Newsflash II

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+++ China’s ALIBABA Group Holding said its voice-controlled assistant will feature in local vehicles from Audi, Renault and Honda, as the tech giant expands in artificial intelligence. The Tmall Genie Auto smart speaker will allow drivers to use voice commands to, for instance, place orders on Alibaba’s online retail platform and buy movie tickets, Alibaba said at the CES Asia 2019 technology trade show in Shanghai. In the near future, the speaker will also allow drivers to monitor and control smart devices at houses equipped with a Tmall Genie compatible device, Alibaba said in a joint statement with the three automakers, without specifying vehicle models. “We are thrilled to partner with global, distinguished auto brands such as Audi, Renault and Honda”, said Miffy Chen, general manager at Alibaba AI Labs. “Together, we can greatly enhance our in-car services and make driving experiences more intelligent and interconnected”. The Tmall Genie is akin to Amazon.com’s Echo. Alibaba launched the device in 2017 and released an auto version in April last year. Other automakers that have said they will install the device in their vehicles include BMW and Volvo. Amazon also has a vehicle version of its Echo, dubbed the Echo Auto, which it announced in September. +++ 

+++ In order to avoid EU fines, BMW is relying on its growing lineup of plug-in hybrid models to help cut its fleet CO2 emissions across the continent. Yet, PHEVs have faced criticism over the fact that even though they can be driven in purely electrical modes, most are not designed with that specific task in mind. The solution? BMW’s Electric City Drive plan. It encourages PHEVs drivers to switch off the combustion engine and use just battery power when in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Participants in this program earn points for each kilometer driven electrically and can even compete with each other for rewards. While incentives tested by BMW did include cash, the Bavarian automaker found that by simply creating competition, overall awareness received a boost. “We believe it should serve as a model, since it intelligently addresses the problems in the urban areas”, said BMW chief financial officer Nicolas Peter in an interview. “We want to present this interesting concept to mayors of other cities”. According to BMW’s studies, plug-in hybrids with a range of at least 60 km are driven just as far in electric mode as fully-electric vehicles, making them a great choice for commuters who fear that combustion engine cars could be banned in cities, yet can only afford to own one car. So what’s the problem? Well, many PHEVs were purchased as corporate cars aided by generous tax incentives. However, since those cars typically have their fuel costs covered within the fleet, drivers simply didn’t recharge them enough. It’s why the Dutch government lowered incentives for PHEVs, causing sales to fall from an EU-best 40.000 units in 2015 to just 1.150 cars in 2017. “The image of plug-in hybrids hasn’t been that great in the past”, stated a BMW insider. “It benefits us if we can find out how to change that, how to prove they can be used the right way”. Cars participating in the Rotterdam project feature a GPS-linked powertrain. As soon as the system recognizes that the vehicle has entered a predefined area like the city center, it prompts the driver to switch to EV-mode. “Today it’s manual because there is no law in place”, added Peter. “But in the future it could be done automatically via software. That means as soon as you drive into the city, it switches over to electric and it cannot be switched back as long as you are downtown”. +++ 

+++ Estonia’s BOLT , which until early 2019 was called Taxify, will re-enter the competitive London taxi market, promising cheaper rides to passengers and a better cut to drivers than its bigger global rival Uber Technologies. The move comes a month after Uber drivers in London joined a series of strikes to protest the disparity between gig-economy conditions and the massive $82 billion valuation at Uber’s stock market debut. “Uber is basically a monopoly. At the same time, an average Uber driver makes less than minimum wage”, Bolt founder Markus Villig told. Uber takes around 25 % cut from drivers using its app. Bolt promises to charge in London in first 2 months just 7.5 % and later 15 %, arguing happier drivers provide a better service. Bolt, which has grabbed business from Uber in Central and Eastern Europe and major African cities, counts more than 25 million clients in 30 countries where it operates. Bolt’s first attempt to enter the London market was stopped by transport regulators who denied it a license in 2017. Bolt rebranded earlier in 2019 to ensure the ride-hailing service is not confused for taxis and to represent its widening offering (it has launched motorcycle services in Africa and scooter rentals in selected cities) but these are still small. “The numbers, when compared to cars, are still negligible”, Villig said. Bolt last year raised $175 million in funding from a group led by Daimler to help its battle against Uber. +++ 

