Newsflash: Wiesmann bereidt comeback voor

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+++ 11.115: that’s how many cars FERRARI sold in 2021; a record breaking year for the Maranello squad. Deliveries of V8 powered models blossomed by 34.6 percent compared to the year before, so it’s safe to say models like the F8 Tributo and Spider were in high demand. As a matter of fact, the 2 were the company’s bestselling products in Europe last year, but they’re no longer available to order. Jacopo Marcon, product manager for the sports car segment at Ferrari, confirmed the decision to halt sales of the F8 duo. An official explanation has yet to be provided, but CEO Benedetto Vigna did say last month the company is enjoying the “strongest ever order book in history”. So much so it’ll be keeping the Prancing Horse busy “well into 2023”. That could mean the remaining production run for the 2 cars has already been spoken for. However, this has yet to be confirmed by the Italian marque. It seems plausible considering customer deliveries of the 296 GTB have started while the 296 Spider is right around the corner. It is believed the plug-in hybrid V6 models will effectively replace the F8s as even a brand such as Ferrari has to downsize and electrify to meet stringent emissions regulations. Despite 2 fewer cylinders, the new 296 models have more punch courtesy of an electric motor providing extra oomph. Speaking during a test drive media event organised for the 296 GTB, Marcon said production of the F8 Tributo and Spider will continue. However, he refrained from specifying when 2 two will exit the assembly line. When the 2 will be discontinued, Ferrari will still have the Roma, Portofino M and the SF90 Stradale / Spider as V8-powered machines, plus the upcoming Purosangue (a SUV). In addition, it has also pledged to keep the V12 engine, promising even more power compared to the 830 hp Competizione / Competizione A. Of course, we’re also anxious to see a LaFerrari successor further down the line. +++

+++ We are beginning to understand how much more will go into the reorganization under way at FORD beyond the break into the Ford Blue, Ford Model E and Ford Pro divisions announced earlier this month. Remember, Ford Blue will specialize in ICE vehicles, evolving the Icons lineup (Bronco, Explorer, F-150, Mustang, Ranger, Transit), providing efficient, cost-effective development and manufacturing processes for the entire company, enhancing customer service, and creating brand experiences for customers. Ford Model E will focus on all things electric and digital, from creating new battery-electric vehicles and powertrains to developing connected platforms, products, and programs for retail, commercial, and shared transportation. Ford Pro is for fleet vehicles, telematics and solutions. The grand aim is to figure out how to marry the best of legacy OEM operations and a global dealer network with EV startup efficiencies and savings. Ford CEO Jim Farley said Tesla’s customer experience scores exceed Ford’s for only about the first 3 years, then fall behind. He told: “The lack of physical support for the customer becomes a really critical problem for them. Not everything can be done remote. We can do things Tesla can’t do”. But Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales mean the EV company saves $2.000 per vehicle compared to Ford, and Farley wants to find out how to narrow that gap. Making the grand aims real will start with how Ford develops vehicles. Hau Thai-Tang, now chief industrial platform officer after the reorganization, said Ford will increasingly use small development teams with less formal oversight, using new methods, to create vehicles. That approach delivered the first and second Ford GTs, then proved its worth on a mass-market entry with the runaway hit Maverick pickup. Engineering teams working on the Mustang Mach-E and Bronco eschewed building expensive prototypes, instead mocking up ideas in foam core and virtual reality that could be tried and discarded quickly and cheaply if they didn’t work. Further benefits of these methods have been reduced development time and increased secrecy. Because OEMs are legally bound to reach customers through their dealer networks, the mothership revamp means Ford needs its dealers to embrace the changes. Execs are talking to dealers now about what the automaker is looking for, it will be up to dealers to opt in. First, Farley said: “Get ready to specialize”. Realizing that certain dealers might do better with ICE vehicles and commercial offerings as opposed to EVs, Ford wants dealers to choose among Blue, Model E and Pro. Those that don’t opt in to Model E, which will mean committing to new operating standards like not carrying EV inventory and potential facility changes, will be able to sell the brand’s EVs until the end of 2023; from January 24, those dealers will only have access to ICE allotments. Said another Ford exec, “We want our dealers to add true value and really be knowledge centers for the customer”, the plan now to find the best structure for that. Which, frankly, is another way of saying what dealers were meant to be all along. The company is talking to dealers about the best way for everyone to get what they want, or to find the best compromise. Dealers welcome the dialogue, but small-market dealers don’t want to cede more ground to large-market dealers with more options and throughput, and since dealers foot expensive facility makeovers when the franchisor decides to rebrand, they are all understandably cautious. +++

