Newsflash: Kia Stinger gaat mogelijk elektrisch

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+++ The ALLIANCE automakers Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi have hinted that they may unveil a strategic plan next week to repair their troubled alliance, as the new coronavirus pandemic lashes the industry. The 3 announced they would hold “a joint press conference regarding the progress in Alliance activities” on May 27. They had said in January they planned to deepen cooperation as concerns mounted their alliance would split, and there is speculation they could unveil which companies would take the lead in certain technologies or regions to cut costs. The more than 20-year partnership between Nissan and Renault, based on cross-shareholdings without a joint structure, was built by Carlos Ghosn, who held senior roles in both companies. Ghosn turned around Nissan’s fortunes and then helped build the world’s largest automotive group with the addition of Mitsubishi. But the alliance was pushed to the brink following Ghosn’s shock arrest in Tokyo in November 2018 on charges of financial misconduct, including allegations he had underreported millions of dollars in salary. All 3 firms were struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused sales to plunge as governments forced citizens to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus. Nissan plans to unveil restructuring measures next week at the same time as its results for its 2019 to 2020 fiscal year, which are expected to show losses. The next day it is Renault’s turn, with the automaker having already said in February it aimed to achieve €2 billion in savings over 3 years. At the time, it did not exclude closing factories. The French firm is reportedly planning to close four of its factories in France, including one that makes its electric car Zoe. Renault registered its first loss in more than a decade last year, its credit rating has been downgraded into junk territory by Standard and Poor’s and it is in line to receive a €5 billion loan backed by the French state to help it overcome the crisis. Ghosn, who denies the financial misconduct charges against him, fled to Lebanon after being released from a Japanese jail and is being pursued by both Renault and Nissan on civil charges. French prosecutors are looking into whether he wrongly obtained use of the Palace of Versailles for his lavish 2016 wedding. +++ 

+++ Americans remain skeptical about AUTONOMOUS DRIVING TECHNOLOGIES , a research from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) has revealed. The coalition, which aims to improve the public’s understanding of autonomous vehicles, conducted a poll of 1.200 adults across the U.S. earlier this year to determine their views on current autonomous vehicle technologies. Nearly 3 in 4 respondents believe AV technology is “not ready for primetime”, while 48 % said they “would never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously”. In addition, only 34 % of those polled believe the advantages of autonomous vehicles outweigh any potential disadvantages and just 18 % would be willing to get on a waiting list for an autonomous vehicle. On a slightly more positive note for car manufacturers and technology companies developing self-driving vehicles, 58 % of people believe safe AVs will be available in 10 years. On the other hand, 20 % believe they will never be safe. Unsurprisingly, Americans who own vehicles with advanced driver assistance technologies reported having greater knowledge about AVs and are more confident with them. For example, 75 % of Americans who own vehicles with such semi-autonomous features agree that they “can’t wait to see what new safety features will be in my next vehicle” and “will feel safer on the road when I know that most other vehicles have enhanced safety features”. The public perception of autonomous vehicles is not solely tied to high-profile incidents such as Uber’s crash in 2018, when a pedestrian was killed, or crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot. 51 % of respondents said they know nothing at all about the Uber incident, while 37 % said they know just “a little” about it. 32 % of those who know a lot about the fatal crash say AVs are safer now, much more than the 11 % of those that know a little about the crash and the 7 % of those that know nothing. Similarly, 49 % of Americans know nothing at all about Tesla Autopilot crashes while 38 % said they know just a little. “The results of this survey confirm that autonomous vehicles face major perception challenges, and that education and outreach are the keys to improving trust”, executive director at PAVE, Tara Andringa said. “These insights provide both motivation and direction to our effort to confront this educational challenge”. +++ 

+++ According to BMW boss Oliver Zipse, the carmaker expects the iX3 fully-electric SUV to go into production this summer. Zipse shared this news recently with his company’s shareholders. The iX3 will be BMW’s first model built exclusively at the Chinese joint venture plant in Shenyang, as well as the first model to use a platform that can underpin combustion engine, phev and battery-powered cars. It will also underpin the i4 EV fastback, due next year. “The preparations are proceeding according to plan despite uncertainties that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic”, said the company’s CEO during an annual general meeting. The iX3 will be powered by a 74 kWh battery, providing a range of more than 440 km per Europe’s WLTP cycle. The battery holds high-density cells that are 80 % nickel and 10 % each for cobalt and manganese, allowing for a range that matches that of rivals with larger capacity batteries. Unlike the Volkswagen Group and Daimler with their dedicated PPE and EVA2 electric platforms, BMW decided against developing an EV architecture for battery-electric models. Former CEO Harald Krüger felt that was a better strategy from a financial standpoint, especially since building a new EV plant would cost roughly €1 billion. +++ 

