Axalta
CRA

There is a world of difference between repairing vehicles and the spangly glitz of the super-rich posing beside the very latest in super-expensive automotive ‘art’ at a motor show. Yet, for every single billionaire there are quite literally tens of thousands of vehicle users.

We have a new automotive industry specific word – electrification. The context? The Geneva motor show. Indeed, at almost every motor show if one did not have ‘electricity / global warming / ecology’ associated with each new vehicle reveal, it simply wasn’t news. To see the ‘on the spot’ news coverage from the show could have left us thinking that anything with a piston engine of any sort is utterly irrelevant.

That is simply not the case.

Zero emission

This has a very specific meaning with is measuring what comes out of an exhaust pipe. If there is no exhaust pipe, or all it does is eject water, the vehicle is officially called ‘zero emission’. Forget the fact that energy storage system raw materials are mined all over the world, processed all over the world, built into energy storage packs, fitted to vehicles which are… exported all over the world. Forget the energy used to make single kWh. Even ‘free’ energy sources need machines to exploit it, which of course require energy to produce.

The automotive sector all over the world is under attack, and is vulnerable: It is a statement of fact, not a complaint. Some – not all – vehicle manufacturers have abused emission testing, to the point the general public don’t quite know who can be trusted. Governments all over the world see a significant opportunity to not merely fend off lobbyist pressure but actively court it, in the name of ‘saving the planet’.

Empty gestures and half formed policies abound

Rightly or wrongly, the global automotive sector is in quite a fix. OEMs in Europe face from this year paying R1 615 for each gram of CO2 for each car built over a fleet average limit (now 95 grams of CO2 per km, set to be reduced again soon). This is merely part of an international rolling vehicle emission reduction policy. As Governments complete this social engineering, new forms of user taxation will take place in the not too distant future to recover revenue lost from direct sales of fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, LPG or LNG).

For South Africa, even if the usual big names circle around the subject of electricity (since when was PwC expert on anything but accountancy?) as they smell the large and desperate flow of Government subsidy cash, the issue is not if ‘electricfication’ will arrive. No, the question is when. The problem is the global fleet is moving to the demands of major markets, leaving only the smallest vehicles viable for pure internal combustion power. Yet, for mostly marketing and political purposes, electrification is spreading right across the global fleet starting with the humble 48V micro-hybrid systems, electric powered turbine compressors and super capacitors.

Who wasn’t there?

Just in case anyone missed it, even without Brexit the global economy is on the downward slope into recession. The automotive sales slump in China has triggered cutbacks in a number of vehicle manufacturers, ranging from ‘let’s keep the lights on now’ (Ford) through to ‘let’s take action to downsize in an orderly fashion’ (almost everyone else).

In the case of Europe, conforming to the new WLPT emission test combined with the utterly chaotic roll-out of Real Driving Emissions (RDE) has caused vehicle supply issues and unwelcome additional costs due to the convulsion caused by re-homologating existing vehicles to the new test methods in a relatively short time. Some manufacturers chose to spend the resultant reduced promotion budgets in more effective ways, which meant that paying for expensive stand space at a motor show was not a priority – JLR, Ford, Volvo and Hyundai were not present.

So, what really went on?

Most significant

Why is the MQB Evo platform delayed? To make way for the VWG MEB platform, as the Group spends its way out of trouble. However, this is where it gets interesting. MEB is engineered as an ‘electrified’ platform, ranging from pure EV through to hybrid drive and PHEV. The MQB Evo platform has a raft of hybrid drive technology ranging from 48V ‘mild’ to more potent hybrid powertrains. However, after the scandal of emission test rigging, along with a steady stream of further negative revelations, the upshot is ‘electricity’ has to eclipse all chat of fossil fuel burning powertrains, if only for PR.

Volkswagen brand had the ID. buggy concept, a pretty pointless homage to Beetle-powered dune buggies, on view alongside previously shown I.D concepts. Politely the I.D series lack definition which is surprising given they have been rolled out for quite a few years, leaving rather too much to the imagination. The same could be said of the Skoda Vizion iV concept, another MEB platform car.

The star? Seat el-Born, which had real cut lines, real doors, real trim. It mattered little that the model on display was as much a ‘model’ as the Volkswagen and Skoda versions, because this was real. Seat is used as the lead division for each of the smaller volume platforms, and el-Born latterly made history as the birth of a volume EV from VWG. A shot in the dark? Time will tell and the odds are stacked against success, but as premiers’ go there are few as significant. The fuss? From MEB, MQB Evo to MLB Evo right across VWG, hybrid drive is going to appear like a rash by 2021 – and it’s already underway.

The froth

Geneva is a showcase for smaller companies, many of which take expensive cars, add expensive procedures with the result looking like an after-market catalogue on drugs. Carbon fibre? Why yes, we’ll add that to a two tonne SUV and pretend it does anything but look pointlessly terrible. Yes, there’s still big money with no sense of taste.

