Newsflash: actieradius Toyota BZ4X stelt teleur

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+++ That didn’t take long. A couple of days ago, I wrote about Mark Reuss previewing a passengercar based on the CORVETTE chassis. He told investors the car would arrive in 2025 and possess “incredible performance”, but he never called it a Corvette. Perhaps Reuss’ sidestep has something to do with Car and Driver running a piece by auto industry sleuth Georg Kacher with the headline “Corvette to Launch as a Brand in 2025 with a 4-Door and an SUV”. These would be the first in an Ultium-based, all-electric Corvette family. It’s seems that when Reuss said the car-not-called-a-Corvette would use the sports car’s chassis, he meant the Ultium version of the Corvette chassis. Obviously, both will be high performance. The 4-door is said to be a liftback in the manner of competition like the Audi E-Tron GT. Kacher described the SUV as “brawny”. There were no design details in the piece, only the insistence that the expanding lineup needs to represent the “essence of Corvette” in look and feel. The connection could be as demonstrative as the Cayenne representing the essence of the Porsche brand. Let’s not forget, everybody bellyached about Porsche’s first SUV until they had a chance to drive it; as tenuous as the bond connecting the Ford Mustang Mach-E to the essence of the original pony car; or somewhere in the middle, like the Aston Martin DBX reworking the essence of the rest of Aston Martin’s range. The mechanical overview reads like another GM moon shot, comprising “battery packs with high energy density, superfast software, a patented cooling concept, staggered Lego-like topographic packaging, miniaturized componentry, ultra-efficient inverters, high-revving electric motors, an 800 volt electrical system that provides up to 350 kW of charging power, a 2-speed transmission, brake-by-wire, multi-mode 4-wheel steering and torque vectoring”. For starters. Since ‘2025’ is around the corner in automotive terms, we shouldn’t be surprised to see mules on the roads next year, with prototypes doing their best to hide their surprises come late next year or early 2025. If this is all true, at least. The standard Corvette lineup has plenty on the way to keep us occupied in the meantime, but I’ll be on the lookout as of now. +++

+++ The head of Volkswagen Passenger Cars believes manufacturing battery cells in EUROPE could become unfeasible if energy prices are not controlled. In a lengthy post shared to LinkedIn, chief executive Thomas Schäfer warned that Germany and the European Union are rapidly losing attractiveness and competitiveness compared to the likes of the U.S., Canada, China, Southeast Asia and regions across North Africa. “Europe is not price-competitive in many areas”, Schäfer wrote. “Especially when it comes to the costs of electricity and gas, we are increasingly losing touch. If we do not succeed in reducing energy prices in Germany and Europe quickly and reliably, investments in energy-intensive production or in new battery cell factories in Germany and the EU will be practically impossible. Value creation in this area will take place elsewhere”. Schäfer used the example of the U.S.’s Inflation Reduction Act, noting that it offers “companies highly attractive incentives for investments in new plants and production”. By comparison, he says “outdated and bureaucratic state air rules are adhered to” across the European Union. “We have no time to lose”, he added. “The EU urgently needs new instruments to avert creeping de-industrialisation and to keep Europe attractive as a location for future technologies and jobs!” Volkswagen intends on having 6 battery factories operational in Europe by 2030 through its battery company PowerCo. The company broke ground on its core factory in Germany in July and has signed a €3 billion joint venture with Umicore for cathode material production. Other battery factories established by VW will include 2 in Sweden, a third in either France, Spain or Portugal to open in 2026, and 1 in either Poland, Slovakia or the Czech Republic to open in 2027. The automaker isn’t just making significant factory investments in Europe but will also invest €400 million by 2025 to expand EV charging infrastructure across the continent. It ultimately hopes to build 26 million all-electric vehicles by 2030. +++

+++ Electric-vehicle startup FARADAY FUTURE Intelligent Electric said on Monday it has appointed Xuefeng Chen as global chief executive officer, sending shares up 1.4% in extended trading. Chen, who was most recently the CEO of the company’s China division and has spent nearly 2 decades in the automotive industry, succeeds Carsten Breitfeld, who was removed from the role by the board, the company added in a filing. The development comes after Faraday Future said earlier this month it had “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a going concern, adding that it is uncertain when it can complete first deliveries of its FF 91 luxury electric car. Los Angeles-based Faraday Future also said in September it had reached an agreement with its largest shareholder to resolve a governance dispute, adding that Sue Swenson will step down as executive chairperson. Earlier in August, several employees of Faraday Future had called on the board and shareholders to remove Swenson alleging the executive chairperson had organized attempts to “push the company into bankruptcy and restructuring”. +++

