Article Type: news

Electric-vehicle battery development charges ahead

Battery development is central to the electrification of mobility. But which chemical compositions hold the most promise and how will Europe meet manufacturing demand? Autovista24 deputy editor Tom Geggus explores what the future holds for electric-vehicle (EV) batteries.

While lithium-ion batteries currently dominate battery-electric vehicle (BEV) builds, the technology was first commercialised in 1991 for consumer electronics. The rapid development of power-storage units looks set to shift this dependency, however. Speaking with Autovista24, Dr Matthias Simolka, senior technical solution engineer at TWAICE, unpacked how automotive batteries are evolving.

Is sodium a solution?
Demand for lithium is increasing as carmakers look to build more BEVs. While concerns of a potential raw-material shortage circulate, Simolka explained that there is actually enough lithium in the ground. The issue is how many mines are currently up and running, and whether they can meet rising demand.
This is where sodium-ion batteries could prove immensely useful. With different industries currently utilising the material, production capacity is already established. There are additional safety benefits, alongside more sustainable production methods that require less toxic material.

Sodium-ion batteries sport a lower energy and power density, requiring more units to match the kind of power output delivered by lithium-ion versions. However, this makes them ideal for lower demand, less energy dense, and more affordable applications. Chinese manufacturers such as CATL and BYD are already reportedly working on sodium-ion technology.

But this does not mean that sodium will replace lithium as the chemical element of choice. Instead, it will help alleviate pressure alongside other battery setups. ‘Lithium is going to keep on dominating the market,’ Simolka said. ‘I think sodium ion is going to play a role but in specific applications. The benefit of lithium ion is that there are so many different possible setups, so many different cell chemistries you can choose and then adapt to the kind of application you want.’

For example, lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemical compositions tend not to have a high enough energy density for certain applications. However, adding manganese to the mix, creating lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP) can help address this issue. It is with small steps like these that Simolka believes lithium will continue to be the primary player in mobility power storage.#

The solid-state wait
So where does this leave the long-awaited, yet-to-be-delivered solid-state battery
(SSB)? Replacing the liquid electrolyte with a solid one, SSBs promise to revolutionise power storage with greater density, improved safety, and superior sustainability. Progress with the technology is often touted, with some companies even setting large-scale deployment dates as soon as 2025.

But Simolka explained that for this kind of deadline to be met, manufacturers would already be testing mass-market prototypes, which is not something he believes is happening. ‘We are approaching that kind of date when we will see solid state in a mobility application, but I am not very sure it is going to happen in 2025,’ he said.

Even then there is a possibility early editions will belong to a new category of ‘quasi-solid-state batteries’, still using electrolytes on the cathode side of the unit, for example. While this could help improve energy density, it would not fulfil all the promises of SSBs.

Where the technology can be best utilised also needs to be considered. High-power applications make sense, but this would result in sizeable price tags normally only seen attached to luxury models. But as with all manufacturing, costs should lower once processes improve.

Localising supply
COVID-19, cracked supply chains and the conflict in Ukraine seriously damaged production processes. But from these issues arose several valuable lessons about sustainability and localised sourcing. When it comes to essential car components like batteries, time and money are being poured into development and manufacturing hubs in Europe and the United States.

Green group Transport and Environment (T&E) believes the EU can end its reliance on China for lithium-ion battery cells by 2027. Alongside this, two thirds of Europe’s cathode demand could be met locally by 2027.

However, Simolka highlighted that localising production is only part of the equation. ‘You still need to figure out where the materials at the end are coming from,’ he said. Initiatives such as battery passports, designed to verify where materials are sourced, produced and marketed, could help manage this need.
In order to localise the production of batteries, supply chains must be secured alongside all the necessary knowledge to ensure the quality of every unit. Speed is paramount to the development of manufacturing capabilities, but must be balanced with safety and quality.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

Have researchers found the key to cleaner diesel power?

Electric-vehicle (EV) development is not the only source of green transformation within the automotive industry. Researchers are also considering how internal-combustion engines (ICEs) could be more sustainable.

A team of engineers based at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) have converted a diesel engine, with potential industrial applications, into a hydrogen-diesel hybrid engine – reducing CO2 emissions by more than 85%, and boosting efficiency in the process.

The direct injection dual-fuel system uses a mix of 90% hydrogen and 10% diesel. This means the original diesel injection into the engine can be maintained, with the hydrogen fuel injected directly into the cylinder.

Industrial benefit?

‘Any diesel engine used in trucks and power equipment in the transportation, agriculture and mining industries could ultimately be retrofitted to the new hybrid system in just a couple of months,’ the UNSW researchers claim.

Focusing on the near-future uses of this technology, the UNSW team highlighted its potential industrial applications, as opposed to deployment under the bonnet of a passenger car or van. This includes locations where a permanent hydrogen fuel supply is already in place. For example, mining sites could cut the emissions from industrial diesel engines used in vehicles and generators. The researchers hope to commercialise its new system within the next two years.

‘Being able to retrofit [industrial] diesel engines that are already out there is much quicker than waiting for the development of completely new fuel cell systems that might not be commercially available at a larger scale for at least a decade,’ said professor Shawn Kook from the UNSW school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering. ‘With the problem of carbon emissions and climate change, we need some more immediate solutions to deal with the issue of these many diesel engines currently in use.’

Cleaning up a dirty process

The retrofitted system does not require high-purity hydrogen and was found to be 26% more efficient than existing diesel engines. This technology could prove a vital industrial quick fix while brand-new hydrogen systems are developed over the long term.

A paper published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy revealed that the patented hydrogen injection system reduces CO2 emissions to just 90g/kWh, 85.9% below the amount produced by a standard diesel-powered engine.

‘This new technology significantly reduces CO2 emissions from existing diesel engines, so it could play a big part in making our carbon footprint much smaller, especially in Australia with all our mining, agriculture and other heavy industries where diesel engines are widely used,’ commented Kook. ‘We have shown that we can take those existing diesel engines and convert them into cleaner engines that burn hydrogen fuel.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

Used-car market conditions present cross-border remarketing opportunities

Resilient demand for used cars has created greater opportunities for cross-border remarketing. But there are challenges to overcome, explains Autovista24 senior data journalist Neil King.

The large consumer-to-consumer element of the used-car market, without reliance on physical dealers, means used-car sales fared far better during the COVID-19 pandemic than new-car registrations.
The first wave of the pandemic stopped sales activities at dealerships that were not digital. The less pronounced downturns in subsequent lockdowns exemplify how the establishment, and increased consumer acceptance, of online purchasing has also significantly improved the opportunities for cross-border remarketing.

New-car supply issues have compounded this, with markets such as Spain increasingly relying on imported used cars to meet demand. This phenomenon has also maintained residual values (RVs) in exporting countries such as Poland.

‘There used to be huge imports of used cars from Western Europe into Poland, at the level of about one million units every year. Now it is much more limited, and I can see the opposite trend of exporting the youngest used passenger cars from Poland. This is based on relatively lower market values and the exchange rate, which is approximately 7% higher than before COVID-19,’ commented Marcin Kardas, head of valuations, Eurotax Poland (part of Autovista Group).

Used-car activity has retreated this year and will be affected by the cost-of-living crisis. However, in conjunction with ongoing new-car supply issues, the squeeze on household budgets also means many consumers will invariably turn to more affordable used cars.

Autovista Group’s base case for 2023 anticipates continued supply-chain issues, very low economic growth paired with high uncertainty, and inflation above target zones. This will keep new- and used-car demand under pressure, but new-car registrations should rise compared to 2022. Used-car markets are expected to be stimulated accordingly, as more cars will be supplied.

This does not mean 2023 will be a rebound year for the automotive industry, but cross-border remarketing opportunities remain. The trend towards standardisation of trim-line names and equipment across European market will facilitate the practice too – not only for existing online used-car retailers, but also for dealer groups and even carmakers themselves.

Online used-car retailers

As the internet has become a more acceptable platform for buying used cars quicker than may have been anticipated, this has given rise to several independent online retailers such as Auto1 Group, Cazoo, and Driverama.

In April 2021, Driverama announced its launch as Europe’s first borderless online used-car retailer, pointing to the pandemic as an accelerant that drove people towards online retailing more quickly. The company also noted forecasts stating that by 2030, 20% of all cars bought in Europe will be transacted online.

‘Cross-border remarketing may still be marginal but is growing with the expanse of the internet and English being spoken more widely by the latest generation, which is also less afraid of going abroad to buy a car,’ explained Ludovic Percier, RV and market analyst, Autovista Group France.

‘For example, there is a website in France,, which collects all used-car adverts across websites worldwide to help you find the right car. You can select the countries you are interested in or even the distance from your location. For people living in the centre of western Europe, this can lead them to many foreign countries, sometimes closer than the other end of their own country. The key factors in going abroad are a lower price, more choice, and sometimes proximity.’

Aside from individual buyers travelling to source a car, the ongoing supply shortages, and increased consumer willingness to purchase online, create significant opportunities for market players when it comes to cross-border remarketing. However, not all consumers are prepared to travel internationally and deal with the bureaucracy involved, so a local presence is required. But this requires scale, which is the core reason Cazoo cites for its withdrawal from the mainland European market.

‘Following a review of a range of strategic options, management has concluded that the right course of action is for Cazoo to now focus exclusively on its core opportunity in the UK, an enormous addressable market with approximately eight million used-car transactions and a value of over £100 billion annually,’ Cazoo announced on 8 September.

‘The plan to withdraw from the EU is based on the material further investment that would be required for Cazoo to continue to scale its operations in the EU and the conflict this has with the company’s priorities of cash conservation and achieving profitability without the need for additional capital. As a result, the company intends to commence an orderly wind down of its operations in Germany and Spain and is in consultation with its employee representatives in France and Italy.’

Another key challenge for online used-car retailers is sourcing cars, especially as they scale operations and enter new markets. One solution is to establish relationships to gain access to de-fleeted vehicles.
In February for example, Auto1 Group, one of Europe’s largest online retailers for buying and selling used cars, struck a deal with Munich-based Allane Mobility – formerly known as Sixt Leasing – to secure supply of around 10,000 leased-car returns and fleet vehicles per year.

Standardisation of equipment and trim-line names

Scale is less of an issue for established large dealer groups and carmakers’ own dealer networks. They may be hampered by borders, but this does not mean that cars cannot be sourced elsewhere. One key challenge, however, is the inconsistent naming conventions of trimlines and/or standard equipment.
‘The Volkswagen trim line Carat in France for example means nothing in Germany, Specifications may differ, but consistent version names at least add clarity,’ commented Andreas Geilenbruegge, head of valuations and insights at Schwacke (part of Autovista Group).

