Newsflash: Audi A8 definitief niet met Level 3 autonome rij techniek

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+++ It would appear that AUDI is giving up on introducing Level 3 autonomous technology on its current A8 flagship model, which is due for a facelift next year. A senior Audi executive told that the German carmaker simply doesn’t have enough time to make its eyes-off autonomous system compliant in the A8. Initially, Audi wanted to activate Traffic Jam Pilot for the A8 in markets where governments allowed it. Unfortunately, global regulators have yet to agree on a type approval process for even the most rudimentary Level 3 functionality, meaning a point where it is safe for the driver to take his or her eyes off the road. “We will not see the Traffic Jam Pilot on the road with its originally planned Level 3 functionality in the current model generation of the A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle”, said Audi technical development boss Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler. “Currently, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving and it is not possible to homologate such functions anywhere in the world in a series production car”. Audi wanted the A8 to be the first production car with eyes-off conditional autonomy, and this setback means that it could end up trailing its German rivals from Mercedes and BMW in the autonomous tech department. The latter 2 are aiming to launch Level 3 systems in the new-generation S-Class and iNext crossover, although nothing has been finalized. Meanwhile, sources close to Audi stated that corporate lawyers in particular have been critical of Level 3 systems, warning Audi executives that there are no guarantees customers would go on to properly service the vehicles, leaving the carmaker liable in case of an accident. Even Volvo backed away from Level 3 autonomous technology, considering it “unsafe”. “The euphoria in the auto industry around Level 3 has subsided substantially”, concluded Rothenpieler. Going forward, Audi will focus on improving Level 2 driver assistance systems, which do not transfer any legal responsibility to the carmaker in case of a crash. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY is aiming to begin a phased resumption of production at its Crewe factory on Monday 11 May, under a series of new safety measures that the firm says “marks the biggest change to daily working life” in its 100 year history. The British luxury car maker suspended production due to the coronavirus outbreak on 20 March, shortly before the UK government introduced lockdown restrictions. Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said the cancellations from buyers have remained low and the firm is committed to delivering on all orders made. The staged return, being conducted through a programme called Come Back Stronger, will include around 250 new hygiene and social-distancing measures. The aim is for a phased resumption, with full production, albeit at a reduced rate, getting under way on 18 May. The measures are designed to protect the more than 4000 staff who work at Crewe. They include both health measures for staff to prepare before they leave home and a redesign of the facility itself to ensure people can keep 2 metres apart. Bentley staff will be required to wear facemasks in all factory and office areas, with personal protective equipment (PPE) provided as necessary and temperature checks conducted on all staff. A one-way system will be introduced in the manufacturing facility, with extra cleaning conducted to limit the risk of infection. To control staff density, entry and exit points from the factory have been reconfigured to reduce the volume of people who can use them, there will be limited capacity and seating in all catering facilities and office staff will work in a new shift pattern. Employees who can work from home will continue to do so. When asked if the decision to resume production at Crewe a Bentley decision or a Volkswagen Group-wide policy, Hallmark answered: “The factory was ours to close, and it’s ours to open. We’ll have at least 40 % of the staff here early next week, getting ready for production to start a week later. We’ve set up something that looks like a military operation to keep people safe, all of it devised by people working at home. We want to make sure they’re safer at work than they would be outside. We decided to close when we had about 10 days of parts left. We stripped the production lines of components, storing them in space we made for Brexit contingency and didn’t need. We now have express agreements with our key suppliers, mostly European, to get what we need on time, so we can keep the stored parts as a buffer for the first month or so, in case something else goes wrong. We’ll run for a number of weeks at about 50 % of production. The decision about how long before we ramp up to 100 % will depend on government guidance and on our own experience with the success of our own arrangements. For now, we’ve spread every production cell over two spaces, like spreading the staff of one office into two, so we’re doubling the time it takes to build a car. But that’s much better than building no cars at all. When this started, we’d sold 8 or 9 months of the year’s production and the vast majority of those customers now just want to get on with it. The number of cancellations has been very low. So we’ll be working to fulfil those orders. Those customers aren’t just interested in buying, they’ve already bought!” When asked if he would like to concentrate on the most profitable models, Hallmark answered: “We wouldn’t margin-manage like that. I don’t believe in it. If there’s a car with a name against it, we’ll do our best to build it. Mulliner customers can specify bespoke cars. I’ve done a bit of market research of my own among these clients, via video links. They’re having quite a good time, some of them, enjoying what amounts to a day-long TV show from Bentley: choosing colours and equipment, or making refinements to cars they’ve already ordered. They say it helps to pass the time when you’re cooped up”. When asked if any of Bentley’s product launches have been delayed, Hallmark answered: “Yes, but it’s not catastrophic. The engine testing we need for various engine derivatives we’re planning to deliver will be delayed because all testing stations are shut. When they open it’ll be a bit like the logjam we had 18 months ago with WLTP testing. Some of the medium-term testing looks particularly difficult because we risk missing some of the seasonal testing that is needed. But our biggest programmes (like bringing our all electric model forward to the mid-2020s or getting our electrified cars ready for the 2023 model year) they’re still right on track. Our first quarter profit was going to equal our earnings for the whole of 2019. Missing that is a major disappointment. But we’re strong, we’re working again, and we’re going to make the best of it”. +++ 

