Newsflash: Renault presenteert conceptstudie voor elektrische cross-over in Genève

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+++ Volkswagen confirmed working on a hot version of the ARTEON more than 2 years ago, not long after the CC’s successor broke cover and it seems that they have finally approved it for production. This new R model will sit at the top of the range was spied testing in the cold, with thin stickers hiding some of the changes gained over the usual models, including a small facelift. The bumper has been modified to house bigger air intakes, while at the back, it sports a more aggressive diffuser with incorporated rectangular exhaust pipes. The prototype also had drilled brakes at the front, hugged by the blue calipers. VW’s 3.0-liter VR6 twin-turbocharged engine is believed to be the icing on the cake. If the rumor is correct, then it will push out around 400 horsepower to the 2 axles through a DSG transmission. With the extra muscle, the top-of-the-line Arteon R’s 0-100 km/h acceleration should drop to around 4 seconds. The current topmodel is powered by a 272 hp and 350 Nm 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. +++ 

+++ ASTON MARTIN has announced it will not participate in the first season of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s hypercar era in 2020/21 with its Valkyrie-based challenger. The British marque confirmed that it is putting its return to the top flight of sportscar racing on hold while it assesses its options in the wake of the news that IMSA’s next-generation LMDh cars will be eligible to race in the WEC in 2021/22. A statement said: “Aston Martin will now pause as it considers whether to continue in any future prototype class. Aston Martin remains open to working with both organisations to find a suitable pathway for any future participation”. It leaves Toyota as the only major manufacturer preparing to be on the grid for the start of the 2020/21 campaign in September, joined by smaller outfits Glickenhaus and ByKolles. Peugeot meanwhile is set to return to the WEC in time for the 2022/23 season, although it’s unclear if it will build a car to the hypercar rules or opt instead to switch to LMDh instead. “Aston Martin’s ambition to compete for the overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans remains undiminished, but it is only right that we reassess our position in light of a significant change in the landscape that was not anticipated when we committed last year”, said Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer. “We entered Aston Martin Valkyrie in WEC and at Le Mans with the understanding that we would be competing with similar machinery and like-minded manufacturers. The situation has changed and it makes sense for us to pause and reconsider our options”. Aston Martin’s announcement follows months of official silence on the state of its hypercar project, with the marque having not provided any substantive updates on the programme since last September’s Silverstone WEC season-opener. The news also comes not long after the confirmation that the Racing Point Formula 1 team will be rebranded as Aston Martin in 2021 following a major investment into the company by Canadian entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll. Aston Martin’s statement said its focus would be “defined by its activities at the highest level of both single-seater competition and endurance GT racing”. It also made it clear that Aston’s commitment to the WEC’s GTE Pro class and GT3 racing with the Vantage is unaffected by its decision to put its hypercar plans on hold. Aston Martin Racing president David King said: “Competing against our closest rivals on the road in GT racing makes perfect sense. The Vantage is winning in some of the most fiercely contested sportscar classes in global motorsport, and long may this continue”. +++ 

+++ AUDI ‘s baby crossover Q2 is getting a mid-cycle refresh later this year. With Audi having such a massive model lineup, it means there’s always a next generation or a facelift around the corner. The folks from Ingolstadt are currently gearing up to introduce the overhauled A3 Sportback at the Geneva Motor Show in early March, but at the same time, they’re also temporarily based in northern Europe to test the revised Q2. Now that Audi has the Citycarver in its lineup, the Q2 is no longer the entry point into the crossover family, although some will disagree with this statement since the newcomer is basically a jacked-up A1 that still lacks Quattro all-wheel drive. Having been on sale for more than 3 years, it comes as no surprise the Q2 is out and about testing an upcoming facelift, which should be revealed in the following months. It will feature a new headlight arrangement. Needless to say, the front clusters are in line with those of other recent products carrying the 4 Rings and come with swanky dynamic turn signals that are becoming more common. Some of the prototypes were of a lesser specification and had more basic LED lights along with old-school bulbs for the turn signals at the back. I’m not expecting the Q2 facelift to integrate the display into the centre console like on the bigger and more expensive models seeing as how the A4 / S4 / RS4 still have the tablet following the mid-cycle refresh. With the next-gen A3 taking centre stage next month in Geneva, chances are the Q2 will premiere this fall at the Paris Motor Show early October. Expect some form of electrification for the pint-sized crossover to follow the Q2 L e-Tron launched in China last year as a pure EV. +++ 

