Newsflash: Lexus komt met elektrische cross-over coupé

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+++ Michigan announced an initiative to explore the development of a more than 64 kilometer stretch of road dedicated to connected and AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES between the cities of Ann Arbor and Detroit. The project will be led by Cavnue, a subsidiary of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, and will be supported by an advisory committee that includes General Motors, Ford and Toyota Motor, as well as autonomous driving startups Argo AI and Waymo. “We are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future”, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. Michigan said the dedicated autonomous vehicle (AV) corridor is the first of its kind and eventually will improve safety and transit access for communities along the road. The first 2 years of the project will focus on testing technology and exploring the viability of a highway dedicated to vehicles that drive themselves. The goal would be to create a corridor “that allows for a mix of connected and autonomous vehicles, traditional transit vehicles, shared mobility and freight and personal vehicles”, the state said in the statement. Most of the U.S. testing by leading autonomous-vehicle companies to date has taken place in California, with GM-backed Cruise, Waymo and Amazon-owned Zoox deploying their fleets in San Francisco and the Bay Area. In most cases, a safety driver is required, and the AVs share the road with regular traffic. Waymo also does a lot of driverless testing in Arizona. “Testers in Michigan do not face the heavy reporting burden faced by those in California, making the state an ideal place for testing without much public scrutiny”, analyst Alejandro Zamorano-Cadavid said. “Given the auto-tech cluster already in Michigan, it makes sense for the state to provide a corridor that will help its biggest industry adapt to a world with less cars and increasingly more shared autonomous vehicles”. He sees sales of passenger vehicles peaking globally in 2036 as shared car fleets and robotaxi fleets grow. Still, it notes there is a high degree of uncertainty around the timing and deployment of autonomous vehicles. +++ 

