Newsflash: Volkswagen overweegt ID.Buzz pick-up


+++ BENTLEY announced the start of production of the new Bentayga EWB, the brand’s new flagship model, with the introduction of new hand-craftmanship processes. Each model takes more than 132 hours to produce from skilled craftspeople at the Crewe factory, with the available trim combinations being a staggering 24 billion – yes, billion. Bentley says that the new longer Bentayga has the most accentuated and softest lofted diamond quilting on the seats and interior trim from all of its models. The perforated leather has digitally positioned 1mm holes, made with the help of a specialized embroidery machine and a smaller micro-stitch. The tiny 1 mm holes on the door panels are emitting light thanks to 68 LEDs which are cleverly positioned underneath the leather upholstery. This type of ambient lighting is called “Bentley Diamond Illumination”, with the user being able to change its color and intensity through the infotainment system. The fine leather is joined by a wide choice of veneers and open-pore wood, with optional 0.07 mm thick metal overlays. The level of attention in the production of the Bentayga EWB is evident from the fact that more than 10 hours are needed for applying the wood set inside the cabin, where tolerances are measured in tenths of mm. The Bentley Bentayga EWB will make its public debut at the Southampton International Boat Show in September, with the first deliveries following shortly. +++

+++ BMW is looking at partnerships to further its fuel cell vehicle efforts and will be working with Toyota to produce and sell fuel cell vehicles as soon as 2025. BMW’s already developed a hydrogen-powered X5 concept and plans to begin producing it on a small scale later this year. The German automaker is no stranger to Toyota, having worked with the Japanese auto giant to co-develop the BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra. Executives told Nikkei Asia that the pair have other projects in the works, so we could see different types of vehicles come out of the partnership. Toyota has plenty of experience building hydrogen vehicles, as the Mirai sedan has been around for almost a decade running on the stuff. BMW wants electric vehicles to make up half its global sales by 2030, but the company has seen strong enough demand that it might reach the 50% mark earlier than expected. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have some advantages over EVs because they are quicker and easier to refuel. A significant challenge on the road to widespread EV adoption is charging infrastructure and charging times. Though BMW quotes charging infrastructure as a challenge for EVs, hydrogen vehicles are even more limited in availability and refuelling options. Also, handling and dispensing hydrogen can be difficult because it requires special storage and has to be under high pressure to fill a car. Focusing on such a limited technology may seem silly, but it’s part of BMW’s diversification efforts. The automaker believes that spreading its efforts and investments across various propulsion and fuel technologies will help it be more competitive going forward, especially as the unpredictability of supply chains and technical components continues to cause problems with the manufacturing and delivery of all vehicles. +++

+++ EUROPE ’s economic headwinds are catching up with the region’s auto industry. Volkswagen’s finance arm expects earnings to decline this year because rising interest rates and inflation are starting to weigh on car demand. Customers are debating whether to buy a vehicle or push the leasing contract ahead a month over concerns including surging energy prices, Frank Fiedler, the chief financial officer of VW Financial Services, said. That follows warnings from BMW last week that new-vehicle orders are retreating from high levels, particularly in Europe. While Continental confirmed its outlook for the year, the German parts maker said it has to shoulder some €3.5 billion in additional costs for raw materials, energy and logistics, with prices for overseas shipping containers jumping eightfold in some cases. Continental CFO Katja Duerrfeld described conditions as “rather like a hurricane” and predicted these pressures “will not subside any time soon”. Signs of downturn are propping up like whac-a-moles. The German economy (Europe’s biggest) stagnated in the second quarter amid price gains, supply shortages and the threat of energy rationing in the event Russia cuts off gas flows. Economists reckon a recession is almost inevitable in the second half. The UK economy probably shrank in the second quarter, and the Bank of England now sees Britain entering a recession equivalent in scale to the one seen in the 1990s starting in the fourth quarter as the cost-of-living crisis deepens. Carmakers have managed to overcome these drags for quite some time. While vehicle sales in Europe have slumped for the past year, Mercedes-Benz, VW, BMW and others have seen profits soar because they have focused their limited production on high-margin models. Automakers’ finance and fleet-management arms benefited because the chip crunch bolstered demand for used cars and propped up prices. Some manufacturers, including Stellantis and Mercedes, remain optimistic they can sustain strong earnings in the second half of the year. But it’s increasingly less clear they will be able to outrun the economy’s underlying issues for much longer. BMW said last week that orders remain high, but warned it will not be able to fully pass on rising materials costs. And companies already are bracing for a bleak winter because of the region’s worsening energy crisis. Electricity prices have smashed records in recent weeks as Russia limits gas supplies to Europe. An ongoing heat wave is disrupting waterways that are needed to ship coal to power plants and factories. Germany has already said it would prioritize gas deliveries to private homes over factories if there is a shortage when it gets colder in the coming months. Other European countries are likely take similar actions. Auto supplier Aptiv spooked investors and analysts last week when it cut its full-year guidance and warned automotive plants may have to idle this winter due to energy rationing. The company now predicts vehicle production will slump 5 percent in Europe this year, a stark cut from its previous forecast for 10 percent growth. Aptiv “has historically been more right than wrong when calling production”, RBC Capital Markets analyst Joe Spak said in a note last week. “If Aptiv is correct on production, then everyone else is wrong and there is significantly more risk to other suppliers, especially European-heavy ones in our view”. +++

