Review of the automotive year, 2017 (part two)

By Dave Leggett | 22 December 2017

BMW delivered more than 100,000 electrified vehicles in 2017

BMW delivered more than 100,000 electrified vehicles in 2017

Editor Dave Leggett offers a personal take and review of the year with a look at selected highlights. This instalment takes in the second half of 2017.

First half of the year - January-June

Part two, below, takes in the second half of the year.


What's in a headline, eh? Volvo Cars gets quite a splash with a press release headed 'Volvo Cars to go all electric'. Cue articles and broadcast reports about the imminent death of the Internal Combustion Engine. The truth behind the bold header was a little more nuanced. Volvo actually meant that each model in the range would have an electrified variant offered from 2019. That can mean electric cars, but the term 'electrified' can also embrace plug-in hybrid or 48V mild hybrid. Hybrids still retain an ICE, so ICE is clearly an important part of the powertrain mix after 2019. One thing is undeniable though: the press release picked up plenty of coverage. We ran the story with a rather more restrained header. And a comment piece that references a 1980s pop hit in the header raises a few smiles. Nice base line.

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk announces the start of production for the high volume Model 3. The 'mass market' compact electric car retails at around USD35,000 and comes with a 215 mile range on full charge. The first handovers to customers come at the end of the month.

The UK government announces - to great fanfare - that it will require all new cars and vans sold in Britain to be zero emission by 2040. The move echoes a similar move in France and is aimed at improving air quality in Britain's cities (actually, quite a lot worse than many people think - damn those pesky wood burners) and meeting the UK's long-term CO2/climate change obligations. Hmm, 2040. Bit long grass-ish.

Brexit discussions or arguments are a constant theme  - in the UK - through 2017 (and will be in 2018, 2019 and 2020, so get used to it). The UK's automotive sector rarely misses an opportunity to make the case for continuing to operate - after Brexit - as close to EU customs union ('frictionless trade') as possible. I suspect the term 'equivalence' to gain more currency in 2018. Yes, we'll be outside the EU's customs union and single market, but we may be - whisper it - operating as close to it as we possibly can, so that business can continue more or less as today (but with some extra cost inevitable). The banking sector seems to be leading in that particular direction. July does bring some good news on the UK investment front when BMW says it wants to make the electric Mini in Oxford. As one or two analysts and industry chiefs note though, there are still question-marks over post-Brexit investments for a number of UK plants. The uncertainties that are causing investment decisions to be put in the 'still to be signed off' tray will hopefully reduce in size in 2018, fingers crossed (it shouldn't have come to that, but it's a consequence of highly volatile politics in Britain as illustrated by the General Election result)...

Ford said its next-generation Focus for the US would be sourced primarily from a joint venture in China, instead of Mexico, saving an additional US$500m on top of the $500 million savings earlier this year by cancelling plans for a new factory in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and moving production to the Hermosillo, Mexico, plant. The former US Focus plant will instead build light trucks and SUVs. Good move. Trump stays quiet on that one...


PSA completes the deal to purchase Opel/Vauxhall and sets a target of a return to profitability by 2020 (and good luck with that, thinks Mary Barra). The hard work starts from now with a 100-day review. We have some analysis on how certain models may be impacted.

Incentives to swap older diesels for newer - and cleaner - models are among pledges made by automakers at a meeting with German political leaders. VW Group, BMW and Daimler agreed to update pollution control software on as many as 5.3m diesel cars meeting Euro 5 and Euro 6 regulations, a project estimated to cost EUR500m industry-wide. There will be generous  trade-ins of older models that can't be upgraded. Customers can trade in cars from any maker that meet now-outdated Euro 1 to Euro 4 emissions standards.

As speculation of possible spin offs continues, Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) says in a statement that it evaluates incoming 'inquiries for strategic transactions'. The statement appears to send a message that it would consider interest for its brands from outsiders. Great Wall is speculated as being in the frame for an approach for the Jeep brand. The rumour mill is in overdrive (well, it IS August), but it appears nothing is close enough to officially make the public domain.

