Business

FILE PHOTO: JD.com founder Richard Liu attends a Reuters interview in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: JD.com founder Richard Liu attends a Reuters interview in Hong Kong, China June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

April 20, 2019

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of people have added their names to an online petition in support of a University of Minnesota student who said she was raped last August by Richard Liu, the chief executive officer of China’s e-commerce retailer JD.com Inc.

The student, Liu Jingyao, from China, filed a civil lawsuit against JD’s CEO in a Minneapolis court on Tuesday, nearly four months after prosecutors declined to press criminal charges against him.

The law suit identified the student for the first time. The two Lius are not related.

Richard Liu, through his lawyers, maintained his innocence throughout the law enforcement investigation, which ended in December. The company did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

It was unclear who launched the petition, which carried the hashtag #HereForJingyao, although signatories included Chinese students at foreign universities as well as in China. On Saturday, it was gathering momentum on the social media platform WeChat, with more than 500 names attached.

“To Liu Jingyao: You are not alone. We believe in survivors, we believe in your bravery and honesty, we will always stand with you. We must join hands and march together in the face of the challenge of a culture of blaming the victims of rape,” the petition said.

A Chinese-language translation of the indictment was also circulating online.

Liu Jingyao first accused Richard Liu of rape in August when he was visiting the University of Minnesota to attend a program directed at executives from China.

Liu, 46, who started JD.com as a humble electronics stall and expanded it into an e-commerce company with 2018 net revenues of $67 billion, was arrested on Aug. 31 but released without charge about 17 hours later.

A fledgling #MeToo-style movement in support of women’s rights has been slow to gain wide traction in China, where issues like sexual assault have traditionally been brushed under the carpet.

China’s ruling Communist Party, wary about grassroots organizing, has also in recent months put pressure on activists focused on issues like sexual assault on campuses and workers’ rights.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch and Shu Zhang; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Source: OANN

Huawei logo is pictured during the media day for the Shanghai auto show in Shanghai
A Huawei logo is pictured during the media day for the Shanghai auto show in Shanghai, China April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

April 20, 2019

(Reuters) – U.S. intelligence has accused Huawei Technologies of being funded by Chinese state security, The Times said on Saturday, adding to the list of allegations faced by the Chinese technology company in the West.

The CIA accused Huawei of receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, the British newspaper reported, citing a source.

Earlier this year, U.S. intelligence shared its claims with other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which includes Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, according to the report http://bit.ly/2KT7ztd.

Huawei dismissed the allegations in a statement cited by the newspaper.

“Huawei does not comment on unsubstantiated allegations backed up by zero evidence from anonymous sources,” a Huawei representative told The Times.

The company, the CIA and Chinese state security agencies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The accusation comes at a time of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing and amid concerns in the United States that Huawei’s equipment could be used for espionage. The company has said the concerns are unfounded.

Authorities in the United States are probing Huawei for alleged sanctions violations.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada in December at the request of the United States on charges of bank and wire fraud in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

She denies wrongdoing and her father has previously said the arrest was “politically motivated”.

Amid such charges, top educational institutions in the West have recently severed ties with Huawei to avoid losing federal funding.

Another Chinese technology company, ZTE Corp, has also been at the center of similar controversies in the United States.

U.S. sanctions forced ZTE to stop most business between April and July last year after Commerce Department officials said it broke a pact and was caught illegally shipping U.S.-origin goods to Iran and North Korea. The sanctions were lifted after ZTE paid $1.4 billion in penalties.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the United States will push its allies at a meeting in Prague next month to adopt shared security and policy measures that will make it more difficult for Huawei to dominate 5G telecommunications networks.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen in Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen in Los Angeles, California U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

April 19, 2019

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc said on Friday that four members of its eleven-member board would be leaving over the next two years, as the electric car company looks to streamline its board.

Brad Buss, Antonio Gracias, Stephen Jurvetson, and Linda Johnson Rice will not be standing for re-election in the upcoming annual meetings of stockholders in 2019 and 2020, the company said https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1318605/000156459019012123/tsla-8k_20190418.htm in a regulatory filing.

The company said its directors reviewed the composition of the board “focusing on a phased streamlining of the size of the Board to allow it to operate more nimbly and efficiently.”

Tesla said the decision did not result from any disagreement between the company and the directors.

Of the four members who would exit the board, Buss and Gracias were part of Tesla’s disclosure controls committee, overseeing the implementation of the terms of the consent agreement between Tesla and the SEC.

Buss was also the chief financial officer of solar panel installer SolarCity for two years before retiring in 2016. Tesla bought SolarCity that year.

