Newsflash: elektrisch vlaggenschip van Cadillac gaat 270.000 euro kosten

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+++ Automakers aren’t known for talking freely about their future products and plans. Smart wordplay is often employed to dance around probing questions from pesky journalists. But when they do discuss the future, such talk often drips with vagueness, speculation, and a healthy dollop of butt-covering just in case. BENTLEY Mulliner boss Tim Hannig, who’s tasked with expanding the brand’s operations, is no different. When asked about the possibility of a Bentley Bentayga convertible, Hannig didn’t say no. But he didn’t say yes, either. Hannig told nothing is “impossible” if there was enough interest in such a vehicle, and if Mulliner could build it while maintaining Bentley’s style. The possibility of a drop-top Bentley Bentayga from Mulliner is far likelier than one from Bentley itself. Hannig himself told he hates disappointing people and that if they say “no” to someone, they start working with them on something else. Just this week, Mulliner revealed the Bentley Bacalar, a 12-car run of roofless Bentley Continental GT Convertible models that start at €2.75 million each. An equally limited series of Bentayga convertibles makes much more sense than building several hundred. Such a unique, niche vehicle as the Bentley Bentayga convertible should easily have 12 potential buyers (or more). Convertible SUVs aren’t new, though they don’t often stick around for long. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet lasted just 4 years before getting the axe. Then there was the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque that saw production from the 2017 model year through 2018. Then it got cut from Land Rover’s team, too. There’s also the ridiculous Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet that saw only 99 produced. If Mulliner were to build a Bentley Bentayga convertible, then it would likely command a seven-plus-figure price tag like the Bacalar. It’s exclusive price tag, and limited production run would lure those who like such things. Though, if open-air, SUV motoring is what you’re looking for, you could snag the much cheaper Jeep Wrangler. The Mulsanne will go out of production this spring and the company has now explained why they’re killing their Rolls-Royce Phantom competitor. Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said the Mulsanne’s fate was sealed by slowing sales. As he explained, “The big sedan segment has been the foundation of Bentley for more than 100 years, but the volume has regressed, even though we sell more than the Phantom”. So how bad have things gotten? Hallmark said the company only sold “500-ish” Mulsannes last year, despite the fact that the “number of high-net-worth individuals in the world has tripled” since the days of the Arnage. Speaking of the Arnage, the company used to sell around 1.200 units annually. Given Mulsanne sales are less than half of that, it appears Bentley decided the volumes weren’t enough to justify continued production. The slow sales also mean a Mulsanne successor has been ruled out. As Hallmark noted, the ultra luxury large sedan segment is in “critical decline” and Bentley wouldn’t be able to make a profit on a new model after accounting for expenses. Of course, Bentley hasn’t given up on sedans as the Flying Spur was redesigned last year. While it not as regal as the Mulsanne, it’s far more popular as Hallmark said the Flying Spur outsells the Mulsanne 6 to 1. He also said the new model is “more refined than anything we have ever built”. Like mainstream sedans, the Mulsanne appears to be the victim of the crossover craze. Nearly half of Bentley’s sales now come from the Bentayga and a number of high-end crossovers have been introduced in the past few years including the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Lamborghini Urus. +++ 

