Newsflash: volgende generatie Mini JCW kan volledig elektrisch zijn

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+++ Renault’s engineering boss will meet his counterpart at Nissan in Japan this week, 2 sources close to Renault said, as the carmakers seek to revive projects crucial to an ALLIANCE left reeling by the Carlos Ghosn affair. The Franco-Japanese alliance is wrestling with the fallout of the ouster and arrest of Ghosn, the architect of the partnership who now says it is at risk of collapse. Analysts say that in order to turn investor sentiment around, the firms need to make good on cost-saving joint engineering projects that have slowed since Ghosn’s departure. According to the 2 sources, Gilles Le Borgne, who was hired on January 6 from rival automaker PSA, will meet Nissan’s Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, the Nissan executive in charge of delivering the joint engineering projects. Renault did not respond to a request for comment on Le Borgne’s meetings. Renault-Nissan’s cost-saving alliance is vital to both companies as the car industry battles a slowdown and huge investments in cleaner vehicles and automated driving. “The alliance has taken a hit, but the alliance engineering team is still there”, said a third source, who is close to the alliance. “You cannot, from one day to the next, stop something that’s been embedded so deeply”. Japanese prosecutors arrested Ghosn (who was at the time the head of the carmakers’ alliance) in November 2018 and accused him of financial misconduct. Ghosn slipped out of Japan and fled at the end of December to Lebanon. He says the charges were fabricated to force him out of an alliance in which the Japanese side no longer trusted its French partners. Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has said both sides are determined to make the partnership succeed, with the joint projects a major focus. Those projects will be on the agenda when the board of the alliance, which also includes Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi, holds a regular meeting in Japan on January 30. One area of focus will be hybrid power systems, a field where, analysts say, the alliance has not effectively pooled its research and development efforts. Each of the 3 members of the alliance has developed their own systems. “That’s been among the sources of the friction”, said the third source close to the alliance. “But now the 3 systems are there, we’ll need to use them in the most efficient way possible”. Nissan will use the E-Tech hybrid system developed by Renault on its Juke, while Renault will use the Nissan-developed e-Power system on the next gen Kadjar, particularly in China, according to the same sources. Mitsubishi is still using its own hybrid system on its best-selling Outlander. +++ 

+++ A U.S. senator urged Tesla to rebrand its driver assistance system AUTOPILOT , saying it has “an inherently misleading name” and is subject to potentially dangerous misuse. But Tesla said in a letter that it had taken steps to ensure driver engagement with the system and enhance its safety features. The electric automaker introduced new warnings for red lights and stop signs last year “to minimize the potential risk of red light- or stop sign-running as a result of temporary driver inattention”, Tesla said in the letter. Senator Edward Markey said he believed the potential dangers of Autopilot can be overcome. But he called for “rebranding and remarketing the system to reduce misuse, as well as building backup driver monitoring tools that will make sure no one falls asleep at the wheel”. Markey’s comments came in a press release, with a copy of a December 20 from Tesla addressing some of the Democratic senator’s concerns attached. Autopilot has been engaged in at least 3 Tesla vehicles involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016. Crashes involving Autopilot have raised questions about the driver-assistance system’s ability to detect hazards, especially stationary objects. There are mounting safety concerns globally about systems that can perform driving tasks for extended stretches of time with little or no human intervention, but which cannot completely replace human drivers. Markey cited videos of Tesla drivers who appeared to fall asleep behind the wheel while using Autopilot, and others in which drivers said they could defeat safeguards by sticking a banana or water bottle in the steering wheel to make it appear they were in control of the vehicle. Tesla, in its letter, said its revisions to steering wheel monitoring meant that in most situations “a limp hand on the wheel from a sleepy driver will not work, nor will the coarse hand pressure of a person with impaired motor controls, such as a drunk driver”. It added that devices “marketed to trick Autopilot, may be able to trick the system for a short time, but generally not for an entire trip before Autopilot disengages”. Tesla also wrote that while videos like those cited by Markey showed “a few bad actors who are grossly abusing Autopilot” they represented only “a very small percentage of our customer base”. Earlier this month, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was launching an investigation into a 14th crash involving Tesla in which it suspects Autopilot or other advanced driver assistance system was in use. NHTSA is probing a December 29 fatal crash of a Model S Tesla in Gardena, California. In that incident, the vehicle exited the 91 Freeway, ran a red light and struck a Honda Civic, killing its 2 occupants. The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a February 25 hearing to determine the probable cause of a 2018 fatal Tesla Autopilot crash in Mountain View, California. +++ 

