Newsflash: nieuwe Mercedes-AMG C 53 krijgt wellicht 4 cilinder motor

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+++ The BENTLEY Mulsanne is going out of production this spring, but the model could effectively be replaced by an all-new SUV. CEO Adrian Hallmark suggested there was room for a model positioned above the Bentayga. As he explained: “If you look at China, every single car we sell has the longer wheelbase”. Hallmark then said, if the company built a long-wheelbase Bentayga then every Mulsanne customer in China would opt for the SUV instead. This naturally raises the question about a crossover positioned above the Bentayga and Hallmark hinted one is in the works. As he said, “We’d love to make an even more luxurious, even bigger Bentayga. Watch this space”. Hallmark went on to say he could imagine Bentley’s lineup featuring 3 SUV models besides the Bentayga. In particular, he mentioned SUVs that were larger and smaller than the brand’s best-selling model. The executive also hinted at a SUV coupe which he said would be relatively affordable and on the smaller side. A ‘cheap’ SUV coupe could generate more volume for the brand, but Hallmark said Bentley doesn’t want to be a big company. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of more affordable models. It remains unclear if any of the crossovers are actually in the pipeline, but it seems possible as Hallmark said “We are not fulfilling the potential of the brand where we are”. That seems to suggest Bentley wants a bigger slice of the ultra-luxury market and SUVs are certainly the way to go. In related news, Hallmark reiterated their plan to offer hybrid versions of all models by 2023. Longer term, the first electric Bentley will arrive by 2026 and should have a range of at least 500 km. +++ 

+++ BMW has confirmed that production of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car will end next month, nearly 6 years after it was launched. The company’s Leipzig plant in Germany will cease production of the Porsche 911 rival in mid-April, following a decision to focus its engineering activities on the development of a new range of electric models, including the iX3, i4 and iNext. A new electric sports car, based on last year’s Vision M Next concept, is expected to arrive within the next 5 years. The first model to join BMW’s i sub-brand has garnered more than 20.000 sales worldwide since it first went on sale in coupé guise in 2014 before being facelifted in 2018, at which time the open-top i8 roadster model was added to the line-up. Initially revealed in turbodiesel concept form at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show, the i8 went on sale in 2014 as the high-performance flagship of BMW’s then-new i electrified vehicle range, above the i3. In its 6 years on sale, the i8 has acted as a figurehead for a growing range of plug-in hybrid BMW models, as well as pioneering carbonfibre construction processes that have subsequently been integrated into parts of other, more conventional BMW models, including the Carbon Core body structure of the latest 7 Series. The mid-engined 2+2 has been sold with just one powertrain option throughout its production run: a 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol engine mated to a low-output electric motor. Performance figures have remained largely unchanged, although the 2018 update boosted output from 362 hp to 375 hp. In an official statement, BMW said the i8 would cease to be produced following the end of a limited 200-unit run of Ultimate Sophisto Edition models. Exact production figures have not yet been released, although the German car maker confirmed the 20,000th example of the i8 was produced in December 2019 as part of Ultimate Sophisto Edition production. This places it well ahead of previous BMW sports cars in terms of production numbers; production of the M1, launched in 1978, reached 399 units, while production of the Z8, introduced in 2000, was limited to 5.000 units. BMW research and development bosses last year confirmed that decisions were being made about the future of the i8, and that it could be reborn as an electric rival to the second-generation Tesla Roadster and long-rumoured Audi R8 e-tron. Little is known about the next-generation model’s powertrain or design, but sources suggest it will be developed using a ‘race to road’ strategy that aims to provide a tangible link between BMW’s involvement in Formula E single-seater racing and its i division. +++ 

+++ CHINA is calling for more efforts to build charging poles for electric vehicles, which are expected to alleviate concern about mileage capacity and boost the country’s new energy vehicle market that has shown signs of a slowdown. At a meeting last week, the country’s top officials said that China will step up efforts to push forward a new infrastructure campaign. The campaign covers seven fields including 5G, artificial intelligence and charging poles. China had 1.24 million charging poles, both private and public, by the end of January 2020, according to the country’s charging infrastructure promotion alliance. That was up 45.8 % compared to a year ago, but it still lagged far behind the number of new energy vehicles. Last year, sales of new energy vehicles totaled 1.21 million; down 4 % year-on-year, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Despite the first dip in a decade, that brought the total number of electric cars and plug-in hybrids on the country’s roads to 3.85 million, which means that 3 vehicles has only 1 pole for their use. According to 2015 guidelines from the National Development and Reform Commission, China is expected to ensure that every new energy vehicle will have a pole by the end of 2020. Thomas Fang, a partner of consulting firm Roland Berger’s China office, who focuses on the automotive industry, said “Setting charging facilities as a priority will bolster the charging infrastructure market and sales of new energy vehicles in the country”. Fang warned that the country’s charging pole builders and operators, ranging from power suppliers to carmakers, should be well-coordinated to ensure they play their roles in a constructive way. China once had hundreds of such companies, but many failed to profit as authorities focused on electric vehicles. By the end of 2018, only 15 companies operated more than 1.000 charging poles, according to Leqing, a Chinese