Newsflash: Caterham komt met elektrische sportwagen


+++ BMW has raised more than a few eyebrows with its recent designs, and that’s completely intentional. Company boss Oliver Zipse argued that a controversial-looking car is better than one that leaves onlookers indifferent, and he pledged to continue pushing the envelope. “If you want to change design, any step into the future that is perceived as new will be controversial automatically. There’s no such thing as a future-oriented design without controversy,” he explained in an interview. Zipse cited the cars designed under Chris Bangle in the 2000s as an example: the E65 generation 7 Series and the E9X generation 3 Series left no one indifferent, and the head-turning look ultimately increased buyer awareness. He also floated the XM, a recently-unveiled SUV developed by BMW’s M division. Styling cues like the huge kidney grilles and the massive rear lights have fueled a great deal of debate, but Zipse noted the overall response has been positive. “There are a lot of discussions here, but almost everyone loves it”. One point to keep in mind is that BMW, like all automakers, designs cars for a specific target audience. Someone hoarding E32s and E34s undoubtedly has unkind words for BMW’s latest cars, but that’s not who the Munich-based company is trying to appeal to with, say, the i7. “The i7 will never be a mass-market car. It will only be a super minority of people who will sit in that car. The majority of people will never sit in that car. It only must be appealing to the customers who are in that segment, not anybody else”, he clarified. With that said, he stressed the company will continue to give high-volume models like the 3 and 5 Series, the X1 and the X5 relatively conservative-looking designs. “I want controversy. If we don’t have controversy in the early design process, I already know it’s too easy”. he told. “Out of the controversy you get engagement. You get people thinking about it and thinking about alternatives”. +++

+++ China’s biggest electric vehicle (EV) maker BYD said its third-quarter net profit jumped 350% from a year ago, helped by a wider range of product offerings and strong sales that saw it beat Tesla in the world’s largest auto market. BYD’s net profit for the July-September quarter reached 5.72 billion yuan ($788.75 million), while that for the first 9 months increased 281% to 9.31 billion yuan, the company said in a stock exchange filing on Friday. The result was in line with a forecast the company published last week. Having scrapped gasoline vehicles from its product mix this year, BYD has, more than any other automaker, been able to capitalize on a range of incentives for electric cars offered by China’s central and local governments. The company, which is 19% owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has also been able to significantly reduce costs per vehicle on the back of robust sales and a broader product range than other EV competitors. BYD’s combined sales of pure electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles increased 250% in the first 9 months to 1.2 million units, outpacing a 110% rise for the overall EV segment. Tesla sold just over 318.000 electric vehicles in China during the first nine months of the year. +++

