Newsflash: Seat Ateca krijgt stekker hybride techniek

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+++ AUDI has announced the names of a few models it will reveal later this year. According to Bram Schot, chairman of the Board of Management, 2020 will be the year when the Q2 will get the typical mid-cycle facelift. It doesn’t come as a big surprise Audi’s baby crossover is going to receive a nip and tuck in the months to come taking into account we’ve seen plenty of spy shots with camouflaged prototypes undergoing testing. The cosmetic revisions will be mainly limited to redesigned headlights and taillights to bring the pint-sized crossover in line with its bigger brothers, along with mildly modified bumpers. We wouldn’t get our hopes up too high for an RS Q2 since Audi Sport recently said it doesn’t plan to launch an RS car with a four-cylinder engine, hence why there also won’t be an RS1 Sportback. There’s more to come from Audi this year as Schot also said four new plug-in hybrid models will be added to the lineup. Chances are the new S3 Sportback will also be introduced seeing as how the 4 Rings have already released comprehensive technical details and revealing images. The year’s end will also bring us the production-ready e-Tron GT as Audi’s take on the Porsche Taycan, and we might also see the A3 Limousine before 2020 wraps up. In total, Audi says it will introduce approximately 20 new models this year, including 5 EVs. As a final note, the announcement concerning the new models was made after Schot told the media Audi will gradually shut down the factories in Ingolstadt, Neckarsulm, Brussels, San José Chiapa, and Győr by the week’s end as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. +++

+++ The BENTLEY Bentayga is already one of the most expensive and luxurious SUVs on the market but the car manufacturer is reportedly looking to create a new flagship SUV to sit above it and it might be a hybrid. Bentley boss Adrian Hallmark said it will effectively replace the aging Mulsanne. “In the good old days, 20 years ago, when the Arnage was on the road with the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, global 4-door sales in the American part of the market were about 1.500 to 2.000 a year combined”, Hallmark said. “Now they are less than 1.000 and we are 50 % of that”. With this in mind, Bentley doesn’t think it makes sense to develop a successor to the Mulsanne. However, with customer tastes shifting towards SUVs, Hallmark said the company will launch a product to fill the void left by the Mulsanne. He stopped short of confirming an SUV but indicated it would make the most economical sense. “It will not be a sports car; we will not build sports cars. SUVs were 47 % of our sales last year. If you look at the segment below us, it’s about 50 %”, he said. “So the clear indication is that both premium car buyers and luxury car buyers now see SUVs as being far more attractive”. If Bentley does indeed decide to launch an SUV to sit above the Bentayga in its range, it likely won’t arrive for quite some time. In fact, an unnamed senior company source says it will be launched after the marque’s first EV hits the market and that’s not expected to happen until 2025. This means that when the Mulsanne is retired in a few months, Bentley will have to rely on the Flying Spur to capture its 4-door sales. As for what could power the future halo SUV from Bentley, it probably won’t be an all-electric powertrain and instead, be a plug-in hybrid. +++

+++ In CHINA , retail sales of China’s passenger car crumbled 47 % on an annual basis in the first 13 days of March, according to the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), as the coronavirus outbreak slammed the brakes on businesses across the country. “Some cities are encouraging people to return to normal life, however, consumers’ confidence in car purchases is unlikely to return to normal before the end of March”, the industry body said. +++

+++ Volkswagen Group summary of the 2019 results reveals a few new numbers about the progress of ELECTRIFICATION of Porsche and Audi brands. According to the newly released documents, the total number of orders for the all-electric Porsche Taycan exceed 15.000. “Porsche boosted profit further and again posted the highest return at over 16 %. With its new Taycan, the brand demonstrates the huge performance potential in electrification: It goes from 0 to 100 in 2.8 seconds. And the vehicle is making a big splash with customers: More than 15.000 have signed up to buy one”. The previous number of orders was 10.000 in early December 2019, plus an additional 20.000 pre-orders. The total number of Taycan produced in 2019 is 1.386 (0.5% out of 274.463 total). Audi introduced its first all-electric model, the e-Tron, in late 2018 and as it turns out, so far 32.000 were sold globally. “One Audi model of great importance for the entire Group is the e-tron. It proves we have e-models that suit customers’ taste in the premium segment. We have sold 32.000 of them since the end of 2018”. Audi boasts also that in the 2 biggest European EV markets (Germany and Norway) the e-Tron is doing great. “In Germany and Norway, currently the largest market for e-vehicles, the e-Tron was already the best-selling electric car in the premium segment, ahead of Tesla, at the beginning of 2020”. The total production of the Audi e-Tron was 45.801 in 2019. Volkswagen brand has not yet introduced its first next-generation EV, the ID.3, but the launch edition, called 1ST, had more than 37.000 reservations (only 30.000 units will be made). Interestingly, in 2019 only 50 units of the ID.3 were produced bij Volkswagen. +++

