Newsflash: General Motors gaat elektrische auto’s voor Honda bouwen

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+++ Laurent Rossi has been appointed as the boss of ALPINE , Renault’s performance sub-brand. He will report directly to Renault chief executive officer, Luca de Meo. Rossi moves into the position from his role as Group Director of Strategy and Business Development for Groupe Renault. Alpine released the mid-engine A110 sports car in 2017. The brand is also taking over Renault’s Formula 1 team. Its team boss, Cyril Abiteboul, was named Alpine CEO in September, but will depart the team, the brand and Renault. Abiteboul has been in charge of the race team since 2016, when Renault returned to the sport as a factory team. His time with the team has been rocky, but has resulted in it being one of the strongest midfield teams. “I would like to thank the Groupe Renault for having trusted me for many years, particularly with the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016”, Abiteboul said. “The solid foundations of the racing team and the entities in France and England built over these years, the strategic evolution of the sport towards a more economically sustainable model, and more recently the Alpine project which provides a renewed sense of meaning and dynamism, all point to a very fine trajectory”. Although the Renault F1 team didn’t quite reach the heights it had hoped for, its 2020 season looked like one of its strongest and with F1 legend Fernando Alonso returning to the sport with the team in 2021, it looks set for a strong future. “I would like to warmly thank Cyril for his tireless involvement, which notably led the Renault F1 Team from the penultimate place in 2016 to the podiums last season”, De Meo said. “His remarkable work in F1 since 2007 allows us to look to the future, with a strong team and the new Alpine F1 Team identity to conquer the podiums this year”. The role of team principal has not been announced yet, but reports tip Marcin Budkowski for the role. Budkowski is the team’s technical director currently. Davide Brivio, Suzuki’s former MotoGP team boss, will also reportedly receive a sport within the team. +++

+++ ASTON MARTIN has announced that some units of the DBX in North America will have to be taken back to dealers for repairs. The British automaker has estimated the recall population to 151 units, built from March 5 to October 22, all of which were assembled without the headliner foam blocks that minimize the risk of injury to occupants in an impact. “The misbuild may result in an increased risk of head injury to unbelted occupants during a crash”, the NHTSA states in the recall document. “There have not been any reported accidents or injuries relating to this issue. There have been no further reports of this concern during the period of our investigations”. Aston Martin’s authorized technicians will install the headliner foam blocks on the affected vehicles free of charge. The owners should hear from the automaker soon, considering that the recall is expected to begin on January 31. +++

+++ AUDI aims to phase out combustion engines and offer only electric cars in 10 to 15 years, at the latest. The company is currently working on a concrete time plan and expects to have target dates in the coming months for the phase-out at individual plants, it said. Audi chief executive Markus Duesmann said in an interview that “protection of the environment and economic success go together well”. +++

+++ BMW said it saw a 8.4% drop in vehicles sales in 2020 as the outbreak of coronavirus took its toll and many retail outlets around the world were closed for months. However, customer demand picked up in the 4th quarter, rising 3.2 % year-on-year, BMW said. “We succeeded in concluding the year with a strong fourth quarter and once again we lead the premium segment worldwide”, BMW board member Pieter Nota said in a statement. In total, the Munich-headquartered company sold 2.324.809 vehicles last year. In Europe, 2020 sales were down 15.7% and in the United States 18%. In China, where the pandemic started and where it was brought under control faster than elsewhere, 2020 sales bucked the trend and increased 7.4 %. +++

+++ BMW’s new design direction has not been without its critics. The massive grilles have been the subject of much controversy. But is that all? That’s the question that Frank Stephenson, the designer of the original X5, among others, has set out to answer in his latest video. The focus of Stephenson’s critique, this time, is the iX. BMW calls the iX “the symbol for a new era of mobility”. The electric SUV is as long and wide as an X5, as tall as an X6, and has the wheelbase of an X7. According to Stephenson, that will likely give it great interior space. It could also deliver nice proportions, but Stephenson’s focus is drawn elsewhere. Firstly, the grille, which he still thinks is too big. Then there’s the lack of tension throughout the rest of the car. Although BMW intended this to be a minimalist design, Stephenson argues that it’s too simple. “It’s not moving”, he explains. “For me, that’s not the right way to design a moving object. I would prefer the vehicle to look like it’s ready to move”. He blames the absence of design lines for that. Although he understands the BMW’s affinity for simplicity, like with the grille he says they’ve gone too far. “The absence of lines can almost turn a vehicle into something that is just static”, says Stephenson. “This car, I think, looks very static from the sideview”. All of this might come down to BMW’s desire to introduce a new design language. Ultimately, though, it looks like a vehicle that was penned by a product designer, not an automotive designer. “The BMW IX is almost a vehicle that’s lost its soul”, says Stephenson. “What I mean is not to criticize the product designer. But products look like products and cars look like cars. It’s not the same profession”. If you took away the grille, Stephenson asks, would you be able to tell that this is a BMW? Now that’s a good question… +++

