Newsflash: Volkswagen vervangt Touran door elektrische ID.Buzz

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+++ The new Volkswagen ARTEON R hot saloon undergoes the final stages of development testing. The performance version will get some exterior design changes: at the front, the air intakes will be restyled to give the Arteon R a more striking face, while at the rear there will be quad exhausts in place of the standard dual-pipe set-up. The car will also be lower for a sportier stance, while the alloy wheels adopt a more dynamic design. Underneath, there will be blue brake calipers for greater stopping power. It’s likely that the Arteon R will get the same power unit as the Golf R, meaning it will have a potential of 333 hp. It’s likely that the Arteon R will break the 5 second barrier for the 0-100 km/h sprint. As is the case with the Golf R, it’s expected that the Arteon R will use the same 7-speed automatic gearbox, with no manual on the cards. It’s also overwhelmingly likely that it will boast 4-wheeldrive. Prices will be announced closer to the car’s launch, which is expected to take place later this year. The Arteon R could easily push the €70.000 mark in the Netherlands. +++ 

+++ ASTON MARTIN ’s hybridised V6 will rapidly be deployed across most of the marque’s range once it has made its debut in the Valhalla supercar. The all-new powerplant, due to enter production in 2022, will replace the Mercedes-AMG 4.0-litre V8 that’s used in the Vantage, the lower reaches of the DB11 range and the soon-to-be-launched DBX. “Mercedes have made no secret of where their engine technology is moving to and obviously we don’t foresee 4-cylinder engines in our Astons”, CEO Andy Palmer told. “So we’ve got to make our own journey”. With integrated electrical assistance, the V6 should effectively be a modular replacement for the AMG V8, with Palmer confirming that it can be mated to existing transmissions. Just as important, it will make at least as much power as the AMG engine in these applications.“As you move on, you normally expect a power increase, not a decrease”, Palmer said. “You’re supposed to do that even with a smaller power unit, so there’s no way our customers are going to expect to step backwards”. Aston Martin confirmed the new engine would be its most powerful yet when used in the Valhalla but that it would also be detuned and reconfigured to suit a variety of needs. The British company has a long history of making straight sixes but has never done a V6 before. However, Palmer insists it will be possible to make sure it delivers a brand-appropriate experience. “The key is sound”, he said. “Tuning the pipes to make it sound like an Aston. Obviously we can use the hybrid system and the electric motor to fill in on torque, so you can compensate for the cylinder size with the electrical assistance. As long as it feels like a V8 and sounds majestic, I think it’s a perfectly sensible way to go and a lot more sensible than a 4-cylinder would be”. The V6 will be made in the UK by an as-yet-unspecified supplier. It definitely won’t involve Ford’s soon-to-close engine plant in Bridgend, despite its proximity to the new Aston Martin factory in St Athan. I have also learned from insiders that Aston Martin is planning to move production of its twin-turbocharged 5.2-litre V12 engine to the UK (it’s currently made at a Ford factory in Cologne, Germany), with the plan being to add an electrical element. Aston Martin sold nearly 1.800 V12-powered cars last year and repatriating the powerplant to the UK shows a continued commitment to it. “You can see in the longer term that it won’t last”, Palmer admitted, “but certainly over the next few years, we can continue to produce V12 engines, and we can make them more CO2-friendly”. While the UK government’s planned ban on the sale of all new petrol and dieselfuelled cars (including hybrids) by 2035 will create big challenges, Palmer echoed McLaren boss Mike Flewitt by confirming his company won’t stop developing part-combustion cars for other markets if demand is still there. “The key point is that we make cars for the world, and the world hasn’t said there isn’t a future for hybrids or plug-in hybrids”, said Palmer. “If we were only selling to the UK it would be different, but we’re selling to a worldwide market where there’s a variety of views on future technology and how it will be deployed”. I also asked Palmer about Aston Martin’s withdrawal from the planned hypercar class in the World Endurance Championship after previously indicating that it would join. “They changed the rules, nothing more, nothing less”, he explained. “They allowed in IMSA vehicles. It was nothing to do with the state of the company, nothing to do with internal politics, nothing to do with anything other than that (Le Mans organiser) the ACO destroyed the business case. We were led to believe we were going to be racing hypercar against hypercar, but we didn’t anticipate there would be a lower-cost way of racing a year later. The whole case just fell to pieces”. +++ 

