Newsflash: Alfa Romeo wordt meer ‘Lancia’ en minder ‘Quadrifoglio’

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+++ Not one to usually back down from a performance battle with other go-fast brands, ALFA ROMEO together with their Quadrifoglio performance arm has been known to cook up some stylishly fast vehicles. If you saw the 4-leaf clover symbol sitting on the wings of a Stelvio and Giulia, you’ll know that they meant business, as if the big wheels, more pronounced diffusers, and aggressive aero kits were not enough of a giveaway. Unfortunately, it seems that the upcoming Tonale won’t be getting the same treatment. Alfa’s latest hybrid compact SUV will hit the European market in the first quarter of 2021 and that the production model should be revealed in late 2020. Preparations have already been underway at Alfa Romeo’s Pomigliano d’Arco plant and, taking into consideration the global health issue, it seems that they’re sticking to the initial plans to get the Tonale on the road as soon as possible. Rumour also has it that the Tonale won’t be initially offered in a performance Quadrifoglio trim, citing that the Italian manufacturer is “rethinking its commercial objectives, and aiming at attracting premium customers who love Italian design and an efficient product”. This is part of the FCA Group’s intention to achieve profitability without taking too many risks with their latest products. Underneath, the Alfa Romeo Tonale shares the same platform as the Jeep Renegade and will offer up to 330 hp in its top trim. Alfa Romeo’s second SUV will be equipped with a 48V electric motor to assist the turbocharged 2.0-litre in-line 4-cylinder. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN ‘s new ‘hot vee’, dry-sump ‘TM01’ V6 engine, so named because the turbos lie in the vee of the engine, looks as exciting on paper as it probably will be in the flesh. Although Aston isn’t disclosing a huge amount of detail at this stage, the picture of it shown reveals a lot. Starting at the bottom, there’s that sump. ‘Dry’ sump is a bit of a contradiction in terms, because sumps on engines store oil and dry sumps are designed to do the opposite. Instead of a large, deep sump full of engine oil, the dry sump is reduced to a shallow pan and gives 2 advantages. The main one is that oil is pumped around the engine from a separate tank, so there’s no chance of the oil pick-up collecting air instead of oil during hard cornering, braking and acceleration. The second is that a shallow pan in place of a deep sump means the engine can sit low in the chassis, lowering the car’s centre of gravity. Bottom left looks like the dry sump pump. The difference between this and a standard oil pump is that it scavenges oil as well as pumping it, and it scavenges faster than it pumps, so the pan remains quite dry; hence the name. If it didn’t, the engine would drown in its own oil. The Y-shaped casing on the front of the engine is likely to cover chains, rather than belts, taking drive from the crankshaft up to the 4 camshafts. The pair of black circular covers at the top of each Y form part of the variable cam timing mechanism and give away the position of each camshaft. Above that are the air compressors of the twin BorgWarner turbos. On top of each one, a black electronic control unit opens and closes the turbo’s wastegate on the ‘hot side’ of the turbo, towards the rear of the engine, via a rod. The 2 large ports at the top are the turbo air intakes and the lower pair are the exits for the pressurised air. Hoses will take the intake air from the lower 2 ports via intercoolers to the 2 throttle bodies on the front of each plenum chamber tucked under each cylinder bank. On this prototype, they’re made by the Italian firm Dellorto, which was famous for its carburettors back in the day. The 3 black blocks on top of the right-hand side of the engine are coil packs, one for each spark plug. In this configuration at least, the TM01 appears to have both direct and port fuel injection; an idea pioneered by Toyota. To the right is a fuel rail (pipe) for delivering petrol to three port injectors, their black electrical connectors peeking out above the rail. 3 more direct injector connectors are visible just below each coil pack for delivering atomised fuel directly into the combustion chamber. The combination of the 2 gives more scope for blending the torque of the engine at different revs and loads with the hybrid electric drive, while minimising emissions. The testing of EV batteries and being able to simulate real-life drive cycles in the laboratory is an important part of improving the breed, and Mahle Powertrain has just opened a new facility to do exactly that. The firm is famous among other things for making components such as forged pistons for high-performance engines. +++

 

