Newsflash: elektrische Volkwagen Passat komt 600 km ver


+++ MERCEDES-BENZ will ramp up development of solid-state battery technology after agreeing a new partnership with Factorial Energy. The German car maker will work with the United States based solid-state battery firm to jointly develop the long-anticipated next-generation battery technology. The 2 companies are aiming to start testing prototype cells next year. A “small series” of Mercedes vehicles equipped with the technology will take to the road in the next 5 years. Mercedes has made a strategic investment in Factorial and will also appoint a representative to the company’s board of directors. Mercedes-Benz cars boss Markus Schäfer said the investment is a “high double-digit million dollar amount”, although no specifics were given. Factorial is one of the leading firms developing solid-state battery technology and recently secured investment from Stellantis as part of a deal to jointly develop solid-state batteries. Solid state is one of the most promising (and much anticipated) battery technologies under development. It features an electrolyte made of solid material instead of the liquid electrolytes most commonly used. That allows the units to offer significantly greater energy density, translating to a longer range, as well as shorter charging times. Factorial claims to have developed solid-state batteries that have up to 50 % more range per charge and offer cost parity with current lithium ion units. Mercedes-Benz is working on solid-state as one of a range of battery technologies that it could introduce in the future, which in the longer term could potentially include organic batteries. +++

+++ SUZUKI has confirmed that it will launch its first pure-electric vehicle by 2025, making it the latest manufacturer to start its journey towards a zero-emission model range. Toshiro Suzuki, President of the Suzuki Motor Corporation, made the announcement during the launch event for the all-new S-Cross. Suzuki is a relatively late adopter of electric technology; until now, the company hasn’t needed EVs to keep its average fleet CO2 emissions low, as most of the cars it makes (especially in Japan and India) have small displacement engines and light bodies. In Europe, all of the firm’s cars are available with at least 48 volt mild hybrid technology, while thanks to its technical partnership with Toyota to produce the Swace and Across, Suzuki also now offers full hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology to its line-up, too. And it’s this technical partnership with Toyota that Suzuki could utilise for its new electric vehicle. It’s not clear if the technical partnership between the two brands extends to full EVs, but Suzuki could adopt electric motor and battery technology from the new Toyota BZ4X. Suzuki could follow the same route as Subaru, who recently announced a rebadged version of the BZ4X, called the Solterra. Most of the car’s styling is carried over from the Toyota-badged model and, underneath, the 2 cars are identical. Given Suzuki’s collaboration with Toyota on 2 of its more recent vehicles (the Swace is just a restyled version of the Corolla Touring Sports and the Across is essentially a rebadged version of the RAV4) there’s strong potential that Japanese brand might leverage its agreement with Toyota further still as even relatively niche players in Europe like Suzuki have to turn towards full electrification, which is expensive technology to develop. +++

+++ There’s nothing wrong with a catchy one-liner, but the often repeated claim that goes something like “the switch from internal combustion to pure-electric cars is the biggest change ever in the history of the auto industry” is not right, I suspect. If you really must know what the largest transformation was (and still is), in the last 100-plus years of car building, here’s your answer: Asia. In the 1970s, the first Asian car maker (Japan) broke the Europe/North America “cartel” by tempting buyers into models offering more bang for their buck and better quality. A decade or 2 later, South Korea (an even smaller country with far fewer people) also launched itself as a maker of value cars for export. Neighbouring China jumped on the bandwagon, too. Result? In recent years the trio has comprehensively cleaned up by collectively building more than half of the world’s cars, thereby making the Asians the undisputed, untouchable world champions. But who and what in Asia is the next big thing? In one sense such a country already exists. It’s India, but it has a problem in that (unlike the dominant “Big 3”, who build and export cars wearing, for example, globally recognised and desirable Toyota, Hyundai and MG badges) the Indians don’t have nameplates that the world’s showrooms crave. For now at least, Tata, Mahindra or Hindustan badged vehicles wouldn’t cut it in western