Newsflash: Fiat 500 en Panda krijgen milde hybride techniek

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+++ BMW said last year was a record year for car sales and 2020 could be better still as the automaker looks to shrug off an overall flat European market and slumping Chinese demand. The automaker sold 2.52 million cars in 2019, sales chief Pieter Nota said in an emailed statement. The result is a 1.2 % increase over 2018, when BMW sold 2.49 million cars. “We look at the coming year with confidence and aim to increase sales again in 2020”, Nota said. BMW and its rivals face a challenging year ahead as global car sales slow and automakers undertake a costly transition to electric mobility. In Europe, BMW and others are also facing the introduction of tough emissions regulations aimed at reducing the average fleet emissions. +++ 

+++ China’s leading new energy vehicle (NEV) manufacturer BYD said its NEV sales declined 7.39 % year-on-year to 229.506 units in 2019. In a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, BYD said in the passenger-vehicle sector, sales of purely electric vehicles surged about 42.5 % year-on-year to 147.185 units while sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles plunged 41.8 % to 72.168 units. Meanwhile, its commercial NEV sales fell by 50.9 % to 10,153 units in 2019. BYD projected in October that its net profit for the whole of 2019 would decrease by 36 % to 43 % to between 1.58 billion yuan ($227 million) and 1.77 billion yuan. NEV sales in the 4th quarter are expected to miss forecasts amid weak automobile demand, scaled-back subsidies and fiercer competition from gasoline-powered vehicles, BYD said at the time. +++ 

+++ Investors have sued DAIMLER for €896 million in a regional court in Stuttgart, accusing the carmaker of concealing its use of emissions cheating software, German law firm TILP said. The suit was filed on behalf of institutional investors who accuse Daimler of failing to inform investors about the risks and costs of using such devices, which amounts to a violation of capital markets law, the lawfirm said. In a statement, attorney Andreas Tilp said: “This means that the plaintiffs bought the Daimler stock at too high a price, and it is our conviction that Daimler is liable to them for compensation of damages”. Daimler said it had not yet been formally notified of the lawsuit adding it believed that the lawsuit was without merit. “We will defend ourselves against the accusations with all legal means”, a spokeswoman said. +++ 

+++ The FIAT 500 and Panda have become the first electrified models in the brand line-up, ahead of the electric 500e arriving later this year. The pair of updated city cars, due to launch in February and March respectively, use a mild hybrid powertrain that Fiat claims reduces CO2 emissions by up to 30 %. Replacing the 1.2-litre engine, the new setup comprises a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine, a 12 volt belt-driven electric motor and a lithium ion battery. It produces 70 hp and 92 Nm of torque. The belt-integrated starter motor system is mounted on the engine and recovers energy during braking and deceleration, which is then used to restart the engine in stop/start mode and to assist acceleration. It also allows the engine to switch off by shifting the gearbox into neutral at speeds below 30 kph. The models use a 6-speed manual gearbox that’s “aimed at improving fuel economy in out-of-town driving” and lowers the power unit by 45 mm. Fiat says this allows the cars to “behave better on the road, thanks to the lower centre of gravity”. The arrival of the mild hybrid 500 and Panda will begin with Launch Edition models. These feature an ‘H’ logo, green paint and Seaqual recycled plastic upholstery, of which 90 % originates from land and 10 % from the sea. Fiat has been slow to adopt electrification but plans to bounce back this year with the 500e. The plan is to continue selling the existing 500 (which was launched 13 years ago) alongside it. Other Fiat models on the way include the 500 Giardiniera estate, a new 500X and a Tipo replacement that’s likely to be an SUV. +++ 

