Newsflash: Suzuki ziet ze vliegen

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+++ CUPRA has previewed a new SUV that will go on sale in 2024 and be built alongside the Audi Q3 Sportback. The model will feature the choice of a mild hybrid (MHEV) powertrain or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) set-up with an electric-only range of around 100 km. Cupra says it will lead a new generation of PHEV models for the firm. It will be produced at the Volkswagen Group’s Győr factory in Hungary, which is primarily used to manufacture Audi models, including the Audi TT, Audi A4 and, notably, the Q3 Sportback. Measuring 4.5 metres long, Cupra’s new SUV is almost identical in length to the Q3 Sportback. It will be 1 of 4 new cars to join the Cupra range over the next few years, going on sale alongside the upcoming Tavascan. The third model has not yet been revealed, but it appears to be a hatchback that will be positioned between the Born and the new SUV. The 4th will be the radical Cupra Urban Rebel, which will arrive in 2025. “We wanted to show you today that this model will become reality and it is an electrified SUV with hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology”, said Wayne Griffiths, Cupra and Seat boss, at the model’s unveiling. The new SUV is expected to be key for Cupra, as Seat expects the performance brand to spearhead its global sales activities. “Our commitment to Cupra is clear”, Griffiths said. “Cupra is transforming Seat’s position in the market, spearheading its global expansion. Cupra is not the end of Seat: it gives Seat a future. The future is electric, and the future is Cupra. The future sustainability of our company is the growth of Cupra. We see our new brand Cupra as the lever to improve profitability and we must put all our efforts behind its growth”. Cupra tripled its sales last year to 80.000 cars. Seat’s total sales were 471.000 units. +++

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+++ “When I was given FIAT to run, I was very happy”, said Olivier François, Fiat’s global boss. “In the old world, it was where all the investments used to go. Finally, I thought, I can express my ideas for the Fiat brand. But actually, no, I couldn’t. The investment was needed on other brands”. That briefly sums up the history of Fiat over the past decade, a decade in which François has stayed at the helm despite all the turbulence, which includes the rise and sad demise of Sergio Marchionne and, more recently, the huge merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot SA to form Stellantis. While watchful Stellantis chief Carlos Tavares has shuffled around almost all other brand bosses, François stays in charge, most likely demonstrating how he has impressed by achieving so much with so little investment. François said: “In 2011, Fiat had a relatively fresh line-up but that wasn’t the case with Jeep, so the money was directed to brands which were more in need or brands that had a more immediate chance of creating big value. For almost 10 years, I have done what I could quite successfully. We did interesting products but not what we had in mind: 1 launch per year, per region, in relevant segments. This is the vision now. It is what we need to do and we will do. Back then, I didn’t have this possibility. We launched what we could when we could but not always in relevant segments. “For example, the 124 Spider is one of my favourites but, let’s face it, it’s not a relevant segment. But it was what I could do. We developed it with Mazda and it had a very good run. Then there is the Fiat 500X, which is maybe one of the most interesting. It was a relevant segment and it is selling very well. We just launched the mild-hybrid version; proof that a product line is worth investing in. But, ultimately, we were not able to feed our product portfolio. The big exception, the big investment, was the Fiat 500e. It was a lot of focus, passion and time and it is very close to my heart. It’s very important as an icon which is also electric. It’s a big statement. So we did a few things, made well. I should not sell too short what we did. What we have been good at doing is keeping older products fresh and relevant, such as the Panda. It was launched in 2012, but look at what we have today. We updated the look but, more importantly, it has evolved in connectivity, safety and engines. It is an incredible success”. In 2021, Fiat sold 1.3 million vehicles, making it the biggestselling brand (if not the most profitable) in the entire Stellantis group. Its strongholds are Europe and South America, in which it holds 4.7 % and 14 % of market share, respectively. In Brazil, it has an impressive 22 % share of the market. François said: “In Europe, Fiat is the number-3 car maker in retail. Because we sell small cars, we are not a big fleet player”. Its plan to launch a vehicle a year but keep its overall car line-up at 5 models, this is sufficient, François believes. He said: “That’s more than I need. What leads car makers to produce plain, vanilla cars (and dilute their brands) is having too many models. When you express your brand by a limited number of models, you want each of these models to be extremely powerful in terms of how they express your brand in different ways”. +++