showrooms. Similarly, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand each build hundreds of thousands of cars a year, but are also bereft of homegrown brands that appeal to sufficiently large numbers of buyers overseas. Then there is Vietnam, which is very different because it currently builds in cautiously low volumes, but it’s investing heavily, and patiently cranking up production of its clever new, intriguing VINFAST range. Better still, when bullishly displayed at the LA Auto Show and elsewhere last week, these electric and petrol models from Vietnam’s national car company looked surprisingly fine: far superior to the earliest products from Toyota and Hyundai. Shipments from Vietnam to North America will soon start, followed by exports to us lot in Europe. The Vietnamese will undoubtedly undercut the Japanese and Koreans. I was in Japan when the country began establishing itself as a leading car-producing nation. And I also spent time in South Korea, then China, as they successfully prepared to take on the marauding Japanese. Having also visited India and Vietnam a little later, I witnessed how these two and their automotive entrepreneurs, engineers and workers go about their business. Conclusion? My money’s on Asia’s Top 3 eventually becoming an even stronger Top 4, with underdog Vietnam its newest member. Sorry, India. VV (Vietnam’s VinFast) may eventually do as well or better than KK (Korea’s Kia). VinFast is wealthier, wiser, more talented and smarter today than struggling, naive, skint Kia was in its early days. Which is why I honestly believe that VinFast is in a great position to do even better for Vietnam in the coming decades than Kia impressively did for South Korea over the last few. Mark my words. I know about these things. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is continuing development of a long-awaited electric alternative to the Passat, with new spy shots showing the model in modest camouflage wrapping. Internally codenamed ‘Aero B’, the model will rival cars such as the Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2 and forthcoming Hyundai Ioniq 6 when it is released to the market in 2023. The Aero B was first shown as a concept, dubbed the ID. Vizzion, at the 2018 Geneva motor show. I expect the finished car’s name will stick with the traditional ID naming convention. In 2018, Volkswagen bosses promised that the finished car would be capable of 600 km on a single charge. If Volkswagen’s current battery technology is anything to go by, this range figure should be easily achievable, especially when considering the Aero B’s more aerodynamic shape. The ID.4 Life, when fitted with the brand’s 77 kWh battery and rear-mounted 204 hp electric motor, can cover up to 520 km between charging stops. The Aero B will likely use the same battery, electric motors and MEB platform as the rest of Volkswagen’s ID. models, as suggested by the proportions of the prototype. The nose is relatively short and low; the panelling around the C-pillar is broad and tall, and the driver sits quite far forward, as the cabin and bodywork have been manipulated to make space for the electric motor on the rear axle. We can also expect a 4-wheeldrive (potentially GTX-branded) version of the Aero B, with an electric motor on each axle and a combined output of 299 hp and 310 Nm of torque. The same powertrain is already on sale in the hot ID.4 GTX. Eventually, Volkswagen will launch an estate version of the Aero B, too, as previewed by the ID. Space Vizzion concept from the 2019 LA Motor Show. The concept was also fitted with a dual-motor electric powertrain, which produces a more potent 340 hp. It remains to be seen whether this powertrain will make it into production, though. The ID.X concept (which spawned the ID.4 GTX), had its output trimmed back to 299 hp by the time it reached production, so it’s likely that Volkswagen will do the same with the Space Vizzion. Inside, I expect the Aero B will share the same compact digital dashboard and 10 inch infotainment system as the rest of Volkswagen’s MEB models. It also looks like there’ll be plenty of space in the rear. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN will introduce a series of innovative software-driven technologies for its next-generation vehicles, including new chassis and steering systems. The updates to the driving dynamics of many of Volkswagen’s models were revealed in an online webinar led by Karsten Schebsdat, the firm’s head of driving dynamics. The new chassis technology, said to greatly improve ride quality and overall comfort, will be used in both electric and internal combustion models. The firm presented an Arteon saloon equipped with the chassis tech, which is intended to reduce pitching and improve composure over bumpy roads. Volkswagen says the tech will aid the shift to autonomy, allowing passengers to comfortably enjoy activities such