Newsflash: BMW komt met revolutionaire nieuwe batterijen

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+++ The AUDI A6 has been around for 28 years now and during that time it’s established itself as one of the best executive cars you can buy, be it in saloon or Avant estate guise. Audi is still looking to hone the A6 formula further, however, and we’ve caught the revised 2023 model testing. The current fifth generation A6 launched in 2018 so it’s due a mid-life refresh. I first spotted the updated model early in 2022 and the latest test car doesn’t show any exterior revisions over that prototype, although it confirms there will be a new rear light signature .Audi’s rival to the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Maserati Ghibli won’t change too much visually then, with the major cosmetic changes being limited to the camouflaged portions of this prototype. So, there’s a new front bumper with what appears to be a slightly smaller radiator grille, as well as a fresh pair of headlamps with revised daytime running lights and projector units. The lamps are the same shape as those found on the recently updated Audi A8, and it’s almost certain they’ll feature the same digital matrix technology, although expect to see this offered as an optional extra. The A8’s headlamps contain 1.3 million micromirrors, which Audi says can precisely adjust the beam pattern to help light up dark patches on the road and improve the driver’s visibility. It’s much the same story at the rear. The tail lights have refreshed design signatures, the rear valance is a slightly different shape and the boot lid seems to have a larger overhang above the licence plate. The exhaust is also still hidden by the rear bumper. I’m expecting the usual suite of trim and upholstery tweaks inside, as well as some updated software for the car’s tri-screen infotainment setup. The screens themselves are unlikely to change, though, with buyers getting the same 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster, 8.8 inch infotainment system and 8.6 inch screen to operate the climate controls. The current A6’s trim levels will likely be retained. The engine line-up will also be carried forward onto the facelifted car with only minimal changes. Starting at the bottom, there’ll be a 204 hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel unit and a pair of 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol engines with either 204 hp or 265 hp. Stepping up a rung, there’ll be an updated version of the A6 55 TFSI, which will get its grunt from a 340 hp turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine. It’ll also have a diesel V6 counterpart with 286 hp, and both options will come with Quattro 4-wheeldrive as standard. Plug-in hybrid power will remain a constant in the A6 range, with the updated 50 TFSI e offering 299 hp and a maximum electric only range of up to 65 km (providing Audi doesn’t make any changes to the current car’s 14.1 kWh battery pack). At the very top of the line-up, there’ll be the performance-focussed Audi S6 and RS6. The former will be powered by a 350 hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, while the latter will have a 600 hp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8. Again, both will have 4-wheeldrive. At the top of the range will be the RS 6 Avant Performance edition with 630 hp. +++

+++ With the launch of its Neue Klasse platform and series of electric models, BMW will also introduce its Gen 6 battery technology, which brings significant improvements in all areas that matter. The manufacturer is touting 30 percent improved range, 50 percent reduction of production cost and 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions, as well as an integration of the battery pack as a part of the car’s structure. Simon Erhard, one of the lead engineers behind Gen 6 battery tech development at the BMW Group, who said that “energy density is much higher than before. You can put more cells into the battery pack”. He also explained that “with Gen 6, we’re integrating cylindrical battery cells straight into the vehicle”. Interestingly, even with BMW’s engineering prowess, the fact that the manufacturer has not previously integrated a battery pack into an EV’s structure seemed evident (as did the fact that work on this was still ongoing) when Erhard noted that “the main challenge is to achieve the right compromise between stiffness and flexibility. The most integrated design would be where the vehicle floor is the upper part of the battery pack”, Erhard also said that even though BMW will continue to use lithium ion battery technology for the foreseeable future, the automaker is already looking at alternatives, including solid state batteries. He revealed that “from an energy density point of view, we’re facing the limits of lithium ion cell chemistry in industrialized applications”. BMW recently announced its commitment to invest over €2-billion and build an extension to its Debrecen, Hungary factory where it wants to make battery packs for upcoming Neue Klasse electric vehicles. The manufacturer calls this the iFactory and touts it as being the most advanced such facility anywhere in the world; it will become operational towards the end of 2025 and create 500 new jobs. The plant will stretch over 140.000 m² and the plan is for battery production to come online at the same time as vehicle production. Neue Klasse EVs will first begin to roll out of the Debrecen factory in late 2025, but BMW will also start manufacturing of vehicles on this new architecture at its Munich plant starting in 2026. The actual battery cells won’t be manufactured locally and will be sourced from Nissan-owned Envision Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), located in the US, in South Carolina. It will be able to supply enough cells for 300.000 EVs every year, although according to a previous report, it won’t be the only supplier. SUV and crossover models won’t be assembled in Europe either: they will come from BMW’s Spartanburg manufacturing facility where the automaker plans to build six different models by 2030 after planned investments of $1.7 billion. Of this, $700 million will go towards the creation of a local battery manufacturing facility. +++

