Newsflash: MG komt met elektrische stationwagon

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+++ ALGERIA has been shaken by political upheaval and uncertainty since February 2019, when protests against the government of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika resulted in his ouster 2 months later. One casualty has been Algeria’s fledgling auto industry. One by one, factories operated by Renault, Volkswagen Group (led by Spanish brand Seat) and Hyundai-Kia, with local partners, that assembled semiknockdown (SKD) and complete knockdown (CKD) kits have been shuttered since last autumn. The head of Sovac, an Algerian company that was a majority shareholder in Volkswagen ‘s operations, was arrested last spring on fraud charges. Algeria has blocked the import of CKD/SKD kits since mid-2019, partly by imposing quotas on their total value. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune singled out Renault in an interview at the end of February. Tebboune said many of the country’s economic problems stemmed from unregulated imports of goods, which had “killed domestic production”. “The Renault factory here is nothing like the one in Morocco”, he said. “How can we create jobs when there is no integration, no subcontracting?” The reasons for the shutdown are complex, said Arezki Daoud, lead analyst and president at ME Risk, a consulting company. Algeria sought to duplicate Morocco’s success in the auto sector, he said, but some of the operations were not set up in a sustainable way and were tied to the country’s oligarchs. That in turn made them an easy target for prosecutors to arouse populist sentiment, Daoud said. “It speaks of a corrupt regime, an administration that didn’t have the proper vetting system”, he said. But he added that the auto sector was reflective of a “generalized freeze that is affecting the Algerian economy”. Renault’s factory in Oran halted production at the end of February. Volkswagen Group’s factory in Relizane produced more than 53,000 cars in 2018 for the Seat, Skoda and VW brands. But that figure fell to just 25,000 in 2019, because the carmaker reached its quota limit of $600 million worth of imported kits, a Seat spokeswoman said. Production came to a stop in December as the factory was denied a license to produce in 2020, she said. The Volkswagen Group is awaiting a decision by the government on a future automotive strategy, one that is likely to include a requirement for local content, experts said. “We are open to being flexible and adapting to the model”, the Seat spokeswoman said. “We are still interested in the market”. PSA Group has not yet opened its Oran factory, announced in 2017. A PSA spokeswoman said the automaker remained committed to Algeria, but was still awaiting direction from the government regarding an automotive strategy. +++ 

+++ Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi will draft plans for a deeper ALLIANCE next month, including joint development of more electric vehicles (EVs) and self-driving technology. The 3 companies will include the projects in their respective mid-term business plans. Among other plans, the automakers intend to share EV motors and batteries, while Nissan and Renault will start building each other’s cars at factories in South America and Russia to boost production efficiency. +++

+++ AUDI says it will gradually restart production in Europe as various nations begin to ease their lockdown measures. The Ingolstadt-based company, which is part of the Volkswagen Group that also includes Bentley, Skoda and Seat, says production will “slowly return to normality” by the end of the month. The company shut down its European sites in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic slashed demand across the continent. Now, though, as various European countries begin to scale back their lockdowns, Audi is planning to restart its production lines. According to the company, the “regulated restart” of production will be coordinated with the Volkswagen Group, and will also involve the contributions of suppliers and service providers. However, the recommencement of production will involve a raft of measures to ensure the safety of workers. The company says it is working within the guidelines of the health authorities in the respective countries, as well as those of the Robert Koch Institute, the German public health institute. As a result, measures include “clear rules” on distance and hygiene, a modified shift system to avoid contact, and mandatory use of mouth and nose protection in areas where distances of 1.5 metres are not possible. The company has also created physical barriers at critical workplaces, such as door pre-assembly, where two employees work simultaneously on the same transport rack and stand directly opposite each other. There, staff have developed a transparent barrier made of plastic sheeting that allows them to continue working. The manufacturer also says it has looked at other areas of the business, including car parks, factory gates and catering, to make sure workplaces are “corona-ready”. The firm says it has developed “appropriate solutions” for all areas, and employees will be informed about necessary measures in advance. They will also receive “comprehensive safety instructions” from their line managers when they return to work, as well as updates in internal online media and through information notices at the plants. Audi says it intends to slowly increase production from the end of April onwards, following a fixed plan. Engine production in Győr, Hungary, has already started ramping up again this week, but employees at the factories in Germany will only be able to resume their work properly in what Audi calls “later phases of the restart”. Until then, “short-time working regulations” will apply. “We will manage the restart as a joint European act”, said Peter Kössler, board of management member for production. “The focus is on the employees, because they need a safe working environment. Audi teams of experts have therefore adapted processes with a view to health protection in consultation with the specialist departments and works councils. I would like to thank all Audi employees and our partners around the world for their flexibility and joint efforts in times like these”. +++

+++ Chinese internet search giant BAIDU has fully opened Apollo Robotaxi, its driverless taxi services, in Changsha, capital of Central China’s Hunan province, becoming one of the first companies to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles. Residents in the city can hail autonomous taxis free of charge via Baidu’s navigation app Baidu Maps. At present, the service covers an area of about 130 square kilometers, with its routes including multiple urban scenarios, such as residential areas, commercial zones and industrial parks, according to a statement issued by the company. It is noteworthy that each of the driverless taxies has a “security person”, or a backup driver, who is ready to take manual control in the event of an emergency, in accordance with current traffic regulations. Baidu started trialing its Apollo Robotaxi fleet in Changsha in September last year, with the first group of 45 self-driving taxis officially starting trial operations on urban roads. It is also China’s first group of autonomous driving taxis managed by Baidu’s Vehicle to Everything (V2X) system. Apart from Changsha, Baidu is testing autonomous driving with passengers in Beijing, Cangzhou in North China’s Hebei province, and other places. Road tests for self-driving vehicles are available in more than 20 provinces and cities in China, and 6 cities-Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan and Cangzhou-have allowed passenger-carrying tests on autonomous vehicles. Other companies, such as SAIC Motor, BMW, Didi Chuxing and DeepBlue Technology, also have obtained such plates for passenger-carrying tests. +++

