Newsflash: Alpine onderzoekt waterstof sportwagen

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+++ ALPINE is “very actively” exploring the use of hydrogen as a means of safeguarding the future of the combustion engine, both in racing and in road cars. The company recently collaborated with students at the European Institute of Design in Turin to create the radical A4810 concept; an outlandish vision of what an Alpine hypercar could look like in 2035, and hypothetically powered by hydrogen. Whether the concept used a hydrogen-combustion engine or a more conventional hydrogen fuel cell arrangement was not clarified, but now Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has given the first indications that the company is committed to keeping combustion technology in its portfolio, and hydrogen could be the key. Rossi told: “It’s only normal we look at parallel paths, and I say parallel on purpose; the idea is we want to find alternatives that are not necessarily incompatible with electrification, because electrification is, whether we like it or not, the future of automotive for at least 60-70% of the automotive parc. For the rest, it will depend on the type of usage, the characteristics, the features you want to have: I’m thinking LCVs with a high payload and fixed trips could afford to use different solutions, or high-output cars”. Alpine has previously been lined up for reinvention as an all-electric performance brand from 2024, confirming plans for a hot hatch based on the Renault 5 electric, the larger Alpine GT X-Over and an electric successor to the Alpine A110 sports car. But Rossi’s latest comments suggest combustion-powered sports cars could still play a role in the brand’s line-up, going forward. He said that in terms of future-proofing low-volume, ‘high-output’ sports cars, “sustainable fuels could be the solution”. “In our case, we believe hydrogen as a fuel could be one. Hydrogen has the green merit of being very compatible with electrification, because the parallel path to hydrogen as a fuel is hydrogen as a fuel cell, which produces electricity. That’s good because the end-to-end industrial path for hydrogen will be compatible with electrification, so we believe that could be one way forward”. Rossi revealed that Alpine aims to showcase hydrogen-combustion technology in a racing car in the future, either in Le Mans or another discipline, and could even create a bespoke prototype (in the vein of Volkswagen’s ID R electric racer) “that could take the Nurburgring record or things like that”. “We believe there might be a proof of concept that could be done, with hydrogen as a fuel, that could then later on translate into super high-performance cars, and why not Alpine road cars? We know that Le Mans is promoting hydrogen fuel cells, which is one step forward, but we want to go another step forward and use hydrogen as a fuel so we could use a V6, a hybridised V6, powered by hydrogen”, he said. Alpine’s parent company Renault recently explored the potential of hydrogen for road cars with the Scenic Vision concept, which uses an innovative range-extender powertrain comprising a 218 hp EV motor and a 40 kWh battery which can be topped up on the move by a 15 kW hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen-combustion, meanwhile, has yet to be used by any manufacturer for a series-production car. The most vocal proponent of the technology is Toyota, which extols the cost benefits of using existing combustion technology in zero-emission cars and has shown that both the Toyota GR Yaris’s 1.6-litre 3-cylinder engine, and the Lexus RC F’s 5.0-litre V8, need only light modification to run on hydrogen. +++

+++ CITROEN will continue to challenge current vehicle categorisation to ensure that it remains “future-proof”, even if that means taking risks, according to its strategy boss. The French firm, part of the Stellantis empire, has recently launched the C4 X, which fuses elements of a fastback, saloon and SUV. It follows the similar Citroën C5 X and the Citroën C4, an SUV-styled hatchback, along with the Ami electric quadricycle. While SUVs continue to dominate sales charts, Citroën strategy boss Laurence Hansen believes that customers are increasingly focused on the features they need in a car, rather than it following a particular trend. “We love to look at problems, put it in a different way and propose a solution”, said Hansen. “We won’t do that on all of our traditional cars, but in each segment we will have a proposal that’s slightly different from our competitors in terms of how we see mobility, because our customers are quite different”. Hansen said that that Citroën customers tend to be family buyers looking for comparatively affordable solutions and are “prone to go electric more than others, because they care for the planet”. Hansen said that with the C4, C4 X and C5 X, Citroën now has a full range of C-segment models, adding: “In the B-segment, we need an electric proposal, so we will renew the C3 and C3 Aircross, and they will be electric of course”. But Hansen said that Citroën won’t necessarily produce cars that fit traditional categories. “People look at size first,” said Hansen. “You could be traditional and say ‘I want a small, medium or big car’, but you could also say ‘I need comfort, space and a BEV’. What then? People buy the car because they like the styling. Usually when you come to a brand, you come for the styling and maybe for the size, but you can see many compromises. If we stay to the current categorisation of vehicles, we won’t be future-proof, for sure. For example, what is a cross SUV? There could be many answers, so the real question is what does the customer want in terms of USPs and features? Then we can imagine something”. Hansen added that approach reflects the firm’s heritage as “a brand that challenges the norm”, adding: “When you challenge the norm, sometimes you do success and sometimes you do failure”. Despite the risk of failure, Hansen said that approach is key to Citroën standing out against its rivals. She said: “We did the Ami, and nobody else would have bet on the Ami. And it has proven to be a great success. If you look at the Stellantis portfolio, you sometimes need a relative that is a little crazy and can think of different things. Look at the CV 20 concept car (an electric skateboard platform concept): who else but Citroën could have asked that question? We have something to say: we proposed a solution, and we love to do so, because that’s creativity, and creativity is in Citroën’s DNA”. +++

