Newsflash: Audi broedt op RS Q5

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+++ The development of a range-topping RS Q5 has been the subject of many reports, as some were expecting it as early as 2008, when the first generation broke cover. Further rumors have fueled the ‘imminent’ arrival of the hot model, but here we are, 12 years later, and an RS variant of the premium compact crossover is still nowhere in sight. Or is it? A spokesman for AUDI ’s mid-size SUV product range in Germany, Michael Crusius, was asked about such a model at the presentation of the facelifted Q5 earlier this week, but was not willing to divulge any details. “It remains exciting to see, but this is a topic that we cannot delve into”, Crusius said. The Audi rep explained that this was “one of the few questions we will not be able to answer to today”. So, unsurprisingly, Cruisius answered with the typical “we do not comment on speculation / possible future products” answer, but he didn’t rule it out either. So, could an RS Q5 be finally happening? Your guess is as good as mine, though I wouldn’t hold my breath for it. If it is indeed in the making, it would take on the likes of the BMW X3 M and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 with similar power and performance. In all likelihood, Audi Sport would also launch it in the Q5 Sportback body style too, which would place it in the same niche as the X4 M and GLC 63 Coupe. Power would, in all likelihood, come from the 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 TFSI from the RS5, where it develops 450 hp and 600 Nm, and would come paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission and Quattro permanent all-wheel drive. Meanwhile, the SQ5 remains the range-topping version. +++

+++ China’s electric vehicle BATTERY market is expected to embrace better-quality products with lower prices as the nation opens the industry to both domestic and international players, leading to fierce market competition and helping bring better batteries to the market, industry experts said. Song Jin, a senior automobile analyst at Beijing-based market consultancy Analysys, said that currently CATL and BYD are leading the country’s EV battery industry and have already taken considerable market share. But the industry in China is at a relatively early stage and the competitive landscape is full of variables. Huge opportunities in the sector remained untapped. “The result of market competition is that companies will increase technological investment, and bring about better products with lower prices. Plus, given the Chinese government’s favorable policies, China’s EV batteries will have a stronger competitive edge in the world”, Song said. On March 29, Shenzhen, Guangdong province-based BYD unveiled a new blade-shaped battery. The product belongs to the lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) battery family. Unlike the traditional LFP battery, it has a longer life and the ability to record a higher mileage. As the blade-shaped battery solved the short run time of an LFP battery, industry experts said it will help redefine standards and promote sustainable development of the industry. On June 10, CATL said its new super battery is likewise ready for mass production. The battery is capable of powering an electric vehicle for 2 million kilometers and has a life of 16 years. That is far better than current EV batteries, which can run for 250.000 kilometers and have a maximum life span of 8 years. Zhang Xiang, an automobile analyst at the new energy and intelligent connected car industry think tank under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said BYD’s blade-shaped battery increased its energy density by raising the space utilization of the battery pack, enabling EVs to run for a longer distance. To showcase the safety of the blade-shaped battery, BYD took and passed the nail penetration test, the most rigorous and critical method to test battery safety, and disclosed the results of the whole process to the public. “The nail penetration test of a single cell is included in the national EV standard. EV batteries should meet the standard in order to reach the safety criteria. BYD has explained the theory of its blade-shaped battery in detail to the media, enabling the public to understand the new product better. However, CATL disclosed few information about its super battery. The public hardly knows how it works”, Zhang said. The actual function of the batteries remains to be tested by the market, he added. BYD said that “Han”, its C-Class car and the first EV that carries its blade-shaped battery, will be launched this summer. CATL did not say when its super battery will come to the market. Data from automobile new media EVobserver showed that CATL and BYD account for roughly 59 % of the EV battery market share in China. With the country’s opening-up policy, international brands are now entering the market. In July 2018, United States electric carmaker Tesla launched its gigafactory in Shanghai. Producing an entire EV on its own, Tesla aims to completely localize its China supply chain. Many international companies had also set up EV battery factories in China because of its favorable investment policies. In December 2015, Panasonic announced plans to establish a lithium battery factory in Dalian, Northeast China’s Liaoning province. The factory officially started delivery of its products in March 2018. LG Chem, South Korea’s biggest chemical maker, said it will expand its battery factories in China this year. In October 2015, the company launched its first battery factory in the country in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. The MIIT’s guidelines on the industry required new EV sales to take up 25 % of total new car sales by 2025, which means the EV market will expand by 6 times, delivering vast opportunities in the EV battery sector, Song said. “Fierce market competition is expected in China, as more opportunities and government’s favorable policies are within sight”, Song said, adding better products with lower prices will come along and bring more benefits to consumers. +++ 

