Newsflash: Fiat komt dit jaar met 500X Cabrio.

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+++ Shares of Hyundai and its related companies shot up on news that the automaker and APPLE are going to cooperate on developing electric vehicles and battery technology. One Korean news outlet reported that Apple is in the final stage of negotiating with Hyundai to work together on what’s known as ‘Apple car’, reportedly an autonomous electric car. The 2 will also cooperate on the batteries that will be installed inside Apple car, the report said. It also said that Apple approached Hyundai and is only waiting for the approval of its chairman Euisun Chung. “Hyundai is also negotiating, but nothing has been decided as the talk is in the early stages”, a spokesman said in the morning. “We’ve been receiving requests for potential cooperation from various companies regarding development of autonomous electric vehicles”, the company said in the filing. Apple’s effort to start an automotive business initiated in 2014 through a project named Project Titan. The initiative seemed to have dwindled and disappeared from public attention until an exclusive report recently said that Apple plans to produce an electric vehicle with its self-driving technology as well as breakthrough battery technology by 2024. +++ 

+++ Most carmakers struggled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but BENTLEY enjoyed the best year in its 101 year history, thanks to robust demand in China. The British luxury carmaker sold 11.206 vehicles in 2020; up 2 % from 2019. Sales in China totaled 2.880 in the year; up 48 % year-on-year due to the popularity of the new Flying Spur and the Bentayga. Globally, the Bentayga remained the most popular Bentley model. It accounted for 37 % of the marque’s sales in 2020. Bentley’s sales in the Americas moved up 4 % year-on-year, to 3,035. However, demand fell 18 % in Europe and 14 % in the Middle East. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bentley’s plant in Crewe, England, did not produce vehicles for 7 weeks from March 2020. It then ran at half its normal output in the subsequent 9 weeks, but new models helped to drive overall sales. Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said the carmaker had anticipated greater sales but then the coronavirus pandemic broke out. The carmaker is planning to launch nine models in 2021. “As we look to the year ahead, we remain cautiously optimistic as much remains uncertain”, said Hallmark. +++ 

+++ The shortlist of 7 nominations for the CAR OF THE YEAR 2021 award has been announced, chosen from 29 eligible candidates. The 7 finalists are the Citroën C4, Cupra Formentor, Fiat 500, Land Rover Defender, Skoda Octavia, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen ID 3. Eligible cars must essentially be new models and available in at least 5 European countries at the time of voting. Some 60 judges, representing 23 European countries, select the shortlist in a simple vote. Second-stage voting takes place between now and the end of February, with the winning car set to be announced in March. Traditionally, the announcement takes place in Geneva on the eve of the Geneva motor show. This year, the announcement will go ahead on 1 March but broadcast from a location still to be determined. The second-round vote, which decides the single overall winner, is more complex than the first round. Each juror gets to allocate 25 points across the 7 cars. They can give no more than 10 points to any one car, can’t place 2 cars in equal first place and must give at least 5 cars some points. The full adjudication and every single judge’s comments about every finalist will be live on the Car of the Year website when the 2021 winner is announced. The 2020 winner was the Peugeot 208. In 2019, the Jaguar I-Pace won on a countback after it and the Alpine A110 finished in equal first place. The Car of the Year organisation, which has been running since 1964, has added three new sponsors to its ranks for 2021. 9 automotive publications from 9 European countries now support the independent organisation and provide all of its funding: it accepts no manufacturer sponsorship, has no tables at awards ceremonies for sale and charges winning or shortlisted car makers nothing for use of its logo. This year’s long list of 29 eligible models was a little shorter than usual (in 2019, for example, there were 38 eligible candidates), but cars that didn’t quite arrive in time (such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E) will go onto the 2022 longlist. +++ 

