Newsflash: Jeep komt met elektrisch Defender alternatief


+++ The hallowed AC COBRA will be radically reinvented from the ground up for 2023, 61 years after its original launch, after a 3-year, multi-million-pound development program. AC Cars, which holds the rights to the Cobra name and claims to be Britain’s oldest car manufacturer at 122 years old, will fully reveal the sports car later in the spring. Named the Cobra GT Roadster, it promises to dramatically advance performance, refinement and build quality, courtesy of its newly developed architecture and a much more potent V8 than the Chevrolet engine in the existing AC Cobra 378 Superblower MkIV. AC has confirmed a choice of V8s: a naturally aspirated unit, the power of which is unconfirmed, and a more powerful supercharged variant producing 670 hp and 750 Nm. That will be enough to send the sub-1.500kg roadster from 0-100 Kph in around 3.8 seconds; nearly as quick as a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS. It can be paired with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 10-speed automatic. The V8 is housed in a redesigned, carbonfibre body that’s significantly larger than the original, with a wheelbase of 2.570 mm. It stays largely true to the silhouette and defining cues of the fabled 1960s car but has fresh touches that bring it in line with modern rivals. AC said the Cobra GT Roadster has been “meticulously engineered to be exceptional”, features “cutting-edge material and manufacturing technologies” and will be highly customisable according to its owners’ tastes. Prices are set to start from around €430.000 in The Netherlands; a substantial premium over the price of the Superblower (€200.000) and production will be limited. The lengthy and costly development program for the new 2-seater centred on the engineering of the bespoke new aluminium spaceframe chassis, which was designed in Italy by Icona Design Group and Cecomp. This promises “excellent torsional rigidity” and “refinement with performance-orientated ride and handling” in keeping with the new car’s billing as a grand tourer. To be built in England, It will also offer modern amenities including airconditioning, electric windows, “sophisticated” in-car entertainment and a removable hardtop. The Cobra Roadster GT will be sold alongside the standard Cobra, which is almost visually indistinguishable from the 1960s original and offers the choice of turbo 4-pot, atmospheric V8 or electric power. This is the first new model launch from AC since it appointed Swiss financial backer David Conza as CEO in May 2022. Alan Lubinsky, who acquired the marque in 1996, continues to serve as chairman. +++


+++ The AAA this morning released its annual survey of Americans’ attitudes toward vehicle automation. And while there’s strong consumer interest in advanced driver assistance systems, apprehension has grown regarding full autonomy: 68% of those surveyed are outright AFRAID OF SELF-DRIVING CARS ; up 13 percentage points from last year. Yes, “afraid” is the word AAA used. “We were not expecting such a dramatic decline in trust from previous years”, said Greg Brannon, AAA’s head of automotive research. “Although with the number of high-profile crashes that have occurred from over-reliance on current vehicle technologies, this isn’t entirely surprising”. He’s likely talking about Teslas. The brand dominates autonomy-related crashes reported to NHTSA, for the simple reason that there are more of them so-equipped on the road. And while Tesla crashes may not be numerous in the context of U.S. car crashes as a whole, their technology’s seeming affinity for, among other things, slamming into the back of parked emergency vehicles tends to leave an impression on the public. AAA says the public has also been hoodwinked by the marketing terms used for driver-assist suites. The survey found that “nearly 1 in 10 drivers believe they can buy a vehicle that drives itself while they sleep”. Wake up, people, you can’t buy a vehicle that offers that. The big sleep, though, definitely. AAA has long blamed names such as Autopilot, ProPilot, Pilot Assist and the whopper of them all, “Full Self-Driving”, for the fact that 22% of Americans expect driver assists to chauffeur them without supervision. There’s deception here, sure, but there’s also a whole lot of willful ignorance. The 68% who are afraid might honestly not be scared enough. Even with advanced driver assist systems like adaptive cruise, features that six of 10 people in the survey find desirable, you’re wise to be ever-vigilant. Yet the very nature of these systems makes constant vigilance hard, as Dr. Missy Cummings will tell you. First, let’s just interject here