+++ BMW just announced a couple different tech initiatives. One is a software update for iDrive 7.0 that will be sent out wirelessly to BMWs equipped with that infotainment software. The second is an expansion of its ConnectedDrive Store and it’s this second announcement that will likely draw criticism from future BMW buyers. Why, you ask? Well, I’m sure you all remember the Apple CarPlay subscription method debacle. For a couple years, BMW forced buyers to pay a continuous fee for access to Apple CarPlay in its vehicles, whereas every other car company either made it free or charged upfront like a regular option on a car. BMW has since ended this subscription program and made Apple CarPlay standard on every new car, mostly because everybody yelled loudly enough about it. This same model is making a return, but instead of CarPlay, BMW has announced its intentions to apply it to other comfort functions and driver assistance features. The details aren’t clear with the program yet, but BMW suggested that features like heated seats, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and others could be offered on temporary, subscription-based time periods. This means the equipment will be installed in the car, but you’d have to pay to gain access to it for months or years at a time. The upshot? You’ll now have the ultimate in flexibility of use for some features. Maybe you don’t want heated seats in the summer, or maybe you just want to activate the adaptive cruise control before you go on a long road trip because you don’t regularly have a need for it. Also, the second owner of the car would then be able to activate features that the first owner didn’t necessarily want (and didn’t pay for) or vice versa. The downsides are quite obvious. You just bought a €90.000 BMW, yet now you’re getting nickel and dimed for features that are installed, but not activated. Paying a continuous fee for Apple CarPlay access seemed silly, and this seems just as unsavory. It also changes our perspective on buying used cars. BMW will gain the ability to continue to charge folks for features on the second and third owners of its cars to keep features installed and up to date. BMW owners who lease their cars could end up saving money, though. Instead of paying a steep option charge added into the cost of the monthly payment, the subscription fee could be much less for the short period of time they own the car. Of course, when the owner turns the vehicle back in, BMW could then continue to charge the second owner for the same feature. Theoretically, there’s more money to be made in the long run, but we don’t have any numbers to know if that’s the case yet. Not all the features will be subscription-based, though. Just as Tesla allows customers to purchase more content at a later date, BMW will do the same. For example, you’ll be able to buy a new fake engine sound via BMW’s IconicSounds Sport selection. BMW also lists its adaptive M Suspension as a followup “digital feature” you’ll be able to buy after the fact. The iDrive 7.0 update is a breath of fresh air, though. BMW is offering a free (!) update set to make its navigation faster and more powerful. The Personal Assistant (voice control) is getting a new design and more functionality. Wireless Android Auto is officially being activated. And finally, the Digital Key tech announced at Apple’s WWDC is going to come online. This update will be rolling out to customer cars this month sometime. +++ 

+++ There’s nothing Jean-Remi Galinon enjoys more than bouncing along cobbled streets and showing off Paris to foreign tourists, usually Americans, in his most iconic of French vintage cars. But the coronavirus has kept them away and since mid-March he’s only given 1 tour in his 39-year-old cherry red CITROEN 2CV boneshaker. France is tentatively opening up its borders to a select group of non-EU countries, but the United States, where Covid-19 cases are still soaring, is not on the list. “The Americans are our No. 1 tourists, for sure”, Galinon said, the very image of Gallic sangfroid as he cruised along a cafe-lined boulevard with his sunglasses on and the 2CV’s canvas roof rolled back. “They are in love with Paris and we’re suffering the consequences of the travel ban”. Tourism is part of the lifeblood of the city, one of the world’s most visited, so for Galinon, Paris’s springtime lockdown could hardly have been worse. “It was just surreal”, Galinon said. “March, April, May are an important period for us. And even more so as the weather was beautiful. So it was a double punishment and Paris without tourists is not really Paris”. Border restrictions within the EU have been removed, and the “safe list” of 14 other countries from which the bloc will allow non-essential travel is now coming into force. But it could be a while before the U.S. visitors who Galinon’s boss Marc Vernhet is banking on are able to return. Vernhet has relied on state aid to stay afloat during the lockdown and says another 6 months of slow business may force him to quit. +++ 

