Saturday, 8 March 2014
Daimler's Mercedes-Benz slashed second-place Audi's luxury-car sales lead by almost one-third in the first two months of 2014 on surging demand for its models in China.
Through February, Mercedes was 26,647 sales behind Audi compared with 36,804 during the same period last year.
Mercedes posted a sales gain last month of 17 percent, propelled by a 74 percent jump in China. Audi's deliveries in February rose 7 percent.
"We are keeping up the high momentum of the previous months," Ola Kaellenius, Mercedes sales chief, said in a statement. "We have the right products at the right time."
Audi's two-month deliveries in China, including Hong Kong, jumped 13 percent, with February sales increasing 7 percent. European two-month demand rose 7 percent, including gains of 14 percent in Germany and 9 percent in the UK, Audi said today in a statement.
"In Europe, several markets are gaining stability at what remains a low level," Luca de Meo, Audi's sales chief, said in the statement. "In this region, we are already scoring with the new A3 sedan, which will also be launched in China and the United States -- its two most important sales markets -- in the upcoming weeks."
Mercedes is benefiting from demand for compact cars such as the CLA, A class and B class, as well a revamp of the flagship S-class sedan. Mercedes also plans this year to bring out a new version of the C class, its global best seller, and the all-new GLA compact SUV.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, who has a goal for Mercedes to surpass Audi and BMW to become the world's biggest maker of luxury cars by 2020, is rolling out 30 new vehicles by the end of the decade, a dozen of which will have no predecessor.
BMW, the world's No. 1 seller of premium cars, has yet to release February sales data.
The Volkswagen Golf remained Europe's best-selling car after sales grew by 28 percent in January, according to market researcher JATO Dynamics.
At the same time a 9 per cent rise in sales lifted its smaller sister vehicle, the Polo, two positions to second place. An 8 percent increase left Ford's Fiesta in third spot. The fourth-placed Renault Clio and Peugeot 208 at No. 5 were both down in volume.
The new Skoda Octavia and Audi A3 also performed particularly well in January. Gaining 33 percent during the month, the Octavia climbed to sixth place.
In eighth place, Audi's A3 was the only top 10 model to better this, the recently expanded range recording an 84 percent increase. It was notable that models built on VW's MQB platform (Golf, Octavia and A3) accounted for 30 percent of the top 10 sellers and that there were just 1,772 units separating 2nd from 4th place.
VW brand No 1
With an 8 percent increase in volume in January to 122,801 units, Volkswagen remained Europe's top-selling brand. Ford held onto second place with a 9 percent gain to 67,869 units, while Peugeot, up 9 percent to 61,874 units, and Renault, up 4 percent to 59,315 units, moved up to third and fourth places respectively. In doing this they took advantage of an 8 percent setback for Opel/Vauxhall, mainly due to lower sales of the Astra in the UK and Germany.
Overall European new car sales in January rose 5 percent on the same month of 2013 to just over 965,000 vehicles. This was the fifth consecutive month in which sales rose, with 23 of the 30 country markets in the JATO analysis recording gains.
Germany and the UK continued to perform well, with year-on-year growth of 7 percent in the former to 205,996 units and 8 percent in the latter to 154,562 units. Unable to replicate December's double-digit growth, Spanish volumes still improved by 9 percent to 54,430 units. Italian sales rose 3 percent to 118,725 units, while France just managed to stay in positive territory, up 0.5 percent to 125,454 units.
Mini may not replace its Coupe/Roadster and Paceman cars. Instead the BMW Group subsidiary will focus on three "pillar" models.
Mini needs to be “more relevant for more people,” Oliver Friedmann, the brand'a head of product management, told Automotive News Europe at the auto show here. “Our first priority is to roll out a portfolio that has strong pillars and to be absolutely clear what each stands for.”
Friedmann identified the Mini hatchback and the Countryman SUV as two pillars of the brand. The potential third pillar is a compact-sized model based on the Clubman concept shown in Geneva. If the concept is built, "it will be a separate strong pillar,” he said.
With the new focus, the hatchback-based Coupe and Roadster are unlikely to continue. “It’s not decided but most probably this is not a priority,” Friedmann said.
The Paceman, which is a coupe version of the five-door Countryman, could also be dropped when the Countryman is eventually replaced. "The Paceman is also not a first priority,” Friedmann said.
