* Volkswagen AG cranked up its electric vehicle offensive as the German carmaker reported that GAAP EPS grew 5.8% year over year to €23.57 for fiscal 2018, beating analysts' forecasts. VW will increase the number of planned EV model launches to 70 from 50 in the next 10 years and now aims to build 22 million vehicles on its MEB EV platform during the period from 15 million. CEO Herbert Diess said the carmaker will review its overall China strategy, especially its shareholding structures at Chinese joint ventures by early 2020 at the latest. VW expects 2019 deliveries to slightly exceed 2018 figures amid "continuously challenging market conditions," while sales revenue is estimated to rise as much as 5% year over year and group operating return on sales to be in the range of 6.5% to 7.5%.
* Renault SA Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard will chair a new four-member operating board of its alliance with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., confirming earlier reports. Besides Senard, the board will include Renault CEO Thierry Bolloré, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa and Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko. A definitive agreement will be signed on the alliance's anniversary later this month. The announcement allays fears of a growing rift between the companies following the arrest of former Alliance Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
* Chinese automobile sales continued to fall in February, with figures down 13.8% year over year to 1.48 million vehicles, according to information released by an auto industry group, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The association attributed the fall to the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday that occurred in the first week of February, when customers tend to hold off on new purchases. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles, however, rose 53.6% year over year to 53,000 vehicles.
* New York hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. has received the support of independent proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. in its proxy battle with the parent of South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. According to a statement from Elliott, ISS recommended that Hyundai Motor Group shareholders vote for both of the hedge fund's director nominees for Hyundai Mobis Co. Ltd., Robert Kruse Jr. and Rudolph von Meister, as well as recommended two of three of Elliott's director nominees for Hyundai Motor, John Liu and Randall MacEwen. ISS also advised shareholders to support Elliott's proposal to improve governance at Hyundai, such as expanding Hyundai Mobis' board to 11 from 9 to make room for more independent directors.
* Volkswagen AG's entry-level brand Jetta, owned by FAW-Volkswagen, its joint venture with China FAW Group Corp., will launch three new models on March 22 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in China, Gasgoo reported, citing local media accounts. The models reportedly will include two SUVs, the VS5 and the VS7 and an entry-level sedan, VA3. The launches will help Jetta, due to be set up as a separate brand in China, fill the gap between the 80,000 yuan and the 90,000 yuan price range, Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, reportedly said.
* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Italian racing company Ferrari NV renewed their contracts with trade unions in Italy for the four-year period of 2019-2022. As part of the new agreement, Fiat Chrysler will raise contractual compensation by 2% for its 66,000 workers in the country and enhance the annual performance-based bonus linked to productivity and efficiency targets.
ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES
* GM Cruise LLC, the autonomous car company acquired by General Motors Co. in 2016, is looking to hire 1,000 additional employees as the U.S. carmaker plans to roll out a robotaxi service by the end of 2019, Reuters reported, citing a spokesman from the unit. Cruise employs more than 1,000 people, according to the report. A spokesman for the self-driving division told Reuters that it will start hiring more people over the next nine months, the majority of whom will be engineers.
* Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk refuted the SEC's claim that his Feb. 19 tweet violated a September 2018 fraud settlement and said he should not be held in contempt. In a court filing, Musk and his legal team said Tesla's disclosure counsel reviewed the executive's tweet shortly after it was posted and decided that the company does not view the tweet as material and that it does not require pre-approval. Musk's lawyers added that the tweet "did not cause any notable move in Tesla's stock price in the after-hours market and was plainly not material to shareholders."
* Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car unit Waymo LLC is seeking external financing from automakers like Volkswagen AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Tata Motors Ltd.-owned Jaguar Land Rover Ltd., The Information reported, citing a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Waymo costs the tech giant at least $1 billion a year, former employees and other industry executives reportedly told the news site. Speaking to reporters March 12, VW CEO Herbert Diess said the group "never considered" buying a minority stake in any self-driving system provider, dismissing reports that VW mulled a 10% stake in Waymo.
