Newsflash: Alpine gaat hete Renault modellen verkopen

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+++ ALPINE will become a core part of the Renault group’s strategy in future, according to new boss Luca de Meo, with a key mission to make electric cars “thrilling and emotional”. The A110 is also set to live on with a number of variants. Having recently announced that Renualt’s Formula 1 team will be renamed Alpine from next season, de Meo explained: “You had 3 entities: an F1 team, the Renault Sport engineering unit and a plant in Dieppe that was half-empty where the A110 is produced. Plus a brand like Alpine, which has some cachet and heritage which you can’t buy. “In a company with strong financial issues like Renault, the temptation is to say let’s stop this, let’s stop that. But what I saw was the possibility to bring these things together and create, if you’ll allow me the poetic licence, a mini Ferrari, putting Formula 1 at the centre of a business ecosystem and creating a brand which has motorsport, engineering, production and distribution”. De Meo added that he believes the A110 has a future. “The first thing I want to do is organise its life-cycle management, à la the Porsche 911, so we will have different versions. And maybe turn the car electric if we manage to solve the business case, maybe find a partner for it. I will probably find a way, as I did with Cupra, to have contact between Alpine and Renault but we need to be credible with that. Alpine is a great way to project ourselves into the future; one of the missions is to make the electric car experience emotional and thrilling. This is basically the direction. For sure, Alpine has a future. It’s not going to be easy but we have very strong ingredients”. De Meo added that he had given Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s F1 boss and now overall head of Alpine, the target of breaking even with the performance brand in 3 to 4 years. +++ 

+++ AUTOMOTIVE MANUFACTURING doesn’t often get the headlines, but the sheer scale of it, and the economies it drives globally, explains why affected governments tend to place it near the top of any priority list. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), there are 298 automotive assembly and engine-production plants in Europe. Of those, 142 make passenger cars, 28 light-commercial vehicles, 58 heavy-duty vehicles, 58 buses and 71 assemble engines, with some plants producing a mixed output. Germany has the most, with 42 factories, while France has 31 and Italy 23. Outside the EU, Russia has 31 plants, the UK 30 and Turkey 17. Across Europe’s wider automotive manufacturing spectrum an estimated 3.5 million people are employed, with data suggesting that within the EU automotive accounts for 11% of all manufacturing jobs. Add in employment from retail and additional operations and that figure rises to 13.8m employed directly and indirectly, with automotive thereby making up 6.1% of all EU jobs. Big stuff. This importance is both a blessing and a curse. These factories need to keep running at close to capacity to make economic sense, and that means cars need to keep rolling out of them come what may, even if there aren’t enough customers. The horrible truth is that even in non-Covid times there are too many factories for the number of customers. It’s why there’s always room for a haggle, and why many cars end up being self-registered each month to be sold on at a discount at a later date. Big it may be, but automotive has evolved poorly: supply outstrips demand. Why not shut some factories? This age-old question is hampered chiefly by the challenges of manufacturers working to their own competitive agendas rather than a collective greater good, and (perhaps even more so these days) the industry’s importance as outlined above. Mooted automotive job cuts quickly come under the spotlights of governments and unions, the former willing to offer incentives to keep them open, the latter holding enough sway in some countries to kibosh any closure plans, no matter the economic logic. For the foreseeable future many factories are running well below capacity. Social distancing protocols and a reluctance to build unordered cars are front of mind, with the bitter pill of potential losses made easier to swallow by government support schemes. But what happens when that support ends and a global recession means fewer people still are buying cars? The pressure for closures will be applied again, and this time around the economically stressed governments won’t be in a position to respond, nor the unions able to justify holding their line. Painfully, but perhaps necessarily, the cuts may come. +++ 