The Paceman was launched as a lower, more sporty version of the Countryman.
The Coupe/Roadster and Paceman are niche models for Mini.
According to researchers IHS Automotive, Mini sold 3,858 Coupes, 2,678 Roadsters, 7,485 Clubmans and 8,229 Pacemans in Europe. This contrasts with sales of 47,177 Countrymans and 78,102 hatchbacks.
“The Coupe and Roadster are selling far below where Mini’s key models are and I think in some respects are quite poorly executed,” IHS senior analyst Ian Fletcher told Automotive News Europe.
IHS predicts that Mini will launch the new Clubman based on the Geneva show concept in 2015.
The Clubman concept is 260mm longer than the current model and has four conventional doors instead of the current Clubman’s quirky single half-door arrangement that provides rear seat access.
Mini's latest-generation three-door hatchback is being rolled out at dealerships. It uses BMW's new front-wheel-drive platform and BMW's a new 1.5-liter gasoline turbocharged three-cylinder engine which has improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.
Mini's Clubman concept, shown, is longer, wider and taller than the current Clubman.
A five-door version is likely to go on sale before the end of this year. IHS estimates the revised hatchback's extra appeal could push its sales to more than 100,000 this year
For more than two years the Hollywood stars Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson have been enthusiastic drivers of the B-Class F-CELL, whose only emission is pure water. But they are not the only ones: The Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL is becoming a popular and treasured endurance runner. In the USA alone, an F-CELL fleet made up of some 70 vehicles has covered more than 1.6 million kilometres - saving around 113,500 litres of fuel and almost 270 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the process. A total of around 200 vehicles have been with customers in the USA and Europe since 2010 and one of these vehicles already has 315,000 kilometres on the clock. Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson are now showing in a film just how much potential the fuel cell drive system offers – on a trip in California's DeathValley, one of the driest places in the world. The film can be viewed at http://mb4.me/drive4water.
Jaguar could consider a smaller car than its new XE saloon in the coming years, according to design director Ian Callum.
“I think it’s something we should investigate without compromising the brand values," he said. ‘It’s got to be true to Jaguar’s standing as having cool, fast performance cars that look fantastic."
However, he said its new architecture could not be adapted for any models smaller than the XE: “If we want to go smaller, we’d have to find another new platform."
Callum also said that he hoped plans for a SUV model, shown as the C-X17 concept at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, would go ahead: “I hope we do it because they’d be huge potential. The reaction to the car has been very good."
He added that he had initially been sceptical of the idea, believing Jaguar needed to focus on sporty saloons and coupes, but was now won over: “We did a lot of research and the world loves SUVs and crossovers, so we have to take the idea seriously."
NO F-TYPE TARGA
The designer, who created the acclaimed F-Type roadster and coupe, also quashed rumours that a F-Type Targa would be introduced: “It would only be 10% if our volume, which doesn’t justify for the investment."
Jaguar’s BMW 3-Series rival, the XE, will be the next focus for the brand, with the model expected to make up the most volume when it launches. While a handful of people that have glimpsed of the car have described it as a “baby XF", Callum said the car has “its own character" and is designed to appeal to a younger audience and to have “a bit of excitement".
The new Jaguar XE
A Jaguar spokesman said the car is a massive part of the brand’s growth, but that it wanted to keep its premium niche: “We want it to be our top-selling model, but we’re not trying to take a third of the segment."
UPDATED XJ COMING
The XJ is also rumoured to be receiving a facelift this year, after launching in 2010. However, Callum said that when an update is revealed, there will be no need to make any massive changes: “XJ sales are going well. We are selling more now than ever before," attributing some of its success to a halo effect from the arrival of the F-Type. “I love the XJ, it still looks fresh," he added.
Instead, Callum hinted that any updates would mostly be focused on in-car technology.
Friday, 7 March 2014
Chinese automaker Qoros Auto Co. is out to challenge Volkswagen Group, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and other Europeans on their home turf, signaling a broader push by the country's car manufacturers to target Western customers.
Qoros, a joint venture between China's Chery Automobile Co. and Tel Aviv-based holding company Israel Corp., presented the 3 compact hatchback at the Geneva auto show this week, a year after creating buzz at the show with a sedan version of the car, its first model ever.
The hatchback will compete directly with the VW Golf, while the sedan takes on the VW Jetta. The models are part of a broader rollout that will include a crossover later this year as Qoros widens its lineup to at least five vehicles.
