Newsflash: nieuwe Fiat Panda debuteert als prijspakker

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+++ Rumours persist that the ALPINE A110, Renault’s recently reborn performance car, has its head on the metaphorical chopping block. I’m told that Renault is embarking on a €2 billion cost-cutting programme and that very little is off the table. Factory closures, job losses and a withdrawal from Formula One have all been mentioned in the accompanying gossip and so has the culling of Alpine’s critically acclaimed coupe. Naturally, this news isn’t being received well in car enthusiast quarters. They love the idea of exciting cars and car brands; social media echo chambers overflow with the opinions, images and culture that surround them. But there’s a danger of car fandom forming a disconnect with the real world. This is a world where global car manufacturers such as Renault operate, where every car has to find a market, then turn a profit. Cars like the Alpine A110 are loved by enthusiasts. A historic brand brought back with a stunning, driver-focused, relatively affordable coupe; what’s not to like? But how many of the people proclaiming its brilliance bought one? The Audi TT was Europe’s bestselling small coupe in 2019 with over 8.500 sales, the Alpine A110 was second with just over half that. In March 2020 alone, Renault sold more than 14.000 Clio and 4.500 Zoe cars, despite the burgeoning pandemic. As with so much in life, when it comes to actually buying beautiful compact 2-seater sports cars, practical considerations have a nasty habit of strangling our dreams. We end up with a car that can take a week’s supermarket shopping in the boot and doesn’t give you a hernia when you’re trying to fit a child car seat, instead of the one that will dilate our pupils and jolt our frail tickers up to 150 beats per minute on every traffic-free B-road. It all explains another trend that car enthusiasts love to hate, the seemingly unstoppable rise of the SUV. Indeed, we’ve already reported that Alpine does have its own designs on the SUV market where margins are wider and potential sales volumes dwarf those of small bespoke coupes. With new Renault boss Luca de Meo arriving imminently from Seat, where he championed the Cupra performance subbrand, Alpine may yet have a bright future. But will it involve cars like the A110? With the sports car market as a whole accounting for less than 1 % of European car sales, it’s no great surprise that these kinds of projects are in the firing line when savings need to be made. Cars like this do have a value beyond the bottom line precisely because they attract such interest and devotion from fans, casting reflected glory on more mundane offerings in the range. But in times like the ones the car industry is going through as a result of the coronavirus, there’s little room for sentiment in the boardroom. It’s sad that the kind of cars we love to talk and dream about might be in shorter supply in the months and years ahead. I hope manufacturers keep making them, but we should also understand if they decide they can’t. +++

+++ Blowing more than €500 million on his aborted car project doesn’t seem to have done James DYSON too much harm. He still sat proudly in an interior buck of the car and at the top of last weekend’s Sunday Times Rich List boasting an estimated fortune of €18 billion. It was certainly a bold move to can a project that was some way down the line; disappointing for all concerned, including those working on the project. But is the project totally dead, or could we see a knight in shiny (possibly Chinese-made) armour come riding to the rescue? Dyson’s project seemed to hinge around one thing in particular: his company’s expertise in battery technology. I use it’s vacuumcleaners frequently and it seems to work okay (although the less said about the leaky hand driers the better). But does the world really need an electric luxury car (with a price rumoured to be north of €165.000) that can go for around 1.00 kilometres on a single charge? Nothing without 4 legs and a hump on its back can go that long without needing a pee. Could the fact that the car would have been over-engineered, and therefore, over priced have been its biggest stumbling block? Is that what stopped it being commercially viable? Nothing, I suspect, would change Dyson’s mind and persuade him to get the project back on track. But what if a company came in and offered to buy, at the very least, the design. From what we can see in the picture, it’s a smart, minimalist-looking thing; very Range Rover-esque. If you already had a scalable electric vehicle platform, with batteries capable of a 500 kilometre range, it would be interesting if you could add a Dyson ‘top hat’ to it, wouldn’t it? Even if you didn’t have the platform yourself, there are enough off-the-shelf alternatives that would be worth looking at. It seems as though Automobili Pininfarina is about to discard the one being developed by Bosch and Benteler in favour of another platform partner. So there’s one, for starters. Every time I go to a Chinese motor show (and I hope I get to do it again before too long) there are new EV start-ups showing their exotica. And it doesn’t have to be a start-up to be interested, there could be enough interest from some of the new Far-Eastern giants who are cash rich and looking for a European angle to boost their global aspirations. I, for one, think it would be a great shame if the Dyson car doesn’t see the light of day in some form or other. And surely if Sir James wants to stay on top of the Rich List, he’d be willing to listen to offers for what he started, but felt unable to finish. +++

