It’s not been a great few months for carmakers, with sales down by over 40 per cent and production halted at many car plants across the world. Only over the past few weeks have automotive manufacturers been able to once again ramp up production, although in many places the number of cars rolling off production lines is far from capacity.
The luxury end of the market has not been immune to the collapse in sales. Jaguar Land Rover reported a fall in sales of 42 per cent for its Jaguar models for the first three months of the year, while sales of Range Rovers and Land Rovers declined by 25 per cent. However, the company announced this week that it is already seeing the beginnings of a demand rebound in China, as the world’s second-largest economy opens up after months of inactivity following the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are beginning to see recovery in vehicle sales and customers are returning to our showrooms. Our operational fitness gives me confidence that we can weather this storm,” says Sir Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover.
This is good news for Jaguar’s new plant in Slovakia, where, thanks to the country’s exemplary handling of the pandemic – just 28 people have died in the country with coronavirus – production resumed in early May following a closure which lasted two months.
At the very top end of the car industry, there is good news from Croatia, where supercar producer Rimac Automobili has revealed the next stage in the development of its C_Two all-electric hypercar: a new production line.
Based at Rimac’s recently opened production facility in Veliko Trgovišće, north of Zagreb, the line will accelerate the production of C_Two prototypes necessary for final validation and crash testing for worldwide homologation. Assembling each C_Two will now take the team around five weeks, cutting the production time in half compared to the “nest production”, and allowing for the build of four final production vehicles a month at full capacity. While the prototype assembly process takes 5 weeks, the process starts much earlier at Rimac, as a large number of components and systems are produced in house and delivered to the final assembly line.
Rimac has so far assembled four early prototype vehicles, but a further 13 are needed for testing and approval, followed by another 10 pre-series cars – most of which will be produced this year. The fully-fledged approval process, without any shortcuts, is a three to four-year process from the first concepts, to full prototypes, to cars on the road. With the new line in place, Rimac Automobili will start delivering customer cars in 2021, instead of 2020 as per the original, pre-Covid plan. The final car’s name and design will be revealed later this year.
“We have worked hard to bring the C_Two to the stage where it is now, and we want our customers all over the world to be able to experience the thrill of a 1,914hp all-electric hypercar,” says Mate Rimac, founder and CEO of Rimac Automobili. “The only way we can do that is through a strict crash testing process requiring many different prototypes, each of which has its own purpose. While some cars will go straight from the production line to the crash testing facility, others will be used for different validation tests before hitting the wall. Only a handful of prototypes will not be crashed during this programme. As we are ramping up prototype production, this new line is an absolutely necessary investment to streamline the process, and it’ll help us as we begin to deliver customer cars from next year.”
The Rimac C_Two promised a top speed of 412 km/h when it was first revealed in 2018, and the company’s engineers remain confident the targets will be met.
Rimac, founded in 2013, last year attracted new investment from Porsche, which now has a 15.5 per cent stake in the start-up, as well as Hyundai, which has taken a 14 per cent stake. The company employs around 550 people at its Croatian plants.
According to the International Energy Agency, the number of electric cars on the road is expected to reach almost 10 million this year, as sales grow despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
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