Newsflash: waarom Volkswagen denkt Tesla te kunnen onttronen


+++ Driver assistance systems are becoming more sophisticated, and now automakers seem to have figured out a way of making sure everyone sticks to the speed limits. FORD is now trialing Geofencing technology, which can automatically reduce the vehicle’s speed in predefined zones around schools, hospitals, and shopping areas. The technology, which is currently tested in Cologne, Germany, creates a virtual geographical boundary with a speed limit. When the vehicle enters this area, the system makes sure that the car won’t exceed the predetermined speed limit. This can happen even without visible signs on the road, alerting the driver that they entered a geofenced zone through the digital instrument cluster. Ford believes the system will come in handy on unfamiliar routes, or in cases where the driver didn’t notice the speed signs, protecting them from fines, and most importantly reducing the risk of accidents. The hardware to automatically regulate a vehicle’s speed is already there. Modern ADAS like Ford’s Intelligent Speed Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, or similar systems from other automakers, can ensure drivers do not exceed speed limits. What is different with Geofencing is that those limits will be universal for all vehicles entering specific areas, whether we are talking about public spaces or private facilities. The system may automatically reduce the vehicle’s speed, but the driver is still able to override and deactivated it, at least at this point. The 12 month trial of geofencing is the result of a collaboration between the Ford City Engagement team, city officials in Cologne and Aachen, and Ford software engineers in Palo Alto. The test vehicles are pre-production prototypes of the fully electric Ford E-Transit. In the future, Ford wants to offer the Geofencing Speed Limit Control system to all of its commercial and passenger vehicles, allowing owners to set their own geofencing zones. Furthermore, speed limits could be dynamic, changing according to local hazards, road works, and time zones. +++

+++ The arrival of the Urus transformed LAMBORGHINI ’s fortunes and it’s been such a massive hit that the automaker hasn’t felt the need to fiddle with the package in the 4 years since its launch. But with Ferrari gearing up to reveal its own Purosangue crossover later this year, Lamborghini knows it’s time to freshen up the Urus. And that refresh will include a hotter Urus variant designed to sit above the regular SUV, which will itself be updated and could be given the Evo tag applied to facelifted Huracans. That’s according to my spy photographers, who recently snapped the Urus as testing moved from snowy Scandinavia to Germany’s dry roads. The prototype has swapped its 15-spoke wheels for a more conventional set of 5-spoke rims with a hexagon motif, but still appears to be wearing winter tires, which won’t be showing off the no-doubt stiffer suspension’s improved cornering abilities in its best light. The facelifted Urus will get new front and rear bumper designs which appear to be inspired by the styling details of the new track-ready Huracan Tecnica. The horizontal grille vanes in the front bumper will be simpler and lose their tuning fork shape, while the rear bumper will feature vents behind each wheel arch that could be used to draw unwanted air pressure out of the wheelarch. Or they could be completely fake. The other significant visual upgrade is on the hood, which gains a pair of long vents running down the ribs that form the hood’s V-section. Ferrari has confirmed that the Purosangue will get a V12 engine, but Lamborghini won’t be dropping its V10 or V12 motors into the facelifted Urus, or any high performance version of it. Instead, it will further massage the existing 4.0-liter V8 to boost power from its current 650 hp state of tune. And given Aston Martin’s newly released range-topping DBX707 makes 707 hp, it’s a fair bet Lamborghini will be looking to go higher still. Ferrari is expected to reveal the Purosangue later this year, and we’d expect Lamborghini to do its best to deflect attention from its rival’s big news by lifting the lid on the Urus’s updates around the same time. And looking further ahead, the refreshed Urus SUVs will be joined by a long-awaited PHEV variant that could be even more powerful (sources suggest 819 hp as a likely figure) in line with Lamborghini’s promise to electrify its entire range by 2024. +++

+++ MERCEDES has a busy schedule up ahead as it aims to slim down on the number of entry-level cars from 7 to 4 in a bid to pursue higher profit margins with bigger and more expensive cars. To make it happen, the German luxury brand has decided to invest more than 75 percent in vehicles from the C-Class segment above, thus relying less on the compact models. Another major change will take place within the distribution network. The 3-pointed star is focusing on increasing the number of direct sales by introducing this “agency” model in 15 additional markets by the middle of the decade compared to only five today. If everything goes according to plan, 80 percent of the volume achieved in Europe will be done through direct sales by 2025. Going down this role will enable Mercedes to not only have more control but also reduce distribution costs. Speaking of which, its distribution network will be overhauled by cutting 10 percent of dealerships globally by 2025. 3 years later, there will be up to 20 percent fewer showrooms at home in Germany. Bettina Fetzer, vice president of communications and marketing, says Mercedes needs fewer big dealerships in mature markets. However, new outlets are being added in China. In addition, dedicated AMG, Maybach, and G-Class showrooms are on the agenda as well. Meanwhile, Mercedes estimates online sales will gain traction in the years to come, so much so that by 2025, one in four buyers will purchase their next car by doing a few mouse clicks. Fetzer mentioned that “customers are getting younger, wealthier, and more digital”. Consequently, they are more willing to shop online instead of heading to one of the 6.500 dealers around the world. In its domestic market, the company operates approximately 1.000 outlets. At the same time, Mercedes is pushing further into luxury territory by preparing a Maybach SL, an electric G-Class, and a Mythos lineup of ultra-limited special cars. The microchip shortage has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as the company made more money by prioritising semiconductor distribution to fancier cars. Even though the sales volume had to suffer, profits were healthy. It showed Mercedes can concentrate more on larger and more luxurious vehicles to the detriment of compact offerings. +++

