Newsflash: Porsche voert vermogen Panamera op tot 630 pk

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+++ Carmakers that once competed mainly over the power of their engines are now vying over a much less tangible sort of power as they race to develop automated vehicles: computing. New AUDI boss Markus Duesmann is assembling a team of about 200 engineers within parent company Volkswagen Group to develop a new computer-driven vehicle system, he told. Dubbed “Project Artemis” after the Ancient Greek goddess of hunting, the plan is to chase down (and overtake) Tesla, widely viewed as the industry leader in software. “When it comes to digitalisation we are lagging behind, for now”, Duesmann said. With the advent of self-driving cars, vehicles need processors and software operating systems to analyse data from radar, lidar and camera sensors to calculate driving reflexes so cars can navigate and avoid accidents on their own. In the past, bigger cars with more powerful engines were automatically better. Now computing power and intelligence will be a key metric for defining what is premium, forcing Audi to retool the way it designs cars. “Technical development of vehicles is no longer organised according to a vehicle’s size, but by the car’s electrical and electronic architecture”, Duesmann said, explaining that premium and value models would now differentiate themselves according to their computing power and sensor levels. To build the new system, Duesmann is assembling a “results oriented” engineering team to work on accelerating development of a scalable vehicle platform. “Project Artemis will be smaller than a Formula One team. I am thinking around 200 staff”, he said. “To develop a new car with so many new features in this period until 2024 is so demanding that it is probably without precedent. That’s why we have decided to work with a separate unit”, said Duesmann, who is also head of research at Volkswagen Group. The idea is that an agile development group will be less encumbered by the bureaucracy within Volkswagen Group, which owns brands including Bugatti, Bentley, Porsche, Skoda and Lamborghini, as well as Audi and VW. It has more than 10.000 employees working in research and development at the company’s Wolfsburg headquarters alone. Artemis will be led by Alexander Hitzinger, who was responsible for autonomous driving at Volkswagen and built up the Porsche racing team that won Le Mans endurance race in 2015, 2016, 2017. Hitzinger also worked at Apple, where he set up and managed product development for autonomous vehicles. The Artemis team will harness the engineering knowhow within Volkswagen Group, but also have the authority to use outside partners. “If we gain speed with a supplier or with a software company, we will consider it. Speed is extremely important”, Duesmann said. China will also play a role, he added, declining to elaborate. Project Artemis will sit alongside Volkswagen Group’s Car.Software organisation, also based in Ingolstadt. “They need each other”, Duesmann said, adding many of Artemis’s staff would remain embedded within Volkswagen Group brands, but receive instructions from Ingolstadt. “The result will be a common concept which is scalable for all of us”, Duesmann said. “The first model will be an Audi”. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen has moved to quash rumours that chief executive Herbert DIESS had been sidelined by issuing an unsolicited declaration of support, following clashes with the company’s labour leaders who resisted plans for deeper cuts. “The most important message is that the supervisory board and executive committee are in complete agreement that our CEO Herbert Diess is leading the implementation of our strategy”, chief financial officer Frank Witter said in remarks which were read out on a call with journalists. Witter acknowledged that “smoke emanating from Wolfsburg” was a sign of how difficult it was to balance the interests of various stakeholders at the company. Diess has for months pushed to lower costs at the carmaker’s German operations, repeatedly clashing with labour representatives, who control 9 of the 19 seats on VW’s board of directors, known in Germany as the supervisory board. In June, Diess was forced to apologise to the supervisory board after accusing a member of leaking confidential information to the press. In the wake of the clash, Diess handed responsibility for managing the core VW brand to internal veteran Ralf Brandstätter. “Believe me, his ambition and his urge for rapid and lasting change remain unchanged”, Witter said. Days after Diess relinquished his direct oversight of the VW brand, the carmaker unveiled a raft of other changes which hit a network of external managers that Diess had brought in to increase efficiency at the carmaker. Volkswagen’s powerful labour chief Bernd Osterloh then went on a roadshow to tell investors the carmaker has no need for deeper cost cuts in Germany. In June, VW said Bernhard Maier, chairman of Volkswagen’s value brand Skoda and Stefan Sommer, the company’s head of procurement, plus Andreas Renschler, who headed up the Trucks division, would leave Volkswagen. +++ 

