News : 25 October 2008

News digest

Compiled by Clive Goldthorp

1) Jaguar and Land Rover

Spy shots: 2010 Jaguar XKR facelift
Viknesh Vijayenthiran, Motor Authority 21st October, 2008

Jaguar XKR 2010

Facelifted XK range expected to debut at next year’s Detroit Auto Show

Prototypes for Jaguar’s facelifted XK have been spotted testing in the UK and Germany ahead of the updated model’s world debut, which is expected to take place at January’s Detroit Auto Show. In the past we have seen images for both the standard XK coupe and convertible, as well as a mystery test-mule for what is believed to be Jaguar’s future performance diesel or hybrid powertrain.

Last year there were also shots of a prototype for a new range topping XK that will sit above the current XKR flagship. This new super-XK could possibly called the ‘XKR-R’ and is tipped to feature a brand new 500hp (373kW) supercharged 5.0L V8 engine. As for the XKR, these latest spy shots of a prototype for the facelifted model reveal only a few subtle changes will distinguish it from the current car.

Visual changes include a new front bumper with revised air intakes positioned below the headlights (although these have been masked), plus a redesigned rear bumper and LED taillights. The engine lineup will remain relatively unchanged, although expect a slight power bump for the current supercharged 4.2L V8 mill. The interior, meanwhile, should get Jaguar’s new drive-select transmission interface lifted from XF saloon.

First sales should start soon after the car’s debut in Detroit.

Tata boss rules out SUVs for Jaguar, promises more sports cars and saloons
Kenneth Hall, Motor Authority 22nd October, 2008

For years, SUVs were seen as a sure-fire way for carmakers to boost sales in the North American market but lately there has been a movement away from such vehicles to smaller and more fuel-efficient models. Despite this, many carmakers still consider the SUV a crucial addition to their lineups, but the CEO of Jaguar’s parent company, Tata Motors, has ruled out adding a luxury off-roader to the British carmaker’s portfolio.

Tata boss Ratan Tata has revealed that Jaguar’s future lineup will feature more sports cars and saloons but definitely no SUV, reports AutoTelegraaf. His reasoning is that a Jaguar SUV would steal sales from its sister company Land Rover, which solely produces off-road models. Instead, Jaguar’s immediate future will see the plans of former parent Ford carried out. These include the launch of the facelifted XK range next year, a new range topping XKR-R model, and the next-generation XJ saloon in late 2010.

Beyond that, Tata has revealed plans for a new lightweight sports car to rival the likes of the Porsche 911, and late last month registration details for several Jaguar trademarks revealed the names C-XE and XE, which suggest the new sports car will be called the XE and a concept version the C-XE.

Despite Tata’s reluctance to develop a Jaguar SUV, a number of rival carmakers are keen to expand their respective lineups with bigger and more powerful off-road models. Alfa Romeo’s boss Luca de Meo has pointed out on a number of occasions that the company needs an SUV model to be successful in the United States, and BMW is currently preparing two new performance M models based on its X5 and X6 SUVs.


Mini Electric E

US: Mini details 500-car EV trial 20th October, 2008

BMW’s US unit has claimed it will be the world’s first premium car manufacturer to “deploy a fleet of some 500 all-electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic”.

It said on Monday the new Mini E would be powered by a 150kW (204 hp) electric motor with a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels via a single-stage helical gearbox nearly “without a sound and entirely free of emissions”.

Specially engineered for automobile use, the battery technology would have a range of over 240km or 150 miles. The Mini E will initially be made available to a selected group of private and corporate customers as part of a pilot project in the states of California, New York and New Jersey.

“The possibility of offering the Mini E in Europe as well is currently being considered,” BMW said. The electric Mini will make its world debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on 19 November. The electric drive train produces peak torque of 220Nm and the car accelerates to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 8.5 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 152 km/h (95 mph).

The suspension has been re-tuned to match weight distribution. “By introducing the Mini E, the BMW Group is underscoring the resolve with which it works towards reducing energy consumption and emissions in road traffic,” the automaker said. “The BMW Group is drawing on its unique technological expertise in the field of drive systems to develop a vehicle concept enabling zero emissions without renouncing the joy of driving.

“Putting some 500 cars on the road under real daily traffic conditions will make it possible to gain widely applicable hands-on experience. Evaluating these findings will generate valuable know-how, which will be factored into the engineering of mass-produced vehicles.” Based on the current petrol and diesel models, the electric Mini initially will be available only as a two-seater – the space taken by rear seat passengers in the series model is occupied by the lithium-ion battery which has a maximum capacity of 35 kilowatt hours (kWh) and sends energy to the electric motor at 380 volts DC.