+++ BMW has given the production green light to a new rear-wheeldrive M2 performance coupé, as part of a future compact M car line-up that will include a 4-wheeldrive M2 Gran Coupé and a 1 Series with more than 400 hp. The second-generation M2 coupé, which takes the internal codename G87, is scheduled to go on sale in 2022. It will bring with it a detuned version of BMW M’s latest 6-cylinder petrol engine, sourced from the soon-to-be-revealed new M3 and M4 and the recently introduced X3 M and X4 M. This twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol unit, dubbed S58, replaces the similarly configured S55 used by the current M2 and promises the same high-revving characteristics, with a redline of 7200 rpm. Nothing is official at this early stage, but insiders hint that the S58 will be tuned to provide the new junior M car with at least 425 hp in standard form to top the 421 hp of the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine in the Mercedes-AMG A45 S. This should ensure off-the-line performance is on par with, if not better than, that of its predecessor, despite an incremental increase in weight due to slightly larger dimensions. Its 0-100 kph time should be in the low 4-second bracket and its top speed close to 300 kph when configured with a final drive ratio similar to today’s M2. The basis for the new M2 is the forthcoming second-generation 2 Series Coupé, itself heavily related to the third-generation Z4 and its Toyota GR Supra sibling. Due to reach showrooms in 2021, the new 2 Series Coupé, known internally by the codename G42, takes a different technical route to the new 2 Series Gran Coupé by adopting the latest evolution of BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform. This ensures the future M2 will have a similar mechanical layout to today’s model, with a longitudinal engine mounting instead of the transverse layout of its 4-door M235i xDrive Gran Coupé sibling, which is based on BMW’s Front Architecture (FAAR) platform. The adoption of the CLAR platform also future-proofs the M2 by providing it with the basis for a 48V electrical architecture, which is crucial for such features as throttle-off engine idling, regenerative braking and the option of an electric boosting function. The new M2 is expected to go without mild-hybrid electric boosting at launch. However, with BMW’s M division already well advanced on such a system for the S58 engine, it could be incorporated during the car’s planned 7-year life cycle. Sources suggest all future M models will eventually receive mild-hybrid technology as part of BMW’s plans to lower its fleet average CO2 figure. As with today’s model, BMW plans to offer the new M2 with a 6-speed manual gearbox and an electronically controlled Active M Differential. There will also be the option of an 8-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, which would be crucial if the car is to receive a mild-hybrid system. This will replace the current M2’s dual-clutch automatic, matching developments elsewhere in the BMW M range. “We have some markets that are calling for an automatic option, but the overwhelming majority of our customers continue to see the manual gearbox as a must-have feature”, a BMW M source told. As with the current M2, a number of traditional M division developments will elevate the new model above regular 2 Series Coupé variants. These include additional stiffening measures by way of suspension-strut tower-mounted beams front and rear, dynamic engine mounts and a wider track, the last of which again has necessitated new bodywork. Despite the M division’s move to provide other recent M models with fully variable four-wheel drive, sources said the new M2 will retain rear-wheel drive exclusively as part of plans to pitch it as a puristic, circuit-bred model in the best of BMW tradition. “It’s part of what makes the M2 unique in its market segment”, said an insider. “It’s also what our customers have come to expect from BMW M: a pure and undiluted driving experience”. The decision to stick with rear-wheel drive will give the M2 a unique selling point in a market now dominated by 4-wheeldrive rivals, including performance hatchbacks such as the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 S. And although the Porsche 718 Cayman is considered a competitor to the new BMW, its engine is mounted in the middle, rather than up front. Aesthetically, the new M2 is said to draw heavily on the M235i xDrive Gran Coupé for inspiration. The 2 are said to share similar front-end styling, most notably in the shape of the grille and headlights. However, the longitudinal engine in the new M2 dictates a longer bonnet and a more cab-rearward profile than its transverse-engined four-door relation. As with the original M2, the new model is scheduled to be assembled alongside standard versions of the second-generation 2 Series Coupé and the third-generation Z4 at BMW’s factory in Leipzig, Germany, for the British market. Plans also exist for the model to be built alongside the latest 3 Series at BMW’s new San Luis Potosí site in Mexico for other selected markets, including North America. The M2 will eventually be joined by a 4-door namesake, despite previous reports to the contrary. Rivalling the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 and forthcoming new Audi RS3 Saloon, the M2 Gran Coupé will get around 400 hp from a highly tuned version of the M235i Gran Coupé’s 4-cylinder engine and have fully variable 4-wheeldrive. That unit will also transfer into the most powerful 1 Series hatchback yet, which will sit above the 306 hp M135i. It’s not clear what name this new flagship will take. M1 is considered holy ground, having been used on the first bespoke road-going M car back in 1978, and 1M was the widely used nickname for the limited-run 1 Series M Coupé of 2011. The new M versions of the 1 Series and 2 Series will complement a successor to the rear-wheel-drive M240i Coupé, giving BMW a diversified line-up of both 4 and 6 cylinder junior performance cars for years to come. +++ 

+++ CADILLAC recently announced it’s working on a flagship electric sedan dubbed the Celestiq. The vehicle will be hand-built in Michigan and will not be cheap. Cadillac president Steve Carlisle told the Celestiq will sport a 6-figure price tag “and it won’t have a 1 in front of it”. Yep, that means the Cadillac Celestiq will cost at least $200,000 (€270.000 in The Netherlands), making it more than twice expensive as the CT6-V, the marque’s previous range-topping sedan. Launching such an expensive vehicle, let alone a sedan, is a bold move from Cadillac. One thing the Celestiq will have going for it is the fact that it will be limited with just a few hundred examples expected to be sold annually. Technical details about the sedan remain unclear. With that being said, we know it will ride on GM’s third-generation EV platform and feature Ultium batteries. General Motors has confirmed its EV platform will be capable of packing 200 kWh battery packs, providing range-topping vehicles with at least 644 km of range. It’s reasonable to assume that the Celestiq will also feature an 800 volt battery pack and support 350 kW fast-charging capability. In addition to the Celestiq being very exclusive, the automaker will likely try to justify the price tag by making it its most luxurious vehicle ever. As a result, expect to find an expansive cabin with seating for 4 people and a plethora of innovative technologies. Last week, Cadillac announced plans to introduce the new Lyriq crossover on April 2nd. Fast forward to today and that unveiling has now been cancelled over concerns about the coronavirus. GM’s director of communications, Michael Albano, sent an e-mail saying “Our top priority is the safety of our media guests and employees” so the event has been cancelled. He added, the company is “currently evaluating future plans and will be touch soon with an update”. The news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as last Friday, Chevrolet cancelled press drives of the new TrailBlazer which were scheduled to take place in Arizona this week. At the time, the brand said the event was canceled out of an “abundance of caution”. Cadillac hasn’t said much about the Lyriq, but it is said to feature 23 inch wheels, a 4-seat interior and a 34-inch display. The crossover will ride on the company’s third-generation electric vehicle platform which is flexible enough to underpin everything from cars and crossovers to trucks and SUVs. The crossover will also use Ultium batteries which will be offered in packs with capacities ranging from 50 to 200 kWh. There’s no word on how large the pack will be in the Lyriq, but GM has previously said the batteries could allow for ranges of 644 km or more. +++ 