+++ BENTLEY is extending its plant shutdown by 3 weeks and will begin gradually reopening from May 11, as coronavirus lockdown measures remain in place in Britain. The United Kingdom has the fifth highest official death toll from COovid-19 in the world and its health minister has said it is too early to ease the most stringent restrictions on people’s movements in British peacetime history. The Volkswagen-owned brand, which builds around 11.000 luxury models at its northern English Crewe factory, will begin a ramp-up with limited staffing from May 11 with full output due to recommence on May 18. “As the threat persists, so must we with the robust safety measures put in place to ensure we protect as many people as we possibly can, now and when we return to full operations”, said boss Adrian Hallmark. The announcement comes a day after Aston Martin said it would delay reopening its 2 production sites by a week. Some carmakers plan to resume certain operations on the continent next week but in Britain, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), the biggest automaker, has yet to set a reopening date whilst Nissan’s production is suspended “throughout April”. Several new models are due out of British car factories over the next 12 months, including Aston Martin’s DBX, crucial to a turnaround plan, and Nissan’s new Qashqai. Production of the ultra-exclusive Bentley Mulsanne 6.75 Edition, the final version of the long-running model, has been delayed due to the ongoing plant shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The limited-run 6.75 Edition has been created by Bentley’s coachbuilding division, Mulliner and will mark the end of the 11-year production run for the Mulsanne. The British firm’s outgoing flaship model has been produced since 2009. It will also be the final machine to feature the 6.75-litre V8 engine, the longest-serving V8 in continuous production. The 30 examples of the Mulsane 6.75 Edition, described by the firm as a “fitting send-off for a masterpiece of British automotive engineering and craftsmanship”, were due to be produced this spring. But with Bentley’s Crewe factory still closed, the firm says production is now due to be completed in the summer. With no immediate plans to replace the model, sales and marketing boss Chris Craft has confirmed the company will be “redeploying all of our manufacturing colleagues who currently work on the Mulsanne to other areas of the business”. The Flying Spur will become Bentley’s flagship, with confirmation of a hybrid variant arriving by 2023. The Mulsanne 6.75 Edition is based on the existing 537 hp Mulsanne Speed, with a number of specific details inside and out referencing the engine. These include seat motifs, chrome badging for the exterior and engine bay and a 6.75 Edition Logo projected by LED puddle lights. Specific chromework and wheel finishes feature, too, while the engine number plaque (usually signed by the engineer who hand-built it) will be signed by CEO Adrian Hallmark. The 6.75-litre V8 was first used in the 1959 Bentley S2. Although it shares little actual componentry with that engine, today’s iteration shares the same principles and dimensions, Bentley claims. +++ 

+++ With the new CHEVROLET Corvette finally finding its way into the hands of customers, there are more and more videos chronicling their delivery. People are excited to see the new mid-engine Corvette, and there’s plenty of online content about it, too. While many are excited to have the car finally, others are discovering intermittent quality issues. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to amplify those flaws, too. A video starts by highlighting the misaligned front bumper on the passenger side. The bumper fails to line up with the front wing/fender, causing the body lines not to match. It appears the issue also affects the headlight, which is not sitting as flush to the car as the driver’s side one. The other problem is a noticeable panel gap at the rear where the bonnet and rear fascia line up, causing one side to have a more significant gap than the other. There are 2 interior issues, too. One is the seatbelt, where there’s a noticeable black mark on it. Maybe it’s a stain? It’s not clear what caused the imperfection, though the owner is confident some simple cleaning could solve the issue. The other problem is on the back of the infotainment screen where there’s a noticeable scratch in the plastic; fixing that one would likely be a bit more challenging. Any new model can have growing pains when it’s first introduced. Cars are complex, complicated machines assembled by robots and humans, and neither is infallible. The issues highlighted here feel much more minor than the issue of the wavy interior dash stitching that’s been cropping up. The owner will be taking his Corvette to the Chevrolet dealership in hopes of resolving the problems he discovered. +++ 

+++ As with, if not all, most markets around the world, the car industry in CHINA has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic and the government is looking for ways to encourage people to start buying cars again. By this stage of the year, more than 6 million new vehicles would have been sold but due to the lockdown throughout the nation, only around 3.7 million new cars have been delivered so far in 2020. February was particularly painful for the country with a mere 310.000 vehicle sales; a drop of 79 % from 2019. In March, sales rebounded to 1.43 million but that was still down 43 % from 2019. Last month, the government announced that it will extend subsidies and tax breaks for new energy vehicles by another 2 years; a dramatic turnaround from last year when it started to cut these incentives. New energy vehicles, such as EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen cars are struggling to find homes across the nation and in March: only 53.000 were sold (excluding Tesla); 53 % fewer than the year prior. A number of local governments have also announced measures to encourage buying. At least a dozen cities and provinces have encouraged people to buy cars, largely thanks to cash subsidies worth as much as $1,400 per vehicle. It’s crucially important that China can get its auto industry back up and running. In excess of 40 million people in the country rely on the automotive sector for direct and indirect jobs. Each year, the industry generates over $1 trillion in revenue, approximately 10 % of China’s manufacturing output. But now, China’s coronavirus past is fuelling hope for global automakers. Car sales in the People’s Republic got a boost during the 2003 SARS outbreak, as commuters avoided public transit and purchased personal vehicles for the first time. That same psychology could soon play out in markets where car ownership is low, and perhaps elsewhere. India’s $20 billion Maruti Suzuki sees a potential lift in demand when the dust from Covid-19 settles. “If buyers become apprehensive of sharing space with another passenger it will increase demand for vehicles”, R.C. Bhargava, chairman of the country’s largest carmaker, told. That’s optimistic in a market where sales were crashing before the outbreak, but the idea has precedent. Nearly 2 million cars were sold in China in 2003; up 75 % from 2002. And compared to the 30 % compound annual growth rate typical of Chinese car sales during the early 2000s, car sales in 2003 grew by a much higher percentage. A similar bump up could well be expected in the coming months in places like India where there are as few as around 20 cars per 1.000 individuals: social distancing gives first-time buyers a reason to accelerate purchases. It’s less likely for more developed markets. China has changed a lot in 17 years. Car ownership has risen from less than 1 % of families to over 40 %. Crucially, first-time buyers only make up one-third. Second-car or replacement buyers are more likely to delay their purchases. Of course, citywide lockdowns mean that people have fewer places to go, unlike during SARS. And even if the same psychology plays out as restrictions ease, salary and job cuts are likely to hit purchasing power harder than before. That’s especially true of emerging markets where cash-strapped governments are dishing out less income support. Urban congestion is also a growing deterrent against vehicle purchases, especially in the age of ride-hailing. For those that can still afford a purchase post-Covid-19 and don’t mind a traffic jam, a bargain beckons. Governments may have to roll out tax cuts on new vehicle registrations and other such incentives to revive an industry that gives life to many small and medium businesses. That would be an extra push to get new wheels. +++ 