+++ Carlos Ghosn, the former head of the Renault – Nissan alliance, lamented the failure of the automakers to merge with FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES , which has since combined with the PSA Group . Speaking publicly for the first time since his dramatic escape from Japan at the end of 2019, Ghosn told reporters in Beirut that he had been in negotiations with John Elkann, a member of FCA’s owning family. “In 2017, the alliance was the number one automotive group. Three companies growing, profitable. We were preparing to add Fiat Chrysler to the group because I was negotiating with John Elkann for Fiat Chrysler to join”, he said. “I had contact with FCA. We had a lot of understanding, we have very good dialogue. Unfortunately, I was arrested before we could come to a conclusion”, Ghosn said, adding that a meeting had been scheduled for January 2019 to try to conclude a deal. Renault-Nissan has been in management turmoil ever since Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo in November 2018 on allegations of financial misconduct, which he denies. He was awaiting trial in Japan when he fled to Lebanon. Fiat Chrysler and Renault did announce a $35 billion plan to merge in May 2019, when Ghosn was in detention, but FCA pulled out only 10 days after the deal was made public. The Renault-Nissan alliance has struggled to move on since the collapse of the deal, which would have created the third biggest automaker behind Volkswagen and Toyota. “The alliance missed the unmissable, which is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. That is unbelievable, they go with PSA. How can you miss that huge opportunity to become the dominant player in the industry?” Ghosn said. “Who is the winner of all this?. “It’s a great opportunity for PSA, it’s a big waste for Renault”, said Ghosn. +++ 

+++ The Zhejiang GEELY holding group and Mercedes-Benz have received regulatory approval for a China based joint venture to build electrified vehicles under the Smart brand. The companies will each invest 2.7 billion yuan ($388.77 million) in the 50:50 venture, which will be based in the Chinese coastal city of Ningbo, the 2 automakers said in a statement. Geely will develop a new generation of electric Smart vehicles that will be designed by Mercedes, the statement said. The 50-50 joint venture will build Smart models in a purpose-built electric-car factory in China with global sales due to begin in 2022, Mercedes parent Daimler said in a news release when the joint venture plans were first announced last year. Since its launch in 1998, Smart has lost money. Financial analysts Evercore ISI estimates Smart loses as much as €700 million annually. Geely and Daimler betting that young, city-dwelling consumers in China, will help to rejuvenate the brand. Daimler will continue to produce the current generation of Smart vehicles at its Hambach plant in France and at Renault’s Novo Mesto in Slovenia until the new factory is operational. Smart’s ForTwo and ForFour cars share underpinnings with the Renault Twingo. After 2022, the Hambach factory will build electric cars for Mercedes. Geely’s Tong Xiangbei, 49, will be the joint venture’s global CEO. Tong worked for Ford for 17 years, where he oversaw the development of production plants in the U.S. and China. He joined Geely in 2015 and led the completion of a factory to build the automaker’s Lynk & Co brand. Geely has expanded rapidly through mergers and acquisitions since buying Sweden’s Volvo Cars in 2010 from Ford. In 2018, it built a stake of almost 9.7 % in Daimler and set up a ride-hailing venture in China with the German automaker. Geely’s latest announcement comes just over a month after BMW and Great Wall formed a venture to build electric Minis in China, the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles, where demand for smaller EVs is on the rise. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS Korea Co., the South Korean unit of GM, said its sales fell 8.5 % last month from a year earlier due mainly to a slump at home and abroad. GM Korea sold 38.818 vehicles in December, down from 42.424 units the previous year, the company said in a statement. Domestic sales plunged 15 % to 8.820 units last month from 10.428 a year ago. Exports declined 6.2 % to 29.998 from 31.996 over the cited period, it said. GM Korea launched the US-made Equinox SUV and the upgraded Chevrolet Spark in 2018, and the midsize Colorado pickup and the Traverse SUV last year. But the vehicles didn’t help buoy the company’s sales. For the whole of 2019, its sales fell 9.9 % to 417.226 autos from 462.871 in the year-ago period, the statement said. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , car production fell to its lowest level in almost a quarter of a century as Europe’s biggest economy suffers from the fallout of a global trade war. Automakers including Volkswagen Group, BMW and Daimler produced 4.66 million vehicles in German factories last year, the lowest output since 1996. The country’s VDA car lobby, which published the figures on Monday, said the 9 % decrease was a result of falling demand from international markets. The industry is set for more tough times this year. The VDA predicted global car deliveries will drop to 78.9 million vehicles from 80.1 million in 2019. Germany’s status as a global manufacturing powerhouse has been built on the automaking industry, but pollution concerns (intensified by Volkswagen’s 2015 diesel-cheating scandal) trade conflicts, and slowing economies have all weighed on demand. Daimler, Volkswagen and supplier Continental are slashing jobs to cut costs. At the same time, the industry has to spend billions of euros to develop cleaner vehicles, self-driving features and counter the emergence of ride-sharing services like Uber, which has a market value equivalent to Daimler. Germany is particularly exposed to regulatory demands for cleaner vehicles because brands such as BMW, Porsche and Audi focus on power and performance. That prods the country’s automakers to explore unusual projects. At the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unveiled a concept car inspired by the film Avatar. The electric-powered vehicle features lateral crab-like movement and biometric controls to allow “human and machine to merge”. Germany’s domestic autos market grew 5 % last year after buyers registered 3.6 million new cars, the VDA said, the most since 2009. However, the industry body has said the market is likely to contract this year and has predicted that job losses will accelerate amid the transition to electric cars, which require fewer parts and less labor to assemble. The country cemented its recently acquired lead over Norway as Europe’s biggest electric-vehicle market after selling 63.281 full-electric cars last year, according to latest data from the country’s Federal Motor Transport Authority, or KBA. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI and high-performance cars may not seem like expected bedfellows. Still, ever since the automaker poached Albert Biermann from his position as head of BMW’s M division, the company has made remarkable strides, but it has even bigger plans. Since 2014, Hyundai has been developing several iterations of a mid-engine performance car that will likely culminate in an all-new model that would compete with the Porsche Cayman. The new model will arrive with some electrification help from Rimac. In May of last year, Hyundai deposited a big, fat investment check of €80 million into Rimac. Well, Hyundai contributed €57 million while Kia pitched in the rest. The 2 companies entered a technical partnership to develop performance-oriented electric vehicles. One of those vehicles could be Hyundai’s mid-engine sports car. Hyundai’s investment in Rimac isn’t unusual. Porsche took a 10 % stake in the Croatian electric supercar maker in 2018. It’s unclear if the mid-engined Hyundai will enter production. A report from late November had Hyundai confirming the model’s production, only to contradict itself during the Hyundai RM19 prototype’s first drive a couple of weeks later. If it enters production, it’ll lose the crazy aerodynamic bits while other styling elements are toned down for the production version. +++ 