+++ BUGATTI ’s quad-turbo W16 powertrain has life in it yet despite the broader trend for downsizing, according to Bugatti boss Stephan Winkelmann. He acknowledged that Bugatti could have a pool of other engine options to choose from within owner the Volkswagen’s Group arsenal, but said that the “mission for a Bugatti is a different one” to the group’s other brands. Talking about its hypercars, opposed to any potential second model, Winkelmann commented: “The W16 has, in my opinion, an opportunity for the future. It’s a USP which is not diminishing in value”. He added that Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess “knows the value of a W16 engine”. Talking more broadly about internal combustion engines, he said: “If it lasts another decade, ICE will be the last of a kind, and the last of a kind means it is collectible. If there is hybridisation, the battery will be replaced but it won’t be original. The internal combustion engine is something that will grow in value. People are buying Bugattis because they want to enjoy the ultimate performance but also (and this is legitimate) because it’s an investment. “The EB110 is skyrocketing. And Veyrons are going up. I don’t have to be a wizard to forecast that this will happen to the Chiron and therefore, I’m committing to the fact that this is the way to go for the hyper sportscar in the next decade”. +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) urged a federal judge to throw out a General Motors’ lawsuit accusing FCA of racketeering and bribing officials of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to put GM at a multibillion dollar labor cost disadvantage. FCA’s motion to dismiss GM’s civil racketeering lawsuit was expected. The company has said GM’s lawsuit is baseless and aimed at disrupting the Italian-American automaker’s proposed merger with PSA. GM general counsel Craig Glidden told reporters in November the FCA-PSA merger had nothing to do with GM’s legal action. FCA’s arguments were filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit. In response, GM said it remained confident in the legal underpinnings of its case and will respond in court. “We are confident in the legal and factual underpinnings of our case, which have already been documented in part through the guilty pleas and admissions of FCA executives made in connection with the government’s ongoing criminal investigation”, GM said in a statement. GM sued FCA in November charging its rival with bribing officials of the UAW union in order to gain advantages in 2009 and 2015 labor contracts and have the UAW withhold those terms from GM. FCA’s now deceased chief executive Sergio Marchionne sat “at the center” of the schemes, GM charged in its lawsuit. In its response, FCA rejected GM’s claim that Marchionne tried to force a merger between GM and FCA by agreeing to labor contracts that favored the UAW. GM failed to show “why Mr. Marchionne would want to saddle FCA and GM with unfavorable CBAs (collective bargaining agreements) if his ultimate goal was to run the merged company (presumably on a profitable basis)”. GM’s accusations relied in part on revelations from an active federal criminal investigation of corruption within the UAW. That investigation began at FCA but has since spread to past and present UAW officials at GM. In its motion, FCA said GM’s lawsuit was “fatally flawed” for several reasons. The lawsuit was filed after a four-year statute of limitations had expired, FCA argued. GM is not a direct victim of wrongdoing by FCA executives or UAW officials related to labor contracts, and so cannot bring a RICO action, FCA argued in its motion. The UAW is such a large organization, “the notion that FCA seized control of the UAW by virtue of the alleged prohibited payments is implausible on its face”, the FCA brief stated. Further, FCA argued that GM’s allegations about corrupt contract negotiations should be heard by the National Labor Relations Board, not by a federal court. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS will invest $2.2 billion in its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to build electric pickups and SUVs; a move that would create 2.200 jobs, the No.1 U.S. automaker said. The company said production of the electric pickup will begin late next year and will be followed by a self-driving vehicle, the Cruise Origin. GM last week unveiled a prototype of a driverless vehicle for ride-sharing service. GM plans to build a new family of premium electric vehicles at the plant beginning late 2021, possibly reviving its Hummer brand. The company had said it would invest $7.7 billion in its U.S. plants over the next four years. The Detroit-Hamtramck plant currently operates one production shift and builds the Cadillac CT6 and the Chevrolet Impala sedans. The plant will be idled for several months at the end of February as GM starts renovations for the production of electric pickups and SUVs. Ford is also expected to begin building premium electric pickups in late 2021 at a Detroit-area assembly plant. Ford and GM expect annual electric truck production to hit around 40.000 units by 2024, analysts have said. +++ 

