Newsflash: Lexus LS straks ook met 4 cilinder motor

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+++ Tesla drivers cover higher ANNUAL MILEAGES than owners of any other car. The average Tesla owner covers 12.459 miles annually in the first 3 years after buying a new car. Mercedes owners are second, covering 12.100 miles each year, while Volvo owners average 11.578 miles each year. According to analysis of MoT data for 516.936 vehicles carried out by the RAC Foundation before the coronavirus crisis, the average British driver covers 10.377 miles a year in the first 3 years of owning a brand new car. Diesel cars cover 12.496 miles per year on average, while petrol cars only do 7.490 miles a year. Interestingly, fully electric cars land roughly in the middle, covering an average of 9.435 miles per year in the first 3 years from new. While Tesla, Mercedes and Volvo took the top 3 positions for manufacturers (all 3 brands make premium executive cars) it were specialist sports car manufacturers that are unsurprisingly right at the other end of the scale. Caterham owners cover only 1.544 miles per year on average, followed by Ferrari owners with 1.883 miles and Morgan owners with 2.441 miles. In between, the average annual mileages per brand were: Ford (11.488), Mitsubishi (11.456), Volkswagen (11.282), Citroen (11.272), Renault (10.924), BMW (10.859) and Land Rover (10.716). Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Unsurprisingly, people with diesels have been doing most mileage, probably seeking better long-distance fuel economy, but this study is also evidence that battery-electric powered cars are not just trophy vehicles signalling their owners’ green credentials but prior to the lockdown were racking up the miles as everyday transport. Tens of millions of people still drive petrol and diesel-powered cars, but this data suggests that owners of electric cars have found them to be a practical proposition, running up the sort of big annual mileages that many of us need to do, challenging preconceptions about their range and the ease of recharging”. +++ 

+++ APEX , the firm behind the recently revealed electric AP-0, will create a range of models over the next decade, going beyond sports cars and adding more practical 4-seaters to its line-up. While the firm is run by Hong Kong-based brothers Jason and Gary Leung, its design, engineering and manufacturing base is in the UK. The AP-0 will be produced at a not-yet-built site in Woking that will be capable of producing 500 vehicles annually from 2022. Following that, Jason Yeung said Apex plans to open a plant in China, which is likely to build its next model: a smaller, more affordable electric sports car. Yeung said this model will cost less than £100,000 and that, although built in China, it will be designed and engineered in the UK, using the same EV platform as the AP-0. The carbonfibre tub around which the AP-0 is built uses modular spaceframes that allow it to accommodate differently sized models. The AP-0 promises a WLTP range of 510 kilometres and the ability to charge up to 80 % of battery capacity in less than 15 minutes, so expect any future electric models to at least match these figures. Yeung said: “For now, our focus is the AP-0. But after that, we’re aiming to have a factory in China where we would build a smaller sports EV. You can’t find a reasonably priced sports EV at the moment”. His brother Gary Yeung added: “We’re not trying to have a product similar to Tesla or other car makers. We’re trying to make something different. At the AP-0’s price level, we have a good-handling car but also one that’s safe on road and eco-friendly”. Alongside a growing sports car range, the Yeung brothers revealed that another arm of the business will work on 4-seat models, with the aim of the first arriving before 2030. +++

