Newsflash: Subaru stopt ontwikkeling nieuwe WRX STI motor

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+++ BENTLEY ’s financial performance in 2021 was its best to date, despite a year blighted by a “backdrop of economic uncertainty”. The British luxury firm posted operating profits of £325 million, almost double its previous record from 2015. The car maker previously confirmed a record number of sales for 2021, selling a total of 14.659 vehicles; an increase of 3.453 year on year. Bentley’s turnover was £2.28 billion, while the average revenue per car sold increased by 8 % year on year. “These results were achieved against a continued backdrop of economic uncertainty”, said chairman and CEO Adrian Hallmark. “They represent a major achievement for everybody involved at Bentley, as we push forward with our Beyond100 programme to reinvent our entire product range in the build-up to carbon-neutrality by 2030”. The firm said success in new markets with models like the Bentayga was key to its 2021 performance. It has also claimed its order bank is at record levels at the start of 2022. “Brand strength has been key to Bentley’s financial performance in 2021, with new models such as Bentayga Hybrid helping to drive profit to a record €389 million”, said Jan-Henrik Lafrentz, a board member for Bentley’s finance and IT division. “Increasing demand for our hybridised models, supported by €3 billion of sustainable investment in our Crewe factory, will ensure we remain the benchmark manufacturer in sustainable luxury mobility”. Bentley is currently 2 years into its Beyond100 strategy, with the goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. As part of a £2.5 billion, 10-year investment programme, the firm will introduce a new electric car each year for 5 years before 2030 with the aim of electrifying each model in the Bentley range. The first model expected to join the marque’s line-up will be a high-riding saloon underpinned by a new, Audi-developed luxury car platform, which will be used by several new models. Bentley will move away from internal combustion power altogether from 2030. +++

+++ Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey proposed putting 50 minerals on a list of those critical to U.S. national security, two of them being palladium and platinum, both crucial to vehicle CATALYTIC CONVERTERS . The world’s second-largest producer of palladium last year? Russia, providing nearly 40 % of the world’s supply. The world’s second-largest producer of platinum? Russia, providing a more meager 10.4 % of global supply. The country’s war in Ukraine, which is slowly turning Russia into the North Korea of Europe, has pushed palladium prices to historic highs and got platinum near the historic high it reached last February. We’d say that those prices, in turn, could push the rates of catalytic converter theft beyond anything previously seen, but this scenario has already happened. So really what we’re saying is: It could get worse. Last year, figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau put the number of catalytic converter thefts at 108 per month on average in 2018, 282 per month on average in 2019, and 1.203 per month on average in 2020. Public records search company Been Verified analyzed theft data for 2021, finding a monthly average theft rate that rose more than 400 % to 5.200 per month. A mechanic in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (not a national hotbed for thefts) said he replaced more catalytic converters in the first 4 months of 2021 than he did in all of 2020. The Dallas Police Department and the New York City Police Department both saw rises of around 300 % in each city in 2021. The Russian government is meant to be drawing up a list of goods that will be banned from export or at least restricted. No one knows what materials will get red-marked, but prices for wheat, aluminum, and palladium rose after Russian president Vladimir Putin merely gave the order to create the list. The price chart for nickel (also a major Russian export, also on the USGS list, also responsible for Tesla raising its prices recently, and also not banned yet) shot up like a cliff wall starting this month, and Russia only provides roughly 10 % of world supply. All of this is why Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said the war in Ukraine could be “very much worse” for European markets than the pandemic. So protect your catalytic converters; park in a theft deterrent spot, have your converter etched with your license plate number, buy a cage for it, something. The converter only takes a few minutes to steal, and sure, the thief will only get a few hundred, but it will cost well more than $1,000 to replace. You don’t want to have to add “My car’s jewels got robbed” to your 2022 Bingo card. +++

+++ FORD ’s Turkish joint venture will buy the U.S. company’s Craiova plant in Romania for €575 million euros and plans to move Courier van production there, the company said on Monday. Ford Otosan, the joint venture with Turkey’s Koc Holding, will pay an additional €140 million to Ford over the next decade according to certain capacity utilization criteria, the company said. The Romanian plant produces the Puma and the EcoSport. It will begin production of the Courier along with Puma next year, with battery electric versions of both rolling off in 2024. Ford Otosan, which is undergoing a 2 billion-euro expansion of its Turkish plant, will likely finance the acquisition with bank loans, CEO Haydar Yenigun told a press conference. It plans to keep paying dividends. The transaction is expected to be completed in the third quarter pending a regulatory review. Ford Otosan plans to begin manufacturing Europe’s top selling van Transit’s electrical and hybrid versions in Turkey next year. Ford also announced plans, together with Korean battery maker SK On and Koc Holding, to form a joint venture to produce electric vehicle batteries in Turkey. +++