+++ First Automotive Works ( FAW ) Group, China’s leading automaker, saw its revenue increase 12.5 % year-on-year in 2020 to 695 billion yuan ($107 billion). The company sold a total of 3.7 million vehicles last year. Sales of its leading sedan brand Hongqi exceeded 200.000 vehicles in the period, an annual increase of about 100 %, according to data from the company. The company said it stepped up its digital transformation in research and development, manufacturing and marketing in 2020, significantly raising its efficiency in R&D and production. Founded in 1953 in Changchun, capital of Northeast China’s Jilin province, FAW Group is dubbed the cradle of China’s auto industry. FAW-Volkswagen Automobile, a passenger car joint venture between FAW and Volkswagen, reported strong annual auto sales in 2020, the company said. Its vehicle sales rose 1.5 % year-on-year to over 2.16 million units last year. Of the total, the Volkswagen brand sold more than 1.28 million units, and the sales under the Audi and Jetta brands reached 726.288 units and 155.223 units, respectively, the carmaker said. Founded in 1991, FAW-Volkswagen has grown into one of the bestselling passenger vehicle manufacturers in the world’s largest auto market. The carmaker currently has 5 production bases across China. +++ 

+++ FIAT is planning to introduce a new convertible version of its 500X within the next 12 months, according to well-placed reports. The model would serve as a rival to the recently launched Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet, reflecting a long-running shift towards SUV bodystyles and a decline in the sale of more traditional cabriolets and roadsters that led to the Fiat 124 Spider being discontinued. The drop-top 500X was first announced internally during a meeting with suppliers late last year. A company official has since confirmed to the outlet that the model will be coming this year. Sources suggest that the new 500X won’t be a ‘true’ full convertible like the T-Roc, instead retaining the standard car’s roof pillars and doorframes in the same fashion as the 500C. That in theory means the crossover will be a 4-door, unlike its German rival. The decision to retain as much of the standard 500X bodyshell as possible means Fiat can minimise development costs for what will likely be a relatively niche model. It will also reduce the need for additional strengthening beams, which add weight and complexity. The 500X convertible is 1 of 3 new SUVs planned to arrive this year from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. There will also be the new, sub-Stelvio Alfa Romeo Tonale and a smaller sibling for the Maserati Levante, called the Grecale. +++ 

+++ Despite a 3 % slip in sales last year, GEELY retained its position as the country’s best-selling local passenger vehicle maker, a title it has held since 2017. The carmaker delivered 1.32 million Geely and Lynk & Co branded vehicles in 2020, down from 1.36 million in 2019, primarily because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It exported 72.700 vehicles last year; up 25.3 % from 2019. Geely’s high-end arm, Lynk & Co, entered the European market in October. The first showroom opened in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Co-developed and owned by Geely and Volvo, Lynk & Co delivered 400.000 vehicles by the end of 2020 since its first model hit the market in late 2017. Geely sold its 10 millionth vehicle in 2020, becoming the first Chinese brand to hit the milestone. The carmaker said it is planning to launch a variety of new models this year. It has set a sales goal of 1.53 million; up 16 % from 2020. Geely has been exploring even remote parts of the domestic auto market as well as enhancing its investment pace in Southeast Asia. Geely’s efforts are aimed at upgrading itself into a leading automotive giant. The company has grown to a carmaker whose global sales exceeded 10 million units by the end of October. With the automobile industry worldwide undergoing profound changes and amid new trends like electric vehicles, driverless vehicles, interconnectedness, smart control and shared systems, Geely has adopted a matching development strategy. Its focus is on simultaneous development of both electric vehicles and energy-saving vehicles. Toward this end, Geely is enhancing its investment in technology. “We’ve established intelligent battery-swap stations in Chongqing, Hangzhou (Zhejiang province), and Jinan and Zibo (Shandong province)”, said Yang Quankai, head of battery swapping at Geely Technology Group, a Geely unit. The company recently completed its first battery-swapping vehicle, the Maple 80V, in Zibo. Equipped with the company’s self-developed intelligent battery-swapping technology, the model can switch to another battery in 80 seconds, helping alleviate the range anxiety among many owners of new energy vehicles or NEVs. So far, it has inked deals with over 1.000 battery-swap stations nationwide. By 2025, Geely Technology Group will have 5.000 battery-swap stations across China, Yang said. From January to November, Geely exported 60.800 vehicles, with November’s exports reaching 11.800; registering a 200 % increase year-on-year. Lynk & Co, a joint venture between Geely and Volvo that makes high-end vehicles, opened a showroom in October in Amsterdam, marking the start of its foray into European markets. With that, the 4-year-old upscale brand has kicked off presales of the 01 SUV tailor-made for the global market. Lynk focuses on internet connectivity and innovative purchasing models in certain markets, and young professionals are its target consumers. Lynk said it plans to deliver its vehicles in Europe in early 2021. In late September, the carmaker announced its European business plan. In addition to selling cars, Lynk is promoting a subscription-like membership program as part of its sustainable mobility vision. The membership model is intended to replace the classic purchase or leasing, with the monthly cost including insurance and maintenance. Participants in the program are encouraged to share their vehicles with others through a Lynk app. The cars can be shared with anyone who registers on the app. Alain Visser, CEO of Lynk, said: “Compared with selling more vehicles, we prefer to develop a different business model of the automobile industry, which can use the car more effectively in addition to the 4 % of use time”. Between January and November 2020, Geely sold a combined 1.17 million vehicles, registering sales growth year-on-year as well as month-on-month growth for four consecutive months. By the end of November, the auto giant reached 88 % of its yearly sales target of 1.32 million vehicles. The November sales volume of passenger cars made in China reached 2.08 million units; up 8 % year-on-year, said the China Passenger Car Association. The CPCA attributed the rise in sales to better-than-expected warm weather in export markets, the global macroeconomic situation and a more than doubling of sales of NEVs. In November, 169.000 NEVs were sold, up 136.5 % year-on-year. +++ 

