British Vauxhall factories at risk of closure under PSA

Jim Holder, writing for Autocar:

“If a plant closure is the favoured option, it is likely the axe will be brought down on Ellesmere Port. PSA has already highlighted deficiencies at the Cheshire facility, while Vauxhall's Luton factory had its fate secured for ten years back in April due to demand for capacity to build the Vivaro van. 

Previously, PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavarez stated that the Ellesmere Port plant must close the cost and quality gap between it and its European equivalents if it's to survive.”

This news continues as a flow-on effect following Groupe PSA’s 2017 acquisition of Opel and Vauxhall. The Ellesmere Port factory solely builds the Vauxhall Astra in right hand drive (RHD) for the UK, a car which for Australia, is built at PSA’s factory in Poland. Ultimately, the closure of this factory would not be unexpected - it’s already surprising that an identical model needs to be built in two separate locations despite only the UK and Australia being key markets for the RHD Astra. Surely savings would be realised by shifting production of UK models to the same Polish factory where Australian vehicles are currently sourced from.

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Above: Vauxhall Astra, sold in Australia as the Holden Astra

Mazda design - from Nagare to Kodo

Excellent essay by Karl Smith from Car Design News on the transition from Mazda’s ‘Nagare’ design language to the contemporary ‘Kodo’:

“The Nagare language, first introduced in 2006, was developed by Franz von Holzhausen and Laurens van der Acker. It featured streamlined forms with lots of lines and textures. 

A casual glance at the Shinari suggests an evolution of Nagare, rather than a totally new expression. The natural curves and organic surfacing are still there, just more subtle and refined.

It might be interpreted as more mature, more developed from the earlier, expressive Nagare forms – but Kodo is built on a different aesthetic and philosophical foundation to Nagare. Both emphasise natural curves and tension, but Kodo works towards simplicity and the power of surfacing rather than dramatic windswept forms, layered lines, and details.”

Nagare

Above left to right: The namesake Nagare, followed by the Hakaze, Ryuga, Taiki, Furai, Kazamai and Kiyora concepts

As highlighted in Smith’s essay, the Nagare language melded streamlined shapes with flowing character lines to create an organic, almost ‘born from nature’ character. This is perhaps best highlighted in the Furai racing concept, whose headlamps and front grille mimic leaves within a set of flowing tree branches, and the Kiyora concept, whose colour and flowing door textures are inspired by water.

Kodo

Above left to right: The Shinari, RX-Vision, Vision Coupe and Kai concepts

In contrast to the Nagare language, Kodo marks a clear shift away from textures and character lines to a greater focus on proportion that is allowed to show itself through simple, elegant surfacing. This is perhaps best evidenced in the stunning 2017 Vision Coupe concept, where the cab-rearward proportions are accentuated by a solitary, sword-like bone line flowing across the side profile.

Lexus UX: Australian pricing and specifications revealed

Lexus has announced pricing and specifications of the all-new UX crossover prior to its launch in the Australian market later this month. Let’s have a look at how the UX compares to its key rivals:

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It’s clear from the above table that the Audi Q2, rather than the Lexus, offers the best price/performance ratio, with the cheapest price but also the best fuel consumption and second fastest acceleration.

Moreover, whilst the design of the vehicle includes on-trend elements such as a full-width rear light bar, I find the overall design of the car to be distasteful. This is especially the case with the side profile, with excessive creasing and character lines that fail to create any cohesion, and an awkwardly proportioned, excessively wide C-pillar.

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Car and Driver test of AEB systems

American automotive magazine Car and Driver recently undertook a series of comprehensive tests of Autonomous Energy Braking (AEB) systems, involving the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Camry, Tesla Model S and the Cadillac CT6. Four types of tests were undertaken:

  • Closing in on a stationary car

  • Target switching to a stationary car

  • Maximum deceleration

  • Approaching a slower moving vehicle

The article is excellent and definitely worth reading in its entirely. The key takeaway I found was that despite AEB systems ostensibly claiming to achieve the same goal of preventing, or at the very least mitigating the impact of a collision with another vehicle, the performance of such systems varies substantially and is often not dependent on the class or price of the vehicle. For example, the Subaru Impreza’s EyeSight stereo camera system outperformed the other vehicles on test despite being the cheapest to buy.