+++ European BATTERY MAKERS are gearing up to take advantage of massive ‘green’ stimulus packages unveiled since the coronavirus pandemic though many acknowledge it will be tough to match the Asian giants that dominate the mainstream market. While Sweden’s Northvolt, and more recently France’s Verkor, are making a play for large-scale production, other European companies are focusing on niche markets and new technologies rather than taking on Chinese and South Korean firms with mass production of batteries destined for electric vehicles (EVs). From Greek battery maker Sunlight to start-ups like InoBat Auto in Slovakia and Switzerland’s Innolith, firms say the challenge of building economies of scale fast to compete head on means finding niches is a more likely path to success, for now. “Having battery giants in Europe, it’s still possible”, said Sunlight chief executive Lampros Bisalas. “We just need to run and catch up and innovate faster than the others”. Sunlight’s Greek factory is the world’s largest producer of lead-acid batteries for automated guided vehicles, forklifts and energy storage systems and it is now shifting to lithium cells. But Bisalas isn’t going after the EV market dominated by China’s CATL, Japan’s Panasonic and South Korea’s LG Chem, Samsung SDI plus SK Innovation. He’s focusing on lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) production, a type of battery suited to forklifts, locomotives and robots that perform short tasks with breaks in between. “These markets are billions of dollars”, said Bisalas. “We see a very big opportunity there, because we see lithium ion producers, especially from China, being focused on EVs”. Ever since it launched the European Battery Alliance in 2017, Europe has been pushing local firms to develop an industry that should flourish in a low-carbon future and ensure the continent is not reliant on imported products – or technology. Now, China hosts 80 % of the world’s lithium-ion cell production (the type of battery expected to power the fast-growing EV industry) and most of the capacity coming online in Europe over the next 5 years belongs to Asian firms. But the European Union has committed €550 billion to climate protection and clean technologies over the next 7 years, and these plans hinge on batteries to store renewable energy and to power EVs. Researchers have already identified 13 European battery projects that could be eligible for EU support, in countries including France, Germany, Slovakia and Poland, though some are being driven by Asian manufacturers, such as LG Chem’s plans to expand its factory in Krakow. European EV production is expected to increase 6-fold in the next 5 years and EU leaders expect the battery value chain (from mining to production to recycling) will be worth 250 billion euros by 2025. But some European startups concede they can’t catch up with the large-scale, low-cost Asian incumbents. InoBat Auto, for example, a Slovak startup backed by U.S. energy technology company Wildcat Discovery Technologies and Czech utility CEZ, is instead heading into the fast lane. Chief executive Marian Bocek said the European auto industry’s reliance on imported mass-produced batteries has created a “technological sovereignty crisis”, forcing manufacturers to design cars around the batteries. So it is planning to tailor batteries for high-performance vehicles that may need something special. It plans to bring a 100 MWh (megawatt/hour) production line online next year in Slovakia near Peugeot, Kia and Jaguar Land Rover’s plants, which it said could eventually become a 10 GWh facility. There, InoBat will test battery chemistries and make prototypes tweaked to each carmaker’s needs. “Our focus is more on a sort of niche, on-demand battery segment for high-performance vehicles that cannot go to the LG Chems or SK Innovations of the world”, Bocek said. Analysts say the next generation of batteries must last longer, charge faster and be safer and greener than those on the market now, and that gives European companies a chance. “That is how Europe can conceive a competitive edge over China”, said Wood Mackenzie energy storage analyst Mitalee Gupta. “It will get competitive pretty quickly”. Swiss battery technology company Innolith, for one, is looking for an edge with new technologies. The company, which bought U.S. battery producer Alevo’s intellectual property after its bankruptcy in 2017, said its labs in Germany will have prototypes this year for an NMC 811 cell that will deliver up to 315 Wh/kg (watt hour per kg). NMC 811 cells include less cobalt than most mainstream EV batteries, which means they have the potential to deliver more power and with cheaper components. “We cannot just take the same technology which is used, for example, in China or South Korea and copy-paste”, said chief executive Konstantin Solodovnikov. In Austria, battery technology company Kreisel Electric said it has licensed its NMC 811 technology to a European-based battery producer, which it declined to name. It already licenses its technology to Vietnamese EV maker VinFast. Kreisel said it uses an immersion liquid cooling system to solve the fire hazards associated with lithium-ion cells in large industrial applications, giving it an edge over rivals. But while European firms look for ways into the market, Asian rivals are building more capacity on the continent. The first European factories for SK Innovation and CATL are under construction while LG Chem already makes batteries in Poland and Samsung has a plant in Hungary. “We can bring to Europe our advantages in cost and product quality and service”, said Susan Zeng, co-president of CATL’s European division, which plans to start production in Germany next year. For now, Northvolt is the only European startup that looks like it will have the scale to take on the Asian giants in its backyard and its first factory has yet to start production. Northvolt wants 25 % of Europe’s battery market within a decade, a goal it says will require 150 GWh of production; more than 3 times the continent’s current lithium-ion capacity. It raised $1.6 billion in debt financing last month, on top of more than €1 billion from backers including Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs. Northvolt’s first 40 GWh plant is due to open in Sweden next year. A joint venture with Volkswagen in Germany will follow in 2024 with a potential capacity of 24 GWh and Northvolt has already struck deals to sell production worth €13 billion. “In this market you have to offer scale”, said chief environmental officer Emma Nehrenheim. Julian Jansen, head of energy storage research at IHS Markit, said Northvolt’s launch had been extremely impressive. “They’re doing it at a speed which has probably caught a lot of people by surprise, and which no one else has been able to do”. Verkor, a French startup whose backers include electrical equipment company Schneider Electric, said Northvolt had shown that European companies could scale up quickly to compete with mainstream rivals. Verkor plans to build a 16 GWh lithium-ion battery factory in southern Europe by 2023 and chief executive Benoit Lemaignan said it would seek €1.6 billion next year from private equity firms and public investment banks. While the project was conceived before the pandemic struck, Lemaignan said the EU’s “green” post-pandemic stimulus package was accelerating its plans. “It’s just pushing us even harder and even faster, because it’s exactly what is needed now to be developed in Europe”. +++ 

