Newsflash: BMW komt met milde hybride dieselversies van 3-serie, X3 en X4

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+++ ALFA ROMEO has a new boss for its European operations as the brand’s sales continue to plunge in the region while it waits for new products. Arnaud Leclerc, an industry veteran who has worked for Honda and the PSA Group, will be promoted to the role, Alfa Romeo’s parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said in a news release. Leclerc, 45, succeeds Alberto Cavaggioni, who has left the company. He will report to FCA’s Europe chief, Pietro Gorlier, and Alfa Romeo’s global boss, Tim Kuniskis. Leclerc will keep his current position as head of Alfa Romeo in the UK alongside this new role. Alfa Romeo’s sales in the European Union dropped 36 % to 50.830 vehicles last year. Its volume for the whole of the EU was lower than that of Lancia, which sold 58.903 units of its sole product, the Ypsilon, in its only market, Italy. Alfa Romeo is counting on new launches to revive sales. These include the Tonale compact SUV due next year and mid-cycle updates of the Giulia and Stelvio, also planned for next year. The brand is due to get a small SUV in 2022 but Alfa Romeo’s plans could change following next year’s expected merger of FCA and PSA as the 2 groups start to consolidate platforms. Alfa Romeo’s lineup currently comprises 3 vehicles: the Giulia, Stelvio and the Giulietta. The brand dropped the slowselling Mito and the low production 4C coupe and roadster. FCA has scaled back Alfa Romeo’s product plans, with 2 planned sports cars and a large SUV axed, and the Giulietta to be dropped from the lineup. +++ 

+++ It’s an old political cliché that a week is a long time in politics. On the stock markets, however, just a few hours can turn a company’s prospects upside down, as ASTON MARTIN has recently proven. Ironically, as recently as 23 January, it was reported that analysts at Citigroup rated Aston as a ‘high-risk, high-return’ bet based on the potential of the DBX, targeting a future share price of £6. Since Aston Martin Lagonda plc was floated on the stock market in October 2018, its launch share price of £19 has been in decline, dropping to £11.56 on 14 December 2018. It had taken less than 2 months for the shares to lose around 40 % of their value, although many analysts felt the initial launch price of the shares was over-enthusiastic. By 18 January last year, things had picked up a little before continuing their downward journey. This was perhaps a little surprising, because Aston Martin was reporting a generally successful 2018. According to its accounts, the number of ‘wholesale’ cars sold for 2018 was 6.441; up from 5.098 in 2017. The company sold 1.785 V12-engined cars and 4.471 V8s. Sales in the US jumped 38 % and Aston Martin’s revenue hit £1.1 billion; up 25 %. Excluding the ‘specials’ built by the company, the average selling price for its cars was £141,000. That’s high, but perhaps not high enough considering Aston’s incoming investment plans. One surprise hiding in the accounts was that the cost of placing the company on the stock market was £136 million, helping to push annual profits down to just £68 million. On future product launches, the investor presentation was especially bullish. As well as the DBX, the line-up included 2 new mid-engined supercars (the Vanquish and Valhalla) as well as an electric SUV and electric saloon from Lagonda in 2021 and 2022. On top of that ambitious schedule, in addition to 155 examples of the battery-powered Rapide E, Aston was promising the DB4 GT Zagato continuation model, the DB5 Goldfinger continuation and two versions of the Valkyrie hypercar. Clearly, this programme (as well as the costs of setting up the St Athan factory for DBX production) was ambitious in the extreme, especially for such a small company. The share price continued its overall descent during the first half of last year, dropping to just £8.43 on 24 May before firming up to over £10 by July. But a trading update and profit warning from the firm on 23 July put an end to any hopes of a recovery. Aston Martin revealed it had experienced a 25 % drop in sales between April and June last year, with falls of 22 % in the United Kingdom and 28 % across the rest of Europe and the Middle East. Shares plummeted by 26 % in a single day. On 31 July, Aston Martin announced that it had lost £78 million in the first half of 2019, in contrast to a £21 million profit in the same period in 2018. By 5 August, the share price had cratered to just £4.54, then £3.99 by 31 October. However, some confidence returned to investors towards the end of the year, with the price stuttering back up to £6.30 on 6 December. That was the recent peak for the company, and one to which it is unlikely to return for quite some time. At the beginning of this year, Aston released its preliminary figure for the whole of 2019. Sales in the UK fell from 1.798 to 1.429 and in the rest of Europe from 1.489 to 1.074. Revenue went down 9 %. The rumour in