Newsflash: Bentley Mulsanne keert terug als elektrische coupé

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+++ An all-new BENTLEY Mulsanne is due to arrive before the end of the decade, kick-starting the firm’s radical electric era. The new flagship model will be part of Bentley’s recently announced 5-in-5 strategy, in which it will launch five electric models between 2025 and 2030. The first of those cars, expected to be previewed later this year, has been described as a Mulsanne replacement because it will be the most expensive model in the marque’s line-up at that time, as the Mulsanne once was, but it will not share similar proportions. Instead, it will be a smaller saloon, riding higher to accommodate underfloor batteries. Ultimately, though, a modern-day flagship, which will elevate pricing far beyond that of the former Mulsanne, will stand at the top of the lineup before 2030. This will allow Bentley to tap further into the super-luxury segment, ensuring high profit margins and the customisation expected by the mega-rich. Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark told: “We’ve dropped out of the Mulsanne segment and that is something, if we look at the market, that is still attractive to us. It’s part of our historic strength to work in that segment”. The final Mulsanne left the line at the firm’s Crewe plant in June 2020, marking the end of an 11-year production run for the model, of which more than 7.300 examples were built. It was also the final machine to feature Bentley’s 6.75-litre V8 engine, the longest-serving V8 in continuous production. While we know the Mulsanne as a 4-door saloon, the upcoming model is likely to take a different approach, instead becoming a 2-door, sportier-looking model. The saloon segment of the super-luxury market has been declining for the past decade. In 2021, saloons accounted for 9.1% of the mix, compared with 21.6% in 2010, according to figures from Jato Dynamics. That is largely attributed to the growth of SUVs, but with the Bentayga already accounting for half of Bentley’s sales, it is expected that the maker will take another direction with a next-generation Mulsanne in the form of a 2-door model. The brand already has an example of such a car in this segment: the £1.5 million Bentley Mulliner Bacalar, an ultra-exclusive roofless grand tourer from its coachbuilding division. The Bacalar is considered a test bed for a model of this size and style, albeit one with Bentley’s W12 rather than the upcoming electric drivetrain. The first electric vehicles in Bentley’s zero-emissions line-up will use a platform co-developed with Volkswagen Group sibling Audi. The architecture will be used across a number of EVs to ensure cost efficiencies but it is as yet unclear whether it will stretch to a Mulsanne sized model. Either way, Bentley is expected to be heavily involved with platform development. Hallmark recently told Autocar: “Before, our platforms were developed from group architectures that were developed way before we got to the party. The effort to modify systems and the suppliers’ requirements has been a major limiter for Bentley in the past. “With this generation of car, right from the outset we’ve been involved to ensure the specification that Bentley needs. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a breakthrough this is. It’s a game-changer”. He added that battery technology has accelerated so rapidly that he no longer has concerns about range related to the heavier weight of bigger cars. “We can now build a car as big as what we have now. If I then look forward to the late 2020s, it’s another step change”, he said. The first 2 to 3 electric models, he explained, will have much in common in terms of battery technology, and then the later cars (expected to include the Mulsanne) will be able to take on board new developments. These improvements will then be “retro-applied” to the first tranche of Bentley EVs. The first EV will comfortably have more than 480 km of range, Hallmark said. +++

+++ The GENESIS GV60 will receive a European public debut at Royal Hospital Chelsea for the annual Salon Privé car show on 21 April. The crossover is one of three EVs due to join the luxury brand’s product line-up later this year, alongside the lectrified G80. The GV60 is also one of eight battery or hydrogen fuel cell EVs the firm will launch by 2030 and is based on Hyundai Motor Group’s EV-specific E-GMP platform, also used by the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6. “Salon Privé is the perfect event for our all-electric GV60 to be making its European debut”, said Genesis Europe boss Dominique Bösch. “The GV60 marks the first step in our electrification journey as we progress the launch of the Genesis brand, so it’s fitting that both Genesis and Salon Privé are celebrating firsts as we look forward to the inaugural Salon Privé London. To be a part of this collection of amazing, inspirational and famous marques is exciting for Genesis”. 3 variants will be available when the GV60 goes on sale later this year. The basic model has a single 225 hp motor mounted on the rear axle and a range of 450 km. The 4-wheel drive model gets 318 hp, thanks to an additional motor on the front axle. And the performance model will pack four-wheel drive, 490 hp and a ‘boost drive’ mode. It will have a motor on each axle and around 400 km of range. Each variant features the same 77.4kWh battery, which Genesis says can be charged from 10-80% in around 18 minutes. +++

