Newsflash: nieuwe Mercedes C-klasse ook in 53 AMG uitvoering

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+++ Auto sales in CHINA fell 18.7 % in January; more than expected and marking the industry’s 19th consecutive month of sales decline, data from the country’s biggest auto industry association showed. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said that new energy vehicle sales during the month fell 51.6 % year-on-year, adding that declines in China’s automotive production and sales levels will be more significant in February due to the coronavirus outbreak. The association had said on February 13 that it was expecting total auto sales in the world’s biggest auto market to fall 18 % in January from the same month a year earlier. The industry is bracing for the impact of a coronavirus epidemic that has killed 2.715 people. Local governments began imposing travel curbs and warning residents to avoid public spaces in the last 2 weeks of January and industry executives said the epidemic was likely to wreak havoc on auto sales and production in the first quarter. The production of automobiles in China also dipped in January, both year-on-year and compared to last month. CAAM predicts a more notable reduction is expected in February due to the outbreak of the corona virus. Data showed 1.77 million cars were manufactured; down 34.1 % from December and 25.4 % down year-on-year. Specifically, 1.44 million passenger cars were produced in January; a 34.3 % decline from December and a 28.1 % decline year-on-year. +++ 

+++ CUPRA , Seat’s high-performance subbrand, is counting on the new Leon and Formentor models to help it reach €1 billion in revenue, Cupra CEO Wayne Griffiths said; an increase of more than 50 % from 2019’s total of €650 million. Griffiths, who is also Seat’s head of sales and marketing, Volkswagen Group’s Spanish brand, said Cupra was aiming to reach the revenue target “in a very short time”. Griffiths spoke at the introduction of the Cupra Leon at the brand’s new headquarters in Martorell, near Barcelona, where Seat’s Spanish factory is located. Seat versions of the new Leon were first shown in January. The Cupra Leon will be available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain to give it a 60 km range propelled by electric power alone. It will go on sale in Europe in the fourth quarter of 2020. The 5-door hatchback will debut with a 300 hp gasoline engine, followed shortly by a 245 hp version and the plug-in hybrid. The ST station wagon will debut with a 310 hp gasoline engine with 4-wheeldrive, followed by the plug-in hybrid and a 245 hp version in early 2021. Cupra did not announce prices for the new Leon. It became a stand-alone brand in 2018 under former Seat CEO Luca de Meo. Previously the Cupra name was used on performance versions of Seat models. Last year, Cupra sold 24.700 cars, mostly in Europe; an increase of 72 % from 2018. The top seller was the Leon with around 15.000 sales, followed by the Ateca with around 10.000 sales. Cupra’s biggest market in 2019 was Germany with 10.000 sales, followed by the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, France and Austria. The most important Cupra debut this year will be the Formentor compact crossover, whose production version will be shown at the Geneva auto show on March 3. The Formentor was shown in concept form at the 2019 Geneva show. It is the first model designed specifically for the Cupra brand and is expected to reach the market in the second half of this year. Griffiths said he is confident there will be enough customers for the Formentor and the Ateca, even though both are similar sized SUVs, because of growth in the compact SUV and crossover market. The Formentor is a coupe-styled crossover, while the Ateca is a more-upright SUV. Sales in the compact SUV and crossover segment rose 8 % in Europe in 2019 to 2.1 million vehicles. The compact car segment was down by 4.5 % to 2.16 million sales. The Formentor will also be available as a plug-in hybrid, which Griffiths said will probably be the most important powertrain for Cupra, at least in the medium term, because it will allow the brand to meet emissions targets and achieve high performance. He gave the example of a 4-wheeldrive system with a pure electric drive at the rear and combustion-engine drive at the front, a combination that leads to “incredible performance, which is what Cupra is about”, he said. +++ 

