Newsflash: Jeep komt met goedkopere Wrangler 4xe

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+++ It’s almost time to gather on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como again for the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2023. The event, May 19-21 at the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este, is a staple on BMW ’s calendar, the Munich automaker have marshaled the event for more than 20 years. As usual, the Germans will bring several specials to park on the grounds, and as usual, we have nothing more than one-line hints about what they’ll be. BMW M’s showcase is going to count at least 2 new cars, one of them the new 3.0 CSL, an original 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL tagging along to keep the modern coupe honest. Guests are going to see another “very special M car” as well, and the BMW i7 comes dressed in M Performance trim with a new 2-tone livery. I expect the battery-electric sedan to be the i7 M70 long promised to be the most powerful BMW 7 Series with more than 600 horsepower. BMW’s going to straddle several eras with the “premiere of an elegantly sporty, one-off homage to motoring for two”. Based on where the industry’s gone lately, this could be anything from a concept that will never leave Munich display rooms to an extravagantly precious customer commission. The Europe-only Mini Cooper SE Convertible is making the trip to Italy 200 km at a time, as is an electric scooter from BMW Motorrad. The motorcycle arm already had the C 400 GT electric scooter and debuted the CE 04 electric scooter in 2021, so it sounds like we’ll either see a third model join the range or a new take on the CE 04. The weekend’s full of events, and there are plenty of prizes for concourse entrants to vie for. The 8 primary categories winning silverware are: A century of the 24 Hours of Le Mans: Heroes of the most famous race in the world; The fast and the formal: Pre-war high-speed luxury; Grande Vitesse: Pre-war weekend racers; Incredible India: The dazzling motoring indulgences of the mighty maharajas; Porsche at 75: Delving into the Stuttgart legend’s iconic and eccentric back catalogue; Granturismo: Experimenting with the post-war European GT; That ‘Made in Italy’ look: Styles which conquered new worlds; Here comes the sun: ‘Topless’ done differently! There are also going to be special awards for “spectacular concept cars from various manufacturers”, a Coppa d’Oro for the guest favorite, the Trofeo del Presidente presented by the head of BMW Group Classic, and the Trofeo Il Canto del Motore for the best engine note, presented by German operatic tenor tenor and BMW Group Classic brand ambassador Jonas Kaufmann. +++

