Newsflash: Fiat vanaf 2027 volledig elektrisch

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+++ AUDI and China’s FAW are to kick off an electric vehicle plant in Changchun, capital of Northeast China’s Jilin province. Construction on the plant, with an investment of 20.9 billion yuan ($3.3 billion), will start in April this year, according to a Jilin government document. The plant, with a designed production capacity of 150.000 units a year, will be ready by 2024, said Audi. Audi said 3 models are now planned to be produced at the plant and the first 2 of them will be a SUV and a sedan. Vehicles will be built on an electric car platform called PPE co-developed by Audi and Porsche. The EV plant belongs to Audi FAW NEV Company, in which Audi holds a 55 percent stake. It is the first Chinese joint venture in which the German carmaker has a majority stake. “The Audi FAW NEV Company will play a central role in our electrification strategy in China”, said Audi CEO Markus Duesmann. “We are excited to have achieved another important milestone in the realization of this project along with our partner FAW”, he said. Audi has been producing vehicles with FAW for decades. It has a joint venture with SAIC, China’s largest carmaker, to produce and sell Audi vehicles in China as well. Audi sold 701.289 vehicles in the country last year, down 3.6 percent year-on-year, according to statistics from the China Passenger Car Association. +++

+++ BMW is rolling out its i4 in Japan, where consumers are showing signs of greater willingness to buy electric vehicles. Priced at ¥7.5 million to ¥10.8 million ($65,000 to $94,000), the EV is currently available for orders with deliveries starting as soon as March, the German carmaker said in a statement this week. While Japan has lagged behind the United States, Europe and China on the uptake of EVs, there are signs that local drivers are starting to embrace electrified cars. Registrations for imported EVs totaled 8,610 units last year, up from 3.238 in 2020, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association, fueled in part by a price cut for Tesla Inc.’s Model 3. BMW’s i4 has a range of as much as 590 kilometers on a single charge, and features fast-charging capabilities. Drivers can use a smartphone instead of a key to unlock and start the car, which also has connectivity and voice-recognition features. Toyota’s BZ4X, Nissan’s Ariya and Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 are all set to go on sale in Japan this year as well. In another sign of rising EV uptake, Tesla will open a new showroom in southern Japan, local media reported. Hyundai, which withdrew from the Japanese market more than a decade ago, is returning by positioning itself as an EV maker by selling cars online. The South Korean automaker is opening a pop-up shop in the Harajuku district from this weekend through the end of May. +++