+++ In EUROPE , Audi and Renault have both started to resume production at factories, even though much of the continent is continuing to struggle due to the pandemic. Approximately 100 workers at Audi’s site in Györ, Hungary, a massive engine plant, restarted output on an assembly line in a single-shift system earlier this week. A second line will open up before the end of the week. Bloomberg Intelligence believes the slump in car production across Europe could result in 3 million lost vehicles this year and €60 billion in lower revenue. Governments and corporations are looking at ways to gently re-commence production to get the economy back on track. In Germany, for example, chancellor Angela Merkel is discussing with leaders of the German states possible steps to ease restrictions that are set to influence when and how companies such as Daimler, Audi and BMW can restart production at their factories. Audi is hopeful that in addition to getting its engine plant back up to pre-crisis levels, it will resume vehicle production in Hungary towards the end of next week. “The company is doing everything to safeguard the health of employees”, Audi said in the statement. Over at Renault, a company spokeswoman recently confirmed it has restarted a portion of operations in Portugal and intends on resuming production in Romania on April 21. Elsewhere, Hyundai’s car manufacturing site in Nosovice, Czech Republic is resuming output this week with 2 shifts instead of the usual 3. +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) said it had successfully completed the syndication of a €3.5 billion credit facility which it had agreed last month with 2 banks. With most of their plants around the world closed and global car demand badly hit by the corona virus crisis, automakers such as FCA are seeking to boost their cash reserves. FCA said it had completed the syndication with a group of 13 banks, including the initial 2 underwriters. The facility, with an initial 12 month term which can be extended for a further 6 months, adds to FCA’s existing credit facilities worth €7.7 billion, including lines for €1.5 billion which the automaker has started to draw down. “The successful syndication confirms the strong support that FCA continues to enjoy from its relationship banks and supports FCA’s continued access to international capital markets in the current extraordinary circumstances”, FCA said. +++ 

+++ FORD said that its China vehicle sales in the first three months this year fell 34.9 % from a year earlier to 88.770 units, as the novel coronavirus epidemic hit demand in the world’s biggest auto market. The Dearborn based company said, however, all its dealers in China had resumed work and its sales in March had returned to 75 % of the same period last year. In China, Ford makes cars through Jiangling Motors, in which it has a stake, and a joint venture with Chongqing Changan Automobile. Ford has been trying to revive sales in China after its business began slumping in late 2017. Sales sank 26 % in 2019, after a 37 % drop in 2018. In 2017, its China sales fell 6 % from a year earlier. China’s auto sales dropped 8 % in 2019 and are expected to fall more than 5 % this year. Overall auto sales slumped 42.4 % in the first quarter. Sales of Ford’s larger U.S. rival, General Motors, dropped 43.3% in China in the first quarter. +++ 

+++ In GERMANY , carmakers including Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz (DAIGn.DE) will restart production at some German factories next week after the country eased restrictions designed to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany has achieved a “fragile intermediate success” in its the fight against the coronavirus and that its emergence from lockdown would begin with the partial reopening of shops next week and schools from May 4. Unlike Italy and Spain, Germany never banned car production, though factories came to a standstill after authorities restricted the movement of people and ordered the closure of car dealerships, hitting demand. Volkswagen said it will start producing cars for its core brand in Zwickau, Germany and in Bratislava, Slovakia, on April 20. Plants in Russia, Spain, Portugal and the United States will ramp up production from April 27 onwards, joined by factories in South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in May. “With the decisions by the federal and state governments in Germany and the loosening of restrictions in other European states, conditions have been established for the gradual resumption of production”, Ralf Brandstätter, chief operating officer of the Volkswagen brand, said. The carmaker has retooled production to ensure that workers keep 1.5 metres apart. Other measures include the staggering of shifts and lunch breaks, plus steps to change worker interaction in VW’s supply chain. Bernd Osterloh, Chairman of the company’s Works Council, said: “In the light of the pandemic, we need to adapt our routines. One answer is our new agreement on health protection. With about 100 measures, we are keeping the risk of infection at Volkswagen as low as possible”. In China, where a Volkswagen has already implemented health measures, 32 of the 33 plants have resumed production and no coronavirus infections among employees have been reported. Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler said that its plants in Hamburg, Berlin and Untertürkheim will resume production next week. Its Berlin plant makes management systems for engines sold in China. Production will initially start in a 1-shift system, Daimler said, with plants in Sindelfingen and Bremen also making preparations to ramp up production. German peer BMW said it had no information about the timetable for resuming production. The Munich-based manufacturer has suspended production until end of April. +++ 

+++ HONGQI , a brand under China’s leading automaker FAW Group, starts building a new factory for new energy vehicles (NEVs) in Changchun, capital of Northeast China’s Jilin province. With a total investment of 7.8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion), the new plant will produce cars, including NEVs and intelligent connected vehicles, with a capacity of 200.000 cars per year. The construction of the plant is expected to complete in 2022. In the first quarter this year, Hongqi sold more than 25.000 cars; up 88 % year-on-year. Hongqi, meaning “red flag”, is China’s iconic sedan brand. The brand was established in 1958 and has been used as the vehicle for parades at national celebrations. +++ 

