Newsflash: Mini broedt op Alpine A110 concurrent

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+++ ASTON MARTIN has suffered its fair share of financial troubles, most recently with its troubled initial public offering (IPO) in 2018. But finally, things are looking up. The automaker just received a huge cash injection from a consortium led by sugar daddy and billionaire Lawrence Stroll, one of the owners of the Racing Point Formula 1 team. As part of the deal announced this week, Stroll’s Racing Point will become Aston Martin’s F1 works team starting in the 2021 season, while Stroll’s business will take a 20 % stake in Aston Martin, and Stroll will replace Penny Hughes as the company’s executive chairman. That doesn’t mean Aston Martin is finished with the Red Bull Racing F1 team just yet. Its sponsorship of the Red Bull team continues through the 2020 season before switching over to Racing Point. Also, Aston Martin’s technology partnership with Red Bull will continue until the radical Valkyrie hypercar arrives later this year. So, how’d Aston Martin get here? The automaker is in a cash crunch as it prepares to release the highly-anticipated DBX, which SUV is being made in a costly new factory in St Athan, South Wales. After a tough 2019 with slow sales, higher selling costs, and lower margins than expected, Aston is looking to raise about $660 million, with $240 million of that money coming from Stroll. Cash raining down from Stroll will be critical. The DBX will launch in the second quarter of the year, followed quickly by the Vantage Roadster. The Valkyrie AMR Pro is still expected to be revealed in 2021, when the first deliveries of the V12 Speedster also are expected. Aston’s mid-engine Vanquish is now anticipated to arrive after the Valhalla, which will debut in 2022. That’s a busy schedule, and, yes, Aston Martin is still working on a fuel-efficient new V6 engine for hybrid variants of its core models, too. The all-electric Rapid E’s development is “substantially complete”, per Aston Martin, and the program isn’t the only one on pause for the time being, pending a review. Development of all Aston Martin electric vehicles is suspended beyond 2025, including the previously planned relaunch of the Lagonda brand (and its sedan and SUV models) in 2022. +++ 

+++ While there were no clear signals that AUDI SPORT will have its way with the new generation A1 Sportback, I am disappointed to find out that they have clearly ruled out an RS1. In fact, they will not build a model smaller than the RS3 Sportback, as the compact hatchback will remain the most affordable Audi Sport on sale, according to managing director Julius Seebach. 4-cylinder-powered RS cars are thus a ‘no-no’, so those looking for an A1 with some grunt will have to settle for the 40 TFSI. The supermini packs 200 hp and 320 Nm from the 2.0-liter TFSI, does the 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds and tops out at 235 km/h. On a more positive note, the 5-banger found in the outgoing RS3 Sportback and Sedan, as well as the RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback, is believed to be updated for the next generation. The compact hot hatch needs to better challenge the likes of the new Mercedes-AMG A45 S, which enjoys a whopping 421 hp, so it should kick out more than 400 horsepower. The 2.5-liter five-pot currently makes 400 hp and 480 Nm of torque, rocketing the hatchback to 100 km/h in just a little over 4 seconds and up to 280 km/h. +++ 

+++ You needn’t be an experienced computer hacker to fool a car’s sensor-based driver-assist systems: you simply need a projector. Apparently, that’s all it takes to trick a Tesla equipped with AUTOPILOT 2.5 hardware or any vehicle using 630 Pro driver-assist tech from supplier Mobileye. Ben Nassi, a Ph.D. student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, discovered the flaw and shared it in a research paper titled “Phantom of the ADAS: Phantom Attacks on Driver-Assistance System”. In 1 test, a 2-dimensional image of a person projected onto the road causes a Tesla Model X to slow down as if the projection is a physical being. Likewise, projecting fake lane markers on the ground leads the Model X to temporarily ignore the road’s physical lane lines. In Nassi’s testing, the SUV would follow the artificial lane markers into the wrong traffic lane, likely because the projections were brighter than the real-life markers. Similarly, Mobileye’s 630 Pro technology proved easily confused by projected imagery. Notably, Mobileye’s traffic sign recognition system was fooled into relaying incorrect speed limit information to the driver due to its inability to distinguish between projected and physical speed limit signage. For what it’s worth, other driver-assist systems may suffer similar responses to projected imagery. However, the study only tested the Tesla and Mobileye setups “because their products are the best and most popular products available on the market”. And it isn’t clear whether the projections would have any effect during daylight hours, when they wouldn’t stand out in sharper contrast than their real-life surroundings. The team’s findings are nevertheless problematic, as we can imagine rabble-rousers using projectors to trick unwitting vehicles into entering the wrong lane of traffic, engaging their automated emergency braking systems, or displaying incorrect speed limit information to their drivers. Nevertheless, this study serves as just another reminder to drivers that assist systems like these exist to help make driving easier and safer; they do not replace the act of driving (or paying attention) entirely. +++ 

+++ Honda said that it has decided to keep its automobile plants in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak of a new CORONA VIRUS , closed until February 13. The Japanese automaker earlier planned to keep the facilities offline through next Sunday in line with the Lunar New Year holiday in China. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi plans to extend the period of closure for its two facilities in Shanghai, including a research and development base, by 7 days until February 9, sources in the company said. Japanese companies are scrambling to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, as prolonged effects of the outbreak are feared to disrupt supply chains for their branches in China. Honda has 3 plants in Wuhan that make models including its popular Civic, with their combined annual production capacity standing at 600.000 units. The 3 plants went offline on January 23 for the Lunar New Year holiday. A Honda public relations official said the company will decide whether to reopen the plants on February 14 after monitoring the local situation. +++ 

