Newsflash: nieuwe Seat Leon Cupra debuteert als 245 pk sterke stekker hybride

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+++ AUDI SPORT is ramping up its electrification offensive under new management, and will next year introduce the RS branding to a battery-powered model in the form of the production E-tron GT saloon. The sister model to the Porsche Taycan, set to be offered in regular, S and high-performance RS trims throughout its existence, is also likely to be joined by an RS version of Audi’s recently revealed E-tron Sportback. A number of plug-in hybrid RS models are also on the cards, while a new E-tron version of the current-generation R8 is tipped to appear next year as a prelude to a possible all-electric R8 replacement in a few years’ time. The plan for the Audi Sport division to embrace hybrid and electric propulsion has been devised under the joint management of directors Oliver Hoffmann and Julius Seebach. Expanding into new EV and PHEV markets is the priority now the division’s SUV offensive is well under way; this year it has launched the RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback, the diesel-powered SQ5 and both SQ8 and RS Q8 range flagships. Speaking at the recent Los Angeles motor show, Seebach confirmed that the E-tron GT (revealed in concept form at last year’s LA show) will be offered with the same 3 powertrain choices as traditional Audi models, such as the A6, S6 and RS6. The concept E-tron GT featured a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive electric powertrain making 600 hp and around 800 Nm. A 96 kWh battery gave a claimed range of 400 kilometres, with 0 – 100 kph quoted in 3.5 seconds. The production version will share its J1 electrical architecture with the Taycan, but it’s not clear if the Porsche’s 3-variant lineup, comprised of the 530 hp 4S, the 680 hp Turbo and 760 hp Turbo S, will transfer over with identical specs. More likely is that the base E-tron GT will start at a lower output, and therefore a lower price point, than the base Taycan. Both cars will use the same 800V electrical architecture, however, and weigh about the same. Expect standard and S models at launch, with the RS arriving slightly later. Seebach also confirmed that plug-in hybrids are formally under development by Audi Sport’s engineers. The powertrains will be introduced on the next generation of RS models, and it is understood that the first Audi RS model to be offered as a PHEV will be the next-generation RS4. That car will compete head to head with the next Mercedes-AMG C 63, which, as confirmed in October, will ditch the current car’s V8 in favour of a 500 hp-plus plug-in hybrid 4-cylinder powertrain. It will also be 4-wheeldrive, challenging Audi Sport’s long-established Quattro system when it arrives in early 2022. Expect the new RS4 to arrive slightly later, given that the current model only went on sale last year. Speaking separately at the LA motor show, Audi’s exterior design boss Andreas Mindt said his team is “absolutely” considering introducing the RS branding into the E-tron Sportback for an ultra-fast variant aimed at the upcoming Tesla Model Y Performance. Discussing the potential for an RS e-Tron Sportback, Mindt said: “It’s very similar to what you see with the RS Q8. You have to start with the standard car and build it up”. Such a model would carry over the classic RS design principles of big wheels and an aggressive bodykit to help differentiate, while changes to the chassis and steering will also be introduced. In a theoretical sense it’s relatively easy to turn up the wick for the electric motors, which in the standard e-Tron Sportback together put out 408 hp in the most powerful Boost mode. One possibility already hinted at is the introduction of a third electric motor, which would not only significantly increase peak outputs but also allow torque to be apportioned across each individual rear wheel for more neutral handling qualities. A timeframe for a performance Audi e-Tron Sportback is unconfirmed, but prototypes of a standard-bodied e-Tron with uprated, lowered suspension have been seen lapping the Nürburgring since May. It’s possible we’ll see something previewed next year for introduction in 2021. Before all this, however, it is understood that Audi will revive the all-electric R8 e-Tron as an upgraded model to go into limited production once again late next year. The brand first presented a second-generation version of the pure-electric supercar in 2015, but production was canned around 16 months later due to extremely slow demand. A price tag of around €1.000.000 was considered to blame for Audi only producing 100 examples in that period. Details of the new car have yet to be made official, but it is expected that it will look broadly similar to the 2015 car. That model used a dual-motor EV powertrain, mated to a 92kWh battery, putting out 462 hp and 900 Nm for a 0-100 kph time of 3.9 seconds and a promised range of up to 450 kilometres. Substantial developments of EV powertrains over the past 4 years mean that a power increase is likely, but the focus for Audi will be to bring the model’s price down to a more reasonable figure. Nevertheless, it is not expected that the revived R8 E-tron will be any more than a limited-production model. +++ 

