Newsflash: Skoda komt met stekker hybride Octavia RS

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+++ BMW has ceased production of its 3 Series Gran Turismo with no direct replacement on the cards, as the model is removed from price lists for 2020. With bosses originally claiming demand for the model is still at the desired levels, the decision to ditch the model is instead part of a major cost-cutting efficiency drive. The liftback version of its best-selling executive saloon was launched in 2013, and sold alongside the sedan and Touring variants of the 3 Series. A revised version was launched in 2016. BMW launched a new 3 Series saloon last year, with a Touring version following that, but chairman Harold Krüger confirmed that “there won’t be a successor” to the current 3 Series GT in a statement accompanying an interim financial report. Designed to combine the looks of the saloon with the practicality of the Touring, the GT was longer and wider than both those variants, with greater interior space. BMW’s ever-expanding range of SUVs, offering a similar mix of extra space and a higher-driving position, was likely a factor in the decision not to replace the model. The move was one of a number of cost-cutting measures being undertaken by BMW that Krüger listed as part of his statement. The firm is making the moves to save more than €12 billion. Other cost-saving measures include reducing up to half of BMW’s current drivetrain variants by 2021, enabled by the firm’s shift to 2 new flexible platforms, reducing complexity in vehicles and shortening the development process for new vehicles by up to a third. +++ 

+++ The year 2019 and the reviews of the decade of the 2010s are behind us. Recaps of the most important automotive events of 2010-2019, from Dieselgate to Carlos Ghosn’s fall and very recent escape from Tokyo are everywhere, as are most important cars and designs and engineering feats. You won’t find one here, and I’ll use as my excuse the math-geek point that a decade begins with year one, so we’re still in the decade of the teens, which thus runs from 2011 to 2020. Call me again for my list next December. Everything that changed in the automotive world in the 2010s began with the Lehmann Brothers’ collapse in autumn 2008 that helped trigger The Great Recession. This coincided with the 100th anniversary of GENERAL MOTORS , which way back then was still the world’s largest automaker, based in the world’s largest auto market. Since the federal bailout and forced bankruptcy of GM, the automaker (which officially is an all-new corporation thanks to that event) put off complete redesigns of its full-size pickup truck and SUV moneymakers until very recently, while spending a few bucks in order to try and lead the industry with Chevrolets Volt and Bolt. While GM has barely held on to 17 % market share and may fall below that threshold for calendar-year 2019, it is still the market leader in North America. In fact, GM also remains very influential in the world’s largest auto market, China. So while GM may have long ago surrendered its primacy as the global design and engineering leader, its plans for the ’20s, based on everything that has happened to it since 2008 points to trends that are emerging for the 10 years ahead. In place of “The Biggest Auto News Stories of 2019” or “Biggest Auto Trends of 2010-2019,” here are changes we can expect from this industry for 2020-2029: 1) Turmoil in Europe. GM sold Opel and Vauxhall to PSA in 2017, and the French automaker quickly turned the German and U.K. brands profitable after they lost money for years under the U.S. automaker. I don’t see how PSA, which will control 13 marques including Lancia (which is selling low-profit “fashion city cars” mostly for the local market) after the FCA merger, will keep them all alive. The new company sells 7 of those brands in North America. At least 2 of them (Fiat and Alfa Romeo) may not have much future there, and there’s no reason for the French half of the company to carry out its plans to re-enter the U.S. market with the Peugeot nameplate (fellow automotive pundit Gary Vasilash believes future Chrysler models could be built on Peugeot platforms). But wait, there’s more. Automakers based in the European Union have long dealt with keeping local governments and unions satisfied that they won’t move production out of their home countries; Thus, the late Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s promise that all Alfa Romeos will be built in Italy from now on, even if Fiat 124 Spiders are assembled in Japan and Fiat 500s in Poland and Mexico, while Jeep Renegades are built in Italy. 2) And then there’s the new EU CO2 standard. After years of lagging behind the U.S. in terms of carbon dioxide-emissions standards, the EU beginning this month will make it that much tougher to do car/truck business in Western Europe. The CO2 standards threaten to slowly kill off what’s left of the diesel passenger-vehicle business there. While Fiat Chrysler already has launched the Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel in the U.S., the company’s priority in Europe is the plug-in hybrid version of the Wrangler, which goes on sale there any minute now, while the home market doesn’t get the powertrain until later in the year. GM essentially is out of the European market, and yet it has been most vocal about expanding its EV offerings. While Ford has announced an electrified Mustang and F-Series, and most sensationally the battery-electric Mustang Mach-E, GM has promised 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. And yet the current share for pure-electric-powered vehicles in both the global and U.S. market is somewhere between 1 % and 1.5 %. Not all of those GM EVs are cars (or trucks) are available in the U.S. The first 2 of those 23 GM EVs are on sale already, in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. GM’s Ariv Meld is a $3,160 compact e-bicycle, and the Ariv Merge is a $3,835 folding e-bike. Looks like GM has a post Opel / Vauxhall EU strategy, after all. 3) Speaking of bicycles: As major cities have added protected bike lanes, and bicycle commuting becomes more popular, bike fatalities from collisions