+++ After 8 years on a very bumpy road, automaker Beijing BORGWARD ended its journey in China on Tuesday. According to an order by Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court, Beijing Borgward’s remaining assets fell far short of its debt, and the company showed no sign of reconstruction, thus it was declared bankrupt. Originally a German operation, Borgward went bankrupt in the 1960s and lay dormant until China’s Foton Motor brought it back to life in 2014, by injecting the inert company with 5 million euros. Foton Motors made trucks, buses and SUVs. The acquisition of Borgward was an attempt to tap into the passenger vehicle market. The new Borgward released its first model in 2016. The marketing strategy was simple Borgward spared no effort to emphasize its German bloodline. Blood, of course, is everything. A paper trail is something else. Borgward owned no key technology whatsoever and often appear on the front page for quality issues. From 2016 to 2018, Borgward lost 4 billion yuan, dragging its parent company down. Foton’s 1.1 billion yuan profit in 2017 turned into a 3.6 billion yuan loss the next year. In 2019, Foton sold 67 percent of Borgward to Ucar for 4 billion yuan. Ucar was a project of Lu Zhengyao, who founded coffee chain Luckin. Luckin was busy dealing with its own financial scandal a year later. Borgward never released another new model. With Luckin occupying his attention, Lu had neither time nor money to keep Borgward rolling and operations ceased in January this year. +++

+++ The car manufacturers in CHINA are hungry. So far, they have made use of their giant local market to drive their accelerated growth. With its 25-28 million vehicles per year, China is not only the world’s largest car market, but an important source of volume and growth. Having 1% market share means 250.000 to 280.000 units per year, not bad compared to the figures seen in Europe and USA. The first phase of their expansion has come to an end. Now it is time for their global expansion, far away from the Chinese borders. As their cars become more appealing, efficient, and meet higher quality and safety standards, they are now ready to conquer the world. They have many things in their favour. They can rely on the strong support from the Chinese government. At the same time, the big domestic market allows them to maintain sufficient levels of production to decrease costs of production; and they are ahead of their Western rivals when it is about the electrification at all levels and segments. From the 1.1 million cars made in China last year and sold outside China, 355.000 units were sold in Latin America, its biggest market. Europe at second place, represented 22% of its sales abroad, followed by the Middle East, where 156.000 units were sold. The developing economies made up 58% of the Chinese car exports in 2021. However, China knows that its global dominance can’t take place without a better presence in the developed markets: Europe, USA, Japan and South Korea. The last 2 countries are quite protected markets. USA is still having geopolitical and trade issues with China. Then Europe becomes the next target for the Chinese cars. The arrival of more Chinese car offers in Europe might please the consumers but is going to become a headache for some local players. The car companies that offer the least products, and that are still lagging in the electrification race, are the most exposed ones to the Chinese arrival. Fiat for instance is quite vulnerable. It is strongly dependent on Italy (47% of its passenger cars registrations took place there between January and October 2022). It has a very small range of products (only 4 models, excluding 2 vans). And it offers only 1 electric car, the 500e, and 1 SUV, the 500X. Ford is another potential victim. It has just announced it is leaving the B segment, which even if it is not as popular as in the past, it is still an important source of volume. The Focus is likely to remain the only car available after the Mondeo retires. The Puma and Kuga are popular SUVs, but none of them are fully electrified. There are also cases to consider among the Japanese brands. Mitsubishi for instance has currently 2 models available in Europe and nothing fully electric. The brand sold just 43.000 units during the first 10 months of this year. In the case of Honda, the offer is quite limited too (5 models), and the only 1 electric car, the ‘e’, is struggling to survive. What do they have in common? They all play in the mainstream segment, one of the most competitive and least profitable in Europe. They struggle to keep their market share due to limited offers. As a consequence, they should be one of the first ones to feel the impact of the Chinese invasion. +++

