Newsflash: Land Rover komt met 8-persoons Defender

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+++ In CHINA , the wholesale volume of New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) reached 246.000 vehicles in July, surging 202.9 % from a year earlier, and the retail sales volume was 222.000 vehicles, jumping 169.4 % year-on-year, according to the China Passenger Car Association. Moreover, new energy passenger car wholesales hit 1.34 million vehicles in the first 7 months, increasing 227.4 % year-on-year, and retail sales volume hit 1.23 million vehicles, growing 210.2 % year-on-year. Tan Boqian, a resident of Liuzhou, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, is the latest fervent advocate of electric vehicles. “I bought it in March and drive it to work every day. The journey is about 20 kilometers, and the electric vehicle makes it very economical and eco-friendly”, the 32-year-old said, adding the battery range of his car is about 120 km. Tan’s car, a Hongguang Mini EV, is an all-electric microcar manufactured by SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), a joint venture between SAIC Motor, General Motors and Liuzhou Wuling Motors. In recent years, as a major production base of SGMW and an important industrial city in Guangxi, Liuzhou has rolled out a series of measures to boost its auto industry and make it a model city for embracing new energy. Fang Hua, deputy director of the local development and reform commission, said Liuzhou’s infrastructure for new energy vehicles has significantly improved in recent years. “More than 15.000 parking places for electric cars have been planned across the city through better use of public spaces in business areas and the interspace between roadside green belts”, Fang said. Leveraging a sound policy and a mature manufacturing industry, NEVs are gaining popularity in Liuzhou. As of April, the number of NEVs in the city reached 92.700 units, and about 1 in 4 vehicles running on the roads in Liuzhou is electric-powered. “It is very convenient to park and charge the NEVs. We can simply open an app to search and find a parking spot nearby”, Tan said. “Young people need an affordable car for commuting while some families need it as an auxiliary tool for daily commutes. NEVs are also well-received as more cities opt for smart transportation and green economy”, said Xu Bing, director of the planning department of SGMW. China, the world’s biggest car market, has seen rising market enthusiasm for eco-friendly cars amid increasing public awareness of environmental protection and a push by the government. Sales of NEVs in China more than doubled in the first half of the year as production and demand continued to recover, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed. Total NEV sales rose 201.5 % year-on-year to reach over 1.2 million in the January-June period, equal to total sales in the whole of 2019. The NEV market penetration rate also increased from 5.4 % at the beginning of 2021 to 9.4 percent for the first half of the year. Young people especially are leading the trend to embrace NEVs. “Many of my peers and 20-somethings prefer to purchase NEVs and some personalize their cars to make them more unique”, said Tan. “When I bought my car, I immediately put a cartoon sticker on it so that I can spot it on the street right away”. As a leading NEV manufacturer in Liuzhou, SGMW’s sales of small NEVs have exceeded 460.000 units since 2017. Sales growth continued to climb in the first half, with 189.644 units of small NEVs having been sold, exceeding its annual sales last year, the company said. Among the Hongguang Mini EV owners, the post-90s generation accounted for 72 % and 60 % of them were women. They are also the key force driving new growth in businesses such as vehicle refitting and paint jobs. Liuzhou’s air quality has improved remarkably thanks to continuous efforts in promoting clean energy and NEVs. Last year, the ratio of good air days in its urban areas was 96.7 %; up 5.2 percentage points year-on-year, official data showed. “We are striving to further promote the use of new energy in the public transportation sector and explore new business patterns to further expand its application”, Fang said. +++

+++ GEELY expects its sales to reach 3.65 million units in 2025, which would make it the most popular Chinese marque in the country. The privately-held carmaker, which owns Geely, Zeekr and Lynk & Co, unveiled the plan when it released its mid-year financial report. Geely sold 630.237 vehicles in the first half of the year; up 19 % from the same period last year. Its revenue reached 45 billion yuan; up 22 %, and its net profit stood at 2.41 billion yuan ($371.87 million); up 4 % year-on-year. Geely ranked third among Chinese carmakers in terms of sales in the first half. The carmaker said its overall sales could reach 1.53 million for the year despite the chip shortages that are affecting the global auto industry. Geely said over 30 % of its 3.65 million deliveries in 2025 would be smart electric cars and its Zeekr brand will seize a top 3 position globally among high-end electric brands with its deliveries reaching 650.000 units in the year. Zeekr’s first model, the 001, priced from 299,000 yuan to 360,000 yuan, will be delivered in October this year. The brand will launch at least 2 new models a year from 2022. “The Zeekr 001’s orders have beat our expectations. They exceed the number we can produce this year”, said Geely in a statement. Besides the Chinese market, Geely said it will continue its efforts to expand its presence in global markets. The carmaker exported 53.422 vehicles in the first half this year; up 173 % year-on-year. Lynk & Co, a brand Geely co-developed with Volvo, is now available in Europe, with local users reaching 15.000. Geely is scheduled to release Lynk & Co’s development plan for the Asia-Pacific region later this year. In accordance with a deal with Renault earlier this month, the French carmaker will introduce Lynk & Co’s platforms into South Korea for local vehicle production at its joint venture Renault Samsung Motors. +++