+++ DACIA is a huge success in Europe for parent Renault Group because it delivers on its “value-for-money” philosophy. However, the cost of achieving emissions compliance, especially with electrified powertrains, could pose a threat to the low-cost brand’s profits and sales. When asked if Dacia does need electrified powertrains in Europe to bring down CO2 emissions and, if the answer is ‘yes’, how will it do this, Philippe Buros, a veteran of Dacia in Romania who is the chairman of Renault’s Europe region, said: “First of all, our CO2 emissions are global for Renault Group, including Dacia. The main selling point for Dacia is “value for money”, and as part of that Dacia takes technology that Renault has, but after a delay. So, Dacia will pick up everything that Renault has in terms of electrification, because we will be required to electrify the brand, either with full-electric cars or hybrids. It’s true that Dacia is not electric today but there are many brands in Europe that aren’t electric, either. I think that everyone will have to go electric because it’s an underlying trend. Dacia should have lower emissions for environmental reasons and our customers will be asking for electrification. When Dacia started to grow most of our customers in France lived in rural areas, but today we have a lot of buyers in cities such as Paris. They will want an electric Dacia. But, they will want one that is less expensive than an electric Renault. Dacia will maybe get a version of the Renault Zoe, but it would have to be the same price difference as between a Dacia Sandero and Renault Clio. Today, one of the ways we are reducing emissions is with LPG options. When you do LPG it lowers your emissions and it’s also a dual-fuel system. It’s especially popular in Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland. We are the only brand that offers the whole range with LPG versions. In Italy we have the highest share of the LPG market, ahead of Fiat. For the Duster, more than 50 % of sales in Italy are LPG and that is growing. I think in 2 or 3 years we will electrify Dacia. Because of emissions regulations, the cost of all vehicles is going up. It is adding €1.000 to €1.500 to the cost. When it’s a €100.000 car, it’s easier to absorb. When it’s one that costs €8.000 or €9.000, that is 10 % or more. That is why there is a delay in Dacia using Renault technology and why we are trying to wait as long as possible to amortize the technology. Prices everywhere will go up, but we have to ensure that the price gap between Dacia and the rest of the market, which is about 20 % less, is maintained. Otherwise, volume will go down. But we have to continue to offer “value for money” and a relatively high level of equipment but at a lower price. It’s not just a car with four wheels. We plan to use other technologies from the Renault-Nissan alliance, such as lane keeping or adaptive cruise control, even though our customers aren’t asking for that. Their needs are simpler: to get from Point A to Point B. For this they want airconditioning, electric windows, power steering but they don’t want a self-driving car because they know they will never get a self-driving car at €10.000. When we are required to put it in, we will do so. But we will try to do it as late as possible, otherwise it will break Dacia’s business model. Dacia customers are less concerned about novelty than Renault customers. They are pragmatic. They want a car to get themselves and their families around safely, but they are not worried about fashion. The Dokker will move to a newer Renault platform and light commercial vehicles will become more important to Dacia. Renault will launch a new Kangoo and we will see for what price equation we could make a Dacia version and whether we will do it. We relaunched Dacia with a “net price” business model. You can’t compete in the fleet market with that philosophy. If you do fleets, you start to discount. And then people will buy fleet cars to re-sell to individuals. That is why it’s complicated for Dacia to do fleets or utility vehicles. Dacia tries to avoid channels such as short-term rentals in Europe. It’s just like the fleet market. The rental cars will be resold after 3 or 4 months, but at a 20 % or 30 % discount, and it would break our business model. We do sell a little bit in those channels, but in France, for example, 80 % of our sales are retail. In Europe, there are 2 different customers: a Dacia customer and a Renault customer. The Dacia customer often stays with Dacia. When he is young, he will more likely have bought a used car and then moved up to a Dacia. He will stay with Dacia. It’s rare to have a Dacia customer move to Renault. We need to keep the brands separate because Dacia and Renault customers don’t want the same things. The Duster has been an incredible success, but we are not considering creating variants of it because the success of Duster is based on the price and the cost. The more you increase the diversity of your range, the more you raise the costs and the more you have to raise prices. We only raise our prices at the level of inflation, or maybe a little bit less. There is always a temptation to say, in France, we have about 2 percent inflation, we could raise prices 3 percent. But we have to maintain our business model of offering value for money. We will continue to push value for money; we have found a good balance between the price and the content of the cars. If we raise the content we will have to raise the price. If we do that we will be competing with Renault. We have to stay in the affordable car segment. The autonomous vehicle, the true autonomous vehicle, it’s not going to happen tomorrow. For Dacia, I don’t see that happening for a long time. But if we can adapt Dacia to a principle of mobility, it could be intelligent. When you need a car in a big city, if you have a Dacia car at a Dacia price to go 5 kilometers, there could be a business case there. The real difficulty is to reinforce our business model. Because the questions are often asked: Why don’t you sell to fleets? Why don’t you sell to driving schools? We have to say no. When you are a seller, it’s complicated to say you don’t want to sell a car. But that is what protects Dacia”. +++ 