+++ Back in 2018, FERRARI announced they were working on a SUV called the Purosangue. Named after the Italian word for thoroughbred, the Purosangue moniker was a logical choice for the brand as their logo features a prancing horse. There’s only one problem, the Purosangue name is already in use. According to the Financial Times, Ferrari is now suing the Purosangue Foundation which is an anti-doping group which has been in operation since 2011. The automaker claims they haven’t commercialized their name enough to warrant exclusivity. While the Purosangue Foundation isn’t a household name, they’ve partnered with Adidas on a range of clothing that includes everything from backpacks to footwear. That could make Ferrari’s argument an uphill battle and the foundation isn’t backing down. Instead, they sought talks with Ferrari. Those apparently went nowhere, so they blocked the automaker’s trademark application in Europe. This sparked the current lawsuit which is headed to court on March 5th. The foundation’s lawyer told the legal battle is “David versus Goliath” and rejected the claim that the Purosangue name hasn’t been in constant use. The charity’s founder, Max Monteforte, was understandably upset and told this is an “injustice”. He went on to say “Why should we give up our identity? They should have checked first”. It’s hard to argue with Monteforte’s sentiment, but Ferrari has a history of being aggressive with litigation and protecting their identity. Just last year, the automaker threatened to sue the owner of an 812 Superfast after they posted a picture of his company’s shoes on the back of the car. At the time, Ferrari’s lawyers accused Philipp Plein of “unlawfully appropriating the goodwill” of their trademarks and living a “lifestyle totally inconsistent with Ferrari’s brand perception”. As for the Purosangue, the SUV is slated to be unveiled next year and ride on a modified version of the Roma’s platform. The company hasn’t said much about the model, but speculation suggest it could have a plug-in hybrid powertrain. +++ 

+++ After a wait of 3 years and counting, the FORD Bronco launch is nearly upon us, rumor saying we’ll see the Blue Oval’s Jeep Wrangler fighter at the Chicago or New York Auto Shows. Sometime after that, the summer season will welcome the Bronco foal colloquially known as “baby Bronco” for now. Howeve, it’s actual name might be Maverick. The circumstantial evidence comes in a list of 8 parts on a spreadsheet for key fobs or fob components for various Ford vehicles. The 8 fobs in question are grouped under the heading for a ‘2020 Maverick’. True, we’re not looking at a smoking gun, more like a random pistol that just happens to be near the crime scene. As other forum members pointed out, the spreadsheet entry could be a placeholder for whatever the junior Bronco’s name will ultimately be. The model year is also a problem: a debut this summer and autumn production points to a 2021 model year. In 2018, everyone expected the Bronco to debut in 2019 as a 2020 vehicle; However, focus group testing led to revisions that pushed production back. Maverick is one of the names Ford applied to trademark in December 2016 for the rugged crossover that will sit on the Escape’s C2 platform, just a month before announcing the Bronco’s return at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. The company used the Maverick name most recently on the Escape sold from 2001-2005 in Europe, and calling up old names is a popular marketing tactic of late. Ford also sought to protect the names Scout and Bronco Scout, but the automaker abandoned the Bronco Scout application. Filed paperwork also includes the names Bronco Big Bend, Bronco Outer Banks, Bronco Sport, Adrenaline, Badlands, Timberline and Wildtrak, but it’s hard to tell which truck those might apply to and whether they apply to the truck itself or truck accessories. On top of that, Bronco Adventurer was also in the running before being dropped for Bronco Sport. A source says he has seen the Maverick name in use on the vehicle, though, claiming that a detailed CAD model had “a Maverick badge on the right side of the hatch”. Perhaps that’s why Ford didn’t project a photo of the baby Bronco’s backside in its trio of photos during a dealer meeting. I have seen a few prototypes, a grille mold, and the side of the body-in-white, which matches up with the runabout shown at the Ford dealer meeting. Whenever the SUV codenamed CX430 arrives, no matter the name, I’m expecting a reworked Kuga interior and a mix of gas and hybrid powertrains. +++

 