+++ MERCEDES ’s new MMA electric vehicle platform will make its debut in 2024 on a new model, which will also signify a change to the entry point in the firm’s line-up, according to CEO Ola Källenius. On a recent investor call the German brand confirmed that the MMA platform, which will focus on “entry luxury” models, will also accept combustion engines, but that Mercedes has developed it with an electric-first approach. New models based on the MMA underpinnings will redefine Mercedes’ range entry point too, with the brand pushing its most affordable models further up market with a greater focus on luxury, and sales margins, according to its investor presentations. According to slides shown as part of the call, Mercedes aims to reduce its presence in the “entry luxury”, predicting a 25 percent reduction in market share by 2026; sales volumes have already declined from around 680.000 cars in 2019 to approximately 570.000 units in 2021. Despite this, from 2019 to 2021 the average sales price of Mercedes cars in this class rose by around 20 per cent, and the brand says it will be “significantly up” by 2026, reflecting the more luxury-focused approach it will take. Källenius said that “The entry point to the Mercedes brand in the future will be a different one than today”. As a result, expect the A-Class, A-Class saloon, CLA four-door coupe and shooting brake, and B-Class to all come under scrutiny, with the future of these models uncertain; they’re likely to be axed, with Mercedes outlining its “portfolio of variants” (which we understand to mean body styles in this compact class) will be slimmed down from 7 to 4. This will tie in with an underpinning of its core luxury models (which covers cars such as the C-Class, E-Class and GLC among others) with Mercedes targeting relatively constant sales volumes in these sectors as it moves towards a fully electric model range. At the top end of its portfolio the brand will focus even more of its development budget on its luxury cars where profit margins are higher. Mercedes is targeting a 60 per cent increase in market share here; more Maybach variants and “ultra exclusive collectibles and a luxury customer experience” will be responsible for this growth, the brand claims. The shifting structure of the range made possible by the firm’s new MMA platform will feature much technology derived from Mercedes’ experimental Vision EQXX electric prototype, which recently covered a journey of 1.000 km on a full charge with a predicted range of 140 km left. A focus on efficiency from the battery, its control electronics and the motor will filter down to future Mercedes models, as well as Mercedes lightweight “bionic engineering” that involves 3D printing parts for a light but strong structure. “This new MMA architecture ushers in a new generation of technology, both on the drivetrain side in terms of battery chemistry, efficiency. and the drivetrain itself”, Källenius told attendees of the brand’s Capital Markets Day. The future MMA-based model will also mark the introduction of a new infotainment set-up from Mercedes, called MB.OS, when it makes its debut in 2024. +++


