Archive for the ‘Automobiles’ Category

German power play – silly EU CO2 rules for cars delayed at least till 2024

October 15, 2013

It’s the right decision of course. The proposal was for yet another one of the many EU rules where the benefits are doubtful and the implementation would have had no measurable effects on the desired outcome.

But entirely due to German protectionism for its performance car industry – and much to the disappointment of Ford – the limit of 95g of CO2 per km for any vehicle’s emissions has now been delayed at least till 2024!  Well Done Germany!

E 350 BlueTec

E 350 BlueTec

“The emissions limits are part of the EU’s drive to switch Europe to a low-carbon economy and slow the impact of climate change.”

The EU’s CO2 restrictions proposals for power plants and for aircraft and this one for cars are part of of a long line of  “feel-good” proposals which the Greens are so fond of — full of sound and idiocy, accomplishing nothing. So far the EU has not proposed any restrictions on CO2 in human breath.

Hopefully by 2024, the idiocy of CO2 restrictions will have been recognised.


The German government has persuaded its EU partners to delay introducing new limits on CO2 emissions from cars. Environment ministers agreed to revise a deal, reached in July, that set a limit of 95g per km for the average car. That target for CO2 emissions was to take effect in 2020.

But Germany, famous for its high-performance cars, says the 95g limit should not take full effect until 2024. 

Green activists deplored the new delay as a “shameful sop” to polluters.

A leading German Green Party MEP, Rebecca Harms, accused Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel of “riding roughshod” over the EU’s democratic process, because the 2020 agreement had already been reached between the European Parliament and the Council – the EU ministerial grouping.

“Weakening the agreed 2020 limits, which have long been known, is a shameful sop to German car manufacturers and will slow the development of new technologies to deliver more efficient and less polluting cars,” Ms Harms said after the ministers’ vote. …. 

The UK was among the countries that supported the German environment minister’s position on Monday, German ARD news reports.

The German minister, Peter Altmaier, said “it’s not a fight over principles but how we bind the necessary clarity in climate protection with the required flexibility and competitiveness to protect the car industry in Europe”.

Correspondents say there has been intense lobbying by luxury carmakers such as BMW and Daimler, maker of Mercedes, over the EU legislation.

The emissions limits are part of the EU’s drive to switch Europe to a low-carbon economy and slow the impact of climate change.

Jaguar Land Rover poised to “make in India, export to the emerging world”

March 2, 2013

Jaguar Land Rover sells around 250,000 Land Rovers and about 55,000 Jaguars worldwide.  In 2011/12 this generated about £13.5 billion sales with a profit of £1.5 billion.  They will spend around £2 billion in the 2013 financial year on new products including a new £350 million engine plant in the West Midlands.

JLR’s Strategy (Sustainability Report), JLR Strategy, states:

In 2011 we expanded assembly operations into India, one of our key markets, and announced plans for our first manufacturing facility abroad in another key market, China, through a joint venture with Chery Automobile Company Ltd. We predict Jaguar Land Rover sales will more than double in volume by 2020, largely due to increasing demand in emerging markets.

Now Reuters reports that the emerging market strategy is progressing fast and that JLR is poised to move from just assembly to the complete manufacture of some brands in India. They join the growing number of players who now see India as a sort of export hub to emerging markets.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is investigating the potential of manufacturing cars in India, company sources said, as the British luxury carmaker looks to build on its growth in emerging markets with the help of Indian parent Tata Motors.

JLR, which has ridden a wave of surging demand in China and other emerging markets to post record profits over the past year, is “actively exploring the possibility” of building cars from scratch in India, said one company source.

“The idea is being looked into, with the (Jaguar) XF and (Land Rover) Freelander the obvious candidates,” said another source with knowledge of the matter.

The British brands, which already assemble two models in India using parts and engines shipped from factories in the UK, will also begin assembling its popular Range Rover Evoque in the country soon, the first source said without providing details.

Building cars in India, which has developed into an emerging market export hub for many global carmakers, would allow JLR to skirt high import taxes on luxury cars, which the country’s finance minister proposed raising to 100 percent from 75 percent in his budget speech last week.