+++ FORD moved to hoard cash on its balance sheet, drawing down $15.4 billion from 2 credit lines and suspending its dividend, in a move to bolster reserves to ride out damage to its business from the coronavirus pandemic. The No. 2 U.S. automaker also abandoned its 2020 financial forecast and said the cash would be used to deal with a squeeze on capital caused by shutdowns in production due to the fast-spreading virus. The move will give Ford more than $37 billion in cash, almost matching the revenue it reported in the 4th quarter. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a research note that corporate liquidity during the outbreak was “top of mind” and that U.S. automakers had strong balance sheets. The corona virus outbreak, which started in China, has been called a pandemic by the World Health Organization with about 219.000 infections and more than 8.900 deaths globally. Comparing the current economic situation to the 2008-2009 financial crisis, chief executive Jim Hackett said Ford was putting in place safeguards to protect its business. “We’re at war with the virus and Ford is going to win”, Hackett told employees on a video conference. Ford has come under fire from some analysts on Wall Street for moving too slowly to cut costs and restructure its business. At the end of last year, it had booked only $3.7 billion of the projected $11 billion in charges it previously said it would take in its global restructuring. General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did not change their profit forecasts. “We are dedicated to managing our cost structure against this dynamic environment”, GM said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation closely and will make any necessary decisions to stay resilient”. GM had $34.6 billion in liquidity at the end of 2019, including $17.3 billion in cash. “We are evaluating the impact of all steps being taken inside the company related to the coronavirus emergency on our current financial guidance”, FCA said in a statement, adding it would provide an update when it has “sufficient visibility on market conditions”. FCA had $24.94 billion in liquidity at the end of 2019. Ford said it notified lenders it would borrow the unused amounts of the 2 credit lines, totaling $15.4 billion. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company had $22 billion in cash at the end of last year. The dividend suspension will save Ford money at an annual rate of $2.4 billion. The company said it was prioritizing financial flexibility and investments in future technologies such as self-driving cars and a series of important 2020 vehicle launches including a redesigned version of its top-selling F-150 full-size pickup. Ford also withdrew its 2020 profit outlook. Ford said it would update its outlook when it reports first-quarter results on April 28. +++

+++ In FRANCE , both Renault as well as PSA will receive support from the French government, as the country seeks to help its major carmakers cope with the fallout from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Among the measures taken are €300 billion in government loan guarantees, and the deferral of taxes and payroll modifications for those in need. Renault and PSA would be entitled to these benefits should they need them. Such prospects were discussed recently during a call between Finance minister Bruno Le Maire, PSA boss Carlos Tavares and Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. “The situation is extremely clear. It is out of the question to see big French companies, industrial icons disappear”, said Le Maire during an interview before his meeting with the automakers. “If to protect our national industrial heritage, we have to resort to nationalization, we are prepared to go that far”. Le Maire added that he would soon present various plans and options to president Emmanuel Macron, meant to help the country’s biggest names cope with the virus crisis. However, a source close to Renault said that no exact plans or steps were discussed during the call with the finance minister, aside from general problems being faced by the automotive industry. Meanwhile, France’s automotive industry federation has already asked the government for a much more generous support package, as opposed to the measures already announced, so as to counter the crisis’ effects on overall car sales. This could mean state incentives to purchase EVs, plus large investments in the recharging infrastructure. With production halted due to the outbreak, carmakers are among those to see the sharpest declines in their shares. Renault, in which the state has a 15 % stake, has suffered a 62 % drop in its share price since the start of the year while rival PSA, 12 % owned by the Bpifrance public investment bank, is down 52 %. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS said Chief Technology Officer Jon Lauckner and communications chief Tony Cervone are retiring. Matt Tsien (59) president of GM China, will succeed Lauckner (62) as the automaker prepares to introduce a number of electric vehicles. GM has hired Craig Buchholz from Procter & Gamble to replace Cervone, 57. The changes are effective April 1, though Lauckner and Cervone will remain with GM until July 1. Tsien has led GM’s China operations since 2014. His team implemented technology to enable long-term growth in China, especially in electrification and connectivity, GM said in a statement. Previously, Tsien was vice president of planning and program management for GM China, GM International and Strategic Alliances. He led product planning across the region and helped oversee the growth of the product lineup. Before that, he was executive vice president of SAIC-GM-Wuling, GM China’s manufacturing joint venture with SAIC and Guangxi Automobile Group, the former Wuling Motors. Julian Blissett, 53, senior vice president of international operations, will replace Tsien in China. Tsien and Blissett will report to GM president Mark Reuss. Lauckner, who helped lead the development of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, has been GM’s Chief Technology Officer since 2012. Buchholz has been chief communications officer for Procter & Gamble for about 2 years. He previously worked for pharmaceutical companies Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Pharmacia. At GM, Buchholz will report to CEO Mary Barra. Cervone has been GM’s senior vice president for global communications since 2014. He was brought in to handle the public-relations fallout after the discovery of a defect in millions of ignition switches that ultimately was tied to 124 deaths over more than a decade. +++