+++ In CHINA , in the eastern city of Yuyao, a group of 5 face-masked workers at a Geely auto plant stood almost shoulder to shoulder behind a utility vehicle as they conducted paint and other quality checks.That scene would not have been possible a month ago. But visits to 6 factories, including those operated by Daimler’s China venture and Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics, showed manufacturers in China have begun to ease strict physical distancing rules as the coronavirus outbreak is now contained. China’s daily new coronavirus cases have recently dropped to single digits. The most significant rule to be relaxed (in line with an easing of guidelines by local governments) has been the requirement that production line workers stand at least 1 meter apart. That rule was put in place by many authorities in February when the outbreak was at its height in China but it was also a rule that auto industry insiders said had hamstrung productivity. “Workers need to work together to check the quality of the job”, Shen Qingguang, safety manager at Geely’s Yuyao plant where some 1.000 workers build vehicles for its Lynk & Co marque. Employees often need to work together on the final assembly line in particular, he added. But where working close together is not deemed necessary, the 1 meter rule still applies and Geely office staff must work 1.5 meters apart. North American auto plants began reopening this week, introducing temperature monitors for those entering plants, personal protective equipment such as face masks and shields, as well as revamped and deep-cleaned factory floors that emphasize social distancing. Manufacturers in China are, however, several weeks or in some cases months ahead in terms of reopening, providing a window into how worker practices could evolve. That said, restrictions will vary by country and region. For Tesla’s Shanghai plant, workers were required to maintain a distance of 1 meter in February but like many other China plants, that rule has now been eased. In contrast, Tesla’s “Return to Work Playbook” published this month for its Fremont factory calls for workers to maintain a distance of 2 meters, or for barriers to be established where that is not possible. At Beijing Benz Automotive, a Daimler venture with China’s BAIC Group, the 1 meter rule has also been relaxed for production line staff and workers wearing face masks could be seen working near each other. A notice board showed weekly production for one line making E-Class, GLC and other models had jumped to more than 4.000 vehicles from 1,100 in early February. Indeed, Chinese auto production is by and large back on track, climbing 2.3 % in April from the same month a year earlier to 2.1 million vehicles. Vehicle sales also grew; up 4.4 % for their first rise in 22 months. Geely said its Yuyao plant had managed to return to full capacity in early March. But many strict measures are still in place. At all 6 plants visited, face masks are compulsory even though some smaller Chinese cities have begun to relax rules about wearing them. Workers must also have their temperatures checked daily and factories are regularly disinfected. All of the plants visited said they have not had a case of a coronavirus infection since February. Those plants included Japan’s SMC, which supplies equipment for production lines, Ningbo Joyson Electronic, a maker of electronic and safety gear for cars, and Hongyu Electric, a wire supplier for vehicles.
At Geely’s Yuyao plant, rules have also been relaxed for lunch. Previously, workers had to sit on chairs far apart near the production line, all facing one way with their backs to each other. Now they are allowed back in the cafeteria, with two workers allowed to sit at a table for 4, seated diagonally apart. There are no barriers on the table but sitting directly opposite each other or side-by-side is still forbidden. Hongyu Electric has introduced similar rules. Shen, the Geely safety manager, said staff at the Yuyao plant adjusted to wearing masks and “new normal” work practices quickly. He said: “Everyone wants to be safe”. +++
 

+++ EURONCAP has overhauled its testing regime for 2020, with the introduction of new methods to assess crash safety and active safety technology. Described as “the biggest change to Euro NCAP’s impact testing protocols in a decade” by Thatcham Research director and Euro NCAP board member Matthew Avery, the new regime will be introduced later this year. The first key change is the adoption of a new “Mobile-offset Progressive Deformable Barrier”, meaning there are now two moving elements to a head-on collision test. Intrusion to both the vehicle and barrier will be measured. The idea, Avery says, is to “encourage makers of larger vehicles to share some of the burden of the impact with smaller vehicles. “Historically, SUVs and other big cars have offered very good protection to their occupants. However, the smaller vehicles they sometimes crash into can fare less well. In the new compatibility test, if the larger vehicle is too stiff for an impact scenario, it will be penalised accordingly”. An advanced new crash test dummy, dubbed Thor, has also been introduced. It is said to more closely represent a human, and Avery describes it as “far more complex and sensitive and can record abdominal injuries”. Side impact testing will also now take into account the movement of all occupants, not just those closest to the impact, checking airbags installed in centre compartments. Automatic emergency braking systems will also be further tested with a new ‘Turn Across Path’ protocol, aimed at preventing accidents at junctions and crossings. Reverse parking incidents will also be taken into account, while driver monitoring systems will be assessed. Finally, Euro NCAP will consider post-crash safety, looking at which cars provide accurate information to emergency services in the event that the vehicle needs to be cut open to gain access. As with previous changes to the testing and marking protocol, Euro NCAP  cautions against comparing the newly tested cars with rivals that have undergone the older, theoretically easier tests. +++ 