+++ In CHINA , international carmakers can now have majority control of their joint ventures, but auto analysts warn that the change in equity structure does not guarantee their success in the world’s largest vehicle market. “A majority stake may mean more profit if the company is successful, but its success is not the natural result of such a change”, said Dong Yang, a former executive of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. “That is because the change alone will not bring about better products or lower costs that will mean a competitive edge over others”, said Dong, highlighting the importance of investment in research and development and closer cooperation between the partners. China earlier this year removed the 50 percent equity cap for international car companies in their Chinese joint ventures that make gasoline passenger vehicles, allowing them to have the majority stake. The caps, which were put in place in 1994, were moved in 2018 for the electric car sector and in 2020 for companies producing commercial vehicles including trucks and buses. Because gasoline vehicles account for the absolute majority of the country’s vehicle market, the policy change is perceived by many as the opportunity to maximize international carmakers’ return on investment in China. BMW became the first international carmaker to take majority control of its Chinese joint venture, when it raised its stake in BMW Brilliance to 75 percent earlier this month. The German carmaker inked a deal with Brilliance Auto to scale up its stake in their joint venture from 50 percent to 75 percent in 2018, when China announced its timetable to relax ownership rules in the automotive industry. Analysts suggest a majority stake in joint ventures, which also means a larger say and faster decision-making, will stimulate international carmakers’ ambitions and strengthen their commitment in China, the world’s largest vehicle market. BMW and Brilliance has also renewed the contract of their joint venture to 2040. “Today marks an important step, as we continue to expand our long and successful commitment to China”, said BMW chairman Oliver Zipse, in a statement when the joint venture’s renewed contract took effect earlier this month. “We firmly believe that our continued success in the world’s largest automotive market can only go hand in hand with the growth and further development of our BBA joint venture,” said Zipse. BMW saw a 9 percent growth in its deliveries in China to 846.237 vehicles in 2021, as the bestselling premium carmaker in the country. BMW Brilliance, based in Shenyang, Liaoning province, produced 700.000 vehicles in the year. Chief financial officer Nicolas Peter told reporters that BMW’s sales are expected to grow further in 2022 as demand continues to rise in China. BMW said it is expanding its production capacity in China, with one plant currently being expanded and a new one under construction. Among other vehicle models, BMW will start producing the X5, previously imported from the United States, in the second quarter of the year at the BMW Brilliance joint venture. “Our extended joint venture contract lays the foundation for further mutual growth and progressive development in the future. It therefore paves the way for balanced development in the three main regions of the world, as we have done in the past”, said Peter. Some other international carmakers are considering raising the stakes in their joint ventures to save their prospects. Late last month, Stellantis said it would like to increase its equity from 50 to 75 percent in its joint venture GAC-Stellantis, adding this will set a new basis for its business in China. The joint venture, which produces and sells Jeep-branded vehicles, delivered merely 20.000 vehicles last year, around half of its sales in 2020. Hyundai’s Kia is restructuring its partnership with Jiangsu Yueda Group, after another partner, China’s State-owned carmaker Dongfeng, quit the joint venture earlier this year. Kia did not make public the equity it will hold in the new partnership, saying more details will be released in April, but analysts said it is likely to have the majority stake as part of its efforts to revive its fortunes in the Chinese market. Kia and Yueda have announced that they would invest $900 million in their joint venture to boost its competitiveness. The joint venture’s goal is to sell 4 million vehicles in 10 years from now. Its cumulative sales in China stand around 6 million since its establishment in 2002. It was previously one of the most popular carmakers in China. Its models were more affordable than those from European and Japanese carmakers and had better quality than Chinese ones. Its sales peaked in 2016 at around 650.000 units but deliveries have since dwindled, falling to 160,000 units in 2021. The company lost 4.75 billion yuan ($747 million) in 2020 and 2.61 billion yuan in the first 10 months of 2021, according to Shanghai United Assets and Equity Exchange. “The situation has changed. The auto industry has entered a new stage with electric cars and smart vehicles, and so has competition among carmakers,” Dong said. “So the policy change should not only serve as the chance to seek more profit but also a new starting point for all-around cooperation”, he said. +++

+++ In Stellantis’ newly released 2021 financial report, the massive automaker says that its FIAT brand becomes fully electric in Europe in 2027. As part of that strategy, the document says that the marque’s lineup gains another, currently unidentified EV in 2022 or 2023 (probably a car based on the CMF-B platform from Peugeot, Citroën, Opel and DS). The financial report offers no other details about Stellantis’ future plans for the Fiat brand. In 2021, the company claims the 500e to be the bestselling EV in the A-segment, which are generally small city cars, in 12 countries around the world. The global volume for the tiny EV was around 44.000 units. In 2021, Fiat boss Olivier François talked a little bit about his plans for the brand’s future. “We are exploring the territory of sustainable mobility for all: this is our greatest project. Between 2025 and 2030, our product line-up will gradually become electric-only. This will be a radical change for Fiat”, he said. To make the increased electrification happen, Stellantis is investing over $35 billion through 2025 into electrification. Some of the money is going to transform the Mirafiori factory in Turin, Italy, into an EV production hub. The automaker is also putting cash into the site in Termoli to produce lithium-ion batteries there. The 500e debuted in 2020 as a model engineered from the ground up to be an EV. It features a different look than the combustion-powered versions by having smoother bodywork and a 500 badge in the front. Inside, the instruments are in a circular cluster with a 7 inch digital screen and a 10.25 inch display is on the centre of the dashboard. The 500e launched with a single-motor powertrain making 118 hp that let it hit 100 kilometres per hour in 9.0 seconds. It came with a 42 kWh battery pack that allowed for a 320-kilometre range in the WLTP test. +++