+++ We’re barely a month into 2020, yet it’s already clear that this’ll be The Year of the Carlos. The first one (Ghosn) is the Brazilian-born bad boy who, until recently, was the cockily confident godfather of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. But after jumping €10 million bail (that must’ve hurt) and going on the run to sunny Beirut, he currently holds the dubious title of world’s most famous international fugitive. Never has a global motor industry executive fallen so far, so fast, so hard, so bloody painfully. The other Carlos (Tavares) is the Portuguese superstar who enjoys life as the charming and calming, less-is-more chairman of PSA. The 61-year-old Portugeezer is currently in the running for the title of world’s greatest car industry chief, not least because he’s the architect of the merger between PSA and FCA. His future is as bright as Ghosn’s is grim. As the father and figurehead of the new family, Tavares knows his 4 senior clan members are his natural children: Peugeot and Citroën, followed by adoptees Fiat and Chrysler. But almost a dozen more sister brands (including Abarth, Aixam, Alfa Romeo, Dodge, DS, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Opel, Ram, Vauxhall and others, possibly) also demand his parental skills and experience. And the wealthy Chinese grandparents (Dongfeng) need a little TLC, too. A pair of Brits is greatly helping Tavares. Mike Manley, the current FCA boss, is one. The other is Linda Jackson, who in recent days moved from her Citroën CEO role to an intriguing new one that will seek to clarify and support “differentiation” of the PSA brands. Already, the group has too many small-to-medium cars going head to head with each other. Look at those competing Peugeot, Citroen and Opel superminis, medium family cars and SUVs, and it’s clear that some have to go, or at least be separated out to give a wider spread of products and prices, to a larger group of potential buyers. The Peugeot marque surely has to promote itself into borderline premium territory; DS must raise its game, too. This could leave Citroën in the middle and Opel the bargain- basement division of the PSA empire, right? “No, Opel wouldn’t be that”, a senior PSA director personally assured me. So Fiat? Or Citroën then? “Can’t speak for Fiat, but Citroën wouldn’t be that either”, insisted the director representing the Paris-based empire. It’s undeniable that the new PSA – FCA giant is a world leader in terms of knowledge of and (massive) capacity to build world-class small-to-medium sized vehicles with great little engines. But what about a premium brand, beyond Maserati and Alfa Romeo? Well, JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) desperately needs a range of smaller, yet still upmarket, €35.000+ cars and SUVs. Do you see where I’m coming from? Sure, Jaguar and Land Rover should design the exteriors for their entry-level models. But maybe rampant Peugeot and respected sister firm Jeep could take care of the bits beneath the skin. Carlos Tavares and his right-hand woman, Linda Jackson, are the ideal pair to strike such a manufacturing arrangement with JLR. Do not rule it out. +++ 

+++ KIA will move its oldest model, the Sorento, into a new generation this year, and now reports from the company’s home market suggest it will be revealed in a few weeks’ time. The reveal, set to take place in South Korea, is planned for February 17. This is also the date that domestic-market order books will open for the new car. It could mean that the Sorento’s European premiere would be the Geneva motor show in early March. The new large SUV, which will rival the Skoda Kodiaq, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Nissan X-Trail, shares much of its platform, mechanicals and technology with the latest Hyundai Santa Fe. Recent spy shots revealed that it has a more square-edged design than its curvy predecessor, with the brand’s tiger nose grille visible within a new front-end profile. Kia also appears to be benchmarking the new SUV alongside the pricier BMW X5, showing the Korean firm’s ambition for the model. The latest Santa Fe is actually slightly smaller than today’s Sorento, at 4.77 meter long and 1.89 meter wide. Whether Kia has slightly shortened the Sorento or extended the existing platform to suit remains to be seen. Either way, it should remain one of the more spacious 7-seat SUVs. The new Sorento is expected to initially use a 2.2-litre diesel engine mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and, on higher-end models, 4-wheeldrive. But Kia has confirmed that, as part of its electrification plans, there will be a plug-in hybrid version in due course. That will make use of a 4-cylinder petrol engine (likely a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit) and an electric motor mounted on the rear axle to give electric all-wheel drive. +++ 

