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Toyota rolls out first battery electric car in cautious debut as rivals go full-throttle

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2022)

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) rolls out its first mass-produced battery electric car in Japan on Thursday for lease only, a strategy the automaker says will help ease driver concerns about battery life and resale value but has raised analysts’ eyebrows.

Gasoline-electric hybrid models remain far more popular in Toyota’s home market than electric vehicles (EVs), which accounted for just 1% of the passenger cars sold in Japan last year, according to industry data. Still, the market is growing fast and foreign automakers including Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) are making visible inroads on the streets of cities such as Tokyo.

Bundling insurance, repair costs and a battery warranty into the deal, Toyota will lease the bZ4X sport utility vehicles (SUV) at the equivalent of $39,000 for the first four years. Cancelling in the first 48 months will mean an additional fee.

While EV acceptance has been slow in Japan, that will change, and Toyota could risk losing market share by focusing on a model of leasing rather than purchasing, said CLSA analyst Christopher Richter.

“Anything you are doing that’s making it harder to buy is maybe not a good thing,” he said.

“It’s a strategy I am not that fond of. It does signal that Toyota is taking the home market a little bit for granted.”

Toyota said in December it would commit 8 trillion yen ($62 billion) to electrify its cars by 2030.

Toyota aims to lease 5,000 of the SUVs in the current financial year – around the same amount of EVs that analysts estimate Tesla sold in Japan last year.

The automaker plans to start selling the bZ4X in other markets later this year, and pre-orders have already started in some European countries.

Toyota has not decided when it will start selling the cars in Japan, a spokesperson said.

‘DISPEL ANXIETY’

EVs became popular in Europe through lease programmes offered by employers and Toyota may be trying a similar tack to popularise electric cars, said Seiji Sugiura, a senior analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.

First-time customers are concerned about battery life and the potential fall in the trade-in value over time, said Shinya Kotera, president of KINTO, the Toyota unit offering the leases.

“It’s our role to dispel anxiety” toward EVs, he said.

Imports of battery EVs jumped almost three times to a record 8,610 vehicles in 2021, according to industry data. Analysts estimate roughly 60% of those were Teslas.

Still, Japanese automakers remain cautious about switching into the all-electric lane.

Toyota pioneered the hybrid more than two decades ago and retains big ambitions for both hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles, even as it is investing more to boost its battery EV line-up.

Rival Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) pioneered mass-market EVs with the Leaf in 2010 but will launch only its second battery EV model, the Ariya SUV, also on Thursday. The Ariya will be sold for the equivalent of $41,500, not including a government subsidy.

Honda Motor Co (7267.T) in April laid out a target to roll out 30 electric vehicle models globally by 2030.

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Tesla cars, Bluetooth locks, vulnerable to hackers, researchers say

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

Millions of digital locks worldwide, including on Tesla (TSLA.O) cars, can be remotely unlocked by hackers exploiting a vulnerability in Bluetooth technology, a cybersecurity firm said on Tuesday.

In a video shared with Reuters, NCC Group researcher Sultan Qasim Khan was able to open and then drive a Tesla using a small relay device attached to a laptop which bridged a large gap between the Tesla and the Tesla owner’s phone.

“This proves that any product relying on a trusted BLE connection is vulnerable to attacks even from the other side of the world,” the UK-based firm said in a statement, referring to the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol – technology used in millions of cars and smart locks which automatically open when in close proximity to an authorised device.

Although Khan demonstrated the hack on a 2021 Tesla Model Y, NCC Group said any smart locks using BLE technology, including residential smart locks, could be unlocked in the same way.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

NCC Group said such a vulnerability was not like a traditional bug which could be fixed with a software patch and added BLE-based authentication was not originally designed for use in locking mechanisms.

“In effect, systems that people rely on to guard their cars, homes and private data are using Bluetooth proximity authentication mechanisms that can be easily broken with cheap off-the-shelf hardware,” the firm said.

“This research illustrates the danger of using technologies for reasons other than their intended purpose, especially when security issues are involved”.

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Tech firms ask U.S. Supreme Court to block Texas social media law

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2022)

Lobbying groups representing Facebook(FB.O), Twitter(TWTR.N), Google (GOOGL.O) and other tech companies filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views.

