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Lagos-Ibadan rail will be test run in 10 days-NRC

By News desk

The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has disclosed that the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge line will test run by February.

It would be recalled that  Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, had said in 2018 that the completion of Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge would also ease off the Apapa gridlock.

The NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, who disclosed this on Wednesday at Ijoko in Ogun, while inspecting the project, added that work on the tracks is moving towards Lagos with 1.5 kilometers being laid daily.

“They have done a lot in laying of tracks between Abeokuta, Itori, Papalanto, Kajola, Ijoko towards Lagos corridor.

“Within seven days the track laying will reach Iju towards Agege corridor of Lagos state.

“From here to Iju is 10 kilometers, and we are laying 1.5 kilometers on daily basis and by the first week of February we will do a test run to Abeokuta from Lagos.

“All the formations have been put in place to expedite the tracks laying,” he said.

The managing director said work had been completed between Kajola and Abeokuta.

NRC Lagos District Manager, Jerry Oche, said that when completed, the trains would be travelling at 150 kilometers per hour.

“With the new standard gauge, you can reside in Ibadan and be working in Lagos which is a very good development to people and for our economy,” he said.

Earlier, Amaechi said: “As you can see, the narrow gauge is existing but it’s not efficient, but the moment we fix this project, then those goods will be transferred to the rail and the lock jam will disappear on the road.

Ford, Jaguar sacks thousands across Europe

By News Desk

Ford and Jaguar Land Rover unveiled sweeping job cuts across Europe on Thursday as carmakers struggle with a slump in demand for diesel vehicles, tougher emissions rules and a global economic slowdown led by China.

Tata-owned JLR TMAO.NS, based in central England, said it will cut 4,500 out of 42,500 jobs, while Ford said it will slash “thousands” of jobs as part of an overhaul that could result in plant closures and the discontinuation of some models.

A trade war between China and the United States combined with Britain’s pending exit from the European Union has fragmented once global markets, forcing carmakers to reassess the profitability of individual models and locations.

In recent quarters, JLR and Ford’s profits have lagged behind those of peers BMW, Volkswagen and Peugeot, ramping up investor pressure on managers to stem losses.

“We are taking decisive action to transform the Ford business in Europe,” Steven Armstrong, group vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a statement on Thursday.

Ford Europe, which employs 53,000 people, has been losing money for years and pressure to restructure its operations has increased since arch-rival General Motors G.M raised profits by selling its European Opel and Vauxhall brands to France’s Peugeot SAC (PEUP.PA).

JLR said demand in China, once one of its strongest countries, fell by 21.6 percent in 2018, the biggest drop of any of its markets.

“The economic slowdown in China along with ongoing trade tensions is continuing to influence consumer confidence,” said Jaguar Land Rover Chief Commercial Officer Felix Brautigam.

The job cuts come as Ford and JLR have been hit by a fall in demand for diesel-engined cars and after European policymakers last month agreed stricter pollution limits, forcing carmakers to accelerate investments to make electric cars.

“We believe Ford Europe could require as much as a 20 to 30 percent reduction of capacity and headcount,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a note on Thursday.

Ford said it will seek to exit the family vans or MPV segment, review its operations in Russia, and combine the headquarters of Ford U.K. and Ford Credit to a site in Dunton, Essex to achieve a 6 percent operating margin in Europe.

“We want to be a net contributor of capital and not a net detractor,” Armstrong told journalists on a later call, referring to Europe’s financial contribution to U.S. parent Ford Motor (F.N).

Ford Europe reported a 245 million euro ($282 million) loss before interest and taxes in the third quarter, equivalent to a negative 3.3 percent EBIT margin.

Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors and employs around 40,000 people in Britain, on Thursday reported a 4.6 percent drop in full-year sales to just under 600,000 vehicles. It lost 354 million pounds between April and September 2018.

Automakers have been hit by a regulatory clampdown on diesel emissions ever since Volkswagen admitted to systematic cheating in 2015, leading regulators to discover massive discrepancies between real-world and theoretical pollution levels.

Diesel accounts for 90 percent of Jaguar Land Rover’s British sales and 45 percent of global demand, the company said last year, as demand tumbles following new levies in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal.

Ford’s Armstrong said pressure to build electric and hybrid cars had forced the carmaker to make choices about where to allocate its capital.

“In smaller vehicles the diesel decline is accelerating. It is unlikely that we will further develop small diesel engines for smaller passenger cars,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said any Ford layoffs and plant closures would be subject to negotiations with labor representatives, and such plans did not account for the possibility of a ‘hard’ exit by Britain from the European Union.

