Newsflash: Volkswagen bevestigt komtst Tiguan GTE en Arteon GTE

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+++ The Chinese company AIWAYS announced that by the end of April it intends to launch an online order book for its first all-electric U5 model in Europe. The customers will be required to put down a “small” deposit to reserve the car in pre-sale, but the amount was not yet disclosed. “Aiways, the Shanghai-based personal mobility provider, is to start taking online orders for its all-electric SUV from European consumers from the end of April. Secured via a small deposit, the U5 will be offered exclusively via a direct-to-customer sales model and not retailed or leased through traditional dealerships. European pre-sale markets and the required deposit amount will be announced by Aiways in April. Making the most of its agility and flexibility as a startup, we are adapting its pre-sale marketing activities to better suit the enforced period of ‘contactless’ retail because of Covid-19. By introducing new online platforms and seamless digital experiences, Aiways will give European car buyers the confidence to order the U5 online. More details to follow soon”. The production of Aiways U5 originally started in Shangrao, China in the end of December 2019, but then it was put on hold by the holidays and then also by the Covid-19 outbreak. Now it has restarted so the company can fulfill orders from its home market. From July, Aiways will also produce the European version, while the first deliveries are expected in August. “Meanwhile, Aiways has re-started production of the U5 at its manufacturing facility in Shangrao, following the interruption caused by the corona virus. Production of the European U5 will start in July, with the first deliveries now slated for August 2020”. Alexander Klose, executive vice president overseas operationa at Aiways, commented: “Online pre-sales represents the next important phase of Aiways’ entry into the European market. It’s our promise to customers that for only a small deposit they can be among the first to receive the U5 and start enjoying the benefits of a long range, high-tech and well equipped electric SUV”. The European version of the U5 will have more than 400 km of WLTP range, a 63 kWh battery (liquid-cooled), a 194 hp and 315 Nm electric motor driving the frontwheels, DC fast charging (30 % to 80% in 27 minutes), AC normal charging (20 % to 100 % in 8 hours using a 6.6 kW on-board charger), a curb weight of 1.725 kg, a drag coefficient of 0.29, a boot capacity of 1.543 liters and will be 4.680 mm in length, 1.865 mm in width and 1.684 mm in height (with a wheelbase of 2.800 mm). +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN ‘s recent rescue by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll was a welcome shot in the arm for the embattled company, but it’s not out of the woods yet. That is because despite its coffers being boosted by £536 million, according to European Securities and Markets Authority rules, it still might not have enough working capital due to “increased and unquantifiable uncertainty” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Aston Martin said that the problems caused as a result of the ongoing crisis have made it impossible to determine a “reasonable worse case downside” and its shares have also tumbled by 9.3 % as well. Aston Martin’s stock price has also has fallen 60 % this year alone and is now 89 % below the price it was when the company first went public in 2018. The recent cash infusion should have been enough to help Aston Martin with its cashflow problems, but the coronavirus crises put an end to that hope. “Taking into account the proceeds of the capital raise, the company is of the opinion that the group does not have sufficient working capital to meet its requirements for 12 months”, Aston Martin previously said ahead of Stroll’s bailout. As part of his investment, Stroll will take over as executive chairman of the company said that the investment “gives the necessary stability to reset the business for its long-term future. We have a clear plan to make this happen”. The investment will also aid the production of the new DBX; a product that Aston Martin is counting on to help it turnaround its fortunes. Deliveries are set to commence this summer, but they could be hindered. +++

+++ Study after study has shown that people are wary about AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES . However, some executive believe the coronavirus pandemic could make autonomous vehicles more appealing. While the idea sounds crazy on the surface, it actually makes a lot of sense when you think about. Driverless robotaxis could allow city dwellers to travel to the store without exposing them to someone who could potentially have Covid-19. Even better, autonomous delivery vehicles could effectively bring the store to you. The latter scenario would be much safer than visiting a crowded grocery store as it would eliminate encounters with numerous people and the possibility of touching contaminated surfaces such as shopping carts. The idea isn’t far-fetched either as Nuro and Kroger announced an autonomous delivery pilot program in 2018. More recently, the company partnered with Walmart to launch autonomous deliveries in Houston, Texas. Given all the benefits, executives see a bright future for autonomous vehicles. As Mashable noted, Optimus Ride CEO Ryan Chin recently said “Autonomous vehicle companies are positioned to come out of Covid-19 much stronger” than before. His sentiments were echoed by Steer Tech CEO Anuja Sonalker who told the publication, “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology”. She was also pretty direct about the benefits as she said “Humans are biohazards, machines are not”. Of course, it’ll likely be a long before autonomous vehicles are in wide use. That means they’ll be of little benefit during the current pandemic. +++

