Newsflash: spoedig intensieve facelift voor Audi A8


+++ While the current-generation AUDI A8 has only been on sale since the 2018 model year, Audi isn’t letting it sit around. One of my spy photographers caught an example out testing with minimal camouflage. It shows that Audi has a facelift coming very soon that is technically mild, but makes a big difference in the car’s appearance. Most of the changes are in the front fascia. The most striking is the grille design. Instead of slats, the grille has adopted a sort of mesh, with the corners of each opening featuring angles similar to those of the overall grille shape. On either side of the grille are new headlights. They now have fang-like extensions on the outer edges. Those extensions are angled to match the outboard grilles below, which look similar, but not identical to those on the current S8. As for the rest of the car, it’s pretty much unchanged. The taillights might have slightly more stylized lighting elements, but it’s barely different if at all. I’m expecting these changes to appear on the 2021 model year A8 as part of an update. It will probably have the same powertrain options. Look for a reveal in the next few months. +++ 

+++ Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn, which contract-manufactures products such as the Apple iPhone, has taken a major stake in struggling EV start-up BYTON in a move set to accelerate its expansion into the car industry. Chinese-owned Byton was launched in 2017 and has shown a range of concept cars since then. It had been developing its M-Byte SUV for production, with plans to offer it in China and Europe, but suspended operations in June last year due to financial struggles worsened by the pandemic. Foxconn, through its parent firm Hon Hai Precision Industry, has now agreed a ‘strategic co-operation deal’ with Byton, aided by the Nanjing Economic and Technological Development Zone. The deal is worth around $200 million. As part of the arrangement, Foxconn will provide Byton with its manufacturing technology and expertise, and help it gain access to Foxconn’s extensive supply chain. The move is the latest step by Foxconn into the electric car industry, which includes an agreement signed last year to establish a Chinese-market joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and a plan to launch a solid-state EV battery by 2024. In October last year, Foxconn unveiled the MIH Open Platform, an electric vehicle architecture and software platform, and invited firms to link up and develop vehicles on it. The firm claims MIH can be used for saloons and SUVs, and said it wants the platform to serve as “the Android operating system of the EV industry”. Foxconn is estimated to manufacture around 40 % of all consumer electronics worldwide, and has made products for the likes of Apple, Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Nokia and BlackBerry. It is looking to diversify its interests into other markets to become less reliant on Apple, and has been drawn by the rapidly expanding EV industry. It has already manufactured parts for firms including Tesla. Byton was was co-founded by former BMW i boss Carston Breitfeld, who left the firm last year and recently joined fellow EV start-up Faraday Future. It was originally funded by investment from Chinese internet giant Tencent and a number of other firms including Foxconn. FAW, China’s oldest state-owned car maker, took a major stake in 2018, and Breitfeld has cited that firm’s influence as part of his reason for leaving. Foxconn’s growing interest in electric vehicles comes as major client Apple is reported to be showing renewed interest in the market, with plans to launch its first EV by 2024. +++ 