+++ These are worrying times for buyers of small cars. The move towards electrification, ever-tightening emissions laws, and car companies’ quest for higher profit margins have driven several big players to leave the market altogether. Who’d have thought, even 3 years ago, that Ford would just kill off the Fiesta? Small cars matter; they’re how vast numbers of car owners get around, for lots of reasons: purchase price, running costs, ease of parking, and the fact that many people just don’t need or want anything bigger. There’s a risk that lots of brands could turn away from those buyers, just when they need these products the most. So there was some cheer to be gleaned, I thought, from the bullish statements made by FIAT boss Olivier François last week. He was speaking at the launch of the new Abarth 500e (admittedly, a car that is unlikely to come in at much less than €40.000). But when he was asked if the malaise of the small-car market is worrying for a brand strongly associated with it, François came out fighting. “If there is no Fiesta in the way, it’s fantastic”, he said, “because small cars are where people expect us to be. We haven’t sold Punto since 2018, but if you ask customers to name their top B-segment supermini brands, we’re in the top 3”. Autointernationaal.nl has reported previously that François doesn’t see Fiat selling cars any larger than regular family hatchbacks or SUVs. And the key to being able to make money on the smaller stuff is synergies: the bigger, the better. “Without Fiat’s parent group Stellantis, we would not be in good shape”, he said. “The Fiat business model is based on economies of scale. And when you trigger the synergies, it’s like being a kid at Christmas”. Don’t expect François and his team to deliver a fresh Punto or Panda in time to put under the tree this year. But you can bet lots of car buyers will hope they succeed in making the numbers stack up sooner rather than later. +++

+++ LAMBORGHINI broke new ground (literally and metaphorically) by launching an off-road-ready variant of the Huracán called Sterrato. It’s not the brand’s first off-roader; that branch of the family tree includes the LM002 built in the 1980s and the Urus. But it’s the only Lamborghini that has made the improbable leap from the track to the trail. I sat down with Rouven Mohr, the head of the firm’s research and development department, to find out how and why the Sterrato came to life. Interestingly, it started with a wild idea floated by executives during a dinner. Question: What’s the story behind this car? Answer: “I have a personal connection to this project. The basic idea was born at a dinner I attended the first time I worked for Lamborghini, in 2017. I was eating with Maurizio Reggiani, my former boss, and Mitja Borkert, our chief designer, right after a test of the Urus. We were so happy talking about how much fun the Urus is to drive on gravel, and we said, ‘This would be even cooler with a super-sports car’ . At that time, I was responsible for whole vehicle development. When I got back to the office, I decided to take an old Huracán durability test car that was scheduled to be scrapped and build a demo car. Everybody was so in love and agreed it was very cool, but based on other priorities the company decided to stop the project. When CEO Stephan Winkelmann returned to Lamborghini, he saw the car and asked why we didn’t build it. So, we restarted the project. I’m back at Lamborghini now, and it’s a big pleasure for me to bring this project to the market”. Q: Beyond the cool factor, what was your goal during the project? A: “This car’s mission is quite easy to explain. At Lamborghini, we always have 2 pillars. One is performance, which means pure numbers like top speed and lap times. It’s not only Lamborghini that can deliver this, however, because a lot of other brands also have the numbers. We are always looking for something unexpected that improves the driving thrill, the overall experience, and we recognized after testing the demo car that there is really nothing comparable from the perspective of pure emotional driving behavior on the market. The mission of this car is to bring maximum driving fun, not only on the track but also on low-grip surfaces. The mission of this car is transferring the driving experience that we have from the Huracán STO on the track to low-grip surfaces. It’s also important to understand that this car’s mission isn’t off-roading in the classic sense of the term; it’s not an off-road parkour car. Its purpose is fast off-roading. I’m always speaking about on-track and off-track, not so much about off-road. In my mind, off-road you’re always going a little bit slow and climbing up somewhere. This is not the intention; this car can also climb but its intention is going sideways on gravel, rally-style”. Q: Considering this car has no predecessor and no direct rivals, how did you benchmark it? A: “Sometimes a car manufacturer says: ‘This is a new segment!’ but in this case it’s true; there’s no other comparable car on the market. Our benchmark was to maximize the smiling of the people that are driving the car, stepping out, and saying: ‘This is crazy, I’ve never driven something like this!’ For sure we also did acceleration tests, but the main benchmark was the smiles of the people jumping out of the car. My philosophy is that if you look at all of the supercars on the market, the lap times are getting faster, the acceleration is getting faster, the horsepower is getting crazy, but at the end of the day if you ask yourself which one you want to drive on a Sunday morning to have fun, it’s not always the car that achieved the best performance on the track. Driving isn’t always related to pure numbers”. Q: When this project began, your range also included the Aventador. Why did you choose the Huracán? A: “The Huracán’s basic layout makes it easier to control when going sideways. In the Aventador, the engine and the transmission were in the tunnel so the mass was centralized; if the car starts to rotate you need more skills to control it. Second, the traction level of the Aventador is much higher because in the street-legal model you have 355-section rear tires. So, it’s much harder to make the Aventador a playful car from a handling perspective. And, the weight of the car is higher. The Aventador was not suited to this kind of application”. Q: Porsche’s recently-unveiled 911 Dakar sounds a lot like the Sterrato on paper; it’s a lifted sports car. Are these projects related? A: “They’re really different. We are good colleagues, so we are in good contact. They knew about our project, and we knew about theirs. It’s a similar concept because you take a sports car or a super-sports car and elevate it, but the mission of the car is completely different”. +++

+++ The Twitter chatter of Ford chief executive officer Jim Farley is good vibes only: factory photos, race tracks, corporate boosterism and a lot of retweets of Ford customers gushing about their vehicles. It’s all cars, and it’s all anodyne. Elon Musk, among Farley’s chief rivals, has taken a decidedly different tack. Since the boos of TESLA also became the boss of Twitter at the end of October, he has dismissed or scared away almost 5.000 Twitter employees (and asked some to return), declared that the social media site may slide into bankruptcy, alienated many of its advertisers, botched a product rollout that allowed brand impostors to proliferate on the site, mocked a US senator, told his followers to vote Republican and invited former US president Donald Trump back onto the platform. All the while, he’s tweeted a play-by-play of the saga alongside a steady stream of lewd memes and score-settling burns, many aimed at his new employees. This belligerent and erratic performance in his new role as “chief Twit” has raised Musk’s already stratospheric public profile to new heights. If Twitter is a global town square, Musk has transitioned overnight from one of its loudest orators to equal parts mayor and sheriff, with the potential to irritate far beyond the echo chamber of his 118 million followers. For owners and potential buyers of Tesla cars, it has become all but impossible to find neutral ground on the controversies that surround Musk. Tesla’s lead in the EV market is unquestionably strong, particularly in the US, where the carmaker has steadily sold more vehicles over the course of this year. But there are some signs that the lead is starting to slip. Tesla’s share of new US EV sales dipped to 64% in the third quarter from 75% in year earlier period, according to estimates from Cox Automotive. Part of that can be attributed to more EV options than ever before. US consumers now have about 30 fully electric vehicles to choose from, roughly half of which weren’t on the market 12 months ago. “The competition is getting stiffer”, said Rob Pace, founder and CEO of HundredX, a research shop that uses consumer surveys as a fundraising tool. But the Tesla brand has also taken a hit from Musk’s antics and his protracted Twitter adventure. HundredX has been tracking Tesla since 2019, and in recent months, its research shows a drop in loyalty among Tesla owners. Until May of this year, the company outperformed other automakers, with around 70% of owners saying they were likely to buy from the brand