Newsflash: PSA stelt introductie nieuwe Opel Astra uit tot 2022


+++ BMW has confirmed that production of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car will end in April, nearly 6 years after it was launched. The Porsche 911 rival will leave the market as BMW shifts focus to a new line of bespoke electric cars that includes the iX3, i4 saloon and iNext SUV flagship. A new sports car, based on last year’s Vision M Next concept, is expected to arrive within the next 5 years. BMW is yet to confirm the exact date on which i8 production will end, but a company spokesman said: “UK customers interested in a built-to-order car will need to have placed their order with their local retailer by the end of February”. BMW dealerships have already started to offer the i8 at significantly reduced prices in the run-up to its retirement. Initially revealed in turbodiesel concept form at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show, the i8 went on sale in 2014 as the high-performance flagship of BMW’s then-new i electrified vehicle range, above the i3. The mid-engined 2+2 has been sold with just 1 powertrain option throughout its production run: a 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol engine mated to a low-output electric motor. Performance figures have remained largely unchanged, although a 2018 update boosted output from 362 hp to 374 hp. BMW research and development bosses last year confirmed that decisions were being made about the future of the i8, and that it could be reborn as an electric rival to the second-generation Tesla Roadster and long-rumoured Audi R8 e-tron. Little is known about its drivetrain or design, but sources suggest it will be developed using a “race to road strategy” that aims to provide a “tangible link” between BMW’s involvement in Formula E and its i division. +++ 

+++FORD said it is investing $82 million to expand its plant in northern Vietnam to boost production capacity. Ford Vietnam, established in 1995, said the expanded factory would boost the U.S. automaker’s annual capacity in Vietnam to 40,000 vehicles from current volume of 14,000 units per year. The company reported it sold 32.175 cars in 2019; up 31% from a year earlier. The additional investment, which will bring the company’s total investments in Vietnam to more than $200 million, will come in 2 stages over a 2 year period starting this year. Deputy Trade Minister Do Than Hai said he expected the expansion would reduce Vietnam’s reliance on imported vehicles and therefore lower the country’s trade deficit. The construction will expand the facility across an additional 60.000 square meters of land, bringing the total area to 226.000 square meters. +++ 

+++ Out of Japan and free to speak to the media, a fugitive Carlos GHOSN is proving a fresh headache for his old firm Nissan as it struggles to rebuild its reputation. The tycoon who once headed the automaker jumped bail and fled Japan last month while awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges. And he has not pulled any punches when it comes to the firm he helped turn around. He accuses executives there of effectively setting him up, in a bid to block his plans for further integration with Nissan’s French partner Renault. And in a press conference in Lebanon, where he emerged after his audacious escape, he slammed the firm’s executives, accusing them of losing shareholder value and pursuing a vendetta. Nissan has remained largely silent, waiting to release a statement calling his decision to flee “extremely regrettable” and insisting it had uncovered “numerous acts of misconduct” by the tycoon. The firm faces its own legal proceedings linked to the case, which limits what it can say, a source close to Nissan told. “We have responsibilities, we must respect the law, we have obligations. It will be painful, but we have to do it”. Ghosn, meanwhile, in Lebanon and apparently beyond the reach of Japanese prosecutors, “can say what he wants, he has no more constraints”, the source said. In a lengthy and at times combative press conference, the former auto magnate once again accused Nissan executives of plotting his downfall and sought to rebut the charges against him. “For the moment there is nothing new in Mr Ghosn’s allegations against Nissan”, Koji Endo, an automotive analyst at SBI Securities, told. “But if Ghosn continues with his negative campaign, the market will get more skeptical about Nissan’s fundamental recovery and its brand image”, he said. And internally there is “no doubt” that seeing the firm slammed so publicly is hitting morale, Endo said. “I’ve been told that lots of people continue to resign from Nissan, young engineers” in particular, he added. The Ghosn scandal has already cost Nissan dearly. Its market cap has fallen more than $10 billion since his arrest. “They lost more than $40 million a day”, Ghosn said. The losses coincide with an overall crisis in the auto industry, which has hit earnings, but Ghosn argues Nissan’s desire to push him out has hurt profits and shareholder value. Nissan spent $200 million on lawyers, investigators and private detectives during the scandal, a claim that insiders dismiss. “The figure is ridiculously exaggerated. You probably need to take one zero off”, one source inside Nissan told. But there have been other costs related to the case. Nissan was forced to pay a $15 million fine in September to settle an investigation by U.S. securities regulators, who charged that the firm hid more than $140 million in Ghosn’s expected retirement income from investors. And in December, it said it would not contest a $22 million fine levied by Japan’s Securities and Exchange Commission for filing documents that under-reported Ghosn’s compensation. It still faces questions from the Tokyo Stock Exchange, to avoid being delisted, and is the subject of legal action by shareholders in the United States. Internally, the firm says it has tried to clean up shop implementing governance reforms and internal investigations. Among those caught up in that were former CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who stepped down last year after admitting he had received more pay than he was entitled to. Current Nissan executives have remained largely tight-lipped on their former colleague’s broadsides. “I don’t have time to deal with a one-man show by someone who fled the country in violation of the law”, Masakazu Toyoda, an external administrator told reporters acidly when asked for comment. And Nissan’s new management likely has more pressing things on its mind: profits have fallen to their lowest level in ten years and sources say a strategy will be presented to the board next week to reverse the slide. +++ 

