Newsflash: Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series wordt 720 pk sterk

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+++ BMW is working on new technology that will see steering wheels change shape before our very eyes. Patents filed by the German brand show a wheel that can change from a traditional circular shape to an oval shape using separate rim parts that can pivot in relation to each other. This could be used to provide more space for the driver when a car is in autonomous mode, although added safety is the primary reason BMW is developing the technology. BMW has history when it comes to innovative steering wheels. It’s Vision iNext concept, unveiled at the 2018 Los Angeles Motor Show, featured a squared-off steering wheel designed to allow drivers to easily switch between autonomous and active driving modes. BMW claimed that its unusual shape would make it easier for the driver to recognise the car’s steering angle. That steering wheel is expected to make it onto next year’s iNext production car, which could wear an iX5 badge. BMW has already said that the iNext’s steering wheel will be fitted with optical fibres to let the driver know when autonomous driving modes are available for use, and warn of situations where the driver is required to retake control of the vehicle. However, the new patents reveal that BMW plans to take steering wheel technology a step further, and its invention has the backing of car safety researchers. In 2017 researchers at Stanford University conducted tests using a test rig featuring a robotic steering wheel that could change shape. Their tests showed that drivers asked to take control of an autonomously-driven vehicle in an emergency situation reacted quicker to a steering wheel that mechanically changes its shape than a steering wheel that uses flashing LED lights to alert the driver. The conclusion of the Stanford study was: “Drivers who experienced the robotic steering wheel performed significantly better than those who experienced the LED steering wheel. The results of this study suggest that alerts utilising mechanical movements are more effective than purely visual warnings”. The shape-shifting steering wheel is unlikely to make it onto 2021’s iNext model, but could only be a few years away from production. +++

+++ Chinese car maker BYD has revealed a new battery pack for electric vehicles that’s designed to “redefine safety standards for the entire industry”. The Blade Battery, developed by BYD over several years, is said to offer a 50 % increase in space utilisation over current packs, thanks to its optimised design. More significantly, however, BYD claims that it has been proven to be far more durable than any equivalent, helping to reduce concerns over battery fires and explosions in EVs. BYD tested the Blade Battery first by penetrating it with nails. While it’s claimed a ternary lithium battery “violently burned” and exceeded 500 degrees Celsius and a more typical lithium ion battery reached temperatures between 200 and 400 degrees Celsius, the Blade Battery “emitted neither smoke nor fire after being penetrated” and its temperature never exceeded 60 degrees Celsius. BYD claims the Blade Battery is far less susceptible to fire as a result. Further extra tests included crushing and bending the pack, heating it in a furnace to 300 degrees Celsius and overcharging it by 260 %. None of these tests apparently allowed any thermal runaways or fires to occur. The company’s motivation for launching the Blade Battery is rivals’ ever-increasing “unreasonable pursuits of energy density”. It alleges that battery makers are becoming obsessed with offering ever-greater range, with safety “sidelined” from battery development. He Long, BYD vice-president and chairman of Findreams Battery Company, claimed that “many vehicle brands are in discussion with us about partnerships based on the technology”, although he is yet to detail which these are. +++

