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+++ Automakers in CHINA are canceling sales targets and offering subsidies to tide their dealers over during the novel corona virus outbreak that has slashed traffic to showrooms across the country since late January. The epidemic has killed more than 800 people and more than 37.000 are confirmed to be infected in China, which has made potential customers stay away from dealerships. In a poll conducted by the China Automobile Dealers Association, dealers in the country predicted China’s car sales to fall 50 % to 80 % this month compared to February 2019. Some 70 % of dealers polled said they had seen “almost no customers” since the end of January. Volvo was the first to offer favorable policies to its dealers when it said that it will not set dealers’ sales targets for February. Usually, carmakers will penalize dealers financially that cannot meet their sales targets. Volvo also announced on the same day subsidies of up 10 million yuan ($1.42 million) to salespeople across the country whose wages are mainly composed of sales commission. Many Chinese and international carmakers soon came up with similar or more generous policies. BMW canceled dealers’ sales targets in February and said the targets in March and the first quarter as a whole will be flexibly set. Brands including Volkswagen, Ford and Hyundai have decided not to assess the sales performance of their dealers in the first quarter. Hyundai has also canceled goals for direct dealer purchases from its car plants to prevent rising inventory and extended promotional policies. Jaguar Land Rover has removed monthly sales targets for its dealers and offered subsidies on their inventory to alleviate financial pressure. The China Automobile Dealers Association is asking banks to extend loans to dealers and offer more temporary liquidity support to help those who are “facing extreme liquidity pressure”. The association said that auto sales and after-sales service “show a cliff-like decline” due to the extension of the Spring Festival holiday, travel curbs and other factors. Industry executives said the epidemic was likely to wreak havoc on auto sales and production in the first quarter, but that it was too early to push the panic button. Volvo said the corona virus outbreak would affect first-quarter operations, but its CEO Håkan Samuelsson said he expected Volvo to recoup any lost sales and production over the rest of this year. “We think the effect for the whole year will be relatively minor”, he told. Automakers and dealers are also trying innovative marketing strategies including online shopping to boost sales and improve after-sales service. Starting from Monday, BMW is offering live streaming sessions on its Tmall and JD stores where sales people will promote various models. Mercedes-Benz said on Saturday that its customers can choose cars, pay deposits and have inquiries answered online. Both carmakers are extending service warranties for its customers. Companies including GAC Motor, WM Motor, BYD and Baojun, have launched online viewings of on-sale vehicles using virtual reality technology. Customers can view the appearance, color, interior space and power system of their favored models, without stepping out of their homes. Automakers, joining hands with e-commerce platforms such as Tmall, JD and Suning, are enabling customers to purchase a car at home and enjoy a doorstep delivery service. Zhejiang Hozon New Energy Automobile Co has launched an exchange and no questions asked return service for seven days from the date of purchase, so as to remove any online customer’s doubts or concerns. Baojun, a marque of China’s SAIC GM-Wuling Automobile, is using live streaming, virtual reality and augmented reality to allow its products to be showcased to more potential buyers. Some automakers are also improving manufacturing technologies in a bid to produce more “healthy” vehicles. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group said it will develop vehicles that will have health-related functions. It has made an initial investment of 370 million yuan ($53 million) for the project. The “all-round healthy vehicles” will be capable of identifying harmful substances from the air outside and cleaning the air inside the car quickly and efficiently, according to the automaker. Chinese electric car startup WM Motor said cars with air purification functions are garnering more customer attention, including its models, the EX5 and the EX6 Plus. Meanwhile, the epidemic has reminded industry insiders and customers of the development of autonomous driving technology. To avoid cross-infection, Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital is using 2 robots in epidemic prevention, according to media reports. Integrated with autonomous driving technology, the robots can independently identify and read maps and working environments, build information bases, plan routes and complete point-to-point delivery of materials. Looking ahead, automakers, tech companies and the government are expected to invest more human and financial resources to develop autonomous driving technology, insiders said. Car sales in China are estimated to slump in the first quarter of 2020 as the novel corona virus concerns the industry, posting a 3 % decline in whole year performance compared to 2019. But the market is expected to rebound starting in mid-February, according to Securities Daily. As the epidemic spreads across the country, many car factories face full-scale shutdowns and are likely to resume production after February 10, bringing huge pressure to the industry’s supply chain and cash flow. The