Newsflash: nieuwe Subaru WRX STI wordt 400 pk sterk

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+++ You’ve probably heard your fair share of rumours regarding the new Nissan Z sports car by now, but this time the few new details available are official. I’ll get straight to the point and mention purists will be happy to learn the 370Z successor will initially stick to the tried-and-true formula of a petrol engine without hybrid assist. Nissan’s vice-president of global product strategy, Ivan Espinosa, said the hotly anticipated sports car, believed to be called 400Z , is “very close” to being officially revealed as part of Nissan’s new model push. The lineup refresh campaign has already started with the Rogue (X-Trail) and Ariya electric crossover, and will continue with everything from the Armada and Frontier to the Note and Qashqai as part of the “Nissan Next: From A to Z” plan. Getting back to the much-awaited Z car, Espinosa said he believes there’s room for “2 different things”. He was referring to a conventionally powered version and one that could be either a hybrid or a pure EV. Nissan’s executive added that while EV tech has greatly evolved in recent years, it’s not yet worthy of a performance-oriented model. Other automakers would beg to disagree, but Espinosa said the hardware available at the moment is “not at the level you can deliver the performance expected in a sports car”. Drawbacks such as the battery pack’s weight and the lack of consistency regarding power output are 2 of the main hurdles, but Nissan aims to address both by taking advantage of its involvement in Formula E. In the meantime, Espinosa is confident there’s still room to improve the old combustion before hopping on the electrified bandwagon in the “mid to long term”. Reading between the lines, I’m getting the impression the upcoming Z will eschew electrification altogether seeing as how it’s expected to ride on the same bones as the 370Z. A hybrid or an EV might be in the cards for an all-new Z, but it goes without saying that won’t come out in the near future. In regards to styling, Nissan’s global design boss Alfonso Albaisa confirmed the teaser released at the end of May showed the “real” Z car, adding its appearance is “not retro as much as it’s respect”. +++

+++ Ford has created a new ACTIVE version of the Tourneo Connect and the Transit Connect on which it is based. The new Transit Custom Active was revealed just a few weeks ago. Like every other Active model in the Ford range, the newbies are based on conventional vehicles, so despite the “SUV-inspired” styling, 4-wheeldrive is not on the cards. However, Ford will sell you an optional limited-slip differential to maximise traction from the two wheels that do transmit power to the road. That system comes alongside a revamped traction control set-up, which is designed to make the most of the differential’s characteristics. Combined with the raised ride height, providing increased ground clearance, Ford says the system allows drivers to “more comfortably tackle wet, slippery and challenging surfaces”. Most of the changes, however, only run skin deep. As well as the chunkier bumpers, the Active models get front and rear skid plates and roof rails as standard. Eagle-eyed readers will also note the mesh grille and the exclusive 17 inch alloy wheels, not to mention the extra cladding around the side sills and wheel arches. Customers will also get a “Active decal” and badges on the front wings, as well as a choice of 2 new colours. Sedona Orange and Solar Silver will both be available to complement the other Active additions. Inside, meanwhile, there are exclusive seat trim patterns and stitching, as well as blue contrast detailing and Active branding. The metallic scuff plates on the front door sills are also embossed with the Active logo, just in case the point needed further emphasis. Apart from these visual tweaks, though, the Transit and Tourneo Connect Active models are pretty much identical to their conventional stablemates. The load space in the back of the Transit Connect Active remains unchanged, while the maximum payload is just under 1 tonne. Similarly, the Tourneo Connect Active gets the same 5-seat layout as standard, although customers can upgrade to the longer Grand Tourneo Connect Active if they want 2 fold-away seats behind the second row. The passenger-carrying Tourneo Connect Active is the cheaper of the 2 models, but not by much. Whichever version you choose, the vehicle will come with one of Ford’s 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel engines hiding under the bonnet. Available in 100 and 120 hp forms, the engines come with a choice of 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic gearboxes. If you want the limited-slip differential, though, you’ll have to go for the more powerful engine. “Our Active models are a hit with drivers who need to venture off the beaten track, and want to look good while they do it”, said Hans Schep, the general manager for commercial vehicles at Ford of Europe. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s for business or pleasure: the new Tourneo and Transit Connect Active models have the flexibility and capability to support customers with a sense of adventure”. +++