+++ The EUROPEAN COMMISSION is considering a large economic stimulus package that could include €20 billion aimed at consumers as incentives to buy eco-friendly vehicles. The overall package could be worth as much as €100 billion. Details of these subsidies have not yet been finalized, as there are still disagreements regarding how to define ‘clean cars’. Meanwhile, the German transport ministry is pushing to include cars that emit 140 grams per km in the package, which is far beyond the 2021 fleet emissions target of 95 g/km. This would mean that for example, someone buying a Volkswagen Tiguan with a 150 hp engine would get to qualify for a subsidy. Such a thing would be “completely unacceptable”, according to Stef Cornelis of the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, with others criticizing the German proposal too, saying it would hurt carmakers instead of helping them when it comes to hitting CO2 emissions targets. German chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that any economic stimulus package must also aim to protect the climate, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen mirroring those sentiments, saying: “If it is necessary to increase our debt, which our children will then inherit, then at the very least, we must use that money to invest in their future by addressing climate change, reducing the climate impact and not adding to it”. Part of the EU’s plan is to also accelerate the development of new alternative drivetrains to cut emissions from road transport, with funds also going towards building 2 million public charging stations for EVs by 2025. A spokeswoman for the Commission told that a new “Marshall Plan” to underpin an economic recovery will be presented on May 27. +++ 

+++ U.S. authorities have arrested a former Special Forces soldier and another man wanted by Japan on charges that they enabled the escape of former Nissan boss Carlos GHOSN out of the country. Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts said former U.S. Green Beret Michael Taylor, 59, and his son, Peter Taylor, 27, helped Ghosn last year flee to Lebanon to avoid trial in Japan over alleged financial wrongdoing. Japan in January issued arrest warrants for both men along with a third, George-Antoine Zayek, in connection with facilitating the December 29 escape. The Taylors are scheduled to appear by video conference before a federal judge later on Wednesday. A lawyer for both Taylors did not immediately comment. Ghosn fled to Lebanon, his childhood home, while he was awaiting trial on charges of under-reporting earnings, breach of trust and misappropriation of company funds, all of which he denies. U.S. legal papers recount the details of Ghosn’s escape including his departure from Japan hidden in a large black box aboard a private jet. The Japanese embassy in Washington and Nissan did not immediately comment. A representative for Ghosn declined to comment. Federal prosecutors asked the judge to order both men detained. “The very offense for which Michael Taylor is charged in Japan demonstrates his aptitude for hatching escape plans on a grand scale and his blatant disrespect for bond conditions”, they said in a court filing. Earlier this month, Turkish prosecutors prepared an indictment charging 7 people, including 4 pilots, over Ghosn’s escape via Istanbul to Beirut. U.S. law enforcement learned Peter Taylor had booked a flight from Boston to Beirut departing with a layover in London. He was arrested as was Michael Taylor in Harvard, Massachusetts. In September, Nissan and Ghosn settled U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) claims over false financial disclosures related to Ghosn’s compensation. The SEC said in total Nissan in its financial disclosures omitted more than $140 million to be paid to Ghosn in retirement; a sum that ultimately was not paid. Nissan paid $15 million and Ghosn $1 million to resolve the investigation. Ghosn also agreed to a 10-year ban from serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded U.S. company. The SEC also said Ghosn engaged in a scheme to conceal more than $90 million of compensation. Nissan sued Ghosn in February seeking about $90 million. The SEC said beginning in 2004 Nissan’s board delegated to Ghosn the authority to set individual director and executive compensation levels, including his own. “Ghosn and his subordinates, including Kelly, crafted various ways to structure payment of the undisclosed compensation after Ghosn’s retirement”, the agency added. Nissan said it still reserves the right to take further legal measures in the case of its ousted former chairman, after the United States arrested 2 men on charges they enabled his escape from Japan. “Nissan notes the extradition proceedings in the US. As previously announced, Nissan finds Carlos Ghosn’s flight from justice extremely regrettable”, the company said in an emailed statement. “While not a party to these extradition proceedings, Nissan continues to reserve the right to take further legal measures as appropriate”. Japan said it was working to secure the rapid extradition of two men arrested in the United States on charges of enabling the dramatic escape of Ghosn from the country. “We are making preparations, including working to cooperate on a speedy extradition”, chief cabinet officer Yoshihide Suga told reporters, acknowledging the arrests. Japanese lawyer Junichiro Hironaka, who had defended Ghosn until he fled, said in a telephone interview the key question was whether there was enough evidence to warrant extradition, and he would watch developments closely. It filed a civil suit in Japan this year seeking 10 billion yen ($93 million) in damages from its former boss for alleged misconduct. +++ 

