Newsflash: komst nieuwe Ford Focus RS nog lang niet zeker


+++ BUGATTI might have an ace up its sleeve for the upcoming Geneva Motor Show that starts on March 3 for the media and 2 days later for the public: another version of the Chiron, reportedly dubbed the Chiron R. It will feature a large fixed wing at the back for improved aerodynamics and possibly a revised suspension for more agile handling at high speeds. Could the wing affect the hypercar’s top speed? Probably, which is why the Chiron R might not enjoy the full-blown variant of the 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16 engine that makes 1.600 hp in the Chiron Super Sport 300+ edition, 100 hp more than the ‘regular’ model. It could slot between the standard Chiron and the 300+ special variant, which was born to celebrate the 490.484 km/h top speed achieved by a Bugatti prototype last year. I’m not entirely convinced that the brand will present a slightly tweaked variant of the Chiron at the Swiss event next month, given that the brightened teaser image points to different headlights. +++


+++ A new Toyota GR COROLLA hot hatchback will arrive in 2023 and will be fitted with the same engine found in the new GR Yaris in an effort to build the company’s reputation for fun-driving cars. The engine destined for use in the GR Corolla is Toyota’s turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol unit, codenamed G16E-GTS. It’s the world’s most powerful 3-cylinder production engine, offering an output of 272 hp in the Japanese-delivered versions of the GR Yaris. However, it remains unclear whether the GR Corolla will boast the same performance. Even so, a mildly de-tuned version of the GR Yaris’s engine could easily give the GR Corolla an output of around 250 hp and, like the baby hot hatchback, it’ll send drive through a 6-speed manual transmission. Also, the Corolla’s TNGA underpinnings, which includes multi-link suspension, would give Gazoo’s engineers a solid base for a hot hatchback. Like the new GR Yaris, we expect the new Toyota GR Corolla will focus on all-round ability rather than outright performance, becoming a rival for the Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i30 N rather than the track-hardened Renault Mégane RS Trophy and Honda Civic Type R. Toyota is in a good position to expand its performance line-up, taking advantage of the fact that most other manufacturers are rationalising theirs. The Japanese firm’s time-honoured devotion to hybrid powertrains has granted immunity from fines for not meeting EU targets on fleet-average emissions figures. In addition, Toyota has further hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric models planned for launch between now and 2025, which awards the brand additional leeway; especially given the relatively small volumes that will be involved with GR products. As such, Toyota will also introduce a hopped-up version of the C-HR within the same 3-year timescale. Toyota’s European president and CEO Johan van Zyl admitted that the GR Yaris has indeed been facilitated by the strong level of hybrid mix elsewhere in the range. “Is GR Yaris really a volume contributor? No”, he said. “It’s not going to be. But does it help with the positioning of your cars: more fun, excitement? Yes, it helps. And if you add it to the mix and calculate the impact to our CO2 averages in g/km, we can accommodate that”. +++ 

+++ A supplier became one of the earliest known companies to obtain a ‘force majeure’ certificate in China that may help it avoid penalties for breaching contractual obligations because of the CORONA VIRUS outbreak. The manufacturer, eastern China-based Huida Manufacturing (Huzhou), supplies steering-system components to a PSA Group plant in Africa, a Chinese trade body said. The organization, China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, said it issued the certificate on February 2. More companies have since received the document, which is recognized by enterprises, governments, trade associations and customs officials in more than 200 places around the world, CCPIT said. The certificate can excuse companies from not performing or partially performing contractual duties because of extraordinary circumstances beyond their control. The coronavirus contagion has shuttered plants across China; a disruption that could get much worse if rolling quarantines and suspended rail and air links prevent the return of the millions of workers to factories. Huida Manufacturing produces components for engines as well as transmission and steering systems. The company may incur a direct loss of 2.4 million yuan ($344,000) from failing to meet contractual obligations with PSA and faces a potential compensation claim of 30 million yuan because of a two-week production halt at the automaker, CCPIT said. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER will not sacrifice the profitability of next generation electric cars, chief executive Ola Källenius said, as the carmaker struggles to meet more stringent European Union anti-pollution rules. Pressure is mounting on carmakers to flood the market with low emission vehicles to avert heavy pollution fines as customers gravitate towards buying larger and heavier sports utility vehicles. “We need to act in an economically rational way. It is very important to achieve adequate prices on these cars and not to destroy the pricing levels”, Källenius said about the new electric cars Mercedes is getting ready to launch this year. The European Union penalties are being imposed on carmakers who fail to lower levels of carbon dioxide pollution from 2020 and 2021 onwards. Källenius said Daimler would have a hard time meeting the new emissions limits: “In the medium term I am confident. 2020 and 2021 will be a challenge”. Daimler reported a 64 % fall in 2019 net profit; its largest drop in a decade, despite record high Mercedes-Benz sales as Källenius signed off on more than €5 billion in legal and restructuring charges. Mercedes retained its title as the world’s top-selling premium automaker but net profit fell to €2.7 billion from €7.6 billion reflecting €4.2 billion in charges related to diesel probes and legal proceedings. Mercedes scrapped its X-Class pick-up and restructured its mobility services unit last year, meaning further charges of €828 million and €405 million, respectively. Källenius said restructuring at the vans division would deliver results this year but cautioned Daimler’s passenger car operations face a tough couple of years. “We are going to restore the financial health of this company and take the measures we have to take to get back on track”, Källenius said. “Yes, it will take some time on some of the issues. There are no quick fixes”. The 50-year-old Swede, formerly the research and development chief, took over as CEO last May. He said the carmaker was working on next-generation models that will be less complex to produce from 2025 onwards. Källenius is tasked with safeguarding Daimler’s success as the industry undergoes sweeping changes including tougher environmental rules and a costly shift to electric power. That challenge is seen in Daimler’s share performance: its stock is down 12 % year to date versus an 84 % rise in electric car producer Tesla. “There is very little scope for optimism at Daimler. It will take years until margins recover to levels worthy of a premium manufacturer”, said Michael Muders, fund manager at Union Investment. Mercedes-Benz is readying a major push into electric and hybrid cars, with the proportion of electrified vehicles in its fleet set to jump to 9 % from 2 % in 2020 with the production this year of an electric A-Class, an electric van and an electric SUV. Mercedes-Benz is also working on developing its own software vehicle operating system. The company said it aims to keep property, plants and equipment and R&D spending at roughly the same level as last year. It will look for savings of more than 1.4 billion euros by the end of 2022 through cuts in administrative and personnel costs and expects a significant rise in operating profit and free cash flow this year. “Our goal is to ensure solid net liquidity to protect the necessary investments, and at the same time to pay attractive dividends”, chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm said. Alongside taking hefty charges to end 2019, the company slashed its dividend by 72 %. +++ 

+++ Well over half a million new plug-in ELECTRIC cars were sold in Europe last year. With all the data for the European market now in, let’s see how well plug-in electric car sales progressed last year. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, some 558.586 new passenger plug-in cars were registered in the European Union plus EFTA (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland) during 12 months (Q1-Q4 2019). The growth rate of 45.0 % year-over-year and an average market share of 3.53 % is an outstanding foundation for 2020; especially taking into consideration that stricter emission requirements will push the sales up even higher this year. For comparison, the overall market improved by 1.2 % to 15.805.752, while hybrid sales grew even quicker than plug-ins: by 49.5 % to 937.440. The top 6 markets by volume in 2019 accounted for some 430.032 or almost 77 % of total sales: 1. Germany – 108.839 (up 60.9 %); 2. Norway – 79.640 (up 9.6 %); 3. United Kingdom – 72.834 (up 21.5 %); 4. Netherlands – 66.957 (up 146 %); 5. France – 61.356 (up 34.6 %); 6. Sweden: 40.406 (up 39.4 %). Germany has become the new leader in every category (BEV, PHEV and total), while the most recent sales rush in the Netherlands allowed it to improve to number 4 position by volume. +++


