Newsflash: Ring tijd nieuwe Chevrolet Corvette is bekend

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+++ The size of the global auto industry could triple over the next 30 years as proven electrification and mobility technologies mature, which is driving current investments in those areas, AUDI of America’s head of electrification says. Speaking at the Chicago auto show, Cody Thacker, who has been with Audi of America for the last 7 years, said the pace of electrification is increasing and barriers to adoption of electric vehicles are falling at a quickening rate. “Why are auto businesses making huge investments in this technology? Because today, the auto industry is a $2 trillion industry. By 2050, with these changes, it is estimated to be a $7 trillion industry, and we’re all fighting for a piece of that”, Thacker told the Economic Club of Chicago. Thacker oversees development of infrastructure to sell and service electric vehicles for the German premium brand and its dealers. He is also responsible for partnerships that help Audi customers navigate a world with electric vehicles. Thacker says the early days of electrification are much like the “wild West” when settlers raced to grab land in the U.S. to secure their futures. He argues automakers are at that point now. “It took 5 years for the industry to sell the first million EVs. By 2020, we will have reached 10 million EVs sold, and we will be selling another million EVs every 4 months. And this is just the beginning”, Thacker said, adding that there will be more than 500 EV models on sale globally by 2021. He predicted that EVs will hold a 60 % market share in the U.S. by 2040; that’s the rough equivalent of 10 million units a year at current rates. While cost, range, charging infrastructure and consumer apathy remain barriers to EV sales, those barriers are weakening as battery technology improves and grows cheaper and charging infrastructure expands. Eventually, he said, “done right, the EV ownership experience will be markedly better than the fueling ecosystem today”. Audi began selling the e-Tron, its first battery-electric vehicle, last year in the U.S. to mixed results. The brand sold 5.369 e-Trons in the U.S. in 2019 after the electric crossover went on sale in April. It has plans to expand its EV lineup beginning this year with the introduction of the e-Tron Sportback, and next year with the e-tron GT. +++ 

+++ $75 billion. That’s the amount of money that the global auto industry is investing in developing AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES between 2019 and 2023 according to AlixPartners, a strategic planning and consulting firm. What’s more, the firm says that more than 60 companies are investing in a full automotive vehicle (AV) stack, or the system that will allow Level 4 / Level 5 (hands-off transport). Which is to say that there is a lot of money and effort being put into something that the company’s 2019 International Autonomous‑Vehicle Consumer Survey indicates will be rather difficult to recoup. At least for those companies that are looking at AV technology as being deployed in private vehicles. Because potential customers just aren’t willing to pay a whole lot for going from Level 2 technologies (things that are increasingly common in new vehicles, such lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking) to Level 4/5. What’s more, a surprising number of people are willing to consider foregoing car ownership entirely, using robotaxis instead. That finding must have been music to Dan Ammann’s ears. Ammann, CEO of Cruise Automation, wrote in a post that the average San Francisco family would save approximately $5.000 by foregoing ownership of their own vehicle and using something like its Origin AV people mover. As Cruise has raised some $7.25-billion for AV development (from GM, SoftBank Venture Fund, Honda, and T. Rowe Price), calculating a customer benefit for the tech is essential. As Cruise would certainly be among the 60 companies, this from the AlixPartners study must give Ammann and his colleagues some pause: “the eventual AV market is unlikely to have 60 winning solutions given the network and learning effects and the low marginal cost compared to the investment”. In the U.S. consumers are willing to pay as much as $1.709 for Level 2 capability and only $1.868 for Level 4 tech. That’s a 9 % increase to go from today’s approach to hands-free driving. In Germany, consumers are willing to pay 24 % more to go from Level 2 to Level 4. But they’re willing to pay just $1.488 for the former and $1.844 for the latter. In China, the consumers are interested in just an 8 % increase to go from Level 2 to 4, but they will pay $2.178 for Level 2 and $2.343 for Level 4. But let’s get back to Ammann and the $5,000. Cruise (or any other company) is only going to have their vehicles running 24/7 if people are willing to use the robotaxis. And there is a notable number who AlixPartners have found would. In the U.S. (where 1.594 people 18 years old and above were surveyed) 44 % said they would “consider giving up vehicle ownership”. In Germany (where 1.015 were surveyed) 52 % would be willing to consider giving up vehicle ownership. And in China (1.072 surveyed) a full 84 % would consider giving up their vehicles. One of the rationalizations the AlixPartners researchers have for why there is more interest in robotaxi use is based on GDP: where GDP is lower it is generally the case that owning a vehicle is a higher burden on an individual’s income, which goes a long way to explaining the China number. But given the depth of automobility in Germany and the U.S. (and solid GDPs), their respective 52 % and 44 % is nothing more than a wake-up call to OEMs. As AlixPartners puts it: “It’s imperative that industry players, especially automakers, consider the implications of less personal ownership to their business model and to participate smartly in the progression toward autonomous ride-hailing and car-sharing”. And as for the people in San Francisco: according to the recently released TomTom Traffic Index, it is the third most congested city in the U.S., with people spending an extra 36 % stuck in traffic during their daily commutes. Perhaps a large percentage of those people would be willing to give up vehicle ownership even if it didn’t mean $5,000. +++

