A test drive in Mazdas first EV - the MX-30 - was a highlight of the week

A test drive in Mazda's first EV - the MX-30 - was a highlight of the week

Once again, I've managed to top just-auto's 'most read article' list so, in case you missed it, here's how last week went.

This week, Geely's Lynk & Co. came under the spotlight. Extra models, more PHEV options and the market itself being in a totally different place to where it was in 2020 saw the brand's February sales quadrupling to 11,825 vehicles. Next comes a couple of especially tricky tasks; launching in selected European and US cities, the aim being to eventually lessen the reliance on China. We can also expect an expansion of the model range, new drivetrains and the arrival of some next generation Geely and Volvo platforms. Even allowing for the collapse of the Chinese car market in early 2020, the recent, dramatic year-on-year rise in sales has been an astonishing achievement by Lynk & Co. The division had 175,439 wholesale deliveries last year, a rise of 37% over 2019. The 03 was the best seller (70,317), followed by the 05 (32,502), 01 (31,619), 02 (21,301) and 06 (19,700). For reasons known only to its parent firm, there's still no Lynk & Co 04 but perhaps that will change later in 2021.

The BMW Group said it was investing in an innovative method - utilising electrolysis rather than traditional blast furnaces - for CO2-free steel production developed by US startup Boston Metal. BMW is using its venture capital fund, BMW i Ventures, to help the startup develop the process at industrial scale. It's another example of a vehicle maker looking deep into its supply chain - in this case important raw materials - to reach ever tighter sustainability goals. Over the coming years, Boston Metal plans to expand the new method for steel production on an industrial scale. BMW said the investment is part of the group's far-reaching sustainability activities aimed at significantly reducing CO2 emissions across the supplier network.

Clapping eyes on Mazda's first proper EV this week - there have been concepts for decades - there was a sense of deja vu. Battery power. Check. Rear hinged rear doors which can only be opened after front portals open. Check. Range c.110 miles. Check. BMW's i3 came immediately to mind. To my eyes, the Mazda MX-30 is a much more attractive coupe crossover with a much more conventional interior albeit with some trim material innovation. Come out of an ICE BMW or Volkswagen into an i3 or ID.3 and familiarity takes a while - how do you engage drive? - but the MX-30 is much like a CX-30 inside. Conventional Mazda-style instrument cluster with a battery 'fuel gauge' (instead of a digital read-out) plus a separate range display, steering column stalks, familiar T-bar shifter in the centre console (instead of an instrument panel-mounted control) and familiar switches on the steering wheel. Screen climate control nicely supplemented by buttons. Cork trim and an unusual multi-layer centre console storage layout are the only real differences. Range is officially 124 miles (110 was showing on our demo when we set sail) and Mazda's UK unit cites lower CO2 emissions for that choice, describing battery manufacture as a "particular challenge". The reasoning is that making smaller battery packs emits less CO2 and also "achieves parity" (of total CO2 build-and-use emissions compared with an ICE car) sooner while less weight means lighter handling and ride. "The emphasis is on the whole driving experience," we were told.

Amazingly enough, Proton sold more cars in Malaysia during 2020 than in 2019, gaining market share too; the only major brand to do so. Covid slowed the new model launch cycle but in contrast to the pre-Geely days, most of today's vehicles aren't too venerable anyway: another reason why sales didn't crash last year. By contrast, another more modestly sized marque also controlled by Geely has needed fresh products for many years. And at last, Lotus will soon begin to launch them.

Volkswagen is planning to shed thousands of jobs in Germany through early and partial retirement. VW said in a statement that its management and the works council have drawn up a set of guidelines specifying additional components for driving forward the group's transformation in the current fiscal year. The company said the measures agreed will make an important contribution to disciplined cost management, the key drivers being freezing the size of the workforce at the January 2021 level and an extensive retirement package. It was also decided to open up partial retirement to employees born in 1964 as announced as part of the digital transformation roadmap, to reopen partial retirement for the 1961 and 1962 birth cohorts, and to additionally launch an early retirement program for the 1956 to 1960 birth cohorts. That'd be me out of VW then.

Motor shows continue, at least in China. The latest addition to just-auto's list of global premieres for 2021's biggest motor show - Shanghai - is a large Ford SUV that will be, initially at least, unique to China.

VW says a new 'unified' battery cell along with six new gigafactories will bring scalability and volume boosts that will reduce the cost of battery systems for electric vehicles by up to 50% by 2030. The bold claim came as Volkswagen Group presented a technology roadmap for batteries and charging up to 2030 today on its first 'Power Day'. The goal of the roadmap is to significantly reduce the complexity and cost of the battery. At the same time, the group is aiming to secure the supply of battery cells beyond 2025. In Europe alone, six gigafactories with a total production capacity of 240 GWh are to be established by the end of the decade, it says. VW is also vigorously pursuing expansion of the public fast-charging network globally. With this in mind, cooperations have been agreed in Europe with energy companies BP (Great Britain), Iberdrola (Spain) and Enel (Italy).

The Thai government is considering raising its electric vehicle (EV) production target and plans to hold discussions with local vehicle manufacturers over the next month, according to local reports. The government said it wants the industry to meet the accelerating shift in global demand towards zero-emission vehicles, as countries around the world step up measures to meet their carbon emissions reduction commitments. The Thai National Electric Vehicle Policy Committee is considering requiring EV production to account for at least 50% of total output by 2030, up from a previous target of 30%.

Ford confirmed the next generation Transit Custom range will include an all-electric model, in addition to plug-in hybrid, mild hybrid and conventional engine variants, and goes into production in Turkey in the first half of 2023. All versions will be built by Ford Otosan – the joint venture in Turkey – in Kocaeli. The next generation Volkswagen one-tonne commercial vehicle also will be built in Kocaeli, as part of a previously announced platform sharing deal.

Honda Motor said supply chain issues would halt production at most of its US and Canadian vehicle plants for a week. According to a Reuters report, the automaker added the issue would result in some production cuts next week at all US and Canadian plants, citing "the impact from COVID-19, congestion at various ports, the microchip shortage and severe winter weather over the past several weeks". Toyota Motor, following Honda, said production would be disrupted at a number of plants in North America next week due to severe weather conditions. The bad weather has already affected a number of automaker in the US, mainly by disrupting supply chains, which has compounded the existing problems caused by the global semiconductor shortages. Others have also been affected - we have bundled all our reports on The Great Chip Shortage here.

Volkswagen has restated the importance of its platform strategy across its brands as key to growing its scale in e-mobility.  Annual shareholder day presentations this week in Wolfsburg stressed that hardware, software, batteries and charging as well as mobility services of all VW Group brands are to be based on largely standardised technical foundations in future.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com