Hubei province, epicenter of the novel corona virus outbreak, is host to China’s important automobile producing areas such as Huanggang, Xiangyang and Shiyan, manufacturing vehicles for Dongfeng Honda, SAIC General Motors and supplying components for several international mainstream auto parts makers. The epidemic will be of high certainty to have a largely negative impact on the Chinese auto industry, analysts from CITIC Securities said. Even the work is resumed after February 10, the production capacity of China’s automobile industry won’t recover quickly due to the slowdown of the turnover efficiency of industrial chains. However, analysts from Great Wall Securities had positive expectations for the industry. It noted the supply side has seen little impact on a year-round basis since production loss during the outbreak is temporary, which can be quickly made up by a boom when the epidemic ends. Cui Dongshu, president of China Passenger Car Association, said the virus would severely affect China’s car parts exports. “We need try our best to ensure auto enterprises recover soon with focus on OEMs, and promote the orderly recovery of car parts enterprises”. Apart from the supply side, demand side sectors including car sales, rent and after-sale services also face downturn pressure. According to Ye Qing, deputy director of the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Statistics, car sales in the first quarter this year would see a 30 % drop compared with the same period in 2019. To overcome difficulties, many auto enterprises have adjusted their business strategies to relieve the burden of dealers. For instance, Volvo provided a total of more than 10 million yuan in subsidies for dealers to further alleviate their financial pressure. The China Automobile Dealers Association also submitted reports to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Commerce and related authorities, hoping they offer industry-specific policy support to combat the challenges brought by the outbreak, including simplifying review and approval procedures on debt extension, increasing credit limits, accelerating lending efficiency and lowering the cost of financing. An analyst from CITIC Securities told Securities Daily the car sales were estimated to fall 17 % to 20 % in the first quarter, but would witness a spike in demand with 15 % growth in the second quarter once the outbreak is under control. +++


+++ FISKER will be hosting the European premiere of the Ocean at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show that kicks off at the beginning of March. Set to enter production late next year, the electric SUV is 4.640 mm long, 1.930 mm wide and 1.615 mm tall. It offers 566 liters of boot space, which can be expanded to 708 liters by removing the parcel shelf and 1.274 liters with the rear seats folded down. Providing the juice for a range of up to 483 km is the 80+ kWh battery. It supports fast charging so users can fill it up from 15 % to 80 % in just 30 minutes, obtaining more than 322 km of electric drive. The range-topper is estimated to sprint from 0 to 96 km/h in 2.9 seconds. Furthermore, the Ocean, which is dubbed as “the world’s most sustainable vehicle”, features a solar panel roof that can provide up to 1.610 km of free range each year. The model will be available with four-wheel drive in all trim levels bar the base grade and will get a head-up display incorporated into the windshield. The 16 inch touch screen infotainment system and 9.8 inch instrument cluster will complement it, alongside the haptic touch buttons and augmented reality features. Another standard item across the range (save for the entry-level model) will be the opening rear hatch glass, which will allow users to haul long items without having to open the tailgate. In the United States, the Ocean has a price of $37,499. Fisker claims that thousands of customers have already paid $250 each to reserve their Ocean electric SUVs. The leading countries are the United States, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, France and Austria. +++ 

+++ The FORD MUSTANG MACH-E is one of the most intriguing new cars launched by the American marque in a number of years. Tthe Mustang Mach-E will first land in the hand of European customers before arriving in the United States. Mase specified that “countries like Norway will be first”. Given the demand for electric vehicles in places like Norway, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Fortunately, those who’ve ordered a Mustang Mach-E in the U.S. won’t have to wait all that long to take delivery, with the first models set to arrive in the final quarter of the year. They will include First Edition models as well as Premium, Select, and California Route 1 trim levels. The only variant that won’t arrive before the end of this year is the range-topping Ford Mustang Mach-E GT that features an upgraded powertrain with 465 hp and 830 Nm powered by a 98.8 kWh battery pack. The Mustang Mach-E GT will reach dealerships in spring 2021. Ford says the range-topping version of its electric crossover will hit 96 km/h in the mid-3 second range and travel roughly 378 km on a full charge. Late last year, Ford said roughly 30 % of customers were opting for the GT. +++ 