+++ HONDA has combined its advantages with Chinese resources to provide high-quality products and services, which generated fruitful results last year in the world’s largest auto market. “Honda has always strived to expand the joy of mobility and daily lives for our customers by realizing a fun and technological world with our innovative products and services”, Mizuno Yasuhide, managing officer of Honda and COO for regional operations of Honda China, said. “Especially in recent years, we’ve provided products and services of value to our customers with high quality and speed, by collaborating with outstanding resources in China, and leveraging the strengths of Honda”. Honda, with its 2 joint ventures in China-GAC Honda and Dongfeng Honda, sold a company-record 1.55 million cars in the country last year. The sales of its seven popular models exceeded 100,000 units in 2019, among which Accord, Civic and CR-V sold more than 200,000 units, respectively. Sales of 5 sport hybrid models exceeded 100,000 units for the first time. Honda also introduced the X-NV as the second sport electric vehicle following VE-1, and enhanced its new lineup by introducing a sport hybrid system to MPV models, such as Odyssey and Elysion. This year, Honda China will continue to strengthen its product lineup with the latest technological initiatives. The company said it has made good progress in the development of electric models VE-1 and X-NV, which will be displayed at the Beijing auto show in April. The company has also expanded application of its original Sport Hybrid system to sedans, SUVs and MPVs, which will be equipped with Honda’s most efficient 2-motor hybrid system, i-MMD. The carmaker also plans to launch a plug-in hybrid system named Sport Hybrid e+ in China this year. To provide better intelligent services for Chinese customers, Honda is accelerating the development of the next-generation Honda Connect, its core connectivity system, and has cooperated with domestic IT companies, such as Neusoft, Alibaba Al Labs and iFlytek. Honda launched the second-generation Connect system with the allnew SUV Breeze last year and plans to introduce the third-generation Connect system soon. GAC Honda will double the production capacity of its third factory in Guangzhou to 240,000 units, expanding its total annual capacity to 720,000 units. The expansion will help to lay a foundation to Honda’s production and sales in China, whose annual production will rise to 1.37 million. To better expand the joy of mobility and daily lives for customers, Honda also launched electric scooter and motorcycles in China. Last year, motorcycle manufacturer Wuyang-Honda began the production of the electric scooter, ‘Benly e:’. The scooter is scheduled to be introduced first in Japan and then to other parts of the world. +++ 

+++ Following a quiet 2 years, HYUNDAI ’s N Performance division appears to be readying its second model, the i20 N, which will be the Korean firm’s rival for the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI. It is likely to take inspiration from Hyundai’s i20 World Rally Championship challenger. Noticeable differences to the body will include a larger set of alloy wheels, a lowered ride height and a crudely-modified rear bumper, which allows space for a larger twin-exit exhaust. There will also be wheelarch extensions because of a wider track. Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s N division chief, is enthusiastic about the idea of fast superminis. Back in 2017, when quizzed about whether the N line-up could expand to include cars smaller than the i30, he said: “Of course. Why would we limit ourselves to C-segment? There are tons of hot superminis out there: Polo GTI, Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 and even the Toyota Yaris GRMN. There’s a good market out there”. Hyundai’s engine choice for the i20 N remains a mystery. I expect it will be based on a modified version of the current car’s platform. This platform is shared with the Kona, meaning the engines from the brand’s SUV should bolt into its supermini with minimal effort. Biermann, has previously confirmed that the planned Kona N will use the i30 N’s 250 hp turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, meaning there’s potential for it to be bolted into the i20 N in a lower state of tune. Given the i20’s smaller dimensions and lower price point, though, a more likely option would be a tuned version of the car’s existing turbocharged 1.6-litre engine. The i20 N will likely produce 204 hp, giving it comparable performance to the Fiesta ST (which produces 200 hp), while not treading too heavily on the toes of the more expensive i30 N (which has 250 hp). All i20 N’s will be front-wheel-drive and some versions are likely to feature an electronic limited-slip differential. +++ 

