Newsflash: BMW test M140i

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+++ BENTLEY will reveal the latest limited-production creation from in-house coachbuilding arm Mulliner at Monterey Car Week on 21 August. The Bentley Mulliner Batur will provide a first look at the brand’s new design language, which will set its first electric models apart from its current V6, V8 and W12-engined cars. The Batur will use an enhanced version of Bentley’s turbocharged W12 engine with outputs of around 650 hp and 900 Nm. That should allow it to accelerate from 0-100 kph in less than 4 seconds, with a top speed beyond 320 kph. Nonetheless, it will influence the first Bentley EV (due in 2026) which is expected to be a high-riding saloon using the Volkswagen Group’s upcoming SSP platform and offering 500 km of range. The Batur is expected to be similarly limited as the Mulliner Bacalar, of which just 12 units were sold, 4 of which remain to be delivered to customers. Mulliner has evolved into a key component of Bentley as a business. The brand attributed its record-setting profit for the first half of 2022 to the Created by Mulliner personalisation programme. Mulliner’s role in informing Bentley’s future (especially concerning the marque’s Beyond100 sustainability plans) is likely to grow as a result. As for the Beyond100 plan, the Crewe-based firm has committed to only offering EV or PHEV models from 2026 and total electrification by 2030. +++

+++ The current BMW M135i cranks out 306 hp, but could more power be hiding under the camo wrap of the facelifted version. A prototype was caught with 4 rather shiny exhaust tips exiting at the rear, a setup that isn’t offered on the current M135i, and in fact, it’s typically reserved for full-fat M models. No such vehicle exists in the 1 Series, and I haven’t heard anything to suggest that will change. However, that’s not to say the M135i couldn’t get an upgrade to become the M140i. Not a full M-badged monster. But not merely a 1 Series hatch with a bit more power, either. It’s an interesting conundrum, but it’s one that will likely remain elusive for some time. BMW is still testing an early version of the updated hot hatch, as evidenced by the plethora of panels hiding detailed changes on the front clip. A close look suggests the headlights will slim down while the grille stays more or less the same size. The lower fascia could eliminate the vertical corner vents for something more rounded. At the rear, we can expect updated taillights. Perhaps a diffuser could appear too. Here’s where things get a bit confusing. Information leaked in July says the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine used in the 1 Series will max out at 325 hp in top trim. That’s a small bump versus the current model, which would fall in line with a mid-cycle refresh for the M135i. However, it seems odd that such a modest power increase would include quad-exhaust tips synonymous with bonkers M models. Could the leaked information be incorrect? Could BMW have plans for an actual M machine in the 1 Series family, slotting above the M135i? One thing we do know is that definitive answers aren’t coming anytime soon. The current M135 debuted in October 2021 for the 2022 model year. That means a reveal of the updated version could be at least year away, if not longer. +++

