Newsflash: Fiat broedt op comeback Punto


+++ ABARTH will grow its model line-up with an expanded range of electric models to follow its new 500e, but company boss Olivier François has said not every future Fiat EV will automatically gain a performance variant. Abarth recently unveiled the 500e, a souped-up hot hatch reworking of the existing Fiat 500e, as its first electric model, with a focus on offering nimble handling and acceleration in urban areas. Since the Abarth 124 Spider was discontinued, the firm’s line-up has consisted entirely of performance variants of the 500, but brand boss François said new models would be added as the Fiat line-up grew in the coming years. Fiat is working on 10 new cars and will launch 5 globally within the next 5 years. Asked how many Abarth cars would come in the same period, François said “less”. He added: “All Fiat models can potentially have an Abarth version, but it will not make sense for all of them. We will assess each model within the team. In Europe, Abarth always had a lot of success when tied with the 500. It’s not a rule, but people like the little pocket rocket, racing urban cars and so on. Abarth is also a little bit more expensive, so you need models that will bear that pricing power. The 500 is like that and other models around the 500 galaxy could be like that”. François did confirm that the brand is working on higher-performance versions of the 500e, similar to how it offers Abarth 595 and 695 reworkings of the combustion-engined 500 with differing power outputs. He said: “Everyone is already working to make this car even faster, even sportier, even louder”. The 500e uses the same motor and battery as the Fiat version, although both have been reworked to enable the car to deliver 154 hp and 230 Nm. The motor has been tweaked to run at a higher consistent torque output, while Abarth has tuned the battery to deliver at a higher current, allowing it to draw energy more consistently. Abarth engineers have hinted that the output of the new 500e is close to the maximum the motor and battery technology will allow for, suggesting any future higher-performance version could have to use a different motor or new battery technology. +++

+++ Italian design house BERTONE has announced its comeback with an early look at a brand-new supercar. The new model appears to take on a mid-engined silhouette with the emphasis on angles, for which the company is famed. For example, triangular side vents evoke the 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero concept, while the low-swept front end recalls the wedge shape of the original Lamborghini Countach. However, the front and rear styling appears to preview a new approach, with an emphasis on led lighting and colour-contrasting body panels. The presence of exhausts at the rear suggests that the model will use a combustion engine. The new supercar is Bertone’s first original car since the Nuccio, unveiled in 2012. It also marks the design house’s comeback, having gone bankrupt in 2014 after near misses in 2007 and 2011. The brand was purchased by brothers Mauro and Jean-Franck Ricci (who operate technology consultancy Akka) in 2016. 2 years later, Akka unveiled the Smart Bertone, a thorough revision of the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive. Its power was boosted from 81 hp to 280 hp thanks to an additional motor and a Formula 1-inspired kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), allowing it to deliver a whopping 2.350 Nm through all 4 wheels. An aggressive bodykit and rear spoiler designed in-house were added to emphasise the car’s sporting credentials. Akka’s portfolio covers the entire process of developing a car, from manufacturing concepts to electrical systems and more, with autonomous driving technology in the pipeline. The company has previously worked with the likes of Aston Martin, Ford and the Volkswagen Group, among others. Given its wealth of experience, it is therefore likely that the consultancy will play a key role in the development of Bertone’s supercar. +++


+++ The 7 cars on the shortlist for CAR OF THE YEAR 2023 have been announced ahead of the winner being revealed in January. The shortlisted cars are the Jeep Avenger, Kia Niro, Nissan Ariya, Peugeot 408, Renault Austral, Subaru Solterra / Toyota BZ4X, and Volkswagen ID.Buzz.  The voting jury this year consists of 58 jurors from 22 countries. The 7 cars were chosen from a long list of 27 cars. The likes of the BMW iX1, Dacia Jogger, Honda Civic, MG 4, Range Rover, Toyota GR86 and Opel Astra were among these on the long list not to make the cut. 5 of the shortlisted 7 cars are electric. The Avenger is the first Jeep designed and engineered exclusively for Europe, while Stellantis sibling brand Peugeot is represented with the 408, a new SUV-estate hybrid. Other EVs on the list include the Niro, which is also offered as a hybrid; the Ariya, only the second electric Nissan after the Nissan Leaf; the co-developed Solterra and BZ4X that share a shortlisted entry; and the ID Buzz, the famous VW camper van reborn for the electric age. The Austral, meanwhile, is a new hybrid SUV that replaces the Renault Kadjar. Last year’s winner was the Kia EV6, the first time the Korean brand has won the award. +++