+++ Ford has announced it will double production of the BRONCO First Edition. When the Bronco was revealed last week, it was confirmed that just 3.500 examples of the Bronco Edition, available in both 2- and 4-door guises, would be built. All units were quickly sold out through Ford’s online reservation system, prompting it to bump production up to 7.000 examples. Those lucky enough to have locked in a reservation for one of the original 3.500 Bronco First Edition models received word of the news through email. In the message, Ford wrote that “due to overwhelming demand for the First Edition, we made a one-time increase to the quantity available, 7.000 total. First Edition Bronco reservations are now full”. That final statement about the variant being sold out presumably means that Ford briefly re-opened reservations for the First Edition, filled up its order books with the additional 3.500 units and then informed customers of the change. Given the fact that First Edition models are the most likely to prove to be collectibles in 30, 40 or 50 years, I suspect some will be a little upset at the production increase. There are still lots of other Bronco variants to choose from, including the Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, and Wildtrak. +++

+++ The CHINA Association of Automobile Manufacturers released its list of the top 10 Chinese automakers based on their sales in the first half of this year, with a total of 4.36 million vehicles sold, accounting for 84,5 % of the total sales of Chinese brands. The top 10 automakers include SAIC, Changan Automobile, Geely, Dongfeng Motor, FAW, BAIC, Great Wall Motors, Chery, JAC and China National Heavy Duty Truck Group. The top 10 Chinese commercial vehicle makers in sales are JMC, SAIC Maxus, Foton Motor, Changan Automobile, Zhengzhou Yutong Group, Nanjing Iveco, King Long United Automotive, Golden Dragon, Zhong Tong Bus and Renault Brilliance, with their sales reaching 152.600 vehicles from January to June and accounting for 84,6 % of total bus sales, the association said. During the first half of the year, China’s auto production and sales stood at 10.11 million units and 10.26 million units; down 16,8 % and 16,9 % year on year respectively. The association said the long-term stable trend of the automobile industry is unchanged, although the market suffered losses due to the Covid-19 epidemic in the first half of the year. Moreover, the figures came in better than expected, showing the auto market is recovering. As measures to boost car consumption continue to prop up the market, the market will keep improving, the association said. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) and Waymo are expanding their autonomous tech partnership and have signed an exclusive agreement for light commercial vehicles. The 2 companies will focus on the development and testing of class 1-3 light commercial vehicles and will initially target integration of the Waymo Driver system into the Ducato. FCA will also use Waymo as a strategic partner for Level 4 autonomous technology development. The Italian / U.S. carmaker is already picturing some of its future products, both utilitarian and passenger-focused, operated by the Waymo Driver. FCA and Waymo have been working together since 2016, testing the Waymo Driver on an L4-ready Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. This partnership has already led to the first commercial autonomous ride-hailing service, including the offering of a fully driverless service to riders. “Our now 4-year partnership with Waymo continues to break new ground. By incorporating the Waymo Driver, the world’s leading self-driving technology, into our Pacifica minivans, we became the only partnership actually deploying fully autonomous technology in the real world, on public roads. With this next step, deepening our relationship with the very best technology partner in this space, we’re turning to the needs of our commercial customers by jointly enabling self-driving for light commercial vehicles, starting with the Ducato”, said FCA boss Mike Manley. “Adding Waymo’s commitment to partner with us to deploy its L4 fully autonomous technology across our entire product portfolio, our partnership is setting the pace for the safe and sustainable mobility solutions that will help define the automotive world in the years and decades to come”. For the long term, Waymo is committed to deploy its Level 4 autonomous technology across FCA’s full product portfolio. +++

