Newsflash: MG komt met Volkswagen ID.3 concurrent

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+++ ASTON MARTIN ’s revenues soared last year as its new management team’s plan to improve profitability and cut losses took hold. Sales climbed 82 % to 6.178 units in 2021; a reflection of 2020’s pandemic-impacted operations, and the firm expects to sell more than 6.600 units in 2022 as it expands its product line-up. As a result, revenue was up 79 % to £1.1 billion (a 14% increase on pre-pandemic 2019) and pre-tax losses were slashed from £466 million to £214 million. Aston Martin says this reduction in losses comes “despite increased investment in brand and marketing activities” as well as higher depreciation and the amortisation of its £13 million government furlough payout. The financial improvements are a result of the impact of the marque’s Project Horizon transformation strategy, implemented by new CEO Tobias Moers and chairman Lawrence Stroll. Ultimately, Aston is aiming for 10.000 sales, revenues of £2 billion and £500 million pre-tax earnings by 2024/2025. Influential factors in Aston’s revenue increase included reducing the number of front-engined sports cars built for wholesale, launching a new configurator, which trebled leads to dealerships, and reducing manufacturing costs by 20 %. In addition, the average selling price of an Aston Martin (excluding special models) climbed from £136,000 to £150,000 in 2021. Stroll called his second year at the helm of Aston “another of significant progress”. He said: “We have successfully transitioned our operating model to that of an ultra-luxury performance brand, with customer demand well ahead of supply. Our core business is strong and delivered to plan, with substantially improved profitability”. The DBX continued to be the brand’s strongest-selling model by a comfortable margin, accounting for around half of its global sales and taking a 20 % share of its segment. Notably, around half of DBX customers are new to Aston Martin. The brand expects the addition of a mild-hybrid derivative in China and the new DBX 707 performance flagship to ensure the model’s continued popularity. It also launched the hardcore new Vantage F1 Edition, which, it says, “was well received by customers generating strong sales”. It will follow this up with the launch of the more potent Vantage V12 in third quarter of 2022, which, it says is “attracting excellent customer demand”. Deliveries of the V12-engined Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar were heavily delayed by what Aston calls a “quality-focused approach” to its sign-off, and so the first cars only began to reach customers in December 2021. However, it notes that all coupés are sold out and the forthcoming Valkyrie Spider was two times oversubscribed at launch. Stroll said the Valkyrie programme, which was under way when he joined in 2020, “pushes the boundaries of what is possible to bring to market outside an F1 racing environment”, and that “while it was disappointing that some deliveries were rescheduled”, he is confident the remaining cars will reach customers “with no compromises”. Aston plans to deliver between 75 and 90 Valkyrie models in 2022, up from 10 in 2021. Overall, the firm plans to increase sales by 8 % in 2022 and boost pre-tax earnings by 50 % from the core business. Crucial to this will be the launch of 2 new models, the DBX 707 and V12 Vantage, which are said to be more profitable than “prior models”. The brand expects the first quarter of 2022 to be its slowest, as it ramps up Valkyrie production and prepares for new range additions, but it says its teams remain focused on mitigating the impact of the supply chain crisis and ultimately it plans to sell 6.600 cars this year. +++

+++ Germany’s Federal Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, or KBA for short) is reportedly putting Tesla under investigation for its AUTOPILOT semi-autonomous driving system, specifically for the automatic lane change function. The institution is now considering whether or not Autopilot will be legal for use on Europe’s roads. The KBA’s investigation could have been prompted by the one launched in the US by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA is investigating Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta, although the problem here seems to be more the idea that unfinished software is being used by untrained Tesla owners, instead of the company’s own test drivers. We don’t yet know what the KBA’s issue with Autopilot and the automatic lane change function is, but Tesla is not the only automaker to offer this feature. Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo are just some of the other manufacturers today selling cars that can change lanes on their own, although just like in a Tesla, the driver still has to initiate the manoeuvre by indicating in the direction of the lane change when the vehicle has its adaptive cruise control system enabled. It’s worth noting that the KBA may be based in Germany, but its decisions have an effect on laws passed for the entire European Union. For this matter it has contacted not only Tesla, but also the Dutch vehicle registration authority (RDW) through which all Teslas were validated for use in Europe. This could force Tesla to change its plans to eventually offer FSD in Europe. In fact, it will probably reach Chinese roads first, according to some reports. +++