+++ Smaller vehicles are gaining popularity in CHINA ’s growing new energy vehicle market, and their market share is expected to grow further as authorities gradually phase out financial stimuli that has been in place since 2009. The Hongguang Mini EV, a 2.914 mm 4-seater from Sino-US joint venture SAIC-GM-Wuling, is one popular example. Sales of the model, which has a price tag starting from $4,380 and a driving range of 120-170 km, totaled 33.094 in November, toppling Tesla’s Model 3 as the bestseller in China for the month. Wang Zhenpo, secretary-general of the National Big Data Alliance of New Energy Vehicles, called the model, which has seen its popularity soar since its launch in July, “a phenomenal thing” in the segment. The Hongguang Mini EV is not alone. Statistics from the alliance show that small and micro-sized electric vehicles account for a 40 % market share in China’s overall new energy vehicle segment, which is expected to grow to 1.8 million vehicles in 2021. Ora-branded electric cars, from China’s largest SUV maker Great Wall Motors, saw sales in the first 11 months reach 42.696; more than 4 times the figure in the same period of 2019. Shao Jie, an executive in charge of electrification at SAIC-GM-Wuling, said the vehicles are affordable and easy to use, which are key factors in their popularity. For most Hongguang Mini EV owners, the model is not their only vehicle. “For example, parents can drive their kids to school or meet their friends. It is easy to drive and park. And it can be charged easily at home”, Shao said. Smaller vehicles’ short driving range does not seem to bother most users. Data from the alliance shows that most people living in smaller cities take trips between 5 and 10 kilometers, and have an average daily mileage of 30 km. Vehicles from SAIC-GM-Wuling account for 51 % of China’s small-sized electric vehicles and 43 % of them are the carmaker’s Hongguang Mini EVs. In the first 11 months of the year, SAIC-GM-Wuling sold 132.000 small and micro electric vehicles and sales growth month-over-month was registered in 9 months. Statistics from the China EV 100, an automotive think tank, show that electric cars account for 90 % of the micro vehicle segment. Analysts said such vehicles have vast market potential, and even more so when the government stops the financial stimuli after the end of 2022. For a while, Chinese electric cars available in the market had a lot to do with the government subsidies that have been in place since 2009. Many carmakers rushed to make heavily subsidized models, which are usually larger ones with longer driving ranges, basically leaving the smaller electric car segment untapped. Shao at SAIC-GM-Wuling said the small and micro vehicle segment in China could grow to around 10 million vehicles in the future. International carmakers are stepping up efforts as well. Daimler’s Smart brand is to launch its first China-made vehicle in 2022, which will be a small electric SUV. Volkswagen is planning to produce smaller electric vehicles at its joint venture JAC Volkswagen. +++ 