+++ The future of a new FORD FOCUS RS hinges on its engineers creating a high-output, full-hybrid powertrain that fits in with the new EU regime for average fleet CO2 emissions; a challenge that Ford bosses describe as “waiting for a solution”. A senior Ford executive told: “We are waiting for our engineering team to come up with a solution on the powertrain and that is not easy given the new fleet CO2 regulations”. 18 months ago, Ford was understood to be looking at a mild-hybrid 48 Volt powertrain. To minimise CO2 figures, the firm now believes the engine has to be a full hybrid. “The mild hybrid is not enough”, said my source. The challenge of the new fleet average figure (set industry-wide at 95 g/km, but varying according to a car company’s mix of vehicles and their kerb weights) now means the Focus RS won’t be seen in 2020 as rumoured. Instead, it is more likely to be launched in 2022/23. In order to achieve both high performance and low emissions, Ford has switched its attention to an RS version of the full-hybrid 2.5-litre petrol unit that will power range-topping models of the new Kuga this year. In that application, the Atkinson-cycle 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine and motor deliver 225 hp, with drive through a CVT auto and optional 4-wheeldrive. All-wheeldrive will be vital to harness the Focus RS’s required power, which is likely to approach 400 hp. The last Focus RS was all-wheeldrive and delivered 350 hp from a 2.3-litre turbo-4 but equivalent models from Audi and Mercedes have since hiked outputs to nearer 400 hp and beyond. To achieve a similar output would require a blend of combustion and electrical power (possibly 300 hp from a turbocharged 2.5-litre engine and 100 hp from the electric motor). Another engineering issue to be resolved is whether or not the project’s goal can be achieved at a sensible cost, with a performance-oriented gearbox and 4-wheeldrive system to deliver the much-loved Drift mode that was programmed into a clever GKN differential; key to the old RS’s unique driving characteristics. Integrating that into a hybrid system without escalating project costs would be a challenge. “The story of all the previous RSs is of the engineers working on the project in their spare time and weekends and coming up with the ideas and concept. On the new one, we’re still waiting for the right concept, especially on the powertrain”, said the source. But there is hope that a new Focus RS will at least face a much easier journey to production than the last model, which was squeezed into ex-CEO Alan Mulally’s strict ‘One Ford’ product development straitjacket. As a result, the Focus RS had to pass every global standard set for a new Ford product, after dozens of hurdles were put in front of its engineering development teams. In fact, the Focus RS project was close to being cancelled because of these problems, until Ford’s then chief engineer Raj Nair stepped in at a product review meeting to guarantee personally that the RS project could be successfully delivered on budget. Since Mulally retired in 2014, Ford has stripped away the global red tape, allowing Ford Europe to develop market-specific models, such as the just-launched Puma. There is hope that this process, introduced by Ford chairman and former Ford Europe boss Jim Farley, will make it easier to clear the obstacles to a new RS. Another hurdle will be finding the engineering resources while Ford’s product development teams are working flat out on a huge electrification drive. Around €9 billion is being pumped into a global offensive to deliver 40 new battery-electric, mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid models by 2022. +++ 

+++ GEELY Automobile and its sister company Volvo Cars are planning to merge and list in Hong Kong and possibly Stockholm, giving Volvo access to public markets after it dropped a move to list its stock 2 years ago. The move to merge the 2 units come as global automakers pursue alliances to respond better to the cost of switching to electric cars, tougher emission rules and autonomous driving. The Zhejiang Geely Holding Group bought Volvo Cars from Ford in 2010. Together with electric premium brand Polestar, Lynk & Co and Geely’s new energy brand Geometry, the new company will have 5 brands, with products ranging from affordable sedans to luxury sports cars, marking the emergence of China’s first global carmaker, analysts said. “Strategically, the deal feels like, after years of deal-making, a first move by chairman Li Shufu to consolidate his sprawling automotive empire, and to pay off some of the debt that had built up”, analysts at Bernstein said in a note. It remains unclear how much valuation would be added