+++ HONDA will launch an electric small SUV next year, based on the e:Ny1 Prototype (photo). It also announced 2 more electrified models for 2023: a compact hybrid SUV and a new generation CR-V, which will be offered with both hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The Japanese brand said the upcoming e:Ny1 will be “at the centre of Honda’s future product line-up” and offer “the unique blend of dynamics, technology and design for which Honda is known”. It added that the small SUV will be “a great option for families looking for their first EV”. It also revealed its latest hybrid-only Civic hatchback for Europe, which completes its plans to electrify its entire mainstream line-up by the end of 2022. When it arrives in autumn, the 11th generation Civic will sit alongside the hybridised Jazz (Crosstar), CR-V, HR-V and the electric E. The E has proved popular with its retro looks since launching in 2020 but has limited appeal as a city car with only 220 km of range. The upcoming e:Ny1, which will be a similar length and width to the Jazz, will look to correct that as a family-friendly car with a longer range. It will sit on a newly developed platform called e:N Architecture F, which Honda said had been created for the new model. However, economies of scale mean the platform is likely to be used in a number of future models. The new hybrid SUV, will be a similar size to the current CR-V, rivalling models such as the Kia Sportage and Toyota Corolla Cross. In turn, the new CR-V will grow in size to compete with the Skoda Kodiaq. Honda said it plans for its EVs and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to make up 40 % of sales by 2030 in Europe and 80 % by 2035. It has committed to end the sale of ICE cars globally by 2040. The firm added that the next stage in its electrification journey is using a “multi-pathway strategy” to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050. It added that it will invest in “a range of zero-emissions technologies, including solid-state batteries, swappable battery systems, carbon-neutral fuels and hydrogen cells”. Honda Europe senior vice-president Tom Gardner said: “The completion of our electrification goal marks a significant moment for Honda in Europe. “However, we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re already well advanced with our plans to further expand the choice of battery-electric and hybrid vehicles for our customers and increase our offering in the fast-growing B- and C-SUV segments. “The new models we will introduce in 2023 set the course for the next generation of electrified Honda cars, all retaining the engaging driving dynamics, comfort and exceptional usability to which our customers have become accustomed”. +++

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+++ NISSAN has revealed an updated electrified model line-up specifically for Europe, consisting of 3 hybrids and 3 all-electric models. The line-up will form the start of the company Ambition 2030 strategy, under which it will extend its range with 23 new models, including 15 new all-electric vehicles, by the end of the decade. Part of the commitment involves investment in battery tech and factories around the world. The firm will axe new pure-internal-combustion models from next year, following its decision to stop investing in tech to meet Euro 7 emissions regulations. It expects 75 % of its overall sales mix to consist of electrified models by the end of 2026. Nissan’s hybrid range will consist of the Juke Hybrid, which features a 92bhp 1.6-litre engine mated to a 48bhp electric motor, and new e-Power variants of the Qashqai and X-Trail. Meanwhile, the Leaf will continue to lead the firm’s all-electric offerings, before the arrival of the Ariya SUV later this year. They will both be joined by the Townstar, the brand’s MPV, which offers up to 177 miles of range. Guillaume Cartier, chairperson for Nissan Europe, said: “Nissan is charging towards an electrified future, with Europe leading the way. We have established a clear direction through Ambition 2030, and with our new electrified line-up, we are truly paving the way to a sustainable future. “Leveraging our global presence and Alliance partnerships, this is a landmark moment for Nissan in Europe with the arrival of our most comprehensive product offering to date”. Nissan says it will also develop a “comprehensive EV energy ecosystem” with the goal of optimising and expanding battery energy management. Its “flagship manufacturing ecosystem” will be based in Sunderland and will be powered by renewables. +++