+++ The Hyundai Motor Group and LG Chem will collaborate on a system to recycle used electric vehicle (EV) BATTERIES under regulatory approval granted by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in South Korea. Companies directly involved in the project include Hyundai Glovis, Hyundai Motor’s logistics affiliate, battery maker LG Chem and taxi operator KST Mobility. According to the plan, Hyundai Glovis will operate a battery rental service for KST’s EV taxis. With the rise of EVs, one big issue is what to do with batteries after they have outlived their usefulness in a vehicle. One ambitious idea is to use them  in energy storage systems (ESS), which store power from sources such as solar panels or wind turbines for consumption later. They generally use a large number of batteries connected together. EV taxis rack up more miles than ordinary vehicles, making it necessary for changes of batteries within two to three years. This is why a taxi company is a good partner for such a project. After 2 to 3 years of use in an EV taxi, a worn out battery will be sent to LG Chem, which will test to see if it’s fit for recycling in an ESS used in a charging station for EVs. “The ultimate goal of this model is to ensure that the life span of EV batteries become a virtuous cycle where rented batteries are reused later in charger ESS”, the ministry said in a statement. The project was approved as 1 of 3 “regulatory sandboxes” announced by the ministry regarding recycling of used EV batteries. A regulatory sandbox allows new businesses or technologies to be exempted from related regulations for a minimum of 2 years to encourage innovation. Under domestic law, used EV batteries in Korea are collected by local governments. A lack of regulation on the recycling of used batteries has resulted in them stacking up inside government storage areas. The state-run Korea Energy Economics Institute forecasts there will be more than 80.000 EV batteries discarded by 2029. For Hyundai and LG, the partnership allows them to join forces in the field of Battery as a Service, which refers to a business model that offers battery-related services like repairs, recycles and rentals. It comes as Hyundai awaits investigation results for spontaneous fires in its Kona Electric, the company’s most popular electric model. More than a dozen cars have gone up in flames over the past 18 months. LG Chem supplies the batteries to that model. Sources from both companies said the fires will not affect relations between the top carmaker and battery supplier. Executives of Hyundai and LG may meet to sign a memorandum of agreement later this month for the recycling project, according to local reports. Hyundai also received approval for another battery recycling project of its own to combine used EV batteries and turn them into ESS containers for solar energy. The last EV battery recycling project was submitted by GoodByeCar, a car salvage company in Seoul and Gyeonggi. Its idea is to turn old EV batteries into a cheap power source for camping. “At the moment, we’re in need of a track record for products made from recycled EVs in order to establish quality and safety standards”, the Trade Ministry said in a statement. “Disposed EV batteries can cause environmental problems, but they can also be part of a business model if they’re recycled in the right way. We’re expecting the projects to set safety and quality standards as well as verifying the economic value of used batteries”. +++ 

+++ BMW said rebounding markets helped the German carmaker to deliver higher-than-expected free cash flow in the automotive segment during the third quarter. Free cash flow amounted to €3.07 billon in the third quarter, up from €714 million in the year-earlier period, the carmaker said. “This was due in particular to a faster recovery in several markets, which led to higher sales growth”, BMW said in a preliminary earnings release which was published ahead of the company’s scheduled quarterly earnings on November 4. An optimisation of working capital and a reduction of fixed costs and capital expenditure had helped to bolster earnings, but earnings forecasts for the individual segments and the multi-brand carmaking group remain unchanged. “Economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues to significantly impair forecasting and leads therefore to considerable uncertainty in providing an accurate outlook”, BMW said. +++ 

+++ Electric vehicle startup BOLLINGER MOTORS has filed a new patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on October 12, this time for the battery pack design that forms part of the world’s first Class 3 electric commercial truck platform. The patent is meant to protect mechanical, electrical, and systems-engineering innovations of the batteries that Bollinger Motors will build themselves. The battery pack consists of modules in 35 kWh strings that can be connected in series or parallel to form a variety of pack sizes and configurations. Sizes will include 35, 70, 105, 140, 175 kWh and higher, with many of them available in both 350 Volt and 700 Volt configurations. Structurally, the modules are connected to both sides of a symmetrical and structural I-beam. The latter includes channels through which cooling fluid is pumped to extract heat away from the modules. In addition, the I-beams also provide cross-vehicle structural support and help protect the pack from side intrusions. “The heart of every EV is the battery, so it was crucial for us to develop our own battery pack in-house”, says Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger. “Our engineering team has created a pack with high-strength structural properties, exemplary cooling features, and state-of-the-art software”. Bollinger Motors has also developed the Battery Management System (BMS) in-house. According to the company, the BMS can handle any number of strings, enabling Bollinger to manufacture one BMS for all future battery-pack sizes and voltages. The Battery Management System monitors voltage, current and temperature at multiple points within the pack, working with other vehicle-control units to maintain optimum operating conditions that increase efficiency and extend battery life. The BMS is also designed to ensure system safety by detecting and isolating faults to enable continued vehicle operation. The company says its new battery pack will be suitable for heavier applications such as medium duty trucks (the B1 SUV and B2 pickup), agricultural and construction equipment. The company will manufacture the batteries for its own vehicles while also making them commercially available for standalone applications starting in 2021. +++ 