+++ Nissan’s second dedicated electric car for Europe is edging closer to reality, with patent images revealing the ARIYA ’s planned production bodywork. The new shots show the 4.6 meter long family SUV features a design very closely aligned with that of the concept car that was revealed at last year’s Tokyo motor show. While the overall shape is clearly retained, a few detail changes can be spotted. The bumper shape, particularly the lower portion, has been slightly altered, with a towing eye cover visible and LED lights also brought in to the intakes at the edges of the front. The side view seems broadly identical, bar a charging port raised higher in the wing, a shark-fin aerial on the roof and alterations to the roof spoiler. The side mirrors aren’t incorporated in the patent shots, suggesting Nissan might be looking to swap traditional items for cameras, as per the Honda E and Audi e-Tron. The headlight and grille treatment remains fairly faithful to the concept, but details around the bumper become a little fussier than the concept’s clean look. Likewise, the overall profile looks fairly similar, though details like the charging port in the front wing are integrated into the front wing in a less complex way. The images suggest that the road-going Ariya will ride on smaller wheels than the concept’s 21 inch items, too. Expect LED lighting tech to feature, and the concept’s full-width rear light bar is likely to make it onto showroom models. At the rear, more significant alterations are visible. It looks like the rear window has been reduced in terms of visible area, while a rear wiper has been brought in. The backlit Nissan logo seen on the concept also appears to have been ditched, although the full-width LED tail-light design should be retained. The bumper shape has also been altered for production. With no interior images, we can only go by the minimalist design of the concept’s cabin for reference. Expect it to showcase the long-awaited generation shift of Nissan interiors and infotainment alongside the new X-Trail, which is due at the end of this year. The production version of the Ariya, not expected for at least another year, will use a new Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance modular architecture that offers increased flexibility with the motor and battery pack size. There’s still no indication of the powertrain beyond Nissan calling it a “high performance, 100% electric drive system” with dual motors for four-wheel drive. However, we do know that the Ariya will offer Level 2 autonomous driving assistance features. This allows for hands-off single-lane driving, the ability to perform overtaking manoeuvres, and negotiate motorway exit ramps. Nissan designers have also hinted that the blue highlights of previous electric vehicles will be swapped for the more premium appearance of copper detailing for the Ariya. Given the fact that the Ariya concept is just 40 mm shorter than the current X-Trail (but its 2.775 mm wheelbase is 75mm longer), it should enable the production model to have a huge amount of interior space; made all the more possible thanks to a completely flat cabin floor granted by the packaging benefits of an electric platform. The move to electrification has also allowed Nissan engineers to move items like the airconditioning unit (usually stored behind the dashboard in a combustion car) under the bonnet instead, enabling a more open space for front seat passengers. Details of the production models drivetrain are still to be confirmed, but the concept used a 2-motor layout (1 motor for each axle to give 4-wheeldrive). Nissan’s previous all-electric IMx concept was claimed to offer 435 hp and a range of 600 kilometres. +++

+++ The new BMW iNext electric SUV has been spied testing in northern Sweden ahead of its expected arrival in 2021. First revealed at the 2018 Los Angeles Motor Show in concept form, the iNext will act as the technological halo for the brand’s zero-emissions “i” range, being a larger car than the Audi e-Tron and the forthcoming iX3. The latest images give very little away, with the test car almost completely shrouded in a dense camouflage wrap. As with previous spy shots the detailing is hard to make out, although the front end of the car looks like it will share design characteristics with the iX3. This would point towards BMW’s signature kidney grille featuring on the nose, with air intakes either side to smooth the airflow over the front wheels, maximising range. At the rear a pair of brake and reversing lights stick out from the rear bumper, although these are almost certainly temporary units that will make way for a more conventional set-up when the production model is finally unveiled. It’ll draw inspiration from the Vision iNext concept, albeit with a few practical design changes. Most noticeably, the rear suicide doors will be ditched in favour of conventional units, while the front end will be reworked with a smaller grille and an added air scoop. The concept’s missing B-pillar will be reinstated, while its wing-mounted cameras will be replaced with conventional rear-view mirrors. However, the concept’s slim LED headlights and swept-back panoramic windscreen look set to be transferred faithfully onto the production variant. BMW is yet to reveal full information on the iNext’s performance and powertrain, but it has discussed its next-generation electric drivetrain and platform plans before. The iNext will be one of the first vehicles on BMW’s new ‘common platform’ which is capable of supporting petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and fully-electric powertrains. Despite this, the iNext will only be offered as an electric vehicle, with a likely maximum battery size of 120 kWh. Robert Irlinger, head of BMW’s i division, says the SUV has been designed as a “car for everyday use”, which will provide the means for customers of the plug-in hybrid X5 to move into full electrification. The company is targeting a WLTP-verified range of 580 kilometres, which would make it the longest-range electric car in the world with the sole exception of the Tesla Model S Long Range, which can do 600 kilometres on a single charge. BMW first teased the iNext’s cabin in 2019, offering us a glimpse of the SUV’s polygonal steering wheel and infotainment system. The unconventionally shaped wheel has been designed to allow drivers to easily switch between autonomous and active driving modes, with BMW claiming its squared-off shape makes it easier to recognise the car’s steering angle. BMW also says the iNext’s steering wheel will be fitted with optical fibres which can inform the driver when autonomous driving modes are available for use, as well as indicating situations where the driver is required to retake control of the vehicle. A floating curved infotainment system, similar to that found on the iNext concept, will also feature, albeit without the additional smaller screen tacked onto the dashboard in front of the driver. BMW says it’s held in place by a lightweight magnesium bracket, and is mounted in such a way that the occupants can’t see its physical connection to the dashboard. The screen is also made from non-reflective glass. Irlinger said: “The iNext will be ‘all-in’: everything we can do technology-wise in 2021 you will see in this car. People have been asking why we’ve waited so long, but we waited for the next step in technology. It’s not only battery, it’s autonomous driving and it’s also new systems for communication and connection. All this technology will be new in 2021”. The iNext concept’s cabin is strictly experimental and does not preview the interior layout of the production car. As such, it’s loaded with a range of stargazing features that won’t be seen on the finished item. Created from a combination of open-pore wood, illuminated crystal glass and textile cloth, the concept’s front compartment features a steering wheel that partially collapses into the dashboard and pedals which fold flush into the wooden floor when the concept is switched into autonomous mode. The interior is constructed from vegan-friendly materials, and each seat in the boutique hotel-inspired cabin is unique. The lounge-style rear quarters is asymmetrical, with one side assuming a more relaxed position pointing towards the centre of the car. This will allow easier conversation with the front passenger, who is able to fold the headrest 90 degrees backwards to give a clearer view of those behind. Hidden underneath a veneer of wood on the centre console and embedded in the fabric used on the vast rear bench is a combination of sensors and micro LEDs, which respond to the touch. Pinching and swiping like you would on a smartphone draws illuminated patterns on the surfaces, and allows those on board to control minor features such as music volume. Similarly, there are no screens in the back of the concept. Instead, BMW showcases what it calls Intelligent Beam, which uses interactive projectors capable of tracking blank books and projecting information and entertainment straight onto the pages as an alternative to displays and tablets. At just over 5 metres long, the Vision iNext concept is a large SUV, similar in footprint to X5 and in height to an X6. X7 cues are seen in the form of the tall and upright gills placed at each corner of the front apron. The new ‘streamflow’ style window line employed on the iVision Dynamics concept (which will become the i4) makes it clear that this is an “i” car. At the front end, extremely slim four-piece headlights sit either side of a huge interlinked kidney grille, blanked off to signify the car’s electric powertrain. In place of the traditional door mirrors are a pair of cameras (1 facing forward and 1 backward) which, in combination with a selection of radars, lidars, cameras, GPS antennas and an external microphone, enable the iNext to drive with Level 3 autonomous ability. This will be enhanced further by the inclusion of 5G communication, which will eventually allow the facility for autonomous cars to communicate with each other, even in the sort of busy urban environments which, due to the interference of crowded networks, would be impossible with Wi-Fi or 4G. +++

