Newsflash: Aston Martin ziet af van eigen V6 motor


+++ Tobias Moers may seem like the new boss at ASTON MARTIN , but it’s more than a year since he was hired and 10 months since he first moved into the CEO’s office. The combined effects of the pandemic and Moers’ preference for delivering results rather than soundbites mean he has been pretty much unreachable. Until now. However, as soon as he starts talking about progress, you can see why he has been keeping a low profile. There has been much urgent stuff to get on with, and most of it under the eagle eye of the stock exchange (Aston’s share price is still 10 % of its flotation level) and of his take-no-prisoners chairman, Lawrence Stroll, the Canadian fashion mogul who personally owns the Aston-badged Formula 1 team. Much better, under such circumstances, to underpromise and overdeliver. Moers has carefully chosen the date of this meeting at Gaydon with me. In a couple of days, he explains, he will be able to give bullish details of Aston’s first-quarter trading. Everything is percolating. Surplus sports cars in the pipeline have been cleared, senior management is now peppered with competent people who Moers trusts, Gaydon’s production system has been heavily reorganised and a new model development plan is on the way to implementation. Moers has chosen a ground-floor meeting room inside the Gaydon HQ for our chat, rather than the ritzier and more personal corner office once occupied by Andy Palmer and Ulrich Bez before him. The casually dressed German, 55, cuts an austere and slightly reluctant figure; his manner makes it clear he prefers not to have visitors clocking how his desk and office are curated. Even the rather hurried way his matt-grey Vantage is parked in the CEO’s generous parking space outside indicates that he prefers work to window dressing. I’ve interviewed Moers in his previous gig as head of Daimler’s thriving AMG arm (he had spent his entire career there, rising through the ranks). I’m aware that he’s hearteningly passionate about great cars, but that he also takes time to warm up. So we start in an obvious place: has he been to Aston before, what did he expect to find and what was his early experience? Refreshingly, he answers straightforwardly, neither referring directly to previous management nor sparing anyone’s blushes. He visited a couple of times years ago, he says. Nothing significant. When he arrived in August last year, he found “a company in trouble”. Immediate impressions were that it needed to be more efficient, in particular needing to be “sorted out” on the manufacturing side and requiring more engineering power. The bodyin-white manufacture (“the IP of the company”) was handled really well, he says, although he was puzzled about previous decisions to create a unique electrical architecture for the cars (“maybe they underestimated the challenge”). On the positive side, he drove all of Aston’s cars and decided they were okay (“they had everything; just needed to unleash a bit more”). In the first 2 months at Gaydon, he devised an immediate action plan called Project Horizon, then took 2 more months to reorganise things and start improving efficiencies. That entailed completing the selloff of cars in stock, moving Gaydon front-engined sports car production onto 1 line (in preparation for the forthcoming mid-engined Vanquish and Valhalla to occupy the other) and greatly reducing component stocks beside the active line (a big saving in working capital). He also closed a site at nearby Wellesbourne previously earmarked for the Valkyrie hypercar, because that project could also move to Gaydon in time for first deliveries later this year. He also ditched Aston’s plan for a unique new V6, because he felt it simply didn’t justify the expense. “What I found was a concept engine not yet capable of meeting Euro 7 standards and needing another huge investment”, he says. “I would prefer to put my money into things like an electrified front axle for the Valhalla, or batteries, or into extending our model portfolio”. So future internal combustion Astons will use mostly AMG power. Does this mean the firm under Moers will stray too close to AMG, if so many new-wave engines come from Affalterbach? The new CEO says his board has considered this and they don’t believe there’s a problem. They’re great products, and in any case, the new powertrains will need many changes to suit mid-engined cars. Besides, it’s software that nowadays controls the behaviour of engines, not the oily bits, and one huge advantage of Aston’s recently enhanced Daimler link (the world’s oldest car company now owns 20 %) is that it becomes a ‘white box’ customer with access to all the inner software secrets. Previously, it was a ‘black box’ customer, needing to graft its own software onto untouchable components arriving from Germany, which is one reason why the DB11’s V12 has never had perfect lowend engine responses. That’s one foible that’s rapidly being improved, says Moers. On model planning, Moers claims not even to have read former boss Palmer’s ‘7 models in 7 years’ strategy, concentrating instead on writing his own. “We will do more than 10 new models between now and 2023”, he says. The new chain of command is classically organised: the CEO presents model plans to the board, who approve them or not. Stroll is “active on the marketing side”, which is where he has special expertise, but leaves car stuff to Moers. The identity of the forthcoming 10-plus models isn’t entirely clear, but it’s likely Moers counts the first as the recently revealed Vantage F1 Edition, so named without Bernie Ecclestone-era costs because Stroll is part of F1’s inner sanctum. Then there are three versions of the V12 Valkyrie (road and track cars this year, drophead in 2022), 2 extra iterations of the DBX (entry model soon, go-faster version in 2022), plus updates of the existing DB11, Vantage and DBS Superleggera. That’s 9 cars, but Moers has already revealed that the latter front-engined trio will “broaden their ranges”. It’s not hard to imagine F1 editions of the DB11 and DBS waiting in the wings. Looking beyond that, the refreshed trio will last another 3 or 4 years to about 2025, then they will be replaced and those replacements will be electrified. It’s not clear yet whether that means by batteryelectric or plug-in hybrid designs, but probably a mix of both. What about Lagonda? As far as Moers is concerned, for the time being it’s a goner. “We have taken it aside to define it properly”, he explains. “Lagonda was a name used for everything: extra luxury, electrification, different body formats. The use of Lagonda as a pure-electric marque was just wrong. It dilutes the main brand”. As our discussion proceeds, I’m frequently tongue-tied by the disparate names of Aston models that defy both logic and our powers of pronunciation. Naming is a thorny Aston subject that has been tackled by at least half a dozen previous bosses, but Moers refuses to join the debate. “It’s not on my priority list”, he says. “DB11 will be DB11. Don’t ask me if I like these names. Maybe there will be an opportunity to change them in future, but for now we keep them”. Looking forward, Moers is surprisingly helpful about the size of the Aston he envisages. He’s targeting 10,000 cars per year once the mid-engined Vanquish and Valhalla models get to market and is confident about selling at decent margins. This hoped-for volume breaks down roughly into 4.000 front-engined sports cars, 2.000 midengined cars and 4.000 DBX units. Aston’s management reckons to be turning profits by around 2025. After serial delays, production of the £2.2 million Valkyrie is about to begin, although Moers still hasn’t met the car’s original inspiration, Red Bull F1 designer Adrian Newey. It’s a bit more awkward now, because Red Bull and Aston are F1 rivals, although Moers says the 2 parties are working together “in a good way”. The plan is to make 150 road-going Valkyries and 25 track-only editions, and Moers shows every sign that he will be pleased when the last of them has reached its owner. He has driven the car and likes it (“it’s exactly the car you should buy if you want an active F1 car for the road”), but he’s unforgiving about the many delays in a complex programme. “There have been a lot of excuses”, he says quietly. When we ask if he would consider another F1-inspired car, there’s a long pause. “I’ve done it twice now”, he says, alluding to previous unspecified battles with Mercedes’ Project One hypercar programme. “I need a deep breath to think about that one”. We’re running out of time. Aston bosses usually say the James Bond question is the first one they’re asked in interviews, but we’ve been talking for 45 minutes and not yet faced it. So will the 007 association continue? “It’s an important legacy”, Moers says carefully, “but it’s just one of many things that makes Aston Martin special”. Then, when he perceives that we might feel this answer reveals a lack of enthusiasm, he warms up. “Yes, I think the 007 association will continue”. Does he actually like it? “Sure, it’s a cool story, and a piece of our history we should maintain. Others have tried to take it, but no one has managed to push Aston away”. +++ 