+++ Almost 6 in 10 motorists in the United Kingdom are still too concerned about ELECTRIC cars to consider buying one, according to new research. The study of 2.000 drivers found that a perceived lack of charging points and high mileages are among the key reasons why drivers feel battery power may not be for them. The survey was commissioned by InsureTheGap, supplier of guaranteed asset protection that covers the difference between the price of the car when it was bought and when it is written off. It revealed that 57 % of motorists are “too daunted” by the issues surrounding electric cars to consider buying one, with women and older drivers proving most likely to have reservations. According to the figures, 59 % of women said they would not consider an electric vehicle (EV), compared with 54 % of men. And while only half (50 %) of 18-34-year-olds said they had too many concerns to buy an EV, that figure rose to 62 % among those aged over 55. Almost three-quarters (73 %) also said they thought owning an EV would not be feasible due to a lack of charging infrastructure, although this rose to almost 8 in 10 (77 %) among those living in rural areas. However, even those in more urban locations had their concerns, with 64 % saying charging points were too scarce. By the same token, 21 % of drivers say their annual mileage is too high to make an electric car practical. That was a view held by almost a quarter of men (23 %) and 19 % of women. The survey also revealed the biggest factors in driving uptake of electric cars. Two-thirds (66 %) of respondents said they wanted quick and convenient charging before taking the plunge, while 39 % also want a battery that can be charged in less than 10 minutes. At the same time, though, 48 % said they wanted to be able to travel for “at least 200 miles” (320 kilometre) on a single charge, while 39 % said they wanted the government to subsidise EVs. Similarly, more than half (56 %) of those quizzed said they wanted their car to be cheaper to run and tax than their petrol or diesel car, without significantly increasing their electricity bill. “Sales of electric vehicles more than doubled last year, which shows that car buyers are starting to see them as a real alternative to petrol and diesel”, said Ben Wooltorton, chief operating officer of InsureTheGap.com. “As the infrastructure to support EVs improves and prices become more competitive, this trend can only continue. The current Covid-19 crisis might also cause people to have different vehicle needs in the future, if they’re working from home more and also perhaps not travelling as far or as often. But there’s no doubt that take-up is dependent on the physical infrastructure being in place to support EVs”. +++

+++ Now that restrictions in many countries in EUROPE are being lifted, as the coronavirus pandemic begins to loosen its grasp on the continent, those in charge are now looking for ways to include electric vehicles in economic recovery plans. The plan is to boost their popularity by providing even more incentives for car buyers to choose an EV over a petrol or diesel car. Europeans are quite privileged when it comes to this as they have quite substantial incentives and tax deductions when purchasing EVs. Yes, they do vary from country to country, but they are still significant enough to steer car buyers to go electric and the prospect of buying an EV could become even more enticing. The possibility of eliminating VAT altogether for EVs is being considered. This value added tax (BTW in Dutch) for all purchases varies from country to country, like many things in Europe, but it’s around the 20 % mark (although as high as 27 % in Hungary and as low as 17 % in Luxembourg). In some countries, the VAT is lower for basic food items and some essentials are even fully exempt, as are some services. It doesn’t currently apply to any vehicles, but making EVs VAT-exempt does make sense to help make them more popular. This measure would help both the automakers and the buyers and it would make choosing between a conventional car and an EV a harder choice than before, especially if the latter’s higher purchase cost was the reason some went down the conventional road. It isn’t the only measure, though, but we’ll have to wait for the EU to make this official in order to discover what else is planned. +++