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+++ FERRARI has previewed how its next-generation road cars could look with the release of a futuristically designed 1350 hp single-seat racing concept created exclusively for the virtual gaming world. Designed at Ferrari’s Maranello base, the aerodynamically moulded Vision Gran Turismo represent a “futuristic design manifesto” for the brand’s next-generation road and race cars. Featured exclusively (as the name suggests) on the Gran Turismo 7 racing simulator, the car has been designed by Flavio Manzoni’s team at Ferrari Centro Stile and takes inspiration from 1960s and 1970s iconic racers such as the 330 P3 and 512 S. Aerodynamics play a big part in the VGT’s design, with 2 side channels that direct airflow around the cockpit and over the side pods, and a rear diffuser and biplane wing inspired by Ferrari’s real-world 499P LMHd racer combined to generate “extremely efficient aerodynamic downforce” that plants the car to the track, Ferrari says. Underneath, the VGT receives a “more extreme” version of the 120 degree twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine that powers the Ferrari 296 GTB road car and 499P racer. The uprated powerplant now pushes out 1025 hp at 9.000 rpm (296 GTB: 830 hp at 8000 rpm) and 900 Nm at 5.500 rpm, with an additional 325 hp available through 3 electric motors: 1 on the rear axle and 1 on each of the front wheels. This high-revving engine is connected to a Formula 1 derived, 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox and can send the car from standing to 100 kph in less than 2 seconds. Top speed for the 1.250kg track weapon has been quoted as more than 350 kph. Although no real version of the Ferrari VGT has been announced, a full-scale physical study will be on display at the Italian car maker’s museum in Maranello from 15 December. The car follows a number of other manufacturers into the virtual racing sphere, including Vision Gran Turismo models from Suzuki, Jaguar, Porsche and Lamborghini. However, the recently revealed V10-powered McLaren Solus GT is one of the first virtual cars to make it into the real world. The sub-1000kg special with 840 hp was limited to 25 cars at more than €4 million each. +++

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+++ HONDA said it is developing Level 3 self-driving capability to function at any speed below legal limits on highways by the second half of the 2020s as it strives to eliminate traffic deaths involving its vehicles. Honda in March 2021 became the world’s first carmaker to sell a vehicle with Level 3 self-driving technology, in Japan. When the Japanese carmaker launched its Legend sedan with Level 3 automation technology last year, production was limited to 100 units. Honda’s Level 3 “Traffic Jam Pilot” system can kick in at speeds below 30 kph on highways, remaining operational until the speed picks up to 50 kph. Honda calls the system it’s developing Honda Sensing 360; an expansion of the current Honda Sensing suite of driver assists on vehicles today. It will deploy the technology overseas in the second half of the decade, and it should reach customers by 2030. Known as conditional driving automation, Level 3 involves technology that allow drivers to engage in activities behind the wheel, such as watching movies or using smartphones, but only under some limited conditions. “We believe we can help reduce accidents by pursuing Level 3 technology, which in essence is about cars that do not crash”, Honda engineer Mahito Shikama told reporters on Tuesday. Honda is aiming for a zero-fatality rate from traffic accidents involving its cars and motorcycles globally by 2050. Shikama declined to say how soon Honda would start mass-producing its Level 3 self-driving vehicles. Among its rivals, Mercedes-Benz late last year won approval from Germany’s KBA car watchdog for its Level 3 driving system. +++

