Newsflash: Fiat gaat compacte auto’s op PSA platform baseren

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+++ Earlier this week, my spy photographers managed to snap a few pictures of a mysterious prototype based on the 8-Series Coupe. Due to the vented rear window quarter panels, some suggested that it might be  a development vehicle for a future mid-engined model, you know, like as a new supercar, perhaps a modern-day M1. However, as I noted in my article, the side air intakes were too small to feed enough air into a hypothetical mid-mounted power unit, which would have led to some serious cooling issues, not to mention that the overall proportions would have been different too. So, as I suspected, it was not a mid-engined car after all, but what was it? I picked up the phone, shortly after receiving the spy shots, and called BMW , getting the following answer: “No, it’s not a mid-engined sports car. The spied prototype is a development vehicle, with which different departments of the Group test new components”. This opens up new possibilities, as they could have been experimenting with many new parts, from different powertrains to various chassis elements, brakes, exhaust systems or possibly even new multimedia technology and safety gear. As for the tester, it was actually based on the M8 Coupe, not the regular 8er, they added. While it’s a pity that BMW is not working on a supercar, it probably would not be a viable product from a financial standpoint in these challenging times, but hey, if it’s something that we have learned over the years, is never say never in the automobile game. +++ 

+++ CHINA ‘s auto manufacturing sector saw the decline in its profits narrow in the first 7 months of 2020 as the auto market maintained recovery momentum, industry data showed. The sector’s profits fell 5.9 % year-on-year to 251.45 billion yuan ($36.5 billion), narrowing 14.8 percentage points from the drop seen in the first half of the year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), citing data from the National Bureau of Statistics. The sector’s profits accounted for 8.1 % of the total profits among industrial companies with annual revenue of more than 20 million yuan, up 0.5 percentage points from the share for the January-June period. Business revenue of the sector stood at 4.07 trillion yuan, edging down 4.4 % year-on-year, narrowing 3.6 percentage points from the first half. CAAM data also showed the July’s automobile output reached 2.2 million; up 21.9 % year-on-year, while sales hit 2.1 million; up 16.4 % year-on-year. China’s auto market, which was hit hard by the Covid-19 epidemic, started to recover in April, thanks to unleashed pent-up demand and supportive policies. +++ 

+++ A study has shown that the CORONA VIRUS pandemic is creating a shift away from public transportation and towards private cars in the United States. In the study conducted earlier this month with 3.062 respondents, it was discovered that more than a third of Americans are currently working from home and that when they do return to the office, they won’t do so via public transportation. The study found that 43 % of Americans lack faith in fellow passengers on public transportation abiding by health and safety protocols, with the remaining 57 % saying they at least “moderately trust” other passengers. Moreover, 35 % of future commuters plan to commute less even after returning to work in person. The study also revealed that 62 % of workers have swapped public transportation for their car. No less than 21 % of respondents added they have purchased a car in the last 6 months, with 57 % saying it was because of the pandemic. Additionally, 65 % of bus riders have stopped riding or are riding less frequently, 60 % of subway or commuter rail riders have stopped riding or are riding less frequently and 59 % are using ride-sharing less often than before. “As much of the American office workforce continues to work remotely, there is a major shift in commuting behavior, which is likely to have a lasting impact long after we return to the office”, assistant managing editor for the study, Matt Schmitz, said. “Workers are saving up to an hour or more a day by not commuting, and finding significant value in this newfound gift of time. And when they do finally return to the office, it won’t be via mass transit. Personal vehicles will dominate the work commute as distrust in public transport and ride-sharing continues”. +++

