In days gone by, road cars without fixed roofs were thought of as being soft and less dynamic than their hardtop compatriots. The 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster is a little different.
Unveiled earlier this year as a send-off for the 991-generation car, the latest 911 Speedster takes inspiration from the 356 Speedster and shares its powertrain with the desirable 911 GT3. Doug DeMuro recently had the opportunity to put one to the test.
Thanks to the screaming naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six pumping out 503 HPand 347 lb-ft (470 Nm) of torque that’s paired exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission powering the rear wheels via a mechanical locking rear differential, the Speedster can reach 62 mph (100 km/h) in a brisk 4.0 seconds and hit a 193 mph (310 km/h) top speed.
Visually, the car borrows many parts from its GT-branded siblings. For example, the front apron has been lifted from the 911 GT3 while the rear apron and spoiler come from the 911 GT3 Touring and the carbon fiber wings have been are from the 911 R. The most eye-catching exterior part is the rear decklid with two huge buttresses that help the Speedster look even better than the GT3 – at least to our eyes.
Porsche is building 1,948 examples of the 911 Speedster, and in the United States, pricing starts at $274,500, excluding a $1,250 delivery, processing, and handling fee. What did DeMuro make of the it? Well, what do you think?
Many in the automotive industry are talking about the need to consolidate to overcome the challenges of emissions regulations and autonomous cars, but Carlos Tavares is doing something about it. In 2017, PSA acquired Opel/Vauxhall from General Motors and within 18 months the money-losing German/British brands were recording 5 percent operating margins. This year, Tavares is dreaming bigger, hoping to engineer a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that would create the world’s fourth-largest car company. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher and Editor Luca Ciferri and Correspondent Peter Sigal about the road ahead.
What is the rationale for a potential PSA-FCA merger?
The two companies are very complementary on technology and very complementary on geography. They have the confidence that comes from the fact that they have turned themselves around, and the maturity to understand that it’s better to face the challenges ahead together rather than alone. All this is the foundation for synergies that could generate value for shareholders and stakeholders.
In the proposed merger, you would be CEO for five years and the 11th board member, with five each from PSA and FCA. How would you use that power?
The CEO is just a tool to make things happen, and the toolbox is very, very big. I want to be very humble. I’m privileged to have the opportunity to bring this deal to a conclusion with all the teams involved. I want to underline that Mike [Manley, FCA CEO] and I have a longtime relationship and mutual respect and trust for what we hope to build together. The [overall] CEO would be there to make sure the new company is moving forward in terms of technology investment, profitability, work-life balance and everything. Success for all of us would be that in a few years nobody remembers who appointed the board members.
The chairman of the new company would come from FCA, and the vice chairman would come from PSA. Is the arrangement as fair as it could be?
The top executives at each company should be at ease. These are two great companies based on the public numbers published by both. Neither is currently in crisis. So, full respect to the current top executives of the two companies — chapeau bas (hats off), as we say in French. [PSA-FCA would be] such a big entity, with such a high level of things to be achieved, that we would need all of them. The second thing is that the only rule would be meritocracy: In the interests of everybody in the company, in each key position you should pick the best possible executive to deliver results for everybody to enjoy.
Do you want to become a bigger automaker or become a mobility provider?
A bigger carmaker would be very helpful, because if you don’t become larger to dilute your r&d costs and have a volume scale effect on the purchasing of components such as batteries you could be in trouble. It’s especially helpful with electrification, because you will have leverage to buy kilowatt hours at the most competitive price. Those two factors are real. That is where it helps. And specifically, for people working in regions where there are going to be significant breakthroughs on CO2 objectives, scale would be a real benefit.
PSA does not have a designated chief operating officer. How do you manage decision-making?
I am a strong believer in a matrix organization. At PSA we operate within three axes: the regions, the brands and the functions. Even within this three-dimensional operation, we have business units that go through and try to boost the system. For example, we could have the CEO of Peugeot reporting on volumes and profit, then the European head report on total profits, volumes, market share, quality and customer satisfaction for all brands in the region. On the functional side, we would look at whether we are ready to launch a new car, are manufacturing costs being reduced? So we are constantly reviewing the business in three dimensions.
How is this beneficial?
It’s very important to let the matrix breathe. People are human. They have different characters, and they express them in a personal way. If you “lock” the matrix, it will break because you can’t force people to all act in the same way. In the end, I don’t care about the win for the brand, for the region or for the function. I want PSA to win as a whole.
You are a big believer in agility. When your company grows, how do you maintain its maneuverability? Adding Opel/Vauxhall to Peugeot, Citroen and DS was a good learning experience. What I’m trying to do is find the spirit in what we want to achieve as an efficient team. People come to me with a paper with, say, 10 bullet points. I will listen to what they are, then say, “OK, what is the spirit of what we want to do?” If people understand that then they won’t ask you every day what they should or should not do. They don’t have to ask me for validation. Therefore, you will have more time because people will have more autonomy. It is rewarding and they can unleash their potential in a way that is much more fulfilling for them, and it gives me much more time.
Are you making fewer decisions now?
Certainly. But there are still topics where people don’t feel comfortable enough to take a strong position, so they can use their monthly one-on-one, one-hour meetings with me to ask for guidance.
One area, however, in which both companies are weak is China. How would a merger with FCA help?
At least for PSA, I can recognize that we haven’t achieved very much in China. But if we come together it could give us a lever to get things done there. The fact that we would be together would, perhaps, open other doors or different doors than the ones we could open alone.
On Jan. 1 new EU CO2 regulations will start to take effect and fleet emissions will have to drop sharply to 95 grams per kilometer. How will PSA flip that switch?