+++ The next generation MERCEDES E-CLASS is due to land in 2023 with a range of all-electrified engines. Known internally by the codename W214, the new E-Class follows an evolutionary path, with development focused around refinements to its platform, electric architecture and engines. Its electric architecture is being heavily upgraded to support new functions that include Level 3 autonomous driving potential in countries where it is permitted, together with 5G connectivity that allows high-speed over-the-air software updates for the first time. With the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQE offering electric drivelines, the 2023 combustion-powered E-Class will stick with electrified versions of today’s 4- and 6-cylinder engines. The existing M254 4-cylinder petrol and OM654 4-cylinder diesel units will be offered exclusively with an integrated starter-generator and 48 Volt electrical system as well as changes to their exhaust system that allow them to meet EU7 emission regulations. The turbocharged 2.9-litre in-line 6-cylinder M256 petrol and turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line 6-cylinder OM656 diesel units are planned to receive similar upgrades and will be offered with both mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid functionality with up to 435 hp and 330 hp respectively. All plug-in hybrid versions are set to receive a 28.6 kWh battery, the same unit used by the Mercedes S 580e, to give them an electric range of over 100 km. Every engine is set to be combined with a standard 9-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. Rear-wheel drive will feature on lower-end models, with Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic 4-wheeldrive system set to appear on more powerful models, including those from AMG. Styling-wise, the new model adopts a look similar to the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, with a bolder front end comprising more angular headlights and a large chromed grille. While heavily disguised on the prototype captured here, the rear is described as a mixture between the S-Class and new Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Alongside the saloon model, Mercedes-Benz also plans to follow up today’s E-Class Estate and E-Class All Terrain with successor models, due out in 2024. It will also be joined by a Mercedes-AMG E 53 sports saloon variant, which will be differentiated by its bespoke grille, bigger brakes and sports exhaust. Mercedes-Benz is not giving too much away about the future of the E-Class Coupé and E-Class Cabriolet, although it is believed a new CLE (a moniker recently trademarked by the company) could serve as a replacement for both of these cars and the smaller 2-door C-Class models. One of the last models to be based on Mercedes-Benz’s existing MRA platform, the new E-Class saloon receives a slightly longer wheelbase than today’s fifth-generation model. The track widths have also been increased, giving the new 2023 model a larger footprint and interior dimensions. The double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension has been modified to fit the new dimensions of the platform structure. It will be offered in combination with an optional air suspension and, for the first time on the E-Class, a rear-wheel steering system offering up to 10 degrees of steering at the rear. The engines, mounted in their traditional longitudinal position, will be reduced in number and (in selected models) in capacity too. Mercedes-Benz is determined to once again make the new E-Class the safest car in its class. As well as adopting all the various driving assistant systems from the larger S-Class, the 6th generation model is also set to support level three autonomous driving functionality with lidar based sensors. Inside, the new E-Class adopts a similar dashboard architecture to that of the latest C-Class and S-Class. The set-up includes digital instruments in a free-standing display panel, optionally with 3D graphics, and a portrait-style display within the centre console for the infotainment functions. +++

