Newsflash: Cadillac krijgt elektrische auto met 200 kWh batterij

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+++ The long-awaited AUDI e-Tron GT will make its public debut at this year’s LA motor show, according to Audi design boss Marc Lichte. Although Lichte did not explicitly name the upcoming car, his promise at the 2019 LA show that “in one more year here we will present our coupé” was almost certainly a reference to the production model of the GT, which was initially previewed in concept form in 2018. The 5-door sports saloon, sister car to the Porsche Taycan, will be the third of Audi’s stand-alone electric models, following the e-Tron and the recently revealed e-Tron Sportback. A compact electric model is also due. By 2025, Audi will have 12 electric models. The sleek, A7-sized model will be the flagship of Audi’s electric line-up, falling under the custody of the brand’s Audi Sport performance arm. It will be capable of charging at 350 kW. This will dramatically reduce charging times, meaning that an 80 % fast charge will be achievable in under 20 minutes. Currently, a similar level charge takes more than double that time. For at-home charging, as well as using a traditional cable, Audi will offer a wireless charging option via an induction plate. The GT concept’s 2 synchronous motors (1 at the front and 1 at the rear) produce a collective 600 hp power output, enabling it to accelerate from 0-100 kph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 240 kph. Torque is transferred to the wheels via the Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring. “The acceleration isn’t important. It’s being able to reproduce that acceleration 5 to 7 times”, said Audi Sport product marketing boss Stefan Holischka, alluding to some electric performance cars that struggle to replicate acceleration times more than once due to battery limitations. The GT’s 96 kWh battery takes up the entire underfloor area between the front and rear axles, giving the car a centre of gravity comparable to the R8. There is also all-wheel steering, all of which creates a “sports car-like agility and precision”, said Audi. “The 96 kWh battery is the perfect combination for performance, charging time and range”, added Holischka. The e-Tron GT is set to use the same J1 platform as the recently unveiled Porsche Taycan, which employs a flat battery, suitable for a low-sitting performance car. When asked about other similarities between the 2 cars, Holischka said: “The Taycan will be a different character. We’ve tried to differentiate as much as possible. The Porsche and Audi designers were in close contact all the time”. The body is made from a mixture of aluminum, high-strength steel and carbonfibre. Lichte added that there are a number of design elements for aerodynamics. For example, it has a dynamic spoiler that can be moved depending on whether a driver wants to focus on performance or economy. There are two front air curtains for the Audi Sport model, as well as specially designed wheels for better aero. Talking about the broader design, Lichte said: “In the past, we did expressive design on the bonnet to accentuate the engine. Now we highlight the sill where the battery sits”. Inside, the GT has a 3D dashboard, which has a touchscreen integrated, so if it’s not being used, it blends into the dash. The steering wheel is flat at the top and bottom; while a flat-bottom wheel is in existing RS models, the feature at the top and bottom will only appear in future electric RS cars. The model also uses vegan materials as an alternative to leather. There is synthetic leather on seats, fabrics from recycled fibres on seat cushions and the floor mats are made from used fishing nets. There are 2 storage compartments, a 450-litre boot (equivalent to an Audi A4) and another 100 litres under the bonnet. The model will be built at Böllinger Höfe, Germany, where the R8 is currently made. Pricing is expected to come close to €130.000 in The Netherlands. +++

 

+++ Beleaguered British car maker BRISTOL Cars has officially been wound up, with the court-ordered liquidation process now under way. Documents sent to Companies House reveal the High Court of Justice decided in December that the firm, which has been in existence since 1945, should be wound up, with assets sold off to pay creditors in December. The documents state that nobody attended the session to represent or defend Bristol. By 17 February, a liquidator (Frost Group Limited) had been appointed. It’s unclear how many staff were still working at Bristol, which has lain dormant since its original plan to restart production in 2018. A High Court appeal by now-former owner Kamkorp Limited was unsuccessful as of 28 February, the Bristol Owners’ Club reports. This means the overarching Bristol Automotive Group, which includes both the sales and servicing operations, will be wound up. However, the Owners’ Club claims it is “actively engaged” with the liquidators in order to “preserve what we can of the heritage and associated spares for the marque”. “It’s our hope that the assets can be kept together and, as a priority, a safe home can be found for the archive”, it said in a statement. Bristol is based in Windlesham, Surrey and has a recently refurbished sales centre in Kensington, London. It revealed its first all-new model in decades, the £250,000 Bullet speedster, in 2016. The news of liquidation comes nine years to the day since Bristol entered administration for the first time in the modern era. 22 jobs were lost at the firm’s original factory in Filton, near Bristol, but a new company was formed to sell its assets and then purchased by Kamkorp (which also owns research and technology outfit Frazer-Nash). +++

 