+++ The facelifted FORD FOCUS has been hit by parts shortages due to the ongoing Ukraine crisis, meaning it can’t currently be fitted with the range-topping infotainment system, Ford has told. In a statement, the American manufacturer confirmed that the parts shortages affected new, facelifted Focus cars that were set to be delivered later this year. The Focus is due to receive a host of technology upgrades alongside a mild styling refresh as part of the facelift, including the introduction of the firm’s new Sync 4 system. “As a result of the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine, one of our suppliers of parts for the updated Focus has indicated that they aren’t able to satisfy demand for parts. These parts relate to the 13.2 inch Sync 4 screen that is part of the updated Focus”, Ford said. Models equipped with the smaller 8.0 inch touchscreen are unaffected. Ford has confirmed that it’s in the process of looking for a new parts supplier. “Supply of these parts are being moved to a new location in Europe, but until this is up and running, the 13.2 inch screen with Sync 4 will not be available to customers”, it said. “We will continue to build the updated Focus with the 8.0 inch screen. We apologise to customers for the inconvenience that this will cause but trust they will understand the exceptional circumstances”. Ford also said it’s working on what the ongoing line-up could look like and that the problem is “temporary”. The Focus is built at Ford’s Saarlouis Assembly Plant in south-west Germany. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ has €2 billion in assets that could be threatened by Russian proposals to nationalize the property of foreign firms that leave because of its invasion of Ukraine, the German premium carmaker said. The company said in its annual report released on Friday that the war in Ukraine raised a range of risks from disruptions to parts to energy supply or even cyber attacks. “These risks could be exacerbated by the potential expropriation of assets of Russian subsidiaries”, Mercedes-Benz said. Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, said this week a government commission had approved the first step towards nationalizing the assets of firms more than 25 % owned by foreigners from “unfriendly states”. Mercedes-Benz has a car plant in the town of Esipovo 40 km northwest of Moscow with over 1.000 employees that produces E-class sedans and SUVs. It was opened in April 2019 with Russian president Vladimir Putin in attendance. It was the first plant in years to be opened by a foreign carmaker in Russia, where investment into the formerly burgeoning auto industry had dried up amid western sanctions and a stagnant economy. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Putin said the plant would produce 25.000 cars a year and that investment in the project had totaled just under $300 million. Mercedes-Benz said its Russian units, which were valued at €2 billion as of the end of 2021, have liabilities to banks of approximately €1 billion, for which the carmaker has issued a global guarantee. +++

+++ RIVIAN has named Frank Klein, a former executive at Canadian auto parts maker Magna International’s unit, as its chief operating officer, at a time when the electric carmaker has waned on its 2022 production forecast. During his tenure at the Austria-based unit, Magna Steyr, Klein oversaw its shift to the electric mobility manufacturing space, including the production of the first electric vehicle made by a contract manufacturer, Rivian said on Monday. He previously served in various management positions at German carmaker Daimler for nearly 3 decades and was responsible for setting up the Mercedes-Benz plant in Kecskemét, Hungary. Klein will be based in Illinois, where Rivian currently produces its vehicles. The company last year said it would locate its second U.S-based manufacturing facility in Georgia. Production at the Georgia plant is slated for 2024. Rivian last week said supply-chain issues could cut its planned production in half in 2022 to 25.000 vehicles. Klein succeeds Rod Copes, who retired in December. Amazon-backed Rivian recently raised its prices by 20 %, but rolled them back for orders booked before March 1 following a backlash. +++

+++ STELLANTIS believes it can make up ground on electric vehicle pioneer Tesla in the coming years, its chief executive Carlos Tavares said on Friday, adding that consumers would benefit from competition in the sector. The world’s 4th largest carmaker this month presented its first business plan, with an aim to double revenue to €300 billion a year by 2030, stepping up efforts to expand its electrified vehicle (EV) models. “I am very confident, I am trying not to be arrogant, just confident of the fact that we are going to catch up in the next couple of years with Tesla and it’s going to be a very healthy competition”, Tavares told reporters during a televised Q&A session with reporters. Tavares also called for greater investment in charging networks in Europe and the United States, to create a “density” which he deems fundamental to persuade families to switch to relying on electric cars. The 63-year-old Portuguese executive also said Stellantis would move its current Russian van production to western Europe and freeze plans for more investments in the country as a consequence of the invasion of Ukraine. The carmaker, formed just over a year ago through the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot SA, has said it had suspended all exports and imports of vehicles with Russia, where it operates a van-making plant in the city of Kaluga, in partnership with Mitsubishi. The decision reverses a previous plan, spelled out in January, to use Russia an export hub to meet strong van demand in Western Europe. In this context “new investments in Russia are not on the table”, Tavares said. The Ukraine crisis is also driving up the price of metals used in cars, from aluminium in the bodywork to palladium in catalytic converters to the high-grade nickel in electric vehicle batteries, increasing pressure on the industry, already facing higher energy costs. After automakers suffered last year from a global crunch in semiconductor supplies, Tavares said further shortages of raw materials, including nickel for EV batteries, were to be expected. “Stellantis has not been hurt so much so far as our supply base is not concentrated in Eastern Europe”, he added. +++