+++ An all-new FIAT Panda is set to arrive by the start of 2022, joining an all-electric 500 in the Fiat line-up and helping to kickstart a major recovery by the Italian manufacturer in some of the family car market sectors that it helped to invent. After years of under-investment in the Italian brand, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) focused on its more profitable Jeep brand, Fiat is poised to rapidly expand its line-up through the first half of this decade. This process will start with the production version of the Centoventi concept that was revealed at last year’s Geneva Motor Show (photo). Boss Olivier François says ruthless focus on cost will be at the heart of the new model’s creation; just as it was with the original Panda back in 1980. That means key concept elements, such as a very limited range of colours but personalisation through optional wraps, and chunky plastic rubbing strips to protect against urban scrapes, are likely to be retained. François, who is Fiat brand global and chief marketing officer, declared his intention to maintain the Panda name and ethos: “There will be a future for Panda as a name plate”, he said. “That’s why I pitched the latest 500 initially as a convertible: high-end, full of options and almost €39,000 in The Netherlands. Because the day I introduce the future Panda, I’ll probably do the opposite. I’ll introduce the most naked version with an incredible price. “So yes, I badly want a future for the Panda, because I think this is what makes Fiat so unique. There is no Fiat as a whole if you don’t have a Panda and a 500”. However, the Panda is unlikely to become the first Fiat model to use components sourced from PSA, even though the proposed merger between the French company and FCA should be completed in early 2021. Which is a pity, because PSA’s CMP small-car platform can be powered by petrol, diesel and pure-electric configurations. This flexibility, coupled with the cost savings through sharing parts across a large number of other models, would make it an ideal choice for Fiat as the brand tries to overhaul its smaller vehicles. François declined to comment on specific PSA-related plans, because the deal is still going through legal approval. But he expressed his personal enthusiasm at the possibilities the arrangement could bring. “The Panda is one of the first things I’m looking forward to sharing”, he said. “What inspired the Centoventi in the first place was me looking at the Citroen C4 Cactus; long before we were even talking with PSA. “I will say that I am looking forward to continuing the conversation about the concept in the new set-up, whenever this will happen, not just because of the additional opportunities that can come, but also to pick other people’s brains and see how this resonates with another European mainstream car maker. Obviously, when I speak about the Panda and Centoventi with my American colleagues at Dodge or Jeep, it’s relatively remote. Clearly the PSA merger would be a chance for me to have some ‘partners in crime’ who think the same way”. Rumours have suggested that the new Panda will be based on the latest 500’s all-electric platform. But François said that the approach to the Mk4 model will be so cost-focused that it may need to have a conventionally powered version. Diesel seems unlikely, but the entry point could make use of the current 1.0-litre, non-turbo 3-cylinder petrol engine. “The idea is to have a full electric vehicle at the price of a combustion-engined car”, he said. “If we can do that, it’s totally true to the Panda’s mission. If we can’t, we’ll probably need an internal-combustion engine (ICE), maybe a mild hybrid, and a full electric. That EV can still be democratic but okay, at an attractive price for an electric car, but maybe just not at the price I was envisioning. We’re working on that. It’s not easy”. The current Panda is manufactured at Pomigliano near Naples. Post-PSA merger, it’s conceivable that the current site would merit investment to be switched over to CMP production, potentially manufacturing an all-new Punto supermini that could use much of the same underpinnings and powertrains as the Opel Corsa and Peugeot 208. +++

+++ While it’s sad there won’t be a new FORD Focus RS, it seems apparent the ST version will stick around well into the future and could morph into a hybrid. Ford Performance Europe boss Stefan Münzinger said European emissions regulations will force the company to consider electrification for its new flagship hot hatch. “In Europe as you know there are significant CO2 constraints and legislation. Manufacturers must meet CO2 fleet consumption targets, which really puts tremendous pressure on car manufacturers as a fleet, to deliver on those targets. I think the answer is somewhat yes”, Münzinger said. “If you do a fully conventional Focus RS type product with a CO2 above 200 grams per kilometer, it just really, really hurts you for your fleet compliance. From a business proposition perspective, it really starts to have a negative impact just simply due to CO2 and the penalties associated with it”. When asked specifically if the next-generation Focus ST, which will probably land in 5 or 6 years, will be a hybrid, Münzinger was unable to give a definitive answer but said electrification is definitely being considered. “As you can imagine there are all sorts of studies ongoing, and I can’t give you any particular timeframe here, but we are looking at things. We are looking at what would customers like and what makes sense from a business perspective, but yeah, hybrid is under consideration, absolutely”. +++

