Newsflash: Audi schiet Bram Schot’s plan voor een elektrische A8 af

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+++ ALFA ROMEO will be pulling the plug on the Giulietta before the end of the year. The compact hatchback will not get a direct replacement, as the Italian brand will focus on better-selling SUVs instead. The brand’s product marketing boss Fabio Migliavacca told that the Giulietta should be phased off at the end of 2020. “Giulietta is expected to finish its life at the end of this year. The trend is to have SUVs in the C-segment, so the Tonale will be the replacement for Giulietta”, he said. Despite the higher ground clearance compared to the hatchback, the high-riding vehicle is understood to be a proper driver’s car. “We don’t expect driving dynamics to be a weak point for the Tonale”, added Migliavacca. Made at the Piedimonte San Germano factory in Italy’s Lazio region since 2010, the Giulietta is a challenger to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Renault Megane, Opel Astra, Peugeot 308 and other compact hatchbacks. It’s available with several small petrol and diesel engines that can be connected to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Sales of the model peaked in 2011, with 78.911 units shipped across Europe. Last year, however, only 15.690 Giuliettas were delivered. The segment’s leader, the VW Golf, saw 493.899 sales in 2011 and 410.779 last year, while sales of the Ford Focus reached 292.427 and 224.401 examples in 2011 and 2019, respectively. Previewed by the Tonale Concept, the compact SUV has already leaked several times, revealing the sporty styling. The vehicle will probably premiere in its production form in the first half of 2021 and will become Alfa Romeo’s first model to pack a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Likely shared with the Jeep Renegade and Compass, it will consist of a 1.3-liter turbo-4 petrol engine and electric motor delivering a combined output of 190 hp and 240 hp. +++ 

+++ Racing Point Formula 1 team owner Lawrence Stroll says that the planned change to the ASTON MARTIN identity in 2021 will bring “pressure and expectation”. Stroll’s involvement in Aston Martin was first announced in January, but the formalities of his investment were only completed this week. The renaming of Racing Point is at the heart of his future marketing strategy that he has laid out for the British sportscar manufacturer and Stroll sees it an opportunity for the Silverstone team to take a step forward. “The group of men and women at Silverstone are true racers and their determination and spirit is one of the main reasons I invested in the Formula 1 team”, he said. “After 30 years, they deserve this opportunity to represent this legendary brand. We are continuing to invest in the team to give everybody the resources required, and we will see the benefit of those efforts this year as Racing Point. “With the Aston name comes more pressure and expectation. We will need to be competitive from the outset. But I have no doubt the team at Silverstone will rise to the challenge and do the Aston Martin name proud”. He added: “A brand with the pedigree and history of Aston Martin needs to be competing at the highest level of motorsport. I think it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in recent memory in F1 and it’s incredibly exciting for all stakeholders in the sport, especially the fans. I can’t think of a better name for an F1 team. The global spotlight of F1 is second to none, and we will leverage this reach to showcase the Aston Martin brand in our key markets”. Stroll said that the team has had to adjust to the restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 outbreak. “I don’t think there is any area of life or business that hasn’t been touched by this devastating pandemic and the racing community is certainly adapting as best it can.”Of course, as racers, we are all very frustrated not to be competing, but we all understand the bigger picture in this global fight and so we stay at home. The team is also supporting Project Pitlane to help accelerate the production of ventilators. “In the meantime, we can rely on video conferences to keep our plans for 2020 and 2021 moving forward. I am committed to F1 with a long-term vision and this is just a temporary pause in the journey”. +++ 