The rechargeable battery is made up of 5088 cells grouped into 48 modules in three battery elements. The battery can be recharged via a domestic power outlet though charge time is strongly dependent on the voltage and amperage of the electricity flowing through the grid, BMW said. US users will be able to recharge a battery that has been completely drained “within a very short period of time” using a wall box that will ship with every car. Installed in the customer’s garage, this enables higher amperage, and thus short charging times – two-and-a-half hours for a full recharge, draw up to 28 kwH.

Based on the car’s range, a kilowatt hour translates into 5.4 miles. As with Toyota’s hybrids and recent BMW EfficientDynamics models, regenerative technology is used on the Mini E. As soon as the driver releases the accelerator pedal, the electric motor acts as a generator, resulting in braking force, and the power recovered from the kinetic energy is fed back to the battery – in city traffic, some 75% of all deceleration can be done without the brakes and the “energy recuperation feature” extends the car’s range by up to 20%.

As well as minor tweaks to suspension and traction control settings, the Mini E gets a brake system comes with newly developed electric underpressure pump. The electric power steering is unchanged and air conditioning’s electrical compressor only operates if desired or necessary. Initial Mini Es will all have special two-tone silver paint and a yellow logo depicting a stylized power plug in the shape of an ‘E’ set against the silver backdrop in various locations.

A battery level indicator replaces the rev counter while the central gauge cluster gains an LED display indicating power consumption in red and power recuperation in green. Mini USA will offer the 500 trial cars – all of which will be built by the end of 2008 – on a one-year lease with an extension option. Monthly lease installments will cover any required servicing including all necessary maintenance and the replacement of wearing parts. At the end of the lease, all will be returned to BMW Group’s engineering fleet where they will be subjected to comparative testing.

A service base will be set up on both coasts, staffed by engineers specially trained to maintain and repair electrical components. Technical inspections will take place after 3000 miles (5000km) and at least after six months.

3) MG Sports and Racing Europe

MG XPower SV

Bank crisis hits small businesses
Daily Mail 21st October, 2008

Case Study: RBS have refused to extend funding for this company, despite continued growth.

In 2007 William Riley, 63, bought the rights to produce the MG X Power, a limited-edition handmade racing coupe, in his Worcester workshop. He part-financed the purchase with a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Yesterday Mr Riley said: ‘Our first cars went into production last year, and up until Christmas everything was fine. The company was expanding and we had no problem making the repayments.

‘Things began to slow down slightly due to the global downturn at that point and we weren’t selling as many cars as we hoped, but I wasn’t worried about making the repayments to the Royal Bank of Scotland as we were expecting a large VAT reclaim from Italy, which is where we import our chassis from. ‘It was at this point that my problems with the bank really started. RBS claimed that it couldn’t operate in Italy, and it wouldn’t acknowledge the money that we were owed from there as part of our credit flow.

‘The bank claimed that we had no turnover, and in March they refused to extend our funding. Since then I’ve been forced to lay off seven members of staff out of 17, and I have been paying wages out of my own pocket. What makes this so galling is that the company is still growing. When things started to slow down towards the end of last year and not as many cars were selling, we started to sell the technology we use to build them. By any standard we are a successful small company that has global reach. But the bank refuses to recognise this and has refused to give me any support.

‘What these banks do not seem to realise is that if you do not look at the bigger picture and you cut the line of credit, then a small business like mine will struggle to survive. RBS has just taken taxpayers’ money from Gordon Brown, but none of it has flowed into British industry. Banks should be forced to do more to help small businesses and British industry instead of simply helping themselves.’

Court battle over car badge rights
Jon Griffin , Birmingham Mail 23rd October, 2008

LONGBRIDGE’S Chinese owners are suing Midland car veteran William Riley in a David and Goliath courtroom battle over badge rights to the world’s most expensive MG. Nanjing Automobile, now part of the giant SAIC group, have issued High Court proceedings against Worcestershire-based Mr Riley over his launch of the turbocharged MG X-Power model.

The High Court showdown pits one of the Far East’s biggest car makers against one of the few remaining UK car makers, with a current workforce of just 10. A dispute between 63-year-old Mr Riley and the Chinese over the MG badge rights had rumbled on for over a year with arguments and counter-arguments over ownership lodged with the UK Patents Office.

