Newsflash: Toyota Aygo krijgt gelijknamige cross-over als opvolger

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+++ After, oh, a hundred years or so of building vehicles primarily powered by internal combustion engines, automakers around the world have been and still are pumping billions of dollars into the development of electric vehicle technology. Everything from platforms and batteries to motors and the software to control it all requires untold hours of development, and that takes time and money. Fortunately, it’s not going to take long for that massive investment to start paying off, at least according to AUDI boss Markus Duesmann, who told in an interview that “The point where we earn as much money with electric cars as with combustion engine cars is now, or … next year, 2023. They are very even now, the prices”. As a brand, Audi contributed more than a quarter of overall profit for the massive Volkswagen Group, which has such powerhouse brands as Volkswagen and Porsche among others. Under the Audi umbrella are Lamborghini, Bentley and Ducati, and it seems those high-end branches aren’t going anywhere, at least for now. “These brands … are very valuable very profitable brands, where we can even expand the synergy level in the future”, Duesmann said in the interview. “There are no plans whatsoever to get rid of them”. Despite the overall profitability of the brand, the ongoing global chip crisis is causing headaches. “We had a very strong first half in 2021. We do expect a much weaker second half”, said Duesmann, who added, “We really have trouble”. In fact, so serious is the trouble that the brand is forced into “a day-to-day troubleshooting process” to limit the chip-shortage damage. The good news for the automaker is that Audi has been able to boost its profit margin from 8 % prior to the pandemic in 2019 to 10.7 % in the first half of 2021. The bad news is that various chip shortages aren’t expected to get a whole lot better over the rest of the year. +++

+++ General Motors and Ford have agreed to settle a legal battle over the latter’s use of the name “BlueCruise” to market its hands-free driving technology. In a notice filed in court, the 2 automakers said they are in the “process of settling all claims and counterclaims at issue”. A judge agreed to dismiss the suit on condition the automakers finalize a settlement within 60 days. No details were released. A Ford spokesman said the settlement has not been finalized but said the No. 2 U.S. automaker will “continue to use the BlueCruise name, as we do today for F-150 and Mustang Mach-E and next for the 2022 Expedition”. GM said both automakers “have resolved the case and related proceedings amicably. At this time, we have no further comment”. In July, GM and its CRUISE robo-taxi subsidiary filed a lawsuit to stop Ford from using the name BlueCruise. GM said in July the automakers had held “protracted discussions” over the matter but failed to resolve it. “Ford knew what it was doing”, GM said in the lawsuit. “Ford’s decision to rebrand by using a core mark used by GM and Cruise will inevitably cause confusion”. GM announced in 2012 it would use the name Super Cruise for its hands-free driver assistance technology, and has been marketing the technology using that name since 2017. Ford previously called the lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, “meritless and frivolous”, saying “drivers for decades have understood what cruise control is, every automaker offers it, and ‘cruise’ is common shorthand for the capability”. Automakers are racing to deploy technology to enable drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel in traffic jams or on highways. The so-called Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, such as Tesla Inc’s semi-automated Autopilot technology, are not supposed to allow drivers to disengage fully from driving for extended periods. Automakers have used the word “cruise” for decades to describe systems that allow drivers to set a speed the car will maintain, usually in highway driving. GM’s majority-owned Cruise self-driving vehicle unit has been operating since 2013. Ford announced it would use the name BlueCruise for its hands-free driving technology in April this year. +++

+++ US electric car start-up FISKER has confirmed that it plans to open a UK engineering centre, to be headed up by former Aston Martin exec David King. Fisker Magic Works, as it will be called, is set to work on low-volume, rapid-development vehicle programmes and special versions of Fisker models; a similar brief to King’s previous work where he was in charge of Aston Martin Special Operations. Fisker CEO and chairman, Henrik Fisker said: “We are on full speed to deliver four distinct vehicle lines by 2025, driving innovation forward and pushing radical new ideas into the global car market. Fisker Magic Works provides us with an opportunity to create sustainable and fantastic vehicles outside the confines of established industry segments. Bringing on David King further strengthens our engineering and creative expertise, and I’ve already assigned him two exciting projects which will showcase our capability in highly specialised materials and technologies designed especially for the eco-conscious automotive enthusiast”. David King commented: “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to create a new engineering center dedicated to bringing amazing ideas to life. Having spent my career working on vehicles with high displacement gasoline engines, I am relishing working with the design and engineering freedom that electrification provides”. Fisker is set to launch its first car, the Fisker Ocean, at next month’s LA motor show. The five-door all-electric model is built with sustainability in mind and comes with a vegan interior option and solar panels in the roof. Prices in the US start at $37,499 before any EV subsidies but plus taxes, with Fisker claiming a range of up to 560 km. European sales of the Ocean are likely to start in 2023, direct to consumers rather than via dealers or through an all-inclusive subscription service via finance provider. +++

