Newsflash: Bentley komt met performance versie van Continental GT

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+++ ASTON MARTIN has confirmed that it will lay off 95 full-time workers at its new DBX production facility in St Athan, Wales. The job cuts form part of a previously announced downsizing strategy that will see the firm make 500 lay-offs and cut operating costs by £10 million as part of a plan to return to profitability. An unspecified number of contractors at the St Athan plant, reported by Wales Online to be in excess of 100, will also be released. The St Athan facility only began full-scale series production in summer last year, but Aston Martin is now aiming to bring its cost base in line with reduced production levels of its sports car lines. More recently, the firm announced that its sales dropped 32 % in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, contributing to an overall operating loss of £323 million. New CEO Tobias Moers plans to leverage the firm’s extended relationship with Mercedes-AMG to accelerate Aston Martin’s electrification ambitions, with a hybrid version of the DBX due to arrive later this year and a new AMG engined version of the Valhalla supercar set to be shown in the coming months. It has also recently emerged that Aston Martin will build its first pure-electric models (a SUV and a ‘front-engined’ sports car) in the UK, rather than Germany. The former will be built at St Athan and the latter at the firm’s existing headquarters in Gaydon. An official statement released by the brand read: “Aston Martin moves into a new era, with new investment and a new business plan to position the company for success, and to operate as a self-sustaining business in the near future. In order to secure the future of its Gaydon and St Athan manufacturing facilities, Aston Martin continues to execute on actions to improve the cost efficiency of the business, in alignment with its transformation plan. ‘Project Horizon’ has been launched to revitalise its products and deliver a level of operational excellence, agility and efficiency throughout every aspect of the organisation. Aston Martin has issued an HR1 (notification of more than 20 redundancies) for its St Athan facility and has launched an employee and trade union consultation process”. At the company’s Gaydon headquarters, chairman Lawrence Stroll said: “The electric SUV and sports car could use batteries and motors supplied by Mercedes, which already has a pair of electric series-production cars on sale, while Aston Martin has yet to market a bespoke EV drivetrain. We are way ahead of our rivals, and all because of our partnership with Mercedes”. His comments follow Moers’ claim that the firm can obtain electric, hybrid and combustion powertrain components from Mercedes at “a reasonable cost situation”. The hybrid version of the DBX can be expected to use a plug-in hybrid version of its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, in line with upcoming PHEV versions of Mercedes-AMG’s GT 4-door Coupé and S-Class performance saloons. Aston Martin’s mid-engined Valhalla supercar will also use hybrid technology but is now highly likely to forego the bespoke electrified V6 used by the 2019 concept in favour of an AMG-supplied unit. A reworked version of the Ferrari SF90 Stradale rival will be shown in the coming months ahead of a market launch in 2023. Some customers, Aston Martin has confirmed, have already placed orders. Little is known of the electric models mentioned by Stroll, although he did confirm that the sports car will be a “front-engine version of a DB11 / Vantage”. The designs haven’t yet been finalised, he told and there remain question marks over whether electric Aston Martin models will use the 70-year-old DB name prefix. Giving clues as to how electric Aston Martins will be differentiated from the competition (and potentially their mechanically related Mercedes siblings), Stroll told that they will have “our beautiful body, our suspension, our vehicle dynamics and our bespoke interiors”. +++ 

+++ AUDI looks to be going after the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS with its largest SUV model yet, which is likely to take the Q9 name when it hits dealerships next year. When Audi launched the Q8 coupé-SUV in 2018, then-CEO Robert Stadler hinted that a larger model (likely called the Q9) was on the cards. “The customers will tell us what they want in the future”, he said. “Time will tell”. It appears the company has now gauged sufficient demand for such a model and is preparing it for an imminent unveiling. Spotted winter testing in production-ready guise, the Q9 is wearing a camouflage wrap that Audi traditionally uses for China-specific models, suggesting that it could be geared specifically towards that market. There are no immediate plans to offer the model in Europe, but further details could be made public at the Shanghai motor show next month. The car will be positioned as a Range Rover rival, rather than as a top-rung luxury offering priced to compete with its Bentley Bentayga relative. To that end, while a 6-seat, 3-row layout will potentially be offered, the Q9 looks to allow for 7 seats as standard, given its lengthy rear window and upright tailgate. Otherwise, the Q9 will almost certainly follow the slightly smaller Q8 in its interior design, with the firm’s latest MMI infotainment software, predominantly touch-sensitive controls and upholstered in a choice of premium materials. The exterior styling, too, looks to take cues from existing Audi models, despite the heavy camouflage. The front end is dominated by an expansive version of Audi’s Singleframe grille, which will house a sizeable lidar sensor, and the rear end design looks to be modelled on that of the Q7, with a subtle spoiler over the rear screen, slim brake-lights and a chunky lower bumper. At the side, however, the Q9 bears more of a resemblance to the Volkswagen Atlas (the largest model to use the Volkswagen Group’s MLB SUV platform), due to its lengthy wheelbase, short overhangs and chunky black protective wheel arch trim. Sharing its underpinnings with the Atlas would mean the Q9 would be available with a choice of 2 petrol engines: a 240 hp turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder and a 3.6-litre VR6 with 280 hp. Volkswagen previously considered bringing the Atlas to Europe but conceded that it would likely need a diesel option to succeed in the market. A plug-in hybrid powertrain, as offered by all Audi SUVs apart from the compact Q2, would also make sense. +++ 