+++ China ’s DONGFENG MOTOR GROUP is reviewing a deal with PSA to cut its stake in the French carmaker after a fall in share prices sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. PSA agreed to merge with Italian-American rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in December to create the world’s 4th biggest carmaker by sales volume. Dongfeng had agreed to lower its 12.2 % stake in PSA by selling 30.7 million shares to the French firm to help smooth this process. The stake being was worth around €680 million and the sale will leave Dongfeng holding around 4.5 % of the merged PSA-FCA group. However, in an earnings call with investors a Dongfeng official said that the Chinese company was reviewing this. “There are possibilities that the stake sale plan will change. We are evaluating the issue”, the official said. “This is closely related to their (PSA’s) merger talks with FCA, so we are also in close talks with them”, the official said, without elaborating on how its stake plan will change. Dongfeng did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters, while PSA and Fiat Chrysler both declined to comment. Dongfeng and PSA plan to cut jobs at Wuhan-based DPCA and reduce its number of car plants to try to make the joint venture more profitable. PSA and FCA said in December they expected their deal, which needs U.S. regulatory approval, to close in 12 to 15 months. +++ 

+++ BMW and Audi will adopt different strategies for electrifying their FLAGSHIP SEDANS . BMW’s next-generation 7 Series will be available with a full-electric drivetrain in addition to plug-in hybrid, gasoline and diesel versions, CEO Oliver Zipse said on March 18 at the automaker’s annual accounts press conference. The electric 7 series would be a competitor to the Tesla Model S and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQ S expected to launch in the middle of the next year. Zipse did not give a timeline for the rollout of the new 7 series. Production of the 7 Series EV is expected to begin in the second half of 2022 and be launched first in China and Europe. Audi is backing away from its initial idea of making its next-generation A8 range-topping sedan a battery-electric vehicle. Instead the A8 will have a plug-in hybrid version as an electrified option. Audi development chief Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler said the automaker decided against a battery-powered A8 after intensive discussions. “We will instead expand the driving range of our plug-in hybrid to beyond 47 km”, Rothenpieler told. Audi will focus on full-electric SUVs because sales of large sedans are not showing growth while SUVs/crossovers have increasing volumes, he said. Audi’s outgoing CEO Bram Schott had told shareholders at the automaker’s annual meeting in May 2019 that the next A8 might only be offered as a full-electric vehicle. Former BMW executive Markus Düsmann replaced Schott as Audi CEO on April 1. Large sedans such as the 7 Series and A8 make up a small share of automakers’ sales but they are important as halo cars and technological flagships. Global sales of the 7 Series fell just over 10 % in 2019 to 50.550 vehicles last year, representing only 2.3 % of BMW’s retail volumes. Sales of the A8, whose latest generation launched in late 2017, rose by 11 % to 22.300, helped by a flattering comparison to a weak 2018 when the brand suffered from WLTP-related homologation problems across its lineup. The Mercedes S Class is the upper-premium sedan leader. Its sales fell 8 % to 71,700 in 2019. Tesla does not break out sales of its Model S. The company reported combined global sales of 66.771 units of its Model S and Model X last year; down from 99.475 in 2018. +++ 

+++ In FRANCE , car registrations dropped by more than 72 % in March due to the corona virus outbreak and lockdown ordered by authorities to fight the epidemic spread, France’s car industry association CCFA said. Car registrations fell by 73.4 % last month at PSA. At Renault, registrations were down 71.6 %. Car registrations dropped by 34.1 % in the first quarter of the year. There were 62.688 registrations in March with 22 selling days compared to 21 in March 2019. The French government put in place strict limits on movement and commerce across the country on March 16, including on dealerships, effectively ending auto sales. Even before that, residents had been advised to work from home and avoid unnecessary travel and contacts. The lockdown in France has been extended until April 15. All brands showed steep declines in France for the month. The only volume brand that posted a drop of less than 50 % was PSA’s upscale DS, with sales down 38 % from March 2019. Other brands that fared relatively well included Mini, down 50 %; Kia, with a drop of 53 %; and Toyota and Hyundai, each with a drop of 57 %. Brands that lost the most volume included Opel, down 89 %; Jeep, down 85 %; and Fiat, Seat and Suzuki, each down 82 %. PSA’s group sales fell by 73 %, with Peugeot down 69 % and Citroen 77 %. Renault brand sales fell by 69 % and Dacia 80 %. Volkswagen Group lost 79 %, with Volkswagen brand falling 81 %, Audi falling 76 % and Skoda down 75 %. BMW brand sales fell 68 % and Mercedes 72 %. Ford lost 80 % of sales, and Nissan 75 %. Volvo sales dropped by 61 %. +++

