Newsflash: bod van 7,5 miljard euro op Lamborghini

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+++ AUDI has been making significant strides in the way of autonomous vehicle technology, and their latest project is no different. The automaker is currently testing a system that can recognize school zones in order to make them safer for children and pedestrians alike. Audi of America has partnered with Qualcomm Technologies, Commsignia, Applied Information, Blue Bird, the Fulton County School System, the city of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Temple, Inc. on this school-zone focused Cellular Vehicle-To-Everything (C-V2X) technology, which uses cellular signals to allow vehicles to communicate with the surrounding vehicles and infrastructure. The way it works is as follows: an Audi e-Tron Sportback and a propane-powered Blue Bird school bus are both equipped with the C-V2X system. This system communicates with the Roadside Unit (RSU) found in the school zone speed limit sign, and subsequently alerts the Audi’s driver of the zone’s presence with visual and audible warnings to slow down. Likewise, when the Blue Bird bus extends its stop arm, it alerts all oncoming traffic equipped with the C-V2X system that children may be entering or exiting the bus, and that they need to stop until the arm goes away. The initial rollout is taking place within the Fulton County School System, specifically in Alpharetta, Georgia, where they currently have Applied Information’s infrastructure equipped with the new C-V2X system. The 78.5-square mile testing zone includes over 130 connected traffic signals that use LTE and 5G networks to keep in constant communication with each other and with the relevant vehicles. The goal of this technology is to make school zones safer for children and other vulnerable pedestrians, who, according to Audi’s research, fall victim to over 25.000 injuries and 100 fatalities each year. Most notably, it should prevent stop-arm violations, which, also according to Audi’s research, are one of the most significant dangers to those groups, with an estimated 17 million taking place in 2019 alone. +++ 

+++ AUDI ’s finalised plans for the all-new A4 include an electric-only four-wheel-drive performance RS model and a hybrid RS4 to top a line-up underpinned by 2 different platforms, according to well-placed Ingolstadt insiders. One platform will be used for combustion-engined hybrid variants and the other for pure-electric models. The 6th generation A4 is due to go on sale in 2023. Volume-selling versions of Audi’s long-running BMW 3 Series rival will continue to be sold in Limousine and Avant bodystyles based on a modified version of the existing MLB platform, which underpins a wide variety of other Volkswagen Group models. The new A4 will offer a range of upgraded petrol and diesel engines equipped with either mild- or plug-in hybrid assistance and offered in both front- and four-wheel-drive (quattro) layouts. Markus Hoffmann, head of R&D at Audi, said: “We already have electrification modules today, from mild hybrids to plug-in hybrids, and we will be focusing even more intensively on electrification in the cars that follow”. Electrification will extend throughout the range, all the way up to the successor to the RS4, which will retain today’s twin-turbocharged 2.9 litre V6 petrol engine but is in line to receive electric assistance that will lift its output beyond the 450 hp and 600 Nm of the existing model. Also under development at the German car maker is the new pure-electric A4 e-Tron. Set to challenge the Tesla Model 3 and newly unveiled BMW i4, it is based around the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) architecture that has been developed in a joint engineering programme between Audi and Volkswagen Group sibling company Porsche. The PPE platform used by the A4 e-Tron will be shared with the upcoming Q6 e-Tron, as well as an electric version of the second generation Macan currently under development at Porsche. The architecture will also underpin the new A6 e-Tron, recently revealed in concept form and which, like the A4 e-Tron, will be sold alongside its combustion-engined namesake until petrol and diesel are discontinued. The new electric A4 is set to adopt broadly similar exterior styling to its combustion-engined siblings but will be differentiated visually by a blanked-off grille and other unique design elements to further improve its aerodynamic efficiency. Although not yet confirmed, it is likely to feature a five-door layout with a liftback-style tailgate similar to today’s A5 Sportback, following the lead of the A6 e-Tron. The A4 e-Tron will be sold with a choice of single-motor rear-drive and dual-motor four-wheel-drive (Quattro) layouts when it arrives in 2024. The line-up will be crowned by an electric RS performance model from the Audi Sport division, packing up to 480 hp and 800 Nm. Audi is committed to introducing up to 20 new pure-electric