+++ Today was supposed to be the day that General Motors (GM) took the wraps off its HUMMER EV. We were told as much during the Super Bowl commercial, but GM revised it to an undecided future date, citing the coronavirus as the reason. Instead of the big reveal, I have a teaser. Turns out, the Hummer EV is going to feature removable roof panels. There are 4 roof panels and a front T-bar that come out of the pickup. You can see here what that looks like. Comparisons to Jeep are obvious as the open-air experience is likely similar to the Gladiator and Wrangler with their hardtop roof panels removed. That zero-limits slogan makes a bit of sense from this respect. With the sheer number of roof panels, I suspect a single person will be able to remove them all by themselves. Other details are scarce on the ground. I’m not sure when the Hummer will make its grand entrance at this point, but are still excited to see the 1.000 hp pickup hit the road. GM is still advertising the 0-100 kph time of just 3 seconds, too. The latest tidbit of news suggests that further teasers might be coming, so we could be in for a rather drawn out reveal process. I got to see the Hummer in person earlier this year at GM’s EV Day and intend to described it like this: “It’s a big, off-road-ready pickup complete with giant all-terrain rubber and tow hooks. It features removable roof panels for access to the open sky, which appears to be depicted in the teaser above. It features sail panels behind the C-pillars, similar to those on the Chevrolet Avalanche and Honda Ridgeline. Its bed was concealed with a tonneau cover, but it sported GMC’s MultiPro tailgate that we first saw on the Sierra Denali. Interior photos showed a spacious interior with blocky shapes, squared hourglass vents that mirror the look of the taillights and a lunar theme that incorporates the topography of the Sea of Tranquility into things like the floor mats and speaker covers. It also has a large infotainment screen as well as a digital instrument panel”. +++ 

+++ Sales of JAGUAR LAND ROVER ’s SVR performance models leapt by 64 % to over 9.500 in the past year. They were buoyed by continuing strong demand for the 5-year old Range Rover Sport SVR, with important new contributions from the SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) division’s 2 most recent models, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR and the Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic, both launched last year. The company also reports a 20 % hike in bespoke commissions and, pandemic permitting, expects further expansion. Most of SVO’s offerings are currently SUV-based now that the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and F-Type SVR have run their course, but managing director Michael van der Sande insists the company has its eye on further expansion and that “there will be future saloons and sports cars” in the SVR range. Van der Sande says the arrival of the F-Pace and Velar models have successfully taken SVO into a new sub-£100.000 category but there are no plans currently to move lower, perhaps into Range Rover Evoque territory. “But I wouldn’t rule it out”, he adds. As well as offering the widest SV range yet, Van der Sande attributes his division’s success to a rapid increase in the number of SVR centres around the world. At present there are 100, but he expects that number to grow to around 200 “over the next couple of years”. Van der Sande says his division has been learning a lot from a large Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) dealership that was opened in Munich about 6 months ago with an SV-specific configuration suite. There are 7 SVO cars on display, the biggest line-up outside the United Kingdom. He said: “As you can imagine, we’re keen to meet German demand, which is going well, but we’re also learning a lot for the future of our business elsewhere. We want to ensure that staff in these new centres cater for premium customers in the way they expect and have a deep knowledge of the products”. Jaguar Land Rover’s SVO division is set to launch its first all-electric car in the coming years, according to Van der Sande. However, in spite of SVO developing and running the all-electric I-Pace in the eTrophy race series that supports Formula E, the I-Pace will not be the first electric car to receive an SVO makeover. Van der Sande said: “We will be developing electrified versions of our cars, be that fully electrified or plug-in hybrids. “The I-Pace is not on that path, but there are various other things we are working on which we can’t talk about, but we’re very interested in electrification. That’s why we get involved in the eTrophy. “The technology transfer, the learning applies to that car and other cars but we’re not planning an SVR I-Pace at the moment”. Part of that reason could be because the I-Pace sits on its own unique all-electric platform that won’t be used for any other JLR product. However, the new all-electric Jaguar XJ, set to be unveiled later this year, will be the first car to make use of JLR’s new MLA architecture that’s set to be used across the entire large Jaguar and Land Rover product line-up in the coming years. It would make more sense for the SVO division to work on that platform, making an XJ SVR a possibility, with the high performance technology then rolling on to other all-electric models. With an all-electric, full-size Jaguar J-Pace SUV and an as-yet unnamed Land Rover crossover also likely to use the MLA electric car platform and be built alongside the XJ at the revamped Castle Bromwich plant, these models could also be set for the SVR treatment. Van der Sande was talking as his SVO division announced record sales for the past year, up 64 % over the last fiscal year. It’s sales success is in stark contrast to JLR’s overall sales figures, which were down 5.9 % in 2019. SVO is also responsible for Jaguar and Land Rover’s Classic business and van der Sande also confirmed that more continuation models were on the way. “We’re most of the way through our run of 25 D-Types”, he told. “And we’re looking at a few opportunities going forward. I think you will see continuation models being offered occasionally by our Classic department”. +++ 

