Newsflash: Land Rover maakt 6 cilinder dieselmotor zuiniger met hybride techniek

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+++ More and more people are choosing ELECTRIC cars over supercars when it comes to putting the pedal to the metal on driving experience days. While we’re accustomed to seeing Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis tearing around race tracks and airfields as people get a taste of their favourite machines, more and more are opting for things like the Tesla Model S, which despite being more of an ‘everyday’ car, can hit 100 kph quicker than most supercars. The number of bookings for driving experiences grew by 34 % last year compared to 2019. At the same time, supercar bookings, including those for Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens, Aston Martins, and Porsches also grew, but only by 24 %. “The growth in popularity of EV driving experiences means that more-and-more people are driving electric for the first time, but it’s on a race track not the open road”, said Alex MacGregor. “It’s interesting to see that people are increasingly switched on to EVs, whether that’s taking one for a blast around a circuit or as their next vehicle purchase. “However, while there’s no doubt that most of us will own an electric vehicle in the future, driving one on a race track provides motorists the opportunity to experience the pinnacle of EV technology, which might persuade them to buy electric when replacing their current model”. +++ 

+++ Investment firm Exor said current plant closures at controlled companies FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) and Ferrari, though temporary, might continue and increase depending on how the coronavirus outbreak developed. Most of FCA’s plants around the world are currently shut in response to the virus emergency and a slump in demand. Ferrari’s 2 plants in Italy are also closed. The holding company of Italy’s Agnelli family, whose investments span from the automotive to the insurance sectors and also include industrial vehicles, editorials and football, said its net asset value rose to $26.155 billion at the end of 2019 from $19.74 billion one year earlier. But it said it could not reasonably estimate the impact the coronavirus outbreak would have on its operations and results. FCA said it has agreed a new credit facility with 2 banks, at a time when major carmakers are having to shut down plants, losing revenue as demand slumps in the wake of the coronavirus. Most of FCA’s plants around the world are currently shut in response to the virus emergency. The carmaker said the credit facility would be available “for general corporate purposes and for working capital needs” of the group and that it was structured as a “bridge facility” to support its access to capital markets. “This transaction confirms the continued strong support of FCA’s international key relationship banks in the current extraordinary circumstances”, the carmaker said in a statement, without making any explicit link between the new facility and the impact the virus is having on the global economy. The facility can be drawn in a single tranche of €3.5 billion, with an initial 12 month term which can be extended for further 6 months. It adds to existing credit facilities worth €7.7 billion, including lines for €1.5 billion that the company has started to draw down, FCA said. FCA is in merger talks with PSA to create the world’s 4th biggest carmaker. The deal is expected to be finalised by the first quarter of next year. Equita’s analyst Martino De Ambroggi said that, based on his new assumption of a 10 % drop of global auto market this year, the crisis triggered by the coronavirus would impact the merged automaker’s free cash flow by over €5 billion. +++ 

+++ FORD was cut to junk by S&P Global Ratings as the coronavirus pandemic delivers a shock to the global auto industry, rendering the No. 2 U.S. automaker the largest fallen angel to date. S&P downgraded Ford’s credit rating one notch to BB+ and may cut it further. The move follows Moody’s Investors Service, which dropped its rating Ford for the second time in 6 months earlier today. With Ford’s factories shut around the globe (including all North American plants) and no decision as to when they’ll resume production, the automaker is under immense financial pressure, according to S&P. “The stress of having all of a company’s plants shut down differs from that of a conventional recessionary downturn”, the agency said, noting that the shutdowns mean Ford is not generating revenue to cover costs. “The rate of cash burn, even for a few months, could be faster than that which transpires during a typical recession”. S&P also placed General Motors on credit watch. The agency indicated there is at least a 50 % chance it will lower GM’s credit rating by one notch if the company’s plants “remain idle for longer than we expect, causing its cash flow generation to turn negative, eroding its liquidity, and increasing its debt leverage with no signs of an imminent improvement”. Moody’s also warned it was considering cutting GM to junk as it faces sharply lower demand. “A severe disruption in automotive demand due to the coronavirus, combined with the possibility of a follow-on economic recession, will place considerable pressure on GM’s cash flow and credit metrics”, Moody’s said. Because the spreading coronavirus has idled plants, prompted mass layoffs and curbed demand for big-ticket purchases across the globe, light-vehicle sales will decline by 15 % – 20 % in the U.S. and Europe, and by 8 % – 10 % in China, this year, S&P said. Ford is one of many auto companies facing what Moody’s calls an unprecedented “credit shock”, with the coronavirus outbreak also posing a major threat to peers including GM and Volkswagen Group. But Ford is particularly at risk because of the problems it’s been having with executing an $11 billion restructuring that has yet to improve performance. The cost to protect Ford’s debt against default for 5 years has soared this month more than fourfold, though it’s come down this week. Its bonds due 2025 trade around 78 cents on the dollar. “Ford is managing through the coronavirus crisis in a way that safeguards our business, our workforce, our customers and our dealers,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We plan to emerge from this crisis as a stronger company”. +++ 