This inconsistency in both trim-line names and standard equipment has not passed carmakers by, with Geilenbruegge pointing to heated seats as an example. They are not essential equipment in new cars in southern European markets such as Spain, but their absence limits a car’s remarketing opportunity in northern Europe. Carmakers are therefore looking at measures such as introducing seat heaters as standard equipment across Europe from the second trim line upwards.

This may not entirely remove international prejudice, whereby cars registered new in one country are often valued lower than those registered domestically.

‘A car bought new in Germany and driven its whole life in France is not worth the same to a dealer as the same car with the same specifications registered new in France. So, consumers risk losing money when trading in cars imported to France compared to a car bought new in the country,’ Percier commented.
Conversely, consumers may be unwilling to pay the same amount for an imported used car as one that has only been registered in their home country.

One manufacturer that has swerved inconsistent trim-line names and specifications – and seemingly international prejudice too – is Tesla. This has facilitated the widely reported exporting of used models from Germany to Norway for example.

‘We are heading towards a future universal European market and some carmakers, such as Tesla, are already uniformising their offer to sell cars wherever the demand is high and the offer low. Most people will still buy a car in their own country, so brands must adapt to providing cars where they are needed. This is true for the European market but also in the local market, between areas and cities,’ said Percier.

Carmakers as used-car agents?

Looking ahead, Percier noted that features on demand (FOD) may eradicate the differences in standard equipment across markets. ‘With the coming FOD in cars, everybody will be capable of activating any option on the car, even after five years. The only differences will be the engine, gearbox, and the car’s aesthetics – that is it.’

With consistent trim lines and equipment, there is greater scope for carmakers to enter the realm of cross-border remarketing themselves. One approach could be an agency model, whereby carmakers can actively offer to purchase cars from a dealer when there is higher demand in another country. This also works passively, however, with dealers able to identify cars that are available for sale across the carmakers’ European dealer network. They can then source them, with the carmaker assuming responsibility for the paperwork, financial transaction, and logistical arrangements.

Whatever the future holds, cross-border remarketing is here to stay and will only gain momentum as transparency increases, both in terms of standardised equipment and names, as well as online presence.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

Chinese carmakers dive into Europe after testing the waters

Chinese car manufacturers are making their presence known in Europe, taking on their Western counterparts, writes Autovista24 journalist Rebeka Shaid.

Europe’s automotive industry is dominated by local players, with Volkswagen (VW) Group taking the top spot as the region’s largest carmaker. But that is not stopping new players from China entering the crowded European market, especially as electrification is in full swing. Competitive product portfolios, customer-centric sales models, and a will to succeed define the new players.   

China and Europe are the two largest electric-vehicle (EV) markets in the world. While European carmakers have long exported cars to the Asian country, where they operate numerous production sites and joint ventures with local companies, now, the tide has turned. 

Consulting firm Inovev noted that around 75,000 new cars from Chinese manufacturers were registered in Europe in the first half of 2022 and it is expecting 150,000 units for the rest of the year.

Electromobility is opening a window of opportunity for these Asian manufacturers, which are trying hard to build recognisable and reputable brands in the region. Nio, XPeng, BYD, Great Wall Motors (GWM), Hongqi, and BAIC are just a handful of carmakers working to take on established leaders across the continent.

Chinese carmakers are following clear ambitions: to increase their international competitive edge after years of mainly supplying cars to developing economies. Although many consumers in Europe are still unfamiliar with ‘made in China’ cars, that is starting to change.

‘To date, more than 10 Chinese car manufacturers have launched, or are about to launch, EVs in Europe. Two of them have achieved some initial success: Polestar and MG have made themselves among the top 20 best-selling EVs in Europe,’ Jan Yang, senior managing director at global consulting firm Simon-Kucher, told Autovista24. MG is owned by SAIC Motors and Polestar by Geely, both Chinese businesses.

‘In contrast, other Chinese automakers have barely made a mark in Europe. But this may change soon, as Nio and Co are making inroads into major European markets like Germany after testing the waters in Norway,’ Yang added.

Electromobility offers

Also hoping to gain a foothold in Europe is GWM. The Chinese company runs the premium SUV brand Wey and produces all-electric vehicles under the Ora brand name. Last month, the carmaker signed a partnership with Europe’s largest dealer group, Emil Frey, as it prepares to launch in Germany during the last quarter of the year.

As Europe’s biggest automotive industry, Germany is a strategic market for Chinese car brands, not least because the country is among the most EV-friendly territories in Europe. Data from the German Federal Office for Motor Traffic (KBA) shows that in the first seven months of 2022, around 7,000 news cars from Chinese manufacturers were registered.

Germany’s Association of International Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (VDIK) has seen membership increase as more Asian brands enter. ‘There have already been individual attempts by new manufacturers from Asia to enter the European market. But what we are experiencing now has other dimensions. These are very serious efforts to gain a foothold here,’ the VDIK told Autovista24.

The newcomers from Asia are eager to present high-tech quality cars to European customers, who are already spoilt for choice. GWM plans to roll out an all-electric model, known as the Funky Cat, which has been described as a competitor to Volkswagen’s ID.3. It will also launch a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the Coffee 01, in the coming weeks.

Eye-catching names aside, the company said that the two models would set the course for their highly publicised market entry. The cooperation with Emil Frey is significant and a milestone for GWM although the details of the partnership are still under wraps.

‘We are currently working hard to set up structures and implement plans. We would like to inform our potential partners at dealer level first before we communicate further publicly,’ the Emil Frey Group told Autovista24.

The EV market in Europe is ready for disruption and Chinese brands are not only aiming to match their European counterparts, but also harbour ambitions to challenge them on range and price.

GWM’s battery-electric vehicle (BEV) is expected to have a range of up to 400km, with list prices likely to start from €30,000. Its PHEV model, Wey’s flagship car, will reportedly have a range of 150km, costing around €50,000. Both models achieved five-star Euro NCAP ratings this month, showing the company is up to the task. With Euro NCAP testing more Chinese cars than it has ever done this year, it said ‘Great Wall really sets the standard for others to follow.’ 

Tech, connectivity, and innovation

While safety and pricing strategy play a key role for Chinese brands entering Europe, innovation and technology is also opening doors for them. Asian carmakers are eager to offer the latest tech and connectivity services, increasingly finding ways to set themselves apart from their Western competitors.

‘While European OEMs may view electrification merely as a transformation of powertrain, Chinese EV upstarts have adopted a different product approach. The Chinese EVs are typically equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, more appealing to the younger generation,’ said Yang.

‘The Chinese take smartification to the next level in that the product is made extendable – consumers would be able to upgrade software as well as some of the hardware so that they do not only own the car but also grow with it. This kind of customer engagement was unseen in Europe,’ he added.

Luxury marque Hongqi, part of China’s FAW Group, is showing off vehicles that can park and charge autonomously, without the need for charging plugs – while here in Europe carmakers like Volvo are still trialling EV wireless charging systems. Earlier this year, Hongqi delivered the first batch of its E-HS9, an all-electric smart SUV, to customers in Norway. More recently, it struck a deal with a Dutch automotive retailer to distribute its vehicles in the country.

Meanwhile, Nio is on an expansion course in Europe, with one of their key services including battery swapping – another way to stand out from the crowd. This allows customers to lease the battery – the most expensive part of an EV – instead of buying it, which then knocks thousands of euros off the initial list price. At dedicated swapping stations, Nio drivers can change their depleted batteries for fully-charged ones, all in under five minutes, and the company is now planning to produce swap stations in Hungary.

Source: FAW Group

Nio’s peers in Europe include startups such as XPeng and Aiways, the latter of which wants to offer ‘exciting’ and affordable cars. Aiways’ first model, an all-electric SUV – the U5 – made it onto the final list for the 2022 Car of the Year in Europe. Costing just under €40,000, the U5 comes with a 400km range and can charge from 30% to 80% in around 27 minutes. The manufacturer plans to roll out one new model each year, saying its vehicles are ‘reasonably priced.’

‘Traditional car manufacturers still have an advantage in absolute sales figures, but with increasing awareness, new models that are both price-competitive and attractive in terms of design, we are reckoning on good chances on the European market. We are in 15 European countries and already have products driving on the roads,’ Aiways told Autovista24

Then there is Geely-owned Lynk & Co, which is eager to challenge automotive conventions with its subscription-based business model. Described as ‘Netflix for cars’, the company runs so-called ‘clubs’ across Europe. Its membership-based approach allows users to access a car on a month-to-month basis. Its PHEV is known as the 01 and in Germany alone, 2,000 Lynk & Co cars were newly registered in the first seven months of the year.

‘Our main difference is our business offer where our members can get a good car that they can keep forever or leave whenever,’ Lynk & Co told Autovista24. ‘Subscribe month-to-month for €550 or borrow a Lynk & Co 01 with insurance, maintenance, and more included. Or go all-in and buy your 01. Whatever works best for the member. Our Lynk & Co 01 offers up to 70km full-electric range so that our members can commute on electricity but go and explore with the combined powertrain.’

Dethroning Tesla?

Source: Lynk & Co

Chinese EV brands are increasingly grabbing headlines, with news outlets recently claiming that automotive giant BYD sold more electric cars than Tesla during the first half of the year. While BYD recorded around 640,000 EV sales from January to June – compared to Tesla’s 564,000 – this figure crucially included PHEVs.

Nonetheless, BYD’s figures are impressive as it sold nearly 330,000 BEVs during that time, up 240% from a year ago. It has become one of the largest EV makers in the world and is planning market expansion in Europe this autumn after launching in its pilot-market, Norway, about a year ago.

Like other Chinese brands, it is promising quick deliveries – a key selling point – and is initially targeting the Benelux and Nordic countries. The company has secured partnerships with select dealerships and is planning to introduce three BEV models in the region, including a ‘European-styled’ C-segment SUV.

BYD appears eager to emphasise this point, no doubt to appeal to European customers. The manufacturer works with more than 200 designers from countries such as Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Germany.

Modern smart cars made in China that look and match, if not surpass, what European drivers are used to – especially when it comes to the latest technology – are shaking up the market. Legacy automotive brands in Europe will be watching closely in the months and years to come.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

Meet the car that sucks up CO₂ and cleans the air

Imagine a car that captures more carbon dioxide (CO₂) while it is being driven than it emits. A student team from the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands has turned such imagination into a reality with the Zem electric-vehicle (EV) prototype.

The Zem effectively stores CO₂ through ‘direct air capturing’ as it drives, purifying and disposing of it through a special filter. While the project is in its early stages, the TU/ecomotive team see the development as a motivating one, aimed at contributing to the general reduction of global warming, highlighting that passenger cars are responsible for more than 60% of related emissions.  

