a binding agreement in December to create the $50 billion group, seeking scale to cope with costly new technologies and slowing global demand through a 50-50 share merger. Under the terms of the preliminary deal reached between the companies, PSA’s Carlos Tavares would take the helm as chief executive and FCA’s John Elkann would become chairman. Dongfeng came to PSA’s rescue in 2014 by buying a stake in the automaker which was struggling financially but has since undergone a turnaround under Tavares. It still has a 19.5% voting stake in PSA. Dongfeng and PSA also have a joint venture in China, which the firms are trying to reboot by slashing costs amid mounting losses as the market there loses steam. The joint venture sold just over 100.000 units in the first 10 months this year; down 55 % from a year earlier. +++ 

+++ The boss of Alstom, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, has been approached to take the top post at RENAULT . Poupart-Lafarge could win out against the other 2 potential candidates, Luca de Meo, head of Volkswagen Group’s Seat brand, and Patrick Koller, head of the supplier Faurecia. Until now De Meo, an Italian who started his career at Renault before working for Toyota and Fiat, had been considered the front runner for the post. French media reports have said that de Meo is Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard’s choice for the CEO post while the French government, which owns 15 % of the automaker, favors Koller. Poupart-Lafarge’s record at Alstom, a French transport infrastructure group is good and the company’s board of directors does not want him to leave. Renault’s interim CEO Clotilde Delbos was appointed to Alstom’s board last year. “Taking the lead at Renault with the difficulties of the car market and the tensions with Nissan is not very attractive”, a source told. Another said: “Obviously he’s interested in the job, Renault is much bigger than Alstom”. A drawback could be that Poupart-Lafarge has never worked in the auto industry. France’s Economy minister Bruno Le Maire is supporting Faurecia’s Koller because he has a French-German background and is familiar with the challenges that face the auto industry. Koller might be interested in the Renault post because PSA Group, which owns a 46 % stake in Faurecia, would offload its stake in the supplier under a merger with FCA. Renault will hold a board meeting next Tuesday to work on the CEO appointment. Renault has been searching for a new CEO since its board ousted Thierry Bollore in October, as the automaker and its partner, Nissan, clear the decks of managers closely associated with the Carlos Ghosn era. Renault and Nissan said they had promoted Hadi Zablit to general secretary of their automaking alliance to accelerate business efficiencies across the companies. Zablit, 49, currently is head of business development at the alliance. He takes up the new position next week and will focus on maximizing the contribution of the alliance’s scale to the profits of each company, the automakers said in a statement. In his new role, Zablit will be tasked with overseeing projects to enable the automakers, along with junior partner Mitsubishi to work more efficiently. In the statement, the alliance said that details of these projects would be announced in coming weeks. Zablit’s position is the first executive role to be announced by the alliance in the past year since the arrest of Ghosn in November 2018. Since then, some positions which focus on joint tasks, including communications, have stopped operating. Renault has held a 43 % stake in Nissan since the French automaker rescued Nissan from a financial crisis 2 decades ago. Their partnership has focused on using their combined scale to lower costs for research and development, procurement and production. This week, Nissan’s new CEO, Makoto Uchida, told reporters that the alliance had “to benefit each of its partners in terms of revenue and profit”. Uchida said closer capital ties with Renault were not a focus in the short term. Zablit, a French-Lebanese engineer, started his career at Renault in 1994 as a production process engineer in the powertrain division. He left in 2000 to work for Boston Consulting Group where he was the lead in the automotive sector for Europe, and co-lead for worldwide innovation practice. Zablit returned to Renault in 2017. In his current role at Renault he is responsible for the development of the Common Module Family A-segment platform, automaker and new technology partnerships, mobility services, product planning synchronization and alliance investments. +++ 

