Newsflash: BMW M divisie omarmt elektrische aandrijving

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+++ A global shortage of semiconductor computer chips continues to disrupt the automotive supply chain, with AUDI ‘s boss now admitting the problem will see huge production shortfalls and the furlough of more than 10.000 staff. Chief Executive Officer Markus Duesmann said the issue was “a crisis upon a crisis”, forcing production lines to slow to the point that up to 10.000 fewer Audi models could be built in the first quarter of 2021. Semiconductors (a crucial component for modern infotainment systems, driver aids and various electrical components) are in particularly high demand because of the pandemic-driven popularity of consumer electronic devices, including games consoles, laptops and tablets. This was compounded by an uptick in demand for new cars in the final 3 months of 2020 that beat forecasts. This meant manufacturers and suppliers were caught off-guard with late placed orders, and long lead times in chip production could mean delays of several weeks. Honda has paused production at its Civic factory in Swindon next week, due to a lack of the components; the third time in two months that the brand’s UK line has been forced to halt by supply bottlenecks. Toyota’s Chinese production lines were hit last week too, while Audi and Volkswagen were reported to have reduced the working hours of nearly 19.000 German workers in light of the shortage. In total, it is esimated the whole VW Group could produce up to 100.000 fewer vehicles in this quarter. A VW spokesman told: “So far, we haven’t quantified the full volume impact as we continue to work intensively with our suppliers to minimise shortages. However, we expect the ramifications to continue at least in the first quarter, with potential to recover any lost volume later in the year. Another issue we’re dealing with is the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it’s affecting not just our manufacturing operations but also the crucially important supply chain. Where employees or supplier staff are shielding or ill, that is of course resulting in pressure on productivity and supply, although of course our main focus is on protecting our own and our suppliers’ staff. Like many UK companies, we made intensive preparations for Brexit, including ensuring a healthy quantity of stock in the country to cover any short-term logistic issues”. Meanwhile, in the US, Ford’s plant in Louisville, Kentucky, was idled last week as the manufacturer was forced to pause production of its Kuga model. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took similar measures at its factories in Mexico and Brampton, Canada. Consumer electronics producers are higher-value customers for semiconductor manufacturers as they place higher orders than car manufacturers. It estimates that a billion smartphones alone are produced each year, compared with fewer than 10 million cars. +++

+++ An Israeli startup by the name of StoreDot has unveiled innovative BATTERY cells that can be charged in just 5 minutes with plans to roll them out into electric vehicles. The engineering samples produced by the company replace the graphite used in the anode of traditional battery cells with metalloid nanoparticles that are said to overcome issues related to safety, battery cycle life, and swelling. These cells have been produced by EVE Energy in China and represent a crucial step in StoreDot’s aim of making “5-minute charging of EVs a commercial reality”. “Our team of top scientists has overcome inherent challenges of XFC such as safety, cycle life and swelling by harnessing innovative materials and cell design”, StoreDot chief executive Doron Myersdorf said. “Today’s announcement marks an important milestone, moving XFC for the first time beyond innovation in the lab to a commercially-viable product that is scalable for mass production. This paves the way for the launch of our second-generation, silicon-dominant anode prototype battery for electric vehicles later this year”. StoreDot has previously used its batteries to demonstrate the full charge of a 2-wheeled EV in just 5 minutes, but says charging an electric car in just 5 minutes will require higher-powered chargers than those currently in use. With current charging infrastructure, the startup is looking to add 160 km of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025. “A 5-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible”, added Myersdorf. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready”. The nanoparticles used in StoreDot’s battery can support the movement of ions more efficiently than graphite. The Guardian notes that these nanoparticles are based on germanium and also easier to handle in manufacturing. StoreDot’s ultimate goal is to use silicon which is much cheaper and should result in costs comparable to current lithium-ion batteries. +++

+++ Remember back when BMW thought it would be a good idea to have a 3-Series sedan, wagon and Gran Turismo, plus a 4-Series Coupe, Cabriolet and Gran Coupe? Was 2014 that long ago? It must be, because those are all basically the same car and BMW will now look to simplify its vehicle portfolio in order to target a higher operating margin, according to finance chief Nicolas Peter. The first order of business will be to invest big in EV technology. Even though sales have been down because of the lockdowns, Peter says that “if activity starts again after the middle of February, we should be able to deliver a reasonable first quarter”. Other factors that could push BMW back to its pre-pandemic operating margin of 8 % to 10 %: a Brexit deal, obviously, but also the carmaker increasing its share in its Chinese joint venture from 50 % to 75 % in 2022. “We’re not talking about far away in the future, but it is a goal that we’re looking at systematically in the short term”, added the exec during an interview at BMW’s Munich headquarters. The company will publish its margin target for this year in March. Interestingly enough, Peter also feels that while the car industry might lead to further consolidation as far as carmakers struggling with electrification and emissions targets, BMW can handle such a transition without any outside assistance. “We are very confident we can make it alone”, he said. Still, because EVs are expensive to build and still account for a relatively small portion of sales, they are also less profitable. “That’s why investment is so important. We have to find ways to get to a different cost level, especially with cells and batteries”, he added. So what can we expect from BMW in the near future? For starters, less complexity. This means fewer engine variants and options for different vehicles, scrapping barely-used features, as well as a software overhaul. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see 1 or 2 poorly-selling nameplates go. +++