In the U.S. at least, another takeaway is the state of legislation in relation to AEB systems. The NHTSA (National Highway Transport Safety Administration, effectively America’s equivalent to ANCAP) has a very basic requirement in order to satisfy its AEB test which most vehicles today can easily meet. These requirements should proactively become tougher, to further compel manufacturers to invest more in AEB systems and additional capabilities such as pedestrian and cyclist detection.

Follow-up: VW to seek partnerships rather than use Audi to develop electric and autonomous vehicles

Edward Taylor and Jan Schwartz, reporting for Reuters (from Automotive News Europe):

“Volkswagen…will explore potential alliances with Ford and others to develop autonomous and electric vehicles. If approved by the board, it would signal a major departure from VW's standalone efforts to build them and diminish Audi's importance as an engineering hub.

The strategy could also deepen existing cooperation with Ford. This could include Ford supplying a pickup platform and some engines to VW, one of the sources said. VW could also buy a stake in Ford's autonomous cars program and give Ford access to its MEB electric cars platform, they said.

Audi has been developing autonomous technology for VW, Audi and Porsche. It built the A8, a car with advanced self-driving features, but its efforts for a fully autonomous car have fallen behind rival companies such as Alphabet's Waymo.

"We want to have access to a self-driving system and we are speaking with relevant players. It is very expensive to develop and others are already well advanced," Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter said in a phone call with reporters on Tuesday.

This ultimately isn’t surprising, and affirms my comments regarding yesterday’s article. Today, the automotive industry is fragmented, and consists of a number of key players, ranging from both traditional automotive manufacturers to those entering with a Silicon Valley mindset. As a result, there is little logic in every company going in-house, and at great expense, to develop technology that fundamentally aims to achieve the same end goal - a fully autonomous, electric vehicle. In this regard, recently departed Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s comments are prescient:

“Auto companies need to quickly separate the stuff that will be swallowed by commodity from the brand stuff”

In this regard, what matters more is the integration and execution of electric vehicle and autonomous driving technologies, with design and usability into a seamless whole - it is this that will differentiate successful automakers from those that are not. When everyone has access to the same fundamental technologies, it is that final, extra layer of polish that will separate the wheat from the chaff, and an average car from one that is great. Of course, whether that extra polish can be achieved through refinement of available, off-the shelf technologies, or only through an in-house, end-to-end development and ownership of the technology stack within a car, remains to be seen.

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Above: The VW brand portfolio. Note that VW Commercial Vehicles is considered to be separate to the ‘main’ VW passenger car brand despite often sharing dealerships and sales channels

Ford and VW reportedly discuss collaborating on autonomous and electric vehicles

Edward Taylor and Ben Klayman, reporting for Reuters:

Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co are in “exploratory talks” to jointly develop self-driving and electric vehicles in a far-reaching strategic alliance meant to save the companies billions of dollars, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Our (memorandum of understanding) with VW covers conversations about potential collaborations across a number of areas. It is premature to share additional details at this time,” Ford spokesman Alan Hall said in an email.

Volkswagen Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter on Tuesday said the carmaker was open to deeper alliances with outside companies, particularly in the area of autonomous driving. 

Witter said sharing the carmaker’s electric cars platform MEB with Ford was theoretically possible, although VW is currently focused on rolling out the electric vehicle technologies among its own brands.

Such a collaboration between the two companies wouldn’t be surprising, and would in all likelihood be beneficial for both parties. From a Volkswagen perspective, the VW brand in particular is weak in North America, especially in light of the damage caused by the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal. Thus, a collaboration could provide access to Ford’s American factories and other resources such as the company’s marketing expertise and dealership network, potentially increasing the presence and sales footprint of the VW brand. From a Ford perspective, the company gains access to VW’s MEB electric vehicle platform and the expertise associated with it; which, in light of the company ceasing sales of passenger vehicles in the U.S. market, could be very beneficial indeed. Indeed, given both companies respective strengths, future Ford electric commercial vehicles built and geared towards the US market, but developed using VW technology, could have strong prospects of success for both companies. Moreover, although Ford recently invested in Argo AI, a self-driving startup, and created a separate division to lead its autonomous vehicle development, neither brand has the same level of expertise in autonomous vehicles that Waymo, Tesla or GM (with its Super Cruise technology) does. As a result, collaborating in this area may help both brands catch-up more quickly to the current industry leaders.