the analyst world, one later confirmed by CEO Andy Palmer, was that Vantage sales had failed to hit the mark, which might explain the recent redesign. Even a rise in sales in the US couldn’t prevent Aston Martin’s finances taking a beating. That ambitious new model programme was biting, with the company’s debt leaping from £560 million to £876 million. Serious alarm bells rang and the company’s cash position became incredibly precarious, making the planned roll-out of crucial models such as the DBX difficult. Then came a rescue, of sorts, on 31 January, when billionaire Lawrence Stroll bought a 16.7 % stake in the company for £182 million, which was to be added to a £318 million rights issue to give the company a £500 million boost, get the DBX in showrooms and get the development programme for the new midengined cars well under way. Stroll’s plan, which made him chairman, confirmed the Valkyrie for this year, cancelled the Rapide E and pushed the relaunch of Lagonda back to 2025. And then the coronavirus struck. Stroll took advantage of a well-placed clause in the original contract to renegotiate his offer, valuing the shares at £2.25 rather than the original £4 and taking a 25 % stake. He also added an additional £25 million to the original plan to give £55.5 million in working capital in order to tide Aston Martin over. Overall, Aston Martin intends to raise £536 million as announced today. £171 million of that will be through Stroll’s consortium as part of their total investment of £262 million, while a subsequent rights issue will also follow. Stroll’s new offer was, perhaps, based on the market price of £4.02 recorded on 30 January, and his investment pushed the shares up to £4.98. From there, though, it has been downhill all the way, as the world reacted to the spread of Covid-19. After dipping as low as £1.20 during one day of trading, Aston’s share price ricocheted around under the £2 mark as day-traders took advantage of mini bounces. Despite the factory having to close as a result of the pandemic, the share price has gently risen above that figure since, but not by much. But the value of Stroll’s holding has essentially been halved. And with global car sales almost halting during March and revenue drying up, Aston’s situation now, once again, looks critical. +++ 

+++ BMW made a €200 million sale in the German Schuldschein debt market as coronavirus upheavals weigh on the global auto industry. The private 5 year sale was bought by only 1 or 2 investors, and it priced at as much as 150 basis points over mid-swaps, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak about it. Bayerische Landesbank led the deal, which closed last week. BMW’s return to the Schuldschein market came as the spread of the coronavirus damps the global economy and hammers auto demand. The automaker is preparing to idle its biggest factory (in South Carolina) from April 3. The automaker started suspending production at its plants in Europe and Rosslyn, South Africa, on March 20. The shutdowns will last until April 19. The closures include Mini and Rolls-Royce operations in the United Kingdom. Nedcar in the Netherlands, which builds some Mini and BMW models, has also paused production. The Schuldschein is for general corporate purposes, the automaker said. BMW’s financial and liquidity status is stable with no major changes versus the end of last year. The company has “no intention to draw” on its €8 billion revolver facility, which is due in July 2023. Other global automakers including Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have tapped banks to shore up finances during the health crisis. The companies have either drawn multi-billion revolving facilities or sought new credit lines. +++ 

+++ DRIVERLESS CARS will reduce drink-driving but increase binge drinking, a new study has suggested. Researchers from Curtin University in Perth, Australia surveyed 1.334 people of legal driving age who consume alcohol. The goal was to assess the extent to which drinkers may choose to use driverless cars after consuming alcohol, may consume more alcohol if they are using a driverless car afterwards, and whether demographic, alcohol‐related and driverless car-related factors are associated with the likelihood of engaging in these behaviours. Some 49 % of respondents said they would be likely to use a driverless car after consuming alcohol, with 37 % saying they would be likely to drink more than they usually would if they had a driverless car to use afterwards. The study showed that younger age, more frequent alcohol consumption, a positive attitude to driverless cars and a preference for using ride-sharing platforms were all demographics associated with a greater likelihood of engaging in these behaviours. This led the study to conclude that the introduction of driverless cars is likely to reduce drink-driving rates, while facilitating greater participation in heavy episodic drinking. The researchers suggest this will present a new set of challenges for lawmakers. Leon