+++ HONDA ’s fiscal first quarter profit fell 33% from last year as a global computer chip shortage, a pandemic-related lockdown in China and the rising costs of raw materials hurt the Japanese automaker. Tokyo-based Honda reported Wednesday that its profit totalled 149.2 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in the April-June quarter, down from 222.5 billion yen ($1.7 billion) a year earlier. Quarterly sales slipped 7% to 3.8 trillion yen ($28 billion). Honda kept its profit forecast for the full fiscal year through March 2023 unchanged at 710 billion yen ($5.3 billion). The semiconductor shortage has hurt all the world’s automakers, including Honda, despite strong demand, and the manufacturers have been scrambling to secure alternative suppliers. Honda sold about 815.000 vehicles last quarter, down from 998.000 vehicles the same period a year earlier. Auto sales dropped in almost all regions around the world, including Japan, the U.S. and Europe. “I ask for the understanding from all those who are still waiting for their vehicles and vow that our whole company is doing its utmost to make the deliveries even a day sooner”, chief financial officer Kohei Takeuchi said. Takeuchi said the semiconductor shortage curtailed motorcycle production as well as car production, adding to uncertainty about future prospects. Honda said the recent lockdown in Shanghai was among the causes of the shortage in computer chips supply but declined to give specifics. Although U.S. sales are potentially facing a dent from recession worries and other economic hardships, Takeuchi acknowledged he was more worried about the shortage problem and producing the cars customers were waiting for. Takeuchi noted that motorcycle sales for the quarter, which grew to 4.25 million motorcycles from 3.88 million a year earlier, were going strong, especially in India. The cheaper yen and cost cuts helped maintain profitability overall, he added. The yen has been at a 2-decade low against the U.S. dollar. A cheap yen has historically worked as a boon for exporters like Honda by boosting the value of their overseas earnings when converted into yen. But it also increases costs for imported components and materials. Japan’s top automaker Toyota reported recently that its fiscal first quarter profit fell nearly 18%. Nissan saw its quarterly profit plunge to less than half of what it was a year earlier. Both were hit by the chips shortage. Like the rest of the industry, Honda has aggressive ambitions in electric vehicles. Earlier this year, it announced an investment of 5 trillion yen ($37 billion) over the next decade in such research. That includes a collaboration with General Motors in North America to develop models going on sale in 2024. To beef up its capital base and keep a flexible capital strategy, Honda said it was buying back its own company common shares of up to 100 billion yen ($740 million), starting Friday through March 2023. +++

+++ Operating profits at HYUNDAI are expected to hit 10 trillion won ($7.7 billion) this year for the first time in its history. Forecasters had initially expected the Korean carmaker’s operating profits to top out at 8 trillion won ($6.1 billion) for 2022 but have raised estimates to over 10 trillion won ($7.7 billion). This would represent a jump of 51.9 percent compared to 2021 and comes on the back of unexpectedly strong results in the second quarter of the year. Indeed, Hyundai’s operating profit swelled from 1.92 trillion won ($1.46 billion) in the first quarter of 2022 to 2.98 trillion won ($2.2 billion) in the second quarter of the year. Rising operating profits have been helped by Hyundai’s sales across Europe and North America jumped by 2.9 percent and 6.6 percent respectively compared with Q2 2021. SUVs are accounting for more than half of all sales from the brand and that demand for its EVs continue to increase. “Hyundai has high domestic and overseas stand-by demand of 640.000 units in Korea, 140.000 in Europe and the exposure to emerging markets is expected to recover demand relatively quickly”, Hana Securities analyst Song Sung-jae said. “It is expected that the market share will be expanded through the gradual expansion of production”. Things are also look good over at Kia. Analysts predict its operating profit will rise by 56.1 percent from last year to 7.9 trillion won ($6 billion). This comes on the back of forecasts jumping from 6.7 trillion ($5.1 billion) won by almost 20 percent in 1 month, meaning the combined operating profit of the two car manufacturers could hit an all-time high of 18 trillion won ($13.7 billion). This all comes despite the resurgence of Covid-19 in some countries and a plethora of supply chain disruptions. +++

+++ The HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP (Hyundai and Kia) may have to increase the number of electric vehicles they produce in North America to remain competitive. The U.S. Senate recently passed the first draft of the Inflation Reduction Act on Sunday that also outlines how EV subsidies will be offered in the future. U.S. president Joe Biden is expected to sign off on the bill later this week after the House vote. Found within the bill is a $369 billion green stimulus package that will provide subsidies of $7,500 for each individual EV that is produced in North America and that includes even batteries produced in the U.S. Some industry observers fear that Hyundai and Kia could lose ground to their competitors because they don’t currently have any EV production facilities in North America and currently build both the Ioniq 5 and EV6 in Korea. The automakers do have some plans for EV production in North America. For example, both the forthcoming Hyundai Ioniq 7 and Kia EV9 are expected to be built at a new factory in Georgia. Hyundai Motor Group’s plans could be impacted by its labour union in Korea. A collective agreement with the union means that consent is needed before the automakers are able to move production of a model out of Korea. “If we do not advance the production of electric vehicles in the U.S., we may miss the opportunity to dominate the market, so the decision is urgent”, Samsung securities researcher Lim Eun-young said. Hyundai and Kia’s market share of EVs in the United States dropped to 7.6 percent in July, meaning it dropped behind Ford with a 10.4 percent share and Volkswagen with an 8.5 percent share. This was due to a decrease in export shipments because of a strike by the Korean cargo alliance, and an increase in the number of models offered by competitors. +++

