Newsflash: Mercedes broedt op extra compacte elektrische modellen

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+++ The development of vehicle electrification in CHINA has made progress and the next step of the vehicle revolution should focus on intelligent connectivity, industry experts said. The auto revolution is not isolated but develops alongside progress in energy, information, other transportation and intelligent cities said Chen Qingtai, president of the industry’s leading think tank China EV100. He was speaking at the third Global International Vehicle Summit held in Guangzhou, Guangdong province earlier this month. “What we are concerned about now, the battery, ranges and charging piles, is just the prologue of the whole process. Electric vehicle technology progress should focus on two aspects. One is a foundation to ensure the good functions of electric vehicles, including battery, electric motor and control and charging infrastructure. The other is connectivity, intelligent and autonomous driving, which are also crucial to future competition”, Chen said. Cross-border integration and innovation will be key to intelligent transformation and carmakers should cooperate with internet, IT and artificial intelligence companies to rebuild the auto industry chain and ecology of intelligent vehicles, he added. Chen Liming, president of Bosch Chassis Control Systems China, said that the company uses open-source software to integrate industry resources and develop autonomous driving technologies together. The experts also said that China, which is developing intelligent cars, should use the advantages that vehicle-road coordination can offer. Ran Bin, director of the intelligent connected transportation research institute of Southeast University-University of Wisconsin System, said: “We should regard roads and vehicles as a complete system and use smart roads to improve vehicle safety, reliability and related functions. Developing smart cars on a road-vehicle collaboration system can quickly achieve level 3 autonomous driving and save 50-90 % of cost for every vehicle”. Feng Xingya, general manager of GAC, said China has the advantages of policy and market to develop a vehicle-road collaboration system. Huge market capacity, the innovation of internet business models, the professional advantages of 5G, AI and software, can promote the development of intelligent cars based on China’s industry. Surveys show that a total of 76 % of Chinese customers think that intelligent vehicles will bring convenience to them, higher than the United States and Japan at 49 % and 46 % respectively. China is ratcheting up efforts to accelerate the construction of new infrastructure that can bring a new wave of intelligent vehicle industry development. Last year, the number of public charging piles in China was 6.7 times of the US. Meanwhile, the number of connectivity-related 5G bases in China is 12 times more than the US, Chen Hao, vice-president of Dongfeng Motor and deputy general manager of Dongfeng Nissan, said at the summit. Chen added that joint ventures have advantages in developing intelligent vehicles because they learn about global trends and local demands. In 2010, Dongfeng Nissan vehicles began featuring a connectivity system and they are continuing to develop key technologies. They launched an updated connectivity system in 2018. By July 2020, it was being equipped to all models of Nissan and Venucia, the joint venture’s China-developed marque. In the autonomous driving sector, the joint venture uses Nissan’s Propilot system and has launched a 1 million kilometer road test covering special scenarios in China. Volkswagen launched its pilot autonomous-driving mobility service in Hefei, capital of East China’s Anhui province. It was also a first for Hefei, as it issued its first autonomous-driving vehicle test license to Volkswagen Group China. The license allows the auto giant to conduct road tests in September of autonomous-driving vehicles. Haiheng community, located in Hefei Economic and Technological Development Area, will be the test site with a total area of 16 square kilometers and a road network of 80 km. Comprising universities, shopping malls, parks, hospitals, residential areas and an industrial area, the community’s roads, help Volkswagen carry out autonomous driving tests aiming to optimize users’ experience, according to the automaker. It is planned that road tests with passengers will be launched in early 2021 among the 400.000 residents in the community. The fleet used for the pilot autonomous-driving mobility service, named ezia, consists of Audi e-Tron models. According to Volkswagen, the ezia mobile application will be launched at the beginning of 2021, which will allow users to book a trial ride in the Haiheng community. In the future, the application is expected to be an integrated platform that covers a wealth of travel service options, to meet diverse personalized needs. Looking ahead, the auto giant has the ambition to forge an intelligent driving ecosystem, which comprises five layers: self-driving system, electric vehicles, fleet operations, mobility platform and services and content. Weiming Soh, executive vice-president of Volkswagen Group China, said: “Digitalization, electrification and autonomous driving are the core development directions of the Volkswagen Group. Thanks to Volkswagen’s ability to integrate technology, hardware and software, we have the capability to create an integrated travel service solution for users, that is, an ecosystem of autonomous driving services covering 5 layers”. By integrating the 5 layers of autonomous driving services, Volkswagen is determined to make travel services safer, more comfortable and efficient, according to Soh. +++ 