+++ The team in charge of tapping into the CHEVROLET CORVETTE ‘s performance potential can’t seem to keep a lid on technical specifications. I’ve seen more leaks than the average vintage Lancia mechanic. The latest unofficial morsels of information suggest the 8th generation Corvette will be the first to join the 1,000 hp club. As of writing, enthusiasts have a single engine to choose from. It’s a 6.2-liter V8 tuned to deliver 490 hp. It spins the rear wheels through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Next up is the Z06 model due out for the 2023 model year with a 5.5-liter V8 that will put 650 hp under the driver’s right foot. 2024 will bring back the Grand Sport model with a 600 hp evolution of the standard Corvette’s V8. That’s a generous bump over the last generation 460 hp Grand Sport. The next rung on the Corvette hierarchy will be occupied by the ZR1, which will state its business with a twin-turbocharged version of the Z06’s V8 called LT7 internally. It will make 850 hp; a figure that falls in line with earlier reports. It’s expected to make its debut for the 2025 model year. The final addition to the Corvette range will be the model’s flagship. The same documents outline a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain made up of a twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V8 engine and an unspecified form of electrification. Odds are the V8 will spin the rear wheels while the electric motor(s) will zap the front wheels into motion. Either way, the drivetrain will deliver at least 1.000 hp; a first for the regular-production, street-legal Corvette. Hagerty speculated this model will inaugurate the Zora nameplate Chevrolet trademarked in 2019 when it arrives in showrooms for the 2026 model year. None of the aforementioned specifications or dates are official. Chevrolet is keeping its lips sealed when it comes to the Corvette’s future. I’m 100% certain more powerful models will join the range in the coming years, and we’ll learn more about them (either from leaks or directly from the company) in the not-too-distant future. +++

+++ The sales volume of CHINA ‘s new energy cars this year is likely to reach 80 % to 90 % that of the 2019 level, largely hampered by the novel coronavirus outbreak and the consequent economic downward pressure, according to a latest report by Ries Strategy Positioning Consulting. While the EV sales volume plummeted 56 % in the first quarter compared with same time last year, a rebound in economic activities and the localization of Tesla’s Model 3 in China would help fend off negative impacts and revive sales in the rest of the year, said Liu Kun, a senior consultant at Ries. He forecast the pure battery EV to take a predominant position by 2025, squeezing the share of the plug-in hybrid EV to less than 10 %. This is due to both the significant improvement in battery performance and an expected slash in battery cost. While Chinese consumers are largely perceived to be among the most enthusiastic about battery EVs, local production of Tesla has posed grave challenges to domestic players like Nio, Weltmeister and XPeng. Data showed that sales volume for Tesla in March was 8 times that of Nio, which put itself in square competition with Tesla. Liu believed emerging Chinese brands should seek opportunities in the class of mini and compact cars. Also, established automakers, domestic and foreign alike, should considering adopting new brands for their electric vehicle offerings to win over the minds of customers. China will extend tax exemptions for new energy vehicle purchases for another two years in a bid to boost consumption and stabilize the virus-hit economy, authorities announced. 3 types of new energy vehicles will be exempted from the tax: the pure electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell-powered vehicles. The extended period will run from January 1, 2021 to the end of 2022, said a statement jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance, State Taxation Administration and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. An executive meeting of the State Council on March 31 called for the extension of subsidies and auto purchase tax exemptions for new energy vehicle purchases. Other measures included speeding up approval and issuance of local government special bonds and more facilities for financial and corporate bond issuance to ease the pandemic’s impact and offset its economic fallout. For auto sales, according to the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), weekly retail sales growth of passenger cars (by volume) turned positive at 14 % year-on-year from April 7 to April 12, recovering from a drop of 40.4 % in March. But economists fear the auto sales rebound may be unsustainable, due to impaired income of households and still elevated uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic. +++

+++ DAIMLER reported a plunge of nearly 70 % in first-quarter operating profit due to the coronavirus pandemic and warned that the cash flow it uses to pay dividends would fall this year. The maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles suffered as customers shunned car and truck showrooms during coronavirus lockdowns and analysts said the slide in Daimler’s valuation over the past year put more pressure on it to deepen alliances with rivals. Daimler said preliminary adjusted first-quarter earnings before interest and tax slumped 68.9 % to €719 million while both vehicle sales and revenue would fall this year. Adjusted profit for Mercedes-Benz vehicles fell more than 56 % to €603 million. NordLB analyst Frank Schwope said the company’s 4th profit warning since chief executive Ola Källenius took over in May was no surprise but the pandemic was putting pressure on carmakers to find savings through alliances or mergers. “Fiat Chrysler and PSA are just the start. Perhaps it is time for Daimler to think about a deal given the low valuation”, he said, referring to the planned merger between the Italian-U.S. car giant and France’s Peugeot. Daimler’s shares have fallen 52 % over the past year to €27.94 per share, leaving its market value at €29.8 billion. NordLB’s Schwope said 3 combinations for Daimler were logical: deepening an alliance with BMW or partners Renault-Nissan, or combining with Volvo which shares the same Chinese investor, Geely. Earlier this month, German luxury car maker BMW reported a 20.6 % drop in first-quarter sales and said it was expecting a further decline in demand. Overall, car sales in Europe tumbled by more than 50 % last month with Italy (which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic) reporting the biggest drop of 85.4 %, according to data from the European Auto Industry Association. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has begun to ease some restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing carmakers to restart production. Mercedes-Benz said it was ramping up engine production at its plant in Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart, as it gradually reopens factories in Europe using lessons learned from its resumption of production in China. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) said it had drawn down on a €6.25 billion credit line to buffer its cash reserves during the uncertainty around the coronavirus health crisis. The funds from the revolving credit facility, originally signed in June 2015, add to the €1.5 billion FCA has drawn down from other credit lines. The outbreak has pummeled vehicle sales and production for automakers across the world, forcing many to take out multi-billion dollar loans to ride out what is likely to be a deep global recession. Ford has drawn down over $15 billion from revolving credit lines and last week raised $8 billion from corporate debt investors to shore up its cash. General Motors has entered into a 364-day revolving credit agreement of $1.95 billion, which the company said will be exclusively used by its financial services business. Earlier this month, FCA said it had agreed to a new €3.5 billion credit facility with 2 banks, which remains undrawn. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS has decided to phase out their Maven car-sharing service. In an e-mail sent out to members, the company said “After critically looking at our business, the industry, and what’s going with Covid-19, we have made the tough but necessary decision to wind down our business”. The news was confirmed by GM’s vice president of global innovation, Pamela Fletcher, who told “We’ve gained extremely valuable insights from operating our own car-sharing business. Our learnings and developments from Maven will go on to benefit and accelerate the growth of other areas of GM business”. The decision to cease operating comes roughly a month after Maven suspended service due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, the company cancelled upcoming reservations and blocked users from renting out their vehicles. Maven was launched in 2016 as a personal mobility brand and expanded in 2018 to allow owners and lessees of 2015 and newer GM vehicles to easily rent out their cars. When the expansion was announced, GM said “The new peer-to-peer offering provides a hassle-free way for owners to generate income from their car when they’re not using it”. The service was pretty interesting as it allowed you to find a car online, make a reservation and then use your smartphone as a digital key. However, the service was limited to select markets and it doesn’t appear Maven was very popular. While Maven is biting the dust, GM won’t exit the mobility segment. Instead, they’re switching gears as their future efforts are built around the Cruise Origin which is an autonomous electric vehicle that aims to change the way we move place to place. +++