+++ GENERAL MOTORS (GM) and its joint ventures delivered 2.9 million vehicles in China in 2020, with a year-on-year sales increase of 14.1 % in the 4th quarter, GM China said. Although the Covid-19 epidemic impacted sales in the first quarter of 2020, they started to recover in the second quarter. Deliveries then posted a strong rebound in the second half, especially for SUVs, MPVs and luxury vehicles, the company said. Last year, GM’s Cadillac sales hit a record high of over 230.000 vehicles, increasing by 7.9 % year-on-year. Chevrolet delivered nearly 291.000 automobiles, and Buick and Wuling sales increased by 4.1 % and 8.8 %, respectively, in 2020. “We expect China’s vehicle market to continue growing in the long term and have a positive outlook on 2021”, said Julian Blissett, GM executive vice president and president of GM China. The company announced that more than 40 % of its new launches in China would be new energy vehicles in the next 5 years. +++ 

+++ HONDA said it was halting output at its British factory due to global supply delays. Honda suspended output for a few days in December as some British ports struggled to cope with demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted global trade, and goods being stockpiled before a Brexit deal was agreed and ahead of Christmas. Output had resumed on Monday at the southern English Swindon site after the festive break. “The situation is currently being monitored with a view to re-start production on Thursday”, Honda said in a statement. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI plans to establish its first overseas hydrogen fuel cell plant in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, this year in an effort to enter the growing hydrogen sector of the world’s largest auto market. The carmaker has secured the South Korean government’s approval to produce hydrogen fuel cells in China. “Hyundai is in talks with a Chinese company to form a joint venture for the construction of the plant. Hyundai is expected to announce the plant as early as this month”, a person familiar with the matter was quoted as saying. Last year, the carmaker said it plans to sell at least 27.000 fuel cell vehicles in China by 2030. It will scale up production capacity to 2.000 vehicles in 2021 to expand its presence in such markets as Europe and China. Hyundai has been a supporter of hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company aims to sell 700.000 hydrogen fuel cells on the global market by 2030. In December, the company launched a fuel cell system branded HTWO. The carmaker said last year that it will introduce its Nexo, a fuel cell crossover, into China in 2021 for trial operation and launch medium-duty trucks in the country starting from 2022. According to the New Energy Vehicle Industry Development Plan (2021-35) released by China’s State Council in early November, the country will focus on building up the fuel cell supply chain and developing hydrogen-powered trucks and buses. China plans to have 1 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2030, with at least 1.000 hydrogen refueling stations, according to an energy vehicle development plan drafted by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. +++ 

