Newsflash: McLaren werkt aan hybride sportwagen

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+++ In a career spanning more than 3 decades, Canadian fashion mogul Lawrence Stroll has relied on a simple formula: take over a brand that’s either niche, or in trouble, or both, and beef it up for 6 years. Then exit with a tidy profit. It’s a skill he honed in the 1980s bringing Ralph Lauren’s preppy New England look to Europe, before buying Tommy Hilfiger in 1989 with long-term business partner Silas Chou; another clothing brand that celebrated Americana with its blue-red-white emblem and country-club attire. Add to that list Michael Kors, teetering on the brink of collapse when the duo picked it up in 2003. By the time Stroll and Chou sold out in 2011, Kors was the king of affordable luxury with a sky-high valuation. Now Stroll wants to prove he can replicate that approach in a very different field, one where investments are higher, regulation is fiercer and competition is more unforgiving. Last week, ASTON MARTIN secured a $656 million lifeline from a group that included Stroll, who is set to become executive chairman of the brand best known as the vehicle of choice for James Bond. Aston Martin badly needs a savior. At the time of its initial public offering late in 2018, the business was pitched as a peer to Ferrari, which had pulled off a highly successful listing three years earlier. But the comparison quickly evaporated, with a string of profit warnings, lackluster sales and dwindling financial reserves weighing on Aston Martin’s stock, which has lost 75 % of its value. “Perhaps a touch of irrational mad passion with a large wallet isn’t as crazy as it sounds”, said Matthias Schmidt, an independent automotive analyst in Berlin. While Stroll hasn’t laid out his plan for Aston Martin in public, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The company has huge financial outlays, having pinned its turnaround on the success of its first SUV, the DBX. It is Aston Martin’s bet that it can broaden its clientele from buyers of sleek sports cars like the entry-level Vantage, which has turned out to be a tough sell. Aston Martin is also different from Stroll’s previous investments because the company is listed, meaning any turnaround happens under the glare of public ownership and the reporting requirements this brings. “Stroll brings a number of important benefits, namely he has removed the urgent cash need of the business, allowing it to focus on building its brand rather than selling units to fund working capital”, said Angus Tweedie, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets in London. Stroll, who declined to be interviewed for this story, wasted little time resetting Aston Martin’s priorities. The carmaker said it’s paring back big-ticket investments in new models to focus instead on easier-to-achieve projects such as the DBX and special editions that tend to cost millions. Aston Martin also put on hold its plans for an electric Lagonda model; a counter-intuitive move in an environment where most other automakers are going all-in with battery-powered vehicles. Unlike the world of fashion, the car industry has years-long research and development cycles that require extensive investments, and Aston Martin’s decision to jettison its electric ambitions may put it at a technological disadvantage. For Stroll, the Aston Martin rescue package gives his team as much as 20 % of the company. It also combines 2 of his big passions: corporate turnarounds and high-powered automobiles. Stroll’s successes in the fashion industry made him a billionaire, worth about $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He owns an extensive car collection that includes rare Ferraris, as well as his own Formula 1 race-car team (Chou, who is part of the Aston Martin consortium, is worth at least $2.8 billion). Born Lawrence Sheldon Strulovitch in Montreal in 1959, Stroll today enjoys the good life. Last year, the tabloid press was full of pictures from his Great-Gatsby themed birthday bash on the Italian island of Capri. Guests included Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Stroll has homes dotted around the globe, from Switzerland to the island of Mustique. Stroll’s past successes in fashion relied in no small part on dramatically extending the product portfolio to make the brands more widely accessible. In the case of Michael Kors, that meant adding popular accessories like sunglasses or handbags to the core range of clothing. Investors have speculated that Stroll may also take Aston Martin from being an automobile company to a luxury consumer brand, an extension whose profit contribution remains untested beyond small items like key rings or T-shirts. Even before Stroll showed up, Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer sought to create a lifestyle offering that includes cashmere scarves and leather bags, as well as partnerships ranging from the luxurious (a real-estate development in Miami) to the ludicrous (a mini submarine called Project Neptune). The positive impact on the bottom line is questionable, at best: today, Aston Martin sunglasses and T-shirts can be had for 75 % off their sticker price at discount chains. Stroll’s arrival will reinforce Aston’s luxury pedigree, Palmer said in an interview last week. “I think the dialogue will change from automotive to luxury. The investment by Stroll reinforces our luxury pedigree and also underlines the confidence the consortium has in the brand”. Whether Stroll will show longer investment stamina in cars than in fashion remains to be seen. In 2018, he led a group of investors to lift the Force India Formula 1 team out of administration. Renamed Racing Point, the U.K.-based team now counts among its drivers Stroll’s 21-year-old son, Lance, who finished 15th in the 2019 drivers’ championship. Despite pumping about $118 million into the team, it ended up in 7th place in the championship. Still, since F1 cars are designed the year prior, 2020 will be the true test of Stroll’s foray, according to Formula Money, which tracks the business of F1. “Most F1 owners don’t invest in F1 to make money”, said Caroline Reid, the publisher Formula Money. “For most team owners, F1 is a marketing exercise. Most usually, it’s a good way to promote road cars”. That could be an important extension for Aston Martin. As part of the deal, Stroll’s F1 team will become the Aston Martin Team in 2021, for a 10-year term. For the carmaker, which has gone bust 7 times over the decades, it is another attempt at a turnaround in rapid succession. Fans of the brand now can look forward to not just the latest Bond movie this year, but can hope for a new investor who will display a more lasting commitment than the live-and-let-die approach of Stroll’s predecessors. +++ 