+++ Amid a raging debate in Germany over the future of the car, the country’s president hurried to Wolfsburg to address anxious Volkswagen employees. Society had realized the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves would have to be managed more carefully, the head of state warned that November day, and “can no longer be exploited without consequence”. Resource conservation held the key to the industry’s preservation and with it an entire way of life. A bold new model designed with this very goal in mind had production only 6 months earlier, carrying with it the hopes of a workforce worried about flagging sales of VW’s aging stalwart. By taking action now, the prominent visitor predicted that “the automobile will continue to play the major role as a means of individual mobility”. Although eerily familiar, this scene actually happened in 1974. The auto industry was in the throes of the first oil crisis and VW was neck and neck with Opel. Despite the recent arrival of the Passat, liquidity had dwindled to dangerously low levels after multiple attempts to develop a successor to the Beetle had failed. Salvation came that year in the form of a fuel-efficient hatchback. Penned by design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro, it was compact yet roomy with 3 of 5 doors thanks to the new, transverse-mounted front-engine layout popularized by the smaller Morris Mini from Britain. Starting at 7,995 deutsche marks (roughly €11,500 in today’s terms) the GOLF became an instant hit. Just 31 months after assembly began, the 1 millionth unit left the factory gate in Wolfsburg. “We have been building the car for the past 45 years over 7 generations, delivered 35 million to customers, an entire segment is named after it and it has been the financial and technological foundation of our brand for years”, VW brand chief operating officer Ralf Brandstätter said when introducing the 8th generation of the car last year. “No other model has shaped Volkswagen more than the Golf”. Once again the automaker finds itself at a crossroads. Once more a new compact hatchback promises to define a coming era for VW. Only this time it’s not the Golf, it’s the full-electric ID3. Despite the prosperity achieved from the success of its best-seller, the Golf’s future seems more in doubt than ever. To meet stringent upcoming emissions targets, VW is shifting focus toward electric vehicles built off a dedicated architecture that cost more than €6 billion to develop. Funding that transition are high-margin crossovers such as the Tiguan and T-Cross that enjoy broad global appeal. “The Golf could soon begin to look like one of those airline passengers stuck in the middle seat”, said Matthias Schmidt, a Berlin-based independent industry analyst. “It’s sandwiched between 2 sumo wrestlers: the expanding number of SUVs on the one side and electric vehicles feasting on CO2 legislation on the other”. Analysts believe a Golf successor, which presumably would be sold into the early 2030s, depends heavily on the future of carbon emission targets, Euro 7 pollutant caps and the intersection in cost curves where electric vehicles become more affordable to build than combustion engine cars. Pressed about whether there would be a 9th generation Golf, Brandstätter said he had “no reason today” not to expect one. But simply posing the question would not have been imaginable in the past. Traditionally the most popular car in Europe overall, the Golf dominates the compact segment. About 454.000 units were sold last year in Europe including the Sportsvan derivative. The Golf outsells its closest competitor, the Ford Focus, by more than a 2-to-1 margin and many brands fail to match the Golf’s volume across their entire product ranges. This isn’t just thanks to VW’s extensive distribution network of 5.400 dealers across Europe. The Golf is also the most sought after used car, taking the top spot even in France and Italy last year, according to search results from online site AutoScout24. Jürgen Stackmann spent 20 years of his life at Ford of Europe searching in vain for the winning formula that would break the Golf’s stranglehold on the segment. “You couldn’t crack it. Whenever we thought we were getting close, it made another leap forward technologically”, said the executive, now in charge of sales and marketing for the VW brand. “It perfectly reflects the mainstream of society. If you look at the age of the average German, it’s virtually identical to that of a Golf owner”. Executives expect the 8th generation Golf, which will start arriving in showrooms across Europe during the coming weeks, will once again set the benchmark in its class in terms of CO2 emissions, comfort, craftsmanship and connectivity. 3 new 48 volt mild hybrids that can turn off the engine when coasting are on offer while the GTE plug-in hybrid variant returns, offering 2 different performance levels. The diesel version reduces harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80 % and even a TGI derivative that runs on compressed natural gas is planned. The GTD diesel, Golf R and GTI performance cars arrive this year as well. What sets the new Golf apart is that it is VW’s most technologically advanced model to date. The car is equipped with a fully digital cockpit, an embedded cellular modem for over-the-air updates and the ability to communicate with other cars and surrounding infrastructure at distances up to 800 meters. It even comes with natural voice recognition that includes a Smart Home integration via Amazon Alexa. VW’s mission for the Golf is simple: form the vanguard of a new fleet of digitally enabled vehicles that eventually draw in 5 million paying users every year to its own virtual in-car shopping mall. This proprietary ecosystem called ‘Volkswagen We’ aims to sell new goods and services, for example, the option to enable automatic cruise control on a vacation drive to Italy. Not only do such functions-on-demand provide fresh revenue streams, they can tether the customer more closely to the brand, increase the likelihood of a repeat purchase and even boost resale value because the car is upgradeable. How much revenue this could add is still unclear, according to VW. To ensure its cars are fit for this smartphone-inspired business model, the brand has committed to investing roughly €3.5 billion in digitalization by 2025 and overhauled its contract with European dealers. No model is more ideally suited to accomplish this important task, since a new Golf is sold every 45 seconds on average. “This makes it one of the most digitally relevant vehicles on the road”, said Schmidt, who is also the publisher of a monthly report on Europe’s EV market. “That the Golf is the first model to receive this can almost be seen as a long-term thank you gift for its many years of service”. In the process, however, a host of programming glitches delayed the car’s European launch. The complexity of the Golf’s infotainment system alone is comparable to that of an entire car sold in 2010. This helped catalyze VW’s decision to develop its own software stack in the future via a new subsidiary that opened its doors last month. “There are a 100 million lines of code in the Golf, roughly as many as you find in an Airbus 320”, Brandstätter told reporters during the car’s debut last year. There are early signs, however, that the new Golf may struggle. Figures show its predecessor’s retail sales, after peaking in 2015 at 1.06 million cars, twice as many as the Tiguan at the time, dipped below the SUV for the first time last year. The Tiguan is now VW brand’s global best-seller and is poised to retain the crown as more and more assembly sites are added for the SUV, the latest in Jakarta, Indonesia. For that reason, the base version of the Golf is being removed from the U.S. market and production has been centralized in Wolfsburg to better preserve the plant’s capacity utilization. The only other location where the Golf will be assembled is in Foshan, China, by FAW-VW, one of the group’s 2 main joint ventures in the world’s largest auto market. To keep a lid on costs, investments in Golf production were halved to a figure in the mid-hundreds of millions of euros. Roughly 80 % of the existing equipment in the body shop could be reused because the MQB platform was largely carried over from the 7th generation model. Average manufacturing time was cut by an hour (an improvement of about 4 %), despite adding a further 100 meters of cabling. VW also killed the less popular 3-door version to reduce complexity. “The Golf has seen challenges on a number of fronts, with this only set to intensify for the new generation”, said Jonathon Poskitt, LMC Automotive’s director of global sales forecasts. He anticipates peak sales of about 630.000 units next year, excluding roughly 60.000 units of the Sportsvan variant of the 7th generation Golf. This would represent a material drop over the 702.000 sold in 2019; itself an annual decline of 16 %. On a like-for-like basis, this translates to about 4.5 million units sold over the lifetime of the new Golf, or 1 million fewer than its predecessor. “The market continues to see a clear shift toward SUVs and particularly within the VW brand the likes of the T-Cross and T-Roc have only served to apply further downward pressure to conventional vehicles’ market share, like the Golf”, Poskitt said. There’s no guarantee the latest Golf iteration will not be the last. The decision late in 2015 to develop a purpose-built MEB electric architecture may have sealed the car’s fate. VW didn’t want a successor to the full-electric e-Golf that has been built for nearly 6 years, rather it set out to design a whole new model. What engineers and designers came up with had a taller profile, enlarged rims and a compressed front end where the engine compartment is usually located. With the newfound freedom that comes with starting from scratch, they created a very different car in terms of looks and proportions: one that in many ways promises to be far superior. The ID3 battery-electric compact hatchback due this summer threatens to eclipse the Golf as the brand’s new technology centerpiece in Europe. At its heart is the new end-to-end electronic architecture called E cubed that has much higher data transfer rates than the new Golf’s CAN-FD system, allowing, for example, the ID3 to offer a new augmented-reality windshield. The e-Golf, which will be discontinued, has accounted for more than 100.000 sales since its launch in 2014. Its de facto replacement should surpass that figure in its first full year of availability. “The ID3 is compact like the Golf, agile like the Up, offers the space of a midsize car and the punch of a GTI”, said Silke Bagschik, head of sales and marketing for VW’s EV line. While VW used its influence as sponsor of the German national soccer team to bring trainer Joachim Loew to Wolfsburg for the Golf’s premiere, chancellor Angela Merkel carved out time in her busy schedule to attend the start of production of the ID3 in Zwickau. At this early stage, however, EVs would never be able to deliver the volumes needed to keep a plant such as Wolfsburg busy enough. The world’s largest interconnected automotive factory employs 8.400 people just to build the Golf and its various derivatives. Analysts argue that a diversification by itself is not necessarily bad as it ends VW’s past dependence on the Golf for volume and profits. Poor initial demand for the fifth generation Golf triggered a crisis for the company and its costly multilink rear suspension was dropped as a standard feature in the outgoing 7th generation Golf. While Schmidt believes VW has all the resources it needs to keep the inevitable ebb of incumbent Golf customers from wandering to brands outside the VW Group, LMC’s Poskitt does see an underlying risk. “The Golf has been a central pillar to the VW brand’s more premium pricing”, he said. A switch to a more lucrative Tiguan ultimately may be margin dilutive over the long run, if VW loses its ability acquired with the Golf to charge higher transaction prices. Competition in the compact crossover segment is far more ferocious because of established rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and BMW X1. Despite softening demand for compact hatchbacks, VW brand sales boss Stackmann said he would “take almost any bet” management still approves development of a Golf successor in 2023. No VW model better symbolizes the DNA of the brand or its German workforce, he argues. “The Tiguan is naturally very important”, Stackmann said about the Wolfsburg plant’s other core product. “If, however, you ask the team here in which model they most invest their lifeblood, it’s the Golf”. +++ 