+++ GAC ‘s joint ventures with Toyota and Honda are aiming for a big boost in annual China sales to a million vehicles each by 2025. For its venture with Toyota, that would represent a jump of 47 % from 2019 levels while for the venture with Honda that would be a 30 % surge. Vehicles made by the JVs are mostly sold under the Japanese brands. The state-owned automaker will also aim to sell 1 million units annually under its own brand by 2025, Feng Xingya, GAC’s general manager told. It was not clear when the plans were formed. For the current year, it expects industry-wide China auto sales to tumble 10 % due to the impact of coronavirus outbreak although it expects its sales, which include sales of its JV partners, to climb 3 %. The long-term plans come as the state-owned automaker expands manufacturing capacity. GAC Honda currently has annual production capacity of 770.000 vehicles while GAC Toyota is building new electric vehicle plants which will take its capacity to around 1 million vehicles per year. Those capacity figures, however, exclude potential overtime shifts. In 2019, when GAC Honda recorded a 4 % rise in China sales to 770.884 cars, its capacity utilization rate was around 119 %. GAC Toyota, which saw an 18 % jump in China sales to 682.008 cars was operating at 140 % of annual production capacity. “We can reach higher production by arranging extra shifts at current plants. Capacity will not be a big problem”, GAC chairman Zeng Qinghong told. Sales of GAC-branded cars tumbled 28 % to 384.578 units in 2019. For the year, GAC’s revenue tumbled 18 %, while net profit attributable to shareholders dropped 39 %. Asked about its money-losing venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, GAC executives said the automaker will explore more opportunities to export China-made vehicles to Southeast Asian countries. To meet government quotas for sales of new-energy vehicles, Zeng said the venture with FCA will also sell some models under the GAC brand, a strategy it is also employing at its joint ventures with Toyota and Honda. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , the bosses of Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler held a crisis call with chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss how to get production restarted. Carmakers have halted production at some sites as governments around the world have imposed lockdowns on their populations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess last week said the carmaker might have to cut jobs if the pandemic is not brought under control as it is still spending about €2 billion a week. Participants in the crisis call said carmakers were particularly concerned about the supply chain. A Volkswagen source told the carmakers discussed the situation in the industry and how production could be started up again after the coronavirus crisis. There was agreement that an EU-wide approach to re-starting production was needed, the source said. “It doesn’t help if one country forges ahead and then everything in Italy or Spain is still at a standstill”, the source said, adding that such a scenario would result in gaps in the supply chain. The Volkswagen source said in the talks there had been agreement that a working group, including the government, industry and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, should be set up to develop standards for protecting employees when production is restarted, such as protective clothing, masks, distancing workers and frequent cleaning of sanitary facilities. The source said the carmakers also discussed the situation facing car suppliers and that while big original equipment manufacturers were well provided for in terms of liquidity, that was not the case for many suppliers. A source at Daimler said Merkel, Economy minister Peter Altmaier, Finance minister Olaf Scholz and Jörg Hofmann, head of the IG Metall trade union, had all taken part in the meeting with Daimler CEO Ola Källenius, BMW boss Oliver Zipse and Volkswagen CEO Diess. A survey showed Germany’s export-dependent manufacturing sector saw the steepest decrease in output in almost 11 years in March, as the coronavirus pandemic forced plant closures in Europe’s biggest economy. +++ 

