Newsflash: Volvo XC90 gaat nog lang niet met pensioen


+++ ALFA ROMEO ’s long-awaited return to the coupe segment may be imminent. The company published an enigmatic preview image on its social media channels that shows the rear end of what’s labeled the “Giulia SWB Zagato” and it pledged to release more details in the near future. While there’s not much we can glean by looking at the dark teaser, we can at least say with near-certainty that the coupe won’t look much like the Giulia when viewed from the back. The photo depicts a thin strip of LEDs that seemingly stretches across the entire rear end, and the basic silhouette is vaguely reminiscent of the Giulia TZ (Tubolare Zagato) and TZ2 coupes built in very limited numbers during the 1960s. Beyond that, my guess regarding what we’re looking at is as good as ours. The name strongly suggests that the coupe will be Giulia-based, shorter than the sedan, and designed jointly with Zagato. Company boss Jean-Philippe Imparato has previously confirmed that the 2-door model will make its debut at some point in 2023 and he clarified that it will be “very exciting, very selective and very expensive”. To me, it sounds like the coupe will land as a limited-edition model rather than as a regular-production addition to the company’s range. What the coupe will be powered by is up in the air as well. Given the Giulia-derived platform, we wouldn’t be surprised if power comes from a version of the 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 that powers the range-topping Quadrifoglio. The 6 develops 510 hp and 600 Nm in Alfa Romeo’s BMW M3 fighter but those figures could increase in the coupe. Rear-wheeldrive should come standard. Alfa Romeo will publish additional details about the Giulia SWB Zagato in the coming weeks, and we’ll see the coupe by the end of 2023. +++