that when Cummings was appointed to her role at NHTSA, Elon Musk called her “extremely biased against Tesla”, which had the effect of siccing his fans on her, she received death threats from Tesla-stans, and her family had to move out of their home for a time. Now, for a credible understanding of how human beings interact with high-performance technology, who are you going to believe, an auto company CEO, or an Annapolis grad who was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots? Only one of these human beings can land an F/A-18 on an aircraft carrier. When she went to NHTSA, Cummings said, she had “been complaining about NHTSA for years” and relished the chance to attempt fixing it. Musk is no fan of the agency either, so you’d think the enemy of Elon’s enemy is his friend. And the two of them presumably share a common goal: safer cars. Musk might even appreciate her sense of humor. When at Duke University, she named its Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL). Yet she had to have a security assessment done on the venue where she gave the U of M lecture. “Trust me, everyone hates me today,” she told the audience. “All the manufacturers, NHTSA, my 15-year-old daughter, everyone hates me” (her daughter has her learner’s permit; imagine being taught to drive by one of the foremost authorities on vehicle safety, your mom). But, Cummings says, “I’m good with that. I don’t mind being the bad cop because I do think we’re at the most important time in history since we figured out brake lights and headlights. I think that we are in the scariest time in transportation with autonomy and technology. Her fat-chance goal is for the perpetually put-upon and glacially paced NHTSA to impose some order on the Wild West of these technologies. Musk put an embryonic FSD on the streets because he could. There was nothing to stop Tesla from beta-testing the system among an unwitting public. In an analysis Cummings sent NHTSA last fall of driver-assist systems from General Motors, Ford, Tesla et al, she determined that cars using these systems that were involved in fatal crashes were traveling over the speed limit in 50% of the cases, while those with serious injuries were speeding in 42% of cases. In crashes that did not involve ADAS, those figures were 29% and 13%. So one simple solution would be for NHTSA to mandate speed limiters on these systems. “The technology is being abused by humans”, she told. “We need to put in regulations that deal with this”. The technology by definition lulls you. Cummings described an experiment at Duke in which she and other researchers placed 40 test subjects behind the wheel of a driving simulator for a 4-hour “trip” using adaptive cruise. At the 2½ hour mark, a moose ambled slowly across the road. Only 1 test subject had presence enough to avoid the moose; the other 39 clobbered it. Autopilot, Super Cruise, Blue Cruise … she’s grown to dislike active driver assists that are, or can be tricked into being, hands-free. “They put it on, whatever version of ‘autopilot’ they have, and then they relax. They relax, because indeed, that’s what they’ve been told”. They might be paying attention “for the most part”, she said. But for the most part is not enough. As for full autonomy, Cummings laid out a description of the learning curve that humans and now technology have to climb, from first acquiring a basic skill to ultimately full expertise, when we’ve mastered the skill-based reasoning that helps us know when to break a rule to get out of an unusual situation safely. Handling uncertainty is the hump that technology, which is inherently rules-based, can’t seem to get over. She showed how an autonomous vehicle was stopped in its tracks during testing because it interpreted a movers’ truck as not just a truck, but as a collection of a truck, four poles, traffic signs, a fence, a building, a bus, and “a gigantic person who was about to attack”. That’s an 8-year-old example, she admits, but “still very much a problem”, as illustrated by the now-infamous phantom-braking crash in the Bay Bridge tunnel in San Francisco last Thanksgiving, in which the driver of a Tesla blamed “Full Self-Driving” for mysteriously changing lanes and then slamming on the brakes, resulting in an 8-car pileup that injured a 2-year-old child. “And for all you Tesla fanboys who are jumping on Twitter right now so you can attack me, I’m here to tell you that it’s not just a Tesla problem”, she said. “All manufacturers who are dealing in autonomy are dealing with this problem”; her next examples involving GM Cruise cars in San Francisco, including one that apparently attempted to drive through an active firefighting scene. “San Francisco, oh