+++ In JAPAN , Honda’s N-Box minivehicle topped the new car sales rankings for the third consecutive year in 2019, industry data showed. Sales of the N-Box rose 4.8 % from the preceding year to 253.500 units. Minivehicles, with engine displacements of up to 660 cc, dominated the top 4 spots on the list. Daihatsu’s Tanto came second, with sales of 175.292 units, followed by Suzuki’s Spacia, with 166.389 units and Nissan’s Dayz, with 157.439 units. Toyota’s Prius hybrid was the most-sold non-minivehicle model, ranking fifth with sales of 125.587 units. The rankings are based on data from the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association. +++ 

+++ A heavily camouflaged mule of the facelifted KIA Picanto has been photographed during its winter testing programme. When the production model reaches Europe later this year, I expect it will adopt some of the updates added to its recently revised sibling, the new Hyundai i10, giving the city car a substantial technology and safety equipment upgrade. Styling updates for the new Picanto appear to follow the same pattern as those applied to the new i10, with fresh headlamps, updated daytime running lights, new front and rear bumpers, mildly tweaked door skins and a new tailgate. Like the Hyundai, the Kia looks to be slightly longer than its predecessor with a longer wheelbase. The outgoing Picanto and i10 shared the same engine range; a trend I expect will be carried over to this new model. As such, base-model Picantos should come with a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol unit with 67 hp and 96 Nm of torque, while more expensive variants will probably feature a turbo version developing 100 hp and 172 Nm. The Picanto and its Hyundai sibling are similar in size and similar in shape, which means they should share the same economy figures. Both engines will also be available with either a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic gearbox. Standard equipment should also be similar to the i10’s, with buyers getting air conditioning, a DAB radio, four electric windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors and cruise control. There will also likely be a choice of alloy wheel styles, ranging in size between 15 and 16 inches, as well as an 8 inch infotainment system on higher-specced models. +++ 

+++ LAND ROVER will launch its first hybrid-electric Discovery as part of a roster of updates aimed at boosting the model’s sales, which continue to fall below expectations. A Land Rover source mentions a “model-year update”, suggesting the changes are more far reaching than the usual equipment upgrades and light tweaks. Land Rover has yet to officially confirm which hybrid powertrain this test mule is using. It’s possible the brand is considering introducing a plug-in hybrid variant with the four-cylinder P400e system used on the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. However, understands the Discovery will also adopt mild hybrid system, using 48 Volt, added to the Range Rover last year. The only current Land Rover system suitable for a car of this size and weight is the latest 3.0-litre straight-6 turbo petrol engine mated to a starter/generator. However, given the Discovery’s diesel-heavy mix, expect such a system to be introduced in the 4 and 6 cylinder oil-burners for the 7 seat SUV’s launch, likely at the end of 2020. Updates such as this will be crucial as Jaguar Land Rover aims to avoid fines under the EU’s fleet average CO2 target. The brand’s 2 biggest hopes for achieving this will be the upcoming Discovery Sport and Evoque plug-in hybrids, which are set to go on sale in the coming weeks and be delivered to customers in May. They use a 200 hp 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine and a 109 hp electric powertrain for an electric-only range of about 50 kilometres. The extent of the visual changes to the Discovery is not yet clear. We can expect a new grille and bumper. But it remains to be seen if the controversial rear-end design will remain or be overhauled. Technology is expected to advance, with revamped infotainment and display systems and active safety tech. +++ 

