Newsflash: Ford vervangt de Mondeo door de Stormtrak

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+++ AUDI has said “yes” to a plethora of RS badged SUVs, but it’s a definitive “no” for a hot hatch many enthusiasts would like to see: the RS1 Sportback. While the supermini never actually received the “RS” badge, it did spawn an insane A1 Quattro limited to 333 examples with 252 hp on tap. Those days are long gone as the company doesn’t see a viable business case for another pocket rocket. As a matter of fact, Audi is skipping a hotter A1 altogether by not developing a warm S1 either. The company’s joint managing director Julius Seebach said the 2.5-litre 5-cylinder unit will remain the base engine in Audi’s RS lineup. It produces 400 hp and 480 Nm in new models such as the RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback, but rumours say the next RS3 will exceed this mark. With no S1, let alone an RS1, in sight, the cream of the crop in the supermini hatchback’s lineup will remain the A1 in the “40 TFSI” version with the same engine found in the Volkswagen Polo GTI. It’s good for 200 hp and 320 Nm channelled to the front wheels through a 6-speed S-tronic automatic transmission. It helps the car do 0 to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds and top out at 235 km/h, which isn’t half bad, but an Audi Sport version (be it an S1 or RS1) would’ve brought some serious performance improvements. The decision to stay away from launching a go-faster version doesn’t mean Audi isn’t expanding the A1 lineup as the supermini has received a crossover-inspired Citycarver version. Essentially a jacked-up A1 with some rugged-looking bits, the new derivative is sort of like an Allroad hatchback without the Quattro. +++ 

+++ The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is now the season-opener for car companies. But many of the bosses present at last week’s showcase were as keen to tell us about one technology that won’t happen any time soon, as they were to plug the next big thing. On the back burner? AUTONOMY. The fact is, car companies exist to make money. And right now, the biggest influence on their bottom line is not whether we have to continue physically driving their cars. BMW’s board member for technical development, Klaus Fröhlich, didn’t pull any punches on the subject. “We never believed in this hype about Level 5 (so-called ‘brain-off’) autonomy”, he said. “With a lot of new technology, we can achieve robust Level 3 (where the driver must remain ready to intervene). But it will be like electromobility: taking 15 years until we can scale it to this high level”. Mercedes, meanwhile, has flipped its development targets so that fully autonomous commercial vehicles (which can operate in more stable, restricted conditions) are now its priority, ahead of self-driving passenger cars. As the company’s boss, Ola Kallenius, told: “At CES, 3 or 4 years ago people were saying: ‘We’re going to have massive adoption of autonomous driving within the next 2 years’ That has now been replaced by some sober realism. We’re putting trucks first for a reason: we think it’s the one you can make money on first”. So what does matter to car companies right now? Sustainability, efficiency and connectivity. They’re desperate to avoid any restrictions on where we’ll be able to drive their cars, as well as the potential fines for missing CO2 fleet targets. And they need to appeal to younger buyers who are more digitally focused. The short-term future, then, is going to be all about electrification and more in-car tech. But not, it seems huge swathes of drivers with their hands off the steering wheel. +++ 

+++ BMW ‘s largest plant in the world, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, delivered a record 411.620 vehicles last year, as global demand for SUVs soared. The factory, which assembles 5 X-series models, produced 15 % more vehicles in 2019 than the prior year. Production volume topped the previous record, set in 2016, by 449 units. The plant has an annual capacity of 450.000 units. Since 2017, the Spartanburg plant has launched 5 new or redesigned X models. Luxury SUV sales in the U.S. rose 6.6 % to 1.38 million last year from 1.30 million in 2018. The X5 was the volume leader in Spartanburg last year, accounting for 161.096 units produced. The X3 came in second, accounting for 115.088 units. The X7, BMW’s largest SUV to date, arrived in U.S. stores last year. That model accounted for 52.619 units of production at Spartanburg last year. “The past 3 years have been among the most challenging in the history of Spartanburg”, Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing said in a statement. “Our plant’s model portfolio is fresh and popular around the world”. The past few years also witnessed an escalation in global trade disputes between the U.S. and Europe and China, with the threat of new tit-for-tat tariffs. About 70 % of BMW’s Spartanburg plant’s production volume is exported to around 125 markets worldwide, with China being the biggest export market for the plant. Nearly a third of that export volume was headed to China in 2018. BMW stopped exporting the X3 from the U.S. to China in 2018, adding production at plants in Rosslyn, South Africa, and Shenyang, China. +++ 