with motorists have increased severely in the past couple of years. No matter whether you’re a driver sympathetic or antagonistic toward cyclists, experts and bike advocates generally agree that much of the blame goes to smartphones (in the hands of the motorists). Perhaps if fellow drivers can’t get other motorists to limit their smartphone use, militant cyclists will. 4) The German auto industry is not immune. Writing for the New York Times, Anna Sauerbrey, an editor and reporter for Der Tagesspiegel, notes that 2 weeks after Tesla announced its Metro Berlin gigafactory, Audi announced it would cut 9.500 employees by 2025. The narrative in Germany, she writes, “goes like this: Germany has failed to embrace the future. It has been complacent for too long, economically and politically, coasting on former glories. Now the world is coming for it”. Reminds me of what we said about GM, Ford, and Chrysler here in the 1980s, ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s. 5) And then there’s Volkswagen. The automaker that pounded half the nails in the coffin of the diesel engine announced just before Christmas it would reach 1 million in EV production by 2023; 2 years ahead of schedule, with 1.5 million planned for 2025. Still no word on how automakers plan to boost demand for these EVs, but keep in mind that the VW brand might sell more than 400.000 cars and SUVs in the U.S. when the 2019 numbers are tabulated. The 1 million by ’23 number refers to global sales. If total global light-vehicle sales remain steady through the next few years, this will be a bit more than the 1 % market share all brands of EVs currently enjoy. The first of Volkswagen’s EVs, the ID.3, arrives this year for about €33,000 in The Netherlands. Even if Tesla, Jaguar and Ford luxury EVs sell for prices that do a better job of cutting into the cost of battery electrics, though perhaps still losing money, I believe it will be medium-priced commuter cars like the ID.3 that will make electric power mainstream. 6) The future has come and gone for … car-subscription services. Except for Volvo, which lets subscribers exchange one model for another of equal value after a year, practically all the luxury brand sub services launched in the last couple of years are either gone or on hiatus. I don’t see much future in car-sharing, either. And driverless Ubers and Lyfts might make some sense as taxicab alternatives when traveling to and from airports, they’ll do nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. 7) This all adds up to: Peak auto? Cities are rediscovering mass transportation as a way to help alleviate traffic and allow city developers to devote less space to parking lots and garages. New York City has a plan to limit private motorized traffic in parts of Manhattan, and even Kansas City is considering a proposal to cut bus fares to zero for all commuters. Meanwhile, new cars, trucks and SUVs, even the commodity brands, are becoming luxury items anyway, as average prices race past €35.000 and middle-class buyers increasingly take out 7-year loans. This future may not bode well for mildly enthusiastic car buyers. More brands, including several that enthusiasts covet, will be gone by December 2029. +++ 

+++ Ousted Nissan boss Carlos GHOSN left his Tokyo residence after a private security firm hired by Nissan stopped monitoring him, 3 sources familiar with the matter told. Ghosn has become an international fugitive after he fled to Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged” justice system in Japan, where he faces charges relating to alleged financial crimes. Nissan had hired a private security company to watch Ghosn, who was on bail and awaiting trial, to check whether he met any people involved in the case, the 3 sources said. But his lawyers warned the security company to stop watching him as it would be a violation of his human rights and Ghosn was planning to file a complaint against the company, the sources said. The security company stopped its surveillance by December 29, the sources said. One of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters in November that they were considering steps to prevent people from stalking Ghosn. Japanese public broadcaster NHK, citing investigative sources, said a surveillance camera placed by the authorities in Ghosn’s home showed him leaving alone around noon on Sunday, and did not show him returning. It is unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan. He entered Lebanon legally on a French passport, 1 source has told. A Turkish private jet operator said that Ghosn used 2 of its planes illegally in his escape from Japan, with an employee falsifying lease records to exclude his name from the documents. Ghosn has said he will speak publicly about his escape on January 8. Takashi Takano, who is also one of Ghosn’s lawyers, wrote in his blog that he felt infuriated and betrayed when he found out about Ghosn’s escape from Japan but that he felt some understanding. “I was betrayed. But it is not Carlos Ghosn who betrayed me”, he wrote in his blog. Takano said Ghosn was not allowed to communicate with his wife Carole without permission and the ex-Nissan boss was also concerned about his chances of getting a fair trial. On December 24, Ghosn and his wife held a one-hour video call, which required a lawyer’s presence, and they talked about their children, relatives and friends, Takano wrote. Takano was present during the video call. Few people would have been able to escape as Ghosn did, but if they had the means and contacts, they certainly might try or at least consider trying, Takano wrote. Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018, shortly after his private jet touched down at the airport. He faces 4 charges (which he denies) including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East. The Japanese police suspected Ghosn may have left his home to meet up with someone before heading to an airport. Under the terms of his bail, Ghosn was required to have security cameras installed at the entrance of his house. Lebanon received an Interpol arrest warrant for Ghosn while Turkey has launched an investigation into his escape from Japan, via Istanbul. Some Lebanese media have floated a Houdini-like account of Ghosn being packed in a wooden container for musical instruments after a private concert in his home, but his wife has called the account “fiction”. Ghosn met Lebanon’s president after his escape from Japan. One of the sources said Ghosn was greeted warmly by President Michel Aoun after flying into Beirut via Istanbul and was now in a buoyant and combative mood and felt secure. In his meeting at the presidency, Ghosn thanked Aoun for the support he had given him and his wife Carole while he was in detention, the sources said. He now needs the protection and security of his government after fleeing Japan, they added. A media advisor to the president’s office denied the two men had met. Lebanese officials have said there would be no need to take legal measures against Ghosn because he entered the country legally on a French passport, although Ghosn’s French, Lebanese, and Brazilian passports are with lawyers in Japan. The French and Lebanese foreign ministries have said they were unaware of the circumstances of his journey. Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan. Under the terms of his bail, he had been confined to his house in Tokyo and had to have cameras installed at the entrance. He was prevented from communicating with his wife and had his use of the internet and other communications curtailed. The sources said the Lebanese ambassador to Japan had visited him daily while he was in detention. His wife declined to provide details of the exit of one of the most recognize titans of industry. The accounts of the 2 sources suggest a carefully planned escape few were aware of. They said a private security firm oversaw the plan, which was 3 months in the making and involved shuttling Ghosn out via a private jet to Istanbul before pushing onward to Beirut, with even the pilot unaware of Ghosn’s presence on board. “It was a very professional operation from start to finish” said one of the sources. The other source said Ghosn was in good health. Sources close to him said he was unwilling to share details of his escape so as not to jeopardize those who aided him in Japan. He is staying at the home of a relative of his wife, but plans to return soon to a gated villa in the upscale Beirut neighborhood of Achrafieh, one of the sources said. Ghosn has enjoyed an outpouring of support from Lebanese since his 2018 arrest, with billboards proclaiming “We are all Carlos Ghosn” erected in solidarity with his case. Locally he is considered a poster boy for success in a country where rampant unemployment pushes young Lebanese abroad to find work and the economy relies heavily on remittances amid a deep financial crisis that has sparked a wave of protests. Ghosn was born in Brazil but of Lebanese descent and lived in Lebanon as a child. He oversaw a turnaround at French carmaker Renault that won him the nickname “Le Cost Killer” and used similar methods to revive Nissan. Soon after his escape, the Internet lit up with unconfirmed reports and theories of how Ghosn, now an international fugitive, pulled off an escape befitting a Hollywood thriller; one that will be very hard for Japanese authorities to live down. There are still more questions than answers. The decision to flee may have come because of new information Japanese authorities could have obtained from a Swiss bank and from offshore centers including Dubai. Ghosn is expected to give a press conference from Lebanon in his new home after the holidays. In the meantime, red-faced Japanese law enforcement and customs officials have some explaining to do. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER plunged to a €4.2 billion loss during its last financial year, ending a long streak of consistent growth and strong profits. Most of the loss came from a €3.7 billion write-down on investments in February after 2018 sales in China collapsed 22 %. That prompted a €2.9 billion cost savings drive, including the loss of 4.500 jobs, as the Tata Motors owned company reassessed its priorities. The tough decisions are paying off as JLR reported a €180 million pre-tax profit during its second quarter that ended in September. Felix Bräutigam outlines how the automaker aims to keep heading in the right direction, particularly in China: “Since 1994 we have had 3 to 4 cyclical downturns in the Western world, which is normal, but the Chinese market was growing each and every year. Then, all of a sudden, last year it was down, which was seismic. One of the reasons why we had a difficult 2018 was that we took a conscious decision not to offset the overall slowdown by pushing volume at any cost, so we cut production. We are in it for the long run. If we start a really dirty discounting game in China and buy market share in a relatively young market, what does that do to our brand? It says we are a discount brand and that doesn’t match what Jaguar and Land Rover should stand for. Now, we see green shoots in China. We didn’t just take out production. We worked intensively with retailers, we simplified our product offer and we worked on the cost side. Now we are growing again. I’m not saying we have completed the turnaround, but we have the patience. It’s such a young market, whatever we do right and wrong now will influence our success in China, which will be the biggest premium market for the next 10 to 20 years. But at the same time the market is still declining so we face headwinds on a more macroeconomic level. It was inevitable that the Chinese gold rush would end. In the early 2010s you could shift volume and make a lot of money on the way. There is still a lot of gold but it will be more and more expensive to extract. It’s a huge market: 1.4 billion people. However, it’s also becoming probably the world’s most aggressive and most fought-over premium automotive market. It will be a relatively dirty market (because of the pressure to discount). This is a game we don’t want to play. We are relatively small, so we want to be in enough niches that we can be enticing to enough Chinese customers who say: “This is exactly what I want”. So, when they say, “Can we have a discount”, we say: “We go out of our way for you, so, I’m sorry, but