models by 2025. But with the existing A4 accounting for roughly a fifth of annual global Audi sales in recent years, a move to electric power exclusively for its successor was considered too premature by Ingolstadt decision makers, who have said the company will produce petrol and diesel A4s through to 2030. Dimensionally, the new A4 is said to be little changed over today’s model, which stretches to 4.772 mm in length, 1.847 mm in width and 1.435 mm in height. By comparison, the A6 e-Tron concept is 4.939 mm long, 1.960 mm wide and 1.457 mm tall. Among the changes made to the MLB platform used by petrol and diesel versions of the new A4 is a modified rear structure to package a 14.4 kWh (usable) lithium/ion battery. Set to feature on upcoming plug-in hybrid A4 models, it is the same battery used by plug-in versions of today’s Q5, A6 and A7. It is also found in the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid and Panamera E-Hybrid. Details remain scarce, but the same battery currently fitted to today’s larger models gives a WLTP electric driving range of up to 75 km, which Audi could seek to boost nearer to the 100 km claimed EV range of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Further developments for the MLB platform include a new electric architecture with 48V capability. This enables the adoption of additional functions such as the Dynamic All-Wheel Steering system used by the A6, A7, A8, Q7 and Q8, as well as new level two autonomous driving functions currently being developed by Audi’s Car.Software division. It also provides the base for a range of new digital and connectivity features. Among them is near-field communication functionality being developed by Audi and Huawei. This enables contactless payment for refuelling or charging, tolls, parking, drive-through dining and other services from within the car via the MyAudi app. Autointernationaal understands the new A4 will run an updated version of the current model’s aluminium-intensive multi-link front and rear suspension, with adaptive damping on selected models. Earlier speculation suggested the next A4 would receive rear air springs, although they may be reserved exclusively for the A4 e-Tron. The key combustion engine for the new A4 is a fifth generation version of the Audi-developed turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder EA888 petrol unit. First introduced in 2008, it is being re-engineered to meet stiff new Euro 7 emission regulations with a number of innovations, including newly developed fuel injection and particulate filter systems. The reworked combustion engines for the A4 are set to be mated exclusively to either a 7-speed dual-clutch or 8-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox to guarantee maximum efficiency and bring emissions down as far as possible. The 6-speed manual gearbox available on today’s model will be made redundant as part of plans to reduce parts complexity. The PPE platform underpinning the new A4 e-Tron will be predominantly the same structure used by the A6 e-Tron, but with a shorter wheelbase and narrower tracks. A development of the J1 platform used by the Audi e-Tron GT and Porsche Taycan, it can accommodate battery packs of various capacities. The largest version is set to provide the new Audi model with a range of up to 700 km, together with an 800 Volt system that offers charging at speeds of up to 270 kW. +++ 

+++ BMW looks to be readying a stripped-back, track-focused upgrade package for its M8 super-coupé with a prototype sporting a raft of extras over the standard car. Most obviously, the chrome front grille has been removed, leaving a pair of unobstructed air channels leading straight to the radiator for boosted cooling properties. Contrasting red paint inside marks the mule out most obviously from the standard M8 and matches the brake calipers, air-intake surrounds and towing-eye covers. There’s also a substantial rear wing for improved downforce over the standard car, a prominent lower splitter at the front, bespoke wheel designs and what looks to be a carbonfibre centre roof section. The rear windows have made way for plastic, vented items, but it’s not clear which components in the rear of the car are being cooled. There’s some speculation as to whether the prototype will enter production as a standalone model or if it is being used to test various aftermarket additions for the standard M8 Competition. In any case, the added bodywork elements hint at a power upgrade for the car’s 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8, which would make it BMW’s most powerful production car. In its current most powerful guise, the Competition, the M8 produces 625 hp and 750 Nm, and can accelerate from 0-100 kph in just 3.2 seconds. It’s beaten in terms of outright power by only the new M5 CS, which packs 635 hp and shaves 0.2 seconds off the 0-100 kph sprint time. BMW’s M performance division will turn 50 next year, and this car’s red-and-white livery (with a blue element potentially obscured by the testing camouflage) suggests that it could be being readied as a commemorative anniversary model. More details should be announced in the coming months. +++ 