+++ As Steely Dan famously sang, they call Alabama the Crimson Tide. In Montgomery, they’re knee-deep in a Green Tide that’s transforming the business of building and selling cars. The high-style GENESIS Electrified GV70 emerging from Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) is the first Genesis built outside South Korea. It’s only the second made-in-America EV from a foreign-based automaker, after the Volkswagen ID.4 whose Tennessee production kicked off in July. Get ready for many more. Spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act (whose final interpretations and outcomes remain in Washingtonian flux) automakers foreign and domestic are scrambling to onshore EV-and-battery production to boost American jobs and security, as a condition to securing lucrative tax incentives for manufacturers and consumers. Beginning in 2024, qualifying for EV credits may even require sourcing a hefty percentage of minerals and other battery materials from America or approved trade partners, a list that conspicuously does not include China or Russia. As things stand, that sticking point could make a vast number of 2024 EVs ineligible for purchase credits; though leasing a vehicle may still earn dealers a $7.500 commercial credit that they could pass along to consumers, as most currently do for EV lessees. The electric version of Genesis’ most-popular SUV is the avatar of Hyundai Motor’s $10 billion American EV investment, which is expected to foster up to 8.000 good-paying jobs. Even that’s a fraction of what Atlas Public Policy estimates to be $128 billion in industry-wide investment in America’s EV, battery and recycling capacity through 2030 alone. Hyundai’s planned onshore footprint includes a new battery factory northwest of Atlanta, and a $5.5 billion EV factory near Savannah that aims to produce Hyundai, Kia and Genesis EVs beginning in 2025. Beginning that year, Genesis says every new model introduced will be an EV, with no fossil-fuel option. And Genesis plans to phase out gasoline-powered models entirely by 2030, a similar timeline to luxury brands including Volvo and Cadillac. In Alabama, where Hyundai also builds the Elantra, Sonata, Santa Fe and Santa Cruz, an Electrified GV70 is hoisted onto a lift for the final stop on its 16-hour assembly journey. As politicians, stakeholders and some of the factory’s 3.800 proud “team members” look on, an Automated Guided Vehicle on magnetic tracks boosts a pre-assembled, 77.4 kWh battery pack (for now, imported from South Korea) into its raised undercarriage. Workers quickly secure the pre-charged battery’s 26 bolts, then plastic underbody shields, followed by a coolant fill, a computerized battery-health check and finally a run around HMMA’s 2.3-mile test track to check for rattles or drivability issues. For the priciest model (by far) ever produced at HMMA, this workstation is the only standalone stop for the Genesis, because the battery marriage takes longer than the roughly 52-to-57-second time allotment at every other station. Elsewhere on the assembly line, workers install the Genesis’ dual electric motors, with 160 kilowatts each, for a total 429 all-wheel-drive horsepower, in nearly the identical time it takes more-plebian Hyundais to receive an ICE powertrain. Driving the Electrified GV70 offers more reasons to watch the clock: A “Boost” button, prominently displayed on the Genesis’ striking, pillowy steering wheel, kicks output to a hefty 490 horsepower for 10-second bursts, with max torque unchanged at 700 Nm, or 56 more than a Corvette Z06. More time is saved at a standstill, with an 800 volt architecture that allows charging at up to 350 kilowatts. Like the smaller GV60, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6, the GV70 can refill its battery from 10-to-80 percent in as little as 18 minutes. A good thing, because owners get their first 30 minutes of fast charging for free at Electrify America stations, over 3 years. The Genesis’ artistically rendered body doesn’t signal its electric status, aside from eliminating telltale exhaust outlets. The electric version blocks off its corporate “Crest” grille, with active air shutters in the lower bumper to cool the battery when needed. A front-mounted charge outlet, accessed by pushing the letter “G” on a hinged panel, is a smart location, especially for navigating awkwardly located public chargers or their notoriously short cords. Standard 20-inch alloy wheels get an exclusive pattern. The electric version’s interior also hews closely to the gasoline model’s, and why wouldn’t it? Inside and out, the GV70 underlines how the Genesis brand has usurped an often-complacent Audi especially (once a similar luxury underdog and overachiever) as a consensus leader in appealing, cut-above luxury design. Like its mainstream Hyundai and Kia cousins, Genesis just seems a little hungrier than the competition, as these brands’ sales and award-hogging ways make clear. Underfloor storage neatly houses the cargo roller shade (a feature more SUVs should adopt), a charge cable, and a vehicle-to-load (V2L) adapter to charge gear or devices. A small frunk makes room for a tire-inflator kit and not much else. Versus the ICE version that shares its platform, the EV loses less than 0.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. An outstanding 28.7 cubic feet remains on par with a spacious BMW X3. But rear legroom remains a bit tight, as with so many small luxury SUVs. Unlike Tesla, Ford or many other EVs, Genesis for now keeps things simple by offering a single AWD powertrain (in “Advanced” or “Prestige” trims) with no choice in battery or wheel size and no front-wheel-drive or basic-equipment version. That limits choice but does make shopping easier, since every Electrified GV70 delivers identical horsepower, driving range and capability. +++

GenesisGV70Electrified

+++ Control button lovers, rest easy: HYUNDAI has promised to keep physical “hard” buttons in cars, at least for the near future. While touchscreen controls have emerged as the trendy way to adjust settings in most modern vehicles, Sang Yup Lee, Hyundai’s head of design, insists that the decision to “save the switch” is also a safety issue. “We have used the physical buttons quite significantly the last few years”, he said at the recent showing of the new Kona. “For me, the safety-related buttons have to be a hard key”. If and when autonomous driving becomes the norm, Lee said he was somewhat circumspect about in the button prospects, he told. “We will continue to have physical dials”, he said. “When it comes to Level 4 autonomous driving, then we’ll have everything soft key, but until then, as I said, when it comes to driving, it’s safest to have your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel”. The form-versus-function issue is not new. Touchscreens often require users to scroll through menus, actions that can require drivers to shift attention from the road to the screen, creating a distraction. Other factors emerge as well: Buttons have familiarity, especially for older drivers who grew up with them. And going forward, eliminating buttons likely will be a cost issue for car makers as screens dominate cockpit-interior fashion. There’s also the fun and sensory satisfaction of flipping a switch. Alas, the switch flip may become a victim of high tech in years to come. +++