Booth, research associate at Curtin University’s School of Psychology, was the lead author of the study. He warned that the benefits of driverless vehicles “may be accompanied by an unintended negative consequence in the form of greater overall alcohol consumption due to increased availability of affordable and convenient transport”. Co-author of the study Professor Simone Pettigrew added: “Once autonomous vehicles become readily available, they could be used as a means of facilitating out-of-home alcohol consumption and more frequent bouts of heavy drinking. Because the introduction of the vehicles will likely bring both positive and negative health effects, this represents a complex challenge for policymakers charged with reducing alcohol-related harms. A particular challenge will be the need to encourage the use of autonomous vehicles after drinking without encouraging drinking perse”. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen says sales of its ELECTRIFIED VEHICLES are picking up speed in Germany, with the automaker exemplifying with sales figures of the facelifted e-Up and Passat GTE. For instance, every second order for the revised Up is for the 83 hp fully electric version, with VW receiving around 20.000 orders in the first 3 months of this year. Launched in November 2019, the e-Up is Volkswagen’s entry-level all-electric model. Compared to its predecessor, it offers a a longer range of up to 260 km in the WLTP cycle. According to the automaker, the low running costs are the main purchasing argument for German customers. The manufacturer suggested retail price is reduced by an environmental bonus of €6,570, taxes included. Furthermore, the German insurance categories are favorable and no taxes are incurred for road tax or engine oil changes. As for the facelifted Passat, every 7th customer in Germany now opts for the 218 hp GTE plug-in hybrid. The facelifted Passat GTE’s 15 % share of overall Passat orders shows a 5-fold increase compared with the previous GTE model. One of the main selling points of the new Passat GTE Variant is the 56 km all-electric driving range in the WLTP cycle. That’s far more than the daily range of an average Volkswagen customer, which amounts to 42 km. VW will introduce several new plug-in hybrid models this year, including the 245 hp Golf GTE and a less powerful 204 hp Golf PHEV model. Other plug-in hybrid variants will be launched for the Arteon and Tiguan, as well as the 462 hp Touareg R range-topper. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES will temporarily defer salaries of employees around the world by 20 % in a bid to avoid making layoffs amidst the coronavirus pandemic. FCA chief executive Mike Manley revealed in a letter to employees and viewed by the media that the compensation reduction will start April 1 and could last for up to 3 months. The car manufacturer will repay its employees their lost funds no later than March 15, 2021. It’s not just salaried employees from FCA that will feel the pinch. Manley added that starting April 1, he will receive half of his normal pay for the next 3 months. Additionally, the other 19 members of FCA’s Group Executive Council will take a 30 % cut over the same time period while FCA Group chairman John Eklann and other members of the board of directors will receive no compensation for the rest of the year. “Protecting the financial health of the company is everyone’s responsibility and naturally starts with myself and the leadership of FCA”, Manley wrote in the letter. The car manufacturer has shut down a host of manufacturing plants around the world due to the Covid-19 outbreak. In the U.S. and Canada, production sites will remain idled through until April 13 at the earliest. A majority of FCA’s 53.800 global salaried workforce will be impacted by the downtime. FCA’s move mimics what General Motors announced last week. The Detroit automaker will temporarily cut 20 % of the pay of its 69.000 strong salaried workforce and repay them in a lump sum without interest by no later than March 15, 2021. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS told suppliers it is postponing work on at least half a dozen future models to conserve cash during the coronavirus pandemic and suggested it could delay the planned launch in late April of its highly profitable large SUVs. GM previously told suppliers that it planned to begin production in late April of the redesigned Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban full-size SUVs at its Arlington, Texas, plant after winding up production of the outgoing models this week. A GM spokesman reiterated what the automaker had said last week: that the situation with its U.S. plants was “fluid” and that the automaker would “continue to evaluate” whether and when to reopen those plants on a week-by-week basis, with “employee safety” guiding that decision. The big SUVs are among GM’s most profitable vehicles. In an email to suppliers, the automaker also said it was suspending development work on 6 future vehicle