+++ If you’re still mourning the loss of the CADILLAC CT6, it’s time to move on as the company has announced plans to build a new flagship sedan. Announced during General Motors’ EV Day, the Cadillac Celestiq will be an electric luxury car that is hand-built in Michigan. The model will be made in extremely limited numbers and it’s designed to be a halo vehicle. There’s no word on specifics at this point, but it appears the Celestiq was the mystery model that was teased earlier this week. Apparently shown in concept guise, the model featured a luxurious cabin with a squared off steering wheel that retracted into the dashboard when not in use. The car also had lounge-like seats, a floating center console and a freestanding, curved display that spanned the entire width of the dashboard. Of course, flagship sedans are all about the rear seats and this is where the Celestiq should shine. As you can see, this image suggests the flagship will have 2 individual rear seats that are separated by a center console that features an integrated display. Speaking of displays, there are 2 massive screens mounted on the back of the front seats. Elsewhere, there’s premium leather upholstery, wood trim and metallic accents. While GM is staying tight-lipped about the car, it should ride on the company’s third-generation EV platform and feature Ultium batteries. Given the Celestiq will be a statement for both Cadillac and GM, we can expect it to feature the best technology and equipment. While nothing is official, the company has already confirmed they will offer battery packs with a capacity of up to 200 kWh. These will allow for ranges of 650 km or more. We also wouldn’t be surprised if the Celestiq features 800 volt battery technology and a 350 kW fast-charging capability. Both features will be found on GM’s upcoming electric pickups, but most of their future EVs will have 400 volt battery technology and a lower fast-charging capability of up to 200 kW. Of course, we should find out more about the Celestiq in the months and years ahead. +++

 

+++ Despite the widely publicised increased interest in electric vehicles, new figures have revealed an increase in the average CO2 EMISSIONS of new cars sold in Europe. The figure is now at its highest level since 2014. Figures from market analysis firm Jato Dynamics shows average emissions have been rising since 2016, when the average new car sold in Europe emitted 117.8 grams of CO2 per kilometre. In 2019, however, that rose to 121.8 g/km. It’s the third consecutive annual rise, and it’s 1.3 g/km higher than in 2018. This increase comes despite the introduction of new emissions standards, which were designed to keep emissions down, and the rise in popularity of electric vehicles (EVs), which more than doubled in popularity on British shores last year. However, they still made up a tiny proportion of sales, accounting for 1.6 percent of the new car market in 2019. Only 7 of the 23 biggest new car markets in Europe saw average CO2 emissions fall in 2019, with the Netherlands, France and Sweden all seeing the average drop. According to Jato Dynamics, the increase is partly down to the decrease in popularity of diesel cars, which tend to produce less CO2 than their petrol counterparts, and the increase in popularity of SUVs, which tend to be more polluting than the lighter and more aerodynamic hatchbacks and estates of equivalent size. “As expected, the combination of fewer diesel registrations and more SUVs continued to have an impact on emissions”, said Felipe Munoz, global analyst at Jato Dynamics. “We don’t anticipate any change to this trend in the mid-term; indeed these results further highlight the industry’s need to adopt EVs at a rapid pace to reach emissions targets”. “The average emissions of electrified vehicles was 63.2 g/km, almost half that produced by diesel and petrol vehicles. The problem arose because EVs only accounted for 6 % of total registrations, which is not yet a high enough figure to create a positive change. The SUV segment of the market urgently needs more electrified models. To date, the focus for EVs has been on traditional hatchbacks and sedans, leaving very few choices in the SUV market. If these vehicles want to keep gaining traction and avoid future sanctions, they need to be electrified”. +++

+++ The 2019 sales performance of PSA’s upscale DS brand shows it deserves to have a future within the merged PSA – Fiat Chrysler group, the brand’s CEO said. PSA and Fiat Chrysler struck a $50 billion deal in December to create the world’s No.4 carmaker, to cope better with market turmoil and the cost of making less-polluting vehicles. The deal is expected to be finalised in early 2021. The combined business will have 14 brands with Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Fiat among those competing in the mass market segments and notably Alfa Romeo and DS in the premium sectors. “The future of a brand hinges on its credibility and success. If one looks at what DS did in 2019, obviously the future of DS is not an issue”, CEO Beatrice Foucher, who took up the role at the start of the year, told. DS focuses on SUVs and a premium sedan and aims to compete with Audi and Volvo. While PSA boss Carlos Tavares has said that there were no immediate plans to change anything in the large portfolio of brands within the combined group, analysts wonder if DS, which is newer than Alfa Romeo to premium, will be able to co-exist with the Italian brand. After 5 consecutive years of decline, DS eked out a 0.8 % gain in sales in 2018, accelerating to 17.5 % growth in 2019. However, sales volumes of 62.500 last year were far below their peak in 2012. Last year, Alfa Romeo had sales volumes of around 85.000 vehicles. With its 7 and 3 Crossbacks produced in France and its 9 flagship sedan made in China, DS plays the card of “French-style luxury” to compete with German models that dominate the sector. It relies on Europe for 90 % of its sales and will have 450 dealerships by end-2020. +++