+++ Car sales in CHINA accelerated in July, which provided support to the world’s auto giants, Bloomberg said in a recent report. Retail sales of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles increased 7.9 % in July year-on-year to 1.63 million units. Volkswagen, a world leading car maker, rose more than 40 % from a mid-March low in the Chinese market. General Motors was up more than 60 % over that span, while Tesla sold 11.014 autos in July in China as the bestseller of pure electric vehicles. Steve Man, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Hong Kong, expected that German and Japanese brands will benefit the most from the auto market improvement, but GM and Ford may get hit because of the escalating China-US tensions. +++ 

+++ The EURO ‘s rally is delivering a much-needed boost to Ford, which has been expanding exports of U.S.-built muscle cars and SUVs. After years of shipping Michigan-made Mustangs to Europe, Ford has been rounding out its portfolio of imported products, including with the recently launched plug-in hybrid Explorer. In 2021, it will launch the all-electric Mustang Mach-E. “It’s one of our pillars and we do intend to build on it”, Ford of Europe president Stuart Rowley said of the automaker’s import business. “It’s going to be a niche business for us, it’s relatively low volume, but I think it can be a very brand-enhancing and, importantly, profitable business”. In the first half of 2020, Ford sold 3.331 Mustangs in Europe; up from 2.179 during the same period last year, while Explorer sales were flat at 464, according to company figures. The euro has reached historic highs against the dollar recently, crossing 1.19 euros per dollar earlier this month, the highest since May 2018. The European Union’s landmark rescue fund has soothed concerns over the bloc’s structural risks and helped buoy the currency. Ford of Europe’s import business has been a bright spot in otherwise challenging times. The automaker announced plans last year to restructure operations in the region by eliminating more than 10.000 jobs and closing or selling 6 plants. Ford last month reported a $664 million second-quarter operating loss in Europe. +++ 

+++ Western EUROPE ’s electrified vehicle sales pulled ahead of China’s last month after countries including Germany and France boosted government subsidies to stimulate demand that had been decimated by the pandemic. The roughly 500.000 plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles registered in Europe during the first 7 months exceeded China’s sales by about 14.000 units, according to a report from Matthias Schmidt, an independent auto analyst in Berlin. Registrations of battery-powered cars were about 269.000 in western Europe and plug-in registrations were 231.000, according to the report. In addition to helping automakers recover from the coronavirus, government incentives are assisting automakers’ efforts to meet tougher emissions standards. While China’s auto market has been recovering, the government is reducing subsidies that have supported new-energy vehicle sales to encourage automakers to compete on their own. Europe probably will exceed 1 million sales of plug-in hybrid and electric-vehicles this year, Schmidt said, as Tesla makes more cars available in the region and Volkswagen ramps up deliveries of its battery-powered ID.3. Tesla has lost ground in Europe amid supply bottlenecks as the company waits for its new European factory near Berlin to start production in the middle of next year. +++ 

+++ Since 2014, the Formula 1 has changed its regulations to use smaller, turbocharged V6-hybrid powerplants. Aside from a possible bid to end Red Bull dominance, the sport wanted to produce a more environmentally friendly product while developing road technologies. Slowly but surely, the hybrid tech from Formula 1 has made its mark in the auto industry: FERRARI is currently testing a car sporting a V6 soundtrack. To the uninitiated, Fiorano is the Italian automaker’s playground near Maranello, Italy. Built in 1972 as a proving circuit for Ferrari vehicles, the track features a myriad of different corners to simulate various racetracks around the world. Before F1 limited the amount of testing teams could do, the Scuderia would spend thousands of hours cutting its teeth around the sacred grounds. As is the case with Formula 1, feelings toward the smaller engines are all over the place. It appears that the V6 hybrid is here to stay. +++ 