+++ SUBARU announced late Friday that it has ceased development of the internal-combustion engine for its WRX STI; the brand’s worldwide halo performance model. Subaru’s announcement, which follows below in its entirety, leaves the door open for an electrified model. As the automotive marketplace continues to move towards electrification, Subaru is focused on how our future sports and performance cars should evolve to meet the needs of the changing marketplace and the regulations and requirements for greenhouse gasses (GHG), zero emissions vehicles (ZEV), and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). As part of that effort, Subaru Corporation is exploring opportunities for the next generation Subaru WRX STI, including electrification. In the meantime, a next generation internal combustion engine WRX STI will not be produced based upon the new WRX platform. The Subaru WRX STI and the STI brand represent the zenith of Subaru’s performance vehicles exemplifying Subaru’s unique DNA and rally heritage. As we look to the future, we also look forward to incorporating the essence of STI into our next generation of vehicles. This is obviously bad news for Subaru fans who had their hearts set on an STI based on the company’s updated sport compact, but beyond that, it leaves those who wanted a more decked-out WRX with a manual transmission in the lurch, as the range-topping WRX GT remains automatic-only, at least for now. +++

+++ Elon Musk wants to make cheaper batteries — fast. But the TESLA chief executive is unlikely to hit ambitious targets for Tesla to mass-produce its own new batteries this year, industry insiders and analysts say. Though Musk is known for doing the impossible, starting with turning the electric vehicle maker into the world’s most valuable auto company, the challenges of launching a new factory and developing a new way of battery manufacturing, are likely to be too much. The stakes are high. Prices of battery ingredients like nickel hit records this week on supply fears stemming from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and Musk in January forecast battery supply constraints next year, making in-house production a key to growth. “He is changing the way how battery manufacturing is done”, said Shirley Meng, a University of Chicago professor who previously worked with Maxwell, a battery technology company acquired by Tesla. “It’s really, really difficult to manufacture at a speed and at scale”. “I think they will probably fall short of the ramp-up of 4680 over the next year”, said Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, referring to the next-generation EV battery. Munster sees Tesla beating its targets longer-term, but starting off slowly, given its history of new-model production. Musk says making the batteries at scale will be very difficult, but they are critical to his goal of building less expensive, longer-range electric cars that will keep Tesla ahead of a growing pack of competitors. Like other automakers, Tesla sources battery cells from suppliers like Panasonic, CATL and LG Energy Solution. In late 2020, Musk announced that Tesla aims to halve the costs of the most expensive part of an EV by producing its own batteries. Tesla’s 4680 lithium-ion batteries (with 46-millimeter diameter and 80-millimeter length) hold about five times the energy of its current smaller 2170 cells. Tesla can use a smaller number of new cells for the same energy and driving range, reducing costs. Tesla has said it will start delivering Model Y vehicles with its bigger battery cells by the end of March. In 2020, Musk said Tesla would have capacity to produce 100 gigawatt hours of 4680 batteries this year, enough to power about 1.3 million cars, and more than enough to supply production at factories in Texas and Germany. Tesla is expected to deliver about 1.4 million vehicles this year. Industry researcher Benchmark Mineral Intelligence expects the company to produce batteries for about 30.000 Model Y vehicles, growing to 484.000 in 2024, according to a previously unpublished forecast. Tesla faces a lengthy process in ramping up a battery factory, complicated by plans to use a new manufacturing technology called dry electrode coating. “There’s a very long process of fine-tuning the equipment before you can get to volume production”, said Caspar Rawles, chief data officer at Benchmark, adding that Tesla would have to refine the manufacturing process this year to ensure volume production in 2023. “Battery production is hard, even hard for experienced suppliers”, Rawles said. Tesla said it produced its one millionth 4680 cell in January. It did not say how long it took to hit that milestone, but Benchmark estimated that 1 million cells would power only 1.200 Model Ys, which suggests that Tesla has a long way to go. Tesla did not respond to emailed questions about its battery business. Senior vice president Drew Baglino said in January Tesla is “making meaningful progress of the ramp curve” in its test battery factory in Fremont, California, while installing battery equipment at its upcoming plant in Texas. Baglino said Tesla’s “focus is to drive yield quality and cost to ensure we are ready for larger volumes this year as we ramp and next year”. As a sign of Tesla’s ambition, it expects to beat established battery makers Panasonic and LG to market with 4680s. The crowning difficulty for Tesla is that it is planning a new manufacturing process, called dry electrode, a technology it obtained via its 2019 acquisition of California startup Maxwell Technologies. The factory equipment, Musk said, “doesn’t exist. It’s being made”. Dry electrode manufacturing skips a traditional, complicated step of battery manufacturing that involves a chemical slurry. If it works, it will be cheaper and more efficient, but Musk freely admits it will be a challenge. “The very difficult part is then scaling up that production and achieving extremely higher reliability and safety with the cells”, he told a European battery conference in November 2020. Even so, his timeline is seen as optimistic. It took more than a decade for battery makers to optimize the conventional manufacturing process for lithium-ion batteries. Musk (who described a “production hell” of mass producing the Model 3 sedan several years ago) might experience a “Death Valley” start to scaling up the dry electrode process, said professor Meng, adding, though, that Tesla will overcome the difficulties. +++

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