+++ BMW has officially confirmed an M-badged electric performance model will be unveiled this year, bringing a “completely new manifestation of the distinctive M feeling”. In a release detailing BMW M’s 2020 sales performance, it’s said that M boss Markus Flasch “looks forward” to “presenting an electrically powered performance automobile for the first time”. This will be an M-badged variant of the forthcoming i4 electric saloon. However, unlike the soon-to-arrive 2021 M3 and M4, the i4 M is believed to be an ‘M-lite’ model rather than a fully fledged M product, like the current M340i. The standard i4 is expected to be unveiled in final production form in the coming months before going on sale right at the end of the year. BMW confirmed back in 2019 that the Tesla Model 3 rival would be available with a 530 hp powertrain, enough for a 0-100 kph time of around 4.0 seconds and a (likely limited) 200 kph top speed. A range of more than 600 km was originally promised, too. That would give it the necessary firepower to easily take on a Model 3 in Long Range guise, but despite having more power than the 490 hp Model 3 Performance, it would fall a bit short of that car’s quoted 0-100 time of 3.1 seconds. That’s likely intentional, leaving the door open for a future full-fat M version of the i4. Also on the cards,is an M performance version of the iX. Details of that have yet to be confirmed, but expect a similar motor output if that materialises. M managed to buck the global, pandemic-induced trend for a decline in new car sales with a record number of its models registered in 2020. A total of 144.218 models found homes; a 6 % increase on 2019. BMW cites the strong mix of M Performance variants in cars such as the new 3 Series and 4 Series, as well as the popularity of the latest X5 M and the critically acclaimed M2 CS. +++

+++ Reports of the FORD Mustang becoming an electric-only model have recently surfaced online, claiming that the next generation of the iconic pony car is going to be delayed until 2028, when it’s supposedly going to ditch powertrains running on petrol for ones that prefer electrons. Originally, it was predicting that the next all-new Mustang is going to be an all-electric only model. This prediction was then attached to another recent report saying that the current generation is going to soldier on until 2028, when the new electric Mustang will allegedly enter production. As far as the electric-only Mustang rumor, I talked to my sources within Ford who were quick to dismiss it, telling that this is just a “blatant speculation” and nothing more, as no such decision has been made. The life cycle of the current generation Mustang has been the subject of many reports the past few years; it’s understood that Ford is indeed going to extend the current model’s career to 2025 and plans a heavily redesigned version of it to keep it relevant by then. The Blue Oval is eventually going to offer a hybrid version of the redesigned model, which last time I heard about it, was delayed for a 2022 launch. As for the next-generation Mustang, which will remain the only sportscar in Ford’s lineup by then, it’s reportedly going to be based on the company’s CD6 modular architecture that currently underpins models like the Explorer and the Lincoln Aviator. It’s almost inevitable that someday Ford will eventually turn the Mustang into a fully-electric vehicle. However, it’s understood that the time for this type of decision has not yet come, given the current political environment and market conditions. Ford is currently waiting for the final decisions of president Joe Biden on new fuel economy standards, as well as the new administration’s plans to aid the wider adoption of electric vehicles nationwide, in order to put the final details on their plan for the fate of the iconic Mustang. +++