+++ JAGUAR reports 15.207 global retail car sales during the second quarter of 2022, which is 48% less than a year ago. Also, the Land Rover brand notes a significant decrease: down 33% to 63.618, which makes the overall result for the Jaguar Land Rover group (part of Tata Motors) pretty weak (78,825 sales which is down 37% on last year). The company explains that there are ongoing production constraints, while demand remains strong, actually reaching a new record of almost 200.000 units (up by around 32.000 compared to the end of Q1). In this background, the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace sales do not look that bad, although it’s also struggling. The company sold 2.175 units in Q2, which is 14% less than a year ago and the 4th quarter of a consecutive year-over-year decline. However, the I-Pace’s share out of the total Jaguar volume increased to 14.3% (compared to 8.7% a year ago). So far this year, I-Pace sales amounted to 4,189 (down 12% year-over-year). For reference, in 2021, Jaguar sold 9,970 units (2018: 6.893, 2019: 17.355, 2020: 16.457). Cumulatively, more than 54.800 I-Pace cars were sold globally. Unfortunately, the manufacturer does not report its total plug-in car sales, despite having plenty of plug-in hybrid models. However, Jaguar Land Rover reports that during the quarter, the share of electrified vehicles (xEVs, or BEVs + PHEVs + HEVs) increased to 66% (compared to 64% in Q1). It means that some 50% (or 39.000) are PHEVs/HEVs. The company intends to electrify both of its brands in the coming years, including the first all-electric Land Rover in 2024 and the first “new” all-electric Jaguar in 2024. A Range Rover BEV will be launched in 2024 as part of 6 new Range Rover, Defender and Discovery models planned by end 2026. Transformation of Jaguar into an all-electric luxury brand remains on track with first new vehicles to be revealed before end 2024. I guess that the Jaguar I-PACE will continue as is, at least until the all-new, all-electric models, which will be based on an all-new platform, are ready. +++

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+++ A confluence of factors including parts shortages and inflation are driving prices up across the automotive market. Now, after a very rough first quarter for MAZDA (which started on April 1st) in terms of operating profits, the Japanese brand is recognizing the opportunity to raise prices as demand for its products swells. Led by the all-new CX-60 in Europe and the new CX-50 in America, Mazda believes volume will increase for the full fiscal year. The new SUV models are helping Mazda to recover lost profits through the sale of higher trim levels. Due to a combination of factors that led to missed production goals, the automaker posted a ¥19.5 billion ($143 million) operating loss during the first quarter. Like many other automakers, lockdowns in Shanghai contributed to the production slowdowns. Ultimately, Mazda is betting that if it improves production speed and raises prices that it can start to claw back some of that lost revenue. In fact, it says that it’s already rebounding now that Shanghai is back online. “To offset higher raw material and logistic costs, we have raised prices in markets where we can do so”, Yasuhiro Aoyama, Mazda’s global sales chief said at Mazda’s financial results announcement on Tuesday. “We will fetch higher prices as we continue to monitor market competition and reassess the competitiveness of our products”. He believes that raising prices by around $350 per car will be enough to make an impact. That’s after the 2023 model already received a $750 price hike. At the same time, Mazda reduced its incentive spending to just $650 per car during the month of July. The 2 strategies could come together to make for a very good last half of the year for the brand. Senior managing executive officer Masahiro Moro says that “the quality of sales and unit sales have improved, and our new models are well received. So we have high resilience and will take the necessary steps to recover as soon as possible”. In China, the new CX-60 has already received some 6.400 orders along with another 11.600 for Europe. +++