Above: VW’s electric MEB platform, and Ford’s F-150, the best selling vehicle in the U.S. market

Faraday Future co-founder resigns, confirms company is insolvent

Sean O’Kane (The Verge), quoting from co-founder Nick Sampson’s resignation letter:

The company is effectively insolvent in both its financial and personnel assets, it will at best will [sic] limp along for the foreseeable future. I feel that my role in Faraday Future is no long [sic] a path that I can follow, so I will leave the company, effective immediately,” 

Unless a knight in shining armour investor comes along, Faraday Future’s viability as an automotive manufacturer has come to an end. The death knell has stopped sounding, and now its time for the funeral to occur. There may still be an option for the company to transition to a ride-sharing service or rental car company, but I’ll be very shocked if its FF91 concept is ever mass-produced. Ultimately, this isn’t surprising for a company that generated hype from nonsensical buzzwords, that was dependent on a single large investor and ultimately didn’t even own the intellectual property used to develop the FF91.

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Above: An image of the concept FF91, the most significant piece of vapourware in the automotive industry this century.


Ad Standards ironically bans VW 'too powerful for TV' ad

Abigail Dawson, writing for Mumbrella:

Volkswagen’s “too powerful for TV” ad, which aims to show the power of the Amarok V6 without breaking any advertising codes of conduct, has been deemed as “unsafe” by Ad Standards for depicting “driving which is reckless and would breach road rules”.

Despite particular scenes in the ad being intercepted with a director who demonstrates scenes he would like to film using miniature models, rendering and storyboards, Ad Standards said the ad still depicted a “realistic image of a vehicle in a regional area overtaking a road train”.

How ironic.

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Apple CarPlay, Android Auto available for Mazda vehicles in Australia

From the Mazda press release:

“Reinforcing its commitment to tech integration that enhances the journey of both driver and passenger, Mazda is the first in Australia to announce the introduction of Apple® CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ upgrade kits, available as of tomorrow to existing customers. 

All Mazda customers with a model with the MZD Connect infotainment system, first introduced to the Australian market in early 2014, will be able to purchase the smartphone mirroring upgrade kit for $494.98 (recommended fitted price).”

Finally.

Although Mazda is late to the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto party, it should be applauded for how it’s implementing the software. Making the upgrade available for all MZD Connect equipped vehicles sold to date (of which there are very many on Aussie roads) is a great move. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant proportion of upgrades are from owners of older Mazda 3 vehicles dating all the way back to 2014. Whilst $500 isn’t peanuts, it’s a fair price to pay for the latest and greatest infotainment software available, and the cost could very likely be recouped through an increase in resale value. I can fathom younger people in particular paying the slight extra for a used Apple CarPlay/Android Auto equipped Mazda over one that isn’t, or choosing exclusively from vehicles with the software installed.

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2018 Shannons Sydney Spring Classic Auction

There are some really interesting vehicles going up for auction next Monday at Shannons. Here are my picks:

  • 1963 Fiat 2300 Ghia Coupé: I especially like the wraparound design of the rear windscreen, with the curved glass C-pillars and a bone line that extends from the side around the tail creating a unique, elegant look for a vehicle of this vintage.

  • 1953 Porsche 356 ‘Pre A’ Coupé: The 356 was the first mass produced Porsche, and the ‘Pre-A’ models were the first of the first of these. The fact that this car was the progenitor for a legendary brand is enough for it to make the list.

  • 1971 Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III Sedan: An Australian legend, the acronym ‘GT-HO’ stood for ‘Grand Touring-High Output’, and true to its word, this car held the record for the fastest four-door sedan in the world. Its reputation was confirmed by winning the 500 mile Bathurst endurance race in 1971.

X marks the spot: Toyota Corolla design

Toyota recently unveiled the all-new 12th generation Corolla. Let’s go through its design and see why it’s a clear step up over its predecessor.