+++ Renault-Nissan and Hyundai face shutdowns in INDIA over workers’ Covid fears. The temporary factory closures are the result of growing unrest. Workers at Renault-Nissan’s car plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu will go on strike because their Covid-related safety demands have not been met, a union representing the workers told the company in a letter. Hyundai said it would suspend operations at its plant, also in Tamil Nadu, for 5 days after several workers staged a brief, sit-in protest amid rising cases in the state. “The management agreed to close the plant after workers expressed concerns over safety after 2 employees succumbed to Covid”, E. Muthukumar, president of the Hyundai Motor India Employees Union, told. The unrest highlights the challenges companies face in India amid a huge wave of Covid-19 infections, an overwhelmed health system and a shortage of vaccines which is making employees more fearful. Tamil Nadu is one of the worst hit states with more than 30.000 cases a day last week. The state, an auto hub known as India’s Detroit, has imposed a lockdown until May 31 but allowed some factories, including auto plants, to continue operating. The strike threat at the Renault-Nissan plant came ahead of a court hearing over allegations from workers that social distancing norms were being flouted and factory health policies did not sufficiently address the risk to lives. At the hearing, a lawyer for the workers argued that while the company had reduced the number of shifts, production numbers had not been cut and the headcount remained the same leading to crowding on the factory floor. The company told the court it had reduced the workforce to around 5.000 from 8.000. It also said it had vaccinated employees over 45 and was willing to inoculate those under 45 if vaccines were made available. The 2-judge bench presiding over the case said that while the health of workers is paramount, if industries go down there will be no place for them to work. They also said the company must not take advantage of the exemption granted by the state and should reduce production to meet only necessary export orders. “The production should have fallen. You also have to assuage the feeling of the workers”, said the court, which will next hear the case on May 31. The union, which represents about 3.500 workers at the plant, said in its letter to Renault-Nissan that workers would not return until they felt safe. The workers’ demands include lower production so there is better social distancing, vaccinations and higher insurance cover to include medical expenses for their families. Nissan, which owns a majority stake in the plant, declined to comment. +++ 

+++ The Volkswagen Group has received a €7.5 billion offer for Automobili LAMBORGHINI . The non-binding offer, made in a letter of intent sent to the Volkswagen Group earlier this month, sets out terms for the purchase of Automobili Lamborghini by Quantum Group AG. The newly established Zurich-based holding company has formed a consortium with London-based investment firm Centricus Asset Management with the aim of creating what it describes as a “technology and lifestyle investment platform” under the working title Outlook 2030. Quantum Group AG is represented in the acquisition offer for Lamborghini by Rea Stark, a co-founder of Piëch Automotive, the Zurich-based company behind the Piëch Mark Zero GT revealed at the 2019 Geneva motor show. Also among Piëch Automotive executives are Anton Piëch, son of former Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piëch, and ex-Porsche CEO Matthias Müller. However, it is not known at this stage if they are involved in the acquisition offer. The acquisition of Automobili Lamborghini, including its storied Sant’Agata manufacturing headquarters in Italy as well as its motorsport operations, is claimed to be central to the investment interests of Quantum Group AG, which is seeking discussions with the Volkswagen Group as a formal step towards carrying out initial due diligence on the company. Both Volkswagen Group chairman Herbert Diess and Audi chairman Markus Duesmann are claimed to have knowledge of the acquisition offer for Lamborghini, a copy of which, along with other confidential documents, including a so-called ‘Vision Book’ outlining key elements of the purchase proposal, has been obtained by the media. Automobili Lamborghini is controlled by Volkswagen Group-owned Audi. Founded by Ferruccio Lamborghini in 1963, its current models include the Huracán, Aventador and Urus; all of which rely heavily on Volkswagen Group components. Under the vision set out by Quantum Group AG, the Lamborghini brand would become a “spearhead for innovation by consistently implementing new clean drivetrain