+++ Global sales for HYUNDAI tumbled 21 % in March to an 11 year-low for the month as the coronavirus pandemic batters demand and forced several of its overseas plants to suspend production. The South Korean automaker reported provisional global sales of 308.503 vehicles for March. Hyundai closed its Montgomery assembly plant last month after an employee there tested positive for the disease, and also suspended production at plants in the Czech Republic and India over the virus. Plants in South Korea are, however, running at close to full capacity. Credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service said in a report last month it expects global sales for the auto industry to slide 14 % this year. It placed the ratings of Hyundai and its affiliate Kia on review for a possible downgrade. All of Hyundai’s overseas auto assembly plants have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak except its 4 in China. That means production is halted in the United States, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and India. As the situation stands now, the Czech Republic plant is closed from March 23 to April 13, the Turkish factory until April 12 and the Indian plant until April 14. Sister company Kia has also seen all of its overseas factories close or plan to close except one in China. The automaker said that its facilities in the United States, Slovakia and India are closed at the moment and it will halt operations at its Mexico plant for a week. Hyundai said it hopes to resume operations as soon as possible but is unsure whether that goal can be accomplished given local outbreak conditions and the lowered demand for cars. +++ 

+++ Hyundai is working with the Seoul Metropolitan Government to boost sales of HYDROGEN fuel-cell electric vehicles and beef up the city’s hydrogen infrastructure. Korea’s largest automaker signed an initial agreement with the capital city to install more hydrogen fueling stations and replace Seoul’s commercial vehicles with hydrogen-powered ones. The agreement would expand on Seoul’s original goal of supplying more than 4.000 hydrogen-powered cars and setting up more than 15 fueling stations by 2022, which the city announced during a forum in October. The company said the latest agreement does not cover the number of new vehicles or refueling stations that would be ultimately produced. Hyundai also hopes to expand from its original goal of providing more hydrogen-powered choices for regular automobiles, as well as targeting the commercial vehicle market. Hydrogen has been touted by some as the next-level energy source as global authorities have been applying restrictions on the use of fossil-fuel vehicles. Hydrogen cars take longer to charge than electric vehicles but can provide longer travel distances. Some experts have pointed to the possibility of using the eco-friendly energy source in operating commercial vehicles instead of passenger ones. Hyundai, which is relatively behind other global automakers in the race to develop electric vehicles, has instead turned its attention toward the hydrogen-powered vehicle market, with the support of the Korean government. It has been signing agreements with authorities and other auto companies to develop and supply more hydrogen batteries and vehicles. Under the latest agreement, Hyundai and Seoul will install more hydrogen fueling stations for commercial vehicles. At the moment, there are 3 hydrogen fueling stations in the city, with one at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, and the other 2 in Seocho District, southern Seoul, and Mapo District, western Seoul. Hyundai said installing new fueling stations will allow more hydrogen-powered cars to be used for commercial operations throughout the city. The company said it will provide discounts for its hydrogen-powered buses and passenger cars while enhancing services for users. The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to provide additional subsidies and tax benefits for hydrogen-powered vehicle owners. The municipal government vowed to prioritize replacing its old commercial vehicles with hydrogen-powered ones and will begin using hydrogen-powered buses for public transportation. Hyundai added the company and the city government will set up a joint committee to carry out the goals promised in the agreement. +++ 

+++ In ITALY , registrations fell by 86 % in March, as sales activity came to a halt during the month because of restrictions to counter the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s foreign automakers’ association said. Sales in March were 28.057 units. Registrations had fallen by 5.9 % in January and 8.8 % in February, when the virus was first detected in Italy. On March 8, large parts of Northern Italy including Milan were locked down to prevent the spread of the virus, halting most commercial activities, including car sales. The restrictions were extended to the rest of the country on March 10. The lockdown in Italy was initially imposed until April 3, but the government has said it will be extended until at least April 13. An official decree is expected. In a best-case situation, in which the lockdown is lifted by the end of April or early May, annual sales in Italy will fall 32 % to 1.31 million units. If the restrictions continue for a longer period and sales remain close to zero until the end of August, just over 1 million cars will be sold for the year, the group said. Michele Crisci, the head of the group, has asked the government for relief measures, including expanding current subsidies for cars that emit no more than 70 grams of CO2 per kilometer to cars that emit 95 g/km. Incentives for company cars should be increased, he said. Crisci said the requested measures should last until at least the middle of 2021 and would cost an estimated €3 billion. +++ 

