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Renault claims 'destabilization campaign'; FCA to pay $800M over 'dieselgate'

TOP NEWS

* Renault SA's review process found no fraud so far in the compensation of its executive committee members, including embattled CEO Carlos Ghosn's close aide Mouna Sepehri, who is executive vice president, CEO's office. The statement responds to a Reuters report alleging that Sepehri received additional salary for 2017 and 2018 unknown to Renault's board via the Dutch joint venture overseeing its alliance with Nissan. Calling the report "either erroneous or arranged in a deliberately biased manner," Renault said the allegations are part of a destabilization campaign against it. Separately, Ghosn's lawyers sought bail in Tokyo after the former Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. chairman was charged with aggravated breach of trust for temporarily transferring personal investment losses to Nissan, which also filed a similar complaint the same day, and for understating his compensation from 2015 to 2017.

* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will pay out $800 million in fines and compensation after reaching settlements on suits brought against it by U.S. government authorities and customers over understated exhaust emissions figures affecting models driven by about 100,000 customers. However, the company denied any deliberate attempt to falsify data. Under the settlement, German auto supplier Bosch, which is accused of selling defeat devices to 600,000 Volkswagen AG and FCA cars, agreed to pay $130.5 million to settle the emissions lawsuits.

CARMAKERS

* Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC will cut about 4,500 jobs worldwide as part of a cost-cutting transformation program as the Tata Motors Ltd. unit plots out its future after an abrupt slowdown in demand from the key Chinese market and as consumer demand shifts away from diesel engine vehicles.

* Volkswagen AG will seek damages from managers it dismissed for their involvement in the carmaker's "dieselgate" scandal, Reuters reported, citing German newspaper Handelsblatt. The amount in damages and the names of former employees were not given. Volkswagen declined to comment on the report.

* Ford Motor Co.'s commuter shuttle service Chariot Transit Inc. will cease operations in the U.S. and U.K. by the end of March, a little over two years after the U.S. carmaker acquired the business. San Francisco-based Chariot announced the move in a Jan. 10 blog post without specifying a reason. It only said the decision was made after "significant consideration."

ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

* General Motors Co. could make Cadillac its lead electric vehicle brand as it gears up to compete with Tesla Inc., Reuters reported, citing sources. GM, which sold over 200,000 electric vehicles in 2018, is expected to announce the move in an investor update Jan. 11.

* Tesla's autopilot updates are completing final validations and regulatory approvals, and will likely be released to early access program users "in a few weeks," CEO Elon Musk tweeted. The "Summon+" feature included in the update allows users to put their vehicles in remote-control mode, which "may not be available in all regions" due to "some regulatory pushback," Musk said in a separate tweet.

* Audi AG plans to unveil a small all-electric SUV in March to compete with Tesla's proposed Model Y SUV, Elektrek reported, citing AutoWeek Netherlands. The all-electric e-Tron SUV will most likely be based on Volkswagen's MEB platform, according to the report.

POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY

* Italian competition watchdog fined Renault's RCI Bank and Services Italia €125 million. Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, or AGCM, launched an investigation in 2017 on anti-competitive behavior by captive finance companies active in the automotive leasing and financing market, and the Renault unit was among the captive finance companies notified of a sanction. The unit intends to appeal the decision with the relevant Italian court.

AUTOMOTIVE RETAIL

* Volkswagen Group sold 10,834,000 vehicles worldwide in 2018, up 0.9% from 2017. The group sold 916,200 vehicles in December, down 8.4% from the same period last year. The Asia-Pacific region took the largest hit, with sales falling 11.9% to 431,300 automobiles. North America followed with sales at 84,400 vehicles, down 7.7% while Europe sales fell 5.6% year over year to 319,800 automobiles.

* Bayerische Motoren Werke AG sold a record 2,490,664 vehicles in 2018, up 1.1% from 2017, driven by the BMW brand's sale of 2,125,026 vehicles, up 1.18%. The company sold 232,505 vehicles in December, down 0.7% from the same month last year. BMW's December sales were strongest in Asia, where it rose 8.8% to 84,716 vehicles, 62,895 of which were from China, where BMW reported a 20.9% year over year increase. Sales in Europe fell 5.2% year over year in December to 97,568 vehicles.

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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 increased 0.55% to 26,667.27, and the Nikkei 225 increased 0.97% to 20,359.70.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.24% to 6,926.01, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.07% to 935.47.

On the macro front

The Baker-Hughes Rig Count report and the CPI consensus 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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