+++ APPLE has scaled back ambitious self-driving plans for its future electric vehicle and postponed the car’s target launch date by about a year to 2026, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The car project, dubbed Titan inside the company, has been in limbo for the past several months as Apple executives grappled with the reality that its vision for a fully autonomous vehicle (without a steering wheel or pedals) isn’t feasible with current technology. In a significant shift for the project, the company is now planning a less-ambitious design that will include a steering wheel and pedals and only support full autonomous capabilities on highways, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The latest changes underscore the challenge Apple faces in pushing into an entirely new product category and taking on technological obstacles that have bedeviled some of the world’s biggest companies. The secretive project, underway for years, is meant to provide Apple with another major moneymaker, but it also could test the limits of the iPhone maker’s capabilities. Apple currently plans to develop a vehicle that lets drivers conduct other tasks (say, watch a movie or play a game) on a freeway and be alerted with ample time to switch over to manual control if they reach city streets or encounter inclement weather. The company has discussed launching the feature in North America initially and then improving and expanding it over time. A spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment. Apple shares, already down about 2% on Tuesday, dipped to a session low after media reported on the changes. They’ve declined 19% this year, though that’s a better performance than most stocks in the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index. Apple’s previous vision for the car was to offer Level 5 autonomy: the pinnacle of self-driving technology, which no automaker has attained. The current plan is considered below that because of its more limited scope. It’s the latest strategy shift for the Apple car team, which has faced turnover in its executive ranks ever since its inception a decade ago. Current leader Kevin Lynch has aimed to bring more stability and a focus on practical goals after years of priority changes and even some layoffs. Lynch, who also is in charge of the Apple Watch operating system and health software, took over at the end of 2021. He initially instructed the team working on the car, known as the Special Projects Group, to focus on a fully autonomous vehicle for a debut by 2025. Now he’s dialing back those expectations, but with the goal of ensuring that a product actually reaches the market. The heart of Apple’s technology is a powerful onboard computer system (codenamed Denali after the tallest mountain peak in North America) and a custom array of sensors. The processor’s performance is equal to about four of Apple’s highest-end Mac chips combined and is being developed by the company’s silicon engineering group. The chip has reached an advanced state and is considered nearly production-ready, though Apple may scale it down before the car’s launch to lower costs. Having an onboard computer to handle automated tasks is similar to an approach used by other carmakers, including Tesla. Apple, however, plans to differ from Tesla by using a combination of lidar and radar sensors, along with cameras. The setup helps the car determine its location, see driving lanes and assess how far it is from other objects and people. Tesla relies on cameras, while Alphabet’s Waymo and others use a combination. In addition to the onboard hardware, the system has a cloud-based component for some artificial-intelligence processing. Apple is relying on Amazon Web Services for hosting, costing the iPhone maker about $125 million per year. But that’s just a sliver of the roughly $1 billion the company is spending on the car project annually. Apple is exploring the idea of a remote command center to assist drivers and control cars from afar during emergencies. The company is also discussing offering its own insurance program to customers. Apple had expected each car to sell for more than $120,000, but the company is now aiming to offer the vehicle to consumers for less than $100.000, according to the people. That would put it in roughly the same price range as the entry-level version of the Model S from Tesla and the EQS from Mercedes-Benz. Apple hasn’t yet settled on a design for its car and the vehicle is considered to be in the “pre-prototype” stage. The company is aiming to ready the design by next year and have the features set by the end of 2024. It then plans to put the car through extensive testing in 2025. Apple had previously discussed launching a car that looks similar to Canoo’s Lifestyle Vehicle (photo). The idea was to have a limousine-like interior where passengers could face each other. Now the plan is to produce something more like a traditional car, with a driver’s seat. The company has held discussions with a number of suppliers about obtaining an electric-vehicle platform, known in the industry as a “skateboard”, but it’s still seeking a partner. Apple earlier talked to several companies about licensing their platforms, but the only serious negotiations occurred with Volkswagen several years ago. EV platforms include the underlying base of the car, the wheel system and battery. The design of the car is being led by Ulrich Kranz, the ex-chief executive officer of Canoo, as well as former managers from Tesla, Lamborghini and Porsche. The software side of the system is led by former Tesla manager Stuart Bowers, while safety engineering, testing and regulatory matters are handled by ex-Ford executive Desi Ujkashevic. The Apple car organization, made up of about 1.000 employees, is split across campuses in Sunnyvale, California; Ottawa; Zurich; and Arizona. Much of the underlying engineering work, industrial design and software development is done in Sunnyvale, while parts of the car’s future operating system are developed in Ottawa, an area where the company poached workers from BlackBerry’s QNX, a longtime maker of car software, in 2016. The company’s team in Zurich is developing a tool known as “Rocket Score” that grades the vehicle’s autonomous system. That core team faced a setback earlier this year when Ian Goodfellow, a prominent developer of AI technology who helped lead the group, left Apple after complaining about its work-from-home policies. Much of the testing work for the car is done at a former Chrysler track outside of Phoenix. The testing area, codenamed “Sahara”, was purchased by a business representing Apple in 2021 for $125 million. The company also continues to test its driving system on Lexus SUV models deployed in several states. Those cars, known internally as “Baja” vehicles, get their onboard systems refreshed every 6 to 12 months. In Silicon Valley, Apple is aiming to consolidate several of its car teams in a new campus by the San Jose airport known as Orchard Parkway. The property will have about half a million square feet of space and may also house other Apple teams. The company bought the campus around 2015 and kicked off construction last year. +++

+++ According to reports out of Germany, AUDI ’s Artemis project is on the chopping block. Originally announced in 2020, Artemis was set to spawn pioneering Audi vehicles that would feature highly automated driving technology. The first model was set to arrive as early as 2024 and be a “highly efficient” EV. However, it appears things weren’t going smoothly. The model was slated to feature a Level 4 autonomous driving system but the project has shown little progress amid delays in creating advanced new software at Volkswagen Group’s Cariad unit. As a result, VW Group CEO Oliver Blume is expected to kill the project and present a “revamped software roadmap” to the supervisory board on December 15th. The new roadmap will include 1.1 and 1.2 software platforms. The former will be for mass-market brands, while the latter will be more advanced and offered on Audi and Porsche vehicles. As for the Artemis vehicles, it appears they’ll live on. A Porsche-developed platform, known as SSP61, will be launched in 2026. It’s being billed as a sportier take on the Scalable Systems Platform (SSP) and is slated to underpin an electric Panamera. The platform is also set to underpin Audi vehicles codenamed Landjet and Landyacht. These upcoming models are said to use the 1.2 software platform and eschew “hands-off autonomous driving functions”. However, the report suggests a more advanced 2.0 system could be added in 2028 or later. +++