+++ AUTONOMOUS DRIVING technology company AutoX has just launched a large robotaxi operations center in Shanghai, China. AutoX currently operates facilities in San Jose, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, while also running autonomous vehicle pilot programs in Shenzhen, San Jose, and Shanghai. The new operations center will serve as the largest data hub for self-driving car data in China. The facility, referred to as a ‘Gigafactory’ by AutoX, houses tools for operating a large fleet of self-driving cars that collect petabytes of real-world data in Shanghai every week. The building also serves as a large data center with simulation cloud computers running 24/7. AutoX says the facility has 80,000 square feet of space and, as part of the company’s expansion in Shanghai, it has revealed that locals will soon be able to hail a ride from one of its RoboTaxis with a popular ride-hailing app (yet to be revealed). Every vehicle deployed by AutoX will undergo a vigorous safety checklist every morning to ensure the software and hardware modules are operating correctly. Each AutoX test vehicle includes LiDAR sensors, cameras, radar sensors, and an internal central high-performance computer located between the trunk and the back seat. “If calibration is needed, the vehicle will be placed on a car turntable, surrounded by 360 degrees of calibration panels. As it rotates, the vehicle’s internal software system will automatically calibrate its sensors, ensuring that all data collected on the road is accurate”, AutoX says. +++

 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle giant BYD has joined hands with Japanese auto giant Toyota to develop electric vehicle technologies, following partnerships established between Great Wall and BMW, and Geely and Mercedes-Benz, highlighting the increasing importance of the China market in global auto industry development. On April 2, BYD Toyota EV Technology Co, a 50-50 joint venture, was established by the 2 sides. According to BYD, the joint venture will be engaged in the research and development and the manufacturing of electric vehicles, and commence its operations in May. It’s the latest step following a joint venture agreement to set up a electric vehicle R&D company signed by the 2 automakers on November 7, 2019. For BYD, it can gain more advanced car-making technologies and management experience from the Japanese automotive magnate. Toyota is a veteran in hybrid technology, however, it lags behind in the layout of electric cars in China. While BYD has accumulated technologies and market reputation in the electric vehicle industry, which is exactly what Toyota needs. One of BYD’s latest technical breakthroughs, a blade-shaped battery, was unveiled at the end of March, which is said by the automaker to “put an end to spontaneous combustion in new energy vehicles”. Thanks to its superior safety and battery life, the blade battery has lured a raft of potential partners to explore collaborations, according to BYD. Hirohisa Kishi, chairman of the joint venture from Toyota, said that it and BYD with their respective technical strengths will learn from each other, and work together to develop high-performance electric cars for Chinese customers. His words were echoed by Zhao Binggen, general manager with BYD Toyota EV Technology Co, who said: “We will be a joint venture focusing on the R&D of electric vehicle technologies taking full advantage of both sides’ experience, committed to promoting and popularizing quality electric vehicle technologies that are more environmentally friendly, safer and more comfortable and intelligent”. Discarding the unitary cooperation of importing and exporting models, a concerted and deeper partnership model covering R&D, production and supply is burgeoning among Chinese and overseas automakers. The newly-emerging cooperation model has involved world-leading auto giants BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Chinese automakers such as Geely and Great Wall Motors. Great Wall and BMW launched their joint venture Spotlight Automotive in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province on November 29, aiming to co-develop and produce electric cars for the global market. As a 50-50 joint venture, Spotlight Automotive is scheduled to develop and produce both electric BMW Mini’s and Great Wall Motors’ vehicles, and will also cover procurement, warehousing and logistics. On January 8, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group set up a 50-50 joint venture with Mercedes-Benz in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, in a bid to jointly develop and produce electric cars under the German carmaker’s Smart brand for global markets. Mercedes-Benz will take charge of the styling of the vehicles and Geely will undertake engineering and development. The China-produced Smart branded vehicles are expected to be launched in 2022 and sold globally. The 2 sides also plan to expand the Smart lineup to include compact models, which are seeing increasing demand in China. +++

