Newsflash: BMW iX3 krijgt volgend jaar al een facelift

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+++ Anyone who’s seen season 3 of HBO’s Westworld is surely familiar with Rehoboam, a quantum computer system tasked in part with predicting the future through data analysis. Somebody high up the food chain at BMW must have watched the series, because the German carmaker has just entered into a new strategic collaboration with AMAZON Web Services (AWS), where one of the goals is to have AI and machine learning systems predict consumer demand for BMW vehicles. We can relax though, because there’s no ominous threat here. BMW will employ these methods simply so that it can speed up various processes such as ordering the right parts from suppliers, complying with regulations across various markets and automatically check requirements needed to design new models. “We want to switch from gut-driven decisions to data-driven decisions”, said Kai Demtroder, vice president of data transformation at BMW. “We have a few hundred data scientists at BMW, but the aim is to make the data accessible to everyone”. Still, it will be interesting to see what the data shows regarding demand for various models and equipment options. It may be just a matter of time before a computer makes all logistical decisions when it comes to global demand. Demtroder added that BMW’s cloud data hub already proved its value last spring when the Covid-19 pandemic began affecting the automotive industry. Data from AWS helped the German carmaker see which supplier plants had problems. “This was a clear case where we had all the data and we could use it immediately to respond to the crisis”, he added. BMW has been working together with AWS since 2015 and the 2 have spent the last year and a half jointly developing the carmaker’s data hub: up to 5.000 BMW employees will be trained to use AWS technologies. +++

+++ BENTLEY is poised to roll out multiple fully-electric models in the second half of this decade, the first of which will be a high-riding saloon with EXP 100 GT-derived styling, developed through the Audi-led Project Artemis. By high-riding (think Jaguar I-Pace), the idea is to accommodate the underfloor batteries. Like the I-Pace, it won’t be a traditional SUV and its exterior will be honed for aerodynamic efficiency. Yet, Bentley chairman Adrian Hallmark recently told that his company hasn’t decided whether future electric models will take on the nameplate and lineage of existing combustion-engined cars. “Our position is to look at customers and segments. As well as moving to electric, we’re going to adapt our product range because the world is changing. We want to appeal to more women and be more relevant in future urban environments which are very much different to today, and we want to appeal to modern luxury values which are different to ones from 20 years ago. We’ve already moved with the times but the times will change again in the next 10 to 15 years. Our product format, size and naming need to fit the product character and strategy based around customers and where we see those segments going. We love our current names. Maybe they’ll continue. But we’ll always follow customers, segments and values and find a name that fits”. The British marque is predicting that 110 kWh to 120 kWh batteries will become available by 2025, which in turn will result in larger models being able to offer a range of 400-500 km. However, you’d need a 150 kWh plus battery in order to get a full size SUV to equal the range of a combustion-engined variant. “We think that BEVs with mediumsize cars in that 2025-2030 range become feasible and larger electric cars are post-2030, which is why 2030 is the date we plan to change everything”. This suggests that Bentley is unlikely to offer a traditional grand tourer such as the Continental or Flying Spur in its initial EV range, focusing instead on something a little more crossover-like, if not unconventional. “We’re not frozen in terms of the bodystyle and so on. But we know the technology we’re going to be using and the capabilities of that technology. We know the dimensions and the hard points that we’ve got to work with, but that’s only the basic elements, maybe 20 % of the work. We’ve also worked on a lot of different options in terms of design of the first car, and over the next 3 to 6 months we’ll formalise those, lock and load and be ready to go. But we’re still in that searching phase, and not in the implementation phase yet”. +++ 

+++ While Bentley has committed to offering only plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains from 2026 onwards, with EV-only models from 2030, chairman Adrian Hallmark said the firm is planning “an autumn rush” of new and updated versions of its combustion-engined cars in the next decade. Hallmark wouldn’t be drawn on details but said Bentley plans to “release a multitude of derivatives over the next 3 years” and will continue to invest in traditional powertrains, including plug-in hybrid variants, such as the BENTLEY FLYING SPUR HYBRID . He said: “The problem with talking about strategy is that 10 years isn’t a long time but it’s short enough. When you talk about strategy, people will say: ‘Well, does that mean tomorrow you’re not building engines?’ Well, we are, and part of the discussion with governance is about how industry adapts. You can’t just have a turnoff, turn-on approach. We’ve invested heavily in EU6 and EU7 hybrids and the industry has spent hundreds of billions between us investing in these new technologies. They’ve all delivered massive improvements versus previous technologies. There is time to take full advantage of that investment and huge advances in product innovation that we’re throwing into the market in the next 3 to 5 years in the conventional technology space. With the hybrids, we hope they will carry on beyond whatever the earlier banned date is for pure-combustion-engined vehicles. Because they’re the same architecture as combustion-engined vehicles, we’ll innovate in terms of connectivity, autonomous driving capability and more electrification. All of those things will be part of our plan before we get to 2030 when we’re full-electric”. Hallmark added that Bentley is still monitoring the development of green synthetic fuels (which could be vital for the airline industry) in the hope that they could allow the company to keep offering clean combustion-engined continuation models in the future. +++ 