+++ Falling battery prices have been one of the most consistent trends in the ELECTRIC vehicle industry for the last decade. Prices dropped from well over $1.000 per kWh in 2010 to $141 per kWh last year. This jump-started one of the biggest shifts in the auto industry in the last century, spurring automakers to plow billions of dollars into EVs. The trend has ground to a halt this year, with Bloomberg’s annual lithium-ion battery price survey showing a 7% increase in average pack prices in 2022 in real terms. This is the first increase in the history of the survey. There are several factors driving the uptick, but the single most important one is rising costs for materials including cobalt, nickel and lithium. While prices for nickel and cobalt have come down in recent months and lithium may be about to turn, each of these are still higher than they have been in previous years. This is driven by surging battery demand and a lag in how fast new supply can be brought online. The average battery price would have been even higher if not for the shift to lower-cost lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which contain no nickel or cobalt. LFP batteries have gained significant market share in the last three years, with Bloomberg expecting them to account for around 40% of global EV sales this year. Battery manufacturer margins also are lower this year, suggesting they’ve absorbed some of the rising costs of materials and components. To arrive at the average price, Bloomberg gathered almost 200 survey data points from buyers and sellers of lithium-ion batteries going into passenger EVs, commercial vehicles, buses and stationary storage applications. The headline figure is a volume-weighted average, so it hides a lot of variation by region and application. The lowest prices recorded were for electric buses and commercial vehicles in China at $131 per kWh. Average pack prices for fully electric passenger vehicles were $138 per kWh. On a regional basis, pack prices were cheapest in China, at $127 per kWh. Packs in the U.S. and Europe were 24% and 33% higher, respectively. The big question is what happens next. Bloomberg’s energy storage team expects prices to remain elevated next year, rising slightly in real terms over 2022 levels. Beyond that, the team is expecting prices to begin falling again in 2024 as more raw material supply comes online, supply chain pressures ease, and next-generation battery technologies and pack designs start to make their way into the vehicle mix. An oft cited benchmark for when EVs hit price parity with conventional vehicles is $100 per kWh. Based on the updated estimates for the learning rate for batteries from this year’s survey, Bloomberg predicts that average pack prices should fall below that threshold by 2026. This is 2 years later than previously expected. It’s worth noting, though, that $100 per kWh is a nominal figure that’s been around for over a decade and doesn’t fully take into account how the cost of almost everything has increased due to inflation, particularly in the last 18 months. Average new-vehicle transaction prices in the US climbed to more than $48.000 this year, the highest ever. EVs are pulling up transaction prices a bit, but the cost of making a vehicle with an internal combustion engine also is rising. EV price parity is better thought of as a range than a fixed threshold. At today’s battery prices, some vehicle segments can already go fully electric cost-effectively without subsidies. Premium electric vehicles, for example, arguably are at price parity with internal combustion models already, as are mini city cars in China, where EV options start at just $5,000. For commercial vehicles like buses and delivery vans, where total cost of ownership matters most, parity is also already here or very close depending on the region and usage pattern. Battery prices do still need to fall further for more of the middle market to go electric this decade. That’s definitely still achievable, but will require much more investment in all areas of the battery supply chain, as well as in R&D and manufacturing process improvements. +++

+++ Many automakers and the South Korean government are urging the Biden administration to tap a commercial electric vehicle tax credit to boost consumer EV access, a plan that could help ease concerns over a climate bill approved in Congress. The $430 billion United States’ INFLATION REDUCTION ACT (IRA) passed in August ended $7.500 consumer tax credits for electric vehicles assembled outside North America, sparking anger from South Korea, the European Union, Japan and others. Some automakers say a lesser noticed IRA provision for “commercial clean vehicles” could be used to boost EV manufacturers and address foreign concerns. Rivian, Hyundai and Kia among others want the administration to let consumer vehicle leasing qualify for the commercial EV tax credit that could reduce monthly lease payments. The South Korean government in comments made public Tuesday urged Treasury “interpret ‘commercial clean vehicles’ broadly” to include rental cars, leased vehicles and vehicles purchased for use in Uber or Lyft rideshare fleets. South Korea also asked Treasury not to impose any budget restrictions on commercial vehicle tax credits through 2025. Hyundai and Kia want Treasury to allow people leasing EVs to be able to qualify for up to a $4.000 tax credit for used EVs if they buy vehicles when leases expire. The IRA consumer EV tax credit imposes significant battery minerals and component sourcing restrictions, sets income and price caps for qualifying vehicles and seeks to phaseout Chinese battery minerals or components. The commercial credit does not have the same sourcing or pricing restrictions but has an “incremental cost” eligibility test that might prove complex. Some automakers want Treasury to make it easier to ensure most commercial light-duty vehicles qualify for $7.500 tax credits. President Joe Biden said last week “there are tweaks that we can make that can fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate”. Some automakers oppose using the commercial credit for consumer sales. Toyota said “the lack of criteria to qualify for (commercial credits) could undermine the IRA’s goals to expand domestic production of EV batteries and maintain America’s energy independence”. Tesla said commercial credits “should apply exclusively for commercial end-users” and the consumer tax credit “should apply exclusively for individual end-users”. General Motors chief executive Mary Barra told Ron the sidelines of an event Monday that addressing foreign concerns about the credit is “more complicated than just one thing to solve it” and added “sticking to the intent of the bill” drafted by Congress “is important”. +++