+++ Chinese and foreign car companies are making great financial contributions to help combat the novel CORONA VIRUS outbreak that has killed over 2.800 in the country. By the end of February, more than 70 carmakers, auto suppliers and associations had donated more than 900 million yuan ($128.46 million) as well as supplies, including face masks and even ambulances. Volkswagen, with its Chinese joint ventures FAW-Volkswagen and SAIC Volkswagen, has donated 120 million yuan. “We have to play our part to prevent this medical disaster from turning into a socioeconomic breakdown”, said Volkswagen Group China CEO Stephan Wollenstein. “Only by doing so, we can minimize the damage to China’s foundation for development its prosperous economy”. Volkswagen Group delivered 4.23 million vehicles in China last year, accounting for 38.5 % of its global sales. BMW and its joint venture BMW Brilliance have donated 35 million yuan since the outbreak of the epidemic to support virus-prevention efforts. “We have full trust in the Chinese government that they are capable of managing the crisis and defeating the epidemic”, said Jochen Goller, president and CEO of BMW China. “Furthermore we remain very confident in the medium and long-term business outlook of our No 1 worldwide market”. BMW reopened its offices across the country for business on February 17 and BMW Brilliance plants in Shenyang, Liaoning province, have gradually resumed production as well. Mercedes-Benz and its dealers have donated 300 million yuan to improve epidemic prevention in designated hospitals in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province. Hubertus Troska, a board member of parent company Daimler responsible for China region, said the company will further intensify its social responsibilities and stand with all segments of society to overcome the challenges. “I firmly believe that with China’s commitment and strength, the entire society as well as the Chinese automobile industry will win the battle against the current challenge”, he said. Chinese auto companies have made greater contributions, too. Geely has set up a special fund of 200 million yuan to help prevent and control the epidemic. It has donated its 158 MPVs, valued at more than 20 million yuan, to around 10 cities nationwide. Electric vehicle maker Evergrande has donated 200 million yuan and 5,000 tons of vegetables to Wuhan. On February 10, the company donated another 100 million yuan to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences for antivirus research and to establish a drug-research fund. Dongfeng, its joint ventures and its brands have donated money and supplies valued at more than 82 million yuan. FAW, with its joint ventures and Hongqi brand, donated 81 million yuan in total. In addition to the donations, some companies, including GAC, BYD, SAIC-GM-Wuling and Changan, are producing face masks in their plants to provide supplies for epidemic prevention and control. SAIC-GM-Wuling is aiming to complete 15 production lines by the end of February, which can produce 1.7 million masks every day. Shi Jianhua, deputy secretary-general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said that the auto industry is a highly industrialized industry with a high level of automation and manufacturing capability. He said it is socially responsible to establish mask-production lines while the country is urgently in need. +++ 

+++ CHINESE ELECTRIC STARTUPS Aiways and Byton will use crossovers to enter the European market. Aiways said its first model, the U5 compact crossover, will be available through a subscription scheme marketed online, with the first batch of vehicles to be delivered in Europe in August. The U5 is powered by a 197 hp electric drivetrain. It has a range of more than 400 km. Aiways said the U5 will be marketed in stores run by Euronics, Europe’s leading electronics product distributor, in major cities across the continent. German auto repair chain Alle Teile Umtauschen (ATU) will provide aftersales services for the U5. Aiways said it will explore alternative ways to enable direct sales to European retail customers in the future. Byton plans to launch sales of its first product, the M-Byte electric crossover, in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, France, the Netherlands and Sweden in the second half of 2021. The M-Byte will start at €56,000 on the Dutch market. The entry-level M-Byte, fitted with a 72 kWh battery and rear-mounted electric motor, has peak output of 272 hp and a range of up to 360 km. Byton said it has signed retail and service partners in several European countries, including Hedin Automotive in Norway and Sweden, ByMyCar in France, Louwman Group in the Netherlands and Modern Driving in Switzerland. In Germany, Byton is studying multiple options for partnerships to sell and service the vehicle and will disclose details later, it added. Both of the Chinese EV startups were established in 2017. Aiways operates an assembly plant in Shangrao in east China’s Jiangxi province, while Byton manufactures EVs in Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu province. +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES says that its factories in Italy are continuing to operate as normal, after the country’s government extended quarantine measures to combat the coronavirus. Over the weekend, the Italian government introduced travel restrictions in northern Italy following a major outbreak of the virus in the region, before extending them to cover the whole country yesterday evening. The restrictions do allow for employees to go to work. The FCA Group has a major manufacturing presence in Italy, with 16 production facilities spread throughout the country that make cars and engines for its brands, including Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep. In a statement, FCA said it has already introduced a number of safeguards for its Italian operations to protect the health of employees, and was introducing further measures in line with the new Government rules. It added: “FCA is taking action in all areas of its operations in Italy to maintain its business continuity, as made possible by the newly enacted rules. Currently the Group’s Italian plans and key functions are continuing to operate as planned. The Group has put in place extensive preventative measures to secure continuity of its supply chain. The Group will continue to monitor the situation and work to protect the safety of its employees and ensure the continuity of its business”. Fiat recently revealed the new third-generation electric-only 500, staging an online launch with a video filmed in Milan to support the region affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The car was originally due to be shown at the Geneva motor show, before that event was cancelled. Ferrari’s factory is also continuing to operate as normal, despite being in one of the regions affected by the initial Italian travel restrictions. +++ 