+++ While running Nissan’s North American operations from 2009 to 2011, Carlos Tavares had a reputation for closely watching costs with little tolerance for vehicles or ventures that didn’t make money. Experts say that means Tavares, currently the head of PSA Group, is likely to follow that blueprint when he becomes leader of a merged PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The low-performing CHRYSLER brand might get the axe as could slow-selling cars, SUVs or trucks that lack potential. Already the companies are talking about consolidating vehicle platforms (the underpinnings and powertrains) to save billions in engineering and manufacturing costs. That could mean job losses in Italy, Germany and Michigan as PSA Peugeot technology is integrated into North American and Italian vehicles. “You can’t be cost efficient if you keep the entire scale of both companies”, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for the auto website. “We’ve seen this show before and we’re going to see it again where they economize these platforms across continents, across multiple markets”. Tavares, who for years has wanted to sell PSA vehicles in the U.S., won’t take full control of the merged companies until the end of January at the earliest. He likely will target Europe for consolidation first, because that’s where Fiat vehicles overlap extensively with PSA’s, said IHS Markit Principal Auto Analyst Stephanie Brinley. Europe has been a money-loser for FCA, and factories in Italy are operating way below capacity; a concern for unions, given Fiat’s role as the largest private sector employer in the country. “We are at a crossroads”, said Michele De Palma of the FIOM CGIL metalworkers’ union. “Either there is a relaunch, or there is a slow agonizing closure of industry, in particular the auto industry, in Italy”. Italy’s hopes lie with the luxury Maserati and sporty Alfa Romeo brands, but De Palma said investments are needed to bring hybrid and electric technology up to speed. Fiat’s Italian capacity stands at 1.5 million vehicles, but only a few hundred thousand are being produced each year. Most factories were on rolling short-term layoffs due to lack of demand, even before the pandemic. The merger is likely to also hit white collar workers, as Tavares is unlikely to keep engineering centers in Paris, Turin and Rodelsheim, Germany, where the Opel brand he acquired in 2017 is located, according to analysts. FCA’s North American operations, led by the popular Jeep brand and Ram pickup, are hugely profitable and likely will be left untouched for a while, Brinley said. Tavares just three years ago stated his desire to sell PSA vehicles in the U.S. within a decade. He said any global automaker has to sell in the U.S. market. In December the companies announced that Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley would run Stellantis’ operations in the Americas. Larger Jeep and Ram trucks and SUVs are unique to the U.S. and generally don’t sell well in Europe, so Brinley expects those to be designed by Fiat Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan, north of Detroit. Eventually some cars and some smaller SUVs, though, will move to PSA underpinnings, she said. PSA has a wider array of fuel-efficient smaller engines, and Fiat Chrysler will need those to meet government fuel mileage and pollution requirements worldwide. The PSA Group’s goal is to offer its all models with electrified powertrains by 2025, an area where Fiat Chrysler also has lagged. Analysts say the Chrysler brand could be in jeopardy in the U.S., where it has only 2 models, the aging 300 sedan and the Pacifica minivan. U.S. sales of the brand were off 19 % through October. The 2 companies have yet to announce any decisions on brands. Fiat Chrysler, in a statement from Michigan, said one of Stellantis’ greatest strengths is its historic brands, including 10 from FCA, adding that there are no plans to close any plants. But PSA said in a statement from Paris that it hasn’t announced any plans for the brands. “We will communicate in due on this matter, as the EGA (shareholders’ vote) is not the closing date, neither the announcement of a strategic plan”, the statement said. Brauer said U.S. consumers aren’t likely to see Peugeot vehicles, though. Instead, smaller vehicles will be built on French or German underpinnings with bodies and interiors designed in Michigan. While the tie-up is billed as a merger, the advantage goes to PSA, which will control 6 of the 11 board seats with Tavares the tie-breaker. Fiat Chrysler’s brands range from powerhouse Jeep to the performance Abarth marquee and the historic Italian brand Lancia, which currently produces just one model, the Ypsilon, targeting female drivers. “I don’t expect cutting brands that still make volumes, even if they are focused on very specific market segments, like Lancia,” said Francesco Zirpoli, director for the Center for Automotive and Mobility at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University. But Stellantis will have too many factories in Europe making similar vehicles. “These overlaps have to be resolved”, he said. Stellantis also will face a major challenge in Asia, in particular China, where both PSA and FCA are weak. “The big market of the future is Asia. Asia will dominate the car business”, said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, of the Center for Automotive Research in Germany. Already it is 45 % of global sales. “They merge, OK. They find synergies, OK. They reduce headcount, OK. But they are missing the most important point in the car business”. +++ 

+++ Late last year, there was a right old rumpus over how much more energy is needed to make an EV than an ICE car and how much more CO2 is thus pumped into the atmosphere. A study, backed by a variety of car makers and suppliers, estimated the manufacturing differential required an EV to be driven 80.000 km before it offset the greater energy used in making it. Prominent EV analyst Auke Hoekstra went back through the figures, calculating everything from manufacturing efficiency to the mix of green energy available, and estimated it to be closer to 25.000 km. The car makers (Aston Martin in particular, due to some uncomfortably close links to the source of the report) copped it from every direction, tarred as legacy companies trying to talk down electrification. The Guardian, never a fan of engines, even featured the story on its front page. It wasn’t a great look for anyone involved, but the brouhaha it created risked masking the one point of agreement that is worthy of consideration: making an EV does produce more CO2 (which, remember, is just one measure of pollution) than making an ICE car. The only way to offset this is to drive them, and in turn how quickly the offset can be achieved is dependent on how the electricity being put into them is produced. The initial deficit sits almost entirely with the energy requirements of making a battery. Figures from Volkswagen suggest that around 40 % of the CO2 output from EV production is created here; more than twice the amount that comes from the next most intensive processes, making steel (18%), aluminium (6%) and the electric motor (5%), with the rest coming from the creation of everything from plastics to glass. Car makers are, of course, working to bring this down, pressured by international net-zero goals. So it is that they want green energy to be used at every step, their factories to be more efficient and more. There’s no choice, but there’s also no doubt that this holistic approach will need time and massive investment to implement. For what it’s worth, by my estimation, 16.000 miles looks like the best-case scenario and 48.000 the worst-case scenario. But the debate rumbles on, and the truth is the figure will keep changing according to extraction techniques, manufacturing methods, energy sources and more. Maybe, then, the fairest conclusion is this: the average life of a car is 8 years and 240.000 km. Maybe that will reduce if we drive less, but so too will the energy requirements of making and fuelling EVs. From a CO2 point of view, then, EVs win out. +++ 