+++ DAIMLER unveiled a new display screen that will cover almost the entire dashboard of its luxury Mercedes-Benz models, in a bid to outdo Tesla’s hallmark touchscreen infotainment system. In a video presentation, Daimler chief executive Ola Källenius said the new “Hyperscreen” (which at 56 inches in width dwarfs Tesla’s vaunted 17 inch screen) will make its debut in the EQS later this year, Mercedes’ new fully electric sedan. The EQS, with a driving range of 700 kilometers, will be the first in a family of four vehicles built on the same all-electric platform. “There’s huge customer demand for this screen”, Källenius told reporters on a conference call. He said the dashboard would be an optional feature in the EQS, “but we expect a very high take-up rate” from buyers. As well as including vehicle functions such as the speedometer, and music and navigation features, the screen will allow passengers to access some vehicle functions and, in some markets, to watch television without disturbing the driver. Kallenius said besides revenue from the screens themselves, Daimler expects future profitable growth of subscription services, such as maps or entertainment customers will download. “It is part of our business strategy to increase this profit pool of recurring revenues”, he said. Tesla has dominated global electric vehicle sales and traditional carmakers like Daimler have been pushing to develop vehicles to compete for market share. The pressure to outdo Tesla has been heightened by tighter emissions standards in the European Union and China, and the decision by a growing number of countries to start banning sales of new petrol or diesel cars as early as 2030. +++

+++ Europe’s push into ELECTRIC cars is gathering speed, despite the pandemic. Volkswagen tripled sales of battery-only cars in 2020 as its new electric compact ID.3 came on the market ahead of tough new European Union limits on auto emissions. And Germany, long a laggard in adopting electric vehicles, saw more people buy electrics in December than opted for previously dominant diesel vehicles. Those are early signs of what will likely be an upcoming year of increasing market share for electric cars as EU regulations drive their adoption, despite the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has caused the overall car market to shrink. Volkswagen said its namesake brand sold 134.000 battery-powered cars last year; up from 45,000 in 2019. Including hybrids, which combine an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, sales of electrified cars reached 212.000; up from 82,000 in 2019. Volkswagen’s announcement comes as the auto industry association in Germany reports that one in four cars sold in the country in December had an electric motor, uptake that was supported by incentives as part of the government stimulus package during the Covid-19 recession. Battery and hybrid cars took 26.6 % of sales that month, running ahead of diesel cars, which had 26.2 %. That is also a token of diesel’s steep decline after Volkswagen’s 2015 scandal involving diesel cars rigged to cheat on emissions tests. Electric cars have so far been a small but rapidly growing slice of the European market. Automakers in the EU must sell more zero-emission cars in order to meet tougher fleet average limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas blamed for climate change. Those limits came fully into effect on January 1. Failure to achieve a fleet average of less than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven can mean heavy fines. Sales have been driven by government incentives, and by an increasing number of new models that (like the ID.3) were designed purely as electric cars, rather than being converted from internal combustion models. Demand has been held back by lack of places to charge electric cars, including for people who live in apartment buildings and can’t install a charging box at home. Germany’s auto association, the VDA, said there’s only one publicly available charging station for every 17 electric cars. California-based Tesla has been a major factor in the electric upswing with its Model 3 and its proprietary network of fast-charging stations. +++