+++ New car registrations in EUROPE increased for the third month in a row in October as electrified vehicles surpassed 1 million units for 2022, with the market said to be recovering from this year’s semiconductor crisis. Registrations of all cars across 27 European markets totalled 903.533 units in October, according to Jato Dynamics, compared with 790.652 in October 2021, for a year-on-year increase of 14%. A total of 1.103.055 electrified vehicles have been sold so far this year, making up 23% of all European car sales. However, year-do-date sales of 9.09 million units are down 8% on pre-pandemic 2020, when 9.67 million units were sold between January and October. Jato says the drop is attributed to a reduced volume of new cars and economical and geopolitical uncertainty. “The impact of the shortage of new cars at dealerships, alongside economic and geopolitical uncertainty, has been more damaging to sales volumes than the lockdowns of 2020”, said Jato global analyst Felipe Munoz. “As OEMs adapt to this new reality, consumers are also understanding that they face longer waiting times than they used to for new cars”. However, Munoz also said the year-on-year increase was positive, indicating the industry may finally be recovering from the global semiconductor shortage that has engulfed new car sales over the past year. “In October 2021, the market was facing the worst of the semiconductor crisis, but one year on, it has understood the challenge and is learning to deal with it”, said Munoz. Some 119.600 of the units sold in September were electric for a volume increase of 13%, while 88.200 plug-in hybrids were sold for a 13% increase year on year. Volkswagen was the month’s best performer, with a market share of 12.7%, while the entire Volkswagen Group accounted for 25% of all sales on the continent. The ID.4 and ID.3 were the month’s bestselling EVs. October’s bestselling cars in Europe were: 1) Peugeot 208: 17.075 = +23%; 2) Volkswagen Golf: 17.038 = +96%; 3) Dacia Sandero: 16,147 = -18%; 4) Fiat 500: 16.117 = -4%; 5) Toyota Yaris: 16,039 = +141%; 6) Volkswagen T-Roc: 13.378 = +11%; 7) Renault Clio: 13.167 = -8%; Citroen C3: 12.248 = +6%; 9) Toyota Yaris Cross: 12.079 = +165%; 10) Opel/Vauxhall Corsa: 11,560 = +1%. +++

+++ FIAT is committed to a future line-up focused on small cars, despite other manufacturers withdrawing from the market and company boss Olivier François has suggested Ford’s decision to axe the Ford Fiesta presents an “opportunity”. The Italian firm is beginning an overhaul of its European line-up as it shifts to becoming an all-electric brand. It plans to launch 5 new models in the next 5 years to join the existing 500e. Those models will start next year with a small hatch understood to use the Stellantis CMP platform that also underpins the Peugeot e-208 and Opel Corsa-e. In addition, the firm is working on a range of models on new platforms inspired by the 2019 Centoventi electric concept, which could revive the Panda nameplate. Fiat is focusing on small cars despite other firms abandoning the market due to the prohibitive cost of new regulations. Ford recently axed the Fiesta and Volkswagen might cull the Polo due to the forthcoming Euro 7 emissions rules. At the same time, manufacturers have been struggling to produce affordable entry-level cars. “What we are super-focused at doing is A, B and C segment cars but with the right engine, body and technology”, said François. “The stuff the customer will really crave for in that moment. So small cars, but with a smart package. The fact that there is no Fiesta in the way or Polo in the way is just fantastic, because it is really where we belong. It’s where people expect us to be. We have not done a new Punto since 2013 or something like that, but if you ask European customers to name their top B-segment brands, Fiat is in the top 3. We need to own the B-segment again and we need to keep owning the A-segment. We know why the others are leaving, and I understand: it is more challenging”. François admitted that making small electric cars affordable remained a big challenge; He said: “The only super-profitable, easy way to go electric is to make it super-premium, because you embed the horribly high cost of batteries into something that is anyway expensive”. He added that Fiat’s small car focus is “100%” down to the resources it can tap into as part of Stellantis. He said: “Without Stellantis, we would not be in good shape. The Fiat business model or Citroën business model is based on economics of scale. When you trigger the synergies, it’s like being a kid at Christmas, because everything becomes less scary”. +++