+++ Luxury cars are loaded with comfort and convenience features, but that makes them pretty expensive. However, this doesn’t mean customers can’t score a good deal on a slightly used model. As part of a study, American iSeeCars analyzed more than 4.8 million vehicle sales to determine how much value they lose after 3 years. According to their findings, the average model has a DEPRECIATION rate of 38.2 % in the United States, but certain vehicles fare significantly worse. The car with the worst depreciation was the Acura RLX (Honda Legend) which loses 55.8 % of its value after 3 years. This means buyers can pick up the lightly used luxury sedan for just $28,259. If that’s too pricey, perhaps the Lincoln MKZ (a plush Ford Mondeo) is more to your liking. It loses 55.6 % of its value after 3 years and this means buyers can get their hands on one for around $19,855. If you’re starting to notice a trend, you should. The entire top 10 list of vehicles with the worst depreciation was full of luxury sedans. The Mercedes E-Class came with third with a depreciation rate of 55.4 %. This means it fared slightly worse than the Jaguar XF (54.8 %) and Cadillac XTS (54.5 %). Rounding out the top 10 are the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, Kia K900, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS and Audi A6. Those depreciation rates are significantly worse than average and iSeeCars noted drivers could save an average of $32,375 by opting for a 3-year old model instead of their new counterpart. Customers looking to spend less than $20,000 have plenty of options besides the aforementioned Lincoln MKZ. Thanks to a high depreciation rate of 50.2 %, a 3 year old Kia Cadenza can be bought for around $19,508. Other mainstream models with high depreciation include the Ford Fusion (Mondeo) Hybrid (49.7 %), Chevrolet Impala (49.4 %) and Kia Optima Hybrid (49.2 %). Electric vehicles were given its own special category. Values plummet an average of 56.6 % after 3 years. The Fiat 500e has a depreciation rate of 69.7 %, while the BMW i3 isn’t far behind at 63.3 %. The popular Nissan Leaf also loses 59.6 % of its value after three years. On the high-end luxury side, the BMW 6-Series had a depreciation rate of 56.1 %. It was followed by the Maserati Ghibli (55.8 %) and Quattroporte (55.5 %) as well as the Jaguar XJ (54.4 %). +++ 

+++ FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) withdrew a proposal to merge with rival Renault after it became clear discussions could go no further, but it remains “open to opportunities of all kinds”, its chairman wrote in a letter to staff. “The decision to engage in these discussions with Renault‎ was the right one and one we took after much preparation on many fronts”, John Elkann wrote in the letter. Elkann said the decision to end the talks aimed to protect the interests of the company, its employees and stakeholders once it had become clear that the discussions had been taken “as far as they can reasonably go”. “FCA, under Mike Manley’s leadership, is an outstanding business with a clear strategy for a strong, independent future. We will continue to be open to opportunities of all kinds that offer the possibility to enhance and accelerate the delivery of that strategy and the creation of value”, he wrote. +++ 

+++ FORD may be taking a cautious approach to its autonomous driving program, but its chairman rejected claims that the U.S. automaker was falling behind its peers. “I don’t agree”, Bill Ford said at an auto tech conference in Tel Aviv when asked about losing market share. “Our self-driving system, Argo, is incredibly competitive. On the technology side, we are right up there with the very best in terms of time of development but we want to take great care before we let people in these vehicles”. In Israel for the first time to launch an innovation center, Ford said the timing for marketing self-driving cars was unclear given that safety issues need to be resolved. “We are dealing with people’s lives. We have to be absolutely sure these are ready for prime time in all conditions”, he told the EcoMotion conference. The carmaker is working with several Israeli self-driving technology firms like Intel unit Mobileye. Ford told that ultimately, self-driving cars will come down to trust by customers. “It’s unknown when the perception gets good enough that it is going to be ready for mass consumer adoption and that’s the part I want to make sure we are incredibly comfortable with before we launch it”, Ford said. After Ford bought Argo, a Pittsburgh-based self-driving startup in 2017, the company has taken aim at providing autonomous vehicle services to multiple partners, who in turn would offer them to their customers under their own brand names. But with spiraling development costs for autonomous cars in recent years, the company and other carmakers have sought alliances and outside investors. +++ 

