Newsgrab

Reviewing the automotive week ending 7 May 2021.

“I see a little silhouette of car… Scaramouche Scaramouche, will you do the Škodango” The 2021 Škoda Octabia – or is that Corbia? Image: Drivespark

Say what you will about newly-forged Stellantis, but now that the reconstituted car giant has cleared its regulatory hurdles, it has hit the ground at a blistering pace – particularly on the new model front. Much of it of course being massively overdue, given the delays and re-organisation such a colossal enterprise necessarily entailed, and that is before we mention the malign effects of the pandemic, or the recent industry-wide shortage of micro-chips, the most recent frontier in the automotive industry procurement wars.

This week, as reported in Automotive News, CEO, Carlos Tavares told reporters from French publication, Le Point that it will no longer be necessary for Stellantis to purchase Co2 credits from Tesla in order to meet its EU corporate emissions targets. Owing it seems to the electrification programme taking place across the portfolio, he told reporters that Stellantis’ European operations will meet its targets for the coming year without external assistance. How that will sit with his Muskness however remains unclear, especially since he now has a comedy career to think about.

In a further announcement, it was confirmed that the carmaker will invest heavily in its Tychy manufacturing plant in order to build a new-generation sub-Renegade Jeep crossover (due in 2022), and a Fiat crossover (in early 2023), said to be based on the Centoventi concept; both models having been officially approved for production, employing the corporate (former PSA) Compact Modular Platform (CMP) which currently underpins an increasing swathe of Stellantis’ B-Segment offerings.

A third model line, to be a shared-platform Alfa Romeo crossover (allegedly dubbed Brennero and yet to meet approval), is set to enter production in the Autumn of 2023. But while the Biscione’s (possibly decisive) revival remains some way off yet, Mr. Tavares is getting to grips with certain legacy issues – in this particular instance the moribund Giulietta line.

It’s still on sale, you ask? Well, just about. News this week is that it has been pulled from right hand drive markets. If any UK-based punters are particularly keen, they might yet secure a demonstrator, but I wouldn’t necessarily fancy their chances. Still nominally available in mainland Europe, it’s unlikely however that the axe will remain poised indefinitely.

Late last month it was announced that former Seat designer, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos was leaving Groupe Renault, where he had overall responsibility for Dacia and Lada brands to take up the vacant position as Design Director at Alfa Romeo. Somewhat ironic, is it not, that Seat, once being positioned as a Spanish Alfa Romeo (Mesonero-Romanos was heavily involved with brand-Cupra), that he now moves to Arese’s last chance saloon?

In most enterprises, an element of timing often makes the difference between success and, well, I don’t really want to use the F-word here if I can help it. However, in this instance one must question whether Mesonero-Romanos is necessarily going to be a beneficiary of the times or the mores?

Meanwhile amid Stellantis’ French outpost, Citroën’s Vincent Cobée was telling journalists this week how he hopes the newly announced C5 X will not only prove a trendsetter in style and format, but also mark a wider shift from the tainted black pump. Offered solely with either petrol or petrol/hybrid powerplants, the C5 X illustrates the double chevron CEO’s “extremely cold blooded” stance on diesel. Oh yes, the times are definitely not what they were.

Meanwhile in Mlada Boleslav (you were perhaps wondering when I was going to get around to this), Škoda, alongside offering assurances that they remain committed to ICE powertrains, have unveiled their latest B-segment Fabia. The really striking news about the new offering from the simply clever Czech carmaker isn’t that it is said to be the most aerodynamic in its class, nor that it will only be available with petrol engines (no electrified versions for cost reasons, allegedly), but that dimensionally, the latest Fabia is larger than the first-generation Octavia. How soon they grow up.

Stylistically, it’s all a bit Stefani-by-numbers, although in its favour, the proportions look reasonably well resolved and the surfacing (which of course there is rather a lot) appears relatively subdued. However, it’s difficult not to observe a strong resemblance to Stellantis’ current Opel Corsa in overall silhouette and in feeling. This particular niche of the B-segment really is becoming drear-central. All the better to push you into that more profitable CUV, madam.

In what was about as shocking a move as Thierry Bolloré’s recent reimagine plan for brand Jaguar, this week also witnessed the announcement of Jaguar Design Director, Julian Thomson’s imminent departure from Gaydon. Previously head of Jaguar’s advanced styling studio, and deputy to former design lead, Ian Callum, prior to (briefly) getting his feet under the table, Thomson carried overall responsibility for much of the carmaker’s creative output over the post-millennium period – for better and worse. (On balance I preferred his earlier work).

The (official) reason for his departure remains opaque, but even the ducks in Gaydon’s recently added water feature will have discerned by now that with Gerry McGovern taking an overarching role in design across the entire JLR brand spectrum, Mr. Thomson was likely to review his options. Sparks, one imagines are not the only thing to have flown.