+++ FORD says that customer response to the unveiling of the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport last month has been “unprecedented” in the company’s history. In the first 3 weeks, more than 165.000 people placed $100 deposits for orders online and more than 13 million tuned in on television and social media platforms to see the highly anticipated off-road SUVs. Hours after the July 13 reveal, #FordBronco dominated social media platforms and trended to the top conversation on Twitter in the United States. Ford Bronco also became the top Google search request, helping drive more than 5.4 million visitors to the ford.com website in the first 48 hours. To date, there have been more than 19.5 million total visitors. Ford converted these amazing numbers into sales as by the following day, all of the 2.000 limited-run Bronco Sport First Edition models and 3.500 Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door First Edition models were spoken for. There was so much demand for the latter models that Ford doubled production to 7.000 units. Ford continues to accept Bronco reservations on its website, while Bronco Sport models are now available for ordering online and at dealerships. In a related announcement, Ford said the first of 4 ‘Bronco Off-Roadeo’ locations in the United States will open in summer 2021. Located in the hill country of Austin, Texas, the Bronco Off-Roadeo will enable Bronco and Bronco Sport Badlands series owners to get the most adventure out of their rugged SUVs and build connections to the greater Bronco community. The facility includes off-roading and outdoor adventure playgrounds designed for beginners and expert off-roaders alike. “Getting into the wild is at the core of Bronco brand, and our first Bronco Off-Roadeo location in Austin, Texas, will help fuel Bronco fans’ quests for outdoor adventure”, said Mark Grueber, Bronco brand marketing manager. “At each of our four Bronco Off-Roadeo locations, we want owners and enthusiasts, even those who are off-road novices, to have as much fun as off-road pros and we want to provide them with knowledge and experience to make their future Bronco adventures even greater”. My final Bronco-related news is that the Bronco R will return to the Score Baja 1000 this fall. The race prototype built by Ford Performance and Geiser Performance will continue to serve as test bed for the brand’s design, capability and extreme durability testing. +++ 

+++ FAW Group is considering a higher sales target for HONGQI in coming years, as the Chinese premium marque has become more popular than expected. Hongqi car sales in the first 6 months of 2020 totaled 70.000. This represents a rise of 111 % from the same period in 2019, despite a 22 % fall in China’s overall passenger car market. “The sales goal of 200.000 set for Hongqi this year will not be a problem”, said FAW chairman Xu Liuping. He was speaking at an industry conference organized in Wuhan. Xu said FAW is considering a more aggressive target for Hongqi, hoping its sales in 2021 to at least double this year’s figure. In its plan, released in January, 400.000 was the goal set for 2022. Xu said he hopes Hongqi sales could reach 500.000-600.000 in 2022 and 700.000-800.000 cars in 2025. But he added that the targets have not yet been finalized and the company is researching the market. Hongqi’s new models including the H9 sedan have helped sales and a more important electric SUV, the E-HS9, is expected to hit the market in the 4th quarter this year, said Xu. The models are part of a major campaign FAW started in 2018 to rejuvenate the premium brand, which was previously reserved for heads of state and senior government officials. According to its plan, the brand will have launched 17 new models by 2025 to develop a younger customer base with a larger following. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI said its Kona Electric succeeded in driving over 1.000 kilometers on a single battery charge, setting a new range record for electric vehicles. The auto maker said it had conducted a test run of 3 Kona Electric vehicles at EuroSpeedway Lausitzring, a racing circuit located in northeast Germany. Each of the 3 vehicles went 1.026 kilometers, 1.024.1 km and 1.018.7 km respectively, and drove for 35 hours straight by switching the drivers, the company explained. The average speed of the 3 cars was between 29 and 31 kilometers per hour, Hyundai said. The company also said it has set a new record for its 64 kWh battery capacity, with power consumption figures coming out to 6.28, 6.25 and 6.24 kWh per 100 kilometers, well below the standard value of 14.7 kWh per 100 km determined by WLTP. “With this test, the Kona Electric confirmed what many of our customers already know: it is a reliably efficient and eco-friendly lifestyle SUV that is practical for everyday use”, Jürgen Keller, the managing director of Hyundai Deutschland. “Customers driving the Kona Electric or other Hyundai EVs can expect to drive long distances without recharging or feeling range anxiety”. All vehicles used in the test were factory-spec and unmodified. But to avail the power solely for propulsion, the company said all vehicles had the air conditioning and entertainment systems turned off. Only the daytime running lights remained on to comply with the legal requirements for road traffic. +++ 