again. That rate has slid below 60%, while the rest of the industry hovers around 65%. The trend is basically the same, HundredX finds, on the question of whether owners would recommend the brand to a friend. Sentiment about Tesla’s quality, reliability, service and brand values have all turned more negative over the past few months. “The future loyalty data is really, really worrisome if you’re Tesla because it tends to translate into market share 6 to 9 months out”, Pace said. “This would suggest there are storm clouds”. Market share is already on the wane as thousands of Tesla owners ditch their cars for EVs from startups with both quiet cars and quiet leaders. In the third quarter, almost one-third of Lucid buyers, for example, had owned a Tesla, according to S&P Global Mobility. The story is the same at Polestar and Rivian, which lured far more former fans from Tesla than any other brand. Jason Weixelbaum, a Baltimore-based historian and science writer, swore off Tesla years before he bought his latest car, a Subaru Crosstrek, in 2021. But in recent months he’s noticed more of his friends drifting away from the brand, too. “It used to be that if you wanted to make a certain statement about yourself, you could do it with a Tesla”, Weixelbaum said. “Musk has trashed all that”. While Weixelbaum was originally put off by Musk’s juvenile humor, more recently he’s troubled by what appears to be an increase in hate speech on Twitter. Weixelbaum wrote his PhD dissertation on American companies’ financial ties to Nazi Germany and fields the occasional death threat on Twitter. “I don’t see how this doesn’t become a huge debacle”, he said. “And that should trigger some conversations on the board at Tesla”. Ironically, the #NeverTesla sentiment is most evident on Musk’s new publicity platform, where a steady stream of tweeters are swearing off the brand. Many call out Musk’s erratic management style, often with resolutions to buy a rival EV. “Musk has overestimated the American public’s appetite for erratic behavior”, said Gaurav Sabnis, an associate professor of marketing at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Sabnis, who lives in Manhattan, had considered upgrading from the family Subaru to a Tesla, but nixed the idea after seeing the Twitter drama of late. In particular, his wife was put off by Musk publicly scrapping with Republican Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sabnis points out that more than 80% of car-buying decisions involve women, and Tesla’s customer base is typically affluent, coastal and liberal. “It’s just locker-room behavior”, he said. “And from that perspective, it seems like a horrible marketing decision”. Still, it’s hard to overstate how dominant Tesla is in the EV race. This year through September, the carmaker sold an estimated 391.000 electric vehicles in the US, compared with 41.000 for Ford, the next closest competitor. Every time a Ford Mustang Mach-E rolled out of a dealership in 2022, some 7 Tesla Model Ys took to the road. What’s more, while Musk’s mercurial and public management style is putting off crowds of potential customers, it’s also attracting some. Musk has long cast his company as a contrarian underdog, a foil to Detroit and all things business-as-usual. The occasional lewd meme bolsters that narrative, if for no other reason than it’s something Ford’s Farley wouldn’t dare. Tech chronicler Kara Swisher calls it “snarketing”. “You can’t buy this kind of advertising”, she wrote recently on Twitter, “and the crazier the tweeting, the better”. That said, Musk’s Twitter feed of late doesn’t seem very focused on selling cars. And his time spent steering companies other than Tesla was at the crux of a recent lawsuit challenging his Tesla compensation. In a Delaware court on November 16, Musk said his attention to Twitter would wane after “an initial burst of activity” to reorganize the company; eventually, he would find a new chief executive. Testifying in the same courtroom, Tesla director James Murdoch said Musk had also identified a potential successor for his CEO seat at the car company. Tesla investors certainly don’t seem thrilled. The carmaker’s shares have skidded by 48% this year and are wallowing far below analysts’ targets. “I have too much work on my plate, that’s for sure”, Musk conceded earlier this month during a video appearance at a conference in Indonesia. “I’m really working at the absolute most amount that I can work from morning until night, seven days a week. So this is not something I’d recommend, frankly”. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s BZ4X hasn’t had the easiest start in life. First, production was halted because the wheels could fall off, and then the Biden Administration changed the EV tax credit system to only benefit cars manufactured in North America, which the Japanese-built BZ and its Subaru Solterra twin aren’t. And now questions are being asked about the validity of Toyota’s electric driving range figures. In tests carried out by Scandinavian journalists, the BZ4X managed only half as many kilometres as the company claims, prompting Toyota in Europe and Japan to open a joint investigation. Danish magazine FDM tested two- and all-wheel drive versions of the electric Toyota and both failed to hit their range targets by literally dozens of kilometres. The 2-wheel drive BZ has an official WLTP range of 504 km, but could only travel 246 km before needing a charge, meaning it delivered less than 49 percent of its claimed range. The all-wheel drive version fared even worse, throwing in the towel after just 215 km when Toyota’s WLTP figures say it should be good for 461 km. That equates to less than 47 percent of the claimed range. The elephants in the room here are that WLTP figures are notoriously optimistic and that the test was carried out in Scandinavia in winter, so hardly ideal conditions for a battery. But we’re not talking sub-zero temperatures; the range numbers were achieved at 4 deg Celsius. More importantly, the Toyotas performed worse than other electric cars tested by the magazine in similar conditions. A Tesla Model Y Long Range, for instance, was measured at 355 km against a 507 km official figure, meaning it achieved 70 percent of its WLTP rated mileage. And both the Mercedes EQA and Volkswagen ID.4 weren’t far behind, at 67 percent each. What Does Toyota Say? Toyota told Cthat its HQ in Japan is carrying out an investigation into the findings, which aren’t isolated numbers, and tally with figures from Norwegian and Swedish media, from Norwegian customers, and from my own experience with the BZ4X. But in replying to FDM’s findings, a Danish Toyota spokesman suggested that the discrepancy could be down to how much “reserve” the SUV has in its battery pack when the car’s dashboard is showing 0 kilometres remaining. Though it’s unlikely that the BZ4X has 240 km up its sleeve, it got me wondering how much spare range the average EV has, and how much that figure varies from model to model. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN is in talks with Taiwan’s Foxconn about a partnership to build vehicles for the Scout brand. Volkswagen said in May it planned to reintroduce the Scout off-road brand, creating a separate, independent company to build Scout trucks and SUVs starting in 2026 that will be designed, engineered, and manufactured in the United States for U.S. customers. Foxconn, best known for assembling Apple’s iPhone, has expanded into building electric vehicles for auto brands such as Lordstown, hoping for 5% market share in EV manufacturing by 2025. Volkswagen is also in talks with Magna Steyr, a subsidiary of Magna International, who have been looking to build a plant in the United States, Automobilwoche reported. +++

+++ Chinese technology giant XIAOMI has yet to unveil its first electric vehicle but has ambitious aims of establishing itself as one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. Xiaomi Automobile was launched in September 2021 with $1.39 billion in funding and has been hard at work developing EVs in the 14 months since. While the company has no prior experience in the automotive industry, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun recently took to Twitter to state that Xiaomi hopes to sell more than 10 million vehicles annually. “The manufacturing threshold of EVs has been dramatically lowered compared to gasoline cars: 30.000 components are highly modular, and the cost of batteries has fallen by 80% in the past 10 years with at least 50% more room for cost reduction in the future”, Lei said. “Therefore, I think EVs are a form of consumer electronics with intelligentization, software, and user experience at the core. The essence of the auto industry will evolve from mechanics to consumer electronics, where market share is highly concentrated among the top players”. Lei went on to say he thinks the world’s top 5 brands will hold more than 80 percent of EV market share when the industry reaches maturity. “In other words, the only way for us to succeed is to be one of the top 5 and ship more than 10 million cars annually. The competition will be brutal”, he said. To put that figure into perspective, the world’s two current largest car manufacturers, Toyota and the Volkswagen Group, each sell around 10 million vehicles annually. Xiaomi’s founder obviously thinks quite similarly to Tesla’s Elon Musk who has said his brand could produce up to 20 million vehicles annually in 10 years. In September, it was reported that Xiaomi had finished building the first engineering prototype of its first EV that’s planned for a launch in 2024. Very few details about the vehicle are known but it could be offered with 400 volt and 800 volt architectures and offered with BYD’s Blade-style battery cells and CATL’s Kirin battery. +++

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