+++ A small profit in North America helped FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) to limit losses from the Covid-19 crisis in its second quarter and the automaker forecasts a “much, much better second half” ahead of its planned merger with the PSA Group. The Italian-American maker of Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Jeeps said it slashed advertising costs and saw net prices rise in its key North American market, where it focused on retail sales over lower-margin fleet business. It also cut capital expenditure across the group and expects to reduce the total for the full year by €1.5 billion to €8-€8.5 billion. FCA posted an adjusted loss before interest and tax of €928 million for April-June, versus a forecast €1.87 billion loss in an analyst poll. Earlier in the week, Ford reported a second-quarter operating loss of $1.9 billion. General Motors had an operating loss of $1.2 billion. In North America, FCA made adjusted earnings before interest and tax of €39 million. CEO Mike Manley said production in North America was back to pre-pandemic levels, apart from plants in Warren and Toluca, which are being retooled for new products. “We expect a much, much better second half”, he told investors. Manley said the group planned to launch a series of new Jeep models next year, including a new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, and a redesigned Grand Cherokee. Asked about electric pickups coming from its competitors, Manley said FCA was “very committed” to electrifying its vehicles, adding: “Pickup trucks is a key franchise for us. We’re not going to sit on the sidelines”. FCA, which is set to tie-up with PSA to create Stellantis, the world’s 4th largest carmaker, said an ongoing probe by European Commission competition authorities was not expected to delay the merger timetable. Despite the pandemic, PSA earlier this week delivered a profit in the first half of the year. FCA said its industrial free cash flow was minus €4.9 billion in the second quarter, with a slightly lower cash burn versus January-March. It finished the quarter with liquidity of €17.5 billion. That does not include €4.5 billion still available on its loan facility. Ford has liquidity of $40 billion and General Motors of $31 billion. +++ 

+++ FISKER has declared it wants to secure the rights to use Volkswagen’s MEB platform to underpin an electric crossover named Ocean. Although the deal hasn’t been finalized yet, it released a preview image that sheds light on some of the other cars it plans to release. Company founder Henrik Fisker envisions a 4-car range by 2025. Introduced as a concept at CES 2020, the Ocean takes the form of a battery-powered soft-roader that’s about the same size as the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Although we don’t know which platform it will be built on yet, it’s expected to enter production in early 2021 and land in the United States with a base price in the vicinity of $38,000 before local and federal incentives enter the equation. Fisker announced it will also launch a flexible lease program. Fisker described its second vehicle as “a segment-busting supersports sedan based on the EMotion concept” and its preview image shows the design study it introduced during CES 2018. There’s no word yet on how it will evolve as it makes the transition from a show car to a production car, but Fisker explained it delayed the sedan’s introduction until 2022 at the very earliest, in part because the solid-state battery technology it hopes to make available isn’t ready for production yet. It also anticipates the Ocean will sell in greater numbers than the EMotion. The California-based company’s range will also include a “sports crossover”, which looks like a fastback on stilts in the vein of the BMW X4. Shown for the first time, it seemingly receives a much sportier design than the Ocean. Finally, it reaffirmed its plans to enter the burgeoning electric pickup segment, but the truck it plans to catapult into this increasingly crowded ring is hidden under a sheet. Fisker added all of the aforementioned models will be built using “platforms, battery packs, and components” sourced from the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers. They’ll all be electric: gasoline, diesel and hybrid powered vehicles aren’t part of Fisker’s plan. Fisker can talk the talk, there’s absolutely no doubt about it, but now it needs to prove it can walk the walk. It’s in the process of going public by merging with a blank-check company backed by Apollo Global Management. The deal will give it a $2.9 billion value and provide it with $1 billion in gross proceeds it will use to make the Ocean a reality. Proceeds from that model will presumably be used to develop and launch production of its other cars. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS said if the U.S. economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the auto industry does not experience any further production shutdowns, the No. 1 U.S. automaker should be able to generate enough cash to pay off a $16 billion loan by the end of the year. “Obviously it is still a very fluid situation as you know and we’re watching the virus, the economy and its impact on the overall industry very closely”, chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara told reporters. Suryadevara spoke after GM posted a smaller-than-expected second-quarter loss thanks to solid high-margin pickup truck sales and aggressive cost-cutting that helped mitigate the impact of a forced shutdown that left its North American plants shut for eight of the 13 weeks in the quarter. “We consider this a quite impressive accomplishment and it speaks to the structural improvements in the business today versus prior years”, Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy wrote in a client note. GM did not provide an earnings forecast for the year but said it ended the second quarter with $30.6 billion in cash. Suryadevara told reporters that if the U.S. economy continues to recover, GM should generate cash flow of between $7 billion and $9 billion during the second half of the year. She said the automaker should repay its $16 billion revolving credit line by the end of 2020; an action that again depends on a continued economic recovery and annual industry-wide U.S. new vehicle sales of 14 million units this year. But spiking Covid-19 cases across southern and southwestern U.S. states have left that recovery in doubt. Weekly jobless claims numbers from the Labor Department released last week showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose, unexpectedly, for the first time in nearly 4 months, suggesting the labor market was stalling amid the resurgence in new Covid-19 cases and depressed demand. During the quarter, General Motors said its retail sales showed signs of recovery, improving from a drop of 35 % in April versus the same month in 2019 to a decline of 20 % in May and June. GM said it was “working all avenues” to boost U.S. dealer inventories and all of its U.S. fullsize pickup and SUV plants are back at 3 shifts. Nearly all of its other plants are now working at pre-pandemic shift levels. GM also said it would increase production of lightduty pickups at its Fort Wayne assembly plant by about 1.000 units a month beginning September 1. Suryadevara told reporters that GM’s new full-sized SUVs “have been received really well and they’re flying off the dealer lots”. She said that during the second quarter the automaker had sold off its remaining shares in ride-hailing company Lyft. GM reported a net loss for the quarter of $758 million, down from a profit of $2.4 billion a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, the loss was $806 million. Excluding one-time items, GM reported a loss of 50 cents per share while analysts had expected a loss of $1.77 per share. General Motors chief executive Mary Barra said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to maximizing the value of the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s electric vehicle efforts, including a possible spinoff of those assets. Speaking to analysts after GM reported a smaller-than-expected loss in a quarter hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, Barra responded to a question about whether the Detroit company would consider a spinoff of its EV operations, given high investor appetite for companies like Tesla, Nikola and Nio. “We are open to looking at and evaluate anything that we think is going to drive long-term shareholder value, so I would say nothing is off the table”, she said. Barra added that she saw no impediment to such a move. Earlier in the call, Barra addressed a question around a name change for GM that would emphasize its EV efforts. “Why not call the company Ultium?”, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas asked, citing GM’s advanced battery technology. Barra said GM evaluates questions like that given its push to invest in EVs and other advanced technology. GM needs to perform, developing new technology and driving down battery costs, to get Wall Street to care about its stock, she said. “We’ve got to deliver and demonstrate that we have products people want to buy”, Barra said. She said GM intends to get “our fair share plus more” when asked whether any of its electric vehicles would sell at volumes of 100.000 a year or higher. +++ 