+++ Construction of Japanese ELECTRIC MOTOR manufacturer Nidec Corp’s new plant began this week in Jinpu New Area of Dalian, Liaoning province. The company is investing 100 billion yen ($931 million). The factory is expected to begin operating next year and could produce as many as 3.6 million motors a year for new-energy vehicles. In 2019, the company said it would invest 50 billion yen in the new plant, but in February, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, it announced it would double that. According to Igarashi Kazutsugu, general manager of Nidec Limited, the company is confident about the future development of new-energy vehicles and has faith in the local government. Tan Zuojun, Party chief of the Dalian Committee of the Communist Party of China, said the city will try its best to provide services related to the construction of the new plant, push to achieve design capacity as soon as possible and set a new benchmark for China-Japan cooperation. Chen Xiangqun, vice-governor of Liaoning province, said the new plant is an innovative move by Dalian and Jinpu New Area to deepen cooperation with Japan and further expand opening-up. It is also a strategic move for the Japanese power industry to seize the opportunity and actively integrate with Dalian. The plant will play a significant role in promoting the economic development of the city and the province, as well as construction of the New Japanese Industrial Park in Jinpu New Area, Chen said. Nidec Corp’s new plant is the first leading project to be introduced in the park. It has brought along 34 supporting enterprises. The New Japanese Industrial Park has a total planned area of 28 square kilometers and will focus on the development of electronic information, machinery processing, auto parts, high-end equipment manufacturing, new materials and other industries. +++

