Newsflash: nieuwe Toyota Yaris GR-4 krijgt vierwielaandrijving

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+++ ASTON MARTIN boss Andy Palmer says the new DBX production plant in St Athan, Wales, will be “hugely important” to the firm’s future growth. The facility, which occupies 3 converted ‘super-hangers’ that were formerly part of the ministry of Defence St Athan site, will be the sole global production site for the firm’s vital new luxury SUV. The plant was opened by Palmer and Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister. When full production begins in the second quarter of 2020, around 600 people will be employed at the factory, rising to 750 when peak production is reached. Palmer said the opening of the plant was “a pivotal day for Aston Martin and a vote of confidence in the UK”. He added: “The opening of St Athan is a hugely important milestone in the company’s growth plan and integral to our ambitions as a global luxury brand with a presence in all major sectors of the market”. First Minister Drakeford said: “Locating this world class and globally recognised brand in St Athan is a huge vote of confidence in the Welsh workforce. It is an example of the government’s support and can-do attitude, driving economic growth and creating jobs”. Aston Martin bought the former site in 2016, the year that it also began training the first employees on the DB11 production line at its existing Gaydon plant. The first buildings, including the reception, restaurant and offices, were constructed in 2017, with work to convert the hangers starting last year. +++ 

+++ AUDI is set to bring its smallest crossover, the Q2, into line with its fresher-faced siblings with a midlife overhaul. The model’s design changes will be subtle: revised bumpers front and rear, and an updated headlight design, with LEDs likely to be made standard. Expect a freshened colour pallete and new alloy wheel designs, too. It’s not clear yet how extensive the interior updates will be. Audi has moved its high-end models over to a new interior layout focused around a dual-screen infotainment and climate system, but recently facelifted models such as the A4 continue with the dashtop-mounted screen. The Q2 is likely to retain that, but with a wider screen, the latest graphics and software features plus an updated Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display. Audi will almost certainly bring in some 48 Volt mild-hybrid engine options to the Q2, aimed at improving efficiency. As with other models from the Ingolstadt brand, expect this to be only available on more powerful versions. The SQ2 should return, too, while a plug-in hybrid variant could also be introduced at a later date. Expect the updated Q2 to be revealed in the latter half of 2020, probably at the Paris autosalon, and go on sale towards the end of the year or in early 2021. +++ 

+++ BMW is suing 2 of its suppliers over price fixing on air conditioning components, the German carmaker said. BMW is suing France’s Valeo and Japan’s Denso for damages of €141 million. A BMW spokesman confirmed the case but declined to give details. The case relates to a decision in 2017 here by the European Union’s competition authority to fine several car part makers (including Valeo and Denso) a total of €155 million for having operated cartels in a number of their markets. The cartels identified by the European Commission related to air conditioning and engine cooling systems, from as early as 2004 until 2009. All the companies admitted wrongdoing in return for a 10 % reduction in their fines. The cartels affected carmakers Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Suzuki, Nissan, Renault and Jaguar Land Rover. +++ 

+++ General Motors chief executive Mary Barra has opened up about the Chevrolet C8 CORVETTE in an interview, indicating that she’s not sold on the idea of turning the ‘Vette into its own subbrand; yet, she won’t close the door on the possibility. Asked directly if General Motors would consider making the Corvette a subbrand, much like Ford has done with the Mustang following the launch of the all-electric Mach-E, Barra said GM would need to tread carefully. “I think you have to be really careful because you have to understand what makes the brand the brand”, she said. “So I’m not going to say never, but I think if General Motors were to ever do anything, we would assess it very, very carefully. Corvette means something so special to so many people”. Shortly after the new Corvette was presented to the world, unnamed GM insiders asserted that the company would use the hype surrounding the car’s launch to create a dedicated Corvette brand that could produce a sedan and a crossover from 2023. So far, there’s no indication that there’s some kind of substance in this rumor and, based on Barra’s comments, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon, if all all. Discussing the new Corvette more broadly, Barra said that the car manufacturer will work hard to ensure the C8 remains affordable, despite reports of the company losing money on low-trim cars and preparing a price jump for the car’s second model year. “What I think is really important is Chevrolet is a home for Corvette and Chevrolet is American, and it’s value, it’s ingenuity”, she said. “I think all of that is captured. It represents all that Chevrolet means, and part of that is, I think, that it is obtainable. So I think we will work really hard to make sure that we always live true to the Chevrolet brand, which is American, it’s value, it’s ingenuity”. +++ 

