Newsflash: Kia komt in 2021 met concurrent voor Tesla Model Y

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+++ BMW ‘s runout of new models will continue with an updated version of the X2, expected to arrive this year. The Mercedes GLA rival, which went on sale only 2 years ago, will benefit from some visual and technological enhancements to bring it into line with last year’s updated X1 and the all-new 1 Series. The spotlamp-style foglights will be replaced by more neatly integrated LED items. Expect to also see some changes to the signature kidney grille. BMW has been experimenting with bolder, larger grille designs with other models and it’s likely the double-kidney shape will be made to stand out more on the X2, as it was on the facelifted X1. Revisions to the front and rear light profiles, new colours and fresh wheel designs are also likely. We know from the updates to the X1 that new materials and upholstery options will be in store. Given that the current X2’s dashboard design and infotainment are now less current than the 1 Series’, there could also be some alterations of the design and software upgrades. Mechanical revisions should be more minor, though. Back in January, BMW revealed a plug-in hybrid version of the X1, but also announced the same powertrain would be offered on the X2 later this year. Likely to coincide with the facelift, the PHEV version will use a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine mated to a 95 hp electric motor on the rear axle and a 9.7 kWh battery pack. It claims a 50 kilometre all-electric range in the X1. +++ 

+++ CHINA is expected to promulgate further favorable policies to boost car sales as part of its efforts to stimulate domestic demand, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread globally, according to the nation’s top economic planner. Yan Pengcheng, a senior official at the National Development and Reform Commission, said boosting domestic demand will be a major task, especially demand for vehicles and home appliances. “We have a market that boasts 1.4 billion people, which means there is huge potential”, said Yan at a news conference in Beijing. Both the central and local authorities have come up with a number of measures in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak to help soften the impact on the auto industry. Last week, the finance ministry released a plan to extend subsidies for new energy vehicles until 2022 and such vehicles will remain exempt from the purchase taxes for another 2 years as well. Some megacities with license plate quotas are relaxing the limits. The government in Shanghai announced it would offer 40.000 more license plates this year, which would be up around one third from last year. Earlier this month, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, both in South China’s Guangdong province, said they would increase their quotas as well. Hangzhou, capital of East China’s Zhejiang province, decided in March to offer another 20.000 license plates. Over 25 cities in the country are providing some form of financial stimuli worth tens of thousands of yuan to car buyers if they place orders on certain models or brands, usually those produced locally. The moves are helping reinvigorate the market as the pandemic is coming under control domestically. A total of 1.43 million vehicles were sold in March; down 43.3 % from the same month last year, but 4.5 times more than in February, when the coronavirus spread was at its peak. China’s new energy vehicle giant BYD delivered 30.599 vehicles in March, around two-thirds the total for the same month last year, but more than 6 times the figure of February. Statistics from the China Passenger Car Association show the rebound is continuing in April. In the first week, carmakers on average sold 22.700 vehicles per day, with the figure rising to 40.700 in the third week. “In China, we are beginning to see recovery in vehicle sales and customers are returning to our showrooms”, Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement. “Our joint venture plant in Changshu, Jiangsu province, has been in operation since the middle of February”, it said. As of mid-April, all the carmaker’s dealerships had reopened. International carmakers and suppliers have reiterated their confidence in the long-term prospects of the Chinese auto market. General Motors sold 461.716 vehicles in the first quarter in China; down 43.3 % year-on-year. But the carmaker is steering back toward normal operations. “Despite the challenge at the moment, our commitment to China has never wavered”, GM China president Julian Blissett said when he visited a Cadillac plant in Shanghai in early April. “I firmly believe that China’s inner strength can overcome any challenge and sustain vitality over the long term”, he said. Vitesco Technologies, the powertrain business of German auto supplier Continental, is to build a research and development center in North China’s Tianjin. The company inked the deal with local authorities last week and the new center, scheduled for completion in 2021, will specialize in technologies for hybrid and electric powertrains. The facility is expected to comprise systems, software, electronics, mechatronics and testing engineers and attract talents from all over of the world. “The new center in Tianjin further expands our development capacities right in the center of where we expect the biggest electrification growth over the next years”, Thomas Stierle, head of the electrification technology business unit of Vitesco Technologies. The company has more than 10 years of experience in electrification. Its products range from 48 volt mild hybrid technologies to key components like power electronics, charging, battery management systems and electric axle drives. +++ 

+++ Mercedes-Benz maker DAIMLER has seen business stabilise in China after the country ended coronavirus lockdowns, a senior manager at the German carmaker told. “In China alone, we sold around 50.000 vehicles again in March. That makes us confident”, said Markus Schäfer, managing board member for production. Mercedes-Benz delivered a total of 477.400 passenger cars worldwide between January and March. The report did not say how many of those went to customers in China, who bought 694.200 Mercedes-Benz cars last year; 29 % of total sales. Starting Monday, cars are set to roll off Daimler’s assembly line again in Germany. The Sindelfingen and Bremen passenger-car plants will start production of E- and S- Class vehicles. China is the largest market for the S-Class built in Sindelfingen. Normally several hundred vehicles roll off the assembly line in Sindelfingen every day. “We won’t reach this number right away when production starts next week”, said Schäfer. Daimler reported a plunge of nearly 70 % in first-quarter operating profit last week due to the pandemic and warned that the cash flow it uses to pay dividends would fall this year. +++ 