But now the Chinese have raised the stakes dramatically by issuing High Court proceedings against Mr Riley and his Tenbury Wells-based MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd firm, claiming trademark infringements. The move jeopardises Mr Riley’s plans less than a year after he launched the Worcestershire company in a £2 million venture, selling turbocharged MGs for between £75,000 and £90,000. He later told the Mail of his plans to launch a 100,000 sq ft factory within the M5 corridor.

Mr Riley, the great grandson of the founder of the Riley car marque, filed a witness statement to the Patents Office which says he bought the intellectual property rights to the MG X-Power from administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers on June 27, 2007. But Nanjing legal consultant Natalie Atkins said in a subsequent witness statement: ‘NAC has made it clear to Mr Riley and MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd throughout that NAC is the owner of the global MG brand.

‘NAC has also made it clear that NAC cannot allow MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd to continue using the MG and/or the MG X Power names and has required undertakings from MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd confirming that they would cease all further use.”

4) Aston Martin

Aston Martin DBS
DBS will be replaced by a more expensive car…

Aston Martin looking to take brand further upmarket
Kenneth Hall, Motor Authority 21st October, 2008

Aston Martin is already one of the most bespoke and prestigious labels on the planet but the company is seriously considering positioning its next-generation models further upmarket to make way for the relaunch of Lagonda. Earlier this month CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez revealed plans to resurrect the Lagonda marque in order to preserve the Aston Martin name for the company’s sports cars and use Lagonda for models with a completely different character, such as a high-end crossover or large premium saloon.

Moving Aston Martin further upmarket would see top-sellers like the DB9 and V8 Vantage priced closer to their rivals from Maranello. At the same time production volumes would be lowered in an attempt to free up capacity for the Lagonda models and increase exclusivity. This is a strategy that other carmakers are considering as the global auto industry restructures and responds to slowing demand and increased environmental and financial concerns. Fewer cars but with higher prices is a strategy Jaguar is also considering adopting as it weathers the industrial storm.

Aston Martin is already establishing some serious upmarket credentials with its upcoming One-77 supercar, which is expected to cost a staggering $1.75 million and limited to a production run of no more than 77 units. Despite recent reports that Aston has attained more than 100 orders for the One-77, an inside source has revealed to AutoWeek that only 25 cars are likely to see production.

As for the DB9 and V8 Vantage, both cars are set to be replaced by 2011 and the new-generation models will have to suffice for at least eight years after their respective launches. The current pair account for almost 90% of Aston’s 7,000 sales in the past 12 months and executives are worried that the current volumes can’t be maintained going into the future. One option might be to move the next Vantage closer to the DB9’s pricing and move the DB9 closer to the DBS’s $277,000 price level. Ferrari’s F430 and 599 GTB, for example, command premiums of about $85,000 over the comparable Vantage V8 and DB9.

Another issue to consider for Aston Martin is the overlapping nature of the DB9 and the V8 Vantage, which are both essentially two-seater front-engined sports cars (not counting the rear seats in the DB9 since these are only for small children). There has been talk of the possibility of replacing both models with a single mid-engined supercar to reduce manufacturing costs and concentrate on other areas such as the upcoming Rapide, although consolidating these two remains unlikely for now.

Aston Martin’s immediate future is to focus on emerging markets such as Russia and China, where customers are more interested in more practical premium four-doors rather than sports cars. The upcoming Rapide will address this issue but, as Bez has pointed out in the past, resurrecting the Lagonda brand is critical.

Report: Aston Martin and Mercedes working on $385 million co-op agreement
James Martinez, Motor Authority

News of a new cooperation agreement between Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz, called appropriately enough, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, has come to light. Though it’s not finalized yet, the deal is not a total surprise, though its scope is bigger than anticipated, with a value estimated at $385 million and covering everything engines, hybrids, new Lagonda models and even a possible 4×4.

Aston’s current engine deal with Ford, which sees the V8 and V12 engines for the Vantage and DB9/DBS models built at the Blue Oval’s Cologne plant, is expected to dry up in 2012, after which a new partner will need to be found. Dave Richards, the boss of one of Aston Martin’s biggest investors, Prodrive, confirmed back in May that the British luxury marque was in talks with several other companies over a range of possible tie-ups but mostly over a new engine deal.

The initial phase of the agreement had been named Project Alligator, but the new ‘Romeo and Juliet’ code-name, chosen – hopefully – for its connotations of Anglo-German romance, and not futile suicide, portends a future that could see extensive and long-lasting cooperation between the two carmakers. Earlier this week BMW revealed that it was in the midst of a joint-purchasing arrangement with Mercedes as well.

