Newsflash: Alpine plant SUV op Lotus Eletre basis


+++ Italian-American electric vehicle start-up AEHRAwill launch its €180.000 SUV in early 2025, with on-road testing of development cars scheduled to get under way as soon as the end of this year. The radically styled ‘SUV’ (its official name) is conceived as a performance-oriented and luxury-flavoured rival to top-rung SUVs like the Lotus Eletre and BMW iX, and will be followed a few months after launch by a similarly conceived and technically related saloon model to rival the Porsche Taycan. Ex-Ferrari and Lotus engineer Franco Cametti would lead engineering development of the 2 cars, company boss Hazim Nada confirmed testing of the first prototype is “targeted towards the end of 2023”. The confirmation comes as a sign that Aehra’s plan to begin production of the 2 cars in just 2 years is on track. Using ‘off-the-shelf’ components for the bulk of the platform and drivetrain will rapidly accelerate traditional development timeframes, Nada explained, and the testing process will be more about fine-tuning the supplied parts to work together cohesively – and competitively. “We could have already commissioned a a prototype using currently off-the-shelf subcomponents, but we thought it was a waste of resources and time”, he told. “People do that mainly for fundraising purposes, to raise their profile. We think we already have something that’s attracting a lot of attention. We don’t see that need to do a prototype and then redo another prototype with all different subcomponents and rebuild the engineering resources”. Aehra’s development plans have been detailed not long after the company revealed the interior of its debut model for the first time, touting a ‘home-theatre’ mode that turns the car into an automotive cinema. This is made possible by a full-dashboard-width monitor (similar to the BMW’s top-rung iDrive system) that extends upwards to cover the entire windscreen when the car is parked up. Other configurations of the near-800 hp car’s interior, shown here for the first time, include lounge and meeting room modes. All are only available to be used when the car is parked. These interior features are made possible by the SUV’s 3 meter long monobody chassis and short overhangs, which allows the car to focus on maximising interior space: it is big enough to carry 4 NBA basketball players (who average at just under 2,10 meter tall) “in comfort”. Aehra says this is all part of a plan to shake up the “ultra-premium” market with the supercar-styled 800 km electric SUV, as it looks to take on the BMW iX and Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV. Priced from €180,000, Aehra’s SUV will use a 120 kWh battery (currently no other car houses bigger) powering 3 motors, 1 mounted to the front axle and 2 fitted to the rear producing 800 hp. The car will also be released unnamed. “We don’t want names to constrict the [segment markets] by giving the vehicles a name”, said Nada. Aehra chief designer Filippo Perini, whose back catalogue as Lamborghini design boss includes creating the Lamborghini Urus (for which the SUV looks to have taken some design inspiration) said the firm has “shunned the conservative constraints” of EV design. The car’s shape has also been created with efficiency in mind, to reduce drag and promote brake and battery cooling. “With the SUV, we have created a vehicle that goes far beyond the conventional standards set by the automotive industry for an SUV, and sets new benchmarks for style and comfort”, he said. “We have used a monobody construction, which, while used widely in Italy in the past, is now normally reserved for supercars only. We have taken an equally radical approach to aerodynamics, which play a central role in the design, driving characteristics and efficiency of the SUV”. The SUV gets unique features, too, including 4 upward-opening scissor doors and motorsport-inspired wingmirror cameras. It is also fitted with active aero front and rear. A sound to accompany the EV, normally pumped through the interior speakers, such as when accelerating the BMW iX, are “an open discussion”, head of design Alessandro Serra said, although he added: “We do not need to [add] any sound”. Nada confirmed that final figures and design for the production car depend on “ongoing partnership talks” with suppliers, but confirmed at least “95%” of the show car will make the road-going model. The interior of the car, which will be revealed in the coming months, will be bigger than competitors, Nada said, with a “lounge-type set-up” and a “supremely comfortable” environment. The SUV itself will be able to seat five adults all over six-foot tall “comfortably”. The car measures 5.10 meter in length. Nada said: “The SUV ushers in a new era of EV style and sophistication”. First customer deliveries will begin in 2025, along with a saloon (due to be revealed in April), which will use broadly the same platform. Aehra says it will produce up to 25.000 units of each model per year. Aehra has taken a significant step towards launching its first car in 2025 with the appointment of ex-Ferrari and Lotus chassis maestro Franco Cimatti as its engineering boss. Cimatti is