Newsflash: Mercedes-AMG broedt op elektrische sportwagens

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+++ At Tesla’s ballyhooed Battery Day event in September, CEO Elon Musk set himself an ambitious target: to produce a $25,000 electric car in 3 years. Hitting that sticker price (about $13,000 cheaper than the least expensive model today) is seen as critical to deliver a true, mass-market product. Getting there means finding new savings on technology, most critically the BATTERIES that can make up a third of a vehicle’s cost. Musk says innovations and in-house manufacturing can quickly halve that expense, while most competitors see a slower road to reach price parity with gas guzzlers. why are EV batteries so expensive? Largely because of what goes in them. An EV uses the same rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are in your laptop or mobile phone, they’re just much bigger to enable them to deliver far more energy. The priciest component in each cell is the cathode, one of the two electrodes that store and release a charge. That’s because the materials needed in cathodes to pack in more energy are often expensive: metals like cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese. They need to be mined, processed and converted into high-purity chemical compounds. How much are we talking? At current rates and pack sizes, the average battery cost for a typical electric vehicle works out to about $7.350. That’s come down a lot: 87 % over the past decade. But the average pack price of $156 per kilowatt hour (from about $1.183 in 2010) is still above the $100 threshold at which the cost of an electric vehicle should match a car with an internal-combustion engine. That would help trigger mass adoption. How will the batteries get cheaper? Costs aren’t expected to keep falling as quickly, but lithium-ion packs are on track to drop to $93 per kWh by 2024. To get there, one focus for manufacturers is replacing high-cost cobalt with nickel. That has a double benefit: nickel is cheaper and it also holds more energy, allowing manufacturers to reduce the volume needed. On the other hand, cobalt’s advantage is that it doesn’t overheat or catch fire easily, meaning manufacturers need to make safety adjustments when they use a substitute. Panasonic plans to commercialize a cobalt-free version of a high-energy battery in two to three years; other suppliers already produce lower-energy ones. There’s also attention on the battery packs, often resembling oversized suitcases, that house rows of individual cells. Simplifying the design, and using a standard product for a range of vehicles (rather than a pack tailored to each model) will deliver additional savings. Who are the biggest manufacturers? Asia dominates manufacturing of lithium-ion cells, accounting for more than 80 % of existing capacity. The majority of that might is in China. Europe is building new factories and will surpass North America in cell manufacturing starting in 2021. Overall, the Chinese company CATL shipped the highest volumes in 2019, including batteries bound for power grids and storage systems. It’s a tighter field in the race to supply automakers, where Panasonic led last year. South Korea’s LG Chem has surged ahead in 2020, capturing about a quarter of the market in the first 8 months. Tesla and Panasonic’s joint venture is the biggest battery producer in the United States. Emerging producers include Northvolt in Sweden, founded by former Tesla executives. Are all EV batteries the same? Lithium-ion technology has dominated the rechargeable-battery sector since it was commercialized by Sony in 1991. Improvements to lifespan, power, weight and costs have helped the components leap from camcorders to SUVs, buses and ferries. While lithium-ion cells, like all batteries, have the same basic components: 2 electrodes (a cathode and an anode) and an electrolyte that helps shuttle the charge between them, there are differences in the materials used, and that’s key to the amount of energy they hold. Grid storage systems, or vehicles traveling short distances, can use cheaper and less powerful cathode chemistry that combines lithium, iron and phosphate. For higher-performance vehicles, automakers favor more energy-dense materials, such as lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide or lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide. Further refinements are seeking to improve range (how far a vehicle can travel before recharging) as well as charging speed, while also balancing factors like fire-resistance. Recent battery blazes and vehicle recalls have highlighted safety issues. How else can costs come down? There’s the manufacturing process itself and the machinery required. Tesla has commissioned the largest casting machine ever made that will produce the entire rear section of a car as a single piece of die-cast aluminum. Integrating the battery with a vehicle chassis could also trim the volume of material used. Electric motors (which account for as much as a 10th of a car’s cost) should be about 5% cheaper in the next couple of years with improvements to both materials and the electronics that transmit power between the battery, motor and a vehicle’s wheels. So China’s in pole position? Yes, in almost every aspect, with some key exceptions. China is responsible for about 80 % of the chemical refining that converts lithium, cobalt and other raw materials into battery ingredients, though the metals themselves are largely mined in Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chile. China also dominates processes to make battery parts including capacity for cathodes, anodes, electrolyte solutions and separators. But China faces a rare challenge when it comes to advanced semiconductor design and software, components that are increasingly important as vehicles become more connected and autonomous. Less than 5 % of automotive chips are made in China. For example, major players in so-called insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) include Infineon Technologies and Semikron in Germany and the Japanese companies Mitsubishi, Fuji Electric and Toshiba. These high-efficiency switches reduce power loss and improve reliability in electric cars. Is cost the only hurdle? There’s still an issue with driving range. While the most expensive EVs can travel 400 miles (640 kilometers) or more before a top up, consumers considering more mainstream models remain anxious about how often they’ll need to recharge. Automakers and governments have become directly involved in the roll-out of public recharging infrastructure, conscious of a need to allay fears over not finding an electric pump on the go. Countries from China to Germany to Canada are building charging stations as part of stimulus measures adopted to combat the corona virus-induced economic slump. Millions of units are being fitted on highways, in suburbs and at shopping mall parking lots, but distribution is uneven (more than a quarter of all public connectors in the U.S. are in one state, California) and not all chargers are compatible with every EV model. Most recharging is expected to take place at home, and that means another cost for consumers, with an average price of about $1,000 per system. What’s around the corner? A host of innovations are seen moving from laboratories to production lines by the end of the decade. California-based Sila Nanotechnologies is adding silicon into battery anodes in place of graphite to allow a single charge to last at least 20 % longer. Toyota and U.S. startups including QuantumScape are racing to commercialize solid-state lithium-ion batteries, which overhaul a cell’s architecture to replace the flammable liquids that enable charging and discharging with ceramic, glass or polymers. That’s an advance that advocates claim can boost energy storage, lower costs, improve safety and cut recharging times. CATL is ready to produce a super long-life battery that lasts 16 years and 2 million kilometers; a typical battery warranty today covers about 240.000 kilometers or 8 years. That means a single pack could be deployed in multiple vehicles or for several different tasks. As early electric cars retire, there’s also a fast-developing sector aimed at reusing batteries for less-strenuous tasks, or recycling the metals within them. +++ 