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The design of the new Corolla is in line with CEO Akio Toyoda’s vision for Toyota vehicles to be less bland and more characterful. Indeed, Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s American Calty design studio, confirmed that the company wants to progress with more emotional designs and move on from a widely held perception that it makes inoffensive whitegoods on wheels.

The face

Above top: The superseded Corolla, known in Europe as the Auris

Compared to its predecessor, the new Corolla presents an aggressive face that is a stark departure from its predecessors. The two key elements here are the hidden bumper and the headlamps. The front bumper has cleverly been painted black and is camouflaged behind mesh, creating the illusion of a large, gaping grille. Together with the slim, downwards angled headlamps, this creates an aggressive ‘X’ design across the front of the car, in line with other recent Toyota models and helping to develop a family design language.

Above left to right: The new Corolla, Aygo, Yaris, C-HR and Camry. These models all use an aggressive front design incorporating an ‘X’ graphic to develop a shared family resemblance.

The sides and rear: more balanced proportions

The 12th generation Corolla continues its predecessor’s cab-forward design, with a minimal dash-to-axle ratio and the base of the A-pillar positioned almost on top of the front axle.

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The key improvement, however, is in the treatment of the side profile. The older model implemented a single crease which acted as a half-hearted attempt to break up an otherwise slab-sided design. In contrast, the latest Corolla implements a curved secondary character line that flows from the front of the rear door handle, across the C-pillar and into the tailgate. This crease has the effect of accentuating the rear haunches, and together with the more steeply raked rear windscreen, helps develop the sense that the new Corolla has a more protruding, substantial rear end. When taken into consideration with the rest of the side profile as a whole, this develops an illusion that visually elongates the car and helps balance the otherwise cab-forward design.

Above left to right: Corolla, 2018 Renault Megane RS, 2014 Renault Megane Coupé

The tail of the new Corolla is in harmony with the front of the car. Angled character lines that extend from the rear bumper reflectors into the tailgate, together with the blade like tail-lamps and curved rear windscreen work together to develop an ‘X’ graphic that mirrors the front of the vehicle.

Of note is the inspiration Toyota has derived from the Renault Megane for the design of the tailgate. In some respects, the new Corolla is an amalgamation of both 2014 Megane Coupé and the 2016 Megane. The steeply raked, curved windscreen has a clear lineage to the Megane Coupé, whilst the slim tail-lamps extend far into the tailgate to serve a secondary function that visually widens the car, in a fashion similar to the 2016 Megane hatch.

Conclusion

The new 12th generation Corolla successfully achieves its objective of presenting a more aggressive, characterful design, in line with the vision outlined by CEO Akio Toyota. The use of an ‘X’ graphic across both the front and rear, together with a more balanced side profile incorporating character lines to emphasise the rear haunches and tail, creates a very cohesive design. With the right combination of trim and colour, the new Corolla is a desirable and compelling option in its segment.

Holden Test Drive Challenge

Holden has launched a new 'Test Drive Challenge' where the customer receives a $500 prepaid Visa card if they test drive a Holden, but end up purchasing a competitor vehicle. Here's why I think such a scheme is flawed:

  • The key tagline behind this 'Test Drive Challenge' is that Holden engineers have ensured their cars 'perform just like a Holden should.' The problem with this is that Holden's portfolio over the last 20 years has been a cacophony of products sourced from all over the global GM empire. For example, Holden's small car offering has ranged from the Opel (GM's former European arm) sourced Astra, to the Daewoo (GM Korea) sourced Viva, then the originally Korean (and later 'Australianised') Cruze, and now back to the European Astra hatch and North American sourced Astra sedan. Although Holden has recently developed a tuning program to adapt imported vehicles to Australian conditions, these vehicles have fundamentally been developed for different markets, with different driving tastes, and thus do not share 'family-wide' driving characteristics in the same vein that vehicles from Mazda, or even BMW, do.    
  • The campaign in general simply reeks of a desperate attempt to move dealership stock as quickly as possible. Rather then sell cars on their inherent quality, this campaign paves the way for dealerships to convince customers to go for a test drive, and then try to sell the vehicle through heavy discounting, to the extent the customer would be silly to buy a competitor car, even with a $500 benefit. Moreover, such heavy discounting has a detrimental flow-on effect to the residual value of Holden vehicles.