+++ GEELY is actively seeking a deeper collaboration with Mercedes owner Daimler, according to the Chinese carmaker’s chairman Li Shufu. 2020 is an important year for Geely, which plans to “launch several new products and services to our markets around the world”, according to Li. The Chinese automotive giant is also planning to finally launch its Lynk & Co brand in Europe this year as well. Geely holds a 9.69 % stake in Daimler since 2018, with the 2 companies already formed a 50:50 joint venture in China to build the next-generation of Smart EV models under the name ‘Smart Automobile’. The near-10 % stake makes Geely Daimler’s largest equity stakeholder, followed by Kuwait’s Sovereign Savings Fund (6.8 %) and Chinese BAIC Group (5 %). Back in January, reports suggested that Daimler and Volvo (which is owned by Geely) were in talks about combining their forces on the development of internal combustion engines for cost-cutting reasons. Daimler Truck and Volvo Group have already formed a joint venture for the development and series-production of hydrogen fuel cells in the truck division, with the goal of launching the first hydrogen-powered trucks and buses after 2025. Geely has a wide brand portfolio that includes not only Volvo and Lynk & Co, but Lotus, London Electric Vehicle Company, Proton, and Polestar in addition to their stake in Daimler. The company’s chairman Li Shufu also added that the Chinese market is returning to normal, claiming that the pandemic-related disruption in the global auto supply chain is “temporary and manageable”. +++

+++ HERTZ has filed for bankruptcy after being dealt a devastating blow by the coronavirus. The Chapter 11 filing was made in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware and includes its Hertz’s U.S. and Canadian subsidiaries. The bankruptcy filing is intended to allow for a “financial reorganization” of Hertz as well as subsidiaries such as Dollar, Thrifty and Firefly. Hertz said their ultimate goal is to provide a “more robust financial structure that best positions the company for the future as it navigates what could be a prolonged travel and overall global economic recovery”. Despite the bankruptcy filing, it’s business as usual as Hertz and its subsidiaries remain open. As a result, “all reservations, promotional offers, vouchers, and customer and loyalty programs” should continue as planned. The company also noted they have more than $1 billion in cash to support its continuing operations. That’s a pretty significant cash reserve, but the company is drowning in approximately $17 billion in debt. The coronavirus has also ground travel to a halt, virtually eliminating the need for rental cars. In the bankruptcy announcement, Hertz said “The impact of Covid-19 on travel demand was sudden and dramatic, causing an abrupt decline in the company’s revenue and future bookings”. The company went on to say they took immediate action in response to the pandemic and eliminated all non-essential spending as prioritized the health and safety of its customers and employees. Unfortunately, these actions have also included mass layoffs. In particular, Hertz implemented furloughs and layoffs of 20.000 employees which is nearly 50 % of its global workforce. It remains unclear how the bankruptcy will pan out, but there have been fears the rental company could liquidate part of its fleet of roughly 570.000 vehicles. If this were to happen, it could flood the used car market and drag prices down significantly. +++

+++ The first prototype for HONDA ‘s next-generation Civic Type R has been caught testing on German roads ahead of an expected 2022 debut. The standard Civic is likely to be unveiled in late 2021 and go on sale in 2022. The Type R could be revealed at the same time, however. The Renault Megane RS rival won’t be radically different from its predecessor externally. The overall body shape, with its low, wide stance, saloon-style bootlid and big rear wing will be familiar. The spoiler receives a new raised mounting, while the smaller lip spoiler on the bootlid will no longer dissect the rear window. The lights front and rear will be different, too, and it won’t feature a centrally mounted exhaust. Further visible changes include a lower shoulder line and bonnet line, and headlights in less of a raised position. The interior sports a different steeringwheel and dash design alongside a dashtop-mounted touchscreen. The next-generation Civic Type R will receive a hybrid powertrain as part of Honda’s electrification plans, which were accelerated last year with the aim of making all European sales electrified by 2025. It is also suggested that it will use a powertrain linked in concept to that of the NSX, which mates a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 with 3 electric motors. Its unclear whether that means all-wheel drive, but if Honda does go full hybrid in this way it’s likely. Such a development would also give the brand more performance potential, as engineers have previously hinted the current car is close to to the realistic limit in terms of power put through the front wheels.
One thing is for certain: the new Civic won’t be built at Honda’s Swindon plant, as it is closing in 2021. It’s unclear where the brand intends to produce the next-generation family car. +++