+++ At least 3 Chinese automakers are preparing to produce vehicles in MEXICO or expand existing operations, the Mexican ambassador to China said, in what would be a boost to one of the Latin American country’s top export industries. Jose Luis Bernal, Mexico’s ambassador to China, said that over the past year and a half his office has seen more interest from Chinese firms looking to make cars in Mexico. Bernal, speaking at an event in Mexico City, listed Chongqing-based carmaker Changan, electric car maker BYD, and Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co (known as JAC) as actively eyeing production facilities in Mexico. Changan and BYD do not yet have production facilities in Mexico, and while JAC does, Bernal said the firm is considering an expansion. He added that the companies are aiming to begin the expanded Mexican operations sometime in the next year. +++ 

+++ NISSAN showcased a new lightweight, soundproofing material at the CES trade show, which it said can help make car cabins quieter while improving energy efficiency. The technology uses a lattice structure and plastic film to control air vibrations that limit the transmission of wide frequency band noise (500 to 1,200 hertz), such as road and engine noise. Most soundproofing materials now used to dampen road and engine noise consist mainly of heavy rubber board. But Nissan’s acoustic material weighs one-fourth as much while providing the same degree of sound isolation, the company said in a statement. Nissan said its material is cost competitive and in some cases is less expensive than conventional soundproofing materials on the market. That allows it to be incorporated into vehicles where the use of sound insulation materials is limited because of cost or weight. Nissan has been developing the technology since 2008. At the time, the material was used in high-sensitivity antennas used for electromagnetic wave research. Nissan said it was “in no way” considering dissolving its alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi, and that the alliance was the source of Nissan’s competitiveness. “Through the alliance, to achieve sustainable and profitable growth, Nissan will look to continue delivering win-win results for all member companies”, the Japanese automaker said in a statement. +++ 

+++ OPEL plans to cut as many as 4.100 jobs, according to a person familiar with the matter, joining automakers around the globe in restructuring amid a sales slowdown and technological disruption. The automaker will eliminate at least 2.100 positions by 2025 and could take measures to cut another 1.000 workers twice in 2 year increments through 2029, said the person, who asked not to be identified ahead of an official announcement. While PSA breathed life into Opel after acquiring it from General Motors in 2017, German brands have been struggling to prove they are ready to meet stricter emissions standards and go electric. Transitioning from the internal combustion engine could be taxing for the German economy because full-electric cars require fewer parts and less labor to build. Automakers are eliminating more than 80.000 jobs during the coming years, according to data Bloomberg News compiled in December. PSA announced plans late last year to merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and has said no plants will close as a result of the deal. However, it has delayed the sales launch of the new Opel / Vauxhall Astra due to the continuing uncertainty around Brexit, a source familiar with the matter said. The Astra is now expected to go on sale in 2022, a year later than previously announced. The Astra is a key product for Opel / Vauxhall because it is the division’s second best-selling model after the Corsa. It is currently built in 2 European factories: Ellesmere Port, England and Gliwice in Poland. PSA boss Carlos Tavares has said production of the next-generation model in Ellesmere Port plant will depend on the UK striking a favorable trade deal with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc. PSA said in June that the new Astra would start production in 2021 split between 2 plants, 1 of which would be Opel’s Rüsselsheim plant in Germany. Tavares also said he wanted the Astra’s second production plant to be Ellesmere Port, but he warned that the factory could be shut down if Britain quits the EU with a bad trade deal. “Frankly, I would prefer to put the new Astra in Ellesmere Port, but if the conditions are bad and I cannot make it profitable then I have to protect the rest of the company and I will not do it”, Tavares told. Tavares said he had an alternative plant in mind but did not mention its name. PSA plans to add output of large commercial vans in Gliwice to replace Astra production at the plant. Delaying the launch of the Astra would give Tavares visibility on a trade deal that the UK has said it will strike with the EU by the end of the year. Observers are skeptical that so complicated a deal can be completed in such a short time frame, meaning the UK could yet leave without a deal. PSA has axed around 900 jobs at Ellesmere Port since buying Opel/Vauxhall in 2017 in a bid to stem losses at the plant. PSA second UK plant in Luton, southern England, is safe after it was awarded production of a new range of midsize vans. Astra sales in Europe fell 12 % to 130.372 in the first 11 month of last year, as customers continued to migrate towards SUVs. The Astra is a popular business fleet model partly because of discounts, although PSA has worked to reduce incentives as part of its successful strategy to return Opel to profitability. +++ 

