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Core investors unsettle Nigeria Air

By Business Desk,

The last minute pull out of core investors forced Nigeria to suspend the establishment of a national carrier, Nigeria Air, information and culture minister Lai Mohammed has disclosed.

He said in Lagos that the decision became necessary because the Federal Government resolved not to finance the project alone.

He noted, however, that the project was still on course but that the Federal Government was trying to now get a better funding structure for the project and provide the enabling environment.

“A government will take a holistic view of any intended project and if the understanding of government at the beginning that the project will either be self-financing or would be financed by her investors and it turns out that such a project can no longer be financed by investors, either because they are not forthcoming or that such venture can no longer be viable, the government, this administration would do a rethink.

“Now, the business of government in business is to provide enabling environment and it is not to become the sole source of finance, the sole source of funding and in addition, it is much more than funding in trying to get our national carrier.

“We also need to look at the thinker aspect, overall, the Federal Government believes that this thing should be stepped down now till we get a better funding structure but a situation where this kind of thing would be funded by government, it can’t do it.”

Muhammed also dismissed insinuations that the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, did not carry the Federal Executive Council, FEC, along in the entire process, adding that if things did not work out as planned, the minister should not be blamed.

“It doesn’t mean that, you see you could start a project with a lot of assurances from many quarters and then at the critical point in time those assurances might not materialize so, it does not mean that he didn’t carry us along, from the beginning, from the start the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was privy to everything, so if anything happened in between, I cannot blame the honourable Minister for aviation for that”.

The Minister , however, gave the assurance that other projects on the Aviation Roadmap geared towards repositioning the aviation sector, including airport concession, MRO, aircraft leasing company, among others, would be looked into to see if they could still be executed.

“ I think what we should do is to look at each of these other projects in their own merits and individually and look at whether they can still be executed, but I don’t think the government should be condemned or criticized if it decides to step down a particular project.

‘’I think it is in the overall interest of the country that we don’t embark on a project which has not been well thought out or a project that would probably have to been abandoned midway.

“ I think that four years in the life of any country is a short time, this is a work in progress, it does not mean that we have completely abandoned or ended it,” he added.

In the meantime, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Wednesday gave a notification to revoke the operating licences of 182 other financial institutions in the country.

According to the list released by the regulator on Wednesday, 154 of the affected institutions are microfinance banks; six are primary mortgage banks; while the remaining 22 are finance companies.

The CBN said 62 of the microfinance banks had already closed shop; 74 became insolvent; 12 were terminally distressed; while six voluntarily liquidated.

The CBN listed the primary mortgage banks for revocation as Accord Savings and Loans Limited in Lagos that failed to recapitalise; and Ahocol Savings and Loans Limited in Anambra (state government-owned) that closed shop.

Other mortgage banks for revocation are Trans Atlantic Savings and Loans Limited in Bayelsa (state government-owned) that became insolvent; Royal Savings and Loans Limited in Delta State that also closed shop; Amex Savings and Loans Limited in Lagos that failed to recapitalise; and Supreme Savings and Loans Limited also in Lagos that closed shop.

The CBN disclosed that eight finance companies voluntary liquidated; 13 failed to recapitalise; while one became insolvent.

According to the apex bank, the affected institutions are from different states of the federation.

Coca-Cola set to takeover Nigeria’s Chi juice

By Business Desk, with Agency Report,

Coca-Cola is moving ahead with plans to take over Nigeria’s leading juice company Chi Ltd and aims to complete the deal early next year, a senior executive disclosed.

The acquisition for an undisclosed price is one of several steps the U.S. company is taking in a global strategy to diversify from its core business of sugary sodas.

Last month it agreed to buy Costa coffee for $5.1 billion, and sources familiar with the matter say it is also bidding for GlaxoSmithKline’s  Indian Horlicks nutrition business.

“We are still on track to complete the acquisition (of Chi Ltd) by the end of the first quarter of 2019,” Peter Njonjo, president of Coca-Cola’s west Africa business, said on Wednesday.

Coca-Cola bought a 40 percent stake in the Nigerian juice and snack producer in January 2016, and said at the time it aimed to increase ownership within three years.

Juice sales form a central plank of the U.S. company’s attempt to offer drinks at a range of price points in Nigeria to improve affordability in a country where Njonjo sees high inflation and modest economic growth in the coming year.