think tank. The year 2019 saw some changes for the better. By the end of last December, the number of companies operating 1.000 charging poles grew to 22, and the top 5 accounted for more than 80 % of the total. About 180.000 public charging poles were built across the country last year, bringing the total to 516.000. Xiang Ji, a senior executive at Star Charge, the country’s No 2 charging infrastructure operator, told that one reason for the growth in number of poles involved the rising number of electric vehicles on the country’s roads and the increase in the number of new models in the market. Some 60 cities including Shenzhen in Guangdong province and Beijing are introducing electric vehicles into their taxi fleets. China’s ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing has around 600.000 electric vehicles registered at its platform. Taxi drivers and ride-sharing service providers are charging pole operators’ largest group of customers, not private car owners that can charge vehicles in their garages. Xiang said the authorities’ shift of subsidies from purchasing electric vehicles to building charging infrastructure in 2019 has bolstered confidence as well. Last week, Tgood, China’s largest charging pole operator, announced it finished financing up to 1.35 billion yuan to be spent on research and development. Headquartered in Qingdao, Shandong province, the company runs over 260.000 public charging terminals. Roland Berger said the charging facilities will continue to grow. The company estimated that the number of public and private charging poles in China would reach 7 million by the end of 2023. Analysts say the improved charging network will help boost China’s new energy vehicle market as authorities are expected to stop subsidies on electric car sales by the end of this year. Following the first annual dip in 2019, China’s new energy vehicle market is falling sharply in the first 2 months this year. But experts blame the slowdown primarily on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The country’s largest new energy vehicle maker, BYD, sold 9.936 electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the first 2 months; down 77 % from the same period last year. But analysts said the situation will take a turn for the better when the epidemic is curbed. Fang at Roland Berger said China’s new energy vehicle market will continue to keep a decent growth rate as global carmakers speed up their transition toward electrification. “By 2025, sales of new energy vehicles will account for 20 percent of the country’s total new car sales”, he said. +++ 

+++ The fallout from the CORONA VIRUS , which has caused some Japanese automakers to partially close plants, is likely to prolong both disruption of parts procurement in China and an ongoing sales slump, potentially forcing them to alter production plans in coming months, industry analysts say. The automakers are already experiencing delivery delays for some models after taking longer than initially expected to restart halted lines. With virus fears driving new car buyers away from showrooms, sluggish sales are giving the manufacturers an added headache. And given none of the automakers have yet factored in the impact of the coronavirus on their earnings outlook due to the fluid nature of the situation, shareholders may also be set to feel even more pain, too. The virus chaos is proving a triple whammy for automakers whose sales have already taken a hit in recent months from the consumption tax hike in October last year and massive typhoons and consequent floods in fall. “Unlike major earthquakes and typhoons, which are certainly devastating, the difficulty of dealing with this new coronavirus is that we don’t know when the epidemic will end, throwing production and sales plans into disarray”, said Tatsuo Yoshida, senior auto analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, a research group. “Many automakers, which have experienced disruptions in parts supply in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, have implemented backup plans and other steps since, but this coronavirus is a threat of different nature”, Yoshida said. New vehicle sales in Japan, including trucks and buses, fell 10.3 % in February from a year earlier to 430.185 units, the fifth straight double-digit monthly fall, partly because the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus kept car buyers away from showrooms, recent data by industry bodies showed. Koichi Sugimoto, senior analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, said that new car sales in March could fall by around 30 %, and 10 % in April alone, as dealers are holding back on marketing activities in response to more customers putting off their purchase plans. “Sales activities are far from back to normal and this situation could continue even after May”. Sugimoto said. When data for January showed an 11.7 % drop in sales, there were expectations within the Japan Automobile Dealers Association that the numbers would pick up in February as Toyota and Honda, the 2 two carmakers in Japan, launch their remodeled compact models Yaris and Fit (Jazz), respectively. Delivery deadlines in Japan of some cars, including the new Fit, have already been missed due to disruptions in parts imports from China, according to Kazuo Kato, chairman of the JADA. “Demand was expected to rebound in January after falling due to the consumption tax hike, but it appears to have remained weak through February”, said Koya Miyamae, senior economist at SMBC Nikko Securities. Miyamae said he expected new car sales to start rebounding in February, but the latest data suggests a slow recovery. In its quarterly earnings report in early February, Toyota released an upbeat projection for the business year ending March, raising its sales estimate for the year by 30.000 to 10.73 million vehicles. The outlook, however, did not factor in the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Nissan has temporarily suspended output at its plants in Tochigi and Fukuoka prefectures, saying required parts could not be shipped out from a Chinese port. Honda will reduce vehicle output at two of its domestic plants in Saitama Prefecture for a week or so in March due to concerns about parts supply from China, sources close to the matter said. Honda has maintained its production levels by increasing output of models for which