Newsflash: Volkswagen gaat beter zijn best doen


+++ Just hours after Audi confirmed its plans to enter F1 as an engine manufacturer from 2026, with a likely buy-in of Sauber, ALFA ROMEO announced its exit. Having only just reconfirmed an extension of its deal to be title sponsor of Sauber for 2023, with the tie-up having originally started in 2018, Alfa Romeo said it would part with the team at the end of next season. “Alfa Romeo communicates that its partnership with Sauber Motorsport will end within the end of 2023”, said a statement. “Alfa Romeo announced its return in Formula 1 in 2017 with a long term plan, and in July 2022 has announced the decision to continue its partnership with Sauber also for 2023, given to the promising results of the first half of the season, both in terms of performances, marketing and positive collaboration with the team. Since the economic and industrial turnaround of the brand will be achieved in 2022, Alfa Romeo will now evaluate among the many opportunities on the table, and decide which will be the best one to sustain the long term strategy and the positioning of the brand”. Earlier this year, Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato said the tie-up with Sauber had been a huge success for his company in driving forward its profile. And, well aware of the Sauber interest in Audi, he was serene about the squad choosing a different path. “We will not change the business model of Alfa Romeo”, he said. “If one day somebody takes a leap, whatever the leap, on anything, we will take the decision we have to make, but that’s it. Really, it’s no stress. I have so many spaces to play. When you are a brand like Alfa Romeo, we have existed for 112 years, the world is open for us. We are leaving a positive story in terms of a business. 2021 was profitable for Alfa Romeo for the first time in years. So really, there is no stress. I’m absolutely not scared, frightened, or even I would say concerned by any of the discussions that I’ve heard are animating the paddock. I’m serene enough to focus on the business each and every day”. It is unclear if Alfa Romeo’s comments about pondering other options includes remaining involved in F1. One possibility is that it could switch its allegiances to another team to take over the naming rights. The most obvious option would be Haas, which is powered by the same Ferrari customer engines as Sauber. +++

+++ DODGE successfully executed its first step toward electrification with the swaggering Charger Daytona SRT concept. It creates excitement for the post-Hemi V8 world and assuages the Mopar base, which is often skeptical toward electric cars. The Charger Daytona, revealed earlier this month, previews Dodge’s strategy to replace the Charger and Challenger with electrics after the current models end production in 2023. Look at it. The Daytona SRT is a Coke-bottle-shaped, two-door muscle car complete with the narrow grille with vertical accents. It’s the 1968 Charger reborn. Even with the sleeker lines and flashy wheels, it looks more like the idea of a Dodge Charger than the current sedan does, though I’d love to see some side scallops on the production version, like the ’68 has. This is how you win over a customer base. Dodge is saying: Don’t fear EVs. The one we’re making will look more like the car you’ve wanted all along. Mythology never hurts in marketing. The jockular Dodge announcement touts the Fratzog badge (used from 1962-76 on Dodge muscle cars), 126-decibel exhaust (which dismissively pans EVs’ usual quiet demeanor) and electro-mechanical shifter (called eRupt) that effects a manual transmission experience. The 800 volt all-wheel drive propulsion system is dubbed Banshee. It’s all very Dodge. But what exactly does the Daytona SRT portend? This is where it gets murky. Dodge will replace the Charger and Challenger. The question is how. Making a Charger coupe like this concept sounds great to enthusiasts, but that would forfeit sedan sales, especially to police fleets and other livery businesses. Maybe that’s OK if Dodge wants to position the Charger upstream. More critically, a 2-door Charger makes the Challenger redundant. Given that the Challenger is still a strong seller, Dodge doesn’t want to serve up volume to the Mustang, which is continuing for another generation in its traditional pony car form, or give the slow-selling Chevrolet Camaro any daylight. Another thought: Perhaps the Daytona SRT concept signals Dodge’s pivot to electrics, but it’s not meant to be taken literally. Under that scenario the Charger stays 4 doors, while the Challenger continues as its 2-door wingman. The tricky part with the Challenger is that it only lived as a muscle car for one generation (1970-74). Unlike the Mustang and Camaro, which have had multiple lives, there’s no other stylistic direction. The modern Challenger is almost a carbon copy of the old one, just larger. Theoretically, Dodge could taper the lines and get it even closer to the original. The Challenger is in Porsche 911 or Jeep Wrangler territory as far as design evolution at this point, regardless of the propulsion system. The Charger and Challenger have had a tremendous run (resurrecting the muscle car segment in the United States since their launches in 2005 respectively 2008), but there’s no denying they’re long in the tooth. On some level, the ancient LX platform on which they ride is still genetically Mercedes E-Class from the DaimlerChrysler days. Dodge has been owned by 3 companies since then. Replacing them was always going to be sticky for Dodge, perhaps more so than the pivot to electrification. While the Charger Daytona concept raises questions, it has already succeeded by showing a vision, which is both brazen and cryptic, for Dodge’s electric muscle cars. +++