+++ 42 years after its introduction, the BMW M1 still has a more enticing spec sheet than many sports cars today: Mid-engined 3.5-liter straight-6 with 272 hp, 5-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive and a topspeed of 269 kph. Compare that data to the i8: Mid-engined 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder and 2 electric motors, 374 hp, 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive, top speed 250 kph. The i8 is 1.3 seconds faster from zero to 100 kph, but enthusiasts know which one they’d rather drive. BMW’s next effort with a flagship sports car will combine a little of each: an i8-style powertrain with around 600 hp wrapped in M1-inspired looks. All the rumors put the coupe on arrival in 2023 or 2024. The i8 M will have the BMW Vision M Next concept as the starting point. By any name, the switch to a more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and upping output from the electric motors, the car we’ll also call i8 M should make 600 hp to match the Vision M Next’s 600 conceptual ponies. Remember, 600 hp remains BMW’s self-imposed cap on output, but a V8 hybrid X8 M might shatter that ceiling. The run to 100 kph is expected to take 3 seconds, top speed capped at 300 kph. BMW R&D boss Klaus Fröhlich said engineers looked at making the coming coupe all-electric, but curb weight ballooned to 2.100 kilo. By going the PHEV route, engineers targeted 1.600 kilo and were able to beat that figure. On the efficiency side, sounds like the i8 M PHEV will fit a battery with a capacity well beyond the 11.6 kWh battery in the i8, enabling an all-electric range of around 100 kilometres instead of the current i8’s 35 kilometres. BMW dumped enormous sums into the carbon fiber expertise and build processes that helped create the i3 and the i8. Even though the automaker sold its Washington carbon fiber facility, the i8’s carbon tub will evolve with the i8 M, a belief partly based on the Vision M Next presenting a great deal of structural carbon in its build. On the outside, the Vision M Next adopts a much more M1-like wedge shape, with i8 flourishes including the horizontally split rear fenders, plus contrasting textures and colors meant to convey i8 lines at the front fenders and the side sills into the rear deck. There’s a chance designers will carve out a proper frunk that doesn’t require 2 hidden pull tabs, 2 people and 2 screwdrivers to operate, too. We could be in for another Coupe and Spyder combo. Expect a €12.000 price bump over the i8. +++ 

+++ In CHINA , large-scale commercial use of self-driving technologies could become a reality sooner than expected as Chinese tech companies are beefing up efforts to launch autonomous taxi services, said industry insiders. Search giant Baidu announced it has fully opened its self-driving taxi service Apollo Robotaxi in Changsha, thus becoming one of the first companies to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles. Residents in the city can hail self-driving taxis free of charge via Baidu’s navigation app Baidu Maps. At present, the service covers an area of about 130 square kilometers, with its routes including multiple urban scenarios, such as residential areas, commercial zones and industrial parks, the company said. It is noteworthy that each of the driverless taxies has a “security person”, or a backup driver, who is ready to take manual control in the event of an emergency, in accordance with current traffic regulations. Baidu started trials of its Apollo Robotaxi fleet in Changsha in September, with the first group of 45 self-driving taxis officially starting trial operations on urban roads. It is also China’s first group of autonomous driving taxis managed by Baidu’s Vehicle to Everything (V2X) system. Li Zhenyu, vice-president of Baidu and general manager of its intelligent driving group, wrote in an internal letter to employees that the company will continue to develop “vehicle-road coordination technology”, which is used to increase the interaction between smart road infrastructure and self-driving cars, and helps upgrade the urban governance system. Apart from Changsha, the company is testing autonomous driving with passengers in Beijing and other areas. Jiang Zheng, a selfdriving expert at China’s GAC R&D Center, said the launch of self-driving taxi services in some designated areas might be the best application scenario for the technologies due to high operating costs of private vehicles. “Autonomous driving is definitely the future development direction of the auto industry. It not only solves traffic safety problems, but also greatly improves the efficiency of transportation, brings about economic benefits and liberates people from repetitive driving”, Jiang said. Jiang added some countries are trying to promote implementation of relevant policies and regulations related to self-driving technology. Baidu is just one of several Chinese tech firms that have opened autonomous taxi services to the public in the country. In November, self-driving startup WeRide launched a trial run of autonomous taxis in a 145 square kilometer area of Guangzhou. Passengers can order taxis via its app and experience a driverless journey. Han Xu, founder and CEO of WeRide, said the company aims to launch over 100 self-driving taxis in Guangzhou this year, gain regulatory approval to remove backup drivers in designated regions in 2021 and finally achieve complete driverless operations in most areas of Guangzhou in 2023. Officials have high hopes for the market. China expects vehicles with some autonomous functions to account for half of new vehicles sold in the nation this year, according to a guideline released by the National Development and Reform Commission. So far, road tests for self-driving vehicles are available in more than 20 provinces and cities in China, and six cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan and Cangzhou have allowed passenger-carrying tests on autonomous vehicles. Other companies, such as SAIC Motor, BMW, Didi Chuxing and DeepBlue Technology, also have obtained such authorization for passenger-carrying tests. Consultancy Roland Berger said China is accelerating its development of autonomous driving and is expected to become a leader in the sector, which is seen as key to the future of the automotive industry. “Intelligent vehicles with fully autonomous functions may account for 10 % of the new vehicles in 2020 and self-driving vehicles will likely be part of our daily lives in 2030”, said Yang Diange, dean of the Automobile Engineering Department at Tsinghua University. +++ 