+++ CHINA ‘s auto market hit a new high for the year in September in terms of both production and sales, and the trend is expected to continue into the 4th quarter, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The industry association’s latest statistics show sales rose 12.8 % in September in terms of year-on-year comparison, with 2.57 million vehicles sold in the month; China’s fifth straight month of double-digit sales growth in recovering from the impact of Covid-19 on the country. Sales of passenger vehicles rose 8 percent year-on-year in September to 2.09 million vehicles. The association said the strong increase in sales comes as a result of the Beijing auto show, held in late September, promotional events and local policies. Sales for the first nine months this year are still down 6.9 % at a total of 17.12 million vehicles, because of how the market was hit by the pandemic in the beginning of the year. However, the decline continues to narrow, according to the CAAM. Xu Haidong, vice-chief engineer of the CAAM, said the market performance exceeded expectations. The association forecast that the fourth quarter will continue to show positive growth and expects a 7 % decline on the whole year. New energy vehicle sales surged 67.7 % to 138.000 units for the third consecutive month in September. The sales in first 9 months stand at 734.000 units. With more preferential policies targeting Chinese-branded new energy vehicles priced below 100.000 yuan ($14.886.93) in rural areas, new energy vehicles sales show signs of growth. Xu said the sales of new energy vehicles are likely to exceed 1 million units for the whole year. Chinese auto brands sold 784.000 units last month, increasing 7.5 % year-on-year. China’s largest private carmaker Geely sold 126.365 vehicles in September, up 11 % year-on-year, and also up 11 % from August. Over the first 3 quarters, the carmaker delivered over 875.000 vehicles, accounting for 66 % of its sales target for 2020. Geely’s premium arm Lynk & Co saw its September sales soar almost 40 % to a record monthly high of 18.745 vehicles. Great Wall Motors, the country’s largest pickup and SUV maker, sold 117.812 vehicles in September; up 20 % year-on-year. Its overseas sales rose in that month as well. The carmaker said it sold 7.773 vehicles in international markets; up 46 % year-on-year. Chinese carmakers exported 99.000 cars in September; up 10.7 % year-on-year and 39.1 % from August. Xu said, “Some overseas markets are gradually recovering from the pandemic, and more Chinese carmakers are expanding their overseas presence”. +++ 

+++ Despite the vast advances in ELECTRIC CAR technology in recent years, range anxiety remains an issue for prospective buyers. A survey last year by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), for example, showed that only 50 % of consumers would consider an EV as a main car if it offered a range of 320 km, but that figure rose to 90 % if the range increased to 480 km. That’s reflected in the success of cars such as the Hyundai Kona, Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model 3 and other models with ranges close to or exceeding 480 km, and several EVs with even longer ranges are planned. But adding more lithium ion batteries to increase range comes at a price: they add to the cost of EVs for consumers, and the extra weight affects the dynamic performance of the vehicle while reducing its efficiency. And, crucially, adding more batteries adds to the CO2 used to produce an EV, in turn impacting one of their key environmental benefits. Some car firms have now started to push back against the trend for bigger batteries. Mazda recently launched its first electric production car, the MX-30, which has a 35.5 kWh battery offering a claimed 200 km range. While the range is smaller than that of most of the MX-30’s electric SUV rivals, the firm’s European R&D boss, Joachim Kunz, says it was developed with the concept of “right-sizing” in mind. “We don’t believe a very big battery, which means a large and heavy vehicle, is the right direction for the future for two aspects: the environment and for being fun to drive”, said Kunz. He noted Mazda’s emphasis on reducing ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2 emissions, which provides a measure of the total CO2 used during a vehicle’s creation and lifespan. “Battery production comes with very high CO2 emissions from the material extraction and production”, he said. “This ‘backpack’ is much smaller if the battery is smaller, and during usage the energy consumption is lower because of the reduced weight”. Mazda settled on the MX-30’s range by researching vehicle usage among its customers, balancing it against vehicle dynamics and production CO2 output. “We believe the normal usage is customers charging at home in the week, but for longer trips the range is sufficient to reach the next public charging station”, said Kunz. In the UK and other markets, Mazda is developing a range-extender version of the MX-30, featuring a small rotary engine, which the firm says will offer similar range to a current petrol car but with less overall environmental impact than an EV with similar range. Mazda’s decision is backed by data from the UK government’s National Travel Survey. It showed that the average car journey last year was 14 km; a figure that hasn’t changed since 2009. Meanwhile, RAC Foundation research found that UK drivers average 17.000 km a year; around 45 km a day, with EV owners averaging 15.000 km. Mazda isn’t alone in its stance. Volvo spin-off Polestar (which recently published data showing the CO2 impact of its EV production) is readying a production version of the Precept concept. Polestar boss Thomas Ingenlath hinted the car’s range would be around 480 km in order to be “competitive” in the market but added the industry “cannot drift away in that race for range and really get into an irresponsible direction”. He added: “If you talk about making a car more efficient I’m all for it, but if you’re just packing in more and more kilowatt hours just to make the best range, it doesn’t help us get closer to a sustainable car”. Ingenlath said the focus should instead be on creating fast-charging infrastructure to allow cars to be charged more quickly and more easily. Through actions such as releasing its cars’ CO2 production impact and increasing the use of recycled materials, Polestar has made sustainability a key part of its marketing push. The question is whether buyers agree. According to KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive survey, 98 % of industry executives see sustainability as a key differentiator, compared with 83 % of consumers. The survey found that 42 % of executives and consumers felt sustainability would become a product feature, with KPMG suggesting car makers should publicise the CO2 impact of a vehicle’s build to, as Polestar is doing. But the challenge will be getting consumers to agree that sustainability is as important as a long range when considering an electric car. Mazda, like many other car makers, is not committing fully to electric cars. Instead, it is adopting a ‘multi-solution’ powertrain strategy that will allow it to vary its offering according to market demand and needs. The firm’s vehicles are based on a small platform (used for the MX-30, the 3 and the CX-30) and a large platform that underpins vehicles such as CX-5. While the small platform is engineered to house EV powertrains, the large platform can be electrified with hybrid and plug-in hybrid systems. “Customers who drive longer distances won’t buy an EV anyway: they’ll go for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid”, said Mazda’s European R&D boss Joachim Kunz, who added that such vehicles would be key in countries with minimal EV support infrastructure. Mazda has also invested in research into renewable synthetic fuels, which could allow combustion engines to run without emitting CO2 which, Kunz noted, would make them as clean, or cleaner, as an EV. +++ 