Key to the Zem’s ability to effectively suck CO₂ from the atmosphere is the filter. The car can currently travel 320km before this unit is full and requires replacing or cleaning. This unique component, which TU/ecomotive is seeking a patent for, allows the car to capture two kilograms of CO₂ at 20,000 travel miles per year, meaning that 10 Zem prototypes could store as much CO₂ as an average tree over a 12-month period.

‘It is still a proof-of-concept, but we can already see that we will be able to increase the capacity of the filter in the coming years. Capturing CO₂ is a prerequisite for compensating for emissions during production and recycling,’ stated team manager Louise de Laat.

Good looking car with a serious message

It is fair to say that when startups roll out a cutting-edge prototype, the results can be outlandish. Refreshingly, the Zem is a sleek, sporty looking two-door coupé, which is easy to picture on the roads of tomorrow.

The car’s sustainable message is reinforced through the manufacturing process. All materials and vehicle parts are recyclable or reusable. TU/ecomotive has collaborated with fellow Eindhoven-based concern Black Bear Carbon, which specialises in recycling disused tyres. These materials are incorporated in the make-up of the Zem’s monocoque, and this process is central in reducing CO₂ emissions.

Bi-directional charging is something many car companies and charging providers are continuing to develop, and the Zem makes full use of this process. The technology allows for vehicle-to grid (V2G) or vehicle-to-home (V2H) energy provision, where the EV will supply energy from its battery back to the grid or direct to a home. It can therefore provide power for either domestic appliances and other non-automotive specific equipment, or smoothing out spikes in overall energy demand.

The Zem’s bi-directional charging technology has been paired with solar panels built into the roof of the car, making use of both the batteries and the space on the roof to make the vehicle more sustainable, even when it is not driving.

Collaborating with partners as CEAD and Royal3D ,TU/ecomotive has also made use of 3D printing in the build process. The Zem’s monocoque and the body panels have been created using this method, significantly reducing waste, with circular plastics that can be shredded and re-used for other projects.

For over a decade, the team based at TU/e has been developing vehicles focused on sustainability, showcasing such technology to the wider automotive industry. The small team is looking to build a new, innovative car every 12-18 months.

‘We want to tickle the industry by showing what is already possible,’ affirmed Nikki Okkels, external relations manager at TU/ecomotive. ‘If 35 students can design, develop and build an almost carbon-neutral car in a year, then there are also opportunities and possibilities for the industry.’

‘We call on the industry to pick up the challenge, and of course we are happy to think along with them. We are not finished developing yet either, and we want to take some big steps in the coming years. We warmly invite car manufacturers to come and take a look.’

Can e-fuels save the internal-combustion engine?

E-fuels are being touted as a carbon-neutral alternative that some hope could keep internal-combustion engine (ICE) cars on the roads despite a looming ban, writes Autovista24 journalist Rebeka Shaid.

Do we want to save the planet or the internal-combustion engine? That question might sound provocative, but policies around transportation and mobility have centred on the environmental impact of diesel and petrol cars for years.

Fully-electric vehicles are seen as the solution as they have no tailpipe emissions. Still, ICE cars will not disappear from the roads in Europe any time soon, despite the EU planning to phase out the sale of new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2035. This is where e-fuels come in – combustibles that have found both fans and critics.

What are e-fuels?

Simply put, e-fuels are synthetic fuels with their production based on hydrogen and CO2. Labelled as climate-neutral, these fuels use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can, ideally, be produced using renewable energy resources.

Proponents, including automotive associations and some carmakers, argue e-fuels can relieve the climate of CO2 and may replace conventional fuels altogether. E-fuels also have a high energy density, are easy to store, and can be distributed by an already existing network of petrol stations.

Advocates tend to pitch synthetic fuels as a sustainable way to transform the transport sector. The eFuel alliance, whose members include numerous automotive suppliers such as Bosch, Mahle, and ZF, told Autovista24: ‘We strongly believe that the climate targets cannot be achieved without e-fuels. E-fuels are climate friendly, contrary to what critics claim. To produce e-fuels, CO2 is used from the air and liquefied using water and renewable energy.’

Mazda was the first carmaker to join the alliance, arguing that CO2-neutral fuels could contribute to automotive manufacturers’ emissions reduction efforts. With the EU reviewing carbon emissions standards for cars and vans, e-fuels have once again become a hotly debated topic.

Opinions are split

In Germany, transport minister Volker Wissing recently emphasised that new ICE cars should still be relevant beyond 2035 if they can be topped up with e-fuels. This opinion has caused a rift, not only among politicians but also among carmakers.

Volvo Cars is leaving the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) because its sustainability strategy does not match ACEA’s. The powerful lobbying group supports the use of what it calls CO2-neutral fuels while the Swedish car manufacturer is betting on an all-electric future.

Others are not jumping ship despite considering the future of mobility to be broadly electric. Mercedes-Benz told Autovista24 that while it is preparing to go fully-electric by 2030 where market conditions allow, it was: ‘intensively involved in ACEA’s positioning on the EU Commission’s “Fit for 55” legislative initiative.’ The manufacturer added it was ‘continuously committed to a more progressive positioning of ACEA on the way to climate-neutral mobility.’

Meanwhile, German rival BMW wants to keep its options open. The group’s CEO Oliver Zipse is backing the use of e-fuels as opinions on them remain divided – even within the same company.

The head of Volkswagen (VW) Group, Herbert Diess, told a German media outlet that the efficiency of synthetic fuels was extremely poor. He also questioned the cost effectiveness and high-energy consumption required to produce them.

VW subsidiary Audi once seemed convinced by e-fuels but appears to have changed tack, saying synthetic fuels are not the future. But Porsche, which has been part of VW Group for more than a decade, is still heavily investing in the synthetic fuel. The sportscar maker has teamed up with Siemens Energy and other companies to build an industrial plant in Chile, which will be dedicated to the production of an ‘almost carbon-neutral e-fuel.’

Porsche plans for 80% of its sales to be made up electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030. The company told Autovista24: ‘Climate protection must be considered holistically. Synthetic fuels are a useful addition to electromobility to make a contribution to CO2 reduction. We must also offer the owners of existing vehicles a perspective. Compared to pure hydrogen, e-fuels made from water and carbon dioxide extracted from the air for automobiles, airplanes or ships have the advantage that they can be transported more easily.’

While Germany’s carmakers are following different approaches, the country’s powerful association of the automotive industry (VDA) is in favour of synthetic fuels. ‘E-fuels could become a permanent fixture in transport in the future and make an important contribution to climate protection,’ it states.

Is carbon-neutrality enough?

After a key meeting among environment ministers last month to debate the phase-out of ICE cars in Europe, the EU has now left a door open for carbon-neutral fuels. In other words: synthetic fuels could be used past the 2035 deadline.

A spokesperson for the European Council told Autovista24 that the agreement: ‘includes a recital, giving the possibility to the Commission to make a new proposal to allow the use of CO2-neutral fuels beyond 2035.’

Supporters of e-fuels want to keep the internal-combustion engine alive. After all, synthetic fuels could not only continue to power ordinary passenger cars, but also hyper- and sportscars, with Porsche planning to use synthetic fuels in motorsports. But this approach does not come without criticism.

Synthetic fuels will likely be considered in sectors where electrification is currently not plausible, but critics warn that the automotive use of e-fuels would send the wrong signal to car manufacturers and consumers. They suggest that using synthetic fuels in the long term would do more harm than good and delay the transformation to electromobility.

The shortcomings

There are clear downsides to e-fuels, as campaigners point out that these fuels still emit pollutants. Energy loss is also an issue as the efficiency of e-fuels is lower compared to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Energy gets lost when converting electricity into synthetic fuel, giving these combustibles an efficiency of around 15%.

To make e-fuels carbon neutral, renewable energy has to be used. This would mean depending on countries that have the capacity to produce enough green electricity. Additionally, producing e-fuels is expensive and consumers are going to feel those costs.

‘The production cost of the amount of e-fuels required for driving a combustion engine car 100km is nearly 10 times the production cost of the amount of renewable electricity for driving a battery-electric car the same distance,’ according to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

synthetic fuels
Source: ICCT

The eFuel alliance is rejecting critics and told Autovista24: ‘The biggest criticism levelled against e-fuels is the apparent inefficiency, because a lot of renewable electricity is needed to produce e-fuels. However, this argument can be invalidated if we think globally. E-fuels can be produced worldwide in places with abundant sun and wind and transported via the existing infrastructure.’

So, will e-fuels be able to save the combustion engine? The German Climate Alliance told Autovista24 that synthetic fuels would, at most, be a niche in the future.

‘E-fuels are not yet available in significant quantities, are inefficient and very expensive. The best alternative – it is cheap, efficient and can already be implemented today – is called electrification. E-fuels only make a contribution to climate protection if it can be guaranteed that they are actually produced exclusively with renewable electricity and are only used where there are no better alternatives. This is not the case on the road.’

Synthetic fuels may provide a lifeline for companies that have their business models threatened as the industry switches to electric. These fuels could potentially have their merits under the condition that their production relies solely on renewable energy. They would also need to be accessible and economical. But even if these criteria are met, it does not mean e-fuels are good for the environment. Realistically, they might only be used as a bridging technology.

Renault’s Scenic Vision concept showcases pioneering electric-hydrogen hybrid powertrain

Renault has unveiled a concept vehicle with an innovative powertrain configuration as it looks to embark on a major transformation of its automotive business.

The Scenic Vision concept-car was revealed at the ChangeNOW summit in Paris, and features a hybrid mobility system, using both electric and hydrogen, to offer zero-carbon travel. While the industry is to adopting new fuel-systems, and dumping petrol and diesel, the Scenic Vision concept-car is combining two zero-emission powertrain technologies to offer drivers new options.

The French carmaker is shifting away from a volume focus to the creation of economic, environmental, and social value. As part of its Renaulution strategic plan, the company has the aim of becoming carbon neutral in Europe by 2040, and worldwide by 2050.

Combining hydrogen and electric

Currently, plug-in hybrid vehicles use an internal-combustion engine together with a short-range electric drive. However, the Scenic Vision combines an electric-vehicle (EV) platform with a 16kW hydrogen fuel cell. The technology, which Renault calls H2-Tech, is based on range extenders often seen in EVs. Rather than providing propulsion itself, the fuel-cell will charge the EV-battery on the move. This makes it possible for the vehicle to carry a battery that is significantly lighter, which also helps improve range.

Although this is a vision for Renault’s passenger-car lineup, the company is already investing in hydrogen technology through its light commercial-vehicle subsidiary Hyvia – a joint-venture with Plug Power.

