Nissan may return to profit in 2021 if momentum holds up, CEO says

Nissan Motor Co. expects to return to profitability in 2021 if the current momentum continues, with demand in China already bouncing back from the pandemic, CEO Makoto Uchida said.

The company, which in May reported its first fiscal year loss in a decade and the biggest in 20 years, is forecasting a strong recovery in the Chinese market by year-end and plans to expand its presence there, Uchida said during a media briefing at the 2020 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition on Saturday.

China has emerged as a crucial market for Japan’s second-biggest automaker by output as it struggles to recover from a boardroom scandal surrounding former chairman Carlos Ghosn and a sales slump that threatens its alliance with Renault. Thanks to a strategic partnership with Dongfeng Motor Group Co. that was forged in 2003, Nissan is one of the strongest Japanese passenger automakers in Asia’s biggest economy.

Dongfeng Motor President and Nissan executive Shohei Yamazaki said Saturday that while other auto markets around the world face uncertainties, China is recovering well.

Nissan will launch nine new and redesigned electric models in China by 2025, including plug-in electric vehicles and hybrid electric cars that charge with a gasoline engine, Yamazaki said.

Like many automakers, the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the pain for Nissan. It posted a 671 billion yen ($6.2 billion) net loss last fiscal year, the biggest in two decades, further weakening its position in the alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

On display at this year’s show, one of the biggest on the automotive industry calendar, is Nissan’s all-electric Ariya crossover, shown publicly for the first time outside Japan. The company is also using the gathering to highlight its Formula E race car and the GT-R50 by Italdesign.

Features from the Nissan Intelligent Mobility range are also on display, including ProPILOT, an autonomous driving technology for use in single-lane traffic on highways.

Refreshed lineup

Earlier this week, Nissan unveiled luxury car brand Infiniti’s new design concept for the QX60 Monograph, an upmarket three-row crossover that debuted this weekend. The automaker will sell the model in 23 countries, including the U.S., China, Canada and Russia.

Infiniti Chairman Peyman Kargar said the company plans to roll out more models than initially planned in the world’s biggest car market. Nissan’s July sales in China increased 11.6 percent from a year earlier to 120,945 units.

To further refresh its aging lineup, Yokohama-based Nissan promised in May to launch 12 new cars in the next 18 months. It plans to cut both capacity and the number of models by 20 percent, and will no longer pursue volume growth to shed the old legacy from the Ghosn era.

While COO Ashwani Gupta has stressed Nissan’s priorities of conserving cash, the Japanese government has effectively guaranteed 130 billion yen ($1.2 billion) of 180 billion yen ($1.7 billion) of in crisis loans to help the company through the pandemic. Nissan this month also raised $8 billion in its first non-convertible dollar bond sale in at least two decades.

Big-ticket car dealers adjust to tight inventories

At the nation’s franchised ultraluxury and exotic dealerships, new vehicles usually are the stars of the showroom. But with the new-vehicle production pipeline squeezed by COVID-19, 2020 has been anything but ordinary for elite brands.

Inventories are tight, used models are commanding higher prices and service has taken on even greater importance.

“Inventory levels are at a 12-to-15-day supply, where we like them to be at 45-to-60-day, so we’re woefully out of stock,” Robert DiStanislao, president of RDS Automotive Group, said of the brands he sells.

His used-vehicle inventories also are lower than he’d like.

“We’re seeing that the used-car market is stronger than it’s ever been,” said DiStanislao, whose group has stores in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and California that sell Bugatti, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, Maserati, McLaren and Porsche vehicles.

Although sales are expected to be down this year, there are signs that things are trending toward normal. Factories in Europe have begun ramping back up, and critical product introductions, redesigns and freshenings will arrive as the year winds down.

In-person events, albeit socially distanced, have sprouted back onto the calendar for some stores, allowing for the crucial interaction between client and dealer, whether on the showroom floor or elsewhere.

“Our cars are a car where people will go to the retailer, they’ll engage with the retailer and they’ll buy a car,” McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt said in an interview last month. “It’s not so much a commodity that can move to be a purely digital transaction. There aren’t many people who would buy a McLaren just over the Internet. They actually want to know the people they’re buying the car from.”

Heath Strayhan recalls the early days of the crisis.

“Things stopped right in the middle of March for us and our activity almost ceased for the rest of that month,” said Strayhan, general manager at the Avondale Premier Collection in Dallas, which sells Aston Martin, Bentley, Koenigsegg, Maserati, McLaren and Rolls-Royce vehicles.

“We do not see our transactions as being single transactions,” he said. “We see them as being long-term, multiple transactional relationship-style partnerships. Going into March, we benefited from that. We had a very high level of pre-sold units that were due to hit in April. That has continued through this time period.”

Still, the gravity of the unfolding COVID-19 crisis gave Strayhan pause on April 1.

“I said something that I would never say to myself on the first of a month which is: I wonder how many of these pre-sold units I’m actually going to sell?” he recalled.