+++ In HUNGARY , automakers are restarting production at their factories gradually after weeks of shutdown to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hungary’s economy is heavily dependent on the vehicle manufacturing sector, which all but halted production last month when the pandemic began to spread in the central European country. Daimler’s plant in Kecskemet is due to reopen on April 22. The plant builds the Mercedes A- and B-Class models, along with the CLA and CLA Shooting Brake. Audi resumed engine production at its factory in Györ to build up supplies for its European car plants. Suzuki expects to restart its plant in Esztergom on April 27 in a single-shift operation. The factory builds the Swift, SX4 S-Cross and Vitara models. “Hungarian Suzuki Corp. introduced more complex health safety measures than ever before, therefore the factory at Esztergom is ready to restart production”, the company said. PSA Group’s Opel told it is ready to restart production at its Szentgotthard plant in western Hungary when market circumstances and regulations allowed. The factory produces gasoline and diesel engines. Korean tire maker Hankook Tire has restarted its factory south of Budapest, it said. Other companies in the car sector supply chain, such as Japanese Denso, have also started to resume production operations, they said. The companies said they would continue to monitor hygiene and implement safe distancing between employees. Hungary’s industrial production expanded by an annual 4.1 % in February, before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy. Analysts expect the economic effects of the shutdown to peak in the second quarter of the year in Hungary, as in many other countries. +++ 

+++ An in-depth study regarding INFOTAINMENT systems was recently carried out in the UK, with 20 vehicles’ infotainment and airconditioning controls being put to the test in order to see how distracting (or not) they were while being operated on the move. It’s already been established that fiddling with a touchscreen can really impact your reaction time, but that’s a completely different study. Still, most carmakers are now using fully digital displays, having ditched console-based rotary dials. In order to see which modern-day Infotainment system is best/worst in terms of how distracting it can be, WhatCar began by filming 2 people driving 20 different cars, featuring different types of systems and dashboard layouts. One result showed that even though the drivers had time to get familiar with each system, it took more than twice as long to perform a task such as adjusting the heater fan via touchscreen than with a dial or physical switch. It also took more than 4 times as long to zoom out on a sat-nav map and 8 times as long to scroll down a list of radio stations. To make matters worse, using voice control to find the nearest fuel station (which in theory shouldn’t be too distracting) made drivers take their eyes off the road for more than 10 seconds if the system was slow to respond, prompting them to go through multiple other stages in order to complete the command. “When you consider that a car covers 13.5 metres per second at 50 kph, in our worst case scenario of spending more than 42 seconds not looking at the road, the vehicle will have travelled the length of almost 6 football pitches in that time”. All in all, the following 6 tests were performed: 1. Turn up the temperature by 2 degrees, 2. Increase the fan speed by two settings, 3. With a 20-mile route programmed into the sat-nav and the infotainment screen on the home page, go to the map screen and zoom out to see the entire route, 4. Cancel route guidance, 5. With the radio tuned to Virgin Radio DAB and the infotainment screen on the home page, go to the main list of DAB stations and switch to BBC Radio 4, 6. Using the voice control button on the steering wheel (where fitted), ask the car to find the nearest service station. I’ll run through the winners and losers, from least to most distracting (30 is the perfect score). And the winner is … BMW. 1. BMW 3-Series with Live Cockpit Professional (28/30), 2. Mercedes CLA with 10.25-inch touchscreen (27/30), 3. Porsche Panamera with Connect Plus and PCM (27/30), 4. Audi Q3 Sportback with Virtual Cockpit Plus (26/30), 5. Mazda 3 with 8.8-inch color display and Mazda Connect (25/30), 6. Volkswagen Passat with 8.0-inch Composition Media System (24/30), 7. Ford Fiesta with Sync 3 and FordPass Connect (23/30), 8. Hyundai Ioniq with 10.25-inch screen and Bluelink (22/30), 9. Opel Corsa with 10-inch Multimedia Navi Pro (22/30), 10. Skoda Kamiq with 9.2-inch system (21/30), 11. Jaguar XE with 10-inch Touch Pro Duo system (21/30), 12. Volvo S60 with Sensus (20/30), 13. Toyota Corolla with Touch 2 media system (20/30), 14. Nissan Juke with Nissan Connect (19/30), 15. Honda CR-V with 7 inch touchscreen and Honda Connect (18/30), 16. Lexus RX with 12.3-inch multimedia display (18/30), 17. Peugeot 508 with 10.0-inch Connected 3D Navigation (17/30), 18. Skoda Citigo-e iV with color screen (16/30), 19. Fiat 500X with 7.0 inch touchscreen and Uconnect Live (14/30), 20. MG ZS with 8.0 inch touchscreen (12/30). +++ 

