Newsflash: facelift voor Skoda Scala

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+++ Elon Musk was in a complimentary mood during his appearance at the World New Energy Vehicle Congress. In his message, he praised automakers from CHINA , who he opined were “the most competitive in the world”. Musk’s comments during his pre-recorded appearance can be seen as an attempt at repairing Tesla’s image in China. “I have a great deal of respect for the many Chinese automakers”, said Musk, adding that the country’s carmakers are particularly strong on software. “Public sentiment and support for electric vehicles is at a never before seen inflection point because they know it is the future”, he noted. Tesla has faced a difficult few months in China following a largely positive welcome. China is a crucial market for the California-based carmaker as it’s the world’s largest EV market, with the added jeopardy of having plenty of home-grown EV competition. In May, Tesla’s sales halved in the wake of public and government criticism. Accusations of poor aftersales service spurred negative opinions of the brand, with a local paper saying that the company’s “arrogant and overbearing stance” was “repugnant and unacceptable”. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities grew suspicious of Tesla and how it handled the storage of customer data. Staff at some important Chinese government facilities were told not to park their Tesla vehicles inside government compounds due to security concerns related to their exterior cameras. Musk spoke about data security, reiterating that the company was working with national authorities to ensure the security of data gathered by their vehicles. Tesla has complied with a request from the Chinese government to store data gathered by its locally-used cars within the nation. China has gone on to develop advanced machines that will be able to track data sent overseas by cars driven on its streets. The system, which analyzes the path of data transmission, is currently being tested on vehicles from foreign automakers, including Tesla. +++

+++ When FORD built its first factory in India in the mid-1990s, U.S. carmakers believed they were buying into a boom: the next China. The economy had been liberalized in 1991, the government was welcoming investors and the middle class was expected to fuel a consumption frenzy. Rising disposable income would help foreign carmakers to a market share of as much as 10%, forecasters said. It never happened. Last week, Ford took a $2 billion hit to stop making cars in India, following compatriots General Motors in closing factories in the country. Among foreigners that remain, Nissan and even Volkswagen (the world’s biggest automaker by sales) each hold less than 1 % of a car market once forecast to be the third-largest by 2020, after China and the United States, with annual sales of 5 million. Instead, sales have stagnated at about 3 million cars. The growth rate has slowed to 3.6 % in the last decade versus 12 % a decade earlier. Ford’s retreat marks the end of an Indian dream for U.S. carmakers. It also follows its exit from Brazil announced in January, reflecting an industry pivot from emerging markets to what is now widely seen as make-or-break investment in electric vehicles. Analysts and executives said foreigners badly misjudged India’s potential and underestimated the complexities of operating in a vast country that rewards domestic procurement. Many failed to adapt to a preference for small, cheap, fuel-efficient cars that could bump over uneven roads without needing expensive repairs. In India, 95 % of cars are priced below $20,000. Lower tax on small cars also made it harder for makers of larger cars for Western markets to compete with small-car specialists such as Suzuki, the controlling shareholder of Maruti, India’s biggest carmaker by sales. Of foreign carmakers that invested alone in India over the past 25 years, analysts said only the Hyundai Motor Group stands out as a success, mainly due to its wide portfolio of small cars and a grasp of what Indian buyers want. “Companies invested on the fallacy that India would have great potential and the purchasing power of buyers would go up, but the government failed to create that kind of environment and infrastructure”, said Ravi Bhatia, president for India at Jato Dynamics, a provider of market data for the auto industry. Some of Ford’s missteps can be traced to when it drove into India in the mid-1990s alongside Hyundai. Whereas Hyundai entered with the small, affordable Santro (in Europe known als the Atoz), Ford offered the Escort saloon. The Escort’s price shocked Indians used to Maruti Suzuki’s more affordable prices, said former Ford India executive Vinay Piparsania. Ford’s narrow product range also made it hard to capitalize on the appeal won by its EcoSport, said analyst Ammar Master at LMC. The carmaker said it had considered bringing more models to India but determined it could not do so profitably. “The struggle for many global brands has always been meeting India’s price point because they brought global products that were developed for mature markets at a high-cost structure”, said Master. A peculiarity of the Indian market came in mid-2000 with a lower tax rate for cars measuring less than 4 meters in length. That left Ford and rivals building India-specific sub-4 meter saloons for which sales ultimately disappointed. “U.S. manufacturers with large truck DNAs struggled to create a good and profitable small vehicle. Nobody got the product quite right and losses piled up”, said Jato’s Bhatia. Ford had excess capacity at its first India plant when it invested $1 billion on a second in 2015. It had planned to make India an export base and raise its share of a market projected to hit 7 million cars a year by 2020 and 9 million by 2025. But the sales never followed and overall market growth stalled. Ford now utilizes only about 20 % of its combined annual capacity of 440.000 cars. To use its excess capacity, Ford planned to build compact cars in India for emerging markets but shelved plans in 2016 amid a global consumer preference shift to SUVs. It changed its cost structure in 2018 and the following year started work on a joint venture with local peer Mahindra designed to reduce costs. 3 years later, in December, the partners abandoned the idea. After sinking $2.5 billion in India since entry and burning another $2 billion over the past decade alone, Ford decided not to invest more. “To continue investing we needed to show a path for a reasonable return on investment”, Ford India head Anurag Mehrotra told reporters last week. “Unfortunately, we are not able to do that”. +++