best known for his 32-year stint in Maranello, during which he progressed from testing engineer to manager of the road-testing department, overseeing the development of such icons as the 512 TR, 456 GT and 550 Maranello, and then to vehicle concepts and predevelopment director, a role he held for 24 years. During this time, he registered more than 100 patents, ran Ferrari’s simulation department, headed up concept car development and oversaw the conception of the platforms for models including the 360, 612 Scaglietti, California, 458 and 599. More recently, Cimatti has been a leading vehicle architecture engineer at Lotus, helping to develop a new modular EV structure for use in various market segments and designing a development programme for Lotus EVs to be launched from 2025. His wealth of experience in the vehicle development sphere will be invaluable to Aehra, which is ramping up to launch a radical electric super-SUV in early 2025, followed by a technically related luxury saloon a few months later. Cimatti called his new role, which he will start on 1 March, “a tremendously exciting opportunity to work for a company that’s delivering a true breakthrough in premium electric vehicles”. He said that he has known Aehra’s chief designer Filippo Perini, previously of Lamborghini, for more than 2 decades and has “always appreciated his holistic approach to design and engineering”, suggesting the 2 will work closely in tandem to ensure engineering and stylistic cohesion in Aehra’s future products. Aehra founder and CEO Hazim Nada said: “Cimatti has substantial ICE-vehicle dynamic experience. The Ferrari type of performance is really focused on vehicle dynamics. But at the same time, he has the unique characteristic that he has been in charge of full-electric platform development. When we started showing him the thing, he started feeling the idea of relaunching an Italian brand that takes up the vacuum in the electric space. He was really attracted to this, and when he saw the design that we’re doing, the uniqueness of the type of product, I didn’t have to do much convincing with him”. Nada revealed that in around 6 months time, development on the Aehra SUV will be advanced enough to require a substantial expansion of the engineering department, taking it to around 20 people. Cimatti’s leadership of this expanding team will be pivotal in getting a running prototype ready for on-road testing by the end of 2023. In keeping with Aehra’s asset-light development and production model, the upcoming EVs will use primarily off-the-shelf components, including fundamental architecture and drivetrain systems. Nada acknowledged that “development is primarily done by the supplier”, but Cimatti will be charged with making sure these components work together in the desired way. “The big engineering side now is more external engineering”, said Nada. “It’s more the adaptation of each subcomponent to our platform needs. For example, an e-axle will need to have a specific type of connector to the transmission and the wheels, and that needs to be adjusted to the specific package that we have; and we will be regulating battery management systems to our own needs. We’re obviously taking everything as off-the-shelf as possible, but still within that there are development needs. The approach we’re taking is exactly that: it’s not going and redesigning an inverter, redesigning an axle or redesigning a gearbox and whatnot. Our job is primarily integration, not development. That’s the key engineering approach that we’re taking”. Suppliers for all these components (as well as the crucial EV batteries) will be named in the coming months as Aehra progresses towards its goal of building 50.000 cars per year by 2028, either in its own factory or by a third party “if the quality-control overburden is too much”. Fundamentally, all Aehra EVs will be closely related. The modular architecture being used for the saloon and SUV can be scaled up or down depending on desired use case. It will be used for a “more compact” luxury 2+2 with supercar styling and a spacious interior, to be revealed by the end of 2023. +++


+++ ALPINE ’s upcoming flagship electric models will be crossover rivals to the Porsche Macan and Cayenne, and could be built on a Lotus platform. The 2 models will further expand the Renault-owned sporting brand’s electric range after the launch of the Alpine R5 hot hatch and the GT X-over sports crossover. The pair, due in 2027 and 2028, are crossovers “in the segment of Porsche Macan and Cayenne, more or less”, Laurent Rossi told journalists as Alpine posted its earnings figures for 2022. Alpine will have to look beyond the Renault Group for a platform, Rossi said. Lotus owner Geely is the “most natural” partner for the project outside the Renault-Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance given the current projects between Renault and the Chinese company, Rossi said. Alpine is working with Lotus on an electric replacement for the A110 while Renault and Geely last October agreed a 50/50 partnership to build internal combustion powertrains. Lotus has said it’s happy to work with partners wanting to re-use the platform from the new