+++ According to CITROEN boss Vincent Cobee, the brand’s successor to the C4 Cactus will be presented this June, when it will go on sale immediately. Its showroom arrival however will take place either in September or October. Cobee says that the C4 Cactus replacement will boast an entirely new aesthetic and while the model doesn’t have a name yet, we can look forward to it having a fully-electric option, to go with its gasoline and diesel range. This new model will be the first fully-electric compact car to sit on PSA’s CMP multienergy platform (although an extended version), which also underpins the likes of the Peugeot 208 and 2008. Regarding its looks, spy images indicate that this will be a compact crossover with a sloping roofline and a high tailgate design. “The compact segment is at the heart of the European market, but it’s a segment that doesn’t change much”, said Cobee, who added that the C4 will stand out by being instantly recognizable as a Citroen. “The vehicle will launch a new style identity”, added the CEO. “It will bring a new look to the segment”. Citroen wants the C4 to be an ideal car for middle-class families who need space, comfort and visibility. The C4 Cactus was launched back in 2014 and restyled in 2017, when Citroen removed its Airbumps door protection feature in order to make it less quirky. As for the C4 nameplate (sans Cactus), that used to be a 5-door Golf-rivaling hatchback, which was discontinued back in 2018. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER said it expected the full-year operating profit of its Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans division to be above the prior-year level but warned that the coronavirus pandemic will push the group to an operating loss in the second quarter. Anticipating a higher rate of defaults among customers, the carmaker hiked risk provisions for delinquencies among customers who leased or bought Mercedes-Benz cars to €448 million, even as default rates have not yet started to spike. Analysts applauded the carmaker’s cash management. “There is nothing cheering in the auto numbers we have seen so far across the industry but Daimler seems to have had a decent start to Q1 and managed working capital better than we had feared”, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois said. Daimler reiterated it expects group revenue and earnings before interest and taxes to be below 2019 levels but given substantial one-off charges in the year-earlier period, the Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans division is now seen delivering a profit above prior-year, the company said. Daimler is also sticking to its dividend proposal and ruled out needing to apply for state-backed loans, given an adequate cash position. Last week, Daimler pre-released results, showing a plunge of nearly 70 % in first-quarter operating profit and warned that the cash flow it uses to pay dividends would fall this year. First-quarter profit was €617 million; down from €2.8 billion in the year-earlier period, of which €510 million came from the Mercedes-Benz cars unit. +++ 

+++ The rumors are true: FORD is adding a new compact pickup to the lineup. But instead of looking like the clearly car-based Courier utility sold in other markets, the unibody pickup will adopt a more rugged look to satisfy American tastes. Underpinned by Ford’s front-wheel-drive-based compact car platform, the new trucklet will slot beneath the Ranger in its lineup and is also intended to fill the gaps left by the Focus, Fiesta and cancelled Focus Active. The vehicle’s exact name is still unknown, but it could bring back the Courier moniker that was last used here in the 1970s on a pre-Ranger rebadge of a Mazda B-Series pickup. Other possibilities include Ranchero or perhaps something connecting it to the Bronco family (its underpinnings will be similar to those of the Bronco Sport (photo), after all). As for looks, I’m told the new small Ford truck will be anything but cute. Expect it to take styling cues from both the Ranger and Bronco Sport, with an upright, blocky front end and an unmistakable truck profile. Drivetrain options will likely be shared with the Bronco Sport, which, according to a leaked Ford document, is getting 2 EcoBoost engines: turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder and a 2.0-liter turbo-4. Those same engines can also be found in the mechanically related Kuga. The compact pickup will reportedly be built in Mexico, possibly at the same plant where the Bronco Sport will be produced. It will need a certain percentage of North American-sourced parts to comply with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, but should still be able to avoid the “chicken tax” that has kept many foreign-made trucks from coming stateside. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , Volkswagen and Daimler urged the German government to help boost demand for cars as the coronavirus pandemic hammered first-quarter profits and forced both carmakers to drop their outlooks for the year. The demands came as German chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to host a summit with auto industry leaders to discuss ways of reviving one of the country’s most important industries which has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. “We need a swift decision on buyer incentives”, VW’s chief financial officer Frank Witter said, echoing Daimler chief executive Ola Källenius who also called for the swift introduction of broad measures to rekindle demand for cars. “A simple incentive would be effective”, Källenius said on a call to discuss Daimler’s earnings. Car sales across the world have slumped as measures to contain the pandemic forced production lines to shut and showrooms to close, starving manufacturers of much needed cash for investments. Volkswagen warned it faced a difficult second quarter and that a planned dividend increase might have to be reconsidered. “This decision is ultimately reserved for the annual general meeting and will of course continue to be subject to review depending on the further development of this year, whether momentum, confidence and thus results and liquidity return”, Witter said. Earlier this month, Volkswagen said first-quarter car sales dropped by 23 % from the year before, causing operating profit to tumble 81 % in the 3 month period and forcing the car and truck manufacturer to withdraw its guidance for 2020. In February, VW had said it aimed for customer deliveries in line with 2019, revenue growth of 4 % and slightly higher passenger car deliveries. Daimler’s first-quarter operating profit fell by almost 70 %. +++ 