+++ STELLANTIS says that all 14 of its brands are performing well since the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group. The boss of Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, has previously said that each brand has a 10 year window to execute a successful business plan if they want to survive. Speaking at the Automotive News Congress in Detroit, Stellantis North America chief operating officer Mark Stewart said the early signs are good. “Can everything survive? Everybody’s got a fighting chance and everybody is performing, which is great”, he said. “Obviously we’ve had a lot of different names over the years, but we are a house of 14 brands and what’s incredible about bringing the brands together, it’s just that they’re highly differentiated brands. Everybody has a personality on the brand side, and to be able to fit in different parts of the market without clashing into each other, people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, how can you feed 14 children?’ ”. Stewart noted that he is particularly supportive of Chrysler’s plan to go all-electric by 2028 with its first EV to land in 2025. He also said that he isn’t worried that the first electric pickup from Ram will arrive several years after those from rivals including General Motors, Ford and Rivian. “We are later to the party, obviously, than everybody else”, Stewart said. “We’re about 2 years behind putting that into the marketplace compared to others. What is critical is that we come in with leadership”. While speaking at the Congress in Detroit, Stewart added that Stellantis’s break-even point is below 30 percent of revenue in North America, noting that the company can weather a recession. Rather than enforcing mass layoffs to help the company’s finances, Stewart pointed towards more efficient lighting being used at its facilities and a 5 percent gain in efficiency with more vehicles produced as 2 of the ways it has reduced costs. +++

+++ You won’t hear me singing TESLA ’s praises very often. I have no problem with electric cars; in fact, there are a few I even enjoy, though Tesla’s sloppy execution leaves a lot to be desired. But, to give credit where credit is due, I have to hand the company’s engineers one thing: The Model X’s Falcon doors, goofy and unnecessarily complex though they may be, are the right doors for a future family hauler. Why? Because they don’t swing. Of the possible ways you could open a car door, the conventional swing-out door is the single worst possible solution for a family car. They’re large and unwieldy for children and impossible to situate with your hands full of toddler (or whatever it is you happen to be hauling). An unexpected gust of wind can yank it out of your hands (likely in the direction of something expensive) and even if there’s nothing to hit, there’s a chance the door’s momentum could damage its own hinges or, worse, tweak the actual door frame. They’re equally impractical when it comes to implementing technological helpers. One-touch auto-open/close sliding doors are borderline no-brainers, but such simple solutions have no place on swinging doors because (go figure) they might hit something. We’ve known that swinging doors are not ideal on a family car for decades. “If it’s so obvious that they’re crap, why don’t we use something else, smart guy?” Well, vans have been offered with sliding doors for about as long as there have been vans. Admittedly, sliding doors have drawbacks. Their tracks need to be kept clean and free of debris, and if the car gets bent out of shape by an accident, the additional attachment points could make a sliding door more likely to bind up. They also carry with them some serious design baggage. That slider can’t just hang off the side of the car the way a hinged door can when it’s open; it actually has to slide somewhere. None of that seems insurmountable, right? Surely, if Tesla can build a set of doors that opens up and out like some sort of fledgling Lamborghini crossed with a deranged flamingo, some simple, mechanical sliding doors should be well within the reach of modern engineering. If the Chrysler K chassis could do it, certainly any modern shell could follow suit. The problem is acceptance: Sliding doors are painfully dorky because they are associated with the cargo pants of familial conveyance. Some people think Teslas are cool; few think minivans are cool. Yet they have this in common. The sliding door seems to be the only thing apart from an arbitrary label that separates a conventional 3-row crossover from a MPV. Both vehicles are car-based. Both are associated with child seats and spilled cereal. Neither leaves the garage when you’re going out with adult friends. But why is the stigma so much worse for the minivan than it is for any old Hondubaru? It’s simple: The MPV offers nothing above and beyond doing its job well. A SUV can project rugged individualism, while a wagon is a symbol of automotive enthusiasm. The MPV offers little more than a suggestion of baseline fertility at worst and screams “I’m going to parent the **** out of this” at best, and no automotive stylist anywhere is rushing to their tablet to incorporate that into their next hot design. Tesla knew this; Falcon Doors exist because simple sliding doors would have been aesthetic suicide; that Tesla tried to remake something with a severe stigma speaks to just how far we’ve strayed. Some say the Kia Carnival proves that MPVs don’t have to look like minivans. Valid. Personally, I think it tries too hard to be something it’s not. I’ve watched enough Judd Apatow movies to know how that story ends. As long as sliding doors remain associated with minivans, we’ll just have to go on living in a world of oblivious parents and wicked door dings, silently hoping that some day, public opinion will come around. +++

