VW’s future options
It will be many years before the full ramifications of the Volkswagen emissions scandal are known and, even as I write, more than a month after the story first broke, fresh information seems to be walking in through the door almost as quickly as implicated executives are being booted out of it.
In a fairly bruising encounter with the Transport Select Committee, VW’s UK boss Paul Willis said that up to 400,000 cars on British roads have been fitted with the offending EA 189 engine, all of which will need new software and possibly new fuel injectors. But his most significant comment apparently confirmed that the so-called ‘defeat device’ did indeed affect NOx emissions on this side of the Atlantic. If that proves to the case, there is no reason to think the same is not true for all affected cars sold in Europe, torpedoing the hitherto widely held belief that the device was not active on European cars.
However, the industry-wide Armageddon predicted by some has so far failed to materialise. As we predicted, no evidence has yet been presented to suggest that any manufacturer outside the VW Group has been involved in any illegal practices, and so far at least sales of diesel cars in the UK appear unaffected. Industry sources expect the residual value of diesels to remain strong in the short term, although they might adversely be affected if the scandal later sparks a move towards electric and petrol-electric hybrids.
In the meantime, where does VW go from here? JP Morgan has estimated the total bill could be as much as €40 billion, and if that’s even half true, one car company will need to generate more money than do several European economies in an entire year to pay it. VW has already said it’s going to cut a billion euros from its R&D bill, which sounds like a vast amount until you consider VW actually spent almost €12 billion last year, more than any other company in the world and half as much again as Toyota, which ranks second for R&D investment in the car industry.
So there are going to be cuts and most authorities think motor sport is in the firing line. VW’s rally programme and Audi’s 17-season-old sports car operation must both be under threat, not least because their wild success means they would appear to have little left to prove. The bigger question mark now hangs over the rumoured arrival of VW-powered, Audi-branded Red Bull F1 cars for the 2018 season. It remains to be seen whether VW thinks it prudent to be committing hundreds of millions every year to an F1 programme when the same money could be spent rebuilding trust among its customers, or simply help paying the bill. By contrast the future of Porsche’s WEC effort seems assured because so much has already been spent building the team and its facilities from scratch and it’s only now really starting to repay the investment.
On the road car side, high-cost low-profit vanity products such as Bugatti would seem the most obvious place to wield the knife, while brands such as Porsche – which brings VW more than £10,000 in pure profit for every car sold – are likely to be almost entirely unaffected. Audi should emerge close to unscathed, too, because it is also massively profitable, but the VW brand (which returns a paltry £300 profit per car) seems guaranteed to have some fat trimmed from its product line-up.
But VW can’t only make cuts, which is why over the next five years it will seek to redefine itself as the world’s most technically advanced, electro-friendly manufacturer on earth. It will of course continue to develop both petrol and diesel engines, but expect its focus to be increasingly on hybrids and all-electric models, especially if it is as close to the fabled breakthrough in battery technology as some observers believe. If it can be the first company to put on sale an electric hatchback and saloon with diesel Golf performance and price plus a genuine 350-mile range, it would be a Model T moment for the industry and, for VW, a route back to its former glories.
F12 becomes even faster
As predicted on these pages, Ferrari is putting into production a limited-edition version of its F12 flagship as the most powerful non-hybrid production car in its history.
Named to honour the memory of the magical 1950s 250GT Tour de France, the F12 TdF features the same 6.3-litre V12 engine as the standard car but with power raised from 730 to 770bhp, while 110kg has been cut from its kerb weight. This means the TdF provides more than 500bhp per tonne of mass, placing its power to weight ratio on a par with that of the original Bugatti Veyron. Even if Ferrari elects to charge £300,000-plus for each of the 799 examples it says it will build, that would still make it rarer and less than half the price of the standard Porsche 918 Spyder (whose power to weight ratio is only fractionally ahead of the Ferrari’s).
The extra power comes from mechanical tappets and an increase in maximum permitted engine speed to 8900rpm, while the weight-saving derives mainly from replacing aluminium body parts with carbon fibre. Ferrari claims a meaningless 0-62mph time of 2.9sec, but a genuinely staggering 0-124mph time of 7.9sec.
Ferrari also says that downforce has improved by 87 per cent and now amounts to 230kg of positive pressure at 124mph, one reason the TdF will lap Fiorano in 1min 21sec, or just 1.3sec slower than the 950bhp LaFerrari hypercar. Needless to say, the entire production run sold to favoured clients before the car was even announced to the general public, for an as-yet-unpublished price.
BMW’s potent new M2
Those like me who have lamented the demise of the small and simple BMW M-car may soon have cause to celebrate once more. If the newly announced BMW M2 turns out to be as it appears on paper, the closest thing to a true successor to the original E30 BMW M3 is on the way.
The M2 is based on the already excellent M235i coupé, but raises the power of its 3-litre, twin-scroll turbo straight-six engine from 321 to 365bhp. Suspension is largely borrowed from the M4 coupé and mainly cast in aluminium to reduce unsprung weight, while the car is lower, stiffer and wider too.
Perhaps of greater interest is the conceptual offer it proposes. Priced at £44,070 it’s clearly intended to rival both the Mercedes A45 AMG and Audi RS3. But while its opponents are both hatchbacks offering similar amounts of power but diverting it to all four wheels, the M2 is determinedly rear-wheel drive, as the presence of a ‘smoky burn-out’ button in the cabin makes clear. Moreover, BMW offers the M2 with a choice of either two or three pedals in its footwell, compared to its auto-only opposition.
One more comparison is worth making, too: with optional automatic gears, the M2 covers the 0-62mph sprint in 4.3sec or, put another way, an identical time to that claimed for the M4 costing an extra £13,000. If it is as good in practice as it is on paper, it won’t just be Audi and Mercedes customers who’ll be made to think twice about the merits of their prospective purchases.
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– Porsche has revived the ClubSport name for a race version of its hugely successful Cayman GT4 road car. A stripped-out GT4 featuring the front suspension from its GT3 racer, the ClubSport will be eligible for GT4 racing. It also narrows the name choices for the ultra high-performance Cayman Porsche is known to be developing to fit inside the £36,000 price gap between Cayman GT4 and 911 GT3. The arrival of the Cayman GT4 RS has just been made more likely.
– Tesla has unveiled its all-new Model X seven-seat SUV. It is claimed to hit 62mph from rest in a Ferrari 458-busting 3.2sec, thanks to twin electric motors capable of up to 762bhp, far above any conventional rival. The gullwinged off-roader should go on sale at the end of the year, with deliveries of RHD UK models due next summer. Range is quoted at 250 miles with prices for less powerful versions estimated to start at about £60,000.