The carmaker states that from 2030, once the network of hydrogen stations is large enough in France, drivers will be able to travel up to 800km without stopping to charge the EV-battery. Instead, they would only need to refuel the hydrogen tank, a process that takes around five minutes. This would provide the fuel-cell range extender with enough energy to charge the battery in transit for the maximum range before the need to plug the vehicle in.

A smaller battery also means less material is required in its manufacture. Therefore, the EV-battery in the Scenic Vision is more sustainable than those in other Renault vehicles. The carmaker states the concept has a carbon footprint that is 75% smaller than that of an electric vehicle such as the Megane E-Tech electric. Its battery is up to 60% less carbon-intensive than an equivalent battery, thanks to the use of short loops and low-carbon sourcing of minerals, as well as using low-carbon energy to assemble and produce the battery.

Why is hydrogen important for the automotive industry?

Electric vehicles offer the best current mass-market solution for carmakers and drivers to achieve zero-emission targets. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they are not suitable for everyone. Range, recharging times, battery weight, and infrastructure issues are some of the barriers to adoption.

Hydrogen propulsion is much less advanced and relies on the development and production of green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy sources. Yet fuel cells are lighter, while refuelling is quicker, equivalent to a petrol or diesel vehicle.

While some carmakers, such as Toyota, are embracing the technology and developing it into passenger and commercial vehicles, others are focused purely on electric powertrains. But as the automotive industry seeks to become zero-emission only, it may not be able to rely on battery-based drivetrains alone.

Sustainable and accessible for all

The Scenic Vision sets out Renault’s plans for the development of future vehicles. It features an eco-inspired design and circular-economy innovations, incorporating over 70% recycled materials. It is also 95% recyclable, meaning it is green from the start of its life to its end.

Onboard technologies offer enhanced safety for drivers and passengers, reducing the number of accidents by up to 70%, according to the manufacturer. The concept’s design also reflects the company’s desire to create a unique car that is accessible and suitable for everyone. The absence of a pillar between the doors and a flat floor facilitate access for people with reduced mobility.

‘Scenic Vision represents a new chapter in the history of Renault Group and for the brand,’ said Gilles Vidal, VP Renault Brand, Design. ‘This concept prefigures the exterior design of the new Scenic 100% electric model for 2024 and the new Renault design language. The interior design is a forward-looking study of future Renault interiors. Scenic Vision provides a suite of technologies and innovations at the service of a more sustainable mobility.’

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Kia reveals Niro Plus as purpose-built electric vehicle

Kia is positioning itself as a sustainable mobility-solutions provider and has recently launched its first ‘purpose-built vehicle’ (PBV), the Niro Plus. The electric vehicle (EV) will be used as a zero-emission taxi in South Korea, with the carmaker expecting the model to form an important part of future transportation.

The company wants to roll out a dedicated lineup of PBVs by 2025, aiming to become a market leader in this segment by the end of the decade. Until then, the manufacturer will modify existing models for specific purposes.

The Niro Plus has been specifically tailored to taxi and ride-hailing operators, but it can also be used as a regular model for private consumers for recreational purposes, including camping trips. Kia first revealed the all-new Niro at the 2021 Seoul Mobility Show in November 2021. 

A non-taxi version of the Niro Plus will be available in select overseas markets in the second half of 2022. The car will be offered as a battery-electric vehicle (BEV), a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid (HEV).

To show Kia’s commitment to more environmentally-friendly car production, the electric vehicle uses sustainable materials developed from recycled wallpaper, eucalyptus leaves, and water-based paint. Kia intends to expand the range of eco-friendly materials, including plans to phase out animal leather in all vehicles.

New mobility products

‘Kia is transforming its business strategy to focus on popularising EVs and introducing new mobility products that are tailored to the needs of users in markets around the world,’ said Sangdae Kim, head of Kia eLCV business division. ‘The Niro Plus is our first step into the world of PBVs, a market that holds great potential for future development.’

The introduction of the Niro Plus follows the launch of the Ray Van in February, which has been described as South Korea’s first single-seater van designed to meet the growing demand for small-cargo delivery services.

Kia’s first dedicated purpose-built vehicle in 2025 will likely be a mid-sized vehicle, with the Niro Plus helping Kia transition to an eco-friendlier mobility provider. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for delivery and logistics services, with Kia aiming to grow its range from micro to large PBVs that can offer an alternative to public transportation. The carmaker even envisages its vehicles to serve as mobile offices.

Based on the first generation of the Niro crossover EV, the Niro Plus taxi model features additional enhancements. The length and height of the Niro Plus taxi model have increased by 10mm and 80mm respectively. The cabin space is larger, thanks to slimmed-down structures and thinner seats. The all-in-one display has also been improved, with Kia planning to offer over-the-air (OTA) updates and services.

Ocean clean-up

As part of Kia’s aim to become a sustainable-mobility provider, the carmaker has also signed a seven-year partnership with green NGO The Ocean Cleanup, which is developing technologies to remove plastics from the world’s oceans.

The partnership is one of Kia’s corporate strategies to drive sustainability efforts, with the carmaker aiming to increase the percentage of recycled plastic to 20% by 2030.  Kia will provide financial support to the NGO, backing ocean and river clean-up projects. Retrieved plastics will then find their way into Kia products.

‘Plastic is not inherently a bad material, but we must use it responsibly,’ said Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. ‘We provide proof that recycled plastic can be used sustainably.’

Kia’s parent company Hyundai is supporting similar causes. The carmaker has partnered with green organisation Healthy Seas to tackle marine pollution, planning to use the nylon found in recycled fishing nets to equip vehicles with more sustainable products.  

The new Dacia Jogger: an unlikely residual value hero

Autovista24 principal analyst Sonja Nehls digs into the new Dacia Jogger and its remarketing potential.

The new Dacia Jogger might seem an unusual choice in a series focused on remarketing potential, residual values (RVs), and fleet relevance of new-car launches, but there are many good reasons for choosing it. Together with the Dacia Duster, the Jogger represents a new generation of Dacia models with improved quality and design. Just like its stablemates, it will enter automotive markets at benchmark new-car prices, maintain low depreciation throughout its lifecycle and will reach used-car markets with strong residual-value potential.

The low depreciation makes it a total cost of ownership (TCO) champion. Rising list prices and energy costs, as well as a shortage of used cars and soaring residual values, all add to a climate of economic uncertainty. Smaller businesses in particular need to look more closely at their costs and buying or leasing decisions. Backed by a convincing cost performance the Dacia Jogger has the potential to win over commercial customers, but the brand’s image and reputation will be its biggest obstacle.

Dacia Jogger remarketing potential

Remarketing upsidesRemarketing downsides
Low list prices and strong residual values (RVs) result in benchmark depreciation and TCOBrand perception and image
Improved quality and design110hp petrol and 100hp LPG engines are slightly underpowered, especially with a fully-loaded car
Occupies a niche segment and combines characteristics of a van, estate and SUVUnusual silhouette and roofline
Modularity and roominess, seven-seater option 
Liquefied-petroleum gas (LPG) engine available as an alternative to diesel with additional cost-saving potential 

Three body styles in one model

The new Dacia Jogger replaces not just one but three previous Dacia models and combines characteristics of a van, an estate, and an SUV – all in one. Add to that the possibility of up to seven seats and this is a unique model. The Dacia Jogger has no truly comparable rivals.

As the focus for potential purchasers is getting plenty of car for their budget, other models in the relevant segment will be the likes of a Kangoo passenger van, a Fiat Tipo estate or a Skoda Scala. The typical seven-seater vans like a Grand Scenic or Volkswagen Touran or SUVs exist in a different league price-wise.

Specifications and dimensions versus main rivals

Click to expand (opens in new tab)
Source: Autovista Group specification data

The new Dacia Jogger joins the Duster in demonstrating how far the Romanian car manufacturer has come, working hard on overcoming the reputation of being cheap and delivering poor quality.

Due to the unusual combination of several body shapes in one car, the Jogger looks a bit quirky, especially from the side and towards the rear. It is reminiscent of classic estates from the 1990s, but with a higher roofline. In any case, it is instantly clear that this car is all about space and versatility.

The interior greets drivers and passengers with a conventional style, including traditional control elements and instruments as well as an eight-inch touchscreen (not standard on the entry version). Material selection is aiming towards the simpler end of the spectrum, as you would expect, but the dashboard and door panels are cleverly styled and well executed. The third row seats adults comfortably enough and the two additional seats can be built in and out individually. With models of this size and price, the seven-seater option is a unique selling point (USP).

Initially, the Jogger is available with a 110hp petrol engine and a 100hp LPG engine. In some markets, such as Poland or Italy, LPG is very popular and in the light of soaring energy costs, the alternative fuel type offers additional saving potential. To put this into context, a spot-check calculation of fuel costs in Germany in March 2022 results in €11.50 per 100km for the petrol engine and €8.30 per 100km for the LPG engine (calculated with the WLTP consumption figures). A hybrid version will follow in 2023 and the smaller sibling Dacia Spring caters for battery-electric vehicle (BEV) demand.

Benchmark new-car price

Price is obviously the strongest selling point for the Dacia Jogger as you can buy a top version of it for under €20,000. Entry versions start at around €14,000. How convincing the price argument is becomes obvious when looking at the list-price development in the C-segment across Europe.

New-car price development (all fuel types, C-segment), unweighted, 2019-2021

Click to expand (opens in new tab)
Source: Autovista Group. Note: Green 95% percentile, orange mean price, blue 5% percentile.

Since 2019, list prices in the C-segment increased by 15-20% in most markets, with the exception of a more moderate 7% in France and a 26% surge in Hungary. France also saw a stronger increase of 16% for the cheaper 5% of models (the blue line) offered in the segment, but a less pronounced increase for the more expensive and better-equipped versions.

With list prices exceeding inflation levels, increased economic uncertainty and rising energy costs, private and commercial customers will look more closely into the affordability of their mobility needs and the TCO of new cars.

TCO driven by depreciation

The depreciation of a vehicle typically accounts for the largest share of its TCO. A lower depreciation, therefore, brings down TCO significantly, resulting in better leasing rates and lower monthly costs.

As a reference, the below example shows the TCO of the Dacia Lodgy TCe 100 seven-seater compared to three potential rivals on the French market. The overall TCO is the lowest, by a margin of almost €2,000 to the Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI. At €5,910 the depreciation only makes up 25% of the Lodgy’s TCO, 15 percentage points less than for the Skoda Scala (€10,160). The Dacia then loses some of its initial advantages due to fuel consumption and insurance costs. Keep an eye out for the TCO data of the Dacia Jogger included in Car Cost Expert upon its official arrival in the market.