Focusing on smaller bottles and cans is another way the company is trying to woo cash-strapped consumers in Nigeria, which emerged from its first recession in 25 years in 2017 but continues to suffer from sluggish growth and high inflation.

“Affordability will start becoming a bigger issue in this market than it was in the past. As a company, that is what we need to factor in as we are thinking about the future of our business in Nigeria,” Njonjo said in an interview.

He pointed to the introduction of a 30 centilitre bottle of Coke Zero for 60 naira ($0.20), compared with the standard 50 centilitre bottle for 80 naira, as just one example.

Njonjo said the company’s drive to diversify its product range could also give it more flexibility in a market where unemployment is high and the United Nations estimates most of the population of 190 million lives on less than $2 a day.

“We realize that in certain pack formats you can only go down so low,” he said in an interview at his office in the commercial capital Lagos. “But once you start looking at pouches and still products, like juice and drinking yoghurts, that allows you to start accessing much lower price points.”

Njonjo said the purchase of Costa could present a “significant opportunity” in Nigeria, despite the absence of a culture of hot-coffee drinking there.

“There definitely could be opportunity around ready-to-drink coffee here in Nigeria … Having iced coffee, blends of dairy and coffee, packaged in different formats,” he said.

Njonjo said Horlicks, a malt-based hot beverage, was an “interesting proposition” that could be “a significant opportunity on the (African) continent”.

But while the company was researching drinks from locally relevant ingredients, such as ginger, he said he could not see a market for marijuana drinks – something the company has said it was closely watching in the past.

In January, Coca-Cola announced a global goal to help collect and recycle its packaging.

Njonjo said the company was working in Nigeria to collect bottles and find a way for them to be re-used through a partnership with cement-maker Lafarge in which bottles would be burned in kilns as an energy source.

A memorandum of understanding was being formalized and would be signed in the next few weeks, he said, adding that implementation would begin in the last quarter of this year.

He said the company was also working with Lagos state government on marine collection to remove waste from waterways in the city, which is built on a lagoon.

Qatar to produce electric vehicles by 2023

By Business Desk,

The Qatari electric vehicles will be manufactured by the factory which will be established at a cost of nine billion dollars, said “Qatar Tribune” newspaper.

The project will be the first-of-its-kind in the Middle East as it is a whole new brand, said Ali al-Misnad, Chairman of the Qatar Quality company, which is responsible for this project.

Al-Misnad also said that the new giant project aims to manufacture more than 500,000 cars by 2024 with plans to export the electric vehicles to countries all over the world.

As part of the project, the plan will include establishing of six factories and each will be specialised in different production line.

Eight surprises from Apple’s big iPhone XS event

By Business Desk,

For Apple fans, the wait for yesterday’s big press conference seemed like it was going to last an eternity. Details surrounding Apple’s next-generation iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR began leaking more than a year ago when the world’s top Apple insider revealed that Apple had three new iPhone models planned for 2018. The flow of leaks has been constant all year long, painting a clearer picture with each passing day. Then, just one week before Apple’s big event, nearly all the remaining details leak when Apple accidentally posted iPhone XS and Apple Watch Series 4 marketing materials on its website.

We definitely knew almost everything there was to know about Apple’s next-generation iPhones and Watch models before Apple executives even took the stage on Wednesday. That said, they still had a few tricks up their sleeves to surprise us with. In this post, we’ll recap the only eight big surprises from Apple’s press conference.

Prices

We had a good idea that this year’s new iPhone models were going to be expensive, but holy moly we had no idea just how expensive they were going to be. In fact, rumors suggested that the new iPhone XS would start at $899 this year instead of $999. Sadly, that’s not the case at all. It’s funny, though: last year Wall Street analysts flipped out when Apple announced the iPhone X starting at $999. This year, Apple’s top-end iPhone is even more expensive than a MacBook and Wall Street is loving it.

Here’s how pricing breaks down for the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max:

iPhone XS

  • 64GB: $999
  • 256GB: $1,149
  • 512GB: $1,399

iPhone XS Max

  • 64GB: $1,099
  • 256GB: $1,249
  • 512GB: $1,449

That’s right, boys and girls, Apple is about to start selling an iPhone that costs more than $1,500 after taxes. What a time to be alive.