the company had enough parts in stock. Suzuki and Mazda have also faced difficulties in procuring parts from China and have delayed production of some models. “The current status of disruptions in Chinese manufacturing and logistics due to the coronavirus is only the start” and situation will likely get worse, Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley’s Sugimoto said, adding it is too early to say when and how the crisis can be contained. With the auto industry Japan’s largest manufacturing sector, making up 19.0 % of total shipments by manufacturers and employing 5.46 million people in the country, the government is anxious about the supply chain trouble but has no immediate remedy to offer. “As the car industry is so multilayered with many suppliers, it is difficult to detect and resolve the bottlenecks, which are also different for each and every carmaker”, said Futoshi Kono, head of the automobile division at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, following a meeting of automakers, suppliers and the government. “But we want to stay in close communication with Japanese auto (firms) and their suppliers as the situation could suddenly turn for the worse”, he said. +++ 

+++ EUROPE ’s major car and parts makers rushed to close factories and cut output in Italy and considered sending workers home elsewhere, in the first signs that coronavirus is disrupting the region’s struggling automotive industry. Fiat Chrysler said it was temporarily halting operations at some of its Italian factories and would reduce production in response to Europe’s largest coronavirus outbreak. The Italian-American carmaker has stepped up measures across its facilities, including intensive cleaning of all work and rest areas, to support the government’s directives to curb the spread of the infectious disease. Italian tyremaker Pirelli said it was cutting production for several days at its Settimo Torinese plant in northern Italy after a worker tested positive for the virus. Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China and the unprecedented lockdown of the country has heaped fresh pressure on the region’s ailing car sector. Other companies including Britain’s biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover and PSA were also scrambling to deal with infections among staff, highlighting the risks to business beyond supply chains and Italy’s borders. The French carmaker was beefing up safety rules at its Mulhouse plant with a 5.000-strong workforce in eastern France after one employee tested positive, a spokeswoman said. The man has been on sick leave since February 29. The actions come as Seat, the Spanish unit of German carmaker Volkswagen, was considering sending staff home temporarily from its Barcelona-area plant due to issues with supplies. “The Martorell plant is currently working normally. However, there are several risks derived from Covid-19, which has affected the supply chain”, a Seat spokesman said. The disruptions are the latest blow to Europe’s car makers, which are struggling with weak global demand and high costs of meeting the region’s tough emissions targets. The virus has already taken its toll on business in China, the world’s top car market, where vehicle sales tumbled last month as customers stayed home due to the epidemic. An industry association warned last week that car sales in Italy, Europe’s third-largest economy, could shrink by more than 15 %. Seat would make temporary layoffs if it had to cut production due to supply issues, the spokesman said. Seat union representative Matias Carnero said the company’s supply chain was being affected by the worsening coronavirus outbreak. “It all looks like it is going to be requested”, said Carnero, a representative for UGT, the main labor union at Seat, referring to the potential temporary layoffs. Under temporary layoffs, Spanish workers are normally paid part of their salary. The company spokesman said the duration of these layoffs had not been discussed yet, but Carnero said they could last between 2 and 5 weeks, adding that this could potentially affect about 7.000 people at the plant. Italian brake maker Brembo warned that its northern Italian production could struggle if the government introduced even more stringent measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS held an ‘EV Day’ event at its Warren, Michigan, campus to present its new Ultium battery technology, modular electric vehicle architecture and soon-to-come electric vehicles. Unfortunately, I was forbidden from bringing cameras into the event, so while I can’t show you what I saw, I can tell you more about it. While I saw the previously teased Cadillac EV (which we now know to be called the Lyriq) and the Hummer pickup teased during the Super Bowl, there were a number of other future cars at the event, which GM president Mark Reuss assured us are all real vehicles in the works. The biggest surprise came at the end of the event, though, in the Cadillac Celestiq electric sedan, which Reuss described as a future flagship that would be hand-built “very locally”. It had been hiding under a dark sheet all morning, with the front and rear illuminated Cadillac emblems shining from underneath. When the wraps came off, we saw a long, white, 4-seat fastback sedan. The 23 inch wheels were pushed out to the very corners of the car, giving it what appeared to be a very long wheelbase. The model on the stage had no side mirrors or visible door handles. The grille mirrored that of the Lyriq crossover next to it, with integrated lighting in lieu of the usual mesh or slats you’d see in an internal combustion car. The entire roof, all the way until it tapered to the tail of the vehicle, was tinted glass. In back, vertical tail lighting ran down the C pillar before turning rearward across the top of the trunk. Inside, everything below the beltline of the windows, essentially all but the headrests and top portion of the steering wheel, was hidden from view. Behind the Celestiq, a large digital display showed a rendering of its interior. The dash consists of a pillar-to-pillar curved LED display serving as both instrument panel and infotainment system. Protruding forward between the front seats was another touchscreen that appeared to house some more controls, with open area, probably for storage, below it. The rear seats had the same sort of touchscreen between