that’s the price”. But even though we are a sort of niche player, Jaguar should keep on be making XE and XFs sedans. It is an entry into our brand, and when you look at other premium brands, their entry level is much lower. In China we produce a stretched version of the XE to better appeal to Chinese tastes. We were a bit unlucky in that it launched right as the market was crashing, but we still believe it’s particularly appealing to Chinese customers, because it’s still a huge market for sedans. Land Rover has been a 2-legged stool for a couple of years. Land Rovers are supposed to be the most capable in their segment. The Range Rover family adds refinement and luxury. Discovery adds versatility. The missing leg on the stool was Defender, which is about ultimate 4×4 unstoppability. Now we can be much more specific. I am not worried about the Defender taking customers from the Discovery. The Discovery creates a whole stream of customers for whom the Defender is not the right car. The Defender might draw them in, but maybe they will think it’s perhaps not 100 % for them, so they will have a second look at the Discovery. This doesn’t mean I am a little bit frustrated that the Discovery is not doing better. We think it deserves better. It’s a full 8-seater. It’s truly versatile. It doesn’t have to replace the Defender because we have given the Discovery its space back. It would have been very natural to launch the Defender and Discovery in parallel. That way it would have been very clear: The Discovery is the most capable family SUV and the Defender is the most rugged, unstoppable modern 4×4”. When asked if Bräutigam is worried about the environmental and safety backlash targeting SUVs, he says: “Zero emissions, zero accidents. That’s our goal and we are on a good path. We are relentlessly driven to reduce the number of accidents, but this has nothing to do with the size of the car. It’s all about the car’s intelligence. In any walk of life we need choice. We live in democracies. The effect of different car types is much less influential than the drivetrain. We were the first established premium manufacturer to launch an EV with the Jaguar I-Pace. That’s an SUV/crossover and it has zero emissions. And if plug-in hybrids are really used smartly, the CO2 impact is quite minimal. Jaguar will continue to build sports cars in the future. We share a strong belief that Jaguar should always have a sports car. What shape or form that will take, we are deep in that discussion. The new Jaguar XJ will be based on the MLA platform for electrified cars. We can add combustion engines later. MLA allows us to be super flexible. There are big changes ahead with autonomous cars, connected cars, EVs and car-sharing. The big challenge is forecasting which of these four will be really relevant to customers in which market at which point in time. That means it’s no longer the game of fast swallowing the slow, the big swallowing the small. The smart and flexible will be the most successful. This is a strength of Jaguar Land Rover. We are relatively small and very flexible. MLA is one answer. It will deliver outstanding full-electric vehicles, however, there will still be markets without the charging infrastructure or customer demand, so, MLA allows us to continue delivering super-efficient plug-in hybrids or mild hybrids on the same platform”. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) plans to debut plug-in hybrid electric Wrangler, Renegade and Compass JEEP vehicles at the annual CES event in Las Vegas next week. The ‘4xe’ electrified vehicles are a first step in FCA’s plan to offer electric options on all its models by 2022, the company said in a press release. “Electrification, including the upcoming no-compromise Jeep 4xe vehicles, will modernize the Jeep brand as it strives to become the leader in ‘green’ eco-friendly premium technology”, the release said. “Jeep electric vehicles will be the most efficient and responsible Jeep vehicles ever”. More information about the three 4xe vehicles will be presented this year at the Geneva, New York and Beijing auto shows, FCA said. FCA said its booth occupies more than 6,000 square feet of floor space at CES. Stationed at the center of the display is a rotating theater. As the 40-foot circle spins, attendees’ view of products changes as does the story-telling digital display on a unique, Hologauze screen, FCA said in a statement. +++ 

+++ Sometimes less is more and LAMBORGHINI is hoping the maxim holds true in the case of the latest addition to its Huracan Evo range. The new Huracan Evo rearwheel-drive joins the line-up with 2 fewer driven wheels than the existing Coupe and Spyder models. This isn’t the first time Lamborghini has switched from all-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive for a special version of its entry-level road-going supercar. The original Huracan was offered in RWD form and before it, the 2009 Gallardo LP 550-2 re-established the trend for sending power rearwards that had been ignored since the last RWD Diablos were sold a decade earlier. Like its predecessors, we’re told that the focus of the Huracan Evo rearwheel-drive is on pure driver engagement rather than the dirty business of straight line performance and lap times. It uses the same mid-mounted V10 engine as the all-wheel drive Huracan Evo but the unit produces a slightly lower 620 hp maximum at 8,000 rpm; 20 hp down on the standard car. Torque dips too, from 600 Nm to 560Nm at 6,500 rpm. However, while the standard Huracan EVO weighs 1,422 kg without fluids on board, the switch to rear wheel drive brings the new car in at 1,389 kg. The weight reduction on the RWD Huracan can’t quite overcome the traction advantage of the 4WD model, as a 0-100 kph time of 3.3 seconds compared to 2.9 seconds for the existing car demonstrates. But both versions record the same 325 kph top speed and the Santa Agata  development team hope that the 33kg weight saving will tell through the corners. In the name of delivering the most involving driving experience you can get in a Huracan Evo, the RWD model does without the high tech four-wheel steering and four-wheel torque vectoring system os the standard car. What it