+++ Chinese ELECTRIC CAR STARTUPS that have put the bit between their teeth to navigate a labyrinth of financial hardships, weaker demand and the coronavirus pandemic are seeing signs of approval from both customers and investors. Nio, the first startup to launch mass-production models in the market, saw the price of its shares on the New York Stock Exchange skyrocket to a record high of $28.07;up 5.92 % from the previous trading day. The same month in 2019, its stock price was as low as $1.19. Nio was on the verge of bankruptcy, warning its cash flow was not sustainable for another 12 months. Yet new investments as well as its growing popularity with customers and China’s overall favorable policies for the segment, have helped Nio’s stock price surge from the end of May despite some slight road bumps. Nio (photo) delivered a record 4.708 vehicles in September; up 133 % year-on-year. The company sold 12.206 vehicles in the third quarter, a new high in quarterly deliveries. Electric vehicle penetration in China is set to quadruple by 2025 to 20 % from less than 5 % in 2019, according to the Chinese authorities’ plan. The State Council, China’s Cabinet, has passed a long-term development plan for the sector, stressing the market and electric car makers are to have a larger say in resource allocation and technological paths. Deutsche Bank claimed in a research note in September that Nio could be the “next iconic auto brand” in terms of its products and services including its battery swap initiative. Nio’s current stock price has already beat the bank’s estimate of $24 and is continuing to march toward the estimate of $40 given by JP Morgan analysts in a research note last week. “In China’s smart electric car market, we expect Nio to be a long-term winner in the premium space among Chinese brands; Xpeng to lead the mass market while BYD should likely see strong electric car demand with rising external battery sales from 2022”, said JP Morgan analysts in the note. Xpeng stock closed at $22.16; up more than 47 % from its $15 IPO price, while another US-listed startup Li Auto’s stock was $20.5 on the same day; up about 78 % from its $11.5 IPO price. Xpeng delivered 3.478 vehicles in September; up 145 % year-on-year. Li sold 3.830 vehicles in September and total deliveries in the first 3 quarters totaled 18.722. As China’s electric car makers produce and sell more cars, they have also been able to absorb costs more effectively. In the first half of 2020, Nio and Xpeng narrowed their net losses by more than 50 % compared with the same period a year ago. JP Morgan expects Xpeng to break even in 2023 and sell 345.000 cars a year by 2025. WM Motor announced in September that it has raised 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion) in round-D financing, more than any other Chinese electric car startup has raised in a single financing round. Enovate said last week that it has raised 5 billion yuan, and plans to go public in 2021. The announcement came 3 weeks after the Shanghai-based startup launched its first production model in late September. China was one of the first countries to promote electric vehicles when it started to offer subsidies for the sector in 2009. Dozens of electric car startups were set up wishing to ride on the wave of e-mobility, but many failed before rolling out their first vehicles. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS is expected to announce significant investments to expand production of electric vehicles at a factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee and potentially other sites. GM said in a statement that it planned to make a “major U.S. manufacturing investment announcement”. The automaker plans to begin building the Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV at its Spring Hill plant. AutoForecast Solutions, which tracks industry production plans, said it expects the Lyriq to go into production in late 2022. GM could move production of vehicles to other plants, resulting in new investments in other locations. AutoForecast Solutions said it expects some electric vehicle production will also be announced for a factory in Mexico. The automaker’s plans for investing in U.S. factories comes with two weeks left in the U.S. presidential election campaign. U.S. president Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are competing for support from auto workers in Midwestern swing states. GM chief executive Mary Barra has outlined plans to invest $20 billion by 2025 in new electric vehicles and electric vehicle battery technology. The automaker plans to spend $2.5 billion overhauling and retooling its Detroit-Hamtramck factory to build a GMC Hummer EV electric pickup, an automated robotaxi and other vehicles. That plant was formally rechristened “Factory Zero”; a reference to Barra’s goal of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion”. GM currently builds its electric Chevrolet Bolt at a large assembly plant in the northern suburbs of Detroit. At the same time, GM is investing in its large, gasoline-fueled pickups and SUVs, which earn the bulk of the profits the automaker needs to fund its electric vehicle programs. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI and affiliate Kia warned of another $2.9 billion of provisions related to engine issues, bringing their total hit from the years-long quality problem that has tarnished their credibility to nearly $5 billion. The Hyundai Motor Group said their third-quarter earnings would reflect quality-related costs of a combined 3.36 trillion won ($2.94 billion), of which Hyundai accounted for 2.1 trillion and Kia for 1.26 trillion. Hyundai and Kia, together the world’s No.5 automaker, recalled nearly 1.7 million vehicles in 2015 and 2017 in one oftheir biggest recalls in the United States, citing an engine failure that raises the risk of crashes. In 2017, US safety regulators began to investigate if therecalls had covered enough vehicles and were done in a timely fashion. That followed concerns reported by a South Korean whistleblower, a former quality official at Hyundai, to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Hyundai was being investigated by US prosecutors over whether vehicle recalls were conducted properly, Reuters reported in 2018. From 2017 to 2019, the 2 firms have earmarked a series of provisions mostly to address engine-related issues, which amounted to about 2.04 trillion, according to Reuters’ calculation. The latest provisions reflect higher-than-expected replacement rates for Theta II GDI engines of old vehicles subject to recalls, as well as growing consumer complaints over the same engine and other engines not subject to recalls, Hyundai said. “Hyundai has repeatedly said it does not see any more costs related to the Theta II engine issues, and the latest recall would deal a fatal blow to Hyundai’s credibility”, Sean Kim, an analyst at Dongbu Securities said. “I am worried”. He expected Hyundai and Kia to swing to losses for the quarter from July to September, hit by the provisions. +++