+++ Volkswagen has filed to patent a version of the ID.BUZZ whose roof and upper bodywork behind the C-pillar have been removed, turning it into a pickup. The image found in the patent application appears to be the same one shared by the Volkswagen Group‘s Twitter page on April 27 as part of World Design Day, albeit with the background edited out. At the time, Volkswagen called the design an “unseen draft” that was made on the ID. Buzz‘s way from idea to production. Although a patent is by no means a promise that a vehicle will make it into production, VW has shown an interest in creating an electric pickup in the past. The Volkswagen Group of America’s former CEO, Scott Keogh, said just a few days before the above tweet that the automaker was actively looking at making an electric pickup truck, describing the transition to EVs as the “chance of a lifetime” that acts as a “reset moment” for the automotive industry. Keogh has since been installed as the CEO of the newly formed Scout brand, which will be producing an electric pickup truck and SUV for the U.S. market. A pickup version of a Volkswagen microbus is not without precedent, though. A similarly chopped version of the VW Type 2, the spiritual predecessor to the ID.Buzz, was offered and used for commercial purposes in the past. Similarly, a variant of the ID.Buzz is being offered to companies in Europe as a commercial vehicle. The ID. Buzz is powered by an 82 kWh battery pack and a rear-mounted electric motor that develops 204 hp and 310 Nm. Versions with different battery pack sizes and power output levels will be coming in 2023, the automaker says. +++


+++ LEXUS took us by surprise at the end of last year when parent company Toyota presented its EV strategy that also included the first glimpse of a swoopy supercar. Known as the Electrified Sport, the zero-emissions performance machine made the trip from Japan to Europe earlier this year for the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Arriving later this decade, it’ll serve as an LFA successor, but with an EV setup instead of a naturally aspirated V10. However, technical specifications largely remain shrouded in mystery, aside from a quoted 700 kilometre range and a 0 to 100 km/h sprint in the low 2-second area. Now, Lexus president Koji Sato says the driver of the road-going equivalent of the hugely promising Electrified Sport will be able to row your own gears. Well, sort of. The manual gearbox experience will be simulated through special software, which would likely artificially limit the power of the electric motor to make you change gears and unlock it. Ford had a different approach with the Mustang Lithium EV from the 2019 SEMA show as the concept used an actual Getrag MT82 6-speed manual with a Torsen differential sending power to the rear axle. It’s not set in stone as the faux manual gearbox is only an experiment at this point. Koji Sato refrained from announcing when the electric supercar will be revealed, but he did share some other titbits. The Electrified Sport will boast steer-by-wire as with all zero-emissions Lexus models, and he also said torque vectoring is on the agenda. Carbon fibre will be used “as necessary” and battery placement won’t necessarily all be under the floor because Toyota has the freedom to package it whatever it likes by designing their batteries in-house. When the concept car was originally unveiled, Lexus mentioned solid-state batteries would be supported, but Koji Sato told TG the tech still needs to evolve. As a refresher, Toyota is likely going to be the first automaker to install a solid-state battery in a production car. It’s due by 2025 but in a hybrid rather than an EV. +++

