Motor industry news – July 2013

suzuki-volkswagen31 July

Suzuki president Osamu Suzuki and VW chairman Ferdinand Piech are reportedly in talks to sort out the mess of their failed partnership (currently going through a London arbitration court). They’re meeting to see if they can’t still revive the partnership and end the legal battle, or end the alliance without resorting to legal challenges. VW, remember, bought 19.9% of Suzuki for €1.7bn in 2009; Suzuki in turn bought €770m of VW shares.

New car sales in 2013 could be the second highest on record, SEAT director Neil Williamson has suggested. The firm is ‘looking at 2.2 million, maybe even 2.3 million’ – a 15% rise on last year’s 2.04 million. The unexpected (and growing) new car sales boom means some are expecting the SMMT to revise upwards its 2.1 million full year prediction. The last revision to it was made in April.

The EU has approved a French government guarantee of €7bn in bonds for PSA’s banking unit. This helps reduce PSA’s borrowing costs and remain competitive.

30 July

France has banned Mercedes cars: key models use an air con refrigerant, R134a, that was outlawed by the EU earlier this year. German auto association the KBA has allowed Mercedes to continue using it until 2017 but the EU disagrees and is in the process of taking action… but France has decided not to wait and thus become the only EU nation to ban Mercedes. The firm is resisting because it says the alternative is flammable – and adds that 95% of cars on French roads also use R134a, so will France now be banning those, too?

BMW board member for sales, Ian Robertson, says the i3 will make a profit ‘from day 1’.

Frost & Sullivan reckons the BMW i3 is going to be a hit. Maybe not at first – BMW must be prepared for a rough ride in the first few years – but in time it should benefit greatly and become seen as the most innovative of the premium brands. It may even launch a halo effect for EVs, like the Toyota Prius did for hybrids. At £25k, it’s aggressively priced for early adopters and smartly, BMW is selling not just a car but a mobility package; important when dealing with EVs.Not that range anxiety may be an issue for as many people as some suspect: like most car companies, 70-80% of these will be sold to urban customers…

The Leyland roundel is back on a passenger vehicle! Fittingly, the Ashok Leyland Stile is a badge-engineered model.

29 July

Why do loss-making car manufacturers discount? To protect market share and help mitigate losses caused buy running factories at around 50% capacity. Weak markets and ‘a buyer’s market’ means there’s no alternative to incentives for many.

BMW made 40k ‘Mk4’ V8 M3 Coupe but production has now stopped. The M3 saloon (10k) and M3 Convertible (16k) remain in production until September. The end of the M3 means the end of the 4.0-litre V8 engine.

ZF will boost production of its US transmission plant 50% to 800k units by 2016. It will make RWD 8-speed autos and 9sp FWD (transverse engine) gearboxes. The $215m investment is ZF’s largest-ever outlay.

Audi expects to sell 1.5 million cars in 2013 – two years ahead of its 2015 target. Sales are up 6.4% YTD to 780,500: the gap to BMW has fell from 85k to 24k units. Audi also wants to hit 2 million sales by 2020 and become the world’s largest luxury car brand.

Autocar reports Lotus has secured the funding to guarantee its future. The three-year plan may include launching the new Esprit, believed to be close to completion before the Bahar fallout, but the rest of the five-car plan has been canned.

Lotus sold 70 cars YTD to May: it sold 80 cars in the whole of 2013. It’s making 40 cars a month now, and exporting 85% of them. It’s also secured a £10m government Regional Growth Fund injection – something it failed to do under Bahar.

GM design latest: former Holden chief designer Andrew Smith will become Cadillac and Buick head of global design. He replaces Mark Adams, who returns to head of GM Europe design (but who will also be a champion for Opel/Buick brand strategies and design language). CEO Dan Akerson wants Opel and Buick to develop more synergies to reduce costs.

Brit Adams effectively returns to his old role at GM. He was to take on the Cadillac and Buick role but was forced to keep GM Europe after former Buick-GMC designer Dave Lyon left the company days before he was to replace Adams.

28 July

The new Mercedes-Benz CL is going to become an Aston Martin and Bentley rival, instead of a two-door saloon. It will be significantly sportier, have shorter, more sculptural rear end design, use a shorter wheelbase than the new S-Class it’s derived from and not use a V6 engine (the minimum will be the CL 500). We’ll see it in Detroit 2014 and teasers will come soon.

Lexus reckons it’s futureproofed the brand by ditching diesel engines. One eye on Euro 6 and Euro 7, with the need to limit NOx and HC, means petrol-electric hybrid is the Japanese premium brand’s preferred choice. It admits Europeans prefer diesel though, but seems willing to accept the short-term criticism. If only it could boost the EV motor’s power to give diesel-like response though…

Why do loss-making car manufacturers discount? To protect market share and help mitigate losses caused buy running factories at around 50% capacity. Weak markets and ‘a buyer’s market’ means there’s no alternative to incentives for many.