+++ As with so many things in life, the car business is cyclical. Some car makers shine, then the limelight (and sales success) shifts onto someone else. FORD is a case in point. Through the nineties and the start of the 2000s, every model in its line-up was a winner. Well, almost (Scorpio…). Then the company lost its way with product that, frankly, wasn’t very Ford. You might well blame the leadership of the time; the global One Ford plan never really brought us cars that shone in any market, let alone across the world. Now, though, Ford is on a roll and, from my point of view, is one of the brands we should be getting most excited about in the coming years. Cars like the Mustang Mach-E show careful thought about what the market wants, and it’s the same with the fabulous new Bronco. It’s not coming to Europe, but it’s another clear sign that Ford has its mojo back. Ford mainstays (Fiesta, Focus, Transit) are also doing well. The new Puma and Kuga, with their mild and plug-in hybrid tech, have impressed me and are going down well in the showrooms, too. Perhaps most exciting of all is what Ford will do with Volkswagen’s all-electric MEB platform, which it has signed a deal to use for a new small EV. While Ford is on the way up, Volkswagen seems to be heading in the other direction. But remember, everything is cyclical; getting to the top is easier than staying there. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ‘s operating profit in the second quarter more than halved on year as demand slowed and factories were temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The earnings report was partially salvaged by solid sales growth in the domestic market. Hyundai posted an operating profit of 590.3 billion won ($493 million) in the second quarter; a 52.3 % year-on-year drop. Its net profit recorded 377.3 billion won; a 62,2 % on-year drop. By sales unit, Hyundai sold 703.976 units of cars in the global market; 36,3 % less than it sold in the second quarter of last year. While its overseas sales plunged by a whopping 47,1 % however, the carmaker’s domestic sales were up by 12,7 % during the same period. “Restrictions derived from Covid-19 and factory shutdowns have lead auto demand to drop drastically compared to the second quarter last year, resulting in a big drop in sales and operating profit” said Hyundai in a release on July 23. “However due to the favorable exchange rate conditions due to weak Korean won and the Korean government’s extension of a cut in consumption tax, the company could combat the negative impact by a small margin”. By region, India saw the biggest drop in sales of Hyundai, posting a 65,8 % year-on-year drop in the second quarter, followed by Brazil with 55,8 % and Africa / the Middle East with 53,5 %. The United States showed a 24,1 % drop and Western Europe a 56,9 % drop on year. Sales of Hyundai vehicles in China also dropped by 20,3 % in the second quarter on year. Business conditions in the second quarter are unlikely to be much more favorable, especially with developing countries expected to show slow or no recovery in handling the economic fallout derived from the virus. Hyundai plans to counter the different conditions with new car launches and a fortified digital platform. In India, where Hyundai holds the biggest share of the car market, it will expand the supply of Creta and Venue cars (2 SUV models) and newly launch an upgraded i20. It said it would also expand operations of its digital platform where consumers can purchase cars online. In the United States, where demand is slowly recovering, Hyundai will launch its premium lineup including the G80 and GV80 in the latter half of this year to improve profitability. It will also launch models like the Avante sedan. “Along with the lineup strategy, Hyundai will invest in local dealerships and fortify the online sales platform in order to improve the brand competitiveness in the long term”, said Kim Sang-hyun, chief financial officer at the company. Hyundai, which didn’t pay interim dividend to its shareholders this year, said the annual year-end dividend payment could also be canceled. “Uncertainty still remains in the latter half of this year, so we will go over whether to distribute the annual dividend after mulling over the market condition and the company’s profitability and investment strategy”, Kim said. In South Korea, the automaker sold 225.552 units; up 12.7 % on-year, due to strong sales of new cars such as the GV80, G80 and Avante. In overseas markets, sales fell 47.8 % on-year to 478.424 units due to decreased demand in all regions except China amid the pandemic. Hyundai said: “The company plans to continue to push for investments to build a foundation for growth in future businesses such as electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles and urban air mobility. We will make efforts to gain an upper hand in competition in the field of electrification by releasing next-generation electric vehicles with dedicated platforms next year. For large hydrogen trucks, we are aiming for a 12-15 % share in the European market by 2030”. +++