+++ DS will focus on growing its retail operations and raising brand awareness rather than “going for volume” after sales were hit by Covid-19, its UK managing director has said. It will also offer 6 cars by late 2021, with the 9 saloon and 4 hatchback joining the 3 Crossback and 7 Crossback with their respective electric and plug-in hybrid E-Tense variants. “Over the year-to-date position, we have maintained our market share”, Alain Descat told, while admitting that year-to-date sales had fallen in line with the market, down 45.4 %. “We’re at 0.14 % market share, which makes us a small challenger. We know it will take time, maybe 20-30 years, to be up with the premium brands. The UK is one of the most competitive markets in Europe for premium cars”. DS has registered just 1.146 cars in the UK this year. That is less than 10 % of fellow PSA Group brand Citroën’s total and around 2 % of Mercedes’, although more than rival (and future sibling) Alfa Romeo’s. By contrast, DS’s market share in France now tops 10 %. Descat added: “We need to lower the threshold for customers to discover who we are. We need to explain where we’re from and the uniqueness of our proposition and explain our product”. He also noted positives: the high uptake of electrified cars, which now account for more than a quarter of sales, and impressive first-quarter fleet-average CO2 emissions of 79.7 g/km. The nearest rival brand is at around 110 g/km. The immediate priority for DS is pushing forward with an online buying platform, said to be ready “in a few weeks”. It won’t come at the expense of dealers, which are growing and splitting from Citroën outlets. “We want to mirror the physical journey with an effective online journey”, said Descat. “We will have retailers to deliver the cars, so we won’t move away from physical retailers in that process”. He described the 9 as “not a volume car but important in proving our integrity”. DS will have greater sales hopes for the new 4, which will be launched later in 2021. +++

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) has already told its suppliers that its next-gen small car models will utilize a PSA Group architecture, specifically the Common Modular Platform (CMP) which currently underpins the Peugeot 208 and 2008, the Opel / Vauxhall Corsa and new Mokka, plus the DS 3 Crossback. All these cars feature not only internal combustion setups, but also fully-electric variants, which bodes well for Fiat Chrysler and its global ambitions. FCA sent a letter to its suppliers in late July, asking them to immediately stop any research, development and tooling construction activities regarding future B-segment models (meaning either small or subcompact). Fiat Chrysler said that it would build CMP-based small cars at its plant in Tychy, Poland, a location that currently makes the Fiat 500 and Lancia Ypsilon. FCA could reportedly build as many as 400.000 CMP-based models per year there. Meanwhile, FCA and PSA have to continue to compete with each other until the merger is completed in order to avoid any possible antitrust issues. FCA already announced that it will exit the A segment going forward, and will focus its efforts on B segment cars. “In the very near future you will see us refocus on this higher-volume, higher-margin segment, and that will involve a move away from the A segment”, stated FCA boss Mike Manley last year during a Q3 earnings call. While a timeline for a return to this segment has yet to be set publicly, some industry insiders believe that it will happen by the year 2024. With that in mind, I expect Fiat to bring back the Punto nameplate, which was once its most successful model in Europe. +++