+++ The automotive industry is continuing to change, and evidence of that reared its head last night as General Motors announced it would be discontinuing the Holden brand in AUSTRALIA and New Zealand. The news came as a bit of a shock, though it wasn’t all that surprising, signs of the brand’s possible demise have been around for months. While Holden’s end is a win for Ford and other automakers in those countries, Ford Australia still tweeted its respects for the “iconic brand”. “All of us here at Ford Australia are saddened to hear the news that Holden will cease operations”, the automaker posted in part 1 of a 2-part tweet. “To our friends at Holden, thank you for keeping us on our toes and inspiring us to keep aiming higher. We will miss you”, Ford concluded. GM’s discontinuation of Holden is the conclusion of a long list of decisions that started in late 2017 when Holden production in Australia ceased. Then late last year, Holden announced it was cancelling the Commodore and Astra models. The cost to keep Holden competitive in the 2 countries was just too much. GM has been abandoning right-hand-drive markets over the last few years: it’s left the United Kingdom, India, Japan, and South Africa. The closure of the Holden brand doesn’t mean GM is leaving the continent entirely. At least not yet. The automaker will continue to provide services for its vehicles for at least 10 years. The company will establish an aftersales network to assist remaining owners, which will also help the company to service and honour existing warranties. Approximately 600 jobs will be lost due to the brand’s discontinuation. That’ll leave about 200 employees to run Holden’s maintenance services. The closure of the Holden brand is another reminder that the automotive industry is always in flux. For GM, the brand’s discontinuation is all about its investment priorities. Automakers around the world, GM included, are tightening the purse strings as they compete with Silicon Valley and other tech companies that are pushing into electric vehicles and semi-autonomous self-driving and fully autonomous vehicles. The next few years will be costly, and for GM, that means finding savings wherever possible. +++ 

+++ Customers who want to buy an electric car face the dilemma of either paying more to have a big battery pack and a long range or being forced to charge up their EVs more often. Paris-based start-up EP Tender believes it has eliminated the need to choose between cost and range. It’s plan? BATTERY TRAILERS . “We are solving the issue of making EVs which are affordable convenient on long distances”, CEO Jean-Baptiste Segard said. EP Tender is named after small tender boats that service big ships. The company wants to locate compounds of rentable trailers on major holiday routes. EV drivers will pull up, wait for the trailer to autonomously hook to the back of the car, and then benefit from an extra 60 kWh of battery power to take them to their destination or the next trailer compound. The maximum rental cost would be €34 for 1 trailer, the company predicts. EP Tender’s initial idea was to put a combustion engine in the trailer to create hybrids out of electric cars and the company currently has 20 such trailers in use with customers, all of whom drive Renault Zoes or electric Kangoo vans. But the falling cost of batteries persuaded the company to make the switch.  “The combustion engine version is still used by our clients, but we are not developing it as we have a lot more traction on the battery tender. Batteries have progressed a lot”, Hugo Basset, the team’s data science and simulation engineer, told. Basset said the company is in talks with Renault and PSA Group in France to factory fit the tow bar and connectors to their EVs. Right now, many EVs are not homologated for towing, but EP Tender says that will change from 2022. Until then it can retrofit a towbar and connectors for €600. Renault was an early pioneer in the quest to solve the problem of long-distance charging when it collaborated with Israel’s Better Place in 2008 to introduce swappable batteries into its EVs, starting with the Fluence. The gamble failed however and Better Place was dissolved in 2013. A trailer carries far fewer risks, Basset argued “We’re not spending millions on battery swap stations, for one thing”, he said. The company is working through potential downsides. The trailers for example are being redesigned so the aerodynamic penalty is minimal. The trailers also incorporate a second set of smaller wheels that drop down to make reversing easier. There is another advantage. When not in use, the trailers can be linked to the grid to return energy at peak times. The target cost for a trailer is €10,000 and the company’s business plan predicts it turning its first profit in 2024 with 60.000 customers renting 4.150 trailers. In the still fluid world of EVs, range-extending trailers could be part of the armory that helps smooth the path from combustion engine to a more expensive electric vehicle. It might look ungainly, but the upsides could more than compensate. +++ 