+++ FIAT defied fears over Italy’s coronavirus outbreak to showcase an electric version of its 500 city car, as it strives to catch up with rivals in low-emissions driving while heading into a merger with PSA. Initially planned for the canceled Geneva Motor Show, the presentation was held at an event in Milan; a rarity as large gatherings have been discouraged by authorities in most of northern Italy, which has seen Europe’s worst virus outbreak. With schools, universities and museums closed, and cafes forced to shut early for almost 2 weeks, the mood in Italy’s financial capital is somber, as it sits just 60 kilometers from the epicenter of the outbreak, where 11 towns are sealed from the outside world. “We’re here to show that FCA stands close to Milan and to Italy”, Olivier Francois, head of the Fiat brand and Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) chief marketing officer, told a restricted audience of journalists, before a press conference at Milan’s design museum, where chairs were placed a meter apart to comply with local authority health requirements. “This car does not look at 2020, but to the next decade”, he added. After the cancellation of the Geneva show, most companies have turned to virtual events to present their latest models. Rome will close all schools and universities across the country from Thursday until March 15 and is considering further emergency measures, including the possible closure of cinemas, theaters and most public events. The death toll from the virus rose to 107 and total cases in the country topped 3,000. The original 500, launched in the late 1950s and known affectionately as the Cinquecento, quickly become a symbol of Italian urban design. The new electric 500, which is part of a plan announced in 2018 to invest €5 billion in Italy up to 2021, is the group’s first major step into electric-powered driving. FCA said the selling price for the Cabrio launch version would be €37,900 in Italy, excluding government environmental incentives, though it added cheaper versions would follow. Competing electric cars include the Mini Hatch Electric and Peugeot’s e-208. “The 500 is not mass market, it’s not the cheapest car in its segment and so it will continue to be”, Francois said. An early version of the electric 500 has been produced in the United States to comply with local authority rules on zero-emission cars. But in 2014 former CEO Sergio Marchionne asked customers not to buy that car as FCA was losing money on it, and said he hoped to sell the smallest number possible. With a range of 320 kilometers, the new electric 500 will be a totally different car, 6 centimeters longer, 6 centimeters wider and 2 centimeters taller that the petrol-engine version. It will be produced at FCA’s Mirafiori plant in Turin. Sales are expected to start in July, initially in Europe, with FCA hoping to sell 80.000 a year at full capacity. FCA plans to have 12 electrified vehicles in its fleet by 2021. That includes both hybrid and full electric vehicles, new cars and electrified versions of existing ones, and light commercial vehicles. Fiat earlier this year started selling hybrid versions of the 500 and of its other small car, the Panda. Its Jeep sisterbrand is also set to start producing hybrid versions of its Renegade and Compass models in the second quarter of this year, while its luxury Maserati brand plans to introduce hybrid and fully electric models this year or next. FCA might build more models in the future based on the platform of its new electric 500, a senior executive from the Italian American automaker said. Francois said the group did not build “orphan” platforms, or ones “destined to become orphan”. “So, yes, the idea is that more models will arrive in the future, based on this platform”, he told. FCA is merger talks with PSA to create the world’s 4th biggest carmaker and the deal is expected to be closed early next year. According to forecasters LMC Automotiv, the 2 companies have a potential combined manufacturing excess capacity of more than 5 million vehicles. Analysts expect some FCA models, especially in the small and medium segment, could eventually shift onto PSA platforms, or underlying vehicle structures. But FCA and PSA have yet to say precisely how they plan to tackle that potential excess, and which car platforms they will focus on, to meet a target to cut costs by €3.7 billion a year without closing factories. Fiat will continue to offer petrol-engined versions of its 500 for as long as there is demand, despite the unveiling of the all-new electric-only version. The new 500 is built on a bespoke platform. When it goes on sale in 2021, it will be sold alongside versions of the current 500, including a new mild-hybrid variant, built on the old platform. The growing challenge of meeting tightening emissions regulations and selling city cars for an affordable cost is causing some firms to abandon the category with non-electric cars, but François said: “We will continue to offer the petrol-engined 500 as long as there is a real request from buyers”. François said the firm believes the electric 500 will attract premium buyers, with the existing car serving as a value option. He said the split strategy could work because of the “bipolar nature” of 500 sales, which are dominated by the base models and the higher variants. “We want electric cars to be as high-end as possible, because the business case for EVs works only because they’re associated with a higher price, since you need to embed the cost of the battery”, he said. “So we will have a super electric 500, but that’s not intended to replace all the 500s that we currently sell, just those in the upper part. “We know how successful the 500 nameplate is, and we know in future a substantial proportion of the city car market will go electric because it will have to, but the timing will vary country by country and even city by city. We need to be ready. Today there is already a demand, and we know it will explode due to regulations. But we don’t know what level it will explode to. We’ve now got one great nameplate with 2 approaches and we’ll keep offering the classic 500. The electric 500 is more revolution than evolution, so we’ll offer a revolution and an evolution. As long as there is a request for the latter, we’ll continue to offer it”. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES said its U.S. sales chief, Reid Bigland, is leaving the company to pursue other interests. Bigland, who has been with Fiat Chrysler for 22 years (part of which period he was brandmanager of Alfa Romeo), sued the company last year, claiming it withheld 90 % of his 2018 compensation because he cooperated with a regulatory probe into its sales practices. Over a 5 year period from 2012 to 2016, Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. unit used a series of fraudulent moves to falsely report new vehicle sales and tout a “streak” of uninterrupted monthly year-over-year sales growth, when it had actually ended in September 2013. In July 2016, the company revised more than 5 years of monthly U.S. vehicle sales figures to reflect a new reporting method, amid an investigation by federal authorities including the U.S. Justice Department. Bigland will leave the company on April 3, Fiat Chrysler said. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS has launched Ultium, a battery with higher capacity and fast charging capabilities, to power its upcoming line of electric vehicles. The Detroit-based company said most of its new electric vehicles will have Ultium’s 400 volt battery packs, while its truck platform will have 800-volt batteries. Popular brands owned by GM such as Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick will be launching electric vehicles this year. While we already knew the electric Hummer would be unveiled on May 20th, the company has confirmed its next electric vehicle will debut in April. The model will be an electric crossover from Cadillac. The automaker is keeping details under wraps, but they confirmed it will be called the Lyriq. Little is known about the vehicle at this point, but a suggests the model will have a fully enclosed grille with an illuminated crest logo.  The company also released a new teaser image of the Lyriq and it appears far more rounded than in the original renderings. Details are hard to make out, but we can see a rakish windscreen that flows into a sloping roof.  There’s also an angular rear window and a prominent spoiler. GM will also introduce a third electric vehicle this year. It’s a “new version” of the Chevrolet Bolt (Opel Ampera-e) and it will be launched in late 2020. The company was tight-lipped on specifics, but previous reports have suggested the electric hatchback will receive a minor facelift. Details are limited, but we can expect a host of exterior and interior changes. However, it remains unclear if the powertrain will be upgraded as the Bolt saw its range increase 34 km to 417 km overall last year. Less than a year later, Chevrolet will introduce the second generation Bolt. The model will be launched during the summer of 2021 and become the first non-Cadillac vehicle to offer the Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system. The model was accidentally revealed in 2017 and recently surfaced in China as the Buick Velite 7. It will be an electric crossover that rides on an “advanced version of the current award-winning Bolt architecture”. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology indicated the model will measure 4.264 mm long and have a wheelbase that spans 2.675 mm. If those figures are correct, the new Bolt should be 99 mm longer than the current version and have a 74 mm longer wheelbase. Besides teasing an assortment of upcoming models, GM revealed their third-generation global EV platform which will be powered by proprietary Ultium batteries. Speaking of the latter, GM says their Ultium batteries are “unique in the industry because the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This allows engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design”. This modular design allows GM to create battery packs with capacities ranging from 50 to 200 kWh. The latter is downright massive as many EVs (including the Audi e-Tron, Mercedes EQ C and Jaguar I-Pace) have capacities of less than 100 kWh. GM didn’t reveal detailed specifications, but confirmed the batteries could offer a range of 650 km or more. The batteries will power new electric motors that have been developed in-house. They will support frontwheel drive, rearwheel drive, allwheel drive and performance allwheel drive applications. Speaking of the latter, GM reiterated high-performance models will be able to rocket from 0-100 km/h in as little as 3 seconds. Most of the upcoming EVs will have 400 volt battery packs and a fast-charging capability of up to 200 kW.  However, electric trucks will have 800 volt battery packs and a 350 kW fast-charging capability. GM didn’t say much about the platform, but confirmed it is “flexible enough to build a wide range of trucks, SUVs, crossovers, cars and commercial vehicles with outstanding design, performance, packaging, range and affordability”. GM also noted future electric vehicles will be more affordable as their joint venture with LG Chem will drive battery cell costs below $100/kWh. The company added EVs are less complex as they’re planning “19 different battery and drive unit configurations initially, compared with 550 internal combustion powertrain combinations available today”. Thanks to these changes, GM says their EV program will be profitable. The company also pointed to forecasts calling for “EV volumes to more than double from 2025 to 2030 to about 3 million units on average”. The company thinks those estimates are conservative and EVs will be even more popular. Chief executive Mary Barra said the automaker’s North American vehicle production should be secure from parts shortages caused by the coronavirus outbreak “quite far into this month”. Parts manufacturers in China and other countries have had production disrupted as governments imposed quarantines and travel restrictions to contain the Covid-19 respiratory virus outbreak that began in China’s Hubei province. GM’s profitable North American truck and SUV assembly plants so far have kept rolling, while Chinese manufacturers have struggled to get production back to normal. Meanwhile, vehicle sales in China, GM’s biggest market, plummeted 80 % in February, as consumers fearful of infection or restricted by government quarantine measures stayed away from showrooms. “The market will come back” in China, Barra said, in comments to reporters at GM’s design center in Warren, Michigan. +++