+++ KIA said it recorded sales of 11.36 trillion won and an operating profit of 145 billion won; down 21.6 % and 72.8 % respectively, on-year. Its net profit also shrank 75 %. Kia’s earnings deteriorated as overseas car sales declined and factories stopped operating. Sales in the global market fell 27.8 % to 516.050 units in the period. But it has fared well in South Korea, selling 161.548 cars; up 26.8 % from a year ago, due to the launch of new cars and special consumption tax cuts. +++

+++ Back in May, a legit-looking rendering of an apparently small pickup tailgate with the name MAVERICK stamped on it began circulating around the web. Even though the CAD (computer-aided design) rendering looked real enough, I wasn’t ready to go all-in on the theory that Ford’s upcoming compact truck would be called Maverick (other names, such as Courier, seemed just as likely). Now, I’m a bit more convinced, as that exact CAD design appears to have made it to the pre-production prototype stage. In a photo leaked by an anonymous source, you can clearly see that same tailgate design we saw a couple of month back, only now it’s stamped into an honest-to-goodness metal tailgate skin. The font matches what we’ve seen on other Ford trucks, such as the Ranger and recently revealed Bronco, and the overall tailgate’s size relative to the indentation for the Blue Oval emblem suggests this piece is pretty small. As I’ve previously reported, Ford’s upcoming compact pickup will be based on the same unibody platform underpinning the Focus, which is no longer sold in the U.S. The front-drive-based truck, originally thought to be called Courier or Ranchero, will slot beneath the Ranger in the truck lineup and also fill the gap left by the abandoned Focus Activ. Looks-wise, we’ve heard the compact truck will inherit design cues from its body-on-frame Ranger sibling, and won’t look anything like the Brazil-made Courier sold in other markets. Judging by this tailgate, that intel sounds about right. I’m excited to see what the Ford Maverick ends up looking like, but unless the leaks continue (which is possible), we might have to wait a while. The compact pickup isn’t expected to arrive until 2022. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is currently testing the upcoming all-electric EQ E. The electric SUV will form part of the German manufacturer’s EQ sub-brand when it arrives in 2022, lining up as a direct rival for the Tesla Model X. Mercedes’ ambition is to have a fleet of fully electric models 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 arriving at the end of this year will be the more compact EQ A and EQ B models. Beyond that will be the EQ E (a badge that will be shared across a large saloon and an SUV). Prototypes of the saloon have already been spotted, but there will also be a SUV, with the 2 models sharing an almost identical front end. The heavy disguise makes it difficult to pick out finer details, but it’s clear the EQ E models will feature slender LED headlamps that merge into a single frame grille. From the A-pillar back, the SUV takes on traditional, boxy SUV proportions. Beneath the skin, the EQ E SUV and saloon will both sit on Mercedes’ new dedicated EV platform, which debuts on the EQ S next year. Called MEA, the new platform should allow for greater flexibility when it comes to determining a vehicle’s proportions, wheelbase and practicality, as the engineers do not have to accommodate a gearbox or engine. As such, the EQ E will be a purpose built proposition, compared with the EQ C, which uses a modified version of the GLC platform. Mercedes is expected to offer a broad lineup of battery options and power outputs in the EQ E line-up, thanks to the modular nature of the MEA platform. In fact, the German manufacturer has already applied to trademark a whole host of badging, through form EQ E 300 up to EQ E 600. Expect a range that could top out at 600 kilometres on a single charge from flagship models. +++