+++ If there’s one thing FRANCE doesn’t need right now, it’s Carlos Ghosn on the loose. The fallen automotive titan was supposed to be facing trial for financial crimes in Tokyo where he’s been detained for more than a year. But late on Monday it emerged that he’d escaped the Japanese authorities to take refuge in Lebanon. It’s his next move that could make life awkward. Ghosn’s wife Carole told last month that he wants to be tried in France, where he holds citizenship. If he landed in Paris that would complicate the relationship between France and Japan at a moment when president Emmanuel Macron is trying to shore up the Renault-Nissan auto alliance. France has a policy to never extradite its citizens outside the European Union. Even in Lebanon, where France has close diplomatic ties, officials in Paris have an obligation to provide some support to the fugitive and risk being drawn into his dispute with the humiliated Japanese. “If a foreign citizen was escaping French justice, we would be very angry”, junior economy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told. “On the other hand, he’s a Lebanese, Brazilian and French citizen, and he has the right to consular support, like all French people”. Pannier-Runacher’s comments typify the balancing act French officials have tried to pull off since Ghosn was arrested in Tokyo more than a year ago: respect for the Japanese sovereignty and for the ongoing legal procedure, while providing a base-level of support for a man who tangled with the French government, his largest shareholder, more than once while at the helm of Renault. French officials are wary of any moves that might antagonize the Japanese as they try to protect a relationship that is vital to one of the country’s most important manufacturers. Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said in an interview that fixing the alliance was a matter of survival. After leading Nissan and Renault for most of their 2-decade partnership, Ghosn’s downfall exposed governance shortfalls at Nissan and brought long-standing tensions between the automakers to the fore, particularly regarding their capital structure in the partnership. Nissan’s new CEO said this month that he is looking at what works and what doesn’t in the alliance, stressing that the partnership needs to benefit all parties. “What interests us is the future of Renault and Nissan, and the alliance”, Pannier-Runacher said. “We have turned the page, and today there is good work being done at the alliance”. In an emailed statement following his escape, Ghosn said he refused to be “held hostage” by Japan’s “rigged” justice system any longer. But if he were to travel to France, the authorities might also bring him in for questioning as part of their own probe into his spending and potential misuse of corporate funds. With his history of cutting jobs, Ghosn could also prove a lightning rod for criticism by unions already battling Macron over plans to modernize the pension system. “Once more, Ghosn has given himself the license to decide what is a matter of justice or not, just as he gave himself license to fire hundreds of thousands of employees, without any fair hearing”, Fabien Gache, a representative of the automotive branch of the far-left CGT union, said in a statement after the escape. It took the French foreign affairs ministry more than 12 hours to come up with its response. Officials were unaware of the details of his escape, they said. “I thought France was a country that defended the presumption of innocence. They’ve all forgotten everything Carlos did for France’s economy and for Renault”, Carole Ghosn told in October. “All we’re asking for is the respect of his human rights and his right to defend himself, to a fair and quick trial in Japan or in France, where he is a citizen”. +++ 

+++ Carlos GHOSN , the former automotive titan who fled criminal charges in Japan, said his wife Carole and other family members played no part in his escape to Lebanon. “I alone organized my departure”, Ghosn said in a brief statement issued through a public relations firm. “My family played no role”. The communique shows Ghosn is itching to give his version of events and shield his family from any legal blowback. He said Tuesday he’s ready to “finally communicate freely with the media” as soon as next week. It’s still a mystery how Ghosn, one of the most recognizable foreigners in Japan, snuck out of the country despite round-the-clock surveillance; an escape befitting a Hollywood thriller. French daily Le Monde has reported, citing unidentified sources, that Carole Ghosn organized the flight with the help of her brothers and their contacts in Turkey. In his statement, Ghosn described such reports as false. Carole Ghosn’s brother, Alain Nahas, dismissed the reports as “nonsense”. “I found out when you found out”, Nahas, who runs an