+++ BMW is upping its EV game. The Bavarian company has an ambitious plan to launch several brand new electric cars in the very near future and one of them is the i4. In September this year, it was confirmed the zero-emission 5-door will go into production at some point in 2021 and now I may know the exact timeframe: the i4 will go into production in November next year. There’s no exact date provided but it’s probably safe to assume we are 12 months away from seeing the very first i4 examples rolling off the assembly lines. From the information available so far, it is expected that the electric vehicle will be launched in 2 configurations, at least initially. The base model will be the i440 with a single 340 hp motor and RWD layout, plus a more utilitarian equipment. It’ll look like a stripped down 420i and will be offered with 17 inch wheels as standard. There will be a possible boost function which would temporarily increase the output for a few seconds like on the Audi e-Tron. Above it will be the i4 M50 xDrive with a dual-motor setup (good for 462 hp, or 530 hp with boost function) and a complete M Performance package from the factory. It will look like a proper M Performance model, with M bodywork, a more aggressive front fascia, bigger brakes, adaptive suspension, rear spoiler and 18 to 20 inch wheels. The model is also said to have a revised interior some with M touches. The i4 M50 xDrive will be able to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in approximately 4 seconds and hit a top speed in excess of 200 km/h. BMW has also revealed that the car will have an 80 kWh battery pack which allows for a range of around 600 km. There is also the possibility of an i435 model that should be more affordable than the i440. It will have rear-wheel drive as well as an output of approximately 286 hp. +++ 

+++ The BMW iX3 is less than 2 months old, but the company is already working on a facelift for the electric SUV. The facelifted iX3 has slimmer headlights and a familiar enclosed grille. The SUV is also slated to have new taillights. More interestingly, it appears the iX3 could gain an M Sport package. We can also expect a sportier front bumper which eschews the trapezoidal intake found on the current iX3. It will be replaced by a rectangular intake that is flanked by vertical openings at the outside edges. The rear bumper will also be a bit more streamlined and feature repositioned reflectors. The facelifted iX3 will have an updated cabin. Since the model is less than a year old, the electric powertrain should carryover. If that’s the case, we can expect an 80 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor that produces 286 hp and 400 Nm. This setup enables the SUV to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 6.8 seconds, before hitting an electronically limited top speed of 180 km/h. More importantly, the iX3 can travel up to 460 km on a single charge in the WLTP cycle. While a handful of questions remain, the facelifted iX3 could be introduced late next year or in early 2022. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the auto show calendar and the latest victim is the CHICAGO AUTO SHOW . While the event was originally scheduled to kick off on February 11th, it has now been pushed back to the spring of 2021. There are no firm dates at this point, but it’s hard to predict when the pandemic will come to an end. Organizers haven’t provided a lot of details, but the Chicago Auto Show’s senior director of communications told: “At this point, with the recent increase in cases, it doesn’t look like February is realistic”. He added the show is now aiming for a date in “March, April or May”. Unfortunately, it will a while before we get an official date as Bilek said they’re in a “holding pattern” and “didn’t want to throw a date out there and then have to move it again”. Bilek also added the event will be “respectful” of the New York and Los Angeles auto shows, which have also been rescheduled due to the pandemic. As I have previously reported, the Los Angeles Auto Show will now begin on May 19th while the New York Auto Show has moved to August 19th. The Detroit Auto Show, on the other hand, will happen in September. As many of you are aware, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States is climbing. However, vaccines are on the horizon as the Food and Drug Administration will hold a meeting on December 10th to discuss the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. A similar meeting for Moderna’s vaccine is scheduled for the 17th. +++ 

+++ COMFORT is second only to price in the minds of new car buyers, according to new research from French car maker Citroën. The company surveyed 2.000 British drivers and found almost half (45 %) would put comfort on their list of priorities, while 85 % said comfort was “important” when choosing a vehicle. Although price was a key consideration for a massive three-quarters (74.5 %) of drivers, comfort outstripped performance and economy to take second spot. It pipped safety, which was a priority for 44 % of drivers, to second spot. More than three-quarters of drivers (78 %) said seat comfort was among the key components of cabin comfort, while 55.5 % cited leg room. Some 46.6 % said they thought ambient temperatures were critical to comfort in the car. Despite that, though, Citroën’s research also revealed many drivers are dissatisfied with the comfort in their vehicles. More than 31 % of respondents said they thought their current brand of car was not comfortable enough. Souad Wrixen, Citroën UK’s marketing director, said drivers were still driving a lot despite the rise in home working as a result of Covid-19, and comfort is a key consideration. With that in mind, she said the company was honing its Advanced Comfort programme, which sees the new C4 and ë-C4 models fitted with comfort-orientated seats and suspension. “Despite the ongoing crisis, UK drivers are still spending almost 6 hours each week behind the wheel”, she said. “Our research shows that over a third of motorists wish their cars were more comfortable, and at Citroën we’re committed to ensuring that comfort is a priority, covering a wide range of measures that help promote health and well-being. With the advent of the Citroën Advanced Comfort programme, we have set about redefining the concept of modern comfort to fit your requirements, including the feeling of space on-board, connectivity, ergonomic design, and a smooth, comfortable drive”. Citroën’s sister brand, DS Automobiles, which makes the 3 Crossback and 7 Crossback, has also put some emphasis on the comfort front. When it was spun off from Citroën, the brand claimed to offer “dynamic hypercomfort” in its 4 and 5 models. For Citroën, however, much of the focus on comfort comes from its Progressive Hydraulic Cushions, which debuted on the C5 Aircross. The system uses additional hydraulic bump stops in the suspension to even out bumps in the road in a bid to improve passenger comfort. +++ 