* Tesla issued $13.84 million in common stock to buy trucks and trailers that can haul its cars from factories to customers, according to SEC filing. This is "part of Tesla's ongoing logistics strategy to increase its vehicle transport capacity, reduce vehicle transportation time, and improve the timeliness of scheduled deliveries," the California-based automaker said in the filing.
* Nissan Motor and telecom provider NTT Docomo are trialing the carmaker's Invisible-to-Visible technology for the first time in a moving vehicle at Nissan's Grandrive proving ground in Yokosuka, Japan. The technology, to be made available via Docomo's 5G mobile connectivity, enables drivers to see objects farther down the road, behind a building or around the corner. It even creates three-dimensional, augmented-reality avatars to share a ride with, Nissan said.
POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY
* The White House is aiming to cut the federal electric-vehicle tax credit in its proposed budget for fiscal 2020 released by the Trump administration. Eliminating the incentive that gives U.S. consumers a tax credit worth up to $7,500 when they purchase an electric vehicle would save the U.S. approximately $2.53 billion over the next decade by 2029, according to the budget proposal. Wade Newton, a spokesman for the U.S. automaker group The Auto Alliance, told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an email that "financial incentives" are necessary "to show government's commitment to EVs and grow the [zero emissions vehicle] market."
* Honda Motor Co. Ltd. is expected to recall about 1 million cars in the U.S. and Canada as Takata airbag inflators, fitted during previous rounds of recalls, could pose a danger, the Associated Press reported, citing documents posted by Canadian safety regulators. About 84,000 of Honda's most popular models, ranging from 2001 to 2010, are scheduled to be recalled in Canada, and the news agency estimated that the figure is usually over 10 times higher in the U.S. Company spokesman Chris Martin reportedly said Honda is in talks with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "and plans to issue a public statement" on March 13.
* U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May secured from the European Union "legally binding" changes to her Brexit deal on the eve of a series of crucial parliamentary votes on Britain's departure from the bloc. After a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, May said both sides have agreed on a "joint instrument with comparable legal weight" to the withdrawal agreement prohibiting the EU from applying the Irish backstop indefinitely, which remains the main concern among British lawmakers who rejected May's deal in January. Meantime, the European auto industry body, ACEA, reiterated that a no-deal Brexit scenario will have "disastrous consequences" for businesses and citizens both in the U.K. and continental Europe.
AUTO PARTS AND EQUIPMENT
* Auto-parts maker Faurecia and tire manufacturer Michelin signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an equally owned hydrogen mobility joint venture. The new JV will include the French tire maker's fuel cell technology subsidiary, Symbio, and also will be named after it, while Faurecia will contribute its expertise on fuel cell technology to the venture. The JV will be tasked to develop, produce and sell hydrogen fuel cell systems for light vehicles, utility vehicles, trucks and other applications.
* Auto-components manufacturer DENSO Corp. said it took a $5 million stake in Seattle-based connected car services provider Airbiquity Inc. to help the Japanese company accelerate the development of over-the-air automotive software update systems in cooperation with its majority owner, Toyota Motor Corp.
* Daimler AG-owned Mercedes Benz posted February global sales of 152,690 vehicles that fell 6.7% year over year due to model changes in its highest-volume SUV and compact car segments. European sales were down marginally 0.1% to 63,560 vehicles in February. Britta Seeger, Daimler board member in-charge of Mercedes-Benz's marketing and sales, expects the ongoing model changes to result in "significant sales impetus in the coming months."
* Lear Corp.'s Lear Innovation Ventures invested in an Israel-based venture capital fund, Maniv Mobility. The fund primarily targets Israeli early-stage startups in the connected, autonomous, ride-sharing and mobility markets, as well as investments in the U.S. and other markets.
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Renault reaps rewards from early move into EVs, sets sights on Chinese market
The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a mixed opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 1.46% to 28,920.87. The Nikkei 225 rose 1.79% to 21,503.69.
In Europe before midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.23% to 7,146.65 and the Euronext 100 was down 0.11% to 1,019.31.
On the macro front
The Redbook index for retail sales, Consumer Price Index and the NFIB small business optimism index are due out today.
Click here to read about today's financial markets, setting out the factors driving stocks, bonds and currencies around the world ahead of the New York open.
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