Reviewing the automotive week ending 7 May 2021.
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.