+++ Los Angeles-based startup CZINGER has remained relatively quiet since it unveiled the 21C, a 3D-printed plug-in hybrid hypercar, in February. Its plans to present the model at the 2020 Geneva auto show were derailed when the event was canceled, and it decelerated its operations to comply with California’s Covid-19-related lockdowns, but work never stopped behind the scenes. We caught up with the brand to get a better idea of where it stands. Jens Sverdrup, the young brand’s chief commercial officer, told engineers began testing prototypes on the road and on the track in August 2019. “This is not one of these stories where you see new companies coming out with a mockup or a computer rendering; we have fully functioning cars, and we’ve spent a significant amount of money on them”, he said. Testing abruptly stopped in the spring, fine-tuning a 1.233 hp car wasn’t considered an essential activity, but the data gathered in late 2019 and in early 2020 was encouraging. “We know enough about the car’s performance to say our numbers are conservative”, he explained. “We have a lot of work to do in the area of refinement, but we haven’t experienced any major issues. Our car is well designed and well thought-out. We have test rigs, so the chassis had gone through about 440.000 kilometres of testing before we even started test-driving the car”, he added. Building a car that goes really fast in a straight line and around a bend is relatively easy compared to making it comfortable and docile to drive around town. Czinger wants the 21C to tick the speed and refinement boxes, because the market for bludgeon-like supercars no longer exists. On-road testing stopped, but development continued. Czinger’s engineers didn’t spend the lock-down period playing Mario Kart on the Wii. Sverdrup revealed the company’s research and development department made several small changes, like improving the 21C’s downforce and shedding weight. It’s too early to tell how these tweaks will affect the car’s 0-to-100-kph time, which is pegged at 1.9 seconds, or its 400 kph top speed. However, he stressed the firm funds product development on its own instead of using deposits to pay for it. “We’ve not been chasing deposits to fund our R&D. This approach makes us very different from many of the other brands we tend to be compared to. It feels really good not to rely on deposits. It means we believe in what we’re doing, we’re not fishing for interest, and we’re committed to doing this. We’ve invested the money up front; this is serious”, he noted. Czinger should have shown the 21C in motion for the first time at the 2020 edition of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and it had invited a handful of journalists to take it for a spin, but the event was canceled. What’s next depends largely on the pandemic’s evolution, and whether lock-downs are once again enforced around the world. Production likely won’t start in 2021 as planned, Sverdrup told 2022 is more likely and the delay was inevitable considering the circumstances. Rivian (which has the keys to Amazon’s bottomless purse) had to push back R1T and R1S production until 2021 for the same reason, and even established companies like Chevrolet are struggling to deliver products on time. It won’t have time to build every new Corvette ordered. 2020 is the wrong year to launch a car, or really anything that’s not a vaccine or a mask. Czinger takes comfort in the fact that most of the enthusiasts and potential customers who have seen the 21C so far have liked it. “Response to the 21C has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen some skepticism, of course. We’re a new brand. It’s up to us to be consistent, prove ourselves and keep pushing to deliver good cars”. Sverdrup stated with a dose of realism we’ve rarely heard echoing through the automotive industry’s start-up corner. Czinger will cap 21C production at 80 examples, but it doesn’t plan to stop there. It’s in the process of recruiting dealers and they wouldn’t be doing that simply to sell 80 cars. While Sverdrup stopped short of telling us what’s next, he confirmed there are follow-up models in the pipeline. All will be quick, light, and exclusive, though some will be positioned below the 21C, which carries a base price of $1.7 million. “It’s not hypercar pricing, but it’s also not the Ford Mustang”, Sverdrup said. And, regardless of what the company builds next, it will be manufactured using a 3D-printing technique developed in-house. It saves a tremendous amount of time and money by eliminating the need to design and manufacture tooling before launching production of, say, a suspension arm. “It’s the future”, Sverdrup said. “I would be very surprised if, in 20 years, this is not the way cars are built”. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER said it will deepen a strategic partnership with Farasis Energy, a pact which includes taking an equity stake of around 3 % in the Chinese battery cell manufacturer. The alliance aims to develop highly advanced cell technologies to increase vehicle range and cut charging times. Farasis will build a plant for battery cells in Bitterfeld-Wolfen and Daimler Greater China will invest a multi-million euro amount as part of Farasis’ IPO, Daimler said. This will give Daimler the option of nominating a representative for a seat on the supervisory board of the battery cell manufacturer, the Stuttgart-based carmaker said in a statement. +++ 