+++ Demand for ELECTRIC CARS is on the rise in Europe and elsewhere around the world, prompting BMW to ramp up production of the i3 and Volkswagen to build the e-Golf for longer than originally planned. BMW has significantly increased production capacity compared to the original plan for the second half of 2020 at its Leipzig plant in Germany. The company is extending shifts and shortening breaks to increase the number of vehicles built per day from 114 to 130. In addition, the automaker has cancelled the one-week summer break for the i3 assembly line. The decisions are motivated by increasing demand and the need to recuperate the long production stoppage in the second quarter of the year caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. In the first half of 2020, BMW built just over 12.500 i3 cars, while in the entire 2019 calendar year production reached 38.937 units. As for the Volkswagen e-Golf, production will continue at the Transparent Factory in Dresden until Christmas, contrary to initial plans. However, e-Golf production ended for good at the Wolfsburg plant on July 23. Volkswagen currently makes 74 e-Golfs every day but aims to reach an output of 80 vehicles per day. Mind you, this will only continue until Christmas, when the Dresden plant will be converted to build the ID.3 starting January 2021. Launched in 2013 and 2014, respectively, the BMW i3 and Volkswagen e-Golf remain popular in many European countries as they qualify for subsidies and are frequently offered with generous discounts. In Germany, for example, the EVs are eligible for an environmental bonus of up to €9,000, plus a reduction in VAT from 19 % to 16 %. +++ 

+++ The FERRARI GTC4Lusso is unique in the Italian automaker’s lineup. Amid a sea of 2-seat mid-engine monsters and V12 grand touring machines turning the rear wheels, it’s the practical choice with a folding back seat and a rear hatch. All 4 wheels provide all-weather grip and since it’s a Ferrari, there’s a 690 hp V12 upfront. But is it sticking around? I know Ferrari will soon offer another practical choice with the Purosangue. It’s the automaker’s first SUV, and while we don’t have anything official from Ferrari as far as details are concerned, it should at least be a match for the GTC4Lusso in performance. With 4 doors and a larger boot, it should also be more practical and that has people wondering if Ferrari is planning to drop the GTC4Lusso from its lineup. That rumour was freshened up by a recent social media post from a Ferrari dealer. The post claimed a GTC4Lusso recently sold was their last one, seemingly suggesting that no more were being built. Ferrari allegedly refutes that claim however, stating there are no changes to the company’s lineup. I’ve contacted Ferrari to confirm the report, but my message wasn’t immediately returned. I also asked Ferrari if the GTC4Lusso would stick around once the Purosangue arrives. The SUV was originally thought to arrive next year, but with coronavirus still a major threat around the world, delays into 2022 seem probable. Should the GTC4Lusso not return for 2021, that could leave a gap in Ferrari’s practical choice for buyers, and it could be why the automaker reportedly says no lineup changes are imminent. Realistically, once the Purosangue arrives, making a business case for keeping the GTC4Lusso around seems tough. I will update this story with a word from Ferrari when we hear back. +++ 

+++ China’s largest pickup and SUV maker GREAT WALL MOTORS saw its net profit reach 1.79 billion yuan ($262 million) from April to June; up 137 % from the same period of 2019, according to the financial statement it released. The company’s operating revenue in the second quarter totaled 23.51 billion yuan; up 25.4 % year-on-year. Its total operating revenue in the first half of 2020 stood at 35.93 billion yuan; down 13.17 %. That was primarily the result of the coronavirus pandemic, said the carmaker in its financial statement. “The already weak demand coupled with the pandemic caused a great impact on the global vehicle market”, said the company. In the first 3 months of this year, Great Wall Motors delivered 150.332 vehicles; a 47.04 % slump. The second quarter saw its business recover, with deliveries totaling 249.445 from April to June. In the first half of 2020, the company’s sales totaled 399.777; down 13.14 % from the same period last year. Haval-branded vehicles contributed the lion’s share. Their sales totaled 262.000; over 65 % of the company’s total deliveries. Great Wall Motors said the industry is undergoing revolutionary changes and volume international brands and startups are making it harder for traditional Chinese carmakers to survive. Analysts say that is the reason why the carmaker is preparing to grow into a global technology company. Great Wall Motors said it is planning to commercialize Level 3 autonomous driving in 2021. Level 2 functions are currently available in its vehicles. The carmaker is also expected to launch several new models in the second half of this year which are built on its new platforms. The platforms, unveiled in July when Great Wall Motors celebrated its 30th anniversary, cost it 20 billion yuan and took five years to develop, said the company. Great Wall Motors is stepping up its overseas business. It now has research and development facilities in 7 countries and manufacturing plants in 4 countries including Russia, Thailand and India. In the first half of 2020, it exported 26.393 vehicles; up 1.71 % from the same period last year. +++ 

+++ HONDA plans to abolish fixed commuting allowances and instead switch to the reimbursement of actual expenses from October. The move is in response to the increase of teleworkers within the company. A new ¥250 telecommuting allowance, intended to reduce the employees’ burden of communication and utility costs and encourage them to work from home, is also to be introduced. Efforts to encourage new ways of working not constrained by location or time are spreading. Honda has been providing its employees with a fixed monthly commuting allowance to reimburse public transportation fees or the cost of gasoline for personal vehicles. Under the new system, the company will reimburse employees according to the precise cost of fares or mileage for the number of days each month employees commute to work. The company and the labor union have reached a general agreement that the clerical employees of Honda’s head office, laboratories and plants are expected to be eligible for the allowance. Several IT firms have already abolished fixed commuting allowances and introduced telework allowances as well. SoftBank from September will reimburse actual transportation costs and provide a telecommuting allowance of ¥4.000 per month, while NTT Group will add a remote work allowance of ¥200 per day beginning in October. Fujitsu, which generally requires its employees to work from home, with the exception of those working at manufacturing bases, will provide ¥5,000 per month. Calbee in general requires about 800 of its employees (about 20 % of domestic employees) to telework and plans to reduce the number of employees who live apart from their families. +++ 

