Newsflash: facelift voor Skoda Scala

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+++ As we inch closer to a world full of AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES there are still a great many questions to answer about the technology. Legislation, infrastructure, and automotive design will all have to shift as the transition takes place and that’s left some of the public uneasy. Now Audi is trying to put out those concerns with the help of results from a new study. Last December, Audi announced a new initiative called &Audi which set out to examine the overall societal dimension of autonomous driving. To do so they began a study with the help of experts in the field and called it “SocAIty”. Now, the results are in and Audi has addressed some of its findings. One of the largest concerns about autonomous vehicles is how they’ll handle issues like “the trolley problem”. Put another way, how they’ll handle hazardous situations with seemingly no way of avoiding injury to the occupants, other individuals outside of the car, or both. Years ago, Mercedes boldly proclaimed that its vehicles would make protecting occupants its main priority and in doing so they foreshadowed Audi’s findings as well. The automaker says the vehicle can only do what it’s programmed to do since it’s not a thinking, reasoning entity no matter how advanced it is. “It can and will only assume the ethical decisions and values of the people who design it and apply them without its own interpretation”, says the study. One of the aforementioned experts, Christoph Lutge, clarified that sentiment even further by making clear what the priority would be for most manufacturers: “We have to move on from the more theoretical dilemma situation to address the actual problems that affect companies, such as issues of liability and risk assessment”. Of course, Audi covers quite a number of other topics involved with the future of autonomous vehicles, such as legislation, making driving less fun or the issue of requiring fewer parking spaces. Another important concern that many have is how vulnerable self-driving vehicles will be to hacking. Audi points out that in fact, autonomous vehicles won’t be any more vulnerable than other vehicles. At the same time, it acknowledges that should vulnerabilities be found and exploited, the danger is more serious. The study also covers how infrastructure will need to change to better incorporate these vehicles and how automotive design itself will shift towards more focus on the cabin. It also makes clear that the first autonomous vehicles won’t likely be capable of driving just anywhere as infrastructure will play a role in that aspect. +++

+++ FORD ’s new Bronco is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over reports of “catastrophic engine failure”. The federal agency wrote that it has received 3 petitions requesting a probe into the alleged problem. Assigned NHTSA action number DP22001, the investigation stems from petitions that claim some Bronco models powered by the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 suffer from a valvetrain-related problem that manifests as a loss of power at highway speeds. Starting the engine is then reportedly impossible due to what is described as “a catastrophic engine failure”. There’s no mention of precisely which component fails. “This defect petition has been opened to evaluate the issue and determine whether to grant or deny the petitions”, the NHTSA wrote on its website. That means the investigation is not a recall, does not force Ford to issue a recall, and does not acknowledge an issue with the V6. Enthusiast forum Bronco6G has been documenting cases of engine failures since Bronco deliveries began; as of writing, 50 of its members have reportedly experienced the issue described in the NHTSA’s documents. Some describe it as a dropped valve, a problem which usually damages the cylinder and the head, and many of the affected SUVs have received a new engine. Ford said that it’s aware of the issue. “We are aware of a select number of engines with this concern and we are investigating. If any customers are experiencing issues, they will be covered under the vehicle’s 5 year, 100.000 km powertrain warranty”, a spokesperson for the Blue Oval told in April. +++

+++ The MERCEDES-BENZ B-CLASS will soon get a midlife update in order to compete with the all-new BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, with both of them being the only models in the premium compact MPV segment. A new lightly camouflaged prototype was caught by spy photographers in Germany, following the spy debut a few months ago. In terms of design, the third generation of the B-Class which was introduced in 2019, remains quite fresh and is considered a handsome vehicle for the segment. In typical Mercedes fashion, the facelift will bring minor changes. The camouflage is covering the slightly redesigned front bumper including the grille which will get a modern makeover. The headlights will gain updated LED graphics, with a similar yet more subtle treatment for the taillights. Inside the cabin, the MPV is expected to get updated MBUX software for the dual 10.25 inch screens, alongside revised trim and upholstery options. Visual changes compared to the current B-Class appear to be minor, mostly focused on the front end. The facelifted B-Class will debut soon after the facelifted A-Class with both models receiving similar updates. Powertrain options will likely be carried over with small updates, including the 1.3-liter petrol and the 2.0-liter diesel which might get mild-hybrid tech, alongside the flagship B250e plug-in hybrid. Mercedes has confirmed that it will stop offering a manual transmission as an option by 2023, which means that the updated family of compact models will go auto-only like the rest of the lineup. Mercedes recently announced its future strategy that is focused on high-end models, with the compact range set to be reduced from seven to four body styles. The B-Class is one of the first models to go, since the popularity of MPVs has been steadily declining, and its role can be fulfilled by LCV-derived models like the Citan / T-Class and the upcoming EQT. This means that the facelifted B-Class might be the last of its kind, extending the life of the model for a few more years. We will learn more about the B-Class in the official debut that is expected in late 2022 or early 2023. +++