technologies”. Together with the proposed acquisition of Automobili Lamborghini, the letter of intent sets out terms for a strategic partnership between Quantum Group AG and the Volkswagen Group for the future operations of the 58-year-old Italian supercar manufacturer, including a 5-year supplier agreement with Audi at what is described as “one arm’s length terms”. The proposed partnership calls for the sharing of intellectual property and electric vehicle technology as well as the establishment of an Advanced Automotive Innovation Centre based in the German state of Lower Saxony for the development and production of battery cells and battery packs. The Lamborghini development centre envisioned by Quantum Group AG would also develop software and autonomous driving technology as well as ‘green’ materials, including e-fuels and hydrogen. In a deal that would see the Italian car maker cut loose from its German parent company of the past 23 years, the Quantum Group AG says it would retain the existing Automobili Lamborghini management. Its purchase offer also includes job assurances for existing Lamborghini employees for a period of up to 5 years. It also suggests up to 850 new jobs would be created through the establishment of the German-based innovation centre. The business plan outlined by the Anglo-Swiss consortium in the letter of intent provides for an “upscaling” in volume and what is described as “an EV solution” for Lamborghini by 2025. Audi purchased Automobili Lamborghini in 1998 from Megatech (an Indonesian company jointly owned by Hutomo Mandla Putra, the youngest son of the country’s then president, Suharto) for a claimed $110 million. Earlier indications suggested the Volkswagen Group was interested in selling Lamborghini, but an Audi spokesperson in relation to this latest development said: “Lamborghini is not for sale”. Diess, who previously told the costs of developing successors to today’s Lamborghini models, including the Aventador, were running beyond budget, suggested it might be rolled into a “legal structure” with Italian-based Volkswagen Group controlled companies Ducati and Italdesign. However, a proposed sale of Lamborghini was officially denied by the German car giant following a Volkswagen Group supervisory board meeting in December 2020, where it was decided the day-to-day operations of Lamborghini would remain under the control of Audi, together with those of Bentley. Shortly before, the Volkswagen Group appointed Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann as CEO of Automobili Lamborghini; a position he had held between 2005 and 2016 before moving to head of Audi Sport. Lamborghini recorded 7.430 sales in 2020, a decline from record annual sales of 8.205 in 2019. Despite the drop, largely attributed to a 70-day shutdown at its Sant’Agata factory in Italy due to the pandemic, profits increased to an unspecified record on revenues of €1.61 billion. +++

+++ LEXUS will ramp up its electrification drive with the launch of its first plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model later this year, followed in 2022 by its debut bespoke electric car. The Japanese premium brand expects electrified models to account for more than half of its global sales by 2025, by which point it will have introduced 10 new hybrid, PHEV and pure-EV cars. Little is known about the new PHEV and EV, but Lexus recently gave clues as to the design of its new-era cars with the radical LF-Z Electrified concept. Defining features of the LF-Z’s design, and ones that are likely to be carried over to production EVs, include a new version of Lexus’s trademark ‘spindle’ grille, a wrap-around rear light bar, a new brand logo and a sleek, low-slung silhouette. The concept was said to sit atop an all-new dedicated EV platform, which for production cars will likely be parent company Toyota’s new bZ architecture, developed in collaboration with Subaru. Technical specifications, therefore, will no doubt be similar to those of Toyota’s new BZ4X, which packs a dual-motor, four-wheel-drive powertrain, an inbuilt solar charging panel and the promise of “a very competitive driving range”. The LF-Z concept houses a 90 kWh battery pack, which can charge at up to 150kW and offers an official range of 600 km. Both the BZ4X and LF-Z concepts feature an innovative ‘steer-by-wire’ system, yet to be seen on any production car. Lexus has now confirmed the system will also be used for production EVs, which will also use four-wheel-drive powertrains. Less is known about Lexus’s first PHEV, but the NX crossover, set to enter its second generation in the coming months, is a likely candidate, given that it shares its underpinnings with the Toyota RAV4. The new RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid packs a combined 306 hp and can travel 75 km on EV power alone, figures that would be largely replicated by a mechanically identical version of the NX. +++ 