+++ I return to the much-scrutinized KIA Stinger, the critically acclaimed but slow-selling performance sedan whose future is the subject of intense speculation. Thanks to an interview with the head of Kia design, Karim Habib, I now have not only official confirmation that the fastback is getting a mid-cycle refresh, but also some hints about how the model might stick around by evolving. In the interview, Habib said he hopes that the “spirit of the Stinger” remains as the Kia brand evolves. “As the technology goes toward EVs and as the world and its appetite for these types of cars changes, the concept probably has to evolve as well”, he said. Is that a hint that the Stinger might eventually go electric? Let’s explore. Kia has already announced its intentions to launch 11 new electric vehicles globally by 2025, including some with an 800 volt charging system for high speed charging. They’re doing so on a platform that will be purpose-built for EVs in partnership with Hyundai that can support larger and more powerful electric vehicles than either the e-Soul EV or e-Niro, Kia’s 2 existing battery-electric offerings. Presumably that opens the door to build an electric Stinger or a similar sedan; Habib talked about the need to keep the “sporty, affordable, beautiful sculpture” around, if not necessarily the nameplate itself. But electrifying the Stinger would in all likelihood easily eclipse the 245 hp from the base 2.0-liter turbo-4 and at least match the 366 hp offered by the twin-turbo V6. It would also undoubtedly represent a huge upgrade in fuel economy, which is one of the Stinger’s few weak points. Kia is also working on battery technology that promises up to 500 kilometres of driving range. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI has emerged as Britain’s most desired car brand in a new study, beating the likes of Ferrari and Aston Martin to the top spot. The reserach firm found that 15.5 % of bookings were for the Italian bulls like the Huracan and its predecessor, the Gallardo.  Lamborghini had nearly 3 % more bookings than second placed Ferrari and a whole 4 % more than Aston Martin which took third spot on the list. Among the Ferraris available to drive on experience days are the 360 and F430, as well as the more recent 458 Italia, while the V8 Vantage and DB11 are popular Aston Martin choices. “Lamborghini posters have adorned many a bedroom wall and it would appear from our data that many Brits still consider it to be the marque to be beaten”, said researcher Alex MacGregor. “Despite having a large range of supercars to drive, it’s quite clear that Lamborghini takes pole position in the popularity stakes”, he added. “It’s also great to see Aston Martin on the podium, beating some highly regarded competition including BMW and Porsche”. Aston Martin was the highest-placed British brand, with both McLaren and Lotus securing positions outside the top-10. Here is the Top 10 of manufacturers based on bookings: 1) Lamborghini: 15.5 %, 2) Ferrari: 12.6 %, 3) Aston Martin: 11.5 %, 4) Audi: 9.2 %, 4) Nissan: 9.2 %, 6) Porsche: 8.3 %, 7) BMW: 4.2 %, 8) Ford: 3.6 %, 9) AC: 3.4 % and 10) Mazda: 3.2 %. +++ 

+++ LAND ROVER may be busy right now testing the next-generation Range Rover, but that doesn’t mean that the British brand isn’t exerting any effort on the smallest of the lineup, the Range Rover Evoque. Reports in January suggest that there will be a huge update to the Evoque’s powertrain. However, it seems like Land Rover isn’t stopping there when it comes to developing the SUV. Recent spy images reveal that the Evoque will have a 7-seat version with a longer body (the rear windows and roof will be extended to accommodate the third row). Of course, the longer body of the Evoque XL will also be the effect of the extended wheelbase to make room for 2 more passengers. It’s unclear whether the 7-seat Range Rover Evoque will reach the U.S. and European market, but considering the current trend, China and other Asian markets, as well as Russia would be viable considerations to sell the 3-row Evoque. As we all know, the Chinese market favours bigger and longer vehicles so automakers tend to adapt to the requirement in order to capture the demand. +++

+++ MAZDA has updated the CX-3 in Japan by introducing a new engine and a new available body color. In addition to the existing 2.0-liter gasoline and 1.8-liter turbo diesel engines, the Mazda CX-3 can now be had with a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter Skyactiv-G gasoline 4-cylinder engine. Hooked to a 6-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels as standard (AWD is an option), the base engine produces 111 hp at 6.000 rpm and 144 Nm at 4.000 rpm. Unsurprisingly, the Mazda CX-3 is more economical when equipped with this engine than with the 2.0-liter unit. According to the automaker, the CX-3 Skyactiv-G 1.5 front-wheel-drive model averages 5.9 l/100 km on the combined WLTC test cycle. New engine aside, the Mazda CX-3 is now available with the Polymetal Gray Metallic paint that debuted on the Mazda3 and was recently added to the MX-5 lineup as well. Other updates include the addition of new-generation seats as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The updated CX-3 will be launched on June 4. +++ 