Eletre SUV, as well as a new platform that would underpin the smaller Lotus Type 134 crossover coming in 2024. Nissan is also in the frame to supply Alpine with a platform given it plays in the larger D/E segments in the US, however the Japanese brand isn’t a logical partner, Rossi said. “The difficulty is Alpine a different animal. We are creating a slightly different category in terms expected performance for customers”. he added. The 2 Alpine cars will be in the “lifestyle branch” of the brand’s line-up, rather than outright sports machines, according to Rossi. “These are going to be 2-tonne, 5-metre-long cars. You’re not going to make a sports car, unless you’re Ferrari”, he said. However they would still deliver the sensation of a performance machine with excellent acceleration and handing, he promised. “Handling is made a bit easier at cost with electrification because you can have differentiated torque on each wheel”, he said. As with Lotus, Alpine is keen to emphasise that its ‘racing pedigree’ will continue to play a role in product development, irrespective of market segment. The styling of the cars will make them more coupé-crossovers than upright SUVs, Rossi said. The twin Alpine models would rival Lotus’s SUVs as well as the new electric Porsche Macan due in 2024 and the electric Cayenne due later. Alpine would also need to compete against more sporting electric SUVs from the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi, as well as Maserati’s electric Grecale Folgore. The 2 big Alpine models are intended to giving the brand a fighting chance in the US, where it plans to launch in the near future. The brand aims to grow global sales to 150.000 by 2030, up from 3.546 last year (solely from its A110 model). New markets will account for an expected half of Alpine’s growth by 2030, the brand says, though it has yet to confirm any specific production or revenue targets. Some 15% of its sales will be made in markets outside Europe by 2030, it estimates. Renault Group boss Luca de Meo said recently that Alpine’s production facility in Dieppe, northern France, was “flat out” meeting capacity for today’s petrol-powered A110. The site will be configured to build the upcoming GT X-Over SUV from 2024, but it has yet to be confirmed whether it will build the newly confirmed D- and E-segment models. +++

+++ United Kingdom battery start-up BRITISH VOLT has collapsed into administration, with the majority of its 232 staff made redundant with immediate effect. Employees were told the news at an all-staff meeting on Tuesday morning. The firm had planned to build a giant factory to make electric car batteries in Blyth, Northumberland. Ministers had hailed it as a “levelling up” opportunity that would boost the region’s economy and support the future of British car making. But Britishvolt struggled to turn a profit and ran out of money. Its board is believed to have decided on Monday that there were no viable bids to keep the company afloat. Plans for the €4.4 billion factory in Blyth were part of a long-term vision to boost UK manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries and create around 3.000 skilled jobs. The project was championed by government ministers due to the area being one of the main so-called “red wall” seats to change hands from Labour to the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election. The UK currently only has one Chinese-owned battery plant next to the Nissan factory in Sunderland, while 35 plants are planned or already under construction in the European Union. Industry experts have said the UK will need several battery factories to support the future of UK car making as pure petrol and diesel engines are phased out over the next decade. EY, who were appointed joint administrators, described the move as “disappointing”, and said all impacted staff were being offered support. Dan Hurd, joint administrator and partner at EY, said the firm had offered “a significant opportunity to create jobs and employment, as well as support the development of technology and infrastructure needed to help with the UK’s energy transition”. Hurd said the administrators would now explore options for a sale of the business and assets. An existing shareholder added: “It’s madness, I have been offering a variety of possible solutions. Falls on deaf ears. It appears, to me, that management wants the company to go into administration. A real shame”. Britishvolt had also planned to open a new battery development centre. The ambitious, but financially troubled, start-up only narrowly avoided collapse at the end of last year after an emergency lifeline was extended by one of its investors, the commodity trading giant Glencore. Last year, Britishvolt asked the government to advance €35 million of a promised €115 million in support, but was refused as the company had not hit agreed construction milestones to access the funds. But both industry and government sources remain confident that this plant will eventually be built, whoever ends up owning it. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the government had “remained hopeful” that Britishvolt would find a suitable investor and was disappointed to hear it had not been possible”. It said it would work with the local authority in the area and potential investors to “ensure the best outcome for the site”. However, the Labour chairman of the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said the government needed to do more to support the UK’s electric vehicle industry. Darren Jones told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “There is a case to be made here in the UK for ministers and the government to be much more closely involved in delivering a successful battery manufacturing factory. If we want cars to continue to be made in the UK, we’re going to have to build electric vehicle batteries here as well. So ministers needs to roll up their sleeves, not just write cheques”. The founders of Britishvolt were trying to create a €4.4 billion facility, from scratch, without the backing of a major manufacturer. What they did have was a vision which they hoped could surf a wave of political support, and attract the necessary funding. They looked first for a location in Wales, before settling on Cambois, in the Blyth Valley. The site, formerly a power station, was good. It had a deep water port, good transport links and access to plentiful power. It also happened to be in a “red wall” constituency captured by the Conservatives in 2019. But political support wasn’t enough. Delays to construction meant €115 million of public funding never materialised. With costs rising and no firm orders, the money ran out. The question is, what happens next? Speak to pretty much anyone in the motor industry, and they’ll tell you that without gigafactories, the long-term future for UK manufacturing looks bleak. So the plant itself could still become a reality. But for that to happen significant investment will be needed. And any potential buyer will know that their chances of success will be much greater if they can get an established manufacturer on board. Jim Holder, editorial director at What Car?, said that Britishvolt’s factory would have taken years to build, “yet the truth is we need at least 5 such facilities by the turn of the decade to remain a competitive country to build electric cars in”. He warned it was “very bad news for the whole industry”, adding: “The only positive will come if it spurs government into action to secure a partnership between itself, the industry and battery manufacturers that can succeed into the long-term”. Friends of the Earth described the collapse as “yet another blow to building the clean, modern future we urgently need”. There was also disappointment from people who live and work where Britishvolt’s plant was supposed to be built. Michelle Charlton, who runs Cafe One in the village of Cambois, said the news was “really disappointing”. “There isn’t any real industry for the young ones coming through, so they could’ve done with it yes. It would’ve been a real benefit to the area”, she told. +++

+++ Raise your hand if you’re sick of reading about Elon MUSK . The rest of you, turn to a recent edition of The New York Times Magazine, prepare a grande latte (maybe 2) and settle down to absorb more than 7.000 words attempting to explain what makes Musk tick. Lawsuits, accidents, deaths and near-misses collide in this provocative, overachieving dissertation that will test the patience of all but the most confirmed Musk-o-stans. It’s worth repeating the story’s first paragraph to understand the story’s premise and clear one’s head for what follows: “Early on, the software had the regrettable habit of hitting police cruisers. No one knew why, though Tesla’s engineers had some good guesses: Stationary objects and flashing lights seemed to trick the A.I. (artificial intelligence). The car would be driving along normally, the computer well in control, and suddenly it would veer to the right or left and smash; at least 10 times in just over 3 years”. In the next paragraph, this was written: “these crashes might seem like a problem. But to Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, they presented an opportunity”. Heartless? Selfish? Genius? Take your pick to describe the character of Mr. Musk, one of the tasks of author Christopher Cox in “Elon Musk’s Appetite for Destruction” (thank you, Guns N’ Roses). His take is told through the lenses of 2 Tesla drivers who crashed while using the cars’ self-driving systems, and through interviews with attorneys and a Musk associate (but unsurprisingly, no interview with Musk himself). Cox details a ride with owner David Alford of Fresno, California, who had posted a video showing his 2020 Model 3 in full self-driving mode approaching a red light, but the car doesn’t stop. Instead, Cox writes, “It rolls into the intersection, where it’s on track to collide with oncoming traffic, until Alford takes over”. This despite the Tesla running the latest A.I. software update. Cox, riding in the car with Alford driving, describes an approach to another intersection with Autopilot in command: “The Tesla started creeping out, trying to get a clearer look at the cars coming from our left. It inched forward, inched forward, until once again we were fully in the lane of traffic. There was nothing