+++ JAGUAR currently has 2 SUV models on sale, the F-Pace and E-Pace, which are both strong sellers for the brand. The popularity of SUVs won’t stop growing in the near future but that doesn’t mean the British company won’t invest in the traditional sedan sector. As evident by the major update of the F-Type for the 2021 model year and the upcoming arrival of an all-new XJ saloon, Jaguar remains committed to models outside the SUV segments. This was also confirmed by Joe Eberhardt, the company’s president and chief executive officer for North America, who recently gave an interview. “The future of saloons is a challenge for the entire industry. A lot of our competitors have said they will walk away from saloons. We have no intention to do that. The fact that we just launched a refreshed F-Type is proof that we still believe in sports cars, especially the Jaguar brand. And while the volume might not be what it once was, we still think that it’s the heart and soul of our company”. The sedans are obviously here to stay for Jaguar. But the number, overall concept, and philosophy could change to answer the needs of a market that’s slowly transforming towards electric vehicles. “We will definitely always be in saloons. That’s no question. I also am not sure whether we’ll pare it down. I’m not sure about that but maybe they’ll look slightly different. So, for instance, the next-generation XJ will be fully electric. So, it’s a different interpretation of a sedan but it’s a sedan”. +++  

+++ In JAPAN , the coronavirus outbreak will reduce automakers’ combined operating profit by 38 % this business year, but the manufacturers may rebound faster than they did after the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs Group. Demand could “recover relatively quickly” once the pandemic nears an end, Kota Yuzawa and other analysts wrote in a report. Honda was upgraded to a buy rating, from a hold, by the bank, which said its valuation was attractive after a share decline of about 25 % this year. The global auto industry, which was already seeing sputtering sales, is reeling from shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the pathogen, which has infected almost 2 million people across the globe. With showrooms shut, consumers aren’t buying cars and auto supply chains are in disarray, leaving factories idle. Toyota and Nissan are among those that have sought financing to weather the storm. “Most of the automakers are sufficiently well-placed in terms of net cash and shareholders’ equity to weather a steep fall in sales”, the analysts wrote. “They should be able to overcome near-term declines in working capital. While circumstances vary, we do not expect across-the-board cuts or suspensions of dividends by automakers”. Operating losses for major Japanese automakers in April-June will probably reach ¥180 billion, according to the bank. Honda is well-positioned for a recovery, however, thanks to “its compelling near-trough valuation post its recent correction, as well as its solid balance sheet, exposure to a recovering China, model cycle benefits, limited Europe carbon dioxide risk, and motorcycle earnings support”, the analysts said. “We also think Subaru looks compelling, as the company’s brand strengths are likely to prove advantageous once conditions normalize”, said the analysts, who rate the stock a buy. Nissan’s earnings outlook is “challenging” in the near term as it plans to cut jobs, they wrote. Its rating was kept at neutral. Although the automaker is ready to launch new products, “it will take time for this to translate into earnings due to the sharp decline in demand in the U.S. and European markets”, they wrote. Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda will all probably suspend dividends in the current fiscal year, according to the bank. Toyota, Honda and and a slew of other automakers in Japan say plant suspensions will continue into May in light of the fall in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Toyota said that all 15 of its domestic assembly plants will close on May 1 and May 11, both weekdays, while manufacturing lines at 4 plants in Aichi, Shizuoka and Iwate prefectures will be wholly or partially suspended from May 12 to May 18 at the longest. Daihatsu said it will halt its plants in Osaka and Kyoto prefectures for 2 to 3 days in May, with a plant in Shiga Prefecture making its mainstay Tanto minivehicle that was set to be closed through April 21 staying shut for 3 more days. Suzuki, which began intermittently suspending its 5 domestic plants earlier this month, said it will extend a production freeze at 2 of the plants until April 28. Subaru will postpone the reopening of a plant in the U.S. state of Indiana to May 11. The reduction in parts output in Indiana as well as its domestic plants amounts to a 10th of Subaru’s global volume. In the meantime, Honda plans to furlough several thousand salaried employees and support staff in the United States for 2 weeks in an expanion of cost-cutting measures that initially affected only production workers. While many carmakers have cut executive salaries and temporarily laid off their factory workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic, salaried-worker furloughs have been relatively rare. Honda will continue to pay for furloughed employees’ medical care and other benefits, and they’ll be eligible for state unemployment benefits, according to a spokesman. “Stay-at-home orders in many cities and states prevent consumers in a number of markets from purchasing new vehicles”, Honda said while announcing both the furloughs and the shutdown extension at plants in Mexico. “As a result, Honda must continue to suspend production in order to align product supply with a lack of market demand”. Honda employs about 31.000 people in the U.S. and previously furloughed some 16.900 mostly hourly workers at auto parts and vehicle assembly plants in the country. About 75 % of its workforce is involved in manufacturing, with the remainder in finance, sales and research-and-development roles. Honda will furlough the majority of its white-collar staff in California, followed by other locations. In March, Honda’s U.S. sales plummeted 48 % from a year ago. With most states having ordered auto dealerships to close completely or allowing only remote sales, demand is expected to be even worse this month across the industry. Honda said it will prolong the shutdown of its auto parts and vehicle plants in Mexico through the end of the month, aligning the timeline for those facilities with factories in the U.S. and Canada. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is recalling more than half a million vehicles in a new safety campaign that includes both North America and other global markets. In the United States, it counts 316.626 examples of the Ram 1500 and 1500 Classic, made from April 28 2019 to March 3 2020, and 108.962 units of the JEEP Compass, assembled between May 12 2019 and March 3 2020. Another 76.280 are subjected to the recall in Canada, 3.280 in Mexico and 48.802 outside the region, adding up to 553.950, with an estimated percentage defect of 100 %. In the description of the defect, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explained that “an improperly formed wiper arm head joint may not properly form the splines of the head joint on the wiper arm, which can allow the joint to strip and result in the wiper arm failing to operate properly when the system is activated”. Prior to failure, the wipers will not clear the windshield properly and will not rest in the usual positions. The potentially dangerous defect was discovered internally at the beginning of the year. As of March 26, FCA was aware of 439 warranty claims and no accidents or injuries related to this condition. The remedy will see authorized technicians tighten the wiper nuts, free of charge. The recall is expected to commence on May 29. +++ 