“If Brexit went in the wrong direction we would have to have another look, to mitigate that,” Armstrong said. A Ford spokesman said the carmaker currently assumes that any Brexit deal would keep tariff-free trade between Britain and Europe.

Jaguar Land Rover Chief Executive Ralf Speth said he had serious concerns about the impact of a hard Brexit but it was not possible to predict what steps might be required if that happens.

“I don’t want to make at the moment any statement about Brexit and/or the closure of the plant or further implications out of it not knowing the results from politics. We have to know first what is going on.”

Fellow carmakers Mini, Rolls-Royce and Honda have said they would temporarily close plants in April after Brexit to avoid any disruption.

 

China mulls 6,800 km new rail track for 2019

By News Desk

The Chinese Government has earmarked 6,800 kilometers (4,225 miles) worth of new railway lines for 2019, a 40 percent jump from the length of tracks laid last year.

According to the country’s railway operator on Wednesday, amid a wider push to boost infrastructure spending, at least 3,200 kilometers of this target will be high-speed rail.

The China Railway Corp, in a statement on its official WeChat account, said it invested in 4,683 kilometers worth of new rail lines last year, of which 4,100 were high-speed rail.

The country invested 802.9 billion yuan ($117.12 billion) in rail fixed assets in 2018, the company added. It had set an initial budget of 732 billion yuan in January last year.

It did not give an investment target for 2019.

China has spent billions of dollars in its railway network over the past decade, but there have been signs that this was starting to slow as the network grew and Beijing began to crack down on local government debt. Its 2018 investment target was its lowest since 2013.

However, the government began to speed up investment spending in the second half of last year in a bid to spur growth in the country’s slowing economy by approving new railway projects and reviving suspended ones.

72 FRSC officials killed on-duty in Kaduna

By News Desk

Atleast 72 Federal Road Safety Corps (FRCS) officers have been confirmed killed while enforcing road safety laws in Kaduna Zonal Command by reckless and unruly drivers in 2018.

The Kaduna Zonal Command of FRSC comprises Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states.

A breakdown of the statistics indicates that Jigawa recorded 84 accidents with 69 deaths — the highest in the zone — Katsina State recorded 14 accidents, while the number of accidents in Kaduna State reduced from 24 in 2017 to 14 in 2018.

FRSC Zonal Commanding Officer (ZCO), Abayomi Omiyale, disclosed the statistics on Friday at a one-day retreat organized for FRSC commanding officers in the zone.

Omiyale said that some of the officers were knocked down by reckless drivers, while others were attacked by disobedient motorists and some people for personal reasons or.

“Over the last one year, our patrol officers have been knocked down, some were attacked or even shot, leading to the death of 72 patrol officers in the zone. Our vehicles and properties were also vandalised,” he said.

Besides, the commander said that a total of 717 accidents, involving 6,190 vehicles, were recorded during the period under review, representing a 5.8 per cent reduction to the 725 accidents which were recorded in 2017.

He said that 687 persons died in the accidents, reflecting a 16 per cent increase on the 583 deaths that were recorded in 2017.

Omiyale, however, said that the number of those injured reduced from 3,144 persons in 2017 to 3,047 persons in 2018, representing a 3.0 per cent reduction.

Omiyale particularly blamed the increasing number of deaths from road crashes in the zone on vehicles overloading, excessive speeding and reckless driving.

He said that the retreat would provide an opportunity for the zonal FRSC command to assess its performance in the outgoing year and highlight the perceptible challenges, with a view to addressing them and fashioning out the way forward for 2019.

“The retreat will also remind our patrol officers that we interface with the public during operations; we have to be civil and professional in carrying out our duty of ensuring sanity on our roads.

“We equally need to be cautious while on patrol; we should, however, look out for offenders who have a high tendency to become violent,” he added.

Omiyale reiterated the commitment of FRSC toward ensuring a drastic reduction in road accidents by enforcing strict compliance with the traffic rules and regulations.

Also speaking, Gov. Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State commended FRSC for its tireless efforts to ensure sanity on the country’s highways.

The governor, who was represented by Director of Civil Engineering, Ministry of Works, Housing and Transport, Yohana Waje, pledged the state government’s support for the efforts of FRSC to promote road safety.

FRSC establishes 201 mobile courts ahead yuletide

By Newsdesk

Worried by flagrant disobedience to traffic laws across the country, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has disclosed that plans have been concluded to establish 201 mobile courts, basically to prosecute traffic offenders during yuletide and others.

