Newsflash: Land Rover komt met V8 versie van Defender

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+++ In CHINA , about 80 % to 90 % of foot traffic has recovered for automobile dealers in April as demand warms up, industrial data showed. All over the country many auto dealers have resumed business operations. The country’s auto market is undoubtedly recovering, despite the absence of a sharp rebound in consumption, said Xiao Zhengsan, secretary-general of the China Automobile Dealers Association. Data from the association also showed that recovery of foot traffic is slower in Central China’s Hubei province, once hit hard by the Covid-19 epidemic, compared to regions in northern and eastern China. As the novel corona virus has been further contained in China, some auto companies started to see improved sales growth in April. This, auto analysts believe, is an important signal that indicates companies are gradually recovering from the pandemic. Geely announced that its total sales in April were 105.468 units; a 44 % increase month-on-month and 2 % growth year-on-year. Meanwhile, its upscale Lynk & Co brand has seen a rise of 12 % on a yearly basis. Hongqi’s April sales reached as high as 14.500 units; a 168 % year-on-year increase and a 69 % increase from the previous month. The official data showed the SAIC-General Motors brands Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac reached 111.155 vehicles (including exports) in April, with domestic retail sales up 13.6 % from a year ago. The motoring sector has been hit hard. In the first quarter, China’s automobile production and sales fell by more than 40 % yearly. Nevertheless, favourable government policies have been put in place to help companies return to work when the virus gradually gets controlled. In Shanghai, the government issued favourable policies such as increasing its license plate quota and subsidizing the charging costs of new energy vehicles. An Conghui, president of Geely Holding Group, said,” As government introduces measures to stabilize and expand auto consumption, the good trend in the long term for the sector will not change with the launch of new models and the delivery of larger orders delayed by the epidemic, we are confident in the market performance in May and the second quarter”. +++ 

+++ Cars are becoming computers on wheels and that’s driving up costs. In a report compiled by Deloitte, the company noted the automotive industry has changed significantly as in 2004 only 25 % of cars had airbags and less than 50 % had power seats. Since then, the number of ELECTRONIC COMPONENTS in cars has increased significantly and this due, in part, to safety regulations. In particular, the company noted in 2004 less than 20 % of vehicles were equipped with things such as stability control, side airbags, tire pressure monitors, rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring systems. In 2017, many of these systems were equipped on more than 80 % of vehicles. Of course, those are just relatively basic safety features. Modern vehicles are equipped with an assortment of other electronics including adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming mirrors, infotainment systems and passive entry systems. Newer cars also boast an assortment of fuel saving features such as cylinder deactivation technology, engine start / stop systems and hybrid or electric powertrains. While there’s no denying that modern cars are far more advanced than their predecessors, the new features are driving up costs. As Deloitte noted, electronics represented 18 % of a total vehicle’s cost in 2000 but that figure is now 40 %. In 2030, it’s expected to hit 45 %. Getting more specific, the company said the cost of semiconductor content was €288 per vehicle in 2013. That figure has now jumped to approximately €369 and it is expected to reach nearly €554 by 2022. Of course, it’s not surprising that costs are rising as vehicles now come with advanced safety systems, multiple displays and semi-autonomous driving technology. As the latter becomes more common and automakers are able to achieve higher levels of automation, electronic costs will likely climb even higher. +++ 

+++ Luxury brands are known to weather the storms better than mainstream marques and FERRARI makes no exception. Quite the contrary, the Italian luxury sports car manufacturer has seen its market value surge at the start of this week to about $30 billion. Ferrari’s shares rose by as much as 7 %, after the company reported better-than-expected earnings. Revenue fell only 1 % to $1.02 billion, exceeding analysts’ expectations of $852 million. As a result, Ferrari’s market valuation is now worth more than that of U.S. automotive giants General Motors or Ford. Ferrari’s market capitalization settled to $29.8 billion, while GM’s market cap fell to under $29.3 billion. Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s market capitalization declined to $19.2 billion and under $13 billion, respectively. So how is that possible, considering that Ferrari makes about 10.000 cars a year while GM builds approximately 7.7 million? Well, investors are betting that Ferrari’s iconic brand name, hefty prices and massive profit margins (24 % compared to a 5 % industry average) are likely to power the stock through the coronavirus crisis better than other car brands. Besides the strong financial results, Ferrari also managed to increase deliveries by 5 % to 2.738 units in the first quarter of 2020. That’s all the more remarkable when considering the carmaker had to shut down its factory in March. The optimism surrounding Ferrari’s stock was also fueled by the restart of its factories in Maranello and Modena. Both facilities are expected to return to full production on Friday, May 8. Ferrari’s share price has more than tripled since it went public in 2015. Despite its stability in uncertain times, the company nevertheless expects to be affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Ferrari reduced its earnings forecast for 2020 to €3.4-€3.6 billion from €4.1 billion previously. The company also warned of a “harsh” reduction of revenues linked to its Formula One business. As for its car business, Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri said during a call with investors that “so far there are no red lights flashing in any geography”, despite several cancellations of car orders in the U.S. and Australia. +++ 