+++ Organisers of the BEIJING MOTOR SHOW , which was scheduled to be held in late-April, said the event would be held between September 26 and October 5 due to the coronavirus pandamic. Several other auto shows globally have been cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak, including those in New York, Geneva and Sao Paulo. The Beijing motor show had been scheduled to open its doors on 21 April. The show was the first international motoring event of its type to be postponed, before Geneva was cancelled at the last minute. At the time Beijing being regularly treated with chemicals in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, so the decision made sense. The show’s postponement is a blow to the Chinese car industry that’s struggling to recover from two successive market drops in 2018 and 2019. China remains the world’s biggest market for new cars with 22.3 million registered last year. Until 2018, it had enjoyed 20 years of unparalled growth since the last decline in 1997. The Beijing and Shanghai motor shows have both expanded to become internationally significant, and they alternate on the calendar. Beijing receives around 800.000 visitors each year (about 5.500 of them from overseas) and hosts some 1.200 exhibitors from 14 regions. +++

+++ BMW chief executive Oliver Zipse said the carmaker is focussing on preserving the health of its balance sheet and workforce which have come under strain during the coronavirus crisis. “No company can possibly get through something like this unscathed. Guaranteeing our liquidity needs to happen very quickly. The management board are currently meeting twice as often as normal, so we can make the necessary decisions”, Zipse said in a statement. “We are preparing to ramp up production as soon as the time is right in full compliance with all the safety aspects and with international coordination. It’s essential that we synchronise with the supplier network on this”, Zipse said. +++

+++ BYD and Toyota announced the launch of a joint venture company, in a bid to give full play to their respective advantages to conduct research and development into battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in the future. According to BYD and Toyota, the new company, namely BYD Toyota EV Technology Co Ltd, will mainly focus on the design and development of BEVs and their platforms and related parts. The agreement for the establishment of the joint venture was signed on November 7 and operations are scheduled to commence in May. Hirohisa Kishi, chairman of the new company, said: “With the engineers from BYD and Toyota working together under the same roof, we aim to develop BEVs that are superior in performance and meet the needs of customers in China by merging the 2 companies’ strengths and also through friendly rivalry”. “This joint venture company will focus on the R&D of BEVs with technology and know-how from both China and Japan. The company is committed to promoting and populating high-quality technologies that make BEVs more environmentally friendly, safe, comfortable and intelligent”, said Zhao Binggen, newly appointed CEO of BYD Toyota EV Technology. Our vision is to create a future customer-first mobility style, and a harmonious society for humans and nature, Zhao added. The both parties made a commitment to work together to meet the diverse needs of customers by researching and developing BEVs that appeal to customers and promoting their widespread adoption, and also hope to contribute to improving the environment in China. +++

+++ It appears as though the CADILLAC CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing are the latest vehicles to have been delayed because of the coronavirus. The launch of the 2 high-performance sedans has been pushed back by 6 months. It’s reported that the duo were set to be revealed later this year and the delay could mean we won’t see them until the end of 2020 or perhaps the first half of 2021. The current thought is that the new CT4-V Blackwing will utilize a 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine, essentially the same powertrain as the ATS-V. A series of modifications will likely be made to the engine so it delivers more than 464 hp and 603 Nm; the figures it offered up in the ATS-V. Power will be sent exclusively through the rear wheels and it’s claimed customers will have the option of a 6-speed manual transmission and a 10-speed automatic. As for the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, it will act as the spiritual successor to the CTS-V and use GM’s familiar 6.2-liter supercharged LT4 V8 from the likes of the Camaro ZL1 and C7 Corvette Z06. While horsepower and torque figures remain unconfirmed, this engine is good for 650 hp and 881 Nm in both the ZL1 and Z06, so similar numbers for the CT5-V Blackwing are to be expected. Much like the CT4-V Blackwing, the range-topping CT5 will allegedly be offered in both stick shift and 10-speed auto guises. +++