+++ Jaguar Land Rover will continue to invest in DIESEL technology as it ramps up plans to electrify its model line-up and develop a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Product engineering boss Nick Rogers said, in light of the coronavirus pandemic: “We really believe that customers will be focused on being cleaner, safer and smarter than ever before. Electrification will become ever-more important, but potentially in a smart way. “We really feel there’s a real place (on long journeys) for our ‘super-clean’ diesels and our ‘super-clean’ gasolines. We believe that’s a real, valid mode of transport”. Noting the sharp fall in oil prices during the pandemic, Rogers added: “We will continue to invest in clean diesels, as well as clean gasoline vehicles, BEVs and PHEVs to offer variety, because for a lot of people, the cleanest, most efficient way of transportation is still diesel or gasoline and they can leverage doing that very efficiently”. Other manufacturers have largely spoken of their ambition to move away from combustion. Porsche recently removed all diesel powertrains from its line-up and parent company Volkswagen will begin development of its final combustion-powered vehicle in 2026. But Rogers said there remains a place for diesel powertrains if they can be made more environmentally efficient. “If you can combine that with a PHEV, in normal or city usage, you can be completely clean and silent, as well, so you don’t pollute the environment with noise”. Currently, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) offers just 3 models with a plug-in powertrain: the Range Rover, Evoque and Discovery Sport; all petrol powered. Although many of today’s diesel cars are equipped with mild-hybrid technology, it is only Mercedes that has plug-in diesel powertrains currently on sale. The firm’s C 300de and E 300de pair a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel motor with a 13.5 kWh lithium ion battery for an electric-only range of between 50 and 55 kilometres, while the newly launched GLE 350de ups that range to 100 kilometres with a 31.2 kWh battery pack. JLR is advancing plans to transition to being a provider of mobility services in light of the pandemic. Rogers said that alongside making its powertrains more efficient, it is working to increase the use of recycled materials in its vehicles, improve the air quality in cabins and reduce ‘the cognitive load’ on drivers with assist functions like keyless entry. The company is developing a hydrogen powertrain in partnership with Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems and UKBIC. With funding from the government-backed Advanced Propulsion Centre, JLR is working on a fuel cell premium SUV prototype (codenamed Zeus) that will offer a long range, quick refill times, off-road capability and a large towing capacity. +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) said the terms of its merger with France’s PSA had not changed after it was reported that it was looking to spin off assets to reduce a planned €5.5 billion cash pay-out to its shareholders. FCA said that it was sticking to the deal agreed with PSA in December before the coronavirus crisis hit demand for cars. “The structure and terms of the merger are agreed and remain unchanged”, a spokesman for the Italian-American automaker said. FCA and PSA plan to finalise their merger by the first quarter of next year. PSA declined to comment. An Italian business newspaper said that FCA could conserve cash by reducing the special dividend, possibly by handing shareholders assets as compensation. Talks were at a very early stage and no decision had been taken, adding the that aim was to keep the €5.5 billion value of the special dividend but to turn its “nature” from cash to assets. FCA has just agreed a €6.3 billion state-backed loan to help its Italian unit and the whole country’s automotive industry to weather the crisis. Although this does not bar FCA from paying the dividend, as it is not due until 2021 and would be paid by Dutch parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Italian politicians have called into question such a large cash pay-out. Options being considered include spinning off the Sevel deliveryvan business, a 50-50 joint venture between the 2 groups, or FCA’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands. Sevel, which produces vans in Atessa’s plant in central Italy, Europe’s largest van assembly facility, could be valued between €2.5 and €3 billion. Its spin-off to FCA shareholders could also help address European Union concerns about the merger’s consequences on competition in the van segment. This option looks however complicated, as it would require PSA transferring its 50 % stake in Sevel to FCA. Another option is scrapping a planned spin-off of PSA’s controlling stake in parts maker Faurecia. A source close to the matter said that PSA could instead sell its Faurecia stake before the merger and keep the cash proceeds of the sale within the new merged company. +++ 