+++ FORD apparently has lured new customers into the brand, following the reveal of the new electric Mustang Mach-E. Since the electric crossover’s debut, Ford started accepting $500 reservations for the Mustang Mach-E and the interest proved to be surprising for many dealers of the brand. San Tan Ford, one of the brand’s top dealers in the country, said that they received 47 reservations for the Mustang Mach-E. “It’s been exciting for the store”, said Tim Hovik. “I’ve been doing this 27 years, and you can kind of count on one hand the times we’ve dipped our toe into a completely new segment”. Hovik added that 2 out 3 reservations for the electric crossover taken at his dealership came from people outside the brand. Ford won’t share however the exact number of reservations it has received for the Mustang Mach-E. Ford says that the reveal event of its new electric crossover has been viewed 6.5 million times only, with the model’s website visited by 1.6 million people. “We’ve never to my knowledge put this amount of information out for a reveal”, said Matt VanDyke, Ford director of U.S. Marketing. “We’ve never seen high traffic to our website for a reveal. This one is really off the charts”. “There’s certainly a lot of buzz, which is the most important thing for any new vehicle”, said Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book’s auto analyst. “This is exactly what Ford wanted to do, and they seem to have done it. And they’re bringing non-Ford people into Ford dealerships, which is the dream of any automaker”. The car maker has previously confirmed that the special First Edition of the Mustang Mach-E has been already sold out in the U.S. market and continues to encourage customers to place their order in time, due to the limited sales volume in the first year. Production of the new Ford Mustang Mach-E will be limited to around 50,000 examples out the Hermasillo factory in Mexico during the first year, mostly due to limited battery supplies. “You can’t ignore 50,000-plus”, Brauer said. “They know that 50,000 is a number that proves interest, and that proves viability. Only Tesla and GM have crossed the 200,000 vehicle mark. If Ford can hit a quarter of that in one model year, if they can get demand for 50,000 vehicles, they get to say they sold a lot, and they get to say they sold everything they could build”. +++

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the UAW reached a tentative agreement late last month and now the union has published documents relating to the new contract. While hundreds of pages are dedicated to union specifics issues, a couple sections are interesting as they reveal new details about the company’s future product plan. JEEP is prominently featured in the agreement, which spans 2019-2023, and the brand will see several new models in the next few years. This isn’t too surprising as the company is constructing a new plant in Detroit to build a 3-row Jeep vehicle in 2020. It will be joined by the next-generation Grand Cherokee in 2021, which will also be built at the nearby Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Speaking of Jefferson North, the plant will end production of the current Grand Cherokee in 2021. The facility will continue to build the Dodge Durango and the document reveals a mild-hybrid variant will be added to the lineup next year. Other new Jeep models include the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer which will go into production at the Warren Truck plant in 2021. A Wrangler Plug-In Hybrid will arrive in 2020, while the Cherokee will continue to be built at Belvidere Assembly. The latter news isn’t terribly exciting at first glance, but the document mentions “fresh models / features off of the (KL) platform”. What that means remains unclear, but it sounds like we can expect some new variants in the future. The last product specific announcement is the fact that the Ram TRX will go into production in 2020. The extreme pickup will battle the Ford F-150 Raptor and is slated to have a supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine that develops at least 583 hp. On the powertrain side, there are few things that stand out including the elimination of 4-speed transmissions and the death of the 2.4 liter World Engine that has clung to life in the Dodge Journey. Another interesting revelation is the confirmation that the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee will have an “adaption” of the current 8-speed automatic gearbox. +++

+++ KIA ’s most exciting car is about to get even more interesting, as the Stinger will eventually be offered with a turbocharged 2.5 liter 4-cylinder that produces 294 hp and 420 Nm. The engine is slated to replace the current turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which develops 255 hp and 352 Nm. Kia didn’t say when the engine would arrive in the Stinger, but I expect it to be part of the car’s mid-life cycle update for either the 2021 or 2022 model year.
When the engine does arrive, buyers will be able to enjoy an extra 39 hp and 68 Nm of torque. +++
 