+++ CATERHAM is working on an ambitious, 3-pronged plan for the post-2030 electrification era. This involves building the much-loved petrol Seven for at least another decade, while using that time to develop a same-shape Seven EV and launch an all-new aerodynamic electric roadster that will draw on the traditional Caterham values of lightness, performance, simplicity and agility. Outlining the plan, Caterham CEO Bob Laishley drew a picture of business that’s currently booming: the firm last year built 500 cars and sold 670, the ‘extras’ adding to a waiting list that now runs to about a year. In the short term, he wants to expand the company’s traditional annual output of 500 to cover those extra cars “at least”, and has recently repurposed Caterham’s former Crawley used car centre for the assembly of additional cars, alongside the main production line in Dartford, Kent. Laishley believes current regulations will allow existing ICE-powered cars, with logical developments, to be built until 2034. Even if the UK’s proposed 2030 ban on diesel and petrol cars holds, he predicts that expanding export demand will keep production healthy. Hugely significant here is the US’s recent ‘Show and Display’ amendment to car registration laws that allows “traditional or technically significant” imports (such as Sevens) to be sold in the US and to be driven up to 4.000 km a year. Meanwhile, British demand for ICE-powered Sevens remains extremely strong and no one has yet asked to be sold an electric variant, although several experimental versions have been privately built and Laishley admits Caterham has its own work on an electrified Seven project well under way. However, the real bombshell news is the company’s plan for a brand-new electric Caterham 2-seater, designed to sit alongside the Seven, not to compete with it. Laishley insists the car is “just an idea in people’s heads” at present but also makes it clear that the company’s Japanese owner since mid-2021, VT Holdings, (and especially its “keen racer and all-round car guy” CEO, Kazuho Takahashi) is keen to make it a reality. Caterham’s last attempt at a closed-body 2-seater was the ill-fated C120, which ultimately developed into one-time partner Renault’s acclaimed Alpine A110. The new model would be built in a new factory at greater volumes than the Seven (Laishley does not dismiss an estimate of 1000 cars a year) and would have a higher base price than today’s Sevens. Laishley is careful not to give an on-sale date for the new model’s launch, but Takahashi’s keenness to see it reach production suggests it could be unveiled as soon as 2026; earlier than the Seven EV, which is likely to be held back until demand dictates. Laishley, whose 25-year Nissan career has brought lots of marketing nous plus excellent relations with OEMs he might potentially like to use as suppliers, has been doing a great deal of thinking and planning about the new car. “This will definitely not be a Seven”, he said. “But it’ll have all the characteristics today’s Caterham customers know well: lightness, simplicity, agility and performance. Like the Seven, it will have a steel spaceframe (but a different one) because they’re easy to modify in production if you need to. It will have a 6-panel enveloping body in aluminium or carbon: 2 sills, 2 doors plus clamshell openings front and rear. “It will be prettier and more modern than a Seven, those will be big points of distinction, and maybe it will have a roof. We’re designing it as a pure EV from the start, with rear drive only, and it will be registered under SVA rules”. Laishley says, in true Caterham spirit, he would like to have launched the car without power steering, ABS or airbags, although the instant grunt of EVs might encourage him to relent on traction control. But the reality is it will need power steering, ABS and the rest because it is a ‘new type’ SVA-eligible car so has to offer functions like forward collision and lane departure warnings. Even so, Laishley is determined that the car will be as light and simple as it can be, probably with basic cockpit furniture and instrumentation that feeds mostly off the driver’s smartphone. “There will be very few embedded dials”, he said. “Maybe none”. Meanwhile, Laishley insists he is in no hurry to launch a Seven EV, fearing the new car might not deliver the existing icon’s “must-haves” of lightness, simplicity and fun. Laishley said: “From the beginning, Caterham’s history has centred around repurposing OEM components in an imaginative way. If I want to do that with a Seven EV, where do I get lightness? We’re still in the early days of small EV development. Parts are conservative and heavy. We’re never going to want to launch a 1000kg Seven. We’d rather not do it”. Laishley’s ideal Seven EV weighs less than 700 kg at the kerb and is capable of what he calls a “20-15-20” performance: owners can arrive fully charged at a track day, drive fast for 20 minutes, recharge it for 15 while they have a cup of tea, then do it again. “If we can’t deliver a Seven that can do this, we shouldn’t be launching it”, he said. All of which makes it sound as though a Seven EV is at least 5 years away. One thing Caterham definitely will not launch is a hybrid Seven, even if lighter and better powertrains become available. “We’re about lightness”, said Laishley. “Why would we build a car that needs two separate powertrains? It would be a horrendous compromise”. Caterham’s urgent business now is to deal with the same kind of component supply issues that OEMs are fighting: while finding a way to increase production by up to 200 units a year. “In some cases, our component suppliers are many decades old”, said Laishley. “You’re doing business with people whose parents shook hands on the deal with Colin Chapman all those years ago. Someone who makes 500 wiring looms a year, and has done for 30 years, may simply have no more hours in the day. These may look like simple problems, but they all need working through”. Despite facing strikingly similar difficulties to most of the automotive giants, Laishley is proud of his thriving 135-person company and excited at the prospect of building on its success. “Not boasting”, he said, “but the last problem we have at the moment is selling more Caterhams”. When Lotus founder Colin Chapman launched the Seven in 1957, it was considered to be the embodiment of his rare design skills in the way it took components from ordinary cars and combined them (cheaply) in a way that delivered five times the performance and 10 times the excitement. The car soon won a high reputation for affordability and surprising performance on the track, and it was built (both by home-builders and in the factory) with a huge variety of engines. The Seven stayed successfully in production as a Lotus until 1972 but Chapman’s other dominant characteristic was an insatiable desire for progress: for him, the Seven came to be old hat. He willingly sold the rights to the car to a canny Caterham garage owner and dealer, Graham Nearn, who launched a new company, Caterham Cars, to build it. There are an estimated 15.000 Sevens in circulation today, and demand continues to thrive. The fact that it has never quite been eclipsed in 65 years illustrates better than anything the rightness of the original and the genius of its creator. +++