TCO comparison Dacia Lodgy versus competitors, France, 36mth/60kkm, March 2022

Click to expand (opens in new tab)

Residual values are a major advantage

Dacia models repeatedly won the Schwacke and AutoBild Wertmeister Award in Germany thanks to their high relative RVs and subsequently low depreciation. The Dacia Jogger seems to be willing to follow their lead. Thanks to strong residual-value forecasts in combination with low list prices, the depreciation for the Dacia Jogger will be its major advantage across markets. In the countries shown in this interactive dashboard, depreciation will range between only €4,700 to €6,700 over two years and 60,000km in Germany and Hungary and go up to €7,500-10,000 in Italy.

Dacia Jogger forecasted depreciation, 36mth/60kkm, March 2022

Open the interactive dashboard

While the situation in Italy looks less favourable in the cross-country overview, this is mainly rooted in general differences in RV levels between countries. When compared to rivals in Italy, the Dacia once again manifests its advantage in terms of an extraordinary RV strength and therefore low depreciation.

Dacia Jogger forecasted depreciation versus competitors, Italy, 36mth/60kkm, March 2022

Open the interactive dashboard

Strong new-car registrations and RVs in Eastern Europe

In Romania, Dacia’s domestic market (not shown in the dashboard), the situation is even more beneficial than in Germany or Hungary, with residual values around 74% and a depreciation of below €5,000 on any model.

Ulmis Horchidan, Autovista Group’s chief editor in Romania, explains that Dacia ‘made a big step forward in terms of quality and design and carved out a new segment for the Jogger, which does not have any direct competitors. The Dacia Jogger has the potential for family and commercial use and, most importantly, it is a good match for the economic reality of people.’ He explains that due to continuously rising residual values, energy costs and new-car prices, many brands simply become too expensive – as new cars and on the used-car market – and the Dacia Jogger is a good option in this market environment.

‘The Dacia Jogger has the potential for family and commercial use and most importantly it is a good match for the economic reality of people.’

Ulmis Horchidan, chief editor Romania, Autovista Group 

Poland is the biggest Eastern European automotive market and with a 10% share, Dacia ranks third in private registrations, only exceeded by Toyota and Kia. However, when it comes to commercial registrations Dacia’s share drops to 3% and the Duster is the only Dacia model in the top 20.

Marcin Kardas, head of valuations and specification with Autovista Group in Poland, states that ‘the Dacia Jogger will not be a typical fleet car, but there still might be some potential due to current economic circumstances and increasing costs. The battery-electric vehicle Dacia Spring already sees rising commercial registrations, mainly with car rental companies.’

Jędrzej Ratajski, Autovista Group market analyst in Poland, adds that Polish customers see Dacia models as ‘cheap, practical and best value for money. The Jogger might change this point of view as it also looks nice and is well built. It can fill the gap that the phase-out of some vans leaves. For example, the passenger versions of Renault Kangoo and also Citroën Berlingo are at least temporarily not available.’

An option for car fleets

Does the improved quality, low depreciation and benchmark TCO make the Dacia Jogger a perfect model for car fleets?

So far, commercial registrations for Dacia vehicles remain the exception and the clear focus is on private customers. The Jogger will appeal especially to families in need of space and versatility at an affordable price. And this focus on private customers is one of the drivers of the strong RV performance.

However, Dacia has come a long way and there might be a small window of opportunity opening for a new target group of commercial buyers. Economic uncertainty, increasing costs and energy prices will make smaller businesses, in particular, look into their cost structures and seek improvements. The Dacia Jogger will certainly not be the car attracting user-chooser fleets, but for non-user chooser fleets or white fleets in need of cars as ‘workhorses’, as Ulmis Horchidan said, it could be a viable and rational option.

Not evoking desirability

The one thing that stands in the way of rising commercial registrations and fleet adoption is the brand Dacia itself. Being the rational choice and a sign of understatement does not leave much room for automotive emotions.

But in the end, every technician or craftswomen also takes pride in the quality and reputation of the tools they use, so maybe also the non-user-chooser fleet purchase decision is a more emotional one than you would initially think. The brand of tool or car an employer provides for working hours, but oftentimes also for personal use, helps with employee satisfaction and retention. While Dacia has improved significantly on so many levels, it remains a brand not evoking desirability.

VW connected-cars software upgrade for electric vehicles increases range and adds new features

Volkswagen (VW) is to implement a major connected-cars software update for its ID. electric-vehicle (EV) lineup, which includes greater charging capacity that can boost EV range. It also comes with the latest driver-assistance systems, improved voice-control performance, and a park-assist function that can memorise parking manoeuvres.

The 3.0 software connected vehicles update has been long awaited, offering some new as well as optional upgrades to functions such as automated driving, charging performance, and the augmented-reality (AR) head-up display. Regarding smart EV software, VW has lagged behind some of its main competitors, such as Tesla, but the new update is intended to close that gap.

‘The new ID. software 3.0 is an upgrade for our whole ID. family,’ said Thomas Ulbrich, VW brand board member, responsible for technical development. ‘We are taking our products to a new level of functionality because we are working faster, are more connected and are more customer-oriented.’

Source: VW

Smart EV software

The connected-cars software update promises a mix of benefits, with models that come with the 77kWh battery now able to charge at up to 135kW instead of 125kW. VW said that improvements to the battery’s thermal management makes driving more efficient and can bolster range. Consumers, eager to preserve the EV battery, can also activate a new ‘battery care mode’, which limits the state-of-charge (SoC) level to 80%.

New features centre on intelligent driver-assistance systems and include the optional ‘travel assist with swarm data’, which automatically keeps cars in the centre of the lane and adapts to driving style. This allows drivers to maintain a distance from vehicles in front, coming with predictive cruise control and turning assistance. Two radars at the rear and ultrasound keep an eye on traffic and can assist in changing lanes. Provided the sensors do not pick up any objects, the car then steer itself into the adjacent lane, allowing the driver to intervene at any time.

Other automated features include ‘Park Assist Plus,’ which sees the car search for a parking space and complete the manoeuvre with the help of sensors. It can also be used to slide out of parallel parking spaces. An additional memory function has the car pick up specific parking patterns, which it then repeats on its own.

Software-driven mobility

VW is in the middle of accelerating its transformation into a software-driven mobility provider, with the latest update highlighting these efforts – the list of new features is long, not least when it comes to the AR display. The upgrade adds additional displays in the long-distance zone, as well as new symbols such as roundabouts and information on the distance to the destination. It also shows the charge level and the remaining distance to the destination.

Source: VW

The carmaker has optimised navigation and added a smart route planner, while drivers also receive local hazard warnings. Voice control has been improved to recognise commands faster, with the car turning into ‘an intelligent conversation partner,’ VW said. Voice control is available in all ID. models in Germany, with the system responding online from the cloud, and offline from information stored in the car. VW promises ‘high recognition rate and quality of results.’

Overall, the connected-cars software upgrade allows VW to create a new, digital customer experience with added functions offering more comfort to drivers. The electric lineup of ID. models continues to grow, making smart software a pivotal cornerstone for VW. About a year ago, the company first launched over-the-air updates, becoming the first high-volume vehicle manufacturer to regularly upgrade car software via mobile data transfer.  

Japan earthquake disrupts automotive production

An earthquake in Japan has caused further disruption to vehicle production and semiconductor supply as the automotive industry continues to struggle with external pressures influencing the automotive market.

The disruption has caused automotive production delays affecting both Toyota and semiconductor supplier Renesas Automotive.

The 7.4 magnitude quake struck the north-east of the country on 16 March, rattling buildings, causing widespread power cuts, and derailing a bullet train. According to reports, the tremor caused 160 injuries with two people losing their lives. The quake affected areas around Fukushima, Miyagi, and Yamagata.

Toyota shuts production lines

Toyota said that due to parts shortages resulting from vehicle-production suppliers affected by the earthquake, operations in some plants around Japan would be adjusted.

‘While prioritising the safety of the people and the recovery of the region, we will continue to work with our relevant suppliers in strengthening our measures against the parts shortage and make every effort to deliver vehicles to our customers as soon as possible,’ the company stated.

In total, 18 of the carmaker’s 28 production lines at 11 of its 14 plants are suspended, and due to restart on 24 March. This will impact a number of vehicles, including variants of the Yaris, the RAV4, the Land Cruiser, and Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell model, the Mirai. Additionally, several Lexus models will also be affected by the shutdown.

Semiconductor supply shutdown

Renesas shut down its three closest semiconductor factories to the epicentre of the earthquake. On 18 March, the company restarted production at its factories in Hitachinaka and Takasaki, with both locations expected to be up to pre-earthquake production capacity by 23 March. Its Yonezawa location also restarted on 17 March, with production capacity reached on 20 March.

The company added that it has yet to receive any reports of facility damage that would impact both restart timelines and/or future production of semiconductors.

This will be good news for the automotive industry. Semiconductors have become a valuable commodity in the last two years, with new-vehicle technologies rely heavily on their use. Renesas supplies chips for use in numerous automotive applications, including advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), autonomous developments, connected and infotainment technologies, and powertrains.

Supply-chain frailties

While production shutdown for both semiconductors and vehicles may be brief, it will still cause disruption in a market that is already suffering from supply-chain issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the semiconductor crisis, and the conflict in Ukraine have highlighted the frailty of links that carmakers created to ensure their global businesses can operate efficiently. Many of these chains are spread across multiple markets, and until a few years ago, worked seamlessly. The Japanese earthquake will ultimately delay car deliveries once again.

However, the industry has been aware of the potential impact that any external problems could cause in the supply chain. Many carmakers have procedures in place to deal with such disruption, including shutdowns of plants or sourcing from other companies. The closing of Toyota’s production lines, while causing the cancellation of thousands of vehicles, is relatively short. The carmaker is using the time to ensure critical components are on-hand to begin manufacturing again as soon as possible. 

Tesla signs major lithium supply deal

Australian lithium producer Core Lithium has signed a supply deal with Tesla. The Northern Territory-based company will provide 110,000 tonnes of lithium-concentrate to the US-based carmaker over a period of four years.

The binding term sheet will specifically see lithium spodumene concentrate from Core’s Finniss Lithium Project make its way to the battery-electric vehicle (BEV) manufacturer as a crucial component in the manufacturing of Tesla’s vehicle batteries.

Core Lithium’s supply to Tesla is scheduled to get underway in the second half of 2023, winding up four years later in 2027, or after the equivalent of up to 110,000 dry metric tonnes of lithium=concentrate has been delivered.

In addition to the supply deal, Tesla has confirmed that it will support further expansion of Core Lithium’s Finniss Project, located near Darwin, Australia. Core Lithium owns 100% of the project, which hosts JORC 2012 compliant mineral resources of 15 million tonnes (Mt) at 1.3% lithium oxide (Li20), and Tesla’s input into the project will focus on development of lithium chemical-processing capacity.