FRSC stressed that the mobile courts were in line with the directive of the Federal Executive Council that relevant agencies must ensure smooth movement of persons and goods during the period.

Corps Marshal and CEO of FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, who disclosed this to State House correspondents on Thursday in Abuja, explained that the corps was putting adequate measures in place and setting machinery in motion to achieve the goal.

He revealed further that they have divided the country into 52 corridors, adding that the corps would deploy 21,000 personnel and 1,000 vehicles on the roads.

The corps marshal disclosed that there would be 40 road camps across the nation when they begin the one month exercise.

The exercise, Oyeyemi hinted would commence on December 15 and ends January 15, 2019.

ASUU: Students Call For An End To Strike As 11 Students Die In Auto Accident

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) on Friday expressed sadness over the death of 11 students of University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in an auto accident on Tuesday.

A total of 11 students of UNIMAID died in the accident on Nov. 20 on their way to Damaturu from Maiduguri following the ASUU strike.

The National Public Relations Officer of NANS, Mr Best Okereafor, gave the condolence in a statement issued in Enugu on Friday.

He stated that “NANS mourns the fallen Nigerian students and in same vain attribute the demise to the ongoing Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) strike.

“NANS believes that if the strike was not ongoing; the students would have been in school, studying.

“NANS is calling on the Federal Government to save our future and consider the souls of these fallen innocent Nigerian students often told that they are the leaders of tomorrow. Can we lead in grave?

“In as much as we believe in the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, NANS is on this sad note, calling on Federal Government to make students happy by meeting the demands of the striking ASUU and Colleges of Education lecturers without further delay.”

According to him, ASUU should not politicise the industrial action but consider the lives of Nigerian students by shifting grounds.

“We appreciate the ASUU agitations as some are students oriented and we are part of the struggle as we are most affected as well.”

Dana Air loses N100m, threatens to downsize

By Business Desk,

Dana Air on Thursday said it had lost over N100 million to the ongoing dispute between aviation unions and Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL).

The airliner said that the dispute had led to the shutting down of the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 where it was operating from.

Dana Air’s Communication Manager, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, said the airline might also be forced to downsize if the industrial action should continue for too long.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the unions had for the second-day running grounded flight operations and business activities at the terminal over the alleged sacking of 24 employees by BASL for indicating interest to unionise.

The unions are: The National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE).

Ezenwa said: “For now, we have lost over N100 million to the ongoing action.

“Losing such money in an industry where airlines are still grappling with a myriad of challenges is unacceptable and disappointing to say the least.

“We do not know how the situation will be in the coming days and we might have no other option that to downsize if the action stretches for too long,” he said.

Ezenwa also apologised to the airline’s teeming passengers who had missed their flights as a result of the ongoing dispute between the two parties.

He disclosed that the airline had temporarily moved its operations to the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) due to the picketing.

“Our worst fear, however is, if the terminal will be able to process the number of passengers when there is a coincidence in flight schedule with over eight airlines having to operate from the GAT at the moment.

“We appeal to the parties involved to resolve the dispute in consideration of the passengers for whom we are all in the industry to serve.

“Without the passengers, there will not be any airline, regulator or industry and we believe they should not suffer for what they did not contribute to.

“While we respect the rights of both parties to engage each other based on extant laws, we call on all concerned to intervene and save the industry from further crises,” he said in a statement issued in Lagos.

Ezenwa noted that at the moment, MMA2 remained the terminal that was providing  passengers the best in terms of facilitation.

He thanked  Dana Air passengers for their constant support and understanding and assured them of the airline’s commitment to continue to offer the best of services at all times.

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.

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.”

Total CEO, Pouyanne drives electric car

By Business Desk,

Here is a confession that should make crude oil producers and oil investors worried. The chief executive of French oil and gas giant Total said on Monday that he and his wife drive an electric car.

“It’s a 100 percent e-car. It’s a nice Renault electric car. And I’m driving it every weekend. It’s my private car,” Patrick Pouyanne told an oil conference.

But he added that he uses an official car that relies on fossil fuels.

“Of course I have my company car which is internal combustion. To make long distances I don’t use an electric car.”

When Total took over upstart utility Direct Energie in April, it said the deal was part of its strategy to grow its low-carbon power generating assets to 20 percent of total assets by 2035 from 5 percent today. These include solar, wind and other renewables assets.

Speaking at an oil conference in Norway, Pouyanne said the chief executive of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Yngve Slyngstad, had encouraged him to make the most of the “magic of electricity”.

The fund owns 1.79 percent of Total.