+++ Beatrice Foucher, a veteran Renault-Nissan alliance executive, was named boss of DS in January. She is taking over PSA Group’s premium brand at a pivotal time. PSA’s planned merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would add a struggling premium brand to the combined company, Alfa Romeo, which could compete with DS for resources and attention. DS itself is just emerging from a sales drought that followed its transition into a stand-alone brand in 2014. When asked, where the DS brand fits into a merged PSA/FCA, Foucher said: “The first key point for me is that DS is a growing brand with great success in Europe, where sales increased by 17 % last year, even with only 2 cars. There’s no question about the future of DS. In addition, DS, like the FCA premium brands, will benefit from the merger because we will have a bigger basket of technology to choose from. And we know that technology development costs a lot, so having more brands to support that is a great opportunity for DS, as well as FCA’s premium brands. In the near future, the ambition we have is to be present in the premium D segment in the markets where th sedan silhouette is relevant. If we look at the figures, 25 % of the global premium market is sedans, including in China and in Europe. That was the driver for DS to offer this body type as the third car in our new lineup after the 3 Crossback and 7 Crossback SUVs. The 9 will be built only in China in the Shenzhen factory which was reopened in late February. What we need to do now is accumulate the parts we need for the sedan to be produced, including components from suppliers that were halted due to the virus as well as some suppliers from outside the country. The ambition we have is that the 9 will be launched in the second half of this year. We know the battle in China is very tough for all automakers, including domestic ones. We will continue to operate there, producing and selling cars. Nothing will change except that PSA decided to sell the Shenzhen plant and operations to another company, the Baoneng Investment Group. We will continue our business there, because we believe in the potential of the cars we have in our lineup”. When asked what percentage of DS overall sales will be electrified cars, Foucher said: “For the 7 Crossback E-Tense it’s 30 %. On the full-electric 3 Crossback we are running at 18 %, which is also huge. We anticipated between 15 % and 18 % for thus car, so the battery sourcing is secured with this kind of mix”. +++

+++ EUROPE ‘s 5 largest automotive markets edged past China in electric vehicle registrations in the first quarter of 2020, as China battled the outbreak of the coronavirus and imposed shutdowns countrywide, according to a study by PwC and its strategy consulting subsidiary Strategy&. Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain collectively registered 79.300 full-electric vehicles between January and March; narrowly edging past the 77.256 in China, the study found. Unit sales more than doubled in Europe in that period, compared with the first quarter of 2019. In China, sales fell by more than half in the quarter because of the lockdown. The trend could see a reversal, as sheltering and lockdown requirements are expected to remain in place in most of Europe throughout the spring and restrictions in China are gradually lifted. More than 80 % of China’s almost 84.000 confirmed coronavirus cases have been in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital. The outbreak in the province peaked in mid-February; according to official statistics, there are now almost no new infections occurring. That presents an opportunity for China to regain its position as the top-selling market for EVs. “The Chinese government is again introducing incentives for electric vehicles (both subsidies and tax breaks) and China also has the production capacity, so we believe that China will again take the lead in registrations later this year”, Felix Kuhnert, global automotive leader at PwC, said in an interview. Over the next few years, “it will be a neck-to-neck race between China and Europe, with the winner determined by political will, improvements in charging infrastructure, and quality and availability of electric vehicles”, Kuhnert said. When hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles are added into the calculation, alternative energy vehicle already have the highest market share in Europe, the study said. Many auto market segments typically rely on just a handful of models for the bulk of their sales. In the U.S., the battery-electric category is dominated by the Tesla Model 3, with Toyota’s Prius Prime leading in plug-in hybrids. Across Europe, Renault’s Zoe is by far the best selling battery powered vehicle, ahead of the Peugeot e-208 and the Volkswagen e-Golf, while Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV was the best-selling plug-in hybrid, according to the study. In Europe, government support for alternative power vehicles could mean that PwC’s earlier forecast heading into 2020 for 11 million electric passenger vehicle sales globally is achievable, Kuhnert said. The broader car industry will shrink by anywhere between 10 % and 40 % this year, the study estimates. “We will see a cash for clunkers scrapping incentive program in Europe, but with an ecological element”, Kuhnert said, referring to the U.S. government-funded effort of a decade ago to spur car sales. That could improve environmental factors, such as air quality, and also help automakers meet their carbon-emissions targets, he said, which in turn could “persuade consumers and voters that such incentives not only help the car industry in the long run, but also have very immediate benefits for society as a whole”. +++ 

+++ As FERRARI ramps up its ‘Back on Track’ scheme to restart production following the coronavirus outbreak, it is testing what appears to be a drop-top version of the brand’s new SF90 Stradale hypercar testing in Maranello. Like the recently launched 812 GTS and F8 Spider, any Spider version of the SF90 can be expected to pack the same powerplant as its hardtop sibling. That means underneath all the camouflage will be a 1.000 hp hybrid powertrain that combines Ferrari’s trademark twin-turbocharged V8 with a trio of electric motors for 4-wheeldrive and a 0-100 kph time of 2.5 seconds. Such statistics would make the SF90 Spider the most powerful production convertible on sale; a title only recently claimed by the 800 hp 812 GTS. Ferrari’s most powerful convertible to date, the 2017 LaFerrari Aperta, produced 950 hp. As is the case with all convertibles, however, the SF90 Spider will likely incur a slight performance penalty as a result of its roof mechanism. Expect a 0-100 kph time of around 2.6 seconds and a top speed of around 330 kph. It should be able to cover up to 25 kilometres on electric power alone at speeds of up to 135 kph. A date for the SF90 Spider’s unveiling is yet to be confirmed, but will likely not take place before the end of the year, given the extensive delays brought by the ongoing pandemic. The Italian company launched 5 new models in 2019 and has plans to unwrap a further 2 before 2020 is out. Commercial chief Enrico Galliera recently told: “We’re always planning to do something more and we intend to make some news. We will launch 2 new models by the end of the year”. It remains to be seen if these planned unveilings will go ahead as scheduled, but Ferrari has confirmed plans to restart production on 3 May and could well go ahead with its expansion. +++ 