+++ AUDI is recalling nearly 107.000 older vehicles because Takata driver’s airbag inflators may not function properly or they could hurl shrapnel in a crash. The vehicles may have one of the 1.4 million airbag inflators that Takata recalled in December. They have a new and distinct problem from previous Takata recalls, but still can explode with too much force and blow apart a metal canister. The new problem has led to at least 1 death. Many of the cars in the Audi recall are more than 2 decades old. They include certain 2000 and 2001 TT Roadsters, the 2000 TT Coupe, the 1999 A8, and the 1998 through 2000 A6 plus A4. Unlike previous Takata recalls, this batch of inflators does not contain volatile ammonium nitrate. But they can still malfunction due to a manufacturing error, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. Audi will notify owners in March, but there are no replacement parts available at present. Owners will get a second letter when the parts are manufactured. “We are working intensively on a remedy with the supplier but currently it is unclear when the remedy will be available”, the automaker said. A driver in Australia was killed when one of these airbags malfunctioned, while another Australian and a driver in Cyprus were injured. In addition to Audi, vehicles made by BMW, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi also are being recalled. Audi said it is not aware of any inflator explosions or problems in the field worldwide with its vehicles that have inflators without ammonium nitrate. But testing shows that the airbags could underinflate or not deploy in a crash. Takata inflators are blamed for at least 25 deaths and 300 injuries worldwide. More than 50 million inflators have been recalled in the U.S. in the largest string of automotive recalls in the nation’s history. The problem forced Takata of Japan into bankruptcy. +++ 

+++ In CHINA , new energy vehicles account for 60 % of the total amount of the small passenger vehicle quota for Beijing in 2020. This year’s annual city quota for small passenger vehicles is 100.000 in total, with 40.000 for traditional energy models and 60.000 for new energy ones, the regulation and management office for the Beijing small passenger vehicle quota announced. About 54.200 new energy vehicles will be allocated to individuals; accounting for 90.3 % of the total annual quota for new energy small passenger vehicles. The number of traditional energy small passenger vehicles for individuals is 38.200; accounting for 95.5 %of the total amount. The quota allocated to operational small passenger vehicles for traditional and new energy models will be 200 and 2.800, respectively. Chinese and international carmakers delivered 1.206 million electric cars and plug-in hybrids in China in 2019, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. +++ 

