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SEC accuses Elon Musk of 'stunning' violations; Ford ups US production of SUVs

TOP NEWS

* The U.S. SEC submitted a strongly worded rebuttal to Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk's claim that his Feb. 19 tweet projecting that the company will make 500,000 cars in 2019 did not violate their 2018 settlement agreement mandating him to seek pre-approval for certain tweets. The securities regulator told a federal judge that it was "stunning" that the executive "never once" sought pre-approval for his tweets regarding the company's business and reiterated its request to a federal judge to hold the executive in contempt and "impose an appropriate remedy," according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Musk's lawyers in a March 18 filing dubbed SEC's claims as "unsupported assertions" and sought until March 22 to respond.

* Ford Motor Co. will ramp up production of its Expedition and Lincoln Navigator large sports utility vehicles by 20% to meet "surging customer demand" and will add 550 jobs at its Louisville truck plant in Kentucky. The carmaker also increased line speed at the plant, which will take effect after its July summer shutdown. In 2018, the Expedition's transaction price grew to $62,700, up $11,700 from the original price as the model saw a 35% surge in sales. Its Navigator model saw sales grow 70% in 2018 to 17,839 vehicles sold.

CARMAKERS

* Porsche Automobil Holding SE, the company that holds a controlling stake in Volkswagen AG, said it raised its voting rights share in the carmaker to 53.1% from 52.2%. The company said it has invested about €400 million for the acquisition of the stake in the past few months. Porsche SE's CEO Hans Dieter Pötsch, who is also the chairman of VW's supervisory board, said the holding company would increase its dividend by 26% to €2.21 per share and that the company expected a net income of €3.4 billion to €4.4 billion in 2019. The group said its results for 2018 increased 6% year over year to €3.5 billion.

ELECTRIC AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

* Hyundai Motor Co. signed a deal with Russian tech firm Yandex to develop self-driving technologies, the Financial Times (London) reported, citing a company statement. Separately, the carmaker is teaming up with South Korean mobile platform company Kakao for an artificial intelligence-based voice assistant platform on the latest Hyundai Sonata model, The Korea Times reported.

*Volkswagen AG threatened to exit the German Association of the Automotive Industry, or VDA, unless the auto lobbying group pushed for wider adoption of battery electric vehicles, German TV channel Welt reported. The VDA reportedly lobbied for slowing down electrification by attempting to increase average fuel economy, forcing electric vehicles to be produced in higher volumes.

POLICY, REGULATIONS AND SAFETY

* The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is seeking public comment on General Motors Co.'s petition to introduce self-driving cars without steering wheels, gear shifts and brake pedals on public roads. General Motors requested exemptions from parts of 16 federal motor vehicle safety standards in January 2018 in an attempt to launch a self-driving fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. Approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, would grant GM a two-year window to produce up to 2,500 zero-emission automated vehicles. Over the next 60 days, the public can access the carmaker's petition to comment on proposed policies.

* Supreme Court judge has denied Lyft Inc.'s petition to block the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission's implementation of a minimum pay standard for ride-hailing drivers, TechCrunch reported. Lyft, through its subsidiaries, Tri-City LLC, Endor Car and Driver LLC, and another ride-hail company, Juno USA LP, sued the commission in January, arguing that the new rules give Uber an advantage over smaller ride-share companies. Uber also took the city to court in February over its decision to limit the number of ride-hailing drivers operating on the streets. The judge will issue a ruling on the lawsuit in the next 30 days, according to the report.

* A group of U.S. states is investigating Hyundai and Kia Motors Corp. for possible "unfair" and "deceptive" acts in relation to hundreds of incidents of vehicle fires, Reuters reported, citing Connecticut Attorney-General William Tong. In a statement, Tong said that the vehicle fires are a "serious matter" and that they "are moving aggressively and responsibly to uncover the facts and to ensure accountability." Hyundai told the newswire that it is "fully cooperating with the government in this matter" and that it "has made numerous improvements to our engine manufacturing, and has enhanced our customer service efforts to address every single impacted customer." Kia did not immediately comment, Reuters said.

AUTOMOTIVE RETAIL

* South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia said they will invest US$300 million in Indian cab-hailing service Ola to expand their portfolio of smart mobility services. In early March, reports surfaced that Hyundai planned to invest US$250 million in Ola for a 4% stake, which could value the service at over US$6 billion. The Hyundai Motor Group brands plan to collaborate with Ola to build electric vehicles for its fleet and to develop charge stations in India. Ola drivers will also have access to Hyundai and Kia vehicles and financing and insurance benefits.

TRUCKS AND MOTORCYCLES

* Daimler AG Trucks' Japanese arm, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. or MFTBC, will invest an additional €40 million in its Fuso brand's retail network as part of a seven-year initiative called Project Mirai. In 2019, MFTBC plans to revamp seven local plants to assist electric and connected vehicles. In the same release, the carmaker said it opened its €74 million product center in its Kawasaki plant.

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UK strikes trade pact with Norway, Iceland for no-deal Brexit scenario

The day ahead

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

In Asia, Hang Seng rose 0.19% to 29,466.28, while the Nikkei 225 fell 0.08% to 21,566.85.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 climbed 0.42% to 7,329.76, and the Euronext 100 lifted 0.66% to 1,055.98.

On the macro front

The Redbook Index for retail sales and the factory orders 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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