+++ FORD said it will close its 3 plants in Brazil this year and take pretax charges of about $4.1 billion as the Covid-19 pandemic amplified the company’s under use of its manufacturing capacity. Production will cease immediately at Ford’s plants in Camaçari and Taubaté, with some parts production continuing for a few months to support inventories for aftermarket sales. The Troller plant in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, will continue to operate until the 4th quarter. Ford officials said the action was part of the $11 billion global restructuring previously forecast by the U.S. automaker, of which it had accounted for $4.2 billion through the third quarter of 2020. The plant closures affect about 5.000 employees, mostly in Brazil, Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said on a conference call with reporters. Industry vehicle sales fell 26 % in Brazil last year and are not expected to rebound to 2019 levels until 2023 with an emphasis on less profitable fleet sales, Ford said. “We know these are very difficult, but necessary, actions to create a healthy and sustainable business”, Ford chief executive Jim Farley said in a statement. “We are moving to a lean, asset-light business model by ceasing production in Brazil”. Ford officials said the plant closures are part of the company’s strategy to achieve 8 % global operating margins. Ford, which has operated in Brazil for more than a century, has begun discussions with its unions and others about the layoffs. Brazil’s Economy Ministry lamented Ford’s decision to end production in the country and said it reinforced the need for reforms to improve the business climate. In Camaçari, in northeastern Brazil, the union called an emergency meeting at the factory gates at the first shift on Tuesday to take a stance on the loss of 4,059 jobs. “This very hard blow took us by surprise. We never imagined that Ford could close its factories in Brazil”, said union leader Julio Bonfim in a video message to the workers. The closures marked another retreat by Ford in a developing market after the Dearborn based company last month called off its auto joint venture with India’s Mahindra. As a result of the plant closures, Ford will end sales in South America of the Ka and the EcoSport once inventories are sold. Ford retains a plant in Argentina and another in Uruguay. Ford said it will maintain its product development center in Bahia, its proving ground in Tatuí, São Paulo, and its regional headquarters in São Paulo. Of the $4.1 billion in charges, Ford said it expects to record about $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020 and about $1.6 billion in 2021. The charges include about $1.6 billion in noncash charges and the rest in cash, primarily in 2021 to cover the layoffs. Ford posted a 9.8 % fall in quarterly U.S. auto sales, as a fall in sales of its profitable trucks outweighed higher demand for SUVs. The No. 2 U.S. automaker sold 542.749 vehicles in the 4th quarter, down from 601.862 a year earlier. The automaker posted a 12.5% decline in truck sales, while passenger car sales fell 41.1 % as it continues to phase out traditional sedan models in North America that have become increasingly unpopular with consumers. Sales of its SUVs, however, rose 4 % to 216.732 units. “4th quarter represented an inflection point at Ford in our transition from cars to a much greater focus on iconic trucks, SUVs and electric vehicles”, said Andrew Frick, vice president at Ford’s sales in the United States and Canada. “We are well positioned to see the benefits of our focused efforts throughout 2021”, Frick added. General Motors reported a 4.8 % increase in U.S. sales for the fourth quarter, while Toyota and Volkswagen recorded a sales increase of 9.4 % and 10.8 %, respectively. “It might seem at odds with unemployment levels and the harsh financial conditions, but the consumers who are buying new cars during the pandemic are clearly on the other side of the economic divide”, industry consultant Edmunds said in a report. Industry experts expect a rebound in demand this year, fueled by the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, record low interest rates and healthy consumer savings as people held off spending money on large purchases and vacations during the pandemic. However, rising Covid-19 cases in the United States have increased the uncertainty over a speedy rebound. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS ’s vehicle sales in China fell 6.2 % in 2020, as the U.S. automaker suffered a prolonged sales slowdown in the world’s biggest auto market. GM, China’s second biggest foreign automaker, delivered 2.9 million vehicles in the country last year, the company said, for a third straight decline in annual sales. But sales have been recovering in the second half of last year; up 12 % between July and September and 14 % in the final 3 months. GM has a Shanghai-based joint venture with SAIC Motor, in which the Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac vehicle brands are made. It also has another Liuzhou-based venture, with SAIC and Guangxi Automobile Group, in which they make no-frills minivans and have started to make higher-end cars. Sales of its Buick brand grew 4 % on the year and Wuling rose 9 %, the statement said. Luxury brand Cadillac’s sales increased 8 %. Sales of GM’s more affordable Baojun brand dropped 33 % last year, while sales of its mass-market Chevrolet tumbled 30 %. GM had delivered 3.09 million vehicles in China in 2019 and 3.65 million vehicles in 2018. +++

+++ After a tough start to the year, the GOLF picked up the pace and stormed to regain its spot as the best selling car in Europe. With more than 312.000 Golfs delivered across Europe, 134.000 of which in Germany, the latest generation has picked up where the Mk7 left off. Volkswagen introduced the Mk8 Golf in October 2019, making 2020 its first model year in Europe. With it, Volkswagen tried to make big strides in technology and infotainment, keeping the mechanicals of the car reasonably similar. “With the Golf 8 we are seamlessly continuing the success story of its previous generations. The car is continuing to set technical standards in many dimensions”, said Volkswagen brand chief Ralph Brandstätter. “After the outbreak of the coronavirus in spring interrupted the market launch that had just started, the Golf had a lot of catching up to do in the second half of the year”. The Golf’s sales success may also be a relief to VW because of its early struggles. As I reported in May, deliveries were halted in the first half of the year due to software issues. Through the year, though, Volkswagen also unveiled the GTI, the GTD, and the GTE performance models, which helped sales. High demand for hybrid models was also a big factor, as 1 in 3 Golfs sold in 2020 was a hybrid. Beyond the Golf, Volkswagen dominated the sales charts in Europe. Apart from the Golf, which clinched the top spot, the Tiguan and the Passat were Germany’s second and third best selling cars through 2020. The 320 hp Golf R, meanwhile, was just unveiled in November. “I would like to thank all of the customers who have given us their trust”, said Brandstätter. “But my gratitude also goes to our entire team that have done an excellent job during the difficult conditions of the coronavirus crisis”. +++