programs, including updates of the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Cadillac XT4, Bolt EV, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. GM said preproduction work on those programs would be pushed back to calendar year 2021, with most of the updated vehicles scheduled to be launched as 2022 models. GM last week told employees and suppliers it was delaying work on some future vehicles while pushing ahead with near-term models such as its redesigned full-size SUVs and the GMC Hummer EV, Cadillac Lyriq, Chevrolet Bolt EUV and Cruise Origin, as well as its new Ultium battery system. GM said previously that it was closing most of its U.S. plants indefinitely. In its email, GM asked suppliers to stop work on all pre-production tooling and pre-production parts manufacturing, but also not to dispose of any tooling or materials. In separate emails to suppliers, GM said it planned to run out production this week of the outgoing Escalade, Yukon, Tahoe and Suburban SUVs in preparation for the launch of the redesigned 2021 models. GM told it had solicited volunteers from its workforce to finish the build-out of the current SUVs on a single shift in Arlington. In addition, GM is installing more safeguards in the plant to help protect workers, including thermal temperature scanning and additional personal protective equipment. The work is expected to be completed in a week. +++

+++ GAC Honda, the joint venture between HONDA and the GAC Group in China, will absorb its wholly-owned subsidiary Honda Automobile (China) effective April 1, 2020. Honda Automobile (China) was established in 2003 as China’s first automobile production plant dedicated exclusively for export. The company was made a wholly-owned subsidiary of GAC Honda in 2018 and as part of the move for it to be fully absorbed by the joint venture, will be renamed Guangzhou Development District Factory. The newly-named company will produce the Accord for the Chinese domestic market starting in April while continuing to produce and export the City for the Mexican market. The single site operated by Guangzhou Development District Factory will produce up to 50.000 vehicles annually, boosting total annual production capacity of GAC Honda to 770.000 units per year. GAC Honda, also known as Guangqi Honda Automobile, builds a series of vehicles for the Chinese market and recently, unveiled the new and improved Avancier. The Avancier is Honda’s flagship SUV currently sold in China and for 2020 receives a host of updates. Inside, for example, the updated model gets the Honda Connect 2.0 infotainment system as well as hill descent control, wireless phone charging, a power tailgate, a plasma air purification system, automatic headlights, and an improved audio system. No changes have been made to the Avancier’s engine lineup. Consequently, customers will continue to be offered a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 193 hp and a 2.0-liter turbo-four rated at 272 hp. The first of these engines is mated to a CVT while the latter comes with a 9-speed ‘auto box. +++

+++ HYUNDAI hopes to increase its share of Europe’s minicar segment with the third-generation i10. “The i10 is a key player for us in Europe”, Hyundai Europe’s head of marketing and product, Andreas-Christoph Hofmann, said at the car’s launch in Lisbon in January. The i10 rose into the segment’s top-5 during the runout of the second-generation model last year, passing the Volkswagen Up, despite a 5.4 % sales decline. And while a number of automakers are leaving the segment, Hofmann said Hyundai foresees continued strong demand for minicars in Europe. The i10 accounted for more than 14 % of the 555.000 cars sold by Hyundai in Europe last year. Since its debut in 2008, more than 1.1 million i10s have been sold, Hyundai says. Affordability is a key issue in the segment, so Hyundai decided to keep the minicar’s starting price low. The automaker also limited the i10’s powertrain portfolio. There is no current plan to add any form of electrification to the i10, although the car does have an energy regeneration system that captures kinetic energy when the vehicle is coasting.The energy is transformed into electricity that it stores in the battery. Hofmann, however, conceded that to avoid future EU emissions fines Hyundai will need to electrify all of its models in the midterm. To make the i10 more appealing to younger buyers Hyundai enhanced the car’s connectivity and infotainment features. “The current age profile of the i10 buyers is not as young as we would like”, Hofmann said. The new features in the i10 include an optional 8 inch color touchscreen, Apple Car Play and Android Auto integration, wireless charging and Hyundai’s Bluelink telematics system with embedded 4G modem. Compared with its predecessor, the i10 is 20 mm wider (1.680 mm), 5 mm longer (3.670 mm) and the car’s wheelbase has grown by 40 mm (2.425 mm), all of which enhances the i10’s interior roominess. As part of Hyundai’s promise to deliver “the highest safety standard” in the segment, a number of the i10’s safety and driver assistance features are standard. These include lane-keeping assist, front-collision avoidance, driver-attention warning, speed-limit recognition and high-beam active management. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP said that it would open a mobility innovation center in Singapore to focus on developing and producing future mobility solutions by 2022. The automaker’s new global lab called Hyundai Mobility Global Innovation Center in Singapore (HMGICs) will be located in Singapore’s Jurong Innovation District, an advanced technology manufacturing hub comprised of tech companies, factories and researchers. The establishment of the automaker’s lab over the 44.000 square-meter land has been closely discussed with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) since 2018, regarding the 2 countries’ collaboration on the fourth industrial revolution, Hyundai Motor said. The construction will kick off in May and will be completed by second half of 2022. “The HMGICs will become a brand new testbed for what Hyundai Motor has been thinking of for testing out future mobility solutions. Combined with Hyundai Motor’s effort to become a future mobility solution provider and Singapore’s fertile innovative technology ecosystem, we will develop out-of-box business and future technology”, said Hyundai Motor Group president Seo Bo-shin. In recent years, Singapore has emerged as Asia’s technology hub, becoming a favored destination for firms to penetrate into the growing market. According to Singapore’s EDB, 80 of the global top 100 tech companies have operations in the city. In the similar context, Hyundai Motor Group executive vice chairman Chung Euisun has been increasing investment and collaboration with firms in Singapore in recent years. Last year, the auto empire has designated Singapore to operate its car-sharing project. It has also conducted a hydrogen fuel cell taxi business there, where the transportation industry has been relatively open to new changes such as via ride-hailing giant Grab. “On top of favorable business policies for foreign firms, Singapore’s transparent social system, stable political environment, and use of English as public language make it easier for some 7,000 global firms to put a foothold in the country”, said an official. Hyundai Motor said its mobility innovation lab in Singapore will work as a testbed for its future mobility businesses, such as multi-modal. The company will also conduct a new value-chain process comprised of research and development, manufacturing and sales of future mobility solutions at its new center, which is expected to create new customers in the new market, it added. For example, the new center will be responsible for developing human-centered platform based on artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technology and test them during the trial production of electric vehicles. The center will also develop production system for custom-made orders. By leveraging HMGICs, the automaker also plans to work with local startups, research institutes and universities (such as Nanyang Technological University) for mobility industry innovation. Hyundai Motor’s Hyundai Cradle, a center for robotic-augmented design that has offices in South Korea, the US, Israel, Germany, China, as well as Air Lab, a unit responsible for AI development, will penetrate into Singapore via HMGICs to create synergies and expand the global network, the company said. The automaker’s launch of a new global mobility center will also strengthen partnership with local firms such as Grab and expand its plan to test new business opportunities in last mile, multi-modal service and shuttle transportation sectors. Hyundai Motor said it will also review specific plans for building smart city in Singapore which the Singaporean government has been focusing on recently. “We expect HMGICs’ effort on developing new businesses and AI-production platform will create bigger values combined with Singapore’s value for research and innovation capacities”, said Tan Kong Hwee, an assistant managing director at EDB. +++

+++ JEEP is fully ready to embrace electrification and wants to become “the greenest, most sustainable SUV company in the world”, its boss has said. A number of electric Jeeps are potentially on the cards, including an ‘adventure’ model making full use of the benefits of EVs for off-roading: namely instant torque to the individual wheel that needs it, reduced nature-disrupting noise and the ability to provide high-voltage power for camping. “There are so many things we need to bring together to make Jeep a modern, contemporary brand that will break through and sustain for the next 80 years”, Christian Meunier told. “That’s a big transition in our world. There was a little evolution every year, but there’s a big revolution happening now. To make Jeep the greenest, most sustainable SUV company is a little bit of a challenge, but it’s the most exciting one”. Meunier