Ford announces the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Anhui Zotye Automobile Co., Ltd., a major manufacturer of all-electric vehicles in China. Ford says the goal of the MoU is to explore the establishment of a joint venture for the development, production, marketing and servicing of a new line of all-electric passenger vehicles in China. One to watch.

Wax your board and grab your wetsuit. VW confirms it will put the ID Buzz electric concept into production.

Domino's Pizza delivery and Ford announce a collaboration to 'understand the role that self-driving vehicles can play in pizza delivery'. As part of the testing, researchers from both companies will investigate customer reactions to interacting with a self-driving vehicle as a part of their delivery experience.  Interesting concept, of course, though I must admit that I would kind of miss the kids on mopeds and the small slice of human interaction that comes with the all-important delivery currently. Homo-sapiens are expensive creatures though.

August also sees a storm - Harvey - dampen sales in the south of the US. Are we getting more severe storms these days? Discuss (you can probably find the data set to support whatever your gut instinct suggests).


The month of September in an odd-numbered year can mean only one thing: Frankfurt and aching feet. This year, the most important production models making their motor show debuts were the Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen T-Roc, Porsche Cayenne, Opel Grandland X, Škoda Karoq and SEAT Arona. We have our usual handy list of world premieres.

At the IAA, PSA chief Carlos Tavares warns of productivity gaps across the Opel manufacturing network and points out that there is work to be done to make Opel as efficient as PSA.

Volkswagen uses the IAA platform to show the electric crossover ID Crozz and wave the flag for a ramped up e-mobility strategy. VW said it plans to spend EUR20bn to roll out 80 new electric cars across its multi-brand group by 2025, up from a previous goal of 30. Moreover, it wants to offer an electric version of each of its 300 group models by 2030. The Volkswagen Group says it will 'fully electrify its entire model portfolio by 2030'. That means there will be at least one electric variant of each of the Group's around 300 models - all brands and all markets. "That's not a non-binding declaration of intent, but a commitment we'll be measured by as of this day," says CEO Matthias Müller (who, let's face it, had a pretty good 2017).

We're also on the ground at IAA to talk to major suppliers. Yanfeng gives us a useful update on the changing world of car interiors: The 'Living Room of the Future'. There was also this from the CTO. And we got a good update from ZF on its merger with TRW. (Our full IAA coverage.)

Audi claimed a world first for the new A8 flagship saloon's AI traffic jam pilot with SAE level 3 conditional automation. The technology handles the task of driving in traffic jam or slow-moving highway traffic up to 60km/h (37.3mph). With traffic jam pilot engaged, drivers no longer need to continuously monitor the vehicle and the road but must take over when the system prompts them.

China indicated that it will join countries such as Britain and France with plans to ban the manufacture and sale of cars running on traditional fossil-fuels. No date yet though.

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer voices concerns over the possibility of higher non-tariff barriers to UK-EU trade following the UK's exit from the EU. He's not the only one who worries about that. The 10% tariffs are one thing, but cars and parts held up at ports is another potential headache for companies who have worked hard to apply principles of lean manufacturing across pan-European supply chains.

Ford says it will work with rideshare firm Lyft to offer Ford self-drive vehicles via the rideshare firm's on-demand mobility network by 2021. Ford and Lyft teams will begin working together to design software to allow Ford vehicles to communicate with Lyft's smartphone apps.

And news seeps out of an issue for the future in the area of battery materials: Cobalt. It is in short supply and there's a bit of a scramble in prospect for future supplies. VW is an early player. The supply- and value-chain in the area of lithium-ion batteries is clearly going to take some analysing in the context of highly ramped up volumes over the next five years.

Volvo Cars confirms that the next generation of the XC90 large premium SUV will be built in its new manufacturing plant in Charleston, South Carolina from 2021. Makes sense to go where the market is.

JLR makes engines at its own plant in Wolverhampton these days. There's an issue for the Ford engine plant in Wales that has been kind of inevitable for a while now. We publish a useful backgrounder.

And could vacuum cleaner Dyson clean up with an e-vehicle in the future? It won't be easy, but you have to applaud out-of-the-box thinking. Any Dyson car will have to be very, very good though. Motoring hacks will surely be tempted, at the slightest provocation, by the headline: 'Dyson sucks'.  