Rolls-Royce effectively had an exquisite line-up on the opposite side of the hall to parent BMW. They offer LEDs which can be implanted to the headliner to give a starry night from the comfort of being inside the car. But what’s this? BMW 8 series (a glorious car exactly, precisely produced at the wrong time) is available with headliner LEDs configured to favourite constellation the purchaser. BMW really should take care not to dilute its premier brand, nor boost sales to match Bentley with a probably ruinous effect on residuals. Luxury is not all about shifting metal.

Meanwhile, Aurus had the ‘large’ car on display as used by President V. Putin (5.7 tonnes with armour) along with the ‘small’ car (2.7 tonnes without armour). So far, this project has cost more than R1 360 million, with a limited production of the ‘large’ car at 10 units and the ‘small’ car to be made in a limited series of around 500 units. In other words, handmade, almost every aspect uniquely engineered. An interesting discussion quickly demonstrated that Aurus have better connection to super luxury than some very old brands.

This year we had not one but two landmark events. Peugeot revealed the new 208, which will underpin many more PSA vehicles including the next generation Vauxhall Corsa. This has a 50 kWh pure EV powertrain as well as internal combustion engine powertrains – PSA already meet the new fleet average CO2 target, to the point they can sell carbon credits to those manufacturers who can’t meet the target. This platform will appear as a Citroen, DS and Vauxhall Opel, assuming the latter is still alive by 2020. What will be the highest volume selling powertrain – EV or internal combustion engine?

The answer was to be found at Renault with the unveiling of Clio V, powered by petrol, diesel and a mild hybrid drive options. The pure EV role filed by Zoe. The immediate death of the petrol and diesel internal combustion engine has been somewhat exaggerated.

Brexit, Honda, Toyota and Nissan

Amid some fan-fare, the EU have managed to get another trade deal in place, with Japan. This means Japan-based vehicle manufacturers no longer have to pay steep tariffs to get non-EU built vehicles inside Europe. The deal has an impact on the UK, which has the biggest concentration manufacturing plants in Europe, owned by Japan-headquartered vehicle manufacturers. Brexit had almost no effect on the decisions. All of the UK based car plants need stable tax regimes and clear incentives to ensure continued investment, and the EU-Japan trade deal has made those pre-requisites irrelevant.

The forecast. UK vehicle production hovers at around 1.6 million units with capacity for close to 2 million units per year. Already Honda will stop by 2021, as current models are phased out. I predict Toyota will do the same given people might buy a Corolla (as built almost everywhere in the world already) but few have ever heard of let alone bought an Avensis…

Nissan (amid an internal civil war) is as likely to re-build Sunderland as the UK will replace Belgium as the home of the EU administration. Given the chaos at JLR (R76.5 billion in the red, and over-dependence on China, which has collapsed) the outlook is decline towards  500 000 units per year by 2025.

I hope I am wrong

Meanwhile, following the Great Honda Tradition of doing much with very little, the Urban EV prototype was apparently near production quality, but really was not at all. Yet another plastic model that did little to define the concept first seen more than two years ago. Just what Honda needs to stem the effects of product planning apparently defined by seven-year-olds (humble apologies for dissing seven-year-olds). Wikid.

Quietly getting on with business

Mercedes-Benz had a large number of updates, taking the current A-B-CLA-GLA class and extending it. So, in order to match the front wheel drive only BMW 1 series saloon F52, Mercedes now have an A class saloon.  No. Wait, that’s the CLA. Oh. There’s the ‘coupe’ frameless glass and slightly longer tail to differentiate it from the A class saloon. Indeed it is probably worth the bigger price tag to say ‘I have a sports-coupe, not a saloon’. OK…..

Whilst Hyundai were not present, Kia were – which means of course, Hyundai-Kia were just getting on with the business of selling real cars to real people. Cee’d (related to Hyundai Elantra) has gained a swoopy estate / coupe cross over as the Proceed replacement, along with the estate, five-door hatch and saloon.  Bigger PR was gained with the Kia Kona EV and even the third major re-work of the Soul EV. See that big message?

At least one motor show finally finds its feet

In 2018 the Geneva show reached a low point, the prelude to termination and some four years after Paris had done the same thing. It offered everything, yet most of the international audience reach could be replicated at lower cost with the same impact. History has shown Geneva is where automotive design is celebrated, where odd companies to odd things once a year – and influence a generation of automotive designers.

In 2019 it arose gloriously as a design led event, where the Swiss fascination for automobiles mixed perfectly with staging the best design show anywhere in the world. Shifting metal in bulk is no longer the primary task of this show. Just like the event, the internal combustion engine will continue to exist, and will continue to get cleaner. That, ladies and gentlemen, means adaption – and success.

The same lesson is there for us all. As our source of business – the automotive industry – adapts to survive, so should we. Success is literally there for the taking.  

Auto Industry Consulting is an independent provider of technical information to the global collision repair industry via EziMethods, our online collision repair methods system. For more information please visit the website: www. ezimethods.com or contact ben.cardy@autoindustryconsulting.com

By Andrew Marsh