Newsflash: Mercedes EQ E wordt leverbaar in 2 varianten

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+++ The latest AUDI RS3 Sportback and Sedan are on the horizon and an image has leaked online showcasing the intriguing LED headlight signature of the performance car. This image looks to have been snapped during an internal presentation about the Audi range and the advanced Matrix LED technologies that the company is using. In the bottom right corner of the photo is the headlight of the Audi RS3 and clearly visible is a chequered flag pattern. The photo confirms that in the lower corner of the RS3’s headlights will be a 3×5 array of small LEDs. Also visible in the photo is the normal Audi A3 variant. While it is likely just software that’s behind the different designs, it seems as though each pattern will be fixed to a particular model. If that is the case then it is fitting that the RS3, the sportiest model in the A3 family, has the chequered flag motif. Beyond its cool headlights, I know the new Audi RS3 will be powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine paired to a dual-clutch transmission and a Quattro all-wheeldrive system. It is unclear just how much power this engine will deliver but we know it is rated at 400 hp and 480 Nm in the RS Q3. It is certainly possible those same figures will carry through to the RS3, but it is also possible Audi could lift grunt to between 420 hp and 450 hp to usurp the various Mercedes-AMG A45 models. We should see the 2021 Audi RS3 before the end of the year or in early 2021 at the latest. +++

+++ Around 3 years after production of the third generation started, the BMW X3 is getting ready for its first mid-cycle refresh, or LCI in BMW speak. A prototype of the premium compact SUV has already been spotted testing in Europe, and despite having the front and rear ends covered up, it’s not hard at all to spot the changes. The bumpers will be redesigned, sporting cleaner looks and a slimmer lower air intake under the new grille that seems to have become a bit bigger. The taillights on this prototype have different graphics and the headlamps carry over, although this is just an early tester and the production models will get new units. Do not expect any major upgrades in the cabin other than the infotainment system that might get a new software and perhaps a slightly bigger screen, as well as the center console which could get a new gear selector and iDrive controller. A challenger to the likes of the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC60 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the facelifted BMW X3 is expected to soldier on with the same gasoline and diesel engines, as well as the plug-in hybrid. Nonetheless, some (or all) of these powertrains could be upgraded to keep carbon dioxide emissions in check. To that end, new electrified mills could join the lineup, which will otherwise be topped by the X3 M and its 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-6 that pumps out 480 hp as standard and 510 hp in Competition spec. The official unveiling date of the revised X3 is unknown, though it is estimated that it will premiere in the second half of next year. +++

+++ The auto industry, long a driver of economic growth in central EUROPE , is likely to be one of the main drags on the region’s efforts this year to recover from the impact of Covid-19. After communist rule ended in central Europe 3 decades ago, foreign carmakers invested heavily in a region that had a cheap and efficient workforce. The auto sector became an important source of foreign investment, employment and growth. But with car production hit by factories idling during coronavirus lockdowns, and many still not back at full throttle, the industry is expected to be worse hit by Covid-19 than many others in central Europe. That is bad news for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, which are particularly reliant on the auto industry. “Proportionally this sector is expected to suffer the biggest drop in the manufacturing sector in the region. This is where the recovery will be the slowest so it could be one of the main drags on GDP”, said Peter Virovacz, an economist at ING in Budapest. Writing to other European Union states and EU institutions in April, the heads of the Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Slovak auto industry associations said their 4 countries employed 1.3 million people directly or indirectly in the auto sector and accounted for nearly a fifth of EU vehicle production. The sector generates 4-6 % of Hungary’s gross domestic product and a tenth of the Czech Republic’s GDP. In Slovakia, it accounts for 13% of GDP and half of industrial production. But some car producers in central Europe expect output to drop 20-25 % this year, reflecting a global production slump, and GDP is likely to be dented. The EU executive, the European Commission, has forecast a 7.0 % decline in GDP this year in Hungary, a 7.8 % fall in the Czech Republic and a 9.0 % drop in Slovakia. Poland’s GDP, which is less dependent on the auto sector, was seen declining 4.6 %. Carmakers have largely avoided mass layoffs in the region and are bringing back staff, gradually increasing the number of shifts (and output) while observing social distancing rules. Daimler said its Hungarian plant was working in 2 shifts and would reintroduce a