Finally, and I can scarcely believe I am writing this, Bristol Cars’ partially decomposed corpse is making yet another less than fragrant bid from the netherworld. Autocar reported on Friday that “the long awaited rebirth of Bristol Cars is now official.” Long awaited – by whom exactly?

Essex-based investor and property developer Jason Wharton has acquired the intellectual property rights to Bristol Cars and plans to transform it into a leading British electric vehicle company by 2026, the brand’s 80th anniversary,” sayeth the Haymarket weekly, but haven’t we been here or hereabouts before?

Bristol Cars most recent resurrection took place in 2011 when the name and rights were purchased by Kamkorp Group’s Frazer Nash automotive technology arm, the company announcing a new Bristol model to debut with a hybrid powertrain. The resultant prototype was shown in 2016, named the Bristol Bullet – essentially a rebodied Morgan Aero 8 – replete with BMW sourced non-hybrid V8, with orders being taken that summer. (Ironically Bristol’s 70th anniversary… I’m seeing a pattern emerging here).

Following the requisite breathless press reports (more ambivalent upon these pages) it all went suspiciously quiet, until news emerged early last year that Kamkorp and all its subsidiaries were ordered by the UK courts to be liquidated, amid alleged non-payment of debts.

With all of the requisite benefit of doubt to Mr. Wharton, who I’m certain will prove to be a fine custodian of the Bristol Cars name, one can only wonder what dark impulse prompts people to take on lost causes such as this. But as we all know, some car names just won’t be extinguished – just ask Mr. Tavares about white hens.

The former BOC Gas headquarters in Windlesham, Surrey was purchased by Kamkorp in 2011, intended to act as the business group’s headquarters. However, it fell into disrepair amid the financial collapse of the Kamkorp business. In a further irony, this fascinating modernist building has now been purchased by none other than Gordon Murray as the headquarters of his new automotive group.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

28 thoughts on “Newsgrab”

  1. I’m with Gooddog on with this one, but it shall be now forever known as the Bo Rap Škoda…

    Excellent work with the Bristol story, detective Doyle. The provided link is quite an amazing building. Another crying shame that someone with money ruined plans . I shan’t be holding my Bristolian breath but I do have several pinches of salt to hand, in an Alfa Romeo styled shaker

    1. The Bristol photos are sad, like the abandoned Bugatti factory. As for the building, I expect Gordon Murray will display his collection there, and I wish him all the best. Speaking of which, looking forward to some positive TVR news, perhaps in the next Newsgrab?

  2. I hope that the Centoventi’s ideas are not diluted too much in production form, though inevitably they will be. The Fiat Tychy car is not being talked of as the New Panda, suggesting that the current one will continue for some time, but possibly in ever-fewer sales territories. That’s unless Carlos T rips up The Fiat Charter.

    It looks as if one of his objectives is to retire the Fiat Mini and Small / SCCS platforms from 2003 and 2005 respectively. They’ve had their time, but it suggests that the next generation of the smallest Fiat and Lancia (let’s hope…) cars will be B rather than sub-B sized.

    The Fabia looks a handsome thing, but I wonder whether a Fabia shouldn’t be smaller and more basic in its appointments. Not an Uptigo!/Meh successor, but something pitched into the large empty space between the Sandero and the over-stocked 20,0000 Euro (in low tax nations) supermini field.

  3. Sorry to sound a note of discord, but does the new Fabia really represent seven years’ progress over this?

    Or 22 years progress over the original, and best, IMHO?

    Bet it’s cheaper to make, though!

    1. Hello Daniel, in many respects, developments in combustion-engined cars became incremental around 20 years ago.

      For example, the difference when I drove my mother’s mk2 Polo and her then new mk4 Polo, back-to-back, was huge in terms of space, refinement, safety, equipment, etc. The difference between a mk4 polo and a mk6 is much less, electronics apart. There’s only so much one can do. I also think there was a large leap in the ‘90s when cars effectively became what we know them as, today.

      I further recall a film where people were blindfolded and driven in different generations of a large luxury car (S-Class or similar) and no one could tell which was which in terms of comfort and quietness.

      The next real development in this segment will be a Škoda-badged version of VW’s forthcoming ID2, I guess. That said, the Fabia’s nicely done – better than the latest Polo (faint praise, I know).

      Won’t the Murray enterprise just be McLaren-lite?

    2. this one was really a jump ahead, more or less the same period of the Golf MK4. Personally i do not like the current Fabia, I would go for the Ibiza, the coming one, the mouth is really to big in my opinion.

  4. Oh, and is Gordon Murray ever actually going to produce a car that people can buy?

    Just sayin’…

    (God, I seem grumpy this morning! 😁)

    1. Would it not be interesting to apply McLaren thinking to a Ford Fiesta-sized car? All that McIntelligence is wasted on those irrelevant sports cars. Or could they even to a BMW 5-series sized saloon and sell it for S-Class money?