+++ Automakers are reopening factories in CHINA that were idled by anti-virus controls as they try to reverse a sales slump in their biggest market. Local officials have orders from the ruling Communist Party to get businesses functioning again while still enforcing anti-disease curbs that shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy. “Local governments are putting their full weight behind helping businesses open”, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Ker Gibbs, said in a statement. Toyota said 2 factories reopened with 1 of the usual 2 daily shifts working. Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Chinese brand Geely resumed some operations last week. General Motors said a “staggered start” across its factories began Saturday. Nissan plans to restart this week. Automakers say they are checking employees for the virus’s telltale fever, barring visitors and telling employees to stay home if they have been in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, or other areas that have imposed travel curbs. The outbreak prompted the government to extend the Lunar New Year holiday to keep factories and offices closed and workers at home. The government has told employees who can work from home to stay there, but China’s vast manufacturing industries that supply the world with smartphones, toys and other goods need workers in factories. Obstacles include a requirement for workers who return from other areas (as millions are doing after the holiday) to make sure they are virus-free by staying at home for its 14-day incubation period. “Most factories have a severe shortage of workers, even after they are allowed to open”, said Gibbs. “This is going to have a severe impact on global supply chains that is only beginning to show up”. Automakers are under pressure to reverse a 2 year old sales decline in a Chinese market they hope will propel global revenue. Sales of SUVs, minivans and sedans hit an annual peak of 24.7 million in 2017 and have declined since then. Last year’s sales tumbled 9.6 % to 21.4 million. The virus “adds to the challenges that the sector is already facing”, said Fitch Ratings in a report. Renault said one of its factories in the southern city of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, reopened Monday but the French automaker gave no indication of the status of another factory in Wuhan. Sales of vehicles are likely to be depressed through April, Fitch said. It said production might fall by the high single digits in the first half of 2020 compared with a year earlier. GM, Toyota and others said the pace of production depends on how fast they can restart the flow of components from thousands of Chinese suppliers that also shut down. That disruption could have global repercussions: UBS estimates China supplies 8 % of auto parts exports worldwide. +++ 

+++ DACIA will preview its first full-electric vehicle at the Geneva auto show on March 3. The “urban city car” will be launched in 2021-22, Renault told. Dacia and Renault executives did not provide further details ahead of the show, but motoring press reports said it will be a version of the City K-ZE electric car that is produced and sold in China by Renault and its Chinese joint-venture partners. The City K-ZE is sold in China for around €8.000. Dacia does not currently have any electrified vehicles in its low-cost lineup, which is based on older technology from Renault Group. The brand is included in Renault’s emissions pool, but its vehicles have relatively high CO2 emissions because the brand does not have hybrid or other expensive electrified drivetrains. A report from analyst Evercore ISI last year found that Dacia had the most ground to make up among mass-market brands to lower its 2018 emissions to 2020 European Union target levels. Dacia executives have said that any electric car in its lineup must be affordable and priced significantly less than the Renault Zoe. Former Renault CEO Thierry Bollore said at the Frankfurt auto show last autumn that Renault was working on an electric vehicle that would sell for €10,000 in Europe. The K-ZE is a battery-powered version of the Renault Kwid microcar that is sold in India and Brazil. The Kwid is built on the Renault-Nissan alliance’s CMF-A platform. The Kwid was joined this year in India by the Triber, a larger version that seats 7 passengers. It is not clear whether the Kwid or Triber would meet European safety or other homologation standards, but Renault has not ruled out bringing the K-ZE to Europe. A report from analyst firm Inovev says that the minicar segment in Europe could switch to electric vehicles because minicars are mostly used in urban areas s a short driving range will not be a disadvantage. Volkswagen is expected to add an ID.1 minicar to its coming family of dedicated EVs, and PSA Group’s next minicars from Peugeot and Citroen will most likely have full-electric versions, Inovev said. Renault said that it will debut a battery-powered version of its Twingo at the Geneva show, along with the Dacia EV, a Renault electric concept car called the Morphoz illustrating its vision of future mobility and a plug-in hybrid version of its Megane Estate. +++ 

+++ FORD dropped a wallop of a surprise at this year’s Chicago Auto Show with an updated GT. It’s not often an automaker announces a limited-production supercar only to make significant changes before production ends. But that’s what Ford did with the GT Liquid Carbon, a carbon-fibre-exposed GT with tweaked aerodynamics, a reworked suspension, and more horsepower. Going forward, any changes to the Ford GT will “up the game”. Dave Pericak, director enterprise Product Line Management, told: “We always up the game” when asked about what’s in store for the GT’s future, but he didn’t elaborate. A report from October of last year suggested a hotter version of the GT was coming, though there were no specifics. That rumour could have been for the GT’s Chicago show update. The updated Ford GT now makes 13 hp more than before, now producing 660 hp. That’s far below the 760 hp made by the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. How can the Ford GT be the ultimate Ford if it’s less potent than the new GT500? A hotter version, before production ends in 2022, could leapfrog the GT500 in horsepower, giving Ford’s supercar a proper and well-deserved send-off. The GT received some other significant updates in Chicago than just a power bump. Along with the additional power comes a new Akrapovič titanium exhaust system, increased suspension dampening, larger intercoolers, and changes to the buttress air ducts that increase engine airflow by 50 %. A new engine calibration gives the supercar a broader torque curve. The Ford GT launched in 2016 with 1.350 GTs set for production. While all have been spoken for, those who haven’t yet received their GT could opt for the GT Liquid Carbon model with its exposed carbon fibre. They could also benefit from whatever else Ford has planned before GT production ends. +++ 