+++ Carlos GHOSN , the fugitive former auto executive, used a joint venture between Nissan and Mitsubishi to inflate his pay, effectively clawing back a cut to his declared wages, and to cover a personal tax debt, lawyers for the firms said. Ghosn, former chairman of the Renault -Nissan – Mitsubishi alliance, was arrested in Japan in 2018 on financial misconduct charges but fled to Lebanon last December. He has denied any wrong-doing, including concerning the way he was compensated, and has since launched court cases against the companies, arguing he was fired unlawfully. One of the cases is in the Netherlands, where the Japanese companies made new submissions. Ghosn granted himself a salary and bonus worth €7.3 million in total without the knowledge of the boards of Nissan and Mitsubishi, the lawyers said. The companies had previously challenged these payments. The lawyers alleged in the arguments submitted to the Dutch court that Ghosn had awarded himself that compensation through the Nissan – Mitsubishi joint venture to offset a cut in his publicly-declared earnings, to which he had agreed when stepping down as Nissan CEO in April 2017. Representatives of Ghosn’s legal team said the allegations of unknown or unjust payments were unfounded. They attended the hearing at the Amsterdam District Court, which was linked to Ghosn’s unlawful dismissal lawsuit. “We don’t dispute that Mr Ghosn received a good salary”, attorney Roeland de Mol said. “But he had the heavy task of getting French and Japanese companies to cooperate. He didn’t retire to go play golf after he stepped down as Nissan CEO”. Nissan -Mitsubishi lawyer Eelco Meerdink said there was also evidence that Ghosn made the alliance pay a personal French tax debt of €498.000 euros in 2018, and that he had arranged a “pre-payment” of his 2019 salary in 2018 to avoid a scheduled increase in Dutch income tax rates. The allegations came as Ghosn’s legal team challenged his dismissal by Nissan and Mitsubishi during the court hearing in Amsterdam, the first public session on the case after the former executive launched a suit against the companies last July. Ghosn is seeking €15 million in damages from the Japanese carmakers, who, he alleges, violated Dutch labor laws. Ghosn’s lawyers argued for the release of internal documents relating to his dismissal following an Nissan-Mitsubishi inquiry, which the carmakers used to substantiate his dismissal on allegations of financial misconduct. Ghosn’s legal team claims he was unfairly dismissed as chairman of Nissan – Mitsubishi BV, a Dutch-registered entity, because the details of the allegations were not shared with him. His lawyers say the documents will show the companies were aware of his activities. “Nissan and Mitsubishi publicly shamed Ghosn”, de Mol told the court. “Their reports and accusations were never put to Ghosn. There was no due process”. De Mol said he was pushing for “a full debate on the reasons of Ghosn’s dismissal. We need the information in his file to be able to do that. Mr. Ghosn is ready for a fight”. Nissan – Mitsubishi lawyer Meerdink dismissed the demands by Ghosn’s legal team, saying the reasons for the executive’s dismissal were clear, and that his lawyers were “going on a fishing expedition”. The Amsterdam court said it would postpone any decision on documents until Nissan and Mitsubishi file their case on the reasons for Ghosn’s dismissal, which is expected on March 26. +++ 

+++ GREAT WALL MOTORS , China’s largest SUV and pickup manufacturer, is planning to enter the Indian auto market in 2021 as part of its ongoing globalization campaign. The carmaker is showcasing 2 concepts and 4 smart SUVs under its popular Haval brand and 2 Great Wall-branded electric vehicles at an auto expo in Delhi. The move comes as demand for larger vehicles grows in India and the Indian government is calling for cleaner cars. Great Wall Motors said that its presence at the expo signals its “formal entry” into the Indian market. “India has become one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies and the auto market is promising, making it a preferred investment destination for most auto companies”, said Hardeep Sing Brar, director of sales and marketing of the company’s Indian arm. Some 3 million passenger vehicles were sold in India in 2019 making it the 4th largest car market globally after China, the United States and Japan. “We are excited at the limitless possibilities that lay ahead as India is an important market for us”, Great Wall Motors chairman Wei Jianjun told. “With the R&D center in Bangalore and now our participation at the 15th edition of the Auto Expo, we want to further ascertain the importance of India as the core strategic market”, he said. The company said it will upgrade the research and development facility in Bangalore with a focus on creating intelligent and safe vehicles for Indian consumers while continuing to increase investment in local R&D, production, supply and sales, making India a base for exports to neighboring countries. Great Wall Motors said it will launch a full range of Haval SUVs in the country, with Great Wall EV also rolling out a variety of models. The first India-made models will roll off the assembly line in 2021. Last month it inked a deal to buy GM India’s Talegaon plant. Great Wall Motors said it will accelerate the acquisition and expand its capacity. The plant, which produces 137.000 vehicles a year, will be Great Wall Motors’ 10th full-process vehicle plant worldwide. Great Wall Motors will also invest in auto battery production in the country to build a complete supply chain system. The overall expansion in the Indian market will not only help Great Wall Motors to further advance its global strategy, but also enhance its competitiveness in the global automobile industry of the future, the company said. Last year, Great Wall Motors unveiled a $500 million plant in Russia. The plant, located in the city of Tula, around 190 kilometers south of Moscow, is its first overseas wholly-owned full-process