+++ INEOS Automotive recently announced that it would move the Grenadier’s production facility from Wales to France. At the time, the move was branded a “no brainer” by the brand’s commercial director, Mark Tennat, despite the fact that it scuppered 500 jobs for the UK’s post-Brexit motor industry. Ineos originally planned to assemble the Grenadier in Wales, near Ford’s soon-to-be closed Bridgend plant. The move would have seen Ineos follow in the footsteps of Aston Martin, who recently opened a new facility in St Athan, designed to handle production of the DBX. Now though, Ineos has taken ownership of Mercedes’s facility in Hambach. It’s handily close to the German border and should allow for easier, tariff-free transport of the 4×4’s BMW mechanicals; especially given the current shipping crisis between the UK and Europe following the turbulence of the recent Brexit trade deal. Mercedes parent company Daimler was due to close the Hambach facility later this year. The plant only produces the Smart ForTwo and the German giant was eyeing up a production site in China as part of a cost-cutting initiative. However, the electric city car will now be built alongside the Grenadier in the same factory, with Daimler contracting the car’s production to Ineos. Tom Crotty, Ineos’s communications director, recently spoke about the company’s decision to move the Grenadier’s factory onto the continent. “We were looking to build in Wales and, in the meantime, we had an approach from Mercedes who we built a very good relationship with through Formula One, and who had a ready-made factory on the Franco-German border available to us. “It’s almost brand new,” he said. “They were going to use it to build a 4×4, they changed their business position and therefore we had a very simple business decision. Do we want to take the risk of building our own factory or do we want to take one that Mercedes has already built and is ready to go? And that was a very simple business decision to make. That was the driver. We’ve heard a lot of stuff about how it was to with Brexit or all sorts of other things, but that’s absolute nonsense. It was to do with a very simple business decision. Someone is presenting you with a state-of-the-art, new factory that’s ready-built versus the risk of building your own”. Crotty also commented on the comparably limited number of jobs the Welsh factory would have provided, compared to the rest of the Ineos’s operations. He said: “We would have employed 200 people in Wales. We currently employ 6.500 in the UK on our chemical plants and we’ve just acquired BP’s business, which extends that by another 1.000 or so people. So, we think that we are providing huge numbers of high quality jobs for the UK”. Tennant said that the company “understands” the adverse reaction from some UK commentators regarding the company’s decision, but revealed that taking on a pre-existing manufacturing facility was always an option under consideration. “The commercial side of the argument that I think people will absolutely get is that the whole industry has been completely knocked sideways by what’s happened in 2020. The commercial benefit of buying an existing factory which has received recent investment, that is suited to the product we are producing with a highly skilled workforce already in place, it’s kind of a no-brainer to go down the road that we’ve gone”, he suggested. “This allows us to get to the start line, irrespective of Covid in pretty much the same timetable as originally planned. That’s huge for us”. +++

+++ LOTUS will reportedly unveil its latest sports car sometime this summer, in an attempt to gain global appeal and escape its niche brand image. The new model is be powered by an internal combustion engine and could possible replace all of Lotus’ current cars. The British carmaker’s lineup holds the 25-year old Elise, 21-year old Exige and 12-year old Evora; neither of the 3 being particularly modern. Even with the unveiling taking place this summer, actual production on the car won’t commence until sometime next year, said Lotus CEO Phil Popham, in an interview. Lotus’ revamped facility in Hethel will be tasked with building the car, which “will give us quite substantial growth”, said Popham, while adding that several versions will be available, ranging from €80.000 to €150.000 in The Netherlands; a price window that matches that of Lotus’ current 3 model range. With this new ICE-powered car, the British brand is also looking to boost its appeal in the United States, where it currently only sells one model, the Evora. Interestingly enough, the U.S. is Lotus’ second-largest market after Germany, followed by the UK and Japan in that order. “This car will have a wider price point, and that gives us an opportunity in the U.S. To be successful in the sports car market you have to be successful in the U.S.”, stated Popham, adding that all future Lotus cars will be engineered with an eye toward global sales. “Any healthy business spreads its risk in terms of geographic coverage”, he added. +++

+++ In 2010, NISSAN introduced the world to the term “E-Power” with the first-generation Leaf. Since then, the branding has also been applied to fully electric vehicles like the Ariya, as well as the hybridised, global-market Note and Kicks. But recently, the company filed for a similar trademark that suggests a second version (or at least a variation) of the current E-Power system. Nissan calls it “I-Power”. According to documents from the US Patent and Trademark Office, Nissan has filed for use of the term I-Power in future products. Registered by the company on 5 January 2021, the trademark specifically refers to an “electric drive unit for land vehicles”. Given the close association to the term E-Power and the use of the letter “I”, my best guess is that this is the upcoming propulsion system for future Infiniti hybrid and electric vehicles. Infiniti has already promised to become a “sustainable premium brand”, saying that it will roll out multiple EVs and a few petrol-generated hybrids over the next few years. Chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said in an interview that the company would share Nissan’s EV platforms and the E-Power electric powertrain, but that Infiniti’s setup would have a unique name and luxury-specific tuning, lending more evidence to use of the term I-Power. We also know that future Infiniti EVs will also adopt the Nissan Ariya’s E-4orce all-wheel-drive system. As of yet, it’s unclear exactly which Infiniti models would use the proposed I-Power setup (if that name is indeed confirmed). The debuts of the QX60 Monograph and QX Inspiration concepts from years past could suggest that a production 3-row would be one of the first to adopt the new nameplate, but there’s no confirmation of that. We’ll simply have to wait and see. +++