+++ The KIA Stinger may not spawn a second generation but a facelifted version of the sports sedan is being readied and is expected to receive a host of upgrades. For some time, there has been speculation the tweaked Stinger will ditch its current 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 in favor of the larger 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 that Genesis recently rolled out with the GV80 SUV and the G80 sedan. However, it appears such reports were inaccurate: the 3.3-liter will stay put in the flagship Stinger GT model. With that being said, some minor performance gains should be made thanks to tweaks to the available bi-modal exhaust system. As it stands, this engine is good for 370 hp / 510 Nm and is an absolute barnstormer. Power increases, even if only slight, would be very welcome. It’s also reported that the entry-level 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will not be replaced with the larger 2.5-liter also introduced by Genesis. The current 2.0-liter churns out 252 hp and 353 Nm. In certain markets, it’s quite possible the 2.0-liter will be removed from the range entirely. In Australia, for example, just 2 % of Stinger buyers opt for the 2.0-liter over the 3.3-liter V6. Alongside some power increases, the updated Kia Stinger is said to receive some tweaked styling, including new headlights and taillight graphics. Subtle changes in the cabin will also likely be made. Hopefully that will include the presence of Kia’s latest infotainment system. +++ 

+++ MASERATI is ready for a reboot. Its forthcoming MC20 will be the flagship for that and it was going to happen in May. Then came Coronavirus which hit Italy exceptionally hard, forcing Maserati to postpone its big debut until September. I’m anxious to see the car revealed and it could boast over 600 hp from its new V6. Maserati is building its own engine for this car instead of sourcing a mill from Ferrari and it will be a twin-turbo monster connected to a dual-clutch 8-speed transmission. A hybrid model is also in the works and Maserati reportedly said a battery-electric model will arrive eventually. Why is this car being billed as a Maserati reboot? The automaker considers the MC20 to be a spiritual successor to the MC12, which was really a reworked Ferrari Enzo. When the MC20 eventually arrives, however, it should be a full-on Maserati supercar through and through thanks to its in-house engine. So notching a 600 hp mid-engine supercar with unique Maserati styling and power is certainly a big deal for the Modena-based company. In fact, it’s such a big deal that Maserati is connecting the MC20 debut as something of a new start for its hometown as well. That holds especially true as Italy recovers from the Covid-19 infection, where the death toll is nearly 20.000 as of the 12th of April report from the World Health Organisation. Maserati will debut the MC20 in a grand event called MMXX: The Way Forward. It will take place in Modena in September, though a specific date hasn’t yet been announced. +++ 

+++ It’s not uncommon for some new cars to have a few minor quality control issues once they starting rolling off the production line but usually, such issues are quickly rectified. Tesla has become somewhat synonymous with certain quality control problems when it starts to deliver new vehicles and it seems the MODEL Y is no exception. For context, for the first few months deliveries of the Model 3 were ongoing, there were numerous reports from owners of their cars having various kinds of issues. For the most part, Tesla stepped up its craftsmanship and later models have had better fit and finishes. The owner of a grey Model Y recently took to YouTube and Reddit to share footage of their freshly-delivered electric crossover and its various issues. While none of them are major, I’d certainly be annoyed if my new vehicle had such problems. For starters, the video showcases the headliner of the Model Y which the owner says looks like it came from a “used car”. There are visible frays on the edges and there is various stains and scratches throughout. In addition, there are a handful of scratches on the hard black plastic found through the crossovers’s cabin which appear to have been poorly masked with paint. The next 2 issues are the most concerning. For one, a wheel has been curbed, either while the vehicle was on the production line but most likely during the delivery process to the owner’s home. Last but not least, the electric hatch doesn’t open. The owner says he reached out to Tesla regarding the problem. The automaker replied that it is unable to assess his vehicle due to the Covid-19 crisis but said all the issues will be resolved when it can start accepting non-urgent service appointments. In particular, here’s Tesla’s response: “I’m reaching out in regards to the issues still pending for your vehicle. Due to the pandemic, we are only taking in safety/emergency concerns with customer vehicles. We do however have all documentations of the issues via your email. I unfortunately don’t have an exact date to give you since we don’t know when everything will resume to normal operations. I do in fact, can assure you that we will resolve all issues with your vehicle when it arrives for your service appointment. May you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reply here”. He also pointed out that he was “discouraged” by the downvotes, stating: “The downvotes are discouraging. You can love Tesla the company, the mission and the cars (as I do) and still point out when they need to improve”. +++ 