+++ U.S. auto safety regulators are investigating complaints that the automatic emergency braking systems on more than 1.7 million newer HONDA cars can stop the vehicles for no reason. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has 278 complaints that the problem can happen in 2017 through 2019 built units of the CR-V and 2018 – 2019 units of the Accord. The agency announced the probe in documents posted Thursday on its website. In some cases the owners complained of unexpected speed reductions that could cause increased vulnerability to rear collsions. Agency documents say the inadvertent braking can occur without warning and randomly. In six cases, owners told the agency the problem caused collisions with minor injuries. The agency says it’s opening the probe to determine how many vehicles are affected and how bad the problem is. The investigation could lead to a recall. A message was left early Thursday seeking comment from Honda. Among those complaining was a Honda owner in Fredericksburg, Virginia, who told the agency that a 2018 modelyear CR-V came to a complete stop in November of 2019. “While driving on an interstate with no vehicles or obstacles stopped in front of me, my car automatically braked hard”, the owner wrote. “It came to a complete stop on the interstate, which resulted in me getting rear-ended”. The owner, who was not identified in the complaint, reported that 2 people were hurt. The Honda probe is the second investigation of automated braking systems opened by NHTSA in the past week. On February 17, the agency began investigating reports of similar malfunctions on about 416.000 Teslas after it received 354 complaints that the vehicles could stop for no reason. The vehicles are equipped with partially automated driver-assist features such as adaptive cruise control and “Autopilot”, which allows them to automatically brake and steer within their lanes. No crashes or injuries were reported. Automatic emergency braking systems have great life-saving potential. They can stop crashes or slow vehicles if drivers are impaired or are not paying attention when something is in the way. But they also can react to shadows, overpasses or other things that appear to be obstructions. The systems are becoming more widespread. In 2016, 20 automakers covering most of the industry agreed to voluntarily make automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all of their new vehicles by September 2022. The systems help prevent crashes or reduce their severity by applying the brakes for a driver. The systems use cameras, radar and other sensors to see when a crash is imminent. They warn drivers to brake, and they brake vehicles automatically if the driver doesn’t act quickly enough. Consumer Reports found last December that more than 12 major automakers have equipped nearly all of their 2021 model year vehicles with the technology. NHTSA also has started the regulatory process of requiring the systems for both heavy trucks and passenger vehicles. The move to require the electronic systems and the investigations come as the government tries to stem a trend of increasing highway deaths. For the first 9 months of 2021, an estimated 31.720 people were killed on the nation’s highways, keeping up a record pace of increased dangerous driving during the coronavirus pandemic. +++

+++ HYUNDAI said Friday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with energy giant Shell to speed up the popularization of electric vehicles and achieve carbon neutrality. Through this MOU, the South Korean auto giant hopes to actively promote its carbon-neutral goals and Shell hopes this serves as momentum for it to expand its green energy business. The two companies agreed to cooperate in establishing infrastructures for EV charging, coming up with low carbon-emitting solutions, and in other major sectors such as hydrogen and digital. They plan to utilize Shell’s gas station network to create more EV stations in Asia, where an anticipated surge of demand for EVs. Shell currently has around 45.000 gas stations in around 80 countries. Hyundai and Shell plan to implement diverse new renewable energy solutions to turn all of their manufacturing facilities 100 percent renewable energy-dependent. Shell will also review using Hyundai’s hydroelectric trucks and cars when it plans to change combustion engine vehicles used in its work fields across the world into environmentally friendly ones. In the digital sector, both parties will be expanding diverse connectivity services including smart vehicle maintenance. “Through cooperation with Shell, we hope to accomplish innovation in many environment-friendly businesses”, said an official from Hyundai. “Using our strengths, we will expand the EV market and increase demand for renewable energies”. +++

+++ NISSAN will invest $500 million to transform its assembly plant in Mississippi into a key production base for electric vehicles in the United States, with the aim of manufacturing 2 new all-electric models including 1 for the luxury Infiniti brand, beginning in 2025. The announcement on Thursday is part of the Japanese automaker’s plan for 40 percent of its U.S. vehicle sales to be fully electric by 2030. Major carmakers are stepping up EV development as the global auto market adapts to demand for environmental responsibility amid growing concerns over climate change. At the Canton assembly plant in Mississippi, which started operating in 2003, Nissan currently builds four models including the Frontier pickup and the Altima sedan. +++