+++ German auto supplier and technology company Robert Bosch said it expected auto production to fall by at least 20% this year, as the coronavirus pandemic slams the brakes on factory production lines and saps demand. “We are bracing ourselves for a GLOBAL recession that will also have a considerable impact on our own performance in 2020”, chief financial officer Stefan Asenkerschbaumer said in a statement. “Given the many imponderables, we feel unable to make a reasonable forecast for the Bosch Group for the year as a whole. It will take a supreme effort to achieve at least a balanced result”. To cut costs, Bosch has pushed out timeframes for making investments, reduced working hours for half of its staff in Germany and imposed salary reductions. Managers and executives are taking a 20 % pay cut in April and May. “Even if production has been ramped up again in China and European industry is preparing for a ramp-up of its own, we have to steel ourselves for a severe global recession over 2020 as a whole”, the company said. In January, before the coronacrisis had become a global pandemic, Bosch warned that global car production may have already reached its peak and released preliminary full-year earnings which showed weaker demand in Asia. Bosch sales remained almost flat at €77.7 billion last year, but earnings before interest and taxes fell 38 % to €3.3 billion; down from €5.4 billion a year earlier, with the profit margin dropping to 4.2 % from 7 % in 2018, it said. +++  

+++ HOLDEN SPECIAL VEHICLES (HSV) was long the Aussie carmaker’s high-performance group tasked with building its most powerful and fastest models, but when GM announced it would kill off Holden in February, the future of HSV was left a little uncertain. However, HSV isn’t going anywhere and will take on a new name in the form of GM Speciality Vehicles (GMSV). It is understood that GMSV will be a joint venture between General Motors and local company Walkinshaw Group. The man behind the local brand, Tom Walkinshaw, was also responsible for establishing HSV back in the day and in recent years, Walkinshaw has since built itself into a successful company creating race cars and working on road cars. Since the closure of local manufacturing in 2017, Walkinshaw turned its attention away from tuning and upgrading local models and has since become the leader in converting left-hand drive vehicles from the U.S. to right-hand drive and selling them in Australia. Today, it converts a number of vehicles, including the Chevrolet Silverado and Camaro. It is reported that through the Walkinshaw and GM joint-venture, the company will continue to convert vehicles in Melbourne and then distribute them through a revised and slimmed-down network of HSV dealerships. GMSV will initially focus on converting Chevrolet pickups, SUVs and performance vehicles, including the C8 Corvette. Walkinshaw has the capacity to remanufacture and convert more than 10.000 vehicles a year. However, the vehicles it does convert will not be cheap. +++ 

+++ I’m pretty excited about the all-electric HUMMER pickup coming from the GMC brand. GM is too, enough to spend Super Bowl money on an ad teasing it. Today, I received an update from GM about the Hummer EV, with good news and bad news. The bad news: GM has announced that it is postponing the May 20 reveal for the Hummer. With the coronavirus throwing the proverbial wrench into a number of vehicle operations, including reveals, we can’t say we’re surprised at all. The good news, GM assures us, is that development continues “undeterred”. GM understandably hasn’t provided a new debut date for the GMC Hummer EV, however. I was lucky enough to see the Hummer EV in person last month just before the pandemic began causing the world to grind to a halt. At GM’s EV Day at its Warren campus, the Hummer pickup’s exterior was on full display. It’s a big, off-road-ready pickup complete with giant all-terrain rubber and tow hooks. It features removable roof panels for access to the open sky, which appears to be depicted in the teaser above. It features sail panels behind the C-pillars, similar to those on the Chevrolet Avalanche and Honda Ridgeline. Its bed was concealed with a tonneau cover, but it sported GMC’s MultiPro tailgate that we first saw on the Sierra Denali. Interior photos showed a spacious interior with blocky shapes, squared hourglass vents that mirror the look of the taillights and a lunar theme that incorporates the topography of the Sea of Tranquility into things like the floor mats and speaker covers. It also has a large infotainment screen as well as a digital instrument panel. The Hummer pickup 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. Like the rest of the next generation of GM EVs, it will use the automaker’s new Ultium modular battery and powertrain technology. While I don’t have further details about a potential reveal date, we also know a Hummer electric SUV based on the pickup will follow at some point. It, too was on display at GM’s EV Day. It looks exactly like the Hummer pickup from the rear doors forward, but with a shorter wheelbase and enclosed cargo area in the rear. It also sported a liftgate-mounted spare. +++ 