+++ The FIAT 500 has been a city-car icon since the reborn model was launched in 2007. It has been kept relevant mostly with colour and trim upgrades since then, but now it’s time for the biggest revolution in the car’s history: the all-new, all-electric 500. The revisions required to make the 500 EV are sufficient enough for Fiat to call this model the third generation, following the 2007 rebirth and the original Cinquecento made between 1957 and 1975. There’s a new platform that results in a slight increase in size compared with the Mk2, so the EV is 60 mm wider and 60 mm longer. The car’s wheelbase has grown by 20 mm too, but the overall length of the 500 is still under 4 metres. Fiat hasn’t played around too much with the car’s styling. The side profile of the new EV is still unmistakably 500, but there are tweaks to the front end, with a new bumper that is actually closer in style to the set-up on the original 500. There are split headlights (another nod to the 1957 model) and a new 500 badge on the rear end. The electric 500 is being launched as a cabriolet (considered a unique selling point because no comparable all-electric drop-top is available) but a fixed-roof version is expected in due course. The car has a 42 kWh lithium-ion battery pack; enough to deliver up to 320 km of range under the WLTP efficiency test. It powers a 120 hp electric motor that can take the 500 from 0-100 kph in 9 seconds and on to a top speed of 150 kph. The 500 gets an 85 kW DC charger, so the car can be recharged from flat to 80 % of capacity in just 35 minutes. A full charge on a 7.4 kW home wallbox will take just over 6 hours and Fiat also plans to launch its own 3 kW home charger, which will be able to be plugged into a domestic socket without requiring professional installation. The car will let drivers pick from 3 driving modes. Normal is described by Fiat as being “as close as possible to driving a vehicle with a normal combustion engine”, while Range activates higher levels of brake energy recuperation. This will allow owners to drive the car using only the throttle pedal and anticipating stop situations. The last mode, Sherpa, preserves as much range as possible, so it limits the top speed to 80 kph, blunts throttle response and turns off the climate control and heated seats. Inside, there’s a bigger jump in design and quality, because Fiat has used the car’s new platform to introduce a cleaner, less cluttered dashboard with improved materials. There should be huge gains in in-car technology too, because the 500 is the first FCA product to get the group’s new UConnect 5 infotainment system. This brings a 10.25 inch high-definition touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay functionality and the ability, in future, to offer wireless Android Auto. The instrument panel is now a 7 inch TFT digital display. The 500 will offer a range of smartphone apps, allowing users to check the charge level of their car remotely, and warm or cool the vehicle before setting off. There’s no word on boot capacity but it should at least match the 182 litres of the combustion-engined Mk2 car. That vehicle will continue to be sold, incidentally; Fiat plans to offer both the Mk2 (built in Poland) and the Mk3 (made in Turin) alongside each other until at least the end of 2021. Fiat will launch the 500 in top spec La Prima trim, which will be priced at €38.900 in The Netherlands. Lower trim levels will follow at lower price points. That’s competitive against the Mini Electric in the highest Yours trim, which costs €4.000 more, especially considering the Fiat’s superior range. However, the entry-level Mini costs €34.900 and the Reanult Zoé will travel for 75 kilometres further between charges, and costs from €33.590. The La Prima is available in 3 colours: Mineral Grey, Ocean Green and Celestial Blue. Standard equipment includes LED headlights, “eco-leather” trim, 17-inch alloy wheels and chrome exterior trim. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus has hammered the auto industry, but it’s far from the only sector that’s reeling from the pandemic. Rental car company HERTZ , which is probably best known for their high-performance Shelby Mustangs, might file for bankruptcy. Like other companies dependent on travel, Hertz is in dire straits as business has come to standstill. If that wasn’t bad enough, the company is drowning in approximately €15.7 billion in debt. This has led to fears the company could file for bankruptcy and sell its fleet of vehicles to pay creditors. If the company’s nearly 570,000 vehicles were to flood the used car market, it would drag prices down significantly. Thankfully, the company has managed to avoid bankruptcy as creditors have thrown Hertz a lifeline. However, they’ve been given a pretty short leash. Long story short, Hertz was supposed to pay vehicle lenders on April 27th. The company missed that payment and then failed to pay within a one-week grace period. That’s a terrifying sign, but lenders have now given the company until May 22nd to “develop a financing strategy and structure that better reflects the economic impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic and Hertz’ ongoing operating and financing requirements”. In essence, lenders are willing to be flexible but they want details on how and when Hertz will be able to pay them. It remains unclear if creditors will like what they hear, but Hertz was already struggling before the pandemic as they posted a net loss of €53.4 million in 2019 and a loss of €208 million in 2018. In the meantime, the company has laid off thousands of employees and is trying to figure out a way to survive the current crisis. With rental giant Hertz trying desperately to avoid bankruptcy, some analysts believe that there’s more at stake here than the financial wellbeing of the company and its employees. In fact, Benchmark analyst Michael Ward thinks that should a large portion of the Hertz fleet undergo a “fire sale”, such an act would negatively impact the used car market, which has been hit hard in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “The risk for the auto sector occurs if the creditors of the debt using the rental vehicles as security decide to liquidate the fleet to repay the bonds,” said Ward. “A fire sale of a significant portion of the Hertz fleet could add to the price volatility in the used vehicle market”. Ever since the U.S. economy began shutting down in mid-March, used car prices at auctions have gone down, with values expected to remain low for at least another few months, while “dealers and rental car companies sell down inventory to adjust to lower demand”. As of last week, Hertz was looking at $17 billion worth of debt, which includes $3.7 billion of corporate bonds and loans, plus $13.4 billion of vehicle-backed notes. The company’s shares fell by 13 % last Wednesday, with its stock dropping a total of 73% over the past 3 months. +++ 