Is anything short of full autonomy really autonomous?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is the pre-eminent standards development organisation for the automotive industry. Currently, the SAE classifies vehicles into six different levels of autonomy. Paraphrased, these are:

  • Level 0: No driving automation. The driver is responsible for all tasks.
  • Level 1: Driver assistance technologies. Technologies such as adaptive cruise control can control either acceleration/braking or steering, but not both. These are assistance technologies only, and the driver must control the vehicle.
  • Level 2: Partial driving automation. The car can sustain control of acceleration/braking and steering only within specific environments (e.g. a motorway with clearly marked lanes). The driver is expected to remain alert and able to intervene at any time. The driver is also expected to supervise the automation system and to handle any hazards or other adverse events that may occur.
  • Level 3: Conditional driving automation. The car can sustain control of all driving tasks (acceleration/braking, steering and other driving tasks such as changing lanes) only within specific environments (e.g. a motorway with clearly marked lanes). However, the driver is expected to respond and take control of the vehicle if the car warns the driver, or if the automated driving system fails.
  • Level 4: High driving automation. The car can sustain control of all driving tasks (acceleration/braking, steering and other driving tasks such as changing lanes) only within a specific environment (e.g. a motorway with clearly marked lanes). Within this specified environment, there is no expectation that a driver will intervene.
  • Level 5: Full driving automation. The car can sustain control of all driving tasks in all environments, unconditionally. There is no expectation that a driver will intervene.

The SAE standard provides the following table for autonomous driving (paraphrased above):

The main problem with this system is the terminology. In the ordinary sense of the word, 'autonomous' means having the ability to independently control oneself, free from interference. When applied to Level 2 and Level 3 vehicles, this is clearly not true, as both types of vehicles can function with only limited independence, in specific environments, and operate with the expectation that a driver can intervene if things turn awry.

This has consequences in relation to how the automotive industry markets autonomous vehicles, and how customers perceive them.

Audi's misleading description of the A8 having 'Level 3' autonomy

Audi's press materials describe the A8's autonomous driving system as follows:

World debut for highly automated driving: the Audi AI traffic jam pilot

With the Audi AI traffic jam pilot, the brand with the four rings presents the world’s first system that enables highly automated driving at Level 3. The car takes over the task of driving in certain situations. Unlike at Level 2, the driver no longer needs to monitor it permanently. They must merely be capable of taking back responsibility whenever the system prompts them to.

The driver activates the traffic jam pilot with the AI button on the center console. On freeways and highways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways, the system takes over the driving task if the car is traveling at less than 60 km/h (37.3 mph) in nose-to-tail traffic. The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. It can also handle critical situations such as vehicles cutting in closely in front. The signals that the traffic jam pilot needs for highly automated driving are supplied for instance by the central driver assistance controller (zFAS).

With the traffic jam pilot active, the driver can relax. They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watch a TV program on the 10.1-inch display in the center console. In this instance the Audi virtual cockpit supplies abstract representations that symbolize the motion and surroundings of the new A8.

During highly automated travel a small camera in the driving area detects if the driver tires or falls sleep. If that happens, a multi-stage warning is given. As soon as the speed rises above 60 km/h (37.3 mph) or the line of vehicles breaks up, the traffic jam pilot informs the driver that they need to take charge of driving once again. If they ignore this prompt and the subsequent warnings, the new A8 is braked to a standstill. The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system. The brand’s high quality standards are equally applicable in the realm of highly automated driving. In addition, a range of approval procedures and their corresponding timescales will need to be observed worldwide. Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.
— Audi A8 press release

The errors in this press release begin with the description of the A8's capability for 'highly automated driving.' As per the SAE standard, high driving automation is classified as Level 4. Whilst the term 'highly automated driving' has an element of subjectivity to it, and Audi is free to market the A8 as it sees fit, it's misleading to obfuscate the subjective 'highly automated driving' with the term 'high driving automation', that has a defined meaning that the A8 does not meet as per the SAE standard.