+++ The next-generation DACIA Sandero has been spotted undergoing winter testing, revealing more details of the upcoming value supermini. The small hatchback has been on sale with relatively minor changes since 2012, yet it enjoyed its best year of sales across Europe in 2018. The Renault-owned brand has been in no hurry to renew it, but it’s expected that the new model will be unveiled late this year ahead of sales commencing in 2021. The latest spyshots reveal that while the new car doesn’t revolutionise the Sandero formula, its shape has progressed a bit, with a clamshell bonnet, a curvier front end, a wider stance and detail upgrades including pull-out door handles to replace the current top-hinged items. A pronounced rising beltline will also be part of the make-over. What will underpin the next Sandero has yet to be confirmed. The current model sits on an ageing Clio platform that has been around since 2002; as does the current Duster, which was launched in 2018. Renault plans to have 80 % of its Group models on its new modular ‘CMF-B’ platform (premiered by the new Clio) by 2022. Whether Dacia can adapt a cheaper-to-build version of this platform for the Sandero remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely that the old underpinnings can be extended once more. Either way, given the increasingly tight margins of cheap cars, it’s probable that the new Sandero won’t be as affordable as its predecessor. Expect it to retain a utilitarian approach, however, with entry-level variants featuring few creature comforts but higher-end models adopting some of the new tech seen on the Duster. The question mark over the platform makes any speculation on engines difficult. However, we could see Renault’s 75 hp naturally aspirated 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine at the lower end of the Sandero line-up, with a 130 hp 4-cylinder petrol sitting at the top. A new platform would also mean that the new Sandero would receive a decent technology boost, but the Clio’s infotainment system and digital instrument cluster wouldn’t make the leap, as both may be too expensive for the Sandero’s famously low price-point. +++ 

+++ Sales of ELECTRIC VEHICLES jumped significantly across the European Union in the final quarter of 2019, accounting for 4.4 % of total new car sales in the period. Data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) reveals that demand for ‘electrically-chargeable’ vehicles jumped 81.3 % in the 4th quarter of 2019 to 156.805 units in total. Demand for battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids increased by 77.9 % and 86.4 %, respectively. Hybrid vehicles still account for the majority of alternatively-powered vehicle sales in the EU, shifting 252.371 units in the 4th quarter; a 69.2 % increase over the same 3-month period in 2018. “Even before the EU CO2 standards for new cars kicked in January, the electric car sales in the last quarter of 2019 reached an all-time high. This shows that the demand is there and is growing, and the reason for low sales until now has been a poor supply of models by carmakers”, Transport & Environment clean vehicles and e-mobility director Julia Poliscanova said of the figures. “The CO2 standards will require the car industry to sell around a 5 % share of electric cars in 2020, which is within reach and will kick-start the pathway to zero emissions mobility required by the European Green Deal”, she added. With sales of alternatively-powered vehicles on the rise, the number of diesel cars sold in the EU fell by 3.7 % to 1 million units; accounting for 29.5 % of new-car registrations. Despite this, some markets did see an up-take in diesel vehicle purchases. Those included France (+7.3 %), Germany (+4.3 %), Romania (+31.1 %), Sweden (+30.5 %), Hungary (+18.4 %), Belgium (+17.7 %) and Slovenia (+18.2 %). Sales of petrol vehicles rose by 11.9 % and accounted for 57.3 % of the EU market. +++ 

+++ White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that a U.S. decision to impose ‘Section’ national security tariffs on cars and auto parts imported from the EUROPEAN UNION is on pause amid attempts to reach a U.S.-EU trade deal. “I think that whole discussion is on hold for the moment while we work through a good-faith effort with respect to the possibility of an EU trade deal”, Kudlow said in an interview. +++ 

+++ FERRARI has warned its South African customers of a scam doing the rounds across the country. According to Scuderia South Africa, a host of fraudsters are impersonating Ferrari dealers and calling Ferrari owners to inform them that their vehicles are part of a recall campaign. If the owner takes the bait, the fraudsters will send a flatbed truck to the owner’s home and collect the vehicle. The warning comes after an 812 Superfast was stolen using this method in Randburg near the bustling city of Johannesburg. The Italian supercar was crashed by the thieves at the Lebombo border with Mozambique. “Should there be a recall of Ferrari vehicles, or service campaigns of any kind, Ferrari headquarters will never call you directly requesting the collection of your car. If you get a call from someone you believe is falsely claiming to be a Ferrari employee, please contact the dealership in question directly to validate the information”, Scuderia South Africa said. Ferrari has 3 dealerships across South Africa, 1 located in Bryanston just outside Johannesburg, 1 in Cape Town and the other 1 in Durban. South Africa isn’t a particularly big market for the Italian car manufacturer; not that should surprise you. According to the latest sales information I could find, Scuderia South Africa sold 59 vehicles in the first 9 months of 2018 with the 488 Spider leading the charge ahead of the 812 Superfast. +++ 