+++ BUGATTI is building up to launch a new model and has confirmed the date of its unveiling as 28 October. The French hypercar brand is being especially cryptic in the lead-up to the covers coming off the new car. The only official image of it is a rear view of some X-shaped LED rear light strips, a light signature markedly different from that of the Chiron or its related variants (such as the Divo). A second preview image was sent out to the media today and this gives away even less: it simply states the phrase “What if…?” followed by the numbers “0,67”. There is no firm indication of what this could mean. Certainly a 0-100 kph time of 0.67 seconds doesn’t seem technically possible. However, it’s plausible that the figure could be the new car’s power-to-weight ratio represented in kW/kg. By way of illustration, to get a figure of 0.67 kW/kg, a 2.000kg car would need to put out 1.340 kW (just under 1.800 hp). The use of the kilowatt unit would also suggest that we’re talking about a fully electric model. Interestingly, those figures are not a million miles away from the kW/kg power-to-weight ratio of a Rimac C_Two, the 1.900 hp electric hypercar successor to the Croatian firm’s Concept One. Although that car was unveiled in 2018, the first customer deliveries aren’t due until next year. The Rimac link is important because only last month reports from Germany suggested the Volkswagen Group was considering selling the Bugatti brand to Rimac and boosting Porsche’s shareholding in Rimac from 15.5 % to as much as 49 %. It could be speculated, then, that the new Bugatti could be the brand’s first EV, with a Rimac powertrain as its base. Another theory is that it could be a track-only special with design inspiration taken from the firm’s Vision Le Mans design study shown earlier this year and utilising the well-proven 8.0-litre W16. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER raised its profit outlook for 2020 after a record 24 % jump in Chinese demand for its Mercedes-Benz cars boosted margins in the third quarter, though it warned that a spike in Covid-19 infections made forecasting hard. Earlier this week, Daimler’s chief executive said there was anecdotal evidence that wealthy Chinese families unable to splash out on expensive European holidays during the pandemic were buying luxury goods at home instead. Benefiting from higher prices and a fall in fixed costs, the adjusted return on sales by its Mercedes-Benz cars and vans division rose to 9.4 % in the quarter ending September 30 from 7 % a year earlier, rebounding from minus 1.5 % in the second quarter. The German car and truck maker said it now expected full-year earnings before interest and taxes to match last year’s levels, whereas it had previously forecast a drop in earnings. In 2019, profit came in at €10.3 billion. A spike in Covid-19 infection rates in recent days has not hit visits to its showrooms, orders or sales, the carmaker said, but it warned that its outlook was based on the assumption that conditions would continue to normalise. In the third quarter, Daimler’s adjusted profit rose to €3.48 billion from €3.14 billion a year earlier. Margins recovered despite a jump in sales of less profitable plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) to 45.000 cars. Sales of low-emission cars are expected to accelerate in the 4th quarter with deliveries in the triple-digit thousands, Daimler said, adding that the vehicles were all sold at a profit and would help it meet European emissions goals. “We appreciate the fact the Mercedes can deliver very high margins whilst selling an increasing number of electrified vehicles. This should calm down some of the fears concerning alleged material profitability erosion from EVs”, Arndt Ellinghorst, analyst at Bernstein Research, said. To help offset lower profits from hybrid and electric cars, Daimler cut costs, with 2,000 staff agreeing to voluntary redundancy, the carmaker said. The company said it was also continuing to seek solutions for divisions that are losing money, such as its ride-hailing joint venture with BMW. Uber has offered more than €1 billion euros to buy it. Deliveries of Mercedes Benz cars and vans were down 4 % in the quarter as the pandemic continued to weigh on demand, prompting Daimler to reiterate that it expects overall sales and revenue in 2020 to be significantly lower than last year. A spike in infection rates in Germany has made further predictions about the outlook “increasingly difficult”, chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm told reporters on a call to discuss the quarterly results. +++ 