+++ MCLAREN will reveal its next-generation platform together with a new, lighter V6 hybrid powertrain in a few months time, the company’s CEO Mike Flewitt said during an interview. The British manufacturer aims to fully hybridize its lineup in the next 3 to 4 years, featuring an EV range of 25 to 30 kilmetres and spearheaded by a new flagship all-wheel drive supercar. Yes, that’s right: McLaren’s upcoming top dog will feature an electrically driven front axle with a target 0-100 time of 2.4 seconds. Flewitt added that the first car to use the new architecture will be revealed before the end of 2020 and is set to go on sale early 2021. McLaren’s boss also claimed that the hybrid model will be just 30 kilos heavier than today’s models but, as it’s pointed out, that figure might apply only to the rear-drive models featuring the lighter V6 engine. The Woking-based company is expected to continue using a turbocharged V8 with their plug-in hybrid system in its more expensive models. Despite the push for plug-in hybrid models, McLaren’s CEO makes it clear that we shouldn’t expect a fully electric supercar from them, at least not for the next couple of years. Flewitt said that today’s lithium-ion batteries are too heavy, too expensive and lack the desired energy density to support McLaren’s performance goals. Flewitt is more hopeful for solid-state battery technology, which he expects to arrive in the market as early as 2023, but even then he says that an electric McLaren could still be 30 years away from becoming a reality. At least McLaren will stay focused on supercars and not SUVs as most rival companies do these days. “Why would we?” he says. “We don’t have to”. The company’s boss said that the development of an SUV would require an investment of up to $1 billion for a new architecture. “We’d never get a return on it”, Flewitt explained. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES has called time on the SLC, its rival for everything from the Mazda MX-5, to the Audi TT and entry level versions of the Porsche 718 Boxster, by announcing a run-out Final Edition version of its smallest drop-top, on sale now and on roads next spring. On sale since 2011 in one form or another, the SLC is the oldest Mercedes still on sale and a replacement is not planned, with the German marque to leave the small roadster market for the foreseeable future. All 3 versions of the SLC (the 200, 300 and AMG 43) will be available in Final Edition specification. The 200 and 300 versions of the car both use turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol engines, developing 184 hp / 300Nm and 245 hp / 370 Nm respectively. The SLC 200 is equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard, but a 9-speed automatic gearbox, as found by default on the more powerful 300, is optional. The AMG fettled, Audi TT RS convertible rivalling ’43’ uses a 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6 developing 390 hp and 520 Nm. 0-100 kph takes 4.7 seconds, with top speed electronically limited to 250 kph, and the 9-speed automatic transmission is mated to paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. As per run-out special convention, the SLC Final Edition is a heavily stocked model in terms of standard equipment. All versions ride on 18 inch 5-spoke alloy wheels and feature Airscarf neck level heaters, electrically adjustable steering column and heated sports seats with memory function, rain sensing wipers, navigation, compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Mercedes Parktronic parking assistance and on AMG 43 models, a Harmon Kardon sound system. A First Edition Premium trim level is also offered, adding extras such as a reversing camera, wind deflectors, electrically folding mirrors, LED headlights with high beam assist and a panoramic sunroof. +++ 