+++ MASERATI will use the Beijing auto show as a launchpad for its electrification push with the unveiling of its first hybrid model. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ sporty brand will debut a hybrid version of its Ghibli at the show on April 21, a source familiar with Maserati’s plans said. The Ghibli is expected to get a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, although Maserati has not disclosed details of the car’s hybrid system. The Ghibli hybrid could boost Maserati sales in the key market of China because the Chinese government is promoting electrification. It will also help the brand in Europe where tougher CO2 rules are forcing automakers to add increasing numbers of fuel-efficient, low-emissions plug-in hybrids. Chinese buyers of a Ghibli plug-in hybrid would be eligible for 10,000-yuan subsidies ($1,440) from the Chinese government. The incentives are offered for plug-ins but no other types of hybrids. Maserati’s vehicle sales in China fell 27 % to 6.100 last year, according to estimates from market researchers JATO Dynamics. Maserati will release its 2019 sales numbers on February 6. Maserati will launch 10 new or updated models between 2020 and 2023, according to its latest business plan. The new models will include a sports car with a full-electric and gasoline engine variants. The sports car will be unveiled in May at Maserati’s headquarters in Modena, Italy. It’s likely to be a rival to the Ferrari F8 Tributo and Lamborghini Huracan supercars. The Quattroporte and Levante will get facelifts this year as part of the product plan. Maserati will unveil a midsize SUV positioned below the Levante next year. The new Granturismo coupe and GranCabrio convertible models, due in 2021 and 2022 respectively, will be offered only as battery-powered cars according to Maserati’s business plan. Production of the 2 cars ended in November. +++ 

+++ MINI is again beating the drum that future John Cooper Works models may lack its iconic, and raucous, exhaust note (and its combustion engines) fans have come to love. Andreas Lampka, Mini’s head of communications, talked about electrifying the next generation of JCW models, along with the challenges that could bring. Lampka wondered why Mini shouldn’t electrify JCW models, saying, “Why not make the pinnacle of the brand an EV?” There’s little doubt future Minis will offer some form of partial or full electrification; however, electrifying its JCW models could be challenging. While Mini isn’t a “total fan” of electric cars, there’s little denying the benefits of electric powertrains: improved torque and acceleration. Those are welcomed in any performance car, but for many enthusiasts, joy comes from more than just the feeling of speed. Lampka said: “The emotional appeal of a JCW is the sound of it”, adding that Mini would need to reinvent that feeling, and that’s something not easily achievable with an electric vehicle. That doesn’t mean such a transition can’t happen. Tesla has made EVs mainstream, and now there’s the Porsche Taycan; an electric sports car born and bred from the German automaker. However, Lampka says moving the JCW to electricity would be difficult because “there’s never been a car like that”. For all the electric talk Mini is putting out there, customers shouldn’t expect an overnight transformation for the brand. Last month, Mini U.S. vice president Mike Peyton echoed similar sentiments about electrifying JCW models. He said there’s “potential” for such a thing to happen, though even he recognised that it’s the car’s driving dynamics that help connect the driver to the vehicle, and sound is apart of that connection. One day Mini will have to tackle the acoustics issue for electric JCW models. But first, Mini has to figure out how to efficiently package an electric powertrain into such small cars. Battery technology is improving, but it’s not there yet for Mini. +++ 