added that we’ll soon see a “lot of things we are working on, like Battery EV cars”. In Europe, the focus is on 3 core models: the Renegade, Compass and Wrangler. Jeep showcased plug-in hybrid versions of all 3, badged 4xe, at CES in January. Each is set to be launched this year. Meunier continued: “PHEV has a very strong role to play for us, we believe, because it gives a lot of advantages: a 50-kilometre range, zero emissions and then removes the range anxiety. “So I think for markets like Europe and China, it’s critical”. Former Jeep CEO and now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief Mike Manley said in 2018 that there would be 4 EVs in Jeep’s portfolio by 2022. It’s not clear if this plan has been altered or wound back following the substantial executive reshuffling since that statement, but Meunier’s comments suggest launching EVs is still a priority for Jeep. Meunier was quick to point out that electrification brings just as much in performance as it does ecological credentials. “Think about a Wrangler Rubicon, full electric or PHEV”, he said. “This is a car that’s going to do 0-100 kph in 6 seconds, potentially, so you’re going to get acceleration you’re never going to get with an engine. You’re going to get the most capable Jeep ever. The opportunity is two-fold, with the compliance and the ecology and sustainability, but in my mind, it’s also an opportunity to improve the capabilities of our pickups and SUVs and make it even more exciting off road and on road”. The high-voltage batteries of EVs would also allow them to serve as external power sources; a trait Jeep reckons will appeal greatly to hardcore off-roaders, adventurers and campers alike. It would enable the car to power a variety of electrical equipment, including compressor kits, welders, lights and camping gear. Meunier is convinced the United States, Jeep’s home market and overwhelmingly its biggest, will move to electrification faster than most people predict, giving his brand the volume necessary for an extensive roll-out of electrified models and variants. “Either you try to be compliant and do the bare minimum or you embrace it and go full speed on it”, said Meunier. “The latter is the way we should go, because we have the opportunity to make some really, really exciting products, and I think the company is convinced of that. You’ll see a lot of electrified products in the next few years. It’s not about having small cars to offset big cars; every car will have a role to play”. +++

+++ LUCID MOTORS has delayed the unveiling of the production-spec Air until later this year but chief engineer Peter Rawlinson says the car manufacturer is continuing to make progress in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The Lucid Air had been scheduled to make its debut at the New York Auto Show next week but the event has now been pushed back until late August. Should the event go ahead in August, that’s when we should see the Air, a luxurious electric sedan that Lucid believes will be a direct competitor to the likes of the Audi e-Tron, BMW i4 and Mercedes-Benz EQ C, not just Tesla. During a recent interview, Peter Rawlinson said Lucid is continuing to recruit staff as it readies its first vehicle for production. “Leading up to the rise of COVID-19, Lucid had grown to over 1.000 employees and we are maintaining this aggressive growth trajectory even now”, Rawlinson confirmed. “We have worked with the HR team to maintain interview schedules for new-hire candidates while switching them to phone calls, and we are also moving forward on talent acquisition strategies”. Lucid’s factory in Casa Grande, Arizona is continuing to come together and while many companies are struggling due to the coronavirus, Rawlinson said the electric startup is in a good position. “Lucid is in a sound financial position, and has the financing needed to take it to start of production for the Lucid Air”, he said. “Our supply chain remains totally committed and in a state of readiness for start of production for the Lucid Air. For the most part, tooling and machinery for the Lucid factory in Arizona was well underway before the current crisis”. In late February, Lucid announced that the Air will feature LG Chem’s cylindrical battery cells. This is in contrast to the EVs currently produced by the likes of Jaguar, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz that use LG Chem’s pouch-style cells. The initial launch model dubbed the ‘Dream Edition’ will reportedly be good for 643 km of range on a single charge. +++

