Newsflash: Lexus onttroont als fabrikant van de betrouwbaarste auto’s


+++ Chemicals giant BASF picked a site in the eastern German state of Brandenburg for its second European BATTERY materials factory, which is part of a 1 million euro investment plan to benefit from a growing electric vehicle market. The decision, which was widely expected, gives another boost to the economically weaker former communist east of the country after electric vehicle pioneer Tesla in November laid out plans for its first European factory and design center near Berlin. The site, located in the town of Schwarzheide, some 120 km south of Berlin, will draw on feedstock from another BASF factory in Harjavalta, Finland, close to a nickel and cobalt refinery of raw materials partner Norilsk Nickel. “With these investments in Finland and Germany, BASF will be the first CAM (Cathode Active Materials) supplier with local production capacities in today’s 3 major markets: Asia, the U.S. and Europe”, the company said in a statement. The 2 factories will be able to prove enough cathode materials for 400.000 fully electric vehicles per year, it added. BASF, which announced plans for the Harjavalta site in 2018, has previously put the combined investment for both projects at €400 million. The European Commission on December 9 approved €3.2 billion of state aid from 7 European Union countries for research and innovation in battery technology. Germany’s economy minister said at the time that companies that would benefit from this included BASF, BMW, Opel, Umicore and Varta. Liberum analysts have estimated that cathode materials in a 50 KWh car battery will cost about $2,500, making it among the most costly parts of an electric vehicle. BASF has said it expects the global market for cathode materials to be worth between €25 billion and €30 billion by 2025, boosted by demand for electric and hybrid vehicles. BASF is competing with Europe’s Umicore and Johnson Matthey as well as with a range of Chinese suppliers including Beijing Easpring and Ningbo Shanshan. +++


+++ BENTLEY has previewed an exclusive new model from its in-house coachbuilder, Mulliner, and confirmed that it will be unveiled on 3 March at the Geneva motor show. It will be called the Bacalar, seemingly after a lake in Mexico renowned for its bright blue water. Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, it’s likely that the Bacalar is the £1.5 million open-top grand tourer first detailed by Bentley late last year. To be sold under the Mulliner brand, the convertible will be aimed at wealthy buyers who seek out rarer models for private collections and investment opportunities. Bentley says the hand-built model represents “the future of coachbuilding”, making use of a range of sustainable and ethically sourced materials throughout its construction and featuring a “beautiful yet dramatic design”. Crewe has listed last year’s EXP GT 100 concept as a styling influence, suggesting it will take the form of a large sports coupé with an interior that emphasises space, sleekness and natural light. It’s unclear whether the concept’s trademark scissors doors will make their way into production, but bespoke elements such as the 5.500 year old, naturally felled riverwood could make an appearance. Production numbers will be extremely limited, says Bentley, so I’m expecting extensive personalisation options for buyers, materials and trims unavailable elsewhere in the manufacturer’s line-up and a list price well into 6 figures. Mulliner is seeking to distance itself from Bentley with the launch of this “ultra-exclusive” new model, of which 10 examples will be sold. +++ 

+++ BMW has dropped plans to open a factory in Russia after talks with authorities broke down over government subsidies for the facility. BMW failed to reach a conclusion in talks with Russian government officials over the level of economic incentives for the plant,  BMW’s Russia chief, Stefan Teuchert, said. BMW’s local partner Avtotor currently builds 3- and 5-series sedans and SUVs in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad from imported semi-knockdown kits. Former BMW boss Harald Krüger said in 2018 that the company was considering establishing its own local production facilities in Russia. A BMW spokeswoman declined to comment, saying only that the automaker continually reviews its long-term global production. “We see Russia as an important market for the BMW Group and are in constant contact with our local production partner Avtotor”, the spokeswoman told. BMW rival Daimler opened a factory near Moscow last year build Mercedes-Benz cars. Mercedes was the best-selling luxury brand in Russia in 2019 with sales of 42.046; up 11 %. BMW was the No 2 premium brand, just behind Mercedes, with sales of 41.520; up 17 %. While BMW’s sales in Russia are small, the automaker was looking at expanding local production to maintain a reasonable balance between localized and imported models, Teuchert said. +++ 