… JLR will exhibit a new 9-speed automatic Evoque and an electric-powered version of its Land Rover Defender at the Geneva Motor Show next week.

Bought by Tata for $2.3 billion from Ford in 2008, JLR has defied those skeptical of its future under Indian ownership to roar back into profit over the past three years as the main growth driver for its now-struggling parent.

Continued growth in emerging markets such as India and China, which accounted for 22.3 percent of its sales in the December quarter, is key for JLR as it embarks on an expensive overhaul of its production and product clout. The carmaker is investing $1.7 billion with local partner Chery Automobile Co in a factory in China.

JLR lags rivals BMW AG, Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz in assembling cars in India, where the luxury market is expected to swell by around six times by 2020 to 300,000 cars a year, according to business consultancy Frost & Sullivan. ….

…. Earlier this year JLR started the assembly of the 2.2-litre diesel version of the Jaguar XF saloon at a plant in Pune, west India, tucked away in a corner of a sprawling production site where Tata builds its heavy duty trucks and hatchbacks.

Screwed together using engines and components shipped from JLR’s Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham, central England, the company has also been assembling its Land Rover Freelander 2 in Pune since May 2011.

The XF and the Freelander 2 are JLR’s best-selling models in India, where it sold 2,288 cars in the year to March 2012, up 157 percent from the previous year. ….. 

Volkswagen is streets ahead with its common, global, modular concepts

February 11, 2013

Volkswagen’s Modularer Querbaukasten (MQB) which translates to Modular Transverse Matrix is a concept for sharing core components in a strategy for modular construction of all its transverse, front-engined, front-wheel drive cars. VW has probably taken this further than any other car-maker and are being bench-marked and closely watched by Toyota, Ford and others.  MQB is designed to stretch from the Polo to the Passat. At the top end Porsche are developing a comparable MSB concept (Modular standard matrix). Apart from only one dimension that must be held, the modular concept allows most dimensions to be stretched.

Golf 7 chasis: MQB Flexibility

Volkswagen Group brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Porsche and more) comprise more than 200 individual models of cars. The complexity involved in trying to reduce costs and the number of components, meeting exceedingly strict emission and safety standards all the while reducing waste and consumption is obviously quite huge. MQB not only represents a new car specific part platform, but also an all-new modular engine program and modular production program. With MQB VW can build any vehicle from Polo to Mid-size SUV utilizing the same assembly line.

VW modular matrices

The MQB platform has a common engine mounting system and allows both petrol and diesel motors mounted in the same way and at the same angle of inclination. VW factories around the world could become multi-brand factories with VW’s, Seats, Skodas and even Audis to roll off the same line.

Reuter’s reports:

…. Since the heyday of Henry Ford and his Model T, the world’s automakers have considered the “global car” to be their Holy Grail – the same basic design that can be built, in subtle variations, and sold in different markets. 

Take that fundamental concept, stretch it across many different vehicle types, sizes and brands, then build them by the millions, and you begin to sense the enormity of Volkswagen’s rapidly evolving “mega-platform” strategy and its potential impact on competitors around the globe.

Auto engineer Hackenberg nurtured this bright idea for three decades, after early pitches to auto executives were largely ignored, until somebody finally bought it wholesale. The man who bit was Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn. …… 

The strategy is not without risk. It could, for instance, expose Volkswagen to the threat of a massive global recall if a single part, used in millions of cars, fails.

But rivals have taken note of the power behind its move. Volkswagen’s modular platforms are being benchmarked by most of the world’s top automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp and Ford Motor Co, according to company executives. ….. 

…. VW’s work on its largest mega-platform, known internally as MQB, began in earnest in 2007 and is being implemented over the next four years at a cost of nearly $70 billion, estimates Morgan Stanley. The potential payoff is compelling: Projected annual gross savings by 2019 of $19 billion, according to the bank, with gross margins approaching 10 percent.

The automaker is expected to announce a record profit for 2012 of more than $30 billion later this month (February 22), according to Bernstein Research, whose senior analyst, Max Warburton, observes: “VW looks to have unstoppable momentum — in China, the U.S., Europe and most of the rest of the world.”