third from the first week of August. Kia is aiming to reintroduce a third shift from September. “In the second half of 2020, we hope for more orders and an improvement in the situation on the automotive market so we can fully use production capacity”, a company spokesman said. Kia’s Slovak production dropped 27 % in the first half of the year. PSA said it has enough orders until the autumn. In Hungary, Suzuki expects a 20 % drop in output this year compared to its original forecast. It returned to 2 shifts in mid-July. The Czech Automotive Industry Association forecasts car production in the country to drop by a fifth in 2020 and auto sector revenue to fall by at least 215 billion crowns ($9.6 billion). In their April letter, the 4 national auto industry associations asked the EU for the swift re-establishment of supply chains, financial support and a review of regulatory requirements. The chairman of the Hungarian Car Importers’ Association said there had been no response yet. A European Commission spokesperson told that any regulatory flexibility should not involve a delay or rollback of EU environmental ambitions. “Strict environmental legislation is the best way to promote competitiveness and innovation”, the spokesperson said. Thousands of component suppliers, employing tens of thousands in central Europe, have also been hit hard. +++

+++ If the intrigues of the car industry were played out in the theatre, you would be on the edge of your seat right now, waiting to see what FORD does next: enter stage left, arms aloft, uncorking an almighty plot twist, or stumbling in, clutching a dagger struck into its heart. Just over 3 years ago, Detroit’s finest (at least if you wear a European hat) was in such bad shape that it shook up its hierarchy, appointing Jim Hackett as president and CEO in place of Mark Fields. Fields had overseen a 40 % fall in Ford’s stock price in just 36 months, as investors attacked him for failing to widen the global appeal of the firm’s traditional models or make any kind of progress in electrification and new mobility solutions. It was a bleak time for the world’s fifth-largest car maker by volume, cast into sharp focus by its ongoing failure to really get a grip on its scale and, closer to home, make its still-bloated European operations pay. Almost simultaneously, the company set itself a $3 billion cost-reduction target, announcing plans to reduce its workforce in Asia and North America by 10 %; both of which Hackett then deepened as the scale of the challenges became clear. If Ford needed the shake-up investors wanted, Hackett seemed a curious choice for making it happen. Already into his 60s, at home in a shirt and tie, bright but mild-mannered, trailing a glittering career that did a lot to separate him from the ordinary but little to suggest he was extraordinary (although he is credited with envisioning the open-plan office revolution), only his time at the head of the Ford’s future mobility operations hinted at his status as a visionary. Yet he has done much to transform Ford’s standing, if not its fortunes, all the while protecting its core qualities, volumes and profits. Getting Ford on the curve, if not ahead of it, there’s an electric car tie-up with Volkswagen (a deal perhaps only a man staring down the barrel of a gun could accept), investment in hugely credible start-up Rivian and an impressive acceleration of Ford’s own electrification plans, building towards the Mustang Mach-E’s launch. Will this be enough to save Hackett and, more importantly, Ford itself in this changing world? Investors remain skeptical, with Ford’s financial performance continuing to bump along. But there’s also a feeling that Hackett has done much to lay the foundations for a Ford that can thrive into the future with electrification at its heart. +++

+++ Porsche joins this month’s GAY PRIDE cultural festival in Germany, known as the Christopher Street Day. The festivity happens every year at the end of July and this year, and Porsche showcases its solidarity to the cause by displaying 6 multi-coloured 911 units, representing a rainbow which has been a symbol of Pride festivals. Of note, Porsche wasn’t the first automaker to express support with Pride events. Earlier this month, Bentley wraps its Continental GT V8 with a rainbow theme in support of North West of England’s first virtual Pride event. Back in June, BMW made a similar move and wrapped an 8 Series Convertible in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the United States. During this time of the year, millions of people all over the world campaign for the rights and take a stand against discrimination of the LGBT+ community. This aligns with Porsche’s view; the automaker stands up for an open-minded existence and diversity. “We demand and foster equal opportunities and want to make it possible for all Porsche staff to contribute just as they are, regardless of elements including their gender, ethnic background, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation”, explains Andreas Haffner, Member of the Executive Board for Human Resources. Apart from the six colourful Porsche 911s, the automaker’s flagpole bears a rainbow flag during the weekend of the festival. The 911s were parked on the square outside of the Porsche Museum, while quite a number of Porsche employees joined the virtual Pride Run; running distances in bright-coloured shirts on their own routes. Take note that Porsche has also taken a stance on the matter internally. 