+++ FORD named top executive Jim Farley its chief operating officer, positioning him as potential heir to chief executive Jim Hackett and shaking up its top management 3 days after a weak 2020 profit outlook. Farley, president of new businesses, technology and strategy, has been viewed as one of the potential successors to Hackett, who took over in May 2017. News of his promotion and another perceived rival’s retirement, effective on March 1, came in the same week as the No. 2 U.S. automaker saw its shares slide following the disappointing forecast. Ford is in the midst of a global restructuring as well as slumping demand in China, its second largest market and Hackett said repeatedly on a conference call that the Dearborn, Michigan-based company needs to move with greater speed. “It’s my judgment the time is to move with urgency now to fully integrate and accelerate Ford’s transformation”, he said. “We’re now in execution mode and what the company needs is to come together”, Hackett added, saying he had no plans to leave the company after almost 3 years on the job. By Ford’s own accounting, its restructuring is far from complete. It said it has booked $3.7 billion of the projected $11 billion in charges it previously said it would take and expects to book another $900 million to $1.4 billion this year. In China, Ford lost $771 million last year, about half the 2018 loss, and its market share there has shrunk to 2 % from 2.3 % the year before. Ford has been struggling to revive sales there since its business began slumping in late 2017, and now the world’s largest market has been hit by a fast-spreading coronavirus that has killed more than 630 people. “We have all the pieces in place now for China to be a profit improvement story”, Farley said. Another key element for 2020 is Ford’s planned introduction later this year of a fully redesigned F-150 full-sized pickup (its top profit generator) as well as the Mustang Mach-E and the Bronco SUV. Farley (57) joined Ford in 2007 as global head of marketing and sales and went on to lead Lincoln, South America, Ford of Europe and all of Ford’s global markets in successive roles. He previously worked at Toyota. “We have all the foundation elements of this transformation, so now it’s go time: execution”, he said. Farley is credited, along with Hackett, in forcing the redesign before its introduction of the Mustang Mach-E and the decision to make it a Mustang vehicle, leveraging that iconic brand. Farley has owned 7 of the cars starting with a 1965 model he restored when he was 14 years old. Hackett, 64, also said that Joe Hinrichs, president of automotive, will retire. Many employees and outside observers had seen him as a favorite to succeed Hackett, but the company had been criticized recently for a poor launch of its new Explorer and rising warranty costs. Hackett said Hinrichs’ retirement was not tied to any of those issues. Ford said in regulatory filings that in addition to his regular compensation, Hinrichs will receive payments equal to 2 years of his annual salary (paid in monthly installments) as well as an enhanced retirement package. Those monthly payments will cease if he is hired by another company. Another executive, Hau Thai-Tang, 53, received additional responsibilities. He will continue to lead product development and purchasing, while adding responsibilities for enterprise product line management and connectivity. Thai-Tang will report to Farley. +++ 

+++ HONDA raised its forecast for full-year operating profit by 6 % as a weaker yen increased the value of its overseas sales. Japan’s third-biggest automaker has been struggling to shore up its automobile operations, with profitability down more than half in the past 2 years due to a series of quality-related issues. And like other global automakers, Honda has been impacted by the corona virus outbreak on vehicle production in China. The automaker plans to restart its factories in Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, on February 14, executive vice president Seiji Kuraishi said at a briefing in Tokyo, after extending the Lunar New Year holiday in line with local government directives. There are no disruptions in China-made parts supplies that would prevent a restart of the 3 plants it operates in Wuhan with local joint venture partner Dongfeng Motor or production at other facilities globally, he said. Honda parts supplier F-Tech is temporarily moving production of brake pedals from Wuhan to the Philippines. Honda raised its operating income forecast to 730 billion yen ($6.6 billion) for the year to March 31 from a previous estimate of 690 billion yen. It adjusted its expectation for the yen to average 108 to the dollar for the 12-month period from a prior forecast of 107. A weaker currency buoys profit because exports become less expensive and the value of overseas earnings increases. A 730 billion yen operating profit would narrowly top the previous year’s result, whereas the prior forecast of 690 billion yen would have been a 4-year low. Honda raised its estimate slightly for global group auto sales in the current fiscal year by 5.000 units to 4.980.000 vehicles. The company posted operating income of 166.6 billion yen for the October-December period, compared with 170.1 billion yen a year ago and an average forecast of 149.5 billion yen from 9 analysts surveyed. +++ 