Even before MQB was launched in 2007, VW was a leader in using interchangeable components:

At a gathering in Japan five years ago, Renault and Nissan executives lifted the hoods on several VW Group vehicles side by side — including models from Skoda, Seat and Audi brands — and saw trouble.

“They had the same engines, the same clutches, the same ventilation — all identical parts,” says an executive who attended the presentation. “It was a level of commonality that didn’t exist at Renault-Nissan.” 

After a six-year gestation, VW has just begun to implement its sophisticated and highly flexible platform with the deceptively simple label MQB, a German acronym for “modular transverse matrix.” Virtually all of the group’s small and medium front-wheel-drive family models, including the latest generations of the VW Golf and Audi A3, are being designed around MQB as their base.

The new platform features a far greater degree of plug-and-play modularity, flexibility and parts commonality than at Toyota, General Motors Co, Ford and other competitors.

MQB “could be the single most important automotive initiative of the past 25 years,” says Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Consulting in Northville, Michigan. “It really changes the game.”

With the new mega-platform strategy supporting its 12 brands, from spartan Skoda to Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini, VW is poised to snatch the global sales crown from Toyota as early as next year, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.

VW envisions enormous leverage from MQB. The plan is to boost global sales to 10 million or more, with roughly two out of every three cars — some 40-plus models totaling 6.3 million sales a year — built on some variation of the MQB platform, according to U.S. research firm IHS Automotive.

None of VW’s competitors has the diversity of brands, the breadth of technology, the sweeping geographic footprint or the deep pockets necessary to support and take advantage of such a wide-reaching initiative as MQB.

Even Toyota, the current global sales leader, is playing catch-up with its German rival. … 

US approves sale of taxpayer subsidised battery maker to China

January 30, 2013
Image representing A123 Systems as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

Not just irony but also further evidence that subsidies are fundamentally unsound.

Back in October last year the US lithium-ion battery maker, A123 Systems, filed for bankruptcy.

10/15/2012: A123 Systems, which had received a $249 million grant from the U.S. government, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, giving Republicans fresh ammunition to attack the Obama administration’s subsidies for green energy.

The filing came after the lithium-ion battery maker’s $465 million rescue deal with Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group collapsed, hobbled by “unanticipated and significant challenges,” A123 said on its website. A123 has agreed to sell its automotive operations, including two factories in Michigan, for $125 million to Johnson Controls Inc, a leading battery supplier and another recipient of federal green subsidies.

….. The U.S. Department of Energy allotted about $90 billion for various clean-energy programs through the administration’s stimulus package. Of that, at least $813 million went to energy companies that eventually filed for bankruptcy, including A123, Solyndra, Beacon, Abound Solar and EnerDel.

But Wanxiang Group persevered and the US Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) has granted its approval for a revised deal to go ahead. In addition to the automotive business divested to Johnson Controls, all government related business was also divested by the bankrupt A123 Systems to Navita Systems (at a fire-sale price of $2.25 million).

Bloomberg: Wanxiang Group Co., China’s biggest auto-parts maker, won approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to buy most of the assets of A123 Systems Inc. (AONEQ), the bankrupt electric-car battery maker backed with U.S. government funds.

Approval from CFIUS, as it is known, was the final hurdle that Wanxiang needed to overcome to complete the deal. The federal interagency group led by the Treasury Department was reviewing the sale after members of Congress expressed national- security concerns over allowing a foreign competitor to obtain the technology developed with government backing. 

…… “Nothing provided by CFIUS has changed my opinion that the core technology developed by A123,” and the related intellectual property, “can be separated along A123’s business lines,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Republican representing Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District, in an e- mailed statement. “American taxpayers should not be funding technology that will in turn be used in competition against American companies,” he said, adding that he will look into legislation to prevent sales of taxpayer-funded “sensitive technologies” to foreign companies in the future.

….. “The Energy Department’s Recovery Act grant to A123 was used for the construction of brick and mortar advanced battery manufacturing facilities at two Michigan locations,” Bill Gibbons, a department spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. The funds weren’t used for the company’s research and development of battery technology, he said.

