Newsflash: nieuwe Volkswagen Golf GTI debuteert in maart

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+++ Even though AUDI ’s ‘Q’ lineup has blossomed to include everything from a tiny Q2 to a flagship Q8 complemented by the e-Tron electric SUV, it doesn’t mean the saloon segment is being neglected. Looking at the U.S. sales numbers, demand for the A6 rose by 68.6 % to 17.807 cars, while the A8 saw a huge increase of 85.3 % to 2.963 vehicles. Another relevant example is China where the stretched A4L enjoyed a 3 % growth to 168.189 units while the A8L jumped by 21.6 % to 12.451 examples. These are just some of the sales numbers to back up a statement made by Audi’s sales and marketing boss, Hildegard Wortmann. She pointed out that saloon demand is still going strong even though people can’t get enough of crossovers and SUVs. She went on to mention saloons aren’t going anywhere as the Four Rings believe the once traditional body style is still relevant. She also briefly talked about coupes and convertibles, referring to 2-door models as being “highly emotional cars” that’ll always be entitled to exist. That said, the TT as we know it is expected to get the axe in the years to come, while the R8’s fate is also up in the air. In general, sales of coupes and especially convertibles have greatly declined in recent years, while small hatchbacks without rear doors are becoming more and more of a rarity. +++ 

+++ A range of BMW diesel models will be equipped with mild hybrid power systems as standard from spring, promising improved fuel economy and reduced emissions. All 320d models, including the 4-wheeldrive xDrive variants, the X3 xDrive20d and X4 xDrive20d powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, will gain a 48 volt starter-generator and additional battery for an 11 hp power boost, regenerative braking capabilities and an improved coasting function. The small generator is said to improve acceleration from a standstill, and can be used at speed to reduce fuel consumption. It will also allow for smoother restarts in traffic and at junctions. Regenerative deceleration works by disconnecting the combustion engine at speeds of under 15 kph, recuperating kinetic energy as the car coasts to a stop. Similarly, at speeds of up to 160 kph, the coasting function now disconnects the diesel motor, rather than switching it into idle. BMW claims the system, as well as offering tax and environmental benefits, “enhances both efficiency and dynamics” of the updated models. Alongside the roll-out of mild hybrid technology, BMW has introduced a new diesel-powered version of its 1 Series. The 120d uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder producing 190 hp to accelerate from 0-100 kph in 7.3 seconds, and on to a top speed of 230 kph. Power is sent to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic gearbox. The petrol-powered 318i has been updated as well, swapping its 3-cylinder engine for a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder unit that pumps out 156 hp and 250 Nm. The 318i saloon will now accelerate from 0-100 kph in 8.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 223 kph. WLTP consumption figures, specifications and pricing will be confirmed nearer to the new models’ arrival in March. Elsewhere in the manufacturer’s line-up, the 7 Series flagship and 8 Series coupe have been given additional equipment as standard, including a soft-close door function. +++ 

+++ FIAT is starting an electrification push with mild hybrid versions of its 500 and Panda. The mild hybrid powertrain will cut CO2 emissions on average by 20 % in both cars compared with the cars’ 69 hp, 1.2-liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine, Fiat said. The CO2 reduction rises to 30 % for the Panda Cross version. The 500 hybrid will arrive in dealerships in Europe next month, followed by the Panda hybrid in March. The newly developed mild hybrid system recovers energy during braking and deceleration and uses it to restart the engine in stop and start mode, and to assist the engine during acceleration. The system has a 12 volt belt-integrated starter generator with a 70 hp 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine. It is mounted directly on the engine and is operated by the belt that also drives the auxiliary systems. The 500 mild hybrid has CO2 emissions of 88 grams per km using a correlated formula that converts WLTP test results back to their NEDC equivalent, Fiat said. The non-hybrid 500 version with a 1.2-liter gasoline engine has CO2 emissions of 113 g/km to 116 g/km, The Panda mild hybrid’s CO2 emissions are 89 g/km to 90 g/km, depending on the version. The Panda’s non hybrid with the 1.2-liter engine has CO2 emissions of between 111 g/km and 131 g/km. The Panda and 500 are the No. 1 and No. 2 top-selling cars in Europe’s A segment. European sales of the Panda increased 9.1 % to 169.918 in the first 11 months of 2019, according to JATO Dynamics market researchers. Sales of the 500 fell 8.6 % to 164.648 in the same period. The 2 cars accounted for 57 % of the Fiat registrations in Europe and for 39 % of the Fiat Chrysler group’s total sales in Europe. The launch of the mild-hybrid versions marks the first step of the FCA’s electrification in Europe. The second-generation of the 500e full-electric car is expected to be unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March, with series production starting later this year. The first generation was only sold in the U.S. The Lancia Ypsilon small-segment car will also get the same mild-hybrid powertrain as the 500 and Panda. Plug-in hybrid versions of the Jeep Renegade, Compass and Wrangler will go on sale in 2020. FCA is late to electrification and faces a steep challenge in 2020, as automakers scramble to meet the European Union’s tough 95 g/km average fleet emissions target for 2020-21. Missing the target will leave automakers at risk of fines. FCA’s individual target is expected to be slightly below the 95 g/km figure, based on the average mass of its fleet. The average CO2 emissions of its European range was 119.1 g/km in 2017, according to the last EU official data available. FCA boss Mike Manley said last August that the automaker will not have to pay fines for 2019 and 2020, thanks to a regulatory credit pooling with Tesla. +++ 