+++ It looks as though the Ford MUSTANG MACH E will be slightly more powerful when it reaches the hands of customers than originally promised. A member over at the Mach-E Forum recently acquired a document from a Ford dealer training site that reveals at least 4 variants of the Mach-E have benefited from minor horsepower and torque increases since being first unveiled in November last year. Sitting at the base of the range is the RWD Standard Range, now rated at 266 hp and 429 Nm; up 11 hp and 15 Nm. Next in the range is the RWD Extended Range which enjoys an increase of 8 hp and 15 Nm, bringing it up to 290 hp and 429 Nm. Two AWD models are also available. The first, the Standard Range Mach-E, is rated at 266 hp and 580 Nm, achieving gains of 11 hp and 15 Nm, while the Extended Range Mach-E now offers 346 hp and 580 Nm; 14 hp and 15 Nm more than advertised. It remains to be seen how Ford has achieved these horsepower and torque gains, with the most likely explanation being a further development of the electric motors to make them more efficient. The leaked document doesn’t make mention of the range-topping Mach-E GT. When revealed in November, this variant was quoted as having 459 hp and 830 Nm. I’d be surprised if it too doesn’t enjoy the same horsepower and torque gains as its siblings. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE ‘s push into full-electric cars is not an effort to challenge Tesla’s dominance in the sector. That is because the Volkswagen Group subsidiary says the American maker’s aspiration is to be a volume producer, something that is not in the premium German brand’s plans. Porsche R&D boss Michael Steiner said: “Although people like to play us off against each other, we do not consider Tesla to be a direct rival. With the Model 3, it’s clear that they are more aggressively targeting the volume segment. Tesla employs round cells, a slightly different chemistry and another cooling concept, all of which have their specific advantages and disadvantages. In our opinion the kind of high battery capacities you might find installed in a Model S are not ideal in terms of sustainability. We believe in smaller, lighter and therefore less expensive batteries that can be recharged more quickly. It’s not our aspiration to be the leader in electric range. Also, while we don’t currently plan to develop another combustion engine architecture, that doesn’t mean that we cannot maintain and improve models using the existing ones. That is valid for the Macan, because we cannot expect electric mobility to advance in all regions at the same pace, so we currently anticipate that in specific segments there will be a need to offer both a combustion engine and a full-electric or plug-in hybrid version in parallel. Customers and regulators will determine how long it will be necessary to maintain this. This doesn’t mean that there will be identical-looking Macans with the only difference that one won’t have a tailpipe. We will considerably differentiate them in terms of design so that it’s possible to immediately identify which is which. We believe that during the transition to EVs customers want to be seen as driving electric”. When asked if Porsche will discontinue the Panamera’s MSB rear-wheel-drive platform, Steiner said: “The Panamera platform is not old, it debuted in 2016. We still have a lot of ideas for it in terms of infotainment and connectivity. But there is currently no plan to replace this platform, instead, we want to keep it fresh and attractive as long as possible”. When asked what factors will make the forthcoming SPE electric platform unique, Steiner said: “We are convinced that very sporty cars, and roadsters in particular, need to be really flat. Drivers of a 911 or 718 want to sit as close as possible to the road. While electric cars have a low center of gravity thanks to their batteries being installed in the floor, that is not the only relevant aspect. To experience that sports car feeling it’s also about your body’s own center of gravity and how high up you are seated. That’s why we want to develop such a platform, but there has not been a final decision on this matter”. When asked how attractive fuel cell models are to Porsche, considering that the stacks are lighter than batteries, Steiner said: “We continue to examine it, but at the moment this technology is not suited to Porsche. For one the typical output of a stack is about 100 kW, so if you want more power you still need to include a large battery to provide peak output. That means you need even more room for their installation. Secondly, the system’s overall energy efficiency is very poor because it takes a lot of electricity to split water into hydrogen, distribute it to fuel stations and convert it back to electricity”. +++ 

+++ Chinese automaker SAIC MOTOR reported annual net profit decline for the first time since its listing in 2011. Net profit dropped 28.9 % year-on-year to 25.6 billion yuan ($3.63 billion) in 2019 and its revenue registered 826.53 billion yuan; a year-on-year decrease of 6.88 %, as per the company’s latest annual report. The automaker sold 6.24 million vehicles in 2019; a year-on-year fall of 11.5 %, among which its passenger cars sells suffered a 12.7 % decline year-on-year to 5.38 million units. Its 3 joint ventures, namely Shanghai General Motors Wuling, SAIC-GM and SAIC Volkswagen, all witnessed falling sales; down 19.42 %, 18.78 % and 3.07 % respectively. The company’s first quarter sales in 2020 plunged 55.7 % year-on-year to about 679.000 units; worse than the country’s 42.4 % decrease in car sales, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed. On the other hand, the auto maker had a sales boost in new energy vehicles to 185.000 units in 2019; up 30.4 % compared with a year earlier. Its vehicle export and overseas sales last year jumped 26.5 % to some 350.000 units, ranking first among its counterparts at home for four years in a row. The company’s MG brand sold about 138.000 units overseas; a year-on-year surge of 89.3 % as the top seller abroad among domestic competitors. +++