+++ FORD announced plans to phase out the Fusion (Mondeo) in North America in 2018, but it appears the model isn’t going away completely. It will be replaced by a rugged wagon known as the Fusion Active. While nothing is official, Ford originally intended to do something similar with the Focus. The company planned to import the Focus Active from China, but the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese-made vehicles made them cancel those plans. As a result, the Focus is no longer offered in North America. Getting back to the Fusion Active, the model is slated to be based on the European Mondeo Wagon. However, it will be butched up to appear more-crossover like. This means we can expect plastic body cladding, an increased ride height and standard all-wheel drive. In essence, the Fusion Active will follow the same formula as the Subaru Outback. It has worked out pretty well for the Japanese automaker as the company sold over 180.000 Outbacks in the United States last year. Ford hopes the Fusion Active will be just as successful, although the last American automaker to try a rugged wagon didn’t find much success. We’re talking about the Regal TourX which is in the process of being phased out as Buick is transitioning into a SUV-only brand in North America. The Fusion Active should reach dealerships late next year and be equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is paired to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. A plug-in hybrid variant is also expected. +++  

+++ GENERAL MOTORS said the automaker has suspended its quarterly cash dividend on its common stock and its share buybacks to save cash in the face of the coronavirus crisis that has severely hurt global automobile sales. “We continue to enhance our liquidity to help navigate the uncertainties in the global market created by this pandemic”, said GM chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara. GM, which has been forced to shut some production in North America along with other car makers, had earlier said it has postponed work on at least half a dozen future models to conserve cash during the pandemic. GM as well as rivals Ford and Toyota have taken steps to reopen North American vehicle manufacturing operations in early May, but the move has met with opposition from the companies’ labor union that say it is “too soon and too risky” to reopen auto plants. The No.1 U.S. automaker also said it had extended a 3-year revolving credit agreement for $3.6 billion to April 2022. +++ 

+++ HONDA said it will extend a shutdown of all of its North American auto plants through May 8 and extend unpaid leaves for many salaried workers. Honda, which began its North American production shutdown on March 23, is extending its production halt by another week. The Japanese automaker also said it is extending a 2-week furlough for the majority of salaried and support associates at Honda operations by another week. +++ 

+++ Silk EV, a Uinted States based engineering and design company, is investing 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) in China over the next 5 years to produce the first ever sports car under FAW Group’s premium HONGQI brand. The company will set up a joint venture with FAW and build a manufacturing base to produce and assemble Hongqi’s S series sports cars, according to a memorandum inked via video conferencing. Silk EV is an automotive engineering and design company with operations in the United States, Italy and China. Before Hongqi, Silk EV had formed partnerships with brands like Bugatti, Porsche, Ferrari and Lotus, it said. Jonathan Krane, chairman of the US company, said the Jilin province, where FAW is headquartered, boasts a sound auto industry as well as an abundant reserve of professionals and he is confident in Hongqi’s sports car program. Hongqi made a splash when it showcased a sports car prototype at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany last September. The model, called the S9, boasts a maximum speed of 400 km/h and a 0-100 acceleration in 1.9 seconds. It is equipped with a newly developed V8T hybrid system with a maximum power of 1.400 horsepower. Hongqi also showcased an all-electric full-size SUV called the E115 at the show, with Level 4 autonomous driving and a 600 km mileage on a single charge. Jilin Governor Jing Junhai said the agreement shows the parties’ confidence and sincerity in deepening cooperation and marks a new stage for the first Hongqi sports car’s production. He added he hoped the parties will set up the joint venture as soon as possible to start work on the production line and experience center. He also urged the 2 sides to work on development, production and brand building for joint success. Hongqi, established in 1958, is one of the first Chinese car brands. FAW started a campaign in early 2018 to revitalize it, vowing to make it the No 1 automotive company in the country and renowned globally. Up to 17 new models are expected to be launched by 2025, including new energy models and SUVs, according to FAW. Last week, it broke ground on a new energy vehicle factory in Changchun, capital of Jilin province, which is expected to finish construction in 2022 and produce 200,000 vehicles annually. During the first quarter of this year, Hongqi produced 21.300 vehicles; a 74 % increase year-on-year, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Hongqi’s sales hit 100.000 units, double the target. The brand said it will strive to reach annual sales of 200.000 units this year, 400.000 units by 2022 and exceed 600.000 units by 2025. +++

 