+++ DE TOMASO has revealed that it will move its core operations to the United States and build the gorgeous P72 locally. In a press release, De Tomaso says development of the P72 has continued throughout the pandemic and plans to move its core production, design and corporate facilities to the United States. It is already holding discussions with multiple U.S. states to serve as potential locations for its facilities and expects to make a formal announcement about these locations in the coming 6 months. “We don’t come to this decision lightly”, the company added. “Driven by the void we’ve seen over the past several decades, powered by our passion and what we see as our responsibility, this notion has been under consideration and part of our long-term plan for quite some time. De Tomaso has always been known as a bold European-American brand and this marks the next chapter of our historic journey”. Production of the De Tomaso P72 should start in the U.S. during the 4th quarter of 2022. The P72 was unveiled in the middle of last year and because the company is owned by Ideal Team Ventures, which also controls Apollo Automobili, the P72 shares its carbon fiber monocoque with the Apollo IE. However, whereas the IE features a screaming, naturally-aspirated V12 engine, the P72 has a Ford-sourced supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that has been developed with Roush. The company is targeting over 700 hp and more than 825 Nm, and says the V8 will be mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual transmission. Production will be capped at 72 units with prices starting from €750,000. +++ 

+++ Introduced in 2008, the current DODGE Challenger is one of the oldest new cars on the American market. It’s not ready to retire, and documents published by Canadian union Unifor confirm it will remain in production until at least 2023. Better yet, the company announced it will release several new versions of the car in the coming years. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) narrowly avoided a costly strike by signing a new 3 year agreement with Unifor, the union that represents most of its Canadian workers. It pledged to inject $1.2 billion into its local operations while creating 2,000 new jobs in the nation. Some of that money will be allocated to the Brampton Assembly factory located on the outskirts of Toronto, where it will be used to build 3 new variants of Dodge’s Charger and Challenger models. Details about what the company has in store weren’t included in the release, but Dodge has shown it’s capable of mustering an unusually high level of creativity when it comes to keeping the Challenger and the Charger fresh. Hellcat, Demon, T/A 392, and Super Stock models have joined the range in recent years, and its efforts have paid off, as 60.997 units of the Challenger were sold in the United States in 2019. It even outsold the Camaro and the Mustang during the third quarter of the year. Annual Charger sales jumped by 21 % to 96.935 units in 2019. With that said, Dodge’s definition of a new variant is murky. It could be alluding to a trim level, an option package, a limited-edition model, or a facelifted version. Regardless, I’m betting they’ll be exceptionally powerful. Chrysler will continue to build the 300 in Brampton through 2023, too, but there’s no word on what the future has in store for the sedan. It’s also relatively old, but it’s not faring nearly as well as its Dodge-badged siblings. Sales fell to 29.213 units in 2019; a 37 % drop compared to 2018 and the lineup was pared down for 2021. Moving west, the Windsor factory will be retooled to build plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, and it will be assigned at least one new model, but FCA didn’t reveal what it will be, or when we’ll see it. Industry whisperings claim that’s where the production version of the CES-friendly Chrysler Portal concept will be built. If everything goes according to plan, the Dodge Challenger will be over 15 years old when it retires, so someone born the year it was released in will be able to legally drive a new example, depending on the