Gracias has been an independent director at Tesla since 2010. Last May, proxy adviser ISS recommended that investors vote against his election to the board and called him a non-independent director.

Jurvetson, the co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is said to be on a leave of absence from Tesla’s board since allegations of sexual harassment against him arose. Jurvetson has denied the allegations against him. (https://reut.rs/2mn57in)

The proposed changes in the board come a couple of weeks after Elon Musk’s position as the chief executive officer of Tesla was secured after a federal judge urged the billionaire to settle contempt allegations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over his use of Twitter.

Musk was sued by the SEC last year for tweeting that he had “funding secured” to take the company private. He settled the lawsuit, agreeing to step down as chairman and have the company’s lawyers pre-approve written communications with material information about the company.

But he was again accused of violating that settlement by sending a tweet about Tesla’s production that had not been vetted by the company’s attorneys.

On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Musk and the SEC would get another week to settle a dispute over Musk’s use of Twitter.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The Tereos logo is displayed at a sugar beet processing plant in Origny-Sainte-Benoite
FILE PHOTO: The Tereos logo is displayed at a sugar beet processing plant in Origny-Sainte-Benoite, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

April 19, 2019

(Corrects headline and paragraph 1 to make clear that syndication process is ongoing, to make clear in paragraph 5 that no offers finalized by April 15, to clarify sourcing throughout)

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – French sugar group Tereos is still working to find additional banks to spread risk on a 250 million euro ($281 million) loan secured earlier this year, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Tereos, the world’s second-biggest sugar producer, has struggled to cope with poor market conditions since the European Union’s output quota regime ended in 2017, warning that it would post a loss for a second year in a row this season.

The debt-laden cooperative group said in February it had subscribed a 250 million euros ($281 million) loan with BNP Paribas, Natixis and Rabobank, to reimburse half of its 2020 bond one year in advance.

Tereos then launched a syndication round with about 10 banks, including other members of its banking pool and new ones, in a bid to spread the risk, the two sources said.

The call, for 50 million euros, had not secured any bids by April 15, they said.

“The group is in constant dialogue with its financial partners on various financing operations around the world. The group does not comment on these non-public discussions which, taken in isolation, may give a misleading picture of the group’s funding,” Tereos said in an email statement.

Potential bidders were put off by tough conditions for European sugar producers faced with a collapse in prices, the two sources said.

The company’s high debt level and poor results expected this year deterred one potential bidder, a third source familiar with the syndication round said.

“The problem here was significant risk. The pricing offered failed to attract banks,” said the third source.

The departure of the group’s Chief Financial Officer Olivier Casanova, responsible for presenting the syndication offer, discouraged one potential participant, the same source said.

Natixis and BNP declined to comment. Rabobank was not immediately available to comment.

DEBT MOUNTS

Tereos held net debt of 2.7 billion euros by Dec 31, up 4.5 percent on the year, putting the net debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio at 8.0 versus 4.1 a year earlier.

Concerns about Tereos’ financial health in a difficult sugar market sent yields on the group’s bonds to all time highs late last year and they have remained high since with Tereos’ June 2023 bond yielding 8.5 percent on Thursday.

The sugar maker said in February it maintained at group level a financial security of 1 billion euros as of Dec 31, 2018, including a still undrawn 225 million euros back-up facility, despite plunging profits.

A surge in output after the European Union abolished production quotas and a 40 percent slump in prices since early 2017 in an oversupplied world market has hit profits for several European firms.

Suedzucker, Europe’s largest sugar refiner, said in February it would halt sugar output at two factories of its French branch Saint Louis Sucre while French competitor Cristal Union is planning to shut another two.

Tereos has said that the group does not expect to close any plants in France.

The group is looking at opening its business to partners to boost diversification and internationalisation. The process could take two or three years, it said.

(Additional reporting by Mathieu Protard in Paris and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Veronica Brown, Alexandra Hudson and Richard Lough)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A 737 Max aircraft is pictured at the Boeing factory in Renton
FILE PHOTO: A 737 Max aircraft is pictured at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

April 19, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that a joint governmental review of the now grounded Boeing 737 MAX will begin on April 29 and will include 9 other aviation regulators from around the world.

The FAA said earlier this month it was forming an international team to review the safety of the aircraft, grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes – in Indonesia in October and in Ethiopia last month – that killed nearly 350 people.

Boeing has announced a planned software update on the 737 MAX to prevent erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system known as MCAS that is under scrutiny following the two disastrous nose-down crashes. It has not yet submitted the software to the FAA for formal approval.

China, the European Aviation Safety Agency, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates will all take part, the FAA said, in the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) that is set to last 90 days, the FAA said. Most of the countries previously confirmed they would take part.