+++ As part of president Joe BIDEN ’s push to increase electric vehicle adoption, the U.S. will invest in domestic recycling programs to ease the country’s dependence on costly minerals. The minerals used to produce batteries for electric vehicles and electronics have long been the center of controversy because of their great environmental cost. With the mass adoption of EVs, the use of batteries will inevitably balloon and the source of their constituent materials, like cobalt, copper and lithium, will naturally come under scrutiny. As part of the White House’s $174 billion EV initiative, it is receiving reports from various government agencies with suggestions on how to fill gaps in America’s supply chain. Finding ways to satisfy battery requirements while taking the environment into consideration and reduce dependence on China is important to the administration. Although the administration is investigating finding mineral supply in allied countries, government sources say that it is also looking into recycling and ways to reduce metal usage in new batteries. “When you look at the way the U.S. has approached the recycling opportunity, what’s very evident is we need to invest in that capacity, we need to take a more proactive approach”, an administration official told. “A big part of the lithium opportunity is really recycling, and being a global leader in recycling the lithium from existing batteries and driving that into these new batteries”. The advantages of recycling are manifold. Along with the lower environmental impact and reduced dependence on China, it would also help avoid the eight million tons of battery waste that government estimates suggest could otherwise make it into U.S. landfills by 2040. Rcycling could reduce the need for new copper sources by 55 % new cobalt and nickel sources by 35 % and new lithium sources by 25 %. The government sources pointed to a battery recycling plant being built in Mexico by China’s Ganfeng Lithium Co to support America’s battery requirements as an example of China’s interest in recycling batteries for the U.S. market. If America recycles its own batteries, it would also follow in the steps of Europe, which is considering clamping down on exports of metal waste to encourage more local recycling. With the government also planning to invest in research into new battery chemistries that reduce the use of metal, the plan could be a greener way forward for EVs. +++ 