+++ The new BENTLEY Continental GT Speed will be revealed next week, with company bosses vowing that the range-topping version of its grand tourer will be its “most capable, performance-focused” model yet. The British firm has confirmed that the new Speed version of the latest Continental GT will be unveiled in an online event on 23 March. The third generation of the 2-door grand tourer has been on sale since 2018. Bentley says it will feature “highly advanced chassis technology” and bespoke styling to stand it apart from other versions of the Continental GT. The model is likely to retain Bentley’s 6.0-litre W12 engine, which produces 630 hp in the standard Continental. The final version of the previous-generation Continental GT Speed used the same unit tuned for 640 hp, allowing for a top speed of 330 kph; a record for a production Bentley. +++ 

+++ BMW said that it was back on a profitable track in 2021 after recovering from shutdowns and a serious dent to sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of last year. The premium German carmaker said it would have 5 fully-electric models available this year, as it races alongside the rest of the industry to roll out new zero-emission models in the face of tightening CO2 emissions targets in Europe and China. Plant shutdowns in the first half of 2020 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus led many in the industry to expect a disastrous year, but a market rebound spurred by China helped the industry recover faster than expected. “Our performance in the second half of the year demonstrated just how strong the BMW Group is. We soon overcame the impact of weeks of plant closures and nationwide lockdowns”, chief executive Oliver Zipse said. “We are starting 2021 revitalised and with a favourable tailwind”. BMW sales in China rose 7.4 % in 2020 versus 2019, mostly offsetting declines in other regions. Chinese consumers also helped propel BMW’s rival Daimler to a full-year pre-tax profit. Volkswagen’s 2020 profit fell less than expected, again with a push from Chinese drivers eager to snap up premium Audi vehicles. BMW said that, with the exception of the second quarter, it remained profitable throughout 2020. Investments in electrification, self-driving technology and connectivity meant that research and development costs remained high at €5.7 billion, though more than 4 % below the nearly €6 billion the company spent in 2019. The company cut its other capital expenditures by more than 30 % during the year. The premium carmaker posted a full-year 2020 pre-tax profit of €5.2 billion, down nearly 27 % from €7.2 billion in the prior year. BMW ended the year with free cash flow of €3.4 billion; up from €2.6 billion in 2019 despite widespread lockdowns. The carmaker’s pre-tax margin for the automotive segment fell to 5.3 % from 6.8 %. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess has confirmed plans to spin off BUGATTI into a joint venture between Porsche and EV specialist Rimac, but has denied reports it could sell the brand outright. There had been reports that the German giant would sell a controlling interest in the French hypercar maker to Rimac as part of a financial deal that involved Porsche increasing its investment in the Croatian firm. Porsche recently increased its stake in Rimac from 15.5 % to 24 % in a deal worth €70 million. During the Volkswagen Group’s annual media conference, Diess said that responsibility for Bugatti is currently being transferred to Porsche, which would then discuss a possible joint venture with Rimac. “Transferring Bugatti to Rimac isn’t true”, said Diess. “Porsche is currently preparing a partnership that’s going to be under discussion with Rimac, and Porsche will be taking care of that. “The whole thing isn’t yet finalised. What we want to do is transition responsibility of Bugatti to Porsche, and Porsche in all probability will establish a joint venture with Rimac, with a minority share of Porsche”. It’s not clear whether any potential Bugatti joint venture would involve Porsche and Rimac taking an equal share. Diess added that the decision to move responsibility for Bugatti within the Volkswagen Group to Porsche is because “we believe that Bugatti will get an environment that’s stronger than being here in Wolfsburg in the volume segment”. He elaborated: “We have more synergies between Bugatti and Porsche over there, such as carbonfibre bodies and high-performance batteries”. +++ 