+++ Ola Källenius got off to a shaky start at the helm of DAIMLER , presiding over 3 profit warnings since last May as legal costs, tariff threats and swollen development spending marred his coronation after he took over from longtime boss Dieter Zetsche. The new CEO sought to draw a line under the turbulent period at the German luxury-car maker when he tempered a drastic cut in the dividend with the promise of a brighter year ahead. The 50 year old executive vowed to deliver “significantly” higher profit by squeezing out costs and capping investments, while committing to a more decisive push into electric cars. Daimler will also review non-core operations to channel more money into automaking. “This company is going to change fundamentally”, Källenius told investors. While it won’t be easy, “we will work 24/7 to make this happen, to make this somewhat of a turning point”. “The tone from Källenius was uncompromising, suggesting a united and concerted effort to turn Daimler around”, Redburn analyst Timm Schulze-Melander said in a note. “However, a quick top-down glance suggests things may be far from straightforward”. 9 months into the job, the Swedish executive has struggled to make headway on a planned restructuring push. Earnings before interest and taxes slumped by 61 % in 2019, hampered by production hiccups and ballooning expenses to fix diesel vehicles. The problems aren’t going away. Fresh allegations of diesel-cheating, years after the scandal broke at competitor Volkswagen Group, have burdened Daimler with mounting recall and legal costs. And the company, which was slower than Volkswagen to electrify its fleet, now faces rising competition from Tesla, which plans to build a factory outside Berlin. With a market value of about €46 billion, Daimler is worth less than half of the much-smaller Tesla and is the worst performer on Germany’s benchmark DAX index this year. Still, there is cause for optimism, according to Harald Hendrikse, an analyst with Morgan Stanley. Daimler should see a trough in profit margins this year, and he’s confident free cash flow bottomed in 2019 given the newfound investment discipline and the two-thirds drop in the dividend, which brought the payout to its lowest point since 2010, when it was eliminated in the wake of the the global financial crisis. “Management is improving the decision-making”, Hendrikse said. “Daimler metrics should improve from here”. While Källenius expects the efficiency measures to unleash a turnaround, the CEO faces outside obstacles to contend with as well; everything from the persistent threat of higher tariffs to the corona virus outbreak in its largest market, China. The profit rebound will be slowed by restructuring costs totaling about €2 billion through 2022, according to CFO Harald Wilhelm. And luxury unit Mercedes-Benz has a challenge meeting stricter European Union emission tests that come with the threat of hefty fines, Källenius said. Mercedes-Benz average fleet emission stood at 137 grams last year, much higher than the 95 gram limit stipulated under European rules that start taking effect this year. “I cannot guarantee” that Mercedes-Benz will comply with EU emission rules, “but we should be within striking distance”, Källenius said. Job cuts are a critical component of his effort to make the manufacturer leaner. While Daimler didn’t detail any new personnel changes, the automaker said last year it would eliminate more than 10.000 positions worldwide, using voluntary measures such as early retirement and attrition. Källenius said the savings on labor will top €1.4 billion by 2022. He also said that while the heavy-trucks division remains a core business, a new group structure introduced last year keeps Daimler’s options open should the management board change its mind in the future about deeper structural changes within its organization. Alongside moves to rein in spending, Källenius has outlined plans to introduce more than 20 new plug-in hybrid and fully-electric Mercedes cars by 2022. Mercedes-Benz will unveil a fresh iteration of its S-Class this year and roll out the EQ A, a compact electric cross-over that will flank the larger EQ C and the EQ V minivan. The brand plans to quadruple the share of plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles in its deliveries this year, the company said. Källenius also confirmed Daimler will cull the slow-selling X class pickup. It’s a big list, and for many investors, the case is the CEO’s to prove. “Self-help measures are only expected to slowly improve profitability”, said Marc-Rene Tonn, an analyst with Warburg Research. “We would like to see some evidence that the targeted improvements will ultimately be sufficient to lift earnings before granting early praise for the measures”. +++