learner’s permit laws where they live. Reaching 15 isn’t unheard of: Jeep’s original Wagoneer was built in various forms from 1962 to 1991, the Citroën 2CV lasted from 1948 to 1990, East Germany’s Trabant P601 puttered along from 1964 to 1990, and the air cooled Volkswagen Beetle was seemingly eternal. Old automotive age is rare in the 21st century, however. One of the oldest vehicles sold new in America is the Nissan Frontier, which entered production in 2004 and remains available new in 2020. It hasn’t changed much since, at least not visually, and its replacement is right around the corner. Other veterans include the Toyota Tundra (2006), the Nissan 370Z (2008), and the Toyota Land Cruiser (2007), though the latter is allegedly on its way out for good. Globally, the Lada Niva feels like it’s from a past geological epoch. Sales started in 1977, and it’s still sold in 2020; it was even recently updated. +++ 

+++ Renault has decided to end its product collaboration with FIAT CHRYSLER regarding vans, ahead of the latter’s merger with rivals PSA, said Renault deputy chief exec Clotilde Delbos. The van collab was first established under former Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, with the French carmaker producing Fiat’s Talento van at its Sandouville factory in northern France. According to Delbos, Renault will be looking for new partners as far as vans are concerned. As for rivals PSA, they’re reportedly set to merge with Fiat Chrysler by the end of the first quarter of 2021. The Fiat Talento, which is a rebadged version of the Renault Traffic, Opel/Vauxhall Vivaro and Nissan NV300, was just updated last year in September, gaining a 2.0-liter EcoJet diesel engine which meets Euro6d-Temp emission standards. Fiat also added a 7 inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay inside. Speaking of vans, on PSA’s end, the French brand was willing to boost its Toyota van production in a bid to address European Union antitrust concerns about its merger with FCA. PSA currently builds the Toyota ProAce, as well as the Peugeot Expert and Citroen Jumpy at its Sevelnord plant in France. A source close to the issue said that Peugeot was willing to sell these vans at close to “cost price”. Fiat Chrysler and the PSA Group will merge to create a new joint entity called Stellantis, thus putting together the world’s 4th largest carmaker by volume. +++ 

+++ The Los Angeles Auto Show would typically kick off next month, but the corona virus pandemic has delayed the event until May 2021. While that’s several months away, FISKER has announced plans to introduce the production version of the Ocean at the show. The company is keeping details under wraps, but they released a teaser image which suggests the production model will remain pretty faithful to the concept. However, there are some minor changes including a charging port on the front fender as well as wider door handles. Fisker didn’t say much about the upcoming crossover, but promised the Ocean will deliver class-leading range, impressive performance and a functional interior with third-row seating. The company also said the model will be launched in late 2022 thanks to a strategic partnership with Magna International. As I have previously reported, the Ocean is slated to be offered with rear- and four- wheeldrive. The company has also said the four wheeldrive variant will have more than 306 hp, while an “ultra-high performance version” will be capable of running from 0-100 km/h in less than 3 seconds. We can also expect ranges of between 400 – 480 km. Pricing is slated to start at $37,499 before incentives, and Fisker has also promised flexible leasing options. Of course, it’s possible things could change by the time the model goes into production. In a statement, CEO Henrik Fisker said “It’s with great excitement that we’re making the global debut of the Fisker Ocean here in our home city of Los Angeles. As befits the world’s first digital car company, we are also planning to showcase several Fisker-unique technologies that will support our differentiated ownership experience and vehicle functionality”. +++ 

