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December 14, 2018

BMW poaches Audi autonomous driving chief – the week

News that former Audi automated driving head Alejandro Vukotich would take over as head of BMW Group's driver assistance and autonomous driving development department on 1 January, replacing the retiring Elmar Frickenstein, was a most-read news story this week.

By Olly Wehring

News that former Audi automated driving head Alejandro Vukotich would take over as head of BMW Group’s driver assistance and autonomous driving development department on 1 January, replacing the retiring Elmar Frickenstein, was a most-read news story this week.

Vukotich has 19 years of experience in the field of active safety, driver assistance and autonomous driving in the German automotive industry, BMW said, without elaborating. So I did a little digging on LinkedIn and up popped Vukotich on ‘garden leave – preparing for new challenges’ and we learned he was previously VP development automated driving at Audi from January 2017-March 2018. Good catch, BMW.

Mr Ghosn finally had his day in court. Tokyo prosecutors officially charged the ousted Nissan Motor chairman for under-reporting his income and extended his detention on suspicion of additional financial misconduct. Prosecutors also indicted Nissan for filing false financial statements making the Japanese automaker culpable for the scandal that has shocked the auto industry. Nissan, which fired Ghosn as chairman days after his arrest, had said the misconduct was masterminded by the once-celebrated executive with the help of former representative director Greg Kelly, who was also officially charged for the first time on Monday. Ghosn and Kelly had not made any statement through their lawyers but Japanese media reported they had denied the allegations.

We also learned Ghosn was planning to propose replacing CEO Hiroto Saikawa at a company board meeting scheduled for late November before he was arrested by Tokyo prosecutors on 19 November for alleged financial misconduct. It had been suggested Ghosn was unhappy with Nissan’s performance in the US as well as with quality and final inspection issues that emerged in Japan in October last year. Ghosn had discussed plans to reform Nissan management with some company executives in Japan earlier in the year, including the possibility of replacing Saikawa, but these plans were derailed by his arrest.

Ghosn nonetheless remains in charge at Renault – with COO Thierry Bollore in an elevated role temporarily – after the board heard the preliminary conclusions of a review of his Renault compensation in the period 2015-2018 (the period of alleged financial misconduct at Nissan). The review concluded his compensation was ‘in compliance with applicable law’. Although the review looked at Ghosn’s Renault compensation, not Nissan compensation, the preliminary finding suggested he was not involved in endemic misconduct activity across the alliance companies and that misconduct charges against Ghosn were likely to remain a Nissan-only affair.

But it looks like Christmas in Clink for the once-great man as the court rejected his appeal – and a consequent overturn appeal – to end his detention. From indictment, cases in Japan typically take months to go to trial. In the past, suspects who have been indicted have seldom been freed on bail, but in recent years that has become more common.

Management shuffle at Hyundai Motor Group was in the wind when we learned of two high-flyers’ resignations followed, a day later, by news of a new, ex-BMW, R&D chief in place of two Koreans – the move was being interpreted as a significant step to bring in fresh ideas at the Korean-dominated group – and various other reshuffles.

Ford was reportedly in negotiations with worker representatives about possible job reductions at its German Saarlouis car manufacturing plant as it considered ending production of the C-Max model which is made there. Ford is expected to restructure its loss-making European operations and recently announced some changes to its management structure at Ford of Europe. Analysts noted the compact minivan market in Europe has declined and consumers are now turning towards SUVs – the third generation C-Max, codenamed C481, plus its long wheelbase Grand C-MAX derivative had at one time been due to enter production in Europe during 2017. Due to the collapse of their segment, the programme to replace them was cancelled.

The China sales slowdown hit Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) which reported total retail sales of 48,160 vehicles in November, a fall of 8% year-on-year reflecting what it described as ‘continuing challenging market conditions in China‘. But retail sales were up significantly in North America (18.1%) due to strong sales of Range Rover models in Jaguar Land Rover’s best ever November sales results in the market. Sales were also 5.6% higher in Europe and up 3.2% in the UK.

Ford also had a grim month there as it works on a recovery plan. It’s only the latest OEM to find China very challenging at the moment.

I drove an actual car this week – two in fact – sampling 140PS and 160PS versions of Nissan’s new Qashqai 1.3-litre petrol engine bolted, respectively, to a six-speed manual and the new, seven-speed DCT, CVT-loving Nissan’s first double clutcher. It goes just fine but I fret a little about durability.

Have a great weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com

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