+++ General Motors is set to build an electric vehicle for HONDA and another one for Acura in its Mexico and Tennessee plants respectively. According to individuals with knowledge of the plans, the all-electric Honda in question will take the shape of a crossover and be built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, the same location where the Chevrolet Blazer and Equinox are produced. Meanwhile, GM will handle production of an electric Acura crossover at its factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the same location where the electric Cadillac Lyriq will be built. It is understood that both the Honda and the Acura EVs will be similar in size to the Lyriq. Both the Honda and Acura are set to use GM’s Ultium batteries that have been rated at up to 700 km of range. The 2 automakers announced an agreement to jointly develop 2 Ultium-powered electric vehicles back in April 2020. In that announcement, the companies confirmed that the Honda and Acura EVs would feature exteriors and interiors designed exclusively by Honda while using GM’s global EV platform. “This collaboration will put together the strength of both companies, while combined scale and manufacturing efficiencies will ultimately provide greater value to customers”, executive vice president of Honda America, Rick Schostek said at the time. “This expanded partnership will unlock economies of scale to accelerate our electrification roadmap and advance our industry-leading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”. Sales of the Honda and Acura EVs are expected to begin for the 2024 model year in the U.S. and Canadian markets. The next-generation Honda Civic Type R could be the final vehicle sold by the carmaker in Europe without some form of electrification. The car manufacturer has previously committed to offering hybrid or fully electric variants of each one of its mainstream models in Europe between 2022 and 2025, meaning the Civic Type R will be the final model powered solely by an internal combustion engine. +++

+++ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is injecting $250 million into its India unit in order to grow its presence locally, as well as to launch 4 new JEEP branded SUV models over the next 2 years. The investment will result in the local manufacturing of a midsize, 3-row SUV, as well as the assembly of Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee models, plus the launch of a new Compass version. FCA currently holds less than a 1 % share of India’s passenger car market, so adding new vehicles to its portfolio should result in the carmaker reducing its costs and boosting overall sales. “Our new investment of $250 million will give us a competitive edge in multiple segments”, stated FCA India executive Partha Datta, while adding that another goal is to increase the number of locally-made components in its vehicles. The Jeep models will be manufactured and assembled at FCA’s plant in western India, which the carmaker jointly owns together with domestic brand Tata Motors. Altogether, FCA has invested more than $700 million in India, including $150 million for a new global tech center. As for the midsize 3-row SUV, it is expected to serve as a direct competitor to the Ford Endeavour and Toyota Fortuner. At the same time, India’s domestic market had shown signs of slowing down even before the Covid-19 outbreak. After ceasing domestic sales in 2017, last month GM decided to stop producing cars in India for export. Honda meanwhile has been forced to shut down 1 of its 2 plants in the country. +++

+++ 2020 was a year most automakers would like to forget and that’s especially true in the LUXURY SEGMENT as every major brand posted a decline in U.S. sales. However, the luxury sales crown is a closely watched contest and only a few thousand units separated BMW, Mercedes and Lexus last year. BMW took top honors as they sold 278.732 vehicles in the United States. That’s a drop of 17.5 %, but it’s worth noting the automaker was fined €14.7 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for inflating their sales between 2015 and 2019. Second place went to Lexus which sold 275.041 vehicles last year. That’s a decline of 7.7 % and the drop can be partly attributed to weak sales of the ES and RX. Rounding out the podium is Mercedes. They sold 274.916 passengers vehicles for a drop of 13.0 %. C-Class sales plummeted 46.5 % for the year, while sales of the E-Class / CLS and S-Class were both off by more than 30 %. Over at Audi, sales dropped 17 % to 186.620 units. Their big losers were the A4, A6 and A7 which all saw declines of between 31 % and 42 %. On the bright side, Q3 sales skyrocketed 84 % for the year. Acura came in fifth place with sales of 136.983 units. That’s a decline of 13.5 % and that can be chalked up to weaker demand for the outgoing TLX and MDX.  However, both models are new for 2021. Cadillac sales were down 17.1 % to 129.495 units, while Lincoln sales were off 6.1 % at 105,410 units. Lincoln sales will likely drop again this year as the brand has axed the MKZ and Continental. While they were Lincoln’s slowest selling vehicles, aside from the MKT, they still contributed 17.780 units to the bottom line last year. Lastly, Infiniti sales were down 32.5 % to 79.502 units. The drop was largely due to a decline in Q50 and QX60 sales which were off 36.4 % and 47.0 %, respectively. +++ 