+++ FAW VOLKSWAGEN said that it had churned out more than 2.07 million vehicles in 2020, setting a new record for annual production. The company, a passenger car-making joint venture between China FAW Group and Volkswagen, attributed its record-breaking production to the rollout of several new energy models and the establishment of a digitalized production and logistic system this year. Founded in 1991, FAW-Volkswagen has grown into one of the best-selling passenger vehicle manufacturers in the world’s largest auto market. The carmaker now has five production bases across China. +++ 

+++ Byton, a cash-strapped Chinese electric car startup, inked a deal with iPhone maker FOXCONN , which is expected to enable its first model to roll off the assembly line by the first quarter of 2022. In a statement, Byton said Foxconn will provide its expertise in advanced manufacturing technology, operational management experience and will share industrial resources to support the production of its model, the M-Byte SUV. Foxconn, whose main listed arm is Hon Hai Precision Industry, plans to invest around $200 million in the startup. Byton did not comment. Byton made the premiere of the M-Byte SUV’s series version at the Frankfurt auto show in 2019. The first pre-production vehicles rolled off the production line at its plant in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and completed safety tests in the first half of 2020. Byton won the new energy vehicle production license in June 2020. However, due to financing problems and the Covid-19 pandemic, the startup suspended all its operations in China since July 2020. Its co-founder and former CEO Daniel Kirchert quit in October. “We are excited to be back”, said Ding Qingfen, co-CEO of Byton, in a statement after the deal was signed. Founded by former BMW and Infiniti executives, Byton was one of the most promising startups in China, with its models expected to take on those from premium brands including Audi and BMW. Its investors include State-owned China FAW Group and EV battery maker CATL, which supplies batteries to Tesla. Analysts said the partnership with Byton could help Foxconn to gain car-making experience. The company has long shown interest in the in the booming sector. “This will allow us to contribute toward the further growth of the EV industry, a demonstration of our commitment in the transformation of the traditional automotive industry”, said Young Liu, chairman of Foxconn. Earlier last year, Foxconn announced a plan to build a partnership with Fiat Chrysler to develop and make electric vehicles in China. In October 2020, the company unveiled its first electric-vehicle chassis as well as an open software platform. It will start shipping its first developer kit in April this year. Foxconn has been supplying parts to other major carmakers including Tesla. In the statement, Byton said: “The partnership will advance the growth of each company’s EV business”. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers had estimated that around 1.3 million new energy vehicles could be sold in China in 2020, and the figure could reach 1.8 million this year. +++ 