boy, they’re at their wits’ end with Cruise”. But despite the problems, she also offers praise. “Even though I just complained a lot about Cruise, I am in awe of Cruise and of Waymo and of all the other car companies out there that have not had any major crashes. They have not killed anybody since the Uber issue. So I am very amazed. I think the self-driving community has done a very good job of policing themselves”. Those are just some highlights. It’s a fascinating lecture from someone who seems to be sincerely working to keep you and me safe. And it’s well worth an hour of your time. Meanwhile, take a cue from AAA and Missy Cummings: Don’t trust, don’t let your guard down, don’t relax behind the wheel; that’s never been more true than it is now. +++

+++ The ALFA ROMEO GIULIA will be reborn as an EV with up to 1.000 hp and a range of 700 km, the Italian firm’s CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato has confirmed. Set to evolve from its conventional saloon shape to cover multiple segments, the new Giulia is expected to arrive around the middle of the decade, no longer offering ICE power as Alfa Romeo pushes to offer a solely EV range by 2027. Power will start at near 350 hp, with the more powerful Veloce offering around 800 hp. A hardcore Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolio variant is also confirmed, offering “around 1.000 hp”; almost double the 510 hp offered by today’s twin-turbocharged petrol V6 car. This most powerful variant will likely be a four-wheel-drive proposition, rather than rear-driven like the current car. It could get a set-up similar to fellow Stellantis brand Maserati’s upcoming Granturismo Folgore, which uses 3 electric motors (1 on the front axle and 2 at the rear) with torque-vectoring functionality. As well as confirming his power ambitions for the Giulia replacement, Imparato suggested that the EV’s range will be up to 700 km on the WLTP cycle, so owners see it as a “substitute” to their current cars, not a downgrade nor forced switch. That figure would match the electric successor to sibling brand Peugeot’s 3008, which will use a variation of the same STLA platform. Imparato was keen to emphasize the importance of a rapid electrification program for Alfa. “We switch because we must”, he said. “If not, Alfa Romeo would be dead”. He added: “We will switch in a real concrete substitution mode. I don’t want you (customers, owners) to suffer from anything because of the switch; I want you to love it”. Design-wise, the Giulia will look like “the Alfa Romeo we all want”, promised the CEO, who described the current design proposals as “very cool”. He previously told the successor to today’s Giulia would get a less conventional shape, possibly straddling the saloon-estate boundary with a view to attracting more buyers. Imparato also confirmed the Giulia will be equipped with an 800V electrical architecture, as with other upcoming EVs on the STLA platform, meaning a “substantial” battery top-up (likely 10-80%) could be completed “within 18 minutes”. “We don’t want you to spend hours charging your car”, he said.  There has been no indication yet of what size battery the new Alfa Romeo could use, but Peugeot’s recent Inception coupé concept housed a 100 kWh pack in its chassis for a theoretical range of 800 km, meaning the Giulia theoretically could too. Imparato also updated the press on Alfa Romeo’s future plan, revealing that a B-segment SUV will be launched next year as its first EV, although it will still offer ICE power in the form of a mild-hybrid petrol engine. It’s not yet confirmed whether this petrol option will be limited to South European markets, as is the case with the technically related Jeep Avenger. Alfa’s first electric-only car will arrive a year later, as either a saloon or an SUV (Imparato wouldn’t disclose which), followed by a second EV that will occupy the same segment but with a different body style. It’s likely that an electric successor to the Stelvio will arrive in 2026 as a sister car to the electric Giulia. Finally, a larger electric saloon in the vein of the Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S will arrive in 2027 as a crucial step towards bolstering the brand’s popularity in the US and China. Funding for all of these cars has already been allocated by Stellantis management, Imparato said. +++

