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Renault shows interest in FCA merger offer; VW, Samsung battery deal in jeopardy

TOP NEWS

* Renault SA's board decided to "study with interest" Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's "friendly" proposal for an all-share "transformative" merger of equals that would create world's third-largest automotive manufacturer with annual sales of 8.7 million vehicles. The board could decide on whether or not to sign a nonbinding agreement with FCA to enter merger negotiations in the week of June 3, Reuters reported, citing sources. FCA said that while the proposal focuses on a merger with Renault, it is looking forward to working with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to create the largest global car manufacturing alliance, selling more than 15 million vehicles annually.

* Volkswagen will rework its €50 billion battery-purchasing plan due to concerns that its supply agreement with Samsung SDI Co. Ltd., one of its supply partners, might fail, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Samsung reportedly initially agreed to deliver batteries for over 20-gigawatt hours, but the parties later reached an impasse during negotiations on production volume and schedule. This reduced pledged battery supply to less than 5-gigawatt hours, the news outlet reported.

CARMAKERS

* French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said any merger deal needs to guarantee "zero" site closings and layoffs, Bloomberg News reported. The Minister confirmed that the deal would halve the French government's and Nissan's stakes in the merged entity to 7.5% each. Separately, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said it "would be absolutely appropriate" if the country had to take a stake in the merged company, Bloomberg News reported. Salvini also said he believes the FCA-Renault merger is "a brilliant deal, that I hope will be finalized."

* Toyota Motor Corp. will construct its first assembly plant in Myanmar as the Southeast Asian nation is set to increase barriers on imports to boost foreign investments and bolster its local auto industry, the Nikkei Asian Review reported, citing sources. The new plant that the Japanese carmaker will spend "tens of millions of dollars" to build in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, outside Myanmar's commercial capital Yangon, will initially manufacture up to nearly 10,000 pickup trucks annually, the report said. An announcement from Toyota is reportedly expected by May-end.

* Volkswagen AG said it will roll out its Spanish car brand Seat SA in the Chinese market in the next two to three years, with the help of its joint venture with China's Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Corp. Ltd., which does business as JAC Motors. Seat is known for its compact cars, mini-cars and compact SUVs, including the Mii, Ibiza, Leon, Arona, Alhambra, Ateca and Tarraco. Volkswagen also said JAC Volkswagen and the city of Hefei struck a smart city partnership to develop autonomous driving. Volkswagen Group China, VW unit Mobility Asia and JAC will pool their resources and collaborate on mobility services, including self-driving vehicles, autonomous fleet management, and ride hailing or car sharing.

ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

* Tesla Inc. said it will make a surprise announcement for Chinese consumers May 31, which could involve a set of new prices for the Model 3, Bloomberg News reported, citing sources. The electric-car maker could price the vehicle between 300,000 yuan and 350,000 yuan before subsidies. Though Tesla began importing Model 3 vehicles in China in March, the model retails at 377,000 yuan, disqualified from Chinese government subsidies and impacted by import tariffs.

* Shanghai-based startup Aiways said it will roll out an electric SUV in Europe in April 2020, which would make it the first Chinese EV sold in the region, the Financial Times reported. Aiways will roll out the U5 SUV in the EU, Switzerland and Norway for under €40,000 in an online-only sales push. Aiways could team up with German startup Vehiculum for an online leasing platform to cut costs, the report added.

* Volkswagen will ramp up talks with Swedish battery startup Northvolt AB on plans to co-produce battery cells in Germany, German-language newspaper Boersen-Zeitung reported. The German carmaker announced March 21 its plans to form the European Battery Union with Northvolt, which makes lithium-ion batteries, by 2020. The plan was to create a consortium of research and industry partners from seven European Union member states, which will share results of their battery cell research work.

* South Korean carmakers Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. plan to build electric cars in India and could build charging infrastructure with LG, the Times of India reported, citing the carmakers' research and development head Albert Biermann. Hyundai will launch an electric SUV, Kona, priced at 2 million rupees. The Hyundai Motor Group brands are reportedly finalizing plans and said it could import battery and motor tech, "but when the market gets too competitive, we can also localize," Biermann said.