Where the iPhone XR is concerned, things are even worse. Rumors suggested the XR would be a lower-cost alternative to the iPhone XS and XS Max, with the iPhone XR likely to start at around $650. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. It’s cheaper than Apple’s other new iPhones, but not by much.

iPhone XR

  • 64GB: $749
  • 128GB: $799
  • 256GB: $899

iPhone XR release date

There were a few rumors here and there that said Apple might have to delay the release date for the iPhone XR due to manufacturing difficulties, but most people didn’t pay them any mind. According to those rumors, Apple’s partners were having problems with light leakage around the outside of the phone’s LCD display, and they needed more time to iron out the wrinkles. Whether that’s the case or Apple just wants to make sure that as many early adopters as possible go for the more expensive iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, it turns out that the iPhone XR won’t be released until next month. Pre-orders open on October 18th with a release to follow on October 26th.

No AirPower

Remember that really cool wireless charging mat that Apple unveiled more than a year ago? Well reports suggested that Apple would finally announce release information during yesterday’s event. Instead, Apple removed any and all mention of the AirPower from its website. No one really knows what’s going on, but if you really want a wireless triple charger you can already get one on Amazon.

Faster Face ID

This is one of those rare instances when the world’s top Apple insider, TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, was wrong. Stop the presses!

Kuo reported many months ago that Face ID wouldn’t undergo any changes on this year’s new iPhones. That… isn’t the case at all. Instead, Apple upgraded both the hardware and the software that handles Face ID. Improvements to the TrueDepth camera system and to the A12 Bionic SoC will apparently give Face ID a big speed boost, and tweaks on the software side will help things even further.

New cameras

Apple improves the cameras on its iPhones every year so we expected some type of improvements, but we had no idea what they would be. Apple ended up announcing what may end up being the most impressive smartphone camera system in the world when the iPhone XS and iPhone XS MaX are released next week.

The new camera still has two 12-megapixel sensors, one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens. All of the components in the camera system have been upgraded though, and the sensor is now twice as fast

In addition to hardware changes in the camera itself and software enhancements like Smart HDR, the new A12 Bionic chipset has an upgraded image signal processor (ISP) that further improves photo processing speeds and image quality.

Depth effect

There’s plenty to look forward to with Apple’s upcoming new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max camera, but one feature in particular came as a surprise. It wasn’t just a surprise because it hadn’t been revealed in rumors, but also because it’s something no other camera in the world can do. On Apple’s new iPhones, you can actually adjust the depth of field in a Portrait Mode photograph after you’ve taken the picture! Even more impressive is the fact that the iPhone XR has this feature as well, despite the fact that it only has a single-lens rear camera. It’s likely not quite as impressive as it is on the iPhone XS and XS Max, but it’s still another industry first.

A12 Bionic

We obviously knew that Apple would reveal its next-generation processor alongside its new iPhones. We also knew the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max would be the first smartphones in the world to ship with 7-nanometer chipsets. What we didn’t know, however, is just how massive an upgrade the A12 Bionic would be.

This industry-first 7nm SoC has a 6-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. The cores can run independently or all the same time, depending on the tasks at hand. The A12 also has a new 4-core GPU that is 50% faster than the A11’s GPU, and there’s an upgraded 8-core neural engine and a brand new image signal processor (ISP) as well. Apple says the A12 Bionic can process 5 trillion operations per second, which compares to 600 billion in the A11.

A12 Bionic in the iPhone XR

Last but certainly not least, the fact that the iPhone XR is also powered by the A12 Bionic SoC came as a big surprise. Rumors positioned the iPhone XR as an upper mid-range phone that would feature more modest specs and pricing that started in the $600 range. The phone’s specs are a bit less impressive than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but just barely. In fact, the iPhone XR will end up being more powerful than most flagship Android phones over the year to come.

Since rumors positioned the iPhone XR as a sort of iPhone SE upgrade, many people assumed that it would be powered by last year’s A11 Bionic chipset so that Apple could keep costs down. That’s not the case though, and the iPhone XR gets the same impressive A12 Bionic SoC as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

Apple’s iPhone eSIM could be a big deal

By Business Desk,

Apple has introduced a technology called eSIM into its latest iPhones that could open new revenue streams for the tech giant, analysts have said — but it will have to balance its relationship with major carriers around the world.