+++ The new RENAULT 5 Electric is set to be produced at the firm’s Douai factory in northern France, where the original version of the supermini was built. Renault will revive the 5 name for an all-new electric hatchback that’s set to go into production in 2023 as a key part of a bold revival plan designed to move the French company upmarket. Speaking at the unveiling of the car, Groupe Renault boss Luca de Meo said the aim was for the car to be built in France, with a plan to establish an ‘electro pole’ site in the north of the country that would become the group’s largest EV plant. Renault president Jean-Dominique Senard confirmed that site would be the existing Douai plant, which was opened in 1970. “It’s a commitment, that’s where we’re going to make it”, he said. “We intend to develop this North Pole with the Maubeuge-Douai plant. These factories, it’s a question of making them completely used; they must be filled as full as eggs”. Senard added that the Group plans to eventually produce 400.000 EVs per year in France, with the bulk of those in the north, although he said that would be contingent on a battery factory being built nearby. Reports in the French media suggest Renault has held talks with firms including LG and Verkor about establishing a plant in the region. Renault announced in 2018 that it would start to build EVs on the new Renault -Nissan – Mitsubish alliance EV platform at Douai from 2021, and work began last year on work to prepare the main production line for such machines. The firm is currently developing a production version of the Mégane eVision concept that will use the CMF-EV platform and is set to go on sale in 2022. The new 5 that will follow in late 2023 will use a new electric version of the CMF-B EV platform. The Douai plant opened in 1970, with production of the original 5 taking place there from 1974 until 1981. The site has also housed production for the 14, Fuego, 9, 11, 21, 19 and Mégane. It’s currently used for production of the Espace, Scénic and Talisman and has around 3.000 employees. Renault is also planning to turn its Flins factory in France into a site dedicated to the ‘circular mobility economy’ in 2024, with a focus on recycling and reusing electric car batteries. The Renault Zoé is currently produced at the site. +++

+++ RIVIAN has raised $2.65 billion in its latest investment round, meaning it has now secured $8 billion since the start of 2019, an impressive sum for a private company. The latest round of investment was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, and included Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners, as well as several other existing and new investors, Tech Crunch reports. With these latest investments, Rivian is now valued at $27.6 billion. “This is a critical year for us as we are launching the R1T, the R1S and the Amazon commercial delivery vehicles”, Rivian founder and chief executive RJ Scaringe said in a statement after the investment round. “The support and confidence of our investors enables us to remain focused on these launches while simultaneously scaling our business for our next stage of growth”. Rivian made headlines in February 2019 when it secured $700 million in investments led by Amazon. Just 2 months later, Ford invested $500 million in the startup and in September and December of the same year, it raised $350 million and $1.3 billion in 2 rounds of funding. Last year alone, Rivian secured no less than $2.5 billion in additional investments. Deliveries of Rivian’s first production model, the R1T Launch Edition electric pickup, will start in June with prices starting at $75,000 before the $7,500 federal tax credit. The all-electric R1S SUV will reach the hands of customers in August and be priced from $77,500 before the tax credit. Sales of other R1S and R1T variants will commence in January 2022, while deliveries of Rivian’s all-electric delivery van developed for Amazon will also commence this year. +++