automotive parts wholesale company in New Jersey. “I’m happy about it. It exposes Japan as a country similar to totalitarian regimes. If I were him I would have done the same and you would have done the same”. After making his escape, the former head of Nissan and Renault released an email decrying the “injustice and political persecution” of the Japanese judicial system. The 65-year-old faced charges of financial misconduct and raiding corporate resources for personal gain. Ghosn has said the charges are false and were trumped up by Nissan executives, Japanese prosecutors and government officials who opposed his plans to more deeply integrate Nissan and Renault. Theories abound on how Ghosn carried out his getaway. The former executive appears to have reached Lebanon on a private jet operated by a subsidiary of Turkey’s MNG Holding, according to a senior Turkish official with direct knowledge of the matter. That’s after Ghosn apparently flew to Istanbul on another MNG aircraft on Monday morning, before being transferred between the 2 airplanes inside a box, the official said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, a security camera captured Ghosn leaving his Tokyo residence alone around noon on December 29, and police think he may then have joined someone to head for the airport. Turkish authorities detained 7 people, including 4 pilots, after the country began an investigation into the matter. An operations manager for a private cargo company and 2 employees of a private ground services firm were also pulled in for questioning, state run news agency Anadolu reported. The escape to Lebanon, where Ghosn is still regarded by many as a national hero, marked a turn in his fortunes. He has citizenship in Lebanon (as well as France and Brazil) and has appeared on postage stamps in the Middle East country. Shortly after his arrest in Tokyo in November 2018, a Beirut billboard proclaimed: “We are all Carlos Ghosn”. Even before Ghosn made the Hollywood-worthy dash, he was thinking about his own biopic, according to the New York Times. On a December day in Tokyo, Ghosn met producer John Lesher (the man behind the Oscar winning 2014 film Birdman) to discuss his story and what he saw as his unfair treatment by Japan’s justice system, the newspaper said. The talks didn’t progress far, the New York Times said. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Lebanon may not be the sanctuary Ghosn believes it to be. A group of lawyers filed a complaint with Lebanon’s judiciary alleging that Ghosn’s visits to Israel when he was chairman of Renault and later Nissan broke laws forbidding citizens interacting with Lebanon’s foe, the newspaper reported. Ghosn has spent more than a year trapped in a Japanese legal odyssey that’s transfixed the automotive world and thrown his life into chaos. Now, having pulled off a daring escape from Japan to Lebanon, he’s an international fugitive. But the executive is also free to speak his mind fully, without legal filtering, for the first time since his surprise arrest on the tarmac at Haneda airport in November 2018. And this much seems likely: The former Renault-Nissan chief has stories to tell and scores to settle. At stake is Ghosn’s entire legacy. Will he be remembered as the brilliant, cost-cutting manager who rescued Nissan and built one of mightiest auto alliances in the industry? Or will he be just another name in a hall of infamy of white-collar fugitives? Ghosn said in his statement from Lebanon that he would “finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week”. Lebanese authorities themselves pressed Japan to return Ghosn just a week before he fled the country, the Financial Times said. According to Reuters, a private security firm oversaw the escape and Ghosn met Lebanese President Michel Aoun after arriving in Beirut. Aoun’s office has denied the encounter took place. Either way, get ready for what’s likely to be a blistering public relations assault that will rattle some cages in both Japan and France. Ghosn is planning a press conference on January 8 in Beirut, the Yomiuri newspaper reported. Based on past statements by Ghosn and his wife Carole, here’s a guide to what may be in store: “I have not fled justice”, Ghosn said in the first emailed statement after his remarkable exit from Japan. “I have escaped injustice and political persecution”. An even more robust indictment of the nation’s legal system is likely in the weeks ahead. Ghosn’s arrest revived long-standing concerns about the fairness of Japan’s judicial system, where prosecutors can grill suspects repeatedly without their lawyers present and enjoy an almost 100 percent conviction rate. Under the terms of the executive’s bail, the courts restricted contact with his family. In his statement, Ghosn called the Japanese justice system rigged and said his “basic human rights” had been denied, including the presumption of innocence. Those are issues that he almost certainly would have put on the world stage had his case come to trial. For months, Ghosn’s attorneys have been arguing that all of the charges against their client were bogus, the result of a broad conspiracy among nationalistic Nissan officials, Japanese prosecutors and the government itself. The goal, according to Ghosn, was to smear him in order to prevent the executive from further integrating Nissan and France’s Renault, a plan that threatened the Japanese carmaker’s autonomy and was vehemently opposed in the highest