+++ In 2016, HONDA applied with to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the terms “Hydronaut” and “Hydrogenaut”. Assuming success, both terms were to be applied to an endeavor “Providing technological and scientific information about fuel cell vehicles; providing a website featuring technological and scientific information about fuel cell vehicles”. After being published for opposition, both applications were left to die, their abandonment dates listed as January 20, 2020. Two days later, January 22, Honda re-applied with the U.S. PTO to trademark the same 2 terms for the same service. It’s possible the Japanese automaker will sit on them again, to no apparent purpose. Nevertheless, someone inside the company has the aim of one day spreading the hydrogen gospel. The alternative fuel could certainly use converts. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have trotted out the occasional fuel-cell electric vehicle over the past decade or so, but the Japanese and South Korean automakers have been especially vocal about getting FCEVs mainstream. Toyota copied the Prius playbook for the Mirai, sinking noteworthy sums of money into an ungainly first generation to get early-adopter butts in seats, then rolling out a svelte second generation gunning for mainstream appeal. We saw how that turned out with the Prius. The problem with the much more handsome Mirai is that even in California, only fringe greenies are lured by the siren song of hydrogen at the moment. Until the infrastructure expands enough to achieve regular contact with the average driver, and permit travel outside of narrow corridors, that situation won’t change quickly. Therefore, Honda could do itself an enormous favor with a splashy online education effort, likewise a favor for every other hydrogen-invested automaker and the dim prospect of the so-called hydrogen highway getting filled out in our lifetimes. BMW might want to lend Honda a coding hand, in fact, the German automaker restating its commitment to hydrogen in an interview with The Telegraph. Dr. Jürgen Guldner, the automaker’s VP for fuel cell projects, told the UK newspaper: “We see fuel cells helping us to convert all our cars to zero emissions over the next 2 decades”, and, “We don’t see it as competition for the battery electric vehicle, but as a further offer to our customers”. BMW intends to release a fleet of third-generation FCEVs based on the X5 by the end of 2022, Guldner saying that price parity between hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and traditional ICE vehicles could be achieved as soon as 2025. +++ 

