Export fail. In January, the Hoegh Osaka car transporter is fully loaded with cars and has an eventful departure from the port of Southampton [Photo credit: National Police Air Service]

Export fail. In January, the Hoegh Osaka car transporter is fully loaded with cars and has an eventful departure from the port of Southampton [Photo credit: National Police Air Service]

The year 2015 will probably go down in the annals of automotive industry history for Volkswagen's jaw-dropping emissions cheating scandal. But plenty of other things happened over the course of the year. Seasoned observer Dave Leggett sifts through the just-auto archive month-by-month and offers a personal take on some of the year's most significant developments. Part 1 takes in the first half.


It's January so it must be the Detroit Show. Right. Do you know your Volt from your Bolt? Sub-editors everywhere need to keep a keen eye out in the copy for that one. GM gathers some headlines in chilly Motown when it shows the Chevrolet Bolt. It's a full-on EV that perhaps demonstrates one advantage a big corporation like GM has: huge investment resources. Has the General been nudged by Tesla? Maybe. It's only a concept, but the fuss and a claimed 200 miles of range lends weight to the speculation (confirmed later in the year) that a version of this car will make it into series production. GM's venture into vehicular electrification thus far has been spearheaded by the Volt range extended electric vehicle. At Detroit, GM confirms that the second generation car will have a 20% greater zero emission electric-only full charge running range - that's up to 50 miles. It doesn't sound much, but it is potentially a significant improvement for ZEV running in city centres.  Here's our list of the Detroit 2015 debuts.

On this side of the pond, there's a story that offers some memorable images as a car transporting some 1,300 cars tips over a bit off the English south coast. Thankfully, there are no human casualties; it's just automotive metal that is damaged. There's another nice image here and here. Amazingly, there is – eventually – a happy ending for the vessel, if not for the written off cars.

When the December data comes in from the US, it's good to note that the market has returned to 'normal' and that the outlook for 2015 is pretty good. However, the news from China is much less upbeat, with dealers there complaining of supply push from the OEMs. BMW is sufficiently moved by the complaints to help its dealers out financially.

Also in January, Google revealed that it is talking to automotive companies about its plans for driverless cars. How disruptive could Google or Apple be? Potentially, very, but the automotive space will take some addressing. Another potentially very disruptive company is Tesla, although its seemingly one-way-bet share price goes south on much cheaper oil. There is to be no recovery to the international oil price in 2015 as the Saudis continue to pump it out cheap in the hope of crippling the frackers (they turn out to be resilient). Global demand for oil also stays sluggish. By the end of the year, it's going to be under $40 a barrel.

Many of us are admirers of Audi's ability to push up sales with new niche models. It has been a phenomenal source of volume and profitability growth since 2000. However, the emergence of a TT 'family' makes us wonder whether Audi has reached a limit. Nice piece from Ray Hutton.

With the redoubtable Land Rover Defender finally coming to the end of its long life, we ran this item about the recreated 1948 production line, which seemed like a particularly nice way to mark the workhorse's send-off.

At the end of the month, we have a nice exclusive about a small Infiniti SUV – QX30 – to be shown in Geneva. Production of this intended rival for the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, BMW X1 and Audi Q3 will be at Nissan's Sunderland plant in England. Like the Q30, the QX30 will use Daimler's front- and all-wheel drive MFA architecture. It's another interesting example of clever under-the-skin engineering sharing between manufacturers to cut cost.


Reports emerge that Apple is working on an Apple-branded car and that 'several hundred' Apple employees are working on the project which is called 'Titan'. It is said that the Apple-branded car may well be an electric vehicle. That sounds plausible. Later in the year more news leaks out concerning development testing, but Apple does a pretty good job of keeping a lid on things. The few suppliers working with Apple on the project are bound by non-disclosure. It's a licence for speculation in the media, of course.

In one of the year's many supplier sector consolidations, Mahle announces it is to acquire Delphi's thermal business reducing the size of the once huge supplier business built up under General Motors ownership, still further.

The UK government gives the green light for testing driverless cars on public roads in the UK and says it is planning an industry code of practice for the testing of such vehicles. This is one of those initiatives that bobbles up out of the Automotive Council and is part of the industry-government partnership to position the UK auto sector for high-tech growth. Must say though, one of the vehicles – the one pictured in this article – is a curious looking affair. Could be a fairground ride tub with wheels.