+++ It’s only the middle of March and Volkswagen has already introduced 3 performance versions of the new Golf by unveiling the traditional GTI joined by the diesel-fueled GTD and the electrified GTE. As the saying goes, the best is yet to come as the peeps from Wolfsburg have 2 more hot hatches to unveil based on the Mk8: the Golf GTI TCR and the GOLF R . The man calling the shots at Volkswagen’s R performance division, Jost Capito, said the Golf R will come later this year, but the all-paw speedy hatch from Wolfsburg will do without electrification. It will not feature a hybrid powertrain as it is the case with the new Touareg R. It’s not necessarily because the company didn’t want to electrify the Golf R, but the costs of engineering a hybrid powertrain for the model would’ve been too high to justify the sales volumes the car usually generates. It made more sense to develop the Touareg R because the plug-in hybrid performance SUV shares some of its powertrain bits and pieces with other models from the VW Group, including the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid. While Capito didn’t go into too many details about the new Golf R, he did say the engineers have made “a lot of small improvements” over its predecessor to create a “real driving machine”. That statement might make you think of a BMW, and it’s worth noting the Golf R will be an AWD compact 5-door performance model based on a front-wheel-drive platform much like the M135i xDrive. R You Ready? Whether the 6-speed manual gearbox will live to see another Golf R generation is not known at this point, but a recent leak might have spilled the beans about the engine’s output. With the horsepower figures for the GTI, GTE, and GTD listed in the internal image that escaped on the Internet in January all turning out to be accurate, there’s a pretty good chance the R’s output will indeed be 333 hp. VW is expected to unveil the revamped Golf R this fall, presumably at the Paris Motor Show in October. An online reveal could take place a few days or weeks sooner. Whether Europe will get a new Golf R Variant remains to be seen, but the regular long-roof model is also due to come out in 2020 and will be joined shortly by the rugged Alltrack. +++

+++ HONDA is suspending production at its factory in Swindon, England, due to the impact of the coronavirus. The plant shut at the end of the last shift on Wednesday. In a statement, Honda said the decision was taken because of increasing difficulties with supply chains and to protect employees. Honda plans to resume production on April 6 but the automaker said the plant’s reopening will depend on advice from government and health authorities, as well as market and supply conditions. The factory builds the Civic for sale in Europe and the U.S. Honda is closing the plant permanently in 2021 as part of a global restructuring. Honda also is temporarily halting production in North America for 6 days because of the anticipated decline in auto sales due to the coronavirus outbreak. The automaker will suspend production beginning March 23 and plans to return to production March 31. Honda has not said whether its plant in Turkey will suspend production. +++