+++ MITSUBISHI has remained relatively quiet in 2020. It was hit hard by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, like all of its peers and rivals, and it’s caught in the middle of the cold war between opposing sister companies Renault and Nissan. It announced plans to emerge from its silence by introducing an array of new or updated models. The Japanese company explained its goal is to pack more value and technology into its cars. Mitsubishi will continue its push by giving the Eclipse Cross comprehensive visual updates. The crossover’s front end will borrow styling cues from the company’s next design language, and earlier spy shots suggest stylists have smoothed out the Pontiac Aztek-like rear end. Inside, the Eclipse Cross will receive a new infotainment system, though we’ll need to wait to learn about the features it will incorporate. Shortly after, the next-generation Outlander will break cover with a new-look design that Mitsubishi characterizes as “bold, aggressive, and distinctive”. Although we haven’t seen the SUV without camouflage yet, peeking through the wrap suggests the model draws inspiration from the Engelberg Tourer concept introduced at the 2019 edition of the Geneva auto show. Unverified rumors claim it will switch to a Nissan-sourced architecture in the name of economies of scale and some variants might be available with an engine plucked out of the Nissan parts bin. What’s certain, at least according to Mitsubishi, is that the next Outlander will be the quietest and best-equipped car it has ever sold. Mitsubishi will start shipping the redesigned Eclipse Cross in the first quarter of 2021. The next Outlander will show up last, in the second quarter of 2021, and it will go on sale as a 2022 model. +++

+++ German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer aims to clear the way for an almost blanket MOTORWAY TOLL for cars across Germany and Europe during the country’s presidency of the European Union. Within 8 years, almost all vehicles on motorways, including lorries, vans and cars, would have to pay tolls, according to the draft for the EU toll directive. “As regards member states that have already established a charging system, tolls or user charges shall be levied upon all vehicles except coaches and buses”, stated the document which Scheuer wants German ministries to approve. That would make it Germany’s official proposal for its presidency of the bloc which started on July 1 and runs until the end of the year. However, some government officials told that some German ministries wanted to put the project on ice even though a distance-based toll is widely seen as a measure to help protect the climate. It is particularly sensitive for ministries headed by the Social Democrats (SPD), who share power with chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and have long been critical of car tolls. +++

+++ Elon MUSK has qualified for an almost unbelievable $2.1 billion payout from Tesla after the carmaker achieved a six-month average market capitalization of $150 billion. That triggered the vesting of the second of 12 tranches of options Elon Musk is granted as part of his pay package to buy Tesla stock at a reduced price. The first tranche was vested back in early May when Tesla’s 6-month average stock market value reached $100 billion. Musk’s first tranche was worth around $700 million in May when it vested but its value has since skyrocketed along with Tesla’s stock prices. Tesla’s chief executive has already achieved a number of targets related to the company’s financial growth, which are also required to unlock the second options tranche. Tesla’s current market capitalization is almost $300 billion, making them more valuable than any other carmaker in the industry, as the stock price has surged by more than 500 % over the past year. Each tranche gives Musk the ability to buy 1.69 million Tesla shares priced at $350.02 each, which is currently less than a quarter of their actual price. The current share price at the time of writing is $1,594, which means that Musk could sell the shares related to the two tranches for a combined profit of $4.2 billion, or $2.1 billion per tranche. +++