+++ Hon Hai Precision Industry, the iPhone assembler that’s part of Foxconn Technology Group, plans to establish a joint venture with FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) to develop and make electric vehicles in China. Hon Hai and its subsidiaries will hold a 50 % stake in the venture, and FCA will hold the rest, the Taiwanese company said in an exchange filing. While the 2companies have yet to sign a formal agreement, they plan to target the China market first and consider exporting cars later. The 2 aim to ink the agreement in the first quarter, according to a person familiar with the matter, and Hon Hai’s Hong Kong-listed unit FIT Hon Teng will also be involved. FCA representatives didn’t immediately comment beyond the filing. “Hon Hai will be responsible for design, components and supply chain management” chairman Young Liu told, adding that the company will not get into car assembly. The manufacturer expects the automotive business to account for 10 % of overall sales in the long run, according to Liu, and the new venture will have little impact on Hon Hai’s earnings this year. Hon Hai and FCA are focusing on the China market because of sheer volume, Liu said. While consumers in the country buy more electric vehicles than anywhere else in the world, sales have slumped since the government pared back subsidies amid a broader-market downturn in demand. Hon Hai relies on Apple for about half of sales. Past attempts to diversify its product lines have not been entirely successful. The company tried to invest in a number of electric-vehicle ventures before, but none has borne any fruit. +++ 

+++ FORD has said that every Mustang Mach-E electric crossover it sells will make money for the company. The secret of its confidence? Sharing battery cells with the upcoming electric Transit van, thereby ensuring the cell production line is running at maximum capacity. The strategy was essential to controlling the battery cost, said Ford’s head of global powertrain purchasing, Lisa Drake. The battery cells for the Mach E and Transit vehicles are made by LG at its plant in Poland where LG installed battery lines dedicated to Ford. “When you fill a cell line to exact capacity that is your lowest price. You never, ever want it to be idle”, Drake said. The line for the Mach E and the Transit will run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The strategy ran counter to Ford’s normal way of working. “Normally we develop each product program with its own market equation, then we see if we can share components”, Drake said. “But because the battery is the most expensive part of the car, we looked at the battery cells’ optimal costs, and look to see where we can share it across other products. It was the opposite way of thinking”. She said that the way the Ford architecture was set up means the Mach E could share cells with a “completely different product in a completely different segment”. Ford unveiled the Mustang Mach-E at the Los Angeles auto show in November. It plans to build 50,000 units a year with production starting at its Cuautitlan plant Mexico later this year. Ford has worked to increase the consumer of appeal of the car to attract customers who might be otherwise be put off by the price. The design was switched halfway through its cycle from what one Ford insider described as a ‘Focus EV mark 2’ to an crossover that took design cues from arguably Ford’s most famous car, the Mustang. The Mach E’s technology includes a giant, portrait-sized 15.5-inch screen. Ford has promised performance surpassing that of a Porsche 911 sports car, with the fastest model said to accelerate to 100 kph in little more than 3 seconds. Ford said last year the electric Transit would go on sale in 2021, without revealing more details. +++ 

+++ GENESIS will soon update its G80 and G70 saloons. The forthcoming GV70 compact luxury SUV is the next new model which will be introduced. Genesis is also planning a sleek coupe that will hopefully have something in common with the gorgeous Essentia concept. As some of you will recall, Genesis’ boss Manfred Fitzgerald strongly hinted a production version of the showcar could happen by saying an electric vehicle different than the Mint concept will be released in 2021. The carbon fibre-bodied Essentia had a zero-emissions powertrain, so the company’s head honcho was likely referring to the stunning coupe. Speaking of the Mint, this small and rather quirky 3-door hatchback with 322 kilometres of range and 350 kW fast-charging capabilities will go on sale by 2021. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , automakers and unions urged the government to do more to support the industry’s shift to electric cars, which provide less assembly work than combustion engine vehicles. State-backed employment schemes should support retraining and short-term working hours should be exempted from social insurance contributions, according a proposal published by German Employers’ Association Gesamtmetall. An umbrella fund should also be set up to help companies with the cost of the overhaul. Stakeholders would pay into the fund, the proposal said, without giving details. The plan was discussed at a summit attended by German union IG Metall and car industry bosses in Berlin. “Even if there is no economic recession or crisis, a coordinated approach between social partners and the state is required to strengthen Germany as an industrial location and to offer employees a perspective”, Gesamtmetall said in a statement. Electric cars have fewer moving parts than combustion-engined variants, putting around 410.000 German jobs at risk by 2030, according to a study published by Germany’s National Platform for Future Mobility this week. IG Metall Chief Jörg Hofmann said the government had pledged to treat the issue with urgency. The government will discuss how to loosen employment rules to facilitate short-term working hours and a decision could be reached by January 29, sources familiar with discussions told. The auto industry is struggling to adapt to more stringent anti-pollution rules which were dramatically tightened after Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to systematically cheating exhaust emissions tests. In September, the European Parliament’s environment committee voted to cut vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by 45 % between 2021 and 2030, and pushed for a quota of 20 % of electric vehicles by 2025 and 50 % by 2030. Meeting even the previous targets for 2021 is going to be a challenge, consulting firm PA consulting said. It forecast in a study this week that Europe’s 13 top manufacturers face combined fines of more than €14.5 billion from missing 2021 goals. PA Consulting’s estimates are based on buyer’s choices in 2018. Since then, carmakers have launched a raft of hybrid and electric cars, but a shift away from less CO2-emitting diesel vehicles and the increasing popularity of heavy SUVs have made attaining the targets more difficult. Volkswagen could face a fine of €4.5 billion, Fiat Chrysler a €2.46 billion penalty, and both PSA and Daimler fines of €938 million and €997 million respectively, PA Consulting estimated. Carmakers will need to sell more than 2.5 million electric cars to meet 2021 targets; a 1.280 % increase, it added. +++ 