+++ So many traditional carmakers that have had a very constant business model for decades, selling incrementally better ICE vehicles, are now faced with having to drop doing what they know best and shift their focus on electric vehicles seemingly too quickly for some. Certain companies are adapting better than others and according to Ford CEO Jim Farley, some will not survive the changes, at least not in their current form. Farley thinks that between the push for electrification, some companies’ drive to sell vehicles themselves, the cutting out of the traditional dealership model, as well as the plethora of new EV startups (many of which are based in China) will lead to what he describes as “a SHAKEOUT ”. He also believes that this new direction the industry is heading in will benefit “many of the Chinese new players”, as they will get a better foothold in the US. He goes on to say: “No doubt about it, we’re going to see very large consolidation. Big changes. I just don’t see the addressable market these companies are going after being big enough to justify the capital they’re spending”. Joint ventures and even high level mergers among bit automotive players are also predicted to become more common in the future, in Farley’s view. Even Ford is showing signs of this, having partnered up with Volkswagen to use the latter’s MEB platform in one of its own EVs. Ford will use MEB as the base for 2 electric crossovers that will look distinctly American, even though they will be based on a German platform. These will be part of a group of 4 new electric crossovers that the Blue Oval wants to add to its range by 2024, trying to make up lost ground between it and rivals whose electrification scheme is more advanced. “We’ve been in business for 118 years and we probably have one partnership that worked really well: Ford Otosan in Turkey. Often they come down to the character of the leaders”. Ford has done a good job getting electric commercial vehicles and the F-150 Lightning out quite quickly, consolidating its position as a segment leader early on, but when it comes to passenger cars, it’s really not as advanced as some of its traditional rivals. The fact that Ford is using a Volkswagen platform in one of its own vehicles is acknowledgement that the German company is further along and already a big electric passenger car player. +++

+++ With good reason, some people are wondering what’s the point of the Scala when SKODA has made the Fabia substantially larger than its predecessor. However, the Czechian Golf is still bigger than the supermini without clashing with the Octavia. In addition, the Mladá Boleslav automaker has cancelled the Fabia Combi, so those wanting a voluminous cargo area must get the Scala. As evidenced in spy shots, the mid-cycle facelift is on its way. Oddly enough, Skoda didn’t hide the headlights and taillights, only because these were borrowed from the current Scala. The front and rear fascias are covered to conceal what we presume are mildly tweaked bumpers. Sensors affixed to the wheels suggest the car was equipped with new hardware that needs to be monitored before putting the compact hatchback in production. Surely the Scala’s facelift won’t be rocking the boat as Skoda will refrain from making its C-segment hatch more sophisticated as that would clash with the fancier Golf. Even though the car was previewed by the hot Vision RS concept, I am not holding my breath for an RS version to join the Rally Sport Octavia and Kodiaq. Some will remember there is a spicy Scala out there, an Edition S developed by Skoda Germany in collaboration with ABT. It offers 190 hp and 290 Nm or an extra 40 hp and 40 Nm over the regular 1.5 TSI model. Only 500 units were made and these came with a lowered ride height courtesy of a stiffer suspension. Also ruled out is a plug-in hybrid powertrain since Skoda has said on several occasions only the Octavia and Superb will come as PHEVs since they’re popular among fleet buyers. +++

+++ More than 750 TESLA owners have complained to U.S. safety regulators that cars operating on the automaker’s partially automated driving systems have suddenly stopped on roadways for no apparent reason. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed the number in a detailed information request letter to Tesla that was posted on the agency’s website. The 14-page letter dated May 4 asks the automaker for all consumer and field reports it has received about false braking, as well as reports of crashes, injuries, deaths and property damage claims. It also asks whether the company’s “Full Self Driving” and automatic emergency braking systems were active at the time of any incident. The agency began investigating phantom braking in Tesla’s Models 3 and Y last February after getting 354 complaints. The probe covers an estimated 416.000 vehicles from the 2021 and 2022 model years. In February, the agency said it had no reports of crashes or injuries. The letter gives Tesla a deadline of June 20 to respond to the information request but says the company can ask for an extension. In opening the probe, the agency said it was looking into vehicles equipped with automated driver-assist features such as adaptive cruise control and Autopilot, which allows them to automatically brake and steer within their lanes. “Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, and often repeatedly during a single drive cycle”, the agency said. Many owners wrote in their complaints that they feared a rear-end crash on a freeway. In the letter, NHTSA asks for the initial speed of when the cars began to brake, the final speed, and the average deceleration. It also asks if the automated systems detected a target obstacle, and whether Tesla has video of the braking incidents. The agency is now seeking information on warranty claims for phantom braking including the owners’ names and what repairs were made. It’s also seeking information on Tesla’s sensors, any testing or investigations into the braking problems, or if any modifications were made. The letter focuses on Tesla’s testing of the automated systems when it comes to detecting metal bridges, s-shaped curves, oncoming and cross traffic, and different sizes of vehicles including large trucks. The agency also wants information on how cameras deal with reflections, shadows, glare and blockage due to snow or heavy rain. +++