+++ Hit by the unprecedented economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic, the HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP is moving to focus on increasing domestic sales to recover from weakened exports. The strategy, also taken by other smaller automakers, is expected to further intensify the local market, according to industry sources. According to Hyundai, it would reorganize the production schedule and supply of popular models. Executive Director Goo Ja-yong said in a recent conference call that the group would “seek profitability in the domestic market by increasing production of GV80, G80, Grandeur and Palisade (photo)”. Kia has also the output of its flagship models the new K5, K7, Sorento and Mohave. A Hyundai Motor Group official said that the company plans to control the amount for export, while flexibly increasing production volume for the domestic market. Hyundai’s strategy comes as its overseas sales dramatically plummeted in major markets like in North America and Europe over Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, the automaker’s sales shrank by at least 40 % in March, while further losses are expected to continue throughout April. But the situation in the local South Korean market has been slightly better. According to Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy data, domestic sales of automobiles in March inched up by 10.1 % on-year to 172.956 units. Authorities cited relatively stable consumer sentiment here, as well as the government’s support to relieve the burden by exempting a consumption tax for vehicles by 70 %. While the government plans to extend the consumption tax exemption to until the end of June, experts predict overall sales volume will increase in the South Korean automotive market. But considering that the market has a limited growth potential, experts underlined that other carmakers here may lose market share to Hyundai and its sister company Kia. “The population is fixed and the distribution rate of automobiles in South Korea is already at the world’s top level. There are certainly limits to how many cars people will buy”, said Daelim University professor of automotive engineering Kim Pil-soo. Market data shows that as of 2019, Hyundai and Kia accounted for a combined 70.6 % of the local market. The South Korean market is responsible for 28 % of the auto empire’s total sales. Its domestic sales have been on an upward curve since 2016, after it strengthened the vehicle lineup with a focus on SUV models. But the Hyundai Motor Group is not the only company banking on the local market. 3 other major carmakers (GM Korea, Renault Samsung and SsangYong) have been suffering from even worse sales, and their final option has been clear: sell more in the local market. GM Korea has to focus on the domestic market as transactions at the major overseas buyer US are at a near standstill due to Covid-19. The company said it remains unknown when its latest model, the Trailblazer, which was launched in January, will go on sale in the US. Renault Samsung has also recently ended a manufacturing contract with Nissan for the X-Trail in March. After managing to complete a monthslong dispute over a wage deal with its labor union, the company has been reorganizing itself to find a way to boost sales in the local market. SsangYong has long been heavily dependent on local sales but amid fierce competition in SUVs and a lack of backing from parent company Mahindra, the automaker was the only carmaker here to record negative growth in March. Market insiders say that Hyundai’s and Kia’s diverse lineup overlaps with flagship models of other carmakers, which can be a threat factor for the companies with one or 2 main models. “GM Korea has the Trailblazer and Renault Samsung has the XM3. But other than that, there is a no concrete model in other sizes that can compete against Hyundai and Kia cars”, said a industry insider. As Kia announced it will expand production of its main models, the Sorento, K5 and Seltos, such models are likely to go up against vehicles in similar categories like Renault Samsung’s QM6 and SM6, GM Korea’s Malibu and SsangYong’s Tivoli. “All 5 major carmakers here are desperate to bet on the local market, but there are limits for expansion for the automotive market here, which has already matured”, an industry insider told. +++ 

+++ 3 months after it was announced, LINCOLN ’s Rivian-based SUV has been axed. The model was dropped due to the coronavirus and Lincoln informed dealers about their decision earlier today. When asked about the move, the automaker told: “Our strategic commitment to Lincoln, Rivian and electrification remains unchanged and Lincoln’s future plans will include an all-electric vehicle consistent with its Quiet Flight DNA”. Ford also said they will work with the company “on an alternative vehicle based on Rivian’s skateboard platform”. The news comes as a surprise as the model was slated to be launched in 2022 and work on the vehicle (reportedly codenamed U787) was already under way. That being said, the corona virus has thrown the automotive industry into chaos as plants have been closed and sales have fallen dramatically. While the Rivian-based Lincoln is dead, that won’t stop the luxury brand from offering an assortment of electric vehicles in the future. Previous reports have suggested Lincoln’s first EV will be a compact crossover that arrives in late 2021 or early 2022. Little is known about the model, but speculation suggests it will be a modified version of the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Lincoln could also launch a mid-sized electric crossover in 2023. Of course, those plans could also be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. How these upcoming models will compare to the R1S remains to be seen, but Rivian’s SUV is slated to be offered with 3 battery packs allowing for ranges between 386 km and 659 km. The R1S will also have outputs ranging from 407 hp to 764 hp. +++ 