+++ With factories and dealerships closed by the corona virus crisis, auto sales in EUROPE could fall by up to 20 % this year, representing millions of vehicles, industry analysts and financial ratings services say. “The global auto industry is expected to witness an unprecedented and almost instant stalling of demand in 2020”, said IHS Markit, whose forecasts are used by many automakers and suppliers as a basis for strategic decisions. IHS said it had downgraded its forecasts across “virtually all regions”. The firm called the coronavirus pandemic “the single biggest risk factor facing the auto industry for many years”. Global sales will fall by more than 12 % this year to 78.8 million units, IHS forecasts; a downgrade of 10 million units from the company’s January forecast. In comparison, the 2-year “peak to trough” decline during the global recession in 2008-2009 was 8 %. Near-term global sales are forecast to fall sharply, followed by a slow recovery. The company has downgraded its 2020 forecast for Europe (western and central Europe) by 1.9 million units, to 15.6 million; a decline of 14 % over earlier forecasts. The region “faces months of rolling disruption as the conjoined health and economic crises play out across economies”, IHS said. Auto sales in the United States are forecast to be 14.4 million this year; a 15 % decline, and 2.4 million units fewer than prior forecasts. Another forecaster, LMC Automotive, expects 2020 global light vehicle sales to fall below 77 million, a decline of nearly 14 million, or 15 % below the 2019 level. “The environment remains extremely dynamic”, LMC said. In the worst case, LMC said global sales could fall to 69 million. LMC said it had removed about 3 million units each from sales forecasts for China, North America and western Europe. In January, LMC had forecast global sales to be flat from 2019, at 90.1 million units. “A global market, with some growth headwinds from a slowing economy and trade still a risk in the background, quickly changed to a global market in chaos, a situation that is likely to remain for some time”, LMC said. Morgan Stanley said European auto sales in 2020 will be around 12.5 million units compared with 13.7 million in its earlier prediction. In percentage terms, it now expects the market to fall by 13 % compared with an earlier prediction of a 4 % drop. Global sales will fall by 8 million in the first half, Morgan Stanley said, representing a nearly 20 % drop. It added that a previous forecast that 50 % of that loss could be recovered in the second half “now seems unlikely”. Chinese sales will fall by an additional 3 million units, or a 15 % decline, and the U.S. market will fall by an additional 1 million units, Morgan Stanley said. Scope Ratings, a credit-rating service based in Germany, was the most pessimistic of the forecasters. It said western Europe sales would fall about 20 % for the year (representing some 3 million units); a decline worsened by a push to move higher-polluting models at the end of 2019 ahead of new EU emissions targets. That push artificially inflated sales last year, Scope said. Scope also forecast that in economies dependent on crude oil and natural gas, such as Russia, demand could fall by more than 50 % this year. Prices for those commodities have fallen sharply during the coronavirus crisis. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES will resume some vehicle production from next week at 3 plants in Italy if it gets the green light from the government, a union representative said. The sites concerned would be the assembly line for the Jeep Compass in Melfi in southern Italy, Atessa’s plant making light commercial vehicles in central Italy and preparatory operations for the new electric 500 in Turin’s Mirafiori factory, Gianluca Ficco, a representative for metal workers union UILM, said. FCA informed unions last week that if the government gave it the go-ahead, the automaker would be ready to resume some of its operations on April 6, Ficco said. A spokesman for FCA confirmed that for now, the plan was to resume those 3 lines next week. However, Ficco said he did not know whether the government would allow non-essential activities to restart then and thought Rome was more likely to extend the ban. “In any case, when operations restart, FCA will have to make sure that the highest health and safety conditions are assured in all factories”, he said. “Safety devices will have to be increased for sure”. Earlier this month, Italy banned travel within the country and ordered a freeze on all business activities deemed non-essential, including the car industry, until April 3 to curb the spread of coronavirus. Ferrari, which, like FCA, is controlled by Exor, the investment firm of Italy’s Agnelli family, said it would reopen its 2 Italian plants on April 14, provided it had supplies. Exor said last week that current plant closures at companies it controls, though temporary, might continue. +++