+++ HYUNDAI explains the super weird Elantra circle design dashboard element. It’s not a vent. It’s not a speaker. Hyundai debuted its new Elantra earlier this week, showing the world a completely overhauled design for its compact sedan. Following the quirky design language of the bigger Sonata, the new Elantra is full of little details that culminate into a very eye-catching design. The same can be said of the interior, which features a new layout that’s a major step forward from the current model. Optional on the new Elantra are twin 10.3-inch displays that sit side-by-side, with the left screen functioning as a digital instrument cluster and the right as the main infotainment interface. While the multiple displays are the headline in this interior, there is one design element that had our editorial staff scratching its collective head during the unveiling. Directly to the left of the gauge cluster is a panel with a circular looking object (with a horizontal line in the middle of it) that could be any number of things. At first I thought it was a really strange airvent. But I noticed the real airvent right below and debunked that theory. Ok, maybe it’s an abstract-looking speaker? Nope, not that either. I reached out to a member of the Hyundai product planning team and they responded with a very straight-forward answer. “It’s just a design on the glass. It doesn’t serve a function, other than aesthetic value”. So there you have it. While it was fun to keep up with the conspiracy theories for a few hours, the real answer is much more simple. Hyundai isn’t shy when it comes to adding design elements, apparently even if they serve no real purpose in the interior. Even with such a weird little addition, the Elantra’s interior looks fantastic and should put pressure on the rest of the segment to raise the bar with tech in the future. +++

+++ In ITALY , carmakers Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler are in talks with the nation’s biggest ventilator manufacturer to help to boost production of the life-saving machines that are urgently needed in the coronavirus crisis, company officials said. Italy is at the epicenter of the pandemic and its government has embarked on a big expansion of the number of intensive care beds, many of which will require ventilators to keep patients alive by taking over breathing functions. Siare Engineering in northern Italy, where deaths are nearing 3.000 and climbing sharply, is in talks with Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari and Italian parts maker Marelli to make some parts, source others and to possibly help with the assembly of ventilators. Gianluca Preziosa, Siare’s chief executive, said the 2 industries share some expertise, with both the ventilator business and automakers relying heavily on electronics as well as pneumatics. “We’re talking to Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari and Marelli to try to understand if they can lend us a hand in this process for the electronics part”, he told. Rome has asked Siare to ramp up its monthly production of ventilators from 160 to 500 after the virus crisis has left the country’s healthcare system in acute distress, Preziosa said. A spokesman for Exor, parent of both FCA and Ferrari, said that meetings with Siare had taken place to study the feasibility of the idea and that a decision was expected in the coming hours. He said that 2 main options were being considered: either to help Siare engineer a capacity increase at its plant, with the support of technicians provided by FCA and Ferrari, or outsource production of ventilator parts to the carmakers’ facilities. A source familiar with the matter said that Ferrari would be ready to start manufacturing ventilator parts in its famous Maranello headquarters, which lies close to the Siare factory, but that the luxury carmaker had yet to make a final decision. Siare’s Preziosa said that another advantage of partnering with carmakers was their purchasing power, making them more likely to obtain parts that his small firm was struggling to secure amid coronavirus-related disruption to global supply chains. +++ 

+++ In JAPAN , Toyota boss Akio Toyoda, in his role as head of Japan’s automotive lobby, said the global pandemic is taking a big bite out of worldwide sales and production, but he pledged that assembly plants in Japan would do all they can to remain producing cars and trucks. “Production shall be continued on the shop floor”, Toyoda said. “Otherwise, we will cause troubles and inconvenience to our customers. So, we shall never stop production activities”. Toyoda conceded some output adjustments will be necessitated by supply crimps and declining demand. Nissan, for instance, has implemented sporadic suspensions at some Japan plants amid parts shortages, while Honda has slowed output of some models. But Toyoda urged Japan’s auto industry to stay calm and work together through the crisis. “Don’t worry too much, but be earnest and help each other”, Toyoda said. “At a time like this, we should smile and do everything we can to overcome the situation. So smile, smile”. Speaking through an interpreter at JAMA’s regularly scheduled monthly briefing, Toyoda said it was too early to make predictions about how bad the impact will be or how long the industry interruptions will last. JAMA usually releases its Japan domestic market sales forecast for the fiscal year starting April 1 around this time. But it held off doing so amid the uncertainty. “People will turn negative if they keep thinking seriously about things that are not controllable”, said Toyoda. “The biggest factor behind the current economic situation is unrest people are feeling because of uncertainties”. Toyoda’s remarks came as Toyota and other global automakers suspend production across North America and Europe in an effort to slow the transmission of the new corona virus. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, GM, Ford and Chrysler are all pausing lines in the U.S. Toyoda said the global pandemic opened the industry’s eyes to the need to adjust to new work patterns, such as tele-working. Accommodating large-scale remote work, he said, is a new frontier in crisis planning that automakers are only just beginning to confront. +++ 