+++ With STELLANTIS targeting over €5 billion per year in savings, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares is currently visiting the group’s Italian facilities in order to meet local unions and solidify relationships. Tavares stopped by some of the main production sites in Italy, such as Turin’s Mirafiori on Wednesday, Melfi on Thursday and Cassino on Friday. It seems that he already made a good impression during his visits. “It had never happened that a CEO had sat down to take questions from representatives at such a grassroot level”, said Marco Lomio of the UILM union in the Basilicata region (Melfi), adding that Tavares took time to listen and to actually answer all questions. Then Lomio kind of threw FCA boss Mike Manley under the bus a little, saying: “Manley had never paid us a visit at the plant. Tavares seems to be more in line with the style of former CEO Sergio Marchionne”. Earlier this week, Tavares spoke with the heads of Italy’s national metalworker unions virtually, which was seen as an “act of respect” by Francesca Re David, the head of the FIOM metalwork union. “It is important that he met all the unions and that he highlighted the need to invest in intellect, creativity and skills of Italian workers”, she stated. This strategy seems to be paying off for Tavares, especially when you consider that Italy and France are Stellantis’ 2 main production hubs for Europe, and Italian unions have been fearing that the merger would displace the group’s center of gravity more towards Paris. Stellantis, the car-making giant formed by the merger of the PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), will embrace the diversity of its staff and brands as a strength rather than a weakness, according to Tavares. The new company is the world’s 4th largest car firm, with 14 brands (including Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Citroën, DS, Fiat, Jeep, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall), more than 400.000 staff, industrial operations in more than 30 countries and revenues of more than €170 billion combined. Stellantis has now provided further details of its management structure, with a number of new bosses for key brands. Mike Manley, who had been CEO of FCA, will become the head of the Americas, where the firm’s popular Jeep and Ram brands are focused. Brit Linda Jackson, who previously headed up Citroën, has been named as the new head of Peugeot. Peugeot boss Jean-Philippe Imparato will move over to run Alfa Romeo, replacing Tim Kuniskis, who will focus on Chrysler and Dodge. Michael Lohscheller (Opel/Vauxhall), Vincent Cobée (Citroën), Olivier François (Fiat/Abarth), Béatrice Foucher (DS) and Davide Grasso (Maserati) retain their roles. Stephen Norman, the MD of Vauxhall Motors, will switch to a new role as senior vice-president for sales of Opel-Vauxhall. Paul Willcox, previously head of Opel’s Eurasia division, will become the new MD of Vauxhall. While Tavares admitted there was a “defensive dimension” to the merger based on the challenges the car industry is facing, he said “this merger is not a defensive move”, adding that Stellantis won’t be focused solely on its new scale. He said: “Stellantis needs to be great rather than big. We want to gain scale, of course, and to make sure we use this scale to develop innovation and as a lever to be more disruptive and to do things some other companies could not do. The purpose is not to be big; the purpose is to be great at what we do”. Tavares said the success of past mergers with companies now part of Stellantis, particularly the merger of Fiat and Chrysler and PSA’s 2017 purchase of Opel / Vauxhall, showed that Stellantis can succeed, and that embracing the diversity of its 14 brands will be key. “We have within those 14 iconic brands a high diversity of models. We are present in the most significant markets and most significant profit pool areas of the market. We will value the diversity of our people. We don’t need to have one unique culture; we will leverage our diversity. Our people are unique, and they should stay as they are. It will be my job to leverage this diversity to offer exciting opportunities for customers. We think this diversity is a strength and compare it to the lack of diversity to some of our competitors”. Tavares said that Stellantis is targeting €5 billion of cost reductions through synergies within the next 5 years, with 40 % of those resulting from research and technology. He said that a core focus of the company would be on electrification and becoming carbon-neutral in order to meet ever-tightening regulations. Stellantis currently offers 29 electrified models, which will rise to 39 by the end of this year. By 2025, every model from the firm will offer an electrified powertrain. While Stellantis management is currently drawing up a full strategic plan, Tavares said that synergies would be found through platform-sharing and that the cost savings of doing so would help to justify some models that couldn’t have been produced previously. “We believe that with these 14 brands, we have a strong foundation to rebound in a number of areas, and with brands where for prioritisation reasons in the past we could not invest as much as we wished. With Stellantis, we can make sister cars on shared platforms with smaller entry tickets, which makes the business plan fly in an easier manner and creates business opportunities for certain brands to enjoy new products with sustainable business plan due to some common assets purchased at a competitive rate”. Tavares said that no plant would be closed as a result of the merger, insisting that Stellantis provided “a fantastic shield” through cost-savings and the ability to create additional revenue. He said: “It means more models, more activity, more protection for our plans and our people. Stellantis is an answer and it is a solution rather than a problem. Is it going to be easy? No, nothing is going to be easy in automotive and we have to work hard to reach the right level of manufacturing costs and modernity, and everyone has to conform”. +++

+++ Although TESLA is facing increasing challenges from traditional manufacturers, its sales show no sign of weakening. One of the established automakers’ biggest challenges may be infrastructure. That’s according to JD Power’s inaugural EV Experience Ownership Study, which seeks to measure owner satisfaction with EVs (Electric Vehicles). By and large, the numbers are good for EVs. Out of 1.000 points, based on factors like battery range, availability of public charging stations, battery range, cost of ownership, driving enjoyment, ease of charging at home, and vehicle quality and reliability, the average satisfaction result among premium EVs is 782, with Tesla’s Model S and Model 3 leading the pack, and the Model Y and Model X following. Meanwhile mass market EV satisfaction is at 730 points, with the Kia e-Niro, Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric taking the 3 top spots. That means that owners are, overall, pretty happy with their electric cars. And that’s good news for manufacturers, because 77 % of drivers whose satisfaction ranks between 600 and 750 say they will definitely buy another EV. The bad news for automakers, though, is that only 25 % of those same people are likely to buy from the same brand. Drivers of the e-Golf, for example, whose average satisfaction ranks at 696, may not want to go back to Volkswagen for their next EV. Indeed, the e-Golf’s 200 km range doesn’t position it well for high satisfaction. JD Power found that range, as well as accuracy of range estimates, is the single most important factor in driver satisfaction. With most of the modern crop of EVs coming with 320 to 480 km of range, though, the charging network become the real differentiator. Satisfaction among owners of premium EVs with widely available public charging points is 235 points higher than those without. Location is still a strong determining factor in access to public charging. But brand still matters. Tesla drivers are, on average, 305 points happier with their charging network than drivers of other brands. Electrify America, the charging network company set up by Volkswagen after the Dieselgate scandal, currently has 538 charging stations in North America, with 144 coming soon, according its website. Tesla, meanwhile, has 2.000. Although Electrify America’s network was large enough to get a Porsche Taycan across the U.S. in record time in December, that’s kind of beside the point if the 1 charger within range of you is out of your way. +++

