By on March 9, 2016


After seemingly using up its legal arsenal against Volkswagen, the U.S. is pulling its backup out of an ankle holster and taking another shot.

That, Kia and Hyundai might get a Korean competitor, Mercedes-Benz is feeling charged up, Audi is still a fuel cell fan, and Volvo wants to standardize EV recharging … after the break!

Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept

The hits keep coming for Volkswagen

After flexing its financial fraud law muscles during the 2008 recession, the U.S. is putting that experience to use once again against Volkswagen.

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a subpoena under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (Firrea) to target the automaker for emissions cheating, and might soon look at tax law violations, says the Wall Street Journal (via Market Watch):

That is a novel use of the civil financial fraud law that the Obama administration deployed to extract record-setting multibillion-dollar settlements from big banks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It suggests the car maker faces another potential source of penalties after admitting it used illegal software that allowed diesel-powered vehicles to pollute more on the road than during government emissions tests.

Prosecutors also have used Firrea to probe alleged misdeeds in the auto loan industry, but the Volkswagen subpoena marks the first known instance of the government using a banking law to pursue potential wrongdoing that is not directly linked to financial misconduct.

As the U.S., France and Germany expanded their actions against the embattled automaker, Volkswagen AG shares slipped over four percent yesterday.

Ssangyong Rexton II (Peter PZ/Flickr)

Korean competition headed to U.S. shores?

Not since the short-lived Daewoo incursion in the late 1990s has Hyundai/Kia faced a competitor from its homeland in the U.S. market.

South Korean automaker Ssangyong Motor Company intends to make a foray into the U.S. market under a new name, possibly as early as 2019, reports Reuters (via NBC News):

It is the first time CEO Choi Johng-sik has put a timeframe on Ssangyong Motor’s long-planned entry into the United States, as South Korea’s number four car maker tries to expand overseas to help offset a slump in its key export market Russia.

But Choi’s comments appear to contradict those of Mahindra Executive Director Pawan Goenka, who told Reuters a U.S. entry was “somewhat on the back burner”, with the priority instead being plans to build Ssangyong vehicles in China.

Choi and executives from Indian owner Mahindra & Mahindra all agree that breaking into the U.S. market will be a “tough nut to crack,” with Choi telling reporters such a venture “will make or break our company.”

The company is preparing to launch a midsize SUV that could serve as the centrepiece of its U.S. offerings.

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse Limousine (W 213) 2016Mercedes-Benz E-Cl

Mercedes-Benz pours on the electrons

The need for batteries is going to be big, according to Mercedes-Benz’s parent company Daimler, so it’s building a new German factory to fuel its future vehicles, Motor Authority reports:

“To get closer to fully electric driving, we keep investing big in the key component of emission-free vehicles—powerful batteries,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said. “We are now devoting another 500 million euros to build a second battery factory in Germany.”

As mentioned, most of the batteries will end up in new hybrid and electric cars from Mercedes. A majority of the automaker’s sedans and SUVs will offer a plug-in hybrid option by the end of the decade, and the automaker is also working on a new platform for electric cars. The platform, dubbed EVA (an acronym for Electric Vehicle Architecture), will reportedly be the basis of up to four electric cars spanning both sedans and SUVs, with the first model due in 2018.

Daimler once owned a stake in Tesla Motors, and, like that company, currently produces energy storage units for use in homes and businesses.

Audi H-tron Quattro concept

Audi’s not giving up on a hydrogen-powered future

The buoyant element that once lifted mighty Zeppelins into German skies isn’t being abandoned by the country’s largest automaker.

Volkswagen Group has tapped its Audi division to lead development of hydrogen fuel cell technology in its quest to become an industry leader, reports Automotive News Europe:

Speaking to reporters at the brand’s headquarters here, Audi’s new development chief Stefan Knirsch defended the need to invest in fuel cell technology even as electric cars begin to gain traction in the market.

“I know there’s a big discussion ‘why fuel cells?’ if everything in the future will be [battery] electric: at some point there will be a charging infrastructure and the electric ranges will increase, so who needs fuel cell cars? But we don’t see it so black and white at the moment,” he said at a press event.