+++ Europe-wide sales of LEXUS ’ hybrid SUV models have topped a quarter of a million this year, with more than a quarter of those racked up on British shores. It’s taken the company 15 years to hit the milestone, which it reached during February 2020. The company first entered the hybrid 4×4 market with the RX in 1998, but that car only adopted hybrid technology in 2005. Since then, more than 127.200 hybrid-powered RXs have been sold around the continent. Admittedly, that figure includes the larger seven-seat RX 450hL model, but it still makes the RX and its derivative the best-selling hybrid SUV Lexus makes. But perhaps that’s no surprise, as it is by far the oldest nameplate in the running. The slightly smaller NX model is the second-oldest, but that car came out in 2014, making it almost a decade younger. That it has reached more than 101.000 sales across Europe, then, is quite a testament to its appeal. The NX’s sales has sold fast then, but the smaller UX has performed just as well, if not better. Launched just last year, the smallest Lexus hybrid SUV has racked up almost 22.200 sales in Europe. If it carries on that path over the next 5 years, it’ll outstrip the NX’s total. In a statement, Lexus said: “Lexus was a motor industry pioneer in originating the concept of a luxury SUV with the original RX model in 1998. Since that ground-breaking innovation, it has introduced new models and constantly improved the performance of its market-leading, self-charging hybrid technology. With more vehicles to choose from and growing customer demand for electrified powertrains that offer superior efficiency, growth in annual sales volumes has accelerated”. +++ 

+++ Sales at India’s biggest carmaker MARUTI SUZUKI , which sells 1 in every 2 cars in the country, fell 16 % in the last fiscal year, hit by a slowing economy and lean demand as well as the coronavirus outbreak. Maruti, majority owned by Suzuki, sold 1.56 million vehicles during the year ended March 31, compared with 1.86 million in the previous year, the company said. The coronavirus outbreak has infected nearly 800.000 people across the world and caused more than 38.800 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. In India, 32 people have died from 1.251 confirmed infections so far. To curb the spread of the virus, the government last week sent the country into a 21-day lockdown, forcing automakers such as Maruti, Mahindra, Ford, Toyota and Hyundai to suspend manufacturing. Maruti sold 83.792 units in March, compared with 158.076 units a year earlier, but said the numbers were not comparable as it had to suspend operations from March 22 in the wake of the government order. “The shutdown started only last week, so the fall is still steep even if it is not comparable”, said Shashank Kanodia, an auto analyst at ICICI Securities. “If this is the trend, we can expect to be negatively surprised by all automakers”. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, an industry body, estimates that plant closures by automakers and auto part manufacturers are expected to lead to a daily revenue loss of more than 23 billion rupees ($305 million). In the last fiscal year, India’s Nifty auto index  tumbled nearly 44 % as slowing economic growth and the rising cost of car ownership made consumers reluctant to spend and auto sales hit record lows. In March, as financial markets across the globe were battered over fears of the impact of the virus on the economy, the auto index crashed 31.5 %. +++ 

+++ Radical environmentally friendly organic batteries are a “very promising technology” being evaulated by MERCEDES-BENZ for future use in road cars, but it’s at least 15 years away from mainstream production. The technology was previewed on the future-gazing Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept car unveiled earlier this year. Organic batteries are made from graphene-based organic-cell chemistry with a water-based electrolyte. That means they don’t use any rare or toxic materials or metals, making them entirely recyclable through composting. Early testing shows they also offer both a high energy density and quick-charging capability. Andreas Hintennach, Mercedes’ senior manager of battery research, said: “It’s a very promising technology. I’ve already seen it working in laboratories, where the results look really good, but we don’t see that it’s close to being used in production technology for now. It’s around 15-20 years away”. Mercedes-Benz has set a goal of becoming entirely carbon-neutral by 2039. To this end, it’s researching a number of technologies to reduce the environmental impact of battery production, particularly by cutting down the use of controversial materials such as cobalt and lithium. All current electric vehicles, including the EQ C, use lithium ion battery technology. Mercedes is working to improve the efficiency of lithium ion batteries (Hinnentach estimates that range could still be boosted by up to 25 %) while evaluating a number of future technologies that it aims to introduce within the next 5-15 years. That includes solid-state batteries, but while Hinnentach said this tech “opens a lot of doors and windows”, he cautioned that “it’s not a magic solution”. He added: “Solid state adds lots of positive aspects. It’s not a miracle but would be a huge step forward”. Hinnentach added that a major current problem with solid-state batteries is long charging times, making them unsuitable for road cars. Mercedes is aiming to first introduce them into production in an eCitaro bus in the second half of this decade. Other technologies under investigation by Mercedes include lithium-metal anodes, lithium-sulphur batteries and lithium-oxygen batteries. Hinnentach said that all offer different benefits and drawbacks in terms of efficiency, density and weight. He noted that different battery types would likely be used in different vehicles, with lithium-sulphur, which is lighter than lithium ion, potentially allowing for vehicles to be fitted with smaller battery packs. Asked if there is a risk in pursuing multiple technologies, Hinnentach said: “It is challenging, but you need novel ideas. We need to be very focused on the future. You do risk inefficiency by looking at multiple options, and not all will make it to market, but if you didn’t take risks in R&D by backing multiple horses, then you could end up losing. We’re also keeping the pipeline open for the future”. +++