+++ The rush to ELECTRIFY TRANSPORTATION will shift to Europe from China in 2020 as automakers and governments work to cut carbon emissions that lead to global warming, according to a forecast from Bloomberg. In the report, “EVs and New Mobility: Trends to Watch in 2020”, analysts estimate that global car companies will sell about 2.5 million electric vehicles this year; 20 % more than in 2019. While China will continue to dominate the global electric car market, the country’s decision to reduce subsidies will help shift growth momentum to Europe. New models from companies such as Volkswagen Group will help Europe sell 800.000 electric cars by the end of the year; up 60 % from 2019. “The long-term future is really bright, but in the short term we’re expecting growth to be relatively slow”, said Colin McKerracher, an analyst at Bloomberg. “You’re still in the middle of this transition, from a market driven by direct subsidies toward one driven by a combination of real consumer demand and other big policy mechanisms”. Crucial to the rollout are the continuing cost cuts for lithium ion batteries. Prices will hit about $135 per kilowatt hour on average this year, about 13 % lower than in 2019 and 89 % lower than a decade ago. Further cost cuts will come as the scale of battery production increases and the design of battery packs becomes more efficient. Public chargers will hit 1.2 million, up from 880.000 in 2019, as governments and energy companies work to expand the critical infrastructure. This year could also bring crucial steps for the electrification of planes and boats. While cars have been relatively easy to run on batteries, air and marine travel is trickier. As pressure builds on airlines to reduce emissions, 2020 could see major investments in battery and hybrid technologies that could help the development of all electrified transport. +++ 

+++ In August last year, FORD registered the Mondeo Evos moniker for future use in production or concept vehicles. Today, the Blue Oval company has also filed a trademark on the Stormtrak name in Europe, once more fuelling rumours about a potential successor to today’s Mondeo for the European market. According to what I’ve heard so far, Ford could be preparing a lifted estate. This new Stormtrak moniker could signal the automaker is advancing with the model’s development. Of course, it could also be used for a completely different vehicle but nothing can be confirmed at this point. Initial reports suggest the lifted rugged estate will compete against the Subaru Outback and will be based on a stretched version of the new Euro-spec Focus. The C2 modular platform allows for use of different powertrain layouts, including combustion engines and hybrid systems, as well as an all-wheel-drive configuration. Considering Ford’s intentions to sell the vehicle in America and Europe, previous reports about the model getting a 1.5-litre turbo petrol motor as a base offering seem pretty convincing. On the Old Continent, a range of diesel mills should also be introduced, including an optimised version of today’s 2.0-litre EcoBlue compression ignition range. Both markets could get hybrid powertrains. If all this turns out to be true, look for a debut of the all-new model sometime in 2021. Chances are the lifted estate will be launched in the United States as a 2022 model but, again, nothing comes straight from the automaker so far. In Europe, the rugged long roof should replace the Mondeo, S-Max, and Galaxy. +++ 