manufacturing plant. The plant started production in June 2019 and has a designed annual capacity of 150,000 vehicles, and around 65 % of components will be purchased locally in Russia. The manufacturer hopes the plant will better serve demand in the Russian market and work as a base for its foray into eastern Europe, including the adjacent countries of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. Great Wall Motors made its first forays into the international market in 1998, selling SUVs and pickup trucks. It currently has sales networks in more than 60 countries and regions with the support of 5 regional marketing centers in Russia, Australia, South Africa, South America and the Middle East. In the past 20 years, it has set up more than 500 overseas dealerships and delivered more than 600,000 vehicles. The carmaker said as the Chinese economy evolves, there is an inevitable trend for Chinese brands to go global. It said it is high time that Chinese automotive brands explore deeper into overseas markets to increase sales and more importantly to improve their reputation. “Chinese cars should also go global like Chinese home appliances, mobile phones and fast-moving consumer goods”, Wei said. +++ 

+++ HONDA reported a nearly 31 % dive in its October-December profit as strong demand for its motorcycles failed to make up for falling vehicles sales. Honda reported quarterly profit of 116.4 billion yen ($1.1 billion), down from 168 billion yen the same period the previous year. Sales for the 3 months slipped 6 % to 3.7 trillion yen ($34 billion). Honda raised its full year profit forecast to 595 billion yen ($5.4 billion) from an earlier 575 billion yen ($5.2 billion), although the improved new forecast is still 15 % below what it earned the previous fiscal year. Honda said the damage from the outbreak of a virus that began in central China is not reflected in its forecasts through March 2020. Honda, like other Japanese automakers, has not resumed production at its factories in China since the Lunar New Year’s holidays, which began January 24. Tokyo-based Honda said its 3 auto-assembly plants in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, will remain closed through February 13. Honda’s other plants in China will remain shuttered at least through Sunday, the company said. 30 Honda employees have returned to Japan on chartered planes from Wuhan arranged by the Japanese government, and none of them are sick with the virus, it said. Company trips to the Wuhan area are canceled, and trips to China overall are being avoided unless absolutely necessary, said Honda, which also makes Super Cub scooters. “We are not expecting that much of a negative effect if production can resume as we foresee now”, executive vice president Seiji Kuraishi told reporters. He said parts supplies and other preparations to restart production were coming along fine so far. “Of course, if this situation continues for a long time, that would be quite different”, Kuraishi said. +++

+++ HYUNDAI is recalling nearly 430.000 small cars because water can get into the antilock brake computer, cause an electrical short and possibly an engine fire. The recall is another in a series of problems that the South Korean automaker and its related company Kia have had with engine fires during the past few years. Past problems have triggered an investigation by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The latest recall covers certain 2006 through 2011 Elantra and 2007 through 2011 Elantra Touring (i30) vehicles. The company says the electrical short can cause a fire even when the cars are turned off. But Hyundai said that the rate of fires is so low that it’s not necessary to park the cars outside. Hyundai said in documents filed with the U.S. government that it has 3 reports of fires and no related injuries. Dealers will install a relay in the cars’ main electrical junction box to prevent short circuits while the car is turned off. The recall is to start on April 3. Last April, NHTSA opened 2 new investigations into fires involving Hyundai and Kia vehicles after getting complaints of more than 3.100 fires and 103 injuries. The agency granted a petition seeking the investigations by the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group. The investigations, one for Hyundai and the other for Kia, cover noncrash fires in almost 3 million vehicles from the affiliated automakers. The probes cover the 2011 through 2014 Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe, the 2011 through 2014 Kia Optima and Sorento, and the 2010 through 2015 Kia Soul. The complaints came from consumers and from data provided by both automakers. +++ 

+++ Clouds are gathering on the horizon for carmakers in JAPAN ; their business outlook put at risk by the new corona virus from China as it threatens to cripple their supply chains in the country, now a global manufacturing powerhouse. While automakers have been struggling to assess how the outbreak of the pneumonia-causing virus will affect their production and sales, one thing is clear: they will face significant impacts if the situation continues. “To be honest, it’s impossible to manufacture cars without China”, said Toshiaki Okada, chief financial officer at Subaru. Subaru itself does not have production bases in China but its tier-one parts suppliers run factories there, the firm said. Okada did not disclose the specific numbers but said Subaru uses “quite a lot” of parts from China to assemble cars at its plants in Japan and the United States. He added that some suppliers have said they may not be able to provide their products on time due to the idling of their Chinese