The JATR is chaired by former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart and is comprised of a team of experts from the FAA, NASA and international aviation authorities. The group will conduct a comprehensive review of the certification of the aircraft’s automated flight control system.

The team will evaluate aspects of the 737 MAX automated flight control system, including design and pilots’ interaction with the system, “to determine its compliance with all applicable regulations and to identify future enhancements that might be needed,” the FAA said.

Hart told reporters earlier this month the review is in response “to the growing need for globalization … because these airplanes are all over the place” and to the need for a “uniform response.”

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines Co have canceled flights into August as a result of the grounding.

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said Wednesday the manufacturer is making “steady progress” on the path to certifying a software update to the grounded 737 MAX and has made the final test flight before a certification flight.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo/File Photo

April 19, 2019

By Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly expects to vote on making a $71 million bond interest payment when it meets next week, a lawmaker and a member of state-run oil company PDVSA’s ad-hoc board of directors said.

Payment would protect U.S. refiner Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel overseas asset, from potential seizure by creditors. But it was not immediately clear how the opposition-aligned ad-hoc board, which does not control PDVSA’s day-to-day operations, would make the payment or what funds it would use.

Alejandro Grisanti, an economist appointed to the ad-hoc PDVSA board by the National Assembly last week, said the board was “sparing no effort” to make the payment on PDVSA’s 2020 bond, which is backed by half the shares in Cigto.

The bond payment would be part of National Assembly leader Juan Guaido’s effort to protect PDVSA’s overseas assets. Guaido in January invoked the country’s constitution to assume an interim presidency on the basis that President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Maduro, who says Guaido is attempting to oust him in a coup, still controls the day-to-day options of PDVSA within Venezuela. The United States and most Western countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, and the board he has appointed to Citgo controls the company.

“We are working on making that decision,” Guaido told Reuters on Friday, referring to the interest payment.

Failure to pay the bond, one of the few that cash-strapped Venezuela has remained current on while defaulting on some $8 billion in debt, could allow bondholders to seize Citgo shares as compensation. PDVSA has a 30-day grace period following the April 27 payment deadline.

Efforts by any Maduro-linked institution to pay could run afoul of U.S. sanctions, which restrict dealings with PDVSA by U.S. entities.

Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez, the National Assembly’s’ vice president, said congress would debate the payment next week.

Grisanti said approval would allow PDVSA to request a license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces sanctions, to make the payment. The National Assembly is the only Venezuelan government body recognized as legitimate by the United States.

Grisanti said the board could use funds from PDVSA crude sales to pay, without detailing where those funds were held. Guaido’s allies have said they have no plans to use Citgo’s funds.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s Information Ministry responded to requests for comment.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: An Alitalia Airbus A320 airplane approaches to land at Fiumicino airport in Rome
FILE PHOTO: An Alitalia Airbus A320-200 airplane comes in to land at Fiumicino airport in Rome, Italy October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

April 19, 2019

By Giselda Vagnoni, Francesca Landini and Stefano Bernabei

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – Italian transport group Atlantia could join a rescue of loss-making flag carrier Alitalia to try to win favor with the government and secure the future of its own domestic business following a deadly bridge collapse last year, sources said.

Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, faces the loss of its entire national motorway concession in a bitter dispute with the government, which erupted after last year’s disaster on its toll network killed 43 people.

The government blamed Atlantia for the tragedy, saying it had failed to adequately maintain the aging bridge, and vowed to revoke the concession, worth 58 percent of group revenue.

However, sources familiar with the matter said Atlantia could mend relations with the government by joining a rescue of Alitalia, which Rome is desperate to save, and possibly be rewarded with a reprieve on its motorway concession.

Atlantia has publicly scoffed at the idea, but sources say it stands ready if Rome signals a quid pro quo is possible. The government has not given such a signal but a political source says it may do if it sees Atlantia as key to saving Alitalia.

Atlantia, which also runs Alitalia’s main airport hub in Rome, has denied it is in talks to join a rescue consortium, saying its hands are already full with complex business challenges, including the fate of its motorway concession.

However, a source familiar with the flag-carrier’s thinking said Alitalia expected Atlantia to sign up to a rescue as early as this month. The source did not elaborate.

Atlantia declined to comment for this article.

Another potential investor in the rescue bid, state-owned rail group Ferrovie dello Stato, which has had initial talks with Atlantia, also believes the Benetton-controlled group could yet be tempted to join, said a source familiar with those talks.

“Atlantia’s door is not closed … it is now up to the government to take the lead in the talks,” said a second source familiar with Alitalia’s thinking.