stopping the Tesla from accelerating and completing the turn, but instead it just sat there. At the same time, a tricked-out Honda Accord sped toward us, about 3 seconds away from hitting the driver-side door. Alford quickly took over and punched the accelerator, and we escaped safely”. The Times takes pains to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly about Musk, his unrepentant defense of autonomous driving, his mission to send us to Mars, his questionable personality. “Musk is simply a narcissist”, the author writes, “and every reckless swerve he makes is meant solely to draw the world’s attention”. Then there’s a poignant glimpse of the man, where Musk sends his condolences to the father of a son who died after his Tesla crashed while speeding. But in this long, long story, Musk even here can’t resist his defense of a higher calling: “I want to make sure that we get this right. Most good for most number of people”. A revealing remark of many in the story. +++

+++ PORSCHE is preparing to launch another low-volume ‘Heritage’ variant of the 911 this coming summer, prior to the unveiling of a facelifted model in 2024. Created as part of the celebrations surrounding the rear-engined sports car’s upcoming 60th anniversary, the latest special edition is based around the existing Porsche 911 Carrera T, but with grunt provided by the Porsche 911 GT3’s naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-6 engine, which means it should pack 510 hp and 470 Nm for a 0-100 kph time of less than 4 seconds and a top speed north of 300 kph. Meanwhile, a host of lightweight components including carbonfibre doors and roof panel could make it substantially lighter than the most recent entrant into the 911 Heritage series: the Porsche 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design. Insiders at Porsche’s Zuffenhausen headquarters in Germany hint that the new 911, described as being the lightest of the current 992 generation, is planned to receive the ST model designation last used by the German car maker for a family of ultra-light race cars in 1970. A launch this year would fit with Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur director Boris Apenbrink’s goal to maintain the exclusivity of the special-edition line. “It will be up to 2 years before you can expect the next car,” he told at the Targa 4S Heritage Design’s reveal. “We don’t want to overdo it. Porsche Exclusive stands for passion and craftsmanship. We want enthusiasts to say: ‘They’ve nailed it.  That car has everything that is truly iconic for the ’50s’ “. Official details of the new special edition remain under wraps ahead of its reveal, a date for which has yet to be given. But it’s safe to say the 911 ST will be as exclusive a proposition as the similarly conceived Targa, with a limited build run and a price tag that puts it some way clear of the standard 911 GT3. The launch of the facelifted model in 2024, meanwhile, is set to bring with it the first electrified drivetrain in 911 history. Rather than focusing on providing electric range, a new hybrid drivetrain developed by Porsche is centred on electric boosting, with an electric motor supporting the car’s internal combustion engine. Nothing is official at this stage, but to offset the added weight brought by the electric motor and a lithium ion battery, Porsche is said to be looking at reserves of up to 750 hp in a new hi-tech 911 GT2 RS car that is planned to become the last of the 992-generation models. +++

+++ There are several ways to look at TESLA ’s deep price cuts in the U.S. and Europe, which came on the heels of 2 rounds of reductions in the span of 10 weeks in China. For the glass-half-empty crowd, it’s clear that the carmaker was struggling to drum up orders. The company produced over 34.000 more vehicles than it delivered in the 4th quarter; not a catastrophic difference, but part of an un-Tesla-like trend. After all, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk told investors in October that the company expected to sell every car it could make, “for as far in the future as we can see”. “Tesla’s recent price cuts were in response to a demand problem”, Toni Sacconaghi, a Bernstein analyst with the equivalent of a sell rating on the stock, wrote to clients Tuesday. “While we and many investors had expected price cuts, they were bigger and came earlier than we expected”. For the glass-half-full contingent, Musk just started a pricing war that Tesla stands a strong chance of winning, even if emerging unscathed is out of the question. By one projection, the cuts could boost sales volume by 53% and overall global demand by 12%-14%, even though the move has angered some existing customers. There’s no debating that slashing 20% off the cost of the Model Y and making performance versions of the Model S and X roughly $20.000 cheaper will pressure profitability. But Tesla is soundly out-earning other EV companies, and with the exception of China’s BYD, no automaker is anywhere close to producing as many electric cars. “Tesla has higher margins than other OEMs including GM and Ford, and cushion to lower prices even further”, John Murphy, a Bank of America analyst with the