Newsflash: Toyota broedt op hete BZ4X

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+++ Back in December, CITROEN turned its tiny, low-speed electric Ami into a chunky little beach cruiser called the My Ami Buggy. It had fat tires and a bunch of off-road accessories that were probably more form than function, but it was a fun and funky little thing. Apparently a lot of people agreed and Citroën has made the decision to actually bring the My Ami Buggy to reality, though in extremely limited numbers. Like the concept, the My Ami Buggy features unique khaki-tinted plastic body panels. It also picks up a variety of exterior panels from higher trim Pop and Vibe variants, such as the bumpers, wheel arches, rear spoiler and such. There are also other concept-inspired touches such as the lime-yellow accents and arrows and contrasting black roof. Some things did change in the shift to production. Instead of no doors, the production model gets tube doors, like you’d find on many modded Jeep Wranglers. The extra fat tires and tiny wheels give way to more practical larger wheels and conventional tires. The wheels look great, though, in their khaki gold color and black center caps. There isn’t a roof rack or auxiliary lights anymore, but the trade-off is that the My Ami Buggy gets a canvas roll-back roof for even greater open-air enjoyment. The inside of the My Ami Buggy features black fabric upholstery along with lime-yellow stitching and other accents, plus a few interior storage options. The floor mats continue the color scheme. And like all special editions, this car will get special badges and plates, one of which has possibly the best phrasing ever: “My Ami Buggy Ultra Special Limited Edition”. Only 50 of the buggies will be built, and all of them will be sold in France. Pricing hasn’t been set, but this is one ultra-limited edition car that will probably be affordable. After all, the base Ami starts at less than $10.000. If you happen to live in France and want to get one, they go on sale online on July 21 with deliveries starting on August 8. +++

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+++ DACIA has revealed a subtle styling overhaul for its entire range of cars, which it has called a “new beginning” for the brand. The new-look Sandero, Jogger and Duster, available to order from 16 June get a number of changes, with the most notable being a fresh grille design, which is centred by the firm’s minimalistic new DC motif. Dacia has also added its full brand name to the rear and steering wheel of all models, with other changes including a matt-grey finish on the roof rails and skidplates where applicable. Pricing isn’t set to change. The Romanian car maker says the fresh look is part of a “renewal” for itself, adding: “Dacia has changed everything but is still true to the essence of the brand. Beyond a simple shift in design, the new identity embodies commitments for the future and builds on the strongly held values that are behind the Dacia success story”. Dacia product performance director Lionel Jaillet said: “Dacia changes with the times, as too does its brand image. The fundamentals behind each product are also growing stronger in order to respond to the very real expectations of our clients. The new visual identity conveys these messages and makes the brand even more appealing. Today is a new beginning for Dacia”. These changes will be rolled out across the entire 4-car range, which also includes the Spring Electric. The new look will also be carried over to the production version of the Bigster SUV (a ruggedly styled rival to the Toyota RAV4) in 2023, and the next-generation Duster, which is expected to follow around a year later. +++

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+++ FORD is recalling more than 2.9 million vehicles due to rollaway concerns. The recall covers 2013-2019 Kuga, 2013-2018 C-Max, 2013-2021 Transit Connect and 2015-2018 Edge vehicles. According to documents posted by the National Highway Safety Administration, “the bushing that attaches the shifter cable to the transmission may degrade or detach,” which “could prevent the shifter from moving the transmission to the intended gear position”. That means the vehicle may not actually be in Park despite having been shifted properly into position. There may be no visual or audible warning, either. If a vehicle is turned off without actually being in Park, it may not restart. To help mitigate rollaway concerns, drivers can activate the vehicle’s parking brake. Ford’s acknowledgement of the problem says, “From April 29, 2015, through March 31, 2022, Ford has identified 1.630 warranty reports and 233 VOQs attributed to this concern. Ford is aware of 6 reports alleging property damage and 4 reports alleging an injury potentially related to this concern, from the population of vehicles included in this recall”. This is the fifth time Ford has recalled vehicles over similar problems. The remedy involves taking the vehicle to the dealership to have the shift bushing replaced and a protective cap added over the shift cable bushing. Owners who have already paid for repairs of this problem may be eligible for reimbursement before August 29, 2022. Letters will be mailed to owners of affected vehicles this month. Earlier this week, Ford recalled nearly 50.000 Mustang Mach-E electric crossovers due to loss-of-power concerns and 53.103 Bronco vehicles because the passenger-side rear door may be opened from inside of the vehicle when the child safety lock is in the ‘On’ position”. +++

