Newsflash: nieuwe Mercedes-AMG GT komt in 2023


+++ Quantum computer maker IonQ Inc said that it is partnering with HYUNDAI to use quantum computers to develop more effective batteries. The partnership will create a battery chemistry model to simulate the structure and energy of lithium oxide, to help improve the performance, costs and safety of lithium batteries, IonQ said. Better battery technology is key to advancing the use of electric cars. Researchers believe quantum computers could operate millions of times faster than today’s advanced supercomputers, potentially making tasks such as mapping complex molecular structures and chemical reactions much faster. For that to happen, the quantum computers still need to scale up further, say experts. Still companies, from banks to pharmaceutical firms, are testing out different ways to start using the quantum computers to be ready for the day when they become more reliable. +++

+++ A prototype version of the LAMBORGHINI Sterrato off-road supercar has been pictured testing in public for the first time. The Sterrato (Italian for ‘dirt road’) was first revealed in concept form in 2019 as a more rugged version of the Lamborghini Huracán Evo. At the time, a Lamborghini spokesperson said that despite at least one functioning car having been built, there were no plans to put the model into production. Now, the appearance of a lightly disguised test mule suggests it may eventually be offered to customers after all. Visually, the Sterrato has a far higher ground clearance than the Huracán Evo. It has been fitted with an air intake on the roof, as well as a set of roof rails. The front bumper has also been reinforced with a stone guard, and an LED light bar fitted to the bonnet. It does not yet feature the concept’s extended wheel arches, which Lamborghini previously hinted could be 3D printed were the car to enter production. The original Sterrato concept was powered by the same 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 as the Huracán Evo, producing 640 hp and sending power to both axles via a 7-speed automatic gearbox. It is expected that a customer version of the Sterrato would retain the Huracán’s rear-wheel steering set-up but gain an adapted version of the Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata (LDVI) drive mode system that’s more effective at finding grip on low-traction surfaces. Lamborghini isn’t the only firm experimenting with off-road versions of its sports cars. Porsche has been spotted testing a high-riding ‘Safari’ version of the 911, and Morgan has committed to building eight Plus Four CX-Ts. It is currently unclear if the Sterrato will be a one-off project, like the Aventador J and SC20 roadsters, or built in greater numbers as a limited-run series similar to the Sián FKP 37. Lamborghini has previously committed to at least two new product launches in 2022, with updates for the Huracán and Urus SUV both expected. +++

+++ MERCEDES-AMG is readying a second generation of its GT sports coupé for launch in 2023, following the arrival of the closely related seventh-generation SL roadster. Development of the SL was, for the first time, handled entirely by the Mercedes-AMG performance division in Affalterbach, and the GT will essentially serve as a hard-top coupé version of that car, sharing the bulk of its underpinnings. As such, the stylistic differences (even through the heavy camouflage worn at this early testing stage) look to be limited chiefly to a more rakish rear roofline and a bespoke treatment for the front grille. When it is eventually revealed, unique wheel designs, paint colours and option packs could be introduced to further differentiate the cars. The current-generation GT is exclusively a 2-seater, but with the SL adopting a pair of rear seats for the first time in several generations and direct rivals in the form of the Porsche 911 and Ferrari Roma carrying a pair of child-sized buckets in the rear, AMG could see fit to expand the cabin. It is not clear in these photos how different the GT’s interior will be from that of the SL. The GT can be expected to follow largely the same formula as its convertible sibling. It rides on the same all-new aluminium platform, claimed to boost transverse rigidity by 50 %, which allows the engine and axles to be mounted lower in the chassis. It is unclear whether the GT will follow the SL in making the switch to a four-wheel-drive layout, but it is likely to use the same rear-wheel steering system for improved cornering performance, while the electronically controlled limited-slip differential could be fitted as standard. It will also use the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 as the two SL variants already revealed, although likely in just the more potent state of tune, with 585 hp and 800 Nm for a sub-4.0 seconds 0-100 kph time and a top speed nudging 320 kph. A plug-in hybrid GT 63e variant should follow soon after, using a variation of the 831bhp electrified V8 deployed in the new AMG GT 4-Door Coupé PHEV. It remains to be seen if the hard-top car will weigh substantially less than the 1.970kg SL 63, but more details are expected in the coming months as a launch date nears. +++