+++ A European Union goal to boost the use of zero-carbon HYDROGEN is likely to be a pipe dream unless the bloc can find billions in investment and persuade member states, under strain from the pandemic hit to their economies, to give their backing. Last month, the European Commission mapped out a plan to expand the production and use of “green hydrogen”; a zero-carbon fuel made by electrolysis, using renewable power from wind and solar, that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The aim is to scale up European green hydrogen projects across polluting sectors (from chemicals to steel) to meet a net zero emissions goal by 2050 and become a leader in a market analysts expect to be worth $1.2 trillion by that date. “This was never going to be easy. You need everything: scaling up on the production side and the demand side at the same time; you need to have the infrastructure in place. A lot of things have to come together”, said Noe van Hulst, hydrogen envoy for the Dutch government. Europe’s heavy industry already consumes millions of tonnes of hydrogen each year, but it is mostly produced from coal or natural gas and therefore contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Green hydrogen costs much more than other forms of the gas, referred to as grey hydrogen, which is produced from fossil fuels and blue hydrogen, which relies on hydrocarbon energy but the resulting emissions are captured. Barclays estimates global capital costs just for production equipment over the next 30 years could be $500 billion for green and blue hydrogen. Additional investment in infrastructure, including distribution networks, could double that figure to $1 trillion. Analysts say the challenge may be the toughest so far of the European Union’s many efforts to reduce carbon emissions. “Potentially, that infrastructure challenge is much greater than with any of the other technologies that have emerged for decarbonization over the last 10-15 years”, consultancy Wood Mackenzie’s Ben Gallagher said. So far, Wood Mackenzie found European companies have announced a pipeline of 9.4 gigawatts (GW) of green hydrogen projects, most of which is due onstream by 2030. Analysts assume some projects will fail, meaning 2 to 3 times as many are needed to reach an interim E.U. goal to have 6 GW of capacity by 2024. With a typical success rate of 20 % – 30 % for large infrastructure development projects to go from feasibility to a positive investment decision, achieving the E.U. 2024 target would require 20–30 GW of projects to be in the pipeline by early 2021, Martin Lambert at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies said. So far, there has been little economic incentive to switch to the cleaner forms of hydrogen. The cheapest grey hydrogen costs €1.5 per kg to produce, European Commission figures show. Blue hydrogen costs €2/kg and green up to €5.5/kg. At least two-thirds of the cost of hydrogen production is the energy used to make it, meaning green hydrogen should become cheaper as renewable energy costs continue to fall. But a scaling up of the small green hydrogen industry is also necessary and for that, analysts say, governments will need to step in with incentives to make people use green hydrogen. These could include quotas for its use in industry, or mechanisms, such as carbon contracts for difference, which would guarantee a carbon price to a project developer, irrespective of the price of carbon on the E.U.’s Emissions Trading System. While the policymakers at the European Commission, the E.U. executive, can lay out their vision, it is up to member states to implement it on the ground and they are “the barrier”, says Mike Parr, director of PWR Consultants. “If the incentives aren’t there or if the member states aren’t making it possible, then it won’t happen. And I don’t see the ambition from the member states at the moment”, he said. There is nevertheless support in industry as it responds to political and shareholder pressure to cut emissions and looks to hydrogen to rescue business models that could become obsolete. Hydrogen offers a major technical challenge as it is less dense than natural gas and must be safely compressed, stored and dispensed at industrial sites or refueling stations for vehicles. But it also has the advantage of being a replacement that can use existing infrastructure as well as requiring new structures to be built. 11 European gas infrastructure companies, including Spain’s Enagás, the Netherlands’ Gasunie and Italy’s Snam, have drawn up a plan for a 6.800 km hydrogen pipeline network by 2030, rising to 23.000 km by 2040. 75 % of that will consist of converted gas pipeline. Last year, Snam said it would blend 10 % of hydrogen with natural gas in its network in a test area in southern Italy. +++ 