as reading a book. In addition, Volkswagen claims the new chassis tech will reduce body roll and improve the responsiveness and precision of the car’s handling. The brand is also developing a new, software-based steering system that can be tailored to specific models and customer preferences. The system removes the need for a steering column and there is no physical connection between the driver and the car’s wheels. “The body’s pitching and rolling movements are significantly minimised and the driving dynamics optimised because the car reacts to steering movements more quickly and is more precise to drive”, said Schebsdat. “And this development is very important in terms of highly automated driving. This is how we ensure passengers are as comfortable as possible in all situations”. Software is a big part of Volkswagen’s forward-looking Accelerate strategy and a key focus for the brand. “Software will also be more important for steering in the future”, said Schebsdat. “It gives us many more opportunities to influence steering characteristics, which can be implemented on a model-specific basis for all platforms later on”. Driver assistance systems such as lane assist and travel assist will also benefit from the new steering system, the firm says. Volkswagen has not yet revealed when the new chassis and steering systems will be introduced to production models. +++

+++ VOLVO ’s third electric car will be the unconventionally shaped successor to the hugely popular XC90, and it will set the tone for a whole family of new EVs from the Swedish manufacturer. Due in 2022 as a production-ready version of the bold Concept Recharge shown earlier this year, the new arrival will provide Volvo with a long-awaited entry into the increasingly important full-sized electric SUV segment, into which most premium-oriented manufacturers have launched their debut EVs in recent years. Volvo’s existing pure EVs, the XC40 Recharge and coupé-backed C40 Recharge, sit a segment lower and use the same CMA platform as the conventionally fuelled XC40. Meanwhile, the XC90 successor, which will be given a name rather than a number in production form, will use Volvo’s new SPA2 platform. This evolved version of the current car’s architecture will accommodate a choice of combustion and pure-electric powertrains. It will be the first production car to use the new underpinnings before they are rolled out to other Volvo models and sibling brands owned by parent company Geely Auto. As part of a new platform-sharing agreement, Geely will in turn offer Volvo access to its latest SEA architecture. The Concept Recharge heavily hinted at how Volvo will ensure its new flagship EV retains the XC90’s core characteristics while ushering in a totally new approach to exterior and cabin design, as well as a host of advanced new technologies. The Swedish brand’s biggest model remains a consistently strong seller, even as the current, second-generation car enters its 7th and final year on sale. In the first 10 months of 2021 alone, the XC90 accounted for around 6.5% of Volvo’s global sales, putting it third only to its XC60 and XC40 siblings. So although the XC90 successor will adopt a radically different design, it will continue to major on space and practicality. The ‘less is more’ approach exhibited by the concept points to an enhanced focus on minimalistic design in Volvo’s new electric era, as well as a drive to minimise the well-to-wheel environmental impact of each vehicle it produces. Unlike the vast majority of mixed-powertrain platforms currently on the market, the SPA2 will be offered in two distinct forms. This will allow the electric XC90 successor to benefit from a completely flat floor, shortened overhangs and a more overtly cabforward stance, whereas the combustion-engined versions will have slightly more familiar interior proportions, given the need to accommodate an engine, transmission and exhaust system. Some of the concept’s more outlandish and futuristic cues will be toned down for production: the 4 free-standing seats, for example. However, the skateboard-style architecture will offer new levels of interior space and flexibility, which concept designer Robin Page likened to a “Scandinavian living room feeling”. To that end, the production car will ditch physical controls for a cleaner and simpler driver environment. Most of the functions will be controlled through a large-format central touchscreen using operating software developed by Google , as first adopted by the XC40 Recharge and Polestar 2. However, Volvo’s next SUV will not be so easily categorised as an SUV because, although it sits high off the ground and emphasises all-round visibility like the current car, it has a straighter-edged 2-box silhouette reminiscent of estate cars such as the 240, 940 and V70, which once ranked among the Swedish marque’s most important and bestselling models. Company