+++ CHINA will endeavor to stabilize new car sales, loosen purchase restrictions in certain cities and invigorate the used-car market in a bid to unleash the consumption potential for cars, an official said. As a pillar of the national economy, the auto industry plays a crucial role in boosting domestic consumption and facilitating consumption upgrades, Wang Bin, deputy director of the Department of Market Operation and Consumption Promotion of the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), said at an online press conference. Car sales accounted for 9.6 % of the country’s total retail sales in 2019, while tax revenues and employment in the auto industry and related industries made up one-tenth of the country’s total, he said. Due to multiple factors, China’s car sales have been falling for 2 consecutive years. Compounded by the Covid-19 epidemic, sales plunged 42 % year on year during the first 2 months of the year. To prop up the market, the government recently announced a slew of measures to unleash demand. A State Council executive meeting decided to extend subsidies and tax exemptions for new energy vehicle purchases by another two years, which were set to expire at the end of this year. Value-added tax on the sale of old vehicles by second-hand vehicle dealers will be decreased to 0.5 % of the sales volume from May 1 to the end of 2023, the meeting decided. Liu Changyu, an official with the Department of Foreign Trade of the MOC, said the coronavirus pandemic overseas inevitably affected the country’s auto trade and supply chains. The ministry will help domestic car companies strengthen production and supply monitoring of overseas suppliers, increase orders and inventories, formulate alternative plans and make reasonable arrangements for production, he said, adding that the government will also work to ensure the rapid and smooth customs clearance of core auto parts. China will strengthen international cooperation to maintain the stability of the global automobile industrial chains and supply chains and blunt the adverse impact of the ongoing pandemic on the whole industry, Liu said. +++

+++ DAIMLER said it has signed an agreement for a €12 billion credit line to increase its financial flexibility in the current coronavirus crisis. The credit line comes in addition to an €11 billion revolving credit with a term until 2025, including extension options. The new loan facility can be utilized within a 12 month period with 2 extension options of 6 months, Daimler said, adding the line was agreed with BNP, Banco Santander, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan on April 1. Syndication has started. Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius and members of the automaker’s management board will reduce their fixed compensation by 20 % until the end of the year in response to the effects of the coronavirus crisis. Other senior executives will see their pay drop by 10 % for the next 3 months, Daimler said in a statement. The cuts starts April 1. Kallenius’s fixed salary in 2019, the year he took over from longtime Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, was €1.34 million.  He also earned €3.5 million in variable compensation, including shares and performance bonuses. In addition to Kallenius, there are 7 members of Daimler’s management board. Other management board members’ base salary ranged from around €400,000 to €800,000, according to Daimler’s annual report. With production halted in Europe and North America, and most dealerships closed, automakers are seeking ways to preserve cash and avoid mass layoffs. A number of companies have put workers on reduced time, and are negotiating with unions and governments to put compensation plans in place. Earlier this week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley told employees that his salary would be cut by half for 3 months starting April as the company deals with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The other 19 members of FCA’s Group Executive Council will take a 30 % cut. FCA Group chairman John Elkann and other members of the board of directors will receive no compensation for the rest of the year. Members of Daimler’s supervisory board will also take a 20 % cut. In Germany, supervisory board members do not have management functions. Their role is to make strategic decisions and appoint members of the management board. At Daimler they receive fixed fees, attendance fees and expenses. The supervisory board consists of 20 members, half of whom represent employees. +++