3,5 years ago, the Department for Equal Opportunities and Diversity (MEC) was born to promote equal opportunities for all employees of the company. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS is asking a federal judge to reconsider his dismissal of a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler based on new allegations that FCA bribed union officials and GM employees with millions stashed in secret foreign bank accounts. GM alleges that bribes were paid to former United Auto Workers Presidents Dennis Williams and Ron Gettelfinger, as well as vice president Joe Ashton. It also alleges that bribes were paid to GM employees including Al Iacobelli, a former FCA labor negotiator who was hired and later released by GM. The allegations were made in a court motion filed by GM, which wants to revive the lawsuit that was dismissed in July. GM alleges that payments were made so the officials would saddle GM with more than $1 billion in additional labor costs. GM’s motion contends that payments were made to accounts in places like Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Singapore and the Cayman Islands. The accounts were set up to avoid detection in a federal criminal probe of the union, according to the lawsuit. The accounts were discovered within the past 10 days by private investigators working on GM’s behalf, according to court records. The union said in a statement it’s not aware of allegations about foreign accounts, and it asked GM to share the information. “If GM actually has substantive information supporting its allegations, we ask that they provide it to us so we can take all appropriate actions”, the statement said. Fiat Chrysler called GM’s lawsuit meritless and said the judge in the case agreed. The company will continue to defend itself “and pursue all available remedies in response to GM’s attempts to resurrect this groundless lawsuit”. If the allegations hold up, they could spell trouble for Fiat Chrysler, the union, and the people named in the documents, said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business and law professor. “They could sway the government to take over the union the way it did with the Teamsters”, Gordon said. Ashton, a former GM board member, is scheduled to be sentenced August 18 in the federal corruption probe. Iacobelli is serving prison time. Williams’ California home was raided by federal agents but he has not been charged. Gettelfinger has not been named in federal documents. The accusation is the first against Gettelfinger in the wide-ranging UAW bribery and embezzlement scandal that so far has snared 10 union officials. Some spent thousands in union money for golf, lodging and fancy meals. GM alleges in the court records that FCA bribed Gettelfinger, Williams, Ashton and former Vice President General Holiefield “by granting those individuals control over foreign financial accounts with substantial funds”. Gettelfinger, who was union president after Fiat took over Chrysler in 2009, helped to make sure Holiefield and Williams kept their union leadership posts “in order to preserve and progress the conspiracy to harm GM”, the documents said. GM alleged that accounts “apparently exist” in Gettelfinger’s name, and the name of a relative in Panama and Switzerland. “This previously hidden network of accounts, utilized by defendants and controlled in part by individuals purportedly acting on GM’s behalf, reveals a magnitude of bribery and illegal activity specifically targeting GM that was not previously known or reasonably knowable”, the documents stated. In July, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman in Detroit tossed out GM’s lawsuit that alleged that Fiat Chrysler paid off union leaders to get better contract terms than GM. He wrote that GM’s alleged injuries were not caused by FCA violating federal racketeering laws, that GM had not stated a claim that can be granted, and that the people harmed by the bribery scheme were Fiat Chrysler workers. In a 2019 lawsuit, GM alleged that Fiat Chrysler bribed officials of the United Auto Workers union to get lower labor costs. GM alleged that FCA boss Sergio Marchionne, who died in 2018, wanted to pressure GM into merging by weakening it with higher costs. GM says in its new motion that Borman should alter or amend his order allowing GM to amend its complaint to present the new allegations. In a declarations filed with the court, lawyers with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, which represents GM, wrote that third-party investigators recently came up with evidence of the overseas bank accounts. “Certain of these third parties, all of whom have significant credentials supporting their investigative expertise, recently discovered reliable information indicating the existence of foreign accounts potentially connected to the scheme alleged in GM’s complaint”, one declaration said. “Only within the last 10 days did we obtain sufficiently reliable information concerning the existence of foreign bank accounts”. +++

