Newsflash: Volkswagen herziet ID strategie

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+++ Tightening emissions are a fact of life if you sell cars into the European Union. But car companies are currently spitting feathers over the EU’s latest plan to cut pollutants from new cars, both ICE and electric, that will be known as EURO 7 . The manufacturers are attacking the proposals from all sides, calling them costly, unnecessary and impossible to implement between now and the (very tight) proposed start date from 1 July 2025 for new cars and light vans. On the other hand, the European Commission says it has “thoroughly analysed” the impact in terms of affordability and reckons the chosen path “will not require redesign of vehicles, but compliance can be achieved with currently used technologies for emission controls and recalibration”. +++

+++ It seems that FIAT will bring the electric 500 to America. It will also adopt the 500e moniker like its predecessor, which happened to be only for the U.S. market. Unfortunately, Americans are going to be waiting a little bit for the 500e. Fiat announced it won’t be on sale until early 2024, with a full reveal of the American version coming at next year’s L.A. Auto Show. While there is a possible niche in the market for the chic hatch, I do worry a little bit about whether that will still be there in another year and some change. As for a quick recap of why we think the 500e has a shot in the U.S., well, it offers pretty solid value. In Europe, it’s priced below both the Mini Cooper S E and the short-range Nissan Leaf. Simultaneously, it offers more range than either of those cars with an estimated 320 km on a charge. That likely would go down in U.S. testing, but should still top the Leaf’s 240 km estimate even on the EPA test cycle. Assuming pricing still undercuts those 2 cars and range doesn’t change significantly, it would be a great entry-level EV with oodles of style. Plus, Fiat has a single model on sale right now (the 500X), and dealers are likely begging for more options to offer. Speaking of style, Fiat brought a trio of custom models designed by fashion brands Giorgio Armani, Kartell and Bvlgari. They aren’t new, having been shown in years past, but they’re still very sharp. The Giorgio Armani has laser-etched paintwork to simulate fabric weaves, the Kartell has cool, futuristic plastic panels, and the Bvlgari has a custom 500-badge brooch in the steering wheel, which is both stylish, but also probably dangerous. I’m also hoping that with a launch date in 2024, the electric 500 Abarth that will be revealed soon will also be exported. And I would also love to see the convertible version that underpins the Armani car make the trip to our shores, too. +++

+++ The eulogy issued today from HONDA is brief and to the point: “The final NSX Type S was completed today at the Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio”. Keyword: final. While the announcement has been expected for months, it’s now official. It marks the finale of the second-generation NSX, a hybrid-electric model that was introduced in 2016. A total of 350 cars were built, according to Honda, and the last NSX, which is reserved for sale to a customer, was decorated in matte Gotham Gray, The PMC specialty plant, sited near American Honda’s engine factories, is now producing a limited run of the new Acura TLX Type S PMC Edition. The first generation of the sleek, aluminum-body NSX sports coupe, designed in Japan, appeared in 1990 and was greeted by rave reviews from auto writers and enthusiasts. The car was discontinued in 2005, but its successor reemerged in 2016 with a hybrid electric powertrain and 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine capable of 573 horsepower. The upmarket NSX Type S was revealed in 2021, with an increase to 602 horsepower. Acura made it clear at Monterey Car Week at that time that the Type S was a limited edition and production would be capped at 350 examples globally before the run ended. Cars at the Performance Manufacturing Center are hand-built in a spotless work environment and undergo extensive quality control before being shipped to dealers in enclosed transporters. +++