+++ French President Emmanuel Macron said he had previously spoken to Japan’s prime minister about the conditions former Nissan-Renault boss Carlos GHOSN was being held under. After fleeing Japan in late December, Ghosn said he had been treated “brutally” by Tokyo prosecutors and that he was the victim of a conspiracy by Japanese carmaker Nissan. “I told prime minister Shinzo Abe several times that the conditions of Ghosn’s detention and questioning did not appear to be satisfactory to me”, Macron told. Ghosn told a press conference last week that he had fled to clear his name and said, without naming the president, that the seeds of the crisis at the Franco-Japanese carmaking alliance were sewn when Macron was economy minister. Macron said decisions he had taken “had always defended French interests”, adding that it was too convenient to argue that defending national interests could harm an executive. Ghosn said Nissan and Japanese officials were shocked by a decision by the French government in 2015 to increase the state’s shareholding in Renault and double its voting rights. “This left a big bitterness”, Ghosn said last week. The move left the Japanese side of the Renault-Nissan alliance fearing that a national champion was falling under the control of the French government, sources have said. +++ 

+++ The highly anticipated, 8th generation Volkswagen GOLF GTI will be revealed at Geneva motor show in March, the car maker has confirmed. Volkswagen will have a grand total of 4 hot Golf models in dealers before the end of 2020, with the R going on sale a few months after the GTI, diesel GTD and plug-in hybrid GTE. Following the reveal of the GTI and GTD at the Geneva motor show, the R version will be shown in July at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The transformation from regular Golf to GTI is likely to be as subtly handled as previous variants. It will include the usual dual-exit tailpipes, red brake calipers, chunky air intakes and a bodykit extending around the lower portion of the car. In a reversal of original plans, Wolfsburg has decided not to make a more radical switch to hybrid power. Instead, the 8th generation Golf GTI is set to stick with much of the hardware that has made the 7th generation model such a success, both critically and commercially. That means an updated version of the Audi-developed EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine used in the existing Mk7 Golf GTI. Again, like the current car, it will be offered with 2 power outputs: a standard output of around 245 hp and a more powerful 290 hp model, which will replace the Performance version. Although it was previously thought that the latter variant would wear the TCR badge, Volkswagen’s decision to leave the racing series as part of its plans to end all combustion-engined motorsport means it will go by the Clubsport name instead. An increase in torque beyond the 350 Nm and 370 Nm of today’s 2 versions of the GTI is claimed to establish new levels of performance. In the case of the higher-spec model, it is said the 0-100 kph time will be less than 6.0 seconds and the top speed of 250 kph. Gearbox choices will include carry-over versions of today’s 6-speed manual and 7-speed dual-clutch items. As recently as late 2018, Volkswagen had planned to switch the Golf GTI to mild-hybrid power as the performance flagship of a new range of IQ-badged petrol-electric mild-hybrid models. That system is also based around the EA888 engine. However, it will not be used on the Golf GTI, under the instruction of VW Group chairman Herbert Diess, who reversed the decision of his predecessor Matthias Müller. The new Golf GTI is underpinned by a further-developed version of the existing model’s MQB platform, using a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension in combination with adaptive damping control. Engineers involved in the new car’s development say a lot of attention has been focused on steering accuracy. The electro-mechanical set-up of the outgoing model has been heavily reworked to provide it with added levels of feedback and a more direct ratio. Buyers will be restricted to just one bodystyle: a 5-door hatchback. The t3-door will no longer be produced. Changes inside include a new digital cockpit with an optional head-up display unit and new switchgear, including a centre console featuring a stubby T-shaped gearlever for DSG-equipped versions. The new GTI is also expected to follow the mainstream model and get a technical overhaul. Most significantly, this includes the integration of a new, larger central digital screen that will have some touch functionality, but also a new tactile control system designed to make the most common control adjustments easier. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI MOBIS bets huge on future cars. It is willing to commit 9 trillion won ($7.8 billion) to the vehicles of tomorrow. Hyundai Mobis introduces its car parts technology for the future embodied in the concept car M.Vision S at the CES 2020 trade show last week in Las Vegas. Ko Young-suk, vice president and head of the strategic planning division at the company, said: “A field that needs capacity expansion is electrification; we should constantly increase production to grow big. That would take around 3 to 5 trillion won. Another 4 to 5 million should go to proactive research and development for parts and technologies that would drive future growth, including more than 150 billion won in investment in start-ups”. While the headline number is big, the company has the wherewithal to make the investment. The auto parts maker, 17.2 % owned by Kia, reported 7.4 trillion won in cash holdings as of early 2019 and has 1.4 to 2 trillion won coming in every year from its after-sales service business. From that 12 trillion won over the next 3 years, the company will have 9 trillion won to work with after setting aside cash of about 3.5 trillion won for reserves, explains Ko. Apart from the investments, 1 trillion of that 9 trillion won will be returned to shareholders. Ko is a former Boston Consulting Group partner. His role at Hyundai Mobis is to explore potential business fields, mergers and acquisitions opportunities and lay out plans for future mobility. “Automotive was a business that always came up as a future growth engine when consulting for major domestic companies. And among many segments, original equipment manufacturer and auto parts are where the most innovative changes happen”, he said. The company faces fierce competition against larger players, such as Bosch or Continental. Hyundai Mobis is still heavily dependent on Hyundai Motor and Kia, which took a 90 % share in the auto parts maker’s sales last year. “The long-term goal is to fill a minimum 40 % of our sales from non-Hyundai clients. We announced this aim in 2018 and the deadline set back then was 2025”, said Ko. The vice president said that the company’s broad product range, which includes airbags, lamps, sensors and eco-friendly parts, wouldn’t have been possible if weren’t for the close relationship with Hyundai Motor and Kia. Adaptive Driving Beam is one example. The system can detect obstacles in front of the vehicles and obtain information on the road’s curves from steering angle sensors, automatically controlling the headlight at night. “Other companies would be able to do this too through collaboration, but we can do it internally. The experience Mobis has and the internal cooperation system enable us to react to the market with speed”, said Ko. He added that the auto parts maker has more opportunity to co-develop technology with mobility service providers, as opposed to carmakers whose main role is to supply vehicles. As for components that have the highest growth potential, Ko mentioned the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), infotainment and electrification. “There are newly opening markets, and the scope of parts selected will greatly increase”, he said. “Level 2 ADAS is now supplied to large-sized luxury sedans. The ratio of customers selecting this as an option was low, but it’s getting higher. If more options are offered in the future, the growth potential for sensors and radars will increase even more. We should continue to back Hyundai Motor’s growth, but investments should be focused to align with the market trend, catering to non-Hyundai clients”, added Ko. +++ 