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for a stay of a district judge’s injunction blocking the law.

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requires them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.

It was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, in September.

Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the measure, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction in December.

Pitman had found that the law would harm social media companies’ free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The tech groups, in their emergency request, asked the Supreme Court to “allow the District Court’s careful reasoning to remain in effect while an orderly appellate process plays out.”

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Hyundai plans U.S. EV plant, in talks with Georgia

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2022)

Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) plans to build a new electric-vehicle manufacturing plant in the United States and has held discussions with officials in Georgia, near existing plants for the Hyundai and Kia (000270.KS) brands, people with knowledge of its plans told Reuters.

Hyundai Motor confirmed an imminent plan for a new EV plant but declined to comment on any details, including site negotiations.

“We are excited to announce a new EV plant plan in the United States soon, but we do not have details to share at this stage,” Hyundai said in a statement to Reuters when asked about its investment plans.

Hyundai has been in advanced discussions with state officials to build a dedicated EV facility in Georgia, three people with direct knowledge of the talks told Reuters. Details of the investment, including its projected cost and the number of jobs it would be expected to create, were not immediately known.

The new Georgia EV facility, if it is finalized, would serve both Hyundai and Kia as the brands move to roll out a pair of fully electric SUVs – the Ioniq 7 and EV9 – aimed at the U.S. market, the three people with knowledge of the plans told Reuters.

Georgia’s Economic Department declined to comment. “We do not comment on speculation about economic development projects,” said a state economic development department spokesperson.

The announcement of an investment deal by Hyundai would come at a time when the administration of President Joe Biden has been pushing for more investment in EVs and related suppliers to create jobs and drive a clean-energy agenda. It would also mark a major economic development win for Georgia, which has pushed to establish itself as a regional hub for the emerging EV industry.

The announcement could come days before the May 24 Georgia primary election in which Republican Governor Brian Kemp is being challenged by former U.S. Senator David Perdue.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the company could hire 8,500 as part of its plans to build a new factory. The newspaper said the plant could be located on a more than 2,200-acre site that the state had previously proposed to Rivian, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover.

Hyundai had been working to announce its U.S. investment in EV manufacturing sometime later this month to coincide with Biden’s planned visit to Seoul, another person with knowledge of the plans said.

Hyundai announced a $300-million investment last month to manufacture the all-electric Genesis GV 70 and a hybrid version of the Santa Fe at its Alabama plant. The Genesis model would be Hyundai’s first EV made in the United States.

Hyundai’s comment to Reuters was the company’s first confirmation that it was nearing an announcement on a site for a new EV plant.

Hyundai affiliate Kia also said last month that it was looking to shift production to the United States but was not considering a dedicated EV factory on its own.

Kia has said it will have 14 EVs by 2027. Hyundai has said it will roll out 17 by 2030, including six for its luxury Genesis brand.

Hyundai’s battery supplier, SK Innovation’s (096770.KS) battery unit SK On, has just built two adjacent plants in Georgia. The first, which mostly supplies Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), kicked off production in the first quarter. The second, which will supply batteries for Ford Motor Co (F.N), is set to begin production early next year.

SK On will supply the battery for the Ioniq 7, a person with knowledge of that contract told Reuters. SK On said it cannot comment on supply deals involving specific customers.

Biden is set to travel to South Korea on May 20 for meetings with South Korea’s incoming president Yoon Suk-yeol, an advocate of steps to shore-up South Korea’s ties with the United States.

The Biden administration has said it will allocate more than $3 billion in infrastructure funding to finance EV manufacturing. Biden wants half of vehicles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030.

Other Asian companies that have announced plans to build U.S. battery plants include Korea’s LG Energy Solution (373220.KS) and Samsung SDI (006400.KS).

Reuters reported earlier this month that CATL, the world’s largest battery maker, was in talks to open battery plants that would serve BMW AG (BMWG.DE) and Ford with potential sites in South Carolina and Kentucky.

A South Korea media report said Yoon, who takes office on Tuesday, was also planning a follow-up visit to Washington after Biden visits Seoul, where he would be accompanied by leaders of South Korea’s top conglomerates including Hyundai Motor and SK to discuss investment in the United States.

A spokeswoman for Yoon on Monday denied the plan as reported.

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