+++ As Tesla accelerates its shift to electric cars, HYUNDAI MOBIS ‘s loyal suppliers have increasingly turned to “outsiders” for parts. But now the South Korean carmaker’s own supply company, Mobis, is entering the game. Hyundai Mobis is in talks with 2 global automakers to supply electrified parts, its executive told, as it hopes to boost volume and lower prices. The move is a direct response to companies such as Volkswagen and Tesla muscling in with suppliers with which Hyundai had worked for decades. “We were not able to supply other companies because we were busy keeping up with Hyundai’s growth. Now this has changed”, said Ahn Byung-ki, senior vice-president of electric powertrain business at Hyundai Mobis. “If we increase outside sales, overall prices will drop and it will benefit everyone involved”. Hyundai Mobis, in which Hyundai Group chairman Chung Mong-koo is the biggest individual shareholder, gets more than 90 % of its revenue from the mother ship. Ahn said reducing electric vehicle costs is key to competing with cheaper gasoline cars without subsidies, especially as Chinese rivals undercut Hyundai, and Tesla accelerates the industry’s shift to EVs. He said Mobis hoped to win orders from a couple global automakers as early as this year, marking its first deal to supply electrified powertrains, although it has supplied other parts of EVs or gasoline cars to Fiat Chrysler and others. Hyundai suppliers can leverage Hyundai’s longtime experience with developing eco-friendly cars, he said, which puts them ahead of European peers who have focused on diesel. Hyundai and its affiliate Kia ranked third in global battery electric vehicle sales last year, behind Tesla and Renault-Nissan, according to researcher LMC Automotive. Hyundai Group’s heir, Euisun Chung, recently said Hyundai hopes to have more than 10 % of EV global market share in 2025. Logistics affiliate Hyundai Glovis, which counts Euisun Chung as its biggest shareholder, has also expanded customers from Hyundai to Tesla and Volkswagen to transport vehicles across continents. Like many of Korea’s family-owned conglomerates, or chaebol, the Hyundai Group has deeply invested in vertical integration, with affiliates making key parts and even steel. Family members, aides and others close to the company founded key suppliers. After years of breakneck growth, however, Hyundai-Kia’s production volume began trending down in 2016, hitting suppliers and moving them to rely less on Hyundai. +++ 

+++ Hyundai said it will introduce brand song of its new electric vehicle IONIQ with boy band BTS. The brand song “Ioniq: I’m on it” will be distributed on the automaker’s global website. Hyundai and BTS have been working together on various marketing activities for 3 years since the band was chosen as global PR ambassador in 2018. The automaker said the latest project aims to convey a vision of the infinite possibilities and potential of brand Ioniq, which contains the lyrics by each BTS members. The song can be downloaded for free on Hyundai’s global website. +++ 

+++ While JEEP seems quite pleased with their “Wagoneer Wednesday” silliness, Fridays seem to be the true payoff for those of us looking for substantial updates on the revival of Jeep’s family-hauler nameplate. With the Grand Wagoneer just days away from being formally revealed to the world, Jeep has dropped yet another teaser photo. Mercifully, this one captures far more of the car than we’ve seen previously, so they give us quite a bit more to go on. The exterior shot has a neat little Easter egg. On the surface, it’s just a top-down shot of the Grand Wagoneer. This example obviously includes a panoramic roof (which we’ll come back to momentarily) and is finished in a nice, ice blue shade that contrasts nicely with the tinted glass. But wait, is that actually just tint? Let’s enhance… Nope, that’s not just tint. That’s a street map. It’s not obvious from the original orientation of the photo, but that’s the Detroit metro area, which shouldn’t come as much of a shock, considering how much FCA’s brands like to lean into their regional heritage. I even rotated and overlayed it onto a screen capture from Google Maps, just in case you don’t believe us. Neat little touch, no? As an added bonus, the Warren Truck Plant, where the Grand Wagoneer will be built, just made it into the panorama. The plant location itself even appears to be marked on the map, but we’re not entirely certain what to make of the iconography. Perhaps yet another Easter egg that we simply don’t yet understand? To my eyes, it vaguely resembles the badges Jeep uses on its Trail- and Track- hawk models, rotated 90 degrees. I’m as tired of using the word “again” as you are of reading it; don’t worry, this will all end soon: Thursday, September 3, in fact, with the formal unveiling of Jeep’s new 3 row on its YouTube channel. +++ 

+++ If you happen to own a LAND ROVER in the United States and are planning to sell it one day, I have bad news for you: it may take you quite a while to find a buyer. While analyzing the used car market across the country in March-June 2020 this year, a study has found that of the 10 slowest-selling used vehicles, no less than 5 of them are Land Rovers. The slowest-selling used vehicle in the nation is the Discovery, which takes an average of 199.9 days to sell, significantly longer than the average of 68.9 days across all used vehicles. Following the Discovery as the second slowest-selling used vehicle is the Range Rover Velar that typically needs 188.1 days to sell. In third was the Maserati Levante, with 181.2 days, ahead of the Range Rover Sport in the 4th position which needs an average of 125.2 days to sell. The fifth slowest-seller is the Kia Cadenza (121.6 days), exemplifying the lack of demand for sedans even in the used car market. The 6th and 7th slowest-selling used vehicles were the Land Rover Discovery Sport (118.6 days) and the current Range Rover (117.8 days). Key reasons for challenges in selling new Land Rovers comes because of their poor reputation for reliability and their high ownership costs; 2 traits that make them not very attractive to used car buyers. Rounding out the list are the Cadillac XT4 (115.7 days), Alfa Romeo Stelvio (115.5 days) and the Ford EcoSport (109.8 days). +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is busy working on a number of new models. Obviously, the new S-Class is the star of the show but there are also a number of other important products in the pipeline. These include the EQ A, the brand’s first compact all-electric mass production model, which is scheduled to arrive later this year. It could be joined by a number of additional compact cars. Mercedes’ compact vehicle chief development engineer Axel Heix and head of overall vehicle testing Johen Eck both hinted that even more compact cars from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer are possible. Nothing can be confirmed at this point but the indications are positive. “It’s clearly a huge help to have a fully developed platform that’s capable of carrying alternative drivetrains so we don’t have to worry about all the bases such as suspension, body-in-white, interior, exterior that’s all well developed and we can ‘simply put an alternative drivetrain in it’ ”, they commented. Simply put, with the highly flexible MFA architecture Mercedes has a powerful tool for developing new derivatives of already existing models. Take for example the A-Class, GLA and CLA, which were all released in a matter of less than 2 years. The upcoming EQ A will complete the cycle (for now) with its unveiling before the year’s end. An all-electric compact model could join the already confirmed EQ A. One of the possible options is a hatchback or a saloon with a zero-emission powertrain, similar in size to the A-Class and CLA, respectively. While the MFA platform is flexible and allows basically all kinds of shapes, development is not something that happens in the blink of an eye. “We’ve still applied the full development force, testing force and maturity level assurance on each new derivative that comes up and that includes also the potential alternatives coming up”, Helix added. “There’s no simple plug-and-play, but it certainly helps to have the platform that’s capable of doing it”. +++ 