 

+++ You might not have noticed, but CADILLAC has slowly added 3-figure numeric badges to its vehicles. The latest model to bear the mark is the new Escalade, which features a ‘600’ badge on its rear liftgate. Other numerals will be used should Cadillac roll out different powertrain options for its flagship SUV. That’s because, per Cadillac’s new badging convention, the number 600 represents the torque in Newton-meters produced by the Escalade’s standard 6.2 liter V8 and available turbodiesel 3.0 liter inline-6. Simple enough, right? Well, not really. Cadillac decided to throw a wrench into the equation: It rounds the conversion to the nearest 50. This means the 600 on the back of the new Escalade is a lie, as the SUV’s V8 and diesel 6-cylinder engines produce 624 Nm. The number 624, however, doesn’t look quite as nice 600; at least to Cadillac. The decision was made not to use engine displacement so that the badges could also be applied to future electric vehicles. Still, turbocharged models have a T after the number, so there is some indication of what lies under the hood. Yes, Cadillac’s number scheme is a mess that’s both difficult for Nm-averse Americans to understand and, oftentimes, displays an incorrect measure of a given Cadillac model’s torque. This isn’t the first time Cadillac’s made a seemingly illogical naming decision.

 

LG will supply flexible organic light-emitting diode displays to U.S. automaker Cadillac, the electronics company said. “Our latest plastic OLED displays will be featured in the Escalade slated for launch in the second half of this year”, a spokesman said. OLEDs are usually fabricated on a glass substrate, but by replacing glass with flexible plastics, OLEDs can be made bendable. LG succeeded in commercializing plastic OLED displays for vehicles for the first time in the world in 2015. The SUV will be equipped with a 38 inch dashboard along with 2 rear-mounted 12.6 inch displays, allowing passengers seated in the rear to watch movies and other entertainment. +++

 

+++ I’ve driven the new CHEVROLET Corvette C8, I’ve compared it to rivals and I examined every inch of its massively improved interior. But there’s still one thing we didn’t know about the first-ever mid-engine Corvette until now: how quickly can it lap the famed Nürburgring circuit in Germany? Here is finally the answer: 7:29.9. Chevrolet said: “The 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe with Z51 Performance Package clocked an un-certified lap time of 7:29.9 at the Nürburgring Nordschleife last summer during vehicle development”. The Corvette’s Ring lap time places it amongst some fairly elevated company. Both the McLaren MP4-12C and the Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 notched 7:28s, and the 650 hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is right behind at 7:29.60. The wilder, more aero-equipped 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE, a track-focused animal, beat all of these times with a scorching 7:16.04 and the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ,  the Ring’s current record-holder, smokes them all with a 6:44.97 performance. Given how the C8 Corvette’s time was set by the base 495 hp Stingray model, it’ll be exciting to see how hotter versions such as the new Z06 might tear up the track and perhaps edge out the Camaro ZL1 1LE, if not other, spicier competitors. A time of 7:13.9 for the 650 hp previous-generation C7 Z06 was recorded, after all … +++