+++ McLaren has announced that it will produce just 249 examples of the ultra-exclusive ELVA SPEEDSTER , down from a planned 399 units. The decision, confirmed by CEO Mike Flewitt, is said to have been taken as a means of enhancing the car’s rarity value. “The feedback from our customers is that they think the car should be more exclusive than that, so we’ve capped it at 249”, he said. Sources suggest however that McLaren over-estimated market demand for the model, hence the decision to reduce production numbers. The similarly conceived Aston Martin Speedster is limited to 88 examples, while Ferrari will build just 250 examples each of its SP1 and SP2 Monza roadsters. The new machine joins the P1, Senna and Speedtail in McLaren’s range-topping Ultimate Series model line. McLaren claims the rear-wheel-drive Elva is the lightest road car it has ever produced. Powered by the firm’s 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine, it is able to reach 100 kph in “under 3 seconds”; faster than the track-focused Senna. The Elva name is taken from the East Sussex constructor whose chassis was used as the basis for McLaren’s M1A, M1B and M1C 2-seat sports cars in the 1960s, which serve as spiritual predecessors to the new road car. McLaren has acquired the rights to the Elva name. McLaren boss Mike Flewitt says the Elva is “a uniquely modern car that delivers the ultimate connection between driver, car and the elements”. It features a bespoke, lightweight carbonfibre chassis, with no roof, windscreen or side windows. +++

+++ EUROPE ’s car makers may be facing the worst crisis they’ve ever dealt with as production ceases and retail operations close during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. New car registrations have plummeted in the past few weeks as nationwide lockdowns are put in place. France has reported that registrations are down 72 % compared with March last year. Most national figures have yet to be released, but they’re likely to be similarly low and will almost certainly be far worse still in April. It’s estimated that the production losses from production shutdowns across the European Union (EU) amount to 1.23 million vehicles so far. European automotive industry association the ACEA has called for “strong and coordinated action” to ensure manufacturers, dealers and the wider supply chain are protected as income falls by an unprecedented amount for many. The ACEA’s director general has called for the president of the EU’s European Commission to “take concrete measures to avoid irreversible and fundamental damage to the sector with a permanent loss of jobs, capacity, innovation and research capability”. Some 13.8 million people work in the automotive industry across the EU, with 229 assembly and production plants employing 2.6 million of those in manufacturing. The ACEA claims the pandemic will have “grave consequences, far beyond what we can forsee now” for manufacturers and their employees. Car makers are still spending huge amounts of cash despite not producing any cars. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS ’ vehicle sales in China fell 43.3 % in the first 3 months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, the company said, as the coronavirus pandemic reduced demand in the world’s biggest auto market. The pandemic has killed over 3.300 people in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, and caused the government to lock down parts of the country to contain the spread. The travel restrictions contributed to a 79 % drop in overall auto sales in February after a 19 % drop in January. General Motors, China’s second-biggest foreign automaker, delivered 461.716 vehicles in the first quarter, the company said. The first quarter drop follows a second straight decline in annual sales in 2019. GM has a joint venture in China with SAIC Motor which manufactures Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac vehicles. It also has another venture, SGMW, with SAIC and Guangxi Automobile Group, that produces no-frills minivans and has started to make higher-end cars. Sales of GM’s mass-market brand Chevrolet dropped 54.7 % for the latest quarter, while sales of the no-frills brand Wuling fell 34.3 %. Premium brand Cadillac’s sales fell by 40 %. Amid the sales slowdown, GM and its dealers are trying to woo back lockdown-weary consumers through unusual advertising campaigns, including using a makeup-promoting personality to tout car leasing. The SGMW venture also offers free medical masks to customers. GM has launched one new Chevrolet electric model in China this year and plans to offer 4-cylinder engines in certain models currently offered only with the smaller 3-cylinder engines. +++

+++ GERMANY ’s new passenger car registrations slumped by 38 % year-on-year in March to 215.000 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Car dealerships were closed, many car registration offices were not open to the public and no one thinks about buying a car during times of crisis. Tesla and Lexus were among brands whose sales fared relatively well. Lexus sales dropped by 2.8 % and Tesla’s volume was down 4.4 %. Germany’s market leader, the VW brand, saw sales fall 35 %; No. 2 Mercedes fell 28 %; No. 3 BMW lost 21 %; No. 4 Audi’s registrations declined by 37 % and No. 5 Ford’s sales fell by 50 %. The drop is the strongest monthly decline ever recorded, the VDIK importers association said. Registrations fell massively in the second half of March when dealerships closed, president Reinhard Zirpel said in a news release. “During this period, new registrations were around two thirds below the previous year. If the general conditions remain unchanged, the decline in April is therefore likely to be significantly higher than in March”. The VDIK withdrew its full-year forecast for 3.35 million new-car sales. “Everything now depends on how long the crisis lasts and how long the necessary protective measures have to be maintained. Nobody knows that at present. That’s why we will not make a new forecast until further notice”, Zirpel said. The slump in new-car sales in Europe’s biggest market follows plunging registrations in other markets where government lockdowns have closed factories and dealerships. +++