+++ When auto tycoon LI SHUFU emerged as a suitor for Volvo a decade ago, few outside China had heard of him. Now the billionaire’s name pops up as soon as there is a whiff of a deal in the industry. Not only did Li’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group snap up Volvo in 2010, he made the acquisition work and followed up with purchases of Lotus, London’s iconic black cabs and a stake in Daimler. This week, Geely emerged as a potential investor in Aston Martin, and last year was approached by the parent of Jaguar Land Rover for a potential tie-up. Li’s track record of making deals succeed puts Geely in the driver’s seat in Asia as automakers seek combinations to prepare for turbulence ahead. The industry is facing a tectonic shift toward electrification, self-driving vehicles and mobility services, which are crimping demand for individual car purchases and squeezing out weaker players. “Li Shufu believes the industry doesn’t need so many players in the future”, said Shi Ji, an analyst with Haitong International Securities in Hong Kong. “Geely’s success with Volvo has made it more confident that it can develop faster via mergers”. Li cemented his reputation as a savvy deal-maker by reviving Volvo in the face of widespread industry skepticism. He gave the Swedish manufacturer’s engineering team the resources to invest in new models. At the same time, he lowered Volvo’s high costs by jointly developing vehicle underpinnings with Geely, while building a plant in lower-cost China for exports to markets including the U.S. “Chinese entrepreneurs see global acquisitions as a fast track of growing their business”, said Xu Haidong, an assistant secretary general of China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. “Geely has demonstrated to the world that they can make it work”. More acquisitions and discussions around the globe ensued. Last year, Geely was approached by Tata Motors, JLR’s owner, for a deal including the beleaguered British luxury business, following an earlier report of interest in Alfa Romeo and Maserati (something the company denied). “Traditional Chinese companies are strong in the manufacturing, processing side of business and not so much on branding, technology and business model”, said Thomas Fang, a partner and Greater China vice president at Roland Berger in Shanghai. To realize its vision of becoming a comprehensive mobility-service provider, “Geely needs to make best use of its acquisition and integration capabilities”. It recently emerged that Geely held preliminary discussions about a possible investment in Aston Martin. Geely is primarily interested in a technology-sharing deal that could benefit businesses such as Lotus, according to people familiar with the matter. Geely, based in the city of Hangzhou near Shanghai, declined to comment. “The historical trend of economic globalization is irreversible”, Li said in a speech earlier this month. Geely should “work together with international partners” to “seize the technological commanding point through collaboration and sharing”. Li’s investments have prompted other Chinese carmakers to try to emulate his strategy. BAIC bought a 5 % stake in Daimler in July and is considering lifting its holding in the Mercedes-Benz maker to as much as 9.9 %, people familiar with the matter said last month. Dongfeng acquired a 12 % holding in PSA as part of a 2014 deal. A key driver for Geely’s expansion is Li’s vision to transform the conglomerate from a carmaker into a provider of transport services. Geely has developed car-sharing services by itself as well as with Daimler, while also making futuristic bets on flying taxis and high-speed trains. In September, the carmaker led an investment round in air-taxi provider VoloCity, aimed at helping the service launch commercially within three years. In 2018, Li’s company signed an agreement with state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry to build supersonic trains using homegrown technology. “Geely is striving to become a comprehensive transportation solutions provider”, rather than just an original equipment manufacturer, said Bill Russo, head of consulting firm Automobility Ltd. “They are leveraging an inorganic approach to accelerate their development, and are doing it far better than most traditional OEMs ever have”. +++ 