+++ Last year, BMW pulled the covers from its mildly updated 5 Series, including the snazzy M550i xDrive packing a 530 hp twin-turbocharged V8 under the bonnet. BMW says it reaches 60 mph in a scant 3.6 seconds, but a testteam found otherwise. Eventually, so did BMW. More on that in a bit. Last year, tests could only muster a 4.1-second sprint to 60 for the beefy Bimmer. Obviously there are all kinds of factors that can affect performance but a half-second is a bit difficult to quantify. To follow up on that, a second series of tests were conducted that saw the time drop to 3.9 seconds. It’s a small margin for sure, but we give credit where credit is due. In the process of all this, it seems BMW uncovered a minor technical glitch that affects both the M550i and the 540i xDrive models. A communications error between the car’s engine and stability management systems causes a small loss of boost pressure when given the beans. All the horsepower is apparently there, it’s just literally getting lost in translation. As a result, the cars don’t have quite the punch off the line as they should have. Not that nipping 60 mph in under four seconds in anything is slow, never mind a sizeable saloon. It’s not clear if BMW was aware of an issue before the testing, but an over-the-air software update to fix the issue is reportedly coming at some point this summer. +++

+++ In CHINA , Nissan and Honda saw lower sales in May in China, the world’s biggest vehicle market, while Toyota reported higher sales. Nissan said in a statement that it sold 111.096 vehicles, down 14.6 % from a year earlier, while Honda’s sales fell 4.1 % to 128.713 cars. Toyota said it sold 168.900 cars in China, up 1.5 %. +++ 