+++ The Guangzhou Automobile Group ( GAC ) has revealed a new luxurious MPV concept featuring a bespoke hydrogen powertrain. Unveiled at the GAC Tech Day event, where the Chinese company previews newly developed technologies, the concept has been named Space. GAC didn’t give details of the Space’s powertrain, but it also unveiled a 1.5-litre hydrogen-fueled engine at the event, claiming that it consumes 0.84 kg of hydrogen per 100 km. The Space concept features a futuristic exterior design, with sequential headlights, illuminated grille bars and a roof inspired by traditional Chinese architecture. GAC claims the steering wheel and facial-recognition systems can retract, thanks to Level 4 autonomous-driving capabilities, meaning the car can take control of most driving situations without any driver input. GAC says vehicle interiors and luxury experiences are becoming more important for customers around the world, and therefore the concept maximises interior space with a lounge-like interior. It features a landscape image of mountains and rivers, with Guangzhou’s landmarks, the Baiyun Mountain and the Pearl River, also part of the design. An L-shaped sofa is partnered with dome lights. In the front, a three-tier display system includes facial recognition, fabric materials and a digital display. The Space concept also features several different modes for different driving scenarios. One mode, named Bonfire Circle, drops the driving pedals and raotes the front seats to face the rear passengers and a centre table. Ambient lighting is said to resemble “winding streams”. Another mode, named Tea Time Lounge, raises the tailgate and extends it into a “comfortable seating area”. ​​“The Space represents a leap forward in GAC’s innovation and exploration. Its design gathers technological progress, user needs and the development of the times, creating a perfect symbiosis between man and nature. That is our ultimate goal”, said GAC head of design Fan Zhang. The Space is unlikely to go into production, but GAC said the interior of the model will influence its upcoming production cars. +++

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+++ HYUNDAI ’s unionized workers in South Korea voted for a possible strike for the first time in 4 years over demands for higher wages and anger that management was prioritizing overseas investment. The union, one of the biggest in the country with more than 46.000 members, said on Friday that 81.63% of its voting union members had approved strike action unless the company accept their demands. If the union does strike, other industries could follow suit, threatening to slow South Korea’s manufacturing-reliant economy, which last month saw exports grow at their slowest pace in more than 1-1/2 years. The union is seeking a minimum basic monthly pay increase of 165,200 won ($127) and a performance pay equating to 30% of Hyundai’s 2022 net profit, as soaring inflation cuts into workers’ wages. It is also demanding Hyundai invest in the country to support new businesses including urban air mobility, purpose-built vehicles and electric vehicle-related auto parts manufacturing. “Inflation has been speeding up even after we came up with our demand, so many of us feel that our wages need to keep up with this soaring inflation”, a union member at Hyundai told on condition of anonymity. Negotiations between Hyundai’s union and management, which started in May, stalled last month. The union’s demands come after Hyundai Motor Group, which houses Hyundai and Kia, announced more than $10 billion investment plans in the United States by 2025 including $5.5 billion EV and battery facilities in Georgia. The auto group said in May it would also invest 21 trillion won ($16 billion) through 2030 to expand its EV business in South Korea. In March, Hyundai said it targets to achieve a 7% market share in the global EV market by 2030, with an annual sales target of 1.87 million vehicles. Analysts say as the union’s new leader has adopted an aggressive negotiating stance, the chances of Hyundai facing a partial strike this year could be more likely than last year, putting at risk its revenue growth just as a chips shortage used in cars is expected to ease in coming months. “If the union decides to go on strike, Hyundai would face inevitable production output loss, when they need to ramp up production to meet strong car demand”, said Cho Soo-hong, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities. South Korea’s economy was already dealt a blow in June when unionised truckers went on a nationwide strike for more than a week to protest soaring fuel costs, action that crippled ports and industrial hubs. Annual inflation accelerated to 5.4% in May, the fastest in nearly 14 years, adding to the risk of weaker domestic demand in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. +++