+++ FORD is working on an entry-level pickup to slot beneath the Ranger and a new report says it will be launched late next year and cost less than $20,000. Nothing is official, but the pickup was shown to dealers last month. The model was reportedly “well-received” and is said to have a profile that resembles the original Ranger. Little else is known about the vehicle at this point, but previous reports have suggested it will be a compact, unibody pickup that could be based on the same platform that underpins the Focus. The model is said to be codenamed the P758 and will reportedly be built in Hermosillo, Mexico. The plant currently builds the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, but both models are slated to go out of production shortly. When Lincoln announced the death of their entry-level sedan in January, the company said the Mexican assembly plant would eventually begin building “new Ford vehicles” but declined to elaborate. Ford has been tight-lipped about the pickup, but they’re expecting it to be a strong seller as the company is rumored to be targeting annual sales in excess of 100,000 units. If that projection pans out, the pickup could be more successful than the Ranger which racked up 83.571 sales in the United States last year. More importantly, the sub-$20,000 base price would make the model one of the most affordable pickups in America. That honor currently belongs to the Nissan Frontier which starts at $19,290. However, the redesigned model will likely cost significantly more than the current pickup. The small Ford pickup is also slated be more than $4,000 cheaper than the Ranger. This is important as the elimination of the Focus and Fiesta have left Ford with a lineup seriously lacking in entry-level models. +++ 

+++ The HONDA Clarity Electric is being killed off but the Clarity’s hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid variants will live on. The Clarity Electric has always been a bit of an oddity since it was launched a few years ago in the United States. For one, it offered a truly dismal range of just 143 km due to a tiny 25.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. In a world where consumers still have range anxiety and one where the likes of Tesla and Lucid are working on EVs with 643 km of range, the Clarity Electric was simply insufficient. What’s more, the Clarity Electric was never sold directly to private buyers and only available to lease in the states of California and Oregon. With the model now dead, Honda no longer sells an electric vehicle in the United States. Honda sold 11.654 units of the Clarity last year but the Japanese automaker doesn’t break down how many of those were Electric, Hydrogen and Plug-in Hybrid versions. It’s reasonable to assume that hybrid makes up for the vast majority of sales; after all, the hydrogen Clarity is only sold in California. In a statement, Honda spokesperson Natalie Kumaratne said the Japanese marque ceased production of the Clarity Electric at the end of 2019 and confirmed that new EVs are in the works. “We’re continuously evolving our product portfolio, and right now, we’re placing more of our focus on the next generation of electrified products that are coming down the pipeline. We will be introducing new, highly appealing all-electric vehicles for the U.S. market in the years ahead”, Kumaratne said. +++ 