+++ The mismatch between the quoted and actual fuel economy of PLUG-IN HYBRIDS (PHEVs) is coming under greater scrutiny as EU authorities look to tighten the testing process in reaction to data harvested from the vehicles. The European Union and the United Kingdom (which copied over the legislation) have since January 2020 required all new cars to monitor and store fuel consumption data for inspection by authorities, including electricity usage for PHEVs, to be able to calculate more precise CO2 emissions figures. PHEVs combine a battery with a petrol or diesel combustion engine to theoretically cut CO2 levels to under 50 g/km in most cases; well below that of even the most economical hybrid without a socket. That in turn unlocks a range of tax incentives, the most generous of which in the UK is a discount on benefit-in-kind tax. However, a number of recent studies have openly challenged whether the official testing procedure for PHEVs is so far removed from real-world reality that we’re actually incentivising the wrong technology. The most recent, published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in December, following tests on a “representative” BMW X1 xDrive25e to work out where the modern WLPT test procedure was going wrong. The testing discovered that an ambient 23deg C temperature was just too generous. At -5deg C, for example, CO2 emissions shot up to 94 g/km, or 40 times higher, while the car was still in ‘charge depletion’ mode (ie. draining its battery of mains-supplied electricity). Add in driving in ‘charge sustaining’ mode and the figure should be closer to 122 g/km, it reckoned, not 43 g/km. The ICCT also blasted the ‘charge increasing’ modes that use the combustion engine to replenish the battery, which it reckoned bumped the CO2 to 246 g/km, even in ambient temperatures. The pressure is having an effect. The EU is “discussing” plans to change the PHEV test from 2025. The EU’s plans already called for an assessment of the data collected from all cars, including PHEVs, by 1 June 2023. Should they find that the emissions data is excessively out (which it almost certainly will be), the EU will in 2027 put in place “a mechanism to adjust the manufacturer’s average specific emissions of CO2 as of 2030”. That means PHEVs will stop becoming a useful tool to reduce overall emissions. PHEVs have become an incredibly important technology for car makers to reduce their average CO2 emissions, especially for premium brands. Last year, 8 out of the top 10 bestselling PHEVs in the UK were made by premium brands, topped by the BMW 330e, according to SMMT figures. In fact, the 330e M Sport was BMW’s topselling model overall in the first 3 quarters of the year, according to Department of Transport figures, while the Mercedes-Benz A250e AMG Line was Stuttgart’s bestseller. Ford is also heavily reliant on plug-in hybrids to cut emissions, specifically the Kuga PHEV. “It’s a no-risk way to electrify,” the head of Ford in the UK, Lisa Brankin, told the SMMT Electrified conference on 23 March. Car makers are insistent they are used as intended. “Most people, for most days, are running on battery because of the way their journeys are structured”, Brankin said. PHEVs are incredibly vulnerable to sudden changes in legislation. For example, in Norway, sales plummeted 7 8% in the first 2 months of this year compared with the same period in 2021 after tax breaks were removed from 1 January, increasing the share of electric cars to 80 %, up from 50 %. +++

+++ Russian authorities will decide how to use RENAULT ’s plant in Moscow by the end of next week, the Ministry of Industry and Trade said on Thursday, after the carmaker announced it was suspending operations there. Renault, the biggest player in the Russian auto market, said on Wednesday it stopped production at the plant and would assess its options on its majority stake in Avtovaz, Russia’s No. 1 carmaker following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government’s comments about the future of the factory come after the Kremlin suggested it could nationalise assets of foreign firms that left the country. “The Ministry of Industry and Trade will discuss the prospects of developing the Renault Russia factory with the Moscow government. The joint solutions will be announced by the end of next week”, the ministry said. The factory in Moscow owned by Renault produces the Duster, Kaptur, Arkana and Nissan Terrano models. “The Ministry of Industry and Trade is in constant contact with Avtovaz and Renault Group management”, the ministry said in a statement. Renault was not immediately available for comment. Avtovaz, which is controlled by Renault and produces the Lada and Renault car brands, partially halted output at its plants in Togliatti and Izhevsk this week due to shortages of electronic parts. The Russian industry ministry said that everything necessary was being done to resume operations at Avtovaz’s assembly lines, including the creation of components stocks. More than 400 companies have withdrawn from Russia since it invaded Ukraine on February 24, in what Moscow calls “a special military operation”, leaving behind assets worth billions of dollars. Renault and other Western companies including food companies Nestle and Danone have faced criticism over their continued presence in the country. +++

