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US charges VW for securities fraud over dieselgate; Tesla unveils Model Y SUV

TOP NEWS

* The U.S. SEC sued Volkswagen AG two of its financial arms; and the group's former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, for allegedly defrauding U.S. investors and underwriters by making "deceptive" claims about the company's diesel cars to secure favorable terms while raising funds in the U.S. bond and fixed income markets. The securities regulator has sought permanent injunctions, civil penalties and repayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in "ill-gotten gains" made by Volkswagen. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Volkswagen said the SEC's complaint is "legally and factually flawed," and it will fight the suit "vigorously."

* Tesla Inc. unveiled a prototype of its Model Y SUV that is expected to start production late-2020 in North America. The Model Y rear-wheel drive variant, with an expected range of 300 miles, is priced starting $47,000 and comes with Tesla's autopilot driver assistance feature for $3,000 preorders and full self-driving capability for $5,000 preorders. The top-end performance version, having 280 miles of range in a single full charge, is priced $60,000. A cheaper standard range version will start production in early 2021

CARMAKERS

* Bayerische Motoren Werke AG reported 2018 net profit of €7.21 billion, down 16.9% year over year, as CEO Harald Krueger warned that "the challenges facing the entire sector are unlikely to diminish in the coming months," and "great efforts" will be needed to overcome them. Group revenue was down marginally 0.8% year over year at €97.48 billion. Nevertheless, 2018 deliveries of BMW's three main brands grew by 1.1% to a new record of 2,490,664 units.

* Toyota Motor Corp. upped its investment in U.S. operations to $13 billion, with nearly $750 million of that going toward production and jobs in five states. The investment, which will add 586 jobs to manufacturing plants in Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee, raises by $3 billion the Japanese automaker's 2017 pledge to invest $10 billion in the U.S. by 2021. The targeted investment period runs 2017-2021.

* Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess apologized for using the slogan "Ebit macht frei," translated as "Ebit sets you free," at a recent company event. The executive was criticized for the slogan, which is very similar to a Nazi Germany slogan, "Arbeit macht frei," or "work sets you free," that was inscribed on the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Diess said he is extremely sorry for "a very unfortunate choice of words."

* Audi AG's China chief Alexander Seitz said the Volkswagen AG-owned premium-car maker is evaluating increasing its shareholdings at Audi's two Chinese joint ventures with China FAW Group Corp. and SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd., Reuters reported. Further details are expected to be out at the end of 2019 or beginning 2020, Seitz reportedly said. VW is also reviewing its overall China strategy, especially its shareholding structures at Chinese JVs.

* Automobili Lamborghini SpA's board confirmed a "positive outlook" for 2019 in sales and revenue after the Italian luxury sports-car maker reported a 40% year-over-year jump in 2018 revenue of about €1.41 billion, from €1.01 billion in 2017, on the back of a 51% rise in deliveries to 5,750 vehicles in the year. The launch of the Super SUV Lamborghini Urus in mid-2018 primarily led to higher deliveries, the Volkswagen affiliate said.

* Lotus Cars CEO Phil Popham said its Chinese owner Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd.'s "billions" worth investments over the next five years will help the loss-making British sports-car brand revamp its portfolio, expand into new vehicle types like SUVs, grand tourer cars and saloons, launch electric cars, hire more engineers and renovate its Hethel, Norfolk-based factory, the Financial Times (London) reported. Geely's money reportedly will allow the carmaker to increase its annual output to about 5,000 cars from 2,000 cars.

ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

* German automakers Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG are in high-level discussions to co-develop electric vehicle platforms, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, citing unnamed sources. The two carmakers are looking to save about €7 billion over a seven-year period by co-developing a platform for compact vehicles, with the possibility of larger savings if larger vehicles were also co-developed, the German-language publication reported. On Feb. 22, BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler launched a mobility joint venture amid separate reports on the two German rivals also partnering to develop autonomous driving systems.

* As planned, Tesla Inc. appointed Zachary Kirkhorn as its CFO. In the same announcement, the electric-car maker appointed Vaibhav Taneja as its chief accounting officer. Kirkhorn replaced Deepak Ahuja, whose retirement was announced in January.

Kia Motors Corp.'s U.S. unit teamed up with Amazon.com Inc. to offer Kia plug-in vehicle customers a range of home-charging devices and related installation services for their cars that is available on a dedicated page in the e-commerce giant's portal.

* Volvo Cars said Thomas Ingenlath is stepping down from the Swedish carmaker's executive management team, but will remain CEO of its performance electric-car brand Polestar and head of group design. Hans Oscarsson, Volvo Cars' head of finance, will serve, beginning Aug. 1, as the CEO of Geely Sweden AB, the Nordic regional representative entity of Volvo Cars parent Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. The changes are part of an executive management shakeups to put technological developments and digitalization "at the core of the company's future strategy."

* Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will launch four new mini-vehicles in Japan, featuring semi-autonomous driving technology, to be developed through their joint venture NMKV Co., Ltd. The Nissan Dayz, Nissan Dayz Highway Star, Mitsubishi eK wagon and Mitsubishi eK X will go on sale in late March.

* Volkswagen said its Gläserne Manufaktur facility in Dresden, Germany, began fitting the headliner component on the e-Golf by a robot, an automation step that is expected to help VW as it begins production of its I.D. range of EVs from the end of 2019.

POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY

* The U.S. arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is recalling an estimated 47,771 vehicles in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and certain markets outside North America due to a defect in the steering-system joints that could cause the driver to lose control. FCA said it is not aware of any injuries or accidents related to the defect. The recall notice came a day after Fiat Chrysler also issued a recall of 862,520 vehicles in the U.S. after they failed to pass local emission standards.

AUTO PARTS AND EQUIPMENT

* Illinois-based parts-maker Tenneco Inc. expects 2019 revenue to be in the range of $18.2 billion to $18.4 billion, nearly 50% higher than its full-year 2018 revenue of $11.8 billion, even as the company's fourth-quarter adjusted profit of $105 million, or $1.30 per share missed analysts' consensus estimate of $118.8 million, or $1.41 per share, as compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The company posted a loss of $62 million in its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, 2018, compared with a profit of $62 million, primarily due to restructuring costs and expenses related to Tenneco's purchase of Michigan-based auto-parts maker Federal-Mogul LLC and the scheduled spinoff. Total fourth-quarter revenue was up 79% year over year at $4.3 billion, helped mainly by the Federal-Mogul acquisition.

* German battery maker Varta AG applied for government subsidies for making lithium-ion battery cells as it plans to raise annual production to over 60 million cells, Reuters reported. Varta, which was earlier reported to be partnering with Ford Motor Co. for a production facility in Germany, said it is cooperating with other European companies on battery cell production.

AUTOMOTIVE RETAIL

* Uber Technologies Inc. is planning to kick-off its IPO in April, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company will file its public disclosure and start its investor roadshow in April, according to Reuters. Uber declined to comment when reached by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

* New passenger car registrations in the EU fell 1% year over year to 1,114,692 vehicles in February, from 1,125,472 vehicles a year earlier, as gains in Germany, France and the U.K. were offset by six consecutive monthly declines in Spain and Italy, according to a report by the auto industry body ACEA.

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The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 0.56% to 29,012.26, and the Nikkei 225 increased 0.77% to 21,450.85.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.56% to 7,225.49, and the Euronext 100 was up 0.90% to 1,046.14.

On the macro front

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the industrial production report, the consumer sentiment report, the JOLTS report, the Treasury international capital report and the Baker-Hughes Rig Count report 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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