+++ NISSAN said it is willing to postpone until June 2021 the closure of its Barcelona plants and talk about “everything” with unions, but insisted it sees no alternative to the factories shutting. The 3 Barcelona plants, which employ around 3.000 workers, were originally due to close by December this year. The postponement depends on reaching a deal with unions before July 30 or early August that would imply resuming production, which was stopped in May, and agreeing on the compensation that workers would receive once the plants close, a top Nissan executive told reporters. In exchange, Nissan would not conduct layoffs until the end of 2020 but would maintain its plan to fire at least around 2.500 workers once the factories shut, Frank Torres, the head of the Japanese carmaker’s industrial operations in Spain, said. The decision to shut them was announced in May as part of a turnaround plan for Nissan, prompting protests by workers and a commitment by Madrid to convince the company to stay. The industry ministry was “closely following” the talks between the company and union representatives, a spokesperson said and “hoped the final decision is to keep the automotive activity in Barcelona”. Javier Hernandez, UGT union leader at Nissan, said it was “very complicated” to reach a deal with the carmaker in the next 2 weeks, especially if it maintains its layoff plans because it would discourage workers to go back to the factories. But he supported the postponement of their closure. “Anything that implies gaining time is essential for us because we have to find an industrial alternative”. Hernandez added he was afraid Nissan would not help find a company that could be interested in its plants if workers agree in coming weeks on the compensation they would receive once the factories fully close. On whether the closure was irreversible as Nissan has been insisting, Torres said shutting them was the only viable option even if it received a new public aid package, adding there were no concrete offers for now from other companies. “We are willing to talk about everything”, he said. The plants, which have been operating since the 1980s, mainly produce electric vans and pickups and are Nissan’s main European plants after its British one. Spain’s Industry minister Reyes Maroto said that the government was making progress in convincing Nissan to reconsider closing its Barcelona plant while looking for another investor. “We’re gradually getting Nissan to realize that it’s very expensive to close that plant. It’s always best to make way for a new investor, which we’re working on. There is always hope”, she said. +++

+++ Mitsubishi is considering shutting down its PAJERO subsidiary and closing a factory in central Japan that produces the SUV of the same name, 2 sources familiar with the matter told. Mitsubishi is considering shutting Pajero Manufacturing and its factory in Gifu within 3 years, the sources said, declining to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media. The company is due to decide on the move at a board meeting. A Mitsubishi representative said nothing had been decided. In addition to the Pajero, the Gifu factory also produces the Delica D5 minivan and the Outlander. Both of those will likely be produced elsewhere, the sources said. Japanese automakers including Mitsubishi have been forced to reconsider their strategies as the coronavirus pandemic eroded demand for cars. Mitsubishi is scheduled to disclose its mid-term plan next week. +++

+++ SKODA will unveil the new Enyaq iV SUV, its first electric model built on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform, on 1 September. The new machine, which uses the same underpinnings as the new Volkswagen ID.3, will be revealed at an event in the Czech Republic. As well as confirming the date, Skoda has released a sketch that shows the outline of the car. The Enyaq is due on sale in 2021 and will be a key part of Skoda’s plan to launch 10 electrified models under the iV sub-brand by the end of 2022. Skoda has confirmed that, similar to other MEB-based machines, the Enyaq will be offered with a choice of rear- and all- wheeldrive, 3 battery sizes and 5 power outputs. The largest battery will be a 125 kW unit giving an official range of 500 km. The Czech firm said the model “combines brand-typical virtues such as a generous amount of space, emotive design and well-balanced proportions with a sustainable yet fun driving experience”. It added that the machine offers similar interior space to the Kodiaq SUV, while being shorter than an Octavia. The Enyaq nameplate is derived from the Irish name Enya, meaning ‘source of life’, with the use of ‘Q’ matching Skoda’s existing combustion-engined SUVs such as the Kamiq, Karoq and Kodiaq. The model is based on the Skoda Vision iV concept, which was first revealed in 2019. +++

+++ A report out of Japan claims that SUBARU is readying something very special with the next-generation WRX STI and will look to make it more capable than ever before. It is understood that the flagship car will feature a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer engine with no less than 400 hp. That is a significant jump up from the 310 hp of the current car. Interestingly, it is claimed that Subaru isn’t just moving to an enlarged 2.4-liter engine for more power but also because the 2.4-liter is said to be more efficient and has better driveability. These claims come from a Japanese publication and mimic a report from Forbes back in February. In all likelihood, this potent version of the 2.4-liter engine, which is actually derived from the engine used by the Ascent, will be mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual transmission that will probably be an updated version of the gearbox used by the current STI. Meanwhile, the lesser Subaru WRX is also expected to use a version of the same 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. It will be detuned but should offer up more than the 268 hp of the current WRX. It will be available with a 6-speed manual and an upgraded CVT. Horsepower figures aren’t mentioned. Both the new WRX and WRX STI will sit on the Subaru Global Platform and feature the brand’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The report asserts the new models will launch in early 2022. +++