+++ The teasing campaign for the upcoming JEEP Grand Wagoneer continues, with the carmaker dropping not 1, but 2 images of the new three-row full-size SUV model. The first image shows part of the model’s nameplate, confirming that this indeed is the new Grand Wagoneer, while the second one is an interior shot that shows the engine start-stop button, revealing a portion of the model’s luxurious cabin. The new Jeep Grand Wagoneer is expected to share the platform of the RAM 1500, which means it’s going to be a rugged body-on-frame SUV and will most likely share the same powertrains too. The engine range will include the latest electrified eTorque versions of the 3.6-liter V6 and the 5.7-liter V8, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission and of course an all-wheeldrive system. There’s also the possibility of Jeep introducing a plug-in hybrid variant. Jeep’s new flagship model is also expected to feature a very plush interior, using expensive materials and plenty of tech features; a big infotainment touchscreen display will be included and it could be the same 12 inch portrait-oriented system RAM uses, featuring pretty much every connectivity option available. The new Jeep Grand Wagoneer’s most expensive variants are expected to rival models like the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator. If true, then Jeep must make its new flagship a true luxury SUV worthy of the price. Fiat Chrysler said during their second-quarter earnings’ presentation that the new Grand Wagoneer will enter production in the second quarter of 2021. +++ 

+++ Breaking down trademark filings is never easy. Automakers can obtain one they’ll never use, but this new filing from LEXUS has a good chance of seeing daylight. The luxury Japanese automaker filed trademarks in the Europe, US and Australia for the RZ 450e. It follows the automaker’s current naming conventions, suggesting this could be an entirely new model the company will add to its lineup as it pushes further into EVs. Lexus began its EV rollout last November with the UX 300e for China, Japan, and Europe to offer every model with an electric and plug-in hybrid powertrain by 2025. The company previewed that future with the LF-30 concept, also unveiled last year. It’s a sharp-edged concept with gullwing doors, 4 in-wheel electric motors, and polarising styling. But it was just a concept that we won’t see enter production anytime soon. Pinning down what Lexus plans to do with the new RZ trademark isn’t complete speculation. Lexus already uses the R in its lineup with the RC and RX; a coupe and a crossover. The “e” at the end of 450e means it’ll feature an electric powertrain, following the UX300e. The only wild card in the name is the ‘Z’. The LC and RC in the Lexus lineup are coupes while the ES, LS, and IS are saloons. The UX, EX, and GX are crossovers. So what’s an RZ? Lexus could use it to add a new body style to its portfolio, like a crossover coupe. Lexus is just one of several automakers investing in electric vehicles. Cadillac recently announced the Lyriq, an all-electric crossover that’s set to arrive in 2023. Then you have entries like the Mustang Mach-E and GMC Hummer EV pickup. Automakers are approaching electric vehicles differently, with some going all-in while others are tepidly exploring the technology before rolling it out to the masses. +++ 

+++ California-based LUCID is nearly ready to introduce the Air, an electric sedan that recently, unofficially tested at a range of up to 828 km on a single charge. All of the technology packed under the sheetmetal was developed in-house by the brand, and it’s modular enough to underpin a full range of electric models, according to its CEO. Lucid is devoting a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources into bringing the Air to production. Next in line is a high-riding model whose name hasn’t been announced yet. Company boss Peter Rawlinson (who previously worked as Tesla’s chief engineer) told the SUV will be about as long as the Air. “I can confirm we’re doing an SUV off the Air platform, and I’m going to put that into production in early 2023”, he said. “That is really, really important because we need economies of scale to grow the business”, he added. So far, Lucid’s product plan sounds a lot like the average electric car startup’s, minus many of the pompous announcements we’ve come to associate with a lot of players in this arena. Looking ahead, the technology packed into the Air and the SUV will permeate a smaller, more affordable model aimed at the mass market. Whether Lucid’s definition of “mass-market” is more aligned with Tesla’s or Dacia’s is up in the air. Rawlinson stressed anything is possible when it comes to expanding into new segments, and he hinted he may follow Tesla, Ford, Rivian, GMC, Chevrolet, Bollinger, Lordstown, Fisker, and possibly even Ram into the electric pickup segment. “If we want to make a longer vehicle, like a pickup or something like that (which we may want to make in the future) the paint shop is future-proofed for pickups”, he told. Asked if Lucid would consider making cars for other companies, like Rivian and Volkswagen have set out to do with varying degrees of success, Rawlinson ruled it out categorically. He won’t even consider an offer. “No, absolutely not. Nobody’s going to do that; it’s a pie in the sky. This notion that they’re just going to outsource the manufacturing is absurd. I know Lucid’s got the best technology. I want to make the best technology benefit to all mankind. Why would I make someone else’s vehicle?” Lucid planned to introduce the Air in New York City in April 2020, but it delayed the model’s unveiling due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Its global debut is now scheduled for September 9. Production of pre-production prototypes will start in August 2020 in the factory Lucid is nearly done building in Casa Grande, Arizona, and customer deliveries will presumably start in the coming months. Pricing will start in the vicinity of $100,000. +++ 

