Newsflash: Citroën komt met spirituele opvolger voor de C6

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+++ Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi have reaffirmed their commitment to their automotive ALLIANCE , with the adoption of a new business model that will involve a massive increase in platform, technology and production sharing. The future of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance had been in doubt after the arrest in Japan of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, the driving force behind the initiative. But after agreeing to maintain the Alliance in January, the three firms have now agreed a new deal. Alliance chairman Jean-Dominique Senard said the new deal will greatly enhance the cooperation between the 3 firms and claimed that it will cut the costs of developing new models by up to 40 %. The Alliance members have agreed a new ‘leader-follower’ scheme that they say will greatly enhance efficiency through a substantial increase in shared production and development. Each will become the lead ‘reference’ brand in key regions and of key technologies. Under the new deal, Renault will become the lead brand in Europe and will spearhead development of the next-generation B-segment SUV. Nissan will become the lead firm in Japan, North America and China and will develop the next-generation Nissan Qashqai-based C-segment SUV, which is due in 2025. The new deal goes beyond platform sharing and will include the “upper bodies” of vehicles, with the production of models grouped together where possible. As recently reported, that is likely to involve Renault SUVs being built at the Nissan plant in Sunderland in the future. “We will focus on efficiency and competitiveness, rather than volume”, said Senard. “The new framework will allow each Alliance member to enhance its core capabilities and benefit from the capabilities of the other firms. The aim is to increase the profitability and competitiveness. “The leader-follow model isn’t about being a leader against each other; it’s about each Alliance firm becoming a leader in the automotive industry”. Senard insisted that the new agreement showcased the strength of the Alliance. He added: “There is no doubt about how this scheme will work in the future. If there have been doubts in the market, there are no doubts today”. Under the new agreement, each of the 3 firms will focus on key regions based on their existing market reach, with Renault taking the lead in Europe along with Russia, South America and North Africa. While Renault will be the lead brand in Europe, both Nissan and Mitsubishi can continue to offer models in each region, although they will likely focus on market segments where they’re strong. In Europe, the Alliance’s leader-follower scheme will be focused around 4 product areas: B-segment cars (the Renault Clio and Zoe, Nissan Leaf), B-SUVs (Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and Dacia Duster), C-SUVs (Renault Kadjar, Nissan Qashqai and forthcoming Ariya EV SUV) and light commercial vehicles (vans). During the presentation on the new agreement, the Alliance members gave no indication of future plans for model lines outside of those areas. There have been reports that Renault is set to close a number of factories and axe several product lines; more information on those reports is likely to come when the French firm holds its own press conference on Friday 29 May. Nissan will be the lead brand in China, North America and Japan, while Mitsubishi will lead in the South-East Asia (ASEAN) and Oceania regions. Senard also ruled out the possibility of a full merger between the 3 firms, adding: “I’m confident that, because of the actions we have taken today, in the future we will be a model for other car firms”. A key part of the new deal is the agreement to increase the Alliance’s ‘standardisation’ strategy. The 3 companies have already developed a series of common shared platforms that underpin various models, for example with the recently launched Renault Clio and Nissan Juke both based on the CMF-B architecture. Under the new agreement, the 3 firms will each take the lead on development of key model segments, developing a ‘mother car’ that will be used as the basis for ‘follower’ vehicles from the other firms. As well as platforms, that will involve sharing upper body elements, with Senard saying production of models would be grouped together where appropriate. The Alliance claims the savings enabled by the new model in terms of technical development and bulk buying strength will reduce model investment costs by up to 40 %. Under the agreement, nearly half of all Alliance models will be development produced under the ‘leader-follower’ scheme by 2025, with the technology and model segments each firm will take the lead on are based on their existing expertise. Having essentially created the segment with the Qashqai, Nissan will take the lead of the generation Qashqai / Renault Kadjar which will debut after 2025 and will be based on the CMF-C platform. Renault will take the lead on developing future B-SUV models such as the Renault Captur and Nissan Juke. The agreement will reduce the number of platforms used by the Alliance from 7 currently to 4: CMF-A and CMF-B, with development led by Renault, and CMF-C/D and the electric CMF-EV, with development lead by Nissan. Nissan and Mitsubishi will also work together on a kei car platform for Japan. As well as future model segments, each Alliance member will take the lead on key technologies. Nissan will be the lead firm for electric powertrains (for both the CMF-A/B and CMF-EV platforms), autonomous driving and connected car technology in China. Renault will lead on connected car technologies on an Android-based platform and ‘E-body’ electric-electronic architecture. Mitsubishi will build on its success with the Outlander PHEV by leading development of C/D-segment plug-in hybrid models. +++ 