+++ As the automobile enterprises gradually resume work, car production and sales volume see a significant increase in March in CHINA . The auto sector is expected to speed up recovery in the second quarter as the market rebounds, although it’s hard to get back to the same level of last year, Securities Daily reported. China Association of Automobile Manufactures released the industry statistics of March, indicating that auto production and sales volume last month both amounted to over 1.4 million units, growing 4- and 3.6-fold month-on-month, respectively. However, affected by the virus outbreak, the figure saw a year-on-year decline, falling 44.5 % and 43.3 %, respectively. In the first quarter of this year, vehicle production and sales volume reached 3.47 million and 3.67 million units, respectively, dropping 45.2 % and 42.4 % from the previous year. From January to March this year, top 10 auto manufactures in China has sold nearly 3.3 million vehicles, which accounted for 89.7 % of the total sales volume, falling 41.7 % from a year earlier. The top 10 sedan manufactures in China sold 977.000 units of cars in the first quarter, accounting for 73.8 % of the sales volume. However, the top 10 showed a rapid decline in sales from a year earlier, with SAIC Volkswagen and SAIC GM dropping significantly. The sales volume of top 10 SUV manufactures amounted to 825.000 units in China, which accounted for 60.2 % of total sales. Compared to last year, the sales of FAW-Volkswagen maintained a steady increase, while other enterprises experienced decrease in sales. In terms of China’s top 10 MPV manufactures, they sold 123.000 units of cars in the first 3 months, accounting for 90.4 % of total sales volume. Compared with the same period last year, the sales saw a severe fall, with SAIC-GM-Wuling and Changan Automobile dropping significantly in sales. Meanwhile, local Chinese brands are still facing fierce competition from foreign brand. In the first quarter, 1.16 million of Chinese brand vehicles were sold, dropping 47.3 % year-on-year, and the market share also saw a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from the last year. The report of China Association of Automobile Manufactures also noted that overall the decline in commercial vehicle sales was lower than that of passenger vehicles. According to Geely, sales volume in March increased 245 % month-on-month to 73.000 units, but the figure still fell 41.4 % from a year earlier. From January to March, the total sales reached 206.000 units, decreasing 43.8 % year-on-year. China’s auto sector is expected to continue recovery in the second quarter as carmakers resume production and pent-up demand unleashes, analysts said. Auto parts makers as well as car manufacturers have survived the worst period in the first quarter, when Covid-19 weighed on both supply and demand, Shenwan Hongyuan Securities said in a research note. As the epidemic was gradually contained in the country, firms had resumed work in March while potential buyers started to visit physical stores, adding to signs that the auto market would rebound, it said. Latest data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed that China’s auto production and sales rebounded remarkably in March, with output surging almost 400 % from February while sales jumping 361.1 % month-on-month. The country’s authorities have implemented a raft of measures to revive the world’s biggest car market, with extended subsidies and tax exemptions for new energy vehicle purchases. The industry-specific measures, coupled with broader fiscal and monetary policies aimed at keeping growth and market expectations stable, would further boost the auto sector in the second quarter, Huajin Securities said. +++

+++ It’s hard to put on a splashy public reveal for a historic nameplate at the New York Auto Show when that show’s been canceled and people can’t safely stand within 6 feet of one another. It’s also hard to put that historic nameplate into production when the auto industry is all but shut down the world over. Hence the report that FORD informed vendors production of the Bronco Sport will be delayed 2 months, according to auto industry suppliers. Suppliers said parts intended for pilot production were meant to ship this month to Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant for a planned July 13 start date. With that out of the question, the automaker has apparently pushed Job One back to September 7. If the postponed New York Auto Show takes place during its rescheduled date in August, we could see the Bronco Sport then, ahead of manufacture. If New York City remains in crisis mode or the Javits Center (converted into a makeshift hospital to help the city with Covid-19 patients) isn’t ready, Ford could put on a freestanding show for the baby crossover. When asked, Ford refused any comment on the vehicle the automaker still hasn’t officially acknowledged the name of. We’ve had have enough leaks to get us through to August, though. The crossover will sit on the C2 platform shared with the latest Ford Kuga, as well as share the Kuga’s 1.5-liter 3-cylinder and 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. It’s thought the mini mare will shift through the 8-speed automatic transmission Ford worked with GM to develop, same as in the Kuga. However, instead of offering frontwheel drive, the Bronco Sport’s sole drivetrain option could be allwheel drive. A screenshot taken of Ford’s dealer ordering system showed several trims and options, including First Edition, Badlands, Big Bend, Outer Banks, ten exterior color choices, a contrasting roof option and 2 wheel designs (17 inch). The Bronco Sport likely won’t be the only Ford debut this year thrown back by the coronavirus wave. Company CEO Jim Hackett told a Detroit radio station during a phone interview last month that the new F-150 and Mustang Mach-E might also get pushed back. “If they’re 1 month or 6 weeks late”, he said, “I don’t think anyone would think we fumbled there because of the virus”. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS plans to keep its Brazilian factories shut down for at least 60 more days due to the coronavirus crisis, the company said, as the final batch of unionized workers voted on the automaker’s proposal. GM’s plants in Brazil have been shuttered since March 23. On March 30 the company put its workers on furlough, but kept their pay intact as it made employees use up vacation days. But as the pandemic has worsened globally and holiday allotments have dried up, GM has had to look for more drastic measures in South America’s top auto producer. Now its factories in Brazil, where for several years Chevrolet has been the country’s best selling brand, will be shut down at least until mid June. The timeline puts Brazil behind the schedules set by automakers in Europe, where companies have said they might begin building vehicles by the end of this month. In The United States, automakers including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota are hoping to restart production in early May. To be sure, GM has not set reopening start dates elsewhere in the world. Brazil has more coronavirus cases than any country in Latin America and its right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized for minimizing the severity of the disease. GM said all its Brazilian workers except for one have agreed to the shutdown and for a plan to cut salaries by up to 25 %. The remaining union, based in Sao Jose dos Campos in Sao Paulo state, will finish voting on the proposal. If the crisis does not allow workers to resume auto production within 60 days, GM may extend the shutdown to 90 days, according to a document. +++