‘Core Lithium are thrilled to have reached this agreement with Tesla and look forward to further growing this relationship in the years to come,’ confirmed Core Lithium managing director Stephen Biggins. ‘Tesla is a world-leader in electric vehicles (EVs) and its investment in offtake and interest in our expansion plans for downstream processing are very encouraging.’

Another Australian-related lithium producer branches out

Last year, Core Lithium was awarded Major Project Status for the Finniss Project. The approved status equates to extra help from the Major Projects Facilitation Agency, including a single-entry point for Australian government approvals, project support and coordination with state and territory approvals.

Commenting on the approval of Major Project Status for the company, Federal minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt MP stated: ‘This project will be able to supply markets in Asia and Europe with critical minerals, and will have the potential to increase downstream processing, increasing supply chain diversification. This is exactly the type of project that our government wants to see, as we build on our resource-rich history for the decades ahead.’

In July 2021 Core Lithium strengthened its ties with European EV production by becoming a member of the European Battery Alliance, and they are not the only Australian-affiliated concern providing lithium resources for the boom in EV production across the globe.

German-Australian lithium developer Vulcan Energy Resources has signed multiple agreements with carmakers and automotive-related concerns over the last 12 months. Since late 2021, Vulcan has inked lithium supply deals with major carmakers such as Renault, Sellantis, and Volkswagen Group.

Earlier this year, Vulcan linked up with chemical producer Nobian, signing an agreement to assess the feasibility of producing lithium-hydroxide from lithium-chloride in Germany, as the European Union (EU) and governments across the world are looking to find ways to enhance and improve the lithium supply chain. This action is necessary, as the demand for EVs increases in many markets and therefore carmakers are reliant on sustainably-sourced minerals for battery production on a larger scale.

Hydrogen refuelling now possible in 33 countries

A record number of hydrogen refuelling stations opened around the world in 2021 so that there are now 33 countries where hydrogen refuelling is possible.

In total, 142 locations went into operation worldwide, with 37 opened in Europe, 89 in Asia and 13 in the US, according to the 14th annual assessment of, an information service of Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST).

A total of 685 hydrogen stations are operational globally, with plans for an additional 252 in the coming months. Hungary and Slovenia were newly added to the list of countries offering hydrogen-refuelling facilities. Of particular note are locations in Spain and New Zealand, which will see several stations opened for the first time.

Hydrogen propulsion technology is further behind on its development path than battery-electric powertrains. This is due in part to the need for carmakers to create zero-emission technology urgently to meet strict emissions targets. The collapse of the diesel market left many manufacturers facing large fines in 2021, as drivers switched to the more CO2-polluting petrol variants.

Asia leads the way

Europe had 228 hydrogen stations at the end of 2021, 101 of which are located in Germany. France is the second-largest market with 41 operating stations, followed by the UK with 19, Switzerland with 12, and the Netherlands with 11 stations.

However, Asia still leads the way when it comes to hydrogen refuelling. As most of the carmakers promoting the technology come from the continent, including Toyota and Hyundai, this trend makes sense. By the end of last year, there were 363 stations in the region, with 159 of these in Japan, Toyota’s domestic market, and 95 in Korea, the home of Hyundai. There were also 105 stations located in China. However, unlike most other countries, these are used exclusively for refuelling of trucks and buses and not passenger vehicles.

Korea established the most new stations in 2021, with 36 new locations coming online. The country is increasingly expanding its infrastructure for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCEVs) to help aid the reduction of air pollution caused by transportation.

Hydrogen growth in LCV market

Last year saw a shift in awareness of hydrogen, especially in the logistics market. Many believe that commercial and heavy-goods vehicles offer the best fit for the technology, at least in the short term. These vehicles often complete long distances every day, and need shorter ‘fuelling’ stops to allow for maximum efficiency.

France’s top manufacturing groups, Stellantis and Renault Group, announced the launch of new hydrogen light-commercial vehicles (LCVs). As part of its new Hyvia brand, Renault Group will also provide hydrogen-refuelling technology to station providers across Europe. This could help to see a larger uptake of locations in 2022.

Hydrogen infrastructure is still in its infancy. As more vehicles turn to the technology, so the number of refuelling stations will grow, as was the case for electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs). The market will also grow as awareness of hydrogen as an alternative to battery-electric increases, along with its viability as a ‘green’ fuel.

This content is brought to you by Autovista24.

JLR finds new European financial services partner in banking giant BNP Paribas

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and BNP Paribas have teamed up to provide financial services to the carmaker’s retailers and customers in nine key European markets. The companies want to jointly broaden automotive financing services by early 2023. From next year, retail partners and JLR customers will be offered a range of financing services, covering stock financing, classic loans, lease-to-purchase, long-term lease, and insurance products.

JLR said it had chosen strategic markets in Europe to provide these services covering ‘all aspects of mobility.’ The manufacturer is initially putting its focus on some of the region’s largest automotive markets – this includes Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Austria, and Portugal.

Competitive financing

For years, the premium carmaker has worked with FCA Bank – a joint venture between FCA and Crédit Agricole. JLR and FCA Bank renewed their contract in 2018, which covers the funding of JLR vehicles for the franchise dealer networks in eight markets, as well as a range of point-of-sale financing, leasing and insurance services for customers.

But JLR is now switching its financial services provider, with BNP Paribas stepping into FCA Bank’s shoes. BNP Paribas is known for working with carmakers in Europe. In December last year, it was reported that the French bank was in exclusive talks with Stellantis, as well as Crédit Agricole and Santander, over the reorganisation of Stellantis’ leasing and financing operations in Europe. Stellantis now plans to sell its 50% stake in FCA Bank to Crédit Agricole Consumer Finance, which owns the other half of the business.

‘We are proud to be joining forces with BNP Paribas to create the conditions for further growth and to write another chapter in the company’s history,’ said Francois Dossa, executive director, strategy and sustainability at JLR. ‘This partnership enables us to offer competitive mobility financing solutions across key European markets to create unique and customer-centric experiences as we continue to accelerate our “Reimagine” corporate strategy.’

JLR added the collaboration will build on BNP Paribas Personal Finance for financing, Arval for leasing and fleet management, and BNP Paribas Cardif for insurance. The goal is to offer integrated services covering major mobility financing needs.

Overhauling strategies

‘We are delighted to begin a strategic partnership with an iconic player in the automotive sector, placing sustainability at the heart of the business thanks to an ambitious strategy for the electrification of its vehicles,’ said Thierry Laborde, chief operating officer of BNP Paribas.

‘Our complementary areas of expertise are a key asset for making this partnership a success. BNP Paribas is fully committed to bringing all our capabilities as an integrated group, to bear in support of JLR’s distributors and customers across these nine strategic markets,’ he added.

Meanwhile, JLR is focused on overhauling its own corporate strategy. The company recently scored a £625 million (€749 million) loan to support the research, development, and export of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). The luxury brand wants to go all-electric from 2025, planning to launch several BEVs in the coming years. The Tata-owned company is actively seeking more collaborations that it says would allow it to explore synergies, especially in the field of clean energy, connected services, data and software development.

CATL rolls out ‘one minute’ EV battery-swap service in China

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), one of China’s fastest-growing companies, has rolled out a battery-swap service in its home market, allowing consumers to change batteries of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) in one minute.

The company announced the news at a launch event, where it presented the new service under the name EVOGO. The modular battery-swap solution is made up of battery blocks, fast battery-swap stations, and an app. It will initially be rolled out in 10 cities across China, which keeps promoting infrastructure-related facilities such as charging and battery-swapping stations.

Battery-swapping is more prevalent in China than elsewhere in the world, with carmaker Nio planning to add an additional 100 battery-swapping stations to its network of 700 in the country by 2025. But the service is gaining traction elsewhere, with the manufacturer recently partnering with Shell to introduce battery-swapping stations in Europe in a pilot project from 2022.

Battery as a shared product

‘We consider the battery as a shared product, instead of a consumer product for personal use,’ said Chen Weifeng, general manager of CATL’s subsidiary Contemporary Amperex Energy Service Technology Ltd. He added that the new product would help EV drivers beat range anxiety while also getting rid of the ‘inconvenience’ to recharge batteries, as well as high purchasing and driving costs.

Its mass-produced battery, designed to look like a bar of chocolate, has especially been developed for EV battery-sharing. It can achieve a weight-energy density of over 160 Wh/kg and a volume energy density of 325 Wh/L, enabling a single block to provide a driving range of 200km.

CATL gives customers the opportunity to rent one to three blocks to meet different range requirements at swap stations. One block is typically sufficient for inner-city commuting, while the battery maker recommends two to three blocks for longer journeys.

The batteries are compatible with many battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) from different OEMs, suiting a range of vehicles, from Class-A00, Class-B, and Class-C passenger cars to logistics vehicles.

Compatibility and competition

‘The battery-swap station highlights high compatibility, need-based battery rental, and complementarity with charging services. With a footprint equivalent to three parking spaces, a standard EVOGO battery-swap station can house up to 48 Choco-SEBs and allows one-minute swapping for a single battery block, ensuring fully-charged batteries for customers at any time without a long wait. Moreover, EVOGO offers a variety of swap stations to suit the climates of different regions,’ CATL said.

The company launched 10 years ago and has quickly become a darling of investors, helping to give China a lead in EV batteries. It supplies batteries to most of the world’s carmakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla. The New York Times found it holds one third of the global EV-battery market, with its biggest competitor being LG. Elsewhere, competition is heating up as carmakers keep pushing into the battery business by building their own batteries or investing in a range of companies to diversify the supply chain.

Last year, Geely, the parent company of Volvo Cars, announced plans to set up 5,000 battery-swapping stations globally by 2025. The company showcased the technology behind this service at the 2021 Wuzhen Internet Conference, with the process taking less than a minute. Tesla at one point explored battery swapping, but withdrew its plan to focus on its network of fast chargers instead.

ALD buys LeasePlan in €5 billion deal

ALD Automotive, the car-leasing business of French bank Société Générale (SocGen), plans to acquire its Dutch rival LeasePlan for €4.9 billion in cash and shares. The purchase will create Europe’s biggest car-leasing group, dubbed NewALD.

Once established, the new company would manage the biggest fleet of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) in Europe. The businesses expect to close the deal by the end of the year, with SocGen holding a 53% stake in the new entity.

Based in France, NewALD will have a combined fleet of 3.5 million vehicles. ALD manages around 1.7 million cars while LeasePlan has a fleet of 1.8 million in more than 29 countries. Both companies said the acquisition would allow them to build a leading global mobility player as they hope to profit from trends, such as the shift to zero-emission vehicles and changing patterns of ownership.