+++ The end of a monthslong dispute with its labor union may be in hand for GENERAL MOTORS Korea, with the 2 sides reaching a tentative agreement regarding working conditions and last year’s wages. The 2 sides returned to the negotiation table on March 5, following a breakdown in talks last year. The dispute has stretched on for 9 months. The agreement stemmed from union leaders finally agreeing to give up their demands for a higher base wage level and special bonuses. The 10.000 member union had demanded a 5.7 % hike in basic monthly salaries, one and a half months in wages in performance-based pay and a cash bonus worth 6.5 million won ($5.300) per worker. Ever since the beginning of the discussions, the Korean unit of the U.S. automaker has rejected those demands, saying the business environment is worsening and the company is still mired in a deficit. In 2019, GM Korea sold a total of 417.226 vehicles; down 9.9 % from 462.871 units posted a year earlier. Instead of providing the wage hikes, GM Korea said it will provide “incentive vouchers” for workers wanting to buy new GM Korea cars. The voucher allows a GM Korea employee to get a discount of between 1 million won and 3 million won per person, depending on the price of the model. In their provisional agreement, GM Korea and its employees also agreed to continue working together to launch 15 all-new or face-lifted models through 2024 to regain sales targets in the local market. The two sides said they will hold additional talks to discuss the issue of management’s legal actions against employees who participated in unauthorized strikes last year. As wage negotiations made virtually no progress for weeks since they began last July, workers staged full and partial strikes over the course of a month, beginning in mid-August. The actions caused talks to break down last October before ultimately restarting in March. The tentative agreement will be put to a vote among unionized workers. More than half of the unionized workforce must agree to the terms for the deal to be finalized. +++ 

+++ The GOODWOOD FESTIVAL OF SPEED , due to take place in July, has been postponed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The festival was set to take place between 9-12 July, but event organisers are looking to move the festival to the end of summer rather than cancel the event altogether. Tickets that have already been purchased will remain valid when a new date has been set, organisers confirmed. The Duke of Richmond, owner of the Goodwood Estate, said: “Over the last few weeks, we have been working together with everyone involved to understand the viability of the Festival of Speed going ahead in July. Due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus threat and not knowing whether the situation will have significantly improved by then, we sadly need to postpone the Festival of Speed in July”. Organisers are hopeful that the Goodwood Revival, which is set to take place on 11-13 September, will be able to go ahead as planned. However, the situation is under constant review. “These are dramatic and unbelievable times but they will pass and we are already trying to think about just how exciting it’s going to be to welcome you all back to Goodwood for what perhaps might be the ‘Greatest Event Ever’ ”, the Duke of Richmond added. +++

 

+++ HYUNDAI said its steady-selling sedan Avante’s latest model has received 10.058 preorders on the first day of reservation. The number is double the average monthly sales figure of Avante, as well as 9 times more than the preorders for 6th generation Avante, the company said. It is also beats the past preorder record of the first-generation Avante which was named Elantra. The automaker said the number is meaningful amid the sharply falling consumer demand for midsized sedans compared to sport utility vehicles over the past 5 years. According to the company, the consumer demand for sedans reduced from some 181.000 units in 2015 to 123.000 in 2019. Meanwhile, demand for SUVs soared from 86.000 units in 2015 to 184.000 in 2019. Hyundai began receiving preorders for the all-new Avante last week. The latest model was unveiled in Los Angeles at its world premiere last week. +++ 