+++ HONDA confirmed reports that it has sent some of its office workers to the American assembly line in its Marysville factory to fill in for employees who are quarantined after testing positive for Covid-19. The company explained part of the reason it’s short-staffed is because it’s handling the pandemic with an abundance of caution. “Due to strong customer demand for our products and the need to carefully manage production during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are facing some temporary staffing issue that require support from associates who do not typically work in production. We have implemented such temporary measures in the past, and we are working diligently to attract and hire associates to support our production needs”, a company spokesperson told. The Japanese company asked employees who normally work in accounting, purchasing or research and development to work on the assembly line. Of course, building a car is an extremely complicated process that consists of hundreds of tasks. I don’t know if accountants are merely double-checking that there are Honda emblems on both ends of a Civic, or assembling a VTEC cylinder head; odds are it’s the former. In an internal email, plant manager Mark Willoughby explained recruiting additional blue-collar workers has been difficult, in part because of the extra $600 federal unemployment benefit made available earlier in 2020. He noted the weekly benefit is scheduled to expire in July, but it might be extended. He nonetheless expects the facility will return to what he referred to as “proper staffing levels” by the end of August. In his email, Willoughby also pointed out hospitals delayed non-urgent surgeries from March to May 2020 to let their personnel focus on Covid-19 patients. Many of these procedures were rescheduled in July, so an unusually large number of Americans are either preparing for an operation or recovering from it. Finally, he pointed out Marysville has sent some of its employees to support local suppliers who are also struggling with staffing issues. “The health and safety of our associates is our highest priority, and, acting out of an abundance of caution when a member of our team tests positive or is suspected for Covid-19, we use contract tracing to determine those who may have been exposed to the affected team member, sometimes resulting in the need for additional associates to quarantine. These precautions, combined with strong demand for our products, has created the need to ask some support associates to work temporarily in the production area”, the spokesperson concluded. +++ 

+++ Japan and Great Britain began talks with a view to scrapping tariffs on cars from JAPAN around 2026. The 2 nations aim to reach a broad agreement for a trade deal within weeks and Japan’s foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, is expected to visit Britain early August to negotiate with his UK counterpart, Trade Minister Liz Truss. Global sales of Japanese automakers slumped 21 % on-year in June; the 4th straight month of double-digit losses, as most automotive factories and dealerships remained closed during the lockdown, data from the companies showed. The country’s 7 major automakers, including Toyota and Nissan, sold a combined 1.88 million vehicles last month, down from 2.39 million units a year earlier. The decline in monthly sales has slowed ever since a 50 % drop posted in April, and compared with a 38 % fall in May. Global production at these automakers last month fell 26 % to 1.65 million units on-year, while there was a 62 % slump reported in May. Global demand for cars has been falling since March due to stay-at-home orders in many countries to control the virus outbreak. This led to a drop in visits to dealerships, while people concerned about their finances also reconsidered big purchases. Many countries have been easing the lockdown restrictions, but industry experts anticipate that it could take up to 5 years for demand to recover to 2019 levels. +++ 