+++ SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), a major Chinese automobile manufacturer between SAIC Motor, GENERAL MOTORS and Liuzhou Wuling Motors, reported strong annual sales in 2020, the company said. Vehicle sales of SGMW, located in Liuzhou, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, exceeded 1.6 million units last year. The Wuling brand sold more than 1.18 million units in 2020, maintaining a year-on-year growth for 9 consecutive months since April, while the sales of New Baojun, another vehicle brand of the company, increased 70 % year-on-year to more than 154.000 units. The sales of the company’s new energy vehicles (NEVs) also posted robust growth, with the small NEVs soaring 190 % year-on-year to 174,000 units throughout the year. SGMW also reported growing sales in overseas markets in 2020, with more than 77.000 units and sets of vehicles worth 3.46 billion yuan ($535 million) exported to 40 countries. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI and affiliate Kia forecast combined global vehicle sales will jump 11.5 % in 2021 after sliding for 2 consecutive years. Their target of 7.08 million vehicles comes after the coronavirus pandemic sent sales last year tumbling 12 % to a decade low of 6.35 million vehicles. That result is also more than 20% off a peak reached in 2015. While the automakers have missed their sales predictions for the past 6 years, analysts described this year’s target as realistic. Shares in Hyundai also finished 8 % higher, bolstered by investor hopes for strong electric car sales this year. Hyundai’s Kona Electric has been bright spot for the automaker, with analysts saying sales have been solid despite a global recall after a series of fire incidents. Kevin Yoo, an analyst at eBEST Investment & Securities, added, however, that while key auto markets such as United States and Europe have begun to put the worst of the pandemic behind them, competition in electric cars is only set to increase. “Other major automakers are expected to unveil a wave of new EVs in an effort to meet governments’ environment regulations, as well as to catch up with Tesla”, he said. Hyundai said a worker had died in an accident at a South Korean factory. The plant has just been refitted to build a new electric vehicle, the Ioniq 5, which is set to be Hyundai’s first model using a new EV-only platform. It was not immediately clear when production will resume. +++ 

+++ Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and PSA said that investors had given their blessing to a $52 billion MERGER to create the world’s fourth largest automaker, and shares in the new company, named Stellantis, would start trading in 2 weeks. With annual production of around 8 million vehicles worldwide and revenues of more than €165 billion, the newly-formed firm is expected to play a key role in the auto industry’s jump into the new era of electrification. Stellantis will have 14 brands, from FCA’s Fiat, Maserati and U.S.-focused Jeep, Dodge and Ram to PSA’s traditionally Europe-focused Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and DS. FCA and PSA said they expected to complete their tie-up on January 16, ahead of an earlier indication which aimed for a closing within the first quarter of this year. Stellantis shares will start trading in Milan and Paris on January 18, and in New York the following day, the 2 automakers said in a joint statement. At 2 separate extraordinary shareholder meetings, held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, investors in each group backed the merger with approval rates above 99% of the votes cast. “We are ready for this merger”, PSA chief executive and Stellantis future CEO Carlos Tavares said. Tavares will have to revive the carmaker’s fortunes in China, rationalise a sprawling empire and address massive overcapacity, as well as focus like its rivals on creating cleaner cars. FCA Chairman John Elkann, the future chairman of Stellantis, said the new automaker would “play a leading role as the next decade redefines mobility”. And FCA boss Mike Manley (who will head Stellantis’ key north American operations) said 40 % of the expected synergies form the merger, projected at more than €5 billion, will come from convergence of platforms and powertrains and from optimising R&D investments. Manley said 35 % of synergies would be driven by savings on purchases, while another 7 % would come from savings on sales operations and general expenses. The remainder of the synergies are expected from the optimization of other functions including logistics, supply chain, quality and after-market operations, he added. FCA said in a separate statement it would pay its shareholders a planned €2.9 billion special dividend as soon as possible after merger completion. +++ 

+++ MG ’s on-again, off-again electric sports car has received the green light, according to a recent report. Previewed by the 2017 E-Motion concept, the coupe is scheduled to make its global debut before the end of 2021. Sports cars are a significant part of MG’s heritage, but the British company stepped out of the segment when it ended production of the mid-engined TF for the second time in 2011. Returning to its roots is a way for the carmaker to become relevant again, and not just in China, where it’s currently based. It has global ambitions. The 4-seater coupe will be positioned as MG’s halo model. It will pick up where the E-Motion left off, but it will land with a comprehensively updated design partially revealed in a set of images that leaked out of a patent office in 2020. The E-Motion (a name that likely won’t be retained by the production model) will arrive with a surprisingly Aston Martin-like face. The sheet metal will hide an architecture developed in-house and a pair of electric motors that zap the 4 wheels into motion. Specifications remain under wraps, but MG pegged the E-Motion’s 0-to-100-kph time at under 4 seconds, and it quoted at least 500 km of range. MG’s current electric cars are nowhere near that figure, the ZS EV has a 260 km range, but technology is quickly improving. Looking ahead, we could see the Cyberster concept introduced in 2020 reach production. It will be electric, too, but it will be closer to MG’s well-respected roadsters (like the B) because its soft top. +++ 