+++ The new director of design at JAGUAR , Julian Thomson, says the British car manufacturer will not follow the lead of some of its rivals in designing vehicles with huge front grilles. While recently speaking at the launch of the 2020 Jaguar F-Type, Thomson said some car manufacturers have started to design new vehicles to cater towards the tastes of buyers in China and doing so isn’t a smart move. “China’s a first generation of car owners, or second-generation now and they have been quite brand obsessed, but not knowing what brand was what so a lot of manufacturers have reacted to this by doing very strong faces on their cars, just to get known”, he said. “I feel some of our competitors have gone really overboard in trying to overemphasize the brand, the face of the car, and in a fairly crude manner in a lot of cases”. During a presentation at the 2020 F-Type’s launch, Thomson described how some rival marques are “doing faces only a mother could love” and confirmed that Jaguar will not “torture the metal” in this way. Thomson admitted that car manufacturers need to have distinct design languages but said Jaguar will look to tap into the Chinese market with more refined styling. “Premium brands like ourselves do need to have design languages that are much more cohesive and recognisable, but at Jaguar we’re not going to be funky, we’re not going to do these big faces. We’ve really got to make sure Jaguar has some real integrity and civility about it”, he said. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI chiefs are monitoring the development of common rules across the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, labeling it a “super exciting opportunity” and a “game changer” for the sport. During the Rolex 24 weekend at Daytona, bosses from IMSA and Le Mans organisers the ACO announced a new vision that would see IMSA’s new-for-2022 LMDh machinery be eligible to race against hypercars in the WEC, with the aim of having one common top-tier rules set by 2025. Following the news, Lamborghini’s head of motorsport Giorgio Sanna told that the timing could coincide with the Italian brand expanding its racing activities beyond its current GT3/GTD commitments in Europe and America and its one-make Super Trofeo series. Led by former Ferrari F1 team boss Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini reported record sales in 2019 with a 43 % increase in delivery to customers: selling 2.139 Huracan road cars that have racing equivalents built on the same production line in Santa’Agata Bolognese. “Clearly, the new DPi LMDh is an interesting platform, as is the hypercar for the WEC”, said Sanna. “This is one of the categories that we are looking at with interest for a possible commitment in the future. But today, nothing is decided, it is just an evaluation that we will continue to do. Deciding when, in that case, will be the right time to compete. The IMSA platform is very strategic for us because North America is our number one market. And so, to be able to win for 3 years consecutively at Daytona in the GTD class, as we are also growing a lot with Super Trofeo, for us is a very good marketing tool. It promotes the brand awareness and the sporting side of the brand in the most important market that we have worldwide”. When asked if he thought the long-term goal to converge the rules across the series was a good idea, Sanna replied: “Yes, absolutely. This is something that all the OEMs were asking for heavily in the last few years. To have the strongest platform possible in the endurance world is fundamental to have this kind of synergy. We are really happy from our perspective, but also from the fans perspective. For us it’s fundamental to have a global car platform that is eligible to race in the entire world because we are a global player”. The planned convergence would allow OEMs competing in IMSA’s top division to race in the WEC and its showpiece event, the Le Mans 24 Hours. “Le Mans is the dream for many manufacturers, for many teams, for many drivers”, said Sanna. “We have to keep our passions and grow step by step. But clearly we are young, we have time to get motivated. So no rush! “We’ll see. We are always looking for new opportunities. But we can’t forget that Squadra Corse (Lamborghini’s sporting arm) was born just 6 years ago, and we are very young”. Lamborghini’s chief technical officer, Maurizio Reggiani, was also at Daytona. He has responsibility for all road and racing hardware, is a member of the company’s management board, and was seen entering a meeting with IMSA president John Doonan on Saturday morning, along with other top-ranking Lamborghini officials. At the Frankfurt Motor Show, Lamborghini unveiled the Sian FKP 37: a hybrid-powertrain hypercar of which only 63 will be built. During the 2019 World Finals in October, Squadra Corse teased video of a new 12-cylinder track-only hypercar that will debut in 2020 featuring a 6.5-litre V12 engine, delivering 840 hp. “We make supercars and we are a hypercar constructor”, Reggiani told. “For me it is important to understand what are the boundary conditions of the new technical ruleset and based on this we will make a decision if it makes sense or not. Let me say we are seated on the bank of the river, waiting to see what’s in the water, to decide if we want to fish, or whether it is just water. Only after Sebring (where a further announcement regarding the rules is expected) will we be able to make our statement”. Reggiani said that the GT3 platform (branded GT Daytona in IMSA) “really opened the door to European manufacturers to race in the US”. He wants to see this model repeated in the top class in future. “This has been a huge success and I think what they want to do with the new DPi is exactly the same”, he said. “Manufacturers invest in motorsport for the world, not for one country. And the agreement between IMSA and ACO is a smart, more intelligent solution. We know the costs can grow, so it’s important to control them from a political point of view, and really stick to your rules”. When asked about the potential of seeing Lamborghini contest for top honours at Le Mans, Reggiani replied: “I think this is what’s really sexy about what’s on offer from IMSA and the ACO. With the same car, you can contest the most iconic races in the world. And for every OEM, if you decide that you make an investment, you can capitalize in America and in Europe, I think this is really the biggest game changer in the field of motorsport. This is a super-exciting opportunity, and we need to see how close it can be to our vision of motorsport”. +++ 