+++ LORDSTOWN MOTORS may only build half the number of all-electric Endurance pickups this year than originally planned. During a recent conference call, Lordstown chief executive Steve Burns revealed that the automaker will only be able to achieve its original production targets if it can raise additional capital. “What we are saying is that if we don’t get any funding, we might only make half of what we thought”, he said. Burns added that the EV startup has had discussions with strategic investors who could provide the company with additional funding. It has also looked into borrowing money by using its plants and other assets as collateral, as well as getting funds from a federal government program designed to support the development of electric vehicles. However, it is unclear if there are any funds left to lend out. Lordstown had planned to build as many as 2.200 examples of the Endurance pickup by the end of this year but without any additional funding, it will probably build fewer than 1.000. The EV startup went public last year after it merged with a special purpose acquisition company. It recently acknowledged that it is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and during the first quarter of 2021, lost $125 million and ended the quarter with $587 million in cash. +++ 

+++ NISSAN will standardise and share electric-vehicle components with alliance partner Renault, the Japanese automaker’s chief operating officer (COO) said, describing electrification as the partnership’s new lynchpin. The Franco-Japanese alliance, which also includes junior member Mitsubishi, was strained in the aftermath of the arrest and ouster of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has provided an impetus to rebuild the collaboration, and the companies have looked to standardise parts and platforms to cut costs. Nissan has already been sharing common platforms, powertrains and components with Renault and Mitsubishi, but those efforts have “reached the maximum we should do”, Ashwani Gupta, Nissan’s COO, told. “That’s why we are shifting the gear of further synergies using electrification as the main pillar”, he said. The focus will be on sharing batteries, electric powertrains and electronic architecture, he said, adding that adopting a uniform standard across the alliance would “contribute significantly” to economies of scale. Gupta said electrification would not pose a supply challenge because of Nissan’s global sourcing of components. He said it had battery sourcing in China, Japan, Europe and the United States. Together the alliance sold more than 7.8 million cars last year, down about 23 % from 2019 as the companies were hit by the pandemic. The push to share more of the work on electric vehicles (EVs) illustrates the scope of the challenge facing automakers everywhere, as the industry is being transformed by fast-moving technology. Nissan, one of the world’s first car makers to embrace fully EVs with its Leaf model, will share the platform of its upcoming all-electric Ariya with Renault. Batteries are one of the costliest components of EVs, with raw materials accounting for the largest part of the cost. Yet battery development has been one of the weaker points of the more than 20-year alliance, with both Nissan and Renault sourcing batteries separately. Renault Chief Executive Luca de Meo said this month the 2 companies are in talks to collaborate more by using the same battery technology, and Gupta said they have agreed on the common specifications of batteries. Gupta also said that while keeping the distinctiveness of each brand was important in the alliance, the automakers would share “to eliminate the duplication of resources”. Nissan, Japan’s number 3 automaker by sales, has said it will electrify all new models in key markets by the early 2030s. It expects yearly sales of more than one million electrified vehicles by the end of fiscal 2023. +++ 

+++ PORSCHE is set to launch a more powerful top-end version of its Cayenne Turbo, aimed squarely at the most potent super-SUVs on sale, including the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga Speed. To be revealed as a member of the updated Cayenne line-up at the end of June, ahead of planned deliveries later this year, the heavily upgraded model is the most powerful pure-combustion Cayenne yet, boasting up to 640 hp from a tweaked version of Porsche’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine. The as-yet unnamed new variant will be sold exclusively in the rakish-roofed Cayenne Coupé bodystyle, in a move aimed at ensuring it offers the best possible combination of performance and dynamics. The standard Cayenne Turbo will remain on sale. “There are advantages in choosing the Coupé. It is lighter and has a slightly lower centre of gravity than the SUV. Our intention is to deliver not only the most powerful but the sportiest Cayenne to date”, Rico Löscher, the engineer in charge of the new variant’s development, told Autocar during a recent prototype drive of the new model in