+++ Momentum is building for Hyundai’s luxury subsidiary GENESIS . The South Korean Lexus and Infinity rival is expanding its portfolio with stellar new offerings in the form of the G70 sedan, GV70 crossover and GV80 SUV. It isn’t stopping there either, with a plethora of electrified models on the horizon aiming to push right into Tesla territory. One of them is a compact SUV codenamed JW, which aims to combine striking looks with innovative technology. Intrigued? Well, let me tell you everything I know to date. You could argue the JW has a hint of the Genesis Mint concept that debuted a stunning new design direction back at the 2019 New York Auto Show. Unfortunately, things do get a little lost in the translation from concept to production, with the JW sporting more occupant-friendly proportions shared with the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia CV electric vehicles. The end result is a bit of a cross between a tall hatch and a SUV-Coupe. Nonetheless, frontal styling will be sleek with its reinterpreted, low-mounted Genesis crest grille, split LED headlights and a sculptured hood. A view from the side reveals smooth surfacing combined with an upright glasshouse and blacked-out pillars for a floating-roof effect, while the rear is dominated by a fastback-style tail with split taillights mimicking the frontal lamps. Like the recently revealed GV70 crossover, the JW has a spacious interior which combines opulent styling, premium materials and new technology to rival the best in business. Intelligent features include optional side-view cameras instead of traditional mirrors, wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, digital car key, touch controller with handwriting recognition and cloud-based voice recognition. Underpinning the digital driver’s display and infotainment touchscreen is Nvidia’s Drive platform, which incorporates audiovisual, navigation, connectivity and AI-based ‘connected car’ services. The Hyundai Motor Group is also investing heavily in Lidar technology that could eventually see the JW offered with Level 3 autonomous driving. This setup would use a combination of camera radar and Lidar sensors to help in various driving situations, including crash prevention. Underpinning the electrified Genesis is the new e-GMP (Electric Global Modular Platform) skateboard architecture shared with the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia CV. This platform has been designed with an 800 volt electrical system and also forms the basis for other future EVs from Hyundai, Genesis and Kia. Reports indicate it’ll use dual electric motors powering all 4 wheels and a 72 kWh battery pack good for an estimated range of 500 km. As good as that sounds, further improvements are already on the cards, with South Korean battery supplier SK Innovation developing new cells which could enable a range of 800 km via 2 quick 10-minute charges. The JW will be one of the first mainstream vehicles to offer optional wireless charging capability, enabling owners to ditch those cumbersome charging cables. P&C technology will also be offered; it verifies users and automatically handles payments with the simple act of plugging into a charging station. Stress-free charging? Sign me up! The Genesis JW will compete against EVs like the Tesla Model Y, Mercedes-Benz EQB and EQA, Audi Q4 e-Tron, Polestar 2 and BMW iX1. It’ll also be accompanied by electrified versions of the current Genesis lineup, mimicking BMW’s strategy of offering both series-derived EVs and a dedicated EV sub-brand. An official reveal is likely to take place early next year, with a projected annual production of 22.000 units commencing June 2021. +++ 