By April’s end, each of the pre-sold new vehicles had been delivered. Strayhan declined to specify how many, but noted it was in the double digits, making it a robust month for the store, he said.

On the used end, Strayhan said the price of some pre-owned vehicles has shot up.

“With the ’16 to ’19 model pre-owned cars, we’ve seen values increase dramatically, upwards of 20 to 25 percent, in certain segments, as a function of the supply of new cars,” he said.

Brett David, CEO of Prestige Imports in North Miami Beach, Fla., which sells new Lamborghini, Lotus, Pagani and Karma models, said dealers initially took different approaches when it came to used vehicles.

“Nobody knew how serious or significant this pandemic was going to be,” David said. “You had dealers at the time calling each other concerned, scared, not knowing what was actually going to happen. We had dealers discussing with one another what we should do with our pre-owned cars. Should we wholesale them out just to take the blunt risk and take all the depreciation of these cars early on, so we don’t get hit if this was to get a lot worse? Some dealers did that. With us, our consensus was just to stay tight.”

David said he and his team realized that with production of new vehicles being halted, the used-vehicle market would provide an avenue for growth. It became a focus point. “We have sold out of most of our old-aged inventory, we’ve sold out of all of our newer, hotter product,” he said.

“We’re seeing buyers come from all across the country.”

Prestige Imports sells about 10 to 15 new and around 40 to 50 used vehicles per month, David said. In August, he opened a new Lamborghini showroom, roughly three times the size of the previous one.

Fixed operations has also been a positive area of business in light of tight inventories.

“Our fixed operations has been very robust,” said Strayhan. “It’s been a great business for us. It’s been a great backbone. It’s caused me to even have more optimism because people are servicing their cars.”

For DiStanislao, service has been crucial.

“While our [new] units will be down, our overall profitability will be up because there are people that have used cars and are keeping them and servicing them,” he said.

In the past, dealerships might have hosted large gatherings at the showroom or a racetrack, but social distancing has altered that.

Strayhan said Avondale only recently began hosting events again, on a smaller scale, tied to new-model launches.

“We had a three-day Rolls-Royce Ghost launch where our vendors came in, Rolls-Royce brought their experts in and we had individual appointments,” he said. “We invited our clientele to come in and have an individual presentation of the new Ghost, which was 100 percent at capacity.”

For the Ghost event, Avondale had the redesigned sedan for twice as long as it normally would have, he said, which allowed the dealership to maximize the number of individual showings.

Avondale also hosted customer launch events for the Aston Martin DBX SUV and McLaren Elva hypercar in the brand’s showrooms, complete with social distancing and masks.

In October, DiStanislao said his group will be hosting a drive-in movie screening of The Italian Job for Philadelphia-area customers to make up for the cancellation of track days and road rallies.

“Our customers are very happy to stay engaged that way in a safe environment,” he said. “The cars are going to be spaced, everyone’s going to be in their own car and we’re going to deliver food to their window.

“Even though it’s not particularly a warm and personal exchange as maybe a track day or a rally might be, they love the idea of doing anything with their car. This, we found, was a great alternative to stay in touch with our customers and keep them enthused.”

SpaceX’s Starship Moon lander passes NASA review alongside Blue Origin, Dynetics

SpaceX’s Starship Moon lander passes NASA review alongside Blue Origin, Dynetics

A variant of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft optimized to land NASA astronauts on the Moon has passed the space agency’s first review alongside competing teams lead by Blue Origin and Dynetics.

Aside from reiterating the fact that NASA is drawing heavily from its experience with the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), the completion of “certification baseline reviews” for Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX’s proposed lunar landers is a significant step forward for the Human Landing System (HLS) and Artemis programs. According to NASA’s official HLS “Broad Agency Announcement” or BAA, providers must submit a vast amount of paperwork and data to pass the certification baseline review (CBR).

More of a than an assignment than an actual review, NASA’s acceptance criteria for CBR documentation is about as general as the space agency gets, requiring providers to demonstrate at least a basic level of maturity and expertise. Like the name suggests, it sets a baseline from which NASA and SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin’s National Team will hone in on challenges and concerns specific to each system. SpaceX’s proposal is almost certainly unique, however, given that the company is the only one anywhere close to performing actual flight tests of a (relatively) similar system.

Pictured on the left, SpaceX’s lunar Starship is a customized version of the baseline ship meant to land NASA astronauts on the Moon. (SpaceX)

After much fanfare, NASA finally revealed its first real Human Landing System contracts on April 30th, 2020, awarding funds to Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX to develop three extremely dissimilar Moon landers. Designed to ferry NASA astronauts from a deserted lunar orbit (near-rectilinear halo orbit, NRHO). NASA initially refused to delineate the distribution of the $967 million contract.

A list of the HLS Certification Baseline Review (CBR) “acceptance criteria and products”. (NASA)

Several news outlets later reported that Blue Origin’s “National Team” (including Draper, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman) received $567 million to develop a complex three-stage system, using Blue Origin’s existing Blue Moon lander work for the final descent stage and lander. Dynetics won $253 million to build a slightly more familiar single-stage lander and SpaceX received $135 million for a single-stage Starship-derived vehicle.