+++ Next month, on 17 June Volkswagen will open the order books for the ID.3 1ST edition, pre-ordered by more than 37.000 people (though only 30.000 1ST units are planned). First customers will be able to configure the cars and place a binding order with deliveries scheduled for the second part of the summer. The news comes from Jürgen Stackmann, Member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand with responsibility for Sales, Marketing and After Sales: “Sweet, sweet anticipation is coming to an end! Our ID.3 1st pre-bookers can order their car from 17th June. You will be contacted by your dealer shortly! Thanks for your patience!” The German manufacturer recently resumed production of the ID.3 in Zwickau, Germany, although at a lower rate than it was previously, of 50 units a day. Volkswagen intends to deliver most of its 30.000 ID.3 1ST at the same time, once the software is completed. Reportedly “all the features are available” already, but the company is just putting the finishing touches on the ID.3. That’s quite an opposite stand to the media reports/rumours, which were telling us that the delay of software “is no longer a laughing matter”. +++ 

+++ KIA ‘s upcoming new Sorento will be the first European Kia to feature a new type of camera-based display to help solve the issue of visibility blind spots. The system, called Blind Spot View Monitor (BVM), will be offered from launch and uses wide angle cameras mounted on the door mirrors. They relay a video feed to the SUV’s 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster, briefly replacing the speedo or tacho when the driver indicates to change lane with another vehicle in the blind spot. Kia’s upcoming new Sorento will be the first European Kia to feature a new type of camera-based display to help solve the issue of visibility blind spots. The system, called Blind Spot View Monitor (BVM), will be offered from launch and uses wide angle cameras mounted on the door mirrors. They relay a video feed to the SUV’s 12.3in digital instrument cluster, briefly replacing the speedo or tacho when the driver indicates to change lane with another vehicle in the blind spot. Kia claims the system offers a much wider viewing angle than the standard mirrors, improving safety. It’ll be offered alongside Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, which can take intervening action to pull the car back into lane if it thinks a crash will occur. The package (likely optional on all but the highest trim grade) includes a Surround-View Monitor, parking collision avoidance and a Bose sound system. Prices for the new model have yet to be revealed, but it’s due to arrive in the second half of the year. The 4th generation Skoda Kodiaq rival adopts a design distinctly different to that of its predecessor or any other Kia sold in Europe. This angular styling, which apes the larger Telluride, is likely to be a reflection of its greater sales status in the US than Europe. The brand’s trademark ‘tiger nose’ grille has been subtly reshaped, and is flanked by a pair of LED headlights, while a wide lower air intake and air-channeling devices help to enhance the model’s aerodynamic efficiency. At the rear, the outgoing car’s elliptical brake light clusters have made way for vertically oriented units inspired by those on the larger US-market Telluride, and a new rear bumper has been designed to appear as if it houses twin exhausts. A skid plate also features as an indication of the new Sorento’s off-road capability. Kia claims the SUV has been “engineered to maximise driving stability in all environments”, with a new Terrain Mode helping the wheels to achieve peak traction on snow, sand and muddy ground. The Sorento sits atop an all-new monocoque chassis, and its proportions have been altered with the aim of making it look longer, by way of shorter front and rear overhangs and a 35 mm longer wheelbase. All other dimensions are only around 10 mm greater, although space inside (especially for middle-row passengers) is said to be significantly enhanced, thanks to improved packaging. Part of the models will be 7-seaters. Kia says added benefits of the overhaul include enhanced rolling refinement and satisfying handling. Highlights include a Mercedes-style panel that links a larger infotainment touchscreen to a new digital instrument display, while a separate climate control panel is flanked by central air vents. The brand calls the new Sorento the ‘most high-tech’ model it has ever produced. Technical firsts for Kia include improved cruise control that automatically readjusts limits according to corner gradients, a self-parking function accessed via the key fob, automatic braking if the car is about to hit something while parking and a blindspot monitoring system that uses cameras mounted on the door mirrors to project images of what’s alongside the car onto the dashboard. Infotainment functions, including live traffic data, weather forecasts and nearby parking spaces, are displayed on a centrally mounted 8.0in touchscreen as standard. An optional head-up display shows speed restrictions, route guidance and driver assistance alerts. Further optional extras in Europe include a 12-speaker Bose surround sound system, a mood lighting package and a larger 10.25 inch touchscreen. Alongside safety features such as park assist, blindspot assist, driver alertness detector and speed limit recognition, the Sorento is the first model to feature Kia’s new ‘multi-collision brake system’, which can determine the risk of a secondary collision after a crash, applying the brakes to prevent additional impacts. The Sorento will be launched with a 200 hp 2.2-litre diesel engine and a hybrid powertrain comprising a 1.6-litre petrol engine, a 60 hp electric motor and a 1.5 kWh battery for combined outputs of 230 hp. The diesel sends its power to the wheels through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, while the hybrid uses a 6-speed automatic unit. A plug-in hybrid will follow shortly after with 265 hp overall, an 90 hp motor and a 16.6 kWh battery. Buyers will have the choice of front- or four- wheeldrive except with the plug-in hybrid, which will exclusively be a 4×4. The Sorento will arrive in European dealerships this autumn. Pricing and specification details will be revealed nearer the time. +++