Also in February, we learned more about the new Volvo XC90's move upscale (I just love seeing the "Thor's hammer" headlamp LED signature on the road) and Suzuki's bold brand ambitions with the new Vitara.


Early March means the Geneva Show. It's a revered fixture for the industry in Europe; a major show undoubtedly, but physically tiny compared with Frankfurt. It is also, like Switzerland, respected in the business for a sense of no-fuss neutrality. This long list of debut models testifies to the show's enduring popularity with a wide range of car companies and brands.

For me, Geneva 2015 comes with very happy memories of a driving tour courtesy of Vauxhall that began in Monaco and got me to the show in time for the press day. We followed this route where we could. Nice part of the world. And I got to briefly revisit the late 1970s in a mint condition Mark 1 Cavalier that was a joy to drive. Simple pleasures.

At the show I interviewed SMMT chief Mike Hawes on the hoof and heard about GM's OnStar plans for Europe.  There are some interesting differences between the US OnStar and how the service has been put together and priced up for Europe. I also managed to grab Ford of Europe chief Jim Farley in the melee that followed a Ken Block demo at the Ford stand and ask him about the toubled Russia market. You can see all of our Geneva coverage gathered together here.

It was something of an eyebrow raiser. In the middle of the month it emerges that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, Cherie Blair, is to be nominated for a seat on Renault's board. It is a bit surprising on first hearing, but less so when you consider some of the work she does and also the culture inside Renault and Carlos Ghosn's regularly publicly aired views. A nice summary on that relatively enlightened corporate culture came out of Davos earlier in the year.

March also brings news from Brussels that the European competition regulators are okay with the ZF-TRW deal that will create a new mega-supplier. The $13.5bn deal will bring the two technology groups together under the same company roof to help build presence in the growing DAS/self-driving vehicles sector (analysis of the deal).

General Motors decides to 'change its business model in Russia'. There seem to be two main schools of thought emerging in response to Russia's sharp recession and slashed vehicle demand: Stay in Russia and tough it out for long-term gain, or cut and run. It'll be a while before we know which option was best. It's hard not to conclude that GM has opted for the latter option.

Bearing in mind the unprecedented crisis that visits Volkswagen Group in the second half of the year, this piece considering the succession to Martin Winterkorn has the feel of a VW at its imperious height. A certain Matthias Müller, chief executive at Porsche at the time, is one of a number in the frame.

Yet more consolidation in the supplier area. This time it's Pirelli and the new owner is a Chinese firm. And in the OEM area, news emerges of wider cooperation between BMW and Toyota – this time to jointly develop sports cars.

Jaguar unveils its second generation XF model with a dramatic event involving a high-wire journey in London's docklands. The stunt is designed to highlight the new car's light weight and Jaguar claims it is 80kg lighter than its closest competitor. Featuring 75 per cent aluminium, the new architecture enables weight savings of up to 190kg over the outgoing model, Jaguar says. The stunt is fairly impressive, but just seems like quite a lot of trouble to go to for something that won't quite grab the headlines.

It has been on the cards for a while, but Volvo Cars finally announces it will build a factory in the US, "fulfilling its ambition to be a truly global car maker" and spending around US$500m to underscore "its long term commitment to the US market". We'll find out later in the year where…


April brings us the New York Show. It's not an A-list show, but it has become much more significant in recent years, with a fair list of model premieres. However, a concept from Lincoln provokes a row on social media between its designer and one from Bentley who essentially claims to have been ripped off. To be fair, a look at the cars suggests the Bentley man has a point. Luc Donckerwolke of Bentley is clearly riled. Others find the whole thing a little amusing ("turtle necks at dawn", that kind of thing). "Do you want us to send the product tooling," Donckerwolke wrote on the Facebook page of Lincoln styling chief David Woodhouse. Ouch.

And there's yet more supplier industry consolidation as Magna International says it has inked an agreement to sell substantially all of its interiors operations, excluding seating, to Grupo Antolin for US$525m. Also in interiors, Johnson Controls' deal to form a huge new interiors joint venture with a components subsidiary of SAIC gets a step closer to reality as a further agreement to form the new entity is signed. Johnson Controls is clearly keen to divest and specialise.

