* China's finance ministry confirmed that it will suspend the retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. auto imports earlier this year for three months starting Jan. 1, 2019, Reuters reported. China removed 25% tariffs on 144 U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts and 5% tariffs on 67 auto-related items. The ministry added it hopes it can speed up negotiations with the U.S. to remove all tariffs placed on each other's goods. Separately, U.S. President Donald Trump said China's plan to lower tariffs on U.S. cars to 15% from 40% does not go far enough, Bloomberg News reported.
* President Donald Trump criticized General Motors Co. and Chairman and CEO Mary Barra over the carmaker's decision to close U.S. factories and reduce its salaried staff by 15% in North America, Fox Business reported. In an interview, Trump reportedly said the automaker would not be treated well moving forward. "I don't like what she did," Trump said during an interview with Fox News' Harris Faulkner. "It was nasty. Ohio is going to replace those jobs in two minutes." Trump said that GM's shift to all-electric cars "is not going to work."
* Renault SA said it has found no irregularities in the compensation of its embattled chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn and continued to retain him as their leader. Its partner Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., which fired Ghosn shortly after his arrest, also has not named a replacement and may fail to do so again in its Dec. 17 meeting, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Separately, the French government, which is the largest shareholder in Renault, has started seeking candidates to replace Ghosn, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
* Ford Motor Co. is set to close its Blanquefort plant in France by August 2019 after rejecting a takeover offer from transmission supplier Punch Powerglide, Reuters reported. The move will put the jobs of the plant's 850 employees at risk, the report said. The carmaker would offer redundancies to the staff ahead of the plant closure, Agence France-Presse reported.
* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV could review and update its €5 billion clean energy investment plan for Italy if Rome implements a proposed €3,000 surcharge on petrol and diesel cars, Reuters reported, citing FCA executives. FCA's current plan is part of its shift to cleaner power sources for FCA engines and improve profitability. Auto unions and associations added that the tax could hurt carmakers' supply chains and cost jobs.
* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's Maserati brand will work with Alibaba's Tmall Innovation Center to modify its vehicles in China to match customer preferences. The FCA unit will modify 88 of its Levante Trofeo SUVs based on its target demographics' lifestyle and aesthetic preferences before selling the units on Tmall's online platform.
ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES
* Chinse electric vehicle giant BYD Co. Ltd. delivered 100 pure electric buses in Chile, the carmaker's jump-off point for the rest of Latin America, Reuters reported, citing a company statement. BYD plans to expand to Brazil, Peru and Colombia and delivered its first 15 pure electric buses in São Paulo.
* Volvo Cars' electric-car brand Polestar appointed Ian Zhang as Group CFO and Nils Mösko as Deputy Group CFO. The Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. unit's appointments will take effect on January 1, 2019.
* Nearly 300 Tesla Inc. employees from its Buffalo, N.Y., site started campaigning to unionize the facility, Bloomberg News reported, citing United Steelworkers coordinator Dave Wasiura. The employees are seeking higher wages that reflect Tesla's latest investments. A Tesla spokesperson reportedly told Bloomberg that Tesla pays workers an average of $16.20 an hour, better than the Buffalo region's average wages in addition to benefits and an equity stake in the company.
POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY
* Toyota Motor Corp. issued two safety recalls affecting over 133,000 vehicles over seatbelt and brake pedal defects, hours after it recalled 65,000 cars in the U.S. to replace Takata Corp. airbags. This includes recall of nearly 89,700 vehicles of 2008-2019 Land Cruisers and 2008-2019 Lexus models with faulty seatbelt tension sensor, as well as about 44,000 vehicles of 2018-2019 Tacoma over defective brake pedals. The Japanese carmakers will start notifying affected owners by mid-February 2019.
* Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is recommending tax breaks on car purchases in efforts to reduce the impact of a looming sales tax increase to 10% from 8% in October 2019 and threats from the U.S. of higher tariffs on Japanese and European car imports, Reuters reported.
AUTO PARTS AND EQUIPMENT
* Indian car wiring supplier Motherson Sumi Systems Ltd. is in early discussions with German wiring and cable maker Leoni AG about a potential merger deal that could be worth more than €1 billion, Reuters reported, citing sources close to the matter. The report comes a month after Leoni unveiled a strategic program to raise the company's profitability and cash flow following slow sales in the third quarter.
* General Motors Co. entered a deal with Rent-A-Car parent Enterprise Holdings Inc. to boost the latter's fleet of connected cars. Enterprise tested its connectivity platform with GM in 2018 with a goal to add over 100,000 connected Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles to its fleet during the next 12 months.
* China expects to sell 28 million vehicles in 2019, Reuters reported, citing a statement from China's Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The expected sales will be roughly on par with 2018's auto sales.
* Bayerische Motoren Werke AG launched its ReachNow ride-hailing service in Chengdu, China, making it the first foreign company to obtain a ride-hailing service license in the country, the company said. The ride-hailing service will include a fleet of 200 BMW 5 Series cars. BMW already operates a car-sharing business in China.
* The National Automobile Dealers Association said it expects 2019's light vehicle sales to fall 1.1% year over year to 16.8 million cars and light trucks. The group's Chairman Wes Lutz added that the falling incentives and rising interest rates will put pressure on consumers with rising monthly payments. As the group expects incoming interest rates to be "a wild card," NADA expects rates could potentially push some buyers out of the market.
* Vietnam's anti-competition regulator has ruled against GrabTaxi Holdings Pte. Ltd.'s acquisition of Uber Technologies Inc.'s operations. The Vietnam Competition and Consumer Protection Authority said the transaction failed to announce that the deal would grant Grab over 50% of the market share, exceeding the approved amount a merger could gain after consolidation. Grab's Vietnam head Jerry Lim said it proceeded with the transaction after consulting with its legal counsel and believed there would be no breach of competition laws.
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The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng decreased 1.62% to 26,094.79, while the Nikkei 225 was down 2.02% to 21,374.83.
In Europe as of midday, the FTSE 100 fell 0.80% to 6,822.14, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.97% to 941.36.
On the macro front
The U.S. retail sales report, the Industrial Production report, the PMI Composite FLASH, the Business Inventories 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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