+++ China’s GEELY Automobile Holdings said 2020 may be “amongst the most difficult years” in its history, as pressure stemming from the coronavirus pandemic on production and sales is likely to persist in the near future. The automaker, based in the eastern province of Zhejiang, also said lower sales drove net profit down 35 % in 2019 when the country’s overall auto market suffered a prolonged slump. China’s most globally high-profile automaker (due to parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group’s investments in Volvo Car and Daimler) posted profit of 8.19 billion yuan ($1.15 billion). That compared with the 9.14 billion yuan average of 33 analyst estimates. “The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus had caused serious disruption to our supply chain and thus our production levels, meaning additional pressure on our business volume and profitability in 2020”, Geely said in a filing to the Hong Kong exchange. The current headwind is likely to persist in the near future, making 2020 probably amongst the most difficult years in the group’s history, Geely said. Revenue fell 9 % from a year prior to 97.40 billion yuan. Analysts had estimated 99.43 billion yuan. Geely Automobile sold 1.36 million cars in 2019 and aims to sell 1.4 million cars in 2020. Industry-wide auto sales fell 8.2 % last year, pressured by new emission standards and the impact of Sino-U.S. trade tension. Geely Automobile and Volvo are planning to merge and list in Hong Kong and possibly Stockholm. Volvo dropped a move to list its stock 2 years ago. A merger would come as global automakers pursue alliances to respond better to the cost of meeting tougher emission rules, electrification and autonomous driving. It would also come as the industry worldwide begins to revive sales after governments halted business activity and imposed restrictions on movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed over 30.000 people globally. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS has reached a $120 million settlement with owners who claimed that their vehicles lost value because of defective ignition switches, which have been linked to 124 deaths. The preliminary settlement was filed with the federal court in Manhattan and requires approval by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman. It would resolve the last major piece of litigation stemming from ignition switches that could cause GM vehicles to stall and prevent airbags from deploying. The automaker denied liability in agreeing to settle, court papers show. GM has recalled more than 2.6 million vehicles since 2014 over the switches, covering vehicles dating back more than a decade earlier. It has also paid more than $2.6 billion in penalties and settlements, including $900 million to settle a U.S. Department of Justice criminal case. The settlement resolves claims by owners who said they suffered economic losses from buying vehicles they thought were defect-free, only to see the ignition switch problem hurt GM’s brand, reputation and resale values. GM will contribute up to $70 million toward the settlement, while a trust set up in connection with the Detroit-based automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy will contribute $50 million. In addition, GM will pay as much as $34.5 million to cover legal fees and expenses of the owners’ lawyers. “GM believes the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate”, the automaker said. “GM took the lessons it learned from the ignition switch recalls and has transformed its culture to focus on customer safety”. Prior to the settlement, GM had resolved or obtained dismissals of most of the more than 3.000 personal injury and wrongful death claims overseen by Furman. +++

+++ The coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of the GENEVA MOTOR SHOW , and automakers have already started thinking about next year’s event. The British brands Aston Martin and Bentley might not be there. In the future, large shows like Geneva might not be necessary for automakers to expose their new products to consumers. They are “not absolutely necessary to attend”, Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark told. Without offering a quote to the publication, Aston Martin’s Andy Palmer was allegedly in agreement with this sentiment. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that statements are hardly definitive since the next Geneva show is practically a year away. With that much lead time, things can change. As a coincidence, Aston Martin and Bentley were both prepared to debut limited-edition roadsters At this year’s Geneva show. The Bacalar is a special, 2-seat version of the Continental GT Convertible with a 12-unit production run and a £1.5 million price. Meanwhile, the V12 Speedster comes with no roof or windshield and the company only intends to build 88 of them. The Covid-19 pandemic has the potential drastically to change the way major automakers debut new models. Dedicated events, like the ones for the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 or Tesla Cybertruck, give companies lots of freedom. They let planners have control of things like the date, location, and guest list. None of this is true of a traditional auto show. Deciding on the time comes with the extra advantage of potentially having more people paying attention to the debut. During auto shows, every company is showing something, and this can mean less attention from the public. +++

+++ In GERMANY , approximately 100,000 automotive jobs are thought to be at risk due to the coronavirus and its impact on the industry. Demand for vehicles in Germany is falling as the country has been hit especially bad by the Covid-19 pandemic and, according to automotive market expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, production capacity in the country could be far too large, potentially resulting in an overcapacity of 1.3 million vehicles. Car production in Germany is expected to shrink to 3.8 million vehicles this year compared to the 5.1 million vehicles manufactured locally in 2019. This fall in production will be triggered by a significant drop in demand and could see approximately 100.000 of the 830.000 jobs in the German automotive industry scrapped. “We have to expect a reduction in production capacity in the automotive industry in Germany. A good 100,000 jobs could be at risk; 12 % of today’s jobs at car manufacturers and suppliers”, Dudenhöffer said. He is calling on the German government to do more to stimulate demand for new cars, in particular for electric and hybrid vehicles. As it stands, the country offers an environmental bonus of up to €6,000 for buyers of green vehicles, but other measures could be taken as well. “For example, the manufacturers could offer cheap car subscriptions, combined with return guarantees in the event of unemployment”, Dudenhöffer said. “Only courageous measures counteract the uncertainty among car buyers, which was great before the corona pandemic, for example with a view to the diesel exhaust crisis, the switch to electric vehicles”, the analyst added. +++