+++ In the United States, dealers are adding ridiculous mark-ups on desirable new cars every day, but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Recently, there are reports of some NISSAN dealers adding tens of thousands of dollars above the regular price for the (400)Z Proto Spec limited edition. The new Nissan Z marks the return for the popular Japanese sports car and thanks to a starting price of just $39.990, it undercuts its closest rival, the Toyota Supra, by some $12.925. The range-topping Proto Spec however is limited to just 240 examples for the entire country and this month, the first units are scheduled to become available. Some of the prices for the limited-edition Z are wild. At least 3 different dealers seem to have hefty mark-ups in place on the sports car. In the first instance, a text message exchange alleges that Jeff Wyler Nissan in Louisville, is charging a $50,000 premium on top of the $54,015 price shown on its website. Another dealer, Mike Rezi Nissan in Atlanta, has a Z Proto Spec listed for $78,990. They do not have an MSRP listed but that’s at least $20,000 over the sticker price regardless of options. Finally, a third image purports to show an advertisement from Nissan of Irvine that says “Buy now for $125,000”. That’s the least believable of the bunch and according to the original poster, that language has already been changed to say “See it in person”. Another user in the same thread had an interesting idea saying “With an OTD (Out the door) price like that I rather get a used R35 GT-R”. The Z Proto Spec certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up with the GT-R. +++

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+++ Rain against glass, a crescendo during a pivotal movie scene, the crunching of tyres on gravel, we live in a world where SOUNDS are connected to deep emotional cues. How human beings hear and interpret sound is predominantly emotive. Sound triggers emotion. This sentiment is no different when it comes to our vehicles. Every rumble is an opportunity to provoke an emotional response, a nuance not lost on the automotive industry. An engine’s roar is inherently dramatic, full of grit and power. A revving engine evokes the thrill of famous chase scenes from films such as The Italian Job and Bullitt, the booming wall of thunder and roaring exhaust of a car pushed to its limit. As the former CEO of Aston Martin, a marque famed for its bassy (and loud!) notes, I know just how integral sound is to a car’s desirability. Electric cars are the opposite. Almost voiceless, no more evocative than the gentle oscillation of an electric toothbrush or posh fan. Needless to say, the impact isn’t the same, or at least evokes a different feeling. Quiet operation is, of course, among EVs’ selling points (Rolls-Royce for example boasted in adverts that “the loudest noise in a Rolls-Royce at 100 kph comes from the ticking of the clock), however, for us motorheads there is an expectation of what a car should sound like. Even for the everyday-driver, there’s an innate expectation that stepping on the accelerator causes an auditory response. Complete silence in a moving vehicle is unnerving for those not familiar with driving EVs. Many find it uncomfortable. Unsafe even. And this anxiety can be detrimental to the widespread uptake of EVs. The appetite is there. But for now, combustion engines remain king. So automakers and suppliers continue to push innovation to make EVs irresistible to the ordinary consumer. This includes sound development. Well known EV heavy-weights, such as BMW, have poured resources into composing new sounds to give its drivers improved sensory input on the road. By dabbling in complex sound design, manufacturers can remove consumer anxiety caused by limited driving cues and psychologically assist with the transition from internal combustion engines to electric. In fact, BMW recently partnered with Oscar-winning composer, Hans Zimmer, to co-develop emotionally engaging driving sounds. The concept titled ‘BMW Iconic Sounds Electric’ developed a series of audio cues, from when a car starts to the rising pitch when it accelerates. Why? To enrich its electrified BMW M range with a distinctive and unmistakable sonic experience, intrinsically linked to the brand. BMW isn’t alone in its ambition to successfully harness the emotive power of sound. Hyundai created sound that matches its vehicle’s power performance by harmonising the vibration and sound generated during acceleration through its Active Sound Design (ASD) technology. Porsche, a brand known for its howling engines, personified “the voice” of its Taycan with acousticians describing it as “emotional, rather than obtrusive”. And they are just a few examples. There’s no telling what else carmakers will try. Embedding well-known theme tunes when in reverse perhaps? Or utilising musical instrument interludes and meshed synthesised sounds to determine speed recognition? Only time will tell. But buried in the blur of music notes and beats-per-minute, there is a much more fundamental, ‘real life’ need to improve the relationship between sound and electric vehicles – it’s now an issue of safety. While praised by urban living and city dwellers for their reduction in noise pollution, soundless vehicles highlight various challenges. For example, other road users commonly rely on engine noise to understand speed status and changes, while pedestrians use sound for general awareness, and for those living with sight-impairments their reliance on surrounding sound is imperative. Steps have already been taken in a bid to tackle this issue. In July 2019, the government announced new legislation instructing all manufacturers to install an acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS) in all EVs as a measurement of vehicle behaviour. Under the rules, the AVAS kicks in when a vehicle’s speed is under 20 km/h and when in reverse. Nissan’s second fully electric car, the Ariya, and its updated fleet of Leafs are already fitted with a new AVAS dubbed Canto, which uses simulated sound technology to alert pedestrians of its presence. Canto has been created using a spectrum of sonic palettes, purposely composed to ensure it varies in tone and pitch depending on whether the vehicle is accelerating, decelerating, or reversing. It is automatically activated when travelling at speeds up 30 km/h. Whether this is enough remains to be seen. Regardless of whether one thinks the current legislation goes far enough or not, the fact remains that AVAS-type systems are set to become an increasingly important feature moving forward, and this technology will become a key part of a car’s character. There’s no denying electric vehicles are making waves. Many of the fastest cars at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed were electric (Ford’s Pro Electric SuperVan, Porsche 718 GT4 Cayman ePerformance  and the McMurtry Speirling). Yet, the lack of engine sound just doesn’t get the blood pumping in the same way. What we do have, however, is a great canvas for experimental sound design. Automakers can lean on sound as an additional model differentiator (a useful marketing tool, perhaps?) as the market continues to flourish. It’s simply an additional step in electric innovation and development. And if blasting The Clash while reversing prevents an accident, then so be it. +++