+++ NIO has revealed that it will partner with Nvidia to accelerate the development of autonomous driving systems and use its Drive Orin system-on-a-chip. The Nvidia Orin is the world’s highest-performance autonomous vehicle and robotics processor. It is a scalable supercomputer that delivers 254 trillions of operations per second and can also be scaled down to entry-level, Level 2 semi-autonomous systems. Moving forward, NIO will feature four high-performance Orin systems on each of its electric vehicles. “Autonomy and electrification are the key forces transforming the automotive industry”, Nvidia founder and chief executive Jenson Huang said in a statement. “We are delighted to partner with NIO, a leader in the new energy vehicle revolution, everaging the power of AI to create the software-defined EV fleets of the future”. NIO dubs its Nvidia Drive Orin-powered supercomputer ‘Adam’ and notes that it will be perpetually upgradable after the point of sale. “The cooperation of NIO and Nvidia will accelerate the development of autonomous driving on smart vehicles. NIO’s in-house developed autonomous driving algorithms will be running on four industry-leading Nvidia Orin processors, delivering an unprecedented 1000+ TOPS in production cars”, added NIO founder, chairman and chief executive William Li. The first NIO model to use this Nvidia technology is the recently-unveiled eT7. +++ 

+++ NISSAN said it will cut down production of the Note this month as a response to a shortage of semiconductors, following Honda’s announcement that its output in Japan will also be affected. The global shortage of semiconductors is caused by consumer demand bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, causing manufacturing delays for carmakers and consumer electronics makers. Nissan will reduce its production output for the Note at their Oppama factory in Japan, but didn’t go into further details. The Japanese carmaker is dropping the output of the Note to around 5.000 examples for January, down from the originally planned 15.000. Volkswagen has also said last month that they are going to adjust their production outputs at factories in China, North America and Europe due to the shortage of chips. Some carmakers could even see their production outputs reduced by 10 % to 20 % a week from February, if fear over shortages is realized, company insiders told. “The problem is that we are lower down the chain than companies like Apple and HP”, said one executive. “The auto sector doesn’t pay as much for its semiconductors”. Honda has also begun “seeing some impact in the parts supply”, according to a company spokesman, adding that they are examining different adjustments for the production of each of their models. While Honda’s chip inventory is secured until February, the carmaker will cut its production output by around 4.000 units this month, with the majority of it affecting the Jazz built in Suzuka. +++ 

+++ This ain’t nothing new but, just in case you didn’t know, when journalists conduct a review, it’s because an automaker lent them a vehicle for a week or so; for comparisons, we have to contact 2 or more automakers, depending on the number of cars. However, in the case of Canadian journalists looking to compare the Taycan to its natural competitor, they will have only one press office to check with because PORSCHE Canada are so confident that their EV will come out on top that they’re lending a Tesla Model S out, too. The program, says Porsche Canada’s public relations manager Patrick Saint-Pierre, is just a short one and it came about because Tesla doesn’t lend vehicles in Canada. In fact, in October, Tesla became the first automaker to completely shut down its whole media relations team. In order to get one, then, you have to know someone willing to lend it to you. Thus, Porsche took it upon itself to make the comparison happen. “A lot of journalists in Canada haven’t been able to find one”, Saint-Pierre told us over the phone. “I wanted to see if any dealer had any cars in stock”. As it turned out, one of Porsche’s Canadian dealers had one, a Model S P100, so they lent it to the media department. This isn’t the first time Porsche has lent out Teslas. At the start of 2020, when the first Taycan test drives were taking place, the brand’s U.S. wing had a Tesla on-hand as a sort of comparison point. It speaks volumes about Porsche’s faith in the Taycan, though, that they’ve decided to do it again, albeit in a different press office. “I mean we definitely were and are confident”, Saint-Pierre stated. “It’s one thing to be confident and it’s another to test it. It was a bit of an unusual way of doing things, but I just thought, let’s do it. I didn’t have to do too much arm twisting. Everyone was like, ‘Alright let’s do it!’” To the Tesla’s credit, it has come off well against the Taycan despite Porsche getting both cars out. As a Canadian journalist puts it: “the Taycan might be the future king, but the Model S isn’t ready to give up the throne just yet”. To be compared to one of the most well regarded EVs on the market, though, is no small accomplishment. And it’s one that wouldn’t have come about without Porsche’s participation. +++ 

