- Record sales figures achieved by the BMW Group
- New Bentley SUV could be built in Bratislava
- Limited-edition SRT Viper TA 'designed for extreme performance'
- R10 to push Audi into hypercar territory
- New Ford Focus facelift spied
- Ken Livingstone's taxi and other true stories
- Räikkönen takes surprise victory for Lotus F1 in Australia
- Group Lotus winding-up petition dismissed by High Court
Posted: 19 Mar 2013 04:37 AM PDT
The BMW Group sets record sales and earnings results during 2012, aims to boost figures further in 2013
The BMW Group achieved record sales in 2012 and aims to set new records in 2013.
Norbert Reithofer, chairman of the board of management of the BMW Group, said: "The past year has been the most successful year in the BMW Group's corporate history, with new records achieved for sales volume, revenues, and Group earnings.
"We are aiming to achieve a further rise in unit sales in the current year and hence a new sales volume record."
The BMW Group remains cautiously optimistic about 2013's figures and results, however, but it intends to continue to increase its capacity.
"Due to high levels of expenditure for new technologies and models as well as investment in the production network, we expect to report Group profit before tax on a similar scale to the year 2012," said Reithofer.
The BMW Group plans to launch around 25 new models in total by 2014, 10 of them all-new cars. A total of 11 new model launches are planned for 2013.
Sales of BMW, Mini and Roll-Royce cars increased by 10.6 per cent during 2012, up from 1,668,982 cars to 1,845,186 cars. This aided the Group's net profits, which rose to £4.38 billion, a 4.4 per cent increase on 2011's result of £4.21bn. Revenue rose from £58.84bn to £65.75bn, up some 11.7 per cent.
The vast majority of sales were accounted for by BMW, which registered over 1.5 million cars, assisted by the launch of the new 3, 5 and 6-series, as well as the popular X models.
Rolls-Royce sold a total of 3575 cars, a minor increase of one per cent over 2011's 3538 cars. Mini recorded a more notable boost, with figures climbing 5.8 per cent from 285,060 to 301,526. The Countryman, Coupé and the new Roadster played a significant role in improving Mini's figures.
The growth wasn't limited to the BMW Group's four-wheeled concerns. BMW and Husqvarna motorcycle sales totalled 117,109, 3.1 per cent more than in 2011. Profit before tax for this sector, despite the increase in sales, fell from £35.1 million to £5.13m – a drop of 80 per cent, reputedly due to "a new direction for the motorcycle business".
Financial services grew in volume but a decrease in earnings for the segment was recorded, which the BMW Group attributed to exceptionally high figures for 2012. The number of retail contracts signed increased by 12.1 per cent to 1,341,296. Leasing and financing contracts, with retail customers and dealerships, rose by 7.1 per cent to 3,846,364 units.
The BMW Group's workforce also grew, with the number of employees rising from 100,306 to 105,876.
Posted: 19 Mar 2013 04:24 AM PDT
Bentley reveals that production of new SUV could start as soon as 2015
Bentley chief Wolfgang Schreiber said that a positive decision was expected on the SUV "very soon". The model would enter production in 2015 or 2016, should the production sign-off be granted in the next few weeks as expected.
Schreiber said just a few "last hurdles" of the business case needed to be assembled, one of which was where the model would be built.
Two options are being proposed: one is for the still-unnamed Bentley SUV to be built in Crewe, and the other is for it to be built in Bratislava alongside the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg models on which the SUV would be based.
"We want to build sustainable cars that make money," said Schreiber. "But we have the components and the craftsmanship skills in Crewe."
Schreiber said that capacity was not an issue at either plant – 3000 to 4000 units per year are being projected – but instead that a whole other suite of options was being weighed up, including logistics, investment, craftsmanship, knowledge and labour rates.
As a board, Bentley would prefer the model to be built in Crewe but Schreiber said that this was not to say that the Volkswagen Group board was pushing for the model to be built in Bratislava.
"We are all fighting for the best decision for Bentley," said Schreiber. "Everyone in VW knows how motivated and skilled the workers in Crewe are and their interior craftsmanship is a true asset."
If the model were to be built in Bratislava, it would be the first Bentley sold without the famed 'Made in Crewe, England' plaque since some examples of the Flying Spur were built in Dresden in 2005/06. Instead, a 'Designed in Crewe, England' plaque would likely feature.
Even if the model ended up being built in Bratislava, almost all the interior components would be shipped over from Crewe to give the model the exclusive Bentley feel.
Schreiber admitted that from the outside the decision for the SUV to be signed off for production seemed long and complicated, but in reality it was a fairly straightforward internal checklist that was being worked towards and there was "nothing unusual" about this project.
The SUV that is expected to be signed off for production will look very different from the concept model revealed at the Geneva motor show last year, Schreiber revealed.
"It's completely different now and already ready for final development," he said. "It has the DNA of the current cars but looks even more special as a very modern SUV.
"It has lots of new technology, a hand-crafted wood and leather interior and a powerful, torquey engine with effortless acceleration."