+++ The mark of any organisation is how it reacts to a crisis, especially one the like of which we’ve never seen before. And for JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) the message seems to be very simple and very British: keep calm and carry on. Clearly, carrying on as usual isn’t possible right now: factory and office closures mean clever thinking needs to be employed. And that’s exactly what Jaguar Land Rover is good at. So hats off to Land Rover for finding a way, with safe sanitising and social distancing, to get me behind the wheel of the new Defender this week. They wanted me to tell you what I think of what is the brand’s most important model for a generation. They’re obviously very confident about the new car and you can find out whether that confidence is justified by reading my review later this week. I’ll give you one thing to look forward to before that, though. What’s impressed me most about the new Defender is how much fun it is. Everyone’s definition of fun is very different, not least in such a multi-faceted car as the Defender. But it’s the way that JLR’s clever thinking has been employed, with a sense of ingenuity and a sense of humour, that’s impressed me most. It’s not built in Britain, but it’s designed and engineered in the UK, and looks and feels very British. It’s a fine example of what this country does best. +++ 

+++ Facing production and sales trouble from the coronavirus outbreak, KIA is considering revising its sales target for the year and adjusting its operations. The automaker will prepare various contingency plans to stabilize management amid the coronavirus outbreak, Kia boss Park Han-woo said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. “The global automobile market in 2020 was initially expected to grow from the recovery of new markets like China, India and Southeast Asian nations despite sluggish demand from major markets like the United States and Europe”, Park said. “But with Covid-19 taking over the world, the initial forecast is expected to be revised”. Like many of its competitors, the company experienced sluggish sales last year from steadily falling demand for new cars. But helped by its SUV models in North America and India, Kia fared better than many other in the industry. Kia sold 2.77 million vehicles worldwide in 2019; down 1.4 % from a year earlier. And the company was looking to introduce more cars in the North American market and expand its eco-friendly vehicle line-up in Europe to achieve 2.96 million units in sales this year. But as the virus outbreak started expanding throughout the globe, Kia closed its factories in Korea for several days last month and is on the verge of closing some of its foreign ones. Its already serious production delays and sales slump are only expected to continue as the pandemic worsens. Park said Kia will focus on developing electric vehicles and plans to have eco-friendly models account for 25 % of its sales in 2025. Kia will develop electric vehicle-based mobility services on top of new vehicles like the Sorento. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI is going after Ferrari’s FXX division with an ultra-limited, track-only model to be revealed by its Squadra Corse racing arm. The model, which follows on from the road-usable SC18, is now undergoing high-speed track testing. Unconfirmed reports suggest the new, Aventador-based model will be called the ‘SVR’. Lamborghini has now confirmed that the track car will take its power from an uprated version of the Aventador’s naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12, with output boosted to 830 hp. The new car’s bodywork is far more bespoke than that of the SC18, sharing very little of its profile with the Aventador. A wedge shape with a deep front end and pronounced splitter, a roof-mounted scoop and a track-bred rear wing design are part of the styling. The same goes for an aggressive diffuser setup. Last year, Lamborghini’s boss, Stefano Domenicali, told that it is evaluating an entry into the 2021 Le Mans hypercar category. Homologation rules dictate that the race version must be strongly related to a road-legal model, with 20 examples required to be produced over a 2 year period. That suggests the Le Mans racer isn’t likely to be based on this car, because it won’t be road legal. +++ 