+++ For many months it has been a matter of when, not whether, ASTON MARTIN ’s president and CEO of the past 6 years, Andy Palmer, would leave the job. Things have looked bad for him since shares, newly listed 2 years ago in London at £19 amid much pomp, promptly halved in value and have since fallen lower. They worsened when Canadian billionaire brand entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll entered the picture in January as executive chairman, bringing £540 million in rescue cash, especially given Stroll’s reputation for micromanagement and his avowed determination to correct what he clearly saw as mistakes on Palmer’s watch, such as an oversupply of cars and needless tinkering with Aston Martin badged submarines and Miami property. However, the most pressing questions are raised by news that Palmer’s replacement will be Tobias Moers, chief executive of Mercedes-AMG, the performance arm of Daimler, which already holds a 5 % stake in Aston Martin and provides engines, electronics and an increasing level of knowhow to the Gaydon-based company. Moers, an ambitious 54-year old engineer who joined AMG 26 years ago and has held many roles in the company, is successful and widely experienced at making and selling high performance cars. The managing director’s role he has had for 7 years is viewed as an important training ground for Daimler executives bound for bigger things: a previous incumbent was Ola Källenius, now chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz. Moers must already have a good working knowledge of the business after years as its most important component supplier, so his arrival begs plenty of questions questions about plans Daimler may have to increase its relationship with Aston Martin, given the British company’s value as a provider of economies of scale for AMG engines and hardware. It may be that Moers will view the UK assignment with relief: insiders say their relationship at AMG wasn’t all sweetness and light, with Moers pressing for ever-more sophisticated cars while Källenius is a cost-cutter in the Carlos Ghosn mould. Moers’ arrival will also raise concerns among the faithful about Aston Martin’s ability to continue portraying itself as a British company, as well as about the fate of its sports car racing activities, given the recent announcement that Stroll’s Silverstone-based Racing Point F1 team will be rebranded as Aston Martin from next year. Aston Martin’s and Palmer’s difficulties have been greatly compounded by the effects of the coronavirus (which has even prevented the company from staging an international launch for the new product on which it admits its success depends, the DBX) although a decline in demand for luxury goods was gathering pace even before the infection took hold. No high-end car company, not even Ferrari, is doing well at present, and many are in dire straits. Despite all, it would be deeply unfair to ignore the 6 year contribution made by Palmer, who fostered a new atmosphere of optimism and creativity when he arrived from Nissan in 2014 and within months had drawn up a very credible ‘Second Century Plan’ that entailed launching a new model a year. Within 3 years, he had renewed Aston Martin’s existing model range and found a convincing and evidently profitable role for the always-problematic Lagonda brand. Most important of all, he led the creation of the DBX, opening and equipping a new factory for its manufacture at St Athan, South Wales. That car, impressive from the outset, could yet lead a revival of the company’s fortunes provided a worldwide demand for luxury SUVs survives when times improve. Palmer himself has been significantly enriched by his Aston Martin exploit (one estimate valued his share allotment at the issue price at over £60 million), but there’s no doubt that he was totally dedicated to the assignment and will be reluctant to leave it unfinished. There are few certainties (except that Aston Martin is currently in very serious trouble), but history may still come to show that Palmer put the company on the path to eventual success. +++ 

+++ BMW has confirmed that the next 4 Series Coupe will be officially revealed on 2 June. Ahead of that, the firm has revealed a teaser image of the upcoming coupe hinting at the radical design overhaul. As expected, the nose of the new BMW 4 Series will be dominated by a pair of large, vertically oriented kidney grilles, quite unlike the current 3 Series saloon it shares its platform with. As such, BMW will employ a new strategy with its new coupe. Until now, it’s been intrinsically linked to the 3 Series, but the brand will clearly market the newcomer as much more than a sibling to the saloon, with an entirely separate design. No other information has been published. BMW recently released some official images of the new 4 Series Coupe, and while the car in those pictures wears heavy camouflage, spy photographers have spotted a range of scantily clad test mules elsewhere, giving us a good indication of the car’s styling. The big talking point is the car’s new front end, which will feature a pair of huge full-height kidney grilles. BMW says that the polarising look is a fresh interpretation of the vertical grille seen on the brand’s famed 328 sports car and the E9 coupe of the late sixties and early seventies. The controversial appearance is also intended to further distance the 4 Series Coupe from the 3 Series saloon on which it’s based. +++ 

+++ While car sales across the world have been crippled by the coronavirus, it’s emerged that sales of luxury cars have bounced back strongly in CHINA in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Information from the China Automobile Dealers Association reveals that luxury car dealers in the country sold 277.000 vehicles in April; an 11.1 % increase over the same month last year. Thanks to this increase, luxury cars accounted for 18.7 % of the market in April; a 3.6 % rise over April 2019 and a 0.4 % increase over the market share in March. As Shine notes, while April saw a resurgence in luxury vehicles, sales of such cars are still down 16.4 % year on year to 795.000 units in the first four months of 2020. In March, a number of luxury car manufacturers throughout the country introduced policies to revive sales, including incentives and promotional funds. Some also provided vehicles in advance to help dealers restart their operations. For example, Audi provided A6L and Q5L models and reduced the sales burden and assessment of dealers. It also offered subsidies of up to 3,000 yuan ($420) to frontline sales staff. BMW also introduced policies to support dealers from March to May. Li Yanwei, an analyst at the China Automobile Dealers Association, says most support policies from car manufacturers will continue to the end of May. All major German luxury brands enjoyed sales increases in April. At Mercedes-Benz, sales jumped by 4.7 % to 62.200 units while at BMW, sales hit 67.000; an increase of 9.4 %. Audi enjoyed a sales increase of 29.9 % to 61.500 units while Porsche sales surged by 23.9 % to 8.767 in April. Tesla sales jumped by 121 % to 4.255 units last month. +++ 