+++ The Geely Holding Group said its upscale LYNK & CO brand will enter Europe in late 2020 to speed up its globalization campaign. “We’re not changing our plan. As scheduled, we will land in Europe in the 4th quarter”, said An Conghui, the group’s president, at the annual results meeting of its listed arm, Geely Automobile Holdings. He did not give details about where it will launch, but said the move will make it the first Chinese car brand to sell in “major European countries”. An said Lynk & Co will enter Europe using Volvo’s resources. The first model to hit the European market will be made in East China’s Zhejiang province. Positioned as a global brand, Lynk & Co was launched in Berlin in late 2016. It now offers 4 models, and their total sales in China reached around 260.000. An said 2 new models will join Lynk & Co’s lineup this year. Geely will launch another 4 models under its Geely and Geometry marques this year, which are expected to help the carmaker reach its sales goal of 1.41 million in 2020. “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we are confident and will not scale down our target. And there is no change in our long-term development plan”, An said. Geely sold 1.36 million vehicles in 2019; down 9 % year-on-year. This is mainly due to the slump in the overall vehicle market. However, its market share grew to 6.5 % in 2019 from 6.2 % in 2018. In February, Geely said it was planning to merge Geely Auto and Volvo, but the brands will remain independent. After the merger, the company will be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and later in Stockholm, Sweden. Gui Shengyue, CEO of Geely Automobile Holdings, said the 2 companies are pushing forward with the merger, which will improve the marques’ competitive edge in the global auto industry. Geely purchased Volvo in 2010 from Ford. Over the past few years, the Swedish brand has grown into an international marque with production facilities and sales networks in Europe, the US and China. Last year, Volvo’s total sales passed 700.000, of which around 160.000 were delivered in China, its largest market worldwide. +++

+++ With a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel powered cars set to arrive in 2035 at the latest, you could be forgiven for thinking the internal combustion engine is breathing its last. But MAZDA thinks there’s life in the old dog yet, and the company is backing a range of research projects that could see biofuels dispensed from our pumps. The company, which is well known for its rotary-engined sports cars and the MX-5 roadster, says it thinks algae-based biofuels are “critical” if the world is to make internal combustion-powered cars carbon-neutral. Mazda says that’s because when burnt, algae biofuel only releases carbon dioxide that was soaked up from the atmosphere by the algae as it grew. And according to the car maker, that isn’t the only advantage. Algae fuels can be farmed on land unsuitable for agriculture, it can be grown without too much impact on freshwater resources, and can be produced using salt and waste water. Algae-based biofuels are also biodegradable and less harmful to the environment if they get spilled. However, Mazda says the fuels still need work, with efforts being made to improve productivity and reduce costs – both of which will be pivotal in the bid to make such fuel commercially available. As a result, Mazda is lending technical support to the combination of research into genome editing by Hiroshima University and plant physiology by the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which it hopes will lead to a breakthrough in these areas. New fuels could contain as much as 10 % bioethanol. In a statement, Mazda said the introduction of biofuel would be important, because the company expects to continue using internal combustion engines in tandem with electric motors in around 95 % of its cars in 2030. The company also expects liquid fuels to remain “dominant” in the automotive sector until “at least 2040. As part of its ‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030’ long-term technology development programme, the company is committed to reducing its average ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2 emissions to 50 % of 2010 levels by 2030, and to 90 % by 2050”, the firm said. “Expecting that internal combustion engines combined with some form of electrification will still account for some 95 % of the vehicles it produces in 2030 and that liquid fuel will remain dominant in the automotive industry until at least 2040, Mazda considers a renewable liquid fuel essential to drastic CO2 reduction”. +++

+++ BMW has announced it will launch MILD HYBRID variants of the 3 Series, X3 and X4 this summer. The announcement was confirmed in the brand’s quarterly update, in which it committed to a 20 % reduction in CO2 emissions over 2019. Similar tech is also due to arrive in the 1 Series later this year. The 48 volt mild hybrid system has been offered as standard on the entry-level 5 Series diesel since autumn last year. It combines BMW’s 190 hp turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine with a compact battery pack and an integrated starter-generator, which provides up to an additional 11 hp under acceleration. When coasting at speeds below 160 kph, the mild-hybrid system disengages the combustion engine to the benefit of fuel economy. The technology also switches off the engine when decelerating from speeds of 15 kph or lower, using the kinetic energy collected when braking to charge the battery pack. The mild-hybrid diesel powertrain will steadily replace BMW’s conventional 2.0-litre diesel engine over the coming year in the firm’s ’20d’ badged models. The update will allow the German brand to meet increasingly stringent emissions regulations, alongside the upcoming all-electric iX3. Elsewhere in the 3 Series range, the 318i has ditched its 3-cylinder petrol engine for a more powerful 156 hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder unit. While the 1 Series hatchback has been offered with a 190 hp 2.0-litre diesel engine since January, it won’t receive mild-hybrid assistance until later this year. +++