+++ Carlos and Carole GHOSN , the former first couple of carmaker Nissan, are united again in Beirut. They hold hands in the street and whisper together in a mix of Arabic and French. They kiss. But the pair’s most visceral display of unity comes when they talk about Carlos Ghosn’s former home. “I’m done with Japan”, said Carole Ghosn in an interview with her husband in a private house in Beirut. 2 weeks ago, Carlos Ghosn made a dramatic escape from house arrest in Japan, where he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds. He denies all charges. Shortly after Ghosn appeared in Beirut, Japanese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Carole on suspicion of alleged perjury related to the misappropriation charge against her husband. “What they’re accusing me of is a bit of a joke”, said the 54 year old Lebanese-American national, who spent many years as a fashion designer in New York and whose children live in the U.S. city. “I testified for hours and they told me you are free to go, and now, 9 months later, this comes up. They are vindictive. This has nothing to do with the law”. Carlos Ghosn was even more adamant. “I spent 18 years in Japan; I never suspected this brutality, this lack of fairness, this lack of empathy”. Tokyo prosecutors have said his allegations of a conspiracy are false and that he has failed to justify his acts. The plan to flee to his childhood home of Lebanon developed quickly with a small group of people, a “reasonable price” and utter secrecy, he said. “The first rule if you want to do something like is that no member of your family should be aware because they become very anxious”, he added. Asked whether she would have dissuaded him to escape, Carole Ghosn blurted: “Yes!” But then she paused, looked at her husband and added: “No. I mean, actually, let me rephrase. If you told me this at the beginning, I would have said No, of course not. You’re going to fight this and prove your innocence. But then, with time, we saw how the prosecutors were behaving. I said ‘Oh my God my husband is never going to get a fair trial’ and I was desperate. I’m happy he did it”. Japan’s justice minister has said Ghosn’s escape from his trial could constitute a crime. Beirut has no extradition agreement with Japan and Ghosn’s legal team is pushing for him to stand trial in Lebanon. But Ghosn said last week that he does not want his own case to hurt relations between Lebanon, which is currently in the throes of an economic crisis, and the world’s third-largest economy. The Ghosns have been attempting to focus the narrative on the question of human rights, and what they say is the inhumane way that Ghosn was treated after his arrest in late 2018. Ghosn says he was held in isolation, given only limited access to his lawyers and (his biggest complaint) prevented from speaking to his wife. The couple had been married for 2 years (second unions for both) when Ghosn was first arrested. He says they spoke for only 2 hours in 9 months. “They wanted to break me, they wanted to put me into a situation where life was miserable”, he said. Japan’s Justice minister Masako Mori has called the accusations “absolutely intolerable”. During his arrest, Carole Ghosn said she sought the support of Human Rights Watch, hired a high-profile human rights lawyer in Paris, and appealed directly to president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron to help her husband’s case. Carlos Ghosn said he was determined up until late last year to stay in Japan and see through the investigation and his trial. On Christmas Day, he said, he realized the legal cases could last 5 years and decided to bolt. The Ghosns said their life in Beirut consists of working with their legal team and spending evenings with friends. Both have their regrets, including, for Carole Ghosn, throwing a lavish party at the 17th century palace in Versailles, France, for her 50th birthday. The party has become part of a separate investigation in France to establish if the venue was obtained improperly by the Ghosns (which both deny), and has also prompted criticism of the couple as leading an extravagant lifestyle. “It was a beautiful event and now it has turned out to be a big disaster”, said Carole Ghosn. “Now, I look at it, it’s unfortunate. I wish we never did it”. Both said they would be happy to stay in Lebanon, for the rest of their lives, if that was necessary. As for returning to Japan? “Never”, said Carole. +++ 