+++ MCLAREN is working on a brand-new high-performance crossover; a project that directly contradicts its previously declared intention of only ever building supercars and hypercars. The new crossover, on course to hit the market in the second half of this decade, will be a fully battery-electric proposition, not a hybrid, and will never be available with a combustion engine. McLaren is understood to be eyeing a single model to begin with, but past practice suggests different specifications and power levels will be offered in time, similar to the Aston Martin DBX. The new McLarens are believed to be relatively low, compact, dual- or tri-motor, four-wheel-drive designs offering exalted performance levels likely to match the recently launched Aston Martin DBX 707, currently billed as the world’s fastest SUV. Their size and complexity, plus the cost of what will undoubtedly be top-end battery technology, are likely to push prices well beyond the €375.000 level of McLaren’s current production sports cars, perhaps closer to €525.000, in the Netherlands. McLaren’s radical change of heart about crossovers is undoubtedly a result of the sales success of its rival performance brands, whose existing crossover and SUV models already heavily outsell their lower-slung models and generate most of their profits. For example, Porsche delivered more cars than at any point in its 91-year history in 2021, with the Macan and larger Cayenne together accounting for well over half of its 300.000 sales, while the 911 accounted for just 38.464. It’s a similar story for the Lamborghini Urus, which outsold the Huracán supercar in 2021 at a rate of around 2 to 1. The DBX made up half of all Aston Martin global sales in the same period, its first full year on sale. Even Ferrari, easily the most profitable supercar manufacturer of all, is within months of launching its own crossover, the Purosangue, although that will appear at first powered by a normally aspirated V12. Perhaps the clearest guide to Woking’s changed intentions is the imminent arrival of a new CEO, Michael Leiters, a German engineer who spent more than a decade at Porsche overseeing the gestation of the highly successful Cayenne and Macan, then joined Ferrari in 2014 as chief technical officer; ideal timing for the design and conception of the Purosangue. His predecessor, Mike Flewitt, who presided over McLaren’s successful first decade, was the executive most often quoted on the company’s lack of interest in crossovers and SUVs. He stepped down abruptly and without explanation late last year, about the time a new management team was installed to run the wider McLaren Group. Although McLaren’s planners are undoubtedly well aware of the success of high-performance crossovers that are already in production, insiders say the company is determined to stay true to its well-established traditions of performance efficiency through compactness, light weight and sophisticated aerodynamics. This is understood to entail waiting for promised improvements to batteries, especifically the reduced size and weight and improved energy density promised by solid-state technology, once hailed as a “game-changer” for lightweight performance cars by Flewitt), that will most likely be available from around 2028. At present, McLaren has no official comment about its crossover plans, although insiders have acknowledged “an appetite for the idea”. The company is believed to have its hands full with the imminent launch of the long-delayed Artura plug-in hybrid supercar while it awaits Leiters’ arrival early in July. Recent trademarks filed by McLaren, however, hint at a continuation of the naming theme established by the latest additions to the ranks (Speedtail, Senna, Elva, GT and Artura), which have shunned the numerical designations Woking had used since launching the McLaren MP4-12C in 2011. Most recently acquired by McLaren are trademarks for the names Solus, Aonic and Aeron, the latter meaning ‘mountain of strength’ and therefore potentially best suited to a larger and more lifestyle-friendly model. New McLaren CEO Michael Leiters will bring a slightly paradoxical skillset to Woking, having spent a combined 21 years at two of the world’s most revered and competitive sporting brands but coming away arguably best known for his work in introducing family-friendly SUVs to their ranks: the Porsche Cayenne and the Ferrari Purosangue.“I’m convinced on this car and the technical concept”, he said of the latter, batting back any suggestion that it wouldn’t be a true Ferrari and thereby demonstrating a keen awareness of the need for sports car manufacturers to diversify. But despite the push to usher in more mainstream models, Leiters remained committed to preserving enthusiast-friendly, highly strung engines for use in specialist performance cars. Speaking recently about the future of Ferrari’s hallowed V12 in the electrified era, he said: “I personally believe we have to fight for this engine. From a technology point of view, it’s not the most efficient. A V8 turbo could be better in terms of performance, but from an emotional point of view, it’s the best you can have”. Not that he was blind to the benefits of electrification, previously telling us that “you gain a lot” dynamically with the addition of an electrically driven front axle and that the lack of sound can sometimes be a boon: “Even though you want to have so much power for certain moments, you don’t always want the sound. If you leave early in the morning, you don’t have to make a racket”. Crucially, though, given McLaren’s predilection for lightness, Leiters is an ardent advocate of minimising kerb weight. “It hurts”, he said, to install a 250 kg hybrid drive component in an electrified supercar, but he added that extensive use of carbonfibre and keeping the centre of gravity ultra-low (both already Woking specialties) can help to minimise the impact on vehicle dynamics.Having decided to ready an electric super-SUV for launch by 2030, McLaren now has a series of obstacles to overcome. McLaren’s financial difficulties have been exposed several times in the past few years, and it will need a major partner to put its SUV plans in motion. This big group will probably need to be willing to contribute a platform (as well as battery and powertrain elements), in the way the Volkswagen Group does to Lamborghini. McLaren has already held talks at group level with VW (ostensibly centred on its Formula 1 activities) and with BMW, and secret discussions with other prospective partners are believed to be under way. One useful contact might be Mercedes-Benz. The new Artura is understood to use hybrid powertrain components designed and built by Oxford-based Yasa, an advanced electric motor specialist that was recently acquired by the German giant and soon will open a large-scale manufacturing plant in Berlin. The crossovers could easily double McLaren’s annual pre-pandemic production rate of about 4.600 cars per year, an eventuality that would require it to either to build a new plant or massively expand its existing facility in Woking. McLaren is understood to already be seeking a co-operative and technically advanced big-name car maker to be its technical partner in the new project. McLaren has always refused to participate in power races, preferring to compete through lightness. There’s no guidance yet about an ideal size for a new McLaren four-seater, but it’s hard to imagine a company whose staple supercars are barely longer than the Volkswagen Golf being content with the 5.1-metre length of the Lamborghini Urus, or its 2.200 kg weight, even in its current pure-ICE guise. Targets are more likely to be 4.8 to 4.9 metres (around 300 mm longer than the existing sports cars) and sub-2.000 kg (about 500 kg more than the sports cars). Maybe it sounds like a detail, but any car engineer will tell you that doors and windows pose some of the biggest challenges in car production. Would McLaren, well-known champion of elegant-looking dihedral doors, settle for four humdrum saloon-like doors for its most expensive models, or might it settle for one big dihedral door on either side providing access to both the front and rear seats at once? We will bet the idea is creating lots of brain-strain or will do. +++