The expansion, which follows Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor Co.'s entry into Bulgaria, is the biggest effort yet by one of the country's carmakers to crack Western markets.
"We have the big advantage that we're starting from scratch, from zero," said Stefano Villanti, head of sales and product strategy. "We have no legacy, no baggage. We have the luxury of looking at the car world with a fresh eye."
VW, Europe's biggest automaker, and other Western carmakers in recent decades helped develop China's auto industry by teaming up with local manufacturers, a move required by the government to produce in the world's largest auto market.
Those Chinese companies are now increasingly eager to expand abroad. Dongfeng Motor Corp. agreed last month to buy a 14 percent stake in PSA, Europe's second-largest carmaker, to gain technology to develop its own brands.
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. bought Sweden's Volvo Car Corp. in 2010 and Manganese Bronze, the maker of London's iconic black taxis, in 2013.
"We will eventually see more Chinese brands coming into Europe," said Tim Urquhart, an analyst with IHS Automotive in London. "It won't be an overnight flood. It's going to be a very slow and gradual process."
Qoros will begin its European push in Slovakia, with most of the brand's sales probably still coming initially from China. Global deliveries are forecast to increase to 188,200 vehicles by 2020 from about 34,000 this year, IHS estimates.
The 3 hatchback that debuted this week in Geneva is 90mm (3.5 inches) longer than the Golf and, with 156 hp, boasts almost twice the power of the VW model's base version.
Qoros' 3 sedan, which started deliveries in Slovakia earlier this year, costs 20,960 euros ($28,790). While the Golf starts at 17,175 euros, a car with similar power costs 27,250 euros. The hatchback's price hasn't been released yet.
"Qoros is shooting into a segment which is the toughest and most fiercely contested segment at the moment," said Thomas Schiller, a Munich-based partner with Deloitte. "Qoros's approach is very ambitious. They'll need a lot of staying power."
The 3 sedan drew the attention of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn at Geneva last year. He made the car one of his stops on a tour of the show floor, reviewing the interior and checking gaps between body panels.
VW said it doesn't comment on competitors, when asked about Qoros. The 3 hatchback features an 8-inch touchscreen and a cloud-connected platform that enables the customer to access social networks and book service appointments.
"Our connectivity is something where we are unique," Volker Steinwascher, deputy CEO, said in an interview in Geneva. "Young customers don't want to lose their mobile-phone connection."
Qoros, founded in 2007, produces its cars at the company's plant in Changshu, about 100km (62 miles) northwest of Shanghai. The facility has initial capacity to produce 150,000 vehicles annually and can expand to 350,000 if needed.
Israel Corp., which also owns stakes in the chemicals, energy and shipping industries, got involved as part of its goal of investing in companies in emerging markets with high-growth potential.
Qoros, which has a design center in Munich and engineering facilities in Graz, Austria, is tapping European expertise, including hiring former executives from VW and BMW Group, to woo the region's buyers.
Qoros's vehicles were created under Gert Hildebrand, a former BMW designer who oversaw Mini's resurgence. The underpinnings were made in close cooperation with Magna International's Magna Steyr unit, which assembles cars for Mini and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz.
"We developed the car together with Qoros to be absolutely the benchmark," said Karl-Friedrich Stracke, responsible for vehicle technology and engineering at Magna Steyr. "They have a very good chance to get this done."
The Qoros sedan was awarded a five-star score in EuroNCAP safety testing, after getting the best results of all vehicles tested by the government-sponsored agency in 2013.
The brand is seeking a foothold in Europe by targeting Slovakia because the country has no domestic nameplate with which to compete. With 324 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, the country has the fourth-lowest vehicle density in the European Union.
That gives the Chinese brand potential to carve out a niche as the market catches up to neighbors. A wider expansion in the region is still two to three years away, Villanti said.
"It's very sensible that they are not aiming for a broad rollout in Europe, which would burn all their money," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. "They are taking a cautious approach and gaining experience in Slovakia."
The brand's push comes as the Europe starts a gradual recovery. A six-year contraction, stemming from the sovereign-debt crisis, forced the region's nameplates to close plants and cut spending as demand dropped to a two-decade low.
Even with growth now in the cards, competition remains intense. Stephen Odell, Europe chief at Ford Motor Co., whose Focus compact will compete with the Qoros, said in Geneva that he saw no signs of pricing pressure easing.