+++ RENAULT SAMSUNG doesn’t get a lot of attention, but that’s changing today as the South Korean brand is slated to get an all-new lineup. Thanks to an agreement between Renault and Geely, the Renault-Samsung facility in Busan is slated to begin building new vehicles based on Geely’s compact modular architecture (CMA) in 2024. The companies didn’t say much about these upcoming models, but Renault confirmed they’ll be offered with internal combustion engines as well as Geely’s advanced hybrid powertrain technologies. Renault went on to say these upcoming vehicles will “meet and exceed local market expectations”, thanks in part to premium features and industry-leading technology. While the models are being designed with the South Korean market in mind, Renault confirmed plans to export them in the future. However, there’s no word on where else they will be sold. While a number of questions remain, Geely’s CMA platform has already been used to underpin an assortment of different vehicles. In particular, the architecture serves as the basis for the Geely Xingyue L, Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 / C40. Commenting on the tie-up, Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo said: “We are happy to initiate such an innovative partnership with Geely Group, which has an impressive track record in the automotive industry”. Renault added the partnership is part of their Renaulution plan and will improve Renault-Samsung by “using industry leading technology, engineering and services”. De Meo’s sentiments were echoed by Geely chairperson Eric Li, who remarked: “Geely has a proven track record in creating mutually beneficial collaborations that focus on technology, experience and shared ideas with the ultimate goal of creating higher quality, more sustainable products. We are looking forward to working with Renault and realizing new synergies that combine strengths from both parties to create value for the end user”. +++

+++ Apple’s profits margins are legendary, but topping them all are its margins for ‘ SERVICES ‘. These software-based features run at around 70 %; roughly double those for hardware like iPhones. Car makers, used to working on margins of up to 10 % if they’re really focused, slaver at the thought of profits like that. Now they think they can lift margins to tech-company levels with the same strategy: offering software-based services that car drivers will be happy to buy regularly. “A regular subscription income is like gold dust to any business”, says Richard Peberdy, head of automotive at consultantcy KPMG. Stellantis was the latest car maker to spell out exactly how much money it thinks it can make from so-called ‘software-defined’ vehicles at an event dubbed Software Day in December. It predicted revenues of €20 billion by 2030, at which time it reckons it’ll have 34 million data-connected vehicles (essentially, 34 million smartphones on wheels), up from around 12 million now. It already reckons it collects around €400 million anually from 400.000 people subscribing to connected services, but it anticipates that it will make the leap once it starts introducing cars with its super-fast new STLA Brain hardware-software combination from 2024. Features and subscriptions based services will “increase notably”, said Stellantis’ chief financial officer Richard Palmer in the presentation. Palmer spelled out in vague terms what they will be, including updates and add-ons to improve safety, security, entertainment, navigation and remote options. There will also be features-on-demand operations that wouldn’t need subscriptions, plus usage-based insurance and telematics services for fleets to better manage their operations. However, in the questions session, Patrick Hummel, a financial analyst at the bank UBS, raised an objection. “The more I hear car companies talk about tech-like margins, basically everybody, the less likely it seems to materialise”, he said as a prelude to a question. His point was that while companies like Apple have unique digital ecosystems that customers are prepared to pay extra to get the most out of, car companies don’t. In a low-margin, cost-focused business like the car industry, everyone shares suppliers to increase economies of scale, the upshot of which is that everyone has the same features. Then it becomes a race to the bottom as they tempt customers by offering more of those than competitors. “It seems difficult to me to end up in a scenario where every player stays very focused on monetising rather than just selling the car and giving away some features for free”, Hummel said. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares replied that the company could overcome this through the strength of its 14 brands and via its cost discipline, but it remains a good point: will we ever need to pay extra for digital services, given that someone somewhere will probably give them out for free? Right now services are few and far between. Volkswagen Group brands, for example, will charge to benefit from data sharing between your car and your app after a certain period when it’s given for free, but the cost is likely to outweigh the benefit for most. Premium brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz have got smarter in offering digital downloads to upgrade your car after the event. For example, BMW will charge you to upgrade your cruise control to adaptive cruise control; and if your car doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, you can add it for €300. Competitors, however, will offer these features for free (or at least bundle it into the cost of the car). “The question is where does the line fall between what is attractive and free and therefore is a really important part of getting a consumer to choose your car, versus what people will pay for to achieve a good stream of regular income”, said Peberdy. Customers might baulk at paying to access for something that they see as already being fitted to the car, but that’s changing. Software upgrades delivered over the air can radically improve the functionality of hardware fitted to cars, for example the camera systems or an electric car’s battery. The hotchpotch of controllers for different functions in current cars is being swapped for smarter central brains that can deliver services faster. For instance, Renault is switching to a dual-chip system from 2026, powered by American chip maker Qualcomm, that will power technologies such as the digital cockpit, 5G connectivity, over-the-air software updates and Level 2+ driver assistance. The service or feature being offered might not even be conceived at the time of purchase, let alone embedded in your car waiting for you to unlock it. Thierry Cammal, head of the Renault Group’s Software Factory, told journalists in a briefing in January that Qualcomm’s Digital Chassis technology will allow it to develop services in “3 to 6 months”, rather than the 3 years it takes now. Rather than it being downloaded into the car, it stays in the cloud and is accessed via super-fast 5G modems. What exactly we will pay for is still up for debate. Ford this week revealed one possibility in the form of car security. Its new venture, along with security camera company ADT, creates a subscription monitoring service for cars or commercials that in the future will use the vehicle’s own cameras and other sensors to detect potential break-ins. The subscription will give you access to staff who will investigate alarms. One strong possibility is that we will pay extra to access autonomous driving functions. Tesla has pioneered this with its Full Self Driving function, which can be downloaded to your car for €10.000; just increased from €8.500 or €170 per month. Other car makers are following Tesla’s lead. Nio in China has rolled out its Nio Autonomous Driving system, which costs 680RMB (€90) per month. As with Tesla’s system, Nio promises it will improve over time. The danger is, of course, that once we take our hands off the wheel, they will go straight to our phones, and that’s only going to help the revenues of tech companies like Apple and not the car companies. Those future ‘software-defined’ profit margins aren’t locked in just yet. +++