+++ POLESTAR is gradually revealing its plans for the coming years. It released a photo of a big crossover called 3, it confirmed plans to bring the well-received Precept concept to production as the 5, and it’s giving us an early look at a smaller crossover called Polestar 4 that features a fastback-like roofline. While the model is covered by a white sheet, we see enough of it to tell that it will put a greater emphasis on design than on utility. Its roofline peaks above the driver and gently slopes down towards a rear end that looks about as tall as the 2’s (and that’s certainly much lower than the 3’s). Its dimensions are difficult to accurately estimate, but it doesn’t appear to be significantly smaller than its boxier sibling. This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen the 4: Polestar released a photo in September 2021 that shows it from the front. The crossover is again hiding under a white sheet, but we can tell that it features a low front end that could borrow a handful of styling cues from the 5. It’s still too early to provide technical details. All I know at this stage is that the 4 will be electric and somewhat puzzlingly positioned between the 2 and the 3 in the Polestar hierarchy. It sounds like this could be the company’s answer to the Audi Q4 e-Tron Sportback. An earlier unverified report claims that the 4 will ride on a platform called SEA that’s related to the PMA architecture designed by Geely. Polestar hopes that branching out into more mainstream segments of the market will allow it to significantly increase its annual sales. The 3 is scheduled to make its debut in October 2022 and the 4 should break cover in 2023. As for the 5, it’s not due out until the 2024 model year. +++

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+++ TESLA reported 273 vehicle crashes involving advanced driving assistance systems like Autopilot since July, while Honda identified 90, data from U.S. auto safety regulators released on Wednesday showed. The companies made the disclosures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after the regulator issued an order in June 2021 requiring automakers and tech companies to immediately report all crashes involving advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control, and vehicles equipped with automated driving systems being tested on public roads. Of the 392 total crashes involving ADAS reported by a dozen automakers, 6 deaths were reported and 5 had serious injuries. NHTSA said Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo reported 62 crashes involving vehicles with automated driving systems, while General Motors’ Cruise had 23. NHTSA said the data has already been used to trigger investigations and recalls and helped inform existing defect probes. The agency did not immediately identify who was at fault in crashes and will release more detailed information on individual incidents later on Wednesday. The agency emphasized crashes are tracked by individual automakers in different ways and discouraged comparisons of performance among automakers in part because there aren’t comprehensive metrics on how widely each system is used. Honda told it had found no defects in the systems and its crash reports were based on unverified customer statements “to comply with NHTSA’s 24-hour reporting deadline”. No other automaker reported more than 10 ADAS crashes during the period. Despite the limitations, NHTSA said the data was essential in order to quickly spot potential defects or safety trends. Incidents that occur when an advanced system was engaged within 30 seconds of a crash must be reported within 24 hours to NHTSA. “By providing NHTSA with critical and timely safety data this will help our investigators quickly identify potential defect trends”, NHTSA administrator Steven Cliff told. He cautioned the raw number of incidents reported per manufacturer “is by itself inadequate to draw conclusions”. The agency plans to release new data monthly. NHTSA has been scrutinizing Autopilot and said last week it was upgrading its probe into 830.000 Tesla vehicles with the system, a required step before it could seek a recall. The regulator had opened a preliminary evaluation to assess the performance of Autopilot after about a dozen crashes in which Tesla vehicles struck stopped emergency vehicles. Separately, NHTSA has opened 35 special crash investigations involving Tesla vehicles in which ADAS was suspected of being used. A total of 14 crash deaths have been reported in those Tesla investigations, including a May California crash that killed three people. Tesla says Autopilot allows the vehicles to brake and steer automatically within their lanes but does not make them capable of driving themselves. +++