+++ Hyundai said it has selected Samsung SDI as one of the final candidates to supply batteries for its IONIQ electric vehicles to be rolled out in 2023. South Korea’s largest automaker is currently shopping for the third batch of batteries for its EVs to be assembled using its platform E-GMP. Designed by Hyundai, E-GMP is a platform dedicated to EVs that allows the carmaker to load batteries under the car’s floor instead of engine bay. If selected, Samsung SDI, together with SK Innovation, will supply batteries worth 25 trillion won ($23.1 billion) to Hyundai’s electric SUV, the Ioniq 7. The deal will become the first EV battery supply contract between the two companies. Hyundai and Samsung SDI declined to comment on the ratio of nickel inside the third batch of batteries. The first batch of batteries, which will be loaded on Hyundai’s EVs based on E-GMP this year, will be supplied from SK Innovation. The second batch, which will power Hyundai’s EVs to be introduced next year, will be supplied exclusively by LG Energy Solution and China’s CATL. The size of the first and second batch is 10 trillion won and 16 trillion won, respectively. For South Korea’s electric vehicle business, 2020 apparently served as a turning point with global players such as Tesla on the up and up and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic raising the alarm about environmental pollution by internal combustion engines. In the new year, this growing market is anticipated to take long strides on the back of prolonged government subsidies and carmakers’ paradigm shift towards ecofriendly vehicles. The number of newly registered passenger EVs on its homemarket came to 32.268 as of November, according to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA). Also, the corresponding sector has expanded more than tenfold over the past 5 years, with accumulated sales surpassing the 140.000 mark last year. The figure first reached the 10.000 mark in 2016, data showed. On the export front, EVs logged 112.254 units in accumulated figures as of end-November; up 67.2 % from a year earlier. The latest results marked the first time that ecofriendly vehicles (EVs, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell cars combined) accounted for more than 10 % of the nation’s total automobile sales. Adding fuel to the market momentum is the government’s determination to lay out a new economic blueprint for the coronavirus-hit economy, the so-called Korean New Deal that pivots on digital innovation and ecofriendly growth. Suggesting the 2021 economic policy direction recently, Seoul vowed to supply an additional 100.000 electric cars in the new year, starting with increasing the number of charging stations from the current 33.000 to 36.000 within the year, and to 45.000 by 2025. Separately, the Environment Ministry has outlined the EV subsidy program for this year, saying that it will continue to provide the allowance for car priced below 60 million won ($55,147), while halving the amount for those priced 60 million won or more. Luxury models that are priced at 90 million won or more will likely be exempted from the fiscal support. The graded method largely takes after a subsidy system in Europe and China, which offers more benefits to budget cars in order to expand and diversify the market. The given policies yet remain tentative and are expected to take shape as early as this month, after authorities contemplate market feedback. Last year, the state subsidy for 9 major EVs averaged at around 7.76 million won, with local government subsidies excluded. Taking into account the lately suggested price group cap, KAMA anticipates that the average amount will slip around 1 million won this year. Riding on the booming market and the government’s preferential subsidy for budget EVs, the nation’s largest automaker Hyundai is set to roll out the Ioniq 5, a crossover that adopts an EV-exclusive platform E-GMP. As the expected market price comes to 50 million won, the model is likely to appeal to potential purchasers. Hyundai’s prestige brand Genesis, on the other hand, may take some impact from the subsidy restriction as its first purely electric car, tentatively named JW, will be priced between 60 million won and 90 million won. “There is the possibility that high-end brands such as Tesla may adjust the market price of its upcoming models by lowering the battery prices”, said Lee Hang-goo, a senior researcher at Korea Automotive Technology Institute. But in the case of luxury cars, the impact of the state subsidy will remain limited, as such models tend to be purchased as company cars. +++ 

+++ New car sales in JAPAN slumped 11.5 % in 2020 from a year earlier amid the Covid-19 pandemic, marking the largest fall in 9 years, data from industry bodies showed. Automakers sold 4.598.615 cars last year, including minivehicles with engines of up to 660 cc, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Mini Vehicles Association. The 11.5 % decline is the biggest since 2011, when auto sales tumbled 15.1 % to about 4.210.000 vehicles in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The disaster ravaged northeastern Japan and disrupted supply chains. The auto industry has seen a pickup in sales following a slump in the spring of 2020, when Japan was placed under a state of emergency due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Excluding minivehicles, car sales fell 12.3 % to 2.880.527 units. A total of 1.718.088 minicars were sold; down 10.1 %, the data showed. Car demand usually grows toward April and the start of the new business and school year. Uncertainty remains over the outlook for 2021 as the government, struggling to cope with a winter wave of Covid-19 infections, is moving toward declaring another state of emergency. Toyota saw a 5.8 % drop in domestic sales in 2020 from a year earlier, while its competitors suffered double-digit declines. Mitsubishi registered a 41.3 % slump and Nissan, in the midst of restructuring since the departure of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, saw a drop of 27.5 %. The other automakers affected include Honda and Mazda, along with Suzuki and minicar-making Daihatsu, a Toyota subsidiary. +++ 