+++ FAW VOLKSWAGEN launched its first plug-in hybrid SUV, which is expected to help the popular carmaker make further inroads into China’s new energy vehicle market. The Tayron GTE will be available in 2 variants. The carmaker said plug-in hybrids have vast potential in China, adding SUVs in the segment have gained in popularity over the past few years. Statistics show they accounted for 5 % of China’s plug-in hybrid sales in 2017 and the figure soared to 29 % last year. Dong Xiuhui, vice-president of FAW-Volkswagen, said the appeal of the Tayron GTE lies in its versatility to meet demands in different travel scenarios. For environment conscious, it has a range of 54 km in electric mode, which is enough for most commuters in China. But as a plug-in hybrid, it does not cause mileage anxieties if the driver needs to embark on a long journey. Martin Jahn, executive vice-president of FAW-Volkswagen, said the GTE, which stands for Grand Turismo Electric, shows the model’s aspiration to become an exemplar in the segment and offers Chinese customers a low-carbon and carefree driving experience. The GTE traces its origins back to 1976 when a group of Volkswagen engineers developed the Golf GTI, with “I” standing for fuel injection. In later years, Volkswagen came up with performance diesel models bearing the initials GTD and in 2007 the car giant started to develop GTE models as the latest member of the well-known performance vehicle family. The Tayron GTE sports a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and an 115 hp electric motor to generate a maximum output of 211 hp and 400 Nm. It can accelerate to 100 km/h in 8.4 seconds. The model has 5 driving modes and has a fuel consumption of less than 2 liters per 100 km. It measures 4.603 mm in length, with the wheelbase of 2.730 mm. The model has gone through endurance tests of over 500.000 km in extreme environmental conditions to ensure its safety, especially in terms of battery performance and charging. It features Volkswagen’s latest infotainment system and advanced driving assist functions including lane assist, park assist and rear traffic alert. The Tayron itself has been a proven successful model in the Chinese market. Launched in October 2018 as FAW-Volkswagen’s second SUV, its monthly sales soared to more than 20.000 within a year, becoming a top choice in its segment. Last year, a total of 168.000 Tayrons were sold in China. +++