Another error lies within Audi's substantive description of the A8's autonomous driving capability. Let's break down Audi's description, according to the SAE criteria:

  • Driving tasks performed (Dynamic Driving Task, or DDT): "The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. It can also handle critical situations such as vehicles cutting in closely in front."
  • Operational environment (Operational Design Domain, or ODD): "On freeways and highways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways, the system takes over the driving task if the car is traveling at less than 60 km/h (37.3 mph) in nose-to-tail traffic."
  • Extent of human driver involvement required (DDT fallback): "During highly automated travel a small camera in the driving area detects if the driver tires or falls sleep. If that happens, a multi-stage warning is given. As soon as the speed rises above 60 km/h (37.3 mph) or the line of vehicles breaks up, the traffic jam pilot informs the driver that they need to take charge of driving once again. If they ignore this prompt and the subsequent warnings, the new A8 is braked to a standstill."

For a car to have Level 3 automation, the SAE suggests that it must have control of all driving tasks within the specified operating environment. Audi suggests the A8 manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking, on dual-carriage highways with a separating physical barrier, when the car is travelling at less than 60 km/h. However, the company makes no mention of other DDTs such as changing or merging lanes that are often necessary in the operating environment that Audi describes. Furthermore, whilst the SAE standard doesn't prescribe any suggestions for the type of ODDs that Level 3 vehicles should be able to operate in, the operating environment of Audi's autonomous driving system is remarkably limited. 60 km/h is a very low operational speed limit, and effectively means that Audi's system works only in stop-start traffic jams on highways. In light of the very limited scenarios that Audi's system can actually work in, it is not significantly different from existing adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist systems widely available today.

Technical image showing the architecture of the A8's claimed autonomous driving system

Conclusion

The SAE should rephrase the six levels of autonomous driving, such that terms such as 'autonomous vehicles' and 'driving automation' apply only to Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles. The technologies offered in Level 2 and Level 3 vehicles are, for all practical purposes, driver assistance technologies rather than autonomous driving technologies. Categorising these vehicles as having 'driving automation', when in most practical situations they require human supervision, can create the potential for misleading marketing, as evidenced by the Audi A8 above, and consequently create customer confusion and overconfidence in the technology available today. Ultimately, there is no commercially available autonomous car on sale today.

Alfa Romeo's new product strategy

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) recently unveiled a new product strategy for its Alfa Romeo brand, as outlined in the slide below:

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The slide makes clear that Alfa Romeo plans to launch 3 updated ('MCA', or 'Mid-Cycle Action') versions of existing models (Giulietta, Giulia, and Stelvio) along with 4 completely new models ('C UV', 'E UV', GTV and 8C). If we take the (admittedly unrealistic) assumption that the product lineup of competing brands will remain the same as today, how does Alfa Romeo compare?

This table should be treated as a guide only, rather than a holistic appraisal of market segments in the industry that are set in stone. Certain vehicles, such as the Range Rover Velar, straddle segments and are difficult to classify. Infiniti has not been included as it is popular only regionally (North American market), whilst Genesis is an emerging brand that is still in the process of rolling out a full product range. Ultimately, the focus should be on developing great cars rather than filling market segments just for the sake of having a complete vehicle range.

The table above demonstrates that were Alfa Romeo to produce the vehicles outlined in their 2022 strategy, they would merely be matching the product lineup of competitors today. Alfa Romeo's European competitors, along with Tesla, already have several plug-in hybrid options available. With several of these manufacturers planning to introduce more battery electric vehicles in the near future (such as BMW's iX3 and an electric Volvo XC40), Alfa Romeo should also ideally target producing a battery electric vehicle by 2022.

Electric vehicles and brand DNA

Alfa Romeo describes its brand DNA as follows:

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It's important to dispel the notion that battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are incompatible with Alfa Romeo's brand DNA, or that they represent a necessary dilution of the brand to meet ever-tightening emissions regulations. In fact, the opposite is true. Electric motors and plug-in hybrid technology represent the most advanced powertrain technology available today. The 'skateboard' vehicle chassis (commonly used in battery electric vehicles), with a long, flat rectangular battery, sandwiched at the bottom of the vehicle, offers better opportunities for a 50/50 weight distribution than a bulky combustion engine positioned at the front or rear of the car. Likewise, the packaging opportunities offered by such a chassis enable greater stylistic freedom for designers. Although battery electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model S weigh more than their combustion engine counterparts, forthcoming advances in battery technology, such as solid-state batteries, with higher energy densities, promise to reduce this disparity. Thus, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicle technology especially, can act as an enhancement, rather than a dilution, of Alfa Romeo's brand DNA.