+++ HONDA said it will reorganize its vehicle development operations on April 1 in a bid to boost efficiency. The automaker will take over vehicle development functions from its Honda R&D unit and absorb another unit engaged in development of machine tools and others. The move is part of Honda’s efforts to streamline operations related to each process, from planning to sales. In April last year, the company consolidated motorcycle development operations. The company also said it has established Honda Mobility Solutions, a new company in charge of planning and operation of cutting-edge businesses such as those related to autonomous driving and robotics. +++ 

+++ China’s leading automaker FAW Group said that it sold 12.630 cars under its iconic brand HONGQI in January, posting a 142.7 % year-on-year growth. The group has been working under capacity in the past month due to the novel corona virus epidemic that affected production while maintaining a steady sales growth rate of 18.2 % by selling 353.490 cars. To maintain strong sales, Hongqi has extended warranties and stepped up online promotion efforts by making and posting short marketing videos. Hongqi fulfilled its 2019 sales target of 100.000 cars and has doubled the target number for 2020. The brand plans to roll out 21 new models, mostly electric or fuel-electric hybrids, in the next 5 years. +++ 

+++ General Motors is gearing up to introduce the HUMMER EV on May 20th, but the company has now confirmed additional electric pickups are in the pipeline. According to GM president Mark Reuss, “The Hummer EV is our first entry, but it won’t be alone for long. We will offer not just one pickup, but multiple models with multiple variants, for multiple customers; a vehicle and package for everyone”. Reuss didn’t elaborate, but previous reports have suggested an electric GMC Sierra could go into production in 2023. That remains unconfirmed, but the move could make sense as GMC dealers will be handling sales of the Hummer EV and a traditional GMC truck would presumably be more affordable. As for the different variants, Reuss has previously said “We’ll have 1-motor, 2-motor and 3-motor versions” which offer different ranges and performance at different price points. The 3-motor variant is presumably the one that has 1.014 hp and 15.574 Nm of torque, and can accelerate from 0-96 km/h in 3 seconds. Regardless of what the company has planned for the future, Reuss said “Trucks serve an important purpose for millions of Americans” and noted “Our goal will be making electric trucks that are as tough as their drivers”. The executive went on to say the upcoming pickups will “surprise our skeptics and delight our customers”. Following the unveiling of the Hummer EV in May, the model will go into production at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in 2021. Reuss said it “change what people thought they knew about EVs, and everything they know about Hummers”. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER may be forced to close its factories in Britain due to a shortage of car parts from China. According to Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Ralf Speth, the British manufacturer may run out of car parts at its British factories due to the corona virus as early as the end of next week. “We are safe for this week and we are safe for next week and in the third week we have parts missing”, Speth said, adding “We have flown parts in suitcases from China to the UK”. Jaguar Land Rover operates 3 factories in the United Kingdom that produce almost 400.000 vehicles annually. “We are safe for the month of February and for a good part of March”, added the boss of Tata Motors Günter Butschek. “Are we fully covered at this point of time for the full month of March? Unfortunately not”. In a statement, Speth added that the car manufacturer has “completely stopped” its sales of vehicles in China. “The corona virus may impact us in the medium term, we are working with our suppliers to minimize any potential impact”, the British carmaker added. Jaguar Land Rover is just one of many auto manufacturers feeling the pinch of the corona virus. Last week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles revealed it would shut a plant in Serbia due to missing parts from China. Labor union officials in the United States have also expressed concerns that companies like General Motors may have to halt production due to parts shortages. Jaguar Land Rover says it may never recoup the sales lost because of the coronavirus outbreak that has stifled production and kept customers away from dealerships in one of the company’s biggest markets. “At the moment, we don’t see anything happening in terms of demand in China”, Speth said. “Now the question will be: ‘Will this kind of loss of demand be caught up, or will we just see a normal rise in demand?’ Nobody knows and nobody knows how long it will take”. JLR gets about 20 % of its sales from China. The automaker had seen a recovery in sales in the key market, helping it to return to profitability in recent quarters. +++ 

+++ KIA has a new generation of its Sorento coming soon and it will be the brand’s highlight at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show early next month. However, that doesn’t mean the South Korean manufacturer is neglecting its smaller and more affordable models, as a new batch of spy photos shows work on the refreshed Rio continues with cold winter tests in Sweden. The current generation of the Rio was presented in October 2016 at the Paris Motor Show, which means the supermini is now 3,5 years old. Giving the model a mid-cycle facelift makes a lot of sense given the steep competition in the segment at both sides of the big pond. However, it is unlikely that we will see significant design changes as we’re expecting the usual cosmetic changes brought by a facelift, such as lightly redesigned bumpers and a new look for the headlights and taillights. Underneath the skin, the supermini will get mild hybrid tech for its 1.0 T-GDI engine. +++ 