He admitted there was "room for improvement" with the design of the original concept.
More than 2000 orders have already been placed for the model, despite no one having seen the final look or knowing the final price.
"That is testament to the fact that people don't question the idea of such a car as a Bentley," said Schreiber.
Sales director Kevin Rose said the price of the new Bentley SUV would pick up where the new Range Rover left off. With versions of the Range Rover eventually expected to come in at around £125,000, this is the anticipated entry price for the new Bentley.
Around 50 per cent of sales of the new SUV are expected to come from the US and China, with the Middle East, Russia and Europe next in line with an even split.
The new SUV would form a key part of Bentley hitting its sales target of 15,000 units per year by 2018, almost double the 8510 registered in 2012.
With regards to the name, both Rose and Schreiber confirmed it would not be Falcon, and that the firm was working on a name that would work across its global markets.
Posted: 19 Mar 2013 03:07 AM PDT
Just 33 to be made, with suspension and brake upgrades over the standard SRT Viper
A track-focused version of the latest SRT Viper will be unveiled at the New York motor show. The SRT Viper Time Attack (TA) features a range of modifications to make it more capable on circuits.
Just 33 TAs will be made in Detroit, all finished in 'Crusher Orange' with black 'TA' logos.
Over the standard SRT Viper, the TA has revised suspension comprising uprated springs and dampers as well as changes to its Bilstein Damptronic system with a smaller spread between the two modes. Unique 'Sidewinder II' alloy wheels are lighter than standard and so reduce the unsprung mass. Furthermore, the aluminium cross-brace of the standard Viper has been replaced with a carbonfibre item.
The brakes are a development of the Viper's standard Brembo set-up, with increased thermal capacity to improve performance during sustained track use.
The TA is powered by the same 8.4-litre V10 as the standard SRT Viper, producing 640bhp and 600lb ft of torque.
Externally, the TA can be identified by a new front carbonfibre splitter and rear spoiler, while the interior features Crusher Orange stitching on the centre console and steering wheel.
Production of the 33 SRT Viper TAs will begin this autumn.
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 11:44 PM PDT
Le Mans-inspired R10 will feature diesel power and a carbonfibre chassis
Audi is preparing to enter the exclusive realm of high-end hypercar manufacturers with a spectacular 600bhp-plus, four-wheel drive R10 flagship model inspired by its latest Le Mans-winning R18 race car.
The high-tech two-seater, conceived to sit above the upcoming second-generation R8, aims to provide a direct link between the German car maker's high-profile motorsport activities and the road car side of its business.
Among the R10's planned highlights are a high-powered diesel-electric drivetrain, a dual-clutch automatic gearbox and the very latest in torque-vectoring-assisted quattro four-wheel drive, all likely to be showcased on a lightly veiled concept of the Audi hypercar set to be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September.
Speaking to Autocar at last week's Geneva motor show, the head of Audi's R&D operations, Wolfgang Dürheimer, said the new Audi was currently in the "product evaluation" stage of its development, but he suggested the signs are positive that it would enter production.
"We run product evaluation on different ideas, looking at market positioning, brand image, development cost and time to market," said Dürheimer. "Once this is done we will have a clear decision on what happens next. I would expect an update at the Frankfurt motor show."
The new hypercar is considered to be crucial to Audi's efforts to offer its customers cutting-edge technology on its road cars following a decision to shelve plans for the R8 e-tron.
The electric powered coupé was developed through to production maturity under the company's former head of R&D, Michael Dick, following a long gestation. However, a lack of range led to its development being abandoned just months out from planned production.
While Audi remains guarded on details of the future flagship hypercar, Autocar can reveal the proposal for the R10 centres around a newly developed carbonfibre monocoque structure and body featuring styling cues linking it directly with the aggressive-looking R18 race car. "I've seen the styling proposal and it looks great," said Dürheimer.
Power is set to come from a heavily reworked version of Audi's turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, which will drive the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It produces 309bhp and 479lb ft in standard form but various tweaks, including the adoption of a new induction system, lightweight internals and new crankcases, are likely to lift the 90deg unit's reserves to more than 420bhp and 515lb ft, according to one source with knowledge of Audi's hypercar plans.
The diesel engine is set to be supported by a pair of brushless electric motors mounted within the front axle assembly and providing drive to the front wheels. This layout mirrors that of the Porsche 918 Spyder, a car whose development Dürheimer was intimately involved in as the previous head of Porsche's R&D activities.
Together the diesel engine and electric motor are planned to provide a combined output of more than 600bhp and 737lb ft of torque.
Dürheimer said the diesel-electric hypercar is his preferred choice to take Audi into a new, exclusive hypercar segment. But he also indicated it is not the only proposal on the table. "It is one out of five potential projects, but it is definitely my personal favourite," he told Autocar.
Greg Kable/Mark Tisshaw
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 11:34 AM PDT
Ford's mid-size hatch to get new 'family-look' nose
Ford has started work on giving the new Focus the same 'Aston Martin grille' as the Fiesta and future Mondeo, with these spy shots showing the bare bones of the new grille shape. The upper grille is much deeper than on the existing Focus and the numberplate plinth is much lower down.