+++ Starting a car company from scratch is a rare opportunity; something few in the auto industry ever get the chance to do in their careers. So it was no surprise that the guys behind INEOS AUTOMOTIVE were as excited to show me the new Grenadier as I was to see. For the record, I think it’s a great piece of industrial design. Pretty? No. Familiar? Very. I’ve done extremely well to make it here without mentioning the original Land Rover Defender, because that’s the car that has clearly inspired the Grenadier more than any other. And it’s the car that its design will be most compared to. Is that a bad thing? Well, Land Rover tried and failed to trademark the Defender shape and it’s clear that there’s still a huge passion for the old Defender among enthusiasts. Whether those enthusiasts turn into Grenadier customers remains to be seen, though. What struck me having spent time with the team behind the Grenadier, however, is the clarity of purpose. They referenced the Willys Jeep and how that car was designed by numbers; the US military decided what they wanted the car to do, and engineers did just that. The same approach has been taken with the Grenadier. They decided what they wanted the car to be able to achieve, and built a car around that. “There’s nothing fluffy or extraneous”, designer Toby Ecuyer told me. And if you’re going to design a car to do a specific thing, then maybe the original way is still the best way. As Ecuyer explained: “If you’re designing a hammer, it has to perform a certain function. And, pretty much, hammers all end up looking very alike”. Fair enough. I’m impressed by much of the original thinking from Ineos so far, even if the styling is far from original. More than anything, I’m impressed by how the firm has listened to potential owners, giving it a much better chance of success. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR ’s forthcoming replacement for the XJ luxury saloon is nearing its launch date. The all-new model will make its official debut at the end of 2020, where it will act as a pure electric alternative to the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class saloon, although the latter will soon gain its own electric sibling in the form of the upcoming EQ S. Jaguar design director Julian Thomson has revealed the focus behind the new luxury car as development reaches its latter stages. “It’s going to be a very, very luxurious, very, very calm, tranquil piece of transportation”, he says. “But it’s not overtly flashy, it’s not overtly expensive. It’s a car, which you make an emotional connection with. We don’t want all our people who get our cars to just sit in the back of them and just be driven around in them. They can be used like that, but at the end of the day, we know that these cars are there to be experienced and driven and enjoyed; enjoyable to sit in, relaxing to sit in and beautiful to look at”. Its styling will be an evolution of the outgoing car’s, retaining the same long, wide stance and narrow headlamps units, as well as the company’s trademark radiator grille and shark fin antenna. Jaguar’s most recent teaser image suggested that the new XJ would also receive a sharper XF-inspired rump, with a full-width light-bar. The new XJ is also set to be a very different car to Jaguar’s first electric model, the I-Pace. Thomson suggested that the XJ would have a traditional saloon look with the classic long bonnet. “If a cab-forward looking car doesn’t suit a certain type of vehicle, I don’t think you should do it”, he said. “We’re there to make the best looking cars we possibly can, so the new XJ, it does have a bonnet on it, and it’s a very, very elegant shape”. Thompson concluded, saying: “It’s probably a little bit more traditional than the I-Pace”. The new XJ will be made in the UK at JLR’s Castle Bromwich production site, safeguarding thousands of jobs over the next few years. It’ll also be the second all-electric model offered by the British brand, following in the footsteps of the award-winning I-Pace. Basing production of the all-electric XJ at Castle Bromwich makes logistical sense to Jaguar Land Rover, as it offers easy access to the firm’s electric motor manufacturing centre in Wolverhampton. The experience of the plant’s current employees (who specialise in working with the XJ’s all-aluminium construction) will also prove invaluable. However, unlike the I-Pace, which was built on a modified version of the F-Pace’s platform, the new XJ will be based on Jaguar’s all-new MLA underpinnings, which will allow battery electric, plug-in hybrid and mild-hybrid drivetrains to be mounted on the same production line. So far, Jaguar has only discussed the next-generation XJ in an all-electric context, but it’s technically possible to produce combustion assisted versions of the car, too. The British manufacturer has pledged to offer electrified options for all its new models from 2020. Jaguar aims to implement “giga-scale” battery production to support the project, with a new UK-based plant in Hams Hall, North Warwickshire. The facility will be fully operational later this year and aims to produce enough batteries to supply 150.000 electric Jaguar Land Rover models each year. CEO sir Ralf Speth explained: “If battery production goes out of the UK. then automotive production will go out of the UK. The battery is 40 % of the cost of an electric vehicle. We want to keep this kind of added value inside the UK”. Britain’s biggest car maker has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years and has been forced to axe jobs and investment opportunities to boost profits amid dwindling sales. The company’s declining sales figures are due, at least in part, to JLR’s reliance on diesel, which has fallen out of favour with consumers. Despite this, to try and keep ahead of the curve, JLR has thrown a considerable amount of money at its Castle Bromwich production facility. The investment will allow the company to fit its plant with the necessary tooling for the new pure-electric XJ and the company’s planned range of electric vehicles. When asked about the size of JLR’s investment in Castle Bromwich, Speth was evasive. However, he added: “If you introduce new architectures it’s not millions but billions. It is spread over a number of years”. +++ 

+++ 2 years ago, JAGUAR LAND ROVER launched a subscription service in the UK dubbed Carpe. The program was effectively a 12 month lease with no deposit and no mileage limit, and an all-inclusive monthly payment covering insurance, tax, service, and repairs. For a bit more than €1.000 plus the cost of fuel every month, a subscriber could secure a Jaguar E-Pace at the bottom end; a payment of €2.500 per month would open the doors to a Range Rover Sport. The numbers and customer feedback have encouraged JLR to turn Carpe into Pivotal, with new lease levels, terms, and restrictions. Instead of keeping a vehicle for 12 months, Pivotal subscribers pay a bit more than €600 to join, then swap out every 6 months. Changing cars early incurs a €280 fee, or customers can request to stick with the vehicle they have beyond 6 months, but JLR reserves the right to switch out cars when necessary. Pivotal keeps tabs to the odometer, too: instead of unlimited driving, the program caps fee-free travel at just 2.400 kilometres per month. However, the FAQ section explains that “mileage is accumulative so do not worry if you do not use your full mileage allowance, the first month can be carried on into the next within a given vehicle”. The only noted repair item not covered is windshield replacement. The splashy rework in England comes shortly after Mercedes-Benz shuttered its Collection service in the U.S. On trial for 2 years in Nashville, Philadelphia and Atlanta, Collection couldn’t get the traction Mercedes wanted. Brand sales chief Adam Chamberlain told: “If the demand would have been unbelievable, then it could have gone further. But demand was just OK”. Chamberlain did say the service attracted younger owners new to the brand, and Mercedes gained heaps of insight into issues like targeting those younger buyers and how customers interact with apps. JLR’s Pivotal is still in the learning stages, too; a UK-only experiment run through the automakers’ dealers, subscription users will help educate JLR on what the future of car buying, car ownership and Mobility-as-a-Service (MAAS) are going to look like. According to Frost & Sullivan research the brand cites, roughly 18 % of drivers prefer subscriptions to ownership and they could “account for nearly 10 % of all new sales in the US and Europe by 2025, equivalent to some 16 million vehicles”. +++ 