+++ HONDA and Isuzu said they would jointly research the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power heavy-duty trucks, looking to expand fuel cell use by applying the zero-emission technology to larger vehicles. As part of a two-year deal, Isuzu will test Honda’s fuel cell powertrain, which was designed for passenger cars, in Isuzu’s commercial trucks, the companies said, which could pave the way for using the technology in a wider range of vehicles. Automakers are looking to develop more electric vehicles (EVs) to comply with tightening global emissions regulations. Many see battery-powered EVs as a solution for passenger cars in urban settings, but a growing number see hydrogen fuel cells as an effective way to power trucks, buses and other big vehicles. “Although we have done extensive R&D into passenger FCVs (fuel cell vehicles), we have not been able to study how best to apply the technology to commercial vehicles”, a Honda spokesman told reporters at a briefing. “This partnership will allow us to do that”. Fuel cell vehicles generate their own electricity using hydrogen stored in onboard tanks. This enables them to travel longer distances and refuel more quickly than battery EVs, while using less costly energy storage systems. “We think that FCV technology is well suited for heavier trucks which travel longer distances, and this partnership will enable us to examine this further”, an Isuzu spokeswoman said, adding that the truck maker was also developing various lower-carbon powertrains including battery-electric technology for shorter-distance vehicles. With its Clarity, Honda is one of a handful of automakers which have developed and marketed fuel cell-powered passenger cars. Light and medium-sized truck specialist Isuzu has for years has focused on diesel engine technology and has yet to market fully electric vehicles. But a price tag starting around $70,000 for the Clarity and scant hydrogen fuelling infrastructure globally, Honda has seen limited take-up of that model and other FCVs since they began marketing them around 2015. In 2018 Honda sold just 654 Clarity cars, which are available only in Japan and the United States through leasing programs, compared with Honda’s total annual global sales of 5.23 million cars. The partnership is the latest in a growing trend among vehicle makers joining forces to better compete in an industry upended by the rise of electric vehicles, self-driving cars and other new technologies. Honda and Isuzu are reviving their vehicle partnership following an agreement in the early l990s under which Isuzu manufactured SUVs for Honda in the North American market. +++ 

+++ After 2 straight years of sales decline in the United States, the HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP achieved a turnaround last year, with 4.6 % sales growth in the market. The feat was notable considering the fact that car sales in the United States overall declined 1.1 %. Difficulties still lay ahead, but Hyundai set an ambitious goal to hit 1 million units sold annually in the United States by 2025. Last year, it sold a total of 710.007 cars. “We now have the most competitive SUV portfolio in the market. At the same time, we have maintained a presence in passenger car markets domestic competitors have abandoned. This is an opportunity for us”, said Jose Munoz, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America and global chief operating officer for Hyundai Motor Company. Munoz joined Hyundai last May after working at Japan’s Nissan since 2004. A major contributor to the 2019 sales surge was new SUVs, including Kia’ Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade. Munoz said the SUV strategy shows the company is “on the right track” at a time when consumer demand for SUVs is strong. While automotive sales in United States declined, SUV and pickups sales have been in the rise. “In the U.S. market, around 70 % of new vehicle sales are pickups and SUVs. We also think that we are at a stabilization point and expect the market to maintain that mix”, he added. Hyundai’s strategy to strengthen that segment will continue in 2020 with the release of its first Genesis-brand SUV: the GV80. The Tucson, Hyundai’s SUV best seller, will release an all-new model this year for the first time in 5 years. The company is also preparing to start mass production of its first compact pickup, the Santa Cruz, at the company’s Alabama plant from 2021, starting at 40.000 units per year. In the sedan segment, a field Munoz said should not be overlooked even as competitors shift focus away, Hyundai will release new models for Elantra (the U.S. equivalent to Korea’s Avante) and Kia’s K5. The new Sonata, which went on sale in November, will also receive a promotion boost. In total, Hyundai’s immediate 2020 sales goal is set at 72.800 units; up 2.5 % on year. Among its many brands, the carmaker has high expectations for the high-end Genesis. “Genesis is the fastest growing luxury brand in the industry”, said Mark Del Rosso, the CEO of Genesis’ North American operations. He started on the job in October. “I think a lot of the traditional manufacturers in luxury continue to approach the market the same way, and they’re running the same play over and over again and not getting really good results. So the market is perfectly positioned for a young brand like Genesis to come and clearly disrupt”. The GV80 is coming to market this summer. Del Rosso says this is a big opportunity luxury SUVs are expected to outsell luxury cars by almost 2 to 1 by 2025. “By 2021, our portfolio in the market will double to 3 sedans, 2 SUVs and an electric vehicle”, he added. The 2020 automotive market in the United States is one of uncertainties, including projections of slower economic growth, the ongoing trade dispute with China and political volatility ahead of major elections. “Uncertainties around global trade present challenges, but we are prepared”, said Munoz. “Hyundai supports free trade and values the trade pact between the United States and Korea. The agreement has been mutually beneficial. It has strengthened the economic relationship between the 2 countries and it is particularly important from a geopolitical and strategic perspective”. +++ 