+++ Clubbing your fellow car shopper and any errant baby seals over the head to secure a reservation for a car is a new thing in the U.S. Remember 3 years ago, when you’d drive to a dealer, find something you liked, and take it home? What a time. Today, the new DELOREAN company is attempting to organize the barbarism when it comes to the Alpha5 electric sedan. Knowing that every reservation period leads to a free-for-all of selling or swapping reservations and positions like sports teams trading draft picks, DeLorean brought it all in-house. First, to have a chance at getting a reservation, one must pay $88 for a lifetime membership in the Alphas Club. I’m told there are other exclusive benefits for members but not told what they are. The membership sign-up site is run by NFT IQ, so, yes, there are NFTs involved. After paying the $88, “Alphas Club members have exclusive access to secure their place in line on the DeLorean Exchange, by purchasing a randomized production slot for $2.500”. That $2.500 is actually for the purchase of an NFT linked to a build slot. Note the word “randomized”. The good news is that if your $2.500 is accepted, you’re guaranteed to win a slot. The bad news is that your NFT might pull build slot #10 or build slot #3.789. DeLorean told the $2.500 price holds until March 12. After that, the reservation NFT will cost $3.500, and after that, the price goes up $500 for every additional 500 reservations. For example, if 1.000 reservations come in by March 12, build slots 1.001 to 1.500 will cost $4.000 apiece, slots 1.501 to 2.000 will cost $4.500 apiece, and so on. Using this example, the final 500 slots would charge $6.000 per. If fewer reservations came in before March 12, the final slots would cost more. DeLorean’s got you covered if you wind up so far down the line that you can’t see the club entrance. The DeLorean Exchange is just that, an electronic trading floor where a reservation holder can “transfer, trade, or sell their production slot to other Alphas Club members” and where those who couldn’t get reservations can buy them. No one’s playing nickel slots at that spot, though, so bring money. Contrary to the climbing reservation price, the production figure has been slashed. Instead of building the 9.531 units planned, the company says it will build just 4.000 units over the next 5 years. DeLorean explained it was taking supply constraints into consideration as justification for the lengthy production timeline, and didn’t want to promise cars it couldn’t build. Even so, 800 units per year strikes us as exceedingly miserly; Cadillac plans to build 2 Celestiqs per day, each one assembled by hand, which would be about 520 per year. Furthermore, we still don’t know the Alpha5’s price nor where DeLorean plans to build the cars, and production isn’t expected to begin until 2024. The industrial situation should improve before the end of the decade; things can’t stay like this forever, right? But any build slot after 3.200 has to accept an Alpha5 might not roll into the driveway until 2029. The casino is open now, so if you feel lucky, have at it. We hope DeLorean can pull this off, because we’d like to see the Plasmatail in production. +++


+++ FORD is paving the way for autonomous cars that can functionally repossess themselves. Submitted back in 2021 but recently published, the application says that Ford seeks to patent “Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle”, but from the description, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If Ford’s accounting department decides you’re delinquent, there are myriad ways the company could have the car help coerce a payment from you, because nothing beats being broke and miserable. Such as? For starters, it can geofence the area where you’re allowed to operate the car (Better turn left, Marcy, or you won’t be turning at all). Failing that, Ford says it could command the audio system to “emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle” for example, or disable other key features, such as climate control. From there, the car’s other systems can be commandeered to help the bank locate your car. Camera and sensor data about the surroundings could be transmitted to the repossessing agency. And if none of this does the trick, vehicles with self-driving features could simply be summoned to the holding yard of the bank’s choosing as the repossession process begins. In fairness, the patent application does make some accommodations for emergency situations. If the in-car systems determine that you’re experiencing a medical crisis (say, heat stroke due to the fact they’ve disabled your air conditioning), it will kindly summon you an ambulance. A system such as this raises questions about not just whether it’s ethical to use it as intended, but what other applications it may have and what the consequences might be if it’s abused. Look no further than the recent shenanigans at Hertz for a glaring example of how quickly small clerical errors can spiral out of control. Ford’s application makes it clear that cars of tomorrow will be capable of all sorts of high-tech wizardry, but if you ask me, there’s one glaring omission: If your Fiesta is going to leave you all on its own, the least it could do is write you a country song about it first. +++