Germany. Bespoke features for the range-topper include a sophisticated, carbonfibre-heavy active aerodynamic package, claimed to provide greater downforce as well as more effiicient engine bay and brake cooling. There is also a reworked front bumper, featuring a more pronounced lip spoiler and larger air ducts than those of the standard facelifted Cayenne, seen recently in prototype form. Meanwhile, the roof spoiler gains additions at each side and the rear wing, which deploys from the trailing edge of the tailgate at speed, has been visibly upsized. A new rear diffuser houses a pair of substantial centrally mounted exhaust outlets. The newcomer uses various parts from the Lightweight Sport package offered as optional equipment on the standard Cayenne Turbo Coupé, including a contoured carbonfibre roof panel. Porsche has yet to confirm a kerb weight, although it is claimed to undercut the 2.200 kg of the standard model. The Cayenne Turbo Coupé’s powerplant is boosted by 90 hp to 640 hp. This is 40 hp more than the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 produces in the Audi RS Q8 and just 10 hp less than it does in the Lamborghini Urus, one of the most powerful and fastest SUVs on sale today. Torque has also increased by 80 Nm to 850 Nm. By comparison, the 2.535 kg Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid’s combination of a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine and electric motor delivers 680 hp. Details of the engine modifications have yet to be revealed, although Autocar can confirm that it gets a titanium exhaust system and new engine management software among its bespoke upgrades. In line with the added performance, Porsche has revised the software for the eight-speed torque-converter gearbox and four-wheel drive system, which receives a more rear-biased apportioning of power. The electronic differential is also altered to provide enhanced torque vectoring and greater lock-up. “The idea behind the new model is to mate added performance potential with the heightened engagement and overall dynamic ability of the Cayenne GTS”, said Löscher. No performance claims have been made at this stage, although the upgraded Cayenne Turbo Coupé is said to have established a 0-100 kph time inside the official 3.8 seconds of the Audi RS Q8 and 3.6 seconds of the Lamborghini Urus during recent testing. Top speed is limited at 300 kph. It rides on standard-fit 22 inch forged aluminium wheels, shod with 285/35 ZR22 front and 315/30 ZR22 rear tyres; the largest tyre Porsche has offered as standard on the Cayenne. The greater offset of the new wheels marginally increases the track widths at each end, while allowing for an increase in negative camber on the front axle. The adaptive air suspension has been lowered slightly and the damper rates made firmer. Further dynamic changes are focused on the tuning of the electrohydraulically operated active roll stabilisation system and steering; the latter incorporating Porsche’s Power Steering Plus rear-wheel steering system. The brakes, meanwhile, adopt the same ceramic-composite discs and calipers available as an option on the standard model. +++

+++ Elon Musk has been a vocal critic of lidar sensors, claiming that they are not needed to achieve full autonomy. However, according to a new report, TESLA recently entered into a partnership with Luminar and is using lidar for testing and development. A dark grey Tesla Model Y prototype was recently spotted testing with a roof rack equipped with various Lidar sensors last week. It is claimed that Luminar sold the Lidar array to Tesla as part of an agreement between the two car manufacturers. Perhaps even more telling is the fact that the license plate of the Model Y is registered to Tesla and has been spotted on previous Tesla models, including a Cybertruck prototype, confirming this car is owned by Tesla itself. So just what is Tesla up to? While it would be easy to conclude that the company has come to the realization that it does actually need lidar to achieve full autonomy, that’s probably not the case. After all, doing so would force it to admit that it was wrong in its belief that a camera-based system is all that is needed. It would also force it to explain to hundreds of thousands of customers how their expensive ‘Full Self-Driving’ options will never actually achieve full autonomy. Instead, Guidehouse analyst Sam Abuelsamid suggests that Tesla is probably using Luminar’s lidar to validate its own self-driving features. Nevertheless, this is still an interesting development considering what Musk has previously said about lidar systems. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed”, he said during a presentation in 2019. “Doomed. Expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices … you’ll see”. However, Musk did recently admit to “talking smack” about lidar and said that SpaceX uses them for its Dragon capsule. He also recently revealed that Tesla will move away from using radars and added the electric car manufacturer believes it can achieve full autonomy with only cameras. +++ 