+++ Whether the topic is transforming the automobile or conquering the next frontier of space, Elon MUSK has shown a knack for captivating an audience beyond investors and science geeks. The brash Tesla CEO, now the world’s wealthiest person following the electric automaker’s meteoric rise, was the quintessential Silicon Valley disruptor, except he no longer lives in California. The norm-shattering entrepreneur, who has more than 41 million followers on Twitter and a fortune now estimated at more than $180 billion, announced last month he had relocated to Texas and could not resist one last dig at the West Coast state. “If a team has been winning for too long, they do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled, and then they don’t win the championship anymore”, Musk said at a conference. “California has been winning for a long time and they are taking it for granted”. On Thursday, Musk surpassed Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos as the world’s wealthiest person. “How strange”, Musk said on Twitter when informed of the distinction. “Well, back to work”. Musk, 49, was born in South Africa and holds passports from the U.S. and Canada after completing his studies in Ontario and the state of Pennsylvania. By 25, he had created Zip2, an online advertising platform, and was a millionaire by age 30 after selling the company to Compaq Computer in 1999. He followed that success with the creation of the online bank, X.com, which was later merged into PayPal which eBay bought in 2002 for $1.5 billion. But Musk has entered a new stratosphere over the last few years as Tesla has grown and come closer to achieving a mission he said is not purely economic. Tesla’s success is very important for the future of the world”, Musk said in 2018. “It’s very important for all life on Earth”. A linchpin of Musk’s larger goal of remaking transportation has been the Tesla Model 3, intended as its first vehicle aimed at the middle market rather than luxury. After setting ambitious goals for the model’s ramp-up, Musk hit a rough spot in 2018 as Tesla missed targets while burning through cash. In an especially infamous moment, Musk in August 2018 jolted markets by announcing on Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private and boasting he had “secured” financing for doing so. Musk quickly dropped the go-private effort, but became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which charged Musk with fraud, slapped him with a $20 million fine, and demanded he step down as Tesla chairman and agree to follow board-supervised protocols on his social media use. Around the same time, Musk also publicly sparred with a British caver, who had mocked the Tesla CEO’s offer of a mini-submarine to rescue young soccer players trapped in a cave in Thailand in the summer of 2018. The caver, Vernon Unsworth, sued Musk after the Tesla chief called him “pedo guy” on social media, but a California jury in December 2019 ruled the remark was not defamation. But Musk, and Tesla, hit his stride in 2020, with the company impressively lifting output in California and Shanghai, breaking ground on new factories, and scoring a series of profitable quarters as its market value soared. Over this period, Musk has become embroiled in fewer controversies. But an exception came this spring when the Tesla chief castigated public health authorities in Alameda County over restrictions due to Covid-19. Musk raged against the restrictions for days, drawing support from president Donald Trump. Musk and California officials ultimately reached a compromise, with Tesla’s factory exempted from the most recent curfew after workers were deemed essential. +++ 

+++ The number of registered NEW ENERGY VEHICLES (NEVs) in China was 4.92 million by the end of 2020; an increase of nearly 30 % year-on-year, statistics by the Ministry of Public Security showed. China saw robust growth in the number of registered NEVs, with more than 1 million additions in each of the past 3 years. NEVs currently account for 1.75 % of China’s registered automobiles that number 281 million. Of the NEVs, 81.32 % are pure electric vehicles. The number of Chinese cities with more than 1 million registered autos increased by 4 to 70 in 2020, according to the ministry. +++ 