+++ KIA ‘s new Carnival minivan, which is due to be released next month, has set a new 1-day pre-order record for any car in South Korea. Kia said that it sold a total of 23.006 units on the first day of pre-orders, breaking the previous record of 18.941 orders set by the Sorrento released in March. The Carnival, first launched in 1998, has sold over 2 million vehicles around the world. The new Carnival has undergone a full facelift for the first time in 6 years reinforced with the latest technologies and improved user friendliness. It features the smart power sliding door, which allows a driver to open the door with a smart key, simply by standing near it, while the second-row seats in a 7-seater model can recline to nearly 180 degrees. It is also equipped with smart cruise control, forward collision-avoidance assist and lane-following assist. 9 or 11 seater versions are also available. +++

+++ Ready to plunk down some cash on a new LAND ROVER Defender 90? You may have a while yet to wait, as deliveries of the new off-roader remain touch-and-go thanks to constraints imposed on production by the global coronavirus crisis. “Defender 90 production and first customer deliveries have been delayed as a result of Covid-19 related supply chain constraints. Please contact your local retailer to place an order for Defender 90 and timing of deliveries”, the website says. So, I did just that. According to a helpful sales associate, the Defender 90 is no longer expected to hit dealer lots as a 2020 model. The soonest customers should expect inventory would be early next year. Even the Defender 110 remains in short supply. +++

+++ LI AUTO ’s stock soared more than 50 % following its debut on Nasdaq, after the Chinese electric vehicle maker sold shares to investors in its $1.1 billion initial public offering (IPO) for a higher-than-expected price. The offering of 95 million American depositary shares (ADS) was priced at $11.50 per share. The stock opened at $15.50 and extended gains to rise as much as $17.50, adding to the growing list of strong debuts this year. The New York IPO of Li Auto, backed by food delivery giant Meituan Dianping and TikTok owner ByteDance, comes at a time when U.S.-listed Chinese companies are facing tightened scrutiny and strict audit requirements from regulators, as tensions escalate between the 2 countries. Sentiment toward Chinese firms among investors has also been hit by the fallout from Luckin Coffee, a Chinese coffee chain, which was listed on Nasdaq and earlier this year disclosed that some of its employees fabricated sales accounts. The IPO of the 5-year-old Beijing-based automaker, 2 years after Chinese peer Nio went public in New York, is one of the biggest U.S. listings by a Chinese company this year. Investors value the company at around $10 billion. Unlike rival Tesla and Nio’s pure battery electric vehicles, Li Auto’s SUV model One allows drivers to charge their cars with electricity or gasoline, a technology called extended range electric vehicle (EREV). “There is demand for EREV, which alleviates range anxiety issues for customers”, said Mingming Huang, founder of the 6-year-old Future Capital Discovery Fund, which was the first investor in Li Auto when the company started in 2015. Huang also told Li Auto would not rule out the possibility of having a different powertrain in future models. Li Auto sold 9.666 vehicles in the first 6 months this year. +++ 

+++ Tesla rival LUCID MOTORS plans to equip its new Air luxury electric sedan with a semi-automated driver assistance system when the first cars roll off an Arizona assembly line in early 2021. The Lucid Air, which will compete with the Tesla Model S, will come standard with such features as adaptive cruise control, lane centering, automatic emergency brakes and automated parking. It will also be one of the first production vehicles to be equipped with standard lidar, a laser-based sensor that detects obstacles and objects, including pedestrians, as part of the vehicle’s collision avoidance system. Tesla chief Elon Musk has said Teslas do not need lidar because their other sensors (mainly camera and radar) provide sufficient object detection when the vehicle is in semi-automated Autopilot mode. He has derided the use of lidar, which is far more costly than other sensors, as “a fool’s errand”. Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson is the former chief engineer of the Tesla Model S. Unlike General Motors’ Super Cruise system offered on some Cadillacs, the Lucid Air’s new DreamDrive assistance system will not be capable of hands-free driving, at least not initially. But Lucid has said it will be able to add more advanced features in the future through wireless over-the-air updates. While Tesla pioneered over-the-air software updates, its vehicles do not provide true hands-free driving. Tesla warns owners that, even when its Autopilot and so-called Full Self Driving are activated, drivers must still keep their hands on the steering wheel. Lucid is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which invested $1 billion in the Silicon Valley startup in 2018. The Air will be built at a new plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. Lucid Air pricing is expected in the coming weeks. Tesla’s Model S starts at just under $75.000 and with options, can cost as much as $105.000. +++ 