+++ If you own an older vehicle and like doing repairs yourself, you probably have a HAYNES manual lying around. They’re the next best thing to factory service manuals and will guide you through the process of replacing numerous components. However, the end of an era is upon us as the company has confirmed it will no longer publish new print Workshop Manuals. That means customers who buy new vehicles, such as 2021 models, will no longer be able to get a paperback repair manual for them. Instead, the company is going digital as manuals for future models will be online-only. Haynes didn’t go into specifics, but said they are “currently in the process of creating a new automotive maintenance and repair product that covers around 95 % of car makes and models; an increase of around 40 % over our current Workshop Manual coverage”. While some people will hate the switch, there will be some benefits as photos will apparently be accompanied by videos. This should be easier than hunting for specific clips on YouTube and hoping for the best. A number of questions remain, including how much the service will cost, but the move online is a sign of the times. The company also noted they’re not giving up print altogether as they’ll continue to churn out manuals that are currently in existence. While Haynes didn’t go into too many details, the change could also apply to Chilton and Clymer manuals as they’ll all made by the same company. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI ’s best-selling models are SUVs and crossovers, and now the Korean brand has revealed that it plans to add another to its line-up. The new model, called the Bayon, will arrive in Europe in the middle of 2021 as a new entry-point into the manufacturer’s crossover range. The Bayon will be based on the same platform as the latest i20, so will sit below the Kona in Hyundai’s current line-up. Official specifications of the new car have yet to be confirmed, but the Bayon is expected to share its chassis and powertrain configuration with the i20. The supermini currently has a petrol-only line-up, consisting of an 84 hp 1.2-litre 4-cylinder unit and a turbocharged 1.0-litre 3-cylinder mild hybrid, with either 100 hp or 120 hp. Elements of the i20’s cabin, like its distinctive 4-pronged steering wheel and 8 inch infotainment system will be carried over to the new crossover. Flagship models should also come with Hyundai’s latest infotainment set-up, which features 2 digital 10.25 inch screens: 1 for the instrument cluster and 1 to handle the car’s media and navigation. For now, the only official image we have of the Bayon is a shadowy teaser, which previews the SUV’s tailgate and rear light design. Hyundai also insists that the Bayon will be more than just a jacked-up i20 in some plastic body cladding. A spokesperson for the brand told us that, apart from the rear doors, every panel on the fresh crossover will be new. It will feature Hyundai’s distinctive split-headlamp design from other models such as the Santa Fe and Kona. The introduction of the Bayon also gives Hyundai the opportunity to experiment with the next generation of the Kona, because when the Bayon lands next year, both will be fighting for similar customers. When the Kona is replaced in around 3 years’ time, it’ll go the same way as the Tucson and Santa Fe, growing in size for its next generation. Hyundai hopes this will remedy the biggest criticisms of the SUV: its cramped rear cabin and small boot. Hyundai has also hinted at the possibility of the next-generation Kona going electric-only. Making the Kona range all electric would also provide plenty of breathing space in the Korean company’s overall line-up for the petrol-only Bayon. Speaking about the upcoming Bayon, Andreas-Christoph Hofmann, Hyundai’s vice president of Marketing, said: “Hyundai is strongly established in the European SUV market already, in terms of our model range as well as our sales success. By launching a new, additional B-segment model as the entry point into our SUV line-up”, he continued, “we see a great opportunity to cover European customers’ demand even better and to increase our offering in a highly popular segment”. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER ‘s problems started long before the pandemic, with its Charge and Accelerate and Charge+ programmes having been launched as it scrabbled to save an almost-inconceivable £2.5 billion in 18 months back in 2018 as Chinese and American sales slumped and the collapse of diesel hit it especially hard, its sales mix having peaked at around 90 % of the total. Thousands of job losses followed, as did tales of no-holds-barred penny-pinching. Now laughably, staff often complained that they weren’t allowed to take the train from the Midlands to London for meetings, instead being told to dial into a video conference. But for every charge, it still felt as though JLR was struggling to accelerate, caught on a conveyor belt of the world’s wider issues in the shape of Trump, China, diesel (even with a committed hybrid rollout) and Brexit; and poleaxed by a product line-up that risked losing its swagger on the Land Rover side prior to the arrival of the new Defender and never even hit its stride on the Jaguar side, the far-reaching but low-volume and low-profit I-Pace aside. So the company found itself at a crossroads, just as the industry as a whole did likewise, caught in a vortex of cost-cutting at exactly the moment it needed to be investing in electrification, autonomy and more, as well as needing to shake up its existing range to better reflect buyers’ tastes. While much noise was made about protecting R&D budgets, it’s implausible to think all the money kept flowing, and there were more than enough whispers of delayed or curtailed projects to confirm that. And then Covid-19 appeared. But what could have been a death blow, or at least a blow hard enough to push JLR into a joint-venture or merger, was not. Thanks to its wider issues, JLR went into the pandemic leaner than most and, notably, made a profit last quarter off the back of encouraging revenues. Its troubles are far from over, but could it be that the pain of past years is what has saved it now? Nothing is yet certain at JLR (or anwhere else in the world), but while new boss Thierry Bolloré has kept a low profile thus far, there have been snippets of decisive action: a new group role for former design chief Gerry McGovern, whose Midas touch gets a wider audience, plus the creation of a new senior role for a head of quality and customer satisfaction (has any manufacturer ever more needed to overhaul its standards and, to be fair, perceptions in this area?) point to a decisive start. Maybe, just maybe, the coronavirus has been the leveller that JLR needed. A rough Brexit could set it back again, and surely there are more tough decisions ahead, but it could be that the time is finally right for a leaner JLR that’s keener to accelerate again. +++ 