+++ PORSCHE is going to refresh the Panamera. I expect to see this model debut before the end of the year. The changes to the updated Panamera are very minor. The facelift will introduce a range of really subtle differences in order to freshen up the Panamera and make it feel more in line with the 911. These changes will include slightly reshaped bumpers front and rear, as well as new lighting signatures for the lights all around. In front, there will be a slightly different front fascia with skinny, horizontal sections in the centre section. Similarly, there will be very minor adjustments to the lower section of the rear bumper and the taillights will get narrower. It doesn’t appear that Porsche plans to make any major design changes to the interior. There might be some new tech, though. The only change we can safely speculate is the replacement of the current model’s gear selector with the newer and smaller unit from the 911. Under the bonnet, Porsche might give the Panamera range minor updates. Some of Volkswagen Group’s 48 volt mild-hybrid tech would provide an easy way to boost fuel economy. Higher horsepower is possible, too. With the cancellation of events like the Paris Motor Show and Detroit Auto Show, it seems likely that Porsche will hold a virtual premiere. Sales, at least in some markets, should begin before the end of the year. +++

+++ RIVIAN has announced their highly anticipated electric pickup and SUV are also being impacted by the coronavirus. Rivian didn’t go into specifics, but said “The world has changed a lot in these last few weeks” so they’ve shuttered their facilities to protect their employees and slow the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, the “new reality is not without impact on our program timing”. Rivian went on to say they “expect some level of delay”, but are working to minimize the disruption to their launch schedule. Since the virus continues to spread, the company is hesitant to say how long the R1S and R1T will be delayed. However, they stated “As we better understand the extent of the impact, you will be the first to know”. While their facilities have been shuttered, the automaker hasn’t stopped work altogether. Instead, employees are simply working from home. The R1S and R1T were originally slated to be built at the plant in Normal, Illinois (a former Mitsubishi facility) late this year, but the delay makes that seem doubtful. +++

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , car makers have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak ravaging the entire world, as most of the 5 have suffered sales drops. Hyundai said its overseas sales fell 26.2 % on-year in March; the biggest drop since the global financial crisis in January 2009. Combined with sales at home, its overall sales stood at just 308.503 cars; down 21 %. Kia suffered an 11 % decrease in overseas sales, with overall sales dropping 6 % to 226.960 cars. GM Korea saw its overseas sales slide 21 % while overall sales decreased 12 % to 37.918 cars. Renault Samsung saw a whopping 84 % increase in domestic sales thanks to the release of new models, but its overseas sales plummeted, resulting in a 9.5 % rise in overall sales, which stood at 15.100 cars. Ssangyong’s sales declined by 29 % to 9.345 cars. In a bid to overcome the crisis brought on by the outbreak, carmakers are launching a big sale campaign. +++