+++ Elon MUSK has suggested a potential successor who could fill his role as CEO of Tesla, according to the electric-car maker’s board director, James Murdoch. Murdoch made the comments on Wednesday during his testimony in a trial regarding a shareholder lawsuit against Tesla and Musk over the CEO’s $50 billion compensation package. In response to a question over whether Musk has ever identified anybody as a potential successor, Murdoch said the billionaire “actually has”, but only in the “last few months”. In the recorded deposition, which was played at the trial, Murdoch said Musk has never suggested he might be imminently leaving Tesla or reducing his involvement. However, during his live testimony, Murdoch offered more information. “We’ve had conversations, certainly during the really tough times here”, Murdoch said. “You know, conversations about his exhaustion, about other things like that, but no, never explicit threats”. Murdoch did not give any indication as to who the successor Musk had suggested might have been. The billionaire has been spending a lot of time working at Twitter in recent weeks. During his earlier testimony on Wednesday, Musk said that Twitter has taken up much of his time, but he will soon be able to focus less on the social media company. “There’s an initial burst of activity needed post acquisition to reorganize the company, but then I will reduce my time committement to Twitter to find somebody else to run Twitter over time”, Musk said. During his testimony, Musk said he ultimately doesn’t want to be CEO of any company and sees himself more as an engineer than a businessman. “My CEO role at SpaceX and also at Tesla is less about CEO, but rather that I am the one driving the technology”, Musk said. “I am responsible for the engineering of the rockets, and for the technology in the car that makes it successful”. Musk is facing a lawsuit from Tesla shareholder Richard Tornetta over his $50 billion Tesla compensation package. In the lawsuit, Tornetta argues that Musk and the automaker breached their fiduciary duties by awarding Musk a pay package that was “beyond the bounds of reasonable judgment”. Tesla has argued that the package was necessary to secure Musk’s focus on Tesla. +++

+++ President Vladimir Putin urged the government of RUSSIA on Wednesday to control car prices, as one industry head said Western sanctions could send annual sales crashing to below 1 million for the first time since records began. Auto sales have fallen over 60% so far this year, and may end up being less than a quarter of what they were a decade ago, according to Maxim Sokolov, head of Russia’s top carmaker Avtovaz. Some of this year’s drop is due to the pullout of foreign carmakers such as Renault and Mercedes-Benz and a collapse in demand due to a mass mobilization for the Ukraine conflict. But much is also due to falling living standards and higher prices, as well as the difficulty of securing foreign-made components after the imposition of a barrage of sanctions by Western countries in response to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine; the latest Lada model has had to be produced without airbags or anti-lock brakes. Speaking with top officials, Putin acknowledged that the situation was “not easy” and asked the government to look at making cars more affordable, suggesting that prices were being raised unfairly. “I would like to draw your attention to the need for constant control over pricing, so that under these difficulties, of which we are all aware, including logistics, no one abuses or unreasonably raises the prices of road vehicles”, he said. “I hope that both you and the Federal Antimonopoly Service are doing this all the time”. Trade Minister Denis Manturov told Putin that assembly lines were being ramped up at Russia’s domestic carmakers, including Avtovaz (maker of the Lada and a Renault subsidiary until May), GAZ, Kamaz and UAZ. Painting a rosy picture, he said production of the Moskvich (“Muscovite”), a Soviet-era brand that fell into obscurity after the fall of the Soviet Union, would resume by the end of the month, in a plant taken over from Renault. He also noted, however, that the market had been supported by loans and subsidies for manufacturers, and said 55.000 vehicles had been sold with government support this year. Manturov also proposed extending preferential car financing to military personnel, adding: “Today we can speak of an emerging trend towards a recovery of the industry”. Sokolov was markedly less optimistic. He said the number of cars sold in Russia would this year fall below 1 million, a first in modern history. “Last year it was a little over 1.6 million; God willing, this year it will be 670.000-700.000”, he said at the annual Transport Week conference. This compares to sales of around 3 million units a year as recently as 2012, before a plunge induced in part by a previous wave of sanctions in 2014, after Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea from Ukraine. “Indeed, Avtovaz, as well as the entire automotive industry of the Russian Federation, has probably found itself in the most difficult situation this year”, Sokolov said. “We have never before faced such a large-scale and comprehensive challenge”. +++