+++ The Ultimate Series is the pinnacle of MCLAREN ’s lineup and the range has included the P1, Senna, Speedtail and Evla. While 3 of the cars were introduced in short succession, it will be years before the next member of the Ultimate Series is unveiled. McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt said: “We’ve come to the conclusion that actually we didn’t need to launch another Ultimate Series car after the Elva”. The company originally planned to build 399 Elvas, but slashed that number to 249. It was eventually cut to “no more than 149” and some people have speculated the customers simply weren’t interested in the model which costs $1.82 million. Flewitt brushed off the speculation by saying “We kind of launched it right in the middle of the pandemic and we lost a lot of production capacity”. He also noted the hypercar “market was getting a little bit overpopulated” as they launched the Senna, Speedtail and Elva in short succession. By pushing the next car back, they’re creating some breathing space for the model. As a result, the next Ultimate Series won’t arrive until the middle of the decade. That’s approximately 4 years off, but the executive described it as a “next-generation P1”. That isn’t much to go on, but the model will pick up where the original P1 left off. It was introduced in 2013, and featured a hybridized powertrain that consisted of a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 engine as well as an electric motor that enabled the model to travel up to 11 km on electricity alone in the NEDC cycle. Of course, eco-friendless was an afterthought as performance was the name of the game. The P1 had that in spades as the model produced a combined output of 916 hp and 900 Nm of torque. This enabled the car to rocket from 0-100 km/h in 2.8 seconds, before hitting an electronically limited top speed of 350 km/h. +++ 

+++ In production since 1979, the G-Class is undoubtedly one of the most capable SUVs out there. Even though most current owners never really test it off the beaten path, that hasn’t stopped MERCEDES from keeping all the off-road goodies for the latest generation. The boxy vehicle is the same reputable rock-crawling machine you’re used to, just with a lot more tech and luxury thrown in for good measure. Mercedes is in a festive mood as the iconic G-Wagen is celebrating an important production milestone. Magna Steyr has assembled the 400.000th vehicle at its plant in Graz, Austria where the 300.000th G was manufactured back in July 2017. You’d think demand would take a hit because of the vehicle’s steep asking price, a plethora of luxury SUVs, and a retro look not for everyone. However, nothing could be further from the truth as Mercedes’ production partner says its production capacity can’t match the strong customer demand. The G-Class has a bright future up ahead, not just because Mercedes has previously announced a fully electric version is planned to arrive later this decade. Spy shots have revealed a new 4×42 variant is coming, complete with portal axles and all the ground clearance you’ll ever need. While the AMG G65 is not coming back because the V12 is now Maybach-only, the peeps from Affalterbach will likely spruce up the brick-shaped SUV beyond the already potent V8-powered G63. In addition, there’s also Brabus to scratch your AMG G65 itch. The current G-Class has been in production since the summer of 2018 and this particular example will be delivered to a customer living in Rhineland in western Germany. Not just any customer, but a certain individual that happens to be a huge fan of the G and a long-term client with around 20 models in possession. He even has a G-related motto: “I can’t be without the G”. Mercedes is making it easier than ever for future owners to configure the ideal G-Class through the G Manufaktur programme unlocking greater customization options. It’s already proving to be a popular option as approximately 60 % of G-Class buyers are spending extra money through this programme to configure the right spec. For those willing to go all out with their G-Class buying experience, Mercedes has set up a test site dubbed G-Class Experience Centre near Graz in Austria where drivers can fully discover the SUV’s capabilities both on and off road. +++ 

+++ With a market cap of over half a trillion dollars, would Tesla ever consider buying a legacy automaker? This was one of the questions Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, asked Elon Musk at the 2020 Axel Springer Award. Musk said Tesla would never make a hostile takeover attempt, but that he would be willing to discuss a MERGER . This is where all the news about Tesla merging with another company came from. However, make no mistake: the discussion was about Tesla buying a competitor, such as Volkswagen, Toyota, General Motors or Ford. And there are some problems with such a question. The first one is how Tesla would do that. The second is why. Although Tesla’s current market cap is $584.76 billion, its operating cash flow is $4.348 billion and its free cash flow is only $1.827 billion. Volkswagen’s market cap is $158.60 billion, but it has an operating cash flow of $23.522 billion and a free cash flow of $5.1 billion. For Tesla to buy any competitor, it would need money. Would it sell shares to raise it, risking a hostile takeover by another company? Would it exchange its shares with those of people in control of other automakers? That would demand a friendly approach, as Musk said he was open to it, but is he really? Think about that: Tesla designed a new sales method that is direct while other automakers are trying to sort that out. General Motors is even paying for Cadillac dealerships that want nothing with EVs to leave the business. Why would Tesla get involved in this sort of legacy? Tesla is also not a big fan of unions, and it will probably have a hard time in Germany with the IG Metall, the German metalworkers’ union. Tesla has refused to sign a collective wage agreement with it. That may lead to strikes at Giga Berlin, but automakers are apparently seeing that as a way to weaken unions in Germany and make business decisions less complicated there. Coincidence or not, Herbert Diess is clashing with unions at the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen and asked for a vote of confidence to keep running the company. People familiar with the matter say VW labour chiefs often block crucial decisions for the company’s reform. Tesla already has a lot to handle on its own. Why would it spend money buying any legacy automaker, which still produces combustion-engined vehicles? Why would it want to have to deal with dealerships? Finally, which benefit would it get from companies that are so legally entangled with unions that this even risks them failing in their path towards electric mobility? The disadvantages seem to outweigh any benefits such a decision could bring unless they have to do with a healthier financial operation. Apart from discussing a merger, Musk also said electric cars would double the demand for electricity globally, which was kind of obvious. In that sense, he urged renewable energy sources to expand. Duly noted. +++ 