+++ MAZDA TOYOTA MANUFACTURING , the new joint-venture between the 2 auto companies, announced an additional $830 million (¥88.8 billion) investment in its new Alabama plant. Governor Kay Ivey said in a news release that the investment in the new auto facility is now $2.3 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018. The additional money will be used to incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies into production lines and training for the 4.000 workers the plant is projected to eventually employ, the governor’s office said. The plant, which is still under construction, has hired 600 employees so far and will resume accepting applications for production positions later this year. Production is expected to start sometime in 2021. “As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come”, said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. The 2 automakers in 2018 announced that they had selected Huntsville, Alabama, for the mammoth facility that will eventually have the capability to produce up to 300.000 vehicles per year: 150.000 each of a new Toyota SUV and a future Mazda crossover vehicle. The plant was originally slated to produce the Toyota Corolla but the company shifted plans. Several states had competed for the project. The decision to pick Alabama is another example of foreign-based automakers building U.S. factories in the South. To entice manufacturers, Southern states have used a combination of lucrative incentive packages, low-cost labor and a pro-business labor environment. The United Auto Workers union is stronger in Northern states. “Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change”, Ivey said in a statement. +++ 

+++ Things move fast in the premium SUV market and MERCEDES is already under way with the development of a thoroughly overhauled version of its GLC. Due to be launched in the middle of 2022, the GLC will round off one of the busiest periods in the Germans firm’s history as a flurry of new models heads to showrooms. The GLC is one of the newer members of Mercedes’ SUV family, launched back in 2015, but it already contributes a huge chunk of the company’s profits. SUVs account for more than 33 % of the firm’s global sales and the GLC is the brand’s bestselling SUV in may countries. To ensure the Mercedes doesn’t lose ground to rivals like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the company has decided to make major interior technology and quality updates. It kicks off with a radical upgrade for the GLC’s cabin, which will draw heavily on the design of the upcoming S-Class limousine. The current bank of digital displays that stretch horizontally across the dashboard will be ditched in favour of a Tesla-like portrait display that sits proud of the centre console. Spy shots have revealed that rather than integrate all of the car’s functions into the screen, a small panel of touch-sensitive buttons will rest just beneath the large display, giving immediate access to climate control and navigation functions. However, there will be no physical buttons or dials. Early prototypes spotted testing in Germany also reveal that the GLC will grow in size. It’s clearly lower and longer than today’s model, and the changes should help give the SUV a sleeker appearance. The GLC will continue on Mercedes’ Modular Rear Architecture, but will benefit from significant upgrades to allow the firm to introduce a wider range of hybrid powertrains and more sophisticated autonomous driving functionality. The core engine line-up will remain 4-cylinder petrol and diesel units, but it’s expected that all will be paired with new 48 Volt mild-hybrid technology. Mercedes refers to such units as EQ Boost. On top of that, expect more efficient plug-in hybrid variants of the GLC to arrive, wearing EQ Power badges. Today’s GLC 300 e 4Matic uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 122 hp electric motor, which are good for a total output of 320 hp and an electric range of up to 40 km. Using a more energy-dense battery (no larger than the current unit) in the second-generation model should increase the electric range to around 55 km, but without having an impact on practicality. Mercedes will also continue to forge ahead with its hydrogen fuel cell tech, with the GLC F-Cell. This will ensure the firm has one of the broadest powertrain offerings of any vehicle on sale in the new GLC. The company will also make big advances in autonomous driving technology as it looks to expand Level 3 functionality beyond the upcoming S-Class. An array of new software and hardware (comprising radars, lidars and sensors) could allow the GLC to undertake limited ‘hands off’ self-driving where legislation allows. +++ 