+++ The HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP is investing more than 100 trillion won ($86.4 billion) in the next 5 years to become a force in the future mobility market. After pledging in 2018 to transform itself from an automobile manufacturer into a mobility services provider, Hyundai Motor Group plans to launch eco-friendly vehicles, commercialize an autonomous driving platform and introduce new mobility services to the world by 2025. By announcing the largest investment ever under the leadership of Hyundai Motor executive vice chairman Euisun Chung, son and heir apparent of Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Mong-koo, the group is hoping to engineer a turnaround in the stagnating global automobile market, in which virtually all global automakers are seeing sales decline. “Due to advances in technology and networks, the imaginary future is becoming a reality, and change is picking up pace in the automobile industry”. said Chung in a New Year’s speech to employees at the group’s headquarters in southern Seoul. “In response, the Hyundai Motor Group wants 2020 to be the starting year for our initiative to secure leadership of the market of the future”. Within the 100 trillion won investment, Chung said the Hyundai Motor Group will focus on technological innovation in the eco-friendly vehicle market. The largest automaker group by sales in Korea is planning to launch a total of 44 electric vehicles, 11 of them purely electric, by 2025. Last year, the Hyundai Motor Group sold 24 different electric models around the world. In the next 5 years, the group will expand the lineup to include 13 gasoline hybrids, 6 plug-in hybrids, 23 all-electric and 2 hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars. Within this year, its 2 automakers, Hyundai and Kia, will offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Sorento, Tucson and Santa Fe. By 2024, the group plans to commercialize a new electric car architecture for its vehicles. Since Chung became the de facto leader, the group has been looking for a turnaround as car sales declined. In 2019, Hyundai Motor’s sales fell 3.6 % to 4.42 million units from 4.59 million in 2018. Sales for Kia Motors, which is 33.9 % owned by Hyundai, declined 1.5 % to 2.77 million units. The latest investment plan includes a 61-trillion-won investment announced last month targeted at becoming one of the world’s top three electric vehicle manufacturers. Hyundai president Lee Won-hee said the company is pouring 20 trillion won into future technologies and 41.1 trillion won into boosting its existing businesses. Also under the new initiative, Chung said the group will stay at the forefront of autonomous driving by launching Level 4 and 5 self-driving cars before competitors. It wants to develop its own self-driving software platform in 2022, run tests in 2023 and officially commercialize the technology in the second half of 2024. With Level 4 automation, cars do not require human interaction in most circumstances, while Level 5 automation is completely free from human interaction. “For the quickly expanding mobility area, we will establish branches in major areas like the United States, Europe and Asia, launch businesses starting this year and expand them step by step”, Chung said. In September, the Hyundai Motor Group announced it will invest $2 billion to establish a joint venture with Dublin headquartered Aptiv to develop autonomous driving software. A month later, the group’s auto parts affiliate Hyundai Mobis announced it is investing $50 million in San Jose, California-based Velodyne Lidar to work on mass-producing Level 3 autonomous car systems by 2021. According to Allied Market Research, the global autonomous vehicle market is projected to grow from $54.2 billion in 2019 to more than $550 billion by 2026. Also in the speech, Chung vowed to expand partnerships with other companies to increase the group’s foothold in new mobility services like ride-hailing and car-sharing services. Hyundai Motor Group is introducing a new ride-hailing service in India. It is already in the electric car-based ride-hailing service market in Southeast Asia in collaboration with Grab. The group supplied 200 Kona electric SUVs for the service’s launch in Singapore and is expanding it to other countries in the area starting this year. Chung added that the group is investing in developing flying cars and related infrastructure. In October, the Hyundai Motor Group started an urban air mobility (UAM) division and hired Shin Jai-won, a veteran of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to head it. According to Morgan Stanley, the global UAM market is expected to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2040. The Hyundai group believes that flying cars can be an effective solution to traffic issues in megacities. As the 100-trillion-won investment is geared to new business areas, some analysts worry about conflict between the group and its employees making fossil-fuel-based vehicles. “The 100-trillion-won investment is certainly a good start, but it’s only a start; there are a lot more things that need to be done moving forward”, said Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University. “But making electric cars and focusing on mobility services means that some employment cuts could be made, which could lead to another set of disputes with the union”. Kim said such changes in direction are expected to result in a 40 % cut in personnel costs in the coming years, which Hyundai and Kia unions could resist. “Thankfully, many workers at Hyundai and Kia plants are near the retirement age, so the process might be smooth”, Kim said, adding that a new moderate labor union chief at Hyundai could also be a plus. Others are concerned that the new investment could threaten Hyundai Motor Group’s financial health, as the group is already committed to an expensive plan to build new headquarters. In September 2014, the Hyundai Motor Group bought the former headquarters of state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, for 10.5 trillion won and announced a plan to develop a car industry hub and a new 105 story headquarters on the 7.9 hectare site. “The investment is large, but it is a durable and safe amount for the group to handle, as the funds could be collected without trouble from our affiliates”, Hyundai Motor Group spokesperson Kim Tae-sik said over the phone. “The new headquarters isn’t just an investment by us. There is a whole consortium behind the project, and different parties are making their own investments, so the burden is not too big for us”. +++ 