 

+++ Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and it looks like CITROEN is almost ready to introduce a new one. In a teaser videos, the carmanufacturer says: “For 100 years, Citroen has made automobiles accessible to all. In 2020, we will make electric available to all”. There will be more to come on February 27th. Given that Citroen is apparently skipping the Geneva Motor Show, it’s possible the vehicle will be unveiled at a special event later this month. Little is known about the vehicle at this point, but the teaser image suggests it will have a fully enclosed grille with an illuminated Citroen logo. We can also see circular headlights and pronounced front fenders. The vehicle looks unlike anything else in Citroen’s lineup, but it does share some similarities with last year’s Ami One concept. That particular model was an ultra-compact 2-seater which was billed as an electric urban mobility solution. It’s performance specifications weren’t very impressive, but the concept had a range of 100 km and a top speed of 45 km/h. The concept could be charged in approximately 2 hours and driven by people without a driver’s license (depending on local regulations). It remains unclear is Citroen is planning to build the Smart ForTwo competitor, but we’ll find out in approximately 3 weeks. +++

 

+++ Back in October 2019, I told you that ACEA (the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) was concerned that automakers in EUROPE would not meet CO2 targets. The association worried about the decline in diesel sales because they were being replaced by petrol-powered cars. If the sales numbers in the finan quarter of 2019 present a trend, ACEA should not be concerned anymore. While diesel car purchases got 3.7 % lower, they have increased by 81.3 % for electrically chargeable vehicles (ECVs). ACEA has that vehicle category to include electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars. Although the growth percentage is encouraging, we have to see what it is being compared to. I don’t mention Q4 in 2018, which is evident, but rather the number it reflects. The last quarter of 2018 saw 86.474 ECVs reach new customers. That is not a massive amount of vehicles: Poland alone sold a little less petrol-powered cars than that (85.743) in the same period. The total number for them in Europe was 1.818.174, which made the ECV market represent just 4.8 % of that of petrol-powered vehicles in 2018. With that in mind, the Q4 2019 number for ECVs being 156.805 units may seem of little importance. It is not. That represents 7.7 % of the number of petrol-powered vehicles sold in Europe in this period, or 2.034.463 cars. ECVs are getting a bigger slice of the sales cake and 2020 promises to be even better. Not only because more people are realizing that ECVs make a lot of sense for people that can charge them at home, like the Portuguese. Automakers are also offering more options, such as Volvo and Renault. Will diesel vehicles be missed in sales when it comes to meeting CO2 reduction targets? Only if ECVs halt their growing sales curve and its appetite for more market share. I don’t believe that will be the case. +++

