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GM unit Cruise to deploy driverless taxis in US first



General Motors president Mark Reuss has touted the US car giant's progress on the road to a future in which all vehicles are electric powered.
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General Motor’s autonomous vehicle unit Cruise says it will deploy driverless taxis in San Francisco in a first for a major US city.

Cruise announced the plans for a ride hailing service using self-driving electric cars after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued it a permit to give rides without anyone in the driver’s seat.

“This means that Cruise will be the first and only company to operate a commercial, driverless ride-hail service in a major US city,” chief operating officer Gil West said in a blog post late Thursday.

“We’ll begin rolling out fared rides gradually.”

The permit allows Cruise to use its fleet of 30 electric, autonomous cars in a taxi service in some parts of San Francisco.

The robotaxis are not to go faster than 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) and have a green light to only operate between late morning and early evening, barring foul weather such as thick fog or heavy rain, the CPUC permit states.

“Crossing the threshold into commercial operations isn’t just big news for Cruise alone,” West said.

“It is a major milestone for the shared mission of the (autonomous vehicle) industry to improve life in our cities.”

Self-driving, electric car services promise to reduce pollution, and save people time and money, West added.

San Francisco police earlier this year faced an unprecedented problem when an officer stopped a car that was driving at night with no headlights on, only to discover there was no one inside. 

The vehicle, it turned out, was a self-driving Cruise car, and the police officer’s encounter was captured by a passerby, who posted video on social media.

Cruise took to Twitter to say that the self-driving car “yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no citation was issued.”

Cruise explained that the headlights were turned off due to human error.

Founded in 2013, Cruise has developed software that allows cars to drive themselves completely autonomously. 

General Motors owns the majority of shares in the company, valued at more than $30 billion thanks to investments by companies such as Microsoft, Honda and Walmart. 

Cruise rival Waymo last year expanded its robotaxi service to riders in San Francisco, but has “specialists” at the steering wheels to take over driving if needed.

The move expanded a Waymo ride-hailing program which has been operating in Phoenix, Arizona since 2017.

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US, China discuss ‘severe’ economic challenges, supply chains




China and the United States are grappling with major economic challenges including inflation and Covid-snarled supply chains
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Top officials from the United States and China held a “candid” video call on Tuesday to discuss global economic challenges, especially regarding supply chains.

The exchange between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen came as President Joe Biden considers lifting some tariffs on imports from China to try and ease soaring inflation.

The world’s two biggest economies are also grappling with Covid-snarled supply chains and rising global energy prices.

“The two sides agree that as the world economy is facing severe challenges, it is of great significance to strengthen macro-policy communication and coordination between China and the United States,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

“And jointly maintaining the stability of the global industrial and supply chains is in the interests of both countries and the whole world.”

The Xinhua report said the video call took place at the request of the United States, and described the conversation as “constructive”.

Yellen and Liu “discussed macroeconomic and financial developments in the United States and China, the global economic outlook amid rising commodity prices and food security challenges”, the US Treasury Department said in a readout.

“Secretary Yellen frankly raised issues of concern including the impact of the Russia’s war against Ukraine on the global economy and unfair, non-market (Chinese) economic practices.”

China has repeatedly refused to condemn the Russian invasion, and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Moscow by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Ukraine.

With inflation in the United States at 40-year highs, authorities there are rushing to try and find ways to ease price pressures.

Among the options is lifting some of the trade tariffs imposed on China by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.

Any decision is likely to come soon as some of the Trump duties are set to expire from July 6 unless renewed.

The penalties were aimed at punishing what the United States says are China’s unfair trade practices.

In the call with Yellen Tuesday, China “expressed its concern about issues including the lifting of additional tariffs on China and sanctions by the US side”, according to Xinhua.

Contact is expected in the coming weeks between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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Asian markets rise on talk Biden to roll back some China tariffs




Traders are hopeful that Joe Biden is about to wind back some of the tariffs imposed on China by Donald Trump
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Asian markets rose Tuesday on growing speculation US President Joe Biden is about to roll back some of the Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods as he looks for ways to rein in inflation, though sentiment remains at a premium owing to fears of a recession.

The mood on trading floors has become increasingly gloomy in recent months as observers warn that sharp interest rate hikes aimed at curbing price rises could cause a contraction, compounding uncertainty caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Still, equities were on the up Tuesday on talk that the White House is about to remove duties on some of the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of imports from China, with reports saying an announcement could come this week.

With some of the tariffs due to expire soon, officials in Washington have been discussing the measures with an eye on inflation, which is sitting at four-decade highs.

And in a sign that something could be on the cards, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Vice Premier Lui He had held discussions.

“The two sides agree that as the world economy is facing severe challenges, it is of great significance to strengthen macro-policy communication and coordination between China and the United States,” it said. 

“And jointly maintaining the stability of the global industrial and supply chains is in the interests of both countries and the whole world.”

Reports also said that Biden was considering launching new probes into industrial subsidies — allowing for more targeted measures in strategic areas — to appease China hawks.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Taipei, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta were all in positive territory.