+++ Vietnam-based electric vehicle maker VINFAST said on Tuesday it has filed for an initial public offering in the United States and plans to list its ordinary shares on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol “VFS”. For the IPO, the company said it will convert to a Singapore public limited company and will be known as VinFast Auto, while the number of shares to be offered and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined. While no time frame was specified on Tuesday for the offering, the IPO was initially slated for the fourth quarter of this year, the company had previously said. The company’s parent, Vingroup conglomerate, said in May that the IPO maybe delayed to 2023 due to market uncertainty. VinFast, which began operations in 2019, is betting big on the U.S. market, where it hopes to compete with legacy automakers and startups with its two all-electric SUVs and a battery leasing model that will reduce the vehicle purchase price. In April, VinFast’s Singapore-based holding company filed for a confidential IPO with U.S. securities regulators, as it readied a $4 billion investment to build a factory in the United States. The company in late November shipped its first batch of 999 vehicles to the United States, capping a 5-year bid to develop an auto production hub in Vietnam for markets in North America and Europe. VinFast has several locations in California. +++

+++ During last month’s unveiling of the EX90, VOLVO teased an entry-level crossover that will be introduced next year. The company didn’t say anything about it, but CEO Jim Rowan revealed some details during a lengthy interview. While the company is keeping specifications under wraps, Rowan called the model an EX30 and said the vehicle is a “really important car for us” as it will enable them to “reach a different price demographic”. Despite being relatively affordable, the model promises to have “top safety equipment, a fantastic ride, and high quality”. Rowan went on to say the smaller size will help keep costs down, while the EX30 will offer a variety of battery packs so customers can “choose the range that best fits their lifestyle and their budget”. Rowan added the model will be offered on a subscription basis with as little as a 3-month commitment. He said this will attract a “much younger demographic”, who will probably never even go to a dealership as everything will be handled online. While a 3-month commitment isn’t very long, Rowan believes customers will keep their subscriptions for “much longer than 3 months because they like the flexibility”.  The executive suggested customers could be as young as 18 years old and getting a car for the first time. He said they’ll be attracted by the flexibility and “right price point” as well as the insurance and roadside assistance that is included as part of Care by Volvo. Rowan went on to say the EX30 will be manufactured in China. It remains unclear if the crossover will also be built elsewhere, but the model is expected to ride on Geely’s Sustainable Experience Architecture. Besides talking about the EX30, Rowan reiterated the XC90 will be sticking around for “a while”. The EX90 is essentially its replacement, but the executive noted the interior of the United States and the interior provinces of China are taking longer to electrify. He chalked this up to a variety of factors including a lack of charging infrastructure and the fact that people living in these areas have longer commutes. As a result, the XC90 makes more sense for them. Rowan went on to say these customers “like having the backup of a combustion engine” and explained that XC90 plug-in hybrid owners are “very comfortable buying a second car that is full electric.” In effect, it seems like they want at least one model that can travel long distances without the need for lengthy recharging sessions. +++


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