+++ South Korea’s LG CHEM plans to start producing batteries for Tesla vehicles at a domestic factory this year after the U.S. electric carmaker raised orders to cope with demand, a person familiar with the matter said. “Tesla is asking not only LG Chem but other suppliers to increase supplies, as its cars are selling well”, the person told. A second person with knowledge of the situation also said LG Chem is converting some of its production in South Korea to produce batteries for Tesla. An LG Chem factory in Nanjing, China, already makes batteries for Tesla. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the confidentiality of the matter. Tesla, which runs a joint battery factory with Panasonic Corp in the United States, added LG Chem and China’s CATL as suppliers for its factory in Shanghai. +++ 

+++ National Electric Vehicles Sweden ( NEVS ), the company that purchased Saab’s bankrupt carcass in 2012, has introduced an autonomous ride-sharing shuttle named Sango and announced plans to test it in real-world conditions. It also outlined a system named Pons that will allow operators and riders to connect with the shuttle. Saab famously claimed its cars were born from jets, but the Sango looks more like something you’d find in a store that sells small kitchen appliances than on an aircraft carrier sailing across the Atlantic. It wasn’t designed to go fast, or to deliver engaging handling. Stylists intentionally gave it a boxy silhouette to maximize interior space and let operators offer three cabin configurations called private, social, and family, respectively. Its 6 seats can be moved around and rotated as needed and the passengers can raise privacy walls if they don’t feel like socializing with fellow riders. The shuttle’s seating capacity drops to 4 with the walls raised. Chinese technology firm AutoX provided the Sango’s self-driving hardware and software, though NEVS pointed out its shuttle is modular enough to use any autonomous system on the market. This is a wise strategy that widens its target audience. Operators will in theory be able to choose whether they want to purchase a turn-key self-driving shuttle or buy the basic structure and stuff their own technology into it. NEVS grouped the app customers will use to request a ride and a fleet management system into a software package it named Pons. Technical specifications haven’t been released. All we know is that it’s electric. NEVS confidently stated autonomous shuttles are closer to the mainstream than many think. “Getting from A to B with self-driving electric vehicles is not as far off as perhaps the car industry is implying. The era of 1 person per car and the era of owning a car are soon things of the past”, opined Anna Haupt, the company’s vice president of mobility solutions, in a statement. Engineers have started testing the first running Sango prototype at NEVS’ headquarters in Trollhättan, Sweden. Looking ahead, the company plans to deploy a fleet of 10 autonomous shuttles in Stockholm, where they will be used by members of the general public. Testing will probably start in 2022 and that the firm is taking Covid-19 related concerns into account. The aforementioned privacy walls can also serve as virus barriers and each shuttle will be equipped with individual climate control and ventilation systems with air filters. “We will as well look into other possible actions in order to decrease the spread of Covid-19 or other viruses if needed”, the spokesperson added. Several light-years separate the Sango and Saab-badged cars like the 99, the 900, and the 9-3, but the idea of making an electric van isn’t new in Trollhättan. In the 1970s, the company’s defense and plane-making division developed a short-range, battery-powered mail delivery vehicle and built 2 prototypes from scratch using a handful of bits and pieces mined from the 99 parts bin. Saab tested the van extensively, one of the prototypes covered about 11.000 kilometres, but it ultimately consigned the project to the automotive attic. +++ 

