Aston Martin: F1 billionaire owner leads rescue deal

Struggling luxury UK carmaker Aston Martin has announced plans to raise emergency funding worth £500m.

A consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll will put in £182m, with the rest of the money coming from existing investors.

Mr Stroll partly owns the Racing Point Formula 1 team, which will be branded Aston Martin from 2021 under the deal.

The move comes hours after a board meeting held to discuss how to prop up the ailing firm.

Aston Martin’s best known customer is fictional spy James Bond and the company recently revealed that four of its cars will feature in the next Bond movie, No Time To Die.

The carmaker said its latest financial moves were aimed at strengthening its balance sheet after its “disappointing performance” in 2019.

Mr Stroll’s consortium will take a 20% stake in the company and he will become its executive chairman.

As a result, Penny Hughes will be stepping down as Aston Martin’s chairman once the deal is completed.

She said: “The difficult trading performance in 2019 resulted in severe pressure on liquidity which has left the company with no alternative but to seek substantial additional equity financing.

“Without this, the balance sheet is not robust enough to support the operations of the group.

“Notwithstanding recent weak trading, the strength of the Aston Martin brand and our expanding portfolio of cars has allowed us to attract a strong new partner in Mr Stroll to support the turnaround of the business.”

Earlier this month, the 106-year-old firm issued a profit warning, saying annual earnings were expected to fall by nearly half from a year earlier.

It said core retail sales – which covers sales from Aston Martin dealers to consumers – were up 12% from a year earlier. However, wholesale volumes – which covers how many cars the dealers are ordering from Aston Martin itself – were down 7% to 5,809.

The company said it was expecting earnings of between £130m and £140m, well below the £247.3m it reported last year.

Mitsubishi slumps to quarterly loss, multiplying alliance woes

TOKYO — Embattled Mitsubishi Motors reported a loss in the last quarter as falling revenue, foreign exchange losses and rising r&d costs broadsided earnings.
 
The automaker swung to an operating loss of 6.6 billion yen ($60.5 million) in the fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31, the company said in results published on Friday. That compared with an operating profit of 28.1 billion yen ($257.7 million) a year earlier.
 
The company also slumped to a net loss of 14.4 billion yen ($132 million), from positive net income of 17.3 billion yen ($158.6 million), for a second-straight quarter of net losses.
 
Revenue shrank 14 percent to 538.9 billion yen ($4.94 billion), as worldwide retail sales retreated 5.3 percent to 284,000 units, amid declining deliveries in Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia.
 
Slackening demand in key markets such as Japan, China and Southeast Asia — the company’s biggest — undercut quarterly returns, CFO Koji Ikeya said while announcing the results.
 
The Japanese yen’s appreciation against the Thai baht, U.S. dollar and euro took another bite. And spiraling outlays for next-generation technologies worsened the hit.
 
“The overall business environment is harsh,” Ikeya said.
 
Mitsubishi’s plunge exacerbates an earnings crisis confronting its alliance partners, Renault and Nissan. Mitsubishi’s automotive allies are under similar pressure from volatile sales and slumping profits, as the three-way alliance struggles to find its feet following the arrest of former alliance Chairman Carlos Ghosn and the tumult it unleashed.
 
Ikeya declined to comment on possible restructuring plans that Mitsubishi may take to right its course. The leaders of the three companies met a day earlier to outline a new strategy for splitting work and said that the automakers would hammer out new mid-term business plans by May.
 
Mitsubishi CEO Takao Kato, who took office last June, is trying to reel in inventories to adjust to contracting demand while cutting costs to forestall an annual loss for the current fiscal year.

Mitsubishi kept unchanged its previously announced earnings outlook for operating profit to drop 73 percent in the current fiscal year ending March 31, with net income plunging 96 percent.
 
Operating profit margin is forecast to shrivel to 1.2 percent, from 4.4 percent last year.
 
Mitsubishi partly cited falling wholesale deliveries and deteriorating model mix for the falling quarterly profits. Wholesale volume fell 16 percent to 320,000 units in the quarter as Mitsubishi worked to rein in bloated inventories worldwide, including in the U.S., Japan, Europe and China.
 
North American retail sales inched ahead to 37,000 units in the fiscal third quarter, from 35,000 units a year earlier. But the regional business, which had broken even the previous year, fell to a 4.9 billion yen ($44.9 million) operating loss in the latest three-month period.
 
Sales in Europe fell to 50,000 units in the quarter from 56,000, while the European operating loss increased to 6.4 billion yen ($58.7 million) from a loss of 2.4 billion yen ($22.0 million).
 