+++ Just a month after first sightings of a camouflaged FORD Focus prototype, its smaller Fiesta sibling has been spotted with suggestions of a similar design overhaul for 2022. The popular supermini has been on sale for nearly 4 years so is due a substantial mid-life update to keep it competitive in light of newer rivals. The newer Opel Corsa (which has an electric option, unlike the Fiesta) is currently outselling the Ford as a Vauxhall in the UK, and by the time the wraps come off, the Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia and Seat Ibiza will each have been updated too. As was the case with the Focus mule spotted last month, the Fiesta looks to hide a new-look front end under its bulky camouflage. Unusually, the supermini’s front grille looks to have been reduced, rather than expanded, for the facelifted car, and new designs have been ushered in for the headlights and lower bumper. At this stage, changes to the rear end look to be a lot more subtle; the layout of the disguise suggests we will see new-shape brake light clusters and potentially a restyled bootlid. A more subtle model year update in 2020 removed diesel power from the Fiesta, while a new 48 Volt mild-hybrid petrol option was added to the line-up. Ford’s smallest car is now powered exclusively by a 1.0-litre turbo charged 3-cylinder engine (with or without electric assistance) in its standard form, with a choice of power outputs. The Fiesta ST performance variant uses a 200 hp non-hybridised 1.5-litre unit. There have not been any indications of significant alterations to this powertrain line-up for the facelift. The newer Puma, which shares the bulk of its underpinnings with the Fiesta, uses the same engines, and the lack of any warning stickers or obvious charging ports means the spotted protoype isn’t testing a new plug-in hybrid powertrain. Ford recently announced plans, however, for its European passenger car line-up to be entirely electric by 2030, and as part of that, it will introduce a PHEV version of every model by the middle of 2026. The timings of the company’s strategy place question marks over the Fiesta’s future, as the current car’s lifecycle is set to end in 2024/2025, but any ICE variant introduced after that date would have only a few years on sale before Ford ditches fossil fuels. The factory that builds the Fiesta in Cologne, Germany, is to be transformed into an EV production hub and will first produce Ford’s “first European-built, volume, all-electric passenger vehicle for European customers” using Volkswagen’s MEB electric vehicle platform. The current Fiesta is scheduled to be built alongside the new electric car until the end of its production run. +++ 

+++ GEELY said it would build an electric vehicle battery factory with a planned annual manufacturing capacity of 42 gigawatt hours (GWh) in China’s eastern city of Ganzhou, as it expands its Electric Vehicle (EV) line-up in the world’s biggest car market. The total investment in the project by Geely’s technology arm will be 30 billion yuan ($4.61 billion), according to a separate statement from the local government. Geely’s technology group has previously invested in Ganzhou-based EV battery maker Farasis. The planned factory comes after Geely announced a flurry of tie-ups in January aimed at turning the automaker into a leading EV contract manufacturer and engineering service provider, as it fights the incursion of EV leader Tesla. Geely, which owns Volvo Cars and a 9.7 % stake in Daimler, is competing with Great Wall and Nio. China’s government has heavily promoted New Energy Vehicles (NEVs), such as battery-powered, plug-in petrol-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell cars, in response to chronic air pollution, spurring interest from technology companies and investors alike. China forecasts NEVs will make up 20 % of its annual auto sales by 2025 from around 5 % in 2020. +++ 