+++ After claiming that the Evoque P300e and Discovery Sport P300e plug-in hybrid models put out as little as 32 and 36 gram/km of CO2, respectively, LAND ROVER has had to halt sales in order to reclassify their emissions ratings. The carmaker’s websites already have the 2 variants classified as “not currently available to order”, which is not a good look. “Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not yet in a position to deliver the previously communicated best-case WLTP combined figures”, said Land Rover in a statement. “Work is ongoing, as the business emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, to deliver the extended electric range and lower CO2 figures”. The British brand now says that the lowest emitting model puts out 44 gram/km and has an electric range of 43 km, compared to 66 km previously, although they declined to say which model this is. Meanwhile, orders are scheduled to restart on October 26, which is good considering how the Evoque and Discovery Sport are JLR’s two best-selling models in Europe and therefore key to the company’s push to get its fleet CO2 levels below the 132 gram/km limit. Land Rover buyers writing on an Evoque owners forum have already complained that deliveries have been delayed. One customer in particular wrote that his Discovery Sport P300e was built in September yet was still being held at the factory. Meanwhile, a Land Rover retailer said that it now has to wait until November for its demonstrator model, although some dealerships will start receiving their PHEVs “later this week”. +++ 

+++ MCLAREN teased their upcoming hybrid sports car earlier this month and now the model has been revealed thanks to this patent photo. The image was released by Chinese authorities and reveal the “high-performance hybrid” will look like a redesigned 570S. As you can see, the model has an evolutionary front fascia with recessed headlights and triangular air intakes. The car also has front fender vents, a rakish windscreen and prominent side scoops. Other highlights include flying buttresses and a distinctive engine cover with plenty of vents. The rear end is dominated by a ventilated fascia which features slender taillights and a sporty dual exhaust system. We can also see a split diffuser and a rounded bumper. As fate would have it, spy photographers also snapped new pictures of the hybrid. While the images aren’t as revealing as the patent photos, they give you a better idea of how the high-performance hybrid will look in the flesh. McLaren has been tight-lipped about the upcoming model, but they recently confirmed it will be introduced in the first half of 2021 and ride on the all-new McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture. The model will replace the current Sport Series lineup and be powered by a hybrid powertrain that features an all-new V6 engine as well as a “medium-range EV-only drive capability”. The company is keeping specifications under wraps, but promised the car will deliver “astonishing levels of performance and a uniquely intense driver experience”. The hybrid will slot between the McLaren GT and 720S, and “further strengthen the company’s presence in the supercar sector”. While some fans will probably bemoan the electrification, McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt has previously said “This is a new kind of McLaren for a new era, an extraordinary drivers’ car that offers blistering performance as well as an all-electric range capable of covering most urban journeys”. +++ 