+++ In 1996, Porsche debuted its newest 911 Targa with an expensive mechanical twist. Instead of the Targa’s traditional, removable roof panel, the 993-series 911 featured a glass roof that slid back, like a giant sunroof, to rest just ahead of the rear window. Based on a patent application filed in January 2021, a HYUNDAI engineer has a similar idea in mind but in reverse, and for crossovers. Paperwork filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office titled “Sliding Tailgate” describes a mechanism to slide a liftgate up over the roof, instead of having the gate hinge from the top and open outward from the vehicle. By sliding up instead of opening out, the patent application suggest the gate will be easier to open, and can be opened in places where obstacles behind the vehicle could prevent a traditional hatch from opening all the way. The mechanism is simple. When it’s time to put gear into the load bay, a short lever arm at the top of the tailgate bends to raise the top edge of the gate over the roof. The bottom of the arm slides on tracks along the edges of the vehicle roof, the bottom edge of the tailgate following in tracks along the edges of the load bay. According to the images, the tailgate sits above the roof in its fully opened position. The idea isn’t new, nor is Hyundai the only company looking into such solutions. Renault released a version of its Kangoo van called the Be Bop with a kooky closure system. The rear window could drop down into the tailgate, the gate swinging out like that on a Jeep Wrangler or a Ford Bronco. Then, for the ultimate in access, the rear half of the roof could pop up and slide forward, creating a load bay opening that could swallow a (narrow) bookcase, and some rather windy conditions for back seat passengers. Perhaps ahead of its time, as with so many Renault inventions, the Kangoo Be Bob only lasted 3 years on the market, from 2009 to 2012. At the same time the Kangoo Be Bob was on the market, Honda applied for a U.S. patent for a dual-action rear hatch similar to the Renault’s. In Honda’s application, the tailgate folded back like on a pickup truck. The rear glass could open like a traditional fastback hatch, or rise and slide over the roof. I know that Hyundai likes slidey things, though, the South Korean company having applied to patent a sliding cargo tray in 2005 and sliding gullwing doors in 2016. It’s only a matter of time before all those extra hinges make it to the dealer lot. +++

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+++ Electric-vehicle maker LUCID said on Tuesday it would recall more than 200 of its premium sedans due to a possible safety issue, sending its shares down nearly 5%. The California-based company said there was a chance that the front strut damper (a part used in the suspension) in its sedans was assembled improperly by its supplier. Lucid is not aware of any instances of the part failing in its vehicles, but it expects about 1 % of the 203 potentially affected cars may have the incorrectly installed part. It started building a $169,000 variant of its electric sedan in September after struggling with delays caused by quality issues. The company has since delivered a small number of cars. In recent weeks, Tesla has filed recalls with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for issues related to its driver assistance system and other software issues. +++