+++ I knew the FORD Bronco was going to be a hot SUV based on interest in the vehicle, the sharp retro styling and the impressive feature set. Exactly how hot was the question, and I have a much better idea of that now that Ford has revealed the number of reservations. The company announced it has more than 190.000 reservation holders ready to finalize their Bronco orders. I have more information than that, though, thanks to Mark Grueber, Ford’s U.S. consumer marketing manager. He talked with me about what some of the more popular Bronco choices are, as well as a little bit of info on how Ford gauges what to do next. On the whole, Bronco reservation holders are going for high-trim vehicles. The Wildtrak is the most popular trim with about 26 % of holders choosing it, and the Badlands follows it with about 20 %, leaving the other 54 % of orders to be split among the base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks and First Edition. The Wildtrak and Badlands are the 2 most expensive trim levels with the most standard off-road equipment short of the limited production First Edition. Speaking of off-road equipment, the Sasquatch Package, which adds 35 inch tires and front and rear locking differentials among other things, is proving to be extremely popular with a bit less than half of reserved Broncos featuring the package. As for body styles, the 4-door Bronco was selected by twothirds of reservation holders, and the other third picked the 2-door. Grueber said that they were expecting the 4-door to be the bigger seller, but the number of 2-door buyers was notably higher than expected. Also popular is the 2.7-liter V6, though Grueber didn’t say how much more popular it is than the 4-cylinder. Not hugely popular is the manual transmission, which is only available with the 4-cylinder. Grueber said that only about 10 % of 4-cylinder reservation holders opted for the manual transmission. But he did note that take rate is better than a lot of cars. Indeed, that’s significantly better than the particularly low take rate on mainstream cars such as the Honda Accord that recently lost its manual option because no more than 2 % of buyers chose it. I also talked with Grueber a little bit about how Ford decides on new features, in particular, the decision to offer the Sasquatch Package with the manual transmission. As it turns out, Ford is watching forums and internet posts as part of their research for what to offer customers. The company also relies on direct feedback from customers as well as what dealers tell them. Grueber said that the manual Sasquatch option was made quite obvious shortly after the reveal. Apparently the option was already in the works, but the company brought up the launch window and announcement because it was one of the most requested features following the reveal. And in case anyone is curious as to why it’s still not going to be available until late 2021, it’s because the company is still doing some final testing on the powertrain combo. The company will be relying on this consumer info for other future options and features. One of those features will be a white roof, which has been another popular request, possibly because of the blue concept Bronco shown with the reveal. The white roof is slated to go on sale in 2022. +++ 

+++ Tesla has released a beta version of their FULL SELF DRIVING SYSTEMand it appears the U.S. government will step in if things go awry. In a statement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they have been briefed on the software update which delivered Full Self-Driving technology to a handful of customers. While there doesn’t appear to have been any issues yet, the NHTSA said they will “monitor the new technology closely” and “not hesitate to take action to protect [the] public against unreasonable risks to safety”. In essence, the government is okay with citizens becoming beta testers as long as they don’t start getting injured by the technology. That decision isn’t going over well with everyone including Partners for Automated Vehicle Education whose membership includes automakers (Audi / Volkswagen, Daimler, Ford, GM and Toyota), tech firms (Argo AI, Aurora, Blackberry, Cruise, FLIR, Intel, Nvidia and Wayo) as well as groups such as AAA, the Consumer Technology Association and SAE International. In a statement, the organization slammed the move saying “Public road testing is a serious responsibility and using untrained consumers to validate beta-level software on public roads is dangerous and inconsistent with existing guidance and industry norms”. For their part, Tesla only released the software update to a handful of people who have been described as experts that are careful. This is in contrast to previous software updates which have seen wide releases with sometimes disastrous results. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the beta test will enable them to collect more data, which will then be used to improve the technology. If everything goes according to plan, the Full Self-Driving technology could be widely released later this year.  However, Musk announced the system will cost an additional $2,000. +++ 

