When Volvo Cars announced its new collaboration with Epic Games, it was billed as the beginning of a revolution in the in-car Human Machine Interface (HMI). We spoke with Thomas Stovicek, Volvo Cars’ head of user experience, to understand where this revolution will lead the brand.

Audi has started assembly of the Q8 e-tron at a Brussels plant once operated by Volkswagen which now specialises in the premium brand’s electric vehicles. Around 160,000 units of the first electric Audi made at the plant – the e-tron – have been delivered since 2018. Audi production and logistics head Gerd Walker highlighted the role of the Brussels site as a pioneer for sustainable production: “Brussels has done valuable pioneering work. We are learning from our experience of having delivered around 160,000 vehicles worldwide. As the next step, we will ramp up battery production in Ingolstadt.” Audi also said the battery assembly facility in Brussels was playing a key role for the entire VW Group.

Another month, another production cuts announcement, it seems Toyota just can’t catch a break. Same reason again – the automaker has cut planned production in Japan for January 2023 due to parts shortages resulting from disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. However, the global production target for the full fiscal year ending 31 March 2023 remained unchanged from its previously downwardly revised 9.2m. The latest production cuts affected two plants in Japan, the Toyota Tahara plant and the Hino Hamura plant, which make SUVs such as the LandCruiser Prago, the 4Runner and the Lexus GX. The two factories will be closed for 15 days combined, prompting Toyota to revise its global production plan for January to 700,000 vehicles, including 200,000 units in Japan and 500,000 units overseas. This is the latest in a series of production cutbacks over the last 18 months by Toyota (and other automakers) worldwide, as they struggled with the global shortage of semiconductors due to disrupted supply chains, causing substantial order backlogs.

This just in: Chinese EV battery manufacturer CATL signed a preliminary agreement with Huawei Terminal to collaborate in “building global high end car brands”, according to local reports. According to the agreement, CATL would support Huawei’s plans to produce smart connected EVs by developing and supplying high power automotive batteries. The two companies also plan to explore opportunities for battery replacement/swapping services for transport networks such as buses, logistics vehicles, heavy trucks and even electric ships.

South Korean energy and chemicals group SK Innovation Company this week announced plans to establish a joint venture with local firm SungEel HiTech Company to extract and recycle metals from discarded electric vehicle (EV) batteries. SungEel HiTech already recycles automotive batteries and the joint venture with SK Innovation is expected to strengthen its position in the emerging EV battery recycling market. The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU ) for the establishment of the joint venture at an event in Seoul, with details such as the amount of investment and shareholdings yet to be agreed. The final joint venture agreement is expected to be announced in early 2023. The partnership is also expected to give SK Innovation access to recovered valuable lithium ion battery metals such nickel, cobalt and manganese for the production of EV battery cathode materials.

Mercedes has signed a letter of intent with exisiting aluminium supplier Hydro for a “low carbon technology roadmap” between 2023 to 2030. CO₂ emissions of aluminium supplied will be almost 70% lower than the European average by next year, it was claimed. The automaker said: “We are intensively working with our partners on finding levers to lower CO₂ emissions in the aluminium supply chain.” Hydro already supplies the automaker with CO₂ reduced aluminium for its foundry in Stuttgart Mettingen.

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Also from Mercedes this week: battery plants in Kamenz, Bruehl (Untertuerkheim) and Beijing (China) would produce batteries for new models on the MMA and MB.EA platforms. Battery assembly at the Koelleda site, currently making conventional and hybridised engines, is also planned subject to “support from the Thuringian state government”. “The state government has pledged corresponding support in a letter of intent, paving the way for the plant’s electric transformation process,” the automaker said in a statement. Untertuerkheim, Sebes (Romania) and Beijing plants would produce electric drive units for new models on the MMA and MB.EA platforms from 2024.

New vehicle sales in China fell 8% year on year to 2,328,000 units in November 2022 from 2,522,000, according to passenger car and commercial vehicle wholesale data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM ). Sales had slowed significantly since rebounding in the third quarter from a weak year earlier level when vehicle manufacturers were able to fulfil order backlogs and dealers restock as supply chain shortages eased. Since the third quarter, the market had been affected more by slowing economic growth and weakening consumer sentiment due in no small part to continual localised Covid lockdowns. Vehicle sales year to date increased 3% to 24,302,000 units from 23,489,000 with passenger vehicle sales rising by 11% to 21,292,000, driven mainly by surging sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), while sales of commercial vehicles plunged 32% to 3,010 ,000 units.

Honda’s US unit has announced its first integration of Google for some versions of its 2023 Accord model line reaching dealers in January. Apps including Assistant, Maps, and Play, are available with “Google built-in”. Jay Joseph, head of CASE & Energy for American Honda, said: “Our longstanding in vehicle tech collaboration helped enable seamless integration of Google built-in features.”

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) startup Enovate Motors said it had signed a deal to assemble its vehicles in Saudi Arabia, according to local reports. The Zhejiang automaker said it signed the agreement, during the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to the kingdom last week, to establish a joint venture with local real estate company Sumou to build an assembly plant with annual capacity for 100,000 EVs per year. Enovate, backed by Shanghai Electric , said the joint venture’s US$500m cost would also include an R&D centre. Enovate has an EV plant in Shaoxing, Zhejiang which makes the ME7, a crossover with a cruising range of 510km (320 miles), plus the compact ME5 SUV.

There were signs of an easing of supply shortages in Europe’s car market, which registered a strong November versus supply constrained sales a year ago. Western Europe’s car market reached 920,151 units in the month, 18.7% ahead of last year’s pace, according to data from LMC Automotive (a GlobalData company). However, year to date new car sales for the region were down 5.9% at 9.1m units. The annualised selling rate also picked up significantly in November. The Western Europe car market annualised selling rate rose from 10.3m units/year in October to 12.2m in November – the second strongest performance of the year behind August.

Mercedes said it would add electric van production based on a new platform at a plant in Jawor, Poland where it already makes combustion engines and batteries. The company said infrastructure at the established Jawor location would be used to build a new plant for van production. Other company plants make a mix of ICE and electric vans but Jawor will concentrate on electric. Final decisions will only be made after “the granting of aid for the investment in Jawor”. Mercedes said the option to expand the factory by establishing a new joint venture manufacturing company with Rivian for large electric vans was “on hold due to Rivian’s ongoing reprioritisation of projects“.

While the rise of EVs seems unstoppable there is still a place for ICE-powered premium brand sedans. We went for a ride in a [gasp] diesel Genesis.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, Just Auto