to Geely, a Hong Kong-listed, $16 billion company, by injecting Volvo assets. Geely’s sales started to surge from 2015 as its products began incorporating Volvo technology. Geely Automobile sold 1.36 million cars in 2019 and aims to sell 1.4 million cars this year. Volvo sold just over 700.000 cars last year. Volvo and its parent group had been discussing an IPO to value the carmaker at between $16 billion and $30 billion before they dropped the listing plan in 2018, sources said. Compared to Volvo’s IPO plan, this proposal could better align Geely and Volvo’s interests, Shi Ji, an analyst at Haitong International wrote in a note. Such a merger would help Volvo sell Geely cars worldwide as well as those made by sister brand Lynk & Co. Volvo Cars and Geely will create a joint working group to prepare a proposal for their respective boards, the companies said in a statement. The parent group, led by billionaire Li, has a number of other investments including a 9.7% stake in Daimler acquired in 2018, a 49.9 % stake in Malaysia’s Proton bought in 2017 and a majority stake in British sport car brand Lotus. In October, Volvo Cars said it would merge its engine development and manufacturing assets with those of Geely, creating a division to supply Lotus, LEVC, Lynk and Proton, and also potential rivals with next-generation combustion and hybrid engines. Among other car companies that are collaborating are Volkswagen and Ford, which said last year they would spend billions of dollars to jointly develop electric and self-driving vehicles, while FCA and PSA agreed a $50 billion merger to create the world’s 4th biggest automaker. +++ 

+++ The Hyundai Motor Group continued its campaign for a HYDROGEN based future as its top executive took the stage last week in the United States to introduce the automaker group’s developing technologies and strategies for eco-friendly mobility. Hyundai Motor executive vice chairman Euisun Chung took the stage at the U.S. National Governors Association (NGA) winter summit as a representative of Korean business circles. Chung was there to talk with participating U.S. state governors about prospects for hydrogen energy-based mobility and the formation of smart cities. Governors and officials from 30 U.S. states and 140 invited officials from Korea participated in the summit, held over the weekend at the Korean Embassy in Washington. The NGA holds 2 receptions each year for 50 U.S. states and 5 U.S. territories to discuss inter-state government collaboration and policy issues. It was the Korean Embassy’s first time hosting an NGA summit. Chung showcased how the Nexo can purify air with its 3-stage system and mentioned the possibility of expanding supplies of Hyundai’s fuel cells in the U.S. market. In September, the automaker signed an agreement with American manufacturing company Cummins to jointly develop and commercialize electric and fuel-cell powertrains. The executive vice chairman spoke with several state governors to discuss the prospect of autonomous driving, mobility services and urban air mobility. Last year, Hyundai signed a $4 billion agreement with Aptiv to co-develop autonomous driving software, continuing the conglomerate’s goal of commercializing self-driving cars by 2024 and flying cars by 2025. It also established a company based in Los Angeles to provide car-sharing services with the Ioniq Plug-in at the city’s 4 main train stations. Chung has been frequently appearing in public to advocate for the company’s hydrogen initiatives and new mobility technologies. Those 2 projects are at the center of Hyundai Motor Group’s plan to invest 100 trillion won ($83.9 billion) over the next 4 years. Chung also spoke at the Hydrogen Council’s annual meeting in Paris to argue for more cost cutting to expand the use of renewable energy sources. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI and its affiliate Kia ranked 6th in global electric vehicle sales last year. A total of 2.21 million EVs were sold globally in 2019; up about 10 % from 2.02 million in 2018. The tally only included sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. Hyundai and Kia sold a total of 126.436 cars in the global EV market: Hyundai 72.950 and Kia 53.477. Tesla topped the list with 367.820 cars sold. China’s BYD (229.506), BAIC (160.251) and SAIC (137.666) placed second to fourth, backed by brisk sales in the domestic market. BMW ranked fifth with 128.883 cars. Hyundai and Kia will resume some production of popular models such as the Palisade and GV80 SUV after a lull caused by a supply shortage from corona virus-stricken China. Some parts suppliers in China restarted their assembly lines and shipped vital cable harnesses, which connect various circuits in a car, to South Korea. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said production resumed at 27 out of around 40 factories in China that supply cable harnesses and the number increased to 37. But many workers in China are refusing to go back to their jobs for fear of contracting corona virus, while some provinces have imposed mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on outsiders, so it will take some time before production returns to normal. “Cable harnesses made in China over the last 3 or 4 days were delivered by planes and ship”, a Hyundai staffer said. “Including parts that were hastily manufactured in South Korea and Southeast Asia, we’re able to resume production first at plants in Ulsan and Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province”. Hyundi’s Ulsan plant makes the Palisade, Tucson, Santa Fe and GV80 SUVs, while Kia’s Hwaseong plant produces the K3, K5 and K7 sedans as well as the Sorento, Mohave and Niro SUVs. Ssangyong, which halted production last week after parts stockpiles ran out, will resume production on Thursday, while Renault Samsung will restart its plants next week. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) expects the global coronavirus outbreak to affect its 4th quarter financial performance and says its supply chains outside China are now likely to be affected. The British company, which operates factories in Slovakia and India alongside its sizeable Chinese operation, told it’s too early to accurately predict the financial impact of the virus but it’s expecting component supply shortages to affect global vehicle production volumes. The news comes as the firm gears up to put the new Land Rover Defender into full-scale production at its factory in Nitra, Slovakia, which employs 2.800 workers and has an annual capacity of 150.000 vehicles. The announcement follows a wave of factory shutdowns in Asia following the outbreak of the corona virus in China’s Wuhan province. The PSA Group’s Chinese partner Dongfeng was first to close its main production facility, while Hyundai was forced to shut its South Korean factories last week due to a shortage of critical wiring harnesses produced in China. JLR parent company Tata has extended a shutdown at the Chery Jaguar Land Rover factory in Changsu, which builds the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Jaguar E-Pace for the Chinese market. China-only long-wheelbase versions of Jaguar’s XE and XF saloons are also built at the plant. Nissan is the latest manufacturer to react to the coronavirus outbreak, temporarily closing one of its Japanese factories that depends heavily on parts imported from China. It expects the facility to be operational again within 2 days, however, and has stated that its other factories in Japan are unaffected. Many Chinese factories that had shut down were expected to reopen yesterday as the officially extended Chinese New Year break came to an end, but many remain restricted by local legislation and a labour shortage. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI has dropped a high-octane video of its latest track-only hypercar testing on the dyno. The vehicle featured in the clip is the same one that Lamborghini Squadra Corse teased back in late October, 2019. A close look at the video indicates the V12 engine has the same firing order as the Aventador’s 6.5-liter V12 so it seems apparent the new hypercar’s engine will be roughly the same. However, I know that a series of upgrades will lift power up to a monstrous 830 hp. Elsewhere, we can see that the vehicle sports complex in-board Öhlins suspension as well as big Brembo brakes and centerlock wheels. When first previewing the car late last year, Lamborghini Squadra Corse said it features a carbon fiber monocoque and an aluminum front frame. The V12 engine is supported by a steel roll cage while a new 6-speed sequential transmission handles gear shifts and can be heard firing off lightning-fast changes in the dyno video. Then there’s the sound. The car howls in an even more impressive way than the Aventador SVJ. From a visual perspective, I know the car will feature all-new bodywork unlike any other Lamborghini before it and include a prominent roof scoop as well as a towering rear wing. Lamborghini also says the hypercar will sport a racing hood with dual air intakes. “With an aluminum front frame and a carbon fibre monocoque, the hypercar has been designed to be of the highest safety standards while an innovative self-locking type differential which allows better driveability on the circuit”, the company said. The vehicle teased will be dubbed the ‘SVR’ and limited to just 40 units worldwide. It will be unveiled before the end of this year as a track-only weapon. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ parent company Daimler has announced a sharp fall in profits last year, the result of a major fine related to the diesel emissions scandal, the cost of investing in future technology and its struggling vans division. Company boss Ola Källenius said the firm “cannot be satisfied with our bottom line” and that it would implement a series of cost-cutting measures to ensure it could continue to invest in electrified technology, including battery electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains, for the future. The Daimler Group sold 3.34 million vehicles last year, close to the 3.35 million sold in 2018. The German firm was hit by legal costs. While Mercedes-Benz Cars sold a record 2.385.400 cars, the group was hit by the performance of its Vans division, which recorded a loss. Like other car makers, Daimler has invested heavily in technology relating to electrification, connectivity and autonomy in recent years, and Källenius said that would continue despite the disappointing results. Källenius said that “the future of the Daimler Group lies in CO2-neutral mobility as well as in consistent digitisation, leveraging its full potential in our products and our processes”. He added: “To achieve that, we have substantially ramped up our investments into new technologies. We are determined to materialise our technological leadership and at the same time to significantly improve profitability”. The cost-cutting measures include the target to cut spending on employees by £1.2bn by the end of 2022. The Daimler Group currently employs 298,655 people, and reports in Germany suggest that around 15.000 roles could be axed. Daimler said that it would “cut jobs worldwide in a socially responsible manner, including the reduction of management positions”. +++ 

+++ PSA is not only undoing OPEL ’s retreat from some markets dating from the GM era, but is also expanding the German brand into new markets. The automaker has announced the introduction of the Opel brand into Colombia and Ecuador from next summer. Initially, Opel will debut in these South American markets with 4 models: Crossland X, Grandland X, Combo and Vivaro. More models will be launched later on, including the all-new Corsa. The carmaker has already signed agreements with importers SKBerge and Nexumcorp, which will become the exclusive sales partners for the Colombian and Ecuadorian markets respectively. “Colombia and Ecuador are very interesting markets and will provide us with additional momentum. Obviously, being a German brand is a major advantage when entering these markets because German engineering is also synonymous with quality in South America”, said Michael Lohscheller, CEO of Opel and member of the Groupe PSA managing board. The executive added that Opel will benefit from PSA Group’s existing infrastructure, with the top priority in South America being to achieve “profitable growth with a high level of customer satisfaction”. Opel’s entry into Colombia and Ecuador is part of the extensive export offensive outlined in Opel/Vauxhall’s ‘PACE!’ turnaround plan. As part of the strategy, the company has a clear goal of achieving 10 % of sales in markets outside of Europe by the mid-2020s. To that end, Opel is strengthening its presence in Asian, African and South American markets with new and established partners. The carmaker has pledged to enter 20 new export markets by 2022, including Russia where it recently celebrated its comeback. +++


+++ PORSCHE is doing its part when it comes to saving the manual as it still offers plenty of sports cars with a stick shift. At the same time, the peeps from Zuffenhausen are well aware some people simply don’t care about that third pedal and are only interested in the best performance available. For that segment of the market, Porsche has some good news to share. Towards the end of the year, the 718 Cayman GT4 and the 718 Boxster Spyder will be optionally available with an automatic transmission. The addition of a PDK option marks the first time when the range-topping versions of the Boxster and Cayman will be available with an automatic, which should have a positive impact on acceleration figures. Both do the 0 to 100 km/h run in 4.4 seconds with the 6-speed manual gearbox, but look for that time to drop by a couple of tenths of a second on the PDK-equipped models. There could also be some minor changes to top speed, which in the case of the manual Cayman GT4 stands at 304 km/h whereas the droptop maxes out at 301 km/h. The top dog in the Cayman lineup with only 2 pedals has been a long time coming taking into account yours truly wrote an article about the prospects of a Cayman GT4 with the automatic back in September 2015 when Porsche’s GT boss Andreas Preuninger first announced it. The addition of a dual-clutch auto is unlikely to be the only update Porsche plans on making at the top end of the Cayman lineup as spy shots have revealed a meaner GT4 RS is planned. The prototypes spotted so far had revised bodywork with a focus on aero and cooling, although a power boost is likely on the agenda as well. The naturally aspirated flat-6 already pushes out a potent 420 hp and 420 Nm, but the 4.0-litre is a new engine with room for improvement. Meanwhile, the Boxster and Cayman lineups were recently expanded with the addition of a GTS 4.0 derivative slotting below the flagship variants. +++ 