+++ It’s safe to say the JEEP Grand Cherokee is getting a bit long in the tooth considering the WK2 generation has been around for literally a decade. The midsize SUV will finally switch to its fifth iteration soon with the all-new development said to be vastly different than today’s aging model. As the late Sergio Marchionne first hinted a little over 3 years ago, the next Grand Cherokee is expected to ride on the same Giorgio platform as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It would make sense considering the automotive conglomerate certainly wants to spread out the development costs for the platform, having spent €1 billion to engineer it. Only the aforementioned Stelvio and Giulia are sitting on the architecture for the time being, but ex-FCA U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland said back in November 2016 the platform could be adapted to underpin additional models. The switch to new hardware is expected to bring a stretch of the wheelbase beyond the 2.91 metres offered by today’s SUV. That will obviously translate into a roomier cabin for the 5-seat model and will allow the company to introduce a 3-row version later in the life cycle. Being a Jeep first and foremost, it will have true off-road capabilities with a 4-wheeldrive system and a rugged Trailhawk derivative. Speaking of additional versions, another spicy Trackhawk flavour is likely planned. An electrified 2.0-litre inline-4 will power the entry-level model. Step up to a more expensive model and Jeep will reportedly sell you its new Grand Cherokee with the familiar Pentastar V6 with eTorque, while a plug-in hybrid powertrain is said to arrive later on. Interestingly, there’s also the possibility of seeing a diesel engine borrowed from the Ram 1500 where the 3.0-litre V6 makes a healthy 260 hp and 640 Nm. When can we expect to see the revamped Grand Cherokee? FCA head of design Ralph Gilles said not long ago that it would debut later in 2020, but time will tell when that’ll actually happen taking into account the coronavirus might push back the world premiere. Beyond the new Grand Cherokee and its 3-row sibling, Jeep’s SUV push will continue with the return of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as larger body-on-frame trucks. +++

+++ KIA told its labour union in South Korea that it wants to suspend operations at 3 of its domestic factories as the coronavirus outbreak weighs on exports to Europe and the United States, a union official said. The union has not yet decided whether to accept the plan (under which operations would be suspended from April 23-29) because negotiations over pay are ongoing, the official said. “Kia is currently reviewing the suspension of some of its plants in Korea in response to declining global demand due to Covid-19. However, a decision has not been made at this time”, Kia said in a statement. Hyundai halted a line producing its Tucson in the southeastern city of Ulsan from April 13-17. Hyundai and Kia have suspended operations at most of their factories outside South Korea and China as the coronavirus spreads fast beyond Asia. Government restrictions on movement to slow the spread are impacting consumer spending worldwide. South Korea’s exports for the first 10 days of April plunged 18.6 % from the same period a year earlier, far below the 20.8 % jump over March 1-10. Shipments of vehicles and vehicle components during the period tumbled 7.1 % and 31.8 % respectively. +++