+++ The SONY Group will likely add new technology partners to its electric vehicle (EV) project to help it forge a mobility business to transform cars from transportation machines to entertainment spaces, a Sony executive told. An ongoing shift to electric cars, which are easier to build than those with internal combustion engines, is allowing new entrants into vehicle manufacturing. At the same time, autonomous driving and 5G connectivity is expected remold the auto industry by turning cars into mobile platforms for information and entertainment services. “We see the risk of ignoring EVs as greater than the challenge they pose”, Izumi Kawanishi, the senior general manager who will manage a new Sony Mobility business, said in an interview. The coming transformation of cars was in some ways similar to how information technology turned phones into smartphones, he added. Announcing the creation of that new mobility unit at the CES technology tech fair in Las Vegas this month, Sony chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida suggested for the first time that the creator of PlayStation games consoles will try to turn an EV development project started 2 years ago into a money-making venture. “We understand that speed is important in terms of making a decision”, said Kawanishi, who joined the Japanese consumer electronics company as a software engineer in 1986 and heads the AI Robotics unit making Sony’s Aibo robot pet. Kawanishi declined to say whether a final decision on whether to go ahead would come this year. So far, Sony has built 2 ‘Vision’ prototypes with a factory in Austria owned by Canadian auto parts maker Magna International, which also makes cars for firms including BMW, Mercedes Benz and Toyota. Other members of its Europe-based project include German auto parts maker Bosch, French automotive technology company Valeo SE and Hungarian autonomous vehicle start-up AImotive. To bring an EV to market, Sony would likely have to invest heavily in plant and equipment. Tesla Inc, which delivered its first electric vehicle in 2008, has spent billions of dollars to make its business viable. Sony will also have to take on traditional carmakers too, such as Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen, which are spending tens of billions of dollars to beat the EV newcomers. Sony is one of a growing list of technology firms exploring automotive opportunities, including iPhone maker Apple, South Korea’s LG Electronics Taiwan’s Foxconn and China’s Alibaba Group. Sony will pick new partners for its EV project based on the technology they can bring to the project, without regard to their nationality, Kawanishi said, when asked if Sony would partner with Chinese companies. +++