factories. In the wake of the outbreak, some Chinese provinces and municipalities have reportedly told local businesses not to resume operations before February 10. “Our plants won’t be forced to halt operations due to the lack of parts for the foreseeable future, but if the corona virus continues to freeze business activities in China, the impact will be unavoidable”, said Okada. “We just don’t know yet when it will happen”. South Korea’s Hyundai already started to feel the pain of having to idle plants outside of China earlier this week, announcing plans to halt domestic assembly lines after Chinese supply chains were incapacitated. Many Japanese parts makers run their own production bases in China, so it is expected to take some time for carmakers to grasp how their supplies have been and will be affected, said Arifumi Yoshida, an auto analyst at Citigroup Global Markets Japan. It will probably be difficult to procure replacement parts in the short term, Yoshida said, but the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 prompted Japanese carmakers to diversify supply chains to avoid relying heavily on a single region, he added, noting that in the midterm production is likely to return to normal. Among Japan’s automakers, Yoshida said Honda was likely to take the biggest hit given that the Tokyo-based firm has plants in Wuhan as well as relying on parts made in China. Yoshida estimates that a 1 month suspension of operations at Honda’s plants in Wuhan and Guangzhou would slash the firm’s net profit by ¥40 billion. Honda said that it plans to resume operations at its plants in Wuhan on February 14, aiming to restart production the following week. The firm plans to reopen the Guangzhou plants on Monday. But there is no guarantee that Honda will actually be able to restart production, as the availability of both parts and workers remains uncertain. Honda said its Chinese factories have only 3 days of stock. On top of production issues, it’s critical to monitor the impact on consumption, as well, Yoshida said. “People won’t think about buying cars when their mobility is restricted”, he pointed out. During a news conference Mazda executive Officer Ryuichi Umeshita acknowledged there would “be an impact on our sales in China after the Lunar New Year holiday is over”. The Hiroshima-based automaker is stopping its factory output in China through February 10. With regard to its inventory of auto parts in China, managing executive officer Tetsuya Fujimoto said the firm has “safe levels of stocks for now”, but that “a prolonged suspension would certainly have a negative impact on our car production”. “If the supply of parts from China stopped, for example, we would face the need to consider whether another region can compensate”, Fujimoto added. Toyota is still gauging how the situation will unfold. “We are sorry that we are not yet able to assess the impact of the spread of the virus on our profits and business”, Masayoshi Shirayanagi, a Toyota operating officer, told reporters when the firm announced its April-December earnings. Toyota said it had extended the suspension of operations at its 4 car assembly plants and 8 auto parts plants in China until February 17. The firm raised its full-year consolidated earnings forecast, expecting a ¥100 billion increase to ¥2.5 trillion in its operating profit, above previous projections, thanks to the weaker yen and other factors such as cost reduction efforts. But that estimate “does not take into account the potential fallout from the corona virus”, said Shirayanagi. +++ 

+++ NISSAN will temporarily halt production at its plant in Kyushu, southwestern Japan, due to the corona virus, as the outbreak starts to strain the global supply chain. Nissan, the first automaker to halt production at a plant in Japan because of the outbreak, was finding it increasingly difficult to procure parts from China. The stoppage could impact production of around 3.000 vehicles, it said. Nissan will halt 2 production lines at the Kyushu plant from February 14, underlining the extent to which manufacturers in the world’s third-largest economy are reliant on China for supplies. Nissan’s production in Kyushu was around 434.000 vehicles in the 2018 financial year, with about half of that for the domestic market. Nissan will halt another line, one that makes mainly cars for export, on February17. The corona virus outbreak (declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization) has disrupted Chinese manufacturing and that is having an effect on plants abroad. In South Korea, Hyundai, Kia and Renault subsidiary RSM have all announced closures citing disruption to supply of parts from China. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is set to reveal the range-topping Turbo and Turbo S variants of the 992-generation 911 at the Geneva motor show next month. The Turbo models will retain the standard car’s new 3.8-litre flat-6 engine, but a pair of substantial turbochargers and additional hardware taken from Weissach’s GT2 RS flagship will boost output significantly; up to at least 620 hp in the Turbo S. The Turbo will receive the same forced induction treatment but will produce around 50 hp less. Its expected 570 hp output is a 30 hp increase over the outgoing 991 equivalent. It should be enough to push the 911 from 0-100 kph in less than 3 seconds and on to a top speed north of 320 kph. Both models will be distinguished from the standard 911 by a downforce-enhancing bodywork package that includes widened rear wheel arches, a fixed rear spoiler, side air intakes and model-specific front and rear bumpers. They will likely also be available with unique wheel designs and paint scheme options. Although the 992 mixed-metal bodyshell is lighter than that of the 991, heavier powertrain and mandatory petrol particulate filters mean the 911 Turbo is set to weigh slightly more than its predecessor overall. Porsche will confirm official pricing and specifications for the new model at its launch. Joining the 911 Turbo on Porsche’s Geneva stand will be the new 6-cylinder GTS versions of the 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster. +++ 