+++ LAND ROVER is set to introduce new mild-hybrid diesel engines to the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport in the coming months, effectively spelling an end to the V8 diesel. After introducing its first mild-hybrid systems in 4-cylinder powerplants for the new Evoque and Discovery Sport last year, the technology will be introduced in 2 new 6-cylinder diesels. Land Rover hasn’t officially confirmed details, however. It is understood that a 300 hp 3.0-litre MHEV unit, badged D300, will be offered on HSE, HSE Dynamic and Autobiography Dynamic trims of the Range Rover Sport. The mild-hybrid system will give a moderate efficiency boost, as well as aiding smooth stop/start driving thanks to an integrated starter-generator. A new, more powerful version of that same engine putting out 350 hp (badged D350) will be available in higher-end trims such as HST. That unit will effectively replace the flagship Ford-sourced 4.4-litre diesel V8, currently built in Mexico and based on a 10-year-old design. Oddly, information for the new unit has already been published by automotive data suppliers, despite it not being listed by Land Rover itself. The data reveals that the new unit puts out 700 Nm, giving a 0-100 kph time of 6.5 seconds in the Range Rover Sport. It also emits 210 g/km of CO2. These figures are notably improved on the V8 diesel. The same two engines will be added to the full-size Range Rover, with the 0-100 kph of the D350 rising to 7.1 seconds and CO2 emissions up to 225g/km. The D350 will only be available on higher trims of the Range Rover, too. We can also anticipate either one or both of these units to emerge on the Jaguar side with the upcoming facelift of the XF and F-Pace, originally expected to be unveiled by now but likely to be pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. While it remains available to order, it is unclear if there is any intention to return the V8 diesel to the brand in future, but it’s unlikely given the relative inefficiency it offers next to 6-cylinder alternatives. This unit is one of the last Ford-sourced engines to be produced, with production of the AJ petrol V8 to cease towards the end of this year at Ford’s Bridgend factory. +++ 

+++ PSA Group said it remains committed to a MERGER with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after French media reports said the tie-up could be threatened by economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which has sharply reduced the market capitalization of both companies. The coronavirus fallout has called into question the financial terms of the merger, sources who are working on the transaction told. The terms of the deal, which has been described as a merger of equals by both companies, might need to be reviewed. PSA and FCA signed a memorandum of understanding in December and said the merger could close in 12 to 18 months. Teams in France and Italy and working on operational details and submitting documents to relevant antitrust authorities, but they are allowed only limited contact until the closing. The terms of the deal agreed to in December call for FCA shareholders to receive a special dividend of €5.5 billion. PSA shareholders would receive the automaker’s 46 % share of Faurecia, a French supplier in which PSA holds a controlling interest and which would be spun off as part of the deal. The crisis has reduced the value of Faurecia. The question of proposed dividends is a sensitive one, as automakers seek to preserve cash to weather the crisis. In addition, if the global economy plunges into recession, automakers might need government-backed loans to cover expenses. “If PSA or FCA appeal to the state, how could they justify asking taxpayers for billions and distributing billions to their shareholders at the same time?” Gregori Volokhine of Meeschaert Financial Services told. FCA said it would not comment on the reports. PSA said in a statement that in the context of the coronavirus crisis, it would be “inappropriate to be speculating about modifications of the deal conditions. We are completely focused on protecting our employees and our company”. PSA added: “We are taking the necessary decisions to ensure group sustainability. More than ever, this merger makes sense. Our teams continue to work with the same commitment”. The merger would create the world’s 4th largest automaker, with the aim of spreading the costs of expensive new technologies and taking advantage of greater scale. In December, the 2 companies had a combined market capitalization of around €42 billion, with FCA having a slight edge. The special dividends were agreed to in part to equalize the values of the companies. But movement and work restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus have shuttered factories and showrooms for both companies. Chinese plants are starting up again, but neither PSA nor FCA has a strong presence there. FCA’s share price has fallen from around €15 at the end of last October, when the proposed merger was announced, to less than €7, for a market capitalization of about €10.5 billion. PSA shares have fallen from around €23 at the end of October to around €12 euros, for a market capitalization of €11.2 billion. Faurecia’s market capitalization has shrunk by a third. According to the merger agreement, there is a €500 million termination fee in case of “change of board recommendation” and a €250 million fee in case “the board has failed to hold a vote of shareholders before March 31 2021”. For example, if PSA’s board votes against the merger, the company would have to pay FCA the fee. +++ 