+++ A proposal is being floated atop NISSAN for the company to revive efforts to push Renault to reduce its stake in the Japanese carmaker and help balance the partnership, a person familiar with the matter said. The plan would involve both companies cutting their cross-shareholdings and would call for the carmakers to use the funds for joint technology investments that could bolster their alliance, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential matters. It’s still early days for the proposal and details such as the timing of any stake sale are undecided, the person said. For Nissan, an agreement could help bring it a step closer to the independence sought by some executives who have long criticized the lopsided upper hand held by its French partner. Renault may be under more pressure to sell in the face of slumping sales, and automakers around the globe are facing a once-in-a-generation shift toward electrification and automated driving that will require billions of dollars of investments, even as they face shrinking car markets. Azusa Momose, a spokeswoman for Yokohama-based Nissan, said there are no plans for discussions over reducing stakes. A spokesman for Renault declined comment and pointed to 2 interviews given by chairman Jean-Dominique Senard in Davos, where he dismissed talk of shareholding changes. Nissan and Renault’s 2-decade alliance, which also added Mitsubishi in 2016, was jolted by the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn in November 2018. The French automaker owns about 43 % of Nissan, while the Japanese manufacturer only holds 15 % of Renault and zero voting rights. Any significant changes to their shareholdings would also run the risk of raising questions over the viability of the 3-way alliance. While the asymmetrical relationship has stoked resentment in Japan, drawing down Nissan and Renault’s equity stakes in each other would ultimately strengthen the partnership through a more balanced relationship and focus on new technologies, the person said. The proposal comes as Renault may be preparing to appoint a chief executive officer ahead of a crucial meeting of the board governing the alliance on Thursday. The French carmaker’s board gave the green light for Luca de Meo to become the new CEO. Any stake sales could free up much-needed cash for the 2 automakers, and also mark the first such mutual reduction since Ghosn was removed as chairman. It also risks upsetting a delicate political balance because the French government owns 15 % of Renault and has sought to maintain the partnership. Last week, Senard said changing the shareholder structure “isn’t a priority” and that the focus is on strengthening industrial cooperation. Asked whether Renault could sell down its stake in Nissan, he replied that “it’s probably not the right timing in terms of the price of the shares. It could come some day”. Makoto Uchida, Nissan’s new CEO appointed after a year of turmoil, said last month that the partnership would have to benefit all parties and that changes were needed in the pact to benefit the companies’ sales and earnings. Both companies are facing declining sales and shrinking profits. Nissan, which is conserving cash as it embarks on 12.500 job cuts globally, cut its dividend earlier in the current fiscal year and withdrew its outlook for a payout. That was a blow to Renault, which in 2018 received €784 million in dividends from Nissan. Most automakers will have to spend heavily to keep apace with the shift to electrification and automated driving. While the likes of Volkswagen and Toyota have enough cash on hand to do so, other automakers have been seeking partnerships and raising funds to drive development. Last week, Citigroup analyst Angus Tweedie wrote in a report that Renault’s cash strain may force it to sell some of its stake in Nissan. Investors don’t yet understand “the enormity of the challenges facing Renault, despite the shares trading at the lowest levels since 2012”, said Tweedie, who downgraded the manufacturer to a sell rating. Renault’s stake in Nissan is worth about €8.6 billion at the current share price and a potential disposal would be seen as a “one-off event” that would reduce earnings power and dividend, UBS analysts including David Lesne wrote in a note. While they don’t see a full breakup of the alliance because “it is in the interest of both parties to keep it alive”, the analysts said this would “put at risk Renault’s viability” because Nissan has contributed about 40 % of Renault earnings and all its dividend. Renault stock fell 3.2 %, reinforcing its position as the worst performer among European automakers in the past year. Nissan shares fell 28 % in 2019, following a 22 % decline the prior year. Investors in the 2 companies have lost a combined $25 billion since the arrest of Ghosn, who shepherded their alliance for almost 2 decades. The 65-year-old executive, who denies the charges, escaped trial in Japan at the end of December and made his way to Lebanon, where he is living as a fugitive and vocally pressing his side of the story. +++ 

+++ Europe is experiencing an unprecedented takeoff of PLUG-IN ELECTRIC CAR market (especially all-electric cars), which not only has reached new records in 2019, but is poised to accelerate in 2020 and beyond. In December, sales amounted to about 77.248, which is a new all-time record. The growth rate of 88 % is outstanding as well. Also, the average market share for the month at 6.1% (4.1% for BEVs) is a superb new record (probably 3 times above the U.S.). Most of the sales are all-electric cars: BEV sales increased by 91 % year-over-year (68 % of all plug-ins). PHEVs sales increased by 81 % year-over-year (32 % of all plug-ins). Overall in 2019, some 564.206 plug-in electric cars were sold (a new record; 45 % above 2018). The average market share of 3.6 % (2.2 % for BEVs alone) is a new record and a noticeable improvement compared to 2.5 % in 2018. The Tesla Model 3 is an ultimate winner of the month (new all-time monthly record of 22.137, including 12.053 in the Netherlands) and of the year (95.247). Time will tell whether in 2020, the Model 3 will be able to exceed 100.000. The Renault Zoé was the second-most popular (47.408) and set also its own new record (compared to about 40.000 in 2018), which is not bad, considering the changeover year to a new generation. The third one is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (34.597), a sole plug-in hybrid in the top 9. Last year’s winner, the Nissan Leaf, is 4th (33.155), barely exceeding the BMW i3 (32.828). The Volkswagen e-Golf (6th and 28.710) is still selling strong, beating models like the Hyundai Kona Electric (22.667). One of the things worth noting is a new monthly record of 4.225 for the Audi e-tron, which is available in 2 battery versions. The e-tron was overall 8th with 18.483 sales. +++