+++ FORD shook things up with news of the appointment of Jim Farley as chief executive officer, and Hau Thai-Tang is his go-to guy to develop and launch products. It is the biggest launch year in the history of the company and key vehicles such as the revived Ford Bronco, a baby Bronco slotted below it, a new F-150 full-size pickup and the Mustang Mach-E electric SUV are all on tap. These key launches must happen without the long-time guidance and steady hand of Joe Hinrichs, president of automotive, who is leaving the company. The weight of getting these important vehicles to market and developing a more electric and higher-tech portfolio of products for the future, sits squarely on the shoulders of Thai-Tang. The longtime Ford engineer continues to lead product development and purchasing while adding responsibility for Enterprise Product Line Management (charged with better understanding customer needs) and connectivity. The changes take effect March 1. “We’re in the midst of the biggest product refresh in our history”, Thai-Tang said. By 2022, everything Ford sells will have been refreshed. “It’s a great opportunity”, Thai-Tang said. “I’m looking forward to pulling the team together”. He said he will spend some time thinking about how to accelerate the progress of transforming the company; a mandate from CEO Jim Hackett that has taken on additional urgency in the wake of a poor financial performance in the 4th quarter. Much of the hit came from a poor launch of the new Explorer and Lincoln Aviator at the Chicago Assembly Plant. Thai-Tang is confident the key vehicles ahead will not stumble out of the gate. Essentially, Ford bit off more than it could chew with the Explorer launch, he tells. Chicago is one of the oldest plants with little physical space, which limited the ability to set up a pilot area to test assembly of the new vehicle. The plant had to switch from making a front wheeldrive SUV to models riding on a new rear wheeldrive architecture. All the sheetmetal was changed. Powertrains are also more complex, with the addition of hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants. To further complicate things, in addition to the Explorer and the Police Interceptor utility vehicle, the plant concurrently launched the new Lincoln Aviator. And all this was done while maximizing production of the outgoing Explorer. “Explorer was an anomaly”, Thai-Tang said, noting launches of the Ford Super Duty, Escape, Lincoln Corsair and the Kuga in Europe went as planned. Explorer is not a reflection of Ford’s performance, he says. But lessons learned will be applied to the upcoming launches and much effort will go into “de-risking”. No more multiple launches or concurrent assembly, for example. The Mach-E will be built at the Cuautitlan plant in Mexico that is not currently building anything, having ceased Fiesta production there. Champions within the company have been assigned to work with key suppliers. Turnaround time will include more time to train plant employees and the key launches are also staggered and more validation is being done. Under Hackett, employees have been challenged to start small with pilot projects and then expand them. An example is the Mach-E, which has completed its pilot phase as the first vehicle from a new electric architecture and is moving to the next stage: mass production for sale to customers. Thai-Tang says the “start small” approach has allowed them to break free of the status quo and bring new products with more tech to market faster. Then it can be scaled up. Meanwhile, he will miss Hinrichs, who he has worked closely with for years. “I have immense respect for him. He contributed greatly to our success”. +++

+++ KIA ’s next electric vehicle, to arrive in 2021, will sit above the existing e-Niro and e-Soul electric models and be based on the Imagine concept, revealed last year. The zero-emission vehicle will have a new nameplate, rather than being a variant of an existing model, in line with Kia’s policy to have standalone models for its electrified cars. The Korean car maker recently announced its plan to launch 11 electric models by 2025 as part of a €22 billion strategy to transform into a maker of electrified vehicles and mobility solutions within the next 5 years. Currently, Kia sells 2 electric models. Adding a third, larger model will help the maker reach its goal of a 6.6 % global EV market share by 2025. Kia UK boss Paul Philpott said: “e-Soul and e-Niro sit in the same sort of part of the market, so you either go much smaller or bigger for another EV. Assuming EV supply becomes less limited in 2021, I think a model that is a bit bigger would fill a gap”. The new model will sit on a new bespoke platform, shared with sibling brand Hyundai, which is set to be the basis for a range of more powerful and larger SUVs and saloons in the future. It promises 500 kilometres of range; 45 kilometres more than the e-Niro currently offers. Ultimately, Kia is working towards a range of 800 kilometres for its EVs, but this is not expected as soon as 2021. The EV has a “crossover design which blurs the boundaries between a sedan and a SUV”, echoing that seen on the 4-door Imagine concept, revealed at Geneva motor show last year. +++

+++ The all-new Range Rover Sport has been caught on camera during its winter testing programme, ahead of its scheduled launch in 2022. The third-generation model will be LAND ROVER ’s answer to premium performance SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne. It retains the same boxy proportions as the current car, although details such as its headlights and tail lights will take on a sleeker Velar-inspired look. Past and current iterations of the Range Rover Sport have offered buyers a practical 7-seat layout, setting it apart from many of its rivals, and I expect that will remain the case with this new model. Land Rover’s next-generation 10 inch touch screen infotainment system, first used by the all-new Defender, will also likely feature. In the Defender, the unit features a powerful pair of processors and Blackberry operating system, which allows the system to perform both entertainment functions (such as music streaming) and over-the-air updates without any appreciable loss in performance. While technical details are still some way from being confirmed, it’s safe to say that electrification will play a heavy part in the Range Rover Sport’s engine line-up. It’ll be 1 of 3 cars I know will utilise Land Rover’s MLA platform; the others being the next Range Rover and the all-new Road Rover. MLA can allow for a fully electric twin-motor setup, but it’s currently unclear as to whether this powertrain will make it into the next Range Rover Sport. What is certain is that electrification of some form will feature. The current model features a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine paired with an electric motor which delivers 400 hp. +++