+++ If you follow the automotive space, or simply keep your eyes on the news, you’re likely aware that Ford CEO Mark Fields, the company’s answer to the future of vehicles, didn’t hold his position for very long. In fact, reports suggest Ford fired Fields, though he was actually allowed to “retire” early. Regardless, it seems the CEO failed in proving to Ford what it hoped he’d do. Fields had plenty of solid ideas, but there wasn’t much real action. Since the ex-CEO left Ford, he has chimed in about TESLA a few times, mostly via CNBC. Back in January 2020, I shared an interview with Fields from CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” Fields gave credit to Tesla and Elon Musk, though he wasn’t sure the electric automaker would be able to be consistently profitable going forward. Thus far this year, and actually over the last 5 quarters, Tesla has proven Fields wrong. We’ll have to wait and see how the company fares for this fourth quarter of 2020, as well as the year as a whole. Fast-forward to the present, and for some strange reason, CNBC once again welcomes Fields to talk about Tesla. This time, the interview was on the publication’s “Closing Bell” programme. Fields actually goes so far as to offer his own personal advice about what Tesla and Elon Musk should focus on in 2021. CMBC mentions that Musk took a quick trip to Hawaii to seek advice from Oracle founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison. However, Musk didn’t even have to travel all the way to Hawaii and leave end-of-year efforts aside. He could have just tuned into Closing Bell to take in Mark Field’s wisdom. If that wasn’t enough, Musk could always drag up some old Bob Lutz interviews for good measure. Field talks about Tesla’s execution, profits, stock valuation, regulatory credits, a potential acquisition, and more. We’ll leave it for you to decide whether or not you’re on board with ex-CEO Fields. +++ 

+++ Tesla will soon roll out its Model Y sedans produced from its Shanghai plant, the company said on Saturday as it reported delivering nearly 500.000 cars in 2020. The electric vehicle maker said production of the Model Y, a crossover, has begun at its Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai’s Lingang Special Area, with deliveries expected to commence shortly. The US automaker managed to near the 500.000 threshold thanks to a record-high 4th quarter, with 180.570 cars delivered in the 3 months that ended in December, which was 30 % higher than the previous quarter. It produced 509.737 electric vehicles in 2020. The company didn’t break out regional sales figures, or break out figures for each model. But the newer Model 3 and Model Y vehicles combined have a significant larger share in the portfolio, with production reaching 454.932 units and deliveries of 442.511 units. The development came just a day after the automaker’s announcement it is taking orders for Model Y’s Long Range version, starting at 339,900 yuan; a price tag lower than market expectations. A Performance Range version will start from 369,900 yuan. Competition for the TESLA MODEL Y is heating up in China’s burgeoning EV market as domestic and foreign players unveiled electrified cars to cut pollution, as China seeks its long-term goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060. While continuing to bolster the sector’s development, the country cut subsidies on new energy cars by 20 % this year as mindsets for cleaner cars began to take shape. Like last year, subsidies also apply to passenger cars costing less than 300,000 yuan. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN has hired Elke Temme, a long-time executive at Germany’s top utility RWE, to head the carmaker’s newly created division for energy and electric vehicle charging, it said. Temme’s move is the latest illustration of the growing convergence of the autos and energy sectors amid an expected boom in demand for electric vehicles. Most recently, Temme was chief operating officer of Innogy eMobility solutions. Innogy was carved out from RWE in 2016 and later broken up in an asset swap with E.ON, which acquired the firm’s emobility activities in the process. She will be in charge of pooling and managing existing group activities in the fields of energy, charging services, charging equipment and charging infrastructure across all brands, Volkswagen said. “With Elke Temme, we have won a proven expert in the fields of energy and charging for our company”, Volkswagen board member Thomas Schmall said in a statement. +++

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