+++ Automotive dealerships are big businesses in their own right. They spend a lot of money on their facilities and inventory. And they are dealt a major blow when an automaker eliminates the car brand they sell. Such is the case in Australia, where Holden was the local GENERAL MOTORS brand since 1931. GM stopped producing Holdens in Australia in October 2017, importing vehicles from plants in Germany, Thailand, South Korea and North America. Then in 2020, GM finally announced that it is getting out all right-hand drive markets globally and that Holden dealers specifically would close by the end of the year. GM isn’t alone in staying away from Australian production. All automakers have stopped manufacturing vehicles in Australia, and many have stopped selling brands in that market, period, because the business case is a tough one. Mitsubishi, Ford and Toyota had already stopped manufacturing Down Under. The red Holden VFII Commodore Redline that rolled off the line on October 20, 2107 was the last Holden and then last vehicle built in Australia. A Holden office remains to handle service, parts, warranties and recalls for at least 10 years. So, sounds like that’s it: Holden is done and GM is out of Australia. Not exactly. The Holden dealer group is negotiating with GM over compensation for ending their franchise agreements prematurely. And that fight has taken a turn since the dealers hired a private investigation firm to look into whether GM knew it was going to kill the brand more than year before the shutdown was announced. Dealers also want to know if GM had the move planned when it shut the plant in South Korea and made plans to close plants in Thailand and India; 2 other right-hand-drive countries. The franchise agreements in Australia are ending almost 3 years early. GM is no stranger to these kinds of negotiations. It went through a painful and expensive divorce after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 where restructuring meant shedding 5 of its 9 brands: Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Hummer and Oldsmobile. Those brands were axed or sold and the dealers were compensated (GM’s sale of its European Opel and Vauxhall brands to PSA in 2017 was less pricey). Those moves really only left the 5 main brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC, with the niche Holden brand noted for rear-wheeldrive, right-handdrive vehicles in Australia. Axing a brand is never a spur-of-the-moment decision. Executives and actuaries have likely researched such a move periodically for many years, given the relative volume of sales from a global perspective and the high costs in Australia. That said, where the dealers have a more legitimate beef is their contention that General Motors continued to encourage investment in showroom upgrades, promised new models, and had recently signed the Holden dealer network to five-year franchise agreements just before shutting down the Australian division; if GM knew Holden’s demise was near, that could be an issue. A GM spokesman said, “as was stated at the time of announcement, the decision to retire the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand was made shortly prior to the announcement on February 17, 2020”. The dealer investigation is also looking into whether GM knew it would get rid of Holden when it made plans to close the plants in Thailand and India. In November 2018, GM announced global restructuring plans that would shutter plants in North America as well as 2 overseas factories. China’s Great Wall Motors bought the assets from the Thailand and India plants in deals that closed in late 2019 and early 2020. The investigative firm is also looking into whether GM tried to sell Holden in 2017 when it sold Opel and Vauxhaul but GM and PSA have both repeatedly denied those rumors. The GM spokesman says Holden “firmly believes the compensation offer to its dealers is fair and Holden strongly disagrees with any assertion that it has acted improperly”. +++

+++ A handful of images of the production-spec HONGQI E115 have emerged out of China after the vehicle premiered in concept guise at last year’s Guangzhou Auto Show. Images of prototypes, one of which is bathed in camouflage while another appears largely free of any disguise, reveal that the overall shape of the production model is largely identical to the concept. As such, the E115 continues to sport a large faux front grille, thin LED headlights, and has the same elongated roofline with sharp C-pillars. One of the most noticeable differences is that while the concept had a vertical design detail just behind the front wheels, the production model instead features a horizontal ornament finished in red and chrome. Spin around to the rear and it too is clearly reminiscent of the concept with similarly-shaped taillights and an LED light bar stretching between them. The tiny triangular shaped LEDs across the tailgate from the concept are not visible on the black prototype. Hongqi presented the E115 concept with blacked-out windows, meaning it was impossible to see into the interior. These spy images reveal the cabin will be laden with technology. For example, there looks to be a touchscreen display dedicated to the climate controls, a massive central infotainment system, and a fully-digital gauge cluster. We can also see a split center-console and seats that appear to be clad in plush Alcantara. The E115 will hit the market with 2 electric motors, one at the front axle delivering 215 hp / 350 Nm and a second at the rear offering up 295 hp / 420 Nm. Providing these motors with juice will be a 92.4 kWh lithium battery, resulting in a sprint to 100 km/h in 4 seconds and a driving range of 600 km. +++