+++ The facelifted JAGUAR E-Pace has been spied testing at the Nurburgring for the very first time. I’m a big fan of the way the current E-Pace looks but the British car manufacturer is clearly eager to freshen it up with some minor visual tweaks. It is expected to hit the market next year but could be unveiled before the end of 2020. As with previous E-Pace prototypes spied testing this year, Jaguar looks to have tweaked the headlights and made them slightly smaller. Unfortunately, camouflage covers the entire front fascia of prototypes so it’s difficult to comment on what changes are going on there, although a new bumper can be expected. At the rear I expect to see some minor tweaks too. Alterations will inevitably be made to the cabin, despite how similar the exterior may look to the current model. Most notably, we expect to see the updated E-Pace feature Jaguar’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system that includes over-the-air update capabilities. This new system also includes a dedicated power source that means it can boot up almost immediately. It’s possible the E-Pace will also adopt the secondary 5.5-inch display of other Jaguar models that’s used for the HVAC controls. +++ 

+++ 2 years after production of the second generation started, LAND ROVER is getting ready to extend the Range Rover Evoque lineup with a first-ever long wheelbase (LWB) model. I’ve seen prototypes being tested in the open ever since earlier this year, and now they took to the Nurburgring for some more fine tuning. Compared to the regular Evoques, the stretched variant features more space between the front and rear axles and longer rear doors. This will significantly improve rear legroom, a chapter in which the compact SUV has always struggled. In addition to being more family friendly, it will retain the looks of its shorter sibling, albeit perhaps with a few minor touches, and will carry over the same features. The dashboard panel will continue to incorporate a digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, a tablet-like infotainment system in the middle and a third display for the HVAC. Premium materials will remain part of the offering, although we wouldn’t be surprised if they launch more options for it. Power will likely continue to be provided by the same engines as the standard Evoques, meaning gasoline, diesel and plug-in hybrid units. It is still too early to speak about the availability of the model and particularly, if it will be limited to China or sold in global markets too, but we should find out more about it when it debuts, either at the end of 2020 or early next year. +++ 

+++ Daimler is slowly pulling back the curtain on how its line of MERCEDES-AMG sports cars will evolve as the leading luxury-vehicle maker goes electric. CEO Ola Källenius has dropped hints this month that Mercedes plans to challenge brands including crosstown rival Porsche by introducing plug-in performance models. He told in an interview that it’s very likely Mercedes will introduce a battery-electric platform for sports cars in the coming years. “We have a very comprehensive product portfolio, including very attractive sports cars, and sports cars will go electric as well”, Harald Wilhelm, Daimler’s chief financial officer, said. “So stay tuned”. Tesla has popularized EVs in no small part by proving they’re capable of measuring up to or even outperforming sports cars. Porsche started selling its debut electric model, the Taycan, late last year. Mercedes must electrify its sports cars both to compete for customers and comply with stricter emissions standards. Next year, the automaker will flank its flagship S-Class sedan with an all-electric sibling dubbed EQS. It will also deliver the Mercedes-AMG One (photo), a plug-in hybrid supercar that adapts a 1.000 hp drivetrain used in Formula One cars for street use. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ has been offering the option of ordering some of their models with the illuminated star logo up front for a few years now. Now, this feature has led to a recall in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the electrical ground connection of the illuminated badge may have been improperly installed and could affect the functioning of other components. The list includes things such as the power steering, as well as the left headlight and wiper motor, meaning that the affected GLE and GLS models fail to meet the required safety standards, increasing the risk of an accident. On a more positive note, though, the automaker is unaware of any accidents or injuries related to this issue that affects 12.799 vehicles, all of which are estimated to have this defect. The 350, 450 and 580 versions of the GLE, from the 2020 model year, and the 450 and 580 variants of the GLS, are included in this safety campaign. To fix the issue, authorized technicians will simply relocate the ground connection, and this should get rid of the problem. As usual, all work will be carried out free of charge. Owners should hear from the automaker in a few weeks, considering that the recall is scheduled to begin on December 8. +++ 