New chapter

‘Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in our history as a first step towards creating NewALD,’ said ALD CEO Tim Albertsen. ‘By combining the multiple strengths of ALD and LeasePlan, we would transform our industry and value propositions to our enlarged client base. This transaction would create multiple opportunities to the joint management teams and talents of both companies, across geographies, underpin our focus on sustainability with a clear path to zero-emissions mobility.’

One of LeasePlan’s previous majority shareholders was Volkswagen (VW) Group. The German carmaker sold its 50% stake in the business in 2016 as part of cost-cutting measures. Since then, it has been held by a group of investors that includes TDR Capital.

With the planned acquisition, SocGen is betting on the electromobility boom. Amid the shift to EVs, more consumers and companies are expected to opt for flexible arrangements, such as renting and leasing, to try out different vehicles, including electric ones.

NewALD aims to provide increased services to meet future market needs and client expectations. It plans to invest and develop new mobility products to build digital business models. The company wants to focus on sustainable mobility, aiming to support the transition to EVs by creating global partnerships around electromobility.


‘The combined business would be instrumental in moving the automotive industry from ownership to subscription models and zero-emission mobility,’ said Tex Gunning, LeasePlan CEO. ‘NewALD would be operating one of the largest fleets of electric vehicles and will continue to set the standard for ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) in the mobility industry.’

The deal shows how European banks are branching out activities to cash in on profitable business opportunities. For SocGen, the leasing business is particularly lucrative as the French bank plans to make vehicle leasing a major pillar of its operations alongside retail and investment banking. It added the transaction would generate operational synergies amounting to €380 million of annual profits before tax. SocGen also said it is committed to remaining the long-term majority shareholder of NewALD.

Other banks are also showing growing interest in leasing operations. Last month, Stellantis said it was in exclusive talks with BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Santander over the reorganisation of the carmaker’s leasing and financing operations in Europe. The deal is subject to approval from the relevant authorities.

CES 2022: Stellantis showcases electric and autonomous-transport technology

Taking to the stage at CES 2022, Stellantis showcased its predictions for the future of transportation. Members of its 14-brand family demonstrated their commitment to electrification, autonomy, and shared mobility. Some concepts are likely to only ever see the light of day during motor shows, but other announcements held more tangible promise, with delivery deadlines set for 2025.

Stellantis has also established a set of fresh collaborations with Amazon. Thanks to a string of multi-year agreements with the online giant, the OEM will be able to deliver more software-defined vehicles. Correspondingly, Amazon will be the first commercial customer of the new Ram battery-electric vehicle (BEV), set for launch in 2023.

Chrysler leads the charge

Probably the biggest vehicle reveal for Stellantis at this year’s CES was the Chrysler Airflow Concept. The new car is not simply a demonstration of new powertrain technology, but a commitment from the brand to launch its first BEV by 2025, with plans to go all-electric by 2028.

The Airflow concept is powered by two 150kW motors located in the front and rear. It was designed to allow larger motor units, opening up the potential for high-performance applications in the future. The battery is reportedly capable of up to nearly 650km in range on a single charge, as well as fast-charging functionality.

Connectivity is a major building block for the vehicle. Its STLA Brain platform and SmartCockpit create a customised hub for the passenger, which is connected to their digital lives. Screens throughout the car can be personalised, grouped, and shared based on individual interests. Seats are even equipped with a built-in camera so occupants can participate in group video calls.

Over-the-air (OTA) updates will enable the Airflow passengers to add new features and keep it up to date. Software developers will be able to create and update features and services quickly, using inbuilt capabilities without needing to wait for new hardware.

‘The Chrysler Airflow Concept represents the future direction of the Chrysler brand, providing a peek at the dynamic design, advanced technologies and seamless connectivity that will characterise the full-electric portfolio we plan to reach by 2028,’ said Chris Feuell, Chrysler brand CEO.

Citroen’s creative concept

Citroen showed off its mobility solutions for both the present and the future. The My Ami Pop represented the brand’s current offering within the micro-mobility market. As a two-seater electric quadricycle, the Ami exists within a unique niche. The vehicle can be driven by 14-year-olds in France, is affordable, and has small dimensions perfectly suited to urban landscapes.

Leaping forward along the mobility timeline, the French brand also brought its Skate concept to CES 2022. Citroen Autonomous Mobility Vision is designed to free up urban traffic flow with a fleet of interconnected robots. Travelling down dedicated lanes, the skates would be fitted with pods created by different service companies for different purposes. Users would gain 24/7 access to the service of their choice, from a family-friendly space to a gym or a media lounge.

Stellantis also drew attention to Fiat’s New 500, the latest all-electric version of the iconic model. Currently available in Europe, Israel and Brazil, the model will be launched in Japan this year. It sports a range of up to 320km (WLTP), which increases to 460km in the urban cycle. Equipped with SAE Level 2 assisted driving, the car is offered in three different body styles: hatchback, cabrio and 3+1.

The automotive giant also displayed the DS E-TENSE FE21 at CES, a single-seater Formula E car. The luxury marque uses motorsports as a testbed for its latest electric technology, with a focus on software. As of 2024, DS will only launch BEVs, making this competitive development process critical. Stellantis also showcased plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe and the Grand Cherokee 4xe. There was also the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, first seen in March last year.

Two industry giants

Regarding the new agreements with Amazon, the internet giant will employ its technological and software expertise to advance the carmaker’s vehicle development, connected capabilities, and training. Part of the multi-year arrangements will see Stellantis using Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its preferred cloud provider for vehicle platforms.

Another connected focus of these collaborations will be the STLA Smart Cockpit. The system will feature in Stellantis vehicles from 2024 and will integrate with customers digital lives to create a personalised in-vehicle experience. This will mean AI-enhanced applications, Alexa-enabled voice assistance, navigation, vehicle maintenance, e-commerce marketplaces, and payment services. 

‘Working together with Amazon is an integral part of our capability-building roadmap, based on both developing internal competencies and decisive collaborations with tech leaders, and it will bring significant expertise to one of our key technology platforms, STLA SmartCockpit,’ said Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis. ‘By leveraging artificial intelligence and cloud solutions, we will transform our vehicles into personalised living spaces and enhance the overall customer experience, making our vehicles the most wanted, most captivating place to be, even when not driving.’

Since 2018, Stellantis has provided tens of thousands of light-commercial vehicles (LCVs) to Amazon. These support its last-mile operations in North America and Europe. As the online retailer looks to go net-zero by 2040, it will become the first commercial customer of the new Ram ProMaster BEV launching in 2023. Designed with unique last-mile delivery features, the vehicles will be deployed to routes across the US.

‘We are excited to collaborate with Stellantis to transform the automotive industry and re-invent the in-vehicle experience,’ said Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon. ‘We are inventing solutions that will help enable Stellantis to accelerate connected and personalised in-vehicle experiences, so that every moment in motion can be smart, safe, and tailored to each occupant. Together, we will create the foundation for Stellantis to transform from a traditional automaker into a global leader in software-driven development and engineering.’

Renault Zoe scores zero stars in latest Euro NCAP testing

The Renault Zoe has become the third car in history to be awarded a zero-star rating by Euro NCAP, following the latest round of safety testing by the organisation.

Renault Group’s Dacia Spring also scored poorly, achieving just one star out of a possible five. Testing saw other carmakers achieve the industry-leading five-star standard for their latest models.

The Renault Zoe was one of the first mainstream mass-produced battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) launched, having gone on sale in 2013. The carmaker offered an upgraded model in 2017. However, some safety elements were removed and this, coupled with increasing standards for Euro NCAP testing in the intervening years, saw the model achieve the unwanted stain on its reputation.


Only Fiat has ever achieved a zero-star rating for a vehicle, doing so twice with the Punto and Panda in 2017 and 2018, respectively. These models had not been updated in several years as the carmaker failed to invest in them, leading Euro NCAP to retest and ascertain just how safe they were compared to modern standards.

The Renault Zoe saw a facelift launched four years ago. However, according to Euro NCAP, at this time, certain safety equipment was downgraded. Specifically, seat-mounted head and thorax side-protection airbags were removed, and thorax-only units were added.

In the frontal offset crash, the results were rated as ‘poor’, specifically due to weak protection for the chest area of the driver-side dummy. But it was Euro NCAP’s severe side-pole test that revealed the most drastic results, with the driver’s head directly impacting the intruding pole.

Thatcham Research, which undertakes testing for Euro NCAP, highlighted that the red body parts seen on the dummy in the image below show a potential threat of serious injury and threat to life in the event of an accident.

Source: Thatcham Research

The test replicates real-world impacts involving a vehicle travelling sideways into rigid roadside objects such as trees or poles. According to Thatcham Research, 33% of these impact types are classified as fatal or serious accidents. As the forces on the car are so localised, the pole can end up deep inside the passenger compartment.

‘It is a serious concern to see results like this in 2021, especially from a carmaker which has previously performed well in Euro NCAP testing,’ said Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research’s chief research strategy officer and Euro NCAP board member. ‘Renault was the first to achieve the full five-star rating in 2001, in part because it was also the first to include a combined head and thorax airbag in the Laguna 2. Although this was a new and revolutionary safety measure at the time, today this airbag is available on most modern cars.

‘Unfortunately, a conscious decision has been made to remove the head protection from this vital passive-safety feature, by the brand that pioneered the use of it. As a result, the safety of occupants within the vehicle has been severely impacted.’

Safety systems

The Renault Zoe also lacks active-safety technology commonly fitted as standard in most new vehicles, such as lane-departure warnings and standard-fit autonomous emergency braking (AEB). This led to a 14% score in the Safety Assist category, 61% lower than the average (75%) achieved by carmakers in the same category this year.

The Dacia Spring fared slightly better with a one-star rating. In its review, Euro NCAP stated: ‘The Spring’s performance in crash tests is downright problematic, with a high risk of life-threatening injuries for the driver’s chest and rear passenger’s head in frontal crash tests and marginal chest protection in a side impact. The mediocre crash performance and poor crash-avoidance technology result in a one-star rating.’

Unlike the Fiat Punto and Panda, the Zoe is unlikely to be pulled from sale due to the zero-star rating. Indeed, Fiat stopped sales of the Punto prior to the results being made public. The Zoe is an important car for Renault, as its leading BEV model and one which is synonymous with electric technology and pioneering spirit at the carmaker.

The Spring, meanwhile, is poised to lead a low-cost BEV attack on the automotive market for Renault Group. It is heavily based on the Chinese-made Renault City K-ZE, itself a derivative of the Renault Kwid, sold in India and Brazil for several years.