+++ Driving is fun, parking is not, especially if you drive a gigantic crew-cab pickup truck. Well, your 2021 FORD F-150 or other new models might valet park itself in the very near future, if you can find a parking structure outfitted with Bosch’s infrastructure-based Automated Valet Parking system. I’ve sat in lots of cars that have valet parked themselves. Most have leaned on sensors, software, and computing power onboard the vehicle to perform this task. You drive into a structure, exit the vehicle, call up the car’s smart-phone app or press a button on the key remote, and the vehicle senses its surroundings, drives at low speed through the structure, finds an open parking space, and pulls into it. When you hail its return, it reverses the procedure. This is a lot like level-five autonomy (with the hardware and software costs that portends) but in a confined space at ultra-low speeds, which lowers the liability concerns considerably. Bosch aims to accelerate adoption of such automated parking by pulling that sensing and communicating power out of the vehicle and instead building it into the parking structure. To demonstrate the system, Bosch has partnered with Ford and Bedrock, the largest property developer in the City of Detroit, to demonstrate the system in Bedrock’s Assembly Garage in Corktown, near the site of Ford’s new mobility innovation district, anchored by Michigan Central Station. The garage has a designated “drop-off zone” where a driver climbs out of the vehicle, opens an app, and orders the vehicle to park. The app pays the parking fee, communicates important vehicle parameters (primarily size and turning radius), and authorizes the garage infrastructure to take control of the vehicle. At this point an elaborate array of lidar sensors in the garage, networked with an onsite computer, track the movements of any vehicles moving through the garage, monitoring the area around each for any obstacles. It assumes electronic control of the vehicle’s steering, transmission, acceleration, and braking via wi-fi connection to an embedded modem in the car. This “airport control tower” approach of monitoring and directing the movement of all vehicles in the structure sounds safer than entrusting myriad vehicles to autonomously park themselves without incident in a “dumb” (unconnected) structure. Such embedded modems and app controls have been installed in a fleet of Ford Kuga test vehicles during the month-plus-long demonstration project, and all 2021 Ford F-150 pick-ups will come equipped with such a modem as standard equipment. Obviously the new F-150 also features all the necessary electronic controls needed to permit the Bosch infrastructure to direct the parking operation. What’s in it for garage operators? By designating an area for the exclusive use of automated valet parking, alleviating the need to leave room for doors to open, means vehicles can be parked so close to one another as to permit a claimed 20 % increase in the number of vehicles that can be parked. Obviously, it also enables prepaid and advance-reserved parking as well. By restricting the public to the drop-off area, there’s less litter to pick up, less risk of theft and vandalism, and the amount of light or heat required in the garage is greatly reduced. These cost savings and revenue opportunities will help fund the up-front capital expense. Bosch also notes that, while this demo uses lidar sensors, it’s working on a system that uses stereo-vision cameras instead, which provides the added benefit of security monitoring. There is no currently scheduled roll-out of Automated Valet Parking, but a great number of new vehicles are just an over-the-air software-push away from being able to implement this convenience feature as the parking garage infrastructure rolls out. +++

+++ Global sales at automakers from JAPAN slipped 12.2 % in July from last year, the fifth straight month of losses, as demand for cars remains sluggish after factories and dealerships reopened following coronavirus-related lockdowns earlier this year. The country’s 7 major automakers, including Toyota and Nissan, sold a combined 2.01 million vehicles last month, according to calculations based on sales data released by the companies. The decline in monthly sales has slowed significantly since a 50 % drop posted in April, and compared with a 21.3 % fall in June. Sales in China increased on the year for most automakers, while Toyota, the country’s biggest automaker, also saw growth in Europe. Total global production at Japan’s 7 major automakers fell 14.4 % year-on-year to 1.99 million units last month, improving from a 26.1 % tumble in June. Global demand for cars has been weak since March due to virus-related stay-at-home orders in many countries, which led to a drop in visits to car dealerships and potential customers also reconsidered big purchases. Many countries have been easing the lockdown restrictions, but industry experts anticipate that it could take up to five years for demand to recover to 2019 levels. +++

+++ JEEP has been giving Grand Wagoneer fans the proverbial middle finger since 2011, when they originally announced the model was going to return in 2014 after an absence of 23 years. That obviously never happened and neither did other returns promised in FCA’s famously optimistic 5 year plans, or 5 year fantasies as they have become known. After nearly a decade of false hope, Jeep looked ready to unveil the highly anticipated production model on September 3rd. They’ve released countless teaser images and videos leading up to the event, but they casually dropped a bombshell today by revealing they’re simply going to show a concept and not the production model. That’s disappointing and somewhat perplexing as the SUV will be launched next year and go into production, alongside the standard Wagoneer, in the second quarter of 2021. Putting that aside, the production model is slated to be based on the Ram 1500 and share engines with the pickup. This means we can expect a 3.6-liter V6 with 309 hp and 364 Nm, as well as a 5.7-liter V8 pumping out 400 hp and 556 Nm. FCA has also confirmed plans for a plug-in hybrid variant and there’s a chance the model could also be offered a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine. Besides revealing the Grand Wagoneer is simply a concept, Jeep confirmed the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid will debut at the same event. It was originally shown at CES and features a charging port which is integrated into the base of the windshield. Jeep is keeping specifications under wraps, but the eco-friendly off-roader will go on sale in December. +++