+++ RENAULT isn’t just entering the age of electrification with the Megane e-Tech Electric, R5 Electric and the 4Ever, but it is also embarking on a new design direction. Since 2009, Laurens van den Acker has been leading Renault Group design and was instrumental in defining the brand’s styling language. Industry veteran Gilles Vidal was appointed Renault’s new design director in 2020 and during a recent interview, van den Acker said vehicles like the Megane E-Tech will define the brand and mark a middle-point between his design direction and that of Vidal. “The Megane E-Tech for me is more than just a vehicle. It’s also a symbol of the Renaulution plan, for the intent and the vision of the company, because it’s a full-electric car without compromise”, he told. “And I thought it was very brave of Luca de Meo]to call it the Megane, because by doing that you show there is no way back to internal combustion. It’s the heart of our lineup. It’s a very important car because for Renault to be able to sell electric vehicles, they will be more expensive. We need to upgrade the design, the finish and the quality, and give it enough substance in terms of technology and sensations that the higher price really is justified”. “Design wise, it’s in the middle, because it’s the vehicle that is at the end of my reign at Renault design and the start of Gilles Vidal’s. You can already see the influence of Luca: we did a Megane show car for him, and he pushed the production car to get as close as we possibly could to the show car. And this had a really positive influence because he pushed the size of the wheels, he pushed the finishes, the colors”. Like other car manufacturers, Renault is making the most of the flexibility that electric platforms provide. For example, the French carmaker has been able to give the Megane E-Tech a short front overhang while still having space for the HVAC system. The presence of a small electric motor has allowed it to fit larger wheels and tires without sacrificing the turning radius, while the lack of an exhaust allows for a larger trunk and the long wheelbase provides heaps of room for occupants. Renault will also revive 2 of its most famed nameplates for the electric age: the R5 and the 4Ever. The new Renault 5 has already been previewed as a retro-inspired hatchback that will launch in 2022, while the Renault 4 will arrive as a compact crossover later in the decade. They will not look like other Renault models and that is no accident, van den Acker explained. “First, I do not look at these cars as a starting direction that needs to be applied to the rest of the lineup. For me, they are unique”, he said. “It’s sort of like a Ford Mustang or a Bronco:  you have the core lineup and then you have a Bronco and a Mustang because those are telling you stories of the past. And in this particular period where you have a risk of becoming banal, like anybody else, to be able to dive into this treasure box of icons that we have that really tell a story about the roots of the company, the brand, is a richness and an advantage that we should use. And now the idea of a Renault 5, an electric, progressive, cool city car is super attractive, and it helps us to give a flavor to the brand”. +++

+++ The SKODA SCALA was launched in 2019 so it’s relatively new, but a set of spy photos suggest that it could be in for a facelift. Despite being classified as a C-Segment hatchback, the Scala is actually based on a stretched version of the MQB A0 platform used in the new-generation Fabia and also shared with the recently facelifted Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza. However, it is considerably longer than the aforementioned models at 4.362 mm, positioning itself as a budget-oriented Golf rival.Judging from the camouflaged sections of the prototype, the facelifted Scala should feature a redesigned front bumper with slightly different intakes and new headlight graphics making the bumper-mounted units obsolete (although there is a chance they are just covered). Changes will be more limited at the back which already has LED units with dynamic turn signals. The Scala is known for its roomy cabin and the generous 467 liters of cargo space. It also has a fairly modern dashboard with soft-padded materials, an optional 10.25 inch digital instrument cluster, and an infotainment touchscreen with a diameter of up to 9.2 inches. All these are not expected to change much in the facelift, which could bring updated software, new trim options, and more Simply Clever accessories already introduced in the smaller Fabia. In terms of the engine range, the updated Scala is expected to retain both the 1.0 TSI 3-cylinder and the 1.5 TSI 4-cylinder petrol motors, alongside the 1.0 TGI of the CNG-burning Scala G-Tec. However, small updates could make them cleaner. More specifically, the current version of the turbocharged 3-cylinder 1.0 TSI produces 115 hp in its most powerful guise, while the updated version that is already found on VW Group’s supermini models produces slightly less at 110 hp. The most potent 1.5 TSI however will still make 150 hp. Both engines will be mated to a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. A manual transmission is only available on the 95 hp version of the 1.0 TSI unit. Given that the Scala is 2.5 years in the market, the upcoming facelift should make its debut next year. A new generation is not planned, however. Instead, Skoda will invest heavily in compact electric cars. +++