 

+++ Designers of today are the glamorous stars of the automotive industry, jetting from trade show to press event unveiling their latest creations or concepts. But Patrick LE QUEMENT , the longtime head of design at Renault, remembers a very different time, but more on that in a moment. In his new book ‘Design: Between the Lines’, Le Quement, who also worked for Ford, Volkswagen and Simca, recalls his nearly 50 years in the car business, mixing strongly held opinions, insider gossip, boardroom intrigue and thoughts about the place of design not only in the auto industry but also in everyday life. Under his watch, he notes, roughly 60 million vehicles were produced that bear his imprint, among them the Ford Taunus / Cortina and Sierra; the Renault Twingo and Scénic; and the Dacia Logan. Le Quement documents what he sees as a fundamental shift from the 1960s to 1980s as designers “began to be looked upon as significant assets who could transform the destiny of a company” rather than mere stylists who were asked “to superficially alter the appearance of vehicles that had ungainly proportions”. According to Le Quement, a shift of power for designers began in the 1980s when internal styling teams began to compete successfully against external design houses such as Pininfarina. A pivotal moment, at least in France, came in 1982 with the smashing success of the Peugeot 205 that was designed in-house by Gerard Welter (“a masterpiece of automotive design”, Le Quement says, “that provided the signal for other designers to come out of the shadows of the Turin carrozzerie”). Now, Le Quement notes, the only Turin-based styling specialist in good health is Italdesign, which is part of the Volkswagen Group. As automakers’ regional design centers gained power design houses such as Bertone and Pininfarina started to falter or change their focus. Le Quement’s journey from the drawing board to the boardroom began with a brief tenure at Simca in the 1960s. After freelancing for several years, he joined Ford in 1968, first in England and Germany, then in Detroit, where Le Quement was astounded by the Big 3’s resources and the “delicious excesses” of the bosses. The carpets in Henry Ford II’s offices were so thick it was like “walking on freshly fallen snow”, he notes. And Ford’s design vice president at the time, Eugene Bordinat and his deputy both drove DeTomaso Mangustas, but Le Quement asks, “How could anyone drive a Mangusta and propose designs like the Lincoln Mark III decorated by the couturier Bill Blass?”. Motown’s charms eventually faded for Le Quement, with the Ford Tempo / Mercury Topaz twins perhaps the final straw: “These 2 models represented the lowest point in Ford design since the Edsel”, he says. His impression of the Mustang II was that it was “about as attractive as a cheese grater”. He knew something had to change. “It suddenly dawned on me that I could not subject myself to this visual pollution for 2 more years”, he said of reviewing the Tempo/Topaz designs in 1985. After 2 years at Volkswagen, Le Quement was named head of design at Renault, where he was given a mandate by Raymond Levy to help the company become innovative again. There, he was left a gift by the retiring design chief, Gaston Guchet: The keys to a locked garage, where a prototype for a canceled minicar program was kept. Seeing the potential for “this little flea-like object”, he helped shepherd the Twingo into being, with the pitch that the car should “be thought of as a family pet that people would want to pick up and take indoors”. More successes followed, including the Scenic and Logan, before Le Quement retired from Renault at age 64 in 2009, but not before hiring his successor, Laurens van den Acker, at the behest of Carlos Ghosn, CEO at the time. Le Quement now designs high-end sailboats. +++