+++ South Korean car maker Kia has revealed “official” guidance on the actions drivers should take to ensure their vehicle is roadworthy after leaving it for a long period. The guidance comes as many countries endures its fourth week of LOCKDOWN in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Since March 16, citizens have been urged to stay inside unless exercising, food shopping or heading to medical appointments. Only those in essential jobs who cannot work from home are allowed to commute. As a result of the lockdown, Kia says vehicles are more likely to develop problems caused by underuse. The company says maintaining battery health is the most important factor, alongside vehicle security, fault avoidance and safety. Kia’s guidance in full: 1). When leaving your vehicle for extended periods, always ensure that all doors and tailgate are closed fully, interior lights are switched off and the car is locked with the remote transmitter. This will not only ensure the vehicle security but also minimise drain on the battery. 2). Try to avoid running the petrol or diesel engine for short periods only and switching off while still cold. Whenever the engine is started, it is preferable to keep it running until full temperature is achieved. 3). If suitable battery charging equipment is available, charge the 12 volt battery at regular intervals (recommended every 2 weeks). Alternatively use an intelligent charger which can be connected permanently and will periodically monitor / maintain battery condition. Refer to the Owner’s Manual for further guidance, paying particular attention to how and where to connect charger leads. The Intelligent Stop Go (ISG) system (where fitted) can be damaged if chargers or jump leads/packs are incorrectly connected (the charging advice does not apply to Kia Niro self-charging hybrid models with a 12 volt lithium-ion battery). 4). If you are not able to use a battery charger, start the engine and allow it to idle for 20 minutes. Switch off all unnecessary electrical items (e.g. lights, heated rear screen, fan, heated seats, etc.). Please ensure that you remain with your vehicle during this process to ensure safety and security. It is recommended that the engine is run in this way at least every 2 weeks. 5). Should you find your 12 volt battery has already discharged, recharge the battery using a battery charger if available. If you use a jump pack or jump leads to start the vehicle, refer to the Owner’s Manual for further guidance, paying particular attention to how and where to connect leads. The Intelligent Stop Go (ISG) system (where fitted) can be damaged if chargers or jump leads/packs are incorrectly connected (this too does not apply to Niro self-charging hybrid models equipped with 12 volt lithium-ion batteries). 6). Niro self-charging hybrid models (2018 modelyear onwards) are equipped with a 12 volt lithium-ion battery and a battery reset switch. You can help preserve your 12 volt lithium-ion battery charge by operating your vehicle in accordance with the information provided in Point 4. On no account should a charger, jump pack or jump leads be attached to your vehicle. Instead, if the 12 volt lithium-ion battery is discharged, it can be reset by pressing the battery reset switch. Please refer to the Owner’s Manual for more information. All other Kia vehicles are equipped with a conventional 12 volt battery which should be maintained as detailed previously. 7). For electric & plug-in hybrid vehicles it is recommended that the high voltage battery is left in a fully charged state. +++

+++ LOTUS has been one of those manufacturers that have always stuck to its core principles, no matter what the market or competition says. Okay, so they do have an SUV coming, but, for the most part, their entire lineup is still based on creating fast, light, and raw driving experiences. Heck, even their “most comfortable” car, the Evora, still feels like a go-kart with a suede steering wheel; and that’s not a bad thing. Because it’s still engaging to drive, rewarding to push to the limit, and who needs an infotainment system when you have a supercharged V6 playing the right notes behind your seats? Lotus is now focusing on expanding its newfound success by introducing new models and reaching new markets. While reception to limited-edition models such as the 3-Eleven has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been talks that the British brand is still open to creating similar vehicles, just not until it fleshes out and overhauls its current offerings. “There is room for it, but we have so many things to do that we’re already committed to. Getting a new product range out there is the priority”, Matt Windle, the firm’s engineering boss, told during an interview. With other supercar manufacturers releasing limited-edition models at much higher price points, there’s also the advantage that Lotus’ limited-run products sit at a much more accessible level. With its engineering team finishing up on the Lotus Evija, they’ve also had more time to focus on the consultancy side of the business, tying up with other automobile companies. “Lotus Engineering, the consultancy side of the business, is going strong as well. We’ve been talking about bespoke programmes with other companies. That’s one way we could deal with that, and it would take it away from the main product development teams. Nothing is confirmed yet, but there are a lot of discussions going on”, Windle revealed. +++