+++ FRANCE has long been in the spotlight when it comes to European countries pushing the green switch. With Paris recently implementing a plethora of new rules and regulations limiting the access of cars to the city centre, it’s clear that France wants its capital city to be a walkable city, prioritising the mobility of people rather than cars. Naturally, the fact of the matter is simply that only a small percentage of cars are actually filled to capacity with passengers, and the footprint a car with just one person occupies on the road could very well be swapped out for a bicycle. This is not only good for the environment, but for congestion as well. Now, if you thought that France was already pushing the whole switch-to-bike movement pretty hard, well, think again. A report states that the French government is offering incentives of up to €4,000 for those willing to swap their cars for an electric bicycle. It isn’t just electric bicycles that are part of the equation. The same applies to standard bicycles, which are arguably better, especially for those who don’t go too far on a daily basis. It is, however, worth noting that not everyone is entitled to the hefty €4,000 incentive. The French government has streamlined it in such a way that those in the lower income brackets will be prioritised. This isn’t at all surprising, as those wealthy enough to afford multiple vehicles won’t need the €4,000 jackpot from taking their bike instead of their car. To sweeten the deal even further, however, the French government isn’t forcing you to give up your car completely. Naturally, certain trips within the week may necessitate the use of a car, like when it’s raining, for example. As such, as part of the programme, the French government is offering a subsidy of up to €400 for those looking to get an e-bike for daily mobility purposes. Again, the same philosophy applied to the income level applies here. While France may be one of the strongest proponents to the so-called green shift, it by no means is the only city to be working on such a project. Indeed, the concept of walkable cities is something that is spreading all over the world, with municipalities seeking to do away with cars as the mainstream means of transportation. We’re seeing it in multiple countries, wherein infrastructure surrounding bicycles is accelerating at a rapid pace, and sidewalks and pedestrian streets are being expanded to encourage people to walk and bike rather than to drive. +++

+++ Monterey Car Week encourages all kinds of questions that are answered with outrageous numbers. How much is the Pebble Beach lawn worth? How many metric tons of palm fronds were sacrificed to make the toquilla straw that make the numberless Panama hats? And HOW FAST can a fast car go? Rimac Nevera chief program engineer Matija Renić answered at The Quail on the last question, wondering what Renić believes is possible for a 0-100 time: “Below 1 second”, he said. There aren’t many things humans can complete in less than 1 second other than say 3-word sentences like “Below one second”. The idea of being at rest as one’s lips purse for the “B” and traveling 100 kph by the time the tongue comes off upper alveolar ridge to finish the “d” is, frankly, absurd. Regrettably, either Renić didn’t as to what technologies will make the feat possible. All we have is the oracular pronouncement and little way to conceive of how it could happen, along with lots of questions about tires. See, for a street vehicle on street tires on a regular street, about 2.05 seconds is the lower limit of the stoplight drag. When the Tesla Model S Plaid ripped off a 1.85-second teleport to 60 mph (96 kph), that was on “the super sticky VHT-coated surface of Auto Club Famoso Raceway”. On a non-prepped surface, it got down to 2.28 seconds, but others bettered Tesla’s time in a Ferrari SF90 Stradale, hitting 0-60 in 2.0 seconds flat. Rimac claims the Nevera will hit 60 mph in 1.85 seconds, a time also achieved on a prepped drag strip, but we haven’t seen instrumented proof of that yet. Among videos of the Nevera running the quarter mile, one dedicated thrill seeker pulled off a 2.13-second rip to 60 mph. Speaking of drag strips, top fuel dragsters are the go-to monsters for hitting 60 mph in under 1 second, doing the deed in roughly 0.7 to 0.9 seconds. In 2019, Jalopnik tried to figure out the G forces involved in such dashes, the math concluding that getting from 0 to 60 in 0.86 seconds put a 5.3-G strain on the body. Having that potential in your street car would be like having your own roller coaster, and what we imagine would be a monumental bill for tires. Until we see such things possible for the regular (rather wealthy) driver, we’ll be paying even closer attention to what what Rimac has coming. +++