+++ Drivers of EXPENSIVECARS are less likely to stop at pedestrian crossings, an American study has found. Researchers observed hundreds of cars at zebra crossings in America, where vehicles are required by law to stop, and found owners of less expensive cars were significantly more likely to stop for pedestrians compared to those in more expensive vehicles. On average, the value of a stopping car was $5,900, while the value of a car that failed to stop was $8,000. The study initially set out to investigate race and gender bias related to pedestrian accident rates; but while some link was found in these areas, it was not statistically significant. Instead, the data showed that the value of a car was the greatest predictor of whether a driver would stop. Taking values from the well-respected US price guide Kelly Blue Book, the study found that for every $1,000 increase in the value of a car, the likelihood its driver would stop fell by 3 %. While American laws for pedestrian crossings are different from those in the UK, the researchers’ chosen crossings were close to UK zebra crossings, comprising 2 “zebra-striped, non-signaled traffic lighted midblock crossings”. Explaining why this might be, Courtney Coughenour of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who led the research, said drivers of less expensive cars might be more likely to empathise with people on foot. “A lower ability to interpret thoughts and feelings of others along with feelings of entitlement and narcissism may lead to a lack of empathy for pedestrians among higher SES [socioeconomic status] drivers which may result in lower yielding behaviors”, Coughenour wrote. She added: “Drivers of higher cost cars may have been less accustomed to and ill prepared to yield for pedestrians, as higher SES is associated with lower rates of active transportation”. The study saw participants wearing brightly coloured T-shirts wait at US crosswalks in Portland, Oregon and in Las Vegas, and observed the behaviour of 500 cars. But while the value of cars being a strong predictor of how likely cars would be to stop is undoubtedly telling, perhaps more significant is that of the 500 cars observed, just 129 stopped at crossings where they were legally mandated to do so.+++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES is flagging the spread of the corona virus and potential for a worldwide pandemic as a new risk factor for its business in China and other global operations. In a regulatory filing, FCA said epidemics like the corona virus pose a threat to its business, although the automaker added it is too soon to determine how seriously it will affect consumer demand and its manufacturing capacity. “The ultimate severity of the corona virus outbreak is uncertain at this time and therefore we cannot predict the impact it may have on our end markets and our operations; however, the effect on our results could be material and adverse”, FCA said in its annual report. The company said disruption to the parts supply chain has forced it to temporarily close its factory in Serbia and that the Chinese auto market has “begun to experience reduced demand”. Fiat has so far not interrupted production in Italy, which is the European country most affected by the corona virus outbreak, its European chief Pietro Gorlier said. The company says production will resume at its Serbian factory, which builds the Fiat 500L. Fiat Chrysler’s European home in Turin is the administrative center of the Piedmont region in northern Italy which has been hit by corona virus cases. The automaker is restricting access to its European plants. +++ 

+++ FORD ’s incoming Chief Operating Officer outlined his priorities for the company’s turnaround, including cost cuts and more efficient new-vehicle launches in a year in which it will introduce a redesigned F-150 full-sized pickup. Other key plans include speeding up Ford’s push in vehicle connectivity and its commercial vehicle business, strategy chief Jim Farley, who begins his role as Ford COO on March 1 after being appointed earlier this month, said at a Wolfe Research conference in New York. “We have to fix a number of things”, he told investors, citing a need to cut $5 billion in warranty costs, successfully launch 10 key global vehicles in the 2 two years and slash material and logistics costs. Ford has acknowledged that mistakes proved costly in its introduction of the redesigned Explorer. Tesla has shown how connected vehicles and over-the-air updates can build customer loyalty, Farley said and Ford could better profit from the data generated in vehicles and improve its customer service. Ford also will focus more heavily on advantages in commercial vehicle sales. “This is the signature execution opportunity for Ford and growth opportunity for Ford”, Farley said. He also cited a focus on growing the electric vehicle business of the No. 2 U.S. automaker. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company named Farley its COO on February 7 and promised investors it would kick a slow-moving turnaround into higher gear. Ford is restructuring globally and faces slumping demand in China; its second-largest market. Chief executive Jim Hackett has said the No. 2 U.S. automaker needs to move with greater speed. It has booked $3.7 billion of a projected $11 billion in charges it previously said it would take, and expects to book another $900 million to $1.4 billion this year. As part of its restructuring, Ford formed a wide-ranging alliance on commercial, electric and autonomous vehicles with Volkswagen and sold its money-losing operations in India to a venture controlled by Mahindra. In China, Ford lost $771 million last year, about half the 2018 loss, and its market share there has shrunk. Ford has been struggling to revive sales since its business began slumping in late 2017, and prospects look more cloudy now that the world’s largest market has been hit by a fast-spreading corona virus. +++ 

+++ Credit ratings agency Moody’s Investor Service cut its 2020 outlook for GLOBAL AUTO SALES , with China taking the biggest hit as the corona virus outbreak worsens. The agency said here it expects global auto sales to fall 2.5 % in 2020; lower than its previous estimate of about 0.9 % drop. Moody’s retained a “negative” outlook on the sector and said it expects global sales to rebound only modestly in 2021 with growth of 1.5 %. The agency now expects auto sales in China, the world’s largest market, to fall 2.9 % in 2020 from previous estimates of 1 % growth. +++