+++ I have learned a few new things about the upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 , which will be handed to the first customers in summer 2020. Possible delays and worrying news about the standard equipment of First edition cars (30.000 units) were explained and a few things are really interesting and not necessarily positive. Let’s start with the most important thing: Volkswagen says that it will manage to deliver cars in the summer of 2020 and there is no change in the timing (although some hoped for June rather than August). The German manufacturer currently is producing the first batch of ID.3, which is stored in special car parks and will be tested by the employees. Photos of such facilities were provided by the German EV rental company Nextmove with an explanation that the consumer cars will be built at a later stage (probably also with newer software and other improvements). Volkswagen has confirmed that the First edition cars will be available only with single-zone climate control (the two-zone climate control will be available later). It was also confirmed that there will be no park-assist feature in the First edition cars (there are parking sensors and automatic emergency braking though). The biggest thing seems to be the news that the ID.3 will be a 5-seater only in 2 battery versions: 45 kWh and 58 kWh, while the 77 kWh battery will be a 4-seater. Moreover, the biggest battery pack can not be combined with a panoramic roof. The reason for that seems to be weight: it would be too high with the assumption of the fifth passenger. The 45 kWh and 58 kWh version with a panoramic roof will be allowed to get a bike rack. Separately, there is also a strange rumour about DC fast charging power, as one of the ID.3 was caught at the Ionity station and was reportedly getting an average of just 35 kW over 49 minutes (28 kWh). It was charging at a decent 21 kW at 96 % state-of-charge though. It’s expected that, depending on the battery version and trim, the peak power will be 50 kW, 100 kW or 125 kW DC fast charging. The 125 kW peak was confirmed by Volkswagen. +++ 

+++ KIA will invest 29 trillion won ($25 billion) into electric vehicles (EV) and mobility services through 2025, the company announced. Starting with an electric-only model this year, Kia plans to release 11 EVs by 2025, ranging from sedans to SUVs. The aim is to generate 25 % of its annual vehicle sales from eco-friendly cars and achieve a 6.6 % share in the global EV market by that year. “The car industry is going through a rapid paradigm shift, and for Kia, this is an important time to transform into a global player”, said company CEO and president Park Han-woo. “We will lead innovation instead of adjusting to it to leverage this opportunity for a big leap”. The 2 main elements of Kia’s initiative are EVs and mobility services. EVs released by Kia to date were simply electric versions of its gasoline-powered models, like the Soul and Niro. But this year, the carmaker will be offering a brand new, electric-only model for the first time: a crossover that can run up to 500 km on one charge. The company is aiming to produce 500.000 EVs and 1 million eco-friendly cars annually by 2026. For the cars of tomorrow, it is contemplating new business models. The company is exploring a subscription model, battery rental programs or the recycling of old car batteries into energy storage systems. For mobility services, Kia is partnered with car-sharing start-ups in Asia, like Singapore’s Grab and India’s Ola. In September 2018, it established the WiBLE car-sharing service in Madrid in partnership with Repsol, a Spanish energy company. In its blueprint for mobility services, Kia plans to lead the purpose-built vehicle (PBV) market. Hyundai, which owns 33.9 % of Kia, has also mention PBVs in its plans for the future. These vehicles can be modified for a wide range of uses, and Kia envisions them being tasked with unmanned delivery or being customized as robot taxis. The company sees the capital needed for these investments coming from increased profitability in the selling of internal combustion vehicles. It plans to increase the ratio of SUV sales to total sales to 60 %, China excluded, from the current 50 % by 2022. +++ 