+++ Earlier this month, I heard about the first customer delivery of the MINI Cooper SE in the U.S. (actually it was delivery to the winner of a sweepstakes), but how about Europe? According to industry analyst Matthias Schmidt, during the first 2 months of the year, “well over 500” units of Cooper SE were delivered across Europe; mostly in the UK, where the all-electric Mini is produced. Well over 500 pure electric Mini Electric vehicles have already been delivered across Europe during the opening 2 months of the year. Unsurprisingly the lion’s share remaining in the UK. While comparing the number with general Mini sales in January and February (under 25,000 in total), it turns out to be well over 2 %. Not bad for a start, but of course we expect a higher result, like at least 5 %, especially since some 100.000 people expressed interest in the Mini Cooper SE globally. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to improve over the short term, due to the coronavirus outbreak. +++ 

+++ MITSUBISHI could potentially invest in Renault as part of scenarios being discussed to reinforce an alliance between the French carmaker, Nissan and Mitsubishi, 2 sources familiar with the matter said. An unnamed executive familiar, with the discussions, and other unnamed sources, said that Mitsubishi Corp, a conglomerate with a 20 % holding in Mitsubishi Motors, could take a 10% stake in Renault. It said this was one scenario of many under discussion, which could also include restructuring plans and fresh cost savings schemes. Nothing was yet settled and any decision might not be taken until May, when the alliance is due to present fresh measures to reboot joint operations and deliver on cost cuts, one of the sources said. Renault declined to comment. Mitsubishi counts Nissan as its biggest shareholder, though ties run deeper between the other 2 members of the alliance. Nissan owns 15 % of Renault, while the French carmaker in turn has 43 % of Nissan. Relations between Renault and Nissan took a turn for the worse following the arrest in Japan of former alliance supremo Carlos Ghosn in late 2018. He has since fled to Lebanon, from where he has stepped up his defense against accusations of financial misconduct. He denies any wrongdoing. Renault and Nissan have since cleared the decks of many managers linked to the Ghosn era, but momentum for joint projects ground to a halt. They have both vowed to try and re-energize the alliance, as carmakers face tumbling demand in emerging markets and costly programs to build new models, including in less polluting cars. The coronavirus crisis has compounded problems for the sector as production grinds to a halt. +++ 

+++ Nowadays you can shop for pretty much everything from the comfort of your home, without leaving bed. New and used cars are on the list, as there is a vast majority of dealers offering this option, but is this really what people want? Nascar team owner, mega car dealer and avid collector Rick Hendrick believes the answer is a firm ‘no’. The businessman who generated $9 billion in revenue after selling for than 200,000 vehicles and servicing 2.6 million cars and trucks in 2017, said that while many customers will look at cars ONLINE before taking a decision, they would rather see it in person prior to signing their names on the dotted line. “A lot of people will look at a car online. When it gets down to giving them your Social Security number and all of the other information, they’re a little bit more cautious”, he said. “Not many people want to buy a car with 50.000 or 100.000 miles without seeing it”. When it comes to the whole car ownership experience, “service is still the key”, added Hendrick, who made his fortune by selling cars and is currently the owner of over 140 automotive franchises and 96 dealerships across the States. “If you take good care of the customer, you have owner base, you really have a good reputation, you make sure that nobody leaves there unhappy; then you’re still going to get the bulk of the business”. He may not agree to the online selling concept, but Hendrick is certain that they are ready for it, should the trend shift in this direction. “We’re going to stay in step with the customers. If they want it online completely, we can do it. If we can take it to their house, whatever the other folks do, we can do. None of those folks have the shop, the parts and the service. Most people want somebody to take care of it after the sale”. Hendrick has a long history with ‘firsts’. One of his dealerships was the first to take delivery of the initial batch of the new Corvette C8, and he’s also the owner of the first new Corvette, for which he paid $3 million. He also owns a lot of other first cars, including the Corvette Stingray C7, Z06 and ZR1, Camaro ZL1 1LE, Acura NSX and Ford GT Heritage Edition, to count just a few. +++