+++ Days after another dismal earnings report, Ford chief executive officer Jim HACKETT sent a blunt message during an internal town hall: I’m not going anywhere. If there were any doubts in the crowd about that statement, Hackett underscored it by discussing the early retirement of Joe Hinrichs, a Ford president whom many had seen as a potential successor to the CEO. The comment was a surprising display of force from a man who had just overseen another disappointing quarter that deepened the sell-off in Ford stock during his almost 3 year tenure. The reason for such confidence: Hackett (64) retains the backing of executive chairman Bill Ford. While Wall Street has never really warmed to him, Hackett has managed to nurture a close relationship with the 62-year-old great-grandson of founder Henry Ford through frequent visits to each other’s offices, where they mind meld on a digitized future of transportation in which big data drives how automakers create self-driving and electric cars. The 2 are inseparable, say people familiar with their relationship, who asked not to be identified describing Ford’s inner workings. “Harmony in businesses is a good story”, Hackett said with a chuckle during an interview. “And it doesn’t burst out of lack of accountability at all. It’s more, frankly, of a shared view of how much work we have in front of us to transform the company to be really viable for another 50-plus years”. The elevation of Ford’s other president, Jim Farley, to COO and the departure of Hinrichs (53) has rocked a company struggling to find its way in an industry undergoing wrenching change. Hinrichs’s abrupt exit completes a clean break from the era of Alan Mulally, who was celebrated for keeping the automaker out of bankruptcy during the Great Recession. Mulally was close to Hinrichs and believed he should have succeeded him as CEO when he retired in 2014, people familiar with his thinking said. Farley (57) will brief investors on how he intends to speed up Ford’s turnaround and perk up the stock price, which tumbled to the lowest in over a decade. The hard-driving marketing mastermind is embracing the new role with his signature intensity. Farley is working late into the evenings and on weekends, reviewing all of the company’s plans, say people familiar with his actions. Known as a quick study with an encyclopedic memory for data and details, he doesn’t suffer fools. “In the context of our industry and how it’s changing, we have to accelerate”, he said in a February 7 interview. “We cannot wait years and years”. While Hackett says he has absolutely given Farley a mandate to accelerate, he also defends the deliberate approach he and Bill Ford are taking and says it’s rooted in a company still run by the founding family, which takes a long-term view. “Others will say, well, why has it taken so long? Or why are you contemplating this so rigorously? It’s because we’re balancing the needs of shareholders versus employees, suppliers, dealers”, Hackett said. “We’re not willing to lose the hearts and minds of our people to have one quarter exceed earnings”. Farley and Hinrichs were elevated less than 1 year ago to be company presidents, with Farley focused on the future and Hinrichs on managing the automotive here-and-now. Within months of taking on their roles, Farley won plaudits for leading Ford’s talks with Volkswagen Group that led to a tie-up last summer to jointly develop the driverless and electric cars that Bill Ford and Hackett are so excited about. Participants on all sides of that deal, which also involved self-driving startup Argo AI, praise Farley’s mastery of the materials and his negotiating skills that helped keep the talks on track. Fans of Farley say Hinrichs was meanwhile moving too slowly to fix what ails Ford. They point to the botched launch of the new Explorer last year that weakened North American earnings for a company that isn’t consistently making money elsewhere in the world. When Hinrichs dispatched a vice president last year to investigate problems at Ford’s Explorer plant in Chicago, some subordinates didn’t even show up for meetings to discuss the situation, said a person familiar with the visit. For a high-ranking executive to be disrespected like that was seen as evidence that Hinrichs didn’t have full control of the situation at the plant, the person said. The Explorer launch failures undercut Hinrichs’s reputation as a manufacturing whiz. He rose to prominence under Mulally, a fellow engineer, and won kudos for successfully overseeing the complicated launch of the aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup 6 years ago. In 2018, he played a pivotal role in getting those profitable cars rolling off assembly lines again after a supplier’s factory exploded and briefly disrupted production in 2018. Mulally’s legacy has grown complicated within Ford, with the company moving away from some of his rigorous practices that encouraged executives to admit mistakes and seek help fixing them, rather than let them fester. Mulally also bet heavily on small, fuel-efficient cars, which fell out of favor as gas prices abated. Hackett is pulling Ford out of the sedan market. And the focus on Mulally as Ford’s savior is said to have irked Bill Ford, who also played a key role in securing a life-saving loan that sustained the company through the downturn that wiped out the rest of Detroit. Hinrichs is seen as Mulally’s last acolyte in Ford’s upper management. “Ford is now, with the departure of Joe Hinrichs, back to where it was when everything started falling apart last time”, said Bryce Hoffman, author of “American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company”, published in 2012. “But now it’s in that position in a much more competitive marketplace and in a much more challenging business environment”. Hackett denies that there is any reconsideration of the Mulally era within Ford. “I’ve never heard anything but praise for Mulally. He’s really highly regarded by me, by the board, by Bill”, Hackett said. “We spend zero time and stress about that”. Bill Ford hasn’t made any public appearances early this year as Ford shares have dipped back below $8 for the first time January 2019. That month, he endorsed his embattled CEO at the Detroit auto show and appealed for patience with Hackett and his $11 billion turnaround plan. He declined an interview requested though a company spokesman. Now that Farley has taken over Hinrichs’s duties, he is moving quickly to light a fire under his team. Farley is conducting meetings with Ford’s entire top leadership and more executive changes are expected. Those changes won’t include Hackett, despite some on Wall Street having openly questioned how long his tenure will last. With the executive chairman’s backing, Hackett will keep Farley waiting for an untold period to prove he’s the right pick to take over. But Farley is clearly in ascent. Even the trait once viewed as his biggest weakness (his hair-trigger temper) is now being recast as just the skill needed to effect change in Ford’s hidebound culture. “He’s pretty intense”, David Whiston, an analyst for Morningstar with the equivalent of a buy rating on Ford shares, said of Farley. “I’m glad Ford has him”. +++ 