+++ Carmakers across the auto industry have been riddled with problems related to supply chains and logistics that have hindered their ability to get vehicles into the hands of paying customers, but numbers out of carmakers like LUCID show that electric-vehicle startups are taking a bigger hit than incumbents like Ford. Lucid reported that in the third quarter of this year, it built 2.282 cars but delivered just 1.393 of them to customers. From January through September, it delivered just 66% of the 3.687 cars it produced. Rivian, too, has seen a gap, though less extreme: The Amazon-backed startup built 7.363 vehicles and delivered 6.584 in Q3. For the first 9 months of 2022, Rivian had produced 14.317 cars and delivered 12.278, a rate of 86%. In the “normal” years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the auto industry delivered virtually all of the cars it built, according to Eric Anderson, a principal research analyst for S&P Global. In 2021, that rate slowed because of a global chip shortage and various supply-chain disruptions, he said. But the industry average is still well above Lucid’s 66%. The ratio matters because car companies don’t book revenue until the car is delivered. But with startups disrupting the dealer-based sales model, old ratios are harder to apply, Anderson said. “It’s hard to say what a healthy level is for this gap right now, because it’s being applied to such a new concept”, Anderson said. At the same time, he said, it’s important for startups to be “ramping up in the right direction”. Lost or delayed revenue is no fun for anyone, but it’s especially problematic for the young players in this capital-intensive business. Rivian was sitting on $13.8 billion at the end of Q3, while Lucid had $3.85 billion and a plan to raise another $1.5 billion. A Lucid representative didn’t have additional comment beyond what has been said in earnings; Rivian declined to comment. “It’s one thing to be a startup and come up with a few thousand cars”, said Peter Maithel, the automotive-industry principal analyst at Infor. “But then to scale production to where you’re commercially viable, that’s a challenge”. Lucid’s gap in production and delivery “was primarily a function of vehicles distributed across 3 areas of the delivery process: vehicles in transit, vehicles awaiting pre-delivery inspection, and vehicles awaiting delivery to a customer”, Lucid CFO Sherry House told investors in a third-quarter earnings call. Part of Lucid’s early lag was related to its troubles upon starting production. Though vehicles were getting built, former and current employees said cars were coming off the line missing key parts or languished awaiting review given Lucid’s ultrahigh quality standards. Insiders attributed the parts challenges to Lucid’s third-party logistics companies, saying that caused a supply bottleneck at Lucid’s Tempe, Arizona, warehouse, in particular; parts were stacked incorrectly or left damaged, forcing built cars to be set aside. Lucid has since moved its logistics operations in-house in an effort to rectify those roadblocks, and, so far, that seems to be working given Lucid has accelerated its production pace. Still, House said she expected vehicles produced to continue to outpace vehicles delivered in the near term as Lucid accelerates production and starts delivering internationally. Rivian CFO Claire McDonough blamed its gap on logistics and adding another manufacturing shift. “The in-transit time from rail shipments, coupled with an increase in volumes from the ramp of our second shift towards the end of the quarter, will cause a significant discrepancy between production and deliveries for Q4”, she told investors during Rivian’s Q3 earnings call. The companies expect the gaps to narrow and it couldn’t be more critical that they do. The more time passes for deliveries and the more the gap widens, these companies not only delay revenue but risk losing customers to incumbent competitors and, with that, market share. Legacy car companies like Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen have long-established production, logistics and delivery strategies, noted Jessica Caldwell, an automotive analyst for Edmunds. Additionally, EV startups like Rivian and Lucid won’t enjoy the first-mover advantages that Tesla had in its early days of vehicle production scaling, making this moment even more crucial for these companies, Caldwell said. “These companies become a less exciting prospect”, she said, “just based on the fact that they’re not first”. +++