+++ The upcoming all-electric HUMMER pickup will be available with a host of drivetrain layouts, including a range-topping model with 3 electric motors. GM president Mark Reuss made the revelation during a General Motors presentation earlier this week to investors. “When we go to market, we’ll have 1-motor, 2-motor, 3-motor versions, offering different ranges, different performance at different price points to meet the customers’ needs whatever they may be”, Reuss said. It is understood that the 3-motor version will be the one offering up to 1.000 hp and 15.590 Nm, as promised in the recent Super Bowl commercial for the vehicle. What remains to be seen is how the 3 electric motors will be installed in the pickup. It’s reasonable to assume that the 1-motor variant will have an electric motor at the rear axle, the 2-motor version will have electric motors at both the rear and front axles, but the range-topper is a little harder to determine. One possibility would be an electric motor powering 1 axle and 2 other hub motors individually powering the remaining 2 wheels. I know that Tesla is also planning a 3-motor version of the Cybertruck. The layout for it also remains a mystery. Regardless of the layout, GM has said the Hummer EV will sprint to 96 km/h in just 3 seconds. The pickup will be unveiled in full on May 20 before going on sale in the fall of 2021. +++ 

+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER will both reduce as well as halt production on certain days at 2 of its UK factories over the next few weeks, as cost cutting measures become increasingly vital in the face of falling demand. The British brand registered a 2.3 % drop in sales in the final 3 months of last year, and is now looking to save billions of pounds in order to make up for the state of the Chinese market, but also less demand for diesels in Europe. The solution is to halt production on selected days over a 4-week period at its Castle Bromwich plant (starting in late February) and then stop production on some half or full days at the nearby Solihull facility (until the end of March). “The external environment remains challenging for our industry and the company is taking decisive actions to achieve the necessary operational efficiencies to safeguard long-term success”, said the automaker. “We have confirmed that Solihull and Castle Bromwich will make some minor changes to their production schedules to reflect fluctuating demand globally, whilst still meeting customer needs”. According to a company spokeswoman, this strategy has nothing to do with the Corona virus outbreak, which led to FCA saying that a European plant could be shut down within 2 to 4 weeks if Chinese suppliers can’t resume work. Models assembled at the Castle Bromwich factory include the Jaguar F-Type, XE, XF and XJ, while the Solihull plant builds Range Rover models and the Land Rover Discovery. +++

 

+++ A handful of details about the production-spec LUCID AIR have surfaced prior to the car’s premiere at April’s New York Auto Show, with the company also releasing a teaser of the car. In a, some of the production model’s details can be seen, while also learning that the launch model will be named ‘Dream Edition’. “You will see a hint of one of the special colors we have selected for the production Lucid Air’s debut, as well as glimpses of design elements like Lucid’s Intelligent Micro Array LED lighting technology, the expansive glass canopy roof, and the elegant script carefully chosen for the Air’s model logo”, the company said in a statement. Separately, Lucid chief executive and chief technology officer Peter Rawlinson (who was the chief engineer of the Tesla Model S program from 2009 to 2012) revealed that it will have an 900 volt system, far superior to the 400 volt system used by Tesla or even the 800 volt system of the Porsche Taycan. The executive added the Air will be capable of traveling in excess of 643 km on a single charge based on their EPA cycle estimation. “Tesla hasn’t cracked it. We can take it to a whole new level of range and efficiency”, Rawlinson said. When the Lucid Air was first unveiled in 2016, the company said the flagship 130 kWh version would be good for 640 kilometres of range. Rawlinson revealed that efficiency gains made in recent years mean Lucid can now achieve over 640 kilometres of range with a battery pack smaller than 130 kWh. Lucid had intended on selling the Air in a variety of guises that would allow it to directly rival the Tesla Model S with entry-level models priced from as little as $52,500 including applicable federal tax credits up to $7,500. However, Rawlinson said that the company has dropped lower-end versions of the electric sedan and will focus on plush, luxurious models priced at over $100,000 and aiming to rival vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Production of the Air will be handled by the marque’s factory in Casa Grande, Arizona. The first models should roll out of the factory in the final quarter of the year. +++ 