+++ LAND ROVER is working on a range-topping V8 version of the new Defender. Rumours of the rugged 4×4 benefiting from a return to the 8-cylinder format that’s traditionally sought after by enthusiasts in the original have been circulating for some time. Engineers have previously indicated that a V8 would fit under the bonnet but stopped short of confirming anything beyond that. Now, however, an undisguised Defender was caught while driving on the roads outside Land Rover’s research and development facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire, sporting the ‘Prototype Vehicle’ stickers reserved for testing mules. While no changes are visible at the front, a rear view reveals a quad exhaust system; used by Jaguar Land Rover only in V8-powered variants. Sources close to the firm have confirmed the project’s existence, but the official JLR response is: “We are unable to comment on the specific nature of these technology development programmes”. The prototype has a 4.999 cc petrol engine, suggesting it’s powered by the ‘AJ’ 5.0-litre supercharged V8 used in the Range Rover Sport SVR and Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography. However, production of the long-serving AJ will come to an end before this year is out, as the Bridgend Ford factory in which it’s made is closed down. For future high-performance models, JLR is set to make use of the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 that BMW produces for its larger M cars, under a wide-reaching powertrain deal struck between the 2 firms. This alliance began with the intention to develop electrified powertrains, but sources close to the German manufacturer revealed last year that it had been extended to include supplying JLR with a range of internal combustion engines. Although the use of the 4.4-litre V8 has yet to be officially confirmed by JLR; Autointernationaal.nl understands that it’s merely a formality. It’s plausible that the 5.0-litre engine is being used primarily to test the Defender’s dynamic responses with the weight and power increases. However, the V8 Defender is intended as a low-volume special variant rather than a series-production mainstay. Land Rover may well be stockpiling the Ford-built V8 for use in the Defender, because emissions targets are much less of a priority for low-volume specials. Interestingly, sources tell us that JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division isn’t directly involved with the Defender V8 project; instead, it’s an offshoot of the existing Defender engineering operation. It’s likely, then, that the engine won’t offer as much firepower as full-on SVO cars, such as the 575 hp Range Rover Sport SVR. Indeed, I expect it to be tuned to near or below the 500 hp mark. Likely to be paired with an 8-speed automatic gearbox supplied by ZF, it would still be potent enough to make a credible rival to the Mercedes-AMG G63, which gets 565 hp from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 but is a good deal heavier than the Defender. JLR engineers have previously hinted that the G-Class was used as a benchmark for higher-end Defender variants and, with the hot G63 making up a high proportion of G-Class sales, it’s only natural that the British manufacturer would want to cash in on the sector. Either way, chassis revisions will be required to ensure the V8 Defender is capable of handling such power. Air suspension could be fitted as standard, offering a range of driving modes. The Defender’s aluminium-intensive body structure, said to be the stiffest Land Rover has ever produced, provides a strong base for engineers. Expect the quad-exhaust system to make production, along with the usual larger wheels, lower ride height and subtle non-SVR body add-ons necessary to mark out the V8. And marked out it will need to be: with prices already exceeding €110.000 in the Netherlands for the top-spec 6-cylinder petrol Defender, there’s every chance that the V8 Defender will cost well close to €150.000 euro. One mystery remains, though: whether Land Rover will offer the V8 in the short-wheelbase Defender 90 as well as the 110 spotted testing. Conventional wisdom says customers at this end of the market expect 5 doors, but this is a limited special project, so the unique proposition of a 3-door V8 Defender is possible. Don’t expect to see it before late 2021, however, because Land Rover will prioritise the roll-out of fleet-emissions-reducing hybrids and new series-production models. +++ 