‘Renault was once synonymous with safety. The Laguna was the first car to get five stars, back in 2001,’ commented Michiel van Ratingen, president of Euro NCAP. ‘But these disappointing results for the ZOE and the Dacia Spring show that safety has now become collateral damage in the group’s transition to electric cars. Not only do these cars fail to offer any appreciable active safety as standard, but their occupant protection is also worse than any vehicle we have seen in many years. It is cynical to offer the consumer an affordable green car if it comes at the price of higher injury risk in the event of an accident.’

Renault response

In response to an Autovista24 request, Renault stated: ‘We take note of the results published by Euro NCAP following specific tests on Zoe E-Tech Electric according to its new protocol implemented in 2020.

‘First of all, Renault reaffirms that Zoe E-Tech Electric is a safe vehicle, which complies with all regulatory safety standards. These standards are constantly evolving and are becoming more stringent in all domains, especially in safety. Renault therefore continually improves its offer in order to comply with the regulations applicable where its vehicles are sold. Zoe was launched in 2013 and received five stars with the Euro NCAP protocol at that time. The Euro NCAP protocol has, since 2013, undergone five changes. With the same equipment, a model can lose up to two stars in each protocol change.

‘The evolution of the current Zoe was decided in 2017, adapting the passive safety equipment to real accidentology and updating the car with state-of-the-art ADAS equipment such as advanced emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure alert and lane-keeping assist, using a radar and a camera.’

Subtle deterioration in EU new-car markets in November

Autovista24 senior data journalist Neil King discusses how a new wave of COVID-19 cases, along with the appearance of the new Omicron variant, compounded ongoing supply issues and curtailed new-car registrations in key EU markets in November.

New-car registrations in France, Italy, and Spain declined by about 30% in November, compared to 2019. This initially suggests a modest improvement when reviewed against October but, adjusted for working days, the downturns were slightly more severe. The shortage of semiconductors continues to disconnect orders from registrations, but the resurgence of COVID-19 cases and concerns surrounding the new Omicron variant are impacting underlying demand. Accordingly, Autovista24 has revised its forecast for all three markets further downwards.

As registrations across Europe endured troughs because of COVID-19 lockdowns and peaks as pent-up demand was released, year-on-year comparisons with 2020 are incredibly volatile. Therefore, this article focuses on the latest developments compared to 2019, which better represent the true performance of new-car markets.

France 25% down on November average

According to data released by Plateforme Automobile (PFA), the French automotive-industry body, 121,995 new cars were registered in the country in November. This is 25% lower than the average of 163,000 new cars registered in the month between 2010 and 2019. Compared to two years ago, the market contracted by 29.4%, seemingly healthier than the 37.3% decline in October. However, there was an additional working day in November, and two fewer in October, than in 2019. On an adjusted basis, Autovista24 calculates that the market fell by 32.9% last month, compared to the adjusted 31.3% contraction in October.

In addition to rising COVID-19 cases, concerns about the Omicron variant, and the semiconductor shortages, the reduction in French incentives for electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) since 1 July has also impacted demand. Consequently, cumulative registrations in the first 11 months of the year were 25.1% lower than in the same period in 2019, subtly down on the 24.7% contraction in the first 10 months. The reduction of electrically-chargeable vehicle (EV) incentives has stabilised the market shares of both plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), at 8.4% and 9.3%, respectively. A further planned reduction of the incentives from 1 January 2022 has been scrapped, with the subsidies remaining in place until the end of June 2022. However, a €1,000 reduction in the incentives from 1 July 2022 onwards is being considered by the French parliament.

Given the latest developments, Autovista24 has downgraded its forecast to 0.6% year-on-year growth in 2021, following the 25.5% contraction in 2020, to 1.66 million units. This is 25% lower than the volume of cars registered in pre-crisis 2019, although the market is forecast to expand by 8% year on year in 2022.

Incentives exhauated in Italy

In Italy, industry association ANFIA has reported that 104,478 new cars were registered last month. Compared to November 2019, the market contracted by 30.8%, following a 35.7% fall in October. However, as in France, there were two fewer working days in October, and one more in November, than two years ago. On an adjusted basis, Autovista24 calculates that the market declined by 34.1%, more than the adjusted 29.6% contraction in October.

The Ecobonus incentives were resurrected on on 27 October but funding for BEVs and PHEVs ran out after a single day, and were exhausted for low-emissions vehicles on 3 November.

‘In addition to the prolongation of the semiconductor crisis, the total absence, in the current text of the 2022 Budget Law, of measures to address the ecological and energy transition of the sector is of great concern, as no funds have been allocated to support demand or supply,’ commented Paolo Scudieri, president of ANFIA.

The new-car market has further retreated from its cumulative 22.1% decline in the first 10 months of 2021 to a 22.8% contraction through to November. As Italy contends with rising cases of COVID-19 and vehicle supply is not expected to improve, Autovista24 has subtly reduced its forecast for 2021 down to 1.47 million units, equating to year-on-year growth of 6.5%. At this level, the market will be 23% smaller than in 2019. The Italian market is currently forecast to grow 8% year on year in 2022, nudging 1.8 million registrations The pace of the recovery depends on the impact of COVID-19, especially the Omicron variant, and whether purchase incentives are reintroduced.

‘It is essential to provide a structural plan at least over three years and with an adequate budget to avoid that Italy, in this delicate phase in which market policies are fundamental, is the only European country not to support consumers purchasing cars with zero or low emissions,’ Scudieri added. ‘We therefore welcome the presentation by various political forces of amendments to the Budget Law, which propose the refinancing of incentives in support of the demand for cars and light-commercial vehicles with low environmental impact.’

Spain ‘a very depressed market’

A total of 66,399 new cars were registered in Spain during November, according to ANFAC, the Spanish vehicle manufacturers’ association. This is the lowest tally for the month since 2014 and equates to a market contraction of 28.7% compared to two years ago. At first glance, this marks an improvement on the 37.2% downturn in October. However, there was an extra working day in November, and three fewer in October, compared to 2019. On an adjusted basis, the downturn was 32.1% last month, deteriorating from the adjusted 27.7% decline in October.

‘The data for November show that the the trend continues to be downward and even more so when we are comparing it with November of last year, which was a bad month. We do not stop being, therefore, a very depressed market,’ said Raúl Morales, communications director of the Spanish association Faconauto.

The reduction of car-registration taxes in the country since 1 July has been a positive influence for demand, but supply shortages have delayed deliveries. Compared to the first 11 months of 2019, cumulative registrations of new cars are down 32.9% as Spain also contends with rising COVID-19 cases and inflationary pressure.

Year-end positivity

There is some positivity, however, as order intake remains healthy despite the delivery delays and registrations are expected to receive a boost in December because of the planned rise in the vehicle-registration tax from 1 January 2022.

‘What does give rise to hope is that buyers have come to grips with the situation and are going to dealerships to make their purchase, even knowing that it will take longer than usual to receive their new vehicle,’ Morales commented.

Nevertheless, given the limited impact of the July registration-tax cut in Spain and the ongoing economic and supply issues, Autovista24 has revised its forecast for 2021 down to 852,000 units, equating to year-on-year growth of just 0.1%, even after the dramatic 32.4% contraction in 2020.

This aligns with the view of Ganvam's communications director, Tania Puche: ‘The market continues in free fall as a result of the pandemic and the microchip crisis. Everything indicates that it will close the year in the environment of 855,000 units.’

Registrations delayed from this year will naturally bolster the market in 2022, but cars will, rather unfairly, be subject to the higher registration taxes.

‘We estimate that an order book of more than 100,000 units has already been generated and will be converted into registrations next year. These 100,000 clients are going to be harmed by the increase in the registration tax on 1 January, so we insist on the need to extend it, also as a tool to regularise the market situation and move towards a more logical registrations level for our country and to advance the renovation of the parc,’ Morales concluded.

Autovista24 forecasts that the Spanish new-car market will grow by 9% in 2022, to about 930,000 units.

Weakest October since records began for EU new-car market

With the registration of 665,001 units in October, the EU’s new-car market declined by 35.7% compared with the same month in 2019. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) explains, ‘this was the weakest result in volume terms for the month of October since records began.’

Pandemic lockdowns dominated 2020, making year-on-year comparisons with 2021 too volatile. So, this article compares current registration figures against 2019, which results in a more accurate picture of how new-car markets are performing.

Turbulent times

The EU’s new-car market continues to experience severe turbulence as registrations dip and climb towards the end of the year. ACEA recorded a 20.7% decline in September, following a painful 34.4% drop in August and a 27.6% stumble in July. But with the publication of October’s figures, any hopes raised by September’s upturn have been dashed as the market tumbles once again.

Over the first 10 months of 2021, the EU saw the registration of 8,191,709 units. This is a fall of 25.1% compared to the same period in 2019 when 10,943,035 new cars hit the road. While recent declines have led to increasingly negative outlooks, the more substantial gains made earlier in the year have helped balance the EU’s cumulative volumes. 

Certain countries also contributed to maintaining this balance inside of the EU. In October, Germany, France and Italy were the only three countries to record more than 100,000 registrations. However, compared with figures from the same period in 2019, this equates to drops of 37.2%, 37.3% and 35.8%, respectively. Spain saw a similar decline of 37.2%, with 59,044 new cars registered. Outside of the EU, the UK recorded 106,265 units moved, resulting in a comparative decline of 25.8%.

Ireland saw a promising increase of 23% against October 2019, with 2,179 registrations. Incentives for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will be ending there from the beginning of next year, although €100 million has been pledged to support its electromobility incentives for 2022. Romania’s 9.8% decline was also notably more marginal than elsewhere in the EU, with 9,608 units recorded. Meanwhile, Lithuania reported the steepest drop last month, down 62% on October 2019, with 1,548 units registered.

Ongoing issues

COVID-19 infection rates are continuing to surge across the EU, with countries like Ireland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic facing the re-introduction of restrictions. The pandemic’s hold over the trading bloc is evident when consulting the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s suggested travel measure map.

Consumer confidence keeps taking knocks as case numbers climb. The threat of returning restrictions, higher-energy costs, increasing interest rates and the fast-approaching festive season may lead people to tighten the purse strings. This would mean lighter showroom footfall and fewer online checkouts, resulting in fewer registrations.

As another knock-on effect of the pandemic, the semiconductor supply shortage is also hampering the new-car market. With the ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing network running dry, production is getting put on pause, and delivery times are skyrocketing. Accordingly, ACEA’s director-general Eric-Mark Huitema recently sent up a distress flare.

He stressed the need to increase the EU’s own semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, curbing its dependence on international supply lines. Given the digitisation and electrification of the industry, this component is more important than ever. ‘Think, for example, of electrified powertrains, systems to reduce emissions, active safety features, driver-assistance systems, automated and autonomous-driving functions, connectivity services and even something like digital radio,’ Huitema said.