+++ GENESIS , with 2 car models, ranked highest in J.D. Power’s survey of light-vehicle reliability after three years of ownership, while Buick placed highest among mass-market brands, and third overall. The 2020 Vehicle Dependability Study marks the first year Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury arm, has been included in the survey. For 2017, Genesis marketed just 2 models: the G80 and G90 sedans. Lexus, the top brand in the study the last 8 years, fell to second place overall. Genesis, Lexus and Buick were followed in the top 10 by Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen, Lincoln, BMW, Chevrolet and Ford. At the bottom of the study, with an average of around 2 problems reported per vehicle: Volvo, Jaguar, Chrysler and Land Rover. Tesla was not a part of the study. “For certain states J.D. Power needs the manufacturer’s permission to contact their customers”, Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, said in an emailed statement. “These states make up approximately 70 % of Tesla’s sales volume and Tesla does not give J.D. Power approval in these states (all other automakers do give permission). Therefore J.D. Power only has responses from states which comprise about 30 % of Tesla’s sales volume and J.D. Power’s current rules preclude the company from reporting publicly on what may be an unrepresentative sample of customers”. The survey, conducted for 31 years, tracks problems per 100 vehicles during a 12-month period by owners of 3 year old vehicles. Overall, J.D. Power said 2017 models averaged 134 problems per 100 vehicles studied; a slight improvement over 2016 models tracked in the 2019 study. In addition to the top 10 brands, Mazda, Cadillac, Hyundai and Kia also fared better than the industry average. Across all brands, the reliability of 3 year old vehicles improved 1.5 % from last year, Power said in a statement. Overall, 18 brands saw improvement, while 13, including Toyota , BMW, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Kia, reported more problems. Brands with substantially more problems in the latest survey: Chrysler, Mini, Infiniti, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru. Cadillac, Acura, Mazda, Lincoln, Ford, Buick, and VW were the brands with the biggest improvement, Power said. Fiat, Dodge and Volvo also posted major improvements but still landed well below the industry average. “Despite the increased adoption of complex vehicle technology, dependability continues to improve”, Sargent said in a statement. “There’s no question that 3 year old vehicles today are better built and more dependable than same-age vehicles were in previous years. However, the rapid introduction of technology is putting increased pressure on dependability, so it would not be surprising to see problem levels plateau, or even increase, over the next few years”. In-vehicle technology showed the greatest improvement, according to the study, “but still accounts for more problems than any other category”, Power said. The Lexus ES sedan, with 52 problems reported per 100 vehicles surveyed, was the highest-ranked vehicle in the 2020 study, and the best model ever tracked, J.D. Power said. The study is just the latest sign that South Korea’s 3 leading brands continue to make major strides on the quality front. Genesis, Kia and Hyundai also topped J.D. Power’s annual Initial Quality Study for 2019 new-vehicle reliability. Other findings: Crossovers and SUVs experience more problems than sedans (134 per 100 vs. 127 per 100), “but the gap is narrowing from 2019”, the study said. The Nissan Leaf won the first all-electric model to receive a segment-level award for a compact car in the 2020 study. Power said the 2020 survey is based on responses from 36.555 original owners of 2017 model-year vehicles after 3 years of ownership. The study tracked 177 problems grouped into 8 categories and was conducted from July through November 2019. +++ 

+++ Nissan said it had filed a civil lawsuit in Japan against former chairman Carlos GHOSN seeking 10 billion yen ($91.02 million) in damages over his alleged financial misconduct. Ghosn had been facing criminal charges in Japan for understating his annual salary and misusing company funds, until he fled to Lebanon in December. He denies any wrongdoing. Nissan said it expects the amount claimed in damages to “increase in future” as it seeks to recover fines it expects to have to pay to regulators due to Ghosn’s alleged misconduct. Japan’s No. 2 automaker added that it may pursue separate legal action over what it called “groundless and defamatory” remarks Ghosn made in a news conference in Beirut here last month. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI broadened its future transportation portfolio with an agreement to jointly develop electric vehicles with California startup Canoo, the companies said. It was the second such deal announced in recent weeks by Hyundai and sister company Kia, which in mid-January said they would invest $110 million in UK startup Arrival and jointly develop electric commercial vehicles. In Seoul, a Hyundai spokesperson said the automaker’s partnership with 2 year old Canoo would focus on smaller electric passenger vehicles about the size of its i20. Like Arrival, Canoo has developed a “skateboard” (a low-rise platform that bundles batteries and electric motors with such chassis components as steering, brakes, wheels and tires) on which a variety of body types can be built. Canoo last fall revealed its own “post-SUV” model, based on its electric-vehicle skateboard and intended to be marketed to individuals and fleets by subscription. Hyundai has been investing heavily in recent months in a variety of future transportation ventures, notably a $4 billion joint venture with auto supplier Aptiv, announced in September, to develop self-driving vehicles and systems. Those investments are part of a sweeping 5 year, $87 billion plan to ramp up the automaker’s expertise and activity in electrification, automation and related services. Previously, Hyundai and Kia had made a number of transportation-related investments, including in Silicon Valley self-driving startup Aurora and ride services startups Ola in India and Grab in Singapore. Hyundai and Kia last year invested $89 million in Rimac Automobili, a 9 year old Croatian company that aspires to build electric supercars and which is also backed by Porsche. +++ 