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+++ MAZDA is committed to keeping the formula of its venerable MX-5 sports car intact even as it embarks on a strategy to heavily overhaul, expand and electrify its line-up in the coming years. The firm has confirmed that it will launch a range of electrified SUVs atop its new rear-driven platform and 3 new pure-electric cars on its smaller, front-driven architecture, as used by the 3 hatchback and MX-30 EV. However, it has so far said little about how the 33-year-old roadster fits into that strategy. Now, though, Mazda’s head of product development and engineering in Europe, Joachim Kunz, has given strong hints that the MX-5 will be considered completely separately to the more mainstream models that underpin the firm’s growth, with a view to maintaining its enthusiast appeal.“It’s our brand icon and it is always treated very specially”, Kunz told. “At the moment, it looks like we will have this car forever, with this size and concept and combustion engine. Of course, some day, we will have to electrify it, but we want to keep this pure concept”. Crucially, the company has no intention of moving the MX-5 over to its small car architecture, as that would mean sacrificing its character defining rear-driven layout. Kunz acknowledged that Mazda’s Europe division has less influence over the MX-5 than it does with other models because it “is the baby of headquarters” in Japan, where engineers are committed to carrying its core characteristics over into new generations. Kunz explained that the MX-5 has a longer life cycle than other Mazda models (“having one generation for 10 years is not a problem for us”) which suggests a replacement for the current ND-generation car may not break cover until 2024. One possibility is that the MX-5 will exploit Mazda’s innovative Skyactiv-X combustion technology, which serves to reduce consumption and boost torque in the 3 without the need for a turbocharger and can be deployed in conjunction with a mild-hybrid system. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ opened a new 200 million euro ($217 million) software centre in Sindelfingen on Friday, its latest investment in boosting in-house software capabilities as it works to bring its own MB.OS operating system onto the market by 2024. Around 750 of the 3.000 new hires the luxury carmaker plans to bring in globally to develop the operating system were hired in Sindelfingen, working on features from in-vehicle entertainment to autonomous driving. The centre is part of a wider effort by Mercedes-Benz to streamline its software strategy from a patchwork approach bringing in technology from a wide range of suppliers, to controlling the core of its software offering itself. “We take responsibility for software architecture and integration, that is our main goal”, chief software officer Magnus Östberg said in a roundtable. “We don’t do everything ourselves. We place value on partnerships, but of course the parts that are most important for us, we do in-house”. One such partnership is with U.S. computer graphics specialist Nvidia, with whom Mercedes-Benz struck a deal in 2020 to develop assisted and self-driving functions which will form part of the MB.OS system launching in 2 years time. The carmaker is 600 unfilled vacancies away from achieving its goal of a global team of 10,000 software engineers in Berlin, China, India, Israel, Japan, and the United States. “The profile of a software engineer is highly sought-after; demand is considerably higher than supply”, chief technology officer Markus Schaefer said. In a survey of 572 auto executives by research institute Capgemini, 97% said that four out of 10 in-house workers will need to have software skills within 5 years, from IT architects to cloud management professionals to cybersecurity experts. +++