  Above: The skateboard chassis used by Jaguar's i-Pace. Such a chassis incorporates a flat, long and rectangular battery pack at the bottom of the vehicle to lower the centre of gravity and optimise packaging and interior space.

Above: The skateboard chassis used by Jaguar's i-Pace. Such a chassis incorporates a flat, long and rectangular battery pack at the bottom of the vehicle to lower the centre of gravity and optimise packaging and interior space.

Dyson to produce an electric car by 2020

Jimi Beckwith, reporting for Autocar:

"Dyson has confirmed plans for an all-electric car that will enter production in Britain by 2020 and has received support from the UK Government.

The car will be funded by £2 billion from Dyson and is currently under development at Dyson's Wiltshire headquarters by a team of 400 people. 

Dyson is keeping specific details, such as performance, range and production numbers, secret but it will not be a mass-market car akin to the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf; instead, it will be aimed at a more tech-oriented market. This suggests that it might be a rival to the Tesla Model S in terms of market position."

It's great to have more competition in the electric car space, as it pushes everyone to innovate that much more, and so Dyson's announcement is very welcome.

I think that their decision to apparently focus on a more 'tech-oriented' (premium?) market is a good one. Dyson is a brand renowned for its innovative household appliances, and developing a premium vehicle is in line with their current brand positioning.

I can see Dyson innovating in the electric car space in two key ways: technology and design. It wouldn't be surprising to see a Dyson electric vehicle powered by their digital motor technology, currently used for their vacuum cleaners, and using a HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning) system incorporating their Air Multiplier bladeless fan technology.

What is more interesting to speculate about is how Dyson's design will translate to a car. Dyson is one of the few companies today with a unique, but consistent, design language across products that have entirely different purposes. The company is a strong proponent of the 'design is how it works' approach, and is notable for its use of bright colour accents to visually highlight key parts of its products. It will be fascinating to see how this approach will apply to the exterior and interior design of its vehicle. Perhaps important controls could be colour coded according to their function? Autocar's subsequent interview with Sir James Dyson is very illuminating in this regard.

Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive

Al Jazeera:

"In a reversal of a longstanding rule, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will now allow women to drive.

In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the order said it will be effective immediately but the rollout will take months, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

A high-level committee of ministers has been set up to examine the arrangements for the enforcement of the order."

Finally.

Victoria Police to use BMW 5-Series as highway patrol car

From the BMW press release:

"To ensure maximum cost effectiveness, the turbocharged, six-cylinder diesel powered BMW 530d was selected. It will be presented to Victoria Police in an entry-level specification, eschewing some of the higher-end luxuries found on the regular production model in favour of a factory-fitted ‘police pack’ which prepares the vehicle for heavy-duty operations. Similarly-equipped BMW 5 Series vehicles have long been part of European police forces, displaying a high level of technology with ample performance in emergency situations.

The first BMW 530d Victoria Police Highway Patrol vehicles are expected to be operational by early-2018."

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Overall, I think this is a great alternative to the end-of-life Australian Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. The civilian 530d has a stated fuel economy of 4.7L/100km and acceleration of 5.7 seconds from 0-100 km/h, which is equivalent to the average performance car today, and should be adequate for high-speed police chases. Whilst the fuel economy figure clearly won't be matched by 530d's undertaking highway patrol duties, it will nevertheless be substantially better than its Ford and Holden predecessors.

I wonder, however, what the maintenance and parts replacement costs for these vehicles will be. I wouldn't be surprised if Victoria Police has reached a special agreement for a discount given how expensive these costs normally are, compared to the Commodore and Falcon.

I would also suspect that the new Kia Stinger will give the 5-Series strong competition for use as a police vehicle given its lower cost, similar size and performance, and Kia's eagerness for the Stinger to be used as a police vehicle.