+++ The SUV boom is a clear trend everywhere in the world. In the first half of this year, these vehicles made up 50% of the European new car registrations, 53% of the sales in USA, and around 47% of the passenger car sales in China. Basically, half of the consumers of passenger vehicles around the world opted for an SUV in 2021. The reasons for the popularity are also clear to everyone. Higher driving position, more appealing designs, more choices with more affordable prices for the masses, and the general sense that they are safer and more capable. People like them because they are supposed to take you anywhere. However, there is an interesting reality regarding this capability. The current SUVs as we know them are direct descendants of the first off-roaders that the industry started to see in the 1940’s. They were very rough vehicles with four-wheel drive powertrain mostly used by the military. Then these vehicles evolved for civil use by featuring better interiors and more space for more passengers. Between 1970 and 1990, the consumers of these vehicles were mostly millionaires that wanted a safe and capable means of transport. Their proliferation started in the late 90’s when more modern and appealing designs started to replace the existing boxy-styled expensive choices. As the offer enlarged, the prices decreased. But their soul was the same: capable vehicles thanks to the 4×4 drivetrain. In 2011, when the small SUVs were not popular yet, the 4×4 SUVs represented 62% of the sales mix in Europe, and 59% in USA. The SUVs were still associated to off-road capabilities. The mix started to change when the automakers introduced more affordable SUVs. The B-segment SUVs and C-segment SUVs started to gain traction in markets like Europe and China rapidly. They were smaller and more frugal vehicles that appealed to many consumers looking for an SUV, but who were unable to afford them until then. These small SUVs basically share the same platform and parts with their hatchback siblings, but feature a more aggressive design, a higher driving position, and are more expensive. And guess what? They barely feature the 4×4 system. Today, most of the SUVs sold in Europe and China are not moved by a 4-wheeldrive powertrain but by the regular front-wheeldrive. According to data from JATO Dynamics, only 23% of the SUVs sold in China between January and June 2022 featured the 4×4 powertrain. In Europe, they represented 36% of the volume. USA is the exception: the 4×4 SUVs made up 73% of the sales of SUVs through June. The reasons behind are the popularity of the big SUVs, which require this system more than the small ones; A big part of the country deals with difficult weather conditions during the winter; and most important, the consumers in America are petrol-heads and tend to prefer their cars featuring all the options available. At the end, there is a cost reasoning behind the popularity of front-wheel drive SUVs. Most of the drivers of SUVs barely drive in rough conditions and need off-road capabilities. The roads are good everywhere and most of the times the SUVs are driven in the cities. Why would you pay more money for a system that you will hardly use? +++