 

+++ Within minutes of this year’s GENEVA MOTOR SHOW being cancelled on health and safety grounds, the car companies had swung into action to reorganise the press conferences and interviews that are so vital for background on new releases and ongoing stories. I’ve no doubt that being forced to go digital with their reveals and discussions will mean most makers reassess their participation in forthcoming motor shows, and the multi-million-euro spend that accompanies it. But from my point of view, the most important parts of any motor show are being able to see a car in the metal (we all know how different that can be) and having the chance to talk to the brilliant people who design, engineer, make and sell them. The future of the motor show is a discussion for another day, but what this past week has told us (yet again) is just how good the car industry is at reacting when it has its back well and truly up against the wall. Whether they’re responding to (often misguided) legislation enforced on them by politicians, or the sudden cancellation of an event that has been many months in the planning, the people who work in the car business never cease to amaze me. Sure, they have plenty of resources at their disposal, but it’s the passion for the product and making sure that you and I (car fans and buyers) still enjoy them that really stands out. The latest BMW X5 M that I’ve driven this week is a car that has more passion than petrol inside it. Likewise the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI; a bold move by the engineers who’ve stood their ground and said that this car isn’t right to be electrified just yet. Then there’s the new Fiat 500 (like the all-electric Mini that I’ve also driven) a car that was surely ideal for electrification. It also seems to answer most of the questions existing owners and potential buyers have asked about the car. Very clever indeed. +++

+++ For all of Elon MUSK ’s domination of the burgeoning electric-vehicle business, Tesla is struggling to get traction in Japan, a market he put on a pedestal early in the automaker’s early days. The day after taking the electric-car maker public in June 2010, the first Roadster sports cars shipped to Asia weren’t destined for Shanghai: they went to Yokohama. 4 years later, the chief executive officer handed over the first Model S sedans during a splashy ceremony on the 52nd floor of a Tokyo tower. On both occasions, Musk set the bar high, as he is used to. He called Japan a natural market for the Roadster, later predicting it would be Tesla’s No. 2 source of sales over time. He said during the Model S event that Tesla looked forward to the country being one of its most important markets in the world. But the success that Musk predicted proved elusive. Tesla does not disclose how many vehicles it delivers in the country and is the only company that asks the Japan Automobile Importers Association to withhold publication of its sales figures. An industry official with knowledge of the numbers offered some rough ones: Of the imported electric vehicles bought in Japan last year, roughly 90 % were Teslas. But this was a towering share of a teeny segment: the total purchased was just 1.378 units. To boost those numbers, Musk will have to attract more potential buyers like Takuma Kaneko, a 39-year-old office worker who ventured to Kawasaki in February to visit a Tesla showroom. “I like the design. They’re like nothing else available in Japan”, said Kaneko, who currently owns a Lexus NX. While he is considering a Model 3, he’s worried about Tesla’s ability to adequately service vehicles. Tesla’s shortcomings in the world’s third-largest auto market have mattered very little to investors. Musk managed just fine last year without much of Japan’s help, boosting global deliveries by 50 %. But he may need more of a lift to live up to his forecast for Tesla to hand over “comfortably” more than 500.000 cars in 2020. Registrations in 2 key European markets have plunged to start the year and industry wide sales have plummeted in China due to the coronavirus keeping customers away from showrooms. Revenue from the United States fell 15 % last year; Tesla’s first annual drop in its home market since 2014. The company plans to boost sales in the United States and elsewhere by expanding the lineup with the Model Y crossover, which will start being handed over to customers next month. It’s also begun production in China, which will allow the company to lower prices and make its vehicles more accessible to a bigger set of buyers. Tesla is far from alone in experiencing dark times in the land of the rising sun. Detroit has for decades decried that Japan operates a closed market, though that’s a bit of a misnomer. The country lets autos in tax-free, whereas the U.S. charges tariffs of 2.5 % for cars and 25 % for trucks. More significant factors behind Tesla’s underwhelming sales include shockingly limited brand recognition and a lack of white-glove treatment that Japanese car buyers are accustomed to. “Tesla doesn’t have an established brand identity in Japan. Its cars are seen more as toys than anything else”, said Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior analyst in Tokyo. Media attention usually helps, but some local headlines involving Tesla have been unflattering. Musk publicly blamed his longtime battery partner Panasonic last year for constraining Model 3 production. On February 26, the company announced it will pull out of a money-losing solar plant the 2 have been operating in Buffalo. Tesla’s direct-to-consumer business model also doesn’t always translate well in a market where car buyers are accustomed to high-level hospitality. Dealers often provide perks such as complimentary maintenance and free car washes. Some even make regular home visits to check in with loyal clients. The addition of a lowercost Model 3 (Japanese deliveries of which began last September) to Tesla’s local lineup may help spur sales in the country as it has in other markets. Tesla also is establishing a beachhead of stores in Japan’s largest cities and building out its charging network. The company now displays its vehicles at 4 showrooms: 2 in the Tokyo-Yokohama area and 1 each in Osaka and Nagoya. +++