+++ The ROLLS-ROYCE Dawn and Wraith will exit production in 2023 and are already no longer available to order, company boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös has confirmed. Both cars, the Dawn a 2-door convertible and the Wraith a 2-door coupé, have reached the end of their scheduled production runs and will not be directly replaced as the firm instead focuses its self-funded resources on the development of the Spectre 2-door electric coupé, which is due in the fourth quarter of 2023. Müller-Ötvös said that orders for the 2-door pair had now closed for all markets having previously been taken off sale for the US, yet the nature of the firm’s orders and waiting list mean that it would be early 2023 before the final Wraith and Dawn models rolled off its Goodwood production line. While not a direct replacement for the Wraith, the Spectre would play the role of a coupé in the company’s range from now on, said Müller-Ötvös. Rolls-Royce insiders say the firm could have made an all-electric version of one of its existing models for its first EV, but it was important that such a car had an identity all of its own and offered something unique to the Rolls range rather than being a powertrain option of an existing car. Indeed, Rolls instead views the Spectre as a belated successor to the coupé version of the 7th generation Phantom, with the pair sharing a similar footprint and the Spectre therefore having its own distinct positioning within the Rolls range. On more day-to-day matters, Müller-Ötvös said that the firm would be able to divert production of its models due to go to Russia to other markets before the block on exports to the country. Remarkably, he added that the wiring harnesses Rolls sources for its engines from a factory in the west of Ukraine had already restarted production having initially had to stop after the Russian invasion, and as such production was unaffected. +++

+++ SEAT increased sales by more than 10 % in 2021, despite a year where the firm was heavily hit by the impacts of Covid, semiconductor shortages and increasing raw-material costs. Of the 471.000 cars the Spanish company sold last year, 391.000 were from Seat, representing a slight drop of 2 % compared to pre-pandemic 2020, while numbers were bolstered significantly by the success of performance brand Cupra, which tripled its sales to around 80.000. Turnover increased by 5.4 % to €9.25 billion, while the market share of both brands grew 3.6 % in Europe. In terms of profit, however, the firm lost €256 million. Cupra accounted for 25 % of the company’s overall turnover for the year. Electrified models increased in demand, with sales rising from 15.000 to 61.000. However, Seat said “several trends” had hindered it from “achieving the recovery it had hoped for”. Production was heavily affected by the chip crisis. Seat manufactured 125.000 fewer vehicles; 25 % below its initial expectations for the year. “In 2021, after learning to live with the negative effects of Covid, our plan to return to profitability was dramatically affected by another crisis: the shortage of semiconductors”, said Seat president Wayne Griffiths. “This led to a massive loss of production volume, a negative impact on sales and a negative operating result of €430 million”. As part of its Future: Fast Forward programme, Seat has announced a joint venture with the Volkswagen Group to invest more than €7 billion to “electrify Spain” and develop EVs. It said the spend will be the largest industrial investment in Spanish history and will include the construction of a battery cell factory in Sagunto, Valencia. “This project is highly important for Volkswagen, for Spain and for the whole of Europe”, said Thomas Schmall, Volkswagen Group board member for technology and chairman of the Seat board of directors. “It’s our ambition to electrify Spain, and we’re willing to invest more than €7bn together with external suppliers for the electrification of our Martorell and Pamplona plants and the localisation of the electric battery production value chain in Valencia”. Seat is also expecting further disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Cupra Born has already been hit by production interruptions at Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant, while production of the Seat Tarraco has been put on hold because of a lack of Ukrainian-made parts. “The war is obviously affecting our business”, Griffiths said. “Currently the Martorell plant is operating but at a lower level, due to the lack of semiconductors, and will further be impacted by the lack of essential parts from Ukraine. What worries me most is if the price and supply of energy is disrupted further, this could hit our production even harder than Covid or the semiconductor shortage. Despite all the unpredictability and crises, we know one thing for sure: the company can’t continue to make losses”. +++