+++ The PEUGEOT family, which will own a 6.2 % stake in the new carmaker resulting from PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) merger, aims to increase its holding as soon as possible, a representative said in a newspaper interview. PSA and Fiat Chrysler reached a binding agreement last month on a $50 billion tie-up that will create the world’s No. 4 carmaker after the deal is completed in 12-15 months. Under the terms of the deal, the Peugeot family can increase its shareholding by up to 2.5% only by acquiring shares from French state investment bank Bpifrance Participations and China’s Dongfeng Motors, which are both also PSA shareholders. Asked if raising the stake was a major objective, Jean-Philippe Peugeot, who heads the family’s Etablissements Peugeot Freres holding company, replied that it was. “There was a complex negotiation in order to obtain this possibility. It wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. Once the merger is complete, my family will give favorable signals”, Peugeot told. A PSA spokesman told that Peugeot’s remarks were “in line with what had been indicated” when the deal signed. Peugeot also said that he expected the French state, represented through Bpifrance, to eventually exit the new company. “I think that it is not meant to be there forever. It will undoubtedly remain long enough to make sure that French jobs are safe over time”, he said. However, he added that it was unlikely that Dongfeng would totally sell out of the new group even though it plans to reduce its shares in PSA. “Partially, perhaps, but I don’t think all of it. Sure, PSA’s business in China has not met our expectations, but for Dongfeng it’s a minor issue when you look at China’s long history”, he said. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE shrugged off a widespread industry slowdown, reporting record deliveries for last year and predicting that its first all-electric model, the Taycan, will foster further growth in 2020. Global deliveries rose 10 percent to 280.800 cars in 2019, driven mainly by strong consumer appetite for the Macan and Cayenne SUVs, Porsche said. “We’re optimistic that we can sustain the high demand in 2020”, sales chief Detlev von Platen said. Sales momentum should benefit from “the introduction of some new models and full order books for the Taycan”. The most profitable division of Volkswagen Group, the world’s largest automaker, is entering a new era with this year’s rollout of the Taycan sedan, which challenges Tesla’s Model S. Porsche’s cachet has been shaped for decades by fast sports cars with roaring combustion engines, and success of the costly expansion into electric cars is mission-critical for the automaker amid stricter emission regulations in key markets. Sales rose 8 % last year in both China and the U.S., Porsche’s 2 largest markets. Porsche sold 86.752 cars in China, where luxury cars have been less affected by the waning demand hurting the overall market, and 61.568 cars in the U.S. In Germany, sales advanced 15 % to 31.618 vehicles. +++ 

+++ Shares of RENAULT recovered some lost ground after the French carmaker and its partner Nissan rejected media reports that their alliance was in danger of being dissolved. Growing concerns about the state of the 20-year old French-Japanese alliance, forged by former boss turned fugitive Carlos Ghosn, had sent Renault and Nissan shares skidding to multi-year lows. The alliance, which also includes Mitsubishi, is “solid, robust, everything but dead”, the chairman of Renault, Jean-Philippe Senard, told. French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire also weighed in, saying reports some executives wanted to break up the alliance were “malicious”. He also said he expected Renault to name a new chief executive within days to replace Thierry Bollore, a Ghosn-era appointee who was ousted in October. Luca de Meo, who stepped down as the head of Volkswagen’s Seat brand last week, is seen as a frontrunner for the job, although a stringent non-compete clause in his contract firm may prove a hurdle, sources have told. Nissan, in response to “speculative international media reports”, said it was “in no way considering dissolving the alliance”. “The alliance is the source of Nissan’s competitiveness”, the Japanese automaker said in a statement. “Through the alliance, to achieve sustainable and profitable growth, Nissan will look to continue delivering win-win results for all member companies”. Concerns emerged about the future of the Renault-Nissan partnership after the November 2018 arrest in Japan of Ghosn, the man who did more than anyone else to hold together the disparate alliance of often-contrasting carmaking cultures. Those worries were given new momentum after Ghosn last month fled Japan where he was awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, which he denies, flew to Lebanon, and told the media the alliance was riven with mistrust. Renault named Gilles Le Borgne, a former PSA Group executive, as head of engineering, replacing Gaspar Gascon Abellan, who is leaving the automaker. Le Borgne, 57, will be an executive vice president and member of Renault’s executive committee. He will report to interim CEO Clothilde Delbos. Le Borgne started in his new role on January 6, Renault said in a news release. Le Borgne left PSA last April after serving as executive vice president, quality and engineering since 2013. He was also a member of PSA’s executive committee. At PSA, Le Borgne helped to direct many of the automaker’s platform and vehicle projects. Starting in 1997, he led the development of group platforms for small cars including the Peugeot 107 and 207, and the Citroen C2 and C3. In 2008 he was named to lead the group’s new EMP2 platform project, which would go on to underpin compact and midsize models such as the Peugeot 3008 and 5008. Le Borgne was named senior vice president for platforms and advanced projects in 2012. Le Borgne’s predecessor, Abellan, left the automaker to “pursue personal projects”, Renault said. Abellan joined Renault in 1990 and held executive positions in engineering and powertrain development, including as vice president and project director for diesel engines from 2005-2011. In 2011 he was named vice president for powertrain projects, strategy and partnerships, and in 2014 he became senior vice president and head of powertrain engineering. +++ 