+++ HONDA will briefly halt production at 2 plants in Saitama Prefecture due to a disruption in the supply of parts amid the coronavirus outbreak, the automaker said earlier this week. The Sayama plant, which makes minivans along with other types of cars, will be closed from April 27 to May 1, while the Yorii factory, which produces SUVs, will be shut down for 3 days. The Sayama factory was previously closed for 2 days. The move follows Toyota’s announcement to extend output suspension at 2 plants in Aichi Prefecture by 6 days through April 28. Japan’s auto industry has been hit hard by the global coronavirus outbreak, not just in terms of demand, but also by disrupted supply chains. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ’s Prophecy concept has been confirmed for production and is likely to become the next generation Ioniq. The new Ioniq, along with a production version of the Hyundai 45 concept first seen at last year’s Frankfurt motor show, is also set to launch a range of new cars with each model having its own distinctive look rather than following the ‘Russian doll’ approach of other car makers. SangYup Lee, Hyundai’s senior vice president and head of Hyundai Global Design Center, said: “There will be a production version of the Prophecy coming after a production version of the 45 concept. The 45 is more inspired by the 1970s, but a more modern SUV style that’s more mainstream. The Prophecy is inspired by the 1930s streamlined era. These 2 cars show how much of the design spectrum we are capable of”. The new Prophecy production model will be a replacement for the current Ioniq; both this car and the 45-based SUV will use the brand’s all-new Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) architecture. The 45 should arrive by the end of this year, while the new Ioniq won’t be seen until 2021. “The EV skateboard platform with the short overhang and cowl pulled forward enables us to stretch the cabin to provide more space inside”, Lee told. “The Prophecy is a future sedan but not a traditional type. It will have lots of space inside and more curvature so it means a lot”. Lee also revealed that the new models would be the start of a new design philosophy in Hyundai that would avoid the ‘Russian Doll’ strategy employed by many other car makers. “Our cars will be more like a chess board where you have a King, Queen, Bishop, Knight”, Lee told. “They all look different and function differently but when they’re together they come as one team.This is what the Hyundai look is all about: diversifying our design to fulfill our customer’s lifestyle. People say that you have to have to default with the grille looking the same and headlights looking the same, but we want to challenge that consistency in detail. So the cars will look completely different”. Although future models will have different looks, Lee plans to use lighting technology to bring the Hyundai family together. “You remember the pixel detail in the lamp in the 45 concept and we had pixel detail in the lamps on the Prophecy?” Lee said. “That will tie in 45 and the Prophecy”. Both the 45 and Prophecy concepts used ‘pixel lamp lights’; a series of tiny, square LED lights that can also be animated. “The family look will come from the lights”, said Lee. “We have consistency in detail in the pixel graphic. It’s like a hidden charm that brings the consistency between the 2 cars: the pixels are one of the main things. The lamp is a functional part, but now the lamp is a design part. We continue our special story in the lamps. A parametric jewel pattern that becomes the DRL will be a big story when the car comes out. It’s what used to be the chrome decoration becoming functional. We’re changing perception from this is the lamp and this is the DRL. We want to change that”. Lee also spoke about the newly-announced collaboration between Hyundai and Los Angeles-based Canoo in co-developing a small electric vehicle platform for autonomous and urban electric vehicles. “That will be part of our design chess board”, he said. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) is aiming to resume production at its plants in Solihull, Slovakia and Austria from 18 May onwards. The firm has said it will gradually resume production in Europe, starting at these 3 facilities, with production at other sites (including its other UK plants) following “in due course” as restrictions to tackle the coronavirus outbreak are gradually eased. JLR said “the health and wellbeing of our employees is our first priority” and is working on a series of “robust” protocols and guidelines for when production resumes. These are likely to be similar to those introduced by other car firms that have resumed production elsewhere in Europe and will include social distancing measures. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the car industry hard, with factories closed worldwide and sales slumping as dealerships are forced to shut due to lockdown restrictions. JLR sales fell by 30.9 % year on year in the first 3 months of 2020 and the firm has currently placed around half its staff on furlough under the UK government’s job retention scheme. JLR’s executive leadership team have also taken pay cuts. Production has already resumed at JLR’s joint venture plant in Changsha, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began earlier and restrictions are already easing. JLR is the latest manufacturer to confirm it is preparing to resume production in the UK. Nissan has started a pilot scheme at its Sunderland plant and Aston Martin is aiming to resume work at its St Athan facility on 5 May. +++