+++ CITROEN is readying its first new global saloon model in 8 years, as the brand seeks to position the C6 successor as its flagship. Saloons have largely fallen out of favour over the past decade in Europe, but the French firm also wants to grow its presence in other regions (primarily China) where saloons outsell SUVs. The upcoming model, which will arrive by the end of 2021, was first envisioned in 2016’s Cxperience concept, which had similar dimensions to the old C6 and used a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain. The futuristic concept also previewed Citroën’s Advanced Comfort technology, which has since been launched on the C4 Cactus and C5 Aircross. Given Citroën’s focus on comfort, plus the popularity of chauffeurs in China, a newer iteration of the system, which intends to “emphasise a feeling of reassurance, comfort and calm”, will inevitably come to the saloon. Most notably, it will include a Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension set-up promised to give “a magic carpet effect”. The saloon will sit on the same EMP2 platform as its sibling models, the Peugeot 508 and new DS 9. Like those models, it will be offered with regular combustion engines and a plug-in hybrid powertrain that can yield more than 60 kilometres of electric-only range. While not engineered for electric cars currently, EMP2 is believed to be adaptable. Citroën CEO Vincent Cobée confirmed that the saloon will not launch with a full electric version, but this is expected to become available in time, given the zero-emissions demands of China. The styling of the saloon will vary in different regions to suit local tastes, explained Cobée. He said: “We need to find the right balance between global balance and local adaptation. When you talk China, you talk more electronic equipment, more chrome plus the face of the car. In China, the front end must deliver the right status, presence, reassurance that you made the right choice. It’s a concept extremely hard for foreigners to grasp. “There’s a very particular demand of the Chinese market, which might appear a bit too grand in European markets. There is where you need to tweak bumpers, headlights, chrome or headlights. Plus, safety regulations, road conditions, engine size and fuel are different. There will be a number of things related to suspension tuning, powertrain choices, colour and material and overall delivery of the car that vary. “The different versions will use the same platform and same silhouette, but there are a number of dimensions where you can adapt expectations”. Citroën is currently finalising the design of the saloon, Cobée confirmed. It will be priced as an upper-market model, on par with the likes of Audi and BMW. Cobée explained: “If you look at Citroën now, it has no particular sweet spot in price range. It’s about innovation and comfort. This has been deployed whether it’s €7.000 or €70.000, both in history and today. We’re not particularly an upper, middle or lower-positioned brand. “There’s a clear intention moving forward to push on those capabilities. The saloon will be a demonstration of Citroën’s capability at the higher level”. Ahead of the new saloon arriving next year, Citroën recently launched the Ami quadricycle, with its sights set firmly on car-sharing. Cobée described the quirky 2-seater as “an agile, affordable, electric solution” for urban environments, adding that it had attracted interest from people Citroën “has never talked to before”. Citroën will soon reveal its new C4, which will offer electric power. Cobée described the family hatchback as the “4th weapon” in the brand’s line-up, alongside the C3, C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross. “The C4 is important for us”, he said, “in terms of regaining our position in a number of markets and demonstrating that we know how to deploy innovation and comfort across the range”. +++ 

+++ The organisers of the GENEVA MOTOR SHOW have withdrawn their application for financial support from the Canton of Geneva following the cancellation of this year’s event. The Geneva State Council had offered a loan of 16.8 million francs (€16.2 million), but The Foundation of the Geneva International Motor Show (FGIMS) has deemed the terms ‘contradictory’ to its values and has waived the loan. The 2020 Geneva motor show was among the first high-profile European automotive events to be cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with the local government banning public gatherings just 4 days before it was scheduled to begin at the Palexpo exhibition centre on 5 March. In an official statement, FGIMS said the decision meant its financial situation was “thus severely weakened”, and requested financial aid from the Canton of Geneva to recoup its losses (estimated at €11 million) and to help prepare for next year’s event. The organisation said that the conditions attached to the loan “aim to completely outsource the show including its conceptualisation to Palexpo”, and “are not acceptable to the foundation. In fact, they are in contradiction to the statutes and especially to the purpose of the foundation formulated more than 100 years ago”. The statement also cast doubt on whether the event will go ahead in 2021: “Furthermore, the organisation of the event in 2021, a condition linked to the urgency clause of the draft legislation, is very uncertain at the moment”. Several exhibitors are said to be campaigning for the next event to be held in 2022, while FGIMS plans to “restore financial stability as quickly as possible and to be able to organise a follow-up edition”. +++ 