++++ RENAULT SAMSUNG said that its auto sales tumbled 46.9 % last month from a year earlier as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to weigh on demand for its models. The South Korean unit of Renault sold 9.016 vehicles in December; down from 16.965 units a year earlier. Domestic sales decreased 19.7 % on-year to 8.010 units last month, while exports tumbled 85.6 % to 1.006 units over the cited period, the firm said. For the whole of 2020, Renault Samsung sold 116.166 units; dipping 34.5 % from a year earlier due to downbeat overseas sales amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The upgraded model of the QM6 sports utility vehicle (Koleos) was the bestselling car in the domestic market in December, selling 4.767 units. French automaker Renault holds an 81 % stake in Renault Samsung. Renault Samsung will lay off a number of executives and cut the salaries of the rest to stave off collapse. The automaker plans to cut its 50 executives to 30 and slash the remaining executives’ wages by 20 %. The carmaker’s exports declined drastically after it stopped making the Nissan X-Trail, which accounted for 70 % of its exports in 2019, and domestic sales have also been poor. A staffer said Renault Samsung made only 110.000 cars last year; down from 270.000 in 2017. At one time it was exporting 140.000 Rogues, but constant strikes here prompted headquarters in Paris to slash the output target until it ceased production altogether. +++ 

+++ In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the SAIC Motor Corporation saw its overseas deliveries in 2020 soar 11.3 % year-on-year to 390.000 vehicles, accounting for roughly one third of China’s total vehicle exports in the year. SAIC, China’s largest carmaker and a partner of General Motors and Volkswagen, has set a goal of selling 1 million vehicles in overseas markets in 2025. SAIC established its international business unit in 2011. It’s now present in over 60 countries and regions, with a sales network of over 810 dealerships. It has 9 markets in which annual sales can reach 10.000 vehicles. The automaker sold over 40.000 vehicles in Europe last year. SAIC said its MG and Maxus brands are present in more than 10 European countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. New energy vehicles have become a highlight of SAIC’s portfolio in overseas markets. Of its 40.000 vehicles sold in Europe, some 60 % were new energy vehicles. MG’s ZS EV was the first small-sized electric SUV to get a 5-star rating in the Euro New Car Assessment Programme. Yu De, managing director of SAIC Motor International Business Department, said the carmaker is planning to sell at least 100.000 new energy vehicles a year in Europe by 2025. SAIC is one of the first Chinese carmakers to develop new energy vehicles. It has spent billions of yuan and built a research and development team of over 1.000 people. The company has launched over 30 vehicles, including electric, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. The company’s new energy vehicles in China totaled 320.000 last year, surging 73.4 percent year-on-year. Statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed that its deliveries accounted for roughly one quarter of the total new energy vehicle sales in 2020. SAIC said it is planning to launch almost 100 such vehicles from 2021 to 2025, with half of them bearing SAIC’s own marques. The carmaker is partnering with China’s Alibaba to create a joint venture, called Zhiji, dedicated to smart electric vehicles. Its first model is expected to roll off the assembly line in late 2021. The carmaker, with an investment of over 10 billion yuan ($1.53 billion), said it will unveil 2 models in January. A third model will debut at the Shanghai auto show in April. The marque’s first showroom will open around May in Shanghai and mass production of its first model will start in the same year. Zhiji said SAIC’s expertise in car production and Alibaba’s advantage in big data and artificial intelligence will make its models more competitive in the market. China has been the world’s largest market for new energy vehicles since 2015. Sales of electric cars and plug-in hybrids are estimated to reach 1.8 million in 2021, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. SAIC delivered 5.6 million vehicles in 2020 and maintained the position of China’s largest carmaker by sales, a title it has kept for 15 years in a row. SAIC aspires to become a top 5 carmaker in the world by 2025. It currently ranks 7th behind giants including Volkswagen, Toyota and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. +++ 