+++ Chinese carmakers’ efforts to improve their vehicles’ QUALITY are paying off, according to a survey by US-headquartered market research company J.D. Power. 1 out of 4 new vehicle buyers in China choose local brands instead of their international rivals because of their product quality or driving performance, according to the results of the 2020 J.D. Power China Initial Quality Study. The company said those who chose local brands for the same reasons accounted for 16 % of respondents back in 2015. This year’s findings were based on a poll of 32.536 vehicle owners who purchased their vehicle between June 2019 and June 2020. It involved 241 models from 57 Chinese and international brands and was fielded from December 2019 through August 2020 in 70 major cities across China. “Consumers choosing a domestic brand for reasons of quality and performance, as well as improved brand image, demonstrates that the progress of improving quality in domestic brands has seen positive outcomes”, said Jeff Cai, general manager of auto product at J.D. Power China. This year’s study also showed that the percentage of those who choose domestic brands due to lower prices have dropped to 6 % from 12 % in 2015. According to the 2020 study, the percentage of vehicle owners who say that Chinese brands are innovative, reliable, environment-friendly and reputable has increased by 12 %, 9 %, 7 % and 10 % since 2015. The study, now in its 21st year, measures initial vehicle quality by examining problems experienced by new-vehicle owners within the first 2 to 6 months of ownership. Overall initial quality is determined by problems reported per 100 vehicles, with a lower number of problems indicating higher quality. Despite the improved popularity, there remains a gap between Chinese and foreign brands in China. The study revealed that Chinese brands have 135 problems per 100 vehicles, the only ones that perform below the industry average level of 127 problems per 100 vehicles. “Although a few leading brands have reached the same quality level as international brands, most of the domestic brands are still lagging. Domestic brands need to be aware of their own shortcomings and make continuous efforts to improve vehicle quality”, said Cai. Sales of Chinese brands are telling. Carmakers including Great Wall Motors and Geely are seeing their sales continue to rebound. China’s largest SUV and pickup manufacturer, Great Wall Motors, saw vehicle sales rise 32 % month-on-month to 117.812 units in September. From January to September, it sold 680.690 vehicles. Geely Auto, China’s largest private carmaker, sold 126.365 vehicles in September; up 11 % year-on-year and also up 11 % from August. Over the first 3 quarters, the carmaker delivered over 875.000 vehicles. An Conghui, Geely Auto’s president, said Chinese carmakers have a better chance of overtaking international rivals in the new era of smart and electrified vehicles. He said that is because Chinese customers are more open to new technologies and a number of Chinese tech companies are leading in relevant aspects, ranging from battery making to voice recognition to built-in navigation. Ford CEO Jim Farley said Chinese customers have the most advanced experience in terms of electric vehicles’ digitalized functions, and international carmakers like Ford can take their experience in China to other parts of the world including the United States. +++ 

+++ New RENAULT boss Luca de Meo has confirmed that future hot models will wear Alpine badges, revealing that a new generation of hot models from the French company is on the horizon. “As I did with Cupra, I will find a point of contact between the Alpine brand and some Renault models”, de Meo told. “We need to be credible on that, so I’m not going to do that with Kangoo or Espace. I’m going to do that with things that fit the positioning of the brand”. That could mean that the new Renault Clio (currently without a hot RS version in its line-up) could be one of the first Renaults to receive the new sub-branding, with the Captur possibly following it to produce a rival to the new Ford Puma ST. De Meo is setting up Alpine as a new business unit headed by current Renault F1 team managing director Cyril Abiteboul. It will comprise the F1 team (set to be rebranded Alpine from Renault for the 2021 season), the Renaultsport engineering business (described by de Meo jokingly as “a tribe of freaks doing very special stuff”) and the historic elements of the Alpine brand. “What I saw was the possibility to combine those things together to create what I call a mini-Ferrari: putting the F1 team at the centre of a business ecosystem and create a brand with a presence in motorsport, engineering, production and distribution. We have to stop with the nostalgia on Alpine and use Alpine as an opportunity to project ourselves into the future, when it comes to distribution, technology, electric cars, etc”. De Meo also hinted that he would open up the distribution network from the current 70 dealers out of a global number of 11.000 Renault retailers. On the current Alpine A110, de Meo confirmed that the model has a future that could include electrification. “I want to organise a lifecycle management of the A110 a little bit like the Porsche 911, so we will have different versions. Maybe we can turn the car one day to an electric version if we manage to solve the business case if we maybe find a partner. “One of the missions we could give to Alpine is to make the electric car experience emotional and thrilling. We have a couple of ideas!” De Meo is just over 3 months into his second spell at Renault (this time as CEO) and has already introduced the Megane e-Vision concept to the market, a car that is, he says, 95 % true to an all-electric Megane crossover that will go on sale next year. He has also promised to present an 8 year plan for the future of Groupe Renault in the new year. +++ 