+++ New car sales in RUSSIA this year are set to fall 2.1 % year on year to 1.72 million vehicles after a 2.3 % drop last year, the Association of European Businesses (AEB) said. The forecast puts Russia’s car market on course for its second annual contraction in 2 years, despite new sales in December rising 2.3 % year on year and recovering from a 6.4 % drop the previous month, according to the AEB. “The year 2019 proved harder than expected”, said Jörg Schreiber, chairman of the AEB automobile manufacturers committee, which comprises the majority of car manufacturers operating in Russia. The “size of Russia’s auto market remains small and lower than its potential”, he told reporters. Russia’s car market was given a much-needed boost in 2018 when it expanded by 12.8 %. But falling real incomes have fueled a subsequent contraction. Russia’s biggest automaker Avtovaz also expects the car market to contract again in 2020, primarily due to depressed consumer incomes, a company executive said. +++ 

+++ New-car sales in SPAIN rose 6.6 % to 105.853 in December, boosted by an additional selling day and strong sales to rental companies. Sales to rental companies jumped 49 %, while registrations by companies (which include self-registrations by automakers and dealers) grew by 14 %. Sales to private customers fell 6.9 %. Sales of gasoline-powered cars increased by 6.9 % for a 57.7 % share of the market; down 1.7 % from December 2018. Registrations of diesel-powered vehicles were down 3.7 % for a 29.1 % share, 3.2 % lower than December 2018. Sales of electrified cars including full-electric and hybrid models plus vehicles powered by LPG and CNG rose 39 % to a 13.1 percent market share. Hybrid car sales grew 88 % for a 10.7 % market share. The Seat Leon was the most popular model both during the month and the full year, followed by the Dacia Sandero. The Seat Ibiza was No. 3 in December, while the Nissan Qashqai took third place for the year. Fiat brand registrations increased 62 % because of a 300 % rise in sales of the Panda. Within the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group, Jeep registrations were down 23 % while Alfa Romeo gained 5.1 %. Among Volkswagen Group brands, Skoda’s registrations grew 54 % and Seat gained 33 %. VW brand’s volume was up 2.4 % and Audi posted a 25 % increase. Renault brand sales were down 12 %, while sister brand Dacia suffered a 7 % decline. Within the PSA Group, Opel registrations dropped 36 %, Peugeot sales were down 0.6 % and Citroen gained 0.4 %. Asian brands had mixed results. Kia posted a 58 % jump, helped by the recently launched XCeed. Sister brand Hyundai saw a 2.3 % decline. Mazda’s registrations jumped 47 % and Toyota’s sales increased 20 %, while Nissan’s registrations fell 17 %. Among other brands, Mercedes-Benz sales were up 28 %, while German rival BMW suffered a 19 % drop. Ford sales increased 24 % as sales of the freshly renewed Kuga jumped 238 %, giving it the 4th place among the best-selling models. Annual new-car sales fell in 2019 for the first time since 2012, with a 4.8 % decline to 1.256 million. Industry association ANFAC forecasts 2020 sales will be at a similar level to 2019, with a weaker first half and a recovery in the second part of the year. Dealers believe the “high economic and political uncertainty” will trigger a 3 % decline. +++ 