+++ LOTUS has started production of the all-electric Evija hypercar. The Pininfarina Battista rival will be built on a unique production line at the firm’s home in Hethel, Norfolk. The first cars to roll off the production line are prototypes which will be used to complete the final stage of testing before development is fully signed off. Production of customer models will begin in the summer. The new building sits directly beside the Lotus test circuit, and will see the production of 130 examples of the 2.000 hp EV. Speaking on completion of the new facility, Lotus Cars CEO Phil Popham said: “this is now the newest car production facility in the world and to witness it move from the drawing board to reality has been deeply satisfying. It’s testament to the commitment of all involved, and is the perfect sleek and high-tech production home for the Evija at our iconic Hethel headquarters”. The new facility comes at a time of great expansion at Lotus, made possible thanks to over £100 million of investment from parent company Geely. Currently, 1.400 employees are based at Hethel. The completion of the factory helps the Evija’s development carry on apace. The Evija (pronounced E-vi-ya) is also Lotus’s first all-electric model. Lotus is currently taking refundable deposits of £250.000 to secure a production slot, with first deliveries due to arrive this summer. The car’s full retail price is £1.7 million. Key aspects of the Evija’s electrical system, such as its stability control and torque vectoring systems, are tested right at the end of the car’s development. Gavan Kershaw, British GT racing driver and Lotus’s Director of Attributes, says this ensures the Evija’s chassis will develop plenty of mechanical grip and not simply rely on the electronics to keep the suspension in check. Kershaw said: “We’re currently evaluating the fundamentals of the chassis, to create the mechanical advantage before the other layers, such as the electronics, are added. It means we can really read the car. Later we can tune what we’ve gained as a mechanical advantage as we add layers. It’s the Lotus way – get the fundamentals right from the start and use baseline aerodynamics, suspension kinematics and geometry to feel the vehicle’s response”. +++ 

+++ MASERATI has begun testing its first all-electric powertrain. The first models to use the electric powertrain will be the new GranTurismo in 2021, followed by the GranCabrio in 2022. Unlike most electric motors, which are refined and silent, Maserati says its engineers are deliberately working to produce a noisy electric motor, to create a noise which can replace the sound of the company’s trademark 4.7-litre V8. Maserati’s all-electric powertrain will feature 3 electric motors, all-wheel-drive and a torque vectoring system, while promising short charge times, limited cabin intrusion and a long driving range. Official performance figures are still unknown but, to keep pace with the the Tesla Model S and the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, expect an output in excess of 600 hp. +++ 

+++ NISSAN shareholders vented their outrage at the Japanese automaker’s top management for crashing stock prices, zero dividends and quarterly losses after the scandal-ridden departure of former chairman Carlos Ghosn. They got up, one by one, at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting, demanding that Nissan quickly fix diving car sales, work harder to repair its battered brand and have executives give up their pay. Ghosn, a superstar executive who had led Nissan for 2 decades, was arrested in November 2018. He was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges in Tokyo when he skipped bail late last year and escaped to Lebanon. New chief executive Makoto Uchida apologized to shareholders for having “allowed the misconduct” of Ghosn and promised better governance, transparency and financial results, but pleaded for more time. He said a turnaround plan will be announced in May, which one shareholder immediately criticized as too late. “We are in a disastrous situation”, Uchida said of the Ghosn scandal. “It was shocking and I denounce it”. Uchida is among the 4 directors whose election was up for vote at the meeting held at a conference center in Yokohama, near Tokyo, where Nissan is headquartered. Uchida was tapped in December to replace Hiroto Saikawa, who was Ghosn’s successor. Saikawa tendered his resignation last year after allegations surfaced about his own dubious personal income. Saikawa’s resignation becomes final at the end of the shareholders’ meeting. One shareholder asked if Saikawa was giving up his retirement pay. Another asked why Jean-Dominique Senard, chairman of French alliance partner Renault and Nissan board member, was seen leaving a previous shareholders’ meeting in a Toyota. Saikawa did not reply. Senard apologized and said it was a mistake that had upset him as well. Global sales of Nissan vehicles have plunged. Nissan recorded red ink for the quarter through December, the first such quarterly loss in 11 years. Nissan’s prized technology, such as electric vehicles and automated driving, will be featured in planned models, Uchida said. Also up for approval at the meeting was the appointment of Nissan chief operating officer Ashwanti Gupta, who joined Renault in India in 2006, and has since worked for the alliance, which also includes smaller Mitsubishi. The appointment of Nissan’s production expert Hideyuki Sakamoto and Pierre Fleuriot, a risk management specialist and independent director at Renault, was also up for vote. Renault owns 44 % of Nissan and so the proposals were certain to pass. The appointments were welcomed by clapping at the end of the 2,5 hour meeting and the executives took a bow on stage. But hanging over the entire meeting was Nissan’s plummeting fortunes, its reputation tarnished over not only the Ghosn scandal but the shaky way it was handled at the company. Shareholders said they saw confusion in management. One argued no one would want to buy a car from a company that looked as disorganized as Nissan. At one point, several shareholders began shouting at each other. Another shareholder proposed putting a bounty on Ghosn’s head so he could be brought back from Lebanon to stand trial. Japan and Lebanon do not have an extradition treaty. Ghosn, who has insisted on his innocence, has said he was targeted with trumped up charges because of what he called a conspiracy at Nissan to block a fuller merger with Renault. Hazim Bahari, equity analyst at CFRA Research, said Nissan’s latest quarterly results were worse than expected, with further sales declines expected because of outdated models and its shrinking market share. “Profitability outlook is negative from worsening operating leverage, heavy discounting trends from heightened competition, and rising R&D cost as a percentage of revenue”, said Bahari. Uchida repeatedly tried to assure shareholders the company was standing up to wrongdoing, leveraging the Renault alliance and working on products to highlight “intelligent mobility”. “I am confident we can achieve all this”, he said. +++ 