does get is a specially calibrated version of Lamborghini’s P-TCS (Performance Traction Control System) that is designed to keep the torque flowing even when the car is pulling out of slides. The system offers the familiar Strada, Sport and Corsa driving modes via the ANIMA control on the steering wheel, each offering progressively more oversteer-friendly set-ups. Lamborghini’s LDS dynamic steering system does feature, as does the car’s standard 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox with launch control function. Lamborghini’s MagneRide electronic dampers are available but its conventional steel springs and hydraulic dampers as standard. The Huracan Evo rearwheel-drive is also on the receiving end of some minor design tweaks to mark it out from the 4WD coupe. There’s a new splitter at the front and vertical fins appear in the large air-intakes. The rear bumper is finished in gloss black and the diffuser below has a design unique to the RWD model. Buyers can also opt to have their car finished in the new Giallo Belenus yellow pain that’s been developed specially for the launch of the car with a matching leather and Alcantara cabin. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle maker LIXIANG Automotive has filed for a U.S. initial public offering, aiming to raise at least $500 million, said 2 people with direct knowledge of the matter, joining peers seeking to finance growth through stock listings. Lixiang, also known as CHJ Automotive, founded by entrepreneur Li Xiang, confidentially filed in December for the IPO, which will take place as early as the first half of 2020, said the people. The Beijing based carmaker has been working on the IPO since the summer of last year and hired Goldman Sachs as the main bank leading the deal, said the people. The listing comes amid what bankers and industry insiders describe as increasingly tough financing conditions for loss-making Chinese EV startups, which are competing for sales and fresh capital in a crowded market. Such firms also face cuts to government EV subsidies and need to produce convincing arguments about future profitability. If the IPO proceeds, Lixiang would become the second Chinese EV start-up to list in New York after NIO’s $1 billion IPO in 2018. NIO’s shares have tumbled more than 40 % since its debut despite better-than-expected third quarter results. China’s new energy vehicle market, which include plug-in hybrids and battery-only electric vehicles, is the world’s largest. Sales in the sector jumped almost 62 % in 2018 even as the broader auto market contracted. However, industry officials have warned such volumes were unlikely to be sustained as customers held back on purchases following the subsidies cuts. In November, NEV sales fell for their fifth straight month. Lixiang, advised by Goldman, raised $530 million in its most recent fundraising round last year. That round was led by Meituan Dianping chief executive Wang Xing and valued the automaker at $2.93 billion, according to a statement from Source Code Capital, one of its existing investors. The company obtained an auto manufacturing license in 2018 after acquiring a traditional carmaker in Chongqing for 650 million yuan. It started mass production of its range-extended electric Ideal One model in its wholly owned plant in the eastern city of Changzhou in November, according to its official WeChat account. The SUV is priced from 328,000 yuan apiece after subsidies, which compares with NIO’s ES6 priced from 358,000 yuan. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is recalling nearly 750,000 cars because the vehicles’ sunroofs could potentially detach and fly off, causing road hazards. The cars include the Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class, E-Class, CLK-Class and the CLS-Class, made between 2001 and 2011. All 4 vehicles came with an optional sunroof, and the bonding material on those sunroofs can deteriorate, resulting in the sunroof detaching from the car. Affected owners will be contacted by Mercedes on or after February 14, and the sunroofs will be inspected and replaced if necessary, free of charge. +++ 

+++ The NISSAN Juke helped to create the small crossover segment in Europe, but last year it fell out of the top 10 best-sellers in the fast-growing sector after volume fell 24 %. The new-generation Juke will turn things around for the model and help lift the struggling brand, Nissan product strategy chief Ivan Espinosa told: “We are just launching the Juke, which means we are rejuvenating one of the our most important nameplates in Europe. It is the second pillar for the brand in Europe after the Qashqai. We invented this segment and now we are going to be the best in the segment. Even though the Juke ranked 13th in the small SUV sales last year, I am bullish because of its outstanding perceived quality inside, driving dynamics, and we are building on the strength of the product that we had before. That means a unique design and fun to drive attributes. We are still very relevant in the European market”. When asked what additional strength Nissan wants to create, apart from SUVs and EVs, Espinosa answeres: “One area is that we are bringing more electrification. This is not only EVs. It includes e-Power (Nissan’s hybrid drivetrain), which is a very strong part of Nissan Intelligent Mobility (a brand strategy that prioritizes the development of connectivity, electrification and autonomous driving). We want to keep building on this. We have a competitive advantage with e-Power because it allows the customer to experience the complete EV-drive feel without being in an EV. It is a very different type of technology than exists in the market today. We are convinced this will help us. The price premium for e-Power will be roughly €4,000”. When asked why demand for Nissan’s No. 1 model, the Qashqai has slowed 19 %, Espinosa says: “The car is reaching the time when it should be refreshed and that is what we will do in the near future. We will bring all of the power of Nissan Intelligent Mobility into this nameplate. You may have seen the concept we presented at the Geneva auto show (the IMq). It was a concept associated with the Qashqai. We said we will