+++ GREAT WALL MOTORS has inked a deal with Daimler to purchase its plant in Brazil, which will mark the Chinese carmaker’s arrival in Latin America’s largest economy. The Iracemapolis plant, in the state of Sao Paulo, will be handed over to Great Wall Motors within this year together with the staff and equipment, said the carmaker in a statement. The plant produced Mercedes-Benz vehicles from 2016 to 2020. Daimler said in December that a drop in sales of luxury cars during the Covid-19 pandemic had made it unsustainable to keep the factory open. Great Wall Motors said the 2 carmakers started negotiations in late 2020 but neither disclosed the sum of the deal. Great Wall Motors said it will introduce the latest technology and equipment into the plant. After a 4-to-6 month renovation, it will be able to produce up to 100.000 vehicles a year and employ over 2.000 people. Liu Xiangshang, vice-president of the carmaker, said Great Wall Motors sees Brazil, the world’s 7th largest vehicle market, as a strategically important overseas market. “Our investment will bring smart, safe and advanced mobility experiences for local people. We will create job opportunities directly and indirectly and stimulate the demand for the industrial chain, which will help local industrial upgrading and generate more taxes for the local government”, said Liu. The carmaker will invest up to 5 billion yuan ($770 million) in the plant in 5 years and make it one of its global smart production bases. Great Wall Motors said the plant will produce SUVs, pickups and electric vehicles in the beginning local customers and those in other South American markets. The carmaker has been exporting vehicles to South America for over a decade, which it said will be an important pillar for its global sales goal of 4 million vehicles by 2025. Great Wall Motors has been stepping up its overseas strategy in recent years. Besides Brazil, it now has car-producing plants in countries including Russia, Thailand and India. The carmaker’s overseas sales reached over 74.000 vehicles in the first 7 months this year; up 176.2 % from the same period last year. Its global deliveries totaled 709.766 units from January to July; up 49.9 % year-on-year. +++

+++ INDONESIA has launched a pilot project to convert motorcycles that run on combustion engines into electric-powered vehicles, part of a national drive to make transport more environmentally friendly, the energy ministry said. The project has successfully converted 10 such motorbikes and is aiming to convert 90 more by November, the ministry said in a statement. Under its national strategy, the government has set a target of having 13 million electric motorbikes (including converted ones) and 2.2 million electric cars on the roads by 2030. It has also pledged to stop all sales of vehicles powered by combustion engines by 2050. Indonesia had more than 15 million cars and 112 million motorcycles on its roads as of 2019, data from Indonesia’s automotive industries association showed. “To create economies of scale, we have to create a market”, Energy minister Arifin Tasrif said during the launch, calling for the conversion technology to be developed at the small and medium-sized business levels. The government is also working on converting public buses that use fossil fuel into electric buses, a transport ministry official told the same event. Indonesia, which has the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. The country also has ambitious plans of becoming a global hub for production of batteries and electric vehicles, to take advantage of its rich supplies of nickel laterite ore used in lithium batteries. +++