+++ MAZDA forecasts a record annual operating loss as the Japanese automaker continues to be pummelled by falling vehicle sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Japan’s automaker anticipates a 40 billion yen ($383.5 million) loss for the year to March, joining a growing number of automakers including Ford and Nissan which expect annual losses after the virus shuttered vehicle plants and kept customers away from car dealerships. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the maker of the CX-5 had been suffering from sliding profits for the past 2 years as slim new vehicle offerings has knocked sales in the United States and China; its 2 biggest markets. In the year to March, Mazda anticipates an 8 % fall in global vehicle sales to 1.3 million units, its lowest in 7 years, which will likely result in an operating loss. The automaker said it would forgo paying a dividend this year. Mazda posted an operating loss of 45.3 billion yen for the first quarter, its weakest in 11 years, due to a 31 % drop in vehicle sales between April and June. In the April-June quarter, sales fell to 244.000 units, largely due to a drop in demand at home and in Europe. Sales in North America, Mazda’s biggest market, fell 19 % in the same period. But China was a bright spot, as sales rose 13 % during the quarter as car demand has returned to the world’s largest auto market, having recovered relatively quickly from the virus. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ will shift its model proliferation on the U.S. market into reverse in the coming years, according to dealers familiar with the company’s plans. At least 7 cars are scheduled to retire without a direct successor. Dealers affirmed they learned these details directly from Nicholas Speeks, the CEO of Mercedes-Benz’s American division, during a webinar. He didn’t reveal which models will exit the portfolio or when they’re scheduled to leave, but an anonymous source singled out the 2-door variants of the C-Class, the E-Class and the S-Class, as well as the CLS and 1 member of the GT lineup. “Do we need all of the products that we currently have? We also have to play our part in cutting our costs to meet our means”, Speeks reportedly told attendees. His comments suggest the move is part of parent company Daimler’s far-reaching plan to cut its annual costs in order to invest more money into electrification and autonomy. The next-generation S-Class won’t be available as a coupe or as a convertible. Axing the 2-door versions of the C and the E makes sense from a business standpoint, none of them generate significant volume. As for the GT, unverified rumor claims it’s the 4-door model that’s getting the boot. Mercedes-Benz will replace it and the CLS with a single electric model due out later in the 2020s. Although enthusiasts will undoubtedly dust off their digital pitchforks, dealers are welcoming the news like a well-stocked Christmas basket. Mercedes-Benz sells 8 SUVs, 7 sedans (including the Maybach-branded variants of the S-Class), 1 wagon, 4 coupes and 6 convertibles. Nearly all of these models are available in several flavors, meaning there are over 100 basic variants to choose from. 1 dealer drew an unflattering parallel between the company’s range and the menu at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. “Reducing model proliferation is good. We’ve been asking for that. Whether or not 7 models is enough, time will tell”, summed up Jeff Aiosa, the owner of Mercedes-Benz of New London in Connecticut. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t commented on the report, and it hasn’t publicly announced plans to pare down its range of models. Daimler is in the middle of a major transformation, though. It’s hoping to save several billion dollars by cutting more than 20.000 jobs globally. It announced it will stop making sedans in North America and it is selling the Hambach factory that manufactures the Smart ForTwo; future models will be built in China. In an unexpected plot twist, England-based Ineos may purchase the facility to build its Grenadier. +++ 