+++ Automakers and auto parts manufacturers from Japan and abroad displayed some 800 custom and race cars at an auto show near Tokyo. At the TOKYO AUTO SALON in Chiba, east of Tokyo, which opened to the public for a 2-day run, Toyota unveiled the GR Yaris, developed with its abundant motor sport experience such as participation in the World Rally Championship. Along with Toyota, Honda, Volvo and Mazda, a total of 438 automakers and auto parts manufacturers put on display their unique custom products. Toyota, the largest Japanese automaker by sales volume, started accepting orders for the GR Yaris’ 4-wheel drive special model with a 1.6-liter turbo engine, to be made at a factory in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, where the company is headquartered. “I’m pleased we’ve made all components of this sport-type vehicle by ourselves, unlike our GT86 and Supra”, that were co-developed with another automaker, Toyota president Akio Toyoda told reporters. Subaru unveiled a sportier version of the Levorg expected to be released in the second half of the year, while Nissan showcased limited editions of the GT-R and 370Z sports cars. The event also includes race car demonstration drives around the exhibition hall at the Makuhari Messe convention center, according to organizers. The organizers expect the auto show to attract more than 300.000 people. +++ 

+++ German prosecutors filed charges against 6 employees at VOLKSWAGEN for their role in the automaker’s emissions-cheating scandal. Prosecutors in Brunswick, Germany, accused the unnamed employees of fraud and false advertising as well as tax evasion, since VW cars equipped with illegal emissions-cheating software should not have received road worthiness certification and tax breaks. The employees worked at the automaker between 2006 and 2015 and were below management board level, prosecutor Klaus Ziehe said, adding it was unclear whether they are still employed at the automaker. The accused were responsible for the fact that authorities and customers in Europe and the U.S. were deliberately misled with the aid of unauthorized software fitted in the VW Group vehicles, the prosecutors office said. 3 of the accused executives are accused of acting as perpetrators, the other 3 accused of aiding and abetting the cheating, the statement said. “The latter had in particular knowingly and willingly participated in the development, refinement and improvement of the manipulation software”, prosecutors said in an 876-page indictment. +++ 

+++ VOLVO had a record number of deliveries in China in 2019, mainly thanks to its SUV models, helping the Swedish carmaker tackle the headwinds that have lingered in the world’s largest market for almost 2 years. The carmaker sold 161.436 vehicles in China last year; up 18.2 % year-on-year, outperforming the Chinese market where sales fell last year from 2018. “The result is an all-time record for Volvo Cars in China and the highest sales number it has ever reached in a single market”, the carmaker said in a statement. Its China sales pushed global deliveries to 705.452 vehicles; an increase of 9.8 % from 2018, according to the carmaker. Volvo said its SUV models served as a particular highlight as the company gained market share in China, the United States and Europe amid stagnating global car markets. The XC60 continued to be the best-selling car for the company in China and globally. On the Chinese mainland, its sales totaled 62.594 in 2019; up 28 % year-on-year. It was followed by the locally-made S90, whose sales grew 24 % from 2018 to 43.130 units, and the imported XC90, whose sales went up 21 % year-on-year to 17,806. As of the end of 2019, Volvo had 261 showrooms in 148 Chinese cities. It said all of them will become globally standardized to offer customers a better experience in 2020. Volvo said its satisfactory sales performance in the country can be attributed to its continuous localization efforts and customers’ recognition of its emphasis on health, environmental protection and safety. The Swedish brand now has 3 car plants and 1 engine factory in China, producing the S90 and S60 as well as the XC60 and XC40. Around 40 % of those vehicles are exported to as many as 70 countries and regions, which have made Volvo the first premium brand to sell China-made vehicles to Europe and North America, the carmaker said. Volvo has around 600 suppliers in China, where its procurement accounts for around 30 % of its global total. It also has a design center and a research and development facility in the country. “Volvo has developed from a Swedish brand into a truly global brand, with sound manufacturing and business networks in core regions including Europe, China and the United States”, said Yuan Xiaolin, senior vice-president of Volvo Car Group and president and CEO of Volvo Car Asia Pacific. China’s role in Volvo’s development is expected to grow further. In March 2019, the carmaker unveiled its Asia-Pacific region headquarters in Shanghai, which signaled its commitment to the sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific market with China as the center. In November, it opened a battery lab in Shanghai, which is expected to facilitate the brand’s electrification strategy and further enhance its research and development capabilities in the country. The carmaker said its research and development engineers in China will work closely with those in other countries and play a bigger role in developing vehicles for global markets. +++

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