+++ HYUNDAI is preparing an update for its Bluelink connected car services tech, and will be adding several new features aimed at improving one’s driving experience. First in line to receive the upgraded system is the latest i30. Among its new features we count Connected Routing, Last Mile Navigation and live parking information, plus a new user profile feature that facilitates customization. “Following the successful rollout of Bluelink across our line up, we are now pleased to be offering Hyundai drivers an enhanced package of connected car services starting with the new i30”, said Hyundai Europe marketing executive, Andreas-Christoph Hofmann. “By further expanding our state-of-the-art Bluelink platform with even more exciting features, we are demonstrating our commitment to providing the most advanced technology for Hyundai customers”. First thing you see once firing up the system is the new user interface, featuring a black screen and updated blue icons that show you the time, weather and even map guidance. There are three color schemes in total, as well as an enhanced dark mode. Another novelty is the new cloud-based Connected Routing navigation, which calculates routes on a powerful server inside the Bluelink cloud environment, as opposed to the car’s infotainment system. The result, according to Hyundai, is more accurate traffic forecasting, more precise times of arrival and more reliable route calculations. The Live Parking Information function has also been upgraded with new settings for parking type and availability. You can get on-street parking and price information in 43 countries, including all major cities (up from just 75 major cities in Europe). As for other design overhauls, they include the Weather feature and the Speed Camera feature, while the Online Free Text Search function now utilizes just one menu, with POI search featuring autofill functionality. If you already own a Hyundai model equipped with Bluelink, visit your certified dealer this autumn in order to get the software upgrade. +++

+++ Ford is infusing plenty of nifty and useful new features into the facelifted F-150, including storage options in the cab, the new Sync 4 infotainment system with over-the-air updates and an in-bed power generator. But one thing that will no longer be offered is Ford’s INFLATABLE REAR SEATBELTS . Ford offers inflatable rear seatbelts as a $200 option in Crew Cab models for the current generation of its bestselling pickup. But Ford tells that instead of continuing to offer them as an option, it will equip the rear belts in 2021 models with standard pre-tensioners and load limiters, which traditionally featured only in the front seats. They’ll similarly feature in the new Explorer, Edge, Escape and other vehicles, the company said. “Moving forward, we’re going to continue using standard rear belts with prentensioners and load limiters instead of inflatable belts”, spokesman Michael Levine said. Ford first unveiled the technology back in 2009 for the Explorer, and later rolled it out to more models. The system uses cold compressed gas to inflate the airbags in 40 milliseconds, covering 5 times more surface area across the body than a normal seatbelt. Lexus also introduced similar inflatable rear seat belts in the LFA in 2010, while Mercedes-Benz rolled out its own version in 2012. Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued a report finding that rear-seat occupants were injured and killed at far higher rates from accidents than front-seat passengers even when they wore seatbelts. It said more widespread adoption of technologies like pre-tensioners and load limiters could help by better distributing forces across the torso and limiting the chance of injuries related to seat belts. Yet Ford in 2017 issued a recall of 141.000 F-150s over defective rear seat belt airbag assemblies. Last year, the New York Times reported that Ford found consumers weren’t warming to them as an option, possibly because they are have awkward, larger-than-normal buckles that may be difficult for children, and possibly because consumers didn’t see value in them given the extra charge. Meanwhile, Ford will also offer 10 new driver-assist features in the 2021 F-150 as part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 2.0 safety package, plus options including Intersection Assist, which detects oncoming traffic when you’re trying to make a left turn and applies the brakes automatically if there’s a risk of collision. But for now, at least, its novel inflatable rear seat belt is going back on the shelf. I imagine it living in some dusty room at Ford HQ full of automotive curios that, for one reason or another, didn’t work out. +++ 

+++ LAND ROVER has delayed the launch of its Defender 90 by more than 6 months due to production delays caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Defender 90 was originally due to open for orders in February before deliveries started this summer. However, the British Land Rover website now states: “As a result of the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic to our production plants globally, Defender 90 production has been delayed. We anticipate Defender 90 will be available to order from early September 2020. Current prices are indicative only”. The long-wheelbase Defender 110, which was launched first, is “available to order and collect safely now”, confirmed Land Rover. All Defender variants for global markets are built at the brand’s plant in Nitra, Slovakia. That facility, which employs 2.800 workers and has an annual capacity of 150.000 vehicles, is currently running on just 1 shift, with Jaguar Land Rover yet to confirm when it will resume its normal 2- or 3-shift operations. The first Defender 90s off the line are due to be First Edition launch models. While there are not yet sales figures for the new Defender, insiders have said the highly anticipated model has been incredibly well-received. Alongside the Defender 90 and 110, the brand recently revealed the 4×4’s commercial variant, the Defender Hard Top. More variants are expected to be added to the line-up to ensure the Defender family is profitable for the SUV brand. +++ 