+++ The use of synthetic fuels in cars isn’t viable in the mid-term, according to MERCEDES-BENZ research and development boss Markus Schäfer, who said the firm is focusing investment on electrifying its cars. While some manufacturers (such as Bentley, Mazda, McLaren and Volkswagen) are seriously researching synthetic fuels as a credible alternative to petrol and diesel as well as newer and cleaner alternatives, Schäfer said Mercedes won’t go that way. “We have made a clear decision that our way will be electric first”, he said. “When we develop new platforms, we think electric first. We have to watch regulations and customer behaviour, but this will be our main road”. Explaining his reservations concerning synthetic fuels, Schäfer said: “If you have an abundance of energy, the best use is to put it directly into a battery. To transform green energy into an e-fuel is a process where you lose a lot of efficiency. If there were more clean energies available, then the first customers would probably be in the aviation industry. Far, far later (I don’t see this in the next 10 years) will come the car industry”. Mazda’s research on the topic is around recyclable liquid fuels made from microalgae, while McLaren is looking at a CO2-neutral synthetic fuel to power its V8. Audi got as far as producing its own synthetic petrol and diesel for testing in 2018, while Volkswagen’s technical chief recently said that such fuels will extend the life of the combustion engine, despite the VW Group’s huge investment in electrification. +++ 

+++ Terms of a planned MERGER between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and PSA are set in stone, FCA’s chairman said, brushing off talk that some aspects of the deal might be re-negotiated because of the Covid-19 crisis. FCA and PSA have entered a binding agreement to create the world’s 4th largest carmaker that FCA’s chairman John Elkann confirmed was expected to close in the first quarter of next year. But FCA has come in for criticism in Italy over a €5.5 billion special dividend that is part of the PSA deal after its local business said it was in talks with Rome and Intesa Sanpaolo over a €6.3 billion state-backed loan to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. The potential payment of such a big dividend to shareholders when the coronavirus crisis has left cash-starved manufacturers pushing for government support has been questioned within Italy’s ruling coalition. But FCA Chairman Elkann said the terms of the merger agreement had not changed. “The terms of the FCA-PSA deal are set in stone as binding contracts in their nature are”, Elkann said in conference call after the annual shareholder meeting of Exor, the Agnelli family holding company which controls FCA. “It was a clear cash and equity agreement to reach a 50-50 merger deal between FCA and PSA shareholders”, Elkann said. “Both parties in FCA-PSA deal are committed to get parity in the merger deal”. Elkann is also chairman and CEO of Exor. The dividend (to be paid by parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in the Netherlands) is a central part of the overall value of the merger, but Italy could look into it, a senior government source has said. “This is a loan which is really designed to help the automotive sector in Italy which we know is a very important part of the Italian economy”, Elkann said, referring to the state-backed loan. Treasury undersecretary Pier Paolo Baretta told Reuters that Rome might consider extending a ban on dividend payments for companies accessing state guarantee from an existing deadline of December 31, 2020 to a 12-month period following the loan guarantee concession. “That would be reasonable. Doing more may hit the companies’ value”, Baretta said. This could potentially complicate FCA’s plans, as the special dividend payment is due just before the closing of the merger with PSA. Some analysts suggested some of the merger’s terms (in particular the amount of the special dividend, which was agreed before the coronavirus outbreak) could be reviewed to take account of the current state of the stock market and the automotive market and to preserve cash at the automaker. Elkann said the reasons for FCA-PSA merger were “stronger than ever” and that preparatory work for the 50-50 tie-up was proceeding “on time and as envisaged”. +++ 

+++ A Delaware judge has denied a request by attorneys for Tesla shareholders to pursue a lawsuit seeking to prevent chief executive officer Elon MUSK from using his personal Twitter account to disseminate information regarding the electric vehicle and solar panel manufacturer. Vice chancellor Joseph Slights ruled that shareholder attorneys had not demonstrated a sufficient reason for him to allow the state court lawsuit to proceed. Slights put the case on hold after it was filed last year because of a pending federal securities fraud lawsuit and a contempt motion against Musk by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC sought to hold Musk in contempt of court after he tweeted in February 2019 about Tesla’s vehicle production goal for the year. Regulators said the tweet violated a 2018 securities fraud settlement requiring Tesla to oversee tweets from Musk that could affect the company’s stock. The settlement was reached after the SEC sued Musk for using his Twitter account to falsely announce that he had secured financing to take Tesla private. The contempt motion was resolved in April 2019 with a requirement that Musk get approval in advance from a company lawyer before issuing any written communications regarding Tesla’s finances. But Musk got in more hot water last July after sending an unapproved tweet regarding a forecast for his company’s solar roof panel production. The Delaware plaintiffs said in a court filing earlier this month that the lawsuit should proceed because Musk’s continued tweeting poses an imminent threat to Tesla, and that Tesla’s board has failed to rein in Musk and enforce the pre-approval policy on his communications. The “final straw”, they said, was a May 1 tweet in which Musk said he though Tesla’s stock price was too high. The share price promptly fell by more than 10 %. “No rational Tesla lawyer or director could have approved this tweet”, shareholder attorneys wrote. “Musk clearly is unwilling to comply with the SEC settlements, and the board is equally unwilling or unable to require him to do so and constrain his tweeting”, they added. William Chandler, an attorney representing Tesla directors, told Slights that the case boils down to a fight over possible damages related to Musk’s conduct, and that it should remain on hold pending resolution of the federal class action. “The only harm that the plaintiffs allege is a drop in the market price that existed for less than one full business day”, Chandler said, referring to the May 1 tweet. Chandler also suggested that the attempt to prohibit Musk from tweeting about Tesla raises serious First Amendment issues. Slights said Musk’s tweet about solar panel production did not appear to be “terribly problematic”. The stock price tweet, while “troublesome on its face”, was one of many tweets by Musk over the past year, in which Tesla has seen tremendous growth, the judge added. While describing his decision to keep the case on hold “a close call”, Slights also noted that he can’t issue an injunction based on mere apprehension or speculation about a defendant’s future conduct. He warned, however, he could revisit his decision if Musk’s conduct results in “likely”, rather than “speculative” harm to shareholders. “The decision will be clearer if more of a pattern emerges, especially an unchecked pattern. At this point, though, what’s done is done”, he said. +++ 