+++ STELLANTIS will announce its long-term plan on 1 March as it seeks to shape “the future of mobility with innovation and sustainable solutions”. The carmaking giant (formed by a merger of the PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) is celebrating its first anniversary. Reflecting on this, CEO Carlos Tavares said: “It’s no coincidence that Stellantis was born precisely when our world requires a new kind of spirit, one that supports this human imperative by providing clean, connected, affordable and safe freedom of mobility for all”. There are no formal details on what Stellantis will announce on 1 March, but it’s expected to focus on digitalisation and expanding its offerings even further beyond car ownership. It already has car-sharing firm Free2Move and short, mid and long-term vehicle rental company Leasys under its umbrella. Since its formation, Stellantis has launched more than 10 new vehicles across its various brands and planned investments of more than €30 billion by 2025 for electrification and software. It has also unveiled an ambitious electrification strategy, with 33 electrified vehicles available now and eight more electric vehicles due in the next 18 months. New partnerships, considered key to software transformation, include those with Amazon, BMW, Foxconn and Waymo. Tavares said: “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the Stellantis community is well on its way and so the race is on. Stellantis will make the difference in the demanding environment in which we operate. It is our duty, and thanks to our competitive mindset, I’m confident that our stars will continue to shine”. +++

+++ TESLA ’s Berlin factory will elect its first works council on February 28, Germany’s largest union IG Metall said, expressing concern that it was too soon for the election to result in a truly representative body. Only 1 in 6 of the roughly 12.000 workers expected at the plant have been hired so far, in part because Tesla is still awaiting final approval from local authorities to begin production. The council will consist of 19 members. IG Metall, which represents workers across automotive companies as well as other industrial sectors, fear that calling an election before a wider swathe of workers are hired will lead to a council top-heavy with management. Under German labour law, only employees who have been working at a company for at least 6 months can stand for election. The results of the election will be valid regardless of what proportion of the workforce votes, and a new election can only be called after two years if the workforce has grown by more than 50 %. “Those hired so far do not represent the workforce as it will look when production begins or reaches full capacity”, said Birgit Dietze, head of IG Metall’s regional office for Berlin-Brandenburg-Saxony, where Tesla’s factory is located. Her comment echoed statements she made in November, when the union established that an election was on the cards. A Tesla representative was not immediately available for comment. Chief executive Elon Musk has sparred with organized labour in the past and was ordered in March last year to delete a comment made on Twitter in 2018, which threatened to strip U.S. employees of their stock options if they formed a union. +++

+++ A source inside TOYOTA ’s dealer network has been spilling secrets again. Last time, the source told that a Toyota Supra with a manual transmission is “confirmed” and could be here as soon as this year. This time the subject sticks to the sporty side and with confirmation of rumors, these having to do with the GR Corolla. It’s not so much that there’s new information here, but that a claimed insider is corroborating what we’ve heard. The dealer source says the automaker put a camouflaged prototype of the hot hatch on display at the same Las Vegas event last year where a manual Supra supposedly made an appearance. The car will be called either the GR Corolla or the Corolla GR-Four. If the latter name makes the cut, the number will apply to the all-wheel-drive system, not the engine. The 1.6-liter 3-cylinder is expected to do nigh-on 300 horsepower and send power through the Yaris’ 6-speed manual transmission and mechanical AWD setup with a center differential and varying torque splits front-to-back. The hatchback version will be the only one on offer at first, and perhaps for good, wearing a “widebody look” with a revised bumper in front and either 2 or 3 exhaust tips in back. For comparison, the regular Toyota Yaris doesn’t show any exhaust tips, the GR Yaris sports 2. On the rear of the standard Corolla hatch, a body-colored, diffuser-mimicking insert features two exhaust finisher-looking pieces that are so narrow they could be mistaken for random ornament. Another report also mentioned something along the lines of “aero tweaks later reported to be a mock diffuser”. Strangely, the source wasn’t sure the hatch would make it here by the end of the year. Seeing that production-looking prototypes have been teased a few times already, we would be most disappointed to wait until calendar-year 2023 for a market launch. An price somewhere in the mid-€50,000s remains the prediction. +++

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