The iPhone XR, XS and XS Max will all have dual-SIM capabilities. This means that a user will be able to have two separate phone lines. One will be via a traditional physical SIM card and the other will be an eSIM or embedded SIM.

The technology will theoretically allow a user to change carriers without having to order a new SIM card or go to a shop. Instead, they could just sign up digitally.

This is useful if you’re traveling abroad and want a temporary local number. Or if you want to have your work and personal numbers on the same device.

Dual-SIM hasn’t really been a popular option in countries including the U.S. and U.K., but is liked by consumers in emerging markets such as India, a country where Apple has had a small market share. Dual-SIM could prove very popular for users in these markets. Apple has had eSim technology previously in its iPad Pro and is not the first smartphone maker to offer it.

But the eSIM option could open new business models for Apple, according to analysts.

“The eSIM will be controlled by Apple and it can dictate which carriers to partner with, support and show relative mobile plans,” Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, told CNBC by email on Thursday.

“So Apple can be the gatekeeper now since it will have control over eSIM. Thus it will demand a revenue cut for the activations happening through eSIM.”

Shah said that Apple could also offer its own tariffs that are white-labeled by other mobile providers and charge a “premium for the convenience and ease of activating a new plan.”

Ian Fogg, vice president of analysis at OpenSignal, backed up that view in a LinkedIn post Thursday, saying Apple could introduce its own data tariffs “to take charge of more of the end-to-end mobile network experience.”

However, this is unlikely because of the complexities of doing so and the reliance on mobile networks.

“Apple’s ability to deliver the complete mobile network experience will remain limited even if it offers its own mobile tariffs using eSIM, because of Apple’s continued reliance on wholesale services from the mobile operators which own both spectrum and network infrastructure,” Fogg said.

“The mobile operators are not going away any time soon. Apple knows this and will continue to work with them.”

Still, Apple’s move with the eSIM is likely to worry mobile carriers because it could allow users to switch providers quickly, heating up competition in what is a tough market for many operators.

“Introducing dual SIMs in all markets is a bold move by Apple and something that will give mobile operators a lot to think about,” Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said in a note Wednesday.

“The potential for new business models is limited while Apple continues to offer a physical SIM card slot alongside the eSIM capability. But, if it eventually decides to get rid of the physical SIM it will have significant implications for how customers buy airtime in the future.”

But it’s hard for carriers to ignore right now and Apple has done well to get major names on-board. In the U.S., AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are all signed up. In India, major telcos Reliance Jio and Airtel will offer services.

Neil Campling, co-head of the global thematic group at Mirabaud Securities, told CNBC by email on Thursday: “Carriers can’t complain as they need to offer Apple devices, but Apple is just making it easier for users — and ease of use has always been the MO of Apple products. What this will likely do is accelerate price competition at the carrier level and could increase churn rates… which is never a good thing for carriers, of course.”

Why Jack Ma is retiring at 54 from Alibaba

By Business Desk,

Alibaba co-founder and chairman Jack Ma plans to retire from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education.

Ma was an English teacher before starting Alibaba in 1999 and built it into a multibillion-dollar internet colossus, becoming one of the world’s richest men and a revered figure in his homeland.

His own worth has soared along with that of the company, which was valued at $420.8 billion based on its share price at the close of trade on Friday.

Ma told The New York Times that he plans to step down from the company on Monday — his 54th birthday — referring to his departure as “the beginning of an era” rather than an end.

Ma, who gave up the title of CEO in 2013, said he now planned to devote his time and fortune to education.

The way he chose to make the announcement was unusual. The New York Times is blocked in China by Communist Party censors and there was no official statement from Alibaba on Saturday.

But in an interview with Bloomberg TV released on Friday, he hinted at his retirement plans, saying he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists.

“There’s a lot of things I can learn from Bill Gates. I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” he said.

“I think some day, and soon, I’ll go back to teaching,” he said, adding he had been preparing philanthropy plans at his eponymous foundation “for 10 years”.

Ma is part of a generation of billionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes as China embraced the digital age, creating some of the country’s largest and most successful companies in the space of little more than a decade.

Huge conglomerates like Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com are to China what Facebook and Google are to the United States.

Ma is the first of his generation of uber-wealthy tech bosses to retire, a rare move in a country where business figures often run their empires well into their 80s — Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing only retired in May at the age of 89.