+++ FRANCE confirmed that it’s moving forward with a plan to ban the sale of all gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by the year 2040. The fossil fuel ban was originally proposed in July 2017 by then environmental minister Nicolas Hulot. However, Hulot had a falling out with French president Emmanuel Macron over a lack of commitment to environmental issues and resigned in September 2018, leaving the future of the proposal up in the air. But even without Hulot at the helm, it looks as though France will move forward with the fossil fuel ban. “Since the start of Emmanuel Macron’s term, our target is the climate plan that Nicolas Hulot announced in the summer of 2017. We will now inscribe this target into law”, Transport minister Elizabeth Borne said. The proposed law is currently being debated in parliament and is expected to be passed by the end of the summer. France has committed to helping its auto industry (which includes PSA and Renault) to transition from gas and diesel powered vehicles to alternative energy sources like electric and hydrogen. +++

+++ A HYDROGEN refueling station in Norway has reportedly experienced an explosion, disrupting fuel supplies across the region. Norwegian media detail a “huge explosion” at a station in the city of Sandvika near Oslo, injuring 2 occupants of a nearby non-FCV vehicle that was rocked hard enough to deploy the airbags. Nel, an Oslo-based company that supplied the hydrogen and refueling infrastructure to the station, has dispatched a team of technical experts to work with authorities as they investigate the cause of the explosion. In the meantime, Nel has temporarily halted its hydrogen refueling operations in Norway, Denmark and other countries. Toyota and Hyundai have both reportedly halted sales of hydrogen-powered vehicles until the cause of the incident is determined and the stations are back online. Notably, the incident follows less than 2 weeks after a hydrogen explosion occurred at a chemical plant in California. In both cases, the explosions appear to have caused problems for FCV owners who need to refuel. The California Fuel Cell Partnership’s station map currently shows 9 of 11 refueling sites offline in the San Francisco Bay Area, forcing some FCV owners to make a far drive just to fill their tank. “We do anticipate some hiccups and some teething pains during these early years, but of course when you have every station in the Bay Area down that’s a pretty major hiccup”, Shane Stevens, founding partner of Bay Area hydrogen station owner True Zero, told. The explosions are subsequent hydrogen supply interruptions highlight the ongoing challenge for fuel-cell vehicles as infrastructure expands at a crawling pace and sales of FCVs remain low. A few major automakers such as Toyota remain committed to the technology, however, and have voiced optimism that hydrogen will still carve out a niche in the automotive industry despite the stellar rise in EV sales. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ is pitching the GLB, its first compact crossover with 7 seats, at families who are looking for a high-riding alternative to station wagons. The GLB will arrive arrive in dealerships at the end of the year, Mercedes said in a statement. The GLB is the combination of “our SUV genes with the clear lines of our compact vehicles”, said Mathias Geisen, a product manager for Mercedes. That will make the GLB especially attractive to U.S. buyers, Geisen predicted. “The capability of handling 7 people in a compact footprint in larger cities will be highly appreciated”, he said. The GLB will slot between the GLA and the GLC in the Mercedes crossover / SUV lineup. The GLB underscores the fragmentation of the premium crossover market, as luxury brands pursue new entries on the affordability scale. “As SUVs now outsell passenger cars in the U.S., there is opportunity for more variety and incremental models that address specific target buyers”, said Ed Kim, an analyst with AutoPacific. Mercedes “will have to carefully position the GLB class to minimize negative impact on GLC-class sales”, he said. “The GLB demonstrates that there is now more than one type of entry luxury SUV customer, and Mercedes-Benz now has 2 different models that can cast a much wider net”, Kim said. But with its optional 3-row seating, the GLB risks cannibalizing demand for the slightly larger GLC. Mercedes “will have to carefully position the GLB class to minimize negative impact on GLC-class sales”, Kim said. The GLB is being built in Mexico and China. In Europe the GLB will be offered with 1.3-liter and 2.0-liter gasoline engines and a 2.0-liter diesel that already meets the EU’s 2020 RDE (Real Driving Emissions) level 2 regulation. The GLB will be offered in an all-wheel-drive variant that will include an off-road package. The GLB’s load compartment capacity for the 5-seat versions is 560 liters to 1.755 liters on a par with a wagon, Mercedes says. Its optional third-row seats fit 2 medium-sized occupants, Mercedes said. The seats that can be folded for extra cargo capacity. The instrument panel in the GLB consists of a single piece, which has optical cutouts in the driver and front passenger area. A widescreen cockpit faces the driver, while the functions and displays are controlled via Mercedes’ AI-powered multimedia system, MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience. +++ 