+++ MCLAREN has already started work on the ‘son of P1’ hypercar that will be the next model in its Ultimate Series after the Elva screenless barchetta. CEO Mike Flewitt has confirmed that we can expect to see the car in 2024, adding that it will be electrified. “We haven’t announced the powertrain”, Flewitt said during a telephone interview after the cancellation of the Geneva motor show. “Obviously, looking forward, it will be either hybridised or an EV”. However, Flewitt once again poured water on the idea of a track-focused model from McLaren going electric with current technology. “I like EVs”, he continued. “I’ve driven them a lot lately and for regular use. They’re responsive, refined and have incredible performance. But the charging times are really restrictive. Take the 765LT as an example. We know a lot of customers are going to take that to the track. If it were an EV, you would be looking at maybe 30 minutes of running time and then plugging it in until the next day. That’s not a persuasive position”. Although Flewitt admitted that the specifications of forthcoming EV hypercars like the Lotus Evija and Pininfarina Battista are “incredible”, he insisted McLaren buyers focus on more than just numbers. He said: “We don’t build cars like that: pure 0-200 kph or 0-300 kph or even top speed. It’s not the car’s purpose, it’s a consequence of the attributes we’ve designed into it”. McLaren has already committed to an aggressive hybridisation of its line-up, with the plug-in hybrid replacement for the Sports Series coming first and then other models quickly following. Based on past conversations with insiders at McLaren, including Flewitt, it is believed the next P1 will use a split hybrid system with an electrically powered front axle. The rear will be powered by a regular petrol engine or a version of the hybridised V6 used by the new Sports Series. Although hybridisation will create both packaging and weight challenges for engineers, these are much smaller than those presented by making an EV, because the battery will be significantly lighter and more compact. “As a lower-volume manufacturer, our strategy is built around one platform”, said Flewitt, “so we might need an EV platform for certain markets and a hybrid platform for other markets or sectors”. Flewitt admits the UK government’s proposal to bring forth a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 (possibly even 2032 depending on what happens over the next few years) was “a surprise and not a particularly nice one”. He said McLaren will join with other car makers in lobbying for hybrids to be excluded from the ban, but also that it wouldn’t necessarily spell the end for non-electric McLarens. “I’ve always thought that EV roll-out would see different market segments responding at different speeds”, Flewitt said. “It suits small commuter cars pretty well, with other sectors, like ours, responding a little later. I also think there will be geographic differences, with some markets, like China, pushing aggressively and other markets having a more relaxed time frame. Add all that together and you’ve got a mixed powertrain strategy for the next 20 or 30 years”. +++