+++ The length of almost 2 football fields, the cargo ship Jupiter Spirit arrived in Los Angeles on April 24 after an almost 3-week journey from Japan, ready to unload its cargo of about 2.000 Nissan Armada SUVs, Rogue crossovers and Infiniti sedans in a quick, half-day operation. But when the ship, operated by Nissan’s freight arm, got about a kilometer and a half off offshore, its captain was ordered to drop anchor. And there the ship remained for almost a week; a floating symbol of an unprecedented LOGJAM as nearby storage lots covering scores of hectares overflowed with vehicles that Americans suddenly have little desire to purchase. There are gluts of all shapes and kinds forming in the United States nowadays, a testament to the scope of the economic pain the coronavirus is inflicting. Slaughterhouses are killing and tossing out thousands of pigs a day, dairy farmers are pouring away milk, oil sellers were paying buyers recently to take barrels off their hands, and now, brand-new cars are being left adrift at sea for days. For the auto industry, the crisis has left cars gathering dust on dealer lots, dealerships shuttered, auction prices slipping and tens of thousands of workers laid off or furloughed. April U.S. sales plummeted 54 % for Toyota, 47 % for Subaru and 39 % for Hyundai. “Dealers aren’t really accepting cars and fleet sales are down because rental-car and fleet operators aren’t taking delivery either”, said John Felitto, a senior vice president for the U.S. unit of Norwegian shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen. “This is different from anything we’ve seen before. Everyone is full to the brim”. The Jupiter Spirit’s shipment of vehicles was finally unloaded on April 29. But the auto industry is typically a just-in-time business, which makes the delay at ports so unusual. The majority of the quarter-million cars imported from Japan last year came through West Coast ports, mostly via L.A. and Long Beach, California, according to IHS Markit data. Some East Coast ports such as in Brunswick, Georgia, are experiencing higher-than-normal inventory, but industry officials say the main logjam is on the West Coast. “It is very abnormal for a container ship, a car carrier or a cruise ship not to go right to the berth, discharge and be on their way”, said Kipling Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a nonprofit that monitors commercial ship traffic. At the Long Beach terminal south of Los Angeles, cars are discharged at 1 of 2 piers (one with a 9 hectare lot and another with 68 hectacres) that are capable of storing several thousand vehicles. They typically spend little time there before being relocated to larger storage lots 8 to 13 km away, where costs are lower, said Glenn Farren, director of tenant service and operations at the port. From there they are gradually sent via truck or rail to dealers. But the sales collapse last month produced a chain-reaction backlog, causing some ships to divert to other ports, others to wait days to discharge cargo and, ultimately, others to cancel voyages before they even got underway. The port of Hueneme, a major import facility in Ventura County, California, had to find space in the surrounding area for about 6.000 surplus cars, in addition to the 4.000 on its site. Auto-logistics firms secured lots at a nearby cold-storage facility and an adjacent U.S. Navy base after scouring sites at local colleges emptied by the coronavirus. “You can’t stack cars”, said Kristin Decas, the port’s director and chief executive officer. “We even looked at using the Ventura County Fairgrounds”. Toyota has taken the precaution of leasing additional storage space at a sports venue in California, even though it hasn’t yet experienced major issues accepting deliveries from inbound vessels, a spokesman said. A representative for Hyundai said the South Korean automaker also has experienced elevated West Coast inventories and found additional storage lots to ease pressure on port facilities. Jupiter Spirit is operated by Nissan Carrier; an affiliate of the carmaker and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. Nissan said the delays at Long Beach are a result of decreased demand amid the Covid-19 pandemic and that it does not currently have a timetable for clearing its vehicles from the port and secondary-storage lots. “The company is optimizing the flow of the vehicles and positioning them closer to dealers for quick availability when the market recovers and customers return to showrooms”, Nissan spokesman Chris Keeffe said. Another car-carrying vessel, operated under lease by Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, arrived in Los Angeles on April 21 and discharged its cargo. But the ship, the Morning Crystal, hung around for a week awaiting its next mission to Nagoya, which is atypical in a business where busy ships normally run routes back to back. Even as ports struggle to cope with excess auto inventory, they’re preparing for an even worse outcome: deliveries stopping altogether as the recession digs deeper. Demand for cars and trucks in the U.S. is expected to drop 27 % to 12.5 million vehicles this year, IHS Markit estimates, which would be the fewest for the industry since 2010. Used car prices are expected to plunge somewhere in the range of 8 % to 16 % through June, according to J.D. Power, then stabilize by year-end as the country reopens and demand picks back up. Those sour predictions match up with what the Hueneme port expects: at least a 25 % drop in auto shipments in the coming year. Auto import logistics companies already have laid off about 80 % of local staff in anticipation of a long dry spell, Decas said. Her port has only 2 car-carrying ships scheduled after May 17, compared with at least 4 or 5 a week in normal times, she said. The port is fortunate in having another source of revenue, though. It’s a big importer of tropical fruit, like pineapples, avocados and especially bananas. “People may not buy cars in a recession”, Decas said, “but they’ll eat a banana”. +++ 