+++ U.S. automakers importing cars from MEXICO have received a reprieve on tariffs after president Donald Trump secured an agreement on migration with the neighboring country. The president had been threatening to impose tariffs on Mexican goods imported into the U.S. for months in a bid to encourage the country’s government to step up enforcement on illegal immigration. Trump announced on May 30 that a 5 % tariff on all Mexican imports to the U.S. would go into effect on June 10 and eventually increase to as much as 25 % by October. Following the deal, these tariffs have now been suspended. “I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico”, Trump said in a tweet. “The Tariffs are hereby indefinitely suspended”. In total, there are 39 new cars and trucks built by U.S. companies in Mexico and imported to the States. General Motors would have taken a $6.3 billion hit before interest and taxes if the full 25 % was enforced. FCA would have been lost $4.8 billion and Ford up to $3.3 billion. Car manufacturers were left scrambling last week when President Trump announced the proposed tariffs as, according to LMC Automotive, prices of Mexico-imported vehicles could have risen by an average of $8,500. Analysts also suggested that, if implemented, the 25 % tariff would have cut new car sales in the United States by up to 1.5 million units annually. +++ 

+++ Those in the market for a subcompact hot hatch have to settle for around 200 horsepower, as that’s how much the usual offering from Renault, Ford or Volkswagen, like the Clio RS, Fiesta ST and Polo GTI, respectively, puts out. In only a few months, though, the bar will be set higher by the MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) GP. The impressive model will be the brand’s wildest street-legal car ever, and it’s expected with a 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, developing 306 hp. Set to serve as the swansong of the current generation, it was already previewed by the JCW GP Concept a couple of years ago. In terms of visual updates over the regular Hatch/Hardtop, expect some aerodynamic enhancements like the extended fender flares, different grille, aggressive diffuser with incorporated central dual exhaust tips and massive roof-mounted wing. The interior will get a couple of sports seats at the front as well as a digital screen instead of the rev counter. Elsewhere, it will get the usual trim updates and perhaps the option to remove the rear seat completely. Production of the JCW GP will be limited to 3,000 units, so if the vehicle is on your radar, then you better hurry up and place a deposit as soon as Mini unveils it. Speaking of which, the big date is expected to have been set for this fall, probably at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, in September. +++ 

+++ Despite proposed governance changes and growing tensions, NISSAN boss Hiroto Saikawa is willing to extend Renault an olive branch in order to fix their relationship. During an interview, Saikawa said that Nissan must  “make our peace” with Renault and that the 2 automotive giants need to “stabilize and reinforce” their partnership. “This is the most important thing”, he added. Insiders have already noted a “marked deterioration” in the day-to-day functioning and co-operation of the alliance, citing sources from both automakers. Meanwhile, Saikawa stated that the recent trouble had also affected staff across the group. Whether this recent truce will hold remains to be seen, considering that it was Saikawa himself who criticized Renault’s plan to block Nissan’s board reforms. Yet, during the previously-mentioned interview, the Nissan CEO described the alliance between his company and Renault as a “cradle” for co-operation and value creation. “I am quite convinced we need to work it out, and we will”, he added. It’s been reported that Nissan’s reluctance to endorse the Renault-FCA alliance was partially to blame for its failure, which is why Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard may have sent a letter threatening to block Nissan’s plans to overhaul its governance structure. “Overall it is a mess, and just makes a tricky situation worse”, said Janet Lewis, an analyst with Macquarie Capital in Tokyo. “Senard’s threat to abstain on the corporate governance reform is very negative for the alliance”. According to a person familiar with the matter, Senard’s letter to Nissan stated that Renault wants better representation within the former’s plan to set up three committees on nominations, remuneration and auditing. However, this so-called three board level system “should not serve as a tool directed or used against Nissan’s largest shareholder”, said the letter. Nissan shareholders are to meet on June 25 to vote on the structure. +++

