Looks like full recovery in China. The new vehicle market expanded by 8.6% to 2.252m units in April 2021 from 2.070m in the same month of last year, according to passenger car and commercial vehicle wholesale data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). The country’s vehicle market has now fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, driven mainly by pent-up demand and low interest rates.

According to the China Passenger Car Association, 8.39m citizens were given new driver’s licences in the first quarter – further fuelling demand for new vehicles. The Chinese economy rebounded by over 18% year-on-year in the first quarter after shrinking by 6.8% a year earlier, with strong domestic and overseas demand driving a sharp rise in industrial output. The World Bank last month said it expects economic growth to exceed 8.0% in 2021. New vehicle sales surged by almost 52% to 8,748,000 units in the first four months of 2021 from 5,761,000 units in the same period of last year, with passenger vehicle sales jumping by over 53% to 6,791,000 units while commercial vehicle sales were up by over 47% at 1,956,000 units. Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), comprising mainly electric and hybrid-powered vehicles, increased by 180% to 206,000 units in April and by 249% to 732,000 units year-to-date with passenger vehicles accounting for 694,000 of these.

Future BMW Group products were under the microscope this week. The only Minis available by the early 2030s will be electric, BMW said, the final model to be offered with an ICE being due for market release in 2025. Well before then though, we’ll see a new electric-only model, built in China in a JV with Great Wall Motor. Even though BMW’s third generation Mini series dates to November 2013, all three bodies will remain in production for a few years yet. A second facelift announced in January sees cars in dealerships from this month. That includes John Cooper Works versions, these having been previewed in April.

Prepare ye for ‘lecky Rollers too. Is the electric era a major threat or a fantastic opportunity for Rolls-Royce? BMW will be determined to ensure that it’s the latter and in many ways, the brand’s models having to evolve into EVs could save the parent much money. Gone will be today’s bespoke engines and architectures, along with the cost of engineering so many R-R components in Munich. Theoretically, there can soon be far more shared technology between the low-volume brand and BMWs. Rolls-Royce is expected to add an electric Cullinan in 2025. Given how heavy all battery packs are and the basic vehicle’s enormous weight, BMW has a major engineering challenge on its hands to create a vehicle with decent range. However, the EV might not arrive until the second generation Cullinan, which should be 2028.

I guess this was inevitable given the number of brands in the PSA/FCA merger. Stellantis said sales and service distribution agreements for all of its brands in the UK (and Europe) – Opel/Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Abarth, Alfa Romeo and Jeep – would be terminated with two years’ notice (at the end of this month).  A new distribution network would be selected shortly after “on the basis of key objective drivers and criteria”. Retailer representatives would be invited to dedicated meetings to contribute to the development of the future Stellantis distribution plans and strategy, which would pave the way for the new Stellantis distribution scheme. Stellantis said its business partners would  benefit from a wider range of solutions and services and have the possibility to develop their activity alongside Stellantis and “be at the forefront of future mobility”.

Thoughts there might be an EV JV fell short: Stellantis and Apple iPhone contract assembler Foxconn have struck an agreement to form a joint venture company – and supplier in the auto industry – focused on developing connected car technologies. They say the venture, called Mobile Drive, will accelerate go-to-market timelines for the most advanced in-car and connected-car technologies in the industry. Moreover, the JV will competitively bid for global vehicle program contracts with Stellantis and other auto industry companies. Mobile Drive will combine Stellantis’ global vehicle design and engineering capabilities with Foxconn’s specialisation in the rapidly changing software and hardware realms of smartphones and consumer electronics. The two companies claimed they aim to be at the frontier of in-cabin information and entertainment capabilities, seamlessly connected inside and outside the vehicles in which they are installed.

Chips, supply of, continue to plague supply and production managers: Hyundai Motor Group planned to suspend production at several assembly plants this week as its struggled with a lack of semiconductor supplies. Hyundai Motor said it would halt production at its Ulsan 5 plant, which makes the Tucson SUV and the Nexo hydrogen fuel cell car, on Monday to Tuesday of this week while the Ulsan 3 plant, which produces the Avante and Venue car models, would be shut down on Tuesday. Kia also planned to halt production at its Sohari 2 plant, which makes the Stonic small SUV, on Monday and Tuesday. Earlier this month Hyundai halted production at its Uslan 4 plant, which makes the Porter light truck, for two days due to the chip shortages. This followed more prolonged stoppages in April, with Hyundai’s Ulsan 1 plant – which makes the Kona and Ioniq 5 models – closed for over a week and the Asan plant – which produces the Hyundai Sonata and Grandeur sedans – shuttered for five days.