+++ Chinese car and motorcycle maker LIFAN announced public recruitment of investors as a local court in Southwest China’s Chongqing municipality ruled to accept its bankruptcy reorganization. Lifan currently has an annual output capacity of 150.000 complete motor vehicles and 300.000 automotive engines, while it also produces 1 million motorcycles, 1 million motorcycle engines and 1 million general gasoline engines every year, according to the announcement. The total assets of qualified investors should not be below 20 billion yuan (about $2.9 billion), the announcement said. Through the participation of investors, Lifan is seeking to optimize its asset, debt and equity structures, safeguard the legitimate interests of creditors, as well as integrate industrial resources for future transformation and upgrade. Founded in 1992, the Chongqing-based auto manufacturer is the first private passenger vehicle enterprise listed on China’s A-share market. However, the company’s production and operation have been deteriorating in recent years due to its less competitive products. +++

+++ Before the unveiling of the facelifted Panamera, Porsche built up the hype by announcing that the Turbo S variant is the fastest luxury car (or to be specific, “executive” car) on the Nurburgring Nordschleife. The facelifted Porsche model completed the full circuit length of 20.832 km, which has been mandatory for automakers since 2019, in 7:29.81 minutes, while the slightly shorter version of the track that measures 20.6 km, was passed after 7:25.04 minutes. The previous king of the ‘Ring, the MERCEDES-AMG GT 63 S 4Matic+, completed the shorter version of the track in 7:25.41 minutes 2 years ago, while we now learn that the the longer 20.8 km course was actually completed in 7:30.109. “Since 2019, the Nürburgring has required that all manufacturers complete the entirety of the nearly 21 km track for a lap time to be recognized. Prior to that, the old track entrance was considered the end of the lap, leaving roughly 200 meter between the historical endpoint and the actual start/finish line”, Mercedes-Benz USA spokesperson, Baron Smith, clarified about the 2 different posted times. +++

+++ SAIC MOTOR said that it will try to achieve a better sales performance than the overall market average, as the largest carmaker in China recovers from the coronavirus pandemic slump. The State-owned carmaker made the remark when it released the financial report of its first half of 2020. Vehicle deliveries in that period totaled 2.05 million; down 30.2 % year-on-year. Its revenue in the same period was 283.74 billion yuan ($41.23 billion); down 24.6 % year-on-year. Net profit fell 39.1 % year-on-year to 8.39 billion yuan. “The unexpected coronavirus pandemic has caused havoc on the global economy and the global automotive industry. The situation was even more serious in the Chinese car market”, said SAIC Motor in its report. Statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers show that vehicle deliveries in China totaled 10.23 million in the first half of 2020; down 17.2 % year-on-year. Passenger vehicle sales reached 7.83 million; down 22.9 % year-on-year. But as the pandemic has been basically curbed in China, the auto market is recovering. SAIC’s vehicle sales in the second quarter rose 101.8 % compared with the first. Its monthly sales have been on the rise since April. SAIC said it will work hard to get a better sales performance than the overall Chinese market this year. The CAAM estimates that vehicle sales will improve in the second half, but it said this year’s total sales will fall 10 % – 20 % compared with 2019. SAIC Motor said it is to export 2,500 MG and Maxus-branded vehicles to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, as demand in Oceania grows for Chinese vehicles. The vehicles, loaded on 2 ships, are expected to leave Shanghai on Saturday and reach their destinations in mid-and-late September. They are SAIC Motor’s biggest shipment to markets in Oceania. SAIC Motor said Oceania, especially Australia and New Zealand, is 1 of its 7 major overseas markets. The carmaker’s MG marque is now the bestselling Chinese brand in the 2 countries. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the brand has increased its market share to 2 % thanks to its sufficient forecourt supplies when competitors struggled to import vehicles. Its monthly sales average 1.000 units and last month its sales reached 1.234. The Maxus brand is also popular in Australia and New Zealand. Their accumulated sales of pickups, SUVs, MPVs and vans in the 2 countries has exceeded 30.000. SAIC Motor is the largest vehicle producer and exporter in China. It exported 154.000 vehicles in the first 7 months of this year, accounting for 34 % of Chinese carmakers’ total exports. Its vehicles are available in more than 60 countries and regions around the world. SAIC Motor’s new energy vehicles are gaining in popularity in Europe since their arrival in 2019. Sales of MG’s eZS on the continent exceeded 10.000 in the second half of 2019. SAIC is planning to export its new energy vehicles to Switzerland and Spain this year. The carmaker said its competitive edge lies in the establishment of companies along the industry chain, ranging from research and development facilities to manufacturing plants and sales networks. SAIC Motor has more than 25.000 employees overseas. +++