+++ Citroën boss Vincent Cobée believes the impact of the coronavirus PANDEMIC could lead to a sharp rise in demand for electric cars in the near future. Several major governments, including those in France and Germany, have unveiled substantial financial recovery packages to help boost industry following Covid-19 lockdowns. They include incentives to increase new car sales, with many tied to the purchase of electric and low-emission cars as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions. Speaking at a launch event for the new C4, which includes a fully electric e-C4 variant, Cobée said  that low-emission vehicles (including plug-in hybrids and EVs) currently make up around 6 % of the sales mix of Citroën parent firm PSA Group, but he expects that figure to rise sharply. Asked what percentage of sales the e-C4 will account for, Cobée said: “In the C-segment, we hope the percentage for the C4 will be higher, maybe 8-10 %. Because of customer sentiment, the increasing development of infrastructure and new emissions regulations, we think that can grow quite fast. “The last 4 months have seen a transformation of society and one of the ways out in terms of economic recovery is the transformation of regulations, with a push towards low-carbon vehicles. So we are expecting that the unexpected could happen and I wouldn’t be surprised if the market share of EVs moves towards 20 % very, very rapidly, especially with a car like the C4. There is demand to enter the world of clean mobility. It’s not a tree-hugger statement. It’s that I never have to go to a petrol station any more and can charge my car at home. But if you answer this only with city hatchbacks, then the ability for this to spread is limited”. Cobée noted that the higher purchase price of EVs is still a deterrent to potential buyers. He said: “Anyone who’s worked in the car industry in the last 10 years will know the huge challenges EVs present in terms of battery and development costs. But as citizens, we know that if an EV costs roughly the same as an internal combustion engine car, we would shift. At Citroën, we are making a statement: with the Ami, we’ve shown than an EV can be affordable and with the C4, we’re saying that it’s not true an EV can only be a city car, but a family hatch with a range of more than 320 kilometres”. Although EVs remain more expensive to buy than combustion-engined cars, Cobée said: “If you consider not just purchase price but running price and residual value, it’s already extremely similar, and especially with the addition of incentives following the coronavirus crisis, the pricing of EVs is extremely competitive”. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus pandemic has presented major challenges to the whole car industry. And while the luxury end of the market has been somewhat insulated from the biggest difficulties caused by factory and showroom closures, companies operating in that sphere have still had to reinvent how they work, and it’s set to change the design focus of ultra-luxury cars. ROLLS-ROYCE ’s Bespoke division is considered, according to chief designer Alex Innes, to be “the apex of the pinnacle”. The most prominent example of its work is the one-off Sweptail of 2017 (photo), but the division also produces highly customised versions of the Phantom, Ghost, Wraith and Dawn. Innes and the design team work directly with ultra-wealthy customers to produce one-off designs to exacting standards. Much of that work is done face to face, either at Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood base or with the designers travelling to meet customers, so the lockdown has forced the team to find new ways of working. “It has been challenging, but the output hasn’t dipped from our studio”, said Innes. “We’re used to travelling a lot for work to meet with clients, so we’re used to contributing remotely. With our Bespoke process, we take the time to really get to know customers before we put anything into action and work directly with them in the same way you can design a house with an architect. Not being able to meet clients in person has been challenging, but we’ve worked around it and we’ve continued to be in near-constant dialogue with them. The benefit the lockdown has afforded us is the currency of time to contemplate and reflect, and we’ve noticed a similar trend with our clients. They’ve had more time to really think and engage with the coachbuild process. I’ve had lots of video chats with them to obsess over little details”. Innes said that focus on little details is an acceleration of ongoing changes in the bespoke luxury market. He said: “There has been a slight change in attitude and behaviour, building on a trend we’ve recognised for some time but which has accelerated since the coronavirus. We’ve termed it ‘post-opulence’: clients in the wider luxury sphere are coming to question the substance of things and what is necessary. There’s a shifting attitude to cars, which is reflected in a shift to a more minimalist aesthetic. Clients don’t want the opulence and ornateness of yesterday: they want a new type of luxury, with more purity. It’s about real attention to detail, towards higher and more exacting standards”. Innes says the changing focus isn’t reflected in a move to specific designs or materials but in a push to ensure designs have “substance” rather than simply showcase one’s wealth. “A Rolls-Royce represents a canvas for clients to project their personality and image”, he explained. “Our job at Bespoke is to shape and capture that. Because each customer is different, it’s hard to name a particular style or trend; it’s more about the attention to details. We’re humbled by the gravitas our clients, even those who seem to have it all, feel about ordering a Rolls-Royce. They obsess over the details and dedicate time in pursuit of that. And for many clients, time is the most pressing commodity that they have”. While the Bespoke process is tailored, Innes said it “gives a perspective” that feeds into the future designs of Rolls-Royce’s main model lines. +++ 