+++ Not long ago, optimists predicted that fully SELF DRIVING CARS would be on the road by 2020. Today, top automotive executives are taking a more pragmatic view, as the cost and complexity come into focus and investments are diverted to more pressing needs such as electrification. Another factor slowing the move to fully autonomous cars is that consumers are wary after several high-profile accidents, including a fatal Uber crash and incidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot system. A recent Deloitte study found that positive momentum on consumer trust in self-driving cars “has slowed sharply in the past year”. Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson told that developing self-driving cars was “a bit more challenging technically than we originally thought”. Volvo is focusing on developing advanced assistance systems that could let the car take over on the highway, Samuelsson said. The automaker will be “very careful to avoid bringing out something that is perceived to be automated, and is not” because this would give drivers a false sense of security, he said. Ingo Stürmer, global engineering director for autonomous driving at supplier Aptiv, said that the market has changed “dramatically” in the last 6 months. It’s dividing into Levels 0 to 3 for private buyers, meaning safety features and advanced driving assistance, and Levels 4 and 5 for commercial uses such as autonomous shuttles and other mobility on demand services, he said. PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares said his company was taking a similar position. “We don’t see customer value on the driving assistance systems beyond Level 3 for affordability reasons”, he told. “Beyond that, we see that the cost increase skyrockets and the value doesn’t increase proportionally”. But even as executives acknowledge that the business case at present for retail sales of Level 4 and 5 vehicles is hard to make, they do not want to yield any aspects of mobility to big tech companies. “If they don’t develop a business model for these, then companies such as Uber or Waymo will take it over”, Aptiv’s Stürmer said. Tavares said PSA was working on technology beyond Level 3. “Level 4 or Level 5 will be interesting for shared mobility like autonomous shuttles or robotaxis”, he said. “Those cars are shared among many users, and therefore they can be more expensive”. Targeting those use cases could actually reduce development costs, Tavares said. “They will be used in simplified environments with dedicated lanes and clear signage. And the simplification of the environment will make the validation of the software easier”, as well as reduce the number of scenarios that need to be validated. Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark suggested that at some point electric and autonomous cars could replace certain flights within Europe. “Let’s say you could do 322 kph safely for 3 hours. Where could you get to? You could do most of Europe”. But Hallmark warned that widespread use of true self-driving cars will not be feasible for several decades. “From our perspective, there will still be people who want to drive and you will still be allowed to drive for many years to come”, he said, even if autonomous cars are able to travel on certain purpose-built or adapted highways. Urban environments are another matter, Hallmark said. The cost of converting cities such as London or Mumbai “that were never designed for cars” into areas that can be used by autonomous vehicles would be “eye-watering” and beyond the scope of local government. This caution on autonomous vehicles does not mean, however, that car companies and tech giants alike are reducing their investments, even if their ambitions have been scaled back and timetables lengthened. Last July, Volkswagen said it would invest $2.6 billion in Argo AI, a software startup backed by Ford. 3 months later, VW said it would spin off the group’s self-driving business as Volkswagen Autonomy, focusing first on putting Level 4 commercial vehicles on the road by 2025. Not to be outdone, Daimler and rival BMW are joining forces to develop their own Level 4 systems, dedicating more than 1.000 engineers to the joint project. Their focus, though, most likely will not be on a self-driving Mercedes-Benz S class or BMW 7 series, even for use in mobility on-demand services. Daimler CEO Ola Källenius said last November that ensuring the safety of robotaxis in urban areas was proving to be a harder engineering challenge than first thought: “There has been a reality check setting in here”. +++