+++ Elon Musk said that TESLA ’s factory in Nevada was a target of a serious cybersecurity attack, confirming a media report that claimed an employee of the company helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) thwart the attack. The electric carmaker was the unnamed company in a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday about a Russian national’s arrest, in connection with a planned attack on an unidentified company. “This was a serious attack”, Musk said in a tweet. The Justice Department said that Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, a Russian national, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer by trying to recruit an employee to introduce a malware into a system. The malware was aimed at extracting data from the network and then to threaten the company for ransom money, the statement said. According to the Justice Department, Kriuchkov had promised the employee an incentive of $1 million upon introducing the malware into the system. But the employee alerted the FBI, who were successful in thwarting the attack, a complaint filed by the FBI’s Las Vegas Field Office showed. Tesla shares continued their meteoric rise, scoring yet another record high and further expanding the distance between the Silicon Valley electric carmaker and its traditional auto industry rivals. Tesla shares rose to $2,290 in mid-day trading before leveling out at $2,240, the highest price since the company went public at $17 a share in 2010. Tesla’s shares have risen more than 420 % since the beginning of this year, turning some retail investors into millionaires. While other carmakers are forced to invest billions to overhaul their internal combustion engine operations to produce battery-powered cars, investors are confident that Tesla can make the shift from a niche carmaker into a global leader in cleaner cars. Tesla became the world’s most valuable carmaker by market capitalization when it overtook former front runner Toyota on July 1. The company now accounts for 41 % of the total market cap of a group of 12 of the world’s largest automakers. Tesla produces only a fraction of the vehicles sold by established global carmakers, many of which are considered growth engines for their local economies. Toyota and Volkswagen sold 10.46 and 11 million vehicles respectively during the 2019 financial year. That compares to the 367.200 vehicles Tesla delivered in 2019. Tesla has said it would deliver at least half a million vehicles by the end of 2020, less than 5 % of Toyota’s and Volkswagen’s annual sales. But Tesla withstood industry-wide fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic and in July reported a second-quarter profit, clearing a hurdle that could lead to the electric carmaker’s inclusion in the S&P 500 index. +++

+++ With Covid-19 infection rates on the rise in Europe, the VOLKSWAGEN Group is stepping up its efforts to help its employees in Germany. Their plan is to install facilities for voluntary testing at sites nationwide. The carmaker says it will be able to perform as many as 2.400 tests per day in Wolfsburg (home of the Volkswagen headquarter and its largest factory), with results available within just 24 hours. VW re-opened its Wolfsburg plant four months ago after a 6-week shutdown. The factory is responsible for the likes of the Golf, Tiguan, Touran and Seat Tarraco. “The test offering helps break infection chains quickly”, said VW personnel chief, Gunnar Kilian. “A secure working environment for our colleagues remains the highest priority”. The main reason for this initiative is to help navigate the coming influenza season, when employees might mistake common flu symptoms with those of Covid-19, which in turn could cause panic and overwhelm doctors/hospitals. The test facilities will be set up in what VW refers to as “walk-through containers” that have been prepped for voluntary work checks. The carmaker will eventually have a total of 10 containers across the country. Right now, infections in Germany are close to a 4-month high, which seems to be the case with most of Europe. Earlier this week, federal and regional health officials said that they would scrap a requirement for people returning to Germany from high-risk areas to be tested for Covid-19, due to a lack of laboratory capacity. +++

