Newsflash: Renault presenteert komend najaar een elektrische SUV


+++ BMW is working on a second generation of its 2 SERIES ACTIVE TOURER . A challenger to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, the compact MPV with premium touches will replace the current car that has been around since 2014. Compared to its predecessor, the new model looks more like a crossover. The roofline will be more angular towards the rear. The front and rear ends will be closely related to the new 1-Series. Even though the double kidney will be slightly bigger that before, it won’t be anywhere as big or controversial as the humorously nicknamed  ‘double coffins’ seen on the 4-Series. The side mirrors will be mounted on the doors and the door handles will get a different design. Inside, the new 2-Series Active Tourer will benefit from a new dashboard panel, with an incorporated dual-display setup, featuring a widescreen infotainment system and digital gauges. The gear selector is a lot smaller in size and is surrounded by the usual drive mode selector buttons, while the steering wheel is also new. Riding on an updated variant of the UKL platform that’s shared with the X1, X2 and 1-Series, among others, the Active Tourer will grow in size, as the longer 2-Series Gran Tourer should be phased off. This probably means that it will launch with standard seating for 5, whereas a third-row will likely be offered as an option. The versatile architecture will allow it to employ different petrol and diesel engines, as well as plug-in hybrids. All of the power units are expected to be shared with the new 1-Series hatchback, including  1.5-liter 3-cylinder and 2.0-liter four-cylinder units in petrol guise. The outgoing car is available as a plug-in hybrid, with a recent update introducing a larger 10 kWh battery boosting zero-emissions range to 50 kilometres. It’s likely that the new car will follow suit, although it’s not clear performance will take another leap forward. Dieselfans can buy 118d or 120d versions. While technically possible, don’t expect to see a 306 hp M235i Active Tourer performance model. We can’t be sure of anything these Covid-19 days, but the original plan is for the new 2-Series Active Tourer to be revealed in the second half of the year with sales to follow before the end of 2020. +++