+++ GENERAL MOTORS plans to position itself as a technology platform company that is as focused on software as it is on making electric vehicles when it meets with investors next week, including revealing a scheduled rollout for at least 20 EVs in the United States over the next several years. The No. 1 U.S. automaker has said it will talk about its growth strategy, EV and software platform advantages, its self-driving vehicle business and the related financial road map as it seeks to draw new investors and a valuation closer to that of EV market leader Tesla. A spokesman declined to disclose further details. GM executives will provide a more detailed look at the company’s plans to spend $35 billion through 2025 on EVs and autonomous vehicles, and will give revenue and profit margin growth targets for the five-year period after that, according to people familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified. “GM’s gone from an automaker to a platform company and here are all the things you can do with that”, one of the sources said. “The question you should ask yourself is will we see doubling of revenues? Will we see margin expansion? Those are the sorts of things that you’re going to see over a period of time”, the person added. “Stay tuned for pretty impressive numbers on revenue and margin expansion”. GM’s revenue last year was almost $122.5 billion. The strategy of GM chief executive Mary Barra, who took the helm in 2014, so far has lifted the company’s share price from a narrow band around its 2010 initial public offering price of $33 to almost double that at one point. The shares were trading at around $53 on Friday. Next week’s event is aimed at persuading investors to value GM (with a market capitalization of about $75 billion) more like Tesla ($762 billion). Also on Wednesday, GM will reveal greater detail around its planned EV product launches beyond the upcoming GMC Hummer pickup, EV600 delivery van and Cadillac Lyriq crossover. That includes plans for electric versions of GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups in late 2022 and late 2023, respectively, according to the sources as well as an industry forecast provided by AutoForecast Solutions (AFS). Part of the investor day will include outlining what percentage of GM’s total vehicle sales will be EVs by 2030, the sources said. The automaker in January set a goal to sell all new light vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions by 2035. When it comes to software, GM will discuss what its offerings allow it to do financially and how that will make the Detroit company’s business less cyclical than auto companies have been historically, the sources said. Last week, GM introduced the branding for its software platform, Ultifi (coming in 2023) and discussed building an App store-like approach to making the platform open for developers. Software-oriented products and services are key to GM and other automakers sustaining profit margins during the transition to connected and electric vehicles, but that will compel companies to build skills and workforces they have lacked in the past. GM also will explain how it will leverage its Ultium battery partnership with LG Energy Solutions (LGES), a unit of LG Chem, and how scaling up production of batteries will allow the company to cut costs, Ken Morris, GM vice president of EVs and AVs, said at a conference this week. “We’re really knitting together all elements of our growth strategy”, he said. GM will launch at least 20 new electric vehicles in the United States (mostly pickups, SUVs and crossovers) through early 2028, according to AFS, whose data is based on planning information provided to suppliers by the automakers, and is widely used across the industry. More concrete details, including the timing, pricing and projected volumes of future EVs, could be critical in wooing investors as GM copes with the costly and damaging recall of the Chevrolet Bolt EV for battery-related fires. At the same time, competitors are ramping up their own EV initiatives, including Ford’s announcement this week of an $11.4 billion blitz with Korean battery partner SK Innovation. While GM has laid out its EV lineup into late 2022, the following year is scheduled to feature the launches of at least 5 more, including the GMC Hummer SUV, Cadillac Celestiq sedan which is expected to sell for well over $100,000, and Chevrolet Blazer SUV, AFS said. After that, GM plans to introduce another 5 EV models in 2024, 2 in 2026, 2 in 2027 and another in 2028, AFS said. Among the future entries are all-electric editions of the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs, and a new Cadillac crossover called Symboliq. GM intends to build many of its future EVs at 5 plants in North America: Orion Township and Detroit-Hamtramck in Michigan; Spring Hill, Tennessee; Ingersoll, Ontario, and Ramos Arizpe, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. +++

+++ MAZDA appears to be gearing up to launch a rebadged version of the Toyota Yaris, which could soon become the replacement for the Mazda 2. Nothing’s official yet but, after trawling through the company’s various investor presentations and financial results, I’ve pieced together the story. The new car will form part of Mazda’s long-running partnership with Toyota, which will see the pair collaborate on everything from autonomous technology to pure-electric vehicles. During an investor presentation in November 2020, Mazda announced that it would launch an “OEM-supplied model based on the Yaris THS” by 2022, which I expect, given the 2 cars’ similar sizes, will become the next-generation Mazda 2. In June of this year, Mazda announced it would launch 13 new electrified vehicles by 2025, separated into 5 plug-in hybrids, 5 hybrids and 3 EVs. In the same report, Mazda also confirmed the hybrids will be powered by the same electrified technology found in the latest Prius and Yaris: the rather unimaginatively named Toyota Hybrid System (THS). We’ve already seen a similar partnership in action between Toyota and Suzuki. The latter firm recently launched the Swace estate and Across SUV, which are subtly tweaked versions of the Corolla and RAV4 respectively, sharing the same platforms, powertrains, technology and most of the styling with their Toyota-badged counterparts. So, the next 2 should use the same platform and body-in-white as the latest Yaris, with Mazda making a few adjustments to the supermini’s front end styling and interior trim in an effort to make the car its own. Toyota’s 116 hp 1.5-litre petrol-hybrid powertrain will also be shared across the 2 vehicles. As an added benefit for Mazda, Toyota’s hybrid powertrain will also bring down its fleet emissions and help the company meet ever-tightening CO2 regulations. Inside, I’m expecting the same dashboard layout, digital gauges and seven-inch infotainment system as the Yaris, although the Toyota-branded graphics for the screens will be swapped for Mazda ones to match the badge on the car’s boot. +++