+++ In JAPAN , new car sales fell 1.5 % to 5.195.216 units in 2019 from the previous year, the first decline in 3 years, on sluggish demand following a series of natural disasters and a consumption tax hike, industry bodies said. Sales excluding those of minicars dropped 1.9 % for the second straight year to 3.284.870 units, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said. By brand, Nissan logged a 13.8 % decline to 367.514 cars, apparently affected by management confusion and cost-cutting following the arrest of its former chairman Carlos Ghosn in November 2018. Toyota marked a 2.7 % increase to 1.510.741 units, while sales of Honda decreased 5.4 % to 357.242 cars. Sales of minivehicles, which have engines no larger than 660 cc, fell 0.7 % to 1.910.346 units last year, the first drop in 3 years, the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association said. “A series of natural disasters including typhoons (hitting wide areas of Japan in September and October) had a negative impact on the auto market”, said an association spokesman. He added the consumption tax increase to 10 % from 8 % starting Oct 1 also dented consumer sentiment. +++ 

+++ LOS ANGELES was ranked top for having the worst traffic congestion in the United States last year. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2019 Urban Mobility Report, its drivers spend an average of 119 hours each year in traffic delays. And it’s in this city that Korean carmaker Hyundai is testing its very first mobility service: car sharing. Since last November, the company has been offering 15 of its Ioniq plug-in hybrid vehicles for the Mocean Carshare. It is run by Moceanlab, a new company, based in Los Angeles. Users can unlock the door with a mobile app instead of a physical key. The vehicles can be borrowed for up to 72 hours and have to be delivered back to their original position, which Hyundai designated at the city’s 4 main train stations, including Union Station. Visitors entering the city on public transportation are main targets for now. “There are many forms of car sharing, but the format we’re testing at the moment is called ‘station-based’. Our next planned expansion is to start the ‘free floating’ model, which allows people to drop off the cars in public parking lots”, Jung Hun-taek, Hyundai’s vice president of the mobility business group, told reporters at a press event in Los Angeles. The free floating service will start in March. Los Angeles currently has more than 10 car sharing service providers, all by far larger than the offering from Hyundai, but none offers free-floating drop-offs. The company’s 2020 goal is to bring 300 EVs into service by the end of the year, which Hyundai sees as the sufficient amount to collect extensive traffic data from all over the city. For Moceanlabs, car sharing is just one of the many mobility services it plans to test in Los Angeles. The entity is less a business sales unit but more a platform for experimenting with services, collecting data and developing business models from the findings. Its list of tests to come include micro-mobility services, like lending e-scooters or bikes, a shared bus that only makes designated stops and personal air vehicles. Behind the investment is a sense of urgency about the changing car business. Market research firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that between 2015 and 2025, the number of car-sharing service users will increase by 36 million worldwide, while 5.3 million personal vehicles will disappear. “The future of cars can be summarized into 4 words: mobility, electrification, connectivity and autonomous. But these factors won’t develop individually but in the end will merge with each other, like robot taxis”, said Jung. “Experts say once autonomous driving is here, car purchases will be replaced by ride hailing. Our strategy at the moment is not stopping at simply releasing services but developing a platform that could collect data to develop vehicles and services”. Moceanlab’s role in heading mobility experiments also explains why the unit is based in Los Angeles, which has one of the world’s most congested traffic. Aware of the traffic, car accidents and environmental damage, the local government has been pushing efforts to disincentivize car ownership. Last year, it established the Urban Movement Labs, a private-public partnership body. Hyundai will join as the first carmaker member this year. A possible gain from this partnership is lower public parking fees. Parking lot costs have been a big issue for U.S. car-sharing start-ups in the past. “Ultimately, mobility services will have to develop in a way that suits local characteristics”, said Jung. “We don’t want to destroy the existing system but grow in a way by complementing it”. +++ 

+++ The LAND ROVER Defender could be fording a stream tires-deep in the middle of nowhere while its onboard computers are being updated, thanks to a new connectivity system that includes 2 modems and 2 eSIMs. One modem and eSIM is dedicated to Jaguar Land Rover’s technology that updates the vehicle’s software over the air, so customers no longer have to schedule a service appointment at the dealership for software updates and reflashes. The other modem and eSIM is connected to the Defender’s music streaming and access to apps. The second-generation Defender “has the digital capacity to keep customers connected, updated and entertained at all times, anywhere in the world”, Peter Virk, JLR’s director of connected car and future technology, said in a statement. “You could liken the design to a brain, with each half enjoying its own connection for unrivaled and uninterrupted service”, he added. An eSIM is an electronic memory chip, coming this year in cellphones, that stores user information in an embedded card, removing the physical slot in the computer for the card. Land Rover is claiming that the Defender will be the world’s first vehicle to have a dual-modem, dual-eSIM system. JLR executives are showing the new Defender this week at the Qualcomm and BlackBerry booths at CES in Las Vegas. +++ 

+++ NISSAN has detailed a new twin-motor, 4-wheeldrive powertrain for electric vehicles (EVs) that it claims delivers “balanced, predictable power and handling on par with many premium sports cars”. Called e-4orce, the system was demonstrated with a modified version of the Leaf at the CES in the US and will provide power for the production version of last year’s Ariya SUV concept, which is set to be launched in the next 2 years. Nissan says the e-4orce powertrain incorporates elements of the torque-split technology in the GT-R and of the 4-wheeldrive system from the Patrol. It has been developed “to specifically manage electric vehicle power output and braking performance to be smooth and stable”. An electric motor is fitted to both axles, with each using regenerative braking to reduce jolting in stop-start driving. The system is also said to improve comfort over bumpy surfaces by minimising irregular movement. Takao Asami, Nissan’s senior vice president of research and advanced engineering, said e4orce “gives drivers greater confidence and even more excitement than ever before. This technology enables excellent cornering performance and traction on slippery surfaces and comfortable ride for all passengers”. Precise technical details and performance data remain unconfirmed, but e4orce is expected to offer more power and faster acceleration than the 220 hp Leaf e+, the most powerful electric car Nissan currently produces. Nissan hasn’t confirmed that the powertrain will be available in any model besides the Ariya, but product planning boss Ivan Espinosa recently confirmed that electrification options are being discussed for the successors to the 370Z and GT-R. +++ 