+++ In the spring of 2008, Renault executives in France started receiving alerts from colleagues at Nissan North America about the health of the U.S. auto market. Auction prices for used cars were falling significantly. Orders were slowing, too. At the same time, cracks were starting to show in the U.S. subprime mortgage market, as securities lost value and adjustable-rate loans began to reset at higher interest. Renault’s leaders decided to take action. In mid-July, Carlos Ghosn, the CEO at the time, announced that 5.000 European positions would be cut; a total later raised to 6.000, mostly through attrition and severance. Inventory levels would be trimmed and cash flow and production would be closely monitored. Subcontracting costs were lowered by 98 %. Development of a sports car related to the Nissan 350Z was halted and several launches were postponed. “The crisis started sooner for carmakers in the U.S.”, said Patrick Pelata, who was named Renault’s chief operating officer in mid-October 2008. “We looked to the U.S., and we said it was going to come to Europe”. That happened after giant U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008; setting off a global financial crisis that later became known as the Great Recession. The European auto market had begun to soften in 2008, and other companies took steps to counter the decline. The Fiat Group (that at the time included cars, heavy trucks, farm and construction equipment) in July decided to extend summer vacation closings at manufacturing plants after noticing a global collapse in new orders in all its operating sectors, Ferrari supercars included. “The second half of this year and the first half of the next could be a true bloodbath”, Fiat and Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo told in July 2008. “By the summer of 2009, we should have a clearer idea of the winners and the losers”, he said. Through government aid and incentives, the European AUTO INDUSTRY was able to bounce back. It survived the “double dip” sovereign credit crisis in 2011-12 to post record sales and profits, only to run up against an equally fearsome foe: The Covid-19 outbreak, which has temporarily shuttered factories and showrooms around the world in a cascade of bad news for automakers and suppliers. Executives, analysts and consultants who witnessed the 2008 crisis say automakers and governments have learned lessons that will help them navigate the unknown impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But back then, many companies were flying blind. “It was moving pretty fast”, recalled Pelata, now a consultant and a board member of several prominent French companies. “Starting in mid-October, the banks didn’t want to loan us any money. Then we started to have cash management committee meetings every week and we ran simulations on sales to see when we would be short on cash. Our simulations started showing that we would have cash problems in the summer of 2009, so we had 9 to 10 months ahead of us”, he said. In the U.S., General Motors and Chrysler were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and Europe’s automakers were facing their own liquidity issues as global equities markets plunged to lows not seen in 5 years or more. Political and financial leaders shuttled between meetings and teleconferences in an effort to halt the bleeding. A hastily convened task force in the U.S. recommended that the government take control of GM and Chrysler, at a final cost of $80 billion. “There was no other option for the government other than to take them to bankruptcy and to refinance the companies”, said Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group in Detroit, who led a team of consultants advising the U.S. task force. Mosquet and other experts say automakers have taken steps to “crisis proof” their businesses since 2008. Most notably, they have much more cash and available credit on their balance sheets. And if automakers need to tap credit lines, they will have an easier time now, executives said. “Since that time all car manufacturers have gotten more rigorous about capital allocation and trying not to spend more than required, and also about having sufficient cash reserves in case they face a similar crisis”, Mosquet said. Philippe Houchois, an automotive analyst at Jefferies, said: “At the end of 2007 the amount of cash in the European auto balance sheet was a fraction of what it is today. Pretty much all the automakers looked death in the face in 2009, so they have been paranoid ever since and retained a lot of liquidity”. Companies including Ford, GM and Aptiv in March moved to bolster their cash reserves by suspending dividends and drawing down billions from credit lines. “The big advantage between the crisis now and 10 years ago is that capital markets are very liquid and interest rates are very low, so I am pretty certain we won’t see a cash crunch”, Porsche chief financial officer Lutz Meschke said. His colleague at BMW, Nicolas Peter, said the automaker’s risk management was prepared for another crisis. “Compared with the financial crisis of 2008-09, we have increased our backup line of credit to €8 billion from €6 billion and we have over 40 global banks included in this”. he said. Daimler CFO Harald Wilhelm told that he aims to maintain net industrial cash at no less than €10 billion euros to cope with unforeseen events. “We have to juggle our cash flow, investments, dividends and some one-off charges that become cash effective”, so that cash remains above that figure, Wilhelm added. With all European production halted (a “totally unprecedented situation”, Houchois said) and showrooms shut, essentially reducing revenues to a trickle, that cash is desperately needed to ensure orders and invoices filed before the coronavirus crisis hit are paid, he said. For example, dealers are sitting on billions of euros worth of inventory that can’t be sold. “What matters is how much money is due to you and how quickly you get it, and, of course, what you owe suppliers and how quickly you have to pay them”, Houchois said. “Keep in mind that everyone has an incentive not to pay. So, you might have a hard time collecting what is due to you, and then you play a game of trying to delay payments”. And fixed costs do not fall to zero if production stops, analysts noted. Even in a total production halt, at least 15 % of such costs still must be borne, and salaries, normally a variable cost, will become fixed if automakers need to pay a certain amount to avoid mass layoffs. But if every industrial company drew on credit lines, it could severely stress the banking system, Houchois said, noting that the eight volume automakers he covers alone have €90 billion available to them. He said that to some extent the financial system is now shielded by the European Central Bank, which after the 2008 crisis developed and implemented tools such as quantitative easing. In addition, automakers’ captive finance arms such as Renault’s RCI Bank or Volkswagen Financial Services are now registered as banks, allowing those units access to ECB loans. Captive financial services businesses could be a potential source of distress this time around. GM collapsed a decade ago in part because its GMAC unit had expanded into noncore businesses such as residential mortgages. VW Financial Services may not have dodgy home loans on its books, but it did have aggregate net debt of €170 billion at the end of last year. An increase in non-performing loans or an unexpected drop in residual values underpinning leasing contracts for even a tiny sliver of its portfolio could mean write-downs in the billions. “The corona crisis represents a challenge for which there is no comparison”, VW Financial Services chief Lars Henner Santelmann said. VW’s financial unit says it has relatively low credit risks and liquidity is “sufficient at present”. This year, after imposing restrictions on movement and commerce in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Europe’s national governments pledged they would step in to help automakers again, with loans, direct payments or in a worst-case situation, potentially nationalization, something Jefferies’ Houchois doesn’t favor. “Nationalization is never a good situation”, he said. “Even if you don’t have outright nationalization, once you take public money you give up a lot of your independence”. As an example, in 2008 the government of French president Nicolas Sarkozy extended €3 billion loans in the form of 5 year bonds, at a rate of 6 %, to Renault and PSA, in return for a pledge that they close no factories for the duration of the bonds and cut no jobs in France for a year. The government also announced more than €2 billion in aid to keep auto workers on payrolls through production stoppages. Those guarantees prevented the automakers from cutting costs when they may have been most needed. A similar helping hand should be cautiously extended today, analysts said. “An emergency loan program is a good idea”, Mosquet said, because it would help automakers pay the supplier base faster. In 2008-09, Europe’s 4 largest markets (Germany, the UK, France and Italy) announced the formation or extension of scrapping incentives, partly or wholly financed by the government. The programs kept vehicle sales from falling off a cliff, although the schemes ran over budget by billions of euros, pulled forward car purchases and skewed sales toward low-margin models. The incentives had a quick impact, with sales in Europe starting to rise by spring 2009, and monthly volumes hit multiyear highs within months. The ECB delivered a mixed report on the success of scrapping, noting that while it benefited short-term auto demand, other sectors of the economy may have been starved of consumer spending. “Such measures should be implemented with caution”, the ECB said. Despite their downsides, scrapping incentives may be a necessary short-term solution, analysts said. “Without strong, short-term incentives, I’m afraid car sales in Europe could drop 30 % this year”, said Stefano Aversa, Europe Middle East Africa chairman of consultancy AlixPartners. Pelata, the former Renault chief operating officer, agrees. “Even if you do ‘cash for clunkers,’ there is so much uncertainty for so many people right now. It’s very rare that you absolutely need a car”. The introduction of scrapping incentives is also currently complicated by new emissions targets that take effect this year. That means automakers need to sell a much higher percentage of costly electrified vehicles (battery-electric car and plug-in hybrids) to meet their targets or face potential fines in the billions. In the past, car buyers (many of them entering showrooms for the first time) skewed heavily toward the cheapest and least-profitable models. But even with generous incentives, buying an electric car will still be a stretch, analysts say. “If I had a support program, I would probably bias it toward more electrification”, Mosquet said. “That would help the manufacturers sell the cars in which they have the most invested, and they need that mix to be compliant with the regulations”. He suggested, however, that emissions fines might need to be reassessed in light of expected government loans. “There’s no point in trying to support automakers on one side and then fining them for a situation over which they have no control”, he said. Houchois argued that CO2 rules should remain in place. “Changing EU rules would be difficult, because it has to be done by unanimous process”, he said, “In addition, you would be sending the wrong signals to consumers about global warming”. But in the end, experts say, the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the auto industry will be largely determined by the length and severity of the health crisis, and to what extent consumers resume spending habits. “In 2009, I was saying, ‘Never again’ “, Mosquet said, referring to the magnitude of the Great Recession. “We are now in a comparable situation. Let’s hope it’s shorter than in 2009”. +++