+++ Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group said it was in early talks with Tesla challenger NIO about a financing proposal, but any potential investment would not exceed $150 million. The U.S. listed electric car startup, which last month flagged an urgent need for more funding, said it was exploring financing and strategic opportunities with the Guangzhou Automobile Group. Nio did not specify the size of the potential funding but earlier in the day Sina Finance and other media reported it was in talks for up to $1 billion, sending its shares up as much as 17 % in heavy trade. GAC Group said in a statement that the potential financing of up to $150 million would include funds it would raise itself and not have a material impact on its own finances. It also said that there is “still great uncertainty as to whether an agreement can be reached”. Shares in GAC Group fell more than 1 % in morning trade. Nio declined to comment on GAC’s statement. Nio on December 30 warned in its quarterly report that the company did not have adequate cash for continuous operation in the next 12 months and it was looking for external financing. Electric-car makers are battling uncertain demand in the world’s largest car market as the government rolls back subsidies amid criticism that some firms have become overly reliant on government funding. Sales of new energy vehicles, once a bright spot in the market, fell 4 % last year and officials from the country’s top auto association said that they expect 2020 sales to stay at a similar level or slightly increase. Nio said the New York Stock Exchange had contacted it after the unusual market activity in its American Depositary Shares. The firm has about lost a third of its value since its 2018 listing and currently has a market capitalization of $4.52 billion. The GAC Group operates in nearly 18 markets worldwide and sold over 2.1 million cars in 2018, including those made in partnerships with automakers Honda and Toyota. The Guangzhou-based automaker has been looking to enter the U.S. market since 2017, but put off its plans indefinitely in May last year amid trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. +++ 

