Newsflash: Alfa Romeo komt in 2022 met elektrische B segment SUV

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+++ ALFA ROMEO is preparing its first electric vehicle for 2022 as the smallest in a trio of SUVs intended to bring the Italian premium brand back from the brink. The electric compact SUV, similar in size to an Audi Q2, will be crucial in reviving the firm’s dwindling sales in a fast-evolving market where emissions legislation is becoming increasingly tough. The parent company of Alfa Romeo, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has been on the back foot with electrification, which is why its ongoing merger with the EV-savvy PSA Group should reap substantial benefits. Alfa Romeo currently offers no electrified powertrain, but early next year it will launch a mid-size SUV, the Tonale, to be offered as a plug-in hybrid. Back in 2018, Alfa Romeo announced bold plans to bring back the 8C supercar and the GTV as a Giulia coupé. But by late last year, its strategy had been pared back to just 4 more mainstream models. Once the ageing Giulietta is retired later this year, Alfa Romeo will sell only the Giulia and Stelvio. The Tonale will be on the road in 2021, followed by the smaller, electric SUV in 2022, completing the brand’s 4-strong line-up. Alfa Romeo will rely on the 2 smaller SUVs to ensure it achieves its goal of selling 400.000 cars annually. The firm hasn’t yet announced its 2019 global figures, having been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis, but it sold 54.365 cars in Europe; a drop of more than 50 % on the year before. It’s not until Alfa Romeo hits that target that enthusiasts might get what they desire: the pretty sports cars for which the brand is known. The styling of the EV won’t be identical to the Tonale, according to Alfa Romeo. A spokesman said: “A family feel will be respected, we have style themes across the range, but we don’t want to do a copy and paste across the line-up, because every segment has its own personality, and customers are different in terms of age and expectations”. While the plug-in hybrid powertrain in the Tonale will use existing FCA hardware, sharing with the Jeep Renegade, it’s expected that the electric Alfa Romeo will be the first FCA car to make use of the technology gained from the merger with PSA. The EV will sit on a version of PSA’s eCMP platform, on which 7 zero-emissions models will be based by next year. These already include electric versions of the Peugeot 208, Peugeot 2008, Opel Corsa and DS 3 Crossback. The e-2008, of a similar size to the future Alfa Romeo EV, uses a single motor to drive its front wheels, producing 136 hp. A 50kWh battery pack gives it up to 310 kilometres of range on the WLTP test cycle. However, the specifications of Alfa Romeo’s offering will be different, due not only to how rapidly EV technology is developing, but also to the brand’s focus on performance. Talking about the approach to Alfa Romeo’s first EV, the spokesman said: “When we launched the Giulia and Stelvio, we were recognised as a sporty brand, because of the amazing handling. We’re trying to communicate that our cars are not only sporty but can also be driven in a comfortable way; something that previously customers wouldn’t expect from Alfa Romeo, to help us appeal to a larger customer base. “For electric, we will stay consistent to Alfa Romeo’s sportiness and use electric motors for a performance approach. We’re looking to achieve an Alfa Romeo customer’s expectations but also those of customers looking for comfort”. He added that Alfa Romeo sees the small SUV market as the best in which to offer an EV, saying: “The B-segment is probably the best solution for range and usage and the recharging infrastructure will be better by the time we launch the car”. The spokesman continued: “We will see the evolution of the market quite quickly. We’re seeing different approaches in the market: some successful, some not so. We have the opportunity to see what advances and react in the proper way”. Alfa Romeo is set to emulate some other brands that are launching EVs, such as Porsche with the Taycan, by offering artificial sounds. The spokesman said: “The idea isn’t to make fake sounds to recreate an internal combustion engine, because we won’t have fake things inside Alfas. The idea is to create a specific sound to get emotion from both the driver and car. An advantage of an electric car is silence (if the customer wants to drive that way). But also the possibility of an aggressive mode”. +++