+++ The 2021 WORLD CAR OF THE YEAR Awards jurors have released the list of eligible vehicles, ahead of announcing the winner next March. There are 5 categories in the 2021 awards, and over the coming months jurors will start to deliver their verdicts. On 3 February, the top 10 World Car of the Year finalists and the top 5 in each of the  World Luxury, World Performance Car, World Urban Can and World Car Design of the Year will be revealed, ahead of the winners announcement at the New York Motor Show on 31 March. This year, jurors will publish a series of videos showcasing each of the shortlisted cars. The provisional shortlists for the 2021 World Car of the Year awards consists of: Audi A3, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, BMW 4 Series, Citroen C4 / e-C4, Ford Escape / Kuga, Genesis G80, Honda Jazz / Fit, Honda E, Hyundai Elantra / Avante, Hyundai i10 / Grand i10, Hyundai i20, Kia K5 / Optima, Kia Sonet, Kia Sorento, Mazda MX-30, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Nissan Rogue / X-Trail, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Sienna, Toyota Venza / Harrier, Toyota Yaris / Yaris Cross, Volkswagen ID.4. Contenders for the 2021 World Luxury Car title are: Aston Martin DBX, BMW X6, Genesis GV80, Land Rover Defender, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, Toyota Mirai, Volvo XC40 Recharge P8 AWD. Contenders for the 2021 World Performance Car title are: Audi RS Q3, Audi RS Q8, BMW Alpina XB7, BMW M2 CS, BMW X5 M / X6 M, Hyundai Veloster N, Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, Mini John Cooper Works GP, Porsche 718 GTS 4.0, Porsche 911 Turbo, Toyota GR Yaris. Contenders for the 2021 World Urban Car title are: Honda Jazz / Fit, Honda E, Hyundai i10 / Grand i10, Hyundai i20, Kia Sonet and Toyota Yaris / Yaris Cross. +++ 

+++ XPENG , a leading smart electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer in China, made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), trading under the ticker symbol of “XPEV”. XPeng priced its initial public offering of 99.7 million American depositary shares (ADSs) at $15 per ADS, above the range of 11 dollars to 13 dollars given by the company, for a total offering size of approximately 1.5 billion dollars. Each ADS represents 2 Class A ordinary shares of the company. Credit Suisse Securities, JP Morgan Securities, and BofA Securities are acting as joint bookrunners for the offering. XPeng’s CEO He Xiaopeng told Xinhua that the listing was a milestone for the company as it offered an opportunity for his team to better communicate with investors, which would be conducive for the company’s long-term development. “We will continue to improve our development and research, enhance innovation and expand sales channels”, said the chief executive. Founded in 2015, the Guangzhou-headquartered company aims to bring smart EVs to consumers through innovation in autonomous driving, smart connectivity and core vehicle systems. Approximately 50 % of the net proceeds of this offering will be used for research and development of smart EVs and technologies, while 30 % of the net proceeds of this offering will be used for marketing and expansion of sales channels, the company said in its prospectus. He said he is confident about a promising future in China’s smart EV, buoyed by the nation’s huge EV market and growing base of technology-savvy middle-class consumers. China’s EV market represented 45.1 % of the global EV sales volume and is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 29.4 % from 2019 to 2025, reaching 4.2 million units in 2025, according to IHS Markit Report. XPeng stock closed at $21.22 apiece; up 41.47 % from its pricing. +++

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