+++ In SPAIN , new car sales in Spain fell 69 % to 37.644 in March, hit by the government-imposed lockdown to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Registrations by rental companies fell 75 %, demand from private customers dropped 68 % and fleet sales to companies declined 67 %, according to industry association ANFAC. Sales of all categories of electrified vehicles fared better than the market average, although their registrations were still down by double-digit figures. Sales of battery-electric cars declined 44 %. Registrations of plug-in hybrid vehicles were down 22 % and full hybrids dropped by 26 %. Sales of gasoline-powered cars dropped 74 % for a 55.2 % market share; down 7.9 percentage points from March 2019. Registrations of diesel-powered vehicles were down 68 % for a 24.8 % share; 2.1 percentage points lower than March 2019. Sales of all alternative fuel vehicles, including full-electric and hybrid models plus vehicles powered by liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas, dropped by 38 % but raised market share to a record 20 %. Some volume brands managed to keep the monthly decline under the 69 % market drop. Tesla had one of the best performances with a 37 % drop in registrations. Sales of Seat vehicles fell 46 % while Hyundai’s registration dropped by 47 %. Toyota sales were down 48 %. Mercedes and Porsche saw registrations decline by 52 %. Kia’s registrations fell 60 %. Within the Volkswagen Group, the VW and Skoda brands posted 68 % declines. Within the PSA Group, Opel registrations dropped 86 %, Peugeot sales slumped 79 % and Citroen was down 78 %. Renault brand sales were down 73 %, while sister brand Dacia suffered a 72 % decline. Within the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group, Fiat fell 78 %, Jeep registrations were down 77 % and Alfa Romeo dropped 75 %. Ford sales fell 82 %. Among premium automakers, BMW sales fell 80 % and Audi sales were down 76 %. Through March, Spanish registrations are down 31 % to 218.705. +++

+++ SSANGYONG is introducing a connected car technology system developed with LG U+ and Naver next month on some of its vehicles, the automaker said. The company said the new connected-car system dubbed “Infoconn” will be first installed in Korando and Tivoli but later will be available in all new models. It added that the system uses technology from Naver and the network of LG U+ to enhance the in-the-vehicle experience for drivers and passengers. SsangYong said Infoconn allows users to enjoy entertainment provided by Naver. The local automaker has been working on related technologies since the company and its Indian parent Mahindra joined the Open Automotive Alliance led by Google in 2015. +++

+++ In the UNITED STATES , there was little doubt that auto sales would plummet because of the coronavirus and that has panned out as automaker after automaker has posted significant declines. Starting with General Motors, the company delivered 618.335 vehicles in the first quarter which is a drop of approximately 7 % compared to last year. Much of that blame is being placed on March numbers as GM noted the entire industry “experienced significant declines” due to Covid-19. Despite the overall sales decline, there were a few bright spots as both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra saw gains. The Chevrolet Bolt was also up 36.1 % and the often forgotten Spark saw sales jump 45.6 % to 9.352 units. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales were down 10 % as the company said “strong momentum in January and February was more than offset by the negative economic impact of the coronavirus in March”. This caused sales to fall from 498.425 units last year to just 446.768 in the first quarter. Sales were largely down across the board, but pickups proved popular as Jeep sold 15.259 Gladiators and Ram truck sales climbed 7 % to 128.805 units. The only other model to post a gain was Dodge Durango which was up 5% to 17.805 units. Perhaps more importantly, Jeep sales fell 14 % in the quarter. Wrangler sales declined by 21 %, while the Renegade, Compass, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee were down between 13 % -32 %. Hyundai saw March sales drop a staggering 43 % compared to last year “due to the substantial business disruptions from the Covid-19 global pandemic”. This helped to push first quarter sales down from 147.585 units in 2019 to 130.875 units this year. Virtually all models saw quarterly declines, but the Ioniq was up slightly. The Palisade is also proving to be a strong seller, while the Venue is still relatively fresh out of the gate. Volkswagen also saw a huge drop in March sales as they declined 42 %. Sales were up 9.4 % for January and February, but these gains were more than wiped out by last month’s performance. The brand sold 75.075 vehicles for the quarter and that is down 13 % compared to last year. The only model to post a gain was the Golf R which was up 448 % to 789 units. On the premium side of things, Porsche sales fell 20.2 % for the quarter to 11.994 units. Every single model was down except for the all-new Taycan Turbo and Turbo S which racked up 221 deliveries. Infiniti moved 25.558 units in the first quarter which is a 25.5 % decrease from last year. On the bright side, sales of the QX50 were up 16.4 %. Nissan fared even worse as sales dropped 30 % to 232.048 units for the quarter. The only models to buck the negative trend were the Kicks (11.6 %), Pathfinder (4.3 %), Murano (33.7 %) and NV200 (1.8 %). Sticking with Japanese automakers, Mazda’s March sales were down 41.8 % and this pushed their first quarter sales down 4.5 %. Mitsubishi saw an even bigger drop as March sales were off 52 % and first quarter sales were down 15.5 %. A number of automakers haven’t posted their results as of this writing, but every company is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and are expected to post significantly lower March sales. +++ 