+++ The ALLIANCE of Nissan and Renault said it will be sharing more vehicle parts, technology and models to save costs as the industry struggles to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Alliance operating board chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said the group, which also includes Mitsubishi, will have each company focusing on geographic regions. He stressed the alliance needs to adjust to the “unprecedented economic crisis” to pursue efficiency and competitiveness, not sheer sales volumes. “Now is the time to rebuild”, Senard said, making clear he believed the alliance remained strong. All automakers are suffering from the pandemic and scaling back or suspending production, but Nissan was reeling before the crisis struck from a scandal involving its former chairman, Carlos Ghosn. Under the latest initiative, Nissan will focus on China, North America and Japan; Renault on Europe, Russia and South America and North Africa, and Mitsubishi on Southeast Asia and Oceania, for the benefit of the entire alliance. Nissan chief executive Makoto Uchida said the alliance planned to pursue fiscal strength together. “The synergy is huge”, he said. Vehicles sharing the same platform will double by 2024, saving €2 billion, according to Senard. The shared technology will also include electric cars and autonomous driving, platforms and car bodies. Nissan is a leader in electric cars with its Leaf, but such technology will be available to the other alliance members, they said. Renault owns 43 % of Nissan, while Nissan owns 15 % of Renault. The government of France owns 15 % of Renault. France’s government announced a bailout of more than €8 billion for the nation’s auto industry. A €5 billion French government loan guarantee is under discussion for Renault. The measures include subsidies to encourage people to buy low-emissions models. Analysts say automakers, including Nissan, need to slash costs. “Car companies find themselves in extraordinary times right now due to the Covid-19 crisis and the impact of lockdowns and economic recession on sales. A key theme emerging in companies’ response to the crisis is the need to focus on core and profitable activities”, said David Leggett of analytics company GlobaData. Nissan’s brand suffered from the arrest of Ghosn in November 2018 on suspicion of various kinds of financial misconduct, including under-reporting promised compensation and misusing Nissan money. Ghosn had been sent in by Renault in 1999, to save Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy. He insisted on his innocence from the start and accused some at Nissan of concocting allegations to block a merger with Renault. Preparations were underway for a courtroom showdown when Ghosn fled to Lebanon while out on bail in late 2019. The Brazilian-born Ghosn holds Lebanese citizenship and Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with Japan. U.S. authorities recently arrested 2 Americans accused of helping Ghosn escape, reportedly by secreting him in a box for musical instruments flown in a private jet. Japanese prosecutors issued arrest warrants for them last year and are seeking their extradition. Before his downfall, Ghosn was a revered figure in the auto industry, especially in Japan, where he was a corporate superstar. +++ 

+++ A spy photographer has caught a rather odd BUGATTI Chiron prototype out testing. It features no camouflage, which reveals that it seems to fuse a regular Chiron with the Chiron Super Sport 300+. And that begs the question, what is this? The front of the car is all Super Sport 300+. It has the revised air intakes, clusters of round vents in the hood and big vents in the fenders. But unlike that top speed challenger, this has a normal, truncated tail from the regular Chiron. In fact, everything from the front fenders back appears to be regular Chiron. The one difference is the exhaust, which consists of two oval tips that most resemble the tailpipes of the Chiron Pur Sport. But the rear fascia is definitely regular Chiron, not the revised design of the Pur Sport. So what is it? It could simply be a mash-up of leftover Chiron parts for some kind of test mule. It could also be shortened Chiron Super Sport 300+ that will share the same 1.600 hp engine as the high-speed car, but without the cost of the extra aerodynamics. Whatever it is, Bugatti’s testers evidently weren’t happy about the spy photographer catching the car, as he reports the car was hurried into a trailer and security sent to confront the photographer and stop him from sharing the photos. So it seems Bugatti has something interesting coming, whether it looks exactly like this or just has this car’s underpinnings. +++ 

+++ Elon Musk has given more information about the fabled Tesla CYBERTRUCK , especially about the size of the production version. “Even 3 % smaller is too small”, Musk said, explaining he had reviewed the Cybertruck with Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen. “Will be pretty much this size”. He also added a big Easter egg in teasing “a smaller, tight world truck at some point”. That’s a reversal from Musk’s statement last month in which he said designers were reducing the size by the same amount, with a more level center line and lower window sills. And it means we should discount his comments in the teaser video above about being “5% too big” because the truck “has gotta fit in a normal garage”, bearing in mind that the episode was likely filmed back in January. Tesla has yet to release full dimensions of the Cybertruck, but I know it measures 231.7 inches long and has a 149.9-inch wheelbase, both of which are longer than the largest variant of the Ford F-150. I also know that the monstrous truck, with its massive battery pack, will also likely be classified as a medium-duty pickup, denoting gross vehicle weight of 8.500 pounds, alongside trucks like the Ford F-Series Super Duty and Ram 2500. Also, it sounds like all those renderings of Cybertruck-compliant garages aren’t necessarily folly after all. But while the Cybertruck will compete in the same class as segment leaders such as the F-150, Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado, it makes sense that Tesla is thinking ahead to a smaller variant. There’s still a sizable market for smaller trucks like the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma and the slew of forthcoming battery-electric pickups from Rivian, Lordstown Motors and other startups. +++ 