+++ American political activist Ralph Nader has called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to use its authority to “order that the FSD technology be removed in every TESLA ”. The safety advocate, who came to prominence after the 1965 publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, called the deployment of Tesla‘s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades”, in a statement. In his statement, Nader claimed that research has shown that the system malfunctions every 8 minutes on average. Although he doesn’t cite the study he is quoting, Project Dawn, an openly anti-FSD advocacy group founded by industry figure Dan O’Dowd, claimed that the system makes a “critical driving error” roughly every eight minutes in January. Nader is the latest in a growing number of observers who have criticized Tesla and advanced driver assistance features. Just last week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused the automaker of making or disseminating “statements that are untrue or misleading, and not based on facts”, pointing to claims the automaker made on its website relating to its “Autopilot” function. The complaint could have serious penalties, including the revocation of Tesla’s license to sell vehicles in the state of California. The organization says, though, that it is simply looking for the automaker to more clearly convey the limitations of its ADAS systems to consumers. Tesla continues to sell the system and to offer new ADAS products, though. In late June, Tesla reintroduced “Enhanced Autopilot”, which adds automatic lane changing, automatic parking, and a summon feature to the unenhanced feature. Autopilot, a more limited ADAS suite that allows the vehicle to handle some driving tasks, has also come under heavy scrutiny. The subject of a NHTSA investigation following 16 highly publicized crashes, jurisdictions around the world are reckoning with the system’s abilities. “This nation should not allow this malfunctioning software”, write Nader. “Together we need to send an urgent message to the casualty-minded regulators that Americans must not be test dummies for a powerful, high-profile corporation and its celebrity CEO. No one is above the laws of manslaughter”. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s incoming CEO Oliver Blume plans to shrink the size of the German carmaker’s management board, 2 people familiar with the matter said, aiming to sharpen its focus after a turbulent few years under his predecessor. The sources said the number of board seats could be cut to 8 or 9, after they had swelled to 12 under Herbert Diess, although no decisions have been made yet. “Some dual functions should be reconsidered”, one of the sources said. Blume will succeed Diess, whose tenure was marked by bouts of infighting at Europe’s biggest carmaker, on September 1. Both Volkswagen and its Porsche sports car brand, where Blume is currently CEO, declined to comment. Blume’s appointment reflects efforts by Volkswagen’s controlling shareholder families to keep the group on a shorter leash and to have greater say over strategic matters, people familiar have told. The Porsche and Piech families, who control holding firm Porsche SE (which owns most of Volkswagen’s voting rights) are hoping to return the group to calmer waters after the turmoil of the Diess years, those people said. The sources said Blume’s core team would include finance chief Arno Antlitz, personnel head Gunnar Kilian, legal chief Manfred Döss and Thomas Schäfer, who heads the important Volume brand group that includes VW, Skoda and Seat. Markus Duesmann, who leads the Premium brand group of Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and motorcycle brand Ducati, is also set to stay, though his area of responsibility could change, they said. The future of China board member Ralf Brandstätter is unclear, one of them said, as is that of IT chief Hauke Stars. The posts of purchasing manager Murat Aksel and sales manager Hildegard Wortmann, meanwhile, could be at risk. “One could ask why the purchasing manager of the VW passenger car brand also has to be on the group board”, the second source said, adding that also applied to Wortmann, who heads the group’s sales department in addition to Audi. Up for discussion is also the wide range of tasks of technology head Thomas Schmall, who is responsible among other things for the group’s automotive suppliers, the development of a global network of battery plants and technology platforms. Blume is likely to transfer responsibility for production to someone else, the sources said. It has not been decided who could take that role or whether it would remain at board level. According to company sources, Volkswagen’s supervisory board is due to hold its next regular meeting at the end of September. +++

+++ The chief executive of XIAOMI says the technology giant is already testing 140 vehicles across China equipped with advanced autonomous driving technologies. Xiaomi first announced its plans to venture into the world of electric vehicles last year and while recently speaking during a company event, CEO Lei Jun said it already has a workforce of 500 staff devoted solely to developing autonomous driving technologies for its EVs. He added that the automaker has already dedicated 3.3 billion yuan ($490 million) to the self-driving initiative. Word about the company’s roll-out of autonomous vehicle prototypes comes less than 2 weeks after reports surfaced that Xiaomi has been speaking with officials from the National Development and Reform Commission in China but is facing difficulties in getting regulatory approval for its car project. Xiaomi has already committed $10 billion to the automotive venture and has long planned to introduce its first EV in 2024. New companies entering the automotive space in China need to submit documents to prove their financial and technological capabilities. This review process often takes several months and in some cases, the government completely rejects applications. While Xiaomi has not yet received the required approvals for its car project, that doesn’t appear to have slowed it down. In fact, Xiaomi has already commenced work on its first automotive factory that’s located in Beijing. “Xiaomi’s difficulty in securing a car making license in China could hinder its EV development and postpone the debut planned for 2024”, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Steven Tseng and Sean Chen recently said about the issue. “The delay could prolong the drag from hefty R&D expenses as well as fixed asset investments and may weigh on its market share as China’s EV segment is getting increasingly crowded with fast-growing rivals Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto”. +++

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