+++ OPEL is making rapid progress towards its major goal of becoming an EV-only company by 2028, according to managing director James Taylor, whose imminent aims are to boost battery model take-up and raise Vauxhall’s position in the market, close to but distinct from Peugeot, its Stellantis stablemate. “Astra going electric is a big milestone for both our popular family car as well as for the Opel brand,” he said. “Our move to electrification is already bringing new customers, so we expect strong interest in both the hatchback and estate models when they arrive in the showrooms. Our Mokka Electric already represents just over 1 in 4Mokka registrations, and both it and the Corsa Electric are in the top 2 of their respective segments”. The opportunity to ‘tune’ Opel’s positioning in the mainstream market comes as a direct result of joining the Stellantis conglomerate, according to group design director Mark Adams, a Brit with responsibility for Opel cars. “We want to ensure there’s a correct bandwidth between our various marques”, Adams said. “We see Opel, like Peugeot, as being in the upper part of the mainstream segment. We believe the 2 marques can be quite distinct, and appeal to different buyers, because of their priorities and histories. Opel is uniquely a German brand, with a quite different appeal from Peugeot, which clearly has strong French roots. “We believe the two sit well at the ‘quality and personality’ end of mainstream, and our research is already showing that the Corsa, Mokka and Astra are being perceived that way”. Taylor cites his other priority as being to build Opel’s already thriving light commercial market. “All 3 of our Van models have been available with electric power since last year”, Taylor said. “Our aim is to be selling only electric vans; 7 years ahead of the government’s deadline”. Q&A with Opel designer director Mark Adams: Question: Has joining Stellantis brought about a repositioning of the Opel brand? Answer: “Definitely. No doubt about it. We believe we can be a step above the pure mainstream brands, not abandoning our volume customer base but offering them a particular kind of personality and quality. We’re already on that path”. Q: The Corsa is being updated. What are the priorities for that? A: “Clearly, the big one is to adopt our new front face, much as you see it on the Mokka and the Astra. When Opel was joining PSA, and later Stellantis, we’d already frozen the Corsa design. Don’t get me wrong: we’re proud of what we’ve done with it, and there’s plenty of life in it. And the market has backed us. But the new corporate nose makes the car look very new and different. We’ve progressed the interior, too. The whole idea is to ‘detox’ it: to make it simpler”. Q: Opel is doing well with hatchbacks, but an era of ‘skateboard’ chassis is coming. Can the hatchback survive? A: “There will be changes. But that doesn’t mean everything will need to be tall. It depends where the technology takes us. Cars will be generally taller. Batteries will be carried underneath. But aero will be important, too, and lower cars have an advantage there”. Q: Electrification is bringing flexibility to mechanical layouts. How much will mainstream cars change? A: “Depends how far you want to push. The opportunities are great: a wheel at each corner, shorter overhangs, more flexibility around the apertures, even changes to where you put the occupants. Up to now, that big lump in the nose has controlled almost everything. We’re looking beyond 2028 right now, and the opportunities are great. But it’s still a matter of designing cars people like”. Q: How far ahead do you look? A: “For us, a 10-year horizon is about right, and the sheer breadth of future opportunities put a lot of strain on your engineering and your opportunity to invest. You can’t make big decisions too far out because the pace of change might catch you out”. Q: Hot hatches have been crucial over past decades, both for image building and selling cars. How will they fare in future? A: “They’ll be around, but they’ll change. Our GS-e line will appear soon to show our view. Cars like them will have strong performance, but it won’t be explosive. The opportunities to use huge power are in decline. But driving enjoyment must and will survive. We’ll concentrate on driving enjoyment, responsiveness, agility – stuff like that”. +++

+++ TOYOTA has teased a mysterious image of something called a Grand Highlander. It won’t be revealed in full for another few months, but there’s plenty of hints to make educated guesses about. The name, for one, implies that it’ll be a longer version of the Highlander. Another clue is the Hybrid Max badge on the new badonk. The last time I saw that, it was on the weird Crown crossover sedan thingy, and generated an impressive combined output of 340 horsepower and 530 Nm of torque, mated with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Toyota didn’t say what the Grand Highlander would pack under the hood, but it did describe it as “powerful”. The main draw of this vehicle, we expect, will be a longer cabin with more legroom in the third row and greater cargo carrying capacity. Toyota calls it the “ultimate road trip vehicle.” It’s likely that Toyota wants to compete with popular 3-row rigs like the forthcoming Mazda CX-80. The name also draws an obvious connection to vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has an elongated versions called the Grand Cherokee L. It wouldn’t be the first time Toyota offered stretched versions of its vehicles. After years of begging, Lexus finally offered L versions of the RX, the RX 450hL. I won’t know the full details until the Grand Highlander is revealed on February 8, followed by an appearance at the Chicago Auto Show the following day. +++

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