+++ The Volkswagen T-Roc R is about to face some serious competition from HYUNDAI ’s N division, which is working on a hot version of the Kona. The Kona N is expected with bigger bumpers at both ends and more aggressive grille at the front. The head and taillights will be revised, although that’s part of the mid-cycle refresh of the entire range, and the hot model will also get beefier side skirts. The prototype was equipped with a double-pipe exhaust system and uprated brakes with red calipers. I heard that the fire power will come from the i30 N compact hot hatch, which uses a 2.0-liter four-pot rated at 250 hp in the regular model and 275 hp in the Performance version. The top-spec i30 can reach the 100 km/h mark in 6.4 and 6.1 seconds, respectively. One of its main rivals, the T-Roc R, has a 300 hp 2.0-liter turbo-4, so this could perhaps convince Hyundai to launch it with the more powerful tune. The 2021 Kona N is believed to be just a few months away, with an expected premiere taking place this summer. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR ‘s largest current model, the F-Pace, is set to benefit from a round of upgrades in the coming months. Visual changes to the SUV will be a bonnet with chunkier, more pronounced styling lines, joined by redesigned LED headlamps and what appears to be an altered grille and lower intake shape. At the rear, the facelifted F-Pace will get an altered tail-light design. It’s up for debate whether or not it will get a new exhaust design (with slim oval tips and protruding ‘bumps’ that surround the pipes themselves). As with the recently revised Jaguar XE, the bulk of the investment into the F-Pace’s redesign will be focused on the interior, with a boost in perceived quality and technology. The latter, acknowledged by many to be a weak point in the current model when compared with its German opposition, will be adapted from systems that were first seen in the I-Pace. It means we can expect a dual screen centre stack with slick display-clad rotary dials, combined with a larger, crisper infotainment screen and digital instruments. A new steering wheel design will also feature, while we can expect the rotary gear selector to be dropped in favour of a more conventional shape. While changes to the chassis and suspension aren’t expected to be extensive, a family of new mild-hybrid engines are on the cards. Jaguar Land Rover’s new in-line 6-cylinder petrol will make use of increasingly commonplace 48 Volt tech, but earlier F-Pace prototypes with visible number plates reveal the firm is testing a diesel-electric powertrain. Land Rover has 48 Volt 4-cylinder mild-hybrid diesel engines in the new Discovery Sport, but, as that car now sits on a newer platform, it’s not clear if such powertrains can be adapted for the F-Pace. Another possibility is that JLR could be working on a new mild-hybrid 6-cylinder diesel. Chief commercial officer Felix Bräutigam confirmed at the Frankfurt motor show that both the F-Pace and XF are lined up for imminent updates. The E-Pace will also benefit from a range of revisions. “In a world of very strong competitors we take seriously, as soon as we launch cars we already know what we want to do differently”, Bräutigam said. “So yes, stay tuned as we constantly want to improve. There’s lots of new tech we want to roll out as quickly as possible”. Design director Julian Thompson also said: “Feedback has been very positive to the XE facelift, and they’re in the launch phase of rolling out to 128 markets”. It’s not yet clear which of the updated F-Pace, E-Pace and XF siblings will be revealed first, but all 3 are expected to be seen before 2020 is out. +++ 

+++ Toyota will temporarily cut output of its LEXUS models in Japan from next week due to a fall in demand in China because of the coronavirus outbreak, a company source said. The output cut, from next Monday through the end of the month, will amount to about a 6 % slash from the originally planned level at the company’s plants in Fukuoka and Aichi prefectures. Sales of new Toyota cars, including Lexus models, in China plunged 70 % in February from a year earlier due to the impact from the pneumonia-causing virus. Japan’s biggest automaker sold about 1.62 million vehicles in China last year, compared with some 1.61 million in Japan, surpassing domestic sales for the first time. The luxury Lexus models have seen high demand in China, with 202.000 vehicles sold in 2019; up 25 % from the previous year. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ developed an electric version of the Vito, which is sold as the Metris in America, primarily for crowded European cities enforcing emissions-free zones. The battery-powered van isn’t scheduled to go on sale in the United States at this point, but that could change in the coming years. “The feedback we’re getting regarding our electric vans already in the market is consistently positive. Looking forward, we feel pretty bullish”, explained Marcus Breitschwerdt, the head of Mercedes-Benz’s van-building division, in an interview. Nothing is set in stone yet, however. Even if it doesn’t go electric in the near future, the Metris will receive many of the improvements inaugurated by the redesigned Vito, including a digital rear-view mirror and a new screen for the infotainment system. One feature Mercedes-Benz ruled out for the American market is the new turbodiesel engine available in Europe. “We are pretty sure the gasoline engine is the right one for the time being considering the current market situation”, answered the spokesman when asked about the possibility of seeing a turbodiesel-powered Metris land in America. Most of the model’s American-spec rivals are available only with gasoline engines, too. Mercedes covered all of its bases in various markets by offering gasoline, diesel, and electric options, but it might not stop there. I brought up the idea of a hydrogen-powered van, to which Breitschwerdt replied “yes, of course, we are considering this”. He stressed the company needs to be flexible in terms of the engines and powertrains it offers to meet ever-changing global demand, “and all types of electrification are under consideration”. The next new model we’ll see from Mercedes-Benz’s vans division is the second-generation Citan. It’s the company’s smallest model, competing in the same segment as the Ford Transit Connect, and it’s again being developed through a partnership with Paris-based Renault. Its French sibling is known as the Kangoo. The odds of Renault bring its version of the van to the United States are extremely low, but Breitschwerdt wouldn’t rule out selling the Mercedes-badged model alongside the Metris and the Sprinter if demand is there. “It’s certainly not the next thing to happen. But, as you said, the American market is shifting towards what you called ‘European-style vans’. If we look into the general trend analysis, which points to further urbanization, the use of connectivity, online sales, and demand for instant delivery, then I certainly do believe a smaller delivery vehicle could right away get an important place in such a world. Once that time comes, we will be ready, but at this point we’re certainly not there yet,” he affirmed. I expect the next Citan will break over by the end of 2020. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus has hurt many companies in China and around the world. NEOLIX , a driverless delivery business based in Beijing, is not among them. In fact, it’s seen a jump in demand. The startup, which has attracted customers including Alibaba Group Holding, Meituan Dianping and JD.Com, has booked orders for more than 200 vehicles in the past 2 months. Before then, it had only produced 125 units since manufacturing began last May, founder Yu Enyuan said in an interview. Amid the virus anxiety that has disrupted businesses and supply chains, China’s push into autonomous transport and the future of delivery is getting an unexpected boost. Neolix’s small vans help customers reduce physical contact and address labor shortages caused by lingering quarantines and travel restrictions. Neolix’s inventories have been depleted during the epidemic with its vehicles being used to deliver medical supplies in hospitals, including in Wuhan, at the outbreak’s epicenter. Its vans are also being used to help disinfect streets and move food to people who are working on the front lines to curb the spread of the virus, Yu said. “Demand has been surging since the virus outbreak and more importantly, people’s perception toward driverless delivery had a complete 180-degree shift. People realize that such vehicles can get things done when it is risky for a human being to do so”. Billionaire Jack Ma 3 years ago forecast China would have 1 billion deliveries a day within a decade and that commercialization of driverless-courier technology could provide lessons for autonomous vehicles carrying passengers. Yet there have been restrictions for such vehicles to be used on open roads. During the unprecedented virus outbreak, regulatory barriers are being eased, as roads are empty. “China’s digital services economy has prospered during the crisis as people shifted to online consumption”, said Bill Russo, CEO of consulting firm Automobility. “This will accelerate the commercialization of autonomous service delivery solutions. Neolix and others stand to benefit”. Local authorities in China are offering incentives to fund purchase and operation of driverless delivery vans in their jurisdictions for up to 60 % of the tag price, according to Yu. The government subsidies will speed up promotion of the vehicles, according to the company, which expects to sell 1,000 units this year. “The industry has entered into a fast expansion phase because of the virus”, Yu said. The development of autonomous vans is accelerating not only in China. Delivery robot company Nuro, Neolix’s rival in the U.S., won the first federal safety approval for a purpose-built, self-driving vehicle last month, paving the way for its plans to deliver groceries autonomously in neighborhoods. The approval, valid for 2 years, indicates that regulators at the Department of Transportation think specially built robot cars can start taking to the roads in the U.S. “It is great advancement for all companies developing such delivery vehicles”, Yu said. Yet some industry observers are more cautious about the near-term prospects. China’s relatively low labor costs may undermine promotion of autonomous delivery for some time, said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association, who sees the current demand as temporary. Russo, the consultant, said he thinks the order uptick for companies like Neolix will translate to future demand as well. “New habits are formed and new capabilities are needed”, Russo said. “The consumption pattern has shifted and this will likely be viewed as an essential set of capabilities in the new normal, post-coronavirus world”. +++ 