+++ Volvo has joined forces with tech firm LUMINAR in order to integrate the latter’s LiDAR and perception technology into its next-generation cars. This partnership will deliver Volvo’s first fully self-driving technology for highways, with next-gen SPA2 architecture models set to become hardware-ready for autonomous drive come 2022, featuring Luminar’s LiDAR sensors seamlessly integrated into their roofs. Furthermore, SPA2 cars will get over-the-air software updates, and their Highway Pilot feature (which enables fully autonomous highway driving) will only be activated once the system looks over the individual geographic locations and conditions, giving you a green light. “Autonomous drive has the potential to be one of the most lifesaving technologies in history, if introduced responsibly and safely”, said Volvo chief technical officer Henrik Green. “Providing our future cars with the vision they require to make safe decisions is an important step in that direction”. The 2 companies are also looking into how LiDAR can improve future driver assistance systems, as well as the potential for equipping all future SPA2 based cars with a LiDAR sensor as standard. Luminar’s high performance sensors emit millions of pulses of laser light, helping the LiDAR system detect where objects are by scanning the environment in 3D and creating a temporary real-time map without the need for internet connectivity. “Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so”, added Green. “At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction”. Volvo is also considering increasing its minority stake in Luminar sometime in the future. +++ 

+++ A report published by Reuters suggests that NISSAN could look to back away from the European market to focus more on its business in Japan, China and the United States. The firm is expected to announce a new strategy dubbed “operational performance plan” later this month, which could see the brand refresh its line-ups and pricing structure, potentially pushing the company further upmarket. The plan is rumoured to include details on a range of new or redesigned vehicles, specifically for the Japanese and Chinese markets. Nissan also hopes to shake its US perception as a budget brand with the next-generation X-Trail and forthcoming Ariya EV; both of which will come to Europe. Reuters also reported that Nissan will “cut competition” and “increase cooperation” between its alliance partners, Renault and Mitsubishi, potentially taking advantage of the latter brand’s plug-in hybrid technology in its upcoming models. Any bid to increase market presence and profitability in the US, Japan and China wouldn’t completely remove the company from the European market, claims Reuters. The second-generation Qashqai and Juke are both selling well, especially in the United Kingdom. The larger car has sold around 350.000 units since its 2013 launch, with the small crossover shifting almost 7.000 units since its introduction in late 2019. In a statement, a Nissan UK spokesperson said: “Nissan remains fully committed to strengthening our product lineup in Europe as part of our ongoing efforts to make the business more competitive. The new Juke, which was launched last November, is the first step in the renewal of our passenger vehicle lineup. “Work has already begun to ready our plant in Sunderland, UK, to begin production of the next generation Qashqai. And we’re pushing to further electrify our lineup, with new product entries on the way”. Nissan has invested a considerable amount of money in its UK production facility. In March, before the government lockdown, Nissan fronted £400 million for upgrades to its Sunderland plant, including a £52 million for an extra-large metal press, which will stamp the panelling for the next-generation Qashqai when it enters production later this year. +++ 