+++ HONDA has done what no other car maker is doing and returned to analogue controls for some functions on the new Jazz. While most manufacturers are moving to touchscreen controls, identifying smartphone use as their inspiration (most recently seen in Audi’s latest A3) Honda has decided to reintroduce heating and airconditioning controls via a dial rather than touchscreen, as in the previous-generation Jazz. Jazz project leader Takeki Tanaka explained: “The reason is quite simple: we wanted to minimise driver disruption for operation, in particular, for the heater and airconditioning. We changed it from touchscreen to dial operation, as we received customer feedback that it was difficult to operate intuitively. You had to look at the screen to change the heater seating, therefore, we changed it so one can operate it without looking, giving more confidence while driving”. More and more manufacturers are moving to touchscreen-only controls. The new Audi A3’s electronics boss Melanie Limmer told recently its decision to remove some physical buttons was made as “more and more people are getting into touch functions with smartphones” and added that the new system is as user-friendly as the previous one. While Honda’s decision to return to physical controls will be popular with some (including, no doubt, its ageing owner base) the predicted move towards more voice-controlled actions in cars could eliminate the debate around touchscreens versus analogue controls in the future. +++

+++ The most exciting product to carry the three-pointed star earmarked for a 2020 release is without a shadow of a doubt the much-awaited return of the Black Series. It’s been spotted countlessly testing at the Nürburgring and more recently in a winter wonderland in northern Europe. MERCEDES-AMG has been relatively coy on details about the SLS Black Series’ spiritual successor, but a report attempts to shed light on the juicy power figures. The new flagship performance model from Mercedes (outside of the One hypercar) will offer an enormous 720 hp. The torque generated by its twin-turbo V8 engine is expected to stand at 800 Nm. It means the Black Series will offer an extra 140 hp and 100 Nm over the AMG GT R. The report goes on to mention the V8 will be linked to a dual-clutch automatic transmission sending all that power to the rear wheels to enable some amazing performance. The new Black is said to do 0-100 km/h in less than 3 seconds and top out at more than 320 km/h. It will achieve these numbers thanks to a new development of the V8, which AMG boss Tobias Moers said is unlike any other engine Affalterbach has worked on before. Considering the aforementioned SLS AMG Black Series lost 70 kilograms compared to the regular model, there’s a pretty good chance the new Black will also go through a strict diet. Prototypes have also been showing some wild aero for a car Moers said won’t have “much in common” with the GT R. While some have referred to the new track-focused machine as the Mercedes-AMG GT R Black Series, the report mentions it will drop the “R”. A high price tag and low production numbers are to be expected. +++

+++ It’s no secret that automobile manufacturers all over the world are starting to either trim down their offerings by focusing on their perceived strengths, market value, or by adopting new models with new technology that end up eating into the pricing of current products. Some cars have to go, and if a new model takes its place, it’ll usually be a whole new platform that incorporates some hybrid or EV technology, perfect for sustainability for the next couple of years. So it should come as no surprise when people started to spread some rumours about the fate of MERCEDES-BENZ ‘ S-Class Coupe and Convertible variants, saying that the eagerly anticipated new flagship, the EQ S, will make the German manufacturer drop the Grand Tourers. Mercedes-Benz has already been looking to trim some fat and that these 2 models are part of the vehicles being considered. They say that the Coupe and Convertible of the S-Class can still be ordered until the month of May, with production stopping by August of this year. Having been refreshed in 2017, both these models aren’t exactly old; but they are based on the 6th generation S-Class that has been around for about 7 years now. While the regular full-size saloon of the S-Class will always have a solid market, it makes sense for the EQ S to take the upper spot, offering more comfort and technology than anything the S-Class has now. Of course, nothing is confirmed and we assume Mercedes-Benz hasn’t released any comment. The Mercedes-Benz EQ S will supposedly offer the most luxurious EV experience once it goes on sale for the 2021 model year. The EQ S is built on a completely new platform that will allow for future EV models from MB, and is equipped with all-wheel drive, a pair of electric motors with an unconfirmed power figure (some say close to 500 horses), and a driving range around the 500 kilometre mark. +++