+++ GORDON MURRAY Automotive has released more details on its upcoming, McLaren F1-inspired T.50 supercar, including the specific weight of its powertrain and monocoque. The finished product is expected to make its official debut in May next year, before going on sale in 2022, with each example carrying a price-tag of €3 million in the Netherlands. The T.50 was dreamt up by the legendary motorsport and automotive engineer, Professor Gordon Murray, who is responsible for the McLaren F1 and the controversial Brabham BT46B fan car. His latest project will be built in Britain in a limited production run of just 100 road-going units, with a further 25 honed for track use. It will be powered by a naturally aspirated 3.9-litre V12 engine, which was developed by Cosworth. The engine is supported by a 48 volt mild hybrid system and produces 650 hp as standard, although 700 hp is possible using ram induction. The engine weighs less than 180 kg, roughly 60 kg less than the McLaren F1’s powertrain, and it has a red-line of 12.100 rpm, which makes it the highest-revving engine ever fitted to a road car. It’ll send drive to the rear wheels only via a 6-speed manual gearbox. The T.50 has been designed with a fastidious approach to weight-saving. Its carbon fibre monocoque weighs around 150 kg, while GMA claims the entire supercar will weigh less than 980 kg. To achieve such a low kerb-weight figure, GMA has shaved grammes of excess weight off nearly every component in the T.50’s structure. The supercar’s pedal box is 300 g lighter than the McLaren F1’s, while its transmission is 10 kg lighter. Its windscreen is made from ultra-thin glass, which is 28 % thinner than the glass in a typical road car. Meanwhile, the driver’s seat weighs just 7 kg and the 2 outboard passenger seats weigh less than 3kg each. GMA’s engineers even modelled the diameter and length T.50’s fixings, to ensure they’re only as strong as they need to be. On the completed product, these 900 nuts, bolts and washers around the T.50’s chassis will be finished in titanium, to keep the supercar’s kerb-weight to a minimum. Our most recent official image gave us a reasonable indication of the finished model’s styling and revealed some of the groundbreaking aerodynamics that the car will employ. This includes a large 400 mm ground-effect fan, inspired by the Brabham BT46B Formula One car, which Murray designed in the late seventies. But the T.50’s complex aerodynamic systems extend beyond the fan. The car also has active under-body elements and rear aerofoils, and there are 6 different aero modes. I’ve also been told that the V12 engine and traction control settings will all be configurable. Until now, all aerodynamic testing on the T.50 has been simulated on a computer through the use of fluid dynamics software or performed in wind tunnels using static models. However, physical prototypes of the car are being readied for development, with the first driveable development mule set to be completed this September. +++ 

+++ HERTZ has filed for bankruptcy, but a new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has revealed hundreds of people were given last minute bonuses. In the filing, Hertz says they entered into “Key Employee Retention Letter Agreements” with 340 employees on May 19th; just 2 days before declaring bankruptcy. In total, the company paid approximately €14.7 million in bonuses to a “broad base of key employees at the director level and above”. Hertz says they were given the money in recognition of the financial and operational uncertainty of the company given the coronavirus pandemic, extra work done by them as a result cutting thousands of jobs, the forfeiture of their participation in the company’s usual bonus plan, and their desire to have them remain with Hertz during these difficult times. The bonuses were paid immediately and some executives made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars. In particular, Hertz president and CEO Paul Stone got $700,000 ,while chief financial officer Jamere Jackson was paid $600,000. Chief marketing officer Jodi Allen received a bonus of $190.000. Besides revealing the rich getting richer, Hertz’s filing noted the bankruptcy prevents the termination of their fleet leases and doesn’t require them to liquidate their vehicle fleet to pay off debts. Instead, it allows them to “continue to utilize the current vehicle fleet in their operations and maintain control over the disposition of those vehicles, subject to the applicable provisions of the Bankruptcy Code”. This, of course, has been one the most interesting aspects about the Hertz bankruptcy as a sudden liquidation of the company’s fleet would send used car prices tumbling. That doesn’t appear imminent, but many analysts believe the company will eventually get rid of thousands of vehicles as part of their restructuring. +++ 

+++ Global auto sales for carmakers from JAPAN more than halved in April as the corona virus pandemic forced governments to impose lockdowns that left streets empty and showrooms deserted. Japan’s top 8 automakers together posted a decline of 54.4 % in April sales. Toyota’s worldwide sales (including units Daihatsu and Hino) fell 45 % to 472.703 vehicles; the 4th straight month of declines. Toyota’s performance was dragged down by a 51 % slump in sales outside Japan. Japan’s largest automaker this month said it expected profit this year to drop by 80 % to its lowest in 9 years, underscoring the challenge that even the most profitable carmakers are having to contend with during the pandemic. Auto sales have slumped all around the world, including the 2 biggest markets, China and the United States. While China reported an upturn in April auto sales from a year earlier by virtue of pent up demand after weeks of lockdown, annual sales could still fall by 15-25 %. Auto retail sales in the United States are likely to have halved in April, according to analytics firm J.D. Power. However, sales in May are expected to improve as most carmakers offer attractive incentives to boost demand as lockdowns ease. Honda’s global April sales fell 43 % and Nissan sold nearly 42 % fewer cars than the same month last year. Nissan posted its first annual loss in 11 years and unveiled a plan to become a smaller, more cost-efficient automaker. +++ 