Alitalia, put into special administration in 2017 after workers rejected a previous rescue plan, needs to find investors ready to inject fresh funds by the end of April, in advance of an end-June repayment deadline for a state bridging loan of 900 million euros. That loan, however, may be rolled over, daily Il Sole 24 Ore said.

The government, formed by the right-wing League party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is keen to save the airline because it wants to avoid mass layoffs at Alitalia, which has around 11,600 employees.

However, political sources said it was still unclear whether the ruling coalition, especially the 5-Star party, would be ready to make such a peace with Atlantia. The party was the most critical of Atlantia after the bridge collapse.

“For 5-Star even the hypothesis of freezing the procedure for revoking the concession is not politically sustainable,” said a senior 5-Star source.

The prime minister’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

CLOCK TICKING

Ferrovie and Delta Air Lines are looking to invest in Alitalia but they still need to find other investors to stump up another 400 million euros for a rescue worth a total of around 1 billion euros, sources close to the talks said.

Ferrovie and its adviser, investment bank Mediobanca, have discreetly sounded out Atlantia after being turned down by a string of other companies.

Reuters was unable to immediately reach a Delta spokeswoman.

Atlantia has been burned by Alitalia once before, having lost 190 million euros when it participated in a rescue in 2008.

“We have many open fronts, we can’t afford to open a further, particularly complex one,” Atlantia CEO Giovanni Castellucci said on Thursday, speaking to shareholders.

In addition to the bridge disaster, Castellucci said he was also dealing with the government over its lengthy approvals process which was blocking 4.9 billion euros in group projects.

Some financial analysts say a quid pro quo would make sense.

“We reckon a possible agreement over Alitalia would be positive for Atlantia, because it would lead to a rapprochement with the government,” broker Equita said in a note this week.

For now, Ferrovie is ready to take a 30 percent stake in Alitalia, Delta Air Lines would invest 100 million euros for a stake of 10-15 percent and another 15 percent would probably go to the Italian treasury, sources familiar with the matter say.

But there is still a question mark over who would take the remaining 40-45 percent of the carrier.

British budget airline easyJet walked away from talks with Ferrovie last month, state-controlled defense group Leonardo and postal operator Poste Italiane said they were not interested in the deal.

If Ferrovie and Delta cannot find co-investors, Rome would face its least favored option: a takeover by German carrier Lufthansa which has said it would only rescue Alitalia if the government were first to carry out major job cuts.

(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; editing by Mark Bendeich and David Evans)

Source: OANN

Construction worker builds a single family home in San Diego, California
FILE PHOTO: A construction worker builds a single family home in San Diego, California, U.S. February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

April 19, 2019

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. homebuilding dropped to a near two-year low in March, pulled down by persistent weakness in the single-family housing segment, suggesting the housing market continued to struggle despite declining mortgage rates.

Some of the weakness in homebuilding reported by the Commerce Department on Friday likely reflected disruptions caused by massive flooding in the Midwest, with housing starts in the region declining to levels last seen in early 2015. The report bucked a recent tide of upbeat data that indicated the economy regained speed as the first quarter ended.

Housing starts fell 0.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.139 million units last month, the lowest level since May 2017. Data for February was revised down to show homebuilding tumbling to a pace of 1.142 million units instead of the previously reported 1.162 million-unit rate.

Housing starts in the Midwest, which was devastated by floods during the month, dropped 17.6 percent.

Building permits fell 1.7 percent to a rate of 1.269 million units in March, the lowest in five months. Building permits have now declined for three straight month. Permits for single-family housing dropped to a more than 1-1/2-year low in March, a bad omen for starts in the coming months.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts increasing to a pace of 1.230 million units in March.

The prolonged weakness in homebuilding likely reflects land and labor shortages, as well as expensive building materials.

A survey on Tuesday showed that though builders reported strong demand for new homes, they continued to highlight “affordability concerns stemming from a chronic shortage of construction workers and buildable lots.”

LOW MORTGAGE RATES

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dropped from a peak of about 4.94 percent in November to around 4.12 percent, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac. Declining mortgage rates reflect a recent decision by the Federal Reserve to suspend its three-year monetary policy tightening campaign.

The housing market hit a soft patch last year, with investment in homebuilding contracting 0.3 percent, the weakest performance since 2010. After stumbling at the turn of the year, other sectors of the economy are regaining momentum.

Retail sales surged in March and trade, inventory and construction spending data have also been bullish, prompting economists to sharply upgrade their gross domestic product estimates for the first quarter.