+++ MG has previewed a new addition to its range ahead of an unveiling in the 4th quarter of 2022. The brand has given few details of the new car and a preview video leaves much to the imagination, but it will be all-electric, measure 4.300 mm in length and “is developed with the European consumer in mind”. Based on those headline specifications, and clues given in the teaser video, the new model is set to be positioned as a value alternative to electric family hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen ID 3 and Kia e-Niro. MG has given hints that the new arrival will feature radical design cues that mark it out from the brand’s current EV models, the MG ZS EV and MG 5 EV. Visible in the teaser is a striking wraparound light bar, new wheel designs and wing mirrors, and heavily sculpted side panels that suggest a more design-led billing than has been employed by MG models since the brand was revived by Chinese company SAIC in 2007. Its size places it neatly between the current MG 3 (which is set to be replaced in the coming months by an all-new electric supermini) and the 5 estate, which makes it likely this new car will be called the 4. Indeed, a link posted to MG’s Twitter feed redirects to a URL containing the phrase ‘MG 4 tease’. MG is also planning to introduce a new family of youth-focused EVs under the ‘Cyber’ banner, with the eventual production version of the Cyberster roadster serving as a flagship. It is possible that the 4 will form part of this roll-out. As for the focus on European buyers, it remains to be seen how the car will be more directly targeted at this market than other models in the MG line-up. One possibility is that various design cues will play off the brand’s previous life as a Midlands-based sports car manufacturer. The Cyberster concept had Union Jack-shaped rear light clusters, for example. Otherwise, it can be expected to be broadly identical to the latest iteration of the 5 EV, with a front-mounted 156 hp motor giving a 0-100 kph time of around 7.0 seconds and a 57.7 kWh battery that’s good for some 400 km of range; figures that would line it up as a viable rival to the Ora Cat, another Chinese hatchback due on sale in Europe this year. +++

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+++ STELLANTIS said Wednesday that it made 13.4 billion euros in its first year after it was formed from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group. The earnings nearly tripled profits compared with its pre-merger existence as two separate companies, as the maker of Jeep, Opel and Peugeot vehicles exploited cost efficiencies from combining the businesses. The result compared to a combined 4.79 billion euros for the separate companies in 2020 before the merger, which took effect on January 17, 2021. Revenue for the combined business rose 14 %, to 152 billion euros. CEO Carlos Tavares said the results “prove that Stellantis is well positioned to deliver strong performance” and had overcome “intense headwinds” during the year. Automakers have struggled with shortages of key parts such as semiconductor electronic components and rising costs for raw materials as the global rebound from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic brings more demand. The company said the benefits of the merger were worth some 3.2 billion euros during the year. Mergers can lead to streamlined costs as companies combine functions and spread fixed costs over a larger revenue base. The company accelerated its rollout of battery-powered vehicles, with sales of low-emission vehicles reaching 388.000; an increase of 160 %. Stricter environmental regulations in Europe and China are pushing automakers to roll out more electric vehicles with longer range. Stellantis started production of a hydrogen fuel cell commercial van under its Opel brand in December. Stellantis’ other brands include Chrysler, Citroen, DS, Fiat, Maserati, Ram and Vauxhall. +++

+++ I’ve been paying close attention to some recent rumours, complete with images, that TESLA is in the midst of a slight refresh to its flagship Model S saloon. There have been photos shared online showing new headlights and taillights, as well as a revised rear end. It’s important to note that the image above is not the newly refreshed Model S since Tesla hasn’t confirmed the refresh or provided images yet. Now, it has come to light that Tesla paused Model S production at its main factory in Fremont, California, to perform a refresh changeover. It’s rather interesting that Tesla, a company that claims to NEVER “traditionally” refresh its vehicles, is refreshing the Model S yet again. As you’re probably already aware, the Model S just recently came to market partially redesigned. That said, the changes are only slight, and the updated headlights and taillights should be a welcome edition going forward. A quick search online reveals that people are hot and cold over the potential changes to the electric saloon’s rear end. However, we’ll have to wait for Tesla to make it official and share images before we jump to any conclusions. If you follow Tesla-related content on social media, you may have already seen various images of a Model S sporting the reported updates. At any rate, if the reports are true, all upcoming Model S Long Range builds should have the revised rear end, as well as the new matrix headlights and taillights. Deliveries of the newly refreshed Model S Long Range could reportedly start in the coming days or weeks. Reports also suggest the Model S Plaid may not get the refresh until a later date, so people ordering a Plaid may get an existing inventory car. +++

 

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