+++ The upcoming emission standards for Europe will deny buyers there quite a few exciting sports cars and big-engined vehicles, with the BMW M2 sadly joining that list. This has got to be really upsetting news for European sports car enthusiasts, as the M2 is one of the finest BMW M cars ever made. Production of the M2 for Europe will stop before the end of the year. The decision covers both model variants of the BMW, namely the standard M2 Competition and the limited-run M2 CS. While both are in great demand, they will only be available outside Europe from 2020. The early send-off of the M2 has everything to do with the increasingly stringent emissions standards. Following the production end of the M4 Coupe and Convertible, the M2 Competition has remained the last vehicle to feature the S55 biturbo straight-6 engine. Adapting the power plant first introduced in 2014 to Europe’s stricter emissions regulations does not make much economic sense, especially since BMW plans to launch an all-new M2 in 2022. The all-new 2 Series Coupe will enter production in 2021, bringing an end to all current-generation models. Rest assured, an all-new M2 will arrive from 2022, and from what I hear it will be worthy of the nameplate. BMW M spokesperson Andrea Schwab has confirmed that production of the current M2 for the European market will end by the end of the year 2020. +++

+++ MASERATI is starting to enact its most ambitious revival plan yet, with billions of euros of investment, a model line-up overhaul and a target to nearly triple its sales in less than 3 years. The Italian brand’s new dawn will be spearheaded by an all-new, in-house-designed mid-engined “super-sports car” called the MC20, which is set to be revealed this September. Maserati is starting to enact its most ambitious revival plan yet, with billions of euros of investment, a model line-up overhaul and a target to nearly triple its sales in less than 3 years. The Italian brand’s new dawn will be spearheaded by an all-new, in-house-designed mid-engined “super-sports car” called the MC20, which is set to be revealed this September. The big relaunch (one of many throughout Maserati’s history) was meant to begin in May with the MC20’s debut. That has been postponed due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus, but we still know a substantial amount about Maserati’s first supercar since the Ferrari Enzo-based MC12 homologation special of 2004. It will be no watered-down Maranello model this time. In fact, the MC20’s very existence is permitted by the fact that Maserati parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) sold its 90 % stake in Ferrari back in 2016. Maserati was never allowed to tread on the toes of its Italian peer prior to this (the ultra-limited-run MC12 being the exception); now it has been allowed creative freedom to build a much-needed halo model. This will also be the car that enables Maserati to return to racing, the company has confirmed. The MC20 marks a speedy departure from the previous plan, in place as late as last summer but revised under new management. The first new model was originally due to be dubbed the Alfieri: a 2-seat electrified sports car offering plug-in hybrid and battery-electric propulsion options. A rethink has resulted in a surprise about-turn, with the MC20 instead coming to market first with a mid-mounted combustion engine (with some form of electrification likely) and electric cars set to follow. The price point for the MC20 will be about €180.000 in the Netherlands. Following in 2021 will be a convertible version of the MC20 that’s expected to use a fully electric hood mechanism. The basic underpinnings for the MC20 will be a newly specified carbonfibre tub. Early teaser images released by Maserati showed a powertrain test mule clearly having much in common with sibling brand Alfa Romeo’s now-discontinued 4C, which also featured such a tub. The MC20’s tub will be similar in concept to that of the 4C (itself co-developed with Italian chassis specialist Dallara and weighing just 65 kg) and Maserati may even use the overhauled remains of the 4C production line to build it. However, the similarities with Alfa Romeo’s unsuccessful rival to the Porsche Cayman and Boxster end there. For starters, as is evident in more recent prototype shots showing a near-production body, the MC20 will be significantly longer and a bit wider than the much cheaper 4C, while an extended wheelbase should make it far more manageable at the limit. The suspension will be completely overhauled, too, with FCA engineers hoping to create a more dynamically rounded car than the oft-criticised Alfa Romeo. Power for the MC20 will come courtesy of a longitudinally mounted turbocharged V6 engine. This fits with recent videos of prototypes in which a throaty 6-cylinder note can clearly be heard. Maserati has also confirmed that an electric variant is on the cards. The origins of the MC20’s engine are unknown at this stage. However, we do know that Alfa Romeo was well into development of a hybridised V6 making more than 600 hp for its 8C supercar and GTV coupé before both were cut from the product plan. Since then, Alfa Romeo has squeezed 540 hp out of the 2.9-litre V6 that it created with assistance from Ferrari for use in the Giulia Quadrifoglio to create the GTA and GTAm. However, even that output wouldn’t be sufficient for the MC20’s market positioning. It’s therefore most likely that the MC20 will make use of a version of Alfa Romeo’s hybrid system, with the electric part giving the low CO2 emissions required to meet future EU targets while supplementing the engine to give a combined total of more than 600 hp. With the relative lightness expected from the carbonfibre underpinnings, this should give the MC20 a 0-100 kph time in the low-3 seconds region and a good chance of smashing the 320 kph barrier. Supplementing engine drive to the rear axle with an electric module on the front axle would provide the MC20 with torque-vectoring capability and the grip needed to effectively translate its power to the road. This would allow it to compete properly with the supercar establishment. Aston Martin, Ferrari and McLaren are working on their own hybridised V6s, while the Honda NSX already has one. Such a set-up would also leave the option for a cheaper MC20 variant that ditches the electric element, lowering power but also weight and driving the rear wheels alone. Don’t expect a manual gearbox for any MC20, though. Instead, a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic is expected. There’s even the possibility of active aerodynamics: again, Alfa Romeo promised this on the canned 8C project in 2017, and if work had progressed far enough, it would make sense for Maserati to utilise it. The MC20’s name linking to the MC12 is no happy accident. With the MC standing for Maserati Corse (Italian for racing), the brand claims it’s the “natural evolution” of the MC12, which competed in the FIA GT series for six years, racking up 22 race wins and 6 teams’ championships. While the exciting new MC20 will serve as the halo model, Maserati’s more everyday range isn’t being ignored. Far from it: this year, we will also see updated versions of the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante. All 3 revised models were set to enter production in Turin in July, but that start date will almost definitely be pushed back due to the ripple effect caused by the pandemic. Public debuts for all 3 can now be expected in September. However, Maserati has already detailed their key new features. The revamped Ghibli is due to be the first to market and it will become the first Maserati available as a plug-in hybrid once production can begin. The origin of the BMW 5 Series rival’s new powertrain is unknown. It will almost certainly include a petrol engine, but whether Maserati wants to focus on fleet sales with a frugal 4-cylinder model or look for performance with a turbocharged 6-pot remains to be seen. Either way, its official fuel economy and CO2 emissions will play a key part in reducing the fleet average figures of Maserati (and by extension FCA) through 2021. Complementing the plug-in hybrid Ghibli will be a mild restyling inside and out for all 3 models, plus new technology that will finally enable Maserati to catch up with its German rivals by offering semi-autonomous driver assistance functions. The updated trio will serve as stopgaps, with all-new iterations due in 2022 and 2023. Maserati’s saloon sales are dwindling, so the Ghibli won’t be directly replaced; instead, a new Quattroporte will shrink in size to make it less of a full-size luxury offering and more of a rival to the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Before that, however, we will see another volume-growing model: a new sub-Levante SUV to compete with the BMW X4 from 2021. Details of that car remain scarce, but we do know that it requires a new production line (which Maserati had planned to complete this spring) and should also feature an electrified powertrain. The long-standing Granturismo hasn’t been forgotten in the new era, either. While production ended late last year, taking with it Maserati’s charismatic naturally aspirated 4.7-litre V8, it will be replaced in 2021. A drop-top Grancabrio successor is then due the year after that. It’s thought that the Alfieri (first previewed with a concept in 2014) will effectively morph into the new Granturismo and Grancabrio from 2021. They are set to get electric variants, too. The size of the new pair isn’t yet clear. The Quattroporte-based models were nearly 5 metres long, but such large coupés are falling out of favour: Mercedes won’t produce another generation of the 2-door S-Class, for example. Still, the slightly smaller BMW 8 Series could become Maserati’s benchmark. +++ 