+++ German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler have launched a study to push for more “sustainable” LITHIUM mining in Chile, according to lobbyist filings; a sign of growing supply chain concerns ahead of an expected electric vehicle boom. Chile’s Atacama salt flat is by far the biggest source of supply of the ultralight battery metal in South America’s so-called “lithium triangle”. The region, whose fragile ecosystem relies on a limited water supply, is home to the globe’s top 2 producers: U.S.-based Albemarle and Chile’s SQM. But concerns over sustainability have long plagued Atacama’s miners, which extract the metal from pools of brine beneath the world’s driest desert. Residents and environmental groups worry about potential damage to a regional ecosystem home to an ancient indigenous culture, lagoons inhabited with rare flamingos and a booming tourism industry. Lobbying records show a team from German development agency GIZ and the public-private Fundacion Chile met with Cristóbal De La Maza, chief of top Chilean environmental regulator SMA, early this year to formally present plans for the “feasibility study”. “This project is driven by Volkswagen and Daimler”, the filings read. “The growing importance of batteries has made the sustainability of lithium a key priority for these companies”. Volkswagen confirmed that it had contracted the study. Daimler declined to comment. Pressure is mounting on German carmakers to fast-track production of electric vehicles to meet increasingly stringent European Union anti-pollution rules. Volkswagen alone has staked its future on a $91 billion plan to profitably mass-producing zero-emission vehicles. That push has prompted beefed-up scrutiny of mining practices around key metals such as cobalt, copper and lithium, all of which are predicted to see a spike in demand in coming years. Volkswagen had visited Atacama in January, amid a broader push to encourage sustainable production of key links in the EV supply chain. The filings suggest work has already begun on the “feasibility study”, commissioned by Volkswagen and Daimler, including talks with local communities, regulators and miners. The goal of the meetings, according to the filings, is to develop a “joint action plan” and in time, “implement prioritized actions” to address the growing concerns about lithium mining in the region. Concerns about sustainability have emerged as a key vulnerability for Chile as a lithium mining hot spot. A Chilean environmental court in December called the Atacama ecosystem particularly fragile. It warned of a “high level of scientific uncertainty” around the behavior of its water table. The water usage issue has also become a sticking point for the plans of both SQM and Albemarle to boost output from Chile to meet the anticipated spike in demand. Australia, the world’s No. 1 producer of the white metal, mines its lithium from hard rock, not brine. +++