+++ China is revving up efforts to increase the market share of NEW ENERGY VEHICLES and help the fledgling sector overcome challenges including falling sales aggravated by the corona virus pandemic. Wan Gang, president of the China Association of Science and Technology, called for efforts last week to scale up the size of the sector, which accounts for roughly 5 % of the car market, and improve vehicles’ quality to achieve the sector’s sustainable development. Competition should be encouraged to force carmakers to cut costs and improve efficiency and rural areas can have a role in expanding the market for such vehicles, he said. Wan is also the country’s former minister of science and technology and the chief architect of the new energy vehicle initiative China started a decade ago. He made the remarks when chairing a meeting on the sector’s plan from 2021 to 2035 with officials from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as well as top automotive experts and representatives of the country’s leading automotive associations. Xin Guobin, a vice-minister of the MIIT, said the ministry will release the plan soon. He said the ministry will coordinate efforts to improve supportive policies to stabilize and boost sales of new energy vehicles and promote their healthy development. Their sales began falling during the second half of 2019, primarily because of a slash in subsidies. Sales totaled 1.21 million units for the entire year; a 4 % fall year-on-year and the first dip in over a decade in China. The sector was hit harder this year with the novel coronavirus outbreak. Sales in the first 2 months stood at 55.000; down 57 % year-on-year, while their production plummeted 63 %, according to the China Passenger Car Association. To steer the industry back on track, China has released a slew of policies in recent weeks. Last week, the MIIT suggested loosening requirements in an industry regulation so producing new energy vehicles will become easier. Carmakers will no longer be required to have design and development abilities, but a higher standard for after-sales services will be imposed. And they will be allowed to halt production for up to 24 months without losing their qualifications; an extension of 12 months from the previous regulation. Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association, said the changes are “relatively reasonable” and will help encourage competition in the sector. “The main job of new energy vehicle makers is to produce, sell and ensure the quality of their products”, Cui said. “Many big car groups can design vehicles for their subsidiaries, making it unnecessary that every new energy car maker has such capabilities”. He said the extension of time for halted production will allow carmakers, especially startups, more opportunities to seek help during difficult times such as the current conoravirus outbreak. Startups including Nio and Xpeng are contributing about 16 % of electric car sales in the country, according to the China Passenger Car Association. The changes to lower the market access threshold come after the State Council’s decision in late March to extend subsidies for new energy vehicles to 2022. The subsidies, which have been in place since 2009, were scheduled to stop by the end of this year. The State Council also said that people who buy such vehicles, consisting of electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, will get purchase tax exemptions by the end of 2022. The tax usually stands at 10 % of a car’s price. “The goal of the measures is to bolster demand as soon as possible to revitalize the entire sector”, said Thomas Fang, a partner in the China office of global consulting firm Roland Berger. “Efforts to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak have started bearing fruit”. Fang said the current steps are a follow-up to the supportive measures announced by the Chinese government in the past few weeks, including a plan to ramp up the country’s charging network for new energy vehicles. BJEV, one of the country’s largest new energy vehicle makers, said the extension of subsidies will promote the sector’s healthy long-term development. “It is definitely good news for carmakers and car buyers and it shows the government’s firm support for the sector”, the company said in a statement. Investors did not show too much enthusiasm as indicted by stock prices of listed new energy carmakers including BJEV and BYD. “What people need most now are license plates instead of subsidies. And they need parking lots and charging poles as well”, said an analyst on condition of anonymity. The Ministry of Commerce said last week that it will partner with other ministries to encourage local authorities in several metropolises to loosen or even remove limits on license plates. Last month, the country’s top officials called for efforts to push forward a new infrastructure campaign covering 7 fields including charging poles. By the end of January 2020, China had 1.24 million charging poles, both private and public; up 45.8 % from a year ago, said the country’s charging infrastructure promotion alliance. About 3.85 million new energy vehicles were on the road by the end of 2019, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. +++

+++ NISSAN ’s management has become convinced the struggling automaker needs to be much smaller and a restructuring plan due out next month would likely assume a cut of 1 million cars to its annual sales target, senior company sources said. Even before the spread of the coronavirus, Nissan’s sales and profits had been slumping and it was burning through cash, forcing it to row back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. The pandemic has only piled on urgency and pressure to renewed efforts to downsize. No new sales target has been finalised and it remains unclear whether one will be formally disclosed. But Nissan’s plans for restructuring through to March 2023 should be based on the assumption that it would only be able to return to annual sales of 5 million cars by then; 2 sources said, adding this would entail a large reduction to manufacturing capacity. That compares with a goal of 6 million cars for the same period outlined in July by then-CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who had already stepped back from around 8 million targeted under Ghosn. Nissan likely sold about 5 million cars in the past financial year but this year’s outlook is bleaker due to the pandemic. “For years, Nissan was looking for annual sales volumes around 7-8 million vehicles. The company has never managed to sell much more than 5 million or so”, 1 of the sources told. “The company can no longer consider this sort of wishful thinking. The resizing issue is really being taken into account, it has a lot of consequences on operations for 2020-2022”. A third senior company source said the figure could be even lower than 5 million given the impact of the virus, which has hammered car demand around the world. The sources declined to be identified as details of the turnaround plan have yet to finalised. In July, Nissan said it was aiming to cut annual global production capacity to around 6.5 million vehicles. Shrinking its sales target by 1 million vehicles would equate to closing 3 to 4 more assembly plants and shedding thousands more jobs on top of already announced plans to cut its workforce by 10 %. The cutbacks would also ripple through to its suppliers and dealers. Nissan declined to comment on its progress in devising a new mid-term plan. “The details will be shared in May”, a spokeswoman said. The people said that a key metric of the recovery plan will be its operating profit margin and new CEO Makoto Uchida is likely to keep Saikawa’s target for a margin of about 6 %, one of the people said. In the third quarter, the margin was just 0.9%. “At the very least, a downsizing is a given”, the person said. By comparison, operating margins at topselling automakers Toyota and Volkswagen before the coronavirus pandemic hovered around 8 %. Another top priority will be the preservation of cash. As of December, Nissan’s automotive operations had negative free cash flow of 670.9 billion yen, a more than 6-fold increase from a year ago. “That’s no longer at an acceptable level”, said one of the people. Nissan has requested a $4.6 billion commitment line from major lenders to cushion the impact of the pandemic while it seeks to engineer the desperately needed turnaround, people with knowledge of the matter have said. +++