+++ After winning investments from Porsche and Hyundai, the Crotian EV startup RIMAC Automobili now hopes to attract financial investors to expand. Rimac’s founder, Mate Rimac, has taken his company from its start in a garage near Zagreb in his native Croatia, to a 400 employee business. Hyundai paid €80 million for an undisclosed stake in Rimac in May. Hyundai said 2 models will result from the investment: a sports car for Hyundai’s N performance subbrand and a fuel cell car, likely for Kia. Hyundai’s investment represented 14 % of his company. This would give Rimac Automobili an overall value of €570 million. Porsche raised its stake in Rimac to 15.5 % in September after buying a 10 % stake in 2018. Porsche said it wanted to intensify collaboration in the field of battery technology. The size of Porsche’s investment was not disclosed. China’s Camel Group, which describes itself as Asia’s largest battery maker, is Rimac’s second biggest stakeholder with 19 %, while Mate Rimac owns 43 %. Rimac said he was open to selling more of his own stake but would focus on attracting financial investors rather than car companies. Rimac Automobili is solvent, but needs money for a new factory to build automotive components, he said. Rimac will reveal its first full production electric hypercar, the C Two, at the Geneva auto show in March and will deliver the first of a planned run of 150 cars at the end of 2020. Rimac supplies the hybrid battery pack for the forthcoming Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar and will build the Pininfarina Battista electric hypercar for the automotive arm of the Italian design house. Other clients include Renault and Seat. “We work with pretty much everybody”, Rimac said. Rimac is one of Croatia’s few automotive or tech companies. “We are such a strange story for Croatia. There’s nothing close to us. I have raised more money than all Croatian tech companies in history. Several times more”, Rimac said. Rimac also said the company will open an r&d office in the United Kingdom. “I believe the UK is the best place in the world for automotive talent”, he said. As well as Aston Martin, Rimac has also worked with UK autonomous race car company Roborace. Rimac’s Porsche connection would also give him access to UK ultraluxury brand Bentley, which is working on its first electric car to be launched by 2025. Bentley and Porsche are both part of Volkswagen Group and share technology. +++ 

+++ May Mobility, a U.S. SELF DRIVING SHUTTLE company, has raised $50 million in its latest round of financing with a substantial chunk coming from one of the world’s biggest automakers. Toyota was the largest investor in the Series B round. Though the company’s exact investment was not disclosed, its involvement marks another signal of its interest in business models that stretch beyond traditional vehicle sales. “May Mobility already has a track record of commercializing autonomous driving shuttles in the U.S., and we see this as an exciting opportunity to collaborate with a seasoned partner in this area”, Keiji Yamamoto, Toyota operating officer and president of the company’s in-house connected services, said in a statement. May Mobility, which is based in Ann Arbor, has pilot projects deployed in Detroit, and Providence. A test program in Columbus, Ohio, concluded this fall. Overall, the company has raised $83.6 million since its founding in January 2017, according to Crunchbase records. The latest funding round will fund hiring on the company’s engineering and mobility teams and help expand deployments of the company’s six-seat shuttles. Toyota’s involvement raises the possibility that future pilot projects and deployments would be located in Japan, said Alisyn Malek, COO at May Mobility. But there are no concrete plans, and the company’s immediate expansion efforts will be focused in the United States. Toyota AI Ventures, the automaker’s venture-capital arm, was an early investor in May Mobility. It participated in the latest funding round with an investment separate from the one made by its parent company. This marks the first time that Toyota has made an investment in one of the venture fund’s holdings. Other return investors include BMW iVentures, Millennium Technology Value Partners and Cyrus Capital Partners. Sparx Group is a new investor in the Series B round. Beyond its autonomous-driving technology, one factor attracting investment is May Mobility’s business model, which focuses on first-mile-last-mile links for commuters near urban cores. Rather than selling its shuttles to customers, it provides a turnkey service that supplies the vehicles and handles ongoing fleet maintenance. “I would argue they’re a mobility company, and that is not just an autonomy company”, said Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota AI Ventures. “Their job is to move people and they happen to use really cool tech and do it at a good price point”. May Mobility says it has provided more than 170,000 revenue-generating rides through its pilot projects. “We are extremely excited to partner with Toyota and our other investors in this next phase of growth for our company”, May Mobility CEO Edwin Olson said in a statement. +++ 

+++ TAKATA , the supplier behind the largest auto recall ever, told U.S. safety regulators another 1.4 million vehicles need to be repaired over a defect linked to the death of 1 BMW driver and 2 other injuries in overseas markets. Components Takata supplied to 5 of the world’s biggest automakers may absorb moisture that could either cause airbags to rupture or under-inflate. The recall involves parts produced from 1995 through 1999 and sold to BMW, Audi, Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi. BMW issued three recalls covering roughly 116.000 U.S. vehicles containing the parts and recommended roughly 8.000 of those should not be driven until they are fixed. The luxury automaker is aware of one fatality and one injury in Australia linked to the faulty airbag inflators, plus another injury in Cyprus. The company told in November it had not received reports of similar incidents in the U.S. The callbacks and fatality disclosed this week are the latest twist in a years-long saga that landed Takata in bankruptcy 2 years ago. The Japanese company supplied tens of millions of defective airbag inflators for years that were prone to exploding in a crash and injuring or killing car occupants by spraying metal shards. The company pleaded guilty as part of a $1 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over its handling of the issue. Past Takata recalls were blamed on its use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant to inflate airbags in the event of a crash. For its latest safety campaign, the company is citing a manufacturing issue that affected inflators containing a non-azide propellant. The supplier said it produced and sold 4.45 million of the inflators globally during the time period covered by the recall. The number of inflators it produced for vehicles sold in the U.S. was “substantially smaller but is not precisely known at this time”. Because of the age of the potentially affected vehicles, only a portion remain in service, the company said. BMW is the only automaker to have issued vehicle recalls in U.S. over the inflators so far. Honda is assessing how many of its cars are potentially affected. Just one Mitsubishi model is affected, and there are discussions with the other automakers. Audi’s U.S. unit is cooperating and investigating whether some its U.S. vehicles from model years 1997 through 1999 are affected, a spokeswoman said by email. Takata was purchased in April 2018 by a unit of China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic and the combined unit was renamed Joyson Safety Systems. +++ 