+++ Daimler has used its 2019 report to reveal some new details about the company’s future product plans. Most notably, the automaker confirmed they will continue their “product and electrical offensive” this year. The big news is MERCEDES will unveil the redesigned S-Class later this year. The company didn’t say much about the flagship sedan, but confirmed it will have the “latest version of the MBUX multimedia system” and “raise the bar” in terms of connectivity. That’s a bit of an understatement as the S-Class will adopt a futuristic interior with a digital instrument cluster and a massive touchscreen display that rises out of the center console. The latter features a portrait-orientation and appears to replace much of the traditional switchgear. Besides the high-tech infotainment system, the S-Class will feature an evolutionary exterior and a host of eco-friendly engines. Choices remain unconfirmed, but could include a hybridized 3.0-liter inline-6 with 367 hp and 500 Nm, as well as a hybridized twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 developing 490 hp and 700 Nm. We can also expect plug-in hybrids variants, high-performance AMG models and range-toppers with a V12 engine. Besides confirming the S-Class, Mercedes revealed the EQ A will be launched this fall. The model will be based on the GLA and feature a fully enclosed grille as well as a host of other styling changes.  Little else is known about the crossover at this point, but it will have an electric powertrain. Mercedes is also planning to launch “numerous variants” with plug-in hybrid powertrains and 48 volt technology.  The company will have more than 20 plug-in hybrids by the end of the year and they should include the versions of the CLA, GLA and facelifted E-Class. The CLA and GLA plug-in hybrids will have a turbocharged 1.3-liter 4-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor that is powered by a 15.6 kWh battery pack. This will give them a combined output of 218 hp and 450 Nm. More importantly, the models will be able to travel approximately 68 km on electricity alone. On the financial side of things, group sales fell to 3.34 million units in 2019 which is slight decrease from the 3.35 million that were sold in 2018. Despite this, revenues climbed 3 % to €172.7 billion. However, Daimler’s net profit plummeted from €7.6 billion in 2018 to €2.7 billion in 2019. The company’s free cash flow was also cut in half while the proposed dividend is a paltry €0.90 per share compared to last year’s €3.25. Among the things blamed for the poor results are expenses related to the Takata airbag recall and legal proceedings about diesel engines in Mercedes vehicles. Besides those 2 relatively one-off incidents, the company spent heavily on new products and technologies. Daimler chairman Ola Källenius told investors that “We cannot be satisfied with our bottom line”. He added, “measures to cut costs and to increase cash flows are necessary”. The company didn’t go into too many specifics, but they will make a “significant reduction of material and administrative costs and the reduction of personnel costs by more than €1.4 billion by the end of 2022”. In layman’s terms, Daimler is cutting jobs and promised this will be done in a “socially responsible manner”. There’s no word on specific numbers, but the company said management positions will be cut by 10 %. Besides cutting jobs, Mercedes will “streamline” their product portfolio. As part of this effort, the automaker confirmed the X-Class will go out of production in May. +++ 

+++ NISSAN may report its first quarterly loss in more than a decade because of slumping sales, sources familiar with the company said, adding more pressure on efforts to rebuild the company after Carlos Ghosn’s ouster. Deteriorating profits underscore the challenges facing Nissan, which is unwinding many of the expansionist strategies championed by ex-chief executive officer and chairman Ghosn by slashing jobs, production sites and product offerings to save cash and ensure its survival. In addition to slumping sales, production disruptions caused by China’s coronavirus outbreak could also drag profits lower. 3 senior officials at Japan’s No. 2 automaker told that they anticipate a poor results announcement, with one of them calling the figures “dismal”. 2 of the officials cautioned that there is the possibility of an operating loss, which would be the first quarterly loss since the period ending in March 2009. Nissan said it could not comment on its financial results ahead of its official announcement. The company is likely to report operating profit of 48.6 billion yen ($442.5 million) for the quarter ending in December; less than half the 103 billion yen profit a year ago, according to SmartEstimate’s survey of 3 analysts, who revised their forecasts in January. However, those forecasts were issued before the release of the December vehicle sales figures on January 30, which show third-quarter sales dropped by 11 % from the year earlier period. That is the biggest quarterly slump of its current sales downturn that began 2 years ago. That sales decline led one auto equities analyst based in Japan to scrap his forecast and also warn that Nissan could post a loss. “It will be a question of whether there will be a profit or a loss. For the quarter, a loss is a possibility”, he said, declining to be named as his forecast had not been updated to reflect his latest view. 1 of the 3 Nissan officials said there is a risk the automaker may cut its full-year profit forecast of 150 billion yen, which would be an 11-year low. The company announced that forecast in November after an initial 230 billion yen outlook. Since the start of the fiscal year in April, Nissan’s global sales have slumped 8.3 % versus the year ago period as it struggles to sell its X-Trail and its Sentra sedan; 2 of its 3 top-selling models in the United States, after years of heavy discounting in that key market has tarnished its image. For the first 9 months of the fiscal year, the company has sold 3.81 million vehicles. It risks missing its full-year target of 5.24 million; a decline of 5 % from the prior year’s sales, amid prolonged production halts in China. +++ 