+++ General Motors and HONDA said they would jointly develop 2 new electric vehicles for Honda and are exploring more ways to expand their alliance. The new vehicles will use GM batteries and be assembled in GM plants in North America, the companies said. Honda plans to begin selling the vehicles in the United States and Canada in 2024. “We are in discussions with one another regarding the possibility of further extending our partnership”, Rick Schostek, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement. The relationship between GM and its smaller Japanese rival reflects industry pressures to share technology and development costs to meet demands for cleaner vehicles. Those pressures were significant before the Covid-19 pandemic slammed global vehicle demand, and promise to intensify as the crisis saps cash from manufacturers’ accounts. GM and Honda already collaborate on autonomous vehicles and fuel cell vehicle technology. The companies worked together on the design of an autonomous vehicle called Cruise Origin for GM’s majority-owned Cruise Automation unit. As part of the latest agreement, Honda will use GM’s hands-free driver assistance technology, marketed by GM as Super Cruise. Honda also will incorporate GM’s Onstar telematics services into the electric vehicles developed with GM. +++

+++ KIA named Won-Jeong Jeong as president of its European operations. Jeong succeeds Jong Kew Park, who returns to the automaker’s headquarters in South Korea to take up a new post. Emilio Herrera will remain Kia’s chief operating officer for Europe. In his new role, Jeong will oversee the launch of Kia’s new brand identity in Europe that aims to raise perceptions of the automaker as a leader in electrification, particularly among Millennial and ‘Generation-Z’ consumers, Kia said in a news release. Kia plans to sell 11 full-electric vehicles globally by the end of 2025. Herrera said in an interview the European range will include 7 full-electric vehicles by 2022. A full-electric car based on the Imagine concept will come in 2021. A fuel cell vehicle will be available in late 2020 or early 2021. It is not clear yet how much those plans will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Jeong started his career with Hyundai Motor Group in 1992 and has held various leadership roles at Kia since 1999, including head and Kia in Russia and managerial positions at Kia in the UK and at its European headquarters in Frankfurt. +++