A power struggle at Volkswagen comes to a head when Ferdinand Piech suddenly resigns as chairman of the VW supervisory board. In essence, he has had a bust-up with Martin Winterkorn, blaming him for some of the company's weaknesses in some markets. However, Piech, the astute schemer and politician, as well as revered company visionary, seems to have badly miscalculated this time. The backing on the supervisory board is for Winterkorn.

Also in April, Graeme Roberts took a close look at Honda's UK manufacturing facility, where it is rearranging model sourcing for Europe, making its Swindon plant in England a global hub for the next generation five-door Civic while its Canadian plant in Alliston, Ontario would supply the next generation CR-V for Europe.


There are signs of discord in the Renault-Nissan Alliance as the French government looks to increase its influence. Carlos Ghosn isn't best pleased.

Mercedes-Benz says it will enter the one tonne pickup truck segment with a variant of Nissan's NP300 Navara/Frontier line. A version is also being developed for Nissan's Alliance partner Renault and all three will be built in two plants in Europe and South America with planned output of 190,000 a year by the end of the decade.

What is Audi becoming? A premium brand epitomised by SUVs? Audi chairman Rupert Stadler says that in the in the next five years, 40-45% of all Audi vehicles sold will be SUVs.

BMW updates the 3 Series to include a three-cylinder 1.5L engine. A plug-in hybrid variant is promised for 2016.

There's news of yet another OEM collaboration in the area of green technologies as Toyota and Mazda announce they plan to work together. Toyota, it seems, is particularly interested in Mazda's 'Skyactiv' technology that boosts powertrain efficiency.

It's a new Dawn for Rolls-Royce as it unveils the name for its new convertible in front of 130 dealers in Los Angeles. The Dawn, the drophead follows the introduction of the Phantom, Ghost and Wraith models since 2003. "Our new Rolls-Royce Dawn promises a striking, encounter like no other Rolls-Royce to date," said Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes. A pic of the '52 Silver Dawn catches our eye.

What challenges will autonomous cars pose for designers in the future? We talked to a senior designer at Ford – Martin Smith - who had some interesting insights and thoughts on this subject. Will the look of cars radically change over time? "It's an interesting question," said Smith. "If you have an autonomous car that drives itself, to many people it might not matter what it looks like, what's more important is perhaps what the interior is like."

ZF completes its acquisition of TRW with the American supplier incorporated into its new German owner as a new division to be known as Active & Passive Safety Technology. "Today marks the day we combine the strengths of ZF and TRW into a worldwide leading systems supplier in the automotive sector," says ZF CEO, Stefan Sommer.

The first production model for the Renault-Nissan Alliance's CMF-A platform is revealed. The "Kwid" will initially be built and sold in India. The new car will have a standard 800cc, three-cylinder petrol engine and a five-speed manual transmission.

News emerges of overtures from FCA's Sergio Marchionne to Mary Barra at General Motors. He's seeing consolidation gains again. The overtures, however, are rebuffed.


In a year notable for supplier industry restructuring, news emerges from Johnson Controls that it is exploring "strategic options for the separation of its automotive business". We drilled a little deeper and discovered this was indeed likely to happen as JCI eyes a 'multi-industrial' rather than 'automotive supplier' future.

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer tells an industry conference that the company is targeting a growing class of luxury consumers in emerging markets and that he believes it can reinvent itself as a sustainable luxury brand.

The new BMW 7 Series is revealed and it's the usual technological tour de force. A key new, optional feature is remote self-park, driving forward or reversing in. Weight reduction was also a key goal of the 7 Series development: carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) is used in the passenger compartment and the new generation models weigh up to 130kg less than the previous generation. CFRP learning comes from the i-brand.

In this business, it pays to consider the flip-side of any situation. So, the Russian rouble sinks through the floor versus major currencies and the joint ventures there importing parts for local car assembly operations are immediately clobbered on their margins. The lower rouble, though, could be a good thing – in terms of relative competitiveness - for a vehicle maker that is very highly vertically integrated. AvtoVAZ's Bo Andersson tells us that the weak Russian Rouble is a "huge advantage" as it looks to make hay while the currency sun shines.

Next up, Part 2, July-December

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more