+++ Shortly after 9 p.m., as the sun began to set on the rotund glass facade housing Renault’s headquarters on the outskirts of PARIS , the board called a break. The group had gathered for the second time in as many days to sign off on a proposed merger with FCA. As the talks dragged on, a delegate for the state asked to liaise with Finance minister Bruno Le Maire, who was having dinner back in town at his hulking ministry protruding into the River Seine. Le Maire laid down a red line for Martin Vial, his representative at the table and the voice of Renault’s biggest and most powerful shareholder. France wanted a commitment from Renault partner Nissan to back the combination. Abstention (as signaled earlier by the Japanese side) wasn’t good enough, Le Maire said, fearing that Nissan might begin undermining the alliance if it couldn’t be held accountable with a firm vote. Back in the conference room, the servings of sushi and pizza sourced by security guards had lost their appeal by the time the group reconvened around 11 p.m. The mood, too, was drab. It quickly became clear that Nissan would, in fact, abstain in a vote. When the turn came to Vial to speak, he presented the panel with the government’s game plan. The minister saw an opening to get Nissan on board: over the weekend, G-20 finance ministers are gathering in Fukuoka, Japan, and Le Maire wanted to use his persuasive powers to win over the Japanese partner. Then, to everyone’s surprise and some annoyance, Vial suggested they postpone the vote and reconvene the following week after Le Maire had returned. Over in Italy, meanwhile, FCA Chairman John Elkann’s patience was wearing thin. The scion of the Agnelli family and disciple of the late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was also getting updates on the meeting back in Paris, and to him, this latest government curve ball was one too many. Elkann had spent weeks stitching together the deal with Renault CEO Jean-Dominique Senard, keeping the French government closely informed, and felt that he had met their demands at every turn. An hours-long board meeting had ended without a vote because representatives wanted more time, and now Elkann’s appetite for further delays was exhausted. After a brief phone conversation with Senard back in Paris, the 43-year-old orchestrated a stunning maneuver. He gathered the Fiat Chrysler board members for a quick meeting, where the group decided to withdraw its proposal to merge. Shortly after 1 a.m., the company sent a terse release, all but blaming the French government for the decision by saying the country lacked the “political conditions” to support the accord. And so imploded one of the most ambitious global mergers in recent years, less than 2 weeks after it was first disclosed, an audacious plan to emulsify diverse car brands from France, the U.S., and Italy into the world’s No. 3; with the promise of reaching the pinnacle if Japan could later be brought into the fold. This account of the final days of the negotiations leading up to the midnight breakdown is based on accounts from people close to the situation, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. The carmakers and the government declined to comment on the meetings. In the run-up to the shocking collapse, all sides had appeared on a path to get the deal through. Elkann and Senard had built a close rapport in recent weeks, frequently meeting in Paris or Turin for informal gatherings to hammer out the finer points. The 2 European companies also made sure to keep the door open for Nissan should the Japanese partner want to join the group at a later stage. The French government, with its 15 % stake in Renault that comes with powerful double voting rights, also showed support, albeit with some strings attached: the merger should function within the Renault-Nissan framework and not jeopardize the successful partnership; jobs and production sites in France needed to be protected; governance should be maintained; and the group should participate in a project to create a European battery champion. Nissan’s role in particular was an important sticking point for the government. Senard traveled to Japan in the week after the deal was disclosed for an alliance board meeting, where he took the opportunity to lay out the virtues of the combination with Fiat. France wanted Nissan firmly behind the deal, fearing that any opposition (or even just lukewarm support) would risk alienating a cherished industrial partner over time. But as the Renault board prepared to meet on June 4 at the headquarters, Nissan’s position became increasingly precarious. CEO Hiroto Saikawa said the Japanese company needed to review the future of the alliance, including contractual relationships, culminating in Nissan’s decision to abstain from a vote. In the end, the first gathering wrapped up without any firm outcome, the group having spent an hour instead poring over the latest findings linked to disgraced former CEO Carlos Ghosn. They agreed to reconvene the next day. By the time the panel regrouped, the weariness of the inconclusive meeting had blown over, and optimism set in that the second attempt would push things along. A press conference had been tentatively arranged in Paris for the following day, the release all but prepared and Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley flying in from the U.S. for the occasion. The French CGT labor union was the only negative voice at the table, but one that could be easily drowned out from the overwhelming chorus of support. Then the great plan came crashing down, with Fiat withdrawning its offer. The French government, for its part, was stunned by Elkann’s move, and needed a few hours to regain its footing. When it did, the blame game didn’t take long to erupt. Unwilling to be seen as the disrupting factor, the government said it hadn’t closed any doors, and that all it had asked for was another five days to win over Nissan. Topics like valuation, governance and jobs had been agreed upon, a French official told reporters during a briefing. Renault, too, lamented the breakdown of the negotiations, thanking Nissan for its “constructive approach” to the deliberations and Fiat for its efforts. Fiat, on the other hand, saw the French state as the culprit, saying the government repeatedly attempted to change conditions for its support and leaving Elkann with the impression that the state was clamoring for full control of the combined entity; a demand that was unacceptable to Fiat. “When it becomes clear that the discussions have been taken as far as they can reasonably go, it is necessary to be equally decisive in drawing matters to a close”, Elkann said in a letter to employees. In doing so, Elkann took a page from the deal book of his mentor Marchionne, who died last year following an illness and who had been a tireless champion of consolidation in the automotive industry. As Marchionne once said in 2014: “It’s as important to walk away from the table as it is to sit down”. +++ 