+++ In AUSTRALIA , sales figures for new cars in March have been announced and reveal a market dealing with the consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak. According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), a total of 81.690 vehicles were sold in Australia last month. Of those, 21.277 were low passenger vehicles (26.7 % market share), 39.171 were SUVs (48.0 % share) and 18.162 were light commercial vehicles (22.2 %). All up, sales are down 17.9 % from where they were in March 2019, mainly attributed to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the general economy. Interestingly, sales in March were up from the first 2 months of the year where 71.731 vehicles were sold in January and 79.940 were sold in February. Australia’s bestselling brand remains Toyota in March. It sold 17.583 vehicles; representing a 21.5 % share of the market, while also increasing its sales by 1.6 % over last year. In second place was Mazda with 6.819 sales in March (down around 29 %), followed by Mitsubishi with 6.002 sales (down a little over 40 %), Kia with 5.624 sales (up 6.6 %) and Hyundai with 5.306 sales (down around 31 %). Holden, which will be killed off, sold 4.992 vehicles last month. Broken down by individual models, Toyota continues to dominate accounting for four of the nation’s 6 best-selling vehicles. Taking out the top spot is the Toyota HiLux with a total of 3.556 sales last month beating out the Ford Ranger but 21.4 % down from the sales recorded in March 2019. In third was the Toyota RAV4 with 2.991 sales (a 111.2 % increase from March 2019), followed by the Toyota Corolla with 2.812 sales, the Holden Colorado with 2.391 units sold and the Toyota Land Cruiser that sold 2.043 examples. +++