+++ PSA ’s joint venture in China with the Dongfeng Motor Group said it had restarted car production at its plant in Wuhan city, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak. The joint venture is also making cars from 2 other manufacturing bases in Chengdu and Xiangyang. +++ 

+++ RENAULT said that it was suspending production in Bursa, Turkey, adding to a global shutdown of its manufacturing operations because of the coronavirus crisis. The automaker’s manufacturing complex in Bursa, which operates as Oyak Renault, was pausing output “due to disruptions in the global supply chain”, Renault said. The complex has an annual capacity of 360.000 cars, 750.000 engines, 394.000 gearboxes and 428.000 chassis, Renault said. The factory is the principal assembly site for Renault’s bestselling model, the Clio. Some 6.600 people work at the site. Renault has also shut down its industrial sites in France, its factory in Slovenia, its 2 car plants in Morocco and a powertrain factory in Cacia, Portugal, until further notice. The company temporarily halted production at its 7 factories in South America. +++

 

+++ Hyundai Mobis said that its airbag that ejects out from the sunroof has been evaluated and shared by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The first kind to be invented in the world, according to the firm, the ROOF AIRBAG is unfolded when a vehicle is flipped over during an accident. It can cover the entire roof in 0.08 seconds, aimed at protecting passengers inside the car from being ejected out of the sunroof. The new system involves 24 patented technologies and has been enhanced for massproduction in collaboration with Inalfa Roof Systems last year, the company said. Since developing the world’s first panoramic sunroof air bag in 2017, Hyundai Mobis has been focusing on launching advanced airbag technologies for global markets. It has been massproducing airbags since 2002. In January, the NHTSA gave a presentation on the status of its roof ejection mitigation research at an event hosted by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which included a case of Hyundai Mobis’ roof airbag. The NHTSA is a US government agency which studies ways to prevent injuries and reduce economic costs caused by road traffic crashes, via education, research, safety standards and enforcement activities. +++ 