+++ HYUNDAI has halted production at its plant in Asan, which has been making the ubiquitous mid-sized Sonata sedan for 20 years. Hyundai said the stoppage at the plant will last from Monday to Friday to clear inventory left over due to poor sales. It said the aim is to ensure “flexible production and supply according to market demand”. The Asan plant also manufactures the larger Grandeur sedan. A Hyundai staffer said, “Poor sales of the Sonata prompted us to roll out more Grandeurs, and this has led to rising inventory”. The Sonata was the most popular car in Korea from 2000 to 2010, but ceded its position to the Grandeur in 2017, and last year sales plunged 32.6 %, even below affiliate Kia’s mid-sized K5 (Optima) sedan. One industry insider said, “Rising incomes mean Koreans favor bigger and more luxurious cars, and the Grandeur has now established itself as the standard car for the middle class. The K5 managed to attract younger buyers with its sleek design, but the Sonata didn’t”. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER has confirmed that it will cut 2.000 non-factory jobs from its global workforce in the next year, as part of its ongoing restructuring drive. The job losses will come from the British firm’s global salaried workforce. While Jaguar Land Rover has not given any details on the roles being cut, it said the moves will not impact hourly paid manufacturing employees. In a statement, Jaguar Land Rover said: “The full review of the Jaguar Land Rover organisation is already underway. We anticipate a net reduction of around 2.000 people from our global salaried workforce in the next financial year”. The moves are related to the struggling firm’s ongoing cost-cutting and restructuring drive, called Project Charge+, through which the firm is aiming to save £2.5 billion. The new comes shortly after Jaguar Land Rover, owned by the Indian Tata Motors group, announced its radical new ‘Reimagine’ plan devised by new boss Thierry Bolloré. Under that plan Jaguar will be turned into an electric-only luxury brand, while Land Rover will launch 6 new electric variants in the next 5 years. The firm is aiming to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2039. As part of that plan. Bolloré committed to keeping all its UK facilities open, although the Castle Bromwich plant is likely to stop being used for car production. Jaguar Land Rover has made a series of staff reductions in recent years, cutting 1.000 jobs in 2018 and 4.500 in 2019. +++ 

+++ Hyundai and affiliate KIA said they are targeting a 23 % on-year gain in China sales this year. Hyundai and Kia aim to sell a combined 817.000 vehicles in China in 2021; up from 664.744 units a year earlier, a Hyundai spokesman said. To help achieve the goal, Hyundai launched the second generation of Mistra (or Mingtu in Chinese), a compact car exclusively developed for the Chinese market, earlier this month and plans to introduce the electrified Mistra compact and the Nexo hydrogen fuel cell electric car within this year, he said. Hyundai said it also is considering launching the Ioniq 5, its first all-electric model embedded with its own EV-only electric-global modular platform (E-GMP), in China this year. Kia plans to launch the all-new Carnival MPV in China later this year to absorb growing demand for recreational vehicles. The 2 South Korean carmakers suffered a 27 % on-year decline in China sales in 2020 due to a lingering impact of a diplomatic dispute between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of a US anti-missile system called THAAD in Korea in 2017. They have reorganized its Chinese operations since 2019 after reporting years of weak sales in the world’s biggest automobile market. In 2019, Hyundai suspended the No. 1 Beijing plant and stopped production of low-end compact models to enhance profitability. Kia also shut down the No. 1 Yancheng plant in the same year due to lower local demand for its models. The 2 plants have yet to resume production. Hyundai has 7 domestic plants and 10 overseas plants: 4 in China and one each in the United States, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Russia, India and Brazil. Their combined capacity reaches 5.5 million vehicles. Kia has 8 domestic plants in Korea and 7 overseas ones: 3 in China and 1 each in the United States, Slovakia, Mexico and India. Their overall capacity is 3.84 million units. The maker of the Sonata and the Tucson plans to build its first overseas hydrogen fuel-cell systems plant in China by next year to make inroads into the local hydrogen vehicle market. It aims to initially produce 6.500 units of hydrogen fuel cell systems a year in the HTWO Gwangzhou plant, which is wholly owned by Hyundai Motor Group. Hyundai expects demand for hydrogen fuel cell systems to grow further in China, the world’s biggest automobile market, as the Chinese government seeks to provide 1 million hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2035. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen Group strategy chief Michael JOST , a key figure in developing the group’s expansive electrification plan, has quit the car giant to focus on developing autonomous electric boats. Jost joined the VW Group a decade ago, initially as Skoda’s product strategy boss before moving to the Volkswagen brand in 2015. He was promoted to head of group strategy in 2018, where he was heavily involved in mapping out the group’s electric vehicle plans, including the development of the MEB electric platform and the forthcoming Project Trinity. Jost announced his departure on his website and hinted that home working during the coronavirus pandemic had prompted him to devote more time to his family. At the same time, Jost said he would pursue his interest in the development of electric and autonomous ‘smart boats’, describing it as “a nautical passion that I will devote myself to together with the family”. His website suggests he will take on a role with a boat manufacturer called Silent Yachts. The Austrian firm recently secured an agreement with the Volkswagen Group for the Seat brand to supply MEB platforms and electric powertrain components that will be utilised on a planned line of electric yachts. That deal was explained on the Volkswagen Group website in an interview with Jost and Smart Yachts boss Michael Kohler. In that piece, Jost said the aim was to have an electric yacht using MEB components testing by 2022. +++ 