+++ The new LAND ROVER 130 has been spotted again in camouflage, this time undergoing tests on European roads. The stretched SUV was photographed in Germany in black-and white-camouflage, with black wheels and tinted rear windows. Land Rover will expand the reborn Defender line-up next year with the introduction of this extended-wheelbase variant. The model was previously photographed near Land Rover’s headquarters in Warwickshire. The 2 sightings give a close look at the longer car’s final styling and an indication of its readiness for production. A precise launch date for the range-topping Defender has yet to be confirmed, but prior to the 2019 unveiling of the Defender 90 and Defender 110, a leaked internal presentation confirmed it will arrive in 2022 with 8 seats; 1 more than the current 5-door model. The 130 will be positioned as the “premium explorer” of the Defender range, while the entry-level 90 is the “halo, image icon” and the 110 is the “definitive Defender”. It’s therefore likely to command a substantial price premium over the other Defender models and be available in top-end trim levels only. While the original Defender 130 featured an extended wheelbase over the 110, the new car’s longer footprint instead comes courtesy of a visibly upsized rear overhang, which takes its total length to 5.1 meter; 342 mm longer than the 110 and 227 mm longer than the rival Mercedes-Benz G-Class. This prototype was fitted with Land Rover’s new mild-hybridised 3.0-litre straight-6 petrol engine, which in the Discovery produces 360 hp for a 0-100 kph time of 6.5 seconds. The 130 is expected to also receive the full raft of diesel and petrol powertrains, including the P300e plug-in hybrid and the 550 hp supercharged petrol V8. Also expected is an open-backed pick-up truck variant to rival the Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi L200. Vehicle programmes executive director Nick Collins told that “there were no structural limitations” to a Defender pick-up and hinted at the potential for such a model by recalling Land Rover’s previous intentions to market the Defender as a complete “family” of models. +++

+++ A full-size, working replica of a Toyota sports car made from 480.000 LEGO bricks is on display at the Legoland Japan Resort in Nagoya. Lego Group’s Japan unit made the replica of a GR Supra in cooperation with Toyota to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Supra’s launch in Japan in 1986. It is said to have taken 3.000 hours to develop the replica and another 2.400 hours to assemble it. The Lego car is 4.35 meters long and weighs 1.88 tons. The tires, driver’s seat and steering wheel were made from the same parts as the actual Supra. Equipped with an electric motor, the car can travel at a maximum speed of 28 kph, although special driving operations are required. “You can do anything with Lego bricks. I want people to feel the infinite possibilities”, Eiko Konishi, the trade marketing manager at Lego Group’s Japan unit, said online at car’s unveiling. The exhibit is scheduled to run through October 11 at the resort. +++