+++ POLESTAR is getting ready to reveal its third vehicle. Named Precept, it’s a new concept car that will be revealed on 25 February, before heading to next month’s Geneva Motor Show. For now, Polestar is keeping its cards very close to its chest. However, the headlights and taillights will be very similar in shape to what you’ll find on the 2. As such, the Precept may well shape up as a highly production-feasible concept vehicle, rather than a distant-future show car. In a newsletter, the brand says that the Precept “shows the direction that Polestar is heading in”. As such, it’ll likely be fully electric rather than a plug-in hybrid like the brand-launching Polestar 1. It’s a car that “shapes the future of Polestar’s look and feel,” so like the Polestar 2, it will be used to continue the brand’s evolution away from Volvo design cues towards establishing a true identity and design language separate from Polestar’s parent company. Polestar has yet to introduce an electric SUV. That’s something many rivals, including parent brand Volvo with the XC40 Recharge P8, have already done. +++ 

+++ A PORSCHE Taycan electric car caught fire in a Florida garage on Sunday, damaging the building’s structure and exposing parts of the vehicle’s frame, according to reports. Calvin Kim, a Porsche spokesman, told the automaker was made aware of the incident. One of its Taycan electric cars was parked overnight at a residential address, he said. “We are investigating and we remain ready to assist if called upon”, Kim said. “We are relieved to hear that no one was harmed in this incident and that it’s too early to speculate on the cause until the investigation has concluded”. The Porsche Taycan is the brand’s first battery-electric production vehicle, with an 800 volt system instead of the usual 400 volts for electric cars. +++

+++ RENAULT ’s shares fell after Moody’s cut its rating on the French carmaker’s debt to “junk” status, citing weaker profitability as the company restructures and grapples with falling demand. The shares were down 1.9 %, among the worst performers on Paris’ benchmark index. They earlier fell 2.3 % to their lowest since mid 2012, when auto manufacturers were still reeling from the global financial crisis and recessions in Europe. Like some rivals, and its Japanese alliance partner Nissan, Renault is under pressure as demand dwindles in markets like China. It is also bedding down a new management team after a scandal surrounding former boss Carlos Ghosn. Moody’s cut its credit rating on Renault to Ba1 after the company last week posted its first loss in a decade, in a move that will likely add to financing costs. Fellow rating agency Standard & Poor’s said it was placing Renault on CreditWatch Negative, meaning it could also revise its investment grade BBB- rating downwards. Renault last week set an operating margin goal for this year at between 3 % and 4 %, down from 4.8 % in 2019, and forecast further declines in the global auto market. Moody’s said it did not expect Renault to return to “healthy” operating margin levels in the medium term, and highlighted other challenges the carmaker has in common with peers, including high investments to produce less polluting vehicles. “The cost to comply with CO2 regulation in the European Union and the ongoing electrification of Renault’s fleet will have further dilutive effects on profitability”, Moody’s said. Brokerage Jefferies cut its share price target for Renault to €28 euros from €38. “Renault is set to remain income poor for a while”. it wrote, keeping an “underperform” rating on the stock. Renault’s interim chief executive Clotilde Delbos is embarking on a sweeping review of the carmaker which could lead to factory closures and job cuts. Luca de Meo, a former Volkswagen executive, is due to take on the CEO job in July, in the latest management rejig after Ghosn was arrested in late 2018 in Tokyo on financial misconduct charges, which he denies. Ghosn has since fled to Lebanon. Delbos stressed last week that Renault had no issues with cash availability, in response to a January report by Citi analysts who said cash flow was strained and the carmaker might need some form of equity injection. Delbos said Renault’s automotive operational free cash flow would be positive in 2020 after stripping out restructuring costs. Renault will unveil a new concept car called the Morphoz, which the firm says previews a planned family of electric vehicles, at this year’s Geneva motor show. The Morphoz is described as a “modular vehicle” that “adapts to the personal needs, desires and uses of each user”. Renault claims the machine will illustrate the firm’s vision of “tomorrow’s mobility”. +++ 