+++ I triy to further figure out NISSAN ‘s survival plan for Europe, ahead of its official announcement expected on May 28. According to the latest unofficial reports, the Japanese brand (and part of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance) is expected to focus on crossover/SUV and commercial vehicles. “Nissan is working on a plan to scale back its European business, focusing on sport utility and commercial vehicles as well as more effective sharing of products and investments with partner Renault, 3 sources told”. The company might lead the alliance’s crossover/SUV segment in Europe and even produce some models for Renault in Sunderland. In the case of commercial vehicles, the situation would be different, as Nissan would sell rebadged Renault vans. Renault is expected also to supply Nissan with other (small) cars. “Central to the proposal is a new way of working with alliance partner Renault that would see the two companies divide up areas of responsibility, with one becoming the “leader” and the other the “follower” in each”. The upcoming restructuring will be deep. The plant in Sunderland will switch from 3 shifts to 2 shifts, while the plant in Barcelona might be closed (3.000 jobs). It’s not clear what will happen with to local production of the Leaf and lithium-ion batteries in Sunderland, as well as with the e-NV200 in Spain. The next-generation all-electric Ariya (a SUV) will be imported from Japan. Overall, Europe accounts only for 10 % of Nissan’s global business by volume with “little prospects for growth and profitability”, so the simple goal seems to be to maintain a limited presence. Models that should stay on the market are Qashqai and Juke (they have Renault counterparts: Kadjar and Captur), plus the X-Trail. The 4th model will be the Ariya at some point in the future. Sporty Z and GT-R models, as well as the Navara pickup, are in question. +++ 

+++ Like most cars, the PORSCHE 911 has slowly grown in size over the years and the vice-president of the 911 and 718 model lines, Frank-Steffen Walliser, says he would like to see the iconic sports car become smaller. Walliser said the 911 could be even sportier than the current 992 model. “Maybe I would do it a little more sporty than the 992 in general, but I have no complaints of this model”, he said. “If I had a wish, for sure I would make it smaller, but this is a wish”, Walliser added. Despite Walliser’s wish, it seems unlikely we will see the 911 shrink in size anytime soon, as making it too small could impede on sales of the Cayman and Boxster. Many consumers also love the 911 not just because of its sporty prowess but the fact that it doubles as a good GT car and is fairly practical. +++ 

+++ RENAULT is looking to close 4 factories across France, including the Alpine factory in Dieppe, according to French media reports. It’s also claimed that 5 models are at risk of being abandoned. The closures are a core part of a restructuring plan for the French company, with the intention to reduce fixed costs by €2 billion. Reports suggest the Dieppe facility, which produces the Alpine A110, is in the firing line, along with the Choisy-le-Roi spare parts plant on the outskirts of Paris and the Fonderie de Bretagne engine-and-gearbox plant near Lorient. A further facility (Flins, in the town of Yvelines, outside Paris) won’t close directly but won’t produce models beyond the current lifecycle, it’s said. The facility currently makes the Nissan Micra under the alliance, but this supermini has struggled for sales in the face of newer rivals, and the Zoe. The Dieppe plant was overhauled in a €36 million investment in 2017 to produce the A110, alongside the previous-generation Clio in Renaultsport form. The specialist facility employs 150 people. Demand for the A110 fell substantially in the first quarter of 2020, with just 37 examples registered across Europe in February. Its future is uncertain as a result. The factory closures are just the start, however. 5 models won’t live beyond their current lifecycle: the Mégane and the Koleos could join the previously reported Espace, Scénic and Talisman for the chop. However Renault has secured a €5 billion state-guaranteed loan to help it cope with a slump in demand and reduced liquidity due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear whether this loan will alter the firm’s restructuring plans, which are due to be announced at the end of the month. Nissan is in discussion with Renault to build the Captur and next-generation Kadjar at its plant in Sunderland, England. The French government will insist on preserving Renault production plants in France and wants it to remain the carmaker’s global centre for engineering, research, innovation and development, prime minister Edouard Philippe said. Speaking in the Senate, he said the government was particularly concerned about maintaining the Flins plant, northwest of Paris. Renault board chairman Jean-Dominique Senard and interim CEO Clotilde Delbos are set to meet with unions to discuss the plan. Delbos said there would be no taboos for reducing fixed costs by €2 billion, which led to union worries about job cuts. But with the French state as its largest shareholder and a €5 billion bank loan guaranteed by the state set to help it cope with the coronavirus outbreak, Renault has relatively limited scope for job cuts in France. +++ 