+++ The annual NEW YORK AUTO SHOW probably will be pushed back to August from April due to the coronavirus. Organizers of the event put on by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association have begun to tell carmakers the delay is likely, Chris Sams, a spokesman for the show, said. He expects the group to make a final decision and announcement within the next 24 hours. The show coordinators said a week ago they already had installed 70 hand-sanitizing stations throughout the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s west side, where companies were expected to unveil more than 50 new models. Dealers were trying to preserve the fate of an event that dates back to 1900 after the cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show, which was called off late last month for the first time since the World War II era. But the preemptive measures that organizers were planning probably aren’t going to be enough because of heightened concerns about the virus known as Covid-19. The National Guard is being sent to the New York City suburb of New Rochelle to help close large, public gathering spaces to slow down the spread of the outbreak, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. He referred to the one-mile square area being set up as a containment zone. The New York show was scheduled to open to the media on April 8 and 9 and then to the public starting April 10. +++ 

+++ NISSAN ’s vehicle sales in China, its biggest market, dropped 80 % in February as coronavirus concerns sapped demand, in another blow to the carmaker which is struggling to recover from a profit free fall. The Japanese automaker said it had sold just 15.111 vehicles last month in the world’s biggest auto market as demand for its Sylphy (sedan), X-Trail and Qashqai continued to tumble. Nissan has been betting on growth in China to cushion the impact from its slumping business in the United States and Japan, where car sales fell 27 % last month. But commuting bans and road closures in many Chinese regions in February has led to a slowdown in production since last month, curbing output and raising risks to the automaker’s global supply chain. As uncertainty about the coronavirus outbreak shakes global markets, demand in the world’s second largest economy is expected to remain week in the short to mid term, which could further pressures sales at global automakers. Nissan has been grappling with falling sales for the past two years and its new executive team could come under increasing pressure to deliver deeper cost cuts in its recovery plan, which is expected in May. Nissan is likely to pull out from a venture capital fund it runs with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi as part of the Japanese automaker’s drive to cut costs and conserve cash, two sources said. Nissan will formally take a decision on whether to leave the fund, Alliance Ventures, by the end of this month, 2 insiders told. The likely move comes after Nissan’s junior partner, Mitsubishi, told an alliance meeting last week that it would no longer continue to inject money into the fund, one of the sources said. The decision to leave the Amsterdam-based fund was all but a done deal, the other source said, adding: “Of course we’re out. The house is on fire”. The move highlights the extent of the automaker’s cost-cutting under new CEO Makoto Uchida, who is under pressure for a quick turnaround. Alliance Ventures is aimed at finding “learning opportunities” for the alliance through investing in startups and is supposed get up to $200 million a year from the 3 alliance partners, although it never achieves that full amount, the first source said. It was set up under former alliance head Carlos Ghosn, whose dramatic arrest in Japan culminated in an escape to his childhood home of Lebanon in December. Ghosn faces multiple charges in Japan, including of under-reporting earnings and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies. The fund was set up with a $200 million initial investment and aims for up to $1 billion by 2023. Portfolio companies include WeRide, a Chinese robo-taxi startup and Tekion Corp, a cloud-based retail platform for cars. “It wasn’t established by Ghosn as a way to make money. It was for those learning opportunities we get from investing in smart startups”, the first source said. “But given the tough financial situation we are facing, we are looking at investment return”. +++ 