+++ The SEAT El-Born has been pictured undergoing testing, revealing more of the brand’s first electric vehicle ahead of its official launch. The model, named after a fashionable Barcelona neighbourhood, has been updated from prior spy shots with less disguise and a redesigned rear bumper, which more closely matches the dimensions and details seen on the original Geneva motor show concept. It also appears to gain separate rear light clusters, in place of the full-width strip seen on earlier prototypes and aerodynamic alloy wheels. Seat said last year that the Geneva concept was 95 % production ready with only a few minor changes coming ahead of production, and that appears to be the case. The El-Born will be the second EV built on the VW Group’s MEB electric architecture to go on sale when it is launched this year, after the Volkswagen ID.3. The engineering and powertrain of the 2 compact models are expected to be closely aligned, with a range of power outputs offered. The El-Born concept featured a 62 kWh battery mounted in the skateboard chassis, with an electric motor making 204 hp. Seat claims it will achieve 0-100 kph in 7.5 seconds. It will be compatible with 100 kW DC rapid charging, allowing the battery to be filled from empty to 80 % in 47 minutes. The total range is quoted at 400 kilometres for this concept. It will also feature a thermal management system to maximise range in hot weather. The El-Born features a similar hatchback profile to the ID.3 and styling that showcases what Seat design chief Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos calls “the ultimate translation of our emotional design language into the new world of electrical vehicles”. He added that “we have to make customers fall in love with the idea” of an EV. The design features several streamlined areas to boost aerodynamic efficiency, including the Seat logo positioned flush on the front bodywork of the car, above small intakes that provide cooling air to the battery pack. The A-pillars of the car have been pushed forward to maximise internal space, with the sharp side lines creating an air curtain. The rear of the concept featured an LED light strip across the full width of the tailgate, with a double-layer spoiler contributing to the car’s aerodynamic efficiency. The interior features a digital instrument display and a 10.0 inch infotainment touchscreen in a dashboard design that, Seat says, is driver-oriented. Seat also says the El-Born will feature “state-of-the-art” driver assistance systems capable of Level 2 autonomy, meaning it can control steering, acceleration and deceleration. A large central bag compartment is located where the transmission tunnel would sit in a regular combustion-engined car. The El-Born will be built alongside the ID.3 at Volkswagen’s plant in Zwickau, Germany. The first bespoke electric car from Skoda, Seat’s VW Group sibling, will be based on the Vision E concept and also use the MEB platform and similar underpinnings. +++ 

+++ Prior to the launch of the all-new Kia SORENTO , codenamed MQ4, at the Geneva Motor Show next month, the South Korean automaker has detailed the SUV’s new platform and one of its engines. Underpinning the Sorento is Kia’s new midsize SUV platform that incorporates a compact engine bay structure, shorter overhangs and a longer wheelbase. Compared to the outgoing Sorento, the new model is 10 mm longer and features a 35 mm longer wheelbase that now measures 2.815 mm. This results in “more room than in many other midsize SUVs”. In North America, Europe, and Korea, this new platform supports the car manufacturer’s latest ‘Smartstream’ turbo-hybrid powertrain. It combines a 1.6-liter T-GDI turbocharged engine, a 60 hp electric motor and a 1.49 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack for a system output of 230 hp and 350 Nm. A series of other petrol engines will be announced in the near future as will an additional plug-in hybrid variant. Customers of the new Kia Sorento in Korea, the U.S. and Europe will also have some diesel engines available. In Korea and Europe, Kia’s 2.2-liter 4-cylinder ‘Smartstream’ diesel engine with 202 hp and 440 Nm will be paired with Kia’s new 8-speed wet double-clutch transmission. Korean and U.S. customers will also be able to opt for Kia’s 2.5-liter T-GDi ‘Smartstream’ engine delivering 281 hp and 421 Nm of torque, coupled with the same 8-speed transmission. Elsewhere, the new Sorento includes Kia’s first Multi-collision Brake system that will apply the brakes when the airbags have been deployed after an initial collision in order to reduce the risk of a secondary impact. Also used by the new Sorento will be a remote smartphone Surround View Monitor that works alongside the in-vehicle Surround View Monitor to make parking that little bit easier. +++ 