+++ Bad news if you plan on attending this year’s Geneva Motor Show and hoping to immortalise the latest products from LAMBORGHINI . The Italian marque has announced it will skip the 90th edition to focus on standalone events where its cars won’t have to share the spotlight with rival models. The announcement was made today in a press release issued by parent company Audi talking about how great 2019 was in terms of sales. Needless to say, the Urus had a major contribution to the company’s successful 2019 as sales during the Super SUV’s first full year on sale rose by 182 % from 1.761 units in 2018 to a massive 4.962 vehicles. In second place came the V10-powered Huracan lineup with combined sales of 2.139 cars, while the V12-engined Aventador was delivered to 1.104 customers all over the world. Once again, the United States was the largest single market out of all 51 countries where Lamborghinis are sold through a 165-dealer network. 2.374 cars were delivered to the U.S., followed by China (including Hong Kong and Macau) with 770 vehicles, U.K. (658), Japan (641), Germany (562), the Middle East (387), Canada (376), and Italy (370). According to the folks from Sant’Agata Bolognese, demand in all these countries reached new records in 2019. Lamborghini is looking forward to 2020 as new model launches are on the agenda, but the press release doesn’t contain any names in regards to what does products might be. That said, the Urus ST-X is coming later this year and we also know a plug-in hybrid powertrain is in the works for the automaker’s cash cow. The same press release also officially confirms Lamborghini’s electrification plans by developing “hybrid variants for all next-generation super sports car models”. In other words, look for the Aventador and Huracan successors to combine combustion engines with an electric motor. The bigger of the 2 raging bulls should be the first to get a replacement model seeing as how the Aventador has been around for nearly a decade. As a final note, it is worth mentioning Lamborghini has already kicked off its electrification plans with the Sian FKP 37 a.k.a. its most powerful production car ever and limited to merely 63 vehicles at €3.5 million. It’s not the first Lambo to get a hybrid powertrain as the plug-in hybrid 2014 Asterion concept combined the Huracan’s naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 with 3 electric motors for nearly 900 hp. +++ 

+++ PSA has appointed 2 executives it recently recruited from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance to head up its DS and Citroen brands, and named them to its global executive committee. PSA said Beatrice Foucher, currently deputy DS chief executive and an ex-Renault manager, would succeed Yves Bonnefont as DS chief. The company said in a statement that Vincent Cobee, currently deputy Citroen CEO and a former Nissan and Mitsubishi executive, would replace Linda Jackson at Citroen. PSA, which is in the midst of a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), said Bonnefont would lead a study on potential costs savings within the group. Jackson, who had led Citroen since 2014 and also oversaw PSA’s low-emissions vehicle business unit, will lead a study “to clarify and support differentiation” of PSA’s brands, and will report to CEO Carlos Tavares. PSA last month signed a memorandum of understanding to merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The merged PSA-FCA will have more than a dozen brands. Cobee, a French national, left Mitsubishi in April 2019 as part of a wider shuffle among the top ranks at Nissan and Mitsubishi in the wake of the arrest of Carlos Ghosn last November. He joined Citroen as deputy CEO in October 2019, with a mission to increase international sales. He had worked for 17 years at the Renault-Nissan alliance, largely at Nissan. Cobee’s last position was as executive planning officer at Mitsubishi, which he held from 2017 until April 2019. He had also led the Datsun brand and served as head of purchasing at Nissan in Europe. Bonnefont, who has run DS since June 2014 when it became a standalone brand, will lead a study of potential synergies and cost savings across brands, PSA said. The role will include studying brand positioning “from a customer and geographic point of view”, PSA said. He will also report to Tavares. Foucher joined PSA in April 2019 as senior vice president for talent management. She held a similar role at the Renault-Nissan alliance starting in 2015. Foucher’s other positions at the alliance included Renault program director for electric cars, where she helped to launch the Zoe; Renault’s head of product planning; and director of product planning for upper range cars, studying synergies between Renault and Nissan. She started at Renault in 1990. Earlier this month DS named Bastien Schupp, another Renault-Nissan alliance veteran, as head of marketing and communications. Schupp replaced Arnault Ribault, who had held that position since 2018 and before that was the brand’s first director of sales and marketing. Ribault becomes head of sales for PSA Group in Latin America. Schupp started at Nissan Europe in 2005 and also held posts at the Infiniti brand. He joined Renault in 2016 and in 2019 was named vice president, global customer activation. Under its CEO Jackson, Citroen was repositioned with the advertising tagline “Inspired by you”, as well as a shift in focus from minivans to SUVs. She had set an ambitious sales target of 1.6 million vehicles by 2020. Citroen sold around 1.05 million vehicles in 2018, and sales in 2019 were running slightly ahead of that pace. Growth in Europe has outpaced the market, but sales in China, Citroen’s second-largest market, have fallen sharply. The brand is planning to enter the Indian market in the coming years, first with imports then with a range of locally produced cars under the C-Cubed model designation. DS has struggled since it was broken off from Citroen in 2014, but Bonnefont and other PSA executives have said the brand is profitable. The first DS models were based on existing Citroen cars, and it was only in 2018 that the first model designed only for the brand, the 7 Crossback, appeared. That was followed by the 3 Crossback. 4 more DS models are scheduled to be launched in the next 4 years. DS global sales in 2018 were up by 0.8 % to 52.900 and through November 2019 were up by 11 %. DS operations in China have been a particular disappointment for PSA, which set up a joint venture with Changan to produce and sell DS models. But the venture is being dissolved and the factory is being sold to Chinese conglomerate Baoneng Investment Group. +++ 