equivalent of a hold rating on the EV maker’s stock, said Tuesday. “Most OEMS are currently losing money on EVs, and these price cuts are likely to make business even more difficult, just as they are attempting to ramp production of EV offerings. OEMs will have to reevaluate investments and whether they generate sufficient returns should EV pricing prove less favorable”. Tesla almost went bankrupt during the great recession that was getting underway roughly 15 years ago. The company then grew in part thanks to a long period of low interest rates, easy access to capital and little competition. That’s all changed. The Federal Reserve’s rate increases have raised borrowing costs, and Tesla is no longer the only game in town. BYD is surging in China, Volkswagen is fighting to protect its turf in Europe, and Ford and General Motors doing the same in the U.S. Musk is determined to position Tesla for continued expansion after the company fell short of its target for growth in vehicle deliveries last year. Cutting the prices of the Model 3 and Y will make more of those models eligible for new US tax credits introduced by the Inflation Reduction Act. During a Twitter Spaces conversation last month, Musk predicted a serious recession this year and warned consumers will cut back on big-ticket purchases. He called higher interest rates and lower demand a “double-whammy,” and said Tesla faced a choice. “Do you want to grow unit volume, in which case you have to adjust prices downward? Or do you want to grow at a lower rate, or steady?” Musk asked, rhetorically. “My bias would be to say let’s grow as fast as we can without putting the company at risk”. In that scenario, Tesla’s CEO said profits would be “lower to negative” during the recession, on the condition that its cash position is sound. “I think that’s still the right move, long-term”, Musk said. +++

+++ “Oh, you see, it’s totally fine that you can’t use the touchscreen like you’re used to anymore or that we’ve removed 27 buttons from the interior! You can just use our totally awesome VOICE CONTROL !” I’ve been hearing something roughly like that a lot recently while raising some, um, concerns I have about several recently overhauled infotainment systems. Toyota and BMW, for example, have gone downhill in terms of how intuitive and easy their touchscreens are to figure out and operate once under way. For Toyota/Lexus, that means getting rid of the excellent physical menu buttons and split-screen functionality. For BMW, that means burying functions like key climate controls and adaptive cruise control following distance within a sea of touchscreen menus. For both, it also means aggravating satellite radio interfaces. When I asked a Toyota/Lexus technical communications rep why it would remove those menu buttons and the ability to split the screen between content sources as you could do previously in some of its vehicles, I got the voice control answer. When I raised my concerns about the page full of tiny menu icons drivers are faced with while driving in the BMW i4 and iX, a BMW software engineer gave me the voice control answer. OK, fine. Let’s give ’em a whirl then. I was recently driving a BMW iX, and when I came upon an old truck belching fumes, I decided to try using voice controls to engage air recirculation. Remember, this is apparently natural speech recognition software. “Hey BMW. Turn on air recirculation”. Nope. Boilerplate “robot didn’t understand” answer. “Hey BMW, turn on climate control air recirculation”. Nope. Ditto. “Hey BMW, please engage the air recirculation function of the heating and ventilation system of this stupid futuristic car”. Nope. By this point, the interior was stinky. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attempted to use the supposed natural speech recognition of new cars only to find that they can’t figure out what I want. That’s probably because I’m usually trying to find a function that I’ve thus far been unable find in a convoluted touchscreen interface. This would be the “Ah, I give up, let’s ask the car” scenario. By contrast, this morning I used the voice recognition system in a Mercedes EQE to quickly change the SiriusXM radio station. “Hey Mercedes, SiriusXM channel 28”. Bingo! It understood and didn’t say anything back to me. This is, in theory, how it’s supposed to work, but in my experience, rarely does. Of course, with both the success and failure scenarios I’ve presented, what we’re ultimately talking about is using voice controls as a workaround. For BMW recirculation, it was a workaround for a common climate control being relocated into a touchscreen menu. For the Mercedes radio channel, it was for me jumping into a car without my radio presets programmed. With both, I would’ve just pressed a simple button if I could and be done with it far quicker than talking. Now, part of the reason the SiriusXM command works is because it’s simple. Indeed, I could do the exact same trick back in 2006 using the voice commands in my Acura TSX. Sure, I had to press a talk button first and had to memorize the precise commands, but the results and time of completion were the same. It was also just as much a workaround then as it