Newsflash: Volkswagen overweegt elektrische SUV op basis van Amarok

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+++ A new report released by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, in the United Kingdom, has found that a wide array of parts used in automotive manufacturing coming out of CHINA ’s Xinjiang could be made with the use of forced labor. That has pushed the American United Auto Workers (UAW) union to call on automakers to move their entire supply chain out of the region. “The time is now for the auto industry to establish high-road supply chain models outside the Uyghur Region that protect labor and human rights and the environment”, said UAW president Ray Curry. The union cited research from Sheffield Hallam University that looked at the auto industry’s use of steel, aluminum, and copper, as well as batteries, electronics, and other components that were produced in the Xinjiang region. “Between raw materials mining/processing and auto parts manufacturing, we found that practically every part of the car would require heightened scrutiny to ensure that it was free of Uyghur forced labor”, the report’s authors wrote. “In some cases, Uyghur forced labor is apparent at multiple steps” of manufacturing, mining, refining, pre-fabrication, and assembly. China has denied abuses in Xinjiang, saying instead that it has established “vocational training centers” in the region. In June, though, the United States banned the import of goods made using forced labor from Xinjiang. The law was viewed as pushback by the U.S. against China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population. Washington has labeled the country’s actions against the minority as a genocide. Thea Lee, the deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the U.S. Labor Department, told Reuters in July that her “message to companies has been: ‘You need to start taking this seriously’ ”. Automakers have not been quick to pull out of the area, despite countless reports of abuses. Tesla opened a showroom in the area this year, and VW operates a plant in the region, though it has denied claims of using forced labor. +++

+++ ITALY wants the European Union to put the brakes on the commission’s proposed ban on the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles. The country’s transport minister, Matteo Salvini, claimed that it makes no “economic, environmental, or social sense”. Salvini, who is known for his anti-EU stance and once described Vladimir Putin as “the best politician and statesman in the world”, thinks that the EU’s agenda doesn’t help the environment, calling it “pseudo-environmental fundamentalism”. The politician also suggested that tens of thousands of workers would be left unemployed in the face of the stop sale. Bloomberg reports that Salvini also took issue with the EU’s plans to introduce Euro7 standards by 2025, which aim to reduce the amount of nitrous oxides emitted by a further 25 percent. It’s a notion shared by Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, who has argued that the extra step will slow down the industry’s switch to electrification. With electricity prices reaching new highs and some areas of Europe facing the possibility of blackouts in the winter, questions are being raised over the long-term viability of a full-on switch to EV transportation. Switzerland is already considering EV bans if the demand for power in the upcoming months cannot be met, as the possibility of an energy crisis looms. Meanwhile, Italy has long displayed pushback against the EU’s goal of phasing out ICE vehicles. Earlier this year, Italy was part of a coalition of countries, including Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, which proposed postponing the stop-sale date of fossil fuel vehicles to 2040. And, in 2021, it was reported that the country was in talks with the EU to exempt the nation’s low-volume manufacturers from the ICE ban. Salvini has also previously proposed that the EU hold a referendum on the ruling, suggesting that workers at the Mirafiori plant should be given a say before China is handed an advantage. +++

+++ LUCID is working hard to up its delivery game before the end of the calendar year. Part of that effort is making sure that customer orders get fulfilled. A new report says that customers who cancel Lucid Air orders may wait 2 weeks and get more than a dozen phone calls before that cancelation is confirmed. In recent months, Lucid has had a lot going on. Reservations dropped between het second and third quarter of the year, which isn’t a great sign. According to CFO Sherry House, that reality is the result of deliveries made and customer cancellations. It also added a bevy of pre-configured cars for immediate purchase onto its website. Now, an internal email laying out the process of saving the sale with regard to customers that want to cancel, has become public. Allegedly, the process of saving an order begins with any request for cancellation being assigned to a ‘case owner.’ That person is responsible for calling the customer within 24 hours to try and convince them to keep the order. If they can’t reach the customer, the case owner must call again over each of the next 3 days. Should they fail to contact the customer then the case is escalated to a manager. That manager will first review the ‘logged activities’ of the case owner but will then attempt to contact the customer. If they can’t reach them they’ll try again for 5 more days in a row. In cases where the customer hasn’t been contacted, the case gets bumped up the chain again, this time, to a regional manager. If the regional manager can’t reach the customer over the course of 4 days with at least 1 call attempt on each day, then, and only then, can the reservation be canceled? That’s a full 2 weeks’ worth of at least 1 call a day from a minimum of 3 different individuals over that time span. The anonymous source said “I think the level of desperation and the tone of that email, combined with that cancellation protocol: it doesn’t spell high-end and luxury”. Getting all that attention might be exactly what some people want but this might not be the best way to make Lucid customers feel special and appreciated. +++