+++ MCLAREN is recalling multiple models due to a potential fire risk. The models in question include the 2016-2020 720S, 2019 Senna, 2020 GT and 2017-2019 570GT. In total, that amounts to 2.763 cars. The Senna being part of this recall caught our eye, since so few of those will ever be sold. McLaren says that 157 Sennas will be subject to recall. As for the issue itself, the fire risk stems from an NVH foam pad that is placed underneath the fuel tank. McLaren says there is a possibility that this pad collects and retains corrosive moisture from the environment while driving. Over time, this could corrode the surface of the fuel tank where the pad is in contact with it. Those “micro-porations” in the fuel tank could trigger the release of gas vapor or fuel liquid. McLaren says this wouldn’t immediately cause a fire, because the fuel would be exiting into a “cool part of the vehicle” (not the exhaust or powertrain). However, fuel could ultimately leak onto the ground under the vehicle, increasing the risk of a fire under the car. McLaren says it first learned of the issue from a Latvian customer who claimed to smell fuel coming from his 570GT. The customer’s car was a former press car, “subjected to high mileage, wear and tear and greater range of road conditions than a typical vehicle of the same type and age”. Yeah, I can attest to that. After another similar complaint from a British customer, McLaren opened an investigation, and this recall is the result. To fix the 720S, Senna and 570GT, dealers will be removing the NVH pad from the car and inspecting all the gas tanks for corrosion. If McLaren deems it necessary, the fuel tank will be replaced. As of now, that NVH pad is just being removed from the car with no replacement part. McLaren hasn’t specified a remedy for the McLaren GT yet, suggesting that something else is going on there. McLaren also states that there is no defect in the design or the materials used in the fuel tank. The foam pad is the potential issue here. +++ 

+++ Tesla’s outspoken boss Elon MUSK called sweeping U.S. stay-at-home restrictions to curtail the coronavirus outbreak “fascist” as the electric carmaker posted its third quarterly profit in a row. His remarks overshadowed an otherwise successful quarter that took many investors by surprise as automaker peers were hit by a slump in consumer demand and forced factory shutdowns. Tesla’s profitable quarter comes just a day after Detroit-based rival Ford reported a $2 billion first-quarter loss and forecast losing another $5 billion in the current quarter as the coronavirus pandemic hits demand. General Motors suspended its dividend and share buybacks and will report earnings May 6. How Tesla fares in the current quarter and the remainder of the year will be an important test of the company’s durability. If Tesla can limit its losses, or even continue its profit streak and outperform legacy automakers, it will be in a stronger position to take sales from rivals weakened by the coronavirus disruption. Tesla produces a fraction of the cars of its rivals but has a much larger stock market value on expectations of tremendous growth. On the biggest disruptions to Tesla has been the government-ordered shutdown of its factory in Fremont, California, which sits idle since March 24 with stay-at-home orders running until at least May 31. On a conference call, Musk said he did not know when Tesla could resume production in California and called the state stay-at-home order a “serious risk” to the business. “To say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom!” The Tesla CEO doubled down on his stance, in response to a journalist’s tweet that quoted Musk’s remarks of calling the stay-at-home orders fascist. “Hell yeah!!”, Musk said. He tweeted on March 6 that the coronavirus panic is dumb, but later offered to supply hospitals with free ventilators. Tesla said it could not predict how quickly vehicle manufacturing and global supply chains will normalize, saying it would revisit full-year guidance for net income and cash flow when it reports current-quarter results in 3 months. Musk said that while other carmakers were cutting back, Telsa was ramping up investment. He said Tesla might announce the location of a new U.S. factory in 1 to 3 months. Tesla in January said it expected positive quarterly cash flow and positive net income going forward. The company did not update its previous forecast of delivering half a million vehicles by the end of 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus has disrupted demand for cars, with automakers including Tesla forced to furlough workers and close factories. Vehicle demand in the United States has dropped as much as 80 % in some hard-hit areas in March, but some analysts said sales appeared to recover slightly in April. Tesla said it expected production at its vehicle factories in Fremont, California and in Shanghai, China to ramp up gradually through the second quarter. The company said operations at its Shanghai plant were progressing better than expected, with production rates of its Model 3 expected to hit 4.000 units per week, or 200.000 per year, by mid-2020. Company-wide automotive gross margins in the first quarter jumped to 25.5 %. But of the $5.1 billion in overall automotive revenue, nearly 7 % were due to regulatory credits; money Tesla receives from other automakers that buy the company’s carbon emissions credits to meet stricter regulation. Revenue from those credits nearly tripled from the last quarter. Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Nicholas Hyett also flagged that Tesla’s free cash flow was negative last quarter and improved only modestly on a yearly basis. “The immediate future doesn’t look like the ideal time to be selling premium priced cars, so perhaps it’s no surprise guidance has been paused”, Hyett said. Tesla said its free cash flow had been impacted by growing inventory due to coronavirus shutdowns. Tesla shut down the California factory just as it was ramping up production of its new crossover Model Y, which it expects to generate record demand and higher profit margins. Tesla said this car was already contributing profits, marking the first time in the company’s history that a new vehicle is profitable in its first quarter. Musk in particular appeared critical of the coronavirus-related restrictions in California as he agreed with a tweet suggesting the state’s hospitals were laying off staff and going bankrupt. He also referenced data saying hospitals in California “have been half empty”. Musk seemed to be supportive of the way the lockdown was being lifted in Germany as the European nation began to gradually and tentatively reopen. “Very sensible”, Musk tweeted, responding to a media report on how Germany was lifting its restrictions. +++ 