+++ Following 2 announcements of stonking new supercar engines earlier this year, for the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Gordon Murray Automotive T50, MASERATI has made it a hat-trick. Called the Nettuno, its engine is a 630 hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 and it’s far from conventional, with an all-new pre-chamber combustion system so far used only in Formula 1. The Nettuno will make its debut at the launch of the new Maserati MC20 supercar in September. The concept is similar to but mechanically simpler than the Mahle Jet Ignition prechamber concept that we looked at in the 8 January issue. The idea is that rather than compressing and firing a single charge of fuel and air in the combustion chamber as normal, some of the mixture is initially ignited in a small pre-chamber that sits above the combustion chamber and is connected to it by small nozzles. The mixture in the pre-chamber is ignited by a spark plug mounted inside it, just as the piston is about to fully compress the main charge of fuel. As the charge in the pre-chamber ignites, jets of flame shoot out from the pre-chamber nozzles into the main charge, igniting it. The advantage is that the fuel-air mixture is ignited at multiple points rather than at the single site of a spark plug. The Mahle system is ‘active’, with two direct injectors: one to fill the pre-chamber and the other to inject the main charge. The Maserati system takes its cue from the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion system used in the Honda Civic in the 1970s. Maserati uses one high-pressure (350 bar) direct injector per cylinder to deliver the main charge into the main combustion chamber as the piston is on its upward stroke. Some of the charge is forced through the nozzles into the pre-chamber as the piston rises, to be ignited by a spark plug. When that happens, high-pressure jets of fuel-air mixture are driven through the nozzles back into the main combustion chamber to ignite the main charge in the same way as the active system. Igniting the charge at multiple points raises the knock threshold (the point at which the fuel and air explodes rather than burns), allowing higher boost pressures to generate more power. Each cylinder in the Maserati engine also has a second injector that works at a much lower pressure (6 bar) and can inject fuel into the engine inlet tract in the traditional way. It’s used when the engine is outside the operating range where the pre-chamber combustion system would be at its best, with the fuel being ignited by a second spark plug working in the main combustion chamber. Maserati claims that this innovative new combustion system increases performance and efficiency, reducing fuel consumption as well as meeting the latest international emissions standards. The 90 degree angle between the cylinder banks makes the Nettuno shorter in height than a 60 degree V6. At 650 mm high, 1.000 mm in width and 600 mm long, it’s a compact unit that can be mounted low in the chassis, helping to lower the car’s centre of gravity. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is ramping up development of its fleet of electric-powered EQ models, as early prototypes of the EQ E crossover hit the road in Germany for the first time. Mercedes’ ambition is to have a range of fully electric vehicles under the EQ brand that mirror the firm’s conventional line-up. The first was the EQ C (an electric alternative to the GLC) and the more compact EQ A and EQ B models will arrive at the end of this year. Beyond that will be the EQ E; a badge that will be shared across a large saloon as well as a crossover. The EQE models will feature slender LED headlights that merge into a single-frame grille. From the A-pillars back, the crossover takes on more traditional, boxy 4×4 proportions. Compared to the EQ C, other styling changes include a stubbier bonnet, longer wheelbase and a more rakish, swept-back cabin. Although prototypes have hit the road, the production version of the EQ E is still several years away from hitting showrooms; possibly in 2022. It’s also likely that the EQ E saloon will arrive ahead of the crossover, but only by a matter of months because Mercedes is looking to capitalise on the lucrative luxury EV market. Beneath the skin, the EQ E will sit on Mercedes’ new dedicated EV platform, which makes its debut on the EQ S saloon next year. Called MEA, the new base will allow for greater flexibility when it comes to determining a vehicle’s proportions, wheelbase and practicality, because the engineers don’t have to accommodate a gearbox or engine. As such, the EQ E will be a purpose-built EV, compared with the EQ C, which uses a modified version of the current GLC’s underpinnings. Mercedes is expected to offer a broad line-up of battery options and power