+++ The design of the highly anticipated LOTUSType 133 electric saloon has been signed off ahead of its launch in 2023, and details have emerged about how radically different it will be from any of the brand’s previous or existing cars. It will be the first Lotus saloon car since the legendary Carlton (an Opel-based BMW M5 rival) bowed out in 1992. In its positioning, it will provide the brand with a rival to the Porsche Taycan, BMW i4 and Mercedes-Benz EQE. It will also be similar in its conception to sibling brand Polestar’s 5 grand tourer, due on sale around a year later, in 2024. But, suggested Lotus managing director Matt Windle, the two cars will be tangibly differentiated, despite their shared Geely Group origins. Asked if Lotus could benefit from the UK-based development programme for the Polestar 5, Windle told: “Yes and no. The importance is keeping that individuality and we are different companies”. It is not yet clear whether the 2 cars will share a modular EV platform from the Geely stable (the Eletre platform is said to be a bespoke architecture), nor whether the Type 133 will be available with the Polestar’s range-topping 900 hp 4-wheeldrive powertrain, but Windle said: “It will be the Lotus ethos in that car. It’s a bit more refined, further towards the luxury end of what we’re trying to do with our performance luxury brand”. Global Lotus dealers have been shown the final design for the Type 133, he confirmed, “so they know what’s coming next, and excitement was very high”. Elaborating on how Lotus and Polestar could collaborate in the future, Windle explained: “Geely is flexible and comfortable with us working with our sister companies, or third parties or other suppliers, OEMs, or anything. There’s no direct purchasing or design strategy that they imply on us. With Lotus being a smaller company, and with us growing up, it makes sense to take technologies from our sister companies. If you go to an OEM for their parts, you have to pay for the privilege of going in the shop to see if you want the parts. With Geely and our sister companies, we can go and see if we want the parts, and if we do we then pay for them. For a small company, that really helps. But it works the opposite way as well: our sister companies and Geely come to Lotus for powertrain development, EDU development, ride and handling development: it’s a really flexible, organic organisation. We’re stronger as a group, but we’re individual enough in that group that you don’t all become morphed together. It’s a fine balancing act and I think they do it very well”. The Type 133, which will follow Lotus convention in getting a name beginning with ‘E’ in production guise, will provide the brand with a more direct rival to the hugely popular Porsche Taycan, which company bosses confirmed as one of the main benchmarking influences while developing the Eletre SUV, despite the two cars’ different positionings. Gavan Kershaw, Lotus’s director of attributes and product integrity, said dynamic development of the Eletre was “really, benchmarking the platform”, rather than the car itself, with a view to then rolling it out to the Type 133 and a future Type 134 crossover. Kershaw referenced the suspension technologies (“active roll control, CDC [continuous damping control] , air-sprung independent active rear steer and active aero”) as features that most obviously mark the aluminium Electric Premium Architecture out as the more dynamically oriented platform in the Geely Group stable. He also said they have been ‘package-protected’ for “everything we want to do” with future electric cars, suggesting the Type 133 will follow suit with a similar set-up. “Our type of car, that we want to drive as well as it looks, requires all that technology”, he said, hinting that the ‘lifestyle’ positioning of EVs built by Lotus Technology in Wuhan, China, will not come at the expense of driver engagement. Further details of the Type 133 remain under wraps, but using the 600 hp twin-motor drivetrain from the launch-spec Eletre would line the saloon neatly up against the Porsche Taycan GTS, leaving ample room above and below for both softer and more hardcore additions to the line-up. Indeed, Lotus managing director Matt Windle confirmed that 600 hp is “where we’re starting at, but there’s more to come” from Lotus EVs. Lotus senior vice-president of design Peter Horbury was keen to emphasise that while “there has to be some continuity and family identity” across the range of Lotus EVs, “families aren’t made up entirely of triplets or quadruplets. Every member of a family can have their own character”. The Type 133, then, can be expected to borrow cues from the Eletre but adopt a distinct overall design, albeit one that is still heavily influenced by Lotus’s preoccupation with aerodynamic efficiency. +++