+++ By any measure, NISSAN has had a dreadful run in India. A push to revive its lower-end Datsun brand flopped, sales have slumped 60 % over the past 5 years and its sole plant in the country is operating way below capacity. But the amount of money and energy that Nissan, battered by scandal and expecting a record $4.5 billion annual operating loss, will spend to turn its fortunes around in India will hinge on the sales of one vehicle: its new Magnite compact SUV, 3 sources with knowledge of the matter told. The SUV may also determine how much heft Nissan will wield as it and alliance partner Renault thrash out their respective roles in the Indian market. Unveiled this month and due to be launched either late this year or early 2021, the Magnite will be Nissan’s first new vehicle in India in 2 years. Moreover, it will be just 1 of 3 Nissan-branded models in the market after 2 others were pulled in April when tougher emission rules kicked in. “Magnite will buy Nissan a couple of years to figure out a plan for India and the SUV’s success will determine whether it invests more or scales down operations”, said one source. A second source called the SUV Nissan’s “last hope” to revive the brand in India. Japan’s No. 2 automaker has, however, no plans to withdraw from India, where it has invested over $800 million and discussions about strategy are ongoing, the sources said. They were not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified. The Datsun brand is likely to be phased out as part of a global overhaul, they added. Nissan’s only other models in India are 3 Datsun cars. Nissan said in a statement it is committed to the Indian market and has a well-defined strategy for “a sustainable and profitable business”. It declined to comment on sales goals for the Magnite. Nissan’s internal plans call for sales of 1.500 to 2.000 Magnites a month, the first source said, which if realised would exceed the average India monthly sales it achieved last business year with 7 models. The SUV will be priced “aggressively”, the sources said without elaborating. Originally developed as a Datsun model, it is now expected to have features typically seen in a midrange car, including a touchscreen and cruise control. But the market is difficult: demand has been pummelled by the coronavirus pandemic and India’s compact SUV segment is crowded. The Magnite will also go head to head with models from industry leaders: Maruti Suzuki’s Brezza and Hyundai’s Venue. Complicating matters, Nissan’s India sales outlets have almost halved in number from around 270 in 2018 as dealers walked away from the brand, the third source said. The source added that Nissan hopes to export the model. India represents a particularly thorny market for Nissan as it and Renault drastically restructure in the wake of former leader Carlos Ghosn’s shock 2018 arrest and ouster. To save resources, clarify decision-making and prevent overlap, the 2 firms have agreed to a ‘leader-follower’ strategy in key markets where one spearheads operations and the other is more in the backseat. Nissan, for example, is taking the lead in the United States, China and Japan. But India is the sole major market where no such decision has been made, with the automakers saying they will coexist and compete. “If Magnite is successful, Nissan has stronger ground to argue to be the leader in India. If not, it is back to the discussion on who is bigger and smaller”, said the first source. On one hand, Nissan has less than 1 % of the India market, selling just 18.000 vehicles in the last business year. Renault sold 5 times as many cars in the country. But Nissan holds 70 % of their jointly owned plant in the southern city of Chennai and exported 80.000 vehicles from the plant in the last business year, 5 times more than Renault. 2 sources said the automakers are in talks for Renault to increase its stake in the plant, which can build 400.000 cars per year. The plant was operating at just 43 % of capacity, Nissan said in January before the spread of the coronavirus in India. +++ 

+++ Swedish lithium-ion battery maker NORTHVOLT said it had secured $1.6 billion in debt financing, as part of its plan to have 25 % marketshare of European battery production. Last year, automakers Volkswagen and BMW agreed to fund Northvolt’s plan to build Europe’s largest lithium-ion battery plant. Northvolt said the loan was financed by a group of banks, pension funds and other public institutions such as the Nordic Investment Bank, Northvolt said, adding that the capital would be spent on expanding its factories and on research and development. “The momentum for electrification is stronger than ever. Our customers need large volumes of high-quality batteries with a low CO2 footprint, and Europe must build a fully regionalized value chain to support them”, Northvolt CEO and former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson said in a statement. Lithium-ion batteries are key for electric cars and smartphones and Northvolt aims to be Europe’s main rival for Asian players CATL, Samsung and LG Chem, which are leaders in the battery market after locking in supply deals with carmakers. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE confirmed it will inject more power into the Panamera range for the 2021 model year, but it told us the updates will not be accompanied by a drift mode. Although some of its rivals have developed software that makes going sideways look easy, the company argued there’s no sense in putting something similar in the Panamera. “It’s not needed, from the position of vehicle dynamics and performance. It’s not necessary. For me, it’s little more than a fun mode”, said Michael Schäfer, the Panamera’s director of chassis, in an interview. He argued the car’s built-in Sport Plus mode unlocks a configuration that’s far better than a drift mode, which would likely disengage the front axle and send 100 % of the engine’s power to the rear wheels. Sport Plus channels a majority of the engine’s output to the rear wheels, but it saves some for the front tires. It also modifies the settings of other components, like the rev limiter, the adaptive air suspension and the steering. Besides, Schäfer added, motorists who really want to put a Panamera sideways can do so with relative ease, even without a dedicated drift mode at their fingertips. Drifting around a corner requires merely switching off the traction control system or the stability management system and, of course, the driving experience needed to accurately and safely control a heavy, massively powerful sedan as it skids around a bend. “If you want to get rid of your rear tires, you can use a drift mode”, Schäfer concluded. +++ 