+++ Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has warned that values of used diesel and gasoline cars will “PLUMMET” in the years to come due to the increased electrification of the industry. Musk made the assertion responding to a tweet from Tesla owner and Tesla share owner SamTalksTesla who said the following. “UK to ban all ICE cars from 2035! Many others will follow. Tesla have proven 100% that EV cars are globally viable & superior. Who in their right mind would buy an ICE after 2025 knowing its residual value will be zilch? Legacy auto: go EV or go BUST!” Musk responded by saying “residual values for gas/diesel cars will plummet in coming years”. He didn’t expand on the subject. The train of thought goes that diesel and gasoline cars will lose their value as electric vehicles become more common and start to outsell ICE-powered vehicles. It remains to be seen when this shift will take place but in countries like the UK that plan on banning the sales of new gasoline, diesel, and hybrid vehicles as soon as 2035, certain markets could become all-electric within 15 years, subject to current government policies not going unchallenged in the years to come. In the U.S., unless there’s a similar government initiative, it could take even longer, as last year, EV sales covered only a tiny fraction of new car deliveries at just 1.9 % (329.000 EVs over a total of 17 million) versus 2.1% in 2018. +++ 

+++ Ever since French president Emmanuel Macron moved to the Élysée Palace in Paris in 2017, he has been relying on an armored RENAULT Espace for his official trips. Mind you, the first vehicle he used for his inauguration was a DS 7 Crossback parade car and he has also been seen in a Peugeot 5008 for the 2017 Bastille Day. During most official visits, however, an Espace Initiale Paris is his default ride. The presidential car seemed to work just fine with until earlier this month when Emmanuel Macron went on a state visit to Poland. After meeting with President Andrzej Duda, Macron was supposed to return to the Espace and continue the visit. However, a sudden change of plans was required because his bulletproof minivan refused to start. It’s hard to think of a worse moment for a presidential vehicle to break down than during a state visit. Then again, there must be some truth to the fifth generation Espace’s poor reputation for reliability if even the car made for the Président de la République broke down. Since France’s presidents always ride in French cars, a solution had to be found for Emmanuel Macron to continue his trip without turning to a foreign car. The French ambassador to Poland quickly came to the rescue and offered the president his Citroën C6. Emmanuel Macron used it to leave Poland’s presidential palace, even though Citroën’s former flagship wasn’t armored. The Espace’s malfunction must have been serious if the security detail decided to take this risk and have the French president ride in an unarmored car. Needless to say, Polish media had a field day with the whole affair, using the occasion to make jokes about the reliability of French cars. +++