+++ PORSCHE is setting up a research and development facility in Shanghai this year, because vehicles developed in Germany do not necessarily best meet the demands of Chinese customers, said a senior company executive. Jens Puttfarcken, president and CEO of the carmaker’s China operations, said some engineers have arrived in Shanghai from Germany and they will be joined by more in coming months. “China is a very dynamic market, so dynamic that we have found some research and development work cannot be done in Germany”, said Puttfarcken on Tuesday. “That is because they cannot understand, and more importantly cannot do, the testing because the eco-system and technology required are not available in Germany”, he said. Puttfarcken said the engineers in the Shanghai R&D facility will work on such things as autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification and charging. They will work in close cooperation with the research and development team in Germany so that they would integrate those solutions worked out locally in China into vehicles made in Germany. Porsche now has 16 electric and plug-in hybrids models in China, the world’s largest market for such vehicles. Its electric cars and plug-in hybrids accounted for 18 percent of the carmakers’ 95.000 vehicles sold last year, said Porsche. Its first electric model, the Taycan, saw its deliveries reach 7.315 units, and over 72 percent of the buyers did not own a Porsche before, said the carmaker. Porsche has not yet plans to produce vehicles in China though, saying the production capacity in its home country is big enough and Chinese customers have a passion for German engineering. +++

+++ China’s largest carmaker SAIC expects its sales in Europe to hit up to 120.000 units this year, which will mark at least a 70 percent rise from its overseas deliveries in 2021. SAIC, a Chinese partner of Volkswagen and GM, announced the goal on Thursday. The carmaker’s overseas sales goal stands at 800.000 units this year. The company said Europe will become the first overseas market where SAIC’s annual sales would exceed 100.000 units. Last year SAIC sold around 70.000 vehicles in Europe, mainly those bearing its MG and Maxus marques. The carmaker said it would unveil a new vehicle designed for the European market this year, which will be the carmaker’s first model for the global market. SAIC’s vehicles are now sold in over 80 regions and countries across the globe, said Yu De, managing director of SAIC’s international business department. Besides Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, ASEAN countries and India are among SAIC’s major markets, where its sales are more than 500.000 units a year. Last year, SAIC’s overseas deliveries reached 697.000 units, up 78.9 percent from the previous year. It has been the largest vehicle exporter for 6 years in a row. Yu said currently around one-third of SAIC vehicles sold overseas are produced outside of China and two-thirds are exported from the carmaker’s Chinese plants. He expects half of them to made at SAIC’s overseas production facilities by the end of 2025, when its sales in international markets will reach 1.5 million units. But the carmaker is beefing up its transport capabilities as well. Last month, it announced that it is adding 2 vessels into its logistics arm Anji. The 2 vessels, which will each load 7.600 vehicles, will be ready by 2024. Powered by liquified natural gas, they can sail for 70 days without refueling, enough to last the round trip between China and Europe, SAIC said. Anji now runs a fleet of 31 vessels, including river vessels and sea-tankers in China and ocean-going carriers for overseas routes. +++