Audi unveiled its fuel cell-powered H-tron Quattro concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, declaring its range as being 310 miles.

Knirsch has stated that fuel cell vehicles have an advantage over EVs in their quick refueling time and cheaper production costs. A production fuel cell Audi would likely be similar to the EV utility vehicle the automaker has planned for 2018.

2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Charging Plug, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Now that we’re all on the same plug …

Volvo is pretty pleased at its plug-in hybrid cars, and now wants to start bossing the world around.

The Swedish automaker is pushing for a global standard for electric car charging infrastructure, according to an official news release:

To support this drive towards a global standard for electric car charging, Volvo Cars has decided to throw its weight behind the Charging Interface Initiative, a consortium of stakeholders that was founded to establish their Combined Charging System (CCS) as the standard for charging battery-powered vehicles.

The CCS offers regular single-phase charging as well as three-phase rapid charging, with the possibility of an even faster charge in the future.

Volvo expects to release its first full EV in 2019 and argues that standardization is needed to eliminate the range anxiety that afflicts many EV drivers. The shadowy cabal behind CCS is currently crafting requirements for the evolution of global standards and certification for automakers.

[Image: Ssangyong, Peter PZ/Flickr; Plug-in, © Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars]

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30 Comments on “TTAC News Round-up: New Salvo Hits Volkswagen, Korean Competition Looms, and Benz Big on Batteries...”

  • avatar

    Seems like a stretch at first to go after VW for Firrea, but then again…as I see it, their main crime was defrauding their customers (both the end buyers AND dealers). The world will survive from the additional pollution, but the folks who bought (and sold) VW diesels were screwed over royally by this company.

    Everyone affected deserves some justice.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, Firrea is a stretch. This is more about finding new ways to convince VW to stop *bleep!*-ing around and start co-operating and writing checks (to the feds and consumers) than it is about the DoJ really wanting to spend the next decade litigating a boring and marginal financial fraud case.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the government/public paying a big chunk of change on each “clean” “efficient” TDI in the form of a tax rebate. Since the cars didn’t meet the standards required for the rebate but VW submitted claims for the rebate (I also remember something about VW handling the paperwork for the customer), they were engaging in fraud while acting as a go between in a financial transaction between a customer and the Government. Not exactly a financial institution, but not a huge reach either.

  • avatar

    “Knirsch has stated that fuel cell vehicles have an advantage over EVs in their quick refueling time and cheaper production costs.”

    The refueling time is quick if you don’t include the time you spend driving out of your way to the fueling station or the time you have to wait for the station to recover from fueling the previous car and ignore the fact that with an EV you can fuel at home (and at the office) and never worry about stopping to fuel your vehicle. It’s been two months since I actually had to charge at a public charger.

  • avatar

    I believe Ssanyong means Twin Dragons, but should just use Dragon if they start selling in US.

  • avatar

    When VW tried to play the EPA for fools, got caught, and then STILL tried to publicly pretend it was All Just A Big Misunderstanding, got caught AGAIN with the larger diesels, and tried to weasel-word THAT away, this should not be a surprise.

    I suspect that this is the Feds telling VWoA; “Stop *bleep!*-ing around with Visa Gift Cards and dealer coupons and either develop a fix or start buying cars back, which you can fix on your own damn time.”

    Until that happens, the EPA and DoJ will keep finding dusty corners of the law books to throw at VW until they finally get the message and VW AG starts acting like a company that royally screwed up and is actually sorry about it. I’m sure their actions to stonewall and delay over in Europe have not gone unnoticed here.

    At this point, this isn’t about the pollution itself, which, in the big scheme of things, really isn’t that serious. This is about VW thinking they are above the law and can nickle-and-dime their way out of complying with it. The legal charges and fines are going to keep piling up until VW “comes to Jesus” and figures out that maybe actual co-operation with regulators might be a good idea.

  • avatar

    Saw very few Ssangyongs on the road during a recent trip to Seoul. So if Koreans don’t buy them, what makes them think Americans will?

    OTOH, Renault Samsung should give it a shot.

    • 0 avatar

      Renault-Samsung is owned by Renault, with only a small ownership by Samsung. They can’t bring that stuff here without competing directly with themselves for Nissan sales.