+++ TESLA ’s rapid rise to become the world’s most valuable carmaker could mark the start of a new era for the global auto industry, defined by a Silicon Valley approach to software that is overtaking old-school manufacturing knowhow. Tesla’s ascent took many investors by surprise. But executives at Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, had a close-up view starting in 2009 of how Tesla and its chief executive Elon Musk were taking a new approach to building vehicles that challenged the established system. Daimler, which bears the name of the man who invented the modern car 134 years ago, bought a nearly 10 % Tesla stake in May 2009 in a deal which provided a $50 million lifeline for the struggling start-up. That investment gave Mercedes engineers an inside view of how Musk was willing to launch technology that wasn’t perfect, and then repeatedly upgrade it, using smartphone style over-the-air updates, paying little regard to early profitability. Mercedes engineers helped Tesla develop its Model S in exchange for access to Tesla’s partially hand-assembled battery packs, but in 2014 Daimler decided to sell their stake amid doubts Tesla’s approach could be industrialized at scale. Tesla would go on to pioneer new approaches in manufacturing, designs in software and electronic architecture which enable it to introduce innovations faster than rivals, leaving analysts to draw comparisons with Apple. 3 people directly involved with the Mercedes side of the collaboration said the brief partnership highlighted the collision of old and new engineering cultures: the German obsession with long-term safety and control, which rewarded evolution, and the Silicon Valley carmaker’s experimental approach which embraced radical thinking and fast innovation. “Elon Musk has been walking on the edge of a razorblade in terms of the aggression with which he pushes some technologies”, said a former Mercedes engineer who worked on the partnership. By contrast, Mercedes and other established automakers are still not comfortable about releasing a new technology, such as partially automated driving, without years of testing. Investors favor the Tesla model, in an industry undergoing fundamental and dizzying change even though the U.S. carmaker will face an onslaught of competing electric vehicles from established automakers during the next few years. They are putting their money on Musk and his company, even though Mercedes-Benz alone sold 935.089 cars in the first half of 2020, dwarfing the 179.050 delivered by Tesla in the same period. Today, Tesla is worth nearly $304.6 billion, more than 6 times Daimler’s $47.7 billion market capitalization. Daimler and Tesla began collaborating after Mercedes engineers, who were developing a second-generation electric Smart car, bought a Tesla Roadster. They were impressed by the way Tesla packaged batteries, so arranged a visit to Silicon Valley to meet Musk in January 2009 and ordered 1.000 battery packs. The collaboration expanded. At a joint press conference in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart in May 2009, Tesla said the partnership would “accelerate bringing our Tesla Model S to production and ensure that it is a superlative vehicle”. For its part, Mercedes wanted to use Tesla’s batteries to power an electric version of its compact B-Class. The Tesla Model S would hit the road in 2012. An electric B-Class, arrived in showrooms 2 years later. Despite having batteries supplied by Tesla, the Mercedes had a shorter operating range after Daimler engineers configured the B-class more conservatively to address their concerns about long-term battery degradation and the risk of overheating, a second Daimler staffer who worked on the joint projects told. German engineers found that Tesla engineers had not done long-term stress tests on its battery. “We had to devise our own programme of stress tests”, the second Daimler engineer said. Before starting production of a new car, Daimler engineers specify a ‘Lastenheft’: a blueprint laying out the properties of each component for suppliers. Significant changes cannot be made once the design is frozen. “This is also the way you can guarantee that we will be profitable during mass production. Tesla was not as concerned about this aspect”, the second Daimler source said. Daimler’s engineers suggested the underbody of the Model S needed reinforcing to prevent debris from the road puncturing a battery pack, the first Daimler engineer said. To quash doubts about safety and security, following a series of battery fires, Tesla raised the ride height of its vehicles, using an over-the-air update, and a few months later, in March 2014, said it would add a triple underbody shield to new Model S cars and offered to