them. Built into the back of the front seats were a pair of rear-seat entertainment screens, much like we saw in the Lyriq. The door panels blended wood, metal and animated lighting to give character and a sense of opulence. GM interior design manager Tristan Murphy was on hand to tell us a bit more about the Celestiq. Although the Lyriq will be the first of the new Cadillac EVs shown to the public, the Celestiq’s design came first, and inspired the rest of what’s to come. Murphy described Celestiq as a design halo, “the ultimate experience” for his team. It provided designers with the opportunity to elevate the brand and inspire the more mainstream products to come. Speaking on the trend of crossovers taking over the market and pushing sedans to the sidelines, Murphy pointed to the Celestiq as an example why “It’s not that the sedan is dead, but the traditional 3-box design” that’s becoming obsolete. The Celestiq is a beautiful vehicle, and it is very much intended for future production. Neither Reuss nor Murphy would comment on production timing, but they said the Celestiq would be individually hand-built, with a high level of personalization based on customer preferences. Murphy appeared excited that Cadillac would finally be able to coach-built vehicles again, harking back to the brand’s early years. For me, it has me excited about the brand’s electric future. There were 9 other GM electric vehicles on display at EV Day, some of which we knew about, others coming as complete surprises. We’ll go through what we saw from left to right on stage, with the Cadillac Celestiq on the far left. I knew the Cadillac Lyriq was on its way, but today we learned its name and saw it in full for the first time. Appearing to be about the size of the midsize Cadillac XT5, Lyriq has a grille similar to that of the Celestiq, with an illuminated Cadillac crest front and center. The glossy plastic “black crystal jeweled” grille features illuminated lines around the sides and across the bottom, with triangular lighting housings on either side. It’s fairly faithful to the rendering I’have seen before, but with more visible details. In the rear, I saw vertical lighting on either side of the rear glass extending downward before turning inward across the tailgate. Below that, I saw vertical lighting on both sides of the lower fascia as well. The Lyric’s flat battery pack and lack of a traditional powertrain means good things for packaging. It has a long wheelbase, rides on 22 inch wheels, and the omission of a transmission tunnel allows for a cantilevered center console to extend forward between the front seats, with open air below. In front of the driver and passenger is a 34 inch, pllar-to-pillar LED screen, similar to what we saw in the rendering for the Celestiq. In real life, it looks nice, and well integrated into the surrounding design. Below that screen in the center are two opening drawers for storage. The steering wheel features a light-up Cadillac crest in the center. The doors feature a lot of wood and metal integrated artfully. Cadillac promises that plenty of hard, tactile controls will remain in the Lyriq, as that’s what helps to provide the “richness” and “warmth” a luxury experience demands. The side doors of the Lyriq automatically open with the touch of a button in door handle outlines that are flush with the body. Similarly, they close automatically, slowing down at the end to pull the doors fully shut. We wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t make it to production. You won’t have to wait long until you, too, can feast your eyes upon the Cadillac Lyriq, as it’ll be unveiled to the public in April. The Chevrolet electric midsize crossover was a clay model I was told, covered with fairly convincing body panels, like many of the other vehicles onstage. It appeared to be very close in size to the Lyriq, with a similar shape but fewer details. The main difference was a more upright rear window than the Lyric, which looked to provide a larger, more useful cargo space behind the second row. The interior will feature curved LED screens, with a digital instrument panel and a big, 18-inch central infotainment touchscreen. GM did not provide launch timing for this crossover, though, but like all the vehicles at the event, it represented a real product in the works. The Buick electric midsize crossover looked to be similar in shape and size to the Chevrolet and the Cadillac Lyric. It features sharper creases compared to the Chevy’s more rounded angles. Picture the Buick EV rendered in an earlier GM presentation, but sized more like the Chevrolet Equinox, and you’re on the right track. We were told this would feature a 30-inch-wide combination instrument panel and infotainment screen. Take that small midsizer and shrink it to something that looks more like a lifted hatchback, and that’s what we saw next to it: a Buick small electric crossover. It had the same face, which I was told would be shared across the Buick brand. It looked suspiciously like the new Buick Velite we recently saw leak out of China. It also bore many similarities to the Bolt EUV on the other side of the stage (more on that shortly). This, too, will use the 30-inch screen combo featured in its bigger brother. On the center right of the stage, on the other side of some of GM’s new Ultium battery and electric powertrain technology on display, a large Cadillac SUV stood in all its glory. It looked similar in size to the Escalade, sharing its more traditional, boxy looks. It had big, 24 inch wheels pushed toward the corners, long front and rear doors, and what appeared to be a slightly shortened cargo area compared to an Escalade. It will also feature a pillar-to-pillar LED screen like the other Cadillac EVS we saw today. This SUV will share the same underpinnings as the GMC Hummer electric truck, as well as a future full-size Chevrolet pickup EV that may or may not adopt the Silverado nameplate. The Hummer electric pickup was teased during the Super Bowl and it was one of the vehicles that wasn’t a clay model wrapped in body panels. It’s an off-road ready electric pickup, from the GMC brand, reviving the Hummer moniker. It’s tall, with the roof about eye-level compared to your 6-foot-tall author. The roof panels can be removed for topless driving, and they stow under the hood of the Hummer where the internal combustion engine would normally go. I