+++ HYUNDAI ’s first quarter net profit dropped 42.1 % on year to 552.7 billion won ($500 million) as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted its global sales and created production bottlenecks. The automaker did beat expectations and it benefited somewhat from the weaker won, but it forecasts that the drop in second quarter results will be far greater as demand in major markets is set to remain weak. Hyundai announced that its revenue in the January to March period rose 5.6 % to 25.3 trillion won from 24 trillion won during the same months a year earlier. Financial data provider FnGuide predicted earlier that Hyundai would post 23.21 trillion won in sales for the quarter. Sales rose in the first quarter as a result of the favorable exchange rate and the increased sales of higher value products. The average exchange rate stood at 1,195 won per dollar in the first quarter, compared to 1,136 won in the same period last year. In the first quarter, Hyundai said it sold a total of 903.371 vehicles; down 11.6 % from 1.02 million units a year earlier. It is the first time since the third quarter of 2011 that Hyundai’s quarterly sale volume fell below one million units. Of the 903.371 cars sold in the first quarter, 42.9 % of them were SUVs and the vehicle type accounted for 38 % in the 1.02 million units Hyundai sold in the first quarter of 2019. SUVs are a relatively profitable vehicles as they offer a better ratio of perceived value to production cost. While Hyundai’s operating profit for the first quarter was up 4.7 % on year to 864 billion won, the company said the increase was only due to a one-time 105.6 billion won adjustment related to the establishment a joint venture with Aptiv. Excluding that one-off, Hyundai said its operating profit shrank 8.1 % on year to 758.2 billion won, as the company spent more on marketing for 3 new cars launched in the first quarter. FnGuide has predicted 709.6 billion won. In the first 3 months the year, Hyundai launched the Genesis GV80 SUV, the Genesis G80 premium sedan and the 7th generation Avante compact sedan, also known as the Elantra. The company had to halt production for a number of days in February due to a halt in the supply of wiring harnesses from China. The automaker also had to close all of its overseas factories except in China last month as the novel coronavirus spread to nearly all parts of the world. But Hyundai believes that the drop will be even more extreme in the second quarter as the coronavirus pandemic has started heavily affecting sales and production activities in major auto markets like North America, Europe and India. “From the Covid-19 outbreak, it is unlikely that we will see a V-shaped recovery moving forward”, said Hyundai chief financial officer Kim Sang-hyun in a conference call. “We are reviewing a number of various scenarios internally, but it is inevitable that earnings will take a hit as foreign markets’ dealership activities and factories come to a halt. We are focused on making our production schedule flexible and finding other means of car sales”. Hyundai said it will direct its production toward the domestic market to offset the sharply lower demand for new cars in other markets. The company said its car sales in Korea rose 10 % in March due in part to the popularity of newly-released models and the government’s discount on individual consumption tax for new car purchases. In other markets, Hyundai forecasts that sales declines will continue as a result of social distancing campaigns, factory closures and travel restrictions preventing people from buying new cars. As many of the major markets started to face the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, Hyundai said the impact of the global pandemic was not fully reflected in the first quarter. To minimize the impact of the sales and profit dip in the second quarter, Hyundai said it will continue to launch cars online and expand its non-face-to-face sales activities. The company is planning to stabilize its supply chain of auto parts with more sources and sell more higher-value products. +++ 

+++ KIA has confirmed it will launch an all-new electric crossover late next year, based on the Imagine concept from the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. Internally known as the Kia CV, it will act as a Tesla Model Y rivalling halo model, introducing the brand’s next-generation charging technology and all-new platform made specifically for an upcoming family of electric vehicles. It will be the first production vehicle built on the Hyundai Group’s brand-new E-GMP dedicated electric underpinnings. The crossover will also take advantage of Kia’s recent tie-up with electric expert Rimac to offer “incredible” performance, which will later trickle down to more mainstream models in Kia’s line-up. Steve Kosowski, of Kia America’s product strategy department, has confirmed that the CV will have a maximum range of “around 480 kiloetres” and offer a “sub 20 minute recharge time”. The crossover’s E-GMP platform will also feature the same 800 volt technology as the Porsche Taycan and will work with Ionity’s 350 kW fast charging network. Kia is keeping the rest of the E-GMP platform’s technical details and performance specifications a secret for the time being. However, I do know that the platform is scalable and has been designed to cover several segment and body styles. It will feature under the upcoming production version of the Hyundai 45 and Prophecy concepts too. The new car’s styling will take close inspiration from the Imagine concept. The production model should take the form of an unconventional C-segment SUV with a stylised interpretation of the company’s trademark “Tiger Nose” grille and a sharp, fastback-style rear end. During the launch of the Imagine concept at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Kia’s chief designer, Luc Donkerwolke, suggested that little would need to change between the show car and the production-ready crossover. He said: “I don’t see anything that’s really not feasible. There are some cost-related issues that have to be validated; but it hasn’t been done by designers who don’t understand how to build a car for production. The Imagine is not a free exercise. It’s not just a last minute car for Geneva. It has a purpose. This is more business than show. We are definitely not entertaining here, but actually communicating with our customers”. However, while it would be a ‘halo’ car, it wouldn’t become Kia’s outright flagship model. The Telluride SUV and K9 limousine (2 cars we don’t get here) are indicative of a global firm with different requirements for various markets. It will, instead, be the most technologically advanced Kia on sale, but not necessarily the largest or most expensive. While keen to refer to the car as an “emotional flagship”, Donkerwolke said that some of the Imagine’s design DNA is already seen in 2 of Kia’s European saloons: the rakish Stinger and more traditional 3-box Optima. Kia has also released some further details on its “Plan S” product strategy, in which the car based on the Imagine concept will play an integral role. Within the next 5 years, Kia plans to increase its line-up of battery electric vehicles from 2 to 11, while aiming to grow to a 6.6 % share in the global EV market (excluding China). The company also aims for eco-friendly vehicles to account for 25 % of its sales within the same period. Carlos Lahoz, Kia Europe’s marketing director, commented on the product strategy, saying: “It is important to make a statement. Every manufacturer needs a halo car that sets the pace for whatever is coming. We are going to launch 11 electric cars by 2025 and this is the first stepping stone to what the new Kia is going to offer to consumers”. Lahoz admitted that Kia is not a premium brand, however, and that it has no aspirations to become one. “We need to be faithful to our roots”, he said. “We are mainstream. But why do consumers need to pay premium prices to get state of the art technology?” +++

 

+++ After a 27 year run, LEXUS is pulling the plug on the GS. In a statement, the company said they “are constantly evaluating model mixes throughout our lineup”. As part of this process, they have decided to phase out their Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class competitor. The news has been rumored for awhile and Lexus stated “In the declining sedan segment, the GS has represented a small amount of sales in the last few years”. In 2019, the company only sold 3.378 units of the GS in the United States and that represented just 4 % of their overall passenger car sales. Lexus also noted the GS only grabbed 0.88 % of sales in the overall mid-size luxury segment. While it’s sad to see the model go, GS sales have been declining in the United States since 2015. The company sold 23.117 units that year, but sales fell to just 14.878 units in 2016. Afterwards, the model failed to break the 10.000 unit mark. However, the model I’ll miss most is the GS F. It boasts a naturally aspirated 5.0 liter V8 engine with 473 hp and 527 Nm. It’s connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission which sends power to the rear wheels. This setup enables the car to rocket from 0-100 kph in 4.7 seconds and onto an electronically limited top speed of 270 km/h. With the GS going out of production this summer, the Black Line Special Edition will serve as a sort of last hurrah for the model in the United States. A similar Eternal Touring Edition will also be released in Japan. +++