+++ STELLANTIS has purchased Hungarian technology firm Aimotive, a specialist in software and hardware solutions for autonomous vehicles. The acquisition is intended to accelerate development of STLA Autodrive, the car-making conglomerate’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) platform earmarked for a 2024 launch. STLA Autodrive comprises Level 2, Level 2+ and Level 3 assistance systems, the third taking total control from the driver in select circumstances, albeit under supervision. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s plans to build a €2 billion factory for its Trinity flagship saloon are currently under review. Construction of the plant in Wolfsburg was planned to begin in spring 2023, having been approved this March by recently ousted CEO Herbert Diess with a view to start building the new premium EV from 2026. The German company targeted a 10-hour build time for each Trinity (to match Tesla’s efficiency at its Gigafactory near Berlin) and production of some 250.000 cars per year at the facility. But now Volkswagen has hinted that a wide-reaching review of company strategy could change the plans for the new site. A statement, quoting Volkswagen Group and Volkswagen brand CEOs Oliver Blume and Thomas Schäfer, has been released in response to a report from German media, which claimed the plant’s activation was being delayed from 2026 to 2030, amid wider plans to restructure the Group. “We’re currently taking the opportunity to look at all projects and investments and their viability”, said Blume and Schäfer. The company will clarify its software and development plan in the coming weeks, as incumbent Blume adjusts the Group’s roadmap in his first months as CEO and Schäfer seeks to rectify the well-publicised software issues that have plagued the Volkswagen brand’s recent products. Once the plans are solidified, Volkswagen says it will develop model-specific strategies with a product cycle for each, assigning factories as appropriate. “It’s still too early to make concrete statements on further planning”, the statement followed. “But one thing is clear: we aren’t leaving anyone out in the cold. On the contrary, we’re all agreed that our new roadmap will be more robust and resilient, with better products that embody the core of our brands in terms of design, quality and technology. In Wolfsburg, we want to and will lead the way in demonstrating how the necessary transformation can be achieved with benefits for all concerned”. It’s unclear whether the review of the new factory’s status will affect the Trinity’s development cycle. Currently, it’s due to arrive in dealerships in 2026, badged as the Volkswagen ID.4 (as a twin to the existing SUV of the same name), riding atop the company’s next-generation SSP architecture. However, the recent closure of Ford and Volkswagen-backed autonomous technology start-up Argo AI (from which learnings were almost certainly going to be used to develop the Trinity’s Level 4 autonomous functionality) is likely to have an impact. Volkswagen has since partnered with Mobileye, the assisted driving division of computing giant Intel, to develop advanced driver-assistance and self-driving technologies. +++

+++ Big VOLVO cars don’t come around very often. From the SUV front, we’ve only had 2 generations of the XC90s in 20 years and I’ve always been a big fan, which makes the arrival of that car’s replacement (called EX90) officially a big thing. But, for all the excitement I’ve felt in the lead up to the new car’s launch, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by 2 big things: its price and its weight. The new EX90 weighs an astonishing 2.818 kg, and that’s before it’s fully loaded with up to 7 people. Has Volvo done absolutely all it can to keep the kilos off? Weight is the enemy of efficiency, and that is all the more important in an EV, which the EX90 is. How much further could the EX90 go on one charge of its enormous 107kWh battery for every extra kilo saved? Volvo will, of course, say that its customers want all the kit it’s included and, to be fair, there is some really groundbreaking stuff in there, especially when it comes to safety, as you’d expect from Volvo. But then there’s the price: the first models to arrive in the Netherlands are expected to start at 102.495 euro, rising to 107.495. I don’t know about you, but that seems like an awful lot of money for a Volvo to me. I’ve often moaned about the rapid rise in car prices at the bottom end of the market, but the temptation for some makers to milk the margins at the more profitable end seems too great. Developing and building EVs is a costly business, that’s for sure. But premium brands, not just Volvo, need to make sure they’re not pricing themselves out of the market. Especially in an EV world where buyers are increasingly attracted more by tech and style than a badge. This could be an open goal for brands like Kia, Hyundai and a host of newcomers with increasingly appealing EVs that have the style and quality to match (or beat) traditional premium players, but at a fraction of the price. +++

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