+++ Nissan will reinvigorate its ageing line-up by introducing 3 new models in the next 18 months. A new QASHQAI and a new X-Trail are due to be revealed this year and an all-new electric SUV will take on Ford’s Mustang Mach-E in 2021. The significant product overhaul comes at a crucial time for the Japanese maker, which has recently suffered dwindling profits and job cuts and is still reeling from the fallout from the arrest of former CEO Carlos Ghosn.
New CEO Makoto Uchida, himself barely a month into the job, is implementing a product plan with renewed vigour, ensuring the manufacturer’s global best-sellers are brought up to the class standard in good time. Following the recently launched, second-generation Juke, 3 more new SUVs are at the core of the plan to restore sales to their previously strong position. The new Qashqai will be the main European focus, chiefly because the current car remains the most popular Nissan here even in its 6th year on sale. A total of 230.000 Qashqais were sold across the continent in 2018. It was also the 5th bestselling car in the UK last year, although its sales have declined in other markets. A number of newer rivals are catching up and stealing the Qashqai’s market share, a trend in the fast-growing SUV sector that’s only going to get worse as the current car ages. Now planned for a September 2020 unveiling (almost certainly at the Paris motor show) the third-generation Qashqai will be subject to a bold exterior redesign inspired by the smaller Juke and recent concepts such as the IMQ. The interior is expected to undergo a radical revamp too (as prototypes for its 2020 X-Trail sibling suggest) with overhauled infotainment and a new dashboard design. The new Qashqai won’t move to a totally new platform. Instead, Nissan will adapt the CMF underpinnings found in today’s model. The biggest development (although it has yet to be officially confirmed) is that Nissan may not offer any diesel engines in the new model as it looks to put electrification at the forefront of its powertrain strategy. Instead, 2 new hybrid systems are set to make up the core line-up for the new Qashqai. One is the brand’s e-Power system, which uses a petrol engine acting as a generator to charge the batteries and propel the car via electric motors. In Japan, 70 % of Nissan Notes sold are fitted with this system. The other hybrid system is expected to be a plug-in setup, built using know-how from alliance partner Mitsubishi. Alongside this, small-output petrol engines mated to mild-hybrid technology to reduce emissions are expected. The Qashqai isn’t likely to be offered with pure-electric propulsion in its next generation, though. Instead, a new electric SUV is scheduled for 2021 and is due to be based heavily on the Ariya concept shown at last year’s Tokyo motor show. The Ariya’s production-previewing design should transfer over largely unchanged to the new model, which is expected to be significantly more expensive to buy than its combustion-engined SUV siblings. Reports from US dealers claimed to have seen the finished model suggest an electric range of about 480 kilometres and a 0-100 kph target in 5 seconds. The Ariya will also feature Nissan’s most advanced autonomous driving tech (ProPilot 2.0) delivering motorway driving functions on a par with those of Tesla. The X-Trail will be prioritised for an unveiling before its smaller Qashqai sibling, possibly in the summer. Prototypes have been seen testing in the US, where the X-Trail and Qashqai are sold as the Rogue and Rogue Sport respectively. Nissan sells significantly more Rogues in the US than X-Trails in Europe. It’s also more popular than the smaller SUV in both the US and China, so Nissan will want it to be the centre of attention in these markets. The US test cars provide a clear glimpse of the upcoming X-Trail’s exterior styling. Spy shots also reveal a significantly overhauled dashboard design dominated by a large, free-standing central display that’s flanked by traditional knobs and shortcut buttons rather than touch-sensitive items. There is a separate, small screen for the climate functions, and a now fashionable digital dial display also features.
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+++ RENAULT could name a new CEO ahead of a crucial meeting in Japan on Thursday aimed at showing that the deeply-troubled alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi is moving past the Carlos Ghosn era. Renault’s board approved Luca de Meo to become the new CEO. De Meo, who rose through the ranks at Volkswagen Group to run its Spanish brand Seat, has been the front-runner for months. He stepped down as Seat CEO this month but remained at VW Group. De Meo is “probably in talks with Renault”, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess said last week in Davos. Without confirming de Meo’s name, Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has said an announcement could come within days. De Meo is in talks with Renault to become CEO but faces a potential hurdle over a stringent non-compete clause in his VW Group contract. Renault ousted Thierry Bollore as CEO in October and named Clotilde Delbos at interim chief executive. The stakes are high for Renault and its partnership with the 2 Japanese automakers. A year after Senard replaced Ghosn (who was arrested in 2018 in Tokyo on charges of financial misconduct) the Renault chairman is trying to draw a line under turmoil that nearly broke the 2 decade old alliance. He has said a series of measures will be unveiled at an alliance meeting at the end of the month to deepen operational ties between the automakers. The board of the alliance will decide on new and common projects as the partnership is moving toward greater convergence of platforms and technology in the face of the massive investment needed to develop new cars, Senard said earlier this month. Renault’s engineering boss, Gilles Le Borgne, will meet his counterpart at Nissan in Japan this week, Renault reported, as the automakers seek to revive projects crucial to an alliance left reeling by the Carlos Ghosn affair. Ghosn held the partnership together for years despite a lopsided shareholding relationship favoring Renault that was put in place when Nissan was financially ailing. His arrest brought resentment between the companies to the surface. Senard has said changes in top management have eased the tension. +++ 