was surprised to see it has sail panels behind the C pillar connecting the cab to the sides of the bed, looking a bit like a Chevrolet Avalanche. The bed was hidden under a tonneau cover, but the truck’s rear appeared to incorporate the MultiPro tailgate we first saw on the GMC Sierra Denali. It also sported 2 huge tow eyes on the rear bumper. The GMC Hummer will be offered with a number of electric powertrain options, the most powerful of which will provide 1,000 hp and a 0-100 kph time of 3 seconds. The Hummer electric SUV looks exactly like the pickup from the rear doors forward, but with an enclosed cargo area in the rear. Also built on the truck architecture, it features a shorter wheelbase than the pickup. Inside, it has a large, rectangular 15 inch infotainment screen, as well as a 12 inch digital cluster screen. It borrows some styling cues from the other Hummer, like a lunar theme with ‘Sea of Tranquility’ contours on the speakers and floor mats. The angular hourglass-style air vent bezels mimic the look of the taillights. From the outside, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the new Bolt and the Opel Ampera-e you can find in dealerships today. Looking inside, we notice some interior updates. Most significantly, it has new front seats, which look more substantial and less plasticky than the current chairs. The dash also takes on a more traditional look, with more true angles and fewer flowing curves than the contours of the Ampera-e. This launches later this year. The Chevrolet Bolt EUV was another fully built prototype on the stage. It’s essentially a longer-wheelbase version. Its extra 8 cm in length go toward the rear legroom, making it more comfortable for any passengers you put back there. Its longer roof and roof rails make it look taller from the front, but we were told that it’s not raised up at all compared to the standard Bolt. It had prototype front lighting that differed from the eyes of the other Bolt onstage, but those should look like the more familiar headlights when it comes to production in summer of 2021. Perhaps most significantly, this will be the first non-Cadillac vehicle to feature GM’s Super Cruise hands-free advanced driver assistance system. The new and improved Super Cruise features automatic lane changes initiated using the turn signal and rear facing radar that can better monitor your blind spots and the speed difference between you and other approaching vehicles to make sure it changes lanes safely. Its driver monitoring system has improved for fewer interruptions. A new lens, improved visible spectrum and a frame rated integrated with that of the infrared emitters in the steering wheel mean that it can better track your face even in harsh sunlight. It also does more to monitor the position of your eyeballs rather than your head to make sure you’re paying attention to the road. Furthermore, GM has added more scenarios where Super Cruise can operate. The inclusion of more multi-lane trunk roads, like the kind of divided rural highways that feature occasional intersections along the way. In all, GM has added 70,000 more miles of roads where Super Cruise can operate. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus outbreak is hitting the economy of GERMANY , leaving supply chains at risk the in coming weeks, Economy minister Peter Altmaier said. Asked if Europe’s largest economy was heading into a recession in the first half of this year, Altmaier said the situation was very difficult and that he hoped Germany could avoid the type of coronavirus-related restrictions to travel and civic life enforced in Italy. Germany had registered 1.139 corona virus cases with 2 fatalities, according to government data. Altmaier, speaking after talks with economy ministers from the 16 regional state governments, said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet would pass more flexible rules on short-time working to help companies bridge liquidity problems and avoid layoffs. “We’re expecting supply chains to be impacted, especially in the industrial sector, and this will become visible in its full extent only in the coming weeks”, he said. China, where the coronavirus was first diagnosed in late 2019, is Germany’s biggest trading partner, and German companies depend on both Chinese demand and supply chains. Seaborne deliveries from China can take up to 6 weeks, so the epidemic and related production stops there are hitting the German economy with a time lag. Altmaier said the federal government and the 16 regional states were determined to do everything to shield the economy from the impact of the epidemic, and that existing liquidity programs and recently agreed measures were worth several billion euros. Globally, more than 110.000 people have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 4.000 have died. +++ 

+++ Three U.S. senators pressed JAPAN ‘s government to assure a fair trial for Greg Kelly, an American citizen and former Nissan director, who is being held for alleged financial crimes, saying his case highlights issues that could put the countries’ relationship at risk. In a commentary, senators Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee criticized the treatment by Japanese authorities of the former Nissan executive, who was temporarily jailed in solitary confinement and has been unable to leave the country while awaiting trial. “His predicament is a cautionary tale for Americans thinking about working in Japan, raising serious questions about whether non-Japanese executives can comfortably work in Japan under its legal system”, the 3 Republicans wrote. “If Americans and other non-Japanese executives question their ability to be treated fairly in Japan, then that most important bilateral relationship in the world is at risk”. The senators represent the 2 states where Nissan has vehicle assembly plants in the U.S. and Tennessee also is home to the automaker’s North American headquarters. Kelly and his family have questioned his ability to get a fair trial in Japan, where he has been prohibited from leaving since late 2018. Without the testimony of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who fled the country late last year, Kelly fears he may not be able to fully defend himself against prosecutors’ allegations that he violated Japanese financial laws. Tokyo officials have defended Japan’s judicial practices, saying they are comparable to systems in Europe and the U.S. Japanese prosecutors allege Kelly conspired with Ghosn to hide the former chairman’s deferred compensation, a charge he has denied. Kelly’s trial is not expected to begin until sometime this summer, roughly 18 months after he was charged, his son, Kevin Kelly, wrote in a blog post. The elder Kelly was released on 70 million yen ($666,000) bail in December 2018, a month after being jailed shortly after arriving in Japan for a Nissan board meeting. Kelly agreed to a $100,000 penalty and 5 year suspension from serving as a corporate officer in September as part of a settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, without admitting or denying the agency’s findings. He had been charged with helping fraudulently conceal over $140 million in compensation and retirement benefits on behalf of his former boss. +++ 