+++ A federal jury in Detroit ordered FORD to pay Versata Software $104.6 million in damages for breaching a 2004 licensing contract and misappropriating trade secrets. Jurors deliberated over 2 days before holding Ford liable on Wednesday, following a 15-day trial. Versata, based in Austin, Texas, said it licensed its automotive software to Ford from 1998 to 2015, helping the automaker’s engineers and marketing agents collaborate on and design vehicles with “seamless real time updates” worldwide. It said Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford began copying its software after growing weary of paying millions of dollars in annual licensing fees, and in 2014 rejected a “final” offer to license Versata’s major software for $17 million a year. More than $82.2 million of the jury award was for breach of contract, with the remaining $22.4 million for trade secret misappropriation. Versata’s damages expert testified that the company suffered $59.9 million in trade secret damages. “While we respect the jury’s decision, we believe the facts and the law do not support this outcome”, Ford said in a statement on Wednesday. “Ford will appeal the verdict”. The litigation began in April 2015, when Ford sought a court order that it did not infringe Versata’s intellectual property. +++

+++ JEEP ’s all-electric future has been laid bare with the news its Renegade model will be added to its emerging all-electric lineup by 2026. The Renegade has been with us since 2015, becoming the brand’s best-selling car in Europe, so its switch to electrification will be a pivotal moment for the American firm. The new all-electric Jeep range will firstly consist of 4 vehicles. We’ve already seen 3 of them, with the chunky, off-road-focused Recon, range-topping Wagoneer S luxury SUV and the new Avenger small SUV. Like the Renegade, the Compass will also transition to pure-electric power but will arrive earlier thanks to it sitting on the STLA Medium architecture. The Renegade will gain the STLA Small platform, which isn’t going to launch until 2026. Jeep has stood firm on the idea its cars will be able to perform off-road, so all of the STLA platforms will allow for 4-wheeldrive. A range of electric powertrains will be available, with power ranging from 170 hp to 245 hp. With the introduction of the Avenger as Jeep’s small SUV, senior Jeep sources have said there’s room for the Renegade to grow (especially with the Compass expanding into the fullsize SUV sector). Jeep engineers and designers have already had input into STLA chassis designs to make sure the tech can support their more off-road-orientated vehicles. The company’s chief designer, Ralph Gilles, admitted that his team is “currently working on 11 new models in parallel”. Gilles explained: “It’s been really good working with our colleagues elsewhere at Stellantis. We’re specialists in bodies and they’re specialists in electrification. We’ve had input at this early stage to make sure there’s scope for chassis to be stretched or, for example, extra suspension travel”, he added. “That’s why we have so many models in the works, to make sure that when the time comes to deliver them, we’re able to do so”. +++