+++ SOUTH KOREA ’s automotive industry has recovered to see sales and production grow by over 20 % on-year in September, government data showed. According to the data from Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the production of Korean cars increased by 23.2 % in September, compared to the same time last year. Overall sales went up as well. In September, 137.771 Korean cars were sold in the domestic market; up 22.2 % compared to the year earlier. The ministry also said exports saw gains for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. In the month, Korean carmakers exported 193.081 units; a 14.8 % increase on-year. While sales of German and Japanese automobile brands are slowly recovering, the total sales of imported cars marked 24.945 units in the month; down 9.7 % on-year, the ministry said. The ministry said the rising popularity of SUVs and newly released models have buoyed domestic sales and production. A sales recovery in the US market has also contributed to the growth in exports, the ministry added. All of the 5 bestselling cars locally were Korean, with Hyundai’s Grandeur topping the list by selling 11.590 units in September. Kia’s Carnival came second with 10.130 units, Kia’s Sorento was third with 9.151 units, and Hyundai’s Avante followed with 9.136 units. Kia’s K5 was fifth in the month, selling 7.485 units. Looking at accumulated sales from January to September, the Hyundai Grandeur was also the bestselling car, with 113.810 units sold. Runner-up Kia’s K5 sold 66.716 units in the same period, while the Hyundai Avante came third and the Kia Sorento came fourth, followed by the Hyundai Sonata. As for environmentally friendly cars, such as electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, 24.375 units were sold in September, jumping 158.1 % compared to the same month last year. While domestic sales of eco-friendly vehicles have been growing steadily, September posted the highest figure, the ministry added. In September 2019, environmentally friendly cars accounted for 7.1 % of total sales and the portion grew to 15 % this year. +++ 

+++ TESLA said it would start exporting China-made Model 3 cars to more than 10 European countries this month, joining a growing number of automakers using China as an export hub for electric vehicles. The U.S. carmaker, which started delivering vehicles made in its Shanghai factory in December, will export China-made cars this month to countries including Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland, it said in a statement. Elsewhere, German rival BMW is preparing to export its electric iX3 model, made at a joint venture plant in Shenyang, China, to Europe, while Daimler is shifting production of its Smart branded city cars to Hangzhou Bay. Tesla has been expanding in China even as tensions between Washington and Beijing have been escalating. The Shanghai factory, Tesla’s first car plant outside of the United States, aims to build 150.000 vehicles this year. “Support from Chinese government towards the industry, innovative local companies and customers embracing new technologies make China the best market for smart electric vehicles”, Tesla said, adding it would expand car production, charging and sales networks in China. The electric vehicle maker, which sold more than 11.000 Model 3 cars last month in China, the world’s biggest auto market, is also building new car manufacturing capacity in Shanghai to make its Model Y. Reuters reported in September that Tesla was planning to export Model 3 vehicles made in China to Asian and European markets, citing people familiar with the matter. The export of the Model 3 to Europe comes as Tesla is in the process of building a German factory on the outskirts of Berlin and after the German government announced a subsidy of up to €9.000 for buyers of electric cars, including the Model 3. +++ 