+++ KIA plans to suspend operations at two of its domestic factories from April 27 to May 10 and again between May 22 to 25, a union official said. Kia had been in talks this month with the labour unions of its factories to flexibly suspend some production to manage inventory, as overseas auto demand is hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the official said. The 2 production lines are in Sohari, Gwangmyeong, to the south of Seoul. +++

+++ The coronavirus pandemic is impacting a number of upcoming vehicles and the latest is LORDSTOWN ’s Endurance pickup. Chief executive officer Steve Burns said the company originally planned to introduce the Endurance at the North American International Auto Show in June. However, the event has been cancelled as its venue was transformed into a temporary field hospital for treating Covid-19 patients. While there will be no North American Intentional Auto Show this year, Lordstown is still planning to introduce the truck early this summer. The company hasn’t finalized their plans at this point, but Burns said the Endurance will likely be given a virtual reveal from their headquarters in Ohio. Despite sticking to the unveiling schedule, Lordstown revealed there will be a slight production delay. While the company intended to start building the Endurance by the end of the year, Burns revealed they are now aiming on “handing the keys to fleets across the country in January 2021”. That’s a relatively minor setback and Lordstown isn’t the only automaker who has had to delay vehicles due to the pandemic. However, work continues on the truck as the company noted engineers continue “testing and fine-tuning” the technology that will power the pickup. As I have previously reported, the Endurance is an electric pickup which uses 4 hub motors that produce a combined output of 608 hp. It’s designed for commercial use and will have a range in excess of 400 km on a single charge. Pricing starts at $52,500 and the company has already received multiple letters of intent promising to purchase hundreds of electric pickups. +++

+++ The first part of LOTUS ‘ rebirth has been the development of its all-electric hypercar, the Evija, but the British sports car maker is also working on another car at the other end of the spectrum, according to company CEO Phil Popham. The entry-level machine will be visually similar to the Evija (pictured below), but will be priced in the same realm as the Porsche 718 and the Alpine A110. It will be produced at a newly-built expansion at Lotus’ Hethel base, and will be unveiled either later on this year or at some point in 2021. Lotus’s decision to bring in a new entry-level model will help it ramp up production numbers from around 1.600 units a year to around 5.000. The rise is something that new owner Geely is keen to do, however it isn’t looking to increase its output by bringing in an SUV right now, like Aston Martin and Lamborghini, although introducing an such a car could happen further down the line. “It’s not as if we have to generate all the money ourselves to invest in our future”, Popham said. “Our focus now is on sports cars, but we do think the brand has the potential to move into other segments. And Geely has expertise in areas such as electrification and autonomous driving”. Meanwhile the Evija will enter production later this year (coronavirus permitting). It will be the fastest Lotus road car ever made, with a top speed of over 320 kph, with a 0-100 kph time of less than 3 seconds. The drivetrain is a 2.000 hp all-electric drivetrain sending power to all 4 wheels by 4 electric motors. Range is expected to be around 400 kilometres, while the car’s overall weight will sit at 1.680 kg. +++

+++ According to MCLAREN boss Mike Flewitt, winning the so-called “weight race” is a priority for his company, as the British carmaker is set to move towards a new generation of hybrid supercars. Using weight reduction as an engineering philosophy has already paid off for McLaren, the most recent example being the new 765LT supercar, which weighs 80 kg less than the 720S and has been described as “the most advanced and most rewarding McLaren LT yet”. “Reducing vehicle weight is at the center of our strategy for the next generations of McLaren supercars”, said Flewitt. “We are already class-leading and committed to further driving down weight in order to be in the best possible position to maximize the efficiency and performance of hybridized models to be introduced by 2025”. The 765LT uses carbon fiber for its exterior body panels, aerodynamic components, as well as inside for the seats and center tunnel. Several of these are fabricated at the McLaren Composites Technology Center in Yorkshire, marking the first time this new facility has created body components for a McLaren road car. Other weight-saving measures include the lightweight side windows and motorsport-style polycarbonate glazing at the rear, with F1-grade materials used in the transmission. Meanwhile, the titanium exhaust system delivers a 40 % weight saving over a comparable steel system. “Vehicle mass is the enemy of performance whether a car has a conventional internal combustion engine or a fully electrified powertrain, so winning the weight race is an absolute priority for us and one of the reasons McLaren has invested heavily in the Composites Technology Center, our own composite materials innovation and production facility”, added Flewitt. The limited run 765LT (limited to 765 units), produces 45 hp and 30 Nm more than the 720S, for a total of 765 hp and 800 Nm. +++

+++ The Peugeot Group has laid the groundwork for a possible revision of the terms of its MERGER with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. PSA and FCA agreed in December to each pay an ordinary dividend of €1.1 billion to shareholders as part of their planned merger to create the world 4th biggest auto manufacturer. The deal was negotiated before the coronavirus pandemic halted car production and triggered a worldwide slump in demand, almost halving the companies’ share prices. As PSA chief financial officer Philippe de Rovira detailed the severity of the damage inflicted by the health crisis on PSA and the broader European car industry, he said there has been no final decision on the payout. The company has postponed its annual general meeting to June 25 from May 14, delaying any confirmation. The planned move “remains an open question” and any change would have to be agreed by both PSA and FCA as specified in the merger deal, De Rovira said during a call with analysts. PSA has not made any comment on the financial terms of the agreement, he added. PSA is one of the most vulnerable to a downturn in Europe, where the virus outbreak has paralyzed public life. Car sales in the region fell 52 % in March, the most on record, as showrooms closed and production came to a halt. PSA has forecast the European market could contract by a quarter this year and around 80 % in April. One factor weighing on European companies as they consider shareholder rewards are warnings from countries including France and Germany that aid packages such as state-backed loans or bailouts won’t be extended to those paying dividends. PSA posted a 16 % slump in first-quarter sales. The company has slashed costs, shed its temporary workers and put about 90 % of full-time employees on government-paid furlough schemes in a bid to shore up liquidity. De Rovira said any decision to restart factories in Europe would have to be accompanied by a reopening of dealerships to avoid a build up in inventories. +++