+++ MERGERS between huge car companies are nothing new. The recently formed Stellantis brand, a union between PSA and FCA, brought together 14 individual firms including Maserati and Opel, the latter of which was only acquired by its PSA parent 3 years ago. With manufacturers across the world keen to pool resources, development costs and, increasingly, carbon-dioxide emissions, sense is to be found in the prospect of a merger between Tesla and the Volkswagen Group. Because while VW Group’s push into electric cars is now fully underway, the German manufacturer’s fleet average CO2 emissions stood at 123.6 g/km as of March this year according to analysts at Jato, against a European Commission target of 95 g/km for 2021. Car makers not meeting that fleet 95 g/km target face big fines and some firms, such as FCA, have already paid to ‘pool’ their emissions with Tesla in order to offset potential penalties. A full-blown VW/Tesla partnership would presumably have a significant impact on Volkswagen Group’s fleet emissions. VW Group, meanwhile, could apply its almost peerless mass-production knowhow to Tesla’s cars. There are other indications that a merger between Tesla and Volkswagen Group could be possible. Tesla boss Elon Musk recently said: “We are definitely not going to launch a hostile takeover, but if somebody said it would be a good idea to merge with Tesla, we would have this conversation”. VW Group boss Herbert Diess, meanwhile, spent one-on-one time with Elon Musk this year, giving the Tesla chief executive the opportunity to drive the new ID.3. Diess subsequently said “there is no deal/cooperation in the making” between Tesla and Volkswagen, but Diess has also admitted Tesla technological lead in gives him “headaches”. Diess said: “What worries me the most is the capabilities in the assistance systems. 500.000 Teslas function as a neural network that continuously collects data and provides the customer a new driving experience every 14 days with improved properties. No other automobile manufacturer can do that today”. If one starts with the premise that a merger is on the cards, more evidence emerges that indicates this could be a possibility. Volkswagen Group is selling hypercar maker Bugatti to Rimac, according to reports, while rumours indicate the German giant could also sell Lamborghini. Other streamlining, cash-releasing operations include the recent announcement that Volkswagen is to halt all motorsport activities, integrating staff from Volkswagen Motorsport into the main company. Tesla, meanwhile, is brimming with cash, at least in terms of stock-market valuation, overtaking Toyota this summer to be the most valuable car maker in the world, with its share price climbing ever since. Speculation of a merger between Volkswagen and Tesla is just that, and it is possible these signs are incidental, and signify nothing. But if a merger is announced between the world’s most highly valued car maker and the largest manufacturer by volume, you read it here first. +++ 

+++ In the not too distant future, the vast majority of new vehicles sold will be electric, hybrids, or hydrogen-powered. However, PORSCHE is investigating ways to keep ICE-powered cars on the road by using advanced synthetic fuels. The German car manufacturer first announced its plans to research synthetic fuels back in September and has since revealed that it already has a pilot program involving various classic Porsche models that are using synthetic fuels. During a recent interview, Porsche chief executive Oliver Blume said that ICE vehicles will continue to be driven in the future. “We believe that synthetic fuels produced with 100 % renewable energy have the potential to be an important element in the future”, Blume explained. “For this reason, we are conducting research and development activities. 70 % of the cars we have ever built are still on the road, and for many years to come there will be cars powered by combustion engines”. The synthetic fuel being developed by Porsche is made by producing hydrogen and combining it with carbon captured from the air to create methanol, which is then transformed into a gasoline substitute to power cars. Porsche is looking to make this synthetic fuel in factories powered by wind and solar energy. The main problem that needs to be overcome is price. “The only problem we still have is price, which is still higher than 10 dollars per liter”, Blume revealed. Porsche is working to bring this down to less than $2 per liter to ensure it’s not much more expensive than petrol or diesel. “We already have a pilot program running historic 911s, from the 993 series, with very good results. We’re also looking for partners. They’ll take care of the technology, and at the end they’ll produce the fuel. Our task will be to find the right specifications so that these fuels will be able to run in our combustion engines”, Porsche’s boss added. Blume admits that there is still a long way to go to perfect synthetic fuels but believes it could be available to the public in about 10 years. +++ 