+++ A new computer system is being developed to “revolutionise” ROAD SAFETY , according to Hyundai. The system, which is being developed by Hyundai-backed Israeli firm Autotalks, uses connected car technology to warn other vehicles (and their drivers) of hazards long before they can be seen. It is expected that the first of these systems will be fitted to vehicles in 2021, and could cost as little as €85. A computer chip in the car broadcast’s the vehicle’s position, speed and direction up to 10 times every second. This data is received by the other connected cars in the area, and the computer system then calculates the risk posed by each vehicle. If there is a potential hazard, such as an unseen vehicle failing to slow for a junction, the system will alert the driver. However, if and when autonomous cars arrive on our roads, Autotalks says cars will be able to take evasive action automatically. This technology, which is known as V2X (vehicle to everything), will also be able to communicate with street furniture such as traffic lights, and Autotalks hopes it will eventually be able to communicate with smartphones. This, the firm claims, will help prevent pedestrians being involved in crashes. Hyundai says the system is necessary after its study of 2,000 drivers found that 15 % of British motorists have had a near miss in the past month after becoming distracted. And more than a fifth (22 %) said they had been in an accident that could have been avoided had they paid more attention. Yaniv Sulkes, the vice-president for business development and marketing at Autotalks, said the system would help to cut the number of people killed every day on the world’s roads. “In the USA and other parts of the world, if you’re healthy, then the thing that is most likely to kill you is a car”, he said. “If you’re a motorcyclist the chances are even higher. People don’t like the statistics, but every day around 3.700 people lose their lives in crashes. This is an epidemic and we need to think of ways to address it. Ultimately we all want to get from point A to point B safely and if you get an alert ahead of a potential hazard you can avoid the accident. This is the underlying principle of what we do. Our eyes are brilliant, they are as good as any camera but we might take our eyes off the road or lose concentration and this is where chipsets can help. Communication tools don’t need line of sight, if they detect a hazard they can give you enough time to take the right course of action, in confidence. If you get an alert ahead of time, you can avoid the accident and that is the underlying principle of what we do. Where there is a dangerous situation, the car will alert you to take the correct action to avoid it. Eventually, this will happen autonomously”. +++ 

+++ The development of the new generation Cupra Leon is almost complete, with SEAT ’s performance brand readying the premiere of the hot hatch. It will be unveiled next week, on February 20, at the Cupra Garage inauguration, alongside the new Cupra Leon Competicion. Its public debut will take place at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show in early March, before an expected arrival at dealers in select countries at the end of the year. The all-new Cupra Leon is expected to pack an upgraded version of the plug-in hybrid powertrain found in the range-topping new Seat Leon. In the latter, the 1.4-liter TSI plug-in hybrid develops a combined output of 204 hp and is backed up by a 13 kWh battery that gives it an electric range of 60 km. The Cupra variant, however, is believed to offer 245 hp and cover the 0-100 km/h sprint in approximately 6.5 seconds. The zero-emission driving range will perhaps drop to 55 km. If it’s performance that you’re after, then you may want to wait a bit for Cupra to launch the rumored Leon R (name unconfirmed). Said model is tipped to use the same 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder unit as the next Audi S3. Expect 310 hp and a weather-proof all-wheel drive system for a 0-100 km/h sprint of under 5 seconds. The rumor mill speaks about a diesel-powered version of the new Cupra Leon as well, which would certainly make sense on the ST estate model. +++ 

+++ Tensions between China and the United States have cooled off a bit, but they’re still present as the Department of Justice has warned automakers that the communist country wants their electric vehicle technology. At a conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Chinese government is “fighting a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership”. However, he said they’re not doing this with legitimate innovation but rather STEALING “their way up the economic ladder at our expense”. The nation’s top cop went on to say “We see Chinese companies stealing American intellectual property to avoid the hard slog of innovation, and then using it to compete against the very American companies they victimized; in effect, cheating twice over”. China uses multiple methods to steal American technology, but they can largely be boiled down to cyber intrusions, corporate espionage and theft of research. Wray said this is an enormous