“The purchase of these assets includes the Energy Department’s requirement that the plants and equipment partially paid for by the Recovery Act stay in Michigan and continue to operate, generating job opportunities for American workers,” Gibbons said.

….. As part of the purchase Wanxiang, based in Hangzhou, China, will get A123’s cathode powder plant in China and its share of a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., called Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., in addition to the battery technology used in Fisker Automotive Inc.’s Karma sedan. Fisker, A123’s main customer, said it was awaiting the sale of the company’s Michigan plant so it could resume production of the $103,000 plug-in Karma sedan. A123, whose automotive business supplies electric-car batteries to about a dozen customers, has facilities in the Michigan cities of Livonia and Romulus.

The A123 Systems bankruptcy itself raised some questions about who had walked away with all the benefits. In a sense the subsidies have served the purpose of those investors who got away in time! For the US this now appears to be a damage control exercise to stop the bleeding where some local jobs are temporarily “saved” but the long term benefits are all to the account of Wanxiang. If indeed A123 Systems used government funds only for the building of factories and not for R & D, then Wanxiang have – fairly cheaply – bought themselves a foothold into the US market But if the US market develops – which it may not – then some or all of these jobs will eventually move to a low-cost country. Wanxiang has in any case bought themselves a technology cheaply which may address a world-wide market. But the jobs that creates will not be in the US. If the technology fails or the US market does not develop, then Wanxiang can just walk away from the US but they will retain the technology for whatever it is worth.

Paradoxically the only way in which the US taxpayer wins is if the technology is a dud and the deal represents future losses and liabilities being exported to Wanxiang!

Gender equality for dummies!

January 24, 2013

ScienceNordic reports this research — but this seems to me to be more related to weight rather than to gender.

 Crash tests by Swedish traffic researchers show today’s car seats are too firm to protect women against whiplash injuries caused by rear-end collisions. And there’s a good reason for this: the crash test dummies used by car manufacturers to develop safety features are all male.

The Swedes have now created the world’s first female crash test dummy to help manufacturers make vehicles that protect both sexes from whiplash injuries, not just men. ….. “Women are generally lighter than men, so they are catapulted forward more quickly, and subject to greater acceleration. A woman is also thrown forward hard against the seatbelt,” said Anna Carlsson from Chalmers University of Technology in an interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).

But what should car manufacturers do differently? “The seats should be less stiff, more pliant. When a car is hit from behind, the seat back acts like a trampoline and catapults us forward. I’d like to see seat backs that are better cushioned, made a little softer,” Carlsson said.

Male crash test dummies have dominated long enough. Now a female variety is entering the fray. Photo: (Chalmers Technical University)

The female crash test dummy was the brainchild of Astrid Linder of the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI). She is head of the EU project ADSEAT, which has as its goal to provide guidance on the best ways to evaluate seat designs so that they reduce whiplash injuries.

Linder found that new cars with whiplash protection were primarily constructed with men in mind. It’s not surprising, when you think of it, though, since crash test dummies are designed to mimic a male driver’s relative weight and anatomy.  …..

The female test dummy BioRID 50 F, developed at Chalmers University of Technology in cooperation with VTI and Volvo, is still just a rough prototype. The researchers hope to develop it into a full-fledged crash test dummy. ….

Of course funding is rather easier to obtain if a “politically correct” spin can be put on a research project and in Sweden anything even remotely connected to eliminating gender difference is generally seen as a “good thing”. If Junior ever becomes reality I’m sure it will happen first in Sweden. I can’t help feeling sometimes that the fight for the elimination of gender prejudice and discrimination has morphed – especially in Sweden – into trying to eliminate gender by legislation!!

JLR is rapidly becoming the jewel in the Tata empire and adds 800 jobs

January 13, 2013

While all around them car-makers are cutting jobs, Jaguar Land-Rover is bucking the trend. Since JLR was acquired by Tata in 2008 it has thrived and come through not only the the financial crisis but also shareholder criticism and employee apprehensions. JLR is rapidly becoming the jewel in the Tata empire:

Tata JLR

BBCJaguar Land Rover is on the verge of announcing the creation of 800 production jobs at its plant in Solihull, it is understood. It comes on top of a successful retail performance by the carmaker, owned by India’s Tata, in 2012.