+++ Ralf Brandstätter is a VOLKSWAGENGroup lifer. He joined the firm 28 years ago, working his way up the management ranks in relatively low-profile purchasing and procurement roles. So when he was named the new CEO of the Volkswagen brand in June last year, especially with reports that his predecessor Herbert Diess, who remains Volkswagen Group CEO and Volkswagen brand chairman, was shuffled out of the role in an internal power struggle, it seemed Brandstätter’s mission was to maintain the status quo. After all, even with his appointment coming in the middle of a global pandemic, Brandstätter took on the top job in Wolfsburg in a far better position than his predecessors. Matthias Müller had to steer the brand through the immediate fallout of Dieselgate, before Diess oversaw the development and launch of the MEB EV platform and ID family. The first ID cars are now on the road, sales and profits are strong and Volkswagen is weathering the Covid-19 storm with remarkable resilience. So with Diess leading the group’s shift to electrification, it seems that all Brandstätter really needs to do is steer a steady course and keep the proverbial tanker pointed in its current direction. Except he’s actually charting a bold new course, while simultaneously trying to switch the powertrain of the tanker. He’s moving beyond turning Volkswagen from a brand that sells mostly ICE cars to mostly electric ones (which changing laws will soon force all brands to do anyway). Under the new Accelerate strategy, Brandstätter is working to make Volkswagen carbon-neutral, reinvent its production network, fundamentally change its business model and develop a new generation of electric, connected and autonomous cars. He even wants to turn Volkswagen from a car maker into a software development company. “The real disruption is still coming”, he says. “If you believe with electric cars alone we’ve arrived in the future already, you’re wrong. Digitalisation is the key. The car is now a software-driven product”. This belief that software will be the dominant differentiator for future cars is why, despite having had major problems with the software in the ID.3 and new Golf, the group is pushing on with plans to develop its own operating system (OS). Think of Apple: its smartphone hardware gets the attention, but its business model is built around its OS and App Store. In the future, Volkswagen will offer largely standardised cars, with additional features then sold as software updates, thus enabling it to earn revenue from cars throughout their lives. The embodiment of Volkswagen’s software-driven reinvention will be Project Trinity, the autonomous-ready long-distance electric cruiser due in 2026. It will use the group’s new SSP platform (which combines learnings from both the MEB and Audi-Porsche PPE architectures) and a new generation of Volkswagen’s bespoke OS. However, Volkswagen “won’t wait for Trinity to become a software-driven company”. Over-the-air software updates for ID cars will start to appear in the coming months, and Brandstätter says: “With that, new ideas for business models will be created. It’s a ‘magic loop’: every 12 weeks, we want to create a software update and also emotions. Yes, we can do back-fixing with updates, but the emotional part is that you will notice you’re getting additional features that are developed within the lifetime of the car”. Emotional appeal is key to Volkswagen’s plan to continue growing EV sales, especially since regulations requiring makers to electrify creates a need to reach drivers who aren’t attracted merely by the chance to drive a ‘green’ car. That’s where the new ID.4 GTX comes in, giving Volkswagen’s EV family its own version of the fabled GTI badge. “We have a successful history with GTI, so we want to try and transform this idea into our ID family”, says Brandstätter. “It’s one thing to go with sustainability and mobility, but we [also] want to show that with e-mobility you can combine responsibility and having fun”. The GTX range (the forthcoming ID.5 coupé-SUV will be its next member) isn’t just about a hot sub-brand. “It also allows us to demonstrate the potential of MEB”, says Brandstätter. “The GTX is the first ID with all-wheel drive. It shows how we’re continuously improving the technology”. Still, is Volkswagen so heavily committed to expanding EV sales because there’s genuine public demand, or is it purely driven by regulations? “It’s both”, insists Brandstätter. “On one hand, it’s a regulation issue, but the public acceptance is increasing. Society is asking how we can solve the climate issue. They want to reduce their carbon emissions, but they don’t want to lose their personal mobility. They don’t want to step back”. Brandstätter says that early EVs put people off because their limitations highlighted what customers “would miss” in terms of features, range and