+++ EU consumers should be able to sue carmakers in their national courts if they have bought cars with Emission Cheat Devices installed, an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union said. The opinion, if followed by Europe’s top court, raises the possibility that VOLKSWAGEN could face masses of legal complaints from consumers across the European Union. The case followed a request from an Austrian court handling a claim by the Austrian consumer association VKI on behalf of 574 owners of manipulated vehicles. The court wanted to know if it had jurisdiction to hear the case. Advocate general Campos Sanchez-Bordona said the general rule was that applicants should sue in courts where the defendant is domiciled. However, in cases of tort there was also the possibility of suing in the courts of the place where a harmful event occurred. The VKI wants compensation for the difference between the price consumers paid for vehicles, and the value of a manipulated vehicle. It also wants coverage for future damages, such as a drop in the value caused by driving bans. The advocate general concluded the place where the damage occurred was the place where the car was bought. “A company can be sued by the purchasers of vehicles that it manipulated before the courts of the member state where the vehicles were purchased”, the court said in a statement. The court typically rules within 2 to 4 months of such opinions. Judges follow them in the majority of cases, but are not bound to do so. VW fitted 360.000 vehicles in Austria with defeat devices, according to a report by the European Commission. The company admitted in 2015 to using illegal software to cheat U.S. diesel engine tests, a scandal that has cost it more than $30 billion in vehicle refits, fines and provisions. Nearly all U.S. owners of affected cars agreed to take part in a $25 billion settlement in 2016 in the United States. The carmaker is in talks with Germany’s consumer protection organisation to seek a deal in a class action lawsuit there. +++

+++ VOLVO and auto tech supplier Veoneer will split their jointly owned software venture Zenuity as the Swedish carmaker focuses on developing autonomous driving software, the companies said. Volvo and Veoneer said last year they were conducting a strategic review of Zenuity, which develops software for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving, in part due to a wider introduction of self-driving cars being pushed further into the future. Under the new agreement, Veoneer will integrate the current Zenuity business focused on ADAS software, while Volvo will set up a new stand-alone company to take over Zenuity’s development and commercialisation of unsupervised autonomous drive software. “This means that we will buy today’s systems (ADAS) from a more traditional supplier relationship, but development-wise we now want to put our focus on the next generation of products”, Volvo chief technology officer Henrik Green told. Volvo’s part of Zenuity will focus on software that will be introduced in the next generation of cars based on Volvo’s SPA2 vehicle architecture platform, starting from around 2022, Green added. The agreement will see about 600 of the current 800 Zenuity staff and consultants transfer to the new Volvo Cars-owned company, with the remainder moving to Veoneer. Veoneer, which also makes radars and vision systems and expects 90 % of its available market to be for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the next decade, said the move would help it drive its business strategy more effectively. The loss-making company said it expected annual savings of around $30 – $40 million from the deal as well as a payment of around $15 million from Volvo, subject to final agreement. Analysts at Carnegie said the move was positive for Veoneer, and that its decision to focus on ADAS software was the right one. The split was expected to be finalised in the third quarter at the latest, the companies said. +++

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