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* In his first public appearance since his arrest in November, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s ousted Chairman Carlos Ghosn told a Tokyo court that he is innocent and "wrongly accused and unfairly detained based on meritless and unsubstantiated accusations," Reuters reported. The current Renault SA CEO denied ever receiving undisclosed compensation from Nissan or entry into any contract with the carmaker to receive an undisclosed payment. The court, presided by Judge Yuichi Tada, said Ghosn's detainment was extended to address flight risk and possibility of concealing evidence.

* All Ford Motor Co. brand vehicles in the U.S. will offer 5G-enabled cellular vehicle-to-everything, or C-V2X, technology starting in 2022. The technology will allow Ford vehicles to communicate with other vehicles, traffic infrastructure and people. The C-V2X technology is still awaiting approval by U.S. regulators. The move is significant considering General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. are adopting Wi-Fi connected car technology called dedicated short-range communications, which has already received hundreds of millions of dollars in backing from the U.S. government, Bloomberg News reported.


* Volkswagen AG's future depends on China's auto market, Xinhua News reported, citing CEO Herbert Diess' statement to German news agency DPA. The executive will take the helm for China's strategic leadership to implement "significant changes" and invest billions of euros in the country.

* Jerry Dias, president of Canada's auto union, will meet with General Motors executives to discuss the carmaker's planned closure of its Ontario plant, Reuters reported, citing an interview with Dias. Unifor said it will do all it can to stop the closure but had no idea what the talks would be like. The union head does not expect CEO Mary Barra to be present at the talks.

* Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings PLC triggered its no-deal Brexit contingency plans and hired a new supply chain chief, Reuters reported. CEO Andy Palmer reportedly said the company had no choice but to authorize them at a board meeting in December. Palmer declined to put a figure on the "accumulating" cost of the contingency plans, which involve arrangements to fly in car parts up to 12 weeks ahead of production.

* Nissan Motor's former COO Toshiyuki Shiga will step down as director at the carmaker's annual shareholder meeting in June, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. Shiga, who stepped down as COO five years ago, was an aide to Carlos Ghosn. Separately, Nissan's luxury vehicle unit Infiniti appointed Christian Meunier president and chairman. The former president of Nissan Canada will replace Roland Krueger, who will leave to pursue other opportunities.

* Audi AG appointed Hildegard Wortmann, a former Bayerische Motoren Werke AG executive, to lead the sales and marketing division of Volkswagen's premium-car unit by July 1. She will succeed Bram Schot, who recently took over as Audi's CEO. Wortmann has many years of international experience in product management, marketing and brand communication.


* Toyota Motor said it will share Toyota Guardian, a self-driving safety platform that prevents crashes, with rival carmakers and fleet operators. The Guardian System will be able to anticipate an impending crash and take control of a car, Toyota Research Institute head Gill Pratt said in a speech at CES. According to Bloomberg News, Pratt said the Toyota Guardian will debut early next decade and will be offered to others "through licensing or actual whole systems."

* General Motors Co.'s self-driving unit Cruise will not spin off from its parent in the near future, Bloomberg reported, citing President and Chief Technology Officer Kyle Vogt. Cruise's current focus is to integrate its software into its parent's vehicles.

* Daimler AG, Volkswagen Group and BMW Group-backed navigation tech company HERE will integrate its voice-first Open Location Platform with Inc.'s virtual assistant Alexa. The technology would enable Alexa to answer user questions about where to turn and could plan routes based on task reminders or appointments.

* BMW Group will launch Alibaba's Tmall Genie voice assistant in selected models in China by 2019-end. Users with a Tmall Genie-compatible device could operate vehicle functions with the assistant, including checking weather at destinations, view cinema schedules or play music. Users will not require a smartphone to use the "AI+Car" service as the BMW models will be equipped with a SIM card.


* German consumer watchdog VZBV has signed up 383,000 owners of Volkswagen cars affected by the "dieselgate" scandal to a class-action lawsuit it will bring against the automaker that seeks compensation up to the full original purchase price of the vehicles. The number of participants in the suit was accurate as of Jan. 4, a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Justice, which is responsible for maintaining the case register, told S&P Global Market Intelligence.


* French auto parts company Valeo SA could implement more cost cuts amid a volatile auto industry and rising materials prices, the Financial Times reported, citing CEO Jacques Aschenbroich, who did not specify an exact amount. In 2018, Valeo announced a €100 million savings plan, and in the same year saw its shares plummet 59% in 2018 after two profit warnings, the report added.

* Sweden's Veoneer Inc. reported over $1.2 billion in orders for 2018, up 40% from 2017. Orders from the auto parts company's active safety unit grew 40% to $1.2 billion, while its restraint control systems unit bagged over 25% of all orders in 2018. The company's 2018 order intake gave it about $5.9 billion in lifetime revenues.


* Key AutoNation Inc. executives, including COO Lance Iserman and Chief Technology Officer Tom Conophy, stepped down Jan. 7 as the auto retailer announced a reorganization and cost savings plan to improve efficiency and profitability that further positions the company for long-term success. As part of the plan, the U.S. automotive retailer plans to consolidate its regional structure to two from three regions, among other changes, which are expected to reduce costs by about $50 million a year.

* BMW Group achieved record sales for 2018, selling 2.49 million vehicles, the company tweeted, citing CEO Harald Krüger. BMW's premium-car rival Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz is yet to report its 2018 sales.

* Tokyo Century invested an undisclosed amount in GrabTaxi Holdings Pte. Ltd. and Grab Rentals as their partnership, formed in 2016, prepares for expansion. The latest transaction takes the Japanese investor's contribution to the partnership to $175 million. Separately, Grab confirmed that it has received over $3 billion in capital investments in its Series H fundraising and plans to raise up to $5 billion, Dealstreet Asia reported.

* BYD Co. Ltd. sold 69,637 vehicles in December, 46,650 or about 67% of which were so-called new energy vehicles, including battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. In 2018, the Chinese carmaker sold 520,687 vehicles, 247,811 or about 48% of which were NEVs.


* Daimler AG will invest about €500 million euros to push its Cascada trucks to level 4 highly automated self-driving vehicles. At its current level 2 partially automated state, the Freightliner can already independently brake, accelerate and steer in all speed ranges. The investment will create 200 new jobs in Portland, Ore.

* Harley-Davidson Inc.'s LiveWire electric motorcycle will offer OneConnect infotainment platform developed by Panasonic's auto systems unit upon its debut in August. The app will let riders check their battery charge level, available range and charging status on their smartphones.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 0.15% to 25,875.449. The Nikkei 225 rose 0.82% to 20,204.04.

In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 increased 1.11% to 6,886.30, and the Euronext 100 rose 1.25% to 931.11.

On the macro front

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, the International Trade report, the Redbook report and the JOLTS 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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