“Given that inflation remains the White House public enemy number one, (investors are) leaning toward a gradual rollback of some China tariffs as it would reduce end costs to US consumers,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

However, some commentators said that while the removal of some tariffs would be widely welcomed by traders, they were unlikely to have a long-lasting effect on inflation.

“Markets are likely to react positively on a knee-jerk because at this point we are hungry for any signs of positive news,” Charu Chanana, of Saxo Capital Markets, said.

“But we don’t see the move impacting the global growth and inflation dynamics in a significant way.”

Oil prices rose on expectations that demand will continue to outstrip supplies as the Ukraine war rages with no sign of an end, while investors are keeping tabs on China as it sees fresh Covid outbreaks that have led to some cities being put into lockdown.

Months-long flare-ups in Shanghai and Beijing earlier in the year saw millions of people ordered to stay home, sending shockwaves through the domestic economy and battering supply chains.

“China is the real wildcard here: it’s going to be two steps forward, one step back,” said Australia & New Zealand Banking Group’s Daniel Hynes.

“A demand recovery in China could potentially offset weakness in developed economies as central banks tighten monetary policy.”

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.8 percent at 26,369.24 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 1.0 percent at 22,037.88

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 3,412.73

Dollar/yen: UP at 136.20 yen from 135.69 yen Monday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0430 from $1.0431 

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2106 from $1.2116

Euro/pound: UP at 86.16 pence from 86.09 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.3 percent at $110.87 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.6 percent at $114.16 per barrel

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.9 percent at 7,232.65 points (close)

New York – Dow: Closed for public holiday

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‘Guerrilla’ sales, crowdsourcing: Japan’s game console crunch




The PlayStation console has been hard to buy since its November 2020 release, with supply chain issues exacerbated by lockdowns in China
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It’s still dark when the line starts forming outside an electronics store in Tokyo, as desperate gamers try to snag the latest PlayStation or Xbox despite chronic shortages in Japan.

The consoles made by Sony and Microsoft have been hard to buy since their November 2020 release, as has Nintendo’s Switch, with supply chain issues exacerbated by lockdowns in China.

Shortages have struck worldwide but are particularly acute in Japan because Sony and Microsoft have prioritised other markets.

That has left consumers and stores in a game of cat-and-mouse as customers hunt coveted consoles and sellers battle chaos that has sometimes required police intervention.

Tetsuya, 50, has been trying to get a console since February and lined up before 6:30 am with dozens of other people outside a store in the electronics district of Akihabara.

But around 8 am, an employee emerged to announce the store had not received either PS5s or Xboxes and the crowd quickly dispersed.

“It’s a shame, but I’ll keep trying my chances if I can,” said Tetsuya, who declined to give his second name.

Hoping to discourage crowding, many stores have moved sales online, using lottery systems, while others have shifted to low-profile sales that take place without prior warning, with consoles arriving on a random schedule.

The phenomenon is known as “guerrilla sales” in Japan, a term that first emerged with the Nintendo DS console, which was a victim of its own success during the 2000s

Some gamers are fighting back with their own tactics, including one who has set up a website gathering crowdsourced information.

“Last summer, I spent three months trying to buy a PlayStation 5, but every time I went to a store, they were sold out,” said the 40-year-old Japanese man, a researcher in artificial intelligence who asked to remain anonymous.

“The only option was to phone each store or find information on Twitter,” he told AFP.

“I thought to myself that everyone must have the same problem, and that creating a site to share information would help the community.”

– ‘There’s no line’ –

The site’s creator says he spends hours on weekends sorting and verifying up to 500 daily messages posted on its forum.

“For PS5s in Yokohama, they are now selling both the disc edition and the digital edition. It’s unclear how many units they have. There’s no line,” reads one post.

The information gives gamers real-time leads but is also fed into a calendar to highlight trends and analysed by an algorithm designed to predict when stores will have supplies.

Japan’s console drought is the result of various factors, says analyst Hideki Yasuda of Toyo Securities.

Microsoft’s Xbox has never been as popular in Japan as elsewhere, so in times of short supply, the country isn’t a priority market.

And Sony has targeted PS5 sales in Europe and North America, according to Yasuda, who estimates just five to eight percent of the 20 million PS5s sold worldwide were in Japan.

When the PS4 launched in 2013, “the smartphone game market in Japan was exploding while the console market was stalling”, he told AFP.

“Sony must have thought it was going to disappear in the 2020s, especially with the shrinking Japanese population.”

As a result, a PS5 bought for 55,000 yen ($400) can now easily fetch 80,000-100,000 yen when resold, and there have even been fistfights involving alleged resellers at stores.

Despite promises from PlayStation boss Jim Ryan in May of a “significant ramp up” in production, Yasuda doesn’t expect a major boost to deliveries before the second half of 2023.

The crowdsourcing site founder says he will keep going, determined to help those “who really love video games” against “scalpers”.

“I have no life on the weekend, but if I stop, people who want to buy a console will be stuck.”

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