Growth forecasts for the January-March quarter have been raised to as high as a 2.9 percent annualized rate. They were at one point as low as a 0.3 percent rate following a batch of weak economic reports at the turn of the year. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, dropped 0.4 percent to a rate of 785,000 units in March, the lowest level since September 2016.

Single-family homebuilding in the Midwest tumbled 21.2 percent last month to the lowest level since February 2015. Single-family starts also fell in the populous South. But they rose in the Northeast and West.

Permits to build single-family homes dropped 1.1 percent to a rate of 808,000 units in March, the lowest since August 2017. Single-family home building permits have now declined for four straight months.

Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment were unchanged at a rate of 354,00 units in March. Permits for the construction of multi-family homes dropped 2.7 percent to a pace of 461,00 units last month.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Worker stands on the scaffolding at a construction site against a backdrop of residential buildings in Huaian
FILE PHOTO: A worker stands on the scaffolding at a construction site against a backdrop of residential buildings in Huaian, Jiangsu province, China October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

April 19, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will maintain policy support for the economy, which still faces “downward pressure” and difficulties after better-than-expected first quarter growth, a top decision-making body of the Communist Party said on Friday.

The statement from the politburo came two days after China reported had steady 6.4 percent annual growth in January-March, defying expectations for a further slowdown, as industrial production jumped sharply and consumer demand showed signs of improvement.

“While fully affirming the achievements, we should clearly see that there are still many difficulties and problems in economic operations,” the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.

“The external economic environment is generally tightening and the domestic economy is under downward pressure.”

China will implement counter-cyclical adjustments “in a timely and appropriate manner”, while the pro-active fiscal policy will become more forceful and effective, and the prudent monetary policy will be neither too tight nor too loose, it said.

For this year, the government has unveiled tax and fee cuts amounting to 2 trillion yuan ($298.35 billion) to ease burdens on firms, while the central bank has cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) five times since early 2018 to spur lending.

Further policy easing is widely expected.

On Friday, the politburo reiterated that the government will effectively support the private economy and the development of small- and medium-sized firms.Authorities will strike a balance between stabilizing economic growth, promoting reforms, controlling risks and improving people’s livelihoods, the politburo said.

China will push forward structural deleveraging and prevent speculation in the property market, it said.

“We should adhere to the orientation that houses are used for living, not for speculation,” the politburo said, reaffirming a city-based approach in controlling the property sector.

China’s economic growth is expected to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2 percent this year, a Reuters poll showed last week, as sluggish demand at home and abroad weigh on activity despite a flurry of policy support measures.

(This story has been refiled to show the politburo is a top, not the top, body, paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and Kevin Yao; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Source: OANN

The interior of the Audi's new concept AI: ME with automated driving system is seen during the media day for Shanghai auto show
The interior of the Audi’s new concept AI: ME with automated driving system is seen during the media day for Shanghai auto show in Shanghai, China April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

April 19, 2019

By Norihiko Shirouzu

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Electric vehicle (EV) concepts shown in Shanghai this week, such as the Audi AI:me and Infiniti QX Inspiration, point to a future of living-room-like comfort in cars with flat floors and ample space for sofa-like bench seats.

In the design studies, automakers have taken advantage of the space freed up by the electric motor, which takes less room than the bulky internal combustion engine, cooling apparatus and complex transmission gears needed for gasoline cars.

As most batteries in an EV are laid out flat under the floor, the EVs shown in the Shanghai auto show, which started on Tuesday, also have more height and, in fact, many are sport-utility vehicles (SUVs).

Both the AI:me urban car and Infiniti’s QX Inspiration SUV have flat floors, interiors large enough to accommodate what looks like a sofa in the back and more leg room and storage.

Because there is no tunnel, which often houses the drive shaft and exhaust apparatus in a gasoline car, running through the length of the EV cabin, the center of the rear seat “can become just as valuable” as the space on its sides, design chief for Nissan’s premium brand Infiniti, Karim Habib, said.

That in turn points to the possibility of “a return of the bench seat” in the front and the rear – a throwback to American cars of a bygone era, Habib told Reuters.

The EV’s flat and slightly elevated floor allows passengers to slide into it, Habib said. “You can kind of comfortably sit into it … You can cross your legs, stretch your legs out,” he added, referring to the QX Inspiration concept car.

Audi’s AI:me offers what the company’s China operations chief, Thomas Owsianski, described as “maximum space comfort” despite its smallish urban car profile.

“We are fundamentally changing the perception of a (urban) car, particularly car experience,” Owsianski said in Shanghai on Monday. “The AI:me has very compact dimensions but … it shows the urban mobility, especially premium mobility, doesn’t need to feel small. Cars are becoming a living room space.”

(Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Source: OANN


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