+++ Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan risks distracting RENAULT from its efforts to repair relations with ally Nissan, a top French official said, underlining the potential corporate fallout from the former auto titan’s daring flight to Lebanon. Ghosn’s new-found freedom raises concern the patching up of the Franco-Japanese partnership will be delayed, the Paris-based official said, asking not to be identified under government rules. France is Renault’s most powerful shareholder. Making the 2 decade old automotive alliance work is crucial for both companies in the face of trade wars and an expensive shift toward electric and self-driving vehicles. Automakers are increasingly pooling resources to shoulder investments. Just last month, Renault’s French rival PSA Group agreed to combine with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to create a global heavyweight. Nissan went on the attack against Ghosn, saying its internal investigation found “incontrovertible evidence of various acts of misconduct”, and that it will take “appropriate legal action” against the former executive for any harm caused to the company. Ghosn, who was awaiting trial on charges of financial crimes and breach of trust before he fled Japan last week, has said he was escaping a “rigged” justice system. His ouster from Nissan and resignation from Renault following his November 2018 arrest worsened a climate of mistrust that led to a near collapse in the working relationship between the companies. Their partnership, which also includes Mitsubishi, is the world’s biggest automaking alliance. The infighting has taken its toll on Renault and Nissan’s stock performance. The French automaker is trading near a 7 year low, while the Japanese company is at levels not seen in a decade. An industrywide sales slump and Renault’s failure in its own attempt to merge with Fiat Chrysler has also weighed on the stocks. At the root of the tensions between Nissan and Renault has been a lopsided ownership structure, with Renault holding 43 % of the Yokohama based automaker and Nissan owning just 15 % of Renault. Given its bigger size and superior earnings performance in recent years, Nissan has sought more sway in the alliance, including a reduction in Renault’s stake. Now, both automakers are suffering from a drop in car sales in key markets, including China and Europe, as well as pressure to spend on new technologies. In a blow to Renault, Nissan has withdrawn its dividend outlook after slashing its profit and sales forecasts for the fiscal year ending in March. Renault has hinted at a potential reduction in its own payout following a profit warning and a cut to the global auto market outlook. Goldman Sachs Group and JPMorgan Chase & Co. this week cut price targets on Renault, saying spending on technology is likely to hurt 2020 earnings. Ghosn has accused Nissan of collaborating with Japanese authorities in a “coup” to remove him in order to prevent a full-blown merger with Renault. Following Ghosn’s resignation as Renault CEO nearly a year ago, the French government worked behind the scenes to help repair relations with Nissan, using diplomatic channels and handing Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard the responsibility to get the alliance back on track. To restore trust, both companies have since made changes in top management. Nissan replaced its CEO and Renault has embarked on its own chief executive search after ousting Thierry Bollore, a former Ghosn protege. “Renault needs to come up with a plan for cost-savings through the alliance”, Sempe said. “The new CEO will have to get it working again”. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the Renault-Nissan alliance is doing well. The previous day he stated that Ghosn should face charges against him like anyone else would have to do in a similar situation, adding that French authorities are still investigating a complaint brought by Renault. Ghosn is a citizen of Lebanon, France and Brazil. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , demand for Japanese cars continues to strengthen, driven by aggressive promotions and discounts. According to data from the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, sales of Japanese cars in Korea in 2019 declined 19 % to 36.661 units from 45.253 units posted a year earlier. Sales for Toyota models dropped 36.7 % on year to 16.774 units, while the number for Nissan nosedived 39.7 % to 3.049 units. Sales for Lexus went down 8.2 % to 12.241 units, while local demand for Infiniti experienced a 6.1 % decline to 2.000 units. Honda was the only automaker with a sales rise, with a 10.1 % increase to 8.760 units. With tensions between Korea and Japan high, local customers have been shunning Japanese products. Even though sales figures for Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Infiniti and Lexus were on the rise in the first half of the year, after the local boycott started, their sales began to falter, even fueling concerns that some of them might halt operations in Korea altogether. In response, Korean units of the Japanese automakers introduced aggressive promotions toward the end of 2019. Since November last year, Infiniti offered a rebate of up to 10 million won ($8,370) for the QX30 AWD, and Nissan started providing 17 million won of free gas for customers when they make a purchase using company financing. Honda offered discounts of 6 million won on the Accord 1.5 Turbo. Toyota and Lexus, which seldom hold promotional events, also joined the pack by offering free gas for buyers of the Prius and the Lexus LS500. They also held events highlighting their social and cultural contributions. Local sales for Honda in December increased 130.7 % from the same month a year earlier; followed by Toyota, at 69.6 %; Lexus, at 61.8 %; and Nissan, at 12.9 %. Infiniti sales dropped 56.5 % in December from a year earlier. Korea’s 5 automakers sold some 7.92 million cars in combined sales last year, down 3.8 %. The decline was mainly blamed for the weaker demand overall due to the global economic slowdown compounded by growing car-sharing services and other ride-hailing apps. The sales of the 5 carmakers (Hyundai, Kia, GM Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong) decreased by more than 300,000 cars from 2017. Hyundai sold 4.42 million cars last year, down 3.6 % on-year while Kia sold 2.78 million cars, down 1.5 % and just short of their annual target of 7.6 million cars. The 3 smaller carmakers fared dismally. GM Korea’s sales dropped 9.9 % to 417.226 cars, with domestic sales falling 18.1 % and overseas sales 7.8 % as Korean consumers had no sympathy with its frequent labor strikes. Renault Samsung performed worst, with sales plummeting 22 % to 177.450 units as it lost a major Nissan production job. Ssanyong’s sales fell 6.5 % to 132.799 cars. Automakers now offer discounts, interest-free installments, and old-for-new exchanges. +++ 