+++ General Motors and Ford have widely touted their commitment to emission-free electric cars, but their production plans show a growing reliance on ever-larger gas-powered vehicles. The 2 biggest U.S. automakers will make more than 5 million SUV cars and pickups in 2026, but only about 320.000 electric vehicles, according to detailed production plans for North America. That will be about 5% of their combined vehicle production in North America, but less than Tesla, the world leader in electric vehicles, produced last year. The plans show that Detroit’s Big Two are betting their short-term future on satisfying America’s demand for bigger, petroleum-fueled vehicles which they can sell at a higher profit margin than mostly smaller, expensive-to-develop electric vehicles. Large SUVs consume about a quarter more energy than midsize cars, meaning the plans will most likely wipe out any gains in overall fuel efficiency or reduction in auto emissions that were targeted over the next 6 years, according to industry experts. The recent collapse of oil prices (pointing toward cheap gas for the foreseeable future) and a dip in demand caused by the coronavirus may only serve to strengthen automakers’ commitment to the strategy. Detroit has tried to latch onto the consumer and investor excitement over electric vehicles made by Tesla, whose market value is double that of GM and Ford combined, even though its sales are much smaller. GM executives have been repeating a “zero emissions” mantra since 2017, and the company’s website features a prominent commitment to its “all-electric future”. Ford’s Executive chairman Bill Ford told the Detroit auto show 2 years ago: “We’re all in on this. We’re taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we’re electrifying them”. But it is hard to detect a major change of direction from the companies’ production plans. According to data from AutoForecast Solutions, North American production of SUV models by GM and Ford will outpace production of traditional cars by more than 8 to 1 in 2026, and 93 % of those SUVs are expected to be gas-fueled. The data has not previously been reported. AutoForecast data is based on planning information provided to suppliers by the automakers, and is widely used across the industry. GM and Ford executives interviewed did not dispute the accuracy of the data. “GM and Ford understand that buyers want more SUVs and pickups, but they’re also trying to play to Wall Street, which thinks the future is all about electric vehicles”, said Sam Fiorani, vice president, global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast. “The Detroit automakers would love to get a little of that Tesla magic and money”. Internal production plans from other industry sources support AutoForecast’s numbers, which show GM and Ford expect to produce about 320.000 pure electric vehicles (powered solely by a battery) in North America in 2026. That is nearly 10 times the 35.000 they have planned to build in 2020, but fewer than the 367.500 Tesla delivered last year. It is only a fraction of the 5.2 million SUVs and pickups that GM and Ford expect to make in North America in 2026, according to the AutoForecast data; up 14 % from 4.6 million SUVs and pickups in 2019. SUVs and pickups will account for about 87 % of vehicles made by GM and Ford in the region in 2026, compared with about 82 % last year. Executives at GM and Ford told in interviews they are serious about launching more electric vehicles in the United States in the coming years, but they are concerned about getting too far ahead of mass-market demand. “We’re trying to time this with the natural demand of consumers so we’re not forced to do artificial things and we don’t violate the laws of economics”, Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer, told. General Motors chief executive Mary Barra said in early March the company planned to spend $20 billion to bring a million electric vehicles a year to market by the middle of the 2020s. A majority of those are expected to be built and sold in China, where a government mandate calls for increasing numbers of electric vehicles. “We want to meet customer demand with the best possible carbon footprint on the planet to help improve the CO2 (carbon dioxide) situation”, said Doug Parks, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, regarding GM’s production plans for SUVs and electric vehicles in North America. The long-term battle between electrons and petroleum to be the primary energy source for future transportation took an unexpected turn with a crash in oil this month that sent fuel-pump prices to 20-year lows, with no signs of rising, making the cost of running internal combustion vehicles even more attractive to buyers. The spread of the coronavirus will put more financial pressure on automakers, according to analysts, limiting their capacity to develop and build money-losing vehicles. A global recession triggered by the epidemic “could add strain to balance sheets and ability to fund aggressive technology shifts”, said Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas. In such an environment, automakers are not looking to depart from their winning formula. They make more profit on each luxury SUV, such as GM’s $80,000 Cadillac Escalade or Ford’s $76,000 Lincoln Navigator, than they do on a dozen compact cars, according to analysts. Because of that, automakers are replacing compact sedans with small SUVs that share many of the car’s mechanical parts, but sell for more. Ford discontinued the Focus in the United States. Ford customers who want a similar-sized vehicle now can buy a more thirsty Kuga, whose starting price is $6,000 higher. That may be good for automakers’ finances, but probably not for the environment. SUVs and pickups burn more fuel and emit more carbon dioxide than comparable sedans, and those with larger ‘footprints’ (the area between the points where the wheels touch the ground) are subject to looser emissions standards. Meanwhile, the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump is threatening to roll back tougher fuel economy and emissions standards proposed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, removing an incentive for automakers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. That all indicates that any overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions enabled by new electric vehicles will be largely, or entirely, offset by the continued substitution of gasoline-fueled SUVs for cars, experts say. The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned of this outcome in October, in a report that showed growing demand for SUVs across the world was the second-largest contributor to the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 to 2018. “If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars”, said the IEA report. The IEA declined to comment on this story. The Obama White House predicted that doubling average car and truck fuel efficiency from 2011 to 2025 would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons. That does not look likely to happen. Trump’s White House is planning to follow through on its plan to roll back the Obama rules by the end of March, administration officials have told. The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates U.S. auto emissions, did not respond to a request for comment. +++ 

+++ The TOYOTA Research Institute (TRI) has just launched its Machine Assisted Cognition (MAC) initiative, aimed at developing and demonstrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools that can understand and predict human behavior, with a focus on decision-making. TRI wants MAC to be scalable, and believes that it is essential to respect the principles of transparency and privacy in the collection and usage of data; we should hope so. “A key pillar of TRI’s charter is to explore ‘what’s next’ for Toyota, and MAC is another way TRI can apply its AI expertise to help humans perform better”, said TRI chief science officer, Eric Krotkov. “Our vision is to create a human amplification system for Toyota where people and machines work together synergistically to make better predictions, forecasts and business decisions, and do so more quickly”. In charge of the MAC program will be Senior Director Franziska Bell, whose team will include behavioral scientists, and will have oversight of the Accelerated Materials Design and Discovery (AMDD) program. Bell formerly worked for Uber as Head of Platform Data Science, where she created working teams around forecasting, anomaly detection and conversational AI. Initially, the MAC team will build and test fundamental capabilities. Once a proof of concept gets developed, the group will then explore specific capabilities that can “support the needs of Toyota users in different parts of the organization”. On a more philosophical note, TRI also hopes that MAC will contribute to a deeper understanding of human behavior, to the benefit of our entire society. As long as it doesn’t lead to Westworld, we’re all good with it. +++ 