The two large triangular intakes on the nose of the current Focus appear to have been blanked off on this mule, presumably to make sure that cooling isn't affected by the smaller grille opening and - in the case of this cold-weather test - to make sure that snow ingestion isn't a problem.
Driven snow, often thrown up by the vehicle in front, can pack itself around the radiator and other under-bonnet components. Ingested snow can be such a significant problem that BMW's Munich-based test labs now allow snow ingestion to be simulated, saving much time and effort trying to find the exact weather and traffic conditions in the real world.
A similarly-modified C-Max MPV can be seen on a trailer in the background. Neither the facelifted Focus or C-Max is likely to appear in the showroom before the beginning of 2014.
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 08:30 AM PDT
It isn't just the tabloids that would be affected by increased press regulation; some of the best car industry scoops have come through rather unorthodox methods, too…
There's a bit of a kerfuffle about press freedom at the moment. Not quite sure of the details, but all sorts of celebrities and politicians have been getting themselves in a state arguing that the State really ought to be in control of the business of printing things.
So what has that got to do with the world's best, longest-serving and most venerated car magazine? Absolutely everything. There are many stories, often involving my esteemed colleague Hilton Holloway, that are politician-baitingly controversial.
I didn't think that I was an investigative journalist at all, but over the years I have written stories that in the current climate could well result in me being prisoner 54432678.
That's right, car magazines ought to be able to question politicians about what they do and just whether they are being ever so slightly hypocritical. It really does matter what they drive, what their pence per mile rate is and whether they claim for free first-class travel and taxi fares.
Indeed, I was once behind a satirical prank that involved trying to give former London Mayor Ken Livingstone an old FX4 Taxi. That's because his expenses claims revealed that it would be a lot cheaper just to give him a smelly old taxi. The organisation I was freelancing for ultimately thought this was a bit too controversial. Bloody cowards.
Car magazines should bite the hand that feeds it when necessary. There is a car industry, but we are not part of it. Our duty is to report the truth to you, and if they get upset and don't lend us their latest hatchback then tough. Which probably explains why I am not an editor or anything really important like that.
The question is, then, do you mind if there is State control of Autocar, or would you not even notice the difference so long as there are cars going sideways?
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 03:27 AM PDT
Kimi Räikkönen transforms a disappointing qualifying performance into a perfect start to the 2013 F1 season
Kimi Räikkönen has taken a surprise victory for the Lotus F1 team at the Australian Grand Prix.
It followed a disappointing qualifying session for Lotus, which finished with Räikkönen and his team-mate Romain Grosjean seventh and eighth respectively. The front row was dominated by Red Bull, led by Sebastian Vettel. In his first race for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton qualified third.
A poor start for Webber left Vettel leading the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa with Räikkönen, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg completing the top six. The first round of pit stops from lap seven saw the lead switch between these front runners.
Force India's Adrian Sutil led the race temporarily thanks to starting the race on the medium-compound Pirelli tyres, which enabled him to postpone his pit stop until the 21st lap.
By this time, Fernando Alonso had already made his second stop and was able to overtake Massa and Vettel as they pitted at the same time as Sutil.
Räikkönen's two-stop strategy put him ahead until he pitted on lap 34. The lead was inherited by Alonso, who put distance between himself and Vettel as the latter struggled with excessive tyre wear – the Red Bull's promising qualifying performance didn't translate into good race pace.
Alonso pitted again on lap 39. Räikkönen passed Sutil to put him in clear air and control the race until the end. He was joined on the podium by Alonso and Vettel, with the top six completed by Massa, Hamilton and Mark Webber.
Further down the standings, McLaren struggled in the midfield. Jenson Button finished ninth, with Sergio Perez taking eleventh. Adrian Sutil mounted a strong comeback to take seventh ahead of his Foce India team-mate Paul Di Resta in eighth.
Eighteen cars finished the race. Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber didn't start, Pastor Maldonado spun his Williams, the exhaust broke on Daniel Riccardio's Toro Rosso and Nico Rosberg retired with electrical issues.
For more F1 2013 news click here.
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 02:28 AM PDT
Norfolk-based sports car company says winding-up order was based on a contractual dispute that had already been resolved amicably
An application to wind up Group Lotus plc has been dismissed by the High Court today.
As reported by Autocar this morning, the name of Group Lotus – which comprises Lotus Cars, Lotus Motorsport and Lotus Engineering – appeared on the Companies Court Winding Up list to be heard at the High Court.
Such cases are often the result of a creditor or group of creditors seeking to have a company's assets liquidated as a result of failure to pay debts.
However, according to a statement issued by Group Lotus this afternoon, earlier this year the company was in a contractual dispute which was subsequently resolved amicably.
The High Court process means that the matter still has to be completed before a judge before proceedings can be formally disposed of. Today the claim was dismissed with no order as to costs.
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