+++ Plans to merge carmakers RENAULT and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) could re-emerge despite the breakdown of negotiations last week, France’s transport minister said, joining a chorus of French officials hoping the deal could be revived. Asked if talks between the 2 companies were over, Elisabeth Borne told: “I think it is not closed”. Borne’s comments follow similar remarks by French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, who also said he felt a merger between Renault and FCA remained a “good opportunity”. French budget minister Gerald Darmanin said last week as well that he hoped the door had not closed on a deal. FCA and Renault are still looking for ways to resuscitate their merger plan and win the approval of Renault’s alliance partner Nissan, sources close to the companies have told. +++ 

+++ The self-driving car joint venture of SoftBank and TOYOTA plans to begin operating in Southeast Asia next year, in its first overseas foray, its chief executive said. The move would mark a shift for Japan’s third biggest telco as it looks abroad for growth and potentially bring it into competition with portfolio companies of parent SoftBank Group and its $100 billion Vision Fund, which has invested in major ride-hailing firms around the world. Monet, which is developing an on-demand self-driving service platform, is planning to export a basic version of the system, chief executive Junichi Miyakawa told. “Our first step will likely be to Southeast Asia, as applications like transportation services in smart cities, or airport shuttle systems”, Miyakawa said, adding that Monet could begin introducing such services in 2020. Monet is the first-ever alliance between Japan’s No. 3 telco and its largest automaker. SoftBank is the largest shareholder in the venture, which was announced last October, with a 40.2 % share, while Toyota owns 39.8 %. It plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year, and a services platform for electric vehicles as early as 2023 based on Toyota’s boxy “e-palette” multi-purpose vehicle. Honda and Toyota’s truck making subsidiary Hino took a roughly 10 % stake each in the venture in March, and Miyakawa said that it would soon take more investment from the domestic auto industry. “We’re planning to announce an expansion in our stakeholders sometime this month”, he said. Currently chief technology officer of SoftBank, Miyakawa began looking for projects outside of its core telco business, which faces a mature market and shrinking population, on his return from a stint at SoftBank’s struggling U.S. wireless unit Sprint. The son of a Buddhist priest who is known for his frank style and big ideas like flying cellphone antenna company HAPSMobile, Miyakawa settled on the idea of developing a platform for autonomous cars after flirting with the idea of making cars. While Monet’s global ambitions will initially be limited to basic transport services, any expansion could eventually put it in competition with SoftBank portfolio companies, which include Uber Technologies, Didi Chuxing, Grab and Ola and the self-driving units of Uber and General Motors. Miyakawa, a key lieutenant of SoftBank Group founder and CEO Masayoshi Son, said he has no qualms about competing with those companies, adding that the knowledge of ride-hailing firms gained by SoftBank’s investing helps Monet develop its own services. “Monet is part of the SoftBank Corp camp (and not the Vision Fund)”, Miyakawa said. “As a company, we will go up against rivals which the Vision Fund invests in if it means we can provide the best services we can”. SoftBank and Toyota’s investments into those ride-hailing services could benefit Monet’s overseas expansion, one analyst said, as the companies could tap them for partnerships to help their entry into new markets. “If Monet were to enter the Chinese market, it could approach Didi; for the U.S. market it could partner with Uber, and collaborate with Grab in Southeast Asia”, said Takeshi Miyao, managing director of consultancy Carnorama. +++ 