+++ SKODA has confirmed that its forthcoming electric SUV, the brand’s first model designed as an EV from the ground up, will be called Enyaq. Derived from the Irish name Enya, meaning ‘source of life’, the name continues the ‘Q’ theme of Skoda’s existing combustion SUVs such as the Kamiq, Karoq and Kodiaq. The ‘E’ is also said to be a reference to electromobility. The Enyaq will be the production version of Skoda’s Vision iV concept, which was revealed last year. It’ll go on sale in 2021, with Skoda promising at least 10 electrified models will launch under the iV sub-brand by the end of 2022. The 4.66 meter long Kodiaq-sized coupé crossover is based on the VW Group’s MEB platform and, in concept form, uses a 306 hp 4-wheeldrive EV powertrain offering a 500 kilometre range and the ability to charge up to 80 % in 30 minutes. The coupe-crossover’s cabin shows a design that has moved on from current Skoda interiors, with a multi-level dashboard, large free-standing central screen, and minimalist look. The absence of a transmission tunnel in the EV allows “plenty of storage space”, according to the firm, alongside a compartment allowing 2 mobile phones to be wirelessly charged. Said to provide “a specific outlook of the brand’s electric future”, the Vision iV is a more production-previewing concept than the 2017 Vision E. Although in profile the 2 concepts look nearly identical, the grille of the Vision iV features a traditional slatted design rather than the blanked-off item on the Vision E. A full-width LED daytime running light sits underneath the main headlights, while the Skoda name at the rear is backlit in red. Last year, the company revealed the production version of the Vision iV will be sold with both standard SUV and coupé crossover variants, akin to the Kodiaq and China-only Kodiaq GT. First deliveries of the production model are due in 2021, but it’s not yet clear which variant will arrive first. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , the 3 electric vehicle (EV) battery makers all made it into the top 10 list of global manufacturers for 2019, according to SNE Research. Based on the global usage of their EV batteries, the combined market share of the 3 companies (LG Chem, Samsung SDI and SK Innovation) stood at 15.8 % in 2019. This marks an 11.8 % increase. LG Chem became the No. 3 in the world with a 10.5 % market share, having supplied 12.3 gigawatt-hours worth of EV batteries to global carmakers in 2019; up 64.8 % from a year earlier. On last year’s rank, the company stood at global No. 4. Samsung SDI also saw its annual rank climb up 3 steps: It placed fifth on the 2019 list with a 3.6 % market share. The global usage of its EV batteries surged 20.9 % on-year to 4.2 gigawatt-hours. A relative newcomer compared to the previous 2, SK Innovation, joined the top 10 list for the first time. The company ranked 10th, with a 1.7 % market share with 1.9 gigawatt-hours. The expanded market share of South Korean companies was led by stronger sales of EVs that used their batteries. LG Chem supplied for Audi’s e-Tron, Hyundai’s Kona Electric and Jaguar’s I-Pace. Samsung SDI’s batteries were adopted on the Volkswagen e-Golf and the BMW i3. SK Innovation’s sales increase was led by Kia’s e-Niro and e-Soul. SNE Research said China’s CATL was the No. 1 player in 2019, with a 27.9 % market share; usage of its EV batteries rose 39 % on year to 32.5 gigawatt-hours. Other Chinese companies apart from it all saw market shares fall on year. “2019 was a big year for Korean EV battery companies. We expect LG, Samsung and SK to expand foothold further, but CATL and Panasonic still have more than half of the global EV battery market”, the report said. +++ 

+++The ties between Toyota and SUBARU are deepening as the former has increased their stake in their Japanese partner. While Toyota has long been considered Subaru’s principal shareholder, the company increased their stake from 16.8 % to 20.0 %. This means the 2 automakers are now officially “affiliated”. While the 2 companies now have a label on their relationship, not much has changed since the move was originally announced last September. However, Subaru reiterated the partnership will make their business ties “even stronger” and contribute to their “sustained growth”. Toyota and Subaru have been working together since 2005, when GM ended their ill-fated partnership with the symmetrical all-wheeldrive specialist. That partnership spawned the Impreza-based Saab 9-2X and the abandoned 9-6X which was a rebadged version of the Tribeca. The work between Toyota and Subaru has been far better received as they’ve worked together to develop the GT86 and BRZ. Despite modest sales, a second-generation of sports cars was announced last year. Besides a new GT86 and BRZ, the 2 companies will jointly develop an electric crossover and a dedicated platform for electric vehicles. The latter will be used to underpin “midsize and large passenger vehicles”, including C and D segment sedans and crossovers. Less is known about the joint crossover, but will be a C segment vehicle that is sold by both brands. Besides focusing on electric vehicles, the companies will benefit from each other’s strengths. In particular, the automakers will “apply Subaru’s all-wheel-drive technologies and Toyota’s vehicle electrification technologies”. This suggests we can expect more models like the Subaru XV Hybrid which uses a 2.0-liter boxer engine and Toyota’s plug-in hybrid technology. +++ 