+++ 3 months into the job, NISSAN chief executive officer Makoto Uchida still isn’t sure how much deeper cost cuts need to be, with the coronavirus outbreak adding another layer of uncertainty to the carmaker’s already challenging business outlook. The CEO has promised to unveil a turnaround plan in May, on top of a plan to cut more than 12.500 jobs amid decade-low profits and management turmoil caused by the 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, the company’s former chairman. “All possibilities are on the table”, Uchida, 53, said in an interview at the automaker’s headquarters in Yokohama. He said that fixed costs, such as salaries and plants, which aren’t affected by the amount of cars Nissan produces, could be on the table. “If our performance doesn’t improve, then of course we are ready to take a closer look at fixed costs”. Uchida, the third CEO since 2017, faces huge challenges, including reversing the profit slide, executing thousands of job cuts and regaining the trust of partner Renault. He needs to roll out new models to jump-start sales in a tough environment of waning demand for automobiles, while investing in self-driving cars, electrification and mobility services; technologies where Uchida sees a need for collaboration. “That would be the area where we need to have some partnership in the future”, he said, adding that Nissan would step up the introduction of new models, including an electric vehicle for Japan this year. Another cloud hanging over Nissan is the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, where the carmaker’s Chinese operations are based. That has forced the firm to scale back automobile assembly at factories outside of China, including several within Japan. While the final scale of the outbreak is yet to be seen, it will impact Nissan’s business plans going forward, Uchida said. “Of course there will also be an impact from the coronavirus, so we need to look at our business while considering all of these factors”, he said. Uchida said rebuilding Nissan’s business in North America was a top priority, following a push by prior management to boost volumes there by offering incentives that weighed on profitability. “The overall balance of the number of vehicles is something we admit we haven’t gotten correctly”, Uchida said. “However, we will be releasing new vehicles in North America”. Asked about the prospects for unveiling a new model at the New York Auto Show next month, Uchida declined to say whether the company had something in the works. “You should look forward to it”, said Uchida, who isn’t planning to attend. “We will show our strengths in North America”. Uchida said he has faced some unexpected challenges in his new role, but that he was settling into the job and confident of turning Nissan around. He said he comes in at around 8 a.m. everyday and spends 8 to 10 hours in the office. He’s focusing on getting everyone on the same page while receiving honest feedback. “It is important for me to know transparently what is really going on from all the executives down to our employees”, the CEO said. The son of an airline employee, Uchida lived abroad in various places, including Egypt, while growing up. Fluent in English, he studied theology at Kyoto’s Doshisha University, an unusual background for a car executive. A key task for Uchida will be repairing Nissan’s ties with Renault, which deteriorated to new lows under former CEO Hiroto Saikawa. The new chief has collaborated with the French firm on joint procurement. Uchida joined Nissan in 2003 from metals and machinery company Nissho Iwai. Nissan has been mired in turmoil since the November 2018 arrest of Ghosn on allegations of financial misconduct, which he has denied. His downfall exposed governance shortfalls at Nissan and brought long-standing tensions between the automaker and Renault to the fore. Uchida reiterated Nissan’s commitment to the global automaking alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi. “Each company is facing an extremely severe business environment”, he said, while reiterating that the partnership was essential for the growth of each carmaker. “Today, everybody is struggling and definitely our partners are struggling”, Uchida said. “I strongly believe we can deliver and this is what I have to do and this is what I’m committed to doing”. +++