echelons of Tokyo officialdom. In April, Ghosn was detained before a scheduled tell-all press conference, prompting his camp to release a pre-recorded video for such an eventuality. In it, Ghosn spoke of several Nissan executives whom he claimed turned on him to advance their own interests. The original video named the people; that segment was edited out in the version released to the public. “I’m talking here about a few executives who, obviously for their own interests and for their own selfish fears, are creating a lot of value destruction. Names? You know them”, Ghosn hinted in his video. Now, Ghosn may really be ready to disclose names. In his video, Ghosn also criticized Nissan’s management for the company’s poor performance, saying they lost sight of the need to move the alliance with Renault forward. “I’m worried because obviously the performance of Nissan is declining, but also I’m worried because I don’t think there is any vision for the alliance being built”, Ghosn said in the video. Nissan’s earnings have tumbled to the lowest level in a decade and the stock was the worst performer on the Bloomberg World Auto Manufacturers Index last year (the second-worst was Renault), so he may hit that note again. In several interviews, Ghosn’s wife, Carole, lashed out at the French establishment for not doing more to help the former head of Renault, who also is a French citizen. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, she said President Emmanuel Macron hasn’t answered her pleas for help. “The silence from the Elysee Palace is deafening”, she said. “I thought France was a country that defended the presumption of innocence. They’ve all forgotten everything Carlos did for France’s economy and for Renault”. It remains to be seen which talking points Ghosn will hit the hardest. Yet this much is clear: He is a fighter, and he has everything to lose if he can’t pull ahead in the PR war. That suggests his approach won’t be subtle. +++ 

+++ The HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP (including affiliate Kia) turned in their lowest sales in 7 years in 2019 as business in China slumped, missing their target for a fifth straight time, but forecast better numbers for 2020. Weak 2019 sales underline the challenges the Hyundai Motor Group has been facing, including a string of annual profit declines at Hyundai and higher costs to develop future technologies even as the global auto market stagnates. “The market environment is very uncertain and internal and external challenges will intensify”, heir apparent Euisun Chung said. But he reiterated that the Hyundai Motor Group would continue to focus on profitability and technology investment. Hyundai and Kia reported a 3 % drop in their combined global sales to 7.19 million vehicles for 2019, falling short of their target to sell 7.6 million vehicles. Their sales have slumped in China, the world’s biggest auto market, offsetting a recovery in the United States where demand for their new SUVs and a favorable currency exchange rate have helped. Hyundai and Kia, however, said they expect combined sales to rise 5 % to 7.54 million vehicles this year, without giving any further details. That compares with a 0.4 % growth in global market projected by its think tank and a 0.9 % contraction forecast by Moody Investors Service. But analysts caution it will be a daunting task for the car makers, together the world’s fifth-biggest by sales, to meet their target for this year. “I think Hyundai Motor’s target may be too aggressive. My guess is that it assumed a recovery in China, but that’s not easy”, said Kim Pyung-mo, analyst at DB Financial Investment. “Hyundai underperformed on the China auto market in November and it’s too early to say that China’s industrial demand will be seeing a complete recovery”. The global auto market is widely expected to stay sluggish in 2020, as demand shrinks further in the United States and Europe, signaling more competition for Hyundai and Kia. Hyundai and Kia plan to launch redesigned SUVs like Hyundai’s Tucson and Kia’s Sorento in 2020. They will also accelerate their push for mobility services such as ride-sharing, and have plans to establish operations in the United States, Europe and Asia, said Chung, Hyundai Motor Group’s executive vice chairman. The Group, which in 2019 announced a joint venture with U.S. autonomous driving technology company Aptiv, plans to operate autonomous vehicles in select regions in 2023, and reach commercial production by the second half of 2024, Chung added. +++

+++ MAZDA has removed the CX-3 from price lists, with only limited dealer stock now available to buy over the coming weeks. The Nissan Juke rival was quietly take off sale just before the end of 2019, coinciding with the introduction of the larger CX-30. However, a Mazda spokesperson told the decision is “for the moment, not forever”, meaning there’s a possibility the CX-3 could return to market later this year with updates including more efficient, mild hybrid engines. The SUV is based on the same platform as the 2 supermini, rather than the underpinnings introduced on the 3 and CX-30. It was introduced in 2015, with a facelift in 2018 bringing only minor updates. Mazda recently updated the 2 range with mild hybrid engines, but the CX-3 is yet to benefit from these, so it has a negative impact on the Japanese maker’s fleet average CO2 emissions for the year. +++ 