+++ Liu Xinlin, 22, experienced her first ride in a SELF DRIVING TAXI in Changsha, capital of central China’s Hunan Province. “The taxi drove very smoothly by itself, and the safety supervisor and technician sitting in the front basically didn’t have any manual control of it”, said Liu after a 10 minute long test ride. “The taxi passed through 3 or 4 intersections and it was a safe ride without any unexpected situations”. The self-driving taxis, named Robotaxis, are operated by Hunan Apollo Intelligent Transportation based in Xiangjiang New Area in the city. On April 21, the company announced that a batch of 30 self-driving taxis had entered public use in the city and users can hail one for a free ride. The scope of the hailing service is about 130 square km covering residential communities, commercial areas and industrial parks in the city proper. “I secured an appointment soon after setting the starting and ending points in the app”, said Liu. “A safety supervisor contacted me and the taxi arrived in about 10 minutes”. “The in-car touchscreen can display obstacles and dynamic predictions within the 360 degree field of vision and clearly present the road conditions of passing vehicles, lanes, intersections and traffic lights”, said Cheng Li, director of the test and vehicle operation department of the company. Cheng added users can learn information such as the vehicle’s speed and remaining distance through the screen in real time. In September 2019, the company launched a trial service for a group of citizens, who had to first complete training and other procedures. The technical personnel have started testing self-driving taxis and accumulated a lot of test data since the second half of last year, according to an employee of Baidu, the Chinese internet giant that developed the self-driving taxis. China allowed local governments to arrange road tests for intelligent connected vehicles (ICVs), which cover different degrees of autonomous driving, in April 2018. An increasing number of cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, have issued license plates for road tests of ICVs. +++ 

+++ SOUTH KOREA ’s Ministry of Environment will issue fines and file criminal complaints against Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche, after finding a multitude of diesel-powered vehicles (14 nameplates in total) equipped with illegal software. The vehicles, sold between 2012 and 2018, will have their certification revoked within this month, before being issued a recall notice. The biggest fine will be administered to Mercedes-Benz Korea, to the tune of 77.6 billion won (the equivalent of $63.4 million), while Porsche Korea and Nissan Korea will be fined 1 billion won ($817,300) and 900 million won ($735,600) respectively. Mercedes’ fine is the largest-ever imposed by the Korean government on automakers, completely eclipsing the 14.1 billion won ($11.5 million) Audi Volkswagen had to pay back in November of 2015. Among the 37.154 Mercedes models facing scrutiny are 12 different nameplates that include the likes of the C 200d, GLC 220d 4Matic, GLC 250d 4Matic and the ML 250 BlueTEC 4Matic. Nissan’s fine relates to 2.293 units of the Qashqai featuring illicit software, while Porsche is said to have followed the same recipe with 934 units of the Macan S Diesel. “The Ministry of Environment continues to toughen diesel car emissions standards to reduce fine dust caused by diesel cars and we plan to strictly review and manage illegal emissions fabrication”, said Keum Han-Seung, a ministry official. However, Mercedes-Benz Korea issued a statement refuting the government’s findings, claiming: “The reason we used the function in question is we have justifiable technological and legal grounds for its use”, adding that the government’s decision doesn’t affect any newer models. Some of the Mercedes models tested were found to generate roughly 13 times more NOX than the standard limit of 0.08 g/km, while the Qashqai and the Macan generated 10 times and 1.5 times more than the standard, respectively. As most of you know by now, the role played by these types of “defeat devices” is to let the car know when it is being tested, dropping the output of pollutants to levels far below those actually released in real driving conditions. +++ 