+++ The rumors claiming that PORSCHE ‘s next-generation 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman will be electric are getting louder. Both models will reportedly run on batteries, but they’ll drive a lot like the current-generation models thanks in part to a clever packaging solution. Reportedly previewed by the Mission R concept, the next 718s will be underpinned by a new platform engineered for low-slung sports cars. Porsche is part of the Volkswagen Group, which has several electric car architectures in its arsenal, but none are suitable for something like the Boxster, hence why creating a new one is necessary. Some of the hardware will be shared with other cars, however. “When we electrify a model, we won’t do a carry-over of the combustion engine platform because there are too many compromises. When we are looking to future sports cars, we would develop its own platform but connected with some modules coming from other cars. But the platform will be unique”, affirmed company boss Oliver Blume in an interview. It’s worth pointing out that these rumors are just that: rumors. Porsche hasn’t confirmed the 718 will go electric, but it knows how to make the switch if it takes that route. Underpinning a hypothetical electric sports car (whether it’s a Boxster, a Cayman, or something else) with a purpose-designed platform will give engineers the freedom to move the battery pack, which is the heaviest part of an electric car, between the driver and the rear axle. That’s unusual because it’s located below the passenger compartment in most electric cars on sale in 2021, but that’s also where the flat-six (or flat-four) lies in a 718. In theory, moving the pack to the engine’s location would preserve the model’s sharp, balanced handling. Equally important is the fact that positioning the battery behind the driver rather than under would help Porsche lower the seating position. “With today’s battery cell technology, the batteries are the biggest and heaviest part of the car (and this could be true for the next decade or so) so we developed what we call the e-core battery design. Packaging-wise and center of gravity-wise, it’s more or less a copy of a mid-engine design”, explained Michael Steiner, the head of Porsche’s research and development department, in a separate interview. What both executives clearly ruled out is building an EV on a platform designed for one powered by a piston engine. “There is always some compromise in weight, package, and other dimensions” with multi-energy platforms, stressed Steiner. While that’s an expensive route to take, Steiner added that Porsche could share its sports car platform with its sister companies, including Audi and Lamborghini. One of the obstacles still standing in an electric 718’s way is weight. Batteries are heavy, and weight is a sports car’s enemy. Porsche’s engineers have allegedly set the project’s target weight at about 1.650 kilos, but that’s still 300 kilos more than a Boxster. If the rumors are accurate, the Mission R-inspired electric 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman could land in showrooms in time for the 2025 model year. That sounds far, but keep in mind we’re already looking at 2023s. Production of the current cars could continue for a brief period. +++

+++ TOYOTA ‘s next-generation A-segment car will be called the Aygo X, with the firm claiming it will take the form of a “compact urban crossover” that will be “unique” in its market. Replacing the outgoing Aygo city car, the new machine will be revealed in November. It was previewed earlier this year with the quirky Aygo X Prologue concept, which evolved some of the Aygo’s defining characteristics while also jacking up the ride height significantly for an SUV-inspired stance. Most notably, the Aygo is one of just a few mainstream cars due in the coming months that won’t adopt some form of electrification. Toyota has confirmed it will use a variation of the Yaris’s GA-B platform, but unlike that car will not be available in hybrid guise, to keep manufacturing (and thus retail) costs down. Previously seen spy images give a clear idea of what to expect from Toyota’s reborn city car, and suggest that the Aygo is in an advanced stage of testing. Familiar Aygo design cues include slim overhangs, vertical rear lights, wheels pushed to the edges of the bodywork and a short, upright body. We can also see cues, such as the shape of the rear end from the side, taken from the latest Yaris. The roof panel has been left unwrapped, showing the optional canvas roof will return for the third-generation car. The late Toyota Europe boss Johan van Zyl confirmed last year that the Aygo X will be designed and engineered in Brussels, Belgium. It will be assembled at the same plant as the current car, in Kolín, the Czech Republic, with Toyota taking control of the facility from the PSA Group. The current Aygo is built there alongside the platform-sharing Peugeot 108 and Citroën C1. However, there are no successors planned for either French model, so the Japanese maker will go it alone in the hope of capitalising on other manufacturers – such as Ford, Nissan and Opel giving up on the A-segment. Vice president of Toyota Motor Europe Matt Harrison claimed the current Aygo is a “profitable business equation for us”, unlike many of its rivals. “We have an awful lot of equity in Aygo”. Harrison said. “We’re selling 100,000 a year. It’s got a personality all of its own so it gives to the brand rather than takes away. It’s the most relevant car for a young audience so it’s the access point of the brand”. Toyota is unlikely to offer a battery-electric version of the Aygo for some time. “The small car segment is all about affordability”, said Harrison in 2019. “We don’t see that as being optimal for full electric”. +++

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