+++ News this week that Carlos Ghosn, facing 2 trials and under heavy surveillance, pulled off a stunning escape from Japan, left NISSAN executives with jaws agape reaching for their messaging apps. Just as astonished was chief executive officer Makoto Uchida, who heard about his former boss’s getaway from media reports, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ghosn’s vanishing act throws up a distraction just when the new CEO needs to be laser focused. With profits at decade lows and its stock tanking, Nissan is rife with internal divisions over the ouster of its former leader and the way forward. Now Ghosn is free to talk, armed with potentially damaging details about current Nissan executives. “There must be many people at Nissan and Renault who think this could really be dangerous for them if Ghosn speaks”, said Koji Endo, a senior analyst at SBI Securities in Tokyo. Uchida, who became CEO last month, has a long list of challenges. A top deputy abruptly quit, some 12.500 jobs are on the chopping block, and he needs to refresh an aging lineup of models like the Skyline sedan and GT-R sports car to reinvigorate sales. Then there’s the matter of fixing the rocky relationship with Renault as autonomous vehicles and electrification threaten to disrupt the industry. Though Ghosn hasn’t been involved in running either company since his arrest more than a year ago, his shadow still looms large. That’s why when the news first broke about his escape, it didn’t take long for the shock to ripple through the upper echelons of the 2 automotive giants he long led. Aside from Uchida, top Nissan managers scrambled to find out details by messaging each other, the person said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. In France, executives were stupefied and some initially questioned whether France was behind the extraction of one of its citizens in any way, according to another person familiar with the matter. France later denied having any involvement. Ghosn, who has said he’ll “finally communicate freely with the media” next week, is a man on a mission to clear his name and has scores to settle. He could create a stir by identifying Nissan executives whom he claims turned on him to advance their own interests. In April, Ghosn’s camp released a pre-recorded video that edited out the identities of those people. Some of Ghosn’s targets aren’t hard to guess. Ghosn’s successor (protege-turned-accuser Hiroto Saikawa) blamed his former mentor for many of Nissan’s woes before being ousted himself last year in a scandal involving excess compensation. Then there’s Hari Nada, the former head of the CEO’s office, who became a key whistle-blower against Ghosn. In his video, Ghosn also blasted Nissan’s management for the company’s poor performance, saying it lost sight of the need to move the alliance with Renault forward. “I’m worried because obviously the performance of Nissan is declining, but also I’m worried because I don’t think there is any vision for the alliance being built”, Ghosn said in the video. As for Uchida, he’s vowed to try to heal some of the wounds with its French partner, while restoring growth in profit and sales at Nissan. Ghosn on the loose looks likely to complicate those tasks. +++ 

+++ SEAT will launch a bold new Leon in 2020, which will include a hot 245 hp plug-in hybrid from sub-brand Cupra. As well as a redesign inside and out, the fifth-generation Leon will take its platform, powertrains and technology influence from the recently revealed Volkswagen Golf Mk8. The Cupra Leon hot hatchback and estate will initially be available solely as a plug-in hybrid. The new Leon is expected to be revealed to the public at the 2020 Geneva motor show in March before going on sale very soon after. The model will take an evolutionary approach to its exterior design and retain a shape that’s familiar to owners of the outgoing Leon. Seat sold around 137,000 examples of the current Leon in its 2014 launch year and sales have been at or above that level every year since. For this reason, company bosses won’t dramatically alter the formula. However, inspiration will be taken from the brand’s newer models and the front end will be heavily influenced by that of the Tarraco. The Cupra variant, meanwhile, will adopt bold exterior details first previewed by the Formentor SUV, which will go on sale towards the end of 2020 not long after the Cupra Leon, due in the autumn. No 3-door Leon will be offered this time. A minimalist, tech-heavy approach is expected for the new Leon’s cabin, similar to that of the latest Golf and recently revealed new Octavia. The number of buttons will be reduced in favour of a new infotainment system that incorporates advanced voice and gesture control. Material quality should receive a welcome boost, too. All Leon variants are once again set to share their platform with that of the 2020 Golf and Octavia. That means it will use a version of the tried-and-tested MQB architecture, evolved to be structurally stiffer and allow better packaging. Historically, the Leon has been set up to be the sportier-feeling of the Volkswagen Group trio, with stiffer spring and damper rates, and that’s due to continue with the new model. The standard, Seat-badged Leon’s engine range will be familiar. Base versions will use the 1.0-litre TSI 3-cylinder turbo petrol in varying states of tune, with the new 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol powertrain drafted in for higher-spec cars. That will be offered as a mild hybrid in