+++ The NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW is the latest victim of the coronavirus as multiple publications are reporting the event has been cancelled due to the growing pandemic. While the show hasn’t confirmed the cancellation, both Ford and GM have acknowledged the news. Ford’s chief communications officer Mark Truby told: “We fully support NAIAS organizers in their postponement”. He added: “the health and safety of our community is our top priority” and “we look forward to seeing the show’s return in 2021”. Instead of hosting shiny new automobiles, the TCF Center will be transformed into makeshift hospital to treat people with Covid-19. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District confirmed the Michigan National Guard as well as state and federal agencies visited the TCF Center earlier today to plan how to convert the massive complex into an “alternate care facility” for patients. The move has been rumored for a few days and it comes as a number of hospitals in southeast Michigan are nearing maximum capacity. The mitten state has been hard hit by the coronavirus as it has 4.650 cases and 111 deaths as of earlier today. Those numbers continue to grow with alarming regularity and it’s one of the reasons president Trump declared the state a major disaster area. The North American International Auto Show was scheduled to take place in June and this year’s event would have been the first time it was held in the summer.  The Volkswagen ID.4 was slated to be unveiled at the event and GM’s executive director of communications operations and corporate giving, Terry Rhadigan, told: “We were definitely going to unveil new models” at NAIAS. Of course, the cancellation comes after the Geneva Motor Show was called off at the last minute.  The coronavirus crisis has also postponed the Beijing and New York auto shows as well as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. +++

+++ If you look at what automakers offer today, you’ll notice a shocking lack of 2-door cars. Yes, the staples are still around (Ford Mustang for instance) but the list of available coupes isn’t growing. And it likely won’t anytime soon, according to PEUGEOT boss Jean-Philippe Imparato. In an interview, he said one reason for the demise of the coupe is that there’s just not enough investment capital available to fund their development. It’s not that automakers despise the 2-door design. Imparato himself told: “I love these cars”. But love isn’t enough of a reason in the cutthroat car business. Volkswagen wasn’t going to keep the Beetle around just because people love it. New emerging technologies are gobbling up a ton of R&D costs as automakers venture into electric vehicles, 5G connectivity, autonomous vehicles and other semi-self-driving technologies. Those are costly ventures that Imparato believes could require extensive resources from automakers for the next decade or longer. With automakers pouring all they can to keep up with Silicon Valley and each other, the money just isn’t there for niche vehicles. Coupes have never sold in large quantities, and consumers today are continuing to flock to larger vehicles, entirely abandoning saloons, coupes, and other small vehicles. That’s forced some automakers to cut saloons completely from their lineup. Even the declining sales of the Chevrolet Camaro spurred speculation last year that it’d soon face discontinuation yet again. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. The crossover/SUV craze is a trend, and trends fade after time. Late last year, GM design boss Michael Simcoe said people want well-styled vehicles that make their neighbors jealous. Right now, crossovers, trucks, and SUVs are those vehicles. Hopefully, when automakers are done pouring money into new technologies, they’ll reallocate that cash into the development of some sweet-looking coupes. I have my fingers crossed. +++