boss Håkan Samuelsson recently told that Volvo will gradually downsize its conventional estate offering (currently comprising various forms of the V60 and V90) in recognition of the simple fact that “people really are fond of high seating positions”. The XC90 successor will therefore straddle the boundary between 2 segments to capitalise on the popularity of SUVs while differentiating itself from rivals and avoiding alienating buyers of lower-slung models. Page called it “a new type of vehicle”, which “displays new and modern proportions that go hand in hand with increased versatility”, hinting at the potential for other Volvo models to follow suit in blending design cues from different segments. Volvo remains guarded about details of the new car’s powertrain offering, but the firm’s well-publicised push to reduce emissions across its line-up means all combustion variants will feature some form of electrification, be they mild hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Diesel will not be offered at all. It remains an option on certain Volvo models but will be phased out entirely as the brand’s line-up is refreshed. The electric variant, meanwhile, could usher in entirely new powertrain setups distinct from those offered on the CMA-based XC40, C40 and Polestar 2 EVs, while four-wheel drive is highly likely to be standard, given its large SUV billing. Volvo will offer a choice of battery sizes on its new EVs, giving buyers the option of standard and long-range versions, the latter capable of travelling up to 500 km between charges. +++

+++ VOLVO ’s revenue grew by the equivalent of £2 billion year on year in the first 3 quarters of 2021, against a wider backdrop of industry decline caused by the ongoing supply chain crisis. From January to September, the Swedish manufacturer posted revenues of SEK 202bn (£16.7 billion), up from SEK 177.5 billion (£14.7 billion) across the same period in pandemic-blighted 2020. Its operating income for the period was SEK 16.6bn (£1.38 billion), a substantial increase on the SEK 3.6 billion (£300 million) recorded from Q1 to Q3 last year, and its operating margin was 8.2 %. However, in the most recent quarter (July-September), total revenues of SEK 60.8 billion (£5.04 billion) represent a 7 % year-on-year decline, and the operating margin of 5.5 % is less than the year-to-date average. Volvo notes that during this period, sales were down 17 % year on year. Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said: “Production was approximately 50.000 cars lower in the quarter compared to the same period in 2020, while sales in the period fell by approximately 30.000 cars as the drop in production volumes was compensated by lowered inventory. The supply situation has improved going into the fourth quarter, but we expect the industry-wide shortage of semiconductors to remain a restraining factor”. Early figures for November suggest Volvo sold around 52.000 cars, a decline compared with the same month last year, which it attributes to “a build-up of in-transit inventory”. Samuelsson remains confident that Volvo “will reach the outlook stated at the beginning of 2021”. The company highlights that some 26 % of all Volvo models sold in the third quarter were electrified (22 % plug-in hybrid and 4 % electric). Volvo plans to go all-electric by 2030, and all-electrified five years before that. By 2025, it plans for half of all cars sold to be purely electric, and the other half plug-in hybrid. Samuelsson commented: “4 % is a rather low number because we have concentrated electrification on plug-in hybrids. They’re at 22 % which is very high in the business and we now have a new version with increased range. It’s a good solution for bringing our customers into an electric car. The next step is building up electric car production”. Currently, EV production capacity is 15.000 units annually but from autumn 2022, this capacity will rise dramatically to 150.000 units. Currently, it sells 2 purely electric cars, the XC40 Recharge and closely related C40 Recharge. The successor to its XC90 flagship will be revealed in 2022 with an electric option and it will be followed by four new pure-EVs by 2025. SUVs continue to make up the bulk of Volvo’s sales. The XC60 became the bestseller once again, with the 162.600 units sold from January to September shading the 141.500 XC40s sold (discounting the pure-electric derivatives). Sales of the large XC90 grew, too, to 80.400 units. Samuelsson has previously told that SUVs will underpin Volvo’s transition to a maker of pure-EVs, citing increased customer demand for higher-riding models. In the first 3 quarters of 2021, it sold 42.400 V60 and 15.800 V90 estates, and 36.300 S90 and 36.100 S60 saloons; with these traditional lower-slung models accounting for just a quarter of Volvo’s sales overall. +++

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