flexibility, but “the ID.4 has more space and is more versatile than a similar-size ICE car, and with the range and increasing charging stations, you’re not missing anything”. Arguably a bigger challenge than convincing customers to switch to electric cars is transforming Volkswagen’s vast production network from a producer of ICE vehicles into a software-focused, carbon-neutral maker of high-tech EVs. Given the sheer scale of Volkswagen’s operations, the amount of infrastructure, the number of employees and the strength of the unions, it’s a massive undertaking. “It is a challenge”, admits Brandstätter when asked about pushing through the shift. “It’s a huge change. We’re talking about €14 billion in investments, with €13 billion to electrify our product range and €1 billion to create a zero-impact factory that’s fully decarbonised. “We started with our factory in Zwickau (the former home of the Golf, where the ID.3 and ID.4 are now built) to transform one complete plant into an electric plant. We’ve now got 2 plants in China running and 2 more in Germany following: Hannover with the ID.Buzz in 2022 and Emden with the Aero B (the production version of the ID.Vizzion concept, due in 2023). Year by year, we’re launching one additional EV, which means we need to invest in transforming plants at the same time. It’s hard work”. As with most established car makers, Volkswagen is working frantically to be seen as a leader in eco mobility, partly to battle the wave of ambitious new EV brands led by Tesla. But long-established firms producing ICE cars in vast numbers (Volkswagen is aiming for 70 % of its sales in Europe to be of EVs by 2030, which still leaves room for plenty of ICE cars) face a challenge in selling their green credentials. And that’s particularly true for Volkswagen, given its history. Does Brandstätter agree that ‘legacy’ car makers have to work harder? “Of course,” he says, before highlighting the progress Volkswagen has made, such as selling more than 30.000 wallbox chargers: “That means 30.000 charging stations in homes, and those people never need to think any more to go to a petrol station”. But Brandstätter isn’t shy about highlighting that Volkswagen won’t focus on EVs alone: “Some people drive long distances every day; London to Manchester, say. And those people may say ‘for my individual mobility, I need a plug-in hybrid or a diesel’, because for these profiles, still a diesel is a good solution, and also for the climate”. The bold changes Brandstätter is leading are about setting up Volkswagen for the future and ensuring that it remains relevant as the industry is transformed by electrification and tech. It’s a move designed to ensure Volkswagen can thrive in competition with long-standing car-making rivals, bold EV start-ups and software and tech firms that are looking to break into the car industry. So, who is Volkswagen’s biggest rival these days? “We’ve always had competition in the automotive industry”, says Brandstätter. “Now new players are coming in, and they have capabilities in software, but they have to learn to build cars. We can build cars at scale fast around the world, but we have to train our organisation in software engineering. So let’s see who wins. We’re prepared for that race”. A software firm committed to achieving carbon-neutrality doesn’t sound like the Volkswagen we know. But Brandstätter insists that while the brand is changing, what it stands for is not. “We take climate change seriously, because we’re convinced that only with e-mobility can we achieve a positive climate impact”, he explains. “Since we launched the Beetle, Volkswagen has stood for individual mobility. It has forever been in our DNA to deliver affordable, individual mobility. Despite climate change, we want to keep that for society, and the ID family is our answer”. Volkswagen’s shift to focus on electric and digital technology will fundamentally change the way that it develops and builds cars. “A wheel stays a wheel and a seat stays a seat”, says Thomas Ulbrich, who was named development boss earlier this year, “but the principles of how to develop a car will change from being hardware-led with a software influence to software-led with a hardware influence”. That shift doesn’t quite require Volkswagen’s engineers to develop new skills, however, as Ulbrich says: “You had to stay curious for new technologies and open to what will come”. Volkswagen has started ‘agile’ project development, pioneered with the ID model family, with smaller groups working to develop new tech more quickly. That includes the Project Artemis team working on Volkswagen’s future flagship. “In the future, you will develop the software and bring the car around it”, explained Ulbrich. “Software has much faster evolution loops than hardware. So the hardware is the base, but it has to be flexible, because with software, we don’t yet know what the opportunities are for tomorrow”.+++

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