+++ NISSAN ’s sales in Europe fell by over a quarter in the first 9 months as the company suffered headwinds ranging from an aging model lineup, difficulties adapting to WTLP regulations and management turmoil related to the departure of its scandal-hit leaders Carlos Ghosn and Hiroto Saikawa. The sales decline has happened under the watch of Nissan Europe chairman Gianluca de Ficchy, who was appointed to the role in April 2018. But the drop is a calculated move to cut unprofitable channels and get leaner ahead of a big push into electrification. “We have been undergoing a significant transition for the last 2 years. First, there have been many changes in the market with the new WLTP emissions regulations coming in. At the same time, we really wanted to focus on the most profitable channels and try to create a healthier business and a really good brand position for the future. Most automakers have been continuously pushing into channels such as rentals or fleets. Since 2017, Nissan Europe’s self-registrations have decreased by about 100.000 units. I think the value of the brand is something we have to preserve for the future. But despite the move to more profitable sales channels, Nissan Europe still loses money and we probably would not lose as much money if we weren’t doing what we are doing. During a transition phase you reduce your volumes, resulting in a lack of synchronization between your revenue stream and your costs. We expected this. We are working to optimize the structure to fit the volume levels we will have in the future, not the current levels. We are doing this because we have an aging lineup. The lineup will be completely renewed in the next 1,5 year. We are launching the new Juke now, then we will add the new Qashqai and X-Trail. Plus, the new electric crossover, previewed by the Ariya concept. The combination of our aging lineup and our move into more profitable channels meant we could not just focus on volume because it would create a significant discrepancy in the price position of the vehicles. We wanted to avoid this. All the new vehicles will have a reasonable price. To try to be as lean as possible, we have restructured the Barcelona plant, affecting about 600 to 700 people, due to the reduced volumes. This process, which is underway now and was approved by the unions, includes voluntary redundancy schemes. We also cut the third shift at our Sunderland plant in the UK due to the contractions in volumes. The strategy is to continue production of pickups (the Nissan Navara, Renault Alaskan and Mercedes X class) and the e-NV200 electric van in Barcelona. We stopped production of the NV200 with the conventional engine but estimate the number of e-NV200s will rise significantly. Of course, as for any other plants, we are discussing locations for new vehicles. We plan to continue producing the e-NV200 and the pickups in Barcelona. I do not see an opportunity to sell the plant at the moment. If the Brexit means the implementation of WTO tariffs of 10 %, the overall business equation for Sunderland is not sustainable for us because 70 % of our vehicles are exported to Europe. Our assumption is that we will produce the next generation Qashqai at Sunderland. If you want to make any change of that magnitude, it takes time because it takes years to create the ecosystem needed to support the production of a new vehicle. We have been preparing the launch of Qashqai for a while. The best solution is to produce the car in the UK because Sunderland is one of the most efficient plants we have. It’s also an exceptional factory in terms of quality. But I’m warning everyone that if there is a hard Brexit and the UK government and EU authorities do not agree to stop tariffs, that would make the overall equation unsustainable for us in the long run. We have seen a significant drop in diesel to about 30 % of sales. We are adapting ourselves to follow that trend, but a more relevant question is: What’s the future of conventional engines? We underestimate the weight of the future regulation. One part of that is related to automakers hitting the fleet target of 95 g/km starting next year. We know how to be within the targets. But the EU says we have to go to 75 g/km by the end of 2024. None of the conventional engines can reach that threshold. So how is the business going to be sustainable if we do not adapt ourselves to that trend? The second factor is the impact of local taxes that customers will have to pay based on the level of CO2 their cars produce. For example, in the Netherlands the tax bill can be as high as €20,000 per car. In our most recent midterm plan, we assumed the overall electrified market will be about 20 % to 24 % by 2022, but we want 42 % in Europe. We want to position ourselves on the higher end because we are convinced that if you want a sustainable business model in Europe that meets both corporate and customer regulations, you need to be far above that average. We want everybody to know that Nissan is about electrification. At the moment, we have only announced e-Power hybrid technology. We need to go step by step and to see how things develop. The spectrum of solutions that you can potentially introduce is very broad. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE has been testing an electric crossover with 4 motors. While the company didn’t reveal specifications, the automaker said the model has an innovative torque control system developed by Porsche Engineering. While traditional vehicles are pretty straightforward, things get more complicated when a single engine is replaced by 4 electric motors. As Porsche Engineering’s Ulf Hintze explained, “It’s almost as if you had a separate gas pedal for each wheel”. To make matters even more difficult, engineers were told they couldn’t install any additional sensors. Instead, they had to create software which could keep all four motors in sync and able to respond to changing conditions. In order to do this, the team developed a “driving state observer” that continuously monitors a variety of factors including “how forcefully the steering wheel was turned, how much the driver is accelerating, and how much the vehicle is turning around its vertical axis”. This information is then compared to a dynamic model of the vehicle would travel in normal conditions. If the 2 scenarios don’t mesh, the software intervenes by braking or accelerating individual wheels. This eliminates over and under steer and helps to keep the vehicle on its intended track. Porsche says all of this happens “very subtly and quickly” and the driver ideally won’t even notice. As Hintze said, “It feels like driving on rails”. The system was developed over the course of 2 winters and Porsche confirmed the software will be used in a series production vehicle. The company didn’t say which one, but hinted “electric vehicles with up to four motors will soon shed their exotic reputation”. +++ 

+++ The Volkswagen Group has been trying for years to come up with a response to Renault’s Dacia budget brand. Czech subsidiary SKODA has been entrusted the mission to develop a low-cost platform in India, where there’s a huge market for cheap vehicles. As it turns out, we will see the first tangible result of VW Group’s “India 2.0” strategy early next year at the 2020 Delhi Auto Expo in India. At the February 7-12 auto show, Skoda will unveil an SUV concept that will preview the first production model built on the new MQB-A0-IN subcompact platform. The production version will go on sale in India by the end of 2020 and will be joined by a sedan based on the same platform in early 2021, Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier said at an event in Prague last month. Both budget models will be built in India. The 2 Skoda models will also be offered under the VW brand in India. However, vehicles based on the entry-level architecture are not expected to be adapted for sale in Europe, though if history teaches us anything, is that plans can change. “We said if we want to be competitive, we have to meet exactly the demands of our customers in India. They are different from what we see in the rest of the world”, Maier told. Skoda is spending €1 billion on the project to localize the platform which is derived from VW Group’s MQB A0 architecture. According to Maier, Skoda has already managed to source 90 % of parts locally. The investment also includes setting up an R&D center near Delhi. The new platform is part of VW Group’s efforts to boost sales in the price-sensitive Indian market. European automakers are yet to gain a serious foothold in India, where Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are the dominant forces. +++ 