+++ The new MERCEDES-AMG C-Class has been spied testing in the forthcoming 53 variant. If the vehicle used the same powertrain as other ‘53’ branded models from the marque, such as the E 53 and CLS 53, that means it would have a turbocharged 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with an EQ Boost electric motor providing a total of 435 hp and 520 Nm. While it’s certainly possible this powertrain will carry over to the C 53 without any changes, sources have indicated to me that Mercedes may downsize its ‘53’ models to use 4-cylinder engines. The C 63 and C 63 S models will remain at the top of the new Mercedes-AMG C-Class family. For some time, it was believed they would use a modified version of the existing 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine. However, in October 2019, reports surfaced claiming the new C 63 will feature a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder mated to an electric motor to deliver more than 500 hp. +++ 

+++ As PAKISTAN ’s first-ever electric 3-wheeled rickshaws start to roll off the assembly line, the country is struggling to build momentum for its shift to electric vehicles in efforts to cut air pollution and curb climate change. It has been 4 months since Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet approved the National Electric Vehicle Policy, offering tax exemptions and incentives to manufacturers, importers and buyers of electric vehicles. But pushback by traditional automakers has stalled the government’s finalizing of the policy, leaving electric vehicle (EV) makers worried that eco-friendly cars, vans, motorcycles and rickshaws will remain too expensive for the mass market. “The electric rickshaws have comparatively much lower running and maintenance costs”, said Syed Ismail Ghaznavi, sales head at Sazgar Engineering Works, which launched the country’s first electric rickshaw in January. Sazgar’s electric rickshaw can travel up to 170 km on a charge, has almost no moving parts (which means fewer trips to the mechanic) and produces zero emissions, Ghaznavi pointed out. “But we need the government support to roll it out on a larger scale for the public”, he said. Transport accounts for more than 40 % of the air pollution produced in Pakistan, according to data from the country’s climate change ministry. In the policy it approved in November, the government set a target to bring half a million electric motorcycles and rickshaws, along with more than 100.000 electric cars, buses and trucks, into the transportation system in the next 5 years. By 2030, the government wants to have about one-third of the vehicles in Pakistan running on electrical energy, said Malik Amin Aslam, the prime minister’s advisor on climate change. The move to electric vehicles is “a win-win strategy”, Aslam told, saying it should reduce emissions by nearly three-quarters and cut the cost of running a vehicle by 60 %. Pakistan generates less than 1 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, but it is one of the countries that suffers most from the effects of climate change, including flooding, droughts, heat waves and melting glaciers, environmental experts say. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020, issued by environmental think-tank Germanwatch, ranked Pakistan fifth among the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather over the last 20 years. “Our food security is at risk due to these climate change conditions, and we have to focus on adaptation”, said Imran Saqib Khalid, a research fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an Islamabad-based independent think-tank. In particular, the new electric vehicle policy will help curb air pollution and smog, “a major environmental problem the country has been facing for the past few years”, he told. Urban air pollution levels in Pakistan, a country of more than 200 million people, are among the most severe in the world, stemming from increasing energy use and rapid motorisation, noted a World Bank study published in 2014. The number of vehicles on Pakistan’s roads jumped from about 2 million in 1991 to more than 10 million 2 decades later. As it tries to spark an electric mobility revolution, Pakistan is following countries such as Norway, France and the United Kingdom, all of which have said they will ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles within the next 20 years. Pakistan’s government plans to use a raft of monetary incentives to convince the country’s auto manufacturers and the public to switch to environmentally-friendly modes of transport. To encourage prospective buyers, the government says it aims to lower or do away with various taxes on electric vehicles and bring down customs duty for imported parts to 1 %. It also plans to establish fast charging stations in all major cities and along major motorways and highways every 15-30 km. But some automobile manufacturers are pushing back, saying that creating incentives specifically for electric vehicles unfairly benefits the nascent industry while leaving the traditional automobile sector floundering. Sales of petrol and diesel vehicles in Pakistan dropped drastically last year following the devaluation of the rupee, which led to a sharp increase in the price of vehicles and parts. “Our only concern is that there should be only one auto policy and not a separate policy for EVs”, Abdul Waheed Khan, director general of the Pakistan Automotive Manufacturers Association, told. The association has agreed to the tax exemptions