+++ HYUNDAI only anticipates seeing a modest recovery in demand and sales of vehicles in China and elsewhere this year. Speaking during a recent earnings call chief financial officer Kim Sang-hyun forecasted a bleak year for the auto industry. “Demand is expected to worsen in the second quarter due to the prolonged suspension of dealer operations and factory operations in overseas markets”, he said. “Global automakers are expected to see their profitability decline in earnest”. The South Korean automaker says global auto demand dropped by 24 % in the first quarter and by more than 40 % in March. Hyundai was hit particularly hard in China with sales falling by 43 %. Sales in South Korea and the United States decreased by 14 % and 11 % respectively for the brand. Hyundai has idled production at plants in the United States, Brazil and India but has resumed production at factories in China, South Korea, Russia, Czech Republic and Turkey. The head of Hyundai’s investor relations, Koo Za-yong, said that recovery in China will only be modest due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. “Although we forecast a sales recovery in the second half, annual demand is expected to drop sharply”, he said. It’s not all bad news. Thanks to a cheaper South Korean won and better sales of higher-end models, Hyundai’s revenue has climbed by 6 % to 25 trillion won ($20.4 billion). +++

+++ Global vehicle sales by automakers from JAPAN dropped by 34 % in March when the coronavirus outbreak spread worldwide, and are set to fall further in the months ahead as the crisis continues. Demand for cars has plummeted as people have been ordered to stay indoors in many countries to control the spread of the coronavirus, leaving motorways deserted and deep uncertainty about the longer-term impact on the global economy. Analysts expect that this will put consumers off buying new cars, cutting 2020 global vehicle sales by around a third, compared with an 11 % fall after the global financial crisis. In a sign of the damage so far, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Japan’s 4 other major carmakers reported sales of around 1.82 million cars last month; down from around 2.77 million a year earlier. Their combined global sales for the financial year ended March fell 7.3 % to 26.5 million vehicles; their lowest in 4 years. Toyota, Japan’s biggest automaker, sold 779.151 vehicles in March; down 22.6 % from a year ago. For the year ended March, it sold 10.456.593 units; down 1.4 %. Meanwhile Nissan sold 315.194 vehicles last month; a 43 % drop from a year ago. In the year to March, its vehicle sales hit a nine-year low of around 4.8 million units as the pandemic piled pressure on Japan’s No. 2 automaker, which had already been struggling with falling sales and profitability. Most automakers are preparing for a big financial hit from the coronavirus, as lockdowns in the United States and Europe have kept buyers out of dealerships. But Nissan’s sales and profits had been falling even before the outbreak, forcing it to roll back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. Chris Richter, senior research analyst at brokerage CLSA, expects that the size of last month’s fall in global vehicle sales will continue in the next year and anticipates a 35 % drop in sales for the current financial year ending March. Plummeting sales in March suggest much weaker-than-expected annual profits at Japanese automakers, which will announce financial results next month. And it is likely to translate into annual operating losses at most Japanese automakers in 2020. “Every automaker is going to have to do whatever they can to preserve fixed costs to try and contain the situation”, he said. “For Nissan in particular this doesn’t come at a good time because it’s trying to recover from some bad financials, and it has an old product line up and needs to invest in new product technology”. Nissan expects to post its first annual operating loss in 11 years, revising a previous forecast of a profit and delaying its results announcement to late May. +++