+++ SKODA sees signs of recovery after first-half deliveries crashed 31 % amid coronavirus lockdown measures, the Czech carmaker owned by Volkswagen said. The company, a bellwether for the Czech economy which contracted by a record 10.7 % year-on-year in the second quarter, said it expected global markets to stabilise gradually as long as the corona virus pandemic does not worsen significantly. Skoda delivered 426.700 cars in January to June while sales revenue fell by a quarter to €7.55 billion and operating profit sank 72 % to €228 million. It said that its programme to restart operations since June had shown positive effects and said incoming orders had started to exceed last year’s level. Demand at European dealerships had increased, it added. “In June we were able to make big gains compared to the previous months”, said Skoda board member for sales, Alain Favey. “We expect a recovery in the third quarter and anticipate a return to the previous year’s level in the fourth quarter”. Skoda, the country’s biggest exporter that delivered 1.24 million vehicles in 2019, said it was continuing to roll out the largest model campaign in its history with 30 new models (including electric vehicles) launching between 2019 and 2022. The company’s Czech factories shut for 39 days after the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe in March, a major blow to an economy that relies heavily on the car industry. +++ 

+++ SOUTH KOREA said it is investigating suspected safety issues with vehicles made by Tesla, which is competing strongly with Hyundai and Kia in the South Korean electric vehicle market. Braking and steering systems including the Autopilot function were part of the investigation, a transport ministry official said. The ministry declined to elaborate but South Korean media said Tesla’s Model 3 was under investigation, and the probe might take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. Tesla would cooperate with the investigation, an official at its South Korean unit said. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board last year cited driver errors and Tesla’s Autopilot design as the probable cause of a January 2018 crash of a Model S in California. In Hyundai’s home market, Tesla had its best month in June, with its Model 3 beating Hyundai’s Kona Electric, as well as models from BMW and Audi. +++ 

+++ TATA MOTORS warned that its luxury car unit, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), may post another quarterly loss as the coronavirus crisis saps demand and cripples its supply chain. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on automakers globally and piled pressure on Indian Tata Motors, which has been trying to improve JLR’s cash flows by reining in costs after geopolitical and regulatory challenges hurt the British carmaker’s sales. Tata Motors raised its cost savings target for JLR by 1 billion pounds ($1.31 billion) and now expects to save 6 billion pounds in costs by March 2021, chief financial officer PB Balaji said, noting that it had already achieved savings of 4.7 billion pounds. “As much as we take on costs and reduce cash burn, demand is a very important lever for this business”, Balaji said, adding that even though sales were improving demand was not coming back in a hurry. Unit sales at JLR, which accounts for most of the company’s revenue, fell over 42 % during the quarter, while its earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) margin was 3.5 %. Earlier this week, JLR named ousted Renault boss Thierry Bollore as its next chief executive, with a mission to return the carmaker to profit. Balaji said while JLR’s electrification plans are on track, the company may drop or go back to the drawing board on certain projects that are not “great on financial returns”. He did not specify which projects were being re-looked at. Tata Motors reported a consolidated net loss of 84.38 billion rupees ($1.13 billion) for its first quarter, compared with a loss of 36.98 billion rupees a year earlier. The company said it expects a gradual pickup in demand and an improvement in supply in the second half of fiscal 2020-2021. +++ 