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER (JLR) is in talks with the British government about a request for temporary state funding of more than €1.1 billion. The loan request had been lodged with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a report said, citing a source close to Jaguar Land Rover, whose parent company is Tata Motors. “The claim is inaccurate and speculative”, Jaguar Land Rover said in an emailed statement, however. The statement said the company was in “regular discussion with government on a whole range of matters and the content of our private discussions remains confidential”. The company recently restarted operations at Solihull plant in the United Kingdom. “Manufacturing will resume at Halewood factory on 8 June, starting with 1 shift”, it said in a statement. A spokesman said about 20.000 of its employees had been furloughed under the government’s emergency wage subsidy program. On May 1, rating agency Fitch downgraded its credit rating to the company, saying that “risks of the Covid-19 pandemic to both demand in JLR’s end-markets and disruption to operations has increased further”. Jaguar Land Rover’s chief financial officer has admitted that if the UK “crashes out” of the EU with no deal, it would cost the firm more than €550 million per year in tariffs on vehicle exports alone. Adrian Mardell said he “fully expects” the current transition period to last until 1 January 2021, after which there will be “a different relationship”. Mardell also said: “We’ve gone through 2 versions of potential crash-outs already, in the end of March 2019 and the end of October, and what we did was to protect ourselves by closing the plant for a week. We’ll decide at the back end of this calendar year whether that’s an appropriate measure. If we do crash out, if we go to WTO (World Trade Organization rules), it’s about a €550 million duty hit”. It’s rare for a senior figure at a major car maker to quantify the cost of a no-deal Brexit and resultant use of WTO rules. But Mardell also reckons that if the UK does find itself in this situation, it won’t be for long. “I don’t personally believe that we’d really be at those WTO levels for a significant period of time”, he said. “I think it would be a negotiating position which is negotiated away by one side or the other. I’m much more relaxed about it than I would have been 2 years ago, actually”. JLR has now furloughed around 50 % (20.000) of its non-critical workers during the coronavirus crisis, although it’s paying 100 % of their salaries this month. Board-ranking executives have deferred their salary payments for 3 months, with CEO Ralf Speth’s pay being reduced by 30 %. The pandemic has had a significant effect on already-falling sales, too. The latest figures for the 2019/2020 financial year reveal JLR sold 508.659 vehicles; down 12.1 % on the same period the year before. A more significant dent was made in the last financial quarter, between January and March, with sales down 30.9 % year on year to 108.869. The figures vary between brands. Jaguar’s sales took a particular hammering, down 22 % overall in the year and 42.6 % in the last quarter, at 28.288. Land Rover, by comparison, was down 7.7 % and 25.6 % respectively, selling 81.581 cars in the last quarter. The company is quick to point out its relative successes amid the doom and gloom, though. Range Rover Evoque sales were up by a quarter and Jaguar I-Pace sales increased by 40 %. JLR also claims to have ended the financial year with more than €4 billion of cash and unaudited short-term investments, and an undrawn credit facility of €2.1 billion. JLR has announced its aim of resuming production in Austria, Slovakia and Solihull from 18 May. Other European plants will open gradually “in due course”, with work going into making the factories as safe as possible under social distancing measures. It’s expected that production will ramp up slowly, however, meaning a sales recovery will take time. +++