+++ MASERATI will outline its bold ‘new era’ model strategy at an event in September, rather than May as previously planned, as the European car industry enters a state of shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The event, called ‘MMXX: The Way Forward’, is still scheduled to take place in the firm’s Modena home town and will show how the Italian brand will take its line-up of sports cars, SUVs and luxury saloons into the electric era. It has not yet been confirmed if the new MC20 supercar, described as a spiritual successor to the iconic MC12, will still be unveiled in May. Maserati’s electrification strategy is set to begin later this year with the launch of a hybridised version of the Ghibli. The BMW 530e rival is expected to be powered by a new plug-in petrol-electric system offering a usable all-electric range and ultra-low-CO2 figures. It will also feature level two autonomous driving capability, with Maserati intending to progress to ‘hands-off’ Level 3 features in the near future. The Ghibli will be followed in 2021 by the second-generation version of the GranTurismo and GranCabrio, which will feature the brand’s first fully electric powertrain. It has been previewed in a brief video and is expected to begin on-road testing in the coming months. A spokesperson confirmed that these cars will also be available with petrol engines, but it remains unclear whether they will use an all-new motor or an evolution of the outgoing car’s 4.7-litre V8. As part of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ €5 billion investment programme, Maserati will extensively upgrade its production facilities, but everything will continue to be built in Italy. The firm has invested €800 million in adapting its Mirafiori factory for electric vehicle production and anticipates that the facility will “strengthen its position as a world hub dedicated to the electrification and mobility of the future, with a large proportion of its capacity allocated to the production of the brand’s new electrified cars”. The flagship MC20 supercar, however, will be built at Maserati’s headquarters in Modena. It is expected to be launched later this year in fully electric form, before becoming available with a high-output hybrid powertrain and potentially a pure-petrol option. In 2021, a new SUV will be launched to sit below the Levante. Said to play a “leading role for the brand thanks to its innovative technologies”, it requires the construction of a new production line that will open next spring. The first pre-series cars will emerge early in 2021. A convertible version of the Alfieri will arrive that year, too. Still unconfirmed but previewed in a leaked product plan last year will be an all-new Levante and Quattroporte, due in 2023. Construction of a new paint shop, which is claimed to be “equipped with innovative, low enivironmental impact technologies”, has already begun in Modena. This will even allow Maserati customers to watch their car going through the paint process. A further development is a dedicated customisation workshop. +++

+++ The harrowing and still developing events involving coronavirus have taken its toll in the automotive industry. Different car companies have taken measures in order to ensure the safety of their workers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA close nearly all European plants, while the VW Group suspends vehicle production for the next 2 weeks. Ford also announced the closure of its Valencia plant with 3 workers diagnosed with Covid-19. UAW recently pushes for a 2-week shutdown of U.S. plants, appealing to Detroit automakers. Since mobility is limited and supply chain is hampered, U.S. car dealers face a challenge, just like any other retail business during these tough times. MERCEDES-BENZ  U.S.A. recognizes that issue and addressed the concern through an email to its U.S. dealers. CEO Nicholas Speeks even quoted Winston Churchill in the email: “Winston Churchill once said, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going!’ “, Speeks wrote. “The challenge we have is not of the dimension he was forced to confront but that is exactly what we, all of us, are going to do: Keep going”. Apart from the words of encouragement, Speeks also laid down plans for the U.S. dealers to soldier on amid the situation. First, Mercedes U.S.A. still guarantees margin and performance bonuses for the first half of the year despite the projected failure to hit requirements like CSI surveys and employee training. Dealers will also be given a base payout per vehicle sold in March, even without hitting the sales quota. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS) will consider postponement of principal payments related to real estate and capital loans for up to 90 days, while customer payments may be deferred for up to 90 days on a case-to-case basis. +++ 