+++ Driving a rugged SUBARU through snowy weather is a rite of passage for some New Englanders, whose region is a top market for the Japanese automaker. So it was a surprise to Subaru fans when Massachusetts dealerships started selling its line of 2022 vehicles without a key ingredient: the in-car wireless technology that connects drivers to music, navigation, roadside assistance and crash-avoiding sensors. “The dealer didn’t bring it up”, said Joy Tewksbury-Pabst, who bought a new Subaru Ascent without realizing she’d be missing out on the remote start and locking features she had before trading in her 2019 model. She also lost the ability to check wiper fluid levels, tire pressure and mileage from her phone. What’s happening in Massachusetts mirrors a broader battle over who has the “right to repair” increasingly complex electronic products, from iPhones and farm tractors to the family car. About 75 % of Massachusetts voters sided with the auto repair industry in 2020 by passing a ballot initiative that’s supposed to allow car owners and their preferred auto shops to more easily peek into a car’s trove of online data. Automakers have been fighting it in court ever since. And 2 of them, Subaru and Kia, said that rather than run afoul of the new law, they would disable their wireless “telematics” systems from new models in the state. Car buyers and dealerships have been feeling the effects. “It’s certainly a bummer”, said Joe Clark, general manager of the Steve Lewis Subaru dealership in the western Massachusetts town of Hadley. “People are calling back after the fact, realizing they’re missing out”.  Tewksbury-Pabst was one of more than 2.5 million people who voted for the ballot measure in November 2020, after an expensive electoral fight marked by dueling TV commercials. She believes it will help independent auto shops compete with dealerships’ in-house repair shops. She’s mostly frustrated with Subaru, describing its reaction to the law as “like a child that didn’t get their way and took their ball and went home”. Cars already have a diagnostic port that mechanics can access for basic repair information, but independent auto shops say that only carmakers and their dealers have access to the real-time diagnostics that cars now transmit wirelessly. That’s increasingly important amid the shift to electric cars, many of which don’t have those diagnostic ports. The law requires automakers to create an open standard for sharing mechanical data. Subaru spokesperson Dominick Infante said the “impossibility of complying” with that provision “is a disservice to both our retailers and our customers”. “The data platform that the new law requires to provide the data does not exist and will not exist any time soon”, he said in an email. An auto industry trade group immediately sued the state’s Attorney General Maura Healey after the law’s passage to stop it from taking effect, arguing that the timeline was unreasonable, the penalties too onerous, and that automatically sharing so much driver data with third parties presented cybersecurity and privacy risks. Part of the fight is also over who gets to alert drivers and encourage them to visit when the car senses it needs a repair. The current system favors dealerships, which many auto shops fear will soon put them out of work if independent mechanics can’t get get easy access to the software upgrades and mechanical data needed to make basic repairs, from tire alignments to broken seat heaters. “If we don’t have access to repair information, diagnostic information, you’re putting an entire workforce out of business”, said Bob Lane, owner of Direct Tire & Auto Service, in the Boston suburb of Watertown. “If the only person who can fix a car, because of a data standpoint, is the dealership, the consumer has lost the choice”. The right-to-repair movement now has a powerful ally in U.S. president Joe Biden, who signed an executive order last year promoting competition in the repair business and has already counted some victories after Apple and Microsoft voluntary began making it easier for consumers to fix their own phones and laptops. “Denying the right to repair raises prices for consumers”, Biden said in January. “It means independent repair shops can’t compete for your business”. The Federal Trade Commission and state legislatures have also been eyeing regulatory changes. Under scrutiny are restrictions that steer consumers into manufacturers’ and sellers’ repair networks, adding costs to consumers and shutting out independent shops, many of which are owned by entrepreneurs from poor communities. Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, introduced a bill this month to enable car repair shops to get the same data available to dealerships. Brian Hohmann has spent decades adapting to changes in automotive technology, from attending a school to fix carburetors (now an obsolete technology) to learning how to program. “Essentially every car now is 50 computers with 4 tires on it”, said Hohmann, owner of Accurate Automotive in the Boston suburb of Burlington. “If you’re not computer-savvy, you struggle”. But Hohmann said most independent garages are perfectly capable of competing with dealerships on both repair skills and price as long as they have the information and software access they need. That often involves buying expensive, automaker-specific scanners, or paying for a day pass or yearly subscription to get needed access. Massachusetts rules already favor independent auto repairers more than other places thanks to an earlier right-to-repair law passed by voters in 2012. But that was before most cars started wirelessly transmitting much of their crucial data outside the car (presenting what auto shops see as a loophole to the existing rules focused on in-car diagnostics. Automakers argue that independent shops can already get the data they need, with permission) but making it automatically accessible by third parties is dangerous. Such data access “could, in the wrong hands, spell disaster”, said the lawsuit brought by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation; a trade group backed by Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other big automakers, including Subaru and Kia. The case is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock, who is reviewing whether to split off the most disputed ballot provision to let the other parts take effect. A decision is expected in March after delays caused by the actions of Subaru and Kia, which the state says the automakers should have disclosed earlier. Massachusetts lawmakers are also looking at postponing the law’s effects to give carmakers more time to comply. Subaru and Kia have said most drivers will still be able to use driving-specific Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to stream music or get navigational assistance. +++

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