 

+++ MITSUBISHI said it expects 26 billion yen ($240 million) in losses for the fiscal year through next March, as sales plunge because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tokyo-based Mitsubishi, allied with Nissan, announced the revision to its earnings projection. The maker of the Pajero earlier forecast a profit of 5 billion yen ($46 million). It revised its sales projection to 2.27 trillion yen ($21 billion); down from 2.45 trillion yen ($23 billion). Demand for autos has plunged because of the outbreak at a far greater pace than the automaker had expected, despite cost-cutting efforts, it said. Mitsubishi’s dismal projection could foreshadow similar news from automakers around the world. Production at auto plants has been halted or scaled back and sales have sputtered. The auto industry is the pillar of Japan’s economy and the fallout is expected to be great, with the world’s third largest economy possibly headed to a recession. Mitsubishi’ 3-way alliance with Nissan and Renault was forged by Carlos Ghosn, who led it until his arrest over financial misconduct allegations in Tokyo in 2018. While awaiting trial, Ghosn skipped bail and fled to Lebanon late last year. +++

+++ NISSAN plans to slash the number of cars it produces at home in May by 78 % from last year, as the impact of the coronavirus shakes the troubled automaker which has already been struggling with falling sales. As global automakers reel from plunging sales amid lockdowns imposed in many countries to curb the spread of the virus, the hit is particularly severe for Nissan, whose profitability has been deteriorating as it grapples with the turmoil that followed the ousting of former chairman Carlos Ghosn. Nissan plans to manufacture around 13.400 vehicles next month, compared with nearly 61.000 units made in May last year. The cut represents a big hit to Nissan’s plant in Kyushu, southern Japan, which the automaker plans to operate on a single shift for much of this month and all of next month, due to a lack of demand for the Qashqai, according to the documents. Output will decline 70 % from initial plans to build around 44.800 units. In June, domestic production will be cut to 33.700 vehicles; a drop from around 63.700 units last year, and down 43 % from a previous plan for around 59.300. The automaker has stopped production at its plant in Tochigi, north of Tokyo, since early April, and plans to keep output suspended through the end of May. Periodic stoppages at Nissan’s Oppama plant in Kanagawa Prefecture have been common since earlier this month. The coronavirus pandemic has piled urgency on Nissan’s efforts to downsize, after 2 years of falling sales, deteriorating margins and depleting cash reserves has forced the company to restructure. Nissan’s management has become convinced that the company needs to be much smaller and its latest recovery plan due next month will likely assume a cut of 1 million cars to its annual sales target, senior company officials told earlier this month. Partner Mitsubishi, also suffering from a cut to demand for its cars, is planning to slash domestic output by nearly one-third over the next 2 months. As both Nissan and Mitsubishi struggle with tanking sales, production plans show one bright spot: Nissan is planning an increase in production of the Nissan Dayz minicar model, which Mitsubishi manufactures for Nissan for the Japanese market. +++