+++ MAZDA is in a tough spot and frankly, it’s been that way for several years now. Actually, we need to clarify that statement: Mazda is in a tough spot with enthusiasts, and to be even more precise, fans of the rotary engine. These folks are rotary-obsessed and quite vocal to boot, but sales of the RX-8 were less than impressive. It was dropped in 2012 and rumours have continually surfaced since then about an RX-9 that will bring rotary glory back to the world. There is rumour of a new RX-9 that seems to have promise, but there’s a major catch. It apparently won’t have a rotary. The rumour is unconfirmed and coming from an anonymous source. In place of a compact rotary engine, taking station under this proposed RX-9’s bonnet would be a turbocharged inline-6 and no, it’s reportedly not of BMW origin. The rumour pegs the mill as a variant of Mazda’s Skyactiv family, which is a legitimate project currently in the works. It’s said to produce between 350 and 400 hp and if the RX-9 manages to be as light and balanced as its predecessors, it could be a very lively machine for battling the Toyota Supra. We suspect a Mazda RX-branded sports car without a rotary would be sacrilege to the aforementioned fans, but that’s why we say the automaker is in a tough spot. Once you get past the size and weight advantages of a rotary, reliability and efficiency make it a hard sell in today’s world. That’s especially true with regards to efficiency: rotary engines are notoriously thirsty, and then there’s the whole issue of emissions. Sorry rotary fans, but the deeper you go, the less likely it seems such a mill will ever return to production. As such, that raises an interesting question. If a rotary engine is out of the question for new models, should Mazda retire its RX moniker or evolve the car into something new? +++ 

+++ BMW has delayed the development of its next generation MINI as it seeks to cut costs and as uncertainty over Britain’s trade relations with the European Union make long-term investment decisions harder. The German carmaker has developed 3 generations of the Mini since buying the marque from Rover Group in 1994, keeping each vehicle in the market for about 6 years. The current Mini Hatch model, which has been on the market since 2014, is built on the company’s technological platform called UKL1. “The lifespan of this platform has been extended”, BMW spokesman Maximilian Schöberl told. “For cost reasons and because of the Brexit”. Pressure has risen on carmakers to free up resources so they can shoulder hefty investments to build next generation low emission electric, hybrid and connected vehicles. The combustion-engined city car has suffered as customers migrated toward larger SUVs and as tightening emissions rules force carmakers to include costly modifications to exhaust systems. Anti-pollution rules and cost pressure has already forced Opel to drop the Adam and Karl models from sale. Mini’s sales fell 4.1 % last year to 346.639 cars and showed an 18 % drop in registrations in December. In March, BMW said it would seek €12 billion in cost savings and efficiency gains by the end of 2022. To reach its goal, BMW is cutting the number of available engine and gearbox combinations by 50 % and slashing vehicle development costs. New vehicle platforms cost around €1 billion in research and development costs and are used for around 6 years, Jürgen Pieper, an auto analyst at Metzler told. It is for this reason that several carmakers have sought to carry over as many common components into next generation vehicles. Volkswagen’s Golf 7 and 8 models share common underpinnings. The Mini is currently built in Oxford and in Born, the Netherlands, and any next generation car would require investments into the production lines of both factories. BMW will not make large scale investments until there is greater certainty over the outcome of negotiations between Britain and the European Union over a trade deal. “If tariffs are in the range of 0 % and 5 %, the business case would not dramatically change”, BMW chief executive Oliver Zipse said last year, referring to Oxford’s status as a production and export hub for the Mini. But higher tariffs on exports to and from Britain may force BMW to consider shifting more production to the Netherlands. BMW produced 211.660 cars in the Netherlands in 2018; a 39 % increase from 2017. BMW uses contract manufacturer VDL Nedcar to build the X1, the Mini Hatch, Mini Cabrio and Mini Countryman models at its Dutch plant. BMW’s plant in Oxford made 234.501 Minis in 2018. The third generation of the revived hatchback was launched in 2014 and a new version had been due to arrive in 2022 or 2023. However, the new electric version, which is built at the plant in Oxford, will have a longer lifespan. When it arrives, the next generation Mini hatch is set to shrink in size and will shift from UKL1 to a yet-to-be-confirmed new platform, which is likely to be either BMW’s FAAR architecture or a new one understood to be in development with Chinese firm Great Wall. Switching to a new platform would require significant investment to upgrade the current Mini production lines in both Oxford and the Netherlands, at a time when BMW is trying to make substantial cost savings to free up resources to invest in electric, connected and autonomous vehicle technology. BMW is in the process of dramatically cutting vehicle development costs and slashing the number of engine and gearbox combinations it offers in a bid to lower costs. +++

 

+++ Last year was a good year for the BMW Group, with sales rising a few percent to a record high of at least 2.5 million globally. While Mini has had a bit of a slump in global sales by 4 %, BMW’s M division enjoyed a 32 % increase in sales to at least 135.000 units globally. This situation sees Mini taking into consideration that the global market is ready for more opportunities in high-performance, albeit more expensive, cars. While Mini already has the potent GP hot hatchback, they’re not totally dismissing the idea of something faster, something willing to take the likes of the Alpine A110 head-on. Mini’s head of communications, Andreas Lampka, said during the Mini Electric launch in Miami this week: “While the current lineup of Mini consists of front-wheel drive and front-engined, with all-wheel drive on some models, there’s a big chance at a mid-engined model getting the green light soon. If we give our engineers some more spare time and resources, they’ll come up with a mid-engine car”. Oh, and given the direction Mini is going, it won’t necessarily have a combustion engine, either. When asked, Lampka said that something along the lines of the shelved MINI SUPERLEGGERA isn’t far from happening. “Let’s see how the brand develops. Because yes, it is exciting times for Mini. We are confident we are making the right decisions and the other side you don’t know what is going to be the next challenge for the brand”, he said. Originally revealed in 2014 in Itlay, the Mini Superleggera was a lightweight 2-seater designed in partnership with Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera. It was supposed to be powered by an electric motor, but higher-ups decided to put a hold on the idea at the time. +++ 