+++ KIA will take advantage of a shift away from public transport with a new, all-electric small car set to rival Citroen’s Ami. The Ami has made waves across the automotive industry, having just gone on sale in France with a list price starting from €6.000 or a lease deal with a €2.641 Euros deposit and only €19.99 per month. Kia Europe chief operating officer Emilio Herrera said: “People want to feel safe today. We saw that very clearly from a survey that was done after coronavirus in China, which showed people had moved from public transportation to private transportation. That was very clear: 34 % of private use before the crisis to 65 %. So 65 % of people in China would choose their private car. The reason is because they feel safe in their car and they feel unsafe in public transportation. I think if people had a choice in London, they’d choose to drive their own car”. Herrera went on to reveal that Kia is looking at plans to build a small electric car, as previewed in our exclusive image, to take advantage of this shift. “We are already studying a proposal on having very small micro vehicles for urban use. We see a real potential”, he explained. “Those vehicles we are targeting are EVs: 100 % electric with a small range, but being used only in an urban environment. Our project is looking at what we call L6 and L7 cars in the sector, the type of cars such as the Ami. It’s something we’re investigating at this point in time because we believe it could be an alternative to public transportation, providing we can deliver it at a very similar cost to public transportation. “So that means a subscription model, or you can rent it for a week or month, so it needs to be pretty flexible like public transportation. We’re really looking at very low monthly prices for subscription, so it can really compete, and the Ami is one of the vehicles we’ve looked at”. Earlier this year, Kia’s sister brand Hyundai announced a collaboration with Los Angeles-based EV maker Canoo to co-develop a small electric vehicle platform for autonomous and urban EVs. A statement at the time said: “The companies will jointly develop an all-electric platform based on Canoo’s fully scalable, proprietary skateboard design for upcoming Hyundai and Kia electric vehicles (EVs) and Purpose Built Vehicles (PBVs). The Hyundai Motor Group expects the new platform using Canoo’s skateboard architecture to allow for a simplified and standardised development process, lowering vehicle price”. Herrera would not be drawn on whether that platform would be used for the small Kia, but he was clear that he expected Kia to lead the development of a new platform for its new small car: “We could eventually share the platform with Hyundai, but the idea is to have a dedicated platform from Kia that we could eventually share with Hyundai. The idea with this project is for it to be global, not just for Europe. It will have the synergies of scale to ensure that this vehicle would be available at a very cheap price for consumers”. Although Herrera wouldn’t confirm a timescale for the new small Kia, Autointernationaal.nl understands that it could be the second or third new electric vehicle to launch following a production version of Kia’s Imagine concept, which is expected early next year. That means the small car could be seen as early as 2021, with a production model on sale by 2022. +++

+++ LORDSTOWN MOTORS (LM) is still in the process of retooling the Lordstown, Ohio, manufacturing plant to build its upcoming Endurance electric pickup, but that didn’t stop CEO Steve Burns from discussing his plans and expectations beyond the truck’s release. Burns hopes to eventually hire 4.000 to 5.000 workers and says he believes the plant could eventually produce 600.000 vehicles a year when running at optimal capacity in the future. Right now, LM employs about 70 people and has produced zero trucks. All 70 employees are engineers who work at 2 locations. About 20 work in a design lab in Dearborn and the other 50 work at the plant, as the machinery is switched from Chevrolet Cruze configurations to an Endurance setup. The plant also requires 2 entirely new manufacturing sections to build the in-hub motors and the battery packs in-house. LM is working with Elaphe Propulsion Technologies on the Endurance in-wheel motor and will be buying battery cells from an unreleased “national cell maker”. LM’s expected timeline for the Endurance was slightly altered due to the spread of the coronavirus and the Covid-19 pandemic it caused. The Endurance will be virtually unveiled this summer, possibly in June, and LM hopes to start customer deliveries in the first months of 2021. The delays have created more pressure to get the plant in order as soon as possible. LM must build at least 30 pre-production prototypes by the end of December 2020. Once those are completed and the Endurance is approved for production, LM will begin to expand its workforce. “The worker bees, the assembly crew, that hiring comes closer to the production”, Burns told. “We said 400 initially, so now it’ll be 600 due to building the battery packs and the in-wheel motor line”. Burns says he has taken more than 1.000 orders for the Endurance and hopes to build approximately 20.000 units in the first year. And the CEO is confident that’s just the start. He also plans to configure the manufacturing facility in a way that would make it simple to add new models such as a midsize pickup and an SUV in the future. In his vision, he sees the plant working more efficiently than when it was under the ownership of General Motors. “That plant was putting out more than 400.000 Cruze cars a year”, Burns said. “We think, because our vehicle is simpler to make, with only 4 moving parts, we think that plant is capable of putting out 600.000 vehicles a year”. +++