bring e-Power into Europe and this is one of the solutions”. When asked what are the lessons Nissan has learned from the Leaf, Espinosa answeres: “One of them is the hassle of charging. How easy or complicated this is has a big impact on the EV customer experience. It is not just about time. It is simple things such as location of the charger and even the weight of the cable. We have a lot of female Leaf drivers and in some cases the technologies that we use today are not so friendly for them. We have also learned many things about the battery technology and electric motor technology. All that is helping us to make our EV drive smoother. E-Power will be one of our core technologies not only in Europe but globally. While it will help us with compliance that is not its only purpose. The beauty of e-Power is that in those markets where the infrastructure is not ready or where customers don’t have access to electric vehicles, e-Power will allow them to experience EV-like driving. Effectively it’s a motor-driven car because the combustion engine is only charging the battery. Therefore, the behavior is very close to an electric vehicle. With this we can get customers to experience of what it’s like to drive an EV. The technology we are using in Japan is one interpretation of this concept. In that market you don’t need big motors to move the car. There are different set ups for the technology to overcome Europe’s higher average speeds, which could hurt e-Power’s efficiency, making it harder for the engine to recharge the battery. This technology is at the core of what Nissan will deploy in the future. It is not only technology that we are developing for Japan and then exporting. It is a technology that we are developing each market”. +++ 

+++ The newly launched SKODA Octavia is poised to get its widest range of high-performance variants ever because the family car’s RS line-up will include a hybrid version for the first time. The Octavia has always had one of the most varied approaches to what constitutes a hot hatch. As well as hatchback and estate bodystyles, two and four-wheel drive, it’s also been offered with diesel power as a more efficient alternative to the conventional turbo petrol versions. Senior company sources have told that this policy will continue with the new model, which was unveiled in November. But in the name of efficiency, Skoda’s engineers have also found a way of cranking up the VW Group’s plug-in hybrid powertrain to become a performance variant in its own right. The new Octavia RS PHEV will use the same 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine as the recently launched Golf GTE. No power figures have been confirmed for the hot hybrid, but the new model is being tuned to match the output of the petrol RS. That model will use the 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor from the VW Group’s ubiquitous EA888 family. Skoda wants its next RS to be the most powerful ever, so we can expect the petrol version to develop in excess of 245 hp; more than the output of the RS that was sold in the second half of the Mk3 Octavia’s life. Assuming that the 1.4 TSI engine produces the same 150 hp as it does in the Golf GTE, that would leave around 100 hp to be developed by the electric motor, which will be sited, as usual, between the car’s engine and gearbox. The total system torque is expected to be around 400 Nm; enough to get the car (which will have a dual-clutch automatic gearbox and no manual option) from 0-100 kph in about 7 seconds. Perhaps a bigger challenge for the Skoda team will be keeping the RS PHEV’s weight down and maintaining handling agility. The car will have a battery of at least 13 kWh and this, coupled with the extra motor, will add more than 250 kg to the kerbweight. As such, expect the RS PHEV to be slightly slower in a straight line than the petrol version. But equally, that battery will give it the ability to go for about 50 kilometres on electricity alone; potentially giving the Octavia RS a key advantage over rivals like the Ford Focus ST. The Octavia RS diesel will continue to use the existing EA288 motor with up to 204 hp. Skoda is said to have ruled out fitting the twin-turbocharged version of this engine, which is currently used in the Kodiaq RS, where it makes 240 hp. Sources are remaining tight-lipped on when the range of Octavia RS models will reach showrooms. However, we’re likely to see the car for the first time in the spring, perhaps as one of Skoda’s big debuts at the Geneva Motor Show. That would mean UK sales could start by next autumn. The plug-in RS has the potential to be the most expensive Octavia in the model’s history, with a price tag approaching €50,000 in The Netherlands. +++ 

+++ 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 Elon Musk after a few turbulent years. Boosted by demand for its mass-produced Model 3 sedans as overseas sales pick up, Tesla said it delivered 112,000 vehicles in the 4th quarter, including 92,550 Model 3s and 19,450 Model S/X, which was above expectations of 104,960 vehicles. The Silicon Valley carmaker delivered approximately 367.500 vehicles during all of 2019, just meeting the low end of its target to deliver 360.000 to 400.000 vehicles in 2019. The stock has had a strong run in recent months after posting a rare profit in the latest quarter and news of China ramp up. With a market valuation of more than $80 billion, Tesla is far outstripping those of traditional carmakers General Motors and Ford. The delivery results defy skeptics of Musk, whose mercurial behavior over the last 2 years came under close scrutiny from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla. Musk, who has more than 30 million Twitter followers, has a history of firing off tweets that resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and a defamation trial against him. The Tesla CEO settled the SEC complaint for $20 million in 2018 and a Los Angeles jury cleared Musk in the defamation case in December. “Elon has Tesla executing right on track”, said Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin. Tesla also provided an update on its Shanghai factory, which has started churning out Model 3 cars. It said the plant demonstrated a production run-rate capability of more than 3,000 units per week. The run-rate shows that the factory appears to be ramping faster than expected, Baird Equity Research analyst Ben Kallo said. “Shanghai deliveries should be the next catalyst to drive volume growth”. The $2 billion factory, Tesla’s first car manufacturing site outside the United States, is the centerpiece of its ambitions to boost sales in the world’s biggest auto market and avoid higher import tariffs imposed on U.S.