We have a very precise process. I can’t say a lot about it because it’s highly competitive, but it involves our production, our order book, and making our dealers actors in what we are doing, not just followers. For us, it’s an ethical matter [to meet CO2 targets], not just a financial matter. Our employees’ children might ask them someday, “What did you do to fix the global warming issue?” So, they want to say that despite working at a car company, they are contributing — and working really hard — to address global warming.
Meeting emissions targets means electrification. Do you have any battery supply concerns, and should Europe have more battery factories?
We have secured enough battery supply for the next three years, but in the longer term the question will be there. That is why we support the idea of a European battery champion project. We understand that strategically, on a long-term basis, we don’t want to be dependent on the Asian suppliers, despite the fact that we have excellent relations with them. But such a project cannot succeed if we don’t get the appropriate support as a strategic investment from the EU
PSA has had some of the best operating margins in the automotive industry, but there is an overall cost for emissions compliance. How much of this cost can you absorb and how much will you pass on to your customers?
We can be very disciplined on pricing, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. All we can do is be the most profitable, so you don’t get hit immediately by the costs of governments not investing in a charging network, not subsidizing sales of electric vehicles appropriately, or doing the wrong thing in terms of regulations. So either we digest these costs, or we are able to increase productivity. Or we can’t, and somebody will get hurt.
How is it possible to reduce emissions and a company’s carbon footprint while simultaneously protecting auto industry margins and employment?
I don’t think there is a magic formula, but citizens should understand that the cost for reducing emissions will be paid by them, either through taxes or through reducing their freedom of mobility, from an affordability standpoint. People want better crashworthiness, they would like to have less or zero emissions, they would like to have more connectivity and more convenience, but nobody wants to pay for it. So somebody will have to make the hard choices.
We have heard people from Apple to Ford say that the move toward autonomous driving is more expensive and more risky than we thought. What is your position on how the technology will develop?
We have been very clear in saying that we don’t see value in driver assistance systems beyond Level 3 [when the driver has to be ready to take over control if needed] for affordability reasons, viewed from the private customer. Beyond that the cost skyrockets and value doesn’t increase proportionally. That means there’s no business case for retail sales beyond Level 3. Now, we continue to work on Level 4 or Level 5 [when the car has control in most or all situations] that will be interesting for shared mobility such as shuttles. That’s because these vehicles will be shared among many users, so they can be more expensive. They will be used in simplified environments with dedicated lanes with clear signage. That will also make the validation of the software easier, there will be fewer scenarios to test against.
For the entity known as Aston Martin the Americas, which covers the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru, the DBX is an opportunity to attract new people to the brand, said Laura Schwab, president of the brand’s operations in the Americas.
“We see a huge opportunity to conquest,” Schwab told Automotive News. “We’ve got golden expectations of conquesting new customers. The core sports cars that we’ve launched over the last two years have brought over a lot of new customers to Aston Martin. I think we’re going to see a lot of new faces, which is really exciting. The car is obviously going to appeal to our current customer base as well because every inch of it is an Aston Martin.”
The DBX’s design is instantly recognizable as an Aston Martin thanks to its headlights and grille. The rear styling mirrors the Vantage coupe.
When Aston Martin introduced the DBX as a concept at the 2015 Geneva auto show, it looked more like a high-riding sporty coupe than a traditional SUV. Not so with the production model, which has 22-inch wheels, four doors, a large rear gate and, most importantly, room for five occupants, plus cargo.
Schwab said the emphasis on the vehicle’s interior resonated with customers during private previews.
“That’s what customers have really gravitated to because they see the sportiness of the car, but then they sit in the inside and they’ve just been blown away by the space,” she said.
The automaker expects customers to use the DBX as a daily driver, given that the SUV is more practical than Aston Martin’s current range of sports cars.
“This one definitely will be used more frequently,” Schwab said of the SUV, noting that Aston Martin’s retailers had to adjust their training.
“For them, it’s getting ready to address a new customer,” Schwab said.
The DBX starts at $192,986, including shipping, in the U.S. It will compete with the likes of the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Aston Martin has 44 dealerships in the Americas region, including 36 in the U.S. The Americas is Aston Martin’s largest region by sales volume globally, accounting for 27 to 30 percent of volume, a company spokesman said.
The DBX, with a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine making 542 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque, doesn’t shy away from performance. It also has all-wheel drive, a key feature for snowier climates and year-round use in the U.S. and Canada.
“SUVs have appeal all over, and I think that’s what is so exciting for us and for our dealers,” she said.
Electric powertrain supplier and supercar builder Rimac has its fingers on the pulse of the market, but it’s not planning to cave and build a performance SUV, its boss says.
Company founder and CEO Mate Rimac told Top Gear in a recent interview that while the market may exist for hotted-up SUVs, he doesn’t believe that his company necessarily has to build them to survive—so long as there is demand for hypercars.
Rimac understands that mainstream automakers need to feed mass-market demand, but he believes Rimac is in the privileged position of being able to build a niche, high-end product that commands high margins. With help from its EV component supply business, Rimac can thrive.
“We ourselves? No. We will not do a performance SUV. For sure,” Rimac told the British outlet, “As a business decision though, I understand. At the end of the day, you can please enthusiasts, or have a business that survives. What do you choose? You choose to survive.”
The company is currently in the process of building and delivering its Rimac C_Two, which is its second hypercar. Its $2 million price tag is often augmented by hundreds of thousands of dollars in added equipment, making the performance machines incredibly profitable. Even as far back as 2018, the 1,914-horsepower C_Two was nearly sold out.
Rimac has attracted attention from outside sources on the strength of its components business. Porsche has a 15.5 percent stake in the company, and the two have partnered to develop new battery tech. Hyundai invested $90 million earlier this year, and that partnership is expected to spawn a new EV for both the Hyundai and Kia brands.