+++ MCLAREN will launch its first mainstream hybrid car later this year, with sources suggesting it will sit towards the lower end of the British sports car maker’s three-tier model range in terms of power and performance. The new car will be part of its Sports Series and will use a twin-turbocharged V6 as part of a plug-in hybrid powertrain. It’s tipped to be revealed this summer ahead of deliveries commencing later this year. While McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt declined to comment on specifics, he admitted that he’s excited at the possibilities of using electrical power to boost performance yet also reduce emissions. “We have experience of hybrid systems with cars like the P1, P1 GTR and Speedtail, and that recipe of offering a car that can be both truly economical and thrilling to drive remains our goal”, said Flewitt. “McLaren is all about building the best driver’s cars, and we see opportunities with hybrid powertrains, in terms of the instant torque and filling the gaps in the powerband”. While any hybrid’s main drawback is additional weight, Flewitt and McLaren COO Jens Ludmann both suggested that the engineers at Woking have managed to claw back the large majority of the deficit. “At McLaren, we’re fortunate that we’re not so constrained by building to a price”, said Ludmann. “Our customers want the best, so that’s what we obsessed over”. With the new car expected to be capable of travelling around 30 kilometres on electricity alone and recording strong longer-distance fuel economy, Flewitt questioned the British government’s recent announcement that it wants to ban the sale of new hybrid cars as early as 2032. Flewitt said: “Hybridisation could play a key role in the journey to net zero emissions and I believe that a longer transition period of running hybrids and full EVs alongside each other could be part of the answer. We’ve invested in this technology with the goal of paying back that investment over a number of years. We believe it will meet customer requirements sooner than full EV. To set a deadline for its end before we have launched it is detrimental to the perception of the steps forward we’ve made, and it both stalls the demand and potentially causes people to hold on to or buy older, more polluting cars”. However, Flewitt admitted that McLaren is likely to have an electric car ready ahead of the deadline, meeting the firm’s internal criteria of offering an all-round package at least as good as today’s equivalent cars in terms of both driver engagement and usability. “Building the car to the deadline is less of a problem”, he said. “What I’d like clarity on is how we as a country will be ready to support those vehicles in terms of infrastructure, supply chain and so on”. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ already has its first series production electric vehicle out, the EQ C, which is an all-electric SUV roughly the same size as the company’s GLC. But it’s only the first of many new EVs to be added to the range; the plan is to pretty much have battery electric vehicles in all segments where the manufacturer is currently present. CEO Ola Källenius confirmed the manufacturer is fully committed to the EV path. “We have made a very clear decision that modern luxury is going to be all electric. So we’re really just talking about how fast we can get there. We are ramping up our electrified ranges very quickly. The cost structures of these cars are higher than we’ve been used to, so many of our early models will focus on the upper segments. But as the numbers move from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands, we will reap the benefits of scale”. He was also asked about growing SUV demand and the fact that these high-riders are less efficient and pollute more than regular cars. To this he replied that: “SUV sales have been increasing for 20 years around the world. People love them. The latest SUVs are getting closer to sedans in their CO2 footprint. In any case, I don’t think it’s fruitful to discuss the shape of the cars people buy. Our role is to provide the products our customers prefer, and to electrify them”. The Mercedes boss also confirmed that there will be an all-electric G-Class. He didn’t say exactly when it’s due to be revealed, only saying it’s ‘a few years’ away. And making a ‘EQ G’ would totally make sense given that the recently refreshed model saw a 60 % increase in sales in 2019, shifting over 35.000 units globally. As a reminder, the next all-electric Mercedes models set to reach the market under the brand’s EQ moniker are the EQ A, EQ B, EQ E and EQ S. And aside from the EQ C that’s already out, Mercedes also will also start selling the EQ V, the electric version of its V-Class. +++

+++ Production at NISSAN ’s British factory, the country’s biggest car plant, is suspended throughout April, continuing a shutdown in place since mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak continues across Europe. “During this period the majority of plant employees will be furloughed”, the company said, referring to a government scheme covering 80 % of wage costs for staff placed on temporary leave, up to €3.000 a month per employee. Nissan’s sites in Spain are also suspended until further notice, the Japanese carmaker said. “Our goal is to navigate through this crisis while maintaining activities critical for business continuity and to make sure we are prepared for the time when business resumes in Europe”. +++

