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Volkswagen Touareg R goes fast with new green credentials

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This looks fun.


Volkswagen

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: electrification isn’t a bad thing when it comes to performance. Electric motors not only produce zero tailpipe emissions, but they also spin out extra power and torque. For speed freaks, that’s totally a good thing.

At Volkswagen, the time has come to introduce this way of thinking to its performance vehicles, and the latest Touareg R is the poster child. Revealed on Tuesday ahead of its debut at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show, the SUV includes not just the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, but a single electric motor. Together, there’s 455 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque on tap. VW said 134 hp comes from the e-motor alone.

Sending energy to the e-motor is a 14.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, but we don’t know how far it’ll take the Touareg R on electricity alone. VW’s saving the detail for the auto show debut, though it should be a reasonable amount. In the announcement, the German brand said the performance SUV should cover “most commuter distances” on pure electric power.

Putting a spotlight on zero emissions is the E-Mode, which is the default mode after firing the Touareg R up, as long as the battery has a sufficient charge, and without any help from the engine, drivers can reach speeds of 87 mph. With both the engine and e-motor working as a team, VW said the SUV will top out at 155 mph. Rounding out the powertrain specs are an eight-speed automatic transmission and VW’s all-wheel drive system.

If a hybrid drive style suits you best, all of the configurations are controllable via a hybrid menu. Of course, once the battery’s depleted, the Touareg R will work as a traditional hybrid by default. In other words, for those not familiar with plug-in hybrids, don’t expect any purely electric driving after the battery runs out of charge.

VW was light on other details, but the Touareg R shown here boasts a “Black Style” exterior package and rides on 20-inch wheels. Larger 21-inch wheels will be optional. As for the cabin, it looks like a mighty fine place to spend time in with the latest digital cockpit onboard.

We’ll have full details on the performance SUV when VW shows it to the world for the first time next week. And no, it’s not coming to the US.


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UK startups call for emergency government support

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A near-empty Piccadilly Circus is seen pictured at night on March 28, 2020 in London, England.

Ollie Millington | Getty Images

British tech start-ups are lobbying the government for an emergency support package to help them weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.K., which has been formally on lockdown since March 23, introduced a stimulus plan for businesses hit hard by the virus outbreak earlier this month.

Under recently-appointed Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, the government has launched a £330 billion ($409 billion) loan scheme and other relief measures to help firms avoid collapsing.

But many start-ups in the country say they cannot access such funding. That’s because they have to prove they would be “viable” businesses if not for the disruption caused by COVID-19, potentially blocking out ventures that focus more on growth than profits.

“The loan program is not relevant to a lot of start-ups in the ecosystem,” Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, an industry lobbying group, told CNBC last week. “Many if not all are loss-making, so they would not quality for that support.”

Meanwhile, some lenders have come under fire for requiring personal guarantees to issue the emergency loans. Agreeing such terms would mean banks could go after individual company directors’ assets if their business goes under.

Ry Morgan, co-founder and chief product officer of London-based start-up Unmind, said some of his fellow entrepreneurs have been faced with “bureaucratic red tape” when approaching the banks.

“They’re still in many instances asking for personal guarantees, which is not something I think the vast majority of folks can commit to,” he told CNBC last week.

For their part, Britain’s “Big Four” banks — Barclays, RBS, Lloyds and HSBC — have since said they won’t take personal guarantees as security for coronavirus-related loans of up to £250,000.

The U.K. government said it is in regular contact with the tech industry. “We’re committed to supporting our tech sector in these challenging times,” a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told CNBC by email.

The spokesperson added: “This includes a loan scheme supporting SMEs with no upfront costs and a job retention scheme to enable employers to continue paying part of their employees’ salary with HMRC reimbursement. In addition, millions of self-employed individuals will receive direct cash grants during this crisis.”

What could the UK do?

France recently introduced a 4 billion euro ($4.4 billion) liquidity package to support its start-ups’ cash flows. Some worry the U.K. could be at risk of falling behind.

Figures in London’s tech community are pushing for a new “runway fund” managed by U.K. state-owned lender, the British Business Bank, to give start-ups enough time to survive. The idea would be to issue convertible notes that convert into equity once a firm next raises capital.

The proposals come as venture capital, or VC, funds come under pressure to be more sparse with their investments, faced with the prospect of an impending economic downturn. Britain leads Europe when it comes to venture dealmaking, pulling in a record $13.2 billion last year.

Unmind’s Morgan said he was more fortunate than others to raise money ahead of the U.K. coronavirus lockdown. The London-based workplace mental health platform recently closed a $10 million funding round

“I think more could be done for businesses who are in that tech-centric venture space,” he said. “We are very fortunate with our own value proposition and the coincidental timing of our round. But in the future I’d like to see more being done.”

Others aren’t as lucky. Profusion, a data analytics and marketing firm, had been looking to raise funds to expand its business and create a diversity-focused data science academy. But it was forced to pause fundraising efforts due to the health crisis.

“VCs are definitely becoming cautious,” Natalie Cramp, CEO of Profusion, told CNBC. “You saw that back in 2008 and we’ll see it again now.”

“In some respects perhaps that’s good,” Cramp said, highlighting SoftBank’s bailout of office rental giant WeWork. “But it does make it difficult when there’s so much potential in the stuff that you do for the future and you need to accelerate it.”

“The messaging coming out from the community by and large is a lot of people are in survival mode at the moment,” Tech London Advocates’ Shaw said. “They don’t know how long this is going to last.”

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