+++ New RENAULT boss Luca de Meo will be paid nearly 57 % more than what his predecessor, Thierry Bollore received. De Meo will receive a salary package of roughly €5.8 million, with a fixed compensation of €1.3 million for this year, marking an annual remuneration that can represent up to 150 % of the fixed compensation and 75.000 Renault shares. Bollore meanwhile was paid €900.000; a maximum variable compensation of 125 % and 50.000 shares. De Meo was appointed Renault CEO at the end of last month, as the French automaker attempts to move forward with finalizing what has certainly been a long-awaited shift in leadership. The former SEAT boss will start work on July 1st. Once behind a desk, de Meo will be assisted by Renault’s current interim CEO, Clotilde Delbos, who will take on the role of deputy chief executive officer. At the time of his hiring, Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard had this to say about his company’s new CEO: “Luca de Meo is a great strategist and visionary of a rapidly changing automotive world. His expertise but also his passion for cars make him a real asset for the Group”. Even Nissan praised the appointment of de Meo last month, with the Japanese carmaker’s president and CEO Makoto Uchita stating that he was “very happy with the Renault board’s decision to appoint Luca de Meo as CEO. We are all looking forward to working closely with him and our Alliance partners in our efforts to support mutually profitable growth”. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA will keep production at all of its Chinese facilities suspended through February 17 due to the corona virus. The car manufacturer operates 12 vehicle and components factories in China that it owns with joint venture partners FAW Group and GAC Motor and in a statement said the production stoppage would be extended “after considering various factors, including guidelines from local and region governments, parts supply, and logistics. For the week of February 10, we will be preparing for the return to normal operation from February 17 and beyond”, a Toyota spokesman said. He added that due to circumstances out of its control, “we cannot definitively say whether we will restart plant operations from February 17”. Toyota had thought it could resume operations as recently as Thursday last week. There have been more than 40.000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with more than 908 deaths in China alone and these numbers continue to grow. +++ 

+++ An emboldened president Donald TRUMP has set his sights on restructuring the more than $1 trillion U.S. trade relationship with the European Union, raising the spectre of another major trade war as the global economy slows and he seeks re-election. Trump, who recently signed a Phase 1 trade deal that cooled a bitter trade war with China, has called the EU’s position on trade “worse than China” and threatened to impose tariffs on its cars and other products. European officials say they’re willing to work with Trump to address some irritants in the relationship, but they warn that they’ll retaliate against any U.S. efforts to punish the trading bloc. “In the economic realm, we’re evenly matched. And we will defend ourselves”, Norbert Röttgen, a senior German conservative lawmaker, said after meetings with White House and State Department officials. “We will respond to U.S. tariffs, and we know how to structure them to be effective”. Two days after Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, the United States ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, said he was being recalled from his post, making the path of any future negotiations even more uncertain. Sondland had testified during the impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives. The near-term outcome may be a “mini-deal” like the Phase 1 agreement signed with Beijing last month that doesn’t solve bedrock issues but will allow both sides to declare a truce, trade experts say. The United States, the world’s largest importer, and the 27-member block EU face entrenched conflicts over airline subsidies, agricultural trade barriers, and EU plans to tax big U.S. digital companies, among other issues. The EU was the top U.S. export market in 2018, before the United Kingdom left the bloc, led by aerospace products and