+++ NISSAN announced today that it is aiming to bring all-sold-state battery technology to market in 2028. It’s an ambitious goal, but Nissan says it’s confident the time line is correct. The all-solid-state battery will replace the lithium-ion battery now in use, and Nissan is establishing a pilot production line in 2024 at its Yokohama, Japan, facility. The advantages to solid-state batteries are many. Their energy density is twice that of current lithium-ion batteries, and they can handle much higher temperatures safely. Charging performance is dramatically improved, as well. Ultimately, solid-state batteries could dramatically increase overall range and bring charge times down. Nissan says it would use these batteries “in a wide range of vehicle segments, including pickup”. In addition to its own in-house research, Nissan is working with NASA on this battery technology, the Japanese automaker said Friday. The collaboration with the U.S. space program, as well as the University of California San Diego, involves the testing of various materials, Corporate Vice President Kazuhiro Doi told reporters. “Both NASA and Nissan need the same kind of battery”, he said. Nissan and NASA are using what’s called the “original material informatics platform”, a computerized database, to test various combinations to see what works best among hundreds of thousands of materials, Doi said. The goal is to avoid the use of expensive materials like rare metals, which are needed for lithium-ion batteries. By using cheaper materials, this would lower the cost, and Nissan believes it can bring its costs down to $75 per kWh by 2028. Down the road, it believes a price point of $65 per kWh is possible, at which point Nissan says it would bring cost parity with gas-powered vehicles. Nissan is also counting on its historical experience with the Leaf electric car, which first hit the market in 2010 and has sold more than half a million units globally. The Leaf battery has not had any major accidents on roads, and some parts of the technology remain common, such as the lamination of the battery cell, they said. Other automakers, including Japanese rival Toyota, as well as Volkswagen and U.S. automakers Ford and General Motors, are working on all-solid-state batteries. But Nissan executive vice President Kunio Nakaguro said Nissan is extremely competitive and that the battery it is developing promises to be “a game-changer”. +++

+++ TESLA and Elon Musk held an event called “Cyber Rodeo” to celebrate the opening of its new factory and headquarters near Austin, Texas. There was plenty of pomp and circumstance in the form of a pre-event drone show, but Musk made a few noteworthy comments, too. Take these promises with a grain of salt given past production date promises, but Musk claimed Tesla would begin producing the Cybertruck, Roadster and Semi in 2023. At the end of the show, Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen rolled up in a Cybertruck prototype in what looked like a familiar scene. There were no broken windows this time around, but we did get a decent glimpse of what the Cybertruck looks like these days. In short, it appeared very similar to recent sightings, massive front wiper blade and all. Musk also claimed that eventually Tesla would make a dedicated robotaxi. “It’s gonna look quite futuristic”, Musk said. Note that this appears to be separate from Musk’s previous claims that Teslas will be able to be turned into robotaxis once the company sorts out its “Full-Self Driving” technology. In addition to the robotaxi, Musk says the previously mentioned Tesla robot might be ready for production next year. Lastly, Musk said that the Austin production facility will be the highest production facility in the country. However, he gave no time period for when it might become so. Musk set a market share goal of approximately 20% in his comments around increasing production. Currently, Tesla approximated its market share of new cars sold in the U.S. at 1 %. Right before the show came to a close with the Cybertruck, Tesla showed off the first cars built at the Austin factory by driving a number of freshly-assembled Model Y cars across the stage. +++

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+++ It should not come as any surprise, but VOLVO has won the most IIHS Top Safety Pick+ awards of any automaker in 2022. Top Safety Pick+ is the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s top prize. Volvo has accumulated 13 of the awards, spanning its entire lineup. IIHS and Volvo separates models between gasoline and electrified versions of the same car, even though the tests may have been conducted only on one variant. For example, the XC60 Recharge earns an TSP+ even though tests were conducted using gasoline-powered XC60 T5 and T6 models. Similarly, a C40 Recharge gets the award even though the actual test was conducted on a similar XC40 Recharge. Also, as with Mazda’s lineup TSP+ rankings from earlier this year, some are carried over to 2022 model year cars from tests on previous model year cars. This is only when the model has not changed significantly. For example, the XC60’s 2022 ranking was based on a 2018 model year’s crash test. The IIHS conducts 6 tests on each car: a moderate overlap front crash, 2 small overlap front crashes for both driver and passenger, a side impact crash, a roof strength crush evaluation, and a head restraint test using just the car seat. The results are ranked out of four levels, with a green “Good” marker indicating the top tier. Beyond the crashes, Volvo earned top marks for standard safety features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian and cyclist detection. It should be noted that most Volvo models earned an “Acceptable” rating for ease of use of the LATCH safety seats. This is the second best rating, but does not affect crash worthiness, and won’t matter if you don’t use child seats. XC40 models received a “Poor” rating for its safety belt reminders, which IIHS deemed not loud or long enough. Some models like the S90 and XC60 received “Acceptable” ratings on headlights, with IIHS wishing the beams were brighter on turns. Despite these minor quibbles, the overall ratings are still very impressive. It should be noted that even the V60 and V90 wagons, which are (achingly beautiful but tragically) discontinued in America, also got TSP+ ratings though were not included in the 13-model 2022 count. +++

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