+++ MCLAREN is busy testing its replacement for the 570S. The British brand will overhaul its entry-level Sports Series range later this year, and the big news is that it’s going hybrid. It will sport an all-new exterior and interior design. Changes compared to the 570S include a pair of extended side skirts and a high-mount exhaust system. The replacement will be powered by an all-new hybrid powertrain. It’s expected that it will comprise a smaller-capacity twin-turbocharged V6 and an electric motor. Like the old V8 engine, it’ll be developed by McLaren’s time-honoured engine partner, Ricardo. The push towards hybrid drive forms part of McLaren’s £1.2 billion Track 25 business plan, which will see 18 new petrol-hybrid powered McLarens launched by 2025. The company says it is currently evaluating a new high-power battery pack for a full EV setup that will offer a claimed 30 minutes of electric range around a race track. +++ 

+++ NISSAN said its sales in China, the world’s biggest auto market, fell by 11.8 % in January year-on-year, as the Lunar New Year holiday began earlier than usual and the outbreak of coronavirus stymied economic activity. The company, which has embarked on a turnaround strategy to tackle a slump in sales, had been counting on strong Chinese business. Last year, it sold around 1.55 million cars in China; 1.1 % lower than a year earlier, but bucking the overall Chinese car market that dropped by 8.2 %. Nissan sold 118.143 vehicles in China last month. It is expected to announce its October-to-December results next week. The company, which has a joint venture with the Dongfeng Group, based in Wuhan where the Corona virus has been concentrated, said is considering restarting production in China sometime after February 10. Production in Hubei province of which Wuhan is the capital, will start sometime after February 14. Nissan aims to sell around 1.6 million cars through its China venture this year. +++ 

+++ RUSSIA ‘s new-car sales rose 1.8 % in January to 102.102 in what is traditionally a slow month for the market. The increase could be a positive signal for the next few months, which are traditionally stronger, the Association of European Businesses (AEB) lobby group said. “January sales volume is traditionally the smallest in the year, so we will have to wait and see where the trend goes in the stronger months of February and especially March”, AEB chairman Jörg Schreiber said. Russian sales have been hit by low consumer confidence and the introduction of a tax hike last year which reduced demand. Market leader Lada increased sales 1 %, while its closest competitor, Kia, fell 5 %. Third-place Hyundai rose 5 %, while No. 4 Renault was up 6 %. Toyota, at No. 5, gained 20 %, followed by Volkswagen, which was up 1 %. Other winners were Lexus, up 8 %; Skoda, up 7 %; Mercedes-Benz, up 5 %; and Mazda, up 5 %. AEB’s data does not include sales figures from BMW for January following the automaker’s decision to change the publication of its sales data from a monthly to a quarterly event. +++ 

+++ SUZUKI said it was considering sourcing vehicle components from outside China, as the spread of a new Corona virus in the country threatens to disrupt vehicle production in its biggest market, India. The Japanese firm is the latest auto maker bracing for disruption in production and supply chains, as the epidemic spreads fast, killing almost 640 people. Its bigger rival Toyota said production at all of its China plants would remain suspended through February 16, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said a European plant could close within 2 weeks if Chinese parts suppliers cannot get back to work soon. Suzuki does not produce or sell any cars in China, but procures some components there for its plants in India, where it controls around half of the passenger vehicle market via its local unit Maruti Suzuki. Its global car production has not been impacted yet, but Suzuki is looking at the possibility of procuring “made in China” car parts from other regions if it cannot access parts due to ongoing stoppages, managing officer Masahiko Nagao told. Japan’s 4th largest automaker said its December quarter operating profit fell 11 % to 51.8 billion yen ($471 million); its lowest since the March 2016 quarter and below an average forecast of 58.4 billion by 9 analysts. Global vehicle sales slipped 3.7 % to 752.000 units due largely to a 7.9 % fall in sales at home. Sales in India rose slightly to 407.000 units. Yet it expects its India sales to slide by 20 % this business year, as the industry battles a steep sales contraction following decades of strong demand growth, hit by tighter credit and higher insurance costs. Suzuki said sales during the Indian Diwali holiday season improved, but it would take much more time for demand to recover. The company kept its forecast for full-year operating profit to drop 40 % to 200 billion yen; a 4 year low. +++ 