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ has opened the doors to its first dealership that will only sell electric vehicles. The facility is located in Yokohama, Japan and is fittingly dubbed Mercedes EQ Yokohama. The German automaker is currently displaying 5 vehicles at the dealer but there is space for 7, in addition to 3 Chademo chargers and an area dedicated to vehicle delivery. The doors opened on December 1st and in addition to showcasing the latest and greatest electric Mercedes models, the EV-only dealership features a workshop with 5 service bays. The dealership also offers test drives to prospective shoppers and will soon install solar panels on the roof to cut down on its environmental impact. In a bid to convince buyers that they should pick up the keys to a new Mercedes-Benz EQ model, a new MB Rent program has been established, allowing shoppers to rent and live with one of the available models for a set period. Mercedes EQ Yokohama joins the carmaker’s comprehensive network across Japan that encompasses 204 authorized dealerships and 167 service centers. A wide range of Mercedes EQ models is already available on the market, including the EQC, EQV, EQA, EQB, EQS, EQS SUV, EQE and the new EQE SUV. The brand is planning to grow its fleet of EVs even further in the coming years, with one of the more exciting new models being the all-electric EQG, based on the current G-Class. The EQG was previewed with the release of a concept at the Munich Motor Show in 2021 and will look largely identical to the combustion-powered model. The production model will be based on the same basic ladder frame as the standard car and be capable of tank turns. +++

+++ PORSCHE owners often love to keep their pride and joy locked up safe in a garage, but many Porsches spend far too much time in an entirely different kind of garage according to the findings of a new reliability study. British warranty provider Warrantywise analyzed data from over 131.000 extended warranty plans, using data about the price and frequency of repairs during 2021 and 2022 to assign a reliability score to each marque. And coming on top, which is really bottom, of that list is Porsche. The German brand’s reputation for engineering quality wasn’t borne out by Warrantywise’s results, with Porsche scoring just 35.1 out of a possible 100, and being ranked as even more unreliable than Land Rover, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo. If there’s any consolation for Porsche, it’s that the highest repair cost attributed to one of the brand’s cars came in at £10.785. Although still a terrifying amount of cash, it was less than half of the highest repair bill on a Land Rover product. That was a shocking £23.890 for electrical system repairs (what the hell did they do, rewire it with gold cables?), while the most expensive fix on a Jaguar cost £16.990, helping it bag the third place in Warrantywise’s hall of shame. And if you think those numbers are bad, bear in mind that Warrantywise cautions that a significant recent rise in the price of labor and parts means next year’s figures could be even higher. Asian brands proved most dependable, securing the top 5 spots at the other end of the table and helping quash the notion that cheaper cars have less engineering integrity. “Premium prices really do make for premium costs, as is evident from the data in the Reliability Index”, said Warrantywise CEO, Lawrence Whittaker. “And, with more technology in high-end cars than ever before, we suppose it’s only natural that they require a bit more TLC than normal”. +++

+++ Elon Musk’s ability to send Twitter employees running for the door has been well publicized, but it looks like the CEO is also struggling with similar problems at TESLA , specifically at its German gigafactory. One source, an employee at the Berlin site who requested anonymity over fears of losing their job, described the situation at the European gigafactory to Wired as “total chaos” and claimed some staff members have been off sick longer than they’ve worked, being present for only a handful of weeks in 6 months. The report claims that vacancies at Tesla have doubled since June globally and that the firm has only managed to recruit 7.000 of a planned 12.000 employees at the Berlin site, which is hampering productivity targets. Tesla had hoped to be pushing out 5.000 Model Ys per week by the end of 2022, but as of October, it was building fewer than half that number, just 2.000 units, making the German plant appear uncompetitive next to other Tesla factories. Tesla data tracker Troy Teslike highlights that Giga Shanghai reached the 20.000-unit production milestone in only 100 days, whereas Giga Texas required 151 days and Giga Berlin took 187 days. One of Tesla’s major obstacles to attracting talent is that it’s seen as less desirable than other automakers. German metalworkers union IG Metall claims that Tesla pays 20 percent less than similar businesses, and that’s a major problem when the region is not short of employment opportunities. “There is a shortage of qualified workers everywhere”, Holger Bonin, research director at the Institute of Labor Economics, Bonn, told Wired. “Everyone who could be employed is already employed. That makes it very difficult to fill jobs”. And even the employees Tesla has managed to recruit aren’t staying for long. Former employees who have opted to leave cite the management team’s lack of experience and sudden changes in working patterns that employees with children struggle to accommodate, for their decision to find work elsewhere. +++