+++ NISSAN is looking to cut over 20.000 jobs; about 15 % of its global workforce, as part of a restructuring plan due to slumping sales amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, sources close to the matter said. Japan’s third-largest automaker by volume is considering labor reductions in Europe and some emerging economies as well as the realignment of output bases in Japan, as it seeks to streamline production operations to restore its battered business, the sources said. It would be Nissan’s most drastic job reduction since 1999, when Carlos Ghosn, a long-time boss who was arrested by Japanese prosecutors in 2018 for alleged financial misconduct, announced his strategy to revive the automaker from the brink of bankruptcy after it and Renault agreed on a capital tie-up. The global spread of the novel coronavirus has led to the suspension of Nissan’s domestic and overseas plants, pressuring its sales in major markets such as North America and Europe. Nissan’s sales in the United States plummeted 29.6 % to 257.606 vehicles in the January-March quarter from the previous year, according to data released by the company. In Europe, Nissan’s passenger car registrations plunged 38.7 % to 91.447 units in the 4 months through April from a year earlier. In April alone, they dived 86.2 % to 4.398; worse than most of its rivals, amid the coronavirus pandemic, data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association showed. As part of a restructuring in Europe, Nissan is looking to produce Renault vehicles in a bid to boost production at the Sunderland plant in northeastern England. The plant saw its production decline about 30 % to roughly 347.000 units in 2019 compared with 2017, the sources said. Nissan said in July that it would cut 12.500 jobs at 14 production bases globally by March 2023 as part of a restructuring, marking a departure from Nissan’s aggressive, expansive strategy under Ghosn. Under his management, the Japanese company tried to boost its shares in the U.S. market by increasing incentives to dealers, but this resulted in denting its brand image. It also failed to expand sales in emerging markets with products developed under the Datsun brand after burning through much of its funds and delaying the production of new competitive models. Also, its deepening business slump amid the pandemic has pushed it to work on additional reform measures, including closing a plant in Barcelona that could lead to 3.000 jobs there being axed. The Japanese automaker is also considering factory closures in Indonesia and some other emerging markets. The sources said Nissan is prioritizing the U.S. and Chinese markets in its push to recover sales, with plans to reduce its business operations in Europe and emerging markets, including Southeast Asian nations, where its alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi have a strong footing. The Yokohama-headquartered automaker is scheduled to announce a new medium-term management plan, possibly including a 20 % cut of global output capacity by fiscal 2022, when it releases its earnings results for the year ended March on Thursday. The company has already said it expects to report a group net loss of 85 billion yen ($790 million) to 95 billion yen for fiscal 2019, its first red ink in 11 years since fiscal 2008 amid the global financial crisis. Nissan already incurred its first quarterly net loss in 11 years in the October-December period. While the struggling automaker is now capable of producing about 7 million vehicles worldwide, its annual global sales decreased to 4.79 million units in fiscal 2019 after marking a record high of 5.79 million units in fiscal 2017. “We also need to restructure domestic production bases to stop the bleeding”, a senior Nissan official said, as the company’s domestic output in fiscal 2019 fell 15.9 % to 757.692 vehicles from a year earlier. +++

+++ To the surprise of no one, the 2020 edition of the NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW (NYIAS) that was originally planned for early April before being postponed for late August over coronavirus concerns has been cancelled for this year. Organizers said that the next show would take place from April 2 – 11, 2021, with press days scheduled for March 31 and April 1. The official explanation for postponing the New York Auto Show until next year is that the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center that hosts the event remains closed for all expo business due to its role as a field hospital for Covid-19 cases. “Although it currently has no patients, the facility remains set-up as an active hospital and is in standby mode for the foreseeable future”, reads the statement from the NYIAS organizers. While that may hold true, I can’t help but think that it would also have been too soon and ill-advised to open up such a large event in a city that has been hit the hardest in the USA from the novel coronavirus, not to mention possibly financially catastrophic as I doubt automakers and even New Yorkers would want to participate this time around. That was reflected in the comments of Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, the organization that owns and operates the New York Auto Show: “We also understand the immense planning needed for the automakers and their exhibit partners to construct a show of this magnitude. Because of the uncertainty caused by the virus, we feel it would not be prudent to continue with the 2020 Show and instead are preparing for an even greater 2021”, said Schienberg. “As representatives of automobile retailers, we know when this crisis passes there will be enormous pent-up demand for new vehicles in this region and across the country. We also know how important the Show is for consumers navigating the process”, he added. This begs the question if the 2 other main automotive events in the United States that are planned for this year after the cancellation of the New York and Detroit shows this summer, the SEMA aftermarket show and the Los Angeles Auto Show in early and late November respectively, will actually happen. If you’re asking me, with all the restrictions in place for the foreseeable future and the risks involved with holding such big gatherings, I have my doubts even for next year’s events, but we shall see. +++