+++ BMW is expecting a further decline in global demand as the coronavirus outbreak takes its toll, a spokesman said, after the German carmaker reported a 20.6% drop in first quarter sales to 477.111 vehicles. BMW said it had seen sales growth at the start of the year. Since then, the pandemic has pushed some firms, including carmakers, to halt production at some sites and many governments around the world have introduced lockdown measures in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. “By February, the impact of the pandemic had already led to a significant decrease in sales in China. By March, the effects of the pandemic were clearly visible in sales figures in Europe and the U.S”, BMW said in a statement. BMW sales to China, where the outbreak started, were down 30.9 % in the January to March period. They dropped by 18.3 % in Europe and by 17.4 % in the United States. A production stoppage at BMW’s factories is being extended by 2 weeks until April 30, a spokesman said, adding the time was being used to modify factories; a task that is keeping several thousand employees busy. BMW is responding to an expected further downturn in demand by planning ahead and adjusting production, a spokesman said. He added that while fundamental demand was still there, the closure of retail outlets meant customers were not ordering and receiving cars like they do normally so it would take longer for markets to recover. BMW said around 80 % of retail outlets in Europe and 70 % in the United States were temporarily shut due to the pandemic. Export expectations in Germany’s car sector have fallen to their lowest level since March 2009, when Europe’s largest economy was in the throes of the global financial crisis, Germany’s Ifo institute said. +++

+++ This is the HYUNDAI Prophecy. It’s a new, all-electric concept car which showcases a potential range-topping saloon which, if realised, would give the brand a rival for the Tesla Model 3 and the forthcoming BMW i4. The concept also previews the design direction for the company’s future electric models. The Prophecy follows Hyundai’s “Sensuous Sportiness” design language, which was first shown on the latest, although the concept adopts a more minimalistic look than we’ve seen on the company’s previous models. It also draws inspiration from the Phantom Corsair streamliner of 1938, sharing the same aerodynamic teardrop profile. To maintain aerodynamic efficiency, Hyundai has fitted fixed door glass to the concept. The firm says an open window causes an excessive amount of drag, which would negatively impact the Prophecy’s range. To get around the issue of ventilation, the company’s engineers have developed an air filtration system which automatically draws fresh air from the vents at the front of the vehicle, feeding it into the cabin when it recognises the interior air is stale. Wildly flared wheel arches swell from either side of the vehicle. The clean front end is punctuated by little more than a Hyundai logo and lighting units made up of tiny, pixelated elements. The same design continues at the rear of the car, where the lights are grouped into two towers. Hyundai has confirmed that the pixelated design will become a feature of its upcoming electric production models. The high-level third brake light features a similar design. It’s integrated into the rear lip spoiler and, when viewed from the top down, it bears a resemblance to a graphic equaliser on an old hi-fi system. Inside the Prophecy there’s no steering wheel; instead, the driver uses a pair of tiller-like joysticks – one is mounted against the door, while the other is fitted to the centre armrest. The minimalist design extends to the dashboard, which is little more than a shelf holding a full-width bank of digital displays. When the vehicle is parked, the entire unit can swivel upwards, turning the Prophecy’s cabin into an “entertainment space”. Dubbed “Relax Mode” by Hyundai’s marketeers, the setting also reclines the front seats which the company says provides the optimal position to watch content on the dashboard’s screen. Hyundai has released few technical details for the Prophecy, but it’s based on the same scaleable electric underpinnings as the 45 Concept, which was launched at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show. Should the model become a production reality, it’ll likely have a range of 500 kilometres. Executive vice president and chief design officer for the Hyundai Motor Group, Luc Donckerwolke, said: “We were aiming for a higher sense of emotionality in our product. We realised we had been designing electric cars in the same way as conventional cars”. +++

+++ A South Korean contract manufacturer for KIA ’s compact vehicles has suspended production, a company official said, citing a drop in overseas demand as the coronavirus outbreak has spread across Europe. Donghee Auto, which produces Kia’s Picanto and Ray models, has suspended production at its plant in Seosan, South Korea, until April 13, the official said. Of the 195.516 Picanto vehicles produced in South Korea last year, 73 % were exported, mostly to Europe, Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association data shows. Hyundai Wia, which produces engines for the Picanto and Ray, also said in a regulatory filing that it will suspend operations at its plant in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, from April 6 to April 9. +++