In a speech aimed squarely at investors, Ford CEO Jim Hackett sets out a strategy for the company that delivers cost cuts as well as a tilt to new business opportunities and emerging technologies. The aggressive cost cuts - including US$10bn in materials over five years - are designed to make room to fund the development of electric and autonomous vehicles. They are also designed to appeal to investors who were unhappy with Ford's depressed share price and warnings of lower profits under Hackett's predecessor Mark Fields. It's summed up as a 'fitness push' strategy (like what I'm on, permanently).

General Motors also gets on the e-mobility train and says it plans to launch two new electric vehicles in the next 18 months 'based off learnings from the Chevrolet Bolt EV'. They will be the first of at least 20 new all-electric vehicles that the company says it will launch by 2023.

In GM's manufacturing network, Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port manufacturing plant - a competitive plant in many aspects of its operations - looks relatively vulnerable because of its geographical position and Brexit risks. It's also a one-trick pony in that it only makes the Astra model - which is not in high demand in Europe. Will it get the next one (or something else; a different role perhaps)? Vauxhall announces that it is to cut some 400 jobs and drop a shift at the plant as it looks to improve its competitive position amid changes to demand in the European car market (and in the context of PSA's review of Opel/Vauxhall operations).

Jaguar Land Rover announces that the next Range Rover Sport will come with a plug-in hybrid option.

October also sees the Tokyo Motor Show - list of debuts here. The Honda Urban EV Concept is my show favourite (also shown at IAA). There's more than a hint of 1980s VW/Pug Golf/205 GTi retro in its shape and lines. And Nissan said sorry. It also used Tokyo to launch a sound for EVs - Canto.


BMW, Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen Group announce a joint venture called IONITY which will develop and install a high power charging (HPC) network for electric vehicles across Europe. The plan will see around 400 stations ready by 2020. The automakers said the network would make long distance journeys easier and was an important step for electric vehicles. Good for them. It's a start.

Time's up on the 100-day review. Groupe PSA-owned Opel-Vauxhall outlines a business plan that avoids plant closures and aims to put the company on a path to profitability by 2020. No plant closures are planned (for now) and the emphasis is on efficiency gains to lower breakeven.

Russia's car market grew in 2017 and a number of OEMs (the ones who are sticking around for the long game) are developing strategies for raising localisation (due to collapsed rouble and Russian government diktat). Mercedes-Benz is building a Russian plant and developing its Russian supplier network.

India is another major emerging market attracting more attention. Toyota and Suzuki announce a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work together on introducing electric vehicles in the Indian market 'in around 2020'. And Toyota wants an EV in China by 2020

And still on EVs, Tesla made progress on a freight truck.

When it comes to EVs, a question often asked is: Why is Norway a case study for EVs? Read the article for the answer and some nice cultural context. Ah, the great outdoors, a twisty road, steep hills, crisp cold air, a car with a bit of instant torque...  

Geely's Volvo Cars signs a framework agreement with Uber to sell "tens of thousands of autonomous driving compatible base vehicles between 2019 and 2021". It's not the last of such commitments we will hear about. It's a sign of the times. Full realisation though, on the timescales being talked about, will still take some doing.

Look out for more NAFTA negotiations in January. At the end of November, the latest 'round' of talks between the three constituent countries breaks up without agreement. The US government also appears to be at odds with its major automakers


Sources suggest Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is planning a small, rugged SUV to sit below the upcoming Defender replacement. The planned latest addition to the Land Rover SUV range will be aimed squarely at younger buyers and 'millennials'. No niche left unturned.

If you have ever been to Manila, you'll have marvelled at the colourful low-tech people movers known as Jeepneys. Their time, however, may be up.

Toyota ramped up its EV strategy and said it is aiming for more than 5.5m electrified vehicles sales a year - including 1m BEVs - by 2030. It also says it will have 'more than 10' BEV models in its line-up by the early 2020s.

BMW Group announced that it has met its target and delivered more than 100,000 electrified vehicles to customers worldwide in 2017. An 'eye-catching light installation' marked the milestone, with the BMW Group headquarters (the "Four-Cylinder" in the north of Munich), transformed into a battery.