+++ JEEP ’s European range will swell to 7 models by the middle of the decade in a line-up that will include an electric rival to the Land Rover Defender. The Stellantis-owned American brand currently has a range of 5 electrified SUVs, starting with the Avenger and the Renegade / Compass / Wrangler / Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid models. By 2025, these will be joined by 2 new EVs: the Wagoneer S, a sporty large SUV, and the Defender-challenging Recon. Both of these will be based on Stellantis’s new STLA Large architecture. The Recon will sit alongside the Wrangler, confirmed Jeep’s European boss, Antonella Bruno, but the 2 cars will have slightly different sizes and positions in the range. “The Recon in Europe will be a white-space car”, said Bruno. “It’s a unique car, very boxy and very capable. It will sit in a lower part of the market segment to the Wrangler”. “At a global level, we want to be the 4×4 leader in electrification”, said Bruno. She noted that despite Jeep’s 4×4 heritage and positioning, it wasn’t targeting Land Rover as a rival in Europe, instead citing the likes of Volkswagen and Mini as brands from which it could conquer sales. Despite Jeep’s poor recent performance on certain markets, Bruno believes the brand remains in good standing. “The brand is incredibly well known”, she said. Jeep took more than 20.000 preorders for the Avenger in Europe before it went on sale in January, despite no customer test drives having taken place. Bruno said the Avenger recently being awarded the Car of the Year crown “will drive a lot of traction and be good for the entire Jeep line-up”. +++

+++ While TESLA stock sold off after its investor day failed to provide details on new EV models, former Ford CEO Mark Fields heard enough to remain confident in the company’s future. In particular, Wednesday’s event was more like a conventional investor day and mostly lacked CEO Elon Musk’s usual grandiose claims, he said in an interview on Thursday, though he’s less sure of its goal to sell 20 million vehicles by 2030. The company also showcased other executives, which could alleviate concern that Musk has been too distracted by his other business ventures. They also talked about “meat and potato” topics like cutting costs, improving margins and EV-charging infrastructure. The keys to winning the EV race will come down to product appeal, software or user interface, controlling cost, and consistent execution, he said. “And Tesla right now is one generation ahead of the other automakers”, Fields said, though rivals like Ford and Hyundai are making a lot of progress. “Tesla still has the leg-up on the competition, and I think they demonstrated that yesterday”. Tesla stock tumbled around 7% after Wednesday’s presentation disappointed investors by not confirming any new car models. Instead, Musk’s much-awaited “Master Plan 3” mainly established goals for Tesla to expand its role in achieving global sustainability. Amid the things laid out on Wednesday was the firm’s commitment to sell 20 million cars a year by 2030 and confirmation of a new Gigafactory in Mexico, potentially allowing the automaker to create vehicles at under $30.000. However, Fields predicted that the EV industry will eventually have no one leader as the market continues to strengthen. “There’s going to be a number of winners and there’s going to be a number of losers because, when you look at the adoption of EVs over time, I mean, this is a huge addressable market”, he said. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN renewed the Golf GTI and Golf R for the 2022 model year, giving them more power and go-fast trickery. The cars’ turbocharged engines are living on borrowed time, as the hot hatchbacks are going electric later this decade. The cars are expected to get a mid-cycle refresh in 2024, extending the 8th generation for a few more years. VW has confirmed that both cars would remain a part of its lineup even as it goes electric, and the report claims it already has the Golf R targeted for electrification. The car could get dual motors and 400 or more horsepower out of the deal. Volkswagen’s R brand will follow its parent company to become fully electric by 2030, and the automaker has promised several new R-branded performance EVs. The MEB Entry platform, upon which the upcoming ID.2 will ride, is capable of underpinning small SUVs and hatchbacks, so there’s a viable path forward from an engineering standpoint. Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer told the company would retain the Golf name into the electric era, saying, “with a strong brand, you need to spend less getting it out there”. Using the GTI and R monikers gives VW a strong basis for name recognition and brand perception, making the launch and marketing costs less painful. It’s unclear when or if a VW performance EV could land here. The automaker recently teased the new ID.7 sedan at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it’s too early to tell if the new EV will offer a performance variant. American buyers have been enthusiastic about the company’s hot hatches, as they were a major reason VW continued offering manual transmissions in the current gas-powered GTI and Golf R. Now, the company just has to figure out how to translate that to an electrified hatchback. +++

+++ ZEEKR has shaken up the electric car market in its native China with uniquely-styled offerings, and now has its sights on Europe, with the rest of the world to follow. The latest in a long line of EV specialists from the east, 2year old Zeekr follows the likes of China’s Xpeng and Vietnam’s Vinfast with a swiftly evolving model range and bold plans. A representative told: “Zeekr’s target is to achieve annual deliveries of 650.000 units by 2025 and be among the top 3 in the premium EV industry globally”. And this is an ambition that can be taken seriously, because Zeekr sits within the expanding portfolio of Geely, beside Lotus, Lynk&Co, Polestar, Smart, Volvo and more. This is a group that is already very active in the premium EV market. Questions have naturally been raised over how Zeekr could operate in this segment without affecting its sibling brands. However, Zeekr has noted only benefits, saying: “All Geely brands seek co-operation, to maximise resources and provide greater value for our customers”. What’s claimed to set Zeekr apart from its stablemates, as well as others in the market, is its approach to design. It was launched with a mandate of “no more boring EVs”, led by Geely design chief Stefan Sielaff (who came to prominence at Audi) to “express a very premium look and feel but not in an opulent way”. This is said to distance Zeekr from the ‘Russian doll’ principle followed by many other brands, whereby model distinction is defined almost entirely by size. Zeekr’s offerings to date include the 001, a sleek fastback that owes plenty to its start in life as a Lynk&Co, and the 009, a striking MPV whose blocky look is likely to polarise opinion in the way that a modern Rolls-Royce does. The X was revealed earlier this month as a smart, medium-size crossover with some sharp, quirky detailing and is probably best considered a rival to the Volkswagen ID.3.  Zeekr’s design studio is based in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the brand feels that this location is important if it is to make an impact beyond China. As such, these cars are soon expected to head to the rest of the world imminently. Zeekr is unwilling to discuss specifics of its roll-out beyond China, but a leaked letter to staff has revealed that Europe is in its sights. Chinese media reports that the continent is set to play a key role in its plan to double sales from 70.000 in 2022 to 140.000 this year. Mature EV markets in northern Europe (Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, for example) are likely to be targeted first. The news was broken by Reuters, which claimed that Zeekr was aiming to raise more than $1 billion and seeking a valuation of more than $10 billion; an increase on the $9 billion valuation from its first external fundraising round in 2021. These hefty figures seem to back up the idea of an aggressive global expansion plan, but it appears the US isn’t an immediate priority, after CEO Andy An said at January’s Consumer Electronics Show that Zeekr wouldn’t enter the American consumer market. It will still have a presence there, however, courtesy of a tie-up with Waymo, the California-based self-driving firm that is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. In November, it was revealed that Waymo would use Zeekr’s SEA-M platform (adapted from Geely’s Sustainable Experience Architecture) as the basis for a new Chinese-made robotaxi. Zeekr said the platform supports a “range of future mobility products”, adding that it is “open to work with best-in-class partners globally to explore the possibilities”. The implication is that there may be more Zeekr-based or Zeekr-made autonomous vehicles in the pipeline; another example of the brand’s desire to do things its own way. +++

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