+++ There are three different worlds in the automotive industry. One is formed by the developed markets, mostly rich countries where the population lives under good or very good living standards. Another one is China, a unique case of a fast-growing economy with its own peculiarities. And the third one includes all the developing economies that still need to go through a deep transformation. The latter includes those countries where the industry is still growing and has a lot of potential, especially in the economies where the ownership of a car is a rare thing. India is a good example: a big population with very low purchase power where most of the people can’t afford a car. The car sales forecast for a country like this are usually optimistic and totally different from the stagnant volumes seen in Europe, USA or Japan. The potential of these markets is the base for the foundation of NEW CAR BRANDS . Companies like Vinfast or TOGG are 2 of the latest new entries that owe their existence to this bright future. They were created as a response to an increasing demand that was not truly satisfied by the existing makers. Their goal is to hit the global markets and catch a piece of them. Will they make it? Vinfast is a Vietnamese-origin car brand established in 2017 that makes part of Vingroup, the country’s largest conglomerate. It started operations after the construction of a plant in Hai Phong, a major industrial city in north Vietnam. Then in 2019, it delivered its first vehicles abroad and in late 2021, it delivered the first batch of fully electric cars in Vietnam. The company has announced big plans for the global markets. They include selling its electric cars in North America and Europe, and also in Indonesia. So far, they have presented 10 different models of which 6 are electric. The bet is quite big. We’re talking about an unknown maker that just started making cars less than 5 years ago. At home, the results are not bad. Vinfast was Vietnam’s 7th bestselling car brand in the first half of 2022 with more than 14.700 units. However, it lost market share compared to the same period of 2021, falling from 10.6% to 7.3%. Toyota, the top seller, sold 43.100 units and increased its market share from 18.3% to 21.2%. Partly because it is becoming a regional power, and partly because it is an important car production hub, Turkey is now on the automotive radar. It needed its own brand and now it got it. It is called TOGG (Türkiye’nin Otomobili Girişim Grubu) and is the answer to Turkey’s necessity to electrify its market. It is perhaps the best part of TOGG’s story: it will bring the electric car to the Turkish consumers. They have already presented 2 models, a C-segment saloon and a C-SUV, featuring a body design that was made by Pininfarina. The plan? To build 175.000 electric vehicles per year, with exports to the countries in the region. The question now is whether these new brands will find customers far away from their home markets. It is always good to have more choices, and definitely the consumers in Vietnam and Turkey will now benefit from locally made cars. The 2 brands have definitely a lot of potential there, especially if they bet on the electrification. The developing markets are still lagging behind in terms of the shift from ICE to EV. Any attempt to encourage the shift is more than welcome. But in the mature markets the reality is more complex. Instead of growing, the sales of new cars are falling. There’s fewer room for the existing brands, and with the exception of Tesla, the latest new entries are still struggling to find a decent part of the market. Being in electric is not enough anymore. They must arrive with a new solution, or otherwise they will simply fail. +++

+++ Earlier this year we saw the debut of the new SMART#1 , and now there’s a performance-orientated Brabus version. Smart (joint-owned by Daimler and Geely) and Mercedes-tuner Brabus have had a long-standing relationship that will extend into Smart’s rebirth as an all-electric brand. It’s not the first time Brabus has worked on an all-electric car with the new Mercedes EQS receiving performance and cosmetic tweaks from the tuner. The tuner also revealed the Brabus 92R last year: a sportier version of the all-electric Smart Fortwo EQ. Now Brabus has turned its attention to the #1 small SUV, improving performance and adding more exclusivity and driver-focused appeal. Based on the Geely SEA platform, the #1 Brabus has a pair of motors (one on each axle) delivering 4-wheel drive and a total output of 430 hp and 543 Nm for a 0-100 kph time of 3.9 seconds. Styling revisions include a deeper, more aggressive front bumper and narrow cooling vents in the bonnet. The Brabus model has 19-inch alloys and red styling details that contrast with the car’s matt grey body. There’s plenty of leather and micro-fibre inside to add a racier feel, plus red detailing for the stitching, headrests and LED lighting, along with a 3-spoke Brabus steering wheel. It retains the regular model’s 10 inch digital dash and 12.8 inch infotainment. While there’s no word yet on revisions to the chassis (Smart is claiming 50:50 weight distribution), there’s a choice of Eco, Comfort, Sport and Brabus driving modes. It will also feature a special augmented soundtrack. The hottest Smart #1 in the line-up retains the regular car’s 66 kWh battery for a claimed range of 500 km on the Chinese testing cycle, but due to the Brabus version’s increased performance expect the claimed range to drop below the standard #1’s 440 km maximum on the EU WLTP test. Recharging capability remains at 150 kW, so a 10-80 per cent top-up takes less than 30 minutes. +++