higherspec variants, with the 48 Volt system claimed to reduce fuel consumption by around 10 %. The sole diesel engine in the latest Golf, for the time being, is a 2.0-litre TDI putting out 115 hp or 150 hp, with the latter due to be mated to a mild-hybrid system by the time the Leon is launched. Those powertrains should transfer to the new Seat, alongside the option of manual and automatic gearboxes. Seat has confirmed it will offer a range-topping plug-in hybrid Leon. It’s expected to use a 1.4-litre TSI petrol and an electric motor for 204 hp; the same as the non-GTE plug-in hybrid version of the latest Golf. The Cupra Leon, which will be sold under the new brand banner with no Seat badging, will put out 245 hp from a more highly tuned version of the same petrol-electic unit. Expect a 0-100 kph time of around 6.5 seconds, with a 13 kWh battery allowing for an all-electric range of up to 50 kilometres. It will also dramatically lower the car’s CO2 output, a crucial factor to ensure Seat and Cupra meet the upcoming fleet average targets. It is likely that the Cupra R will return as a range flagship. Although unconfirmed, reports suggest it will retain all-wheel drive and share a 333 hp 2.0-litre petrol powertrain with the upcoming Golf R, rather than keep the lesser Cupra’s plug-in hybrid system. Expect it to complete the 0-100 kph sprint in under 5 seconds. However, such a model may be offered in limited numbers only as electrification remains the overriding priority for both brands. Design boss Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos told at a recent Cupra event that Seat plans to start production of its last internal combustion-engined model in 2026. That’s likely to mean the firm will go electric only by 2032 at the latest. +++ 

+++ German auto supplier Robert Bosch said it developed a sensor that lets cars ‘see’ a 3-dimensional view of the road, aiming to lower the cost of technology that could speed the development of SELF DRIVING VEHICLES . Privately held Bosch said the internally developed lidar sensor, which it will show at the CES in Las Vegas next week, will cover both long and close ranges on highways and in the city. The sensor will work in conjunction with the company’s camera and radar technologies, Bosch said in a statement. Lidar technology, which uses light-based sensors to generate a 3-dimensional view of the road, remains a relatively young technology that is still in flux. In its current form, it is too expensive for mass market use, but if a cheaper lidar sensor were widely adopted, it could provide more depth data that would allow self-driving cars to detect the distance to other road users like pedestrians. While numerous startups are working on lidar, the involvement of large and trusted suppliers like Bosch could help speed adoption of the technology. “Bosch is making automated driving a viable possibility in the first place”, Bosch management board member Harald Kröger said in a statement. Initially using bulky spinning devices placed on the roof of cars, lidar developers have transitioned to more compact solid-state devices that can be mounted on other parts of a car, such as near the headlights. These now sell for less than $10,000 in limited quantities, but analysts say they must sell for as little as $200 in mass production to become commercially viable. Bosch did not provide a timeline, pricing or technology details for its lidar, but a spokesman said the company is working on making the sensors “production ready” and the focus will be on “affordable mass market” technology. The spokesman declined to say whether Bosch already had auto customers for the sensor. The development of self-driving cars has hit a speed bump as costs and regulatory concerns cause automakers and tech companies to rethink their plans. Lidar is currently used by companies including General Motors, Ford and Google affiliate Waymo. Apple also is evaluating the technology. Others are less enthusiastic about adopting lidar, citing a high cost and limited capabilities, including Elon Musk’s Tesla and Nissan. Last April, Musk called lidar “a fool’s errand” that was too costly and said anyone relying on the technology was “doomed”. Tesla vehicles rely on cameras and radars as their vision system for self-driving. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in lidar startups over the last few years. Other major suppliers developing the technology include Valeo, Aptiv, and Continental. Last July, Valeo said it had won €500 million worth of orders for its lidar sensor products. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , automakers suffered from sharply falling sales last year but are rolling out innovative new models this year. They are equipping new cars with cutting-edge technology to appeal to customers at a time of a global fall in sales of conventional cars. Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis releases its first-ever SUV, the GV80, this month. Renault Samsung is also rolling out a coupe-type SUV called XM3 (Renault Arkana) and 5 other new models, while GM Korea unveils the mid-sized Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV. Hyundai and affiliate Kia are set to launch new versions of multiple bestselling models and eco-friendly cars. One industry insider said, “A string of new cars will hit the market this year, and competition will become more intense everywhere”. Hyundai unveiled the interior and key innovative features of the GV80 and said it will be ready for release by the end of this month. It faces an uphill struggle in China, Europe, the U.S. and other key overseas markets where it simply lacks the clout of segment heavyweights Audi, BMW, Mercedes et al. The GV80 will be Hyundai’s flagship SUV. The price will be announced when it hits showrooms. A Hyundai staffer said, “The Genesis brand has gained recognition for rider comfort at reasonable prices just like Lexus did in the past. That will particularly help sales in North America”. The GV80 has all the latest gadgetry. An AI program analyzes the driving patterns of owners to let the vehicle run according to the familiar pattern of the driver even in self-driving mode, while being equipped with automatic lane-changing and distance-keeping features for the first time among domestically made vehicles. Hyundai will roll out a smaller SUV called GV70 later this year. It will also unveil face-lifted versions of the Avante compact sedan, the Tucson and the Santa Fe, as well as an expanded lineup of eco-friendly hybrid and plug-in hybrid models targeting customers in Europe and the U.S. Hyundai wants to hold on to its traditional customer base with the upgraded versions, while reeling in new customers with brand-new cars. Kia’s Sorento has gone through a 4th generation full update after 6 years. Market sources say the design has been completely renewed and more power train options have been added, including a 2.5-liter gasoline turbo engine and hybrid model. Kia said it will also launch the facelifted Picanto in the first half of the year, looking to revitalize the all-but-dead compact car market in the country. Renault Samsung is rolling out 6 new models this year, including the XM3 SUV and small electric hatchback Zoé. With the exception of a face-lifted SM6 sedan, all are recreational vehicles. GM Korea is now betting on the mid-sized Trailblazer SUV, which is even bigger than the Traxx (Opel Mokka X) but smaller than the Equinox. A GM Korea staffer said, “We will manufacture them here for export”. One industry insider said, “The new vehicles will determine the fates of Renault Samsung and GM Korea”, which are desperate to turn their performance around with the new models for their production lines. +++ 

+++ The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said earlier this month it had opened an investigation into a 12th TESLA crash that may be tied to the vehicle’s advanced Autopilot driver assistance system after a Model 3 rear-ended a parked police car in Connecticut. The NHTSA did not say if autopilot was suspected in Sunday’s crash in Gardena in Los Angeles county. Los Angeles television station KTLA reported the driver exited the 91 Freeway in Gardena, ran a red light and struck a 2006 Honda Civic, killing its 2 occupants. The 2 people inside the Tesla were hospitalized but did not have life-threatening injuries, KTLA reported, citing Los Angeles police. Autopilot had been engaged in at least 3 Tesla vehicles that were involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016. The National Transportation Safety Board has criticized Autopilot’s lack of safeguards and said in September in its probe of a 2018 Culver City, California Tesla crash that the system’s design “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task”. Tesla and the NHTSA both advise drivers that they must keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention at all times while using Autopilot. Tesla says Autopilot “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane”, but does not make the vehicle autonomous. Some drivers say they are able to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods when using the system. Last month, U.S. senator Ed Markey said Tesla should disable Autopilot until it installs new safeguards to prevent drivers from evading system limits that could let them fall asleep. The NHTSA has previously confirmed special crash investigations in a number of Tesla crashes but until earlier this month had not disclosed the total number of crashes under review. The NHTSA previously investigated another Tesla crash that it initially suspected of being tied to Autopilot but ruled it out. 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN said it was in talks to discuss a settlement with German vehicle owners who are suing the automaker over excessive pollution caused by its diesel cars. In 2015, Volkswagen admitted to using manipulated engine management software to mask excessive pollution levels in its diesel cars, sparking a raft of prosecutions and lawsuits that have led to at least €30 billion in legal costs and fines. “Volkswagen and the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBZ) have agreed to enter into discussions regarding a possible settlement”, the automaker said. “The discussions are at a very early stage, and there is no guarantee that they will result in a settlement. Both parties have agreed that the discussions should remain confidential”. German consumers have had less success than vehicle owners in the United States in securing compensation from VW because German cars did not lose their road worthiness certification in the wake of the diesel scandal. In Germany VW’s diesel vehicles retained their road worthiness certification if customers agreed to an update of vehicle engine management software, leading VW to take a different approach to compensating consumers. +++

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