+++ Mate RIMAC , the founder of electric hypercar maker Rimac, said that the recent surge in using special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) for raising funds for EV start-ups could backfire and harm the industry in the long term. SPACs, also known as “blank check” shell corporations, are formed strictly to take other companies public without going through the regular IPO process. In addition, managers of SPAC companies are not held to the same level of liability about the potential growth prospects as the managers who raise funding through an IPO on equity markets, leading to concerns about a potential bubble. “You can get so much money now for companies that do not have a product. Personally I am scared a little bit”, Rimac said. “When we go public, I want to show the numbers, to go public on reality, and not on hype”, Rimac stated. “I hope that these SPACs will be successful. A lot of them won’t. I hope it won’t hurt the industry too much”. SPACs are used to sidestep the IPO process as they offer a shorter preparation time and fewer legal obstacles, making it easier to tap the investor optimism towards electric vehicles. “We were profitable last year and we want to be profitable this year as well”, Rimac commented, adding that he built up his company by focusing on profitability rather than growth. Rimac was founded in 2009 and it now employs 900 people. “For a start-up, we have built up steam the hard way”, he added. The Croatian company had to raise money by taking on development contracts for other carmakers, and today their shareholders include Porsche and Hyundai. “We started with hypercars and we are now working with more mainstream vehicles”, Rimac added. “Want to be the leader in high performance electric vehicle components. Want to be the intel inside”. Mate Rimac also declined to comment on recent reports claiming that his company would buy Bugatti from the VW Group, but he added rather cryptically “maybe soon”. +++ 

+++ While some might argue that Europe’s small station wagons are a bit pointless, SKODA ’s offering has always performed well in terms of sales. With that in mind, the company has decided to keep the Fabia Combi variant going into this next-generation cycle, with the new model set to debut sometime next year. “We will again have a Combi version”, confirmed Skoda CEO Thomas Schäfer last week. “This is very important to us because it underlines our commitment to offering affordable, practical mobility in the entry-level segments”. The Czech carmaker said earlier this year that the Combi model accounted for 34 % of the Fabia’s overall sales, which isn’t bad considering that small non-premium wagon models have pretty much gone extinct. Skoda has been selling a Combi version of the Fabia ever since the nameplate’s inception in 2000. In its 20 years of existence, 1.5 million Fabia Combi units have made their way from the factory floor and into the hands of customers, usually small families or people in need of a little more trunk volume than the Fabia hatchback could provide. Once the new Fabia Combi arrives, it will have the segment all to itself thanks to Renault and Peugeot dropping out, and Dacia planning to ditch the Logan MCV (which is not quite a direct rival though). Overall, the Fabia remains Skoda’s no.2-selling nameplate in Europe with 81.098 new registrations in the first 10 months of this year. Their bestselling car is the Octavia, with 145.959 units delivered through October. +++ 

+++ Elon Musk has made the audacious claim that TESLA will release a fully-autonomous driving system to customers in 2021. The electric car manufacturer recently released its Full Self-Driving Beta system to select owners, but despite what the name of the system might have you believe, it does not have Level 5 capabilities nor is it anywhere near perfect. That hasn’t stopped Musk from making one of his characteristically overly-ambitious claims about how close Tesla is to achieve full autonomy, Electrek reports. After recently receiving the Axel Springer Award in Germany, Musk was asked when Tesla will deliver full autonomy. “To actually answer your question, I am extremely confident of achieving full autonomy and releasing it to the Tesla customer base next year”, he said. Musk added that the regulatory landscape will prove to be more complicated, although he did express his belief that “at least some jurisdictions are going to allow full self-driving next year”. Will Tesla indeed be releasing full autonomy to customers in 2021 and have the regulatory approval to do so? That’s a hard one to answer. After all, Musk has been wrong in the past about the introduction of autonomous technologies and to be fair, the same stands true for other automotive executives… In the middle of this year, he claimed that the automaker’s cars would be fully autonomous by the end of 2020. In 2019, he claimed there would be 1 million Tesla robotaxis on the roads by the end of the year. Currently, there are zero. Then there’s Musk infamous claim that Tesla would demonstrate one of its vehicles driving autonomously across the U.S. The initial goal was for this demonstration to take place in 2017, but it has yet to materialize. +++ 