+++ Of all the automakers that are recalling dangerous TAKATA AIRBAGS inflators, Mercedes is the laggard when it comes to getting repairs done. The German automaker ranks last of 16 companies tracked by the U.S. government, finishing repairs in 40.1 % of its recalled vehicles. All other companies are above 57 %, with Honda leading at 88.8 %, followed by Jaguar-Land Rover at 83.8 %, according to an analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. The Mercedes recalls being tracked by NHTSA began in 2016 and run through last year. In some 2017 and 2018 recalls, the company only recently began notifying owners that replacement parts are available, according to documents filed with the safety agency. Takata inflators can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel into drivers and passengers. So far, at least 25 people have died worldwide after being hit by air bag shrapnel, and more than 300 have been injured. Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate the bags. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity. That can make it burn too fast and blow apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion. The problems touched off the largest string of auto recalls in U.S. history: over 41 million vehicles recalled so far with 56 million faulty inflators. As of January, about 15.9 million defective inflators remained in use on U.S. roads. Mercedes’ poor track record is not limited to just inflators. A NHTSA investigation unrelated to Takata explored allegations of recall notification letters being sent too slowly to vehicle owners as well as slow reporting of safety problems to the agency. That resulted in the company agreeing to pay a $13 million penalty in December. Another $7 million in penalties will be deferred if Mercedes behaves. Since 2015, NHTSA has been managing the Takata recalls, allocating limited parts to vehicles in areas near the Gulf of Mexico with high humidity. But during the past 2 years, parts have become more readily available. Together, the 16 automakers have completed 76.3 % of their recalls, according to the government data. 14 automakers have completion rates above 60 %. After Mercedes, the automaker with the next-lowest completion rate is Mitsubishi at 57.8 %. Honda, which has the highest completion rate, also had the most inflators to recall at over 17 million. Its recalls tracked by NHTSA started in 2015, according to the agency. In emails, Mercedes spokesman Robert Moran said the automaker is replacing the whole airbag module, not just the inflator as some manufacturers have done. That takes longer, he wrote, because it requires parts from multiple suppliers. Mercedes applied for eight deadline extensions from NHTSA in 2018 and 2019 because of parts supply issues. In a statement, NHTSA said it’s having discussions with Mercedes about “efforts to increase is supply of available parts and its recall completion rates”. Mercedes also says it got a later start than other automakers, with its recalls of over 1.3 million inflators starting in 2016. But 3 other automakers (Jaguar-Land Rover, Volkswagen and Ferrari) also started in 2016, and all are well over 60 % finished. The slow completion rate has been a major problem for Melinda Slowinski, a real estate agent in Fort Worth, Texas. She and her husband made a deal to trade in her black Mercedes E 350 convertible in October and buy a newer Infiniti SUV. But then the Infiniti dealer told her it couldn’t accept her car in trade because its passenger Takata airbag inflator was being recalled. Slowinski contacted Mercedes. A customer service agent told her there were no parts to fix it but that she had nothing to worry about because no one had died in a Mercedes. At the time, the company was “offering no resolution, so what do you do?” Slowinski said. NHTSA records show her recall started in January of 2017, and as of January 13, 2020, it was only about 20 % completed. Slowinski said she never got a recall notice in the mail. She wouldn’t have let her 16-year-old daughter ride in the passenger seat had she been told. Slowinski ultimately decided to buy the Infiniti and park the convertible since she was too afraid to drive it. Since October, she has had 2 car payments while trying to get the Mercedes fixed. She hired a lawyer and in late February, she got a letter telling her that parts were ready. After some haggling and a call to Mercedes from a reporter, a dealer picked up her car and replaced the airbag. +++

+++ Elon Musk has a chance to prove to skeptics that he has finally wrapped his head around the basics of running a carmaker. TESLA ’s boss seems to have ironed out most of the production problems that have plagued the electric-car maker for much of the past 3 years, if first quarter sales numbers are anything to go by. He has also amassed a decent stash of cash, which should be enough for Tesla to go almost a year without revenue before running out of juice. That’s better than either Ford or General Motors can manage. But Musk can only pull that off if he has finally mastered how to keep costs under control. Musk appeared to be making progress towards the end of 2019: 4th quarter automotive revenue of $6.3 billion exceeded expenses by $500 million, as production and sales both recovered from a poor start to the year. That appears to have continued into 2020, with production numbers exceeding 100.000 vehicles for the second quarter in a row. That’s despite operations being curtailed by the coronavirus, which forced a shutdown of Tesla’s California factory in the second half of March. The company hasn’t just stopped burning cash. Thanks to strong earnings and a surprise $2.3 billion share sale in February, it’s also sitting on almost $9 billion of it. That equates to almost half of the automotive unit’s overall expenses in 2019. A general rule of thumb is that 50 % of a carmaker’s costs such as wages are fixed. The rest come from various production needs, which should shrink, if not disappear, when plants are idle. Musk should be able to make that last until March 2021. Ford and GM, by contrast, have enough greenbacks to last around 6 months. That gives Musk a significant advantage over his larger rivals. And even if the Covid-19 crisis passes sooner rather than later, Tesla’s better starting position should leave its balance sheet in a relatively better state. But that’s only if its boss grasps these fundamentals. If not, his financial-management shortcomings will soon be apparent. +++

+++ Professional car dismantler and manufacturing consultant Sandy Munro was famously critical in his first analysis of the Model 3 back in 2018, but the president of Munro & Associates got a sneak preview of the new TESLA MODEL Y crossover before it went into production and gave it generally high marks. “It will sell”, Munro told. “Tesla buyers will overlook everything, and other buyers won’t see what we see”. Munro rendered harsh judgment on an early version of the Model 3 over fit-and-finish issues and some manufacturing glitches, though he later amended his verdict somewhat to say that Tesla could make a profit off its purported mass-market electric sedan. He did find fault with somethings on Tesla’s new crossover, finding inconsistencies in the gaps on the front hood and the hatch, plus dirt in the paint on the hood. But he heaped praise on the flat floor of the 68 cubic-foot cargo area, flush with the hatch opening, and on Tesla’s electronics and powertrain. “We’ve looked at everything else, and this is a far cry from everything we saw on the Model 3”, he said. “This is much, much better”. Unveiled just over a year ago, the Model Y is Tesla’s 4th massproduction vehicle and first since the Model 3, with which it shares a platform and much of its styling. Tesla had already started production and deliveries before being forced to suspend operations because of the coronavirus. +++