+++ KIA ‘s net profit for the first quarter sank almost 60 % from a year earlier as the corona virus pandemic disrupted its global sales and led to production halts. The automaker did beat expectations, and it benefited from the weaker local currency value. But the company forecasts that the drop will be far greater in the second quarter as demand in major markets is expected to remain weak. The second-largest automaker in South Korea announced that its revenue for the January to March period rose 17.1 % on-year to 14.6 trillion won ($11.8 billion) from 12.4 trillion won posted a year earlier. But the company’s operating profit sank 25.2 % to 444.5 billion won, and its net profit sharply dropped 59 % to 266 billion won. Financial data provider FnGuide previously predicted that Kia Motors would post 13.9 trillion won in revenue, 348.9 billion won in operating profit and 349.6 billion won in net profit. Kia said 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 was 1,195 won per dollar in the first quarter, whereas the rate stood at 1,136 won per dollar a year earlier. In the first quarter, Kia sold a total of 648.685 vehicles; down 1.9 % from a year earlier. Domestic sales rose 1.1 % to 116.739 units, but that gain was offset by a 2.6 % decline in overseas sales which amounted to 531.946 units. Of the 648.685 cars sold in the first quarter, 52.5 % of them were SUVs. Such models accounted for 46.4 % in the first quarter of 2019. SUVs are relatively profitable vehicles as they offer a better ratio of perceived value to production cost. Kia’s Telluride large SUV and Seltos compact SUV primarily led the gain. But the company’s operating profit shrank as Kia had to stop 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 factories except in China last month as the novel coronavirus spread to nearly all parts of the world. Kia 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. Demand for cars in China has also been wading even though the virus outbreak is reportedly under control. To minimize the impact of the sales and profit dip in the second quarter, Kia said it will focus on production and sales for popular SUV models while introducing special sales plans and dealership support programs. The company also plans to continue to launch cars online and expand its non-face-to-face sales activities while stabilizing its supply chain of auto parts with more sources. Kia plans to expand production for the Seltos when its factory in India resumes operations and it also seeks to add a new entry-level SUV model to the market in the third quarter. The company added that it will continue investing in future technologies like electric cars and autonomous driving with a long-term outlook. Kia said it will temporarily suspend 4 of its 9 domestic plants due to the coronavirus impact. Kia plans to halt operations at its 2 Sohari plants in Gwangmyeong, just south of Seoul, from April 27 to May 8 and again from May 22-25 to keep inventories at manageable levels, a company spokesman said. In addition, 2 plants in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of the capital, will also be shut down: No. 2 plant in Gwangju from April 27 to May 8, and No. 3 plant from April 27 to 29. The temporary suspension is aimed at flexibly responding to lower overseas demand as consumers opt not to visit dealerships due to virus fears, Kia said. The 4 factories facing temporary closure are responsible for the majority of Kia’s exports. One Sohari plant makes the K9 sedan and the Stinger, while the other builds the Stonic. Gwangju’s No. 2 plant produces the Sportage and the Soul. No. 3 plant there makes pickup trucks, military vehicles and large buses. During the suspension, trucks and military cars will continue to be built. +++

+++ When LEXUS launched the fifth-generation LS at the end of 2017, the Japanese luxury maker predicted its once-brand-defining sedan would sell 12.000 units per year in the U.S.; a threshold the model hadn’t reached since 2010. The LS managed 9.301 transactions in 2018, its first full year on sale, falling back to 5.528 units in 2019. Through the first 3 coronavirus affected months of this year, Lexus dealers have sold 801 LS sedans, compared to 1.404 units in Q1 2019. There’s a mid-cycle refresh supposedly due for release in the fall of 2021 and we’re due for a couple of big surprises that could jolt the sales figures. The first shock is that Lexus is supposedly bringing back the LS 600h moniker for an LS with a V8 hybrid powertrain. Lexus debuted the LS 600h in 2007 for the 2008 model year, retiring the hybrid trim in 2016. Its heart was a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8, and when combined with an electric motor, combined output came to 439 hp. The fifth generation introduced the LS 500h that switched to a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, producing a combined 354 hp, taking second place in output to the twin-turbo V6 in the non-hybrid LS 500 with 416 hp. If Lexus were to double back to a V8 after experimenting with a V6 hybrid for 4 years, some question which V8 would get the nod. The old V8, still in use in the LC, dates back 14 years and is scheduled to retire in 2 years when the LC-F introduces Lexus’ new twin-turbo V8. According to leaked dealer information, that’s the same year Toyota and Lexus will stop offering V8 engines in any model with a proce under $90,000. Toyota has shied away from turbocharged hybrids, but the next-generation Tundra could change that if rumors of the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 i-Force Max engine come true. A twin-turbo V8 LS hybrid would rocket the model back to the top of the range in performance and price, and we could see it breaking the “F” seal on the LS lineup, since it would run counter to everything the German competitors are doing with their standard flagship sedans. Or Lexus could remove the turbos for a better compromise of potency and frugality. That is, again, if the V8 rumor comes true. The second surprise claims Lexus will put a 4-cylinder in the LS, which may be aimed to fill the position of the GS; the smaller sport sedan confirmed to end production in August. If this happens, it’s almost certain the 4-cylinder is aimed at overseas markets where BMW and Mercedes sell 4-cylinder versions of their biggest executive sedans. The refreshed LS will get sensors enabling Level 2 autonomy; a feature predicted for a debut later this year on an unnamed Lexus model. +++