+++ What Car?, a car publication out of the United Kingdom, just released the results of its 2021 Car of the Year awards. Interestingly, an American electric car company took home several impressive awards. The TESLA Model 3, Model X, and one of the automaker’s key tech features each earned a win. The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus is the winner of What Car’s 2021 Large Electric Car of the Year award. What Car? notes the Model 3’s range, performance, tech, and charging network as key ingredients to its success. Meanwhile, the all-new Volkswagen ID.3 snagged What Car’s 2021 Small Electric Car of the Year award. In What Car’s Best Buy category, the Tesla Model X took home the award for Best Large Electric Car for Big Families. The Kia e-Niro is What Car’s Best Small Electric Car for Long Journeys. As Tesla continues to assert that it’s way ahead of the competition when it comes to technology, its prized over-the-air software update capability received praise from What Car? as well. In fact, in the publication’s Special Awards section, which only includes 5 total awards, Tesla is the winner of the technology award. The award is specifically related to Tesla’s over-the-air updates. What Car? also points out that both the Model S and Model 3 are benchmarks for safety assistance features: “Indeed, the Model 3 scored 94 % in the driver assistance category in 2019; a full 14 % more than the next best car”. Nonetheless, the Volkswagen ID.3 won the What Car? special award for safety. +++

+++ TESLA has taken legal action against a Chinese media outlet after it published an article criticizing its Shanghai Gigafactory on December 25. The article in question, titled ‘Giga-Sweatshop Meets Corporate Overloards: An Exclusive Look Into How Tesla China Runs Its Shanghai Gigactory 3’, was published by PingWest and makes damning claims about working conditions at the facility, as well as quality-control issues and other areas of concern. Speaking with PingWest, several current and former Tesla China employees allegedly assert that “Tesla is doing whatever it can to hit the production goal, including lowering its quality standards”. One source claims he is aware of at least one case where Tesla knowingly used defective parts on a production vehicle. A representative from a Tesla supplier added that “We simply can’t make enough parts that meet quality standard. It’s stressful. The solution has been straightforward: just take the defective parts, and send them to Tesla”. A current employee says that the automaker has also knowingly produced vehicles that do not meet its original quality-control standards and instead of using better suppliers, has simply lowered its pre-delivery inspection standards. “Let’s say, in the past, our vehicles need 80 points in order to leave the factory, now it’s only 60”, said the employee. Sources speaking with PingWest also claim that Tesla does not provide food for its factory workers and will only supply instant noodles to those working shifts after 8:30 p.m. It is also alleged that requests to supply steam bread for workers has been declined by Tesla. None too pleased with these accusations, Tesla recently issued an indictment letter to PingWest and has taken the media outlet to court. Tesla China’s vice president for external affairs, Tao Lin, has denied all accusations but PingWest is sticking to its guns, defending its report and saying it comes from information provided by former and current Tesla employees, as well as industry insiders. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s current-generation Land Cruiser is set to go out of production in the coming weeks after a 14-year run. Ever since that announcement was made, there has been speculation as to when a new Land Cruiser would arrive. Now, there’s a chance that the next generation of the famed off-roader could be unveiled on August 1st this year, which coincides with the model’s 70th anniversary. The speculation seems to stem mainly from social media activity from the Land Cruiser’s former chief engineer, who has posted a series of countdown posts to the anniversary. However, it’s not clear if this is just a celebration of the event, or a hint about the unveiling of the new model. After the shutdown of the factory that manufactures the Land Cruiser, it was said to undergo some changes before the new model arrived, a process expected to take months. Normally, Toyota showrooms would have built up enough stock to carry over until the new model’s arrival without interruption, but stronger-than-expected demand for the SUV has somewhat derailed that. The final models are expected to be delivered in April, which will create a blackout period until the new model arrives. Based on that timing, there was some speculation the new Land Cruiser would be unveiled before the middle of the year. But now, given all the new information, an August unveiling would certainly make sense for reasons other than just an anniversary. The next-generation model could reportedly be sold with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 hybrid and a 3.3-liter turbodiesel amongst other options. The new model is also supposed to improve on the current one’s off-roading capability, despite allegedly using a modified version of the same platform. +++

+++ TOYOTA PRIUS owners get a lot of flak, but they’re apparently the most loyal car buyers in the United States. According to a study, 13.7 % of Prius buyers keep their vehicle for at least 15 years. That’s more than twice the average of 6.1 %. Continuing down the list is the Toyota Highlander, which 12.4 % of owners keep for at least 15 years. It was followed by the Toyota Tacoma at 11.6 %. Toyota vehicles not only swept the podium, but took all top 5 spots in the study. 11.5 % of Sienna owners keep their MPV for at least 15 years, while 11.3 % of Tundra buyers do the same. Rounding out the top 10 spots are the Honda CR-V (10.7 %), Honda Pilot (10.4 %), Subaru Forester (9.8 %), Toyota 4Runner (9.4 %) and Toyota Sequoia (9.1 %). As you’ve probably noticed, the list is entirely made up of vehicles from Japanese automakers. Analyst Karl Brauer suggested the reason for this is that “Japanese vehicles, especially Toyota and Honda, are known for their reliability and durability, and attract practical consumers who want vehicles that can be kept on the road as long as possible”. He added: “Drivers are more likely to hold onto cars that they know they can rely on and don’t require a great deal of expensive maintenance”. Crossovers and SUVs dominate the list and, on average, 5.9 % of owners keep them for at least 15 years. That’s slightly less than truck owners as 6.3 % of them hold onto their pickups for a decade and a half. Speaking of trucks, the Tacoma and Tundra were followed by the Nissan Frontier which 8.5 % of owners keep for at least 15 years. The GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado weren’t far behind at 7.8 % and 7.6 %, respectively. On the sports car side of things, Mazda MX-5 owners were the most loyal as 7.6 % of them kept their car for at least 15 years. The affordable convertible was followed by the BMW Z4 (6.7 %) and BMW M5 (4.9 %). Rounding out the top 5 spots were the Chevrolet Corvette (4.3 %) and Ford GT (4.2 %). To determine the percentages, over 660.000 vehicles from the 1981-2005 model years that were sold in 2020 were analyzed. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily account for vehicles that parents have passed onto their children. +++