+++ A TESLA driver killed in a March 2018 crash in California while using the Autopilot driver-assistance system had reported that on prior trips, the car had steered away from the highway, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) disclosed in documents. Walter Huang, a 38-year-old Apple software engineer, was driving his Tesla Model X in Mountain View in autopilot mode at about 110 kph when it crashed into a safety barrier. The NTSB said Huang had reported issues on prior trips with Autopilot steering the wheel toward an area between a highway ramp and the lane. It is a moving violation to cross into that section of the road, known as the “gore area”. Data from the vehicle showed that in prior trips Huang had taken corrective action after Autopilot had steered toward the area. The NTSB said in the fatal crash Huang’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel in the final 6 seconds before the crash. There was no evidence of braking or evasive action. The NTSB, which also found evidence that the driver was using a smartphone during the trip, plans a February 25 hearing to determine the probable cause of the crash. Tesla did not immediately comment. Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid holding the steering wheel for extended periods while using Autopilot, but the company advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention while using the system. During the final 18 minute Autopilot segment of the trip, the system did not detect his hands on the wheel about one-third of the time and the system issued 2 visual alerts for hands-off driving operation and one auditory alert. The NTSB said Huang had been using an Apple-owned iPhone during his trip and records show evidence of data transmissions. Logs recovered with Apple’s assistance show a word building game application “Three Kingdoms” was active during Huang’s fatal trip. The NTSB said “most players have both hands on the phone to support the device and manipulate game actions” but added the log data “does not provide enough information to ascertain whether the Tesla driver was holding the phone or how interactive he was with the game at the time of the crash”. The NTSB, which previously criticized Tesla’s driver assistance system Autopilot after a 2016 fatal crash in Florida, said in September the system’s design permitted a “driver to disengage from the driving task” in an earlier California crash. The NTSB also released documents in its probe into a third Tesla Autopilot fatal crash in March 2019 in Delray Beach, Florida that showed no evidence the driver’s hands were the steering wheel in the final 8 seconds. The Tesla Model 3 driver failed to react before striking a semi truck, the NTSB said. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA ’s sports car lineup includes 2 different models: the new GR Supra and the aging GT86, which has been around with very few updates and still no turbocharged engine for the past 8 years. Rumors were circulating about a possible revival of the MR2 close to the middle of the decade, yet they have been recently shattered by the brand’s Europe vice president, Matt Harrison, who told that resurrecting the nameplate “is not a priority”. Instead, Toyota will reportedly focus on the development of the next generation GT86, which will enter the GR performance sub-brand, alongside the GR Supra and GR Yaris. Word has it that it will be baptized as the GR86, and will be based on a modified version of the TNGA platform, alongside its Subaru sibling that will replace the outgoing BRZ. Perhaps the biggest news is that the new Toyobaru sports car will reportedly adopt a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine found in the Ascent, Legacy and Outback. The boxer unit develops 260 hp and 308 Nm, and will significantly improve the performance of the 2 models compared to their predecessors, which pack a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated mill that makes 208 hp and 212 Nm. Nothing’s known about the design, but we expect Toyota to amp the ante inside with higher quality materials and the latest technology features, that will further set the 2 generations apart. I don’t have an official unveiling date yet, but the new GR86 and BRZ twins should be introduced within the next 2 years. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED KINGDOM , the proposal to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel-engined cars (including hybrids and plug-in hybrids) by 2035 could be brought forward by a further 3 years, according to transport secretary Grant Shapps. Shapps said the ban would happen by 2035 “or even 2032”, before stating there would be consultation before any decision is made. The accelerated plan to bring the ban from 2040 to 2035, proposed last week has already been branded “extremely concerning” by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The move, which is 5 years earlier than previous plans, was announced by prime minister Boris Johnson at the launch of the COP26 climate summit as part of measures to help the UK achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, SMMT boss Mike Hawes claims the government has “seemingly moved the goalposts” without a clear plan in place to achieve the goal. “Manufacturers are fully invested in a zero-emissions future, with some 60 plug-in models now on the market and 34 more coming in 2020”, Hawes said. “However, with current demand for this still expensive technology still just a fraction of sales, it’s clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment. This is about market transformation, yet we still don’t have clarity on the future of the plug-in car grant (the most significant driver of EV uptake) which ends in just 60 days’ time, while the UK’s charging network is still woefully inadequate. If the UK is to lead the global zero emissions agenda, we need a competitive marketplace and a competitive business environment to encourage manufacturers to sell and build here. A date without a plan will merely destroy value today. So we therefore need to hear how the government plans to fulfil its ambitions in a sustainable way, one that safeguards industry and jobs, allows people from all income groups and regions to adapt and benefit, and, crucially, does not undermine sales of today’s low emission technologies, including popular hybrids, all of which are essential to deliver air quality and climate change goals now”. In confirming the plans, the government said it “will continue to work with all sectors of industry to accelerate the rollout of zero-emissions vehicles, helping to deliver new green jobs in the UK. +++

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