+++ SSANG YONG ’s operating loss grew dramatically in 2019 due to sluggish exports and high marketing costs in a fiercely competitive market. In an earnings announcement, the company reported an operating loss of 281.9 billion won ($236 million), compared to 64.2 billion won in 2018. Last year was SsangYong’s third consecutive year in the red. Annual revenue for 2019 was 3.62 trillion won; down 2.2 %. The carmaker sold more than 100.000 units domestically, led by the new Korando, but failed to generate demand overseas. Global unit sales declined by 5.6 % in 2019. The last time SsangYong achieved a profit was in 2016, when the Tivoli enjoyed success, but it lost money again the following year. The company faces a difficult year ahead. It doesn’t have plans to release new models in 2020 and is seeking bank loans to finance its growth. Last month, the carmaker’s parent company Mahindra said it will invest 230 billion won in the company if the board approves. During a meeting with SsangYong employees in January, the Mumbai, India-based company’s managing director Pawan Kumar Goenka said the company would need 500 billion won over the next 3 years to return to black. The rest will have to come from other sources, including SsangYong’s main bank, the Korea Development Bank (KDB). The bank has yet to announce its participation. According to local reports, the KDB has asked Mahindra and SsangYong to come up with a concrete plan for a turnaround. The local carmaker stressed that its “labor and management have joined forces in order to strengthen the company’s competitiveness”. +++

+++ TESLA could get state subsidies in its plan to set up a gigafactory in Germany, the country’s economy minister told. “In my conversations with CEO Elon Musk, I have always made clear that there are no privileges but also no discrimination”, Peter Altmaier told. The German government has earmarked financial support for making electric car battery cells locally as a way to secure manufacturing jobs as tougher emissions rules threaten demand for older technologies, like diesel engines. Altmaier said in order to qualify for state subsidies companies needed to fulfill certain requirements in the areas of sustainability and battery efficiency. “Also, Germany has to be more than an extended workbench. There needs to be research and development, too. All companies that fulfill these criteria have a chance to be supported, including Tesla”. Tesla in November announced it would build its first European factory and design center near Berlin, adding the new plant would make batteries, powertrains and cars; starting with the Model Y. +++

+++ A UNITED STATES House panel will hold a hearing on autonomous vehicles as lawmakers try to hammer out legislation to advance self-driving cars. An Energy and Commerce subcommittee overseeing automotive issues will hear from officials of trade groups representing automakers and tech companies, as well as safety advocates and a San Francisco transit official. Congress has worked for 4 years on legislation that would remove regulatory barriers but has not reached agreement. Last summer, a bipartisan group of lawmakers released sections of a draft self-driving car bill for discussion. The bills that have been under consideration would clear the way for automakers and tech firms to deploy tens of thousands of self-driving vehicles without human controls on U.S. roads if they could demonstrate the vehicles were at least as safe as human-driven vehicles. They would also bar states from setting performance standards for self-driving cars. “Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles and semi-autonomous technologies are working to transform the way we travel, and we must ensure that these technologies are rigorously tested and properly deployed with necessary safety oversight and accountability”, said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone and Representative Jan Schakowsky, the subcommittee chair. The committee confirmed witnesses will include John Bozzella, who heads an auto trade association representing General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen and others; Gary Shapiro, who heads the Consumer Technology Association; and Jeff Tumlin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Significant self-driving car testing is occurring in San Francisco and the surrounding area. One key hurdle to approval has been concerns raised by trial lawyers that legislation could preempt lawsuits against self-driving cars that did not perform properly. Daniel Hinkle, who is state affairs counsel at the American Association of Justice, which represents plaintiffs attorneys, will testify. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave permission for autonomous vehicle startup Nuro Inc to deploy up to 5,000 low-speed electric delivery vehicles without human controls like mirrors, the first time the agency temporarily waived safety rules to allow deployment of self-driving vehicles. Supporters of legislation say Congress must act because the existing rules assume a human driver is in control, hindering widescale deployment. After an Uber test vehicle was involved in the first death caused by a self-driving car, the National Transportation Safety Board urged NHTSA to require testing operators of self-driving vehicles to submit a safety self-assessment. +++