computers. After scotching a free-trade agreement with Europe, the Trump administration is focused on shrinking its growing deficit in goods, which hit a record $178 billion in 2019. “That can’t continue”, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December. In the same month, the World Trade Organization’s appellate body, which acts as a supreme court for international trade disputes, became paralysed after the Trump administration repeatedly blocked the appointment of new judges. The White House and Brussels are essentially without an arbitrator, at a time when EU officials say Trump appears strengthened by his acquittal in the impeachment process, and has amped up his polarizing rhetoric. “We have allies. We have enemies. Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it”, Trump said at a prayer breakfast in Washington last week, remarks that have put European officials on edge. After a positive first meeting between Trump and the new leader of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, Trump, in a surprise move, expanded steel tariffs first put in place in 2018. EU officials say they are trying to move the relationship forward in a “transactional” manner. Tomas Baert, head of trade and agriculture for the EU’s delegation in Washington, said that EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan will travel to Washington monthly to try to work out a limited deal “that is tweetable”. Such a deal would allow Trump “to say that we went from the worst trade relationship to the best relationship”, Baert said. That doesn’t mean, however, that Europe will be consuming “chlorinated chicken”, he said, or buying genetically modified agricultural products, referring to U.S. practices shunned in Europe. The Trump administration, which has pursued an “America First” agenda aimed at rebalancing global trade flows in favour of the United States, has threatened to levy 25 % tariffs on foreign cars and parts from Europe. Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the Trump administration had temporarily suspended its plans to tax European auto imports, “while we work through a good-faith effort with respect to the possibility of an EU trade deal”. But Baert believes the tariff threat will continue, because Trump “is a tariff man and that’s the language that he speaks”. Any U.S. tariffs will be met with retaliation, Baert emphasized. “We’re not offering our other cheek if we are going to be hit on one of them”, he said. A scaled-down deal could include enhanced market access for European apples and pears, on one hand, and U.S. seafood, on the other. Food safety standards that have kept many farm goods out of the European market are also on the table, according to several sources briefed on talks. “It would be tricky to do something comprehensive, but a mini-deal is certainly on the table”, said Miriam Sapiro, a former acting U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration and now the co-head of Sard Verbinnen’s Washington office. “I think it’s doable and it’s realistic if both sides will stay focused on areas of convergence”. Trump’s concern about the November 3 U.S. election offers some promise for a modest agreement, Germany’s Röttgen said. “For Trump, it’s important that he can sell a trade deal to voters, and that’s an opportunity for us to be able to achieve something”. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Tiguan has been quietly doing its job racking up massive sales for the German automaker since the current-generation model’s introduction in 2016. But the time has come for the compact SUV to get a facelift. However, the 2021 Tiguan does not seem to be in for a significant styling overhaul. It will adopt new LED headlights inspired by the Golf Mk8, with a similar signature and ‘eyebrows’. The grille and front bumper will be new as well, with the latter also drawing inspiration from the new Golf. Additionally, the facelifted Tiguan gets to wear the new corporate logo as well. As always, the profile will see very few changes, with only the new alloy wheel designs making the difference. At the back, the 2021 Tiguan will get updated LED taillights with a fresh signature. Their shape remains the same. The rear bumper is updated, but there’s nothing to write home about. Expect the 2021 Tiguan to borrow the powertrains from the new Golf too in order to achieve lower CO2 emissions. There will be the usual assortment of turbocharged petrol and diesel units (some with mild-hybrid assistance), and likely the updated GTE plug-in hybrid powertrain with a longer EV range. The facelifted Tiguan should debut this year in both standard and Allspace long-wheelbase versions at one of Europe’s major auto shows, possibly Geneva next month. +++

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