+++ NISSAN has suspended production at its factory in Sunderland due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Around 7.000 workers are employed at the facility, which currently produces the Leaf, Qashqai and new Juke models. It is the third car factory faced with temporary closure in the UK, with the PSA Group announcing yesterday that it would close all its facilities, including Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port and Luton plans. In a statement, Nissan said: “The company is following all advice from national governments and has implemented a range of measures to ensure the welfare of employees and communities. Additionally, Nissan is ready to support any initiatives where its manufacturing and engineering expertise can be useful. In the Sunderland plant, vehicle production stopped earlier today and has now been suspended until the end of this week. We will continue to monitor the situation”. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is looking to expand a €6 billion efficiency drive to help shoulder record investment and make the brand more resilient to market slumps such as the one currently being caused by the coronavirus. While parts of the original plan are still under discussion with unions, the sports-car maker needs to do more to remain competitive, chief financial officer Lutz Meschke said in an interview. “We need a toolbox of measures we can activate as soon as conditions change”, Meschke said. “It’s important that we are always able to react, including in a crisis scenario, instead of resorting to rushed actions”. The coronavirus effects threatening European supply chains that are hitting automakers at a critical time as the industry reels from slowing global demand, tariff threats and stricter emissions regulations. The challenges only add to pressure to protect Porsche’s financial muscle as parent VW Group powers up a €33 billion spending drive to electrify the group over the next 5 years. At Porsche, the cost of shifting toward electric models, retooling factories and developing digital services will approach 15 billion euros in coming years, Meschke said. Still, the brand is sticking with its long-held goal to generate profit margins of at least 15 %; more than twice as much as most group sister brands generate. Meschke reiterated the margin can fall below this threshold temporarily if a major crisis hits. Porsche’s revenue rose 10 % to a record €26.1 billion last year, but higher costs and negative exchange-rate effects cut the brand’s operating margin to 16.2 % from 17.4 % in the previous year. To pool resources more efficiently, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has put Porsche at the center of the group’s luxury portfolio spanning Bentley, Bugatti and potentially Lamborghini, which is currently still part of Audi. Meschke, who stirred controversy 2 years ago by commenting on the potential of a possible initial public offering of Porsche, said such a move “must remain an option”. He did not offer an indication that anything concrete is in the works but pointed out that investors favor specialized companies like Ferrari or Tesla over conglomerates. “The preference is reflected in the valuations”, Meschke said. In China, Porsche sees a gradual recovery from the corona virus outbreak that hurt sales in its largest market. March should see a gradual recovery for the brand there, followed by a further stabilization in April, Meschke said. But recouping all the lost sales during the course of the year will be difficult. The market is by far the largest one for electric cars, another key initiative for Porsche. The brand, which started selling the full-electric Taycan at the end of last year, expects to meet stricter emissions rules in all its key markets and will add more electric cars as customer demand is robust. “From today’s perspective there is no way around electric mobility in the next 10 years”, Meschke said. More than half of Porsche’s global deliveries are forecast to be fully or partly electric in 2025. Europe has set a fleet average of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, less than half the 254 grams produced by the latest 911 Turbo S. But with 5 % of an automaker’s fleet excluded from the calculated average this year, and strong consumer appetite for Porsche hybrids, sales of at least 20.000 Taycans in 2020 should help the sports-car maker offset the combustion-era guzzlers. The Taycan’s basic floor structure (the so-called J1 platform) will spawn additional models, and Porsche is considering a separate underpinning for an electric version of the 718 Boxster roadster, Meschke said. A final decision has not been made yet. Porsche’s joint effort with sister brand Audi on electric-car technology for models including the Macan helps save 30 % in development cost. Deeper collaboration within the VW Group and teaming up with technology firms in key markets will also keep Porsche competitive in a fundamentally changing competitive landscape where software plays a key role, Meschke said. +++ 

+++ SEAT will revamp its Ateca for 2021. Due for a refresh to compete with a whole host of recently launched or revised SUV rivals, the Ateca has been on sale for more than 3 years, with only modest updates applied last year. I’m expecting a more significant revision for 2021, to bring it into line with newer Seat models such as the Taracco and new Leon. This will include mild styling revisions externally and internally, plus technology and equipment upgrades. More significant changes will be made to the engine range. Earlier prototypes appeared to sport some kind of measurement sensors on each wheel; the kind we’ve seen before on prototypes fitted with regenerative braking. Such technology is generally the preserve of a hybrid powertrain, which would fit into the brand’s electrification rollout. The latest Leon, set to arrive in dealerships in the coming weeks, is Seat’s first plug-in hybrid model. It’s likely, then, that the revamped Ateca will soon follow with the same powertrain, offering stronger performance, increased efficiency and the ability to run on all-electric power. In the Leon, the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol motor, 13 kWh battery pack and electric motor combine to produce 204 hp and offer an electric-only range of 60 km. Cleaner diesel engines will join the recently added 1.5 TSI Evo petrol engine and we can also expect to see 48 Volt mild-hybrid technology on certain high-end variants as with other Volkswagen Group models. +++ 