+++ The next-generation Range Rover Evoque and LAND ROVER Discovery Sport will switch to the firm’s new ‘native electric’ architecture and be offered with hybrid and full-electric powertrains only. As part of Jaguar Land Rover’s new Reimagine business plan, Land Rover will launch 6 battery-electric variants within the next 5 years and will use only electrified powertrains from 2026 onwards, although that includes mild-hybrid systems. By 2030, Jaguar Land Rover is aiming for 60 % of its global sales to be fully electric, 10 % to be plug-in hybrid and 30 % to be mild or standard hybrid. It is aiming for all global sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2036. All future Land Rover models will switch to 1 of 2 new platforms: the mixed-powertrain Modular Longitudinal Architecture (MLA) and the ‘BEV native’ Electrified Modular Architecture (EMA). In an investor presentation, the firm revealed some early technical details of those platforms, and which cars will be built on them. The EMA platform will be introduced from 2024, and the firm has confirmed it will be used for the next-generation Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport models. That means future versions of those models won’t be offered in either pure combustion or mild-hybrid forms. Land Rover said that the EMA platform will be engineered around the underfloor EV battery, with a ‘simple’ body structure and a flat floor to maximise space. The firm said that JLR-designed electric drive units (EDUs) will be centred on 800 Volt technology and offer an efficiency of around 6.5-7.5 km per kWh for EVs based on the EMA platform. It also claimed its EDUs will be the “most torque dense” in class. While the EMA platform is designed for electric cars, it can be fitted with hybrid and plug-in hybrid systems, which will use “electrified compact ICE propulsion systems with lean burn technology”. The MLA platform is due to be introduced in 2022 or 2023, and will be used for models including the next-generation Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Described as a ‘flexible’ architecture, it will accept mild-hybrid, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric powertrains. Notably, the investor presentation did not specify which platform the next-generation Velar would use, although it would probably be the EMA architecture. As well as launching EV variants of existing models, Land Rover will launch an electric-only nameplate within the next 5 years and it is possible that the future Velar could be EV-only to ensure greater differentiation from the Evoque. The investor presentation also hinted again at the planned expansion of the Defender model into a full ‘model family’, with a graphic showing Land Rover’s future model line hinting at two new variants. They could include the Defender pick-up, which the firm has hinted at previously. +++

+++ Spain is considering converting NISSAN ‘s main car plant in Barcelona, which is due to close in December, into a battery production facility for electric cars as one option to preserve thousands of jobs, a source familiar with the matter said. The European Union is aggressively pushing for new battery production in Europe to reduce reliance on Chinese imports as carmakers ramp up production of electric vehicles to meet tough European emissions regulations. Nissan has 3 plants in the Barcelona area, employing around 3.000 people directly and 20.000 indirectly. It had planned to shut them down by the end of last year but postponed the closures by a year to give more time for authorities to find another company interested in the units. Its main plant stands on publicly owned land. The regional government of Catalonia, where Barcelona is located, is backing a project to build a battery production and recycling plant in the region. The so-called Battery Hub project is seeking 6.8 billion euros ($8.25 billion) from Spain’s €140 billion share of the EU’s Covid-19 pandemic aid and will only go ahead if it secures the funding. Although Spain is yet to decide on the use of the funds, one of the options being considered by authorities is to locate the Battery Hub project at Nissan’s main Barcelona plant, said a source with direct knowledge of the process. The source said “many companies” had shown interest in Nissan’s plants and authorities will take into account how many jobs can be preserved when deciding who can set up shop there. A task force on the plants’ future formed by Nissan, government and union representatives has set a March 31 deadline for submission of formal proposals for use of the facilities. It has said other possible options include an electric vehicle plant or another electric mobility-related project. Finding a solution for the plants is in the interests of both the Japanese carmaker, which had received state aid and faced intense local opposition over its decision to shut them, and the national and regional governments hoping to preserve jobs. Asked whether the Battery Hub could find a home at Nissan’s plants, Pere Aragones, Catalonia’s acting head of government, told: “That’s one of the options that has been placed on the table but it’s not the only one”. He declined to elaborate, but said Catalonia was an “excellent location” for a battery factory given the presence of carmakers, such as Volkswagen’s Spanish unit Seat. The regional government has said the battery project is backed by companies from the mobility and technology sectors, without naming them. The source, as well as Joaquin Cano, CGT union leader at Nissan, said the EU funds, if granted, would help to convince investors interested in the facilities. France’s Schneider Electric and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution are among companies that have shown potential interest in Nissan’s plants, another source said. Catalan public channel TV3 has said LG’s plan is to provide batteries for Seat, which eyes electric car production at its main Barcelona-area plant in 2025. LG Energy Solution and Schneider declined to comment. Nissan Spain and the Spanish government said the process was confidential and would not provide further comment. +++ 