ZF and Mobileye, an Intel company, have been chosen by Toyota to develop and supply Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for use in multiple vehicle platforms starting in the next few years. As part of the agreement, ZF, a producer of automotive cameras driven by Mobileye technology, will also supply its Gen21 mid-range radar and be responsible for the integration of camera and radar in Toyota vehicles. “Mobileye is delighted to be working with ZF to develop leading driver assistance and safety technology for Toyota, the world’s largest automaker,” said Professor Amnon Shashua, senior vice president of Intel and president and CEO of Mobileye. The relationship with Toyota, marks the first time that ZF and Mobileye have been nominated with their ADAS systems for Toyota.

Toyota Motor announced it plans to cut production at three production lines in Japan next month due to supply chain issues as the shortage of semiconductors continues to disrupt global automakers. The automaker said it would suspend production at its Iwate 1 production line, which makes the CHR, for eight days in June due to the shortages while the Iwate 2 line will be shut for five days affecting production of Yaris and Yaris Cross. The company also confirmed its Toyota Motor East Japan subsidiary would halt production at Miyagi Ohira Plant, which also makes the Yaris Cross, for three days next month. Toyota said the production cuts would delay delivery schedules to customers and disrupt suppliers of other parts not directly affected by the shortages.

Ford has revealed some details on its upcoming electric F-150 pickup, a key product in its electrification strategy. The all-electric variant of Ford’s best selling pickup model will be built at a new high-tech facility at Ford’s Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan and Ford says it plans market launch in the spring of 2022. The electric F-150 will be called the ‘F-150 Lightning’ and will come with an electric powertrain – dual in-board motors – delivering up to 563 horsepower and 775 lb.-ft. of torque – the most torque of any F-150 ever, Ford says. It will come with four-wheel drive as standard along with the all aluminium alloy body used on the combustion engine version, but with a new independent rear suspension and a new steel ladder frame described as using the ‘strongest steel ever put in an F-150 frame’. There’s a claimed 0-60 mph time in the ‘mid-4-second range’ when equipped with the extended-range battery and Ford also says that on a 150-kilowatt DC fast charger, the extended-range F-150 Lightning is targeted to get up to 54 miles of range in 10 minutes and charge from 15% to 80% percent in about 41 minutes.

After exceptional charges, Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover reported a pre-tax loss of GBP952m for the final quarter and GBP861m for the full fiscal year 2020/21. In February 2021 the company announced a new global strategy and this triggered GBP1.5bn of exceptional charges in the fourth quarter, including GBP952m of non-cash write downs of prior investments and GBP534m of restructuring charges expected to be paid in fiscal 2021/22. JLR booked pre-tax profits of GBP534m in Q4 and GBP662m for the full year before exceptional charges. EBIT margin grew to 7.5% in Q4 and 2.6% for the full year. Revenue was up 20.5% to GBP6.5bn in Q4 led by strong sales in China and global sales of the new Land Rover Defender. The Charge+ programme delivered Q4 cost and cash flow savings of GBP332m, lifting full year savings to GBP2.5bn and the lifetime total to GBP6.0bn. The automaker said business continued to recover following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and retail sales in the fourth quarter were 123,483 vehicles, up 12.4% year on year. This was supported by a strong recovery in China, where sales grew 127% over Q4 last year, when the impact of COVID peaked in that market. Full year retails of 439,588 vehicles were still down 13.6% although sales in China increased 23.4% year-on-year. The new Land Rover Defender contributed significantly to retail sales, with 16,963 units sold in Q4 and 45,244 units for the full year.

Tesla is in talks with Chinese battery maker EVE Energy to add the company to its Shanghai factory supply chain to boost procurement of lower cost batteries, Reuters sources said. EVE makes lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which are cheaper to produce because they use iron instead of more expensive nickel and cobalt, the news agency noted, adding LFP batteries generally offer a shorter range on a single charge than the more popular alternative. EVE would become the second supplier of LFP batteries to Tesla after China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL).

QuantumScape has entered into an agreement with Volkswagen Group of America to select the location of their joint-venture solid-state battery pilot-line facility by the end of 2021. The companies are currently contemplating Salzgitter, Germany for the location. The pilot-line facility, QS-1, will initially be a 1-gigawatt hour (GWh) battery cell commercial production plant for electric vehicle batteries. QuantumScape and Volkswagen intend to expand production capacity by a further 20 GWh at the same location.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com