+++ MG (part of Chinese SAIC) is expected to introduce its second all-electric model this year and start sales “as soon as showrooms reopen”. This new model turns out to be an electric estate MG 5, which is expected to be an upgraded and rebadged SAIC Roewe Ei5, available in China since 2018. There are no details about the MG 5, so I don’t know whether the specs will be the same as the Ei5, which is equipped with a 52.5 kWh battery for 420 km of NEDC range, and a 85 kW electric motor. One thing is sure: the MG 5 is poised to be the first all-electric estate in Europe, as the customer deliveries will begin in the 4th quarter. This way, SAIC is expanding its plug-in portfolio in Europe. The MG ZS EV already is available in multiple European countries and seems to cope relatively well. If the MG 5 is affordable, maybe more people in Europe will consider the Chinese EV. MG intends to launch also a plug-in hybrid SUV, the eHS model, in 2020. The SAIC Roewe had a top speed of 150 km/h, AC normal charging in 8.5 hour and DC fast charging by 80 % in 40 minutes. +++

+++ China-based NIO was nearly inducted into the pantheon of automotive history when it found itself trapped in a perfect storm of problems in March 2020 that threatened its future, not the least of which was the coronavirus pandemic. The company appears to be getting itself back on track now and it has managed to launch an updated version of the ES8, its range-topping SUV, on the Chinese market. Offered with 6 or 6 seats, the ES8 can now ride on a massive, 100 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that feeds a pair of electric motors (one per axle). Their total output checks in at 700 Nm, which is enough for a 4.9 second sprint from 0 to 100 kph. Nio quotes its total driving range at 580 kilometres and it pointed out the Brembo developed brakes visible behind 21 inch alloys. The battery is a recent addition to the list of options; 70 and 84 kWh units remain available. Other changes include a bigger screen for the infotainment system, minor design tweaks, and improved driver-assistance technology. All told, the company made 180 improvements to the ES8. It managed to start production on time in spite of the coronavirus-related shutdowns that paralyzed most of China in early 2020. Polestar, another electric car hopeful with strong ties to China, also reached a production milestone in this challenging environment, a sign the country’s industrial sector is on its way to recovery. 2019 was a tumultuous year for Nio. It voluntarily recalled 5.000 examples of the ES8 over fire concerns, it teamed up with Mobileye to develop autonomous technology, it laid off 141 employees at its North American headquarters, yet it ended the year by beating quarterly revenue estimates. Time will tell if it has steered itself out of trouble for good, or if the roller coaster ride will continue in the coming months. Its plans for the American market remain murky. Nio told it still hopes to become a truly global brand with a presence in key markets like the United States and Europe, but there’s no fixed date for its entry into either market. As of writing, the ES8 (and smaller models like the ES6) are only sold in their home country of China. +++

+++ NISSAN said that it would temporarily shut down operations at its global headquarters and other facilities in Japan through early May to contain the spread of the coronavirus at its sites. The Japanese automaker said that it would reduce operations to a minimum level at its head offices in Yokohama along with other non-production facilities, including in nearby Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, where its main R&D centre is located. The 16 day closure will run between April 25 and May 10, affecting a total of 15.000 employees, the company said. Like many of its global rivals, Nissan has shuttered most of its global production facilities due to the virus, and operations at many of its vehicle plants in Japan have been suspended since earlier this month due to plummeting demand. Even before the spread of the coronavirus, Nissan’s sales and profits had been slumping and it was burning through cash, forcing it to row back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. The pandemic has only piled on urgency and pressure to renewed efforts to down size. The automaker is due to announce a new recovery plan next month, and sources have told that executives see the need for the company to become much smaller company, selling 1 million less cars than its current annual target of 6 million units. +++

+++ The 2020 edition of the PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE is only the latest in a long streak of automotive events (and not only) to be cancelled over fears surrounding the spread of the coronavirus. In a press statement, the show’s organizers said that the 2020 edition will not take place this summer, as the new virus could spread among attendees and the situation could get out of hand. “My heart goes out to all of the people who are involved in the Pebble Beach Concours, and who are impacted by this decision. Many of our entrants have been working on a special car for years, and this was to be their moment”, said Sandra Button, concours chairman. “Some of our overseas entrants were nearing the point of putting their cars on boats and planes, and their own travel arrangements have long been made. The same is true for many of our international cadre of judges”. The organizers had only just recently completed the car selection process and notified entrants of their acceptance earlier this month. The 70th edition of the show was supposed to open its doors on August 16, although now, tickets already purchased will be valid for next year’s event scheduled for August 15, 2021. On a more positive note, features for next year’s Concours will remain as planned. As a result, visitors will see “a display of past Best of Show winners along the edge of Stillwater Cove, and special classes focusing on Pininfarina coachwork, Porsche 917, Talbot-Lago Grand Sport, Miller racing, Iso, Early Electrics and the Carrera Panamericana”, the show’s organizers said. +++