Qoros also faces reinvigorated rivals. Peugeot won the 2014 European Car of the Year award with its 308 hatchback, which is in the same segment as the 3 hatchback.
"I find this business case and adventure very interesting," Peugeot brand CEO Maxime Picat said of Qoros during an interview in Geneva. "It can become a nice success story or, on the contrary, it could fail, being considered as a Chinese carmaker in Europe."
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles expects a new plant in Brazil to boost its profitability in that market by 2017 after a cut to subsidies and currency effects hit profits there last year, CEO Sergio Marchionne said.
"I'm absolutely convinced that by 2017, which will be the first year of full production at the Pernambuco plant, we will return to making double digit margins in Brazil," Marchionne told journalists at the Geneva auto show. He did not say whether the margins referred to profits or sales.
The Pernambuco plant, which will open next year, will produce models that better match market demand, Marchionne has said. It will build the small Jeep Renegade and other models. Production of the Renegade has already started at a plant in Italy.
Brazil used to account for about one fifth of Fiat profit, helping to offset losses in Europe, but an end to car sales incentives, higher input costs and currency effects have weighed on profitability in the region.
FCA, created after Fiat took full control of Chrysler in January in a $4.35 billion deal to create the world's seventh-largest auto group, cut its 2014 profit forecast after an 80-percent slump in Latin American core earnings in the final quarter of 2013.
Separately, Marchionne said he was optimistic about the market recovery in Europe, but added he did not think underlying problems of oversupply had been cured, and cuts in production were needed for the recovery to gain momentum.
"Supply issues still continue to be a big problem in Europe and we've only partially dealt with that," he said.
Marchionne expects a new strategy focusing on high-end car brands such as Maserati and Alfa Romeo for exports to help override some of the weak demand in its traditional markets, especially Italy. A new industrial plan outlining new models and investments will be presented in May.
The carmaker expects to keep the production of its sporty Alfa brand in Italy, Marchionne said, adding that productivity at the Italian plants had improved greatly and was on a par with other production sites in eastern Europe.
"It's not a nationalistic thing, but there are some things that belong to a place," Marchionne said, adding that, at least in his time as CEO, Alfas would be assembled in Italy. "Alfa Romeo belongs to Italy as Maserati and Ferrari do."
Marchionne said the first new Alfa to be developed under the new plan would be produced before the end of next year.
Marchionne said a convertible bond remained among FCA's options to boost capital and help fund the shift upmarket that will help it break even in Europe by 2016. A decision on the bond or another option may be announced with the May plan.
Fiat's financing has been a key concern among analysts who fear the group may struggle to find all the cash it needs to revamp idled plants in Italy and roll out a whole range of Alfa Romeos and Maseratis at the heart of its recovery plan.
"Whatever will happen (on the financing), it will happen after we've finalized the merger, moved the listing to New York ... so it will take until at least the fourth quarter if not until next year," Marchionne said.
The CEO reiterated a share issue was not feasible in the current market conditions. Listing or selling parts of its luxury brands Ferrari and Maserati would remain an option for the future, but would not be part of the May plan, he added.
FCA plans to list the merged group in the United States as of October 1, but acknowledged it may be tough to do so.
The future of the Lancia brand and its integration with Chrysler will become clear on 6 May, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief Sergio Marchionne has revealed at the Geneva motor show.
Jaguar’s flagship XK sports car will cease production this summer to make way for a wave of new Jaguar models
With a week to go until free practice gets underway in Albert Park, Alonso is training hard to be as well prepared as possible when the Ferrari F14 T makes its race weekend debut. Fernando has tackled an all-encompassing training regime including running, cycling, karting and even football, which is a particular passion of the Maranello driver.
• Austrian extreme athlete starts racing career
The Audi race experience makes it possible for Audi’s customers with sporting ambitions to enter racing. But never before has the program, which the Audi driving experience has been running since 2010, had as prominent a driver as this one. “It’s fantastic that we’re cooperating with Felix Baumgartner this year,” says Klaus Demel, the head of the Audi driving experience. “As an extreme athlete, Felix Baumgartner has been thrilling millions of fans around the world with his daring actions that combine ingenuity and exceptional technical demands. Now we’re familiarizing him with our sport, offer him a professional environment with our team, and are very excited about this new, joint challenge.”