My look at Volvo’s new US-born ‘citizen’, the S60 saloon/sedan, drew the most just-auto reader eyeballs this week, and rightly so as it’s another highly competent contender in the medium/large premium sector, yet another use of the automaker’s versatile SPA ‘large car’ platform and a very interesting illustration of an automaker’s global manufacturing footprint, model selection and plant location strategy.
Which, as a US reader pointed out, has already been blown to smithereens by rapid market condition changes: “…dollars to doughnuts Volvo is deeply regretting the decision to build S60 sedans in North America. Today, it would MUCH rather be building the XC60 there instead… but the decision was likely made three-plus years ago, when the percentages weren’t as dire for sedans as they are today.” Good point.
He added: “With sedans being a popular body style in North America…” may be true versus hatchbacks but the percentages of cars versus trucks in the overall mix are falling at a rapid rate. Two thirds of US sales in 2019 are now projected to be ‘light trucks’ which under our rules includes not only pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans, but also crossover utility vehicles as long as they have optional AWD, the rear seatbacks fold flat, the approach angles are at least a specified degree number, etc.” A complicated market, the US, with sometimes inexplicable rules.
One plant opens, another one closes – Honda this week confirmed the 2021 end of its Swindon factory which now makes only Civic hatchbacks for global sales. It dates back to the early days of model and production sharing with Rover Group and was originally opened around 1987 as a pre-delivery centre for Rover-built Legends. It later added engine assembly and car production started in 1992. There was brief hope last March BMW, reportedly considering more car production in the UK, would take over the factory but it looks like the reported talks have not resulted in a deal. Shame.
Gigantic supplier ZF, with rival TRW now fully digested following the takeover, is rarely out of our news – this week we learned it will acquire 90% of the shares in Simi Reality Motion Systems, a company which specialises in occupant recognition software. The company and its 35 employees work on image-based 3D systems for the recording and analysis of human movement. This knowledge, ZF said, is highly valuable in the development of systems for occupant recognition which it says are a fundamental element for integrated safety in autonomous driving. The development of new interior concepts for highly automated or autonomous driving include the potential for new seating positions as the driver can hand over responsibility for driving to the vehicle, either in part or in full. To relax during the journey, for example, in future vehicles, the occupant could move their seat back or tilt the seat further than in current vehicle configurations allow. For occupant protection in these non-conventional seating positions, vehicle systems need to be aware of the size, location and position of the occupant.
Byton, the EV startup, is also rarely out of the news at the moment. The company, established about three years ago by former BMW and Nissan executives to take on the likes of Tesla both in the rapidly-expanding Chinese electric vehicle market and overseas, this week said it would launch a new round of fund raising in the next few months as it prepares to unveil its first production model in the third quarter of the year. It is currently finishing off a new CNY11bn (US$1.6bn) factory in Nanjing scheduled to start operations in 2020 with an initial capacity of 150,000 units per year, rising to 300,000 later. The first model will be the M-Byte battery-powered SUV with passenger cars and MPVs based on the same platform to follow. FAW Group is one of a number of companies keen to invest in Byton and has started due diligence with a view to becoming a leading investor, according to Byton CEO Daniel Kirchert.
The Viva Tech event in Paris this week led to a flurry of EV announcements from French automakers including Citroen which announced the 19_19 which “expresses [a] vision of ultra-comfort and extended mobility to escape from the cities”. The automaker described the car as “an unconventional expression of the future, existing outside traditional automotive cues. It is a technological and aerodynamic object with exceptional proportions – and a spectacular, suspended and transparent capsule design – inspired by the world of aviation”. It has a a cabin “styled as a living room through its architecture and materials, plunging each occupant into a cocoon in which each seat is a unique experience of absolute comfort” and is a full electric with a range of 497 miles (800km) and a suspended cabin with the automaker’s production Progressive Hydraulic Cushions suspension and smart active control. It also has autonomous driving technology and a proactive ‘Personal Assistant’. The exterior design features several layers: a fully-glazed suspended cabin; oversized wheels; and a subframe showcasing the electric drivetrain and suspension. The capsule levitates above four ‘Super Tall and Narrow’ wheels with passengers transported by a car that appears to fly over the road.
Not to be outdone, rival Renault showcased new vehicles, partnerships and experiments for “the mobility of tomorrow” including a car-on-demand service using autonomous electric Zoe Cab prototype vehicles, as part of the Paris-Saclay Autonomous Lab project, a first trial of the EZ-FLEX last-mile delivery vehicle with Groupe La Poste, an exploratory autonomous vehicle, the EZ-POD, as a first and last kilometre mobility complement, a partnership with Klepierre to offer innovative mobility services in shopping centres, a new TGV Inoui service, ‘Mon Chauffeur’, developed by groupe subsidiary Karhoo in partnership with SCNF Mobilites and demonstrated “four strategic areas of innovation that are key to transforming the industry”: electric mobility, connected mobility, autonomous mobility and new mobility services. “The entire value chain, including vehicles, fleet management, mobility platforms and client applications needs to be expanded,” Renault said. It added an increasing number of consumers – especially young people living in urban and suburban environments – are choosing to share rather than own cars so it supports the sharing economy and has begun to operate new urban mobility services.
Our list of Frankfurt show debuts – the bi-annual trip to the giant Messe is only months away now – continued to grow, we put Dacia under the microscope, talked low carbon alternatives with Revolve Technologies, interviewed Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) director of technology and projects Jon Beasley, to find out what has been achieved to date and analysed Renault and Alpine future models.
All in a week’s work.
Have a nice weekend.
Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com