+++ It was recently revealed that when it comes to experience days, Lamborghini is the most coveted brand, but when it comes to ownership, PORSCHE is the car brand that most want to own according to a new study. Online car supermarket BuyaCar.co.uk asked users what their dream car is, and whet they thought their chances of owning that particular car is. Porsche beat Aston Martin to the top spot with 18 % of the respondents choosing it. Tesla, BMW and Jaguar rounded out the top-5, with Jaguar, Audi, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and McLaren completing the top-10. Experience day favourite Lamborghini didn’t feature on the list. “Porsche is clearly the most aspirational car brand for British motorists, according to the drivers we asked, but Porsche fans also seem to be the most committed to one day owning their dream car”, said Andy Oldham, chief executive of BuyaCar.co.uk. “It seems that Porsche hits the sweet spot of being sufficiently exotic to inspire dreams of ownership but also often as affordable as a more mainstream executive type car, if you are happy to go for a used model, as customers of BuyaCar always do”. +++

+++ China’s biggest automaker SAIC MOTOR expects the nation’s auto sales to post year-on-year growth in the second quarter due to recovering demand and supportive policies, its chairman said. With promotion and more premium products, SAIC is aiming for sales to outperform the overall Chinese market this year, Chen Hong, chairman of the Shanghai-based automaker, said in a written statement. Chen added SAIC plans to roll out first product under Audi marque in early 2022. SAIC Motor has partnerships with Volkswagen and General Motors. +++

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that it would recall 549.931 units of 126 models from automakers including Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Jeep) and Volkswagen (including Audi) over defects. According to the ministry, 294.622 Hyundai vehicles, including the Santa Fe, were found to have foreign substances like oil and moisture inside their braking modules. The defect poses a fire hazard, the ministry said. Cracks were found inside 241.921 cars made by BMW, in 79 models including the 520d. They were found to have cracks inside their exhaust gas coolers. Another 50 BMWs were found to have poor protection for passengers, as the airbags on the side either unfolded too forcefully, or did not completely unfold. Mercedes-Benz will have 11.480 vehicles recalled, with 36 models affected, including the E-Class. The cars had defects in their sunroof glass, which can pose a risk to the cars behind the vehicle as the glass panel can become detached. In addition, 306 Audi A3 40 TFSI units did not pass the ministry standard for tire deflation warnings, according to the ministry. The automaker will be fined. For those who own the cars on the recall list, the ministry will alert them via mail and text message, the ministry said. If a vehicle owner has already paid money to fix the defects found by the ministry, he or she can ask the automaker to compensate them for their costs, authorities said. +++

+++ VOLVO ‘s boss has claimed it would be “naive” to expect consumers to flood back into showrooms for petrol or diesel cars after the coronavirus-enforced lockdown is lifted. Håkan Samuelsson labelled the idea of scrappage schemes to subsidise sales of ICE cars “a waste of money”. “Electrification will go faster. It’d be good to promote new technology: good for governments to support electric vehicles, which are more expensive in the first years”, Samuelsson continued. He also admitted that weak demand is a bigger issue than restarting production; Volvo’s main plant in Sweden is running a 3-day week at present. “Demand in Europe is around 30 % what it is normally, but demand in China is 20 % above where it was before the virus. If those signals are right, they speak for a good recovery”, he said. “I really hope this is the case and anything else will be a disaster for the business”. The Swede also highlighted the concept of “revenge buying” that is aiding a recovery of sales in the US, whereby consumers fed up of lockdown restrictions are more keen to purchase a new car for a psychological boost. The crisis has also revealed the issue of sourcing multiple parts from one country, said Samuelsson: “Europe and the US need to have more manufacturing jobs. We need to build cars where we sell them. We can’t rely on China to build everything”. +++

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