+++ NISSAN has revealed more details of an exhaustive probe into Carlos Ghosn, a week after its fugitive former leader accused the Japanese automaker of being behind the plot to have him arrested. The report on the investigation, submitted to the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Thursday, found that many others were involved in improprieties besides Nissan’s former chairman, with those involved located both in Japan and overseas. 3 people in senior roles were punished for their involvement, though their names, titles and specific steps to discipline them were not revealed. Nissan was required to submit the report after adjusting its past earnings following the arrest of its former CEO and chairman for financial crimes in November 2018. That triggered turmoil within the automaker’s management ranks and destabilized its relationship with alliance partner Renault. Ghosn fled trial in Japan at the end of December. While the timing of the report has little to do with Ghosn’s escape, it underscores the extent to which Nissan has had to reform its practices in the year after his arrest. Many of the steps outlined in the 33-page document, such as abolishing a CEO reserve fund and the restatement of Ghosn’s income, had already been disclosed or reported. The misconduct outlined in the report was not just limited to acts allegedly committed by Ghosn and executive Greg Kelly, but included excess salary paid to Ghosn’s successor, Hiroto Saikawa, who was ousted as CEO in September. The report found 6 others also received excess compensation via stock appreciation rights, though did not identify them. The amount involved totaled 57.7 million yen ($525,000), though Nissan expects most of that amount to be repaid by March. There was “wide variety” of misconduct “over a long period of time”, the report said, noting that “many people were involved” and the misconduct took place not only in Japan “but also in foreign countries”. Nissan will decide the punishment for others in due course, it said. The investigation involved more than 10,000 hours of analysis, including the collection of 9 million documents and interviews with more than 70 people within the company. Ghosn and Kelly were not among them, Nissan said, citing the fact that the automaker is a co-defendant of the two former executives in a forthcoming criminal trial. The report attacked Ghosn’s “personality cult” and accused him of isolating departments within Nissan that would have been able to discover his misconduct, describing Ghosn as turning them into a “black box”. The investigation was aided by law firm Latham & Watkins, a company Ghosn last week slammed at his press conference in Beirut. He described the firm as one of the actors “destroying Japan’s reputation on the global stage” and in a separate statement derided Nissan’s investigation as “fundamentally flawed, biased, and lacking in independence from its inception”. “Although Nissan is presenting this improvement report to the stock exchange and promising to rebuild its business and be more transparent, the current movements of Nissan’s management look like the exact opposite”, said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities in Tokyo. “That’s the biggest problem”. Among the steps the automaker will take to improve its corporate governance is abolishing a system of having former directors become advisers and consultants. This means Saikawa, who was reportedly planning to stay on at Nissan in some capacity after leaving the board at a shareholders’ meeting planned for February 18, is now likely to leave the company entirely. By abolishing the adviser role, Nissan’s new CEO, Makoto Uchida, may be able to act more independently. Renault director Pierre Fleuriot, set to join Nissan’s board following the shareholders’ vote next month, will also become a member of Nissan’s audit committee, which decides executive pay, Nissan said in a separate statement. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen increased its passenger PLUG-IN electric car sales in 2019 by about 60 %, from around 50,000 to over 80,000. More than half of the total volume were all-electric cars and the most popular model was the e-Golf with over 35,000 deliveries. “The Volkswagen brand forged ahead with electrification in the year which has come to an end. Compared with the previous year, the number of electric vehicles delivered grew by about 60 % to more than 80,000 units. More than half of these customers opted for an all-electric vehicle and the remainder chose a plug-in hybrid. Once again, the most popular model was the e-Golf, with more than 35,000 units delivered”. The year 2019 was a successful one for the German brand, which increased its passenger car sales by 0.5 % to 6.28 million in a shrinking global market. Plug-ins accounted for 1.27 % of total sales globally. In the next few years, it might increase to 10 % and then 20 %. Chief operating officer Ralf Brandstätter said: “2019 was an important year for the Volkswagen brand. With the ID.3 and Golf 8, we have successfully presented groundbreaking new products and consistently focused on earnings power. The digital transformation roadmap which we have agreed with the employee representatives and is now to be implemented will also make a key contribution to improving efficiency and safeguarding the future. We will continue to work on costs in a disciplined way so that we can make the necessary investments for the future. Thanks to fantastic team performance, we have exceeded the high delivery level of 2018 despite a difficult market environment”. In then same period (2019), Toyota sold over 2.500 plug-in hybrids and 250 fuelcell cars in Europe. This carmanufacturer is going mostly hybrid in Europe and so far it pays off with growing sales volume and market share. Plug-in sales are just symbolic, but 2 new models are coming in 2020. In 2019, the Toyota group (including Lexus) sold 1.089.422 cars (up 5.2 %) and 52 % of them happened to be hybrids (63 % in Western Europe). For the Lexus brand, the hybrid share is even higher: 67 % (96 % in Western Europe). Not strange if you offer 20 hybrid models. But the plug-in hybrids, represented solely by the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, account for a marginal 0.26 % share, as just 2.572 units were sold. That’s 11.4 % of the Prius family (22.621). Additionally, Toyota sold 250 hydrogen fuel cell Toyota Mirai. If FCVs are the future, it does not look encouraging at all. This year, Toyota will l expand its plug-in lineup in Europe by 2 models: the RAV4 PHEV and the Lexus UX 300e Electric. However, I cautiously assume that no more than a 4-digit sales result per model should be expected (hopefully the RAV4 PHEV will surprise us with more than 10,000). Johan van Zyl, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe said: “We are very satisfied with another strong performance in 2019 against quite uncertain market conditions. The continued growth of Toyota and Lexus during this period is testament to the company’s strategy to focus on new product and broadening our hybrid electric line-up. We thank our customers for their trust and their loyalty.  We are confident that we can maintain this momentum in 2020, with the launch of 7 models including the new Yaris, and by extending our electrification strategy with the introduction of RAV4 PHEV and the Lexus UX 300e Electric”. +++ 

+++ French carmaker PSA Group said global sales fell 10 % last year to 3.49 million units, compared with a record 3.88 million in 2018, as it suffered from declining volumes in China, the Middle East and Africa. In its European home market, Paris-based PSA’s sales declined by 2.5 % in 2019 to 3.11 million vehicles, with its Opel / Vauxhall brand suffering the steepest fall, down 6.4 %. In Europe, helped by an increase in sales of light commercial vehicles (LCVs), PSA said in a statement it “maintained its position by achieving a 16.8 % market share in a market that was up a slight 1.3 %”. In 2018, PSA’s market share had jumped 3.8 points versus 2017 to reach 17.1 %. PSA was outperformed by the Volkswagen Group and Renault in the European passenger car market. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) was on the other hand hit by a 7.3 % fall of its passenger cars sales in Europe. PSA and FCA said last month they had agreed on a binding merger in a $50 billion deal that will pave the way to the creation of the world’s fourth-largest car maker. PSA’s French rival Renault is due to publish its 2019 global sales today. “2019 was a year of consolidation for Peugeot. The brand completely renewed its B-segment offering to support its sales growth in 2020”, PSA said in its statement, referring to its small passenger car line-up, adding: “Citroen had the strongest growth among the top 12 bestselling brands in Europe”. The DS brand was PSA’s only brand to boost sales globally last year, with an increase of 17.4 % to 62.512 units. The Peugeot brand saw a fall of 16.3 %, Citroen declined 5.1 % and Opel / Vauxhall 5.9 %. PSA’s sales in China fell a hefty 55.4 % to 117.084 vehicles; a mere 10th of the 1 million-a-year target it had set itself a few years ago. Sales volumes were also down 22.5 % in a contracting Latin American market and 43.7 % in the Middle East-Africa region, punished by the group’s forced withdrawal from Iran under threat of U.S. sanctions. The company gave no sales forecasts for the current year. +++ 