+++ HONDA wants to electrify two-thirds of its lineup worldwide by 2030, which means that future performance vehicles from the brand could eventually be EVs. Hideki Kakinuma, the Honda Civic Type R project leader, talked about what might happen: “Yes, of course, an electric Type R is possible”. He indicated that the major challenge was offering the necessary performance at a reasonable price. “If all the base concept and philosophy of being a Type R is fulfilled with an electric powertrain, sure this can happen”, Kakinuma told. Before getting too excited about the Type R EV, it’s worth reading Kakinuma’s statement about the future of the Type R badge. “The ‘R’ in Civic Type R has always stood for racing, so expanding into something like an SUV or crossover doesn’t make sense”, Kakinuma told. “The Civic is currently the only vehicle in the Honda lineup to meet our requirements of what a Type R needs to be”. Rumours suggest that the next-generation Civic Type R could adopt a hybrid powertrain because it offers the expected driving dynamics while improving emissions. Opting for a full EV isn’t the plan, yet. If an electric Type R happens, then the new Honda E could be the first to wear the moniker. “Well, this new platform, the motor and tyres can all take more”, Honda assistant Large Project leader Takahiro Shinya told in January. “What I can say is we love Type R, it’s such a strong halo brand for us. As engineers, we want to make Type R of every model, but it’s whether the customer wants it that matters”. The standard Honda E packs an electric motor powering the rear axle that’s available with either 136 hp or 154 hp and bother variants make 315 Nm. A 35.5 kWh battery offers 220 km on a charge. Deliveries start this summer. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI and its affiliates are ready to decide the location of a new hydrogen fuel-cell system factory this year, which could be in South Korea or overseas, an executive said. The factory will be capable of producing more than 100.000 fuel cell systems, which include the fuel-cell stack and power control unit, annually from around 2024, Jeon Soon-il, a Hyundai Motor Group executive in its fuel cell division, said. He declined to name which countries had been shortlisted. A new factory in Chungju, South Korea, capable of making 40.000 systems a year, will be ready by the end of June, some 2,5 ahead of schedule, Jeon said. Hyundai’s current fuel-cell system production capacity is about 12.000 annually. +++ 

+++ Spy photographers have caught the new MERCEDES C-Class on multiple occasions, but now they’ve spotted what appears to be an AMG variant. While the model is heavily disguised, there are a few clues indicating this was born in Affalterbach. The most noticeable is the egg crate grille cover which is a hallmark of AMG models and used to hide the Panamericana grille. Elsewhere, we can see a beefy braking system with ventilated discs and large front calipers. The latter are unbranded, but have plenty of space for AMG lettering. A closer inspection also reveals a hidden dual exhaust system. This is likely just temporary as AMG models flaunt their tailpipes. There isn’t much else to see, but the redesigned model will adopt sleeker headlights and streamlined bodywork. There will also be an evolutionary rear end with new taillights. Lastly, the car gets longer than its predecessor and this extra length should help distance the model from the A-Class Sedan. Despite the evolutionary exterior, the cabin will be a radical departure as it will follow in the footsteps of the new S-Class. As a result, the freestanding infotainment system and center stack will be replaced by an angular slab that features a large touchscreen display and a row of new climate controls. Elsewhere, drivers will find a new steering wheel and a digital instrument cluster. There will also be a new center console and updated air vents which retain their circular design. While I already know a lot of the C-Class, I’m not entirely sure if the mid-level AMG variant will be badged the C 43 or the C 53. Previous reports have suggested it will adopt the latter moniker and feature a turbocharged 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with EQ Boost technology. This setup allows other 53 variants to produce 435 hp and 520 Nm. If the powertrain does carryover from other 53 models, it would be a significant improvement as the current C 43 has a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 with 390 hp. It allows the all-wheeldrive sedan to run from 0-96 km/h in 4.5 seconds. +++ 