Ma’s rags-to-riches story is particularly remarkable.

Born into a poor family in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, Ma became a university teacher but gave the job up after discovering the internet.

After being knocked back by US venture capitalists in 1999, a cash-strapped Ma persuaded friends to give him $60,000 to start Alibaba, which operated out of an apartment in Hangzhou.

“The first time I used the internet, I touched on the keyboard and I find ‘well, this is something I believe, it is something that is going to change the world and change China,’” Ma once told CNN.

The company, still headquartered in his hometown, initially allowed businesses to sell products to each other online but soon morphed into China’s largest online retail market.

It transformed how Chinese people shop and pay for things, especially through the now ubiquitous Alipay digital payment service.

The Alibaba empire now spans well beyond online retail and payments to include cloud computing, digital media and entertainment, with sterling revenue growth that jumped another 61 percent in the quarter ending June 30.

As he prepares to leave the company, Ma is among China’s richest men with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $38.6 billion.

Ma has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs — although he practised a more open management style.

A devotee of tai chi, he has made references to Chinese martial arts in both business strategy and corporate culture.

Porter Erisman, a former Alibaba employee who made a documentary about the firm, “Crocodile in the Yangtze,” said: “What Silicon Valley is known for, he embodies a lot of that with Chinese characteristics — that spirit of openness, risk-taking, innovation.”

Chinese state media have burnished his rags-to-riches story, saying his parents were poorly educated and his father depended on a monthly retirement allowance of just $40 to support the family.

Ma’s retirement comes after a torrid couple of weeks for his rival tech CEOs in China.

Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of Alibaba’s main competitor JD.com, was briefly arrested in the US over a rape allegation last week. He was released and returned to China, although the investigation remains active.

Meanwhile internet and gaming giant Tencent, an e-payment rival, has seen its profits and share price drop amid an apparent regulatory squeeze on the tech giant’s online gaming business.

Beijing has announced plans to regulate the country’s highly popular video game industry, including restrictions on the number of new releases to address concerns over children’s eyesight and gaming addiction.

Toyota to recall 1m hybrid models over wiring issue

By Business Desk,

Toyota Motor Corp. says it plans to recall around 1.03 million vehicles, including its gasoline-hybrid Prius model in Japan and other regions, due to an issue with the engine wire harness which can pose a fire risk.

Toyota spokesman Jean-Yves Jault said on Wednesday in Tokyo that the issue affected vehicles produced in Japan between June 2015 and May 2018.

Jault said the vehicles included the plug-in version of the Prius and the C-HR compact crossover SUV sold in Japan, Europe, Australia and other countries.

According to him, in the affected vehicles, the wire harness which connects to the hybrid power control unit can come into contact with the covering at the connection point.

“If dust accumulates on the wire harness or the cover, the insulation on the wires could wear down over time due to vehicle vibrations.

“This could cause an electrical short circuit, which could generate heat and lead to a risk of fire,” Toyota said.

“Roughly half of the recalls would take place in Japan.”

Jault added that the issue had led to one incident of a short circuiting in Japan which produced smoke from the vehicle, prompting a domestic recall announcement by Japan’s transport ministry.

Nigeria set to lose 550,000 barrels of oil by ExxonMobil

By News Desk,

ExxonMobil said  a blockade by former employees threatens crude production at oil facilities in Nigeria, adding that “disruptions to these operations have the potential to significantly impact revenues.”

The company made the announcement in a statement after a six-week blockade by former workers at the oil facilities.

Mobil Producing Nigeria, the ExxonMobil subsidiary that released the statement, produces over 550,000 barrels per day of crude oil, condensates and natural gas liquids, according to the company website.

The blockades were described in ExxonMobil’s statement as the “playing of loud music, defacing of company facilities and intimidation of personnel.”

The “continued denial of access to lproduction facilities could impact the company’s ability to safely continue production operations,” ExxonMobil said.

The protest which began on 17 July was over the sacking of 860 Nigerian workers most of whom had worked with the company for over 22 years without regards for the rule of law.

Rasak Obe, the Chairman of ExxonMobil Branch of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), said the  union was shocked by the mass sack of security personnel who had faithfully served the company for many years.

He said the management should immediately reinstate the employees of the security department  and pay all entitlements due to them.

The union leader also urged the management to immediately reinstate the 16 employees purportedly sacked in Dec. 2016 in a similar fashion.