+++ What’s hot and what’s not? The UNITED KINGDOM new car registrations data reveals all, and I’ve been studying the most recent figures to find out Britain’s bestselling cars. The figures shown for each model are the most recent year-to-date sales numbers available. I’ll be updating this list monthly. 1. Ford Fiesta – 9.210 sales, 2. Ford Focus – 8.051, 3. Volkswagen Golf – 7.484, 4. Vauxhall Corsa – 6.244, 5. Nissan Qashqai – 5.901, 6. Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 4.862, 7. Vauxhall Grandland X – 3.801, 8. Volkswagen Polo – 3.787, 9. BMW 3 Series – 3.648, 10. Kia Sportage – 3.386. +++ 

+++ Auto sales in the UNITED STATES have started to plunge as the fight against the coronavirus continues and could fall by 45 % in March alone. According to data published by J.D. Power this week, retail auto sales in the country were 35 % lower than expected last week and are on pace to be 45 % lower at the end of the month than they were a year ago. It comes as little surprise that the sales of vehicles have started to dry up as many states have ordered their residents to stay home. While March could be bad, with sales expected to dip by between 38 % and 45 %, J.D. Power believes things could get worse. In fact, year-over-year sales could drop by 78 % in April and 75 % in May. This could see retail sales fall by 1.8 million to 2.8 million through July. A close look at the stats reveals just how suddenly sales have started to fall. Sales were generally in line with expectations through March 11 but then slipped to 22 % the expected numbers on March 13, fell by 30 % on March 17, and were 43 % lower on March 19. The drop in sales was particularly evident in San Francisco with sales falling by 86 % over the weekend as California residents were told to stay at home. One potential saving grace for the industry is the fact that 1.8 million leases are scheduled to end from March through July. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN expects the German car market to recover in the summer after the automaker was forced to suspend output because of the coronavirus pandemic, an executive told a newspaper on Wednesday. The company has initially halted production until April 3, but Jürgen Stackmann, management board member for the VW passenger cars brand, gave an upbeat assessment, saying that the Chinese market has already started to pick up. “We assume that Germany will return to normal in the summer”, Stackmann was quoted as saying. “We must learn how to live with the virus”, he said, adding that he did not expect the virus to disappear quickly. “The standstill cannot last longer than the summer. Society and the economy cannot withstand that. We are preparing ourselves for the moment when it starts again”. Volkswagen is also looking into new rules to ensure factory workers can keep their distance from each other on the production line. He added that one of the lessons from the crisis was the need to invest more in e-commerce, saying Volkswagen had already launched initiatives in online car trading that it would now accelerate. +++ 

+++ VOLVO scaled back financial guidance for the full year, warning that sales, earnings and cash flow in the first half of 2020 would decline from a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic weighs on business. The Gothenburg-based carmaker, which Geely acquired from Ford in 2010, had said only last month it expected to grow sales and profit this year, but that was before the coronavirus spread rapidly through Europe and North America. “The weakening market and production disruptions will impact the first half year results negatively as sales, profit and cash flow are expected to be lower than last year’s and it will be challenging to recover the impact during the remainder of the year”, it said in a statement. Volvo said it had temporarily closed its manufacturing plants in Europe and the United States and reduced working hours for its office employees in an effort to limited the long-term fallout from the pandemic on its business. “As the outbreak has spread globally, Volvo has seen negative effects on its business from a weakening market and production disruptions, which are expected to continue as the situation evolves”, it added. Volvo’s plants in China also faced extended first-quarter shutdowns as the coronavirus initially spread. +++

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