+++ Formula One team owner MCLAREN saw group revenues reverse from 284 million pounds ($348.13 million) to 109 million in the first quarter of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, results showed. The sportscar maker also reported a plunge in car sales to 307 units over the 3 months, compared to 953 in the same period last year, with dealerships closed and factory production halted. It said second quarter figures were expected to be in line with Q1 but saw a stronger performance in the second half and also detected the first signs of recovery during May, particularly from China due to relaxed restrictions. The group (which is made up of the automotive, racing and applied divisions) saw its pre-tax loss balloon to 133 million from a previous 18 million pounds. The Woking-based company said McLaren Group was “looking at a number of potential financing alternatives, secured and unsecured, of up to 275 million pounds equivalent to strengthen its liquidity position”. The figures provide a backdrop to the redundancies and restructuring announced ealier, with more than a quarter of the 4.000-strong workforce to go. The Formula One team, which finished 4th last year, is expected to shed 70 of its 800+ employees although it said this mainly reflects the need to meet Formula One’s $145 million budget cap to be introduced next year. McLaren said revenues of its racing division were 4.4 million pounds down on first quarter 2019 due to the reduced prize fund resulting from the Formula One season not starting. That was partially offset by 4.1 million pounds of increased sponsorship, however. Formula One expects to start racing in July, with plans to complete a reduced season of 15-18 grands prix compared to the 22 originally scheduled. +++ 

+++ First prototypes of MERCEDES-BENZ ’ upcoming second-generation GLC have been spotted testing on German roads, well ahead of the car’s launch. Complementing further sightings of the next C-Class saloon, due to be revealed before the end of 2020 and go on sale next year, the GLC will be revealed in the middle of next year and arrive in showrooms in late 2021. A prototype was seen wearing typical camouflage, yet the GLC’s shape has clearly changed quite substantially over its predecessor. It appears longer and lower, and perhaps a little wider, with less of an upright SUV stance. A longer wheelbase and overhangs should therefore mean more interior space. The GLC’s front and rear ends are expected to share design elements with its platform-sharing C-Class sibling but, while the saloon has dropped much of its camouflage, the SUV gives little away about its front and rear ends. Mercedes is aiming the make the C-Class the most advanced model in its class when it launches later this year. It will help achieve this via a new Drive Pilot function with level-three autonomous capability. It’s a similar system to that making its debut in the flagship S-Class in the coming months, and should also be offered on the GLC. I know that under the body the GLC will be closely linked to the C-Class, as it is today, sharing the same MRA (Modular Rear Architecture) platform. The platform change is crucial for the introduction of more electrified models: Mercedes is likely to offer 48 Volt mild hybrid technology across most of the GLC range, while further PHEV options beyond the current 300e petrol and 300de diesel choices are expected. A range of 4- and 6-cylinder petrol and diesel options are anticipated. The MRA platform means the GLC, as before, should come with a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension system as standard. Optional will be an air-sprung set-up, while both rear- and four- wheeldrive should be offered depending on variant. Further details will emerge later this year. +++ 