+++ The reborn TVR project is hoping that refurbishment work will soon start on its new factory, after the Welsh Government selected a contractor to take on the project. The firm revealed the all-new Griffith at Goodwood last September, which it intends to build in a new factory on the Rassau Industrial Estate in Ebbw Vale, Wales. But progress on refurbishing the factory stalled because the Welsh government purchased a 3 % stake in the company in 2018 alongside a £2 million loan. That meant the project became subject to European Union rules around state funding, so the tender for construction work on the dilapidated factory had to go out across the entire EU. Ken Skates AM, the Welsh Minister for Economy and Transport, has now selected a preferred building contractor for the project, which TVR hopes will allow work to start soon. In a statement on social media the firm said: “There are a few bits and pieces that need to be tied up before we can announce further details, but it’s fantastic news for all concerned as we can state publicly that the sound of squealing tyres and roaring engines will be coming to the Valleys very soon”. TVR added that the delay in the announcement was due to “the need to clarify a number of unknowns within the building such as the discovery of some harmful and unusual substances, and the condition of the main roof and the fire system’s water storage tanks”. TVR has originally hoped to make first deliveries of the 500 hp Griffith in early 2019, and has yet to give a revised date for when production will start. TVR’s chosen site is a 200,000 square foot facility in the Ebbw Valley, South Wales. When complete the factory will be used to build the British brand’s Aston Martin Vantage-rivalling Griffith sports car, creating around 150 new jobs. Aston Martin also uses South Wales as a production facility, using the nearby town of St. Athan for production of its new DBX crossover. Production of the new Griffith at the new Ebbw Vale factory is slated to begin later this year. It will be made using the iStream production process conceived by ex-F1 designer Gordon Murray. +++ 

+++ Toyota kept its title as the world’s most valuable car brand in a year in which only 3 automakers finished in the top 100 global brand list, down from 5 in 2018 and 6 in 2017. After Toyota, only Mercedes-Benz and BMW were ranked in the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2019 study by market researcher Kantar Millward Brown. Ford and Honda dropped out after making the top 100 in 2018. Toyota has been No. 1 in 12 of the 14 years the study has been carried out. In the years it wasn’t No. 1, 2010 and 2012, it finished in second place. “Global reach is such a big part of Toyota’s position. In each area it’s got a good representative model mix”, Graham Staplehurst, Global BrandZ Strategy Director, told. “Toyota is also seen as pioneer for alternative energy. People are aware of the Prius. We have done a couple of surveys on electric cars, and although Tesla came out on top, Toyota came in second and then VOLKSWAGEN . Volkswagen was the only brand in the automotive top 10 list to improve its valuation compared with last year, rising 12 % on the year before. It is benefiting from a bounce-back after its diesel scandal and is “better poised to take advantage of the move to alternative energy”, Staplehurst said. Porsche was the only new entrant to the top 10 after ousting India’s Maruti-Suzuki to take the 10th spot. Staplehurst praised Porsche’s strategy, particularly around electrification. “It’s a really exciting new entry. The Porsche brand has been doing a lot of things right”, he said. Porsche is about to launch its first full-electric car, the Taycan. Car companies overall lost brand value over the past year because their business model resonates less with consumers compared with digital companies such as Amazon (No. 1 in this year’s top 100 list), Apple and Google. “Consumers are more interested in brands that give them experiences rather than brands that make things. Ecosystem brands are tending to win”, Staplehurst said. Offering mobility servicing or partnering with technology companies could offer brands a way to establish an ecosystem model and improve their brand equity standing, he said. Brandz calculates brand value starting with the brand’s market capitalization and arriving at a figure using elements such as profitability and shareholder enthusiasm, as well as the results of a global public survey into consumer attitudes toward businesses. One aspect of the survey is how much consumers “love” the brand, an area in which car firms do particularly badly. “I think there’s an element of people not really loving cars anymore”, Staplehurst said. The degree of love for car brands differs from region to region. “South Americans seem to love their car brands most, especially Toyota and Chevrolet”, Staplehurst said. The most loved car brand is Maruti-Suzuki in India, with an index of 124 (where 100 is the average of all brands measured in India). Toyota gets the most top scores on the “love” index (in 7 countries, including the U.S.) followed by Audi (6 countries, all in Europe). +++

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