+++ The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected an attempt by Tesla to invalidate a design infringement lawsuit brought forward by NIKOLA MOTOR . In May 2018, Nikola sued Tesla asserting that the design of the Tesla Semi closely resembled the design of the Nikola One. The truck startup specifically said the design infringed on the wraparound windshield, cab shape, and the design and position of the door which Nikola had patented. Nikola is seeking $2 billion in damages from Tesla, asserting that the design similarities diverted sales away from the hydrogen truck maker to Tesla. Tesla filed a request with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in September 2019 seeking a review to invalidate Nikola’s patent for its door design. “Tesla loses bid to invalidate Nikola Motor patents in a dispute. Officials not only upheld Nikola semi truck important patents but refused Tesla’s ask to modify our patents”, Nikola founder and chief executive Trevor Milton wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “$2 billion lawsuit moving forward. We will defend our company’s IP no matter who it is”. Of course, this decision doesn’t directly impact the lawsuit but had Tesla’s appeal to overturn the door utility patent been successful, it would have weakened a key part of the lawsuit. Since showcasing the Nikola One to the world back in 2016, the truck maker has racked up roughly 14.000 orders representing $10 billion of future revenue. In March it announced a $3.3 billion merger with VectoIQ, a publically-traded company established by former General Motors vice chair Steve Girsky. This merger included a $525 million capital raise from investors such as Fidelity and hedge fund ValueAct Capital. In other news, it was recently revealed that Nikola Motor received $4.1 million from the coronavirus Paycheck Protection Program funds. The company recently announced a deal to go public by merging with VectoIQ, which valued the truck maker at more than $3 billion. However, the merger has yet to be finalized. Nikola Motor sent a statement saying that the PPP funds will act as a cash bridge fund to retain some 300 employees during the pandemic as the merger closes. “There’s a difference between a high valuation and having cash”, the company said in the statement. “Nikola is a pre-revenue company with a lot of expenses and burn rate is high. Since PPP funds will be used to retain staff, the lifeline follows the spirit of the Act in that we’re preserving high paying jobs”, it added. +++

+++ NISSAN said it expected to post its first annual operating loss in 11 years as the Japanese automaker struggles to recover from plunging vehicle sales as the coronavirus pandemic has sapped demand for cars. In a statement, Japan’s No. 2 automaker said that it expected an annual operating loss of as much as 45 billion yen ($419.7 million), down from a previous forecast announced in February for an operating profit of 85 billion yen. It expects to post a net loss of as much as 95 billion yen, compared with a previous forecast for 65 billion yen profit. Nissan is bracing for its worst financial performance since the 2008 global financial crisis, when it posted an operating loss of 137.9 billion yen. “The company’s performance has continued to decline, primarily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”, Nissan said in the statement, adding that it would delay announcing its annual financial results and restructuring plan to May 28. It had been scheduled for mid-May. “Nissan anticipates additional time to finalise the results and is currently reviewing the precise financial impact”, the statement said. Global automakers are bracing for a tumble in global vehicle sales, but even before the outbreak, Nissan’s sales and profits had been slumping and it was burning through cash, forcing it to row back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. The pandemic has piled on pressure to renew efforts to downsize, and the company’s management has become convinced that the company needs to be much smaller, arguing for a recovery plan that will likely cut 1 million cars from its annual sales target. The automaker announced that global car sales plunged 43 % in March from a year ago, resulting in annual sales of 4.8 million units in the year that ended in March, its worst sales performance since 2011. Falling sales have prompted the company to slash the number of cars it will produce in Japan in May by 78 % from last year. +++

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG said that its SUV model XM3 has recorded accumulated sales of 10.000 units in 49 days, the shortest period since the new model was launched on March 9. A total of 5.581 units were picked up in the month, while from April 1-13, a total of 4.419 units were sold. The company said prior to XM3, its midsized sedan SM6 broke the record of selling over 10.000 units in the shortest period of time after launch in 61 days. During the preorder period which began on February 21, up to 5.500 units have been ordered within 12 days. Amid unfavorable the market situation amid Covid-19 pandemic, Renault Samsung said it has strengthened non-contact customer service to boost sales. About 15 % of customers who purchased XM3 made orders online. “Despite the dampened consumer sentiment over Covid-19 spread, the XM3 was able to show impressive results as the car features premium design and stable driving performance”, said a company official. +++

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , Hyundai and Kia said they will suspend operations at some domestic plants to manage inventories at affordable levels amid the growing coronavirus impact on the automobile industry. Hyundai said it will halt operations at most of its domestic plants from April 30 to May 5. “But the company and the union are not in talks for an additional suspensions”, a company spokesman said. Hyundai suspended operations at plants in the United States, India and Brazil. Kia said it will halt operations at 2 plants in Gyeonggi in Sohari, Gwangmyeong, from Monday to May 10 and again from May 22-25. +++