and incentives being offered for e-vehicles, but has urged the government to also protect existing investment in the traditional auto sector, Khan said. Majeed Ghauri, chairman of the Awami Rickshaw Union, which represents the country’s rickshaw drivers, said the group welcomed the government’s announcement of special incentives to promote electric rickshaws. But, he said, the government should find a way to make electric rickshaws cheaper than traditional ones (which can cost up to 270,000 rupees / $1,700) to make them affordable for low-income drivers. “We want to get rid of noisy, smoke-emitting rickshaws and it is better that environmentally-friendly rickshaws should ply on the roads to end pollution”, said Ghauri. “But these should be cheap and should have power equal to that of traditional ones”. Muhammad Sabir Shaikh, chairman of the Pakistan Electric Vehicles Manufacturers Association, said he is confident the switch to electric will prove successful “in a very short span of time”, reducing air pollution and boosting investment in the country’s auto sector. As many as 80 motorcycle assembly plants in Pakistan have closed in recent years due to a substantial fall in profits, noted Shaikh, who also heads the Association of Pakistan Motorcycle Assemblers. “Now the majority of them want to assemble e-motorcycles to revive their business”, he said. +++

+++ PORSCHE has partnered with Berlin-based startup Kopernikus Automotive to use autonomous driving technologies for vehicles at the marque’s workshop at its Ludwigsburg facility. The aim of the partnership is to enable vehicles to drive autonomously from their parking space to the lifting platform and back again. The only thing workshop mechanics will need to do to move the vehicles is control them through a tablet. What’s particularly interesting about the pilot program is that the vehicles are not controlled solely thanks to onboard sensors, but also with the help of various other sensors placed throughout the workshop. “This is a move away from sensors in the vehicle to sensors in the external environment, and a move away from relatively rigid programming to data-based intelligent systems”, project manager for Automated Driving at the Porsche workshop, Alexander Haas explained. Porsche says the system means repairs can be performed more cost-efficiently and quicker. The test also allows Porsche to gather important information on artificial intelligence based autonomous driving, with the carmaker believing that in the future, similar technologies could be used at ports, in logistics, and in car parks. It took Porsche and experts from Kopernikus Automotive less than 100 days to roll-out the autonomous system at its workshop in Ludwigsburg. Vehicles were driven autonomously more than 1 million virtual test kilometers before being tested in real-life. +++ 

+++ The European Union’s current emissions targets have been in place for just over 2 months, but PSA is already preparing for the next round of CO2 cuts, in 2025, by vertically integrating production of the electric drivetrain and planning a shift to a dedicated EV architecture. “Our clear manufacturing strategy is to be in control of our electrified powertrains”, CEO Carlos Tavares told investors during PSA’s annual results presentation in late February. Bringing EV powertrain production in-house makes sense for a number of reasons, Tavares and other PSA executives say, but the main goal is to protect profit margins. The move would also ensure a reliable supply of battery cells (an issue that has reportedly hobbled some EV production in Europe) and minimize disruptions from global events such as the coronavirus epidemic. Adding electric motors and other components such as reduction gears could also help minimize one of the drawbacks anticipated in the switch to electrification from internal combustion: job losses, which are predicted to be in the tens of thousands in Europe. PSA’s current electric and electrified vehicles use motors from Continental and Valeo-Siemens as well as battery cells from the Chinese company CATL and LG Chem of South Korea. Smaller cars are built on PSA’s CMP architecture, which was developed with Chinese joint venture partner Dongfeng Motor to accommodate gasoline, diesel or full-electric powertrains. Larger cars are on the EMP2 architecture, which can accommodate plug-in hybrid drivetrains. But that will change starting in 2022, when the first electric motors from a joint venture with the Japanese supplier Nidec will be built in PSA’s plant in Tremery, France. PSA is finalizing another joint venture, with Punch Powertrain, to build electrified drivetrain transmissions in eastern France. And in 2023, the first battery cells built with partner Total-Saft will start rolling off lines in France and Germany, supplying not only PSA’s current brand lineup but also Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands, if the merger of the two groups goes ahead as planned. Tavares suggested that PSA could save about 10 % through controlling production of motors, transmissions, reduction gears and ultimately battery cells. “At this stage the per unit margins of electrified cars are not as good as the ones of internal combustion engines”, he said. “That means that we have to work very hard on the cost competitiveness of electrified vehicles. The future is not about reducing emissions. Zero-emissions cars are on sale; you can buy them. The real challenge for the future is zero emissions with affordability”. That means, he said, “you need to control all the cost structure of the components for the electrified powertrain”. Maxime Picat, PSA’s head of European operations, said that producing components in-house would cut out suppliers’ profits from the supply chain, but he said that PSA could not “do it all” and would still be working with suppliers via joint ventures. “What we bring is our knowledge of the automotive industry, our manufacturing skill, our purchasing power”, Picat told. “The sum of both can generate more value for shareholders and a better performing integrated chain”. Electric vehicles are challenging a belief in the automotive industry that vertical integration is not cost effective. “The supply chain for electric powertrains is currently evolving”, consulting company McKinsey said in a November 2019 report, with traditional Tier 1 suppliers offering integrated systems, moving