+++ In February, PLUG-IN car sales in Europe more than doubled. In March I expect a huge downward effect because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The overall passenger car sales are weak in Europe: in February new registrations decreased by 7 % year-over-year to over 1.06 million. With just several countries noting any increase, just imagine the full-blown effect of coronavirus in March and April. Felipe Munoz, global analyst at JATO Dynamics, commented: “The situation is rapidly deteriorating in Europe due to complex regulation, lack of available homologated cars, and increasing pressure on the economy. All of these factors are having a detrimental impact on consumer confidence”. The electrified car segment (xEVs – BEVs, PHEVs and HEVs), on the other hand, was doing great: in February, the total sales in 27 markets monitored by JATO Dynamics went up 80 % year-over-year to 135.500! That’s almost 13 % of the total car sales. “Against this negative backdrop, electrified vehicles were once again the outlier in the industry. Their registrations jumped from 75.400 units in February 2019 to 135.500 units last month. The increase of over 80 % came at the expense of diesel and petrol cars who saw significantly fewer registrations. Munoz added: “So far this year, electrified vehicles have been the only lifeline for manufacturers operating in Europe. This is good news, as the industry’s electrification plans have finally seen a positive response from consumers”. The top 5 European countries by xEVs share in all passenger cars registrations are: Norway: 75 %, Sweden: 33 %, Finland: 31 %, Netherlands: 22 %, Hungary: 17 %. Among the “big markets” by volume, France seems to have the highest xEV share (14 %), followed by 13 % in the UK, 11 % in Germany, 10 % in Spain and 8.6 % in Italy. Data for the 19-markets indicate that plug-ins are now a bigger segment than regular hybrids:
BEVs: 38,700 (up 92% year-over-year), PHEVs: 28,700 (up 153% year-over-year), HEVs: 59,000 (up 46% year-over-year), Total plug-ins (BEVs, PHEVs): 67,400 (up 114% year-over-year), Total xEVs: 126,400 (up 76% year-over-year). “As EVs have increasingly become a viable alternative to gasoline and diesel cars, SUVs are now struggling in the competitive environment. Registrations for SUVs fell by 1.7 % to 415,300 units, taking the year-to-date total to 865,500 units, down by 1.4 % from last year. The fall in registrations was due to the compact SUVs, declining by 3.7 % in contrast to the strong growth experienced by large SUVs, who saw an increase of 17 %. Although there was a decrease in SUV registrations their market share did in fact increase due to the overall downturn of the market”. +++

+++ RENAULT said production at all its plants across the world had been halted due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis, apart from its plants in China and South Korea. “The Group plans to restart production activities in the countries concerned as soon as conditions permit and will implement appropriate measures to respond effectively to commercial demand”, Renault added. +++ 

+++ As consumer preferences continue shifting towards crossovers and SUV models of every size and price imaginable, most automakers have expanded their high-riding vehicle portfolios tackling a multitude of segments with different proposals. This has led to a decrease in demand for sedans, station wagons and hatchbacks, sealing the fate of several nameplates that used to be popular. According to data published by Jato Dynamics, last year alone, sales of what used to be considered ‘traditional’ cars were down globally. Sedans that used to hold a 24 % market share in 2018, dropped to 23 % last year; from 20.26 to 18.88 million units. The Volkswagen Group holds 18 % of the category, followed by Toyota with 13 %, Hyundai-Kia with 11 % and Renault-Nissan with 10 %. With 51 % of new car registrations, China remains the biggest global market for sedans, while the USA and Canada follow it with 22 %. Latin America and Europe hold 6 % each. What could manufacturers do to continue to appeal to new car buyers with saloons? The answer varies from company to company, so while Tesla wants to win them over with electrification, others, such as Volkswagen and Kia, see the so-called 5-door coupes (Arteon and Stinger) as a possible solution (spoiler alert; it hasn’t worked so far). Hatchbacks haven’t been doing that well either, as they also lost 1 % of the market share, dropping from 12 % in 2018 to 11 % last year. Sales of 3 and 5-door subcompact and compact models dropped from 10.45 million to 9.25 million in 1 year. Hatchbacks remain popular in Europe, which holds 50 % of global sales in the segment at 4.6 million units, even though demand decreased by 7 % over 2018. The second largest market for hatchbacks was Latin America, with 1.2 million units; down by 11 %, while China was the third market in with 717.000 units; down by 36 %. In these 2 segments, the Volkswagen Group holds the high ground, with 21 %, while Renault-Nissan has 14 %, Toyota has 12 % and PSA 11 % of the market. “The decrease in popularity across Europe and Latin America arose as hatchbacks increased in size”, says Jato. “The larger they became, the less functional and manoeuvrable they became. This increase in size put them in the same playing field as SUVs, which have recently been on a mission to decrease their size”. Stationwagons have lost ground to crossovers and SUVs, due to their similarities, says Jato. Much like hatchbacks, Europe is still the biggest core market for estates, which retained 70 % of the volume in 2019. +++