outputs in the EQE, thanks to the modular nature of the MEA platform. In fact, the German manufacturer has already applied to trademark a whole host of badges, from EQ E 300 up to EQ E 600. What I do know about the new platform, which is constructed from a mix of steel, aluminium and carbon fibre to minimise weight, is that it will be able to accommodate a 100 kWh battery. The German firm has suggested that such a battery could make it possible to travel up to 700 km. However, it’s almost certain that this will appear in the flagship model; cheaper versions fitted with a smaller-capacity battery and reduced range are also expected to feature in the EQ E line-up. As well as ensuring the EQ E is able to accommodate a large battery, Mercedes has also been prioritising ultra-rapid recharging with the new architecture. The EQ E should be able to charge at a rate of 350 kW, which will deliver an 80 % battery top-up in around 20 minutes. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE has managed the coronavirus crisis better than other car manufacturers, as the German automaker has just released its financial numbers for the first half of the year. In these challenging times, Porsche recorded an operating profit of €1.2 billion, a sales revenue of €12.42 billion, which is down 7.3 %, and a return on sales of €1.23 billion; a 26.3 % drop. “The current situation has been challenging for our company. We are managing the coronavirus crisis responsibly and systematically, and at the same time see it as an opportunity”, said chairman of the Executive Board, Oliver Blume. “We have been given a boost by our attractive new products, from the 911 Turbo to the Taycan, which was recently voted the world’s most innovative car. We stand for visions and set new standards. This pioneering spirit is what drives us. We will invest €15 billion over the next 5 years in new technologies alone”, Blume added. Porsche’s overall sales in the first 6 months of the year dropped by 12.4 % to 116.964 units. The most popular model was the Cayenne, which accounted for 39.245 units, whereas the Macan trailed it with 34.430 deliveries. The 911 range actually achieved a 2.2 % growth, to 16.919, despite the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, while 4.480 Taycans were also sold during this time. China remained the automaker’s biggest single market in the first half of 2020, with 39.603 deliveries. Another 32.312 were sold in Europe and 24.186 in the United States. +++ 

+++ RAM hasn’t announced plans to launch an electric pickup yet, but it confirmed it’s keeping a close eye on the burgeoning segment in case it needs to jump in. At least half a dozen electric pickups are scheduled to enter production during the first half of the 2020s, including models from Ram’s rivals and from start-ups. “The reason we haven’t spoken much about electric pickup trucks is not because we view that market as non-existent. We’ve always had a slightly different view of timing and adoption rates, particularly in North America in terms of full electrification. We are very committed to our electrification strategy, most of which we have revealed”, Mike Manley, the head of Ram parent Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), told. There is not a single electric truck available new in the United States in 2020, but the segment is expected to balloon in the coming years. Tesla and start-up Rivian both introduced close-to-production concepts that remain over a year away from entering production. Ford will make an electric derivative of the 14th-generation F-150, while General Motors will send both Chevrolet and GMC marching into the segment; the latter will resurrect the Hummer name. On paper, it looks like Ram is behind. In reality, it’s still too early to tell if the demand is there. What remains to be seen is whether carmakers can turn social-media likes and eye-catching headlines into profitable sales, or if the electric pickup will become the proverbial brown, turbodiesel and stick-shifted station wagon of the 2020s: a vehicle everyone loves the idea of but that no one wants to spend a dime on. Pickups have ruled America’s sales chart for decades, but electric cars remain a small niche at best; they represented a 1.6 % share of the market in 2019. Ram is essentially waiting to find out if installing one of America’s least popular propulsion technologies in the nation’s favorite body style by a long shot will resonate with buyers. “We haven’t revealed everything. But, obviously pickup trucks are a key franchise for us, and we’re not going to sit on the sidelines if there is a danger that our position gets diluted going forward”, Manley stressed. +++ 