+++ The all new, fifth generation RANGE ROVER is in the first stages of testing before it hits the showrooms at the end of 2021, tasked with leading Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) out of the coronavirus-induced slump that’s expected to affect the global car industry for much of this year and beyond. Despite the closure of JLR’s production facilities and the paused launch of the new Defender, it’s understood that there will be no let-up in the development of either the Range Rover or the battery-electric replacement for the Jaguar XJ, which will also go on sale late next year. Pictures of a disguised prototype test vehicle show much of the stance of the new Range Rover, which is based on JLR’s Modular Longitudinal Architecture (MLA), will change. The front and rear tracks seem to be wider, it appears to have more prominent wheel arches and the prototype has rather less of a barrel-sided look than the current model. Even with the Mk5 model in disguise, it seems Land Rover’s design studio has managed to give the SUV an even more imperious and imposing look, which is crucial to the Range Rover’s commercial appeal. A close look at the pictures suggest that the ‘face’ of the new model is not so different from that of the current vehicle, marked out by the wide and deep grille and Velar-style slim headlight units. The company’s new flagship will replace the current Range Rover, which was launched back in 2012, and should give JLR a much-needed high profit-margin boost just as the global economy is expected to begin to emerge from the effects of the current lockdown. The 4th generation Range Rover has been a very strong product for the company, selling nearly 53.000 units globally last year; only a fraction down on sales in 2018. The Mk5 will again be sold in standard and long-wheelbase forms, but that’s where the direct comparisons with the current car end. The new model will be the first Land Rover built on an MLA structure that promises to transform JLR’s competitiveness. The new platform is expected to deliver a reduction in warranty and reliability problems as well as allowing software-over-the-air (SOTA) updates. MLA can also accommodate conventional internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric powertrains. Other advantages of the MLA’s SOTA technology could include reducing the need for dealer recalls, predictive servicing that allows dealer visits to be automatically scheduled and even user-based insurance schemes. Data generated by real-world use of MLA based vehicles will also help inform future model development, say insiders. Unlike today’s ageing Range Rover architecture, the new MLA platform has been designed from the outset as a ‘flex-fuel’ components set. The Mk5 Range Rover will make use of a BMW-sourced petrol V8 (which will be aimed at markets such as the Middle East and California) but little other information has leaked about the other combustion engine options. It’s known that JLR and BMW are working on developing electric motors that will be used by the MLA-based vehicles and are expected to be built at JLR’s Ingenium factory near Wolverhampton. The engine facility’s switch, at least partly, to the production of electric drive modules (EDMs) suggests that JLR might adopt other BMW sourced engines for the MLA platform. Considering the huge investment coming up for the planned Euro7 compliant diesels, oilburning engines could be a strong contender for a co-operative project between JLR and BMW. But the firm is unlikely to abandon its newly launched mild-hybrid Ingenium straight-6 petrol engine so soon, so expect that to also feature at the car’s launch. Plug-in hybrid versions of the Mk5 Range Rover are expected to have one electric motor on the rear axle as well as another embedded in the transmission. It has been claimed that the electrically driven rear axle will further improve the car’s off-road ability, because of the ability to finely meter out the torque. A pure-electric version of the Range Rover is also being considered. The model could have a battery of up to 100 kWh and electric motors directly driving the front and rear wheels. However, it’s expected that any electric Range Rover would be a limited-production model targeted at city users in Asian markets. The upcoming MLA-based Road Rover is likely to be the lead Land Rover electric car. The introduction of the MLA components set, however, and the need to completely refit the Solihull and Castle Bromwich factories, is costing JLR a considerable amount of money. According to records of a meeting between JLR chief financial officer Adrian Mardell and a number of investment banks on 31 January this year, the investment in the MLA last year was a massive £2.5 billion, although it was significantly higher the year before. Between October and December last year, JLR spent £892 million on new investments; slightly more than the cash profit made on vehicle sales over the same 3-month period. The rolling global shutdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good news for JLR, which had been greatly improving its financial position until the shutdowns in March. Although overall vehicle sales had fallen slightly in the last 3 months of last year (Jaguar was down 21 % year on year and Land Rover up 6 %), overall revenue was up and the company’s Project Charge and Charge+ strategies had made good headway in reducing costs. The upshot was that the company made a £372 million profit between October and December. Sales were also picking up again in China after the well-publicised troubles in 2018 and 2019. Chinese sales jumped 24 % in the last 3 months of last year, helping to offset a 10 % fall in Europe. Sales were down 12 % in the UK, but this was explained by some of the company’s lower-margin models being removed from the market, including some variants of Jaguar’s saloon models and E-Pace. According to Mardell, the European sales fall was mostly because sales of the I-Pace fell by 2.500 in the Netherlands following taxation changes by the government. There was, however, a significant upside earlier this year, when the launch of the Defender was imminent. Production of JLR’s most important new vehicle for years began in January and the model roll-out to showrooms was due to start last month. JLR hasn’t revealed how many Defenders it expected to build, but Mardell told bankers that orders had been “5 times” what they would have expected pre-launch. He added that around a million people had completed Defender configurations on the Land Rover website, when under normal circumstances “very few” people complete online configurations. The interest was cited as another reason JLR expected the Defender to be “super successful”. Another crucial new model, the plug-in hybrid Discovery Sport, will be revealed and go on sale in the coming weeks, but building sales momentum in the short term will be tough. Mardell had described this as a key model for JLR. “The Discovery Sport is our biggest seller and obviously the market response to it is going to be important”; the meeting’s minutes reveal. “Not only from a volume perspective, but also froma CO2 regulation compliance perspective over the next 12-24 months”. Mardell told bankers that around 5 % of JLR’s output is plug-in hybrid but that this is expected to increase by about “4-5% per year” between 2019 and 2024. The Discovery Sport plug-in hybrid aside, it’s clear that the Defender would have provided a massive revenue boost for the company as it finalises the MLA platform and factory refit, but that lift has now been pushed to the second half of this year at the earliest. However, such a vehicle could be a blessing when dealing with subdued markets as the world economy recovers and reopens. This year will doubtless be exceptionally rough for JLR. The shutdown disruption comes at the end of a long period of huge MLA investment, but the Defender will arrive at a vital time and could provide a crucial bridge of cash generation for the firm over the next 18 months. +++