+++ TAKATA is recalling 10 million more front air bag inflators sold to 14 different automakers because they can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel. The recall is the last one the bankrupt company agreed to in a 2015 settlement with the U.S. safety regulators. It could bring to a close the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history. The 10 million inflators are part of the approximately 70 million in the U.S. that Takata was to recall as part of the agreement with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Vehicles made by Audi, BMW, Honda, Daimler Vans, Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen are affected. Automakers will determine what models are affected and launch their own recalls. Some already have made the announcements. The recalled inflators were used to replace dangerous ones made by Takata until a permanent remedy could be developed. Takata used ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate air bags. The chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity and burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister and hurling shrapnel. Permanent replacements don’t use ammonium nitrate. At least 25 people have been killed worldwide and hundreds injured by Takata inflators. About 100 million inflators are being recalled across the globe. The Takata said the 10 million figure is an estimate and that many of the inflators were never installed in vehicles. The company said it doesn’t know how many vehicles were affected. But the numbers are still huge. Subaru, for instance, issued recalls for nearly a half million vehicles to replace Takata inflators that were used as interim fixes. The recalls cover vehicles from the 2003 through 2014 model years including certain Forester, Impreza, WRX, Legacy and Outback models. Owners can check to see if their vehicles have been recalled by keying in their 17 digit vehicle identification number on the NHTSA website. All of the Takata recalls are being phased in by the age of the vehicle and location. Vehicles registered farther south, where conditions are hot and humid, get first priority. The latest recalls could bring an end to a saga that began with the first recall in 2001 and mushroomed into what collectively is the largest recall in U.S. automotive history. There are still a few unresolved issues, though. Takata had until the end of 2020 to prove that inflators using ammonium nitrate with a moisture absorbing chemical are safe. If it can’t be proved, then Takata will have to recall millions more inflators. NHTSA has not yet made a decision on those inflators. Also, General Motors, Ford and Mazda are seeking exceptions from the recalls for Takata inflators on millions of vehicles. The companies contend their inflators are safe. The remnants of Takata were purchased by Chinese-owned Key Safety Systems for $1.6 billion (175 billion yen). The successor company is called Joyson Safety Systems. +++ 