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+++ Talk about betting on yourself. Irish businessman Sir David McMurtry backed MCMURTHY AUTOMOTIVE in 2016 after asking a group of ex-motorsports engineers to come up with a clean-sheet electric car with the “twin goals of driver engagement and vehicle performance”. The team created the McMurtry Speirling, a diminutive battery-electric single-seater fan car. A 60 kWh Molicell battery powers multiple motors providing well beyond 1.000 hp and powers a fan system that sucks the car to the road, providing 2.000 kilos of downforce from a standstill. The upstarts went to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and broke the hillclimb record held by the Volkswagen ID.R. since 2019, covering the 1.6-mile run 0.8 second faster than the VW. Now they’ve told a roadgoing version is on the way, and they already have a working prototype. McMurtry Automotive managing director Thomas Yates said, “We want to provide something that you can drive through the center of London, and then take onto a track”. The road version will be slightly different than the track-only model that raced through Goodwood grounds. It will likely be slightly slower, too, sacrificing ultimate aero for requirements like headlights and taillights, windshield wipers, and front and rear license plates. It will still be plenty hardcore, however, a brochure for the car advertising rush to 100 kph in under 2 seconds, 2.000 kilograms of downforce available from standstill, 2.250 kg available at 240 kph and a peak cornering force of 3G. McMurtry still hasn’t given detailed specs on motor count and output, but the track car’s power-to-weight is claimed to be 1.000 hp per ton. The road car will weigh under 1.000 kilos and have a range of 480 km on the European cycle. The fan will only be usable in Track Mode, which we wouldn’t be surprised to find geofenced to known tracks. Not only does it make 120 dB of noise at full spin, the dust it sucks up from the road gets ejected out the rear vents; behavior that isn’t friendly to other road users or pedestrians on the High Street. Once taken to a circuit, though, Yates says, “You have this unbelievable, loud, exciting, electric, really compact car that you know will be the fastest car at any trackday you attend”. The battery can handle from 30 to 60 minutes of flat-out charging before needing a charge. The firm already has a second act in mind, too; a car smaller than the dinky Speirling (which means “thunderstorm” in Gaelic). Compared to a Mazda MX-5, that’s 30 cm shorter, 2,5 cm narrower and nearly 15 cm lower. Yates told the company is dedicated to single-seaters for now, the target for the Speirling being “something that was in no way wasteful, had no redundant space, and nothing was wasted, just a phenomenal, compact, lightweight driving experience”. The next model will eliminate even more “redundant space”. The Speirling road car will cost seven figures in pounds sterling, meaning at least $1.22 million U.S. at current exchange rates, when it debuts. Those interested can register for updates at the McMurtry site. +++