Naoto Okamura contributed to this report

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Tesla Powerwall helps family save over $8,000 on their power bill

A family who was among the first to get a Tesla Powerwall installed at their home four years ago said in a review that the home battery pack helped them save over $8,000 on their power bill.

We reported on Nick Pfitzner and his family when they got the first Tesla Powerwall installation in Australia, at their suburban Sydney home.

Natural Solar, who did the installation, came out with a report this week on the Pfitzner’s Powerwall after four years.

They claim that the Tesla Powerwall saved them $8,463.42 so far:

Today, Nick Pfitzner, along with Australia’s largest solar and battery installer, Natural Solar, can reveal how this landmark piece of technology has really stacked up over the past four years, with the Pfitzner family using their Tesla Powerwall system to save a whopping $8,463.42 on the price of their power over the full four years. Pfitzner has saved an average of $2,115.86 each year on household electricity bills, and has managed to power his home for just 46 cents per day, all while using air-conditioning, electricity, and appliances as normal.

Before the Powerwall, the Pfitzners used to pay $572.29 per quarter for their electricity, but they are now proudly displaying their bill of no more than $45.16:

Chris Williams, CEO and founder of Natural Solar, commented on the report:

For many families, these results sit firmly in the ‘too good to be true’ realm. Nick was one of the first people in the world to have his Tesla Powerwall installed, and effectively started what we term the ‘battery boom’ globally. To see the numbers stack up after four years proves the technology is truly here to stay, and will likely only continue to grow with a huge demand worldwide.

Williams added:

When you crunch the numbers, it’s astonishing to see the real time, real life savings. For the full four years, the Pfitzner household has only paid $677.34 to power their entire home — their quarterly electricity bills used to be just $105 less than this. When the price of power is increasing by an average of 10%-15% per annum, these unprecedented savings really speak to the benefits of battery power. At Natural Solar, we are seeing most of our customers that install solar and battery storage in their homes experience a reduction in their power bills by up to 90% and like Nick, have an ROI period of just seven years.

Natural Solar says that it received more than 425,000 consumer enquiries for battery power since the launch of the Powerwall in Australia in 2015.

They have installed batteries at “thousands of homes.”

Electrek’s Take

That’s impressive.

But here’s what even more impressive: That’s just the first generation of the Powerwall.

Tesla has since released Powerwall 2, which has twice the energy capacity and is less expensive, resulting in a quicker return on investment.

Now, let me be clear. While this is impressive, it wouldn’t be as impressive in other markets. The Tesla Powerwall is a nice piece of technology, but it only makes sense financially in markets where electricity is very expensive, like Australia.

However, combined with solar and as a backup power system, it can be a useful product in other markets, too.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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2020 Toyota Camry TRD First Test: A Good Use of the TRD Name?

2020 Toyota Camry TRD First Test: A Good Use of the TRD Name?

Every time I see the letters TRD stuck onto the side of a Tacoma, Tundra, or 4Runner, I wince a little. Not because they’re bad cars—just the opposite is true—but because TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. None of those off-road warriors strike me as particularly racy (unless you live in Baja). So in an effort to expand the TRD brand to the street, TRD recently set to work on Toyota’s perennial midsizer with the hope of turning the Camry into something genuinely fun to drive.

The result is the Camry TRD. At $32,125, it’s the cheapest way to get into a Camry with a V-6. That said, the reason the TRD is seemingly so inexpensive is because it’s based on the Camry SE. That means features such as blind-spot monitoring, an upgraded infotainment display, and premium audio aren’t just left out of the standard equipment list but unfortunately aren’t available at all. If it’s a TRD you want, it’s a TRD you’re going to get—and nothing more.

What you do get over an SE, though, is a whole host of chassis upgrades. Special dampers with TRD-specific valving, stiffer anti-roll bars, new wheels that are both wider and lighter than the standard ones, bigger brakes, two-piston calipers to do the stopping, a cat-back exhaust, and a racy body kit account for a $5,755 price hike over a base SE.

Inside, the only visual cue that differentiates the TRD from a normal Camry is red stitching. But during a cold start, the Camry yowls into life. Under even light throttle loads, the bark from that cat-back exhaust surrounds the driver. It’s a reminder that you’re not driving a normal Camry, and it’s the most satisfying change Toyota made to the TRD. You won’t find that sweet exhaust note anywhere else in the midsize class.