+++ PORSCHE reported a 40.6% leap in operating profit to more than 5 billion euros in the first 9 months of 2022 and predicted a strong 2023 as its ability to raise prices protected it from the costs of supply chain snags. Still, the carmaker did not raise its annual margin outlook from 17-18% even as it yielded a 17.8% profit margin in the third quarter, up from 15.5% last year. Chief financial officer Lutz Meschke predicted a “strong 2023” and said he was unfazed by macroeconomic uncertainty, pointing to the luxury brand’s ability to pass on price hikes to its growing customer base of high net worth individuals. Meschke warned in a media call of the need to protect supply chains worldwide from attacks and cybercrime, suggesting fears of politically motivated supply chain bottlenecks ahead. The chief financial officer did not specify who needed protection from whom but cited the recent attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines and Deutsche Bahn as examples of breaches to security with severe consequences for supplies. Deliveries were up just 2% to a little more than 221.500 vehicles this year so far, with exchange rate effects helping to boost profitability per car. “The third quarter of 2022 was quite volatile and challenging from a political, economic and social perspective. Nevertheless, we were able to successfully list Porsche and get off to a flying start”, said Meschke. Asked about plans for software development now that Porsche has ended cooperation with Volkswagen’s Cariad unit for future research and development, Meschke said the company was in close contact with Google and Apple as well as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba in China for automated driving and infotainment technology. Porsche, a huge money spinner for the Volkswagen group, overtook its former parent as Europe’s most valuable carmaker after the listing. Its shares stand at 99 euros, up from a listing price of 82.50 euros. Overall, 75% minus one ordinary share of Porsche’s total share capital is still owned by Volkswagen. Oliver Blume, chief executive of both companies, said the listing would increase Porsche’s freedom as a business while providing Volkswagen with much-needed funds for its electrification drive. In the short term the cost of the listing and the impact of suspending business in Russia has pushed down Volkswagen’s third-quarter earnings by 1.6 billion euros, results released on Friday showed. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN said supply chain troubles were the new norm as it reported stagnated earnings in the third quarter, but the carmaker still expects growth in the autos market next year as some bottlenecks look likely to ease. The carmaker lowered its expectations for deliveries this year to be on par with 2021, down from a previously-forecast 5%-10% rise, but maintained its earnings outlook of hitting the upper end of a 7%-8.5% margin by cutting fixed costs. Plans to bring software unit Cariad, plagued by overspending and long delays, back on track were underway with an internal meeting taking place on the topic on Friday afternoon and several key decisions expected in coming weeks, chief executive Oliver Blume said. But a planning round scheduled for November had been postponed because of changing “economic realities”, chief financial officer Arno Antlitz said, with the next strategy updates to come in March 2023. Blume declined to specify whether delays in sorting out Cariad’s troubles affected the decision to postpone the planning round. Meanwhile, the brands were progressing on an exercise modelling preparation for a listing to identify their strengths and weaknesses, the results of which will be presented at a capital markets day next year. No brand is specifically being readied for an IPO, Blume added, stating this was simply a strategy to highlight value hidden in the conglomerate. The hoped-for boost in Volkswagen’s valuation following the listing of Porsche has not materialised, with the carmaker’s stock down more than 28% year-to-date and the sportscar brand’s valuation overtaking its former parent. Third quarter earnings stagnated below pre-pandemic levels at 4.3 billion euros, under the burden of its Porsche listing, suspension of business in Russia, the write-off of a self-driving startup, as well as issues securing parts. “Challenges to our supply chain will become the rule, not the exception”, Blume said, citing barriers to technology transfers between East and West. A lack of semiconductors and other critical parts meant the carmaker has 150.000 unfinished vehicles and is stocking up on supplies to protect against further shortages in winter, Antlitz said in an earnings call. Earnings of 6% across the group were boosted by a 19.4% margin in the sports and luxury brands, more able to pass on rising costs by hiking prices than volume brands whose buyers are squeezed by inflation. It took a 1.9 billion euro non-cash impairment charge resulting from the write-down of its investment in Argo AI, a self-driving startup it jointly owned with Ford, which will now shut operations. Volkswagen remains committed to Level 4 autonomous driving, Blume said, and would decide in the coming month whether to progress with a new partner. Volkswagen and Ford shifted spending from the business on Wednesday, dragging Ford into a net loss with a non-cash pretax impairment of $2.7 billion. +++

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