+++ Don’t expect a pickup from VOLKSWAGEN in the U.S. any time soon. If and when the time comes, however, it makes more sense to make it an electric truck, said Johan de Nysschen, chief operating officer of VW of America. There are no plans for a pickup for North America in the short term. “It is not even on the discussion set for North America for the next 5 years”, de Nysschen told. A business plan for a U.S. pickup hasn’t been assembled nor has a proposal to greenlight such a project been sent to the board. In short, with so many more crucial projects in the works, a pickup for the U.S. is simply not a priority, especially in Wolfsburg where final decisions on where to invest globally are made. Should a pickup become a priority, electrification would help it stand out in the marketplace, especially in North America where Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram dominate the truck market. “The door is not open for a conventional approach”, de Nysschen said. “Electrification represents a new starting point for everyone”. The Detroit-based automakers are working on electric pickups (the GMC Hummer was just announced), as are Rivian and Tesla. VW has previously teased possible pickups for America. It created the Tanoak concept based on the Atlas SUV, but the problem with bringing this model to market is the cost of using the Atlas as the basis for a lower-priced vehicle. Volkswagen’s partnership with Ford includes an agreement for the German automaker to use Ford’s next-generation Ranger pickup platform to make trucks for use in other parts of the world. Some at VW expressed interest in using it to make a version for the U.S. as well, but this part of the deal has been more sensitive. And there is the Tarok, a small car-based pickup sold in South America but would create a new segment in the U.S. But now de Nysschen says with plans for a North American pickup so far in the future, he would prefer to see VW introduce an electric truck. That would dovetail with the massive investment VW is making in electric vehicles and the economies of scale that can be derived from having millions of vehicles coming from its MEB electric-vehicle platform. That architecture is scalable to make all shapes and sizes of cars, utility vehicles and trucks. +++

+++ The VOLVO V90 Cross Country is one of the automaker’s newest estates, replacing the aging V70. It, along with the XC60, continues Volvo’s design evolution introduced on the XC90. But now, 3 years into the V90’s lifecycle, Volvo is giving the high-riding estate, and the rest of the S90/V90 lineup, a mid-cycle refresh. When the updated V90 Cross Country arrives, it’ll have a reworked lower front fascia. The lower grille opening has a different shape as do the fog light housings. It looks a bit less aggressive. The rest of the front end will look identical to the current model. The headlights are the same as is the wide, elegant grille. The rear of the Volvo will look like that of the current model; however, don’t expect it to remain unchanged: the taillights could feature an updated, more 3-dimensional design compared to the current car’s more flat appearance. Inside, changes should be kept to a minimum. There’s a possibility of Volvo updating the infotainment system with more Android functionality; something announced in 2018 and shown off the following year on the XC40 Recharge T8 Electric. It could also receive more driver-assist systems such as Volvo’s Oncoming Lane Mitigation system, City Safety with Autobrake and Cross Traffic Alert. Other changes could happen under the refreshed sheet metal. That includes the possibility of the V90 CC receiving the XC90’s kinetic energy recovery braking system. Though, just like the recently refreshed XC90, the V90 CC’s visual changes will likely be minor. Volvo should debut the Volvo V90 Cross Country (and the S90/V90) sometime this year. +++

+++ This year’s finalists for the WORLD CAR OF THE YEAR awards have been announced at the Delhi Auto Show in India. The awards, which are judged by jurors from around the world, feature an overall World Car of the Year Award, for which 10 cars are shortlisted, as well as 5 other categories. Narrowed down from a list of 29 nominees, the 10 finalists for overall World Car of the Year are the Hyundai Sonata, Kia e-Soul, Kia Telluride, Range Rover Evoque, Mazda 3, Mazda CX-30, Mercedes CLA, Mercedes GLB, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen T-Cross. As for the other 5 categories, the finalists for the World Urban Car Award are the Kia e-Soul, Mini Electric, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio and Volkswagen T-Cross. The BMW X5, BMW X7, Mercedes EQ C, Porsche 911 and Porsche Taycan are all up for the World Luxury Car Award. Meanwhile, the finalists for World Performance Car are the BMW M8, Porsche 718 Cayman / Spyder GT4, Porsche 911, Porsche Taycan and Toyota GR Supra. 7 design experts are judging the World Car Design of the Year Award; the finalists for this are the Alpine A110 S, Mazda 3, Mazda CX-30, Peugeot 208 and Porsche Taycan. The winner of the fifth Award ‘World Car Person of the Year’ will be announced at the Geneva International Motor Show on 3 March. +++

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