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+++ The MG 4 electric hatchback will arrive in Europe in September, rivalling the Volkswagen ID.3 and Kia Niro EV with up to 450 km of range, a spacious interior and optimised dynamics. First revealed in China, where it’s known as the MG Mulan, the latest in a growing range of MG EVs is the first to be based on parent company SAIC’s new Modular Scalable Platform (MSP), which officials say will play a pivotal role in the brand’s future plans. The modular platform, which MG says supports wheelbases ranging from 2.650 mm to 3.100 mm and batteries ranging from 40 kWh to 150 kWh, has been conceived around a newly developed One Pack battery construction process. It uses horizontally stacked cells to provide a floor height of just 110mm, with the battery forming an integral part of the platform structure. Originally exposed in a series of Chinese patent images earlier this year, the styling of the 4 represents a departure from other recent MGs, with crisper lines, sheer surfaces and detailing inspired by that first aired on the Cyberster roadster concept that was unveiled in 2021. Key elements include a low front end featuring a large MG badge, angular headlights with distinctive “eyebrow” graphics and a heavily structured front bumper with additional lights integrated within the outer edges. A pair of prominent swage lines are incorporated within the sides, while the lower section of the doors form part of an extended sill. At the rear, the 5-door hatchback receives a large two-part roof-extension-cum-spoiler above an angled tailgate, together with a complex full-width tail-light assembly featuring LED graphics. Among the options is a full-length glass roof. At 4.287 mm long (with a 2.705 mm wheelbase), 1.836 mm wide and 1.506 mm tall, the 4 is 25 mm longer, 27 mm wider but a good 46 mm lower than the Volkswagen ID.3; just one of a number of electric hatchback rivals that it will face. MG has confirmed the 4 will be sold with the choice of 170 hp and 204 hp single-motor rear-wheel-drive powertrains from launch, while a 450 hp dual-motor four-wheel-drive range-topper is set to follow. The performance version is claimed to provide a 0-100 kph time of 3.8 seconds. Top speed is limited to 160 kph. The 170 hp car receives a 51 kWh battery, the 204 hp and 450 hp cars a 64 kWh battery. Official WLTP range is put at between 350 and 450 km. MG is yet to confirm the chemistry of the batteries, but other models from the Chinese brand offer either lithium ion phosphate (LFP) or lithium nickel manganese cobalt (LNMC) cells. MG has confirmed the One Pack battery will initially use a 400 Volt architecture but says it can be upgraded to 800 Volt for faster charging in the future. SAIC deputy chief engineer Zhu Jun talked up the dynamic properties of the 4, suggesting the new platform and integrated battery provide it with a 50:50 weight distribution “for optimum driving pleasure”. +++

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+++ STELLANTIS said it will speed up the production of electric motors at its factory in Tremery (Moselle), long the world’s largest diesel engine plant, to account for 50% of the facility’s capacity by 2024. In 2021, diesel still accounted for 67% of production at this plant in northeastern France. But by 2024, diesel engines will make up only 30% of installed capacity. Gasoline engines, which are also used for hybrid electric vehicles, will make up 20% of capacity. Within the last decade, diesel accounted for more than 50% of new car sales in Europe, but the technology has fallen out of favour as the European Union has focused instead on zero-emission solutions for cars. The shift to electric presents the auto industry with considerable challenges for jobs and training. An electric motor has a third of the parts of an internal combustion engine, requiring fewer parts and hours for production. The Tremery plant, which opened in 1979, has already shed jobs. The factory currently employs around 2.400 people and a nearby gearbox plant in Metz has 1.100 workers, compared to 3.000 and 1.400 respectively in 2019. Stellantis still makes diesel models like the Citroën C4. But others like the Peugeot 408 are switching to gasoline and hybrid models only. +++