+++ The PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have submitted 14 of 24 applications to antitrust authorities as they seek to complete their MERGER in the next 12 to 15 months, PSA boss Carlos Tavares said. 2 areas of potential antitrust concern are the light-commercial vehicle market in Europe and sales of small cars in southern Europe. PSA Group brands have a 25.1 % share of the European van market and FCA has about a 10 % share. PSA and FCA already jointly produce midsize vans in Italy. The European minicar segment, which is especially large in Italy, is led by 2 Fiat models, the Panda and the 500, and PSA has 3 models in the top 10. Together PSA and FCA had a 46 % market share in the segment in 2019, or about 510.000 sales of a total of 1.1 million. Tavares said there had not yet been any feedback from regulators and that no problem areas had been identified. “We have no reason to believe there will be any problems, including on the LCV side”, he said. “But our stance is very simple: Whatever we have to discuss or modify, we will”. Until the merger closes, the 2 companies will remain competitors, with only very limited information exchanges allowed. A combined PSA and Fiat Chrysler will have 14 brands with Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Fiat among the marques competing in the mass market segments and Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jeep and DS in the premium sectors. Tavares said that there were no immediate plans to trim any brands from the merged company’s portfolio. “What we can see is that we’ll have a fantastic brand portfolio that will cover the market”, he said. After the merger closes, “we will decide what is the best way to go to market, to map the market, to cover the market, to reduce cannibalization, if there is any”, Tavares said. “For the time being I’m more excited about what we can do more of rather than what we should do less of”, he said. One area of increased collaboration will be in electric vehicles and CO2 compliance. PSA Group is “on track” to meet its 2020-21 EU emissions with its own models, Tavares has said, while Fiat Chrysler is partly relying on purchased credits from Tesla electric car sales in Europe and does not have many electrified models in its product pipeline. PSA is collaborating with oil company Total on 2 battery cell factories expected to come on line in 2023 and Tavares said these factories would supply the merged companies products. “We intend to protect our new company from any strategic problems arising from battery supply”, he said. He pointed to Opel as a model for lowering emissions of Fiat Chrysler, noting that Opel’s fleet CO2 emissions had fallen by 20 grams in 2019, by moving models such as the Corsa quickly onto PSA’s more efficient platforms and by discontinuing high-polluting GM-developed models. PSA and FCA struck a deal in December to create the world’s No. 4 automaker. The automakers hope to seal the merger by early 2021. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric car startup NIO is expected to get strategic investment of over 10 billion yuan ($1.43 billion) from the Hefei city government in Anhui province, according to a framework agreement the 2 signed. William Li, founder and chairman of Nio, told that he expected the 2 sides to work out details and finalize the deal within 2 months. The investment will help ease the startup’s financial pressure. Nio said in late December that it didn’t have enough money to continue operating another 12 months without additional funding. It has raised $200 million through convertible notes this year ahead of the deal with Hefei. “It is good timing for Hefei to invest in us. We are like a rocket that has taken off and needs some more fuel”, said Li. As part of the deal, Nio will establish in Hefei a company in charge of its China operations, including production, research and development and sales. Nio will remain headquartered in Shanghai. Li said Hefei is a reasonable choice. “Over the past few years we have a better understanding of its business environment and, in fact, I think its competitive edge as a city has been underestimated”, he said. Nio has built a plant in Hefei with JAC Motors which is producing the ES8 and ES6. It will also produce the third model, the EC6. This car will be a rival of Tesla’s Model X and hit the market in the second half of the year. Li said there are around 200 colleagues in Hefei and after the deal the number of people working there will continue to grow. But he added that current facilities in other cities will not be affected. Nio delivered 1.598 vehicles in January 2020; down 11.5 % year-on-year, due to the Spring Festival and the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic. The startup said it expected production and sales to be affected in February as well. But Li said he is confident in the whole year performance because Nio has long been promoting its vehicles and developing customers online. Its total sales by the end of January stood at 33.511. +++ 