+++ A white car parked on a wide street in Changsha, capital of Central China’s Hunan province, awaits passengers. However, there’s something unusual about this ordinary-looking taxi: it has no driver. In April, Changsha became the first in the country to roll out the SELF DRIVING TAXI service for the public.Though the service is currently limited to a selected part in the city, mainly covering residential communities, commercial areas and industrial parks, Changsha has nevertheless been dubbed the ‘City of Intelligent Driving’ for unveiling such cutting-edge technology for public consumption. The driverless cars, also known as robotaxis, are coproduced by Chinese search provider and artificial intelligence heavyweight Baidu and Chinese automaker FAW Hongqi, and operated by Hunan Apollo Intelligent Transportation based in the city’s Xiangjiang New Area. Users can hail the taxis using Baidu Map, a mobile navigation app. The driver’s seat is not exactly empty but occupied by safety staffer. “During the self-driving mode, I do not need to control the steering wheel unless there is an emergency”, said Cao Jiajie, a technician with Hunan Apollo. “A touchscreen in the car identifies obstacles and makes dynamic predictions within a 360-degree field of vision and displays road conditions including nearby vehicles, lanes, intersections and traffic lights”, said Cheng Li, director of the company’s testing and vehicle operation department. The city has been a trial ground for several categories of smart vehicles, including self-driving buses running on China’s first open-road smart bus demonstration line, according to a spokesperson of Xiangjiang Smart Tech Innovation Center. The smart bus demonstration line, built in the Xiangjiang New Area, is 7.8 kilometers long. It has 22 stops in both directions and has been operated safely for 2 years. Throttles, brakes, steering wheels and gear shifting in these autonomous vehicles are all managed by computers, allowing the ‘driver’ to keep a better eye on the road during test drives, said He Jiancheng, a safety personnel staff. “My main task is to deal with any unpredictable situations that the car may encounter”, he said. Based on their automation levels, intelligent driving technology at home and abroad is placed in 5 categories from L1 to L5.Self-driving taxis and buses plying Changsha roadways belong to L4 and L3, respectively, namely the “highly automated level “and the “conditional automated level”. Although China is a latecomer to the self-driving sector, ambitious plans from technology giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent as well as startups like Pony.ai have jump-started the industry. +++ 

+++ In SOUTH KOREA , carmakers’ sales fell 5 % last month from a year earlier as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to weigh on demand, industry data showed. The 5 carmakers in South Korea (Hyundai, Kia, GM Korea, Renault Samsung and SsangYong) sold a combined 658.550 vehicles in December; down from 694.988 units a year ago, according to data from the companies. Their domestic sales fell 8 % to 133.061 units in December from 144.839 a year ago, while overseas sales declined 4.5 % to 525.489 from 550.149 during the same period, the data showed. Hyundai and Kia, which together form the world’s fifth-biggest carmaker by sales, reduced production at their domestic and overseas plants to manage inventories as the Covid-19 pandemic continued. In December, Hyundai’s sales fell 6.4 % to 376.970 from 399.543 and Kia’s dropped 3.8 % to 218.256 from 226.829 over the cited period. Robust local sales of the Tucson and Santa Fe allowed Hyundai to offset weak overseas sales last month. In contrast, strong overseas demand for the Sportage helped Kia offset a decline in domestic sales. Hyundai and Kia said they will continue to minimize the negative impact of the pandemic on vehicle sales this year while focusing on boosting sales of SUV models. SsangYong, the South Korean unit of Mahindra, reported poor sales results last month due to lower demand for its models, and Renault Samsung also suffered low sales due to halted production at one of its plants. SsangYong’s sales plunged 18 % to 10.561 autos last month from 12.923 a year earlier. Renault Samsung’s tumbled 47 % to 9.016 from 16.965 during the same period. GM Korea performed well among the 3 minor carmakers. Its sales rose 20 % to 46.717 units last month from 38.818 a year ago. For the whole of 2020, the 5 carmakers sold a total of 6.94 million units; down 12 % from 7.93 million a year ago. Their domestic sales rose 4.8 % on-year to 1.6 million last year, but overseas sales fell 17 % to 5.3 million. +++ 