MOBILITY SERVICES

* Chinese self-driving van startup Neolix said it began mass-producing its delivery vehicles for companies including JD.com and Huawei, the South China Morning Post reported. Retailing at about $30,000 each, the Neolix vans will also evolve to double as 24/7 mobile vending vehicles, founder Yu Enyuan said.

* Ryan Graves, Uber Technologies Inc.'s first employee, intends to resign as a director, effective May 27, the company said. Graves' resignation is not the result of any disagreement with the company on any matter relating to its operations, policies or practices.

POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY

* The European Union is "100% against" any move by the U.S. to limit imports of EU cars and auto parts, Bloomberg News reported, citing Swedish Trade Minister Ann Linde. The EU will reject any potential quotas on European exports to the U.S. and voluntarily curbing exports would break World Trade Organization laws, Linde said. Other ministers and European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom echoed Linde's views and said the 28-nation bloc is determined to respect WTO requirements. On May 17, U.S. President Donald Trump postponed a decision to impose auto tariffs to give more time for negotiations between Washington and some of its major trade partners after concluding that "imports of automobiles and certain automobile parts threaten to impair the national security of the United States."

* BMW China Automotive Trading Ltd. and BMW Brilliance Automotive Ltd. will recall 319,045 vehicles in China over concerns of potential fire risk for some of its models manufactured between 2005 and 2011, according to a statement from the State Administration for Market Regulation. The recall, filed by German carmaker Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and its Chinese joint venture partner, will begin Aug. 30.

* Volvo Cars is recalling 8,266 S60 luxury sedans across the U.S. over a possible rear suspension defect that may lead to stability problems, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. unit said an additional 909 units in Canada are also subject to the recall. The potentially affected 2019 S60 units were produced between Sept. 25, 2018, and April 1, 2019.

* Daimler AG-owned Mercedes-Benz started recalling 6,406 vehicles that were imported in China over a defective passenger seat lock, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing China's State Administration for Market Regulation. The recall covers Mercedes-Benz C-class cars produced between 2015 and 2017, as well as E-class models manufactured between 2016 and 2017, the report said.

AUTO PARTS AND EQUIPMENT

* DENSO Corp. said it will bank on electrification and automated driving to fuel the company's growth through 2030 as it aims to generate ¥7 trillion in sales by fiscal year 2025. The Japanese auto parts supplier said it is targeting an operating income ratio of 10% by fiscal year 2025. In fiscal year 2021, Denso hopes to record ¥5.6 trillion in sales and an operating income ratio of 8% or more. Under its long-term policy for 2030, the company said it will continue to work on vehicle electrification and automated driving, as well as form collaborations in order to seek emerging areas where it can improve mobility.

* Denso will spend at least ¥2 billion on a new manufacturing facility in China's Guangdong province, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing sources with the district. The proposed 100,000-square-meter plant is expected to be operational in 2021, with mass production scheduled in 2022, Xinhua reported.

TRUCKS AND MOTORCYCLES

* Daimler Kamaz Rus, the joint venture between Daimler's trucks business and Russia's KAMAZ, has opened a new €200 million truck cabin manufacturing facility in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny in Russia's Tatarstan state. According to a release, the facility can manufacture up to 55,000 units per year for Russian-market Mercedes-Benz Actros and Arocs trucks, as well as for Kamaz. It expects to create about 700 jobs.

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The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.

In Asia, Hang Seng gained 0.38% at 27,390.81, while the Nikkei 225 rose 0.37% to 21,260.14.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 lifted 0.02% to 7,279.21, and the Euronext 100 fell 0.34% to 1,038.08.

On the macro front

The S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller home price index, the Federal Housing Finance Agency house price index, the consumer confidence report and the Dallas Fed manufacturing survey 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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