+++ There’s a mid-cycle refresh coming for the JEEP WRANGLER in 2024. I won’t know the extent of the changes until Jeep debuts the model, but what will not be changing are the looks, mainly. There’s a new grille on the way said to take cues from the Wrangler 20th Anniversary grilles, and new wheel options. On the Wrangler 4xe side, the High Altitude trim that currently charges $2,200 for the Sky One-Touch power top is expected to make the top standard equipment. There’s going to be a new Sport 4xe entry-level trim, too, which would slot under the Willys 4xe assuming that remains. Most important, the 4xe could unlock its generator potential, allowing owners to power accessories via 220 volt outlets. Inside, the 2024 model year Wrangler’s reported to give up its analogue gauges for a digital cluster, and to offer a 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 infotainment touchscreen. Boosted tech could include wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and more features for the Off-Road Pages and Maps. The reported Seat Comfort and Convenience Enhancement Group and Premium Cabin Package will make matters cushier for occupants in ways we’re not sure of yet. Dealer pre-orders are open now, so it’s certain there’s a class of folks who know what’s new and possible on the coming rig. Official info shouldn’t be far off. +++

+++ LAMBORGHINI has released additional details about the Aventador’s long-awaited successor. Called LB744 internally, the model will stand out as the company’s first series-produced hybrid car, and the latest teaser gives us a better idea how the system is set up to behave. Quick recap: Power comes from a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain rated at about 1.001 horsepower and made up of a new, 6.5-liter V12, an 8-speed automatic transmission and 3 electric motors. This configuration allowed Lamborghini to dial in a 44% front and 56% rear weight distribution; engineers also fitted stiffer anti-roll bars and reduced the steering ratio by 10% compared to the Aventador Ultimae. Enthusiasts will have 4 driving modes called Città, Strada, Sport and Corsa, respectively, to choose from. They’ll also be able to select one of three powertrain modes named Recharge, Hybrid and Performance. As its name implies, Recharge relies on the V12 to charge the lithium-ion battery pack in a couple of minutes, for example. The LB744 is also capable of driving on electricity alone for short distances. Selecting Strada (“road” in Italian) caps the drivetrain’s output at about 873 horsepower. Sport mode unlocks 894 horsepower and brings with it profile-specific settings for the transmission, the suspension system, and the active aerodynamic parts. Finally, selecting Corsa (“race” in Italian) unleashes the drivetrain’s full potential and configures the drivetrain’s electrified components for maximum performance. Drivers will also have the option of disabling the electronic stability control system, and the LB744 will come with a launch control function. Going hybrid allowed Lamborghini to add electric torque vectoring to the front axle. We’re told that slowing down the front wheel that’s on the inside part of a corner makes the LB744 more agile while improving stability during high-speed driving. This technology works hand-in-hand with the 4-wheel steering and brake-energy recuperation systems; it sounds like there’s a lot of electronic wizardry happening here. Details such as the car’s weight haven’t been released yet. All we know at this stage is that Lamborghini designed the LB744 around a new carbon fiber monofuselage that includes a carbon fiber front structure (in contrast, the Aventador used an aluminum front structure). The active aerodynamic parts increase aerodynamic efficiency and downforce by 61% and 66%, respectively, in high-load situations, while a carbon-ceramic braking system that includes huge, 10-piston front calipers and 4-piston rear calipers keeps the power in check. Lamborghini will fully unveil the LB744 in “just a few days”. +++

+++ South Carolina governour Henry McMaster on Monday signed legislation approving $1.29 billion in state incentives for Volkswagen’s off-road brand SCOUT to build a $2 billion manufacturing plant for pick-ups and SUVs. The project could also receive up to $180 million in job development tax credits based on hiring, said South Carolina Commerce Secretary Harry Lightsey. In May, Volkswagen said it would reintroduce the Scout off-road brand in the United States, offering new electric pickup and SUVs. Scout said it hopes to eventually create 4.000 jobs and produce 200.000 Scout vehicles annually. Groundbreaking is planned for mid-2023 and production is projected to begin by the end of 2026. “We looked at 74 sites in a dozen states, roughly”, Scout CEO Scott Keogh told reporters. “The site was ready, the governor himself put together an EV council … to make sure his state was ready”. Keogh said Scout wants to “act like a startup, be nimble and take advantage of this moment”. Scout, an independent U.S. company owned by Volkswagen Group, has said it is evaluating the potential for outside investment but has made no announcements. Volkswagen has moved away from hatchbacks and sedans in the United States. SUVs now account for about 80% of U.S. sales of the group’s VW and Audi brands. VW last sold a pickup in the United States in the early 1980s. Scout and Travelall vehicles made by International Harvester were forerunners to the popular SUVs from Detroit’s Three automakers such as the Ford Bronco and General Motors’ Chevrolet Suburban. Volkswagen first disclosed it was considering using the Scout name late in 2021. The automaker’s Traton business acquired U.S. truck maker Navistar in 2020, which owns the name. Monday’s event was the latest major auto announcement for South Carolina, home to BMW’s U.S. operations and its largest plant by volume. The state also has over 500 automotive-related companies and 75.000 automotive industry employees. +++