    2. This was the T.25…

      and we know the T.50, so maybe something like a T.37.5?

  5. According to a well-known online encyclopedia, the new Fabia is indeed longer than the 1959 Octavia, at 4107mm versus 4065mm. But it is still around 400mm shorter than the 1996 version (depending on body style), when the name was reintroduced.

    1. Ah, thank you Jonathan! I was peering at the picture above, thinking “Really??”.

  6. Based on wheelbase and front track dimensions, the new Fabia (2564/1465*) is longer but narrower than the 1996 Octavia (2512/1516).

    The 2021 Sandero is bigger than either (2604/1519).

    * Couldn’t find this dimension for the 2021 Fabia, so I’ve applied the MQB A0 Ibiza figure.

  7. The new Fabia has kept the slash through the rear wheel-arch surround. Why?

    1. Granted, the orange car is most certainly pre-production or a prototype, but anyone who has ever worked with metal, or scoffed at the BMW E60’s bootlid will be looking exactly where we are looking, noticing how the door skin goes so effortlessly from convex to concave, is perfectly aligned across the Piëch family shutline and wonder still in 2022, how do they do that?

  8. Peugeot actually downsized the first generation 208 after the enormous 207 and the Japanese (Suzuki/Honda/Toyota) started limiting their dimensional changes by adding only a few milimeters with every new generation in the small car segment. Sure, Škoda is all about space and value, but aesthetically it looks like a result of cutting the estate version from the product line and merging it into the hatchback. A design of compromises.

  9. Call me obsessive if you will, but I’m really curious regarding Stellantis’ plans for Lancia – the brand that’s been repeatedly screwed over by Fiat’s post-Ghidella administrations in favor of Alfa Romeo.

    1. Are there mooted plans for Lancia? I mean, has someone said “we have a plan for Lancia that does not involve shutting it and selling the historic cars?”. Personally, I´d like to see Alfa cut down to two cars and Lancia increased to three. Alfa should sell a decent Focus-sized car as a Cloverleaf hatch and maybe a barchetta-type thing. Let Lancia sell an Ypsilon, a small saloon (for academics and doctors) and and nice coupe to match the A5 (for ladies who lunch and professors of economics). What they will do is sell cross-overs, I suppose.

    2. I haven’t seen any plans for Lancia so far. Before talking about Alfa, I’ll share my ideas for Lancia, and I’ll also throw in a couple of thoughts that aren’t brand-specific.

      For starters, Lancia should ditch the “musical chairs” game with the naming of its models. When you replace a product and its successor has a different name, buyers think you want to sever your bonds from the previous model; perhaps you even consider it a failure, a disgrace, whatever. That said, I could never understand why the Dedra wasn’t called “Prisma” and why the Kappa wasn’t called “Thema”. Second, when you’re absent from a certain market segment for ten years or so (the gap between Delta II and Delta III), you’re kissing buyers bye-bye. You need to be there. Third, whoever thought, way back in the ’80s, that it would be a good idea to alienate Lancia buyers in the hopes that they’d flock to Alfa Romeo needs to have his tertiary education degrees annulled and shredded and be sent back to elementary school. A Lancia buyer who doesn’t find what he wants in Lancia’s range won’t necessarily buy an Alfa (I would, however, gladly buy an 164 2.0 TS Series 1.5), and an Alfa buyer won’t necessarily buy a Lancia.

      Now, let’s talk about Lancia: it absolutely needs three cars. You are correct in that it needs an Ypsilon. I’d love to see one based on the current Corsa, with a high level of trim, a build and fit and finish quality that’ll befit a true premium car, and an appropriate pricing policy.

      It also needs a good replacement for the current Delta. Mind you, from an aesthetic point of view, the current Delta is anything but irrelevant. It still looks great, but its replacement needs to have a somewhat shorter front overhang and a somewhat longer rear overhang to favor luggage space. And, of course, it needs premium trim levels, premium build quality, and a proper floorpan. You’re correct that they’d likely opt for a crossover, as these are favorable when it comes to packaging. Even if they did, though, they should be very careful not to give the car an idiotically high stance and stupidly upright lines.

      As for the A5 equivalent… I’m not sure how well a car like this would sell. Besides, you can rule out professors of economics; Chicago fanboys are extremely conservative and they only make token concessions to things like individuality and human rights when it’s convenient. So, you can bet they’ll stick to their German options. I think Lancia should position itself in the same category as Volvo.

      As for Alfa Romeo, although I’ve got bones to pick with the favoritism it’s enjoyed within the Gruppo, I wouldn’t say it should become a niche manufacturer. It needs to be in all the important segments, but with a very clear border between it and Lancia. If I were to define Alfa and Lancia in terms of German brands, Alfa should keep BMW and maybe Audi’s sportier offerings and Seat’s sporty Cupra spin-off in its sights, and Lancia should take on Audi’s more luxurious versions and Mercedes-Benz.