+++ Nearly 3 years later, former NISSAN executive Greg Kelly is still wondering why the questions that led to his arrest and trial in Japan weren’t simply taken up in the automaker’s corporate boardroom. Kelly, an American lawyer who worked for 3 decades for Nissan, is awaiting a verdict in his trial on charges of financial misconduct in the case of Carlos Ghosn. The embattled former chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance jumped bail and fled to Lebanon in late 2019, leaving Kelly in Japan alone to face charges of Ghosn’s under-reported Nissan compensation. Kelly has denied the allegations. “I don’t think any of us were involved in a crime, or a criminal activity”, Kelly told in an interview in his Tokyo apartment, where he is out on bail. “We were involved in trying to solve a business problem, which was: What actions do you take that are lawful to retain a very valuable executive who was underpaid?” Kelly added, referring to Ghosn. “It should have been resolved at the corporate level at Nissan. It’s not a criminal matter”, said Kelly, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted and is forbidden from leaving Japan as he awaits his fate. A verdict is not expected until March. More than 99 % of Japanese criminal trials result in convictions. Behind him, the walls of the apartment Kelly shares with his wife, Dee, were plastered with photos of his 2 grandsons, including a 20-month-old baby he has never held. Family is most important, the 64-year-old Kelly said, especially this late in life. “When you get into your 60s, you’re not looking at a long horizon”, Kelly said. “Every day that you miss with your family, you know, that to me is the stress. To spend 33 months without my family. For a corporate matter, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense”. Kelly was working for Nissan but living in the Nashville area of Tennessee when he was asked to come to Japan for a meeting in November 2018. Since he was scheduled for neck fusion surgery to address a painful spinal condition he suggested a video conference. But Nissan booked a corporate jet for him, promising he would be back within the week. After landing in Japan, he got in a van. The driver asked if he could pull over and make a call. Suddenly the van door opened, and several men rushed in, identifying themselves as prosecutors and a translator. Kelly was taken to a detention center, handcuffed and searched, then led to an interrogation room, and questioned by prosecutors, initially without a lawyer present. “It was a shock”, he said. He was kept in solitary confinement for 35 days and interrogated daily. He was confused. He could not call his wife. He pleaded to be allowed to get help from Nissan. Little did he know, he said, that Nissan was behind the arrest. To pass the time as he awaits a verdict, Kelly takes long walks with his wife, who moved to Japan in January 2019 on a student visa, taking Japanese language courses to be near her husband. Kelly says he is lucky to have Dee, his college sweetheart from their days at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She was at his trial, giving her husband a thumbs-up as he walked into the courtroom with his lawyers. Sitting in the front row, she took copious notes since court transcripts are only in Japanese. Dee Kelly said she was taking a walk near the couple’s home in November 2018, when she heard a radio report about the arrest of Ghosn and “an American executive”. “You feel like you can’t breathe”, she said, not knowing what could have happened to her husband while on a business trip. At home, Japanese reporters were already showing up at her door. “You work all your life so you can have time during retirement to spend with your kids, and we really wanted to play a big part in our grandkids’ lives, and that was taken”, she said of the events that have unfolded since. “What was done to him is beyond terrible”. Kelly dedicated his life to Nissan, she said. “To have him treated like this, especially by people that were your friends. That’s really hard”. Unknown except to several top Nissan officials, Ghosn’s salary was slashed from about 2 billion yen ($20 million) to 1 billion yen ($10 million) in fiscal 2009, when the disclosure of individual executive pay became required in Japan. Prosecutors contend there was an elaborate plan to make up for the pay cut, which should have been documented in Nissan’s annual securities report. At trial, they presented as evidence tables on Ghosn’s unpaid salary, kept meticulously by another Nissan official. Kelly says he didn’t know about the tables. From Ghosn’s native Lebanon, the auto magnate-turned-international fugitive has denied accusations of underreporting his compensation and misusing company funds, contending he was the victim of a corporate coup linked to a decline in Nissan’s financial performance as the Japanese automaker resisted losing autonomy to French partner Renault. In an interview in May, Ghosn mounted a robust defense of Kelly, saying: “Obviously he is innocent”. “Some observers think that Kelly may be a bit of a pawn in the Japanese government’s effort to salvage its reputation after Ghosn escaped”, said Carl Tobias, Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond. “In the end, there may be no winners in this sordid story”. Yoichi Kitamura, Kelly’s chief attorney, says that in his 43 years as a defense lawyer, he has never encountered a case like the one against Kelly. “There is absolutely no evidence”, Kitamura said, adding there was no motive either. “Nissan and the prosecutors got together and concocted this into a criminal case”. Kelly was just trying to do what he thought was best for Nissan, Kitamura added. Hari Nada, who worked with Kelly in Nissan human resources, went to prosecutors about Ghosn’s unpaid compensation, according to Nada’s testimony in Kelly’s trial. Nada is 1 of 2 Nissan officials who got a plea bargain to avoid prosecution. Kelly says he may have been singled out because he, like Ghosn, supported a merger for Nissan and Renault, to strengthen the alliance in a way he thought would make the companies more equal yet remain competitive. Nada, former Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa and several other Japanese executives opposed the merger, according to court testimony. “It was a small group that put together this scenario”, Kelly said of his and Ghosn’s arrests. John and Dave Kelly, Greg Kelly’s brothers, were at the Chicago Auto Show last month, with cousins, spouses and friends all wearing “Free Greg Kelly” hats and T-shirts, to picket and hand out leaflets. “To commit a crime, you have to have a motive. Greg didn’t get anything. He was trying to help Nissan”, Dave Kelly, a petroleum engineer who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, said in a telephone interview. “He was just doing his job”. The brothers grew up playing baseball and football in their backyard together. “He was always an honest guy. He was always someone you could trust and talk to”, said John Kelly, a general surgeon in Oneida, New York. “I know my brother. I know he will never be involved in anything dishonest”. +++