The main goal of NASA’s initial funding is to extensively characterize and understand the capabilities and characteristics of each proposal and the likelihood that each vehicle will actually be ready to land humans on the Moon by the end of 2024. The next major HLS milestone will be what the space agency calls a “continuation review,” in which NASA will likely downselect to one of the three landers above. Administrator Jim Bridenstine says that NASA may decide to proceed with more than one provider but the strong implication is that only one will exit the ~December 2020 continuation review with future funding.

Unlike Blue Origin and Dynetics, SpaceX has already flight-tested multiple full-scale Starship prototypes. (SpaceX)

For SpaceX, it appears that the company will almost certainly field an orbit-capable Starship and Super Heavy booster with or without external help. At this point in the program, it would take a major upset for SpaceX not to be ready to start orbital Starship launch attempts in 2021. To an extent, SpaceX has proven through Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Crew Dragon that it’s capable of developing reliable, reusable, industry-leading rockets and spacecraft several times more cheaply than its closest competitors.

To build a Starship safe and reliable enough that SpaceX can convince NASA to land astronauts on the Moon with it, the company will effectively have to prove that it can cut the cost of rocket production by another factor of five or ten. Time will tell where NASA’s HLS cards fall just a few months from now.

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SpaceX’s Starship Moon lander passes NASA review alongside Blue Origin, Dynetics

Is The Toyota 86 Worth Buying With The New Supra 2.0 Now On Sale?

Is The Toyota 86 Worth Buying With The New Supra 2.0 Now On Sale?

The Toyota 86 may be getting a little long in the tooth, but it is still a great driver’s car. However, with a 2.0-liter variant of the Supra now on sale in the United States, does the 86 remain a compelling buy?

To find out, EverydayDriver put a 2021 Supra 2.0 against a 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition. Ultimately, the two reviewers are split on their opinions of which car is the better value proposition, but the review is well worth a watch.

Watch Also: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Is Just As Good As The Road It’s Named After

On the spec sheet, the 86 Hakone features a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder and delivers a total of 205 hp and 156 lb-ft (211 Nm) of torque. It is available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic and, of course, is rear-wheel drive.

By comparison, the Supra 2.0 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 255 hp and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque that is exclusively coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. It can hit 62 mph (100 km/h) in 5.2 seconds, which isn’t too shabby considering this is the entry-level model.

So, not only is the Supra 2.0 much more powerful than the 86 but it is much more refined and has a far more luxurious interior. However, it costs roughly $16,000 more. That’s a lot of money, so can it justify such a premium over its smaller sibling?

Ares S1 Project, Ferrari Omologata, Toyota hypercar: This Week’s Top Photos

Ares S1 Project, Ferrari Omologata, Toyota hypercar: This Week’s Top Photos

Italy’s Ares Design this week revealed more photos of its S1 Project supercar based on the C8 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and confirmed some of the specs. The new supercar will feature a full carbon-fiber body and a naturally aspirated V-8 good for 715 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque.

Ferrari Omologata

Ferrari Omologata

Another Italian supercar in the headlines this week was the latest one-off creation from Ferrari’s Special Projects division. It’s based on the 812 Superfast and features a design that pays tribute to the great racing GTs from the 1950s and ’60s.

Touring Superleggera Aero 3

Touring Superleggera Aero 3

There was yet one more Italian supercar in the headlines this week, this one from coach-builder Touring Superleggera. The car takes inspiration from a 1930s-era Alfa Romeo and is based on the bones of a donor Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.

Infiniti QX60 Monograph concept

Infiniti QX60 Monograph concept

Infiniti rolled out a concept previewing its next-generation QX60. The concept hints at a very impressive redesign for Infiniti’s popular three-row crossover SUV. A redesinged version of the related Nissan Pathfinder is also coming.

2021 BMW M3 and M4

2021 BMW M3 and M4

BMW’s next-generation M3 sedan and M4 coupe were revealed this week. They follow a familiar formula but have mixed things up a bit with the availability of all-wheel drive. Peak power for now is 503 horsepower.

Toyota GR Super Sport prototype

Toyota GR Super Sport prototype

Toyota previewed the new hypercar based on its race car that will compete in the 2021 World Endurance Championship. It’s called the GR Super Sport, and it’s expected to pack a twin-turbocharged V-6 driving the rear wheels and an electric motor-generator driving the front pair.

2021 Acura TLX Advance SH-AWD

2021 Acura TLX Advance SH-AWD

One of the cars we tested this week was Acura’s redesigned 2021 TLX. It’s based on a new platform and is bigger and more substantial than its predecessor, but it also costs more.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4

2021 Volkswagen ID.4

And finally, one of the cars we look forward to testing is the new 2021 Volkswagen ID.4. The battery-electric compact SUV starts at just over $40,000 and at launch will offer up to 250 miles of range.