+++ Pretty much everyone on Wall Street has an opinion about TESLA . The electric vehicle maker’s stupendous rally in recent months has given shareholders something to cheer about, cost short sellers billions of dollars and vindicated legions of retail investors who have long adored Elon Musk’s company. Tesla shares have climbed nearly 320 % since early June, helped by the company’s better-than-expected financial results and ramped-up production at its new car factory in Shanghai. Another factor driving this week’s rally may be fund managers hurrying to raise their allocation of the stock, analysts said. “A lot of advisors and institutions, they jump in the bandwagon because they don’t want to trail”, said vocal Tesla bull Ross Gerber, president and chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki in Santa Monica, California. “If Tesla goes to $1.000 and they don’t own it, what are they going to tell their clients?” Gerber trimmed his fund’s position in the stock as the company’s valuation soared. He hopes to buy more if the stock falls and said a fair valuation would be around $550. Retail investors have driven part of the surge. Among Fidelity Investments customers, Tesla has been by far the most actively traded stock in recent sessions, with nearly 16.000 buy orders for the electric carmaker’s shares. Twitter, ranked second overall in trading activity on Fidelity, had just over 2.000 buy orders. The stock is held widely by institutional shareholders. Tesla’s biggest institutional shareholders are Baillie Gifford, Capital World and Vanguard. It also has an international following. Retail investors in South Korea have been trading Tesla shares at a furious pace in recent weeks, buying and selling $200 million worth of stock in January, according to the Korea Securities Depository. Volume in November stood at $43 million. Tesla options positioning is also bullish. According to data from options analytics provider Trade Alert, skew turned deeply negative this week, meaning that demand for calls, used to position for further share gains, has surpassed demand for puts, used to guard against a fall in shares. That’s a departure from the usual dynamic in most stocks, in which options used for downside protection generally command prices higher than those for upside participation. Tesla’s biggest winner is Musk, who stands to earn more than $1 billion thanks to Tesla’s recent rally. The company’s market capitalization briefly exceeded $150 billion this week, the second target in his record-breaking compensation package that opens the way to options awarded to him vesting. Many investors remain skeptical that Tesla can consistently deliver profit, cash flow and growth. More Wall Street analysts rate Tesla “sell” than “buy”, and the company’s stock is the most shorted on Wall Street, with nearly $18 billion sold short. Those bearish investors plan to profit by selling borrowed shares and buying them back later at a lower price. Yet while short investors in Tesla have suffered paper losses of over $11 billion so far in 2020, they have mostly held their ground, according to S3 Partners, a financial analytics firm. One seller in the December quarter was Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund. Some funds that reportedly hold short positions are London-based Crispin Odey. Greenlight Capital, run by David Einhorn, had told investors last month it held a put option against Tesla, which would be a bet against the stock. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA raised its annual forecast after cost cuts and healthy sales quadrupled quarterly profits from the previous year. As with other businesses that have operations in China, the threat of the virus outbreak remains. Toyota has halted production at all its 12 plants in China, including 4 vehicle assembly plants. The closure continues through Sunday, with a decision on future action coming Monday. Toyota reported October-December profit of 738 billion yen ($6.7 billion), up from 181 billion yen the previous year. Quarterly sales slipped 3 % to 7.5 trillion yen ($68.6 billion). The manufacturer expects a profit through March 2020 of 2.35 trillion yen ($21 billion). It had earlier projected a 2.15 trillion yen ($20 billion) profit. Its annual profit for the previous fiscal year totaled 1.88 trillion yen. Executive vice president Didier Leroy said Toyota’s global vehicle sales will grow in a balanced way through all major regions. The automaker plans to add model offerings with what he called “advanced technologies”, such as hybrids, which run on both gasoline engine and electric motor to offer good mileage. Toyota’s corporate culture promotes having “a fighting spirit”, the ability to do what’s right, not just pleasing bosses, fairness, clear objectives and staying connected with one’s team, Leroy said. While falling short of rival Volkswagen in recent years, Toyota has marked new record global vehicle sales for the company for the last 4 years straight, selling 10.74 million vehicles around the world in 2019. An unfavorable exchange rate hurts Japanese exporters like Toyota, but the damage was not expected to be as bad this fiscal year as it was last year, according to the company based in Toyota city, Aichi prefecture. Last month, Toyota announced it was creating a “woven city” near Mount Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and featuring robotics, personal-mobility services and cars connected to the internet. Toyota has been inviting researchers and business partners to take part in the project, set to open early next year, where people live to test out various technology. Toyota will ramp up production at its new Mexican plant to 100.000 vehicles a year by 2021 in a major step to shift production of its popular mid-size Tacoma pickup to Mexico from the United States, the company said. The plant in the central state of Guanajuato, along with an older facility near the U.S. border, will bring Toyota’s Mexican production to 266.000 trucks a year when at full capacity. Toyota said it expects to send 95 % of pickups from the 2 plants to the United States, where the automaker sold nearly 249.000 Tacomas last year; up 1.3 %. “Tacoma production will be concentrated right here in Mexico”, Christopher Reynolds, a chief administrative officer for Toyota in North America, said at an event to inaugurate the Guanajuato plant. “What this means is that the Mexican manufacturing facilities of Toyota will build all the Tacomas that serve the mid-size pickup segment in the North American market”. +++ 