    3. Actually Luca Napolitano (former head of Fiat-brand) replaced Bruno Antonella (moved to Jeep) as head of Lancia, which should be seen as a promising sign. I mean Mrs. Antonella did a lot to keep the Lancia brand alive during the Marchionne years, but Napolitano is an order of magnitude bigger fish in terms of management and he started appearing in more and more Lancia events, including new YouTube content (yes, Lancia has an official YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/lancia ) meaning they might have a plan on where to continue, due I wouldn’t expect a new model in the next 2 years or so.

  10. ” Chicago fanboys are extremely conservative and they only make token concessions to things like individuality and human rights when it’s convenient.” I was thinking of continental economists, not Anglo-Saxon ones!

  11. A nice news round-up, thank you.

    I fear that the Centoventi will end up looking/ being nothing like the concept and what was being planned under FCA. Surely, it would have been built on the new 500e’s platform in order to deliver some economies of scale for it and so help it to breakeven, if not profitability. If it going to be built on the same CMP platform as the 208, Corsa, 2008, etc., etc., then I can’t see how it can adopt a similar form as the cracking concept that a number of us were so excited about.

    As for the new Fabia, it’s look is entirely predictable based on current Skoda styling cues and the fact that it is built on the MQB-AO platform. Note how it therefore does not include EV or even PHEV options – which shows how PSA did well with CMP. The lack of these drive-train options makes the ‘new’ Fabia look like what it is – a latecomer to a platform which is already looking out of date technically. As much as I find the styling rather attractive, it offers nothing new really over the Polo and Ibiza, and less than the Clio & Zoe, as well as its main Stellantis rivals.

    Another thing I noted from a recent tit-bit from AutoCropley recently was just how well the now very aged-ly platformed Citroen C3 continues to sell in Europe.

    1. Hello S.V., re the Škoda platform, I guess Volkswagen Group would argue that a dedicated EV platform makes more sense than one which has to accommodate different types of power unit, especially as I guess that these are pretty much the last combustion-engined Fabia and Polos which will be launched, facelifts apart. It still feels weird, writing that.

  12. S.V., the C3’s stellar commercial success is probably not entirely disconnected from its opulent sizing
    and footprint. PSA apparently absorbed quite a few lessons learnt from the Dacia success, in that
    it made the C3 a C4+ sized car dressed in a body that’s actually a (very) cute, optical illusion styling
    trick that actually doesn’t disguise its corpulence but, somehow, cleverly, manages to turn the bulkiness into a visual advantage.

    Another indicative aspect thereof seems to be seen in their most recent C5X, which, what with the 5 in the model name apparently denoting length in meters, obviously points out that they have entered the field embracing the 3B (‘Buyers Buy Bigger’) approach, that seems to be all the rage these days.

    Come to think of it, the last soberly sized B-segment car – the C4 Cactus – was not especially commercially successful, which, in hindsight, was probably the final straw they needed
    to convince themselves to embrace the 3B approach.

  13. Hi Eóin, concerning Stellantis: I read today that Carlos Tavares is giving Alfa Romeo, Lancia and DS ten years to become successful (success being defined as being “highly profitable”) . Hot on the heels of news that Alfa’s Tonale has been delayed and the Giorgio platform, its bespoke design for the Guilia and Stelvio, will be retired after those cars leave the market.

    Stellantis had appointed some new directors to Alfa’s and Lancia’s top spots: Jean-Philippe Imperato (coming from Peugeot) and Luca Napolitano (former head of Fiat Europe), respectively. I don’t know their credentials, although Peugeots resurgence had been impressive. Napolitano’s credentials from Fiat Europe fill me with less hope. Just for fun, compare the available models on Fiat’s Brazilian website with any European lineup: for all intents an purposes, Fiat has become a South American (and maybe Turkish?) brand, doggedly refusing to have a consistent model policy in Europe. Actually, probably the only Fiat Group model that has been marketed consistently in Western Europe has been the 500, and it has been the only successful model. To an extent, you could say the same for the Panda. Otherwise, Fiat, Alfa and Lancia have spent the last decades specialising in baffling their potential customers, with predictable results.

    Fiats decline somewhat reminds me of the stories on AROnline, but BL (or whatever name is period appropriate) at least consistently tried to fill the market segments they were active in, only failing to properly develop the cars meant to do that or suffering from project drift where a model intended for one market segment morphed into another, usually resulting in it being suited for neither. There is effort there, whereas Fiat just seems to be completely uninterested in developing anything other than the 500 and maybe the Panda. In both cases, there could be the same dynamic at work where the company in question is simply too small to properly compete (as a certain jumper-loving late CEO was fond of saying).

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