+++ Toyota invested $400 million in PONY.AI to strengthen its ties with the Chinese provider of driverless-car systems. The investment extends the companies’ partnership formed last year and pushes Pony.ai’s valuation to more than $3 billion, the start-up said in a statement. The pact enables a “deeper integration” of Pony.ai’s technology with Toyota’s vehicles. “It will enable us to make the commercialization of autonomous-driving vehicles faster”, Pony.ai CEO James Peng said. “We will put more money into building up the fleet”. Automakers are striking pacts with driverless-system providers to gain expertise and fend off competition from technology companies seeking to enter the transport business. For Pony.ai, a relationship with Toyota is a vote of confidence as it seeks to take on U.S. rivals such as Alphabet’s Waymo. Pony.ai has 2 testing sites in California and it runs a pilot service with Hyundai in Irvine that provides rides to members of the public. The company announced a service to City of Fremont employees, offering last-mile rides in its autonomous vehicles between a local transport hub and some of Fremont’s public buildings. Toyota required no exclusive access to the technology and is open to Pony.ai partnering with other automakers, Peng said. Last year, Toyota and Pony.ai announced a pilot project on public roads in Beijing and Shanghai, using Lexus RX vehicles and Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system. The companies now plan to explore further cooperation in mobility services. The corona virus outbreak has had a “limited” impact on Pony.ai, which has resumed some testing and business operations in China, Peng said. Founded in 2016, Pony.ai’s investors also include Sequoia Capital China and IDG Capital. The total size of the newest funding round was $462 million, with existing investors putting in $62 million. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE has purchased a stake in Silicon Valley-based DSP Concepts, a company with expertise in developing software for audio signal processing and audio algorithms. In a statement, the German automaker revealed that it has invested $14.5 million in the company as part of a series B financing round, increasing total volume invested in the company to in excess of $25 million. Other companies to have invested in DSP Concepts include BMW iVentures, Innovation Growth Ventures/Sony Innovation Fund, MediaTek Ventures, and the ARM loT fund. DSP Concepts offers an advanced audio development platform dubbed Audio Weaver that provides a platform for in-house audio algorithm development. For Porsche, DSP Concepts’ technologies allows it to tune the sound of the all-electric Taycan. “We are all familiar with the unique Porsche combustion engine sound. We transferred this essential Porsche element to electric powertrains with our first electrically driven sports car, the Taycan”, vice president of electrics/electronics development at Porsche, Oliver Seifert said. “DSP Concepts’ technology makes it possible for our engineers to implement an individual sound concept for the Taycan and to create a unique Porsche sound signature”. “The development process involving the audio environment stalled in the 1990s”, added co-founder and the CEO of DSP Concepts Chin Beckmann said. “However, audio experiences have never been as crucial to the success of technological products as today. The Audio Weaver platform operates in real time and handles optimization across several chip ranges so that customers can concentrate on developing functions that set their products apart from those offered by competitors”. +++ 

+++ The PSA Group achieved record profitability in 2019, despite its new car sales falling by more than 10 %. The group, which comprises Citroën, DS, Peugeot and Opel / Vauxhall, posted revenue of €74.7 billion for 2019; up 1 % year-on-year, with profit of €3.2 billion; up 13.2 % from 2018. This came despite new vehicle sales falling 10.3 % year-on-year to 3.479.096. PSA said the rise in profit was due to cost savings from the further integration of Opel / Vauxhall into the group and from efforts to reduce the complexity of its product lines, trimming production spending. It also cited increasing sales of higher-margin models, such as SUVs. The PSA Group is in the process of merging with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, creating the world’s 4th largest car maker. The merger is ongoing, with both sides expecting it to be finalised either late this year or early in 2021. In Europe, the 5 PSA brands sold a total of 3.019.729 new vehicles; a 2.8 % decline on 2018. The firm particularly struggled in China, where sales slumped by 55.4 % to 117.084, and recorded substantial declines in the Middle East and Africa (-43.7 %) and South America (-22.5 %). Peugeot continued to be the PSA Group’s most successful brand, taking 1.453.823 sales, although this was down 16.5 % year-on-year. Citroën sales were down 5.4 % to 989.853 units, although the brand did post a 0.8 % increase in Europe. Opel / Vauxhall sales fell 6.2 % to 973.431, while DS sales increased 16.4 % to 61.989. As with other firms, the PSA Group has invested heavily in the electrification of its line-up and says it is on course to avoid paying any fines for not meeting the European Union’s 95 g/km average fleet CO2 target that will come into force this year. PSA chief executive Carlos Tavares said: “We’re ready for the energy transition and all teams are focused to offer a clean, safe and affordable mobility for customers. Based on our business model and fighting spirit, which has proved to be efficient, we are eager to enter a new era with the projected merger with FCA”. Tavares paid particular tribute to the staff at Opel and Vauxhall; brands that only joined the company when they were purchased from General Motors in 2017. Reported jointly, their profit margin stood at 6.5 %, less than 3 years after they were, in effect, rescued by the PSA buyout. “Opel and Vauxhall successfully delivered all the metrics of our plan”, he said. “This is a very significant achievement in very short period of time. I’d like to express a very specific thanks and congratulations. It has been a very hard period for the team but they have done it: they have turned around their company. After 20 years of red ink, they moved to profit in two years. That deserves specific recognition”. The strongest of PSA’s brands was arguably Citroen, which gained market share across Europe, but there was also some good news for PSA’s premium brand DS, which increased its global sales by 16 %. It was also the only one of the PSA Group’s car brands to report an actual increase in vehicle unit sales: from 53.265 to 61.989. “DS is an interesting case”, Tavares said. “Let’s recognise that in 2019 it made 60.000 extremely profitable sales. This is not only a good business but it is also a premium brand. We are very excited. At the end of the day, we are betting on the expertise and creative power of our people. And since I joined this company I’ve never been disappointed by that, ever”. PSA is predicting that its margins will retract slightly in 2020, as the firm reacts to an expected decrease of the car market of 3 % in Europe and 2 % in Russia. “Our balance sheet is robust”, Tavares said, “and we are fit to face the uncertainties that we can predict. But this is not enough; it’s not enough to be a highly profitable car company. “It is fundamental that we contribute to the wellbeing of the societies in which we operate. Since December 2018, we have significantly reduced the emissions of the cars that we sell. If we look at December 19, we’ve reduced by 11 g/km the average CO2 emissions of our passenger vehicles. The way we are managing the CO2 performance of our sales is very sophisticated and efficient. We are sure we will meet the European CO2 target in 2020. We are not in a defensive mode on CO2 emissions; we believe it is a competitive edge for our company”. The improved results (in the face of decreased sales) are a sign that PSA’s brands are selling higher percentages of new higher-end vehicles on which margins are higher. Tavares also believes that PSA’s strategy of offering the latest 208 with a choice of petrol, diesel and pure-electric power will allow Peugeot to react to customer trends as they develop. “Our decision to offer multi-powertrain platforms is now fully aligned with the market”, he said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility to adapt to this volatile world”. But he admitted that the company is already looking at broadening its line-up of electric powertrains. “We are preparing to offer a wide array of ranges for our electrified vehicles”, Tavares said. +++ 