+++ Even though beta testers are supposed to find bugs and report on the state of software in order for improvements to be made, it seems they are not allowed to complain about TESLA ’s Full Self-Driving. One FSD tester recently took to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction with the current state of the system, and he was quickly shut down by Elon Musk who even made him apologise for complaining… James Locke from Los Angeles, California wrote that he still had to make corrections and intervene when FSD Beta version 10.69 was engaged and that a lot more work needed to be done on the software before it’s ready. He also wrote in his tweet that Tesla put too much focus on fixing the problematic left turn discovered by another tester, Chuck Cook, and left more basic problems unsolved (although he didn’t elaborate on what he believed those were). Less than 2 hours after the tweet was published, Elon Musk replied telling Locke to not complain because the version he was testing was not yet a public release. He then replied to another comment from someone taking James’ side explaining that James had contacted him directly to be included in the “early” beta programme limited to around 1.000 cars. Elon goes on to say that “early beta explicitly has issues or it would be rolled out widely, so publicly criticising something he had asked for is wrong”. But even so, there were plenty of people in the comments on James’ side, and he goes on to criticise the FSD price increase, pointing to the fact that, in his experience, the system still has issues getting the car to change lanes. Tesla is going to raise the price of the FSD option to $15,000 in the United States, a $3.000 increase, which will come into effect on September 5. This is the second major price increase for FSD this year, after Tesla raised the cost to $12.000 in January after a $2.000 increase. +++

+++ Amid the recent turmoil and musical chairs in VOLKSWAGEN ’s management, one name has rapidly come to prominence: Thomas Schäfer. For much of the past decade, he headed up VW’s South African operation, by all accounts doing a very good job but still away from the main engine room of the group. That soon changed in June 2020, when he was named as Skoda CEO, introducing a new electric strategy to see it through the next decade and impressing all those who encountered him with just how well he understood his customers. Less than 2 years later, he was made COO of the VW brand, and 3 months after that he was leading the company as CEO. Not only that, but he has also taken on an additional role, head of brand group volume, essentially ensuring that the Group’s volume brands (VW, VW Commercial Vehicles, Seat, Cupra and Skoda) work together to not all end up developing the same back-end systems that make no difference to customers. Some responsibilities both inside and outside the company, and some rise. Schäfer joins as CEO (he reports to the new Group chief, Oliver Blume) at a time of distress for VW. Its rollout of its ID models has been beset by problems, specifically software ones and just how unreliable and un-user-friendly they are. Which is where Schäfer’s customer empathy comes in particularly handy. This week, I caught up with him for the first time in his new role. The first question I had written down was ‘what’s your number one priority in this job?’, but before we got to the questions and answers, he had already stood up and given a speech in which he not only shared his priorities but also outlined exactly where VW must do better. Talk about confronting the issues head on. It’s rare for car industry executives to be so candid. Schäfer was refreshingly open and honest and didn’t hide away from the problems that he has inherited. Each of the points he made were significant enough on their own; together they made for a bit of a bombshell statement for an executive so new to a role at the head of a company. Among Schäfer’s points were that people has fallen out of love with the brand; the brand has taken its eye off the ball in making its cars user-friendly for its customers; there’s “no excuse” for not having top-quality software; it’s not acceptable for VW to be anything other than a leader in its segment; the way VW speaks to the media and in its advertising in promoting the company’s message needs to change; its models need to look friendlier; and the number-one focus for VW is to start listening to its customers once again. All is not rosey in the VW garden, of which Schäfer is well aware. To hear him admit as much publicly sends a powerful message to the company and its customers about what needs to change and how it will change. To its rivals, it marks an ominous warning that a giant of the automotive industry that has dozed off, rather than gone to sleep, is ready to fire once more. In Schäfer, VW has a real talent on its hands, and it knows it. Fix these problems at VW and there could be no stopping how high he will rise. +++

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