+++ The PSA Group will reduce the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, north-west England, to a 4-day working week from 23 March. A letter sent to employees revealed the plans. Vauxhall has since acknowledged them in a statement but claims employees would work “extended hours” on those 4 days to match the current 5-day week. The statement doesn’t rule out job cuts or restructuring in the near future, with Vauxhall saying it will “study the result of this decision and discuss with workforce representatives and trade unions whether there are any impacts”. A statement from Ellesmere Port plant director Mark Noble said the decision was taken due to a fall in demand for the OPEL ASTRA Sports Tourer, which is built at the plant. It sold less than 137.000 units last year, not far off half the volumes achieved in 2016. Ellesmere Port has seen its workforce dramatically reduce since PSA took over the twin brands from General Motors. It’s feared that more jobs could be eliminated as a result of the reduced working week. Noble claimed the decision “will not influence negatively whether Ellesmere Port is allocated to the new Astra”. However, workers still fear that it won’t wont be retained as the model’s second production base, alongside Rüsselheim in Germany, when the next-generation model is introduced in 2021. +++ 

+++ The new PORSCHE 911 TURBO uses a 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat-6 engine churning out 650 hp and 830 Nm. Porsche 911 chief engineer Frank-Steffen Walliser revealed just why the car has so much power. Peak figures for the 991-generation Turbo S sat at 580 hp and 700 Nm, making it one of the quickest cars on the planet. For the new car, however, Porsche wanted to make it significantly quicker and according to Walliser, that meant giving it far more power than ever before. “If you take a 580 hp car and add another 20 or 30 extra hp, you won’t really feel it”, Walliser said. “Maybe you can measure it, but the reason for a new Turbo is that you feel something, that you feel a difference, we wanted to really make a step”, he revealed. While the 991 Turbo S also used a 3.8-liter twin-turbo 6-cylinder, the new car doesn’t feature an uprated variant of that engine. Instead, the 992’s engine is based on the 3.0-liter engine found in lesser Carrera models and has the same 3.8-liter displacement as the old engine because that results in the ideal ratio between bore and stroke for such an engine. The added grunt of the new Turbo S allows it to rocket to 100 km/h in a blistering 2.7 seconds; 0.2 seconds faster than before, and to 200 km/h in 8.9 seconds; 1 second quicker than the previous-generation model. During everyday driving, Walliser says owners will immediately feel the added torque. “You can really feel the size of the engine, and once the turbos reach boost pressure, it’s really impressive. The car is a little bit more raw”, he said. Interestingly, Porsche has yet to announce the ‘regular’ 911 Turbo model but plans on doing so later this year. +++ 

+++ RUSSIA ‘s new-car sales fell 2.2 % in February to 119.073 as demand continued to be hit by low consumer confidence and the introduction of a tax hike last year. The result last month contrasted with January sales, which rose 1.8 %. Sales at market leader Lada decreased 7 % last month, while its closest competitor, Kia, fell 4 %. Third-ranked Hyundai’s sales rose 1 %, while No. 4 Renault was up 19 %. Toyota, at No. 5, gained 17 %, followed by Volkswagen brand, which was up 2 %. Audi’s sales were up 11 %, Mazda’s volume rose 7 % and Lexus was up 2 %. AEB data for February does not include sales figures from BMW and Mercedes-Benz following their decision to change the publication of sales data to a quarterly cycle from a monthly one. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , car sales fell 11 percent last month from a year earlier as supply disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak resulted in reduced production. The country’s 5 carmakers (Hyundai, Kia, GM Korea, Renault Samsung and SsangYong) sold a combined 505.212 vehicles in February, down from 565.568 units a year ago, according to data from the companies. The lower sales largely resulted from shortages of auto components provided by their suppliers in China. They suspended production lines during an extended Lunar New Year holiday, from January 24 to February 9. The carmakers’ overall domestic sales plunged 20 % to 81.722 vehicles in February from 102.285 units a year ago. Their overseas sales declined 8.6 % to 423.490 autos from 463.283 over the cited period. Hyundai sold 275.044 units; down 13 % from 315.820 a year earlier. The carmaker suspended its production lines in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, from February 7-10. Its production was affected for a week through February 21. It was the first time that Hyundai had suspended all of its domestic plants since 1997, when the Asian financial crisis affected local manufacturers and Mando stopped supplying parts to the carmaker. Kia sold 187.844 units; down 5 % from 197.656 units during the same period. The carmaker halted its plants on February 10 and operated them partially for a week through February 21. Their sales in China remained weak last month. Tepid demand in the world’s biggest automobile market is expected to remain another headache for the carmakers in achieving their overall sales target of 7.54 million vehicles in global markets this year. They sold 7.2 million units last year, missing their target of 7.55 million units. In China, Hyundai and Kia saw sales decline due to tougher competition and lack of new models, though political tensions between Seoul and Beijing caused by the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system, called THAAD, in South Korea in 2017 have since eased. To offset weak demand in China, the carmakers said they will put a bigger focus on boosting sales in the U.S. market this year by launching Hyundai’s Tucson, Hyundai’s independent Genesis brand’s GV80 SUV plus G80 sedan and Kia’s Sportage. The 3 other carmakers also suffered declines in January sales due to lack of parts from China and lack of new models. Renault Samsung was the worst performer. Its sales plunged 40 % on-year to 7.057 units in February from 11.721. The company stopped the operation of its sole plant in Busan, 453 km south of Seoul, for 4 working days last month. GM Korea’s sales declined 14 % to 28.126 from 32.718 during the same period as it stopped some assembly lines of its main plant in Bupyeong, just west of Seoul, for 2 days last month. SUV-focused SsangYong’s sales fell 25 % to 7.141 from 9.481 as it stopped the operation of its sole plant in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, for 9 days last month. In the January-February period, the 5 carmakers sold 1.071.542 vehicles; down 7.4 % from 1.156.838 a year earlier. +++ 