+++ LOTUS may only be making 130 examples of its Evija all-electric hypercar, but the brand says it’s much more than an exercise to make money and build prestige. Its upcoming halo model will influence all future Lotus models to follow, so it’s more important than you may have given it credit for. The Evija is like nothing Lotus has ever made before. Its cars are usually renowned for their remarkable handling which is usually a byproduct of their low mass. The all-electric Evija, though, is considerably faster and more expensive than any car in the company’s history: it has 2.000 hp and costs €2 million. The sports car maker’s chief engineer, Matt Windle, said that the design of the model will inspire the look of future Lotus models (which will apparently be electric): “People do not understand that Lotus is still going. We want them to know we’re still here, that we can still innovate. The Evija is not just a standalone product. The design language and the content that’s in the car will give us direction as we shape future products that are coming. You’ll see it as a trailblazer”. He also mentions that a lot of work went into keeping its weight down to around 1.680 kg. That’s definitely heavy for a Lotus, but for an electric car with a 70 kWh battery pack, it’s actually pretty good for an EV. Windle says that this was achieved thanks to the use of lightweight materials such as carbon fibre for the car’s structure. He also mentions the fact that clever packaging allowed them to further reduce mass and his example to illustrate this is how they use the part the steering column is mounted to as ducting for the climate system. Another key point Windle was keen to make had to do with the way the car handled. If you’re familiar with the Lotus brand, then you know the nimble handling of its sports cars is second to none. Windle alluded to this by saying: “We have the ability to deliver the driving dynamics and the performance that customers expect from a Lotus. It’s the same dynamic setup, but with a different propulsion system”. +++

+++ PLUG-IN Passenger plug-in electric car sales in February 2020 positively surprised, as despite a huge decline in China, the market actually noticeably expanded; something that we haven’t seen in the past 6 months! Worldwide sales exceeded 116.000, which is 16 % more than a year ago. Close to two-thirds of sales fall on all-electric cars (64 %). A positive February allowed also for a 2 % growth YTD (to over 268.000). The Tesla Model 3 (13.661) in February was beyond the reach of any other plug-in model with sales higher than the next 2 combined. The second-best was, surprisingly, the Nissan Leaf (6.739), but it’s already far behind the Renault Zoé (6.495) in the year-to-date rank. One of the great performers was Volkswagen e-Golf (4.093), which is running at a record pace. There was no Chinese plug-in model in the top-10. The bestselling plug-in car from China was the GAC Aion S. The SAIC MG ZS EV was second. Another finding is that the Audi e-tron is now the top all-electric premium SUV with quite decent results; well above its closest competitors like the Tesla Model X, Jaguar I-Pace or Mercedes-Benz EQ C. After February, Tesla is back in first place with 28.269 sales YTD and a significant advantage over BMW (21.027), Volkswagen (18.563), Renault (16.632) and Peugeot (13.414). This year shows high strength for European brands, but unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak will affect them this Spring. It will be time for Chinese brands to get back in the top 10. +++

+++ PSA said it had secured a further €3 billion of loans, strengthening its financial position in the wake of the hit to the global auto industry from the coronavirus crisis. Carmakers worldwide have been badly affected by the health crisis, first as production stalled in China, where the virus originated, and now as it spreads in Europe, where some governments have ordered unprecedented lockdowns to contain it. Last month agency Moody’s placed the credit ratings of 7 European auto makers including PSA and rival Renault on review for downgrade, citing the coronavirus crisis. The latest syndicated loans come on top of an existing €3 billion worth of undrawn credit lines. They have an initial maturity of 12 months, with 2 optional 3-month extensions, the French group added. It did not say which banks were involved. “This operation reinforces our ability to face up to this exceptional situation and prepare the future”. said PSA chief financial officer Philippe de Rovira. “It also proves the confidence of our partner banks in the financial strength and recognized resilience of Groupe PSA”. Last month the French government told PSA and Renault they were entitled to help such as guarantees on loans and leeway on bills as it seeks to help companies cope with the fallout from the health crisis. PSA did not say if its latest loans had attracted any state support. PSA, which also makes the Citroen marque, has suspended output in all its European plants until March 27 and has not given a target date for restarting production. PSA, which is in the midst of merging with Fiat Chrysler, has also postponed its annual shareholders’ meeting to June 25 from May 14. Separately, shares in Renault rose more than 8 % after top executives from the Renault – Nissan alliance told they intend to announce their programme for the next 3 years in mid-May and that billions of dollars in savings are planned. +++

+++ RENAULT will finally step into the electric SUV segment with their very own proposal that’s expected to be unveiled before the end of 2020. Following hot on the heels of the latest Zoe, as well as the City K-ZE that will arrive in Europe rebadged as a Dacia Spring Electric, this as of yet unnamed model is said to be based on the new CMF-EV platform that debuted in the Morphoz Concept, at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show. Known internally as the BCB, it’s believed to be bigger than the Zoé, slotting above the new Captur in terms of size. The new model is expected to offer different power levels and battery capacities, with the range-topper being able to travel for 550-600 km on a single charge. The EV will be presented at the event taking place between September 29 and October 11. Production is believed to commence at the Renault Douai factory, in Northern France, which is where the Espace, Scenic and Talisman are put together. The first units are said to be scheduled to arrive at dealers next spring. +++