+++ Chinese technology companies are ramping up efforts to launch self-driving taxi services in an attempt to bolster large-scale commercial use of the growing transportation solutions. Internet search giant Baidu Inc officially opened its ROBOTAXI ride-hailing pilot program to the public in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, in July, marking the largest autonomous driving vehicle-for-hire platform in the city. Users can order rides on their smartphones through the Apollo Go or Baidu Maps apps between 9:30 am and 11 pm. The autonomous ride-hailing service covers 237 pick-up and drop-off locations, allowing passengers to utilize autonomous driving services in their daily lives and further establish Guangzhou as a benchmark city for new smart transportation infrastructure services. To date, Apollo Go robotaxi services have been launched across the cities of Changsha, Cangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou, allowing Baidu to become the autonomous driving technology company with the most widespread operations in China. The company plans to expand its robotaxi ride-hailing services across 30 cities in China in two to three years to serve a wider range of users, said Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, at the annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai in July. “Baidu is also rapidly developing a new intelligent vehicle, and we estimate that everyone will be able to experience the arrival of a new species of robo-vehicles in 2 to 3 years”, Li added. In the meantime, Baidu received its initial batch of permits to test its self-driving vehicles on expressways from traffic authorities in Beijing in July, becoming one of the first companies to carry out road tests for autonomous cars in high-speed traffic scenarios in China. Baidu Apollo can now conduct high-speed tests on roads in the pilot zone for intelligent networked vehicles in Beijing, extending the testing scenarios from urban roads to expressways, which will open up commercial exploration of more autonomous driving technologies in the future. Currently, the Beijing-based tech behemoth has obtained more than 300 autonomous driving test licenses nationwide and is the company with the most testing licenses in China. The country is planning to realize large-scale production of vehicles capable of conditional autonomous driving and commercialization of highly autonomous vehicles in certain circumstances by 2025, according to a blueprint issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and 9 other ministries. Apart from robotaxis, Baidu announced the launch of Apolong II, a new generation of multipurpose autonomous minibuses rolled out in Huangpu district, Guangzhou, earlier this month. Apolong II, which has no steering wheel, is equipped with advanced autonomous driving capabilities and the latest in-vehicle smart cabin technologies to enhance passenger experience. The autonomous minibus is set to be deployed in public parks, airports, business districts and residential communities in Huangpu. Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing platform, opened its on-demand robotaxi service to passengers in parts of Shanghai last year. In March, the company signed a cooperation agreement with the government of Huadu district in Guangzhou, to invest in the research and development of intelligent connected vehicles. Didi will also conduct testing and commercial operation of autonomous vehicles in the district. Furthermore, autonomous driving startup WeRide launched its robotaxi service in Huangpu in November 2019, carrying passengers on 144 square kilometers of roads in core urban areas. In the past year, over 60.000 passengers have been safely delivered to their destinations via 140.000 robotaxi rides. Yang Diange, dean of the automobile engineering department at Tsinghua University, said L4 self-driving technology will first be deployed in trucks and taxis in some designated areas, and the large-scale application of such technology in private cars might come in 2030. L4 autonomy means the car can drive by itself in most conditions without a human backup driver. But experts have warned that firms should proceed cautiously, especially when it comes to public safety. “More tests are still needed before such vehicles can reach mass production and enter large-scale commercial application because of safety concerns”, said Zeng Zhiling, managing director of LMC Automotive Consulting. Since these vehicles are highly intelligent and networked, there is the possibility that hackers could break into the system and pose a great danger to road safety, Zeng said. +++

+++ TOYOTA is scaling back production in North America and Japan as the surging coronavirus pandemic in Southeast Asia and elsewhere crimps supplies. Japan’s top automaker said that it will cut back production at home by 40%, affecting 14 auto assembly plants in the country. In North America, Toyota said it expects August production to be slashed by 60.000 to 90.000 vehicles. A representative from Toyota said that output fluctuates month to month, but that it would equate to a production cut of between 40 % and 60 %. “Due to COVID-19 and unexpected events with our supply chain, Toyota is experiencing additional shortages that will affect production at most of our North American plants”, the company said in a prepared statement Thursday. “While the situation remains fluid and complex, our manufacturing and supply chain teams have worked diligently to develop countermeasures to minimize the impact on production”. The company said production cuts in North America are not expected to have an impact on staffing levels. In Japan, production will halt completely next month at some plants and partly at others, affecting a wide range of models, including the Corolla, Prius and Land Cruiser. Global production for September will decline by 360.000 vehicles, according to Toyota. But it stuck to its annual forecast to produce 9.3 million vehicles, as coronavirus risks were figured in. Of the lost production out of Japan, 140.000 vehicles are for Japan and 220.000 for overseas, with 80.000 in the U.S., 40.000 in Europe, 80.000 in China, 8.000 in the rest of Asia and about 10.000 in other regions. Toyota had already announced smaller production cuts for July and August in Japan. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to our customers and suppliers due to these changes”, Toyota said. A shortage of the computer chips used widely in vehicles has been problematic for months as the world appeared to emerge from the pandemic and demand surged. Toyota had not been hit as hard as some other major automakers, and now the spread of the Delta variant has introduced new complications. David Leggett, auto analyst at GlobalData, said auto demand is now down in Vietnam, and sales have already been hurt in some markets for all manufacturers. “The pandemic is clearly far from over and appears, as far as the auto industry’s recovery path is concerned, to have a sting in the tail”, he said. Toyota has held up relatively well amid the pandemic, racking up a record profit for the April-June quarter at about $8 billion, an increase of more than fivefold from the same period the previous year. +++

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