+++ NORTHVOLT said it had won an order worth more than $14 billion over 10 years from Germany’s Volkswagen, which increases its stake in the Swedish lithium-ion battery maker. Northvolt also said it will sell its share in joint-venture Northvolt Zwei in Salzgitter to the world’s No. 2 carmaker, which becomes the German gigafactory’s single owner. Volkswagen, which established a partnership with Northvolt in 2019, has previously said that it owns around 20 % of the Swedish firm. Northvolt, which aims to take a key role in Europe to compete with major Asian players such as CATL and LG Chem, and targets a 25 % European market share by 2030, said it had secured over $27 billion worth of contracts from key customers. “By consolidating cell production to the Northvolt Ett gigafactory, the partners will achieve further economies of scale, thereby securing the best possible cost and enabling the lowest environmental footprint in the world for cell production”, it said in a statement. Volkswagen, in the midst of a major shift towards battery-powered cars, plans to have 6 battery cell production plants operating in Europe by 2030 to secure supply for its electric vehicle ambitions, it said. Battery makers across the world are seeking to keep up with demand as carmakers increasingly go electric. Investors have been rushing into the EV sector by pushing up valuations for companies such as Tesla and Lucid Motors. Northvolt said last week it had bought U.S. startup Cuberg to get access to technology that would boost the range of electric vehicles that can use its batteries. The firm, founded in 2016 by former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson, last raised $600 million from the likes of Volkswagen, Baillie Gifford and Goldman Sachs. Volkswagen plans to gradually switch the type of battery used in its electric vehicles, 3 sources with knowledge of the matter said, moving away from the technology supplied under current deals with South Korea’s LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation. Volkswagen plans to use the prismatic type of battery, increasingly turning to supplies from CATL, South Korea’s online news sites reported, citing unnamed South Korean battery industry sources. The German carmaker declined to comment. South Korea’s LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation have been manufacturing pouch-type batteries for Volkswagen, while CATL and Samsung SDI have supplied it with prismatic ones. LG Energy Solution, a unit of LG Chem, said it does not comment on market speculation, while SK Innovation declined to comment. “It really depends on how fast Volkswagen manages to switch to prismatic type batteries. Currently, there are not enough prismatic battery supplies, and it would take quite a while for Volkswagen to fully adopt them”, sand Han Sang-won, an analyst at Daishin Securities. “One of the reasons that Volkswagen has chosen to switch could be to enhance electric vehicles’ safety, as prismatic batteries are generally considered to have lower energy density than pouch-type batteries, making them relatively safer”, Han added. Among 3 types of batteries (prismatic, pouch and cylindrical) prismatic batteries had 49 % share in the EV battery market in 2020, while pouch-type batteries had 28 %, according to industry tracker SNE Research. The plan comes at a time that LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation are locked in a legal battle in the United States over allegations of misappropriation of trade secrets related to EV battery technology. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE could follow up the new Taycan Cross Turismo with 2-door, convertible and low-slung estate versions of its flagship performance EV, according to product boss Stefan Weckbach. Weckbach revealed that Porsche is discussing additional bodystyles of the Taycan to follow the original sports saloon and new rugged estate version. The new variants being considered include a less off-road-oriented estate based on the Cross Turismo but without the 20 mm suspension lift, protective bodykit and Gravel Mode. Such a model would be conceived as an electric alternative to the Panamera Sport Turismo, an estate version of Porsche’s petrol powered sports saloon, and would likely share that model’s moniker. “I can’t tell you today if we are really going for something like that”, Weckbach said, but he added that “the platform is perfect for future additional product ideas, and we are thinking in different directions”. A convertible version of the Taycan, Weckbach acknowledged, is also technically possible, but Porsche must first establish the extent of market demand before designing a concept. Porsche is also aware of demand for an entry-level 4 version of the standard Taycan saloon, matching the most affordable variant of the new Cross Turismo. Weckbach said that there has been no decision on this yet but that the firm is aware of demand for an entry-level Taycan with 2 driven axles. Also possible, although less likely, is a 2-door version of the Taycan, which would revive a formula first hinted at in 2019 when design boss Michael Mauer suggested that a 2-door coupé version of the same-sized Panamera was possible. The Taycan’s bespoke J1 EV architecture can accommodate various bodystyles, although full-sized SUVs will use the PPE platform that will underpin the next-generation electric Macan. Weckbach declined to give any details of the electric successor to Porsche’s Cayenne flagship SUV but noted that the brand plans to have an 80 % electric line-up by 2030, so “there will be a day when we talk about an electric Cayenne”. +++ 