+++ There is now a ROLLS-ROYCE smartphone app but, much like the cars, it’s unattainable for most people. The Whispers app is available exclusively to owners of new Rolls-Royce vehicles, making it the most exclusive members’ club in the world. Think of it as a social network for the 1 % that reunites entrepreneurs, heads of state, royalty, founders as well as movie and music stars. Or, as Rolls-Royce describes them: “global denizens, connoisseurs, patrons of the arts, philanthropists, collectors of fine and exquisite items; individuals untethered by common constraints such as time and money”. The Whispers app allows these people to share their interests, tastes, products, collections and their thinking amongst each other, according to Rolls-Royce. “This rarefied group of individuals wanted Rolls-Royce to facilitate a coming together of the extraordinary people who make up the marque’s worldwide client fraternity”, says the press release. Rolls-Royce quietly launched Whispers over 2 years ago to a select group of globally distributed clients. Since the test-phase that followed garnered a positive response, Rolls-Royce continued to evolve and adapt the app in close collaboration with its users. Today, Whispers is fully deployed in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East and the United States, giving Rolls-Royce owners “the benefits of belonging to this exclusive group of exceptional achievers”. Interestingly, the app offers users the opportunity to liaise securely not only with fellow Rolls-Royce owners but also with the Rolls-Royce CEO and members of the Board. That way, users can share ideas and networks, business opportunities and social contacts. Additionally, Whispers offers access to a “collection of luxury offerings, transformative experiences, exclusive Rolls-Royce previews, inspiring articles and thought pieces, undiscovered destinations”. Things don’t stop here as the app also enables members to create “their very own bespoke experiences or products”. For example, they can book a private performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, commission a beautiful portrait, design and build their own personal racetrack and more. The app can also be used to provide exclusive access to sports, fashion, arts and music events, as well as worldwide luxury travel experiences. Last but not least, members of the Whispers community receive “exclusive world-previews of new Rolls-Royce products and offerings before they become public knowledge”. +++ 

+++ Although new cars today come loaded with tech, it turns out a huge number of drivers don’t know how to use the majority of the modern features on their new cars. The news comes as the result of a new survey from to British Motor Show, which is aiming to be recognised as the leading global event for the latest automotive TECHNOLOGY in new cars. Things like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and high-tech infotainment platforms have been the biggest advances in car technology over the past 10 years, but 35 % of drivers still don’t know how to use them properly. What’s more, 20 % of drivers said they use less than half of the features in their cars, while a further 10 % said they understood only some of the features and just drive their cars. A big reason for this is the the lack of explanation to customers when they first buy their new cars: 71 % of those surveyed said that they didn’t feel they received enough information about in-car tech when they took delivery, while a quarter said that they didn’t get enough information at all. “We want The British Motor show to be a reflection of the British motor industry. We are a global leader in cutting edge technology and we want The British Motor Show to become recognised as the leading global event for the latest in automotive technology and new cars”, said British Motor Show CEO Andy Entwistle. “Pioneering tech will play a huge part at The British Motor Show 2020. We’ll have the innovators of the past, present and future all together in one location and provide show visitors with the opportunity to immerse themselves in all of the latest and greatest tech that the car industry has to offer. The show will also give those who feel less confident with the technology or who simply don’t understand it the chance to find out more without the pressure of a hard sales environment. Our industry should be extremely proud of the technology it has and the show is the perfect opportunity to show it off, but it’s clear that consumers need greater understanding about just how technologically advanced cars are. The British Motor Show 2020 is an indispensable opportunity for them to find out”. +++ 