+++ TESLA will build several models at new European factory near Berlin starting with the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover, according a public notice published by the German state of Brandenburg. More models will be added later and production will ramp up to 500,000 units a year, the notice said. The plant is due to open in July 2021 with the following production steps: press shop, foundry, body shop, paint shop, seat production, plastics production, battery production, drivetrain production and final assembly, the notice said. Tesla is expected to employ more than 3,000 people at the plant, which will be in Gruenheide east of Berlin, with the number eventually rising to 8,000. Adverts for jobs including a construction superintendent, a construction project manager and a mechanical engineer have already appeared on Tesla’s website. The local government of Brandenburg, 1 of 5 federal states in the former communist east Germany, lobbied hard to win the factory, touting Brandenburg’s proximity to Berlin, its skilled labor force and an abundance of clean-energy plants. Tesla also plans to establish an engineering and design center in Berlin near the German capital city’s new airport. Tesla has long relied on a single assembly plant in Fremont, California for production. This week the automaker will start the first deliveries of Model 3s built at a new plant on the outskirts of Shanghai, China, its first factory outside of the U.S. The German state of Brandenburg has received a flurry of inquiries from German carmakers after Tesla opted to build its European factory there, Brandenburg’s economy minister Jörg Steinbach told. Tesla in November said it would build its European factory on the outskirts of Berlin, a major boost for the region after BMW and Daimler in recent years chose Hungary as a location for their new plants. “We are seeing the traditional German manufacturers, who are opening up more to new technologies, asking whether it is possible to do something in Brandenburg”, Steinbach told. “They’re asking: What made you interesting for Tesla?” Steinbach said. “We are noticing a pull effect”, Steinbach said about Tesla’s decision. Microvast, a company specialized in fast charging and battery solutions, will build a factory in Ludwigsfelde and BASF is mulling whether to build an electric car battery cell production facility in the region, Steinbach said. BASF’s management board is due to decide in the next 6 to 7 months whether to formally approve the investment, Steinbach said. Brandenburg’s state capital Potsdam, home to a university, and the region’s proximity to Berlin means companies can draw from a pool of academics. Tesla will have no problem finding talented assembly workers given that rivals Audi, VW and BMW are cutting costs, Steinbach added. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said it planned to build a prototype “city of the future” at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and functioning as a laboratory for autonomous cars, ‘smart homes’, artificial intelligence and other technologies. Toyota unveiled the audacious plan for what it will call Woven City, in a reference to its origins as a loom manufacturer, at the big annual technology industry show, CES. “It’s hard to learn something about a smart city if you are only building a smart block”, James Kuffner, chief executive officer for the Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, told. The Woven City idea, under discussion for a year, is aimed at creating safer, cleaner, more fun cities and learning lessons that could be applied around the world, he added. It will have police, fire and ambulance services, schools and could be home to a mix of Toyota employees, retirees and others, Kuffner said. The development, to be built on the site of a car factory that is planned to be closed by the end of 2020, will begin with 2.000 residents in coming years, and also serve as a home to researchers. Toyota did not disclose costs for the project, whose construction is scheduled to start next year, and which seeks to re-imagine a city, but executives said it had been extensively vetted and had a budget. The plan for a futuristic community on 71 hectares is a big step beyond proposals from Toyota’s rivals. Executives at many major automakers have talked about how cities of the future could be designed to cut climate-changing emissions, reduce congestion and apply internet technology to everyday life. The company’s proposal showcases not only the ambition of chief executive Akio Toyoda, but also the financial and political resources Toyota can bring to bear, especially in its home country. “You know if you build it, they will come”, said Toyoda, who called the project “my personal ‘field of dreams’ ”. Toyota Housing, a company unit, has sold more than 100.000 homes in Japan in 37 years. Toyota said it had commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to design the community. Ingels’ firm designed the 2 World Trade Center building in New York and technology giant Google’s offices in Silicon Valley and London. Toyota said it is open to partnerships with other companies seeking to use the project as a testing ground for technology. Still Toyoda acknowledged not all may see the wisdom of what could be an expensive and lengthy project. “You may be thinking: ‘Has this guy lost his mind?’ ”, Toyoda asked an audience in Las Vegas, to laughter. “ ‘Is he like a Japanese version of Willy Wonka?’ Perhaps”. +++

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