+++ After a two-decade hiatus, Russia on Wednesday launched production of the MOSKVICH car brand at a plant near Moscow given up by the French carmaker Renault, with a new, modern Chinese design that barely resembles the Soviet-era classic. While the last Moskvich (“Muscovite”) was a basic 3-box saloon or pedestrian hatchback, the Moskvich 3 is a muscular-looking petrol-powered crossover hatchback with alloy wheels, LED slit-headlights and a large central touchscreen display. In fact, pictures of the car show that it looks identical to the Sehol X4 compact crossover made by China’s JAC, also known as the JAC JS4. Sources told that JAC’s design, engineering and platform were being used to produce the brand, with parts being delivered from China. Renault sold its majority stake in carmaker Avtovaz in May to the Russian state for reportedly just one rouble, but with a 6-year option to buy it back. It sold its plant, now renamed the Moscow Automobile Factory Moskvich, for another rouble. With just 600 vehicles slated for production this year, the new car is unlikely to alter the gloomy outlook for the wider industry, whose annual sales could end the year below 1 million for the first time in Russia’s modern history. The government’s ultimate target of producing 100.000 Moskvich vehicles a year, some of which will be electric, is far below the industry average for a car plant of 200,000-300.000 units. Tesla makes 22.000 cars a week at its Shanghai plant. “The first Moskvich cars will come off the production line in December 2022”, truck maker Kamaz, the plant’s technological partner, said in a statement. Western sanctions over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine have sorely hampered access to foreign-made components, while many foreign car manufacturers have left. Kamaz and the government have established new supply chains, but not disclosed details. “The task for the near future is to establish small-node assembly processes with the involvement of local suppliers by the end of 2023,” Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said in a statement. The ministry said the launch of full-scale production would provide jobs for around 40.000 more people. The car goes on sale in Russia next month, it added. +++


+++ On 5 January, PEUGEOT will give a glimpse of what to expect from its first generation of bespoke electric cars with a concept car that dramatically rethinks its traditional exterior and interior design cues. Called the Inception, in reference to a number of features and technologies it will showcase for the first time, it will arrive just before Peugeot gets under way with what CEO Linda Jackson calls the firm’s “electric year” in 2023. By 2024, Peugeot will offer an electrified version of each of its models, with the final additions to line-up including 3008 and 5008 hybrids, using new-to-Stellantis electric hardware with improved efficiency. Next year, it will also launch the more powerful e-208 GT, roll out the e-308 and e-308 SW, and start selling the 408 with a choice of 2 plug-in hybrid powertrains. The Inception will give strong clues to what future electrified Peugeot models (more specifically those designed from the ground up to be pure-electric) will look like, beginning from 2025. It will, Jackson told reporters, be “more than just a symbolic gesture” and will embody Peugeot’s ambition to “reinvent the automotive experience for more pleasure”. Peugeot has the opportunity to reinvent 3 key strains of its customer experience as it gears up for all-out electrification, said Jackson: spacial organisation, driving gestures and the “experiences in and around the car”. The Inception will show how it plans to achieve this, most notably with a variation on its trademark i-Cockpit interior layout, which “evolves several steps” beyond that featured in the brand’s current cars. It remains unclear how different this will be, but company bosses are keen that future Peugeot models retain the “sensation of driving” and the “allure” that it says are core to its current models. The Inception won’t necessarily preview a production car but rather will explore a number of themes Peugeot will pursue on next-generation products, rather like Dacia’s off-road-focused Manifesto concept, making its debut in Paris. “It will project the values of the brand”, said Jackson, stopping short of confirming any further details, beyond that it will be based on Stellantis hardware, presumably the STLA Medium architecture for C-D segment passenger EVs. Peugeot’s head of design, Matthias Hossann, said that Peugeot wants to “keep the feel of driving sensation” in its next-generation cars and will seek to maintain attractive proportions, while exploring new ways of defining segments. “This is the beginning of a new story for Peugeot and a great opportunity for us designers, because we’ve announced we will be full-electric by 2030, and that’s a great opportunity for a brand with such a legacy as Peugeot. This is just the beginning of the new story”, Hossann said. He wouldn’t be drawn on whether bespoke Peugeot EVs will look markedly different from the cars Peugeot sells today but drew attention to a number of defining features of Peugeot models, including the ‘fang’ running lights and i-Cockpit cabin, which will remain important characteristics for the brand. The Inception will be Peugeot’s first concept since the acclaimed E-Legend of 2018, which took its lead from the brand’s 1960s 504 Coupé in imagining a retro-styled electric coupé for the 2020s. +++