+++ PININFARINA ’s Battista electric hypercar will set the stage for an electric SUV that’s due in 2022. Paolo Dellachà, the firm’s chief product officer, said that his team’s goal was to define a new segment. He referred to the Pura Vision as a sustainable luxury vehicle (SLUV). The concept is no hardcore offroader. Rather it’s a wide low-slung 4-door model characterised by a long bonnet, short overhangs, a steeply raked windscreen, broad shoulders and a roof made entirely of glass. These lines shape a vehicle that resembles a traditional Italian grand tourer on stilts. Its designers attempted to bridge the gap between the Lamborghini Urus and the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. They admired the Italian SUV’s muscular design and performance but seemingly cared little for its overall proportions. And while they applauded the German estate car’s coupé-like cabin, a model like it wouldn’t have filled the SUV-shaped gap in Pininfarina’s planned range. Heritage entered the equation, too. Chief design officer Luca Borgogno said inspiration for the long bonnet came from the Cisitalia 202 of 1947, while the glass roof draws a parallel between it and the Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow concept of 1953. Both of these were designed by Carrozzeria Pininfarina. “It’s extremely close to production”, Borgogno said of the Pura Vision. Even the glass roof will remain; Pininfarina is working with what it referred to as a “big company” to bring this to production. The panel reflects sunlight to keep the interior temperature controlled in the summer and is mounted over an aluminium frame that would protect occupants in the event of a rollover accident. The metal hides a 1000 hp electric powertrain embedded into a new platform that was developed in-house with the help of unnamed partners. Pininfarina had planned to use Rivian’s ‘skateboard’ architecture, but retail giant Amazon abruptly ended the tie-up when it began investing in the American start-up. Dellachà quoted a 0-100 kph time of about 3.0 seconds, a 300 kph top speed and a range of up to 550 kilometres. Despite its obvious road focus, the new Pininfarina will offer some degree of off-road capability plus “better lateral dynamics” than other high-end SUVs, thanks in part to its lower centre of gravity. Pininfarina plans to build 150 examples of the Battista hypercar, with each priced at €2 million. The SUV will be considerably less exclusive, with Borgogno floating a base price in the vicinity of €300,000 and a production run somewhere in the 4-digit range. Its main rival will be the Ferrari Purosangue, which is also set to hit the market in 2022. Pininfarina’s former COO and now CEO Per Svantesson announced that his team has begun the process of finding an industrial site near Turin on which to establish a factory. “It’s very important to be in Italy”, he explained, adding that the Italian government is helping Pininfarina scout a location. The site will ultimately include facilities for product development, testing, training and manufacturing, as well as a delivery centre for customers. “This will be our home”, said Svantesson. The SUV will be the first model built at this complex when it enters production by the end of 2022. The Battista will instead be made (largely by hand) in nearby Cambiano. However, Michael Perschke (who last week stepped down as Pininfarina CEO) hinted that, even with backing of parent firm Mahindra, the plan might require additional investments. “We will potentially invite 1 or 2 additional shareholders to scale up”, he said. “You can burn a lot of money becoming an electric car brand”. However, Perschke was still confident the Pura Vision and other cars built on the same platform will put Pininfarina on the right track to challenge companies like Bentley and Lamborghini. “We’re not just a new kid on the block; we’re Pininfarina”, he summed up. +++

+++ Despite the French government saying that it will not let its carmakers fail from a financial standpoint, PSA is currently not interested in a government loan, as it could complicate its pending merger with FCA. The state is however currently supporting PSA employees on furlough or partial unemployment plans (which in France are government-funded), but that’s as much help as the carmaker currently needs. “We want the company to be as free as possible of public dependence”, said PSA financial chief, Philippe de Rovira, while adding that his company has yet to ask for any type of government guaranteed loan. Also, PSA hasn’t decided whether or not to pay a €1.1 billion ordinary dividend on 2019 earnings, even though other carmakers such as Renault and Ford have already said they won’t pay dividends given how much cash they’ve had to burn through as dealerships and factories idled; an example PSA might want to follow. The French government, which holds around 12 % of PSA Group shares (as well as 15 % of Renault), wants companies in need of state aid to scrap or at least moderate their dividend payments. During the 2008 financial crisis, both PSA as well as Renault accepted French government backed loans of €3 billion each. +++

+++ RENAULT is in talks with the French government to secure a state-backed loan worth several billion euros by mid-May to shore up its liquidity during the coronavirus pandemic, the French carmaker said. Interim chief executive Clotilde Delbos said Renault, which is 15 % owned by the French state, was lining up credit lines and aid when possible, including in France and emerging markets. “It is our duty to be on the safe side and to cover even black, black, black scenarios”, Delbos said on a call with analysts, adding that it was unclear how long the crisis would last and what impact it would have on earnings this year. She said however that Renault had enough liquidity to make it through the coronavirus turmoil, including covering a monthly cash burn of €600 million linked to the closure of its plants and dealerships during the health crisis. The company had €10.3 billion of liquidity reserves at the end of March (including an unused €3.5 billion credit line) though that was still €5.5 billion lower than the end of 2019. The first quarter is traditionally a period when carmakers use cash to boost vehicle stocks. Sales of Renault vehicles have been hit hard by the pandemic as governments enforce lockdowns around the world. Rivals have reported slumps in sales and some, such as Ford have also been beefing up their cash reserves. But the French carmaker was already struggling with faltering demand before the crisis, attracting scrutiny over its cash levels and financial position after posting its first loss in a decade in 2019. “Liquidity remains high in light of cost reduction but leverage concerns unresolved”, analysts at Jefferies said. Renault’s Japanese alliance partner Nissan posted its first quarterly loss in nearly a decade in February and the two are due to present plans to reboot their partnership in May, including industrial projects. Delbos said in February that Renault was embarking on a “no taboo” plan to cut €2 billion of costs which could include job reductions as it reviewed performance at factories. She said this week there were no strings attached to the state-backed loan that would have implications for the plans, bar cancelling dividend payouts, which it has already done. Renault, which has suspended its outlook for 2020, posted a 19.2 % drop in first-quarter revenue to €10.13 billion. It said it would look to resume production in Europe where possible and was cutting costs in areas such as advertising. Renault sold more cars in Russia than in its home market in the first quarter as demand slumped in Europe, the first time France has fallen from the top spot. The carmaker benefited slightly from selling more expensive SUV-style models such as the Captur but this was not sufficient to offset tumbling sales volumes. +++