+++ RUSSIA is considering fitting cars with devices that breathalyze drivers to clamp down on drink driving and is looking at ways to encourage manufacturers to install them in vehicles fresh off the production line. The industry ministry hopes to draw up a plan by the end of 2020 to spur the mass use of “interlocks”, which require drivers to pass the breathalyzer test before they can start the ignition. Russia has for years been trying to improve road safety and, though official statistics show the situation improving, around 17.000 Russians died on the country’s roads last year, much higher than in many other countries. Installing alcohol interlocks would introduce new costs for carmakers and likely be opposed by many carmakers at a time when demand for new cars is under strain because of the pandemic. Past Russian government pushes to have alcohol interlocks deployed in Russia have been unsuccessful. Russians have long had a reputation as ferocious drinkers, but alcoholic consumption has fallen by an estimated 43 % from 2003 to 2016, according to a World Health Organization study last year. Russia remains a nation of heavy drinkers, but the study linked the fall in consumption to higher alcohol excise taxes, policies clamping down on home-made alcohol and the raising of the minimum price for vodka. President Vladimir Putin has long cultivated an image of sobriety in contrast to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whom many Russians associate with drunken and embarrassing gaffes. +++ 

+++ SKODA has confirmed a successor to former chairman Bernhard Maier, with Volkswagen Group regional boss Thomas Schäfer taking over the role with immediate effect. Schäfer becomes chairman of the board at the Czech manufacturer, having held previous management positions within the wider Group including leading its international production and chairing its operations in South Africa. The 50-year-old German began his industry career at Daimler in 1991, where he held a number of management positions in production and quality management in Germany, the US and South Africa. In 2002, he became a board member for technology at DaimlerChrysler Malaysia, while his final role at the firm was leading vehicle deliveries, customer centres and the global xKD business between 2005 and 2012. No statement has yet been issued by Skoda other than one confirming his appointment. He succeeds Maier, who left Skoda last month after 5 years at the helm overseeing key product launches including all of the firm’s current SUV range. It was reported that Maier upset Group board members by expanding Skoda sales in key Volkswagen markets while undercutting the German brand on cost, thanks to lower production costs in the Czech Republic. The new appointment is the latest in a string of management changes within the Group, which has recently included Ralf Brandstätter taking over as Volkswagen CEO from Herbert Diess. +++ 

+++ Following a storied career at PSA , it was announced this week that Gilles VIDAL would be stepping down as Peugeot’s design director after 10 years. Having helped transform the styling direction of the French brand, and overseeing some of its most eye-catching new models, including the 508 and 208, he now hands the reigns to successor Matthias Hossann and moves to Groupe Renault, where he will report to Laurens van den Acker. But what legacy does he leave for the new generation? I spoke to Vidal before his departure was announced, to find out what his thoughts were on future trends, the influence of autonomy on design, and what to expect from Peugeot next. On the very day I spoke to Vidal, it became clear that the Geneva motor show, the best-loved and most open-minded of the European salons, wouldn’t be able to recover in 2021 from its shock cancellation in March, as many had hoped. Manufacturers, shaken by the pandemic upheaval and scared by the impending cost of another Geneva, had just told the organisers they would be unlikely to support next year’s event, which came as quite a shock. Wouldn’t the lack of Europe’s most-loved motor show, we media types wondered, curb the very design progress that people like Vidal have always championed? Surely car creators need motor shows to display their wares and justify their existence? The Frenchman’s reply came as another surprise: “Missing out on an event like Geneva (or Paris, with its 1 million visitors) is definitely a shame”, he says, “but I have to say it doesn’t matter all that much. Even if we never showed our concepts to anyone, they would still be amazing tools for investigating materials, colours and the sheer freedom of design. “In any case, we now have digital communication working at a far higher level than ever before. And we can always hold Peugeot-specific events. So even without motor shows, we still have ways of showing our work to the public. Perhaps some of us will miss the physical encounter with outside people, but it’s far from being a disaster”. Vidal should know. His impressive reputation at Peugeot is founded on a bold new design philosophy he brought to the marque soon after taking on its top design job in 2010 at the comparatively young age of 38, having worked for the 12 previous years on Citroëns. His first big design statement was a seminal Peugeot concept, a never-to-be-built roadster called the SR1, which ditched the previous ‘wide-mouthed frog’ look and gave perfect visibility to an under-the-skin move by Peugeot’s engineers towards high technology and lighter weight. But in our discussion, he surprised me again by firmly consigning the SR1 to history. “Concepts grow old very quickly”, he asserts. “A proposition like that feeds the next few years’ designs, but consumers don’t want clones that last a full design generation. Not from Peugeot, anyway. They enjoy progress. It’s true that some concepts, perhaps like the SR1, start something new. But you have to move on, and we have”. It’s clear from our first few minutes of talking that Vidal has well and truly grown into the role of a trendsetter. His first important