+++ If you have a TESLA with the latest hardware 3 with the fully-featured Autopilot, then your car will gain traffic light and stop sign recognition as of the Software Update 2020.12.6. However, it will apparently only be available to Tesla owners in the US and other markets will have to wait a few more months to get this feature. What it does it pretty self explanatory: when the car has Navigate on Autopilot enabled, it will recognise traffic lights and either stop or keep going, as well as stop sings that will always prompt it to stop. The driver still has confirm that it’s safe to cross an intersection by either prodding the accelerator pedal or by pressing down on the gear selector stalk. “Traffic Light and Stop Sign control (Beta) Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control is designed to recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs, slowing your car to a stop when using Traffic-Aware Cruise Control or Autosteer. This feature will slow the car for all detected traffic lights, including green, blinking yellow, and off lights. As your car approaches an intersection, your car will indicate the intention to slow down via a notification, slow down, and stop at the red line shown on the driving visualization. To continue through the stop line, pull the Autopilot stalk once or briefly press the accelerator pedal to confirm that it is safe to proceed. As with all Autopilot features, you must continue to pay attention and be ready to take immediate action, including braking because this feature may not stop for all traffic controls. This feature will be conservative, slowdown often at first, and will not attempt to turn through intersections. Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally. To continue through the stop line, push down the gear selector once or briefly press the accelerator pedal to confirm that it is safe to proceed. As with all Autopilot features, you must continue to pay attention and be ready to take immediate action, including braking because this feature may not stop for all traffic controls. This feature will be conservative, slowdown often at first, and will not attempt to turn through intersections. Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally. To enable, shift your car into Park and tap Controls > Autopilot > Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (Beta). Note: When this feature is enabled, the maximum set speed while using Autosteer is limited to the speed limit of the road. Before this feature can be enabled, camera calibration may be required, and the latest version of Navigation maps must be downloaded via Wi-Fi. Please refer to the Owner’s Manual for additional details about this feature”. Drivers are already trying the feature out and it seems to work as intended. It doesn’t seem especially useful as of right now, since some driver input is still required. It’s certainly a step towards fully autonomous driving, but even with this new feature, it’s not quite there: this is a small step. +++

+++ In the UNITED STATES , General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are targeting May 18 to resume some production at their U.S. factories after shutting down plants in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. Executives from the companies in recent days tentatively settled on the timeline following talks with United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office. Ford said in a statement it is yet to determine when it will resume production at its North American plants, while Fiat Chrysler said it will communicate new restart dates in due course. The head of the UAW union last week warned it was “too soon and too risky” to reopen auto plants and Michigan’s economy in early May, citing risks to workers. Michigan governor Whitmer is yet to provide details on restarting the state’s crucial manufacturing sector and has said she would be “guided by data, not artificial timelines”. The companies are working with the union on drawing up safety protocols for reducing exposure risk for workers, but haven’t finalized those terms yet. Michigan had reported 38.210 Covid-19 cases, including 3.407 deaths. +++

+++ The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ( USMCA ) will enter into force on July 1. Late last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative acknowledged that both Canada and Mexico “have taken measures necessary to comply with their commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The crisis and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that now, more than ever, the United States should strive to increase manufacturing capacity and investment in North America”, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said. “The USMCA’s entry into force is a landmark achievement in that effort”. The Trump administration had been considering a start date of June 1 but that sparked concern among automakers, trade groups and parts suppliers that believed the deadline could disrupt a smooth transition from NAFTA to the new trade deal. On March 13, the likes of the American Automotive Policy Council, Here for America, National Automobile Dealers Association, American International Automobile Dealers Association and Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association issued a statement urging for the date to be pushed back from June 1 citing unanswered questions on how to interpret the rules. In April, Mexico’s government also asked the U.S. and Canada for extra time to adjust its supply chains to comply with the new requirements. Under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, 75 % of the content of cars produced in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada needs to be sourced from North America. Under NAFTA, 62.5 % of content needed to originate from North America. Additionally, USMCA requires 40 % to 45 % of content to come from ‘high-wage’ areas. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s chief executive called for a broad stimulus package to revive the auto industry and the economy even as he defended the carmaker’s intention to pay a dividend. “We need consumption, the economy needs to get moving again and an opportunity, perhaps the best opportunity is the car”, Herbert Diess told, adding that replacing older cars with more efficient ones would also cut pollution. Diess reiterated the carmaker’s intention to pay a dividend for 2019 but said the company would consider cutting bonuses and shrinking the dividend if the carmaker ended up taking state aid. “We will consider this and the formal decisions have not been taken. But for now VW wants to cope without state aid and the carmaker intends to manage through he crisis without tapping state aid”, Diess said. +++

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