+++ Has Elon Musk just hinted that the long-awaited Plaid version of the Tesla MODEL S is just around the corner? Taking to Twitter earlier this week, the outspoken chief executive posted a photo of Herbert Ruggles Tarlek Jr. from the television comedy series WKRP in Cincinnati. In the photo, Tarlek, who was played by actor Frank Bonner, is seen wearing a plaid suit, with Musk writing “One day soon, I will wear this outfit”. It seems pretty obvious that Musk is making a reference to the upcoming range-topping variant of the Model S, and potentially a Plaid version of the Model X as well. This has sparked speculation that Tesla may unveil the Plaid Model S and Model X at its forthcoming Battery Day event, which is penciled in for September 22. If these 2 models are indeed showcased at the event, you can rest assured that Tesla enthusiasts will lose their minds. The truth is that we have been waiting for Tesla’s Plaid models for quite some time. Musk started promoting the Model S Plaid vociferously last year, promising that it would beat the Porsche Taycan’s electric sedan lap record at the Nurburgring. Over a period of roughly four weeks, a plethora of Model S prototypes were spotted lapping the circuit. Tesla’s ‘Plaid’ powertrain will feature three electric motors, but it is unclear if any changes will be made to the vehicle’s 100 kWh battery pack. Nevertheless, Tesla’s Plaid models will be exceptionally fast and certainly have the potential to leave all of their rivals in the dust. That remains to be seen, but it’s a fact that the Taycan could certainly use some real competition… +++ 

+++ It’s hard to believe, but the Porsche PANAMERA is already due for a mid-cycle refresh. The current Porsche sedan debuted for the 2017 model year, finally ridding itself of the hunchback rear end that ruined the last-generation Panamera’s otherwise sleek profile. To prove that it hasn’t been resting on its laurels and basking in the car’s triumphant redesign, Porsche took the upcoming refreshed Panamera to Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife to break some records. The refreshed Porsche Panamera, which is set to be revealed soon, set a lap of 7 minutes and 29.81 seconds at the ‘Ring; quick enough to dethrone the current executive car class record holder, the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door. You might recall that Mercedes touted a faster time for the AMG GT, and you’d be right, but Nürburgring lap times are confusing. Let’s break down the different ways lap times have been measured so we can compare the 2 super sedans apples to apples. Since 2019, the Nürburgring has required that all manufacturers complete the entirety of the 20 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. The new Panamera’s lap time conforms to the new standard, while the AMG GT 4-Door’s was set using the old configuration. Knowing this timing discrepancy would confuse many people, Porsche also recorded the Panamera’s lap the old way. The refreshed Porsche Panamera’s lap time comes in at 7:25.04 using the prior standard, a few tenths of a second faster than the AMG GT 63 S 4-Door’s 7:25:41 time. Perhaps more importantly, the new model is roughly 13 seconds faster than the current Panamera Turbo, which lapped the ‘Ring in 7:38.46 using the old standard in 2016. Porsche wouldn’t say which Panamera variant set the record, but given today’s Panamera Turbo makes 550 hp, it’s likely the updated one makes 630 hp. To put the refreshed Panamera’s time further into perspective, it just about matches that of a 991.1-generation 2014 Porsche 911 GT3. The refreshed Panamera recorded the lap with test driver Lars Kern behind the wheel. The lightly camouflaged car was equipped with a racing seat and a roll cage but was otherwise stock. That includes its new set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer tires specially developed for the Panamera. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE plans building a new plant to make car bodies in Slovakia, where it may create up to 1.200 jobs. The sport cars maker already has one plant in the country and it has been constructing a development centre. Slovakia is the world’s biggest per capita car producer, with 1.1 million vehicles in 2019. +++ 