+++ RENAULT ’s electric charge will continue with big brothers to the facelifted Zoe arriving within the next 18 months. Asked about the design of Renault’s next EVs and whether they would look like the recently revealed Morphoz concept, Groupe Renault head of design, Laurens van den Acker told: “I hope we can make them look more like a Morphoz. That was an interesting exercise because I wanted to make sure our electric cars have plenty of character, even though they might not have the usual characteristics or elements a traditional car has like a big grille; the traditional elements with which you give a face to a vehicle. It does a good job of being extremely assertive while spreading the air where it needs to be and not putting a fake grille on it. If you had a chance to see Morphoz, it’s quite a sleek silhouette with a lot of aerodynamic treatment at the rear and I think this is a sign of things to come”. Groupe Renault is set to launch 3 new EVs in the next 18 months, with 1 of them set to be a production version of the Dacia Spring concept. The other 2 will be inspired by the Moprhoz and will use the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance’s new CMF-EV electric car platform, first seen on the Nissan Ariya concept unveiled at last year’s Tokyo motor show. Although there’s no word yet on range for the new Renault EVs or its Nissan sister car, I’d expect a battery capacity big enough for the bigger C segment model to go up to 480 kilometre between charges. What can be confirmed, though, is that CMF-EV can be developed with front or four wheeldrive, while its modular nature means it can be used in a variety of different size vehicles. The Morphoz production cars won’t have the shape-shifting technology of the concept. “That’s a few years away”, said Van den Acker. But what he did hint at was that the Morphoz production cars will be SUVs, like the concept. “The Morphoz is definitely a turning point for us. If we were to do a different kind of EV, what would it do and what would it look like?” he said. “Inevitably, once we’re starting to add a range of EVs to our line-up, some of the other vehicles are going to have to go because we just can’t afford to develop all of this at the same time. You have to put  your money where the future of the market is. “When you go to EVs, the silhouettes will change and the proportions of the cars will change. I think we’re still in for SUVs for quite a while as they’ve become incredibly efficient and remain very attractive, and it’s the only proportion that appeals globally”. The more coupé SUV-like styling of the Morphoz is also likely to make its way into the production cars, while van den Acker promised more space than in similarly-sized internal combustion engine cars. “I think you’ll find, the more we switch to EVs, cars will have to become lower (we need to improve aerodynamics to be able to go further) and at the same time because of the EV proportions, the inside and the wheelbase will grow in length, which is a good thing because you can create more space on the same footprint”, he said. “So you will see cars that will be in between an SUV and sedan in terms of height, because you still have a battery pack in the floor. But because you have relatively long wheelbases, they’ll be quite compact in their overall dimensions. Ironically you can get a car with the size of a segment B, but the interior space of a B+, or the size of a segment C with the interior space of a C+, so it’s quite efficient in many ways”. While the Morphoz shows a shift in Renault’s EV design philosophy, Van den Acker revealed that he’d have liked to have made the facelifted Zoe more daring. “With the Zoe, I’d have loved to have gone much further than this”, he said. “But we invested heavily in the interior and the electronic architecture of the vehicle. When you drive it, it’s like a different world to the first Zoe: it’s a much more mature car. We kept it like that, because it’s no secret that it’s extremely hard to make money from EVs still. We were in a lucky situation to do the second generation of the Zoe and be in a business position that’s much more favourable in a segment where there was very little competition for a long time, but now the competition is heating up tremendously”. Van den Acker also revealed how important personalisation is for Renault and its customers, hinting that it could play a part in the Morphoz based cars, too. “Personalisation fits very well with our brand because we’re human centric: we want to please as many people as possible”, he said. “In small cars like the Twingo, Clio and Captur, we’ve always tried to make them the most personalisable cars in their segment. And it’s been doing well for us. People love to get a bit of authenticity if you can just give a touch of personalisation to your car to make it yours. If you wear a suit and slacks you look like anybody, but if you wear a suit and sneakers you become a person. It’s just a small twist that puts your own personality on a vehicle and it’s been working well for us”. +++

 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle maker SUDA Electric Vehicle Technology has started shipping vehicles to Germany as part of a major export push. The first batch of 200 EVs were loaded on trucks in Sanmenxia in north China’s Henan province. The vehicles will be shipped from the north China port of Tianjin to Dusseldorf, Germany, Suda said. Suda is initially shipping the SA01BC 3-box compact electric sedan, which has a range of 305 kilometers and a maximum speed of 130 kph. It will export 12.000 EVs to Germany this year under a contract signed with German distributor DCKD last year, Suda added, without revealing additional details about the sedan. In addition to Germany, the private Chinese company plans to export EVs to countries in Central and Southeast Asia. Suda, established in Sanmenxia in 2010, started out as a low-speed EV maker. It received approval from industry regulators in China to build regular passenger EVs in 2019. Last year, SAIC Motor, a state-owned automaker, launched an electric SUV in the UK, the Netherlands and Norway under the MG brand it acquired in 2007. Other Chinese automakers such as Great Wall and Jianghuai also expect to export EVs to Europe in the near future. +++

+++ China has introduced measures in favor of electric vehicles with SWAPPABLE BATTERIES , which are expected to help solve the problem of long charging times that distances some people from such cars. In the country’s latest subsidy plan released last week, new energy vehicles priced over 300,000 yuan ($42,362.73) are not eligible for the stimuli, but those with swappable batteries are exempt of the rule. The move is designed to encourage innovative business models, said the finance ministry in a statement last week. Slow charging is one of the top reasons that dissuade people from buying electric cars. Currently, it takes hours to charge a vehicle’s battery. However, vehicles with swappable batteries can get their empty batteries swapped out for fully-charged ones in minutes. This solves the ultimate problem, mileage anxiety, that haunts most electric car owners. William Li, founder of China’s leading electric car startup Nio, has a more convincing reason. Vehicles with swappable batteries can enable car owners to continuously benefit from progress in battery technology, he said at the company’s annual event for fans late last year. Batteries, which account for roughly half of a car’s cost, have seen rapid progress in recent years as companies try their best to extend driving range. Statistics show that electric cars had an average range of 160 km in 2015 with the figure rising to 350 km last year, while power consumption per 100 km fell from 17 kWh to 14 kWh. “The policy has strengthened our confidence in business model and we will make more efforts in this aspect”, said Nio in a statement. Now all of its vehicles can be fitted with swappable batteries. Nio said it has built 125 battery swapping stations in 53 cities in China, with over 400,000 batteries having been swapped so far. The company said it will build more stations this year. “With swappable batteries, electric cars are now another step forward to challenge the dominance of gasoline vehicles”, Nio said. Another major carmaker that has been advocating battery swapping is BJEV, one of the country’s largest electric car makers. It is the first carmaker to see large-scale commercialized use of battery swap stations, which are mainly serving electric cars being used as taxies. By the end of 2019, the company, a subsidiary of State-owned BAIC Group, had over 16.000 electric vehicles capable of swapping batteries in 15 cities including Beijing, Xiamen in Fujian province and Lanzhou in Gansu province. BJEV said it will have another 30.000 vehicles of the same kind on the streets across the country in 2020 and the number of swap stations will grow from 187 in 2019 to 300 this year. Late last year, the company said it will invest more than 10 billion yuan in building 3,000 battery swap stations capable of serving 500.000 electric vehicles by the end of 2022.