The West Midlands plant already employs 6,000 people producing the Range Rover Discovery and Defender models.

Last week Japanese carmaker Honda said it would cut 800 jobs at its Swindon production plant.

Jaguar Land Rover said earlier this month that its outlook for 2013 was positive after UK vehicle sales rose by one fifth last year. The new jobs would be created to deal with increased demand from China and the Far East, Russia and the US.

The Chinese market – where sales of Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles have risen 80% in the past year – has been rising in importance to the company. Jaguar Land Rover sealed a joint venture to make cars with Chinese company Chery Automobile in November.

In December the firm also said it was considering building cars in Saudi Arabia.

If it went ahead, it would be the Indian-owned company’s second overseas manufacturing plant, after agreeing to build a plant in Shanghai.

More than 200 of the 800 new UK jobs to be created are supported by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund. They will be taken on one-year contracts to start with and will be converted to full time workers should market conditions remain strong.

Now Toyota sees sense and backs away from all-electric cars

September 24, 2012

The hype about electric cars is just one more example of environmental alarmism leading to bad decisions. The list of “bad decisions” made to appease environmentalism is long and getting longer. Wind power before its time and solar power before it  was commercially viable have only helped to increase the costs to the consumer but they have been a windfall for those who have managed to “milk” the subsidies. The electric car fiasco is no different. Billions have been wasted in subsidising something that is not commercial and in trying to skew the market in the hope of artificially creating a demand where there is none. But a few have managed to live very well off the subsidies. Some day electric cars may well become commercially viable and when they do it will not be because an environmental lobby group or a government  merely wished for it but because the technology and supply network then will be sufficiently developed to offer the consumer a superior product at a reasonable price.

The simple reality is that:

  • electric car batteries are still too heavy and take too long to charge
  • the range they provide is too short
  • the cars are too expensive

More importantly the ostensible reason for subsidising the technology  – as being for the cutting of carbon dioxide emissions to try and reverse natural climate change –  is both based on a false premise and futile.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said, Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s.

Reuters reports:


Electric cars in the US: $7.5 billion of taxpayers money for “little or no impact” on gas consumption

September 22, 2012

The fantasy world of subsidies is compounded when the subsidies are for irrational but “politically correct” ends.


U.S. federal policies to promote electric vehicles will cost $7.5 billion through 2019 and have “little to no impact” on overall national gasoline consumption over the next several years, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report issued on Thursday.

Consumer tax credits for buying electric vehicles, which can run as high as $7,500 per vehicle, will account for about 25 percent of the $7.5 billion cost, the CBO said.

The rest of the cost comprises of $2.4 billion in grants to battery makers and projects to promote electric vehicles as well as $3.1 billion in loans to auto companies designed to spur production of fuel-efficient vehicles. …….

Fisker Karma electric hybrid car is a gold-mine – for someone

August 20, 2012

As Fisker recalls all its Karma cars because of a fire risk, I observe that it represents yet another case of the fundamental failing of subsidies.

1. Fisker has received government subsidies of $528million


Victor Muller’s Spyker turns a profit after Saab’s bankruptcy

April 30, 2012

After driving Saab into bankruptcy it seems that Victor Muller’s Spyker will still come out of it pretty well. Accounting gymnastics will give Spyker (Saab’s former owner) a profit of some 140 million kronor (€16 million).

Svenska Dagbladet reports (free translation):

Saab Automobile’s bankruptcy has a shortfall of over nine billion kronor (€900 million) and many creditors will not get a penny. But Saab’s former owner, Spyker, has managed to show a profit of over 140 million kronor just because of the Saab bankruptcy. “It sounds very strange that Spyker makes a profit because of Saab’s bankruptcy. But we don’t know what lies behind and what legal documents were drawn up between the companies”, said Marie Karlsson Tuula, associate professor of civil law and specialist in bankruptcy matters. ….


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