+++ an there be any positives to come out of TEMPORARY CAR FACTORY CLOSURES across the globe? For salt-of-the-earth workers struggling to earn a living from motor manufacturing and related industries, the obvious answer has to be no. Such folk ain’t daft. They/we know that in these unprecedented times, concerns and worries will inevitably exist in and around car-related workplaces and beyond. As with most others, I’m just longing to ‘get back to normal’. But frankly, I’m no longer sure what normal is. In the car world we love, the only certainty (the new normal, if you like) is massive change. And change is happening, and will continue to happen, like never before. And to be clear, such upheaval applies to the world. It’s a global thing. We’re in this together. Ironically, announcements of temporary factory shutdowns during the pandemic come at a time when I’ve acquired figures showing that global car sales have well and truly peaked. For years they’ve been declining: from over 70 million in 2017, to 64 million in 2019. And further reductions are likely in future years. Last year alone, the world’s car makers built almost three million more cars than they could register or sell. And this excess of product was in addition to the oversupply of millions of vehicles in earlier years. In short, the industry has been building too many cars for too few customers, resulting in some unsold products spending too long on forecourts or stored on disused airfields. March’s widespread call to suspend production will at least allow volume manufacturers and their workers to redress the balance. Then, consumers can look forward to fresh new cars, as opposed to stale examples that are technically ‘new and unused’ but ‘old’ in the sense that they may have been built many months ago and left to languish since. With leading car-producing nations desperate to outdo each other, no wonder supply outstrips demand. In China last year, 21.3 million cars (many of them less than desirable) were built. Japan did 8.3 million, with Germany (4.7 million), India and South Korea (3.6 million apiece) making up the remainder of the global top 5. Another new norm is that the US (the ‘home of the motor car’) has slumped to 6th place in the league table (2.5 million in 2019). Meanwhile, unlikely Brazil (2.4 million) and humble Spain (2.2 million) must fancy their chances of overtaking the States. France (1.7 million) and Russia (1.5 million) complete the Top 10. The underdog Czech Republic (1.4 million) and modest Mexico (1.4 million) are now larger car producers than the UK (1.3 million). +++

+++ TOYOTA has asked 2 Japanese megabanks to set up a credit line totaling 1 trillion yen ($9.2 billion), company sources said; a move that signals the carmaker is struggling with rising funding costs in the market due to the coronavirus outbreak. Toyota’s financial base remains solid but it is aiming to increase its cash on hand to prepare for a further escalation in the epidemic, which has led to plant closures worldwide, the sources said. They added, the banks (Sumitomo Mitsui Banking and MUFG Bank) are likely to accept the request. The commitment line would allow Toyota to borrow up to 500 billion yen from each of the banks when it needs, said the sources. Toyota had around 5.2 trillion yen in cash and deposits as of the end of last year, according to its filings. The coronavirus outbreak has forced Toyota to suspend plant operations in the United States and Europe. It has also seen a sharp fall in sales in China, where the outbreak started. The world’s second-largest automaker group by sales will also temporarily halt seven production lines at five of its domestic plants from April 3. Toyota said that it would extend a suspension at all of its factories in Europe with the exception of Russia until further notice, with a restart expected no earlier than April 20. With the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, Toyota had suspended production from around mid-March in France, Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey and Portugal. Its Russian factory will be closed from March 30 to April 3, it said. It has already halted production in all of North America. +++

+++ In an interview, VOLKSWAGEN Group CEO Herbert Diess confessed that his company might have to cut jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the carmaker is burning through about €2 billion per week. Volkswagen is currently not selling any cars outside of China, where demand has picked up somewhat. However, production is only at half the level prior to the crisis. “We are not making sales or revenues outside of China”, said Diess, adding that VW still needs to cover fixed costs of “around €2 billion a week”. “We need to rethink production. We do not yet have the discipline that we had in China at our German locations”, he added. “Only if we, like China, Korea or other Asian states, get the problem under control then we have a chance to come through the crisis without job losses. It requires a very sharp intervention”. VW is currently trying to figure out how to resume manufacturing while at the same time keeping its workers safe. The German brand employs 671.000 people and has 124 factories around the world; 72 of which in Europe, with 28 in Germany alone. In a separate interview Volkswagen CFO Frank Witter said that passenger car sales were down 40 % in March, and that the company has yet to tap any bank credit lines, which are said to be worth in excess of €20 billion. +++

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