+++ MITSUBISHI ’s former chairman Osamu Masuko has died from heart failure, the Japanese automaker said in a statement. He was 71. Masuko, a veteran of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, had just weeks ago resigned as chairman citing health reasons. He became the automaker’s president in 2005, and oversaw the creation of the partnership between Mitsubishi and Nissan. “He built solid relationships with the management of partners, the Alliance companies and the Mitsubishi Group through good communications by leveraging his personality and extensive connections”, the company said. The former chairman’s death comes as the alliance between Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault struggles to regain profitability in the aftermath of the ouster of former alliance chairman Carlos Ghosn. Masuko was at the helm of Mitsubishi during a 2016 scandal in which the automaker was found to have overstated the mileage on its vehicles. An investigation uncovered slack governance and pressure on resource-starved engineers as chronic issues at the company. The scandal (Mitsubishi’s third in 2 decades) pummeled profits and further tarnished the automaker’s brand. At the height of the furore, Nissan lent its smaller rival a lifeline, offering it $2.2 billion for a 34 % controlling stake. The deal was agreed between Masuko and then Nissan CEO Ghosn, and brought Mitsubishi in as a junior partner in the Nissan-Renault automotive alliance. Masuko later denounced his ties with Ghosn following the latter’s 2018 arrest in Japan over suspected financial misconduct. All 3 members of the alliance are currently mired in financial problems, after years of aggressive expansion policies under Ghosn’s leadership resulted in falling vehicle sales. A further drop in global car demand due to the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these problems, and Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault are each bracing for steep annual operating losses this year. +++ 

+++ We may never truly know all the corporate skullduggery that went on at NISSAN to get former boss Carlos Ghosn arrested and incarcerated in Japan, a country he ultimately fled in a box in what may be the greatest escape caper in corporate history. Nor may we ever truly know which accusations against Ghosn are or are not true. But there is a pretty good fix on the mastermind of the putsch: a Nissan senior vice president named Hari Nada. Nada is an insider known for his aggressive tactics and fondness for Marlboros, French cuff shirts and strong cologne. Nada, 56, is said to have directed other senior executives in a plot to bring down Ghosn, starting a year before his arrest in Tokyo. “The aftermath has been messy”, analists puts it mildly, with Nissan losing billions of dollars, its management in disarray and the alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi strained to the limits. The fortunes of the 3 automakers were sent reeling, with the coronavirus pandemic piling on. For his part, Ghosn is living in Lebanon as an international fugitive. Nada’s role was basically as chief of staff to Ghosn, a position from which he could see that the chairman intended to strengthen the alliance, bringing the players together in one holding company. Nissan executives have long resisted closer ties and chafed at the company’s junior-partner relationship with Renault, though ironically Ghosn’s plan would have brought Nissan more of the parity it has always craved. Ghosn also wanted to expand, possibly by a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Nada arranged to have Ghosn’s corporate email hacked, unbeknownst to key IT personnel or Nissan’s CEO. This began months before Nada began working with prosecutors in a secret deal that afforded him immunity. José Muñoz, a former Nissan exec and ally of Ghosn’s, feared arrest (and refused to Tokyo when summoned) after being tipped off by the U.S. and Spanish ambassadors to Japan. Muñoz is now chief operating officer at Hyundai. Top Nissan corporate counsel Ravinder Passi says he was retaliated against after raising complaints against Nada to Nissan’s board. He says Nissan initiated a police raid of his home. Nada purged other executives deemed rivals or disloyal and apparently became quite unpopular. He was assigned a bodyguard, a car and driver and was placed in a $12.000-a-month luxury apartment. Nada’s machinations at Nissan continued well after Ghosn was gone. He remains at Nissan in an advisory capacity and is scheduled to testify in January against former Nissan exec Greg Kelly, who was arrested along with Ghosn. +++ 