retrofit existing cars. Musk was able to make adjustments quickly thanks to Tesla’s ability to burn through more cash during development. “At Mercedes you can make such adjustments every 3 years at best”, the engineer said. The Model S would go on to outsell the flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class in the United States in May 2013, and outstrip S-Class deliveries globally by 2017. Musk’s relentless focus on innovation explains, in part, why he has disrupted the traditional auto world. In an interview here at the 2020 Air Warfare Symposium, published on YouTube, he was asked about the importance of innovation among his employees. “We certainly need those that do advanced engineering to be innovative”, Musk said. “The incentive structure is set up such that innovation is rewarded. Making mistakes along the way does not come with a big penalty. But failure to try to innovate at all comes with a big penalty. You will be fired”. Established automakers are playing catch-up to Tesla, designing their own software operating systems and dedicated electric cars. Mercedes will release its EQ S next year: a 4-door limousine built on a dedicated electric vehicle platform, with an operating range of 700 km. A new version of the Mercedes S-Class, which will have combustion and hybrid powertrains and semi-autonomous driver assistance systems, is due this year. From an investor perspective, traditional players face billions of dollars in restructuring costs as they transform product lines and factories to move away from internal combustion technology. “No one is going to give an OEM (established automaker) a 5-year window to say: you can totally retool your business and I am going to buy in and fund this journey”, said Mark Wakefield, co-leader of automotive and industrials practice at consulting firm AlixPartners. Start-ups, however, get time from investors to learn, make mistakes and grow, he added. Investors are betting on Tesla’s ability to scale up manufacturing just as they once backed Toyota, which defined the auto industry’s last era with its mastery of highly efficient, high-quality lean production. Toyota overtook the market capitalization of former industry leader General Motors in 1996, though it wasn’t until 2008 that it sold more vehicles than its Detroit rival. The Japanese giant also cultivated ties with Tesla, with the U.S. startup helping it design an electrified RAV4 under a 2010 deal. Toyota was impressed by the speed with which Tesla came up with the new design, but ultimately decided Tesla’s methods were not suitable for mass production by a mainstream manufacturer when Toyota’s standards for product quality and durability were applied, 2 company insiders familiar with the partnership said. Toyota said the joint project involved cooperation on the development of electric cars, parts and production system. “Toyota accomplished what the project set out to achieve, and it ended in October 2014 after Tesla delivered roughly 2.500 electric powertrain systems over 3 years” for an electrified RAV4, a spokeswoman said. Both the Toyota and Daimler collaborations were agreed before the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal in 2015, which prompted a global regulatory backlash and forced carmakers to step up investments in electric cars. “That was all before dieselgate, which changed the economics of electric and combustion-engined cars”, a senior Daimler manager said. “Tesla has a lead. Let’s see if they can scale up”. +++

+++ A fan made an illustration based on a real spy shot of the interior of the new Hyundai TUCSON . By now, you’re probably aware that this SUV will get a next-generation version for the 2021 model year. The Tucson has been spied numerous times as early as August last year, and several renderings that bear its new face have already come out. Of note, Sangyup Lee, head of the Hyundai Design Centre, touted that the next-generation Tucson’s design will freak us out, while Andrew Tuatahi, Hyundai’s product planning manager, claims that the SUV is “very interesting visually”. The new Tucson’s interior looks to contain a lot of display screens: on the centre of the dashboard and on the instrument cluster. This is akin to the next-generation of MBUX that we’ll see in the new Mercedes S-Class. If the sketched screen-infested cabin transcends into the production-spec, I won’t be surprised, considering that a lot of automakers have already adopted the tech-filled future of cars. We’ll know more about the next-generation Tucson by the end of this year. As mentioned, though, no exact month or date has been set yet, so just continue to watch this space for further updates about the Hyundai. +++

 

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