+++ TESLA has apparently agreed to limit the number of workers at the Fremont factory but the company is still negotiating other measures with authorities to comply with the lockdown order issued on the region. The news on the situation at Tesla’s Fremont factory came from a county spokesman. “They told us they had gone from about 10.000 individual employees to 2.500”, he said. “It sounds to me like they very well could still be making cars. We are continuing to stress to them that they must move to minimum basic operations, if they are still making cars”, the representative added. Under the shelter-in-place lockdown order, travel and business activities must be limited to only the most essential, with people advised to stay home except for the most crucial reasons. Manufacturing facilities must be limited to just the minimum basic operations, which include maintaining the value of inventory, ensuring security and processing payroll and employee benefits. Alameda County, home to Tesla’s Fremont factory, clarified that Tesla is not an essential business, therefore it has to comply with the lockdown order and stop the normal operation of its factory. According to the same report, witnesses saw thousands of cars in the facility’s employee parking lot, with employees going to work and several 18-wheeler container trucks pulling into the factory’s grounds. The county spokesman added that authorities needed to move on to other issues regarding the virus outbreak rather than focus on Tesla. “Tesla needs to comply with the health order”, he said, adding that the county did not want to enforce the lockdown order, but implement changes with the consent of businesses and people. +++ 

+++ The rumors claiming the next generation of TOYOTA ‘s gargantuan Land Cruiser will surf the industry’s downsizing wave are getting louder. The off-roader will get a high-tech makeover, but it will remain as rugged as ever. In 2020, the Land Cruiser is available with a gasoline-powered V8 in the United States, among other markets, and with a diesel-burning V8 in countries like Australia. All signs point to both 8-cylinders retiring along with the current-generation model. Toyota will argue there’s a replacement for displacement by making the Land Cruiser available with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine borrowed from Lexus. The 3.4-liter 6 makes 416 hp. Buyers will also have the option of ordering a hybrid powertrain built around the aforementioned V6 (and, oddly, not around the 3.5-liter found in the LS 500h) and a V6 turbodiesel will be offered in some markets. Every drivetrain will feature 4-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. Called 300-series internally, the next-generation Land Cruiser will allegedly be a little bit shorter than the current, 200-series model but it will be just as wide. Its height will vary slightly from market to market. It will be heavier, especially when fitted with the hybrid powertrain, but it will at least match the current model’s robust towing capacity. It goes without saying that Toyota will build the off-roader on a ladder frame. While the Japanese firm has refused to comment on what’s in store for the model, executives have stressed it won’t lose any of its off-road capacity. “Whatever we bring out will be capable, and I think our loyal owner base will be very pleased”, pledged Sean Hanley, the vice president of sales and marketing for Toyota’s Australian division, in an interview. Australia is the Land Cruiser’s second-biggest market; the Middle East is the largest. Toyota can’t water down the Land Cruiser if it wants to keep its target audience in the fold. Toyota is expected to introduce the next-generation Land Cruiser in July or August of 2020, about 62 years after it sold the very first example in the United States, but the off-roader might not arrive in American showrooms until the 2022 model year. Additional information will emerge in the weeks leading up to its official unveiling. The Lexus LX, which has always been an upmarket variant of the Land Cruiser, will adopt the new underpinnings and the downsized powertrains in 2022. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , Ford and General Motors rejected the UAW’s call to close all plants for 2 weeks, but they probably should have taken that advice as both companies have now decided to cease production until March 30th. While the recent agreement between the automakers and union only called for a “rotating partial shutdown of facilities”, Ford and GM have now announced far more extreme measures. In GM’s case, they’re beginning an “orderly suspension of manufacturing operations in North America due to market conditions”. As part of this effort, plants will suspend operations in cadence to ensure closures occur in a safe and orderly fashion. Production will be halted until at least March 30th and plans will be reevaluated on a week-to-week basis after that. During the downtime, the facilities will be deep cleaned. General Motors CEO Mary Barra said “GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting the coronavirus”. She added, “We have been taking extraordinary precautions around the world to keep our plant environments safe and recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now”. At Ford, the company will cease production in North America following the conclusion of Thursday’s evening shift. The plants will remain closed until March 30th and the company will work with the UAW to increase employee safety. As part of this effort, plants will be cleaned and sanitized during their downtime. Ford and the UAW will also explore ways to “maximize social distancing among plant workers, both during work hours and at shift change, when large numbers of people typically gather at entry and exit points”. They’ll also work together to maximize cleaning times between shifts. FCA has also announced plans to close their plants in North America. Their shutdown begins today and will last through March. +++ 