The usual Camry conveniences still exist, too. The trunk is cavernous and easy to use, the cabin is spacious, and the car is easy to maneuver. I missed blind-spot monitoring during my long commutes, though, and wish it was at least an option here. Not only that, but the Tokyo Drift body kit drew more than a few skeptical stares in my time with the car. I loved it. Let them look. That’s what it’s there for.

Our tester was equipped with Michelin all-seasons. Toyota might have done this because we’re in the middle of winter, but so far 2020 has been as dry as this Southern Californian can remember. Summer tires would have been perfectly appropriate for this test, and we think the all-seasons hindered the TRD at the track.

In 2017, we tested a Camry XSE with the V-6, and it logged a 5.8-second 0-60 run. Surely the spiced-up Camry would be at least a little quicker to 60 than it’s less focused V-6 brethren, right? Wrong. The TRD’s 0-60 time is still 5.8 seconds. Over the quarter mile, the TRD was actually a tenth of a second slower than our last 2018 XSE V-6 test car. The TRD covered the quarter in 14.4 seconds, with a slightly higher trap speed of 99.8 mph (compared to 14.3 and 99.6 in the XSE).

Assistant road test editor Erick Ayapana found launching the TRD difficult, and he wished for the stickier tire, too. “These tires lose grip fairly easily,” he said. “Why is this car on all-seasons? Also, the nannies intervene despite them being turned off. So there’s a fine line between achieving the right amount of wheelspin without having the traction control kick in.”

TRD made no changes to the engine or the steering. That means the V-6 still makes the same 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. The eight-speed automatic transmission also goes unchanged, and it’s still geared too tall for our liking. This, in combination with our car’s lack of sticky rubber, explains the Camry’s stagnant 0-60 time.

We expected more from the TRD around our figure eight. After all, the lion’s share of the changes were to the chassis. At 26.5 seconds, the TRD shaved 0.2 second off the time set by the V-6-powered Camry XSE we tested more than two years ago. Testing director Kim Reynolds noted understeer, and again, we think summer tires likely would have helped neutralize the persistent push up front and even bring the TRD on par with the Accord Sport’s 26.4-second time.

“There’s maybe a touch more remaining understeer than is appropriate, but the brake pedal feel is communicative and lets you trail-brake (trade braking for cornering) in classic Chris Walton style,” he said, referencing our road test chief. “My only real issue is a sudden loss of power exiting the right corners. It’s brief but unhelpful.”

I also noted the power loss when coming off the right-hand turn around the figure eight. Because the transmission seemed to be the culprit, we switched the car to manual mode, but that didn’t help. In manual mode, the paddles serve as a sort of gear limiter, meaning that if you select third gear, for example, the car will still shift between gears one, two, and three freely but won’t go past it.

During normal driving, the transmission’s exceptionally tall gearing isn’t really noticeable. However, if the spirit for sporty driving ever takes hold, the Camry’s transmission becomes one of its two major flaws. The TRD has eight ratios in its transmission, which means Toyota could have relegated the last two to fuel economy duty.

Instead you find yourself stuck at low revs midcorner, and powering out requires either a frantic flick of the downshift paddle or the patience to ride out whatever gear was chosen for you. Almost every gear is far too tall for any twisty road. This is also a flaw of the non-TRD Camry, and reworking the transmission would have required money Toyota clearly wasn’t willing to spend on the TRD.

The TRD’s second and much more apparent flaw during normal driving is its ride. The stiffened chassis means the car is too easily upset by midcorner bumps, and every rut in the road makes its way into the cabin. The understeer Reynolds detected at the track is still present during faster driving, and the ride is almost too uncomfortable for the daily commute.

The changes Gardner made to his Avalon are what Toyota should have been willing to do to the Camry. But it didn’t. What we’re left with is a car that is on the wrong side of both uncomfortable and sporty—and a missed opportunity for TRD.

If you don’t mind being jiggled around in your seat all day, you could daily drive it. But the trade-off for that stiff ride should be something truly fun to drive with minimal understeer, and that’s still missing despite the TRD treatment. It’s hard to recommend the Camry TRD when the exhaust note is the best thing about it, and it’s even harder when you realize cars like the Accord strike a much better balance between sportiness and comfort.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD
BASE PRICE $32,125
PRICE AS TESTED $33,050
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.5L/301-hp/267-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,556 lb (61/39%)
WHEELBASE 111.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 194.6 x 73.1 x 56.3 in
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.4 sec @ 99.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.5 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22/31/25 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.77 lb/mile