+++ TESLA is calling some workers back to its San Francisco Bay Area vehicle-assembly plant next week. Tesla had suspended production at its Fremont, California plant on March 24. The company had previously said that it planned to resume normal operations on May 4, a day after the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order is scheduled to be lifted. However, San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Friday said that it was likely the Bay Area’s stay-at-home order will get extended beyond the current expiration date of May 3. Tesla supervisors told some staff in the paint and stamping operations at the California factory to report to the facility on April 29. They also asked workers to reply and say whether they plan to show up, the report added. +++

+++ TOYOTA said it plans to resume auto production in North America next month, after halting operations in March due to a slump in sales amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “Beginning the week of May 4, Toyota intends to gradually resume its North American manufacturing operations in compliance with federal health and safety guidelines and local and state ordinances”, the automaker said in a news release. Toyota suspended production on March 23 as car sales in the United States had plunged and in line with large-scale social distancing measures intended to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The firm saw its U.S. car sales drop 36.9 % from a year earlier. “We will continue to follow all safety guidelines and monitor vehicle demand as we carefully ramp up production”, the carmaker added. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN resumed production at its biggest factory on Monday as part of a broader industry drive to get back to work in Europe, where the coronavirus pandemic has hammered demand and pushed up inventory levels. Encouraged by a fall in infection rates, Germany has eased lockdown rules and automakers are relying on the country’s ability to trace and contain new coronavirus cases to safely restore operations in Europe’s largest economy. Volkswagen group, which also owns the Skoda, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Seat brands, is resuming production at its plant in Wolfsburg, as well as at factories in Portugal, Spain, Russia, South Africa, and the Czech Republic this week. Production capacity at Wolfsburg will be just 10 % – 15 % to begin with, and will reach around 40 % of pre-crisis levels after about a week, Andreas Tostmann, the VW brand’s board member responsible for production, told. “The restart of Europe’s biggest car factory after weeks of standstill is an important symbol for our employees, our dealers, suppliers, the German economy and for Europe”, he said. Volkswagen’s plans mirror moves by rivals Renault, PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to revive an industry crippled by dealership lockdowns and supply bottlenecks caused by restrictions to contain the pandemic. FCA has restarted Italian production at its plant in Atessa, and has begun preparatory work in Cassino, Pomigliano, Termoli, and Mirafiori. With dealerships closed in Germany until last week, it is hard for executives to gauge the level of demand. LMC Automotive analysts see an uneven pattern across the globe. “We assume that light vehicle sales will bottom out in April in Europe and North America, but the recovery, while broadly V-shaped, is unlikely to be rapid in the subsequent months”, they said. Demand is seen down 20 % – 30 % for 2020 overall, with China being the only exception, thanks to its ability to impose social restrictions more forcefully than in the rest of the world. But even in China, sales are seen down 12 % this year, LMC said. Carmakers have overhauled production methods to try to reassure workers about the safety of returning to the production line. Volvo is offering employees tests to check the oxygen levels in their blood, while Hyundai’s South Korean workers are required to pass thermal cameras, which measure temperatures. Even if Europe and Asia see economic activity gradually return, global demand will not rebound until the United States is able to restore confidence in its economy. The United Auto Workers union cast doubt on plans by U.S. carmakers to resume production in early May, citing concerns about worker safety. Hyundai ramped up domestic production after South Korea got a grip on the virus outbreak, only to find its cars were sitting in U.S. ports because of the hit to global demand. In Wolfsburg, around 8.000 workers started building cars again, including the Golf. This week, 1.400 cars will be built, followed by 6.000 cars next week. Volkswagen workers are being told to measure their temperature and to get changed into their overalls at home, to prevent crowding in factory changing rooms. Extra markings have been put on the factory floor so employees are able to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and extra time is being provided for them to disinfect tools and surfaces. Volkswagen resumed producing components in Braunschweig, Kassel, Salzgitter and Hanover in Germany in early April. It restarted car manufacturing in Zwickau and Chemnitz in Germany, and in Bratislava, Slovakia. From May 3, it plans to resume production in Chattanooga in the United States. Volkswagen is still working to whittle down inventory levels from before the crisis, it said, pinning its hopes on rekindled demand as lockdowns ease in many parts of Europe. The carmaker said around 70% of its dealerships in Germany had re-opened as of last week. +++ 

+++ The all-electric XPENG P7 will be launched in China on April 28, roughly a year after the car was first unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2019. Xpeng has been rigorously testing the car in recent months and in February, revealed that it had spent no less than 120 days cold-weather testing the P7 in temperatures that dropped as low as -40°C. In announcing the launch date of the EV, Xpeng has also revealed it will feature Level 3 semi-autonomy provided through the Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier platform. The P7 comes equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors, 5 high-precision millimeter-wave radars, 13 autonomous driving cameras, and 1 in-car camera with HD mapping and high-precision positioning. Xpeng says it will perform Level 3 autonomous driving duties on highways, urban roads, and for valet parking. “Our successful collaboration with Nvidia was critical to the development and production of our P7”, vice president of autonomous driving at Xpeng, Dr. Xinzhou Wu said. “Backed by the performance and energy efficiency of Xavier, we’ve been able to accelerate and outpace our peers in the creation of this safe, intelligent, feature-rich sedan at a price point that makes it an ideal solution in today’s highly competitive EV market. We are very excited to expand our collaboration with Nvidia for our next-generation EV production model, which will offer more competitive, user-friendly and safer autonomous driving features to a broader customer base”. The range-topping Xpeng P7 has 2 electric motors and an 81 kWh battery pack. It can hit 100 km/h in 4 seconds and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China has verified it as having 706 km of range in the NEDC cycle, beating out the Tesla Model 3 as the longest range EV in China. A more affordable variant with a single electric motor delivering 263 hp will also be available. +++

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