+++ Electric vehicle startup RIVIAN displayed its pickup and SUV at an event in San Francisco’s Bay Area and said that when their prices are unveiled soon they will be lower than has been previously announced. Rivian founder and chief executive R.J. Scaringe told the mid-range R1T pickup with a glass sky panel that can change from blue to clear was about $69,000. It can travel 480 kilometres on a full charge. A similar range R1S SUV will sell for about $72,000. Rivian said the large battery could go 640 kilometres and the smallest could go 370 kilometres. Scaringe declined to say how many prospective buyers have so far spent $1,000 on a refundable deposit to hold their spot for a Rivian, but he said the reaction had been “really positive”. “So we’re excited by that. But we now have the challenge of a lot of pre-order customers aren’t going to get the cars as fast as they like because there’s such a long queue”, he said. Rivian, founded in 2009, made waves when it unveiled its first prototype model at the LA Auto Show in 2018. It has raised $3.6 billion and counts Amazon.com and Ford as investors. Many customers at the event were excited about the designs, but Patrick Bonsi, who flew from New Jersey to see the vehicles, questioned whether Rivian would have a Tesla Supercharger-like charging network. He owns a Tesla Model 3. “What I found with supercharging is, if the Supercharger network is not made by the car company, it doesn’t charge the car as fast”, said Bonsi. Scaringe said Rivian was working on rolling out a network of charging stations at key locations such as national parks, but that the vehicles can charge on most charging networks available today. Brian Gase, Rivian chief engineer of special projects, and employee number 4, was busy showing customers the batteries, saying 7.776 of them were powering the pickup and one was powering a flashlight that slides into the door, giving the car a lucky 7.777 batteries. The first R1T pickups will be delivered starting at the end of this year, followed shortly after by the R1S SUVs, Scaringe said. +++ 

+++ TESLA chief executive Elon Musk sought to allay environmental concerns about the electric carmaker’s planned factory in Germany, saying the plant would use less water than was estimated originally. The U.S. company had said in planning documents that the factory would need 372 cubic meters of water from the public drinking water network per hour, sparking protests by local residents earlier this month. “Sounds like we need to clear up a few things! Tesla won’t use this much net water on a daily basis. It’s possibly a rare peak usage case, but not an everyday event”, Musk said on Twitter. On another environmental issue, Musk tweeted that only a small part of the forest on the property that Tesla bought in the outskirts of Berlin will be cut to construct the planned factory. “Also, this is not a natural forest: it was planted for use as cardboard”, he said. The U.S. carmaker announced plans last November to build its first European car factory in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg. Politicians, unions and industry groups have welcomed the move, saying it will bring jobs to the region, but environmental groups have aired concerns and a Brandenburg water association warned against “extensive and serious problems with the drinking water supply and wastewater disposal” for the proposed factory. Tesla had applied for subsidies for battery cell production and research in Germany. +++ 