+++ The 86 World Car Awards jurors have voted Carlos TAVARES the 2020 World Car Person of the Year. PSA’s head honcho has been recognized with the prestigious award for returning the company to profitability, making the brands world-class players and making Opel profitable again, after finalizing the acquisition from General Motors 3 years ago. The CEO’s accomplishments also include negotiating the merger with FCA, which will give birth to the 4th largest automaker worldwide after the Volkswagen Group, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi and Toyota, and for integrating the electrification and mobility strategies. “It’s a great honor to receive this prestigious award, which I wish to dedicate to all the employees of the Groupe PSA, to its responsible and demanding social partners and to the supervisory board, which guarantees effective governance”, said Tavares. “Because among our values ‘win together, agility, efficiency’ includes the strength of the collective power, it is in the name of all of us that I accept your honor with humility”. The award will be given to the 61-year old Portuguese at the 2020 New York Auto Show on Wednesday, April 8 (that is, if it goes ahead), when the winners of the World Car, World Urban Car, World Luxury Car, World Car Design and World Performance Car will be announced. Previous winners of the World Car Person of the Year were the late Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO, in 2019, and Volvo Car Group’s President and CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, in 2018. +++ 

+++ China’s industry ministry said it has urged TESLA to keep its China-made vehicles consistent after some Chinese customers complained the U.S. electric vehicle maker put less advanced computer chips in their cars. Tesla started delivering China-made Model 3 sedans from its $2 billion Shanghai factory in December, but some buyers said on Chinese social media that the control units in their cars run on HW2.5 chips, which are less advanced than the HW3.0 chips listed on their specification sheets. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology urged Tesla to ensure product consistency, quality and safety, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. HW3.0 chips are necessary for the Full Self-Driving mode in Tesla’s driver assistance system, a feature that is optional when customers order Tesla cars. In a post on its Weibo account last week, Tesla said the swap was due to a lack of supply of the HW3.0 chips and the company would replace the chip for customers who received cars with the HW2.5 systems. Tesla’s production and delivery plans in Shanghai have been disrupted by a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3.100 people in the world’s second-largest economy. Passenger car retail sales in China plunged around 80 % in February due to the epidemic, industry data shows. Tesla plans to increase its production capacity for certain car parts at its $2 billion factory in China, according to a government document, as it pushes to localize its supply chain in the world’s biggest auto market. The U.S. automaker, which started delivering Model 3 sedans from its Shanghai factory in December, plans to add lines to make more battery packs, electric motors and motor controllers, according to the document submitted by Tesla to Shanghai government. Tesla, used about 70 % imported parts for the cars it made in China as of end-December. According to the document, Tesla wants to almost double its annual building capacity for cooling pipes, a key part in a car’s heat management system, to 260.000 sets a year from 150.000. It did not provide capacity details for other parts. The planned production line will not include battery cell manufacturing but will package out-sourced battery cells at the plant, the document said. Tesla has previously said it wants to localize its entire supply chain in China by the end of this year. The company is also building an additional stamping line to speed up car production in Shanghai, according to construction documents. The Shanghai factory is key to Tesla’s growth strategy. There it aims to produce 150,000 Model 3 sedans and later hike output to 250.000 a year, including the Model Y, according to a Shanghai government filing in 2018. The company aims to deliver more than 500.000 vehicles globally by end-2020. Tesla’s production and delivery plans in Shanghai, however, have been disrupted by a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3.100 people in the world’s No.2 economy. +++

 

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