+++ The moose test is one of the most demanding manoeuvres cars go through. Not only does it check if the stability control is up to par, but it can also expose any dynamic shortcomings. There have also been surprising results; some good, some bad. The latest car to dodge the imaginary moose is the HONDA HR-V . The subcompact crossover was redesigned from the ground up, and I’was curious to see how the new chassis performs under stress. Its target is to dodge the cones at 76 kph. The 1.5 i-MMD Advance Style version was used for the test. It’s powered by a 1.5-litre engine and a single electric motor, giving it a combined output of 130 hp. This model also benefits from wider tyres, which should give it a wider contact patch. At first glance, the HR-V appeared to reach the magic 76 kph number. However, the subcompact crossover clipped the first cone in the second gate. A second test at 75 kph saw the HR-V nudge the same cone again. It eventually succeeded the test at 74 kph, missing out on the target speed by 3 kph. Testers noted that the car had good reactions despite the high centre of gravity. There was a bit of body bounce during the evasive manoeuvre, and it lifted its inside rear wheel at higher-speed attempts. Nonetheless, the Honda has good dynamics. The testers added that the stability control is not too intrusive and only cuts in during extreme situations. The HR-V matches the Mazda CX-30 in the moose test, so it’s on par with other subcompact crossovers. +++

+++ A decade after MAZDA cars disappeared from Ford’s factory floors in Michigan, the Japanese automaker is once again building in the United States; this time with compatriot Toyota. When the first CX-50 crossovers rolled off the assembly line at the joint Alabama plant in January, they were packed with efficiencies hammered out by the 2 automakers, both known for their cost-cutting smarts and manufacturing prowess. For Mazda, restarting local production with help from Toyota’s deep local knowledge and reputation for reliability is the game-changer it hopes will jump-start sales in the world’s second-biggest market. “It’s a huge advantage for us to be able to learn from Toyota’s vast experience in the United States”, Masashi Aihara, head of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. (MTM), told in an interview last week. Although the 50-50 venture might seem like a David-and-Goliath partnership, it also provides a glimpse into how Toyota aims to glean fresh skills from its growing number of smaller partners. As competition heats up in the industry (not least from prospective new entrants such as Apple and Sony), Toyota has taken minority stakes in Mazda as well as small car maker Suzuki and all-wheel-drive specialist Subaru in recent years. Aihara, a 38-year veteran of Mazda, said his selection to lead the $2.3 billion, 300.000-units-a-year factory was evidence that the learning was mutual. “Under president (Akio) Toyoda, Toyota is constantly looking to change the way it does things, and I think (by putting me in this position) he was saying, ‘If there’s something to be learned from Mazda, learn it”. The Huntsville, Alabama factory, which opened last year and is designed to add electric vehicles in future, contains many firsts for Mazda. MTM tows components from on-site suppliers on linked-up tractors, saving time on loading and unloading from trucks. The order in which the vehicles are assembled was also streamlined and machinery standardised as much as possible so Mazda and Toyota cars could eventually be built on the same line. “There were times when we both realised that we were doing things a certain way purely out of habit”, Aihara said. “And in some cases, we came up with a hybrid method bringing in techniques from both sides. That’s something we wouldn’t be able to do at Mazda proper”. The operation hasn’t been without its hitches. A tight labour market has meant the plant is still 900 workers short of the targeted 4.000, keeping it running at 1 shift instead of 2. An early plan to train 6 teams at Mazda and Toyota factories in Japan was derailed by Covid-19, the second team forced to cut their trip short. Still, Toyota’s U.S. footprint paid off there too: Kentucky and other local plants helped complete training for the rest, Aihara said. “Ultimately, the No. 1 mission for this factory is to contribute to the growth of our U.S. business”, he said. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ has confirmed Chinese majority-owned battery specialist Envision AESC will begin supplying its manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with what it describes as “high performance lithium-ion battery modules” from the middle of the decade. The German-Sino co-operation is the latest component in Mercedes-Benz’s plans to begin producing a range of new electric models, including the upcoming EQS SUV, EQE SUV and a new Maybach SUV, at the US-based site. Production of the EQS SUV is set to begin at Mercedes-Benz’s Tuscaloosa plant, which currently manufactures the Mercedes-Benz GLE, GLE Coupe and GLS, in June, while assembly of the EQE SUV is set to begin in October. Timing for the production of the Maybach SUV has not yet been confirmed, though employees at the site suggest it could be the first model to benefit from the supply deal with Envision AESC. Mercedes-Benz says it has planned for a capacity of up to 6.000 electric vehicles per month at Tuscaloosa in the longer term. The battery modules to be supplied by Envision AESC will be produced in a new US-based factory, the location of which has not been disclosed. “Envision AESC will be a major supplier securing capacity for the next generations of our Mercedes-EQ production built in the US”, said Markus Schaefer, Mercedes-Benz’s Chief Technology Officer. “This new co-operation allows us to secure supplies, to take advantage of economies of scale and to provide our customers with superior battery technology”. AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation) began operations as a Japanese-based joint venture between NEC and Nissan in 2007. It was integrated into Chinese battery conglomerate Envision in 2018. The sale of 75 percent stake in AESC to Envision included battery production plants in Tennessee, USA and Sunderland, United Kingdom. AESC was an early supplier of electric vehicle batteries to Nissan for the first-generation Leaf. The existing second-generation uses batteries produced in the Envision AESC plant in Tennessee. In 2019, the Chinese-based battery specialist announced plans for a new 20 GWh battery plant in Jiangsu, China. Envision AESC is also working to establish a new 9 GWh site in Sunderland. Other car makers with links to Envision AESC include Nissan’s alliance partner Renault. It has announced plans for a new 9 GWh factory to be built in Douai, France by 2024. Mercedes-Benz announced a start to operations for its own battery assembly operations at Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, revealing it plans to invest more than €40 billion from 2022 to 2030 to develop and produce electric models. The dedicated battery assembly plant is set to employ up to 600 workers. It is part of a €900 million investment at the Tuscaloosa facility in readiness for the start to production of the EQS SUV and EQE SUV later this year. Until the supply from Envision AESC begins, Mercedes-Benz will reply on an existing network of partners for battery cells and modules. The German car maker says it has developed a “next-generation battery” that is claims offers greater energy density and faster charging than the units used in its existing electric-powered EQ badged models though the adoption of new cell chemistry that reduces the cobalt content to 10 percent. The lithium-ion batteries are assembled into a pack on a 300-metre long production line with more than 70 workstations. The operations in the US compliment similar battery assembly plants established by Mercedes-Benz in Germany, China, Poland and Thailand. Plans are to build a network of eight cell manufacturing sites worldwide with a production capacity of up to 200 GWh by the end of 2030, according to Schaefer. +++