+++ Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares has said the firm will decide the fate of VAUXHALL ’s Ellesmere Port plant in the coming weeks, warning that the UK government’s “brutal” decision to ban the sale of new ICE cars from 2030 could “destroy the business model”. The PSA Group, which bought Vauxhall – Opel in 2017, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recently completed their merger to form Stellantis, and in his first press conference as the CEO of the company, Tavares pledged that it “will not shut down plants as a result of that merger”. But Tavares did caution that the future of the Cheshire plant, where the Astra is produced, is under review due to the UK’s 2030 ban on all ICE cars aside from a limited number of hybrids. “If a government creates a situation that destroys the business model, by saying ‘we’re going to ban the sale of that type of car’, we’re going to stop investing”, said Tavares. “If we’re told that in 2030 internal combustion engines can’t be sold in the UK, which we respect as a decision of the country, then we will not invest in combustion engines any more, and we will look to see if there is a business case to invest in other directions. We completely respect those rules and will completely comply with those rules, but if they lead to a case where there’s no business model, it leads to a consequence that’s clear for everybody. “There’s a limit for the headwinds. If one region is putting up so many barriers that there’s no room to find something that creates value, then we have to respect that, and then there’s an ethical decision from the officers of those companies to make an appropriate decision. “If you brutally change the rules and restrict the rules for business, there’s a problem. The more you place stringent rules on an industry, the more there’s naturally a limit. “We are doing our best to avoid that. The decision that there will be no more combustion-engined new car sales in the UK in 2030 stops all investment in combustion-engined cars. So we say there’s room for electric cars, but if there’s an imbalance between the volume of the UK market and the continental Europe market and you put investment closest to where you sell the most volume, what’s left for the UK? That’s what people should understand. It’s not rocket science but plain thinking. We are talking to investors and stakeholders, including the government, to try to resolve this”. As well as the UK’s 2030 ban, Tavares said that Stellantis needs to evaluate the impact of the new UK-European Union trade deal, particularly with its rules of origin that will require an increasing percentage of a vehicle to be manufactured in the UK or the EU to avoid cross-border tariffs. He said those rules were “very aligned with the Stellantis strategy, which is about engineering and manufacturing electric vehicle components in Europe”. But he added: “So if we can comply with those rules of origin requirements, and I believe we can, where should we be putting investment based on the markets where those products are sold? This is still under review. Should we put electric vehicle-related investments in the UK or Europe? They would both contribute to rules of origin requirements, so both could work, but of course the biggest market is on the continental Europe side. So from that perspective, it could be best to put it in Europe. It depends also on the UK government’s willingness to protect some level of its automotive industry. We are now deciding on where we are going to put those investments, and we don’t forget we have a strong asset in Vauxhall, which is warm to the hearts of UK consumers. We haven’t made a decision yet, but we will make a decision within the next few weeks”. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is working on a new high-tech electric flagship model that will be built on an advanced bespoke platform currently under development. Referred to as Project Trinity, the EV is described as “a highly efficient flat-seat concept with an iconic design”. Details of the new platform are thin on the ground, but its ‘flat panel’ construction should allow for enhanced flexibility and optimal cabin space. Volkswagen will use the new platform to pioneer a “radically new production approach” that will seek to demonstrate new ways of building EVs economically and efficiently in various locations. The brand has already confirmed that its Wolfsburg base in Germany will become “the pioneering factory for the highly automated manufacture of electric vehicles” and that the first to be built there will be the next electric flagship, now known as Project Trinity. With the new platform, Volkswagen boss Ralf Brandstäter said the company is also “democratising autonomous driving”. Project Trinity will offer ‘Level 2+’ autonomous functions, likely including driver monitoring and adaptive cruise control, and be made “Level 4-ready”, hinting at its potential for full self-driving capabilities and position as the brand’s new technical flagship. Project Trinity will likely borrow elements of the existing MEB EV architecture, but with substantial software and powertrain upgrades in line with Volkswagen’s ambition to “shape the new group backbone”. It’s unclear whether non-MEB-based EVs will remain part of the ID family, but the production version of the Trinity likely won’t arrive until the ID 3 and ID 4 have been on the market for several years. A key element of differentiation between today’s ID 3 and the next Volkswagen electric flagship will be the software used in its make-up. The brand’s newly formed Car.Software division will employ more than 10.000 staff worldwide by 2025 and will attempt to boost the proportion of in-house technology used in Volkswagen Group cars from 10 % to 60 %. Currently in development is a new bespoke operating system called VW.OS, which is described as the software equivalent of a vehicle platform and can be expected to make its debut when Project Trinity is unwrapped. The division’s former boss, Christian Senger, previously told that it will function differently for vehicles at different price points, support wireless updates and function much like a smartphone. The Project Trinity programme is similar to sibling brand Audi’s Artemis project, which will result in the premium marque launching a luxury electric saloon by 2024. Devised as a rival to the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQS, this will, like Project Trinity, pioneer technology not yet seen on Audi models, including 5G connectivity functions and augmented reality. Project Artemis will serve as a technical showcase for up to 75 future Volkswagen Group models, including Project Trinity. +++