+++ The annual World’s Greatest Drag Race returns, which gathered 12 of the fastest new cars on the Vandenberg Air Force Base’s huge runway to settle their differences over a half-mile sprint. As with every previous drag race, the cars here come from across the performance spectrum. The fleet includes the Toyota Supra, BMW M2 Competition, Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, BMW 850i xDrive, Bentley Continental GT, Lamborghini Urus, Dodge Challenger Hellcat Red Eye, Jaguar XE SV Project 8, Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4MATIC+, Aston Martin DBS Superleggera and the McLaren Senna. With the McLaren Senna being the single hypercar of the group, it’s rather obvious that this is the car to beat in this drag race. Power comes from a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with 800 hp and 800 Nm, making the Senna capable of a 0-100 km/h in 2.8 seconds and of a 0-200 km/h in just 6.8 seconds. The real battle to watch out for is behind the Senna, as there are 8 cars here capable of doing the quarter mile in the 11 seconds. These include the Lamborghini Urus, the Bentley Continental GT, the Jaguar XE SV Project 8, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Red Eye and more. But the biggest surprise of this World’s Greatest Drag Race? It has be that PORSCHE 911 Carrera 4S. Despite lacking massively in power compared to most of the cars here, the new 911 was simply breathtakingly fast, demonstrating Porsche’s know-how in setting up a launch control and in dual-clutch transmissions among other things. A ‘regular’ Carrera 4S doing the quarter mile in 11.2 seconds? Imagine what the upcoming 911 Turbo models will be like … +++ 

+++ U.S. consumers are not as enthusiastic as the rest of the world about giving up vehicle ownership in favor of ROBOTAXI services, according to a report by AlixPartners, a global consulting company. The Global Autonomous Vehicle survey of more than 6.500 consumers in 6 countries found 44 % of U.S. respondents said they would consider giving up personal vehicles if ride-hailing robotaxis become widespread and cost about the same as ownership. 84 % of respondents in China said they would consider giving up ownership. Italy followed with 67 % of respondents saying they would consider giving up personal vehicle ownership. Consumers overall are less interested in paying more for advanced driver-assistance systems (Level 2 autonomy), the report showed, than they are for hands-off-the-wheel technology (Level 4). U.S. respondents said they would pay just 9 % more for hands-off-the-wheel autonomy. Chinese consumers were willing to pay just 8 % more, while respondents in Germany said they were willing to pay 24 % more. Alexandre Marian, a managing director in the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, told that consumers are probably less excited about paying more for Level 4 autonomy because they have not been able to experience it for themselves. “There’s always the challenge of assessing what is true value when it comes to something they haven’t been able to test”, he said. AlixPartners said 1 possible reason consumers are cautious about purchasing AVs is concern over safety. But 58 % of consumers in China said they were confident in the ability of the highest levels of autonomy (Levels 4 and 5) to navigate safely. “If you look at China, they are both open to adopting autonomous vehicles as well as they are confident the AV will be able to navigate them”, Marian said. “If you’re able to make the technology work and the investment work, it could lead to a commercial path rather than a personal vehicle”. Just 27 % of U.S. consumers and 18 % in Germany said they were confident in AV safety. “AV manufacturers will have to do more than develop a good product”, the report said. “They will need to invest in consumer experiential marketing, work with regulators to show consumers that the infrastructure is ready for a safe introduction and (as a group) not scare off the public by having major incidents due to unsafe and under-tested solutions in consumers’ hands”. “I would personally not consider that an impediment at this point, because we have not seen commercially viable options on the street just yet”, Marian said. “To be honest with you, even if 18 % out of Germany, 28 % out of France or 27 % out of the U.S. are confident that AVs are capable of driving them, this is a really significant potential market”. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , automakers are struggling to operate manufacturing lines here following difficulties in sourcing components from China due to the suspension of factory operations in the mainland. According to Hyundai, the automaker has decided to cancel extra working hours at its Ulsan and Jeonju plants this week, following the temporary shutdown of the 2 partnering factories in China that are responsible for supplying components such as wiring. To contain the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus in China, the authorities have extended the Lunar New Year holidays to February 2, forcibly extending the major company’s day offs as part of the preventive measures. Considering the current scenario, a Hyundai official said the company is “closely watching the situation” and counting the number of auto parts available for manufacturing. SsangYong is also mulling the suspension of operations at its manufacturing line in Pyeongtaek from February 4 to 12, due to the shutdown of its supplier in China. The manufacturing line will resume operations on February 15, an official told. “An average of 1.500 units of vehicles are manufactured on a daily basis at our plant and considering such volume, we expect to see a significant impact”, he said. GM Korea, which operates a manufacturing plant in Bupyeong, Incheon, has also canceled extra working hours this weekend considering the current situation. +++

 