+++ SSANGYONG is managing to keep its manufacturing operations afloat, as some suppliers are temporarily providing a minimal amount of necessary parts while the automaker works on finding a new investor. “Our manufacturing facilities are fully functional as sufficient parts are being supplied for now”, an official said. “But this is a provisional situation as no official deal has been struck regarding resuming the (once stalled) parts supplies”. In December, the carmaker had to suspend the operation of its factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, for 2 days after its key suppliers refused to deliver parts. The Pyeongtaek plant accounts for 86.54 % or 3.1 trillion won ($2.81 billion) of the company’s yearly sales. The suppliers’ strike came in the wake of the carmaker’s apparent lack of payment capacities, as the carmaker failed to pay 60 billion won worth of debts to its foreign creditor banks and 90 billion won to the state-run Korea Development Bank. The list of anxious suppliers included Hyundai Mobis, LG Hausys, S&T Dynamics, BorgWarner Ochang and Continental Automotive. Of them, Hyundai Mobis and S&T Dynamics resumed their supply for a few days while the remaining 3 have prolonged a wait-and-see approach. Ssangyong’s fate is to largely depend on whether or not it succeeds in finding a new owner before court receivership procedure starts. On January 1, major shareholder Mahindra said that it is in talks with an investor for the sale of its majority stake in Ssangyong, expecting to clinch a non-binding agreement within the first half of the month and conclude the procedure by February 28. The Korean motor company, after applying for court receivership in December, has been given a 2-month grace period to work on the Autonomous Restructuring Support program. +++ 

+++ TESLA appears to have plenty of momentum after a meteoric 2020, After shares rocketed higher in 2020 on surging auto deliveries, Tesla enters 2021 with plenty of momentum even as its vision of taking electric cars mainstream remains a ways off. The auto industry disruptor led by Elon Musk wowed Wall Street yet again, reporting annual car deliveries of 499.550, just shy of its 2020 target of half a million, but well above analyst estimates. The disclosure capped a year that saw Tesla report a series of profitable quarters and join the S&P 500, establishing the company as one of the world’s most valuable companies and elevating Musk to the second-wealthiest person behind Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Shares were higher again this week at $733.00 after the stock engineered a more than 700 % ascendance in 2020. The company’s market capitalization of around $700 billion means it is worth more than General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen combined. Tesla watchers don’t think Musk will be able to match that kind of valuation surge in 2021, but expect continued progress as Tesla adds production capacity and pushes the envelope on new technologies, including autonomous autos. “In 2020, Tesla had a really unprecedented streak of positive developments, positive news flow in the story”, CFRA Research analyst Garrett Nelson, who is bullish on Tesla, but has a hold on the stock and a 12 month target of $750 a share. “Now we’re getting to a point where it’s hard to identify what the next positive might be”. Tesla’s surge reflects optimism as construction continues on new Tesla factories in Texas and Germany, which will accompany existing plants in California and Shanghai that are ramping up production. A note from Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives cited “white hot” demand in China for electric vehicles as an added source of confidence. The transition into 2021 will prove to be “a major inflection of EV (electric vehicle) demand globally” with the technology hitting 10 % of global cars in 2025 compared with 3 % now, Ives said. “We believe that the China growth story is worth at least $100 per share in a bull case to Tesla as this EV penetration is set to ramp significantly over the next 12 to 18 months, along with major battery innovations coming out of Giga”. There are also reasons to expect greater uptake of electric cars in the United States following the presidential election of Joe Biden, who has pledged to build 500.000 electric vehicle charging stations as part of his campaign to address climate change. Musk has expressed determination to cut the price for Tesla’s electric cars, which currently retail in the US at $37.990 as a starting price. The Tesla chief is developing battery design, material and production innovations that combine to cut the cost per kilowatt hours by 56 %. That should enable Tesla to field a $25.000 model in “3 years”, Musk said in September, adding, “it is absolutely critical that we make cars that people can actually afford”. Musk has “a history of achieving fairly lofty goals”, said iSeeCars executive analyst Karl Brauer, adding that Musk has attained targets “that might seem unrealistic”. Equity markets tend to be bets on the future, and Tesla’s pole-position on electric autos and other technologies have been the source of its rise. Still, some analysts believe shares have soared to unrealistic levels. “Tesla’s performance in 2020 was impressive, but not as impressive as the increase in its shares, which we continue to believe are overvalued”, said a note from JPMorgan Chase, which has an “underweight” on the equity. “We think global mass adoption of pure electric vehicles is still years away, but Tesla is the leader in the space”, Morningstar said in a note last month. “Tesla will have growing pains, recessions to fight through before reaching mass-market volume, more competition, and needs to pay off debt. It is important to keep the hype about Tesla in perspective relative to the firm’s limited, though now growing, production capacity”. +++

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