+++ It is believed TOYOTA plans to release an updated CH-R in 2023 that will continue with the current TNGA GA-C platform, but might be all-new otherwise. The rumor says the next version of the compact crossover will offer a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder aided with hybrid assistance and available with all-wheeldrive. There’s a battery-electric CH-R on the way too, to be announced sometime after the ICE version. Toyota launched an electric C-HR in China in 2020, still the only market where the model is on sale. It packs a 54.3 kWh battery powering a single electric motor with 204 hp and 300 Nm to a range of 400 kilometers on the European cycle. The suspicion seems to be that Toyota could swap the electric C-HR over to its new Beyond Zero lineup that kicked off with the BZ4X developed with Subaru. If that happened, a name change to something like BZ3X or BZ2X would be in order, and in fact, fingers point to the BZ Compact SUV concept (pictured) Toyota brought to its Explanatory Meeting on Battery EV Day last December. That BZ would provide toned down looks for the electric C-HR, the BZ4X would provide a version of its EV powertrain. As a reminder, the BZ4X gets a 71.4 kWh battery for the FWD version, a 72.8 kWh pack for the AWD trim. In FWD, a single motor makes 204 hp and 270 Nm, with AWD the 2 motors make 218 hp and 330 Nm. It’s not far off the Chinese-market C-HR as-is. This being rumor, of course we have no idea if any of this will happen, nor, if it does, whether the electric C-HR/BZ3X will come to Europe. What I do know is that Toyota is developing 30 new EVs for this decade, targeting 5.5 million global sales by 2030.  +++

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+++ TOYOTA engineers are investigating the feasibility of a GR-branded performance version of the new BZ4X electric SUV, but won’t commit to the project until they are sure it can live up to the badge. The BZ4X is the Japanese firm’s first series production SUV. Toyota showed a BZ4X GR Sport concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January that imagined how a performance version could look, although it did not give any details of the powertrain. While that was strictly a concept, Toyota’s GR Sport division, which developed the GR Yaris hot hatch, is looking at a production version. Daisuke Ido, the chief engineer of the bZ4X, told: “We are talking with the GR guys, but it’s still not a concrete idea yet”. Ido said that the the biggest challenge of developing a performance variant was not achieving sufficiency power or torque from the electric powertrain, but on ensuring it offered handling and performance that matched other models in Toyota’s GR well-regarded line-up. “That is a challenge, always”, said Ido. “We can control any profile with a battery EV, so the feeling is very important, and we have to work out how to offer a higher power with the same mechanism. That’s the challenge”. The BZ4X is the first production model to use Toyota’s new E-TNGA platform, and will initially be offered with a single motor producing 204 hp, and a 218 hp twin motor set-up with that offers all-wheeldrive. The closely related Lexus RX450e will be offered with a twin-motor 313 hp set-up, which shows how the versatile E-TNGA architecture can accept increased power outputs. Ido is also in charge of developing Toyota’s other electric models, which are due to be launched in quick fashion following the BZ4X. 4 other E-TNGA models are due to arrive in the coming years (although not all will be offered in every market) and will include a compact SUV, a 7-seat large SUV, an Aygo X-sized urban crossover and a midsized saloon. The E-TNGA platform is designed for C- and D-segment cars, and Ido confirmed that the firm is working on a new electric platform for smaller cars. When asked about future plans, Ido added: “With the E-TNGA platform for the BZ series we can offer some variety, and a wide range of products, maybe some sporty types of car, or maybe a big car for facilities. That’s not saying we will do those – that’s just my imagination for now”. +++

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