+++ SKODA will include a plug-in hybrid model in its Octavia RS performance range for the first time. The Octavia RS iV will be the second plug-in hybrid in the new Octavia range when it goes on sale later this year. Its drivetrain mates a 1.4-liter gasoline engine with more powerful 115 hp electric motor to give a combined 245 hp. The Octavia RS iV joins high-performance 2.0-liter gasoline and diesel models in the RS range. The model will have the same 60 km battery-only range as the standard Octavia iV and share a 13 kWh battery. Both cars will have CO2 emissions of about 30 grams per km on the WLTP test cycle. The new, 4th generation Octavia was unveiled to the press in November last year and was due to make its public debut at the Geneva auto show. The RS range accounts for around a fifth of Octavia sales in Skoda’s key markets of Germany and United Kingdom. Skoda signaled it was ready to use parent Volkswagen Group’s hybrid drivetrain technology in its performance models when it launched the Vision RS plug-in hybrid concept in 2018. Skoda recently expanded the RS badge to the Kodiaq. Skoda is the first VW Group brand to use the plug-in hybrid drivetrain on its flagship performance model. So far, the VW brand has used the GTE badge for its Golf plug-in hybrid while keeping the GTI and R badges for purely gasoline drivetrains. The Octavia RS IV will be available in liftback and wagon forms. It has a 0-100 kph acceleration time of 7.3 seconds in Sport mode. The car is available with a DSG twin-clutch gearbox only. No prices have been announced. +++

 

+++ TESLA has started to offer owners of older Model S and Model X vehicles infotainment updates to bring them in line with the firm’s more current models. While Tesla may be best known for its over-the-air software updates, these upgrades are more comprehensive and involve the installation of Tesla’s new MCU2 infotainment system that adds a plethora of new features and is faster than the first-generation system. The upgrade is available for owners of Model S and Model X variants built in March 2018 or earlier and is priced at a cool $2,500 excluding taxes and installation costs. The first upgraded hardware suites will initially be offered to customers who have Autopilot 2.5 hardware and the Full Self-Driving Capability Package before becoming available to Autopilot 2.0 with Full Self-Driving Capability owners in late March. Starting late April, all other older Model S and Model X owners will be able to purchase the new MCU2 system. For $2,500, one would expect a number of new features and that’s exactly what’s provided. For starters, the touchscreen is more responsive and smoother and offers a faster browser with improved video playback and 3D rendering support. In addition, the new infotainment system includes Tesla’s gaming software that adds things like Beach Buggy Racing 2, Cuphead and Stardew Valley. Owners will also have access to the Tesla Theater that offers YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Twitch while also benefiting from the DashCam and Sentry Mode that uses the vehicle’s exterior cameras. Unfortunately, the new infotainment system removes AM, FM, and Sirius XM radio but access will be provided to internet radio and music streaming. +++

 

+++ TOYOTA said it is recalling 3.2 million vehicles worldwide to address a fuel pump issue that could result in engines stalling. The Japanese automaker first said in January it would recall 696,000 U.S. vehicles with a fuel pump that may stop operating and lead to stalling of the engine. Dealers will replace the fuel pumps with new ones. Toyota said the recall now covers 1.8 million U.S. Toyota and Lexus vehicles in total in the United States, including older vehicles from as far back as the 2013 model year, and more than 1 million vehicles than it announced in January. Toyota began a probe into the fuel pump issue in June. The automaker told the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January it was aware of 66 field reports and 2.571 warranty claims that relate to fuel pump failures in the vehicles initially recalled. Owners have complained of rough engine running, engine not starting and loss of power while driving at low speeds. Toyota said the reports occurred more commonly in areas of the southern U.S. with warmer climates. The vehicles include pickups, SUVs, minivans and sedans across the model lineups of Toyota and its Lexus luxury vehicle brand. The company says owners of vehicles not involved in the January recall will be notified in early May about when to make a service appointment. Dealers will replace the fuel pump with an improved one. Models now included in the recall are certain 2018 and 2019 Toyota Camry and Corolla vehicles, as well as the 2018 and 2019 Lexus LC 500, LC 500h, LS 500 and LS 500h. +++