+++ Groupe RENAULT sales fell by 21.3 % last year, due to the impact of the pandemic, but boss Luca de Meo believes a renewed focus on more profitable models and EVs will help it to bounce back in 2021. The French manufacturer, whose brands include Renault, Dacia and Lada, sold 2.949.849 units last year, including both cars and commercial vehicles, down from 3.749.736 in 2019. While the year-on-year drop of 21.3 % was a sharp decline, it actually reflected a recovery from the first half of 2020, when Groupe Renault’s sales were down 34.9 % year-on-year. The firm posted a loss of €7.5 billion in the first 6 months of the year. The Renault brand sold 1.787.121 vehicles; a 24.1 % year-on-year fall, while Dacia sales fell by 29.2 % to 520.765. Alpine sales were down 68.4 %, with 1.526 examples of the A110 sold. The sales figures did contain some encouraging news for Renault, with a major growth in sales of electric cars. The group sold a total of 115.888 EVs; more than double its 2019 levels. Sales of the Renault Zoé increased by 114 % to 100.657, from 47.027 in 2019. The group will further expand its EV line-up this year with the launch of an electric Renault Twingo and the Dacia Spring Electric. Group Renault has also expanded its line-up of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, with electrified variants of the Clio, Captur and Mégane. The firm sold more than 30.000 cars featuring hybrid powertrains; roughly 2,5 % of all Clio, Captur and Mégane models sold. The success of Groupe Renault’s electrified models meant it achieved its European Union CO2 fleet average target for 2020. Renault also said that orders in Europe in December 2020 were up 14 % compared to 2019, with the Renault brand also increasing its market share in the region, while reducing its inventory of models in stock. De Meo said the firm is “now focusing on profitability rather than sales volumes, with a higher net unit margin per vehicle in each of our markets”. Groupe Renault will present a new strategic plan, which it has called the ‘Renaulution’, on Thursday 14 January, with the firm set to focus on more profitable models. Reports suggest it will include the revival of the 4 and 5 models as electric cars and turning Alpine into an electric performance brand. +++ 

+++ As autonomous driving technology becomes more prevalent, the distinctions between various systems are increasingly important. SAE International has been a driving force behind this as their definitions for automation were first released in 2014. They’ve been updated since then, and now range from relatively ‘dumb’ cars at Level 0 to fully autonomous Level 5 vehicles that can “drive everywhere in all conditions”. However, some companies use generic terms such as ‘SELF DRIVING’. Tesla is the most obvious example and they even admit “currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous”. Safety groups have called for changes and now Waymo has announced they’ll stop referring to their vehicles as “self-driving”. Instead, the company will use “more deliberate language” when talking about their autonomous driving technology. Waymo went on to say “It may seem like a small change, but it’s an important one, because precision in language matters and could save lives”. The company added they’re hopeful the new terminology will “differentiate the fully autonomous technology Waymo is developing from driver-assist technologies, sometimes erroneously referred to as “self-driving” technologies that require oversight from licensed human drivers”. Waymo criticized automakers who incorrectly use “self-driving” and noted this can give consumers a false impression of a vehicle’s capabilities. This, in turn, can to lead to dangerous behaviors such as not paying attention, falling asleep behind the wheel or filming a video from the passenger seat. As part of the effort, Waymo has renamed their public education campaign “Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving”.  It was previously known as Let’s Talk Self-Driving, but the new site is still littered with references to “self-driving”. +++ 

+++ According to Italian deputy Economy minister Antonio Misiani, Italy could take a stake in STELLANTIS as long as such an investment would be deemed beneficial by all parties. Earlier this month, both Fiat Chrysler and PSA shareholders approved the $52 billion merger, thus creating the world’s 4th largest carmaker, or 6th largest if we go by 2020 figures. FCA and PSA declined to comment on Misiani’s quotes. “A possible presence of the Italian State in the capital of the new group, similar to that of the French government cannot and must not be a taboo”, said Misiani in an interview. Stellantis’ largest single investor is actually Exor (14.4 % stake), the Agnelli family’s holding, which also happens to be FCA’s main shareholder. France meanwhile already owns a 6.2 % stake in Stellantis through public bank BPI France. The merger is expected to be finalized on January 16. Misiani added that Stellantis raises national interest from an employment and industrial point of view, adding that a possible investment could take place but only under certain conditions, “which do not exist at the moment”. The Italian deputy minister also spoke about the industry’s need to look beyond incentive mechanisms already in place, and adopt a new medium to long term perspective with environmental benefits in mind. “Technological challenges intersect with the ecological transition. This is precisely why important resources could come from the EU Recovery fund, which pays a lot of attention to decarbonisation”. +++ 