+++ Panasonic plans to boost the energy density of ‘2170’ battery cells it supplies to TESLA by 20 % in 5 years and commercialize a cobalt-free version “in 2 to 3 years”, the head of its U.S. EV battery business said. This is the first time Panasonic, a leading cell provider for the world’s top electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla, has outlined these targets, putting down a marker in a highly competitive sector to stay ahead of the game. Panasonic introduced the ‘2170’ lithium-ion cells, with the nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) cathode chemistry, for Tesla’s Model 3 in 2017. Researchers say it already has the highest energy density at above 700 watt-hour per litre. With an even higher density, these cells could help increase how much an EV can run on a single charge, while also paving the way for smaller batteries and roomier car interiors. A cobalt-free version on the other hand would cut reliance on a costly and controversial component, which makes batteries stable but poses ethical issues given controversial labour conditions in top producer the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long said he wants to move to zero-cobalt battery cells. Panasonic has already cut cobalt content to under 5 % in the NCA cathode and plans to improve its batteries in stages, its U.S. EV battery chief Yasuaki Takamoto told. But the firm has declined to link its battery roadmap to Tesla’s future models. Panasonic recently lost its status as Tesla’s exclusive battery supplier. The U.S. firm has partnered with South Korea’s LG Chem and China’s CATL. CATL is supplying Tesla with low-cost lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that contain no cobalt. According to Takamoto, the average density of LFP battery cells is less than half the level of Panasonic’s latest NCA batteries. He did not name any companies. Panasonic has already developed technologies resulting in a more than 5 % increase in the energy density of ‘2170’ cells. From September, the firm will start converting lines at its factory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla as it prepares to further boost the energy density of the cells, Takamoto said. To control safety risks associated with higher density and less cobalt, Panasonic is adjusting the composition and design for better thermal stability, Takamoto said. He also noted there will be various battery requirements coming into play as EV usage diversifies. Tesla’s Musk has promised to reveal significant battery advances during a “Battery Day” presentation scheduled for September 22. Tesla plans to introduce an EV battery that will last one million miles later this year or early next, which it jointly developed with CATL. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said in a podcast that demand for the company’s electric vehicles remained strong throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with consumers preferring to shop online. Musk said having a traditional dealer network (something he considered in the past) appears increasingly unnecessary. “We saw strong orders through the whole pandemic, we still had a good order volume”, Musk said. “I guess people are less inclined to want to go to a dealership, do the test drive and hang out in the lobby and that kind of thing”. Asked about a 2020 meteoric stock rally that has pushed Tesla shares up more than 240 % from the start of the year and made the company the world’s most highly-valued carmaker, Musk said the market would eventually sort itself out. He added that as long as Tesla made great cars, investors would be happy. In a May 1 tweet, Musk said Tesla’s share price was too high, at a time when shares where trading at around $700; roughly half of where they are now. In the podcast interview, Musk also praised the Chinese work ethic and criticized U.S. attitudes. “China rocks in my opinion”, Musk said. “There are a lot of smart, hard-working people and they’re not entitled, they’re not complacent, whereas I see in the United States increasingly much more complacency and entitlement”. Tesla has built a factory in Shanghai and seen a sharp increase in Chinese demand for its Model 3. It recently has also launched a hiring spree in Shanghai as it ramps up production and prepares to manufacture its new Model Y at the plant. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s wholly owned U.S. subsidiary asked the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider a ruling that said 2 counties could seek financial penalties over excess diesel emissions that might cost the German automaker billions of dollars. The 3-0 ruling in June said Utah’s Salt Lake County and Florida’s Hillsborough County could seek staggering damages over updates made to polluting diesel vehicles after they were sold. Other U.S. counties are also pursuing claims. Volkswagen Group of America said the ruling, if upheld, could have sweeping ramifications for the U.S. auto industry and could force car companies “either to avoid maintaining or improving the emission control systems of in-use vehicles or pass on the substantial increased compliance costs to consumers”. VW asked the panel to reconsider its ruling or for the full appeals court to take up the case, warning the decision could affect millions of vehicles recalled for emissions vehicles annually and could result in “regulatory chaos”. Volkswagen admitted to using illegal software to cheat U.S. pollution tests in 2015. VW argues the case will determine if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “exclusively regulates auto manufacturers’ post-sale, nationwide changes to their cars’ emission control systems, or whether, as the panel held, all fifty states and thousands of counties also may regulate this post-sale process”. The Justice Department opted not to offer its views before the appeals court ruled in June. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and automaker trade groups told the court earlier the issue could allow states and cities “to disrupt the EPA regulatory process through imposition of their own tampering prohibitions”. VW settled U.S. criminal and civil actions prompted by the emissions scandal for more than $20 billion, but that did not shield it from local and state government liability, the court found. The judges wrote they were “mindful that our conclusion may result in staggering liability for Volkswagen. But this result is due to conduct that could not have been anticipated by Congress: Volkswagen’s intentional tampering with vehicles to increase airpollution”. U.S. district judge Charles Breyer, who ruled in VW’s favor in 2018 on the issue, noted the automaker’s “potential penalties could reach $30.6 million per day and $11.2 billion per year”. The scandal has cost Volkswagen €30 billion in fines, penalties and vehicle buyback costs worldwide to date. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker XPENG MOTORS has raised an additional $300 million from investors including Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, people familiar with the matter said. As enthusiasm builds for EVs, shares of their makers such as Tesla and Nio have surged in recent months and automakers are looking to the markets for funds. 6 year old Xpeng, which is backed by Alibaba Group Holding, said earlier in July it had raised around $500 million from investors including Aspex, Coatue, Hillhouse and Sequoia Capital China. It has now raised an additional $300 million from investors including the Qatar Investment Authority, the sources said, adding the company might further expand the fundraising. Funds will go towards research in areas such as intelligent vehicle technologies, the sources said, without giving any further details. The latest fundraising takes the total amount raised so far in the company’s so-called C+ round to more than $800 million. The company has filed for a U.S. initial public offering (IPO), the sources, who declined to be named as discussions are private, said. Xpeng delivered 19.376 units of its G3 SUV as of June. China’s sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs) fell for a 12th straight month in June. NEVs include battery-powered electric, plug-in petrol-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Last November, Xpeng raised $400 million from investors including Xiaomi. Sources told at the time that investors valued the company at nearly $4 billion. +++

 

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