+++ UBER is still losing money as it expands its food delivery business and develops technology for driverless cars. But revenue for its rides business nearly tripled in the final three months of last year as the company picked up more passengers around the world. That prompted it to say it will turn a profit earlier than it expected. The San Francisco-based ride-hailing giant lost $1.1 billion in the 4th quarter of 2019; about 24 % more than the same time last year. The loss amounted to 64 cents per share, which was slightly better than what analysts were expecting. Analysts predicted Uber would lose $1.18 billion, or 67 cents per share, during the quarter. Uber brought in $4.1 billion in revenue; up 37 % from a year ago. Its revenue grew around the world, although the biggest gain was in the U.S. and Canada, where it pulled in 41 % more than last year. Because of the company’s progress in 2019 and its plans this year, Uber expects to turn a profit in the 4th quarter of 2020, CEO Dara Khosrowhsahi said in a conference call with investors. That’s sooner than the projection during the last earnings call when he said the company would turn a full-year profit in 2021. Khosrowshahi called 2019 “a transformational year for Uber. We recognize that the era of growth at all costs is over”. Uber’s Eats business lost $461 million in the quarter before accounting for interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, down 66 % from the same time last year as Uber poured money into growing the business in a highly competitive food delivery market. In January, Uber sold its Eats business in India to Zomato, a popular food app, a move that its executives hope will stem some of the losses. “Right now, the Eats business has had a tornado-like impact on profitability”, said Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. In the U.S., Uber has been focused on improving restaurant selection and has almost 400.000 restaurants on the Eats platform; up 78 % on a year-on-year basis, Khosrowshahi said. The 4th quarter was marked by painful disclosures at Uber. In December, it released a long-awaited report, in which its riders reported more than 3.000 sexual assaults during 2018. The same month, it agreed to pay $4.4 million to end a federal sexual harassment probe about its internal corporate culture. But those announcements did not take a toll on Uber’s stock, which has been inching up over the past 2 months. And in a major blow, Uber lost its license to operate in London in November over concerns about impostor drivers and the way the company handles safety. “We’re going to have our day in court”, Kohsrowshahi said. “We respectfully disagree with Transport for London’s conclusions”. Uber’s safety and service have significantly improved over the past few years and the team is very focused on executing on safety around the world, and the London team is especially focused on it”, he said. Uber also has been dealing with a new California law that makes it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The law went into effect in January. Since then, Uber has been making some changes to assert drivers’ independence. It started allowing drivers to see riders’ destinations before they accept a ride. It also changed the cost structure in California so riders now see a price range, instead of a flat rate, before a ride. “Driver feedback has been positive in terms of the information, the empowerment that I think our driver partners feel”, Khosrowshahi said. “Prices have increased more in California than they have nationally, so I think from a rider standpoint, the service has become more expensive, but it’s very, very early”. Its losses in the fourth quarter included $243 million in stock-based compensation. +++

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