+++ RENAULT put most of its white collar staff in the Ile-de-France region around Paris on partial unemployment on Monday as the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak lowered activity. The company will use a plan that French government has set up to fight the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Under the plan the government will reimburse companies so that workers placed on partial unemployment can still get most of their salary. “After a 2-week stoppage of industrial and commercial activity, it is necessary to adapt the working hours of employees”, a Renault spokeswoman said. From Monday until further notice, Renault white collar employees will work from home in the morning and will be on partial unemployment in the afternoon. Renault’s business headquarters are in Boulogne-Billancourt on the outskirts of Paris, and the automaker’s main technical center is in Guyancourt, about 20 kilometers outside the city. Only a few people will keep their full-time jobs to ensure continuity in key activities such as security, maintenance and communication. The partial unemployment measure in the region around Paris will affect around 1.500 to 2.000 people, a union source said. In Renault production plants in France, employees will remain on furlough. The automaker has halted production in all its factories worldwide with the exception of China and South Korea. +++

+++ A select bunch of TESLA owners have received a new Autopilot feature that allows the marque’s vehicles to stop at traffic lights without any driver intervention. This feature forms part of a more advanced version of Autopilot that Tesla is developing for suburban driving. Tesla rolls out such new software features to its ‘early access fleet’, a group of owners who have the opportunity to test out new updates from the automaker before they’re introduced to the market. The tech doesn’t seem to work flawlessly, however. On 3 occasions, the system says it will stop for an upcoming traffic light a few hundred feet ahead, before realizing those lights are green and that it can continue through the intersection. Nevertheless, the system does correctly notify the driver of a red light 500 feet up the road and around a slight left-hand bend. As a piece of beta software, it appears to work quite well. It remains to be seen when this software update could be pushed through to all Tesla owners. When it does, owners should be reminded that Autopilot is only a driver-assistance system and that they need to remain attentive at all times and be prepared to take over control whenever necessary. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN expects the Chinese car market to return to last year’s level by early summer because the country’s vehicle sales have shown signs of fast recovery. The world’s largest carmaker estimated that China’s vehicle sales will rise to around 1 million in March; up from 250.000 in February when coronavirus was in full swing in the country. “There are more and more signs that business is recovering. By the middle of the year, we could be back to last year’s level. Hope is returning to the Chinese market”, said Volkswagen Group China CEO Stephan Wöllenstein. So far, more than 95 % of Volkswagen Group’s 3.000-plus dealers have reopened their showrooms. The number of customer visits are currently about 60 % of the normal level. The group has resumed production of vehicles and components at 22 of their 24 manufacturing bases across China. Wöllenstein said some are running at a reduced capacity but they are ready to increase production when demand picks up. He said the company is sticking to the 2020 plan it announced last year to invest more than €4 billion in China with its partners. Around 40 % of the investment will go into electric vehicles. “We assume that the recovery will continue and that we will be operating in a normal market environment again in 2021”, said Wöllenstein. “And China will not lose its status as a powerhouse of the global automotive industry in the long term. The trends of electromobility and digitalization will be shaped here”. Starting this year, Volkswagen will start to produce in China electric vehicles on its purpose-built platform. The group plans to sell 1.5 million electric cars in 2025 in the country. +++

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