+++ Hyundai said it will set aside W2.1 trillion in the third quarter to cover costs for auto recalls and quality control and affiliate Kia W1.26 trillion. Hyundai and Kia offer lifetime warranties for 4.67 million cars they sold in Korea and the U.S. from 2010 to 2019 after vibrations and outages were detected in the THETA 2 GASOLINE ENGINE developed in 2009. The automakers already set aside W900 billion in the third quarter of last year to cover the warranty costs. A Hyundai staffer said, “We are setting aside additional funds to cover the costs of an increasing number of potential repairs as we continue to diagnose engine defects”. Analysts had anticipated a recovery in earnings, but the announcement indicates that both Hyundai and Kia are expected to post losses in the third quarter. The 2 are set to announce their earnings on October 26. As Hyundai recalls Kona Electrics after a series of fires, the Korean carmaker is taking a major earnings hit due to problems with its Theta 2 gasoline engine. The gasoline direct injection engines have experienced a number of failures over the past decade, including fires. In the United States, 4.17 million units were recalled last year, while 520.000 units were recalled in Korea. The affected engines were those manufactured between 2011 and 2019. Following a class action lawsuit in the United States last year, Hyundai and Kia said they will offer lifetime warranties for the engine and cash compensation to some customers. The 2 automakers provisioned 900 billion won for costs related to the Theta 2 in the third quarter last year. “Following the latest action, Hyundai will come up with fundamental solution and process innovation to prevent any further issue related to quality”, said Hyundai in a regulatory filing. “We will do our best to recover our credibility in quality to our  customers”. Hyundai Motor posted 863.8 billion won in operating profit in the first quarter and 590.3 billion won in the second quarter. +++

+++ The trading arm of the TOYOTA has invested $4 million in Ugandan start-up Tugende, saying it hopes the firm’s loans to small, independent businesses will also help customers buy the carmaker’s vehicles. Launched in 2012 in Uganda, Tugende began by offering motorcycle loans to riders and has since expanded to offer loans for everything from fishing boats and minibus taxis to sewing machines and refrigerators for small shops. It opened a branch in Kenya last November. The investment in Tugende came from Mobility 54, the investment fund for Toyota Tshusho Corporation as part of $6.3 million Tugende raised in its Series A investment round this month. “We see a huge potential for Tugende business in the taxi market”, Mobility 54’s chief executive officer Takeshi Watanabe told, noting that many minibus taxis were Toyotas. Watanabe said the group aimed to invest $45 million in transportation and asset-financing start-ups like Tugende in Africa next year. Tugende’s “mortgages” (the bikers wouldn’t get a title to the bike until the final payment was made) target people like Mark Yaweh. The 25-year-old motorcycle taxi driver had scraped by riding someone else’s bike for 33 years, but put a downpayment on a new one and hoped to own his own after 18 months. “I’m excited, I yearned for this”, said Yaweh, wearing a mask and a pink reflector jacket. Banks are often reluctant to lend money to small or informal businesses in Africa because of the high rate of default. The financing gap for micro, small and medium enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at $331 billion, according to a 2017 report by the International Finance Corporation, the private investment arm of the World Bank. Development organizations say the kind of microlending Tugende is providing is key to closing that gap. With an asset base of $30 million, the start-up has handed out about 35.000 bike “mortgages” so far in Uganda, which Tugende estimates has about 800.000 riders. More than three-quarters of the borrowers pay off the 2 year loans off early using mobile money service or other digital platforms, said Michael Wilkerson, Tugende’s chief executive. Wilkerson said Tugende was seeking further $40 million in debt and equity to expand its existing motorcycle mortgages, grow its new motor vehicle financing product and enter new markets in the region. +++ 

+++ There’s a growing debate in car circles regarding the dangers of using certain infotainment features and touch screens inside vehicles that are on the move, with some studies indicating that fiddling with your display can be more dangerous than being drunk. VOLVOs own safety research and behavioral science experts believe however that distractions are a fact of life and that in-car tech should be used to “create” more focused drivers. Sure, some would say that a car from the 1940s is technically safer than a modern car from a distraction point of view (since it has no screen, phone connectivity or even a radio), but that’s not the reality of today’s society. “It is easy to think that phones and screens are the only scourge of the modern driver, but life as a whole is distracting”, said Volvo exec Malin Ekholm. “We know people do not get distracted on purpose, but it happens. You could be late for daycare and somewhat stressed. Or you get behind the wheel after a bad day at work. All this affects you as a driver”. She added that “people want to engage with friends, family, work and entertainment, and everyone responds differently to distraction”. One clever way to do that is to have the infotainment software help you control various basic functions using your voice. This is something Volvo’s new Android-powered system does well: you can set the temperature, various destinations via the sat-nav or even listen to music, podcasts and make phone calls without having to remove your hands from the wheel. Furthermore, Volvo believes distractions should also be addressed via in-car cameras and other sensors tasked with keeping an eye on the driver, so if for example the driver is intoxicated or distracted in any way, the car would intervene if he or she doesn’t respond to warning signals. Such an intervention could involve limiting the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo on Call assistance service and, as a last resort, actively slowing down and safely parking the car. This technology will be introduced on next-generation SPA2 models. +++

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