+++ NIO ’s shares jumped more than 14 % after it said it had secured a 7 billion yuan ($989 million) investment in Nio China, a new entity controlled by the Chinese electric vehicle maker. The new investment will will smooth its cash flow and guarantee future product developments, chief executive William Li told, adding it will not impact its existing partnerships with Changan and GAC or the ownership structure of its New York-listed company. The investors include state-controlled Hefei Construction Investment Holding, CMG-SDIC Capital Management and Anhui High and New Technology Industrial Investment. Nio makes ES8 and ES6 electric SUVs in the eastern city of Hefei with state-owned JAC. The plant has capacity to build 120.000 cars annually. Nio sold 20.500 cars last year. Li said the coronavirus epidemic had an impact on Nio’s supply chain and sales in the first quarter but said the negative impact had passed. Nio delivered 3.838 vehicles in the first 3 months of this year and sales and production were recovering in March compared to February. In a statement, the firm said Nio will inject its core businesses and assets in China, which are valued at 17.77 billion yuan, into Nio China and invest 4.16 billion yuan in it. Nio will hold 75.9 % of the new firm, and investors the rest, once the transactions are completed. “Today’s deal removes near-term solvency risk surrounding Nio and likely means investors can refocus on things like volumes and margins”, analysts at Bernstein said in a note. The headquarters of Nio China are planned in the Hefei Economic and Technological Development Area. Nio would consider expanding capacity in Hefei if sales demand grows. In February, Nio said it signed framework agreements with the Hefei city government to raise funds in excess of 10 billion yuan. Nio plans further developments along with the Hefei government, Li added, but did not give further details. Nio delivered 1.533 vehicles in March; more than double the figure in February. As of March 31, Nio’s cumulative deliveries had reached 35.751 vehicles. The carmaker said gross margin improvement is one of its top objectives in 2020. Last year, its gross margin was negative 15.3 %, with net loss standing at $1.62 billion. In an earnings call in March, Li said the gross margin will turn positive in the second quarter and reach a 2-digit level by the end of the year, as the carmaker has been optimizing the supply chain, winning a better deal with battery producer CATL, and reducing manufacturing costs by ramping up production. +++ 

+++ How important is the NURBURGRING ? To enthusiasts, the lap times automakers set there are ammunition for online rants and raves; an easy number to whip out in the heat of an online argument. To automakers? Well, it depends on which ones you ask, and if you ask Volkswagen, you might be surprised by the answer. VW’s tech chief Matthias Rabe has thrown some shade at the iconic track. Rabe believes the circuit’s reputation is exaggerated. “It’s not the Nürburgring itself, it’s to sort the best balance on both the circuit and the nice country roads leading to it”, Rabe told. He added that VW developed the new Golf GTI to be pleasant to drive at the track and on the way home. Less than 4 years ago, VW had a different attitude about the track. That’s when the company took its Golf GTI Clubsport S to break its own record for a production front-wheel-drive car. It completed a lap in 7 minutes and 47.19 seconds. While Rabe may not hold Nürburgring in high regard, the track still plays an important part in vehicle development. Automakers and suppliers from around the world continue to flock to the track to test and develop new technologies and vehicles. And VW is no stranger there, either. Video from last week showed VW at the track during the track’s Industry Pool period with the new Golf R lapping the track with the likes of Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, and others. The track will remain a mecca for automakers, suppliers, racers and enthusiasts for the foreseeable future. Not even the coronavirus pandemic has quieted the green hills that surround the track, and while it may be losing a bit of its relevance, it still has a vibrant history and bright future. +++ 

+++ With many parts of the United States still battling the coronavirus pandemic, ONLINE car shopping has jumped in popularity. Both used and new vehicle dealerships are having to think up ways to retain sales while their showrooms are closed. For Karen Murphy of Elgin, Illinois, the coronavirus meant she had to start shopping for a car online and ultimately purchased a Jeep over the phone and through email. Later in the day, the SUV was delivered to her home. This is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon throughout the country. Auto manufacturers such as General Motors, FCA, Ford and Toyota all offer online buying and home delivery options for customers. As dealerships operate as independent businesses, they must sign up to participate in an automaker’s online ordering program. GM has been operating its ‘Shop. Click. Drive’ service since 2013 and in recent months, user traffic to the site has increased 2 to 4 times. The move to online car shopping has prompted Cadillac to launch the ‘Cadillac Live’ website that allows customers to watch live presentations of the brand’s vehicles. It’s not just big automakers turning their attention online. Those in the market for a used car also have options. Companies such as Carvana allow you to search through used car listings and view vehicles through 360-degree images. Shoppers can buy the car they want and have it quickly delivered to their home. Some dealerships have introduced their own systems. New York City’s Paragon Honda has started offering deliveries of new cars alongside its existing service of home pickup and delivery of cars for service. Shifting online has allowed dealerships like this to survive and avoid having to close due to stay-at-home orders. Many people in the industry believe the shift in the way people purchase new and used cars will be permanent. +++ 