+++ There is more information about the FORD Bronco, America’s most anticipated off-road SUV. It will be available with a 7-speed manual transmission that’s been rumored for more than a year, which is actually a 6 standard gears and a crawler ratio. Recently, a Magna Powertrain slide on the supplier’s Ford page revealed a few specs on the presumed unit. This could give the Bronco competent crawling capability before accessing the potential in a 2-speed transfer case; Magna says the potential gear ratio spread goes up to 11 with the 7th cog. The 10-speed automatic in the Bronco’s platform-mate, the Ranger pickup, offers a spread of 7.38, the 6-speed manual in the current Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has a gear ratio spread of 7.1 before shifting into low range. Now we await word on the addition of a 2-speed transfer case, which would be a boon to hardcore off-roaders, as will the front and rear locking diffs a dealer referred to as a “warthog addition for the climbers”. Another bit of information is that the Bronco will offer 2 tire widths that copy Jeep’s template. One Bronco tire package comes with 255 mm rubber, the same as the urban-focused Wrangler Sahara, while a second package will fit 285 mm rubber, same as the Wrangler Rubicon. I’m in the dark on wheel sizes, but if Ford follows Jeep’s lead all the way, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, the narrower tire will wrap 18-inch wheels, the thicker units will wrap 17-inchers. Regardless, there are rumors that the Bronco can fit 37 inch tires without modifications, something the Wrangler Rubicon needs a 2 inch lift to achieve. The Ford Bronco’s production has been pushed back 2 months, but the debut shouldn’t be that far away. +++ 

+++ You may have seen Nissan’s newest teaser for its future lineup. If not, you’re missing out. Not only does it reveal plans for new or updated versions of nearly every vehicle Nissan makes, it also gave us our best look yet at the next Z car, presumably called the 400Z. Eagle-eyed viewers, however, might have noticed a glaring omission in the teaser: Where, oh, where, was the mighty GT-R ? It is not unreasonable to assume that, given the GT-R’s absence from Nissan’s high-profile roundup of upcoming products, that it might be on the chopping block. So, I reached out to Nissan for comment on the twin-turbo, giant-killing GT-R sports car’s future and whether it will survive to join the automaker’s gaggle of new products. Here’s what we got in response: “Other than what appears in the video, we have no additional information to share at this time. GT-R is and remains an important part of our brand and DNA however nothing to share at this time beyond the 2020 modelyear”. That teaser covers everything Nissan is going to update until the 2023 fiscal year, I’m told, which leaves 2 possibilities for the GT-R’s place in the automaker’s lineup by then. First, the GT-R may be unceremoniously killed off between now and 2023. Full stop. Goodbye. Say a few words and move on. More likely, the sports car was left out of the new-product blitz hype teaser simply because it won’t be receiving a major update anytime soon (or, well, before 2023). This outcome is better in that the GT-R stays alive. It’s less so when you consider the now 11 year old GT-R is growing a bit long in the tooth. Despite a steady stream of upgrades inherited over its long production run, the beastly coupe is not as potent or as capable against newer cars in its class. I’ve speculated for a while about the future of the GT-R and this simply seems to confirm the fact that, despite all our hopes and dreams, the next-generation (likely codenamed R36) GT-R is still quite some time away, but that Godzilla probably isn’t going extinct, either. Hey, whenever you’re ready to drop a new GT-R, Nissan, we’ll be waiting. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to seeing the new Z car fully uncovered. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI ’s personal air vehicles may appear in the next Spider-Man movie under an agreement signed with Sony Pictures, despite not actually existing yet. The Korean company said that the 2 firms signed a strategic partnership to feature Hyundai’s new models and technologies in five upcoming movies made by Sony Pictures. 3 titles are already decided: Uncharted, due for release in July 2021, a prequel to the popular video game with the same name; and 2 Spider-Man sequels: Spider-Man 3, due to be released in November 2021 and the next movie in the “Into the Spider-Verse” animated series, expected in October 2022. Carmakers sponsoring vehicles in films is a widespread practice, but signing contracts with the studio ensuring an appearance in multiple movies is rare. Most instances are based on sponsorship contracts per movie. In this case, as Hyundai doesn’t actually have any working personal air vehicles, concept vehicles will be used, and any movement will be computer-generated. “The deal has many layers, including substantial marketing support, but its real potential and impact come from groundbreaking content that we will develop together”, said Jeffrey Godsick, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s executive vice president of global partnerships and brand management. Hyundai and Sony will work together in developing concepts for cars and transportation within the films. This is where the carmaker’s future mobility solutions shown at this year’s CES 2020 will come into play. At the January trade show held in Las Vegas, the carmaker exhibited life-sized prototypes of three future mobility solutions: urban air mobility, a personal air vehicle that looked more like a helicopter; a road vehicle which is like a self-driving capsule that could be used for multiple purposes; and hubs which would act as a connection point for the 2 transportation means in the air and on the ground. “This strategic partnership with Sony Pictures will allow customers to understand and experience our human-centered future mobility vision through innovative vehicles and technologies, illuminating a way forward for transforming how we move, interact and design our lives for optimal benefits”, said Cho Won-hong, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Hyundai. +++ 