+++ Another day and another electric car manufacturer has emerged out of China, albeit this time around it is a sub-brand of ROEWE , the automaker owned by SAIC. Simply dubbed ‘R’, Roewe’s all-electric sub-brand intends on releasing a plethora of high-end EVs. The brand will reportedly be launched later this month with the unveiling of the Roewe R-Aura Concept. The Roewe R-Aura Concept takes the form of a very sleek sedan. The front features a set of thin LED headlights as well as an LED light bar stretching the width of the fascia. Also visible is an illuminated badge and a shapely hood. The second teaser image is much more revealing and provides a look at the sides, rear, and roof of the R-Aura Concept. Most notably, the vehicle has an all-glass panoramic roof that reportedly doubles as a solar panel. We can also see the concept lacks traditional wing mirrors and will likely use small cameras instead. Adding to the sleek design is the lack of visible door handles while at the rear we can see thin LED taillights and just like the front, an illuminated ‘R’ badge. Another interesting feature will be face-recognition cameras on the B-pillars. We don’t yet have any details about Roewe’s production plans with its new R sub-brand but will likely hear more when the R-Aura Concept makes its physical debut. +++

+++ For years, SMART stood on the sidelines as rivals turned a blind eye to tradition and jumped in the highly lucrative crossover segment. The company is done watching; it’s allegedly preparing its own high-riding model for 2022. Smart is aware that its entry into crossover territory is drenched in substantial irony. It was founded to give motorists a right-sized alternative to big cars. That’s where the money is, however, and co-owners Daimler and Geely can’t justify their investments into the brand if they don’t see a return. Viewed in this light, putting a Smart on stilts seems as inevitable as the Ford Mondeo’s demise after 4 generations and millions sold. Don’t expect Smart to put its name on a Cadillac Escalade-sized SUV. The yet-unnamed model will stretch about 4 metres long, a figure that, if accurate, will make it approximately as big as a 5-door Mini Hatch and a full 130 centimeters longer than the tiny ForTwo. It will ride on a platform developed specifically for it, likely with input from Geely. The Chinese brand purchased half of Smart in 2019; it also owns controlling stakes in Volvo, Lotus and Polestar, among others. Power will come from an electric drivetrain built around a 58 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Its maximum driving range is expected to be about 400 kilometres. Additional technical details (like whether it will be front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive) haven’t been released yet. All 3 configurations are possible, however. Another point with a big question mark hovering over it is what Smart’s definition of a crossover looks like. It might arrive as merely a hatchback on stilts with plastic cladding over the wheel arches, a solution that would satisfy the greatest number of motorists. Or, the company could take a more creative approach to entering the segment by launching something along the lines of the ForStars concept introduced in 2012. What’s certain is that motorists hoping for a pocket-sized car with Jeep Wrangler-like off-roading skills will be sorely disappointed. Smart’s upcoming crossover will be designed primarily for urban use. The soft-roader will reportedly make its debut by the end of 2022, meaning it could go on sale in early 2023. +++

+++ SPORT UTILITY COUPES (SUCs – sure, let’s go with that acronym) are proliferating in the automotive marketplace, applying 4-door coupe design templates (chopped roofline, smaller windows, faster back rear) to the SUV category and nowhere is this truer than in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, which has just introduced the new GLE 53 and GLE 63S AMG. And while, at first, it may seem counterintuitive for a rational, Teutonic manufacturer like Mercedes to offer a vehicle with diminished cargo and back seat space within a competitive set that privileges go-anywhere utility, there are actually several good reasons why the number of SUC offerings keep expanding. First, according to automotive research and consulting firm Strategic Vision (which collects hundreds of thousands of in-depth surveys from buyers of new vehicles every year) there are compelling demographic and psychographic considerations. Buyers of Mercedes-Benz SUCs are 4 to 5 years younger than buyers of similar SUVs, which can help bring down a marque’s average age, a key factor in measuring overall brand desirability. They’re highly image conscious and seek novel shapes that may not be available elsewhere, and creating unique brand opportunities. And, perhaps most importantly, they’re significantly less price sensitive than typical SUV buyers, meaning that car companies can charge a premium for these vehicles in comparison to their more traditional counterparts. “More than anything, buyers of these Mercedes SUCs want to look good while in their vehicle, and have it stand out from others”, says Alexander Edwards, the president of Strategic Vision. “They even see the vehicle as an extension of themselves, sort of like a gamer who sees their online avatar as an extension of who they are. So, in addition to representing themselves, they want the vehicle to represent their success”. Other German luxury brands have certainly noticed and capitalized on these consumer trends. BMW created the segment in the first place with its X6, following it with the X2 and X4, while the Audi Q8 and Porsche Cayenne Coupe are other recent additions to the SUC fleet. The trend has even made its way down to a mainstream brand with the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. Though the design trend has at least influenced the more traditional offerings of Japanese, American, Korean and British marques, none have fully embraced the segment as the Germans have. This emergent category is, intriguingly, a source of joy for Gorden Wagner, who runs global vehicle design for Mercedes-Benz. “A coupe is always great, always a fun work, because you can do the stuff that makes a car better: great wheel-to-body relation, small greenhouse, wheels pushed into the body and so on”, he says. “As designers, we love to do coupes”. All of this makes sense. And automakers have certainly been taking the superior functionality of 4-door sedans and sacrificing them for the superior sportiness and handsomeness of 2-door coupes nearly since the dawn of automotive doors. But I wonder if there is a risk (with this jacked-up, rotund-roofed, big-footed sub-species) of their design coming to resemble, as I believe the new GLE 53 and GLE 63 do, an angry turtle. “How does an angry turtle look? I’ve never seen one”, Wagener laughs. “But when you say turtle, I mean, I love these round greenhouses, almost airplane-like greenhouses, thick radiuses all over, I think that’s pretty cool. It visually makes the vehicle even smaller looking”. “Especially with coupes”, he continues. “I think it’s important to go into that free form sculpture, giving the car a lot of sex appeal: big shoulders, strong hips, good stance. Definitely better than a turtle. Though, the turtle has good stance too, with the feet on each corner”. Wagener believes that we will continue to see a proliferation of new form factors in the luxury market, typified by further blends of sedan and SUV. “A few years ago we showed that Maybach Ultimate Luxury Concept, which already was a range-topping mix between the SUV and the 3-box limousine”, he says. “I think we had been very early with this concept, and the public was not quite ready for it. But I truly believe we will see that more in the future. So we will have even more diversity in the SUV line up”. He even believes that, with electrification becoming mainstream, it is possible that the sport sedan will merge with the crossover cohort, to form a new category of performance vehicle, a kind of EV/SUV/AMG mash-up. He believes this mainly for design purposes. “We have 6 inches of battery to store underneath and we can simply digest that better with larger wheels and this kind of SUV-ish height”, he says, describing something awfully similar to what Jaguar has already achieved with its electric I-Pace. “Automatically, the car becomes a bit off the ground and a bit higher. So yeah, we will see definitely more of this because of the technical layout underneath”. However, Wagener firmly does not believe that beloved Mercedes convertibles, like the SL, are at risk of becoming crossover-ized. “I personally don’t like that idea of convertible crossovers. I don’t think that it makes an appealing car”, he says. “I think it’s cool that somebody came up with that, just for the sake of diversity. But it’s nothing I would like”. +++