downstream to become ‘0.5’ suppliers, and many non-automotive companies pitching their wares and expertise. The biggest players in electric vehicles are largely moving toward integration. Tesla, the world’s best-selling EV maker, has proprietary electric motors and its battery cell gigafactories. Volkswagen Group is moving in that direction, announcing an investment of €1.1 billion to set up a battery cell factory in Germany. GM, an early entrant in the EV race with the Opel Ampera-e, which used a drivetrain and battery from LG Chem, is now working with the Korean supplier on a joint factory in the U.S. state of Ohio, and developing its own motors. In contrast, Renault, an EV pioneer with the Zoe, builds its motors, but most of its battery cells come from LG Chem. In 2025, when the EU further lowers emissions targets, “the mix of electrified vehicles will increase sharply”, Tavares said, “and the companies that will not be cost competitive, protecting the per unit margins of electrified vehicles will be in trouble”. The 2025 fleet emissions target will be cut to 81 grams of CO2 per kilometer from 95 g/km this year. The 2030 target is 59 g/km. A 10 % cost reduction on an electric powertrain is “huge”, Tavares said, noting that the powertrain represents more than 50 % of the manufacturing cost of an EV. Once PSA has all these components within its production footprint, Tavares anticipates a shift to dedicated EV platforms rather than multi-energy ones, probably around 2024 or 2025. “It depends on the mix of sales”, he said. “When is the moment where your mix of electrified vehicles is going to be about 50 %? That’s basically the question. As long as we don’t see clearly where the turning point is, making a dedicated platform may not be the wisest decision. And I think that’s why right now we are in much better shape with a multi-energy platform”. Tavares also said there is “no magic” in a platform designed from the start for EVs. “It’s just a matter of packaging a bigger battery pack”, he said, “with 100 or 120 kWh of energy for a wider range”. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , carmakers saw a drastic decline in sales last month due to the coronavirus outbreak. Their combined sales for February declined 10.5 % on-year to 505.212 vehicles. The decline is pronounced, compared to last year when the monthly sales fluctuated by around a moderate 1 or 2 %. Hyundai sold 275.044 cars in total; down 12.9 % on-year, as its sales at home and overseas sharply dropped. Affiliate Kia’s sales also declined with 187,844 cars sold. Other smaller carmakers suffered even greater declines. Renault Samsung sold 7.057 cars, down 39.8 % on-year. Ssangyong’s sales fell 24.7 % with 7.141 cars sold. It sold fewer than 10.000 cars for 2 straight months. GM Korea’s sales also dropped 14 % to 28.126 cars as it halted production at its plant in Bupyeong, Gyeonggi Province for 2 days due to a shortage of parts supplied from China. “Sales prospects are not bright for carmakers, as the spread of coronavirus is accelerating, which could force them to halt production again”, said Lee Hang-koo at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade. Even as the new coronavirus outbreak is dampening consumer sentiment, imported car sales bucked the trend in South Korea rising 5.3 % in February on-year, latest data showed. According to Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, the number of newly registered imported cars in the country recorded 16.725 units in February. For the first 2 months of this year, sales increased by 0.8 % from the same period in 2019: from 34.083 units to 34.365 units. Mercedes sold 4.815 units, maintaining its lead with sales up 33.3 % on-year. The German carmaker sold 10.307 units in the January-February period; up 9.6 % on-year. BMW witnessed a 62.9 % growth in its sales compared to last year in February, selling 3.812 units. +++

+++ TESLA chief executive officer Elon Musk said he was looking for locations in the central United States to build a new factory for the company’s electric pickup. “Scouting locations for Cybertruck Gigafactory. It will be central USA”, Musk tweeted. Cybertruck, a wedge-shaped pickup, is expected to go into production in late 2021 and start selling for a price of just under $40,000. In a separate tweet, Musk said: “Model Y production for east coast too”. Tesla in late January said it had started production of the Model Y, its electric compact crossover, at its factory in Fremont, California, and planned to deliver the first vehicles by the end of March. Musk in January also said that Tesla needed to increase its battery capacity to produce high-capacity models like the Cybertruck. He took to Twitter last month to ask users if the electric carmaker should build a new gigafactory in Texas. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said its car sales in China, the world’s biggest auto market, fell 70.2 % in February due to the coronavirus epidemic which has killed more than 2.900 people. Toyota, which is the first major global automaker to report its February sales in China, said it sold 23.800 Toyota and premium Lexus cars. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has agreed with the main unions at its plant in Spain’s Navarra region that some workers will be temporarily sent home in case of disruption to the supply chain due to the coronavirus outbreak, a spokesman said. The plant, which has around 4.800 workers and produces the Polo and T-Cross models is currently working normally and the details of how many workers could be sent home would be decided if it becomes necessary, the spokesman said. The Spanish government is preparing special measures to facilitate temporary lay-offs due to the outbreak while maintaining workers’ rights, such as not having to eat into their unemployment benefits. At Volkswagen’s Navarra plant, in case of being sent home, workers would keep 100 % of their salary, but they would be stripped of any extra pay, such as overnight work, the spokesman said. The deal with the 2 main unions (which has yet to be signed) agrees on a potential temporary layoff of a number of workers at any time in 2020, he added. The factory currently does not have supply problems but is concerned that issues with suppliers in Italy could begin to affect it, the spokesman said. +++

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