+++ An unusual high-riding PORSCHE 911 prototype has been seen testing on the road, reigniting suggestions that a rally-inspired ‘Safari’ model is in the works. The prototype, which in all other respects appears to be a standard 992-generation model, features a clearly raised ride height with the arch gap filled by styrofoam cladding. Such cladding has sometimes been used to help test and develop suspension set-ups, and to hide new developments such as air suspension. However, it could be there to try to hide the extra space in the wheel arch. It could, therefore, be an early mule for a long-mooted project to introduce a crossover-style ‘Safari’ model as a limited-run special. Porsche is refusing to comment on the latest spy shots. However, in 2018, Porsche sales boss Detlev von Platen hinted at such a model. “Taking the 911 and making an SUV out of it? Taking it higher? That could be a good idea, and of course it (a raised-up 911) won’t be a model range but it will be a limited, very niche product”, he said. Porsche has consistently indicated a desire to expand derivates of the 911 and do more special variants, too. The Stuttgart brand has a history with raised-up versions of its sports cars, albeit one based in motorsport. The company used jacked-up 911s in the late 1970s and early 1980s in rally special stages, and was the only team in the 1978 East African Safari Classic Rally to get both of its cars across the finish line. Although never a production model, the ‘Safari’ name became a pseudonym for aftermarket rally 911 builds. +++ 

+++ RENAULT ‘s cost-cutting plan is on track and it should have positive cash flow from cars by the end of 2020, the French carmaker said, as sales recovered from a slump during the first wave of coronavirus lockdowns. Renault was already struggling before the Covid-19 pandemic hammered auto markets and new chief executive Luca de Meo wants to reverse a long-standing strategy of global expansion to focus on selling more high-priced cars to improve profitability. The company said in a trading update that it had started to benefit from this drive in the third quarter and also grabbed a bigger share of the European market as dealerships reopened, helped in part by a 157 % surge in sales of its Zoe electric car. Renault’s revenue in the 3 months to September 30 came in at €10.4 billion; a fall of 8.2 % from last year but a marked improvement on the 35 % slide in the first 6 months of 2020. Analysts say the company’s drive to sell more, pricier cars was going better than expected. However, Renault did not give an earnings forecast for 2020 and said the outlook for next year remained uncertain because of the risk new Covid-19 lockdowns would hit business again. De Meo is pressing on with cost-cuts announced before his arrival in July, which include axing 15.000 jobs worldwide and trimming car production in a bid to save €2 billion. He is due to unveil an 8 year plan early next year and told staff in September that the company may have to cut costs by more than initially planned. “Our fixed cost reduction plan is well on track”, Clotilde Delbos, deputy chief executive, told a conference call about Renault’s trading update. Renault posted a record net loss of more than €7 billion in the first half of 2020. Its overhaul also entails doubling down on a production alliance with its partner Nissan as part of attempts to get relations with the Japanese carmaker back on track. Renault said sales in Europe fell 2.9 % in the third quarter, outperforming a broader 5 % drop in the market, and there was a further improvement in September with an 8 % jump in its sales. It highlighted soaring sales for its small electric car Zoé at a time when it is planning to expand its range of electric vehicles (EVs) with larger, sportier models under its Mégane brand. Renault sold 27.000 units of the Zoé in the third quarter and sales chief Denis le Vot said the company had the capacity to make 10.000 EVs a month. One weaker spot for the carmaker, however, remained its sales to partners. Renault produces cars and diesel engines for other manufacturers at some of its factories and is still losing ground in this area. Renault’s financial strength has been a central focus for analysts and ratings agencies alike as it tries to turn its business around, both to improve its profitability and prepare for the impact of stringent emissions regulations. The company said it had drawn down €3 billion out of its €5 billion loan guaranteed by the French state, a measure put in place during the pandemic. The carmaker said it had liquidity reserves of €15.2 billion at the end of September; down €1.6 billion from the end of due to debt repayments and working capital needs. But it still expects its automotive division to produce positive free cash flow in the second half of 2020. +++ 