      They might rebadge something and bring it over, but that seems less likely as well – plenty of product already on shelves.

    • 0 avatar

      Ssangyong don’t sell well in Korea for the same reason that there aren’t any small electronics manufacturers in Korea. The big chaebol–Hyundai is the 2nd biggest–dominate the domestic economy, to the detriment of everyone else.

  • avatar
    Dr. Doctor

    This might just be me, but I think its going to be the suppliers, not the automakers who come up with a standardized charging plug and specification.

    If volume on plug-in hybrids and EVs keeps growing, then its probably going to be in the best interest of the industry to develop a uniform spec. Sort of like how the smartphone industry (excluding Apple) decided to make Micro USB the standard charging/data transfer connector for their products.

  • avatar

    I don’t buy the quote from the Ssangyong guy. Their vehicles would not be worthwhile for the American market unless they redo their entire line. Using ancient Mercedes platforms and borrowed engines is Chrysler’s thing, and we don’t need another one of those – but with lower quality.

    Ssangyong isn’t very financially stable, either. Stick to other markets where your wares are acceptable, like India. They’re the Chrysler of SK car producers.

    • 0 avatar

      What if they can get the MSRP to $9,999? I’m not saying it’s a good value, but there’s always poor people that want new cars, just how many is the question.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s the other thing, their cars aren’t that cheap! They’re considerably smaller in scale than H/K, so they’re not gonna be able to get -new model -to US market -for low $$$.

      • 0 avatar

        If they can get interesting vehicles that are in popular segments for $9,999 go ahead, but if they bring a $9,999 compact car to market, forget about it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m thinking the Mercedes platforms aren’t FCA’s big issue – the 300, Charger, Challenger and Grand Cherokee are all doing OK. It’s the Fiat sourced passenger car platforms that have pretty much cratered.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, I was exaggerating perhaps a little. But the Ssangyong bin is quite literally old castoffs, mostly from Mercedes. I doubt the old engines they use would be any good passing current emissions regs.

        • 0 avatar

          Ssangyong Chrysler 200 for the win!

          • 0 avatar

            Hmmm, Sergio is looking for someone to start building the next generation of Darts and 200s.

            Ssangyong, come on down! But leave one of those S’s behind, because you’re confusing people.

        • 0 avatar

          Actually, it’s not as of their newest model, the Tivoli. They designed that car from the ground up; only the automatic transmission(an Aisin unit) is from outside the company. It’s gotten decent reviews in the European press, but it’s very much so Hyundai/Kia of the early-2000’s: improving quickly, but still a step or two behind the mainstream. That they’re essentially just a crossover company at this point does bode well for the future, but they have some work to do if they’re going to be competitive going forward.

          Frankly, I hope that they keep the Ssangyong name if they come to North America.

          • 0 avatar

            I hadn’t heard of that model! But just from the photos, I can tell that Tivoli is crap.

          • 0 avatar

            Ah yes, because appearance is everything, right? What’s that old maxim? Judge a book by its cover?

  • avatar

    And the Chevrolet Express is trading the 6.6l duramax for an available 2.8L duramax.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Internet commenters will cry and moan, and people who actually buy new vans will celebrate. The old 6.6 versions will also command a future premium with the 10 people who actually want a 1-ton diesel van.

  • avatar

    Comment that Ssangyong isn’t financially stable forgets that Mahindra of India bought 70% control in 2010. Mahindra is bigger than Tata (LR Jag and awful little Nanos) in India.

    On the other hand, two weeks ago, Mahindra said they were going to enter the US market with this Ssangyong.

    Last week, they said, no, actually, we’re not.

    This week, they’re back again, so the Ditherer in Charge at Mahindra, who tried on and off for about six years to decide whether the compact Mahindra pickup would come to the USA, and finally gave up and had a beer, has not been replaced by someone who can make up his mind.

    Expect no Ssangyongs to ever arrive stateside, judging by past goings on.

    • 0 avatar

      Mahindra was never interested in selling their pickup in the US and never claimed that they were. It was a used car dealer that wanted to import them but couldn’t come up with the capital to certify them or reassemble them in the US.

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