+++ TOYOTA chief executive Akio Toyoda promised that the Japanese auto industry would seek to protect jobs worldwide as it endures the coronavirus pandemic. Toyoda, speaking as head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said he was worried the Japanese economy might be destroyed before the world can win the fight against the sickness caused by Covid-19. “If our hospitals get overloaded to the point of devastation, then Japan may never be able to recover”, Toyoda said on an online news conference. The group that brings together Japanese automakers, including Nissan and Honda, and also parts makers, will set up a special fund to help those laid off find jobs, Toyoda said. Toyoda said the biggest threat to the industry is the potential loss of skilled workers with their manufacturing and engineering finesse. After World War II, Toyota made pots and pans and grew potatoes on farms, Toyoda said, emphasizing automakers’ determination to make practically anything to protect jobs and survive. Like its counterparts in the U.S., Toyota has begun making face masks, although they were too wrinkly to be sold and will instead be used at Toyota facilities to reduce demand elsewhere, Toyoda said. Japan declared a state of emergency this week as cases have continued to surge, especially in Tokyo and other urban areas. Japan has about 5.500 coronavirus cases, but the fear is that there may be an exponential jump. The world has 1.6 million confirmed cases, with more than 466.000 in the U.S. Toyoda said 3.000 rooms now being used to quarantine auto workers returning from abroad, could, if needed, be used for other people. He compared the current uncertainty and the need to stay home to enduring a long winter. Some assembly plants have halted production because cars aren’t selling. “We are now feeling more than ever that being able to go wherever you want is a truly moving experience”, Toyoda said. “We must survive. Or else there can be no spring”. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN said it would give financial assistance to its U.S. dealers who wish to use their loaner fleet to pickup and deliver essential supplies in areas affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The loaner cars, typically offered to customers to drive while their vehicles are in a shop for repairs, can be called upon for delivering food to a local food bank, transporting masks and gowns, and dropping off necessary items to those who are unable to leave their home, the automaker said. Volkswagen said its dealers would not charge the group or person making such a request. “Only dealership employees will be permitted to drive the vehicles. Volkswagen corporate will offer dealers a daily stipend per vehicle to cover fuel and lease costs”, the automaker said. Volkswagen’s network of more than 600 U.S. dealers maintains a loaner fleet of nearly 7.000 vehicles, although some dealerships could be closed or working with reduced personnel due to state and local guidelines. Volkswagen said it will furlough 1.500 workers at its U.S. assembly plant in Tennessee starting April 11 as the industry grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The German automaker said the temporary emergency furloughs for its production and maintenance workforce are expected to last no more than 4 weeks. The automaker said its “primary objective is to protect the financial health of Volkswagen for the benefit of our team as we address the emerging and ongoing impacts of the COVID-19”. VW said employees and production contractors at the plant have to date received full pay and benefits during the shutdown that began March 21. Automakers are facing a dramatic drop in sales in the United States, the world’s second-largest car market, after some states barred dealers from selling new cars while “stay-at-home” orders are in place. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles extended its shutdown of U.S. and Canadian plants until May 4. Honda and Nissan said they had furloughed thousands of workers at their U.S. operations. A spokesman for Honda, which employs about 18.400 workers at plants in Alabama, Indiana and Ohio, said the Japanese automaker would guarantee salaries through Sunday, having suspended operations on March 23. The plants will be closed through May 1. Nissan said it was temporarily laying off about 10.000 U.S. hourly workers effective April 6. It has suspended operations at its U.S. manufacturing facilities through late April due to the impact of the outbreak. Toyota said this week it plans to reopen its North American auto plants on May 4, extending its current shutdown by 2 additional weeks. Toyota said it will stop paying salaries for 5.000 workers provided by outside agencies. +++

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