+++ FIAT ‘s new small crossover for Latin America finally has an official name. The Stellantis brand allowed fans to vote their favourite moniker for the subcompact model for about a month by choosing between Pulse, Tuo, and Domo. The online polls have now closed, with Pulse coming out on top after grabbing 65 % of the votes. Domo came in second with 25 %, while Tuo was last with just 10 %. To mark the occasion, Fiat has released a couple of images along with a video, showing the little crossover with the Pulse badge on the tailgate. It’s a stylish little thing with a design substantially different compared to the Tipo Cross sold in Europe as a jacked-up mildly rugged hatchback. From the few technical specifications released so far by Fiat, I know the new Pulse has a wheelbase measuring 2.532 mm, or 11 mm longer than that of the mechanically related Argo small hatchback. The crossover’s wheelbase is slightly shorter compared to 2 key rivals: the Volkswagen Nivus and the Honda WR-V. In Brazil, Fiat will sell the Pulse with a newly developed turbocharged engine. It is believed the powertrain is a 3-cylinder 1.0-litre unit with approximately 120 hp and 196 Nm delivered through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is expected to be a naturally aspirated 1.3-litre with 109 hp and 139 Nm linked to a 5-speed manual or a CVT as seen in the Argo and its saloon sibling, the Cronos. The official premiere is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks and sales are programmed to start sometime this fall in Brazil. +++ 

+++ Ex-Nissan boss Carlos GHOSN has answered hundreds of questions by French investigators over the past week in Beirut and was “happy and satisfied” to have had the opportunity to explain himself over accusations of financial misconduct, his lawyers said. The 4½ days of questioning marked the first opportunity for Ghosn, a French national, to defend himself against the French allegations (including spending on lavish parties and private planes) since his 2018 bombshell arrest in Japan and escape to Lebanon a year later. However, as Ghosn was being interrogated outside of French soil, it was unclear how he could, if at all, be handed down preliminary charges. His lawyers said they will now seek the right to ask for witnesses and expert testimony in the French investigation. Earlier, the auto magnate-turned-fugitive told that he has done nothing wrong and hopes the investigations are eventually dropped. It is an unusual move for French magistrates to question a suspect abroad. Ghosn, who was given sanctuary by Lebanese authorities, grew up in Lebanon and also has Lebanese citizenship. Lebanon will not extradite him. He is Brazilian-born. Ghosn was questioned about the financing of parties he threw at the Versailles Palace as the head of the Renault-Nissan car alliance. The French investigators, in cooperation with Lebanese judicial authorities, were also examining 11 million euros in spending on private planes and events arranged by a Dutch holding company, and subsidies to a car dealership in Oman. “It was his opportunity to explain his positions”, said Jean Yves Le Borgne, a member of Ghosn’ defense team. “It has now happened and he is satisfied and happy”. “Still unresolved, of course, is the problem of the next step in this procedure”, Le Borgne added. Ghosn has not so far been charged with anything in France, but could be, given preliminary accusations of fraud, corruption, money laundering, misuse of company assets, or aggravated breach of trust. Whether Ghosn could be charged or not by the French, Carlos Abou Jaoude, his Beirut-based lawyer, said Lebanese and French authorities have to determine what Ghosn’s “status” will be. Ghosn is campaigning to clear his name against multiple legal challenges in France after Japanese accusations triggered scrutiny of his activities there. He told he had much more confidence in the French legal system than the Japanese system he had fled. He was arrested in Japan in November 2018 on accusations of financial misconduct and was kept in solitary confinement for months without being allowed to speak with his wife. He fled to Lebanon a year later in a dramatic escape that stunned the world. Meanwhile, several associates are in jail or on trial in Japan and Turkey, in cases related to his financial activities or escape. +++ 