+++ A “ro-ro” (roll-on/roll-off) ship named “SAIC Anji Phoenix” carrying some 1.800 SAIC new energy vehicles (NEVs) set off on its maiden voyage from East China’s Shanghai port to Europe. The vessel is expected to stop at Bristol in the United Kingdom, before heading to Zeebrugge in Belgium, its final destination. It is the first direct China-Europe sea route for shipping cars for the Chinese auto industry. Before the route was launched, Chinese vehicles exported to Europe had to stop at multiple ports before arriving at the continent. The new route would shorten shipping time by about 1 week. Yu De, head of SAIC’s international business, said despite the impact of Covid-19, the company’s sales in NEV-friendly European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway have soared, boosting confidence in further exploring the continent’s market. “In the past, our export volume to Europe was relatively small. As our sales continued to increase, we decided to launch self-operated shipping service to enhance the competitiveness of our cars in the local market”, said Yu. In the first 9 months of the year, Shanghai-based SAIC Motor sold 221.000 vehicles overseas, accounting for one-third of the total overseas sales of Chinese automakers. Out of this, sales of SAIC’s indigenously developed brands reached 140.000 units; an increase of 24.7 % over the same period last year. “In highly mature markets like Europe, electric vehicles serve as the entry point that gives us more competitiveness. In emerging markets, we focus on intelligent connected vehicles”, said Yu. By 2025, SAIC plans to achieve the goal of selling 1 million vehicles overseas annually, including 100.000 own-brand vehicles in European market, Yu added. Wang Zemin, general manager of SAIC Anji Logistics, said self-operated routes can provide quality and time-efficient options for Chinese auto companies to export NEVs to Europe, while carrying high-end European cars into China on the return journey. Currently, SAIC’s own brands MG and Maxus are present in more than 10 European countries, including the United Kingdom and France. From January to July, a total of 120.000 automobiles worth 14.04 billion yuan (about $2.1 billion) had been exported through the Shanghai port; up 24.5 % and 18.6 % year-on-year respectively, according to Shanghai Customs. +++ 

+++ TESLA has posted its fifth straight quarter of profitability and made a record number of deliveries. In the third quarter of 2020, the car manufacturer generated $8.771 billion in revenue, thanks in part to $579 million in energy storage sales and $581 million in services revenue. In addition, Tesla sold $397 million worth of regulatory credits to other car manufacturers during the quarter. All up, it made a profit of $331 million. Tesla’s earnings were bolstered by a 44 % increase in global deliveries during the quarter, despite overall U.S. auto sales declining 9.7 % from 12 months ago due to the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The car manufacturer delivered 139.300 vehicles this quarter, easily beating its previous best of 112.000 from the 4th quarter of 2019. It also built 145.036 vehicles in Q3, significantly more than the 82.272 vehicles that it built in the April-June period of this year. In a recent letter issued to investors, Elon Musk said Tesla is on target to deliver 500.000 vehicles by the end of 2020. However, this won’t be easy as it will need to deliver 181.650 vehicles in the 4th quarter to make that happen. Musk admitted that hitting this target will necessitate an increase in Model Y production, as well as a boost in production at the company’s Gigafactory in Shanghai, China. Tesla added during its earnings report that it should have sufficient cash to fund future products such as the Cybertruck and the all-electric Semi. Tesla’s executive overseeing construction of the electric carmaker’s “gigafactory” near Berlin has left his position, a person familiar with the matter told. Tesla declined to comment on whether Evan Horetsky, head of engineering, procurement and construction at the German plant, was still with the company. Horetsky could not be reached for comment. According to Horetsky’s LinkedIn profile, he directed teams leading project design, construction and technical program management across Tesla’s global factories and energy products. There will be no delays in the factory’s planning application process as a result of Horetsky leaving. The Berlin plant will be Tesla’s first in Europe. The automaker announced plans last November to build the Gigafactory in Gruenheide, outside Berlin, with plans to have the factory up and running by July 2021 to start building its electric crossover, the Model Y. However, the company has been engaged in a lengthy environmental audit, a time-consuming process that is likely to mean construction will take much longer than its Shanghai Gigafactory, which went from greenfield site to building cars in just 11 months. Horetsky hinted at pressures in a tweet dated October 11. “Credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming”, he said in the Tweet. “If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly”, the tweet also said, attributing the quote to Theodore Roosevelt. At the beginning of October, Tesla set aside 3 days of hearings to sound out locals and potential critics of the factory. The consultation process took 8 days just to lodge 414 complaints and observations, which will be reviewed by local planning authorities. Some residents were concerned that the gigafactory, especially once it started building battery cells, would be a drain on local water resources and wanted assurances from Tesla that consumption would be limited. Tesla, for its part has agreed to cut water consumption to 1.4 million cubic meters, down from 3.3 million cubic meters. Tesla was forced to interrupt construction because of unpaid water bills. After receiving a reminder to pay, Tesla gave assurances the bills would be paid, but an IT error led to the payment not going through. Authorities in Gruenheide and Brandenburg have so far only granted conditional approval for construction. Formal planning permission has not yet been granted. +++

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