+++ Think subcompact hot hatchbacks and the first ones that come to mind are probably the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST. Mini broke the 300 horsepower barrier with the new JCW GP, but if drama queens get your heart racing and you don’t want to fork out more than €50.000+ (in the Netherlands) for one of the 3,000 units that will be made, then you may want to wait for TOYOTA to launch the Yaris GR-4. It will feature wider fenders on all 4 corners, big bumpers and roof-mounted spoiler. Contributing to the aggressive stance of the upcoming hot hatch are the rally-style wheels. While the styling is more than obvious, the oily bits are still shrouded in mystery. Nonetheless, a few things are certain: the new Yaris GR-4 has an all-wheel drive system, and will be quicker and more powerful than the old Yaris GRMN. That one came with 212 hp / 250 Nm and did the 0-100 kph in 6.3 seconds. Toyota should have pulled the wraps off the car on November 17, but the official unveiling has been postponed. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , hybrid and fully electric models reached a record market share of 10.2 % last month. More than 16,000 hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric models were registered, with battery-electric vehicles registering a 228 % rise over the same period last year. That’s despite the overall UK car market shrinking by 1.3 % year-on-year. Mild-hybrid vehicles, said not to be included under the ‘alternatively fuelled vehicle’ banner, registered huge increases over November 2018, up by 454 % for petrol mild-hybrids. Diesel declined substantially once again, down from a 32 % share in November 2018 to 23.6 %. Petrol cars continue to dominate the market. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group promoted Klaus Bischoff to oversee the automaker’s design activities and named Rolls-Royce’s former design chief, Jozef Kaban, to a similar role at the VW passenger cars brand. Bischoff, 57, has been VW brand’s chief designed since 2007. He has spent his entire career at VW Group, holding senior management roles in interior, exterior and complete vehicle design. Kaban, 46, left Rolls-Royce in October after 6 months leading design at the BMW owned ultraluxury brand. Prior to his position at Rolls-Royce, Kaban had been head of BMW’s design studio. Kaban is returning to Volkswagen Group where he spent much of his career before joining BMW. A Slovakian, Kaban started his design career in 1999 at VW Group, where he created the exterior design for the Bugatti Veyron supercar. He became Audi’s head of exterior design in 2003 before moving to Skoda in 2008. As Skoda’s design chief he was credited with rejuvenating the Czech brand’s design with cars such as the third-generation Superb. Kaban will start as VW brand’s design boss on July 1. Until then Bischoff will oversee VW brand design until Kaban takes up his new post. Porsche’s design chief, Michael Mauer, 57, who currently also heads VW Group design, will concentrate on his responsibilities at Porsche once the changes have come into effect, VW said. Mauer has been responsible for VW Group design since Walter de Silva retired in 2015. +++ 

+++ A prototype of the upcoming WIESMANN MF6 has been spied testing. The small German car manufacturer announced that it was working on an all-new model back in late August. The MF6 will have a similar classic shape to previous Wiesmann models but beneath that skin will be some very exciting technologies. Most notably, it is understood that the MF6 will be powered by the same 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine as the current BMW M5. Consequently, the sports car should pump out around 600 hp and as it is both significantly smaller and lighter than the M5, it should be a touch faster and much more nible. Mated to this engine should be the same 8-speed automatic transmission as the M5 although unlike the German super sedan, the MF6 will be rearwheel drive as opposed to allwheel drive. Wiesmann is quoting a 0-100 km/h time of 3.5 seconds (obviously impacted by the rearwheel drive) and a top speed of 320 km/h. Known internally as Project Gecko, there were reports that the sports car would be unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show back in September. Obviously that never eventuated and we instead think it’s likely that the car will premiere early next year, perhaps at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Underpinning the car will be a lightweight front mid-engine platform with an integrated tubular safety cell and a claimed 50-50 weight distribution to ensure the MF6 handles as well as possible. +++

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