+++ The auto industry follows several rules that are not explicit but widely known by all the players. Each automaker tries to meet what the market views as the standards regarding many topics: safety, design, technology, performance, and quality. They all try to innovate and make noise with their own interpretation, but in the end they all act within certain limits. One of them is the life cycle time of each car. It refers to the time that passes between the presentation of a new vehicle and the moment when the company stops its commercialisation. This cycle includes the reveal, presentation, introduction, growth, maturity, facelift, decline, and reinvent/ramp down. It happens to cars and many other products in the market. In the case of cars, the life cycle time is usually determined by the market. In the countries with low income, the car generations last for longer with cycles of more than 10 years. It is expensive to develop and launch a new generation, and the consumers usually can’t afford these big investments. In the mature markets or developed economies, the technology and efficiency at the plants is allowing the carmakers to bring new cars more often. In Europe, North America, South Korea, Japan, and more recently China, we are seeing new generations of cars every 6 or 7 years as an average. The facelifts comes after 3 of 4 years of the launch. Despite the non-explicit rule regarding the product life cycle, there are exceptions. One of them is the TESLA MODEL S . This saloon debuted on June 2012, after the first 10 customers received their cars at the Fremont factory. It was Tesla’s first massive production car and started a new era for the company. Since then, the Model S has received several updates, facelifts and improvements that include not only its exterior design but also its performance and interior. Today’s Model S is definitely a better car than the one they presented 10 years ago. However, it is still the same car in terms of platform, main structure, and overall exterior design. A new generation usually involves changes of those elements too. During these 10 years, there have been at least 2 generations of the Mercedes CLS and E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series. Although new and more powerful versions of the Model S have been introduced, based on its sales record, it is losing a lot of ground. The question persists, why is Tesla taking so long to bring an all-new Model S? Part of the sales decline is explained by the production challenges Tesla has had at its Fremont plant. They stopped the production for some months so there were no cars available to buy. Nevertheless, the Model S is getting old and is having more competition than ever. Last year for example, Porsche almost doubled the global sales of the Model S with its Taycan. The BYD Han electric, a direct competitor for the Chinese market, sold 79,000 units, or almost 4 times more. Many will argue that it is obvious to see the sales dropping when there is no production. Still, it does not explain why the brand is taking so long to introduce an all-new generation when its peers are moving faster. Is it a different approach? +++

TeslaModelS2021c2

+++ VOLVO joined forces with Epic Games, the company that created the Fortnite franchise, to give its next-generation cars a faster infotainment system with vastly improved graphics. Using technology gleaned from the world of gaming promises to unlock a long list of new features. Don’t expect to see a Fortnite-themed display in the XC90’s replacement; the partnership isn’t going that far. Volvo explained that it will use the Unreal Engine, a real-time 3D creation tool developed for industries outside of the gaming world, to develop the digital interface it will program into future additions to its range. This technology will allow it to deliver richer colors, sharper renderings and new 3D animations. Good graphics aren’t worth much if the software is annoying to use, so Volvo will power its next infotainment system with the third-generation Snapdragon Cockpit Platforms designed by Qualcomm. We’re told that the end result is a system that’s over twice as fast as the one Volvo currently uses, and whose graphic generation and processing capacities are up to 10 times faster. Volvo hasn’t released a video of the software in action yet, but we won’t have to wait long to see it: the feature will debut in a new flagship model due out by the end of 2022. This isn’t the first time that Volvo has enlisted the help of a technology company to design an infotainment system. Its current cars (like the C40 Recharge) are fitted with Google’s Android Automotive OS infotainment system. And, the worlds of gaming and in-car technology have collided before: Nissan notably asked Polyphony Digital, the company behind the Gran Turismo franchise, to design the GT-R’s display. +++

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