+++ Soon-to-be former Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias MOERS has managed to quadruple vehicle sales for Daimler’s performance division to a record 132.136 units last year, while also expanding the product line. Come August, he will take over for Andy Palmer as Aston Martin CEO and will look to reverse the fortunes of a cash-strapped carmaker that’s bet everything on the upcoming DBX. Moers, however, says he is up to the task. “My ambition is to take on more responsibility, I am a strategist”, he said during an interview with a German paper, which called him Daimler’s “hidden champion” in a story published last year. “I know how the big picture works and have the view for the essentials”, he added. During his time at Mercedes-AMG, Moers successfully added hybrid versions and compact models such as the GLA 45 since taking over in late 2013. Among his predecessors, I count current Daimler CEO Ola Källenius, China boss Hubertus Troska and former management board member Wolfgang Bernhard. According to analyst Michael Dean, Moers’ appointment should boost confidence in Aston Martin ahead of the DBX’s launch in July. The British brand hopes that the DBX can do for them what the Cayenne did for Porsche in the early 2000s. Since going public in 2018, Aston Martin tried to emulate Ferrari’s financial success, yet ended up losing more than 90 % of its value. Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic didn’t help their recovery one bit, despite Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll injecting cash into the company earlier this year. On a more positive note, Moers’ appointment also “helps solidify Aston’s relationship with Mercedes”, concluded Dean. +++

 

+++ NISSAN has previewed the long-awaited successor to its 370Z sports car in a presentation outlining its future product strategy. Official details of the mysterious new car are thin on the ground, but we can see it will have styling evolved from the 370Z coupé and will be the latest addition to the Japanese brand’s Z sports car lineage, which begun in 1969 with the launch of the iconic Datsun 240Z. The preview comes following Nissan’s announcement that it’s to embark on a wide-reaching cost-cutting strategy under the ‘Nissan Next’ banner. As well as closing its commercial vehicles plant in Barcelona, Spain, the company will reduce production capacity by 20 % over the next 3 years and streamline its ageing product portfolio. The 370Z is the oldest car in Nissan’s current line-up, having launched in its current form in 2008. The company’s product planning boss, Ivan Espinosa, told at last year’s Tokyo motor show that the sports car (along with the GT-R flagship) was “at the heart of Nissan” and that the company was “actively looking at and working on” a successor. The new Z car will be called the 400Z and take its power from a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 with more power than the current car. It’s unlikely to sit on a bespoke platform, given its relatively low sales volumes, and could instead make use of the rear-driven underpinnings from Nissan sibling brand Infiniti’s Q50 and Q60 models. Nissan recently submitted a trademark application for a restyled version of the Z badge, fuelling speculation that a new sports car was on the way. The badge’s retro look hinted that the new model will take styling inspiration from Nissan’s historic sports cars, potentially with a sharp front end like that of the 240Z and distinctive brake lights inspired by the 300ZX. The interior of the new model is earmarked for a significant redesign, too, with that of the 370Z frequently criticised for being outdated compared to its rivals. Expect a focus on premium materials throughout and for the current car’s basic touchscreen to be replaced with a modern infotainment system with access to various connectivity services. The 400Z’s unveiling is expected within the next 12 months. Nissan has committed to the future of its Sunderland factory despite a recovery plan to reduce its production capacity by 20 % globally. The Japanese firm has today announced its 3-year transformation plan, dubbed Nissan Next, during which it seeks to substantially reduce its fixed costs. As part of the plan, it will close its plant in Barcelona, Spain, resulting in the loss of around 2.800 jobs. The decision comes after Nissan reported its first annual operating loss for 11 years and its biggest for 2 decades. The company ended the 2019 financial year with a net loss of 671.2 billion yen and an operating loss of 40.5 billion yen. Sales decreased 10.6 % globally from 5.52 million to 4.93 million units, with a slowdown in North America and Europe primarily to blame. Nissan will reduce its production capacity by 20 % over the next 3 years, also closing a plant in Indonesia. However, it intends to maintain Sunderland as a production base for Europe and “leverage the Alliance”. That’s part of a broader new Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance agreement for the 3 firms to increase technology sharing by focusing on key markets and product lines. Although not confirmed, recent reports suggest the Alliance plans to bring production of Renault models (namely the Kadjar and Captur SUVs) to the United Kingdom. Nissan will also focus on streamlining its global product line-up. President Makoto Uchida admitted that, along with factors such as fluctuating currencies, “the sales decrease continues to weigh on our profit as we suffer from an ageing portfolio and limit profit distribution from our efforts to normalise sales”. As a result, Nissan will reduce its number of global models by 20 % in 3 years; down from 69 to fewer than 55. Resources will be reallocated to globally competitive models, with the core segments named as the C-segment (Qashqai), D-segment (X-Trail), electric vehicles (EVs) and sports cars. It will also shorten its product lifecycle so that the average age of its model portfolio is less than 4 years. As part of the Alliance agreement, Nissan will focus its growth strategy on its most successful markets: Japan, China and North America. It will sustain its business in Europe, Latin America and Asia, but it will focus on its most successful models in each market. It will exit some markets, including South Korea and Russia, killing the Datsun brand in the process. In Nissan’s home market of Japan, it intends to maintain a leadership in electrification and autonomous technology. By 2023, 60 % of its sales are expected to be of electrified models. It also intends to grow its market share in China, with more EVs due to launch. In the US, Nissan is “discovering the difficulty of restoring a brand that is damaged”, according to Uchida. It will reduce its focus on fleet sales, enhance its SUV and pick-up ranges, and improve inventory management. Europe remains “an important region for Nissan”, but the firm acknowledges that market conditions are tough, with a combination of high regulation and competition. It intends to focus on profitable crossover SUVs along with an expansion of its EV line-up, while making greater use of its relationship with Renault. It’s expected that Nissan will reduce its focus on lower-margin segments such as superminis, meaning the future of the Micra looks bleak. Electrification will be a core focus going forward. Nissan claims it’s on track to introduce more than 8 new EVs globally by 2023, while it will expand its e-Power hybrid system across more regions and target 1 million electrified sales by 2023. The company is also on track to achieve more than 1.5 million sales of models equipped with its ProPilot driving assistance system. +++ 