+++ TESLA is reportedly searching for a design boss for China, as it looks to open a studio in Shanghai or Beijing in order to design electric vehicles tailored specifically to Chinese customers. According to 3 people with knowledge on the matter, Tesla’s HR team, as well as several headhunters, have been scouring the industry over the past 4 months looking for “bi-cultural” candidates with 20 or more years of experience, who are also familiar with Chinese tastes. Some candidates have already been interviewed by Tesla’s global design chief Franz von Holzhausen, although it’s unclear exactly how many people have been approached for this position. Currently, the U.S. carmaker’s plans for the design studio aren’t finalized, and the sources believe that Tesla will likely take its time before deciding whether or not to pursue this endeavor further. Still, this report fits with what Elon Musk himself said last year during a media event in Shanghai: “I think something that would be super cool would be to create a China design and engineering center to actually design an original car in China for worldwide consumption. I think this would be very exciting”. 1 of the sources said that once a design director was hired, Tesla would recruit a full design team (around 20 strong), including modellers to help turn renderings into clay models. “They want to give vehicle design a lot more bias toward China; they have already done a lot here, setting up a major manufacturing site and having sold a ton of EVs, but it seems Tesla’s ready to put roots down”, said 1 of the sources. Meanwhile, 2 of the sources stated that one likely “China-specific” model would be a low-cost volume car, such as the $25,000 EV that Musk brought up during a Battery Day event back in September; this would likely be a compact car in size, smaller than the Model 3. “A compact Tesla car would do well in China, as well as the rest of Asia and Europe”, said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy firm Automotive Foresight. “It could potentially put a serious dent in the sales of cars like Toyota’s Corolla and the Volkswagen Golf”. +++ 