+++ What is the leading company on the global motorsports stage during these first days of summer 2021? If I had to pick one, it would be HONDA . Right now it’s in rude health, savouring the sort of success it hasn’t tasted since Ayrton Senna won it several Formula One titles, while also developing groundbreaking showroom cars such as the NSX in his spare time. What a guy. Wind forward 3 decades and the good times have returned. A Honda-powered F1 car won the legendary Monaco Grand Prix; Max Verstappen, the man who drove it, sits atop the 2021 driver rankings ahead of Lewis Hamilton; and the Red Bull Racing Honda team is number one in the constructors’ table. It doesn’t get any better than that for technically talented, overly modest, often enigmatic Honda. Right now it should be screaming from the rooftops about its achievements. But I’m seeing and hearing next to nothing about it being back on top. Why not, at the very least, send ‘Good enough for Maxi to drive on a Sunday, then good enough for you to drive on a Monday’ messages and images to current and potential Honda customers? While on the subject of its road cars, with the exception of the Honda E, the products just don’t look attractive. The firm’s design direction needs fixing. Back to racing, and Honda has managed to hijack this October’s Suzuka F1 race, which is officially named the “Honda Japanese GP”. The firm could seal the manufacturer’s and driver’s championships there, before pulling out of the sport a few weeks later. This it has promised to do, in the year that it’s leading the field. Meanwhile, around the weekend of the British GP in July, Honda will officially leave its Swindon factory for a variety of reasons, including the sensitive fact that the Government didn’t subsidise it, as it did with Nissan’s plant in Sunderland. Also on the subject of UK relations, way back when, Honda could’ve and should’ve taken Rover under its wing and helped it survive and grow. But Rover’s controversial sale to BMW put a stop to that. I now fear that the Japanese firm’s growing ties with General Motors in Detroit are getting too close for comfort. Some cost-cutting, knowledge-sharing and co-development of EV and self-driving tech is fine. But ‘partners’ is a word that’s already being used in some circles, and it worries me greatly. Worse still, GM (or any other corporate giant) swooping in to effectively take over a notoriously proud and independent Honda would be a disaster. Could GM take a slightly dazed and confused Honda under its wing? Yup. Will it? For two very powerful reasons, I hope and think not. First, during the many times I visited the famously traditional company in Japan, I always understood that, instead of give up its independence, it would rather self-sabotage than sell-out and, in doing so, lose face. +++ 

+++ RENAULT will combine 3 of its plants in northern France into a new legal entity, Renault ElectriCity, to focus on electric vehicle manufacturing, 2 sources close to the matter told. The new company will include the Douai car assembly site, the Ruitz gearbox manufacturing site and the Maubeuge commercial vehicles assembly plant from January 1, 2022. Renault confirmed that a new project will be submitted to unions next week but declined further comment. +++ 

+++ TESLA shares tumbled on a report that the electric-car maker’s Chinese orders dropped by almost half in May. The stock, which was already down more than 30 % from the late January peak through Wednesday, fell 5.3 % last week. The shares also slipped after a U.S. regulator disclosed recalls of more than 5.500 Model 3 and Y vehicles as well as almost 2.200 Model Ys over separate seat-belt flaws. Tesla’s monthly net orders in China dropped to about 9.800 in May from more than 18.000 in April, according to The Information, a San Francisco-based tech news company, which cited a person with knowledge of the data. That’s just the latest in a string of reports that seem to suggest a sales slowdown in a country widely regarded as one of the most important markets for the industry. Tesla has had issues in China of late with a dissatisfied customer who went viral, and government concerns over data collection. Dan Levy, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group, said that Tesla’s market share in global electric-vehicle sales had dropped in April, adding that the company lost ground in China, Europe and the U.S. In Norway, a bellwether country for electric vehicles, the Ford Mustang Mach-E has taken the sales lead. Tesla has now had recalls emerge on back-to-back days. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a notice saying the carmaker will inspect, tighten or replace brake calipers that could be loose on almost 6.000 Model 3 and Y vehicles. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN said it had reached the broad outlines of a settlement with former boss Martin Winterkorn over his role in the dieselgate scandal, with the final details to be thrashed out over coming days. Via the settlement, Volkswagen is trying to turn the page on its biggest ever corporate crisis in which it admitted using illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States. No details were given on the size of the deal. “In its meeting yesterday, the supervisory board agreed the essential conditions”, a spokesperson said in a statement. “The agreements will be concluded in coming days”. Since it broke, dieselgate (one of the biggest corporate scandals ever) has cost the carmaker more than €32 billion in fines, refits and legal costs. Volkswagen in late March said it would claim damages from former Winterkorn for breaching his duty of care by failing to fully and swiftly clarify circumstances behind the use of unlawful software functions in some diesel engines. Winterkorn has denied being responsible for the scandal. He resigned as CEO on September 23, 2015, a week after the scandal was uncovered. +++

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