He demanded the immediate release and repatriation of over 20 expatriate personnel in the security department who had been engaged and kept in defiance of extant Nigerian laws and security directives.

According to him, this was an unfortunate situation which the Supreme Court of Nigeria had corrected with its April 20, 2018 judgment.

“This underscored the scale of error in company’s assessment of the reality after the Supreme Court judgment.

“There are tens more who by the judgment are active employees of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited.

“To say the least, this wholesale sack unambiguously conveys management’s disdain for the highest court of the country and mocks its ruling on the subject”.

Obe said the company was quick to indiscriminately sack Nigerians and replace them with expatriates, taking jobs Nigerians have successfully performed over the decades.

He said expatriate security personnel, many of whom were ex-service men, were currently engaged in the security department against the directives of National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) and the Nigerian Defence Ministry.

Electric Mercedes opens German assault on Tesla

By Business Desk,

Mercedes-Benz is set to unveil its much-anticipated electric SUV on Tuesday, marking the start of a German onslaught against Tesla’s dominance of the fast-growing market for premium battery cars.

Daimler-owned Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche divisions are all gunning for the $52 billion Californian upstart, with early publicity efforts emulating its tech-industry halo.

The market for upscale electric cars is Tesla’s to lose, with sales of its entry-level Model 3 sedan expected to reach about 50,000 cars this year and almost double that in 2019.

The Mercedes EQC – whose launch program in Stockholm features yoga in a direct appeal to the Millennials who have flocked to Tesla – is the first production model under the carmaker’s electric EQ sub-brand. It will be closely followed by similarly hyped debuts for BMW and Audi.

“While Tesla currently has a strong hold on the luxury electric market, I don’t think this will be the case after the arrival of the German premium offerings,” said Wajih Hossenally, an automotive powertrain analyst with IHS Markit.

“Tesla has virtually zero competition – but this will change from 2019 onwards.”

Rival forecaster LMC Automotive agrees, predicting a steady decline in Tesla’s share of an exploding electric-car market over the next decade, from today’s 12.3 percent to 2.8 percent, even as its absolute sales continue to rise.

The Germans’ combined market share will surpass Tesla’s to reach 11.8 percent in 2020 before increasing further to about 19 percent three years later, according to its projections.

The new Mercedes, due to reach its first customers next year, will be priced close to the fuel-burning GLC to compete in the same bracket as Tesla’s $49,000 Model 3, helped by its hotter-selling SUV form.

An affordable Model Y SUV is slated to join Tesla’s high-end Model X crossover and Model S car, but not before 2020-21.

TECH BUZZ

The EQC softens its higher-riding proportions with sporty curves and a distinctive full-width rear light, while the interior resembles that of the Mercedes C-Class – a reminder of economies of scale that electric-only Tesla cannot match.

Well aware that their earlier battery-car offerings have failed to get anything like Tesla’s level of public attention, the German brands are doggedly courting Silicon Valley-style buzz for the coming product blitz.

Executives including Mercedes Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche have taken to appearing in jeans and sneakers, responding to a broader tech-industry incursion into areas such as autonomous driving and connected services.

When it came to the EQC launch, Mercedes picked the city of Stockholm for its startup scene and green credentials, then began firing off teasers on Instagram as well as Twitter.

Like Tesla, Mercedes is announcing EQC orders in Norway even before its price. It has amassed more than 2,000 refundable deposits of 20,000 crowns ($2,400) in Europe’s biggest electric-car market, where Tesla sold 8,500 vehicles last year.

The launch is the centerpiece of a three-day event that features DJ sets and yoga with a YouTube star – almost literally bending over backwards to telegraph 21st-century kudos.

Audi on Monday began production of its e-Tron SUV ahead of a Sept. 17 sales launch jamboree in San Francisco, just 40 miles from Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant. It also plans to begin taking reservations backed by refundable $1,000 deposits.

The e-Tron is due in showrooms early next year, followed in 2020 by two more electric Audis and the Porsche Taycan sports car from its Volkswagen Group stablemate.

WOW FACTOR

Not to be outdone, BMW has hired a Lufthansa cargo jet to fly its electric Vision iNext – still just a concept car – from Munich to Beijing via New York and, of course, San Francisco. Events are planned in all four cities over five days.