+++ The PORSCHE 718 Cayman GT4 is an absolute firecracker but it isn’t perfect and like the original GT4, has been criticized for its exceptionally long gearing. While recently testing out the car in Australia, it was discovered that the top of first gear takes you to 84 km/h while second gear tops out at 137 km/h and third gear continues on to an insane 195 km/h. Considering how rev-happy the 4.0-liter naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder of the Cayman GT4 is, the long gearing means you’ll rarely hit the top of the rev range on the road. Speaking with the man in charge of the Porsche 911 and 718 lines, Frank-Steffen Walliser, he was asked just why the GT4’s 6-speed manual is geared so long. “The gearbox we have, don’t get me wrong, it’s an old one, an existing one and changing the gear was just technically not possible as we were running out of space on the shafts, if we need an adjustment there”, he revealed. “We would have loved to have seen the gearing a little bit shorter, but technically there was no way. We have an answer, which will come later this year and that’s very nice then”. The ‘answer’ which Walliser is referring to is a dual-clutch PDK transmission that will soon be added to the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder models. The PDK will not only offer shorter gear ratios than the manual but it promises to broaden the appeal of the 2 sports cars and drive up sales. +++ 

+++ RENAULT said that losses at its Japanese partner Nissan, in which it has a 43% stake, would drag on its on net earnings by €3.6 billion in the first quarter. Renault, which posted its first net loss in a decade in 2019, has like Nissan been struggling with faltering sales, a slide exacerbated this year by the coronavirus pandemic. The 2 firms, which this week announced plans for more production sharing under their three-way alliance with Mitsubishi in a bid to cut costs, are also embarking on individual restructuring and savings plans. Nissan posted an annual operating loss of 40.5 billion yen ($376 million) for the year to March 31, its worst performance since 2008/09, while net losses came in at 671.2 billion yen. Renault is due to announce details of its turnaround plan on Friday. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the government had yet to sign off on a planned €5 billion euro loan for Renault and that the carmaker’s site closures and job cuts could only ever be a last resort. “The closure of a site must only be a last resort”, Le Maire told. French president Emmanuel Macron this week said that the government, which has a 15% stake in Renault, would not sign off on the state loan until management and unions had concluded talks over the company’s French workforce and sites. +++ 

+++ SPAIN will do everything it can to get Nissan to reverse its decision to close its Barcelona plant, foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said. Leaving the country would be expensive for the Japanese carmaker, Gonzalez Laya also said in an interview. Nissan announced it would shut the plant, which employs 2.900 workers, from December as part of a global restructuring plan to slash costs. “We regret it and we will do everything we can to overturn that”, Gonzalez Laya said. The government had been making proposals to company over the past days and weeks and would keep trying to convince it, she said. “We still believe even with their announcement that there is a way to continue this dialogue”, she said. The government has estimated that shutting its Barcelona plant could cost Nissan more than €1 billion and has said it would be less expensive for Nissan to stay. “There is a penalty to be paid by the company for moving out of Spain, it’s stipulated in the contract that Nissan has with Spain”, Gonzalez Laya said, without giving any details. A foreign ministry official said Gonzalez Laya was refering to operating costs. Gonzalez Laya said the government’s main concern was preserving jobs at the plant. The workforce is about 2.800 people but about 25.000 could be indirectly affected. “We have to continue fighting for it, which is what we will do. First with Nissan because at the end of the day our interlocutor today is Nissan, but maybe with other interlocutors”, she said. Gonzalez Laya also expressed frustration with Nissan. “It is a company that at the beginning of the year has assured us that employment and operations in Barcelona would remain”, she said. She also said the government was awaiting a decision from Renault on its plants in Spain. Those plants are “state of the art” and she hoped this would convince the carmaker to remain invested in Spain, she said. +++

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