One of the possibilities could see the hand-built AMG 6.2L V8 engine appear in the Vantage. There’s also talk of diesel and hybrid Aston Martins being developed in the future as well as a new flagship model to be shared with the Maybach brand. A range of proposed Lagonda models is thought to be on the table, including a SUV or other 4×4. Even a DB10 is possible, reports CAR. Other possibilities include platform sharing for top-end models and the development of a new eight-speed automatic transmission. All of these offer potential to help Aston in its bid to take the brand even further upmarket in addition to the One-77 special-edition.

Richards had earlier quelled speculation that the British carmaker could be up for sale following reports claiming Kuwaiti-based investment firm Investment Dar would sell its 50% stake in the company. Speaking at the Nürburgring 24-hour this year, Richards said the speculation arose from previous rumors that suggested Aston Martin was in talks with Mercedes-Benz over an engine-sharing deal.

In March, it was reported that Aston Martin was considering borrowing smaller V6 and V8 engines from Mercedes-Benz and possibly hybrid powertrains as well to help meet new emissions regulations and environmental concerns. At the time, Richards confirmed there were talks with Mercedes-Benz but explained that it was just one option being investigated.

6) Morgan

Morgan Aero Max
Aeromax Coupe is a deviation from Morgan’s traditional roadster styling but shows the future direction of the company

Morgan announces centenary celebrations for 2009
Kenneth Hall, Motor Authority 20th October, 2008

Small-scale British sports car manufacturer Morgan will celebrate its centenary next year with a number of planned events, such as hill runs and concerts, to be held during July and August. The company was founded in 1909 by H.F.S. Morgan, and for 97 years of its existence it has been run by at least one member of the Morgan family.

The company’s inaugural car, which went on sale in 1909, featured just three wheels so that it could be classified as a motorcycle and avoid Britain’s tax on cars. In 1913 Morgan started racing the vehicle and managed to win several titles as well as build a reputation for creating the fastest three-wheelers in the business. Until 1936, the company dealt exclusively in three-wheeled vehicles, however their popularity was starting to fade by this time. The introduction of the four-wheeled ‘Morgan 4-4’ in 1936 marked the beginning of Morgan as we know it today. Following the conclusion of World War II Morgan starting building its first four-wheel sports cars, including the ‘4/4’ model which is still built to this day.

In recent years, Morgan’s designs have become more dramatically modern, but a retro twist is still a very large motif in all of its models. The latest production model, the Aeromax Coupe, deviates from the brand’s penchant for roadster models and this approach is being followed by the company’s upcoming LIFEcar, which is also expected to thrust Morgan’s technological image into the 21st century.

The LIFEcar will feature a fuel-cell powered electric engine, as well as some very dramatic styling, both of which encapsulate the century-long journey Morgan has made – moving from three-wheelers to advanced sports cars.

7) China Watch

Brilliance BS4

Brilliance pledges to be Europe’s low-price leader
Douglas A. Bolduc, Automotive News China 21st October,2008

PARIS — Brilliance Jinbei Automotive is ready to fight to remain a low-price leader in Europe. “We have to have a lower price. That is clearly our advantage,” said Hans-Ulrich Sachs, managing director of HSO Motors Europe, Brilliance’s importer for Europe.

Despite his desire to win sales, Sachs said he is reluctant to offer incentives on the new BS4 lower-medium sedan, which goes on sale at the automaker’s 132 dealers in Germany on October 25. “Right now we are still on the safe side,” Sachs said. “But when I look at the competition from the Hyundais, Skodas and Kias, it is very tough.”

The BS4 is longer and less expensive than comparably powered rivals from those brands. Although it offers those advantages, Brilliance’s second model for Europe must overcome questions about the brand’s safety. The 2007 launch of Brilliance’s first car for Europe, the BS6, was hurt last summer by a poor result in a crash test.

In an interview at the auto show here, Sachs said that, based on the BS4’s results from independent crash tests, Brilliance “can expect at least three stars when we test the car with EuroNCAP.” He said that the EuroNCAP test could be done before the end of the year. EuroNCAP is an EU government-supported car-testing organization. Carmakers that score high on Euro-NCAP tests usually tout the results to highlight the safety of their cars.

Sachs said the independent tests show that the BS6 also would get three stars in a EuroNCAP test. Brilliance made more than 60 engineering changes to improve the upper-medium sedan’s safety. Brilliance aims to sell 10,000 cars in Europe in 2009. Sachs said that number is feasible given that he plans to have 150 dealers in Germany by the end of the year. The automaker also has 480 sale outlets in countries such as Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Italy and the Baltics.

Keith Adams

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