+++ Consumer Reports has produced a list of cars that are best and most poorly suited to TALL AND SHORT DRIVERS . If you fall into either camp, you may want to read on. To analyze whether a vehicle is good for a tall or short driver, or both, Consumer Reports tested vehicles for seat comfort, driving position, ingress and egress, and the view out. Its testers ranged from 1.70 through to 1.90 meter. Starting with tall drivers, the 8 best cars consisted of the BMW 7-Series, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X7, Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Audi A8 and Land Rover Range Rover. As for the worst cars for tall drivers, they include the Mazda MX-5 (no surprise there), Toyota Supra, Porsche 918 Spyder, Opel Ampera-e, Polestar 2 and Jeep Wrangler. If you’re a smaller driver, there are some vehicles that will suit you better than others. These include the Subaru Forester, BMW 7-Series, Lexus ES, Volvo XC90, Subaru Outback, BMW X5, Lexus RX 450h L, Volkswagen Tiguan and BMW X3. Poor choices for shorter people include the Mazda MX-5, Jeep Wrangler, Chevrolet Camaro, Mitsubishi Spacestar and Jeep Renegade. Mike Quincy from Consumer Reports said many of the vehicles not well-suited to tall or short drivers lacked adequate seat adjustment. +++

+++ When TESLA first shows images of its yoke-style steering “wheel” for the updated Model S and Model X, critics were, including us, almost universally skeptical. Most snap judgments had to do with the inability to maneuver hand-over-hand in a consistent manner when turning. After some real-world testing, however, Consumer Reports reveals that it’s actually much worse than those initial observations predicted. Of course, 10 test drivers at CR confirmed the blindingly obvious: that it was easy for hands to slip off the wheel during turns. The hand-over-hand motion that’s been at the core of driving since time immemorial was difficult to execute, not simply because the top section of the wheel was absent, but because the bottom of it has a squared-off shape. While many sports cars have a flat-bottom steering wheel, Tesla has a longer and wider horizontal base than those. CR found that when combined with the missing top section, a simple turn meant that you might reach out to grab a corner, a flat section, or nothing at all. Each action required exertion of varying degrees. And that’s just the beginning. CR found that the unorthodox shape also made it difficult to find a comfortable resting position. Instead, it forces drivers to tightly grip the handles of the yoke, which, incidentally, have poor padding. One tester reported that the grips were too thick for her hands, having been seemingly engineered for larger mitts. Multiple CR testers logged complaints about hand pain after a long trip. If that wasn’t bad enough, the yoke design dispenses with traditional stalks for the turn signals, wipers, and high beams. Instead, controls for all of those functions, plus the horn, are located on flat touch-sensitive pads on the yoke’s spokes. As a result, CR found them both easily activated inadvertently (bad for high beams) and difficult to find when you needed them (bad for the horn). Testers often had to take their eyes off the road to look at the pads. We are big fans of tactile feedback, and argue that the proper number of times to look down for these functions should be zero. The turn signal design flaw was compounded by their location on the spokes, as when turning the yoke the right turn signal “button” might actually be on the left side and vice versa. When the yoke was first revealed, we were told that you’d still be able to option a traditional wheel, but CR says that’s not the case, which seems to be borne out on Tesla’s website. Buy a Model S or Model X, and this is what you’d have to work with. CR did find one semi-positive thing to say. With the top section removed, it was easier to see the instrument screen. However, the bottom right corner of the yoke blocked part of the center touchscreen. Elon Musk has said a full view of the instrument screen was a major factor in changing to a yoke, but the other tradeoffs sure don’t seem worth it. There’s a reason for the advice, “Don’t reinvent the wheel”. +++

+++ Former VOLKSWAGEN boss Martin Winterkorn was told about the emissions defeat devices fitted to the company’s cars going before the scandal came to light, but failed to intervene, a German court has been told. In the first related trial to take place since the Dieselgate scandal broke in 2015, 4 ex-Volkswagen Group managers are accused of authorizing the fitment of defeat devices which disguised the fact that up to 9 million VW cars sold in Europe and the U.S. emitted 15-35 times the permissible nitrogen oxides limit. But the men claim Winterkorn knew very well what was going on long before the scandal broke. “He decided against disclosure and hoped to be able to continue to conceal the legal violations”, prosecutors told the court. The former CEO, now 74, was originally charged with the four managers currently standing trial, but his trial was postponed for health reasons. Winterkorn, who has denied allegations against him, was charged with giving false testimony to the German parliament in June. But now the German Press Agency says a defense attorney at the trial of the 4 men told the court that “it remains unclear whether there will be a trial against Mr. Winterkorn at all”. The lawyer for Thorsten D., 1 of the 4 managers who are in court, claimed his client shouldn’t be there as he disclosed the deceit to U.S. authorities despite being told by VW to keep quiet and has since cooperated with German and U.S. agencies. The emissions scandal has costs the carmaker €30 billion including payments to U.S. authorities, and is still facing more litigation including a €9 billion class-action lawsuit. All of which makes the €288 million compensation deal Volkswagen negotiated with Winterkorn, other VW chiefs and insurers look like a drop in the ocean. +++

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