+++ Former Fiat Chrysler premium car brands Alfa Romeo and Lancia will enjoy stronger investments under STELLANTIS , the new automaker formed from the merger with France’s PSA, Stellantis Chairman John Elkann said in an interview. With 14 brands under 1 roof, Stellantis is the world’s 4th largest carmaker. It was officially born in January, as Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and Peugeot SA completed their long awaited merger. Asked about what role FCA’s hometown of Turin would play in Stellantis, Elkann told that, as part of a bigger group, it would have greater opportunities. “We’ve seen it clearly with some brands like Alfa Romeo and Lancia, on which we could not invest or give resources as much as we wanted in recent years”, said Elkann, who led FCA into the PSA merger as chairman of the Italian American automaker. “In this new group there will be much greater opportunities than in the past for these 2 brands, which are based in Turin”, he said. Stellantis is creating a pool with Alfa Romeo, Lancia and former PSA’s DS brand to cooperate on the premium market. +++

+++ A senior TOYOTA executive will express skepticism before U.S. senators about aspirations by rival automakers to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles, saying those goals must overcome many obstacles. Robert Wimmer, director of Energy & Environmental Research at Toyota Motor North America, will testify at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. “If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification, it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refueling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance and affordability,” he will say according to an advance copy of his remarks. He will say that while rivals have made aspirational statements, less than 2 % of vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were battery electric. He will also note it took Toyota 20 years to sell more than 4 million U.S. gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. Toyota plans to begin selling 2 new electric vehicles in the United States next year, but also aims to keeps boosting sales of hybrid cars. Many automakers and policymakers in Washington are eager for the U.S. government to take steps to speed the adoption of EVs. General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, announced in January it aspires to end sales of light-duty vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035. This month, Volvo said its entire car line-up will be fully electric by 2030. The Swedish carmaker owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group said 50% of its global sales should be fully-electric cars by 2025 and the other half hybrids. Last month, Ford said its line-up in Europe will be fully electric by 2030, while Tata Motors unit Jaguar Land Rover said its luxury Jaguar brand will be entirely electric by 2025. +++