+++ The National Transportation Safety Board held a public meeting where they disclosed the probable cause for a fatal crash involving a TESLA Model X in March 2018. According to the government, a combination of factors were likely responsible. In particular, they noted the limitations of Tesla’s Autopilot system as well as the driver’s “overreliance” on it. The third factor was driver distraction as the person was apparently playing a game on their smartphone. That’s something drivers shouldn’t do, but the NTSB said Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement was determined to have contributed to the crash”. The NTSB also said the California Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol played a role as the latter failed to report damage to a crash attenuator from an earlier accident. As a result, the attenuator wasn’t working when it was struck by the Model X and this “contributed to the severity of the driver’s injuries”. While there’s plenty of blame to go around, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said the “crash clearly demonstrates the limitations of advanced driver assistance systems available to consumers today”. He went on to remind people that there are no fully-autonomous vehicles available to consumers and drivers need to be actively engaged in the task of driving, even when using driver assistance systems such as Autopilot. As Sumwalt said “If you are selling a car with an advanced driver assistance system, you’re not selling a self-driving car. If you are driving a car with an advanced driver assistance system, you don’t own a self-driving car”. Data retrieved from the Model X showed Autopilot was active and the adaptive cruise control system was set to 121 km/h. However, the SUV was following another vehicle which was traveling around 105 km/h. 5.9 seconds before impact, the lane-keeping assist system “initiated a left steering input” toward a gore area. The driver didn’t have their hands on the wheel and the vehicle continued to travel off course. About 3.9 seconds before the crash, the cruise control system no longer detected a vehicle in front of the Model X. This caused the crossover to begin accelerating to the preset speed of 121 km/h. Things then took a fatal turn as the Model X rammed into the broken crash attenuator. The NTSB says the crossover’s forward collision warning system didn’t alert the driver and it’s automatic emergency braking system did not activate. The driver also failed to apply the brakes or steer the vehicle away from the attenuator. While we may never fully know what happened, the NTSB noted the driver was an “avid gamer and game developer” and records showed a game was active on their iPhone 8 Plus. They went on to say “The driver’s lack of evasive action combined with data indicating his hands were not detected on the steering wheel, is consistent with a person distracted by a portable electronic device”. A total of 7 safety issues were identified following the investigation and NTSB has made 9 recommendations to address them. On the tech side of things, they want to expand the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s testing of forward collision avoidance systems and conduct an evaluation of Tesla models equipped with Autopilot to “determine if the system’s operating limitations, foreseeability of misuse, and ability to operate vehicles outside the intended operational design domain pose an unreasonable risk to safety”. Other recommendations include developing standards for driver monitoring systems to minimize driver disengagement, complacency and misuse. The NTSB also called for the development of a so-called “distracted driving lock-out mechanism or application for portable electronic devices that will automatically disable any driver-distracting functions when a vehicle is in motion”. It remains unclear if the recommendations will have an impact, but it’s a reminder that drivers need to be responsible and attentive even if technology is doing the heavy lifting. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said that operations at its plants in Japan may be affected by supply chain issues linked to the new corona virus outbreak in the coming weeks, as the global outbreak gathers pace. The automaker, which operates 16 vehicle and components sites in Japan, said that it would decide on how to continue operations at its domestic plants from the week of March 9, after keeping output normal through the week of March 2. Plants may be affected by potential supply disruptions in China as some plants in the epicentre of the virus outbreak remain are unable to produce and transport goods, while some plants remain closed under orders by regional authorities. “We are receiving parts from China as normal for the moment, but we will assess the situation after the week of March 2”, a Toyota spokeswoman told. Japan is a major site of production for the company, accounting for nearly half of the 10.7 million cars its sold globally in 2019. The automaker also said it would cancel all non-essential travel for employees in Japan, the latest move by a global company to curb operations as the speed of the virus outbreak appears to gather pace. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN Group boss Herbert Diess plans to hire a climate campaigner to shake up the automaker’s efforts to fight pollution and help provide a much-needed kick-start toward becoming greener. “We have so many ideas, but they take too long to implement in our big organization, so I need someone really aggressive internally”, Diess told in an interview. A company spokesman confirmed the remarks. The candidate will be granted direct access to Diess and other top executives. Volkswagen embarked on a large-scale push to cut pollution from its vehicles and factories in the wake of the diesel-emissions scandal that erupted more than four years ago. It admitted to manipulating exhaust readings for as many as 11 million diesel cars worldwide. The scandal has cost VW around €30 billion. In the aftermath, VW forged a sustainability council including Margo Oge, a former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and former EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard. Diess has sought to use the crisis as a catalyst for deeper changes across VW’s notoriously bureaucratic apparatus, launching the industry’s most aggressive push into electric vehicles. The company earmarked €33 billion in EV investment over the next 5 years. +++

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