+++ RENAULT chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said there was a “real desire” within the top ranks of both companies for its alliance with Nissan to succeed, dismissing suggestions the partnership was on the rocks. Turmoil within the Franco-Japanese alliance, long dogged by internal rivalries, deepened following the November 2018 arrest in Tokyo of its architect and long-time boss Carlos Ghosn on charges of financial crimes, which he denies. Attempts to restore calm were dealt a fresh blow by Ghosn’s dramatic flight from Japanese justice and a series of no-holds-barred allegations he has made from his refuge in Lebanon, including that he was the victim of a plot to oust him and that the alliance is now a “masquerade”. Nissan has vigorously rejected Ghosn’s stance, while both the Japanese firm and Renault have tried to rubbish suggestions their 2 decades old partnership is falling apart. “We have a board overseeing the alliance which is made up of people who are all extremely in favor of the alliance”, Senard told. “There is a common desire to associate our strategic plans and a real desire to make this alliance a success”, he added, dismissing a report that Nissan was examining scenarios for a possible future outside of the alliance as “fake news”. The 66 year old Senard declined to comment on anything related to Ghosn, adding: “I only think about the future”. Renault shares were down 2 %, underperfoming the broader auto sector which was down on news that Washington has threatened to impose tariffs on European car imports due to Europe’s stance on Iran. Analysts see Renault-Nissan’s cost-saving alliance as vital to both companies as the car industry battles a slowdown and huge investments in cleaner vehicles and automated driving, particularly as rivals PSA and FCA are merging to help meet these challenges. Renault held ultimately unsuccessful talks to combine with FCA last year, which Ghosn described at a Beirut news conference as a huge missed opportunity. Senard, who chairs the alliance’s operating board, said that once the partnership has been rebooted, other firms might potentially want to join. The executive, who used to run tyre maker Michelin, has become the de facto senior figure in Renault and Nissan’s alliance, though without Ghosn’s commander-in-chief aura, which had helped hold it together. While that is partly deliberate (both parties are keen to avoid another strongman situation and created a 4-member operating board to oversee the alliance), Senard will now have to show he can push through new joint projects. He declined to give details of these beyond saying potential cost savings could be substantial, and that the alliance’s board would meet soon to decide on its industrial plan. The meeting is scheduled for January 30, a source close to Renault said. The firms are meanwhile finalizing a management revamp, with Renault close to appointing a new CEO after ousting Ghosn-ally Thierry Bollore in October. A new CEO started at Nissan in December. Luca de Meo, who recently stepped down as the head of Volkswagen’s Seat brand, is seen as the frontrunner for the Renault job, although a non-compete clause in his contract is proving a problem, sources have said. Interim CEO Clotilde Delbos is also in the frame. Senard said shaking up the shareholder structure in the alliance was not a priority for either side. Renault, which is part-owned by the French state, has 43 % of Nissan, while the Japanese firm has 15 % of the French carmaker, with no voting rights attached; a structure that has caused friction. +++

+++ Canadian auto parts maker Magna International forecasts lower 2020 sales and scrapped its partnership with Lyft to co-develop SELF DRIVING TECHNOLOGY as it said it would instead focus on developing assisted driving technology. Magna blamed the stronger U.S. dollar, the sale of its fluid pressure and controls business, and estimated lower light-vehicle production in Europe for its lower sales outlook. The end of the partnership with Lyft to develop self-driving technology was driven by Magna’s belief that growth in the near and medium term (out to 2025) is more in the driver-assisted market, called the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 market, said Swamy Kotagiri, who was promoted to president. “It’s a refocus on the assisted driving part of autonomy”, he told. While Magna will cease working with Lyft on developing self-driving technology, it will still collaborate with the company on various software and hardware programs, he said. Magna invested $200 million in the U.S. ride-hailing firm in 2018 to manufacture self-driving cars. Magna said its 2020 operating margins would improve due to lower spending on developing assisted and autonomous technology as well as the end of the Lyft-related spending. Kotagiri told that, excluding Lyft, the company’s spending on developing technologies for autonomous and electric vehicles was rising. Magna chief executive Don Walker said on a conference call with analysts that the auto sector has become “more realistic” about how fast various autonomous technologies will penetrate. Chief financial officer Vince Galifi emphasized that Magna will invest “where we’re going to get a higher volume”. Magna’s current advanced driver-assistance systems business is running above $550 million, but the growth is lumpy and the big increase in revenue comes beyond 2022, Galifi said. The Ontario, Canada-based company said it expects 2020 sales to be between $38 billion and $40 billion and net income attributable to be in the range of $1.8 billion to $2 billion. Analysts on average expect Magna to report revenue of $39.97 billion and profit of $1.94 billion. +++ 