+++ TESLA ’s China car registrations jumped 450 % in March month on month. They rose to 12.709 units from 2.314 in February. Overall auto sales in China plunged 43.4 % in March, as a coronavirus pandemic continued to depress demand. Tesla, which started delivering cars from its Shanghai factory last year, said last week it has started China sales of 2 more Model 3 variants built at its Shanghai plant. Tesla has opened its official virtual store on China’s Tmall site; a fresh sign of a deepened footprint in the country following the rollout of the locally made Model 3. Consumers of Tmall, the business-to-consumer arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, stand to reserve test drives of Tesla’s Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles via the site, and purchase an array of accessories including physical keys for Model 3 and home-use battery chargers, Tmall said. To ride the country’s thriving livestreaming boom, Tesla will debut an 8-day online broadcast session starting April 21, during which the car maker is expected to dish out mini models for children, 48 hours of test-driving rights for the Model 3, as well as coupons for free charging services. The electric automaker sold 10.160 cars in China in March; its highest-ever monthly sales in the world’s largest auto market. Cui Dongshu, CPCA secretary-general, told that Tesla sold around 30 % of all battery electric vehicles in China. The company aims to produce 150.000 Model 3 sedans from its $2 billion Shanghai factory. Tesla’s stock extended its recent rally following a surge in China car registrations and after Goldman Sachs initiated coverage of the electric car maker with a “buy” recommendation. Shares of the Silicon Valley carmaker rose nearly 2 %; bringing their gain this week to 26 % as traders look beyond the short-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced Tesla to close its California factory, furlough workers and cut salaries. In a note, Goldman Sachs analyst Mark Delaney started coverage of Tesla with a $864 price target, compared to its latest price of $723. “We believe that the combination of Tesla’s product leadership (including its over-the-air updates to continue to improve vehicle performance), brand/early-mover advantage, vertical integration, and the long development cycles in autos (new cars can take 2-4 years to develop) will help Tesla to maintain a strong market position”, Delaney wrote. Wall Street has long been divided over Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk. Supporters expect Tesla to become a dominant global car maker, with a fleet of driverless taxis, while many skeptics doubt Tesla can become sustainably profitable. Goldman Sachs’ previous Tesla analyst, David Tamberrino, had a “sell” rating and a $158 price target as of last June, the lowest on the street at that time. Previously (in 2016) Goldman Sachs attracted attention when it upgraded Tesla to “buy” just hours before the car maker announced a $2 billion stock offer with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley acting as joint lead bookrunners. Tesla’s stock has doubled from its March low and remains down 20% from its record high close in February, before fears about the impact of the coronavirus on the global economy triggered a deep stock market sell-off. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA said it will cut production of finished vehicles by 40 % in Japan in May as demand shrinks around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. The measures, which will cut production to 79.000 vehicles for the month, include suspending production on some days and reducing shifts form two to one at some plants, the company said. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , the prices of used cars look set to collapse in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reports. Many used vehicle auctions have been virtually paralyzed by the crisis and this could likely lead to falling prices and prove particularly painful for car manufacturers and their in-house lending units which will likely have to write down the value of lease contracts that had assumed vehicles would retain greater value. Additionally, rental car companies will feel the pinch as they will get less money from selling down their fleet of vehicles. “6 months from now, there will be huge, if not unprecedented, levels of wholesale supply in the market”, executive vice president of Cox Automotive, Dale Pollak wrote in a letter to auto dealers last week. “Cars are coming in, but they aren’t selling. Today’s huge supply of wholesale inventory suggests supplies will be even larger in the months ahead”. General Motors and Ford has offered customers 1-month lease extensions to try and limit the damage and delay some of the influx of off-lease vehicles heading to auctions. Nevertheless, Manheim says used car sales fell 64 % in the last week of March and for GM, that spells bad news as it had $30.4 billion worth of vehicles leased to customers at the end of 2019; vehicles that will eventually be bound for auction yards and are unlikely to sell. In addition to hurting the used car market, the coronavirus has also hit new car sales and dealerships are being implored to resist the urge to get rid of stock at discounted prices and instead stock up on inventory to ensure they’re ready to go once the crisis is over. “I implore you to accept everything you have earned, because the day will come in the not-too-distant future when you will want every one of these vehicles, and more”, president of Southeast Toyota Distributors, Ed Sheehy, recently said in a video message at the end of March. While auction companies as well as used and new vehicle dealerships are struggling, now could be the perfect time to find Americans a bargain if you’re in the market for a used or new car. +++ 

+++ The electric ID Buzz Microbus, due in 2022, will indirectly replace the Touran and reinvigorate the MPV segment through ‘emotional’ design, according to VOLKSWAGEN ’s board member for R&D, Frank Welsch. The Mk7 Golf-based Touran is no longer on sale in the Netherlands, the larger Sharan will be axed later this year and production of its Seat Alhambra sibling has just ceased. Volkswagen focuses on SUV demand and its huge investment in electric vehicles. MPV ownership peaked in the noughties but has since waned considerably as consumers have favoured SUV styling. In the Touran’s peak year in Europe, 2004, 191.414 examples were sold, compared with 75.427 last year. Name-checking the model as one of his two favourite to develop alongside the Golf GTI, Welsch said: “Some people would say the Touran is a boring car, but it has great efficiency, great value for money and is great for family”. He added: “Now we have other concepts in place of MPVs, such as the Tiguan Allspace 7-seat SUV. And we have prepared for the next generation with the ID family, including the ID Buzz, which we are developing now. These are the real successors of Touran. “The Buzz has a lot of space. It’s great looking. The production version is even better than the concept. It’s the best of the Touran”. Describing the ID Buzz as a new-generation MPV, Welsch said: “MPVs are not over, although demand is going down a little bit. They need better design now. This is why the ID Buzz is quite emotional in design”. The ID Buzz, often described as a spiritual successor to the Microbus of 1950, sits on the electric-only MEB architecture and is expected to have a 600 kilometre range. Rear-wheeldrive and 4-wheeldrive versions will be offered, delivering 272 hp and 375 hp respectively. +++

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