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG MOTORSpartially closed its sole auto plant as continuing guerilla strikes dramatically reduce production and drive the company into the red. The decision comes as the Korean unit of Renault faces huge losses from conflict with its unionized workers, conflicts which is threatening the survival of the company and its partners. A Renault Samsung Motors spokesperson said that the union’s walkouts, which started late last year, forced Renault Samsung Motors to close the plant for the night shift. According to the spokesperson, the union went on strike for a total of 151 hours from December 28 to the end of Thursday, which caused around 120 billion won ($103 million) in damage at its only plant in the country. The source added that the Busan factory is now running at below 20 % of its full capacity as a result of the walkouts. It is the second time that Renault Samsung Motors decided to partially shut down its plant voluntarily. It first closed the factory in June 2018, when the automaker halted the night shift for a single day while negotiating with its union over wage increases. The latest partial shutdown, which is also prompted by protracted wage negotiations between union and management, is expected to continue until both sides return to the table for negotiations, although no exact date is set for now. “It is unfortunate for us to close the plant by ourselves, but the union showed no manners in the negotiations process, so we had to do what was needed to prevent ourselves from more damage”, the spokesperson said. “For the latest guerilla strike, the union was supposed to resume negotiations as agreed with management the night before, but the workers suddenly decided to go on another walkout without even letting us know”. Since the current leaders for the union assumed positions in early 2018, Renault Samsung Motors workers went on strikes for around 500 hours, which caused more than 500 billion won in financial damage to the automaker. The continuing conflict has been mainly centered on disagreements on wage increases. For last year’s wage deal, the union has been asking for an 8.01 % increase in base pay, a bonus of 4 million won and a promise for new hires. Renault Samsung Motors has been refusing to raise the base wage level but instead offered a 10-million-won payout for each worker and some structural changes to the wage system, as its declining sales and contract production volume were already resulting in huge losses. In 2019, Renault Samsung Motors sold a total of 90.591 cars; down 34 % from 137.208 units posted a year earlier. Its production contract with Nissan for the X-Trail came to an end late last year. The continuing labor conflict is hurting production and sales for its 250 partnering auto suppliers, the source said. As profit levels fell, hard-line labor action is losing popularity among the workers, with the participation rate for partial strikes falling from 40.1 % on December 23 to around 26 % by Friday. Even in the face of such conflicts, Renault Samsung Motors said the automaker remains focused on keeping its promise to introduce 6 new vehicles into the local market this year. It is still set to offer the new XM3 cross-over (Arkana) to Korean consumers in coming months. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA will bring a new entry-level variant of its GR Supra sports car to Europe, powered by a 258 hp 4-cylinder engine. The model has made its first public appearance in Amsterdam, where it is being shown in limited-run Fuji Speedway trim, which features a bespoke metallic white paint finish, matt black alloy wheels, and red interior and trim elements. Like the 3.0-litre straight-6 already offered in the Supra, the new turbocharged 2.0-litre motor is taken from BMW’s sports car engine line-up. It sends 258 hp and 400 Nm to the rear wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, while emitting between 156 and 172 g/km of CO2. Despite the 80 hp power deficit compared with the 3.0-litre model, the 2.0-litre Supra’s 0-100 kph time is just 0.8 seconds slower at 5.2 seconds, and it can be expected to match the 250 kph top speed of the Z4 sDrive30i, which uses the same engine. Toyota says the new engine is more compact and 100 kg lighter than the 3.0-litre unit, so it can be mounted further towards the middle of the car for 50/50 weight distribution. This, it is claimed, “improves the car’s inertia characteristics and chassis balance for even sharper handling”. Tetsuya Tada, the Supra’s chief engineer, said: “To achieve agile steering and stable cornering, we worked very hard to reduce the new car’s weight, while aiming for a 50/50 weight balance. This presented us with huge challenges, but we did not want to compromise on our targets”. From launch, the new model is equipped as standard with 18 inch alloy wheels, Alcantara-trimmed sports seats, an 8.8 inch infotainment display and a range of safety functions including pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking. The optional Connect trim package brings sat-nav and heightened connectivity features, while a Sport Pack includes an active differential, adaptive suspension and upgraded brakes. The entry-level Supra will go on sale in Europe in March, with prices to be confirmed nearer the time. +++ 