+++ Hibernating snakes are complicating Elon Musk’s plans for a gigafactory near Berlin. A German court has told the U.S. billionaire’s electric vehicle company TESLA to suspend clearing of a forest at the site of the proposed factory after environmentalists said that cutting down more trees could endanger hibernating snakes. “The Landesumweltamt and Tesla will now be consulted, they need to make submissions by this afternoon and then we assess the situation,” a spokesman for the administrative court in Frankfurt an der Oder in eastern Germany said. Tesla declined to comment. The Landesumweltamt declined to comment further. The carmaker announced plans late last year to build its first European factory and design centre in Gruenheide, outside Berlin, with plans to have it up and running by July 1, 2021 to start building its electric crossover, the Model Y. Musk, who has transformed Tesla from start-up to the world’s most valuable automaker in the space of 16 years, is used to moving fast. The company’s Shanghai Gigafactory went from greenfield site to building cars in just 11 months. The decision to locate the company’s first European factory near Berlin gives the U.S. electric car pioneer the coveted “Made in Germany” label but it also means navigating local planning rules. Tesla’s permission to start construction hinges on a conditional approval by local authorities, who are obliged to consult environmental groups and the community. The company has been engaged in an environmental audit, a time-consuming process in a country where attention to detail is prized. Environmental activists from a local group, NABU, are concerned that the smooth snake, also known as Coronella austriaca, may be hibernating in the ground at the site, and that tree-cutting activity may disturb its winter slumber. Local authorities are also reviewing claims by NABU that Lacerta agilis, also known as sand lizards, could be put at risk by Tesla’s expansion, NABU said. At the beginning of October, Tesla set aside 3 days to sound out locals and potential critics of the factory, but the consultation process lasted eight days and 414 complaints and observations were lodged. Locals 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. In response, Tesla agreed to cut water consumption to 1.4 million cubic meters, down from 3.3 million cubic meters. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA is likely to add at least one more mid-sized SUV to its line-up, the company’s European executive vice-president has suggested, as it tries to plug a gap in its range between the C-HR and the RAV4. The C-HR has been a hit in Europe, where its edgy styling has proven a great draw to ‘conquest’ customers from rival brands. But senior Toyota official Matt Harrison has told that the company sees additional potential for a further entry in the class, potentially a more conventional SUV, like a Nissan Qashqai, that is smaller than the RAV4 but still more practical than the C-HR. “The way we see the segments expanding, some are so big frankly that you can’t cover them with 1 product”, Harrison said. “You need a couple of entries, at least, within the segment. The C-HR is a good example; with the C-HR, we’re successfully delivering 8 % segment share with a product that is an emotional choice. It’s chosen for style, design and driveability rather than outright practicality. “But there’s a whole huge chunk of the C-SUV segment that we don’t really appeal to. We’re playing at the top end of the C-SUV segment and fishing into the premium segment, almost. So we see further opportunities with SUV products, frankly”. He added, “Between now and 2025, there is ambition for Toyota’s European sales to reach 1.4 million. That will come through 2 or 3 additional products that aren’t known yet, which will further extend our crossover and SUV line-up”. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN ID.3 is arguably the carmaker’s most important new model in decades. However, its ascent from concept to production form has not been uneventful, leaving a trail of casualties in its wake. The German brand went as far as to replace its software division boss over serious software issues that plagued the ID.3 in pre-production. VW then went on to build the EV despite some of these issues persisting. They actually started deliveries with certain features disabled. Well, all that changes now as VW is finally ready to deliver the ID.3 to European buyers with fully functioning software, spokespersons for the brand told Autonews Europe. Meanwhile, ID.3 models that have already been delivered to customers will be recalled and fixed. One such issue that’s been resolved is the augmented reality head-up display function, which will now work as planned, projecting navigation directions onto the road ahead via the windshield. However, in order to get things sorted, owners will be expected to leave their vehicles overnight at various VW workshops, due to the software update’s considerable size. As compensation, VW will offer ID.3 First customers incentives such as fewer monthly leasing payments. “We have seen with our First customers they are proud of their car and they serve as brand ambassadors. The happier we can make them, the greater the chance they recommend the vehicle to their friends and acquaintances”, stated a VW source. +++ 

+++ Back in June, it was said the VOLKSWAGEN ID.3 would be the most important car of the decade. Not only the EV or the Volkswagen for that matter, but in absolute terms. A while later, when I told you VW’s game was scale, not technology, we mentioned the ID.4 would probably be that car. The ID.4 is so far the only MEB model to be sold in the 2 most important car markets in the world: China and the US. By the way, it will also be sold in Europe, where the ID.3 is already on the streets. Apart from that the ID.4’s success is the fact that it is an SUV. This body style is taking over as the most popular one in Europe (where hatchbacks used to be king), the US (still in love with pickup trucks) and China (with a long-lasting love affair for saloons). Volkswagen wants to sell 500.000 units of the ID.4 a year by 2024. Tesla does not do that well with girls but mostly with 54-year-old males with no children, while the ID.4 might appeal to women with children. Did the Model Y change that perspective for Tesla? I would ask the company if it talked to the press. If that was not enough, Tesla is not doing well in recent reliability rankings. Not only according to Consumer Reports but also to What Car?, Carwow, J.D. Power and Which? If the ID.4 manages to dodge the software issues the ID.3 still presents, and add scale to that recipe, we may have to recognise the electric Beetle successor is an SUV. +++

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