+++ TESLA has established an insurance brokerage in China with a registered capital of 50 million yuan ($7.2 million), according to the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System. The company, with Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s global vice-president and head of Tesla China, as legal representative, was registered in Lingang New Area of China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, where the Tesla Gigafactory is located. The insurance brokerage company, 100 percent owned by Tesla, was established on August 6 and it can operate through August 5, 2050. The leading team is composed of Zhu Xiaotong as chairman and general manager, Zhang Jing and Lei Yuxia as directors, and Zhu Mei as supervisor. Tesla Shanghai was established on May 10, 2018 and Tesla Finance Lease China was established on December 19 in the same year. Tesla Construction Shanghai was established for production of automobiles on September 27, 2019, and Tesla has established 14 sales companies in Shanghai as of August 7, 2020, data from National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System shows. The establishment of the insurance brokerage is another step in Tesla’s rapid development in China, thanks to the support of the Chinese government and the friendly business environment for foreign companies in China. Tesla also announced a five-for-one stock split on its official website on Tuesday, looking to make its shares more accessible to employees and investors. The electric carmaker said each stockholder of record on August 21 will receive a dividend of four additional shares of common stock for each share held at that time, to be distributed after close of trading on August 28 this year. The announcement sent Tesla’s high-flying stock up 7 % in extended trades, and indicated trading will begin on a stock split-adjusted basis on August 31. Stock of Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California but on track for fast development in China, was traded at $1.475 after the announcement, making it among the highest priced on Wall Street. +++ 

+++ A report out of Japan claims that TOYOTA is canceling the development of its V8 engines, which may spell the end of the long-awaited Lexus LC F, at least with a twin-turbo 8-cylinder as was initially expected. Toyota, like other car manufacturers, has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and this has reportedly prompted it to shift its focus to turbocharged V6 engines and electrified powertrains rather than continue to forge ahead with V8s. This would mean the twin-turbocharged V8 that was being developed for the racing version of the Lexus LC for this year’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring has been canceled. Lexus had committed to offering this engine in future road cars and would have most likely debuted it in the LC F. In June, a report from Japan claimed that Lexus had decided to discontinue the LC F project due to the costs and manpower required to finish the car’s development and bring it to the market. The twin-turbo V8 was expected to displace 4.0 liters and could have easily pumped out in excess of 600 hp in road-going specification, making the LC F an absolute weapon. At the time, it was claimed Toyota may have continued developing this engine and potentially used it for its large pickup trucks in North America. It was also alleged the LC 500’s 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 could make way for a detuned version of this 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. But this will no longer be the case. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is expanding its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee to manufacture electric vehicle cells and battery packs while also assembling electric vehicles, including the ID.4 crossover. The German carmaker noted in a press release that the Chattanooga site will soon feature a state-of-the-art voltage laboratory designed to develop and test electric vehicle cells and battery packs for upcoming models assembled in the United States. This facility will feature cutting-edge equipment including pressure testers, explosion-rated climate chambers and a custom Multi-Axis Shaker Table (MAST) designed to test the integrity of vehicle components, in particular the batteries. The MAST will be the second-largest of its kind in the United States and have supports buried 12 feet under the lab’s floor and buttressed with concrete. “The battery is not only shaking; it is going through a series of harsh conditions to test its durability in a variety of possible environments, from the South Pole to the Sahara”, director of electrical development at Volkswagen, Jason Swager, said in a statement. “We needed to build a MAST that could withstand the immense force and frequency that we need to test these batteries”. The battery cells to be used by VW’s electric vehicles built at the Chattanooga site will be manufactured by SKI in Georgia. Volkswagen wants the updated facilities in Tennessee to be up and running by spring 2021. “There are 2 ways that auto companies approach the development of electric vehicle batteries”, vice president of engineering at Volkswagen of America, Wolfgang Maluche, said in a statement. “A lot of them will farm out the development and testing of batteries to another company, and some will actually do the work of developing and testing in-house. We are doing the latter”. +++

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