+++ Poland’s consumer watchdog Uokik said it was fining VOLKSWAGEN more than 120 million zlotys ($31.6 million) for misleading customers about the emissions of its vehicles. The fine, the biggest ever given by the regulator for violation of consumer rights, is the latest chapter in a global emissions cheating scandal that has cost Volkswagen about €30 billion in fines, vehicle refits and legal costs, and also triggered a global backlash against diesel vehicles. “False information in advertising materials caused misinformation: they referred to Volkswagen’s pro-ecological attitude, when in fact the cars were not environmentally friendly”, Uokik president Marek Niechcial said in a statement. Volkswagen in 2015 admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. “Volkswagen Group Poland does not see legal grounds for the fine published today by the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection in Poland”, the company said in a statement. “Customers have not suffered any damage. The Volkswagen Group has been conducting a service campaign related to EA189 diesel engines since 2016”. +++ 

+++ VOLVO will build its own U.S. battery assembly plant as it readies a line of electric vehicles for the market. The expansion is part of a previously announced $600 million project that the Swedish automaker has begun at its plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina, which includes a second production line and Volvo Car University. Volvo will create an electric version of its next XC90 and build it at the plant starting in late 2022. The factory, northwest of Charleston, employs about 1.500 workers building the S60. The South Carolina plant will become the global production center for the third-generation XC90. That vehicle will be built on the next version of Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture platform, referred to as SPA2. Volvo has not said how much of the XC90’s production at the $1.1 billion factory will be devoted to the battery-electric variant. Construction of the battery assembly plant will be completed by the end of 2021, a Volvo spokeswoman said. At that facility, employees will put together and test the lithium ion battery packs that will power the crossover. By assembling the packs on campus, Volvo hopes to reduce shipping costs involved in transporting the heavy batteries. The spokeswoman declined to release the planned production capacity for the battery assembly plant or say how many jobs it will create. Overall, the planned XC90 production line is expected to create about 1.000 jobs. The XC90 would be Volvo’s third battery-powered model. Its first, an electric version of the XC40 was unveiled in October. That EV will arrive in U.S. stores in the fourth quarter of 2020, priced at under $48,000, after the $7,500 federal tax credit, Volvo said. The XC40 Recharge will be the vanguard of a series of emission-free models from Volvo. The automaker wants battery-powered vehicles to account for half of its global sales by 2025. Over the next 5 years, Volvo expects to launch a fully electric vehicle every year. “A Volvo built in 2025 will leave a carbon footprint that is 40 % lower than a car that we build today”, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said during a press event in October. “We made safety part of the brand. We should do the same with sustainability”. +++

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