+++ The TESLA Model Y was Europe’s best-selling premium midsize SUV in the first half of the year, beating German rivals including the Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW X3. Since its gradual rollout across Europe started last year, Tesla’s electric SUV has been rising up the sales rankings, becoming Norway’s overall top-seller in the first six months, topping Sweden’s sales charts in June and finishing No. 2 overall in the UK in June. Actually, Model Y sales in Europe are growing so fast that the EV could potentially surpass the Audi A3 to become the continent’s bestselling premium model outright, according to preliminary half-year figures from Dataforce. Tesla sold 41.851 Model Ys in Europe (excluding Finland and Portugal) in the first 6 months of the year, beating the Mercedes-Benz GLC (40.554) and BMW X3 (31,138). The second best-selling midsize premium SUV with all-electric propulsion was the Audi Q4 e-tron (11.182), ranked 7th overall. Almost half of all EV sales in the segment came from the Model Y, while Audi’s combined EV volume of 30.612 units, led by the Q4 e-Tron and e-Tron, accounted for a third. If Tesla Model Y sales keep growing at the current rate, the electric SUV could become Europe’s bestselling premium car in 2022, regardless of powertrain type, beating the Audi A3 which sold 51.994 units in the first half of the year. Audi’s compact premium car posted sales decline in the first half. Tesla’s ability to increase sales of the Model Y in the second half of the year will depend both on customer demand and its industrial capacity. The US company is slowly ramping production at its new Berlin plant for the Model Y, with CEO Elon Musk promising in July’s earnings call to raise the factory’s weekly output from 1.000 in June to 5.000 vehicles “by the end of this year or early next year”. He also promised that Giga Berlin would build 10.000 vehicles a week by the end of 2023 as Tesla targets an annual production of 500.000 cars at its German plant. Currently, the Berlin facility builds Performance versions of the Model Y, while standard dual-motor models are shipped from Tesla’s Shanghai plant. Some 20 percent of Model Y sales in Europe come from Berlin and 80 percent from Shanghai. +++

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