+++ TOYOTA suspended 7 production lines at 5 domestic plants to adjust to weak global demand due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The decision marks the first time that Japan’s biggest automaker has halted operations at domestic factories since the novel coronavirus outbreak started. The 5 plants all produce cars for export and the halt will lead to vehicle production cuts of about 36.000 units, according to the automaker. Output at the Miyata plant in Fukuoka Prefecture will be suspended for the longest period, continuing through April 15. All operations will be stopped at the firm’s Tsutsumi and Tahara plants in Aichi Prefecture, while some operations will be idled at its Takaoka plant, also in Aichi, and its Hamura factory in Tokyo. The latter is run by subsidiary Hino Motors. The automaker is recommending plant workers use paid holidays during the period. If they choose to work, they will be tasked with coming up with ideas to improve production efficiency, the firm said. Toyota reported that its global production fell 13.8 % in February from a year earlier. Worldwide production for the Toyota Group, which includes Daihatsu and Hino, declined 12.2 % to 762.802 units, according to the company. Global sales dropped 4.6 %. Auto output has been suspended in many countries since the virus broke out in China late last year. Toyota is temporarily halting production at all plants in Europe, as well as joining Honda in extending the closures of factories in the U.S. and Canada. Toyota also suspend its plant in Russia for 5 days. It added that vehicle and parts factories that have seen operations suspended in 6 other nations, including Britain and Turkey, are likely to be halted at least until April 19. In addition to slowing consumption, the pandemic has disrupted supply chains and prevented workers from commuting to factories. Toyota said its March sales in China, the world’s biggest auto market, fell 15.9 % compared with a year earlier to 101.800 units. Separately, Honda said its China sales dropped 50.8 % year-on-year to 60.441 units last month. The coronavirus epidemic, which has killed more than 3.300 people in China, caused China’s overall auto sales to drop 79 % in February. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has confirmed plans to introduce GTE badged plug-in hybrid versions of the Tiguan and Arteon to its European line-up by the end of 2020. The 2 new petrol-electric models are set to join the recently unveiled Golf GTE, upgraded Passat GTE and forthcoming Touareg R in an expanded 5-strong line-up of plug-in hybrid VW models. A Tiguan GTE was shown in concept form back in 2015 and was expected to enter production. However, despite a Tiguan GTE being offered in China, where it is sold in long wheelbase guise, VW prioritised other models in Europe. The European-spec Tiguan GTE is expected to adopt the same drivetrain as the most powerful of the 2 new Golf GTE models. It combines a turbocharged 1.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine developing 150 hp and 250 Nm with an electric motor. It is claimed to produce a total system output of 245 hp and up to 400 Nm. The Chinese-market Tiguan GTE, on sale since mid-2019, uses a slightly less heavily tuned version of the same drivetrain. A series of developments, including more direct gearing and a more advanced power electronics system, is expected to provide the European Tiguan GTE with added performance potential on a par with that of the existing Tiguan 2.0 TSI, which has a 0-100 kph time of 6.3 seconds. A 13.0kWh lithium ion battery mounted within the floor of the luggage compartment will provide the new Tiguan model with a zero-emission range of up to 65 kilometres at speeds up to 135 kph. With new cell technology, the battery is claimed to be smaller in size than that used by the earlier, first-generation Golf GTE, indicating that any intrusion into the Tiguan’s 615 litre boot should be minimal. Volkswagen is yet to provide official technical details, although insiders from its Wolfsburg headquarters in Germany (now home-working due to coronavirus restrictions) suggest the planned Arteon GTE will receive the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain as the upcoming Tiguan GTE in both saloon and Shooting Brake guises. +++

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