is now. One element that is without question a benefit and not a workaround is programming a navigation system. That was true with my TSX and it’s true today with the various cars that can accomplish the same tasks without knowing those precise commands. Saying “Hey Mercedes, set navigation system to 1018 JL Bontiusplaats, Amsterdam”, is obviously a lot faster than typing it all in on a touchscreen, or worse, dialing it all in using an iDrive-style knob. Ugh. Much like touchscreens and iDrive-style knobs, voice commands are perfect for accomplishing some tasks and crap at doing others. A touchscreen is great at quickly choosing something already on a screen, but isn’t so great when you have to swipe through a long list of possibilities like radio stations or playlists. A knob has basically the opposite talent set, making the two complementary. Voice commands then fill in the gaps by being perfect for doing things that would be laborious and time-consuming with the other 2 (or dash buttons), but aren’t so good if you’d don’t exactly know which song you want to hear or would rather not take six times as long to accomplish something that could’ve been done by reaching out your arm and pressing a little button. The answer is ultimately redundancy. BMW used to offer all of the above plus wheel controls and Gesture Controls should you like pretending to be a wizard. It worked well. Basically, give people options to control the car that works best for them, or more broadly, that work best when operating a moving vehicle. “Ah-ha! But the safety angle!” some might argue. Indeed, your eyes can stay 100% on the road and your hands 100% on the wheel with voice commands. But that brings me back to three key retorts. First, voice commands actually need to work reliably for that to be true, and they often don’t. Second, voice commands need to work just as quickly as reaching out to press a button, and sorry, but, “Hey Toyota, raise temperature to 72 degrees” and waiting several beats is just not quick enough. My TSX could do that 17 years ago, too, and I never once took it up on the offer. Finally, one needs to know what the voice commands can and cannot accomplish, because there are inevitably quite a few functions that are out of their purview. These are usually vehicle systems rather than infotainment ones, such as turning off the lane-keeping system or perhaps the air recirculation (In the meantime, then, how about we don’t bury them 8 menus deep in a touchscreen?) Whenever someone at a car company starts going on about the greatness of its new voice recognition capabilities, they are inevitably presented as if we’ve suddenly achieved the U.S.S. Enterprise-D computer, where you can ask it to turn on the lights, find Commander Riker or fly you to Qo’nos. We’re nowhere close to that. Then again, even the Enterprise computer required some precise commands now and then. I wonder would happen if I asked this Mercedes EQE for a tea, Earl Grey, hot? +++

+++ Chinese-Swedish luxury car brand VOLVO will launch a full electric MPV in China this year. Whether the new Volvo MPV will be exported elsewhere is yet unclear. The MPV was ‘unveiled’ on a slide showing Volvo’s electrification progress during a briefing to the media by Qin Peiji, president of Volvo Cars Greater China Sales Company. For the year 2023, the slide shows 6 electric cars. The XC40 and C40 are on the market already. The other 4 will hit the market later this year. The EX90 was unveiled last year. But the other 3 cars are yet unknown: the Volvo EX90 Excellence, a ‘small type’ SUV (named EX30) and the MPV. The upcoming Volvo MPV will be based on the Zeekr 009. Volvo and Zeekr are both owned by the Geely Group. The Zeekr 009 stands on Geely’s SEA electric vehicle platform. It has a twin-motor 4-wheeldrive setup with 544 hp and a maximum range of 822 kilometers. Later on, Zeekr will also launch a rear-wheel drive version. Current price starts at 499.000 yuan. The Volvo MPV will use the same platform and drive train. Chassis hard points will remain the same too, but the Volvo will get its own unique design. The Volvo MPV will debut in semi-concept form in Q3 and the production version will launch on the Chinese car market in Q4. The car called ‘small type electric SUV’ on the slide is the upcoming EX30, a compact electric SUV. Earlier this week we saw spy shots of a test car. The EX30 will be based on the SEA platform as well, and share much of its underpinnings with the Smart #1 and the upcoming Zeekr 003. The Volvo EX90 Excellence is an extra luxurious variant of the new EX90. The base EX90 is a 3-row seven-seat car. The EX90 Excellence will have only 2 rows and 4 seats. The seats of the second row will be large captain seats, surrounded by luxury and extra connectivity options so it can be used as an office-on-the-road. Earlier, Volvo launched similar Excellence versions of the XC90 and the S90. The three new Volvo’s will enhance Volvo’s appeal in China, especially the MPV. None of Volvo’s direct competitors offer an MPV at the moment. Volvo needs to expand its lineup, as sales in China are still relatively low, with 162.000 cars sold in 2022. +++

Reageren is niet mogelijk.