+++ TESLA plans to open a design and research center in China to make “Chinese-style” vehicles, the company said. “In order to achieve a shift of ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has proposed a very cool thing: set up a design and research center in China”. It is not immediately clear when the center might begin operations, however. Tesla’s first factory outside the United States is in the eastern city of Shanghai and it started delivering China-made Model 3 vehicles this month. Last week, Musk launched a Model Y crossover program at the $2 billion factory, with an on-stage dance that raised an online storm. That was also the week that Tesla’s stock market value hit nearly $89 billion, eclipsing the sum of General Motors’ and Ford’s values for the first time. The stock move was fueled by a surprise third-quarter profit, progress at the new China factory and better-than-expected fourth quarter deliveries. Tesla’s overall vehicle registrations nearly halved in the U.S. state of California during the 4th quarter. The massive drop comes as tax credit for Tesla buyers ended in 2019. It had fallen to $3,750 at the start of the year and had halved to $1,875 in July. An existing $7,500 U.S. tax credit for electric vehicles (EVs), which allows taxpayers to deduct a part of the cost of buying an electric car, phases out over 15 months once an automaker hits 200,000 cumulative EV sales, which Tesla hit in July 2018. Registrations in California, a bellwether market for the electric-car maker, plummeted 46.5 % to 13.584 in the quarter ended December 2019, from 25.402 in the same period a year earlier. Model 3 registrations, which accounted for about 75 % of the total, halved to 10.694. “One can assume that Tesla has hit peak performance in the U.S. because they have not exceeded their 2018 results for 5 months now”, an analyst said. The new data comes nearly 2 weeks after Tesla beat Wall Street estimates for annual vehicle deliveries and met the low-end of its own target, sending shares to a record high in a vindication for chief executive officer Elon Musk after a few turbulent years. +++ 

+++ The TRUMP administration has threatened to impose a 25% tariff on European auto imports if Britain, France and Germany do not formally accuse Iran of breaking the 2015 nuclear deal. The 3 European countries triggered a dispute mechanism under the agreement, amounting to a formal accusation against Tehran of violating its terms and could lead to the reinstatement of United Nations sanctions lifted under the accord. Iran has criticized that move, calling it a “strategic mistake”. Though Trump has previously made threats to place such a duty on European auto imports, the intent behind them was to receive better terms for Washington within the U.S.-European trade relationship, not to shift European foreign policy. It was not clear if the threat was necessary since the Europeans had signaled an intention to trigger the dispute mechanism for weeks. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018. Washington has said its abandonment of the pact was part of a strategy intended to force Tehran to agree to a larger deal. Iran, which denies its nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, has gradually rolled back its commitments under the agreement since the U.S. withdrawal. Russia, another signatory to the pact, has said it saw no grounds to trigger the dispute mechanism. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN needs to accelerate the overhaul of its business to avoid becoming another Nokia, which lost its dominance in the handset market to Apple, the German carmaker’s chief executive said. The multi-brand car and truck maker wants to raise its market value to €200 billion euros, from around €91 billion at present, by revamping its assets, slashing costs, and expanding into new technologies like connected cars. Carmakers are accelerating research and development spending to keep up with tech rivals who are racing to build a self-driving car at a time when regulators have tightened emissions rules, forcing manufacturers to clean up combustion engines and develop zero-emission electric vehicles. “The big questions is: Are we fast enough?”, Herbert Diess told VW’s senior managers following a global board meeting. “If we continue at our current speed, it is going to be very tough”. Volkswagen is shifting from being a manufacturer of traditional vehicles to making self-driving and connected cars, a step which requires cost cuts and efficiency gains, he said. “The era of the classic carmakers is over”, Diess added. Volkswagen needs to get a grip on software and electronics as well as producing a raft of electric vehicles and batteries so it can comply with stringent anti-pollution rules. “In summary this is probably the most difficult challenge Volkswagen has ever faced”, Diess said, adding that the carmaker plans to comply with the stricter emissions targets while at the same time seeking to maintain profit margins. Volkswagen has to cut down on complexity, hike productivity and slash costs, particularly in Germany, Diess said. VW will cut resources devoted to fuel cells, since they will not be as competitive as battery electric drivertrains for at least another decade. VW will also slash costs at its MOIA mobility services unit. “We need to reduce our engagement and stretch it, until the prerequisites for better profitability are given”, Diess said. VW also needs to focus more on profit and less on volumes, he said. “Take Bentley for example: 10.000 deliveries”, Diess said. “It would have been even more impressive if we had a margin higher than zero. If I’m totally honest, I would have preferred 5.000 deliveries and a margin of over 20 %”. To manage the transformation, Volkswagen must focus on its strengths, and to leave out or give up everything which stands in the way of raising performance, Diess said. Listing truck maker Traton was just a first step in overhauling its portfolio of assets, Diess said. Talks about finding a new owner for its Renk and MAN Energy Solutions units were also underway, the CEO said. +++

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