+++ TOYOTA ’s leasing unit, Kinto, announced its new Unlimited service this week for Japanese customers beginning with the next generation Prius. The new product will bring down monthly payments for Prius customers in Japan who opt for over-the-air (OTA) upgrades, keeping their cars up to date for longer to help them hold onto their value for longer. If Japanese customers agree to the optional service, which brings regular over-the-air updates to the new Prius (and more cars in the future), their monthly payments could be reduced by as much as 10 percent. This marks the first time that Toyota will update safety features, like the collision avoidance system, for vehicles on the road. “Kinto Unlimited” customers will have over-the-air updates baked into the price of their lease, and Toyota says that it will help their vehicle “evolve” over the course of the ownership period. Systems like collision damage mitigation braking, will be regularly updated to the latest iteration over the air. The new Prius, the first vehicle on which Kinto Unlimited will be offered, has also been designed with physical evolution in mind. According to the automakers, the new car’s “upgrade-ready design” means that hardware updates like blind spot monitors, panoramic view monitors, steering wheel heaters, and more can be added to the vehicle quickly and easily by dealer technicians. These will help further maintain the vehicle’s value, by helping it evolve new features over time. New hardware updates will start becoming available in mid-2023, the automaker says. Unfortunately, these are not included in the price Kinto Unlimited, but can be added to a lessee’s monthly fee, or paid for all at once. The service will also offer a new connected service called T-Connect, which gives drivers information about their driving habits and offers tips on how to be safer or more fuel-efficient. The service may also someday give customers information about car care, and could help them schedule things like oil changes based on their behavior, rather than on a one-size fits all mileage estimate. Shinya Kotera, the president of Kinto, said that this approach adapts a more modern ownership experience pioneered by brands like Tesla to its more value-focused customers. “Tesla’s customers are, to put it simply, high-income earners, and many of them are willing to pay for new and good things so that’s why their products are a hit with that segment of the market,” Kotera told in an interview. “Toyota’s customers are not like that. They are not someone who would pay extra for a new technology. They are looking for something good, reliable and inexpensive”. +++

+++ It was only a few months ago when VOLKSWAGEN said it wasn’t interested in coming out with an SUV version of the Amarok to echo the mechanically related Ford Ranger / Everest. However, a senior member of the global product management team is now hinting the folks from Wolfsburg might reconsider an SUV spinoff of the midsize pickup. Petr Sulc told that a family-friendly derivative of the workhorse would make sense after all. VW is working on an all-electric Amarok that could spawn an SUV variant to spread out the costs with development and create a viable business case. The company official pointed toward the close relationship between Everest and Ranger by saying the two are 80 percent similar. It would obviously be a similar story with an Amarok-based SUV. However, in order to happen, the Blue Oval would have to launch an Everest EV first. “A rugged SUV was not a scope of the previous commercial vehicle partnership negotiations with Ford, so it was really what we were telling them we are not interested in that style of vehicle. But I can imagine that if we should approach Ford for the battery-electric vehicle, that the SUV is having sense”. Petr Sulc explained a zero-emission Amarok SUV would not clash with the revival of the Scout name since the latter will mainly target the United States where both a pickup and an SUV are planned for 2026. This potential body-on-frame electric SUV related to the rugged Everest would have global appeal, so there wouldn’t be a risk of cannibalising sales. In the meantime, VW announced this week plans to launch an electric SUV based on the MEB+ platform. Referred to as a high-volume product, the mysterious model will be assembled in Wolfsburg to sit alongside the ID.4 and ID.5. The German brand has suggested it’ll be roughly the same size as the Tiguan and will come to life following an investment of €460 million in the factory by early 2025. Some of the funds will go into changes necessary to add the ID.3 facelift to the assembly line. +++

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