+++ PEUGEOT has commenced production of the 208 at the El Palomar plant in Argentina, marking the debut of the modern CMP platform in Latin America. Production of the new 208 began on July 30 in El Palomar, a satellite town of Buenos Aires, marking one of the most important launches in the brand’s history in both Argentina and Latin America. That’s because it signals a different approach from PSA Group with regards to the markets in the region. With the notable exception of VW, rival automakers present in Latin America typically offer small cars based on dated platforms. The Peugeot 208, however, is underpinned by the carmaker’s latest Common Modular Platform (CMP), a modular and multi-energy architecture that also accommodates EVs. CMP is dedicated to the production of all compact city cars (B segment), entry level and mid-range saloons (C segment) and compact SUVs. Furthermore, the El Palomar facility has undergone a major industrial transformation, starting with a $320 million investment in 2016. The plant is now one of the most innovative within the PSA Group and integrates some suppliers to make the production processes even more efficient. As a result, the 208 built in Argentina is largely the same as the one made in Slovakia and Morocco. For example, the local version of the subcompact hatch features the latest generation on-board technology, which includes a new generation Peugeot i-Cockpit with a 3D head-up display and many driving aids. According to Peugeot, this level of technology is unprecedented in this segment in Latin America. At launch, the 208 will be offered in Argentina with 2 petrol powertrains: an 82 hp 1.2-liter 3-cylinder and a 115 hp 1.6 4-cylinder. The standard 5-speed manual and optional 6-speed automatic transmissions send power to the front wheels. New powertrains, such as the 130 hp 1.2-liter turbo and the all-electric e-208, will be added later on. “This launch marks a new era for Groupe PSA in Latin America, reaffirming our commitment to the country, to the social partners and to our employees. We are continuing to invest in order to offer our customers a range of increasingly modern and technological products. For us, this commitment is always linked to the long run, for the future”, said Patrice Lucas, Groupe PSA Latin America president and member of the Executive Board. +++ 

+++ China has significantly aided PORSCHE recover its business lost during the coronavirus pandemic and the country is expected to play an even more important role in the post-pandemic era, said the German premium sports carmaker’s CEO Oliver Blume. Blume made the remarks when Porsche launched the all-new Panamera. Porsche topped the list of European carmakers in the first half of the year with a profit of €1.23 billion, which he said is partly attributed to its performance in China. “Of course, China’s rapid economic recovery is one important reason behind our business recovery”, he said. “After all, China is the largest market for Panamera and for Porsche as a whole”. China’s auto sales saw its first monthly rise this year in April, with deliveries up 4.4 % to 2.07 million, when car plants in many other countries remained closed, according to the China Association of Automotive Manufacturers. Blume said the country’s resilience and fast economic recovery was surprising to many, adding that he admired Chinese people’s great courage, innovation and self-discipline. Porsche China sales in February slumped 60 % year-on-year due to the novel coronavirus, but the market began recovering in March and has returned to normal in the months since then. Blume said China has led in Porsche’s recovery on a global scale, and thus boosted the company’s sales and profitability. “It is playing an ever more important role for us”, he said. In an interview in July, Porsche China president and CEO Jens Puttfarcken expected the company’s China sales this year to be on par with 2019 levels despite the coronavirus. Last year, the carmaker delivered 86.752 vehicles in the country; up 8 % from 2018. The country has been Porsche’s largest market for 5 years in a row. Blume said Porsche designed the all-new Panamera bearing in mind specific requirements of the Chinese customers in terms of comfort and dynamics. It has launched the Executive model with a long wheelbase and the plug-in hybrid version. In China, 40 % of Panamera buyers choose the Executive models. Back in 2009, Porsche launched the first-generation Panamera in Shanghai. The 5-door grand turismo’s popularity has grown in the country over the years. It is now Panamera’s largest market. From 2009 to 2019, Porsche sold 235.400 Panameras around the globe, with 29 % of those vehicles delivered to Chinese customers. Blume said Porsche’s China team has also helped in the new model’s digitalization and connectivity. “China has advanced digitalized services and it ranks first in terms of digital device use,” Blume said. “Porsche team China offered us many new solutions and improved the new model’s functions in these aspects”. +++ 

+++ The new SEAT LEON is the latest vehicle to fall victim to the moose test. Essentially the Spanish version of the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf, the new Leon has a lot going for it, including a sharp and appealing design. Unfortunately, it gets a little hard to handle when forced to swerve quickly. An Automotive publication was unable to complete the moose test at 73 km/h when driven in Normal mode. When driven at this speed, the hatchback understeered straight into the cones and couldn’t be controlled. In order to complete the test successfully, the publication had to switch the car into Sport mode and were able increase the speed up to 75 km/h but even then, the Leon didn’t perform flawlessly and also suffered from a lot of understeer. What’s particularly interesting about the result is that the previous-generation Leon completed the moose test at 77 km/h when driven by the same publication, powered by a 1.5-liter mild hybrid TSI engine and wearing identical 225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza tires. +++ 