-made cars. A company representative said that Tesla will deliver its first China-made Model 3 sedans to the public on January 7. The Model 3 is Tesla’s most affordable car, with lower-range versions available starting at $35,000. Analysts in the past have questioned how rapidly Tesla’s vehicle sales will grow as government subsidies for electric vehicle purchases dwindle in the United States, China and other markets. Some analysts consider those subsidies the biggest driver for Tesla purchases. Traditional automakers largely relying on fuel-powered vehicles reported a decline in 4th quarter U.S. sales and saw their shares tumble as a widening conflict with Iran pushed oil prices more than $2 a barrel. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) said it saw a 2 % fall in U.S. auto sales, while GM reported its 4th quarter U.S. deliveries were down more than 6 %. “The recently escalating geopolitical uncertainties driving oil prices higher are likely to create a tailwind for Tesla shares”, Canaccord Genuity analyst Jed Dorsheimer said. +++ 

+++ To most people, the word “Prius” is shorthand for hybrid cars in general, sort of like how the “Band-Aid” brand name is used to describe pretty much any sticky bandage. But it appears as though the TOYOTA Prius’s dominance of hybrid culture, such as it is, may be coming to an end. That’s because Toyota just revealed its 2019 sales figures, and the Prius no longer is the automaker’s top-selling hybrid. So, what is? The RAV4 Hybrid. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the RAV4 Hybrid overtook the Prius in sales: the RAV4 nameplate is the best-selling non-truck in America, so even if the hybrid model made up only a small percentage of its overall sales, we’re talking about a chunk of a big number. Stir in the RAV4 having just been totally redesigned for 2019, the Prius receiving only a mild update (and newly optional all-wheel drive), and the RAV4’s not-weird styling, and, well, sorry Prius. Toyota says it sold a stunning 92.595 RAV4 Hybrids in the US last year, compared to 69,718 Priuses (a whopping 448.071 regular RAV4s found American homes in 2019). While the RAV4 Hybrid sales are, yes, up, Prius sales are down from 87.590 in 2018. Blame cheap gas and customers’ rush to adopt crossovers and SUVs, a trend that affects hybrids as much, it seems, as it does the rest of the automotive industry. Another factor behind the RAV4 Hybrid’s sales surge? That the latest model is EPA-rated for 40 mpg combined, a huge improvement over its predecessor’s 32-mpg rating. It is probably safe to assume that many buyers see the RAV4 hybrid’s 40-mpg number and rationalize that it’s close enough to the Prius’s 50-56 mpg, depending on trim, while the rest of the RAV4’s taller, roomier package suits their needs better. In fact, a number of recently introduced hybrids from a variety of manufacturers have begun inching closer to or matching the Prius’s fuel economy, including the larger and better-to-drive Honda Accord Hybrid (48 mpg combined), as well as the similarly sized but more premium-feeling Honda Insight (52 mpg combined). Hyundai’s Prius fighter, the Ioniq hybrid, even beats the Toyota with a 58 mpg combined rating (although its sales are a fraction of the Prius’s). Until gas prices shoot up (not an impossibility with given the day’s geopolitical developments with Iran) the Prius is likely to continue fading while more compelling, similarly efficient hybrid alternatives budge their way to the front of the sales line. One thing’s nearly for sure, however: We doubt people will begin referring to hybrids as “RAV4s”, sales be damned. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , automakers reported another year of stable sales of pick-up trucks, as discounts during the crucial holiday season and lower interest rates on vehicle loans attracted buyers while demand for passenger cars retreated further. Passenger cars have fallen out of favor with buyers amid lower oil prices and automakers have focused on selling larger SUVs and pick-ups that are also more profitable. December is among the hottest months for auto sales in the United States as buyers take advantage of significant discounts provided by the car manufacturers to clear inventory. Analysts expect overall 2019 U.S. sales to fall by about 1 % from 2018, but still finish above 17 million vehicles for the fifth consecutive year. But sales could dip below the 17 million mark this year, industry experts have warned, as the demand has peaked following the long bull-run since the 2008 financial crisis. “Pent-up demand among consumers is drained”, said Haig Stoddard, senior industry analyst at forecasting and analytics firm Wards Intelligence, adding that he expects sales to dip further this year as economic growth also slows from 2019. Auto consultants LMC Automotive and J.D. Power have forecast total light-vehicle demand to decline 1.4 % to 16.8 million units in 2020. “Manufacturers will face a lot of pressure to stand out in a crowded market with nearly 60 % more redesigned or new entries in 2020 than there were in 2019”, Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive global vehicle forecasts president, wrote last week. Overall incentive spending by automakers as a percentage of vehicle retail prices remains close to 11 %, the highest level since the 2008 recession, according to the auto consultants. General Motors, which was hit by a month-long strike by its 48,000 hourly employees, reported a 6.3 % fall in sales for the fourth quarter at 735,909 vehicles. “Our 4th quarter stocks were leaner than we wanted, but as we get ready to launch our all-new full-size SUVs, we look forward to another solid year in 2020”, said