+++ The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has unveiled a proposal that would modernize rules to allow for VEHICLES WITHOUT A STEERING WHEEL . Dubbed Occupant Protection for Automated Driving Systems, the proposal with would update safety standards to allow for autonomous vehicles such as the Cruise Origin. The proposal is over a 100 pages long, but it aims to “address the near- and long-term challenges of testing and verifying compliance with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems that lack the traditional manual controls necessary for human drivers, but that are otherwise traditional vehicles with typical seating configurations”. This isn’t exactly a straightforward process as the NHTSA noted there will likely be 2 types of automated driving systems. As a result, the rules need to be adapted to allow for vehicles with manual controls, fully automated controls and those that offer a mix of the 2. The proposal gets pretty technical, but the agency said it’s primarily designed to create requirements and test procedures to allow for vehicles without manual controls. In particular, the government said the proposal applies “frontal passenger protection requirements to the traditional driver seating position when a steering wheel is not present, and clarifies the applicability of some occupant protection standards to vehicles with no occupant compartment, such as occupant-less delivery vehicles”. The proposal is being described as a “historic first step” towards fully autonomous vehicles and is one of several regulatory actions the NHTSA is considering to modernize vehicle standards to allow for new technologies. In a statement, NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said “With more than 90 % of serious crashes caused by driver error, it’s vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives”. He added the agency doesn’t want “regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier against innovation and improved highway safety”. +++ 

+++ It was just for strict emission regulations at first. VOLKSWAGEN has been very busy lately with the development of its ID family of electric vehicles. First, there was the ID.3, which is a compact hatchback and the very beginning of the ID development. Then the ID.4 (formerly ID. Crozz) has been officially announced, marking the German marque’s step into the electric crossover territory. Volkswagen also confirmed reports of an entry-level ID.1 electric city car. At this point, it seems like Volkswagen is covering all the bases for its EVs and keeping the VW Group’s promise to launch 75 electric vehicles by 2029. However, it seems like EV development wasn’t really something that Volkswagen wanted in the first place. In an exclusive interview, Volkswagen R’s chief Jost Capito admitted that the company initially developed EVs to meet the impending stricter emission regulations in Europe. That outlook on EVs turned into something beautiful, however, as Capito said that it’s now “something that we want to do”. “I always thought I’d be retired when electric cars became a thing because I’m a petrolhead”, said Capito. Capito is in charge of developing a hotter version yet road-going Volkswagen electric car, which is rightfully so with the merits of the ID.R. The electric race car made headlines last year by breaking several hillclimb records in different parts of the world. Well, if the EV you’re driving is this fast, there’s no doubt it would be fun to drive. It also goes to show how different and how far EV development has come. Volkswagen will raise the amount of nickel used in it electric car battery cells to 80 % in the next year from 65 % at present, Frank Blome, head of battery cells at the carmaker said. Volkswagen’s current electric car battery cell contains 65 % nickel, 15 % cobalt and 20 % manganese. Next generation batteries will have 80 % nickel, 10 % cobalt and 10 % manganese, Blome told. Volkswagen is embarking on a mass production push to build 3 million electric cars by 2025, requiring 300 gigawatt hours worth of battery cells, mainly in Asia and Europe, he said. Ramping up manufacturing battery packs at scale will help the carmaker to cut battery cell costs far below $100 per kilowatt hour by 2025, he said. +++

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