+++ Nissan and its premium INFINITI brand will exit the South Korean market by the end of December, 12 years after the company first rolled into the country in 2004. “Despite Nissan Korea’s effort to continue business in the local market, the business condition here deteriorated due to both internal and external factors”, said the local unit of the Japanese carmaker. “The headquarters concluded that it would be difficult for the brand to again build sustainable business structure in South Korea”. Nissan Korea’s operations are slated to terminate by the end of December, but warranty and after-sales services will continue until 2028, according to the importer. The company has no manufacturing in South Korea. Its local units is an importer and distributor of cars made elsewhere. Sales of Nissan and Infiniti cars have been dismal in South Korea, especially since last year when consumer sentiment against Japanese products intensified. Nissan Korea sold 3.049 units in 2019; a near 40 % drop compared to the year before. Its sales from January to April 2020 was 813 units, which is a 41.3 % on-year drop. A total of 2.000 Infiniti cars were sold last year; a 6.1 % on-year decrease. Sales plummeted 79 % to 159 cars from January to April. The Japanese carmaker said that it will be closing factories in Spain and Indonesia to increase profitability. Nissan reported a 671 billion yen ($6.2 billion) net loss for this fiscal year ending March 31, compared with a 319 billion yen net profit in the previous year. It is the Japanese carmaker’s worst performance since the year ending March 2009. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen announced plans to invest €2 billion in China to develop its electric vehicle business in the country. With an investment of 1 billion euros, Volkswagen will increase stake in JAC to 75 % and acquire 50 % of JAG, the parent company. Volkswagen will also acquire a 26 % stake in battery manufacturer Gotion High-Tech for around €1 billion. It is the first foreign automobile company to invest directly in a Chinese battery manufacturing enterprise. The investment is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, according to Gotion. “Together with strong and reliable partners, Volkswagen is strengthening its electrification strategy in China”, said CEO Herbert Diess. “The electric cars segment is growing rapidly and offers a great deal of potential for JAC”. By opening up the market, China is giving Volkswagen new business opportunities, said Stephan Wollenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China. It expects to deliver around 1.5 million ‘new energy vehicles’ to Chinese customers in 2025. The cooperation between Volkswagen and Gotion has created a new model for the development of China’s new energy automobile industry, and will further enhance the competitiveness of Gotion in the global battery industry, said Li Zhen, president of Gotion. JAC – Volkswagen will introduce products under its mainstream brands into the partnership and expand its production capacity to 350.000 to 400.000 units a year by 2029. Besides JAC, Volkswagen also has partnerships with the FAW Group and SAIC Motor. In October 2018, BMW inked a deal with its partner Brilliance Auto to become the first international carmaker to acquire a majority stake in its Chinese car-making joint venture. BMW’s move came after China’s decision in the same year to gradually open up the automotive industry. +++ 

+++ The global production of 8 major automakers from JAPAN plunged 60.9 % to 916.255 vehicles in April from a year earlier, as plants were closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Their output is likely to decline further except in China, where the economy is gradually recovering on the back of low new infection rates, as the ongoing global spread of the virus is expected to weigh on demand for automobiles in the coming months. Toyota said its global production tumbled 50.8 % to 379.093 vehicles, while Honda saw a 48.0 % decline in worldwide output to 212.747 units. Nissan’s global production fell 62.4 % to 150.388 cars with its 2 factories in Europe completely halting production. The 3 largest automakers and Subaru said their output in the United States stood at zero as the spread of the virus, which causes the respiratory illness Covid-19, led to the closure of all their factories in the world’s biggest economy in the reporting month. Toyota, Honda and Subaru resumed production at their plants in the United States and Canada on May 11 after about 50 days as local authorities eased restrictions on economic activity. Nissan plans to restart operations in June. Suzuki said its production fell 87.6 % to 34.015 units worldwide as the carmaker’s manufacturing and sales in India, a major market for the company, stood at zero in April due to the spread of the virus in the country. The combined domestic output of the 8 automakers fell 46.7 % to 412.587 vehicles in the reporting month. Mazda logged its smallest monthly domestic production of 11.706 units since 1979, the company said. Global sales of the 8 automakers in April stood at 1.08 million vehicles; down 50.7 % due to stay-at-home orders implemented by many governments in Europe and other parts of the globe. Toyota said its global sales dropped 46.3 % to 423.302 vehicles, marking the largest monthly decline since 2001. +++ 

+++ Hyundai and affiliate KIA are going to roll out a total of 9 new purely electric vehicles in the domestic market in the next couple of years. “We plan to produce 5 to 6 new EV models in 2021 and roll out 2 to 3 more in 2022”, a spokesman said. Hyundai will make a compact crossover EV, codenamed NE, a hybrid between a SUV and a sedan, in the first quarter next year. Another model will follow. The batteries will be supplied by SK Innovation and LG Chem. Hyundai and Kia rank 4th with their combined EV sales in the global market. According to the EV Volumes website, Hyundai and Kia sold 24.116 EVs in this year’s first quarter, behind Tesla (88.400), the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance (39.355) and the Volkswagen Group (33.846). +++ 