+++ VOLVO wants a quarter of its vehicle sales in Europe this year to be plug-in hybrids to help the automaker avoid fines if it misses the European Union’s latest CO2 emissions reduction goals. The increase would represent a huge jump from 2019 when Volvo said it sold 46.000 plug-ins in Europe, representing around 10 % of its volume. The stakes are high for Volvo’s electric strategy because conventional SUVs made up more than half of sales last year and are largely behind the automaker’s success since the takeover by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group a decade ago. PA Consulting Group puts Volvo’s potential fines from the EU for this year at a quarter of its annual operating profit. CEO Håkan Samuelsson said Volvo will achieve its EU target this year through increased sales of plug-in hybrids. “We don’t plan to pay any fees or penalties. We want to use our money for product development, not paying Brussels”, Samuelsson said at a press event. Volvo’s EU’s target for fleet CO2 emissions this year is 111 to 112 grams per km. Its emissions in 2018 were 129.5 g/km and will drop to 121 g/km by 2021, attracting a fine of €382 million, according to a report by PA Consulting Group. Volvo will begin sales of its first full-electric car, the XC40 Recharge, in the autumn. The EV will also help it achieve its reduction target, along with plug-in models. Plug-in hybrids combine an electric motor and internal combustion engine and can run for distances of up to 50 km on electric power alone, reducing CO2 emissions. Their sales also count towards the EU’s super-credits that allow companies to offset sales of higher CO2 conventional gasoline and diesel models. Plug-in sales have so far been dependent on tax benefits and grants offered by countries in Europe that help offset the higher cost. Some countries have reduced tax breaks for plug-ins, for example in the Netherlands, because evidence showed buyers were not using the car’s electric driving mode. Volvo says its plug-in hybrids drive on electric power around 40 % to 50 % of the time. To encourage its drivers to plug in, Volvo will be offering a year’s free electricity to buyers of new plug-in vehicles starting in May. Volvo offers a plug-in hybrid option for all its car range, the cheapest of which is the XC40, which starts at €46,995 in The Netherlands. Volvo said it will roll out cheaper plug-in hybrid versions below the range-topping T8 ‘twin-engine’ plug-in on more of its range as it attempts to make the technology more affordable. Its new T6 models use the same 2.0-liter electrified powertrain as the T8 but have reduced power. They will be added to the V60 and V90 wagons, and XC60 mid-size SUV this year the company said, without giving pricing. Volvo said it had orders to take sales of plug-in hybrids beyond 10 % in 2019, but supply is constrained by a shortage of batteries. It said it had now secured battery supply to meet its 2020 plug-in target. The company signed new agreements with battery suppliers LG Chem and CATL last year. Volvo has also introduced a range of mild hybrids, starting with diesel and gasoline versions on the XC90 and XC60. The mild hybrids, which will wear Volvo’s new B badge, will be equipped with Volvo’s brake-by-wire energy recovery system. Samuelsson said Volvo’s goal is for half of all cars sold in 2025 to be full-electric and the rest plug-in hybrids. The question for Volvo and other automakers selling cars in the EU is whether consumers will buy into the plans. Rival automakers including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are also rolling out battery-powered models. The threat of penalties for the companies, dubbed “the 2020 CO2 cliff” by Evercore ISI auto analyst Arndt Ellinghorst, comes at a tricky time, when the region’s market is expected to shrink. PA Consulting Group earlier this month warned that the EU could inflict €14.5 billion in fines on the region’s 13 largest automakers for surpassing carbon-dioxide targets. The penalties will be calculated on the basis of the average emissions of new-car registrations. For Volvo, they could reach €382 million by 2021, based on the assumption that only 14 % of its sales will be full electric or plug-in hybrids, the consultancy said. Volvo’s bet on plug-ins comes despite criticism of the technology for being a half-measure that does not go far enough in reducing emissions, especially as some users run them on fossil fuels without charging the battery. European sales dropped in the first 9 months of last year, but are expected to rise quickly this year due to new models on the market and the emissions crackdown. “We don’t feel that there’s any reason to feel guilty about plug-in hybrids”, Samuelsson said. “Plug-ins are necessary for the transition, but it’s also a more long-term solution for those who may not have adequate access to charging”. Samuelsson also revealed that an expansion of the smaller 40-series of models was also due to take place beyond the sole XC40 of today. Whether that will be a more direct replacement for the recently discontinued V40 family hatchback isn’t yet known, but Samuelsson said the firm “realised the need for another small, premium car” with a particular focus on Europe, and that there are “plans to do more models of the family”. The 40-series will initially expand with the electric XC40 Recharge later this year, and at least one new bodystyle will follow it, separate from anything badged XC40. Volvo’s strategy for electric cars is to offer electric versions of existing models rather than bespoke creations; a role that it believes it has covered off with its new Polestar electric performance car brand. +++ 

+++ PSA said it will repatriate expatriate staff and their families from the WUHAN area in China, which is at the center of an outbreak of corona virus. The automaker said that 38 people would be evacuated and that the initiative will be executed in full collaboration with the Chinese authorities and the French general consulate. The evacuees will remain in quarantine in Changsha before traveling back to their home countries, PSA said. PSA also said it was taking measures with Dongfeng to take care of their joint venture’s Chinese employees. French companies are big investors in Wuhan, which has historical ties with France. PSA has 3 factories in Wuhan as part of a partnership with Dongfeng Motor. Renault and French suppliers Valeo and Faurecia have plants in the city. Last week, a Renault spokesman told that its Wuhan factory was closed for the Chinese New Year holiday and that company was still analyzing the situation with respect to its personnel there. +++

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