+++ Trademark applications discovered in both US and Canadian intellectual property offices show that TOYOTA is claiming ownership over the name “Grand Highlander”. Although the applications offer little more information than that, the trademarks suggest that a new SUV is on its way. Naturally, the name reminds us of the Toyota Highlander, a midsize crossover built on the same platform as the Venza. Upmarket of the RAV4, but less capable than the 4Runner, the Sequoia, or the Land Cruiser, the Highlander occupies a happy mid-point in the Toyota lineup. The addition of the ‘Grand’ prefix would seem to suggest that Toyota is planning on adding some square-footage to the SUV. The discovery follows reports from January 2020 that the Sequoia would go out of production in 2022, with its Princeton, Indiana plant being retooled to allow for Highlander production. Those reports also suggested that Sequoia production would move to Toyota’s San Antonio plant. That facility produces the Tundra, on which the Sequoia is based, and it is expected to end Tacoma production there (moving it to another plant) in order to accommodate the Sequoia. The current generation Sequoia started production in 2008, so it’s more than due for a refresh. Recent reports have suggested that the Land Cruiser, whose latest update was a year earlier, is getting a generational update in the very near future. Exactly what Toyota’s plans for its SUV lineup are at this point isn’t exactly clear, but America’s SUV market is ravenous. The brand could simply be looking to add a new, large, unibody crossover into its lineup for those who don’t want a Sienna but also don’t want the comfort compromises of a body-on-frame SUV. Whatever Toyota decides to do with the Grand Highlander name, the Grand moniker is deeply associated with SUVs thanks to the Jeep brand and the word’s association with scale. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , General Motors, together with a few other carmakers, managed to post strong 4th quarter sales in the U.S. for 2020, with execs now confident that the market rebound could continue well into 2021. GM reported a 4.8 % sales increase in Q4 in the U.S., with Toyota and VW up 9.4 % and 10.8 % respectively. Toyota officials now expect 2021 new vehicle sales in the U.S. to hit 16 million units, while VW predicts some 15.6 million. “We’re ready to rock 2021”, said Toyota North America vice president, David Christ, with Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh mirroring those sentiments, stating that he’s “as optimistic as one can be”. Industry officials believe that around 14.5 – 14.6 million units were sold in 2020 as a whole, and even though that’s less than the 17.1 million cars sold in 2019, vaccines, low interest rates and consumer savings could all lead to a rebound this year. “Widening vaccination rates and warmer weather should enable consumers and businesses to return to a more normal range of activities, lifting the job market, consumer sentiment and auto demand”, stated GM chief economist Elaine Buckberg. Meanwhile, industry consultant Edmunds claims that consumers that are financially able to buy new cars during the pandemic, are also willing to upsize their purchase and go with something larger, featuring more amenities. Interestingly enough, the average down payment for a new car reached $4.734 in the 4th quarter of 2020; up from $4.329 a year ago. A full global market rebound can also be expected, with various carmakers such as Hyundai and Kia also feeling optimistic about their upcoming sales this year. General Motors sold 771.323 vehicles in the 4th quarter of 2020 and 2.547.339 vehicles for the entire year in the United States. While total deliveries were down 12 % on a year-over-year basis, there was plenty of good news as GM estimates they “gained market share across the board in total, retail and fleet deliveries for both the fourth quarter and calendar year”. That isn’t the only bright spot as average transaction prices set fourth quarter and full-year records at $41,886 and $39,229 respectively. Unsurprisingly, the company’s truck and SUV lineup had a strong showing. Sales of the redesigned Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe / Suburban and GMC Yukon exceeded expectations, while Chevrolet Silverado crew cabs had their best quarter and calendar-year for retail and total sales. Moving on, Hyundai Motor America sold 178.844 units in the 4th quarter and 622.269 units for the year. Those are declines of 2 % and 10 %, respectively, compared to 2019. Hyundai SUV models set an all-time sales record as 402.661 were sold in 2020, which is an increase of 9 %. These gains were led by the Kona, Palisade and Venue. However, sales of the Santa Fe and Tucson dropped compared to 2019. At Porsche, retail deliveries in the United States totaled 57.294 units. While that’s down 6.9 % from last year, the company is pleased with the results. The Macan and Cayenne were bestsellers as they racked up a combined 36.723 retail sales for the year. They were followed by the 911 and Taycan. Speaking of the latter, around one quarter of the 4.414 Taycans sold were delivered in California. Sticking with the Germans, Volkswagen of America saw 4th quarter sales climb 11 % to 94.330 units. However, year-over-year sales dropped 10 % to 325.784 units with sales of the Atlas plunging 28 %. On the bright side, the Atlas Sport Cross seems to be off to a strong start as 29.069 were sold in 2020. The facelifted Passat also enticed buyers as sales jumped 63 % to 22.964 units. Moving onto Toyota, 2020 sales were down 11.3 % to 2.112.941 vehicles. However, the company was the “number 1 retail brand for the 9th consecutive year” and hybrid sales jumped 22.7 % percent to 337.036 units. Furthermore, the Camry and RAV4 retained their crowns as the best-selling passenger car and SUV. On the Lexus side of things, sales fell 7.7 % to 275.041 units for the year. Sales were down largely across the board, but the LC, UX and GX all posted gains. At Mazda, sales were up 0.2 % for the year as the company moved 279.076 units. SUV sales were up 11 % from 2019 and this helped to offset declines in demand for the Mazda3 and Mazda6. However, it’s worth noting CX-3 sales plummeted nearly 49 % and this means the SUV was outsold by the MX-5. Subaru wasn’t as lucky as sales fell 12.6 % to 611.942 units in 2020. Every model was down for the year, but sales have largely rebounded and the XV recorded its best December ever. Last but not least, Bentley had its best year ever as 11.206 units were sold globally in 2020. The strong sales were due to continued success in America and big growth in China, where sales jumped 48 %. The results can be chalked up to the new Flying Spur and continued demand for the Bentayga, which was responsible for 37 % of all Bentley sales. Needless to say, 2020 was a challenging year for automakers and sales declines were expected due to lockdowns as well as plant and dealership closures. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN said that sales of its core brand dropped by 15 % to 5.3 million vehicles in 2020 as the outbreak of coronavirus and lockdowns imposed to restrict infections hit car dealerships around the world. Volkswagen said it had seen sales recovering in December compared to previous months, rising by 19.5 % in western Europe and 14.7 % in North America. It added that demand for its electric models jumped by 158 % on the year, to 212.000 vehicles. “We are well on the way to achieving our goal of becoming the market leader in battery electric vehicles”, Volkswagen brand CEO Ralf Brandstätter said in a statement. For the year as a whole, Volkswagen brand sales fell by 23.4 % in western Europe and by 17.1 % in North America, while the smallest drop was in China, at 9.9 %. +++ 

+++ VOLVO said its sales grew 6 % in December, marking a continued sharp recovery from the lows earlier this year in the wake of the pandemic. The company, owned by China’s Geely Holding, said sales in the second half were the strongest in its history, while full-year sales dropped 6.2 % to 661.713 cars. “We had a great second half of the year after a tough start, gaining market share in all our main sales regions”, Volvo’s head of Global Commercial Operations, Lex Kerssemakers, said in a statement. “We aim to build on this positive trend in 2021 as we continue to roll out new electrified Volvos and expand our online business”. Volvo’s December sales in Europe dropped 1.8 %, while China grew 9.9 % and sales in the United States jumped 15.2 %. +++ 

+++ Chinese electric vehicle maker XPENG said it has secured a credit line of 12.8 billion yuan ($2 billion) from 5 Chinese banks to expand manufacturing and sales. New York-listed Xpeng, which has a market value of $35 billion, said the credit facility will diversify its funding channels. The maker of the P7 sedan and the G3 SUV is planning to build a third car plant in China. The agreement was signed with Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank, China CITIC Bank and Guangzhou Rural Commercial Bank. Xpeng, which sells mainly in China and competes with Tesla and NIO, delivered just over 27.000 vehicles last year. +++

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