+++ MITSUBISHI issued a recall this month that affect several cars from the brand’s past and current lineup. The major recall covers old Lancers, Lancer Sportbacks, Outlanders and ASXs that might have an issue with corrosion weakening the suspension. Also, the current generation Outlander have improperly built seat belt assemblies. Mitsubishi is recalling the cars due to the possibility that the front cross member on these vehicles might be damaged. If these vehicles encountered road salt, snowmelt water, and anti-freezing agents, the cross member could corrode. If the cross member corrodes, there is a slight possibility the front control arm could detach and create an extremely dangerous situation. Mitsubishi dealerships will inspect affected cars and make a judgment call from there. If the damage is minimal or non-existent, Mitsubishi will spray and seal the cross member with new anti-corrosion protection. If the cross member is damaged, Mitsubishi will replace it for free. On the vehicles with potentially faulty seat belts, the second-row passenger-side seat might have the wrong part. “Due to inappropriate manufacturing process at the supplier, the guide piece (which is a component part of the second-row seat belts’ anchorage) for the left side seat belt was mistakenly assembled with the right side seat belt, causing seat belt restraint efficiency for vehicle occupants to decrease in the vehicle collisions”, a recall document states. Mitsubishi dealerships will inspect the seat belts in affected cars and replace them, if necessary. It is believed only 1 % of the vehicles have the defect. +++ 

+++ The Mach 1 name is returning to the Ford Mustang lineup for the 2021 model year. It’ll be making a comeback as a limited-edition model, and be positioned as the “pinnacle of style, handling and 5.0-liter V8 performance”. So yes, it’s going to have the 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. Right now, the Mustang Bullitt is the most powerful 5.0-liter V8-equipped Mustang. It’s slightly more potent than the base GT at 480 horsepower. However, it’s not a track rat. A regular GT with the Performance Pack 2 option is the more performance-oriented model available now for track duty. But, Ford is stating its track intentions clearly for the Mach 1. “Mach 1 has a special place in Mustang history, and it’s time for this special edition to claim the top spot in our 5.0-liter V8 performance lineup and reward our most hardcore Mustang enthusiasts who demand that next level of power, precision and collectability”, said Dave Pericak, director, Ford Icons. “Like the original, the all-new MUSTANG MACH 1 will be true to its heritage, delivering great looks and as the most track-capable 5.0-liter Mustang ever”. Unfortunately, that’s about as detailed as Ford is getting with the Mach 1 for the time being. We won’t be learning about power numbers, suspension details, price or even when it’ll officially debut. Even with its assumed track capability, the Mach 1 will still sit below the Shelby models. “Mach 1 has always been that bridge between base Mustangs and the Shelby models”, said Ted Ryan, Ford heritage brand manager. In some cases, yes, the Mach 1 did serve as a bridge to Shelbys. The future of the Shelby GT350 has been thrown into doubt, though, since a VIN decoder found its way online a short time ago. It was then that we saw the Mach 1 name pop up on the list of 2021 Mustang models, and this news today lends further credence to the decoder’s validity. The Shelby GT350 and its 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank V8 engine were mysteriously missing from the rundown of 2021 models, but the Shelby GT500 was listed. I poked Ford again this morning in hopes of learning more about the GT350’s fate, but mum is the official word for now. Ford’s verbiage of calling this the “most track-ready 5.0-liter Mustang ever” gives us the smallest of hopes that the GT350 may stick around, but Ford could very well just be referring to the Shelby GT500 with its 5.2-liter supercharged V8 with that comment. We’ll know more later this year on that front. There’s one more dimension to all of this: the picture! Ford released a photos of the Mach 1 wearing camouflage, showing us a few details of its design. The grille styling is unlike any other new Mustang sold today, with its two round elements flanking the Mustang logo on the outer edges of the center grille. Ford didn’t detail what purpose they serve, but the look is reminiscent of the original 1969 Mustang Mach 1. Those round shapes were the headlights back then, so it’s unclear what Ford is up to with them now that they’re very obviously not serving as headlights. From the back, it looks a lot like the GT350 with its raised spoiler and large, quad-tipped exhaust poking out. The close-up wheel shot also reveals some massive Brembo brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires size 305/30/19. That’s nearly identical to the tire size on the GT350, which is shod with 305/35/19 size rears, also Pilot Sport Cup 2s. The introduction of this model could very well be the end of the Bullitt for this generation of Mustang. I won’t be too heartbroken, though, as this looks like an even higher performing Mustang than the Bullitt. The launch cadence is even similar to the order of the most recent Mach 1 offered in 2003 and 2004. Ford sold a Mustang Bullitt starting in 2001 before hopping on the Mach 1 train shortly after that. There’s no official launch date for the 2021 Mach 1, but an official reveal can’t be far away at this point. We’ll be eagerly awaiting the news from the Blue Oval. +++ 