concept may have been good, but there’s a confidence in his manner that says what comes next will be better. The past dozen or so production cars designed and released since Vidal was appointed have dealt easily with issues previously seen as tough hurdles for Peugeot: finding a beautiful new ‘selling’ shape for the problematic 508, making his unique i-Cockpit design work (6 million built and counting) and turning the 3008 and 5008 SUVs into products that rival even Audi for desirability. His confidence in the role is especially evident as he briskly bats away my next fuzzy question about identifying the latest trends in car design. “There are as many trends as there are car brands”, he says shortly. “Our job is to embody the technology and efficiency of our particular cars and to fit them to the moral values of modern society. You’ve got to be clever at this to succeed. Design isn’t just a shallow form of communication; it has to have substance. We’re working to make Peugeot design reach into our factories, even to affect the way we build our cars”. How does this thirst for modernity square with the e-Legend, I ask, the tech-packed, “100% autonomous” concept that speaks 17 languages but recalls the lovely lines of the 504 Coupé, whose heyday was 50 years ago? Vidal and his team called it “retro-futuristic” when they launched it at the 2018 Paris motor show. “People want enjoyment from their cars”, he explains, “and as long as we respect that, we can take our design in any direction we want. Not every car has to be a whiteboard, driving about”. Does that mean Peugeot might contemplate a heritage model for serious production? Something along the lines of the latest Mini or Fiat 500? “It’s feasible”, Vidal allows. “The idea appeals to many customers who like old British values or dream of la dolce vita in Italy. Ideas that recognise this are clever and valid, but we’re not going to produce something like the e-Legend as you saw it. I’m not sure we would do something like the Mini or the 500, either, although we’re certainly thinking about what we could do”. Vidal approves of the retro cast to designs like the Mini and 500 for the way it reassures car buyers to take the step of moving into a new era, such as the electrification age. “We must find ways to associate positivity with the future”, he says. “Look at science-fiction movies today: they tend to be dark and threatening, entertaining but terrible. Never warm and human and positive. We need to find clever ways to make positive associations with new cars, but we’re still working”. Following Peugeot’s success with the i-Cockpit (it gets half the negative feedback of other aspects of modern cars, according to Vidal), he says he’s actively looking at getting rid of dashboards altogether; an idea made possible by the changes electrification will bring. “We can put airbags in the roof”, says Vidal, “and can make the structural changes in our new electrified platforms, so it’s feasible. We have all the bits and pieces, the components. Making the change in our factories is where the challenge really lies”. But what about daring designs, I ask? Haven’t we learned from some recent products that differentness sells? Vidal agrees, but he’s keen to make clear that it isn’t so easy to make a Nissan Juke, say, that looks different but also appeals to a wide market, including the all-important older customers who can actually afford to buy the cars. “You can’t just do crazy cars”, he explains. “You have to be aware of the risks. People see their car as a reflection of their personality and don’t want to look foolish. And they worry about being able to resell what they buy. “Still, cars like the Juke clearly show there’s more than just an appetite for special cars: people are demanding them. We must make cars that are a lot more expressive. But we must be right. We must feel where the limit is and be consistent with our brand values. It’s not a simple task”. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has applied to trademark a number of its classic model names with the ‘e’ prefix, indicating that they could receive electrified revivals. Late in June, the German manufacturer applied to register the e-Samba name. At the time, it was speculated that this may be used for the production version of the ID Buzz concept, but that car is still expected to follow the ID naming convention. In the following weeks, Volkswagen subsequently registered the names e-Beetle, e-Golf Classic, e-Kübel and e-Karmann. The e-Kübel is expected to refer to the Kübelwagen, a light military vehicle from the Second World War that Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess declared in 2017 he desired to resurrect as a zero-emissions utility model. Although not confirmed, it’s expected that these trademarks don’t relate to reborn classic directly built by Volkswagen. Instead, they could relate to projects commissioned for German company eClassics, a specialist in converting older models into modernised EVs. Volkswagen backs eClassics, which already makes an electric version of the classic Beetle and the Type 2-based e-Bulli. Early versions of the eClassics Beetle sit atop the rear-wheel-drive architecture of Volkswagen’s e-Up city car, but future versions are expected to borrow hardware from the newer and more powerful ID.3. +++

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