+++ The NISSAN GT-R in R35 guise was launched back in 2007 but is still regarded as one of the most capable supercars in the world. A brand new successor may or may not be in the cards, though in certain areas around the globe the Japanese manufacturer is already discontinuing the current generation of the Godzilla. Following Nissan Australia’s decision to cancel the GT-R in the Land Down Under due to stricter crash regulations, it seems that Europe is also saying goodbye to the performance vehicle. The GT-R is no longer available in many European countries. While you can still probably order one in Germany and Belgium, for example, Nissan’s dealers in The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and other countries are not accepting orders for the supercar. Also, the company’s official sites in those countries are not listing the GT-R. There is confirmation from Nissan that the Godzilla is leaving the European market, at least for now, due to the continent’s stricter emissions standards. The GT-R was already a very expensive car which makes it very difficult for dealers to sell it. +++

+++ POLESTAR has made an ambitious pledge to launch a “truly climate-neutral car” in 2030, and is well under-way with a lengthy research and development programme aimed at determining how the environmental impact of its supply and construction processes could be slashed. Shortly before revealing the new 02 sports EV concept (which itself previewed some of the sustainability-focused cues that could define future Polestar models) the company confirmed 5 new partner firms it will work with on the project, which was launched in 2020. The programme is called Polestar 0; a reflection of its intended environmental impact. Hans Pehrson, previously Polestar R&D boss and now charged with bringing it to fruition, stressed that the aim is to create a “commercialised car” rather than a concept. The new Polestar O2 is a high-performance electric roadster Polestar 2 Arctic Circle revealed as snow-ready EV “What kind of car will come later: convertible, SUV, city car, whatever”, he said, explaining that the 10-year programme (which began in 2020) is divided into 3 distinct stages. “We have a detailed timeline to get there. We should have a production start in 2030. 3 years before that point, we need to start detailed product development in the automotive business: 36 months is quite common. “Before that starts, we need to look into architecture. Will we build it on aluminium, steel or something else? Will it be four-wheel drive? Will the battery be under the floor?” Pehrson said his division will “have to be ready with really deep research” in 2025 in order for the company to meet its targets. The research programme will take into account the impact of all materials, components and processes used in car construction, but Pehrson said: “If we make a breakthrough this year or next year, we can implement them in a model-year change or in a new car launching in 2024, 2025 or 2026”. Polestar currently sells just 1 model, the 2, but will launch the 3 (a SUV) in 2023, the 4 (a crossover) in 2024 and the 5 (a grand tourer) in 2025. Each of these is expected to be developed and designed with a heavy focus on sustainability. Swedish metals firm SSAB will collaborate with Polestar on developing fossil-free steel; Norwegian outfit Hydro will help to develop zero-carbon aluminium; and automotive supply giant ZF will look at reducing the climate impact of vehicle electronics and systems. Meanwhile, safety firm Autoliv will work on equipment such as seatbelts and airbags, and ZKW will evaluate climate-neutral wiring solutions. +++