+++ TESLA said its Chinese-built Model 3 cars would receive state subsidies; a move that will help the U.S. electric vehicle maker’s push into the world’s biggest auto market. China’s industry ministry had earlier said the Tesla Model 3, being built at its $2 billion factory in Shanghai, were on a list recommended for subsidies for new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include plug-in hybrids, battery-only electric vehicles and those powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Tesla said in a statement the subsidies had been secured. 2 variants of Tesla Model 3 vehicles are on the list for the generous NEV subsidy program. The California-based electric vehicle maker aims to make more than 1,000 vehicles a week by the end of 2019 for it Shanghai plant and deliver the China-made vehicles before the Chinese new year on January 25. The annual capacity at the factory in its first phase is expected to reach 250.000 vehicles, equivalent to about 4.800 a week. This will include 150.000 Model 3 cars. It was not immediately clear how much of a subsidy the vehicles would receive. China hopes sales of NEVs which constituted around 4.6 % of overall market in 2018, can reach a quarter of car sales in 2025. Tesla is planning a broad after-sales network in China. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , Porsche, Audi, Jeep and Ford made sales gains last month, even as overall registrations fell by 1.3 % to 156.621. The decline was due to multiple factors, including “weak business and consumer confidence, economic uncertainty and confusion over diesel and clean air zones”, the SMMT industry association said. Demand from private buyers dropped by 6.1 %, while business sales fell 3.2 %. Diesel sales were badly hit, falling 27 % to give the powertrain a 23.6 % market share. Gasoline sales were up 2 % for a 62.2 % market share. Ford, the UK market leader, saw sales rise 11 %. No. 2 Volkswagen brand fell 2.9 %. Third-placed BMW brand’s registrations declined by 9.2 %. Mercedes-Benz at No. 4 saw sales drop 8.7 %. Vauxhall rounded out the top 5 with sales down 10 %. Big winners last month included Porsche (which grew sales 619 %), DS (which was up 412 %) and Audi (which increased volume by 37 %). Peugeot sales rose 4.4 %, Nissan 2.2 %, Seat 2 % and Toyota 1.4 %. Among brands whose registrations fell last month were Fiat (down 37 %), Renault (down 27 %), Alfa Romeo (down 21 %) and Mini (down 12 %). Other sales losers included Jaguar (down 10 %), Land Rover (down 9.9 %), Skoda (down 8.8 %) and Honda (down 8.6 %). Through November, sales fell 2.7 % to 2.16 million vehicles. The outgoing Vauxhall Corsa was the UK’s best-selling new car last month, with 4.296 examples finding homes. Ford’s Kuga was second with 4.183 registrations, while new Fiestas ended up on 3.963 driveways and parking spaces, earning it a bronze sales medal. +++ 

+++ VOLVO chief technology officer Henrik Green says the arrival of the Tesla Model 3 midway through the development of the Swedish automaker’s first full-electric car was a game changer. When Tesla decided to offer the Model 3 with a battery pack with a top capacity of more than 70 kWh, Volvo knew it had to respond. “We increased the battery size”, Green told. “We thought we had a good balance between cost and size before, but when we saw that come out we said: ‘Maybe they have a point here’ ”. That is why Volvo chose a 78 kWh battery for the XC40 Recharge rather than a powerpack that Green said would have been in the 60s for kWh. “We put in some extra modules”, he said. “It moves the price point up a bit but it adds range so we would be in the same area” as the Model 3. Green revealed another secret about the XC40 Recharge. “I wasn’t as confident when we made this decision 3 years ago”, to make the XC40 Recharge Volvo’s first battery-electric vehicle. “I thought it was much more of a gamble, but now I think it’s in the perfect position”. That is because it is poised to be the only full-electric SUV in the 40,000 to 60,000 euro price range when it arrives on the market next year. Other battery-electric crossovers, such as the Audi e-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQ C are much more expensive. Green’s only regret now? “That we couldn’t have it on the market yesterday”. +++

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