+++ The global crossover and SUV boom has also led to the increased popularity of pickup trucks. Nowadays, it’s common to see such vehicles on the roads of nearly every city, especially in the UNITED STATES where they outsold passenger cars for the first time ever last month. According to numbers released by market researcher Autodata, the segment, which is dominated by Detroit’s Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), managed to beat regular passenger cars by more than 17.000 units. In April, pickups represented over 40 % of the 3 companies’ sales, revealed Evercore ISI data. Sales were encouraged by 0 percent financing offers, which sometimes stretched loans as long as seven years. It’s worth noting that only 5 years ago, passenger cars outsold pickup trucks by over 500.000 units in a single month. “Even in a pandemic, there are some offers too good to pass up”, explained Cox Automotive’s senior economist, Charlie Chesbrough. “Many of our daily tracking numbers were showing strong interest in 0 percent financing offers, as well as a lot of interest in pickups”. FCA’s boss, Mike Manley, told investors earlier this week that the company’s inventory in the United States has started running low, especially for certain pickup trucks, adding that he expects them to outsell passenger cars again in May. “There’s certain configurations that will be running short”, he explained. “That’s reflected in the number of dealer orders we’ve received in the last few weeks that are just waiting for our plans to restart”. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN design chief Klaus Bischoff believes the freedom offered by electric technology means it would have been “the wrong decision” to develop vehicles with multiple powertrains rather than bespoke EVs such as the firm’s forthcoming ID 3. The Volkswagen Group has developed the MEB platform as a dedicated electric architecture, which will be used for a range of ID-branded electric Volkswagens that will sit alongside its existing combustion-engined models. Sibling firms Audi, Seat and Skoda will also offer dedicated EVs built on the MEB platform. By contrast, several of the VW Group’s major rivals, including the PSA Group, BMW and Volvo, have developed platforms that enable cars to be offered with multiple powertrains. For example, the Peugeot 208 and Volvo XC40 will be offered with pure-combustion, hybrid and full-electric variants. Asked why Volkswagen has chosen to develop a separate range of EVs, Bischoff said electric technology offered “a lifetime chance to create a new user experience and design expression”. He added: “The new architecture that electric vehicles offer gives designers the chance to come up with an entirely new design approach. We’re aiming for develop something that gives customers big advantages: a small footprint, big interior and fully digital architecture. To keep an electric car] in the traditional space would have been the wrong decision. There is more freedom with a bespoke EV because the car’s achitecture volume and proportions are different. With the internal combustion engine out of the game, you can really move the proportions and bodystyles and you have a lot more flexibility, particularly in terms of interior design”. Despite the greater design freedom afforded to electric vehicles by the absence of a large combustion engine, Bischoff said car designers needed to be careful not to go too radical, so they don’t alienate potential buyers who are still adjusting to electric cars. “We are on this journey together”, he said. “If you go too far outside and go into a field of design that’s different but not balanced or stylistic, then you can lose customers. You need to go brave, but do it step by step”. +++ 

+++ While demand in Europe and the United States continued to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, sales of VOLVO in China returned to growth in April with showroom traffic back to normal levels. Volvo sold 31,760 cars in April; down 43.8 % compared with the same month last year. In the January to April period, Volvo Cars’ global sales reached 163.649 cars; down 24.9 % compared with the same period last year. The share of Volvo Cars’ Recharge line-up of chargeable Volvo models doubled in the first 4 months: from 7 % to 14 %, compared with the same period last year. Recharge is the overarching brand-name for all chargeable Volvo models with a fully electric or plug-in hybrid powertrain, the company said. China sales in April reached 14.724 cars; up 20.8 % as compared with the same month last year. In the first 4 months of the year, however, sales declined by 15.6 %, compared with the same period last year. US sales in April stood at 3.866 cars; down 53.8 % compared with the same month last year. A majority of states in the country have now implemented stay-at-home orders, which have led to a significant drop in showroom traffic. Between January and April, US sales declined by 23.3 % to 23.351 cars, compared with the same period last year. Volvo’s sales in Europe reached 9.283 cars in April; down 66.8 % over the same month last year. In the first 4 months of the year, sales declined by 30.3 % year-on-year. The European sales performance was significantly impacted in April by restricted movement in several key markets including Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Belgium. In April, the XC60 was the top-selling model for the company, followed by the XC40 and XC90. During the month, SUVs accounted for 66.3 % of the company’s total sales; up from 62.4 % in the same month last year. +++

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