+++ TESLA has raised the prices of its electric vehicles for the second time within the month. After adding $1.000 to some long-range models last week, the automaker has now implemented a much larger price increase across its lineup. Its prices now start at $46.990 for the base Model 3, which is $2.000 higher than before. The Model 3 Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive is now $2,500 more expensive at $54,490, and the Performance version now costs $3,000 more at $61,990. Meanwhile, Model Y’s prices now start at $62,990, or $2,000 higher than before, for the Long Range version. Tesla has increased the Performance version’s pricing by $3,000, as well, which means it’ll now set you back $67,990. For both Model S options, Tesla has added $5,000 on top of their previous prices, so you’ll have to spend at least $99,990 for one. None of the other EVs got a price increase as big as the Model X, though, which now costs $10,000 more at $114,990. Although Tesla has quietly raised prices overnight, the move didn’t come out of left field. On Twitter, company chief Elon Musk hinted at the possibility of a price hike. He said both Tesla and SpaceX are seeing “significant recent inflation pressure in raw materials and logistics”. He didn’t elaborate, but he linked to an article about commodity prices soaring due to fears over the shortage of raw materials that Russia exports. One of the materials affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nickel, with its prices soaring and more than doubling since the war started. Russia is a key supplier of the metal, which is a critical component of lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and other EV manufacturers. In addition, Tesla is experiencing a massive surge in new orders due to heightened interest in electric vehicles caused by the rise in gas prices. +++

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN GROUP is expecting further disruption to production as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is considering expanding production on continents, it has said at its annual conference. The German automotive giant (whose revenue grew by 12.3 % in 2021 despite it selling 2.3 million fewer vehicles year on year) has been heavily impacted by the war creating shortages of Ukrainian-made parts. ​​Volkswagen said it’s building a ”taskforce” of 150 people, which is working hard to mitigate the current situation and select alternative parts suppliers. The acquisition of raw materials has also been affected, particularly for EV battery production, with prices expected to rise. ICE vehicles also require elements that are impacted by the shortages. “We’re building up additional capacities for wiring harnesses for Europe and are shifting car production to regions such as China and the Americas”, said Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess. Diess revealed that production of around 100.000 vehicles had been moved to the Americas and China and added that production outlooks for the year could be affected. “The dominant constraint is indeed wiring harnesses”, Diess said. “We receive wiring harnesses from Ukraine from 11 plants. 9 of them are working on reduced capacity. “The pandemic is receding and the semiconductor supplies are expected to improve steadily throughout the year. But the war in Ukraine has put our existing outlook into question”. Volkswagen has been forced to halt production at several of its factories in Germany, including its MEB-platform-focused facilities of Dresden and Zwickau. Other brands owned by the firm have also been affected, including Audi and Cupra, while the Volkswagen brand recently stopped taking orders for several plug-in hybrid models. Diess suggested the true impacts of the war on the group in the long term still aren’t clear, stating “the specific effects can’t be conclusively assessed at the present time”. Last month, he told that the threat of war for Germany and Europe was “huge”, emphasising Germany’s dependence on Russian energy and raw materials. +++

+++ WIESMANN announced its return back in August 2019 when a brand new sports car was teased. The Gecko never actually materialised to a production vehicle, though, and now the German sports car brand is ready for another attempt. The automaker with a headquarters in the German city of Dulmen has released the first teaser images and a short teaser video for the so-called Project Thunderball. An official press release accompanying the photos confirms Wiesmann is still financed by international entrepreneur Roheen Berry. The shots unveil a roadster with a very typical shape for a Wiesmann car: a long bonnet, a short front overhang, a long rear overhang and a very compact passenger compartment. The company says this will be its model for the new era, which will retain “the Wiesmann DNA of timeless design elegance combined with stunning yet refined performance”. Unfortunately, not much is known about the powertrain and its specifications. However, judging by a statement from Roheen Berry, there could be a surprise under the bonnet. “As the automotive industry undergoes its biggest revolution in a century, there can be no better time to announce the return of a refreshed, reborn and recharged motoring icon”, he said. An electrified Wiesmann, perhaps? We can’t confirm for now but it’s worth mentioning that the Gecko was designed to be powered by a BMW-sourced 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. When the first details about the sports car were unveiled in the summer of 2019, it was announced that the coupe would hit 100 kph in just 3.5 seconds. Again, we haven’t seen a production example of this car yet, so these numbers are only for reference. Back to the Project Thunderball, Roheen Berry also said “this is the Wiesmann fit for the 21st century, and this is just the beginning”. Hopefully, this means this car will reach production and will be followed by more new models. “Full details” will be revealed very soon, Wiesmann promises. +++

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