+++ SPYKER has confirmed plans to expand its product line with 2 supercars and an SUV after new investors purchased the company. Russian oligarch and SMP Racing owner Boris Rotenberg and his business partner, Michail Pessis, have taken the Dutch sports car maker into a collaboration with other firms they own, including motorsport firm BR Engineering and design and marketing company Milan Morady. Both have previously owned some of the 265 Spyker cars produced to date. The investment means Spyker will be able to produce the previously announced C8 Preliator supercar, the D8 Peking-to-Paris SUV and the B6 Venator supercar for 2021. Spyker has endured a turbulent 2 decades since its foundation in 1999. Years of financial difficulties were exacerbated when it purchased Saab from General Motors in 2010 and the company promptly went bust, forcing Spyker into bankruptcy. Although Spyker restructured in 2015, it has continued to struggle. Spyker said: “There can be no doubt that Spyker has had a few very tough years since the demise of Saab in 2011. With this new partnership, those days are definitely gone and Spyker will become an important player in the super sports car market segment”. The first new Spyker to enter production will be the C8 Preliator Spyder. First revealed at the 2017 Geneva motor show, this Aston Martin-rivalling supercar is expected to be powered by a Koenigsegg-developed naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine. The engine attached to the Geneva show car allowed it to accelerate from in 3.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 320 kph, although it’s unclear if this performance will be retained in the production model. The D8 Peking-to-Paris SUV has its roots in the D12 concept, which Spyker revealed at the Geneva motor show 11 years earlier, while the B6 Venator was revealed in 2013. Alongside the new models, Spyker will open its first international store in Monaco in 2021. Further stores are expected to open later on. Spyker also claims that it aims to re-enter international motor racing. The erstwhile Spyker F1 team was created in 2006 but managed just one season before it was sold and renamed Force India. +++ 

+++ SSANGYONG ’s connected system dubbed Infoconn is helping the carmaker win over tech-savvy Korean customers. The Korean unit of Mahindra said sales of its flagship SUV models Korando and Tivoli noticeably jumped up after it launched the Infoconn system back in April. Infoconn, a portmanteau of infotainment and connected, connects SsangYong vehicles to the internet, specifically the LTE network provided by LG U+, to offer various in-car entertainment and safety features. It also includes Naver’s artificial intelligence (AI) service Clova. The service includes remote monitoring of the car, safety and security as well as assistance. Safety features enable the car to automatically connect to the Infoconn consulting center if there is an accident and the airbags are activated. SsangYong says the service is provided for free for 10 years. Other services are mostly available cost-free for 2 years. Sales of the Korando increased by 48 % in the last 3 months compared to before the launch of Infoconn, according to the carmaker. In June, it sold 2.517 units; the highest figure since the latest version of the Korando launched in Korea in March 2019. The compact Tivoli SUV sold 25 % more between May and July compared to the February to April period. SsangYong Motor expects the new system to appeal to more customers in the future as the connected car market is showing solid growth. According to global consulting firm Business Insider Intelligence and research institution Statista, the connected car market in Korea is projected to grow by an average of 34.6 % annually to reach $2.3 billion in 2020. “Making a vehicle more eco-friendly and smarter is no longer an option but a must in the auto industry”, said a SsangYong official. “SsangYong Motor plans to find new growth engine in not only connected car services, but also in electric and self-driving cars”. +++ 

+++ Going public is a significant milestone for electric STARTUPS . Even so, their futures hinge on their products instead of their IPOs, analysts said. Xpeng’s listing last week marked the latest Chinese electric startup’s effort to raise capital in the United States, following Li Auto last month and Nio in September 2018. Shares of Xpeng, backed by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, rose as much as 67 % on their debut at the New York Stock Exchange, before dropping some of those gains to close at $22 per share. Xpeng said that it sold more than 99.7 million shares for $15 each in its Wall Street debut, raising about $1.5 billion. It had originally planned to sell 85 million shares priced between $11 and $13. Analysts, however, warned that electric startups shouldn’t overestimate the importance of their IPOs. “For carmakers, sales matter, but IPOs do not help sales”, said Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy firm Automotive Foresight. “Products and marketing are most crucial to sales”. He said Nio made its market debut in September 2018 at a lower-than-expected offering price but its sales started to grow when it launched the ES6 cross-over 3 months later. Nio’s share prices plunged in 2019, but began rebounding after its deal earlier this year with major Chinese investors. Xpeng said in its prospectus that around 50 % of the net proceeds of this offering will be used for research and development of smart electric vehicles and technologies, while 30 % will be used for marketing and expansion of sales channels. The company invested over 2 billion yuan in technology development last year, with around one third on intelligent functions such as autonomous driving. Xpeng’s CEO He Xiaopeng said the company will focus on cars priced between 150,000 yuan ($21,804) to 300,000 yuan, a big mass-market segment in China, the world’s biggest auto market. Xpeng began production of its first vehicle, the G3 compact SUV, in late 2018. Last year, the company launched a sports sedan, the P7, with features comparable to Tesla’s Model 3. About 2.000 P7s have been sold so far and the automaker expects the new model to be its main source of future revenue. Xpeng has sold over 20.000 vehicles, including P7 sedans and G3 SUVs. It builds cars in 2 factories in China. The company said a third model would also be a sedan. Analysts say the IPOs will help the 3 startups, Nio, Li Auto and Xpeng, to get a better foothold as competition in the Chinese market is heats up. Tesla is growing its market share, as its Shanghai factory started to deliver Model 3 sedans earlier this year. Traditional Chinese and international carmakers are moving quickly to speed up electrification. Tesla delivered 45.754 vehicles in the first half of the year. BYD, China’s biggest domestic EV producer, sold 57.449 passenger electric vehicles. In comparison, Xpeng shipped 5.499 vehicles during the same period, compared to 9.666 for Li Auto 14.169 for Nio. Zhang at Auto Foresight said chances to gain market share will be slim for startups that have not yet started mass production. Chinese authorities are slowly withdrawing subsidies, and subsidies will be canceled completely after 2022. +++ 