+++ NISSAN has unveiled a plan to become a smaller, more cost-efficient automaker as it looks to recover from 4 years of tumbling profits that culminated in its first annual loss in 11 years. Under a new 4-year plan, the Japanese carmaker will slash its production capacity and model range by about a fifth to help cut ¥300 billion ($2.8 billion) from fixed costs as it fights for survival in a market hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic. Nissan is aiming for a 5 % operating profit margin and global market share of 6 % under what is its second recovery plan in less than a year. Nissan posted an annual operating loss of ¥40.5 billion for the year to March 31; its worst performance since 2008/09. Its operating profit margin was -0.4 %. The automaker sold 4.8 million vehicles during the period, the second decline in a row and a fall of 13 % from last year, knocking it off its perch as Japan’s second biggest automaker to trail Toyota and Honda. The plan follows a new strategy announced by Nissan and its partners Renault and Mitsubishi Motors to work more closely on developing and producing cars to reduce costs and ensure the group’s continued existence. Even before the spread of the novel coronavirus, Nissan’s slumping profits had forced it to row back on an aggressive expansion plan pursued by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. The pandemic has only piled on the urgency to downsize. Nissan’s operating profit has tumbled for four consecutive years as its pursuit of market share, particularly in the United States, led to overcapacity at its car plants, steep discounting and a cheapened brand. The new 4-year strategy lays out a path to sustainable profitability and is the vision of chief executive Makoto Uchida and chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta, who took over after months of internal turmoil following Ghosn’s arrest in 2018. Under the plan, Nissan will curb its ambitions for sales growth to target annual sales of about 5 million units; a 20 % cut from a previous goal of 6 million cars outlined in July by then-CEO Hiroto Saikawa. Another top priority will be the preservation of cash. As of December, Nissan’s automotive operations had negative free cash flow of ¥670.9 billion; a more than 6-fold increase from a year ago. +++ 

+++ Despite Nissan’s latest efforts to become more cost-efficient and profitable by strengthening its collaboration with RENAULT, its business downturn may be causing a costly delay in the global race toward new mobility technologies, analysts say. While the new systematic divisions of labor in the automakers alliance of over 20 years may help cut fixed costs, it could take 5 years or so before they can launch jointly developed models under the new collaboration framework, they say. The new approach to working together can put an end to infighting over product development often seen under ousted former boss Carlos Ghosn, but it will need time to bear fruit, said Tatsuo Yoshida, senior auto analyst at research group Bloomberg Intelligence. “This new alliance scheme, which encourages the sharing of not only platforms but upper vehicle bodies, will enhance efficiency, but this may also mean that the byproduct will be a nondescript model with weak product appeal”, said Yoshida, a former Nissan employee. “When it comes to maximizing the benefits of the alliance, it was always easier said than done”, he said. “Nissan finally stands at the start line”. The alliance, which also includes Mitsubishi, hopes to boost their profitability, already battered before the new coronavirus pandemic put even more pressure on sales. Nissan said it will close plants in Spain and Indonesia and cut annual output by 20 % after it reported a hefty net loss of ¥671.22 billion ($6.2 billion) in the year ended March 31, its largest red ink in 20 years. Reviving the U.S. business “is taking significantly more time than initially expected”, Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida said in an online news conference. Under the new framework, Nissan will play the role of supervisor in the field of autonomous driving and the alliance’s operations in Japan, North America and China. “Renault and Mitsubishi will get free rides from the new scheme, while Nissan got the short end of the stick because it is under more pressure to enhance competitiveness in the 3 major markets”, said Fumiko Kurokawa, a professor at Dokkyo University’s faculty of economics who specializes in corporate management in the auto industry. “Nissan will be under close scrutiny to deliver results in the key markets. Mitsubishi and Renault will be more reliant on Nissan’s performances”, Kurokawa said. Despite the fresh efforts, analysts say the alliance will still struggle to catch up with its rivals. Global competition is growing as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA, which manufactures vehicles under the Peugeot, DS, Opel, Vauxhall and Citroen brands, are set to merge to create the world’s 4th largest automobile maker by volume. While the entire car industry has been challenged by the coronavirus, some are apparently in a better position to ride out the downturn. Toyota and Honda resumed U.S. production in mid-May, while Nissan needs 3 more weeks to do so. Toyota, which unlike Nissan has avoided worker layoffs, said earlier this month it expected sales to return to normal by early next year partly thanks to years of cost control efforts. Despite its projection of a 79.5 percent drop in operating profit for the current fiscal year, it plans to invest ¥1 trillion in new technologies while seeking cross-industry alliances. “The alliance promoted the sharing of vehicle platforms and the eradication of duplicated work, but those are things carmakers like Toyota have long carried out. So nothing is really new”, Bloomberg Intelligence’s Yoshida said. As for the outlook for the alliance, Dokkyo University’s Kurokawa said that the tighter collaboration means Nissan and Renault will not immediately discuss a review of their cross-shareholding structure, which has long been a source of tension between the 2 carmakers, as they prioritize their business recovery. If the French maker is further pushed into a corner, the issue may be put on the negotiating table again but this time to Nissan’s advantage, Kurokawa said. Renault may seek to sell some of its 43.4 % stake in Nissan, which would make the cross-shareholdings structure more balanced, she said. That would be in line with the request of the Japanese carmaker, which has a 15 % non-voting stake in Renault and has been dissatisfied with the unbalanced structure. Previously, Renault sought a merger of the 2 companies, something that was strongly opposed by Nissan. Asked on the possibility of a merger between Renault and Nissan, Jean-Dominique Senard, chairman of the alliance, told an online press conference: “There is no plan for a merger of our companies”. The Renault chairman at the same time showed enthusiasm for partnering with other companies. “We can be open to the world. The point is that we need to be attractive. This alliance will be the most powerful combination in the world. The attraction of other partners can come anytime”. +++ 