+++ SOUTH KOREA ’s cars exports nose-dived 28.1 % on-year in January, extending their slump for a sixth consecutive month due to a strike by Kia and fewer working days. Korean carmakers shipped 150.974 units of cars overseas last month, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. In terms of value, auto exports also fell 22.2 % over the period to $2.85 billion. The country’s outbound shipments of cars have been decreasing on-year since August after expanding 11.6 % in July; the sharpest growth of 2019. The decrease was mainly blamed on partial strikes by unionized workers at Kia over wage disputes. Exports of Kia vehicles dipped 32.1 % in January from a year earlier to 56.000 units. Outbound shipments also decreased as the Lunar New Year’s holiday, which follows the lunar calendar, fell during the January 24-27 period this year, the ministry added. The holiday was in February last year. Hyundai saw its exports drop 8.8 % on-year in January due to the lackluster performance of small models, although its overseas sales of SUVs soared 8.3 %. Exports by SsangYong sank 4.8 % on the weak demand from emerging regions, including Africa, while those of GM Korea halved due to the reduced demand from Europe. By region, shipments to North America dipped 12.7 % in January due to the prolonged economic slump, with exports to the European Union also decreasing 34.5 %. Exports to the Middle East, on the other hand, increased 17.6 %. Korea’s combined auto production fell 29 % on-year to reach 251.573 units in January. Domestic sales decreased 14.7 % to 116.153 units. Sales of foreign cars here dropped 7 % over that period due mainly to Japanese carmakers’ imports plummeting a whopping 64.8 % amid the ongoing boycott of Japanese products here. Koreans began boycotting Japanese products and tours to Japan in the middle of last year in protest of Tokyo’s export curbs against Korea. In July, Japan imposed restrictions on exports to Seoul of 3 key industrial materials critical for Korea’s chip and display industries. Japan later removed Seoul from its list of trusted trading partners in retaliation for Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 ordering Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. +++ 

+++ The reveal of the new Volkswagen TIGUAN R nears closer ahead of its 2020 reveal. Volkswagen has steadily been expanding its performance SUV line-up, with this new Tiguan R following the recently-launched T-Roc R into the showrooms. The hot Tiguan R’s styling cues fall in line with the other halo VWs like the Golf R and the T-Roc R. At the front, a deep front bumper features a full-width airdam, while sitting behind the alloy wheels are enlarged brake discs gripped by blue calipers. A black rear valance features quad tailpipes and above it sits a large rear spoiler on the top of the hatch lid. This new model also appears to feature the full R spec front bumper rather than the R-Line item used on the earlier prototype, and sports a different set of wheels too. Inside, expect a comparable level of equipment to a well-specced Tiguan R-Line, with a pair of leather-trimmed sports seats, a sports steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, a digital instrument cluster, an eight-inch infotainment screen and a premium audio system all coming as standard. Potential optional extras will include a tow-bar and three-zone climate control, while like the T-Roc R, the Tiguan R is unlikely to be offered with a Performance Pack, as you’d find on the outgoing Golf R. Volkswagen’s new Tiguan R will be powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine as its Cupra-badged sibling, the Ateca. It’s primed to produce 300 hp and 400 Nm, sent through all 4 wheels via a 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. This should enable the Tiguan R to accelerate from 0-100 kph in around 5 seconds. Adaptive suspension, uprated performance brakes and a choice of alloy wheels will also likely feature, along with a sophisticated traction control system. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said it plans to resume output at 3 of its 4 main auto plants in China next week. The resumption of production had initially been slated for February 3 following the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, but was delayed because of the new corona virus outbreak in China. Operations at Toyota’s plant in Changchun, Jilin province, and another plant in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, will restart on Monday, while a factory in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin will resume operations on Tuesday, Toyota said. It has yet to be fixed when Toyota’s Chengdu plant in Sichuan province will restart output, the Japanese automaker said. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN GROUP is again postponing its decision on whether to open a factory to build VWs and Skodas in Turkey, a source told. “We still have time and can certainly do that decision by mid-year”, said the source, who is familiar with VW’s discussions. VW had picked Manisa, 40 km northeast of Izmir on Turkey’s western coast, for the €1.3 billion plant. It was scheduled to build the next-generation Passat and its sister model, the Skoda Superb, starting in 2022, with a maximum annual production capacity of 300.000 vehicles. VW delayed a final decision on the plant in the wake of international criticism of Turkey’s military operations in Syria. The company said in December it would likely decide on the investment in February. Czech media reports said Skoda is asking VW Group bosses to allow the brand to build its cars in other group plants. Skoda is suffering a capacity crunch because of strong demand for its new SUVs. The introduction of the 4th generation Octavia, produced at the Czech plant in Mlada Boleslav, is likely make the situation worse, the reports said. One possibility is to transfer some of Skoda’s Czech production to VW’s plant in Brastislava, Slovakia, which already produces the Citigo, or to Audi’s factory in Gyor, Hungary, reports said. +++

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