In another Tesla-inspired move, the three German carmakers are developing their own network of fast-chargers along major highways in a partnership with Ford.

While some experts doubt the Germans can ever match the wow factor around Tesla and its founding boss Elon Musk, many also wonder whether they need to.

“German manufacturers have highly desirable, fun-to-drive premium cars in their DNA,” said Nicolai Mueller, a McKinsey partner based in Cologne. “That’s a very good starting point.”

Tesla used its powerful tech aura to persuade early adopters to pay a premium for an all-electric car from a relative unknown, with no quality track-record or physical dealerships for servicing and support.

But the German carmakers have a century of manufacturing behind them, with sterling brands, well developed global sales networks and an existing customer base in the millions.

BMW’s i3 mini and an earlier Audi e-Tron failed to shift large volumes, but the electric-car market has matured since. LMC sees China driving global sales growth above 50 percent annually as the German offensive gets underway in 2019-20.

By then the Model S flagship will be eight years old. Musk, by tweeting then withdrawing plans to take Tesla private, has sharpened doubts about the company’s ability to keep expanding and updating its lineup.

“Tesla is potentially facing a product shortfall starting in 2020,” Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois warned investors in a note last week.

Tyler Martin, a Tesla owner in Tucson, Arizona, said he had yet to decide whether to buy a Model 3 next – after his current Model S suffered from “build quality” issues requiring several trips to the repair shop each year.

One big question is whether competitors can offer a viable alternative to Tesla’s proprietary fast-charging network, the 28-year-old software entrepreneur said.

If they can, Martin added, “I would definitely consider another brand.”

MTN Nigeria replies CBN on illegal repatriation of $8.1 billion

By Business Desk,

MTN Nigeria on Thursday refuted the claims by the Central Bank of Nigeria that it illegally, in collusion with four Nigerian banks repatriated $8.1billion from its Nigerian operations to offshore investors.

The CBN said the remittances between 2007 and 2015, in tranches of of 2.63 billion dollars, 1.766 billion dollars and 348 million dollars were done in flagrant violation of the rule that says it can only be done with regular ‘Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs)’ issued by the apex bank.

The CBN said MTN did the repatriation after illegally converting shareholders’ loan of $399, 594,146 to preference shares. As part of the sanctions, four banks, Stanbic IBTC Nigeria, Citibank Nigeria and Diamond Bank Plc,were fined by the CBN.

Standard Chartered Bank would pay a fine of N2.47 billion, Stanbic IBTC, N1.88 billion, Citibank Nigeria, N1.26 billion and Diamond bank, N250 million.

Funso Aina, Public Relations Manager, Corporate Affairs/Corporate Relations MTN denied the claims by the CBN

“MTN Nigeria received a letter on Aug 29 from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) alleging that Certificate of Capital Important (CCIs) issued in respect of the conversion of shareholders’ loans in MTN Nigeria to preference shares in 2007 had been improperly issued.

`As a consequence they claim that historic dividends repatriated by MTN Nigeria between 2007 and 2015 amounting to $8.1 billion need to be refunded to the CBN.

“MTN Nigeria strongly refutes these allegations and claims.

“No dividends have been declared or paid by MTN Nigeria other than pursuant to CCIs issued by our bankers and with the approval of the CBN as required by law,” he said.

Aina said that the issues surrounding the CCIs had already been the subject of a thorough enquiry by the Senate of Nigeria.

He added that in September 2016 the Senate mandated the Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation on compliance with the Foreign exchange (monitoring and miscellaneous) Act by MTN Nigeria & Others.

He said that in its report issued in November 2017, the findings evidenced that MTN Nigeria did not collude to contravene the foreign exchange laws and there were no negative recommendations made against MTN Nigeria.

“MTN Nigeria, as a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria, is committed to good governance and to abide by the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The re-emergence of these issues is regrettable as it damages investor confidence and, by extension, inhibits the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.

“We will engage with the relevant authorities and vigorously defend our position on this matter and provide further information when available.

CBN’s spokesperson, Isaac Okorafor, said the apex bank has written MTN Nigeria demanding a refund of the $8.13 billion, repatriated.

The Bank resolved to sanction the commercial banks following investigations in March 2018, which confirmed allegations of remittance of foreign exchange with irregular Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs) issued on behalf of some offshore investors of MTN Nigeria.