+++ After years of rumored development, STELLANTIS has revealed its new 6-cylinder engine family. The 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged “Hurricane” I6 will offer V8 power, forced induction torque and 6-cylinder efficiency in a package designed to fit into any of the company’s North American rear-wheel-drive platforms. What is “V8 power”, exactly? Well, in standard output guise, the new I6 cranks out more than 400 hp (the specific figure will vary by application) and 600 Nm, while the high-output variant is good for more than 500 hp and 700 Nm. The final figures will be dependent on the application. We’ll save you a little legwork: In current Ram, Jeep and Dodge products, the 5.7-liter Hemi tops out at about 395 hp and 540 Nm, give or take, and the 6.4-liter around 485 hp and 700 Nm. This is a clean-sheet design that is only related to the company’s turbocharged 4-cylinder by some common measurements. The I6 is exclusively direct-injection (no hybrid/port-injection here) and the two I6 variants share 96 common parts, including the block and oil pan design. The differences are found in their internals, intake plumbing, valvetrain components and the turbochargers themselves. Stellantis is not yet ready to share specs or supplier info for the turbos but says announcements will come from its partners soon. The standard-output I6 has a compression ratio of 10.4:1 and revs to 5.800 rpm. It will run on regular fuel, albeit with reduced performance; 91 octane is recommended for maximum output. The high-output variant has a compression ratio of 9.4:1 and will rev to 6.100 rpm. That one will require premium. The new I6’s advantages go beyond basic power output. Every Hemi family engine currently in production is based on an iron block design, so they’re heavy. The aluminum-block I6 shaves weight off the total engine package, even if some of that gets added back thanks to the turbos and their associated plumbing. The standard-output I6 weighs 230 kilos, Stellantis engineers told us; the high-output adds just another 6 kilos. Fully dressed 5.7-liter V8s are in the 300 kilos ballpark, and 6.4-liters close in on 330 kilos. You may be wondering: “Why a clean-sheet gasoline engine now, when the industry is moving toward battery-electrics?” A valid inquiry, and one Stellantis was prepared to address. While the company will be pivoting to electrification over the next decade, it won’t be instantaneous. This engine family was engineered with electrification (hybrid or plug-in) in mind, however Stellantis wouldn’t say when we’ll see those hybrids. Think of this as a bridge between ICE and BEV. In fact, the company’s propulsion team stayed incredibly tight-lipped about what to expect in terms of applications. In practical terms, it will fit anywhere the 3.6L Pentastar V6 or Hemi fits, provided you’re talking about RWD platforms. For those who want to do their own measuring, the standard output Hurricane measures 33.4 inches x 28.7 inches x 32.7 inches. The high-output checks in at 33.9″ x 29.0″ x 33.4″. That said, don’t expect Stellantis to start chucking the 3.6-liter in favor of the 3.0TT in its mainstream cars. Just because it can fit doesn’t mean Stellantis will do it; look how long it took us to get a Hemi in a Jeep Wrangler. And don’t expect it to pop up in any Stellantis products built overseas, either. This engine family was designed primarily for North America; only American-built export models will be in the running for the time being. We won’t have to wait long to find out exactly where it will appear. Stellantis finally confirmed rumors that the engine has been in production since November and says the first products to utilize it will materialize within a matter of months, not years. We’re supposed to see the first one (a Jeep, and the smart money is on the new long-wheelbase Wagoneer) at the New York International Auto Show in April. +++

+++ SUZUKI and ‘flying car’ firm SkyDrive said on Tuesday they have signed a deal to team up in research, development and marketing of electric, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. In a joint statement, the 2 companies said they will also work to open up new markets with an initial focus on India, where Suzuki has a roughly half share of the auto market. Suzuki announced on Sunday it plans to invest 104.4 billion rupees ($1.37 billion) in its India factory to produce electric vehicles and batteries. The companies didn’t disclose details of investments in their partnership, nor outline any production timetable or target. Founded in 2018, Tokyo-headquartered SkyDrive counts big Japan businesses like trading house Itochu Corp, tech firm NEC Corp and a unit of energy company Eneos Holdings among its main shareholders. In 2020 it raised 5.1 billion yen ($42 million) in total in Series B funds, according to its website. SkyDrive is currently engaged in the development of a compact, 2-seating electric-powered flying car with plans for full-scale production. The statement did not say whether Suzuki would be working on this specific vehicle. The company, which is also developing cargo drones, aims to launch a ‘flying car’ service in Osaka in 2025 when the Japanese city hosts the World Expo. For Suzuki, the partnership will add ‘flying cars’ as a fourth mobility business, in addition to automobiles, motorcycles and outboard motors, the statement said.+++

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