+++ With long-time CEO Akio Toyoda nearly out of the picture, TOYOTA is shifting its focus to developing more electric vehicles. However, the firm has invested a considerable amount of resources into hydrogen technology, and it stressed that it’s not about to mothball its investment. “We want to ensure that hydrogen stays a viable option”, incoming CEO Koji Sato told. Making hydrogen (whether it’s burned in an internal-combustion engine or used to generate electricity) a viable option to gasoline, diesel and electricity is easier said than done. Sato recognized that a production and transport supply chain is required to put more hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road, and the lack of an infrastructure in pretty much every nation remains a significant hurdle. “Unless we see changes there, we cannot expect a volume increase in the energy’s use”, he explained. Japan’s government has high hopes for hydrogen as well. The same report notes lawmakers hope the number of fuel cell-powered vehicles on the nation’s roads will grow to 200.000 units in 2025 and 800.000 in 2030. More refueling stations are planned across Japan to make that goal a reality; there are about 160 filling stations in Japan, according to Toyota, and the network should include around 900 stations in 2030. Yasuhiko Hashimoto, the president of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, supports Toyota’s vision and explained his firm’s contribution to making hydrogen viable. It’s developing a ship capable of transporting 128 times more liquefied hydrogen than the boats criss-crossing the oceans in 2023. In turn, building a bigger ship should help lower the cost of hydrogen by about 30 cents per cubic meter by 2030. Hashimoto also stressed that, beyond cars, hydrogen could become a workable alternative for trucks, buses, trains, and construction equipment. BMW is another vocal proponent of hydrogen; it notably operates a joint-venture with Toyota. Earlier in 2023, it unveiled a hydrogen-electric, X5-based prototype called iX5 that was built for a pilot project. In the meantime, Toyota has started developing a dedicated platform for electric cars that should be ready in 2026. The architecture is being engineered to keep costs in check and unlock better performance than the current crop of EVs are capable of, according to the company. +++

+++ A Russian court on Monday froze all VOLKSWAGEN assets in Russia, in the latest obstacle to the German carmaker’s year-long efforts to wind down its Russian operations. Volkswagen, along with other foreign carmakers, suspended operations in Russia last year after western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine. Volkswagen has been trying to sell its Russian assets, including its flagship plant in the city of Kaluga, which has production capacity of 225.000 vehicles a year and has been furloughed since March 2022. Russian auto manufacturer GAZ, which was contracted to produce Volkswagen vehicles at its factory in Nizhny Novgorod, sought to halt to any sale as part of a lawsuit against the German carmaker for what GAZ says is a breach of contract after Volkswagen terminated the production agreement in August. In court filings, GAZ said Volkswagen’s attempts to exit the Russian market put its own interests at risk and it is seeking 15.6 billion roubles ($201.3 million) in damages over the terminated contract. A Russian court on Monday agreed to freeze all of Volkswagen’s assets in Russia while the dispute with GAZ plays out, court documents showed, further hitting VW’s attempts to wind down its Russian operations. Earlier this week, Czech carmaker Skoda Auto, part of the Volkswagen Group, said it was is in the final stages of a deal to sell its Russian assets. Russia mandates that companies from “unfriendly” countries (those which have hit Russia with sanctions) are required to win approval from a government commission for the sale of any Russian assets. Foreign investors have feared Russia could move to nationalize strategic assets since the restrictions on sales were brought in. Last July, president Vladimir Putin issued a decree to seize full control of the Sakhlain-2 gas and oil project in Russia’s far east, effectively taking almost 50% of the project from Shell and 2 Japanese trading companies. Other leading Western carmakers have left the Russian market. Last year France’s Renault sold its majority stake in Avtovaz to a Russian state entity for a symbolic fee of 1 rouble; effectively writing off assets it previously valued at 2.2 billion euros ($2.35 billion). Russia’s auto industry has been one of the worst hit by Moscow’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February last year. Previously reliant on Western investment, equipment and parts, car production last year fell by an unprecedented 67% to its lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union. +++

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