+++ A Wuling-branded MPV came off the assembly line in Liuzhou, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, making Sino-US joint venture SAIC-GM-Wuling the first ever carmaker in China to have produced 22 million vehicles. SGMW was established in 2002, but the brand Wuling traces its origins back to 1985, when it was unveiled by one of the joint venture’s parent companies Guangzhou Automobile Group. SGMW also began producing cars under the Baojun brand from 2010. The joint venture also unveiled a new silver Wuling logo as part of its marketing efforts to make further inroads into the international market, with the focus on emerging economies. Last year, its vehicle exports totaled 26.138 in around 40 countries; up 73.5 % year-on-year. SGMW’s manufacturing facility in Indonesia started production in 2017. With an investment of $700 million, it is the joint venture’s first overseas manufacturing facility and China’s largest automotive investment in Indonesia. The plant, with a maximum annual production capacity of 120.000 vehicles, is currently producing and marketing 3 models developed based on SGMW’s best-sellers in China. Zhou Xing, marketing director of SGMW, said 1 in 2 midsize SUVs sold in the country is from the carmaker. “Our Almaz is the biggest rival of Honda’s CR-V in the country”, said Zhou in an interview ahead of the new logo’s debut. The new Wuling MPV, which is named Victory, is the first model to bear the new logo. It will be made in China and sold globally. Zhou said a number of other models are in the pipeline, including an SUV and a sedan. In April, SGMW exported 5.000 vehicles; up 102 % from the same month last year. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen said its supervisory board had approved several projects in a multibillion-dollar alliance with Ford that was first announced July 2019. The German carmaker said various contracts between the 2 companies were nearing completion and would be signed soon. Among the SHARED PROJECTS specified by Volkswagen are a midsize pickup to be developed by Ford; a city delivery van to be developed by VW; a larger commercial van to be developed by Ford, and a new electric vehicle for Ford of Europe, to be built on VW’s electric vehicle MEB architecture. Regarding official approval of the agreements, a Ford spokesman said: “We look forward to jointly providing an update soon”. Volkswagen’s statement said “further projects are to follow, as is the investment in Argo AI”; the self-driving software company backed by Ford and which eventually will be jointly controlled with VW. Volkswagen’s planned $3.1 billion investment in Argo “remains on track and is expected to close soon”, Argo said in a statement. +++ 

+++ As the average size profile of automobiles driven on U.S. roads increases, thanks to the growing popularity of trucks and SUVs, SMALL CARS remain the most dangerous to drive, dominating the list of vehicles with the highest fatality rates. Conversely, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that large SUVs (and in particular large luxury SUVs) dominated the list of lowest death rates. IIHS crunched the numbers as part of its analysis, conducted roughly every 3 years, of driver death rates using data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System and registrations from IHS Markit. Researchers evaluated 2017 modelyear vehicles or earlier carryover models, with fatalities that occurred from 2015 to 2018. They found that 15 of the 20 models with the highest death rates were small cars, while almost half of the 20 vehicles with the lowest death rates were luxury SUVs. Large SUVs posted the lowest overall death rate of any segment with 15 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, while minicar had the highest, at 82. The single worst performer? That would be the Ford Fiesta, which returned an overall death rate of 141 fatalities per million registered vehicle years, compared to the average of 36 for all 2017 models. That model earned a marginal rating from IIHS in the driver-side small overlap crash test. Ford has since discontinued the Fiesta in the U.S. as part of a phase-out of its traditional passenger sedans and hatchbacks in our market. “Smaller vehicles offer less protection for the driver in crashes, and their lighter mass means that they take the brunt of collisions with larger vehicles”, Joe Nolan, IIHS’s senior vice president of vehicle research, said in a release. Not all small cars fared poorly in the analysis, however. The Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Leaf posted death rates of 0 and 5 per million registered vehicle years, and the same rate at 10 billion miles traveled, a new measurement for IIHS. The overall death rate for small cars was 61 per million vehicle years and 45 per 10 billion miles traveled. Switching to the lowest death rates, luxury SUVs notched 9 of the 20 top spots, with 2 luxury midsize cars (the Lexus CT 200h and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class) also making appearances. IIHS noted that owners tend to drive luxury and sports cars fewer miles per year than other models, and they also come equipped with advanced safety technologies that don’t feature on less expensive models. Rounding out the lowest death rate list were 3 large SUVs (the Chevrolet Suburban 1500, GMC Yukon XL 1500 and Mitsubishi Outlander), the Subaru Outback and the Honda Odyssey minivan. 7 models had death rates of zero. Overall, the average death rate for all 2017 models increased to 36, from 30 for 2014 models and 28 for 2011 models. That corresponds with rising traffic fatalities during the 4-year span covered by the study. +++ 