+++ India will stay ahead of the curve amid the global economic slowdown and it offers a lot of potential for growth, according to multinational auto major STELLANTIS boss Carlos Tavares. The country is also the best placed “superpower” that can leverage the opportunity arising out of the tension between the Western world (US and Europe) and China, he said here in an interaction. The company, which is gearing up to launch the electric version of its compact car C3 early next year, is also looking at the possibility of exporting compact electric vehicles from the country to markets like Europe. “We all see that the global economy is going to slow down in 2023. That’s also what all the competent administrations are predicting. They’re also saying that India will be somewhere between 6 per cent and 7 percent GDP growth. That’s a lot”, Tavares said. He further said, “So, if there was to be a concern, globally, ahead of the curve will be India, with 6 to 7 per cent growth”. While reports are pointing out that Europe is the number one risk in terms of technical recession, followed by the US, he said India is not a risk and it has “so much potential to grow”. From a Stellantis perspective, even if the automotive market in India were to slow down, Tavares said due to the company’s cost efficiency strategy and financial robustness and stability “we are insulated. So the impact on us is very limited”. On the ongoing tension between the US, Europe and China, he said it is going to have a consequence, in terms of business. “And in the world, the power that is best placed to leverage these opportunities, is obviously, India… From a cost efficiency perspective and from a technology development perspective India is still the superpower that can leverage this opportunity”, he asserted. Tavares pointed out that Stellantis has a lot of “common values” with India regarding “frugality, about the sense of hard work, sense of team spirit”, adding, “So we feel good about that. It’s an opportunity”. When asked about the company’s electric vehicle plans for India, he said Stellantis plans to launch the electric version of its compact car C3 “early next year” without divulging details. However, he said Stellantis is working hard to achieve a cost structure that would make EVs affordable and other quality parameters and depending on how quickly it is able to achieve those targets, the company could start exporting such EVs from India. “If within the next 12 months, we achieve the quality numbers and the cost numbers, then we will be able to export. One of the obvious targets is Southeast Asia,” he said. Tavares further said it could also be something that can be tested for Europe in future. “So far Europe is unable to make affordable EVs. So the big opportunity for India would be to be able to sell EV compact car at an affordable price protecting the profitability. This is what we are working on but it is not decided. This is what we are trying to do”, he added. +++

+++ I hope we’ve reached the peak of the ULTRA THICK STEERING WHEEL fad. I’ve come to expect it when hopping into a new BMW M car, Mercedes-AMG model or Dodge performance product (to name but a few), and I have also come to deeply dislike it. At this point, an extra-thick steering wheel rim is synonymous with a sports car/supercar or sporty version of a car. The trend surely started with good intentions. One wants a chunky wheel that’s easy to grip and feels good in your hands on track or when driving on the road, and the thin, wooden rims of the 1970s just don’t do the job. It helps differentiate a standard model to a high performance one, and a little bit of heft to a steering wheel rim isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it does become bad, though, is when you grip it, and the rim is so large that it’s uncomfortable and a net negative on the driving experience. Not to pick on BMW specifically (many OEMs have a similarly thick steering wheel design), but its M Sport steering wheels are simply so large as to be annoying and detrimental to the driving experience. My hands (very average-size hands for a man) are simply no match for the size of the wheel rim. Try gripping the wheel at the 9 and 3 position, and my fingers barely make it around the rim to a normal hand position. Slide up to the 10 and 2 spots, and the rim size expands even further. It’s awkward at best, and instead of feeling like a precise instrument, it feels more like I’m wheeling about a blunt tool. That’s the opposite of what I want in a sports car. So, who does it right? Porsche’s steering wheels in all its cars are still shockingly thin and shaped to accommodate a normal human’s hand. Mazda too keeps its steering wheel size in check, as the Miata’s wheel is still a delightfully small and thin-rimmed tool. I could say the same for any of Mazda’s models, though. I’d argue that these thinner wheel rims actually improve upon the driving experience, as they help accentuate a car’s nimbleness and give me a greater sense of control. I’ve found that my fingers/hands become less fatigued over long periods of intense activity (like on a racetrack) when I’m piloting a car with a thinner rim, as my fingers are able to more easily and lightly grip the wheel to retain comfortable control of the car. A big, chunky rim also puts me in the pickup truck mindset, which is the opposite of what I want to feel in something like a BMW M5. There’s no need to dial steering wheels back to the 1960s, but the trend of ever-thicker wheel rims is definitely due for some backtracking. Even if the changes are marginal, that would be an improvement for the industry. And apologies to those with massive hands who may actually like huge steering wheel rims — just know that there are plenty of folks with smaller hands who are perhaps more frustrated than you are happy. +++

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