+++ Cars imported into the UNITED KINGDOM from European Union (EU) countries will be subject to a 10 % import tariff from the start of next year, the UK government has confirmed. Revealed by the Department for International Trade as part of its wide-reaching announcement on the country’s post-Brexit trade tariffs, the default to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms means cars built in the EU will be subject to the same tariff rate as cars from elsewhere in the world. Currently, there’s zero import levy applied to EU-built cars. The 10% levy will apply unless the UK is able to strike a trade deal with the EU by the end of this year. The UK government sees tariffs on sectors such as the automotive industry as essential to “help support businesses in every region and nation in the UK to thrive”, including manufacturing. Jaguar Land Rover is one company that could benefit as prices of its dominant premium opposition from Germany are hiked up. It’s unlikely that EU-based manufacturers will be able to absorb the additional cost, meaning it will be passed on to consumers in most cases. Porsche, for example, confirmed last year that its customers would have to pay 10 % more for its models under a no-deal Brexit. Contrasting to the retained 10 % levy on imported cars, the Secretary of of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has actually reduced or removed current tariffs on a number of products, including dishwashers and freezers, cooking products, sanitary products and Christmas trees. More than £30 billion worth of imports will have tariffs removed in total, the government claims. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , Jerry Bill is worried the novel coronavirus could hurt business at the Des Moines auto dealership he runs, but not because of a shortage of buyers for the big Ram pickups on his lot. “Our biggest issue will be if we don’t get more inventory”, said Bill, general sales manager of Stew Hansen Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, which sells around 2.700 new vehicles a year in Urbandale, a suburb of Iowa’s capital Des Moines. After a drop in sales in April when consumers stayed home, Bill expects pickup sales to end May similar to where they were a year earlier. And if demand remains strong, Bill said he will run out of popular models in June. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) began slowly restarting Ram assembly lines on Monday after a 2-month shutdown. The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter at its sharpest pace since the Great Recession of 2007-2009 because of lockdown measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Economists warn the second quarter will be much worse. Still, far from the lockdowns of states like New York, Michigan or Ohio, dealerships like Stew Hansen have provided FCA and Detroit rivals General Motors and Ford a rare bright spot: strong sales of pickup trucks in America’s heartland. Overall U.S. sales of cars and light trucks crashed to the weakest pace in 50 years last month. But sales of big Detroit brand pickups, particularly in southern and western states less affected by the outbreak, significantly outperformed the market, industry executives and analysts said. Pickups are one of the most profitable automotive segments in the world. They account for a huge portion of the Detroit automakers’ profits and formed a huge lure for PSA, which expects to merge with FCA by early 2021. The pressure is now on to boost pickup production and send vehicles to dealers in parts of the country with dwindling supplies. That is particularly true for GM, which is running short of certain truck models after losing 40 days of production to a strike last fall. “If you don’t have what someone wants, they can choose to go to another brand”, said Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs. Detroit automakers in March rolled out large discounts (such as interest-free loans for 7 years) to keep vehicles rolling off dealer lots. “A lot of people that have 2-year-old trucks can get into a new one for the same monthly payment or lower”, said Noah Wolter, general manager of Charles Gabus Ford in Des Moines, who sold around 1.500 new vehicles last year. “That’s the easiest swap ever”. Demand for large pickups “is running incredibly strong”, Ford U.S. sales and marketing chief Mark LaNeve said. Large pickups accounted for 21 % of all U.S. vehicle sales in April, up from an average monthly proportion of 13 % to 14 %. At Stew Hansen in Urbandale, Jerry Bill said thanks to discounts, customers have been able to get a $55,000 Ram truck for $44,000. That has encouraged some to switch out of SUVs or cars into newer pickup models kitted out more like luxury vehicles than the workhorse trucks of old. Mike Koval, interim head of the Ram brand at FCA, said inventory of certain versions of its Ram trucks were “running a bit lean” but the automaker was focused on boosting inventories in states where dealers have stayed open throughout the coronavirus outbreak. Carl Moyer, owner of Karl Chevrolet in Ankeny, Iowa (the second-largest Chevrolet dealer in America with sales of 4.000 new vehicles a year) said he started off the crisis heavy on inventory. That cushion is gone, he said. Asked when he would start worrying about getting new trucks from GM to replenish his supply, Moyer said simply: “Today”. +++

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