+++ TESLA cut prices overnight on its three-strong line of electric vehicles by as much as 6 % in North America. The biggest price reductions come on Tesla’s older Model S and Model X, while the smaller and newer Model 3 sees smaller cuts. The automaker hasn’t offered any reason for the discounts, but it’s not a stretch to assume Tesla is looking to boost sales that went stagnant in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns across much of the country. Right now, Tesla website’s shows the starting price for its Model S is now $74,990; a $5,000 drop. The Model X now starts at at $79,990; $5,000 less than the $84,990 sticker from before. Upgraded Model S and X Performance variants saw matching $5,000 cuts. The lowest-priced Model 3 sedan is $2,000 cheaper at $37,990. The Long Range starts at $46,990 and the Performance at $54,990. Tesla also said its Supercharger quick-charging service will no longer be free to new customers of its Model S and Model X. Auto retail sales in the United States likely halved in April from a year earlier, showed data from J.D. Power. However, sales in May are likely to improve due to pent-up demand and incentives offered by most carmakers, the analytics firm said. Automakers including General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are offering 0 % financing rates and deferred payment options for new purchases. Factories in the United States started to reopen earlier this month with suppliers gearing up to support an auto industry employing nearly 1 million people. Tesla was briefly forced to stop work at its Fremont, California, factory due to stay-at-home orders. It resumed production after resolving a dispute over safety measures with local authorities. Tesla said it will also cut prices in China (as per usual after price adjustments in the United States) by around 4 % for the Model X and Model S. Tesla China, which is delivering Model 3 cars from its Shanghai factory, in a Weibo post said it has also cut prices for the Model S and Model X cars it imports, but will keep prices of locally made Model 3 cars unchanged. +++ 

+++ Vietnam’s first home-grown automaker, VINFAST , has its sights set on the American market. It plans to introduce an electric crossover before the end of 2020 and start selling it on our shores the following year. Founded in 2017, the company’s range includes updated variants of the sixth generation BMW 5 Series and the third generation X5 named Lux A2.0 (pictured) and Lux SA2.0, respectively. It also sells a badge-engineered version of the Chevrolet Spark called Fadil. None of these cars are headed our way. Instead, the first car it hopes to sell here is a new model tentatively scheduled to make its debut at the 2020 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. VinFast hasn’t unveiled the car yet, and I don’t know what it will be called, but the company is enlisting the help of big names to make its dream of gaining a foothold in the American market a reality. Pininfarina will design the crossover, and LG Chem will provide a battery pack expected to deliver up to 500 kilometres of driving range. There’s no word yet on how the company will distribute its cars in the United States; it will presumably need to find a distributor, though it could choose to handle sales in-house. Pricing information remains under wraps, too. “We expect to launch a test program in January 2021 and mass-produce the cars by July 2021”, a spokesperson for the firm told. This timeline suggests the first VinFast models will arrive as 2022 models. VinFast is far from a household name, but it’s part of Vingroup, which is one of the largest private conglomerates in Asia. It has stakes in a diverse selection of sectors including real estate, retail, healthcare and technology. It sold 5.124 cars in the first quarter of 2020; a figure that puts it in fifth spot on Vietnam’s sales chart. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will become the biggest shareholder of Gotion High Tech, the third-largest Chinese lithium battery maker. Through private placement and share transfer, VW will hold 441 million shares of Gotion High Tech, accounting for 26.47 % of the total shares of the listed company. Li Zhen and the persons acting in concert will hold 303 million shares, dropping to the second-biggest shareholder. But according to the agreements, Li Zhen will continue to be the actual controller in at least 36 months from the date when the share transfer and private payment are under Volkswagen China’s account. VW will have at least less than over 5 % voting power than that of Li Zhen and his persons acting in concert, the company’s founding shareholders. When the deals are complete, Volkswagen China will account for 13.2 % of the total voting power, while Li Zhen and his persons acting in concert, 18.2 %. When the 36-month commitment expires and in case the German automaker withdraws abstained voting power, VW will become the biggest shareholder with the largest voting power and the actual controller will shift. Gotion High Tech said the purpose of the deals “is for the company’s strategic development”. The company’s strategic cooperation relationship with VW China benefits both sides by complementing each other’s advantages in technology and resources. It will advance common development of the two sides in the new energy sector”. In China, Gotion’s gross amount of installed batteries was only behind that of CATL and BYD in 2019. +++

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