+++ China ‘s autonomous driving startup WeRide announced that its SELF DRIVING TAXI SERVICE will be available on Alibaba’s navigation platform Amap starting this month, as the forefront technology is speeding up commercialization amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Under the new partnership with Amap, consumers can call WeRide’s autonomous driving taxi through its own app or Amap. The service is currently available in major areas in Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong province. “The cooperation with Amap will bring WeRide’s Robotaxi to a more developed mobility market. More people can enjoy our Robotaxi service through the collaboration. Together we will explore and build a new kind of business in the future autonomous mobility market”, said Zhang Li, WeRide’s chief operating officer. WeRide, founded in 2017, is one of the leading startups in the self-driving taxi. After launching China’s first Robotaxi in November 2018, WeRide initiated the first publicly accessible Robotaxi service in November last year. +++

+++ Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to close its factory in Hambach, France, where vehicles for the SMART brand are currently produced, as part of measures to cut costs and streamline its production network, and in a move that represents a major shift in its electric production strategy. The plant in the Moselle province of France, originally known as ‘Smartville’, opened in 1997 to build cars for the Mercedes city car brand. It currently produces the electric Smart EQ Fortwo and EQ Fortwo Cabriolet. Around 1.600 staff currently work at the site. In 2018, Mercedes announced a €500 million investment into the facility to upgrade it for electric car production, with plans to build the compact Mercedes EQ A model alongside the Smart line. But last year, Mercedes-Benz sold 50 % of the Smart brand to Chinese firm Geely, with production of its future models switching to China as part of the agreement, and creating questions over the future of the Hambach site. The German firm said the need to invest in electrification and digitalisation of vehicles and cut CO2 emissions from production, along with the economic impact of Covid-19, meant that it needed to take measures to “sustainably improve its cost structure and become significantly more efficient”. Board member Markus Schäfer said: “An important goal for us is to secure the future of the location. Another condition: the current Smart models will continue to be produced in Hambach”. It is not clear if Mercedes intends to operate the plant until the production run of the current Smart models ends, or if that will be part of the contract for any new buyer. Mercedes has previously announced plans to build electric cars at its German plants in Bremen, Rastatt and Sindelfingen, and the production of the EQ A model due to be built at Hambach will likely shift to one of those sites. +++ 

+++ TESLA has denied media reports and said it had not fired employees who chose to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic over safety concerns at the carmaker’s California factory. The electric carmaker said in a blog post it had waived its attendance policy for several weeks after getting approval to reopen factories and offered employees “a window of time to stay home no questions asked”. Earlier this week, it was reported that 3 Tesla workers were fired after opting to stay home from the Fremont, California, factory. The automaker’s sole U.S. vehicle factory in Fremont reopened in May after a public spat with the local authorities over safety procedures. Tesla’s protective measures meet and exceed county, state and federal guidelines, the company said. New infections were rising in 37 out of 50 U.S. states in the past 14 days compared with the 2 weeks prior. The United States has now recorded 128.706 deaths, nearly a quarter of the known global total. California saw positive tests climb 37 % with hospitalizations up 56 % over the past 2 weeks. +++ 

+++ Tyre manufacturer Bridgestone has teamed up with software giant Microsoft to develop a TYRE DAMAGE DETECTION DEVICE that could significantly reduce the risk of road accidents. The new Tyre Damage Monitoring System (TDMS) can detect when a tyre has been damaged by an impact with a pothole, kerb or debris and immediately notifies the driver. The system uses data from Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP) cloud framework as well as from sensors already fitted to a vehicle and uses algorithms to detect irregularities in the tyre surface. Because the system understands when and where damage has occurred, it could be used to notify road maintenance agencies about potholes or other hazards that pose a risk to drivers; a function that, Bridgestone says, will be especially useful for future autonomous vehicles. The manufacturer claims that there is “no other equivalent monitoring system available in the market” and that the closest alternatives require additional hardware to be fitted to the vehicle. Tyre pressure monitoring systems have been mandatory for all new cars since 2012 but only detect pressure variations so would generally be slower to give warnings than Bridgestone’s new device. Bridgestone estimates that tyre damage is a factor in 30% of all car accidents related to tyre failure and is particularly difficult to guard against without regular, close inspection. Damage to tyres can also have a knock-on effect on the wheels, as well as suspension and steering components, increasing the risk to safety. The TDMS is now available to fleets and manufacturers that use MCVP to provide autonomous functions. Volkswagen, for example, uses MCVP as the basis for its own ‘Automotive Cloud’ digital infrastructure. Laurent Dartoux, CEO and president of Bridgestone EMEA, says: “Digital is such a huge part of what we do today at Bridgestone. It’s imperative that we work with industry-leading partners who can support our needs today and in the future. By teaming up with Microsoft, we have the opportunity to bring our Tyre Damage Monitoring System to millions of drivers, offering them better safety and peace of mind”. +++

 

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