+++ POLESTAR is shedding more light on the safety features of the upcoming 2 EV, the brand’s challenger to the Tesla Model 3. The battery pack of the Polestar 2 is fully enclosed in an aluminum case and housed within the floor structure of the CMA platform, reducing this way the risk of damage and stiffening the body but also protecting the occupants in case of a collision. One of the most characteristic safety features of the new Polestar 2 is the Severe Partial Offset Crash block. It’s a solid aluminum block mounted on each side of the firewall’s bottom edges and is there to stop the wheels and other objects from intruding into the cabin and towards the battery pack during partially offset frontal collisions. Polestar has also designed a new Front Lower Load Path to increase protection in the absence of an internal combustion engine, keeping the occupants and the battery pack safe from more direct frontal impacts, like hitting a pole. “Safety is of paramount importance for Polestar”, said Thomas Ingenlath, chief executive officer. “We are directly linked to Volvo and with that comes their famous reputation for outstanding safety technology. So of course, Polestar cars are designed to be among the safest in the world and we are really proud of that”. Like with every new EV sold in the EU, Polestar has designed a distinctive Acoustic Vehicle Alert System for the new Polestar 2. The Polestar 2’s tunes are described as “recognizable, non-intrusive and natural-sounding”. “We deliberately did not want Polestar 2 to sound like a robot or symphonic spaceship”, said Thomas Ingenlath. “We wanted very natural, subtle sounds that simply let pedestrians know the car is moving. At the same time, we wanted Polestar 2 to sound slightly unique and become identifiable as a Polestar, while remaining relatively simple”. Another first is the fitment of inner-side airbags to the front seats as standard in all markets, adding an extra layer of protection for the inner limbs of the front passengers. The Polestar 2 will also debut a new generation of active safety systems, which will make their way into other Volvo models in the near future. This includes the Pilot Assist, which assists with acceleration, braking and steering at speeds up to 130 km/h. The new Polestar 2 is priced from €59.800 in the Netherlands. The China-made EV offers a combined 408 hp and an EPA-estimated 442 km of driving range. The first examples of the Polestar 2 will be special Launch Edition models destined to reservation holders. +++ 

+++ RENAULT is considering cutting the number of subcontractors it uses to develop car models in its engineering division potentially saving the carmaker between €100 million to €200 million, 2 sources close to the company said. Renault was already struggling before the coronavirus crisis hit sales and brought production to a halt. In February, the group reported its first loss in 10 years on faltering demand and lower income from its alliance partner Nissan. It is due to outline some €2 billion in cost cuts from mid-May, alongside a joint strategy update with Nissan on how to reboot their partnership, as the company struggles with shrinking margins. The carmaker, which is 15 % owned by the French state, has been put under more pressure by the pandemic. Renault’s interim chief executive Clotilde Delbos is overseeing the first wave of cost cuts before former Volkswagen executive Luca de Meo joins as CEO in July. Delbos has said the government aid would not impinge on her “no taboo” pledge to find savings, including by shutting plants or cutting jobs. Renault’s engineering business, led by former PSA executive Gilles Le Borgne since January, is expected to be central to the cost cutting plan. The number of subcontractors that work with Renault in the department could be cut to 4 or 5 from around 15 now, the sources said. “There would only be a handful of big sub-contractors left to share some 80 % of Renault’s needs, but who would be in a position to make broader, more competitive offers”, a source said. As part of cost-cutting, Renault has already ditched its main passenger car joint venture in China, and has also made real estate disposals. The European Commission approved a €5 billion loan guarantee to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The Commission, which oversees competition policy in the European Union, has temporarily eased its rules to allow EU countries to support their economies that are set to go into recession as a result of lockdown measures. The Commission had already approved a general French guarantee scheme allowing 70 % loan coverage in March. The Renault plan was submitted separately as the French state provides loan coverage of 90 %, the Commission said. The guarantee is subject to certain restrictions, such as that it cannot support a loan exceeding 25 % of Renault group’s 2019 turnover and that it last no more than 6 months. +++ 

+++ TESLA has shared insight into its British customers’ buying habits, giving a glimpse at how the online-only retailer’s business model works. While Tesla operates a handful of showrooms throughout the UK, all cars must be ordered through the company’s website. As such, 3 quarters of customers choose to do this in their own homes, according to the company. Of these, nearly a fifth will do so on a mobile phone or tablet, Tesla says. The stats provide insight into the potential of retailing cars online: in 2018, it was revealed that one in 10 car dealerships had closed over a 7-year period, with forecasters warning that half of all forecourts could shut by 2025. To make buying online as easy as possible, Tesla says orders can be made in less than 60 seconds and claims that its fixed pricing structure means no haggling is needed in order to make a sale. In some countries, more than half of sales are completed without a prior test drive. This is most common in the Netherlands and Germany, says Tesla and is made possible by its returns policy: buyers can bring back their car within 7 days or 1.000 miles with no questions asked and a full refund given. Tesla has also revealed its busiest times of the week for sales: peak times in Europe tend to occur between 3pm and 6pm, with 4pm seeing activity spike. Tuesday is the most popular day for buying cars, closely followed by Wednesday. The company says its Danish customers are the most likely to buy in the evening, while Finnish buyers are the most likely to place orders in the morning. Norway (where electric cars have seen huge levels of uptake thanks to government incentives) has the highest percentage of orders placed on mobile devices. The company’s line-up currently consists of the Model S, Model X and Model 3, with the new Model Y and second-generation Roadster sports car both claimed to arrive later in 2020. Other models in the pipeline include the Tesla Semi truck and the controversial Cybertruck pick-up. +++

 

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