problem as he revealed the FBI is currently conducting about 1,000 investigations into China’s attempted theft of US-based technology. He added the investigations involve every single one of their 56 field offices and span “almost every industry and sector”. Nothing seems off limits as Wray said China has “targeted companies producing everything from proprietary rice and corn seeds to software for wind turbines to high-end medical devices”. He added the country goes after “anything that can give them a competitive advantage” and this includes pricing information, internal strategy documents and personally identifiable information. Reuters noted Wray’s warning was echoed by the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center who said China’s top priorities are stealing aircraft and electric vehicle technology. The latter shouldn’t be too surprising as China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles and US automakers are finally getting serious about EVs. While it can be hard to stop thefts, Wray urged companies to beef up their security, reexamine their supply lines and take the warning into consideration when thinking about doing business with Chinese companies. As the FBI warned, “While a partnership with a Chinese company may seem profitable today, a U.S. company may find themselves losing their intellectual property in the long run”. +++ 

+++ 8 months after it seemed headed for the corporate junkyard, TESLA is now worth more than General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles combined, even though the Big Three together sell more cars and trucks in 2 weeks than Tesla does in a whole year. In a reversal of fortune analysts find amazing if not nutty, the stock of the electric vehicle and solar panel maker has rocketed to nearly $900; up over 30 % in just the past 2 days. It is now worth 5 times what it was in June, when there were whispers of bankruptcy surrounding the company founded by the erratic visionary Elon Musk. Among the world’s automakers, Tesla, with a market value just shy of $160 billion, ranks behind only Toyota, at $232 billion. Many investors see it as justified for a company that is leading the world in electric vehicle sales amid an expected global transition from the internal combustion engine to batteries. Others see the meteoric rise as just plain crazy for a company that’s never turned a full-year profit. “It doesn’t seem to be closely attached to reality”, said Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey. Tesla sold only 367.500 vehicles last year, compared with millions at GM, Ford or Fiat Chrysler. GM alone sold 7.7 million, 21 times more than Tesla. Just last spring, Tesla seemed to be in trouble. Its stock had fallen 40 % largely on concerns that it was running out of buyers for its high-priced vehicles, which start at nearly $40,000 and can run well over $100,000. Big debt payments were looming, the company was burning cash and losses were growing. Its federal tax credit was being phased out by the end of the year, and competitors were about to launch their own electric vehicles. But sales emerged stronger than many expected, production problems were vanquished, and while Tesla lost $862 million in 2019, it turned a profit during the last 2 quarters of the year, including $105 million in quarterly earnings posted last week. Among the positive signs coming from the automaker: Tesla said it expects to exceed production of 500.000 vehicles this year at its factories in Fremont and Shanghai. It appears to have worked the kinks out of making the Model 3, the company’s lowest-priced vehicle. And it announced it will start producing the Model Y, a crossover with broad global appeal, sooner than expected. “For Tesla worldwide, this will probably be their most important car”, said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds. Tasha Keeney, an analyst at ARK Invest, one of the firms most bullish on Tesla, said investors have figured out that Tesla is ahead of competitors in such things as battery technology and software. Also, demand for electric vehicles over the next 4 years is probably underestimated, she said. “We think an electric vehicle will be cost-competitive on a sticker price basis with a gas-powered car by 2022, and this is what’s going to cause an inflection in demand”, Keeney said. The run-up in price is, like all stock investments, a bet on the future. Electric vehicles account for just 2 % of global vehicle sales and Tesla is up against well-established competitors such as GM, Ford, Audi and Porsche. Tesla’s stock surge brought major pain to a cadre of investors who had bet the shares would fall. These “short sellers” borrowed stock and sold it in hopes of buying it back later at lower prices and pocketing the difference. Because of persistent doubts about Musk’s ability realize his ambitions, Tesla is the most shorted company on the U.S. stock market. But interest in shorting Tesla has been falling steadily since the summer, when its stock began climbing. When a heavily shorted stock jumps very quickly in price, short sellers often rush to buy it in hopes of limiting their losses. That in turn pushes the stock price even higher. Still, the stock rise seems irrational to Gartner’s Ramsey, who points out that Tesla is an auto company facing perpetually large capital expenditures on factories, vehicle development and raw materials. “It doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways”, he said. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , the manual transmission’s long, harrowing demise continued in 2019. For the first time, the number of electric cars sold new in America was higher than the number of vehicles delivered with three pedals and a clutch disc: 1.1 % of Americans who bought a new car last year selected (or settled for) a manual transmission, which is nearly a rounding error considering annual sales totaled approximately 17.1 million units. In comparison, electric vehicles held a 1.6 % share of the market, which is also negligible in the grand scheme of things. The manual transmission’s market share dropped by 0.5 % from 2018 to 2019, while EVs rose by 0.1 %. This trend is hardly surprising; the number of cars available with a manual transmission continues to drop and the electric vehicle segment is growing steadily. Subaru notably announced the Impreza Sport will exclusively be available with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for the 2020 model year, while Hyundai’s Elantra and Veloster Turbo are going automatic-only. The born-again Toyota GR Supra never offered a stick to begin with. Meanwhile, automakers are setting aside a huge amount of money to develop and launch electric cars, trucks, and SUVs. It’s reasonable to assume that, in the early 2020s, the manual transmission will dip under the 1 % mark and the electric powertrain will continue to inch towards the mainstream. Every electric car sold new or being developed in 2020 has 2 pedals, so hoping battery technology will save the stick is dumbly optimistic. And yet, Ford unexpectedly proved motorists who want to pivot away from gasoline don’t necessarily need to give up changing their own gears. It joined forces with Webasto to build a stick-shifted electric Mustang with over 900 hp. While it’s technically possible to make an electric car with a 6-speed stick, the determining question is whether consumer demand is high enough to warrant developing one. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group won’t be resuming production at its China joint venture factories as scheduled, as the corona virus continues to impact economic activity. SAIC Volkswagen Automotive will postpone production by 7 days until February 17 (except for one Shanghai plant which will restart on the 10th), while FAW-Volkswagen’s Tianjin plant will also stay closed until the 17th. The German carmaker initially blamed the limited travel options available for its employees and stated that its supply chains were in the early stages of re-starting after production had been halted for the Chinese national holidays at the end of last month. However, those delays were made even worse by the spread of the corona virus. Other car companies are also sticking to a February 10 restart plan for their Chinese production, such as Daimler and Ford, while Honda will wait until February 13 to restart its 3 plants in Wuhan. Last week, the Japanese brand said that they faced no supply chain issues. Nissan meanwhile is considering waiting until sometime after February 10 to restart production at its Dongfeng joint venture, while the PSA Group’s 3 Wuhan factories (which are run alongside Dongfeng), will stay closed until February 14. As for Toyota and BMW, they will wait until February 16 and the 17th, respectively, before restarting production. Last week, Fiat Chrysler said that production at one of its European plants could also be impacted within 2 to 4 weeks, whereas Hyundai was already forced to suspend production in South Korea, as the virus disrupted its supply chain. +++ 

+++ VOLVO and parent company Geely will investigate merging into a single company in order to become more competitive in the global car market. The Swedish car maker has been owned by Chinese giant Geely Auto Holdings since 2010 but remains a separate firm. Geely also owns brands including Lotus, Lynk & Co, Proton and LEVC. Volvo’s new spin-off brand Polestar is jointly owned. Volvo says merging with Geely into a single global group would “accelerate financial and technical synergies”, with the “scale, knowledge and resources to be a leader in the ongoing transformation of the automotive industry”. It added that any deal would “preserve the distinct identity” of Volvo, Geely, Lynk & Co and Polestar. The 2 companies have established a joint working group that will develop a proposal to send to each board. No timeline has been given for that process. Geely chairman Li Shufu said the deal would “strengthen the synergies within the group while maintaining the competitive advantage and the integrity of each individual brand”. Volvo and Geely already benefit from considerable shared technology, including the CMA and SPA platforms, and are in the process of merging their combustion engine divisions into a single firm. Since Geely bought then-struggling Volvo from Ford, the brand has been revitalised and achieved record sales, largely thanks to the expansion of its SUV range. In recent years, Volvo has made several bold moves under boss Håkan Samuelsson, including setting the goal of becoming a maker of electric cars only within 20 years. By merging, both Volvo and Geely could benefit from greater joint technical development and shared production facilities, which could be vital for them to remain competitive against giants such as the Volkswagen Group and the newly merged PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It could also give Volvo access to extra production capacity in Geely’s China factories, while aiding Geely’s attempts to expand its brands into Europe. The new company would initially be listed on the Hong Kong stock market, with the intention to subsequently list it in Sweden. It’s not known how the leadership of a combined company would be formed. +++

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