+++ Large white tents greeted workers at the TOYOTA factory in northern France when they arrived back at work after weeks of closure due to the country’s strict lockdown aimed at stemming coronavirus infections. Before being allowed inside, each worker had to pass through one of the tents for a temperature check; a high reading being one of the first warnings of infection with the virus that has killed over 20.000 people in France to date. The site at Onnaing was the first car plant to reopen in France even as confinement measures that have closed all nonessential businesses and battered the economy remain in place until May 11. “It’s reassuring”, said Maroua Ryad, 23, who works in production control, as she passed through the tent where workers each received a bag containing face masks, a bottle of sanitizing hand gel and a pen to avoid the need for sharing. “It is better to restart little by little than all at once on May 11”, she added. The factory closed on March 17, the date that France’s lockdown entered into force, compelling people to stay at home except for essential outings. Under the measures, industrial producers are allowed to continue operating as long as protective measures have been put in place. Social distancing between people is a key part of the strategy to limit virus spread, along with hygiene measures such as regular hand sanitizing and covering the mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing. The Onnaing factory is the only Toyota plant in France and employs about 4.500 people. Only staff with no health problems or personal obstacles to working were allowed back and operations restarted in phases with smaller teams at first. From 500 staff on site this week, the plant expects to have about 1.400 soon for production to resume, with daily production of 50 cars per day at the start, compared to 1.000 daily before the outbreak started. In the workshops, marks on the ground indicate the direction of foot traffic and encourage everyone to keep to their right in an attempt to minimize the risk of workers getting too close to one another. Collective water fountains have been replaced with individual bottles, vending machines put out of service and catering services canceled. Special trash bins are provided for used masks, and plastic screens were erected in some areas of the work floor to separate workers. On the assembly line, some were busy making plastic visors with newly acquired 3D printers. Thomas Mercier, a representative of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor union, judged the measures “sufficient”, while adding “there is still worry among some of the workers”. But the more radical General Confederation of Labor union denounced what it described as an “irresponsible” move. Plant workers “are immersed in the population and this is dangerous for us, our families and the entire region”, said union leader Eric Pecqueur. “The shareholders of Toyota are putting profits above our health”, he said. The company said protective barrier measures will remain in place for several months at least. European automobile sales fell by 55 % last month due to coronavirus lockdown measures, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the country was “not out of the health crisis yet” and insisted the lockdown must be strictly respected until May 11, when it will start being lifted in phases. +++

+++ If you’re in the market for a used car in the UNITED STATES , you might be able to get what you want at a significant discount due to the entire market’s recent decline. This goes especially for 3-year old or newer vehicles. According to the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index, prices for used cars have gone down by roughly 11 % compared to last month, and are down about 10 % year over year. The last time I saw such a dip was during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. If I adjust for retention, which is the average difference in price relative to the current MMR (Manheim Market Report), it results in a stunning decline of 11.9 % for 3-year old vehicles since the end of March alone. In the first 15 days of April, all major market segments saw seasonally adjusted price declines year-over-year. While luxury cars and SUVs/Crossovers outperformed the overall market, most other major segments didn’t . Midsize models registered the steepest drop. It’s also worth noting that while overall retail sales have fallen dramatically, actual retail prices have remained quite stable, with Dealertrack showing a decline of less than 1 % since March 16. Then there are rental risk units sold at auctions, where prices were down 18.5 % compared to last month. Car loans are also being impacted, as Barron’s points out, because carmakers also car lenders. “As of December 31, GM Financial reported $30.4 billion of estimated residual values of leased vehicles and Ford Credit reported $27.6 billion”, wrote analyst Ryan Brinkman. Both Ford and GM have been expecting used car prices to decline in 2020, but if they drop more than expected, Brinkman anticipates nearly $6 billion in incremental losses from leasing impairments alone. +++

+++ Despite the coronavirus-related lockdown as well as previously reported software issues with the car, production for VOLKSWAGEN ’s ID.3 electric model will resume this week as the German carmaker is set to reopen its Zwickau plant. According to a company spokesman, the summer launch date for the ID3 in Europe has been postponed from the second to the third quarter of the year. “But our target is to deliver the 30.000 ID.3 First Edition pre-booked models to all customers. Vehicles built will be equipped with whatever version of the software suite is current at the corresponding time of their production and prior to their delivery to customers in summer will receive the latest version. Subsequent to the market launch the digital functions will then continue to be updated in regular increments in the following months”. Before the Zwickau facility was shut down, VW brand board member Thomas Ulbrich said that the factory’s main assembly line was producing more than 100 ID.3 units per day. Moving forward, the plan is to add more MEB-based EVs on the plant’s second assembly line, starting with the ID.4 crossover. The same plant will also build the production version of the Audi Q4 e-tron concept, as well as the production version of the Seat el-Born concept. VW already restarted European production at its Bratislava plant in Slovakia yesterday. That location builds the Porsche Cayenne, VW Touareg, Audi Q7, as well as minicars such as the electric version of the Up. +++

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