+++ New car registrations in the UNITED KINGDOM plummeted 44.4 % year-on-year last month, as the coronavirus outbreak closed showrooms and kept customers at home. The latest figures from the SMMT show that 254.684 new cars were registered in March; 203.370 fewer than in the same period last year. The organisation has now adjusted its market outlook for the year ahead, predicting that 2020 will see a total of 1.73 million new car registrations in the UK; down 23 % on the prediction it made in January. The decline is steeper than that recorded during the 2009 financial crisis and represents the worst March since the UK adopted a bi-annual plate change system in the late 1990s. March is customarily a busy month for vehicle retail in the UK as buyers rush to buy a car with a new number plate. While demand for petrol cars fell 40.4 % and diesel 61.9%, the SMMT does note that registrations for battery electric vehicles surged by nearly 300 % to 11.694 units, giving BEVs a 4.6 % market share. Plug-in hybrid registrations jumped 38%, but registrations of traditional hybrid vehicles fell 7.1 %. Demand from private buyers fell by 40.4 %, while fleet registrations dropped by 47.4 %. The Volkswagen Golf topped the bestsellers list, with 7.103 units sold. The Ford Fiesta followed close behind with 6.687 units and the Mini hatchback was in third place with 6.019. In terms of overall manufacturer performance, Smart was the worst hit of the mainstream car brands, registering a 85.9 % drop in registrations last month. Lexus, meanwhile, saw only a 17.3 % decline, while Norfolk sports car brand Lotus registered just 15.4 % fewer cars. SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “With the country locked down in crisis mode for a large part of March, this decline will come as no surprise. Despite this being the lowest March since we moved to the bi-annual plate change system, it could have been worse had the significant advanced orders placed for the new 20 plate not been delivered in the early part of the month. “We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt”. It is not yet clear when production facilities and showrooms will be able to restart operations. Ferrari was the first mainstream European manufacturer to set a date for its return, but it remains unclear whether its factory will re-open its doors on 14 April as planned. Almost all brands in the UK market saw sales drops last month. Volkswagen, the topselling brand, saw its registrations fall 40 %, while former No. 1 Ford, now in second place, fell 53 %. Third-placed BMW’s volume declined by 42 %. No. 4 Mercedes-Benz saw sales drop 49 %. In fifth place, Audi fell 42 %. Other brands that saw big drops included Vauxhall (down 67 %); Citroen (down 64 %): Dacia (down 60 %); Fiat (down 60 %); Renault (down 59 %); Peugeot (down 59 %) and Hyundai, which fell 55 %. Sales of MG cars increased 50 % to 2.736 units. Porsche’s volume rose 13 % to 1.838 vehicles. Through March, UK sales are down 31 % to 483.557. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN technical chief Matthias Rabe believes combustion engines still have a long future in the car industry despite increasing restrictions on CO2 emissions, because of the development of environmentally friendly fuels. The Volkswagen Group has set itself a target of net zero carbon emissions and made a huge investment in electric vehicle technology, spearheaded by Volkswagen’s ID range of electric cars, to achieve that. Yet Rabe said combustion engines “will have a longer future than some people predict”, because of the likely widespread future adoption of synthetic fuels made from biomass or other materials. Current unleaded petrol features a limited amound of ethanol produced from crops, but research has been ongoing on e-fuels, which are synthetically produced from natural materials and therefore emit no CO2 or other harmful emissions. E-fuels have long attracted the interest of the car industry, with Volkswagen and sister firm Bentley among those looking into the technology, but it is still some way from being production-ready. While the pressing CO2 emissions targets imposed on car firms by authorities such as the European Union has led to firms including Volkswagen focusing on EVs to reduce emissions, Rabe believes that the limitations of electric technology in other transport areas due to the weight and size of current batteries will help spur e-fuel development. “We will come to e-fuels”, he said. “If you look at the aviation industry, e-fuels are in high demand because planes won’t go electric, otherwise you won’t cross the Atlantic. We take our CO2 targets very seriously and want to be a role model on CO2, but that doesn’t mean we will exclude the combustion engine”. Volkswagen is committed to “a broad field” of powertrain options for at least the next decade, Rabe added. The firm is also pushing ahead with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powertrains in some markets. +++

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