+++ TESLA ’s sales from April through June fell to their lowest quarterly level since last fall as supply chain issues and pandemic restrictions in China hobbled production of its electric vehicles. The company on Saturday disclosed it sold more than 254.000 cars and SUVs from April through June, an 18% drop from the first three months of this year and also well below the pace in last year’s final quarter. The last time Tesla sold fewer vehicles globally was in the third quarter of 2021 when it delivered 241.000. On Friday, the rest of the industry reported a 21% drop in sales during the second quarter as the average price for vehicles skyrocketed to a record of $45,844 amid soaring inflation, according to J.D. Power. Tesla’s sales drop may be a harbinger of weaker second-quarter earnings for the Texas company, which is the world’s topseller of battery-powered vehicles and has posted net profits for nearly 3 years. Tesla plans to release its full results for the April-June period on July 20. Like many other stocks, Tesla shares have been hard hit this year. But the 35% decline in Tesla’s stock price hasn’t been entirely tied to the company’s see-sawing fortunes. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also has made a $44 billion bid for Twitter, which he placed on hold after complaining that it has too many spam bot users who aren’t humans. Much of the erosion in Tesla’s value has occurred since Musk became Twitter’s largest shareholder and then launched a takeover bid that has raised concerns he has too much on his already crowded plate. Musk has used his own Twitter account, which now has more than 100 million followers, to discuss the pandemic restrictions that forced the Shanghai factory to temporarily close during the quarter. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives estimates that more than 40% of Tesla’s sales come from China, and that the Shanghai factory produced about 70.000 fewer vehicles due to the shutdowns. But Tesla signaled things are getting better Saturday, saying it produced more vehicles during June than in any other month in its history. The company didn’t disclose the number of vehicles manufactured during June. As of early Saturday afternoon, Musk hadn’t tweeted about Tesla’s second-quarter sales. But he created a bit of a stir late Friday with ending an uncharacteristically long nine-day silence on Twitter. His Friday tweets incuded 1 with him and 4 his children meeting with Pope Francis. Tesla’s latest delivery numbers came out a week after the release of an interview with Musk in which he described new factories in Austin and Berlin as “money furnaces” that were losing billions of dollars because supply chain breakdowns were limiting the number of cars they can produce. In a May 30 interview with a Tesla owners’ club that was just released last week, Musk said that getting the Berlin and Texas plants functional “are overwhelmingly our concerns. Everything else is a very small thing”, Musk said, but added that “it’s all gonna get fixed real fast”. Musk also has discussed making salaried workers return to offices and a possible 10% cut in Tesla’s work force due to a possible recession. Supply chain breakdowns since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic 2 years ago have been especially debilitating for automakers, who get parts from all corners of the globe. A lack of computer chips needed to run cars’ computers compounded automakers’ problems and sent prices for used and new cars skyrocketing. As the pandemic erupted in the U.S. in 2020, automakers had to shut factories for eight weeks to help stop the virus from spreading. Some parts companies canceled orders for semiconductors. At the same time, demand for laptops, tablets and gaming consoles skyrocketed as people stuck at home upgraded their devices. By the time auto production resumed, chip makers had shifted production to consumer goods, creating a shortage of weather-resistant automotive-grade chips. Although Tesla has fared better than other automakers, the industry still can’t get enough chips. +++

+++ In the UNITED STATES , General Motors reported a 15% drop in second-quarter auto sales on Friday, as a global chip shortage and supply chain disruptions hit production and left nearly 100.000 vehicles waiting for more parts. The U.S. auto industry is struggling to keep up with pent-up consumer demand for new cars as it struggles to ramp up production due to the chip shortage, a labor crunch and problems related to supply chain logjams. GM, which lost its crown as the sales leader last year for the first time since 1931 to Toyota, said it sold 582.401 vehicles in the quarter through June versus 688.236 vehicles last year. The Detroit automaker, however, is still expected to be the top new vehicle seller in the quarter, according to Cox Automotive, as industry-wide disruptions crimp inventory at other major automakers. Toyota was down nearly 18% in June, which tracks with its year-to-date drop of 19%. Its Lexus division faired better than Toyota itself, down just 15% to the volume brand’s -18.3%. Things were even more dreary at Mazda, which reported a more than 50% drop in June sales vs. 2021. Its year-to-date picture is a bit rosier (-24.5%) but its numbers will likely continue to drag last year’s even if supply chains ease thanks to the missing volume of the discontinued Mazda6. Kia managed to cruise slightly above the industry average in June, lagging its 2021 sales by only 4.9%. Its full-year numbers aren’t quite so rosy, but strong sales of the Sportage, Sorento, Telluride and Carnival are helping dig the company out of its 12-percent deficit. Hyundai’s numbers matched up with the rest of the volume sector. Sales were off 13% in June, but the introduction of the Ioniq5 and Santa Cruz have helped offset at least some of the volume missing compared to last year. Cox officials said Ford, which reports June sales on Tuesday, has managed its inventories better than most others and is also recovering from last year’s struggles. Tesla will be the only major brand to increase sales in the first half of the year, Cox said. Industry observers are concerned about the potential impact of a multi-decade high inflation and rising gas prices on the auto industry, though they point out that demand remains strong at present, an unusual situation. A bigger impediment to increasing auto sales at present still appears to be industry wide shortages of cars and trucks, which have led to analysts cutting their full-year sales forecasts. “A recovery in vehicle production in 2022 seems highly unlikely at this point”, auto industry consultant Jessica Caldwell said. +++

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