+++ By the way of the virtual unveiling of the VOLKSWAGEN ID.4, the German manufacturer officially revealed more details about the ID.3. The company already received more than 37.000 reservations for the launch edition (limited to 30,000 units), which is scheduled for market launch after the summer. Once the ID.3 1ST is delivered, Volkswagen will start sales of regular versions (ID.3 Pure, ID.3 Pro and ID.3 Pro S). “The variants differ mainly with respect to power output and battery capacity, range and charging capacity. As the top-of-the-range model, the ID.3 Pro S features more exclusive equipment”. Interestingly, the Pro version will be equipped with 107 kW electric motor, instead of 110 kW like in the case of the Pure. The entry-level ID.3 Pure features a 45 kWh battery, enabling a range of up to 330 km. The rear-mounted electric motor generates 126 or 150 hp. This entry-level model has a price tag of less than €30,000 on the German market. It features a comprehensive list of standard equipment including: 18 inch steel wheels; LED headlights with automatic lighting control; LED taillights; 10 color ambient lighting; ID.Light; the Climatronic airconditioning system; intelligent Natural Voice control and the Keyless Start comfort start function. Driver assistance systems include Lane Assist lane keeping system, Front Assist, Dynamic Road Sign Display and Park Distance Control (PDC). The ID.3 Pro features a 58 kWh battery with 146 or 204 hp and a range of up to 420 km (WLTP). In only 30 minutes, the ID.3 Pro will harvest enough electrical energy to cover a distance of approximately 290 km, thanks to its 100 kW onboard charger. The ID.3 Pro, available in Germany at less than €35,000, is the all-round version for urban mobility and a medium range. It features a larger battery than the ID.3 Pure, increased range, shorter charging times with DC, and more output. The ID.3 Pro S has 204 hp, boasts a battery capacity of 77 kWh and has a potential range of up to 550 km (WLTP). The ID.3 Pro S sits at the top of the model range. Its sporty equipment includes 19 inch Andoya wheels and Play & Pause design pedals. Attractive optional equipment rounds off the range. As part of the Beats sound system, a 400 Watt amplifier powers 7 speakers and 1 subwoofer. The augmented reality head-up display projects vital information onto the windscreen. The driver sees the information as a three-dimensional, staggered image at an apparent distance of three to ten meters in front of the vehicle. Travel Assist controls the distance to the vehicle ahead by accelerating and braking, keeps the vehicle in its lane and shows the surroundings on the Infotainment system display. The system’s function will be enhanced further at a later date: when drivers set a turn signal on motorways, Travel Assist will initiate a change in lanes, providing the surrounding traffic permits this maneuver. Volkswagen designers have developed the Style packages for customers who want to make their ID.3 look even more distinctive. For the interior, customers can choose between the Style and Style Plus variants. Both feature seats with Sumba Flow fabric and ArtVelours microfleece, supplemented by a heated leather steering wheel and 30-color ambient lighting. Interior Style Plus additionally features electrically powered seat adjustment, seat heating and a pneumatically powered lumbar support with massage function. The Style Silver or Style Penny Copper versions are available for the ID.3’s exterior. These packages include Silver or Copper trim strips on the roof and matching foil on the C-pillar. Large 20 inch Sanya wheels from Volkswagen R give the ID.3 an even sportier appearance. Customers can choose from 6 exterior colors, from Moonshine Grey to Makena Turquoise. The clearly structured range makes ID.3 configuration on the Volkswagen website easier than ever before: customers can configure their dream car in only a few clicks. Volkswagen will also launch its We Charge offering together with the ID.3, giving access to around 150.000 public charging stations throughout Europe with a single card. Volkswagen customers can use the Ionity quick-charging network at favorable rates, with prices starting at €0.30 per kilowatt hour depending on the tariff they choose. Owners of the ID.3 1ST special edition will benefit from a charging credit of up to 2,000 kilowatt hours or €600 on their We Charge card. Wolfgang Porsche and Hans-Michel Piëch, members of the family which controls Volkswagen, fully support the shift towards electric cars being driven by chief executive Herbert Diess, they told. Porsche and Piech both sit on the supervisory board of Volkswagen. “There is no alternative today to the path that he and the VW management have taken. If we do not tackle this transformation now, the group will have a huge problem in the future”, Porsche told. Volkswagen is shifting from being a manufacturer of traditional vehicles to making self-driving and connected cars, as well as electric vehicles, a step which requires cost cuts and efficiency gains, Diess said last month. Piëch said of Diess: “He has our support. He faces a daunting task. He needs strength, but also support from everyone in the group”. Porsche added that Germany should consider scrapping subsidies for diesel vehicles and he also questioned whether all the technology experts that Volkswagen is looking for necessarily have to work at its headquarters in Wolfsburg. +++

 

+++ The 3 nominations for 2020’s WORLD CAR OF THE YEAR award have been announced, along with a list of favourites in 4 other categories. The winner of each category will be announced at the New York International Auto Show on 8 April. The World Car of the Year Awards are judged by a team of 86 automotive journalists from around the world. The jurors form a decision based on their evaluation of each car and vote by way of secret ballot. Narrowed down from a list of 29 nominees, the three finalists for the overall World Car of the Year Award are the Kia Telluride, the Mazda CX-30 and the Mazda 3. As for the remaining 4 car categories, the finalists for the World Urban Car of the Year are the Kia e-Soul, the Mini Electric and the Volkswagen T-Cross. In the World Luxury Car of the Year category, the list of nominees has been cut back to the Porsche 911 and the all-electric Mercedes EQ C and Porsche Taycan. Meanwhile, the World Performance Car of the Year shortlist consists of only Porsches: the nominees are the 911, the 718 Spyder (or Cayman GT4) and the Taycan. A panel of 7 design experts will pick the winner of the 2020 World Car Design of the Year Award. The top 3 finalists are the Mazda 3, Peugeot 208 and Porsche Taycan. The winner of the fifth Award, World Car Person of the Year, will be announced at the New York International Auto Show on 8 April. +++

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