+++ MORGAN ’s new CEO, Massimo Fumarola, has told about the priorities for his “exciting” new job, in an exclusive interview at the firm’s flagship UK dealership in Kensington, London, just weeks after moving over from his role as Lamborghini’s special projects boss. Number 1 will be to “steadfastly” maintain Morgan’s authenticity and amplify the marque’s unique values and attributes. This, he said, is the essence, but the Morgan ethos also needs wider circulation. Number 2 will be to take all opportunities for the company to grow, and create more of them, without harming its natural assets. “Heritage isn’t insurance”, he said. “You must have good plans for your future”. Morgan currently makes around 800 cars per year, and it sold a stellar 680 last year even with the 3 Wheeler out of production. The 70% of Morgans that go for export are distributed in 70 markets, the biggest of which are France, Germany and the US. The firm has already hinted that it would like to be making 1.500 cars a year in 5 years’ time and sees the emergence of the new Ford-engined Morgan Super 3 as providing its earliest opportunity to expand. Success in the US, where the Super 3 complies with design regulations more easily than the company’s four-wheeled models, is a key opportunity. It’s likely the model will soon become Morgan’s best-seller. This potential near doubling of output will require a considerable scaling up of plant and people (a new paint facility is about to open) and most of all lays bare the reasoning behind Morgan’s modest top management overhaul. The company’s owner, Italian private equity firm Investindustrial, last month announced that the role of chairman and CEO, previously held by company ‘lifer’ Steve Morris, would henceforth be split into two. Morris would be elevated to the role of executive chairman, while Milan-born Fumarola would become CEO with responsibility for day-to-day running. Until now, Morris, who started on the Malvern Link shop floor as a metalworking apprentice, has been closely involved at every level of company management. With more cars, more investment, more facilities, more people and electrification to contend with, Morris acknowledges that he will need to concentrate more on strategic thinking. Both Morris and Fumarola were visiting the South Kensington dealership, officially dubbed Morgan Works London, to mark London Craft Week, for which Morgan put on special displays to show off the hand-finished, bespoke nature of its construction methods. Three of the company’s best artisans – Steph on upholstery, Marcin on metal forming and Will on woodwork, were on site, working on part-finished cars lifted temporarily out of the normal build process. Fumarola, an engineer by training, with a 30-year career working both for large OEMs and low-volume luxury manufacturers, promises a comfortable partnership with Morris as chairman and seems an entirely different character than you might expect of an Italian car executive running what is now an Italian-controlled company in Britain. He lists his strengths as “international exposure” and “an understanding of global market dynamics”. Fumarola, whose past jobs at Fiat, FCA, Audi, Ferrari and Lamborghini have usually had a prominent marketing element, said: “We believe we have the products to attract a younger generation of owners. Tradition is fine, but we also have an opportunity to make Morgan a more adventurous lifestyle brand. Our owners tell us this themselves”. +++

+++ Elon Musk said back in 2015 that in 2 years’ time, TESLA cars  would drive themselves without the need for supervision from a human driver. 2017 came and passed and even though the company has made undeniable progress with its self-driving tech, its boss eventually conceded that this was a harder task to achieve than he initially anticipated. Musk recently visited the country of Brazil, where he went in order to meet and talk talk to its president, Jair Bolsonaro, regarding giving internet access to remote populations in the Amazon rainforest. This mostly refers to rural areas that are far from large settlements, exactly the kind of place that could benefit from the SpaceX Starlink satellite internet system; Starlink is currently operational in 32 countries, but Elon Musk wants to see it go global. But aside from talking about the Amazon internet issue, the Tesla boss also briefly mentioned that he believes that by the same time next year, the automaker’s vehicles would be able to drive themselves without human supervision. It seems unlikely, given the current unfinished state of the Full Self-Driving suite, but it cannot be excluded as a possibility, especially given the impressive progress shown by the most recent FSD Beta version. Tesla needs to have its driverless tech ready soon, since the manufacturer is also reportedly developing a driverless taxi that will not even have physical controls for manual driving any more (Volkswagen is also working on a very similar vehicle, although we know it will be based on the ID Buzz). This dedicated model from Tesla, that is not believed to be based on an existing production model, will debut and enter production in 2024, so FSD needs to provide reliable autonomous rides by then in order to make it a reality. There are already companies that are further along with their robotaxi projects, like Cruise and Waymo, whose driverless test vehicles are already ferrying passengers sans driver legally in certain areas of a couple of US cities. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s CEO Herbert Diess believes that his company can catch and then pass Tesla in terms of global electric vehicle sales by 2025. Diess also thinks that the global supply chain shortage is about to ease up a bit and that Volkswagen will have a surge of momentum towards the second half of this year. Diess comments included a number of interesting tidbits about the future of the brand. Of course, the main story is that he believes that Volkswagen will overtake Tesla by 2025: “Markets are always about the future. Tesla currently is in the lead when it comes to EVs, probably also it is the most digital car company already and they have some advantages. We are still aiming at keeping up and probably overtaking by 2025 when it comes to sales”. Volkswagen is only the latest automaker to publicly state its intent to overtake Tesla in the near future. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors came out last year with the goal of becoming the leading electric vehicle retailer by 2025. It hopes to make 2 million cars per year by then. Ford’s CEO, Jim Farley, has said that “We plan to challenge Tesla and all comers to become the top EV maker in the world”. Of course, Ford says that it plans to build 2 million cars per year by 2026 so a year behind General Motors. Nevertheless, all of this comes down to one thing: Tesla has all of the biggest guns pointed straight at it and needs to figure out exactly how it’s going to deal with the competition. There’s no question that it got out to a huge head start and that it changed the trajectory of the automotive landscape but now, it seems to be losing ground. The entire Tesla lineup seems to get more expensive at arbitrary times and exciting new products like the all-new Roadster and the Cybertruck have yet to make it to production. Now we wait to see if the Elon Musk-led company can set the bar higher. +++


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