+++ It’s hard to believe SUBARU ’s BRZ has been around since 2012. Often the more overlooked twin of the Toyota / Subaru partnership (affectionately called ‘Toyobaru’), the BRZ has been slowly selling in the background whilst Subaru’s more traditional all-wheel-drive offerings have been selling up a storm. So when news broke that the BRZ and Toyota GT86 were getting a second-generation reboot, it was met with surprise; especially as today’s Covid-19 climate is putting the brakes on many new car programs. And even more so the ones that don’t provide substantial revenue. Nonetheless, Fuji Heavy Industries has been putting the final touches on its redesigned sports car, with test mules snapped wearing some rather revealing camouflage. So let’s digitally peel off the covers and investigate what else we can expect. At first glance, you could swear that it’s just a major facelift of the current car. Sure, the proportions are similar yet every body panel is all-new. The front end has an elegant simplicity about it, with an oblique grille, vertical side intakes and subdued front fenders. There’s more than a whiff of Lexus RC in profile, with angular rear quarter glass and sculptured rocker panels that merge into the front fender vents. The rear haunches are less pronounced than the out-going car; here the sheet metal cascades over the rear wheels and it sports an oddly-shaped fuel flap. Changes to the rear consist of a glass that now tapers in towards the duck-tailed trunk and C-clamp LED taillights feature a full-width horizontal strip to emphasize width. A large W-shaped diffuser contrasts with the body and encompasses a pair of large exhausts. As functional as the GT86/BRZ twins are, interior presentation is certainly not their strong point, although they don’t get to Nissan 370Z levels of tiredness. Nonetheless, we can expect a similar amount of occupant space coupled with better quality materials, infotainment & connectivity and Subaru’s latest EyeSight driver-assist system. Underpinning its fresh new appearance is an updated version of the current BRZ platform. Although moving to Toyota’s TNGA architecture had been mooted, such an action would be too costly for the limited volumes that the BRZ and GT86 generate. Expect to see a similar suspension setup aided by a stiffer body and lighter materials. Conflicting conjecture surrounds the implementation of forced induction; Subaru’s fans are asking for it, however, some media outlets are reporting that it’ll stay normally aspirated. Either way, the most likely candidate will be Subaru’s 2.4-litre FA24: a turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer making 260 hp and 376 Nm. Rumors suggest this could be tweaked as high as 300 hp in STi versions. Other candidates could include the normally-aspirated FA20 2.0-litre boxer-4 from the current BRZ, or Subaru’s new CB18 1.8-litre turbocharged-4 that debuted in the all-new Levorg wagon. The latter produces 175 hp and 300 Nm, and would serve as an ideal entry point into the new BRZ range, especially if tweaked; which shouldn’t prove that difficult. Like before, power will be fed to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. Subaru’s second-generation BRZ will naturally go up against its Toyota GR86 twin and other worthy sports coupes such as Hyundai’s Veloster, Ford’s Mustang, , Mazda MX-5, Toyota Supra, Nissan’s 370Z and, eventually, the upcoming 400Z. We could see the production model making its debut as soon as the end of this year, though early 2021 sounds more plausible at this point. Either way, both the BRZ and GR86 will likely be marketed as 2022 modelyear cars, with potent STi variants tipped to launch at a later date. +++ 

+++ A study has shed light on how quickly vehicles are currently selling in the UNITED STATES in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the list is dominated by SUVs. By analyzing over 4.4 million new and used cars sold from March through June 2020, iSeeCars found that on average, it takes a new car 96.9 days to sell compared to 57.8 days during the pre-Covid time period from November 2019 through to February 2020. The fastest-selling new vehicle recorded was the Chevrolet Trailblazer that was recently updated for the 2021 model year and takes an average of 19 days to sell. Following the Trailblazer were two Kia models, namely the Telluride and Seltos, taking an average of 25.7 days and 31.3 days respectively to sell. The 4th fastest selling SUV was the Honda CR-V Hybrid, taking an average of 35.2 days to sell. The study notes that Honda reported lean inventory levels because most of its vehicles sold in the U.S. are made in North America and were affected by plant shutdowns earlier in the year. In fifth and sixth were the Hyundai Palisade (39 days) and Mercedes-Benz GLB (40.5 days). The Chevrolet Bolt EV (Opel Ampera-e) is the only non-SUV on the list and was the 7th fastest-selling new vehicle over the period with an average sales time of 41.7 days. Ranked in 8th is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (42.5 days), followed by the Subaru XV (44.7 days), Lexus GX 460 (46.1 days), Buick Encore GX (46.6 days) and the Subaru Forester (47.3 days). “Many of these fastest-selling vehicles are popular cars that are hard to find for reasons such as the effect of the pandemic on supply chains, they were produced in limited quantities, or that they are new models that aren’t yet abundant in the used car marketplace”, iSeeCars chief executive Phong Ly noted in the findings. +++

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