Kurt McNeil, vice president, GM U.S. sales operations. GM’s total U.S. sales fell 2.35 % to about 2.9 million vehicles last year, with volumes of its Trax compact SUV surging about 30 % to 116,816 units. Sales of its Cruze sedan slumped 66 %. Toyota reported a 5 % drop in U.S. passenger car sales last year, compared with a 0.8 % dip in sales of its trucks and SUVs. Total sales declined 1.8 % to 2.4 million vehicles. Sales of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dipped 1 % to 2.2 million vehicles in 2019. The Jeep maker reported an 18 % jump in Ram pick-up truck numbers. “We have read the expectations that sales may slow a bit in 2020”, said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales at Fiat Chrysler. Silicon Valley carmaker Tesla delivered about 367.500 vehicles during 2019, just meeting the low end of its target to deliver 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles. Ford is scheduled to report quarterly sales soon. +++ 

+++ WOMEN are at significantly greater risk of injury and death in car accidents, according to recently revealed academic research and accident data. Some studies have even found that female occupants are almost twice as likely to be seriously injured in certain types of collision. The University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics in the US, for example, estimates that a woman wearing a seatbelt is 73 per cent more likely to be seriously injured in a head-on crash when compared with a male counterpart. And while American-market cars are often held to offer less protection than European models, Swedish researchers have found women are thrown further forward in rear-end collisions due to their typically smaller frames, resulting in a higher risk of whiplash injuries. The issue is exacerbated by firm car seats, which act as a trampoline for lighter occupants. The European Commission, meanwhile, warns that women are “47 % more likely than men drivers to sustain severe injuries in automotive crashes when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity”. It’s not just cars that discriminate against women, say critics. The crash test dummies used by Euro NCAP to simulate adult occupants were, up until 2015, solely based on a ‘50th percentile male’, meaning that half the male adult occupation will be taller and/or heavier than the dummy, and half will be shorter and/or lighter; critics say no heed was paid to the female population until 5 years ago, when a ‘fifth percentile female’ dummy was introduced. Such accusations warrant investigation, so Autointernationaal.nl asked Richard Schram, Euro NCAP’s technical director, why women have been so seemingly overlooked. “In the first 20 years (Euro NCAP was set up in 1997) I dare to say that it wouldn’t have mattered what dummy we took”, Schram says, “because the structures of the vehicles were so poor that whatever dummy you took, all were bad. You could have almost done it at the beginning without a dummy, because we wanted to have the structure improved in order for people to survive”. With men making up 49 % of the European population but 76 % of road deaths, using a male 50th percentile dummy allowed testers to ensure that assessments would relate to the largest proportion of accident victims. “From the beginning of the 1970s”, Schram explains, “test dummies were based on the US army population. They figured out the 95th percentile, the 50th, and the fifth percentile. There were 3 dummies available. You could take an average person, the higher end, or lower end. Ideally you would take a combination, but this wasn’t feasible in terms of cost and development”. The 50th percentile male dummy was selected because, “what everyone tried to do at the beginning was take an average person, 1.75 metres and 75 kg, to cover as much of the population as we could. If we had started with the small female (fifth percentile) dummy, you would be focusing on or pushing manufacturers to cover only 5 % of the population”. Schram adds that due to increasing body sizes: “The 50th percentile dummy is nowadays more average, at least in the Netherlands, of a Dutch female in terms of size and weight. And the underlying structure of the dummy isn’t biased towards male or female, because there simply wasn’t any knowledge of this when they were developing the dummy. It’s called a male dummy, but I don’t think we should call it simply that”. Added to this, Schram says, is the fact that “in the 1990s, one of the issues was vehicle structure: it would collapse, and wherever you were in the vehicle, you would not survive. So we introduced survival spaces and airbags, but these catered for a 50th percentile male because accident statistics indicated they were the target population”. But what about those shocking figures? Surely the fact women fare so much worse in accidents is a serious concern? It’s worth digging into statistics and risk probabilities here, and Schram gives an example: “A 5 % risk of a rib fracture is where you stop awarding crash test points. So we’re talking about really low-risk values. “The publications that show females are 73 % or 78 % higher risk are in comparisons between low risk, and low, low risk. A 78 % increase varies between 3 % to 5 % overall risk, which is significant if you compare the 2 together, but on the whole scale of being injured it’s still a very low value”. Why is it, though, that women are more at risk in car accidents? “Biologically, females are slightly weaker, and women sitting closer to the steering wheel can be an issue”, Schram says. “There is a difference between men and women; I acknowledge that, and I acknowledge this may be hard for women to accept. But this is not an easy problem to solve. You could say the same thing about the elderly, because they are not average, either. The ageing population is also more vulnerable than average drivers, due to weaker bones, and muscle mass and tone. “Now we have solved so many things, we can look at the extreme ends”, says Schram. “Because if you solve a lot in the middle, proportionally the upper and lower ends become more important. Everybody strives to make cars safer”. +++

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