+++ The 5.9-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine powering the SSC TUATARA is a work of art and the niche car manufacturer has shared some information about the powertrain’s intake system that helps make it such a weapon. First, the stats. The engine, built with Nelson Racing Engines, has a 8.8:1 compression ratio and revs through to 8,800 rpm. Running on 91 octane fuel, it is good for 1,350 hp and on E85 ethanol, it churns out an extraordinary 1,750 hp. A huge amount of work was put into perfecting the engine’s intake system because without enough air going into the engine, you’re obviously not going to have much power to play with. For starters, the engine features dual throttle bodies for excellent throttle response and also has expertly-designed intake runners and precisely positioned injectors to fine-tune the powerband and acceleration. Also key to the engine’s power and efficiency are the 2 heat exchangers it uses that are independently dedicated to water and air cooling systems. This design ensures the air gulped down by the engine is cool and can be used for extended periods of track and top speed driving or during stop-and-go scenarios in hot environments. Thanks to the huge grunt of the engine, SSC says the Tuatara can rocket to 60 mph (96 km/h) in just 2.5 seconds; a very impressive figure when you consider the car is rear-wheel drive and has enough power to spin the earth. SSC is confident the Tuatara can eclipse 300 mph (482 km/h) but it remains unclear if it will actually attempt a top speed run. +++ 

+++ “We’re rapidly approaching a 400 mile (640 km) range for Model S”, TESLA chief Elon Musk has revealed during a conference call following the company’s Q4 financial results announcement. “So, it won’t be long before Model S has a 400-mile range”, Musk made the revelation when he was asked when the Model S and X vehicles would switch to Tesla’s newer battery cells, which are being used for its Model 3 vehicles. Apparently, instead of switching the batteries inside the current versions of the more expensive vehicles, Tesla decided to work on the chemistry of the cells they’re using. Musk said the core chemistry inside those cells “has improved many times over the years” and that the company is “pretty happy” with their energy content. That said, the automaker is slated to launch a higher-performance ‘Plaid’ Model S with larger battery packs later this year. Tesla’s long range Model S is already a range leader in the US. The company’s website lists its range as 373 miles, but Musk says the cars it’s currently manufacturing will actually be able to run for 380 miles on a single charge; Tesla simply hasn’t gotten around to updating the EPA number. While a 400 mile range may not really be necessary, seeing as Tesla continues to expand its customers’ charging options, it may help show those on the fence about buying EVs that they can be as flexible as gas-powered cars. +++ 

+++ A hotter TOYOTA Supra GRMN could pack a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-6 making 400 hp, according to a rumour from Japan. It indicates that the model would likely debut at some point in 2020. In addition to the boost in power, the Supra GRMN would allegedly lose weight by incorporating carbon fibre components. Extra body reinforcements would make the model stiffer than the existing one, and there would be an upgraded suspension. A more aggressive body seems very likely, too. Rumours have circulated since the new Supra’s introduction about what Toyota might do to develop a more powerful model. Tetsuya Tada, Toyota’s chief engineer for the vehicle, indicates the company intends to introduce new variants of the coupe every year. With the debut being in 2019 (for the 2020 model year), this means there could be something fresh coming to the Supra in the coming months. The hotter Supra likely wouldn’t have a manual gearbox among its upgrades. Tada indicates that this is a matter of investment priorities. The company can create a more powerful coupe or engineer a three-pedal setup but not both at once. If the aftermarket is any indication, then Toyota should have no problem increasing the Supra’s output. Litchfield has just an ECU tune that can take the output to 430 hp versus the stock 340 hp. Even the company’s own Supra GT4 race car is good for 440 hp and still packs a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6 like the road-going model. +++ 

+++ Are you ready to give VOLKSWAGEN ‘s TDI diesel engines another shot? Volkswagen hopes so because they have a new TDI engine, which they claim is cleaner than ever. Thanks to an innovative new system of catalytic converters and ammonia injection VW is offering its cleanest diesel yet. After VW’s diesel emissions cheating scandal dubbed Dieselgate, many speculated VW would give up on the diesel engine altogether. Although VW has put a great deal of its financial might behind the development of electric vehicles, it plans to build petrol and diesel-powered cars alongside their electrified offerings for years to come. VW recently introduced the all-new EA 288 EVO diesel engine to debut their new Twin-Dosing Technology. To explain this new system, VW created an animated video that shows this new system in action. The EA 288 EVO uses a sophisticated system that features 2 catalytic converters each with their own Ammonia injection system. Ammonia is needed to reduce Nitrogen Oxide emissions which were the main culprit behind the Dieselgate scandal. According to VW, the new Twin-Dosing system reduces NOx emissions by over 80 % leading to a much cleaner engine. VW goes on to explain this system in their press release, “A metering module injects the substance into the exhaust gas upstream of the relevant SCR catalytic converter as AdBlue. Here, the solution evaporates and the reducing agent (urea) is broken down, combining with steam to form ammonia. In the catalytic converter, the ammonia then reacts with the nitrogen oxides on a special coating to form water and harmless nitrogen”. VW believes the new EA 288 EVO engine will give customers all of the benefits that made the past TDI engines so great without the damaging emissions. Markus Köhne, Head of Diesel Engine Development at Volkswagen, explains: “the innovative twin dosing technology we have developed means that our diesel engines are significantly below current limits and are in fact also well below the future limits required under the Euro 6d emissions standard in many measurements conducted by independent institutes. Our diesel engines are therefore not only extremely efficient, powerful and generate a high torque; they also contribute to a cleaner environment. We are extremely proud of this”. +++

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