Jaguar’s BMW 3 Series challenger is going to be an all-aluminium range of saloon, estate crossover SUVs built at Soihull. They will be launched in the second half of 2015 and a preview may be shown at Frankfurt IAA in September. Name: Q-Type?

GM has fired global powertrain chief Sam Winegarden over emissions ‘irregularities’ in Indian vehicles that has forced two of them to be temporarily withdrawn from sale. The Auto News report details some eye-opening ‘manipulation’ practices…

25 July

The Fiat-Chrysler merger is getting near – and the new company could be registered in the Netherlands (as corporate rules there are similar to the US). Fiat is waiting for a US court to rule on a final price for the 41.5% share currently owned by VEBA.

24 July

The Alfa on-off-on saga continues. We thought we were getting the new Giulia in 2014. Seems we aren’t anymore. There’s apparently a feasibility study underway to see if a new rear-drive platform shared with Chrysler can be developed. Meaning the mid-size Alfa wouldn’t arrive until late 2015. The FWD Giulia has been put on hold until a decision arrives by the end of the year, meaning that won’t be arriving soon either. VW presumably watching this latest potential product delay with interest.

Cadillac will reveal an evolved brand logo next month at Pebble beach. Creating the headline of the year: ‘Cadillac rests its laurels’. Brilliant.

23 July

After a shaky start, looks like the Lincoln MKZ is gaining traction. Ford is selling c. 500 cars a month but has recently said it’s going to double production of the hybrid, which is expected to take 40% of production. (I know, the stats in the piece don’t quite add up, but the subject is sound: Lincoln’s going hybrid)

20 July

HR Owen latest from @autoretail – £32.5m cash bid has been rejected: it’s ‘inadequate’ and ‘materially undervalues the company’. I didn’t realise Bentley Motors owns 27.9% of HR Owen, either.

Audi has produced its 3 millionth A3.

16 July

Interesting from @justauto: MG Rover auditor Deloitte back before a British tribunal next week to reassess possible conflicts of interest.

15 July

Datsun officially launched today.

Vauxhall Mokka production is moving from South Korea to Zaragoza, Spain – initially in CKD form with more localisation following later. 5800 people work at the Spanish plant, which also makes the Corsa (down 12% in 2012) and Meriva (-36% in 2012). 110k Mokka have been sold in Europe since June 2012: it’s a top-three best-selling SUV (the Dacia Duster leads, Nissan’s Juke is #2).

VW UK MD Simon Thomas has been promoted to an international head office role – he’s the new head of marketing for VW Group and Volkswagen Cars (the vacancy arose because Jurgen Stackmann is moving to head up SEAT). After just two years in the job (he joined in 2011 from Nissan), VW is thus recruiting for a new UK MD.

1 in 5 new cars sold in the UK is a VW Group model.

95% of Hyundais sold in Europe are also designed and developed here. By 2014, following an expansion of Hyundai’s Turkey factory (opened in 1997 and the first Hyundai overseas plant), 90% of them will also be built here.

8 July

Could Britain’s current Europe-defying new car sales boom not be a blip but instead part of a more permanent structural change where finance-friendly retail buyers change their cars more often (and with more regularity) than before? Interesting thoughts from Just-Auto editor Dave Leggett here.

Peugeot is pleased: the 208 GTi and XY account for 1 in 10 208 sales. There’s your rich mix in practice. 66% of buyers are conquest too. Oh, and of 700 advance orders for 2008, 70% are for the top-spec Allure and Feline.

1 in 3 British motorhomes are built on a Peugeot chassis. Sector sales are up 6%.

Nissan has spent €147m fitting out its Sunderland plant to build the new Note – including adding facilities to produce axles, cylinder heads, camshafts and petrol engines. There’s even a special ‘around view monitor’ testing area for calibrating the car’s camera systems… this has created 2000 NEW jobs at Nissan and in the British supplier network.


JLR faces the risk of disrupted production due to strikes at its plants because of a vote in favour of industrial action by logistics supplier DHL (which has 2000 employees working at JLR factories). DHL has offered a package that equates to a 6.2% pay rise, reports the FT. The Unite union wants 12.8% for operatives and 20.6% for drivers.

Volvo’s Range Rover Evoque-rivalling XC40 may be delayed by up to five years because the new SPA platform is too big (a future S60 will be the smallest car based on it). Not so scaleable after all?

The current Volvo V40 still uses the Ford-derived C1 platform: future small models won’t enjoy this association (Ford itself has phased it out, replacing it with Global C) so presumably Volvo is now working on another ‘compact SPA’ platform, probably for sharing with Chinese sibling Geely.

1 July

Datsun will make its world premier (and brand return) on 15 July: check out the countdown ticker on its website. Looks like the first car will be derived from the Dacia Sandero: shame it’s not coming to the UK, as the sketch looks rather neat.