+++ Turning corona corner, VOLKSWAGEN ‘s profit fell less than feared. Volkswagen reported that its 2020 profit almost halved due to the impact of the pandemic, but a rebound in premium car sales in China and stronger deliveries in the 4th quarter helped keep the world’s largest carmaker in the black. The group said full-year operating profit, excluding costs related to its diesel emissions scandal, came in at €10 billion, compared with €19.3 billion in 2019. Analysts had expected a full-year 2020 operating profit of €4.8 billion. Net cash flow at its automotive division was around €6 billion and car deliveries picked up towards the end of the year, the German group said in a statement. “The deliveries to customers of the Volkswagen Group continued to recover strongly in the 4th quarter and even exceeded the deliveries of the third quarter 2020”, it said. The full-year performance caps a turbulent 2020 for Volkswagen and the auto industry. A pandemic-fuelled sales slump lead to a loss in the second quarter before Volkswagen swung back to profitability in the third quarter on the back of soaring demand for luxury vehicles in China, the world’s largest car market. Top shareholder Porsche Automobil Holding, which holds 31.4 % of Volkswagen and 53.1 % of the group’s voting rights, said it would likely post a significantly positive profit after taxes for 2020 as a result. “The magnitude of the beat is welcome and supportive of upcoming full-year results across the industry”, analysts at Jefferies wrote. Sales at Volkswagen rose 1.7 % in December, at a time when new car registrations in Europe dropped nearly 4 %. Volkswagen and its rivals still face challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, including a global shortage of chips needed for production and ongoing shutdowns in various markets to combat the outbreak, meaning 2021 will be another tough year. The carmaker also faces tough competition in developing electrified and self-driving cars. The merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot-owner PSA to create the world’s 4th-biggest automaker Stellantis adds to the pressure. The Volkswagen Group is expected to release detailed 2020 figures on March 16. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN Research & Design boss Frank Welsch has been promoted to head of Volkswagen Group quality management and strategy, with e-mobility boss Thomas Ulbrich stepping into his old role. Welsch was instrumental in bringing the MEB electric vehicle architecture from concept to production, having been appointed as chief development officer in 2015 in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal. He has been employed by Volkswagen since 1994, initially concerned with concept car development before moving into a passenger car development position in 1998. His early work was focused on developing body shells for the Mk5 Golf and Phaeton, and he went on to become responsible for all body and door development on models including the Passat, CC, Eos, Sharan and Touareg. Before heading up the MEB development programme, Welsch served as development boss at Volkswagen China and in a similar position at Skoda in Prague. Welsch will now report directly to Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess in a newly created role designed to ensure consistent levels of quality across all Group brands. “Our key aim is to have delighted customers throughout the entire life of the vehicle”, said Welsch. “As we move toward e-mobility and digitalisation, many new opportunities will arise that will allow us to get even closer to our customers, their requirements and their preferences. This will range from the charging process through digital services down to the complete networking of the vehicle. Our new structure lays the foundations for taking systematic advantage of these opportunities within the Group alliance”. Ulbrich will succeed Welsch as chief development officer, having lead the brand’s electrification efforts since 2018. His previous roles include head of logistics for Volkswagen factories in China and Germany, commercial vehicle production boss and technical executive vice-president at Shanghai Volkswagen. Diess said: “Thomas Ulbrich has made his mark on the transformation of the Volkswagen brand toward e-mobility, and I’m pleased that, as chief development officer, he will continue to be a driving force in the brand’s digitalisation”. Changes at the Group management level come as Sebastian Grams is named the new boss of Audi Sport, succeeding Oliver Hoffman and working in partnership with recently appointed managing director Julius Seebach. Audi Sport’s revised management team will focus on “shaping tomorrow’s mobility in the high-performance segment”, according to Hoffman, who continues to serve as its chairman. +++

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