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News from China
UberCommute to launch in Chengdu
24th September 2015

 Ride-sharing giant Uber has unveiled a new car-sharing service for commuters, which will be launched first in Chengdu.

Uber said the plan is “an entirely new product for drivers” that enables drivers who commute longer distances to share the cost of the trip. 

“It’s carpooling at the press of a button,” the company said on its blog, unveiling the service called UberCommute.

Uber has become Silicon Valley’s biggest venture-funded startup, valued at US$50 billion, having grown its ride-sharing services to dozens of countries, despite protests from the taxi industry and regulators.

“We’ve chosen China to pilot UberCommute — the first time we’ve launched a new global product outside the United States — because of the tremendous appetite amongst Chinese drivers and riders for creative new ways to get from A to B, affordably and reliably,” Uber said.

“Over time we hope to adapt UberCommute for other cities around the world so that more people can carpool, helping reduce costs for everyone while also cutting congestion.”

China is a key battleground for ride-sharing services.

Source: Shanghai Daily, September 24, 2015
Xiaomi debuts as MVNO operator
23rd September 2015

 XIAOMI Inc, China’s leading smartphone maker, revealed yesterday two prepaid wireless plans to mark its debut as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) competing against China’s national carriers.

MVNOs, which purchase network capacity from large carriers and resell mobile plans under their own branding, have failed to gain traction in China, where three state-owned giants dominate the telecoms industry.

But as the country’s most popular smartphone brand, Xiaomi’s foray into the sector could finally kick-start the MVNO industry and provide a boost for Chinese telecom regulators who have sought for years to introduce market competition against the trio of state-owned carriers often criticized for their poor profitability and perceived bloat.

Xiaomi’s new wireless business, called Mi Mobile, will offer voice and data services and utilize either China Unicom or China Telecom networks.

The launch comes less than six months after Google Inc announced it would launch an MVNO service in the US called “Fi” that piggybacks off Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks.

There have been rumors that Apple is similarly mulling an MVNO business, although the iPhone maker has not disclosed any plans.

At yesterday’s launch event in Beijing, Xiaomi, which was valued at US$45 billion after a December funding round, also unveiled its new handset called the Mi 4C, a 1,299 yuan (US$204) Android smartphone featuring a Qualcomm processor, 5-inch display and 13-megapixel camera.

Source: Shanghai Daily, September 23, 2015
Pressure piles on VW CEO in US test scandal
22nd September 2015

 Pressure piled on the head of Volkswagen yesterday in the wake of an emissions-testing scandal that’s seen 15 billion euros (US$16.9 billion) wiped off the company’s market value.

Following revelations that the German carmaker had rigged US emissions tests for about 500,000 diesel cars, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn apologized on Sunday for the fact that his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

But saying sorry wasn’t enough for investors as they digested the financial and reputational implications of the scandal on the world’s biggest carmaker by sales — VW’s share price fell by a stunning 17.14 percent to close at 133.70 euros in Frankfurt. Earlier it had tumbled by more than 20 percent.

In the wake of Friday’s revelations from the US’s Environmental Protection Agency, VW has already halted sales of some vehicles in the United States and pledged to cooperate with regulators in an investigation that could, in theory, see the company fined up to US$18 billion.

Industry analysts said Winterkorn faces difficult questions in the coming days, particularly when the company’s board is scheduled to meet on Friday.

“At the moment, I’d be surprised if Winterkorn can ride this out, but in Germany there’s often a slightly slower process in these matters,” said Christian Stadler, a professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School.

Stadler said that if VW were a US company, then the CEO would have gone more or less immediately.

In essence, VW stands accused of skirting the US’s clean air rules. The EPA said VW used a device programed to detect when the cars are undergoing official emissions testing. The software device then turns off the emissions controls during normal driving situations, allowing the cars to emit over the legal limit of pollutants.

Guido Reinking, a German auto expert, said that for a company to engage in such blatant trickery its top executives would have to be informed.

Winterkorn led research and development across the VW group from 2007. He became chairman of the management board the same year.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine that he didn’t know about this special way of programing the engine,” Reinking told German television station n-tv.

Source: Shanghai Daily, September 22, 2015
Israel eyes 20,000 Chinese workers
21st September 2015

 ISRAEL plans to bring in 20,000 Chinese construction workers to help build new apartments as part of efforts to lower housing costs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.

Netanyahu announced the plan at the start of a cabinet meeting, his office said. The finance ministry later said the cabinet had approved it.

Israeli attorney general Yehuda Weinstein has opposed the move because the two countries lack a formal agreement related to such cooperation.

The lack of an agreement can lead to immigrant workers paying middlemen hundreds or even thousands of dollars to obtain permits.

Chinese workers are currently brought into Israel under private contracts between Israeli and Chinese companies. The two countries have been engaged in negotiating working conditions, but have not yet reached an accord.

A statement from the ministry said that because of the urgency of the matter, the workers would be brought without a bilateral agreement, while creating mechanisms to ensure their rights were protected and prevent them from paying middlemen for permits.

Netanyahu said that it was important to move forward despite “side costs,” with the cost of living a major issue in Israel.

“In my view, this is a necessary and important step to lower housing prices,” Netanyahu said.

Source: Shanghai Daily, September 21, 2015

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