+++ New figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal that last month was the weakest February for new car registrations in the UNITED KINGDOM since 1959. The organisation noted that although February is a “traditionally quiet month” as buyers hold out for the numberplate change in March, ongoing restrictions on the car retail sector meant demand was even lower than usual in 2021. The 51.412 new cars registered nationwide during the month represents a 35.5 % decline year on year and has prompted the SMMT to revise its registrations forecast for 2021 from 1.89 million to 1.83 million. The SMMT predicts that most of the year’s losses to occur in March. With showrooms in England forced to remain closed until at least 12 April, click-and-collect services are unlikely to foster the same boost in demand that usually accompanies a bi-annual plate change. Registrations in February declined across both the private and fleet sectors, by 37.3 % and 33.5 % respectively. Business sales, traditionally much lower, dropped a significant 56.6% to just 637. The drop was registered across all vehicle segments except the relatively small luxury saloon segment, which recorded a 3.8 % increase. However, alternatively fuelled cars continue to rise in popularity relative to the rest of the market, with plug-in hybrid (PHEV) registrations rising 35.2 % year on year to 9.255 and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) by 49.0 % to 9.776. Overall, BEVs and PHEVs accounted for 13.0 % of all registrations in February, compared with just 5.7 % in the same month last year. By contrast, registrations of non-hybrid petrol cars plummeted 48.5 % and their diesel counterparts by 61.7 %. The news comes the day after chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a wide-reaching pandemic recovery plan as part of the 2021 Budget, which the SMMT criticised for being “a missed opportunity, given the lack of measures to support the market overall and notably the transition away from pure-petrol and diesel cars and vans”. SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes reacted to the figures: “February is traditionally a small month for car registrations, and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing but expected. More concerning, however, is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March, with the expectation that this will now be a third successive dismal new plate month. Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout and proven experience in operating click-and-collect, it’s essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back better and recover the £23 billion loss from the past year”. The SMMT’s new car registrations data also reveal Britain’s best-selling new cars. So far, the bestselling cars in 2021 are: 1. Vauxhall Corsa – 4.486; 2. Ford Fiesta – 4.239; 3. Nissan Qashqai – 4.156; 4. Kia Sportage – 3.751; 5. Volvo XC40 – 3.452; 6. Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 3.157; 7. Kia Niro – 2.956; 8. Volkswagen Golf – 2.702; 9. Ford Puma – 2.675; 10. Ford Focus – 2.631. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN plans to build half a dozen battery cell plants in Europe and expand infrastructure for charging electric vehicles globally, accelerating efforts to overtake Tesla and speed up mass adoption of battery-powered cars. The world’s No. 2 carmaker, which is in the midst of a major shift towards battery-powered cars, said it wants to have 6 battery cell factories operating in Europe by 2030, which it will build alone or with partners. “Our transformation will be fast, it will be unprecedented”, chief executive Herbert Diess told Volkswagen’s Power Day, which also featured the CEOs of BP, Enel and Iberdrola in an effort to match some of the buzz of Tesla’s Battery Day last September. “E-mobility has become core business for us”, he added. Volkswagen, whose shares rose as much as 3.8 %, did not specifically say how much the plan will cost. It said in December that it planned to spend €35 billion on e-mobility as a whole by 2025. The group had been a laggard on electrification until it admitted in 2015 to cheating on U.S. diesel emissions tests and had to deal with new Chinese quotas for electric vehicles. It now has one of the most ambitious programmes in the industry. Volkswagen said the European factories will have a joint production capacity of up to 240 gigawatt hours (GWh) a year, adding the first 40 GWh would come from Sweden’s Northvolt, with production starting in 2023. As part of the deal, Volkswagen will raise its 20% stake in Northvolt and also take over the Swedish firm’s stake in a planned battery cell venture in the German city of Salzgitter, which will form the second factory from 2025. This will be followed by a factory in Spain, France or Portugal in 2026 and a site in Poland, Slovakia or the Czech Republic by 2027. 2 more plants will be set up by 2030. Battery maker Northvolt gets $14 billion order as Volkswagen raises ownership. While the first 2 factories are already reflected in Volkswagen’s financial planning, the group is currently in “deep discussions” about how the subsequent plants fitted with financial targets, board member Thomas Schmall said. Volkswagen is also working on a major expansion of charging infrastructure, a lack of which is still seen as a big barrier to the mass adoption of battery-powered cars. Via existing efforts and partnerships with oil major BP as well as top European utilities Enel and Iberdrola, Volkswagen aims to operate about 18.000 public fast-charging points in Europe by 2025. This represents a 5-fold expansion of the existing fast-charging network, Volkswagen said, adding it would invest €400 million in the initiative. In North America, Volkswagen targets 3.500 fast-charging points by the end of 2021 via its Electrify America unit, while in China, the world’s largest car market, the group aims for 17.000 by 2025. In China, where Volkswagen last year acquired 26.5 % of battery maker Guoxuan High-tech, the carmaker now aims to sell more than 2 million electric vehicles a year by the end of the decade. Shifting to design, Volkswagen unveiled plans to have a new unified prismatic battery cell from 2023, which will support cost cuts generated by the higher level of in-house cell production and could impact its current suppliers. Electric vehicle makers, including Tesla, are using cylindrical battery cells, which resemble flashlight batteries and are relatively inexpensive and easy to manufacture. Prismatic cells, which resemble a thin hardcover book, are housed in a rectangular metal case and are more expensive. Pouch cells, another alternative, are thinner and lighter, and resemble a flexible metal mailing envelope. “On average, we will drive down the cost of battery systems to significantly below €100 per kilowatt hour”, Schmall said. “This will finally make e-mobility affordable and the dominant drive technology”. The cost of battery cells used for electric vehicles has fallen to an average of $110 per kilowatt hour, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence said here in December. +++

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